Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Date Night Calendar

I've been wanting to be more proactive about planning exciting dates for Trucker and I. It's far too easy to fall into the routine of Chinese food and a movie, or a favorite bar and pool. Often, these can provide relatively little pleasure for the money spent, since it is a routine thing. When we go on "new" dates, we end up having a lot more fun and we are creating new memories together. The problem is constantly coming up with new ideas, or remembering what is going on the particular day we want to go out. I've solved this with my date night calendar.

I use Google Calendar. As I find out date ideas, whether it is a concert in two months or a regular event in our price range, I add it to the calendar. If the event is a regular event, say every Thursday or the first Saturday of the month, I add the event, set it to repeat and make it never end. That way I don't forget about it and can see at a glance whatever is going on.

I am always looking out for fun dates and there is no shortage of them. I find fun date ideas in all sorts of places, some unexpected.

Some museums have a regular free day or at least one a year. If they are every week, I add it and set it to repeat weekly. If it's once a year, I'll try to look early in the year to find what date it will fall on, so don't forget about it until it is past. All year, our art museum is free on Sundays, and during the summer, they have free concerts as well.  As soon as the concerts are announced, I add them all to the calendar. If I hear that a city within a reasonable drive has a free day, I will add it as well, so we could make a day trip around it. Don't forget about hole-in-the-wall museums in small towns.

Zoos sometimes have free or discount days as well. One day a week county residents get a discount. Around the holidays, they put up holiday lights. This year, they had a benefit day for the local food bank. For that night, if you brought 5 non-perishable food items to donate, you got free admission and parking.

Two local fancy grocery stores have wine tastings once a week. It is 5 wine samples for $5 (the other is 7 wine samples for $8) and, of course, no tip necessary. Each of these also offer food tastings along with the wine, and lots of samples as well. Between it all, it would be a light meal. While not the best on ambiance, it could be a fun way to try some new wines. This would be particularly nice if there was a concert or other free event nearby that you could walk to after.

A couple of coffee houses offer free concerts. One has an open mic on Fridays and a jazz, blues or folk concert on Saturdays. We tried the open mic, but it was a bit too crowded with school-age kids for us. We occasionally go to the Saturday night concerts when a musician we enjoy is playing. At this coffee house, they offer one free refill, so our date night, with tip, will cost around $6. Also look out for poetry slams.

Wineries also offer free concerts, usually jazz or singer/songwriter. If you can keep it to one glass of wine, and perhaps an appetizer to share, it can be a relatively cheap date. Some of them have a happy hour that ends when the concert time starts, but there is no reason you couldn't get there twenty minutes early, order your drinks and appetizer and nurse it. Some bars also have free concerts, in all genres. The website will usually have a calendar, and you can add all the concerts that sound appealing.

I love the symphony, but $50 tickets is a bit steep for regular attendance. However, my local theatre has some bargains. They have a happy hour event a few times a year intended to introduce younger people to the symphony. An hour before, they have drink specials and free appetizers; admission is free. One concert series offers $10 tickets for basically the worst seats in the house; that being said, this theatre is so good that no seats are horrible. Another concert series designed to teach newbies about classical music offers $15 tickets for any seats.  When they release the new season's shows, I check for each type and add them all to my calendar.

In the summer, a local theatre troupe offers Shakespeare in the Park. It runs Thursday through Sunday. For any performances that interest me, I add it to each day that it is going on, so if I have something going on Friday, maybe I can make it Sunday.

Also, many parks departments put on concerts or drive-in movies in the park during the warm months. Add the event for any movie that interests you.

Add small town or city festivals, cruise-ins, or flea markets, as they interest you. Again, look within a reasonable driving distance so you could make a day trip out of one that is farther out.

Two movie theaters offer once-a-week discounts. One first-run theater sells $5 tickets that include a small popcorn. A second-run theater usually costs $2.25 each, but one day a week (a different day than the other theater) has $1.25 admission. Add it to repeat weekly, and if you want to see a movie, you can look up showtimes.

Now, whenever we want to have a date night, we just look at the calendar and pick whatever sounds best at the time. Or, if we've been slaving away at work and home, we might look for the next "fancy" date that we can go to to have something special to look forward to. Most of these dates are $20 or less (and many are much, much less), so by planning ahead, we get to enjoy our regular date without wrecking our budget.

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Wordless Wednesday Hop

This Week...Beyond Money 12/21 - 12/27

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I have cilantro, lettuce and kale growing indoors. Nothing is harvest-size or even close to it yet, but it's growing. The kale in particular is looking good.

* I made homemade mac n cheese. So much better than anything from a box.
* Trucker brought home a couple of small pizzas from his job. Since they would be closed on Christmas, at the end of the day on Christmas Eve, they told everyone to make some pizzas to take home. He brought home the raw pizzas. We used them for lunch on two different days.
* I roasted and ground all of the dandelion root "coffee". It's amazing how little a year's harvest ends up being. So labor intensive, but so good that I never stop doing it.

* Since I'm on break from work, a lot of the week revolved around having fun with friends since I rarely get to hang out when working 13 hour days.
My friend took me out for lunch one day. It was perfect getting to spend a couple hours catching up with one of my closest friends.
* Another good friend and I went out for coffee and crocheting one evening.
* I went thrifting with a couple of friends on Christmas Eve. One of my favorite stores was having a half off sale. I ruthlessly "unshopped" while we waited in line, so I didn't spend too much. We had a lot of fun.
* Trucker and I did our regular coffee date, $3.18.
* We went to a discount theater to watch a movie with our favorite actor. It was $4.50 total. We didn't buy snacks or drinks.

* We went for a walk at a local metro park. We went for a 1.8 mile loop.
* Another day we did a 2 mile hike at a different park.

* Trucker put plastic up to some of the windows to keep our drafts this winter. We are still having 60+ degree days, but soon it will get cold.

Waste Reduction:
* I used the last little bit of a bottle of shower gel as bubble bath.

* The first half of the week was optional, and work is closed through the end of the year. I worked 1 1/2 days this week.
* Trucker ate for free at his job. I packed lunch one day I worked; I did buy a lunch one day for $2.50.

* We cleared out all of the Christmas items from the booth. We are planning on redoing the entire booth next week.
* Trucker got a few more articles published. So proud.

* I ran three days.
* We went for a 1.8 mile hike one day and a 1.9 mile hike another.

 How was your week?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This Week...Beyond Money 12/14 - 12/20

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I planted some cilantro last week. It has germinated.
* The lettuce is doing okay, but is slow growing.

* Trucker made fajitas with some manager's special steak, onions (Aldi, $.20/lb) and red bell pepper (with asparagus in a manager's special package, $2/lb). We served on on-sale tortillas ($.91/12 pk), with on-sale store brand sour cream and hot sauce ($.50/bottle from the salvage grocer).
* I started reading James Beard's How to Eat Well on Less Money, the 1970 edition. I would highly recommend this book. Generally, cookbooks published after the 50s have convenience/packaged foods in them, or are overly "foodie" (In general, a lot of them that are scratch-based tend to use more expensive ingredients as opposed to more basic ones). This book is incredible. Very down to earth, very frugal and focused on skills building and reducing waste. Highly recommended (and it's currently a penny listing on Amazon, so there's no excuse!)
* I bought a ham at Aldi. They had a coupon for $3 off a ham with a $25 purchase. I purchased items such as cheese, produce and eggs that we needed for the week, then met the $25 minimum by buying non-perishables that we would need soon, like vanilla extract, cooking oil, and fruit juice concentrate. I dug around through the hams until I found a ~6 lb one for $6, which was $3 after the coupon, so a little less than $.50/lb.

How would you feel if you
unexpectedly saw this guy watching
you in the dark?
* We went out for pizza with our friends for our once-a-month pizza outing. We tried a place I've been wanting to try for a couple years. We got the $2 drinks that were on special and split a small pizza. It was one of the more expensive pizza places we've tried (thus why it's been years until we tried it). We got to hang out with 3 good friends and catch up. It was a lovely night.
* We went out for a coffee date. $3.18 with free refills.
* Trucker checked out an old TV series from the library. It was a classic that I'd never seen, so I enjoyed watching some of it while baking in the kitchen.
* I don't know really where to put this, but thought it needed to be shared. I'm a little....iffy...on clowns. Pennywise is pretty much the scariest thing ever to me. So, of course, I sell clown figurines at the antique booth as sort of a morbid obsession (and wonder of all wonders, they sell!). So Trucker bought some clowns at auction to sell, including a very horrible clown puppet. He propped it up so when I walked into the living room after work one day, I found that horrible face staring at me. When my sister came over, she thought it was horrible and said she could never live in a house that the clown was in (I've been sending her texts from him along with photos). Since then Trucker (or at least I hope it's him!) has been moving the clown doll around the house, like my own Elf on a Shelf, only it's a soul-eating clown. This has been one of the best uses of $2 ever. If we ever get bored of this joke, I'm sure we can sell him.

* I just finished the Tightwad Gazette trilogy for the year. I read them every year. It helps me renew my determination to be frugal, excites me about reaching our goals, and gets me thinking creatively about ways to trim expenses. At this point, relatively few of the tips apply to me that I do not at least occasionally implement (since we don't have kids, a good majority of the tips do not directly apply), but reading even those articles helps me think on expenses differently. While I don't have multiple children to clothe and stockpile yard sale items for their growing years, the tip still gets me thinking. Knowing that his feet will stay the same size, I am always shopping passively for great bargains on Trucker's tennis shoes, work shoes and hiking boots. I buy them whenever I find them for $15 or less for a decent pair. In this way, we never have to go out to buy $50 shoes. If he has a decent pair that he is wearing and one pair in storage, I will only buy shoes if I find them for $10 or less since the need is less pressing.

Waste Reduction:
* I messed up a batch of toffee by over-stirring after it boiled so it ended up really grainy. It wasn't good enough to give as a gift, but I couldn't stand the idea of wasting $8 worth of butter, brown sugar and chocolate. Instead, I tried an experiment. I broke up the grainy toffee and added a little water. I cooked it down until the sugar dissolved, then cooked it down into a syrup. I poured it over our ice cream where it solidified. It ended up being a mix of a toffee-like candy and a magic shell type thing. It was still slightly grainy, but not too bad and tasted great. While I wouldn't make this intentionally, it was good to make use of something that would otherwise get thrown away.

* I worked two extra days this week. We worked overtime one day.
* We had a pizza party at work one day. Management bought pizza for all of us to thank us for a good year.
* We had a potluck at work. I brought in my homemade pop tarts in Nutella (manager's special, $2.25/jar), mixed berry ($.99/jar preserves from the salvage grocer) and PBJ ($1.49/jar peanut butter with coconut oil from salvage grocer; $1/huge jar grape jelly in store brand on sale). Everyone loved them.
* Because of this, I only had to pack a lunch twice last week.
* Trucker got free meals from his job.
* We went to a Christmas party at Trucker's job. We brought his incredible taco dip (his mother's specialty). It was a fun afternoon and the food was good. There was a gift exchange. We brought a set of Ninja Bread Men cookie cutters and got a coffee house gift certificate (free dates!). We were also sent home with a large container of leftover sushi!

* I got my first publication on The Good Men Project. It is on how to reduce spending on the holidays.

* I was careful at the Christmas parties about what and how much I ate. At each, I chose one dessert and took a small portion.
* I went running one day and we went on a couple short walks around the neighborhood.

* We don't exchange gifts in our household, but if someone gives me a gift, I look for a way to do something sweet for them also. We each had a gift exchange we were a part of (his was at his new job and mine was with a group of online friends). We were very creative in how we sourced the items we gave, whether by making them from scratch (in the form of candy and baked goods), scouted items while picking or looking online for bargains.
I love this tan and blue bowl. Trucker and I have filled it
with pine cones, needles and milkweed pods that we
collect when we go for our walks.

How was your week?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

This Week...Beyond Money 12/7 - 12/13

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I had two planters at the end of the driveway that I grew tomatoes, nasturtiums and lettuce in. I didn't harvest lettuce seed this year, but they seeded themselves all around the planters. We've had a really warm autumn and I now have lettuce growing in my yard. I went out and dug up some of the lettuce and transplanted it into a container inside. Hopefully it will survive well and I can harvest it throughout winter.
* The peppers are doing quite well. They put on a lot of flowers, but I pick them off to allow the plants to grow stronger for spring.

* I cooked stuffed peppers that I'd frozen in season. It was a great easy meal for a day were had a lot going on.
* I got some mushrooms on sale $.50/8 oz. For dinner one nights that Trucker works, I've just been sauteing them in butter. Sometimes I'll add them to pasta, sometimes not. Is there anything better than sauteed mushrooms?
* Okay, one thing better: Trucker's fried potatoes. Oh my. He gets just the perfect ratio of fluffy center and crispy edge. Absolutely amazing. He treated me to these one evening when we got home late and were wanting comfort food.
* I made a bean and pork soup one day that we were going to be gone for the morning and early afternoon. I pulled some frozen pork stock from the freezer as well as some frozen shredded pork. I soaked black beans overnight. I sauteed three hot peppers (manager's special; $1/20 peppers), an onion ($.33/lb), half a head of garlic (from the garden) and a couple of carrots (free with $10 purchase at Meijer) in chicken fat (leftover from roasting chicken). I tossed all of it in the slow cooker and added a generous sprinkling of my veggie powder jar (comprised of last year's green beans, zucchini, tomato and peppers) to thicken slightly and add more nutrients. I left it on low while we were gone. When we returned I seasoned with some soup seasoning cubes and added a can of diced tomatoes (from the salvage grocer).
* I made chicken alfredo one day with leftover chicken and sauteed onions, garlic and carrots. I served it over fettuccine and made garlic bread with some rolls we had on hand.

* I went out to my Grandpa's house to have dinner with him, my parents and sisters. We put up his Christmas tree and enjoyed good conversations and laughter.
* We used the library for our reading and watching materials. We listened to Spotify or CDs we bought secondhand years ago for music.
* We went out for a coffee date, using our travel mugs and getting free refills.
* We had purchased a groupon deal awhile back to celebrate Trucker's new job. It was $13 for 2 entrees and a $5 gift certificate. We still had the gift certificate, so we went out for a cheap date with that. We went during happy hour, so appetizers were half off and our drinks were $2 each. I got sweet potato fries and Trucker got a combination app platter ($1.50 and $3.50 after the discount). So before tip, our date was $4. Not too shabby!
* We went out for a free movie screening. We did not buy any snacks or drinks.
* My sister came over for the afternoon. We went thrifting together. She got 4 pairs of jeans, a jean skirt and a hat for $15 total (some of the jeans were $.99). I got 4 pairs of jeans and 2 dress shirts for $14). We went home and made toffee (so easy) while sipping chai tea lattes (made from $.39/quart concentrate from the salvage grocer). Very fun day without spending much at all.

* I got gas at work and saved $.30/gallon.
* I returned all of the dog items that I could for a refund.
* Trucker got a coupon for BOGO free shoes with free shipping. He ordered two pairs and paid a total of $20.
* I went to a free yard sale at one of my regular sales. I was able to find some decent items for us, such as a stadium chair for when we go to plays in the park and a bag of golf balls for my dad.

Waste Reduction:
* Composted weird things.
* I used some coffee grounds to revamp some potting soil in a planter.

* I worked one extra day at my regular job. We worked over, at least a little, each day.
* I packed my lunch each day I worked. Trucker got free meals from his job.

* I took out some items from the booth. I removed items that we placed when we first got started and had grossly overpriced for our market (we had priced much lower than online sources had them, but certain items go even lower in our mall), items that were out of season (I removed all summer and spring items, leaving room for winter items), or items that just aren't going to sell (We got some things when we first got started, but haven't sold anything of those types and no one has paid any attention to them. These will go into boxes for a flea market). I didn't bring any new items in. Instead, I spaced things out a bit more. Certain shelves had gotten somewhat clustered, so I wanted to give a little breathing room.
* With Trucker's encouragement, I submitted an article I wrote to a website I admire. Nervously awaiting a response.
* Trucker got 2 more articles accepted.

* I have been taking the loss of the dog harder than I anticipated. I was quite upset earlier in the week, but am starting to feel better. While I was at work one day, Trucker cleaned out the house of the dog stuff, swept up the dog hair, etc so when I came home I wasn't confronted with signs of him.

* My dad helped me fix the window in Trucker's car. It had fallen off track, so it wouldn't roll up all the way. It took us about twenty minutes to fix, but cost nothing. I worked with him and paid attention to what he did so next time it happens I can fix it myself.
* We had a lot of items for the dog that were opened/used, so we couldn't return them. I gave them to my parents for their dogs: dog food, treats, bones, toys and stuffed animals.
How was your week?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

This Week...Beyond Money 11/30 - 12/6

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* The lettuce has germinated, but not really grown much.

* We used some of the shredded pork for fantastic tacos with lettuce (manager's special), sour cream (sale), cheese (store brand on sale), bell pepper (manager's special), and salsa (salvage grocer).
* I made a buffalo chicken casserole using a can of buffalo chicken ($.49/8 oz at the salvage grocer). I cooked penne al dente. I made a cheese sauce using dehydrated cheddar powder (Amish grocer), flour, butter and milk (used to rinse out the chicken can). I mixed in the chicken and pasta and packed in all in a casserole dish. I topped with a light coating of cheddar (on sale) and a heavy coating of seasoned breadcrumbs (made from leftover bread that would otherwise have gone to waste).
* One night while we were reminiscing about our early years together, Trucker reminded me of a snack we used to have. We had barely any money at that time; life was hard. We did our best to make a good life for ourselves regardless. One of our favorite snacks was not healthy by any means, but it was special for us. We would get Aldi brand Nutty Bars and spread some peanut butter or icing and maybe a few chocolate chips if we had them. It was such a cheap dessert, and more than a little trashy, but we loved it. So this week, we bought a box of store brand nutty bars (on sale) and I made a simple peanut butter cream cheese icing. It was amazing. While I won't put them in regular rotation, it was fun to relive an old memory. What were some of your favorite super cheap dishes that you made when first getting established? Feel free to share in the comments!
* We had my parents, sister and Grandpa over for dinner one evening. Trucker grilled out. I made English toffee for dessert.
* We ate popcorn as our snack. It's so easy to make on the stove top and super cheap.

* We've been playing board games at home lately and enjoying those quiet evenings.
* We went out for coffee at our regular place. Free refills, used our travel mugs and I'd earned $1 off a drink, so it was $2.18.

* I used last month's grocery store gas points before they expired to get $.10 off per gallon.
* I needed two new tires on the front of my car. I reserved two cheaper tires, but when I got there, they said they weren't in stock. So they ended up giving me better tires with the warranty on them, for just $15 more (instead of $37 more). Then I told them how recently I'd bought new tires. They were still under warranty, so that cut my price in half.
* We used a coupon for our oil change and saved $7.
*Got all new towels on sale/discount. I got 2 brown super fluffy towels at a thrift store for $4.99 each. At Kohl's I got 4 towels. Set of 2 cream colored ones were $2.99 each. Set of two tan ones were $4.99 each and much nicer than the cream ones. I used a $5 off coupon and a 15% off discount. So total, I paid $19.35 for 6 towels, 4 of them really nice ones. We had been using the same set of towels since we got married 9 years ago. We were down to 3 towels; 2 were frayed and one was tearing badly. Now the old towels will go for washing the dog or get made into toys for him.

Waste Reduction:
* I went through my massive cookbook collection. I have way too many cookbooks. Like, hundreds. So I went through my collection and knocked it back by about 40%. This freed up some shelves. I may do another purge again soon, but this was good. I will sell these at the booth.

* I worked an extra shift at my regular job.
* I packed lunch each day I worked. Trucker ate for free at his jobs.

* Ran/walked 20 miles with the dog. Went on even more walks.
* I went to my medical office at work and made note of my weight (in my uniform for consistency in future measurements), blood pressure and heart rate.
* Unfortunately, the dog situation did not work out. He was very aggressive with my dad and Trucker, to the point where it wasn't safe. I'm heartbroken about the situation, but am not in a position to quit my job to rehabilitate the dog. Given his unknown history, we can't know what had happened to him before, but for some reason, he was wonderful with women and very aggressive towards men.

How was your week?
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