Monday 106: A Summer Weekend

Monday, 26 June 2017

We spontaneously left town for most of the weekend.  It was a great way to enjoy the summer, to see friends, to spend time with each other.  Summer, more than any other time of the year, is our favorite time – and most convenient time – to just do things.

Saturday morning I was sick of looking at the familiar areas of the neighborhood.  New scenery, a different place to be, a desire for something outside the usual weekend were on the agenda.  The problem was what to do, where to go?  With temperatures in the low 90s, there was no desire to go someplace possibly hotter and little desire to go where there would be unruly crowds of people, all attempting to escape the heat.  Mr. 182 suggested the zoo!

And off to the zoo we went.  There are two zoos near us – by near, I mean within an hour’s drive.  We chose the smaller of the two, the one on the coast, the one we could get to without driving into a congested city.  And off we went.  Total cost (not including gas) was about $64.00, including a sandwich for each of us.  We spent the day wandering around a beautiful park-like setting, enjoying the sea breezes, and not feeling crowded and rushed as we got there when they opened.

While driving up, we thought of calling up some friends who live halfway along the route.  One day, they invited themselves to dinner, and since then it has been a running joke about inviting them to invite us to dinner.  We didn’t do that . . . but I chanted as we drove past their neighborhood, “Invite us!  Invite us!”

I’m not sure if that had any influence, but that night we got a call:  “Come up for a beach day and a barbecue!”  Sunday we did, and the cost was gas and a couple of bottles of beer.  $7.00.

Our total expenses for our weekend were $71.00 for a lot of fun.  There were no motel rooms or expenses for fancy meals.  We could have packed a lunch and saved $18.49.  We could have brought some home brew and saved $7.00.  The weekend was a mini-vacation spent outside, with friends, at the beach, with each other.  I feel like I’ve been off for a week!

Monday 107: The Cost of Hobbies

Monday, 19 June 2017

Here chez 182 we have hobbies.  Mr. 182 brews beer and builds rockets.  I like photography, writing, and drawing.  Time permitting, I also design things and clothes, and sew them.  Certainly brewing beer and building rockets have more out-of-pocket expenses than drawing and writing, but the payoff is the same as my less expensive hobbies:  we both enjoy doing them, we are happier people for doing these creative endeavors, our minds work, our bodies move.  The benefit of a hobby is more than just about spending money!

Having time to do something you like is sometimes hard to find.  Setting time aside to do something you enjoy is wothwhile – it gives you something to look forward to, useful products emerge – you cannot argue about the value of good, inexpensive beer!  – and there is a sense of satisfaction and raison d’etre which work does not always provide.

Hobbies are also a good way to connect with others with similar interests.  Sometimes this is through online groups, but even better is when you join local groups with real, live people!  Isolation is an issue for many people, especially older people when they retire and kids move out of the house.  Fostering an active community and being part of one is significant for health reasons, physical, intellectual, emotional.

Hobbies also help cope with stress.  Doing things, rather than being a receptacle for the TV’s antics, helps the mind sort things out on a subliminal level.  Many times when I am frustrated or trying to figure things out, I “put it on the back burner” (of the stove), and let it simmer.  While that is going on, I do something else.  Often, solutions present themselves after immersing myself in creative activities.

The mind is an amazing thing.  Right side and left side connect through the corpus callosum, and each half has its duties, both of which are completely different.  Getting them to work in harmony is wonderful – like a piece of art in itself.

Altogether, hobbies are worthwhile investments in yourself and those around you.  Creativity fosters new ways of thinking.  Rocket parts cost money.  Brewing costs money.  Drawing and sewing and photography cost money.  How much is spent depends on what is needed.  The budget should always allow for such activities.

The costs of not having hobbies is far greater . . . there is a loss that goes beyond the dollars saved that cannot even be measured.

 

Monday 108: Economical Eats

Monday, 12 June 2017

We love to cook around here, and we love to eat good, flavorful food.  Sometimes keeping in budget and eating what is on hand becomes a bit of a challenge, and that is where the internet comes in hand, or a good cookbook.  Frankly, a lot of cookbooks are attractive, but in reality, I don’t find that I want to use that many of the recipes.  Sometimes the ingredients are unrealistic or too specialized, but when I see a recipe I like, there is one thing that can be done:  adapt!

Today’s recipe is not an adaptation; rather, it is a Mediterranean dish that has its variants throughout all the borders – north, east, south.  It’s made of eggs and tomatoes and peppers and onions.  What could go wrong with that combination?  Some people add cheese to it, such as goat cheese or feta.  You could add small blobs of mozzarella or whatever.  I added some blobs of ricotta.

So . . . let me present today’s dish!  We had it for dinner last night, and this morning for breakfast, with fresh eggs added as the tomato stew warmed up over the stove top.  It’s really good by itself, or with a nice piece of chunky, crusty Italian bread.

Shakshuka

  • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 bell peppers (green, orange, or yellow contrast nicely to the tomatoes)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed, or 2-3 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1-2 tsp. cumin
  • 1-2 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1-2 tsp. turmeric
  • powdered chile or flakes – add to your own taste for heat
  • 1 28-oz can of Cento San Marzano plum tomatoes, crushed by hand, or 6 large garden tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • salt
  • pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. In an ovenproof pan, add olive oil, heat it up.  Add onions and peppers; saute until tender – about 10 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, and turmeric; continue to stir about a minute to let the flavors out and it becomes fragrant.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, cover, and let reduce – about 10-15 minutes.  Check it periodically to make sure that the mixture is not sticking to your pan.  Check your seasoning for heat.  Add salt and pepper, stir in, and remove from heat once the sauce is to your desired thickness.
  5. Make wells for each egg in the pan.  Break whole eggs into the wells. If you are using any cheese in your dish, this is when you add it.  Place small pieces around the eggs in the tomato sauce.
  6. Place in oven and bake about 10-12 minutes, until eggs set to desired degree – from runny yolks to solid, depending on your choice.
  7. Pour into bowls to serve, allowing 1-2 eggs per person.  Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or cilantro.

 

Monday 109: Surprises, Pleasant & Unpleasant

Monday, 5 June 2017

Just when progress seems good, you get a surprise that warns you that you are not quite where you think you are.  It is humbling, and forces you to re-think what you have been doing.  This is what happened when I decided to do a bit of research on our debt reduction since I started this blog.

The bad news is that we have maintained even ground on one of our credit cards . . . the one connected to Amazon.  As a result, it has not really seen a shift in its balance for the past year.  This was the shocker.  I have been paying the bills, focusing on saving, but never really paid that much attention to the actuality of what was happening there.  To save money, our mobile bill is also on the same credit card, and that has added to our maintaining a balance rather than reducing our balance.  I had not given thought to this automatic debit to our credit card!

The good news is that we have paid off $41,414.28 in debt since January 2016.  This includes everything – house, student loan, credit cards, car.

Preparing for retirement has been the carrot for our financial focus, as well as changing habits with regard to how we manage our money.  It’s been hard work.  It also requires daily assessment of our financial situation if we want to reach our goal in a couple of years with everything but a small student loan and house payment remaining.  Looking ahead, unless something bizarro happens, my retirement income will be similar to what I make now, and I do think we will be comfortable.  I could pick up something part time if I wanted and still get full social security benefits and benefits from my pension, without penalty.

Looking ahead, that credit card will now include the payment for the phone and other routine debits on top of the regular payment while I continue to focus on reducing the other one . . .

Monday 110: Struggles

Monday, 29 May 2017

This month, for me, has been a bit of a struggle.  It has been a long work month, and a month filled with getting things fixed.

The Acura needed to be fixed, to the tune of $1700.00, which took a lot of money out of “the plan” –  the plan to pay off debt, to continue to save, and to move forward toward greater financial independence.  It has been a month seemingly filled with niggling expenses, little needs, big needs, but nothing especially rewarding other than the fact we at least have the money to do what needed doing.  That feels good – being able to afford these things.

What I don’t like is the fact I could not meet our intended goals for the month.  In other words, life got in the way!  When I think about it, perhaps work has been the problem this month, rather than our economics . . . ?

Work has been filled with intensity – getting things prepped for one big day, and a day which I did not thing was worth the effort.  It was a waste of time and energy and focus – too much focus.  There were a lot of other things which could have been done, things which, in my opinion, could have better served those involved.

Now I am feeling burned out and even more desirous of a change in my job, but that is not going to happen.  I have too much invested here, and at my age, no desire to find another place to be.  I really like where I work – I am just not really happy with some things.  I don’t know if I could change anything at present.  Even changing my work schedule is not really possible.

In reality, this is a conundrum.  I would love to be able to retire now, but that is not what I want, because I want to meet certain financial goals.  Maybe a year earlier than planned?  Sometimes, I think my job is killing me, and that’s when I have to fight it in creative ways, and for the past two weeks, creativity has been non-existent.  Time to return to the part of my life which is my life saver.

Monday 111: Taking a Day (or Two) Off

Monday, 22 May 2017

After a crazy week at work, I decided to kick back and do nothing too hard.  Instead, I am spending it with family and friends, doing things I enjoy, and not thinking overly hard about frugality and its place in life.  The weekend will be filled with cheap and / or free thrills that won’t be impinge upon the finances more than a couple of bucks!

Monday 112: Looking At Retirement Numbers

Monday, 15 May 2017

This weekend I took an online class that is required to set up an appointment with a representative from my retirement program, a public employees retirement system (PERS).  The course is actually very worthwhile as it opened my eyes to all the wonderful things available to me through it:  different levels of retirement pay, depending on how I choose to disburse it; health care which includes medical, dental, vision; long-term care.  There are other things, too, which make me so grateful I am a member of this group – something which I did not appreciate until recently.  On top of it, I have been paying social security ever since I began working at 17, and can expect to collect a tidy sum there.  The question is whether or not I will be affected by the WEP (Windfall Eliminations Provision) or not.  I will be making a visit to a local Social Security office to start learning about this as well as Medicare sign-up.

Getting ready ahead of time is really important to me, not just for retirement economics, but overall.  Sadly, I haven’t done well in the financial department, though it is getting better.  With retirement two years out, I figure my time to learn about what I can hope for on the financial scene is now, not later.  I really admire all the younger bloggers who have their acts together.  Planning for my retirement means getting my financial house in order by June 30, 2019, my estimated date of the last of 182 Mondays!

Car expenses were awful this month – but cheaper than buying another car!  Mr. 182’s car is an Acura RSX S Type, from 2003.  It’s in good shape, but like with any car, it needs maintenance and repair.  While the oil is changed regularly, things can happen.  What happened was the air conditioner went out.  In cooler months, this is okay to not need, but in hot summer months, it is another story.  Fortunately, we have a good mechanic who is into economical repairs, and does things piecemeal, checks, and continues.  We had hoped it would have been a $400 repair, but after that, it came to the point of having to pull out the dashboard to get to other parts of the system.  The evaporator was corroded – common, it turns out – in this car and model.  So, the final cost was $1680.30 – but we had the cash, thanks to saving every month!  And, we can still save $1000.00 this month, so we will replace most of what we spent.

Planning ahead saves money.  It makes some people really happy to do this, while others are more for living in the moment.  Whatever you are, some self-discipline and self-denial are necessary.  Having a “pay myself first” attitude builds wealth.  Not buying things when you cannot afford them works, too – unless you are quick to pull out the credit card, which has been our past habit.

Everything in life changes.  Planning ahead helps lighten financial shocks, such as extensive car repairs.  Saving money is akin to saving yourself in many ways.