Friday, April 30, 2010

May 2010 Goals

I am recommitted to consistently making monthly goals since I have been pretty sporadic with them thus far in 2010. I only have three goals this month, but for me, it's about quality, not quantity:
  1. Make May a low-spend month! I plan to make this a low-spend month by cooking most of my meals, packing lunch and snacks on work/class days and minimizing all non-essential spending. Mother's Day is right around the corner, so I will have to spend money on Mother's Day gifts, but that is the only shopping I plan to do for the month outside of grocery shopping.
  2. Be productive in personal endeavors! I have quite a few personal endeavors I work on at any given time, but for this month, I plan to focus my energy on: this blog, tasks for the nonprofit I am involved with, and my spring semester class which wraps up during the month of May. If I find myself with any 'spare' time, I'd like to work on learning how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, which I had been doing on the weekends for a while, but stopped for some inexplicable reason.
  3. Exercise! Whether I go to the gym with a buddy, do an exercise DVD at home, or dance around my apartment (hey it burns calories so it counts!), I've got to step up my exercise regimen. I'm going to make a concerted effort to go try going to the gym before work, but I so love sleeping until the last possible moment in the we'll see how that goes.
I plan to have a positive, productive month and I hope you do as well!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reasons to buy organic: Scary sized fruit

I normally purchase organic fruit and vegetables because though there is a cost difference, I worry about the higher levels of pesticides that have been known to be in non-organic fruit. There are differing opinions on how harmful pesticides are to humans, but I just prefer to stay away from them. I also try to remember to purchase locally grown fruit, and plan to make an effort to do that more often in the future.

On my last trip to the grocery store, I was in a rush and didn't look closely at the strawberries I grabbed with the intention of using them for a recipe. But when I opened them up yesterday, I saw a strawberry larger than my palm. That's a little scary to me. I'd never seen a strawberry that big. Needless to say, that gigantic strawberry is still sitting in my refrigerator. Genetically modified fruit that is unnaturally large is not for me. I hate to waste food, but I don't feel comfortable eating it. That will teach me to rush while food shopping....

There is a listing of the top 12 fruit and vegetables that have been found to have the highest quantities of pesticides. Strawberries are right up there on the list, so I feel better about not eating that large strawberry. I also came across this calendar recently that has a listing of fruit and vegetables that are in season by month. I'm not a gardener, so I don't know what fruit and vegetables are in season off the top of my head.

Do you eat organic fruit and vegetables despite the cost difference, or does eating organic food matter to you?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why apartment living works for me

I don’t plan to live in an apartment forever, but for now, it is the housing option that is most conducive to my lifestyle. I shared a house with two roommates’ immediately after college and shortly after that, I moved into my current apartment. While I don't necessarily feel much social pressure as these people do to purchase a home, it's still a goal I plan to achieve (preferably in five years or less). The major reason why apartment life works for my current lifestyle are:

  1. I don’t have a down payment saved yet. I’m currently focusing on debt payment, regularly contributing to my retirement accounts and building my emergency savings. I hope to be able to focus on saving for home ownership in 2011, but for now, it’s not a priority. I’m aware that I’ll miss out on the homeowner tax credit that is ending this month, but there are other first time homeowner programs that I have been told about by people who have gone through the process that I should be eligible for when I have my savings cushion together. Before I actually purchase a home, I'd like to 'pretend I own it' for several months, by figuring out what my mortgage payment would be and estimating other expenses involved. I'd then send the difference between that estimated (mortgage plus expenses) amount and my current rent payment to savings. If I can do that for several months without feeling a strain on my budget, then I'll feel ready to take the plunge to home ownership.
  2. I like the flexibility that renting offers. I don’t have plans to move the in near future, but I like the idea that if I did, I could do so without the upheaval that would be involved if I was a homeowner. I won't have to worry about renting or selling property, taxes, and home improvements that would increase property value whenever I decide to move.
  3. I have great landlord. My landlord is very responsive to any maintenance requests I have had since I moved into my current residence. I’d probably have different views on renting if I had negative experiences, so I consider myself very lucky.
  4. I love my current neighborhood. I love my current neighborhood but could not afford to own a home in the area on my current salary. Earlier this year, I did some preliminary research and on how much house I could afford on my current salary and actually got pre-approved for a mortgage. But after looking at some homes (and condos) in my city, the options I preferred would have been at the very top of my budget. I anticipate my income to increase over time, so I should logically have more flexibility in living in a preferred neighborhood in the future.

Home ownership is no fun at all if you haven't properly planned for it, and I need to take more time to do that. I consider home ownership to be an important future goal, but I realize that I can’t rush it and I plan to wait until I feel ready mentally and financially for that step.

How did you determine you were 'ready to become a homeowner, or when do you think you'll reach that point if you haven't yet?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

(Personal Finance) Reading is Fundamental

I am a big fan of reading for pleasure and for gaining knowledge. I take full advantage of the plethora of books the public library in my city has to offer and recently picked up two on my last visit that focus on personal finance. I've seen other bloggers comment on both of these books, so I'd like to read them myself and hopefully apply some useful knowledge from them. I plan to read through The Power to Prosper and follow Michelle Singletary's prescriptive advice as close as I can. I'm also interested in gaining insight on millionaire's from The Millionaire Next Door that haven't accumulated wealth through entertainment or sports fields, which is how the media repeatedly portrays millionaires. I'd like to learn about other paths to wealth. I'll report back on what I think about both of them!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Have a Great Pizza Recipe? Enter this Earth Day Inspired Contest

I decided to do a post about this contest because it is in honor of Earth Day and because of the fact that pizza has been a long-standing favorite dish. In the spirit of Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary, Pizza Fusion has launched a nationwide search for the greenest, most eco-friendly pizza recipe in the country with the Pizza Fusion Earth Day Video Contest. If you have pizza-making skills and have a desire to do something eco-friendly in honor of Earth Day, you might want to enter this contest. It might also be fun to make your recipe budget-friendly including ingredients that are as inexpensive as possible. This contest is an online, 100% paperless competition with earth-friendly prizes and is being judged by a panel including Chef Aaron McCargo Jr., star of Food Network’s Big Daddy’s House and Michael Singer of Bon Appétit Magazine.

Contest prizes include:

  • Trip for Two to an Organic and Sustainable Vineyard
  • A Year’s supply of Organic Beverages from Honest Tea and Give Natural Spring Water
  • An “Eco-Design” bike from Trek Bikes
  • The winning recipe posted online at
  • $100 Gift Card to Pizza Fusion
  • $100 Gift Card to Whole Foods

Here’s how the contest works:

  • Participants upload their short recipe video clip on YouTube.
  • A panel of judges will review the top five YouTube videos that garner the most views through Friday, April 30th.
  • Participants are encouraged to spread the word about their video to family and friends through social media avenues such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • One winner will be announced online Monday, May 3rd

Joining Vaughan Lazar, president of Pizza Fusion, as a judge will be Chef Aaron McCargo Jr., star of Food Network’s Big Daddy’s House; Michael Singer, online editor of Bon Appétit; and Craig Agranoff, blogger and founder of; and Jen Friel, actress and blogger of They’ll be judging the recipes for creativity, earth-friendly value, overall presentation and edibility.

And to truly give back to the planet, participants and their supporters can also make contributions to Share Our Strength®, a national organization that works hard to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry, in Chef Aaron McCargo Jr.’s name. During the month of April, participating Pizza Fusion locations have set up “dough-nation” buckets where 100 percent of the proceeds go to Share Our Strength as well as online at

Happy Pizza-making!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Colorful Clothes As An Economic Indicator

According to a recent New York Times article, the resurgence of multihued designs can be interpreted as an indicator of recovery:

"The profusion of hothouse colors and patterns popping up on New York streets this month suggests a new buoyancy, as women shake off the constraints of a lingering recession and stock up on fashions more lively and vivid than they’ve seen in years."
"People are sick of not shopping," said Beth Buccini, an owner of Kirna Zabete, a SoHo outpost of vanguard design, where splashy florals and abstract designs are providing a bracing antidote to months of self-imposed sobriety. After such a miserable winter, and an even more miserable economy," she said, "people want a little joy in their lives."

I don't think the down economy has necessarily changed my spending habits. While I didn't stop spending money on non-essentials completely, I've gotten into the habit of saving (no matter how small the amount) for a 'rainy' day and try to keep my spending in check in general. If I'm able to pay all of my bills, save, and make progress toward my financial goals I'm happy. Building discretionary spending on non-essentials into my budget like clothing works for me but others feel very comfortable with cutting it out entirely.

I see a minor evolution of my personal style to being more comfortable in a more diverse range of color and prints rather than neutral colors. But I'm not sure if this change can be attributed to the economy making moderate improvements or outside style influences combined with the development of my personal taste. The article goes on to say that though there has been gradual increases in consumer spending: "consumption is not expected to rise to the levels of 2006, when apparel sales rose on average by 6 percent."

Have you seen any changes in your clothing spending over the past few years because of the economy? Do you think the economy influences your personal style color choices as the article suggests?

Image: New York Times

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How will becoming a vegetarian affect my budget?

I've been ruminating over the decision to become a vegetarian for quite some time and figured that it was time to put it out there in the universe and really do it. For the long term health benefits of vegetarianism, I've decided that I will slowly phase meat out of my diet. I may eat fish occasionally, but won't eat other forms of meat. I'm not big on dairy, but will reconsider veganism in the next few years. Vegetarianism isn't for everyone and but I think it's a good choice for me. As I made this decision, I wondered how becoming a vegetarian will affect my budget.

I don't anticipate that vegetarianism will change my food spending much for the time being. I won't be purchasing organic meat any longer which can be very pricey. Substitution products like tofu and soy can be pricey as well, but I already purchase them in moderation and will continue to do so. My goal is to become more creative with my meals in general and to limit my intake of processed foods. I plan to to minimize food spending by doing things such as: buying fruits and vegetables that are in season, stocking up on beans and grains which are usually inexpensive, and will start comparison shopping for food items that tend to be pricier.

I currently spend about $200 - $250 per month on groceries and I spend about $80 - $100 per month on restaurants/take-out. I always see a spike in the amount I spend on groceries when I decide to try a new dish that requires ingredients I don't already have or if I decide to bake something because I frequently use organic ingredients and dairy alternatives to bake like the recipes in this book. I'll start monitoring my food spending more closely to see how cutting out meat impacts my food spending.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Keep Cost Per Wear In Mind When Doing Summer Shopping

If you live somewhere along the East coast like I do, you have probably experienced some nice (but hot weather!) for the past few days. A change in seasons (or drastic temperature fluctuations) usually make me think of what gaps exist in my closet that I'd like to fill, I'm sure others can relate. But before you go out and make a summer appropriate purchase on your next pay day, keep in mind how much wear you will actually get out of the item you'd like to purchase. I'm not a 'math person,' but even I can remember this relatively simple formula:

Item cost /Times worn = Cost per wear

I don't really NEED any clothing and I'm an accessories girl anyway, so it's easiest for me to think of something I'd actually want: a cognac colored bag is currently on the top of my wish list. But I've only seen inexpensive versions from big box retailers that I am pretty certain won't last beyond a season or two, so my wish is still indeed just a wish. So if I purchase a bag for $100 and wear it 100 times over the year, then the cost per wear for the shoes would be around $1.00. You can use the cost per wear concept for other purchases, but for me, it applies most to clothing/accessories. I do afterall have a strong interest in style and strive to spend less than I earn. I also implement the 'remix rule' which I've mentioned before on this blog. If I can't think of at least 3-4 ways to 'remix' an item before purchasing it, then I usually put it back on the shelf (or virtual shopping cart). Your closet should be filled with 'work horses' that will stand the test of time and can be worn in multiple ways. If I can't create ways to wear an item without other supporting purchases (shirt to match pants, shoes to match belt, etc), then I don't buy it.

What are some of your shopping rules?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Curbing Debit Card Usage

During the Easter weekend, I used cash for the majority of my spending and I realized how much more conscious of my spending I was as a result. I've gotten out of the habit of using cash regularly, and use my debit card for most of my purchases. I'd like to continue to curb my debit card usage for the rest of the month. I noticed a few things while operating on cash (mostly) instead of my debit card exclusively:
  1. Took away my shopping mojo. The weather was so beautiful over the weekend that I did go into several stores including my usual 'budget kryptonite,' H&M and managed to walk out of the store without purchasing anything. In the past, I might have made a small purchase with the idea that I can return or exchange the item if I change my mind about it later, but nothing I saw passed the 'Love' test. The 'Love' test just means, I knew I wouldn't feel a sense of regret for leaving anything in the store, so I did just that.

  2. Spent less. I find it so much easier to just hand over my debit card and not think too closely about the money being spent until after the fact when I reconcile how much I've spent, but physically handling cash makes me watch my spending more closely because once it's gone, it takes an extra step to withdraw more money at a bank or store that gives cash back.

  3. Decided on cheaper options when I did spend. When going out to lunch on Saturday, I opted for a kids meal at Qdoba, that was quite filling instead of an adult-sized meal because I didn't want to use all of my cash.

I don't plan on spending much money this week, so I withdrew money today that should last for the rest of the week. I'll continue to do this on a weekly basis. I will pack my lunch daily and will think twice before making any non-essential purchases. The only exception to this rule will be loading money on my Smart Trip card for my daily Metro rides and a trip out of town that will take place at the end of the month (more on that later).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hobbies and the costs associated with them

I feel that most people benefit from having a hobby or an outlet outside of their job and daily commitments. Though blogging has been a very fun hobby for me over the past few years, I wanted to stretch myself to be a little more creative in 2010, so I decided to take up another hobby which is drawing. I was also inspired to pursue my own non-blogging hobby by Well Heeled's posts on her hobby which is Argentine tango dancing. I signed up for an Intro to Drawing class at an art studio that offers adult classes in my area called the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and have really been enjoying it. I'm still very much a beginner, but the class has encouraged me to practice drawing on my own and I definitely plan to take other art classes in the future. Unlike blogging which I love, I don't have to sit in front of a computer to draw and it requires singular focus, so I can't try to multi-task and do several things at once which I'm usually tempted to do when I'm blogging on my computer.

I'm in the last week of my eight week class which cost $272. I think this price is pretty reasonable for my class and I was able to arrange a payment plan, so I didn't have to pay for the class in one lump sum. I have spent approximately $50 on supplies that include newsprint paper, high quality drawing paper, sketch pad, drawing pencils, ink, charcol sticks, erasers, a supply case and an artwork carrier. Replacing these supplies won't cost as much because I won't be buying things like the supply case and artwork carrier again. Art supplies like pencils and paper should also last a while for me since this is a purely recreational hobby and I'm not taking time-intensive art classes. I think the money for the class and supplies was worth spending and look forward to seeing gradual improvement in my drawing/artwork in the future.

Maybe I'll take a stab at drawing a landscape picture of some cherry blossom trees this week since they are in full bloom!