Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

Author Archive: Jana

Frivolous? Perhaps. Worth it? Definitely.

I try not to buy books. I don’t like to buy something I’ll read once and most likely never even look at again (in fact, this is one of my main reasons why I haven’t purchased an e-reader). I’m all for sharing books but no one I know seems to have my taste in books. So I can’t justify spending the money. Usually.

Sometimes, however, I’ll come across a book like this:

And this:

And most importantly, this:

I spent $27 on these books yesterday. It might have been unnecessary but worth every penny.
Have you bought something recently that seemed frivolous but was completely worth it?

Creating a menu plan

The following is a reprint from my now inactive blog, The Empty Kitchen.

Creating a menu plan is far and away the easiest way to save money on groceries. A menu plan lets you know exactly what you’re eating, helps you create a list for your weekly grocery shopping and, because it covers all meals and snacks and spells out all the ingredients you’ll need for your meals, it keeps you from stopping at the grocery store for “just one thing” or ordering take-out. Menu plans work for all diets, budget levels and family size from individuals to families of 8 (or more!). You can create menu plans for one week, two weeks, one month, two months or even a full year. It’s really up to you.

Menu planning is not as hard as it seems. Follow this simple outline to get started:

  1. Determine the duration for which you’d like a plan. I suggest starting simple–one week.
  2. Write down, or think about, the foods you know you like to eat and the foods you don’t. This will serve as the basis for selecting your meals.
  3. Print a calendar, like those available from Outlook or Google. You will use this to write down the meals for each day of the week. The other option is to just keep a list. Keeping a list of meals still allows you keep an organized menu plan but it’s a little less rigid than assigning specific meals to a specific day of the week.
  4. View any cookbooks you may have on hand for recipes. If you do not have any cookbooks, visit a site like www.allrecipes.com or the $5 Dinner Mom for ideas. You may also know certain recipes that you can use for your menu plan that week. For instance, I have a recipe for chicken and rice; it’s not written down anywhere but I know the recipe off the top of my head. I can incorporate it if that’s what I feel like eating that week. Make sure you write down on your menu plan where to find the recipes.
  5. Survey your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what ingredients you have on hand. Use this list and compare it to the recipes you’ve selected for the week. For example, if you know you’d like to eat black bean burgers, look to see if you have the black beans or bread crumbs already on hand. The write down the missing ingredients on your grocery list.
  6. Post the menu plan somewhere that the whole family can see it. That way, if anyone wants to know what’s for dinner, you can just say “look at the plan on the fridge”.

Another suggestion for menu planning is to pick a specific day of the week and try to do your menu planning at the same time every week. And try, if you can, to do your grocery shopping on the same day. This kind of schedule allows you to time when foods will run out and when they’ll need to be replaced (ex., orange juice–1 1/2 gallon typically lasts 1 week in my house, so I know that every Saturday I  need to buy more juice); this is a money saver. You can budget accordingly and it helps prevent mid-week, unscheduled trips to the supermarket.

If you can, try to also plan your menus around sales at your local grocery store. If pasta is on sale that week, try to plan several pasta dishes. If peanut butter is on sale, try to plan meals around peanut butter. You may wind up eating the same dish on a few different days but it is a huge money saver to plan meals around sales. And when you’re on a strict budget, saving money is essential.

Menu planning helps keep you organized, saves you money and is a huge time saver. Yes, it’s a lot of work up front but when there are so many positive end results, it’s completely worth it!

If you are unsure where to start with a menu plan, visit this section of The Empty Kitchen for examples. You can also check out how I use categorical menu planning to create varied weekly menus.

Car trouble? No problem!

While driving on the New Jersey Turnpike last week, a rock struck my windshield leaving a small crack. I knew it was going to have to be taken care of but no more so than today when I walked out to my car and saw how the crack had somehow, magically, spread overnight. But you know what? It’s OK. Why? Because I have a car maintenance/emergency fund.

After the debacle with the free car and the thousands of dollars of maintenance that went into keeping our 1994 Honda Accord on life support, my husband came up with the idea of having a separate emergency fund just for our cars. We were both tired of our regular EF being drained for car purposes and this seemed like the perfect solution. We agreed that $1000 seemed like a good amount and we’ve been contributing $100 per month to the fund. We’re currently around $600. This would be higher but some things have come up, like routine maintenance, brake replacement, and now, the crack in my windshield. And his windshield (let’s not go there). None of this things make me break into a a sweat because the money is there to fix them. Without the help of credit or having to compromise our budget.

This wasn’t always the case. There were times that a simple oil change induced anxiety attacks and frantic budget rearranging. Not anymore! Now, we can take a step back and breathe because we know the money is there. As our cars are later models (his is a 2007, mine is 2010), the problems that come with older cars aren’t necessarily present and the money lasts a lot longer. This is a great side effect because, just like with our regular emergency fund, when money gets taken out we have to make sure it gets replaced as soon as possible.

There have been many days in my life when I’ve wished I could go car-free. I find that cars are too expensive and generally a pain the ass. Unfortunately, I live in the suburbs with poor public transportation so I have to suck it up. Having the car fund has given me a little peace of mind with regard to all the upkeep, maintenance and problems that come with a car. If only I could just find a way to get it to clean itself…

Do you have an area in your life where you’ve created a separate maintenance and/or emergency fund? How much do you routinely keep in that fund?

Money Tune Tuesday: Dreaming

So, I love the song “Dreaming” by Blondie. Here’s the video:

Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

When I met you in the restaurant

You could tell I was no debutante
You asked me what’s my pleasure
A movie or a measure?
I’ll have a cup of tea and tell you of my dreaming
Dreaming is free
I don’t want to live on charity
Pleasure’s real or is it fantasy?
Reel to reel is living rarity
People stop and stare at me We just walk on by – we just keep on dreaming
Feet feet, walking a two mile
Meet meet, meet me at the turnstile
I never met him, I’ll never forget him

Dream dream, even for a little while

Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate 
This isn’t exactly a money song but it makes a great point: dreaming is free. When you feel like you’ve lost everything, when you can spend another day living frugally, when your life seems like nothing is going right, it doesn’t cost anything to dream. Lose yourself in the music (shout out to Eminem) or in your dreams. Remind yourself of what’s keeping you going. Because it’s free.
Here are some of my dreams: 
  • I dream of being a published author. Of books. That people read!
  • I dream of living at the beach where I write the books that people read.
  • I dream of having a paid for house at the beach where I write the books that people read.
  • I dream of travelling anywhere I want because I have a paid for house at the beach where I write the books that people read. 
I have got to stop reading The House That Jack Built.
What are some of your dreams?

Guest post: Making choices

This is a guest post from Shanendoah at Baking the Budget. I’ve known her for awhile and I’m so happy that she not only agreed to write this post but is now a fellow Yakezie challenger!
I decided a guest blog post was the perfect place to talk about choices in personal finance. As the recent “If I had $1,000,000” meme showed, not all personal finance bloggers would make the same choices. And I’m certain that most readers of these blogs would make even more varied choices. And that’s the way it should be. There are no wrong answers.
See, personal finance bloggers aren’t actually more qualified than anyone else to talk about personal finances, we’re just the ones who are willing to do so. And none of us actually care what choices other people make, we just hope to help you make informed decisions so that you know in advance what the trade-offs are, because there are always trade-offs, since most of us don’t have an unending supply of cash.
So what choices do I make that might make other personal finance bloggers or people on money message boards blanch?
I have cable TV and internet. The TV part might actually be going here soon, at least for a month or two. Not having cable internet is not an option for us. (Well, it is an option, but one we’d only take in drastic situations.) Yes, I pay too much for this, but I make the trade-offs. We go to see a movie in the theater maybe once every 3 months. We don’t go have drinks with friends. We only eat out when we plan on eating out.
I pay more for electricity than I need to. A few years ago, when the husband and I were both working, we signed up for a green energy program. It means we pay more money per kilowatt hour for our power, but it guarantees that our power company buys at least that much power from renewable sources. When my husband lost his job, we could have cut that bill by leaving the program. We chose not to. We had some really lean months where the extra $25 or so would have made a difference, but instead, we chose to focus on other areas to cut and free up cash (like getting rid of our debt). Per haps we should have dropped out for a few months and then re-signed up. Maybe that would have made better financial sense, but it wouldn’t have been the right choice for us.
You don’t even want to know how much I pay for gas or oil changes. We chose to buy a car with a diesel engine. And we choose to run bio-diesel in it – not fry grease or even the B5 or B20 you can find at most stations now. We run B99- that’s diesel that is 99% bio and only 1% petroleum. Its not sold in a lot of places, and I’ve been paying over $5/gallon for over a year. Sometimes we have to make special trips just to go fill the tank. But, B99 prices are more stable than gas prices, so I’m able to better budget my fuel consumption. I only take the car in for an oil change every 10,000 miles (instead of every 3,000), and we have an engine that should last our entire lives. We pay more for upkeep but with the plan that we won’t be replacing this car for another 20 years at least. My husband jokes that he plans on being buried in the car.
These are the choices we make because they are the right choices for us. We are willing to make the trade-offs needed to sustain these choices. That doesn’t make them right for everyone, or even anyone, else.
And that’s my point. Personal finance is all about choices. As long as you make your choices knowing what the trade-offs are, knowing what you’re willing to do and what you’re not, you’re making the right choices for you.
What things do you pay more for that others might consider best cut out when on a tight budget?