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Archive for October, 2008

Trick or Treat!

October 30th, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Are you ready for Halloween? We are...

Since I am now retired, I will miss the costume parade at school, but we are still getting into the spirit of the day (pun intended).

I am trying to focus on healthier treats, so I bought fruit rolls and popcorn balls for all the little hooligans that will come by tomorrow. The two neighbor children are also getting a $10 gift certificate to a book store. Once a teacher, always a teacher I guess.

Even TC is ready to "Trick or Treat." She loves to wear her ballerina costume I bought for $4.

Hope your Halloween is a safe and fun-filled day.

We Already Voted

October 28th, 2008 at 04:54 pm

To me, voting is a privilege and a responsibility. I have not missed an election since becoming a naturalized citizen in my 20s. DH is American by birth, so he has always been able to vote... and he does. For the last few years, we have been voting by absentee ballot and find that it is very convenient. It is easy to complete the ballot in the comfort of your home and then mail it. Voters can also drop off absentee ballots at any polling place on Election Day. In CA, you can apply to be a permanent absentee voter but regulations probably vary in other states.

This morning on CNN, I watched a segment about voter registration fraud, the long voter lines expected in some regions, and a myriad of problems with electronic voting machines. In one case, a woman using an electronic machine voted then saw all her votes jump up a line to the opposing candidates when she completed the process. Weird, but CNN actually showed a machine doing that.

Well, this only reinforces that we are happy to be permanent absentee voters. We mailed in our ballots several weeks ago, so we have done our civic duty. On Election Day, we will not have to deal with the stress of getting to the polls before or after work, or waiting in a long line as we have done in the past. (Well, since I'm retired, going before or after work wouldn't have been a problem for me, but no one likes waiting in line.)

Two Busy Weekends

October 27th, 2008 at 02:36 am

On Saturday, October 19, I went to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival. For the last 14 years, it's been an annual tradition to go with two friends from graduate school. Our DHs will not go because they can't stand the bumper-to-bumper traffic and the fact that the normal 30-minute drive takes at least 90 minutes. We don't care... we have fun talking on the way there and back. The festival features a pumpkin weigh off, lots of live music, and beautiful crafts. We ate lunch at our favorite Italian restaurant and enjoyed the festivities and the unusually warm weather. This year we broke down and bought the popular pumpkin hats for $21. They're whimsical and warm, and we will definitely wear them next year.



This last Saturday, DH and I went to the Tech Museum of Innovation for the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit. It was well worth the $53 it cost for the entrance, IMAX, and special exhibit. If you are ever in San Jose, I recommend the Tech Museum. There are many excellent exhibits and hands-on activities for kids. Regular entrance is only $8 for adults and it includes an IMAX movie.


Frugal Menus

October 20th, 2008 at 12:24 am

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am saving money on groceries by creating menus and shopping from a list. Here are my dinner menus for the coming week. I calculated that I am spending about $5.26 a day for two people:

Sunday: Baked whole rosemary-stuffed chicken, brown rice, Cesar salad, whole wheat French bread

Monday: Chicken curry (from leftovers) over brown rice, tossed green salad, whole wheat French bread

Tuesday: Mushroom penne, steamed asparagus, whole wheat French bread

Wednesday: Grilled tilapia with tequila-lime seasoning, quinoa cooked in vegetable bouillon, tomato/basil/baby cucumber salad

Thursday: Vegetable stir-fry with chicken (leftover) served over brown rice

Friday: Tomato and red pepper soup, leftover mushroom penne pasta, tossed green salad (we're going to a play, so we needed a quick dinner...)

Saturday: Marinated pork chops, quinoa, broccoli sauteed with mushrooms and garlic

For dessert: fresh fruit in season; sometimes we might include a slice of provolone or smoked gouda.


Cost of dinners for the week ~ $36.83 (not including wine):
Whole chicken, 4.75# (from freezer) - 4.70
1# penne pasta - .99
Tilapia (from freezer) - 2.73
Pork chops (from freezer) - 2.99
Fresh vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, celery, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes) - 12.87
Whole-wheat Artisan French bread - 2.98
Tomato/roasted red pepper soup - Free (gift from DS)
3.25#s Papaya - 3.87
2# Gala apples - 1.96
Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice (2/5.00) - 1.75 used
Quinoa (Trader Joe's) - 1.99

Had:
Spices
Fresh herbs (from patio planter)
Lime juice for papaya
Wine of the week: 2003 Scarbolo Merlot 11.99 (not counted in daily meal cost)

Still No Heat!

October 19th, 2008 at 04:41 pm

We still have not had to turn on the heat, but the month has been unseasonably warm. However, we have had a few cold days but I have resisted turning on the heat. Yesterday I received our PG&E gas/electric bill and was pleasantly surprised:

October (30 days in cycle): 14.90 kWh/day and 0.33 Therms/day
$69.54

September (31 days in cycle): 22.68 kWh/day and 0.35 Therms/day
$130.09

I did learn the power company will no longer allow customers to pay with a CC, so I won't be able to get my miles as I normally do. I will set up this account on auto-pay, though, which will still make paying very convenient.

In my part of the world, October's weather so far has been rather mild: not hot enough for the AC, yet cooler, but not enough to HAVE TO turn on the heat. Thanks to Fern (Wild Blue Yonder) and the "No Heat Contest," I am being far more conscious about the just turning on the thermostat to get comfortable. Now I just go for a sweater or a comforter instead.

My Challenge

October 18th, 2008 at 02:45 pm

No wonder my palm's been itching! I'm finally on a roll with my $20 Challenge. In the past month I have received $35 in rebates (for a new shredder and a flash drive), $739 in 1099 income for 10 hours of consulting, $30 for an insurance overpayment, and $6.85 for recycling our plastic and aluminum. Since August 27, when I last added to the challenge, I have had 11 NSDs ($3 each) and 8 NDDs ($4 each) so that is another $65 to add. I am also adding the free $25 (plus interest) I received for opening my ING account back in January. From now on, I will deposit all challenge $$ into ING which is going to be dedicated to my $20 Challenge funds.

Balance Forward = $222.43

Rebates - $35
1099 Income - $739.12
Recycling $$ - $6.85
NSDs (11) and NDDs (8) - $65
Insurance premium overpayment - $30
ING Balance - $26.44

New Balance = $1124.84

My goal by December 31, 2008: $2,500. I think I might actually make it!

Saving $$ on Groceries

October 16th, 2008 at 06:36 pm

Today I calculated that since retiring in late August, my grocery bill is averaging between $100 and $115 a week, not including household items such as paper towels, soap, etc. It also does not include dining out. Before I retired, our average grocery bill was at around $575-600 a month plus we spent about $200 dining out. While I am definitely spending less than when I worked, I don't know if my spending is high, average, or low for two people.

What have I done differently that has resulted in savings? To start with, in September, I took an inventory of the pantry and freezer. Unfortunately, I had to throw out a few expired cans and some items in the freezer that were freezer burned. I used some food before it expired, so this was a savings, but then I replaced them and stocked up on staples.

Another money saver is that I now make weekly menus. The impact? We are not only saving money, we are also eating healthier. I am buying more fresh vegetables and fruits and have reduced our consumption of red meat. At least once a week, I try to make a hearty soup and this provides leftovers for lunch, too. It helps that I like to cook and have fun creating menus, using some items already in my pantry.

My shopping trips are now far more efficient than when I worked. I go to the store less frequently and I always take a list. So far, I am keeping Costco runs to about once a month and trips to the grocery store to about every 10 days. When I worked, I'd hit the store on the way home and buy things I already had at home (but didn't know it). I also frequently shopped when I was hungry or tired... not a good idea.

When I worked, we ate out about 3 times a week, mostly because I was too tired to cook at the end of a hectic day. It was about convenience. Now we might dine out once a week, if that. Since I have time to cook, and I enjoy it, I am only too happy to do so. Lately, it seems dining out is mostly brunch or lunch on weekends, either before or after we go to the movies or some other activity.

My next challenge is to learn how to get better at using coupons to save money, much like Retire@50 does. I definitely can improve in this area, and I think I can still reduce our grocery bill some. But I am very happy with my savings so far. I am curious... what do you spend on groceries and for how many people?

How Will the Presidential Election Results Impact Your Taxes?

October 15th, 2008 at 04:51 pm

I stumbled upon this interesting calculator that lets individuals estimate the impact on their taxes for the next four years, based on the candidates' promised tax plans.

Personally, I do not put much store in political promises and will not be voting based on how much money I can save on my taxes. It is far more important to me to vote for the candidate whose policies I believe will more likely result in saving lives, creating jobs, and enabling Americans to afford the basic necessities (i.e., health care, housing, food, gas, etc.).

Which candidate to choose? Well, here's a quiz to see which candidate you align with philosophically. This is one of MANY candidate quizzes/calculators, something I don't remember from the last election.

How are you Dealing with Digital TV Transition?

October 6th, 2008 at 02:42 am

On February 17, 2009, most TV stations in the US will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves in favor of digital. Today I applied for a $40 coupon
toward a converter box for our analog TV at our Idaho house, where we use only a set of "rabbit ears" to get reception. It is not worth it for us to pay for cable or satellite since we are there only a week or two every couple of months, and we do not want to buy a new TV. Fortunately, in CA, our TV is newer and digital so we are OK.

I am surprised at how many people say they are buying a new digital TV. This includes people I know are having financial issues as well as some who already use cable or satellite. It doesn't make sense to me unless the TV genuinely needs replacing. How are you dealing with the transition and if you have installed a converter box, is it an easy process?

Bargain Shopping for December Trip

October 5th, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Well, I'm back in CA and it is a beautiful, clear autumn day although it was raining yesterday when I arrived. But, I still have not had to turn on the heat!

Now that I am retired, I have time to begin my Christmas shopping earlier than usual. This year, we will be in El Salvador for Christmas, so I have additional family members to shop for and I have decided to begin with this challenging group. I say challenging because, although these are all my first cousins and their families, I really do not know some of them well. The exception is one cousin with whom I am very close and my aunt and uncle who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

After an hour of searching super-clearance racks at three major department stores at the mall, I spent $20.62, saving $143.68 from the original retail price. Here is what I bought:

- Ladies black short-sleeved blazer, linen-cotton blend... lined and machine washable (original price $49)
- Red blouse, short-sleeve, classic style... polyester micro-fiber that feels like silk (original price $38)
- 2 short-sleeve, classic v-neck tee-shirts, one black and one white in 100% pima cotton (original price $22 each)
- Henley-style short sleeve, woven top, 100% cotton in dusty rose (original price $24)

My perseverance paid off! I got 70% off of the clearance prices at one store and 40% off at another. All items were already drastically reduced, so it seems the retailers are really pushing to clear their summer inventory. The items I bought are good quality, from well-known manufacturers (e.g., Liz & Co., Joneswear, Alfred Dunner), and machine-washable. I like to buy timeless, classic styles in basic colors. The tee shirts are size 4-6, so they will be gifts for some petite family members and the black blazer was on my cousin's "wish list" so I know she will love it. And, since El Salvador is in the tropics, the summer-type fashions are perfect.

Now, I only have 18 more people to shop for, and I have to stay within the baggage limit (the suitcase with gifts must weigh less than 50#s total). I have budgeted $500 (not including DA and DU) and so far, I am well under budget. I will be looking for small, light-weight, good-quality, practical gifts. Any ideas for gifts that have to be packed and carted to another country?

Reflecting on the Economy

October 3rd, 2008 at 03:18 am

I am here in Idaho, spending a quiet week and celebrating my DDs birthdays (they are twins). I've had time to enjoy the beautiful fall weather and go for long, leisurely walks. As I stroll through our fairly new subdivision, I'm troubled by the increasing number of homes for sale... about 35 to be exact, or 20% of the homes. A few are beginning to show signs of neglect and the HOA says these are foreclosures, but they are working on getting the landscaping up to standard. It goes without saying that property values have dropped dramatically. Apart from the physical evidence of financial misfortune, I am sad for the families that have had to make the decision to give their homes back to the lender.

The dire state of the economy is painfully evident not just in the many vacant homes in local neighborhoods, but also in the many businesses that are closing. Whether I am at a mall in Idaho or California, I see many businesses- big and small- that are now closing or have closed... their doors are locked, windows covered, the shops empty. It's alarming.

On a more positive note, today's local paper says home and retail sales are up for September in the Treasure Valley, although the "economic downturn persists." This was good for me to read because I'm finding that I can too easily get in a blue mood just thinking about the economy. I know I should focus on things I can control, but for me this is easier said than done. If I let myself, I will worry about the depression/recession/downturn or whatever you choose to call this state we're in. The fact that DH and I are financially secure doesn't help much... I still worry about others, especially children and the impact this is having on their lives.

But in my own way, I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. So, whether it makes sense to anyone else or not, this has helped me to keep positive. In the last few days I've done the following:
~ swept and cleaned my patio, windows, and super-cleaned the house (easy job, considering the house is used infrequently);
~ donated the money I saved on house-cleaning to the local youth ranch;
~ stocked the pantry with non-perishables (dry beans, canned vegetables, soups, pasta, etc.) and bought enough to donate a like quantity to the food bank;
~ donated a box of like-new, unused warm clothing to a women's shelter;
~ watched a great interactive presentation on the Oregon Trail in Idaho (those pioneers do inspire courage and perseverance!);
~ made a list of all the blessings in my life (and there are many).

I'm interested in knowing how others are coping/surviving given the state of the economy. What are you doing to keep going and how do you stay positive?