money


Answer: Bring it from home.

The question is how to keep that lunch interesting enough to not be pulled to the darkside of the wonderful foodtrucks that are on my office block each day.

I’ve been doing some financial belt-tightening as part of my goal of paying off all my debt before I hit 40 (I’m not going to say how many years that gives me). A recent review of my spending showed me that a large share of my income goes to supporting local food trucks and other nearby cafes.

So I’ve been packing a lunch each day from home, or packing all of the week’s lunches on Sunday night, to save money.

My lunch options are more limited than most people because I cannot have anything containing gluten, fresh tree fruit (bananas are the exception) or tree nuts.

And although I’m thankful that there are some gluten-free breads that could pass for the real thing if one were realllllyyyyy intoxicated, sandwiches and snacks get boring really fast. Moreover, bringing in something like humus and cucumbers doesn’t work because I’ll snack on them all day but not find time to treat that like a meal.

This week I decided to mix it up a little.

On Monday I had gluten-free rice pasta with garlic-scape pesto and a side of fingerling carrots pan-cooked with rosemary and olive oil.

Next, I made a sort of taco mix (the church I used to go to called them haystacks) of beans, lettuce, Greek plain yogurt (I prefer that to sour cream), shredded cheese, diced tomatoes and salsa. I brought in a bag of corn tortillas (precooked at home) and made the tacos in the kitchen.

Today I made a dish that used to be my potluck standby.  It is a salad of chickpeas, feta cheese crumbles, diced tomatoes, diced cucumbers, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, cumin,  salt/pepper and a dash of Adobo seasoning.

But I’m running out of ideas.  Suggestions?

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No one ever told me that I would have a hard time finding an affordable apartment if I adopted a dog, but that has turned out to be the case time and again.

It’s been going on eight years since I adopted my adorable and loving dog Sophie, a blonde medium-size dog. I did not know at that time that most apartments that allow pets have a weight restriction on what dogs they will allow — I confess I’ve fudged the numbers in prior apartment applications just to be able to apply. Nor did I know that I would have to pay a special deposit/monthly fee or hundreds of dollars more per month to find an apartment that takes pets.

I would estimate that having a pet makes at least a $200/month difference in terms of the costs I would otherwise be paying for an apartment if I did not have a pet.

Well, it’s come that time in my life again when I need to move. This time it’s because my parents are planning to move and they need me to take back my upright piano.  (It would not be possible to get the piano into my basement apartment without killing or seriously injuring someone in the process  and/or destroying the piano.)

With the added need to have an apartment on the ground level — to make it easier to move in a piano — I estimate my future rent will be at least another $200 higher.

Oh well, I guess it’s all part of having a pet.

I would not trade Sophie in for any discount I might otherwise recieve.

So every year I attempt to start tracking my spending on self-created monthly budget and itemized purchase spreadsheets.

The goal is to create the budget at the start of the year, and each month, and stick to it (or at least not go in the red in my spending each month).

My other goals are to start saving up for non-monthly expenses such as car tags, car oil/maintenance work, birthdays and holidays, upcoming trips, and big-ticket items (i.e. anything that costs more than $100). And paying off debt.

As boring as it may be to you, dear readers, I also have decided to try to be accountable to you regarding this goal.

I am happy to report that although I went $82 over budget on groceries, $6 over on dining out and spent $75 more than expected on libations (for a party I held), I was $51 under budget for the month.  Moreover, I was able to curb my veracious clothes spending habit this month, having put less than $20 towards clothes for myself, including thermal items for the inauguration.

If I am able to follow my budget so rigorously, I should be out of debt in less than five years, not including student loans.

I am also glad that my state income tax refund came through last night. I will need it this month to pay for updating the registration stickers on my car. I’m still debating how to spend my federal tax refund. I will probably divide it between paying off credit card debt and my non-monthly expenses savings account.

This financial crunch has left me looking for creative outlets to scratch my shopping itch. More specifically, it has made me revert to my previous loves of flea markets, auction houses, yard sales, second-hand stores and free item recycling websites.

Most dangerous of all has been a local yahoo group called Freecycle-Silver Spring.

It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for you NOT to check out such a group. It’s freaking addicting.

In “Freecycle Silver Spring” people post things they want to give away or list things they want. All I have to do email the supplier before anyone else does and then arrange when I can pick the item up and/or check the item out in person.

Luckily I’ve not been successful so far.

But just today I put in bids in to pick up a kitchen cherry wood table with five (somewhat damaged) chairs, an old-fashioned handmade bird feeder and a set of long cherry wood side tables. So far only one of my emails has beat everyone else to the punch or else I’d be spending tonight driving around Takoma Park, Wheaton and Silver Spring to get things that I could have lived without.

Tonight I’m going to check out the table and chair set.

The truth is I need to get rid of stuff, but it’s all small stuff … ok with exception to the futon wasting precious space in my living room.

I don’t want to remove the futon until after Christmas because my sibling(s) might be visiting and in need of using the futon. I think when I get rid of the futon on freecycle I’ll invest in a good air mattress for guests instead.

I have been successful many times over in trying any of these venues (including friends who no longer wanted the items or who were moving away) I add here that there are some benefits to never moving out of the area.

Now that I think about it, about 25% of the number of things I own I either got from friends, from auction houses or from yard sales. Some of my prize items include a red cushy rocking chair, a futon, gold-rimmed crystal wine glasses, a piano, an old-fashioned song bird umbrella, my clothes drying rack, an everyday small blue flower pattern china set, at least 1/5 of my wardrobe, my bedside stands and a set of pink flamingo earrings (which is the best topper to any 80s costume).

OK so in return, I’ve decided to start filling a garbage bag EVERY WEEKEND with stuff I can either donate or freecycle. I must keep the chain of giving moving or else I’ll be forced to rent another apartment.

I’ve been generally avoiding thinking too hard about what’s happening to the financial world, that is, when I’m not busy reporting on it or watching the ticker plummet every time someone in DC opens their mouth on TV.

More specifically, I’ve been avoiding checking my 401K.

I keep telling myself that I’m young and so I should research some companies and invest like hell. In fact, I remember that when I was in my investment-crazy phase about 10 years ago, I often wished the stock market would tumble so I could buy some valuable stocks for cheap and get MAD wealthy when the market rebounds.

But mass mentality is hard to fight. I find myself trying to keep from withdrawing cash from my savings account and curling into a tiny ball in the corner of my room with a wad of bills cradled in my arms.

Anyway, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a journalist, it’s that you either cry or laugh.  As a proper journalist, I resort to dark and twisted humor about the hell we have to cover.

So I’m going to give you two twisted treats tonight.

One is a picture a girl took of the Bull on Wall Street. Boring? Not this time…. someone painted the bull’s balls blue.

The other is a joke I heard on NPR last night when a reporter was interviewing a wall street broker. He said there has been a lot of humor on the trading floor, but it’s all be twisted and dark.

He said an ongiong joke on the floor is….

“What are the two best positions to be in to ride out the market crunch?”
Anser: “Cash and fetal.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle.