Archive for October, 2009

Friday Night Link Love

I spent quite a few hours this week calculating and recalculating terms, rates and loan amounts in an attempt to determine whether or not my husband and I should refinance one or both of our mortgages. So far it looks like a wash. In fact, by the time we pay closing costs and deal with the hassle of the loan process we’re probably better off not refinancing. On the other hand I do like the idea of shrinking our monthly mortgage payments by a few hundred dollars each month.

In general I’d like to see more money piling into savings. I investigated our recent expenses and tried to figure out where we could trim a few more expenses. I spent so much time crunching numbers that I’ve had little time to do much else this week. In fact, my RSS reader was so backed up that at one point I found six hundred unread posts awaiting me. I certainly didn’t read all of them, instead I skimmed over the titles of my favorite feeds and discarded the rest. So without further ado here are my favorite posts. It’s a pretty short list this week:

October 30, 2009 at 9:30 PM Leave a comment

Expanding My Cookware Collection

Every so often companies contact me requesting product reviews on One Frugal Girl. In all due honesty I tend to turn down the majority of requests. I just wouldn’t feel right blasting my readers with reviews and advertisements. My goal is to document my own frugality and fiscal awareness, not to convince my readers to make unnecessary purchases.

So yesterday, when I was contacted to review a product I initially hesitated. Then I paused, considered the possibilities, and decided it wouldn’t hurt to poke around the website for just a few minutes. I figured I’d spend five or ten minutes browsing online, but a few minutes quickly turned into a full hour.

As my regular readers know I am a wanna-be chef. I am constantly experimenting with new ingredients and recipes. In fact, if I had all the money and time in the world I would take cooking classes every day of the week. I would spend money on the highest quality pots, pans and cooking utensils. So when a marketing representative asked if I would review a product on I just couldn’t resist.

Ever since I saw Giada De Laurentiis prepare a chicken and orzo frittata on the Food Network I’ve been dying to give it a try. Actually I thought about making that recipe for days, but unfortunately I didn’t have an appropriate baking dish. Well solved my dilemma with a dish in the perfect size and color. I chose the Le Creuset 11.5″ Oval Dish in Kiwi.

I can’t wait to review this product. I’ve already started searching for other recipes I’d like to try. If you have any amazing recipes for soup or frittatas or anything else I can prepare in this cookware please leave me a comment.

Rachel Ray Cookware

October 28, 2009 at 10:45 PM 1 comment

Have You Heard of Groupon?

One of my most fabulous friends introduced me to Groupon tonight. She mentioned the site before, but I completely forgot about it, until an email arrived in my inbox offering $25 tickets to the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Washington, DC. I thought about booking tickets for this event this summer, but now I’m unbelievably happy that I waited. I saved $30 off the price of both tickets and $60 in savings is a heck of a lot of money.

According to their website, “Groupon features an unbeatable deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat and buy in your city. By promising businesses a minimum number of customers, we get discounts you won’t find elsewhere. We call it collective buying power.” You can learn more about the power of Groupon in the FAQ. It’s a fascinating idea to help stretch your entertainment dollars.

If you want tickets to the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Washington, DC for just $25 you must act fast. The offer ends at midnight tonight. If any of you do purchase tickets or sign up for the Groupon website please use my referral link. For every friend that registers and makes a purchase Groupon will add $10 to my Groupon account.

October 28, 2009 at 3:15 AM 1 comment

All You Need is a Washcloth

After spending $50 on a facial at the Red Door Salon the clinician provided me with the most interesting advice. At first she prescribed four different products including cleansers, toners, exfoliators and masks. I laughed and said, “I’m here on a half price spa special, do you really think I plan to pay $250 for all these products? She laughed and said, “it’s my job to introduce you to new products that will help improve the appearance of your skin, but my best advice is simple… Wash your face twice a day with soap and a soft washcloth. It’s the cheapest and least harsh way to exfoliate your skin.” An interesting change of tone. From $250 worth of products to a $5 washcloth.

October 24, 2009 at 8:30 PM 1 comment

A Very Special Gift for My Grandmother

I know that is way too early to start talking about Christmas. After all we just passed the mid-point of October and we still have over a week to go before Halloween’s arrival. Yet, every store is decorated with red and green and a few of my monthly magazines have dedicated articles to Christmas budgeting. Although it’s only October I’m in a strange Christmas mood.

When my grandfather was alive he shot thousands and thousands of photographs on 35mm slides. A few years ago I scanned well over two thousand images and presented them in a digital picture frame to my grandmother. Every time I see her she tells me that the picture frame is the best gift she’s ever received. In fact that frame has run continuously since the first night my husband and I presented it to her.

Scanning my grandfather’s slides seems like the task that will never end. Although I have thousands of slides in my possession I know for a fact that my grandmother still has twice any many still boxed up in storage. The last time around I sat in front of the scanner every morning and evening for weeks on end.

During the initial days of scanning I cried quite a bit. There is a deep sense of pride in bringing my grandfather’s photographs back to life. His images capture the moments that we so often forget. Of course there are those big moments like baby showers and first birthdays but also simple moments in time that capture my brother and I playing with toys, building sand castles at the beach and sledding down the big hill in our backyard. My grandfather would be absolutely elated to see his legacy being pulled out of boxes in storage.

Before I took on this task my grandfather’s slides hadn’t seen the light of day since long before he passed away, but as soon as I saw the first image on screen I remembered sitting in my grandparent’s dining room, watching the images light up from my grandfather’s old slide projector. As a young child I remember feeling bored and agitated as my grandfather showed us image after image. Of course, now I wish my grandfather was alive to explain how he captured the light and to see his excitement grow with each click of the projector.

It will take months for me to digitize each slide, but my grandmother turned 87 this month and if I don’t scan the images now she may never get to see them. I have a lot of work to do between now and Christmas, but the work is well worth the reward. By bringing these photos back to life my grandmother gets to relive some of the happiest moments of her life and more importantly to feel close to her husband, my grandfather, the man behind the camera.

October 23, 2009 at 3:40 AM 11 comments

Three Ruined Dinners in Two Nights

It started with an innocent mistake… I started defrosting chicken in a bowl of cold water and forgot to place the bowl in the refrigerator before going to bed. I wasn’t willing to risk eating rotten poultry so the chicken went directly into the trash. I pulled another package out of the freezer and placed it in the fridge to thaw slowly.

My husband came home hungry and we immediately rushed into cutting up vegetables and preparing dinner. I threw a bunch of garlic into the frying pan and must not have realized it was burned before adding the rest of the ingredients including the newly thawed package of chicken and a handful of spices. By the time I tasted our dish the overpowering flavor of burnt garlic permeated the entire pan. For the second time that afternoon a pound of chicken went into the trash.

The following night I pulled pre-made burgers out of the freezer to thaw. While I was busy scanning 35mm slides for my grandmother, my husband kindly grilled the burgers. A combination of burnt burgers and fairly old ground beef led to a nearly inedible dinner. Let’s just say we filled up on baked potatoes and salad that evening.

Tonight we were finally back on track in the kitchen. We prepared a delicious balsamic and orange chicken dish, based somewhat on this recipe. It felt good to get back on track in the kitchen and cook something edible again!

October 22, 2009 at 3:59 AM 1 comment

My Latest Purchase: A Bright Yellow Pick Me Up

Lately my job situation has turned from bad to worse. I don’t think layoffs are in my near future, but boredom certainly will be. I can’t complain too much, (in fact my husband would say I shouldn’t complain at all), but I am feeling a bit blue about the situation.

I’ve kept a watchful eye on the bright yellow, flowered bowl pictured above for weeks and this afternoon after a bunch of depressing conversations with coworkers I decided to head to the mall to purchase it. I’m not typically an emotional shopper, but I knew the bright yellow color would brighten my mood.

When I arrived at the store the bowl was not on sale, but I showed the clerk the Internet price and she agreed to honor it. The item was listed at $29 in the store and $19.99 online, so that discount made a significant difference in the final price. I chose to purchase two bowls and presented the cashier with a coupon for $10 off a $30 purchase and a $25 gift card that I earned from an online survey site.

After the discount, coupon and gift card my total came to less than $7. Without the gift card, coupon and discount the total would have been over $60! I know I don’t really need these bowls, but I do love them.

October 20, 2009 at 3:59 AM 5 comments

Saved Over $1000 on Groceries So Far This Year

This year I clipped coupons like crazy and tried my best to match them to weekly sales. At the very least I managed to save 20 to 25% of my bill and on a very few, special occasions I saved a whopping 50 to 60%.

According to my credit card statements I spent a total of $2462.63 at Giant this year and saved a whopping $1061.85! I cannot believe that one little coupon here and one little coupon there added up to such significant savings.

On average I tend to spend between $200 and $300 on groceries each month. Ninety-nine percent of the time I shop exclusively at Giant because it’s close to our home and simply the most convenient option. In fact, according to my credit card statement I only shopped at Whole Foods and Balducci’s three times this entire year. I also shopped at Harris Teeter a couple of times while we were in North Carolina, but those numbers aren’t included in this calculation either.

I only purchase food and food-related items from the grocery store. I purchase cleaning products and personal hygiene products like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc from Rite Aid and CVS and truth be told I attain most of those products for free by purchasing items on sale with coupons.

Because I only purchase food items from the grocery store I maintain two completely separate coupon binders. The first contains food related coupons and the second includes coupons for just about everything else. Both are with me or in my car at nearly all times. That way whenever I need to stop off at the grocery store without them.

The simple act of dragging them along has significantly added to my overall savings this year. In fact, when I stopped off at the store without them by accident earlier last month I refused to buy anything but the one item I truly needed.

It’s a bit neurotic, I will certainly admit, but that neurosis has certainly led to hitting the $1000 milestone. I can’t believe I managed to save $1000!

October 18, 2009 at 3:00 AM 10 comments

Failed: We Won’t be Purchasing a Vacant Lot After All

I’ve spent the last two days looking over every nickel and dime in our bank accounts, determining exactly how much income we bring in on a monthly basis, (my husband is a contractor so income fluctuates), and figuring out how to cash out investments in an effort to collect a down payment.

After making sure that all of the pennies and cents added up my husband and I had a long conversation and decided to move forward with the purchase of a vacant lot in North Carolina. I called the real estate agent this morning with the full intention of submitting a bid. Unfortunately, less than thirty seconds into the call I was told the lot had already been sold. Apparently the property was foreclosed and the vacant lot went up for auction sometime earlier this month. I was shocked that the lot had already been sold, because the realty sign is still on the property and address is still listed in the MLS.

My husband and I have been thinking about this lot for over a year. When it was originally listed it was completely out of our price range. Not only was the purchase price overly inflated but our brokerage accounts had been slashed by the recession, so it would have been impossible for us to splurge on the purchase.

Buying a new property is always unbelievably exciting and a bit frightening all at the same time. There is an incredible amount of excitement in making the purchase and yet unbelievable fear that we haven’t double checked all the numbers and that something or other would make us default on the property. I spent a lot of time over the past two days running the numbers to make certain we could afford the property and I am hugely disappointed that the lot has already been sold.

This time it seems we missed a golden opportunity. The lot was sold at auction for $100,000 less than the listing price. If we had known about the auction my husband and I would have been there in a heartbeat. It’s one of those once in a lifetime bargains that we may never see again.

We are both very disappointed, but we can’t change the course of events so we have to learn from our mistakes and move on from them. In the future if we are interested in a property we will contact the real estate agents and make certain that they are aware of our interests even if we don’t immediately make a bid.

In the mean time we will continue to save money in the hopes that other opportunities will present themselves. They may not be as good as this one, but hopefully my husband’s dream of owning waterfront property will eventually come true.

October 16, 2009 at 2:15 AM 3 comments

Buying Another Investment Property?

Once again my husband and I are contemplating the purchase of property in North Carolina. We already own one home on the Outer Banks, but with prices at five year lows and interest rates in the 4-5% range it’s hard to pass by properties without at least considering a purchase.

At this point in time I’m not certain that a bank would approve financing. I placed a call to our current lender to get the skinny on the process of buying a vacant lot, (we’ve never done that before), and the requirements for acquiring a loan on a property without a house. Unfortunately, the loan officer didn’t call me back this afternoon, so I decided to Google instead.

Strangely enough I didn’t find a ton of information on the topic. I guess most people purchase homes, not vacant lots. I did discover that the loan term cannot be longer than 15 years and that a 30% down payment will be required.

Our banks pre-approval website didn’t support lot purchases, so I couldn’t find out whether or not we would even qualify for a loan. I plan to call our lender back tomorrow to see if they can run a query over the phone.

Of course if we can’t qualify for a loan than our quest stops here, but if we do qualify my husband and I will need to rake over the numbers to see if we really want to proceed.

Ever time we’ve purchased a property I’ve been both unbelievably excited and slightly terrified all at the same time. There is so much excitement in buying a piece of property, but so much trepidation in terms of making the monthly mortgage payments while still paying for all of life’s necessities.

October 14, 2009 at 3:30 AM 5 comments

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