The Popcorn Files

OK, so how did I manage to make it weeks without posting? And I just started? WHO KNOWS?

The truth is I’ve been kind of lazy. I’m not preoccupied by school (I’m fortunate enough to have a light schedule this term and only have to go in 3 days a week – 2 after this week) or exercise or cleaning (ha!) but I’ve been making some good progress on a few small goals.

1) We received a supplemental financial aid check due to me dropping a course the first week of the term. This is gone already on our final car payment + associated fees (YES!!!) a new rear bike tire for me, some school related purchases (one textbook that you have to bring with you to a national exam, so there’s no avoiding the purchase, a lab coat for clinic, and some dressmaker’s pins for a facial points project involving a styrofoam head) and — wait for it– a $20 air popper from Amazon! I feel like this is the score of the century! Especially because those offered online from the big box stores were upwards of $30 and I got this with free 2-day shipping, so good for me. Next stop: Union Square greenmarket for some organic popcorn, straight from the farm.

I’ve managed to spend only about $250 on groceries so far this month, which (if the trend continues) means we’ll hit about $500 for the month. I’m not quite sure how I achieved this, but several bags of dried beans have been cooked in the past two weeks, and I’m sure this is somehow related to the overall grocery savings. In other news, my son told me yesterday that he thinks he has iron-deficiency anemia due to lack of meat. LOL. I told him to eat more greens — their iron is just as accessible and easily processed as long as he’s receiving adequate vitamin C (more fruits and vegetables!). He was obviously thrilled with my advice.

The grocery savings was somewhat (not entirely) offset by a ginormous electric bill, which made no sense at first since we’ve had a really mild May and June and have turned on the air conditioners maybe twice, during a mini heatwave.

However, we had a refrigerator crap-out (it was running all the time and frozen things started to melt) that I think might account for the high bill. It turns out that mice (eeeeew but yes, that’s NYC apartment dwelling – there are nasty uninvited critters all over the place, no matter how much people deny it**) had been taking the insulation out of the back of the unit and using it for nesting. Gross. But the landlord sent over the refrigerator fix-it guy and things seem to be functioning normally; now we just need competent exterminators who come more often than once a month. *SIGH*

Sidenote: I researched natural mouse repellants after this incident. Did you know that mice hate peppermint oil and vinegar? Who knew? So I soaked several cotton balls in apple cider vinegar and strong peppermint tea (I didn’t have any peppermint essential oil but I’ll pick some up this week) and tossed them in back of the refrigerator, in back of the stove, and in the vicinity of the known mouse holes, which are filled in with steel wool. We’re in a large apartment building and it seems that the mice have made a network from apartment to apartment. Anyway, I haven’t seen any since placing those cotton balls, but the sources I read say that the effect wears off unless you refresh it. Just thought I’d share in case anyone else has rodent issues and wants to avoid traps and nasty chemicals.

So, humans 1, mice 1.

In the meantime, I’m psyched about the bike tire purchase. This means I can implement my long-pondered plan to become a half bike commuter.

I say half because I live about 15 miles from my school, which would be fine if I lived on pretty, winding, smooth country roads, but I don’t. I live on pothole riddled Bronx streets which are treacherous not only for the poor road conditions, but also for the crazy a-hole drivers all over the city. I am fortunate enough to live within close proximity to the NYC Greenway system, which is both safely car-free and freshly paved, but taking it means I have to go a few miles out of my way and the trip could verge on 20 miles one-way. Since I’m not a fast rider anyway, and city traffic means lots of lights and delays, that means it might take as much as 2 hours to commute (plus, I haven’t ridden in a while and 30 to 40 miles a day seems like a lot). So my big plan is to take the train in, with my bike, chain the bike up outside, and ride the bike home. This will actually only work on Fridays (Mondays I have a night class, and no, I won’t be riding my bike home through the potholed streets of sketchy areas of the Bronx at 10:30 pm) but it will be decent practice run for fall, when my schedule changes dramatically. I figure I can save about half of my commuting costs and get some great exercise in at the same time.

Alright. WALL OF TEXT. Evidently I had  a lot to say there. Next time, I will discuss my personal snowball credit payment method and the ripoff that is payment protection, but in the meantime, have a great day, avoid the critters, and enjoy those dried beans!

**Second sidenote: During a period of unemployment, Mr. Frugalacupunc found a temporary position with an exterminator. He said rich people have roaches, rats, mice and bedbugs just like everyone else. Ewww.



Happy Memorial Day! To all of the veterans

Happy Memorial Day! To all of the veterans , service members, and families of the same, thank you.

We spent the day in typical fashion by driving upstate in our Subaru Forester (just paid off, boo-ya! One financial misstep cleared) with the family, the dog, and Mr. Frugalacupunc’s brother. As city dwellers, we crave outdoor space, especially outdoor space that doesn’t cram us up close to other families and their music and noise and litter and other assorted bullshit, so we made the drive up to Clarence Fahenstock State Park in Putnam County to grill, hike and relax. This was easy because we almost always have a “go-grill-pack” including a hibachi, charcoal, lighter fluid, and barbecue utensils stashed in the back of the car.

So, two things about that, as pertain to our new goals of frugal living:

1) Why the hell do we own a car in New York City? Well, a few reasons. For one, at the time we were feeling flush, had 2 dogs and a tween, and gas prices were a lot lower than they are now. That made sense in terms of travel for vacations or visiting family – what’s cheaper, maintaining a vehicle and driving 300 miles a few times a year, or paying boarding fees for two dogs and buying 3 sets of round-trip air fare a few times a year? I’m not actually sure if this math works out, but it’s what we thought at the time. Given that we still commuted via mass transit and used the car exclusively for this sort of thing, it would have made more sense to use Zipcar (if you’re not familiar, it’s a by-the-hour rental service to which you subscribe for a monthly fee in exchange for the use of a car for a few hours whenever you might need it), but I think the massive quantities of cheaper groceries we’ve been able to buy and transport with our little Forester have chipped in to the overall value of owning a vehicle in a city with the best utilized public transit service in the U.S. In any case, it’s ours now, and if we’re headed upstate we’re going to need it (and probably another).

2) We narrowly averted crisis when I sent Mr. Frugalacupunc to shop without a list. See, where I prefer and feel most secure with some tight controls and like having a number in mind when I head to the store (otherwise, I’d probably get lost in Fairway and come floating home on a raft of out-of-control groceries) my better half gets focused on a “go big or go home” mindset and thinks a lot about everybody having plentiful food and good times when we stage any sort of event, even something like driving up to a park to grill some burgers. Therefore, between the regular groceries and the cookout groceries, he came home with almost $200 worth of foodstuff.

This was an issue. For one thing, I’m trying to hold us down to $600 a month or less in groceries (that sounds high – that IS high – and I’m working on paring it down a lot further. However, when you account for general NYC inflation, the fact that we cook the vast majority of our meals from scratch using whole foods with maybe two or three takeout or restaurant meals a month, and the fact that one of the mouths we feed belongs to a 16-year-old black hole, I’m alright with how we’re doing for now). Also, he just bought too much, so there are now hot dogs and hamburgers for daaaayyys.

Whereas this might have caused a fight in the past, this time it was an opportunity to get on the same page regarding our future goals and what we need to do to get there. Mostly, I sit down and try to figure out the budget and the bills, and he listens an absorbs but has a real block when it comes to prioritizing our finances. But today, I think it got through that paying attention to what we spend now is a way of being kind to ourselves and providing for our future.

To that end, I’ve got to figure out how to incorporate random picnic salads into our meals all week… the hamburgers and hot dogs will freeze for the next cookout, we had an awesome time, and we took one of the first steps of many toward a sweet place upstate. Excellent start!