Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eating What I have

As I alluded in my eating what we got post, I have not shop for any groceries for more than a month and half. More than saving money, I wanted to prevent myself from wasting groceries because I was barely preparing and eating any raw grocery and instead choosing ready-to-eat microwavable dinners.

During last 45 days, I was relatively successful at partially emptying my pantry and freezer. Well! I cheated a bit and bought milk, fruits, and beers once. So what did I eat during last month when I didn't shop for grocery? Here is a partial list of top 10 items;
  1. Frozen vegetables - big packs of frozen broccoli, green peas and mixed vegetables were resting in my freezer for more than 2 months. I either microwaved (optionally adding butter/cheese), used them in soups or stir fried them.
  2. Frozen chicken and meats - one of my favorite way to cook chicken breast was to cooking it over pan after breading it with Italian bread crumbs. Individually freezing breaded chicken in Ziploc bag makes it a great homemade frozen TV dinner later. You can eat homemade chicken dinner by itself, with marinara sauce and mozzarella (chicken parmesan) or with marsala sauce and mushroom (chicken marsala).
  3. Frozen berries and fruits - my favorite way to consume berries is to blend it with milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and scoop of granola cereal for awesome very berry smoothie.
  4. Dried and canned beans - we all know that canned beans are cheap, easy and fast. In comparison, dried beans (and lentils) are cheaper, healthier and most customizable albeit they need longer time to prepare. Primarily, you are looking for convenience versus customization. Canned beans may not be necessarily healthy; always check its sodium content. To prepare dried beans, rinse and discard any grits with cold water. Dried bean expand to 2-3 times its volume. Thus, soak them in water three times their volume overnight. Drain and cook with more water or chicken/vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can expedite soaking process by boiling them with three times their volume of water. After boiling for a few minutes, remove from heat, and let stand for an hour.
  5. Pasta - marinara sauce, pasta (penne) and ground turkey. (optionally sprinkle parmasean cheese)
  6. Rice - my favorite is plain basmati rice.
  7. Homemade breads and cookies - I baked series of my first breads and cookies from scratch from flours I bought a few months ago.
  8. Cereals and oatmeal - sometime I use yogurt with cereal and dash of cinnamon or berries with oatmeal.
  9. Eggs - poached, boiled, scrambled or as elaborate omelets.
  10. Potatoes - mashed, baked or stir fried. (microwave cut potatoes to expedite the cooking)  

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What to buy at Costco & What to avoid at Costco?

In a new TV show Modern Family’s “Come Fly with Me” episode, character of Cameron describes himself as “I'm like Costco. I'm big and I'm fancy and I dare you to not like me.” It indeed describes essence of Costco. At first, Costco can be overwhelming and maybe inferred as a wasteful example of American consumerism. However, after shopping at Costco, you can see its value.

If you are planning a party or have a big family, you can shop nearly everything at Costco. For a regular-size family, daily shopping at Costco needs some basic strategies. Here are my suggestions for what you should buy at Costco and what you should not buy at Costco.

Must buy at Costco
  1. Computers and Consumer Electronics – Although Costco downgraded its return policy to 90 days for TV, computers, cameras, MP3 players, and cellular phones, its warranty and service is still better than any other vendors. I highly recommend buying high price electronics through Coscto not just for its reasonable price but for the peace of mind. For example, my Vizio TV's  HDMI port broke down after a year and Costco's warranty covered the cost of a replacement TV. Compare that to a LCD monitor from, which had one dead pixel out of box, and I was horrified to learn that I need to pay 15% fee to return a defective item. However, another LCD monitor bought from Costco showed similar problem after 2 months and was promptly returned.
  2. Frozen Food – Get your frozen veggies, fruits and meat, even butter at Costco. It's frozen foods are affordable and good in quality. The best thing is that frozen foods don't get ruined quickly.
  3. Ready-to-Eat food – Instead of takeout, try Costco's rotisserie chicken (which is bigger than average size) and pizza (big and lots of toppings).
  4. Seafood and good cuts of meat – Good quality surf and turf are affordable at Costco. Even it's same price as the general grocery store, I would recommend buying them at Costco for its superior quality and freshness.
  5. Non-perishable food – Buy generic food items such as rice, dried fruits, sugar etc at Costco. If you can limit yourself to the particular brand items, Costco has limited selection for cereals, coffee, canned food, chips etc.
  6. Daily Basics – Milk, eggs, cheeses (good selection at great price), paper towels, toilet paper, etc., are cheapest at Costco.
Avoid at Costco
  1. DVDs and Books – or other online store would have wider selection, better pricing, and have option to buy used.
  2. Salads and other quickly perishable foods – Don't buy salad at Costco unless you have big family, planning a party or extremely dedicated in eating salad every meal (you may then consider a diagnosis for eating disorder). Having said that, sometime salads and other quickly perishable items are so cheap in Costco that you will be saving money even you throw out unused portions.
  3. Sodas and Beers – Sodas are usually cheaper at a local grocery store or even at a gas station. As far as beers, they are not significantly cheaper at Costco. Moreover, you should only get them if you don't mind drinking a same beer 36 times in a row. However, Costco usually have a decent wine selection (in states that allow it).
  4. Clothes – You can't try clothes at Costco. You can return but most people are less likely to return unless clothes are really bad.
  5. Apple products – Apple's warranty is good. I say this even I had problem with their warranty (see my post on Apple's warranty). In addition to that, Apple offers free shipping and some other deals (such as student deals) with their products. I suggest go to Apple Store, use the display model before buying it. Also, needless to say research and think over.
I would love to hear about what you recommend buying at Costco and what you suggest avoiding at Costco.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

(Potentially) Free WiFi Internet

I get my internet from a local cable company at $46.10 per month (see my post on why I cut my cable). The net surfing is good and  internet calls/voice chats are acceptable. However, at supposedly 15 mbs data transfer rate, my Hulu video at 480p (high resolution) is still choppy. I live in in somewhat urban setting in an apartment complex with access to many unsecured WiFi connection. I have always playing with an idea of just using the free internet to save few bucks. Howeber, in order to get any decent WiFi signal, I need to go near one of my windows and sit in relatively motionless state. Like any normal person, I hate going to window and sitting motionless with my laptop to check my email.

I received 
Hfield's WiFire as a gift. Hfield's Wi-Fire use its proprietary directional antenna and sensitive receiver to find and enhance weak WiFi signals. With WiFire plugged in your USB,  you can use many free legitimate internet provided by your city, piggy back on at someone's generosity (or ignorance) or share internet with your neighbors. The saving will be at least few hundred dollars per year. The Hfield equipment cost around $59 is comparable to your one month of internet fee. I am indeed flirting with an idea of cutting off my cable internet as well.

Image: Screen capture of Hfield's website.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Debt Roundup - October 2009

Another month when I decreased my monthly debt; by $1,751. Now my current debt is $24,414. The major reduction came when I paid off one of my credit cards with the balance of $1,816 ("Yes I can"). Even paying off one of the credit cards with a minor balance felt liberating and quite encouraging. Hope! I can endure same attitude while paying off my other big plastics.

In bar diagram above, I  simulated a simple estimation of how long it will take me to pay off my debt. Assuming no major change in expense or income, it will take me at least 16 more months to pay off my debt at this rate. For me an ambitious yet realistic goal would be to be debt free by the end of year 2010. I have already drastically cut costs for my daily expenses, so only thing I could do now is to get additional income. Any suggestions?

Related Posts:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How I got myself in Debt?

If you already dont't know, a few months back, I found myslef sinking in a big debt (see prologue). Thanks to online records and excel, the presented pie graph shows back-of-the-envelope accounting of my expenses for the last two years. Although I didn’t start debtfree two years ago, I saw my debt slowly ballooning in my monthly credit card statements to near $30, 000.

My major expense for last two years was housing at 40%. According to National realtor’s association, the average housing expense is 28-35% of income for year 2006-2008 in the United States. My expenses are reasonable considering I am a single and live in an urban setting.

My second major expense was restaurants and bar at 20%, about a half of my housing expense. No-brainer here, I definitely need to cut down my gourmet habit. Since I consider dining out as my entertainment needs (see my post on Need vs. Want), I don’t want to completely forgo it. However, I need to limit it within my entertainment budget. One of my third major expense was interest payment, which can be definitely reduce to zero without sacrificing any emotional needs. Among my fourth expense was electronics at 6%. I upgraded couple of electronics in last two years and I admit to splurging unnecessarily. I recognize that I need to be vigilant about my electronics budget and limit it in terms of productivity rather than for its coolness factor.

After doing this simple accounting of my expenses, I have evidence-based knowledge of my major expenses and clue to root cause of my debt. In traditional twelve-step program, isn't recognizing root of your problem is one of the first steps?