Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday List: books on my bedside table

The books on my bedside table
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker - Her Nibs. I bought this mostly because it’s on the Rory Gilmore reading list. I am awfully fond of the idea of Dorothy Parker, but I’ve never read much by her (with the exception of that poem). So far, much as expected. Very zeitgeisty, not so sure how well it’s travelled. But still, think of the Algonquin.
  • Katherine Mansfield - biography by Kathleen Jones. This was leant to me by Mon, after an exhibition opening at Katherine Mansfield Birthplace where she volunteers. A veritable tome, I am yet to crack open the covers. Again, I’m fond of the idea of KM, if not so much her actual work.
  • Learned Optimism - Martin E. Seligman. Not really bed time reading, this book has been sitting idle by my bedside for some time now. Eventually I need to return it to the work library so I guess I should get on to finishing it. *thumb twiddle*

On the reader

  • Middlemarch - George Eliot. This is not a great book for dipping in and out of at lunch times, because I need to become accustomed to the style before I’m really enjoying myself. I should probably read this in the evening and read something lighter at lunch time. Anything by Philippa Gregory? Or Jilly Cooper?

Recently completed

  • Postcards - E. Annie Proulx. Bleak, Americana, A++.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spend less, save more: eating your income

Lately I've been committed to recording my weekly spend, and one thing has become painfully obvious - I eat or drink most of my money. Between grabbing a coffee and a scone on the way to work, and buying my lunch or dinner, I spend about a third of my mad money on food each pay period.

Food is good and food is important, and it's important to buy food and eat it. At home we put aside a good amount of money each week to buy food for the house and we eat really well - something for which I’m always grateful.

What I'm trying to address here is the additional money I spend on food each week, which is nearly always frittered away on snacks and food that I don’t really need. I want to avoid that feeling three days before pay day when I realise that I have have three dollars of spending money left and nothing really to show for it - not even a super fun night out. And I want to help you avoid it too. We can do it together!

So, while acknowledging that food is my one weakness, here are some suggestions - some of which I follow on a semi-regular basis, and that maybe you could follow more frequently - to stop us eating our money.

Fancy coffee is a treat

Cup of coffee and a book
While cutting the coffee will not kill debt in itself, making a decision to drink less fancy coffee can make a difference to the amount you can save or repay. It's terrifying to think how much money I must have spent on coffee over the years. As an individual I'm sure that I've effectively propped up the entire Wellington coffee industry*, or at any rate, drunk the equivalent of a house deposit.

These days I try to make sure that I always have the makings of delicious coffee at work. If you're working for a more generous employer than I am, you'll probably already have some kind of coffee banging around the staffroom. But even if you're bringing in your own bag of fresh roasted beans, making coffee - rather than buying it - makes for a substantial saving.

Because being completely puritanical about espresso doesn't work for me, I get a coffee from a cafe once or twice a week. My work-local has a surcharge for takeaway coffee cups which encourages me to remember my Keep Cup, and thus, save the planet as well as 30 cents a pop. The upshot of this is that if I have to go back to the office to get my cup, I will stop - think about the coffee I already have available - and choose not to buy the espresso. At least, that’s the theory.

Better still, I use the infrequency of bought coffees as an excuse to take some time out and have a sit down before work or at lunch time. Not only do I get the caffeine, but also the atmosphere, the comfy seats, the access to glossy magazines, and the people watching. More bang for my buck, and makes it a treat rather than a habit.

Bring the basics

Keep the basics in your bag: fill a water bottle, bring a piece of fruit and a small container filled with nuts or some other kind of sustaining treat. We’re just aiming to make it from lunchtime to when we get home without blowing ten dollars on afternoon tea or buying a drink that we don’t need.

I’ve just started making Bliss Balls which are crazy delicious, but in the past I’ve also made muesli slice or biscuits that I take to work as an afternoon treat. Dried fruit and nuts or bought muesli bars are easier to keep on hand, and something that’s kind of fun if not actively completely macrobiotic is a small container of sprouts - I’m really into sprouting at the moment and sprouts are crunchy and delicious, so, win.

A moment too, to appreciate how annoying it is to buy a bottle of water - creating waste and paying far too much money for something you can get for free? Ugh.

Leftovers and freezer food

Three bean chili, rice and accoutrements
Three bean chili, rice and accoutrements
The big daily spend on food is buying lunches during the work week. I love sandwiches, but it can get boring when you’re bringing cheese and bread everyday.** I try and remember to bring a big container of leftovers, and keeping this in mind can dictate what I’ll cook at home - we eat much more bowl food and things that heat up and travel well.

I try to allow for days where there are no leftovers available by making a slow cooker pot of dal or chill beans once every fortnight or so, dividing the food into lunch size portions, and freezing these. In winter, soup is a good option - I used to work with someone who’d make soup with leftover veges (i.e. whatever was left over from last week) and then freeze the soup in resealable bags.

The problem with this plan is that you need to be fairly organised, and if you’re having a super busy weekend it’s just not going to happen. But I find cooking really relaxing, so I’m happy to prep and potter on a lazy Sunday.

These are the slow cooker recipes that I’ve used lately
These Budget Bytes home-made frozen burritos and quesadillas also make good, simple lunches to keep in the freezer.

Dinner out is a social exercise

In another attempt to control my spending, I’m trying to make any dinners and lunches in cafes and restaurants social exercises. I get to enjoy both delicious food and delicious company!

Once again, the plan is to move away from considering expensive pre-prepared food a necessity and towards thinking about eating-out as an event on which it’s worthwhile to spend my money. That is, I want the experience to be one I savour and that is memorable. Not too much to ask?

Spending less on food is an ongoing project for me - do you have any suggestions to help?
Also, here is a 2010 post about the same thing: Money and the fine art of Not Frittering It Away on Food.

*Only a tiny bit of hyperbole. Really.
**This is a lie. Cheese and bread are two of my main food groups, and I can happily eat variations on them every day. For the purposes of this blog post, however, let’s pretend that it can get boring.
***I really love doing this.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Something I saw today

Petone beach. #t

Sunday Film Fest: Montreal Swing Riot 2014 - invitational battle

Guys! I was super busy this past week between work and seeing people IRL. The sun has come out and everyone is shiny and amazing. I’m sitting in my office/sewing room with all the windows open, listening to the birds and podcasts of Australian public radio shows.

I’ve decided to revive this thing that I used to do where I tried to post a video each Sunday. To begin, then, here is fifteen minutes of a dance battle in Montreal between lindy hoppers (swing dancers) and a pretty amazing hip hop dance crew.

I only saw it because Katherine linked to to the video on twitter but I’ve watched about five times now and it’s re-ignited my desire to lindy hop.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What I'm reading right now

Sitting on the bed, drinking scotch and reading E Annie Proulx
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