Make Valentine’s Day Special Without It Being Special

there’s no forgetting the HOFFWhen Eric and I first started dating he definitely worked to impress me, especially on Valentine’s Day. He would buy me flowers, take me to a nice restaurant, and get me gifts. That kind of Valentine’s date is practically a requirement for new relationships. I loved it back then and thought he might be the kindest, sweetest man I’d ever met.

Now that our relationship has matured beyond the dating stage (and I know that he is the kindest, sweetest man I’ve ever met) we have settled into a different routine when it comes to Valentine’s Day.

This Valentine’s Day, like the past few, we are going to enjoy a dinner in. Eric gets to decide the entrée and it can be anything (within reason – no caviar, etc). Not surprisingly, he tends to choose one of his favorite recipes from my weeknight staples. This works out beautifully for the budget because most of my recipes can be made inexpensively without sacrificing anything.

This year he chose my Orange Rosemary Porkchops. I’ll pair them with creamy mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables with herbed butter. Add a little cheese course, a little wine, and a little dessert and we will have a fantastic (and cheap) meal for the two of us.

Eating a budget-friendly home cooked meal for Valentine’s Day may be thought of as routine or incredibly un-romantic to some but to us it is romantic. What’s more romantic than putting time and effort into creating something from scratch for someone you love? So what that cooking frugal dinners are an everyday occurrence and not something “special” or unique. Valentine’s Day just places emphasis on showing someone you love them, which is something we do everyday in the little things.

Love is found in those little things – he takes the trash out without me asking, she makes sure the kids get to school on time, he makes sure the car has plenty of gas, she cooks us dinner after her long day…

I’ve found that I feel the most loved from those little “ordinary” things rather than the grand gestures we have come to associate with romantic love. Why not celebrate the “every day” dinner as a valid expression of love on Valentine’s Day?

Cooking at home is a wonderful couples activity. It’s not just me in the kitchen slaving away while Eric sits on the couch drinking a beer. We cook together. We share a glass of wine, talk, and prepare the meal as a couple. The chronically common becomes something special. It reminds us that the mundane things we do for each other are so meaningful.

Try it some time, maybe even tonight. Let your someone special choose a meal and cook it together over a glass of wine. Or if cooking dinner has no significance to you choose an activity that does. Emphasize that love is something that happens every day.

In my opinion, Valentine’s Day isn’t just an excuse to blow some cash on expensive gifts and fancy dinners; it’s a reminder to give and to recognize love in its most common yet most significant form. Celebrate the little things that make you feel loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Image Source: pink hats, red shoes

My Resolutions: Getting Back On Track

Happy New Year 2008!I rarely do resolutions for the new year.  Sure, I think of some of the things I’d like to accomplish going forward but I never formally write them down or even discuss them with others.  This year I felt it was time to put them in writing.  Many of my resolutions are financial and that makes sense after the last few months.

Here are my five resolutions for 2008:

1.  I will track my spending for the months I let slide and I will pick up my normal budget tracking in January.  I need to look at the numbers and see the actual damage from those moving months.  I’m already predicting that the overage in my food budget from eating out all the time will be to blame for busting my budget.  We will see once I crunch the numbers.

2.  I will carefully monitor our budget in the next few months. This will help me get a better a feel of what our expenses really are in the new home.  I have a estimated budget that I developed prior to moving but estimates are not necessarily accurate.  The next few months will give me real figures for electricity, gas, and water and I will adjust the other areas of our budget accordingly to develop an actual working budget for the year.

3.  I will get back to cooking and minimizing my food budget.  No more fast food, period.  I have already started on this resolution and I’m thrilled about it.  We haven’t ordered a pizza or picked up fast food since for a few weeks now.  The first thing I cooked in the new home was the budget breakfast sandwich.  Christmas day was the first day I felt like I was starting to feel comfortable cooking in the new kitchen.  I guess it takes a bit to adjust to the new layout and everything.  I’ve even taken photos from my recent cooking adventures for a slew of new reducipes!  I can’t wait to share them with you!

4.  I will use coupons and start comparison shopping again.  I will get back to my old routine of clipping coupons and comparison shopping.  I will also start basing my meals and household purchases around the sales again in order to maximize my budget.  It won’t feel good to have to toss all the expired coupons from my file but starting fresh can be a good thing.

5.  I will make setting up my office area a priority so that I can comfortably keep track of the household and website.  Right now, the only the kitchen and living room are close to being completely unpacked.  I need to make unpacking my office area a top priority so that I feel like I can resume my old routine with ease.  It’s hard to get back in the saddle when all your things are still in boxes.

So, now that you know my New Year’s resolutions, do you have any financial resolutions that you want to keep in 2008?

Image Source: Clearly Ambiguous

My Big Fat Rambling Update

I’m almost there, folks!I thought it was about time that I give an update on how things have been going lately.  I know I have been noticeably absent around here.  I am getting closer to being in a place where I’m able to get my life and schedule back to where I need it to be.

We have officially moved to the new home!  We spent our first night in the new place ten days ago.  Although we are technically living here now it still doesn’t feel like home.  It feels foreign and strange.  I assume that feeling will linger until we get a schedule and routine in place.  The fact that most of our possessions are still in boxes probably doesn’t help much either. 

The place looks like chaos and it is taking a surprisingly long time to unpack.  Unpacking the kitchen is particularly painful because I feel the need to analyze the best places for everything to go.  Flatware should be close to the dishwasher and the pyrex dishes should be close to the oven.  But wait, now where does the Tupperware go?  I’m finding that trying to optimize the space complicates and draws out the unpacking process.  I even find myself taking things out of boxes and putting them into other boxes while I figure out where they need to go.  How is that unpacking?  *sigh* I’ll get there eventually.         

We’ve had our share of home related issues, too.  I know Eric told you about the burglary of our appliances.  We did get replacements and the new microwave was fixed on Monday.  In addition to that drama so far the A/C broke down, the front door stopped latching, the dishwasher wasn’t pulling in water, and after taking the first shower we discovered that the master shower doesn’t drain.  Just yesterday the plumber was finally able to fix that.  The drain was stopped up with mortar and rocks from the tile guys.  Nice.  Luckily, our builder has been great so far and has been prompt to fix any issues we report. 

Having so many repairmen and installers coming in and out of the home has been very hectic.  And we still have more work needing to be done.  Whenever you have someone come to install something, say window blinds, just expect that they will need to come back again and again.  At least, that has been the case for us so far.  Installs never seem to go as planned.

Not forgetting about the “old house” has been a challenge, too.  Despite wanting to get the new home set up as quickly as possible we still have to fix up the old home to get it ready to go on the market.  And with the holidays quickly approaching it appears we won’t even be able to get a crew in there for an estimate until after Christmas.  This week we also discovered that we will, in fact, have to replace the roof due to recent hail damage.  Awesome!

It’s a good thing we decided to postpone some of the big purchases in the new house (like landscaping and sprinkler system) just in case.  We realized that there could be unexpected repair or carrying costs associated with the old home and that it would be better to have that cash available if we need it.  Looking back that was a very good decision, especially now that we have to pay the deductible for the new roof and won’t have the house ready to be listed by January as we had hoped.

Seriously though, it isn’t all headaches and stress.  We love the new home and look forward to making it more “our home” as time passes.  The kitties seem to enjoy all the extra space, too.  I need to be patient though, and get the old house fixed up and sold first, before focusing too much on the new place.  Every day that house sits while not ready to be listed is money in carrying costs we are throwing away.  Getting that house sold has to be our first priority or we could run out of savings with the double mortgage payments.

Whew – that was a long and rambling update.  I am looking forward to getting back on track with writing and hope to be back to my more frequent posting schedule by the end of the year.  Thanks everyone for hanging in there with me!  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now!

Image Source: laffy4k

My First Debt And A $5 Lobster

Much bigger than that!This is the humorous, embarrassing, and expensive story of how I acquired my first debt.

The story begins just a couple of months after I graduated high school. I was working at a fast food joint and although I liked my job, I was ready to start college. A friend of a friend was moving to Los Angeles to start school. He wanted to be a filmmaker and figured that schools in L.A. were his best bet. He was looking for some folks to help him move and I had a month until college started so I figured what the heck. I was tired of my job anyhow.

I had traveled before, but hadn’t done very much on my own at that point (I was only 17 years old). The trip to L.A. was going to be a long drive, but I had savings from working and a credit card with a $500 limit. I had plenty of money for a road trip!

I had been good with the credit card up to that point. I had only purchased a few things and had primarily gotten the card to start building my credit (on advice from my father, who helped me get the card when I was 16). My dad had really drilled into me that the credit card was only to be used for emergencies, or small purchases I could pay off quickly. It was just to help build my credit and nothing else.

I was excited about going on the trip. I had a good friend in L.A. that I had not seen for years and I called her up to let her know I was coming. I quit my job just a few works before I had told them I would and they said it was no problem. I was ready for the trip!

Along the way, we made several stops (it’s a couple days drive to L.A) One stop we were excited about was Las Vegas. None of us had ever been there before. We were too young to gamble, but just seeing the glitzy town was enough draw for us. Plus, we had heard that you could get steak and lobster meals for about $5. That sounded great to us!

We made our way to Las Vegas and got in fairly late. We had reservations for 2 nights at the Excalibur (one of the less pricey hotels in Vegas). We were all sharing one room to save money since none of us had a whole heck of a lot of it to spare. We were starving and wanted one of our promised cheap steak and lobster meals. We set out in search of a restaurant.

Lo and behold, one of the first signs we see is a picture of a guy holding up a lobster that’s nearly as tall as he was. We had found our place! We hailed a cab and told them we wanted to go there (I’m going to leave the name of the restaurant out of this post).

We arrived to the restaurant feeling a tad underdressed – most folks were dressed pretty nicely. Then we saw another group in there looking about as ratty as we did and figured we were dressed “well enough” for Vegas. We sat down to order.

They had a special – salad, steak, lobster, dessert, and coffee for four people. Perfect! And the price was “market price”. So that’s about $5 per person, right? We all agreed that must be it since we’d heard that’s all it cost for steak and lobster in Vegas.

We placed our order. I have a memory now – not sure if it’s accurate – that the waiter’s eyes gleamed when we placed our order. He was thrilled! We didn’t really notice or care at the time. We were just hungry.

We picked at our salads, and devoured our steaks. They were much better than we had expected for $5! Then came the lobster. I kid you not – this thing was the size of a 2 year old child! It was enormous! We were all going to share that single lobster. Looking back at it now gives me a pang of guilt because that lobster must have been ancient!

Some of the wait staff, and even some of the diners in the restaurant, came by to see this enormous lobster. We dug in but could only finish maybe a third of the thing. And that’s 4 hungry teenage boys! We were stuffed!

The waitstaff encouraged us to eat more. Repeatedly. We couldn’t eat anymore. No, we didn’t want a box because our hotel room didn’t have a fridge. Besides, it’s only a cheap meal so what does it matter?

Then the bill arrived
. Without hesitation I grabbed it. I was tired and ready to head back. I don’t remember the exact amount it was (I’ve blocked that particular memory), but I got immediately sick to my stomach. I was too frozen with fear to do much of anything. I must have turned white as a ghost because my friends all looked at me. They asked what was up and I just handed them the bill. We were all silent for a good five minutes. We had spent nearly $500 on dinner!!!

The waiter must have noticed that we were panicking and immediately got the manager who stood in front of the only exit watching us as we sat around and whispered. I guess they were worried about a “dine and dash” scenario. We had no intentions of running out on the bill. We were all good kids, but I understand their concern.

After talking it over for a bit, it came down to me to pay for most of the meal – up to the $500 limit on my credit card – and the guys would piece together the rest of the money from what they had on them. Two of the guys were waiters and after we recovered some from the shock, they said we had to give at least a 10% tip. We did have great service and it seemed the right thing to do. It sure hurt though!

We had to scrimp and save for the rest of the trip. This was before cell phones and long distance calls were extremely expensive. We had enough money to make it to L.A. and back if we didn’t stop on the way back except for gas. Only three of us were making the drive back and we did shifts driving and sleeping in the car. We really didn’t even have enough money to get food on the way back. We just wanted to get home.

When I got home I told my parents the story. After their initial upset and concern, they thought the story was hilarious. To this day, I smile when I see something labeled “market price”. My parents still tease me about “market price”. Now I always ask what “market price” is.

The card got paid off, but to be honest, I don’t remember how. What I will never forget is how I got the debt in the first place.

Image by man pikin

Isn’t It Supposed To Be Monday That’s Manic?

With all the months of planning I have done I wouldn’t have expected this move to affect my time, energy, and money so dramatically and in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  With the closing this Friday, my stress is at an all time high in this process.  It’s looking like the loan paperwork and the home itself might come down to a photo finish.  That is, if it isn’t late. 

The home closing process has been surprisingly difficult and we have had to call daily to make sure the items we turned in weeks ago are being located and counted as received.  If that isn’t enough to worry about we have our final (yes, FINAL) walk-through with the home builder tomorrow morning and there is still a laundry list of items to be finished including freshly inflicted damage to the tile backsplash.  We’re talking golf ball sized holes below the vent hood.  Something tells me they won’t be able to fix that by tomorrow morning.  *sigh*

We have been having trouble packing because of all the shopping and scheduling installations we have had to do this week.  It is like a flood of appointments and price comparisons and budget adjustments.  And on top of that, I am catering a charity event this weekend for 100 guests.  Terrible timing but I wouldn’t dream of letting them down, even with everything going on.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the rant.  I know it’s not very uplifting or even on topic but right now it is a bit therapeutic for me.  I’m also sorry to say that I will need to postpone doing Tightwad Wednesdays for a few weeks.  Now that we are in moving limbo it is becoming hard for me to work in the kitchen or even do proper cleaning.  My normal routine has disappeared and my ability to write consistently has been spotty at best this week.  Moving makes being able to do the Tightwad Wednesdays the way I like to do them very difficult.

But rest assured, this will not be the case for much longer.  Tightwad Wednesdays will be coming back as soon as I’m able to use the new kitchen.  I’m so looking forward to being moved in and getting back in the saddle again.  I miss my schedule and I miss stability.  But after this ordeal I’m sure I will have a wealth of stories to share.  :-)

I truly appreciate everyone listening and reading and commenting and being there. 

It means so much to me.  Thank you. 

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