Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Try one with a heap of scorn on the side

coupon pies

OK, so I managed to make some "Coupon Pies." In case you're just tuning in, I have previously sung the praises of Pillsbury Crescent rolls/dough, and I have also wondered if I could manage to come up with recipes that use it and Green Giant Frozen vegetables, because they're two things that seem to be always on sale with plentiful stacking coupons available.

Basically, I took some of my leftover xmas ham, mixed it with some (cooked) Green Giant Broccoli in Cheese sauce (yes, I know it's possibly not real cheese, but it is real sauce) and wrapped it all up in Crescent dough sheets (one roll of dough, cut in half, one half per pie). I baked it at 375 for ... Oh, I dunno, a little while. Until it looked like it does in the picture.

The verdict: It was OK. I mean anything with ham and crescent dough is going to be at least OK because, c'mon, it's ham and crescent dough! But I think it would have been better with real cheese and not the cheese sauce that comes with the broccoli. Partially because of the taste, but mostly because the cheese sauce made the bottom a bit soggy. No one wants a soggy bottom. So if I were going to do it again, I'd either use fresh broccoli or buy the frozen kind that's not in cheese sauce, and just add real cheese.

Another thing I'd do differently is come up with a way to fold the top instead of gathering it together, or maybe bake it at a slightly lower temp for a little longer. This is because the part at the top where all the dough comes together didn't cook completely. So to get that part cooked without burning the outside, I think I'd need longer time at lower temp, Maybe. I mean, I really don't know what I'm doing, I just make it all up as I go along ...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Next year you're all getting decorative homemade crap, I promise

I'm really jealous of all these people who come up with "A Year of ..." blog ideas and then get a book deal out of them, maybe even a movie deal, and maybe even another book deal, and so on. Because they never have to go back to that office ever again. I want to not have to go back to that office, but all the good ideas have been taken.

Maybe I should become Pillsbury's bitch. Oops, I almost typed "butch" there instead of "bitch." Well, if Pillsbury wants a butch, I'll be that, too, as long as it pays well and doesn't involve going to an office every day. At any rate, I hereby publicly declare my love for the Crescent Roll. Is there any money in it for me, Pillsbury? What if I decide to blog "A Crescent a day?"

Well, even if there's nothing at all in it for me, here's today's Crescent: I brought home some leftover ham from Xmas dinner at my mom's house. Normally, I make omelets whenever I get any ham, because nothing makes an omelet tastier than a bit of ham, IMO. But when I went for the eggs I noticed I had all these Pilsbury Crescent Rolls and Crescent sheets in the fridge thanks to the fact that they seem to be always on sale at Kroger, with plentiful e-coupons and paper coupons (in that nice 50 cent value that Kroger doubles!), making them nice and cheap. SO I thought I should roll up the ham with some cheese and a bit of broccoli (added only because I felt guilty if I didn't include a vegetable) in a sheet of Crescent dough. I'm sure there's recipe for exactly this somewhere on the Pilsbury site, but who really needs a recipe for this kind of thing? I baked it all at 375 degrees for somewhere around 15 minutes, until it was pretty and golden brown. Yum. It made 2 servings, so one was dinner last night and the other was lunch today.

Later this week, I'm making little piggies in blankets for a New Year's Eve potluck, with Little Smokies I got on sale/with a coupon at Food Lion and, yes! Pilsbury Crescent Rolls! But I need to come up with a vegetarian version, because there will be at least one vegetarian and one person who keeps kosher at this shindig. Carrots in a blanket? Broccoli in a blanket? And no, I'm not going to go buy little vegetarian sausages, because I don't have a coupon for those.

Hmmm, maybe I should spend that next year of my life refusing to buy anything I don't have a coupon for and then I can write a stupid book about it. I wonder who should play me in the movie?

Oh yum, I just thought about a possible combination of Crescent Rolls and that can of dulce de leche that's sitting in my cupboard right now ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

This blog item 99¢ off

  • Furnace inspection guy showed up yesterday a full 45 minutes before the end of his 4-hour "window." The furnace passed inspection.

  • This has nothing to do with anything, but if I were to make a Liz Lemon-esque "Dealbreakers" list I think I would include: "Is more or less my age and still reverently listens to The Smiths." ("Reverently" not including occasionally listening to "Ask" and singing along with gusto, because everyone should do that now and then.) The reason: Smiths reverence past the late 20s often correlates with the emotional maturity of a 13-year-old. Trust me on this one.

  • I may have found a solution to my petsitting dilemma. I don't want to say too much because I'm occasionally just ever so slightly superstitious, and I don't want to jinx it. But let's just say that frequent flier miles and a faraway friend may come to my rescue. Yes, it will likely be cheaper to fly someone in to look after my girls than to pay a local person. Well, the environment will pay the real price because the plane ride carries a heaver carbon burden than a car driving across town, but I'll let your children worry about that. (Insert winky smiley emoticon here to indicate that my callousness is mostly in jest. Not that it will stop me from flying in a friend if that's what it comes to ...) Anyway, it will mean that I won't have the use of those FF miles for my own gallivanting, but after the Wales trip (the ticket for which was purchased long before the furnace fiasco) I think I'll have to shelve the globe-trotting while I rebuild my financial safety cushion.

  • I played Mr. Bluelight's little Christmas Countdown sweepstakes contest game thingie at the Kmart web site and I won a free bottle of Dawn Ultra Dish Detergent. I was running low on dish detergent. Go me.

  • If I could subsist entirely on Pillsbury refrigerated dough products and Green Giant Frozen vegetables I could probably eat incredibly cheaply for months. It seems that I can't turn around without running into coupons for those items, and they also appear to be always on sale somewhere.

  • Oh, and did I mention the $5 yoga class on Sundays. Yes! There is a $5 yoga class on Sunday afternoons! It's Bliss For Less! Plus, they give the money from those classes to various charities. (In December I think it's the Durham Rescue Mission.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Visions of buy 1, get 1 free sugarplums ...

I'm sitting at home waiting for the city furnace inspector to show up to tell me if my installation is within code or not. It's one of those "window" appointments where you have to be there for four hours and then five minutes before the end of the window he finally shows up, so you end up having to take even more time off work to get the thing done ... plus we're talking the City of Durham here, so it will probably be much worse than even that. See, I really love Durham, but I've discovered that the City of Durham is pretty much ineffective, inefficient and downright backwards in just about everything it does. (Please, please Inspector Person, prove me wrong somehow!)

So my new austerity plan is going really well. I've discovered that basking in the feeling of superiority I get when I conquer my materialistic impulses is far better than buying stuff. Unless there's a coupon involved ...

But no, even if there is a coupon involved I've been able to withstand, even if it stings. For example, for months I've wanted a GPS thingie and I've been watching the prices, looking for the big deal that will make me lock and load. So this week, I found it: Target had a deal on a Tom Tom where it was $99.99 and you got a $20 Target gift card with it, PLUS there was an online printable coupon for an extra $10 off. Here was my deal! But no, alas, a GPS is not a necessity. So I can't really buy it right now. Well, I could, but I'd only be sabotaging my "Pay Off the Furnace Now!" campaign.

There is one non-essential expense that I've already committed myself to, back before the furnace thing, and that's my trip to Wales in April. The plane ticket is already paid for, and I'm not so concerned about my expenses on the ground there (even though absolutely everything in the UK seems jaw-droppingly expensive ... or maybe that's just London), because I just won't eat a lot and I'm pretty sure I still have a free place to stay. The expense I'm really worried about is the dog-sitting. It will be between $60 and $70 per day, considering I have 3 dogs. If I had only one dog, I could probably find one of my dog friends to take it on for a week out of kindness, but when you have three no one wants 'em all at once. Even when they are as cute as mine. Last year I did a whole bunch of free dogsitting for The Former Mr. Pants, and I sort of feel like he still owes me. But he suddenly became disinclined to even return a simple phone call after his dog died and he no longer needs my petsitting assistance. So fat chance of me getting fair play out of him. The other option could be my mother. I happen to know that she was just going to write me a check for Christmas. I wonder if she would consider coming to stay at my house for a week in April instead? I guess it won't hurt to ask! Otherwise, it's one more reason I can't have that GPS ...

As for the couponing (and here's where this post gets extra boring if you're not at all interested in couponing), it's going OK in week two. It will be another month or so of Sunday paper coupon inserts before I have the stockpile of coupons necessary to do the deals right. See, the trick is matching the various coupons, store doubling policies, rewards schemes, etc. with weekly specials to stock up on the stuff you need when it's cheap. (There's way more on how it works here if you're curious.) Basically, it's like you're putting together this never-ending puzzle, but you don't get all of the pieces at once, so it only gets more put-together after time. I find it rather fun, but it does take preparation, planning and a bit of effort. I'd rather spend the time than the money at this point, and I think it will get easier when I get the hang of it.

Anyway, my savings in this week's trip to Kroger was not so dramatic as last, mostly because there were things I really needed to buy that I didn't have a coupon for (but I did find most of them on Plus card special, at least) and a couple of things that I needed and had a coupon for but were not on sale. Also, I bought an impulse buy: a bottle of Concha y Toro Riesling, but to my credit it was at least on sale (for $3.99). But still, it was a non-necessity and it pushed my bill up $4.00 that I didn't need to spend.

Nonetheless, before paper coupons and doubling were figured (but after Plus card savings and e-coupons), my bill showed as $63.44.(I have no idea if that included tax or not, because the before-coupons machinations don't show up on the printed receipt. I had to have a pen ready to write that number down.) After paper coupons and store doubling (50c or less at Kroger), it was $47.56. According to the receipt, my savings were: Manufacturer coupons=$14.50, Bonus coupon savings (I think this is the doubling)=$3.40, Kroger Plus savings=$20.05. Except that it doesn't seem to add up correctly, so some of those manufacturer coupons are obviously the e-coupons that were taken off BEFORE the $63.44 total showed. So I saved slightly more than it looks like, but not as much as last week.

All in all, I find the coupon thing to be a little entertaining. So yes, I'm spending more time on grocery shopping and yes, it's a bit of trouble, but I'm having fun with it. Maybe it will get less fun as I go along, but I'll be more efficient at it so it won't take as long. I think. Maybe not and I'll burn out on it. We'll see.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We had a ropey sound but we gave it some welly

Since the big furnace purchase, I've been having a bit of financial anxiety. I thought I had been living sort of frugally, and in a way I had, but several large expenses over the past year (dog's broken leg, need to buy new glasses with expensive old people's lenses in them, a new laptop, the furnace) have severely dented my cash reserves. Upon close inspection of my finances, I've uncovered lots and lots of places where I could have been way more frugal. So I've kicked myself into a financial mode that I'm calling ... well actually I don't have a name for it. It's the mode where if it isn't essential (and I'm in the process of trying to redefine and streamline "essential"), it's out of the budget. I'm also using an Excel spreadsheet to track all discretionary spending (i.e., not utilities/mortgage/car payment) so I can break down how much really goes exactly where in an attempt to change some habits.

This is so not like me (especially the Excel part). I mean, I'm OK at being cheap--I love buying my clothes at Goodwill way more than buying them new, and I will often shop for non-perishables at the Raleigh Aldi during my lunch break (I wish there was one in Durham!) because their prices can be insanely cheap. But I really need to build my cash reserves back up AND pay off my furnace, and I'd like to do both simultaneously. That may not be possible, so I'll settle for not using up any more of the reserves while I discharge the furnace debt. Dang, I'm even toying with the idea of getting a roommate. Just toying at this point ... for a lot of reasons it's probably just crazy talk, but the idea is in my head.

I'm also looking into ways to bring in a little extra dough (without having to take on freelance design work, because that's something I've decided I don't enjoy at all.) I found one thing that is not to be counted on but, over the past two days, has brought me $30 for right about one hour's work. No, it's not prostitution, (I would charge more than that!) but I'm going to keep it a secret because it involves grabbing the jobs before someone else does, and the less competition the better for me. Let's just say it involves the intertubes and it's something I find quite easy and fun. Yay me!

I've also, with the encouragement and help of girlnblack, decided to give "extreme couponing" a try. It involves a little bit of work and organization, but apparently you can really play the system to get stuff almost for free. It takes a bit of start-up time to amass the proper collection of coupons, but I decided to try to do what I could to start out yesterday at Kroger. I had a batch of groceries that rang up (after the usual Kroger Plus card discounts) at somewhere around $33 (I wish I had written it down, because that amount didn't get printed on my receipt.) After all my coupons, including a $7.00 off the total one from the Kroger packet, I paid $16.34. Apparently, after a month or so of collecting coupons, it can get even better than that, with a lot of items ending up being free if you time the coupon usage just right and work the stores' doubling policies and whatnot.

And in other good news, my $100 credit from PSNC already came through, so not only do I not have to pay my November bill (which was amazingly only 1/3 of what last November's bill was), but I have $75 left over to apply to January's bill ... and maybe even beyond if my new furnace is as efficient as it's cracked up to be.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Being silly is serious business

Really, it costs me nothing but a few minutes of my time to do these things. I just hope the mistresses keep coming out of the woodwork. A friend suggested this one:

Buy it! Buy it now! Buy several!

Monday, December 07, 2009

From your pocket to mine!

Do you have extra money lying around? Well I don't. So when someone (on Facebook of course!) suggested that someone make a T-shirt that says "I had an affair with Tiger Woods and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" I decided that someone should be me. Why the hell not? I need the money. I have the technology. I had a few minutes to spare. Et voilá:

Buy one!! Buy one!!
Tell your friends to buy one, too! I have to pay for my new furnace.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Blood from a turnip

Any of you cool kids ever sold used books on Amazon? I've got sooo very many books lying around ... Chime in if you have any thoughts ...

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Right back to boring again ...

So I got a new furnace. And ductwork. Turns out there are more and less efficient ways to distribute heat/and air, and mine is now more. Funny thing, I can even look at the new ductwork and, applying my college-intro-course-level understanding of how the physical world works, see exactly why it's more efficient than the previous system. Yep, there's all kinds of efficiency going on over here at Casa de Pants.

Now I have to pay for it all. I already took a big hit earlier this year when my cute little dog Pinky broke her leg, and I really didn't want to spend down any more of my emergency cash because, well, I just didn't. So I'm starting out with the "12-month-no-interest" financing thingie that the installer people offered. Normally these deals can be bad news, because they're a way of suckering people into buying crap they don't need and can't afford, like rooms full of furniture and giant TVs and such. But I need a furnace and I was going to have to buy it even without a short-term offer of free money, so I took the offer. Of course, I have to give them ALL the money back before 12 months or they charge mafia-style interest on the whole amount, but I'm not going to let that happen.

Now I'm on a serious money-diet so I can pay this thing off. Essentially, I can officially afford to do NOTHING. Well, I've decided that yoga class once a week is still in because it's just too good for me to give up. And maybe once every couple of weeks I'm allowed to grab a beer or a taco with a friend. But I'm even cutting back on my dog agility which is really my Number One Favorite Thing in life. I was going to travel to the mountains in two weeks for my favorite agility trial all year, but I decided not to even after I was offered a free place to stay at a friend's house. I just decided the entry fees were money I really needed to not be spending at this point. (It's not cheap to enter agility trials.)

I'm also looking at other things to cut ... I would love to get rid of the stupid land-line, which costs almost $40.00 a month just to freaking exist. Not worth it, except that the are places in my house where I have a hard time getting a cell phone signal. So I'm paying almost 40 bucks a month just for the knowledge that I'll be able to call 911 if I need to. That's messed up.

Anyway, I could go on an on about all the things that just seem to cost too frakking much money and are not at all worth it. Maybe I will in coming posts ... it's my blog and I can bore you to death if I want ;-)