January 29, 2011

To Move, or Not to Move?

When we went apartment hunting back in January of last year, we were originally looking for a place where Nathan could stay for 6 months. Then, when we were married, we would get a two bedroom apartment somewhere about halfway in between my work and Nathan's. However, every apartment we looked at charged so much extra for a 6 month lease, or even transferring to a two bedroom apartment halfway through the lease term, that we decided it would be best to just get a 12 month lease for a two bedroom apartment. I figured I could handle a 20 mile commute for 6 months until we could move somewhere in between. Well, those 6 months have passed, so we're now free to move...or not move.

Reasons to Move
  • As I mentioned, I drive 20 miles both ways to work. It could be worse, but that's still 5 hours a week (or more) spent in the car.
  • We don't have a washer and dryer in our unit, or even hookups. The apartment laundry facility is far enough away that I can't walk there while carrying two loads of laundry, so it's a hassle. And a lot of quarters.
  • We have limited counter space and extremely limited cabinet space. I know this is typical of most apartments, but my last apartment had a pantry that could hold all the food I had and more. 
  • Since we live on the second story, it's a little inconvenient to let Nenya out. The residents in the first story apartments here have a small fenced-in area and can just open the door for their dogs. (There were no first story apartments available when Nathan moved in.)
  • Parking can be a bit limited at times. The apartment I had in college was much worse (I once parked in the only available spot in the entire complex, a visitor spot, and got ticketed), but sometimes it can be difficult to find a spot.

Reasons to stay put
  • Moving isn't fun, especially in January. Just look at how Nathan's move went last year. Renting a U-Haul is a bit of an expense, but the time involved is the worst part. After living in 4 different places in the past 2 years, I'm not in a hurry to move again.
  • Other than being 30 minutes away from work for me, we're in an excellent location. Nathan gets to work in about 10 minutes. We're also really close to multiple grocery stores, other shopping, a library, and a fantastic walking/biking trial.
  • Our apartment complex pays the gas bill. We have a gas furnace, water heater, and stove, so that's huge, especially this time of year.
  • We have plenty of square footage in a layout that works for us. All our furniture fits without it feeling the least bit crammed. We have a living area long enough to basically be divided into the living room, office, and dining room, and it doesn't even look that weird.
  • Finally, the price. Our rent, including the pet fee, gas, water, and trash is around 15% of our take home pay, and all the slightly nicer places I've seen would cost a lot more. While we could afford to spend more, it's nice having the extra money to attack our debt with a vengeance.

Can you tell what we decided? What would you do?

January 24, 2011

Fondue Date Night

Nathan and I try to have a date night one night each week, usually on Saturdays. Sometimes we'll go out to eat or do something like bowling, but often we just have fun at home. The main point is to spend that time focused on the other person and enjoy each other's company. With so much of Nathan's time devoted to classes, we aren't able to spend a whole lot of quality time together during the week (although living together in itself is still pretty awesome).

For our most recent date night, we used our fondue pot for the first time. I'd only had fondue once previously (with my friend Carly, who gave us our fondue pot for our wedding), and it was a new experience for Nathan.

This was the spread we had had for our first fondue feast.

I made the cheese fondue based on this recipe, but I decided it had too much garlic. This led to several more additions, and I think we ended up with four different kinds of cheese. Amazingly, it was still good. I guess you can't go wrong with cheese.

We had cauliflower, Granny Smith apples, French bread, and summer sausage. I had read that Granny Smith apples were really good with cheese fondue, but I thought they were just okay. Nathan didn't even try one. 

Nathan had the idea to boil red potatoes and eggs to dip in the fondue. The eggs kind of fell apart and had to be fished out, but the red potatoes were excellent.

 Taking the first dip


Nenya got in on the action too.

I had originally planned this as a fondue and game night, but we ended up spending so much time preparing everything that Nathan had to get back to reading by the time we were finished eating. We still had lots of fun just with the fondue, and we're looking forward to trying chocolate next time!

January 21, 2011

Some Days

Budgets are wonderful things. Menu plans are too. They allow you to save money and have some order and control in life. But some days, not everything goes according to plan. Some days work is a little rough. Some days when you finally leave work, it's snowing, and it takes an extra 20 minutes to get home. Some days this isn't a problem because you planned on your husband cooking dinner that night. However, some days, your husband's car won't start during his lunch break, and although he gets a ride back to work, no one is able to take him home. Some days he has to stay at work for almost an extra hour while he waits for you to pick him up. Some days by the time you get home and get settled, it's already 6:30. Some days you decide that, despite the fact that you've already gone $2 over your eating out budget, you just want to have Arby's for dinner. Some days, you do. And some days, you don't really regret it.

Budgets and menu plans are wonderful things, but having a little flexibility in life is pretty nice too.

January 20, 2011

My Attempt at Making Red Lobster at Home

Red Lobster is one of my top five favorite restaurants. Nathan isn't a huge fish fan, but he enjoys the crispy fish and chicken they have for lunch, and of course we both love their Cheddar Bay Biscuits. I decided to try to make my own "imitation Red Lobster" dinner this week of fish and cheddar biscuits.

I used this recipe for the biscuits.

After baking,I brushed the garlic and butter on top. I was pretty happy when I saw them. They certainly looked like the real thing! The taste, however...not quite right. The texture wasn't fluffy enough, and they just didn't have as much flavor as Red Lobster's. This was only my second attempt at making biscuits from scratch though, and they turned out much better than my first attempt (which Nenya wouldn't even eat). 

For the fish, I decided to try broiling for the first time ever. Ooh, pretty flame!

I used this recipe, only with pollock instead of tilapia. Pollock was half as cheap as tilapia at Kroger, and based on a quick comparison of the nutrition facts it looked healthier.

After broiling for a few minutes on both sides, I put the topping on and broiled a few more minutes.

It turned out pretty well, but dealing with taking the broiler pan in and out was a little annoying. I think I'll stick with baking.

Although it wasn't as flavorful as a meal at Red Lobster, it was much cheaper, and probably healthier at least in terms of sodium. Nathan didn't have any major complaints. I think the biscuit recipe is worth another try.

Any tips on making biscuits or fish?

January 19, 2011

Our Amazing Guard Dog

We don't know what other breeds our corgi mix has in her, but we know she isn't a hunting dog!

January 16, 2011

Birthday Freebies and Coupons

I've signed up for quite a few restaurant e-mail clubs in hopes of receiving coupons, and a lot of those e-mail clubs send you some sort of offer for your birthday. Even though there's no way I could use all of them (all but one expire at the end of the month or sooner), it's nice to have the option to get free or discounted food at these restaurants. Is it worth it to sign up for these clubs? In some cases, no, not really. Take a look at the birthday offers I've received this month and decide for yourself (these may change from year to year). 

Free food with no minimum purchase
  • IHOP - Free Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity, or menu item of equal or lesser value
  • Panera - Free pastry or sweet
  • Cold Stone - Free "Like it" size ice cream with one mix-in (They're in the process of changing their e-mail club, so you can't sign up now.)
  • Fazoli's - Free dessert
  • Ruby Tuesday - Free handcrafted burger of your choice
  • Benihana - Certificate for $30
  • Bob EvansFree dessert ($3.59 value or less)
Free food with purchase
Coupon for certain amount off
Grocery Coupon

These are just nearby restaurants I like, so be sure to check the websites of your favorite restaurants for an e-mail club and check out Money Saving Mom's list of birthday freebies. A lot of these restaurants send offers periodically throughout the year, not just for your birthday. And of course, many restaurants will give you free dessert on your birthday without a coupon.

Happy eating!

January 15, 2011

Birthday Surprises

I don't really have a great track record for having amazing birthdays. Don't get me wrong, it's always a special day, but things have a tendency to go wrong. For my eighth birthday party, we went to Noble Romans, and all the kids got to go back in the kitchen to put the toppings on our own personal pan pizza. This sounds like great fun, and it was, until the waitress came out with our pizzas and dropped mine on the floor. I got to make another one, but I had to sit and watch everyone else eat while my pizza baked, seemingly an eternity to an eight year old. Then there was my twelfth birthday, when we were snowed in and couldn't have my party until weeks later. All we wanted to do for my birthday last year was eat at Bob Evans, but the Bob Evans we tried to go to either had gone out of business or had never actually existed (stupid Google Maps).

So this year, when I told Nathan that I wanted to have a "surprise evening" and let him plan everything, I didn't really have a lot of expectations, but he did a really good job. When I was almost home from work yesterday, Nathan called me to see if I was home. He didn't want me to go inside until he got there so he could see my reaction.

This is what he had done during his lunch break:

Balloons, pink stargazer lilies, and party blowers!

He had opened up the cards I got in the mail and laid them out too.

And then I unwrapped my crazy gift from Nathan:

A new camera!

I actually wanted a new camera, but one much cheaper than this one! I just wanted an inexpensive camera somewhere in between the camera on my phone and Nathan's huge SLR, but Nathan isn't so good at buying inexpensive cameras. I love it, of course; I'm just not sure that giving an expensive camera to someone who lost one camera and dropped another is such a good idea. 

This is the first picture I took with it. I love my husband, even though he spent way too much money on me.
A better look at my lilies

I didn't know where we were going for dinner. When we got in the car, Nathan informed me that I had to cover my eyes. I could tell he went south and then north again, and then we went in circles. It turns out the circling was just trying to find a parking space. After all that, we ended up at Granite City. We'd never been there, and I thought it looked pretty good.

I ordered the Tuscan shrimp. The dishes I order when we go out to eat are usually things I would never make at home because Nathan wouldn't like them. I think the only thing in this Nathan would eat is the noodles. I really liked it though.

The meat and potatoes man had pork chops and double mashed potatoes.

It was probably one of the best birthdays I'd had, and definitely the best I've had with Nathan.

January 11, 2011

Why I Clean the Bathtub

As I strive to keep our apartment clean, I have to remind myself at times why I do certain chores. Am I doing it because it's necessary for our well-being? Am I doing it to because I think it will make Nathan happy? In the case of some chores, I am really only doing them for my benefit. The main example of this is cleaning the bathtub. As I was scrubbing the tub tonight, I told Nathan,

"I never feel like this bathtub is truly clean. That's the bad thing about old apartments like this."

"That's funny," he said, "I never feel like it's truly dirty.

A simple fact I never fully realized until recently is that no one will be able to appreciate our clean bathtub except for me. You see, while I have perfect vision, Nathan can't see much of anything without his glasses. I might worry about a single hair or spot of soap on the floor of the tub, but Nathan wouldn't even know there was a floor if he weren't standing on it. While it's possible that we will have a guest who can see in the shower, all of the guests that have used our shower so far wear glasses.

There are plenty of things I do solely for Nathan's benefit, like attempting to neatly fold his underwear just how he likes it, but the cleanliness of the bathtub doesn't really matter that much to him. I clean it because it matters to me. I like to shower in a clean bathtub, and I want our guests to be able to shower in a clean bathtub, whether or not they can actually tell the difference.

January 8, 2011

Fun with The Island of Misfit Ornaments

I decided to check out the Target 90% off Christmas sale today. There really wasn't much left at all. I guess if there's something I really want next year I'd better get it right after Christmas.

It was mostly "The Island of Misfit Ornaments," like this reindeer with one antler.

And...a toaster ornament?

But I did find these partridge and poinsettia ornaments that I really liked. I kind of stared at them for a while in the store, trying to decide what I could do with them, and then bought five of them along with some raffia that was also 90% off

Put them together, and you have a Christmas garland!

I like how it's Christmasy, but not overly so. I still don't plan to keep it up year round though. In fact, it fell down just a few minutes ago since I just had it taped to the window. I'll have to work on a better hanging method when it's time to decorate next year.

Did you find any great buys during the after Christmas sales?

January 6, 2011

No More Monthly Budget

Nathan and I made our first monthly budget for July of last year. Since neither of us used a budget while we were single, a lot of guesswork went into creating it. After a lot of work, we finally decided how to spend every dollar of income we would make that month. Little did we know that Nathan would lose his job a little later that month and not get a paycheck for two months. So, our first few months of budgeting were a little weird, and we've only had three "normal" months to really figure it out.

One thing we have figured out? Making a budget based on the calendar month doesn't work for us. With Nathan getting paid every other Friday and me getting paid every Thursday, our income varies quite a bit each month. For example, in October Nathan got 3 paychecks and I got 4, and in December he got 2 and I got 5. That's a huge difference! We originally based our budget on our average monthly pay by taking our annual net pay and dividing it by twelve, but this meant we were technically spending more than we made some months. This might work for some people, but it bothered us.

The solution Nathan came up with is to base our budget not on the 12 calendar months but on 13 four-week periods. This way, our income for each budget period will be roughly the same. This also means that our expenses will vary each period - we will not pay rent in one period, won't pay electric in another, etc. - but we prefer it this way. Before the start of each four-week period, we will look at what bills we need to pay that period and then decide how to allocate the rest of our income.

Our first budget period began January 2, so it's too early to tell whether or not this will really work better for us. I think it's worth a try though.

Do you use any unconventional budgeting methods?

January 5, 2011

The Toilet "from Hades"

Nathan sent this picture of our bathroom to my phone this afternoon. A little scary, huh? Our toilet hadn't stopped running in several weeks, and our limited knowledge of toilet troubleshooting didn't lead us to any solutions. We finally called maintenance about it. I figured the maintenance guy would come in and make some adjustment with a wrench that would be so simple that we'd feel stupid for even calling, but apparently this was a little more serious. The maintenance guy thought he just needed to replace one part, but while he was doing that another piece broke because it was so brittle. Long story short, we ended up with the scene above, and he had to replace the entire back part of the toilet. He told Nathan our toilet was "from Hades."
When I came home today to a perfectly functioning toilet, with no cost or hassle for us, I was reminded once again that renting does have its advantages. Dealing with malfunctioning toilets and similar situations is one part of home ownership I'm not looking forward to at all.

Any home maintenance horror stories you'd like to share to make me never want to buy a home?

January 3, 2011

5 Goals for 2011

I decided putting my goals out here for everyone to see might make me feel a little more committed to achieving them. I plan to write monthly updates on my progress to motivate me to actually make progress.

1. Exercise on a regular basis
I want to work my way up to exercising 6 days a week. Nathan set up a great fitness program for me while I was in college, but I haven't exercised much at all these last few months. The problem is that before we were married, I worked out as soon as I got home from work and then made myself a quick dinner. But now that my commute is 25 minutes longer and I'm making meals that require more preparation, that doesn't work anymore. Thus goal #2.

2. Wake up earlier.
Ideally, I would like to wake up at 5:30. Right now, I'm lucky if I'm out of bed by 6:40, and I have to leave the house no later than 7:30 to make it to work on time. I eat breakfast while I'm driving! I want to be able to exercise, shower, eat breakfast with Nathan, and pack my lunch without feeling rushed. The most difficult part will be going to bed earlier no matter how late Nathan stays up.
3. Keep our apartment clean.
This is one Nathan and I will be working on together. We never let things get too bad, but sometimes we end up with dishes left in the sink or miscellaneous papers all over our desks. I want to be able to have people come over with little or no notice without worrying about our place being a mess.

4. Continue to find ways to decrease our expenses and increase income.
I don't want to put any numbers on this one. I want to increase my couponing skills and look for other areas where we could cut back. I manage to make a little money by taking surveys and using Swagbucks, and I'd like to find other similar ways to make money with little time involved. I would also like to do some freelance graphic design if I can get the rest of my life organized enough to have time for it.

5. Write at least 2 blog posts a week.
I'm hoping it will be at least 3, but since I only managed to write 60 posts in 2010, I don't want to set too high of a goal. The majority of my most popular posts so far have been about my wedding, so I now have the challenge of making my daily life and thoughts interesting enough for others to read.

And a couple footnotes I need to remember to help me with the above:

I am imperfect and I will make mistakes.
This is something Nathan really needs me to do. I need to realize that it's not the end of the world when I forget to use a coupon or cook a meal that isn't that great, or even when I lose the key fob we need to get into the laundry room and we have to pay $50 to replace it. 

Time is money.
I enjoy couponing and finding good deals, but sometimes I go a little overboard. Spending an hour trying to decide which items on our grocery list to buy from which stores in order to save $2 is a little ridiculous. I need to remember what's truly important.

What are your goals for this year?