Thursday, December 29, 2011

Painless Budgeting Redux

Miss MoneyPenny was going over her budget this morning and realized that it is going to be slim pickins in the old household until payday.  Eeeks!!  The holidays sure are spendy, but if you have adopted the MoneyPenny Method, you may be broke, but at least you don't have credit card debt.

This might just be a good time to revisit my budgeting method, being as it is just about the new year, and that is a good time to start managing your money, as well as start your new diet.  Miss MoneyPenny lives on library wages and a small check for doing the bookkeeping for Weathers Plumbing, but even if you have an endless stream of money, you want to get the most out of it, don't you?

I keep track of my whole financial life in a cheap three column ledger, pictured above, divided into four parts.  Part one is for all money that comes in.  I date it, indicate where it came from and how many hours worked.  This is just for my information and includes paychecks, rebates, Ebates, annual Costco check, tax refund, etc.

Part two is my monthly budget and I have a page for each category.  This will take some time to figure out, but is really worth it.  I strive for balance, not the absolute least that I can live on.  Once you get this nailed down, you are ready for the next step.

Part three is really what makes this system work and I do find it to be almost painless.  I have this part divided into five categories - yours will most likely be different, depending on your lifestyle.  These are the kinds of things that drive us to use our credit cards and never get out of debt.  I used to think that replacing my washing machine was an emergency, not just regular household maintenance.  And Christmas - who could believe that it came around again in December, just like last year?

Anyway, you get the idea.  My categories include medical, auto, vet bills, holidays and home maintenance.  These are the areas that can cause trouble for me, so I try to be prepared.  This is where your monthly budget comes into play.  Once you have that established and it is working well, you take the excess and start dividing it among your categories.  This does take some time, depending on your income.  I have only had mine fully funded a couple of times, because life just keeps happening, but I've got it covered when I get hit with that big vet bill or car insurance.

Miss MoneyPenny paid the minimum on the credit cards until this fund was up and running.  I know that this goes against everybody else, but how else will you ever get out of credit card debt if you have to keep using them?  Once your categories are funded enough to start taking over the "emergencies" you can start paying those cards down.  I started with the card that had the lowest balance, paying it off first, then taking that money and applying it towards the next one, still paying the minimum on the last one until I was at a zero balance.  That felt really good.

Part four keeps track of my savings.  Remember that you always pay yourself first.  Period.

I know that you don't think that this is painless, but it doesn't hurt near as bad as debt.  Give it a try and we will talk in six months.  I guarantee that you will think differently about your money.  If you have questions, leave a comment and I will get back to you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grocery Basket 12/28

According to the MoneyPenny Research Department food prices are going to continue to rise in 2012, along with everything else.  I'm trying to not have a panic attack here, thinking about how I'm going to squeeze my budget even more this coming year.  It is becoming more important that we eat with the seasons, instead of what we feel like that day.  Not too many of us love parsnips and brussell sprouts but that is what is in season, not strawberries or green beans, which we do love.  And stocking up on the loss leaders at the grocery store, along with using our coupons is a must.  Good luck.

Here is what I'm looking at this week at QFC, might as well start off with beer:

Stella Beer - $7.99/6 pack
Herbal Essences shampoo - $5/2 (PG/11/27)
Coleman organic whole chicken - $2.79/lb
Cuties California Clementines - $3.99/3 lb bag (S/12/4)
Organic Fuji apples - $1.49/lb
Red grapefruit - $4.99/10 lb bag
Red bell peppers - $1 each

Here is an easy winter soup using those bell peppers:

1 yellow onion
3 bell peppers
1 lb Roma tomatoes

Cut these guys up and toss them with olive oil, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 until you like the way they look.  Scrape them into your Vitamix or blender with chicken broth and give them a good whiz, adding the broth to get the right consistency.  If you don't mind a few veggie skins, add a good dollop of sour cream, season to taste, and you are ready for a tasty bowl of soup.  If the skins are an issue, strain the soup before you add the sour cream.  This makes about four to six servings, depending on how much broth you add.  I never strain out the skins.  We need roughage, after all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

News You Can Use 12/27

Now, you know that Miss MoneyPenny is a knitter and what a sad thing it was when Dinah's Yarn Store closed earlier this year.  Good news!!  Dale Hagen, an elegant lady up from L.A., has bought the store and it is now called Port Hadlock Yarns (  I dropped by today to check the place out and was very impressed.  I was thrilled by the large selection of beautiful sock yarn (Miss MoneyPenny's specialty) and all the other gorgeous yarns on display. 

I have a feeling that this store is going to become a "destination" shopping experience.  You feel welcome when you walk in and just know that you could bring your knitting problem and somebody would sit down and help you out.  It is now hip to knit and this store definitely reflects this.  Be careful, though, I walked out with two skeins of stunning sock yarn that I didn't know that I couldn't live without.

Also, I came across a new site that proved to be helpful right away.  It is called DealNews ( and it lists daily online deals.  I'd noticed that my favorite ex husband's old Norelco has been having issues the last few times that I shaved my legs and I had to bang it on the counter to get it to turn on.  I was reading a financial article online yesterday morning with my coffee,  and they had a link to DealNews, so I linked.  I was quite pleased to see that had Norelco shavers for $19.99, free shipping.  I was on it.  That was just dumb luck, but it wouldn't hurt to check it out if you know that you need to buy something.  They also have interesting articles, which are listed in the same way as the deals. 

Amaryllis update:

I almost feel bad about posting this picture of the beautiful amaryllis in her fading glory.  She was certainly a wonderful addition to Christmas this year and we got a lot of enjoyment from her.  I've been reading up on what to do after they finish blooming and it does not agree with how I did it. Since my method worked, I'm going to cut off the stem and flowers (for the compost, of course) and stash her back in the guest room and forget about her.  In the summer, she can live outside and get a good tan and then freeze to death in the early winter before I bring her back in and stick her under the sink in the bathroom for a couple of weeks.  Should work.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Shelf 12/26

Now, you know that Miss MoneyPenny is a voracious reader and sometimes I like to share what I've been reading that stands out from the crowd.  Since I work at the Library I rarely buy books, except ebooks for my Color Nook, and not too many of those.  The Library is the best deal in town.  Its free!!  And you can't beat free, but occasionally a special book, or, as in this case, an author, comes along that is worth putting down your cold hard cash for.

Product Details

That author is Molly Stevens and she is a cookbook author.  You may remember her All About Braising.  Her new book is All About Roasting and it is a beaut.  She is the kind of writer that not only do you want to cook her recipes and try out her techniques, but you just want to read her for the pleasure of her writing.  Definitely worth the $35 and a great addition to your cookbook collection.

Product Details
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of those Scandinavian mysteries that you see everywhere these days, but instead of being all dark and violent like The Girl Who...books, it is a joy to read.  You actually like the characters and hope for a sequel.  When you finish reading it, you hold it to your breast like Nancy Pearl and say "that was a good book."  With the other authors, you need a bottle of antidepressants when you get done wading through all the blood and cynicism.

The last book that I want to talk about is Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.  This is a space opera.  I kid you not.  I've never been a fan of SF but this was a treat.  Think Star Trek on steroids.  I really enjoyed the characters, even though they were a little weird.  You have your "earthers" and you have your "belters" and everything else that goes along with race issues.  I admit that I scanned over the techie stuff, but the story was very entertaining.  This is one of those books that I can't quit thinking about.

You may have noticed that I lifted the book pictures off of Amazon.    I still haven't figured out a graceful way to get them on the blog, but I wanted to show the covers.  I sure hope Mr. Amazon doesn't read this blog and get all mad at me for using his stuff without permission, but most of us will be ordering Molly Stevens' book from him.  That should get me off the hook and make him happy. 

Return That "Thang"

Miss MoneyPenny really cleaned up at Christmas this year.  Bling and Macy's gift cards are the best a girl could hope for, but if you received something so butt ugly that you wouldn't wear it to the dump, you must return it and soon.  Having worked in retail back in the 70s, I know a little something about returns.  There are some unwritten rules to getting a successful outcome when it comes to returning an item and I'm gonna give them to you.

Rule #1:  Probably the most important - be nice.  Don't go in there all aggressive with a chip on your shoulder.  The sales clerk is in charge here and how she or he is treated can really make or break the deal.  Be charming.

Rule #2:  Return it as soon as possible, especially if you just need a different size.

Rule #3:  If at all possible, include tags and or a receipt.

Rule #4:  If you have received something that comes in packaging, try not to wreck the package.  They will be much happier about processing your return if they can put it back on the shelf and sell it to somebody else.

The best that you can expect in a return situation is cold hard cash, but that doesn't usually happen.  The next best thing is a straight across exchange, like the correct size.  Sometimes they will issue a store credit which is not so bad, as long as it isn't Wal Mart.  Who could find anything worth buying there?  Anyway, what you do not want to happen is getting a store credit for the lowest price this item sold for, or nothing at all.  Then you are stuck with it or you can try to sell it on Ebay.

If you follow Miss MoneyPenny's rules you should have a happy ending.  Just don't show the gift giver all the cool things that you got in exchange for what they got you.  That did not turn out to be a very happy ending.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rockin' Amaryllis

Miss MoneyPenny thought that she better get a picture of the amaryllis while it is fully in bloom - before it falls over.  This thing is so top heavy with blooms that I need to stake it, and very soon.  I'm hoping that it will last until Christmas before it starts to fade. 

I'm also including a picture of Big Mom's Christmas card because the two go together, don't you think?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Knitting with the Seahawks

Miss MoneyPenny is a knitter and the best thing to knit to is a Seahawks game.  I've never been to a game but I sure enjoy watching the boys on television.  When you watch the game, there is plenty of time between plays to knit and not miss anything.  They make a play, then stop and pat each other on the butt, and sort out the latest penalty.  And there is all that instant replay.  Perfect for knitting. 

You may wonder where I'm going with this - as I am.  Seriously though, those of us who knit know that it can be a very expensive little addiction.  Buying quality yarn for a sweater can set you back over $100, easy.  I used to not blink an eye at this, but times are different now.  The problem is that I still love that gorgeous yarn and want to knit with it.  And there is so much beautiful stuff out there now that it is hip to knit.  Those of us who have always knitted remember the old days when our choices were pretty limited.  Now there is yarn that is handpainted and a work of art in silk, cashmere, merino, alpaca and beautiful cotton.  What to do.

Since I can't seem to get off of the good stuff, I knit socks.  For $20 to $30 you can knit a pair of beautiful socks while enjoying that wonderful yarn as it slips through your fingers.  And who doesn't want a pair of handmade socks made from some gorgeous, arty yarn?  So the sky is the limit when it comes to my socks.  I can afford to buy any yarn that flips my skirt because I only need enough to make a pair of socks.  I prefer to knit on size one needles, so the knitting takes quite some time to finish.  So, now you see where I'm going with this - for a doable price, I get beautiful yarn, lots of quality knitting time and the Seahawks winning.  Brilliant!

Amaryllis update:

This little baby is so beautiful it is almost unreal.  Who knew?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fruitcake - Love it or Leave it

When it comes to fruitcake, you either really, really love it, or really, really hate it.  Miss MoneyPenny comes down firmly on the side of the fruitcake lovers, and does not understand those ghastly games of fruitcake catapult that you hear about.  That is a terrible waste of good fruitcake!

I've never met a fruitcake that I didn't just love, but my mom made the world's best.  Actually, I had my first gall bladder attack because of fruitcake.  Mom sent me home with a big wedge of it and just like she taught me, I toasted it and buttered it up for breakfast. After I ate it, I thought that I was having a heart attack and was going to die anyway, so I went shopping.  I must have been a strange color because all the clerks looked at me funny, but I made it to have several more attacks before I finally gave up and had that useless thing removed.

I digress.  When I was a child, Mom would make the fruitcakes in the fall.  They were the kind with lots of those candied fruits and lots of nuts.  Every Sunday we would go out to her canning shelf and pour a jigger of brandy over each of the little cheesecloth wrapped beauties.  By Christmas they were definitely ready to party.  What was not to love?  Alcohol and sugar.  What a great combination.

I am now in possession of Mom's recipe and discovered that it is from the 40s.  When I finally get around to retiring, I'm going to make that recipe and do the brandy thing, too.  Since I no longer have that pesky gall bladder, I can enjoy fruitcake for breakfast, slathered in butter, of course, and think of Mom.

If there are any other lovers of traditional style fruitcake out there, leave a comment and I will send you Mom's recipe.  You won't be sorry.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Prime Rib

Miss MoneyPenny was noticing that QFC has rib roast on sale for $6.99 a pound this week.  In our family, this is the big deal for Christmas Eve dinner.  Back when my parents were alive, sister SmartyPants and I had taken to putting on the big feed.  We would get everything ready - leaving directions with Mom to put it into the oven at the correct time - then we would leave for the day and go buy ourselves good Christmas presents and have lunch, with dessert.

The idea was that when we got back, the roast would be ready and all we had to do was the finishing touches.  We had it down to a science.  After a few years of this, Mom got a little cranky about having a big bunch of loud, boisterous people (her children) in her house and just wanted to get the whole thing over as soon as possible and get back to peace and quiet.  So, she would put the roast in as soon as we backed the car out.  We all developed a real taste for well done prime rib after that. 

I've heard that there are different ways to cook rib roast than the way SmartyPants and I do it, but this way always turns out a perfectly cooked piece of long as your mother doesn't put it in the oven at 10:00 when dinner is planned for 5:00.  What you do is pat your meat dry, then rub it with olive oil and lots of salt and pepper.  Put it in a roasting pan, fat side up, without a cover at 325.  Cook it until your meat thermometer tells you it is almost ready, because you need to let it stand covered for about 15 minutes before you carve it and it will cook a little more.  As a rough estimate, I figure about 30 minutes per pound, but trust your thermometer.

Speaking of trusting - don't trust your butcher when it comes to how much meat to buy.  A couple of years ago, I went up to QFC to preorder my roast.  When the butcher asked how big, I told him that I was feeding six people.  Two weeks later when I picked it up, I was stunned when the bill was $120.  We had tons of meat and everybody went home with some, but I kept the bones.  They are very tasty when roasted with barbecue sauce and served with cole slaw and rolls or biscuits.  You will thank me for this idea, and do remember the napkins.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Gardening

Everybody that knows Miss MoneyPenny is aware of her aversion to going outside in the cold and rain and mucking about in the mud.  I don't want you to think that I am outside throwing up cold frames or anything, but there are a few things that get tended to.  Last weekend we finally got the veggie garden put to bed and we just about froze to death, but it is done.

Keeping with the idea that I started with last summer, I picked up some gorgeous bulbs that they had on sale at QFC.  You will remember that almost my whole gardening effort last summer came from the QFC parking lot.  And everything did very well!!  Anyway, the mums that I planted in the pot on the front porch were beautiful this fall, but they froze up and look really bad.  I'm going to remove them to the compost pile where they will live again later as black gold and put the bulbs in their place.  When they come up in the spring, it will be a stunner of white and purple.

Are your Christmas cactuses blooming?  Both of mine are and I have no idea what I did right, but there you have it, and on time, to boot.

Speaking of Christmas flowers, last year was very embarrassing for Miss MoneyPenny.  I bought several Smith & Hawken amaryllis bulbs and gaily gave them out to friends and family, and one for myself, of course.  They all either died outright or never bulbed.  Mine just had leaves.  They were healthy but who wants long green leaves?  Naturally Miss SmartyPant's amaryllis was the only one that bloomed, but that girl could get a Boston fern to bloom, so that doesn't count.

This summer I noticed that plant in the guest room, so I cut it back to the bulb and put it out in a corner of the deck and never paid any attention to it, thinking that I would dump it into the compost, which I never did.  I noticed it a couple of weeks ago and thought I saw a touch of green still, so I put it under the sink in the bathroom.  I remembered it a few days ago and... ta da!!

The guy from Seattle asked me what color my phallic symbol is going to be.  I have no idea.  It never bloomed but I will keep you updated.  I now know how to grow one of these babies.  Cut them to the bulb. Throw them out on the hot deck all summer, never water or fertilize them, and then let them freeze to death.  A few weeks before Christmas, put them under the sink in the bathroom.  When you remember, take them out and water and fertilize.  Works like a charm.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grocery Basket 12/09

Miss MoneyPenny can't decide whether to use the 35 year old twinkly lights or the new fancy dancy much safer blue LED lights.  I put the new ones on the big ficus last year and they were so bright that you could knit with black fingerling yarn with them.  At night!  And Miss SmartyPants said that she could see the glow all the way to Oregon.  That may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.  I really, really want to put up my old lights, but I really, really don't want to burn down the house.  Surely, they won't catch fire if they are unplugged. 

Aside from the Christmas tree lights dilemma, this is what QFC has to offer this week:

Cuties California clementines $3.99/3 lb (coupon SS/12/4)
Honeycrisp apples $1.99/lb
Mangoes $1/ea
Anjou pears $1/lb
Red grapefruit $4.99/10 lb bag
Starbucks coffee $6.99/12 oz (coupon SS/12/4)
QFC butter $4/2
QFC cottage cheese $1.99/24 oz
Organic fingerling potatoes $2.99/lb

There are no vegetables or fresh fish on sale this week, so we headed over to Chimacum Corners and bought Shorts Farm organic stew meat, fresh vegetables and greens.  While we were there, we noticed that they had Fuji apples for .99/lb and they were organic with no wax.  Also, their fingerling potatoes were $1.59/lb  instead of QFC's $2.99/lb, so savvy shoppers might check out the local guys before laying down hard earned cash with the big guys.  Just saying.

In case you were wondering, tomorrow night is the Full Cold Moon and I'm sure it will be.  And you will probably never read another blog where the word "fingerling" is used three times.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Better Christmas Gifts

Anyone who knows Miss MoneyPenny will tell you that she turns into a shape shifter during the holidays.  I don't know why but they bring out the worst in me.  Actually, that is a big lie.  I do know why and one of the big reasons is that money really gets wasted on stuff that people don't really want and can't sell on eBay later.

Miss CutiePie and I were chatting about this the other day and she suggested this post.  I like her ideas.  How about supporting our local businesses by purchasing gift cards?  The ideas that come to mind are passes to the Rose Theater, the local Car Wash and a favorite restaurant.  Then there are pedicures and massages.  Who wouldn't love that?  If you want to really go all out there is always a gym membership.  You see where we are going with this.

Another idea that CutiePie had was to design your own coupons.  You could make it for the coolest yard work, dog sitting or a homemade dinner.  I would love to have a coupon for all three, actually.  A person could really go crazy with this one.  You would only be limited by your imagination and what the intended giftee would appreciate.

In reality, most of us just don't need or want more stuff, unless, of course, we are talking jewelery here.  But that goes without saying.  When I hear that the average person is planning on spending $700 this Christmas on gifts, I wonder how much of that is going on a credit card.  Crazy. 

You do know that you won't get away with giving your six year old grandchild a coupon for Christmas.  When it comes to the kids, ignore all of the above because Christmas is for kids.