Random Musings: Doing a Job for the Money

Today over at Ask A Manager (one of my all-time favorite workplace blogs.  Go read it. Then come back here), one of the letter-writers wrote in asking if it was a bad thing that she was motivated to do good work at her job because they paid her (hint: no. Most of us work so we can get paid).

But it did get me thinking about the idea that work should be something more than a way to make money.  To some extent, I like the idea of that, but the reality is that I would not be going to work if I wasn’t going to make money doing it.  And I’ve done some really weird/crummy/interesting jobs to make money.  So instead of deep thoughts on the relative merits of only sticking with a job because it pays money, I want to hear about the worst/weirdest jobs you ever had, simply to make money.

Here’s my list: five weird/awful jobs I’ve had, solely to make money (from not so bad to absolutely terrible).

5. Wading pool attendant

This one wasn’t actually awful at all, just weird.  I got paid to sit at the wading pool for four hours each day and turn it on/off.  That was pretty much it.  It was a pretty sweet gig during the summer in college and I read a LOT of books, but I’m not really sure why they had to pay someone to sit there for four hours.

4. Waitress at Village Inn 

If you aren’t familiar with Village Inn, it’s exactly like Perkins or IHOP. Or Baker’s Square.  Lots of pie, lots of breakfast, standard American fare.  This job sucked becasue a) everythign you wore to work always ended up covered in syrup, even if you worked the dinner shift and b) tips were crap.

 

3. Early morning gym opener

For awhile, I used to work for my city Parks and Rec and I was in charge of opening the gym in the morning.  At 5:45 am.  I am not a morning person.  This was way to freaking early for me.  I didn’t have to do much once I got there, but one mroning I got there at 5:46 and got yelled at by some crabby old man for 10 mintues straight.  It was really fun. Or not.

2. Cashier at Wendy’s

I did this for two years in high school and it was- not as bad as you might think.  The owner was a super duper sexist a**hole but also wasn’t around very often.  I really liked the people I worked with, which made it a lot better.  Smelling like grease after every shift was less fun.  So were customers.  My best story from this job- I was working on front register and a guy came in and ordered some chicken strips to dine in.  The chicken strips were slightly too big for their container, so it wouldn’t close properly.  He insisted that the box needed to close, but refused to let me put one of the chicken strips back and replace it with a smaller one.  Spoiler alert- this particular incident ended with him screaming at me about his chicken strips.  And the box still never got closed. Oh food service.

1. Head cook at a boy scout camp 

This was hands down the worst job I have ever had.  I worked the AM shift in a boy scout kitchen, which was every day, M-F from 5 am to 2 pm.  Not only is mass food prep messy, stressful, and heinously boring, but the head cub scout counselor and I….did not get along.  Her favorite method of communication was standing in the kitchen yelling at me and I was not invested enough in keeping my job to let her.  Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I didn’t get fired…

What job(s) did you have that you only stuck with for the money?

 

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Five Frugal Things

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Hi all! For those of you following along, I know I still owe ya’ll a final installment in the KISS budget series.  It’s coming, I promise! A variety of random busy-ness has kept me, well, busy the last week and blogging just hasn’t been making the cut at night.  I used to really enjoy being busy, but more and more I find myself longing for my couch and a cup of tea at night. I think looking after a toddler is so constantly busy that being busy no longer feels satisfying.

Anyway, I haven’t done one of these posts in awhile, so here are five frugal things I’ve done in the last week or so.  What frugal things have you been up to?

I turned random leftovers into soup

I made a roast on Sunday for company and had a bunch of roast and carrots/potatoes left over.  So today, I dumped all of that, plus some beef broth and a bunch of random leftover veggies that were hanging out in my fridge and freezer in my crockpot and voila! Vegetable beef soup for dinner.  F. and I ate it with some leftover rolls I had lying around and now we have an abundance of soup left over for the week.

I made icky bananas into yummy banana bread

I had two bananas that were going bad and one sole banana hanging out in my freezer, so I used them to make a couple of loaves of banana bread.  So very yummy. Also, a fun toddler activity, as F. currently loves helping me cook.

I returned library books on time

F. and I head to the library every three weeks to return books and get new books.  My library very helpfully sends me an e-mail reminder when our books are due, so it’s easy to remember to return them.  F. loves going to the library and I love getting new books that we don’t have to pay for.

I bought chicken on sale at the grocery store

We eat a lot of chicken in my house, so I’m always on the lookout for a good sale on chicken.  Aldis has pretty good prices on chicken, but they often add salt water to their meat, which I’m not a huge fan of.  A regional grocery store around here had boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.88/lb so I stocked up.  My newly emptied freezer is now bursting with meat again.  I shouldn’t have to buy meat for another couple months!

I bought F. some used shoes at Once Upon a Child

When F. moved shoe sizes, we got a bunch of hand-me-down shoes from a friend.  However, the shoes had been through quite a few kids by the time they got to F., so she had worn holes in nearly all of them.  However, I’m real averse to paying full price for a new pair of shoes.  So we headed over to Once Upon a Child, which is a resale shop for kids clothing. I got F. a new pair of tennis shoes for $4! I’ll call that a win.  That’s about $15 cheaper than a shoe store and keeps another pair of shoes out of a landfill somewhere.

What frugal things have you been up to??

 

 

 

The KISS Budget: What do you actually WANT to spend?

Welcome back to this week’s series on getting started with budgeting.  Yesterday, I walked through my “process” for conducting a spending audit.  Go read it if you missed it. It’s really just a fancy way of saying “figure out what you currently spend money on.”

Today’s step is more fun. The next step in the KISS budget is to figure out what you actually WANT to spend.  However, that’s often easier said than done. I can’t tell you how many times I performed a very comprehensive spending audit, only to get totally overwhelmed by all of the data and stop entirely.  So here’s my step by step breakdown of figuring out what you actually want to spend.

Step 1: Classify spending categories

Each category gets a prioritization level assignment.  I don’t believe in making things complicated, so there are only three priority levels:

  1. Problem spending– this is any spending that is actually creating a financial problem for you.  Going out to eat so often that you can’t save money or afford gas? That’s an area of problem spending.  Is clothes shopping preventing you from saving for something you want or need? That’s an area of problem spending.  If you’re already living on a shoestring budget, you may not have any areas of problem spending.  But in that case, you’re probably also already on a budget!
  2. Nice to change– this label applies to any area where you think you could spend less, but it’s not currently impacting your ability to meet your financial goals.  I often think of things like utilities and cable in this bucket, because most of us could probably do better in this area, but it’s also usually not a high problem area.  Groceries is a category like this for me- I’m not likely to vastly overspend on groceries, but I could probably do better than I currently do.
  3. No change needed– this label applies to any area where you either can’t easily change the amount you are spending (i.e. debt, rent) or you don’t see this as a problem spending area (B. and I are both introverted, so spending on non-restaurant entertainment was never a problem in our house.  Netflix all night? Yes please!)

Step 2: Pruning your problem spending

Note: If you don’t have any areas that you consider to be problem spending, skip to step three. 

The next step is to look over your problem spending.  What area needs the most work? Where are you overspending the most?  Look at what percentage of your money is being spent on a given category*.

If you aren’t sure whether you’re spending too much in a given area, I’ve (very hesitantly) included some averages below (courtesy of Dave Ramsey). I just want to caveat these by saying that each individual situation is different, so take your needs, preferences and cost of living into account for each of these averages.

  • Rent/Mortgage/Utilities: 30-35%
  • Childcare-: Dave Ramsey suggests 10%. I think this is a joke.  About 20% of our monthly spending is spent on childcare
  • Groceries/Restaurant/Household products: 10-15%
  • Transportation: 10-15%
  • Insurance: 10-25% (note- this includes home, auto, life, short-term and long-term disability, long-term care insurance, health insurance, etc.)
  • Personal care: 10-15%
  • Non-restaurant entertainment/Miscellaneous: 5-10%
  • Doctor/Vet: 5-10%

Once you’ve decided where you’re overspending, your first goal is to work on one problem area only (if you have the luxury of being able to gradually work your way into budgeting).

See, humans are funny, in that we routinely underestimate a) how hard a task is going to be and b) how well we’ll be able to sustain behavior over a long period of time.  So we may think “oh, hey, cutting out all clothes shopping and eating out is going to be fine. I can do that, it won’t be that hard.”  But after a few weeks, reality sets in, we get busy, we get bored, it rains for three weeks straight and suddenly we’re back at McDonalds with fifteen shopping bags in tow. Because when things get stressful, our control breaks down and we’re right back into old, comforting, familiar routines.

It is much easier to change behaviors if you focus on one behavior at a time.  So in this case, pick one behavior that you’re going to change. Maybe it’s eating out. Maybe it’s going to see movies.  Maybe it’s going shopping on the weekend because you’re bored.  Pick one thing and work on only that, for at least a month. The idea behind this method is that after a month, you’ll have replaced a not-so-great financial habit with a better financial habit.  And once behavior becomes habit, it’s much easier to a) stick to existing habits and b) work on new habits. Finally, you slowly add new goals (no more than one each month) until your problem spending has been addressed.

Step 3: Look for ways to save on “nice to change” budget items

This step can happen simultaneously with step two, but if you have a lot of problem spending areas to tackle (3+), I wouldn’t recommend that.  It will start to feel really overwhelming and not very simple any more, which defeats the entire purpose of this budgeting method.  If you need ideas on how to save money for certain budget categories, I highly recommend Google.

So there you have it- the second phase of the KISS budget.  The third, and final, installment will be tomorrow and I’ll be talking about how to track your spending throughout the month.

*If you aren’t mathematically inclined- take the amount of money you spent on a particular budget category and divide it by the total amount of money you spent in a month. Then multiply times 100 and you’ve got your percentage of monthly spending!  For example: I spent $500 on groceries and $5000 overall a month.  500/5000) * 100 = 10%.  So 10% of my money each month gets spent on groceries. 

 

The KISS Budget: Budgeting made simple

This week, I’m going to be talking in greater detail about my approach to budgeting.  It’s loosely based off the Dave Ramsey method, but a little bit simpler (hence the KISS budget).

Have you ever wanted to have a budget, but didn’t know where to start? Have you ever wanted to know where your money is going? Have you ever gotten to the end of the month and wondered where the heck all your money went? Have you ever felt incredibly overwhelmed by big, long books about budgeting? This week of posts is for you!

I know how you feel because this was me, until about six months ago, when B. deployed. Before that, budgeting was his “chore” and I just let him do his thing. But I took over budgeting once he deployed and have been responsible for keeping our spending on track.  The budget method I’m going to share with you this week is one that I have managed to keep going while a) working full-time and b) parenting a toddler full-time, so you know that it takes very little time or effort on my part.

Today and tomorrow are all about the pre-work that goes into “developing” a budget.  Wednesday and Thursday are all about the day-to-day budgeting experience.  Sound like fun? Let’s go!

Conducting a Spending Audit

Still here? Excellent.  I know this sounds big and scary and a lot like getting audited by the IRS, but I promise it’s much better than that.  Conduct a spending audit is really just a fancy way of saying “figure out how much money you’re currently spending.”  To do this, you’ll need bank statements (either online or paper) for the last 3-12 months and probably a calculator, pen and paper. Or some slightly better than basic Excel skills.  Your choice 🙂

The goal of the spending audit is to take everything you’ve spent over the last three to twelve months and figure out how much you’re spending on different budget categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated!! If this is your first time conducting a spending audit, I recommend the following categories:

  • Rent/Mortgage:  Your housing costs, not including utilities
  • Utilities: Water, sewer, garbage, electricity, recycling, gas, internet and cable (including subscription services like Netflix or Hulu)
  • Childcare costs
  • Groceries: Excludes eating out- only food you buy in the grocery store.  You can choose to include cleaning products and personal care products in this category or not.
  • Transportation: Gas and car maintenance- do not include any car payments here
  • Cleaning/household products: toilet paper, dog food, toilet cleaner, paper towels, sponges, etc.
  • Insurance: Home, auto, life, etc.
  • Personal care: clothing, haircuts, waxing, make-up, pedicures, etc.
  • Restaurants: eating out, including convenience food
  • Non-restaurant entertainment: movies, shows, anywhere you take kids that costs money
  • Doctor/Vet: All medical care for you and your family, including pets.  This includes any prescription medications
  • Miscellaneous: Things you aren’t sure of that don’t easily fit in any other category
  • Debt: Credit cards, car payments, student loans, etc.  Includes all money owed to others except your mortgage.

That’s it.  I wouldn’t try and refine these categories any more at this point- the point of the spending audit is to get a first-pass look at where you spend your money.  If you find your miscellaneous category is getting big, don’t worry. We’re going to sort that out together tomorrow, because that says something about where most of your money is going.

Step One: Assign expenditures to spending categories

The first step of the spending audit is to assign each expenditure to a spending category. There is not right or wrong way to do this.  I personally have an affinity for markers and paper, so I started out by printing out all my monthly bank statements (sorry trees!) and physically wrote in the category of each expenditure.  You can do whatever works for you.  This doesn’t have to be perfect. You can see my expenditure assignment exercise below:

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See? Not pretty! It doesn’t have to look nice to be effective.

Step Two: Add up your categories by month

Most people get paid on a cycle that makes monthly budgeting make sense. This may not be you- adjust as needed.  But we budget on a monthly basis, so that’s what I’m going to detail here.  Go through for each month (I recommend going back at least three months, but a full twelve will give you a good picture of seasonality) and add up how much you spent on each of the above categories.  Again, this doesn’t have to be fancy, as you can see from my scribbles below.

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Sorry for the truly terrible lighting!

That’s it! We’re going to do something with all these numbers tomorrow, but for now, you’ve completed the first phase of the KISS budget.  You now have a fairly accurate picture of how much you spend on what for each month.  Congratulations and stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment!

Frugal Friday

It’s Frugal Friday!  Time for my weekly round-up of frugal wins and frugal fails. How did you do this week?

Frugal Wins

  • I brought my lunch and breakfast to work every day this week (and ate it!) Staying out of the very easy cafeteria at work helps keep our food spend low.
  • I bought a box of tea that I really like and took it to work.  This has been keeping me out of Starbucks, which is definitely a win.  I first got introduced to this tea when I lived in Minnesota (thank you, Granny) and I was thrilled when I found it on Amazon! It seriously tastes like Christmas in a cup. Sweet, spicy, so good.
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The best tea ever.  Photo credit: Good Earth

I think that might be it for the week. Ugh. Not a very inspiring week of wins! But hey, they can’t all be winners, right? This one definitely isn’t because up next- Frugal Fails!

Frugal Fails

  • The biggest fail this week was definitely locking my keys in the car on Monday.  I had to pay $53 bucks to get my keys back out.  This is a fail particularly because I’ve been procrastinating getting spare keys made for the car. If I’d done that, I’d have had a spare key in my desk and $53 bucks still in my pocket.
  • Thursday night = McDonalds drive-thru. I got off work super late and it was well after dinner time by the time we got home. McDonalds was totally worth NOT having a melting down toddler.
  • Oh yeah- giant vet bill. Not frugal.  I am a terrible pet owner because apparently brushing teeth is something dogs need on a regular basis or their teeth become really gross and then have to be cleaned professionally.  I did not know this. I don’t ever remember brushing teeth for our dogs growing up, but I really don’t remember well. I know now.  Brush your dog’s teeth. Seriously.  A toothbrush costs $4. Teeth cleaning cost well over $400.

Ugh. Not a great week.  I’m happy because the vet bill ended up being less than I had budgeted, but still a LOT of money. Anyway. Onward.  Next week is a new week. Clearly I need to be a little more intentional in making frugal decisions.

 

What I love Wednesday: Potato Sausage Soup

As promised, my potato sausage soup recipe.  I LOVE this potato soup recipe (even more so because this is the ONLY recipe I can think of that I actually made up myself. I am not a creative cook).

I also love it because it can be modified to use up whatever veggies you have laying around as well as a bunch of different types of meat. This is a great, hearty soup and I love it with some nice, crusty bread or a salad on a cold fall day.

Potato Sausage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 carton (32 oz) of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Potatoes, cut into chunks (I usually use 3-4 large potatoes or 8-10 smaller potatoes. You want enough to pretty much fill the chicken broth in your pan)
  • 1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cups of whatever veggies you have on hand (Peas, carrots and corn are some of my favorites)
  • 1 lb of meat (I’ve used Italian sausage, pork sausage, ham, ground pork, bacon and turkey in different versions of this soup).
  • Optional: Milk or shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Combine broth and potatoes in large saucepan on medium high heat. Cover and cook until potatoes are able to be easily mashed with a fork. Using an immersion blender, blend potatoes in chicken broth until all chunks are smooth. At this point, your soup should have a fairly thick consistency.  If your soup is too thin, add some shredded cheddar (about 1/4 cup – this will make it taste amazing and thicken the soup).  If your soup is too thick (closer to mashed potatoes than soup), add a little milk or water (about 1/4 cup).
  • Meanwhile, if needed, cook whatever meat you’re using until done. For sausage, ground pork or bacon, brown in a skillet.  For ham or previously cooked turkey, no pre-cooking is needed.
  • Finally, combine all meat and veggies in potato/broth mixture.  Cover and cook on low medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And that’s it! Fair warning if you have leftovers – this soup will get REALLY thick when it’s cold, but will become more liquid as it re-heats.  Happy cooking!

Freezer Challenge Update

As many of you know, I’m currently working on emptying out my freezer (so I can replace with new food!)  My first week was a little rough, but the  last week and a half has been going much better. In fact, I think that after one more week, I’ll be done cleaning out the freezer!

Food I used up successfully

  • A pound of Italian sausage-  I made this into potato sausage soup, which was a double win because it used up some potatoes about to go bad as well as some Italian sausage that had been in my freezer forever.  Plus it was delicious.  I use my own made up recipe, which I will post tomorrow.  It’s dairy free, which is the best part of it since my body no longer tolerates high levels of dairy.
  • Pork…chops?- I received a random package of some cut of pork (from my dad) and had leftover chicken, peas and carrots laying around.  So I made a chicken/pork soup that I’ve been making into a pretty basic chicken/pork ramen bowl for lunch this week.  Super yummy and perfect for fall.
  • Baked pork chops- F. and I had some baked pork chops last week for dinner.  I liked the recipe, but F. was not a fan.  She’s been going through a “meat is gross” phase though, so I’ll probably try them again.
  • Chicken nuggets and tater tots- These aren’t gone yet, but we used some more of them up.
  • Frozen peas- F. really wanted some new veggies last week so I made her some peas out of the freezer.  Win-win! Also, apparently, my toddler thinks frozen peas are just as good as cooked peas…
  • Spaghetti- I used up our last pound of ground beef to make some spaghetti sauce, which we’ve been enjoying with spaghetti squash.  F. really loved the spaghetti squash- she thought it was cheese and was really disappointed when it wasn’t.
  • Two bags of bagels- I bought bagels for a work potluck about a month ago and then F. ended up being sick on the day of the potluck, leaving me with about two dozen bagels. I froze three of the four bags and have been slowly using them up. I’m down to one bag  left!

 

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Not my ramen, but similar.

Freezer food fails

  • I had frozen some BBQ chicken a few months ago, but I used regular Ziploc bags. Needless to say, the chicken was freezer burnt to the point of being wholly inedible.  I ended up having to throw it away.
  • I had a bag of random chicken parts and old veggie ends that I had frozen to make stock, which I put in the crockpot overnight on Friday.  However, something must have actually gone bad before getting frozen, because the broth smelled and tasted AWFUL! I ended up throwing the whole thing away.

Overall, I’m going to call this a big win. I’ve used up a lot of food, considering it’s just F. and I eating right now and I’m at a point now where I’m going to have to start buying meat again. F. will be happy- I think she’s tired of pork! How are all of you doing?