Soups for the Nearing Winter

Ali Bar

Being too lazy to prepare lunch for myself in the mornings before I head to class has threatened to turn into a bad habit lately. Of course, when I’m thinking more clearly at lunch-time, I kick myself for doling out $10 for a meal. It doesn’t happen too often, but enough so I regret it. And when it does, a better option would be picking up lunch at the grocery store instead of a café or some other little lunch joint. At the grocery I can buy crackers for around $2, and while that might not be the healthiest meal, it will usually tide me over until I get home. If I know I’m going to be really late, I can pick up a pre-made sandwich at Whole Foods for about $5. The most fantastic things I've found so far for curing a hunger attack are dehydrated Trader Joe's brand rice noodle soups sold at Trader Joe's for 99 cents. They’re surprisingly filling and a cut above your average noodles in a cup.  While I don’t think I should make these noodles my steady diet, they’re fine every now and then when I don’t bring my lunch. The best option, of course, is to just do a little advance planning and bring my lunch from home. Recently I did just that. A housemate and I decided to make up a soup. Using just miscellaneous ingredients we already had in the kitchen we crafted a very tasty soup. What was in that soup you ask? Well, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of black beans, potatoes, carrots, garlic, ginger and a dash of salt and pepper. It was very thrifty and lasted the two of us for three days. It was also easy to take to school: open refrigerator, heat up soup, pour in thermos, place in school bag. I estimate the total cost of the soup was around $10, making the per-serving cost around $1.70. As the snow nears, I expect to be making many more soups since they’re so easy and my laziness factor only increases when the weather outside is freezing.

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Thanksgiving Dilemma

Ali Bar

The big question -- how do I get to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving -- still looms. Although Buffalo is only about six hours away from New York, almost every option I’ve checked is EXPENSIVE. These are the times when having a microscopic income is really frustrating. But I've been doing odd jobs here and there so I’m optimistic my resource picture will be getting brighter. But let’s get back to the logistics of traveling to grandmother's house in the most economically savvy way possible.

First I looked at the bus, which was approximately $140 roundtrip. I found taking the train was a little cheaper, but my procrastination meant no train tickets to Buffalo were left. If I were smarter, I would have planned this out months ago and probably would have garnered some cheaper fares. The best, current price for air travel was $285, counting me out. That takes us to the last option: renting a car. Since I’m too young to rent one myself, this involved enticing a friend who is over 25, and therefore can rent a car, to make the trip with me. Since he had no plans for Thanksgiving, now he won’t have to spend the holiday alone and he’ll be fully stuffed by my grandmother's cooking and her abundant leftovers. With him on board, we started looking at rental car prices. Prices are absurd for a last-minute rental from an agency in the city. Try a day rate of $150. I saw my plans for a big Thanksgiving surrounded by family collapsing.

But my friend knew about a train to Poughkeepsie and suggested that taking the train and renting a car there might be cheaper. The train to Poughkeepsie is $30 round trip. The day rate for renting a car in Poughkeepsie is about $40, a much more agreeable number. We plan on leaving Wednesday and coming back on Friday. So if you’re following, that’s $120 for the car and $60 for two train tickets. I figure we’ll need about $100 for gas and tolls but I hope I’m overestimating this. That means the trip will cost $280 split two ways or $140 – the cost of the bus. But we'll get there much quicker than the eight or nine hours it takes on the bus and be more comfortable. Plus since we’ll have a car, we’ll be able to run last-minute holiday errands for my grandparents and do a little Buffalo touring. Yes, this trip will be something of a budget-buster but I hope by taking on extra jobs, I’ll be able to pay if off relatively quickly. Besides sometimes you just can't put a price on visiting family.  But just before I charge the rental car, I might see if anyone from the city is driving to Buffalo on Craiglist (this could be an extremely cheap option).  If nothing's up, then perhaps I'll put a listing on Craiglist to get some more people on board to help with the gas.

If anyone has any better suggestions, send them my way – quick.

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Advice for the Money Conscious

Ali Bar

I suppose to manage your money wisely, you need a little money. But right now I’m in student-pauper mode. That may be why I like the name of American Express’ website for Gen X and Gen Y: getcurrency.com.

As I’ve noted, I’m scratching to come up with money for daily expenses and school supplies (and why I’m going to demand a discount for a package of cardboard I ordered for model building that arrived with about $30 worth of material too bent up to use…ugh). At any rate, I decided to check out getcurrency.com to see if there were any money-saving tips that could help me.

What you’ll find here: blogs, articles by leading financial writers and even an iPhone app that allows you to share purchases, sales and other shopping info with friends. There’s even a 25-minute course on managing student loans – complete with quizzes. I decided to check out the loan consolidation section. When you have a string of government loans with different due dates each month, I learned, sometimes it’s good to combine them in one loan. It generally won’t lower your interest rate much, if at all, but you can stretch out the payment terms and you’ll get one bill.

An article about four ways to save on holiday travel caught my eye because I’d really like to go to my grandma’s house in Buffalo for Thanksgiving dinner but am thinking I can’t afford it. I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from this one: use travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia to compare air fares, travel either early in the morning or late at night to save or consider flying to a nearby airport – ie. West Palm instead of Fort Lauderdale or Miami – if fares are lower. Not much help there. The article also suggested that renting a car could be as expensive as a flight. Since I was going to look into this option, perhaps another article – “Hosting Your First Thanksgiving Without Freaking Out’’ – may be useful.

Just in case I have to do my own Thanksgiving, I did find an article about serving a cheese course interesting. It suggested serving three to five different cheeses – any more than that will overwhelm your guests, and serving cheeses of varying milks – cow, goat or sheep. I also found some of the suggested cheese pairings – blue cheese with honey and Manchego with quince paste – interesting.

So if I don’t end up going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for a dinner with more courses than I can name, maybe I’ll serve cheese.

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Agent Anything

Ali Bar

If you’re a student living in New York City, you may have seen an advertisement for something called Agent Anything. The premise is that people in the city come up with missions for college students to accomplish for pay. I was certainly somewhat skeptical of the Agent Anything website, because I can see ways in which it could be abused.  However, a friend of mine accepted a mission to help move some boxes. I went with him as a safety precaution. I'm really strong and can scare people away (sarcasm -- in case you didn't get it). But it turned out to be a good experience. The guy offering the job was nice and friendly. On top of the $40 he offered for the job, he gave us a $20 tip. At first we refused but he insisted. A few days later my friend accepted another mission, moving boxes once again, for $60. This time he got a $10 tip.

Of course, not all the missions are as fruitful and some are definitely strange. One rather weird one is reading a bedtime story every night to a man whose only other requirement is that once he falls asleep, the reader locks up and leaves. You can ask questions about the missions before accepting them. Someone asked the bedtime story man, “Is this serious?" The answer was a sincere yes.

I'm still a little wary, but most of the people we’ve been in contact with so far just seem to want to help students out. It’s nice that these jobs are only offered to students. To sign up for Agent Anything, you must use your college e-mail address. To get paid, PayPal sends an e-mail that you link to an account. Once you finish a mission, you go to the Agent Anything site and mark a mission as accomplished. The person who requested the mission also must mark it as accomplished. Then you get paid. :) I think I might start a profile and maybe do some missions.

If anyone has had any experiences with Agent Anything worth mentioning, let me know (good or bad). Click the image below to check it out.

Alogo

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Sweating It Out for Fashion

Amanda Bar

What with the holiday season inching closer and closer, and the Florida weather ever-so-slowly reflecting the winter temperature, I’ve once again found myself buying cold weather clothing that I neither need nor use outside of a few weeks out of the November to February months.  The sweaters, jackets, and boots that I already own are more than sufficient to last me several years through, but it’s hard to resist updating your winter wardrobe when so many stores delight in holiday sales.

We live in a sub-tropical climate…just how many scarves does a girl need to own before it becomes hysterically (and financially) impractical?  Just walk outside when the weather dips even the slightest below 72degrees and you will see women wearing fur-lined boots and fashionable overcoats – sweating all the while, of course, but if we paid for it we will darn well get our money’s worth.  Fashion sometimes dictates more than common sense.

I’ve desperately avoided perusing the numerous boot aisles in the department stores – dependent upon quality just one pair of knee-highs can run over into the triple digits – but I’ve already been lured into buying two new jackets ($95 in total) to add to my already numerous jacket pile collecting dust for 10 out of 12 months in my closet.  It’s only early November yet, so I’ll have to monitor my wallet and my impulses to keep my checking account safe enough for imminent holiday shopping.

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Clothing Diet

Ali Bar

Heidi Hackemer, a strategist at a New York advertising firm, has launched what she calls "a global experiment examining the power of what we don't wear." Six items or less is the game. Meaning all you can wear for one month is six items of clothing from your closet. Heidi says generally people who try this experiment fall into one of four categories:

--The uniform type. The thinking behind this is that if you are freed of choice in clothing, then you can focus that energy on something else. (That’s most likely what they were thinking when they imposed navy or khaki bottoms and polo shirts at my middle school.)
--The creatives. These people want to see how creative they can be with such a limited wardrobe. A savior for this concept might be the fact that accessories aren't limited.
--The anti-consumers.
--The curious.

Another challenge that people are trying is to not buy clothes for an entire year. To some, this might be difficult. Others, probably without giving it a thought, may not have bought a new piece of clothing in more than a year.

Heidi says this experiment changed how she related to her clothes. Staple pieces that have a certain longevity became more valuable to her. She also remarks how the clothes she wore weren't built for the way she used them. That brings up environmental and economic factors. While one shirt might be less expensive than another shirt, take into consideration the quality. A more expensive shirt might last longer that the cheaper shirt. Perhaps the more expensive shirt, in terms of quality, might be the equivalent of three of the cheaper shirts, making the more expensive shirt, in the long run, the better option. Of course, some fashionistas would rather have three shirts than one, but I guess it just depends on your thinking. I was contemplating trying out the six-items thing, but that means laundry more often, so that's out for me.

But maybe I'll try the not buying any clothing for a year. So, as of November 16, 2010, I will not buy any new articles of clothing until November 16, 2011. Ha, this is really not going to last – especially since I’m going to Rome in January. But, we'll see. It isn't too difficult now considering I have no money to spend on clothes.

Here is the site that started it:
Six Items or Less

and the sister site that followed it up:
The Siol Collective

Via Six Items or Less here's an interesting entry on College Girls in 1941.

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Postal Service Freebies

Amanda Bar

'Tis the season for shipping, as my fellow blogger, Nirvi, has already discussed.  Funny enough, the day she posted those helpful hints I received yet another freebie mailing opportunity:

Here’s another little heads-up to all of you who have loved ones out-of-state that require holiday shipping - if you head over to prioritymail.com/myholiday you can receive a free flat rate Holiday Shipping Kit with four boxes of varying sizes – all you have to do is pay for the postage (which can be paid for and printed online via usps.com/clicknship).  True, you still have to fork over the cash for the mailing fee, but you can save yourself some cash if you sign yourself (and maybe willing your roomies/family members & just snag them for yourself!) to receive some free boxes.  According to the advertisement they’ll even pick up your package for you!

All of these offers are available for perusing on the United States Postal Service website.

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Friendly Advice Can Save You Big

Amanda Bar

A friend of mine had recently received a traffic ticket, and while I was hanging out at her house as she was signing up for an online traffic school course I couldn't help but overhear the details of that particular web company; 1) you could not leave your computer as random pop-ups would appear over the 4-hr course to ensure that you were there, and 2) the course itself cost $40.  Cue me barging into the room with a "Stop right there!!".

When I received my first ever traffic citation late last year I googled for a popular internet traffic course, and my first result - GoToTrafficSchool.com - ended up being easy (I could walk away from the computer if I wanted to!), and cheap ($8.95).  Spending four hours of your life repenting for a traffic citation isn't fun for anyone, but it doesn't have to be over-priced!  If you don't take my word for it I encourage you to at least scope around on your own before settling on a pricier solution - a traffic ticket costs enough, no need to add on to it with unnecessary traffic school fees.

 

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Future Finances With an IRA

Amanda Bar

Following the citywide fiasco with our pensions, I finally recieved a check from Principal Financial so that I could start the process of rolling over my savings into an IRA.  I thought the process would be much more painful than it turned out to be, mostly because I have no idea what most of the interest rates, CD options, and account types mean.

Luckily my Bank of America advisor was helpful enough to guide me through my various options.  I eventually settled on a Money Market IRA with a .55% interest rate/annual percentage yield.  I also have it set to a "traditional CESA" plan-type, which allows me to withdraw or transfer funds to the account if I so choose.  Also, I had him make it quite clear that if I decided to change my account type (AKA if a more financially sound friend or family member advises me to do so) I have the option to tranfer the funds sans penalty.

Ideally my job will reinstate employee pensions once the city gets back on it's feet, but until then I'm glad to have this financial weight off my shoulders.

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Not so Cheap to Stay Clean

Ali Bar

Doing laundry is sooooo expensive in New York.  When I lived in Ithaca, N.Y., laundry rates at both the Cornell dorm and my apartment house were about the same: $1.25 to wash and $1 to dry.  I usually  do two loads, which amounts to a grand total of $4.50.  The laundromat near my  New York  apartment has three washers, one for small loads, one for medium loads, and one for large loads.  I need  to use the medium washer,  which costs $2.50 . The dryer, which charges on a per minute basis, costs me about $1.50  a load. That means I end up spending $8.  Okay,  so maybe it isn't so much more, but I was still shocked the first time I saw it.  Not to mention, the first time I  used this laundromat, I didn't realize the machine costs differed and I ended up using the large ones  at a cost  of   $3.75 per load . Cost of doing laundry: $10.50.  I can only blame that on my unobservant self.  A plus  for this laundromat is that it's  open 24 hours.  I'm not saying I'm going to do my laundry at 4 in the morning, but I have done my laundry around ten at night.  It's convenient for a student 's  schedule  -- actually probably  for   most people's schedules.   Since doing laundry is just one of those things you can't find your way around, I must do it.  I'm sure when  I  get back to  Ithaca I'll exclaim how inexpensive the laundry is there.

To cut down on laundry costs, I've always wondered about making my own soap. But since I'm in perpetual motion, moving every four to six months, I haven't gotten around to it. The recipes I've seen make such  large quantities of laundry soap, however, that I wouldn't know what to do with the leftovers every time I moved . And I certainly don't want to be lugging around a large vat of soap.

But here are some recipes for laundry soap via Tipnut if you'd like to try your hand.

If you have any  other laundry ideas you'd like to share, feel free.

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