Nov 25 2008

Our convenient, relaxing Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Shane and I are going to spend the day at home (I’m actually referring to Pittsburgh as “home” — weird!). It’ll be just the two of us this year. You’d think that with two people on the guest list, we’d have a moderately small meal. Nope. We’re going to stuff ourselves silly, because that’s the American way :).

I do enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, but at the same time I don’t want to overwhelm myself by trying to do too much. If we were traveling to see family or going to a Turkeytastic potluck (hi, friends!), I’d probably make a few dishes from scratch, and they would be awesome.

But since I’m making a full Thanksgiving dinner myself, there’s just no way I can pull off a gourmet array of foods without going insane. And goodness, I don’t want to be on my feet all day!

Convenience foods to the rescue! I want our holiday to be mellow, after all.

My grocery bill was higher than if I went the homemade route, but I don’t really care. My priorities are to have a yummy meal with my husband with as little stress as possible.

We’re having:

For breakfast:

  • Cinnamon rolls (Pillsbury — made with Cinnabon brown sugar. There isn’t a Cinnabon anywhere near here, and I want it!) $3

Appetizers:

  • Deviled eggs (I think this is the only ‘homemade’ thing I’m making, and they’re super-easy anyway) $2?
  • Spinach & artichoke dip with crackers (dip is frozen — just heat and eat) Dip $3, crackers $2.50

Dinner:

  • Black forest ham with a brown sugar/pineapple glaze (I’ll just take it out of the package and bake it. WAY easier than trying to mess with a bird) $8
  • Stuffing (yay, Stovetop!) $1.25 + maybe $0.50 worth of butter = $1.75
  • Mashed potatoes (yay, instant!) $0.50
  • Gravy (yay, just-add-water!) $0.80
  • Green bean casserole (It’s an easy recipe anyway, and I don’t think it would quite be Thanksgiving without it) $2.30 for green beans, $1.59 for the healthy version of cream of mushroom soup, $2.19 for french onions =$6.08
  • Biscuits (Bisquick just-add-water) $1.20

Dessert:

  • Brownies (From a mix) $1.25 plus an egg and some oil = maybe $1.50

All said, our food for the day will be $30.33. We’ll have tons of leftovers (I hope) and we’ll be munching on them for the next few days and maybe even sending some stuff to the freezer. Thirty bucks is kind of a lot, but if we were to go out to eat, we wouldn’t be able to get as much food for that price anyway unless we went to an all-you-can-eat buffet. And since we’re not spending gas money to travel anywhere, I feel even more comfortable with the cost.

If you haven’t finalized your Thanksgiving plans, you won’t want to miss this incredible compilation of links from Cheap Healthy Good.

Karen at Living Well on Less points out that Thanksgiving is one of the most frugal days of the year. I’m gunna have to agree with her on that. Visit the Simple Dollar for more ideas on how to keep it a thrifty Thanksgiving.

I expect we’ll have the parade on the TV, maybe listen to some Christmas music and start setting out some Christmas decorations. It’ll be a really nice day!

I really don’t like standing in long lines or messing with crowds, so we probably will skip out on Black Friday sales (though we haven’t totally decided). If you’re going to brave the madness, head to Northern Cheapskate and Freebies4Mom for important things to keep in mind when out shopping.

If you’re a drugstore nut, you won’t want to miss out on the deals at CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.

You don’t have to actually go anywhere to take advantage of the deals on Black Friday. Plenty of web sites are running online-only deals, such as Amazon and Walmart (and I’m betting a ton more).

Have a wonderful holiday!


Nov 24 2008

Financial lessons learned from a business trip abroad

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Last week, Shane returned from a week and a half-long business trip to Amsterdam. It was his first time to Europe and neither of us were sure about what he could expect. Fortunately, he traveled with his boss, who had visited the city a few times before.

I hope he doesn’t have to leave the country without me again for a long time (if ever! Bring me, bring me!) but if he does, there are a few things we’d do differently next time. Here’s some financial things we learned:

– Even if your company gives you an international calling card to use to phone home, it isn’t saving you much if you’re calling someone’s cell phone. Oy. Shane called me from the hotel landline, but we don’t have our own landline — just some cell phones. The calling card came through as an international call on my end. I’ll have the privilege of paying $1.29/minute. Let’s just say that’s going to add up real fast.

After our first call, I realized the call didn’t come from a toll-free or American phone number so I called AT&T to find out the sitch. They told me the rate, and said if I wanted to buy an international roaming plan, I could pay $0.99/minute plus a $4/month fee. The $4 fee had to be in place for a minimum of three months, or $12 worth. I opted just to leave my plan alone.

We limited our phone calls to just a few minutes per day, but we could have tried something else.

I could have gotten my own international calling card (say, from a site such as Pingo) and called him at the hotel instead of having him call me. Or I could have used Skype. Or anything else that would have been cheaper than $1.29/minute.

I feel dumb for not even thinking of other options until he had just one more day away. Lesson learned: Don’t just accept expensive international phone rates! Shop around.

– Next time Shane goes to Europe, he’ll be sure to spend as many of his Euro coins as possible. He came home with about 20 Euro in coins, since the smallest paper bill is worth 5 Euro or something like that. I don’t know if this is true for all currency exchange places, but for the one he went to, they wouldn’t exchange coins. What? Coins are money! So for now, we’re stuck with it. Does anyone know if some places will exchange coins?

Know your bank’s international fees. Even though Shane could charge his meals and expenses on his corporate credit card, many places throughout the city didn’t take plastic, including his taxi and some restaurants. So, he had to use his cash that he brought for souvenirs and the like. That cash started to run low, so he used his debit card on the non-reimbursable expenses (such as museum admission). Well, I check our bank account online every day or so, and I was a bit perplexed to see a bunch of charges of $0.06 and $0.10 and whatever. Turns out, our bank charges a 2% fee for international use. This didn’t add up to much, but it was good to know!

Next time, it would probably be a good idea for him to take more cash so he could have for those cash-only situations.

I was surprised that he was able to use his card overseas. I thought maybe the bank’s fraud alert system would wonder what was going on and put a freeze on the card until they could confirm he was the one using it. Maybe you have to spend a certain amount of money before that happens.

– During the time he was away, I ate out quite a bit. It’s really hard for me to be motivated to cook just for myself. So I found myself at Subway a lot. I did eat some meals at home, though, and overall I think what I spent on food would have been what I typically spend on food each week. It’s just normally, I spend the bulk of the food budget at the grocery and just a small portion at restaurants. That week, it was reversed.

Even though his travel expenses were covered, this wasn’t a free trip for him. We’ll be out the $100 or so that will appear on my next phone bill. He also spent some money on museums and souvenirs (chocolate and refrigerator magnets) and photo processing charges. In all, I think it will cost less than $200 for his trip to Europe, which fortunately we can absorb that in our budget.



Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (8), Vivienne (6) and Amelia (3) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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