Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Entertainment Budget, Part 2

Sorry if this is super lame, but I'm going to repeat myself.

Cut back the entertainment budget by (another) $40 per month.

It's true, we've already done this. But that's no reason not to do it again.

Now our entertainment budget is actually $80 per month less than it was at the beginning of 2014 ($40 cut in January, and another $40 cut now). And I have to say, just like we never really felt that tiny trim back in January, I don't think we're going to notice this one in April, either.

So our battered "Entertainment Envelope" is a little thinner, but that's a good thing. (As I mentioned before, we are on a cash-only basis with eating out and going to movies, so that we stay squarely within the budget we've allowed ourselves. This envelope stays on a desk in the living room where everyone can easily see what's left to spend, which helps us plan ahead and make decisions together.)

And even though this is a repeat, I think it goes to show that if you're really trying to cut back on spending and/or saving up towards a goal, you can always do more. If I had done $80 all at once, we would've been grumbling about it, but doing it in two small bites was a piece of cake. 

The lesson here: keep checking out that budget, and re-evaluate your spending on a regular basis. You might be surprised what you find to cut that you once thought you couldn't live without!

Savings per month: $40

Monday, April 14, 2014

Signs Of Spring

We've been on a springtime weather roller coaster here the past several days, bouncing from balmy to brisk and back again. It was another big weekend in the garden, with lots of bed prep and planting (leeks, onions, carrots, parsnips, radishes, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and potatoes). My hamstrings and hands are still sore, but we got a lot done.

It would be a shame, though, to focus only on the to-do list without enjoying all the little changes that spring brings to the garden. Here's what's blooming:

Bulbs are up in the perennial border, and these blue glory-of-the-snow get better each year. We inherited them and they have naturalized nicely. There are also some darker blue Siberian squill, which are just starting to come up.

We removed the spills from the sugar maple now that sugaring season is done. The wound should heal over by autumn.

More blue! These sky blue muscari bulbs are in the cutting bed, but I never actually cut them down. 

Rhubarb stalks have also made an appearance. They're always a little on the creep side, but soon that curly bit will start looking more a life a leaf and less like brains. This year our rhubarb is fully established, so we can eat as much as we want!

One full "C" is planted already! This one has onions and garlic, and the part that looks like plain dirt has been sown with carrots, parsnips, and snap peas. 

One of our own seed potatoes (Kennebec) is sprouting and ready to be planted. The potatoes stored really well over the winter, and we made sure to keep a planting box's worth of both white and red in reserve for the this year.  

Finally, a stop at the nursery to grab radish seeds led me to pick up some pansies to plant in our containers. I don't think we've had pansies since we lived in the Red House, so I'm enjoying their cheery color quite a bit. 


…that's a weird bit of product synergy, no? Is there a ton of crossover with gardeners and sci-fi fans? 

Obviously, I have removed the tag. I'd prefer not to recall one of my least favorite cinema experiences while enjoying my spring flowers, thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Maple Sugar Round Up

As of this weekend, our maple sugaring season is over. The trees haven't budded out yet, but the sap has slowed way down now that we aren't getting below freezing temperatures at nighttime any more.

We boiled down our last three pints of syrup over the weekend, and next weekend we will be dismantling the fire pit, taking out the spiles, and cleaning everything up to pack away for next year.

2014 maple sugaring stats:

4 taps (3 in our sugar maple and 1 in our Norway maple)

32 days of collecting sap

80-90 gallons of sap

17 1/2 pints of maple syrup

The one thing I didn't keep records of was the obscene amount of firewood we burned through to make this happen. I do now that we spent a LOT of money on it, because we were getting it at the hardware store by the bag. In the future, we plan to build a small woodshed behind the garage and order a half-cord or cord in the fall, which will see us through any emergency fires we'd need to light due to a power outage, and of course get us through maple sugaring in the spring at a much-reduced cost per log.

Finally, in the photo above you can see how the color (or grade) of the maple syrup changes over the course of the season. Our first three weekends of syrup-making produced Grade-A results like the medium amber jar on the left. This past weekend, though, is a Grade-B syrup. It's much darker, and Kirk thought it was a bit more like molasses in its taste. Its flavor is much stronger, with just a teensy touch of bitterness at the finish. I'm thinking those final three pints will be the ones I reach for this summer when I give maple-almond ice cream a try. (Recipe to follow once I figure it out, of course.) The strongest possible flavor is ice cream is a good thing, and it's probably just right for experimenting with in baking as a sugar substitute as well.

All told, we had a great time with this project, and will definitely do it again!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Charitable Giving

As I mentioned before, moving into the second quarter of the year means having to make some more difficult choices, now that most of the easy cuts to the budget have already been made. I don't really love doing this, but I've decided to

Limit our charitable donations to one gift per month.

For us, this means cutting our budget from $75 per month to $50 per month, since $50 is the size of an individual donation for us. The $75 line item in our budget is based on past spending in this category (by the way, that was super easy to figure out because we use a software program to track our bank accounts).

Our (former) pattern of giving was to just write a check for $50 whenever our favorite charity asked, as long as we had a nice cushion going in the checking account when we received the mailing. We would also write a check on the spot for charities our friends were raising for (think of walkathons and stuff like that). We didn't really keep track of the budget.

Well, now that I'm paying such close attention to our budget, it seems like an easy step to more closely monitor our donations as well. It makes good sense to just decree that we'll write one $50 check per month to a charity--and that will be easy to keep track of.

Also, locking down the cash contributions doesn't mean we can't donate stuff (we typically give a lot of clothing to the Salvation Army as the kids outgrow things, for example) or time (building scenery for the kids' plays and stuff like that). So hopefully we aren't turning into terrible misers so much as clear-eyed budget-watchers.

Savings per month: $25