Adulting

So here’s a thing: I’m 37 years old, but there’s stuff I never learned how to do, or have done maybe once or twice but am not an expert at. And there’s stuff I just don’t like doing. I generally dislike cooking, for example, though I do feel satisfaction when I make something that tastes good. And I don’t have much experience dealing with money issues beyond paying bills and taxes.

Sean and I stayed at a hotel back in Nicholasville, Kentucky over Christmas. We’ve never had a problem there before, but this time things were weird as soon as we checked in. I’d reserved the room online, and at that point we received the quote for the full bill and a hold was put on our credit card for the deposit. When we arrived at the hotel, it was late at night. The woman working the desk frowned at her computer, said it couldn’t possibly be right, and started changing a bunch of things that I didn’t see.

At the end of our stay, the final bill that was slipped under our door was for a ridiculous amount of money, over $600 when the original quote was just under $400. I pored over the bill and figured out what had happened: the night desk clerk had tried to adjust our room rates (I belatedly remembered her muttering something about “we don’t do variable room rates!”) and had not removed the rates she was trying to replace—so we were double charged for three days.

I wrote all of this out and carried it to the desk to show the manager what our bill actually should have been. I also showed him the quote in my email that had the variable room rates. He adjusted everything, and the receipt I ended up with had the amount we were originally quoted. We happily went home and I resolved to check our account later to make sure we were charged correctly.

We weren’t.

When we checked in to the hotel, that hold that had been put on the card became an actual charge. And for some reason, the night desk clerk charged that deposit again. So we paid $209.46 at time of check-in. But after adjusting the bill, the manager did not subtract those deposits. This meant the total charged to our card was not $392.46, as it should have been, but $601.92!

I had felt pretty powerful at the hotel when I showed the manager my math and he adjusted the bill. I was not nearly as confident about dealing with the situation over the phone. But I called anyway, and I explained the error, and I told him the exact amount to refund. Once he understood what had happened, he processed the refund right then and there while I was still on the line. I just checked and confirmed that the refund came to our account.

Given that there was a time when I was terrified to use the phone to order takeout, this feels like a huge win for me. I’m really pleased that I was able to resolve this situation (and get our money back)!

My first attempt at Mexican food

In an attempt to save money and eat more healthily, I have started cooking more at home. Up until now this has mostly consisted of making a handful of stock dishes: grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, sausage, or fish, with a Knorr packaged noodle side and some sort of steamed vegetable. While this routine isn’t bad in terms of variation, after awhile it can get boring to cook the same way over and over. I’ve also been craving various types of food that I usually go out for, like Chinese or Mexican. Today I decided to plan ahead and make a Mexican-style meal.

I chose the following recipes from AllRecipes.com:

I also decided that instead of purchasing the salsa to be used for baking the chicken, I would make some from scratch. I chose this recipe:

Prep

The first thing I did was get two frozen chicken breasts out and put them into a dish in the refrigerator to thaw. I went ahead and put the spices from the Quick and Easy Mexican Chicken recipe into the dish and on top of the chicken.

My next step was to go to the store and grab some supplies–I needed the cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and lime juice for the salsa, the shredded cheese for the chicken (I chose a 4-cheese Mexican blend instead of cheddar), and the chicken broth for the rice. I already had tomatoes, onions, and cloves of garlic from the Marietta Square Farmers Market, and I keep frozen chicken breasts, brown rice, and various spices on hand.

I went ahead and did my shopping in the morning so I could prepare the salsa in advance, giving it time to sit in the fridge. It took me about half an hour to chop and mix everything. As I also spent time this morning on some freelance work, a personal training appointment, the grocery shopping, and of course my random desire to scrub my bathtub, it wasn’t until after noon that I started making the salsa.

The tomato, onion, garlic, and jalapeno were easy to chop, of course. The cilantro was technically easy too, I suppose, but I’ve always disliked chopping cilantro…it takes forever. Once I had everything mixed, I had to agree with one recipe reviewer that the end result seemed more like pico de gallo than salsa. Still, I figured it would be nice and fresh and good for the cooking. Though I scaled down the salsa recipe to one serving, it resulted in more than the half-cup needed for the chicken recipe. I put the rest of it out as a garnish alongside the sour cream, but neither of us ended up using it.

Cooking

I started to actually make dinner at around 7 o’clock. I began with the rice, since it had the longest cooking time. After the rice had been cooking for about 15 minutes, I got the chicken out of the fridge to brown it in the skillet as per the recipe. Unfortunately, the breasts weren’t quite thawed, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Instead of cooking in the skillet until there was no pink left, I simply browned as much as I could of the chicken, removing it from the heat before the outside could get chewy. I transferred the chicken to the baking dish, topped it off with the homemade salsa and shredded cheese, then put it all in the oven. I ended up having to cook both the chicken and the rice longer than expected, finally getting them both done around 8:30.

Meanwhile, I warmed the refried black beans in a pan on the stove and three wheat tortillas in an aluminum foil pouch in the oven.

Time Analysis

With the shopping, morning prep, and evening cooking time, this meal took about two and a half hours from my day.

Cost Analysis

Here’s what I spent on necessities for the recipes ($6.68 total):

  • Cilantro: $0.50
  • Jalapeno pepper: $0.05
  • Kroger brand canned tomatoes: $0.67
  • Kroger brand chicken broth: $1.99
  • Kroger brand lime juice (bottle): $1.79
  • Kroger brand shredded Mexican-style cheese: $1.68

Here’s what I spent on extras to go with the meal ($4.28 total):

  • Bush’s refried black beans: $1.29
  • Daisy sour cream: $1.00
  • Wheat tortillas (8): $1.99

Together, that’s $10.96, or $5.48 per person.

It’s a little harder to add in the cost of the ingredients I already had. Unfortunately I don’t have the receipt for the frozen chicken breasts, which came from a 5-pound bag of frozen, boneless, skinless breasts from Walmart. I want to say that bag costs around $10, but I’m not sure. I’m also not sure how many breasts were originally in the bag, but I think it was at least 10. If so, that would add just $1 per person. As for the vegetables from the farmers market, I know I got four tomatoes for $3, so the one I used in this recipe adds $0.75 total, or $0.38 per person. I don’t remember how much the onions cost or how many I got. I have a feeling I had a basket of five or six originally, and that wouldn’t have cost more than a few dollars. If we pretend each onion cost as much as a tomato, that would put the total cost per person up to $0.75. The head of garlic is negligible; it contained many cloves.

A rough total including the frozen chicken and farmers market vegetables would therefore be $7.23 per person. This is an overestimate, as the chicken broth, lime, cheese, and tortillas were not all used today.

The Yum Factor

I was fairly happy with this meal. The main weakness, I’d say, was the pico de gallo “salsa”. It was all right, but not really my cup of tea. The rice was delicious, though, and so were the refried beans. The beans were actually Sean’s favorite part of the meal, which is kind of sad considering I had nothing to do with their flavor. Indeed, the part of the meal I spent the most time on was the least memorable, while the part I spent the least time on was the most.

Despite the weakness of the “salsa”, the chicken came out moist and tender, and I wish there had been a bit more of it–the breasts were rather small. I ate a tortilla with my meal, but Sean didn’t have any tortillas at all, so I may as well not have bought them. We did, however, both use sour cream.

Conclusions

Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d say this meal was worth the effort. If I try it again, I’ll probably buy the salsa instead of making it myself. I do think the price was good, though.

I may eschew the oven baking entirely and grill the chicken next time, then add a sauce when it’s done. Grilling is very easy with the George Foreman electric grill my parents got me for my birthday this year, and there’s no thawing required. :)

Daily routine

Here’s a list of things I would like to get done during the course of a day.

Morning, ideally:

-do a full stretching routine
-go for a walk or work out in some other way
-shower and put on makeup
-eat breakfast
-pack lunches
-do freelance work for an hour and a half (two or three days a week)
-work on writing/AMRN stuff
-plan, prepare, and shop for dinner
-mess around online or watch videos for 15-30 mins (I always tend to do this in the morning, so why not plan for it?)

Lunchtime:

-eat lunch while working
-go on a walk or work out at the Y during actual lunch hour

Evening:

-cook and eat dinner
-ride the bike (on its stand)
-relax

I am going to go ahead and post this, but it’s incomplete. I need to figure out how long each morning thing would take me and how early I would have to get up to accomplish it all. I think the writing and freelance work would have to be on alternate days, but even then would it be practical? Because I have to start working out in the morning regularly; there is just no way I can’t.

Also, I obviously can’t try to start doing everything at once after I’ve nailed down a routine. I’ll have to come up with a good plan and then start adding each item one at a time every week or two. I’m already set to start freelance this Friday, so I guess that’ll be the first thing.

Expenditures

I copied all debits listed in our checking account for the last 90 days into an Excel spreadsheet, then labeled each one with a category. I sorted by categories, totaled the categories and all the expenditures, then calculated what percentage of our spending each category was.

My categories may not have been completely accurate, because I can’t always tell what a debit is for, and I also may have debits that fit more than one category. I also left out transfers to savings and two one-time debits that didn’t really fit anywhere.

Here’s what I found out.

Bills: 21.99%
These are our regular bills that we will arguably always have, like rent, phone, internet, power, websites, etc.

Food: 19.67%
Eating out and ordering in.

Car Payments: 14.91%
My Yaris. Sean likes to make double payments each month. Should be paid off soon.

Health: 14.88%
Various bills related to my congestive heart failure. Nice.

Entertainment: 8.47%
This is mostly the purchase of DVDs and books from Amazon.com, though it also includes a few webcomic-related purchases (t-shirts, books, subscriptions).

Furniture: 7.26%
The dining room table, my desk and filing cabinet, and the decorative stuff I recently bought at Target.

Groceries: 3.89%
Anything I buy for home use, including toiletries and cleaning stuff and, of course, food.

Beauty: 2.47%
My salon visits and Sean’s haircuts.

Gas: 1.92%
I really thought this would be higher in the list.

Clothes: 1.87%
This isn’t accurate, as I usually use my Cato card to buy my clothes, so this percentage only includes the stuff I recently bought Sean from Lands End.

Family: 1.58%
Basically if we spent money on family, like presents or cards.

To put that in perspective, here’s a nifty pie chart:

I knew we I spent a lot of money on eating out, but that is a pretty big portion of our overall budget.

I’m not sure what to make of all this yet. It’s definitely given me something to think about.

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Okay, rich boy

From Scuttlebiz:

With the exception of one international trip, every flight I have ever booked while living in Augusta has originated from Augusta’s airport. The fares on each of those flights from Augusta Regional have always been “reasonable,” which I define as being within $100 or $150 of Atlanta or Columbia.

Yeah, well, some of us can’t find $100 or $150 in our couch cushions. Yeesh.

(Then again, if it gets to the point that it costs $150 to drive to Atlanta…:P)

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