I Collect Paper

I came to a realization today: While I abhor anything out of order in our home, paper doesn’t make that cut. I can’t stand to see dishes in the sink, or in the drainboard, or clothes out of the hamper, drawers or closets. But when it comes to books, magazines, bills, receipts, reporter’s notebooks or anything that’s made of paper, it gets strewn about without a care.

Luckily, I’ve managed to sequester my paper mess in my home office. As I look around me, I have coupons, shoprite and ATM receipts, bills, notepads, calendar pages, medical paperwork and comic strips I’ve cut out on my desk. On the shelf above me, there’s a ton of old assignment papers, other receipts for online purchases and instruction booklets for small electronic devices like my digital camera and iPod. That doesn’t include the pile of papers to shred on the floor (next to the shredder, of course), the basket of paperwork to be filed on top of the rolling plastic file cabinet or the mail to be sorted on top of the bookcase. The pile of bills is also on my desk.

I’m pretty neat about this stuff at work — nine times out of 10, I clear my desk before I leave for the day. But at home, everything is all over the place. And things have gotten worse. Normally, spend a good hour or two about once a month cleaning up the papers. But recently, my summer malaise has kept me from doing even that much. I made a half-hearted attempt to sort some of it the other day, but I only got about 1/3 of the way through everything before I got distracted.

There’s always tomorrow — I’ll be home all day. Or Monday, or Tuesday… I suppose it will get done eventually!

And let’s not talk about the laundry.

It’s Haircut Time

I’m going to splurge on my quarterly haircut on Saturday — with tips for the stylist and the shampooer, it runs me $50. Right now, my hair is all one length, sort of a bob, but I want layers and shortness again. I suppose I should go in there with an old picture of a haircut I had a few years ago!

My hair color has lasted a while — I use box hair color from the drugstore, since I just want to cover my grays, which are coming in fast and furious now. That’s something I do every few months, and the color costs me about $5. At the salon, it would cost me $55. That’s without highlighting, which is about $5 per foil (think 20 foils on average = $100).

I also need a pedicure badly — that’s something I also do quarterly, because I hate people touching my feet. Actually, I hate people touching me, period (except for the haircuts). Manicures are even worse because they’re so close to my face when they do it, and massages are out of the question. Anyone else feel like this, or am I just a weirdo? Wait, don’t answer that question.

Broken Fuel Pump Costs Us $600!?

I was extremely embarrassed this morning when, just a mile from my workplace, my 2003 Grand Am GT died at a red light in the middle of a busy four-lane avenue. One minute, I was chugging along, and the next, the engine started to choke. Pressure on the gas pedal didn’t give the car any ‘get up and go’ — and after about a 1/4 mile, it decided to take a nap instead.

The upshots:

1. I stalled out across from the local mechanic shop used by a lot of my co-workers.

2. The car died while I was at a red light, so no one crashed into me.

3. I wasn’t on the highway anymore — the bulk of my commute comprises 20-plus miles on local and interstate highways.

After pumping the gas (does that even work in newer cars?) and trying to get the engine to turn over (it tried, so it wasn’t the battery/alternator/transmission), I rolled down my window and gesticulated frantically at one of the auto shop attendants. I got his attention after a minute and he and a co-worker carefully crossed the street. They decided to push my car into the shop’s driveway, which they were able to safely do during a break in traffic.

The shop owner’s quick inspection of the car narrowed down the problem to fuel: the car wasn’t getting any. He guessed it was either a clogged fuel filter (a $20 part) or a dead fuel pump (a $200-plus part). But because of all the other cars he had to work on, he wouldn’t get to mine for a few hours. I left my car there and walked the mile or so to work.

I finally got a call around 4 p.m. and was told it wasn’t the fuel filter — it must be the fuel pump. The job is estimated to cost $600 total — that’s $20 for the filter (may as well replace it now) and $383 for the fuel pump. I thought I heard him wrong, but no. I asked if he coudln’t get a better price on it, and he said it was the cheaper of two parts places he called.

Well, I call bullshit. I had priced out the part on the good ol’ interwebs, and I was finding the same fuel pump for $150-$200. Even with a reasonable markup, that part shouldn’t cost me $383. That’s almost a 100% increase on the part. But since I had no way of getting the part myself and bringing it to the guy, I was stuck with the cost of the job. Another reason I think the pricing on the fuel pump was higher was because it happened in a town right over the border from NYC — the city inflates the prices of EVERYTHING in that area of New Jersey.

The work wasn’t done by the time work got out, so I had to leave the car there overnight (which I hate doing at a strange mechanic shop). A co-worker who lives the next town over (and who I’ve been friends with for a decade) was kind enough to drive me home and took me back to work in the morning.

I suppose it could have been worse — the car could have died in the middle of the 5-lane interstate I take to work. But thank goodness that didn’t happen. Although I could have had AAA tow the car back to my own neighborhood, where the mechanic is a friend of my father’s, and I know I would have paid less.

I Screwed Up — A Cautionary Tale About Insurance Policies

Boy, am I ashamed to admit this faux pas.

When we moved into our new home together last June, we got the requisite homeowners insurance policy through the same company that we had our renter’s insurance on. On the renter’s insurance, we had a rider for my engagement & wedding rings, my only real ‘bling.’ So when I called back to turn that renter’s policy into a homeowner’s policy, I thought that rider transferred with it.

Apparently, I was wrong.

In early June, we received the notice about the renewal, which our mortgage company pays out of our escrow account each year. I had made a note to call the insurance company to make sure the policy still had the jewelry rider attached.

In case you haven’t looked at the calendar, it’s now mid-August — and I *just* got around to calling to ask the question.

The verdict? The jewelry rider never transferred! So I’ve gone more than a year without insurance coverage on my rings. D’oh.

The insurance rep is going to call me back tomorrow to tell me whether the rider can be transferred from the old renter’s insurance policy, or if I have to reapply for coverage.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Always check your declarations page on your insurance policies to ensure you have the coverage you need. If I’d done that, I would have noticed that the jewelry rider didn’t make it over to the new homeowner’s policy.

Picking a Paint Color Gives Me a Headache

After 10 months of the upstairs room being in limbo, we’re finally at the point where we’re ready to pick a paint color. My dad came over to sand the final coat of spackle and start on the primer coat, since he lives for painting. But it’s been hot, so the primer’s only half-done. And I need to pick that damned color.

I’ve decided on yellow (notice I didn’t say “Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I decided on yellow”). I’ve always wanted a nice, sunny room, and since this isn’t going to be our bedroom permanently, I think it’s fair. We still need to renovate the second bedroom and full bathroom on this floor, and want to end up back in that other bedroom, where we currently are set up. Both rooms are exactly the same except for the sun exposure and the fact that there are THREE closets in our bedroom, as opposed to the two bedrooms in this room.

So I’m sitting here surrounded by tons of yellow color samples, trying to decide if I want a pale yellow, a medium yellow, or a vibrant yellow. I don’t want anything TOO pale, and I don’t want anything TOO golden yellow. I guess the best thing to do is take them upstairs and see if I can get a feel for the color on the walls in daylight.

Mr. NSF just told me, ‘Pick whatever you want,” so I’m not going to get feedback there. *sigh*

I should just suck it up and choose — after all, we’re going to have to pick wall-to-wall carpeting next!

Is There an Easier Way to Shred Chicken?

Now doesn't that look insanely delicious?

One of my favorite appetizer/snack dips of all time is Buffalo Chicken Dip, a recipe I found on the Frank’s RedHot Sauce website a few years ago. Mr. NSF just looooves hot sauce, to the point where he’ll pour a few tablespoons down his throat for a “snack.” I’m not 100% behind hot, spicy foods — it usually depends on what the dish is, and how the heat is added to it — but this dip is great. To be honest, I reduce the amount of hot sauce I put into it, but it still has plenty of kick. Our friends love it.

Anyway, I was making this dip tonight, and it calls for shredded chicken. I dutifully boiled two chicken breasts and then set about shredding it the old-fashioned way, with two forks. I’m thinking there has to be a better, easier way to tear that stuff apart. After a while, my knuckles start to lock up and I get fed up.

After searching the Internet for alternate methods, I only found two — and neither appeals to me. One says to put the chicken breast in a food processor for a few seconds, “but be careful that you don’t puree it.” Ick. The other isn’t much better — using an electric hand mixer to do the job.

So two forks it is!

Here’s the recipe, modified the way I make it, for anyone who’s interested. You can use any kind of shredded cheese, too. Double the recipe for a crowd.

I substitute lower-fat or fat-free items where I can, but it’s still pretty damned indulgent. I serve the dip hot with tortilla chips.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened (I use Neufchatel or 1/3 less fat cream cheese)

1/2 cup ranch salad dressing (I use light or fat-free)

1/2 cup Frank’s RedHot Sauce (I knock this down to 1/3 cup)

1/2 cup cheddar cheese (cheddar/Monterey jack blend is delish, too)

1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350°F. Place cream cheese into deep baking dish. Stir until smooth.

Mix in ranch dressing, Frank’s RedHot Sauce and cheese. Stir in chicken.

Bake for 20 minutes or until mixture is heated through; stir. Garnish as desired. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers or vegetables.

Keeping Myself Accountable

I wanted a place where I could blog about my everyday experiences with personal finance — hey, that’s why it’s called “personal,” right? — and also post pictures of any home improvement projects I’ve done. My husband, who I’ll call Mr. Not-So-Frugal (Mr. NSF for short) and I bought our first home together last June, and there’s still a lot to do around here!

We’ve got a cute mint-green Cape Cod-style home with a second floor that hasn’t been updated since the shed dormer was put on sometime in the early 1960s. That means lots of knotty pine wood and industrial-brown floor tile that needs replacing. Two bedrooms and one full bathroom need renovation. We’re in the home stretch with bedroom #1, which now just needs to be painted (primer and color), carpeted and fitted with window and baseboard molding.

My father, brother and I did the bulk of the work, with Mr. NSF’s father helping with the gut work months ago. Since then we raised the ceiling from 7 feet to 8 feet, ran new electric and put up the drywall (I ran most of the electric :::pats self on back::::). We had a professional spackler come to do that job, and now we’re ready for primer — Dad will be doing the painting, since he really enjoys it.

Once I clean up the splotches of joint compound on the floor and clean up in there, I’ll take some pictures and post them. But for the time being, you’ll all have to imagine what it looks like!