Tag Archives: frugality

The Oatmeal Chef

"Bork, bork, bork!"

Because of its low cost (and therefore its abundance at the food bank), I have enough oatmeal to lower the cholesterol of an entire army. I prefer to make oatmeal with milk, but alas, milk costs money and is generally perishable, so I have none. My dwindling food supply and increasing food cravings have inspired me to experiment a bit. I am thankful for every day I have had my electricity back, because at this point I would be eating nothing but handfuls of dry oats. I still have a giant turkey breast in my freezer, but I have no idea what to do with it.

Back in 1994 or so, I ordered a bowl of oatmeal at a Denny’s restaurant. They served it with a giant dollop of butter. I thought that was strange, but it stuck with me enough to try it once I ran out of milk. It was surprisingly good. I eat almost nothing but oatmeal, so I actually ran out of butter somewhat quickly. I didn’t have much to begin with.

I have microcytic anemia and low iron stores. I don’t respond to iron supplements (not even prescription iron supplements) so I always try to get iron into my diet however I can. Through a message board, I was introduced to blackstrap molasses. It tastes…interesting. Some people on the message board compared it to black licorice. While there is a slight hint of that flavor, it is far tastier than black licorice. Especially with oatmeal and vanilla rice milk. Or oatmeal and butter. Or just oatmeal, when you’re poor and can’t go to the shop and you’re worried about getting iron and you happen to have a bottle of this stuff hanging around.

I also found a few recipes for peanut butter oatmeal. I thought it was worth a try, and it seemed like a good way to add some protein, fat, and flavor to my meals. Many recipes I found called for 3 tbsps of peanut butter. I used 1 tbsp in a big bowl, and that seemed like plenty. If I’d used any more, it would have been like that episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy hires the scary housekeeper who makes her eat the peanut butter sandwich from hell. Peanut butter oatmeal isn’t as good as it sounds, but it’s edible and filling, and that’s what’s important.

Cinnamon is another welcome addition to my porridge bowl, particularly because it may help reduce blood glucose levels.

I once came across a recipe for a breakfast cereal made with couscous and dehydrated milk. It was fantastic. I would repost it if I still had the recipe. I used Bob’s Red Mill brand dry milk powder, which has a naturally sweet taste to it. I’m not sure how I feel about drinking it straight, but it tasted great on oatmeal (or plain couscous disguised as oatmeal).

None of these recipes has taken my mind off of my incredible cravings for Mongolian Grill, but until my next food bank visit, it would be nice to pretend I’m eating something that isn’t oatmeal.



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The Imposter by Robert Jessup

The Imposter by Robert Jessup

I had a preliminary job interview today for a job I’ve already had at a company where I’ve already worked. Twice. And been laid off –twice.

It was very informal and I think it went rather well. It went well enough that I have a follow-up phone interview with a manager.

The pay for this job is awful, but this was one of the few jobs that I loved. I will not be able to survive on this salary. Worse yet, it is a temporary position, and they’ve only promised two months.

I didn’t prepare for this interview as much as I usually prepare. This job would help, but I realize that it isn’t the solution to my problems. I suppose that’s why I wasn’t terribly excited. Or nervous, even.

I only have one suit I can wear at the moment. A denim suit was probably one of the best investments I’ve made in recent years. It doesn’t look like denim, and it’s washable so I don’t have to waste money on dry cleaners or Dryel. I took the bus to save money on gasoline and (more importantly) parking. My interview was in one of the ritzier areas of downtown Seattle. I felt a bit self-conscious walking among the suits. A homeless man stood on a corner. He held a sign that said “HUNGRY PLEASE HELP” and he asked me for change. Of course I didn’t have anything to spare. It occurred to me that the homeless man had more earning power than I currently have. I’m lucky that I have a home for the time being, and I’m lucky that I can blend in with the yuppie crowd. But I’m not one of them. I’m really not. I’m a matter of weeks away from standing on the street corner, myself. I should really be standing on the street corner now but I’m just too scared.

I imagine that this occurs in every major city– you’ll see upscale department stores and then homeless people talking to themselves two blocks over. I found it a bit disorienting to walk from one pole to another. Identifying with both. In-between.


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Keeping up appearances

As much as I have fought it, I have let myself go.

It’s difficult for me to take care of myself during times of duress. I find that I am unable to pay attention to housekeeping, diet, exercise, and sometimes even basic grooming.

This became a serious problem during my month without electricity. I bathed as little as possible due to the arctic temperatures of my bathwater. I was able to do laundry at a friend’s house once a week or so, so my laundry situation was not too bad. It did, however, take me a week to begin cleaning out my refrigerator, and by then the stench of rotting food had taken over my kitchen.

My current project (aside from finding gainful employment) is to make my living space work for me. I deserve to have a clean, comfortable home, even if sometimes I feel like I don’t.

I have also been plagued once again with myxedema, a complication of severe hypothyroidism. According to Taber’s Medical Dictionary Edition 18, myxedema is presented in the form of decreased metabolic rate, anemia, myxedematous facies (aka “moon face”), large tongue, slow speech, puffiness of hands and face, loss and dryness of hair, mental apathy, drowsiness, and sensitivity to cold. It’s more of a nuisance than a worry. I’m self-conscious about my face and hands and appearance in general. Unfortunately, I have dealt with this situation on-and-off (more on than off) for the past 20 years –since I was only 10 years old. Aside from the large tongue and slow speech (I’m often told that I speak rather quickly), I am the myxedema poster girl. My hands have been swollen for years, my weight is in constant flux. I have long been self-conscious about the chronic puffiness of my eyes. I have had lines under my eyes since I was in my teens –not from wrinkles, but from creases formed under the swelling.

I was at my very sickest in 2002. I was very sluggish in my movements and I could not stop gaining weight. I was pale. My face got swollen and was shaped like an eggplant. It hurt (and continues to hurt) to look at myself in photographs because I felt like a monster. I was unable to think straight, so I could not read books and I couldn’t write. One day, when I was walking through a parking lot outside of a community college, several boys passed me in a car and yelled “Move it, old lady!” I was only 23 years old, but I remember thinking at that time that I must have looked so old the way I was sluggishly ambling about. I certainly felt old. I felt older then than I do even now. After years of going from unhelpful doctor to unhelpful doctor, I found a good endocrinologist through thyroid-info.com. After about a year of treatment, I felt like a human again. My skin regained its color, my hair looked close to normal, and my face no longer resembled an eggplant.

After I lost a lot of weight and was no longer swollen and puffy, a friend of mine (a stereotypical New Yorker) told me “You look so much better. Last year, you looked like shit.” I wasn’t offended because I knew it was true. I really did look like shit. And after several years of my medication simply not working, I look like shit again.

La la la la, sweeping, sweeping. I have allowed the shittiness of my appearance and my general discontent spew out into my living room. And my bathroom. And my kitchen. And, to a lesser extent, my bedroom. Over the coming weeks, I will be taking baby steps to make my home somewhere I actually want to relax.

Adding to my appearance-related issues with hypothyroidism, I am also dissatisfied with my current wardrobe. I have a closet full of clothing, and only about 25% consists of articles of clothing I can get into. Of that 25%, most of that is worn out or frumpy-looking due to a bad fit. I have one suit to wear to job interviews, which is fortunate, but other than that I don’t really have anything very nice or professional. I have another suit that I got on sale at Fashion Bug ($40…score!), but I won’t be wearing it again until I’m able to reduce my puffiness, get some exercise, get food stamps so I can eat properly, and then go down a size. I wish I could afford a gym membership, but I do have lots of home fitness videos that I will hopefully get back to once my immediate projects are in order.

I have made virtually no progress with job-hunting this week. I had my phone interview on Monday, but I did not get the position. I ran out of cash shortly after my emergency visit to the veterinarian, but I consider it well worth it because my rat appears almost totally healthy now. At least I have cute, fuzzy snugglebuddies companions to play with between floor-scrubbing and trips to the Dumpster.

"Vitamins" is code for cocaine and bourbon.

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Filed under Depression, health, Home Life, Materialism

Darkness makes the light more cold

When I first lost my electricity, I actually thought to myself that it wasn’t such a bad situation because at least I wouldn’t have an electricity bill this month. I was doing quite well with only peanut butter sandwiches, but I began to feel a weakness and hunger –very deep-seated cravings for better food. I was reminded of a passage in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. While protagonist Billy Pilgrim was a prisoner of war, he worked at a factory that made a nutrient-rich syrup for pregnant women. The prisoners were forbidden from tasting the syrup, but they all did, anyway. They hid their spoons so as not to get caught.

The spoon was a tablespoon. Billy thrust it into the vat, turned it around and around, making a gooey lollipop. He thrust it into his mouth. A moment went by, and then every cell in his body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause. There were diffident raps on the factory window. Derby was out there, having seen all. He wanted some syrup, too. So Billy made a lollipop for him. He opened the window. He stuck the lollipop into poor old Derby’s gaping mouth. A moment passed, and Derby burst into tears. Billy closed the window and hid the sticky spoon. Someone was coming.

Of course my life could be so much worse. I don’t live in Fallujah or Tehran, and I have a roof over my head. Better yet, I have choices: I can be responsible and uncomfortable, or comfortable and irresponsible, depending on my latest whim.

My hunger has led to irresponsible spending. I can rationalize buying lunch at work by thinking “it’s just this once, I won’t do it tomorrow” but once I started, I couldn’t stop. It began with a pineapple curry and progressed to falafel and fruit salad. Every cell in my body jumped for joy. Last week I spent far more on food than I would have on this month’s electricity. What good is it living in darkness if it ends up being more expensive than light?

My body needs vitamins, minerals, protein, and grains. I need to cook large meals and freeze them and bring my lunch to work so I can save money.

Both my rent and my car payment are already late this month. Hopefully with my next paycheck I can pay off at least half of my electric bill.

I am currently writing an article for a local magazine. I haven’t the heart to tell my editor that I’ve got no electricity, and that’s why I’m taking so damn long. I don’t live near any coffee ships with wifi, so I spend long hours on the bottom floor of the office where I work. As any office drone can imagine, it’s a bit frustrating to spend so much time in the office when one doesn’t haven’t to be there. As a result, I have not been as productive as I would like.

I need electricity to be productive, and I need electricity to eat properly. As time has gone on, I have lost my willpower and my drive to get through this (literally) dark period. I have spent money in excess simply because I stopped caring.

I have received no word on any of the jobs I have applied for, and I have been unable to find affordable housing, at least not by my definition of affordable. I also have a number of expenses that will be coming up in the next few weeks. Things are going to get tighter and tighter.

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Single female seeks inexpensive lodging, no strings attached

I realize and I accept that I can no longer pay my rent. I have begun to do some research about local housing options. The truth is, I will never find a cheaper apartment. So that means I will have to live in a room in a house.

I’ve always been a packrat, and I can be overly sentimental, so it will be difficult to pare my belongings down to one room. Unlike most people my age, I do not have parents who will keep my treasured belongings safe for me, so everything I own is in my possession. Everything left over from my childhood is either in my home or has been destroyed. I don’t have many things that make me happy, so I guess I hold on to what I can.

My initial perusal of craigslist.com postings was disappointing. I found a room in a house owned by a single father who openly declared that he hoped to have a tenant who would be interested in a romantic relationship. It was cheap, but no. I found another room in a house owned by a couple who would let their tenant stay for free in exchange for housekeeping and sexual services. Um, no.

My other obstacle is my credit rating. My credit is currently very, very bad, and that limits my options. Also, I have pets, which limits my options further. I have finally gotten in touch with a bankruptcy lawyer, and he says I should be able to declare in 90 days. I can also discharge my electricity bill in this process, which will be nice. I am not sure if I will have to wait the whole 90 days to get my electricity back. I don’t think I can stay in my apartment that long. Moving into a house would be ideal because chances are they would already have electricity in someone else’s name so I wouldn’t have to pay deposits and whatnot. Moving in the dark will be difficult, though, and I’m sure to rack up many fees because I can’t clean properly in the dark. I have a long-haired black cat and I can’t vacuum.

I’ve decided to get rid of most of my books. More painful is the awareness that I have to get rid of most of my CDs, or at least the jewel cases. I’ve been clinging to those for most of my life. I just don’t like CDs without jewel cases. It seems wrong. Sacrilege. I’m too poor (and too much of a Luddite) to go 100% digital.

I’m terrified (yes, terrified) of living with other people at this point in my life due to health issues, but I see no way around it. I’m hoping that I can find some sort of dormitory-style boarding house where I can have my own enclosed space where my pets can stay, and I will only have to worry about sharing a kitchen and bathroom. If it’s big enough, I may even be able to keep my 12-year-old television.

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When I was a sophomore in college, I was hanging out with my roommates one December day shortly before Winter Break. One of my roommates was planning to travel home for Christmas, and was trying to figure out the best way to get to the airport over 50 miles away. She didn’t own a car. I did own a car, but I couldn’t drive her for whatever reason (or perhaps I didn’t want to –I couldn’t stand this girl.) She told me, quite excitedly, that she could take the bus all the way to airport and it would take over four hours but it only cost $4. “That’s crazy,” I said. “Why would you do that when you can hire a shuttle to take you there for $20 in just an hour?”

Bewildered, she asked me “Why would I spend $20 traveling to the airport when I can get there for only $4?” Then she laughed at me as if I’d suggested she flap her arms and fly to the airport.

These days, I’m not sure what I would do if I were in the same situation. Frankly, I could go either way. There is still a pampered part of me that values my time, comfort, and safety more than money, and a part of me that is willing to spend rent money frivolously in order to avoid an uncomfortable situation.

My paycheck was unusually small this week; my health insurance premium is subsidized by my employment agency, and since I was very sick and barely worked for two weeks, I had far more taken out of my paycheck than I would have on a normal week–nearly $200 more. I was left with $280 for a whole week, during the course of which I am expected to pay $700 for rent and $90 for a bus pass.

There is a group of people I hang out with a couple of times a month. We drink beer or coffee and play boardgames. This is very important to me at this time because I need to do all I can to hang on to my sanity. Unfortunately, I live far away from anywhere we meet regularly, and my car is still out of commission. We met up last Wednesday night and I completely lost track of time during a discussion with a friend about video games, one of my favorite topics. The next thing I knew it was after midnight, and that’s trouble for someone who lives in an isolated area such as my neighborhood. I couldn’t get the wifi to work, so I couldn’t look at the bus schedule online. I took the next bus downtown only to find that I’d missed the last transfer by about 10 minutes. There were no buses traveling to my neighborhood at all. Not one. There was one bus that stopped in the ghetto two miles from my apartment, and it left at 2:14 a.m. I decided I would just wait an hour and a half and then walk two miles home.

I had approximately $180 left after buying a bus pass and some food. I was determined to wait for the bus.

I guess I’m not as strong as I give myself credit. I was alone at 1 a.m. in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, which is not a nice place to be alone and stranded when the bars are closing. The people on the street were not too threatening in general, at least they aren’t if they don’t talk to you. When the streets are quiet, however, there are fewer people to talk to, and anyone at a bus stop is a captive audience. A man was sitting across the street from me and staring in my direction. He just stared straight at me for at least ten minutes. Then he crossed the street, sat next to me, and continued staring. I got nervous and decided to call a taxi.

Yeah. Well get you there. Maybe. If we feel like it.

Yeah. We'll get you there. Maybe. If we feel like it.

I knew that the $180 I had left was more than enough to get me home, but I knew I shouldn’t spend any money. I was worried that it would cost $40 or so because I’ve had terrible luck with cabs in the past. The cab arrived quickly, in less than five minutes. It cost $22.50 to take me home. I feel fortunate that for once in my life I actually had access to some money, as opposed to other times recently when I’ve been stranded with nothing.

Had this been any other night, I may have been stuck waiting for the late, late bus and taking a two-mile stroll through the closest thing King County has to a real ghetto. Or I would have slept in an alley or something until the buses resumed service in the morning. And I would have been screwed if anyone took my backpack or anything like that.

I have resigned to the fact that I cannot pay my rent on time this month. I will not even be able to pay it next week because even if I hadn’t spent any of my $280 paycheck, I would be $40 short next week, at best.

My rent was hiked up last February, and it’s been absolutely hellish ever since. I simply can’t afford it, but I already live in the cheapest place I can find. I have health issues that make me not entirely willing to share my living space at this time, but I will commence a search for a sympathetic (or at least somewhat sane) roommate. I will once again have to unload most of my belongings, which should bring in some money. It’s difficult to have a yard or garage sale when you have neither a yard nor a garage. At least summer is here, so I can maybe hone in on community sales.

But what roommate would want me? I have pets, bad credit, I’m antisocial, and I’m messy. I’m really not made to share living spaces. I have done it before, and I have even done it successfully, but my health has declined so much and it has led me to seek out more and more solitude. I am reluctant to live with friends because I imagine major clashes. Perhaps the best situation would be some sort of group home. And I must make arrangements before I get myself evicted.

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You can’t get blood from a rock

When I had to have my car towed a couple of weeks ago, I was panicked for several reasons. I had negative money, I was tremendously ill, my cell phone was dead, and everyone I knew was at work, far away, or just as broke as I am. After borrowing a phone and then frantically trying to find help, my insurance company informed me that after calling around, they found someone who would tow me the 10 miles to my apartment for $70. My insurance company would pay for $50 of that, and every other company was offering to do it for $125-$150. I didn’t even have the $20 to make up the difference, but I was able to cut a deal with the insurance company that they would pay for it and I would be responsible for the $20 later. We reached this agreement after I’d been crying on the phone for at least an hour.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from an employee at my insurance company telling me that the bill for my towing came to $203, not the $70 as quoted. The towing company is now saying that they towed me 20 miles (which is not true), that they never would have quoted a price under $200, and that they have no idea where I got the $70 figure from. I told them that the other companies had offered to do it for far less than $200, and had I been quoted $200, I wouldn’t have gone with that company. I also told them they they had dealt with two different women at the insurance company, both of whom had told me separately that the quote was $70. None of this was done in writing as all of the arrangements were done over the phone.

It seems that every week I have someone trying to get more money out of me than I expect, and I have some emergency that requires me to use more resources than I actually have available to me. None of this would be a problem if I had money, or even if I had the hope of having money sometime in the near future.

The truth is, whether or not I win this battle, this towing company will never see that $203 from me. I can’t even drive my car, my rent is due, and I don’t have electricity. This is hardly a priority, and as I’m approaching a bankruptcy, this is the kind of bill that will just have to disappear.

I have, however, achieved some success with becoming more and more frugal. Due to my illness, I have been forced to make one week’s worth of pay last three weeks, and I’m already underpaid and buried under crushing debt. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.

I bought a large jar of store-brand peanut butter. From now on, I will spring for the name brand if I can afford it. I bought two loaves of 99-cent bread. I eat four peanut butter sandwiches a day. Nothing more.

I carry my laptop, cell phone, and chargers with me everywhere, and I charge up at work. I have not bought or used gasoline since my car is out of commission indefinitely. I was fortunate to have a free bus pass until the end of June, which is unfortunately today. My staffing agency reimburses transit costs –the rub is that you have to have the money to spend before you can be reimbursed. Because I was unable to buy my July pass in advance, I will have to spend extra money in cash while I wait for my July pass request to be processed. I am getting paid tomorrow, assuming I get paid on time this time. If I don’t get paid on time, I will have to rely on the kindess of bus drivers, as I will not be able to go to work, and due to my electricity woes, I won’t be able to work from home, either.

I don’t suppose I should take much credit for being frugal, though, because I’ve been quite irresponsible as well. I was forced to live on credit cards when my unemployment ran out, and I racked up quite a bill. I went over the limit, and was not able to pay even the minimum this month. Frankly, I’ve given up.

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