Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lovin' the Lowcountry

Kendra and I went to Charleston, SC for our first anniversary trip. We ended up going there mostly based on the recommendations of others saying how great the culture, history, and food were, which is a winning combination for me. They were not wrong about any of those things, and as a lifelong New Englander I was very pleased with my first extended visit to the South.

The people were all super friendly (as advertised) and there are tons of really cool cultural and historical things to see and do there (which appeals to the history nerd in me) but this blog is more about the food than those other things and the way to my heart is directly through my stomach. Needless to say, I am in love with Southern cooking and was lucky to escape our vacation with pants that still fit.

Rainbow Row Houses
Charleston has SO. MANY. restaurants it was actually impossible to decide where to eat for most meals. We were staying in the downtown area, which has to have the most restaurants per block in America [unverified fact, but likely a reasonable assumption]. One would think that with all those restaurants competing for customers in such a small area that they might struggle but we didn't have a bad meal all week so I imagine that they all do pretty steady business all the time - it's hard to go wrong down there breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I am not going to mention every place we went to, as there are far too many to go into specifics, but I do want to recommend that you have at least one dinner at Mercato on North Market Street. They have fantastic food (and provide a break from the delicious, yet unhealthy, deep-fried trend), live jazz every night and a really cool atmosphere. Make it a point to hit the bar either before or after your meal and get Zach to make you a cocktail and tell him I sent you; he makes great drinks, has a fantastic mustache, and happens to be a good friend of mine dating back to the elementary school days. You won't be disappointed.

The man, and the 'stache, behind the bar!
Where are the savings, you ask? Well, we were on vacation and splurging a bit for our anniversary, so we didn't exactly come armed with coupons and deals. We did however, take advantage when opportunities presented themselves. Free wing samples that come with a free desert or appetizer coupon? Don't mind if we do. Free BBQ, hot sauce, and salsa samples to my heart's content? Yes, please. Taffy and praline samples? Bring it on.

Keep your eyes open when vacationing for opportunities like these, and don't be afraid to ask for a freebie every now and again. Many places are happy to dole them out and the worst they can say is no. Make it a point to check with your hotel for guidebooks and info packets as well. While they can provide some guidance on how to experience some of the highlights of the area you are visiting, you can also score some solid coupons for local fare as well. Since we book a lot of our travel on for the discounts and extra credit card points, this trick earned us our first free night. Perhaps we'll save it for an adventure in Europe next year?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bin For Your Buck

The other day I was Pincrastinating (procrastinating on Pinterest, can I trademark that?) and I found this pin from my friend Meghan. Now, I know that isn't food, but it's something for the home and we can't forget that's the whole inspiration for this blog in the first place!

I'd like to say that I'm just sitting around in the sun enjoying summer every day and have plenty of time for random projects, but that's not really the case. That being said, I obviously had to make this. And obviously I went to AC Moore the next day. If you know me, you know that once I want to do something, I do it. Like as soon as possible. And this time I dragged Nate along. As luck would have it (shocking, I know) my wood crate was on sale for $8 and I saved an extra 15% with my teacher discount. Score! Now our crate has handles, and if you actually click on the post, you'll see that theirs did too and they did so much work to cover it up. I don't know about you, but covering handles with wood just to add handles seems crazy pants to me. I made the executive decision to skip that step, unless we could find handles that covered up the holes.

So we popped over to Lowes to scope out the stains and handles. No handles big enough so we scratched that. We browsed all the stains and samples and decided on this one: Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain in dark walnut. We liked the color best, Rust-Oleum is a great brand, and really it was the cheapest at just $4.47. Score again. Then we grabbed a cheapo paintbrush for $1.12. We already had sandpaper, some plastic drop cloth, and polyurethane for another project, but honestly, because the crate was totally unstained I really didn't use it much, just to smooth any scratchy edges. And here's how it went down...

(It's important to remember that we have 2 kitten cats so you can remove the cat steps when you replicate this process if you don't)

1. Lay down plastic to protect area. Remove cats from rolling on plastic.
2. Sand the crate in any places that are rough or too smooth.
3. Find an old rag. An old white T-shirt with pit stains will do.
4. Open and stir the stain. Leftover paper wedding straws work great.
5. Chase down cat to get used, sticky straw back.Throw away straw.
6. Paint on the stain and apply it "liberally" as it says.
7. Give it a minute or two to soak in and then wipe down with shirt.
8. Repeat steps 6 and 7. It dries pretty quickly so I did the whole outside of the crate and left it for a couple hours and then did the whole inside.
9. Let dry over night so you can sleep and wash the stain off yourself.
10. Apply a coat of polyurethane and let dry.
11. Enjoy the glory and success of having completed a Pinterest project that looks good and didn't cause you to want to murder anyone. Ta da!

For about $13 we have a sweet new bin that looks old. Swoon. It's going to hold pillows and blankets in our new house and make Nate so glad he doesn't have to keep fluffing them on the couch. Victory for everyone! I just might need to give it a sibling.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Once Upon A Time...

Once upon a time there were two married bloggers who got very, very busy and turned into terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bloggers...

Clearly you've figured out that story is about us. We haven't forgotten about our blog at all, we just can't seem to find enough time to sit down and share our exciting news with you all (no, we are not pregnant, calm down). Between school ending, two vacations, multiple jobs and snuggly kitten cats, we don't even have five spare minutes (okay, fine, maybe we have five, but we need more)! But, we're back from the good ole southern lowcountry and pinky promise to update this week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You Can Get Anything You Want At Annabelle's Restaurant

As should be obvious to everyone, we are trying to buy a house, and thus trying to save money. It's one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place (even though I am a bad blogger and have been neglecting our creation of late). As part of this search for our own home, we've been spending a LOT of time looking at properties. Sometimes this happens on a weeknight, and by the time we're done it's almost 9pm and the concept of cooking dinner is a nightmare - even more so than it is for me generally.

This confluence of events, and a handy-dandy Groupon, led us to Annabelle's in Hyde Park last month. This is a relatively new place as they just opened in 2010 and that newness is evident as soon as you walk in. The whole building is clean, modern, updated and open, providing a very welcoming atmosphere for a meal. They have ample seating both in the sizable bar area and in the rest of the restaurant, with TV's interspersed throughout the venue (which was key for us me this particular night, as I was able to catch the end of a Bruins playoff game while we ate).

The food here was very good as well. They advertise themselves as serving "traditional New England fare" but they have something for everyone, along with some interesting twists. Basically, they have a standard American dining menu, with everything from sandwiches to seafood and many cultural foods as well. Hard to not find something to eat when you dine here and more options are a plus in my book (though not necessarily going to get the Restaurant Impossible seal of approval, with their penchant for one page menus).

Sweet & Spicy!
About those "twists" on the menu.  One of the specials was Chicken & Waffles the southern-style staple. Liking both chicken and waffles, and never having had them together before, I obviously took the plunge. I was not disappointed. A delicious, flaky Belgian waffle was topped with crispy, succulent fried chicken with sides of maple syrup and hot sauce. While putting all these things together in one bite may sound odd, the flavors and textures all melded really well together. I'm sold on chicken and waffles and may need to explore other southern creation. My only beef is that one of my pieces of fried chicken was essentially just batter and bones though, which was disappointing.

Kendra got the wild salmon with jasmine rice and baby spinach over greens with a vinaigrette sauce, but in typical fashion subbed in rice pilaf for jasmine rice and added a side of asparagus. I had the leftover rice pilaf and it had excellent flavor, which was a nice surprise. The vegetables and salmon seemed to be good as well, as they didn't last long on the plate. Also of note, they bring delicious fresh baked bread before your meal, which melts in your mouth [not pictured due to the speed with which we devoured it]. It was like the peasant loaf of Joe's American Bar & Grill but we didn't share it amongst friends.

Now, given our Groupon, which was worth $35, we ended up paying about $7 bucks for the whole meal including tip. Not buying beverages goes a long way to keeping costs down. All in in, it was a nice dinner out at a new place that we'll likely go to again sometime. If you ever find yourself in Hyde Park, we'd recommend checking out Annabelle's - IF you can score a coupon. No sense paying full price for anything.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Free Money (Literally!)

April was a busy month for us. With a combination of Groupons and gift certificates we've been hitting up restaurants left and right. You're probably wondering where we got all these gift certificates since it our birthdays and anniversary (first one!) are still months away. Sad day. But, luckily, we have two magic websites to thank for that free money: E-Rewards and E-Miles. Both of these websites are pretty similar; they're a way to do online surveys to earn points. Those points can be redeemed for lots of things, one of which is a gift certificate. We've already earned and used 3 $25 gift certificates, with one more on deck itching to be taken out! Not only is that a free $25, but earning them is so. freaking. easy. We can sit on the coach watching TV and do quick surveys that only take a few minutes. With the gift certificates you have to spend a certain amount, which has been about $10 over the $25 but since all that money was free it's a CHEAP meal. If you love going out to eat and saving money, I highly recommend you check it out. What do you have to loose besides free money?!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Like A (Coupon) Virgin...

Tonight I felt like a magical couponing sensei and am proud to say I have coupon converts. Granted, teaching someone with OCD how to coupon is like giving drugs to an addict, but still, I'm happy to help anyone save money. Kind of makes you feel like Santa Claus.

I should probably preface this whole post by explaining that the night started out with my friend (and virgin couponer) Christine telling me she thought I was "sick in the head" (direct quote) and pictured that I was a big, creepy hoarder. (Friends, she meant all this in the kindest way possible I promise. Plus, let's get real, we all know I'm a bit crazy!) Anyway, I countered with some recent pictures of some of my best "hauls" and she did a 180. Or a 360? She was ALL about the coupons once she realized we weren't stockpiling dingy cans of beans or cases of toilet paper like Honey Boo Boo's mom. She demanded a trip to CVS on the spot and luckily there was one across the street. There always is. 

It's hard to describe this shopping experience at CVS, but when I say it was like a kid in a candy store I'm not lying. We went right to the coupon machine and scanned both her CVS cards to get the store coupons. Luckily, she got a few good ones we could use AND some Extrabucks so it helped jump start her first purchase! We only did one transaction on some Garnier Fructis shampoo and conditioner to practice. It's on sale this week 3 for $10 so she got one of each which came to $6.66. Here's a rough play by play at the check-out counter: 

Clerk: "Did you find everything okay?"

Christine: "Yes." And then announces: "I have coupons." (Spills them onto the counter) "I don't know if you need to put them in any special order."

Clerk: "It all adds up!" He finishes ringing everything in and then does the coupons. Total is down to $3 and something. Christine is so excited. "Do you want to give your email address to get a 20% off coupon?"

Christine: (freaking out) "Yup! Absolutely." 

Clerk finishes with her email and CVS card and the total is down to $2.32. (A savings of $4.24!) I take a picture to commemorate the momentous occasion! How happy is she?!

We then leave the store, at which point she says she's all in on couponing and that she apologizes for saying I was sick in the head. (Thank you and you're welcome!) We immediately schedule a Sunday couponing 101 date. Moral of the story: extreme couponing changes people's lives. Or at least makes them a whole lot happier to shop at CVS.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Henrietta Can Keep Her Table

Since Valentine's day was just last week last month two months ago (crap, I suck at this) I figured you'd all love to hear what our dinner plans were since we are super romantic and into that holiday and all. We went to Henrietta's Table in Harvard Square because I had gotten a $50 gift card there for Christmas, and Valentine's Day seemed like as good a time as any to use it. Except we didn't actually go on Valentine's Day itself, we went the day before because I am such a good husband I opted to go to class the night of Valentine's Day instead. It's a wonder I'm still married.

In any event, the bonus of going on Wednesday is that they run what they call their "Yard Sale" where you can get any two courses and choice of a side for $28 or any three courses and a side for $35. Now depending on what you order for your two or three courses, this might not actually turn out to be much of a value. If you get one of the salads to start and something simple like chicken, you are only really saving a couple of dollars and to me that doesn't really constitute much of a "sale". When you have choices like this, always buy the most expensive options and you'll come out much further ahead.

I ended up getting an herb crusted chicken with mashed potatoes and the Maine rock crab and corn chowder with bacon to start. Kendra had some sort of fish with beets and a salad to start. As you can see, we mostly didn't follow our own great advice. DON'T BE LIKE US! When you have free money, go big.

The dinner was very pleasant and the servers were really friendly and attentive, but not overbearing or pushy, which is always nice. I would rate the food as pretty good, as it was certainly tasty, but this is coming from a guy who thinks chicken sandwiches covered in buffalo sauce from Burger King are "good", so take that for what it's worth. It definitely wasn't as good as Birch Street Bistro, that's for sure. And that is where my issue comes from.

It's not that Henrietta's is a bad place to eat, per se. The service is good, the food is solid and the restaurant itself is spacious, clean, and comfortable (though populated with way too many intellectual/society types for me). I just don't really see the value in coming here and actually using real money on the food, since you are paying a premium for the local, organic, sustainably farmed, green handled, EPA certified, insert random "green" label here food they use and the location in the heart of Harvard Square inside the Charles Hotel. Not only is this not really my scene, but I think the premium you pay for the food is driven largely by location and proximity to Harvard and its money vortex, and not the quality and freshness of the food. Not seeing the value.

While I certainly appreciate the local, healthy food mindset I don't think what you are getting is worth the premium you are paying versus other options. If it was the best dinner I've ever had in my life, maybe I would reconsider but all in all I don't see this as a place we'll be eating regularly. I'm happy to support more local eateries with better food and better prices. Henrietta can keep her table for herself.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Deals! Deals! Deals! Deals! Everybody!

I have been a bad, bad extreme couponer. Working, house hunting, and jet setting to Vegas has made it challenging to find any time for couponing! (I know, my life is so hard). Luckily, we've been so well stocked that it hasn't really been a problem. But after a nice crazy weekend in sin city, I need to replace a few thing so I'm hitting the sales at CVS. And, as our faithful readers (all 12 of you?) I wanted to give  you a heads up on a few good deals going down this week through Saturday that make a few things almost free or at least really cheap. Everyone loves a deal, especially if you've only got $20 in your pocket. Alright, let's pop some tags!

Physicians Formula make-up is amazing and has so many organic products. In fact, I'm wearing their organic mascara right now! This week if you spend $14, you get $10 in Extrabucks back which is like paying $4. Plus, there was a coupon for $1 off a few weeks back that if you still have makes the transaction extra magical.

I have been waiting for a CVS Purex sale for so long and it has finally come! Both the detergent and the gel packs are on sale for $2.88 and there's an instant $1 off coupon at the coupon machine. Plus, if you're like me, you've stock piled manufacturer's coupons for $1 off and will be scoring two of these for 88 cents each (between myself and Nate, my faithful couponing assistant).

Everyone loves minty fresh breath and Listerine mouthwash or Reach floss is on sale for $3.99 with $1 back in Extrabucks. Coupons for both of these products are everywhere, including online usually so you can definitely save an extra $1 which makes it like you paid $1.99.

Now despite spring being upon us, a weekend in Vegas casinos has brought on some serious sore throats in our household. Luckily, we can score two packages of Halls cough drops for $3 with $1 back in Extrabucks. Don't worry, I've got another $1 off coupon which is like paying $1 for two or 50 cents each! Goodbye tickle!

For those of you who may have picked up a few habits from me in the past, you should definitely combine these great deals with Extrabucks you already have! Remember, Extrabucks never expire! And always scan your bag tag because every 4 scans is another $1 in your pocket. If anyone is ready for the advanced course, do separate transactions so you can pay for the next with the Extrabucks you get back. You might be able to get all of this (and then some) for free! I've had $9 in Extrabucks burning a hole in my coupon folder and I'm ready: Look for my update later this week after I shop. In the meantime, I'd love to hear how everyone else's shopping goes. Happy couponing!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Meanness?

I'm typing this post from my plane to VEGAS and I still can't get over that you can have internet in the sky. I mean where is the wifi coming from? The clouds? Regardless, it's awesome, because there are still 2 more hours on the flight (how is that possbile waaah?!!) and the person in the row across from me is snoring so loud I can't put it into words. You know how I feel about snoring. Close. Your. Mouth.

But anyway, this gives me time to write a little blog post. It's short, not so sweet, but ends with free stuff so I figured it could had a place on this blog. Being that it is March Madness weekend, the collections of 40-something-year-old men trying to relive their college days is high on this flight. Maybe they are super rich and successful and feel entitled, but they are being so rude. The kind of rude that makes you uncomfortable and want to punch someone. Case in point: After putting up his carry-on suitcase into the overhead, the dude across from me asked the stewardess to also throw up his tiny lap top bag (despite the announcement just made that people should wait on small items until everyone has boarded and loaded their luggage). She repeated this mantra to him and he insisted his bag was small and pointed to a spot she could squeeze it into. She begrudgingly, but politely agreed, to which he responded, "Thank you, now you are being helpful". I actually watched her collect herself and try to remain calm so she didn't say something rude. Or slap him. She should have, he really deserved a good slap. She and I made eye contact, shared a "people are complete idiots smile", and we've been besties every since.

The moral of the story is that kindness goes a long way. Including all the way to a free rum and coke. Extra stiff. WITH a lime. Thank you Delta! Get over yourself 9E.

Monday, March 11, 2013

House Hunting Hoopla

Daylight savings weekend seems to be the unofficial start to spring, and in that spirit we went to our first open houses on Sunday. The weather was nice, despite the recent dump of snow, and it seemed a lot of people had the same idea we did. Some even had the same routes planned. We saw a range of houses: some without finished walls (or any walls at all for that matter) and some that were so updated they looked like an IKEA showroom in Dubai (if you saw the house this would make more sense). Because of all of this grown up "fun" we've been having, I thought I'd share our reflections on the home buying process thus far.

1. Every bank assumes you can't actually afford a house, have the worst credit on the planet, and are up to your eyeballs in debt.

We've talked with 3 banks so far and the conversations always start off the same. Here are a few highlights:
  • "Your debt ratio can only be 41%."
  • "Unfortunately you need good credit in order to qualify."      (Hey now, we have excellent credit!)
  • "You're a teacher? So you make what? 30K?"
  • "That'll put your monthly mortgage payments around $1800." (We pay $1640 in rent and it goes up to $1795 on 6/1)
After we establish that we are actually competent, rationale adults things proceed much smoother from there. But it's not over yet so I kind of want to make a T-shirt online with our financial stats. Thoughts?

2. People have terrible, crazy taste. I mean terrrrrrible. 

This one, let's be honest, is no surprise to anyone. But it is staggering how much junk people accumulate and how little people "design" their homes. Has no one been watching HGTV? You've got to stage, buddy! I can't imagine myself living in your house with a picture of your round, hairy, shirtless man circa 1984 on the dresser. It's March: your penguin Christmas decorations are distracting me!

3. Houses priced correctly sell FASTER than you can schedule a tour. (Literally!)

I've been saving houses we like on Redfin for open houses or future tours. Every day I log on I have to delete at least 1 house that now has a sale pending, just days after appearing on the market. How did they even get their paperwork together that quickly? Does everyone have a fairy downpaymentmother? Is there anywhere I can find one? 

Overall, it was exciting and overwhelming to look at houses, but we saw one we liked which was encouraging (we'll see how long our luck holds out). This is all just in time really, because our neighbor's "performances" are reallllly getting old.

Anyone have an entertaining house hunting stories of their own?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lobsters Are A Girl's Best Friend

For those of you reading this blog that don't know me well you must understand that I love lobsters and all things Maine, our home state. (Fingers crossed there's at least ONE of you out there that isn't our family or close friends!) If I'm being totally honest, I don't just love lobsters, I LOVE lobsters. Some people might say it's an obsession. I will ignore those people. I have a lobster T-shirt, lobster PJ shorts, lobster PJ pants, a lobster hat, lobster art work, the list goes on. Okay, fine, maybe those people are right. But regardless, I promise that if you come to our house, you can't really tell. It's not like I have a bathroom entirely decorated in lobsters. Or lighthouses. Or anything like that.

Unfortunately, although Nate tolerates my crazy, he does not tolerate eating lobsters. But lucky for me, my best friend Mary from Adventures in Kindergarten feels the same way about lobsters as I do: our hearts yearn for them! So naturally, when I saw a Groupon for a lobster dinner for two for $30 at Dolphin Seafood Restaurant & Bar I had to snap it up and invite Mary. REAL lobsters in the dead of winter are a rare find so it was exciting AND cheap.

We finally had a chance to use our Groupon last week, after snowstorms, ear surgeries, and general school madness tried to prevent us from enjoying our crustaceans. It's hard to describe this place because at first you think it's pretty nice, and it does have a good atmosphere and beautiful fireplace.  But then when you look closer, there are some strange decor elements, like faux rock tiles made from stickers? And strange "wave" dividers between the bar? Basically, it was perfect.

We got to start with a shrimp appetizer and then we each got a lobster with two sides. The lobster was of course delicious and provided us with a serious workout. Those suckers were the hardest hard shells I have ever had. Ever. I'm not kidding. Like trying to break rocks. I really could have used a mallet to break the claws. Here's a picture of Mary's beauty. (I should have taken a picture of the table as well. Whoever thought linen tablecloths in a seafood restaurant was a good idea must have been nuts).

Since it took us so long to eat, their Sunday night trivia started so we played for a while: bonus! We held our own for some time, but trivia is really not a two person game. And we didn't have Nate to scream at us to stay focused so eventually we gave up. Oh well, we were really there for the love of lobsters... and the affair continues...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Got Free Lunch?

We all know the old saying, "There's no such thing as a free lunch", right? Well, I am here to tell you that this, and potentially many other colloquialisms your grandparents threw at you, are in fact 100% false. Some caveats apply here as I am not simply advocating you start beating up school kids for lunch money and am certainly against the practice of dine and dash. First, with my method your proximity to a college campus and other large public building is critical to success. Secondly, while these lunches can be yours 100% free, depending on how your moral compass is calibrated, you may need to invest some of your time in order to secure these glorious free lunches.

So, how does this work you must be asking yourself? Good question, you brilliant reader of our blog. Here's how. On college campuses across America every single day, student organizations, research programs, professors and other related groups are constantly trying to promote their research, agendas and ideas to interested parties. Typically (but not always), these take the form of lunch talks, where someone pontificates in front of a supposedly interested audience about whatever topic gets their motor running and your attendance is bought with promises of free lunch. It's a sound strategy since it's a well known fact that college students are constantly starving and will do anything for free food, including listen to your lecture.

This is where I have taken things to a whole new level. Instead of simply participating in the unstated quid pro quo of free food for lecture attendance, I have begun to game the system. If all you seek is a free meal, then listen up and here is how you can eat like a king with no monetary and minimal time investment.

Phase One: Acquire Targets
First, find the nearest colleges, universities, or public libraries to where you'll generally be during lunch time as this will (literally!) be your feeding ground. All of these places have well publicized events calendars which will give you a road map to all your free food options (for example here is the Harvard Law School event calendar). Looking at today's calendar, there were 4 different events starting at 12pm and this brings us to phase two.

Phase Two: Don't Settle for Hamburger When You Could Have Steak
On almost any given weekday, there will be competing lunch events trying to lure in hungry and potentially engaged audience members. Use this to your dining advantage and make it a point of showing up 10-15 minutes early for these events to scout the food. That is generally when they'll have things delivered anyway to ensure the event can run on time. If door number one is pizza yet again, door number two may be burritos, or door number three may be something even better, like catered BBQ. Never settle for uninspiring free lunch food if you don't have to. You could also choose to differentiate competing lunches by topic of interest, but I already said we weren't sticking around to hear the lecture, so who cares what the topics are?

Phase Three: Attack and Disperse
Once you've selected the food spread you'll be pillaging, make sure to load up your plate with enough food to satisfy your appetite, but not so much as to draw undue attention to yourself. Nothing will draw the ire of event planners more than someone being overly greedy with the food, especially before the event even starts, and that makes the anonymous exit a lot more difficult. Be reasonable, be decisive and then head to the back of the room with your haul. After you've gotten your food, just pause for a second to make sure no one is trying to engage you in conversation or get you to sign up for their damn e-mail list and quietly slip out the door to enjoy your lunch in peace.

You have now successfully had your pick of free lunches and if you've outlined your battle plan properly and executed the phases perfectly the whole operation should take 10 minutes or less.

Pro Level Tip:
If you are still hungry or just want to stock up on non-perishable items that may have been present, circle back to the event right after it's scheduled to end. If you are lucky, there will be some leftovers and you can scoop those up to bring with you to stockpile. My drawer full of potato chips and fridge full of sodas say hello!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kicking Butt & Taking Savings

As January came to a close, I thought it might be a good idea to look back over the month's finances and see if this whole saving money thing was actually working. I will save you the boring details of how I went back to each of our credit card statements and totalled up all the food costs for each month back to September. Well, I'll save you most of the boring details...

Anywho, for our purposes here (so people will still read the blog!) I'm just going to stick with a one month comparison: December. In December, we spent $477.47 on dining out. And by that I mean all food and drink purchased outside of grocery shopping. DO YOU SEE THAT NUMBER?! You don't even want to know about November. Or October. Or September. Suffice it to say that we seriously needed that resolution. Suffice it to also say that I was a tad bit seriously nervous to calculate January. I mean, it felt like we were doing a good job, but it also feels like we don't watch too much TV and eat healthy (ha!) 


This is where an HGTV show would cut to commercial.

Good thing we haven't gotten picked up for a show... yet. Alright, enough drama and stalling. I'm proud to report that our January dining out spending was just $109.58! DO YOU SEE THAT NUMBER?!! We. Are. So. Awesome. And rich. Or at least not poor. Basically, the lesson here is that we are dominating this resolution and with all the hundreds of dollars we're saving each month we'll have a house in decades years! 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Menage a Trois: Fuji Steakhouse Style

That's right folks, we've officially had our first blog dining threesome! This past weekend after a sweet tour of the Harpoon Brewery (who knew it was hiding out in Boston?!), Nate, myself, and our friend Jeremy went to Fuji Steakhouse in Needham to feast on hibachi, but really because we had a Groupon.

I'm going to be up front with you, as I was with Jeremy... after we were en route of course.  The reviews for this place are not stellar. It's one of those strange situations that pop up from time to time where the reviews are either 1's or 5's. Basically people either hated it and got food poisoning or thought it was the greatest food on Earth. This isn't the first time I've run into this situation with Yelp! or that type of website. It usually happens when there are reviews from a while ago and newer reviews now that the restaurant got its act together. I was really hoping that the latter described the situation with Fuji Steakhouse. I really hate food poisoning and I know for a fact that Nate agrees (Dunkin Donuts flashback anyone?) 

One of the best things about Jeremy, and a big reason he was the perfect person for our Groupon threesome, is that he's a really good sport and pretty much eats anything just like Nate. So he agreed to go despite the rather iffy ratings. Huzzah! And while I won't lie and say it was the greatest food on Earth, it was good enough and no one got sick. A real win all around I'd say! 

(My apologies for the terrible picture quality. 
Once we get picked up by TLC we'll be able to hire a much needed professional photographer) 

Since we live near Kikuyama, we're a bit spoiled in the hibachi experience. They always put on a great show there and all the entrees come with fried rice at no extra cost. Plus, they have the best worst karaoke in their basement and it's those little things that make a meal. Now unfortunately, Fuji didn't have that, but it did have 352 pictures of Ally Raisman, 1 photo of Jessica Simpson (what?!), and a few random baseball players that no one cares about. Fine, maybe they are popular but I don't care. It also has :: drum roll please :: the best strangest goldfish pond ever. The pond is partitioned off by red velvet ropes like you see at fancy night clubs. I kid you not. Clearly, these are some VIP fish. As I sit here typing this now I'm so mad at myself that I didn't take a picture of it. My description isn't doing it justice and I don't think you're laughing hard enough at the spectacle. Just go see it for yourself. If you hate hibachi you can go to Treat next door and decorate your own cupcake. With candy. In the frosting. What are you waiting for!?! Normal business hours? Please! Cupcakes wait for no one. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Birch Street Bistro Nom Nom Bonanza

Before I get into the fantastic experience that was last Thursday night's live jazz dinner at Birch St. Bistro, I wanted to quickly point out an easy way to save money: don't actually use any. Revolutionary, I know.

Here's the thing, people LOVE giving gift certificates these days. It's fast, it's easy, it's more personable than just a wad of cash, and shows some modicum of thought when giving gifts. Gift certificates are free money and I am sure you can think of plenty of occasions where you'll receive a gift - and likely one you don't want (looking your way, habitual fruit cake givers and Aunt "Knit Socks and Hats").

Here's how you fix that: just let everyone know where you like to go, or what you want, and tell them. It's that easy. Shoe store, clothing retailer, restaurant, bar, strip club - you name it, you can get a gift certificate of some kind to it. Just like that you've turned unwanted and awkward gift giving events into fountains of free money. You're welcome. (I accept thanks in the form of adulation in the comments section or burritos).

One place you should strongly consider getting some of the aforementioned free money to is the Birch Street Bistro in Roslindale. It's a nice, small restaurant tucked onto a one way street in the heart of Roslindale Village with an upscale dining atmosphere, well stocked bar, and delicious rotating menu. I mean, they have an ambiance section on their website for crying out loud! We went there for dinner last Thursday night with a gift certificate courtesy of Yana Davis Photography, partly because we didn't feel like cooking (welcome to every night of my life) and partly because it was jazz night. They do weekly live jazz on Thursdays with a rotating group of musicians and it really adds to the experience.The music is excellent for those of you into jazz, and for those looking for some nice ambiance on a date night out nothing beats background jazz (though I would recommend asking for a table near the back if you don't want to shout at your date all night).
While this sounds like something your dad might be into (and mine probably would be) I assure you it is not only acceptable, but cool, for you to enjoy as well.

You didn't come here to hear about jazz or my dad though (I don't think?), you're here for the savings stories. Here is what we ordered: We split a caesar salad to start, which featured a healthy amount of fresh parmesan cheese much to our Kendra's satisfaction and delicious homemade dressing. So fresh. I had the grilled pork chop topped with caramelized apples and gorgonzola cheese, with sides of spinach and mashed potatoes (the latter conveniently covered in more cheese).

Serious 'Noms
Kendra had the roasted lamb served over green beans and seasonal vegetables (which she substituted in for summer squash or something - shocking, I know). Both our dishes were fantastic, with the meat juicy, tender and literally falling off the bone. The sides had excellent flavor and complimented the main dish. I really enjoyed the sweetness of the apples in every bite of my pork chop, which I was somewhat concerned about initially.

Now, for the savings. The food we ordered came to a grand total of $50, which was conveniently the exact amount of free money we had so free dinner for us...

...except for a certain nameless (yet dashingly handsome) someone who happened to break the "only drink water to save money" rule and get a beer with his dinner. In my this person's defense, the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA was both delicious and paired fantastically with the meal, balancing out the sweetness of the apples with its smooth and not overly hoppy flavor.

So, factoring in tax, tip, and one minor rule violation for the sake of quality beverage pairing, our total came to something like $15 or $20, I'm too lazy to look up the exact amount. Either way, a significant savings over what the the meal would have ordinarily cost and another huge success in the eat great, save money, buy a house and then be poor again project.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Savings & Spreadsheets & Stockpiles, Oh My!

The other night our extreme couponing stockpile reached its limit and was starting to bust at the seams bins. It was indeed time for a weed through. (Which we then donate somewhere). Fellow spreadsheet lovers will be thrilled to know that we keep an extensive one in our Google drive that we update to have an accurate count of all our treasures. It helps us to know if we're ever getting "low" on anything (ha!) or if we've ever accumulated too much of something (see previous post for reference).

At this point I imagine some of combination of thoughts are going through your mind: 1) "What? I thought this blog was something about food?" 2) "My god, when did Kendra and Nate turn into such freaks? and/or 3) "This is like a train wreck, but I.. can't... look... away". You're welcome.

But really, our extreme couponing totally relates to our original reason for this blog: buying a house! We need more space and a basement so we can stockpile in all its glory and not have to worry about the ridicule from our friends when they see our tiny stuffed closet. (Okay, let's be real, you know we don't care one bit about the ridicule; we just want the space!)

This picture doesn't entirely do the stockpile justice because it's hard to capture in one iPhone photo, but I think it gives you a good idea. The extreme couponing deals have been less than stellar lately (boo hiss), but I have hunted down a bunch of great Groupon deals so stay tuned for some exciting posts on the horizon. Next up on our dinner docket first though: Dinner and live jazz at Birch Street Bistro with a gift certificate courtesy of Yana Davis Photography. Cheers! 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Buca di Nada

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have some pretty bad luck. Dry sockets after getting my wisdom teeth out? Absolutely. Skin condition on my foot the dermatologist has never seen? Most definitely. Appeal a small speeding ticket in court? Cop actually shows up. I could go on. For days. And you know bad luck is contagious so poor Nate's spent almost half his life suffering too.

So when we went out on our date last weekend and had so much luck, it was shocking. Unnerving almost. And we should NOT have been lulled into a false sense of lucky security. While making our dinner plans last night, we double checked our Groupons. And there it was. A big old "redeemed" mark next to our Jerry Remy's Groupon. What?! You said we could come back! You said you were going to take care of us! How could you lie to us like that Albert?!

Right there, we should have known. We should have put the kibosh on dinner plans and stayed home to cook. But we had to run errands! And we're dumb! And we always have more hope! So, we made our dinner plans: Buca di Peppo with a $10 off $20 coupon. The place is great for this kind of deal because the dishes are for sharing so we could easily stick to a $20 budget and wind up paying half that. We dominated our errands. Bam! We started thinking about salad and pasta and bread, oh my! And we rolled up to Buca di Peppo around 9:30pm.

And we found NOTHING. That's right, good old Buca di Peppo of Dedham is closed. No, not it's 9:30pm closed, but rather we are no longer here at all closed. Really food gods? This late at night?

So now we panic. (And if you've ever seen a hungry Nate, you know exactly why I'm freaking out in that moment and worrying we might get divorced). We lay out the options. We have a Groupon to a steakhouse in Needham, but that's kind of far for this late at night. We have a thousand fast food coupons but we want to live past 40. So finally, after some hemming and hawing in the empty parking lot, we're forced to settle on going to TGI Friday's because it's around the corner, we have a coupon, and we can still eat for two for around $10.

This is where the post basically ends because 1) TGI Friday's isn't really that exciting and 2) We ate everything and forgot to take pictures. I will say however that a few years back I got some rewards card for free called "Stripes" which means we always get an appetizer of free homemade potato chips. We also earn rewards, but it's been 6 years and we still can't figure out where they are going. But wherever they are, there's a lot of them. In the end, our two meals and water (holla!) came to $17 and our $5 off $15 coupon helped us to pay just $13.64 plus tip to be exact. Better luck next time?

PS - We would like to thank our friends Kelly and Shaan for helping to make this dinner happen by gifting us another year of Entertainment Book for Christmas. Wait, what?! We don't have an entire book full of hundreds of coupons... that'd just be weird...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Can You Eat Shampoo?

This particular post isn't exactly about food. Unless you can eat shampoo? But it is about way good deals so I just have to share it. Because it's the new year, CVS has so many things on clearance to get rid of lingering stuff. So. Many. Things. The beauty is that these clearance items often match up to sales (insert awesome belting music and party in your head). Nate and I have been racking up the deals these last few weeks thanks to this clearance phenomenon and Christmas gift cards. So on my way home from work today I stopped by CVS to grab my prescription and peruse the aisles. Every CVS has different clearance items so it's pretty exciting. Anyway, I was dangerously low on deodorants (only have two!) and since there was a good sale I had a purpose for my browsing. Then, I stumbled upon all these shampoos and conditioners and well, be still my heart, I couldn't pass them up!

Here's how it all went down... 

1. The Mitchum deodorant is on sale for $1.99 and I had 2 coupons for $1.00 off making them only 99 cents. It's clinical strength to boot, which is key because let's be honest, I sweat like nobody's business. Too much information? Didn't think so. 

2. The Pantene shampoos were $3.49 and $1.24, with a $3.00 off coupon making it $1.73 for both. 

3. The Herbal Essences conditioner is for my people (curly hairs) and was on sale for $1.12 which coupled with my $1.00 off was 12 cents. Bam! That's less than 1 cent an once. Basically free. 

4. And finally, for the grand finale, the TreSemme shampoo and split end conditioner were $2.74 and $2.89. But don't worry, I had two $1.75 off coupons and a $2.00 off CVS coupon. 13 cents for both! Do you see how big one is? That's WAY less than 1 cent an once. I can't even do the math that's how almost free it is. Score!

[ Drum roll please! ] 

Total cost (including taxes): $4.21 (but I used a giftcard so really it was all free). At this point, I'm not even sure what you are still doing reading this post. You should be at CVS matching up your coupons to clearance items or at the very least printing coupons like a mad person. I'm off to update our stockpile... and considering that we already have 12 shampoos and 11 conditioners let me know if you need any! 

By the way, if you need a couponing assistant, I can make some recommendations...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Groupon: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Our hunt for a good deal didn't begin when the ball dropped in Times Square. We (read: Kendra) has always been on the lookout for solid bargains, which is how we came to have a Groupon to Jerry Remy's. We paid $15.00 for $35.00 worth of food. This kind of Groupon where you save more than 50% is the best because it's boom! Free money! Last night it was time to cash in on the savings. We made a reservation for 8:00pm (highly recommended on the weekends by the way) and we caught the last parking spot around the corner. Sweet luck.

We'd never been to Jerry Remy's before and let us just say that they are indeed a sports bar and they have TVs the size of your house. Not ours because we don't own one yet. After we were seated we inspected the menu to calculate the best use of our money. How close could we get to $35 while still eating things we liked? Luckily for us, Jerry Remy's is not expensive, and although we vowed to cut soda in restaurants to save the few bucks, we actually had to both order one to spend our dough. Nate decided on the Remy Burger. Shocking, I know. I went for the Ty Cobb salad with a few modifications. Again, shocking, I know. At least we're good looking?

Aside from our bonus sodas, we also shared a big ol' bowl of clam chowdah. (Not pictured due to hungry bellies and forgetful minds). The place was packed for the football playoffs (that's still happening?) and because it was a Saturday night. On top of that, they seemed down a couple servers so our poor guy Albert spent the whole time running around like mad. 

Overall, the food was pretty good and we'd totally go back. Especially because we still have our Groupon. But we'll get to that. Nate reported that the burger was a bit bland and could have used more thousand island dressing. But a little extra ketchup solved that problem. My grilled chicken hadn't yet seen the grill, but my new piece was hot and moist. The clam chowder was delicious and had hints of bacon which is always an insta hit for us. 

And here comes the best part. Are you ready? As we went to pay the bill (which was originally $40 after taxes) our server Albert apologized for all of the inconveniences and waiting and said he was taking care of the bill for us, we could keep our Groupon and come back again. Total charged: $2.68 plus tip. Total gained: $35.00. So our initial $15.00 investment has gone a long way. 

It's kind of like the blogging gods knew we were working on our first post. If you decide to check out Jerry Remy's definitely ask for Albert. We know we will on our next visit. 

Let Them Eat Cheap

With the New Year brings a flood of resolutions: get skinny, work out, save money, blah blah blah. Most of these only see the light of day for the first few weeks in January before they fall by the wayside. So obviously we've made all three of these resolutions, but we aren't delusional enough to think that we'll actually stick to them all, especially when our couch is so darn comfortable. Sigh. That being said, we are serious about buying a house this year. So we can stop living on top of other people. And have enough space in our closet so that we don't have to unpack everything just for a new roll of toilet paper.

Saving money isn't hard if you're a recluse and never do anything. Unfortunately, we have a (small) social life and enjoy doing things. One of our big weaknesses is that we love to go out to eat. It tastes delicious, you don't have to cook it, and it cleans up itself. What else could a person want? But if you recall our resolutions from above (that we almost just talked ourselves out of writing this last paragraph) that plan doesn't make our wallets fatter or our waists thinner. Hence this blog. Beginning with this new year, we've challenged ourselves to put our couponing skills to good use and cut back. The plan is to go 365 days without dining out...

...without some kind of coupon/Groupon/discount/deal. (If you actually thought we were going to give up restaurants, you have way more faith than we do). We figure blogging about it is a good way to stay accountable. And who knows, maybe someone will actually read it? Feed us? Make us famous? Solve the whole money problem once and for all? But until that happens our scissors are poised. Bon appetit.