The Provident Professor

Literary Finance and Personal References

Month: August 2016

Meal Planning for Fun and Profit

You know how come families ate home-cooked, (more or less) healthy meals together at the dining table every evening in the fifties? Because (middle class) women didn’t work, and middle-class women often had domestic help. Cooking dinner every night is hard work, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Cooking dinner is just as much hard work now as it ever was, but now women have jobs and no one can afford domestic help anymore (which is actually a good thing—domestic help was so available in the twentieth century only because the labor of women and people of color was grossly undervalued). Apparently lots of people have determined that cooking dinner on the regular is simply more trouble than it’s worth: this year, Americans spent more money on eating out than they did on groceries.

Eating out is expensive and unhealthy and did I mention expensive? But it’s also fun and tasty and you don’t have to cook or do dishes. Plus, you don’t buy a bunch of expensive fennel for a recipe, use a third of it making something that doesn’t even taste that good, and then have to throw the rest of it out.

The key to eating at home more and wasting less food is meal planning (it’s also the key to making lunches for work that aren’t sad desk sandwiches, but that’s a post for another time). A meal plan keeps you from buying food you don’t need, from throwing away food you don’t eat, and from coming home to an empty refrigerator on a Thursday night.

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How to Save More and Eat Out Less When You Don’t Like to Cook


We actually love to cook in the Provident household. Prof. de Cuisine makes the best Mexican food in town (admittedly, it’s a pretty small town), and I bake bread and make a mean roast chicken. Eating well is important to us.

But though we like to cook in general, we often really don’t like to cook on a Wednesday afternoon after a long day of teaching and grading and meetings. And we really, really don’t like to cook on Thursday evenings when it seems like the week has taken twice as long as they should. Those are the nights we order pizza or convince ourselves that we deserve to go out.

Not only is that reaction expensive and unhealthy, but we’re often too tired to really enjoy eating out. So we’ve developed some strategies to cut down on those mid-week calls to Pizza Hut and keep us cooking dinner, even when we don’t want to.
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July Spending

I have been dreading this post, because July was an expensive month. Also, June was an expensive month. And, as we are currently on vacation, August is likely to be an expensive month.

But many of July’s expenses were related to our move. And since the move will save us $300 a month (at least–we’ll have to wait and see if our utilities drop any. I’m doing everything I can to see that they do), the moving expenses will likely be worth it.

So without further ado, the inaugural Provident Expense Report:

Provident Household Spending

Rent (we only paid for half of July at the new house and I negotiated a discount after I had to do extensive cleaning before we moved in) 350
Utilities (gas and electric at the old house) 137.67
Mowing (the old house had an enormous yard, and we paid someone else to deal with it) 80
Cell phone 92.66
Entertainment (newspaper subscription, Netflix, and a trip to the movies to see Ghostbusters) 44.48
Hardware store (we built some shelves for the new house and there were some start-up costs: a circular saw, stain, lumber, and other assorted tools) 393.34
Amazon, Walmart and Target (curtains, blinds, and the many miscellaneous things you always need when you move) 477.34
Groceries 504.64
Medical and dental expenses 360.74
Student loans 222.84
Gas 62.63
Auto inspection 16
Eating out 133.63
Costco annual membership 55

Total: 2930.97

Prof. Provident Spending

Eating out 20.18
Hair (my hair is my major spending vice. I don't want to talk about it) 170.40
Software (Scrivener for iPad is as great as everyone says) 21
Skin care 37.65

Total: 249.23

Clearly, July was off the charts in the merchandise category. But we did buy some things that we’ll continue to use to produce more things. The circular saw, woodworking tools and stain have already been put to good use: we made some extra shelves for our kitchen cabinets, plus two other shelving units for our kitchen, which was a bit lacking in the storage department. And Prof. de Cuisine (the other half of the Provident household) has been busily tinkering away in the basement.

In addition, we did all the moving and cleaning in both houses ourselves, so there were no expenses for the actual move, beyond the food and beer we provided for our friends when they helped us haul our stuff to the new house on a hot Saturday morning. Now that everything’s pretty well settled, our spending on household stuff should drop a bit. (Although, I whisper shamefacedly, we are planning on stopping by IKEA next week to pick up a few last household items.)

Provident Bread

I know I’m far from the first person to make this insightful observation, but good bread is expensive. Heck, mediocre bread from the grocery store is kind of expensive. The good stuff from the bakery is like four bucks a loaf, which adds up quick.

Fortunately (kind of) for the Provident household, we do not have a bakery in our tiny town. And since bread is not so fantastic for the waistline (plus, I prefer to get my grains via beer), I tend to just not buy bread.

But sometimes you want a sandwich. Or a colleague gives you some homemade jam as a housewarming present. What’s an aspiringly provident person to do?
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Know the Difference between Your Major, Your Skills and Your Work Experience

So you’ve decided what kind of degree is right for you. Maybe you’ve even chosen a major. Maybe you haven’t chosen a major–that’s okay, too. You don’t need to know what you want to major in from the very instant you get to college. Some people do, and that’s great. Some people change their minds, which is also great. I know this sounds crazy, but your major is not the most important career decision you will make in college.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some majors that correspond directly to careers: engineering, computer science and many of the other applied sciences. But lots of other majors will prepare you for multiple careers, and there are multiple majors that can prepare you for the same career. If you want to go into law (don’t do this), you can major in history, English, political science, philosophy, or pretty much anything else. Believe it or not, you can major in one of those subjects if you want to go to medical school, as long as you take enough science classes along with your humanities courses.

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