Weekly Eating – 8/14

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

On Sunday, as I usually do, I broiled a whole chicken, and then made soup in the Crock Pot overnight. The broth I then strained the next day, and will use it to make rice and quinoa, as liquid for stir frying, in sauces and marinades, soups, and if I don’t use it I freeze it for later.

All you do is toss into a crock pot: the carcass of a chicken, 1 whole onion (skin and all), one lemon (or a few tbsp lemon juice or vinegar), a few carrots and herbs & spices. I use black pepper, garlic salt, bay leaves, and any fresh herbs growing (right now it’s sage, thyme, and rosemary). Such a great frugal habit, you should consider trying it!

Monday:

Breakfast – strawberry pineapple smoothie

Lunch – the final serving of my Chipotle bowl. I got 3 meals out of it, for <$3 per serving! I also had a weird Asian drink, we went to an Asian market over the weekend and each picked out one crazy beverage. All I can say is HOLY SUGAR….

Dinner – baked chicken breast, steamed broccoli & cauliflower, steamed spaghetti squash, and brown rice.

Snack – ice cream sandwich at a colleagues going-away party! We will miss him & wish him the best of luck in Cali.

Tuesday:

Breakfast –  bagel thin with an egg & cheese

Lunch – someone brought in homemade Indian food for a coworkers birthday and it was divine! Cashew chickpea curry, tri-color rice, and homemade naan. MMmmmmmmmmm.

Plus some protein puppy chow for dessert <3

Dinner –  Meatloaf (a freezer meal), baked potatoes, salad & dinner rolls. Made with half turkey and half lentils, so it’s extra healthy.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Orange Creamsicle Chia Pudding; recipe from Cookies & Kate

Lunch – Chicken, couscous & edamame, roasted cabbage quarters.

Dinner – Lemon, garlic, & white wine pasta with sardines! This was a crazy new recipe I tried because I had an open can of sardines in the refrigerator from the olive tapenade bruschetta last week. And it actually turned out pretty great! I’d make it again.

Snack – 2 vanilla “rusks” from a coworker and Thai tea. A rusk is like a biscotti, apparently, and is delicious. Thai tea is a black tea with sugar and cream and is also super tasty! Also purchased at last weekend’s Asian mart adventure.

Thursday 

Breakfast – pineapple strawberry smoothie

Lunch – Chicken tortilla soup,  a baked potato & a salad. I just chopped up the potato and put it into the soup.

Dinner – Stuffed cabbage casserole & salad. Clearly we are trying to eat more leafy greens. Also, this casserole is insanely cheap when you use lentils rather than ground meat. I came up with it when I did the SNAP challenge, trying to eat on $4 per day.

Snack – 2 pieces of chocolate from Vermont a friend brought me from a trip. They were so good!

Friday

Breakfast – Avocado toast. I know, you’re thinking “typical millennial”, but honestly it is less than a dollar to make at home. Half of one avocado (.50) + slice of bread (~0.10), and I even added an egg, so maybe it was $1 total. Plus we already own our home, so that myth is debunked.

Lunch – More stuffed cabbage casserole. This is super filling, healthy, and made a huge batch. So you will probably see more of this next week for lunches.

Dinner – Stir Friday! Lo mein noodles from spaghetti squash (I roasted a whole big batch of things last weekend), a bag of frozen mixed Asian veggies I had in the freezer, scrambled eggs, and some soy sauce. Easy, breezy, vegetarian and delicious!

The Weekend

Well, we had to do some adulting and chores, so while we were out and about we ended up getting 2 Little Caesar’s hot-n-ready pepperoni pizzas. Ahhh, feels like college again. I know, I know, they are horrible for you. But life is about balance, k? And now I know there’s food the hubs is willing to eat in the fridge. At least until Monday, cause he will eat a whole pizza in one day.

I’m also going to spend some time this weekend making things for the next Bull City Food Swap on Tuesday! Oh, and Monday is a potluck for the Solar Eclipse at work. I’m the head organizer, so I made cute decorations, and will be setting up & then cleaning up.

But I don’t mind, because I love cooking, theme parties, and hosting so it’s pretty much all those things. We’re having a big salad bar (because the sun makes plants grow) along with a SUN-dae bar! Get it! 😉

We’ve also got a frugal project planned. I want a pegboard in the kitchen, because we have one large unused wall space. I want to hang pots and pans and maybe some decor, to save limited cabinet space for appliances. I’m also planning to put in a big whiteboard, which will be a nice meal planning upgrade from papers taped to the fridge… and shelves for knickknacks, jars of ingredients like flour and sugar, and maybe some herbs as well.

Total: $68.41

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

I’m pretty excited that even with 2 pizzas, 2 grocery trips, and a food swap and potluck to prep for, this week’s food spending was below budget. Aw yessss.

Lessons Learned

Eating vegetable based meals really does save money! By making the stuffed cabbage casserole, and enough to last a long time, and the stir fry from spaghetti squash, I made about 10 meals worth of food for less than $10! That’s what I need to do more often to keep our grocery food costs down. Rice & beans is on the meal plan for next week!

Speaking of meal plan, this week was a little bit silly. I had a general plan, but we ended up shuffling the meals around all over the place based on what sounded good at the time. And that’s ok! The beauty of a meal plan is that it can be flexible. It has to be flexible, to keep up with all the twists and turns of life.

And I learned that no matter how much I wish it were so, I will never turn the hubs into a soup lover. I know soup is an AMAZING money saving food option, because it is mostly water, and you can add anything you have to get rid of in the fridge or pantry. But he just can’t handle soup more than once per week at most, so I usually end up having to eat it all, or freeze it to be ‘not-eaten’ at a later date. Bummer, but facts are facts and even cheap food is a waste of money if it doesn’t get eaten.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Getting Serious About Setting My Future on FIRE

For those who don’t know, FIRE means Financial Independence and Retire Early.

It’s not a very popular concept, especially in America, the land of “bigger is better” and “more is better” as a way  of life. Most people I know in the 20-30s age range are buying big homes, going out to eat and to bars, concerts, festivals, traveling, and generally not thinking about money at all besides “hmmm should I check the contribute to 401k box or not?”

Thank goodness for the internet!

I’ve been a long-time reader and subscriber to some amazing personal finance blogs, like The Simple Dollar, Mr. Money Mustache, The Frugalwoods, and most recently Physician on FIRE and Mrs. Picky Pincher. And through their wise words I’ve become more and more inspired and determined.

The road to FIRE may seem like a long and arduous one, but it is one which leads to paradise. Yes, we will have to make a lot of life choices that aren’t popular or cool. No, we will not live in the biggest, fanciest house we can afford, drive flashy new cars, or party hearty every weekend.

A lot of people wonder, why would you do this? I mean, sure, not having to work sounds fun. But it seems like a lot of WORK and a lot of SACRIFICE.

It all boils down to one word: FREEDOM

Having “F-you money” is all about being free to do as you please with your life. Freedom to sleep in all day, or wake up for work at 7am. Freedom to pick up and move to Vietnam for a year, because you’ve always wanted to see a waterfall out your back door. Freedom to have a family, freedom to travel, to build your own business, to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, to train for a marathon, or lay around in your pajamas.

Let’s take a look at the most common budget-busting areas, to see what we are currently doing right, and where there’s room to trim.

Housing

Mortgage – this one we have under control, and in fact I do a little happy dance every time I see this charge in my bank account.

Think I’m crazy? Let me explain.

Through multitudes of apartments, and then rental houses, hubby & I had been inching our way up in lifestyle inflation and wrecking any chances of real savings through constant moving. We needed more space, we had dogs, we needed a yard… and of course we most recently were living in Connecticut, one of the most expensive parts of the country.

The rent there hurt… REALLY hurt.

Suffice it to say folks, that when we moved to NC & bought our first house, we were now paying basically HALF in mortgage what we once paid in rent! A small bit of it is going towards equity (don’t even talk to me about the interest burden early on during a loan), and some glorious day a few decades from now we can theoretically stop paying for housing forever!

(Yes, I know property taxes are a thing, forever. Don’t get me started on that either. And we may move, in which case, this house likely becomes a rental. If anyone knows of a place anywhere in the world where you can buy an island, with no property tax, pretty please email me! For serious.)

Food

I track all of our grocery spending, and have been for 2 years now. Every receipt gets entered into a Google spreadsheet, and though it sounds like a lot of work it only takes a few minutes while waiting for a video game to load or some such.

I’ve been noticing that we were holding to 200-300/month pretty well for a long time, then we had moving expenses and food costs exploded (restocking a new house, eating out, ordering pizza…) and we haven’t really recovered.

I can not justify $600 / month for just 2 people! Even with a food blog, that is quite frankly ridiculous. I mean, I don’t expect us to subsist solely on rice & beans (though it is delicious) but we have to get that under control. And I know I’m the one to blame.  >.<

I’m working on it, and will be publishing our weekly eating as a series now to help keep myself accountable and on track!

Transportation

We both own our vehicles, a 2004 Honda CRV and 2005 Honda Civic. We only have to pay yearly insurance, tag renewal, gas, and upkeep. Unfortunately, we are both very auto-averse, so we don’t garner the additional savings of things like doing our own oil changes or small repairs.

But I can check my oil level and top it up, fill my own tires with air, vacuum, wash it, refill fluids, and change wiper blades!

We could of course sell one car, since hubby is lucky enough to work from home, and just keep one for my commute. We have discussed the possibility of myself commuting at least in part by bicycle too. The numbers are being run, and this is an ongoing discussion.

Unfortunately, I work in one of the most expensive counties in the state for property, so the likelihood of being able to move to within walking/biking distance anytime soon is about nil. All affordable homes are ~20+ miles away, so I’m stuck with a 35 minute commute for the foreseeable future.   🙁

Entertainment

Our absolute ideal way to spend a weekend?

A potluck game night with friends. We make one main food item, a few other people bring more food, and then we just hang out enjoying each others’ company and playing board and card games. Super low-key, super frugal, and it is always a good time!

A close second?

Playing video games and watching Netflix together, eating whatever is in the house. And/or a nice long walk or hike. Maybe some household chores thrown in if we’re feeling frisky.

We both have pretty low-key hobbies: reading, writing, cooking & baking, games, playing music. The hubs’ big costs (re: guitars/amps) are already sunk, and there won’t be any more large costs added in the foreseeable future.

Some people would find that mind-numbingly boring, but those people are probably not going to retire by the time they’re 40, will they? And I have never been disappointed by spending time strengthening my marriage and friendships instead of spending money. So I’m pretty pleased with this aspect of our lives currently.

Pets

We do have 2 pups, who we adopted about 3 years ago now. We did make this choice knowing pet ownership comes with many costs attached. However, we do all their ‘pet maintenance’: bathing, grooming, nail trimming, flea and tick prevention.

We order their food in bulk from Amazon, and since they are both under 30 pounds, it costs us maybe $30 to feed them for 2 months. Besides required tags, checkups and vaccines, they are low-key, just like us.

But if anyone has tips for lowering the cost of pet-parenting, please feel free to share below!

Clothing / Misc.

I think I may have spent a total of $50 on clothing in all of 2016-2017 so far. The vast majority of my closet has been with me for years. I buy pieces that fit well and are well made, mostly second hand (you can find gems at Goodwill and thrift stores if you’re willing to look through a lot of… not-gems).

Then I wear the crap out of them, basically until they are stained or ripped and cannot be worn any further.

By choosing to not keep up with current ‘trends’, but instead dress in a ‘classic’ way that never goes out of style, I don’t need to constantly be adding pieces to my wardrobe. I have enough accessories and mix and match pieces that I can dress up or down at my pleasure.

I also do my darndest to keep in shape. I’m definitely not supermodel slim by any stretch of the imagination. But as long as I don’t gain or lose more than about 10 pounds, 99% of my wardrobe continues to fit me, season after season.

And the hubs?

He works from home, and considers khakis the dressiest thing he should ever have to own or wear. I have never seen him show any interest in or buy clothing other than new socks one time. If he has on pants at all, it’s probably track pants. He’s a born athlete, and yes I knew what I was getting when I married him  😉

We very rarely go anywhere ‘just to shop’.

I purposely avoid going to a store unless there’s a specific reason or a list. We mostly keep an ongoing Amazon list, and once it gets big enough we click ‘order’. We may pay slightly more for toilet paper, Draino or nyquil, but by avoiding big box stores in general we also avoid impulse purchases.

Oh, and makeup/beauty products spending is just not a thing for me.

Why do we care about these numbers?

To figure out your FIRE number, some people say you need enough saved to replace 85% of your working salary. But that is just not true.

When you no longer go to work, all expenses associated with work go away, like work clothing, office supplies, lunches out, the commute, convenience purchases because you forgot your coffee/lunch/ are too tired to make dinner…

Plus, you will be living off of investment income, which is taxed at a lower rate than working income.

Therefore, a better way to figure out what you need, is to track your monthly & yearly expenses. Let’s say you normally spend about $5,000 per month between mortgage, car, food, gas, etc. That’s $60,000 per year.

If you want to use the 4% withdrawal rate, you need to have saved 25 times that, or $1,500,000 before you can retire.

That’s a lotta moolah!

But, let’s say that you do some creative frugalizing of your life: downgrade your house, trade in your car and buy one used with cash, trim the grocery budget, drop the cable and home phone bill, et cetera, and now you spend $3000 per month, or 36,000 per year. Now your 25 multiplier requires only $900,000 saved!

Still a big number, but more manageable.

Now, imagine you develop some side income streams. You start a YouTube channel, launch a side business, freelance write some journal articles, build birdhouses, take up dog walking, whatever. Now you bring in an extra 1000 per month reliably, or 12,000 per year. You only need an extra 24,000 to make up the difference, so you can retire with $600,000!

By maxing out your 401K and getting a 10% match at work, plus some stock index investing on your own, you can easily reach that amount (assuming compound interest) in under 10 years.

And boom! You’re “financially independent” and ready to retire!

In Conclusion

Well, I don’t see how we could cut down our current lifestyle much more than we already have without some serious quality of life sacrifices. The good news is, we are extremely blessed, and already live on much less than we bring in, as a 2 full time paycheck household.

That means our “FIRE number”, or how much we need to have saved in order to “retire”, is lower than it would be if we spent twice as much per year.

So the point is, now we are looking into more ways to build side income, and saving as much as we possibly can in many ways and vehicles. If anyone has suggestions or recommendations, we would love to hear about it in the comments below!

This is a wild and wonderful journey, and we can’t wait to learn and grow, and hopefully achieve freedom sooner rather than later.

 

How about you, readers? Do you have retirement plans? Any wisdom to share from already-retirees or soon-to-be-retirees?

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Monday:

Breakfast – Cherry Vanilla Protein Smoothie. What you see is what went in the blender, except I used frozen already-pitted cherries. The fresh ones were for snacking all week.  🙂

Lunch – chili with edamame and grapes. Organic frozen edamame are my favorite, because I love them (covered in sea salt of course) and they count as a green vegetable with any meal!

Dinner – one pan rosemary chicken and potatoes with zucchini. I speared chunks of chicken onto the rosemary stems, and sprinkled the leaves all over about 4 cubed potatoes. 2 zucchini got diced into spears, and the whole thing covered in foil and popped in the oven at 400 for about 35 minutes. It was so delicious, and really easy cleanup!

Snack – banana pudding y’all! We made some from scratch, and it was gooooooooood! We used ginger snaps instead of vanilla wafers, and I had no idea pudding is actually so easy! Tasty, and dangerous…

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie! The rest of yesterdays (I made a double batch, and put the rest in the refrigerator)

Lunch – Chili with edamame and grapes. Yes this week is pretty boring, but I had SO MUCH chili left over from last week. Rather than freeze it I decided that was just what I was eating this week. It’s easy, super healthy, and super cheap.

Dinner –  macaroni & cheese, not even healthified, just something that was quick and easy to throw together, plus we had several types of cheese in the refrigerator that needed using. I sprinkled it with paprika to look fancy.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – 2 hard boiled eggs & a homemade pretzel chocolate peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – chili mac n cheese, just leftover chili and leftover mac n cheese mixed together. But oh em gee it is SO GOOD.

Dinner – gyros! Hubs made this one, since his favorite food of all time is a burrito. He loves other cuisines’ takes on burritos too, like enchiladas, sushi burritos, or schwarma. Or gyros. Mmmmm.

Snack – handful of pretzels and M&Ms

Thursday 

Breakfast – a piece of blueberry pie left from last weekend’s party

Lunch – tasty pasta

Dinner – broiled chicken breast, potato salad & kale. I tried cooking the kale in lemon juice until soft, but I think I let it go too long. It got this dark olive green color, and was barely edible. Next time I think I’ll just stick with kale chips!

Friday

Breakfast – granola bar & 2 hard boiled egg whites. Yes sometimes I get boring and repeat meals, what of it?! Plus, boiling a dozen eggs at the start of the week and making large batches of things like granola bars gives us plenty of quick protein filled breakfast and snacking options. So necessary at 6:30 am.

Lunch – chili mac n cheese = finally finished both the chili and the mac n cheese! Yes!

Dinner – Chipotle! I had been hard core craving this for almost 2 weeks, and finally caved. C’est la vie, I don’t regret it. Plus, I get a burrito bowl, and they always pack that container full. I put part of it into my own tortilla when I get home, and that way I turn one bowl into 2-3 meals! That’s like $3 per meal. Aw yessss.

The Weekend

This weekend is pretty relaxed, just going to Saturday morning rooftop yoga, and the Durham Farmers Market. We planned to explore some towns near us perhaps, and do some organizing at home. Maybe some video games… by maybe I mean definitely.

Total: $89.35

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Lessons Learned

This was a good week, some things at our jobs were finally calming down and assorted outstanding items were done, so stress levels decreased overall. Always a nice feeling. Plus using up leftovers, even if it means repeat meals, is a top 10 frugal strategy.

On the flip side, I didn’t make a meal plan this week, so the meals were figured out the day of usually… and we also went out to eat twice, which is not our norm.  It is what nudged the week’s cost up, as groceries alone were only about $30. But it felt much more special exactly because it is a rare event!

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

 

OMG. Guys. Don’t make this.

Seriously, it is so delish, I cannot stop eating it! I had to make a second batch in order to have enough to share at my wine tasting weekend party. Sure, it is WAY healthier than your mom’s puppy chow recipe, but still… not when you eat 5 cups of it in one go.

Not that I’d do that.

Hopefully y’all know what puppy chow IS, by the way?

This is basically chocolate and peanut butter (strong start) with Chex rice crisp cereal, sprinkled in powdered sugar. That sort of looks like puppy food, hence the name.

And moms used to make this ALL THE TIME to get the kids to SHUT THE HELL UP and leave them alone for a minute. (No, just my mom? Whatever, your loss). Which works awesomely, cause this sh*t is addictive and delicious. See above.

But… that’s a metric crapton of sugar. Isn’t that the stuff you’re supposed to keep kids away from? Ahh, the blissful “good old days” before the food police and veganism and artificial sweeteners that actually are neurotoxins took over the world.

Anyways, in all seriousness, this stuff kinda looks like dog food, but is DEFINITELY NOT FOR DOGS. Do not feed this to your puppy. Besides, it is so good I doubt there will be any left after you hoover the bowl clean. Sharing with friends / children optional.

This recipe is slightly healthier, in that we cut out a lot of the sugar by using vanilla protein powder. You can also use regular protein powder plus 1/4 cup stevia or other (healthier) alternative sugar substitute. This of course ups the amount of protein per serving, making me feel like it’s basically a health food.

(Spoiler: it is not. It is still a treat, with tons of calories, but at least it is a slight improvement. Treat it as such, in moderation, and you should be just fine.)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chex cereal
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp. peanut powder (or peanut flour)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Step 1: In a large glass or microwave safe bowl, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together. I nuked it in 30 second bursts times 4, with stirring in between.

Step 2: Pour in the cereal, and mix gently but well to coat all the pieces in chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness.

Step 3: Mix the dry ingredients in a large zip top bag. Pour the coated cereal in, and shake it like a polaroid picture! (Throwback, anyone remember what a polaroid actually is? Lord am I starting to feel old these days…)

Step 4: Pour the cereal out onto a wax paper lined cutting board or cookie tray to dry. That’s it! Try to keep your hands off the slightly-still-warm tasty snacks. Good luck  😉

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

Yield: 4 1/2 cup servings

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chex cereal
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp. peanut powder (or peanut flour)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. In a large glass or microwave safe bowl, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together.
  2. Pour in the cereal, and mix gently but well to coat all the pieces in chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large zip top bag. Pour the coated cereal in, and shake it.
  4. Pour the cereal out onto a wax paper lined cutting board or cookie tray to dry.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegetarian/chocolate-peanut-butter-protein-puppy-chow/

Weekly Eating – 7/31

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Excuse me while I have an existential crisis real quick…

{OMG WHAT ITS AUGUST!? It was January like 2 seconds ago, we just moved to a new state, started a new job, had no furniture but an air mattress and knew not a darn soul… now we’ve been here TEN WHOLE MONTHS and have, like, a real adult home?!? And friends?? WHOA. Pretty sure this is where I should insert “hashtag blessed” or something..}

Okay, thanks for hanging in there readers, on to the deets of this week’s noms!

I had made a big ol’ pot of crockpot chili on Sunday night, which is one of my favorite things to do. I take all the kinds of dried beans in the house, and soak them in water overnight. In the morning, I pour out the water, refill it, and add the extra tomato juice, veggies, meat, and spices. Then you just let it rock and roll all day.

It is insanely cheap, because dried beans. It is also insanely versatile, use up the ends and bits of whatever, lentils, bell peppers, onions, black beans. So it is a little different every time. This became lunches several days, kept the work-from-home hubs from starving, and also chili cheese dogs and chili baked potatoes! <3

Monday:

Breakfast – bagel with almond butter & apple. This has become one of my favorite to-go breakfasts, so fast and easy, yet healthy!

Lunch – stuffed poblano peppers from last week’s food swap

Dinner – eggplant parm & pasta. I have tried multiple times, I just cannot like eggplant! This saddens me, because it is so good for you, and people very often want to give it away. But I just cannot.

Snack – white bean rosemary hummus with raw veggies. Y’all, if you have not tried this yet you are missing out! Get out the blender, go read the recipe right now, and make it!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 egg veggie omelet. Had some onions, peppers, and mushrooms so I stir fried them and wrapped them in eggs!

Lunch – tuna noodle casserole. This is giving it a bit more credit than I probably should. I just took some leftover cooked pasta salad that already had bits of peppers and onion and mayo, and added a can of tuna to it to give it protein. Then I called that lunch!

Dinner – baked blue cheese & spinach chicken rolls with oven-roasted potato wedges & garlic aioli. Sounds super fancy, I know, but honestly it is literally 3 ingredients! Just thin chicken breasts, a pinch of blue cheese and handful of spinach, roll up and secure with cooking twine or toothpicks and bake!

The garlic aioli is 1-2 garlic cloves diced small, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, and 1/2 cup mayonnaise, mixed well. This is an excellent dip for chicken and potato wedges. Feel free to pull out this recipe anytime you need to impress someone but have seriously 5 minutes to focus on making the food.

Oh, and I also got a little crafty this week! I had seen a YouTube video for a bathing suit wrap that’s almost no-sew, and just had to try it. Of course, I didn’t get to it in time for the beach last weekend, but that’s ok.

It really was so easy! Just cut it to the right width to wrap around you, cut arm holes, and braid 3 strips of fabric for the shoulder straps. The straps were the only sewing part, and it took like 10 minutes total! I can’t wait to go somewhere that I can use it!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade pretzel PB choc chip granola bars using THIS RECIPE from Tiffany @ Don’t Waste the Crumbs

This recipe was so easy to follow, and I LOVE pretzels, so how could it possibly go wrong? Well, I think using JIF added more oil than it needed, what with the extra coconut oil, so it was pretty greasy… but the flavor was out of this world delish, so this recipe is a keeper! I will definitely tweak it and make these again.

Lunch – crock pot turkey chili, I brought in a big enough container that I could only finish half! Good thing we have work refrigerators

Dinner – slow cooker pulled beef sandwiches with steamed broccoli and pinto beans. I literally just stuck a pound of beef roast in the crock pot before work, came home and shredded it. Could not ask for a simpler, but seriously tasty, dinner!

Snack – white bean hummus with raw veggies

Thursday 

Breakfast – pepper & onion omelet for me, cherry vanilla smoothie for the man. I think we’ve found a new favorite! 1/2 cup frozen cherries, 1/2 cup cherry juice, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder. It is GOOD!

Lunch – the rest of the turkey chili & more white bean hummus! See how making big batches of things early in the week can mean less work the rest of the week?

Dinner – turkey burritos! Because burritos are the kings of food.

I also had a great batch-prep night because this is when I went grocery shopping for the weekend parties (see below). I cooked up like 6 pounds of ground turkey and beef and packed it in 1lb zip locks to freeze, got a great deal on marked-down overripe bananas that I froze to make smoothies and bread in the future, and washed and cut up and bagged grapes, cherries, and strawberries for snacks.

Friday

Breakfast – vanilla Greek yogurt with strawberries, chia seeds, & walnuts. I made a grave error at the store, and grabbed flavored Greek rather than plain. I do make my own yogurt, but haven’t mastered the making it thicker like Greek yogurt part. So I got some for the hubs to put on burritos… oops. Well, now we will have smoothies and yogurt for breakfasts.

Lunch – Beef & veggie leftover soup. I took my small crock pot to work, and used up the little bit of leftover pulled beef, beans, broccoli, and some kale. I added a bit of barley, and let it go on my desk all morning. The office smelled great, and I had a cheap hot lunch!

Dinner – One pan roasted chicken, potatoes, and cauliflower with a side salad. I know this dinner is so “white” i.e. not much color. And also, not stir fry. But the below mentioned cheap chickens were around, so I roasted one, and Kroger also had a 5lb bag of potatoes for 0.99, so…

Hence the side salad, for at least a little greenery in our diet.

Snack – granola bar nomnomnom

The Weekend

Saturday is a neighborhood potluck, for which I plan on making some potato salad and ham sandwiches. I also got whole chicken on sale this week for 0.79 / pound!! Can you even believe it! Yeah I stocked my freezer, as you’ll see below in the total…

And then Sunday we are hosting  a wine tasting by Unique Pairings! I’m super pumped because it means an excuse to eat all the cheese and sweets and try lots of wines! This also helped to inflate the food budget a little, but totally worth. I adore hosting parties.

Total: $177.86

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Lessons Learned

Uh, yeah, so we overshot by $100. BUT. As noted above, we are going to 2 different parties this weekend, and most of the extra food was for appetizers/foods to share. Also, as hosts, we will frequently wind up with tons of leftover food, which will likely feature in a lot of next week’s meals.

Plus, SEVENTY NINE CENTS A POUND for chicken!! Come on. Tell me you wouldn’t buy like ten if you had the freezer space for that. A lot of this was stocking up on good sales, so that in future weeks we won’t have to spend as much on meats/etc.

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

White Bean Rosemary Hummus

 

Hummus is a wonderful thing. It is delicious and versatile, you can add it to sandwiches and wraps, stir some into soups to thicken it and add flavor, or eat it alone or with chips or crudites.

But hummus is so expensive at the store! you say. I know, I don’t love paying $3 for 8oz either.

Ever tried making your own?

It’s super easy, I promise. Do I look like a girl who likes complicated? (Well, maybe sometimes. It is fun to get a little crazy and make a giant Ethiopian feast every now and then. But mostly I like plain and simple, the cheaper and faster the better.)

One of the reasons hummus can get so expensive is the tahini paste. Marketed as a key ingredient, it helps give hummus that earthy umami flavor and smooth texture. But what if I told you instead of a $10 ingredient, you could use a $1 ingredient, and it would taste essentially the same?

Think about it. What is tahini paste? It’s ground sesame seed. Which is kind of like a nut butter. And guess what tastes similar? Other actual nut butters! I’ve used peanut butter and almond butter before, I think Almond Butter is my favorite!

Oh, and what if you don’t like chickpeas? Or think those are too over-priced as well? Good news! You can make black bean hummus just as easily, or try this amazing white bean recipe below. Each creates a slightly different flavor and texture, try them all and make a big dip buffet!

Ingredients:

  • 1 can white (cannelini) beans, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Dash of salt to taste

Step 1: Drain beans, add to blender. Add in the garlic, lemon, oil, almond butter, and rosemary. Blend well for about 1 minute, until it is a thick paste. Add some more oil or a dash of warm water if you’d like it thinner.

This recipe makes about 2 cups prepared hummus. I pack it into small containers and take it to work with diced up fresh veggies as my afternoon snack most days! It is also great for parties and potlucks.

 

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Weekly Eating – 7/24

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

Well, mommy dearest and I had a WONDERFUL time at the beach this past week! It is so good to get away and stick your toes in the sand. And I came home with a case of really delicious and unique wines from Unique Pairings! (Expense included in Travel budget, not food budget, thank goodness)

Monday:

Breakfast – corn tortilla (maseca + water) 1 scrambled egg +  tbsp black beans + shredded cheese

Lunch – boring turkey sandwich

Dinner – burgers from the freezer, plus pasta salad using some peppers from the food swap!

OH MY GOSH GUYS, so there’s this thing called the Bull City Food Swap in Durham. It’s all homemade, home grown, fermented, canned, baked, or foraged, no grocery store purchases. And it is all barter, no cash, checks or credit. You bring your goodies, and everyone else brings theirs. And then there is a sort of bidding system, where you offer your goods for others you want. Then you swap!

And holy cow was it fun! It was at a cool local bar, and I met some awesome folks who produce some delicious goods. I made about 2 dozen soft pretzels and some extra homemade yogurt for the occasion.

In return, I came home with banana pudding, pickles, 3 different types of jam and jelly, salsa, a half dozen eggs, homemade pasta, a bucket of tomatoes and 2 big brown bags FULL of peppers / eggplant / okra! This was so awesome, and gave me oodles of “free” stuff to plan my week’s meals.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – frugal fail oatmeal

Lunch – Caprese sandwich using a tomato from the food swap, mozzarella, and home grown basil!

Dinner – Jambalaya using frozen sausage and tomatoes, peppers, and okra from the food swap!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – yogurt with almonds & chocolate

Lunch – brought to us for a work meeting: Salmon salad

Dinner – stuffed cabbage casserole in the crock pot

Snack – grape tomatoes & cucumbers, Peach Basil Jam (from the food swap!) & crackers

Thursday 

Breakfast – smoothie with homemade yogurt, blueberries from ALDI and spinach

Lunch – stuffed poblanos from the Food Swap. I stuffed them with quinoa and black beans, cooked them in the rice cooker (yes for real, it is small so it fits 4 peppers perfectly!), and then split into 2 containers and added pepper jack cheese on top!

Dinner – Fajitas! I got a nice chuck roast at ALDI, and sliced it thinly. I fried up a bunch of strips of onion and bell pepper (from the swap of course) and added the steak. We ate it in wraps, with the hubs adding pinto beans and rice to make it a burrito of course 🙂

Friday

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs with spinach

Lunch – turkey wrap & berries

Dinner – stir friday! Steak & pepper stir fry

Snack – grape tomatoes & cucumbers with white bean hummus

Guys, this white bean hummus was SO STINKIN GOOD! I promise the recipe is coming soon!

Total:  $8+58.51 = 73.51

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

I spent a few dollars at the farmers market for a gorgeous cucumber and heirloom cherry tomatoes, and got a windfall of ‘free’ veggies from the Food Swap. I could calculate out the costs associated with making the pretzels and add that, but honestly I had all the ingredients in the house already. Let’s just say it was about $5, and took me roughly 1 hour of hands-on time to make them. In return, I got maybe 2 dozen pounds of produce (that I cannot grow, due to lack of sun in my yard) and several canned goods. That is a trade I’d make any day!

Lessons Learned

Being part of a community is a HUGE bonus in life, for so many reasons. The Food Swap was a really great experience, and I can’t wait for the next one! Benefits include:

  1. Cheap entertainment: this was only 10 minutes from my house, and for one $4 glass of beer, which was not even mandatory, I got to be entertained for almost 2 hours
  2. Networking: I met several people from the area who have similar lifestyles and hobbies. This is a great way to start making friends, or even business associates. Who knows when it will be beneficial to know someone with a backyard flock of chickens, or with canning knowledge, or a fermentation expert?
  3. Financial benefits: Being able to trade with like-minded people is a win for everyone. Society became civilized and we grow together when we all share our talents and passions. We cannot all be good at everything, but everyone is good at something. When we trade, we both get something of value that we cannot or do not want to do for ourselves. Plus no pesky Uncle Sam’s hands in our pockets…

Another lesson from this week is that adaptability is a big financial benefit! If a large amount of a specific type of food falls into your lap, whether from the garden, a generous neighbor or family member, or a really good sale, it helps to be able to make use of it! This is where flexible recipes like lasagna, pastas, soups, and casseroles come in handy. Or knowing how to preserve the bounty, like making salsas, sauerkraut, canning, freezing, or dehydrating. All these small steps help save you dollars.

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

That which doesn’t kill you…

 

You know the phrase, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I’ve always wondered where that came from, and why it was so popular.

I’m guessing it’s because no one knows what else to say.

When you’re upset, depressed, wallowing in the realization that something has gone terribly, horribly, and irrevocably wrong, all you can do is resort to clichés.

Someday you’ll laugh about this… Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans… The sun’ll come out tomorrow/tomorrow’s another day… (I kinda like this one, but that’s because Annie and Gone With the Wind are personal favorites…)

We all make mistakes, and we all have regrets. Some of us have tiny regrets, like that one time we had three too many margaritas and may or may not have made out with some stranger in a dark corner of the bar. We will never know, because no one remembers for sure, but just maybe…

For others, the regret is a bit more serious… maybe we shouldn’t have done that drug deal that landed us with a rap sheet. Or maybe we shouldn’t have trusted that business partner that fleeced you and nearly (or actually) bankrupted you.  Maybe you should have taken that risk, that year abroad, said “I love you“, dropped that finance class so it didn’t ruin your GPA.

For some of us in the FIRE community, we made smart choices from a young age. Many early retirees realized at their first job at 21 years old that they could live another way. They worked hard, lived lean, got promotions, and socked away 50-90% of their income. And retired before/by/around thirty.

And that’s amazing!!! <insert applause>

But, then, many of us have made mistakes. Mistakes that we admit to and regret now, but know that they happened and now our life is a certain way because of those choices.

For example, I have always lived pretty frugally. I chose apartments with roommates, or weird tiny spaces. I kid you not when I say I have lived in both a converted attic, which had zero insulation such that I put a fitted mattress cover over the door to keep the Ohio winter chill out, and a remodeled garage where there was no bathroom door, and it was so tiny you could literally pee, shave your leg, and flip a pancake all at the same time.

I have never not had a job, since I was allowed to work one, and most of the time I held down at least two. I worked in our campus library and as a waitress all throughout undergraduate and my masters degree, during which I also was a teaching assistant. Even though our stipend was a luxurious $10,000 per year… (I know, I know, the sciences are at least blessed enough that we get a stipend, unlike our sad humanities friends.)

I always drove a used car, purchased outright or from my dad with a set payback schedule (no interest! Thanks Bank of Dad!), never carried a credit card balance, and cooked at home. In fact, this blog began in 2008 as a record for posterity of my journey to learning to cook. I’ve come pretty far but still have much to learn.

Somehow I managed to emerge, after approximately 23 years of school (depends how soon you start counting…) with only $8K in loan debt, and no consumer debt at all. Halle-frickin-lujah!

On the flip side, I had a total of about $2K in savings… how did this happen?!?

Well, while saving and not spending money in my day to day life, I also developed a pretty fanatic love of cruises (which will never die, oh cruises how I love thee), travel in general, and moving.

So. much. moving.

By the time I was married last year, brace yourselves, I had lived in no fewer than 21 different dorm rooms, apartments, and houses, in three different states.

I had 3 month leases in the summer to avoid going home (boo, bad financial decision) so I could keep working my two jobs (yay, good financial decision!). Then I moved way the heck across the country to Colorado to pursue a PhD in neuroscience, which ended up not working out.

On the bright side, that was 4 of the best years of my life and I met my husband… so there’s that. #totallyworth

Hubby was lucky and had no school debt at all, but also nearly no savings. Luckily we both had pretty decent jobs, and together we lived very comfortably for a year or so. But then his job took us on yet another cross-country move to New England. Which was a grand experience, we loved the people and places and food and travel and nearby ocean… but hot damn is it expensive!

Between the cost of living and taxes, no way were we going to achieve our home ownership dreams anytime soon. So between that and the god-awful winter, we agreed the time had come to move yet again, to my fourth and (hopefully) final state, to the land of Dixie, and we said Howdy y’all to North Carolina.

Phew!

So, anyways, here we are, finally living the dream, knocking on the doors of 30. Think we can retire in the next 5 months, on 10 grand?

Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

So, our dreams of retiring by 30 are dashed, thanks to a wanderlust and general lack of knowing FIRE was a thing until now. But. All that aside, now we know. We are armed with knowledge, and a fantastic array of like-minded peeps on the internet to share stories and lessons and encouragement.

Can we retire by 40?

Step 1: believe.
Step 2: create a budget, stick the heck to it, and save like mad.
Step 3: profits.

Our 20’s did not kill us, and in the end I think it did make us stronger.

We are determined to live life on our own terms, and not according to popular culture or what “Everyone” says is normal and right. We are strong in our marriage, committed to making and achieving our joint goals for our future. And we are set on a path to financial freedom, and all the other freedoms that come with it.

I can’t wait to see what this journey will teach us!

 

 

What about you, what’s your story? Did you dig yourself out of a small mountain of debt? Put a trust fund to good use? Are you just taking the first baby steps or about to cross the finish line? Any and all advice is welcome here!

Venison Penne Alfredo

 

Oh man, of all the venison recipes I’ve tried so far, the pot pie and the breakfast hash, this one has to be my favorite! And honestly it is probably the easiest too, so double win!

Of course, this is an easily adjustable recipe. If you don’t like or don’t have venison, just sub ground beef, chicken, pork, or turkey. I used frozen vegetables because I always have some mixes around, but obviously if it is summer time and you have a medley of produce, use that instead.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground venison sausage
  • 1 package frozen veggies (or any fresh, about 2 cups)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (optional)
  • 1 jar alfredo sauce (or make your own!)
  • 1 pound pasta, shape of your choice

Step 1: Cook the onion and garlic in a tbsp of oil until fragrant, and the onion becomes transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the venison, and cook until fully browned, breaking up any chunks. Add the vegetables and cook until warm and softened. (This will depend upon fresh vs. frozen, and what types of veg you use)

Step 2: Meanwhile, boil the pasta 8-9 minutes, and drain. In the pan you boiled your pasta, put the drained pasta back in, and add the venison and vegetables. Pour the alfredo sauce on top, and mix it all together well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

And that’s it! You could add some Parmesan cheese on top too, for extra salty deliciousness. Enjoy your creamy bowl of yum!

Venison Penne Alfredo

Yield: 2 2-cup servings

Venison Penne Alfredo

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground venison sausage
  • 1 package frozen veggies (or any fresh, about 2 cups)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 jar alfredo sauce (or make your own!)
  • 1 pound pasta, shape of your choice

Instructions

  1. Cook the onion and garlic in a tbsp of oil until fragrant, and the onion becomes transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the venison, and cook until fully browned, breaking up any chunks.
  2. Add the vegetables and cook until warm and softened. (this will depend upon fresh vs. frozen, and what types of veg you use)
  3. Meanwhile, boil the pasta 8-9 minutes, and drain. In the pan you boiled your pasta, put the drained pasta back in, and add the venison and vegetables.
  4. Pour the alfredo sauce on top, and mix it all together well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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Weekly Eating – 7/17

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

Monday:

Breakfast – yogurt bowl with fresh cherries, crushed almonds, and chia seeds. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite so delicious as fresh bing cherries in the summer! But boy are they a pain to cut up and remove the pits, plus my finger tips are red for hours… almost as bad as beets…

Lunch – can of Progresso soup in my desk drawer. This is why you should always have some “backup” lunches, in case you forget yours. This can I got on sale for $1 saved me $5-10 at the cafeteria.

Dinner – the world’s most amazing tomato soup & grilled cheese! You’ll just have to check BE’s Facebook for the recipe…

Snack – these delicious brownies, with a healthy secret!  😉

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Cinnamon raisin bagel thin with almond butter & cut up apples. Easy, filling breakfast on the go.

Lunch – whole wheat turkey cheddar wrap with homemade refrigerator pickles & mustard

Dinner – chicken enchiladas

Snack – hummus with raw veg, cottage cheese

Wednesday:

Breakfast – cinnamon raisin bagel with almond butter

Lunch – turkey wrap with cheddar & pickles

Dinner – Crock pot chili

This was a low-key and boring day, because I worked late (to make up extra hours) and it was our last night together. I wanted something stress free so we could maximize the few hours we had before early bedtime. I have to be up and out the door early because…

Thursday – The Weekend:

I will be at the beach, celebrating mommy dearest’s birthday!

We have been planning and looking forward to this for a long time, I’m super stoked it’s finally here. We will be staying at the home of a friend of hers too, so super double bonus savings!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave hubby to starve or blow tons of cash on takeout and pizza… keep reading below.

Total:  $70.44

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

This was a great week for not spending! I went to ALDI and stocked up on tons of staples and fresh produce and even cheese, all for about seventy bucks. I love that store so much. And much of it hasn’t even been used this week (due to me going out of town) so that homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella will have to wait until next week, hopefully bringing down next week’s total!

Lessons Learned

It’s always a good idea to plan ahead! Since I will be gone for a while, and don’t want hubby to starve to death, I made sure to have foods I know he likes to make and eat in the house. We have all the fixings for burritos, I made extra-large batches of dinners I know he will love for leftovers, plus a few freezer meals. Hopefully he remembers to feed both the dogs and himself while I’m gone  🙂

Double batch of enchiladas to survive the weekend

Also, it is a great idea to plan ahead for vacation foods! I intend to pack a small cooler full of travel snacks, like string cheese, homemade KIND bars, and raw fruit and vegetables. My breakfast will be ready to go along with a cold brew coffee, so I can just grab them on the way out the door, and not waste time and money on a drive through.

Anything I don’t eat on the way will be safe in the house we are staying at for snacking throughout the week. We will also probably go to a local grocery store as one of the first items of business to get some staples to have around the house. We don’t want to impose on our gracious hosts too much!

Finally, plan for vacations financially. I am fully expecting to eat several great meals out, and get some splurge items on the beach (pineapple drinks anyone??). Thus, I made sure to eat a little lighter this week, and will next week too in order to make up for the calorie splurge, and have a budget which I am not allowed to go over for food and drinks. That way, I can relax and not stress at all! I know that the money I’m spending is planned for and guilt free.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.