Weekly Eating – 10/23

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 – I had a few applesauce muffins still left from making friends with the neighbors, and half a raspberry NOOSA yogurt

Lunch – the rest of a pasta salad I made from last weekend’s Triangle on FIRE Meetup, and a mason jar salad

Dinner – Minestrone Soup. I had this bag in the freezer from my batch freezer meal prep session a long time ago.  I defrosted it overnight, and then tonight just put it in a pot with the broth from the rib bones last week until boiling.

I was a little worried that the noodles would be mushy and gross from being frozen and then thawed, but it actually turned out to be the perfect consistency. This was a really tasty batch, I would use this recipe again.

Snack – I had a little packet of a nut butter sample in my desk drawer, combined with some pretzel crisps I keep as well it made a perfect little afternoon pick me up snack

Tuesday:

Breakfast – applesauce muffins 

Lunch – the last of the Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake leftovers

Dinner – I had a quick burrito before running off to the October Bull City Food Swap. This month’s swap was awesome, there were some really outstanding goodies. Especially the homemade smoked sausage made by my new best friend!  😉

I had brought several items for trade, including some marigold seeds from my yard, hickory nuts (we have 3 trees, and more nuts than we know what to do with) and some homemade garlic rosemary bread. The bread was a hit, as baked goods usually are. I think I found my niche, as you can trade for really good items with homemade bread.

I got lots of caramel corn, jerky, baked goods, fresh pasta, and some pesto. Luckily, pesto was already on the menu for tomorrow! I had also taken out a giant pack of chicken quarters I got on crazy clearance a few weeks ago.

It was $4.44 for 6 leg quarters! That is a lot of chicken for less than a buck a piece. I roasted them up on a sheet pan to keep in the fridge for the boy to snack on whenever he’s hungry this week.

Snack – blender hummus and veggies

Wednesday:

Breakfast – peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – leftover minestrone soup

Dinner – Pesto pasta, using up the fresh pasta from the Food Swap and the rest of some frozen blender pesto I’d made when the basil was done for the season. So garlicy and delicious!

Snack – a mini snicker bar at work

Thursday:

Breakfast – egg sandwich with 2 slices of my garlic rosemary bread

Lunch – a chicken quarter with some brown rice and edamame

Dinner – Beef roast in the slow cooker. I just chopped up some carrots, celery, and potatoes and tossed them in with a beef roast from the freezer. I paid about $10 for a ~3 lb roast, which is not bad

Luckily I have a programmable slow cooker, so I could set it on high for 4 hours, and then it automatically switches to “keep warm” setting so it doesn’t burn. It was a perfect meal for a chilly fall evening. I love that it is just starting to turn kind-of-cold now.

Friday:

Breakfast – I bought a pack of white corn tortillas with the idea to make quick breakfast burritos this week. They were delicious, but the tortillas fall apart and are way too flaky to eat in a car. Flour tortillas from now on.

Lunch – Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with a coworker. I did spend about $7, but this is my first lunch out all month, and the salad was really delicious. No regrets.

Dinner – Burritos, because there is never a bad day for a burrito.

Snack – chocolate peanut butter granola bar

The Weekend

This weekend is pretty exciting, we have a housewarming for a neighbor on Friday and will take a bottle of red wine over to say welcome to the ‘hood. They are about our age, so I’m hoping for a future friendship there. We got invited because I am the only one who has come to say hi since they moved in! It pays to be friendly.

Saturday is the NC Wine Festival in Raleigh! There will be 36 wineries, all from North Carolina, and all tasting is included. There will be food places too I believe, but you probably have to pay. We plan to have a big lunch, and hydrate well prior to going. The tickets were my 1-year ‘paper anniversary’ gift.  🙂

And then Sunday will be recovery and chores. Sleeping in, raking leaves, doing dishes and laundry. You know, all the fun adulting things you have to do. But probably a healthy dose of video games thrown in too.

Food Total: $63.85

This week I am quite pleased with groceries, especially since I was going for super healthy and lots of produce. Most people see winter as the time to gain a little “insulation”, but since we have plans for the holidays which may involve a swimsuit, I’m actually cracking down on my diet, meaning even more produce than normal, and hopefully lower volumes of carbs and dairy. We will see how the next few months go.

I did find some great deals, for example grass fed free range bison, which is absurdly expensive, was marked down nearly half off. It is still shockingly expensive to me, but we do love the flavor and so since I was far within my budget I picked it up to have as a treat at some point. Eggs were on super sale, at 79 cents per dozen, so that will likely be my go-to snack this month. And I found marked down crab meat for 0.99, so I’m going to try some new recipes.

Lessons Learned

This week really reinforced the benefits to eating leftovers. Every dollar spent on food is a sunk cost, so not eating leftovers and throwing away food is like throwing dollars in your trash can. I’m so glad hubs and I both don’t mind, and in some cases prefer, leftovers. I even plan many meals to make more than we can eat in one day, so that we have easily reheatable meals and snacks around.

I also am finding that I have way more food than I think we do! Just pulling most of our meals from the freezer this week, has helped tremendously in keeping overall cost down. And those stocked freezers come from picking up things on sale as I see them, then putting them away for future meals. The flexibility of being able to put together a meal from pieces picked up over time is a skill which can be developed by practicing over time. I’d highly encourage it!

 

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

Restaurant Review: Rock’n’Roll Sushi

Since it’s been a while since I’ve done a food review, I figured it was about time! I’ve been to several wonderful places now throughout the Triangle, including Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. Even a few far-flung places like Asheville and Sunset Beach. In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

 

Today’s review is for a new sushi restaurant in Durham: Rockin’Roll Sushi Express! Located in a shopping plaza at 3405 Hillsborough Rd, Suite E, Durham, NC 27705, they are convenient to downtown Durham as well as the rest of the triangle via highway 85 & 147.

Y’all know I love my sushi, whether homemade or with a burger inside, and was a regular at my old favorite sushi place in Connecticut. Hubs and I have been known to take down plates of nearly 100 nigiri before. So now that I’m a Carolina girl, I had to find an AYCE place to satisfy my insatiable sushi cravings, without breaking the bank.

For only $10.99 each, this place fits the bill!

Not only is it quite affordable, and all you can eat, it is also free entertainment! The restaurant operates with 2 large conveyor belts on each side of the room, which rotate around several tables and chairs. There are little doors in the glass that the customer opens to pull out the dish they want as it rolls by.

According to the adorably named Get-Offline.com, “The conveyor belt sushi (Kaiten-sushi) is a Japanese fast-food style sushi concept. Initially invented so that sushi chefs could quickly serve customers with fewer servers, the “Kaiten-sushi” has since taken off as a fun and fresh way to dine out.”

The conveyor belt rolls by at a pretty decent clip, not so fast that you can’t grab the things that catch your eye but fast enough that by the time you polish off your third roll the thing you wanted seconds of is coming back around.

They have a good assortment of your standard expected rolls like California, Philly, Tuna and Spicy Tuna. They also have some pretty creative specialty rolls, like the Crazy Monkey Roll with fried bananas, or my favorites, the Naughty Crab and Volcano Roll.

Seriously, the Volcano Roll is deep fried goodness. I’d recommend you eat your fill first, because this bad boy takes up a lot of stomach space. They also have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, including a cucumber roll, avocado roll, and seaweed salad roll.

Obviously, as an all you can eat place, you cannot expect the most amazing delicacies of all time. You get what you pay for, folks, and this is pretty typical American style sushi. Though I must say, the nigiri slices are generous for the fact that you can have as many as you can handle.

If you’re like me and enjoy a light bowl of miso soup before digging in or in between courses, you’re in luck! There is a miso soup dispenser. Yup, you just put your styrofoam bowl underneath and press the button, and a stream of piping hot miso comes pouring out.

The down side is you cannot choose your volume, every pour is the same amount. But they do offer traditional toppings of tofu pieces and chopped green onion. Not to mention literal gallons of soy sauce, yum yum sauce, and teriyaki sauce.

There is also a salad and toppings bar that is included. This has goodies like seafood salad (which is apparently some of the best my grandma has ever tasted, and she is a bit of a seafood salad connoisseur so that’s quite a compliment!) regular green salad, edamame, pickled ginger, and seaweed salad.

I personally had at least 2 big helpings of the seaweed salad. Something about that slimy stuff, I just can’t get enough of the salty umami flavor. There are few dessert options, but they do have oranges and a strange cheesecake like thing. It isn’t very powerful, but it is somehow perfect after a belly full of fish, rice, and soy sauce.

I see this as a personal challenge now, every time I go I need to have more plates! The rolls come with 4 or 6 pieces, and the nigiri come as a set of 2. The plate colors don’t matter, because it is all included in the admission price. This makes me more willing to try things I’ve not had before, and I appreciate not losing out because I like the typically pricier raw fish pieces the best.

There is some soft rock and pop mix playing as you eat, and generally all the diners keep to their own tables. The decor is really fun, with bright photos and definitions of common words like unagi and kani salad on the walls. The bathrooms were quite clean, as was the entire restaurant. There is a self-serve trash area to clear the plates and put them in bins for washing. And you can see the sushi chefs behind the bar at the back, making rolls as fast as you can eat them.

Overall, I’d rate Rock’nRolls:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 10

Weekly Eating – 10/16

 

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!

 

Hey y’all, for those who don’t know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (along with a whole host of other causes I’m sure). Though I agree with BitchesGetRiches on how empty the promises of “raising awareness” I do want y’all to be aware that:

  • It is estimated that in 2017, there will be at least 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women
  • 40,610 deaths will be caused by breast cancer
  • A self-exam is the best preventative thing you can do
  • Men can also get breast cancer
  • Mammograms aren’t always the best idea before 40
  • About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their life
  • Costs of cancer care can easily be in the hundreds of thousands, even with great insurance
  • Diet and exercise can lower your risk of developing cancer

(Sources: Susan G Komen.org, breastcancer.org, cancer.org, MayoClinic.org, The CDC, USNews.com, Washington Post)

Ways you can help:

Save the boobies!

Monday:

Breakfast – I had made another big batch of smoothie in jars for this week, so I had a strawberry banana smoothie. It was also nice and pink!

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad: I brought enough for 3 days lunches

Dinner – Ham & Bean soup. I had some veggie soup leftover, plus some of a pork loin from the weekend. To use them both up and make it into something new I just chopped the pork, added a can of white beans, and simmered it together for about 20 minutes. With the rest of the leftover rolls, it was delicious and perfect!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Smoothie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad

Dinner – White cheddar shells with pork. I just could not even, Tues was a stressful day. So I said F it, I’m making boxed mac n cheese. Hubs was sweet and took over, and decided to tear up the remaining piece of pork loin and add it to the mac n cheese.

It turned out really really good actually! Since the mac n cheese was a Friday Freebie at Kroger and the pork was leftovers, this was basically a free meal. Not bad for not wanting to cook.

Snack – 2 Cookies & Green tea

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smootie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon couscous salad

Dinner – Ribs with potato wedges & roasted cabbage. I had planned to make stuffed cabbage casserole, but the face hubs made when he saw that on the meal plan board was so sad… since I was grocery shopping today, I decided I’d pick up whatever was on sale and surprise him. And boy, when I saw organic grass-fed ribs on sale for $5, you better believe I snatched that right up!

Even better, when I got to the checkout, the sale price rang up wrong, about $2 more than it should have been. I politely pointed it out to the lady, who checked the sticker and saw I was right. Turns out, if something rings up incorrectly and you catch it, you get that item for free! So we had FREE ORGANIC RIBS! Best day ever.

Of course, having ribs meant having bones leftover. And I’m not one to waste an opportunity, so of course I tossed the bones into the small crock pot overnight with some spices and odd and ends, so now I also have a quart of organic beef broth!

Snack – a coworker brought in pumpkin oatmeal bars, so I had one of those with some green tea. Delightful. I’m trying to cut back from 2 cups of coffee a day to only one, plus it is finally getting chilly around here, hence all the green tea this week.

Thursday:

Breakfast – (free) Raspberry Noosa & my homemade tropical granola. Noosa was another Kroger Friday Freebie, and I already know I love this brand, so I was pretty excited about it. I used half the container and added about 1/2 cup of granola for a perfect and tasty breakfast.

Lunch – Peanut butter and banana sandwich, (free) peach cottage cheese, mason jar salad. The cottage cheese was another Kroger Friday freebie (I really love these things) and it sounded interesting. I love cottage cheese, and I love peach yogurt. but I gotta say, not a fan of them mixed together. I could only handle about half, and then I threw the rest in the trash. I know, I’m sorry!

Dinner – Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread, and zucchini. I had a half loaf of garlic bread in the freezer, so I pulled that out and roasted it on a pan with some meatballs and zucchini while we went for a nice walk. When we got back I just boiled up some pasta, added sauce, and pulled the pan out of the oven.

Snack – granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – mason jar smoothie

Lunch – Employee Appreciation Day picnic! We got free lunch of bbq pulled pork, baked beans, chicken tenders, pasta salad, and coleslaw. I haven’t had chicken tenders in ages, so that was delightful. There was live music and games and tons of free swag too! You know my favorite price is “free”.

They were pretty good gifts as well, multiple travel sized toiletries which will be perfect for upcoming trips, a full sized bottle of ibuprofen, a tshirt which will probably see many yoga workouts, a nice divided lunch box, and several nice pens. All in all a very good day, I felt quite appreciated.

Dinner – Stir Friday! I found 2 pork chops in the freezer, which I took out and thawed. I also got a marked down bag of chopped cauliflower rice for myself, and made regular brown rice in the rice cooker for hubs. With a cup of frozen mixed veggies, some garlic and soy sauce, it was a perfect simple meal.

The Weekend

This weekend I am super excited to have found a Triangle FIRE Meetup group! So I’ll be making some pasta salad to take to that, and hopefully learn a lot and make some new friends. We are also contemplating going to the NC State Fair, since Sunday is the last day to do so.

I need to make another batch of peanut butter granola bars since I’m running low, and maybe a few more mason jar salads for next week. If we find the energy, we might find a pumpkin patch or go apple picking. I also acquired a Singer sewing machine, which I need to look up the manual for and try to get it working.

Food Total: $55.13

I was very pleased with this week’s food shopping. I had an offer from Kroger where you get 200 bonus fuel points if you spend at least $50, but I didn’t want to go very far over that. Especially since last week I inventoried the freezers and have the rest of October already planned out. So hitting just over $50 was perfect, I got the bonus fuel points which will help keep gas costs down, but didn’t over-spend on my food budget.

Lessons Learned

It is SO GOOD to have a flexible meal plan, backup meals in the pantry, and knwo how to cook several simple meals. On days where work is stressful or you’re upset or whatever and you just cannot think about cooking something, having a pantry with options you can just make happen in 20 minutes or less is so critical. It saves us from the expense of ordering delivery or going out to get food, food that is probably not very healthy (because it would be either pizza or Firehouse brisket and cheddar subs, I guarantee).

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

My Favorite One Dollar Lunch

When I’m not meal prepping mason jar salads or bringing in leftovers, I am usually rotating through a small handful of standby recipes for lunch. These include things like my salmon salad, classic PB&J, chicken salad, and tuna salad.

On our journey to save more and spend less so we can trade our money now for time later in life, one of our top strategies is to reduce spending in all areas of life. This means buying less home than we could “afford”, driving older model cars with good mileage, avoiding unnecessary “beauty” products, and many other small savings strategies.

In America, according to CNBC, our average yearly spending on alcohol has slightly decreased from $575 in 2004 to $463 in 2014, likewise food spending has decreased from $7,245 in 2004 to $6,759 in 2014. This is due partly to rising costs of education, and people are spending more on housing and entertainment.

This is not necessarily a good thing. There are so many factors that go into food prices, including locality, seasonality, processing and packaging, distribution and supply chains, how far the food travels to you, the international prices of commodities, and more. Sometimes, cheap price = cheap ingredients, and your health will pay. Sometimes, you get a great deal at the farmers market because they don’t want to lug home a hundred baskets of potatoes.

One of the strategies we are adopting towards food (this blog is half about money and half about food after all) is the $1 per meal strategy. Essentially, if you use smart grocery purchasing strategies and employ a meal plan, eat your leftovers and rotate food to avoid spoilage, it is possible and even easy to average $1 per meal per person over the course of a week or month.

Check out these article for more inspiration on the $1 strategy.

Using the ‘$1 Per Meal’ Strategy to Save Big Time on Food Costs

How to Eat on Less Than $1.00/meal

Some days, the meals will be more like $5 each, and some days a meal might cost a few pennies. But if you focus on an in-season, whole food, mostly plant based diet, this is definitely doable. Dried beans are quite cheap per pound, as are most whole grains like brown rice, millet, oats, or quinoa. Making your own staples like biscuits, bread, and pizza dough costs maybe $1 compared to double, triple, or more at the store.

Shop the sales at your store, or visit farmers markets towards closing time to scoop up bargains. Grow your own food, or trade services with someone who does. Try the store brands rather than being brand loyal. Use coupons, but only on things you would buy normally. Give frozen fruits and vegetables a try, they are basically as nutritionally sound as fresh.

Your Wallet Will Thank You

If you can average your meals out to $1 per month, 3 meals per day, 30 days per week, that is an average monthly spending of just $90! Compare that to that average per adult spending of $563, and you are saving yourself almost $475 per month, or $5680 per year!

Your Health Will Thank You

Many studies show over and over again the health benefits to eating vegetarian or vegan meals. Even if it is only one day, or one meal per week. Cutting meat and/or dairy will take a huge chunk out of your grocery bill (though maybe that trend is reversing), and you can only benefit from eating more beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Another way to keep the price per meal down is to limit portions to reasonable sizes (which we are SO bad at estimating!) and eating properly sized portions of food has scores of health benefits too.

The Planet Will Thank You

Eating a plant-based diet is much easier on the planet, because it takes far less land and water to grow an acre of corn, soybeans, squash, or lettuce than it does to feed several dozen acres worth of produce to an animal which we will then eat. Animals are pretty inefficient at using plant calories to produce muscle.

And the protein levels in legumes versus meat is pretty comparable. A 3 oz serving of chicken has about 21 grams of protein, which is the same amount found in:

  • 1.5 cups chickpeas
  • 1 cup + 3 tbsp lentils
  • 1 1/3 cup black beans

At the American average of 185 pounds of meat per year, just having one meatless meal per week could cut meat consumption by about 26 pounds per person per year. Imagine all the land and water saved, and the greenhouse gas emissions no longer emitted.

The journal Frontiers in Nutrition did a study in 2015 which concluded that  a diet that is vegetarian five days a week and includes meat just two days a week would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and water and land use by about 45 percent.

Oh also, for those who believe Paleo is all about bacon, our ancestors were probably mostly vegetarian. Just sayin.

Get to the Recipe!

Okay okay, all this to say that I’ve been trying to find ways to reduce meal costs but also to center my diet around whole plant based foods. This is the dirt-cheapest but most delicious recipe I’ve found. Yes, it is “beans and rice”, yes you can roll your eyes and say “oh classic frugal foodie starving themselves”, but I dare you to try it. Just try it, once a week, and see how you feel. Change it up a little, add some bouillon to make the rice tasty, add some frozen veggies to mix it up, pour on some salsa or hot sauce. But give it a fair chance.

Black beans: $2.49/ 2 lb
I usually cook 1-2 cups of beans at a time, and they roughly double in size. One cup of dried beans is about 1/2 pound, so let’s say $1.25. Then that makes 2 cups of cooked beans, and one serving is about one cup. So each 1 cup cooked beans = $0.63

Brown Rice: $2.99 / 3 lb
I also cook 1-2 cups at a time in my rice cooker, and this definitely puffs up to 2-3 times the size. To keep it simple and over-estimate lets just say that one cup dry rice is about 1/2 pound, so $0.50. One cup dry = 2 cups cooked, one cup cooked is a serving = $0.25

Salsa: $1.87 / 16 oz
I only use one or two tablespoons, just enough for some extra flavor. Let’s just say 1 oz per serving, so $0.12

Sometimes I’ll also sprinkle some salt on top from a tiny jar I keep in my desk drawer. The tiny bottle was a gift, so I’ll consider that $0. For my work lunches, I typically bring in 2-4 days’ worth at a time, and take each day’s portion from a larger container I leave in the office refrigerator. The calculations for one serving comes out to exactly one dollar!

That’s it! You can of course get fancy from here, adding spices to the beans like bay leave, pepper, cumin or adding chopped veggies like onions and peppers, or sprinkling shredded cheddar or avocado on top. It’s up to you to decide what tastes you cannot live without, but I find that the simplicity is perfect.

You can get the costs even lower by purchasing the rice and beans in larger volumes, rather than a few pounds at a time, or buying only when they are on sale. The cost will of course go up per serving if you add in cheese, other spices, or vegetables.

If you are concerned about the ‘lack of veggies’, the best option would be to add a cup or so from your favorite frozen vegetable. For example, a peppers and onion mix, or “California blend” can add fiber and nutrients to about 4-5 servings and make it even more filling. You could also buy a large container of spinach or mixed lettuce and have a salad on the side or serve the rice and beans over the greens.

 

Tell me, what’s your favorite $1 or less meal? Have you tried “Meatless Mondays”, or are you full vegetarian? Share your successes and questions in the comments!

Weekly Eating – 10/10

 

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!

 

Ha, do y’all remember those commercials for 10-10-220? This week’s date made me think of it. Sheesh, I’m old…

Wow, there is so much going on in this with the grungy guy, the flirty lady, the cops and donuts routine… we won’t go there. Has anyone actually used this? Does it still work? No I kind of want to make a call to, say, Ecuador or Kazhakistan just to see.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – granola bar

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – Buffalo chicken grilled cheese & soup

I saw this recipe online somewhere last week, and knew I had to have it! We had plenty of shredded cooked chicken from a whole one I roasted in the crock pot. I added in some Ranch and Yum Yum Sauce too, because why not?

I had mine with some homemade chicken noodle soup, and the boy had some tomato soup with his. They were quite tasty!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs on toast

Lunch – Cabbage vegetable soup, actually very flavorful and like, 20 calories per bowl! I may have had a few…

Dinner – Burritoes. Because there is never a bad time for a burrito.

Snack – M&Ms, peach yogurt

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Chocolate peanut butter bar & yogurt

Lunch – Black beans & rice. I had made about a half pound of black beans from dried over the weekend, so combined with some leftover brown rice this is a super simple lunch I pack quite often.

Dinner – Lemon Honey Chicken Breasts in the slow cooker with steamed veggies & potatoes. I didn’t get a picture of this one, mostly because we were hungry and ate it too fast, but also it just wasn’t pretty. But it tasted good! Just 2 chicken breasts on low in the crock pot all day with a dash of lemon and a drizzle of honey.

Snack – raw veggies & blender hummus

Thursday:

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs on toast. For whatever reason, I’ve been in a scrambled eggs mood this week.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Lunch – Homemade chicken noodle soup <3

Dinner – Stir Fry! Stir Thursday… Stursday? I sorta cheated and used a pre-packaged mix for this. But ya know, sometimes you just don’t want to chop a bunch of veggies, and it would also be more expensive for me to buy a tiny quantity of snow peas, carrot, broccoli slaw, etc. So when I saw this on sale, of course I snagged it.

I had some shredded chicken still left from my whole chicken, and between  the veg and chicken it was the perfect amount of food for the two of us. I made a big batch of brown rice in the rice cooker, and kept the rest in the fridge for later meals.

Snack – Granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – scrambled egg wrap with salsa

Lunch – Rice & beans, mason jar salad

Dinner – Friday the 13th party! This is the only Friday the 13th all year, and it just so happens to be in October. So we decided to have a fall/Halloween dinner party for the occasion. It was a small affair, with good food, corn hole, good conversation and a lot of laughs.

I roasted 2 big pork loins, along with some potatoes with rosemary and acorn squash with nutmeg. Some homemade stuffing, homemade sauerkraut, and whole wheat dinner rolls rounded out the meal. It was quite tasty, if I do say so myself!

I also had made some rosemary lemonade (since I have a gigantic rosemary bush by the mailbox that needs harvesting), and a special spooky rum punch.

The Weekend

I decided to finally stop procrastinating and bake something to welcome a few new neighbors. In the past 2 months, 3 houses on our block had been sold, and I desperately wanted to welcome them to the ‘hood. So I took some applesauce I had made last weekend, and turned it into cinnamon apple muffins! Everyone knows the quickest way to befriend someone is to feed them. 🙂

Sunday was quite productive too, I did some recording (potentially some exciting announcements coming soon…) and along with the muffins made a huge batch of my #1 recipe: Buffalo chicken potato bake.

Also prepped several mason jar salads, and a pitcher of smoothie for quick breakfasts. Cleaned out the refrigerator of some very old stowaways (green tomato salsa… from Connecticut? Ew!) and took everything out of the freezer, reorganized it, and made the rest of the month’s meal plan based off of what we have. Phew!

Food Total: $166.04 (less booze = $67.35!)

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

Ouch… But we were having a fall/Halloween/Friday the 13th party, so I stocked up on several seasonal and variety packs of beer and some wine. I also picked up some dry ice, to make the punch extra bubbly and spooky. There was also a good price on honey, and since we want to dabble in making mead I grabbed some, so about $20 of that is honey. Without the party costs, food this week was actually way below budget!

There were some great sales on chicken breasts, so even though they weren’t on the meal plan I snagged a few. We can adapt the weekend or next week’s meals or freeze as needed. I also found a great discount on 70/30 ground beef, which we ALWAYS need, so I grabbed that too and froze it.

Lessons Learned

Honestly, in terms of what was on my grocery list this week, the cost was under $40! Not bad. But stocking up ahead of time when there are great sales is one of my favorite grocery tricks to keep overall spending and cost per meal low.

Another lesson here is that alcohol is not a frugal beverage! Of course, the best beverage choice is free: water. But we both enjoy a glass of red or a cold beer now and then, and especially in social situations. Sure, we could tell everyone to BYOB and maybe even get a few free leftover 6 packs, but I prefer to be generous when hosting. And hubs loves variety!

It did bring up the conversation of homebrewing again though. We might have to follow Mr. Picky Pincher’s lead on this one!

 

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

The Perfect Breakfast: Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal

 

As we all well know, the way to lose weight is to make the amount taken in (calories you eat) less than the amount taken out (exercise). In a similar way, the way to save money is to make the amount taken in (job, passive income, business) MORE than the amount taken out (expenses like house, utilities, clothes, car, and food).

While there are many ways to increase the amount of money you bring in, like negotiating you salary, job hopping for a higher salary, or creating a side business, there are also many ways to reduce the amount of money you spend. Like realizing you need less house than you thought, driving older used cars or forgoing cars entirely, cutting or negotiating your utility bills, or other weird things that work for your lifestyle.

A big expense that literally everyone has control over and could bring down is one which we also require to keep living: food.

Food is a broad category, which could include eating out, happy hours, lunch with coworkers, home cooked meals, potlucks, delivery and take out, or monthly cooking subscription boxes like Blue Apron, Plated, or Hello Fresh. Everyone has different ways of managing these expenses, from whipping out the credit card and never thinking about it, to detailed line items in a budget spreadsheet.

Now, as the Budget Epicurean, I obviously will never advocate for eating only cardboard-flavored clearance items for the rest of your life. I LOVE FOOD. This entire website is proof of that fact.

However.

We also don’t eat like kings every single day. In fact, we very rarely eat outside the house at all. Luckily, I naturally enjoy cooking, the hubs also likes (most of) what I cook, and we both love leftovers. So our food spending is pretty low compared to most people’s. But even we have some room to “cut the fat”.

One of the best ways to decrease overall spending is to find staple meals that both are cheap, and you actually enjoy. If the thought of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich makes you nauseated (or you’re allergic to peanuts…) then that is probably not a good choice for your frugal food budget arsenal. There are literally infinite articles in the world on frugal/cheap meal ideas. Google a bit, and note down a few that sound good. Then make them, and see how you like it.

This recipe has become my absolute favorite breakfast go-to meal: Cinnamon Sugar Raisin Oatmeal.

Oatmeal is very filling, due to its high level of soluble fiber. It is fantastic for your heart and digestion, and contains many minerals needed for overall health. It is a blank canvas on which you can paint a rainbow of textures and mix-ins. From seeds and nuts to dried and frozen fruits, white sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup, oatmeal variations are endless.

It is also dirt cheap.

Bought in bulk, online, or in canisters from the store, oats are one of the cheapest per-calorie whole grain options out there. If you can handle the flavor of plain cooked oats, man, your heart and wallet will thank you!

But I have to have at least a little flavor. My “fancy-pants” oatmeal involves raisins, cinnamon, salt and sugar and tastes divine. It also costs two quarters per serving!

Every day I choose to eat this rather than buy a breakfast sandwich, bagel, or any other kind of fast food alternative, I’m saving more quarters to add to my investment accounts or put towards big life goals.

Here’s how the costs break down:

  • Oats: 2.39 for 42 oz
    • Per serving: 8 oz = 0.45
  • Raisins: 1.49 for 16 oz
    • Per serving: 1 oz = 0.09
  • Cinnamon: $1 for 2.5 oz
    • Per serving: 0.25 oz = 0.10
  • White sugar: $1.89 for 4 pounds
    • Per serving: .5 oz = 0.01
  • Salt: 0.54 for 26 oz
    • Per serving: .25 oz = 0.005

Total per serving = $0.56

The easiest way to prep this is to make a big batch every other week in a mason jar. I fill it 3/4 of the way with oats, pour in some raisins, cinnamon, sugar and salt. I put the cap on, and shake-shake-shake!

Then I take it to work, stick it in my desk drawer, and it is waiting for me every morning. Sometimes I do make breakfast at home, like a smoothie or a granola bar or some microwave eggs benedict. But when I don’t have the time or energy, I know I will still have a nice warm bowl of oatmeal just the press of a “hot water” button away.

 

How about you guys, any good low-cost-per-serving recipes you want to share??

Weekly Eating – 10/2

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 – raisin oatmeal

Lunch – Faux pho! We had tons of leftover shrimp fettuccini with broccoli and carrots from last week, so I decided to remix the leftovers. I put about a cup of pasta in a mason jar with some of the veg and shrimp, and added a little bit of purple cabbage, a tbsp of white miso paste and tsp of chicken bouillon powder.

Don’t you just adore this little lunch box?! Get yours: http://amzn.to/2y7wXms

When it was lunch time, I just added hot water from our keurig machine at work, and shook it up. Side note, make very sure your lid is tightened prior to shaking! 😉 This was SO GOOD, and was a great way to make leftovers fresh. I could easily add other toppings too like fresh basil, chopped green onion, crushed peanuts, etc.

Dinner – leftovers! Shrimp fettuccini, just as is with some garlic powder. Fortunately I love this stuff, so I’m not tired of it yet. I also went grocery shopping and processed a huge volume of fresh veg into bags for the freezer, a GIANT pot of cabbage soup, and a jar of purple cabbage to become sauerkraut.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – coconut almond yogurt

Lunch – The other half of the hamandegger burger from Cowfish last week, plus a salad in a jar. This is my version of balance.

Dinner – Since it was National Taco Day, obvs we had tacos! I mixed some chicken breasts with cranberry juice and homemade Pepper Jelly in a crock pot, plus some rice, pinto beans, lettuce, hot sauce and plain Greek yogurt

Wednesday:

Breakfast – KIND bar

Lunch – free pizza at a work meeting!

Dinner – Ham & Scalloped Potatoes (but with a surprise layer of green cabbage! Because I have a lot, it is good for you, and I like it. Hubs was less than thrilled but ate it, bless his heart.)

Snack – fresh veg & blender hummus

Thursday:

Breakfast – made a new batch of the Chocolate Peanut Butter granola bars! These will be appearing a lot the next few weeks.

Lunch – Cabbage & Veggie Soup: chock full of all kinds of veggies, tomato juice, and nutrition

Dinner – I harvested the last of my basil plant to make a big batch of blender pesto. I served it over the last of the massive vat of Shrimp Fettuccini with Carrots & Broccoli to make it feel totally new. With a side of warm garlic bread, it really hit the spot!

Plus I had an extra cup of pesto leftover, which I popped in the freezer for later. At some point during the winter, I can pull it out for a nice warm taste of summer.

Friday:

Breakfast – homemade chocolate PB pretzel bar

Lunch – Mason jar salad

Dinner – I splurged a bit and met a friend for wine and apps after work. We went to a place called Town Hall Grill, and it was so cute! We just had a nice glass of wine to unwind from the week and catch up a bit, before she headed to dinner with her in-laws and I headed home to make a beef stir fry.

I used a bag of veggies I froze from Monday, a chunk of steak from an on-sale roast, and the remainder of the cooked pasta from last week’s Shrimp Fettuccini. Combined with some soy sauce, jalapeno hot sauce, and YumYum Sauce, it was by far the most delicious, frugal Stir Friday yet!

Snack – someone at work brought in M&Ms and peanut butter crackers. I gave in and had some, and it was actually a pretty great combo of sweet and salty

The Weekend

This weekend is the first weekend in like a month 1/2 that we aren’t going somewhere! We are excited to relax, but also have a lot of adulting to do, and some fun house projects we plan to start on. We want to build a nice trellis walkway in the backyard, and line the trail from fence to door to garden with gravel.

Also, we will be building a raised bed garden, for perhaps some fall planting and definitely prep for next spring. Cleaning out the gutters, if the ladder + hubs is tall enough. And if I get very motivated, I want to make several corn tacos with my Maseca, and make black bean breakfast tacos to freeze for the coming weeks.

 

Total: $58.78

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

This week I was quite proud of myself! I found several bags of clearance produce, where they sell for 0.99 regardless of what is in the bag. I got 3 bell peppers, 6 zucchini, and 4 yellow squash for $3. Between that and the dirt-cheap cabbage heads, we had TONS of fresh produce for barely $5.

I also finally got the motivation to make another batch of granola bars, which I desperately love the taste of. They are the perfect grab-and-go breakfasts, for when I don’t have time to make smoothies in a jar ahead, or a hot egg something. Plus a surplus of leftovers, all combined to make this a very frugal food week.

Lessons Learned

As much as I love going place and having people over, sometimes you need a no-plans weekend. Adulting is hard, and if you don’t stay on top of all the random chores and to-dos, then you will end up having to pay others to do your work and maintenance.

And as much as I’d love to have someone just show up and suddenly the laundry is done, the grass is cut, the landscaping is immaculate, and there are no dust bunnies to be found, I would much rather watch my savings account balance creep up, and dividends pile up in my investment accounts.

Disclaimer: Some links in some posts contain affiliate links. If you click and purchase something, at no extra cost to you this blog will get a small payment, to keep the lights on ’round here. Thanks!

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

My Commuting Mistake

Once upon a time, we lived in a cold, dark place called Connecticut, where in the winter even a $600 electric bill couldn’t save you from the cold. Then we wised up and decided to move south of the Mason-Dixon line.

When we moved, we estimated that anywhere within 20 miles of my future workplace would be okay. What we didn’t realize is that 20 miles does not necessarily translate into 20 minutes in morning city traffic… and that a long commute is one of the number one money wasters in our modern American life.

Therefore, when we found a great bargain on a house that fit all our specifications, we didn’t even think about it, we just jumped on a plane to sign the offer papers. And even though I am only 16.5 miles from door to door as the crow flies (or as the highway meanders, whatever), it takes 30 minutes on a GOOD DAY with no traffic to get from home to work and vice versa.

Heaven forbid there is a wreck or construction, or even “unusual traffic along your route”, then dinner won’t be until after dark. And I get hangry around 5:30pm.

When I first began working at my current location, there was a ‘park-and-ride’ option. I tried all the things, from 4 different lots in different places and 2 separate bus systems (Chapel Hill Transit and the Go Triangle transit). I tried each system for a week, to see which saved the most amount of time in driving to-and-from, as well as the on-the-bus portion.

Having 15-30 minutes on a bus is nice in a way. It gives you stress-free time to think about life, go over the day, plan ahead, craft blog posts, or read a book. It also introduced me to a few other fellow bus riders, at least two of which became friends. And it helps that some of these fellow riders are really good humans. It also helps that the bus options are far cheaper, from $0 for the Go Triangle pass to less than $100 for the Park and Ride.

However. I must admit to a shameful truth. I am a spendypants when it comes to commuting.

I know Mr. Money Mustache may revoke my frugal card and never return my phone calls (HAHAHA), but I then applied for a waitlist for an on-campus parking pass. And I got one.

GASP

Yes, I paid double the money yearly to try out a parking lot on campus. I tried two different lots, 2 blocks apart. Now I walk the minimum distance from my car to my building per day, and have 3 different escape routes from campus at 5pm. A quick check of Google maps tells me which way to turn to avoid the most traffic. And now I get home in about 30 minutes, reliably, every day.

Time is money?

I’m not sure, I haven’t run the exact numbers. But I guess what I’ve learned is that, for me and at this point in life, I am comfortable sacrificing a small amount of money per year, plus a not-negligible amount of money in repair/maintenance/gas costs in order to have the convenience and time returned to me in the form of driving.

What brought me to this conclusion? What might tip the balance back to the bus system?

Flexibility in when I leave

Right now, our hours are ‘set’ at 8:30 – 5pm. But that isn’t how real life works most days. Sometimes I have to be in office earlier, sometimes stay later. Projects happen.

But we are limited to a strict 40 hours per week, so once you hit that, you’re done for the week, get out. So being able to leave earlier on a day of my choosing to make it all add up is really great. If my schedule became rock-solid for some reason, I’d probably consider other options, like carpooling.

I am the primary dinner-maker

See above? I’m the primary dinner-maker, and grocery-shopper, and errand-runner. My wonderful, generous, hilarious hubs is basically a hermit (has he left the house since August? Not sure…), whereas I love being out and about in the world. So if we need milk, a package dropped off, dry cleaning to do, or a vet to visit, I am pretty much the one to do it.

And having more time in the evenings is key to adulting. If another commute option arose which gave me MORE time, or proved more convenient (like being next to a place I shop) I’d consider it.

Gas prices are reasonable right now

Even with Harvey and Maria and whoever comes next, gas prices this year have been mostly below $2.50 per gallon. That means that I fill my tank for about $20, and pretty much only once every other week. See below as well. If this changes and gas prices rose, I would definitely consider other ways of getting where I need to go.

A paid-off, older model vehicle with great gas mileage

Both our cars are reliable Hondas, 2005 and 2006, with less than 120,000 miles. They are both fully paid off, and have newish tires (within the past 3 years). Though mine has been giving us some issues lately, overall these should have another several years worth of driving left in them.

Our insurance is super cheap, maintenance is negligible, gas mileage is stellar, and Honda engines run like a dream. When one or both someday bite the dust, or if Tesla magically creates a 10K car, we are definitely going to be in the car market, and I would re-evaluate.

We bought a house, and the mortgage is great

The house we bought fits our needs right now and for the foreseeable future. A similarly sized house closer to work would easily cost twice to four times as much. We do have alerts set for a specific mile radius and price range, but barring a huge housing market downturn I highly doubt the ‘hot spots’ of the Triangle will become MORE affordable in the future. However, if the perfect diamond in the rough house comes on the market, you better believe we will be all over that. And turn ours into a rental. Bonus.

 

What do you think? Is the trade-off of driving worth it? How far do you commute? Should I hang up my PF Blogger Pants and never write again, you terrible non-bike-riding human?

Weekly Eating – 9/25

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!

 

I spent part of the weekend making ahead breakfasts and lunches by making a pitcher full of smoothie and putting it in mason jars, as well as mason jar salads. That way all I had to do was grab a jar from the fridge every day and lunch was ready to go! It is a great way to save money and time (buy in bulk, make 5 days lunch at once) and to get my daily greens & veggies.

My aunt and grandmother were also in town all weekend and through Wednesday, so we got to hang out a lot. We went to an Oktoberfest in downtown Durham, played games at the Atomic Fern, sampled all the things at the 10th Annual Pepper Festival, and explored Lafayette Village in Raleigh. It’s always fun spending time with family, but even moreso when ALL your family lives 1000 miles away, and you only get to see them a few times a year. 🙂

Side note, holy what it’s October?! Ok, Bye 2017…

Monday:

Breakfast – Toast with peanut butter. Not gonna lie, a cold smoothie just didn’t sound good, and whole grain toast with peanut butter is one of my top easy go-to breakfasts.

Lunch – Mason jar salad. Super delicious, healthy, and surprisingly filling. The trick is to put the ‘heartier’ things on the bottom, like cut carrots, broccoli, and olives, and then things like peppers/ cheese/ beets/ red cabbage and delicate greens on top. Come lunch time, just dump it all into a bowl!

Dinner – We were supposed to go to Myrtle Beach today, but my grandmother wasn’t feeling up to the long drive. So instead we took dinner to them! Hubs made some chicken thighs while I was driving home, then I fried up some chopped cauliflower and baked some biscuits. Paired with a simple salad, it was a perfect, relaxed dinner.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – oatmeal from my desk oatmeal jar, another easy breakfast go-to that’s healthy and frugal

Lunch –  I took a half day in lieu of Monday, and we went to CowFish in Raleigh! They were both amazed at the wacky decor, and the crazy fusion menu. This time I got The Big Squeal. With a bison patty, BBQ pulled pork, fried onion rings, bacon slaw, and chipotle aioli, this massive beast was a big, delicious mess!

The burger was basically bigger than my head, and those sweet potato fries are SO GOOD. My aunt got the Hamandegger, which features a burger layered with a fried egg, cheese, and sliced ham. It looked quite delicious, and there wasn’t much talking once the burgers showed up, so I’m thinking it was good! And Gram got the plain baby burger with Swiss & tomato. We had to pay extra for the cheese, by which she was outraged. It was kinda funny.

Dinner – We had a good time shopping all afternoon in Raleigh, and were too tuckered out to deal with going out again. Plus cooking at home is fun for me, and way cheaper! We stopped at a Kroger to get all the ingredients for our family’s famous Fettuccini with shrimp, broccoli & carrots.

Snack – Oh, and while we were out we found a place called Duck Donuts… and holy crap are they good! It might be worth driving the 30 minutes to get these made-fresh-when-you-order, totally customizable doughnuts! The maple bacon was AHmaZING.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie in a jar

Lunch – salad in a jar

Dinner – This was their last night in town, so we went big for seafood at Full Moon Oyster Bar. This was a fun spot, with open seating, you just walk up to the bar and pick a spot. They have dedicated “shuckers” to get your fresh oysters to you and take your order. We had a bunch of apps and dishes, plus Wednesday is half off wine bottles! The seafood pasta was oh so tasty.

Snack – peanut butter cookie

Thursday:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal at my desk

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – I had a great time making pepperoni rolls 3 ways! As rolls, as biscuits, and as sandwiches. I got most of the ingredients on sale, which made total ingredients cost about $8 for 2 rolls, 16 biscuits, and 10 sandwiches. With even more pepperoni leftover to freeze.

I made 4 big batches, so that we can take some extra with us this weekend, and freeze a few for later too. They make great snacks, and keep hubs full when its time for “second dinner”.

Snack – 2 tbsp Ranch & raw veggies

Friday:

Breakfast – Mango Peach Smoothie. We finished all the pre-made smoothie jars, so I just whipped this up in the morning with canned peaches and frozen mango and split it with hubs. It was quite delish!

Lunch – Mason jar salad. I was very pleased with how well these held up all week long. I was a little concerned that the salad greens would get wet and mushy, but they were still crisp by Friday after making the jars on Sunday. This is a weekly trend I plan to continue. The Green Goddess was probably my favorite dressing this week too.

Dinner – Leftovers buffet! We are headed out of town this weekend, so we need to finish up anything that won’t last until Monday.

The Weekend

This weekend we are heading to a friends’ cabin in the mountains! It will be a mix of people we know and people we don’t, with a dozen of us and five dogs in the mix. There will be mostly hiking and game playing, we are taking turns making meals by couple, and there will likely be no or spotty cell phone reception. All in all it should be a super fun, disconnect-from-the-world, very frugal weekend of making new friends and getting closer with friends we already have! I’m very much looking forward to it.

Total: $97

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

We spent a little more than usual this week due to family being in town and eating out more than normal, plus extra groceries to cook for 4 a few times. Totally worth it though, to spend time with family! Plus they paid for eating out far more often than we did, so it was an overall win for sure!

Lessons Learned

Make-ahead smoothies and salads are AMAZING! This is a super quick prep that saves me SO MUCH TIME in the mornings. I get together the jars and ingredients, toss them in layers, using about 15 minutes. Then all I do is grab a to-go jar in the morning and toss it in my work bag. Maybe I can actually get around to doing yoga in the mornings now with all this free time?!? (HaHa)

Also, eating out a lot makes me feel like blah… I don’t regret it, the time spent with family is totally worth it. But after so many years of cooking for myself at home, I can really feel the difference. First of all, the portions are insanely huge compared to what I eat at home, which is sort of a perk because I almost always have leftovers. But then that messes up the meal plan a little bit, by having ‘extra’ meals around.

And then the restaurant food is saltier, fattier, and generally lacking in vegetables compared to what I would cook. This makes me not feel my best for days afterwards. Good thing weeks like that are only occasional treats. It blows my mind that SO MANY Americans live like that, on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it.

 

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