Recap: Best of the Budget Epicurean in 2017

 

Since July of 2011 with my very first post, many things have changed. The blog got a new site and hosting, as well as a new name to reflect changes in my life and the direction of my writing. It has evolved from “College Approved Food” with a focus on extreme cheapness and college-budget-and-skill-level recipes, to the Budget Epicurean, which is more expansive, and still combines my main passions of money and food.

While I do create and share many cheap recipes such as my Favorite One Dollar Lunch, Best Black Bean Soup, and The Perfect Breakfast that costs basically fifty cents per serving, I also love to get creative with recipes for Chia Seed Pudding, Tropical Granola, and reviews of fun food places like Cowfish and RocknRolls Sushi.

I also decided to put more emphasis on the “Budget” in Budget Epicurean and began sharing more financially related articles like How to Save on Grocery Bills, Meal Planning, My Frugal Beauty Manifesto, and Why a $1000 Raise Didn’t Change My Life.

This is also the blog’s 600th published post!

At an average of 1200 words per post, and 600 posts, that means I have written 720,000 words on this site y’all!

It also happens to be the last day of 2017. It is the perfect time to look back over the past 12 months and assess what has gone right and what we could do better. I always like to see where this blog has been, and how it has changed over the course of the year.

Top Dozen Posts of All Time

If we go by numbers alone, throughout the year, the top 12 posts skew towards older posts, since they have been published longer. The top 12 posts in the almost-7 year history of this blog are:

12. Frugal Last Minute Gift Ideas
11. Homemade Energy Drink Mix 
10. Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
9. Twice the Wine for Half the Calories!
8. Ginger Peach Slow Cooker Chicken
7. Slow Cooker Red Pozole With Pork
6. Breastfeeding: All About It
5. What Are Vitamins?
4. Grapefruitcello
3. Meal Planning: What it is, why you should, and how to do it
2. Salsa Chicken Soup

And the #1 most viewed post: One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake

It consistently comes out as the top viewed post almost every day! And why not? It definitely hits all the marks of a classic hallmark recipe of the Budget Epicurean:

  • Cheap total cost & cost per serving
  • Can be made with what you probably already have at home
  • Very filling and delicious
  • Stores well for later eating
  • Easy to multiply up or down to feed one or twelve
  • Customizable to suit all palates/picky eaters
  • One pan, for minimal prep and cleanup

This coming year, I will be trying to focus more on these super simple yet delicious recipes. For y’all of course, but also for selfish reasons! I also hate dishes and love simplicity. So I will be focusing on freezer meals, slow cooker meals, meal planning and meal prep, and one pan meals as much as possible.

Top Dozen Posts of 2017

However, I like to break it down into the current year alone, and rate the top posts month by month. This gives me an idea of what readers are responding to now, and what type of content I should focus on and continue writing about. In that case, we have:

  1. January: Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole
  2. February: Make Ahead Egg Muffins
  3. March: How to Cook Dried Beans in a Slow Cooker
  4. April: Nuts & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt KIND Bar
  5. May: Turkey & Cheese Rollups
  6. June: Venison Pot Pie
  7. July: Venison Penne Alfredo
  8. August: Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow
  9. September: Salmon & Couscous Salad
  10. October: My Commuting Mistake
  11. November: A Tie! Between Holiday Weight Loss Plan and Why A $1000 Raise Didn’t Change My Life
  12. December: 12 Days of FI Christmas*
    *more about that in a second!

Clearly, I need to get ahold of more venison and create more venison recipes! People seem to really like those, and I get a lot of search traffic from Google. I love “atypical” foods, including meats we don’t all get to try. See my recipes for brined Pheasant and Elk Burgers.

2017 was also a record-breaking year for page views and number of comments. This humble blog has skyrocketed from about 200 average page views per day to nearly 750 views every day! I’ve been choosing to engage more on social media (find me on Twitter and let’s be friends!) and in the blogosphere in general. I’ve found a literal bottomless well of writers and bloggers to read, follow, interact with, and learn from.

I am so thankful, as these bloggers words have challenged and changed many of my perspectives, motivated me, taught me so much, and helped me make positive changes in my life. Reading blogs and interacting through comments and social media have brought me several new blogger friends & relationships that I cherish.

If you need some new folks to read, follow, and inspire you, check out my What I Love page.

2017’s Biggest Blog Accomplishments

And the 2017 coup de triumph? The 12 Days of FI Christmas of course! Thanks so much to I Dream of FIRE for thinking up this awesome music video project and making it all come together. We had such a huge, positive response from the FI community.

It was an absolute dream for me to be part of a thing that was featured on RockstarFinance! Nice things were said about it by the outstanding Physician on FIRE, J. Money, RootofGood, and many others featured. If you haven’t seen it yet, please enjoy below!

This video and the corresponding avalanche of response brought the blog its new peak views, and broke 1,000 unique organic pageviews in one day!! I can’t tell you how exciting that is. All these great FI Bloggers who think being in our video means they “made it”, when really I feel like I’ve made it! Just goes to show you the power of a community, creativity, and positivity.

Also, notice that roller-coaster looking graph? The bottom line is individual unique visitors, whereas the top line is pageviews. That means the big spikes are people who visit, and then click around to many different posts in one visit. So that big spike on Sunday 12/17 had 1064 unique visitors, and 1967 page views. Thus, each person who came to the site, on average clicked on one other article.

Whomever is coming to this blog and then staying a while, reading through all of the post archives, Thank You and I Love You!! <3

I’ve also begun branching out into the world of Virtual Reality. The Budget Epicurean has brought you videos of Homemade Kombucha, Freezer Meal Planning, Turkey Mushroom & Spinach Lasagna, how to make Stovetop Popcorn and more. Well, we stepped up our game this year with the Virtual Reality video of Cracker Cookies!

There are a few virtual reality cooking games and simulators, and I’m sure that there will be “famous” chefs flooding the VR spaces soon. Currently, there are no Virtual Reality cooking shows. The Budget Epicurean hopes to change that, for the better.

However, we want to bring you real content, to show that you don’t need to be a highly trained five star chef to feed yourself and your family. Literally anyone can learn how to cook healthy, whole food meals at home. We want to invite you into my kitchen to see in real time, step by step, how to make the delightful, frugal, yet tasty recipes you’ve come to know and love here.

So What’s Next?

I don’t really do “resolutions”, because generally speaking, big amorphous goals with no way to measure, track, or keep yourself accountable do not work. However, I do believe in setting goals for myself and my lil’ corner of the internet.

Looking ahead, some of my goals for 2018 include:

  • Continue posting 2x/week, and no less than 1x/week
  • Read a minimum of 1 book per month and 3 blogs/day
  • Grow my subscribers list to double the current number
  • Write and send quarterly newsletters to my subscribers with custom content found only in these emails
  • Record, edit, and publish 3 new VR cooking videos
  • Write, edit, and hopefully publish my biggest project yet!
  • Release the next few meal plan bundles to Amazon
  • Create meaningful side income to support this blogs’ growth and future projects

Hopefully more to come on all of these things in the next few months. Feel free to engage online, through email, or leave a comment any time! I love nothing more than hearing from and interacting with readers like you.

 

What are your best moments or memories of 2017? What are you looking forward to or aiming to accomplish in 2018?

Best Black Bean Soup

My whole life up to this point, I have thought “Bean soup? Why would anyone just eat pureed beans?” I’ve read dozens of black bean soup recipes and thought either that it sounded way too simple, so how could it possibly be tasty, or that it was too complex because “toast your cumin seeds lightly  until fragrant and then grind in a spice grinder”; ain’t nobody got time for that.

But then one day, I had a big batch of fresh slow cooker black beans and several jars of slow cooker chicken stock in the refrigerator at the same time. And I thought to myself, self, broth based soups are very good for you and low in calories, and so are black beans.

Why not give it a try?

Lo and behold, with some very simple staple spices, I put together a black bean soup that was out-of-this-world tasty. You can probably pull this together in minutes at any time with what you already have in your home. It would also be very easy to adapt to a slow cooker, just add everything and cook on low for a few hours. Additionally, it would freeze beautifully to be enjoyed at a later date.

I wolfed down half a batch, felt guilty, checked the calorie count, and felt guilty no more, because the whole thing will cost you less than 1000 calories total. And it’s super filling because of all the fiber from the black beans, so you can easily get 3-4 bowls from this recipe.

I used chicken stock that I made in the slow cooker from a whole chicken carcass. I recommend using homemade because you can control the amount of sodium, or add extra flavors you like such as bay leaves, lemon juice, or jalapenos to the broth while it cooks. If you want to keep it vegetarian, just make vegetable broth by putting a bunch of veggies in a slow cooker with some water for hours, and then strain it.

I also usually add a can of stewed whole tomatoes to my broth, and I loved that one tomato got added into this broth. I think it adds a nice layer of flavor, but your black bean soup won’t suffer without it. Feel free to leave that part out, or add more based on your taste buds.

This recipe makes a little more than a liter of soup, enough for 3-4 good sized bowls with some chunky bread and/or a salad on the side, or two really hearty meals. It takes approximately 10 minutes total, which does not include cooking time for the beans themselves or the chicken stock if you make that as well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cooked black beans^
  • 2 cups chicken stock*
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 whole tomato, quartered
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Step 1: If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don’t rinse. Add the vegetable or chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.

Step 2: Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized.

And that’s all there is to it! Since I regularly cook up large batches of dried beans on the weekend, I think this will become a standby recipe in my repertoire. It is super healthy, low calorie, very filling and crazy cheap.

Price Breakdown

Black beans: $8.84 for 12 lbs
2 cups dried = ~.66lb = 4 cups cooked
$8.82/lb /12 lb * 0.66 lb = $0.48

Chicken stock: I consider it free because most people throw away the carcass after eating the meat. But if we consider the cost of the whole chicken just to make stock: $3.61 + maybe $2 of other ingredients (1 jalapeno, 1 can tomatoes, 1 onion, spices) = $5.61
This makes approximately 1 gallon stock, 1 cup = $5.61/16 = $0.35

Onion: $5.98 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $5.98/96 = $0.06

Garlic powder: $8.94 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $8.94/96 = $0.09

Whole chicken 5.47 lb 3.61
12lb Black beans 8.84
Minced onion 5.98
Garlic powder 8.94

 

Total: 0.48 + 0.35 + 0.06 + 0.09 = $0.98! Total!

Therefore, even if you only get 2 bowls, that’s $0.49 per serving. Not too shabby at all.

^You can use 2 cans of black beans, drained but not rinsed, if you don’t want to make them from dried.

*You can also used canned or boxes of chicken stock if you don’t want to make your own, or use vegetable stock, to keep it vegetarian/vegan.

 

Best Black Bean Soup

Yield: 4

Best Black Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 whole roma tomato, quartered
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don't rinse. Add the chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.
  2. Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized. 
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/best-black-bean-soup/

 

Adulting is Hard; I’m Ready

 

So a while ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to host a wine tasting. I know, sounds totally grown up right?

I’m lucky enough that my mom knows a lady she went to nursing school with ‘back in the day’, who now lives near the beach and owns a wine store. This lady also has a daughter near the same age as I, (we used to hang out together, ‘mom friend’ free babysitting ftw) who happens to now live & work in the same area of the Triangle! Life’s full of crazy coincidences, am I right?

They offered to bring the wine, while I invite friends and supply the house & food. Hopefully said friends then buy their wine, and it’s a win win for everyone!

During this wine tasting, we were chatting with some people there. And during the conversation they kindly complimented our (modest) home, at which point my friend said something to the effect of:
Oh yeah, they are like real adults, they have their shit together!

Hubs and I looked at each other and laughed.

Later that week though, we had a long discussion about it. We both felt that the statement was inaccurate, since we didn’t feel like adults. We both found it amusing that others saw us and thought we had it all figured out.

Though, when we thought about it, we do a lot of “adult” things now. Like having a bedtime before 10pm, staying in a lot more often, enjoying red wines like Merlot & Syrah instead of Moscato and Ice Wine, and contributing to our work 401K plans and our own other investment accounts.

Maybe we are, like, real adults now? 

And from there came some more lightbulb moments.

It’s all about perspective

What is success to one person may be utter failure to another. For example, we met because we were both admitted to a PhD program in Human Medical Genetics & Genomics. Sounds impressive right? Well, turns out we both left that PhD program within 3 years. Not quite as impressive huh?

But it was the right choice for us, and we don’t regret it one bit, because it brought us together, along with many other friends and experiences we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

We also struggle with comparing ourselves to others we read about. When you dive deep into FIRE bloggers, it becomes a balancing act that is easy to lose between admiring those who became millionaires by 30, and becoming utterly despondent when you realize that it will not happen for you due to the choices you’ve made.

While there will always be people who seem to have it “more together”, there will also always be people who are way more of a train wreck. The best person to judge your life by, is past you

You are your worst critic

We all have things we wish we could change. We wish we had picked a different school, had chosen different roommates, tried a different career path, lived closer to work, didn’t move to that city, asked that guy out on the train, had kids earlier, or later, or not at all.

Life is too short to allow yourself to get caught up in the whirlwind that is comparison and negative thoughts.

Whenever I find myself getting depressed that my retirement account balance hadn’t hit 6 figures by the time I graduated college (hahaha, or even existed…), I remind myself to be thankful that I now have a job that gives me regular raises, a 401K, and matching.

If I catch myself thinking about where I could be salary wise if only I’d gotten a job right out of college rather than pursuing another 6 years of post-graduate education, I look back over my multiple career hops that catapulted me from $14/hr into a comfortable  salary range in 3 years.

The best person to measure yourself against, is yourself. Click To Tweet

Think back on your life from last month, last year, 5 years ago, or 20 years ago. And think of all the things you have accomplished, and hopefully changed for the better. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. 

No one really has it ‘figured out’. No one.

If you have an honest conversation with your parents, grandparents, parents of your friends, mentors or older coworkers, they may admit to feeling all these things too at some point in their lives. Maybe they even still feel that way today, in denial about how old their own “babies” are, or the fact that they are old enough for retirement.

Most people seem to have an age between 16 and 40 where they mentally stop aging. No matter what they look like physically, in their mind they always feel that young. Growing pains and a fear and dislike of “becoming an adult” are not new to our generation.

However we do have many significant differences in our world today vs. our parents’ or grandparents’ generations.

It’s true that millennials today are taking longer to achieve the milestones that we associate with adulthood. We are waiting longer to get married, if we even getting married at all. We are waiting longer to have children, if we even have children at all. We are more dependent on our parents, less likely to be financially independent, and seem to have “lost the map” on the road to growing up.

The mistake here is confusing “growing up” with “giving up” or “settling”, thinking an adult is someone who is resigned to living a dull, complacent life, going through the archetypical boring steps of a mundane repetitive job, accepting conventional thoughts, and never growing or changing.

But in fact, growing up is more of an awakening. It is realizing that you need to know important life skills to survive on your own in this world like all the DIY knowledge Handy Millennial shares. Growing up is paying your own bills with your own money, making that money work for you, making your own doctors appointments and taking control of your health, especially if you have a close call like Mrs. PP.

When you talk about growing up in this sense, no one is ever really “grown up”—it’s a constant balancing act, a perpetual state of learning and changing and growing. Adulting is hard. But no matter what age you are, you are never to old to learn, explore, and change your mind. Growing up is about the journey, not the destination. 

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses

Becoming, and the endless process of being, an adult, sometimes seems like a long endless list of chores.

Take out trash, do the dishes, do the laundry, put it away, go get groceries, cook dinner, do more dishes, meal plan, budget, pay the rent, remember birthdays, send a card, fix the wobbly table, get an oil change, remember wiper fluid, fill the tank, make a doctors appointment, check portfolio balances, price-compare day cares, take fluffy to the vet, fill prescriptions, cut the lawn…

Anyone else feel their blood pressure rising with every word?

It is better to not focus on all the things you “can” and “should” and “will” do as an adult, and work smarter not harder. Sometimes, it is okay to trade your money for your time. Pursuing FIRE is about trading money now for time later. But there are times in life, when in the interest of maintaining sanity and quality of life, you should trade your money now for your time now.

Sometimes, money actually can buy happiness.

Maybe you are in a critical and stressful point of your career, or just became new parents, have an aging parent to care for, or have a physical reason you cannot do tasks you were once able to do. If you cannot handle your own lawn maintenance, laundry, housework, oil changes, or taxes, it is okay to recognize and admit that.

You also need to recognize that you cannot be good at every thing. And that is okay. In fact, that is preferable!

Imagine if everyone on the planet only wanted to farm all day. We would have mountains of grain, corn, and vegetables, all the fresh dairy and meat and eggs we could eat. But then, how would we get new clothes, shoes, or sheets, who would be sorting and delivering the mail, running businesses, or governing? No one can do every thing, but everyone can do something.

The point is, try different things until you find those things that you excel at, and preferably also enjoy doing. That is where you will find your happy place. And if you can also find a way to get paid for those things? You have totally nailed adulting.

This also directly relates to dating, relationships, and marriage.

There will be some things that you are really good at; maybe you love doing dishes or balancing the household budget. Look for a partner who compliments you, and fills in the gaps in your skills. Recognize what you bring to the table, and appreciate what they are good at as well, to keep a balanced and healthy relationship. Team work makes the dream work.

Life is a series of choices

You can choose to stay up all night playing games. But you know that you will be tired the next day. You can choose to spend every penny of your paycheck. But know that you are tightening those golden handcuffs. You can choose to continue expensive hobbies, nights out on the town, and big yearly vacations. The trade-off is your money, time, and freedom.

You can also choose to eat right and exercise, starting now. Know that you are elongating your lifetime and improving your experience of it. You can choose to make a budget and meal plan and learn to cook at home. The trade off is less time for other pursuits, but a higher quality of food for yourself, and a valuable life skill.

Choose fun. Choose gratitude. Choose grace. Choose friendships. Choose self love. Choose to stay young at heart.

Choose to listen to and ACT on this advice on how to become financially secure by 30 from the wise women at Bitches Get Riches. Don’t make my mistakes and delay getting a “real job” (aka “real money”) and especially don’t delay investing! Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, any dollars is more than zero dollars.

Make the better choices, and reap the rewards of a long and happy life full of financial security and freedom. Make the wrong choices, and you may be staring at a retirement far, far away, that will be anything but financially secure.

Lessons Learned

With mere days remaining until I ring in my 30th year on this planet, this may be the first birthday since turning 19 that I’ve “felt” older. I have achieved almost all of the ephemeral “goals” society holds up as evidence of adulthood, like a career, a stable income, solid savings, marriage, and a home that we own.

But truly, I feel like I’ve grown as a person, and come to terms with many physical and financial truths this past year. I’ve finally taken control of my investing, and begun executing a plan for my path to Financial Independence. No more funneling a percent of my check away every month, never to be thought of again. (Don’t get me wrong though, I still have SO MUCH to learn.)

I’ve recognized the effects of age in a physical sense through the slowing of my metabolism, the agony of maybe actually needing to use under-eye concealer someday soon, and the vengeance of a hangover these days. I’ve gotten over my initial denial and temper tantrums, and created an actual plan to lose weight and feel healthier, and put it into place. And guess what? It’s working!

I choose to have a positive perspective, to keep making the right choices for my mind, body, and financial future. One day at a time, one dollar at a time, one grueling ten minute workout at a time, one home cooked whole foods meal at a time. I am building the best and strongest future that I can, each and every day. Adulting is hard, but I’m ready for it.

I can’t wait to see what awesomeness awaits in my 30s & in 2018!

 

How about y’all, any words of wisdom from those who are good at adulting? Or those who have no idea what they’re doing! All are welcome here.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

 

O – H !

Anyone?

(The correct response is, I – O!)

If you’ve never had a Buckeye candy, boy are you missing out! They are balls of sugar and peanut butter dipped in chocolate, and so rich and creamy it is positively mind blowing. We have started calling them sugar-sugar-peanut butter-butters, because that is an accurate reflection of the ingredients list.

They are named after the state tree of Ohio, the Buckeye tree. A buckeye nut is dark brown with a lighter brown circle, and is a part of the chestnut family. The buckeye nut itself is not edible, but this candy after which it is named most certainly is edible! It is darn near irresistible, in fact.

The Ohio Buckeye nut, photo from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_glabra

I made a big batch of these for a cookie swap with some friends, and they were a total hit! Only one person had had them before, so it was extra fun to watch my friends experience these for the first time. They were described as “peanut butter fudgy wrapped in chocolate” and “like a ball of Reese’s” and “mmmmmmmmmm…”

They are very quick and easy to make, with just a handful of ingredients. And they are no-bake! That’s right, no oven required. All you need is a refrigerator or freezer to get the peanut butter balls to harden before dipping, and a microwave to melt the chocolate. Honestly, the inside peanut butter ball is so tasty and fudge-like, you could probably get away with no coating it and just calling it fudge!

This recipe makes approximately 5 dozen Buckeyes, depending on how large or small you roll them. You will also need at least one toothpick, for dipping the peanut butter balls.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 1 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla flavoring

Coating:

  • 1/2 cup chocolate melting chip, baking chocolate, or chocolate chips
  • 1 – 2 tbsp coconut oil or Crisco

Step 1: In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter and peanut butter well. Blend until it becomes soft and thick.

Step 2: Add the vanilla, and then slowly add the powdered sugar. Be careful not to just dump it all in, or the powdered sugar will explode everywhere! Not that I know from experience or anything…

Step 3: Once it is all mixed and has become a soft but firm dough, scoop out by teaspoon-fulls and roll into balls. Put the peanut butter balls on a wax-paper or foil-lined pan, and refrigerate or freeze for an hour or more. You want the balls to be hardened and cold, so that the liquid chocolate solidifies faster once they are dipped.

Step 4: In a microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate and the oil. Microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until it is melted. Take your peanut butter balls, and stick a toothpick in one side. Dip the ball into the chocolate and swirl it around a little, leaving only a small section of light brown at the top. Let the melted chocolate drip off, and then place back on your tray.

Put them back in the refrigerator or freezer to let the chocolate harden. They will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, and they can freeze well for up to 3 months. They are super rich and addictive, and so easy to make! In about an hour, you can create several dozen of these treats to share, sell, or keep all to yourself. Enjoy!

 

Have you ever had or heard of a buckeye? Do you have any family recipes that you make every year?

The 12 Days of FI Christmas!

For a little holiday fun, I Dream of FIRE, My Sons Father, and yours truly, the Budget Epicurean, have put together a fun-filled Financial Independence related take on the 12 Days of Christmas! if you’d like to know the full story of how this creative genius came about, the post is right here on I Dream of Fire’s site.

Featuring financial lyrics and several of the top FI bloggers of all time, we hope you enjoy our music video:

Full lyrics

On the first day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
A paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the second day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the third day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the fourth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
A 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the fifth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the sixth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the seventh day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the eighth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the ninth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the tenth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
10 rental houses, 9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the eleventh day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
11-year-old cars, 10 rental houses, 9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the twelfth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
12 months of YNAB, 11-year-old cars, 10 rental houses, 9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

Featuring (lego) appearances by:

Just click the links to go to their blogs, and find out more! Thanks for watching and reading, have a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Think this is awesome? Tell all your friends! And share it on Twitter:

Check out the 12 Days of FI Christmas music video! https://youtu.be/9rOS6ZENyX4 via @I_dream_of_FIRE, @My_Sons_Father, & @budgetepicurean Click To Tweet

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

 

There are certain things about your childhood that you will never forget, and experiencing or thinking of these things just takes you back. Maybe you had a particular place you always vacationed (oh hey, Conneaut Lake Park), or a song that every time you hear it you are transported to a certain place and time, or a specific smell or meal that always reminds you of happiness.

For me, it is cracker cookies.

They are called many things, from wafer cookies to sandwich cookies, but I have always known them as Cracker Cookies. Cracker cookies have always been my favorite Christmas cookie. Those light, buttery, sugar bombs were so dang addictive, I couldn’t trust myself around them.

We used to spend hours in the kitchen together, my mom and I, and usually my sister or grandmother. Mom would be rolling the dough, lovingly trying to get it to just the right thickness to be crispy and wafer thin but not crack in half under minimal pressure. I’d have a bowl full of sugar and a fork, and mom would toss the little rounds of dough at me as they came off the shot glass.

I’d wriggle the dough around until nicely covered in grains of sugar, and line them up in neat rows on the baking pan. Then I’d stab-stab-stab-stab, exactly 4 times, to make holes with the fork. I never did know why… maybe to bake evenly, maybe it just made them look pretty, maybe mom just needed to keep me busy until the first batch was done and could come out of the oven.

Regardless, we would then have dozens of little dough circles, piled on the cooling racks and waiting to be filled with yet more butter and sugar, to create a cavity causing sandwich of happiness.

The dough recipe is the original recipe my family has been using for decades, whereas I tried a new filling recipe this year. You can find infinite icing recipes online using regular sugar, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and all sorts of what-have-you. The beauty is that you can change your filling at any time, you could even go super crazy and try something fruit-focused like jam.

Another fun fact of these is that they are not just Christmas cookies.

Oh no. These little minxes can be changed up with the drop of a dye, to become wedding colors, or graduation centered, or a pastel array for a baby shower. The dough can be dyed as well as the frosting, for infinite variations. If you are super ballsy, you could even dip the finished sandwiches in chocolate! Whoa, nelly, make sure you have an appointment with your dentist lined up soon 😉

Recipe makes approximately 36 cookies, or 18 sandwiches. Can easily be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled for your cookie swap. If you’d rather watch me make these in Virtual Reality, simply Click Here or scroll to the bottom of the post!

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rolling pin
  • Baking sheets
  • Stand or hand mixer

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I’ve found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!

 

Filling ingredients:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  3. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  4. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.

 

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Yield: 18

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Instructions

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I've found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!
  11. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  12. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  13. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  14. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/comfort-food/cracker-cookies/

 

 

It’s the world’s first Virtual Reality Cooking Show!

Want to watch me make these cookies start to finish, real time, in Virtual Reality?! You know you do. While watching, simply click and drag the screen to get a full 180 degree experience. Or if you have a VR head set, you can watch it in VR and feel like you’re right there in my kitchen with me.

Let me know what you think, and we may bring you more delicious content soon.

 

 

This post contains some affiliate links to Amazon products. They are the exact products I have and use, and if you purchase through these links this site receives a small commission. Thanks for stopping by!

Ultimate Epicurean Gift Guide

Obligatory Disclaimer: This blog is part of the Amazon Affiliate program. If you click on some links and purchase products, this blog receives a small payment at no extra charge to you. This is in part how we keep the good stuff coming, so thank you!

 

When you need to get a gift for someone, but you don’t really know what to buy, you inevitably turn to the internet to help with your search. Whether you are counting down the days until Christmas and frantically trolling through Amazon or ThisIsWhyImBroke, or you have a birthday, wedding, a baby shower, anniversary, or a house warming coming up, everyone has got to eat & drink.

Anyone who is a frequent home cook, aspires to be a more frequent home cook, or is just a lover of food is bound to find most of these things useful. All of the items on this list are things which I personally have and use, or would be thrilled to receive as a gift! I’ve researched the best brands and deals, so you don’t have to.

Obviously, if you already have an Amazon Prime membership, the free 2-day shipping is an added bonus. If you want to try a FREE 30-day trial, sign up here! But even without it, you have enough time until Christmas if you order now.

Price Range: $5 – $20

Rbnexia Metal Long Chopsticks Set of 10: $5.99

If your giftee likes to make their own sushi, or often enjoys eating sushi or other Asian-inspired meals, consider this lovely set of chopsticks. Stainless steel metal chopsticks are reusable, and dishwasher safe. Think of all the bamboo saved by using these year after year rather than the disposable packs from Sushi Palace.

Tea Spot Steep & Go in Green Tea: $8.95

This is the Steep & Go adaptable tea strainer I reviewed a few years back, and it is still going strong. With adaptable rings to fit to almost any bottle size, this little guy makes having your tea anytime, anywhere a breeze. No hot water required. By the way, there were only 19 left as of writing this, so get to it! If Amazon happens to be out, you can check the Tea Spot’s website for other cool steepware options, as well as all kinds of teas to go along with your gift.

Amazon Basics Silicone Baking Mat Set of 2: $9.62

Silicone baking mats are a gift from above to regular bakers. For holiday cookie making, easy cleanup after roasting, to fruit leathers and protecting your counters from dough and mess, silicone mats can do just about anything parchment paper or aluminum foil can do, but they are freezer, oven, and dishwasher safe and reusable up to 1000 times!

Bamboo Cutting Boards Set of 3 Sizes: $12.99

A key aspect of healthy cooking is lots of fresh produce, and possibly protein from meats. But it is important to keep those items separate while prepping. With this set of 3 different size cutting boards, it is no problem to know where to cut the peppers and where to cut the chicken. Bamboo is also a highly eco-friendly material, as bamboo is fast-growing and easy to cultivate, while the handles allow for ease of grabbing them out of cupboards.

Desert Creek Cinnamon Creamed Honey: $14.57

If you haven’t tried creamed honey, you haven’t lived! It is honey, but creamy. I don’t know how to describe it, just trust me, it is delicious. Try it on fresh hot toast, in your tea, or on top of desserts.

Stainless Steel Chilling Stones: $14.99

These reusable chilling stones are like ice cubes that won’t water down your drinks. Keep them in the freezer, and you will be ready any time for ice cold whiskey, wine, orange juice, tea, or water, but without the extra water. Well, maybe you don’t need these in your water but… you do you.

Glass Caffeine Mug with Silly Scale on Back: $15.00

Coffee is what makes the world go ’round and powers the adult world. If your giftee is a java-lover, and/or a science nerd, they are bound to giggle at this chemically accurate mug with accompanying accurate silly scale on the opposite side. Watch them go from Zombie to Genius as they sip their morning cup-a-joe.

Justin’s Nut Butter Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups: $15.02

Justin’s Nut Butters does some great work, and makes some amazingly delicious products. Especially their Almond Butter. This is the cleanest substitute for a Reese’s addict like myself. Chocolate and Peanut Butter are just meant for each other. I’ve got one waiting for me after my holiday diet wraps up in January!

Cuisinart Set of Three Strainers: $15.47

I received this exact set of strainers as a wedding gift, and had no idea at the time how critical they would become in my kitchen! The large strainer is perfect for making my homemade chicken stock, to get out all the little bits of carrot and herbs and leave a clear stock for making minestrone, ham and white bean soup, and chicken tortilla soup. The smaller one is perfect for straining kombucha, to make sure no chunks of SCOBY get into the finished product, or to make loose leaf tea drinkable (since I lost my mana-tea).

EcoDefy Automatic Soap Dispenser: $15.95

We all know that moment when your hands are covered in bread dough, icing, or raw chicken, and you need to wash your hands. But how do you get soap and turn on the water without contaminating your whole sink?! Automatic soap dispensers were one of the best investments we made when we first moved into our house. We ended up buying one at first for our kitchen, and loved it so much there is now one in every bathroom as well. You will also need 4 AAA batteries per dispenser, and maybe some soap to go with it. I like the Softsoap moisturizing Milk & Golden Honey.

Multiuse Silicone Dishwasher Safe Spoon Rest: $15.99

If you’re like me, you usually have at least two if not five different utensils sitting in or around your spoon rest at one time. You may need a spatula, whisk, spaghetti spoon and soup ladle all in one day. The spoon rest gets crowded, the utensils awkwardly fall off the side, and your counter is covered in sauce. No more! This silicone, dishwasher safe set of 2 rests has you covered from any angle.

Or, for the more whimsical among us, this adorable “I licked the spoon” kitty cat spoon rest: $13.18

 

Hammond Candies Holiday Classics Hard Candies: $17.00

The Hammond’s Candies factory in Denver, Colorado has been in operation since 1920 making holiday classics like candy canes, peppermint sticks, and ribbon candies. Transport yourself back in time with this Holiday Classics assortment of hard candies in an adorable holiday tin.

Ovente Black 1.5L Glass Electric Tea Kettle: $18.99

When you want to heat up more water than would fit in one cup in the microwave, but don’t want to wait until a pot on the stove boils, an electric kettle is the perfect answer. I find that the 1.5 L size is about right for 3 cups of hot tea, and it stays hot enough throughout all three cups. This one has a handy LED light that turns blue when it’s boiling, and a stay-cool pouring handle.

Haitian Organic Superfood Dark Chocolate 5 Pack: $19.90

These beautiful 70% dark chocolate bars are nonGMO, vegan, gluten-free, soy free, filled with superfoods, made in Haiti, and Fair trade certified. That’s a big mouthful to say; delicious!

Mr. Kitchen Glass & Steel 8 Cup French Press: $19.95

I have this exact 32 oz size, and it makes more than enough for 2 large steaming cups of coffee, or a double batch of hot loose leaf green tea. Perfect for when you don’t want to make two trips, or have more than one person to serve. The double filter keeps grounds and leaves out of your cup, and makes the perfect, smooth cup of coffee without the bitter aftertaste. Use together with the electric kettle above for the perfect hot beverage.

Glass Locking Oven Safe Meal Prep Containers:$19.99

Definitely one of the most-used gifts I’ve ever received, these glass containers make meal planning and food storage a dream. The lids lock in place, meaning they are completely spill proof. Never again will you have to clean out spilled chili from your lunch box, or wipe fruit juice off your refrigerator shelf. They are also completely oven, freezer, dishwasher, and microwave safe, meaning you can transport your food straight from cooked to frozen and back to the microwave for lunch without a second thought.

Amish Country Hull-less Popping Corn 4 Pack: $20.88

Popcorn is an awesome frugal snack, and can be made easily on the stove top with oil, using an air popper, or by putting 1/4 cup kernels and 1 tbsp oil in a paper bag and microwaving it. This set of 4 types is hulless, meaning less “digging in your teeth and gums for days after eating it”, and more enjoying.

Price Range: $21 – $35

Reversible Memory Foam Anti-Fatigue Chef’s Mat: $22.99

Our kitchen has a memory foam mat which was purchased on a whim when we first moved in. It has turned out to be one of my favorite kitchen accessories, as it really keeps your feet and back from getting sore after hours of slaving over the stove  😉

Kusmi Teas – One Moment Assortment of 5 Flavors: $26.50

This is a brand I found on our honeymoon in France, and fell in love with. When I came back to the states, I immediately put it on my Christmas wish list. My current favorite is their “Spicy Chocolate” black tea from their “Afternoon Teas” set.

18-Piece Canning Starter Set: $26.99

Dang, for less than $30 you can get your friend or family member started on a lifelong skill that can save thousands of dollars over the years. All you need is a large pot to boil the jars, and you are on your way to making home-canned peachescanning your own beans, and preserving garden fresh salsa and pasta sauce. This set comes with 4 quarts and 4 pints with lids, a funnel, and a recipe book. May I also suggest these Tattler reusable canning rings & lids for extra savings?

Hamilton Beach 7 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker: $29.96

I actually did a double take when I looked this one up. Slow cookers are so affordable, it is silly to not have one! All you need to do is make 2 home-cooked meals rather than go out to a restaurant and it’s paid for itself. You can of course get a low-maintenance basic one, and those run even less. I recommend the larger one if you’re cooking for two or more, or do big batches to freeze. Slow cookers can save you money in so many ways:

  • Make big batches of cheap staples like rice or beans
  • Save money by making crazy-cheap soups and stews
  • Cheap cuts of meat become fork tender with long-time cooking
  • Home cooking is easier & faster with minimal prep
  • Avoids the temptation to just order take-out or pizza
  • Cook ahead and freeze extra for instant meals later
Simply Gourmet Stainless Steel Measuring Cups & Spoons: $29.99

These spoons are extra-long, which is handy if you need to get the last tablespoon of baking soda out of the box. The cups and spoons have a hole in the handle, which means you can easily add an O-ring to connect them all together, and avoid digging through your drawer looking for the size you need.

Hottest Hot Sauce Gift Set 4 Pack: $29.99

I had to throw this one in there since I’m a Carolina girl now, and have recently acquired some Carolina Reaper peppers. This is legit the hottest pepper in the world, and the Scorpion, Ghost Pepper, and Habanero are nothing to laugh at either. Use with caution!

Cuisinart Immersion Blender: $31.95

Anyone who makes smoothies, milkshakes, pesto, hummus, soups, beverages, and/or sauces could use an immersion blender! I’ve used this guy in my own kitchen to create the perfect smoothness in my tomato basil soup, vegan dark chocolate peppermint hot cocoa, black bean soupgreen tea matcha latte, and to mix up my breakfast coffee protein shakes (sans banana). It is WAY easier to clean than a full blender when you have a small job to do.

Spices of the World Gift Set: $34.95

This is the Budget Epicurean, and what could be more epicurious than trying a new spice blend from an exotic cuisine? This World Spice set of 16 different mixes contains the flavors of Ethiopia, India, Africa, South America, and more. With everything from Za’atar and Tikka Masala to Chinese Five Spice and Harissa, these spices will entertain in the kitchen for months to come.

Price Range: $36 & Up

Cuisinart Electric Wine Bottle Opener with Vacuum Sealer: $37.22

This electric opener and sealer makes a nice glass of red easy breezy. With the touch of a button, pop that cork and get your relaxation on. Then don’t worry about having to finish the whole bottle, because it also has a vacuum sealer to keep unused wine fresh for days.

Home Brew Ohio 1 Gallon Wine Making Kit: $38.42

This is the kit that got us started on our home-brewing adventures! We have made 2 gallons of grape wine so far, and are working on our first gallon of mead now. This kit has everything you need to get started except the juice. Buy it as frozen concentrate or as 100% juice in any flavor you want to try. The carboy, airlock, bucket, and tubing can be reused over and over. If they like wine making, it will only cost a few dollars in upkeep to replace the other ingredients, and keep the homemade wine flowing.

NeoMega Avocado Oil Super Pack 4 Flavors: $39.99

We all know that avocados are the darlings of the millennial food scene, but there are many scientifically proven benefits to avocado oil, like reducing cholesterol, it contains leutein (important for eye health) and oleic acid, a healthy fat, and it may help gum disease and promote wound healing.

Neomega Nutritionals was started in 2016 by local Durham NC mom of three. After leaving the world of clinical research, she decided to pursue her passion for clean eating and healthy pantry options. With flavors like Ginger Turmeric Orange, Chili Pepper, Roasted Garlic, Rosemary, and Basil, this oil is perfect for all your soup-finishing, fish or chicken-drizzling, salad-dressing needs.

Sunbeam Stand Mixer With Dough Hooks & Beaters: $59.99

A stand mixer is SO GREAT if you make any amount of dough based items. I use my stand for my homemade pretzels, pizza dough, and plain and ciabatta bread. It’s also awesome for holiday cookies. This is basically a newer version of the old one my grandmother gifted to me about 7 years ago, and mine is still goin’ strong. No need to spend hundreds on a fancy gadget with a dozen attachments when a whisk and a dough hook does the trick for just about anything.

Ninja Professional Blender 1000: $75.99

If you have a gift exchange with a $100 limit, or a recipient you really like, consider giving them the gift of fresh smoothies, soups, and milk shakes on demand. This is the exact blender I asked for about 2 years ago, and it is still going strong. After endless peanut butter banana smoothies, blender pesto, blender hummus, smoothies, and more, the Ninja keeps performing day after day. With 1000 watts of power, it crushes ice like a champ and blends to perfection, and the best part is that it is all dishwasher safe!

Authentic Italian White Truffles 1 oz: $270

If you want to prove your love to someone, or show off your ridiculous wealth, consider supporting the Italian economy while making someone’s pasta taste weird and earthy. Just kidding, if you are this wealthy, please email me immediately so we can be friends*.

 

 

There you have it, my epicurious friends, a personally curated list of the Budget Epicurean top gift picks. Hopefully someone on your list will love these things, and you will make someone else’s table a little brighter this holiday season.

Xoxo,
BE

 

*Meant in the spirit of jest and sarcasm. Obviously, this is also a perfectly legitimate gift option if this is your price range. However, you are likely on the wrong blog…

My Top 10 Money Saving Strategies

If you read enough personal finance and frugality articles, you will see a definite theme. Spend Less. Save More. (Next level? Pay off debt, start investing).

There are thousands of ways to save tiny amounts of money by shopping less and shopping strategically, making and doing things yourself, and getting creative. You can also really slash your money needs if you focus on reigning in your biggest expenses: housing, transportation, and food.

I can’t really talk about saving money on housing (can I say how good it feels to finally own a house and NOT be paying someone else’s mortgage?), but I can tell you about my transportation tips, and as the Budget Epicurean I hope I know a thing or two about saving money on food! Food spending is in fact one of the lowest hanging fruits when first looking to trim the budget, as I will show you below.

Over the past decade or so, I have read and learned a LOT, and built upon my semi-frugal upbringing. We had leftover nights and no exotic weeks long overseas vacations, but we also ate out on occasion and never had to scrimp for new school clothes. I’ve tried out several hundreds of frugal strategies and tips, and kept the ones that work for me. You should do exactly the same!

All advice does not work for all people. Some people have a one-person household in a small apartment to care for, while others may have multiple children and pets, a blended or extended family, or you may be elderly and living alone without a next generation to be concerned about. Take this advice with a grain of salt, and look at it through the lens of your own situation. I hope you find it helpful!

And now, on to my top ten money-saving tips:

1. Meal Planning

In my 2014 article about meal planning, I explained how simple it can truly be to plan your meals, and not much has changed over the years. Sure, now I write mine out on a fancy whiteboard, but that’s just because I got tired of wasting so much paper!

Creating a meal plan each week (or each month, if you’re really ambitious!) is a top ten frugal strategy because it keeps your grocery bill low in many ways.

You can plan meals around what is on sale this week, lowering your total at the cash register. You can take stock of your pantry and freezer, using up food items you’ve already paid for. And you can plan for batch cooking and using leftovers, keeping you from throwing hard-earned money right into the trash because you forgot to eat it before it spoiled.

Start slowly. Maybe just write a list of things you know how to cook or enjoy cooking, and make one of those meals this week, plus a little extra, and freeze it. Then write in that leftover meal for one night next week.

Try to creatively use ingredients in multiple meals in one week, like my multiple uses for a pork roast, or a cook a whole chicken and use the meat all week. Plain cooked grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, barley) or cooked beans can be mixed and matched endlessly, and they also freeze well for later.

A word of caution: don’t try to become someone you’re not.

Make sure to add in meals you know you and your family will like, and write in “dinner out” or “order pizza” or “leftover buffet” occasionally to keep your plan in line with your lifestyle. If you eat a “flexitarian” diet now with occasional meat, you may have a riot on your hands if you try to plan vegetarian only meals for a month. Similarly if no one likes soup and you make ten gallons, the odds of food waste are high, and that’s what we are trying to avoid!

2. Cooking at Home

To go along with tip #1 to plan your meals, also try to cook at home as much as possible. When you order food outside the house or go to a restaurant, you are paying for the food in addition to the time for someone else to make it, package it, and clean up after it. You are paying for the convenience. You may also be paying taxes and tip on top of all that.

When you make your food at home, you pay for the food.

Cooking is a skill, and it is one that must be learned and practiced over time. If you have never so much as scrambled an egg, don’t panic. Just start small, have fun with it, and accept that every meal doesn’t have to be a four-course five-star success.

Breakfast is a simple meal to start cooking at home. Try make-ahead egg muffins, breakfast burritos, orange-cranberry muffins, or make your own granola or granola bars. Then work your way up to making lunches like tuna salad, grilled cheese, salmon-couscous salad, or a big batch of chili or minestrone soup.

Pack your own snacks, like hard boiled eggs, peanut butter and apples, turkey cheese roll-ups, or trail mix. Before you know it, you won’t even have to think about it, and will be cooking up whole food healthy meals for pennies on the dollar.

This goes for drinks too!

Soda, teas, fruit juice, energy drinks, and sports drinks are not only sugar and calorie bombs, but come at a premium price outside the house. If you must have your Gatorade or Diet Coke, at least save yourself several hundred dollars over the years by buying a 12-pack at the store and bringing it from home rather than paying $2 per day at a vending machine.

3. Eating Leftovers

When I got to college, and even more so when I moved off campus to an apartment, one of the biggest surprises for me wasn’t how much laundry I can produce in one month, how little sleep I can function with, or even how often people fall asleep in lecture halls.

It was how many people hate leftovers.

I met so many people who wouldn’t even take leftovers home from a restaurant meal, or would put boxes in the fridge to be ignored and then eventually thrown out weeks later.

You are literally throwing your money in the trash! I wanted to yell.

When you buy a meal out and eat half of it, then bring the other half home, that is like $5 of the $10 total sitting in your refrigerator. If you eat that meal, you’ve now had two $5 meals. If you throw it away, you have had one $10 meal, wasted perfectly edible food, and contributed to our growing food shortage crisis and landfills.

Why??

I grew up with the concept of a leftover buffet almost every week. On a busy weeknight, mom would just pull out all the containers in the refrigerator, spread them out on the kitchen table, and we got to pick and choose and put together a meal. Sure, maybe it was meatloaf and stir-fried rice and a bowl of wedding soup, but it was an already-made meal that we were not going to waste.

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

In my series “weekly eating” I try to showcase how I use leftovers creatively to become new meals, and even plan for it on purpose. This enables me to buy in bulk and on sale, to use freezer meal cooking, and to make “free meals” where I use scraps that could be tossed and instead turn them into soup or casserole or stir fry.

All these tactics together can save you thousands of dollars!

So suck it up, buttercup, and have the other half of that chicken pesto panini or leftover Pad Thai for lunch today. Is it as good as it was fresh? Probably not. Is it cheap and a hell of a lot better than ramen or cereal? Probably yes. You may find it tastes even better after sitting overnight.

4. Buy & Try Generics

So you’re at the store, auto-piloting through your grocery list, with some other household items in mind as well. You cruise up and down the aisles, grabbing your Tostitos chips and Pace salsa, Oreos as a treat, a refill on Bounce dryer sheets, and some Dawn. A case of Diet Coke and a box of Frosted Flakes get thrown in the cart too.

If you grew up eating, drinking, or using a certain brand, you may have an emotional attachment to it. You truly believe that brand of product is the best one at what it does. Or you’ve seen enough commercials for it you can quote them word for word. Or there is one type of snack that you just have to have in the house at all times.

What you don’t realize is how those nickles, dimes, and dollars are bleeding your bank account dry year after year.

The difference between a name-brand product and a similar (or nearly exact) generic or “store brand” item may be just a few cents, or it may be $5. The point is, it all adds up over time. For example, if you just tried one new item in the generic form rather than the name brand each week, you could save yourself maybe $4 per month.

The items that you find taste or work the exact same way as the brand you like? Keep using them! Automatic savings. The ones where there is a noticeable difference in taste or outcome? Switch back! It really is that simple.

In my house, we will only use Dawn dish soap for greasy pots and pans, because I really think it works better, faster, and more completely than other store brand soaps I’ve tried. I save the dollar store soap for washing the car or the floor.

But when it comes to paper towels, I have yet to find a $3 per roll brand that can’t do the same job as a $0.50 roll of “Thrifty”, or whatever is on sale. I also can’t tell the difference between $1/jar Kroger brand pasta sauce and $3/jar Bertolli. The line of where it becomes worth it is different for everyone, but you owe it to yourself and your bank account to find that line.

5. In-sourcing

As a semi-famous mustachioed genius once said, “Muscle over Motor” is a great way to save money.

By that I mean, do physical chores with the type of tools your grandparents would have used rather than buying a gas- or electric-powered version to do it faster (and more expensively). Use a rake to rake leaves rather than a leaf blower. Shovel show with an actual shovel. Mop the floors with a mop, or even better, a washcloth and a bucket of hot soapy water.

Household tasks like lawn care, landscaping, gardening, pet maintenance, personal grooming, cooking, and cleaning, are all things that we have varying degrees of love, hate, or tolerance for. And we could easily fork over a few hours’ of our labor in the form of cash to outsource these tasks to someone else.

Or, you could learn and practice useful life skills, and keep your money for yourself!

For example, we bought a $20 electric razor kit, and now my husband never has to go pay for a haircut the rest of his life. I trim my own hair between (every other year) cuts too. We mow our own lawn, rake our never-ending leaves, clean our gutters, snake our own drains, fill the cars’ wiper fluid and check oil levels, change our own wiper blades, trim our own trees, bathe and anti-tick and clip the dogs’ nails and fur, and more.

These small tasks may be annoying, or tedious, or an interruption to an otherwise Netflix-and-video-games filled weekend. They may also be a little scary because you’ve never done it before. That’s what YouTube, or your dad or neighbor are for.

The time spent insourcing our own tasks is time well spent because we did not have to pay someone with time spent at our day jobs to get it done. Many small, regular preventive maintenance tasks also keep your home/appliances/car/self running better longer, keeping you from having to pay for a more  expensive repair or replacement later down the road.

6. Frugal Hobbies

We all have the same number of hours and minutes in each day. And we all get to choose how we spend those hours and minutes.

A few of these hours have required items, they are spoken for. We must eat, and we must sleep. That is basically it. We do need to house and clothe ourselves, we almost all have relationships we participate in, and we must find ways to pay for our necessary expenses (if you don’t already have passive income taking care of that for you). How we do these things is up to us.  We also get large sections of “Free Time” which is not yet spoken for.

Even if you have an expensive commute, eat all organic and expensive foods, have a large family, and wear the nicest name-brand work clothes, you can still cut corners in your personal time.

There are many “toys”, sources of entertainment, hobbies, and past times that are just huge money-sucks.

For example: boats, jet skis, skiing, golfing, shopping, having to play the newest video games, frequent movie-going, concerts, or nightly partying at the bars downtown. It is so easy to blow $50 on one night of drinking and dancing, or $500 on a weekend at the lake, or $5000 on a ski trip to Breckenridge twice per season.

I definitely think it is important to be social, to find like-minded friends and nurture those relationships. But you don’t have to blow your whole paycheck every weekend to do so!

By cultivating frugal hobbies, you can entertain yourself and possibly others, while doing small or no damage to your bank account and future financial goals. There are plenty of hobbies which may even further enrich you!

Some ideas might include: bird watching, baking, board games or card games, reading books, drawing, knitting, dog walking, nature hikes, blogging, cycling, or geocaching.

These types of hobbies and entertainment can provide the same kinds of enjoyment and escape from the mundane and from work or home life, but without causing you to have to work more to support paying for them.

Use your ‘free time’ to free yourself from having to trade your time for dollars.

7. Ignoring “the Joneses”

As you cultivate these new frugal hobbies and pastimes, and begin cooking at home more and cutting your own lawn, you may feel some judgment from those around you. Your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even your family may discourage your new habits.

Ignore them.

How you live your life only impacts you and your immediate family. If your neighbor buys  a new Bentley, you don’t feel the weight of that car loan, he does. And if your aunt tells stories about her latest and greatest European vacation, you can enjoy the photos but not the credit card bill that comes due every month.

In the same way, if you are making good choices like cooking at home twice a week and taking your lunch to work, your coworkers might miss you at Chilis but you won’t miss that missing $50 every week. Instead you can transfer it into your savings account, pay down your student loans or mortgage faster, or buy some stocks.

And the best part is, as you are ignoring those who choose to be spendier than you, you will also be putting yourself in good places and a good mindset to start meeting people with similar goals and lifestyles. Maybe your neighbor asks to borrow your ladder rather than buy one too, or your coworker starts chatting with you about that delicious looking chicken salad sandwich you brought, and you discover a mutual love of Go Fish. You never know.

8. Driving an Older, Paid-off Vehicle

I wish I could also say that I save money by having a small commute or being able to walk or bike, but I did make a bit of a commuting mistake, as I wrote about here. If you are able to telecommute (work from home), or live close enough to your place of business to walk and/or bike or take public transit, I highly recommend that.

However, if as I do, you have a long commute every day, you can still make frugal choices to slash the amount of stress that commute puts on your yearly and life-long cash-flow.

In 2017, we have set a new record: the average new car loan has topped $30,000 for the first time ever. A record 17 million Americans have a car loan, and we are taking out bigger and bigger amounts to be paid back over longer and longer periods of time.

Average loan: $30,032
Average monthly payment: $503
Average payback length: 68 months

That is FIVE AND 2/3 YEARS. To pay off a car, that you will be tired of after three, and continue driving for what, maybe 8?

Rather than take on that crazy payment for a depreciating item, why not save up over time. Keep your crap car, or walk, and pay yourself what you would have taken out for a car loan, by putting it aside in a savings account. Then, after 2 or 3 or 5 years, you have a few grand saved up and can buy an older used car outright!

Of course, this in itself is a balancing act.

All cars, no matter how well built or maintained, do have a finite lifespan. Unless you have access to new parts and a ton of machine know-how, there comes a time when maintaining an older vehicle is more costly than replacing it.

If your beater car is worth $500, starts making weird noises and/or shaking weirdly and you find out there is a minimum $3000 you have to put in to get it running again, I’d say cut your losses and start looking for your next ride.

9. Recycling, Creative Re-Purposing, & DIY

My grandma used to have a phrase that I assume was learned from living through the Great Depression:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”*

I LOVE that saying. Because it strikes at the heart of much of what frugality is. (It does kind of tap dance on the line between frugal and cheap, but that’s a whole other discussion). One of the greatest destroyers of wealth is shopping, plain and simple.

We live in such a throw-away culture, where devices are purposefully built to last only a few years or less, people are wasting up to 40% of all the food that enters the house (see the leftovers rant above), and if something gets a scratch or even slightly malfunctions we simply chuck it in the bin and buy a new one to have delivered in two days.

Wasting and re-buying these things, or even buying in the first place, is also chucking your hard-earned cash money in the trash bin.

Why not try to imagine a creative way to turn something you no longer like/use/works into something else? Maybe someone else  has a vase you can borrow (or keep) rather than buy a new one with each bouquet, you can turn wooden pallets into all kinds of creative decor and projects, a broken picture frame plus wire can become an earring holder, a burnt out lightbulb can become an oil lamp, there are literally infinite ideas online.

Sometimes all you need is a new perspective, a fresh coat of paint, and a free afternoon to create something functional, interesting, beautiful, or useful, and also save yourself some serious cash. You might be surprised at all the ways you can turn trash into treasure.

*Qualifier: This isn’t the Depression, of course. There are obviously products you should spend some money on, like good shoes or a set of quality pans. I’m saying be mindful of your purchases and think about the long-term cost per use rather than whip out the credit card just because you like that shade of blue on that pillow.

Quality over quantity, folks.

10. Planning Purchases & Avoiding CC Debt

Ah, delayed gratification. That beautiful, crucial life skill which makes you much more likely to be successful, and yet so many people lack these days.

In the era of exponential technological advances where nearly anything can be learned, watched, bought, or done with the swipe of a finger, the art of waiting is something which we should all try to cultivate.

We have tons of data on past sales and price fluctuations, use that knowledge to plan when is the best time to purchase anything. For example, do you want to remodel your living room? Maybe wait until April for discounts on carpet, and May for cheap paint. Whether you have kids or not, you know August is the time to stock up on cheap school & office supplies. And go figure, November & December are the best times to invest in a new gas grill. When no one is grilling.

Almost all of our purchases can and should be anticipated and planned for. We know how long phones tend to last, we know we will need furniture, lawn equipment, when family and friends’ birthdays are (well… maybe not those of us with horrible memories), the dates of anniversaries and national holidays. There is no excuse to not have a plan for these events.

As for regular, everyday purchases like paper towels, Windex, dish soap, diapers, deodorant… you can keep a running list on the refrigerator, in a Google doc, or on your phone. Then you can order it all at once, or make one large trip, saving yourself the temptation from multiple store runs. Simply avoiding impulse buys ever can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars each year.

A handy rule I used before I had my iron will fully developed is to wait 7 days per $50. So if there was something I wanted because I saw it in an ad or someone told me about it, I put it on a list.

And then I waited, researched it, and comparison shopped. If, after a week, you still want the item, it is something you legitimately need and or will use regularly, you know which place has it for the best price, and assumedly have read reviews saying it is a worthwhile thing to have, go ahead and purchase it.

If you find yourself hardly remembering what it was you wanted last Tuesday? Not a thing you need in your life.

Before long, this process becomes second nature, and you find your life much less stressed from lack of money, because now you have more, and lack of space to put all your stuff, because there is less stuff!

 

 

What are your best frugal tips? Do you already do any or all of these?