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.

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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?

A Day in the Frugal Life

This post is an example of all the little frugal things we do throughout a typical day. They are just a part of our normal routine, but these tiny things add up to big savings over time. Disclaimer: some of the links are Amazon associate links. If you click them, and choose to buy something, this blog gets a tiny amount at no cost to you! Thanks for reading, we hope you find some things to think about.

 

6:00 am – Mrs. BE is up-an-at-em… errr, I mean, probably hitting the snooze once or twice… or staggering downstairs, brewing some coffee, and falling back asleep on the couch. I usually prep it the night before, filling the machine with water and coffee so that I just have to push the “on” button. We use store brand coffee, bought in bulk when it’s on sale, and just ordered this reusable filter to cut costs even more.

By making coffee at home, we save $2-8 per day, for two of us. It costs about a quarter to make 12 cups of coffee, and we each drink 2-3 cups. The rest we put in the refrigerator, and heat up the next day. This way we also only have to make a pot every other day. We sometimes doctor it up with fancy creamer, flavorings, or protein powder, but most days I just add enough 2% milk to make it beige.

6:10 am – Let the pups out; our house choice was influenced by the large fenced in back yard. This is a personal choice, we both value yard space for pups, as well as playing and relaxing. Plus, we’re lazy and like to let the little darlings get their own exercise. They each get 1/2 cup of dog food out of a giant 50lb bag we buy on Amazon once every 6 months. Yay little dogs = little food $$

We got two because then they will keep each other company, and we don’t have to feel guilty leaving them alone all day. Of course, this is less of a problem now that the Mr. can let them go outside midday, but still it is nice for them to have each other. And that way we don’t need doggy daycare or other pet-sitting / walking services.

6:30 am – Breakfast is a rotation of cheap, healthy options including smoothies with whatever fruits are on hand, eggs in various ways like bagel sandwiches, microwave poached, or scrambled with veggies, or oatmeal.

Making your own breakfast is a huge frugal tip because not only is having breakfast a key to energy all day long and maintaining a healthy weight, but you can make your own at home for FAR cheaper than any restaurant, even drive through.

Eggs are crazy cheap right now and a great source of protein. A loaf of bread costs $1-3 depending on your ingredients, and toast is a good on-the-go option, add a tbsp of nut butter and/or sliced fruit to up your game. You can also meal-prep by making a big batch of breakfast burritos or muffins and freezing them to use throughout the week.

6:40 am – Mrs. BE takes coffee upstairs and leaves a cup for the Mr., usually in addition to a smoothie. Yeah, he’s spoiled, sorry boys I’m very taken. 😉 Hubs is a lucky man, he works from home, and also starts work about an hour 1/2 later than I do. Good thing I’m the morning person in the relationship!

**You’ll notice, there is no “do hair and makeup” line item here. That’s because I don’t wear makeup. Any, ever. Unless I’m like, going to a wedding or about to be professionally photographed. By eating a whole foods plant-based diet and drinking loads of water, my skin is pretty darn healthy and I don’t have to hide it. This saves us boatloads of money year over year. Hooray for natural beauty!

I also have never been a fan of hair products. Curlers, crimpers, blow dryers, straighteners… these are terrible for your hair. And mousse, gel, spray, net, etc. are also bad for your hair, your respiratory system, and the environment. Save your self craptons of cash, space in your cabinets, and stop polluting the world with empty metal canisters and just don’t buy it.

7:20-7:30 – Mrs. BE leaves for work. It’s a sad fact of life that I have a 35-minutes commute, but in better, frugal news, I do have a 12-year-old, fully paid off (i.e. no car loan) Honda which gets fabulous gas mileage, and a parking pass to take a bus into campus.* (*this post)

This is great because it helps save gas and the environment by taking advantage of public transit, it gives me a chance to meet or talk to others who work on campus, and it gives me some down time where I can relax. I usually read, but occasionally I’ll type up some blog post ideas.

8-8:30 – 4:30-5  – Mrs. BE is a little worker bee, makin that bacon

8:50 am – Mr. BE cracks open an eye, slugs the coffee I left for him on the bedside table, and hits snooze

8:59 am – Mr. BE drags himself into his home office, boots up various computer(s) and his work laptop, and gets to work making and fixing apps. Being a programmer from the comfort of home gives him the world’s best commute of: approximately 1 minute!

11/noon – Lunch is nearly always leftovers from home. Brown bagging it does not have to be boring! I’ve brought my slow cooker to work for delicious soups, and a George foreman for hot tuna melt sandwiches. People often comment on how good my lunch smells or looks. Try getting that reaction from a boring $7 cafeteria salad.

Lunch hack 1: Make large batches (either all at once on the weekend, or cook double batches of dinners) and store them in reusable individual sized containers. You’re already cooking dinner, why not make double and keep a lunch-size-serving ready? You can use meal prep ready plastic, or I personally love these tight seal glass ones.

Lunch hack 2: Pack lunch the night before. If you already have a sandwich or salad made or tupperware ready to grab, it makes your morning easier and your lunches cheaper.

Lunch hack 3: Keep an emergency stock in your desk/cabinet/purse. I always have a rotating stock of a few cans of soup, rice cakes and peanut butter, tuna, and trail mix on hand in case I forget lunch.

Lunch hack 4: Bring a reuseable water bottle/cup and your own beverages/snacks to keep at your desk. Drinking water all day is good for you in a million ways, and also helps keep you full.

Mr. BE also has leftovers at home, or there are plenty of freezer options to keep his belly full. We have frozen ground turkey for burritos, ingredients for quick sandwiches or soups, and the always-an-option homemade yogurt.

5:30-6pm – Mrs. BE gets home, signaling the end of Mr.’s workday (usually, sometimes there are more issues and emails to attend to, it varies). I immediately pull out whatever is on the meal plan for dinner that night and heat it up, bake it, or do whatever needs done.

Usually dinner is ready in 30 minutes or less, and always using homemade, whole food ingredients that were planned for and purchased earlier. I also check the meal plan to see what is coming up for tomorrow, and take something out of the freezer if needed.

We have also recently been working exercise into our routine. Monday/Wed/Friday the Mrs. does a 20-30 minute yoga video. Tues/Thurs are run days, and the Mr. joins me for these, depending on the weather of course. Worst case, we almost always find time for a nice after-dinner walk together (sometimes dogs too).

Staying fit and exercising regularly is a huge frugal tip, for so many reasons. By staying in a healthy weight range, you keep your body functioning in top shape. You are avoiding a slew of medical bills, lab test, and medications. You are less likely to incur debt from hospital stays and chronic illness. You may qualify for better payments on health insurance, and your employer may give you perks for quitting smoking or seeking preventive care. And you spend less on clothing by staying about the same size season to season and year to year.

7-9:00 pm – Sometimes we work on individual projects; I will write blog posts or read while the Mr. works on VR. Both of us are pursuing several avenues for side income, or we will play (free) video games together. Usually we will watch 1-2 episodes of our latest TV fling on Netflix. We have never had cable in all our 4+ years of living together, and don’t feel like it affects our lives in the least.

9-10:00 pm – Showering & getting ready for bedtime. We save money in multiple ways with our personal grooming. I use conditioner as my shaving cream rather than pay the pink tax and buy $5 per bottle shave cream. We also both use changeable razors that we buy in bulk from some off-brand place once a year. Total cost per razor ends up being about 20 cents! Compare that to the ridiculous price of razors in the store. For really indulgent showers, I use my homemade body scrub.

We also both cut our own hair. We got an electric razor set for $20 and it has been the best idea ever. Hubs will get in the tub, and I buzz his hair, poof, fresh new haircut in under 10 minutes. For me, I just trim the ends every 3-4 months with regular scissors. I go for a “real” haircut maybe once every other year.

10:00: Bedtime! Getting 8 hours of quality sleep is a huge frugal tip because it is good for not only your health but also your focus and productivity. Getting your “beauty sleep” can in fact make you more beautiful as your body has time to repair DNA damage and reboot your physical systems overnight.

Enough sleep will also help you in the working world. You are a more attentive driver, meaning less likelihood of expensive mistakes. You don’t need as much or any help from caffeine and chemicals in coffee and energy drinks. You can focus better and longer, making you more productive and thus more valuable. You may be able to justify a raise, or seek a promotion or new job with all that energy!

 

And there you have it, the typical daily life of the Budget Epicurean family. Through years of trying different frugal tips and keeping what works for us, we have figured out the best ways to maximize our dollars and our time. 

 

How about you, what’s your typical day? Any frugal tips or routines to share? Any ways in which you think you can improve?

Weekly Eating – 9/11 & 9/18

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

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

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

 

Well, this post is a surprise double feature, because last weekend we had a wonderful family wedding in Boston, but then nature conspired to strand us there Sunday night. It’s not a good excuse for not posting, but it’s the one I’m using.  🙂

The past 2 weeks have been an interesting see-saw of super frugal food choices and then accidental or on purpose food splurges. I did some creative re-purposing of leftovers too. The meal plan was sort of made up on the fly, but overall I think it was a total win. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Monday 9/11:

Breakfast – Brown sugar cinnamon raisin oatmeal.

I put together a little mason jar which I brought into work. I just add 1/2 cup or so of the mixture, and use the Keurig for hot water to make it in my coffee mug. Now I have oatmeal waiting for me in my desk drawer whenever I want!

Lunch – Leftover hibachi from the weekend before. My dad had been in town, and we explored a little near Cary and found a cute Chinese restaurant in a plaza that had delish hibachi. Of course I only ate half, and the other half was lunch.

Dinner – Chicken stir fry (even though it’s not Friday!) to use up the rest of the shredded cooked chicken and some rice we had. I also found packs of pre-sliced veggies on sale for $1 so this was perfect.

Tuesday 9/12:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal (see above)

Lunch – Veggie soup & edamame. This was the last of a bag of edamame from last week, plus all the leftover bits of veggies simmered with some lentils. It’s more filling than you may think, and nice on a cold and dreary day.

Dinner – Salmon salad! I finally had to just post the recipe so I can refer to it (when I use it every other week in the future).

Wednesday 9/13:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal

Lunch – salmon salad

Dinner – pasta with pesto, using basil from the front yard. It is going to seed and about done, so I harvested the most I could and made a big batch of pesto.

Combined with some tortellini, and meatballs with 1/2 pound ground turkey I had in the fridge, it was super tasty. Never would have thought pesto + meatballs, but it works.

Snack – half a can of pineapple

Thursday 9/14:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal

Lunch – salmon salad!

Dinner – had dinner at a friend’s house, where we had wings and an assortment of cheeses and bread. It was so good, and we found a few new cheeses we like! Also I made a blueberry pie to contribute.

Friday 9/15:

Breakfast – I had some leftover milk that was about to go bad, and we were leaving town, so I made some yogurt! It makes the milk last longer that way.

For breakfast, of course I had fresh yogurt and some tropical granola.

Lunch – you’ll never guess…. salmon salad! Yes, I actually did eat this 4 days in a row. And loved it every single time.

Dinner – we were en route to the wedding, so we had Five Guys in the airport. Not the healthiest, but it was the first time I’d had fast food in… several months. Their burgers are pretty darn good.

The Weekend

This weekend was yet another wedding, this time in Maine! It was right on the water, and the fog cleared for about 5 glorious hours. It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony, and a joy to watch this family I have lucked into and chosen to join expand to encompass the bride and her wonderful family too.

I met new people, re-connected with a few we hadn’t seen since our own wedding last year, and danced my face off! Doing the electric slide with several fabulous people more than triple my age was one of the many highlights of the weekend. Another highlight: eating lobster twice in one day!

We went to what claimed to have the “best lobster roll on the East Coast”, and not gonna lie it was pretty great. Their clam chowder was also amazing. And then at the wedding, we each got our own personal lobster! I know, it’s decadent. The perks of coastal living ya know? But then, they also have to deal with winter… so… #notworth

On Sunday they had a lovely brunch, with mimosas and 4 kinds of quiche. Everyone said their goodbyes and we headed into Boston. We carpooled with several people who all had staggered flight times. But we did get a few hours of wandering with my in-laws, since we had the latest scheduled flights. We got some tasty pizza at a place in Charlestown, and then wandered around Faneuil Hall.

Monday 9/18:

Breakfast – well, since we were stuck in Boston, and the hotel had a free breakfast, we obviously took advantage of that. English muffins with jelly, coffee and juice, and tiny yogurts, plus a bagel for the road.

Lunch – Now in Boston Logan International Airport for several hours, I splurged on a big hot meal. I ate about half of it, then stuck it in my carry on. I ate the rest when I got hungry again on the plane.

Dinner – I finally got home exhausted around 7pm, so I basically just unpacked a bit, got the pups, and went straight to bed…

It was so nice to see these faces again  🙂

Tuesday 9/19:

Breakfast – brown sugar raisin oatmeal!

Lunch – peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was too tired from traveling to bother making, like, real food. I didn’t even get a picture

Dinner – I went out to a new sushi place with a friend called RockinRolls. It is a conveyor belt style, where you just grab the things you want as they go by! It was very cool, even if the nigiri were a little small. They made up for it in choices. And the miso soup dispenser was absolutely fascinating.

As a HUGE fan of sushi and also not paying a lot, a $12 all-you-can-eat option that’s only 10 minutes from my house is the best/worst thing ever. I will definitely be back.

Wednesday 9/20:

Breakfast – oatmeal! Yup, this is a boring breakfast week. Sorry not sorry, this stuff costs like 10 cents per serving.

Lunch – black beans & rice with salsa. I made a package of minute rice in the microwave and added a half can of black beans, topped with some salsa from a food swap. The other half I saved for tomorrow. This is becoming a staple work lunch.

Dinner – I used the rest of the pesto from last week and a can of tomatoes to make a tomato-basil soup, and some grilled cheese. I love simple meals, and even moreso when I’m just cooking for myself. Hubs was on a work trip in CT this week.

Snack – a handful of pretzels and some gummy bears… yeah I don’t know, it’s just what I had at my desk 🙂

Thursday 9/21:

Breakfast – more oatmeal

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa. This is just so oddly fulfilling to me. Pretty sure this will be a frequent occurrence in my life.

Dinner – I took the pups over to a friend’s house, and we had a vegetarian and a vegan present. I introduced them all to lentils, and we had veggie tacos. I’m not sure what kind of “meat” they had but it was really good!

Snack – There was a retirement party at work today, and I snagged a cup full of raw veggies to snack on all afternoon. Love free food that is also healthy!

Friday 9/22:

Breakfast – oatmeal

Lunch – ravioli from my last food swap (I put it in the freezer for an occasion like now), with some frozen veggies, the last of the pesto-soup and some leftover feta. It was actually really good! Hooray for frugal wins.

Dinner – We kicked off the weekend with dinner at The Pit, a very well-known BBQ joint in downtown Durham. We got the Big Boy to split, it’s all of their meats in one tray! The biscuits were AMAZING, and the ribs were probably my favorite. Or maybe the brisket.

Personally, I’d skip the grilled chicken, and the sauces are all Carolina style (very vinegary and not thick) so we weren’t blown away impressed, but if that’s your thing then this is the place for you!

The Weekend

This weekend, my aunt and grandmother are in town, visiting from Ohio! I’m so excited, it will be the first time either of them have been down to see our new house (the first one I OWN) and all the things I’m falling in love with in Durham and Chapel Hill.

We have plans to stuff ourselves at the all you can eat Rockin Rolls sushi, check out the 5th Annual Bull City Burgers & Brewery Oktoberfest, and the 10th Annual Abundance NC Pepper Festival.  It should be a good time! And I may need to buy new pants in a size up afterwards…

Total: $55 (or $515, depending what you count)

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

Well… we were really good about eating from the freezer/pantry the past 2 weeks while at home. But the $55 is from various airport foods while traveling. If you add in the extra things (hotel, uber rides, tickets to festivals, etc). then the true cost of travel wrinkles is much higher. I’m going to stick with the actual food costs though.

Lessons Learned

Always be prepared! I am already obsessive about taking snacks with me everywhere, but evidently I should double my efforts. Because you just never know.

I also learned that eating super frugal meals doesn’t really bother me much at all. I’m perfectly happy with my rice and beans, PB&J, and grilled cheese, especially when hubs is away for work. I just don’t have the motivation to cook fancy things for myself alone.

This is a great thing, financially! The lower I can get the cost per meal, the lower our overall grocery bill each week / month / year. And then we have more wiggle room for the occasional travel issues or to treat visitor from out of town. That’s a win in my book!

 

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

Decision Fatigue and Travel Stresses

We all know the importance of being prepared, and packing food and snacks when you will be traveling or away from home for a long time. Being prepared is one of my top ten frugal rules.

A bag of trail mix or a granola bar can save the day when you’re so hungry you can’t think straight but there aren’t many (or any) food options. This becomes even more true if you add children into the mix, who are not very good at waiting or ignoring hunger.

The most logical decision is to have snacks available. The Simple Dollar recommends planning ahead, packing food in coolers, and having less perishable things like boxes of granola bars always readily available. These tips are helpful whether in a car on a roadtrip or on a flight across the world.

But sometimes, even the best laid plans can go awry. There is construction that delays your route by hours, a big storm wreaks havoc, or your plane gets delayed/rerouted/cancelled. This is what happened to hubs and I when trying to get home from a family wedding in Maine last weekend.

Intense fog had rolled in, making it hard to see anything. Planes were unable to land, and circled Logan International for hours, trying to land before they ran out of fuel. In the end, over 400 flights were delayed or cancelled.

So now we were stuck in Boston, with no car or hotel or people to stay with. The airline rescheduled us to a flight the following day, but gave nothing at all for a hotel voucher or food. The only amenity we were given was the customer service rep telling us “we have cots in baggage claim, if you want one”.

Yes I’d like to sleep on a fold out cot, in an open room in a large airport, with all my bags out in the open, along with 500 other angry strangers. Sounds relaxing.

Unfortunately, by then it was late, nearing ten pm, and we just wanted to sleep. We were already exhausted from a long wedding weekend with little rest, and had reached the point of decision fatigue. The result was a pretty big hit to our finances.

What is Decision Fatigue?

Decision fatigue is that feeling when you have become so overwhelmed with making choices, whether multiple at once or over the course of a day, that when faced with another decision you are too exhausted mentally to think through something logically and instead choose anything, just to have the issue decided and to be able to stop thinking about it.

Your brain can only handle so many details at once, and we have a finite amount of decision making powers every day. This is why people like Mark Zuckerberg choose to have a limited wardrobe, or eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. eliminating daily small decisions leaves more mental energy for bigger choices and creative thinking.

According to a 2011 study in PNAS, decision fatigue affects even the most logical of professions: judges. Judges are supposed to be the bringers of justice, carefully weighing facts and making the best decisions for the people, doling out punishments to fit the crimes. But the study showed that the decisions became harsher the longer it had been since the judges’ last meal! They serve harsher sentences when hungry.

If the smartest legal minds in the world fall prey to decision fatigue, don’t you think you would too? Well, that didn’t stop me from making some poor financial choices, that I knew at the time weren’t the best, and yet, we chose to make that compromise for immediate peace of mind and comfort.

The Damage

That one flight cancellation likely cost us at least one full flight.

We paid for a night in a hotel in Boston (which you can imagine is not cheap), 2 rides, to the hotel and back the next day, unplanned-for food for dinner that night and lunch on Monday (the hotel had free breakfast, which was great, but also was solely carbs), not to mention us both missing a day of work and having to use precious vacation hours to make up for it.

But all told, it could have been much worse.

What Can You Do?

So if your travel plans are wrecked, what can you do? Should you just pull out the credit card, and start buying all the food, coffee, shoes, and entertainment to get your mind off the stress? Just buy a whole new wardrobe once you get to your destination?

Of course not!

There are several things you can do, both in planning your trip ahead of time, and as the <insert travel disaster> is unfolding. It is unlikely you will finish the day with zero financial damage, but you can limit it to a few bruises rather than going 6 rounds with an angry tiger.

Make Important decisions first

We all have limited resources mentally. Especially at the end of a day, at the end of an already long trip. There are another dozen choices to make, so make it as easy on yourself as possible. Make the important decisions first, like whether to stop at a hotel halfway or drive straight through the night, or whether to try to get another flight out the same day versus renting a car and just driving.

These choices will depend on your situation, and also your own personal values. If you are in a great place financially and don’t care about the cost, you just want a fancy hotel to sleep, then go for it. If you are on a tight budget with almost no wiggle room, perhaps the free cot is worth it, and more appealing than an airport chair. What to wear to bed, when you can get to the grocery store, or what to do when you get home can wait.

Pack extra!

 

This goes for food as well as strategic packing of toiletries and clothing. Thank goodness we had packed layers, not knowing what the weather would hold. I ALWAYS pack a minimum of 2 extra pair of underwear than nights planned for the trip. Because you just never know, and they don’t take up much space. We still had clean clothes to wear, and didn’t have to incur the extra expense of going to a laundromat or dry cleaners while traveling.

See my list of snacks recipes for ideas, or the internet also has literally infinity ideas. Choose items which can be kept at room temperature, or ideally a range of temperatures. Granola bars are perfect, trail mix, dried fruits, nuts, chips/popcorn, whole fruits like apples or bananas… you get the idea.

Pack something for the travel to your destination, some for the travel home, plus a little something extra. We were able to eat the trail mix anytime hunger pangs hit, and thus stave off extra, expensive, food purchases in the airport. (Note: TSA does search food now, in the name of “efficiency”… so it may behoove you to pack things in see-through containers like Ziplocks so they aren’t touching your almonds and raisins, and take them out when going through screening.)

Use what you have

We did take advantage of the tiny breakfast buffet at the hotel. They offered small yogurts, orange juice and cranberry juice, coffee, bagels and toast and English muffins. We each had some juice and yogurt, and 2 cups of coffee. We split an English muffin, and took a bagel on the road as an extra travel snack.

If you have free food available to you, take advantage of it, even if it is not something you would normally eat. I try not to have too carb-heavy breakfasts, but a bagel that was free is better than $8 at Starbucks. By the third day you may get tired of trail mix or granola bars, but you can eat like a king once you’re safely home.

Have some miles or points banked

For those of you familiar with travel hacking, I’m sure I don’t need to expand on this. But if you’ve never heard of this, it is where you use credit card or chain rewards programs to earn free things. Cash back rewards, rental cars, hotel stays, and flights are all possible if you know the rules of the game.

Even if you don’t have the time or energy to invest hardcore into travel hacking, you can still sign up for a credit card with good rewards, or a hotel chain at which you frequently stay. That way, if you unexpectedly have to overnight in Omaha, you can put the $100 cash back towards the Red Roof Inn, or use your free stay at a Hilton, and take some of the sting out of the purchase.

Roll with it

As a kind lady I was next to at the airport for a few hours said, “Anything can be rescheduled, as long as you’re not dead”.

She had a great outlook. Several people were panicking about missing work, meetings, classes, etc. There are of course some things which are more important and cannot be rescheduled, like births and birthdays, graduations and wedding and ceremonies. But generally speaking, as long as you are alive, it will be ok.

No one likes delays, but try to remember it is likely either something out of everyone’s control, and / or it is for your own safety. I wouldn’t want a plane full of people to land blind, and potentially hit the watch tower or miss the runway. If there is a mechanical malfunction, do you really want to trust your life to that plane or car? Better to be patient and wait until the problem can be resolved than take that chance.

Deep breaths, and remember this too shall pass. And it will pass much easier if you have a handful of popcorn and a good book.

 

What travel troubles have you experienced? Any tips to keep disruptions from derailing your finances?

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