Diet Update: 2 weeks in

Disclaimer: some of these links lead to product pages, which if you buy them, will not affect the price but will earn this blog a tiny fee, to keep me supplied with kale & yoga pants. I am not a health professional, I am just relaying my own personal experiences and opinions. This is not meant to be health or dietary advice for the general population. 

As I’m finishing up the first two weeks on my holiday diet, I have learned a lot of things about food, myself, and dieting in general.

  • Portion sizes matter
  • Food type/substitutions matter
  • Vitamins & Nutrients matter
  • Exercise matters
  • Balance matters

Before we go into each of these topics, let’s review what the goals were. At a starting weight of 156, and a goal weight of 135, I hope to lose a grand total of 21 pounds in 7 weeks, which is 3 pounds per week. I would not recommend this to most people.

However, I have always been curvier and lead a pretty sedentary lifestyle, though I get 10K steps on most days and am capable of light jogging for 30 minutes at a time. I am young (ish) and in decent shape, so I know this particular diet and exercise plan will not jeopardize my overall health.

Week 1-2 (Nov 3 – 16):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 15-30 minute walk
  • MWF (or 3x/week) – body weight workout video or run

Having a supportive hubs is the top tool in my arsenal so far. He has been SO helpful in keeping me motivated on days I don’t want to work out, usually even joining me for the short 10-15 minutes HIIT videos. He has been great at not tempting me, and asking how things are going to keep me on track.

I have added workout tracking to our handy-dandy whiteboard, where I add different symbols on days I complete a yoga workout vs a HIIT workout. I have not been able to motivate myself to run, with the changing weather making it so cold outside and dark by the time I get home. I’ve been holding pretty steady to both of my goals, with one or two missed days.

Yoga I normally do in the morning. I use the YouTube series Yoga with Adrienne. This is a good time to breathe, meditate, get a good stretch in, and focus for the day. If I miss it in the morning because I was running late or couldn’t get myself to do it, then I do a video at night before bedtime.

My job is pretty sedentary overall, so having a FitBit Alta now has also helped a lot. It vibrates every hour that I have not yet taken 150 steps to remind me to get up and move a little. The people in my building probably think I’m weird for just walking around the halls doing laps every hour, but it’s worth it. We also try to go for a walk every night, when it isn’t raining or too cold.

You can see from the tracking table above that I’ve gotten in at least 30 minutes of walking on most days. I’ve also hit my step goal of 10,000 per day a little more than half the time, as you can see from the graph below.

Last weekend, my mom was in town and we spent some time at the beach with her friend. There was some exciting news that required celebrating, so we convinced her to go out dancing on Saturday (11/11). It was exhausting, I haven’t stayed up past midnight in a long time, but boy was it fun and totally worth it!

Clearly, the biggest pattern I see is that weekends are far lazier than week days for me. Especially Sunday. Both weekends I barely hit 5000 steps. Though the night we went out dancing was obviously very active, as I ended up with over 16,000 steps! Maybe I should consider joining a line dancing group or something for cardio.  🙂

 

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies

Overall I did a pretty good job of hitting my goal calorie range. This is made much easier by eating a lot of salads, broth based soups, raw fruits and veggies, and my favorite low-cal protein breakfast shake. Go figure, following all the typical dietary recommendations works!

Below you can see a typical days’ meals. Breakfast is a chocolate protein shake with a half of a banana, with the coffee in it as well. This has become my go-to because it is so fast and easy, and I can drink it in the car on the way to work. I also had dried some apples in the oven, with nothing on them at all, to take as a snack with my green drink. More on that below.

Lunch was a salad, with some low-cal toppings of sunflower seeds and craisins for variety, taste, and extra nutrients, and (measured) 3 ounces of boiled chicken breast. I have a small food scale that I’ve been using. I cook a large batch of chicken, steak, or chili and then measure out exactly 3 ounces at a time, or 1 cup servings, and then package them individually so lunch is easy peasy.

I’ve also begun boiling a dozen eggs over the weekend, peeling them, and then packing 2 or 3 in ziplock baggies so I can grab and go as a perfect high-protein snack. I feel guilty about throwing out the yolks but I just can’t with that nasty chalky taste… oh well. And dinner was a serving of my delicious sweet potato and chickpea curry.

I’m gonna be honest here, there’s a little gap over last weekend, because of my point about balance. I didn’t even bother to track the totals. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

As for weight, I’m gonna be honest here too. I haven’t unpacked my scale since we moved… a year ago.

I pulled it out this weekend, dusted it off… and the battery is dead. So no update on weight for you.  🙂  Like I said, weight and BMI is not that great of a way to measure health, but I can tell you that my regular work pants have been feeling a little looser.

On to the lessons!

Portion sizes matter

In general, we do not comprehend or realize how seemingly tiny differences in serving size or food choices can make such a huge impact on weight. As little as 100 extra calories per day can add up to 10 pounds of weight gain over the course of a year (source).

For example, go take a look at the different NIH suggested meal plans for weight loss. It was a little bit surprising, even to me, that as little as 1/2 cup of cantaloupe and banana, less than 1 cup of orange juice and milk, 1/2 oz of roast beef, 1 ounce of chicken, and 1 tbsp of guacamole can change a day’s caloric intake from 1200 calories to 1600 calories.

This is the example meal plan for wight loss using Mexican-American cuisine

If you are not using actual or accurate measuring tools, i.e. food scale and measuring cups, it is SO easy to over-estimate. How many people can accurately measure exactly one tablespoon of peanut butter every time, or 3 ounces of chicken?

 

Food type/substitutions matter

The food items highest in calories and generally not as high in nutrition include:

  • Fats/oils*
  • “White” grains (bread, rice, flour)
  • Processed/packaged goods
  • Meats
  • Dairy products

Of course, in nutrition there are almost no absolutes. I would NEVER recommend anyone go 100% fat free (source). Fat is not the enemy. You just need to monitor the amount very carefully, as one tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories, and it is so easy to over-pour or estimate high.

And you also need to be discerning about your source. One avocado has  260 calories from fat, but so would a doughnut, or 2 small slices of pepperoni pizza. Guess which one is a more sound nutritional choice? When it comes to dairy, I would far prefer a single ounce, one die-sized cube, of a super sharp white Vermont cheddar to a heaping cup of the packaged-with-sawdust-so-it-don’t-stick bagged grocery store cheese.

The same can be said of all the other high-impact foods. Be more mindful of your meats (if you eat meat), including where it came from and what type of cut it is. Check out my post on pig parts  breakdown, and see this post for chicken, this post for the deets on beef, and this and this for all your oceanic questions.

 

Vitamins & Nutrients matter

Basically, any restrictive diet has a risk of not getting all the vital vitamins and nutrients your body needs to function, grow, rejuvenate and repair cells. Don’t know what kinds of vitamins there are or why they are each important? I wrote an article all about it, and a special one for the whole family of B vitamins.

Though this diet has a heavy focus on lean protein, fresh fruits, and vegetables, I want to make sure I am not missing anything my body needs day to day. We tend to crave foods that will fill a need, so I listen to my body (which is made easier through the mindfulness and meditation of yoga) and if I’m feeling particularly drawn to a certain food or food type, I will have some.

But just to make sure all my bases are covered, I also take a daily multivitamin for adults, drink a daily green drink, and make a protein shake on most days. For now I’m using the Centrum Complete Adult Multivitamin. It isn’t a super-huge horse pill, so swallowing it isn’t a problem, unlike some multis I’ve tried in the past.

The daily green drink I’m loving right now is Amazing Grass Green Superfood (30 servings size, or for bulk pricing the 60 servings size). They are all organic greens grown and dehydrated in Kansas. They use a start-to-finish cold processing and packing process to keep as many nutrients as possible.

They also have flavors, like Berry and Orange Dream, immunity boosting and antioxidant packed versions, blends that include protein, as well as one that contains natural caffeine from yerba mate and matcha green tea to replace your morning coffee. All of their products are:

  • Certified Organic by CCOF
  • Gluten Free
  • No Sugar Added
  • Plant Based
  • Non GMO
  • Kosher
  • Vegan

The Protein powder I’m using right now is Muscle Milk, chocolate flavor. The 10g of protein per scoop comes from milk (whey protein isolate) so be cautious if you have a dairy intolerance. My absolute favorite thing to do with it is to combine it with a half of a banana and a tbsp of PB2 peanut powder for a chocolate peanut butter banana shake. It makes a great under-300-calorie breakfast, or post-HIIT workout drink. I even add coffee to it sometimes for an all in one breakfast/caffeine rush on the go.

 

Exercise matters

As I said above, I really do believe that increasing my activity level has helped me have more consistent energy throughout the day. I am noticing, at the 2 weeks mark, that that energy is starting to wane. I am getting sluggish upon waking again, hitting snooze and having to literally drag myself up.

This could be due to all the excesses of the past weekend, or it could be my body’s way of readjusting to its new normal.

But I am also noticing an increase in my cardio and strength. I can do more push-ups now before I collapse, and more jumping jacks before I’m out of breath. I did yoga pretty often previously, so I can hold a plank for a minute or more. I still struggle with jump squats, but I’m getting better at it. Improvement is the name of the game. And no matter how long I make regular exercise part of my life, I will never like burpees. Never.

 

Balance matters

Now, keeping in mind all I’ve said so far about the positive aspects of these lifestyle changes, I am still a passionate believer in balance. Balance in all things. Eating better, moving more, and regular sleep are all very important aspects of holistic health and happiness. But, so is friendship, adventure, and wine.

I stand firm in my view that the 80/20 rule is the best way to live life. Essentially, you follow strict rules 80% of the time, and relax a bit 20% of the time. The 80% effort is enough to bring you the results you want, while the 20% helps you from feeling repressed and chained to a system and rebelling or “falling off the wagon”.

In this case, I stuck to my diet very strictly, until the day I got to the beach to hang out with my mom and her friends. There, I kept my good intentions in mind, but also allowed myself to taste some of the cookies we made at our cookie swap, and indulged in a few glasses of wine. We went out and danced like crazy, burning off some of those excess calories, and laughed a lot, which also burns calories and makes you feel good.

Will I Keep Going?

Absolutely. Though I don’t know my first two weeks’ weight change, I can say I believe it has been successful. I know this is a very ‘soft’ way of measuring, but I can literally feel my regular pants loosening. The button doesn’t leave an imprint after I’ve been sitting a while, the inseams aren’t pulling at the thighs, and I just feel better overall.

I have also noticed much more even, sustained energy levels. Previously I would have more peaks and valleys (usually tracking along when I drank coffee…) but these past 2 weeks I’ve had pretty steady and consistent levels. I also seem to be sleeping better, with fewer times spent awake in the night. I also love knowing I am increasing my chances for a longer, healthier life.

These things put together equals a general happier me, an overall sense that this is working and worth it, and something I want to continue. Ultimately, I am hoping these changes become the new normal for me, since it takes an average of 2 months to create and stick to a new habit. I want to make regular exercise part of my daily life, along with as clean eating as I can accomplish while still allowing that 20% for fun and letting go.

 

 

Disclaimer: some of these links lead to product pages, which if you buy them, will not affect the price but will earn this blog a tiny fee, to keep me supplied with kale & yoga pants. I am not a health professional, I am just relaying my own personal experiences and opinions. This is not meant to be health or dietary advice for the general population. Please speak with your own doctor or health professional before starting a diet of your own.

Hosting a Cookie Swap Party

Disclaimer: Some of the links take you to a product, which if you buy, will give this blog a tiny commission, so I can eat more cookies. Thanks!

 

With the winter holidays just around the corner, you may be feeling stressed already, sad and anxious, dreading travel and spending time with crazy aunt Millie… or you might be filled with the holly jollies, stringing lights everywhere, humming Christmas tunes to yourself, and dreaming of all the seasonal things you plan to do.

Hopefully, you have several things to look forward to this holiday season. Regardless of if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Quanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or anything else, the winter holiday season is always a season of joy, love, tradition, and generosity. And food. Lots and lots of food. Especially desserts.

If you don’t have holiday traditions already in your own family or friends group, might I recommend starting one?

There are a million and one ways to enjoy the winter, regardless of what you believe, what the weather is like, and where you live. But one of my all-time favorite traditions that I hope to start myself in my new home state is a Cookie Swap.

There are basically two ways to do a Cookie Swap.

  1. Everyone brings already-made cookies, in an agreed-upon amount, and each person goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
  2. Everyone brings a recipe and ingredients, and then you bake them all together; each person still goes home with some number of each kind of cookie

Obviously, the kind of party you could or should host depends upon who has the facilities. If you are all in college or graduate school or tiny one bedroom apartments, then baking six dozen of five kinds of cookies might be a stretch. But if you have a decent sized kitchen with lots of counter space, I’d recommend that route!

A cookie swap is an awesome holiday tradition for several reasons.

Saves Time

If your family is at all like mine, you used to spend a LOT of time making cookies. Like, weeks upon end of flour, butter, sugar, mix it all together. Add the eggs, add the milk. Roll, make sure they are all the same size, dust with flour, roll some more, preheat to 350. Set the timer, whip the filling, thaw the dough, chill the icing.

The time it takes to make each kind of cookie is quite nearly inversely related to how delicious it is. Sure, there are some exceptions (really outstanding sugar cookies? sure) but that’s pretty much how it goes. You know that those cookies only Nana knows the full recipe for and take 18 hours in total are damn delicious.

My very scientifically accurate cookie vs time graph

So imagine you wanted to have all those tasty cookies, which on your own would take about 96 hours of work to create. But then you get to have them all, after only one day. Magic and sorcery you say?

Nay. Only the magic of teamwork.

Saves Money

In a similar way that you can use the magic of scale to save yourself time making lots of kinds of cookies in one go, you can also use the magic of economy by purchasing ingredients in bulk. You can probably find a cheaper price per pound on sugar if you know you will need 30 pounds of it versus 3.

You can agree to buy all ingredients at once and then split it all ways, or assign specific ingredients to certain people. It helps to have at least one very organized person in the group to organize the little details like this.

It is also very likely that you will save money versus buying holiday cookies at the store. Sure, if you buy generic crap off the day-old bakery shelves, you definitely will find better deals. But for a homemade, unique, made with love dozen cookies? Those things sell for easily $5-$20 per dozen, depending on the intricacy of recipe.

Bonding

Along with saving money on the actual cookies themselves, you are saving yourself some money by enjoying some frugal entertainment. Instead of going out to a movie and spending $15 on tickets plus $10 on concessions, a happy hour with $8 drinks, or dinner and maxing out your credit card, you can make new friends, and get closer to friends you already have in the comfort of someone’s home for almost free.

You can start many more traditions inside this tradition as well. Maybe make up your own words for traditional Christmas songs. Or have a theme, like a type of nut, a color, or “frosted” each year. One of the best ideas I’ve seen is to have everyone write down their recipe in a journal. Then each person gets to take home a copy, that will have all the cookie recipes each year.

Imagine a few decades from now, passing those books on to family or loved ones, and telling stories of holidays past. That time you spilled the flour all over the floor, the time your friend set off the smoke alarm because she got drunk and forgot to set the timer, or that time your cute neighbor came over to crash the party because it smelled so good.

If you think this sounds great, then now is your moment! Here is how to set up your very own cookie swap:

  1. Decide if you want everyone to bake at home, then just bring cookies and hang out, or if you will all bake together.
  2. Determine who would be interested in coming, and from there who could host the party and when.
  3. Invite a group of about three to seven people. That would be enough variety but not overwhelm most kitchens.
  4. Choose your cookie recipes. It could be a family recipe handed down for generations, or a new one you’ve always wanted to try. I wouldn’t recommend going too crazy your first year, unless you are already a pretty accomplished baker.
  5. Compile all the recipes and figure out your shopping list. Obtain all the ingredients. (And maybe a gallon or two of eggnog, wine, or whatever holiday beverage tickles your fancy)
  6. Show up! Make sure to have plenty of baking sheets, cooking spray, tin foil, wax paper, hand towels, a mixer, whether a hand mixer or standing like a KitchenAid, and plastic ware or tins for everyone to take home their bounty.

That’s all there is to it! If you are the host, be considerate of guests with little touches like holiday music, holiday scents, and having plenty of drinks and snacking foods. If you are attending, be considerate of your host and make sure you help clean up afterwards! Cookie baking does turn your kitchen into a flour-and-egg warzone.

 

Do you have any fun holiday traditions? Have you ever hosted or attended a cookie swap?

Why a $1000 Raise Didn’t Change My Life

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, it’s not a secret that we are now located in the state of North Carolina. It’s been my dream for almost a decade to live in the Research Triangle, and we finally achieved it! I feel blessed every day to be literally living my dreams.

I also happen to have a full time job working for the state of NC. This comes with some lovely benefits like extra paid holidays, pretty decent healthcare coverage, and state-mandated raises. Now, this could be a double edged sword.

As things on the financial playing field of America are in constant flux, and state and federal budgets keeps seeing more and more cuts, the state has the power to enact hiring freezes, salary freezes, or downsize however is needed to balance the budgets. And NC does not have the best history of worker treatment.

However, the good news is, the current Gov. Pat McCrory is supportive of state workers, and knows that to attract and retain good employees state positions must become and remain competitive with the private sector.

In order to keep up with inflation and keep workers happy, NC employees across the board got a small raise in June 2017. For me personally, this meant an extra $1000/year. Hooray!

What would you do with $1000 extra dollars?

For some people, that could be a literally life-changing amount of money. That could get a family of 4 a few months of groceries, or buy all the necessities for a new baby. That could help pay down medical, credit card, or student loan debt. That might be an extra month’s rent payment that you don’t have to worry about. For a lot of people, living at-near-below poverty level, $1000 is a big deal.

Or, you might start planning an epic weekend getaway to a beach to beat the winter blues. That adds up to a whole lot of eggnog and whiskey, or a year’s worth of fancy dinner dates once a month. Some people would scoff at $1000, thinking that is barely enough to make a dent in loan payoff, or their yearly spending totals.

Would you go on a shopping spree? Get some new boots for winter? Or, you know, the holidays are coming, how about getting extra twinkle lights, some cute Santa blow-ups for the front yard, and maybe a couple extra-nice gifts.

You could just let lifestyle inflation creep in, and $1000 higher yearly spending becomes the new baseline. Maybe move into a bigger apartment with more amenities, buy more house than you should, lease a fancier car, and go out shopping every weekend.

But What Did I Do With the $1000?

I did something very boring. Something Americans in general are really bad at doing.

I invested it.

Yup, without even letting it register in my checking account, I funneled that ‘extra’ money right into a target retirement date investment account.

Now, we could argue all day about different types of accounts, tax advantages, Roth vs IRA vs 401K, fees and mutual funds and bonds and stocks etc etc ad nauseum. I am by no means a sophisticated investor. I barely have a clue about the world of finance and shares and dividends. Reading articles about why rebalancing your own portfolio is easy just make me feel sad and defeated.

What I do know?

Having some money invested is definitely better than none over the long term. Will I lose some possible gains to fees over time by using a robo-advisor? Probably. Could I personally do better by choosing my own allocations and rebalancing yearly or quarterly? No way, because I know myself and I just. won’t. do it.

The Moral of the Story

Automate.

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation.

And Know Thyself.

I love automation. I am probably the most forgetful person I know by a long shot. If it isn’t written down, on the calendar, in my phone with at least three alarms set, if probably isn’t getting done. I’ve forgotten my mom’s birthday, both my siblings’ birthdays, the dog’s vet appointments, and more passwords than there are stars in the sky.

To set myself up for success rather than financial crash-and-burn, I automate everything I possibly can. Mortgage. Water bill. Internet. Savings account transfers. Credit card payments. Investments. All set up with a few clicks of a button, and then I don’t have to think about it ever again. Well, okay maybe like once a year or so I make sure it’s still working. But that’s it.

Not giving into lifestyle inflation is really hard. Trust me, I know. I took WAY longer to pay off student loans than I should have, and delayed our now-future-FIRE plans because I chose to take several cruises during grad school, and dropped another 3 grand on LASIK eye surgery (ok that one was actually 100% worth). I know, I’m ridiculous. I’ll tell that story someday.

When you’ve spent several years living in dorm rooms, literal garages and attics, eating ramen and tuna noodle casserole, you desperately want to feel like you’ve “made it” as an adult. You want your own space, your own bathroom, a nicer car, you need “business casual attire” for your big kid job, and on and on.

My husband (then-boyfriend) and I definitely could have stayed in a one bedroom apartment for a few more years rather than upgrade to renting a house for $1300/month, and then $1650/month (CT prices though… that number still hurts my soul).

But those choices were made. That money was spent. And we learned from it.

When we decided to relocate to NC, and were looking to finally buy our first home, we set a very conservative budget range. We knew we did not want to live outside our means. And now we have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that even if one of us lost our job (or chose a mini-retirement?) our monthly expenses would still be covered.

That peace of mind is worth every penny we didn’t spend on a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, or continuing to drive our fully paid off 2004 and 2005 Honda cars. We hope to stay in this house for a very long time, and pay off the mortgage sooner than 30 years. No matter how many raises we may get.

And that is why being given $1,000 did not change my life.

 

What would you do with $1000?

Finding Your Tribe As An Adult in America

 

As anyone who has “become an adult” (meaning has graduated from college/grad school or went straight into the workforce) within the past 2 decades or so can tell you, making friends as an adult is hard. Heck, even your parents probably feel the same way.

When we are young, it seems like all another person really needs is a pulse and to not be a big jerk-face, and we can be friends with them. Kids may have little tiffs and scrape ups and cliques, but generally they get over it quickly and are sharing stuffed ponies and cupcakes by nap time.

When you hit middle school age, true friendships have been formed, and a few may have been lost already. I remember my very best friend Emily moved in 6th grade, and it rocked my world. This is about the age where kids’ mean streak begins to come out too, so making friends can be difficult. But you are still in an environment that is conducive to friends-making.

In high school the good and the bad intensify as popularity comes into the mix, along with the hormones that are part and parcel of maturation. Competition among and between girls and boys becomes more intense, and gender roles and values as society and the media portray them are subconsciously reinforced.

You are still repeatedly exposed to the same small group of people almost daily, and everyone is going through the same life changes and experiences. This creates the ideal environment for bonding.

As you then graduate and contemplate your future, everyone goes off to the mixing pot of college life or immediately to the daily grind. Some of us even go above and beyond and voluntarily choose to extend these educational years through graduate school.

However, all good things must come to an end, and someday you have to have an income pay the bills. Once you are in a “day job”, things begin to get dicey.

Unless you have a roommate you like, cool neighbors, or coworkers who are also friends after 5pm, it is likely that you would say that making friends is hard. Once you’re an adult, your social world shrinks drastically to essentially where you live and where you work.

We can work remotely, we can order enough paper products to outlast the apocalypse, there are infinite entertainment and social media options for our ‘free time’, at-home yoga, pilates, body weight, and HIIT workouts are the bomb diggity. We can even have wine, groceries, or *gasp* fully-cooked dinners delivered to our door.

Why do we even need friends?

Well, it turns out that close relationships are really good for us on so many levels. A recent review of studies indicates that feelings of loneliness increases mortality risk by 26%.

Though we are the most electronically connected generation of all time, we are experiencing what some call an “epidemic of loneliness“. You may have 550 Facebook friends, thousands of Twitter or Instagram followers, but only spend time with real live human beings at work or when forced to on a crowded bus/train/plane.

study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that young adults age 19 to 32 who spent the most time on social media sites, more than 2 hours a day, reported twice the amount of perceived social isolation than those who reported a half hour per day or less. Those who used social platforms frequently, 58 times or more per week, reported thrice* the amount of perceived isolation than those who used such sites only 9 times per week or less.

Now, this is definitely not a call to delete all your social media accounts. How else will you send snaps of your hilariously misspelled name on your Starbucks drink to your old college roommate, or brag about your BOGO boots deal with an album of matching outfits?

We just maybe should think it and be more mindful of our use, why we use certain sites, and how often we spend time on those sites versus experiencing life.

These bonds remain important all throughout the spectrum of life, from college, to young adulthood, to new parents, to DINKS, to stay-at-home mom and dads, to workin-up-the-corporate-ladder, to middle age and the golden years.

A review of 148 studies in PLOSMedicine showed an overall 50% increase in likelihood of survival among people with the strongest social relationships, consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. This level of influence on survival rivals known death risks like smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity.

Of course, the type of friends you choose also affect your outcome. Jim Rohn, a famous motivational speaker, said that you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose your closest friends carefully. The famous Framingham Heart Study followed 5209 individuals from 1948 to 2003 and asked all sorts of questions along the way. One outcome of this research database was a ‘relationship and happiness network’.

They tracked who each person knew, and how happy they felt, and created a big network where each person was a node and lines between them connected in a web. The color of each node indicated the level of happiness in four reported areas. What they found was that happiness, or unhappiness, can spread from one node to another, creating niches of happiness or unhappiness.

http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2338

To quote their conclusions, “Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people.” Thus the top reason why we need friends:

Healthy Relationships = Happiness

Friends also come with all kinds of benefits. No, not that kind. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about tangible and intangible physical, mental, and financial benefits.

From real-life situations like help with babysitting, cost-sharing at membership club stores, borrowing items like ladders and lawnmowers, and potlucks to the intangible benefits like happiness, better health, better immunity and disease resistance, and emotional stability and support, friends come with great perks.

Having someone with whom you can batch-cook, share costs or services, help you move in or out, and enjoy frugal pastimes like watching movies and walks in the park is great for your savings account. A friend can be your accountability partner, to help you stick with dietary changes or exercise more or quit smoking or coffee for good. Friends can celebrate with you, and cheer you up when you’re feeling blue.

Friends are all around great for financial, physical, and mental health. Click To Tweet

This all sounds well and good, but HOW do you do it? How does one “make friends”, without magical play-dough that comes alive?

For a lasting friendship to form, you need a few key things:
  • Repeated positive interactions
  • Compatible personalities
  • Proximity
  • Reciprocity

If you are finding it hard to create and sustain lasting relationships, take notes from science. Studies have shown that some of the best ways to make people like you and want to be around you include:

  • Be a good listener – this should be pretty obvious, but make sure a conversation goes both ways, and only talk 50% of the time or less. People love to talk about themselves and feel heard.
  • Ask questions – as stated, people looooove to talk about themselves and their lives. If you truly want to be friends with someone, you should want to get to know about them, too.
  • Offer to help – whether it is getting a ream of paper off a tall shelf at work, or helping a new neighbor move in, offering assistance is an easy way to feel good for helping and score niceness points.
  • Smile, use open body language – this is not a case of men telling women they should smile more. This is a case of acting like you are approachable. You can make friends and boost your career.
  • Yes, and… – using negative words like “no” or “but” can make the person talking to you feel belittled, or like the conversation is a competition. Try using “Yes, and…” instead.
  • Make connections – obviously you are listening (see above) and paying attention to what the person is saying. Latch onto details to connect and tell related stories. If they mention an upcoming vacation, ask about it. If they mention they’re bored with takeout, offer to share some recipes you love (see the helping point!)

Science says that persistence pays off with friendships, as well as the concept of reciprocity. This means returning a call or text, and making the effort to hang out in person. Generally speaking, a friendship can be well maintained if you check in electronically or in person about once every other week.

Though it may seem overwhelming, there are infinite people out there in the world. Every stranger is a potential friend waiting to happen. A lot rides on your personal outlook and approach to new people. If you are distrustful, angry, super introverted, or blatantly dislike people, it will be more difficult to find, create, and sustain lasting friendships. But not impossible.

The good news is, though making friends can seem hard, there are many steps and strategies you can use to make it easier. And it is never too late in life to create, rekindle, or strength relationships. After all, every person you meet  is a friend waiting to happen. For ideas to get you started, see below. And feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!

Every stranger is a potential friend waiting to happen. Click To Tweet

Renew & Strengthen Old Friendships

If you are like most adults, you probably have moved at least once if not multiple times, and are likely on your second or third career or more. Along the way, there are people with whom you became friendly, whether from living together, going to classes together, neighbors, friends from clubs, etc. It is easy to lose touch after a few months or years.

The beauty of social media nowadays is that reconnection is as easy as a quick Facebook search or LinkedIn sweep. Reach out to people you once knew and liked, and see what they are up to these days. You never know, maybe they also moved, and now you guys live only 20 minutes away from each other. Even if that is not the case, sustaining a friendship long distance is easier than ever.

Friends of Friends

Before the days when online dating became the top dog (now over 1/3 of all marriages begin online), the most common way to meet someone was through a mutual acquaintance.

If you asked your grandfather how he met your grandmother, the answer is probably “at the sock hop” or “a friend set us up on a blind date”. Even my parents, that is exactly how they met: my dad filled in on a blind date for another friend who had gotten sick, met my mom, and the rest is history.

Though “kids these days” don’t tend to hang out at the drive in or soda shop anymore, you would still benefit by expanding your social circle. Have a dinner party, and ask people to bring a plus one or two. If a friend joins a new club or sport, ask if you can join in too, and meet new people together.

At Work

Depending upon where you work, you may know every single co-worker by name, or be one in a nameless faceless mass of people. There are likely a few people you enjoy, a few you feel nothing strongly about, and perhaps one or a few you just cannot stand or get weird vibes from. I’d recommend you don’t start there.

But there must be at least one person whom you don’t know all that well. Maybe that girl down the hall who always wears a green sweater, the guy you keep running into in the elevator, or the girl they just hired last week.

This will require you to take a leap of faith, brace yourself.

Say hi. Smile. Offer your name and a handshake. Maybe invite them to have a cup of coffee, or lunch together.

Follow the advice above once you are spending time together. Ask questions, listen to the answers, and then make connections and tell your own stories. The absolute worst that can happen is you learn that you don’t have much in common, but now you know where to get hand-knitted tea towels or who to ask for help in case you chair wheel falls off.

The absolute best case? You just wrote the first chapter of a book titled “How I Met My Best Friend”.

It is worth a half hour of your time every few days or every few weeks to invite someone new out to coffee or lunch, or a walk during your break. Statistically speaking, if you talk to a new person every month, you are likely to have made at least one friend by the end of the year. As someone who never took a statistics class, you can trust that what I’m saying is true.

Join a Club or Sport

See above, the Friends of Friends section? Especially if you already know people involved in softball, soccer, or tag football, ask how to join the team. Already knowing someone will help ease any initial anxiety and discomfort. And if you don’t already know anyone in a sport? So what! More potential new friends for you.

Don’t be afraid to Google or ask around, and find a sport and/or a particular club that works for you. Take into account if there are any costs involved (yearly/monthly start up fees, special equipment or clothing you need, etc), the location from your work/home, when the practices and games are held. You don’t want to get close to a team of people only to realize that the championship game starts at 10pm on a work night the day before a big presentation…

Playing sports is a great way to bond with new people, you are learning and practicing skills, and getting some exercise. Happy endorphins are flying all over the place and everyone is on a natural high. You can high-five and fist-bump and butt-slap with abandon. And once you have become friends, you can capitalize on that accountability partner benefit, and help each other become better, stronger, faster.

And for the less athletically-inclined? No excuses! There are literally thousands of other options of clubs to join. Check your local pubs and bars, most cities will have at least one trivia night or open mic night. Ask at your local library, there may be a book club, knitting club, board game night, or gardening group. Just Google “thing you like” + “where you live” and see what results you get.

Meetups

Along similar lines as above, check Meetup.com for more official meetup groups in your city or nearby. People pay a small fee to set up a group, so you may have to pay a small membership fee, but it is worthwhile.

You can search by type of activity or specific keywords, and set a distance range from whatever zip code you choose. So if you want to find “outdoor adventure” within “25 miles” of “your house”, Meetup will return your 14 results within seconds. Just request to join the groups, RSVP yes to the next event, and show up!

Free Community Events

If you don’t want to go the official route, or don’t trust the internets, try free events in your local town. To find these, look into your local schools, community center, university, fliers at the coffee shops, or newspaper. You may find potlucks, free community dinners, fund raisers, school plays, big-name speakers, hikes, courses, and more.

You will know when you get there that everyone is likely to live fairly nearby, so you should have a lot of local news and history in common! Plus, since they are also at a free community event, you probably share similar values like building a sense of community, and frugality. Bonus.

Volunteering

Volunteering your time is an excellent way to get involved in your community and meet new people, while also getting that warm fuzzy do-good feeling. It is a win-win, you feel great and sleep better at night while someone or some organization gets some much needed help. The ideas for volunteering are pretty endless:

  • a pet shelter
  • your library
  • farmer’s markets
  • Big Brother Big Sister
  • kids’ sports coach
  • museums
  • suicide/rape hotlines
  • Meals on Wheels
  • museums/zoos
  • assisted living facility
  • hospitals
  • Habitat for Humanity

You can check out websites like VolunteerMatch.com to match you with groups looking for people with your skills or experience.

Now get out there and hug a stranger!

 

*I’m excited I got to use the word “thrice” in a post! #wordnerd

Tell me, do you think making friends as an adult is hard? How did you meet your best friend(s)? Any tips for people looking for a new #tribe?

Putting It Out There: Holiday Weight Loss Plan

 

Okay let me say right off the bat, this is a scary thing to publish. I am staring at the finish line of my second decade of life, and am not feeling that great about where I’m at physically. I’ve been able to maintain approximately my same weight/shape since college, for basically 10 years. But time and a love of food catches up to you.

For the holidays, we have a wicked awesome Christmas cruise planned. This is something I’ve dreamed of for years, and I couldn’t be more excited. I love cruises SO much, they are the best bang for your vacation buck in my opinion, but that’s for another post.

The point of this is that in less than 7 weeks I will be in the warm Caribbean, on my 30th birthday, and I want to look damn good. See photo above for my plans that day.

Therefore, as a Type A person, the first thing I did was make some lists, and research. Research like I’ve never researched before. I am already a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and have had training on literally dozens of different diets. I have been interested in food and nutrition for nearly a decade, and have read exhaustively on diets, macros, calories, and more.

What follows is my Plan, of what to eat and how much to move, for the next 7 weeks, to get into tip top shape. This is a plan that I think will work for me as a relatively young, healthy woman who lives a very sedentary life and normally consumes ~1800 calories per day. This is also a fairly temporary plan of extreme restriction, which will revert back to maintenance post-vacation, and forever after I hope.

Starting weight: 156

Of course, health is about far more than a number on a scale. And don’t get me wrong, I love myself the way that I am. But I know I can do better, and I also want to see if I can follow this through to the end. I know weight is not a great measure of health at all; the main way I will really track progress is how my clothes fit and how I feel. But that is a hard thing to measure and report on.

Goal weight: 135

This will be a drastic lifestyle change, especially in the exercise arena. When I think back over my recent evenings, what usually happens is I get home from work between 5:30-6, start dinner, we eat 15-30 minutes later, and then watch TV for 30-90 minutes. Or hubs is playing games with friends while I read on my kindle. At least if it is nice outside, we usually fit in a walk before or after dinner.

By having quick, easy, already cooked meals for myself around, I won’t have to spend much time at all on food. And by sacrificing a half hour to an hour of time spent reading or watching TV, I am making an investment in myself and my health. Breakfasts will also be much quicker, so I can use morning time to complete the yoga or walk portion of the day, or do a workout video.

I am lucky to have an extremely supportive hubs who is behind me all the way no matter what I choose to do. It also helps that he is able and willing to feed himself for the next 2 months. Sure that means burritos basically every day but there are worse things he could eat.

He also will (hopefully) help keep me motivated when it gets hard, because I know it will. I’m not someone who likes eating the same thing every day or week (clearly), so this will be a struggle. I’m also a lazy bones who could literally read for 10 hours straight and not move. Introvert inertia, amiright?

Maybe this is how I should read from now on? I’d get some amazingly toned guns.

Exercise Plan

I do not have any exercise equipment in my house other than 3 pound weights and a yoga mat. I do not plan on buying any, nor do I plan to spend money on a gym membership. I’ve learned things about myself over the years, and most importantly is that those things are a waste of money. I will go once or twice, and then never again. Therefore I am focusing on body weight exercises I can do in the comfort of my home whenever I please.

Week 1-2 (Nov 3 – 16):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 15-30 minute walk
  • MWF (or 3x/week) – body weight workout video or run
Week 3-4 (Nov 17 – 30):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 20-30 minute walk
  • MWFSat (or 4x/week) – body weight workout video or run
Week 5-7 (Dec 1 – 22):
  • Daily – 30-45 minutes of yoga, 30-45 minute walk
  • 6 days/week – body weight workout video or run

Over time as your body acclimates to a new workout routine, it is easy to hit a plateau. Those moves that used to be a challenge are quite boring now, or that number of reps you couldn’t get past is far in the rear view mirror. This is partially exciting because, hell, when you can’t even manage 10 full push-ups, the idea that you can now do 25 without even breathing heavy is pretty magical.

However, this also usually means a weight loss plateau.

That’s the opposite of what I’m aiming for, I want at least steady if not accelerating weight loss. Therefore, to avoid a plateau, I’m going to gradually increase the duration and intensity of my workouts every other week. This means I will keep challenging my body as it gets stronger and stronger.

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies
Breakfast options
  • 2 hard boiled eggs + fruit
  • 1 egg scrambled + 1/2 cup SV
  • Protein smoothie
  • Tofu scramble + SV
  • 1/2 cup oats + 1/4 cup milk + fruit
  • 1/2 cup quinoa + 1/4 cup milk + fruit
  • Yogurt + fruit
Lunch/Dinner options
  • 2-3 oz chicken breast over 2 cups of greens +RV
  • 2-3 oz chicken breast + 1/2 sweet potato + SV
  • 2-3 oz shrimp over 2 cups greens + RV
  • 2-3 oz shrimp over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz tofu over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz tofu in miso soup with cabbage/onion
  • 1/2 cup beans + 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 1/2 cup beans + 1/2 sweet potato +  SV
  • 2-3 oz salmon over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz salmon breast over 2 cups of greens +RV
  • 2-3 oz salmon in lettuce cups + RV
  • 1 cup vegan chili or curry + 1/4 c rice/quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable soup

This plan is mostly just an even leaner & cleaner version of how I eat day to day. The biggest changes are a big decrease in the amount of carbs I plan to eat, and I will be using actual measuring cups and a food scale to reign in portion sizes.

We are terrible at estimating portion sizes and calorie counts are (usually inaccurate) averages, so I’m taking out the guesswork. This plan will hopefully re-set my mind so that when this is over and it is back to maintenance, I’m better at estimating amounts again.

There will be significant challenges, i.e. holiday temptations. I’m sure especially at work, I will be exposed to cookies, treats, and other items not in the plan on a regular basis. Plus I have guests visiting soon, a house party in a week, and America’s biggest reason to gorge all year (Thanksgiving) is just around the corner.

My plan for dealing with temptations/falling off the wagon?
  • Remind myself of why I’m doing this
  • Ask which I’d regret more tomorrow: eating it, or not
  • Having healthy snacks/meals available at all times
  • Asking hubs & close friends for help when needed
  • Keeping lots of water around at all times to stay hydrated
  • Self-love & forgiveness; I want progress, not perfection
  • If I don’t follow the plan for a day, forgive and try again

They say the best way to follow through on goals is to have accountability, and a system. My wonderful hubs is part of the accountability plan, this article is another. Putting all this out there in the interwebs is terrifying, but I want to make this real.

So, readers, feel free to cheer me on or give helpful advice, and connect with me on Twitter. Here’s to health & sticking with it!

 

For information and inspiration, check out the articles below. A big shout out to Mrs. Frugal Asian Finance, whose articles gave me the inspiration and kick in the pants to put together a real actual plan instead of just complaining about how my pants felt tighter.

How I Lost 36 Lbs With A Cheaper Diet

Forget calorie counting: Try this calorie control guide for men and women

https://www.paleonick.com/articles/7-Healthy-Ways-To-Lose-Fat

On Losing Weight: Comparing Physical Fitness And Financial Fitness

https://lifehacker.com/5950484/how-to-motivate-yourself-into-an-exercise-routine-youll-actually-stick-to

How to Look and Feel Like The Vigilante Without a Hefty Price Tag

Evoolution of Fat

How to Achieve Your Goals Easily

https://www.livestrong.com/article/48248-good-diet-plan-lose-lbs/

5 Similarities Between Weight Loss & Debt Payoff

 

 

 

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a paid health professional; none of this constitutes medical advice. This plan was created by myself, for myself only. Please do not try any drastic dietary or exercise changes prior to consulting a physician, and do not assume any other person’s plan will give you the same or any results at all.

Also, some links are Amazon Associate links, which if you click on them and then purchase the item, it generates a small commission for the blog’s upkeep at no cost to you.

Accepting the Zero Spend Challenge: October Review

For those of you who do not know what I’m talking about when I say “Zero Spend Challenge” or a Zero Spend Day, please check out the article below from ZeroDayFinance.com first. I’ll wait.

The Zero Day Challenge

Ok welcome back! Hopefully now you know what I’m talking about, and maybe are inspired to try it yourself.

Basically, this challenge turns not spending money into a game.

Everyone loves games! The goal is to rack up as many “Zero Days” as possible, meaning days when you spend zero dollars. This should naturally lower your discretionary spending (things you buy which are wants and not needs) and free up more money to save & invest.

I decided to join in the Zero Day Challenge to see how a typical month’s spending works out. I have a set budget of $75/week on food, other than that most expenses are automated. Mortgage, utility bills, phone payments, etc. all come out of my checking automatically every month, so that I’m never late on a payment.

Hubs and I naturally live a pretty frugal life without much shopping or extraneous expenses. Therefore, I expected that I would have tons of zero spend days! I set a goal of a little over half the month for zero days, and a spending limit of $1200 for myself. This is a little high, but I wanted a good cushion to find my baseline.

Not included in the spending is about $2000 or so towards automated payments and investments, as well as any spending hubs did behind my back. Just kidding, we are both allowed to spend freely as long as we discuss anything over $25 first.  🙂  You could also argue that $218 and change that went towards car insurance shouldn’t be included, but since it was a cashed check and not a credit card autopay I added it in.

As it turned out, I didn’t hit my goal for zero days, but I did come pretty close. I learned that there will always be some spending that pops up that I didn’t plan for.

This month, I had my sister’s birthday sneak up on me, and rather than look like a terrible big sis who didn’t plan ahead (reality) I sent her a Target gift card via text message (because it’s her favorite store of all time and we’re both damn Millennials who are all into text messaging and non-real-money) and looked like a rock-star.

We also had a planned date night (NC Wine Fest for our 1 year anniversary!) this month, and 2 unplanned date nights (a new Ethiopian restaurant opened in downtown, and the NC State Fair). This tells me that maybe I need to start putting a ‘dates’ line item in my monthly budget.

Probably the thing that surprised me the most was the fact that I did not ever go a full week without buying something. For someone who claims to never really shop, that was eye-opening.

Going forward, I think I will keep using the spreadsheet tool (it’s free on ZDF’s website if you subscribe! Go get it for yourself). Seeing how my spending changes month to month and what it averages out to over the course of a year will be really helpful. It is also neat to see how your spending is tracking in line with your goals, and I got sad when the zero day number changed from green to red. I found myself trying to not stop at the store just one more day…

But on the flip side, if I already spent money on something, I felt that if there was anything else ‘needed’ I better hurry up and buy it on the same day. So in that way it could be a slippery slope to spending more. Overall, something that makes you pause before clicking the ‘buy’ button or swiping your card is a good thing in my book.

 

Have you ever tried a zero-spend or ultra frugal month challenge? What did you learn, and do you keep doing it? If you haven’t what’s stopping you?

Weekly Eating – 10/23

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

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

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

 

Monday:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday:

Breakfast – applesauce muffins 

Lunch – the last of the Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake leftovers

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

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

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

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

Snack – blender hummus and veggies

Wednesday:

Breakfast – peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – leftover minestrone soup

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

Snack – a mini snicker bar at work

Thursday:

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

Lunch – a chicken quarter with some brown rice and edamame

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

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

Friday:

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

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

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

Snack – chocolate peanut butter granola bar

The Weekend

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

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

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

Food Total: $63.85

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

 

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

Restaurant Review: Rock’n’Roll Sushi

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

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

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

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, I’d rate Rock’nRolls:

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

Weekly Eating – 10/16

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Ways you can help:

Save the boobies!

Monday:

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

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

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

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Smoothie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad

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

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

Snack – 2 Cookies & Green tea

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smootie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon couscous salad

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

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

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

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

Thursday:

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

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

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

Snack – granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – mason jar smoothie

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

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

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

The Weekend

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

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

Food Total: $55.13

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

My Favorite One Dollar Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Eat on Less Than $1.00/meal

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

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

Your Wallet Will Thank You

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

Your Health Will Thank You

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

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

The Planet Will Thank You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to the Recipe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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