Category Archives: Administrative

That which doesn’t kill you…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. much. moving.

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

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

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

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

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

Phew!

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

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

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

Can we retire by 40?

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Weekly Eating – 7/17

 

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

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

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

Monday:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday:

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

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

Dinner – chicken enchiladas

Snack – hummus with raw veg, cottage cheese

Wednesday:

Breakfast – cinnamon raisin bagel with almond butter

Lunch – turkey wrap with cheddar & pickles

Dinner – Crock pot chili

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

Thursday – The Weekend:

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

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

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

Total:  $70.44

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

Double batch of enchiladas to survive the weekend

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

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

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

 

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

My Frugal Beauty Manifesto

 

Everyone likes to look good. Whether you are a top-paid model spending 80 hours per week on your looks or a mom of seven who has never owned a lipstick, we all want to look and feel our best.

And we pay dearly for the things we want.

The beauty industry is well versed in how to play on people’s dreams and fears in order to make a buck. An ad may ostensibly be about blush, but what they really hope to evoke is thoughts like: Am I pretty enough? What would my life be like if I looked like her? Can this product make me happy?

The entire beauty industry is worth an astounding $382 billion globally. And we are handing them our money as fast as we can in the hopes of looking like the hopelessly unrealistic, and in fact totally faked, models we see all over magazines, TV, and billboards.

Connecticut and New York actually tie for the most expense per person on makeup, with an average of $11 per day over a lady’s lifetime. ELEVEN DOLLARS PER DAY ON AVERAGE. The same study showed that the average woman in America puts on SIXTEEN products before leaving the house.

Think about that.

Sixteen different lotions, potions, and powders containing all kinds of chemicals and costing you an average of $8/day over your lifetime slathered all over your face. Every day.

Cleaner, soap, toner, foundation, bronzer, blush, highlighter, lotion, concealer, acne cream, eye shadow, eye liner, lip liner, lipstick, lip balm, moisturizer, mascara… And that’s just your face, don’t get me started on the rest of the body!

Enough already.

I have never been a big fan of makeup or beauty products in general, and the more I learn about them the more thankful I am.

These products are terrible for the environment with their aerosols and propellants and literal tons of waste generated per year.

They are terrible for your long-term skin and organ health and endocrine system, containing things like petroleum, mercury, pthalates, formaldehyde, paraphenylenediamine, and vague terms like “fragrance” which means who knows what.

Check the labels on your shampoo, lipstick, or lotion. You might be surprised by how many ingredients there are, and how many you can’t pronounce.

In better news, it is so awesome and wonderful and about. dang. time. that we are seeing things like the Body Image Movement, Dove’s Every body is Beautiful” campaign, and Jessamyn Stanley’s “Every Body Yoga” empowering people of all races and shapes to believe they are beautiful and capable.

It is a beautiful thing to see initiatives like L’Oreal’s commitment to reducing waste by 60% by 2020, the EU outlining Good Sustainability Practices for the cosmetics industry, and waste management and reduction and sustainability becoming more of a priority to the beauty industry as a whole.

You can do your part for the world, your health, and your wallet, by simply buying less stuff. By believing your natural beauty is all you need, you are taking a huge step towards reducing landfill waste, reducing the amount of toxins and chemicals in our water and air and your own body, and keeping dollars in your bank account rather than the industry’s pockets.

But, girl, c’mon we still wanna look good!

I know, I know, and honestly I do care a little. I don’t want to look like a neglected ragamuffin either.

My solution? Use the most natural products I can, the majority of the time and as sparingly as possible. To DIY as much as possible, to re-use or use smart packaging and storage to get the most out of my products. And to maintain a generally healthy diet and regular exercise, with tons of water daily, to nourish my skin and body’s natural glow as long as possible!

Below are my favorite beauty tips and tricks. Hopefully some will be useful to you too.

Natural Beauty Ideas

Makeup

If you MUST wear makeup…

  • Make mascara last longer by adding a few drops of saline into a dry tube
  • Vaseline is great at keeping eyebrows in check. Just a tiny dab is all you need, swipe it along your brow from the middle of your forehead to the ends. It is also a wonderful lip balm to keep chapped lips at bay.
  • Coconut oil is a great makeup remover. Just rub in a dollop, and wipe clean with a towel. You can use a q-tip for lips or eyes or small spaces. If you can’t handle the smell, try Vitamin E oil.
  • Rather than use oily lipstick full of chemicals and petroleum, try beet juice! Use it from an open can of beets, or fresh by roasting some beets in the oven and rubbing the root on your lips. Same goes for rosy red cheeks, just blend gently afterwards.
  • You can also give yourself a little color by rubbing or pinching your cheeks, or biting your lips a little bit. This gets the blood flowing to the surface, but is short lived. Useful for pictures or when you are about to meet someone for the first time.
  • Use toilet seat covers to absorb face oil. Why pay for packs of face blotters when you can snag a few for free??
  • Make your own totally natural, delicious smelling powdered foundation using ingredients from your kitchen!
  • Clean your brushes with a 2-ingredient DIY makeup brush cleaner

Hair

My favorite hair tip is to plan for a 2-day-‘do; this only works for medium-long hair. Shower as usual, and let your hair dry halfway. Then, braid into two French braids. Wear that style all day, and enjoy having your hair out of your face. Sleep in it too. The next day, undo the braids, and tussle. You can add a bit of mousse, hairspray, or gel if you need it. Then enjoy your second-day waves!

  • Use coconut oil as a treatment for dry scalp or excess frizz. Coconut oil is super hydrating. All you need to do is massage 1-2 tbsp into your hair from tips to top and let sit 5-10 minutes. Then shampoo & wash as normal.
  • Tame oily second-day-hair with baby powder or cornstarch. It works pretty much like dry shampoo, by soaking up excess oil near your scalp, leaving you looking fresh.
  • Sleep with your hair in a top knot/bun to give it more volume
  • Plain apple cider vinegar is a great rinse for your hair. It can help restore the pH balance of your scalp, and remove product buildup, perfect for after a big event like a prom or wedding, that requires a can of hair spray to keep your do in place. (Not that you should do that in the first place…) Use 1/4 cup cider to 2 cups water.
  • Herbal hair rinses claim a whole host of benefits. Just google it, you’ll see. Try making a nice cup of plain herbal tea, and rinsing your scalp with it, to see what works for you.

Nails

Do your own! Duh. Set aside an hour or two, and get to it. This will only cost you the total of: 1 top coat + 1 color you like

  1. Apply a bottom or clear coat.
  2. Apply 1 coat of your color. Wait patiently 15-20 minutes, read a book or watch some Netflix. If you touch it and it is not tacky and is fully dry, you’re ready for step 3.
  3. Apply a second coat if it is a thin color, or apply top coat.
  4. Optional if you did 2 coats, now apply top coat. Done.
  5. Enjoy your fabulous, frugal nails!

Some more frugal nail tips:

  • If you run out of nail polish, or just want to create a custom color, you can mix eye shadow crumbles with clear top coat! A great use for broken or almost-used-up palettes.
  • Don’t shake polish, that creates bubbles. Instead, roll it rapidly between your hands to mix it up.
  • Put vaseline around your cuticles before painting. Then you can just wipe off any paint outside the lines!
  • Use tape or a rubber band for perfect French tips. Just make sure the bottom coat is dry first.
  • Make your polish last longer: If your polish is dried out or too thick to use, add a few drops of polish remover and roll it around to loosen it up.
  • Use coconut oil or Vitamin E oil on cuticles for silky smooth hands

If you require professional nails, or don’t have the time/ patience / steady hand to do it yourself…

  • Look for a Groupon. Maybe there’s a new salon opening nearby that needs new customers and is offering half off. You can also try calling the place offering the Groupon, and asking if you can get the Groupon price in the store. They have to pay almost half in order for Groupon to run their special, so they may be more than happy to make you that deal and keep the whole profit! Win-win.
  • Try to barter. You never know when a nail salon employee would be happy to give you a mani/pedi in exchange for a massage, doing her taxes, helping move…
  • Ask a friend, or multiple friends! Have a spa day where you do each other’s nails, put on face masks* (see below) pop some corn and watch a girly film. Everyone will leave feeling pampered and loved and looking fine.

Grooming / Whole Body

  • Coconut oil is marvelous as a moisturizer and/or lotion
  • Make your own body scrubs! You can use a whole range of natural ingredients and scents to fit your fancy, like peppermint or vanilla or even coffee
  • Never buy shaving cream again! Any old conditioner works just fine, I promise. Buy an 89 cent bottle, or a bigger container of your normal conditioner (props for more savings by buying in bulk!) and rub a dollop on your wet leg. You can do the same thing with (you guessed it) all-purpose coconut oil.
  • *Create a hydrating face mask at home: mix 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 2 tbsp honey, and 1 small mashed banana. Smooth all over and leave on face for about 20 minutes, then rinse off. The honey is an antiseptic to help clear or prevent acne, the yogurt is a great hydrator, and the banana helps smooth and tighten your skin.
  • To make your razors last longer, shake them dry after each use and let them soak in some baby oil to keep them sharper longer
  • Witch hazel is a great natural skin toner / cleanser
  • Tweeze your own brows! It is so easy and takes only a few minutes every few weeks, there is no excuse not to. If you already have them done by a professional, it is even easier because you just have to maintain the shape they already have

 

If you are afraid to go totally “naked”, just try dropping or changing one product in your routine per week. Eventually, you may realize you never needed that second layer of cover-up, or hated the smell of toner or the cakey feel of eyeshadow anyway! Plus, as you wean yourself off of products, you may notice your skin is even healthier, as it has fewer things to smother it and fewer chemicals to absorb.

And don’t forget to drink WATER! Keep a reuseable bottle or cup at your desk, in your purse or backpack, in your car, in your refrigerator. Wherever you are going to remember to keep on drinking it all day long.

The best beauty weapon in your arsenal is your smile!

You. Are. Beautiful.

Look in the mirror, every day, and smile. We only get one body to live in, we should love and take care of it. Be kind to yourself, and to others, and let your naturally beauty shine, inside and out.

 

Do you guys have any great frugal beauty tips?

Weekly Eating #4 – 7/10

 

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!

Monday:

Breakfast – yogurt parfait with frozen strawberries & cherries & a crushed up Nature Valley Oats & Honey bar

Lunch – leftover stirfry

Dinner – BBQ pork ribs & leftover mashed potatoes. I grab boneless ribs anytime I see them on clearance, and keep some in the freezer as a special treat, these are one of hubby’s absolute favorite things. I defrost them overnight, then boil in some chicken stock, then sear them in the pan. We then eat them slathered in BBQ sauce, and ended up so messy by the end that I didn’t get a photo.  🙂

Tuesday:

Breakfast – KIND bar

Lunch – leftover salmon summer salad from the weekend’s dinner party. This stuff is so darn good I swear I could eat it almost daily.

Dinner – Pork & White Bean Soup in the slow cooker using the broth from yesterday’s ribs. It was so simple, but so tasty! Served with biscuits from the freezer.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – chocolate PB oatmeal: funny story. This was actually a rescued “Frugal Fail” to borrow a term from Mrs. Picky Pincher. I meant to try a recipe for no-bake energy bites. It called for oats, and PB and honey. But I only had honey PB (twofer, awesome!) and steel cut oats (They’re the same thing, right? Wrong.)

So I happily measure and mix, convinced this is a perfect quick breakfast choice. Oh, by the way, this is at 7am, and I need to leave at 7:30… Well, first, it wouldn’t all stick together. I tried using more PB, and got it wet enough to stick. But it still won’t form a ball, it was like, wet sand. Steel cut oats are cut into teeny tiny pieces, and evidently, do not make no-bake balls well.

So I tried baking it. I know, that defeats the purpose of a “no-bake” recipe. But I figured, maybe I could at least turn them into bars and salvage this. Now it is 7:20… And I try to cut a bar… and it falls apart instantly. Okay, clearly, this is not working. Do I throw out a whole 8×8 pan of oats and peanut butter and flax?

No way!

I think… well… it’s still oatmeal. May as well throw it in a jar, and pour some milk over it. Still warm from the oven, the chocolate was melty and quickly turned it into chocolate milk, with a slight peanutty flavor. Turns out, this was pretty great! Hooray!

Frugal fail turned into something edible.

Ahhhh, the sweet taste of success.

Lunch – out with a work colleague, pesto chicken panini

Dinner – tortellini with pesto and frozen mixed veggies

Snacks – brown rice cakes

Thursday:

Breakfast – chocolate oatmeal creation

Lunch – black beans & rice with salsa

Snack –  These Amazing Date Cookies!

Picture courtesy of Hip Fit Foodie

Dinner – baked potato soup. I used some leftover mashed potatoes with frozen chicken stock and we stirred in a tbsp plain Greek yogurt to make it creamy, with bacon and cheddar cheese on top. We ate it on the front porch while watching a heck of a thunderstorm.

Friday:

Breakfast – 1 egg, colby jack cheese, Bagel Thin sandwich

Lunch – last of my salmon & couscous salad. I used a small salad container and a leftover ranch dipper to be all cute too!

Dinner – leftover buffet!

The Weekend:

My plans for the weekend include rooftop yoga followed by the Farmers Market, then a quick healthy lunch of some kind of salad, and figuring out what to make for dinner. I’m sure we will have loads of fresh produce by then, so I’m thinking a vegetable lasagna, summer veggie pasta, or kebabs are imminent.

Then I will start a new batch of homemade yogurt, and homemade kombucha. I also think I will try to make ahead some mason jar meals like yogurt parfaits, overnight oatmeal, and salads in a jar too. I’m going to the beach next week to celebrate my mom’s birthday (SO EXCITED!) so I want easy meals to give me more time to pack and plan, and then I need to plan ahead some freezer meals for the hubble bubble so he doesn’t starve.

Total:  $77.60

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

2 trips to the store (Kroger & Harris Teeter) plus the local farmers market. The weekend Farmer Market trip will be included in next week’s total.

Lessons Learned

I did a great job at the store this week! Nearly to my $75/week goal, and that included all our staples, plus a few last-second items I asked the mister to grab prior to our dinner party last week, plus the farmers market splurge on Wednesday. Aw yeah!

And I learned that sometimes, recipe experiments don’t turn out the best. But that’s okay, we all make mistakes sometimes. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad of a fail, I could still eat the oatmeal. It was just… less than pleasing in texture, shall we say?  😉

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

Weekly Eating #3 – 7/2

 

 

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 – microwaved 2 scrambled eggs on top of an everything Bagel Thin and slice of cheddar cheese. Homemade “mocha latte” (coffee + hot cocoa mix + milk, blended)

Lunch – leftover stir fry

Dinner – BBQ pulled pork mac-n-chili (?) This was a weird idea I had to use up several leftovers. 1/2 lb cooked penne, 1 cup bbq pulled pork, 1 cup pinto beans, 1 whole shredded yellow squash, 1 cup shredded cheddar, 2 tbsp butter and a splash of milk. Luckily for us, it turned out really delicious!

Snack – fresh cherries, hummus + cucumber/carrots

Tuesday: Fourth of July!

Breakfast – kind of slept in and skipped this part, mostly just had coffee, and then early lunch

Lunch – chicken, broccoli, rice casserole: this is ridiculously simple, and came out amazingly delicious! Layer chopped broccoli, mushrooms, 1/2 cup rice, and shredded chicken. Add 1/2 cup stock and 1/2 cup milk, and cheddar cheese. Top with some more broccoli, cover in foil and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Done!

Dinner – leftover buffet

The holiday was nice and relaxing, we got some laundry done, played some games and I finished a book. I did also bake up some red velvet cupcakes with blueberry cream cheese frosting! I made way too many, so I took a few plates to our neighbors  🙂

Wednesday:

Breakfast – peach smoothie: 2 peaches, 2 bananas, 1 cup yogurt, 1 cup orange juice

Lunch – out with a work colleague; rosemary chicken panini

Dinner – chicken and dumplings with some of my homemade foccacia

Snacks – brown rice cakes

Thursday:

Breakfast – homemade yogurt with peaches and granola

Lunch – slow cooker “refrigerator soup”. Basically I chopped up all the veggies about to spoil, added some lentils & quinoa, salsa and homemade chicken stock in a small slow cooker on high all day in my cube. By noon, the whole office smells AMAZING and I get a nice hot, filling, super healthy and super frugal lunch.

Dinner – ravioli per hubby’s request

Friday:

Breakfast – parfait with fresh peaches, yogurt, and 1 smashed up Nature Valley Oats & Honey bar

Lunch – pasta salad

Dinner – stir friday: pork! You may wonder, why stir-Friday every week? Doesn’t that get boring? Well, no definitely not because there are so many options! And the reason is simple: it’s delicious and super frugal. It gives me the chance to use up whatever bits of veggies are in the fridge, so that I don’t throw them out.

The Weekend:

On Saturday we just hung out, cleaned inside and outside a bit, and then hosted a dinner party.

I made a recipe from my sister-in-law for a knock-your-socks-off delicious summer salad with arugula, cheese, macademia nuts (from a friend’s family farm in S America!), corn, craisins, and baked salmon. I’m drooling just thinking about it! I made some lime-ade for the drivers, and some tropical rum punch for whoever wanted it.  🙂

Total:  $116.91

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

Oops… This is why I’m not allowed to go to grocery stores by myself anymore…

In my defense, I did stock up on several staples I will not use this week alone, like pasta, lentils, pearled couscous, 3 loaves of multigrain bread for 0.99 that I will freeze, brown rice, sliced cheese. We also were running low on doggy teeth-cleaning treats for the pups, and that is included in the total.

Lessons Learned

I did a pretty good job of using up weird bits of leftovers and creating new meals, so that was a definite plus! But, I also let the grocery gremlin get me, and tell me that “these sales are way too good, you definitely need to stock up on 5 kinds of pasta, more salad than you can actually eat in one week, $10 of beer, and the pups are so cute they totally deserve $20 worth of treats!” All we can do is learn from it, and do better next week.

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

Weekly eating #2 – 6/26

 

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 me on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting. Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

Monday:

Breakfast – a piece of spinach/zucchini strata I made on Sunday, half an heirloom tomato with salt, and a handful of blueberries from the Farmers Market

Lunch – the last leftovers of the One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake

Dinner – Burgers (from the freezer) with fresh tomatoes, roasted cabbage quarters and zucchini/sweet potato fries

Snack – cut up honeydew and cantaloupe from Farmers Market

Tuesday:

Breakfast – homemade KIND nut bar

Snack – coconut almond yogurt flip

Lunch – free Margarita pizza at a work event!

Dinner – BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, roasted cabbage, & corn from the Durham Farmers Market

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade yogurt  with blueberries, walnuts, & agave

Lunch – leftover white fish over brown rice with homemade salsa on top & sauteed zucchini

Dinner – hamburger stew in the crockpot (freezer meal!)

Snacks – homemade KIND nut bar

Thursday:

Breakfast – homemade yogurt with a cut up fresh peach, walnuts, and agave

Lunch – black beans & rice with salsa from Farmers Market. It was so tasty last week, I had to make it again! This may be a new favorite.

Dinner -Stir Friday! (What?!) Chicken fried rice stir fry with zucchini, onion, and cabbage. We ended up planning dinner with friends for Friday, so today’s planned mac-n-cheese got the boot, and we moved Stir Friday to Stir Thursday! … Stirsday?

Friday:

Breakfast – smoothie: 2 bananas, 2 peaches, 1 cup of homemade yogurt, OJ, and protein powder. MAN, fresh peaches really make a smoothie sing! This may be my favorite breakfast all week. I slurped it down so fast I didn’t even get a picture  😉

Lunch – baked sweet potato with black beans and salsa, blueberries

Dinner – pasta & meatballs, with garlic bread & salad

Snack – hummus with carrots & cucumbers

The Weekend:

Breakfast – 1 egg + 2 egg white omelet with leftover zucchini & sweet potato from Monday & tomato

Brunch – Dim Sum! After Saturday morning rooftop yoga (yup, I’m totally hooked on this now), we went to Hong Kong Dim Sum in Durham. Cozy, quaint little place with deeeeelicious food!

Dinner – Leftover pasta & roast chicken. Will shred the rest of the meat for next week, and make stock in the crock pot overnight.

I’m also using the whey from making my own yogurt to attempt my first ciabatta bread! We will see how that goes…  Sunday will be something with the leftover chicken most likely, and depending on weather a soup or a big salad.

Total:  $33.62

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

Lessons Learned

We did stay pretty close to our meal plan this week, which is great! I see meal plans as a simple guideline, but we often switch things up, like on Thursday we had mac n cheese on the plan, but swapped stir fry to make room for a different dinner Friday. I also try to leave at least one night a week for a ‘leftover buffet’ or take-out meal.

I spent very little at the store this week, I was quite proud of myself for sticking to the list and the budget! I have a bad habit of being unable to help myself around sales and produce… but I did it! And at the farmers market, I did spend $5 on fresh heirloom tomatoes, but by golly that is a worthwhile expense. The little yellowgold cherry tomatoes were so sweet and perfect I nommed nearly half the container at my desk before I even got them home.

Although…. confession time. ALDI had a 3L box of summer sangria on sale for $9.99 this week! I couldn’t not buy it, so $20 of that total may have been wine. And I don’t regret it one smidge, it was DELICIOUS! I need like 20 more haha

 

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

Weekly Eating #1: 6/19

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the first edition of the new 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.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – 1 egg + egg whites omelet with the last 2 mini bell peppers, diced onion leftover from quesadillas & spinach

Lunch – leftover noodle stir fry with tofu & a soy sauce packet I found in my desk drawer

Dinner – 1-pan pork chops, broccoli & sweet potato fries (OMG delish! Recipe coming soon)

So simple, so delicious, and like 5 second clean up!

Snack: Popcorn! It’s no secret I’m a huge popcorn addict, but the homemade stove-top-popped stuff is WAY cheaper and (mostly) healthier so I don’t feel bad about eating a giant bowl full. I make a big batch, and pack it up in Zip-locks for days of happy snacking.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – drive thru breakfast wrap. Sometimes, you just cannot morning.

Snack – coconut almond Greek yogurt flip (I know, packaged brands are WAY too expensive but guys, seriously, this is SO GOOD! My mother-in-law got me hooked. I promise, I’m gonna try to find a way to make it myself cheaper, but for now, forgive me my guilty indulgence.)  UPDATE: I did it! And so can you!

Lunch – leftover slow cooker black beans & rice & salsa from a weekend party. This was basically free because it was all bits of leftovers that ended up being amazing all together

Dinner – pasta with vodka pink sauce, leftover bread sticks, salad. The sauce was a little pizza sauce leftover from Saturday’s pizza night plus a 1/3 jar of alfredo rattling around the fridge with a tbsp of pasta cooking water to thin. I love using up all the bits of things to make something new and delicious! Plus not throwing away food makes my heart sing.

(Although, my heart later broke because I threw out a 1/2 pan of homemade tiramisu :,( We just didn’t eat it fast enough, and it got stale and dried out and gross. Mreow. Also tossed 1/2 a shortcake a friend had gotten me because strawberries aren’t green. And fuzzy.)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – everything Bagel Thin with 1 tbsp cream cheese

Lunch – miso soup. Honestly, I just had a couple chunks of tofu left from last week’s stir-Friday that I didn’t want to go to waste. And I keep a tub of miso in the fridge (it lasts basically forever) so I just stirred a tbsp into some water, added the tofu and the last few sheets from a seaweed snack pack (yes I’m a weirdo but that stuff is addictive!) and called it lunch.

On a whim, I sliced a couple super thin pieces of onion to add (red, since I didn’t have green) and that was a great decision! It was warm and tasty at my desk on a rainy day.

Dinner – One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake using leftover chicken I had cooked in the crockpot on Sunday. I did half sweet potatoes and half white potatoes with a bag of frozen “California mix” veggies (cauliflower, broccoli & carrots), Ranch dressing, hot sauce, and cheddar cheese.

Guys, this stuff is so freaking good, I had to have seconds!
Sorry not sorry.

OMG. Can’t. Even.

Snacks – hummus, carrots & cucumber slices

Oh, and the hospital where I work has a Farmers Market every Wednesday! How cool is that?! I got a pint of a mixture of delicious heirloom cherry tomatoes, an itty bitty adorable cauliflower, and a big ol zucchini.

Thursday:

Brekfast – 1/2 a big homemade KIND nut bar

Lunch – leftover One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake. I can’t believe we demolished a 9×13 pan in 2 days… oh wait, yes I can. There’s a reason that’s my #1 post!

Snack – other half of the KIND bar (I brought hard boiled eggs, but turns out they were so old they became mushy by noon, and smelled awful. Whoops! It made me sad but I threw them out rather than risk food poisoning.)

Dinner – Chicken enchiladas! I had some roasted cauliflower from the market yesterday, and literally microwaved a cup of spinach to have on the side. Delicious and quite filling.

Friday:

Breakfast – cherry berry smoothie: frozen cherries + strawberries, 2 bananas (about to go bad), 1 cup orange juice, 1 scoop unflavored protein powder, 1 cup spinach. Blend for a long time until smooth.

Hubby loves waking up to a smoothie beside the bed! And I love sneaking in a serving of veggies before 9am  😉

Lunch – Panzanella with leftover homemade bread from last week, cucumber & cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market.

This is a great example of a frugal use of leftovers, because who enjoys stale bread? But this way, the juices from the tomatoes and cucumber and olive oil (or Italian dressing) soaks in and mixes together with some fresh basil and spices it becomes a whole new delicious meal. I tossed in half an avocado too, because, duh.

Dinner – Stir Friday! This week we had garlic shrimp. AND I made my own Yum Yum Sauce! Sure did. If you haven’t had it, it totally lives up to its name.

I could probably eat half my weight in stir fried rice. For reals.

Saturday:

Breakfast – microwaved some spinach & egg whites, and put it on an everything Bagel Thin for a light, healthy breakfast before I went to a really cool rooftop yoga class downtown

Brunch – after yoga I met up with some friends to wander the Durham Farmers Market, and then we got a delicious brunch at Scratch. Oh, and the bacon jam, is totally my jam!

The Duck Egg Sandwich was outta this world, and the rosemary lemonade was so tasty it inspired me to go home and create some more fruity & refreshing beverages.

Blackberry mint lemonade (with berries from the market) and rosemary lemonade (with rosemary from my front yard!)

Dinner – Tacos at a friends house! Good food, good people, wine from Unique Pairings (which, if you’re ever in Myrtle Beach, definitely stop by!), and games combine for a splendid way to spend a summer evening. And all the food was provided, I just brought 2 bottles of vino!

Sunday:

To be determined, but I definitely plan to use up some of the goodies I got at the farmer’s market. Maybe a quiche or strata.

I’m also going to spend some time today making next week’s meal plan, using all the delicious fresh produce and trying to clear some space in our freezer. I’m aiming to not buy anything else food-wise this week except maybe some bananas (for the hubby’s addiction).

ALL THE PRODUCE!!! Nomnomnom

Total: ~$98

This is a rough estimate, because at markets where I use mostly cash it gets hard to keep track. Plus I buy things on sale or clearance and freeze or otherwise store for later use, so ‘weekly’ cost averaging can be tough.

For grocery stores, I only bought yogurt and milk and bananas this week, which is great. And I’m okay with spending a little more on fresh produce to support my local farmers! <3

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

Lessons Learned

So it seems this week was great in that we used up a lot of little bits and ends of leftovers, but we were also pretty wasteful with food. There were several things left over from parties that ended up in the trash. We aren’t big on sweets anyways, so we rarely buy or make them, and this just reinforces that knowledge.

When I make a big batch of something (like hard boiled eggs) I need to make sure I actually use it all up before it goes bad. I wouldn’t throw a $5 bill in the trash, but that’s exactly what I’m doing when I toss out old food.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week? Off to make a meal plan for next week!

To a Healthy New Year!

 

 

Hello readers!  As we begin a brand-new year, 2017, we tend to look back on the previous year to learn from it.  We make lists of “bests” and “worsts”, and reflect on all we have or have not done.  While many people feel that 2016 was a terrible year, and are worried about what 2017 will bring, there is so much to be thankful for instead.

2016 was the year in which I got married to the world’s best man and my best friend during a wonderful family and love filled week in the Smoky Mountains, traveled to Europe for the first time for an amazing once in a lifetime Mediterranean cruise, and moved across the country to my dream location and bought our very first home together! What a year!

Think back on all the memories with your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, random strangers. Cherish all the growth you have done as a person, and accomplishments big and small. And whether you make resolutions or not, there is much to learn about how we can continue to improve, individually and as a nation.

Be curious, be kind, to others and yourself. Do small acts of kindness, without expecting recognition or reward. Make the world a better place than when you found it, and the universe will pay it back to you in happiness.

Oh, and check out the Top 10 Posts of 2016!

10. Simple sauteed power greens — this is one of my favorite simple side dishes that packs a healthy punch. I make this all the time with whatever greens I have, currently I’m obsessed with collard greens (does it have to do with moving to the south? maybe) and jalapenos.

9. Salsa Chicken Soup – a total classic, this soup is warming and filling, and when you use all canned ingredients plus a slow cooker it is a total breeze! People will think you spent hours simmering this, when in reality it takes less than 10 minutes to whip up. MMMmmm.

8. Twice the wine for half the calories! — A sneaky trick for making your vino last longer, and letting you indulge more without the guilt. Yes please!

7. Homemade energy drink mix – while excess caffeine is not something I endorse, sometimes you just need a little kick in the pants and aren’t in the mood for coffee. Customizable to whatever flavor you prefer.

6. Frugal Last-Minute Gift Ideas — I’ve a suspicion that Christmas time always nudges this post up just enough to make the top 10! But there are also great ideas on there for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Birthdays too.

5. What are Vitamins? – Good knowledge to have in hand, I tried to clarify some common questions.

4. Ginger-Peach Slow Cooker Chicken — Slow cooker recipes are always popular, for good reason! Slow cookers are amazing, and so is this sweet, tender chicken recipe.

3. Breastfeeding: All about it – I’m honestly a bit surprised this one made the top 3, but sure. I’m glad people are at least interested in learning more! Breastfeeding is a great step for a healthy, happy baby.

2. Grapefruitcello — Popular from the start, making your own infused alcohols is a fun hobby to take up. It is way easier than you may think, don’t be scared! Try any flavor infusion you want and see what happens.

1. One-Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake – This recipe definitely deserves its #1 status! It is supremely simple, surprisingly healthy, and a total crowd pleaser. I may make this again one night this week…

 

And there you have it, ten highlights of the blog from 2016. If you have another post that was your favorite, or one you would like to see in 2017, please post here or email me anytime! Here’s to a happy healthy epicurious New Year!

 

Merry Christmas and enjoy the rest of 2016!

 

Good morning dear readers! If you are here, I am so thankful for you! But, by all means, please get back to friends, family, food, or general holiday merry making.

Enjoy Christmas however you celebrate it, whether at church or a friends house, doing volunteer work or meditating at home. I hope you had a joy-filled 2016, and may you have much to look forward to in 2017. Set yourself some goals, make some new friends, and be thankful for this crazy adventure we’re all on.

Merry Christmas and happy new year!

How do you pick a wedding location?

 

Just like when you are picking your wedding date, choosing a location should be something that you think about but not too hard, and in the end it just feels right.

People vary wildly in their ideas of the “ideal” wedding place, so you should first talk to the other party involved. Do one of you have a church you grew up in, that your parents were married in, that you just have to also get married in? Now is a good time to go over that. If you have always dreamed of a destination wedding on a sandy white beach, bring that up. Give yourselves some time and space to talk it out with no judgment (no, “oh my God, no way are we getting married in that old dump of a church!” or “How stupid, who wants to be married in a dusty barn!??” or “We could never afford Wai Ki-Ki are you crazy??”).

snowy church

Be sure to also discuss all the elements of the location that may end up being important to you. Some suggestions (but by no means a comprehensive list):

  • Is there availability at your desired time?
  • Does the location offer wedding planning or services?
  • Are there hotels nearby for guests to stay in?
  • What is the weather like in the time of year you’re considering?
  • Will the location hold the amount of people you envision?
  • Do you need to account for things like chair or tent rental?
  • Where will you have the ceremony and the reception? Same place? Two places? How far apart are they?
  • Do you want a church?
  • Do you want it to be outdoors?
  • Do you want decorations of a specific type?
  • Will there be dancing? If so can you set up sound/dance floor?
  • Can you bring your own vendors?
  • Do you need any licenses/permits?
  • Is there a deposit or location fee?

http://www.triphobo.com/blog/wedding-destinations

For travel destinations, more things to consider include:

  • Do you need passports/other travel documents?
  • How will you arrange flights/trains/busses/etc?
  • Is it near where you’d like to honeymoon?
  • Is it near an airport?
  • Will you need to rent a car?
  • How many of your planned guests will likely show up?
  • What are the local laws about weddings?
  • How do you go about obtaining a marriage license?

Once you have a general idea as a couple of what you want and what you are willing to negotiate on, you can consider locations.  Think about where you live now, where you grew up, where you went to college, where your parents grew up.  For some people, this is a no brainer and they have known since childhood that a specific meaningful place would be the place they are married. For others it will not be so simple.

What matters most is to be true to yourselves as a team, a unit, your location should be somewhere you both will feel happy and at ease.  If your partner gets nauseated at the thought of crowds and attention, you should probably not plan a 400-person blow out at the biggest chapel in town and a black tie reception. If your true love cannot stand sand in their hair or clothes, sorry but a beach wedding should be crossed off the potentials list.

top_wedding_venues_in_new_york_city

If you get stuck, you can always try:

  • Asking around – you probably know tons of people who have planned or attended weddings. Ask your parents, grandparents, friends, coworkers, neighbors, the guy on the bus. Ask what weddings were memorable, in good ways and bad. Maybe they will mention something that lights a spark for you.
  • Make a list – each of you alone, make a list of places that make you happy. List random things too, like maybe you love lighthouses, or caves, or mountains, or mansions. You never know what will spark an idea. Then compare your lists and see if the light bulb comes on.
  • Google – the holder of all knowledge, Google is a wellspring of wedding location ideas. Beware here though, as wedding envy and overwhelm can easily sneak up on you as you browse front-page-worthy multi-thousands of dollars wedding settings. Always try to keep your dreams somewhat in the realm of reality.

At some point, you will narrow down your list. A few places should stand out as the most likely and most fitting.  If you are able to, definitely go visit these places. Try to get a feel for the size of the space, what their amenities are (Is there a kitchen on site or will you have to bring in all your food already prepared? Do they have bathrooms and how many? A dance floor, music and speaker system? Can you bring in any vendors you want or is there a required vendor list to work off of?).

Always remember you do not have to commit to the first or second or twelfth place you see, until it feels right.

And just as in picking the time, at some point, you pick the place. You could argue pros and cons until the day you say “I do” but trust me, as long as your betrothed is at the front of the room waiting to say it back, you won’t care very much where that happens. Point, click, and trust that it will all work out.