Category Archives: Administrative

Ultimate Epicurean Gift Guide

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

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

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

Price Range: $5 – $20

Rbnexia Metal Long Chopsticks Set of 10: $5.99

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

Tea Spot Steep & Go in Green Tea: $8.95

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

Amazon Basics Silicone Baking Mat Set of 2: $9.62

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

Bamboo Cutting Boards Set of 3 Sizes: $12.99

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

Desert Creek Cinnamon Creamed Honey: $14.57

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

Stainless Steel Chilling Stones: $14.99

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

Glass Caffeine Mug with Silly Scale on Back: $15.00

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

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

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

Cuisinart Set of Three Strainers: $15.47

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

EcoDefy Automatic Soap Dispenser: $15.95

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

Multiuse Silicone Dishwasher Safe Spoon Rest: $15.99

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

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

 

Hammond Candies Holiday Classics Hard Candies: $17.00

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

Ovente Black 1.5L Glass Electric Tea Kettle: $18.99

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

Haitian Organic Superfood Dark Chocolate 5 Pack: $19.90

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

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

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

Glass Locking Oven Safe Meal Prep Containers:$19.99

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

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

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

Price Range: $21 – $35

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

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

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

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

18-Piece Canning Starter Set: $26.99

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

Hamilton Beach 7 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker: $29.96

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

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

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

Hottest Hot Sauce Gift Set 4 Pack: $29.99

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

Cuisinart Immersion Blender: $31.95

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

Spices of the World Gift Set: $34.95

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

Price Range: $36 & Up

Cuisinart Electric Wine Bottle Opener with Vacuum Sealer: $37.22

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

Home Brew Ohio 1 Gallon Wine Making Kit: $38.42

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

NeoMega Avocado Oil Super Pack 4 Flavors: $39.99

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

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

Sunbeam Stand Mixer With Dough Hooks & Beaters: $59.99

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

Ninja Professional Blender 1000: $75.99

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

Authentic Italian White Truffles 1 oz: $270

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

 

 

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

Xoxo,
BE

 

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

My Top 10 Money Saving Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Meal Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Cooking at Home

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

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

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

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

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

This goes for drinks too!

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

3. Eating Leftovers

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

It was how many people hate leftovers.

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

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

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

Why??

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

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

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

All these tactics together can save you thousands of dollars!

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

4. Buy & Try Generics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. In-sourcing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Frugal Hobbies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Ignoring “the Joneses”

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

Ignore them.

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

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

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

8. Driving an Older, Paid-off Vehicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, this in itself is a balancing act.

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

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

9. Recycling, Creative Re-Purposing, & DIY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality over quantity, folks.

10. Planning Purchases & Avoiding CC Debt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

LASIK eye surgery: is it worth it?

 

If you have perfect or near-perfect vision, imagine that one day you wake up and the world is kind of blurry. Within a week, you can see nothing with any clarity farther than 6 inches in front of your face. Now imagine living with that for over a decade. That’s how bad my vision was for most of my life.

Starting around grade school, it became hard to see the blackboard. And then hard to see road signs. And then I could hold my hand out at arms’ length, and my fingers were a blur. Every year I’d go for an eye exam, and they would tell me my vision had gotten worse by a half point or more.

For those of you who also have terrible eyes, I had a +6.5 in my left and a +7.0 in my right eye. For those who don’t have bad vision, just know that I was basically blinder than a bat (which, btw, is a totally inaccurate saying, but what can you do.)

If this were prehistoric times, I would be eaten by a Saber-tooth before you could say “hunter-gatherer”. Thank goodness we live in an era of modern medicine, so that I have the benefits of human technology to keep me alive, functioning, and productive.

Biannual eye exams, vision insurance, super thick glasses lenses, new frames every few years, two packs of contacts per month, a few contact cases and 2-packs of contact solution really adds up, especially when you are a high school student, a super poor college kid, and then a similarly broke graduate student.

I looked into LASIK eye surgery many many times, but kept getting sidetracked by the fact that most reputable places won’t even think about touching your eyes until 24, and the cost. The cost is pretty pricey, but varies widely. Most surgeons charge between $1000 – $2500 per eye, so $2,000 – $5,000 total. Yikes.

While I was a graduate student making only $10,500/year, I didn’t think this was at all possible. However, when I eventually decided to make the hard choice to leave the pursuit of a PhD in exchange for a different career path, I wound up in a job making $14/hr.

Now, this is not a hugely Earth-shattering amount of money, but it was significantly higher than the minimum wage, and enabled me to start saving a larger percentage of my take-home pay each month.

I had already paid down a big chunk from my (admittedly minuscule compared to average) undergraduate loans, and now finally had a 401K to contribute to. This career path was working out great for me, I totally loved it and was secure in the position. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I lived together, were both quite frugal, and made more than 4x our rent per month combined.

It felt like the time had finally come.

Are you ready for LASIK?

If you are considering undergoing LASIK yourself, there are several things to keep in mind:

  • Are you at least 18 years of age or older? Your eyes continue to grow and change shape until your mid-20s, so you shouldn’t be undergoing a procedure like this until then
  • Can you handle the financial impact? If you are under crushing student loan / car loan / credit card debt, and are paying more than 20% of your income towards such things, maybe wait…
  • Are you squeamish about pain or eye drops? Some people flinch and can’t handle it; if so find a family member/S.O./close friend to help, because at 2am when you’re in pain, you need those drops
  • Has your prescription remained stable for at least 1 year? You don’t want your eyes to change as soon as you get the surgery
  • LASIK is irreversible. You cannot un-laser your eyeballs
  • There are a lot of very serious risks and possible side effects. Not to scare you away, but just know about it and be prepared to deal with these things
  • This will not prevent age-related decline in eyesight. You may still need reading glasses again in your 40s, in fact you likely will. LASIK does not change that, but the younger you are when you do the surgery, the better you recover and the longer it lasts

Even if you think you are 100% ready for this, and cannot wait to throw your contact case or glasses in the trash, make sure you are aware of the risks, and have all your questions answered. Find a qualified physician who performs the procedure, and ask him or her lotttttttts of questions.

If they are good at what they do, they will likely answer many right up front, they will encourage you to ask, and they will answer honestly and thoughtfully, not just pressure you with a sales pitch.

Finding the right Doc:

If you are considering LASIK, you probably already have an optometrist you see regularly. You can ask them, if you like and trust them, for recommendations. Or you can ask around with your friends, coworkers, roommates, or family. You will definitely need at a minimum, a pre-surgical exam for the doctor to get an idea of the baseline status of your eyes.

You are able to go for a second opinion, or really to as many docs as you like, before making your decision. Talk to your insurance too, and see if they will cover anything at all: the pre or post-op exam, the eye drops, special eye coverings or sunglasses, etc. Make sure you understand the total cost, and any payment options available. Ask about the typical recovery time, and any symptoms you may have or that you should be concerned about.

Some sites or doctors will request you stop wearing contact lenses, if you do, for a few weeks’ beforehand, though my eye doctor did not. They told me my eyes were at the border of how bad they could get before nothing more could be done. So I decided to take the plunge.

One day, while living in Colorado, I heard an ad on the radio. Basically one of the nations’ top eye docs had his office right down the road from my office, and was running a holiday special. They were charging about $3000 for both eyes, if you came in for your free consult before the end of the month.

I had to use a special credit card account through a company called Care Credit. This was mandated by the office that did my procedure, I did not have a choice in the matter. Luckily, I had very good credit (always have) and qualified right away. I don’t think their screening was very thorough anyhow.

The terms were set with a planned repayment program, with no interest at all as long as you paid the total by or before the end of 3 years post surgery. Not a problem for me, in fact I paid a little extra a few times, and my very last payment (the only debt carried by myself or fiancee at the time) I timed to be the morning of our wedding day, so we could officially start our marriage debt free!

I signed up for the card, finished the pre-op exam, and scheduled the surgery date. I was so nervous, but also really excited! My mom, who is a registered nurse, volunteered to come out to stay with me for a few days too, to help with the drop administration and recovery part. I’m a lucky girl.  🙂

The procedure & recovery

The doc I used was great about preparing me for the day of surgery. They went over what would happen each step of the way, so I had a reasonable expectation of sensations and timeline.

  1. You get to the office, and they put you in a room. You get numbing eye drops, and then sit back to relax for about 30 minutes while they take effect.
  2. A doc or tech comes to get you, and leads you to the laser room. At this point, everything is super blurry, so I definitely held their arm and trusted they knew what they were doing.
  3. You lay back on the surgery chair/table, and they lower a big device over your face. Starting with one side, they have a clamp to hold your eyelid open. Your eye is numb, so it mostly doesn’t hurt, but the clamp thing puts a lot of pressure on your ocular bones; that part did hurt and gave me a headache 🙁
  4. The world slowly goes black as they laser the lens and peel it back. You also smell burning, which is super freaky. But I was warned, so I was ready for it.
  5. After about 2 minutes, the world becomes bright and blurry again as they replace the lens.
  6. The pressure is removed, and the big machine moves to your other eye and clamps it open.
  7. Repeat the black – burning smell – back to light on the other side.
  8. Pressure is finally gone, you can sit up and leave.
  9. They give you plastic eye guards (so you can’t unthinkingly scratch your eyes and for while you sleep), pain drops and antibiotic drops, and send you on your way home.
  10. You must put in both drops every 4 hours. Trust me, you want the numbing ones. Because about 8 hours after, right before I could put in drops again, my eyes were on FIRE. I wanted to cry because it hurt so much, but that would just make it hurt more.
  11. The pain only lasts about 24 hours, then it kind of goes away to just a dull throb, with a little dryness lingering a week or so. Keep using the drops as long as they tell you to.
  12. You go for a post-surgical checkup exam after about a month.

I KID YOU NOT, the second I sat up from the procedure, I could read the pictures on the walls, and the name tag on the shirt of the nurse helping me from the room. Modern medicine is miraculous.

I was driving the very next day. IT WAS A MIRACLE, forreal.

Other than the worst hour (the hour in the middle of the night right before I was allowed to put the numbing drops in again) there wasn’t very much pain at all. And the dryness went away within a week or so, though I think I wore the (really sexy) eye covers to bed for about a month. You do not want to tear the lens in your sleep!

Since having LASIK done, I have never once regretted it. I no longer have to worry about whether I have enough contact solution or where my glasses are. I can go swimming and not worry about losing a lens, or ride a jet ski, or read late at night, or a myriad of other things you don’t really think about with good vision.

The only lingering side effect? Onions bother me now.

I know some people will say “That’s silly, onions bother everyone”. Not true, as a foodie, I’ve diced my fair share of onions and then some. And they have never made me tear up. But post-LASIK, as soon as knife hits flesh on an onion, here come the waterworks. In terms of trade-off, I’ll take it.

Almost 4 years later, it still hits me once in a while what a miraculous thing eyesight is, and how blessed I am to have 20/20 vision now.

How much did I spend vs save?

Clearly, from a lifestyle perspective, I think LASIK was well worth it.

But, was is a sound financial decision? I ran the numbers, and you can see for yourself. I added up what I would spend in a typical year on glasses and contacts, these numbers may vary based on how good your vision insurance is, where you buy your lenses, what brand/type you use, how often you change them, etc. This is just based on my experiences, in Ohio and Colorado prices.

  • 12 contact lenses = ~$38 per box x 2 eyes = $76 (+tax)
    Year’s supply = $152 (+tax)
  • Contact solution = ~$4 per 3 months x 4 = $16
  • Contact cases = $2 (I’d lose at least one per year)

Yearly cost = approx. $170

LASIK surgery performed at 26 should last me approximately 20-25 years, meaning the cost of not buying contacts (plus about $200 for new glasses roughly every 4 years) would be:

Total over 20 years: ($170 x 20) + 800 = $4200

And if it lasts me even longer, then so much the better! Therefore, at a minimum, if LASiK lasts 20 years and I paid $3000, then I will have saved myself $1200. Along with a lot of headache and annoyance, which is worth even more than that to me.

 

 

Have you had or are considering LASIK? Do you think it’s worth the risks/worth it financially?

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.

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 it).

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?

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!

Click here to see how I’m doing after the first 2 weeks!

 

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 – 10/16

 

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?

Weekly Eating – 10/10

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Monday:

Breakfast – granola bar

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – Buffalo chicken grilled cheese & soup

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

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

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs on toast

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

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

Snack – M&Ms, peach yogurt

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Chocolate peanut butter bar & yogurt

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

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

Snack – raw veggies & blender hummus

Thursday:

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

Lunch – Homemade chicken noodle soup <3

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

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

Snack – Granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – scrambled egg wrap with salsa

Lunch – Rice & beans, mason jar salad

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

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

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

The Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

 

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