Category Archives: Administrative

My Commuting Mistake

Once upon a time, we lived in a cold, dark place called Connecticut, where in the winter even a $600 electric bill couldn’t save you from the cold. Then we wised up and decided to move south of the Mason-Dixon line.

When we moved, we estimated that anywhere within 20 miles of my future workplace would be okay. What we didn’t realize is that 20 miles does not necessarily translate into 20 minutes in morning city traffic… and that a long commute is one of the number one money wasters in our modern American life.

Therefore, when we found a great bargain on a house that fit all our specifications, we didn’t even think about it, we just jumped on a plane to sign the offer papers. And even though I am only 16.5 miles from door to door as the crow flies (or as the highway meanders, whatever), it takes 30 minutes on a GOOD DAY with no traffic to get from home to work and vice versa.

Heaven forbid there is a wreck or construction, or even “unusual traffic along your route”, then dinner won’t be until after dark. And I get hangry around 5:30pm.

When I first began working at my current location, there were a ‘park-and-ride’ option. I tried all the things, from 4 different lots in different places and 2 separate bus systems (Chapel Hill Transit and the Go Triangle transit). I tried each system for a week, to see which saved the most amount of time in driving to-and-from, as well as the on-the-bus portion.

Having 15-30 minutes on a bus is nice in a way. It gives you stress-free time to think about life, go over the day, plan ahead, craft blog posts, or read a book. It also introduced me to a few other fellow bus riders, at least two of which became friends.

And it helps that some of these fellow riders are really good humans. It also helps that the bus options are far cheaper, from $0 for the Go Triangle pass to less than $100 for the Park and Ride.

However. I must admit to a shameful truth.

I am a spendypants when it comes to commuting.

I know Mr. Money Mustache may revoke my frugal card and never return my phone calls (HAHAHA), but I then applied for a waitlist for an on-campus parking pass.

And I got one.

GASP

Yes, I paid double the money yearly to try out a parking lot on campus. I tried two different lots, 2 blocks apart.

Now I walk the minimum distance from my car to my building per day, and have 3 different escape routes from campus at 5pm.

A quick check of Google maps tells me which way to turn to avoid the most traffic. And now I get home in about 30 minutes, reliably, every day.

Time is money?

I’m not sure, I haven’t run the exact numbers. But I guess what I’ve learned is that, for me and at this point in life, I am comfortable sacrificing a small amount of money per year, plus a not-negligible amount of money in repair/maintenance/gas costs in order to have the convenience and time returned to me in the form of driving.

What brought me to this conclusion? What might tip the balance back to the bus system?

Flexibility in when I leave

Right now, our hours are ‘set’ at 8:30 – 5pm. But that isn’t how real life works most days. Sometimes I have to be in the office earlier, sometimes stay later. Projects and deadlines happen.

But we are limited to a strict 40 hours per week, so once you hit that, you’re done for the week, get out.

So being able to leave earlier on a day of my choosing to make it all add up is really great. If my schedule became rock-solid for some reason, I’d probably consider other options, like carpooling.

I am the primary dinner-maker

See above? I’m the primary dinner-maker, and grocery-shopper, and errand-runner. My wonderful, generous, hilarious hubs is basically a hermit (has he left the house since August? Not sure…), whereas I love being out and about in the world.

So if we need milk, a package dropped off, dry cleaning to do, or a vet to visit, I am pretty much the one to do it.

And having more time in the evenings is key to adulting.

If another commute option arose which gave me MORE time, or proved more convenient (like being next to a place I frequently shop) I’d consider it.

Gas prices are reasonable right now

Even with Harvey and Maria and whoever comes next, gas prices this year have been mostly below $2.50 per gallon. That means that I fill my tank for about $20, and pretty much only once every other week. See below as well. If this changes and gas prices rose, I would definitely consider other ways of getting where I need to go.

A paid-off, older model vehicle with great gas mileage

Both our cars are reliable Hondas, 2005 and 2006, with less than 120,000 miles. They are both fully paid off, and have newish tires (within the past 3 years).

Though mine has been giving us some issues lately, overall these should have another several years worth of driving left in them.

Our insurance is super cheap, maintenance is negligible, gas mileage is stellar, and Honda engines run like a dream. When one or both someday bite the dust, or if Tesla magically creates a 10K car, we are definitely going to be in the car market, and I would re-evaluate.

We bought a house, and the mortgage is great

The house we bought fits our needs right now and for the foreseeable future. A similarly sized house closer to work would easily cost twice to four times as much.

We do have alerts set for a specific mile radius and price range, but barring a huge housing market downturn I highly doubt the ‘hot spots’ of the Triangle will become MORE affordable in the future.

However, if the perfect diamond in the rough house comes on the market, you better believe we will be all over that. And turn ours into a rental. Bonus.

 

What do you think? Is the trade-off of driving worth it? How far do you commute? Should I hang up my PF Blogger Pants and never write again, you terrible non-bike-riding human?

Weekly Eating – 9/25

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

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

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

 

I spent part of the weekend making ahead breakfasts and lunches by making a pitcher full of smoothie and putting it in mason jars, as well as mason jar salads. That way all I had to do was grab a jar from the fridge every day and lunch was ready to go! It is a great way to save money and time (buy in bulk, make 5 days lunch at once) and to get my daily greens & veggies.

My aunt and grandmother were also in town all weekend and through Wednesday, so we got to hang out a lot. We went to an Oktoberfest in downtown Durham, played games at the Atomic Fern, sampled all the things at the 10th Annual Pepper Festival, and explored Lafayette Village in Raleigh. It’s always fun spending time with family, but even moreso when ALL your family lives 1000 miles away, and you only get to see them a few times a year. 🙂

Side note, holy what it’s October?! Ok, Bye 2017…

Monday:

Breakfast – Toast with peanut butter. Not gonna lie, a cold smoothie just didn’t sound good, and whole grain toast with peanut butter is one of my top easy go-to breakfasts.

Lunch – Mason jar salad. Super delicious, healthy, and surprisingly filling. The trick is to put the ‘heartier’ things on the bottom, like cut carrots, broccoli, and olives, and then things like peppers/ cheese/ beets/ red cabbage and delicate greens on top. Come lunch time, just dump it all into a bowl!

Dinner – We were supposed to go to Myrtle Beach today, but my grandmother wasn’t feeling up to the long drive. So instead we took dinner to them! Hubs made some chicken thighs while I was driving home, then I fried up some chopped cauliflower and baked some biscuits. Paired with a simple salad, it was a perfect, relaxed dinner.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – oatmeal from my desk oatmeal jar, another easy breakfast go-to that’s healthy and frugal

Lunch –  I took a half day in lieu of Monday, and we went to CowFish in Raleigh! They were both amazed at the wacky decor, and the crazy fusion menu. This time I got The Big Squeal. With a bison patty, BBQ pulled pork, fried onion rings, bacon slaw, and chipotle aioli, this massive beast was a big, delicious mess!

The burger was basically bigger than my head, and those sweet potato fries are SO GOOD. My aunt got the Hamandegger, which features a burger layered with a fried egg, cheese, and sliced ham. It looked quite delicious, and there wasn’t much talking once the burgers showed up, so I’m thinking it was good! And Gram got the plain baby burger with Swiss & tomato. We had to pay extra for the cheese, by which she was outraged. It was kinda funny.

Dinner – We had a good time shopping all afternoon in Raleigh, and were too tuckered out to deal with going out again. Plus cooking at home is fun for me, and way cheaper! We stopped at a Kroger to get all the ingredients for our family’s famous Fettuccini with shrimp, broccoli & carrots.

Snack – Oh, and while we were out we found a place called Duck Donuts… and holy crap are they good! It might be worth driving the 30 minutes to get these made-fresh-when-you-order, totally customizable doughnuts! The maple bacon was AHmaZING.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie in a jar

Lunch – salad in a jar

Dinner – This was their last night in town, so we went big for seafood at Full Moon Oyster Bar. This was a fun spot, with open seating, you just walk up to the bar and pick a spot. They have dedicated “shuckers” to get your fresh oysters to you and take your order. We had a bunch of apps and dishes, plus Wednesday is half off wine bottles! The seafood pasta was oh so tasty.

Snack – peanut butter cookie

Thursday:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal at my desk

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – I had a great time making pepperoni rolls 3 ways! As rolls, as biscuits, and as sandwiches. I got most of the ingredients on sale, which made total ingredients cost about $8 for 2 rolls, 16 biscuits, and 10 sandwiches. With even more pepperoni leftover to freeze.

I made 4 big batches, so that we can take some extra with us this weekend, and freeze a few for later too. They make great snacks, and keep hubs full when its time for “second dinner”.

Snack – 2 tbsp Ranch & raw veggies

Friday:

Breakfast – Mango Peach Smoothie. We finished all the pre-made smoothie jars, so I just whipped this up in the morning with canned peaches and frozen mango and split it with hubs. It was quite delish!

Lunch – Mason jar salad. I was very pleased with how well these held up all week long. I was a little concerned that the salad greens would get wet and mushy, but they were still crisp by Friday after making the jars on Sunday. This is a weekly trend I plan to continue. The Green Goddess was probably my favorite dressing this week too.

Dinner – Leftovers buffet! We are headed out of town this weekend, so we need to finish up anything that won’t last until Monday.

The Weekend

This weekend we are heading to a friends’ cabin in the mountains! It will be a mix of people we know and people we don’t, with a dozen of us and five dogs in the mix. There will be mostly hiking and game playing, we are taking turns making meals by couple, and there will likely be no or spotty cell phone reception. All in all it should be a super fun, disconnect-from-the-world, very frugal weekend of making new friends and getting closer with friends we already have! I’m very much looking forward to it.

Total: $97

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

We spent a little more than usual this week due to family being in town and eating out more than normal, plus extra groceries to cook for 4 a few times. Totally worth it though, to spend time with family! Plus they paid for eating out far more often than we did, so it was an overall win for sure!

Lessons Learned

Make-ahead smoothies and salads are AMAZING! This is a super quick prep that saves me SO MUCH TIME in the mornings. I get together the jars and ingredients, toss them in layers, using about 15 minutes. Then all I do is grab a to-go jar in the morning and toss it in my work bag. Maybe I can actually get around to doing yoga in the mornings now with all this free time?!? (HaHa)

Also, eating out a lot makes me feel like blah… I don’t regret it, the time spent with family is totally worth it. But after so many years of cooking for myself at home, I can really feel the difference. First of all, the portions are insanely huge compared to what I eat at home, which is sort of a perk because I almost always have leftovers. But then that messes up the meal plan a little bit, by having ‘extra’ meals around.

And then the restaurant food is saltier, fattier, and generally lacking in vegetables compared to what I would cook. This makes me not feel my best for days afterwards. Good thing weeks like that are only occasional treats. It blows my mind that SO MANY Americans live like that, on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it.

 

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

A Day in the Frugal Life

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Decision Fatigue and Travel Stresses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Decision Fatigue?

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

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

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

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

The Damage

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

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

But all told, it could have been much worse.

What Can You Do?

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

Of course not!

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

Make Important decisions first

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

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

Pack extra!

 

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

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

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

Use what you have

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

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

Have some miles or points banked

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

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

Roll with it

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

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

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

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

 

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

Living the American Dream: Our Journey Home

 

This is the slightly crazy story of how my husband and I came to be homeowners just under the wire of turning 30.

 

Disclaimer: Home ownership is definitely NOT the only way to be an “adult” and is not right for every place and every person. If you want to rent forever, that’s totally fine. If you’re a “tech-preneur” who changes zip codes every other month, that’s great and I’m a little jealous. This is just the story of our own experience, and some insights gained in the process.

 

So, we may or may not have bought a house in another state, hundreds of miles away from where we currently lived, on a whirlwind spur-of-the-moment weekend, without telling a single soul. Not that this truly surprised anyone who really knows us.

After years of slowly upgrading from 1 bedroom, to 2 bedroom apartments, to rental houses (in 2 states, 1000 miles apart) and saving for a very long time, we were finally “ready” to take real steps to homeownership.

We knew what we were looking for in terms of general location, price range, bedroom count, etc. We wanted a fenced in yard for the pups, and newish construction (I do NOT want to deal with faulty wiring or rusty pipes from the 40s. No thanks.). But, we were also looking to move to a different state. So all the looking would have to be done online, from far away.

So, there would be a lot of trust involved, and we knew the most important part would be finding a real estate agent to work with that we could trust. The steps we took are below.

  1. We googled a list of realtors in the area, and looked up their online reviews
  2. We contacted the top 5 via email
  3. The ones that replied the fastest, and with a through and friendly response, we gave our list of must-haves and they started MLS searches for us
  4. We watched those listings for months. We Zillow-ed, we Google-ed, we learned all we could about the market in certain areas and what was or was not a good deal
  5. When we found one that met all our requirements, as well as most of our nice-to-haves, we POUNCED
  6. We flew into town, toured it, and had an offer signed and submitted within 24 hours of seeing the listing, and had our offer accepted 2 days later
  7. We panicked. Then we celebrated. Then panicked some more. Then we got on with life, and 30 days later, we closed
  8. We moved!

So how did we do it? Agonizingly slowly, with tons of reading and question asking and help. We essentially followed the steps below.

Know what you do (And Do Not) want

This is the first step if you are thinking about buying soon. Talk with your partner (or if you’re buying a house, solo, good for you! No compromises necessary) about what you do and do not want in your future home. Take into consideration the obvious things like the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, and location.

But also think about if there are certain features you desire like a fireplace, a large kitchen, washer and dryer on the ground floor or second floor, lots of windows, “green” appliances and features, amount of yard space, landscaping, whether you want lots of trees or open spaces.

Discuss what the next 5-10 years will entail; do you intend to adopt pets? Is there a chance you will have a child/children? Will you be changing careers anytime soon? Buying or selling a car? These will all affect the amount of space you need, and maybe what school districts you should be looking into.

And most importantly, set yourself a budget. Play with some mortgage calculators so you know what approximate monthly mortgage payment comes with a 100K, 200K, or 300K home. Know how your rate changes that payment, as well as how big of a down payment you can come up with.

Learn about things like mortgage insurance (if you have less than 20% down), HOA fees, closing costs, and other expenses that will inevitably come up, and budget accordingly.

The biggest mistake you can make on your first home purchase is to buy so much house that you are on a razor thin budget each month, such that one job loss or medical expense or dead car transmission will make you unable to afford the mortgage.

And once you decide on a number, stick to your guns, no matter how much more the bank may say you qualify for, or how pretty the homes your realtor may try to show you above your comfortable number.

Build a good team & rapport

Our realtor was amazing to work with, given the long-distance challenge. He was extremely responsive, in person and by phone. He had lots of experience helping people relocating to the Triangle area, so he knew all the digital tricks of signing online and what was required when.

He gave us referrals for our mortgage loan as well as our home inspector, and home insurance, all things that would have been a huge headache to figure out on our own from another state. Taken care of, easy peasy. We just had to show up at the required moments (signing the offer, and closing).

Therefore, do your homework. Ask around if you know anyone in the area. Send lots of emails, make lots of phone calls. Find someone that you click with and feel comfortable talking to. Someone who seems like they truly care about what you are looking for and want to help you.

And be nice to that person, and all the people on your team! Say thank you, make sure you communicate clearly, and let them know you appreciate their help.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Your realtor, loan officer, inspector, and the internet are all here to help. The realtor and loan officer stand to make a pretty chunk of change from the cash YOU are about to lay down, so definitely don’t feel bad asking their advice and opinions.

Do take what they say with a grain of salt, because of the aforementioned conflict of interest (they want you to spend more money so their share of it is bigger). But they do know the business (probably, ask how long they’ve been doing real estate first) and will be a well of knowledge.

The only silly questions are the ones you don’t ask.

Know your budget

As mentioned earlier, make sure you know not only what you can afford but what you’re comfortable with laying down. Banks LOVE people who stretch their budget to the max, because the larger the loan the more interest they can charge on it. And realtors will never say to no a larger commission. So make sure you know not only your maximum, but also the range you are more comfortable with.

And remember the 30% rule saying you should only spend 30% or less of your take-home income on housing? That is not always true (actually, not even sometimes), as it greatly depends on the area you live in, and what your actual take-home income happens to be. 30% of 20,000 and 30% of 200,000 are vastly different numbers.

Just use a basic mortgage calculator to figure out an approximate monthly number you can live with and still have breathing room. Take a look at your current budget, and if your housing expense now for rent is fine, then consider a mortgage that amount to your rent your maximum.

For example, if your rent right now is $800, then you can afford a house for $185,000 with a 10% down payment. You have to save up the $18,500, plus about another $9000 for closing costs. Then your mortgage, at 4%, would be $794.90/month.

Expect delays, complications, and unexpected fees

In addition to knowing your budget range (see above) you should build in a good-sized cushion for closing costs and other fees. The number commonly thrown around is 2-5% of the house’s cost in closing fees, and on average across the country buyers spend roughly $3,700 in fees.

There will be an origination fee for your loan, earnest money when you put your offer in, credit report fees, realtor fees, document fees, insurance and taxes, appraisal fees, costs for inspections and repairs, and all the little things you don’t think of that immediately pop up (like changing the locks!).

It seems overwhelming, I know.

But just breathe, it’s a lot less scary if you know it’s coming and you’re braced. So if you want a house in the $200,000 range, plan for $40,000 for down payment, and another $4,000 – 10,000 for fees. I always estimate high just in case, so in this scenario I would start house-hunting once I had ~$50K saved.

Or, if you go with a different type of loan, you may be able to put far less than 20% down. Just know the trade off is an extra mortgage insurance payment every month, and more interest over the life of the loan.

Be patient, but be ready to pull the trigger

Once you have a good team in place helping you find that diamond in the rough, and you know your numbers, be ready to roll when you find the right place.

I’ve talked to many people, and have had several of my own experiences, where you find “the one”, only to hem and haw and think about it, and then when you go to make an offer, find out it is already under contract. Boo.

If you’ve done your due diligence, trust your numbers. Put in your offer, and hold your breath.

Celebrate!

When we got the call that our offer had been accepted, we definitely did a happy dance around the living room! It’s a very exciting thing.

But, this is not the end! You still have the due diligence period, where the lender is running the numbers, you are (hopefully) having inspections done and possibly repairs by the seller, and anyone can still change their minds and back out.

The due diligence period is typically 30-45 days, and you will have at least an inspection to do. They will give you a list of every possible thing they find ‘wrong’ with the house, from a broken dryer vent to a lack of insulation in the attic.

Talk with your realtor about asking the seller for any repairs or concessions. You have some room to bargain here! Maybe they will pay for a leaky sink repair, or give you a few thousand dollars off the asking price to fix it yourself.

You can’t get what you don’t ask for.

And once you finally are sitting at the closing table, signing what feels like a hundred pieces of paper, it can be super scary! But enjoy this feeling, and the fact that all your hard work of searching has paid off. And brace yourself for the next step… moving!

Happy house hunting!

 

How about you? Any housing questions or insights from your own experiences?

Weekly Eating: Eclipse Week 8/21

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!

 

This week was action-packed at the start, and then slowed down as the week wore on. Ready for some rest this weekend! Speaking of weekends, the last one was quite productive. I finally got the kitchen wall constructed just the way I wanted it! I think it looks great, and I’m loving having a whiteboard to meal plan and keep track of what’s going on each week now.

Monday:

Breakfast – strawberry cherry smoothie: I’m learning that I’m really bad at remembering to take photos of smoothies. Maybe it’s just too early, or I drink them too fast before I remember…

Lunch – AWESOME SOLAR ECLIPSE POTLUCK! We had a huge salad bar (because the sun makes things grow) and a Sun-dae bar!

I had like four Capri suns and felt like a 12-year-old again. No regrets.

Dinner – pesto pasta, and playing with hubby’s new toy. He finally, after almost a year of waiting, got a Switch, and was really excited about it. We got to play with a close friend that moved to Iowa and we haven’t seen since our wedding! That was really nice. I may yet come around to liking console games.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – granola bar; this recipe is AMAZING, and makes like a zillion (or 18…) so a batch lasts quite a while in the fridge. You’ll see these a lot. No regrets.

Lunch – well, I got pretty sick in the a.m., it was a weird nausea/upset stomach feeling, so I ended up going home and sleeping through lunch  🙁

Dinner – my stomach finally started to feel ok around 4:30, so by 5:30 I managed to eat a can of Progresso chicken & dumplings and a small roast beef sandwich to dunk in it.

I’m so thankful it was a short stomach bug, because I really had doubts I’d be able to make it to the Bull City Food Swap. But, make it I did! It was a smaller gathering, but since it was at Fullsteam Brewery, one of the bartenders was there and he had some GOOD stuff! Thus, less competition.

So it worked out great, I got a pound of his homemade breakfast sausage, and a few ounces of chicken of the woods mushrooms from his property. I’ve never had it, so I’m pretty excited! Also picked up some homemade ricotta and sausage ravioli, a “spiced beer sauce”, and some family recipe brownies. A good night, in my opinion.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – yogurt with homemade granola, grapes. I made a big batch of tropical granola for the food swap, and since there were so few people I only traded about half. Which is fine with me, because I didn’t know homemade granola was so easy, and delicious!

Lunch – leftover stuffed cabbage casserole. Another thing that makes a CRAP-TON and becomes leftovers for days. I’m fine with it because I think it’s delicious, and it costs like $0.20 per serving.

Dinner – salmon & quinoa salad. This is a recipe from my sister in law that I have taken as my own, because I absolutely ADORE how delicious all the parts are as a whole. I could eat this like all the time. It is so fresh and light but yet so filling.

Snack – salad & tea. Since the potluck was a salad bar, we had oodles of leftover salad mixes. So I figured why not get some extra greens in

Thursday 

Breakfast – granola bar

Lunch – salmon salad again, and still had some salmon left!

Dinner – chickpea curry & tricolor rice (turmeric, tomato paste, and spinach to create red, yellow, and green rice)

Snack – HOT FUDGE BROWNIE SUNDAE. 5 minutes of pure, sugary bliss. I got the brownies from the food swap (and they were a family recipe that was GD amazing), added some chocolate cherry ice cream, caramel sauce and hot fudge. Lord have mercy…

Friday

Breakfast – microwave poached egg on toast, my new favorite super quick breakfast option

Lunch – salmon salad; you may notice I had a lot of this! I made 2 huge filets for dinner, and it ended up being enough to break into 3 smaller meals for me. I only eat about 2-3 oz at a time.

Dinner – world’s most delicious steaks, onions/mushrooms/peppers and leftover rice. I seared the steaks in butter, and slow cooked sliced up peppers, onion, and oyster & chicken of the woods mushrooms in white wine and soy sauce and garlic.

Holy. Crap. Y’all. This was seriously amazing.

The Weekend

Plans include Saturday morning yoga and the Durham Farmers Market, perhaps followed by some hiking and or kayaking (if I can convince the hubby to brave the humidity!). Sunday will hopefully be a day of just resting. Reading, video games, movies…

Total: $74.12

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

Whooo, pretty much nailed it! This included a big pork roast because I’d kept some leftover giant rolls from the potluck and wanted to make BBQ pulled pork, a big beef roast that was on sale (which I turned into 2 outstanding steaks plus another pound of stew meat for the freezer), but the bulk of it was like 10 pounds of frozen fruit, for more smoothies.

We have almost zero fruit left in the freezer, and Kroger was running a good sale, so now we’re restocked on strawberries, blueberries, mango, and peaches! Yay. Maybe I will actually remember to take some pictures of upcoming smoothies… not that they make terribly exciting photos anyways  🙂  If you have any favorite recipes to share in the comments, I’m all ears!

Lessons Learned

Once again I learned the importance of being flexible with your meal planning! I think a big reason why people are intimidated by meal planning and cooking is because we are not taught how to improvise to avoid food waste. It is a skill that takes time and experimentation, and a willingness to be wrong sometimes.

I also found this interesting experiment at the grocery store. If you can’t tell, the 2% milk was 1.69, the 1% milk was ten cents cheaper, and the skim milk was cheapest at $1.49. And yet, the 2% milk was still the one that had been almost bought out.

I think it’s interesting that the store is trying to influence shopper decisions to make “healthier” choices (skim milk vs whole milk as a health thing is a whole big discussion for another time and place) by using economics. Assuming the stores actually DO want consumers to be healthier (a shaky assumption) this could be a good way to gently nudge people in the right direction.

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

Weekly Eating – 8/14

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!

 

On Sunday, as I usually do, I broiled a whole chicken, and then made soup in the Crock Pot overnight. The broth I then strained the next day, and will use it to make rice and quinoa, as liquid for stir frying, in sauces and marinades, soups, and if I don’t use it I freeze it for later.

All you do is toss into a crock pot: the carcass of a chicken, 1 whole onion (skin and all), one lemon (or a few tbsp lemon juice or vinegar), a few carrots and herbs & spices. I use black pepper, garlic salt, bay leaves, and any fresh herbs growing (right now it’s sage, thyme, and rosemary). Such a great frugal habit, you should consider trying it!

Monday:

Breakfast – strawberry pineapple smoothie

Lunch – the final serving of my Chipotle bowl. I got 3 meals out of it, for <$3 per serving! I also had a weird Asian drink, we went to an Asian market over the weekend and each picked out one crazy beverage. All I can say is HOLY SUGAR….

Dinner – baked chicken breast, steamed broccoli & cauliflower, steamed spaghetti squash, and brown rice.

Snack – ice cream sandwich at a colleagues going-away party! We will miss him & wish him the best of luck in Cali.

Tuesday:

Breakfast –  bagel thin with an egg & cheese

Lunch – someone brought in homemade Indian food for a coworkers birthday and it was divine! Cashew chickpea curry, tri-color rice, and homemade naan. MMmmmmmmmmm.

Plus some protein puppy chow for dessert <3

Dinner –  Meatloaf (a freezer meal), baked potatoes, salad & dinner rolls. Made with half turkey and half lentils, so it’s extra healthy.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Orange Creamsicle Chia Pudding; recipe from Cookies & Kate

Lunch – Chicken, couscous & edamame, roasted cabbage quarters.

Dinner – Lemon, garlic, & white wine pasta with sardines! This was a crazy new recipe I tried because I had an open can of sardines in the refrigerator from the olive tapenade bruschetta last week. And it actually turned out pretty great! I’d make it again.

Snack – 2 vanilla “rusks” from a coworker and Thai tea. A rusk is like a biscotti, apparently, and is delicious. Thai tea is a black tea with sugar and cream and is also super tasty! Also purchased at last weekend’s Asian mart adventure.

Thursday 

Breakfast – pineapple strawberry smoothie

Lunch – Chicken tortilla soup,  a baked potato & a salad. I just chopped up the potato and put it into the soup.

Dinner – Stuffed cabbage casserole & salad. Clearly we are trying to eat more leafy greens. Also, this casserole is insanely cheap when you use lentils rather than ground meat. I came up with it when I did the SNAP challenge, trying to eat on $4 per day.

Snack – 2 pieces of chocolate from Vermont a friend brought me from a trip. They were so good!

Friday

Breakfast – Avocado toast. I know, you’re thinking “typical millennial”, but honestly it is less than a dollar to make at home. Half of one avocado (.50) + slice of bread (~0.10), and I even added an egg, so maybe it was $1 total. Plus we already own our home, so that myth is debunked.

Lunch – More stuffed cabbage casserole. This is super filling, healthy, and made a huge batch. So you will probably see more of this next week for lunches.

Dinner – Stir Friday! Lo mein noodles from spaghetti squash (I roasted a whole big batch of things last weekend), a bag of frozen mixed Asian veggies I had in the freezer, scrambled eggs, and some soy sauce. Easy, breezy, vegetarian and delicious!

The Weekend

Well, we had to do some adulting and chores, so while we were out and about we ended up getting 2 Little Caesar’s hot-n-ready pepperoni pizzas. Ahhh, feels like college again. I know, I know, they are horrible for you. But life is about balance, k? And now I know there’s food the hubs is willing to eat in the fridge. At least until Monday, cause he will eat a whole pizza in one day.

I’m also going to spend some time this weekend making things for the next Bull City Food Swap on Tuesday! Oh, and Monday is a potluck for the Solar Eclipse at work. I’m the head organizer, so I made cute decorations, and will be setting up & then cleaning up.

But I don’t mind, because I love cooking, theme parties, and hosting so it’s pretty much all those things. We’re having a big salad bar (because the sun makes plants grow) along with a SUN-dae bar! Get it! 😉

We’ve also got a frugal project planned. I want a pegboard in the kitchen, because we have one large unused wall space. I want to hang pots and pans and maybe some decor, to save limited cabinet space for appliances. I’m also planning to put in a big whiteboard, which will be a nice meal planning upgrade from papers taped to the fridge… and shelves for knickknacks, jars of ingredients like flour and sugar, and maybe some herbs as well.

Total: $68.41

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

I’m pretty excited that even with 2 pizzas, 2 grocery trips, and a food swap and potluck to prep for, this week’s food spending was below budget. Aw yessss.

Lessons Learned

Eating vegetable based meals really does save money! By making the stuffed cabbage casserole, and enough to last a long time, and the stir fry from spaghetti squash, I made about 10 meals worth of food for less than $10! That’s what I need to do more often to keep our grocery food costs down. Rice & beans is on the meal plan for next week!

Speaking of meal plan, this week was a little bit silly. I had a general plan, but we ended up shuffling the meals around all over the place based on what sounded good at the time. And that’s ok! The beauty of a meal plan is that it can be flexible. It has to be flexible, to keep up with all the twists and turns of life.

And I learned that no matter how much I wish it were so, I will never turn the hubs into a soup lover. I know soup is an AMAZING money saving food option, because it is mostly water, and you can add anything you have to get rid of in the fridge or pantry. But he just can’t handle soup more than once per week at most, so I usually end up having to eat it all, or freeze it to be ‘not-eaten’ at a later date. Bummer, but facts are facts and even cheap food is a waste of money if it doesn’t get eaten.

 

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

Getting Serious About Setting My Future on FIRE

For those who don’t know, FIRE means Financial Independence and Retire Early.

It’s not a very popular concept, especially in America, the land of “bigger is better” and “more is better” as a way  of life. Most people I know in the 20-30s age range are buying big homes, going out to eat and to bars, concerts, festivals, traveling, and generally not thinking about money at all besides “hmmm should I check the contribute to 401k box or not?”

Thank goodness for the internet!

I’ve been a long-time reader and subscriber to some amazing personal finance blogs, like The Simple Dollar, Mr. Money Mustache, The Frugalwoods, and most recently Physician on FIRE and Mrs. Picky Pincher. And through their wise words I’ve become more and more inspired and determined.

The road to FIRE may seem like a long and arduous one, but it is one which leads to paradise. Yes, we will have to make a lot of life choices that aren’t popular or cool. No, we will not live in the biggest, fanciest house we can afford, drive flashy new cars, or party hearty every weekend.

A lot of people wonder, why would you do this? I mean, sure, not having to work sounds fun. But it seems like a lot of WORK and a lot of SACRIFICE.

It all boils down to one word: FREEDOM

Having “F-you money” is all about being free to do as you please with your life. Freedom to sleep in all day, or wake up for work at 7am. Freedom to pick up and move to Vietnam for a year, because you’ve always wanted to see a waterfall out your back door. Freedom to have a family, freedom to travel, to build your own business, to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, to train for a marathon, or lay around in your pajamas.

Let’s take a look at the most common budget-busting areas, to see what we are currently doing right, and where there’s room to trim.

Housing

Mortgage – this one we have under control, and in fact I do a little happy dance every time I see this charge in my bank account.

Think I’m crazy? Let me explain.

Through multitudes of apartments, and then rental houses, hubby & I had been inching our way up in lifestyle inflation and wrecking any chances of real savings through constant moving. We needed more space, we had dogs, we needed a yard… and of course we most recently were living in Connecticut, one of the most expensive parts of the country.

The rent there hurt… REALLY hurt.

Suffice it to say folks, that when we moved to NC & bought our first house, we were now paying basically HALF in mortgage what we once paid in rent! A small bit of it is going towards equity (don’t even talk to me about the interest burden early on during a loan), and some glorious day a few decades from now we can theoretically stop paying for housing forever!

(Yes, I know property taxes are a thing, forever. Don’t get me started on that either. And we may move, in which case, this house likely becomes a rental. If anyone knows of a place anywhere in the world where you can buy an island, with no property tax, pretty please email me! For serious.)

Food

I track all of our grocery spending, and have been for 2 years now. Every receipt gets entered into a Google spreadsheet, and though it sounds like a lot of work it only takes a few minutes while waiting for a video game to load or some such.

I’ve been noticing that we were holding to 200-300/month pretty well for a long time, then we had moving expenses and food costs exploded (restocking a new house, eating out, ordering pizza…) and we haven’t really recovered.

I can not justify $600 / month for just 2 people! Even with a food blog, that is quite frankly ridiculous. I mean, I don’t expect us to subsist solely on rice & beans (though it is delicious) but we have to get that under control. And I know I’m the one to blame.  >.<

I’m working on it, and will be publishing our weekly eating as a series now to help keep myself accountable and on track!

Transportation

We both own our vehicles, a 2004 Honda CRV and 2005 Honda Civic. We only have to pay yearly insurance, tag renewal, gas, and upkeep. Unfortunately, we are both very auto-averse, so we don’t garner the additional savings of things like doing our own oil changes or small repairs.

But I can check my oil level and top it up, fill my own tires with air, vacuum, wash it, refill fluids, and change wiper blades!

We could of course sell one car, since hubby is lucky enough to work from home, and just keep one for my commute. We have discussed the possibility of myself commuting at least in part by bicycle too. The numbers are being run, and this is an ongoing discussion.

Unfortunately, I work in one of the most expensive counties in the state for property, so the likelihood of being able to move to within walking/biking distance anytime soon is about nil. All affordable homes are ~20+ miles away, so I’m stuck with a 35 minute commute for the foreseeable future.   🙁

Entertainment

Our absolute ideal way to spend a weekend?

A potluck game night with friends. We make one main food item, a few other people bring more food, and then we just hang out enjoying each others’ company and playing board and card games. Super low-key, super frugal, and it is always a good time!

A close second?

Playing video games and watching Netflix together, eating whatever is in the house. And/or a nice long walk or hike. Maybe some household chores thrown in if we’re feeling frisky.

We both have pretty low-key hobbies: reading, writing, cooking & baking, games, playing music. The hubs’ big costs (re: guitars/amps) are already sunk, and there won’t be any more large costs added in the foreseeable future.

Some people would find that mind-numbingly boring, but those people are probably not going to retire by the time they’re 40, will they? And I have never been disappointed by spending time strengthening my marriage and friendships instead of spending money. So I’m pretty pleased with this aspect of our lives currently.

Pets

We do have 2 pups, who we adopted about 3 years ago now. We did make this choice knowing pet ownership comes with many costs attached. However, we do all their ‘pet maintenance’: bathing, grooming, nail trimming, flea and tick prevention.

We order their food in bulk from Amazon, and since they are both under 30 pounds, it costs us maybe $30 to feed them for 2 months. Besides required tags, checkups and vaccines, they are low-key, just like us.

But if anyone has tips for lowering the cost of pet-parenting, please feel free to share below!

Clothing / Misc.

I think I may have spent a total of $50 on clothing in all of 2016-2017 so far. The vast majority of my closet has been with me for years. I buy pieces that fit well and are well made, mostly second hand (you can find gems at Goodwill and thrift stores if you’re willing to look through a lot of… not-gems).

Then I wear the crap out of them, basically until they are stained or ripped and cannot be worn any further.

By choosing to not keep up with current ‘trends’, but instead dress in a ‘classic’ way that never goes out of style, I don’t need to constantly be adding pieces to my wardrobe. I have enough accessories and mix and match pieces that I can dress up or down at my pleasure.

I also do my darndest to keep in shape. I’m definitely not supermodel slim by any stretch of the imagination. But as long as I don’t gain or lose more than about 10 pounds, 99% of my wardrobe continues to fit me, season after season.

And the hubs?

He works from home, and considers khakis the dressiest thing he should ever have to own or wear. I have never seen him show any interest in or buy clothing other than new socks one time. If he has on pants at all, it’s probably track pants. He’s a born athlete, and yes I knew what I was getting when I married him  😉

We very rarely go anywhere ‘just to shop’.

I purposely avoid going to a store unless there’s a specific reason or a list. We mostly keep an ongoing Amazon list, and once it gets big enough we click ‘order’. We may pay slightly more for toilet paper, Draino or nyquil, but by avoiding big box stores in general we also avoid impulse purchases.

Oh, and makeup/beauty products spending is just not a thing for me.

Why do we care about these numbers?

To figure out your FIRE number, some people say you need enough saved to replace 85% of your working salary. But that is just not true.

When you no longer go to work, all expenses associated with work go away, like work clothing, office supplies, lunches out, the commute, convenience purchases because you forgot your coffee/lunch/ are too tired to make dinner…

Plus, you will be living off of investment income, which is taxed at a lower rate than working income.

Therefore, a better way to figure out what you need, is to track your monthly & yearly expenses. Let’s say you normally spend about $5,000 per month between mortgage, car, food, gas, etc. That’s $60,000 per year.

If you want to use the 4% withdrawal rate, you need to have saved 25 times that, or $1,500,000 before you can retire.

That’s a lotta moolah!

But, let’s say that you do some creative frugalizing of your life: downgrade your house, trade in your car and buy one used with cash, trim the grocery budget, drop the cable and home phone bill, et cetera, and now you spend $3000 per month, or 36,000 per year. Now your 25 multiplier requires only $900,000 saved!

Still a big number, but more manageable.

Now, imagine you develop some side income streams. You start a YouTube channel, launch a side business, freelance write some journal articles, build birdhouses, take up dog walking, whatever. Now you bring in an extra 1000 per month reliably, or 12,000 per year. You only need an extra 24,000 to make up the difference, so you can retire with $600,000!

By maxing out your 401K and getting a 10% match at work, plus some stock index investing on your own, you can easily reach that amount (assuming compound interest) in under 10 years.

And boom! You’re “financially independent” and ready to retire!

In Conclusion

Well, I don’t see how we could cut down our current lifestyle much more than we already have without some serious quality of life sacrifices. The good news is, we are extremely blessed, and already live on much less than we bring in, as a 2 full time paycheck household.

That means our “FIRE number”, or how much we need to have saved in order to “retire”, is lower than it would be if we spent twice as much per year.

So the point is, now we are looking into more ways to build side income, and saving as much as we possibly can in many ways and vehicles. If anyone has suggestions or recommendations, we would love to hear about it in the comments below!

This is a wild and wonderful journey, and we can’t wait to learn and grow, and hopefully achieve freedom sooner rather than later.

 

How about you, readers? Do you have retirement plans? Any wisdom to share from already-retirees or soon-to-be-retirees?

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

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

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

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

 

Monday:

Breakfast – Cherry Vanilla Protein Smoothie. What you see is what went in the blender, except I used frozen already-pitted cherries. The fresh ones were for snacking all week.  🙂

Lunch – chili with edamame and grapes. Organic frozen edamame are my favorite, because I love them (covered in sea salt of course) and they count as a green vegetable with any meal!

Dinner – one pan rosemary chicken and potatoes with zucchini. I speared chunks of chicken onto the rosemary stems, and sprinkled the leaves all over about 4 cubed potatoes. 2 zucchini got diced into spears, and the whole thing covered in foil and popped in the oven at 400 for about 35 minutes. It was so delicious, and really easy cleanup!

Snack – banana pudding y’all! We made some from scratch, and it was gooooooooood! We used ginger snaps instead of vanilla wafers, and I had no idea pudding is actually so easy! Tasty, and dangerous…

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie! The rest of yesterdays (I made a double batch, and put the rest in the refrigerator)

Lunch – Chili with edamame and grapes. Yes this week is pretty boring, but I had SO MUCH chili left over from last week. Rather than freeze it I decided that was just what I was eating this week. It’s easy, super healthy, and super cheap.

Dinner –  macaroni & cheese, not even healthified, just something that was quick and easy to throw together, plus we had several types of cheese in the refrigerator that needed using. I sprinkled it with paprika to look fancy.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – 2 hard boiled eggs & a homemade pretzel chocolate peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – chili mac n cheese, just leftover chili and leftover mac n cheese mixed together. But oh em gee it is SO GOOD.

Dinner – gyros! Hubs made this one, since his favorite food of all time is a burrito. He loves other cuisines’ takes on burritos too, like enchiladas, sushi burritos, or schwarma. Or gyros. Mmmmm.

Snack – handful of pretzels and M&Ms

Thursday 

Breakfast – a piece of blueberry pie left from last weekend’s party

Lunch – tasty pasta

Dinner – broiled chicken breast, potato salad & kale. I tried cooking the kale in lemon juice until soft, but I think I let it go too long. It got this dark olive green color, and was barely edible. Next time I think I’ll just stick with kale chips!

Friday

Breakfast – granola bar & 2 hard boiled egg whites. Yes sometimes I get boring and repeat meals, what of it?! Plus, boiling a dozen eggs at the start of the week and making large batches of things like granola bars gives us plenty of quick protein filled breakfast and snacking options. So necessary at 6:30 am.

Lunch – chili mac n cheese = finally finished both the chili and the mac n cheese! Yes!

Dinner – Chipotle! I had been hard core craving this for almost 2 weeks, and finally caved. C’est la vie, I don’t regret it. Plus, I get a burrito bowl, and they always pack that container full. I put part of it into my own tortilla when I get home, and that way I turn one bowl into 2-3 meals! That’s like $3 per meal. Aw yessss.

The Weekend

This weekend is pretty relaxed, just going to Saturday morning rooftop yoga, and the Durham Farmers Market. We planned to explore some towns near us perhaps, and do some organizing at home. Maybe some video games… by maybe I mean definitely.

Total: $89.35

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

Lessons Learned

This was a good week, some things at our jobs were finally calming down and assorted outstanding items were done, so stress levels decreased overall. Always a nice feeling. Plus using up leftovers, even if it means repeat meals, is a top 10 frugal strategy.

On the flip side, I didn’t make a meal plan this week, so the meals were figured out the day of usually… and we also went out to eat twice, which is not our norm.  It is what nudged the week’s cost up, as groceries alone were only about $30. But it felt much more special exactly because it is a rare event!

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

Weekly Eating – 7/31

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!

 

Excuse me while I have an existential crisis real quick…

{OMG WHAT ITS AUGUST!? It was January like 2 seconds ago, we just moved to a new state, started a new job, had no furniture but an air mattress and knew not a darn soul… now we’ve been here TEN WHOLE MONTHS and have, like, a real adult home?!? And friends?? WHOA. Pretty sure this is where I should insert “hashtag blessed” or something..}

Okay, thanks for hanging in there readers, on to the deets of this week’s noms!

I had made a big ol’ pot of crockpot chili on Sunday night, which is one of my favorite things to do. I take all the kinds of dried beans in the house, and soak them in water overnight. In the morning, I pour out the water, refill it, and add the extra tomato juice, veggies, meat, and spices. Then you just let it rock and roll all day.

It is insanely cheap, because dried beans. It is also insanely versatile, use up the ends and bits of whatever, lentils, bell peppers, onions, black beans. So it is a little different every time. This became lunches several days, kept the work-from-home hubs from starving, and also chili cheese dogs and chili baked potatoes! <3

Monday:

Breakfast – bagel with almond butter & apple. This has become one of my favorite to-go breakfasts, so fast and easy, yet healthy!

Lunch – stuffed poblano peppers from last week’s food swap

Dinner – eggplant parm & pasta. I have tried multiple times, I just cannot like eggplant! This saddens me, because it is so good for you, and people very often want to give it away. But I just cannot.

Snack – white bean rosemary hummus with raw veggies. Y’all, if you have not tried this yet you are missing out! Get out the blender, go read the recipe right now, and make it!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 egg veggie omelet. Had some onions, peppers, and mushrooms so I stir fried them and wrapped them in eggs!

Lunch – tuna noodle casserole. This is giving it a bit more credit than I probably should. I just took some leftover cooked pasta salad that already had bits of peppers and onion and mayo, and added a can of tuna to it to give it protein. Then I called that lunch!

Dinner – baked blue cheese & spinach chicken rolls with oven-roasted potato wedges & garlic aioli. Sounds super fancy, I know, but honestly it is literally 3 ingredients! Just thin chicken breasts, a pinch of blue cheese and handful of spinach, roll up and secure with cooking twine or toothpicks and bake!

The garlic aioli is 1-2 garlic cloves diced small, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, and 1/2 cup mayonnaise, mixed well. This is an excellent dip for chicken and potato wedges. Feel free to pull out this recipe anytime you need to impress someone but have seriously 5 minutes to focus on making the food.

Oh, and I also got a little crafty this week! I had seen a YouTube video for a bathing suit wrap that’s almost no-sew, and just had to try it. Of course, I didn’t get to it in time for the beach last weekend, but that’s ok.

It really was so easy! Just cut it to the right width to wrap around you, cut arm holes, and braid 3 strips of fabric for the shoulder straps. The straps were the only sewing part, and it took like 10 minutes total! I can’t wait to go somewhere that I can use it!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade pretzel PB choc chip granola bars using THIS RECIPE from Tiffany @ Don’t Waste the Crumbs

This recipe was so easy to follow, and I LOVE pretzels, so how could it possibly go wrong? Well, I think using JIF added more oil than it needed, what with the extra coconut oil, so it was pretty greasy… but the flavor was out of this world delish, so this recipe is a keeper! I will definitely tweak it and make these again.

Lunch – crock pot turkey chili, I brought in a big enough container that I could only finish half! Good thing we have work refrigerators

Dinner – slow cooker pulled beef sandwiches with steamed broccoli and pinto beans. I literally just stuck a pound of beef roast in the crock pot before work, came home and shredded it. Could not ask for a simpler, but seriously tasty, dinner!

Snack – white bean hummus with raw veggies

Thursday 

Breakfast – pepper & onion omelet for me, cherry vanilla smoothie for the man. I think we’ve found a new favorite! 1/2 cup frozen cherries, 1/2 cup cherry juice, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder. It is GOOD!

Lunch – the rest of the turkey chili & more white bean hummus! See how making big batches of things early in the week can mean less work the rest of the week?

Dinner – turkey burritos! Because burritos are the kings of food.

I also had a great batch-prep night because this is when I went grocery shopping for the weekend parties (see below). I cooked up like 6 pounds of ground turkey and beef and packed it in 1lb zip locks to freeze, got a great deal on marked-down overripe bananas that I froze to make smoothies and bread in the future, and washed and cut up and bagged grapes, cherries, and strawberries for snacks.

Friday

Breakfast – vanilla Greek yogurt with strawberries, chia seeds, & walnuts. I made a grave error at the store, and grabbed flavored Greek rather than plain. I do make my own yogurt, but haven’t mastered the making it thicker like Greek yogurt part. So I got some for the hubs to put on burritos… oops. Well, now we will have smoothies and yogurt for breakfasts.

Lunch – Beef & veggie leftover soup. I took my small crock pot to work, and used up the little bit of leftover pulled beef, beans, broccoli, and some kale. I added a bit of barley, and let it go on my desk all morning. The office smelled great, and I had a cheap hot lunch!

Dinner – One pan roasted chicken, potatoes, and cauliflower with a side salad. I know this dinner is so “white” i.e. not much color. And also, not stir fry. But the below mentioned cheap chickens were around, so I roasted one, and Kroger also had a 5lb bag of potatoes for 0.99, so…

Hence the side salad, for at least a little greenery in our diet.

Snack – granola bar nomnomnom

The Weekend

Saturday is a neighborhood potluck, for which I plan on making some potato salad and ham sandwiches. I also got whole chicken on sale this week for 0.79 / pound!! Can you even believe it! Yeah I stocked my freezer, as you’ll see below in the total…

And then Sunday we are hosting  a wine tasting by Unique Pairings! I’m super pumped because it means an excuse to eat all the cheese and sweets and try lots of wines! This also helped to inflate the food budget a little, but totally worth. I adore hosting parties.

Total: $177.86

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

Lessons Learned

Uh, yeah, so we overshot by $100. BUT. As noted above, we are going to 2 different parties this weekend, and most of the extra food was for appetizers/foods to share. Also, as hosts, we will frequently wind up with tons of leftover food, which will likely feature in a lot of next week’s meals.

Plus, SEVENTY NINE CENTS A POUND for chicken!! Come on. Tell me you wouldn’t buy like ten if you had the freezer space for that. A lot of this was stocking up on good sales, so that in future weeks we won’t have to spend as much on meats/etc.

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