Category Archives: Finances

Articles concerning finances. This is the “budget” Epicurean after all.

Spring Cleaning: Decluttering Clothing

 

As spring truly heats up down South (we are in a brief temp dip but soaring back to the 80s soon) and is still yearned for up North (I try really hard not to laugh at the snow in Ohio, really I do… but I moved for reasons… this is a big one!), many people begin to think about Spring Cleaning, and all that comes with it.

While I despise actual cleaning, unless the mood hits, I do love the ideas of purging, de-cluttering, and minimalism.

A clean house just feels nice. You don’t feel trapped or dirty, and it looks nice too. It can also be great for your finances.

Don’t believe me?

Ways Decluttering Can Be Financially Beneficial:
  1. You let go of the past, and accept the present – by tossing your ‘ideal skinny jeans’, or that glittery mini dress from your single days, you can let go of past expectations and focus on who and where you are now.
  2. Saves time – by narrowing down choices and better organizing them, you can more easily see what you have to work with. And by getting rid of things that don’t make you look and feel great, you know that basically any choice will work!
  3. Saves money – if you already have 4 plain white button down shirts both long and short sleeved, you don’t need to buy another. But that only works if you know you have them already!
  4. You make room for new – by purging your clutter, you create space, both literally and mentally.
  5. Could make you money – if you have nice enough items, that you have taken good care of, a little effort could turn into cash! Try taking things to a consignment store or reselling online.
  6. Bonus — not really for you, but by donating gently used items you may allow someone in a worse financial situation to buy these things at a markdown to be used again and give them a second life

I decided to tackle my personal things, focusing on clothing.

I do not honestly spend much on clothing for myself. I prefer Goodwill over department stores, and am blessed to have a mother and sister who willingly let me have first pick of their castoffs.

I have also hosted a few clothing swaps, and have benefited from several friends hand-me-downs over the years.

I would bet my 401K balance that I’ve spent less than $1000 on clothing for myself in the past 10 years. Probably less than $500.

But I still have so. much. clothing.

Mounds of free t-shirts from college days.

Hoodies and sweats also from those days.

Random items that have survived since high school.

Too tight sports bras ‘just in case’… all the other ones are dirty and it’s worth the discomfort to get a jog in right now?

A gifted sweater I ‘feel bad’ getting rid of.

Clothes I’ve outgrown physically or mentally but can’t let go of.

Bags or clothing with holes or stains but ‘still usable’.

I have so much clothing that I actually am using two closets!

The master bedroom has 2 small closets, of which hubs and I both get one. But mine overflows into the guest closet too.

I use that one as an ‘off-season’ wardrobe, with summer/short sleeved tops/dresses in one and sweaters/layers/sweater dresses in the other.

Oh, and we both have huge 8-drawer dressers.

And a coat closet downstairs too.

Do you see a problem here?

Honestly, I could probably get by with a wardrobe merely a fifth of its current size.

I need maybe 3-4 work pants, 10 or so tops, a few sweaters to layer. And then 2-3 pairs of jeans and casual pants, a couple shorts, ditto a few casual tops and layers.

Add in pajamas, bathing suit, socks and underwear. A few different weights of coat, for kind of brisk versus face hurting cold. And we are still talking maybe 100 pieces of clothing.

I ended up donating more than that number!

pile of clothing to be donated

Back when we first moved in, I had culled my wardrobe after one year. I did the trick where you hang everything with the hangars facing one direction. Then when you wear it and put it back, you flip the hangar. After one year has passed, anything that is still facing the original direction has not been worn and you can get rid of it.

The things that had not been worn in a year were put into a box, and that box was put into the attic, waiting for a trip to Goodwill.

That box contained:

  • 2 pairs of boots
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 2 pairs of flats
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 5 skirts
  • 3 sweaters
  • 5 dresses mostly too tight or short
  • 15 tops, mostly nicer work shirts
  • 7 old tshirts
  • 1 pair of pajamas no longer used
  • 1 sweater with a hole
  • 1 older jacket I no longer wear

This box had sat up in my attic for another 6 months, waiting for me to “get around to donating it”. One weekend I finally got fed up, and brought it down, along with a brand new empty box.

In this second round, I ended up with:

  • 3 skirts, mostly too short
  • 6 t-shirts, including “the bride” t-shirt from my wedding week
  • 1 pair jeans w ripped belt loop
  • 1 pair of jeans too tight
  • 1 beach bag w stains
  • 2 bags no longer in use
  • 1 winter rain jacket
  • 2 fleece zip ups
  • 1 sports bra too tight
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 4 short sleeve tops
  • 2 pairs sweatpants 
  • 3 pairs shorts
  • 11 pairs of scrubs
  • 2 hoodies 
  • 2 dresses that just don’t hang right
  • 3 string bikinis
  • 3 old bras
  • 1 belt
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 pair too small boots

This totals over 100 clothing items!

Things that I barely or never wear, had outgrown, or was stained or unable be used. Things that someone else may be able to give a second life to. Things I no longer wanted to store.

Oh, and I also finally got rid of at least a dozen pairs of socks and undies that had tears which were beyond the point of being able to mend them, or had been sitting by the dryer for over a year looking for their lost mate.

While I was on a roll, I also tackled the master and guest bathrooms.

pile of clutter from the bathrooms

Items that got the boot:

  • 1 old gross brush
  • 2 old hair sprays
  • 2 old lotions
  • broken curling iron
  • nearly empty nasal saline spray
  • tons of plastic medicine cups
  • hydrogen peroxide (I had 3?!)
  • 3 broken headbands
  • 1 broken hair clip
  • 2 bags our wedding rings came in
  • old unused makeup
  • dried out makeup wipes
  • couple hair ties
  • glasses & case – to donate
  • to sell: micro pedi kit, 2 fancy razor heads, brand new perfume

Many of these items just went straight into the trash.

The old glasses and case I hope to find a charity to donate to, because they are high quality lenses and someone somewhere can probably use them.

A few items could actually bring in some cash, so I’m going to try to list them on Craigslist or Ebay.

I also have several sets of scrubs from back when I worked in a clinic. They are solid color pants and various patterned tops. Most are like new, and all are very comfortable, I almost want to keep them around for lounge wear.

But I would prefer they go to a nurse or student or tech who can use them, and I’d love to give them away rather than donate to Goodwill to have the person have to pay for them.

Though some people don’t like hand-me-downs or may feel guilty about accepting them, as someone who adores giving things to people, I cannot think of something that would make me happier than to help someone who needs these things that I no longer do.

I listed these separately online, and hopefully will get some interest.

stacks of colored scrubs

Overall, my house now feels way less cluttered.

I can move things around in my closet, and not have to forcefully stuff things together to pull out one hangar.

I can see at a glance all the tops and skirts and blazers left. (I also color coordinate, but that’s a whole other topic…)

There is more room on the bathroom cabinet shelves, and I can see what’s all the way in the back.

Now, I do still have clothing in both the master and the guest room closet. Baby steps, people.

I definitely don’t think I will go so far as to count every single item I own with the hopes of getting under 100.

But a regular spring cleaning purge feels great!

 

 

 

Tell me! Are you a devoted minimalist? Do you purge regularly? Are you due for a spring cleaning?

Dollar Tree Meal Plan

 

It should come as no news to anyone that access to fresh produce and quality food is a good indicator of overall health. It is further not surprising that poverty and food insecurity are strongly linked.

If you do not have the financial means to pay for fresh food, it is likely your diet will consist of fast food, packaged and processed foods, and frozen meals.

If you live in a “food desert”, whether you can pay for produce or not doesn’t matter because there isn’t any for you to buy.

There is more and more evidence that this can become a vicious cycle as well. You or your family is at or below the poverty level, and the only places you can afford to live lack access to food and the money to pay for, and this contributes to poor nutrition and obesity, which in turn may stifle earning potential and opportunities further.

The issues of poverty, food insecurity, and the increasingly wide-spread and frightening rise of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other ‘lifestyle diseases’ has been on my mind more and more.

It seems we have lost our way, as a country, and things keep happening to make it seem worse and worse.

How do we fix this?

How do we keep ourselves, our family, and our children fed and healthy, without going over budget?

It is a long road, and not an issue I can tackle and solve myself. But I can try to do small things to help. Like creating as healthy of a meal plan as possible that would be relatable to the people who need it the most. So I went to my local Dollar Tree to scope out the options.

Most households in America, even if they are not near a grocery store, should be within walking or bus distance of a Dollar Tree or Dollar General or similar type store.

I figured this would be a good base to work with, and provide the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ that most people on a very low income are looking for.

Let’s be real, even as a dual income family with more than enough room in the budget to not have to care what we spend on food, we still care a lot, and stick to a budget. We are all potentially just one disaster away from poverty.

Whether you are a single mom or dad trying to feed your growing family on a part-time income, a struggling college kid paying your way with a scholarship, part time job, and a ridiculous loan, a newly married couple just trying to figure out how money works, or a retiree on a fixed income, I hope that this information can be helpful.

 

Dollar Tree shelves frozen section

If the store has a frozen section, this can be a great place to start. Though there will be options to avoid (I’ll mention more about that next) you will be most likely to find the healthiest choices here with frozen fruits and vegetables.

Produce that is frozen is usually picked at the peak of ripeness, and then flash frozen for storage and transport. Though it isn’t right out of a field, it will still contain much of its original nutrition, and sometimes even be more nutritious than fresh, similar produce.

Frozen fruit makes a great snack, addition to smoothies, or are perfect to add in to oatmeal for a filling and healthy breakfast or anytime meal. When it comes to potatoes, just be careful about the ingredients and amount of added fat. French fries are still fries, even if you make them in your own oven.

Frozen vegetable blends are my personal favorite. They are great to heat quickly in the microwave as an easy side dish, you can mix onion and peppers into scrambled eggs, top baked potatoes with broccoli, add mixes to soup and stews and tacos, or toss into stir fry. Try to eat at least 5-7 servings of vegetables every day. A serving is about 1/2 cup frozen, or about 1/6 of a bag of frozen vegetables.

I noticed at my store that they had frozen fish filets as well. Salmon, tilapia, and flounder were on offer. I can get into all the details about how to choose sustainable fish, but at this level I think any fish is a luxury and you don’t care where it came from, as long as it’s cheap.

Fish does provide lots of lean protein, and is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish is also an important protein in the Mediterranean diet, and a far better choice in general than red meats, or even lean meat like chicken or turkey. So if you are able, add one to two servings of fish per week to your diet.

dollar tree freezer

This is an example of some of the less desirable frozen food options, nutritionally speaking. Pancakes, biscuits, and waffles can be made healthy if you make it yourself from whole grain flours, but these pre-made and frozen options are likely full of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and other ingredients you don’t want.

Try instead this simple blender pancake recipe, this slightly healthier one with added banana and oats, or this one with only 3 required ingredients. Even the box of mix from the store with some milk or water would likely be healthier.

Pudding and granola bars may seem like a good ‘convenience’ item to pack in lunches and have on hand for breakfasts or snacking. But be wary of the sugar content. Some granola bars can have a sugar content equal to or greater than a candy bar!

You can easily make your own granola bars too using just oats, honey, peanut butter, and maybe some bananas or dried fruits or nuts. The best news is that oats are generally pretty cheap too, so per serving regular oatmeal for breakfast, granola bars, or plain baked granola are really affordable options.

There are a lot of packaged beverage options, especially juices. Kids in particular tend to adore juice, at breakfast, after school, with dinner, before bed… but you need to be careful of the sugar content.

Many juice types these days is only 5% actual fruit juice, if that! They are instead colored and flavored sugar water, with the vast majority of their calories coming from high fructose corn syrup.

The healthiest beverage, always, is water.

And the best part is, water is free from the tap! If you are trying to get your kids (or yourself) to drink less juice, for health or financial reasons, try diluting it with water slowly over time.

Pour one glass of juice, about 80% full, and top it off with water. Then work your way to half and half. Eventually you have a glass of water with just a splash of juice for flavor.

Another good source for fruits, if you don’t have access to fresh produce or it is not in season, is canned fruit.

I most often see canned pears and peaches, but I also saw pineapples and mandarin orange slices. These are all awesome snack or side options. It is best to choose “packed in water” or “packed in its own juices” over “canned in syrup” or heavy syrup.

It is worth glancing at the ingredients list as well, and the total sugar and calorie content.

Dollar Tree shelves canned vegetables

Canned vegetables are another good choice in lieu of fresh produce.

Cans last even longer and store better than frozen options, and better yet do not require a freezer or electricity. Canned vegetables tend to be overall pretty healthy, just check the sodium content.

Similarly with canned soups, check the salt levels. Some can contain nearly 100% of your daily recommended sodium in one serving.

Canned corn can be tossed into soups or burritos, or eaten with some butter and salt alone as a side dish. Canned green beans make a similarly easy and delicious side, can become casserole, or be tossed into minestrone or veggie soup.

Canned beets are surprisingly delightful on salads, or even eaten plain. And plain canned pumpkin is a great baking option, it can be mixed into waffles, pancake mix, cakes and pies and cookies.

Pasta, a definite frugal food favorite. At some grocery stores you can find it even cheaper, 0.95, 0.88, or even 0.50! But here, everything is a dollar. That doesn’t change the fact that when money is super tight, pasta becomes a life-saver. Maybe literally.

Pasta can be made healthier by pumping it up with extra vegetables.

It goes well with just about any frozen mix you can find, and most canned vegetables as well. Just dump the veggies right into your pot with the pasta during the last 3-4 minutes of boiling.

If you want to be sneaky healthy and have a blender, you can also blend canned or frozen veggies or beans into the sauce, and no one will even know!

And where would pasta be without its best friend, sauce!

Most people cannot fathom one without the other. The good news is that pasta sauce is relatively good for you, since tomatoes actually become more nutritious after cooking.

The bad news is, all the packaged sauces probably contain high fructose corn syrup as a cheap filler…

You’re better off just simmering a can of diced tomatoes as your sauce, and adding any spices you enjoy such as Italian seasoning, thyme, basil, garlic salt, etc.

Dried beans and rice are classic frugal favorites, and for good reason. Beans are a powerhouse of nutrition, containing lots of micronutrients, magnesium, iron, protein, and tons of great-for-your-gut fiber. One cup of dry beans plumps up to 2-3 cups once cooked, giving you even more value for your money.

The same can be said of rice, white or brown, which provides 200-250 calories per cup for roughly $0.10.

To cook beans from dry, you simply let them soak in water overnight or for 8 hours, then change the water and boil them for a few hours, until soft. Or cook them in a crock pot, if you have that luxury.

Now that you have cooked beans, layer as many different types of beans as you can find into a hearty chili, toss them into tacos and burritos and enchiladas, whirl them in a blender to make homemade hummus, or cook up some hearty red beans and rice.

Ah, rice. The food all frugal foodies sing praises to. And for good reason as well.

Rice is cheap per pound ($1/lb here, you can get it much cheaper in bulk but also sometimes you just can’t swing $15 for 25 pounds) but delivers tons of carbs (aka ENERGY) and a nice punch of nutrition in return. You can easily have a full week of meals for a dollar or two and a couple minutes of simmering.

To cook rice, simply mix rice and water in a one to two ratio (for example, 1/2 cup rice + 1 cup water) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and simmer 20 minutes. That’s it!

It is also super easy to cook, as noted, and ridiculously versatile.

It can bulk up just about any meal to make it stretch: burritos, tacos, soups, stir fry, casseroles, curry… It is also the partner in crime to the other frugal foodie favorite, beans.

Try adding some to bulk up vegetable soups, add some simple spices and a can of tomatoes, corn, and/or beans for Spanish rice, or mix with frozen broccoli and some cheddar cheese for a delicious side dish or casserole.

Canned ravioli, Spaghetti-Os, and chili is not the best bet, they will have sky-high sodium, but if you are desperate for protein in an easy-to-open and store container, you could do worse.

I would highly recommend making actual pasta rather than go for the cans, especially for double the cost (1 box pasta + 1 can sauce vs 1 can of spaghettios). You get way more than double the food; more like 5 times as much!

As for soup stock, you can make your own for almost free! Just save vegetable scraps like potato and carrot skins, the ends of onions and celery stalks, pits of peppers and tomatoes, in a bag in the freezer. Once you have enough to fill a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour or so, and strain the solids out.

That liquid is pure homemade vegetable stock! You can use it to make soups, to fry instead of oils, and to cook rice in for extra flavor.

Dollar Tree shelves canned tuna and meats

Canned fish is definitely a great low-cost protein option. When you are on a seriously-ridiculous-bare-bones budget, you cannot worry about needs as high up the chain as ethically sourced mercury-free fish. You just want cheap sources of proteins.

Canned tuna and salmon makes great sandwiches, tuna noodle casserole, or latkes. Flake it over a salad or into any pasta dish, even adding it to soups or casseroles. Canned clams can make a frugal knockoff clam chowder, clam linguini, or top a pizza with them.

Boxed mac n cheese has all kinds of additives, fake cheese-like product, preservatives, and colorants.

You are better off cooking a box of actual pasta, and adding in a block of actual cheese to make your mac n cheese. But if even $3 is out of your price range (1 box pasta + 1 block cheese + 1 bottle milk) then the boxed kind will keep your belly full for a while.

Boxed pasta salad mixes are also not really worth the “extras”, which includes anti-caking agents, dehydrated flakes, “flavoring”, etc.

Just make a box of pasta, and add a bag of frozen peppers & onion mix. If you have one more dollar, get Italian dressing and mix it in too. It will taste better and be better for you, with actual vegetable pieces.

As mentioned above, if you have enough wiggle room in the budget to add dressing, Italian is my favorite. It is very versatile, bringing flavor to pasta salads, actual lettuce salads, or roasted chicken.

The Dollar Tree does not have any fresh produce, so we won’t have any real salad to go with it… but it does perk up pasta salads well, and is great over steamed frozen veggies.

For your baking needs, they do have smaller packages of salt, sugar, flour, and even shredded coconut. If I was on a super-tight budget, shredded coconut would not top my list. But if you have room and enjoy its taste, it is a great addition to oatmeal, soups, and baking.

Flour and water together can lead to your own super-frugal tortillas for your bean and rice burritos.

You can whip up you own naan for scooping curry and chili.

And if you can get ahold of any yeast, or a fermented sourdough starter, you can be well on your way to homemade bread, biscuits, pizza dough, and rolls as well.

For $1, this is a decent size jar of jelly. It makes me cringe just a little to see the high fructose corn syrup and how much sugar per serving is in there, jam made with actual fruit would be so much better.

But, again, this is about survival.

Food that will fill bellies and keep kids happy (or yourself) while keeping the lights on and gas in the car.

So when a PB&J is the compromise, you need the J part. It can also make a great topping for biscuits, toast, or pancakes.

Dollar Tree shelves - peanut butter

And of course the PB part of a PBJ. I was a little disappointed to see how small these jars were… 10 oz compared to jelly’s 19 oz. Can you tell we subsidize corn syrup in this country and not peanuts?

Oh, and if you have peanut allergies, well, tough luck. There is nothing fancy like almond butter or sunbutter options here.

I was pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of bread options!

Obviously, making your own without sugar or preservatives is healthier. But who has time for that nonsense between jobs and childcare?

At least you can choose whole wheat bread and rolls, and they even had a really nice looking multigrain option. For $1, this is actually much cheaper than a regular grocery store.

If you’re on a very limited budget, I highly recommend you switch to water as your main, or only beverage.

Actually I recommend that in general.

Water is the healthiest liquid you could drink, and has the added benefit of being free and clean from your very own tap. 24/7.

However, sometimes a warm or sweet beverage can be a needed pick me up, and I get that.

I noticed they had pre-cooked pizza crusts, and pizza sauce and small pepperonis. Any processed meat like sausage, pepperoni, etc. is not the best. But if you are going to have pizza anyways, making your own is FAR healthier and cheaper than going out. Even a $5 hot-and-ready is $5 compared to $3 to make your own.

In the refrigerated section, you will find 8-count eggs and yogurt. If you and your family does eat dairy, a 4-pack of yogurt for $1 is a pretty good deal, and will provide calories and some protein. Eggs are a good cheap source of protein. Though sometimes you can find better deals at ‘regular stores’, we are assuming there isn’t one.

 

The Meal Plan

I designed this plan to serve 2 people with average adult appetites for 3 meals for 7 days.

This may not apply to you, and you may need to change the amounts a little if you have little kids, or hungry teens, or a large family, or more or less meals per week to provide.

Scale up or down accordingly.

It is also designed with the least amount of cooking required as possible, which is not the best financial move.

But I understand that when times are tough and time is tight, making things from scratch is not the priority.

Grocery List:
  • 1 pack of 8 eggs
  • 1lb margerine sticks or a bottle of oil
  • 1 box mac n cheese (or 1 box pasta, 1 small jug of milk, and 1 block of cheddar cheese)
  • 1 box pancake mix
  • 1 bag frozen fruit: tropical blend, strawberries, mango
  • 4 bags frozen vegetables: stir fry blend, spinach, broccoli, California blend in 10, 12, or 14 oz
  • 3 cans sliced pineapple, mangoes, oranges, peaches, or pears
  • 3 – 1 lb pasta boxes, any shape you like
  • 1 34 oz pasta sauce can
  • 1 bag of 2 lbs white rice, or 1lb brown rice
  • At least 1 bag: 1.5 lbs pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas
  • 1 16oz can or bottle tomato juice
  • Bottle of chili powder
  • 10 oz peanut butter
  • 19 oz jelly
  • 2 loaves of bread
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 can cream of mushroom
  • 1 pizza base
  • Optional beverages: tea, coffee, hot cocoa, hot cider
  • Optional snacks: granola bars, 25.4 oz jar applesauce, yogurts
  • Optional seasonings: Italian blend, garlic salt, soy sauce

Grocery total: $27 (+ depending on your optional choices)

Day One

B – 2 eggs scrambled per person, plus toast

L – PB&J sandwiches

D – Make a big pot of chili

Day Two

B – Toast with PB and/or jelly, 1/2 can fruit

L – leftover chili

D – Mac n cheese using the box, or 1 box pasta + cheese

Day Three

B – Fruit pancakes (make a big batch, and refrigerate enough for the next 2 days)

L – Chili mac! Top leftover macaroni with leftover chili. Very filling.

D – Red beans & rice

Day Four

B – Leftover pancakes – you can pop them in the toaster to reheat!

L –  Leftover red beans & rice

D – Pasta with veggies (save about 1/2 cup sauce for pizza)

Day Five

B – Leftover pancakes

L – Leftover pasta with veggies

D – Pizza night! To make it extra healthy, microwave a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and drain. Top pizza with sauce and veggies, then bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Day Six

B – 1/2 can of fruit plus toast (with PB) per person

L –  PB&J

D – Veggie stir fry

Day Seven

B – 1/2 can of fruit plus toast (with PB) per person

L – Leftover stir fry or anything else left in the fridge

D – Tuna noodle casserole

 

How Do I Make That:

Vegetarian chili: 2-3 cans different beans (or ~4 cups from dried), 1 can diced tomatoes or bottle tomato juice, chili powder = $4. Put all ingredients in a slow cooker on low 6-8 hours, or simmer on stove top for about 1 hour up to 4 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.

Macaroni and cheese: 1 box pasta, 1 block cheese, 1 small jar milk = $3. Boil pasta noodles and drain. Return noodles to the pan, add the cheese (cutting into smaller pieces or shredding will help it melt faster) and 1/2 cup milk. Stir on medium heat until cheese melts. You can also add a bag of frozen mixed veggies for extra nutrition.

Fruit pancakes: 1 bag or can fruit + 1 box pancake mix = $2
Either drain a can of fruit & chop into small pieces, or microwave 1 cup of frozen fruit and drain. Add to the pancake batter in place of some liquid. For example, if you need 1 cup of water, add 1 cup fruit and about 1/3 cup water instead. Adjust liquid to your desired batter thickness. Cook on hot pan or griddle until brown, flip and cook the other side.

Red beans & rice: Cook 2 cups rice, cook 2 cups beans (or 1 can pinto /kidney), optional 1 cup frozen pepper & onion mix = $3. The key to this one is to simmer on low for a long time. It makes the beans break down a bit and thicken, add some chili powder for extra kick.

Pasta with sauce & veggies: 1 box pasta, 1 bag frozen mixed veggies, 1 can pasta sauce = $3. Boil pasta according to directions, add frozen veggies at the last 3-5 minutes to thaw. Drain, add sauce.

Pizza: thin crust, bag pepperoni, (optional) mozzarella cheese sticks or shredded cheese, can of sauce = $4. Top crust with sauce, toppings, and cheese if using. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Stir fry: rice, frozen mixed veggies, 2 eggs = $3. Cook 2 cups of rice and set aside. Microwave or boil veggies to thaw and cook. Scramble 2 eggs, and mix into the rice. Top with veggies. Soy sauce optional.

Peanut butter & jelly: 2 slices bread, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 2 tbsp jelly = $4 (not quite, because you only use 2 slices bread not the whole loaf)

Tuna noodle casserole: 1 can tuna (drained), 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 box pasta: $3. Mix together and either bake at 350 for 20 minutes or just stir together while pasta is still hot. For extra nutrition, add a thawed bag of frozen mixed vegetables.

 

And there you have it, 3 meals per day for 7 days for 2 people, or 42 meals for just $27 or just 64 cents per serving.

You can also at any point make a big pot of vegetable soup with a bag or two of frozen mixed veggies and stock or water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes to a few hours, adding whatever spices you like. This can be easily just a few cents per serving, and you can add rice and/or beans or serve with bread/rolls to bulk it up further.

Yes, it is quite carb heavy and not the healthiest ever. But you have to do what you have to do sometimes. And sneaking in some canned fruits and frozen veggies is better than pop-tarts, or nothing!

 

Please share with the class! What are your classic frugal meal ideas? Have you ever experienced hard times? Is this at all realistic and useful?

Weekly Eating – 4/9/18

 

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

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

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

 

 

Monday:

Breakfast – The very last sweet potato biscuit with honey, and the very last crepe with strawberry jam. This was my favorite, why wasn’t I doing jam all along?! Next batch I will know better.

strawberry crepe and sweet potato biscuit with honey

Lunch – Last of the Chana Saag and basmati rice. So healthy, so cheap, so easy, so filling. What’s not to love.

Snack – So remember the whole Starbucks points and stars thing? I had earned enough for a free food or drink item. I save these up until I really need an extra coffee or forgot lunch/breakfast, and today was a 2-coffee day (my FitBit can prove how crap my sleep was!). I saw the Hazelnut coconutmilk mocha last week and wanted it badly. But it’s a “specialty” drink and thus more expensive, so I figured this free rewards was the best way to go.

Well… turns out you cannot redeem rewards at the one near me 🙁 Which I found out, once I got up to the counter, with a huge line behind me… a more iron-willed frugalista would have said thanks and walked away. But I wanted the sugar and caffeine real bad… so I gave in and got one anyways, just the smallest size they have (a Short, btw, in case you want fewer calories! Same # espresso shots, less sugar). At least I still had money on the gift card so I didn’t pay for it per se, and now I know what it tastes like and won’t actually use my free reward on it.

Later in the afternoon I had another CLIF cherry-apple-chia bar. I am even more sad I didn’t buy more because the boy loves them too, and ate half the box! I’m NOT complaining, more fruit in the daily diet is always a good thing. Maybe I need to figure out how to make them.

Dinner – I had two health coaching clients with a time gap between which was too short to make sense to try to go home, so I got to go to my fave Indian restaurant! I got the Aloo something or other, with bell pepper and onion and cauliflower.

Indian aloo gobi cauliflower curry

IT WAS AWESOME and the garlic Naan was manna from heaven. I had to force myself to save half and not inhale it all immediately. Gave me a serious need for more cauliflower in my life.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Chickpea salad sandwich! I had a batch already made and who says lunch things can’t be breakfast things? Crazy people.

Lunch – Leftover cauliflower and rice and naan. Just as good the second time, if not better.

Snack – Handful of dried prunes. No I’m not an old person I just honestly love their taste and chewiness, what of it?

Dinner – Quinoa with stir fried veggies

Snack #2 – I put out a call for cauliflower suggestions, and Sarah from SmileandConquor reminded me that Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” are a thing! Boy am I glad she did.

roasted buffalo cauliflower 'wings'

I whipped up a batch immediately, and the boy and I proceeded to demolish a half a head of cauliflower in under 5 minutes.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Blueberry great grains and soymilk. I was a little leery of dried blueberries, because the ones I’ve had previously were really tough, but they worked in this cereal.

Lunch – 5 Bean Vegan Chili. I made a small batch yesterday and just wasn’t feeling it for dinner, so I packed up the leftovers into single serve containers for lunch for myself and the boy today.

Dinner –Falafel burgers. I had a few cups of chickpeas to use up, and a ton of breadcrumbs. I save the heels and pieces of bread we don’t eat in the freezer until I’ve got a big batch, then roast ’em into breadcrumbs. Saves food waste and means I don’t have to buy them at the store! So I added some spices and called it burgers.

falafel burger

Snack – I wanted to try out a copycat Larabar recipe, but of course ended up using whatever I had. I blitzed an apple and a half cup of dried craisins in the food processor, and then added cinnamon, salt, almonds, and some dates. Pressed into a thin bar, they were chewy and sweet and a perfect snack. I cut it into 10 bars and refrigerated the 8 I didn’t eat immediately.

Thursday:

Breakfast – Coffee & an apple date bar

Lunch – Salad with quinoa, edamame, frozen peppers and onions, and sprouts with some lemon tahini dressing.

Snack – Whoever brought Reese eggs, I hate you and I love you

Dinner – Peanut noodle stir fry with broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms

Friday:

Breakfast – PB&J toast

Lunch – Leftover miso soup from the weekend

Snack – 1 lonely leftover swiss roll, and a fruit bar

Dinner – Ravioli & a salad

The Weekend

This weekend is supposed to be sunny and warm and amazing and I am really excited about it! We are spending Saturday doing some spring cleaning and yard work, and having a little cookout. I need to find our metal kebab skewers for the zucchini and peppers and onions and mushrooms.

Then on Sunday I have a Health Coaching client follow up to start my day, and if I can convince the boy I want to take a long hike. Or, we might finish anything that we didn’t get to Saturday. Or, I could plant another set of beans and peas, or weed the front garden and plant my basil sprouts and marigolds. Maybe we will be lazy and play video games all day. Who knows!

Food Total: $70.80

Not bad for 2 different store stops. This does include the Kroger meat and cheese sales ($1.99/lb ground turkey and $0.99/lb cheese of which we got 4 each) for the boy’s burritos, along with some tofu, plain Greek yogurt that we use instead of sour cream, and oodles of veggies.

Spring mix 5oz 0.99
Brocc/cauli steam mix 12oz 1.69
Clover sprouts 0.79
Green bean, onion, mushroom mix 1.99
zucchini / squash mix 1.99
Cauliflower heads 2 for $2 4
Pitted dates 40 oz 8.99
Anjou pears 2 1.25
Bananas 3 0.86
Shelled org edamame 2 14oz 4
Spinach big box 5.99
bananas 8 1.53
avocado Haas 3 2.07

We also spent about $20 on allergy meds: Benadryl, DayQuil, eye drops. Spring allergies are no joke in the south. Cars literally turn yellow with a coat of pollen, and we stay that way for months. Oh well, I’ll take a yellow car over a white one any day!

Lessons Learned

Harris Teeter does produce markdowns on Tuesdays! Haha sort of kidding… but seriously you should consider checking out your local stores on different days of the week and at different times if you are able. You never know when things you use often will be on clearance. The caveat with produce is you have to be sure you will use it soon, or else need to freeze or otherwise preserve it.

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Simple Chickpea Salad

 

Do you struggle with what to bring for lunch to work, or to eat at home, or to send with the kiddos?

Trying to incorporate more healthy food into your diet, like plant based recipes and legumes?

Need a new flavor combo after years of tuna salad sandwiches and chicken salad sandwiches?

Tired of spending $6 or more on lunch every day?

Have I got the solution for you!

Meet the magical, miracle, chickpea salad.

I cannot believe I went 3 decades without knowing what chickpea salad is, or ever eating it! This stuff is so delicious! It is:

  • salty
  • crunchy
  • creamy but with a bit of texture
  • filling – no more 3pm tummy grumbles
  • super simple to make
  • cheap af
  • ridiculously healthy for you
  • everything I’m looking for in a brown bag lunch

The cheapest option is to buy dried chickpeas and cook them yourself. Just put 1/2 pound in a bowl and cover with water. (LOTS of water, these babies plump up like nobody’s business).

After 6-8-12 hours, drain and either simmer on the stove for 4 hours or so, or put in a crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.

That’s it! Then you can store them in the fridge or freezer for whatever and whenever.

You can also totally use cans, no judgment here. Not everyone has time for that, or remembers to soak the night before, or has space on the counter or a crock pot in your house. Just drain and rinse.

However you do it, just get yourself about a cup of chickpeas, and get ready to make some magic happen.

chickpea salad sandwich ingredients

This simple base recipe makes enough for 2 good sized sandwiches or wraps, but I recommend double or tripling! And below I’ll add some ideas on how to further customize it to whatever flavor combo you’re feeling.

Ingredients:

  • 1 heaping cup cooked chickpeas, or 1/2 can drained
  • 1 small-medium pickle, chopped (or 1 tbsp relish)
  • 1/4 red onion, diced small
  • 1 tbsp mustard of your choice
  • Optional: 1 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • Optional: Green onion or celery, diced

Step 1: Soak your beans ~8 hours and cook until soft, or open and drain the can. Put about 1 heaping cup in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. You want it mostly crushed but with some small pieces left for texture.

chickpea salad mixing

Step 2: Add your other fillings, and mix well.

Layer on bread, in a wrap, or on top of a mixed greens salad. Put inside or on top of biscuit mix and make puffs. I haven’t tried it yet with pasta to see if it can sub as tuna noodle salad, but if you have please report back!

 

If you want it extra salty:

  • Add 1 tbsp capers
  • Layer on seaweed (nori) sheets between the salad and the bread
  • Sprinkle with sea salt or garlic salt
  • Add a tbsp powdered kelp

If you want it extra crunchy:

  • Add a few tbsp chopped cucumber
  • Add a few tbsp sliced radish
  • Add a few tbsp diced celery ribs
  • Sprinkle in some slivered almonds or walnuts

If you want it to be creamier:

  • Add 1-2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
  • Add 1-2 tbsp thick coconut milk cream (the top part when you open a can of cold coconut milk)
  • Add 1-2 tbsp cashew cream

If you want it a little bit spicy:

  • Add chopped jalapeno or green chilies
  • Drizzle on a tsp or 2 of hot sauce
  • Sprinkle a little cayenne on top
  • Add a tbsp horseradish or wasabi

Why Blogging Will Probably Never Make Me Any Money

 

There are basically two reasons people get into blogging: to have an online ‘journal’ of sorts, a record for themselves or a future generation, and/or to make money. It is quite true you can make money blogging, possibly a lot of money. But like most areas of life, the super successful people are the minority.

I love blogging, clearly, as I’ve been doing it for coming up on 7 years.

However, blogging can also be tough, and time consuming, and even the best of us get burnt out sometimes. That’s why I’m even more impressed by those who have the grit, talent, and determination to make a real income from blogging, perhaps even enough to retire and live off of.

Sadly, I have come to terms with the fact that that is simply not me.

I will not publish blogging income reports, because I don’t have any.

And I’m okay with that. Want to know why?

I’m bad at niches

As any long-time reader can tell you, I write about a LOT of different things. I’ve written posts about why asparagus makes your pee smell, all about breastfeeding, delayed onset muscle sorenesshow to make a $10 holiday wreath, affordable destination wedding planning, and so much more.

But the internet tells new bloggers “the riches are in the niches”

This essentially means that the best way to make a profitable blog or webpage is to find an underutilized niche and target it relentlessly.

That way you know the people reading are interested enough to probably buy from you (or your sponsors/affiliates).

But I don’t do focus.

I don’t do boxes.

I cannot fully call myself a “food blogger”, nor can I really call myself a “FIRE blogger”.

I’m not a “food blogger” because I don’t have a fancy camera with zoom and ‘soft focus lenses’, hundreds of dollars worth of pretty props, I don’t use Instagram, and I suck at Pinterest so far.

I just like food. And writing about it.

variety of vegetables

I’m not a “FIRE blogger” because I write about a lot more than just how to make or how to save money, I don’t have a budget, or an FI number, or obsessively track and/or share my net worth.

I just like money. And writing about it.

And I’m okay with that.

Because this blog is definitely for all you guys, I want to share my lessons, meal plans, money saving tips, and life story. And I want to hear your comments, ideas, and stories too! We have some great discussion points in the comments and offline.

But, this blog is also for me. It is fun. It is a creative outlet. It is a recipe book and record of my life for posterity.

And it’s mine.

So I’mma write about whatever I want to, and you can’t stop me!

I hate advertisements

Most sites that make money, are not making money on the content itself. The top sources of income are paid courses / items (like cookbooks), and advertisements / affiliate programs.

I personally get very annoyed at a site cluttered with ads.

To be honest, several old favorites of mine I have completely stopped going to, because they sold out and put up tons of ads.

If I can’t read an article on my phone because there are so many ads loading it slows it waaaaay down, we are done.

If I get more than one popup per page, we are done.

If I try to click the little X to close the ad and it somehow takes me to a video of a new car Honda is trying to sell me, we are done.

So, if it annoys me so much, why would I do that to my own readers?

laptop reflection on white desk

I have only a few loyal readers, and I want to keep you guys happy! So to me, a couple bucks a month is not worth it.

Bye bye, blog income!

I refuse to plug goods/services I don’t use

Sponsored posts or affiliate programs is another way to make money blogging. Basically a company pays the writer some amount of money to write about how awesome their product or service is.

I have done a few of these, for example the Keurig cold brew, or Walmart Grocery To Go.

I do honest reviews all the time, and these are usually not paid.

But I will not make big money, because I will only do honest reviews of things, places, or products I actually have and use and like (for example the Tea Spot Steep & Go. Love that thing).

I tried to do Amazon Affiliates.

Apparently averaging 700 daily page views isn’t enough to get clicks and purchases, because I think I made a total of $4 before they kicked me out.

Yup, if you don’t make them enough money and/or have enough clicks per year, they can terminate your agreement and kick you out.

Oh well.

I’ve been approached by a few places to be a “brand ambassador”.

But I have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to food, and I’m not just going to write about how awesome your sausage or cheese or fancy sauces are. Not even for hundreds of dollars.

Our ‘food system’ is misleading enough, I don’t want to influence people to eat and drink things I honestly think are terrible for you.

I think the more whole foods and fewer labels in your life, the better your health will be.

And companies won’t pay me to say that.

 

 

What do you think, is it worth the trouble and potential dishonesty to make money as a blogger? Do you make money blogging in a better way that any of these?

Weekly Eating – 4/2/18

 

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

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

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

 

Easter weekend was filled with relaxing and outdoor adventures! Friday was a day off, which was awesome, and I got to take a 5 mile hike, resulting in a new high score for daily steps this year. Then on Saturday we were all about gardening. I got broccoli, spinach, and romaine sprouts in the ground, as well as some beans and peas.

We also are trying berries this year, with 4 blueberry and 4 blackberry bushes. The back yard is super shady (thanks to a million trees) but we are planning on taking several down this summer, and hopefully there will be enough light that the bushes can at least survive and establish themselves. It would be amazing to have pounds of free organic berries every year!

And on Easter Sunday, I decided we should at least do a little something to celebrate. We have no kids and no family nearby, so your typical church or egg hunt or Easter baskets or brunch were not happening. Instead, I made some French toast, and cut a piece in half to make bunny ears! Then I used colored white chocolate and sprinkles to make a cute face. It was tasty, and we hadn’t had French toast in a long time so we both enjoyed it.

bunny rabbit french toast

Oh, and back to Lowes we headed, because the boy wanted to complete a project we had talked about several times: building a stone fire pit! We had a small plain metal fire pit that sister in law gave us for our housewarming gift, but we wanted to spruce it up and make it look more permanent. So we got a big pile of stones (thank goodness they were on sale, why are literal rocks so expensive?!) and he built up a lovely fire pit ring.

And while the boy was playing with rocks and building that, I was playing with tortillas and building some enchiladas. I consider that a fair trade. For Sunday dinner we had turkey or black bean enchiladas with Spanish rice and  watermelon mojitos I’d found in the freezer from last summer. Then we hung out outside during sunset & into the night to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to many bonfire nights.

Monday:

Breakfast – Coffee with protein powder, & an energy bar

Lunch – Frozen lamb stew, & a salad. Over the weekend I also did a quick freezer inventory, which happens a few times a year. This way we find ‘lost’ food and hopefully waste less. I pulled out a few things to thaw and eat up this week.

Snack – I had a meeting after work, and was planning to go to dinner afterwards. But I was also pretty hungry by 5:30pm, so I stopped real quick at a Walmart, and they had a snack box on sale 1/2 price. So I grabbed it, and enjoyed the apples and grapes and cheese. I ate about half, and gave the rest to the boy at home later.

Dinner – Chicken fajitas! It’s always so fun when they bring out that sizzling plate, and I feel like an artist crafting my tacos. I also always end up with leftovers, which is like a 2-for-1 meal deal.

chicken fajitas

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Blender crepes with Lemon yogurt filling! I followed the recipe almost exactly (I know, gasp) but also added in a spoonful of cottage cheese to the filling, because I honestly forgot I had it and needed to use it up. I also microwaved a cup of blueberries to put on top. SO GOOD.

blender crepes with lemon filling and blueberry topping

Lunch – Leftover black bean enchilada and Spanish rice

Snack – If you are my friend on Twitter you know I succumbed to the sugar demon… someone at work is having a baby, so there were tiny cute cupcakes in the office! I ended up having 2, 2 days in a row…

Dinner – Lemon garlic asparagus pasta, a recipe Kroger sent me in the mail with my ‘super shopper’ coupons. For the boy I cooked some chicken quarters too.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Skinny vanilla latte and pumpkin bread. I have a Starbucks gold card (I don’t know how that happened either, but it has my name on it so it’s not a mistake…) and today was super double star day! That means I get 4 stars per $1 I spend. Starbucks is a rare treat for me, and I hoard giftcards just for these days.

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich with some carrots. Y’all. This has seriously changed my life. I added a sheet of nori seaweed in the morning when I made the sandwich, so the bread wasn’t soggy and the seaweed was soft by lunch time. This is mindblowing, it is seriously better than tuna salad. I’m in love.

chickpea salad sandwich

Snack – a cherry yogurt

Dinner – Chana Saag and brown basmati rice

I’m so excited its spring, because Farmers market Wednesday is back! I didn’t know and as I walked by the tables I was drooling over all the gorgeous in season greens. I dug through my pockets and came up with 3 dollar bills, and don’tcha know, that was the price for a big bundle of collard greens!! My lucky day.

Thursday:

Breakfast – More crepes with lemon yogurt and blueberries

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich with carrots and clementine. I ate the CLIF cherry-chia-apple bar as a snack around 4pm. It was really tasty, and I’m so sad I didn’t buy every single clearance box.

Dinner – I needed to do something creative with the gorgeous leafy Swiss chard I bought yesterday, so I made some spring rolls!

Swiss chard spring rolls

I used this recipe (mostly because I have a childish sense of humor and liked the site name) and even remembered to cut the veins out, but totally forgot to steam them… oops! The leaves were tender enough though, and they were really good. And actually really filling.

Swiss chard spring rolls with peanut sauce

Even the boy said they didn’t suck. He said the peanut butter sauce made him nervous, but it was surprisingly good.

Friday:

Breakfast – Crepes filled with peanut butter and banana and drizzled with honey

Lunch – Leftover Chana Saag

Dinner – I finished off the Swiss rolls. And then went out for some drinks with friends, which was so fun! But, also, led to Taco Bell on the way home… What can I say, sometimes a rice and bean burrito and cinnamon twists just has to happen.

 

The Weekend

There’s a slight chance I’ll hit the stores again Saturday, because Kroger is running some really good sales. But I told myself I’m not allowed to go unless I take the boy with me, so he can keep me from browsing and over spending!

I’m actually really happy it’s raining this weekend, it should help the berry bushes and garden plants we planted last weekend get more established (and let’s be real, I can be lazy and not water!). But it does put a damper on my hopes of hiking a lot… probably will be a very chill weekend.

I definitely need to do some laundry, I think it has been almost a month! I re-wear heavier things that don’t get dirty, like blazers and jeans, and the only things that automatically go into the wash pile are undies, socks, and workout clothes when I actually sweat in them… so… since I’m nearly out of all of them I guess it’s time!

 

Food Total: $26.93 + $3 cash

Woo hoo for low grocery totals!

I meal planned a bunch of things that were already in the pantry, and cleaned/inventoried the freezer. So the majority of our meals this week were ‘free’, or pre-paid basically. Then I made a quick stop to a WalMart while in the area, because we were nearly out of yogurt and that makes the boy sad.

Dairy $6.48 Staples $4.46 Fruit/Veg $7.17 Extras $8.82
4-pk Greek yogurts 2 4.48 Ravioli frz 3lb 2.58 Bananas 8 (0.52/lb) 1.42 Bistro snack box 1.9
4pk reg yogurts 2 2 Cucumber 0.54 Softsoap refil 64oz 3.84
A H DEO 1.88 Sweet potato 3 (.88/lb) 2.21 Mascara 2
CLIF fruit bars 4 3 Tax 1.08

And this total includes mascara and soap, which aren’t even food! So really it’s more like $20 total, plus $3 cash for Swiss chard.

Lessons Learned

I definitely need to keep up with eating from the freezer and pantry. I come from a family that is borderline Hoarders, never wanting to throw things out and always maximizing sales. I definitely think if you have the initial cash that stocking up will save money over time… but only if you then use the items!

At this point my pantry is full to bursting and it’s getting ridiculous. I need to work pantry items into the meal plan each week, not only to use things up before they expire but also to keep our future grocery totals low. So the focus will be on using up staples with interspersed seasonal produce, until my pantry is as sleek and gorgeous as Dr. McFrugals! #goals

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Sweet Potato & Kale Breakfast Hash

Sometimes all you have time for in the morning is a bowl of cold cereal before you rush out the door. But sometimes, you want something warm, hearty, and filling. And also healthy. And also pretty quick to make… Seems like a tall order right?

Well, this is one of my best kept not-secrets! It is hands down one of my favorite hot breakfasts, and I talk about it all the time when people ask for super healthy, but also cheap, and also fast, recipes.

With a power duo of sweet potatoes and kale, you have a whole slew of vitamins and nutrients and fiber running around your body, and it’s not even 9am yet!

Or, you could easily make this a breakfast-for dinner situation, or serve it over brown rice for an even more filling anytime meal. Sweet potatoes are scandalously cheap for how nutritious they are, and you can use whatever green is on sale, kale, collards, swiss chard, spinach all work great here.

sweet potato and kale breakfast egg bowl

It is simple and perfect just the way it is, with only 3 ingredients. However, you could also top it any way you choose. I’ve enjoyed hot sauce, salsa, avocados, or adding black beans or chickpeas (in addition to or in place of the egg).

The best part? You can turn it to simmer, put on a lid, and walk away for 15-20 minutes. That gives you time to shower, dress, do some yoga, or find the kids’ shoes, and still have a hot and fresh breakfast ready when you are.

Protip: you can also make one big batch of this at the beginning of the week or on the weekend. Just roast a big pan of sweet potato, or heck any type of squash too, and steam some greens and keep it in the refrigerator. The all you do is heat it up and toss on an egg and you’re ready to take on the world.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sm-med sweet potato
  • 4-6 stems kale, stems removed
  • 1 egg (cage free/pastured if you can)
  • Optional: lemon juice, garlic salt, hot sauce

sweet potato and kale breakfast hash

Step 1: Dice your sweet potato, the smaller the faster it cooks. I usually don’t peel mine, I want all those lovely vitamins. Spray a pan with cooking oil, brush with olive oil, or add a tbsp broth or water. Add the sweet potato, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until soft when poked with a fork.

sweet potato and kale breakfast hash with egg

Step 2: Rinse the kale, and remove the stems. Tear into bite sized pieces. Once the sweet potato is soft, add the kale and cover again for another 5-7 minutes. The kale should wilt and become soft. If you like, add a squirt of lemon or lime juice and some garlic salt here.

sweet potato and kale breakfast hash with egg

Step 3: Remove the sweet potato and kale to a plate, and crack in an egg. Or, you can just cook it right into the greens! Once the egg is cooked to your liking, top your plate, and dig in. I usually leave it just a touch runny, to swirl the potatoes around in the yolk. You could also add in some toast for dipping.

 

Weekly Eating – 3/26/18

 

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

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

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

 

Happy Easter, if you celebrate!

 

Well, to balance out last week’s super frugal food spending, I way over spent this week! I cannot be trusted in grocery stores, even with super detailed lists, it seems.

grocery shopping haul

Also, the boy was out of state on a work trip all week, which means I got to go out and party with friends on a work night, twice! Woo hoo, the crazy life of a 30 year old. 🙂 I did basically 2/3 of my eating-out for the year in one week. I don’t ‘go out’ a whole lot since I like cooking so much.

But, it was really nice to finally get a lot of one on one friend time with several different people, and try out a few new food spots. I’m always on the hunt for new stand outs, and good places to take people who visit from out of town. I’d say there are a few new names on the list now.

Monday:

Breakfast – Last of the sweet potato biscuits with honey. Hoping to make a new batch of these over the weekend, they are seriously the perfect breakfast.

sweet potato biscuit with honey

Lunch – Leftover split pea soup & whole grain bread.

split pea soup and bread

Snack – Chocolate peanut butter granola bar.

granola bar

Dinner –Last of the tortilla soup.

tortilla soup

So I thought I had already finished this, but I tricked myself! I put some away in regular containers, but then also one mason jar full. I found it when trying to rearrange the fridge, and had that for dinner. Just as satisfying as I remember.

jar of tortilla soup

Tuesday:

Breakfast – The last slice of my banana bread loaf. Found it in the bottom of the cheese drawer for some reason… and, I have 2 bananas turning a darker brown every day on the counter, so it might be time to replenish the supply.

end of banana bread

Lunch – The rest of the Spring Green Creamy Gnocchi

Spring green gnocchi

Snack – Cut up pineapple and honeydew

pineapple and honeydew

Dinner – Out with a friend! We went to a place in Durham called Juju, which is a pan-Asian tapas bar. The menu is all fancy small plates meant for sharing, and they have half off wine on Tuesdays! Of course, I’m totally frugal, and not their target audience at all. When I see $45 for a bottle of wine, my first thought is I could get like 9 liters of boxed wine for that price!

juju brussels sprouts

We ended up with the house special red in a carafe, and the waiter actually made a dig about it (because it is the cheapest wine on the menu). But I don’t care, it still was enough for us both to have 2 glasses and that was actually quite enough, thank you very much. I gotta drive my butt home, sir.

juju chicken biscuits

We each chose 2 things, and split everything. The plates looked smallish, but the presentation was on point, and everything was tasty. It was actually really filling, we were struggling to finish it all by the last course. The duck fried rice (below) was excellent, and the fried chicken buns (above) were definitely the star of the show.

juju duck fried rice

I was surprised by the vegan spring rolls, since they were fried. I thought spring roll meant the cold rice paper wrapped kind, but oh well. It was a lovely night, and even though it was pushing $40 for one meal, it was worth the time spent chatting and enjoying myself.

juju spring rolls

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Cranberry Great Grains & Almond milk. I guess it’s time for a cold cereal breakfast phase now that I’m out of sweet potato biscuits… 🙁

great grains with cranberry

Lunch – A big mixed greens salad, and a slice of leftover pizza from the weekend.

pizza and salad

Snack – More pineapple and honeydew! A honeydew is a large fruit, turns out… and I had 2 pineapples cut up. So.

pineapple and honeydew

Dinner – I did not have a plan here, but there was a lot of cabbage, and pinto beans that had to be used ASAP. So I was like, hybrid stir fry slash beans and rice? Why not!

crazy stir fry with beans

Thursday:

Breakfast – I love Hummusapien’s blog (if I lived in OH still I’d want to live in Columbus and be her friend) and got inspiration from her green smoothie. It included: “pineapple, banana, hemp seeds, kale, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, orange juice, and almond milk.”

crazy green smoothie

So I actually had all those things, and blended them up (minus the black pepper because yuck), and boy. What an… interesting texture. Hemp seeds will no longer go in my smoothies. Now I know.

Lunch – Leftover split pea soup! This was thick and hearty and I could only eat like 2/3 of it and was totally full. Also I ran out of flax seed bread so I used a whole grain bun.

split pea soup and buns

Snack – Crunchy oats & honey granola bar. I know, I know, this one is basically a candy bar because of how much sugar is in there, but desperate times, people.

granola bar

Dinner – I had a multi-course dinner, because I marinated some veggies and put them in the oven to roast, but got hungry before they were done. So I started with an appetizer of cucumbers and turmeric hummus.

hummus and cucumber

And then I had a salad with some hemp hearts and the rest of the marinade, which became salad dressing. In case you’re wondering:
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar + 1 tsp ginger paste + 1 tbsp honey + 1/2 tbsp olive oil.

salad

And finally once they were done I enjoyed my roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots over rice.

roast veggies and rice

And then I went out with some friends to Clouds Brewery in Durham! Clouds is amazing, if you’ve never been and enjoy trying different types of beer you need to go. They have a wall of taps, and you get a bracelet that you swipe on the screen to pour. Yes, you pour your own beers! And it charges you by the type and by the ounce, so you just turn your bracelet back in and it adds up your tab. Gotta love modern technology.

Friday:

Friday is a holiday, woo hoo!

Breakfast – I knew I was going to lunch with friends, so I just had a small fruit and nut energy bar.

cherry almond bar

Lunch – We went to a place called Na’Mean, which is a Korean sandwich place in Durham. It is indeed slang for “know what I mean”.

namean

I got the Pork Belly Banh, which is a slice of crispy/soft pork belly on a banh roll with house pickled veggies, jalapenos, special sauce, pickles, and fresh cilantro. It was awesome! And the seaweed salad on the side made me swoon. I adore seaweed salad.

belly banh

The place was right near an Asian grocery too… I know I promised no more groceries but… c’mon guys! I’m the Budget Epicurean! I had to go at least look around. And then buy some brown rice because we are out. And also the ingredients to make seaweed salad at home!

Dinner – Seaweed salad noodle bowl and steamed bok choi. I hadn’t had bok choi in a long time, so I picked up a small bag for $1, and the noodles were on sale: $1.99 for 3 pounds of rice noodles!

asian market groceries

I have never cooked with seaweed until now. It’s really easy! Just soak to rehydrate, and then eat it. I added some edamame, and made a sauce from this recipe to pour over it all. Nomnomnom.

seaweed salad and bok choi

The Weekend

This weekend will be chill because the boy just had a stressful week flying for work and dealing with the cold in CT. We are considering hitting up a new brewery we heard about called Carolina Brewing Company. Rumor has it you get free beer on the tour… and/or maybe having a spontaneous game night with friends.

If we get really motivated perhaps I will even get the raised bed  garden set up, and some berry bushes. I’ve got it all planned out, we just need to go get the actual supplies: dirt, vermiculite, seeds, & plants. We shall see how we are feeling. I also need to meal plan, and prep some things for next week.

Food Total: $114.44

Remember how I said I wanted a low grocery bill this week?… yeah…

I had this whole game plan mapped out, and set up a calculator to count down from $75 so I knew how much was left of what I wanted to buy. I diligently compared ads and sales, and checked my cabinets and freezer before making any plans.

grocery shopping lists and plan

I thought I totally crushed it at Kroger, even with a few things I picked up here and there. My calculator told me even with all the planned purchases I had $17 left over for “splurges”. There was a great sale on coffee, and I had a $3 off coupon! Well… what I didn’t realize is I accidentally grabbed 4 cans of the wrong size… and the sale and coupon didn’t apply to them 🙁

I also picked up some organic chicken breasts and a small brisket roast to treat the boy. He was gone out of town all week on a work trip to CT. And let me tell you, Connecticut in March is not the most fun. IT WAS SO GOOD. I forgot how mind-blowing brisket is… But, I remain committed to the 80% vegetarian thing, going to keep trying.

brisket

And then dried chickpeas were on sale for 0.99/lb! I cannot pass that up, since I use them so much in my homemade hummus and various salads. It is (almost) always cheaper per pound to buy dried, and I don’t mind the prep of soaking them overnight. I usually just toss some sort of bean in water overnight on a Friday or Saturday, then use my slow cooker all day Saturday or Sunday. Easy peasy, I have cheap protein ready for all week.

soaked chickpeas in the crock pot

To be fair, the Moscato was a hostess gift for the person who planned the baby shower I went to, and the diapers and wipes were a gift for the couple, obvs. Also in good news, the cake pops were a HUGE hit! Who knew.

second batch of cake pops

Lessons Learned

When I have a very specific list, it might be better to send in the boy. He hates grocery shopping, and will whip in and out of the store in the time it takes me to just look around the produce section.

That’s not a bad idea actually…grocery shopping to me is like a game, an adventure to find the best deals. I almost always wind up with some purchases I didn’t plan on. Of course, they are also almost always justifiable (crazy mark downs, actually the best sale price I’ve seen all year, etc.) but still… unplanned for $ spent.

Anywho, the point is, I definitely went over my desired goal of $75, and my stretch goal of $100. Again. Meaning March was wayyyy over the $400 total I’m supposed to spend. Sigh. No more food shopping until April, that’s for sure. I’m determined to do better next month. Maybe the boy really will become the default shopper.

I definitely learned the importance of cleaning out the refrigerator now and then! There were tons of little odds and ends and leftovers that I ate this week. Good thing the boy left for a while, it was mostly the soups and veggie options! 🙂 But clearing out your refrigerator and rearranging every week or every other week is a great habit to start. It reminds you of what leftovers are around and what other ingredients you have to work with for the next coming week.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Balance in All Things

 

So I was talking with a Health Coaching client recently, and we were discussing how important it is to keep up with self care (no, not the ridiculous “treat yo-self” kind).

It is so easy in our world today to get overwhelmed.

We are assaulted from all sides all day long with the idea that we are never “enough”; we need to be smarter, sexier, earn more money, be better looking, and always be “busy”.

If you have ever been enjoying a walk, a good book, a soak in the tub, or a mindless TV show and felt guilt and anxiety because you were not being productive right that moment, you know what I mean.

If you’ve ever caught yourself, past midnight, still replying to work emails in bed even though you’re exhausted and have to go in early for a meeting tomorrow, you know what I mean.

If you’ve ever gotten so overwhelmed and burnt out on your writing, or blogging, or side-hustling, or maintaining your homestead you early retired to that you just cannot even, you know what I mean.

We need balance.

Balance in all things.

This applies to all areas of your life.

How do you feel if you’ve worked overtime for three weeks straight, you have yet to get more than 6 hours of sleep per night, you haven’t seen your wife or husband or kids or friends in a month?

How do you feel after a buffet of all your favorite things, where you had two plates too many and just couldn’t help yourself, and then also there is always room for dessert too?

How do you feel when you just can’t say no, and so you are working, and volunteering, and on a committee, and helping out at your kids school, and don’t even remember the last time you showered?

How do you feel when you work your day job, and another few hours at your side hustle, and have three freelance projects due by tomorrow as well as a post you need to write before 8am?

Probably not great.

find your balance

But, how do you feel when you have one of those days.

A day where everything clicks. Flows. Is easy.

You get things done.

You’re ahead of your deadlines, you finished a big project, your boss praised you in front of everyone, you got an unexpected raise.

The house is clean, the laundry is done, the yard is mowed, the sink is empty, dinner was a breeze.

You’re in the zone.

AND there is still plenty of time for you.

To work out, do some yoga, read a good book, listen to an inspiring podcast, have a glass of wine/beer, sit and watch the sunset.

You got to spend time with the people you most enjoy, laughing until your cheeks hurt and making memories you know will last forever.

You feel fulfilled, creative, glowing, on top of the world!

Feels pretty awesome, yeah?

Yeah.

Balance looks different for everyone.

Maybe you are a single male in a metropolitan city, living in a tiny apartment with 2 roommates while you finish an MBA. Maybe you are a legal aide, renting a small apartment by yourself within walking distance of work, struggling to pay off six figures of debt.

Maybe you are early retired, living in South America on 10,000/year. Maybe you are a married couple with three kids living in a house you inherited from your grandparents in the suburbs, or a McMansion you earned through a decade of schooling and licensing and work.

In each of these scenarios, your priorities will be different.

But your needs are the same.

Everyone needs the basics: water, food, clothing, shelter.

After that, we all want to be comfortable, whatever level of income and luxury that means for you. We all want to feel loved and valued, be part of a community. We all way to feel healthy, passionate, inspired, capable, and independent.

Woman holding Freedom banner

But this is the 21st century.

We can all be Connected, all the time.

We must be On, all the time.

Reachable, all the time.

Working, all the time.

Exhausted.

All.

The.

Time.

Where is the time for you?

Health

To be truly healthy requires balance.

If you go to any extremes, that is usually where the most unhealthy habits begin and thrive.

You eat far too much and too often, you risk obesity and diabetes.

You lean on fast food, processed meats, tons of cheese and oils, and solely pre-packaged meals, you risk serious cardiac issues, high blood pressure, and strokes.

You indulge too much and too often with alcohol, and you risk addiction, destroying your liver, starving your cells of nutrition, and shattering your relationships and ruining your entire life.

However.

If you eat only raw vegetables every day, you will slowly starve from lack of proteins and fats.

If you try every herbal supplement on the market, you risk interactions with other medications and crazy unanticipated side effects.

If you become too obsessed with eating “clean” and working out constantly, you risk eating disorders, weakening your bones, losing your hair, and collapsing from exhaustion.

And so, the need for balance is clear.

healthy vegetarian avocado salad

Eat your vegetables.

No excuses.

There are SO MANY KINDS, and so many ways to cook them.

Try spinach, carrots, onions, potatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, radish, beets, collards, mushrooms, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, squash… you get the point.

Eat fruits too.

They are nature’s candy.

Go ahead and eat carbs, but try to make them whole grains (brown rice over white rice, whole oats, quinoa, barley…)

Get protein from the source your body responds to best, but lean heavily on legumes (black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, split peas, lentils, navy beans, and more).

Move your body.

Every day.

As frequently as you can, and for as long as you can.

Try new and different ways of moving too. Try yoga, pilates, cycling, water aerobics, or just go run around a playground. Monkey bars are a LOT harder than you remember, I bet.

And for pete’s sake, drink water! (Especially if your name is Pete)

You will literally die without it. Don’t try to rationalize to yourself that coffee counts, or tea, or soda. Drink actual water. Like, about half your body weight, in ounces. Every day.

Add fruits, flavorings, or try fizzy water if you can’t handle tap. But please, please, drink water.

But also?

Go ahead and eat that brownie now and then.

Say yes to a 2nd margarita on Cinco de Mayo.

Listen to your body and know the difference between a healthy soreness from muscles being worked out and an actual overuse injury or something that needs medical attention.

Give yourself rest days.

Don’t forget that by eating healthy and exercising so you can live longer,  you should also be enjoying living right now. 

balanced stack of donuts

Relationships

Another aspect of life which requires balance is our relationships.

Relationships with coworkers and bosses, with our neighbors and friends, with our family, with our romantic interests.

We need a balance of personalities in our lives, people we can go to when we want to celebrate, when we want to vent, when we need a shoulder to cry on, a drinking buddy, someone who tells us the truth no matter how much it might hurt, someone we can count on to get something done right and on time.

But it can be easy to overextend ourselves too.

You know how sometimes, friends or family come to stay for a holiday or vacation, and by day 8 they have worn out their welcome by 4 days? That’s unbalanced.

You know how your significant other can become too needy if you haven’t spent enough time together, or too distant if you are around each other too much? That’s unbalanced.

You also need to nurture your relationship with yourself.

Think about it: when is the last time when you were totally alone?

Like 100%. No other people. No phone, no Twitter, no Facebook.

Just you. And your mind.

Did you love it? Did it scare you? Make you uncomfortable?

Time alone is time for self reflection, growth, recharging, release.

Struggling with the “big questions” of life.

If you feel like you need permission to be alone and not be doing productive things, schedule it into your life.

Put it on an actual calendar.

8pm - 10pm Tuesday: Massage followed by bubble bath.

2pm - 5pm Saturday: See action hero movie alone and check out that new book store.

Figure out what it is that recharges you, makes you happy, and inspires you to be your best.

Then do more of it.

When you are fulfilled and at your happiest and most vibrant, is when you are capable of giving of yourself the most.

You cannot pour water out of an empty pitcher. Click To Tweet

pouring water from a pitcher

Career

Here too is where many of us cannot find balance. We are pushed to “become” our careers.

Oftentimes the very first thing someone asks when meeting someone new is “what do you do?”

You job or employment is seen as the definition of who you are as a person. It defines you. You are not “Joe” or “a coffee lover” or “a girl who likes Left for Dead” or “the best a capella singer in this room”.

You are “an engineer”, “a teacher”, “a mom”, “a construction worker”.

And in the pursuit of money (we will talk more about that in just a second) it is all too easy to get sucked into your career and let it be all consuming.

With our smart phones and constant connected world, you can answer emails at 10 pm and 4 am, you can be on conference calls from anywhere and anytime, you can be working at the dinner table or on a train or in the toilet.

And we do.

Man Standing infront of Red Locker Using Mobile Phone

But what we need to not lose sight of is that it is just a job. At the end of the day, what you trade so many hours of your life for in order to keep bills paid is just a job.

You can get another one. You probably will.

If you love your work and are invested in what you do and you willingly work overtime because it is your true passion, that is amazing and I honestly am so happy for you!

But it is still a job.

And you still need work-life balance.

You need time to put work thoughts on hold, and engage in other areas of your life.

Stop stressing over hiring interviews, projects, looming deadlines, or presentations, and start planning a trip to Spain, a visit to an old college friend, hang out with your neighbor, or try a new hobby like painting or skiing or hiking or glassblowing.

If you are terrible about unplugging, start small.

Just try setting limits for yourself, like “no phone after 7 pm” or “no work email on the weekends”. Maybe you can even progress to the point of outright turning your phone or laptop off when you are off the clock!

Just like above with your personal relationships, your work relationship needs balance.

When you give your brain time away from work tasks to be creative and process, you never know what magical solutions your subconscious might come up with.

And you will definitely be better able to make decisions and solve problems when you are a happier, more relaxed employee.

Money

When it comes to money, it seems “enough” is not a word that will ever apply.

Even when someone is demonstrably in the top 1% of earners in the world (think those pulling down six digits per year, like 200-400, but not quite into the millions), they will still defend to their last breath the fact that they are “average” and “just getting by” and “it’s not quite enough”.

We are encouraged to compare ourselves to top earners and innovators like Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs. Ads for bigger houses, flashier cars, ivy league schools, the nicest clothing, the scent that will definitely make you sexier, flood our senses 24/7.

And the bills never end.

Whether you have plenty of breathing room, or pinch every penny and still come up short some months, it never feels like enough.

So you take on overtime, extra shifts, a second job. You pick up tutoring, cleaning houses, bartending, work all the weekends.

You start hustling, building your websites and courses and ebooks, and freelance writing every spare minute.

But do you ever evaluate your ROI?

How much are you making, in dollars, but how much are you spending, in time and opportunity cost?

These are very personal choices, hence the world of Personal Finance. I cannot tell you which high-paying-but-stressful projects are worth keeping, or which pain-in-the-ass-but-pays-on-time clients you should ditch.

But I highly recommend you use the 80/20 rule which basically means that when we’re talking about earning, 80% of the income comes from 20% of the effort. And conversely for frugal living, 80% of your savings will come from 20% of the expenses you can control.

Concentrate yourself on the 80% at work which reaps the highest rewards. Ask what your boss wants the most, and take steps to make it happen. Prove your worth and ask for it.

And don’t worry about the 20%. The whole office will not implode if you don’t check email until Monday. No one will quit if you leave a little early to go for a run on a particularly stressful day (probably).

laying in a hammock, betsy jacobson quote

Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Click To Tweet

By taking concrete steps to create balance and space in your life, you are one step closer to living the life of your dreams.

Moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.”
– Epicurus

 

 

What do you struggle to balance in life? Or are you a total “Lord of the Dance Pose” expert in all areas? Share your tips and opinions below!

Battling Blogger Burnout

 

If you habitually read many blogs, or especially if you have one yourself, you know the phrase. Blogger burnout.

This is how we describe the feeling of running out of steam.

Everything is going along great, you are building your audience, interacting on social media, promoting your awesome content, traffic is growing… and then for whatever reason, you just stop.

Staring at a blank page in WordPress or Word or Notepad or an actual piece of paper. Typing a few sentences, deleting it, trying again. You get distracted by Twitter, Instagram, the news, a car driving by, or an ad in the corner of the Google search bar.

Five hours later your wordcount is still barely double digits.

Blogger Burnout - blank page

When I first started this blog 7 years ago as College Approved Food, I had big dreams.

I was going to write a cookbook for college kids using only a microwave and recipes with 5 ingredients or less.

I was going to have my own cooking show someday.

I could live off my blog income full-time while I traveled and tasted food from all over the world.

Then I did it, and saw how much work went into blogging.

Consistently. On a schedule. Regularly.

To build a following, to create things people actually could use and wanted to read, to add value to the world.

To interact with others in the space and create a network of like minded people who support you as well.

And of course, “real life” got in the way a bit as well.

Getting through undergraduate studies while working three jobs, dealing with a broken engagement, applying, getting into, and surviving graduate school, paying off all my undergrad loans before finishing graduate school, leaving grad school, moving across the country (thrice)… Occasionally I lost focus.

Sometimes I took a break.

Sometimes it was for a few days, other times a few months.

I changed my publishing schedule from not having one, to three times per week, down to once per week, and back again, trying to find the perfect balance.

Then, for the past year or so, it seemed I’d hit the sweet spot.

I was publishing both food and finance content, and plenty that was a bridge between the two.

When I ran out of recipes for One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bakes and Holiday Diets for a while, I could tell you all about how I save money on beauty and why a $1000 raise didn’t change my life.

And when I got tired of writing about how we bought our house from 1000 miles away and my top tips for saving money, I could write about how easy it is to make your own yogurt at home or our attempt to become ‘almost’ vegetarian.

I even had so many ideas flowing through my brain that I increased my twice a week Sunday/Tuesday schedule to three times a week Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday schedule.

And then, eventually, the ideas started slowing down.

Maybe it was turning thirty, or the holidays, or winter hibernation, but I started to lose focus.

Creating posts became more of a chore that I had to schedule into my days rather than a firehose of words I couldn’t turn off.

It seems I’m not the only one going through this, since just recently the intrepid Pete at Do You Even Blog posted an article with top tips from 12 other bloggers, and the illustrious Frugal Asian Finance enlightened us all with her Blogger Burnout: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

How do you know you’re burnt

<FIRE joke?>

Battling Blogger Burnout - the Budget Epicurean

The symptoms may include:

  • Inability to focus, especially when trying to write
  • Questioning why you write or blog in the first place
  • Feeling like social media is taking over your life
  • A feeling of utter exhaustion, where even getting up to go to the bathroom seems like too much work right now
  • The inability to come up with new ideas for a post
  • Wondering if any of this matters or why you keep going
  • Not even wanting to listen to yourself talk about blogging
  • Binge reading other blogger posts on blogger burnout!

I feel like this is a ripe opportunity for “You Might Be Burnt on Blogging If…” jokes… if you got any good ones feel free to share in the comments!

But truly, “burnt out” manifests differently for everyone.

You are the only one who knows when you hit the wall.

You start to procrastinate on writing. Whatever you do manage to write, you hate it and delete it and start over. You stare at a blank page for hours on end, hoping for the magical Muse fairy to sprinkle the page with words of wisdom.

You might be burnt out.

What are the Causes?

Why does “burnout” even happen? How is it that almost every writer in all of time experiences periods of a lack of inspiration?

Psychological Science writer Alexandra Michel says: “burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation.”

There are several components to what makes people willing and motivated to do something. A physical reward such as candy might get a toddler to pick up his toys. A mental reward like praise could convince hubby taking out the trash is a good idea. A raise at work will keep you at your desk hitting your targets on time.

Those rewards balance the time, effort, and mental strain to complete the task which earns those rewards.

People may do their jobs or write or side hustle for the money, for the recognition from peers or superiors, or because it is a cause they truly believe in and they get personal satisfaction from.

When those do not balance out, you burn out.

How do you Cope?

Battling Blogger Burnout at the Budget Epicurean

To battle the burnout, I attempted immersing myself even further into great content creators, reading like my life depended on it, up to 4-5 hours per day!

This ultimately made me feel like I was staring into a limitless black hole of content, most of it created by people far wiser, more experienced, and ‘better at blogging’ than myself.

The comparison game is one you cannot win.

When reading more about food and health and money didn’t work, I gave it up and started reading anything else.

I lost myself in fictional stories, mystery novels, a few non-fiction works. I escaped into video games and virtual worlds, and even tried going back to some very old stories, songs, and scripts I had started.

None of it worked.

For several weeks, I struggled just to create enough content to keep the blog going on its regular schedule. I came very close to taking it down a notch to fewer posts per week, or taking a few weeks off altogether.

Fellow blogger friends were a big help, though they might not have known it. All the reading I’d been doing helped spark a few ideas too. But ultimately, unplugging is what seemed to flip the switch for me.

I backed way off social media for a little while.  Twitter is my preferred verbal playground slash coffee shop slash news source, and I was spending upwards of 9-10 hours a day on there!

I would obsessively refresh as soon as I woke up, everytime I went to the bathroom, when I was walking between places, on my way to meetings, while watching Netflix at night, sometimes even at red lights! It was unreal. And I knew it was a problem.

I just love all the bloggers out there SO MUCH!

There are some amazing people with amazing life stories, and goals, and great writing style, and humor, and tips, and wisdom.

I NEED TO KNOW IT ALL!

But I had to set some boundaries. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I cannot get anything done of my own, if all I am doing is consuming content 24/7. I want to actually enjoy my IRL life, as well as create my own things.

So I took a brief social media break for a few weeks, followed by rules about phone use.

It doesn’t matter what my rules are, because you have a different life and daily patterns, so make your own that work for you.

But a healthy distance gave me space to go for walks, watch TV and focus on one thing at a time, connect with my husband more, and expand my social group.

And by doing more things in real life, guess what?

More ideas sparked!

More things I wanted to write about came to mind.

More post drafts were created.

But I know this may not be the last time burnout happens, and I know you may be going through this too, or will at some point in the future. So I wanted to explore a little more, for selfish reasons in case I need to refer back to this, but also to help anyone else who has been there or is there, and doesn’t know where to go now!

This advice is slightly tailored to writing, but can apply to any work situation. Whether self-employed, a consultant, or working for The Man, you can burn out.

If that happens to you, try a few or all of the things below. And in the worst case scenario, if you need a new direction from life, follow the steps to a Career Transition Without Going Broke.

What Can You Do to Battle Burnout?
#1) Set a schedule
  • One of the most important things I learned early on about blogging is that if ALL the successful bloggers say it, it is probably true. And they all say to set a schedule. I didn’t do that at first, I just published when I made something I thought was good enough to share, or when I had the time. Then after a few years, I buckled down, set a schedule, announced it, and kept to it, diligently posting on the days I said I would. And my pageviews nearly tripled within a month!
  • The beauty of blogging is, that you can choose your schedule, and you can change your mind! It doesn’t matter if your schedule is “once per month”. Start small, say you will post less often than you think you will. If you have more content that you need, see tip #3 below. Worst case, you change your mind and increase your posting frequency! But, if you start off balls to the wall saying you will write a post every day, well, that is a recipe for disaster.
  • Bless Erin at ReachingForFI, she blogs even when she doesn’t want to, even when it’s past bedtime, even when she thinks she doesn’t have anything to say. And sometimes those are the best posts! Where you are real, spontaneous, raw, and honest.
#2) But, give yourself permission for breaks
  • Sometimes, life happens! We get it. There are holidays where maybe you are hosting or traveling or just want to spend time with family not worrying about work or writing. You might go on a long vacation, and the least relaxing thing you can think of is to keep writing while there. Or you are going through a particularly stressful period of time, with a new child, or a sickness in the family, or moving and upheaval.
  • There’s no shame in taking a time-out! Stop posting for a few days, a few weeks. You can get back in the game once your head is back in the game.
  • If you are burnt from your job, make sure you are taking breaks. Set boundaries about “no email on weekends” or “no work after 6pm”. Make sure you are using your granted vacation time! Take 5-10 minutes every hour to go for a quick walk, drink some water, or do stretching exercises at your desk. It will keep you motivated and help you focus when you return to your tasks.
#3) Have some content in the bank
  • You know the story of the ants and the grasshopper right? The ants toiled away in the summer sun, saving up food in the store room. Meanwhile the grasshopper lived for today, playing his guitar in the sun. Winter came along, and the ants had plenty of food stored in their warm home, while the grasshopper was left to freeze and starve.
  • Be like the ants! When your ideas come faster than you can put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard nowadays) let the words flow, and catch them in jars for later. Also known as ‘draft posts’ or saved Word documents. Having a backlog of posts that can be put out anytime is a huge lifesaver when you’re due to publish (see above) in 2 hours and have yet to write a title.
#4) Automate what you can
  • Automation is the best friend to those who cannot remember things, are terrible procrastinators, or anyone who just wants life to be easier!
  • Use any automation system you can to make repeated tasks simpler. Set up auto-posts ahead of time. That way 2 hours on a Sunday and you are covered for the week, no more thinking. Set up automatic Tweets, Pins, Insta pics, whatever type of sharing platform you use. Less brain power overall, same amount of self-promotion. (But, please, do not only automate! You also need to engage with your audience and community. Or else everyone will hate you and mute you.)
#5) Find your tribe
  • It really helps to find a group of like-minded and supportive people, in real life or online.
  • These people can be there to support you in tough times, give you life advice on things that worked or didn’t work for them, be your sounding board, and help guide you in new directions. They can inspire writing, or sharing, or networking, that might be the key to unlocking a new room of potential inside your brain.
  • Reach out to those who have been where you are. Even if it seems scary, even if a blogger seems so “BIG” there’s no way they would respond to you. Sure, maybe some won’t. They are probably jerks who just want the $65 you might get them from a Bluehost affiliate link. But most of us are pretty cool. (As long as you aren’t spammy or needy. Be respectful.)
  • We have all been there, just starting a new blog, getting stoked and dancing around the room at our first comment, getting over our fears of joining in the “cool kids” talk on social media. We should all be there for each other, because we all want the same things. Savings. Investing. Encouraging others. Sharing. Thinking. Talking. Health. Progress. Financial Independence. Happiness.
Battling Blogger Burnout at the Budget Epicurean
#6) Focus on the good
  • This can mean a lot of different things. Maybe take a look at all the ways your life has changed positively in the past month, year, decade. Maybe just focus on this week, or today, and find three things to be thankful about.
  • Or maybe decide to take one day per week, or per month, to totally disconnect and unplug. Put down the phone, turn off notifications, shut off the laptop.
  • You could try a gratitude journal, where you write down things that made you happy or grateful on a regular basis. You could try writing thank you letters to significant people in your life. Or you could commit to 100 Days of Happy.
  • Just go out and live life in the real world, it will leave you refreshed and perhaps with the exact breath of fresh air and new perspective you needed.

#7) Don’t be afraid of a new direction

  • Sometimes, you reach a place where something which used to be a passion project and defined you, you have outgrown. It can be very tough to admit to. You have poured your time, money, heart, and soul, into a book or project or relationship or degree. And now, you feel it is all for naught.
  • But rather than be sad at an ending, think of how exciting new beginnings are! Like a dew-covered spring morning, the world is fresh and waiting for you to take a different path.
  • J Money from BudgetsAreSexy and formerly Rockstar Finance is a great example! As a seasoned blogger (past the decade mark, y’all!) he has been through a lot. And he has started, finished, and abandoned many projects, writing and otherwise. He knows how to re-evaluate priorities based on where his life is at the present moment, and sometimes you dig deeper… but sometimes you walk away. And that’s okay.

Battling Blogger Burnout - the Budget Epicurean

What does the future hold?

I’m still not sure where we will go from here. I do not think I would ever give up blogging completely, I love it too much.

The community is just mind-blowingly awesome, and the wealth and depth of knowledge out there is truly outstanding. I enjoy this little creative outlet where I get to connect with others and share ideas and lessons.

I do know that I have been quieter than usual on social media, and not as engaged in community projects like the #WomenRockMoney movement, “middle class” debates, or the Rockstar Throwdown.

That will likely continue for some time, as I revert back to more of a “lurker” and just keep this little guy afloat for now.

But hopefully, as seasons change, this too shall pass, and my blogger mojo will return.

 

Have you ever experienced burnout? What did you do to get over it and keep going? Or did you switch projects completely or try a new path?