Category Archives: Informative

Decision Fatigue and Travel Stresses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Decision Fatigue?

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

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

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

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

The Damage

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

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

But all told, it could have been much worse.

What Can You Do?

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

Of course not!

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

Make Important decisions first

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

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

Pack extra!

 

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

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

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

Use what you have

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

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

Have some miles or points banked

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

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

Roll with it

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

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

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

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

 

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

Living the American Dream: Our Journey Home

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know what you do (And Do Not) want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build a good team & rapport

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

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

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

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

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

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

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

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

Know your budget

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

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

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

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

Expect delays, complications, and unexpected fees

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

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

It seems overwhelming, I know.

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

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

Be patient, but be ready to pull the trigger

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

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

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

Celebrate!

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

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

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

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

You can’t get what you don’t ask for.

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

Happy house hunting!

 

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

Weekly Eating: 8/28

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

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

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

 

This week, the whole nation has Texas on our minds and hearts. With the crazy amount of flooding and destruction from Hurricane Harvey, I hope our readers and family/friends are safe, dry, and warm. We will rally together as we always do after tragic events, and will rebuild to rise stronger, y’all! If you feel the desire to donate to help those affected, please see one of the charities HERE.

On Sunday, I made my typical whole chicken in a crock pot, and then broth overnight. I had some fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme so I added that, as well as some bay leaves hanging out in the spice cabinet. This is one of my favorite smells ever to wake up to. Plus it makes several quarts of high quality stock to use to cook things like beans and quinoa the rest of the week, along with the pieces of the chicken for use in various dinners.

Monday:

Breakfast – Mixed berry smoothies (that I remembered to take a picture of!). 8oz frozen berries + banana + yogurt + protein powder + pomegranate juice = YUM

Lunch – turkey wrap & grapes. This is an easy peasy lunch option to throw together, plus it’s portable in case I’m away from my desk at lunch time (i.e. in clinic).

Dinner – Shredded chicken quesadillas with quinoa & black beans. I made a big batch of both quinoa (with the stock of course) and black beans to eat throughout the week. Some of the chicken meat from Sunday was shredded and turned into these delish quesadillas.

Snack – white bean rosemary hummus & 1/2 cucumber

Tuesday:

Breakfast – tropical mango smoothie. I used frozen mango and peaches, canned pineapple and bananas. Plus some pomegranate juice and plain Greek yogurt. SO GOOD! And it made enough for like 4 smoothies, which makes hubby happy.

Lunch – quinoa & black beans – I brought a big container full of both to work, to keep for easy lunches. I added some avocado and salsa to round it out and for flavor.

Dinner – Chicken Paprikush! This recipe tastes like a warm hug from the inside out. It’s salty, creamy, and absolutely perfect. I used plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to lighten it up a bit, and to justify eating at least 2 bowls at a time.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – egg & cheese Bagel Thin sammich. This is so dang easy, just scramble an egg in a cup and microwave it, put it on the bagel with cheese and zap the whole thing for 15 seconds. Done.

Lunch – quinoa & beans. I love bringing in a big container of something on Monday, and having lunch ready for several days in a row. This is a super easy option. I got extra fancy and also added a quarter of an avocado and some salsa.

Dinner – Whole wheat penne pasta with the bratwurst from last week’s Food Swap, peas & broccoli. I love one-pot meals! And the bratwurst was SO DELICIOUS!

Snack – 5 Susannah Smiles cookies & peppermint tea. This is a new lemon cookie from Girl Scouts, and someone at work brought in a box. Since I was making tea, I decided this would be the perfect accompaniment. They were tart, and quite hard, but when dipped in the tea it was perfect.

Plus my other snack option was an apple… today, I chose sugar 🙂

Thursday 

Breakfast – Tropical granola & milk

Lunch – chicken paprikush, with more left for tomorrow! I just love this stuff. Tastes like my childhood.

Dinner – Chicken Broccoli Cheddar Rice. This was a change-up from our planned Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake because I had a really long day at work, and got home exhausted and starving. I didn’t have the patience to wait for the oven to bake the things for over an hour, but we already had a baked chicken breast from Sunday and some leftover rice (I always make an extra big batch), plus I always have frozen broccoli. So pulling this together just required a little microwaving and we had dinner ready in 10 minutes.

 

Friday

Breakfast – Oatmeal with Apples, Raisins & Maple Syrup. Now that fall is setting in, and you can feel the chill in the air, I fall back on my favorite cold weather breakfast, hot oatmeal! Oats are very cheap, and filling, so they are an awesome frugal breakfast choice. And there are so many ways to dress them up, from Chai Apple & Brown Sugar to Peach Kefir to Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana.

Lunch – more leftover chicken paprikush! Hubby is not a big fan of soups, which normally frustrates me because I make a lot and can’t eat it all… but this one, I’m not mad about keeping all to myself!

Dinner – Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breasts. I saw some variation of this somewhere, and when I mentioned it to hubby his eyes got huge and I could practically see the drool…

So since I had some breasts in the freezer, I just quick-thawed them in hot water and we pulled this together in about 10 minutes (plus 40 bake time). With some fettuccini on the side, it really was super delicious! I would make it again for sure. But with fresh chicken, so it’s easier to pound flat.

The Weekend

Labor Day Weekend is a long one, but we don’t have any big plans as both the things we were going to do fell through. It’s all for the best though, as hubby has a project to work on and a trip back to CT for work things soon, and I can now attend a friends’ wedding on Sunday! Then take Monday as a bonus relaxation day. Ahhhh.

Total: $26.06

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

As you can see, we had a little rearrangement of the meal plan. I am really digging this whiteboard on the wall from our kitchen update, my hubby is the best! But I kept to the plan pretty well, with the exception of the late work night. Which brings up the point of convenience… a lot of people don’t want to or can’t cook every night due to their job and or life schedules.

I get it, when you are wiped out tired and hungry NOW, sometimes the last thing you want to do it spend an hour in the kitchen. That’s why it’s so important to have 3-5 meals you know you can pull together quickly and easily, with things you always have around!

Lessons Learned

We did really well this week! I tried to plan more based around what I already have stocked in the pantry and freezer. This is why I love stocking up on great sales, like $0.98/lb chicken breasts, or whole chickens on clearance. You pay more up front, but less per unit so that when you do use the food, the price per meal is lower than if I’d had to run to the store the week I need it.

 

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

Tropical Granola

Disclaimer: Some of these links are Amazon Affiliate links. If you choose to buy something from there, this blog gets a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps keep the delicious content coming! Thanks!

 

Do you buy your granola at the grocery store, because you think it’s too expensive to make at home, or too hard to do it, or that it will take too long to make?

Let me assure you, it it none of those things!

Granola can be as expensive as you want it to be, based on the mix ins. Sure, if you want goji berries and golden raisins and other expensive dried fruits, you may be looking at $20 per batch. But if you buy your dried fruit when its on sale or from bulk bins so you get only as much as you need, it is easy to get the total price down to well under $5 per batch.

This recipe is also super easy. Can you measure? Do you own at least one bowl, one spoon, and one pan that can go in the oven? Are you able to stir? Then you have all the skills and accessories necessary to make granola at home!

And though the total time is about an hour, the “active time” is merely a few minutes to measure and stir together all the ingredients. Then you toss it in the oven, and go watch some Netflix or take a shower or do whatever you do for half an hour. Then your house starts smelling amazing, and you come back to a hot fresh batch of granola! And as a bonus you get that warm fuzzy Martha-Stewart like badass feeling.

A final bonus of granola is that it is HUGELY customizable when you make it yourself! Do you always find yourself picking out the raisins because you hate them? Simple, don’t use raisins! Do you really love banana chips, but store bought granola never has enough? Add an extra half cup to your recipe! The world is your oyster my friend.

Ideas for mix-ins include:

  • Seeds: chia seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas), sunflower seeds, quinoa
  • Nuts: almonds, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, macademia nuts
  • Fruits: banana chips, apricots, papaya, mango, pineapple, apple chips, raisins, craisins

This recipe makes a HUGE volume, about 6 cups worth. You can store it at room temp in an airtight container in the pantry, or for longer shelf life you can store in the refrigerator or freezer. You can also cut the recipe in half or fourths to make smaller batches.

Ingredients:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Measure all the dry ingredients into a big bowl, except for the fruit.

Step 2: Add in the oil and the sweetener you’re using, mix really well to coat everything in gooey goodness.

Step 3: Pour onto a baking pan, lined with wax paper if you desire. Spread it flat with a spatula.

Step 4: Bake for 20-25 minutes, mix well, and then bake another 20-25 minutes. When it is turning brown and toasty, and you house smells fabulous, it is done!

Step 5: Mix in the dried fruits, and pour into your storage containers. Right now, hot out the oven, is also the best time to sneak a taste! Or have yourself a bowl full with milk or yogurt. Trust me.

Click below to print the recipe!

Tropical Granola

Yield: 10 1/2 cup servings

Tropical Granola

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of raw oats
  • 1 - 1.5 cups raw nuts and/or seeds
  • 2/3 - 1 cup dried fruits
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup sweetener
  • 1 tsp optional flavorings: cinnamon, vanilla, almond flavoring, nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Measure all the dry ingredients into a big bowl, except for the fruit, and mix.
  2. Add in the oil and the sweetener you're using, mix really well to coat everything in gooey goodness.
  3. Pour onto a baking pan, lined with wax paper if you desire. Spread it flat with a spatula.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, mix well, and then bake another 20-25 minutes. When it is turning brown and toasty, and you house smells fabulous, it is done!
  5. Mix in the dried fruits, and pour into your storage containers. Right now, hot out the oven, is also the best time to sneak a taste!
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegetarian/tropical-granola/

 

Have you ever made granola at home? Was it easy? Do you have any favorite recipes to share?

Weekly Eating: Eclipse Week 8/21

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

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

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

 

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

Monday:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday:

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

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

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

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

Thursday 

Breakfast – granola bar

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

The Weekend

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

Total: $74.12

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

Weekly Eating – 8/14

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

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

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

 

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

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

Monday:

Breakfast – strawberry pineapple smoothie

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

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

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

Tuesday:

Breakfast –  bagel thin with an egg & cheese

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

Plus some protein puppy chow for dessert <3

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

Wednesday:

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

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

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

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

Thursday 

Breakfast – pineapple strawberry smoothie

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

The Weekend

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

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

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

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

Total: $68.41

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

 

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

Getting Serious About Setting My Future on FIRE

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

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

Thank goodness for the internet!

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

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

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

It all boils down to one word: FREEDOM

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

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

Housing

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

Think I’m crazy? Let me explain.

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

The rent there hurt… REALLY hurt.

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

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

Food

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

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

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

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

Transportation

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

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

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

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

Entertainment

Our absolute ideal way to spend a weekend?

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

A close second?

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

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

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

Pets

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

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

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

Clothing / Misc.

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

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

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

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

And the hubs?

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

We very rarely go anywhere ‘just to shop’.

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

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

Why do we care about these numbers?

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lotta moolah!

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

Still a big number, but more manageable.

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

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

Weekly Eating 8/7/17

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

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

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

 

Monday:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday:

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

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

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

Wednesday:

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

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

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

Snack – handful of pretzels and M&Ms

Thursday 

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

Lunch – tasty pasta

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

Friday

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

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

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

The Weekend

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

Total: $89.35

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

Weekly Eating – 7/31

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

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

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

 

Excuse me while I have an existential crisis real quick…

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

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

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

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

Monday:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday:

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

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

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

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

Snack – white bean hummus with raw veggies

Thursday 

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

Snack – granola bar nomnomnom

The Weekend

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

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

Total: $177.86

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

Weekly Eating – 7/24

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!

Well, mommy dearest and I had a WONDERFUL time at the beach this past week! It is so good to get away and stick your toes in the sand. And I came home with a case of really delicious and unique wines from Unique Pairings! (Expense included in Travel budget, not food budget, thank goodness)

Monday:

Breakfast – corn tortilla (maseca + water) 1 scrambled egg +  tbsp black beans + shredded cheese

Lunch – boring turkey sandwich

Dinner – burgers from the freezer, plus pasta salad using some peppers from the food swap!

OH MY GOSH GUYS, so there’s this thing called the Bull City Food Swap in Durham. It’s all homemade, home grown, fermented, canned, baked, or foraged, no grocery store purchases. And it is all barter, no cash, checks or credit. You bring your goodies, and everyone else brings theirs. And then there is a sort of bidding system, where you offer your goods for others you want. Then you swap!

And holy cow was it fun! It was at a cool local bar, and I met some awesome folks who produce some delicious goods. I made about 2 dozen soft pretzels and some extra homemade yogurt for the occasion.

In return, I came home with banana pudding, pickles, 3 different types of jam and jelly, salsa, a half dozen eggs, homemade pasta, a bucket of tomatoes and 2 big brown bags FULL of peppers / eggplant / okra! This was so awesome, and gave me oodles of “free” stuff to plan my week’s meals.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – frugal fail oatmeal

Lunch – Caprese sandwich using a tomato from the food swap, mozzarella, and home grown basil!

Dinner – Jambalaya using frozen sausage and tomatoes, peppers, and okra from the food swap!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – yogurt with almonds & chocolate

Lunch – brought to us for a work meeting: Salmon salad

Dinner – stuffed cabbage casserole in the crock pot

Snack – grape tomatoes & cucumbers, Peach Basil Jam (from the food swap!) & crackers

Thursday 

Breakfast – smoothie with homemade yogurt, blueberries from ALDI and spinach

Lunch – stuffed poblanos from the Food Swap. I stuffed them with quinoa and black beans, cooked them in the rice cooker (yes for real, it is small so it fits 4 peppers perfectly!), and then split into 2 containers and added pepper jack cheese on top!

Dinner – Fajitas! I got a nice chuck roast at ALDI, and sliced it thinly. I fried up a bunch of strips of onion and bell pepper (from the swap of course) and added the steak. We ate it in wraps, with the hubs adding pinto beans and rice to make it a burrito of course 🙂

Friday

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs with spinach

Lunch – turkey wrap & berries

Dinner – stir friday! Steak & pepper stir fry

Snack – grape tomatoes & cucumbers with white bean hummus

Guys, this white bean hummus was SO STINKIN GOOD! I promise the recipe is coming soon!

Total:  $8+58.51 = 73.51

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

I spent a few dollars at the farmers market for a gorgeous cucumber and heirloom cherry tomatoes, and got a windfall of ‘free’ veggies from the Food Swap. I could calculate out the costs associated with making the pretzels and add that, but honestly I had all the ingredients in the house already. Let’s just say it was about $5, and took me roughly 1 hour of hands-on time to make them. In return, I got maybe 2 dozen pounds of produce (that I cannot grow, due to lack of sun in my yard) and several canned goods. That is a trade I’d make any day!

Lessons Learned

Being part of a community is a HUGE bonus in life, for so many reasons. The Food Swap was a really great experience, and I can’t wait for the next one! Benefits include:

  1. Cheap entertainment: this was only 10 minutes from my house, and for one $4 glass of beer, which was not even mandatory, I got to be entertained for almost 2 hours
  2. Networking: I met several people from the area who have similar lifestyles and hobbies. This is a great way to start making friends, or even business associates. Who knows when it will be beneficial to know someone with a backyard flock of chickens, or with canning knowledge, or a fermentation expert?
  3. Financial benefits: Being able to trade with like-minded people is a win for everyone. Society became civilized and we grow together when we all share our talents and passions. We cannot all be good at everything, but everyone is good at something. When we trade, we both get something of value that we cannot or do not want to do for ourselves. Plus no pesky Uncle Sam’s hands in our pockets…

Another lesson from this week is that adaptability is a big financial benefit! If a large amount of a specific type of food falls into your lap, whether from the garden, a generous neighbor or family member, or a really good sale, it helps to be able to make use of it! This is where flexible recipes like lasagna, pastas, soups, and casseroles come in handy. Or knowing how to preserve the bounty, like making salsas, sauerkraut, canning, freezing, or dehydrating. All these small steps help save you dollars.

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