Being Smart About Food

Earlier this year I figured out a way to shop for groceries every two weeks and to save money in the process. The goal was to have nutritious meals and snacks but to be more strategic about it during a No Spend Month. I’ve held onto much of what I learned because it simply works well for me.

First of all, you quickly learn which produce items last the longest. For example, apples and oranges have a longer shelf life than grapes or berries. So you use the grapes and berries during week one and save the rest for later.

Salads are best enjoyed for the first week while frozen veggies are a nice change for week two. Although, if I’m in the mood for salad, I’ve been known to cheat and stop at the store to grab a few things!

At some point I realized that all my bananas were going into smoothies so I could buy ripe bananas, dice ’em up, and freeze them to be ready when needed.

In fact, many things freeze well. I buy mushrooms for stir fry and flash freeze the extras for later. Lots of foods can be frozen for cooking and other things keep well when properly stored in the fridge far longer than most people think.

I prefer fresh foods but usually keep some plain frozen steak fries and lots of frozen veggies. I rarely buy the cook in the bag kind because they’re more costly and I never need an entire bag of frozen peas at one time. Buy a regular bag of cheap frozen peas and you can cook them as needed.

Plain and simple, you find ways to be less wasteful and to meal plan better. I made the above pictured pasta primavera using a combination of stuff from the fridge and fresh veggies that I had flash frozen last weekend. The sauce was something from a jar that I had leftover from another dish. The pasta was the end of a package I had opened a couple of weeks ago.

This ability to plan, salvage and preserve has come in handy these last few weeks. Very little is getting wasted right now. I even discovered that leaf lettuce can be frozen for smoothies!

Another thing – when I come home from the store I jot down a list of things that need to be used first and hang it on the fridge. Things tend to get shuffled around and forgotten to languish in the back.

Given how much food is wasted in this country, I would hope that people are using this uncertain time to be more careful and thoughtful about food. That’s probably a pipe dream but this seems like the perfect time to embrace the old adage- use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

I’m not advocating that anyone do without but I would like to think we could embrace using and making do.

What about you? Are you being more careful with resources? Have your attitudes about shopping and using what you have changed lately? Let’s talk!

No Spend January Is Here!

January is a No Spend Month for me. It’s a fun little game I’ve played for the last few years where I pay for what is needed but there’s no frivolous spending (unless pre-planned), no impulse buying and no shopping for entertainment. Goodbye, antique malls!

So bills are paid and groceries are purchased but I work on using some things from the freezer and pantry. Yesterday, I stopped at the store for about $10 worth of produce needed to create meals for the week using things I already have. If I stop for gas, my reusable water bottle had better be full because I’m not running inside for a drink. Not even for just a dollar.

There’s a gift to buy this month and a planned dinner and movie with a friend that was postponed from the holidays. That’s all the extracurricular spending that should happen.

This month, I will spend a lot of time at home, using what I own, looking for creative ways to entertain myself for free and simply appreciating the life that I have built and all that I already have. The Depression era mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” comes to mind.

After all the excess and gluttony of the holidays, a spending fast is a welcome relief to the bank account but it’s also a welcome break from commercialism.

We spend a lot of time making money to survive and on spending money on stuff to fill our homes but we don’t always go home and just enjoy the life we have.

It’s is an exercise in gratitude as much as anything else.

I wrote a Winter Survival Guide last fall and it’s here in January that these techniques are truly put to work.

Here’s what’s happening in my world right now:

Books are a priority this year and I’m finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. The problem is that there’s a new one that I’m dying to tear into. I usually have three or four going at once but want to focus on one at a time this year. It can be next.

Cooking is more fun. I always enjoy playing in the kitchen but winter is a great time to experiment with new recipes. This year is especially fun as I’m looking for plant based recipes for my new lifestyle. This week I made a potato corn chowder that was divine and the lunch leftovers were a welcome treat! I also made a pumpkin cookie that was disgusting but we’ll just call that an experiment gone awry and move on.

Organization and purging are another priority. I have a list of areas to hit – from the pantry to the sock drawer to the nightstand and all points in between. It’s shocking how much stuff accumulates over time even when you try to be tidy. The goal is to do one thing from the list every day. The purging extends into intangible areas too. One evening was spent purging emails while watching the Closer on TV. Brenda Lee Johnson caught the bad guys and I unsubscribed and deleted thousands of old marketing emails. The above picture represents a new set of Christmas dishes that need to be put away after some rearranging in the china cabinet.

Movie time! I can’t go to the movies but that doesn’t matter because there’s a stack of movies waiting for my viewing pleasure. One day I’ll make some homemade potato chips and hit the couch for a little movie marathon.

Self care is a priority. Outdoor activity is less common because it’s dark at quitting time but I am trying to prioritize some kind of exercise every day. Rest is also important. My philosophy for most of the year is that you can sleep when you’re dead. During winter, these cold, dark nights call for a warm blanket and an earlier bedtime.

Being happy with the Now is a common theme and resisting the urge to adventure plan involves daily internal negotiations. It’s much harder than it should be. However, the theme of this stage of the year is being satisfied with the abundance of everyday life. Adventure planning can wait a bit. I have started a list of day trip ideas based on suggestions from friends but that’s more about being forgetful than about planning. Being present in this moment rather than dream of the next adventure is a real challenge.

For me, a No Spend Month is an opportunity to get myself together for another year, to set new goals and intentions, to stop buying stuff I don’t need, to nourish my mind and body, and to practice gratitude for what I have.

It gets easier every year and, this will sound sound nuts, but I’ve been looking forward to January for weeks.

Want to do your own no spend challenge? You can set your own rules and make it what you want it to be! You might be surprised at how much money and time you save!

Cultivating a Better Life

I like to take vacation around the holidays. This period is perfect for a forced slow down, to transition from three seasons of busy into my season of quiet.

The rest of the year is occupied by a lot of running around but our unpredictable winter weather often makes it hard to get out. I look forward to this time of year- soft blankets and books, inside chores and quiet walks through the snow take the place of road trips, weekend adventures and breakfasts on the porch.

January is typically a no spend month for me. This organized spending fast means bills are paid and necessities purchased but making do is the common theme and there are no frivolous purchases. Recreational shopping is not allowed but that’s ok because there are many free ways to stay happily occupied.

I’m more apt to do puzzles, to go to bed early and to spin records while cleaning something on a Saturday afternoon.

Relaxation is key and I turn my attention inward, write more, focus on self improvement and on building a better life.

It’s a good time of year.

This vacation is about transitioning into that period. I spent a couple of days running around but today will bake Christmas cookies for my folks. From now until the New Year the plan is to be mostly domestic.

Although, if the weather is good, there may be one last little road trip for the year, a Christmas gift to myself. After Natalie died, I realized that life is too short to not live as we wish.

This week is also about refocusing on plant based eating, exercise and rest. The last couple of months have brought spurts of stress and busyness that have messed with my sleep and left me in a position that I’m glad to just eat vegetarian while away from home rather than the plant based food that makes me feel so good.

In other words, friends, I’m making this break exactly what I need it to be. My wish for all of you is that you get a few days each year to do that for yourself. Remember, today is a great time to start.

That’s Not On The Whole 30

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I really enjoy the food available to me on the Whole 30. It’s basically clean eating meant to change your relationship with food. It’s about eating lots of fresh produce, fish and healthy fats that are tasty and filling. With that said, I’m on day twenty-something of my second round since May and am suddenly dying for pancakes.

I had this order of french toast while on a weekend trip last month and I’m trying hard to hold on to one memory while I stave off this craving.

This plate of french toast that sounded so good, this french toast that I looked forward to ordering – didn’t taste very good.

My tastes have changed enough that I was happier with the bowl of fruit and eggs than with the buttery, syrupy goodness of that food I once loved.

Progress. I’m calling this progress.

So as I sit here craving pancakes and syrup, I’ll hold on to this memory a little longer. It’s not worth it because it won’t taste as good as I think it should.

I bought a cookie

I didn’t even make it through the first day of my No Spend Challenge without spending money.

Sigh. I bought a cookie.

Not just any cookie. A Subway chocolate chip cookie. It cost .49 cents. And it was worth every penny.

I was on my way to a class last night and stopped by the library which happens to be conveniently located across the street from Subway. It was going to be a long night and I was running on fumes. So I slunk across the street and pulled out my change purse.

Today is going better. No currency has left my hands so far. After work I will walk and go home to eat leftovers from my fridge. I intend to do a little cleaning so there won’t be time or opportunity to spend money.

Can you believe I didn’t even survive a day? How sad.

A No Spend Challenge

I’m thinking about doing a no-spend challenge. I do this periodically, choosing a period of time like one month or even just two weeks and work to not spend money.

Whenever I do this I always set some ground rules. For example, I have to drive to work to make money so buying gasoline is non-negotiable.

But I don’t NEED that pack of gum at the gas station or that cool t-shirt on clearance at TJ Maxx. In fact, I don’t need to spend my free time browsing stores and buying things at all.

I usually set a grocery budget for the period. Say maybe $5 or $10 a week to buy fresh milk, fruit and bread if need be. Sometimes I spend every penny on these perishables and sometimes I don’t buy anything at all. But the grocery budget can’t be spent on a pastry and a Diet Coke just because I have a hankering.

This comes up after a recent review of my budget where I tried to figure out ways  to pay for some reasonably expensive home protection items I purchased after the burglary at Mr. Wonderful’s house. This has been a very expensive month so far and I need to plug up the holes and get things back to normal.

I’m not a big recreational shopper but I notice that I’ve been doing more of this than normal lately and it really needs to stop. If I need a pair dress shoes for work that’s one thing but browsing the stores for the sake of seeing what they have is a very bad habit.

This weekend I walked in a local 5k and then went hiking with Mr. Wonderful. We spent a few dollars on a Subway sandwich for a picnic and we took our cameras out to play (pictures coming soon). If I had been home that morning I would have made something for our picnic but a $5 footlong was still was an inexpensive option and the hike was a relaxing way to spend our day. We went home later in the day and watched movies, lounging on the couch and enjoying each other’s company.

That’s the way it should be.

We didn’t frustrate ourselves with the crowds and high prices in stores and we just relaxed. We didn’t do anything that cost money. We just had a nice, quiet day.

To put this in perspective, on Sunday we had a whirlwind day with his family eating out and shopping to celebrate his dad’s birthday. We had a terrific time and I adore his family but I was exhausted. Plus I spent money that I shouldn’t have. Not much, really. I used a Kohl’s card to buy something and used $5 cash to cover the balance owed. And then I spent about another $20 on some other small things. Like I said, I didn’t spend a lot but I still spent. And I still came home with that vaguely dissatisfied attitude toward my life that sometimes creeps in when I’m comparing my stuff to other people’s stuff.

And you know something? My stuff is just fine. It’s even nice! There’s nothing wrong with my stuff.

I am aware that my neurosis is bleeding through here. My apologies.

Anyway, it is  better for my morale if I stay away from stores and shopping for a while. It’s also better for my budget if I leave my money in the checking account where it belongs instead of in the stores.

As I have been writing this insanely scattered post it has occurred to me that the No Spend Challenge needs to begin today.

I will attempt to make it to October 5.

It has been a while since my last one of these so I fully expect slip-ups but will do my absolute best to only pay my bills, buy gas for my car and pick up the absolute necessities for food. I have a pantry and freezer full of supplies so that part shouldn’t be too hard.

One confession though. I have to travel some and I usually indulge in some kind of fast food meal, mainly because it’s just too hard to find food for the road that doesn’t need refrigerated or heated. But my idea of cheating here is to take my own aluminum water bottle and apple from home and grab a Subway breakfast sandwich or a value menu burger. So this category isn’t the budget breaker it could be, I suppose.

But as we know, every penny counts so I try to keep this occurrence to a minimum.

Ok. So who’s with me? Who is willing to pack their lunch, give up their morning Starbucks coffee and spend their weekends living instead of shopping? Anyone?

Cleaning out the fridge: a frugal lunch

I had some stuff in my fridge this morning that was approaching the point of no return. Another day or two and they would either get tossed or pushed to the back of the shelf to languish until the mold is so severe I contemplate how badly I want to save the container.

Sigh. This is not a good place to be.

So today’s lunch is an assortment of bits and pieces that might otherwise have been wasted. Some turkey, a banana that was a day away from turning soft, some very tasty hot pepper jack cheese and the last of this week’s grapes. It’s a little bland looking but very tasty.  It’s also a nice feeling to know that this stuff I worked to pay for won’t be wasted.