Cheap Food February

We made it through the first week of February! I’m still reeling from the fact that it’s even 2016…but time marches on, whether we’re ready or not.

Like I said in an earlier post, we’re going to explore different monthly challenges. This month was going to be vegan month, but it came up so quickly and our budget wasn’t quite ready for all the vegan exploring we wanted to do.

So naturally, we came up with Cheap Food February.

Cheap Food February

What we mean by cheap food

I don’t mean that we’re going to eat dollar-menu takeout every day. I also don’t mean that we’re going to be eating Instant Ramen or macaroni and cheese.

The goal for the month is to fill up on healthy, inexpensive foods like beans, potatoes, eggs, rice, frozen and fresh veggies, and certain fruits. We’ll be eating chicken occasionally, but since I’m not a big fan, it will probably be once every week or two.

We’re exploring new recipes and planning carefully to avoid food waste.

How much are we going to spend?

A middle-of-the road food budget for two is around $550. I think there have been months where we get close to that, but typically we’re under $450. It can be difficult to determine exactly because the bunnies cost us around $50 in fresh veggies each month, and we often share their kale, parsley, and cilantro.

For the first week, we planned to spend $80. We have spent $68.41, but we’ve also had a lot of dry ingredients and leftovers from last week that have helped keep it low.

For the next three weeks, we’re going to vary our costs:

  • Week Two: $70
  • Week Three: $65
  • Week Four: $60

None of these will include rabbit food expenses or booze expenses. We’re only planning on going out for food once (maybe for my birthday on the 18th, but I actually might prefer to stay in and cook).

Also worth noting: we are using cash only for groceries so that we can keep a good tally of what we’re spending and to avoid going over our budget. It’s new for me, since I’m surprisingly not a very mindful grocery shopper.

What we ate this week

So, what did we buy with our $68.41?

  • Kroger brand olive oil
  • 4 packages of frozen cauliflower
  • 4 packages of frozen brussels sprouts
  • 2 lbs zucchini
  • 4.5 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 5 lbs golden potatoes
  • 1.5 lbs on-the-vine tomatoes
  • 1.25 lbs leeks
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 gallon coconut milk
  • 2 lbs chicken breast
  • 2 cans mixed beans
  • 2 cans organic crushed tomatoes

We didn’t need rice, oats, eggs or any spices this week – that’s the key to this. Stock up on bulk dry goods and spices when you can, then you can eat kingly foods on a meager budget.

I could have saved a bit more by just buying bulk dry beans instead of the canned ones, but I didn’t get my act together in time to soak and cook them before dinner.

Here’s what we’ve made and links to the recipes we used:

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Super simple mixed bean chili

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Roasted veggies are my life

I also made a couple of egg and rice dishes to get through ingredients before they went bad, but no recipes worth sharing.

We supplemented everything with green smoothies made from frozen spinach and fruit that we had on hand.

Next week will be more interesting because we’re running low on existing supplies! Plus, I want to add in a few more raw things like salads and more spiralized goodness (we just got a spiralizer with my husband’s birthday money, and it was well spent).

What are your favorite healthy, inexpensive recipes?

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Standing on the Ledge

I’ve been standing on the ledge of a pool for the past year.

It’s a lively pool party – people are laughing and having fun together and everything points to one thing: the water’s fine. I’ve even dipped my toes in a few times and it feels perfect.

So why can’t I just jump in?

It's just a matter of jumping in to the life you want to live.

The pool

The pool I want to dive into is the simple living, minimalist blogging group that I’ve become familiar with over the past two years.

The pool includes a daily writing habit, a weekly posting schedule and intentionally consuming information. It includes larger project ideas like eBooks and real books and the opportunity to someday, somehow get paid for what I love doing most.

To me, it sounds lovely.

The ledge

The ledge is where I’ve been at a standstill for the past several months. I’ve kept an erratic blogging schedule, lost my way on nearly every mindfulness practice I’ve set out for myself and honestly, failed every “good writer” habit I’ve tried to develop.

I’ve been beating myself up about not always holding up the “practice what you preach” principle.

But today I realized that holding on to those missteps and failures is a stupid idea.

An almost comically stupid idea.

Can you relate?

The jump

So here it is! It’s time to decide whether to leave the pool party or jump in. And there are a lot of cool people at this pool party, so how would I look and feel if I just left now?

I’ve decided to take the jump into prioritizing my blog and my interaction with the community, both online and off.

I’m going to jump into personal and professional development and start doing what I love.

Heck, I may even cut down on my “real life” work commitments so that I can add more non-monetary value to my life, and hopefully to yours.

No worries though, my blog will always remain ad-free and sponsored post-free.

The bigger picture

One thing I promised myself when I started this blog was that I wouldn’t make it all about me. I wanted to be able to reach out to readers and random internet strangers about how this stuff affects them too.

So in writing this post, I realized we all have pools that we’re just dying to jump into.

You may have been standing at your ledge for 30 minutes or 30 years, but what matters most is how soon you take that next step. Will it be another 30 minutes? Or another 30 years?

I didn’t realize how much I was holding myself back until just today when I, quite randomly, decided to free write for a few minutes. (I used 750 Words if you’d like to try it out.)

I got all my negative thoughts out and then my writing started to shape from whining and excuses to actually encouraging myself to jump in. I was channeling my inner cheerleader (which I never was in real life). It was fun and revelatory.

So here’s my challenge to you: find your ledge, but more importantly find your pool.

What have you been putting off? You can take a little time to explore the “why not” that’s been holding you back, but I recommend not dwelling too long on it. Dwelling on the “why nots” creates a breeding ground for more “why nots”.

And “why nots” are embarrassing and cumbersome to have to carry around at a pool party.

So here’s your permission: spend some time free writing, brainstorming or – here’s a novel idea – sit quietly and think about what pool you’ve been meaning to jump into. Find out what’s been hiding below the surface and realize that you’ve already been invited to the party. All you need to do now is show up and get to that ledge.

And then jump.

Gamify Your Life & Get More Done

With less possessions and fewer distractions (like Facebook), I’ve found more time to manage.

Which is great! But goals can get lost and muddled when there’s no clear path.

So my husband and I decided (at the recommendation of a good friend) to start the sticker system.

What is the sticker system?

The sticker system is nothing new – you might have used it in elementary school. It’s just modified to help us “grown-ups” to be productive (and, yes, to play with stickers).

You set goals and gain stickers when you reach them. Simple as that.

Sticker System 1

It’s been really helpful in getting us out for exercise and getting us to read and write regularly. There are a few short and simple considerations before you start if you’re interested:

What is it that you really want to do?

Start by setting some main goals. These can be something you want to do this year, this month or this decade. They can even be ongoing projects (for me, that would be this blog).

Think of all the goals you want to work towards in different aspects of your life. Mine focus on the physical and mental “categories”, but yours might just as well be socially or emotionally motivated.

Write them down.

It’s important to have them visible and out in the open. Tell a friend or partner about them and ask for support.

And of course, don’t let your goals stagnate. Change when you feel like it’s time to change. It’s okay to change.

Break it down

Next, choose tasks that will help you reach your goals. I want to get in shape, so 25 pushups gets me a star. Running a mile gets me a star too.

Don’t go too big! If you regularly run eight miles at a time, then your star task might be more general like “go for a run”. I’m just starting to get back into running, so it’s more rewarding and encouraging to keep it small.

Don’t get too in your head either, because there’s no absolute formula for sticker-earning. I think that’s what makes it so fun. You could earn stickers for eating breakfast or for showing up to work on time or for doing a cartwheel. You are the master of your fate, you are the captain of your stickers.

Stickers

I chose these stickers because they remind my of my grandma! She always had these stickers for us grandchildren to play with.

Pick a reward

My husband and I decided that at the end of the month, we get to cash out. One sticker = one dollar. We can use this towards a purchase of our choice.

I’ve got my eye on some Saltwater sandals (they’ll replace three pairs of shoes in my closet!)

Your reward might/will look different. Maybe it’s a coffee, or maybe it’s an expensive yoga class. Maybe you’ll require at least x number of stars before you can redeem your reward, or maybe your reward is based on how many stars you end up with.

How gamification helps

I’m naturally motivated by competition, and many Millennials are, so seeing a physical manifestation of my progress is encouraging.

It’s a fun way to address issues like motivation, fitness, health and professional development without making them seem impossible. This TED Talk is an awesome inspiration to get started:

And since this post is live, I get to add another star to my sheet.

What can you gamify?

100 Less Challenge Wrap-Up

Last weekend, I challenged readers to get rid of 100 things. How did it go? I got rid of a boatload of junk (mostly clothes) and I haven’t missed one thing since. Unfortunately, I lost count. But I’m sure there’s at least 100 things in these bags…

Look how happy I am! I must have just had a ton of coffee.

Look how happy/insane I am! I must have just had a ton of coffee.

I still feel rather overloaded with clutter, but I’m seeing improvements. In fact, I’ve noticed an immense upswing in my enthusiasm for minimalism. I’ve realized there is not an end to this–the goal of this lifestyle change is to enjoy the process and the “small wins” that add up along the way.

Through the process of eliminating clutter a little bit at a time, I focus on what is essential to my life. Do I need this weird jacket? Do I need these shoes that are cute but hardly fit? (I bet you probably have a pair just like that).

I’ve found that I don’t miss the several hundred items I’ve eliminated in the past year. In fact, I feel more satisfied with my lifestyle than I did one year ago. Awareness is everything—are you truly grateful for every little thing you have? Or is there too much to even inventory?

Don’t drown in possessions. Keep just what you need to stay afloat, and you’ll feel lighter and lighter every day.

How did you do with this challenge?

100 Less Challenge

I recently spoke with a friend about my frequent “100 Less” weekends. I’ve come to the point where I’m struggling to decide what to get rid of, and eventually I’d like to be at the point where if I eliminated 1 more item from my home, my quality of life would diminish. That’s my goal–nothing unnecessary, nothing distracting. Only the essentials.

I am so proud of my 42-item closet nowadays.

I am so proud of my 42-item closet nowadays.

My friend suggested that I offer this challenge up to others as well. With Memorial Day coming up, I challenge you to get rid of (trash or donate) 100 items. It’s a lot easier than you think–you may notice that getting rid of 100 things will not even make a dent in your amount of possessions. Some more extreme (yet totally cool) people actually live on 100 things or less.

I know that many people my age complain about being broke. However, this challenge should give you a chance to reflect on how wealthy you truly are. Look at every material possession you’ve been blessed with, earned for yourself, or been given by people who love you. Appreciate it, then send it off to someone new if you no longer use it.

And don’t buy any more.

You’ll uncover “stuff” from childhood and from high school that has no function other than taking up space in your life. Snap a picture of it if you’re sentimental, then send it off to Goodwill. I’m still chipping away at the unnecessary things in my life in order to declutter and regain some control over my possessions.

The Challenge

It’s easy enough. While you’re struggling to organize your home or apartment or dorm room this weekend, set out 2 bags. One for trash, and one for donation. Once you’ve eliminated 100 items, take a look around. Can you swing another 50? Another 100? I find that taking it 100 at a time is less overwhelming, but I do often continue if I’m on a roll.

Take the 100 Less Challenge and report to me how it went in the comments below. I’ll follow up next week. Happy decluttering!