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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On Borrowed Dime

There’s a four-letter word that is guaranteed to make any twentysomething sweat: debt.

There are all sorts of articles about how student loans are Millennials greatest financial concern, how loans are delaying life milestones and even how 30% of Millennials would sell an organ for debt relief.

Non-millennials seem to love talking about and studying our financial issues. We’re like little indebted lab rats – everyone thinks they know what’s best for us from an outsider’s perspective. But what is it like to be an actual millennial with student loans?

It’s…life.

It’s what I know.

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Image courtesy of minimography.com

Our student loan debt story

My husband and I started dating in our first years of college. We were pretty typical: fresh out of high school, exploring the rest of our lives and excited to be 3 hours from home in a new city with new people. We also had no idea what loans would ultimately mean for us because all we saw was checks deposited to our bank accounts each semester.

Tens of thousands of dollars is much easier to spend than it is to pay off (plus interest). Someone may have told us that along the way, but it got very real once we graduated.

Now here we are, living in an expensive city (by choice!) with an ambitious goal of being debt-free by 2018. We’re making more than we were in Indiana, but we’re also both working jobs that don’t truly require a college degree, which is the story of so many millennials’ lives.

The interest rates we’re facing are costing us somewhere around $160 a month. Imagine buying a fancy coffee every day of the week – that’s what our interest is doing, and we don’t even get to drink the coffee.

Minimalism and debt

When I first started this journey a few years ago, I began from a place of having too many clothes and too much debt. I discovered Mr. Money Moustache and have since been on a mission to be debt-free.

I played around with the idea of early retirement, but my husband and I love where we’re at and the rent here makes financial independence a little…eh, a little more difficult.

But just like minimalism, we can choose how much it touches our lives – extreme minimalism and extreme frugality are not my thing, although I do strive every day for less stuff and less debt.

Minimalism and debt do go hand in hand – the less financially obligated you are to people and things, the less you have to worry about working long hours or a job you hate to pay off the things you don’t need. Being debt-free someday will allow my husband and I to be more flexible in where and how we live, and it will allow us to live more authentically as ourselves.

My advice about student loans

I am not a financial advisor. But, I am a young person living in a big city and dealing with an average helping of student loan debt so I have a few words of advice to share.

First of all, take as little as you can. I’m not saying to skip out on your dream college for an inexpensive community college – follow your values. Work as much as your schedule and life allows for while you’re in school, but don’t let a food court job get in the way of good internships (find paid internships if you can).

Go to parties, go to bars, but don’t spend all your time and money there.

Second, know your worth. Understand what level of pay your education can get you, shop around for jobs if you can and negotiate your salary. Ladies, especially you – women are known for not negotiating salaries.

I made a five-minute phone call before accepting a job offer and snagged an extra thousand dollars on my salary. It still kept me under the average salary for a college grad, but it was better than nothing.

You need to find what works best for you when it comes to actually paying off your loans. The debt snowball works for some, while my husband and I are adopting a highest-interest first method.

And again, be clear about your values while you’re in debt. Is your priority to be debt-free as soon as possible? Ours actually isn’t. If it were, we would not live in Los Angeles and I would have kicked the bunnies out years ago. Our priorities are to live well in a place we love.

Smooth sailing to all of you in similar boats!