Cheap Food February: Week 2

I’m going to be honest: I forgot to save my receipts and track exactly what I got this past week.

But I do know that I made it in around the $70 mark! I’ve got next week’s receipt sitting beside me as I type this, and I’m going to keep track this time for sure.

Before I dive into specifics (as best as I can), I can tell you one very important thing we’ve learned so far: staying stocked on the essentials is, well, essential.

Staying stocked up and a confession

Our existing stock has helped us get further into this month than I had anticipated, but it’s starting to run out. Specifically flour, oats, honey, peanut butter and jalapeno sauce (you may laugh, but we usually have a few bottles on hand since we use it all the time).

Staying stocked up may sound counter-intuitive to a minimalist lifestyle, but I learned a practical tip from an old friend: use your dry ingredients as decorations.

Decorate your kitchen, your bookshelves, the top of your cupboards – anywhere you want – with ball jars of dry ingredients. It looks lovely, saves on decor costs, and you always have things like flour, oats, and beans on hand.

Ball Jars Dry Goods

Now for the confession: for the purpose of this experiment, I’ve been taking the cost of most stock-up supplies out of my weekly calculations. Since we have been using tons of rice and beans, those are all included in my calculations.

I’d estimate it adds up to an extra $20 or so each month for things that will stretch past one or two meals – flour, peanut butter, honey, sauces, tea. But when I need these things, I try to get bulk or sale as much as I can.

Our grocery list for week two

So here’s what we got! Remember, this is a rough estimate (especially when it comes to bulk items). I only know that we stayed around $70.

  • 1 lb chickpeas
  • 1 lb black beans
  • 1 lb white rice (wanted brown, but it was out of stock)
  • 2 bunches of kale (most of which went to the rabbits)
  • 2 bags frozen corn
  • 10 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 lb jar of minced garlic
  • 6 zucchini squashes
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 4 bags frozen brussel sprouts
  • 4 bags frozen cauliflower florets
  • 5 lbs carrots
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 bags frozen spinach
  • 1 bunch bananas
  • 24 oz honey
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 lbs red onions
  • 8 burrito-sized tortillas
  • 16 oz shredded mozzarella

Looking at it now, that’s a ton of food! We save by getting frozen veggies, dry goods and very few processed foods. We had a hankering for bean burritos, hence the tortillas and cheese. I only get cheese once every couple of months or so, because it’s expensive, not highly nutritious and I also tend to eat it straight out of the bag until it’s gone.

Some of our favorite meals

I was able to do a lot with this haul. We drank smoothies every day, and I was able to make some amazing granola bars from the Minimalist Baker. They’re my absolute favorite, and I throw in any additional seeds or nuts I have available for an extra boost. If you don’t already love Minimalist Baker, I recommend them for simple, delicious recipe inspiration.

I made burritos with these restaurant-style black beans. I threw in rice, beans, frozen corn, red pepper, homemade salsa, mozzarella and some lettuce. I wrapped and kept them individually in foil so they stayed together when I reheated them as leftovers.

Burritos in foil

I tossed the rest of the homemade salsa (a random mix of onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos) into rice as a substitute for some of the liquid, cooked it up and topped it with a poached egg for another evening.

We also had this vegan black bean soup, which was ah-may-zing over rice and also over zucchini noodles.

Roasted chickpeas are an addictive snack if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to chips. You can even make a honey version for when that sweet tooth comes on strong. For the adventurous, save the water you cook your chickpeas in (which is actually called aquafaba) – you can make vegan chocolate mousse with it.

There you have it! Week two, in the bag. Look forward to our notes on week three sometime next weekend. Week three’s goal is $65, and we’ve already spent $53 in preparation. Wish us luck.

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Six Doors to a Simpler Life

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It helps you see where someone’s values are and what motivates them.

You can read my simple-living origin story here, but here’s a quick recap for new readers:

After I graduated college, I was drowning in 22 years worth of clutter. I was chronically stressed and depressed. I moved four times that year, and the final move nearly broke me. I remember carrying 50-gallon trashbags full of clothes that I never wore downstairs to the moving truck and holding back tears under the literal and figurative weight of it all.

So when I began my life in a new city, I started to get rid of anything I didn’t need (which was no small feat). It started with clothes and slowly expanded into my other possessions and other areas of my life. So basically, my origin story is based on stuff, and lots of it.

But that’s not the only entry point into minimalism, so if you’ve been struggling with the “stuff” part of it all, there might be another way to start simplifying. What’s most important is that you do what feels right!

Other fascinating origin stories

There are others who have shared their origin stories. Some are similar to mine and some are very, very different.

Courtney Carver started with her diet after a medical diagnosis, then proceeded to simplify the rest of her belongings and her lifestyle. Joshua Becker started with his stuff after spending more time than he wanted to cleaning out his garage. Joshua Fields Millburn wasn’t a minimalist until life-changing events sparked him to approach the emotional weight of the stuff around him. Ryan Nicodemus, alongside Joshua Fields Millburn, decided to switch his pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of an intentional, good life.

The six doors to a simpler life.

Photo credit: Andrew Beeston

The Six Doors to Simplifying

I’ll go into each in more depth below, but here are the six entry points into simplifying and minimalism that I’ve observed throughout the years:

  1. Clutter
  2. Money
  3. Diet
  4. Schedule
  5. Relationships
  6. Digital distractions

Let’s dive in!

Clutter

This one is the most evident, and is the most obvious place to start. You can identify this as a problem when you start running out of places to put stuff, find yourself cleaning too often, or spend an inordinate amount of time on finding the perfect storage solution.

Starting with clutter is a great way to get the ball rolling and you will soon see the effects of simplifying your stuff in your life. A clear space is a clear mind.

However, it’s not always a comfortable place for everyone to start based on emotional ties to stuff or time or health constraints.

Money

I think we’re all trying to simplify this with varying degrees of success. This category is hard. Unexpected things pop up that make this area of our lives difficult to control completely.

However, starting here will give you more time for other areas of your life (because time is money and money is time). It can be as drastic as you want – you can aim for early retirement like Mr. Money Mustache or you can just cut out most extraneous expenses and get debt-free a little sooner.

Diet

There’s a pattern here – most of these entry points deal heavily with emotion, and this one is no exception. Your food choices are highly personal and the are the most directly connected to your actual human life.

Food determines our energy levels, our immunity and our overall health. This is one area that you can actually add to instead of taking away from – start by adding in an extra serving of veggies or an apple snack to remind your body what these nutrients can do for you. This is the change that you can make right now, while the other changes will take a little more time.

Schedule

Even though this one seems so impossible, trust me: there’s always room. Simplifying anything in your life means that you have to learn to say “no” to things, and what better way to get practice in?

We’re bombarded by invitations, requests and meaningless to-do’s, so start small. What is one thing that you can say no to today? Saying no to things that don’t add value to your life means that you can say yes to more things like spending time with loved ones, going on walks and taking care of yourself.

Relationships

This one is difficult – are there relationships in your life that do not bring joy or value? Are you surrounding yourself with people who motivate you or are you surrounded by people who bring you down?

Breaking off romantic relationships and friendships is complicated, but sometimes both need to be done.But by saying “no” to certain relationships, your truly meaningful relationships will have the space they deserve to flourish.

Digital distractions

If you have an internet connection, you probably have this problem. Notifications, requests and updates are constantly pinging on our desktops and our phones. Even though it takes up little physical space, these distractions take up a massive amount of emotional and mental space.

This category includes social media, files like word documents and photographs, email, and our cloud-based calendars. Start by removing push notifications from your phone as much as possible, then explore each space individually after that.

How to find which one is right for you

Take a moment to think about where most of your stress lies.

If you’re stressed about being busy, then look into your schedule. If there’s too much buzz in your mind and on your phone, start with digital distractions. Always frustrated about the clutter on your desk? Start with stuff.

If you can’t think of it right away, observe yourself for a couple of days. When and where do your stress levels spike, and when are they the lowest?

They’re all connected

If you’re worried that you just have to choose one, fear not. Once you start simplifying and streamlining one part of your life, you’ll start to see how it can be applied to other areas.

I felt like it was no stretch to change my eating habits after my closet was manageable. I began to value my time more after those two changes, so I then switched my focus to my digital life – particularly cutting down on Facebook.

Whatever you choose, know that your path to simplifying is entirely your own. Read others’ stories and take what you feel is relevant to yourself from them. If you try to copy someone exactly, you’ll end up in an unsustainable, frustrating and ultimately, complicated lifestyle.

Where did you start simplifying, or where do you think you’ll focus next?

One Car to Rule Them All (On Being a One-Car Couple)

My husband and I have been doing something for months that shocks some of our friends and family – we’re sharing a car. Thanks to some engine repairs in the Mr.’s car that were far more expensive than the car itself, we’re now a “one-car family” so to speak. The verdict?

It’s awesome.

But, like many things it comes with its pros and cons. Let’s talk about what’s great and not-so-great about this setup, then I’ll give you a little tidbit about what’s next for my husband and I.

Toy Car

What’s great about having one car

Of course, there are the expected benefits: only one car to fill up and maintain and register and worry about parking tickets for. And only one car to fill up with random receipts and water bottles and shoes and – how did my toothbrush end up in here?

But really, the two best things about it are the exercise and communication. First, when one of us doesn’t have the car, it’s up to us to get from one place to another. We don’t live in the most walkable area of town, but there’s a Target, a Trader Joe’s and a couple of bars nearby. That’s all you need, right?

My husband also works two miles from home, so if he has a day shift, he’s comfortable walking there. And if he needs a ride? I work four miles from home, so I can easily pick him up on my lunch break. A few extra trips, but it’s working out so far.

And communication – we now operate like a well-oiled machine. We know each others’ work schedules, social schedules and have even started planning in advance. We don’t operate separately because, well, we just can’t. It’s nice to coordinate these details together.

What’s not so great about having one car

Surprised? There are definitely some drawbacks here. Like I said earlier, the extra running isn’t so much of a big deal since we’re a stone’s throw from each other and from home.

But the biggest drawback is if one of us heads two hours north to see our families – since our work schedules are so different, we rarely get to see them when we’re together. That requires the carless spouse to walk or bum rides – not a huge hassle, but it can get agitating.

Why it works for us

The only reason we’re doing well with one vehicle right now, though, is that we both live so close to where we work. I hear friends and colleagues talking about their nearly hour-long commutes, and I cringe about the wasted time and money that goes into those drives. We really are fortunate to be so close, and now whenever we move next that proximity will be one of my top priorities.

Which leads me to my semi-announcement. We’re planning a move (and a downsize!) at the very beginning of next year, and I can’t wait! As part of our transition, we are going to be getting another, larger vehicle to help us get from point A to point B. We’ll then sell our smaller car and return to being a one-car couple. We’ve both enjoyed the collaboration and the walking, so why stop now?

How about you – have you fared well with a single car, or thought about becoming a single car family?

You’re Not Saving Money, You’re Making It

I’ve been very interested in the concept of financial independence lately, and I’m infatuated with Mr. Money Mustache’s blog. He and his wife retired around the age of 30 and proceeded to have their first child. I think it’s important to be reasonable about my own situation and know that I’ll unlikely be that fortunate (he had no college debt, and scored some high-paying engineering jobs), but his story and insights are very inspiring. I’m hoping to retire (or be “financially independent”) well before the traditional retirement age.

One of the most interesting concepts I’ve picked up as I’ve read this blog is to start valuing my time differently. I’ve started looking at everything as a transaction. If I walk to the store instead of driving, I’m actually making money rather than spending it. If I drive to work, I’ve estimated my cost at about $1-2 a day. If I ride my bike, I consider that money made (rather than saying saved, which has a different connotation).

This is how I view it: money made can then be invested, but money saved can then be spent. For me, the words I use are essential in shaping how I think.

I believe that once we start valuing our time differently and redefining how we make/spend/save money, we’ll enjoy seeking out profitable alternatives. By avoiding costs, we’re actually increasing our take-home pay and our net worth. AND not to mention all the health benefits of riding bikes and walking instead of driving around in ridiculous “clown cars” as MMM likes to call them.

Just a little tidbit on how changing how you think about something can change how you act. 

Happy Tuesday!