Would You Consider Moving to Improve Your Standard of Living?

Last July, our family moved from the near suburbs of Chicago to the suburbs of Tucson, Arizona.  We knew that there would be some significant changes to get used to, like the change in weather, but honestly, we weren’t sure how our lives would change.

Had my husband not been offered a job in Tucson, we never would have considered moving so far away from family and friends.  However, making this move turned out to be a wonderful decision.

Even though my husband is only making $2,000 more than he was making in Chicago, our quality of life has improved tremendously.

Benefits of Moving to Tucson

Moving improve Standard of Living

Original img credit: pbarry on Flickr

We can own a house.  In the near suburbs of Chicago where we lived, a house, even a fixer-upper, cost at least $300,000.  Then, there were the property taxes to consider, which ran $10,000 to $25,000 a YEAR depending on the neighborhood you live in.  In Tucson, we got a very nice house for less than $200,000, and our taxes are only $2,000 a year.

Our kids have room to play.  Even though we lived in the suburbs of Chicago, the population is so dense that the houses all have very small yards.  Plus, the house that we rented backed up to an alley, so I never dared leave the kids outside alone.  Now, we have a large backyard with a cement fence around it.  I can see the kids outside playing while I’m in the kitchen preparing food.  We love this feature of our new home.

Money stretches so much further in Tucson.  Although it’s a challenge, in Tucson, I have a grocery limit of $125 a week.  There is absolutely no way I could have such a low grocery bill in Chicago.  It simply was not possible.  Gas here is much cheaper, too.

The environment is so much quieter and friendlier.  In Chicago, many people were just, well, grouchy.  (Not all of them, but certainly enough of them.)  We lived in a middle class suburb, and we had some sketchy characters in our neighborhood like a woman who lived down the alley and routinely dug through everyone’s trash.  (I’m not making that up!)  There was also so much noise from the nearby fire station, trains, and constant traffic.  In Tucson, our neighbors are very friendly, there is no one sketchy (that we’ve met so far), and it’s much, much quieter here.

Drawbacks to Our Move

We’re far away from family and friends.  Most of them live in the Midwest, so we are far, far from family and friends.  That is a challenge.  If we move back to the Midwest, it will be because we want to be closer to family and friends.

Everything is so far away.  In Chicago, I was very spoiled.  I had three grocery stores within a two mile drive.  Our dentist and doctor were each less than 4 miles away.  In Tucson, everything is 10 or more miles away.  We have to drive a half an hour to get to our dentist.  Driving so much can take up a large part of our time.

I never would have considered moving to improve our standard of living, but now that we’ve done so, I can see what a great move it was for our family.  Our quality of life has improved dramatically, and this move is giving us a chance to improve our financial situation.

Would you, or have you, moved far away to improve your standard of living and financial situation?  Or is this something you would not consider?

3 Easy Ways to Get a Home Cooked Meal on the Table: Save Time and Money

Do you cook at home?  If so, how many times a week?

Chances are, your answer will vary depending on whether or not you work outside the home, your age, and your income.

Sure, cooking at home can save you plenty of money, but not a lot of us do it.  According to Harris Interactive, “Two in five (41%) say they prepare meals at home five or more times a week and three in ten (29%) do so three to four times a week.  One in five (19%) of U.S. adults prepare meals at home one to two times a week, and 11% say they rarely or never prepare meals at home.” There aren’t always easy ways to get a home cooked meal on the table.

In the last several years, my husband and I have made the switch to exclusively eating at home.  We go out to eat less than 10 times a year, usually only when we’re traveling.  What I’ve discovered is that cooking at home can actually be A LOT of work.  Making healthy, low-cost food requires time and energy, and then there is all of the clean up to do afterwards.  If I were still working full-time outside the home, I doubt that I would have time to cook as much as I do now.

Home Cooked Meal

Original IMG credit: DSC_0719 on Flickr

However, there are a number of strategies that can help make preparing foods at home easier.

Have a go to meal.  Everyone should have a few easy meals that they can make from staples in the pantry when they’re short on time.  Choices might include spaghetti, cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.  These meals may not be ideal nutritionally, but they’re still better than grabbing fast food, and they’ll save your wallet.

Use your slow cooker.  Start the slow cooker in the morning, and when you come home, you’ll have a hot meal waiting for you.  To save even more time, prep all of the ingredients the night before so in the busy morning, you can just dump in the ingredients and go.

Utilize freezer cooking.  Take one day a month and cook up several meals for your family for the month.  This might take you three to four hours, but then you will eliminate much of the cooking you’ll need to do for the rest of the month.  Simply take a meal out of your freezer the night before you need it and then reheat it when you get home from work.

There are short cuts to freezer meals, too.  Search Pinterest, and you’ll find crockpot freezer meals.  Simply dump the ingredients in a freezer bag and freeze.  This type of freezer cooking doesn’t require any cooking before putting it in the slow cooker, so you can make a month’s worth of meals in about an hour.

Another idea is to double any recipe you are already cooking and put the second one in the freezer for a busy night.

Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t yet mastered how to eat at home without spending all of your time cooking.  As Marion Nestle, professor of food studies at New York University and author of What to Eat says, “Anything that you do that’s not fast food is terrific; cooking once a week is far better than not cooking at all.  It’s the same argument as exercise: more is better than less and some is better than none” (The New York Times).

What is your favorite strategy to get a healthy meal on the table quickly?

 

4 Ways to Spend Less on Groceries Each Month

Are you familiar with the USDA food plans?  These plans state how much food should cost a family each month based on four categories:  thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal.  The plans are updated each month to accommodate food price increases.  You determine how much your family should spend by choosing one of the four plans, and choosing the ages and members of your family.

For instance, according to the most recent USDA food plan, my family of five (2 adults and 3 kids ages 4 to 10), we should be spending approximately $176.60 a week on the thrifty plan up to $348.90 on the liberal plan.  (Am I the only one saying “WOW!” to the liberal plan?)

Recently, I voluntarily decided to cut back on my freelance workload so that I could spend more time homeschooling my kids.  We decided to tighten our belt and live off my husband’s income alone while banking the money I’m making.

We’ve been thrilled to spend under the USDA thrifty plan every week, usually by $40 or $50 a week, even though we cannot have gluten, dairy or corn.  Here’s how we’ve been doing it:

Spend Less on GroceriesStock up when things are on sale.  I now try to only buy fruits and veggies that are loss leaders in the weekly ads.  When I see things at rock bottom prices, I stock up.  Recently, oranges were on sale for 4 pounds for $1.  I bought a case, which was 40 pounds.  That case only cost me $10, and we’ve had fresh oranges for the last 5 weeks.  We have one more week left before we run out.  (Keep in mind that some stores will give you a discount when you buy a case, so you can save even more.)

I also found organic potatoes 5 pounds for $2, so I bought 40 pounds.  Same for cabbage at 33 cents a pound.  I bought 6 heads.

Inevitably, there are weeks where there are no good sales, so we eat from the pantry.  This week is one of those weeks, so we will be eating a lot of meals with cabbage and potatoes.

Make your menu plan based on the items that are on sale.  I’ve always made a menu plan.  (If you don’t, start now!  It’s such a money saver.)  However, I made my menu plan first and then went shopping.  Now, I do the opposite.  I find out what is on sale, and I make my menu plan based on those items.

Make freezer meals based on low cost items.  When I have extra time or extra groceries, I make freezer meals.  Then, if there’s a week where we’ve run out of grocery money or there’s nothing good on sale, I have at least a week’s worth of meals in the freezer.

Be disciplined when going to big box stores.  I love shopping at Costco, but I’m very careful to only buy what is on my list.  I can get organic carrots 10 pounds for $6.99.  I can buy a 2 pound bag of organic greens for less than $5.  These prices can’t be beat!  However, if I stray from my list and spend on impulse buys, I’m not saving any money.

What USDA plan is your weekly grocery spending closest to?  What other tips do you have to save money on groceries?