Is Not Keeping Up with the Joneses Boring?

We’ve been on a journey to pay off our debt for 3.5 years now.  At first, we were gazelle intense, but then I burned out from working too hard, so we slowed down on the debt repayment.

Last year, we moved to Arizona from Illinois, so our money became much tighter as we faced unexpected moving expenses.  (Aren’t there always unexpected expenses when making such a long move?)

To make matters worse, in the first 3.5 months of 2015, we’ve faced $5,000 in unexpected car repairs and dental bills.

The good news is that even though we haven’t made significant debt repayment progress over the last year, we’ve been able to pay for all of these most recent expenses in cash, without going further into debt.

Boring JonesesBasically, each year for the last 3.5 years, our budget has become tighter and tighter.  We’ve definitely NOT kept up with the Joneses.

Yet, we’ve not found this type of life boring.

We Appreciate Splurges More

If anything, living this way makes us appreciate a “treat” that we used to take for granted.  For instance, I homeschool my kids, and my daughters recently completed preschool and kindergarten.  They were both very excited about moving on to kindergarten and first grade, respectively, so my husband and I decided to take the family out for a treat.

We went to our favorite restaurant.  We went for breakfast, so the bill would be cheaper, and we used a $25 gift card that we had gotten at Christmas and saved.  Because we had not gone out to eat in about five months, the kids were beyond thrilled.  All of us enjoyed the meal greatly.

Because we haven’t gone out to eat in so long, doing so was a special treat.

Before we got on a budget and started paying down debt, we often went out to eat three or four times a week.  Honestly, because we did it so often, going out to eat had become boring.  Now, because we don’t do it very often, we appreciate the meal when we do go out.

Because we have simplified our lives, we are able to enjoy special occasions much more.

We Have Plenty of Fun—For Free

Just because we aren’t keeping up with the Jones and are on a budget doesn’t mean we aren’t having fun.  Just this week, my mom was in town for a visit.  We took her to a national park, which had free admission that day.  We watched artisans make homemade tortillas and weave baskets.  We listened to a local band, and we got an excellent tour of the site.  Before heading home, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds.

Last month we went to the Tucson Festival of Books.  There was so much to do (for free!) that we stayed over five hours.  We could have stayed even longer.

Going on a tight budget and deciding NOT to keep up with the Jones can be difficult at first.  Now, however, we’ve done it for so many years that we find living this way actually improves our quality of life.

 

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?