Wednesday, May 29, 2013

around these parts {in the yard}

What a lovely morning to enjoy!

I've decided the best way for me to enjoy it would be with my recently neglected camera... 

and a few mid-spring plants that are thirsty for a drink of water.

Enjoy the day!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Frugal Living: No Spend Days

I'm sharing a few successful techniques that we've been using to save money so far this year. Today I want to share about our approach to 'no spend days'...

There seems to be disagreement out there as to whether or not 'no spend days' actually save any money. We have found that implementing 'no spend days' into our weekly routine helps us stretch our 'fun spending money' out over the month a lot easier. So I suppose that the fact that we've limited our monthly entertainment budget is a contributing factor on the money that we're saving. However, it may be valuable to see what a day is like with planning to spend zero dollars. Once you try it you can decide  if it is something that will assist you in racking up dollars in your savings account.

My husband and I chose two days of the week to not spend money. "No Spend Wednesday" and "No Spend Sunday". Now, if something special happens on one of those days (like family comes into town for a visit and we take them for dessert) we just change our no spend day that week (for example No Spend Thursday instead of Wednesday). I don't know if this sounds lazy... but it works for us.

The success for us, is that 'no spend days' forces us to plan out a few things. Like if there is a project we've been meaning to get to we might check on Thursday if we have everything we need to complete that project. This way we do not force ourselves into buying items on Sunday right before our project because we've taken the time to asess what we actually need or how we can make what we already have work before we begin the planned task.

I do believe that 'no spend days' make it easy to cut frivolous spending. Or entice your family to find new fun and free activities to do, or try new recipes at home. We love eating a big breakfast on Sunday which I now use as an opportunity to try new recipes that day.

Some Free Activities to add to your list of what to do on a No Spend Day:

-get a movie from the library
-read magazines at the library
- playing games (maybe with a bottle of wine that you already had)
- spend time fixing something in your home together
- complete yard work
- complete a project that you already purchased the materials for
- baking or cooking
- window shop... shopping can be super fun when you know that you are just looking

Earlier This Week:

{Monday}  A Budget Update

{Wednesday} Food Budgeting Ideas

{Friday} Cheaper Ways to Work Out

Friday, May 24, 2013

Frugal Living: Cheaper Ways to Work Out

In honor of kicking some debt to the curb I am sharing ways that we've cut spending in our home.

Now, something that we've always splurged on was a family YMCA membership. Partly because we feel it is an organization that is good for our community and we wanted to support such a place with our dollars. Also, when you live in Ohio, running during all of December and January doesn't always work, so we haved enjoyed hitting up the cardio-room and the strength training equipment on snowy days.  However, in February we got the unfortunate news that our favorite branch was sold to a swim club and they would no longer allow the current Y members to use the facilities. We've decided to discontinue our membership and find other ways to get in shape this spring and summer.

This change in routine has got us thinking about some thrifty ways to break a sweat. Our first conversation centered around using our bodies and the outdoors... bike, run, hike! Running and walking are definitely some of my favorite ways to enjoy a bit of time after dinner. Walking and biking are two great ways to get around our town. We even use our manual push mower a few times a month on our lawn for the work out and to save on gas (mowers can be so inefficient).

Of course DVD's and loads of online videos can be a great source for an at-home work out. Or you can go the free fitness app route if that is more your speed.

I've just started to check out:

I've done some pairing of the "Twist and Detox" Practice Podcast with some morning juicing... great way to start the day.

The "Cardio Kickboxing plus Abs and Obliques Workout" is perfect for a quick sweat at-home (~18 minutes)... russian twists kill me in any work out but definitely here.

How to do you burn calories while not burning through too much cash?

This Week:

 Our Budgeting Update

 Food Budgeting Ideas

 Weekly No Spend Days

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Frugal Living: Food Budgeting Ideas

This week I'm sharing a few ideas of how to save money. Today I want to share about how I save on our grocery bill. And along with these tips I also have to voice some of my opinions about today's food sources. Sorry, I don't know how to talk about one without the other. So here is a jumbled list of thoughts I consider when trying to save a few bucks while grocery shopping...

Plan ahead:
Think about meals that will create left overs for lunches or one more dinner. So often we make a pot of soup or chili on Sunday that will reheat easily. Then we pack it for lunch for one or more days the following week.  We also plan several recipes that use some of the same ingredients. It will make your list shorter and you can cash in on deals at the grocery. You know, the 2/$4 deals that are so difficult to pass up!

Use food before it expires:
Think about meals that will use items in your kitchen cupboards that may not make one more week of storage. And if you just don't want to eat those items still make something with them that can go in the freezer. If that veggie lasagna is in the freezer next week and you don't have time to make dinner it starts to sound pretty tasty and you didn't have to throw out any food. Or one of my favorites, make vegetable broth from those last bits of produce that aren't quite what you want to be featured on your dinner plate. Sometimes vegetables are still edible, but just not as appetizing looking.

Make a List:
After considering both the food in your home and the meals you are interested in making put together a list. It will help you from making impulse purchases or stop you from putting other items in your cart that you may not need at home.

Check out this grocery list template and shopping routine {here} from Lisa Leake & the 100 Days of Real Food Blog.

Whole Foods:
Everyone wants to save on groceries. For some reason the items that fuel our bodies seems to be where people want to spend less. Now, I agree that we can spend too much money at the grocery store. But I believe that the overspending comes from purchasing items that really aren't all that nutritious. If your cart has lots of sodas, sugary juices, and prepackaged snack items you might not be getting the best bang for buck or calorie for your busy body. What if you look at your menu and try to plan a few less prepackaged goods? Eating the fruit that you buy instead of throwing it out because you picked a 100 calorie snack bag to put in your lunch instead of that apple. Maybe purchasing fewer pre-made goods can be one place you can save both on empty calories and grocery bill.

Also, literally purchase "whole foods". A chunk of cheese is often cheaper than shredded (and fewer preservatives). A head of lettuce may cost less than a bag of shredded. Or a full pineapple may be on sale where an already chopped container can cost twice as much. Just check your prices if you are choosing between two versions of the same food. Do you have the extra five minutes to wash, peel, core, and chop? Then save the money instead of paying the store's employee to chop it for you. If you don't have the time than it might be money worth spent.

Saving on Meat:
We rarely eat meat at home. I don't enjoy preparing it and most often my husband and I prefer the way I make vegetarian dishes much more than meals that feature meat. But when we do eat meat at home we don't eat a ton in one sitting. Instead of one pound or more of sausage in a soup it is easy to replace half a pound of sausage with beans or more veggies. You still get the flavor that the meat provides but fewer calories and fat. Also, purchasing meat from a local farm or your farmers market can be less expensive and of higher quality. Ground meats tend to be cheaper and they are super flexible in cooking. Also, if making meals in your crock pot you can purchase a "lesser cut" as the cooking techinque will make a tender and flavorful bit of meat. Consider how you will use the meat prior to purchasing. Or save your higher priced cuts for meals that require such a nice piece of meat. Check out farmer's markets for local vendors selling high quality meat or hit up a local deli and take advantage of their weekly specials.

Local Foods:
You can save on more than meat at your farmer's market. We belong to a CSA where we receive a small share of produce from a local farm.  The produce is divine, we're supporting a local farm, and really we're getting great prices on our veggies. Since we live in Ohio, we do not get produce year round from our CSA. There are three months that we purchase from our local grocery store, but each year I'm able to save a bit more produce over the summer and our reliance on grocery store "fresh" is less and less. Which actually saves us a lot of money. And cuts down on loads of trash (from packaged produce) and gasoline (from shipping produce from California to our Ohio grocery store).

Preserving Food:
As, I mentioned before I make sure that I use food items prior to their expiration. This doesn't just mean preparing a meal and freezing it. Sometimes I freeze produce that I can use later in the year. (Cleaning and chopping garden grown green peppers in the summer makes for a nice addition to chili in the winter) I also make canned goods in our kitchen. Sometimes a You-Pick stop for blackberries or tomatoes can help fill a freezer up with good produce for all winter. It has taken me a few years (and a cupboard for the actual cans as well as an extra freezer) to get into a good routine (everything is a work in progress) but I shopped much less during the winter months this year than I ever have before. Just because I'm slowly emptying our freezer and using canned goods that I preserved myself. Which not only saves money, but is very satisfying to yours truly.

Make Your Own:
Bread, broths, jams, ketchups, salsas, pre-made freezer dinners {even pizzas} and salad dressings.
I like to make my own because:
1. I know what is in my food.
2. I can purchase ingredients in bulk.
3. We omit ingredients that we do not enjoy eating or are allergic to.
4. I can purchase local ingredients.
*** And most of these reasons support my preference to spend less money and still eat a very high quality food.

Bulk Food Stores:
Have you ever shopped at a bulk food store? Now, I will admit that not all of the items are locally grown, but sometimes those prices can't be beat. It is a great way to store up some goods that you can literally use for weeks and months. Sometimes we can drop $80 at a bulk food store. Which at the time seems like a lot, but the food lasts. This is actually one reason I use a monthly budget (instead of weekly) to plan our grocery shopping.

Here is an example of how we spend our grocery dollars:
In March I spent $100 on our share of veggies from  our CSA. We actually did have bulk food store trip that month and spent $70 on goods that we won't have to buy for months. Maybe even until the end of summer (rice, spices, dry beans, nuts, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup - bonus most of our purchased items were grown and processed in Ohio). And then I spent $30 at a more main stream grocery store on items like milk, feta cheese and some produce to round out what we've been getting from the local farm. Once our farmer's market picks up and our home grown produce comes in I'm hoping to make our grocery store trip once a month or less.

Check out these links for other ideas or inspirations to save on your grocery bill:

5 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill {with The Budget Diet}

49 Ways to Save Money on Groceries {with Neil Shelton &}

This Week:

 Our Budgeting Update

Cheaper Ways to Work Out

 Weekly No Spend Days

Monday, May 20, 2013

Frugal Living: An Update

This year our family has taken charge of our finances. We're trying not to nickel and dime ourselves crazy, but we're more aware than ever about our spending and payment plans. I am so excited to say that we've already eliminated all of the debt on both of our credit cards! We are now only using plastic for my husband's work travel and when purchasing gas and groceries. Which means we pay off the balance each month. This is easy considering we make very few purchases.

With the excitement surrounding our small successes I thought it would be interesting to share some ways that we are decreasing our spending. The great part of spending less is that it enables us to pay off our next high priority debt quicker. Which luckily for us- all of our remaining debts carry a 5% or less APR.

So this week I'm dedicating my posts to telling about some success we've had so far this year with saving money for our home and lifestyle. And to be honest, I didn't really think we had all that much to cut out. It was surprising to find where else we could save. And I haven't missed the spending much at all.

This Week:

Food Budgeting Ideas

Cheaper Ways to Work Out

 Weekly No Spend Days

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Simply Lovely Sunday Thought: Juicing

It's true we've been doing the "juicing" thing.

And this combination we like... quite a bit...

Spring Green Juice
2 small bunches of a leafy green (we're using Kale and Spinach right now)
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
3 apples


Friday, May 17, 2013

Kale Loaded Pasta Salad

Today calls for sharing a simple use of kale in a recipe that I'm sure everyone knows (and maybe even loves). I know that I love pasta salad. Not only because it is pasta + salad, but because I can use up an assortment of vegetables that are in season or that we just have on had. Feel free to substitute any veggies that you see fit. 

Kale Loaded Pasta Salad

2 bunches of kale
1 cup of favorite pasta 
1/4 cup chopped (or shredded) favorite cheese
1/4 cup feta crumbles
1 chopped pepper
1 sliced cucumber
1 chopped tomato
pepperoni slices 
generous helping of favorite oil & vinegar based dressing

Cook pasta and set to the side to cool. Clean and chop kale. Place chopped kale, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and pepperoni slices into large bowl. Add cooled pasta and dressing. Toss. Add cheese and toss again. Chill for an hour or more and serve cold. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Organizing Tips {from this Disorganized Person}

If you remember a while back I wrote a bit about the box madness that was taking over my life. I'm so excited to share that I am slowly winning the war on clutter.

In my quest of simplifying our lifestyle shedding extra belongings was important. Mostly because we had lots of stuff that we didn't really need anymore and continuing to store all those items made many spaces of our home difficult to use to their full potential. Does this sound familiar? I think this is the case in many homes. And it doesn't bother some families as they have loads of storage spaces (i.e. attics, garages, basements and extra closets). We do not have the luxury space to house everything that I've ever wanted to keep. So out {some} of it must go.

Spending lots of time organizing our home made me want to share a few tips that I've learned:

Focus on one room or space at a time:
We basically created usable spaces of our house one room at a time. Not from start to finish, but we'd get a huge portion done and then move on to the next room. Often that meant moving the last bit of stuff that we didn't know if we needed or wanted into a room that was not finished (enter the study that we can't comfortably study in). Eventually everything will be completed-just not all at once. One space at a time feels less overwhelming to me. With organizing if I am overwhelmed there is a good chance I will freeze up completely.

Focus on a bit of chaos at a time:
Something that helped me was taking a bit of clutter (such as a pile of papers or one box of random items) and then I would sort it out in a different space. A different space that is clean. That way when I finished sorting that specific pile or box I would carry out the next steps for the items I had just sorted. It made it necessary to choose a destiny and follow through. It made the time I spent sorting feel more manageable (and less overwhelming). Which I thought was a great thing.

Set a time to focus:
Clean or organize your current project for a set amount of time. Limit all distractions and just get busy. That means step away from "pinning" all the ways you should organize. One way I like to do this is to choose a play list or record of good music and clean or organize until that set of music is completed. Often I find that I'm up for more work and select other songs to keep me company while organizing.

Get support and recognition:
After some time would pass and I felt like things were moving in a positive direction I would show someone a new space or a recently displayed item. Of course a friend or family member knows to give you some positive feedback or other suggestions of what else you own might look good in that area. Whenever my husband would come home and marvel at the missing items I would just smile and know that the next day I'd be ready to return for a new round of organization.

If you are simplifying the stuff in and around your home just remember that some positive talk and low stress tactics will keep you moving forward. Don't feel guilty about the acquired items. Keep a list of small tasks in your mind and know that overall progress may not happen overnight. That is what keeps me going... good luck to us all :)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spicy Chicken Sausage & Kale Soup

It has probably been awhile since I've talked about kale... and how I love it... and how it seems to just fill the refrigerator this time of year. Our fridge is currently full of green from our local CSA.

I've been working on a few recipes to happily use some of the kale stash. Try out this spicy soup on a chilly Sunday. That is when we seem to like it best :)

Spicy Chicken Sausage & Kale Soup
3 chicken sausage links {I used 'Trader Joe's Spicy Italian Vino & Formaggio Chicken Sausage'}
3 garlic cloves
2 small green onions
2 long carrots
2 bunches of kale
9 cups of vegetable stock
1large tomato
1 cup cannellini beans {beans only - drain liquid}
1 cup favorite pasta

Put a bit of water in a deep pot over medium heat. Brown sausage and chop when links are pretty well cooked. Clean, and chop onions, carrots, and garlic. Add them to the pot and cook for two to four minutes with sausage. Clean, chop and add kale to wilt over heat for about two more minutes. Add vegetable stock. Chop and add tomato. Add prepared cannellini beans. Continue cooking on the stove for about fifteen minutes. Bring to boil and add pasta. Continue low boil for about seven to ten minutes. Check for tenderness of vegetables, beans, and pasta. Serve warm and enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Miles in April

April was a bit crazy. Which means that I am so happy to declare that I completed a 48 miles in April challenge!

With hiking, walking, and running I was able to cover those miles before the end of the month!

And my husband and I ran a 5k at the end of April... I was very pleased with my time!

Looks like May is calling for 52 miles... and I've already started tracking. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Back to Life, Back to Technology

That's right "Screen Free" Week 2013 has been completed!

It is humbling to learn how much I really do grab my phone for a quick internet search, or send a very unnecessary text. And this past week reminded me that less can really be more.

By choosing to only use screens for communication and research the week moved very quickly. As it was filled with so many other activities. Activities where we were talking and laughing and not facing a screen. We enjoyed taking walks to town. Making dinner. Even cooking extra meals to freeze for later use. There were plans of fun with friends. Oh and painting! There is definite progress on the work of organizing and creating an inviting office. Which is worth all of my screen time!

Did you turn off the tv for a night? Do you think it could become a new habit? Even just once a week?

This week I'm going to try and pick up my camera. Maybe even finish up some photo editing on the computer. I've decided it will be screen time well used :)