Monthly Archives: September 2015

Things I Don’t Splurge On

When it comes to writing, I have a thing for opposites.  You knew that after this post, a post outlining its opposite would be on the way, right?

We do splurge on various things–living the simple life doesn’t have to involve abject poverty and deprivation.  However, what one chooses to splurge on (and not splurge on) requires a careful evaluation of priorities and finances.

Careful evaluation of our family’s priorities and finances have resulted in the following “non-splurges.”  (For some families, these may well be listed as priorities, but remember that each family is different!)

We choose not to splurge on…

unnamed (2)Cosmetics.  Ronnica writes a bit about this topic here.  Admittedly, this is something that tends to affect only myself, although Riley and I have been known to enjoy some cologne/perfume at times (that falls under “cosmetics”, right?).  I have never been a huge fan of the way make-up feels and what it does to my skin, so this isn’t really a sacrifice for me.  Castile soap and deodorant are pretty much the extent of my cosmetic usage.  That said, Bean has developed a huge interest in nail polish…but hey, Christmas is coming!

Clothing.  The vast majority of my clothing comes from thrift stores, with the rest coming from gift cards and saving up as needed.  Riley and the kids also ask for (and, especially in the case of the latter, usually receive) clothes for holidays and birthdays, so we are typically set in this department.  Name brands and the latest fashions are not a priority for us; as long as we are clean and sufficiently clothed, we tend to be pretty content.

Pets.  I suppose this one could be up for debate, as we do splurge on their food.  That said, our dogs don’t have big expensive beds (they sleep on old blankets and pillows on the floor…or the couch!), and except for the occasional rawhide, they don’t have any legitimate dog toys.  They do play with tennis balls, which we seem to have an abundance of in our garage.  They also don’t get have any dog treats, with the exception of a carrot or broccoli piece here and there.  That actually works in their favor–their weight (and health) stays in check without the treat temptation!

What do you not splurge on?

My Dream Future

I’ve talked a few times before about how focusing on my long-term goals helps me forego things I want now to help me achieve those goals.

I have also recently shared my mid-term goal strategy, 101 in 1001.

But what exactly are my long-term goals?

I don't anticipate going for a place quite this rugged, but who knows.
I don’t anticipate going for a place quite this rugged, but who knows.

I want to have my own place. While I enjoy where I live now, I don’t want to rent forever. Economically, it makes more sense to buy (once I get my savings and income where I want it).

But more than the economics of it, I want a yard. While I’ve made do with gardening on my balcony, it’s not enough to satisfy my gardening itch. Not all summers are going to be as a unproductive as this one, but the larger the area I have to garden, the more I’ll be able to grow to feed myself (and hopefully others).

My ideal property would be a small house on an average-sized neighborhood lot, with quick access to bus routes and stores. This would provide me the best of both worlds: urban and back-to-the-land.

While my focus on getting a property is growing a garden and possibly some fruit trees, I also think about raising bees, chickens and goats one day. That’s far-fetched for someone who has never desired a pet, but we’ll see.

I would also love to make this property as simple and environmentally-friendly as possible. I picture harvesting all my own energy from the sun and doing away with the traditional laundry system.

While I have no plans on a traditional retirement (time to put me first), I do hope to not need to work as much in a corporate environment one day. I’d love to devote more time to urban homesteading activities…especially once I have an urban homestead.

If I allow myself to dream, I picture myself retiring from corporate America early to spend the rest of my days urban homesteading and fostering children. Yes, I’d love to be married and have my own children some day, but regardless of if that happens, I want to provide family to those who do not have any.

This is my dream of the future now, but it definitely wasn’t my dream even 5 years ago. It may not be my dream in 5 years, either, but I’m okay with that.

Photo by Richard Elzey

Museum Day Live

5548687378_7e09ace8e4_zPsst!  I want to let you in on a big secret.

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 26 is the annual Smithsonian Museum Day Live! event nationwide.  This event permits you and one other person to visit participating venues and museums (with a ticket) for free.

I share this with you because it’s a great event that doesn’t seem to get as much publicity as it should.  There are several museums in the Kansas City area, and many more in the Denver (and surrounding) area.  What better way to be a good steward of the gifts we have been given?  You can spend time with loved ones, learn about art/history/regional information and save a few bucks!

Last year, our family took part in this event at an area children’s museum that opted to participate, and we loved it so much that we asked for an annual membership for Christmas; we got it, and that membership has gotten a great deal of use this year.

Make sure to clear your calendars for this fun, free and educational event!

Photo by Phil Roeder

Joint Book Review: The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing

good_lifeThe Good Life is actually the combination of two books written by the Nearings about their experience homesteading in Vermont and in Maine. They moved from the city to a rural setting in 1932, where they homesteaded for decades.

Amanda’s Take

Having never heard of the Nearings prior to this book, I approached reading it with a bit of trepidation.  Honestly, the description struck me as being a bit survivalist/”prepper” in nature; while I’m not opposed to that lifestyle, they are not views that I actively seek to integrate into my life right now.

I walked away from reading The Good Life with a sense of admiration for the Nearings.  I appreciated the fact that they left behind what the world deemed necessary and instead lived as they saw fit–as homesteaders.

While I could see myself living an even simpler lifestyle at some point in the future, even in a tiny house (who knows?), living completely self-sufficiently as the Nearings did is something I can’t envision doing, so I will have to settle for reading about dedicated people who actually do it, like the Nearings.

Ronnica’s Take

I loved reading the take of back-to-the-farm homesteaders that got started before my grandparents were born. In many ways, their actions were responses to some of the largest atrocities of the 20th Century: world wars, Great Depression and the Cold War.

I think it’s important to recognize that the Nearings approached their experiment from a place of privilege. Though it was the Great Depression, they had the resources to buy the land they needed to support their needs by growing most of their own food, cutting their own fuel and selling maple syrup to supply the rest of their needs.

I found interesting that the Nearings were against raising animals. While I don’t have the same moral issues with using animals (or even eating them), and I have never liked animals, I always assumed that they would have to be a part of a self-sustaining homestead. Turns out they’re not necessary.

Reading books like this always makes me want to give up everything and homestead. While I won’t be doing so any time soon, I do hope to at least part-time urban homestead at some point.

Frugal Victories

6988272680_97102f42c6_zI’ve been spending quite a bit of time on here lately commenting on reducing our grocery bill, perhaps at the detriment of discussing financial victories we have experienced.

You know me (and Ronnica too)–improving our stewardship of money is a constant quest! I wanted to take a post and share what I’ve been proud of recently, as far as our finances are concerned.

We have been a one-car family for over three years. Darn right I’m proud of this.  We have been a one-car household (remember:  four people and two big dogs comprise our family) for over half of our marriage now.  People said it couldn’t be done, but thanks to careful planning, priorities aligning, and a walkable neighborhood, this has been a noteworthy accomplishment.

I don’t know how long we will be able to swing this, but we have no plans of adding a car any time soon, so as long as we can make one car work for us, we will.  It’s saved us a large amount of money!

We have been without student loan debt for over two years.  I wish we could say “completely debt-free” but the mortgage alone precludes this.  We’ll get there–in the meantime, let me say that not paying a student loan bill has been pretty awesome (as Ronnica can attest to!).

We continue to be on-track for savings–including retirement and college.  Without delving into specific numbers, I will say that I am pleased with our progress in saving for our emergency fund (we’ve needed it more than once!), retirement, and college for the kiddies.  There are times where I wish we had more funds to play with right now, but knowing we won’t have to worry about the future as much (because, as a worrywart, I worry no matter what) is a relief.

What victories have you celebrated lately?

Photo by Phillip Taylor at ptmoney.com

Giving up Diet Dr Pepper

diet dr pepperThe longer I’ve walked this green journey, the less comfortable I have been with my beverage of choice: Diet Dr Pepper.

I started drinking Diet Dr Pepper almost 10 years ago when I started feeling my blood sugar rise and then plummet after drinking my afternoon Dr Pepper. Since then, I’ve had one or more Diet Dr Pepper almost every day.

Before I switched to diet, I drank one or more Dr Peppers daily from high school, apart from a few summers when I gave it up. I remember my first summer after high school  starting my day with a 32 oz vanilla Dr Pepper and fueling myself through 2 jobs by drinking a can of it every break and lunch.

At several points I’ve been able to work myself back down to one Diet Dr Pepper a day, but unless I’ve given it up for a period of time, I’ve not been able to cut it down much further than that.

I’ve never been good with moderation.

So I’ve decided to give up Diet Dr Pepper for good. I drank my last on September 13th.

By giving up caffeinated sodas, I’m taking another step in simplifying my life. I will no longer rely on caffeine, but will need to eat nourishing food (rather than cheap calories) for energy.

I also am choosing to set aside the money that I would previously have been spending on Diet Dr Pepper and funneling it into a special fund. Though the actual amount I spent on Diet Dr Pepper varied, I decided to set aside $5/week from my grocery budget and $10/month from my eating out budget to put into this fund. This will add up to $380 a year.

I’m calling this fund my “homesteading” fund. I don’t yet know how it will be spent, but I hope to use it on things that will help me towards my goal of being an urban homesteader: gardening supplies, tools, solar panels…who knows.

I know that giving up my favorite “sweet” will be hard, but I know it is the right thing for me. I look forward to seeing what further changes this one will encourage in me.

The Quest for $150

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These grocery bags are my constant companions.

I recently mentioned here that, with the cost of food steadily increasing and through my own attitude shift, our grocery bill has jumped.

As a stay-at-home mom, this wasn’t going to fly as a long-term trend. Mama is on a tight budget.  So, I made it my mission to reduce my bimonthly shopping excursion bills by $150 or more.

This number was arbitrary; it was not the difference between Amanda’s grocery shopping trips of a few months ago and the trips of today, nor did it represent the amount of money we needed for X each month.  It was a nice, solid figure to me–doable, but challenging for us–that represented a drop in the average cost of the last several grocery runs.

I went grocery shopping last Friday, and I’m happy to report that, while I didn’t quite make it to the $150 mark, I did make great strides in cutting our costs.  Upon reflection, I determined the following helped made that decline in cost possible:

I went back to my “old ways.” Enough said.

Really, there’s no list I could compile that would sum it up better.  Things are getting a bit more expensive, but shopping as I have in the past (that is, thoughtfully, sticking to a list, price-checking, etc.) really made all the difference.  And those impulse buys (which is where a large part of our budget overage originated)?  They stayed on the shelf where they belong.

This may not work for us for much longer; as I’ve noted, the price of food where we are is steadily increasing.  And we’re still working on the “milk thing.”  But for now, I’m reveling in this not-so-small victory!

101 in 1001

Have you heard of the concept of “101 in 1001”? It’s a type of mid-term goal-setting where you set 101 things you wish to accomplish in 1001 days (approximately 2.75 years).

I really like the length of 1001 days for goal setting. You can have some reasonable idea of what the future might look like: for me, 5 years is just too far out. I also think it provides a more reasonable deadline than a bucket list does. And as opposed to New Year’s resolutions, you can challenge yourself further (and have more time to make up in areas that you stumble).

I made my first 101 in 1001 goal list when I turned 30…1003 days ago. I was able to complete 93 of the 101 things. I also really enjoyed it, so it was an easy decision to do a second one, which formally started yesterday.

As this blog covers specific topics, I won’t share my entire list here. But not surprisingly, a number of the items on my list conform to the themes found on these pages (you know, if blogs had pages).

Any list is made better by being made into a pretty spreadsheet.
Any list is made better by being made into a pretty spreadsheet.

So here are a few of the things I want to accomplish before June 9, 2018:

– Do another “Buy Little” month.
– Write a will.
– Redirect $1001 from budgeted items to savings.
– Build up savings to $XX,XXX.
– Save $7,000 for a new car (or devote to savings, if I give up car living).
– Build up retirement savings to over $XX,XXX.
Compost.
Can something (not freezer canning).
– Go through all 20 identified Marie Kondo zones.
– Purge 100 items.
– Forage for wild edibles.
– Grow 3 garden plants inside over the winter.
– Grow 3 new-to-me plants.
– Make something from repurposed materials.
– Save seeds and grow them.
– Keep track of every item brought into the home for 1 month.
– Keep track of every item disposed of from the home in 1 month.
– Buy a piece of clothing from Goodwill.

If you want to see my entire list, you can do that here. I can’t wait to get started on these things!

A Whole Lot of Milk

1290056869_bee5fd99a2_zDuring a recent grocery shopping trip, the cashier made a very observant comment:

“That’s a whole lot of milk in your cart.”

He was correct.  Sitting in my cart was no less than four gallons of 2% milk.  He went on to say that he can’t even finish a half gallon of milk before it expires.

That was my first clue that maybe our family is not the norm when it comes to milk consumption.

Since I shop once every two weeks for groceries, I have to plan ahead, and yes…we consume an average of four gallons of milk for our family of four every two weeks.  Believe it or not, that’s a reduction from the five we averaged when Peanut was younger.

Part of this is medically directed:  the kids’ pediatrician prefers them to each get 16 ounces of milk a day.  (In case you are new here, you should know that I tend to follow the rules.)

Another part of it is that milk is a preferred beverage for all of us–it is second only to water for the kids, and Riley and I use it for coffee, baking, cooking, or just as a cool beverage. While some folks prefer to drink soda with pizza, we are chugging milk.

It doesn’t stop there.  I could easily get a different kind of milk for each family member, and would have good reasons to do so.  For Riley:  a half gallon of skim milk every other week.  For Bean:  whole milk (several gallons) and almond milk.  For Peanut:  skim milk…several gallons. For myself:  a minimum of a gallon of organic milk.

Clearly milk is here to stay in our house.  I wish we could afford to get four gallons of organic milk every two weeks, but that’s simply not in the budget.  I aim to get milk that has the “hormone and antibiotic-free pledge” but that’s the best I can do, for now anyway.

The issue I am running up against, as alluded to in this post, is that our grocery expenses have expanded a bit in recent months.  Four gallons of milk is a good chunk of change that can’t be cut from our budget; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a gallon of whole milk cost an average of $3.43/gallon in July.  I will let you do the math!

One way I am combating this is by shopping where I know milk prices are the lowest–hence why I have to plan ahead and grab four gallons each grocery trip, because the cheapest place to get milk isn’t down the street.  Convenience comes at a cost!

I also want to experiment with powdered milk in baking.  I know of some people who use it exclusively in their homes, but I’m not sure our family is prepared to go that route…yet.

We also compromise.  Since we all could go for a different type of milk, we settled for 2%–that fulfills dietary needs for the kids, and does the trick for us adults, too.  2% is also cheaper and lasts a bit longer than whole milk (skim would be cheaper still, but wouldn’t fulfill other requirements).

Simple, healthful living with a family requires some creativity sometimes.  Do you have any words of wisdom?

Photo by Guy Montag

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

A few months have gone by since our last updates, so here’s updates on things we’ve talked about previously:

Ronnica’s Updates

How I Paid Off $10,678.28 in 8 Months

It’s been over 4 months since I got out of debt. The cool thing about not having a mortgage is that I’m completely debt free.

Since then, I’ve been focusing hard on building emergency savings and adding to my retirement account. To balance my two goals, I’ve decided to put 20% of my savings towards retirement (my 401k contributions are handled separately).

How it Works: Living without Air Conditioning

This is the first summer that I’ve gone completely without air conditioning. I’ve become unapologetic about it: if someone is at my house I’ll give them full control over the fans, but do not turn on the air. While it doesn’t get as hot here in Colorado as in anywhere I have lived, it has regularly gotten into the lower to mid-90s.

Yes, I’ve sweat a lot, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing (regular showers are a must).

Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).
Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).

Ronnica’s Garden Plan

Sadly, this has been my least productive garden, apart from the year I stopped watering due to anemia-caused exhaustion.

The primary cause was the cold and rainy weather we had for most of May. I also tried a few new-to-me varieties that I’m not sure did as well as I would have liked.

The great thing about gardening, though, is that every year is a learning opportunity. I’m going to take what I’ve learned to make better choices next year.

And there’s always my winter garden (details to come).

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

Just a couple of months after writing this post, an opportunity to give my time presented itself:  serving on the pastoral call committee of our church.

Although we have only met a few times so far, and there is a good chunk of time I have to commit (a few hours a month for meetings and ultimately interviewing potential candidates to serve as our pastor), it is a volunteer position that is well-aligned to my gifts, one that is fairly flexible with our family schedule, and most importantly, is vital to the future of our congregation.  It’s a great opportunity!

Grocery Shopping

It has been six months since I first posted about my grocery shopping method (one word:  methodical).

Since that time, a lot has changed–for starters, the national egg shortage has resulted in eggs no longer being the least expensive item in my cart.  I have also lightened up quite a bit in my grocery shopping prep, because where I get most of our food now (Aldi) doesn’t accept coupons, so that actually saves me time…but also because I’ve become a bit lazy.

Our grocery bill has also crept upwards, due in part to a sales tax increase and cost of food steadily increasing, but also due to the aforementioned lackadaisical attitude.  Since grocery shopping is one of the easiest ways to help or hinder a family budget, I have been working on reducing our grocery bill.  Stay tuned later this month for how that went.

Fall Purge

A quick look at the calendar tells me that, yes, fall is indeed upon us!  Since Riley has started working from home several days a week, this has forced us to adopt a whole new way of looking at cleaning and organization; with no home office, we have had to turn “the dungeon” into a multipurpose area.

That has meant–you guessed it–a whole lot of purging.

It’s a work in progress.  But it definitely doesn’t look like this anymore…

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…and for that I am very grateful.