All posts by Ronnica

Camping on a Budget

tentFor several years, I have wanted to go camping. Not having a significant other or kids, I don’t have a built-in adventure partner, so I had to wait until it worked out for a friend to go with me.

A few weekends ago, my time to go camping finally came. While I had camped a few times as a kid, camping as an adult is a much different experience. Not that I’ve been scared of a little planning: I usually enjoy planning something as much as I enjoy putting the plan into action.

As my friend and I did not have any camping gear of our own, I relied on some camping-loving friends who let me borrow their gear and some of their expertise. Without this, the trip would not have been economically feasible. After all, for all we knew, this was our first and last camping trip, so investing money (beyond perishables and the site rental) into camping as a hobby would be unwise.

Starting the fire was the thing I was most nervous about...so I was really happy when I started this fire right up.
Starting the fire was the thing I was most nervous about…so I was really happy when I started this fire right up.

Turns out, we really enjoyed our time camping and are definitely doing it again. I have previously mentioned how much I love hiking, so camping is really an extension of that. We’ve already made tentative plans for a longer camping tour of national parks next summer.

Will I ever buy my own camping gear? Probably. But I’m not in any hurry to gain gear. I’ll probably just wait for good deals and buy used where I can. I already know that I don’t need too much. Really, camping appeals to my minimalist side because you are willingly choosing to live with less.

Practical Vegetarianism

I am not a vegetarian. I love bacon, burgers and pepperoni. While other people may crave meat, my cravings have always been more on the carbohydrate and dairy side: bread, cheese, and ice cream.

Since I started eating better, I just haven’t felt the need to spend some of my 1200 or so calories a day on something I don’t really even enjoy. While meat can provide good protein and nutrients, it doesn’t give me the best bang for my buck (calorie wise or budget wise). As such, I’ve almost entirely given it up.

Now, if it’s not a special occasion or a meal with others, I’m not eating meat. I get my protein mostly from dairy, whole grains and beans. I still enjoy the occasional burger, but I’m not missing meat.

Below is one of my recent recipes that I’ve concocted. I’m not sure if it is technically vegetarian since I added chicken bouillon, but I plan on making and freezing my own veggie stock soon. Just another step in making my food from scratch.

While it may seem like extra work to have to pre-cook the beans, veggies and rice, it really takes no more hands-on time than it would to brown meat.

creamy rice and bean bakeCreamy Rice and Bean Bake
Makes 5 servings

Nutritional info per serving:
411 calories, 26 g protein, 60 g carbs, 10 g fat, 7 g fiber

Ingredients:
1.25 cups dry black beans, cooked (I add some onion, cumin, thyme and chicken bouillon while cooking) 
1 cup brown rice, cooked (I add chicken bouillon while cooking)
2 cups non-fat Greek yogurt
1 yellow squash
2 bell peppers
1/2 onion
1 2/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
salt to taste

Pre-cheese and baking
Pre-cheese and baking

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut and grill or saute the squash, peppers and onion. I grill mine on a George Foreman. Cut them into bite-sized or smaller pieces before or after cooking.

3. Combine cooked veggies, beans and rice in a greased 9 x 13 casserole pan. Leaving shredded cheese to the side, add in remaining ingredients and mix.

4. Top with shredded cheese.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I tried to keep track of the spices I used and in what quantities, but really, use what you like. The good thing about a recipe like this is that it’s very customizable…use what you like.

How I Began to Read More

Goodreads to readDisclaimer: This post is meant to encourage you if you feel you should be reading more. Everyone does not read at the same pace nor has the same amount of free time. While I believe that everyone should regularly be reading books in some form, how much and how fast will vary, and that’s okay.

I love to read. Always have. In the past decade, I’ve averaged finishing 95 books a year, including re-reads.

It would seem that I wouldn’t struggle finding time to read?

However, in the first 3 months of the year, I had only finished 3 books. One was for this blog, and the other two were read while I was flying cross-country. This was a continuation of a pattern I had been in since I stopped regularly using public transportation in late 2014.

I knew I had to find time to read in my schedule, and I knew where it was.

I was able to regularly watch 3 shows/day on a work day, and more on the weekends. I would justify to myself that it was often just on in the background, but it would still distract from reading.

Since my life plan helped me reduce how much I was saving on my DVR, I started wanting to watch less. I realized I could just watch one episode (instead of two) in the evening, then end my day spending 30-45 minutes reading a novel.

While this started out as a bit of an experiment, it has been successful. I realized that a good novel fulfills that desire for a good story that I had been filling with TV or movies. Adding on the extra reading time I have on weekends, I have been able to finish a novel a week.

After I did that, I decided to try to work in reading for spiritual growth and non-fiction, too. I get these done in the morning, either waking up early naturally for extra time in my schedule or instead of watching TV while I’m drinking my morning smoothie.

Yes, I naturally wake up 30 minutes before my alarm almost every morning. This is new for me, and almost certainly a result of eating better, being active during the day, and falling asleep faster as I’ve cut screens out of the end of the day.

When I add in my 2 hours of audiobook listening a day, I now read 3-4 books a week. At that rate I could finish my Goodreads TBR list in 3.5 years. Of course, I’d have to stop adding to it…

Ronnica’s 101 Tips for Living on Less and Loving it

The idea for this blog is taken directly from Your Money or Your Life. In the updated version, Vicki Robin removed the tips section she had previously and advised writing your own…so I am.

Here are my tips for living on less and loving it:

Attitude
1. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know how much debt they had to go into to buy that house/car/wardrobe/vacation.
2. Focus on being thankful for what you have instead of what you do not have.
3. Open your eyes to those in other situations than you are (at home and abroad). Much of what we think of as “needs” is culturally influenced.
4. Be more concerned about what you think about yourself than what others think about you.
5. Make friends who are like-minded and can inspire and encourage you.
6. Seek advice from those who are better than you in the areas you want to improve.
7. Avoid ads whenever possible.
8. Avoid visiting places where you will be tempted to shop without forethought.
9. When you’re tempted to splurge, remind yourself of your long-term goals.
10. Unfollow Facebook friends whom you are tempted to be envious of.

Groceries/food 
11. Buy fruit when in season and on sale and freeze or can it for later for use throughout the year.
12. Freeze unused yogurt before it goes bad and stick it in smoothies.
13. Freeze unused milk before it goes back and use it for baking.
14. Make your own dressing…better for you, and you make it for your own tastes.
15. Make your own spice mixes (ranch packet, Italian seasoning, chili powder, etc.).
16. Make sweets from scratch. Cheaper, and you’ll eat them less often.
17. Make your own ice, saving in Ziploc bags if you need to take it with you.
18. Make your own pizza crust and freeze it in appropriate-sized dough balls (wrapped in saran wrap placed in a Ziploc bag).
19. Eat more like a vegetarian.
20. Replace ground beef with black beans in your favorite casseroles.
21. Bake a week’s worth of goods in one day.
22. Know where to buy what to get the most value.
23. Freeze any unused bread before it goes bad, then use it to make your own croutons.
24. Save eating out for special occasions…
25. But be sure to tip generously when you do.

Health/beauty
26. Find beauty products that you can use for more than one purpose.
27. Wear less makeup.
28. Wear makeup less.
29. Cut your own hair.
30. Spend less time on your outward beauty and more time on your inward beauty.

Utilities
31. Turn off your electronics when you leave your house. I have my TV, DVD player and modem on a power strip that I can easily flip off when I leave the house.
32. Use a window fan to cool your bedroom instead of A/C.
33. Research the cheapest cell plan that meets your needs (StraightTalk has been great for me).
34. Pay for your cell phone by the year to save money (I pay for 11 months and get the 12th free).
35. Buy a highly-rated phone and keep it for several years.
36. Save waste water (like from unfinished cups or pasta water) and use to water your garden.

Housekeeping
37. Make your own laundry detergent.
38. …and your own dishwasher detergent.
39. Hang up your clothes to dry after washing, even if you have to hang a line inside.
40. Clean your kitchen with vinegar and water.
41. Clean your toilet with vinegar and baking soda.
42. Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues.

Clothes
43. Buy clothes that you are comfortable and you look good in. For me, that’s skirts.
44. Hang up clothes at the end of the day where they can breathe. If they don’t have visible dirt or stink by morning, hang them back in your closet.
45. Simplify your wardrobe so that everything matches just 1 or 2 pairs of shoes.
46. Pare down your underwear down to a week’s worth, and wash by hand between machine washes if needed.
47. When buying new tops, try getting 3/4 length sleeves, as they’re wearable almost year-round.

Garden
drying oregano48. Take advantage of any sunny area to plant a container garden.
49. Starting with easy veggies that are your favorites.
50. Grow your own herbs. Much cheaper and tastier than what you can get at the store.
51. Make friends with people who grow different things in their garden than you do and trade.
52. Companion plant in a way to attract the right kinds of bugs (ex: nasturtium with tomatoes).
53. Invest a little more in non-hybrid seeds, and save the seeds the plants produce for the next year.
54. Add cleaned egg shells to your tomato soil to fight blossom end rot.
55. Fight powdery mildew with watered-down milk.

Transportation
56. Be generous in the space you give between you and the driver in front of you. Saves stress as well as gas/brakes.
57. Turn off your car’s A/C if you are driving under 45 MPH.
58. Use public transportation when traveling to high travel areas (like downtown). Cheaper than parking and less stressful.
59. Instead of buying a car with payments, save each month what you would spend on a car payment and buy your next car with cash.
60. When shopping for a car, shop according to your needs, not what others will think or how the car makes you feel.
61. Buy transit passes through work, which allows you to buy them with pre-tax money.

Shopping
62. Before buying anything, find out if someone has something that you can borrow to meet that need, or if you can repurpose something else.
63. Buy to last: it’s okay to spend a little more in the short term to get something that will last your lifetime.
64. Don’t browse catalogs or websites.
65. Research electronics so you get exactly what meets your needs.
66. Focus on buying items that can meet more than one need.
67. Comparison shop online before hitting up the store.
68. Avoid the mall, unless you have a specific purpose for being there.
69. Use reusable bags. (Store in the car so you don’t forget.)
70. Save your splurging for the library.

Travel
71. Pack your own snacks and entertainment. You’ll spend half as much at a drug store than at the airport for the same items.
72. Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain on the other side.
73. Download ebooks from your library to your phone, tablet or e-reader.
74. If traveling over holidays, research flights on the holidays themselves, as they are usually significantly cheaper.
75. Save regularly for your travel goals, and don’t let less significant trips get in the way of budgeting for the ones you’ve always wanted to take.
76. Pack as few pants/skirts and shoes as is reasonable.

Moving 

77. Before deciding to move, come up with a budget and save up so that you’re not moving a credit card bill, too.
78. Find someone who recently moved and ask them for their boxes when they are finished.
79. Price the various moving options and determine what is the best value for you, money and time-wise.
80. Don’t forget to budget for all the little things you always seem to need when you move to a new place: trashcan, rugs, curtains, etc…
81. But also think through what you can reasonably do without.
82. If moving long distance, consider which possessions it may be reasonable to get rid of and replace when you get to your new home.
83. After you move, don’t visit any local fast food places, so you never get into that habit.

Hobby/Entertainment
colorado trail fall colors84. Find hobbies that costs no money. Mine are reading and hiking.
85. Use the library liberally to get as many as your entertainment selections as bbpossible.
86. Instead of going to the movies, make note of movies you want to see, to watch them on Netflix or borrow from the library later.
87. Exercise for free: outdoors or using frugally-acquired equipment at home.
88. Be a tourist in your own city, seeing (free or cheap!) sights you’ve never seen.
89. Cancel your Netflix or Hulu subscriptions regularly, saving up what you want to see for single 30-day windows, paying just for one month.
90. Use Pandora or Spotify instead of buying your own music.
91. When meeting up with friends, do activities that are free. Eat in together (even if it’s leftovers!) instead of out.

Holidays/Giving
92. Don’t give obligation gifts. Give according to your heart.
93. Buy a pack of blank cards, instead of holiday-specific cards. Write your own message.
94. Be intentional in your giving to charities, researching the organizations that you are giving to.
95. Pare down your holiday decorations to your absolute favorites.
96. Wrap gifts in usable or reusable wrappings (such as a reusable grocery bag in a fun color).

Time Management
97. Order your to-do list from most important to least, then work from the top.
98. Review your life plan regularly so that your to-do list aligns with it.
99. Make shopping lists on your phone (I use Evernote), saving paper and making it harder to leave behind.
100. Run your errands in one day, mapping your route to save gas and time.
101. If something has been on your to-do list for a few weeks, either do it or mark it off undone.

Ronnica’s 2016 Goal Updates

Now that we’re half way through 2016 (!), it’s time to look back on the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. To be honest, I haven’t really thought about them too often, as my life plan has taken over my focus, so I was a little worried.

In January, I set 2 goals as well as spending goals. My first goal was to spend 30 minutes each day to cleaning/straightening my apartment. I’ve been pretty successful with this goal, and my apartment shows it. Accompanied by getting rid of things and organizing, my apartment looks better than it ever has. I still have work that I want to do, but I feel much more comfortable at home.

My second goal was to do my Bible reading first thing in the morning. I still spend too much time on my phone (usually 15 minutes) before I get to it, but I am regularly getting to it. I would like to keep working on keeping the phone down first thing in the morning.

As for my spending goals, here’s how I’ve done through May (haven’t calculated for June yet):

Groceries
2016 goal: $1,820, 2015 actual: $2,026.04
2016 YTD: $888.75

I’m currently on track to be a bit higher than last year, but as I’ve radically changed what I’m eating, that makes sense. I think this will balance out a little lower, probably on track to be the same as last year’s spending.

Travel
2016 goal: $1,400, 2015 actual: $743.35
2016 YTD: $847.35

I’m currently above my goal, but as my two plane trips were in the first half of the year, I’m really on try.

Hobby
2016 goal: $260, 2015 actual: $625.93
2016 YTD: $24.99

Well below goal, yay! I am saving up right now for a backpacking pack, but will probably wait until next year to get it as I’d like to fit it to my new body, not my in-between one.

2016 gardenGarden
2016 goal: $75, 2015 actual: $319.60
2016 YTD: $68.18

This has taken a lot of self-control, but I did it! My gardening expenses are probably done for the year.

Eating Out
2016 goal: $200, 2015 actual: $281.98
2016 YTD: $37.09

I’ve eaten out twice this year (while not traveling). I was already not eating out a lot before, but making my own food from scratch goes a long way to not wanting to eat out.

Gifts
2016 goal: $120, 2015 actual $179.61
2016 YTD: $62.94

I’m over my goal, and will probably end over my goal by the end of the year, but we’ll see.

Clothes
2016 goal: $20, 2015 actual: $60.86
2016 YTD $4.30

Doing great so far, but I have a feeling I’m going to need to spend more than $20 this year. I do plan on buying my newer wardrobe as cheaply as possible, getting by with as little as possible and buying most of it at thrift stores.

Spill-Over Discipline

Working on my eating habits over the last two-and-a-half months has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was saying “no” to myself in an area that I just haven’t really done to that extent before.

I’m thankful that this was an area that had some immediate effects. Even the stomach growls as I transitioned into eating half (or probably less, honestly) the calories I was previously eating was a reminder that I was on the right path.

As I continued making the right choices, the shrinking of the waist and the extra energy were also nice side effects, but the benefits of disciplined eating have gone beyond these things.

overflowing cupI’ve noticed that any time that I focus on one discipline, it has had positive ramifications on other disciplines. Since I’ve focused on eating according to what my body truly needs, I’ve had a cleaner house and have been better in how I use my time.

Part of it, I’m sure, is that it has the same root cause (focusing on my life plan), but I don’t think that is the whole story. I’ve noticed this in my past as well: If I am being “good” in one thing, I’m less tempted to be “bad” in another area. It just feels good to keep doing the things that I know will help me in the long-term.

Ultimately, that’s all discipline is: working towards long-term goals instead of for short-term pleasures. I’m by no means perfect in this. I feel like I’m no where near where I should be at the age of 33, but I’m thankful for the progress that I have made.

I probably will regress in one or more areas, as I have before. But these last couple of months have shown me that this is something that I can do.

And that is a lesson well worth learning.

Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili

What Minimalism Means to Me

If you spend much time in the “simple living” corner of the Internet, you no doubt have encountered many definitions and expressions of minimalism. As it should be: if you’re really going to practice something, it should be personal.

While the name “minimalism” emphasizes what you’re doing without, I think most would agree it’s about clearing out the unwanted so that you have time to focus on what you want.

Writing my life plan has helped me to focus this further. I regularly review what I’ve decided is the most important and am constantly reevaluating my life choices against that. It’s helped me pare down my grocery list, DVR and extracurricular activities. (With a lot of areas, I simply ask myself, “What one thing am I most willing to give up?” and repeat that over and over until I’m comfortable with what is left.)

Pine LakeAnother aspect of minimalism as I see it is to prioritize only what will help you reach your goals (see, the life plan again). For example, if  I want to hike 15 miles at the end of the summer, I have to work up to that, starting now. If I want to own a home as soon as it is financially healthy for me to do so, I must set a limit on how much I’m going to spend on my garden. There’s nothing wrong with a weekly 4-mile hikes or a garden full of new pots, but these don’t help me reach my goals.

I absolutely am (or want to be) a minimalist with my possessions, too. While I do periodic purges (Marie Kondo‘s method has been a practical way to do this), my main focus has been to limit what I bring into my home. By doing so, I have been focusing on long-term change, rather than having a spotless, bare-bones place in the short term.

I find that minimalism is a natural outworking of my Christian faith. After all, I worship the King who once lovingly told a rule-following young man, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 ESV).

And in another passage I read, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). While “stuff” (material and not) isn’t all that he’s talking about as “encumbrances,” I can’t help but think that’s part of it.

What does minimalism mean to you?

Kicking the Heels off (and Other Lessons from Purging)

homemade jewelry holder
My homemade jewelry holder is looking a little bare. Maybe I’ll downsize to a smaller one at some point.

I’ve been very slowly continuing through the zones I’ve identified using Marie Kondo’s decluttering method. Most recently, I used my Memorial Day holiday to attack 4 areas:

– Toiletries
– Makeup
– Accessories/shoes
– Jewelry

I was surprised at how purging these items affected me emotionally. While I’m definitely a below average American woman in the amount of time and money I put in these categories, there were times that some of these things meant to me more than they do now.

The most difficult thing to part with was my nail polish. Up until a year ago, I painted my fingernails weekly. Since then, I’ve only done it once. I’m not ready to say that I’ve given it up for good, but I also know that I won’t get back to that weekly habit. I had spent a lot of money on that nail polish and it has given me a lot of joy…but it’s not currently giving me joy. I decided to keep 8 colors that I can most likely see myself still using, and gave the rest to a family that would use them.

IMG_2777
Most of my shoes fit in the closet, but these are the ones I wear more regularly.

I felt similar emotions cleaning out my jewelry. I simply don’t wear it anymore, apart from a special occasion. Some of the pairs of earrings that I got rid of had been some of my favorites to wear…in the past. I did keep a few pieces that I still really like and can see myself wearing.

One area where I really enjoyed cleaning out was my high heel collection. Why did I still own them? I always opt for a pair of flats when flip flops (or going barefoot!) is not appropriate. I had been holding on to them “just in case”, but all they have been doing since I moved them 2 years ago is gather dust. I now own 17 pairs of shoes…which still sounds like way too many (flip flops add up). I’ll continue to pare that down as most that wear out will not be replaced.

What things have been unexpectedly hard for you to get rid of?

Joint Book Review: Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

gratitude diariesIn Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan takes a time of personal uncertainty after a loss of a job and decides to focus on gratitude in her own life. She focuses on gratitude for an entire calendar year, with different emphases each month.

You know how Amanda and I love a good “year of _______” book.

Amanda’s Take

It should come as no surprise that this book appealed to me before I even cracked it open; as noted above, I thoroughly enjoy a “year of” book.

Upon finishing, this book served as a catalyst for implementing my own version of a gratitude journal.  When I am faithful about intentionally noting what I am grateful for–even if it doesn’t seem as though I have much to count among my blessings–I notice a spillover effect in the rest of my life.  I tend to be more positive overall.

Kaplan’s book was an entertaining and enlightening read for me.   I recommend it, especially for those like myself, who may need a nudge in the gratitude direction.

Ronnica’s Take

I wish I could say that gratitude is something that I was good at. Unfortunately, I spend way too much time focusing on all the things that I wish I had or wished were different.

I needed this reminder to be grateful for what I have and where I am. Truly, I have so much to be grateful for.

I enjoyed reading Kaplan’s journey through gratitude, especially how sad she was to see the year be over. We truly can change so much in our world by changing our attitude towards it.

While I think that gratitude is important, I want to focus more on who I should be grateful to. I’m not sure I would find much solace in gratitude as a concept without having an understanding of who is behind it all.

Sometimes I Wish

Sometimes I wish I had spent less on Dr Pepper, movies and eating out when I was in high school. Maybe I could have used that money to offset the cost of college.

Sometimes I wish I had studied engineering or computer science in college. Maybe I could have found a higher-paying job in STEM than I have now.

Sometimes I wish I had studied the law after my bachelor’s degree. Maybe I could have used a law degree to serve the underprivileged.

Sometimes I wish I had started saving earlier, instead of living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe I could have bought a house by now.

Sometimes I wish I had moved to Colorado sooner. Maybe I could have had more time to enjoy this beautiful state where I so obviously belong.

Sometimes I wish I had started to aggressively fight my weight as a young(er) adult. Maybe I wouldn’t have such an uphill battle to fight.

flowers on the side of the pathSometimes I wish I could take a leave of absence from my job. Maybe I could hike my state from one side to the other.

Sometimes I wish I could quit full-time employment. Maybe I could support myself off an urban homestead.

But I can’t live in the “what ifs” of these wishes. The cloudiness of discontentment will keep me from seeing the beauty of where I am now, and the blessings that God has given me on this path, not the ones I didn’t take.

Instead of focusing on what I could have done, I must focus on making the best decisions today that will get me where I want to go.