Sunday, February 12, 2017

Frugal February - Year 16

Frugal February. Again.

It is a strange turn of events that brings me to a deeper version of the annual Frugal February discipline this year.  When we launched this family campaign in 2001, my husband had just had a paycheck bounce, and we ended up with far less income that month as the company tried to regroup and recover.  He left that company a few weeks later.  He found new job quickly, and things seemed much more secure.  Until now.  That job - that company - was the one that laid him off in September.

Now we've just spent over four months in flux, and it's February again.  I also wrote about our Frugal February practice last year.  You can read that post here.

This year, we've already been cutting out extras for the past 21 weeks, so it's hard to find more frugal disciplines to include.  I decided that, rather than ask my family to cut back any more, I'd give myself a personal challenge and leave it at that.  The challenge: to give up coffee for the month. This is an experiment I've wanted to attempt for several years. Our new situation seemed like a good reason to take the dare.  It's mostly to attempt a new level of focus and discipline.  But I am also curious if I'll notice any positive side effects of this fast.  To be fair, I also realized that we spend a sturdy amount on coffee each month.  It's not entirely a physiological study I'm attempting, but also a financial curbing for these 28 days.

Anticipating that the withdrawals could be debilitating, I decided to take a gradual approach to prepare for the fast.  Starting in the middle of January, I began cutting back on my daily consumption of coffee.  First by setting an earlier coffee curfew - "no coffee after noon". Then I moved the time to 10am.  Finally, over the last days of January, I was down to "one cup after breakfast".  And then there was none!

My first few days were awkward.  My head felt fuzzy and I hit a brain fog daily at 4pm.  Since then, I haven't had too many harsh symptoms.  I'm actually quite surprised.  What I have noticed is that I miss coffee on a sentimental and social level.  I miss the routine of sipping coffee with my husband and sons; of sitting briefly in a coffee shop before heading into the office; of chance meetings with friends as I pick up beans for the weekend.

It seems that coffee is more than just a drink.  It's also part of my sense of community.  It's been central to the way I engage with others.  I'm not sure that's good or bad.  It just is.

I'm nearing the midway point of the fast.  I hope to have more revelation or sense of benefit by the end of the month.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wednesday. Words.

"What is essential is invisible to the eye. " - the little prince

I can feel old ideas melting off my mind.  With each passing day, my priorities shift | adjust | refine.

I am growing content within this dim place of uncertainty.  It seems that I've had everything I need, all this time.

I have love - for my people, from my people.
I have health and strength, in body and mind.
I have a safe place to live.
I have deep, restoring sleep. Every night.
I have good food to eat.
I have a community of friends.
I have books to read that feed my mind and soul.
I have music to listen to and brighten my spirit.
I am not alone.

The only fear that tries to nag me, comes from thinking beyond today.  Fretting over what ifs.  Those what ifs have always been there.  They only feel greater now that we don't have a steady income stream.  

So where has my trust been anchored all these years?  In a job? That's pretty shallow.  In money? That's so fleeting.  Each day seems to be carrying me closer to reckoning with where I place my trust.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Apparently, when there is less food in the house, we conserve.  When there is an abundance we [over] indulge.  

My previously self imposed challenge of lowering our grocery spending has now become a required part of everyday life.  I am attempting to spend only $750 this month.  We have been eating up $1100-$1300 monthly for the past year or more.  

Now that two of the boys have moved out, this should be easy to accomplish - Right?  Well, not so much.  Three of us are runners.  Running uses a lot of energy.  Running makes us strong.  It also makes us hungry.  Very hungry.

We return to the conundrum of quality, quantity and cost.  

Today is October 18.  The grocery category has $82.19 remaining.  The refrigerator is mostly empty.  There are strawberries, blueberries and some shredded zucchini in the freezer.  Only the basic staples are left in the pantry: seeds, nuts, flour, oats, raisins, rice, beans, oil - but not much of any of these.  The only fresh produce left are greens, lemon, bananas, onions, and one carrot.  We still have coffee.

I made a batch of dough yesterday that will yield 4 loaves of bread.  We baked 2 this morning.  There is enough flour and yeast on hand for 2-3 more batches of dough.  

Last night I made a roasted cauliflower, lentil salad based on a recipe from Green Kitchen Stories.  Tonight I invented a meal with a few items from the pantry and garden.  [Pasta with red onion, tomato, basil, spinach, feta].

Tomorrow looks like: b-bread or oatmeal with banana. l-potato/spinach taco, d-black beans and rice.
This plan will give me enough time to strategize the remaining days and shop for the best deals to complement our supplies.  

The work surrounding daily food is tedious.  In the three weeks sans salary, Steve and I have each lost 4 pounds.  Our bodies can handle that much for now.  The kids, however, do not have body weight to spare.  I still have skills to learn for maximizing quality calories per day.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


now it's getting personal.

Last week we reviewed the budget and made strategic choices about ways to make our stash last longer.  My goal is to not dip into savings.

A big question hovers over us; how long can we stretch what we have available?  It means we left a few budget categories blank and reduced the dispersement for the ones that remain.

I was basically okay with all the adjustments, until we hit the line item we call 'family cash'. This is just a bit of running money/allowance/fun money/personal cash that we allocate for each of us with each paycheck.

We left the kids amount untouched, but Steve and I decided that we would take a cut.  Ouch!  It's only $20 less for each of us per month - but still. This monthly cash is my coffee money, saving-up-for-big-items money, i-just-want-some-new-clothes money.  You get the idea.

In light of our current situation, we couldn't justify keeping the same level of personal cash.  I'm trying to use this jolt as further motivation to keep moving forward in building a new plan.

[Mental note: deprivation is not my preferred method of motivation.]

*FOMO = fear of missing out

Thursday, October 13, 2016

looking for the action

It feels like we're stuck.  I find myself holding by breath, waiting for something to do about our job situation.  It's hard to be so aware of how vulnerable we are.

When there's no job, the action plan looks like this:

  • find a job
  • spend no money until you find a job
But step one is not totally in our hands.  We cannot simply will a job into existence.  Step two is more of a not doing than a to do.  It feels like I'm standing on shifting sand.

The priority this week has been to locate interim health insurance.  Not an easy task.  The rates for the Cobra plan we were offered are $1000 per month, Obamacare is $800+ a month and various other plans are in the $700-$900 range.  How does this even make sense?! 

I can feel fear rising.  Fear that our situation will grow worse before it gets better.  I'm craving a place to find comfort.  That comfort isn't available inside my home right now.  We all need comfort - and we are becoming too fragile to help each other with the needed emotional support.

As a Christian, I should be finding strength and comfort in prayer and scripture.  I'm just not there yet.  It feels like my every breath is a quiet call for help.  I'm weary already.  I'm looking for a flesh and blood friend to lean on.  Maybe that is my best first prayer.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

asking new questions

It's time to change the questions I ask about food. For several years, I've considered it part of my life mission to help people eat better and live healthier. 

At the same time, it seems I’ve had an increasingly foodie attitude growing.  What began as a simple journey toward healthier, less processed food evolved into keeping a pantry stocked with a selection of alternative flours, gourmet coffee, olives, imported chocolate  and multiple types of salt, oil, vinegar, etc.

In reality, all that time my family food budget has been that of a middle-class North American family.  If you look at the USDA Food Plans as an example, we most closely matched the Liberal Plan -for a family of 4- yet up until recently I've been feeding six on that budget.  Unfortunately, now that we don't have a main salary, I must shave our meals down to the Thrifty Plan.

How had I escaped this truth?  How is it that I rationalized luxury items such as grass fed butter, farm raised eggs and organic fruit and vegetables?  I had even leveled up my style to include specialty super-food supplements to enhance my athletics; things like organic vegan protein powder, coconut water, electrolyte replacements and more!  We have been eating like the top tier - ignoring the fact that our income had not kept pace with our tastes.  And right now, we don't even have that income.

The time has come to adopt a rustic, peasant menu plan.  To utilize cooking techniques I have learned from reading chef authors; ways to jazz up a plain meal without adding costs.  Simple things like adding caramelized onions, and varied sauces.  Efforts like these take time, knowledge and skill, but not necessarily more money.  
I realize I've had an elite / elitist view of food.  I have all-to-frequently used food choices to measure others.  I have misunderstood and misjudged.  Sometimes people are just struggling to have enough food - they are not even able to think about having “the right” food.

What do I do with this revelation?  I am simply trying to learn how an average American family can feed itself whole, healthy food.  How can we nourish our bodies and fuel our athletic needs from the basic grocery store?  Can I learn this well enough to I help others in my station/class do the same?

Food cooked from scratch takes more time to prepare. It’s tempting to just put something out quickly to solve the “hungry” and not care about the nutrition behind it.  Reactionary food prep.  It takes time to nourish and not just feed.

That is really the essence of what I hope to do - I want to nourish my body, my family - not just feed us.  To extent beyond just satisfying hunger, to nurture the soul.  What a luxury.

Common food.  
For the common man.  The common athlete. 
Food for a common table.


It wasn't my first choice to change focus of this blog.

I have been working to "find my voice" over the years since I began writing here.  It hasn't ever felt as authentic as I wanted.  More like I was taking on a role each time I posted.

This current thread is not what I was hoping for.  This topic is not the space where I wanted to be an expert.

I always thought we'd grow past the need to be frugal.  That maybe we'd still maintain most of the habits just for fun, even when we not longer needed to watch every penny.  That was my first mistake.  I got complacent.  Over the past 4 years, we've been living on auto-pilot and not paying enough attention to creating additional streams of income.  Now we've lost a job.  We got sent backwards in the game of life and are going to have to lose a turn.  I don't like this game.

I can walk across my home to a shelf in the office that holds these titles:

  • The Tightwad Gazette I, II and III
  • How to Live on Nothing
  • The American Frugal Housewife
  • Home Life in Colonial Days
  • The Zero Waste Home
  • PLUS various titles on gardening/ bike maintenance / house maintenance and other DIY topics.
I  also have binders full of articles and notes from back when we were trying to pay off over $40K in credit card debt. 

Still, this is not where I wanted to park myself and be a voice.  I'd much rather write about fitness and nutrition.  Which actually do intersect with the concepts of frugality and stewardship.  Taking care of personal health through the basic tenets of sleep . eat . move . pray - is the ultimate simplicity and internal frugality.  A frugal lifestyle is not only about externals. In fact, the externals work better if the internals are resolved first.  At times, it seems the external details are born out of the internal factors.