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

perspective


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

FOMO*


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.
https://amazima.org

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.


P I V O T

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.


Friday, October 7, 2016

food rules


R E A L I T Y 

I didn't expect that brushing up on frugal food strategies would send me into such a mental slump. Titles like More-with-Less and Good and Cheap are full of great tips, but also include sections on "making due on a food stamp allocation".  Ugh.  That felt like a low blow.  It's unsettling to think that we could possibly sink slowly toward needing government assistant for food.

This whole situation is such a distraction from what we intended to be focused on right now. I should be mapping out school assignments for the kids, planning my long run schedule, and working on my side hustle ideas.  Instead we are building a survival plan, and trying to cut our monthly spending by half.

We've had no hint that any movement has started on the job search.  I knew it was going to take time.  But secretly, I had hoped that we'd get lucky enough to find something fast.  I even kept my first blog entries on this topic in draft mode to start because I thought this was going to blow over quickly, before I'd have time to write very much.  HA!

The hardest part of my week was hearing my seventeen-year-old son scold me when I suggested we go somewhere interesting before Steve finds a job and is too busy to travel ... "Before!? Uh, no!... Because, money..." he said.  Ouch! I hate thinking that the kids are worrying about all this.

It's hard to conceal the realities, though.  No matter how much I work to feign hopefulness, they can see that our money engines have slowed.  There's also the challenge of dressing up economy foods so that they look more inviting.  On paper frugal meals look interesting and tasty, but they often lack that certain visual appeal on the plate.  How can we make peasant food more attractive?

Where is the intersection of nutrient dense, healthy, satisfying and cost effective, simple, beautiful?  I am looking at food as fuel for our bodies, not as entertainment.  I've (nearly) given up my foodie ways.  We just want simple, healthy, delicious food (that can be prepared for $2 per person).

Challenge accepted!  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

please don't burst my bubble


For a couple days, I've been really good at holding onto optimism.  I've had time at work, away from the reality that Steve is at home and unemployed.  I've nearly convinced myself that we have a good base and will ride this ordeal out with our chins up.  


But then tonight Steve began to remind me about things like health insurance and reducing the budget categories...and how we should and shouldn't spend.  I didn't want to hear it!  I don't want to feel how hard this might become.  I need to feel strong.  For myself.  For the kids.  


How am I going to remain positive in the middle of this mess?  How do I help my husband find the good in this situation?  This jarring change may lead us to something better than before.  We simply don't know yet. 


In the meantime, we've had some really sweet days.  Time together in our home; reading, cooking, playing music, running, riding bikes, touring the new library, watching old movies, visiting the botanic garden, learning, laughing... 


It doesn't have to be all bad, just because we have lost the majority of our cash flow.

It really doesn't.

Monday, October 3, 2016

(no) comfort zone

Comfort zones are an illusion. Any previous sense of stability, certainty and regularity is gone.  Was that even the truth? Were we stable? We were comfortable - or maybe just complacent.  I was probably kidding myself about being frugal.  It was a nice thing to imagine, that I was frugal.  But my grocery spending for the family had crept up to $1200 a month. (more sometimes).  

For years we've talked about taking a risk - doing something different.  Now we have been dropped into a life that appears heavily weighted toward risk. But neither of us knows what to do.  The first reaction is to quickly fill the void in salary - but what if that simply distracts us from the possibility to move out beyond our perceived comfort zone?  If we just attempt to go back to life as usual, we may miss the potential that this shockwave may offer.

i don't like feeling afraid; yet, I also don't want to waste an opportunity to make something happen.  Right now this situation still feels like we imagined it. I'm mostly afraid of what this will mean when we've gone past a pay cycle or two. For now we have utility bills rolling in and the pantry supply is looking light.  I feel more cautious about spending than I have in a very long time.  

In recent months I had challenged myself to keep the food category at $1000.  Today, when I look at that amount as a percentage of what we have in our total funds, it seems ridiculously high.  I have much to process through and re-learn.  Now there are only four of us living at home.  It should make this grocery game even easier - but Caleb moved out a month ago, and I still spent $1100 on food in September.  This is not a drill.  I have to get my skills sharp in a hurry. 

When I look at internet lists of frugal foods or suggestions for eating on $1 per meal, I find that I typically buy most of these cheap eats.  What else have we been accustomed to that has driven our grocery spending so high?  My standard guidelines are: no meat, very little dairy, mostly vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds. 
I've rationalized that we are athletes and we require more food. 

I'm going to comb back through any grocery receipts I can find to see where my excesses may be.  It has frequently grated on me that I spend more on food than on my mortgage.  How can this be right!? What if we simply worked our way down to that cost level?  Now that we are back to being a four-person household, that would put our budget at $2 per person, per meal. 

I'm not excited about this challenge.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

priorities

It's been a full week since the lay-off.  this is the first day I've been willing to look at the budget.  We know there will need to be a strategy for dealing with the job loss; but 'buy nothing' is not an adequate strategy.  It's time to examine priorities.  What do we want our life to look like?  How do we get there?

In my ideal picture, I have enough money to live a basic but comfortable life: food, shelter, transportation, travel, race entries, maybe museum visits and concerts, running and cycling gear...
I'd also like to know I can work from anywhere - not be tied to an office, working for someone else.  I'd want to set my own hours.

What's keeping me from doing this now? (outside of the fact we just lost our main income).  I know I've been on auto-mode for several years.  Working part-time and trying to manage the home, plus train for races and homeschool the kids has left me unwilling to analyze my priorities.  We've just been moving forward.  live each day. feed the people. run the miles. pay the bills.  I think we are ready for more than that.  We must do more than that.

I'm looking at what we have been spending monthly over the past six months.  Then i'm going to outline what we need to cover just the basics: mortgage, food, insurance, utilities and transportation.  that is all I can plan for.

How much will it take for us to live this basic existence?  How do we manage it without feeling totally deprived?  Can I put a sporting mentality on it, so it feels more like a challenge than punishment?

Being frugal does not mean we are poor.  It means we are smart.  We are choosing to live within our means.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

vulnerability with a pinch of pride and shame



The first five days are over. I woke up this morning thinking about medical insurance. We aren't sure what happens or how quickly our coverage will expire. Fear brushed over me with the thought of not having a protection for medical needs. 

Shame. Pride. I don't want people to know our situation. At first I did. The pain of the severed job was so fresh, I needed to tell a few people. Today I don't want to. Today I feel like hiding it. I don't want pity. 

My mind is spinning again. I don't want to overreact with extreme conservative living by micromanaging food, gasoline, utilities. But that temptation is very real. I know that role. I'm well practiced in it. 

As much as is possible I want to keep things feeling familiar to my kids. I can't say normal, because normal ended five days ago. We can't go back to that life. It's over. 

But familiar is different. I can aim for that. We bought running shoes for Phoebe this week. That was already on the plan. Not a reaction to "cheer her up". We also bought a bike for Eli. His was stolen about a month ago - and we've been intending to replace it. Now that's done. 

These things may seems imprudent in our current situation. But the help me feel like we're moving forward and not simply shutting down. There's a careful balance in there. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

economizing and the list of nots


Although we live a basic, frugal lifestyle, finding ways to cut back further still is never easy.  I mean, in some ways it is; only use one car, combine errands, stay out of the coffee shops, eat every meal at/from home, and so on.  I can make a lovely list of ways to not spend money, but walking them out and feeling the pinch is on a completely different level.  Every not is accompanied by a bit of loss.

Especially right now.  We have no idea how long the job search will take, or if we'll find a replacement that matches the income we lost.  So, #frugaltillwhenever has an impact on your psyche. Every time you check off an item on the not list, there is that little twinge of deprivation.  It was different when we were buckling down and living lean to get out of debt.  We had a clear goal, with trackable progress.  This just feels like a gaping hole.

I want to tell my kids, 'it'll be okay, we have money in the bank' and know that it's true.  It is true.  We will be okay.  I'm just not sure what this version of okay is going to look like.  How much of a hit is our savings buffer going to take?  Will it hold out for the unknown amount of time we have to fix the hole?

When your economziing takes the shape of 'not doing things' it's hard to feel satisfied.  My impulse is to take action, and do something to fix the problem.  This 'list of nots' seems like a backward approach to dealing with our situation.  It reminds me of weight loss plans that only utilize calorie restriction.  What a sure fire way to make you fixate on what you cannot have!  Same with the list of nots.  

Up till last Sunday, our need to be frugal was still mostly academic - by Monday morning it moved up to a intensive practicum.  We had built the habit of being cautious with our money - but now we have to be careful.  deliberate. focused. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grit & Grace. the story just changed

For years I have talked about simplicity, frugality and the importance of budgeting.  It seems all that is about to be tested.  My husband was laid-off from his job this week.  The economy finally caught up to his employer, and cuts had to be made.  Unfortunately we were in the first group of cuts.

My initial response was shock, anger, frustration.  Then I began to think about all the things we can be grateful for in this situation.
  • this was not a diagnosis of illness, or a death - we are all well - no one is in hospital
  • we do not have any credit card debt, or car debt, or college debt. just a mortgage.
  • all our bills are current
  • we have built a buffer in the savings account
  • we have already be practicing living one month behind our paychecks, thanks to YNAB
  • I still have a part-time job.  It's only 60 hours a month, but enough to cover the house payment.
  • our kids are old enough to understand the situation and be patient
Things could be worse.  I am grateful they are not. 

Although we are not sure where life will lead us over the coming weeks (or months), we do know that we rely deeply on our faith in God and our love for each other.

It looks like we are going to need to be even more frugal than usual.  Time to pull out all the time-tested techniques we've learned through previous hard times.  I don't know if I'll write about this much.  It's tempting to make it a central theme of the blog.  Do people still look for frugal advice these days?  Was that just a reactionary fad from prior decades?  Not for us.  It's been a lifestyle.  We are not just frugal until we get a new job.  We'll stay #frugaltillwhenever.

At this point, the job loss still feels like fiction.  The next pay day would be Monday - and since we've been routinely sending salary one month ahead, this missed check actually affects November, not October.  And, since we have built a buffer to guard us against the unthinkable [read:job loss] - we have the small luxury of not feeling desperate. Yet. Okay, honestly this is a huge luxury.  And now I'm wondering who would even want to read our story - because it's just not desperate enough.  Ha!  This is just day 3 without the job.  We've bought a few groceries.  We had to replace the alternator on our Kia this morning.  The first of next months utility bills have arrived. Every swipe of the debit card, every serving of food now takes on greater significance.  

You can believe that we are going to be tracking the spending oh-so-much-more-closely that in recent months.  Things don't feel exactly dark, but they do feel still - like the quiet fall night I'm enjoying, with the windows open.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tulsa Tough is Coming!




Very soon, Tulsa will be inundated with bicycles as the 11th annual Saint Francis Tulsa Tough opens on Friday June10. The Tulsa Tough is a three-day cycling festival that offers rides for just about every fitness level. Even if you’re not a cyclist, it’s amazing to watch the criterion rides on Friday night in the Blue Dome District or Saturday in the Brady Arts District. It’s thrilling to be among the crowd cheering the skill and speed of these professional cyclists.

There are also rides for recreational cyclists to join; ranging in distances of 36, 64 and 102 miles. There is even a 5.8 mile Townie ride on Sunday afternoon for families. This will be my fourth year to ride the Gran Fondo - which is a distance of a little over 100 miles. It may sound crazy, but I look forward to this event every summer. It’s become a tradition for my husband and me. Our oldest son began riding this event in 2011, and he inspired me to attempt the distance.

Bikes and cycling have been part of our family from the very beginning. Steve and I rode many miles together in the months we were dating and through our early marriage. Each of our kids can recall being pulled behind Steve’s bike in the trailer before they were on their own two wheels. Now that they’re all teens and older, we’ve returned to riding as a couple. These are sweet times together, reminiscent of our early years.

Being on a bike brings me a sense of happiness – joy – freedom. I am generally a cautious person, but on the bike I find a higher level of courage and tolerance for speed. Admittedly, on a bike, speed is relative. Slowly climbing a hill at 8-10 mph and then flying down the other side at 25-30 mph is something I welcome. On the long, flat roads of Oklahoma, cycling can feel like a nature walk on two wheels; listening to the rhythmic rustling of tall grass, the calls of birds, the occasional sighting of wildlife, even the chance to stop and forage mulberries along the trail. There are also a few less-than-pleasant realities of cycling on the open road: blasts of hot air from passing vehicles, drivers who honk and yell as they come alongside you and the presence of fresh road kill. As a cyclist, you just take it all. Welcome to life in the bike lane!

Cycling also tests me as an athlete – pushing me to summon strength, develop endurance and dig deep for determination. The Gran Fondo ride is no Sunday afternoon picnic. It’s incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding. The event begins downtown with hundreds of cyclists leaving en masse. There is the familiar whir of chains gliding over cogs, the cheers of spectators and the adrenaline rush of a tribe coming together again. But after only a few miles on the course, the riders spread out behind the peloton into clusters of bikes and several will ride alone for much of the 100 mile distance.

For me, the Tulsa Tough is a chance to enjoy time with part of my family as we press through one of the most physically demanding days of our year. It’s also about being in and among the cycling community. This is Tulsa! And this event brings together cyclists from all over the nation, and support from all over town.

I am looking forward to testing my training again next weekend. I’m not a fast rider, and that’s okay. This is not about winning or setting records. It’s about fitness and family. I am grateful for both.
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Saturday, January 23, 2016

#frugalfebruary

“There’s been a little incident at work...with my paycheck...”  I don’t think I’ll ever forget that conversation from late January 2001.  My husband explained that his payroll check had not cleared the bank - we were left in a lurch.  In those days we had no buffer - no margin to help us navigate a surprise incident like a missed paycheck.  We also had considerable credit card debt hanging over us.  This was no little blip on our radar.  This was a full-on wake up call. Thus began a family project I named “Frugal February”.  

We only had three kids at the time; our little boys were 6, 4 and 2.  We had just begun homeschooling that fall, and I had already outlined a Pioneer Unit Study for February.  The plan was for us to introduce life skills, eat simple meals, play old fashioned games, and explore what living long ago may have been like.  I had no idea that this would become a real life exercise in resiliency for all of us.  

As the reality of our financial situation sank in, we began to look for ways to improvise and make do with what we had on hand. It was a frightening time for me, but still I tried to make it a game for the boys: “Let’s eat dinner by lantern light”. “Let’s read Little House in the Big Woods”.  “Who wants to help bake some bread?”

My panicked and spontaneous action plan was something like this:
Eat from what was already in the pantry before going to the grocery
Meal plan: resourcing the cookbooks More With Less and Extending the Table
No convenience foods, carry-out meals, QT drinks, etc
Reread all the back issues from The Tightwad Gazette Newsletter.
Use the library for movies instead of Blockbuster (this was back in the days of VHS).
Find any cash we had on hand to use for necessities
Only spend for basic needs

In the years that followed, I read stacks of books on frugality, simplicity and personal finance.  Every February, in honor of that first shock, we willingly shift from maintenance mode frugality to radical simplicity - 28 days of spending only for necessities: food, shelter, transportation.  For many years it was a necessary action.  Now the annual spending fast has become a reverent season on our calendar.  It’s a mental reset; a renewal of intentional decision making about how we spend our resources.  It’s also a reminder that we are only stewards of the time and money entrusted to us.

I enjoy it when we challenge ourselves to do without, and test our ability to delay gratification.  Regularly tightening our spending limits for a short duration has helped us develop creativity, and learn better habits about money.  It sounds so simple now, but it hasn’t been easy.  Over the years we’ve realized that we can live on less than we earn.  We’ve learned to be content with what we have, rather than constantly craving more possessions.  We’ve also disciplined ourselves to plan for a rainy day, by building up a savings buffer for when trouble strikes. 

This February marks the 15th year my family has played our simplicity game.  What began under a burden of necessity is now a time of remembrance and gratitude.  I never want to forget the years we lived with debt and lack.  That reality still frames the way we live today.  I also don’t want to fret and ruminate over financial mistakes we made years ago.  We choose to look back and remember, and then set our sights on the days to come.


Mostly, we’re just grateful.