Where fine and frugal come together

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Everyone has different views about Earth Day.  Growing up in the 60′s and 70′s, Earth day used to mean “hippies”.  Now that I am older and wiser, I know it means having a great respect for Mother nature.  I am very fortunate, as I grew up in a farming community very close to a big city.  So I really have had the best of both worlds.  Growing up with farmers taught me not to take food for granted — it does not just magically appear on your store shelf.  Growing up with lots of opportunity to go to the City taught me there are a lot of other people in the world with different food tastes other than just meat and potatoes.

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in the City so there wasn’t much of a garden.  However, I do remember we did only get fruits and vegetables that were local to our area and they were always very fresh.  When I was in my early 20′s I had the opportunity to learn from a wonderful woman how to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables.  I learned how to can tomatoes and green beans.  I learned how to preserve strawberries (which grow very nicely in our area and are delicious fresh off the plant).  I learned how to make homemade jelly (you can’t buy anything at the store like homemade). From my grandmother, I also can make a killer pie – nothing is better than a cherry pie made with the tart cherries grown around here.  By the way, the Midwest grows pretty good apples too.

Now that I am in the second chapter of my life with my new husband, I plan to get back to my early adulthood a bit.  This year, my dear husband and I plan to expand our garden a bit more and can all those wonderful vegetables we are growing (some from seed).  We are also planting more heirloom vegetables than we have in the past.  We are going to expand our herb garden and I am going to really try to dry more of those wonderful herbs this year.  We are also going to create a real compost pile this year.  It won’t be anything fancy, it will not be expensive — but it will get the job done.

We are going to expand the beautiful flowers in our yard.  This I am doing all by seed.  Yesterday, we dug all his old bird feeders out and filled them to treat our feather friends.

Our plans for the summer and fall include canning tomatoes, salsa and pasta sauce with vegetables grown from our garden.  This year I AM going to figure out how to keep cilantro and basil through the winter….

We also love to take Saturday morning and visit our local farmers market.  If we are really ambitious, we will drive up towards Michigan and stop at the great local places along the way (particularly during blueberry season).  Both of us have done many of these things in the past, but with the two of us working towards the same goal we will be so much more successful.

So to bring this all back to my original topic — Earth Day probably means something different to everyone.  For me it is to respect the land, respect our food.

Money Talks

No one likes to discuss money, no one…  Because we are newly married, we are just now combining our finances.  On our past car trip, I thought this would be a good time to broach the subject of a new combined budget with my dear husband.  We have enough money for our expenses, we just sometimes do not know where it is all going.

I have found if you set a budget and allocate where every dollar should go, not only do you have more money — there is a lot less stress about paying the big items. Budgeting is not hard, it is just a different mind-set.

The first budget will be the hardest.  When I first really started getting control of my money, I wrote down everything I spent.  This gave me a better idea of where my money was going.  I kept mine relatively simple so as not to overcomplicate things.  Because I get paid twice a month, I broke my budget into the beginning and end of the month and set out what payments would come out of each check.

I had kept mine relatively simple.  I keep groceries and eating out in the same category as “food”.  I did line item the specific things auto-drawn from my account, like Planet Fitness. I then went to a cash-based system for many items.  For instance, I do cash for restaurants, groceries, some charity, and the hair salon. I don’t do cash for gas, because it is much easier to pay the pump.  I use my debit card as a credit card for gas.  When I lived alone, I also had utilities and rent.

Since we had started living together, my way of thinking has gone a little by the wayside and our dollars seem to be just flitting away, not really sure where they are going. So with a lot of discussion, here is what we are going to do going forward.

First thing I did was put the dollar amount of all of our income after taxes at the top line.  Our health insurance, my parking at work, and my retirement come out of our checks, so I don’t account for them in the budget.  I only account for the dollars we actually have coming in.  Next I listed out all of our bills.  If you are struggling right now, the first priority is making sure you have food and a place to live with utilities. Here is how we plan to do it with our May budget:

  • Groceries and eating out have a set amount.  We are going to put this amount in cash and put it in an envelope, a jar, wherever for safekeeping.  Now when we go to the grocery or dinner, the cash will come out.  When we run out of cash, we can’t buy anything else.
  • Utilities will be what we expect for the next month.  Some months the gas is high because of heat, some months the electric is high because of air conditioning.  If the swings are too great, you may want to check with your local utility company.  Many offer budget billing.  This is where the bill for the past 12 months is averaged to one set amount each month.
  • We will continue to pay for gas using the debit card.  I have a big commute and the price of gas see-saws so much, so I do try to over-budget (within $50 for this).
  • We set aside a certain amount each month for giving.  I keep some in cash and some in the checking account.
  • I am going to go back to putting my hair/beauty in an envelope — pulling it out as a I need.  As a Princess this keeps me under control.
  • There will still be specific recurring monthly line items, such as Planet Fitness, car payment.
  • Our individual spending money will be in cash.  Once it is gone, same as groceries — it’s gone. Big spending items need to be discussed ahead of time and planned for.  Both of us have had full control of our own money for a long time, so this will probably be the hardest adjustment.
  • The next thing I am going to do is to start setting aside a monthly amount for larger items such as car and homeowners insurance, yearly taxes and car maintenance.  I also set aide gift money for my kids this way.  Christmas should not be a surprise, it does come the same time every year.
  • Now with whatever money we have left over, we are going to put towards our car debt.  Over the last year, I have paid off all other debt I had and this is my last one.

I have a checking account that allows you to have “reserve” money.  It is really nice because you can set the total amount you will need and each month as you put money aside for it, you can put it in this category.  Mine puts it in a reserve, so although it is part of my checking account it takes it out of my checking account balance so I am not tempted to spend it.  If you don’t have this type of account, you can also track these items on a spreadsheet.  Now when it comes time for that big bill, I can just reallocate it back to my checking account and pay the bill.  No more worries about how to come up with that big line item.

To make this really work, if you have a spouse — you need them on board.  Right now, I am going to put the budget together.  We are going to meet, agree on what is in the budget.  At first, we will likely have a budget meeting once a week until we get this right.  I expect in a month or two, our meetings will go to twice a month.  Good luck!

 

Pictures Optional

Well I learned this weekend, I’m a photographer fail.  We are having some spectacular weather this weekend, so we decided to drive up to Lake Michigan to shop and drive around a bit.  We stopped at a small beach and I took a couple of pictures.  So this morning, I thought to myself “those pictures would be great for a blog article.”  Nope, no, not at all….I must have been really distracted.  The reason we stopped was there was an ice cream shop on the beach called “Jake’s at the Beach”.  Well, I have a Jake — so of course I needed a picture.  There were three more pictures of the two of us — none of which I would put public anywhere.  The last picture was of the actual beach, but you really can’t see it.

Maybe it is time for me to take a class, or start scouring the world of the inner-webs to figure out how to take a good picture.

We did have a great time.  The temperature was in the mid-to-upper 70′s.  This is my personal favorite range.  We stopped at a couple of places along the way.  There was a new Amish grocery store right off the highway on our way up.  Next door, there was another young Amish couple who had a garden store.  We bought some broccoli plants and will plant them in our garden later today.

We went to the outlet mall, and shopped with all the Spring Breakers and their parents.  I was going to get the cutest sandals for summer, but unfortunately the store’s cash registers crashed while we were in line.  Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be.

We managed to stop at both of our favorite restaurants in that area.  Lunch at one and an adult beverage, chips and salsa at the other. My only complaint is because it is a bit early in spring, outdoor seating was not open yet.  Definitely next time.

The trip made us both decide, we are going to do this more often and next time no shopping, just the beach.  Maybe even try one of those Strawberry Shakes.

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Warmer weather has begun making an appearance around here.  This year in our area (much like most of the country), we have had a wicked winter.  Finally, the weather has broken a bit and it looks like it will be at least a little somewhat warmer.  Earlier this week, when I got home from work – Larry surprised me and had our early garden started.   The great thing about the early garden is you don’t have to wait until all fear of a frost is gone.  Unfortunately, you do have to wait until the grown warms up enough your seeds will germinate.  We had 3 days in a row where it got above 60 and the ground was beautiful.

Below is a graphic from http://averagepersongardening.com/ about soil temps.  I thought it was helpful.

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He tilled the two areas of the garden where we plant our early stuff.  This week he planted onions, radishes and lettuce.  Sometime in the next few days, I think we are also going to add a row of carrots. Carrots are new for us this year, and not quite sure how they will turn out.  But hey, part of this is about the adventure.

I also started our flowers inside.  My hope is tomorrow to move our little greenhouse outside so the little seedlings can really take off.  I’m pretty sure we are going to have some winners and losers in our planting adventure, but it is definitely going to be fun.  I will post some pictures in the next week to show our progress.

Pretty soon, it will be my turn to get my hands dirty.  My focus is on our herb garden and the flowers.  It is not quite warm enough in our area for either yet, but soon enough. The best part of this adventure is in just a few weeks we will have fresh vegetables we grew ourselves.

 

 

Losing Weight My Way

I have made the decision I want to lose some weight and get healthier. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or solution to lose weight fast (in a healthy way).  From my own experience, I am most successful when I follow a few key things.  I am in no way a health professional and my suggestions are from my own personal experience.  Three years ago, I lost 25 pounds.  I stopped following my own advice and gained some of it back.  It is time to get back into the swing of things. 

Make small goals.  If you say you want to lose 50 pounds, break it up into smaller increments.  Because to be successful, you really should only expect to lose 1-2 pounds a week, losing 50 pounds will take a while. If you break those pounds down to 5 pound increments in reasonable time periods, you will have success.  Success feels good and gives you motivation.  

Keep a Food Diary.  Although it is not fun and it can be an excuse for not meeting your goals, keeping a food diary may be the most important key to losing weight.  If you are a techie like me, there are a couple of really cool apps you can use to help with tracking.  I like the apps at myfitnesspal.com and livestrong.com.  Both have free apps with a premium app also available.  Both apps make it easier to track what you are eating (with easy to use calorie look-ups), water intake, exercise and weight loss. However, just writing down what you are eating on a piece of paper will work too.   

Know how Many Calories You should be Eating.  Both of the Apps mention above have the ability for you enter your information (height, weight, age) and calculate for you what your calorie intake should be to lose weight.  I have found if you count your calories, reducing your fat intake, reducing carbs, not eating too much meat takes care of itself. Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Not only are fruits and vegetables healthy for you, they are typically low in calories and will help you not feel hungry.   

Eat What You Want.  Yes, I said eat what you want.  However, to do this you need to be aware of what you are eating.  Refer to “Food Diary” above.  To lose weight consistently, you will need to keep you calorie intake to at or just below what is your daily recommended allowance.  You don’t want to “starve” yourself by not eating enough calories, as your body then wants to keep all your fat for a rainy day.   

Exercise.  This does not have to be some expensive workout program or joining a gym.  If you just get out and walk every day, you will be healthier.   

Drink Water.  Nothing hydrates your body better than just plain water.

Spring is finally here in the Midwest.  No more excuses – it is time to get started.  

How often do you hear “what’s for dinner sweetie”?  Over the last few months, we have begun meal planning.  We were looking for a way to save on our grocery bill, as it seemed like were spending a lot on groceries and not really getting much bang for our buck.  Not only do we always know “what’s for dinner,” we are saving lots of money. 

The first thing we did was do an inventory of our freezer.  Because I’m a bit of a nerd, I put it in a spreadsheet to keep better track.  You don’t really need to go that far, just putting it on paper and marking out as you use it will work just fine. This will be your best friend for your meal planning. I am planning on inventorying the pantry next. 

The first month we did this, we only spent about $100 for groceries for two people.  Now, each Saturday we sit down and plan out our meals for the whole week.  We incorporate any fresh food we have, as well as meat and other food already in our freezer.  We really try to cook as much from scratch as possible. There are many things you can cook in under 30 minutes with good planning. 

Because it is just the two of us, we end up with leftovers.  For chili, soups and stew, we freeze leftovers into single-serving containers and one-meal sized containers.  We can then pull these out of the freezer and pack in my lunch, or have a quick meal.  Today for instance, Larry worked away from the house.  At 5:00, we decided we would have chili and sandwiches.  Because we had it in the freezer, dinner was ready in about 30 minutes with no mess. 

We do buy fresh fruits and vegetables and incorporate them in our cooking.  Depending on your area, and the types of fruits and vegetables you buy, going to grocery once a week is probably enough.  When you go to the grocery, make sure you have a list and just enough cash for what you need so you don’t buy extra.  We are trying to buy less “junk” food which is not only bad for you, but can be expensive.

Look forward to sharing some of our delicious meals soon.

Spring Break!!!

Thank goodness it is finally Spring Break time.  Many of you are leaving the awful weather of the north and going to warmer climates. Recently, we travelled to Florida from the mid-west. Although we wanted to have as much fun as possible, we really didn’t want to break the bank.  We decided to be adventurous and see what would happen if we used Hotwire to book our hotels. To help keep costs down, we packed a cooler.  In addition to packing food for the trip down, the cooler is also very helpful throughout the week if you don’t have refrigeration available.  We did normally eat out one meal a day.

So let me tell you about our Hotwire experience.  The first night, we stayed in the Macon, Georgia area.  We ended up at a Holiday Inn Express for the base rate of $60 per night.  In this area, $60 was 40% off the normal rate.  The hotel was right off the Interstate with easy access back on.  Since this was such a big success, we decided to try again the next night.  We wanted to stay close to the beach, but not pay those high costs.  We hit the jackpot.  Again, we were able to get a room for $60 a night, but this hotel was right on the beach in North Daytona Beach.  This was about 50% off their normal rates.  When we got checked in, we loved the area so much, we wanted to stay an extra night.  When I booked the second night, we asked about the rate and although they couldn’t match hotwire, they did give us a great deal.

View from the balcony at Daytona Beach

View from the balcony at Daytona Beach

I do want to mention, this was just before most of the normal spring breakers were heading to Florida. For those of you who have not used Hotwire, you do need to be a little bit flexible about your location.  It is also helpful if you are a bit aware of the hotels in the area, as you will be blindly bidding on a hotel.  You will also want to check when booking about any surcharges the hotels or condos may have, in addition to what you pay to Hotwire.  For us this was a huge success and we will use for future vacations.

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