UFM 7: Groceries

Today’s mantra: I will eat everything I buy at the grocery store!
Today’s action: Make this week’s grocery list with the above parameter in mind.

I made the grocery list and also bought the groceries! I like grocery shopping on a Friday afternoon because no one else is doing it. Apparently grocery shopping does not count as fun Friday times but it’s also when the stores are the least crowded.


I’m not sure if I’ll actually be able to make it through the week with what I’ve got, but here’s my plan:

  • I have some basil that I need to use up, so tomorrow I’ll make some cashew basil pesto for use with pasta, maybe throw in a tomato (not pictured–all stuff I already have).
  • Saturday night we’re going to a wedding, so who knows what will happen there. But at least there will be food.
  • Sunday is my meal prep day. I’m planning to make a big three grain salad with black beans and a Mexican-ish flavor (hence the peper and onion) plus some frozen mixed veggies because veggies. I ran out of oatmeal this morning, and we have a lot of flour so I’m going to try something new and make waffles to freeze and then eat them like breakfast sandwiches with peanut butter and jam and banana all week. I’m pretty bad at making waffles so this may be a horrible plan.
  • The can of tomato paste and the broccoli will with a lentil pumpkin curry I’m planning, plus more rice (hopefully this week I can make it without burning everything) which I’ll make once I’ve run out of the three grain salad.
  • Coffee and almond milk should be pretty self explanatory.

So that’s my plan for the next week! I also have some lemons that I need to use up so there may be some lemonade or some lemon scones or some something. I like meal planning almost as much as I like budgeting. It lets the control-freak side of me and the creative side of me do something productive together.


#UberFrugal Month Prep List Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are my notes on the last suggestions Mrs. Frugalwoods offers to prepare for an UberFrugal month challenge.

Examine Your Habits
I thought I could skip this one. I think my habits are pretty good! Sure, I spend more than I like on restaurants, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with my spending. But then I thought deeper, and I asked myself what is the root cause of my spending?

I have a habit of saying yes to ideas that sound appealing without thinking about how they fit in my overall plan or budget. I figure I’ll make it work and usually I do, but I’m not always comfortable with it afterward. So for July, I’d like to say yes slower. I’d like to wait, to say I need to go home and check first. I don’t think this will stop me from doing things I really want to do, but it will give me an opportunity to do a gut-check and to think of possible frugal alternatives.

Plan ahead

july plan

Every weekend is fun!

I love to plan. Frugalwoods gave examples like packing snacks and planning your day so you don’t have to spend money, but I took this in a different direction. I looked at my month to see what I’ve already committed to and where I might be tempted to spend money, so that I can make a plan. As you can see, July is already a full month with lots of fun things on the horizon!

Buy used (or cheap!)
Because we’re moving, and I don’t want to add additional stuff to our lives, I’m not really tempted to buy many things right now, though I suppose this could also apply to going to cheap restaurants instead of the best and most expensive one (even though it’s so good).

Unlike a lot of people, I’m not big on shopping for clothes. The last clothes I bought were some bras that I think I got in December or January, but I am feeling some pressure to get a different dress for the wedding we’re attending in a couple of weeks and for my trip to Barcelona. Both are events hosted by our fancier friends, and all of my dresses are sundresses or black. I’ve thought about borrowing a dress from a friend for the wedding coming up, but I feel a little weird about that. But I would feel okay about a trip to some of the second-hand stores around the neighborhood, and I’m not talking Buffalo Exchange–I’m talking the 5 for $5 places.

Banish excuses
This is the hardest one for me because I think I have a pretty ironclad excuse: we’re moving! We won’t see these friends ever again, or at least not for many months! Moving has all kinds of unexpected costs! This is the last time I can go to our favorite Thai place or the fancy but delicious vegan bar. Will they even have vegan bars in Rochester? It’s probably better if they don’t.

While there is truth to this excuse (I really am leaving, I really won’t see these friends again for a long time), spending money isn’t necessarily the answer. I’m feeling sadness and affection for my friends and the community we have here, and I’m trying to cover that sadness with a meal out or a drink or a fun day spent with them, but it’s those last three words that really matter. Spend (time) with them. That’s what matters. That’s what is significant and that’s what I need to remember this month.

1 Easy Way I Learned How to be 10% Happier

How do you like that title? I think I’ve written about this before, way back when this blog was new, so it might be more accurate to say 1 Easy Way I (Re)learned how to be 10% Happier. The method?


Two of my good friends (who are remarkably frugal and healthy and cool but that’s a whole ‘nother post) bike or take public transit to work regularly. And they work much farther away than I do! We were having dinner one night when the subject came up, and I said something along the lines of, “oh yeah, I used to bike to work, but I haven’t lately. It’s too bad because I only live two miles away.”

Their shocked expressions and exclamations of “really?” shamed me back into riding, but the shame was quickly replaced with joy. When I ride my bike to work, I start my day with a cool voyage across (mostly) quiet streets. I get to feel the air on my face, and breathe it in. I have to think (just a little) about what I’m doing so I don’t start worrying about the day’s tasks until I’m actually at the office. A similar process happens when I bike home. I leave the day’s work and any annoyances behind me as I roll out of the parking lot. While the ride back is usually busier, I admit I get a little extra pleasure seeing so many people in their cars while I am cruising past on my bike. I’m having fun! I’m enjoying myself! Look at all these people who aren’t! It’s terrible. And great.

my trusty steed

My trusty steed

Now, biking is no cure-all. People can still be jerks. I can still be tired or grouchy or anxious. But biking consistently makes it better. And the fact that I need to buy gas less often? Just another bonus.

I had similar experiences biking to work when I worked much farther away. At my last job, I would sometimes take the shuttle to the university and then bike the rest of the way to my boss’s house and bike all the way home afterwards. It took about an hour each way, and the way home was sometimes fraught, but it helped me release my frustrations about work and come home happy.

It’s not that I think commuting via car is the worst thing in the world. I wasn’t miserable when I was driving to work; in fact, I barely noticed it. But I think that’s the point. When I ride my bike, I notice that I am riding my bike. I am present for the experience. When I drive my car, I’m somewhere else: either already at my desk thinking about problems or wishing that I was home in bed.

enjoying a ride

This could be you!

It is too rare that we are really present in the current moment of our lives. Biking places me firmly in the current moment. And I think that’s what makes me happier.

Before you say, “that’s great” (it is) “but I could never do that,” (maybe true, maybe not) I encourage you to try it! If not, what things make you 10% happier in your daily life?


Subtraction, Not Addition

Remember back in October when I made goals for this year? Could I have pictured where I am today? Not that today is so crazy different from any other day, but did I know what opportunities or interests would present themselves in seven months? No.

Back in October, I said I would submit for publication in April. That didn’t happen, though I did write an essay and I did get some poems rejected that I had submitted previously. For May, I said that I would write a romance novel (#secretpassion #dreamjob), but I’m not actually feeling it right now. Instead, I want keep working on essays, or just building the writing habit, rather than taking on a shiny new project.

In fact, projects are something I’ve been thinking about cutting out lately. Simplify is a word that’s been floating around my brain lately. Minimize too. I’ve been thinking about doing less, having fewer responsibilities. Instead of trying to fill my days, even to fill them better, I have been thinking about emptying them.

Of course, it’s a challenge. Yesterday on my run, I thought of a couple of friends of mine who just ran a half-marathon (I could do that, I thought), then remembered another friend who did a triathalon last summer (I could do that too, I thought), then remembered a friend’s sister who’d been on the rowing team in college (I’d have great arms) until finally, I had to say, almost outloud, whoa whoa whoa Canter, slow down. Wasn’t the point to do less? 

Oh yeah. Less.

Fewer meetings, less running around means more time to cook, to read, to sleep. More time cooking and reading and sleeping might mean more time writing, but if it doesn’t, well cooking and reading and sleeping are pleasures in their own right, not just a means to an end.

Fewer shirts in the closet means less folding. Fewer products in the bathroom means less digging around when I want the sunscreen. Fewer late nights might mean more time in the morning for writing, meditating, taking the cat outside, but if not, sleeping in is good too.

What would I rather do? What would make me happy? That was the point of this blog, once upon a time.

The best “challenges” I’ve ever done on this blog have been the daily present and cutting out restaurants. They were small (well maybe not the restaurant goal), and there was no definitive outcome attached; it was more about behavior change, an attitudinal shift. That’s what I’d like for May.

May challenge: spend 5 minutes (or more) outside everyday. Walking two and from the car doesn’t count.

Welcome to February… Boom!

If January was marked by frugality, February 1st has been the feast after the famine. For the last week or so, I’ve avoided certain expenditures (all wants) in order to keep my net income for January high, but all that money has blown away with last night’s wind storm.

I exaggerate slightly, but only just. In one day, I have spent the following:

  • $33.71 – groceries this morning: peanut butter, oatmeal and coffee. The coffee was on sale, so I got three bags.
  • $77.12 – entry into the Hot Chocolate 15k. Turns out the chocolate is vegan!
  • $19 – entry into a children’s poetry contest that my mom sent me. The poem I wrote is not particularly geared toward children, but it’s not inappropriate for children, and the contest did say “poetry for children up to age 18” so I did it. I’d love to know more about what constitutes “children’s” poetry.
  • $250 – flash nonfiction class with Creative Nonfiction magazine. It’s a month-long class online and I hope it will help me get a feel for what a low residency MFA might be like. I also have wanted a subscription to CNF for forever, and now I have one.

Things still to come tonight:

  • $10 – Practice (and I owe $10 for the last time when I came late)
  • $? – More groceries because woman cannot live on peanut butter and oatmeal alone. She also needs bananas.


I did my numbers for January a little bit early (since, knock on wood, I’m not planning to spend anything in the next three days) and I have pretty awesome news.

January 2016 was my lowest expense month in the last 13 months (Jan ‘-15 to Jan ’16 inclusively). This month I spent $1,324.54 on my needs and my wants, and spent $0 on eating out. For reference, last January, I spent $2,241, which is a $900 difference!

Now, all of that wasn’t savings from just avoiding restaurants and drinking (most of it is probably not having a car payment), but it certainly reinvigorates my enthusiasm for cutting out restaurants from my budget. It’s awesome to see the numbers so low, and I think that avoiding restaurants helped me to stay mindful of my other spending and to keep it in line with my ultimate goals.

As a result of my awesome low expenses, I was able to put good money towards my goals:
$500 to retirement (not including payroll deduction)
$250 to “house” fund
$250 to emergency fund

Ideally, I’d love to be able to keep this up throughout the year (we’ll see!) but I know that there will probably be months when I can’t, so I’ve already socked aside $50 in each category for February, hoping that a little bit a time will get me there more easily.

Back in the doldrums of my last post, I told one of my friends that we’d go out to eat on February 2nd to celebrate the end of my restaurant ban. I think now that I’m going to have to come up with something else for us to do because it feels wrong to ruin this much success with the exact thing I’ve been avoiding (kind of like eating a big chocolate cake when you hit your goal weight). Plus, I want to see the same or better results in February!


Changing Plans

Life has felt extra busy lately, and I know that I make it so. This week in particular work has been exhausting (probably because I worked all weekend as well) so I’ve been feeling unproductive, exacerbated by mega-exercise and derby tryouts. I need to slow down and think more about what I want, then put that into action, instead of letting myself get carried away by the tide of “busy.”

On that note, I’ve been looking at the monthly goals I laid out in October and I’ve decided I’m going to scrap February’s no sugar goal. Of all the things I could care about in my life, how much sugar I eat/drink is just not on the list right now. I’d rather focus on writing or meditation.

So February’s challenge is now up for grabs. I think I’m going to continue the “no restaurant” challenge into February as well. It’s a short month and not eating out is one of the biggest challenges I’ve set for myself, but so far I’ve survived January and my pocketbook thanks me. I’ve also noticed that there are a few online creative nonfiction classes that I’d like to take, and having a little extra money to put towards writing would appreciated.

Earlier this week, one of the poets in the Wednesday group I attend emailed me to compliment my criticism and to ask if I’m in an MFA program. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten positive feedback on my analysis and it’s brought up for me again thoughts of going for an MFA and possibly going into teaching (#inevitable). It’s only been a few days, but taking an online class in nonfiction would give me a nice taste of what a long distance program might feel like. But a class is another way to get busier instead of calmer.

This weekend I’m looking forward to time. Time to run tomorrow morning and talk with the Boy and time to think about what we talk about. Time to recover from long days of work and if the weather cooperates, time to lie in the grass beneath the sun.

Frugal lessons I learned from my mom

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday (happy belated birthday, Ma!) and for the last twenty-seven years,  she’s taught me some valuable frugal lessons, mostly by her own example. Here are a few I can think of:

  • Early in my life, my mom chose to give up her fairly lucrative career to pursue her passion for writing. She was able to give up a job she didn’t like much and a terrible commute for more time to spend with us, to write, and to explore other avenues of income. This was possible in large part because my parents didn’t have an enormous house, new cars, a bunch of debt. She showed me early that happiness comes more from what you do than what you have.
  • She socialized with her friends by going to people’s houses more than going out to a restaurant or bar. Maybe this was a side-effect of having kids and not wanting to pay for a babysitter, but it was certainly less expensive, and gave my sister and I the added benefit of getting to interact with adults briefly before being sent upstairs to play.
  • In the same vein, Mom socializes by doing. She goes for walks with her friends (free!) or bookclub (free!) or volunteers at her church (free!).
  • And when she goes out to eat, it’s for lunch, which is cheaper than dinner.
  • Mom taught me that library fines are cheaper than new books.
  • While I have not adopted this method, Mom reuses every single container that comes into her house, even when she loses the lid. She’s also a bag  and box saver (good at the holidays).
  • My parents bought used cars, and never bought SUVs. Now, they currently have one car between the two of them, which seemed crazy to me when they started it, but it saves them money on repairs, insurance, fuel (maybe?), etc.
  • Mom is a great thrifter. I remember being in late elementary/early middle school and thinking that thrifted clothes were gross, but now I think that the prices for new clothes are what’s gross.
  • Mom introduced me to the documentary Affluenza (before that jerk kid used it as a defense) and the book Your Money or Your Life, both of which have been huge influences on my worldview.
  • This one is more entrepreneurial than frugal, but Mom is great at turning her passions and hobbies into income. She’s self-published several books and turned her volunteerism with the church into a position as their youth director. She’s always encouraging my sister and me to turn our talents into profits (for me, usually by cleaning and organizing other people’s stuff).

Probably the biggest frugal way my mom has influenced me is not by what she does but by what she doesn’t do. I’m lucky enough that neither of my parents suffer from addictions–drugs, alcohol, gambling or shopping. Where my friends’ moms would go to the mall to relieve stress, mine never did. She never took a trip to Blackhawk that I can remember (in fact the one time we went gambling on a roadtrip to Nebraska, neither of us could figure out the machines). She showed me how to live a good life, and how to spend on what is important, not what isn’t. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Just to See

I’m trying to avoid setting any more resolutions or goals; I’ve got more than enough to occupy my energies, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying some new behaviors to see if they improve my happiness.

This week, I’ve tried not to use my computer in the evenings after work. When I’m tired, it’s tempting to veg out on the couch and read articles or browse the sites I like, even when there isn’t any content that’s adding value for me. So this week I just haven’t. Instead,

  • Monday, I was sick so I slept.
  • Tuesday, I walked, worked out and watched a movie with the Boy
  • Wednesday, I worked late, ran and did laundry
  • Thursday, I went ran and shopped for groceries
  • Friday, I cooked and invited friends over

I was most surprised that I had time to do laundry and get groceries during the week. Most of the time, those activities have to be relegated to the weekend because (I tell myself) I have no time.

Not being on the computer has helped me sleep better (at least I think it has) and it’s helped me be more ready in the mornings because I’ve used my time to get ready instead of look at Buzzfeed listicles or scroll Instagram (yep, trying to limit my phone screen time too).

The other thing I’m trying, since my nights have improved, is meditating in the mornings. I use the app, Happify, which has a guided meditation course. It only takes 8-10 minutes in the mornings and I think it makes a difference to have a few minutes to focus on my mind and thoughts. Even if it doesn’t actually do anything, it feels good and  I think that makes it worthwhile.

The reason I hesitate to call my meditation or my computer-free evenings a resolution or a habit is because I don’t want to make it into a rule that “I have to meditate every morning” or “I can’t ever use my computer after work.” The latter seems impractical and the former seems so rigid as to defeat the point.

So I’m in the “just trying” phase. I’m just seeing how it feels to meditate or to be on my computer less. The “real” resolutions are still the no-restaurants and no-drinking, which are going so fine it’s almost boring. But I think that “just trying” to use my time better in the evenings and meditate in the mornings may be the reason that not eating out is so easy and not drinking seems like a breeze.

Gotta go, Hillary is looking for a cuddle and the next chapter of Hamilton isn’t going to read itself.


In Review and Anticipation

In December, I:

  • earned more than I spent, woot!
  • learned to make tamales and surprised my mom
  • learned to cable knit
  • submitted three poems

In 2015, I:

  • paid off the last of my car loan to my grandmother
  • started working full time for G.S. again, and got a raise
  • traveled to Scotland!
  • traveled to D.C. with my sister and grandmother
  • spent slightly more than I earned, about $300 more (boo)
  • published a poem

In 2016, I plan to:

  • give up drinking for Drynaury (aka January)
  • travel to New York
  • write and submit poems and maybe an essay or two
  • lift weights
  • hike/skate/run/bike/be outdoors
  • read a bunch/get smarter
  • save BANK

These are not resolutions. These are not specific goals. I like to make my goals around my birthday, and use this time to review the previous year and look ahead to the new one, recommitting myself to the plans I made back in October and to my personal values.

I wrote my “basic facts” thirteen-ish months ago, asking three basic questions: “what makes a family,” “what do I want to do with my life,” and “how do I have fun.” I still don’t have perfect answers to these questions, not even close, but I know more now than I did when I started.

This year, I want to throw all three questions into one pot, and ask “what makes a good life?” It’s a little bit of all three: relationships, purpose, fun, and some things I haven’t figured out yet.  I want to use my monthly goals to explore aspects of the big question and I want to stay open to new opportunities and challenges.

Come along for the ride.