Thrifty Thursday – Helping the Planet

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Image by Trish Steel and geograph.org.uk. Licensed through CC BY-SA 2.0

Thrift saves money, but it saves many resources, too. Reducing waste and maximizing use of resources can be a strong motivation in developing frugal daily habits. A few ways in which I consider our household reduces the national waste average are:

Reducing food waste: The planning begins when shopping – are the fresh ingredients in the cart enough but not too much for the coming week?  Once home, I cook most vegetables in advance – this saves weeknight time while cooking the vegetables at maximum freshness. When we do eat out, I plan ahead by taking a container and an ice pack.

Buying less new stuff: Manufacturing plants provide jobs, but they also use fossil fuels, water, and raw materials that have in some way been harvested from the planet. Shipping new items is also energy-intensive. Plenty of new items still enter our house, but I view any reduction as a positive.

Buying less packaging: Many new items are contained within single-use packaging. It seems silly that so many things are still sold in boxes or, worse, those hard plastic shells that must be cut open and discarded.

Reusing and upcycling: There is a challenge in finding new purposes for things that would otherwise be discarded. Old sweaters yield one-of-a-kind hats and mittens. Worn-out sheets and cardboard shipping boxes become weed barriers under mulch. Retail food packaging containers are often sturdier than purchased food storage containers. Before discarding, ask the question: What else could this be?

Scarcity v. Abundance

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I’ve been pondering a concept lately and that is the idea of financial abundance deriving from frugality or a scarcity mindset, and that of financial abundance deriving from an abundance mindset.

For years, I doggedly pursued frugality as paramount.  I was on message boards where frugality was held up as THE way to early retirement.  Basically, spend ONLY in accordance with your values so that you retain as much as you possibly can in order to liberate yourself from outside employment.  And then often, it became in my mind: spend as little as possible for the sake of doing so.  Case in point:  I was in therapy after my son was born for post-partum depression and part of what was stressing me out that particular day was that we were always arguing about supper – what to have, who would make it, etc.  We were both working full-time in high-demand, moderately high-income jobs with an infant at home.  It was tough in many ways, but we had plenty of income.  When the therapist suggested that we buy an assortment of convenience meals, salad fixings, etc., I remember thinking and maybe even saying, “but that will cost so much money!”  And it was kind of a wake-up call.  I was punishing and stressing myself out for no good reason.  We had tons of resources right in that moment, and I was thinking thoughts that made me feel like a pauper.

With that, I started to spend. I did almost a 180 on spending.  I started buying and even had my word for the next year be “permission,” mainly to get over the feeling that I was not supposed to spend any money at all, OR any money without consulting with my husband, even though I actually earned more money than him.  (Mind you – none of this imposed by my husband.  Allllll me.).

Since I’ve joined The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program, I’ve been exploring money concepts and thoughts again.  Brooke, like many others, teaches about creating feelings based on thoughts of abundance.  I’m not yet super clear on how to apply this to my own life.  I’m not over the idea of early retirement espoused in the voluntary simplicity literature and movement.  I find it very appealing.  But for me, it’s always been about escaping the work world, about NOT having the freedom and fancy-free life I imagine I’d have when early-retired.

So I guess one way I’m trying to live the idea of abundance versus scarcity is in thinking about the business I plan to start (website is still a skeleton, ‘kay?) and WHY.  Initially, it was for reasons like freedom, not to have a boss, etc.  Just like for ER, those reasons are to escape something.  It won’t work.  I will find some other way to feel restricted or constrained in my business.  So I’m trying to envision what I HAVE that I can bring to the business, not what I’m trying to GET.  I will serve.  I will bring my experiences to share with others.  I have everything I need right now, so I don’t need the business to be anything more than that right now.  And from there, I will not be focusing on what I DON’T have, I’ll be focusing on what I DO have.  And even if my trajectory takes the same amount of time, I will feel so much better along the way.

I do have one old and funny story about this, though.  I dated soooo many guys in the ten years leading up to getting married.  Obviously none of them worked out, for so many reasons.  So one day I’d had it.  I threw my hands up – I was DONE dating.  And didn’t go on the dating sites, and quit looking at every man as a potential partner I had to impress, and did my own thing (including, LOL, paying down a ton of debt and locking in some of those frugal behaviors).  Anyway, it was then that my now-husband asked me out.  And I’d known him for 2 years!  But I was never able to see what was right in front of me for focusing on what I DIDN’T have – a good boyfriend.  It was when I released the scarcity that I was able to get the best boyfriend.  ❤ ❤ ❤

I am still finding my way with this concept.  What are your thoughts?

Thrifty Thursday – The Grocery Budget

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Photo by Liz West, cc-by-2.0.

I don’t always monitor all expenses, but I periodically track for a few months to see how close we’re adhering to our budget. Groceries are one area where there is some flexibility in the monthly budget, but with the numerous decisions made in a week’s shopping and cooking, it’s easy to exceed intended expenditures. After reviewing the past two months of spending, I found that our grocery spending is slightly less than half of the USDA thrifty food plan estimate for our family, even in the winter when we don’t have free garden produce. A year ago, before Mari became a vegetarian, we were exactly at the half-of-thrifty mark. I was so startled by this that I’ve checked it twice. I guess I should look elsewhere for places to save in our budget.  Every week I ask Thom and Mari if there’s anything they’d like in the coming week’s meals, and it’s usually the same things, with no unusual grocery purchases.

Our grocery routines appear to be working for us. They are
1. Buying in season and shopping the deals. I buy groceries primarily at Aldi and Costco, with periodic trips to Fresh Thyme, Trader Joe’s, the Asian markets, and the food coop, depending on what we need, averaging 2 stores/week.
2. Pantry and freezer. I never worry about running out of groceries in a snowstorm. And very rarely will I stop at a store to get one ingredient. Fewer trips generally result in less spending.
3. Near zero food waste. I freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions, and many of them become my workday lunches. I cook a lot of produce without seasoning so that it can be refrigerated or frozen until I’m ready to add it to other meals (and season then).
4. Cooking everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, every day. It is the routine now and it makes a meal out far more special than when Thom and I ate out most weekdays in our early years together. And it should be a special event, because a decent restaurant meal for 3 costs as much as a week’s groceries.
5. No soda or junk food. If we want dessert, we make it. Our usual snacks are fruit, popcorn, homemade bread, or homemade trail mix. I think that my great-grandmothers would recognize all the foods in my pantry, aside from the large array of spices for foods of the world.  (Except the broccoli.  My dad tells me that he never saw broccoli when he was a kid.)

Thrifty Thursday: Finding Rewards

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Small thatched cottage on Wellington Road near Church Aston
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Jeremy Bolwellgeograph.org.uk/p/3128236

It’s been a thrifty week. We’ve all been at work or school for long hours, and it’s been fairly cold. None of us has any desire to go out in the dark and cold for anything unnecessary or superfluous. I’ve been so pressed for time that I was utterly thrilled to find two jars of soup in the freezer last night to finish out my workweek lunches.

I’m reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits in an atomically slow fashion – about 3 pages/day during my work lunch (I’m guessing I’ll beat my coworker, who is reading Chernow’s Hamilton in the same manner). Today I was reading Clear’s summary of the cue, craving, response, and reward progression that everyone consciously or unconsciously experiences many times each day, and it occurred to me that Thom and I both find rewards in our frugality.

What are the rewards to which we have conditioned ourselves?
The challenge of making something by hand
The security of savings
Creating things that are better in some way – unique or tastier or containing our favorite materials – than we could purchase

Some might say that I need more excitement in my life, if leftover soup is that exciting.  But why would I want to change the ability to experience happiness over such little things?

 

Thrifty Thursday

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Evelyn Simak / A traditional cottage garden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most days are thrifty at Cottage Berg, so I admit succumbing to alliteration, but I do find regular reminders to be helpful when working toward a goal. Today’s thrifty habit is Meals that Clean Out the Fridge (or Freezer). Having learned to make use of random bits and scraps of leftovers has been a key skill in reducing food waste in our house. They are all either refrigerated or frozen in containers, and about once weekly I make a meal that can use up random vegetables, legumes, potatoes, or meat.

This is probably where casseroles originated. My mom never really made them, so the first time I saw a recipe I was stunned at all the work involved. But when everything is already made and leftover from another meal, they are very cost- and time-efficient. And that is true of most of these meals. Most are adaptable to use either cooked (neutrally seasoned) or raw vegetables; cooked vegetables should be added just in time to heat through.

Sometimes little containers get shoved to the back of the freezer or fridge.  I really hate to throw out food or clean moldy containers, so nearly emptying the fridge between shopping excursions is a good habit, and if I don’t have an idea for how to use something within a few days, I move it into the freezer.  The things that get lost in the deep freeze may become dessicated over time, but are still perfectly useful in a soup or chili.

Examples of perfect vehicles for random leftovers:

Frittata or omelet
Fried rice or bibbim bap
Soups (minestrone, for instance)
Enchiladas
Chili
Stir fry
Flatbread with toppings, or filled crepes

And then there’s always the Leftover Buffet.

Tonight I drive the carpool, and I need a quick meal to cook when I get home that will use up about two cups of cooked cabbage.  Soup is a good candidate, but I won’t have time to cook it after I get home, and am gone far too long to consider the slow cooker (after about 6 hours, in my opinion, it just tastes overcooked).   Plus, it’s Thursday night, the Night of Greatest Fatigue (I completely understand why Thursday night was meltdown night in Mari’s first years of school).  So, it will be simple: an unfilled omelet with green onions and Jarlsburg cheese, with leftover roasted potatoes and cabbage.  And then I will don my pajamas and read with a purring cat.

How have you reduced food waste? What are your weeknight go-to meals?

Frugal Thinking

forest-path-238887_1920iThe sun is poking through the clouds, shining with unusual intensity for a cloudy day directly into our dining room. The house is quiet – only the animals and I are awake. I am sitting at the keyboard, thinking. This is what I wanted more of when I quit that crazy job. Time to just think. It’s been a year now, and that anniversary as well as the lack of padding in our bank account has made me ponder my choice, which still feels right. I’ve never had a job that felt like such a good match to my skills, and because there is room to grow in the organization, I believe that our income situation will improve in time. In the meantime, Mari’s only home for two more years. I want to make those happy years, not two more years with a stressed-to-the-limit mom.

I met my friend Mary to walk and talk yesterday, and our conversation turned to how I have more time now. I definitely do, though its source is not really obvious. One hour of daily work time saving has been given to sleep that I didn’t know I was missing until I felt the resulting change. I am not spending hours each week on a job hunt, as I was for much of 2018. Overall, it’s hard to say whether reduced stress or the changed work environment is the most significant factor.

My previous job required “deep work” for the entire day.  Every task, every day, required problem solving in a different situation, resolution in a timely manner, with close to zero tolerance for error. But all day long I was interrupted by someone in person or by phone, text, or page at least every 15 minutes. Sometimes it was something that could have been asked in an email. Sometimes it was production staff asking me when I would be done using some equipment (I managed to never say, “Sooner if you stop interrupting me.”). Sometimes it was actually something urgent. Every day when I came home, my brain was exhausted – and then I would still continue to receive texts and emails and ponder unsolved issues, often in the middle of the night. My coworkers were similarly stressed, which multiplied the effect.

Now, I am still interrupted for most of the day, but I have at least an hour every morning with close to zero interruptions. The deep work I do comes in concentrated bursts, and there is no manufacturing urgency. When I leave for the day, I am done. I don’t have to make tentative weekend plans around the possibility of being called in to fix something. I have mental energy left in the evenings to learn new things, to begin creative projects, and, most importantly, to be available to my family in more than robot mode.

It is still difficult to catch up with friends due to everyone’s different schedules and time demands, but when I do, I can to settle in and enjoy the time, rather than being stressed about what I’m not getting done. Yesterday, Mary and I walked for an hour on a day with weather that can only be described as perfect (yes, in January!). Both the outdoor time in the sunshine and the discussion were therapeutic.

So, life is very good, but there is some threat of financial strain. To minimize that I will be renewing my focus on frugality, continuing to seek ways of saving on a regular basis. My budgeting approach is somewhat casual except for one rule, which covers just about everything: don’t spend if it’s not necessary or if it’s not in line with family priorities. (I have a formal budget in a spreadsheet, but I don’t look at it very often… it helps that I have a strong memory for numbers.) Our default when something is necessary is to first consider if something else can be substituted or repurposed, which results in many fun creative experiments and a lot of learning. I was considering some sort of formal budget challenge, but after reviewing expenses from the past year, think that I would rather just focus on that one rule, and allow that energy to go to new learning instead.

Is frugality part of your simple living path?
What tools do you use to maintain a frugal lifestyle when there are so many anti-frugal influences every day?

The Joy of Thrifting

My first-ever thrift shop purchase was an old metal sewing machine which I used it for about 5 years until it failed – ironically, for the same reason I hadn’t wanted a newer machine – some interior plastic part that couldn’t be replaced.

When we moved to Tucson, we discovered reuse shops of all types (used book stores aside – those I discovered decades ago!). Continue reading “The Joy of Thrifting”