Frugal Fatigue Caused by “Extreme Budgeting”

Hi everyone!  I hope you are all having a great week. It’s finally Friday – woo hoo!  I wasn’t fully appreciating weekends until I started working 40 hours a week.

Budgeting has been going pretty well this week.  I read an interesting article about “frugal fatigue,” which apparently is a thing!  Frugal fatigue involves the realization that budgeting/frugality is a never-ending process that involves constant effort, and the feelings of discouragement and tiredness that follow.  Whew.  I feel fatigued just thinking about it!  Seriously though, budgeting for one week is a fun challenge, but thinking ahead to budgeting every week for as far as the eye can see (mixed metaphors aside) – it can feel very stressful.  I start to feel funny when I wake up in the morning and the first thing I think about is what I’m going to cook for dinner, and how much it’s going to cost.  I wonder if my brain will eventually chill out once I have some budgeting techniques down.  The article points out that in the end it’s all a matter of attitude – if you think of budgeting as a necessary but stressful endeavor, it’s going to be really hard to keep going, but if you see it as a fun and do-able challenge, you have a better chance of succeeding.  It’s a great article – if you have time, I really suggest you take a look.

One of my top problems with frugal fatigue is buying processed foods.  When you’re tired of budgeting and cooking from scratch, those granola bars and crackers look pretty appetizing.

Hence my trip to the Vitamin Cottage on Thursday – note that the Vitamin Cottage sells ONLY organic produce!

“Dollar bag” of shiitake mushrooms:  $1

Apples (2):  $1.19 (How the heck are TWO apples $1.19?  Geez!)

Ginger root @ $5.29/lb:  $0.53

Two boxes of GF waffles (DUN DUN DUN):  $4

Plain yogurt:  $0.59 (This yogurt is for dip… I would buy a big container but I’m not 100% sold on yogurt dip yet)

Half and half:  $1.49

Dozen eggs:  $2.45

Thursday total:  $12.03

Wednesday receipt is around here somewhere – coming soon!

Weekly total – groceries only:  $56.64  (Probably more like $60-something, with Wednesday.  Don’t think I’m going to make $70 this week either 😦

Weekly total – groceries + eating out + gift:  $77.06

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To be honest, I have no idea how to calculate what I’ve spent this week when you add in all the stuff I used from last week… hmm! I’ll have to think about that one, and hope to avoid a relapse of frugal fatigue! Or would that be basic math fatigue?  🙂

Dinner on Thursday:  Big salad with lots of veggies, hard boiled eggs and bacon.  Dinner, part deux:  Waffles!


Anniversary shopping at Whole Foods

When I first started this blog, I wrote a little bit about frugal shopping at Whole Foods.  Almost everyone I know agrees on two things:  One, they love Whole Foods, and two, they can’t afford to shop there.  The thing is, Whole Foods is actually very affordable as long as you aren’t planning on doing your entire weekly shopping trip there.  If I had to guess, I would estimate that at least 50% of the items I buy regularly can be found at Whole Foods for the same price (or even cheaper) than at “regular” grocery stores.  Bulk foods, yogurt, milk and eggs, and bread are just a few categories that are perfectly reasonably priced at Whole Foods. 

Yesterday’s trip to Whole Foods was a bit of an abberation, however, because Justin and I chose yesterday to celebrate our 7th anniversary!  The real date is January 18, but it’s been a hectic few months so we only got to it yesterday.  I couldn’t think of anything to get Justin as a present, especially since we don’t really exchange gifts very much, so I picked two things I know he loves:  Olives and deli meat. 

Olives and… deli meat?  That’s a present? 

Well, it is for a guy who loves olives and deli meat!  I have stayed away from deli meat for quite a while now because I’m not a fan of the high sodium and high price of processed meat.  Also, the fact that lots of deli meat is just minced up meat pressed back into meat-log form, well – you gotta admit that’s weird.  Too bad I love salami so much!  Anyway, this is all to say that we haven’t been eating a lot of Whole Foods BBQ chicken breast.  1/3 of a pound cost me $3.72.  The olives came from the olive bar, and they were amazing.  They were completely worth the $2.40.  You can’t really beat $6.42 for a very appreciated anniversary gift.

I also picked up some budget-friendly items like corn chips ($0.50 with in-store coupon), bananas, organic zucchini for $1.99/lb, and two yogurts at $0.89 each. 

Tuesday total:  $11.83.  Total without gift:  $5.41

Weekly total – groceries only:  $44.61

Weekly total – groceries + eating out + gift:  $65.03


Frugal and Organic, Week Two!

When I was at Sprouts on Sunday, I picked up two more boxes of  almond milk.  While I was waffling between Original and Unsweetened, I noticed a very harassed-looking man picking up every non-dairy beverage container and looking at the nutrition facts.

“I didn’t know some of these had so much sugar!” he told me.  “This oat milk has 19 grams of sugar per serving!”

“Wow, that’s a lot,” I agreed.  I checked the almond milk.  7 grams.

“Well, anything’s better than dairy, right?” he said.

“Absolutely!” I replied, trying to hide my huge container of grated cheese under some lettuce.

I’ve gone back and forth on dairy, but I always conclude that my life is much better – more delicious, that is – with cheese in it.  Justin and I have pretty much eliminated “regular” milk (on his prompting!), but I was never one to drink a lot of milk anyway.  Now that I’m gluten-free I’ve stopped eating four bowls of cereal and milk per day.  I’m not sure what to make of the added sugar of non-dairy milks, though – Horizon organic whole milk has 12g of sugar per cup, too, but it’s naturally occuring rather than added.  There is unsweetened almond milk, but it wins the award for Most Bland Drink Ever.

Anyway!  I had a good run at Sprouts on Sunday, only spending $35!  For that I got:

Dairy/Non-dairy

  • 2 quarts almond milk:  $4 (used a coupon, heck yeah!)
  • 2 Wallaby organic yogurt @ .89 each:  $1.78
  • Grated romano cheese @ $5.99/lb:  $2.94

Grocery

  • Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice Tea ($1 coupon):  $1.46
  • 2 boxes Nature’s Path granola bars ($1 coupon):  $4.58
  • Multigrain GF pasta:  $2

Meat

  • Organic ground beef @ $4.99/lb:  $4.04

Produce:

  • *One pineapple:  $1.50
  • *Head of garlic:  $0.50
  • *Green pepper:  $0.59
  • *(Adorable) Italian eggplant:  $1
  • 4 organic apples @ $0.99/lb:  $1.29
  • Bag organic carrots, 1lb:  $1
  • Organic parsley bunch:  $1.29
  • Organic red-leaf lettuce:  $1
  • *Red bell pepper:  $0.33

*This produce is not organic, but I wish it was 😦  Why are organic peppers so pricey, and regular ones so cheap?  I have a feeling I’m going to find out it’s because the conventional ones are loaded with pesticides making them cheap to grow, and the organic ones aren’t…

Sprouts total:  $34.30

That leaves me $35 left to spend for the week, so $5 a day.  Yesterday I stopped at King Soopers and picked up a Greek yogurt (for dip!), a bag of Terra chips (a treat – with coupon!), and a lemon for just under $5.  The wind knocked our power out last night around dinnertime, so we got takeout Mexican!  Yum!  That was $14, but we paid for it with Justin’s tutoring cash so it “doesn’t count.”  I’ll add it to the total at the end, just so see what we really spent on food for the week.

Weekly grocery total so far:  about $40

Dinners so far:

Sunday:  Pasta with meat sauce, zucchini and cheese

Monday:  Takeout tacos

Tuesday:  Cheese and avocado omelettes, zucchini and a green salad


Weekend Adventures in Budget Cooking

It was in the mid-70’s all weekend and I couldn’t bear heating up the apartment any more than absolutely necessary, so yet again I skipped cooking a batch of pinto beans like I’ve been planning for two weeks!  Where’s the March-y weather, March?  For a girl who used to hate beans, I’m sure missing them now.  They’re just so… delicious!  And healthy!  And cheap!  Anyone who claims you can’t eat hearty and healthy meals should try experimenting with beans.  I’m not one to judge though – it took me a full five years of having my own kitchen before I got up the courage to soak and cook beans for myself.  Instead of beans on Saturday, though, I cooked up those tomatoes I picked up last week.  I don’t do much in the way of fancy tomato sauce, because I am an impatient cook.  (That’s also why I’m such a miserable baker.) I just chop, add garlic and herbs, and simmer till they’re a good consistency.  The whole process only takes about 20 minutes.  5 to chop, 15 to simmer.

I have about ten glass jars that used to have peanut butter in them, so I used two of them to store the sauce.  One is already gone because we had pasta for dinner that night.  It’s not pasta night without a little cheese, but the Parmagiano Reggiano blocks at the store were $21.99/lb, and the grated Romano was $5.99/lb.  Guess which one I chose?

On Sunday, I experimented with a new recipe for gluten free waffles.  I was contemplating the “high cost, low preparation” factor of our frozen waffle addiction, I remembered that I actually OWN a waffle iron!  I use it every few months and then put it away and forget about it, which is a shame because it’s a very special waffle iron.  It’s at least 20 years old, and probably older – I hope that means it’s still okay to use!  When my grandparents passed away a few years ago, I chose two items from their house:  the little brass rocking horse that now stands on a bookcase in our apartment, and the waffle iron.  I have vivid memories of breakfasts at my grandparents’ house, and of my grandmother placing a HUGE waffle in front of me.  It was as big as the whole plate!  (There was also always cantaloupe at breakfast… isn’t cantaloupe a quintessentially grandparent food?)  Imagine my surprise when I saw the waffle iron again for the first time in years and I finally realized that it’s really small!   The plate in the picture is a little bit smaller than a typical dinner plate.  Don’t you love the heart shapes?


Unfortunately, Justin’s saying of “low cost, low flavor” was true with this recipe.   The waffles look delicious and have a good texture, but they’re pretty bland.  In the end, though, I didn’t care about the taste or the price at all – the fact that they were cooked on my grandmother’s waffle iron made them perfect.


Super Budgeting Results: Week 1

So, how did my Super Budgeting Week go, you ask?

IT WENT VERY BADLY!

I’m so cheesed, because I was feeling very virtuous all week as I eschewed frivolous purchases.  Apparently I didn’t eschew them so much as chew them (har har), since my total for six days is $93.81. 

There is one silver lining to this situation, which is I definitely did not use up everything I bought for the week.  Things I have left:

  • Pinto beans ($1.92):  All of them, because it go too hot to cook them (apparently March forgot that it’s supposed to be drizzly and miserable). 
  • Awesome unsweetened ketchup ($3): It goes with the beans to make savory bbq beans. 
  • Brown sugar ($1.30):  Barely used any of this.
  • Rice ($1.35):  Still have 3/4 of this left too.
  • Cabbage ($0.62):  Didn’t use any of this because I already had almost a full head of cabbage in the fridge.  Guess I didn’t assess the contents of my stockpile before shopping! 
  • Lentils ($0.50):  Used about half
  • Waffles ($2?):  About a box left
  • 3 eggs ($0.66)
  • Almond milk ($1):  About 2/3 a box left
  • Corn tortillas ($0.30):  1/3 package?

And bought yesterday:

  • Bulk peanut butter ($3)
  • Buckwheat flour ($1)
  • Almond meal ($2)
  • Bag of carrots ($1.29)

Some of these totals are estimated, but I have about $18.59 in uneaten food at home, which makes the new 6-day total 75.22.  Averaged over six days, that’s a total of $12.53. Rats!  Still $2.53 per day above my goal, not even counting things I buy today, if I get anything.  I haven’t gone back and thoroughly accounted for all the food I still have – the list above only includes things I can list off the top of my head.  I’ve got some bananas, half a red pepper, some ginger root… stuff like that. So maybe my daily total is slightly lower than $12.53, but it’s probably not that much lower.

Happy, or sad?  Both?  Which should I be?


Five Tips for Reducing Food Waste and Using Leftovers

The Fruit Stand, by Snyders Frans (16th c)

My office gets a copy of the Wall Street Journal every morning, and I hardly ever never read it.  Yesterday, though, I noticed an article about using leftovers and reducing food waste, titled “Leftovers:  Tasty or Trash?”  Finally, a finance article I want to read!  It was a really great article and touched on a key aspect of food budgeting, which is simply to stop wasting your money by throwing good food away.  According to the article, food is the “second-biggest component of the solid waste stream after paper and paperboard” – yikes!   I was also struck by the fact that we need to be reminded to use all of our food.  It’s not an earth-shattering idea by any means, but one that we know in theory but often don’t put into practice.

I spent some time thinking about the most basic food-saving tips, ones that I wish I always put into practice, too.  I realized that if I stuck by all of these, I would have a lot less food waste and a lot more money!  Well, maybe not a lot more, but a little more for sure!

1.  Buy only what you need.*

If you buy a large quantity of something and then only use part of it, you’re wasting a bunch of money.  It’s bad for your wallet and our landfills.  Rather than going to the grocery store and trying to guess at how much of something you have, take a few minutes to assess your grocery situation before you go to the store. According to the article, almost all of us grocery shoppers underestimate the amount of a particular item we have,(Do I have enough eggs for breakfast tomorrow?  I think I have four… no, maybe three?  Oh crap, I had eight!), leading to unnecessary buying and wasting.

*Unless you can successfully stockpile.

That said, I’m not against stockpiling at all.  The article was slightly against stockpiling in the sense that buying huge quantities of food and then letting half go to waste is, well, a huge waste.  Of course that’s true.  My finest stockpiling moment happened last year, when I was getting boxes of Nut-Thins for twenty-five cents each. Every time I bought four boxes, another coupon popped out of the machine making the next four boxes twenty five cents each as well.  I bought four boxes every single day for two weeks.  The only reason I stopped was because Justin finally said DON’T YOU THINK WE HAVE ENOUGH NUT-THINS ALREADY?  They lasted us for months, and it was amazing.

2.  Label perishable foods.

It’s easy to tell if fruits and veggies are past their prime – they get squishy, brown, or moldy – but for me, at least, it’s harder to tell if meat or dairy products are still good.  I often buy things like dairy-based boxed soups, and each box is big enough to be part of two meals so I put the unused half in the fridge.  I almost always forget when I bought the darn thing – was it a week ago, or two weeks? – and I throw the other half out.  It’s a huge waste!  I feel like a budgeting failure when that happens.

3.  If you’re not going to eat it in time, freeze it!

If you think you’re not going to have time to eat everything you’ve bought or prepared, stick it in the freezer!  I freeze meat, veggies, bread and beans all the time.  I know other people freeze milk, cheese and eggs, but I haven’t tried that yet.

4.  Make a big batch of soup, stew or chili.

I know how to make exactly two kinds of soup:  black bean and “everything.”  (I can also make chili – yee haw!)  In fact, when I made Everything Soup last night, Justin sniffed the air and asked, “What kind of soup is this?”  “Chicken, rice, zucchini, cabbage, carrot…” I said.  “Ahh,” he replied.  “The usual.”  A big batch of soup is perfect for using up odds and ends of veggies, meats and grains that you might otherwise toss in the trash.  (Or better – the compost!)  Other good meal ideas for leftovers include fried rice, stir-fry, omelettes with veggies, and bean/taco/veggie and rice bowls.

5.  Make a meal plan – even a general one.

I’ve never been one to make a detailed meal plan, but I usually have a vague idea of what I want to make for two or three days in a row, including lunches.  It’s always changing depending on what I actually use up on a certain day, but I usually have a pretty good grasp of what is in my fridge.  The worst problem for me in that area is hidden items – I put half a zucchini in the crisper drawer “for later” and then forget it’s in there.

Besides contributing less to our nation’s overstuffed landfills, using up the food you buy can save you a significant amount of money.  The WSJ article concludes that “the average U.S. family of four spends from $500 to $2,000 a year on food they never eat.”  If you’re a family of two, that means you could potentially save $250 to $1,000 a year – woo hoo!   Imagine you spend $100 a week on groceries, but waste $5 of that – that’s a savings of $260 a year!

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Unrelated, but a funny thing happened at work:

Setting: Phone call between Angela and Man Presumed to Be Dave

Man:  Hello?

Angela:  Hi, is this Dave?

Man:  Dave who?

Angela:  Dave Johnson?

Man:  Uhh, no.

Angela:  Um…

Man:  You must have the wrong number.  Bye!

Thoughts:  a) his last name wasn’t really Johnson, I just changed it for publication on the Internetzzz, and b) if your name IS Dave, why would you say DAVE WHO?


“Budget meals” according to Delicious Living

I was just at the Vitamin Cottage during my lunch break, and I had two things on my mind.  The first was how much I adore the Vitamin Cottage.  I seriously love it there.  Something I really appreciate is their “dollar bag” shelf in the produce section – today I got four pounds of organic Roma tomatoes for $2!  My second thought as I wandered around the store in a Vitamin Cottage-induced euphoria was:  I better stop coming here so much or they’re going to think I’m really weird!

On my way out I grabbed a copy of Delicious Living, which is a free magazine published by New Hope Natural Media.  I have tried to get a job writing for New Hope a bunch of times, but so far, no dice.  I really like their magazine, and I especially like that it’s free!  One of the articles in the March issue is titled “Less Money, Healthy Dinners.”  Sounds great, right?  Except each of the budget dinners listed cost – get ready – $4 or $5 per serving.  Per serving!  If I spent $5 per serving for dinner ever night, our weekly DINNER cost would be $70, which is what I’m trying to spend on ALL meals for the entire week.  Imagine you’re a family of four, you’d be spending $20 per dinner on a “budget meal.”  How did they come up with such expensive meals?  Most of them include fish or chicken – and I’m guessing organic fish and chicken, which can be pretty pricey.  Even the lentil stew was $4/serving though, so I’m still trying to figure out how that works.  If they mean $4 per meal, well, that’s different – but I’m pretty sure they don’t, what with all the per serving wording going on.

I’m sorry, Delicious Living, but $5 per serving is not a budget meal.  It disappoints me to see an article about saving money be so off the mark… and in my beloved free Delicious Living, too!  O, the irony!  “Forget the myths that healthy eating costs too much and takes too long,” the article says.  “If you’re willing to get into the kitchen, you can make quick, inexpensive, nutritious meals every night of the week.”  Yes – you can!  But no, not the kind of “inexpensive” meals you’re talking about.

Gah.  It just makes me wonder when I will have enough disposable income that $5 per person per meal will not seem outrageous.  With my frugal Yankee background, though, I think I may always be pinching pennies no matter what my income is!