How to Be Broke: Introduction (and an update!)

Hello, folks!

It’s been awhile.  This summer has certainly flown by, and it has brought with it a fair amount of challenges.

Our kitty, Popcorn, playing with her best friend, Mikey.  They're kind of like Milo and Otis.

Our kitty, Popcorn, playing with her best friend, Mikey. They’re kind of like Milo and Otis.

In late June, we bought Morning Mist, which gave us some much-needed space.  I’m not going to lie–Breaking Tradition was a little TOO minimalist for me!  I’m glad we did it for a year, but sharing a twin mattress was aggravating an old shoulder injury.   I was so happy to sprawl out in our full-sized v-berth on Morning Mist!

Beanie's birthday party.  Her teacher said it was the social event of the season!

Beanie’s birthday party. Her teacher said it was the social event of the season!

Having a HUGE fridge, an oven, and hot running water has also been amazing.  We’ve even got a shower on the boat, which makes washing Beanie’s hair much easier.

Making green eggs and ham!

Making green eggs and ham!

Then end result.

Then end result.

After we made our move, we stayed on Morning Mist in its slip on West Dock.  We had until August 1 to find a new home for Breaking Tradition, so that we could move Morning Mist into our slip (and not have to pay for two slips).  We had a buyer lined up, so we felt confident heading up to Michigan for our annual trip up north to visit family.

Tropical storm Bill added some excitement to our moving experience.  There was flooding, but not much else.

Tropical storm Bill added some excitement to our moving experience. There was flooding, but not much else.

We tried our best to keep our Michigan trip low-budget, because we owed money to three different parties, in order to buy Morning Mist.  We would be making our first payment after getting back.

Beanie rode her "glide bike" in the fourth of July parade.

Beanie rode her “glide bike” in the fourth of July parade.

Of course, the universe had other plans.  The axle bushings on our car went out while we were up north, so we needed to spend a great deal of money fixing it.  Luckily, it was work that Rob could do, even if we did end up setting the axle on fire in his dad’s driveway!  (We had to, to burn out the old bushings).

So it all went smoothly, right?  Wrong!  On July 31st, the buyer, unfortunately, had to back out.  So we had to pay double slip fees, and we had to get some payments to the people we owed.  And still find a way to eat.

Hanging out with Grandma on the 4th!

Hanging out with Grandma on the 4th!

The good news is that it turns out that Houston is a great place to be broke.  We have eaten well and kept ourselves entertained.  Things will continue to be tight, probably until Christmas, but to good news is that we are making progress toward getting everybody paid off.

And, of course, the experience has been educational.  It’s been a boot camp in how to stretch our dollars, whether we’ve been buying groceries, looking for things to do, or maintaining things at home.  And over the next few weeks, I will be sharing the lessons I’ve learned, with all of you.

Chilling with Grumpa in Michigan.

Chilling with Grumpa in Michigan.

Being broke doesn’t mean that you have to eat beans and rice and sit around at home.  I look forward to sharing some of my strategies with you, so that we can all live frugal, fun lives.

Moving Beyond Possessions

Minimalism is not just about possessions. It’s about living intentionally in all areas of life: with your time, with your money, with your friendships, and even with your thoughts and your worldview. It’s about doing more than letting the wind blow you through life—it’s about adjusting your sails, about making choices. It’s about questioning the norm, the lifestyle that everyone else takes for granted as being the only way to live. It’s about questioning it and making adjustments to it, to fit your needs, to allow you to live more fully.

For us, it started with possessions. Two summers ago, we purged a great deal of the items that we owned, but didn’t need. And I’ll still share with you, some of the things that we do without, and some of the things we keep.

But, paring down on possessions, but continuing to live the way that you have been living, is pointless. Decluttering stuff is not an end in itself.

I found that it was a natural progression. By limiting our possessions, we were beginning to question the pre-packaged life with which society had presented us. After possessions, the next thing I began to question was time.

Everyone is so busy, so stressed out, so overbooked. To me, this did not seem like a fulfilling way to live, or even the way to contribute the most to the world. I noticed that I was wasting time online (not everything online is a waste of time, but the things I was doing—mainly going on Facebook–were). There were things I wanted to do, that I didn’t have time for. Being more aware of how I spent my time, and getting rid of the useless drains on it, has helped me to be able to do the things I love, and to do my best to add value to the world.

After time came friendships. I noticed, as I strived to be more intentional with my time, that a lot of the problems in the industrialized world today are due to a lack of community. People complain about it all the time, but I wanted to move beyond complaining. Technology drives people apart from each other, reducing friendships to the “fast food” level, with Facebook and other social networking. People pretend that they are “connected,” when they actually aren’t. I wondered if I could use technology to actually cultivate friendships and build community. By deleting my Facebook account and focusing on bringing people together and building relationships online—and corresponding through e-mail with some wonderful, brilliant people who have challenged me and helped me to grow in every way (and I do hope I’ve done the same for them!)—I have actually been quite successful in doing just that.

Friendships in real life are a bit more challenging. We want to have people over, to get together with others, more often. But getting used to that—and getting other people used to that—is not easy. We’re so accustomed to being “too busy,” or to expecting everyone else to be “too busy,” that we hesitate to “bother” anyone. Getting past that line of thinking is key. Spending time with others is something that we should be busy doing. And in challenging society this way, we need to understand that we are taking the lead, in the beginning at least. If our friends don’t initiate get-togethers as much as we do, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to see us, or that we’re being rude. They’re just not used to doing it.

The next area in which I learned to be intentional was with my thoughts and worldview. I began to realize that the way I saw myself and others was not correct. The labels that I had adopted for various reasons—sometimes they were things that I had been told by others and sometimes they were just things that I assumed about myself—were not necessarily reality. Perhaps I was not scatterbrained, awkward, and immature. I began to view other with more understanding—perhaps the bad things people did were not personal. Perhaps everyone wasn’t judging me.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced, in my efforts to be intentional in all areas of life, is money. In the past, I have made some horribly embarrassing mistakes, financially. Poor budgeting and impulse buying has caused us problems with debt (now paid off) and has led to some very tight end-of-the-pay-periods. Most recently, while we were in Thunder Bay and right after we left last summer, we had to eat many pasta-and-butter and bean-and-rice meals. We didn’t get back in control of the budget until we were in Frankfort. And we’ve remained in control ever since then. We don’t run out of money before payday, and we do have a cushion now. But this year, I need to cut expenses, track our spending, and write an honest-to-gosh budget on paper.

Throughout the next month, I will be sharing ways in which we are being intentional in all of these areas. You’ll be able to see the ways in which we’ve been successful, as well as follow our efforts to improve the areas in which we struggle. I hope that you’ll learn something from the lessons that we’ve learned (and are still learning!).

One Grocery Shopping Rule You Should Break

We’re trying to be frugal. There are things we want to buy for the boat and house, and we want to pay down the mortgage. We’re still living paycheck to paycheck, and something has to give.

We’ve restarted Fly Lady’s “fly sense” and we’re baby-stepping our way along.

The biggest money-saver has been grocery shopping. I did well with this in the past, as I made a meal plan, based on the way we ate on the boat last summer.

Now I’m throwing a wrench into it. I’m no longer making a list.

I’ve started planning my meals around “manager’s specials” at Kroger. I have some different recipe options in mind, as I walk through the store, and I plan for two meatless dinners. Breakfast is eggs, oatmeal, or French toast. Lunch is sandwiches. Shopping this way, we spend about $50 a week on food.

This is what we bought this week:

Two packs of beef patties $8
Organic chicken thighs $5
Bacon $3
Three bags of salad greens $3.60
Broccoli Slaw $1.30
Green pepper .50
Onion $1
Three loaves of bread $3
Bologna $3
Salami $3
Three packs of cheese slices $6
Two cartons of free range eggs $4
Apple slices $1.30
Crystal Light $2
Stir fry sauce $3.60

The verdict: $48.30! Granted, we had some food on hand, so it can be a bit more. But still, that’s quite low.

I’ll have to admit that we’re not being crunchy. But, right now, not being broke is the best thing for our health. I’m starting with the way we ate on the boat, then each week I’ll tweak it to make it healthier, without being more expensive. Next week I might buy a chicken instead of lunch meat, or maybe have Buddha Bowls some of the days.

What shopping rules do you break?

Some Good Reading…

Well, if this comes up, I’m out of cell phone range. Don’t worry, we’re fine! Just off the grid for a few days…

So, while you wait, here are some articles from my favorite blogs!

Play Kitchen
Check out this very simple, very fun play kitchen from the family that lives aboard the Majestic!

Book Review
Sara talks about “That Fault in Our Stars.” I actually downloaded this book and found it to be completely awesome. Check it out!

Hoarding and Minimizing: Finding my Place on the Continuum
This was written by one of my teaching partners for next year. I think we all can relate to her dilemma!

Rejection: The Bane of a Transplant Patient!
If you’ve been following Bridget and Jason’s story, they’re now going through a difficult time. But, of course, they are staying positive and taking it one day at a time!

4 Nights in Rome
A fun adventure in relocation! When you finish reading about volume 1, go on to volume 2…

Good Habits
Heather gives some advice for self-improvement over the summer months.

Around the Clock Shower
A very neat alternative to the traditional shower.

Stories of Hope and Healing: Tooth Decay/Autism
Donielle has very neat stories of natural healing–check it out!

5 Ways to Simple Natural Food

This is great if you want to eat naturally, but need a place to start!

Fifty Ways to Wear a Men’s Dress Shirt: Day One

Some ideas for your minimalist/zero waste wardrobe!

My 25 Things
This is actually written by Sarah, a teenage minimalist. If you haven’t checked out her blog, make sure you do!

Food Waste Friday

The Tasmanian Minimalist talks about ways to reduce your food waste.

The Zero Waste Wardrobe?
Some thoughts on making it happen.

Minimalist Philosophy: Not-to-Have and Not-to-Be
A different look at how we define ourselves.

High 5 to 35!
Because, as I’ve said, life begins at 30!

Me and Nessy vs. Big Box Store Employee

On the lighter side…Read it, you’ll love it!

Coming from a Culture of Excess
Reconciling a very passionate, fun (but excessive) culture with minimalism. You can have the best of both worlds!

Small Things, Big Changes

How making small changes can help you live more frugally.

Planning Ahead for Groceries

How that shopping list can save you money!

Enjoy reading these, and I’ll see you in a couple days! (I do have posts for every day I’m gone, so do come back in the meantime!).

Poison-Free Eating on a Budget

We’re not exactly loaded with money. That can make avoiding poisons difficult, because poison is…well…cheap.

However, we were able to plan meals for 18 days, for $230. That comes out to just over $12 a day, or $84 a week. I know many families who eat conventionally who do worse than that! And there are things I can do to save more money next time, like visiting the actual organic farm (which was closed on shopping day), instead of buying the meat at the food co-op.

So, this is our meal plan:

Breakfast: Eggs, with bacon 7 of the days

Lunches: Sausage Casserole–5 days, Cashew Salad–5 days, Fried Cabbage and Veggies–5 days, Omelets–3 days

Dinners: Pepper Steak–3 days, Chicken and Gravy over Mashed Cauliflower, Veggie Soup–3 days, Chicken Stir Fry, Omelets–4 days, White Fish and Veggies–3 days, Chicken Salad, Eating at My Parents’ House–2 days

I bought everything at the food co-op, getting bulk whenever possible. This was my shopping list:

Hamburger (for 3 meals) $21
Onions $6
Green Peppers–9 ct. $21
Tamari $4.99
Sesame Oil $6.59
Chicken $10
Cauliflower $3
Butter $5
Milk $3
Eggs–7 cartons $10.50
Cucumbers $6
Lettuce $2
Carrots $2.69
Turnips $3.16
Celery $1.99
Tomatoes $20
Gruyere Cheese $10
Bacon–2 packs $20
Fish–4 lg. fillets $20
Sausage $7
Romaine (3 heads) $4
Cashew $7
Gouda Cheese $7.26
Cabbage $8
Curry $2
Tea $2
Celery $1.99
Peanut Butter $8

So, there, it is possible! Happy, poison-free eating!

Frugal Meal Planning Ideas

We want to eat organically. And cheaply. We want to plan our meals to fit our budget. Yet, we want to have plenty of easy foods to make in a pinch
In order to do that, we’ve found some standard ideas that really work:

–Make an every-two-weeks meal plan. Shop shortly after payday, and get everything you need. You don’t need to stick to the menus absolutely, but they will give you a starting point.

–Include a rice dish at least once a week. It’s cheap, it goes well with sauce, and it’s healthy.

–Have meat only 2-3 times a week. Otherwise, beans, eggs, and cheese are fine.

–Make your own pasta. Yummy, whole-grain goodness!

–When you eat meat, make broth with the bones. It’s free, and it’s yummy!

–Have an omelet or frittata at least once a week. It’s vegetarian and yummy!

Remember that simpler is better. Enjoy the foods you have this week!

Easy Budget Meal Planning

Like many of our other habits, our meal-planning started on the boat. When we’re cruising, we have limited space for packaging and leftovers, but also limited access to grocery stores. Mainly, we encounter “camp store” type establishments, which are quite overpriced. So, I plan for a month at a time. We really have no idea when we will be home and when we will be away (most likely camping) for the rest of August. Because of that, my meal plan goes from Monday the 8th until Saturday the 28th (the day before I have to go back to work). Here’s how I do it:

1. Decide on a breakfast food. The first time we were cruising, it was bagels with cream cheese. This time we are trying to go more low-carb, so it’s boiled eggs. I will boil a dozen at a time.

2. I divide the number of days I’m planning for by 3. That is how many days each lunch choice needs to cover. The first time we went out, we had sandwiches, then veggie wraps, then PBJ’s. This time, it’s yogurt, cottage cheese with tomatoes, and veggies and hummus. At home, I would rotate between the 3 choices. On the boat, we do one choice for the set number of days, then the next choice, then the next. It’s easier this way, with limited space.

3. I plan the same dinners each week, except for the days when we’re visiting other people. Last time, we had pasta, english muffin pizzas, hot dogs (not the healthiest choice, but it is summer!), burgers, tostadas, burritos, and wraps. This time, we’re having burgers (no buns), hot dogs, stir fry, ham roll-ups and cheese, hobo dinners (burger patties with veggies and seasonings, wrapped in foil), bean dip, and chicken.

4. Make a list, and estimate the cost of everything. If something ends up costing less than estimated, it can go toward something that costs more. I usually come very close to my estimate this way. Here’s this trip’s list:

Eggs–5 doz. $7.50

Yogurt–2 large containers $6

Cottage Cheese–4 lbs. $6

Tomatoes–3 cans $1.50

Raw veggies (for 7 days) $4

Chickpeas (for stir fry and hummus)–5 cans $5

Burger Patties–6 lb. $12

Hot dogs–2 packs $2

Stir fry veggies–4 packages $7

Ham–3 packages $9

Cheese–1 1/2 lb $6

Carrots–3 pkg. $6

Veggies for dipping $4

Aluminum Foil $1

Sour Cream–3 tubs $3

Chicken $3

Coffee–2 bags $7

So that is $100 for 3 weeks. Not the best I’ve ever done, but it is harder to stay frugal and be low-carb. Of course, we will also pick up a little bit of wine to enjoy in the evenings!

5. Shop at different stores. Every town has some cheap groceries. Save a Lot, Aldi, and Kroger are good places to start. Then search for discount food stores. Meijer and Wal Mart are good for certain things too, but not as much.

So, there you go. Healthy, cheap, and easy meals!

MOONRAKER UPDATE: We got a call from the insurance adjuster today, with an update (nothing we didn’t know, at this point). He said he will call Alpena again on the 16th, and that he intends to keep in touch with them until the repair is completed. I think this is awesome, and kind of funny. It will make procrastination the less convenient option!

Crunchy on the Cheap

I would love to eat fresh, organic food everyday. However, it is difficult to do that and still pay the bills!

I have learned some secrets, from shopping around, that have helped me to find healthy, natural food with out breaking the bank.

–Discount grocery stores, such as Save a Lot, get a variety of items that are overstock from other stores. This month, Save a Lot had nitrate free hot dogs, lunch meat, brats, and bacon from Trader Joe’s. The lunch meat sold for 99 cents a pack! They also often have whole grain pasta, bread, and pita bread very inexpensively. Their butter has the same plant number on it as Country Fresh, which is rBST-free.

–It’s so easy to spend a whole paycheck at a food co-op or organic market! But they are really great for bulk items, especially spices. Sometimes the organic, whole wheat flour at our food co-op sells for 99 cents a pound.

–We all know about farmers’ markets in the summer. But permanent fruit markets can be great too. We found one that sells antibiotic-free, free-range eggs inexpensively.

–Small lot, overstock stores can be good sources of prepackaged natural food. We have one here, called Merchandise Outlet, that carries organic milk boxes, Fruitabu, and organic coffees and teas.

Coffee Bean Direct sells green (you need to roast them yourself), organic, fair trade coffee beans for $5 a pound or less. They have free shipping if you buy 25 pounds or more.

–Discount Food Stores can be an absolute treasure trove! We have a store in town that sells organic canned vegetables and sauces for 50 cents a can. Annie’s Mac and Cheese is 69 cents a box. I’ve even gotten herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies, and natural beauty products.

–If you live near an Amish community and you’re not shopping there, you’re missing out! In the summer, we’ve gotten delicious produce very inexpensively. Our Amish run two stores. One is a discount food store, with pre-packaged items, and the other store sells cage-free, antibiotic-free eggs for $1.50 a carton. They sell organic cheese, bulk flour, herbal supplements, fruits and vegetables (in season), and so on. Remember to bring cash or a checkbook!

I’ve found that I save money if I make a menu plan (this website has some good ones!) and make as much as I can from scratch. These two snow days have given me lots of time to get ahead on my cooking!

old stove