No Spend September: Day 2

Another successful day on the mission to only spend on Needs for a month.

I walked to the Max to get to work and had several meetings that filled up my day.  Our office provides coffee so when I can’t get coffee at home, I can get it at work.  I ate leftover roasted red pepper and tomato bisque for lunch because Andy ate the spaghetti with meat sauce I was dying to eat.  The sacrifices we make for love…

After cleaning out the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, I realized I HAD to go grocery shopping.  I initially thought I was only going to get a couple of things, but I ended up stocking up so that we would be able to eat for a minimum of two weeks.  For tips on how I shop for maximum savings with maximum sanity, see Saving on Food, Part 1: Groceries.

For dinner, I was inspired by this post on Smitten Kitchen:

I cubed a large cucumber, a ripe avocado, and two heirloom tomatoes and mixed them with a large dollop of plain nonfat Greek yogurt.  I stirred in a little of a dill dip mix that Andy found at the farmer’s market.  Then I chilled it for a couple of hours in the fridge and let the flavors meld.  OMFG, this salad is a game changer!  Andy and I agreed that it would need to become a constant in our fridge.

Because we can’t live on salad alone, I also made a pizza with whole wheat crust (the kind in a tube because ain’t nobody got time for homemade crust on a weeknight), heirloom tomato slices instead of sauce, a generous sprinkling of basil, fresh mozzarella (thanks, half-price manager special!), some shaved parmesan, sliced uncured jalapeno cheddar bratwurst (again, thanks, half-price manager special!), and some artichoke antipasto from Trader Joe’s.  Andy said, and I quote, “This has to be one of the best pizzas you’ve ever made, and it’s not like your other pizzas aren’t great.”  I would call that a win.  Unfortunately, I don’t have photo documentation of the pizza, so I’ll just have to make it again.

We play Geeks Who Drink on Wednesdays so that was an activity where I knew there would be some temptation to spend money.  The whole reason bars and restaurants do Geeks Who Drink is to bring in people who are going to spend money on a normally slow night.  I usually try to order either a beer or an appetizer or something, but I stuck with club soda.  I like the carbonation and taste, and it’s hydrating.  If no one at our table had been purchasing food or drinks, I would have felt bad about not buying anything and taking up space at the restaurant.  However, we’re there every week, Andy tipped extra for the service I received, and the other five people at our table ordered food and at least two drinks each.  As soon as No Spend September is done, I’ll resume buying something during trivia because I like to support local business, but for now I’m sticking to the goal at hand.  Bonus: I won a beer so I can use that to save some $$$ when teacher training is done!  And our team won by 10 points!

Day 2 verdict: Success!

Spending: $153 on groceries, and I only used my car to go to the grocery store.

Income: $.60 interest income

 

 

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No Spend September: Day 1

No Spend September is underway!  So far, so good, as I had a day completely free of spending (bills don’t count as spending).

How did I get through the day without spending?  Here’s an overview of my day, my temptations, and my successes.

I got to work around 7:15 am and was in meetings from 8:00 am-5:00 pm with no breaks.  Can’t spend money if you don’t have a free moment!  I didn’t even think about things that are normally tempting me during the work day, like a delicious Consuelo’s Spanish omelet burrito.

No photo available of a Consuelo's burrito because they never last longer than a minute in my possession.

No photo available of a Consuelo’s burrito because they never last longer than a minute in my possession.

We had a working lunch at Rainbow, where I ate the peanut cashew vegetables with tempeh along with a tomato bisque because that’s a normal combination… whatever.  The food was delicious.  Thanks for buying me lunch, CSU!

I got home around 5:30 pm too exhausted to move.  I may have crowded my way onto the bus by pretending I couldn’t hear the driver say they were at capacity because there was no way I was going to wait for the next bus.  Andy was brewing a barleywine for 6 hours last night (…) so I had the house to myself.  I wanted to cook dinner but all of my creative energy was sapped.  This is when I REALLY wanted to order a pizza.  Like so bad.  SO BAD.  But instead, I ate some hummus and tortilla chips to replenish my energy stores, watched a few episodes of The League, and then mustered up the ability to make…wait for it…tomato bisque because evidently I just can’t get enough.  By “make,” I mean I took a carton of roasted red pepper and tomato bisque (see! it was different…I’m not a soup addicted weirdo), cut up an heirloom tomato, fresh basil leaves, and some leftover tofu I needed to use, and heated it all in a pan.  It did the job and didn’t require a trip to the grocery store.

If you aren’t watching The League yet, someone should probably “take care” of you.

I worked on cleaning out the refrigerator and pantry while my soup was cooking.  I added any hot sauce that was nearly out to my soup and threw out anything past its prime or questionable.  I will probably have to make a grocery trip soon, but I now know exactly what I have in reserves so I can work on planning meals and making a “needs” list.  No rando “want” food purchases during this experiment.

Other temptations I avoided: a TOMS shoe sale, a Sierra Trading Post sale, the idea of owning a yoga bolster and wanting to make that an immediate reality, and a yearning for avocado because we were out.

“Saved”: I could have easily spent around $200 on my Wants.  I didn’t drive anywhere by walking and riding the Max, so I saved on gas and car wear-and-tear.

Income: $1.77 in interest and two found pennies.

 

Roasted Roma Tomatoes

I wrote this post last fall and for some reason never posted it.  Here you go:

In order to maximize our CSA share, I bought 30 lbs. box of roma tomatoes.  What does one do with 30 lbs. of roma tomatoes?

I suppose this was an option:

 

Instead, I opted for roasting them.  I think I made a wise decision.

This is in a box that holds a case of beer bottles. THAT'S A LOT OF TOMATOES.

This is in a box that holds a case of beer bottles. THAT’S A LOT OF TOMATOES.

By buying in bulk, I saved on the normal cost of tomatoes, plus these are locally grown and so flavorful and delicious.

I halved all the tomatoes and laid them out on cookie sheets covered with parchment.  The parchment prevented the tomatoes sticking to the pan and allowed me to use the pan multiple times in a row.  I drizzled them with some extra virgin olive oil and roasted them for 40 minutes at 375° and then increased the temperature to 400° for the last 20 minutes.

Roasting

Roasting

I had multiple batches so I seasoned them each differently.  I sprinkled some with red pepper flakes, some with oregano and basil, some with rosemary (the rosemary tomatoes were my favorite), some with 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s, and left some unseasoned.

After they cooled, I put them into quart sized freezer bags, marked them with the date and the type of seasoning, and stacked them in the freezer.

These tomatoes were absolutely one of the best things I’ve ever made.  I didn’t use canned tomatoes or marinara sauce until they were gone.  I used up 30 lbs of tomatoes in probably less than two months–that’s how spectacularly good they were.  This fall I’m going to do at least 60 lbs. because I want my freezer to have these FOREVER.  I don’t think you’d get the same flavor using store bought tomatoes because fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes are so flavorful, but roasting helps bring out the flavors and caramelizes them slightly so that they are unreal delicious so it’s worth a shot if you can’t get your hands on farm-fresh tomatoes.

Saving on Food, Part 1: Groceries

The biggest chunk of my flexible spending each month is definitely food, whether that’s groceries or eating out.  I love food, especially really great food, so it’s worth it to me to spend a little more sometimes.  I want to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck though.  Here are some ways I maximize my food dollars each month.  This post has my grocery rules, and part 2 will have tips for eating out on a budget.

  • Buy whole foods.  This is pretty simple.  Buy things that only have one ingredient: the thing you are buying.  My list tends to include produce, meat, tofu, eggs, grains, beans, etc.  To do this, though, you have to…
  • Learn to cook.  I feel very fortunate that my mom taught me how to cook when I was young so that I’m not dependent on frozen and boxed food now.  Not only do we eat healthy because I’m cooking with whole foods, I can find ways to use up all the food I buy so that we’re not wasting anything.  Cooking is also cheap therapy.  I love cooking because I can zen out in the kitchen and not think about anything else, so it’s ends up being like a daily meditation time.  I’ve learned that if I try to multitask while cooking I will probably burn the house down.  About a month ago I put 18 eggs on to boil and then went to weed the yard for a few minutes.  Two hours later, I had weeded most of the front yard, but then was reminded about the eggs by the smoke alarm and the most acrid smell I’ve ever smelled.  It took an entire scented candle and three sage smudgings to get the smell out of the house.
  • Leftovers.  I try to cook dinner most nights and then we eat leftovers for lunch.  Buying lunch out is a huge expense.  I know people who eat out every day and I honestly don’t know how they do it.  Near CSU you’d pay roughly $8 a day for a meal on average for a fast-casual meal.  That’s $40 a week, and $160 a month to eat.  If you’re eating at a sit-down restaurant, the cost goes up to around $240 a month.  For $160, I can buy groceries for two people for three meals a day for at least two weeks.
  • If you need to buy processed foods, look for better options.  We buy frozen burritos.  A lot of them.  I could make burritos and freeze them, but I generally don’t have time and they would all be consumed in two days.  I know this from experience.  But we used to buy the “fancy, healthy” burritos, until I realized that a) they were averaging $3/burrito, and b) they were filled with preservatives and junk.  I can buy a package of La Favorita burritos for $7/pack of 6 and the ingredient list includes things like “tortilla,” “beans,” “eggs,” “green chiles,” etc.  They are also a Colorado company so we’re supporting a local business, getting better food, and saving almost $2 per burrito!!!!  There are quality convenience foods that will save you money if you shop around and are smart about what you buy.
  • Coupons.  I am not a crazy couponer.  I don’t have time for it and people who coupon like it’s their job end up with processed garbage food like a pantry full of Hamburger Helper or 47 bottles of steak sauce.  But I shop at King Soopers with our membership card so they track our purchases and send coupons for things we actually buy.  My  personalized coupons usually include things like mushrooms, spinach, avocados, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, etc., and I get some in the mail almost every month.  I have a little coupon file that I put them in and throw in my purse before I go grocery shopping.  They usually send a couple of coupons for free things each time.  We generally get free eggs or frozen vegetables, but this last time we got a free bag of whole wheat bagels (The Boy loves bagels and it saved us 4 bucks).  I also make sure to log on to our King Soopers online account and load any e-coupons that are available that I might buy.  They will usually have something from the produce, dairy, and meat departments available. There are so many times when I’ll forget I loaded a coupon and it will magically save me money at checkout.
  • Shop generics and sales–always look at the price per unit!  I do a lot of comparing costs while I’m shopping.  For example, if I’m buying beans or oats or coconut milk, there is usually a generic brand and a name brand and a lot of times they will be in different sizes.  If you look at the cost per ounce, you’ll figure out how to get them most bang for your buck.  Most of the times the cheapest per ounce is the generic, but not always, especially if the name brand is on sale.  This is usually in tiny type on the shelf price tag.  Sometimes the units are different so you may need to do math.  Luckily for us, we all have calculators on our phones so it’s not so bad.
  • Bulk bins.  There are some things I almost never buy at our King Soopers because the one closest to our house doesn’t have bulk bins.  I will go to Sprouts for things like old fashioned oats, nuts, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, and spices because I can almost guarantee that the bulk price will be less than what I would pay for that item in a package.  Curry powder in a small shaker can cost up to $8, but I can buy a sandwich bag full from a bulk bin for less than $2.
  • Rewards cards.  This means two things: membership card and rewards credit card.  I use our King Soopers membership card to get sales and coupons and gas points (10 cents off per gallon for every $100 you spend on groceries…not a lot, but it helps).  I also have an American Express Blue Cash Rewards card because it pays 6% cash back on up to $6000 of grocery purchases a year.  That’s up to $360 back on things I’m already buying to live.  It pays 1% on all other purchases and 3% on gas.  There’s a $75 annual fee, but I typically earn that back in the first three months.
  • Get a CSA share.  We purchase a CSA share every spring.  It’s an investment up front, but will save you in the long run and support local agriculture.  It’s also really nice to not have to pay for produce during the summer–it feels free, but we already paid for it.  I’ve shared this before, but we have a market share through Native Hill and it is the greatest.
  • Freeze things.  We can get bulk boxes through our share for things like green beans and roma tomatoes.  Last year I prepped green beans and tomatoes and froze them for use over the winter.  An afternoon of effort means no shopping later on and you’re essentially locking in the best price.  If I find something at a store for a really good price, like BOGO Red Bird chicken, I’ll buy as much as I can fit in my freezer.  Last summer I purchased a 30 lb box of  Hatch green chiles from Whole Foods when they were on sale for $14.99 a box and then Whole Foods roasted them for me for free.  My mom helped me package them in individual freezer bags and I am still making green chili with them.  It definitely beats $3-5 a baggie at the farmer’s market or buying canned green chiles.
  • Stock up on pantry items when you find an unbeatable price.  I buy Kroger whole grain pasta.  It’s healthier than regular pasta, it tastes better to me than regular pasta, and the only ingredient is whole wheat (some brands’ whole grain pastas are only 51% whole grain).  It typically is priced at $1.00-$1.20 a box.  Last month I found “closeout” prices for $.75-$.88 a box so I bought all the spaghetti and rotini they had.  We’re going to buy it anyway so might as well stock up while I know the price is unbeatable.  And I swear, Kroger, if you actually stop carrying whole wheat pasta, I will never forgive you.
  • Use it all up.  When I chop vegetables, I save the odds and ends in a bag in our freezer for making stock.  If I cook a whole chicken, I save the skin and bones for stock as well.  It all goes into the crock pot together and I know that I REALLY got my money’s worth and I don’t have to spend $8 on the equivalent amounts of aseptic box broth later.
  • Eat your pantry/freezer.  I am often tempted to just pop over the the store to pick up new items for dinner.  This adds up.  My solution is to try to come up with meals entirely from what we have on hand.  It’s fun, in a frugal weirdo sort of way, to try to go as many days as possible without buying something new.  If you have a stocked up pantry and freezer, it’s easy.  But when you’re getting down to the odds and ends you have to get a little creative.  I have a can of salmon that I’m terrified to eat because the last one I opened had an entire spinal cord in it.  I also have a bag of frozen figs that I really want to use and I don’t know what to do with.  We’re probably eating fish spinal cord fig salad or something at some point.

While I could be saving more money on groceries, I know a lot of people “playing the grocery game” end up buying a lot of processed garbage or things they’ll never use, simply because they are free or dirt cheap.  These methods save us money on healthy items we will actually use and don’t take up all our time.

Condiments and packaged garbage for years…

How do you make your grocery budget work?  What tips do you have to save a little extra but maintain your life?

Peach Gazpacho

2014-07-14 21.08.55

I have been on a gazpacho kick lately.  I also prefer calling it gazpacho and not “cold soup,” which kind of grosses me out.  But “gazpacho” sounds fancy and delicious.  It’s a great way to use up our CSA veggies and other in-season produce, it’s super healthy, and is a great way to cool off after a hot day.  I made Peach Gazpacho last night, inspired by Martha, but utilizing what I had available.

I blended 4 whole peaches (with skin on because I’m lazy), a half a cucumber, some water (I never measure anything when it comes to soup…maybe like a cup?), a shallot (bulb and greens), two cloves of garlic, around 2 tbsp. of lemon flavored extra virgin olive oil, a dash of salt, and some fresh basil.  I garnished it with some plain nonfat Greek yogurt, sriracha, roasted pumpkin seeds (shelled), and more basil.  It made about 4 servings.

The basil, shallot, and cucumber mellowed out the sweetness of the peaches and the garlic gave it some punch.  Best of all, I didn’t have to go out of my way to buy anything because I had all of this stuff in the kitchen.  Chances are you are not a weirdo with lemon olive oil and roasted pumpkin seeds laying around, so regular EVOO would work, and you could garnish with avocado or any nuts or seeds for some crunch.

Mulligans and Massages

July 2:

My do-over first day was MUCH more successful than July 1.  Here’s the breakdown…

On the financial front, I did pretty well.  No money was spent on anything that wasn’t necessary to my livelihood and wellbeing.

I had to go to the grocery store because we were out of TP–ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.  I also bought vegetable broth and soup.  All of it was on sale.  All fits the healthy eating bill because I bought the organic, simple ingredients, no preservatives kinds.

I did have to give in and get a massage after having a knot in my shoulder that was pulling a rib out of place.  I assure you, dear readers, that I did everything I could to treat it at home, but it had gotten to the point where I had to call in a professional.  As I mentioned previously, I usually have a massage membership.  My back muscles can be such a hot mess that I get tension headaches, muscle spasms, and this one damn knot that gets so bad it pulls my rib out of place.  The combination of going to the chiropractor regularly and getting bi-weekly massages has worked straight up wizardry on how my body functions.  After having a yearlong membership to the extremely inadequate Massage Envy, I switched to LaVida, where I have truly never had a less than phenomenal experience.  I pay $75/month and get a 90 minute prepaid massage and then member pricing on additional massages.  In May, I decided to try to save a little money for traveling, so I put my membership on hold for 3 months.  When I decided this week that I really did need to give in and get a massage, I shopped around for the best deal and settled on the massage clinic at IBMC.  Because it is a school, the prices are incredibly low to help give the students and grads a chance to perfect their craft and build up clientele.  I was able to get a 90 minute hot stone massage with aromatherapy by a grad for $60 (compare that to $100-120 elsewhere).  Because I booked for a Wednesday, I found a coupon for $5 off that’s only good Monday-Wednesday.  It was incredibly easy to book online, the facility was really nice and had a relaxing atmosphere, and it was substantially less expensive than what I’ve been paying.  It’s located along the MAX line as well, so no driving necessary.  I think I am going to cancel my LaVida membership, though I have loved going there, and utilize this great resource for inexpensive professional massage.

Earlier in the day, I had the single most painful chiropractic adjustment of my life because of the tightness in my back and everything being out of joint.  After that and the massage, though, I slept really well and feel much better today.

Julia had Courtney and me over for dinner and made these delicious enchiladas.  The poblano cashew crema was mind-blowing.

Vegan and gluten-free. Photo from Pinterest

Vegan and gluten-free.
Photo from Pinterest

The stuffing was chard, onions, and olives and a tomatillo salsa.  I had three servings.  It was vegan so it’s like one serving.  Don’t judge me.

For the Minimalism Game, I’m sticking with the month of July so I don’t have to do math by the end.  For July 1, the teddy bear went to the start of the Donate bin.  For July 2, I trashed an old raccoon snowdome missing most of its water and my favorite bra of all time.  It’s the end of an era but it was getting too risky to wear, as one of the straps was literally hanging on by a thread.  There could have been a serious wardrobe malfunction.

July 2

July 2

Do you get regular massages?  Why or why not?

 

An Affordable Mid East Feast

I survived a weekend closer to “broke” than ever before.  It involved a lot of watching Big Love and cooking at home.  Julia and Courtney came over for dinner on Friday after a pretty rough end to the week (all is well though!) and I made a Middle Eastern feast of falafel, hummus, kohlrabi fries, and a bell pepper, garlic scape, and radish salad.

Mid East Feast

Mid East Feast

Andy and I have a CSA share with Native Hill Farm that enables us to buy fresh, local produce all summer long while supporting a local farm and our local economy.  We pay for the share upfront, so it is a bit of an investment, and then we are able to go to the farmers’ market each week, pick out what we want from our farm’s stand, and the cost is applied to our account and deducted from what we paid.  As share members, we get a discount off the public price.  This is our second summer with a CSA share, and I love that buying whatever is currently being harvested makes me more adventurous with my cooking.  The kohlrabi for the fries, and the garlic scapes and radishes for the salad all came from our share.  The bell peppers are from my second favorite way to buy produce: on manager’s special at King Soops!  There is a “misshapen and undersized” produce corner at our neighborhood store, and almost every time I walk in, I can get 3 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers for 99 cents.  I have never found anything wrong with them and they never actually look misshapen or undersized.  To make the salad, I chopped up two bell peppers, about five medium sized radishes, and two garlic scapes.  Then I added some lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, dried cilantro (I didn’t have any fresh), and red wine vinegar (toss to distribute vinaigrette).  To make the kohlrabi fries, I peeled the kohlrabi and basically just cut and baked them like oven fries.  I used red pepper flavored olive oil and a dusting of chili powder to season.  They got a touch well done…

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi looks strange, tastes delicious.
Image from http://www.thehealthjournals.com

To make the hummus, I put a can of chickpeas (half-drained), lemon juice, tahini, and lemon flavored olive oil in the food processor and pureed until smooth.  The key to super smooth homemade hummus without adding a gallon of olive oil is to leave in about half the chickpea liquid from the can.  It ups the sodium a bit, but you’re not eating that much anyway.  Hummus is easy and affordable to make at home, especially if you take advantage of sales and coupons.  I always have chickpeas on hand, and I can generally buy a can of Kuner’s of Colorado chickpeas for 60-80 cents.  If I find it for 70 cents or less, I stock up.  I also always have a giant bottle of lemon juice in the fridge for cooking and putting in my water (more on that in a future post).  Tahini is pretty expensive, but I like to have it for hummus.  If it’s not on sale or I don’t have a coupon, I sometimes buy unsweetened/unsalted sunflower butter.  I never notice a difference in taste when mixed with other ingredients, and I can save up to 3 bucks.

The falafel is from a Fantastic World Food’s mix and is inexpensive, easy, and I bake it instead of frying to cut down on calories and fat.  Fill out the feedback form on their website for coupons.  The pitas were also crazy inexpensive.  I found a bunch of bags of whole wheat pitas on manager’s special for 76 cents a bag because they were nearing the sell by date.  Bread freezes well and defrosts quickly, so I bought all of them and threw them in the freezer and we get out what we need.

It all made a ton of food, so four of us ate and still had leftovers, and it cost very little.  Since I don’t have specific prices, I’m not sure what it all breaks down to, but it was a healthy, hearty meal for very little.

Do you have your own tips for buying produce or groceries on the cheap?  What’s your favorite “strange” veggie?