Monday, July 30, 2012

Reigning in the spending - groceries

Now that we are finally getting settled in the new house and have distributed the profits from the move towards paying off some debt, its time to get started on reigning in the spending. Like most families, we have a rough budget in mind but I think that's the only place the budget really exists - in our minds! We are fortunate to have good incomes and therefore not have to live paycheck to paycheck, however we are spenders rather than savers and we've made some poor choices in the past. We'd like to change that.

Step one was signing up for a budgeting program online - I chose and so far, I really like it. Its linked to our accounts and does most of the work for me, which is good (I'm lazy and will find any excuse NOT to review our accounts and budget). Another benefit of this program is there's no lying, excuses or fudging - what you've spent is right there in front of you in black and white. And oh boy, there are some surprises to be found.

Groceries are an important part of our budget - we like to eat well, and we like to eat healthy. Couponing has never held much appeal for us as we don't seem to buy most of the products that have coupons. I don't mind spending a good chunk of money on quality food as I believe there are other costs to what you eat beyond your grocery bill - namely your health.  However, I was shocked at the amount we spent this month on groceries - $1500. YIKES. My imaginary budget was about $650.

So how did this get away from me? Part of the problem is that we do our shopping in a few places, namely the farmers market, a typical grocery store, a butcher, Costco, a bulk food store and an organic food co-op. Without keeping track of how much of our weekly budget has been spent in each place, its easy for the costs to spiral out of control. I'm pretty good at sticking to a list but there are times where I"ll buy things on a whim. And, to be honest, I'm not one to look at prices - I buy the best quality I can find because I think its worth it.

So, how to stick to a budget while still eating the healthy foods that are important to us? I have some work ahead of me, so here's my plan:

1. Research prices - if one of us is unable to volunteer one week for the co-op (a condition of membership), I might end up purchasing the items at the bulk store or even the grocery store. To be honest, I'm unsure of how much the prices differ between these options and I need to have a better idea of how much I'm paying at each place.

2. Set a realistic budget - clearly, I'm way off base with my expectations. We are about to add another mouth to the mix, and if kid #1 is any indication, I may as well budget for a grown man right from the get-go.

3. Get creative - I've thought about making my own yogurt for awhile and I definitely need to start making my own chicken stock rather than buying cartons of pre-made stuff. I'm sure there are other ways I can save by not choosing the easiest route.

Ways we already save money?

1. Toiletries (ok these aren't really groceries, but many people  buy them with their groceries) - I use apple cider vinegar for astringent, oatmeal soap from the bulk store, coconut oil for moisturizer and we get our toothpaste from the co-op.

2. No junk or processed food - we don't buy pop, chips, pre-made convenience foods and very little juice.

3. No pre-cut items - we don't buy broccoli florets, cubes of cheese, etc.

I have my work cut out for me, that's for sure. I'll report back when I've devised a new, more realistic budget and a plan for sticking to it!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Giving less

image courtesy of apartment

Its not a new idea, but I like it. The idea of giving LESS but more meaningful gifts really resonates with me, particularly as it relates to kids. About 6 times a day I give the hairy eyeball to our toy area, brimming with half-forgotten items and mismatched toys, despite several trips to Value Village already to donate things.  I know that our oldest son, about to turn 3, is only even aware of a small fraction of his toy collection. I worry because I want him to value his stuff, and take care of it. Moreover, he definitely gravitates towards books and simpler toys, ones that require his own imagination, rather than flashy, trendy toys.

 We have the fortunate "problem" of being blessed with a number of generous relatives, so the idea of ourselves giving him more and more and more stuff on his birthday and at Christmas makes me uneasy. I'd rather pare it down to 4 gifts - something he wants, something he needs, something he'll wear and something to read. He's so young that I think he'll make the transition to a more minimal celebration quite well. And we'll feel good knowing we're not adding to the pile of stuff in the toy corner that taunts me on a daily basis.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paid in cash

We bought a new car, and we paid for it in cash.

So what, you may ask? And I'll be honest, its a "new-to-us" car rather than a brand new one, but this is a big deal for us. We have a good family income, but previous debts from our school years and from some foolish spending in our early 20s have been haunting us for awhile. The debt cycle is a vicious one and we often found ourselves paying off one debt and immediately incurring another, foolishly paying interest every month, and lamenting the amount of money we bled towards debt repayment that could have been used for savings or vacations.

A key factor in the decision to sell our bigger house and buy a smaller one was to facilitate the repayment of these debts. We were able to pay off a few of them and increase our payments towards the remainder. We were also able to buy what we needed for the new house in cash, as well as this car.

It feels great.

So good, in fact, that its bolstered our resolve to continue this path of decreasing the "stuff" in our life, buying less, saving more, and getting rid of that debt. Its a short-term goal now, rather than something we hope to do down the road. We have to be mindful of how easy it is to fall back into the credit trap - throwing something on the credit card because we feel we "need" it RIGHT NOW, promising ourselves to pay it off immediately, and instead just paying minimum amounts while we spend the money on other stuff. Yuck. No desire to go down that road again, so for now we'll be proud of this accomplishment and pledge to continue down this path of financial responsibility.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mmmmm...Coconut oil

Its funny to think back a few years and realize how far we've come in our quest to live a healthier life, particularly in the area of beauty and self-care products. Our home used to be filled with scented candles and room spray, and my makeup bag contained beauty products that met two criteria: cheap, and pretty-smelling. Six years ago, I broke into hives after putting on the body lotion I'd been using for ages and over time, I started reacting to pretty much every product I tried.  I went through the usual suspects at the drugstore, ventured into higher end beauty stores and gawked at the prices, and tried small, independent retailers of "natural" products. Some were far too expensive, some filled with noxious chemicals despite their "natural" labels, and some just didn't do the job. I was frustrated, rash-y and annoyed. Until this:

Jay was the one who finally found coconut oil and holy cow, I had a solution. THE best moisturizer, hair conditioner, lip balm, eye makeup remover that I've found and it was really natural, not just labelled as such, inexpensive and as an added bonus, can be used for cooking.

 I realized that I'd been approaching my search for the perfect products in the wrong way- it had never occurred to me to look back to nature. I'd been sucked in by shrewd marketing and thought I'd need to spend bazillions of dollars to get what I needed. How silly is that? It just shows how powerful the beauty industry is and I'm so happy to be on the road to finding a better, more natural way to take care of myself. Its not an easy process, to be sure, and I'd be lying if I said that my makeup bag had no harmful products in it all, but I'm on my way and at the very least, our family is committed to finding the least harmful ways to take care of ourselves. 

So. Coconut oil. Best thing ever. 

And also, olive oil for baby massages and castor oil for massaging gassy babies' tummies.  Don't let anyone tell you that you NEED fancy packaging and pretty labels and ingredients you can't pronounce. Don't get sucked in to the idea that everything has to come out of a lab when there's plenty available in nature that will do an even better job. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's growing right now

Our raised bed
I cannot claim to be the brains nor the brawn behind our garden - the credit for that must go to Jay, who got our family started on this crazy journey in the first place. Gardening has developed from a seasonal hobby for Jay to an increasingly essential aspect of our life and the basis for our future plans. I'll be doing my best to share what's growing in our garden this season and what we do with our crops, but all difficult questions will be referred to Jay, the only one of the two of us who really knows what they're doing.

While enjoying a glass of vino tonight on the deck and admiring the green sprouting up around us, I asked Jay how he decided what to plant this year and I got a great tour of our little garden. I just love walking around and looking at all the life (and the food!) that exists right outside our door. As John from Growing Your Greens says, lawns are dumb - grow your own food instead. We are well on our way to making our backyard functional and productive as well as beautiful.

See what happens when you let things grow instead of just keeping lawn?
A key aspect of how Jay chose to organize the garden this year was mixing insecting plants, those that support beneficial insects, with our regular garden staples. By mixing certain flowering plants with veggies, the beneficial insects can prey on those that aren't quite as welcome.

Bachelor Buttons (with some basil in the background)

Some of our insecting plants:

- Bachelor Buttons

- Wormwood

- Peony

- Wallflower

- Butterfly bush

We mixed these with vegetables such as kale, brussel sprouts, cukes, squash, tomatoes (currant and roma, among others), basil and collard greens. Can't wait to start cooking with all this yummy food!


Friday, July 13, 2012



We've been offline and out of touch these last few weeks, first up north at my in-laws cabin, enjoying splashing in the lake, blueberry picking, sleeping in a trailer, catching fish and frogs and breathing in the clear northern air. And then trying to recover and unpack. Which is less fun.

We take off again tomorrow, this time to my dad's little island in cottage country where we'll sleep in a yurt, roast marshmallows over a fire, splash in the lake and soak in the sun. We'll also enjoy some delicious food - fresh fruits and veggies from the farmers market, delicious steaks cooked on the grill, and the world's best butter tarts from a cafe not too far from the island. I just love coming together as a family, filling our bellies with delicious, healthful foods and chatting about life.

On that note, I leave you with a quote by Michael Pollan “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” 

Enjoy a healthy, delicious meal with family and friends this weekend!