no groceries challenge redux (and redux and redux and redux…)

It’s a fresh start. Again. We’ve stocked up on staples and are prepared for the challenges of yet another (strict, again, this time) “no groceries challenge.IMG_5589

Borne out of necessity this time around (again)—food is one of the few areas where I have control of the amount we spend—we’re going to see how long we can go without going to the supermarket. The exceptions will be for fresh fruit and, eventually, fresh vegetables (after we’ve gone through all we have now). Eggs and possibly milk will likely be the first items beyond fresh fruit to get us into the supermarket.

IMG_5646This no groceries challenge started a few days ago. I got some good news that has my mood up again: my daughters told me they loooove the roasted squash seeds I included in their lunch. The delicata squash rings are a favorite of ours, and they freeze well (bonus!).

In the name of having snack-y foods for school lunches, I roasted the squash seeds like I will our jack-o-lantern pumpkin seeds. It turns out they are yummy!IMG_5647

I had been doing a modified version of the no groceries challenge since August, but I made a lot of exceptions. The up side is I mostly stuck to “only what is on my shopping list” rather than getting what seems like a good idea. This saves a lot of money and limits food waste, for sure.

After the illness and death of a pet, an unexpected car repair (following an unexpected car repair due to my backing into a telephone pole), and dental work, the savings I had built up are pretty much shot. It’s back to paycheck-to-paycheck for a while. Selling what I can, cutting corners where I can, and simply revving up those good habits I’ve started developing over these few financially-tight years.

As with the very first “no groceries challenge,” I find the act of choosing to restrict my food purchases is empowering. Rather than deprivation, I’m in a place of motivation. This one’s gonna be a good one.

 

 

 

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no groceries challenge, f’real this time

In July, I announced I was starting a new “no groceries challenge” for myself. Then my older daughter’s birthday came along and I just generally forgot about my challenge. I remembered enough that I thought about it when I went to the supermarket, but I still went. In fact, in July, I was over my groceries budget for the month.

Progress not perfection. I re-started. On August 6th, we got fruit, eggs, milk, and a couple other things. Yesterday, on the 13th, we got fruit, kohlrabi, bread, and salad greens. I haven’t been up to our garden lately so running low on fresh veggies during the summer has been weird.

Being back on the real no-groceries challenge has been exciting, again. I’ve had many, many times when I’m getting lunches packed up for summer camps and I think, shoot, I should go grab xyz and instead I find something already on my shelves. I’m being more careful about not wasting, too. For example, the not-eaten pita from camp lunch got toasted and will be used to scoop hummus.

Today I’m going to buy some bacon. We have some garden tomatoes, you see, so bacon is important. (Ha.) With the bread and greens I got yesterday, we’ll have BLTs for dinner tonight. Yum.

Then it’s back to no-groceries for as long as we can swing it. My finances are precariously low. The big savings plan I had been working on has had to be put on hold; I’m keeping the accounts active with their $5 balances. I believe I’ll get back to the place where I can save. In any case, choosing to not spend is so much better than not having the option. I’m grateful I have the luxury to make this almost a game.

The depleting supplies are making me think seriously about what I might bake or cook and freeze… we have leftovers from the birthday party make-your-own-sundaes and those could go into cookies… mmmm…

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(this text is here to see if I can keep the ads photos from slamming up into my pretty photo)

 

 

 

 

 

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learning through life experience (gardening)

On Friday, I turned this

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and this…IMG_3604

 

Into this
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and this…IMG_3608

 

As I was vigorously yanking weeds and easily avoiding vegetable plants, it struck me I know more than a lot of people might about gardening. This is not on purpose. Through decades of being around my parents and their gardening—and having household chores that included gardening work—I just absorbed the information; a kind of osmosis. I don’t remember ever being told how to recognize the early leaves of the squash-types of plants (they also look sort of like early sunflower leaves), for example, or which plants like having their lowest branches snipped with pinched fingers (tomato plants) because it makes them grow stronger.

My older daughter weeded “her” section of the garden and that’s when I realized it’s happening for her, too. She said, “Weird, there’s basil here!” and kept weeding. Then she said, “No, it’s not,” and she pulled it. She then recognized it as a bell pepper plant and re-planted it. (We think it’ll be fine — I know from experience that vegetable plants as a general rule are pretty darned hardy.)

As I kept working on the rest of the weeding, I got lost in thoughts about how my life path has been affected by the odd and useful bits of knowledge about plant life. I thought about children who have never seen vegetables growing in a garden. When I go for walks, I can pick out loads of different edible plants — when did I learn those things? I don’t know — all of it makes me feel very connected to the earth.

Then I think about all I don’t know. Like how surviving on “the streets” would require knowledge I don’t already have. Getting by on a minimum wage job sounds impossible to me, in part because it’s absurd to expect people to survive on such low incomes, but also because those survival skills are not a part of my life experience.

Weeding the garden this weekend, I found a peaceful place—centered and fleeting—in both gratitude and humility.

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when every bit matters

The coffers are nearly empty (my bank balances are precariously low, requiring transfers from now dwindling savings) so kohlrabi greens seem worth saving. They would be worth saving in any case, of course. But, if I wasn’t so aware of trying to make our food stretch, I probably wouldn’t take the time to “process” them; washing, parboiling, and freezing. They’ll work just like kale, though more on the collards side of the greens textures. Good for soups or mixed into casserole types of dishes. I’m not much for recipes, so having varied and even odd frozen ingredients on hand works well for me.

One of the biggest challenges I continue facing as I learn to live within my means is fully grasping the reality that the cash flow is very, very limited. I grew up with the sense that everything will be okay, it’ll all work out. There will always be enough. It’s hard to shake that comforting feeling, but it leads to bad choices (hello Starbucks) if I let it color the reality.

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no groceries challenge #x

Back in May of 2013, I undertook a “no groceries challenge” for myself. Borne of necessity (I had almost no money), I found adding the element of choice into my situation was empowering. Since then, I’ve done the challenge a few times (clicking this link brings you to all of the “no groceries” posts). The last couple challenges were on the milquetoast side of the scale and just kind of fizzled out. I wasn’t really committed. I also wasn’t really scared.

A couple months ago, I backed my car into a telephone pole. I wiped out a big chunk of my savings. I wrote about it in my Bangor Daily News column.

Last month, a client for my business made the decision to shut their doors. As their grant writer, this means I was suddenly not needed. There’s work for me in the next few months, but nothing close to what I’ve depended on for more than 10 years. I’ve picked up good new clients, but my current clients pay as I invoice, due within 30 days. (The client I’ve worked with for a decade always paid immediately, just because they wanted to.) That means cash flow isn’t as liquid.

Last week, I found myself transferring balances from my various savings accounts—I’ve been working on having a long-term “major” savings, a short-term “emergencies” account, and, eventually, a summer savings—to bring both my work and my personal accounts back up from double digit balances.

I still have about $1,000 in savings. For many people, this is a lot. For many, it’s not much at all. For me, it’s somewhere in between. It’s not enough that I feel comfortable or steady. It’s more than I was used to having until relatively recently. Last week I had to consider dipping even farther into it — would this bill come due before the (generous) child support came through? In this case, things worked out. At least temporarily.

I mention the specific dollar amounts because I think people are too afraid to talk about the reality of money. Money can be so complicated an issue, and all of our experiences skew our interpretations.

The point of this post is simply to say I’m going to look at the refrigerator, freezer(s), and pantry, make a trip to the super market, and embark on yet another “no groceries” challenge. It should be a little less challenging now that the garden is starting to produce a bit—August will be even better.