The CSA

A few weeks ago I joined a CSA through my local grocery store. It has been WONDERFUL. It is $25/week and it is so fun to know that the food that I’m getting is all locally made and produced. Unlike a lot of farm-specific CSAs, this one is a general one so I get a variety of products.

For instance, a typical week might include some peaches, a whole chicken, yellow squash, milk, cheese, sourdough bread, and honey. I was thinking when I joined that I’d just get a whole bunch of weird vegetables and I wouldn’t know what to do with it. But as it turns out, this one is kind of like grocery shopping, you get a lot of those regular items you need, but it is also local!

The excitement about the CSA has caused me to rediscover my local farmer’s markets. Last Saturday I went to the one closest to my apartment. It wasn’t nearly as awesome as the farmer’s market in the town I used to live in (a college town with a HUGE farmer’s market), but it was decent and had a lot of good stuff.

The more I think about the CSA and the farmer’s market, the more intrigued I get at the idea of trying to always eat local food and local products. As the CSA has shown me there are local makers of all the things I “normally” get like eggs, cheese, bread – even candy and jams! And then making sure that I eat meat that is raised humanly, grass fed, and let to roam and have a good life before it becomes my dinner (which I was able to do at the CSA and the farmer’s market).

I Feel Dirty!

It happened last night.

I was at this Mediterrean restaurant getting dinner before Financial Peace University. I thought I had enough cash to cover my lentil soup and pita and baklava.

The total: $5.34

The amount of money I had in my envelopes: $5.20

I was 14 cents short. FOURTEEN CENTS!!!

The rational thing to do would have been to just canceled the baklava. But he already had it pulled out and boxed and it smelled sooooo good.

So I pulled out my debit card (now I know why I shouldn’t leave it in my purse!)

This was the first time I’ve use my debit card since I started my cash only existence.

I felt so guilty about it. As I handed him the card I felt like I was doing something wrong. I was doing the forbidden by using that card. I didn’t have the money for that meal and I was trying to PRETEND I had the money for it by paying with a card.

I’m angry that I did it. I feel a little dirty. I want to establish good habits – and spending money on food I WANT even though I can’t afford it is not a good habit!

I think I’m just going to leave my debit card in my car rather than my purse. Since I pull money out 4 times a month I was it accessible. But I don’t want it available so that I can just “whip it out” when I want to.

Okay… slip up #1. On the bright side – the meal was delicious!

Cash: The Experiment Part 2

Three weeks ago I started on a bold experiment: A cash only existence.

People have said that it would be hard. Other people have claimed they could never do it. I thought it would be really hard.

Turns out: all wrong!

I didn’t initially believe that living cash only would make that much of a difference. I thought for sure that the cash would slip through my fingers. I mean, whenever I have had cash in the past it just disappears. Not True. When ALL you have is cash, things go A LOT different (at least for me).

Here is a quick summary of how the past two weeks have gone for me cash-wise:

Food.

  • Given for two weeks: $200
  • Remaining: $28

I put $100 in my food envelope February28th and another $100 in my food envelope on March 6th. Currently I have $28 in my food envelope and I get another $100 tomorrow. This is a HUGE change from my previous behavior. Remember in February where I couldn’t squeeze $30 out of my budget without feeling the pinch? Now for a TWO WEEK period I have almost $30 left over. This includes some eating out meals as well as my lattes from Starbucks and of course my Rockstar addition. This isn’t frugal eating in the least. However, there is something about having to pay in cash that makes me think twice about what I’m buying. When I’m at the store I stop and consider if I’ll ACTUALLY use something before just buying it. I don’t overbuy snack food anymore. Mr. Hive (my new name for BF) is amazed by how differently I spend with cash. And it isn’t that I’m consciously changing how I spend, more how I spend is changing just on being conscious of how much money I actually have.

Gas.

  • Given for two weeks: $60
  • Remaining: $20

Gas has definitely gotten more expensive in the last two weeks. However I’m still on budget with my gas money. I need to fill up in the next couple of days and I’ll have more than enough money to do so. My driving habits aren’t too different, but I do try to drive more conservatively to get better mileage.

Pet Supplies.

  • Given for two weeks: $40
  • Remaining: $8

I definitely have spent less in this category than I did with plastic. When I’m in the pet store every little toy looks like something I want to get for Jack. I’m a sucker for dog toys. Now I’ve started sewing back up the toys that he pulls apart and putting his toys on a rotation so he doesn’t get bored as easily.

I also got a great deal on cat litter. I had a $5 off coupon for Tidy Cat PLUS it was $2 off from an in store discount, so I got 27 lbs of litter for only $4. Pretty stoked about that. I bought all pet supplies that I need for the next two weeks in the past two weeks, with the exception of dog food. So I definitely think that I could lower this envelope amount if I needed to, but I’m going to leave it at its current amount until I’ve gone through a whole month cycle.

Clothes.

  • Given for two weeks: $0
  • Remaining: $0

I only give myself $20/month for clothes and I didn’t get that $20 in the past two weeks, so I got nothing to spend on clothes and spent nothing. Though I did see a pretty cute top at Target that I lusted for a little while and then said to myself “Wait until you get your $20 next week.” Now I don’t really want it. Yup, much different than on a non-cash only system.

Dog Care.

  • Given for two weeks: $60
  • Remaining: $60

I buy Jack’s daycare in packages to save money. I won’t need to buy another package until probably May. When I do buy it, it amounts to around $100/month so that is how much I’m saving.

Entertainment.

  • Given for two weeks: $20
  • Remaining: $0

I went to see a play at my school with Mr. Hive and my sister. It was $25 for the tickets. I used the $20 in the Entertainment envelope and then took $5 from my Miscellaneous. I haven’t decided if I’ll pay back my Miscellaneous when I get more money for Entertainment or just say “screw it”. I’m leaning towards “screw it”.

Miscellaneous.

  • Given for two weeks: $40
  • Remaining: $15

The miscellaneous is my catch-all for everything else that doesn’t fall in to the above categories. Toiletries, kitchen supplies, household goods, electronics, etc. I had to buy trash bags, zip lock bags and quite a few other replaceables in the kitchen/bathroom. Also, the $5 overflow from the entertainment. I also bought a $5 coupon fundraiser book from one of my students.

Totals.

  • Given for two weeks: $420
  • Remaining: $131

Honestly this is just amazing to me. By switching to a cash only system I have $131 left over. Previously, when using my debit card, I would get to 3-4 days before my pay day and have just $20-30 left in my checking account.

I’m so amazed by how well the cash only system is working. I was very self conscious about using my envelopes initially, but now I don’t worry about it. I have so much more confidence while paying for things in cash. I *know* I have the money. I don’t have to stand there at the register doing the “I think I have enough to pay for this” calculations in my head. It is right there. I can LOOK and see that I do or do not have the money for what I’m about to purchase.

Paying in cash makes me more cognizant of each purchase. I feel the pain of each dollar. Each transaction isn’t just about getting the good – but also about how much money is left. Each transaction I think about what in the future I won’t be able to buy if I buy the item I’m looking at that moment. “If I buy this Rockstar and bag of Cheetos now will I have enough money for date night on Saturday with Mr. Hive at our favorite restaurant?”

For someone who has analyzed and scrutinized each purchase for two years, switching to cash has given me a whole new awareness for each purchase and what its effect on my pocket book. Truly. Amazing.

I’m loving the cash only experiment. I may not ever go back…

Show Me The Money!

I mentioned yesterday how I went to PFU and found out that because of how I set up my budget $327 is “wiggling” out of my wallet and I have no idea where it is going!

I went big time and decided to compile my spending for the past year. This includes expenses pre-moving to Kansas and post-moving to Kansas to compare my spending habits. Recall that from January to August, I was also not eating out. In August I moved to Kansas. It was midway through the month, so I averaged August’s numbers into the “pre-moving to Kansas” numbers.

Okay… here is the damage:

Alright, in case you don’t want to check out those numbers, let me sum this up for you:

1. While on my “No Eating Out” challenge I averaged less than $200/month on food. In Kansas, without this challenge (and plus a boy and a sister, I might add) I spent on average $371/month on food. Holy Hell. That is a LOT of money on food now that I’m off this challenge.

2. My gas consumption has not changed a lot. This isn’t too surprising. I live about the same distance from work as I did before moving. I visit people about the same amount as well.

3. I spend a lot of money on miscellaneous things! This includes clothes, toiletries, co-pays, medicines, etc.  I budget $65 per month for things that fall under this category. Which worked before Kansas, but doesn’t appear to be working post-moving to Kansas. I’m assuming the main reason for this increase is that I have had to buy nice, warmer, work clothes instead of my plain t-shirt and sweatshirt I wore at my old job. So there are some clothes purchases from Old Navy and The Limited snuck in the Kansas totals.

4. Somehow I now spend more on  my pet supplies now than I did before Kansas. I guess I do like to splurge more on “little toys” for Jack when I get him food. This has to stop. But I do it because he doesn’t go to daycare here like he did pre-Kansas. None the less, I need to fix this.  I also bought him a new bed because now I have someone to share the bed with me aside from the dog. 😉

5. My entertainment costs have gone up moderately. But, if you look at my budget, you’ll see I don’t even PLAN for entertainment costs. Not that you can see this in the numbers but what I spend money on entertainment-wise has also changed. Pre-Kansas mostly I would spend entertainment money on movies. Now I spend entertainment money on board games – which I should start paying for with money earned from Swagbucks.

6. I don’t spend a lot of money on Electronics. I probably should have just put this in with the miscellaneous. It would have amounted to about the same thing.

Okay…so here is a pretty bar graph of my average spendings pre-Kansas and post-moving to Kansas:

It is pretty obvious that the main flaw in my budget since moving to Kansas is food consumption. Everything else I would consider at this point to be at a manageable level, only minor tweaking needed. But spending $150 MORE per month on food than I was previously? That is just outrageous.

I definitely need to switch to envelopes and try to get this increased spending under control! First step? A new budget. But you’ll have to wait for it…

(P.S. – You have to understand, this is totally nuts to me. I thought I had everything under control. I thought I was telling my money what to do. And then suddenly someone (Dave Ramsey) shows me a different way of looking at things and all of the sudden I realize there are HUGE flaws in my system. I feel like someone has hit me over the head with a financial frying pan. It seems so painfully obvious now how out of whack my finances are but until yesterday I thought they were perfectly fine. WTF???!)

$3 Lunches

One of the major perks of my new job is that I get $3 lunches in the school cafeteria. Now, forget whatever misconceptions you have about cafeteria food – this food is DELICIOUS. There are always home-cooked options and delicious choices for vegetables. I make sure when I get my meal that at least 1/3 of my lunch is some sort of veggie. Whether cooked vegetables or a spinach salad.

The pros are obvious. Cheap food, delicious food, healthy food.

The con was not something that I anticipated. When I was in my previous location (before the move), I would cook in the evenings SO THAT I could have lunch to take to work. One meal I cooked in the evening would also make 2 lunches for me during the week.

Now that my lunches are so varietal, delicious and inexpensive – I don’t need to make dinners to have lunches.

But this brings on another conundrum. Now that I’m not cooking to make lunches I’m barely cooking! I’ve cooked dinner for myself only three times now in the past two months. Like, cooking, cooked myself dinner. I still have my chips and salsa dinners, my peanut butter and jelly dinners, or my frozen pizza dinners. But making myself all the dishes I learned to cook before the move? Have barely tried.

I’m going to have to make an effort to cook for the BF and I at least 2 days a week I think. The wallet will appreciate it. The diet will appreciate it. I’m pretty sure the BF will appreciate it as well.

But man $3 lunches… Such a great perk of my job!

Cooking Fool

Yesterday I got hit with the desire to cook, badly.

This was probably precipitated by the fact that Saturday I went grocery shopping and spent around $100 total. That’s right, $100 for one person on groceries. To be fair, the great majority of it was on a case of “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s – which runs $3/bottle here. (The Trader Joe’s is an hour and 15 minute drive away, so I only go very rarely)

Anyway, this is what I managed to make yesterday:

1) Pizza – Instead of using a marinara sauce I used cream of mushroom soup. I cooked up some chicken, yellow squash and orange bell pepper and mixed this with the mushroom soup. Then layered this on the pre-made pizza crust. Then topped it with mozzarella cheese. The toppings were good, but I got a whole wheat pizza crust. IT IS DISGUSTING. I bought two, so I don’t know what I’m going to do with the second one. But this crust is just terrible. I found myself a pizza crust recipe from my grandma that is good, so I’ll probably make up a few of these and freeze them until I want to make a pizza.

2) Mahi mahi with cous cous – I bought some marinated mahi mahi from Trader Joe’s and baked it. It is DELICIOUS. I also made some cous cous to put under the mahi mahi. I’m eating this as I write this post and let me tell you, it is fantastic.

3) Taco meat – I had some ground beef that needed to be cooked. I had thawed it and then didn’t use it. So I figured it was better to cook it up then have to throw it away. So I cooked it up as taco meat. I’ll use this either for a ground beef pizza or for tacos. We’ll see. I’m still really put off by the disgusting pizza crust. =P

4) Banana bread – 4 of my bananas were getting old, so it was time to make some banana bread. I used this recipe which I had made before. It is REALLY good.

5) Strawberry bread – Strawberries were on sale so I bought 2.5 lbs. Thus I decided that I would also make some strawberry bread. I used this recipe. I didn’t have any sour cream or yogurt, so I added a splash of soy milk. Also, I didn’t add the cinnamon and instead added extra vanilla. I never add nuts since I’m allergic to them. This turned our REALLY well. I may make another loaf later this week.

Tangentially related to food, I did an “official” weigh in today and I’m down 19 pounds since I started my “No Eating Out” challenge. The proof is in the pudding my friends… I may never eat out regularly again!

Not Eating Out: A Two Month Review

I was going to post my thoughts on this after one month, but then decided to wait until two had passed to be sure that my observations were correct.

So far, here is what I’ve noticed about not eating out after two months:

1) I spend less money

Now, some would say this is obvious, but I wasn’t sure. I tend to cook pretty extravagant things (sometimes). I love asian dishes and can spend a lot on ingredients. Also, I was afraid I would go completely convenience grocery store food – which can be just as expensive as eating out. (I mean you can easily spend $8 on a ready-made meal, that’s the same as eating out, I still do this when busy though. Bad habits?)

Look, let me put this to you as bluntly as possible: In November and December before I started this challenge I was eating out  7-10 times per week. I was also checking my bank account every other day to keep “tabs” on balance. Since I’ve stopped eating out, I check my bank account only every two weeks. There isn’t a NEED because I’m not spending money. I go to the grocery store every other week, get stuff I need, and that is it.  I’m not even coming close to spending as much as I was before (I should do the numbers to confirm that this is in fact true!)

2) I eat less

I eat a lot less food now than I did when I was eating out. I don’t have a compulsion to finish what is on my plate because I’m sitting in a dining establishment. Since I have to make the food myself, my mind goes through the mental battle of: am I really hungry or am I just bored?

See, I hate cooking, A LOT. So the hunger has to be real and palpable before I’ll get in the kitchen.

Also, since I hate cooking there is an extra incentive to not eat everything on my plate so that I can have some for the next meal. I don’t want to have to cook tomorrow, you see.

Since I’ve started this “not eating out” thing I’ve unofficially lost almost 10 pounds. (I’ve been consistently under 150lbs the past three weeks I’ve weighed myself – I was sporting near 160 before)

Part of this due to the above reasons of not eating as much, another part due to the increased stress of the last two months, the last part due to having to report to you guys what I eat every day. I don’t really want to say how I ate nothing but a big fat candy bar for lunch, do I? Though I guess the last two weeks weren’t that hot anyway…

3) It isn’t as hard as I thought it would be

Honestly, I had doubts that I would even be able to last a week, much less a year. But it hasn’t been that big of an issue for me as I thought it would be. It puts a little bit of a damper on most guys “date plans” – but in my opinion cooking at home is much sexier than going to a restaurant. 😉

I still go out to the bars and get drinks, go to coffee shops to see people – I just don’t include the food aspect. And thus far my “quality of life” hasn’t diminished in the least.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to make the year with only 20 days of eating out (or less), but I have a new found confidence in myself and I’m encouraged to know that I can do it.

Now… I just need to get in a few more servings of fruit and vegetables every day. 😉

Impromptu Road Trip!

My dearest friend Okturn Delmoniq is helping move some of his friends to Memphis, Tennessee. Since this is within driving distance from me I’m going to take a road trip to go see him (and his friends!) Considering Okturn lives in Connecticut, any opportunity to visit him within a day’s drive or less it totally worth it to me.

It wasn’t really a planned trip, but I have enough money to reasonably do it. I’m just excited to get to see him – since I haven’t since I was at the conference in August.

For those of you keeping track, I’ve ventured in the past year on weekend excursions to Indianapolis, Chicago, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and now Memphis. Those of you with decent map skills should be able to triangulate me from all that info I’d imagine. =)

My goal is to take some PB&J stuff with me for food as well as some chips. And eat my own stuff as much as possible. Eating out will probably be a little difficult to avoid on Sunday, but I’ll try my darndest! I’m putting a budget on myself including gas, hotel, daycare, food and outings of $250. We’ll see how that goes!

No Eating Out Challenge – Donuts?

So, I’ve come across an interesting situation with my “no eating out challenge”. That is the matter of donuts.

Let me explain.

Each week someone in our lab brings donuts to group meeting. It rotates every week. Technically I guess we could bring something else, but since the Dunkin Donuts is just a block or so away, that tends to be what people get.

Next week is my week to bring donuts. And I have to bring breakfast, no doubt about that, but I’m not sure if this counts as eating out since it is kind of a job related expense.

I could technically even get the donuts in the grocery store, but it all amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it?

I’ll probably not even eat any of the donuts, either, since I’ll just be dropping them off for the meeting and then I’ll have to leave to go teach. But it is still going to an “eating out” establishment.

Dunno… this seems like a grey area to me… or perhaps I’m making it a grey area. I’m appreciate your thoughts on this one!

345 Days of Not Eating Out in 2010 (The Rules)

Image Courtesy of Debt Ninja

I got so many great comments from all of you readers when I first posted my personal challenge for myself in 2010 of not eating out for 345 in the new year.

So I wanted to give it some thought and then lay out the “ground rules” for my 2010 Challenge. We’ll do this in a question/answer format. =D

Q: Sometimes, I forget my lunch at home. And by sometimes, I mean a lot. What if I use up my 20 days? Will I have to starve? (From Investing Newbie)

A: In short, no. I live 1 mile from my apartment. So there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to go home in the middle of the day to pick up lunch if I forget to pack mine. I also plan on keeping an “emergency” stash of some microwavable meals of last resort in my desk for when I do forget my lunch and don’t have time to run home. Think: Cup O’Noodles or those Thai meals where you just add hot water. Not appetizing, but better than spending one of my 20 on lunch just because I’m lazy!

Q: What about meeting people out for dinner/lunch/brunch to be social? Will you alienate friends by not eating out? (from me in millions)

A: Unfortunately for me, no. My lab does go out for brunch about 1-2 times per year. But since this number is so small, it can easily fit within my twenty days. The main way that my friends “hang out” is by doing what we call “drinking time”. Which is that we all go to the bar and share a couple of pitchers. I stopped doing this every time because it was starting to be every week. Not I just go for people’s birthdays and to celebrate major achievements like graduation or getting a new job. I should mention that drinking at bars or bowling alleys has NOT been cut out because I see this as a form of entertainment. However, ordering a meal at the bar IS out of the question.

Q: Just out of curiousity, will you count coffee/tea/other beverages in this goal? (from pyschsarah)

This is a question that I have struggled with the most. As I noted before, beer I will allow as an entertainment/social expense (also because I only drink at a bar MAYBE every other month). However, getting a Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks is one of my greatest weaknesses. I will sometimes get them in the morning for breakfast. Sometimes in the evenings when I prepare my lectures I find Starbucks a great place to put my thoughts together (and of course I need to order a drink). So this is the compromise I made with myself:

  • If I’m getting the Chai as a MEAL SUBSTITUTE (ie drive through in the morning) this is NOT allowed.
  • If I’m going to catch up with a friend over coffee/tea this IS allowed as an entertainment expense (paid for through my entertainment budget NOT my food budget).
  • If I am going to prepare for my lecture this is ALSO ALLOWED.

Q: If someone takes you out for lunch/dinner does it count? (from Girl Makes Cents)

A: This depends. If it is FAMILY taking me out for dinner than I do not count it (in two years of living in the midwest, NONE of my family has visited).

However, if it is a date or friends taking me out, then this counts. I have to draw this line because I could easily imagine a situation where I could give someone cash to take me out to eat. This is a way of “not breaking the rules” but still getting to eat out. Dates or friends I will try to do cook overs at each other’s places, otherwise it counts towards me 20 days.

So those are the questions you’ve asked me, here are a few more I asked myself:

Q: What about eating out on days where you’re flying?

A: This was also a hard one for me. I hate the idea of giving myself a “free pass” on days I have to travel because I CAN take food on planes. So this is what I decided: On the flight TO the destination eating in the airport counts. I should be able to pack a PB&J sandwich and some chips to eat on the plane if I get hungry. And a few snacks just in case. However, on the way BACK eating at the airport doesn’t count since I may be coming from a place where it wasn’t as easy to make myself a meal.

Q: What about when you’re away from home on a trip for work or pleasure?

A: These days count. All of them. It is just as easy to pick up food at a grocery store as it is to get fast food while not at home. If I’m at a conference that provides food, this food DOESN’T count – just food that I purchase that isn’t included in the registration cost of the conference.

Q: If you slip and eat lunch is the day lost and you might as well eat out for dinner?

A: Unfortunately, yes, the day is lost. However in the spirit of the Challenge I will make every effort to not let one meal cause me to slip for the next just because it doesn’t “count” towards my day total.

I think these were the majority of the questions that I had. I’m so excited about starting this in 2010. The challenge is so exciting for me! I’ve also noticed myself eating my “last meals” at a number of places I know that I won’t get to eat at a lot (at all) next year. Quite an interesting feeling knowing that such a significant change is approaching.

I look forward to sharing this journey with each of you, and hope that as many of you can join me as possible with your own 2010 Challenge!

Do you have any further questions for me?

Also, as some of you have noticed, I have a link on the front page of my blog for the Challenge. I will keep an updated list of the rules and the posts that I make regarding this challenge so that it will be easy to follow how this Challenge goes for me over time.