Keeping It Simple: Cheap and Easy Lunch

While the Frugalwoods enjoy their daily lunch of rice and beans, this is what I survive on at work:

lunch

I eat breakfast during my commute, consisting of an oatmeal cupcake and a hardboiled egg.  At lunchtime, I munch on peanut-butter cracker sandwiches, carrots, a granola bar, and some grapes.  The grapes are sometimes substituted with a different fruit.  I love these granola bars, purchased in big packs with Amazon credit earned from Swagbucks.  It is my sweet treat and cheaper than a candy bar (currently 33 cents each).  The oatmeal with honey is a snack, if needed, in the morning or afternoon.  I usually enjoy the cantaloupe near the end of the day.  I drink water with lunch and usually grab a coffee afterwards (free from the office kitchen, of course) in a preemptive attempt to ward off the 2:00 slump.  And yes, I save and reuse the plastic bags.

My lunch could probably be a bit healthier, but then again, it could be a lot worse (there is fresh fruit and a vegetable).  My coworkers seem to all disappear for an hour at lunchtime.  Sometimes I see them walking back to their desks with styrofoam containers.  What are they eating for lunch?  I haven’t really asked.  Maybe it’s a healthy, expensive salad?  Or perhaps it’s a greasy hamburger or slice of pizza.  Either way, I know that they their lunches cost a lot more than mine – both in money and by wasting the time it takes to go out.

In adopting our frugal lifestyle, it seems that creating routine can be a really helpful tool in saving money.  Should everyone eat this lunch, or the Frugalwoods lunch?  No.  The key is finding what satisfies YOU.  Once this is accomplished, you can figure out the cheapest, most efficient way to make your lunch.  For me, it’s easy enough to spread some peanut butter on crackers in the morning.  Do you like soup?  You could cook up a big batch of it on Sunday, separate it into five Tupperware containers, and you would be good to go for the week.  Mr. Smith likes sandwiches.  We found the cheapest lunchmeat is at a local Farmer’s market and I bake him fresh loaves of bread.  His lunch costs more than mine, but is still much cheaper than heading out to a sub shop everyday.

This lesson translates to much more than just bringing lunch to work – being frugal takes planning and preparation.  Otherwise, it’s noon and you’re hungry, so what else is there to do but reach for your wallet?

What Do You Really Need For A New Baby?

American parents should heed a lesson in minimalism from Finland.  Our norm is to celebrate an impending birth with frivolous and unnecessary gifts.  Guests are invited to a banquet hall to enjoy food, games, and admire cute baby things.  Before the baby shower, parents-to-be will head out to one of those chain stores and receive a cool scanner gun to fill up their registry.  It’s so easy, and even fun, to go around the store shooting lasers at all of the brand new (and undeniably adorable) baby items.  The stores also are kind enough to provide them with a checklist of “must-haves” for their bundle of joy.  Some examples of these “indispensable” items are warmers for butt wipes, bathrobes, and shoes for newborns.  Not to mention, of course, that the baby will need a brand new crib and dresser set that costs more than $1,000.

Well, this is what new parents receive from the government in Finland:

(AP Photo/Lehtikuva, Roni Rekomaa)

(AP Photo/Lehtikuva, Roni Rekomaa)

First all of, see the cute cardboard box?  That is where the baby sleeps – sheets are provided for this “cot.”  There are a few outfits, a bib, some diapers, socks, and a sleepsack.  While I’m sure that women in Finland receive and/or purchase additional baby items, this is a much more realistic collection of what you need for a newborn, in comparison to the long registry lists provided to new parents in this country.

We purchased all of our baby furniture from Craiglist – and everything is still in great condition and ready to be used for our third child.  I did have a baby shower and remain very thankful for the generosity of friends and family.  With this little guy having an older brother and sister, we have collected the majority of supplies that he will need.  The most important items?  You need some clothing, but not outfits (like polo shirts and baby jeans).  My favorite type of newborn apparel is the one piece button-up jumpers that look like clothing as opposed to pajamas – in the pants or shorts version, depending on the temperature.  I have a good breast pump, which I checked and it is still working.  A place for the baby to sleep.  A carseat (Craigslist and garage sales will usually have great deals on stroller/carseat sets).  If you choose not to breastfeed or have medical issues, the baby will need some formula. 

We do plan on buying a few new items (hopefully with Amazon credit earned through Swagbucks and instaGC):

  1. Burp clothes – cloth pre-fold diapers work best and are great for cleaning too (which is probably why they have all seemed to disappear)
  2. Bottles – between two babies and Tornado using the old ones with her dolls, they are pretty gross
  3. Pacifiers – for obvious reasons
  4. Diapers

There also are the optional, helpful items.  As a new mom, if you can pick up some of these supplies on the cheap or for free, they will make those first few months a little bit easier: baby carrier or sling, diaper genie, pacifier leash, bottle brush, and a swing.  Finally, I love the boppy pillow as it works great for breastfeeding and then, to support the baby once he can sit up. 

Two things that we’re holding off on for now:

  1. New (used) Furniture
  2. New (used) Vehicle

The baby will stay in a bassinet in our room for approximately six months.  We have a bed, crib, and two dressers for Goofball and Tornado.  So, in the Fall we will need another bed and probably a dresser.  As we are in the midst of a fighting a war against our interest-accruing credit cards, it makes sense to wait.  I plan to organize the baby’s clothes in boxes on top of our dresser for now.  We will eventually find the furniture that we need on Craigslist or at a garage sale.

I have a midsize SUV and Mr. Smith has a pickup truck (both paid off).  Three carseats do not fit in either of our vehicles.  We have discussed minivans.  However, we don’t foresee many outings with the entire family this spring/summer.  When we do go out, we rarely go very far.  Our plan for those infrequent family excursions is either to borrow a vehicle, take two vehicles, or transport older children via bicycle.  In September, Goofball will start kindergarten so he will ride on a bus and only the other two will need to be transported to daycare.  I really hope that this works for a while.

So, what is the moral of the story? We are subject to a constant barrage of “advice” to spend our money on “necessary” things. Stop blindly accepting advertising as truth, whether it’s a television commercial for a great family minivan or a registry checklist from a baby store. Figure things out for yourself by relying on common sense and a frugal, minimalist mindset. Ask two simple questions:

“Do I really need this?” and “Is there another option?”

2014 Financial Accomplishments and Plans for 2015

2014 Financial Accomplishments

We paid off approximately $12,000 in credit card debt!  We finished payments on my car.  And, I launched this blog.

How did we do it?  I attempted to go the entire year without purchasing any clothing and did pretty well.  I bought one pair of good sandals for the summer, $20 worth of maternity clothing from a thrift store, and three clearance items from Wal-Mart for $7.  Mr. Smith bought a small amount of work clothing.  Almost all of the children’s clothing came from garage sales, consignment, or was free from friends.  The exception was shoes – they outgrow them so quickly! We kept our food budget low.  We didn’t spend much on “entertainment,” including no cable.  We didn’t eat out at restaurants, but could have made a few less trips for fast food.  I started working from home once per week, to cut down on the cost of my 30-mile commute.  Then, there were the side hustles:

swagbucks

  1. Swagbucks $450 (lots of diapers from Amazon!)
  2. Bing Rewards $30
  3. Inbox Dollars $27
  4. InstaGC $34
  5. Consignment Sale  $83
  6. Garage Sale $105
  7. “Tutoring” $4,000

The tutoring is a wonderful, career-specific opportunity that I can do twice per year.  I sold some little-boy clothing at the consignment sale (we received far too much clothing for our first litle guy, including new items and the hand-me-downs).  The extra money was nice, but it was not really worth the amount the work involved.  I may try the consigment sale again, but only when I have a ton of items to sell.  You can expect more-detailed posts about these side hustles in the future.

Goals for 2015:

  1. Create a Budget for EVERYTHING – starting with an inventory of debts and assets
  2. Publish my eBook
  3. Keep blogging
  4. Start selling items on eBay/Craigslist
  5. Have a bigger, better garage sale
  6. Refinance the mortgage on our rental property
  7. Continue with internet side hustles and “tutoring”
  8. Switch to a cheaper cell-phone plan
  9. Get a good bike and start using it instead of driving
  10. Research opportunities to expand my skill set to support future part-time endeavors

We have to be very careful with money in 2015, because I plan to take an extended maternity leave (to be discussed in another post).  I will receive full-pay from my employer for eight weeks and some of the “tutoring” money should be paid during my leave.  Also, our house needs a new roof and we would like to start fixing up the rental property.  If our forward progress is to continue, we need to be even better with money in the coming year.

Happy New Year!  We’re going to start it off right by attending a neighborhood party with the kids and homemade snacks in lieu of more expensive options.

*Note: This post contains referral links.  If you choose to sign up for one of the side hustles through these links, I will receive credit for sharing these opportunities with you.  Don’t worry, you will receive the same amount in rewards.

Keeping It Simple: Breakfast

Despite everything that is packed into my day, I try to refrain from making excuses that I don’t have time or that I’m too busy.  It’s more about making priorities (as recognized by Laura Vanderkam).  In order to excel at life, I’ve tried to make changes that will streamline the less-important aspects of my day.  So, why not start with the morning routine and what to eat for breakfast?

cupcakesnew

 

I must give credit to chocolatecoveredkatie.com for her recipe for filling, freezable, and customizable breakfast cupcakes.  Approximately once per month, I will bake up a batch of these oatmeal cupcakes.  My version is not the healthiest because I include some shredded coconut, honey, and mini-chocolate chips.  Also, for the finishing touch, I sprinkle a small amount of brown sugar on top.  You can always make a healthier version of the recipe.  Katie offers plenty of ideas on how to substitute ingredients to customize your cupcakes.  I made a few batches with golden raisins instead of chocolate chips and they were still pretty yummy.

Overall, it’s a quick and easy recipe.  The most time consuming part of the process is mashing up bananas.  After making a dozen or so batches, I do have two suggestions.  First, let the cupcakes sit on the counter overnight before freezing, because they come out a bit moist.  Letting them dry out a bit will prevent the cupcakes from sticking together in the freezer.  Second, use paper baking cups (instead of foil ones) so you can put them in the microwave.

My Freezer Stash

My Freezer Stash

On Sunday nights I hard boil enough eggs for the week, and I am good to go for breakfast!  In the morning, my focus can be on all of the other things that need to be handled.  I can pack book bags and lunches, make sure everyone is dressed,  and even have time to help pick out a special toy for show and tell.  When we start putting on coats and shoes, I toss one of the cupcakes in the microwave (45 seconds on high) and grab an egg.  It’s fairly healthy and a portable breakfast that can be enjoyed while driving to work.

Just another, tasty way to refocus my time and effort into more important parts of the day.

Keeping It Simple: Wardrobe

Keeping It Simple: Documenting my attempts to be more efficient and minimalist.

I seem to be adopting a regular rotation of certain outfits.  This is due, at least in part, to my growing waistline.  It seems that a significant portion of my maternity wardrobe was given away after my last pregnancy.  I picked up a couple of things to supplement my selection, but it remains pretty limited.  I have two pairs of maternity pants for work.  At this point, there a couple pairs of pants that can go a while longer when used with a belly band (the maternity wardrobe staple – see below). There are also a couple of dresses and skirts, which will work, but are not the best option in light of the decreasing temperatures outside.  On the weekend, you will likely find me in pajama pants, because those still work.

While I don’t have a lot to choose from, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  There is a simplicity that comes from not having to choose between different ensembles each morning.  President Obama says that he only wears gray or blue suits.  He doesn’t want to waste his “decision-making energy” on trivial matters.
There was also that news anchor who wore the same blue suit every day, for one year.   His goal was to highlight sexism, but it really highlights just how little is noticed by others. Now, we don’t really wear brand names for our own gain. Clothing choice is all about the perception of others. We want to perceived as trendy, wealthy, coordinated, etc. If no one is paying attention, then why waste so much money on clothing?
I never really subscribed to those rules of the “fashion police” that you can only wear an outfit every so often.  What is the rule anyways, once a month?  They go on further, of course, to require that everything is current and in season.  Look at how much time and money is wasted just trying to keep up with those trends. And what do you get?  A closet filled with clothing that is no longer socially acceptable.
It’s just clothing.  As long as we are dressed appropriately, with clothing that is in good condition and clean, then why shouldn’t we limit our expenditures and the demand on our brain to make decisions?
I plan to switch up the blouses that I wear under sweaters, but will likely utilize a weekly rotation of work clothes.  I will use what I have because, honestly, I don’t NEED any more clothes right now.


This is a link to the maternity band that I am now using for a third pregnancy.  It still is in great shape and is useful during multiple stages of pregnancy.  You can use your existing wardrobe a lot longer if you have one.