$70 Per week Grocery Budget: The Good, the Bad, and the Tasty

The month of June is coming to a close, and I have successfully completed my minimalist money challenge to only spend $70 on groceries each week.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1- Grocery shopping every week is HARD. 

Up until this week, my husband and I only had one car to share between the two of us. His work schedule is different almost every day, and so planning times to go grocery shopping every single week was pretty difficult. It was also tough brining my daughter with, since I had to be very meticulous in calculating the prices and sticking to a list. It was hard to be so distracted while shopping, and I know the trips weren’t quite as enjoyable for her.

I think that sticking to a budget is doable, but I might have to go grocery shopping for two week stints at a time. This way, I’m not having to drag my baby to the store each week, and I can save myself some stress in the meantime.

2- While I’m not a coupon-clipper, shopping the sales is totally worth it.

I usually wouldn’t pay attention to sales at all. I’d just stick to my list or throw whatever looked good in the cart, regardless of the price. But I found that shopping the sales at Aldi was very helpful in allowing me to stick to my budget. It also made me try some things I normally wouldn’t try, and that leads me to my next point…

3- I can form my meal plans around what I can afford, rather than try to afford all I want to meal plan.

I would go to the store with a rough list that was roughly priced out, but if I saw sale items, I would alter my list. In doing this, my meal plans would usually get bungled. But this month I learned that I can create my meal plans around what I can afford within the budget, instead of just buying things I want to make, which may or may not be the best price at the time. This made me go a little out of my comfort zone and try some new recipes and combinations of foods. I think I’ll probably stick to this method of meal planning because it’s helpful to the wallet, and it’s not too much trouble for me to do. It also limits my options so I don’t get too carried away planning out crazy-intricate meals that are probably unrealistic to make anyway.

4- Rationing snacks is very helpful in preserving their “life” for  the week.

I came up with a system to ration snack items so that they lasted more than one week. This way, I wasn’t always having to buy Lara bars, cashews, and veggie straws at every single trip to the store. I packaged the dried fruit and bars so that only what we could eat for the week was set out in the pantry, and I did the same with the chips and crackers and other items that usually go fast. Then I hid the rest in a basket up high on the shelf that was clearly off limits. This way, nothing got devoured in too short a time.

I actually started doing this before this month-long challenge, but I found it to be very helpful for June as well. Some things were still weekly purchases (like OJ and spinach), but this helped me save money and helped get our snacking a little more under control. I’ll be keeping this up for sure.

Here are some pictures of the great deals I found at Hope for Joliet (read more here):

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Here are some of my family’s favorite meals I made this month:

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And there you have it folks! That’s what I learned on my month of strict grocery budgeting. I hope you’ve enjoyed this adventure and have been challenged to save some pennies while you shop for your family’s food.

 

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June Minimalist Money Challenge: The first 2 weeks

It’s been two weeks of grocery shopping with a $70 per week limit. If you’re new to my version of this challenge, check out my last post for a quick overview.

My first grocery shopping trip totaled to $69.98. I cut it that close. I am not kidding.

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Reusable grocery bags are a must for trips to Aldi. And no, that blue bottle of window wiper fluid was not included in our trip…

It was a bit longer of a trip than I usually like to take with my 15 month-old daughter, as I had to write down the prices, add up the total, calculate sales tax, and put some items back so as to keep within our budget. But we left the store with four cloth bags full to the brim, and one giant watermelon that was on sale. And Esther still had some of her veggie straws left to munch on during the drive home. I’d say it was a success.

 

You can sort of see some of the sales on the meat are marked (those red stickers in the first photo say “$1 off” or “$2 off”). Watermelon, blueberries, spinach, and asparagus were also on sale.

While I didn’t document my second week of groceries, I did only spend $68.40, and was pretty pleased with how many leftover items we still could use from the first week.

I’ll be sure to snap some photos this week, but some of the meals we made these past 2 weeks were as follows:

For Breakfast: Veggie frittata, peanut butter apple oatmeal, eggs over baked potato and leftover roasted veggies, toast with peanut butter and banana, hard boiled eggs with avacados.

For Lunch: Salami spinach tomato wraps with watermelon, mango chicken panini’s with carrot sticks, ramen noodles with peas, carrots, green beans, and corn, leftover pulled pork on top of sweet potatoes and veggies, apple and swiss curry panini’s.

For Dinner: Blueberry waffles, bacon, and over-easy eggs (yes, breakfast for dinner is amazing), bacon wrapped steaks on the grill with roasted asparagus and macaroni, homemade pepperoni and veggie pizza, pulled pork with potato wedges and steamed broccoli, brats with potato wedges and roasted veggies, shepherd’s pie with watermelon, ground turkey tacos with avocado, salsa, black beans, and roasted onions and peppers.

You guys. These are pretty amazing meals right here! I could really get used to this. So far I’m finding that shopping with this type of budget just takes a little more effort, planning, and flexibility in meals.

I’ll share more of the benefits and drawbacks when I can look back on the entire month, but so far so good!

Tomorrow I’m headed with my daughter and best friend to Hope for Joliet, a location where food items that are almost past the sell-by date are sold for a fraction of the price, and ripe produce is literally GIVEN away. I have no idea what things will be there, so I’ll have to be pretty flexible in what I plan for this next week’s meals. But I do still have leftover frozen chicken, ground beef, some cauliflower, and a bunch of other things I can use as a base for a few meals.

Next week I am also cooking for 10 college students, so my shopping may include extra so as to feed those hungry mouths (I will be reimbursed for this, so it will not be included in the $70 budget). I am also going to make a meal for my friend who just had a baby! This will be included in the $70 budget.

I’m excited to do more documenting of meals and of our shopping excursion tomorrow! Stay tuned!

What Minimalism Isn’t (to me)

It’s been about a year now since I began my minimalist journey– or rather, my wannabe-minimalist journey. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff, mostly clothes, and I’ve reworked a lot of my schedule to reflect a more simplified … Continue reading

“So what do you do?”: on work, Millennials, and identity

design desk display eyewear

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

It’s been well over a year now. I haven’t been a CPS teacher since June of 2015. It seems almost impossible, when I think of that young idealistic teacher setting her sights on her newly decorated classroom, nervously awaiting the first wave of Freshman to enter in and take their seats.

That girl was going to change the world. Despite all odds, she was going to stick with it and be strong. This was what she was made to do.

… Okay, so maybe I never really felt like that. But that’s what you think you feel when you’re a newly graduated education major about to become educator. You just assume that stereo-typical, overly-idealistic, “Freedom-Writers“-esque attitude that may or may not be around at the end of the first semester. You just do. Because, if you don’t, it is way too easy to admit that you’re discouraged already and are hoping and praying no one notices that you have no idea what you’re doing. And also because, every other young new-hire in urban education acts like they feel this way, so, I mean, what real choice do you have? So you convince yourself that you are going to change the world, one student at a time, and you put on your game face and you assume this attitude as who you are.

What a mistake I made in doing this. 

Because three years later, when I find myself utterly hating my job and myself, and feeling completely ineffective and drained, I decide it’s time for teaching and me to part ways. Yes, it’s only been three years. But I’ve been in romantic relationships for less time than that before I realized it wasn’t meant to be either. So, there.

But now that I am no longer Hilary Swank, the dedicated teacher who is willing to give up her entire personal life in order to reach the “unteachable”, who am I? And why did I place my identity in such a fragile place as a 22-year-old hoping for the best in a toxic work environment with little to no resources or support?

I don’t think I am alone in this. I hope not. Because then this blog post is solely for my own benefit, which I guess is fine…

The Millennial generation, of which I am a part of, often gets a bad rap for being socially inept, obscenely selfish, and unable to hold down a job for more than a few years, much less have a successful longstanding career. Now, believe me, I could write an entire blog post on why I think this reputation has come about, and my response to it, but I’ll save that for another time.

I will say though, that after being laid off every single year I worked as a public school teacher, I was only able to successfully be rehired each time (sometimes the only rehire in the entire school), by working long hours, volunteering to lead professional development, obtaining outstanding evaluations, and sufficiently increasing my student’s test scores. I was able to successfully make myself invaluable to my Principal and co-workers, and I hardly think I could have been rehired each year without some level of social skills, strong work ethic, and an inexhaustible desire to keep my position. Just sayin’.

But the reason I mention the whole Millennial thing is because I think this reputation (specifically about the job/career piece) stems more from the changing times than from a character flaw spreading across the entire generation–which oddly includes 19-year-olds all the way to 39-year-olds.

According to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today will stay at one job for an average of only 4.4 years. And according to a recent survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91% of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for even less than that: three years. This means that most men and women of this age group will have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their entire working lives. But this is due more to things like an unstable economy and technology replacing workers than to an entire generation of fickle people who can’t make up their mind about what they want to do with their lives… which is sort of how I feel, but which I don’t think is the norm.

This intrigues me for a number of reasons:

  • 1.) I have found that many people’s response to my 3-year “career” as a teacher is mixed. Upon examination of the different reactions, many people within my generational age group (20-something Millennials), seem to totally get it, while the majority of retired people (of the Baby Boomer generation) seem to view my short-lived career as puzzling, even if they act extremely polite about it all.
  • 2.) I have always been told that job instability on a resume could cost one a future job. From what I understand, “chronic job-hoppers” are often screened out, and recruiters instead seek prospective employees who seem to offer longevity.
  • 3.) From my limited experience, and from a bit of research, the average person gains a sense of identity from their work. The question we almost always ask a new acquaintance at a party is “so what do you do?”, meaning not “what hobbies do you have that make you happy?”, or”what do you like to do for fun?”, or even “what is your mission in life?”. No, this question invariably means “what is your job?”, which places a lot of importance on what we choose to do to make a living, rather than how we choose to live. I find this interesting coming from a generation that will ultimately answer this question of “what do you do?”, 15-20 different ways throughout their working life.

Okay so, that’s the end of the statistics and research part of this post. Back to the point.

I have been mulling over this whole  “identity thing” for a while now– really, ever since I quit my job last year. What are the elements that go into shaping who we are, and how is who we are perceived differently by different people, and do those different perceptions impact our identity?

As a Christian, I often remind myself that my identity is in Christ. However, I believe that God made each of His children to have unique characteristics and purpose, despite our commonality of contentment with our lives through His will. I know that I personally have discovered more of my true identity as I draw nearer to God, which I have done quite a lot since last year. So, although I know that my mission is the same as other Christ-followers in helping to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth, I know that God has equipped me to do this in a way that is true to my identity, and which will not be the same as every other Christian.

As a Millennial who has accepted the fact that job-hopping is probably unavoidably in my future, I am seeking ways to define myself verbally to others so that more of myself is revealed rather than simply what my job happens to be at that particular time. I know I am viewed differently now that I do no answer the question “so, what do you do?” with “I’m a High School teacher in the inner city”, although I do not think the core of who I truly am has changed much at all. How one makes money at a particular season in life, is not always an accurate reflection on who they are.

All this is rather complicated. And I find that it is made further complex by this new season in life that I now find myself approaching currently.

You see, I found out in June that I am pregnant. And since then I have had this vacillating sense of what this means about my identity, as if the other stuff wasn’t enough to think about.

Don’t get me wrong! I am extremely happy and utterly ecstatic about this news! The baby was planned, and my husband and I are over-the-moon-excited. This is what we want. And yet, it’s difficult to imagine, or rather, realize, that my identity is now shifting due to another living being occupying my body. Already, this little creature is impacting who I am–what I eat, what I (don’t) drink, how often I eat, sleep, and pee, and what limitations my body has, even down to what positions I can comfortably sleep! These things are also not who I am, but I’m sure they effect other’s perception of me, and I know I personally am starting to see myself differently: as not simply a woman or even a wife, but as a mother.

Side note: this is totally the first time we will be sharing this news publicly online (for those that actually read this far), so please forgive the lack of cute announcement photos or “bump pics”– that’s just not our thing.

Upon reflection of the loss of my “career” as a teacher, the realization that my elder Baby Boomer friends and relatives  probably won’t fully understand the generation I was born into, and this growing child inside me, slowly becoming more and more a reality that impacts the way I do life, I guess the question I am really wrestling with is this: how do I apply a minimalist ideology to my ever-shifting and complex identity?

We live in a world where who we are is presented in so many public ways. To some extent, we can even control the public perception of ourselves by way of facebook, linkedin, “about me” sections in blogs, and other social media outlets. And sometimes these things do truly reflect our true selves. But I believe it also over-simplifies our identity. Which makes me wonder if having a minimalist approach to defining my identity is even realistic or possible.

Perhaps this continuous exploring, changing, and figuring out of one’s identity is simply a part of our work as people living in a complex and changing world. Perhaps finding our calling is more about finding the common thread in our motivation for life rather than what our work entails in the moment–public school teacher, fitness instructor, or stay-at-home-mom. Perhaps it’s less about saying nice phrases like, “my identity is in Jesus” and more about figuring out how God made us, so we can understand what that truly looks like in real life.

So when someone asks me that question, “so, what do you do?”, I think I’ll respond with something, well, not so minimal. Something like,

What do I do? I wake up every morning praying that I can figure out who I am so that I can live the way I will be most successful at bringing knowledge of Jesus Christ into people’s hearts. I try to eat healthy so that my baby can grow strong and develop good eyesight and a taste for a variety of foods, while at the same time, making sure I don’t throw up at Praise Dance rehearsal. I blog, but not as often as I would like, because I’m trying to balance sleeping 8-9 hours a day and helping my husband with his career, which often means hardcore napping, but also filming random auditions or promo videos at moment’s notice, or faxing in music contracts or mailing out posters in time for upcoming shows. I thought I was going to be a teacher for my whole life, but now I’m content with teaching fitness classes and preparing to be a stay-at-home mom in the not-so-distant future, and maybe homeschooling our kids–who knows!? I hang out at Starbucks and work on my book, I make color-coded lists and meal plans in my passion planner, I do my BSF lesson every morning, I go to MOPS on Tuesday mornings, and recently I started swimming laps since I can’t run while I’m pregnant. I do a lot of stuff, actually, and hopefully some of those things will give you an idea about who I am. But mostly, I just hope that you can be courageous enough to know that your identity is not always defined by what you do, especially what you do for a living, because it’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, and I’m still shedding so much of who I thought I was in order to see who I truly am. 

But…that’s not really my initial idea of a “minimalist answer”. However, I do think it’s probably more genuine in reflecting my thoughts and feelings towards the question. And who knows? Maybe it will let people know what I actually do.

That was the question in the first place, right?

5 Ways to be a Minimalist on your Smartphone

 

white smartphone beside silver laptop computer

Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

Today’s technology is incredible. We can communicate so easily and share ideas, photos, videos, and art with countless people via the internet, social media, or even just email or text messaging. That said, our smartphones can be powerful tools in the business world and as an artistic outlet.

Since my job change last year, I have started to rely heavily on my iPhone in doing business. My job is to update all of D’Flo Productions‘ social media sites, as well as track traffic from the website, promote videos, and host give-aways. Not to mention I need to be available to respond to emails and phone calls and update schedules via iCalendar.

I also use my phone to listen to music and podcasts, read on my kindle, and occasionally watch Netflix. I use it to look up information on IMDB, order from Amazon, text my friends, scroll through my personal social media accounts, set reminders to take my vitamins, track exercise and steps on my Fitbit app, look up recipes, learn how to better use my doterra essential oils, read blog posts, scan coupons on my Walgreens or Starbucks card, and I even use the alarm feature to wake up in the morning.

I know I am not alone in this.

There are probably millions of people who do a lot of important work from their smartphones, as well as use it for more personal or enjoyment purposes.

With this being the case, our smartphones can sort of control our lives if we are not careful. In fact, there are times when I personally feel like I can get lost for hours on end in the tiny world of my iPhone, browsing through different apps, scrolling through Instagram, or checking my email for the 17th time.

I began to work on curbing my iPhone use a while back, even before I started my minimalist journey, and now that I’m committed to minimalism, I realize just how important it is to simplify phone usage and put boundaries on when I use it and for what purpose.

Here are 5 simple tips to help you spend less time on the screen, and more time being present in your real life:

1.) Use the Moment app to track your phone usage. You can use it a few days just to see the average amount of time you spend on your phone, and then you can set a realistic goal for yourself for how much you want to limit. Moment will even remind you to get off your phone if your nearing your allotted time amount, and you can recognize patterns and habits revolving around when and how you use your smart phone. This app can really raise your awareness and help you see what boundaries need to be set in the first place.

2.) Charge your phone at night, but leave it in another room besides your bedroom. If you use your phone as an alarm, invest in a real alarm clock. This will help you go right to sleep instead of scrolling through social media when you should be winding down. Research shows that if you look at the glowing screen of your phone before bed, you are less likely to fall asleep and get quality rest, so if you’re in the habit of reading from your kindle app before bed, try switching to a physical book instead. It will also help you start a productive day rather than laying in bed and spending those precious first moments of your morning mindlessly looking at Facebook before you’re even awake!

3.) Delete time-wasting apps so you are not tempted to play games or scroll through social media posts multiple times a day. Most of these apps can be accessed through websites anyways, so give yourself an allotted time slot to catch up on social media or play an online game, and then just stop. If you don’t have the app on your phone, you’re less likely to go to it when you’re bored or out of habit. You can even disconnect your email if checking it on the go isn’t necessary for your job. This way, the only time you’ll have to check it will be when you are at your computer, and so you won’t be tempted to needlessly check in with email or social media multiple times a day.

4.) Wear a watch and use a real camera. Many people use their phones to look at the time, but after digging it out of their pocket or purse, it’s just too tempting to go on and “quickly” check out what’s going on on on Instagram or log into our email for the 80th time. If you choose to wear a watch instead, you won’t have to be constantly looking at your phone to see what time it is; this way, you won’t have to even touch your phone as much as you would otherwise. And, if you use a real camera for those fun outings with the family or a night on the town with friends, you can be less tempted to post directly to social media and get sucked into being on your phone instead of enjoying time with the people you care about most. Sometimes it’s as simple as limiting the amount of times that picking up the smartphone is necessary.

5.) Use the “Airplane Mode” feature during work hours. For me, I only use this when I’m not posting on social media (since that’s part of my work). But when I’m designing, blogging, or working on a video edit, I turn that phone off or put it on Airplane mode so it has no way of distracting me. Even just a simple text message tone can break my focus, so I often choose to have some separation when I’m needing to be really productive at work.

And there you have it friends, some simple tips to take your life back from your smartphone. Reclaim your time and how you spend it by setting limitations and boundaries. Of course, there are countless other ways you can practice minimalism on your phone, and when it really comes down to it, we simply have to exercise a little self-control, something our society seems to have forgotten how to do.

The most drastic way we can become a minimalist in our phone use is downgrading to a “dumb phone”–one that only makes calls. Yes my friends, we can go back to what the phone was originally made for in the first place and simply make our calls on it.

Most of us remember the “dumb phone”, but soon our children will have never known anything other than smartphones. Let’s be careful what we teach them about the importance and control our phones have over our lives.

What are some ideas you have for setting boundaries on your phone usage? I’ve love to hear some more of your tips and tricks! After all, I’m just a wannabe minimalist, and I need all the help I can get 🙂

 

 

 

10 Hanger Project Week One: Baggy Clothes, Fear of Failure, Wardrobe Whittling Tips, and #OOTD

Well, I have officially survived the 10-Hanger Project Week One. If you are unfamiliar with this project, check out my blog post and get all the deets.

I will start by saying that I had to make some minor adjustments to the wardrobe… well, given that it’s only 10 hangers, I guess they would be considered major adjustments, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out now.

See, when I started the project, I chose items I thought I could make great combinations with. The only problem was the timing: I decided to do this right when the seasons were changing, so I chose some items I haven’t worn since last fall.

Well, over the summer I completed the Insanity Max 30 Program with my friend Michelle and we kicked the crap out of it! I lost almost 2 inches around my waist, and I wasn’t even trying to! All I wanted to do was tone up a little and work out with my friend– I had no idea I even HAD 2 inches to loose around the middle! I guess a terrible last year of teaching made me stress-eat and gain some extra pounds that I didn’t realize, or maybe I just toned up more than I thought. Anyway, right after that, I started the P90X 3 program, which I am ALMOST done with (check out my November goals— I’m so close to completing that one!). I haven’t taken measurements, but I’m guessing I lost some flab and toned up with this program as well.

That being said, the skirt and the dress I chose for my 10 Hanger Project did not fit me at all. Check it out:

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***Note to self: try on the clothes before you decide to wear them for 30 days straight.

So, I swapped out and put the baggy clothes in the donation pileIMG_6077.

My new items are on the side ————->

You can see that they are vey similar to the previous ones.

Here are some tips I’ve learned through this process:

1.) Don’t keep clothes that don’t fit. Even if they are just a tad too loose or a tad too tight, you’ll feel uncomfortable every time you wear them, and you should feel great in every item you own.

2.) Do an in-depth closet evaluation at the beginning of each season. This will help you get rid of things that may not work with your style anymore, or things that don’t fit right or have stains, holes, or too much wear. Just because you loved it last fall doesn’t mean it’s salvageable this fall; just because you lived in it last summer doesn’t mean it’ll work for you this summer.

3.) If you have clothes that are very similar, get rid of the ones you like least. There is no use having 5 of the same gray tee shirt or 3 black skirts. Choose the one that is the most flattering, makes you feel the best, or is the most versatile. Donate the rest, especially if they no longer fit (like in my case)!

4.) Don’t be afraid of failure. This isn’t so much a wardrobe tip as it is a life tip. If I was going by my own rules, I would have just stuck it out and worn the clothes that don’t fit me. It honestly made me fearful to share this failure with you because I felt like I was cheating– I didn’t get this project absolutely-positively-perfectly-right.

But the point of this entire 10 Hanger Project is to get rid of my attachment to clothes. There may have been a time when I would have noticed that the dress and the skirt didn’t fit right, but still tried to keep them and make them work because I was attached to them. One of two things would happen: 1.) they would have hung in my closet, never getting worn, or 2.) I would have worn them, and felt awkward and uncomfortable the entire time (I probably would have looked pretty awkward too!).

No, no no. This time, these babies are gettin’ tossed! I failed at picking out the very best 10 items for my project. I failed. It’s okay. Fix it. Be flexible. Move on. Breathe.

And finally, I wanted to share with you some of the outfit combos I came up with this past week (#OOTD):

Not bad right?! See, I don’t need new clothes! In fact, I only need a few. But I’m not going to lie, laundry has been a doozy… Now I know what it feels like to have LITERALLY nothing to wear by the end of the week!

Thanks for tuning in with me as I journey on this minimalist mission this November!

What do you think would be the most challenging thing about whittling your wardrobe down?