RSS Feed

Category Archives: Practical Things

Practical ideas, approaches and tools for a Rice and Beans Life

9 Unexpected Things That Have Happened on Our Road to Debt Free

We’ve experienced both highs and lows on our road to debt freedom and today I want to share with you some of the fun and unexpected things that have happened on our journey.

  1. Less mail and far fewer bills in my mailbox. Most days there’s nothing in there. And I kind of like that.
  2. Surprise expenses are only annoying now and not fear inducing. When we took our son to the emergency room last winter we weren’t afraid of the bill in the same way we would have been before our debt free journey so we focused more easily on making sure he was getting the care he needed.
  3. Budgeting has become a fun game for us. At first making a budget is confusing and frustrating. But as you see progress it gets fun. Trust me. (If you haven’t started yours here are two blog articles that might help you: How to Make a Budget That Works over at BeingFrugal.net and How to Make a Budget over at ChristianPersonalFinance.com)
  4. As we’ve gotten closer to debt freedom we are getting giddy about making plans for our money instead of our debt making the plans for us.
  5. There are almost no arguments about money in our house. I can’t recall the last time we argued over money. (Underwear and socks left on the floor, yes. But not money.)
  6. I’ve learned to cook some great fun food, like homemade pizza. Eating at home is healthier and we don’t need to leave a tip. When we do eat out it really does feel like a treat because it is.
  7. My kids understanding of money has improved greatly. And I’m very motivated to make sure they don’t travel the debt road we have.
  8. Vacations planned and paid for in cash are FAR more fun because you can truly be in the moment. I love knowing on the ride home that I will not be getting the bill in the mail. The memories stay more golden for me this way.
  9. My five year old walking around hollering “Freeeeedooommmmm!!!!!” or “I’m debt free!!!!!!!” from listening to Dave Ramsey’s free podcast with me in the car or while I’m on the treadmill is hilarious. But clearly he’s listening.
Comment Worthy:
Add a 10th thing to this list! What has been a fun and unexpected result of your debt freedom journey?
Advertisements

The Most Important Tool in Becoming Debt Free

As my husband and I were discussing our finances this evening, our conversation veered, as it often does, into questions about where we’ve been so we can better determine where we are going. We found ourselves on the subject of discussing what, exactly, was the most important thing  in our journey to becoming debt free. He said something that surprised me but that I found rather profound: “It is more of an attitude than a technique.” I looked at him and waited for him to go on as he was sorting laundry from his most recent trip out of town for work. He said, “the thing is, it’s so easy to talk yourself from a want to a need.” I smiled at him. He did not easily jump on board with our debt free journey. For a long time he humored me but didn’t really embrace that where we were going was not only important but achievable. Over time, as he has seen our debt decrease and our choices in life expand he has become even more enthusiastic about getting debt free than I am. My husband, who once coveted a Breitling watch to the tune of several thousand dollars, is now incredibly excited about a re-issue Army watch instead. For less than $100 (but isn’t sure if he really needs it since he has one that tells time fine now, though it is heavily worn and falling apart and has been to the repair shop countless times in the last two years). He even sold several things he loved in order to upgrade his bike recently. It didn’t cost us a dime. He used what we like to call “found money” in the objects he already owned that he was willing to part with in order to have his better bike. He rides joyfully and often and it is a serious hobby for him so I’m proud of him for doing it this way. His attitude has most definitely changed over the course of the last many years that we’ve gone on this journey to debt free. We both backslide on occasion, but I realize tonight how right he is. It’s easy to talk yourself from a want to a need. We still struggle with this, but a whole lot less often than we used to. There are long lists of items that can be cut from a budget but the reality is that the most important tool is this: It’s more of an attitude than a technique. When you embrace the attitude, the techniques will follow more naturally.

An old favorite picture of mine: Thoughtful by the sea.

The Solution to Summer Fun: Sometimes It’s Just One Simple Thing

As we are approaching the end of July, I’m realizing summer has edged past its’ full swing hitch. If we are to believe the well stocked aisles of school supplies already on display at the Walmarts and Targets around America, we are sidling up to the last hurrahs of summer vacation. Over the last few weeks I’ve read plenty of articles and blog posts on how to have great frugal fun with your kids this summer. I even listed some fun stuff to do to celebrate summer back as we all headed into summer on Memorial Day Weekend. This weekend , however, my five year old taught me an extremely valuable lesson.

Knowing that my husband would be away for the weekend working in another town I asked my son if he wanted to do anything in particular this weekend as a special treat. He beamed and said “Mom, I want to stay home and PLAY!” I scratched my head a minute and tried again thinking he didn’t really understand what I as offering.”Do you want to go to the zoo? Maybe a bike ride? The Farmer’s Market again would be good…” (since I really did want to go back). And he said, “No, Mom. All I want is to stay home and play. With you.”. Well ok then, I thought. We can certainly do that. I was a little befuddled by this. Staying home and being together is kind of our regular thing. But I’d asked and had given him free reign on this choice so I was in the soup for whatever it was he asked for (within reason, of course, and this clearly was).

So stay home we did. Over the course of our weekend, we did a little minor grocery shopping (Had to have milk, of course. And he wanted ice cream for our stay home weekend) but we mostly stayed in. Now, when I say stayed in, we really did. Between the July desert heat and then, later, the rain since we are now entering monsoon season here, we literally stayed in. We played Chutes and Ladders so many times I lost count (I only won once. And we play fair!). We wiggled and danced and stomped for hours playing Hullabaloo and laughed as my 18 month old would stand ever so proudly on the wrong color or shape (of course he’s too young to know colors and shapes yet-but he knows ‘nose’ and ‘feet’ and ‘head’ and ‘car’ and…ok, you get the picture). We baked cookies. We made popcorn and turned out all the lights and laid on the living room floor with pillows to watch Dumbo one evening. The next evening we’d decided we had so much fun the first movie night that we watched Ratatouille. We played airport and we played chase. We played Ranch with my son pulling out the Little People Farm along with his playhouse and pairing them to create a Ranch. I listened to the intricate story he was building around his creation. We built train tracks and chugged for miles. We opened the windows when the rain rolled through and marveled at the fierce sound of thunder and the incredible smell of rain in the desert. They helped me make dinners (and strangely they actually asked for broccoli-I’m a really lucky mom). Tonight while making dinner my son was playing in his play kitchen near my real one and was busily creating a restaurant. He was wearing his chef hat and apron and reading his “cookbooks” (which were really  my dictionary and a few of my antique schoolbooks). He asked how to spell “spaghetti” and I realized he was making a menu. We talked about how much he should charge. $1 for the spaghetti. $2 extra for the “really good meatballs” (smart kid). He asked for an extra long bathtime to play and see just how prune-y they could get. Afterwards, we all cleaned up the toys together and settled things down. We were in pajamas and enjoying our homemade ice cream sundaes together around the table (he had even scooped the ice cream himself-mostly) and I asked him, “So, sweetie, what was your favorite thing about our weekend?” He looked at me and smiled an ice cream-sticky smile and said “You Mom.” I was stunned. I asked “Not making peanut butter cookies? Playing Ranch?” He said, “No. My favorite thing was being with YOU.” Like that was the easiest and clearest thing in the world. Because to him it was. There was no need of zoos, or trips anywhere, no need for high impact, quick moving, big dollar fun. No need to break the budget. He just wanted Me. Even when he has me all the time and everyday. I was stunned. I am humbled.

We all tend to go looking to fill summer with zoom-pow-bang fun and activity. We look for advice on how to entertain our kids and families on a budget. But here’s the secret my five year old taught me because my five year old has it more right than I could have ever guessed: All they really need is us. With them. In their world. Front and center and present. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that. So next time you’re wondering what to do with the rest of summer, put down the list and take your kids’ hand. They will lead you where they need to go. All you have to do is follow.

Masterpiece Sundae on Sunday night-with two cherries-just how my five year old wanted it.

Stop Throwing it Out: Jumping Onboard the ‘Food Waste Friday’ Wagon

I love the blog The Frugal Girl. It’s a regular inspiration to me. I subscribe to this blog and it’s listed in my blogroll because I love what she does over there. She has a great regular Friday series called Food Waste Fridays. The point is to see where you’re throwing money away by letting something go bad in your refrigerator. You might be surprised to realize how much food you are tossing out on a regular basis. I know I was! And I’m pretty frugal to begin with. Food waste costs money. If you aren’t careful it can cost a lot of money over time. It has brought me to a new level of awareness on how to prevent losses by making sure I use food before it goes bad. The Frugal Girl has a call-out on her blog for other’s to jump on board with Food Waste awareness and I think it’s a truly worthy one so I’m giving it a shot today.

So how did I do this week?

My successes:

  • I managed to save half a carton of grape tomatoes that were starting to get just a tad wrinkly by tossing them in some olive oil and oven drying them. This is actually a great discovery for me. They turned out to be a fantastic snack to have on hand. My kids loved them and they are a great addition to a salad. If you haven’t tried oven dried grape tomatoes, they are really great.
  • I saved some blueberries and strawberries that had started to look ugly but were actually still smoothie worthy by popping them in a freezer bag for future smoothie creations.
  • I’ve also noticed I’m very close to the use by date on what’s left of a dozen eggs so we’ll be doing some baking today to use them up.

My failures:

  • The last fifth or so of a bottle of Pace Picante Salsa. It had gotten pushed to the back of the fridge because I’ve been making my own salsa lately. It had grown some green fuzzies inside. Pretty gross.
  • A small piece of chicken leftovers that didn’t make it into a sandwich of salad lunch.
  • The last couple of sips of a 7-Up we’d forgotten about since we almost never drink soda.
  • 2 containers of baby yogurt way past their use by date.
  • Half a lemon that didn’t get used and is just not salvageable.

Going forward:

At first glance this morning I thought I’d done pretty well. I thought it was only the small piece of chicken and the last fifth of the battle of salsa. But when I looked closer at my refrigerator contents I was pretty disappointed in myself. What a waste! It may be only a few cents here and there but it adds up. Clearly I need to work at this. Our biggest challenge seems to be things that get pushed to the back of the fridge. We seem generally to do well on using up our produce but not so well on the odd occasional items that we aren’t in the habit of using regularly (like soda or lemons). We need to do better!

Thank you to The Frugal Girl for helping me to be more aware of tossing money in my trash can! I think I’ll be jumping on board her call out every Friday to help keep me in check on reducing and hopefully reducing food waste in our household. It is not budget friendly to throw away food. We’re taking a use it or lose it philosophy with the food in our refrigerator from now on!

Comment Worthy:

So how about you? How aware of your food waste are you? Do you find yourself throwing away food you just didn’t use?

My first Food Waste Friday and not doing so well here. Let's hope next week is better.

8 Things I Learned Because of a Trip to My Local Farmer’s Market

Once lost and now found-in the big wide world of technology! (Thank you Erica at WordPress! I’m sending you a hug today. You are a rockstar!) Without further ado:

Our local Farmer’s Market in the park may be small compared to those available in big cities or metro areas but after taking my kids there this past weekend I learned and experienced wonderful, simple things that enriched my life. I am most decidedly a Farmer’s Market convert and will be making plenty of space in our budget and our schedule to make this part of our lives as long as the season allows. I consider myself a joyful lifelong learner and I learned some fun things this weekend that I want to share with you today:

1.) You can eat beat greens.

They are really good! I knew I’d read this somewhere before but while buying my lettuce and asking the seller about his beets, another woman was buying from the seller’s wife and explaining that she actually buys the beets more for the greens than the sweet dark red root. My interest was piqued. Anytime I can get more value out of an item without paying any more for it-I’m all for it! How much more budget friendly and frugal is it to use all of the vegetable that you’d previously only used part of? And unless you live under a rock, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how very healthy greens are for your diet, including beet greens. We came home and roasted the beets. We cleaned and chopped the greens for dinner. Guess what? My kids ate them both happily and asked for more! How much more proof do you need than that?

Here are two great simple easy recipes for using fresh beets:

How to roast fresh beets

Beet Greens

(You can also just use the a little bacon and salt and pepper to taste. That’s even more simple and really good too!)

2.) Hens don’t lay eggs in really hot weather. 

Apparently hens don’t like extreme heat or cold. We generally don’t have to worry about extreme cold here (though last winter was a record year freeze!). Where we live heat is a way of life. I had no idea the hens weren’t big fans of it either! (I’m very pale and redheaded so I am perpetually slathered in sunscreen and wearing a hat. People often say to me “You aren’t from here are you?”)

3.) Too much rain leads to fatter, more swollen zucchini.

But it should still make pretty wonderful zucchini bread. I was hoping to make a loaf of it today to show you but my kiddo was zonked and off to dreamland early. I don’t have the heart to cut into the zucchini he’s been carting around the house like a prize from the fair for the last two days without him. I’ll have to update you on how the zucchini bread comes out. In the meantime I’ll share my zucchini recipe of choice:

Zucchini Bread (I’ve been known to add in toasted walnuts on occasion!)

4.) How pleasant our community can truly be. 

We don’t have many shopping options here other than the big Walmart. I’ve found most people are in a terrible mood in the long line they have to stand in after battling through the store in the first place for all they need. It is a pleasant change of pace to not have to stand in long lines while your child asks for the chips and candy neatly lined up at his eye level while you make your way to the conveyor belt that rolls your items up to checkout. I’ve been known to chat up just about anyone and have made a friend or two in my local Walmart. But it is nowhere near the gratifying experience of talking to someone about the work and care they’ve put into their product or their art. There is a warmth and twinkle in their eye that can’t be found on the shelf at a store. It was real community. The  way it’s meant to be. It makes me want to go back. It makes me want to make a better effort to know my neighbors just a little more than the pleasant perfunctory wave as we come and go. Maybe on my next visit to the Farmer’s Market I’ll buy more zucchini and bake loaves of bread for my neighbors. Nothing liked homemade baked goods to open the door to neighborly friendships!

5.) Just how enthusiastic children will get when they are so involved with the experience of their food.

My oldest son came home talking a mile a minute and wanted to make everything right away. He was inspired and excited. It was so fun to see him so amped up over vegetables! My children are good eaters. I rarely have to “make” them eat their vegetables or fruits. They understand the importance of healthy foods. Our trip took my sons understanding to a whole new level. He helped me roast the beets and cut up the beet greens and has declared a new love for both. He carried the giant zucchini around so much that I finally had to explain that we needed to put it in the refrigerator till we were ready to make the bread. He inspected the sunflowers we bought and decided he needed to know how many types of sunflowers exist (we bought one bloom each of the four different varieties offered). He inspected the leaves, the bud that had not opened and the petals. He was fascinated by the pollen that he found on the table beneath the large blooms. He wanted to know more about how bees use pollen because he already know that bees like pollen. So we Youtube’d bees and watched them busily go about their task at a big sunflower (a happy coincidence, by the way) and this turned into a discussion about how the honey is then made. Which produced a lovely drawing that he has plans to color tomorrow. He gave me permission to share his work in progress with you. There is a photo of it at the bottom of this post.

6.) That you can keep lettuce fresh in a mason jar. 

Now. To be honest, I didn’t learn this at the Farmer’s Market but my trip inspired the search that led me to this little gem. There were such amazing greens available at my Farmer’s Market that I came straight home and searched the internet to find ways of preserving any future bounty of greens and lettuces I might bring home. I stumbled across an irresistible website about making salad in a jar. What an unusual concept! I was so fascinated I had to share her blog with you! She also happens to have great instructions for making Greek style yogurt at home. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my short list!  Check out this excellent blog Salad in a Jar. Even if you don’t go to a Farmer’s Market anytime soon-she’s got some great food stuff going on and I really enjoy her writing too!

7.) I learned just how processed even our fresh foods are from the grocery store. 

While it took a little more work to get the dirt off of what we brought home there was no denying how fresh and local it was. It was worth the extra elbow grease.

8.) That while it wasn’t a big budget saver, it didn’t break the bank either. 

We had a great experience and brought home some great produce. I learned a lot. My kids learned a lot. And most of all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. We’ll be heading back again this weekend, I assure you.

Art from my 5 year old. Inspired by our trip to the Farmer's Market and the pollen from our sunflowers.

Oh the Joys of Technology!

Being new to the blogosphere I am having one of my first bouts of good old fashioned technical difficulties.  I just learned a very important lesson today: Print all final drafts. Always. I was being frugal and saving ink and paper. Which in general I find to be a good idea. But it caught up to me today! Ouch. Being frugal is important but so is making wise choices about how and when to apply frugal measures. Sometimes it’s best to invest a little more to save yourself money, time and serious aggravation later. It’s important to find a balance. This morning I know I’d happily have parted with the few cents the ink and paper would have cost me but hindsight is 20/20. I will say, being new to blogging and all things bloggy I’m learning a ton very quickly! While no one likes to learn a lesson the hard way, at least something positive comes out of it: I did learn something! Ugh. Yay.

Because today is one of my husband’s precious few days off (we’re down to one more after this until mid September), I’ll be posting my promised list of things I learned from going to the Farmer’s Market tomorrow instead (pending any further technical problems of course-I’ll keep you posted)!

Hope you all have a wonderful Rice & Beans Life kinda day (just not one with technical difficulties!).

Comment worthy: 

Have you ever ended up paying the piper because of good intentions with saving money? Has there been an instance where you should have invested a little more for long term frugality over short term frugality? 

This Little Piggy Went to Market-The Farmer’s Market, That Is!

This past Saturday morning, my boys and I were up and out the door early. We had a morning date planned. We were headed to the local donut shop for a treat of donuts and milk for them while the donuts were still fresh and a big steaming cup of coffee for me. Of course they got the rainbow sprinkles (what kid can resist rainbow sprinkles on anything?).  How I love a $3 date with my boys!

Then we headed down the road to check out our town’s Farmer’s Market in the park. Last year we moved to a town of about 30,000 (which includes the outlier areas) so it’s definitely no metropolis. We actually are the largest town for about 75 miles in any given direction (over 200 if you go north!). We’d been given advice to get to the Farmer’s Market early since their aren’t a ton of vendors and, at the very least, to be there when they are allowed to start selling. We pulled in right on time. I was amazed at the number of vehicles amassed in the parking area near the little park. The boys were excited. My oldest was practically bouncing up and down to be able to buy food from real live farmers (he, of course, doesn’t remember trips to Farmer’s Markets we’d made when he was younger and we lived in another town that was chock full of them and I think he was thinking along the lines of Old MacDonald). My littlest was just happy to be outside on an already hot desert morning in his new shoes toddling along and fascinated by his own feet and the gravel beneath them. On occasion he would look up and grin big and wave a frantic toddler style hello to the cars still driving in or the people  around us heading to the same destination we were. We made our way to the small grouping of vendors set up beneath the blessing of shade from old, full trees and assessed where we should start. There were maybe ten vendors in all, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely offering considering the arid environment we live in. I spotted a man selling beautiful, enormous heads of lettuce and a lovely selection of beets and headed in his direction. The lettuce was so pretty that I didn’t bother asking what kind. It was $1.50 for the head and far larger and more healthy looking than the plants offered in our grocery store for about the same price. I pointed and said “I’ll take that one please! And tell me more about your beets.” He had two varieties and explained the benefits and drawbacks of both. I let my five year old choose the bunch he wanted and in the bag they went. I happily exchanged my money for the produce and headed to the next vendor. I went on to buy a swiss chard, the biggest zucchini squash I’ve ever seen which has an excellent future as zucchini bread, fresh sage, a small bunch of sunflowers and purple bell peppers. I would have bought a dozen fresh eggs but a friendly woman managed to zip them out from under me while I was happily chatting with the seller who was telling me that the squash I was buying from her was so big because of recent rains but that they were still excellent and agreed with me on my assessment that it would make good zucchini bread. I had some eggs left at home, so the seller, the lady who actually got the fresh hen eggs and I laughed about my poor timing and agreed we’d try again Wednesday evening for fresh eggs. The seller went on to apologize that she had no more eggs on hand and told me how her hens slow down considerably when it is hot. My children were at my feet picking grass and watching the exchange keenly. Suddenly my son exclaimed “Hey Mom! There’s a kid pulling a kid!” and we all turned in time to see a little boy leading a young and defiant goat on a rope. We laughed. We had our bag full of produce and took one more pass through to look at the offerings of handmade aprons, pottery, and blown glass.

When we got in the car to head home the whole car smelled of sage which transported me almost instantly to my childhood and the smell of summer and the creeks and rivers near where I grew up. Both my children were content in their car seats. My five year old asked where the real farmers were. I told him that the people selling us what we just bought were the real farmers. He smiled. He said, “Really? They looked like regular people.” I said, “They are.” He said, “Mom, someday when we have a farm can we have a goat so I can be a kid pulling a kid?” I smiled. I said, “If we someday have a farm, sure.”

All told, I spent about $12 at the Farmer’s market. Did I get the variety of produce that is usually available to me at my local grocery store? No. But I did get a good price for a good product. And we got so much more. We got the opportunity to connect: With our community, with our food and with our place in the world. We learned things (like how one of the regular customers is more interested in the beet greens than the beets so she chose her bunch based on the leaves. It inspired me to find a recipe for beet greens to go with dinner that night. And my children loved them).  We weren’t on autopilot. We were present in the moment and it was joyful. It was busy but everyone was friendly, happy, and conversational. There was no long line to wait in. There were no magazines to tempt me or candy at eye level for my children to plead for. Some of the items may have been a little more expensive than what I would have paid in the supermarket, sure. But my money went straight into the pocket of the people doing the hard work and I really love that. I liked looking in their eyes and appreciating their contribution to the world. I liked learning something from them. I liked shaking their hand as I handed them my money and I liked realizing how utterly simple and unprocessed my food was when I brought it home and laid it out on the counter with the dirt still falling off the leaves and roots. Sometimes budget friendly intersects beautifully with bringing an unexpected bounty of experience. When was the last time you saw a kid pulling a kid in your local Walmart? On second thought…maybe I shouldn’t ask that.

If you haven’t checked out your local Farmer’s Market this summer, please do. Go meet the people who grow your food. Sometimes they’ll throw in an extra sunflower for free just because they are kind. Go shake their hands and look them in the eye. Buy cookies or bread from someone who puts their heart into it (unless you make your own like I do, of course).  It’s a glorious experience. Even if you don’t buy much, it’s budget friendly frugal fun.

Join me tomorrow for my list of what we did and some fun new things we learned about what to do with our Farmer’s Market bounty!

Comment Worthy:

Do you go to your local Farmer’s Market? What is your favorite thing about it?

Some of our Farmer's Market bounty: A bag of swiss chard, sage, sunflowers and beet greens (beets were roasting in the oven!).

A very large zucchini with a future in zucchini bread. And pretty sunflowers that make me smile. And the pollen on the tables that keeps shedding but leads to great educational conversations about how flowers and bees work together!

%d bloggers like this: