Tag Archives: pinching pennies

Ballin’ on a Budget–Ditch the Bare Cupboards & Empty Refrigerator

I’ll admit it…with the craziness of the holiday season I totally didn’t keep up with this series in December. But I’m back on the horse for January! Today, I’d like to continue with a series that highlights easy strategies for BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET. Each month, I’m going to propose something for all of us to ditch in order to free up some line items on our budgets with values that can go to more practical expenditures like paying down on debt and saving for special occasions. (You can catch up on past suggestions HERE.) Whether you’re actively pinching pennies or simply want to re-direct some of those pennies to better serve you, this series is for you! So, let’s get started…

forks

When you’re trying to save money, or simply don’t have much money, any kind of spending can be difficult.

But here’s the thing…you’ve gotta eat. Like…to SURVIVE.

Back in my mega-broke years I repeated this re-assuring refrain to myself (“YOU’VE GOTTA EAT”) as a mantra of sorts.

You can tell yourself you’ll save money by staying home on Sunday instead of carting yourself to the grocery store and stocking up with food for the busy week ahead. But, “You’ve gotta eat.” So you pick up drive-thru fast food on the way home from work every night. You can tell yourself you don’t need to bring a snack with you because you’ll only be gone a few hours. But, “You’ve gotta eat.” So you  splurge on an over-priced granola bar. You tell your friends you can’t afford to go out to a restaurant with them and head home to the lone can of soup hanging out in your pantry. But that doesn’t fill you up and *say it with me now* “You’ve gotta eat.” So you catch up with those same friends at a bar and proceed to order appetizers galore!

All of these scenarios can be avoided with a little planning and a weekly trip to the grocery. If the check-out line has you meeting your edge as you listen to the beep-beep-beep of your bank account depleting, DON’T. PANIC. Just gently remind yourself, “I have to eat, damnit!” It is WAY better to do it on your own terms and stick to a budget. So, the next elimination you can make in your journey towards getting financially fit is to ditch the bare cupboards and empty refrigerator. 

Now I know this can be a hard habit to kick. Not only is there the cognitive dissonance with spending money in order to save money but planning ahead, studying sales, hitting the stores, and making your own meals takes brain space and time and practice. But if you give it a go, trust me, you’ll start falling into a routine. It will get easier. Heck, it might even become enjoyable. And you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank in no time.

Why not fill your fridge and cupboards with foods that makes sense? Food you love and food you are excited to cook?

Here are four easy steps to get you started…

Week 1. Brainstorm potential meals. 

Alright angels, this week you have it pretty easy! Grab three sheets of paper and set them out in front of you. Label them Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner and go to town with some listing. Consider all the dishes you know how to make off hand without a recipe. Jot those down on the appropriate sheets first. Think of all the meals you enjoy creating and write ’em down. Throwing a few ingredients together–like smoothies or sandwiches… Include those. List off the things you know you could throw together in ten minutes or less for those times you need to pack a lunch in a hurry. Brainstorm more elaborate items you might want to make when you have a long Sunday of sitting at home. These lists can be as long as you like (take the whole week to make sure you get everything down!) just make sure you’re considering these two questions–

  1. Do I enjoy eating this?
  2. Can I feasibly make this?

If the answer is yes to both then copy it on down!

Super pared down example to help you get the idea —

Breakfast – cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes with sausage, scrambled eggs with spinach and bacon, avocado toast, greek yogurt with fruit and granola

Lunch – salad topped with lean protein, berries, and avocado; grilled cheese and soup; pb&j with crackers and veggies/fruit; cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix; beans and rice; baked potato (or sweet potato) with toppings of choice; triscuits & cheese, grapes, pickles, and mixed nuts

Dinner – chili and cornbread; grilled salmon with grain and veggie; spaghetti and meatballs; your own version of a Chipotle burrito bowl; minestrone soup; black bean burgers with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob; chopped salad with a lean protein; homemade pizza and a side salad; breakfast for dinner; stir-fry pork and veggies with noodles/rice

Week 2. Gather pantry staples. 

Now that you know what types of things you’ll be preparing in your kitchen, you can start building up your essentials. Take a look at your three lists. Are there any common denominators in terms of ingredients? Any staple item which is used in the creation of several of the meals on your lists?

From the list above I see a few pantry staples which may be worth considering keeping on hand all the time. Oats, eggs, pancake mix, crackers/trail mix/nuts, beans, rice/quinoa, cornbread mix, pasta, peanut butter, and sweet potatoes would be a good starting place.

Once you’ve added these common denominator ingredients to your pantry staple list, consider ingredients which may act as ENHANCERS for the meals you brainstormed. Just a few add-ons can go a long way in taking your food from boring and blah to delicious. Think: Olive oil and vinegar to make a quick and easy salad dressing or a spicy mustard to jazz up that cold cut wrap. Maybe you like your food with a kick so you throw in hot sauce and Cajun seasoning. Perhaps you like Teriyaki sauce for marinating or a sprinkle of cinnamon on your morning oats. You get the idea.

Purchase as many of these items as you can this week. If you can’t afford to grab the whole kit and kaboodle? That’s ok. You can start adding a few pantry staples to your repertoire each week you shop. And as you run out of these items, replace them.

pantry staples

Week 3. Make a meal plan. 

At this point you know what meals you can (and want) to make and you have some pantry staples on hand, time to take a stab at a little bit of handy-dandy planning! Take a glance at your calendar to first get an idea of what your week looks like. Are you super busy? Do you have any evening meetings or activities? Any meals already accounted for–like breakfast provided at a conference or a special birthday dinner planned with friends? Will you have time each morning to pack your lunch or do you need to do it the night before? Or even prepare them all on Sunday?

Once you’ve taken stock of all your weekly happenings and considerations, start pulling meal ideas from your brainstorm lists to create your weekly meal plan. Make sure to keep in mind the pantry staples you stocked up on last week in order to keep your grocery bill as low as possible.

Example from the brainstorm above–

Monday: B- Greek yogurt with fruit and granola. L- PB&J with crackers and veggies. D- Chili and cornbread.

Tuesday: B- Oatmeal. L- cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix. D- Leftover chili and cornbread.

Wednesday: B- Oatmeal. L- PB&J with crackers and fruit. D- Breakfast for dinner.

Thursday: B- Oatmeal. L- salad topped with lean protein, berries, and avocado. D- black bean burgers with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob

Friday: B- Oatmeal. L- cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix. D- Eat out for date night.

Saturday: B- avocado toast. L- baked potato (or sweet potato) with toppings of choice. D- minestrone soup.

Sunday: B-  pancakes with sausage. L- leftover minestrone soup. D- stir-fry pork and veggies with noodles/rice

Week 4. Hit the store and get cooking. 

This is the week to put all your planning into action. Start your week with a trip to the store to get all the items you’ll need to pull off that meal plan. Bring the plan with you or make a shopping list. Study the sales. Compare prices in the store. If you need fruits, go for the ones in season. Need veggies? Check fresh AND frozen. Grains? Look for which one is on sale or hit up the bulk bins.

Once you’re home with all your loot see what happens. Give your week’s worth of meals a go! If you experience hiccups along the way that’s ok. Figure out what you could do differently in the future. Practice makes perfect and finding a way to cheaply feed yourself with out a lot of fuss DEFINITELY takes practice. If you think it might help in your journey, take this week to jot down any thoughts, notes, or inspiration in a journal. Read through it when you sit down to make your next meal plan and KEEP GOING! You got this!!!

kitchen tools

Resources:

Week 1 —

31 Healthy Meals You Can Make in 10 Minutes or Less

Quick Dinners to Make at Home

Good and Cheap (PDF Cookbook)

8 Fast Dinners for Busy Runners

Week 2 —

Stock Your Kitchen: Pantry Staples

How to Stock a Healthy Pantry

Week 3 —

How I Cut My Grocery Bill by $1000 a Year

Memorize This Grocery List

How to Eat on a Shoestring Budget

FREE Weekly Meal Plan Printable

Week 4 —

Favorite Trader Joe’s Items

6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low

How to Maximize Your Saving With Coupons

How to Make 5 Week Day Dinners on a Sunday

An Entire Week’s Worth of Meals in 9 Easy Steps

Do you have your own tips or resources for keeping food in your pantry and home-cooked meals in your belly? Is this an area of your “spending diet” that you struggle with? Do you think following these weekly steps could help? Let’s chat in the comments below!

And tune in next month when we tackle GYM MEMBERSHIPS!

 

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Ballin’ on a Budget–Ditch the Coffee Shop Habit

Today, I’d like to continue a new series on the blog! One that highlights easy strategies for BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET. Each month, I’m going to propose something for all of us to ditch in order to free up some line items on our budgets with values that can go to more practical expenditures like paying down on debt and saving for special occasions. (You can catch up on last month’s suggestions HERE.) Whether you’re actively pinching pennies or simply want to re-direct some of those pennies to better serve you, this series is for you! So, let’s get started…

coffee shop 1

Listen, I’ve been there. You’re on your way to work and swing by Starbucks for a quick jolt of caffeine. The afternoon doldrums sink in so you scamper out to the street and into the warm glow of the closest Dunkin’ Donuts. A major deadline is looming and rather than sit in your house for one. more. second. you decide to save your sanity, pack up your laptop and head to your favorite independent cafe.

But all those iced coffees and caramel macchiatos can add up. Before you know it you’re having more conversations with your barista than  your own mother. So, the next elimination you can make in your journey towards getting financially fit is to ditch the coffee shop habit. I am by no means proposing cutting coffee (or caffeine. or even your super specific bougie drink of choice). I myself LOVE coffee…and frankly don’t want to live in a world without it. But I WOULD encourage you to have a quick perusal of your bank accounts to see how much of your hard-earned cash you’re parting with at coffee shops. Often just for the sake of convenience or a need to break up your day or free wi-fi.

Here are four easy steps you can take over the next four weeks to help you kick this habit to the curb…

Week 1. Invest in some equipment. 

Now I know it feels counter-intuitive to SPEND money when you’re trying to stay on the money saving path. But trust me on this one. I once went a whole year without owning a coffee pot. I convinced myself that I didn’t have the money for one and that my office brewed up a big pot every morning anyways. Unfortunately my trade-off didn’t account for those mornings I didn’t go in until later, days when our secretary was sick (and the coffee equipment stayed locked up in her office), and…well….THE WEEKENDS. *slaps forehead* Suffice it to say I ended up going out for coffee way more than I anticipated. If you want to start saving, take this week to go purchase some coffee shop equipment. If you don’t already have one, buy a coffee maker. If you always find yourself picking up coffee on the go because you’re running late in the morning, buy a coffee maker you can set the night before. More of an espresso drinker? You can get an espresso maker for cheaper than you might think. If you’re more tempted by tea at coffee shops, pick yourself up an electric kettle. Any of the above can be purchased to live in your office or break room at work if that’s more your speed and your work doesn’t supply them. Looking for some convenience factor? Order your favorite coffee through Amazon and subscribe to have it sent monthly. Basically, there’s tons of stuff out there to help you re-create coffee shop faves. Need a milk frother, an espresso stovetop version, or a pourover? Invest now and save money later.

Week 2. Learn to barista with the best of ’em. 

This is the week for recipe and how-to researching. My favorite!!! Hop on Pinterest, do a little Googling, and ask all your former-barista besties how to make a great cup of joe. My coffee shop guilty pleasure is definitely iced coffee. Are you the same? Learn how to whip up enough for the whole week. I also love caramel frapuccinos, iced caramel macchiatos, vanilla iced lattes,  and my other all time favorite behind plain ol’ iced coffee….dirty chai lattes. Whatever you fancy, you can bet your bottom dollar someone on the internet has a tutorial about how to make it.

coffee shop 2

Week 3. Schedule breaks throughout your day and STICK TO THEM. 

One big reason folks fall into the coffee shop habit is because it’s a great excuse to stop working, stretch your legs, and take a bit of a break. Suddenly you realize you’ve been plowing away at some task for the past 5 hours and the afternoon slump hits HARD. For me, this can be curbed by scheduling small breaks throughout my day. This week, keep notes on when the coffee shop urge arises. This is probably a pretty clear indicator of one such time you need to schedule a break. And I don’t mean an “open a new tab and scroll through Twitter” break, I mean a complete change of scenery break. They might pop up at different times every day but are so important for your self-care and productivity…and they won’t cost you! I try to make time for at least 2 during my work day (not counting lunch).

Example of a work break I love: Take a walk around the block. Come back inside and put an electric kettle on to boil. Munch on a few almonds while waiting for the water to boil. Reply to a text or two. Pour tea. Do some neck and upper back stretches while it steeps. Return to desk.

Figure out what works for you and REPEAT.

Week 4. Organize a coffee club!

Maybe your coffee shop visits are more about being social! I think we can address that as well. If you meet up with friends for chats at coffee shops, perhaps you can take turns meeting at each other’s homes instead. You could try to recreate new drinks each time! Perhaps you can set up a workplace coffee club and alternate who brings and brews the coffee. Maybe once the pot is ready you can dole out warm cups and all head outside for a quick breather.

Or you can schedule and budget for special trips to the coffee shop with your crew once a month. In moderation, your coffee shop visits aren’t a habit. They’re a celebration!

coffee shop 3

Bonus Tip: When people ask for hints about what to get you for Christmas or birthdays, let them know you love coffee (or tea)! Asking for consumables you actually love and will use is a great way to save money.

Do you have your own tips or resources for kicking the coffee shop habit? Is this an area of your “spending diet” that you struggle with? Do you think following these weekly steps could help? Let’s chat in the comments below!

And tune in next month when we tackle BARE CUPBOARDS AND EMPTY REFRIGERATORS!

P.S. Buying coffee? Make it Fair Trade!

 

Ballin’ on a Budget – Ditch the Friends Who Are Always “Makin’ it Rain”

Today, I’d like to start a new series on the blog! One that highlights easy strategies for BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET. Each month, I’m going to propose something for all of us to ditch in order to free up some line items on our budgets with values that can go to more practical expenditures like paying down on debt and saving for special occasions. Whether you’re actively pinching pennies or simply want to re-direct some of those pennies to better serve you, this series is for you! So, let’s get started…

ditch your makin it rain friends

We all have a few of those friends who spend to their heart’s content and, whether deliberately or not, encourage us to do the same. One major elimination you can make in your journey towards getting financially fit is to ditch the constantly “makin’ it rain” friends. Now I know this sounds harsh but it doesn’t mean you have to cut all friendships out of your life or that you have to forego a social life. It just means you need to examine your “little black book” with a fine tooth comb. Identify those social connections who are contagiously bad with money. Whether their expendable income is from their parent’s pocket book or their own doesn’t matter. Reflect on the last few times you socialized with them. Did it involve driving long distances or splitting expensive cab fare? Were you found in the midst of a never-ending rotation of buying rounds of cocktails made with top-shelf liquor? Check out your bank statement from the night. How much did that dinner bill ACTUALLY come to? Now, consider whether you can flip this friendship on it’s head, financially speaking, OR if you need to cut them out completely.

After analyzing your friendships and their corresponding relationship to your finances, what’s next? Here are four easy steps you can take over the next four weeks to help you take financial control of your social life…

Week 1. Make a list of everything you enjoy doing or would like to try that costs little to no money. Don’t worry if the list is super long…I’ll wait…..get it all down! Now, keep this list handy as a reference when looking for social outings or activities with friends, family, and neighbors. When choosing to meet up with a friend it can be easy to default to costly adventures, like dinner and drinks or catching a flick at a movie theater, that are seriously lacking in creativity. Most would gladly exchange these go-to’s for a free concert on the square or a game of scrabble at your kitchen table…you just have to be brave enough to make the suggestion. Establishing your list is the first step!

Week 2. Choose to have “the money” conversation. Conversing about money is a taboo. But shying away from the topic can hinder the ability to have realistic discussions with the folks who would gladly get in your corner and help you achieve your goals. Now, I certainly think these conversations have a time and a place. I don’t think you should be having them with any Joe Shmoe and I don’t think you should shout intimate financial details from the rooftops like how much you earn or how much debt you’re working on paying off. But I DO think there’s extreme value in speaking your goals out loud. Why are you trying to live your life with a ballin’ on a budget mindset? Is it to pay off your student loans? Is it to finally take that trip to Paris? Is it to save enough to establish an emergency fund? This week, tell a close friend your current short-term financial goal. At the least, you’ll have someone who understands why you don’t want to run around town makin’ it rain anymore. At the most, you’ll have someone to hold you accountable. And you never know, maybe they’re working towards a similar goal! You’ll never know unless you share.

recurring ritual with friends

Week 3. Commit to a recurring ritual with a friend or friends. If socializing is of importance to you but you’re also actively watching your wallet, it helps to think ahead. In my experience, the EASIEST way to do this is set up a ritual on YOUR terms. It can be so tempting to fit in a catch-up with a friend over a restaurant meal or a night out at a bar but if you carve out time for them in other ways, you’ll find the need for these money-draining experiences diminishes. This step is completely adaptable based on how much time you have available and your preferences. The important thing is figuring out what’s going to bring you and your friends happiness with out spending a ton of money. This is the week to figure it out and lock them in! Your ritual can be as simple as gathering a few pals one night a week to watch a movie or as elaborate as planning a monthly pot-luck picnic at the local park (complete with field games!). Maybe you and a pal want to be running buddies on Tuesday and Thursday mornings? Maybe you extend an open invitation for anyone to stop by your house for Mario Kart on Saturday afternoons? Maybe you gather your best and brightest lady-friends once a month to talk about a book or knit or practice French. You don’t need to lay down a bunch of cash to bring joy to your life and make lasting memories with your friends.

Week 4. Say no! While it’s awesome to be armed with an arsenal of low-cost socializing ideas, there are still times when we just CAN’T be in control. You’ll no doubt still receive invitations for more expensive outings and events. So, start strategizing your action plan. How can you turn down these opportunities with grace? Now, I get it. FOMO (fear of missing out) starts to creep in. You get the feeling that if you say “no” one itty-bitty, little time you’ll never get asked to do anything EVER again!!! I think the best way to combat this is with honesty. Tell whomever extended the invite what circumstances are causing you to pass on this particular opportunity. Would you have to pay for a sitter? Do you have a looming deadline? Did you just move making money a little tight for the month? Let them know. And then find a way to let them know you still value your friendship–whether that be inviting them to the next occurrence of your recurring ritual (see above!) or sending a card or scheduling a phone date to hear all about what happened during the event you couldn’t attend. For this final week, your mantra is, “I can’t do it all. I can’t pay for it all. And that’s OK.”

girl in yellow flowers

Resources: 

Week 1 – 

33 Fun, Frugal Fall Activities

Free Stuff To Do Every Day In NYC

Free-time this Fall? No need to break the bank!

30 free things you can do tomorrow…

Week 2 – 

The Power of Stating Your Intentions Out Loud

Set Financial Goals

Use these 5 steps to talk to your friends about money without making anyone uncomfortable

Week 3 –

25 Movies To Watch When You Don’t Want To Go Out

53 Make-Ahead Picnic Foods

How to Start a Book Club

The #1 Item You Need For House Guests

Week 4 –

How to Say No Without Ruining Relationships

How to deal with the fear of missing out when you’re forced to be frugal

Fighting FOMO

19 Awesome Things to Do Alone

 

Do you have your own tips or resources for taking financial control of your social life? Is this an area of your “spending diet” that you struggle with? Do you think following these weekly steps could help? Let’s chat in the comments below!

And tune in next month when we tackle THE COFFEE SHOP HABIT!