11 Frugal Habits That Save Us Thousands

Rick and I have learned so much over the past 8ish months since beginning our quest for financial freedom. (We’ve paid $44,000 in student loans since April!) I thought I’d share some of the habits we’ve developed since beginning our journey that have helped us to save thousands.

1. Eating in. We didn’t eat out a lot before, but we’ve really reeled it in over the last few months. Rick’s talked with his friends about doing a potluck for some of their meals when they get together. We’ve invited people over instead of going out or suggested going out for coffee or drinks instead of a full meal.

rawpixel-589073-unsplash.jpg2. Having weekly budget meetings.  We learned that we need to regularly check in with our expenses to make sure we’re staying on track. We plug what we’ve spent each week into our budget spreadsheet and then see how much we have left to spend for the rest of the month. This helps so we don’t get to the end of the month and go “oh crap, we blew our budget“.

3. Discussing purchases. We have started communicating better about what we actually need, how much things cost, and making grocery lists. Even when going clothes shopping after my clothes buying fast was up, I made a list and set a spending limit after talking with Rick about it.

4. Using the library for entertainment. I don’t care what Leslie Knope says, libraries are the best! We use the library for many of our entertainment resources such as books, audiobooks, movies, and TV series DVDs. Lately, the audiobooks have been awesome for long drives.library.gif

5. Keeping grocery shopping to once a week. We make a list of meals and snacks we’ll eat each week and then create a list of ingredients we’ll need. We shop our fridge and pantry first to make sure we use up things that are about to expire. I’ve been doing a much better job at sticking to the list without purchasing extra in the store. It’s enough to last a week, and if we missed something, we manage without it. Since making a few changes, we’ve cut our grocery bill by about $100 each month.

6. Making more meatless meals. I started a Meatless Monday recipe series last month, and I’ve found some tasty, filling recipes that don’t require meat. Before creating our budget, we spent $400+ per month on groceries. With October’s Meatless Mondays, we spent less than $300.

7. Unplugging stuff and turning out lights. Honestly, I don’t know how much money this has saved us- maybe a few dollars a month? It does help with the mentality of using only what we need and wasting less.

8. Trying at-home/outdoor workouts. The weather’s getting cooler, but we still don’t plan to get a gym membership this year. I’ve been bundling up to go for walks or runs. If it’s dark by the time I get home after work I’ve been using online workouts such as this pop pilates challenge or yoga.

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I wrapped a wine bottle in an old sweater sleeve because I ran out of wine gift bags. 

9. Using what we have first. I mentioned that we shop the fridge and pantry first before going grocery shopping. The same goes for other areas in our home. I try to use clothing in new ways and play around with different outfits to make things seem like new. We’ve gotten crafty with gift wrap and cards using supplies we have on hand. We also check the gift card drawer in our house to see if we can use a gift card for something we need to purchase. If we don’t have it, we try to borrow or buy used before purchasing something new.

10. Checking for coupons. I’m not a big couponer, but I have been checking for coupons online and in the mail lately. We’ve used coupons for eating out, haircuts, auto maintenance, donating plasma, and movie rentals. Cashback apps and Ebates have been helpful with groceries, gifts and household items, too!

11. Saying no. Sometimes things aren’t in the budget and we have to say no to ourselves and/or other people. Usually it’s not a flat-out “no”. If it’s not in the budget that month, maybe we can make room for it the next month. Or maybe we’ll suggest a less expensive option instead. Most of our friends and family members know we are working hard to pay off debt. They’ve been extremely supportive and understanding, and I can’t thank them enough!

Now, don’t think we’re always perfect. We could definitely up our game in some of these areas. Really, it’s not about being perfect, but it’s about trying our best.

We’d like to make these habits sustainable so that even when that glorious day arrives when we can finally say we’re debt-free, we’ll continue to make sound financial decisions.

What kinds of frugal habits have you developed?

**This post contains affiliate links. You won’t pay any extra for making a purchase through these links, and I may earn some money to keep this blog going. I only link to products I support or use personally.

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Favorite Recipe Friday: Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

Do you have some leftover cranberries from your Thanksgiving dinner? Use them up in this sweet and tangy chicken recipe.

This chicken is great in a sandwich, in a salad, or alongside some roasted fall veggies.

Ingredients:
2.5 lbs chicken breasts
1/2 c. fresh cranberries
1 Tbsp. dried Italian herbs

For the Marinade:
1/3 c. cranberries
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp, black pepper
2 garlic cloves

Directions:

  1. Spray baking dish with non-stick spray. Place chicken inside baking dish.
  2. Make the marinade: Blend all the marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender.
  3. Pour marinade over the chicken, coating evenly.
  4. Cover and place in fridge to marinate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hrs.
  5. Once marinated, preheat oven to 375F.
  6. Add extra 1/2 cup cranberries and Italian herbs to the chicken dish. Spread it out evenly on and around the chicken.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until chicken is done.

4 Ways to Practice Gratitude

‘Tis the season to give thanks!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and it’s a perfect time to talk about gratitude.

Last week I posted about holiday stress and how being grateful and staying positive can help manage stress. I also made up my mind that I wasn’t going to give in to the pressures of the holiday season.

rawpixel-1053187-unsplash.jpgWell, we’ve recently added some additional potential stress to the season: we’re moving! Rick took a new position in a new city, so we’ve already started the moving process. Also, due to relocating, I’ll be out of a job at the end of December. So I’ve started searching for new employment. So much excitement and change!

We’re juggling a lot right now, and there are many things about this move that are unknowns to us. Usually that would really stress me out, and some days I’ve already felt stressed to the max. But I don’t want these anxious feelings to consume me.

One of my strategies to get through this exciting and potentially stressful time of change is to practice gratitude. Here are a few ideas I have to help me with this goal, and they might work well for you, too:

4 Ways to Practice Gratitude:

gabrielle-cole-701889-unsplash.jpg1. Create a gratitude journal or jar. Think about the things in your day that you are thankful for. Reimagine the situations and how you felt. Try to get specific. Then, write these situations down in a journal.

You could also write them on small slips of paper and put them in a jar. I did this once and read through the slips in the jar at the year’s end. It was so nice to remember these awesome situations, and I felt so blessed! You could also do this and read through the jar weekly or monthly.

2. Reframe negative experiences into more positive ones. Think about the good things that will come out of a seemingly bad situation.

At first, I freaked out about Rick getting a new job. I have to find a new job. We have to move in the cold weather. We don’t know where we’re going to live.

Then I thought about past experiences, and I felt much more hopeful about our situation. I am grateful for my excellent job skills and experience I’ve developed, and I should be able to find a good job. I might even find a job I really enjoy! I’ve moved almost every year since I started college. I’m thankful for that experience because I’m basically a pro by now. And what a great opportunity to declutter!

ben-white-692414-unsplash.jpg3. Praise God.
At the end of the day, find at least 5 things you are grateful for and thank God for them. Again, get specific and try to reimagine these situations. Maybe it was something big like a promotion or an A on a test. Maybe it was the warmth of the sun on your lunchtime walk or only a small amount of traffic on your commute. Thank God for these gifts.

4. Give a genuine compliment daily. Tell people how good they are at what they do. Thank them for helping you with an unpleasant task. What do you appreciate about your spouse, friend, coworker, etc.? Let him or her know.

It’s important to recognize the wonderful things we have and to appreciate the people around us. When we take time to count our blessing and show gratitude, we experience more joy and less stress.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! What are you grateful for today?

Favorite Recipe Friday: Orange Pomegranate Salad

Need to take a dish to pass to Thanksgiving this year? This salad makes a light, sweet and tangy side. It looks like a lot of steps, but it really doesn’t take long at all!

And look at how pretty and colorful it is!

IngredientsIMG_20181110_155717418.jpg

For almonds:
1 tsp. butter
2 tsp. honey
½ c. sliced almonds

For dressing:
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. dried ginger
¼ c. olive oil
1 tsp. poppy seeds
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

For rest of salad:
4 c. mixed greens (spinach, arugula, etc.)
3 medium oranges, peeled and cut into eighths
½ c. pomegranate seeds

Directions:

For the almonds:
1. Melt butter in a medium size, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add honey and stir to combine.
2. Add the almonds and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently until almonds are golden brown.
3. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray, and spread almonds out onto foil to cool.

For the dressing:
Mix dressing ingredients together.

For the salad:
Place greens in a large salad bowl. Top with orange slices and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with dressing (you don’t need all of it) and sprinkle almonds over the top.

8 Ways to Cut Holiday Stress

I have a good time and enjoy many aspects of the holiday season: Turkey Trot, Hallmark movies with Gretchen Wieners, getting together with family, singing Christmas carols and Christmas Eve mass, to name a few.

However, the stress that comes along with this time of year gets to me and sometimes clouds the joy and the real purpose for the holidays. The season is supposed to be about getting together with family, giving thanks, doing things for others, and sharing in the joy of the celebration of Jesus’s birth.

So I’ve decided this year will be different. No more panic attacks when shopping at Walmart. No more meltdowns when I can’t find the right tupperware after Christmas dinner (true story). I’m not going to let stress get to me, and here’s how I’m going to do it:

kari-shea-485935-unsplash.jpg1. Make gift giving simple and fun. I have a list of people I will shop for as well as a budget and a few gift ideas. I do enjoy shopping, wrapping and giving the gifts. I don’t enjoy the pressure to find the perfect gift. So I’ve given myself permission to buy imperfect gifts and to not stress about it. (Don’t worry, I’ll include a gift receipt.)

2. Make time for the things I enjoy. Some of these things I’ve listed above, and I’m also going to make time to relax. I’ll watch a Christmas movie, meditate, do yoga, blog or find some other fun, low-key activity.

3. Stay active. This is one of the most helpful things I can do to manage my stress. I was super ticked off about something holiday-related before I went for a run today. When I got back, my mood completely switched. I’d like to keep running, and when it’s too dark, cold or snowy outside, I’ll do one of my indoor workouts.rawpixel-771284-unsplash.jpg

4. Keep perspective. When something starts getting to me that I can’t control, I’m going to decide not to stress about it. Plans might change, people might create more work for me, or I might not be able to do everything I want to. I’m going to decide it’s not worth it to stress about it. Going to mass and meditating help to keep me grounded. I’m going to try to make it to mass each Wednesday in Advent to keep perspective.

5. Cut back on sugar. It’s EVERYWHERE this time of year, and it really impacts my mood. I’m not going to give it up completely, but I’m going to make sure I have good, healthy foods available to me so I’m less likely to cave to sweet temptations.

diego-ph-254975-unsplash.jpg6. Give. It’s a big part of the season, and it makes me feel good to do something for someone else. Time and money are tight, but I can always find something to give. Maybe I’ll volunteer or donate food or clothes.

7. Be thankful. This also helps with #4. I’m working on being more positive and finding the good in all situations, especially the frustrating ones. I’m going to make an extra effort to notice and thank people for what they do. I want to spend time each night meditating on all the good that happened that day and give thanks to God.

8. Cultivate realistic expectations of myself and others. I have a lot on my plate this holiday season, and I need to recognize it’s not going to be perfect. Everybody else has a story, too, and I can’t expect them to do everything my way. We’re doing our best, and we just need to take a breath and find the good in the situation.

What do you do to manage the stress of the holiday season?

 

Favorite Recipe Friday: Lemon Chicken Soup

Rick and I both had colds this week, and this lemon chicken soup really hit the spot.

The orzo seems to make it a little thicker and comforting. I’ve also made this soup without the orzo, which is still a tasty option if you’re watching the carbs.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, thinly sliced or diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
4 c. chicken broth
2 c. cooked chicken, shredded or cut into small pieces
1 c. orzo
Pepper to taste
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp. dried parsley

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot and celery and cook about 6-8 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and Italian seasoning and cook for a minute.
  3. Add the chicken broth, chicken and orzo. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Season with pepper to taste and mix in lemon juice, zest, and parsley.

What a Weight Loss Coach Learned About Paying Off Debt

I have been a health coach for a weight loss program for the last 3+ years, and I’ve learned so much from my patients

                   about paying off debt.

That sounds kinda odd. It’s not like my patients are all financial advisors trading money advice for weight loss tips. But I have learned a lot about goal setting and staying motivated throughout the journey, what ever the goal may be. Though the topics are completely different, I’ve found a few similarities between the processes of losing weight and paying off debt:

saad-chaudhry-775115-unsplash.jpg1. Goal setting. Setting a goal without an action plan is just a wish.

I help my patients set SMART goals with actionable steps to attain their goals. We think through any potential obstacles and strategize ways to deal with them. I ask them to visualize what reaching the goal will look like and to have a clear definition of what needs to be accomplished.

Rick and I set the goal to pay off our student loans in 2 years. We knew how much money we would have to pay each month, and we knew the specific date when we would reach our goal. We also thought about what we need to do each month in order to stay on track such as: budget, limit eating out, give plasma, and use what we have first before buying. I often imagine how it’ll feel once we are debt-free. We talk about how we’ll use the “extra” money we’ll make each month.

2. It has to be a lifestyle change. If a person follows the diet plan to lose weight, and then goes back to old eating habits, he or she will end up gaining the weight back.

Similarly, if I work hard to pay off our student loan debt, and then go back to old ways of shopping without a list, forgetting about the budget, and eating out when ever I want, I will go back to letting money control me. I will still have to be smart about my purchases and stick to many of my frugal habits.

rawpixel-1062886-unsplash.jpg3. Outside support is crucial for overcoming obstacles. Our society is not always supportive of making nutritious decisions. (Gotta love those Wisconsin cheese curds and beer, right? And no Friday night’s complete without a fish fry.) Unhealthy food is in-your-face advertised, quick, easy, inexpensive and tastes good. So it’s easy to make unhealthy decisions, and choosing more healthful, wholesome foods can require more effort.

But it’s totally possible, especially if you have a great support system. For my weight loss patients this might include: family members, friends with a similar vision, counselors, Facebook groups, additional health coaches, apps, and their doctor. When you fill your environment with supportive, positive people, you’re setting yourself up for success. Granted, each individual is responsible for his/her own decisions, but creating a supportive environment sure helps a lot.

I have found support in my husband, family members and friends as well as the online financial blogging community as we pursue our financial goals. Our society isn’t really on board with saving money and paying off debt. Usually, it wants us to buy and have more, regardless of what we can actually afford. So I set up my environment for success. Close family members and friends know we’re working on paying off our student loans and are supportive of finding inexpensive ways to spend time together. It helps to talk to other people to get their advice and ideas about saving money, or just for some positive reassurance that we’re headed in the right direction.

close-up-composition-data-6699864. Life happens, and you have to keep going. Medical bills, car trouble, unexpected house expenses. Donuts in the break room, forgetting to pack healthy food, plateaus. We plan and strategize as much as we can, but sometimes we slip up or life gets in the way. We have to learn from the experience and figure out how to deal with it in the future. Setbacks happen, and we just have to keep going.

5. Stay motivated. As with weight loss, debt repayment starts off fast, then motivation fades, and it becomes a lot harder to stick with the plan. My weight loss patients have found outside support, tracked their progress, set up mini rewards, and created visuals of what reaching their weight loss goal will look like. Many of these things have also helped me stay motivated while paying off debt .

6. There’s no shame in the journey. There are all kinds of reasons why people are in debt or have extra weight they need to lose. Judging and shaming helps no one. We should be proud of how far we’ve come, and we can’t let anyone deter us from reaching our goals.

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Favorite Recipe Friday: Taco Pie

This is one of my favorite recipes from childhood. Such a comfort!

 

Ingredients:

1 frozen pie crust, baked according to package directions
1 lb. ground turkey or beef
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 c. salsa
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Toppings:IMG_20181028_100130157.jpg

Shredded lettuce
diced green pepper
chopped jalapenos
diced tomatoes
sliced black olives
extra shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Brown turkey or beef in oil in large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Once the meat is browned, add seasonings and salsa. Stir to combine and heat for 1-2 minutes more.
  4. Pour the meat mixture into the pre-baked pie crust and top with shredded cheese.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes.
  6. Top the pie with lettuce and then any additional desired toppings.

 

Top 10 Thrifty Wins: October

We stepped up our game after a spendy September. I’m really proud of what we accomplished this month and I feel like we got our gazelle intensity back.

Some of these wins were big, and others seemed so tiny they might not really seem like wins. I think it’s important for me to recognize them all because even the little things can add up. It’s also about making a lifestyle change and shifting the mindset to buying with a purpose instead of being frivolous with our resources.

These are our wins (big and small) for this month:

1. Shopped around for car insurance. We started looking at car insurance quotes last month. This month, we found one that will save us at least $100/month! It really wasn’t as time-consuming as I thought it would be, and now our rate is crazy better.

2. Decluttering. I made two trips to Nice as New with clothes and items I no longer use. I usually make around $10 per load, but at least it’s something. There’s more to come this month, and I’m going to try using Decluttr for old CDs, DVDs and books. It feels good to get rid of the stuff I no longer use and to let someone else enjoy it.

3. Attended MoneyU. My work sponsored an evening financial wellness program with topics such as how to budget, which types of insurance to carry, retirement planning, investing and others. A free dinner was provided, so Rick and I made a date night out of it. We felt inspired to continue our journey to financial freedom, and we learned a few things that will help us out.

4. Gave plasma more often. I stepped up my plasma game and earned $210 by donating this month. That was almost enough to cover our grocery bill!

IMG_20180905_090202846_HDR5. Spent less than $300 on groceries.
Speaking of groceries…Meatless Mondays have really helped to keep our grocery bill low this month. Meal planning, shopping at Aldi, and using what we already had on hand first helped, too. The bill’s been creeping up lately, but this month we kept it under $300.

6. Extra paycheck for Rick.
Rick gets paid biweekly on Wednesdays, and the timing worked out so that he earned an extra paycheck this month. Cha-ching!

7. Stayed within budget. In most areas. We had car maintenance work that ended up costing a little more than we budgeted for, and our internet provider decided to raise the rate. So we tried to make up for this in other areas of our budget. We came out ahead in groceries, clothing, household items, gifts and eating out/entertainment.

IMG_20181019_1824373158. Leftovers from a conference. Rick’s work put on a 3-day conference and we reaped the benefits from its leftovers. Not only did this conference feed Rick for three days, but he also brought home about 6 lbs of sausage and a HUGE wedge of cheese. (A good time to start keto?) We also received a nice coffee and chocolate gift basket.

9. $100 gas gift card from Rick’s job. I forgot why Rick got this gift card. It might have had something to do with his hard work at the conference, too?

10. Extra large student loan payment. Due to Rick’s extra paycheck this month as well as getting creative to keep other areas of our budget low, we were able to put an extra $1500 toward our monthly loan payment. We’ve paid off about $40,000 since April, and $80,000 overall. Man, that feels good to write.

Meatless Monday: Chickpea Tomato Soup

This is that last week of the Meatless Monday series!

I really enjoyed making more meatless meals this month. It was easier on the wallet and many meals were a lot quicker to make since I didn’t have to prep any meat.

This week, I made an aromatic tomato soup with chickpeas and spinach. I just love the scent and flavor of the cumin and cinnamon combo.

IMG_20181028_094753968.jpgIngredients:
1 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas, or about 6 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 c. vegetable broth
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 c. spinach, roughly chopped

Instructions:
1. In a large pot, melt oil on medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, vegetable broth and spices. Stir to combine, and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes.

3. Add spinach and stir. Heat until wilted and serve.

In case you missed ’em, these are the past Meatless Monday recipes:
Pineapple Fried Cauliflower Rice
Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad
Vegetarian Black Bean Chili
Thai Chickpea Salad