Weird Food Combos and Window Shopping: No Spend Month Week 3

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Where have you been, Erin? Spending tons of cash living the high life?

Of course not. But I have been ducking you, Internet. I have.

Drew took a trip to Boston for work last week, which meant 1) I had no time to blog because babies are so needy and helpless. So selfish, really. And 2) I don’t love letting people know when he’s out of town, because I have this terrible, irrational fear that someone will want to break in and kidnap my needy, helpless, selfish, incredible, amazing little baby.

So I went underground for a little while. Don’t worry, I didn’t drop off the radar so that I could silently scroll through the latest Zulily and Groupon offerings.

Well, OK. I have looked at Zulily and Groupon. A lot. It’s sort of eerie how my mind drifts to spending money when I’m bored or need a break or I’m drifting off to sleep. It’s like my natural state is one of constant spending. Like when you hear about scientists that raised bear cubs to be sweet and cuddly in captivity, but the second they released them, they turned back into carnivorous animals. I need projects like this to keep me from becoming a bear cub with a debit card.

Related: I told Drew last night that I read about a two-month sugar detox that I want to try. “Come on! Why can’t we be normal Americans who buy stuff and eat crap?!” was his answer. So, it’s a definite maybe. I’ll keep working on him.

Anyway, while my husband was off on this work trip to Boston, sending me pictures of all the great meals he was eating (paid for by the company), and all the great sessions he was attending at this conference, I was surfing the Internet for stuff I can’t buy.

The week went fairly quickly and uneventfully, although we went to an amazing wedding on Saturday night and treated ourselves to a drink at the bar ($10). Sunday meant another round of avocados for the baby ($5.89) and Drew had to fill his car with gas when he got back ($42).

We’ve spent a little less than $90 for the month, and our pantry and freezer collection of food is starting to get weird. My meal board includes daring combinations like “meatloaf & a berry smoothie” or “chipotle chicken and pineapple.” And I’m discovering a vast – and I mean VAST – array of sauces, marinades and spices that I just had to have. All sitting in my pantry, unused. For the last week of this challenge, I’m going to resist grocery shopping and try to use up some of the random, potentially terrible, things going on in our pantry.

Wish us luck.

Spent this week: $57.89

Spent so far: $89.27

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A No Spend Date

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My husband took me on the best date in as long as I remember.

We spent $7.25, and it felt as luxurious as our annual anniversary splurge dinner to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis.

A small sundae and a sunset at Scoops felt like the most decadent treat after two weeks of home cooking and hibernating. It was definitely the best date I’ve had in 15 days, if not longer.

We are into Week 3 of No Spend Month. And. We. Are. So. Bored.

The first two weeks are never that bad. I mean, I’m this weirdo closet introvert who loves people but who also loves a good night at home on the couch, alone, playing Spider Solitaire. So two weeks of hanging with Drew and Ellie, cooking meals and not spending money? No problem.

But I admit that even for me, someone who loves absurd projects like this, No Spend Month gets rough about this time of the month. Even I go a little stir crazy.

We have family coming to visit a few times over the next few weeks, and I keep saying things like, “Oh! We can take her to the comedy club… Oh, wait…” or “Ah! We HAVE to go take a tour of Kokomo Opalescent Glass!” But no. We can’t. Until October.

We have rediscovered all kinds of great things to do, though. So far, we’ve been to First Friday, this great celebration of downtown Kokomo that happens the first Friday of every month; we’ve hit golf balls in the backyard; we’ve worked out at the Y; we’ve walked to the park. If you’re willing to look for it, there is so much fun to be had for free around here.

But after two weeks, we were itching to get out and have a little treat.

So on Sunday, we called my sweet mother-in-law to see if she would watch Ellie to let us go on a hot date of grocery shopping and ice cream. We bought face soap and some more fruits and vegetables to feed Ellie (dang kids. Always eatin’) and that came to a whopping $17.13, bringing our total for the month to just over $31.

Spent today: $24.38

Spent so far: $31.38

A No Spend Birthday

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A No Spend Birthday
clean water

September is, all at once, No Spend Month, our second anniversary and Drew’s birthday. Bad news for celebrations everywhere. Kind of.

First, our NSM rules do say that tithes, donations and gifts aren’t included in our crazy budget. So technically, if we wanted to go out and buy each other Apple watches for our anniversary, it wouldn’t be banned. It would just be a terrible way to round out a month about living with less.

But here’s another in the long list of things I love about my husband – for the last few years, he has “donated” his birthday to a nonprofit that he believes in called charity: water. It’s this amazing organization that seeks to end the clean water crisis globally.

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Here’s some pretty terrifying facts:

  • Every day, there are 800 million people in the world without access to clean water.
  • Dirty water kills more people each year than all forms of violence, including war.
  • Each day, 5,000 children under the age of 5 die of water-related illnesses.
  • Every 19 seconds, a mother loses her baby to a water-related illness.

Water affects everything – education, health, poverty. So instead of getting more stuff we don’t need, Drew asked our friends and family to help build a well in the Sahel, Africa, a strip of land between the Sahara Desert and the Sudanian Savanna. It is one of the harshest places on earth, and this September, charity: water is looking to make an impact in the lives of thousands.

No Spend Month is once again making me so grateful for all the extras we take for granted – like dinners out or date nights – but charity: water is a humbling organization that reminds me that our basic human needs are luxuries for so many around the world. In the longrun, what is $25 to us? A night at the movies? A dinner at Applebee’s? But just about $25 will also give one person clean water for the rest of their lives.

So my gift to my husband, my best friend, my biggest supporter and my craziest partner in crime, is to make a donation to this project.

If you’re struck by this project, and you’re interested in helping, click HERE.

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Leftover Cumin-Spiced Carnitas Vegetable Soup: A No Spend Month Recipe

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Drew and I don’t bicker too much, but I probably pick at him the most about not eating leftovers. After dinner each night, I pack up these cute little Tupperware containers with tomorrow’s lunch, all smallish and portioned and adorable. They just beg to be eaten.

And when I come home from work and grab a cup of water, I often notice that the cute little Tupperware is still staring back at me, 23 hours later. Mocking me.

“Honey?” I ask.

“I had lunch with a client!” he answers back, before I can even ask the question. “I’ll eat it tomorrow. Promise!”

This is how well he knows me. Even in Regular Life, there are few things I hate as much as wasting food. Maybe it goes back to me being a poor journalist for so many years, but I subscribe to the Waste Not, Want Not mantra. I also subscribe to the Tasty Food mantra.

This recipe marries both into one cozy, tasty, frugal bowl of goodness. The soup gets its flavor from a medley of leftover veggies. You know when you’re clearing the table and you have just a few pieces of asparagus, one zucchini half or just a half cup of leftover corn? It’s not really enough to make into a serving, but you feel like a Grade A Waster Taster just tossing it? The guilt. Oh, the guilt.

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Here’s my solution: I cut up any leftover veggies that won’t be used and stash them in a bag in the freezer. Same thing with veggies that are getting a little past their prime in the crisper. I just keep the veggie bag in the freezer, and when it’s full, I make soup.

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I never remember what I put in the freezer bag of vegetables, so it’s sort of like mystery meat.

 

So all those yummy, charred vegetables from the grill this summer all found their way to the Giant Red Pot tonight. The Giant Red Pot was a gift from Drew one year – one of those super practical gifts that I tend to love – that’s large enough to fit about 700 servings of soup. Just looking at it makes me think of fall and chili and coziness.

The beauty is that the soup will come out differently every time, depending on which vegetables you use. I also toss in any leftover meats, rice or noodles that we happen to have lying around, which helps me clean out the fridge entirely. Tonight, it was leftover carnitas (spiced, shredded pork) from a meal a while back. So the broth took on this beautiful, earthy, slightly spicy taste.

And as if the saving and frugality weren’t enough – it’s eaaaaasy. Like reaaaally eaaaaasy. Easy enough that I can play with my 8-month-old while it’s simmering. Did I mention she’s 8 months old now? She’s practically an adult.

Ellie 8 months 2

Hi, I’m Ellie. I’m 8 months old now.

Got some carrots, celery, onions or garlic lying around? Great. Chop ‘em up and toss them in a sauté pan with a little bit of olive oil. In about 3 minutes, your whole house will be smelling garlicky and delicious, and you will congratulate yourself for being so efficient and savvy. (Great job!)

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Can you smell the garlic? Mmmm.

After you toss in your bag of leftover veggies, spices, chicken stock and leftover chicken or pork, you let the flavors simmer together for 20 minutes while you do worthwhile things like play with your kids or watch “Beverly Hills: 90210,” because season 1 is on Hulu, and it’s possible that you can’t stop watching it. Hypothetically.

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The Giant Red Pot.

The great part is the soup reheats really well and makes enough that you can stash a container in the freezer for another night. Plus, the leftovers taste so good, I know I won’t have to pester Drew to eat them.

Spent today: $0

Spent so far: $7

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Leftover Cumin-Spiced Carnitas Vegetable Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

4-5 carrots, chopped

4-5 stalks celery, chopped

1 small onion, diced

4-8 cups leftover vegetables, roughly chopped

2 cups shredded pork

8 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons cumin

2 tablespoons seasoned salt

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

Fresh chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, and add carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Saute until veggies are tender.

Transfer veggies into stock pot and add leftover chopped veggies, leftover carnitas, spices and chicken stock to pot (add water if more broth is needed).

Turn down heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. Top with fresh chopped cilantro.

We Finally Bought Something: No Spend Month Day 8

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It happened.

We broke the seal on No Spend Month.

With almost shaky hands, I texted Drew the other day. “We are out of pears for Ellie. No bueno.”

We are lucky enough to send Ellie to a daycare provider who takes care of her like we would – which means we provide the Y whole foods like pears or avocado at the start of the week, and they make her food from scratch.

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Named after President Bartlett

That also meant when Sunday night rolled around and I was preparing the weekly haul of milk and food for the morning – no one warned me that you have to lug a kid, a purse, a diaper bag and a tote at all times – I realized we were out of daycare food for the baby. I know what you’re saying. But Erin, you made all those beautiful jars of beans and peaches and peas, partly because you want fresh foods for your daughter and partly because you have a terrible case of Working Mom Guilt. What will happen to those? Oh, the humanity!

First, calm down.

Second, I have a middling case of Working Mom Guilt, at best.

Third, daycare can’t take the freezer food I already made at home because they have to do all kinds of reporting on the nutritious foods they feed our kids. So we give them fresh whole foods, and they cut, peel, steam and blend them for her little princess belly.

No pears? No bueno.

No pears? No bueno.

So I sent Drew to the grocery store to get Ellie a week’s worth of breakfast pears, more than a little terrified he would gleefully return from his shopping spree with a gallon of iced tea, a box of Clif Bars, seven Slim Jims and a rack of ribs. This isn’t a knock against Drew. After a week of buying absolutely nothing, it’s like you start to get the shakes. Of course, he promised he would only buy pears. He only bought pears. He even showed me the receipt as proof.

Here’s the crazy part. We bought six pears and spent $7. Given, they were organic, and probably not on sale, but still … I can see why we have a nutritional crisis in this country. For the price of six pears, I could have gotten seven McDoubles that no doubt would have kept someone’s stomach much more full, and their arteries much more clogged, than the scant 540 calories my pears provide. I’m not going all “Food, Inc.” on you here. I’m just saying that when we talk about making our communities healthier, it certainly does come with a price tag, right?

Spent today: $7

Spent so far: $7

 

No Spend Month Weekend 1: A Hard Lesson in Saying No

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I grew up in a family that saw all sides of money – having none, having some and having more than enough to be comfortable.

I was raised by the hardest-working single mother I’ve ever known. My mom was a journalist, and somehow she managed to pull off showing up at a newsroom at 5 a.m., putting in a 12-hour day, coming home, making dinner and still being a really active (and I’m sure an exhausted) mom. She was making next to nothing as a woman in journalism. Even now, women make just 90 percent of what their male colleagues make, and it was far worse when she was making her name in the business. That’s a whole other post.

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I think I’m wearing a tea cozy.

My point is, I grew up in some pretty lean years. We didn’t always have the money for things like music lessons or clothes. But she didn’t take the shortcuts. We didn’t eat fast food. There was a real meal on the table, every night. I always got to buy more books than I could carry in the Scholastic book orders. She used to tell me that my grandpa’s mantra was “Money is never wasted on books,” a credo that has stuck with me for my whole life.

Later, when my mom’s career had taken off and she and my stepdad had gotten married, finances were much easier.

But during the lean years, I never went without; I’m sure she did. I am sure there were plenty of things she wanted to do, but didn’t, because I needed to rent a violin for music classes or a new pair of sneakers. She made our situation into this great adventure for us. When it was another round of grilled cheese or eggs for dinner, she yanked out my Shirt Tales kiddie table and made us a Living Room Picnic.

Ketchup is the only condiment allowed on grilled cheese. Tomato soup is for sissies.

Ketchup is the only condiment allowed on grilled cheese. Tomato soup is for sissies.

I got to shop at Limited Too and Delias (the height of tween fashion!) at the end of the season when everything was on clearance, and we would take a guess at how much I might grow in the next year.

Chunky shoes, slip dresses and chokers. Yes.

Chunky shoes, slip dresses and chokers. Yes.

The idea of doing without and saying no has definitely been central to No Spend Month. Thus far, we’ve been offered concert tickets, seats at the Michigan-Notre Dame game and have been invited out to dinner.

We get it. We knew big stuff like that would come up. But we’re finding it’s harder to say no to the little stuff. We were driving home from the park – swings are free! – and it was hot out. The park is about 2 miles from our house, and I guarantee that we would normally have stopped for something to drink between the swings and our front steps. Really? Two bucks for a drink because I couldn’t wait THREE MINUTES to get home and have a glass of iced tea? Then Drew would have gotten a drink, too. And depending on our mood, we might have picked up something to nibble on too. So, we’re talking $8 on a three-minute drive home.

We didn’t, of course. We went home, drank our already-made and already-paid-for tea in our living room. I guess it was our own Living Room Picnic.

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Swinging = fun and free.

Spent this weekend: $0

Spent so far: $0

What I learned from last No Spend Month: Cutting cable and cutting my finger off

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Four days down. We’re definitely in the easy part of No Spend Month. We went grocery shopping as we normally would on Sunday, the last day of August. So our pantry – and I use that word loosely, because its really a couple of boards glued into a small weird door frame in our kitchen – is full of stuff, although the “good” stuff is going fast. The Clif Bars fell first, and we drank the last of the ginger beer last night. (I guess I shouldn’t be advocating for you to buy things, but if you haven’t had ginger beer, try it. It’s like ginger ale on ‘roids.) I have a crazy idea that I might try to make my own Clif Bars later this month. Once I get more oatmeal. Because I ate the last of that yesterday morning. I still have steel cut oats, but that feels like a marathon. Quick oatmeal is more like a 100m dash. But I digress.

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Ginger ale. On crack.

We have two potluck-style get togethers this weekend, and I’m bringing a meal to a friend who just had a baby tonight, so it looks like we will be sharing No Spend Month on our friends as well. (Oh, you wanted to order pizza while we watch the game? That’s fine. We’ll bring sandwiches in a brown paper bag like hobos and watch you eat.) Thank goodness we have great friends who support us and/or find it amusing to watch our adventures.

We only have to bring a salad to the one get-together, so we are safe there. We’ve got plenty of veggies on hand, and I’ve been a maniac at making my own salad dressings lately. Plus, it’s Indiana. Who doesn’t have ranch in the fridge? No idea what we are supplying for the other two meals. Suggestions, anyone? Feel free to comment below.

Anyway, I know from experience that this is the easy leg of NSM. Our game plan was to spend no money for the first week at all. I think we will hit that. I didn’t tell Drew, but I secretly want to spend no money for Week 2, as well. It is a scientific fact that once you break the seal, it’s all over. Right?

When I did No Spend Month as an unmarried person, I was allowed $150 for the month for all food, entertainment, gas, etc. I ended the month just over $115 – and like $800 in hospital bills.

I had this great idea to make sweet potato chips for a get-together with friends.

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Great idea. Although mine did not come with rustic table or burlap.

The first few potatoes went well with my extra-sharp mandoline slicer. And the fourth potato was going well also as I wooshed the potato back and forth against the blade. Woosh. Potato. Woosh. Potato. Woosh. Thumb.

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Weaponry.

It sounds way worse than it was, but I’m not going to lie. It was not awesome. My then-boyfriend, Drew, picked me up, whisked me to the emergency room and did not pass out as I was cauterized. Victories, all around. There was nothing to stitch back on, as the slice of thumb was sitting neatly next to all the chips on my kitchen counter. And as much as I hated wasting food, we tossed those chips out.

So in addition to gratitude and money management, No Spend Month taught us valuable lessons like Use The Safety Guard On The Mandoline, and Don’t Cut Off Your Fingers.

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1/2 thumbs up!

In all seriousness, we did become more financially conscious and more conscious of how we spent our time after No Spend Month. When we got married, we decided to ditch cable television because we felt it was something we could do without. It just didn’t feel like a “need” anymore. We have a smart TV with Netflix and Hulu, so we can watch some television shows. And for the other things, like the Michigan-Notre Dame game, we have friends we can bribe into letting us watch at their house — assuming we figure out what the heck to bring for dinner.

Total spent today: $0

Total spent so far: $0