Christmas isn’t about the gifts, it’s about the people giving them. Knowing that this holiday season could be the last we spend at home with family for a while, we made a particularly strong effort this year to try to get to as many events as we could. Although we weren’t able to get everywhere, we did have a great Christmas with both sides of our family.
This is the first year Carter has had a full understanding of Christmas and man was it fun!
I think he likes it!
Snorkeler at our house, Train Conductor at Grandma’s: major score with the little boy!
This year we also had the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s with some new friends of ours, Daler and Marta. They moved to the US only a few years ago from Tajikistan, but they feel like family after only knowing them for a few months. They were able to join us for Thanksgiving and Christmas at the Penning house and then put on a fabulous party for New Year’s in Tajik style!
These were just the appetizers!
We hope you had a great holiday with family and friends. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As part of our new eating-at-home regimen, Dan and I decided to make a small garden in our backyard this spring to help get us some healthy, fresh food options. Last year, we attempted to solve this issue by joining a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group where we bought a “share” of local farmers produce crops that we could pick up once a week. As noted in our post Julia Who?, we didn’t do too well with making use of the many unknown vegetables that ended up in our kitchen so we decided to try out our green thumbs this year.
We started by picking out a spot in our backyard and tilling it with a borrowed gas-powered tiller. A few things came to our attention pretty quickly. First, the soil in our backyard is amazingly rich and black, as in potting soil black. A neighbor told us later that our house used to be the “manor” on a large apple orchard that encompassed most of the neighborhood in years gone by. Because of this, we didn’t need to add any additional garden soil to our bed but just added some tasty cow manure fertilizer. (Carter kept telling me very seriously “there’s cow poop in there, Mommy.” I think he was concerned.) The other thing we noticed was that one side of the garden is almost certainly located over an old gravel driveway which we didn’t realize until after tilling the whole area. Now we have some nice white rock mixed in with that row. Oh well, you win some you lose some I guess.
Next, we attempted to shop the local greenhouse by bike to pick up our preferred crops but unfortunately had to defect to visiting Lowe’s when we couldn’t find much more than flowers. I mean, flowers are nice and everything, but I’m more of a practical girl myself. If I’m going to be down in the dirt, I’d better be getting something delicious out of it. We returned with 3 tomato plants, 1 red bell pepper plant, 1 cucumber plant, a bunch of red and yellow onions, broccoli, arugula, and seeds to grow lettuce, spinach, and cilantro. Being the gardening noobs that we are, we weren’t quite prepared for the amount of plants that 1 little tray actually buys you. We are going to be eating a lot of broccoli and onions in the coming months, that’s for sure!
This week we had a bit of a frost scare (in May, seriously?!) but luckily didn’t lose any plants. Our seedlings are all popping up on schedule and we are looking forward to some fantastic veggies in the near future. Last night we harvested our first small batch of arugula and it was certainly worth the effort! We’ll keep you posted on whether the rest continues to produce such excellent results.
Sure it can eat through mud and snow…and your wallet.
Now that we’ve taken care of most of our “big-ticket” items to improve our savings, Dan and I are trying to tackle the smaller ways that we can find extra dollars in our budget. Not only is this important for increasing our savings to maximum levels but it also is helping to prepare us for living more frugally while cruising. If we want to have any kind of decent chance at living on $1000-$1500 a month than we have to get serious about knowing where each of our dollars goes and how to cut that down as much as possible.
The tracking part is made much easier by the online financial website that we use: Mint.com. We have all of our bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investment accounts tied in so they automatically update whenever you long in. We’ve used this program for a few years and we’re pretty happy with it, though it can be a lengthy process to set everything up and figure out what budgets you want to set for yourself. Once you have been using it for a couple of months, it can really help to show you where your money is going every month. For some time now, it has been giving us a pretty clear indication that we have been spending too much in the Food and Gas departments, so we’ve finally decided to get those under control.
Food was first and it was somewhat daunting to me to be honest. Not to play the martyr working mom bit, but it is really hard to provide home cooked meals during a working week. There’s just not enough time to be able to figure out what to make every day and go pick things up from the store so I had to find a different approach. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we have purchased a subscription to 5meals1hour.com for five dollars a month. Well, we’ve completed the first months’ worth of recipes and I can honestly say that we are way ahead of where we were last month, but I can’t give all the credit to the menus. We only used about 1/3 of the recipes on the menus, but we have still been eating at home on average of 5 days a week, which is a huge deal for us. I think just the change in mindset about grocery shopping every two weeks for actual planned meals has been the biggest positive change that 5dinners1hour has made for us. We can still improve a lot in this area, especially because I’m not a very experienced grocery shopper yet so I think we’re paying too much for our groceries, but we’re seeing a definite change in attitude and habits.
Gas spending is our other cash hog. Like a lot of people we know, it’s just something that we haven’t taken seriously before. But looking at our accounts, we have spent almost $1300 in gas alone since February 1! That’s averaging $18.50 per day, yikes! Here are a few strategies we are implementing to help us cut down this silent killer.
- Drive less…obviously. Eating meals at home isn’t just saving us money in the food department, it means less driving too.
- Walk and Ride Bikes, and not just for leisure riding. Dan has started riding his bike to work most days and we are planning to use our bikes for trips to the grocery store, library, and other close to home errands.
- Get rid of the gas guzzler in the driveway. We’re still working on this one, but the goal is to eliminate one of our 15 mpg SUV’s for a 30+ mpg compact car. Even if we have to spend some money over the sale of our Jeep, we should get most of it back in the end when we sell it in a year. This one has the potential to save us in the realm of $250/month!
Hopefully, we’ll find some good success using these strategies and find others to help us keep our everyday spending in check. If you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments!
Each one of those is about 21 seconds of cruising. Start counting!
I am a sucker for new beginnings. New Year’s, birthdays, and even Mondays can generally make me feel like this time is going to be different. True, I’m usually right back to my normal routine by Wednesday, but there’s always next week, right? My most recent enthusiasm for new beginnings has been brought about by finally moving into our new house this last weekend. I mean, I love Dan’s parents for sure and am super grateful that they’ve welcomed us into their home for the last 2 months, but there’s just something about having your own space.
We’re hoping that with a new house will come some new habits and a new budget to go along with them. We’ve developed some habits in the last few years that are hard to break and hard on the pocket book, namely eating out almost every day and constantly being out running around for entertainment. You wouldn’t think that the running around part would be that big of a deal, but with $3.50/gal gas prices mingled with the propensity to buy random stuff we don’t need when we’re walking the mall for fun and then the added likelihood of eating out if we’re already out of the house, and maybe you can see how kicking that habit could add almost $1000/month to our cruising kitty.
So how do we plan to change our bad habit? Well, first we have to start by wanting to be at home and therefore having plenty of entertainment for ourselves, sans television preferably. If the only thing we have to do at home is chores, then we don’t exactly want to spend a lot of time there. That means games, books, and possibly a new garden in a nice spot in the backyard. Also, our new neighborhood has sidewalks (yay!) and is fairly close to a couple of different parks, so walks and bike rides are definitely in our future – assuming of course that the future is warmer than today. Thirty degrees in March is precisely why winter is on its way out of my vocabulary.
I’ve also found a new meal planning subscription that we are trying out called 5 dinners 1 hour. One of my biggest problems with cooking at home is planning what we are going to have before I want to make it to ensure that we actually have the food on hand. No one (in our family at least) wants to go grocery shopping after work and then still come home and make dinner. 5 dinners 1 hour is a subscription service that provides 5 dinner recipes a week with a full grocery list and advanced preparation instructions to have all five of your entrees ready to go in an hour over the weekend. Then all I have to do is heat it up and whip up a side dish during the week. There are even 3 separate menu types to choose from: classic, clean eating, and gluten free (we chose clean eating) so you can find the right plan for your family. We just started this week, so I’ll try to post an update in a couple of weeks on how we like using it.
Do you have any suggestions for us to try? Games or great books to read? A recipe that your family loves? Leave a comment and let us know!
Is this worth it? We think so.
Between New Years resolutions (those that have survived this long) and the beginning of Lent, this is the time of year that everyone is trying to straighten up their act. Some people are giving things up, i.e. fast food and cigarettes, and some are adding something like a new exercise routine. Whether the change is meant to be permanent or temporary, it is always a struggle to change old habits and the way we think about them.
Most cruising and simple living literature on the market today have the same advice for people who are thinking about drastically changing their lifestyle: start small and work your way up. Can’t give up your fancy car? Start by making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks every morning. Maybe you’ll find that you didn’t miss Starbucks after all, especially when you see how much extra money is in your pocket by the end of the week. Here are just a few of the items and activities we’ll have to relinquish when we move onto a boat:
- Frequent eating out
- Easy internet
- Steady income
- Family nearby
- And many more…
Some of these things will be easier to give up for us than others, like watching TV (we don’t). But others will have a major impact on us that will be felt more acutely. I’m sure when we are walking uphill to the grocery store, the eating out and lack of a car will burn a little more (mostly in our thighs!) and it might get frustrating if we can’t find good enough wifi signal to Skype with our parents on Christmas day. So, why would we go through all of this if we have to sacrifice so much? Because we think the reward will be worth it.
If you are thinking about cruising, and even if you’re not, I would encourage you to think long and hard about what you could give up that would produce a greater reward. Spend a whole weekend without your cell phone…yea I said it, give up the cell phone. Checking Facebook every five minutes really isn’t that crucial to your survival. Try turning off the TV for a week and go to the park, read a book, or learn something new about your spouse and kids. Ride your bike or the bus to work for a month, and save the money you would have spent on gas on a weekend away (yea, you probably spend that much on gas.) You might be amazed at how much you didn’t miss the things you thought would be a sacrifice.