Reading: my favorite frugal activity

My dad will tell you that I am the most well read individual he knows. Personally I highly doubt this to be true. But I will admit to being a voracious reader. I have a list of to-read books a mile long, and a stack next to my bed to match. I read at lunch, before bed, on public transit. I read every single day.

I like to read books recommended by friends or family, I read books mentioned in blogs or news articles, books by favorite authors, or simply books I happen upon. So ya, I read A LOT.

Most of the books I read come from the library. I update my “books on hold” list weekly, so that I have a constant supply of books available to me. Sometimes I have to wait months for a book I want to come in, but that’s part of the fun! It means I get to randomly read the new one by Murakami (one of my favorite authors) when I happen to be in picking up another book on my list.

You’ll see from the photo above it’s a “Lucky Day!” selection. These are books that typically have a waiting list a mile long. The library keeps a small number of them available so if you happen to be lucky and get to the library the day it’s available, you can check it out without the long wait! Needless to say I was VERY excited about this one.

There are still of course a few books I will always buy. Murakami tends to fall into that category. However, the last book of his to come out I was less than impressed with sadly. So I wanted to read it first to determine if I was willing to shell out the hefty price of a new hardback book. Even if I waited until it was out in paperback, it’s still close to 800 pages, so I knew it wouldn’t come cheap.

Any who, back to the library. For someone who reads as much as I do, it is a total game changer. I average anywhere from one to three books a week. Even buying used that would be a minimum of $5 a week, times 52 weeks a year. That’s a minimum of $260 a year. Even though that isn’t a huge expense, it certainly would impact anyone’s budget. If I bought a new hardback book weekly, they average close to $20! $1,040 a year! I definitely could put that money to good use elsewhere.

So I turn to the library. Our library system has branches all over town, including one just a few blocks from my parents’ house. I use this opportunity weekly to pick up my books and spend an hour or so catching up with my family. More often than not, my mom and I end up on the porch reading (I got it from my mama). And it is truly one of the best parts of my week. Sometimes I’ll also have it so that I can pick a book up from the location on my train route to work. It allows me to pick them up on my commute without having to drive anywhere. I call that a definitely win-win.

Reading calms me, centers me, reminds me of all the things that are good in this world. It allows me an escape from daily life and shows me all that life CAN be. The fact that I can get books for FREE from the library is one of my very favorite things in the world. And it happens to be super frugal to boot!

So tell me, read anything good lately?

Is it possible to be frugal with a chronic illness?

I have not always been practically frugal. I was definitely that kid who earned ten bucks and had spent it within the hour. Lip gloss, hair clips, you name it. I was not so great at saving up for something big. But I got better with practice, as is most things. I saved up for my spending money on a trip to Spain with classmates. Each summer in college I worked a full time job so I could have money during the year to eat out and buy clothes. But it takes practice.

I paint this picture as a way of saying that I’m not so great at being frugal. I have to really try and think about my actions, and try hard to see the big picture.

While I truly enjoy cooking at home and making meals from scratch, sometimes I just don’t plan well (as was the case yesterday when I left the house for an early doctor’s appointment before work, totally forgetting to take ANY food with me. I was away from home until 9pm). This meant that I had to pick up lunch AND dinner out if I had any interest in actually eating for the day. Oops. If I had really thought about it I would have packed double the food the night before so all I should have had to do was grab my lunch bag. But alas, that’s now how it went. And I ended up spending about $18 on food yesterday. Ugh.

All this brings me to my question: can you be frugal with a chronic illness? A chronic illness in and of itself is not frugal. Even with insurance, doctor’s visits, medication (over the counter and prescription), therapists for the inevitable feelings of isolation and depression, special diet, it all adds up, and fast!

This is not to say there aren’t ways to be frugal while living with chronic illness, but I certainly think it’s more difficult and takes additional planning.

Let’s take food, for instance. I have a very finicky diet and can’t eat a lot of things. This means I have to stick to a strict shopping list. And if I don’t have those foods on hand, I am far more likely to order out for something I can eat. Granted, this usually means I am ordering plain noodles, rice or soup. But this still comes with a delivery fee if nothing else. So that adds up. And if i’m out with friends I need to remember to take my own food with me lest I end up buying food out simply because I can’t find something to eat wherever we are.

Many people with chronic illness find themselves home more often than their “healthy” counter parts. We may earn less simply because we can’t put in as many hours at work. So we are at a disadvantage to begin with.

Let’s also take into consideration last minute doctor’s appointments. I may run out the door to get to an appointment and realize my dogs are going to be left unattended now for 12 hours. So I’ll hop on an app and have to pay someone to walk my dogs during the day. (My roommate and I are on opposite schedules so that theoretically the dogs are only crated for about 4 hours a day.) Or I get to work only to realize that what I packed to eat that day simply isn’t going to work for my tummy that day (Crohnies, you know what I’m talking about). So I need to figure something else out. The frugal solution would be to keep rice and other shelf stable items in my desk. But honestly, I just forget sometimes!

Here’s the thing, I’m not perfect. No one is perfect. But I think there are definite barriers for those of us with chronic illnesses that make frugality even more challenging. I have friends with Celiac disease who struggle with their food budget because gluten free can be a challenge in today’s highly processed world. Even if they were to buy solely fresh produce, that adds up quickly!

Most importantly, let’s not judge anyone simply for not being “frugal enough” for some random standard. We are all trying our best to keep ourselves fed and healthy, and doing so as frugally as possible.

Exactly how much I spent on my new (foster) kitty

As you may or may not know, I love my cat of 21 years about two weeks ago. He was sincerely the love of my life, so to say I have been devastated is an understatement.

Some people handle such situations by saying they’ll never have another animal again. The pain is too much and they can’t imagine going through it again. I on the other hand, feel that having another animal in my home honors George in a very special way.

He gave me so much love and will always hold a special place in my heart. He would also want me to do that for another homeless kitty. So this brings me to WPC (Witness Protection Cat).

I worked for the ASPCA for 3 wonderful years. Our team rescued animals from all over the country. Animals who had been left behind, abandoned, and abused. They often come from backgrounds that leave them nervous, fearful, or untrusting of humans. So this leaves us with the special opportunity to foster. To show them that people really aren’t so scary.

So when the opportunity came for me to foster one of the rescued critters, I immediately said yes. I can’t tell you anything about them, just now that I am over the moon.

It also gives us the opportunity to look at what it really costs to bring a new animal into your home. So let’s break it down:

  • Litter box $17.99
  • Medium bag of food $21
  • Litter scoop $2.49
  • Cat bed $17
  • Assorted toys $25 total (this will undoubtedly go up once I figure out what they like best)
  • Scratching post $49
  • Feliway $15 (calming pheramones)

I already had litter, food and water bowls, a dish mat, and some treats. And I can of course get new things as needed. I got a new little box because kitties notoriously don’t like to share their boxes, so it needed to be fresh and new. My previous cat never liked beds so I didn’t have any, same goes for scratching posts. And toys, well, every foster kitty deserves some new toys.

This kitty will come with their own meds so I don’t need to purchase flea/tick medication yet. They will also be entirely indoors. Apparently they are harness trained so maybe there will be walks in our future, but I kind of doubt it! I’m too much of a worrier.

This is far from a comprehensive list of necessities. Most new critters require a vet visit, immunizations, and many other expenses. Mine is already vaccinated as well as being already altered. He sees a vet regularly, and will see one the day he travels to me.

Fostering an animal is an incredible opportunity, for you and the animal. And whether or not you intend to make it permanent, it will surely have a lasting impact on your life, as well as the animal’s. Consider fostering an animal in your community. It will give them a new chance at life, teach them about kindness again. Or perhaps it will allow them to recover from a procedure that might be difficult in a shelter setting.

I have had many fosters through my doors over the course of my life. Each one of them changed me for the better. It broke my heart each time I sent one of them off to be adopted, however it was a great pleasure to be broken for such a cause.

I can’t wait to meet our new friend tomorrow. When I can, I will share appropriate details.

Thoughts on a new job

I started a new job three weeks ago. I am helping people navigate the healthcare system and get the care they need.

I am bored to tears.

This is not the job I signed up for.

You see, animal welfare is HARD. It has a tendency to take the best of us and chew us up, then spit us out. Shells of our former selves. Tired and emotionally drained we look for a steady paycheck that won’t kill our souls. But I will wanted to help my community. That’s how I find myself on the third floor of a major healthcare company based here in Portland, surrounded by perfectly lovely people, bored to tears.

It’s one of those cool, fancy companies that has a fancy salad bar in the lobby, kombucha on tap, shuffle board on every floor, giant Jenga. It’s a beautiful building, clean working spaces, everyone seems to be friendly and kind. And yet, I feel like I don’t fit in. That I may never fit here.

When I get stressed out, I am used to going into the next room and curling up on the floor with a cat to calm my nerves. I am used to having an office dog. So, understandably, I feel a little out of sorts here. Not just because there aren’t critters running about the office, but that what we are doing has NOTHING to do with animals. And what I am doing is quite frankly dull. I am not cut out to be a concierge service (which is basically what we are doing).

See, I thought taking a job that I was simply ok with would be good for my mental state. I fear I was way off the mark. Not only is it not stimulating, but it’s boring! It isn’t something that I care about. And though I’m trying to find the joy, I just don’t know how I can continue to do this long-term.

Something I need to keep reminding myself, is that this is only temporary. It’s a 3 month contract. When that’s up we will discuss the potential for hiring me on full time with the company. Nothing is set in stone.

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

I want to love my work. I have spent 15 years loving at least SOME part of my job. Loving my coworkers, our mission, the animals. The idea of doing a job simply for a paycheck is completely foreign to me. I am doing the job to the best of my ability, but I don’t necessarily feel like I’m moving any mountains. I’m stuck. I am struggling.

I want to make a difference and change the world. It doesn’t have to be big and loud or in your face. I honestly prefer to fly under the radar. But I still want to DO something.

So where does this leave me? I’m not entirely sure honestly. I will continue to show up on time, do my job to the best of my ability, and just TRY. I will try to do what I can do be a positive in my community. I will do what I can. And I will receive a paycheck. A paycheck that will pay my rent, and for my dog food and groceries. And I will keep an eye out for something that will truly fulfill me. Because not everything is meant to last forever, and not every job is going to be your dream job. Sometimes, you just gotta do it.

Vegan Fried Rice

Ya’ll, this is way easier than you think. And came together with ingredients I had on hand. I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner tonight, but I didn’t want to do anything fancy, and I had a few ingredients in my fridge I wanted to use up.

Here’s what you will need:

  • extra firm tofu
  • frozen veggies
  • rice (can be a few days old or fresh, I used two cups uncooked and made fresh rice as there was none in the fridge already cooked
  • soy sauce, turmeric, salt and pepper, sesame oil, garlic powder, vegan butter or oil

First you have to mash up the block of tofu. I used a fork to break it into pieces, then used a potato masher to really get the job done. Think little tiny pieces. I dusted it with turmeric, salt and pepper and garlic powder, and mixed it all up. This makes the tofu LOOK like egg (that matters to some people) but doesn’t do a whole lot in regards to the taste.

Next, add the vegan butter to the pan along side the tofu. You want to give the tofu a few minutes to brown up in some spots. Move the tofu to one side of the pan and add the rice. Toss in any frozen or fresh veggies you want.

Next I added a SMALL drizzle of sesame oil (it has a strong taste so you really don’t need much) and a hearty addition of soy sauce. Mix it all up and let it sit while cooking for a few minutes, stir up and let sit again. This will allow little bits to get browned and yummy.

That’s literally it. It was so easy. And so stinking tasty. It makes enough to have a few meals now and store some in the freezer for another night when I don’t feel cooking. (I kinda got lax about making freezer dinners this winter. Normally by now my chest freezer is full of soups and stews and other things so that I don’t have to make them during the warm summer months. This year it looks like I’ll need to keep batch cooking thorough the spring to fill my freezer to where I’d like it to be.)

Five Frugal Things

Borrowing from Katy Wolk-Stanley on this one! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend the blog The Non Consumer Advocate

Katy writes about five frugal things she did today, or yesterday, or any day really, all while providing for her family. I wanted to borrow her idea for today!

  1. Some friends invited me out for happy hour on Friday to a new Cuban restaurant. I tried an aperol spritz for the first time (it definitely lived up to the hype!) and indulged in the Cuban Chicken Noodle Soup. And let me tell you, SO GOOD! I knew I could recreate it easily at home. (I realize going out with friends isn’t frugal necessarily. But we ordered from the happy hour menu, and the chance to visit with a close friend before she leaves for Africa for a month was well worth the minimal expense) ANYWAY, I picked up a whole chicken at Costco for a mere $5 to make the soup. I had all the other ingredients at home. And I easily made enough soup for 8 individual dinners. So I’d call that a win!
  2. I filled up my gas tank from Fred Meyer Gas, using points from grocery shopping. This saved me about 40 cents a gallon.
  3. I took my dogs to the vet. Now, I realize that this doesn’t sound cheap (and really, it isn’t) however, I make sure they get their annual vaccines as well as a yearly checkup just to be safe. I would much rather have them seen on a regular basis so we don’t miss anything major. My one dog got his regular shots, and the other got medication for his skin allergies. This saves me in the long run because keeping up on health is important for our furry friends too!
  4. I stayed over at my nephew’s house Saturday night. It was his dad’s birthday, and my gift to him was a night out with his best friends. It cost me nothing to stay in with the little one for the night, and he got to celebrate his birthday without a 4 year old in tow. Win/Win
  5. I made a grocery list for the week so that I could cook all my own lunches and dinners, saving me oodles of cash. It would be so easy in rainy Portland Oregon to order in soup for every meal. That’s why I plan out all my lunches and dinners in order to save money. I plan on cooking a full mean twice this week (soup and enchiladas) and each will produce 3 lunches and 3 dinners. This will save me so much in the long run and I really love cooking!

So you tell me, what are five frugal things you did this week?

I can’t, I’m busy.

I can’t, I’m busy.

How many times have you said that very statement? Being busy, the hustle, have become so romanticized in our culture that it’s pretty much expected that everyone should be busy, all the time. If you have one job you are somehow seen as less than someone who works a regular 9-5 while maintaining a side hustle, has a hobby, volunteers, and spends time with their family and friends (occasionally). 

No longer is it acceptable to simply have a “regular” job. Millennials get a lot of flak of being lazy, entitled, and ruining chain restaurants. But most millennials I know are in fact kicking ass at not one, but often two or even three jobs. They are up at the crack of dawn to squeeze in a couple hours of their side gig before heading into their full-time job at 9am. Then after work they race to the gym to get in an hour of cardio, before heading back home to walk the dogs, inhale a plate of food, and get back to their side hustle for a few hours before bed. Just reading that is exhausting!

One of my best friends is a structural engineer. After work she spends hours a day in her home office working on commissioned art pieces. The deadlines never stop. And you know what? She is the norm these days!

If you aren’t trying to eek productivity out of every second of the day, does that mean you are lazy? Absolutely not! But that is the culture we currently live in. If you don’t have an Etsy shop, write a blog (hello!), or do wedding photo shoots on the weekends you are considered somehow less! But why!!?? Why have we come to glorify being busy? Why can’t we learn to appreciate the down time? 

I know personally, if I don’t get enough down time my anxiety acts up. I start to worry about all the things I have no control over. Whereas when I do take time for myself, I get more rest, feel comfortable with my work hours, and have the time and energy to make healthy yummy food to keep my body functioning! My dogs love snuggling up with me each evening to watch an episode of Parks and Rec. I live for those moments. 

So what happened? When did it become the norm to be so busy? I honestly don’t know. I remember being in elementary school and I had an activity, or two, every single day after school. Piano on Monday, Karate Tuesdays and Thursdays, volunteering Wednesdays, and swim on Fridays. I was expected to be busy as a kid! This is not something new, this is something we were taught from a very young age. 

But I do believe that it’s a trend we need to stop. Our health is more important. Our lives are more important. Take the time to prepare a meal with your family, then share stories from your day while eating. Don’t book that extra shift. Sleep in a little! Go to happy hour with your colleagues and DON’T TALK SHOP. Call your mother. The ‘stuff’ will never go away. There is always the possibility to be busy. But maybe, don’t be. Slow down a little bit and savor your life without filling it to the brim. You might just enjoy it. 

Polar Vortex

I am in the midwest this week for work (shocking I know!) But what is shocking is HOW BLOODY COLD it is! Have you heard of the Polar Vortex yet? If you haven’t, I honestly envy you. You must not live/work in a place where it is currently more than zero degrees Fahrenheit. Kill me. Seriously. It’s too effing cold.

Some of my friends in Wisconsin can’t even let their pups out to potty because it’s too cold. Schools have been cancelled. Bars are closed. Let that sink in for just a minute. I am not, nor will I ever be, considered to be “hearty stock”. But those folks in Wisconsin certainly are! It really must be cold.

I grew up in San Diego. Have you ever been there? It’s a balmy 75 pretty much year round. Moving to Oregon has been a shock to my system. But almost 9 years in and I’m finally getting used to it. This business though, hells now. I travel frequently for work and I often find myself in the midwest for long periods of time. So of course it only seems fitting that I find myself here the coldest week this part of the country has seen in decades. Fun fact: 8 minutes outside can result in frostbite…….let that sink in. That’s crazy pants!! I am not built for this!

Any who, why do I bring this up? Because other than going to work I have been doing exactly nothing else during this cold situation. I hole up in my hotel room and watch tv. But you know what else I’m tempted to do? Order in food. Order in any and all the things. Because I’m cold, hungry and bored. And I know myself. It’s a slippery slope once I order groceries to hopping over to Amazon too see what’s on sale today.

So I don’t risk temptation. I sit in the hotel lobby with my friends and we talk about our dogs. We talk about what Netflix shows we are all currently binging at home. Who do we want to want the Super Bowl? It would be so easy for me to twiddle away the night on my laptop but boy would it cost me. I would so easily scoop up 2 pairs of socks, a bottle of wine, and maybe some tiramisu. But really, do I need those things? Maybe, probably not. And the $30 it would cost me, would certainly be best served in other ways.

But what’s the point of me telling you this? My point, dear readers, is to say that any kind of unpredictable situation can cause us to spend money unnecessarily. Running late? Spend money. Get snowed in? Spend money. Forgot your coffee/raincoat/workbook/galoshes at home? You see where I’m going with this? Preparation is key. Was I prepared for this weather? Eh. Kinda. I have warm winter clothing. But really, we don’t live in the North Pole, so none of us are actually prepared for how bitterly cold it is. How we deal with it, that’s another story.

Resolutions?

Do you set resolutions for yourself in the new year? I read something that said resolutions has the tone of needing to change something that is wrong about yourself. Like you resolve to be more active, because your current lifestyle is somehow wrong. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it, but I don’t really like that.

I personally like setting goals for myself. Goals are always engaging and changing, and they allow us to make slow progress while still celebrating accomplishments.

Each year I make a daily planner for myself, and I finally finished it yesterday. I included all the important birthdays of friends and family, highlighted important doctor’s visits etc. And on the first page of each month, I wrote “GOALS” so as to encourage myself to keep working towards those goals. Now, I have some big goals that I have at the very beginning. These are goals that I intend to work towards all year (pay off my credit cards, be more gentle with myself, etc). I also give myself some wiggle room. If I don’t tackle a specific goal this month, I realize I can always slide it to next month. nothing is set in stone.

January Goals

  • NO EATING OUT!! (there is some wiggle room here, for example going out with family to celebrate Mom’s birthday)
  • Get back into the swing of meal prepping/planning my meals for the week (I tend to go off script if I don’t have it written down. So though I may not have a specific meal for a specific day, I definitely have 4 meals plus leftovers planned for a given week.)
  • Finish cleaning out D’s house (I started helping a friend go through their house Marie Kondo style. We will finish this month I hope!)
  • Find a home for everything in our home (similar to the previous goal, I really want to make our home less cluttered. It’s not bad to begin with but I’m a crazy person what can I say?)
  • Get Holden’s lumpy bumps checked (this is a holiday gift from my parents as I can’t afford this right now. He has some masses that need to be biopsied asap)

So those are my January goals. Are they perfect? No. Many of them are a moving target. Organizing my house for example will always be on the list as it is a never ending project.

And how does this relate to frugality you might ask? Well, I find that if I am keeping myself accountable I am much more likely to stick to my goals. Two of my goals this month relate specifically to saving money. I spend WAY more money eating out than I need to, and it’s usually just a matter of convenience. If I had snacks on hand or meals to eat at home I wouldn’t be spending that money. I intend to get back on the horse this month and get back into my normal routine. I like cooking at home! So this won’t actually be too hard I hope. And because it’s the middle of winter I’m hoping most of my friends will also just want to stay home !

So that’s all I have for now, an update on my January Goals. Another one of my big goals for the year is to be better about blogging and keep up with it more regularly. I think I say that every few months, but I keep getting derailed. I will not be stopped! So check back soon for my January budgeting plan if you are so inclined. Happy New Year everyone!

An uneventful death

Ok don’t panic anyone, but I really think it’s wise to plan your own death. I’m not saying you have to start now if you are a healthy 20 something year old, but it certainly couldn’t hurt!

Do you have a will? Have you spoken to a lawyer? Does your family know your wishes? Did you know that in certain cultures it’s expected that individuals will have a hand in planning their deaths? Some write their own obituaries, clean out their closets, cancel mailings and credit cards, the list goes on. And really, I think it’s incredible.

Imagine giving your family the gift of not worrying. Not having to figure it all out and go into debt in the process. I think that’s an incredible thing to give anyone.

So where do you start? I think it’s important to discuss this situation with close family and friends. Not everyone is going to understand, that’s ok. Not everyone needs to get it. But explain that you are trying to be helpful and you’d like a say in the end of your life when you may not be in any position to have a say.

I think it just goes such a long way to talk to the people you love. They want the best for you, even at the end of life. And a little planning can go a long way to wards less pain, frustration, and cost less money. Which is the ultimate frugal choice, isn’t it?