The past few months have been financially tight, as both me and my spouse are going to school full-time and we are operating on only one steady income. I love food and eating, so grocery shopping is our most important and most constant expense. During the past few months, I have had to cut down our spending significantly in this area.
Back in the day, when I thought everything was easy breezy, with no future-sight in mind, I used to drop $150-$200 a week ($600-$800 a month) on groceries for two people. Many times, things went bad in my fridge before I got to them (shame, shame!). Since we've embarked on this whole new financially complex era of our lives, groceries are one of my primary targets of focus. So far, I've managed to keep our expenses hovering around $100 a week for the most part, while anxiously awaiting summer for fresh, abundant produce at lower costs.
We have recently acquired a small student loan so that we could account for living expenses during this time when one of us isn't working. We are using some of it to supplement our existing income to in paying bills during this time frame, but we figured it would also be wise to attempt to budget our food and gas expenses (two living essentials) for the entire summer. Seeing what we have available to us after bills and gas for those four months (May-August), we have determined that we can set aside approximately $1500 for food expenses.
This means we have $375 to spend per month.
In doing some research on food budgeting, I stumbled across the Massachusetts SNAP Benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps) Page. On that website, I found out that an eligible 2 person household would receive approximately $367 per month for food assistance. I found the similarity to my budgeted amount striking, which led to more research. I found an interesting initiative, started by FRAC (Food Research Action Center), called the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, which challenges Americans to attempt to conform their food purchasing power to that of a SNAP benefits recipient for a period of time. Why, you ask?
"The SNAP Challenge gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on the average daily food stamp benefit (about $4 per person per day). Challenge participants find they have to make difficult food shopping choices, and often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy" - FRAC SNAP Challenge Page
Without even knowing it, we were setting up a life that looks a lot like the challenge (some details are different), except that this isn't a "challenge" for us to see what it is like, it is life.
GAME ON, I say! I can plan the hell out of just about anything. Let me tackle this!
Here's how it's going to work:
Total Length of Summer Budget - 4 months or 18 Weeks (May-August)
Total Cash Input: $1500
What This Will Look Like:
$1000 in $50 gift cards to Hannaford (our least expensive grocery store in town)
= $1050 will result from this as they have a bulk gift card deal, earning $50 for every $1000 spent.
$495 - CSA Share - so we can pick our own items at the farmer's market and crediting the prepaid account.
=$550 will result from this as they give the "discount" one normally gets from a CSA.
In total, I will have $1600 to spend on food over the course of four months.
I will attempt to use one $50 gift card per week without going over, and use $30 at the farmer's market each week, totaling $80. Although the total amount we will have is $132 more than a 2 person family on SNAP benefits would get for four months (using the $367 a month stat), $80 a week for 18 weeks is almost exactly the amount allocated ($81 per week.)
I divided the grocery gift cards the way I did due to the denomination of the cards themselves. This will leave me with $150 surplus of gift cards. I haven't decided yet how that extra amount will work, but perhaps there will be a special event or there might be weeks when we absolutely need to go over the $50, so that extra amount will come in handy.
I don't know all of the details yet, and I haven't decided how to address other items that we sometimes buy at the grocery store (Cat/Dog stuff, bath/body stuff, paper goods), perhaps that is what the $150 extra can be for... but what I've got is a start!
I am open to any ideas and suggestions on how to make this work, comment below with ideas!
What is your food budget?
If you've had to live on a small income before, what did you do to make ends meet, how did you stretch a buck?
What are your favorite budget friendly meals?
"The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." - Samuel Johnson
Black Bean & Corn Salad Tostada with Avocado & Chili Sauce
As many of you know, I am currently rounding up Week 2 of a cleanse that is becoming a yearly Spring ritual for me. This cleanse has become an important part of my ritual of shedding the Winter's blahs - the hibernation, the extra few pounds, the lazy habits, and the comfy-coziness of winter.... and to move into the fresh, new, lightness of Spring. I am all about re-charging, re-birth, renewal, change, and evolution, and for me, the only better opportunity for change than the dawn of a new day is the Spring of a new year.
This will now be the third year that I am choosing to cleanse my diet of foods and substances that I believe (based on many different sources that I have looked into) contribute to the inflammation within my physical body. Those foods and substances are Alcohol, Caffeine, Dairy, Meat, Wheat, and Sugar. In addition to giving up the inflammatory foods, this year, I decided to simultaneously give up logging in to Facebook for 21 days as well. I have done "Facebook Cleanses" in the past, but never at the same time as my Spring Cleanse.
Although the physical benefits are aplenty, for me this cleanse is not physical, but rather, psychological. Old habits die hard, and I would argue that new ones do too sometimes. It's amazing how "addicted" I become to certain habits. I'm addicted to checking my Facebook on my phone just like I'm addicted to having eggs and toast for breakfast on Sunday mornings. For the record, none of these habits that I have discovered about myself have been inherently bad, it's just that they are happening unconsciously. I have been reaching for my phone to check.. whatever.. without even knowing what I was looking for, why I was looking at it, or the fact that I had literally just looked at it a few moments before.
Becoming conscious of those instinctively driven habits is Step One for me. Then, exploring where the cravings that fuel these habits might be coming from is Step Two. Example: This morning we had a birthday breakfast at work. All of the items that were brought in were things that I am refraining from eating during this cleanse. I came prepared with my own food, but found that after I was done eating, I was longingly looking at and smelling the breads and muffins that were brought in. In a typical day, I would not wake up and truly desire blueberry muffins or chocolate chip bread. However, at a typical birthday breakfast, would have sat there and mindlessly ate several pieces of it. Is that bad or wrong? No, I don't think so, since I do not typically eat those things that I personally consider "once in a while" foods, I am not shaming myself for having eaten them. However, I personally dislike the idea that I would mindlessly eat it or eat it without consciousness. To me, this means that my cravings had more to do with just giving my mouth something yummy to chew on and not because I was hungry or needed food.
"We are not here on this earth to indulge our every whim; we are here to become richer and deeper souls, and then push our light out into the world. In order to step up into our larger role, we must tend first to whatever holds us back."
Much of my growth in these past few years has been dependent upon becoming aware of myself; my habits, my desires, my feelings, my motivators, and mostly, my dark side that I try to push down. By doing this cleanse, I am able to focus on a huge area of my life that tends to center around desire, feelings, motivations, and darkness. Food/Eating/Weight and the shame that comes with these areas have always been a struggle for me, and in the past few years, I have really worked on cultivating a healthy relationship with food - nurturing my body while tantalizing my tastebuds, without inducing shame and remorse. This yearly ritual is just an opportunity to really set a benchmark for myself, reminding myself of what I can accomplish as long as I plan ahead, keep aware, and have faith in myself that I can.
This way that I live for three weeks a year is not a way of life for me. This is not something that I personally would continue to do beyond the 21 days. I feel great by the time I am done, both physically (more energy, better immune function, clearer skin), and mentally (greater mental clarity, fewer cravings, greater sense of resolve). That feeling of accomplishment, paired with the overall increase in energy (both from the cleanse and Spring's natural affect on me) sends me into Summer in a way that feels.... ready... but I would never do it for much longer. There are too many foods that I enjoy that fall into those categories, and I think it is okay for me to enjoy them mindfully. This opportunity just gives me a way to realize what motions I am moving through each day and why. That is what is most important to me.
More on this later...
PS. To those of you who say.. "What the Hell do you EAT??" Please see the photo above of this year's Cleanse Favorite - voted on by both me and my wife. That is a corn tortilla, fried in a little peanut oil, topped with freshly sliced avocado, a black bean and corn salad that has lime, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes, a little fresh salsa, some green chili sauce, and Frank's hot sauce. As a good friend of mine would say - FLAVOR-TOWN! I don't even miss the cheese and sour cream (okay, maybe a little bit, but it's GOOD.)
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Here is a little story about how my persistence has paid off recently.
As many of you know, we recently moved. This move prompted us to cancel our Dish Network account before the contract was up. This cancellation prompted a fee for doing so, which was to be automatically deducted from my bank account last Friday.
All of this I understood and agreed to, until...
We called to cancel our account and the lovely rep informed us that a box would be shipped to our house so that we could send back the equipment. We reminded her that we moved, so the box would need to be sent to our new address.
We got a call a few days later from our old landlord letting us know there was a box on our porch.
We called back, let them know what happened. They sent a new box.
I checked the tracker on UPS. Delivered successfully! To Concord, NH.
We called them out on it again - a third time, they sent it to Concord.
THEN - I get a nasty voicemail, threatening that if I did not return my equipment, the credit card I used to set up the account will be charged with collections fees. I was in a bad mood on this particular day, and not willing to just let it slide. So I did what I do when I feel the need to assert myself to some monster of a company. I write to someone really high up in the ranks and see where that gets me.
First, I Googled the CEO's name, the CFO's name, the COO's name, and searched around a little bit to see what type of information I could dig up about these people and their roles at the company. I found out that one particular gentleman, the COO, had just been given some new responsibilities in the past few weeks, and a press release praising how his focus was going to be all about how to make the customers HAPPY. I knew right then that I found my guy. Then, I had to figure out what his email address was. I tried to search for it, but they are pretty good about keeping those locked up. Then I struck gold... another employee's email address, which contained the logarithm for determining how ALL of the company's email addresses were set up. Firstnamedotlastname@dish.com. I was IN.
So I began to write...
Good Afternoon "Mr. COO",
Within five hours, I received a call from someone calling on behalf of Mr. COO, apologizing for the issues, promising that he would mark our equipment as already returned so we would not get any more reminders, make sure we got the box we needed, and that everything would go smoothly from there.
Honestly, I was a bit giddy at the fact that I even got a call back, so I didn't even think to ask him if they were going to go through and cancel the cancellation fee, which was due to come out that weekend.
I kicked myself for that once I got off the phone, wondering, "what else could I have gotten out of this?"
So the next day I wrote...
Thank You "Minion",
I wrote that on a Saturday evening. He wrote back at 8:30 that night. Poor guy, doesn't even get the weekend off from dealing with people like me.
By Monday Afternoon, I had confirmation that I would not get charged the cancellation fee, nor the shipping fee for my equipment. BOOH-YAH!
All it took was a few emails and four days to get out of a $167.00 expense. All it took was reaching up a little higher than normal. Historically, I would have given up after getting a big-fat-NO from the customer service representative, when I asked him if he could throw me a bone for all of the hassle we went through. I asked the speak to a manager, and he gave me a generic "Feedback" email address and assured me my complaint would get escalated. Yeah right.
I figure, if I go to the Big Guy, he isn't going to deal with it himself, but whomever he pawns it off on will WANT to impress him, so that person will do what they can to get me to stop copying "Mr. COO" on all of my emails to him. Hehe.
I thought I'd share this story in case any of you are out there, dealing with a crappy customer service situation and you don't know what else to do.
Do any of you have any success stories to share? Do so in the comments below!
PS. I also did this once to lower my APR at my credit card. I wrote the CEO that time, and within a few days, I had it knocked down a few percentage points. Don't be afraid to reach high!
So, since I'm not on Facebook these days, I check my email a bit more often because I'm still winding down from compulsive status checking. Anyway, I just was alerted that my blog had a follower... But not this blog. A blog I apparently started a year ago and only did two posts for. Very interesting stuff, to suddenly be transported in time... back to a year before. Well, I thought I would share with friends where I was then... I wasn't ready to share with anybody but strangers then, but in keeping with my post about Operation: Wanderlust, I'm not the same person now... But many of the thoughts I share here still hold true for me.
It's a lil long but... Here goes:
“Treat your entire life as if it were a learning experience. “The Earth School.” A real time, multimendia, surround sound, full color, cast of millions – learning environment that always provides you with every interaction, circumstance, opportunity that is perfect for your spiritual growth, given the wisdom of the choices you’ve made.” – Gary Zukav
I believe that life is a series of lessons designed to guide, coach, plead, cajole, and sometimes push us through our evolution of self. If we are not aware of this constant classroom, I believe that this existence will seem more difficult and less meaningful than it should be. I don’t know how long ago it was that I caught onto this idea of the classroom, but lately it has been pounded in my head by spiritual teacher after spiritual teacher.
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you having at this moment.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Now that I am well aware of the lesson in every opportunity and the opportunity in every lesson, I want to share my findings with those around me. I thought that perhaps sharing MY lessons could help others become open to witnessing their own.
I’ve done what I am capable of to impart the wisdom I’ve learned from my own life lessons to others. These lessons are not always received by others in a welcoming manner, as well they shouldn’t, since most of the time people have not asked to receive the lesson I give them. A lesson that I’ve been working on lately is the appropriate method of delivery for these valuable lessons.
“You should entertain the possibility that you are a powerful and creative, compassionate and loving spirit. Try that one on for size. And if you find that it doesn’t fit, if you find that there is a distance between what you say, do, and behave and a powerful, creative, compassionate, and loving spirit, then also consider that that distance is the distance that you have to travel. That is your spiritual journey.” Gary Zukav
Whether we know it or not, believe in it or not, I believe that we are all on this Earth to align our soul/spirit selves with the human personality/player we have doing the work. I believe that the closer we align ourselves to the true nature of our spirit (through lessons) the closer we become to being whole and joyous creatures who bask in the bliss of balance. Every single lesson that is afforded to us, we must grab hold of, and see what part of our Shadow or Light it might be exposing us to.
“Our shadow, formed long ago, contains all the parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide or deny, the parts we believe are not acceptable to our family, friends and, most importantly, ourselves. It is made up of everything that annoys, horrifies or disgusts us about other people or about ourselves. It holds all that we try to hide from those we love and all that we don’t want other people to think about us or find out about us. As the great Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung says, our shadow is the person we would rather not be.” -Debbie Ford
Becoming conscious of my shadow has been one of the most important things for me to learn how to do in the past few years. It is still difficult, but I’ve learned that by exposing a facet of my shadow, I’ve been given the most wonderful gifts of all. Through recognizing and accepting these parts of my holistic self, I’ve become more compassionate to others. I’ve realized that often times when I am having a difficult time interacting with someone and find myself disliking them, it is usually a surefire sign that whatever it is I’m getting annoyed with is a trait that I possess within myself and need to recognize. This has changed my life forever.
“By actively finding the gifts and receiving the contribution our shadow is trying to make, we redirect its once destructive power into a force that can benefit our life.” Debbie Ford
Another thing that has changed my life in these past few years is recognizing true gratitude and truly submitting to the feeling. Embracing my natural inclination to be gracious, I’ve begun to recognize the true beauties this life has to offer. I see and smell the flowers, I hear the birds, I smile into the rain, and laugh into the wind. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are times when the rain just ruins my day like anyone else but I’ve noticed, more often than not lately, that I’m accepting it as a good thing and being thankful for the Earth getting the sustenance it needs.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder
There are a host of other tidbits and major life lessons that I’ve stumbled upon lately, and each day I’d like to present something to the world via blog. I’m looking forward to embarking on this journey and I expect that it will teach me even more lessons in the process. Cheers to evolution!
Cute right? I feel like this was so long ago and I've come so far, and boy am I glad to have things like this as reminders and little check marks along the path that I have traveled. I hope you all have memories like this to reflect on as we move along...
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
It was but six months ago that me and my family opened our eyes to the dark surprise awaiting us. My cousin, Scoob (Scott Bouchard) made the decision to end his own life last September, just a few days after my birthday. My birthday is always a time of rebirth for me, and this past year, it was a rebirth into a family that looked completely different than the year before. In just 12 months, we lost a shockingly large number of our family members, and the world as we knew it was completely different. Losing Scott turned us all upside-down as we searched for answers as to why. Why would a young, handsome, intelligent, funny, inspiring, loving, kind, and generous man who was loved by many, choose to end his life on this earth, surrounded by his family and friends. We will never know all of the answers – nobody will – nobody but him.
I suspect, if the experience after one dies is anything like I have heard in the books, the movies, and the many spiritual teachings I’ve ventured to read, Scooby now knows how much he was loved, even if he wasn’t able to comprehend it during his time here. With that understanding, I truly believe that he would want us, all of us sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, to get out there and MAKE SURE that others like him know that they are loved. He never hesitated to fire off a quick "I love ya" and sometimes something so seemingly little can matter so much. He would want us to make no secret about it. “Hey -- YOU -- I care about you. I love you!”
So we are.
At the end of this month, my family will be participating in a fundraiser to help us do just that - Spread the love. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, advocacy, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide. With more than 38,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP's mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.
I hope you will consider supporting my participation in this event. Any contribution will help the work of AFSP, and all donations are 100% tax deductible.
Donating online is safe and easy- click here to access my fundraising page - and click the "Donate Now" button on that page. If you would rather donate by check please make the check payable to AFSP and mail it in with the offline donation form here.
Thank you for taking your time to read this, and please, consider donating to help spread the love in our communities.
Become a student of change. It is the only thing that will remain constant.
Just wanted to post a quick HOLLA to everyone out there - and invite you to come out and check out my new digs. This is Operation: Wanderlust a little more grown up, a teenager maybe. (See more about the status of Operation: Wanderlust on the homepage). Meet - Operation: Life.
Operation: Life is going to be a place where my whimsical monkey brain can come splatter my ideas all over a virtual canvas. I can't even tell you, daily, the different directions that I am pulled in to research, study, share, and discuss. I know that I was given this overactive student-minded brain for a reason. I want to use my desire to know the unknown and learn the untaught, to share my findings with others. I have learned SO MUCH in the past 30 years, and although I try to share articles on facebook, and talk about certain issues at lunch, I have been feeling compelled lately to do more, to share more, to give more. I am hoping the Operation: Life gives me the venue for that. I'm not quite sure how this website will unfold (or if I will get bored of it before it barely gets out the gate), but I am excited at the prospects!
Please use your imagination right now... as there isn't much here yet, but as it develops, I imagine future Operation: Eat Real Food, Operation: Simplicity, Operation: Chemical-Free Cleaning, Operation: Godmother (oh, did you know I am going to be a Godmother??!? :-)) Go here to vote on what YOU want me to explore next.
These are all topics that you've seen me care about before. This will just be an extension of that, with more room for ME to discuss, instead of just sharing other people's quotes.
Well, that's all for now - I must go on with developing the rest of the website so that I can launch!