Sorting through every single thing I own

I leave in a little over two months. In addition to school and work and wedding planning, I need to organize the daunting amount of possessions that I own to decide what’s being discarded, sold, and taken with me.

Four years ago I had a different packing experience as I prepared to study in France for a year. I wasn’t about to pay extra for a second suitcase, so I really worked to limit what I brought. I even cut my hair so that I wouldn’t feel the need to bring a hair dryer or straightener. I packed light enough that I even had enough room to stuff a pillow in my suitcase, which turned out to be an excellent decision as it was much more comfortable to have that than the pillow that had been left for me that had been who-knows-where. I wore my five-ish outfits into the ground and returned with a suitcase that was only half full because many of my things were too disgusting to bring back.

Although I lived happily 10 months abroad without all of the material items by which I am currently surrounded, the idea of giving up these things for good is difficult.

Several days ago I had a burst of motivation and decided to go through all of the clothes I own. I even made little labels (ripped up pieces of paper with sharpie on them, how organized) for my different categories: Clothes to bring to Trinidad, clothes to last the rest of the summer, clothes to leave at my mom’s house (winter things for when I visit), clothes to discard, and clothes for the garage sale that my mom and I have been meaning to have for years.

After a quick overhaul of my dresser and closet, the piles were done. The Trinidad pile could have easily filled too large suitcases, and I still have to fit in books, shoes, and whatever else. I dug through it, lamentingly removed a few things, and looked again. It could have filled one and a half large suitcases.

Let me tell you an uninteresting story about my stuff. I’ve left some things in Trinidad on previous visits, so I already have clothes there. And if I’m honest with myself, I probably have nearly enough clothes there as it is.

Did you ever read any Little House on the Prairie books? While bumpily traveling out west in a covered wagon, sisters Mary and Laura Ingalls shared one tin cup. Laura had two dresses; a Sunday dress and a working dress. For Christmas one year, Laura was given a rag doll that was one of her most treasured possessions (and maybe the only real toy she ever had). There’s something in a simple, comparatively stuff-less life that appeals to us. When I was discerning religious life, one of the greatest calls for me was poverty: living with few material things and taking excellent care of the things we do have.

I DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF. It’s in all caps because I’m trying to convince myself, too.

This move is going to be an amazing exercise in detachment from things.


A one-way flight to the Caribbean

This is the point in my life where I begin looking for a one-way flight to Trinidad. Who knew.

This is the dream that a lot of people dream about. Many blog posts and articles pop up on facebook that have titles like, “How I quit my job to travel the world!” or “I sold everything I own and moved to <random cool location> and found a job there.” And it’s exciting, and you think to yourself, why don’t I just do that? But you don’t, and I don’t, and it’s probably because the idea sounds great, but the reality is that it will cost a lot of money, and travel bloggers are thing but it’s maybe not your thing, and you’re not sure you could even get a job if you go to this place, and what about all the paperwork you’ll have to do to live and work somewhere else assuming you do find a job, and there’s the fact that you don’t know anybody there, plus how long are you going to stay and how many family gatherings and weddings (or – as much as you might not want to think about it – funerals) are you going to miss?

One of these fears has already been taken care of for me. I’m not moving to Trinidad on a whim, I’m moving there to be with Kevan, who conveniently has a very full network of family and friends and family-friends who are all fun and welcoming and supportive. On that same note, I have a place to stay: I’ll be living with Kevan’s grandmother to start off (who lives just up the road from Kevan – also convenient), and although I’m going to give her money for rent, it’ll be much less than if I were to actually rent an apartment there. Kevan tells me that she is excited to have me and has been telling him about the food she’s going to cook for me.

While this knowledge is extremely comforting, the rest of my fears are quite present.
What if I can’t get a job that pays enough to support myself and also to work to pay back my student loans? Average salaries there are much less than the U.S., but the cost of living is comparable.
What about traveling back to see friends and family? All the people close to me are scattered around the country, so with one trip per year I’d likely only see a few people, and that’s if it’s really well planned.

While I do not have a job, my first two months there will be spent traveling and working on a project for a scholarship that I won. That’s another thing that has fallen into place really well, because I can job search while doing that, and it’ll be easier to job search from there than from here. I am also fortunate that I’ll have Kevan’s family and friends looking for a job for me too.

I thought my fears rant was going to be much longer. I actually typed a few and then deleted them because it felt silly. One was weddings – I have four close friends whose weddings I really, really want to attend. However, none of them are engaged yet, and based off of the current state of things they’ll likely get married far apart from each other, so it won’t be unreasonable to attend all of them. Another is paperwork, but ultimately that will be just a pain and not a showstopper.

Overall, I’m pumped for this adventure. I’m grateful that I have this opportunity, and that so many things are falling into place for this to happen. I know that I have a lot of surprises ahead of me. I’ll have many opportunities to learn and overcome challenges. There will be times when I’ll be frustrated or confused, but I’m hopeful that those moments will be greatly outnumbered by the happy and fulfilling moments. I’m excited to see how everything plays out.



5 Tips to (Actually) Spend Less on Groceries

$2.19 lunch
$2.19 lunch, all purchased at a grocery store. I made a sandwich with the (asiago cheese!) bagel and lunchmeat.

<- What is this?

If you said, “A bagel, a banana, and a single serving of lunchmeat,” you are correct. It was also my lunch for today, and cost $2.19.

I hear you whispering to yourself. I know that normally that is not an impressive thing. However, I have been traveling for a conference, and a $2.19 lunch is hugely different than a $5 or $10 or more lunch from eating out. (I will also argue that it is healthier than eating out. Because there is a banana. Fruit.) One of my colleagues even asked me where I got my sandwich because it looked good. What a success!

Occasionally someone will still ask me if I am still doing the $50 food month, or how it went. Although I didn’t finish it, I feel that I learned a lot and am still learning about how to cut costs on food. I see a lot of articles about how to cut spending, and they inevitably list something like, “Stop buying coffee at cafes! A $2 coffee every day adds up to $60 a month!” I think that is a totally valid way to cut spending – if you drink coffee. As I do not, I’m looking for other ways to lower my spending.

These are the guidelines I have come up with to follow for food budgeting.

1. Probably the most important one is set a dollar amount and stick to it.
– I keep every single receipt from my grocery trips, and enter them into an excel spreadsheet with my monthly budget. Sounds boring, but it makes you see the dollars add up. You can’t lie to yourself about your spending if it’s right in front of you.

2. Buy at the best price
– I buy fresh produce at Schnucks and everything else at Aldi. (Okay, I like good produce.) I suppose that I’ll shop at Wal-Mart for more specific items on my grocery list, but since I’m flexible about what I cook and eat, I don’t have to very often.
– You don’t need name brand stuff. Food is food.

3. Consider substitutions
– Can you get yourself to use frozen broccoli instead of fresh? Cream of potato soup instead of mushroom soup because the potato is on sale?

4. Buy on sale if you would purchase it anyway
– Before I left for the conference, I made a quick trip to Aldi to buy snacks for the flight (waaaay cheaper than airport food). Normally soups there range from $0.80 to $1.50 depending on size and type, but this time they had the small cans on sale for $0.40. I use cans of soup when I cook chicken and rice – dump it on top, instant sauce. Buy a few and it’s $1.50 saved. That’s a lot!

5. Let yourself be rewarded by the savings
– This is the one I’m really bad at. When I’m under budget on groceries, I kind of say, “Oh good,” and then forget about it. But if it’s a motivating factor for you, use it for something that makes you happy. $10 under budget? Go see a movie with friends. $20 under? Get a nice bottle of wine. Whatever motivates you. (Just a note – this will probably only work if you are budgeting other things, and thus limited on your spending in other ways as well.
– If you can think of a better way to see your progress, go for it.

I had lunch with a homeless man yesterday.

Last week I got a free burrito at Chipotle because of their promotion, and while I was there I purchased a gift card specifically to give to a homeless person. I saw a man almost immediately after walking out and gave it to him.

“Ben,” I greeted him yesterday when I saw him again, feeling a little proud that I’d remembered his name.

“Oh hey,” he responded. We chatted for a moment and he said that he remembered my face, but not where we met. I reminded him, and he said, “Oh yeah! I used it to get a burrito bowl. That’s easier than a burrito, because the tortilla is hard with my dentures.” He pulled out his retainer to show me. “You know, I’m kind of hungry now . . .”

I had some time, so I took him to Noodles and Company for lunch. I asked what had put him on the street asking for money. He told me that he’d had an infection in his hand several years ago, and it left him with decreased motor control plus pain with repetitive tasks. He said he used to work for a lot of restaurant-type places and on construction jobs, and that he recently applied for a job to bus tables and is waiting to hear back from them. I asked him where he sleeps, and he says he knows people who will let him sleep on their couch for $15 or $20 a night, plus he can shower and keep his other clothes there. He said sometimes they won’t want him to stay because they have guests or something else, and on those nights he’ll find a motel for around $50 if it’s really cold. He mentioned that he has a sister living a few towns away, but otherwise no real family or friends, only acquaintances.

He told me that when he’s asking for money on the street, some people are very nice and some are very mean. Recently a man gave him $200 and suggested that he use it to take a bus or train somewhere warmer, but instead he got a motel room for a week. I asked him how much he spends on food on a typical day if people don’t give him food, and he said maybe an average of $10, and that he usually eats at cheap places like McDonald’s. Finally, I asked if he’s ever able to save money up, or if he just lives day to day. He said day to day.

Budget-happy Rose did some quick math. If he pays $15 a night to sleep, that’s $450 in a 30 day month. $10 a day for food if no one gives him food, so maybe $5 a day on average makes $150 for a 30 day month. That’s $600 per month, plus anytime he gets a motel room. I didn’t ask about any other costs, like transportation or miscellaneous expenses.

I have so many thoughts about what I could do if it was me. There are some apartments listed as $450 per month or less, and $150 is more than enough for a monthly food budget if you a) can cook some things and b) have some cooking items like pans and spoons and such. It seems like it would be easier to get a job after having an apartment, because not being sure if you have a place to sleep/go home to seems debilitatingly stressful. Of course I’d have to save up enough for a security deposit and first month’s rent, which would be especially difficult on cold nights when that $50 motel room is looking like the best thing in the world.

Anyway, I could write up a whole plan for what I would do if it was me. But it’s not me. Our histories, skillsets, world knowledge, motivations, resources, and stressors, are so different. The perfect plan for me isn’t the perfect plan for him. What I would need in that situation is probably not what he needs.

Did I help him by buying lunch with him and talking to him? Nope, or at least not much. More than the food itself, it could have been nice for him to talk to someone, though I don’t know that for sure. I do believe that small acts of kindness go a long way, but just giving people things won’t make them fulfilled. It’s not my job to ‘save’ anyone, and it never will be. Maybe someday I’ll be in a position to create more positive opportunities for people, which in a nutshell is what I am starting to believe that every person needs.

Did he help me? Definitely. Whether his story was 100% truthful or not, I learned a lot by talking to him. I prayed before our meal, and noticed that he said “God bless” to me several times afterwards, where he hadn’t before. He also only ate half of his meal, taking the rest in a box. He seemed worried that I was going to think that he was going to waste it, and without prompting assured me several times that he would eat it later.

What else? If I talked to him again I might ask more questions about his background, but also what it is that he wants. What would make his life better? Happier? More fulfilling? I know what might make my own life different in these ways, but not anyone else. If I was going to make a plan for reducing poverty, I think I would start by asking people questions instead of just assuming that I know what they need.


A trip to the ER and an anti-climactic end to $50 food month

An interesting thing happened to me today. I went to McKinley to get a tetanus shot since it’s been ten years since my last one, and for a (still) unknown reason my body went into a state of shock/something. When I came in to the clinic the nurse asked me if I have a problem with needles or if I thought I’d pass out, and I told her no, that I’ve always been fine before. She gave me the shot and it felt as shots do, just a normal little sting, and I felt fine, then a touch lightheaded, then I warned the nurse that I was going to pass out and I leaned forward on the counter.

I was awoken from a strange dream by the sound of my name. “Rose! Rose! Rose! Rose!”

“What?” I finally said. Instead of one nurse there were now about seven. They helped me into a wheelchair and (apparently) moved me into a different room and had me lie on my back. I was in and out of consciousness for a while, but eventually I gathered that my blood pressure and heart rate were very low. They put an IV in me (though I don’t remember that happening either) to give me a saline solution to help get things moving again. It was cold, and it made me so cold I was shivering. I asked them if they could just knock me out because I was in such pain/discomfort, but they apologetically said no. They did give me some orange juice though.

My hallway hospital setup

They called an ambulance for me and I went to the hospital, but by the time it came I was at least more sentient and was feeling embarrassed that I was being rolled out on a stretcher. The ER was so full that I was given a bed in the hallway, but I didn’t mind because I was feeling alright at that point and I liked watching the people walking around. They did blood tests and an EKG and found nothing weird. I asked what the reasons might be that that had happened (is it because I got the shot while I have a cold? stress from grad school? should I gain weight?), but since everything came up normal and I ate a good-sized breakfast, they didn’t have any straight answers.

I’m back at my apartment now and feeling normal, though still not at 100% because of my cold.

I don’t think that my $50 food month diet is unhealthy or caused this to happen, but I’ve decided to give it up anyway for the sake of having fewer things on my plate to juggle.

For posterity, here is the ending state of things:

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$5.61 worth of food

I have $1.06 left to spend because yesterday I spent $5.61 for week four. I estimated that I had 3 breakfasts, 10 lunches, and 6 dinners remaining for the last 10 days. I tried to get items that could be used for a couple different types of meals, and I splurged on the OJ and tomato soup as comfort items for my cold. I had more milk left than cereal, so I got the pudding mix to use it up and have more snacks for my lunch. I think I’ll keep doing this in the future, because it’s a great lunch item,  it took only about 5 minutes to whip up, it’s more economical than buying the prepackaged individual puddings, and there is much less waste. Whoo!


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Food remaining after 21 days and $48.94 spent

I piled together all of the food that I have left. If I were to continue, I would have this food to eat for 9 more days (since today is day 21), plus the $1.06, which I likely would have spent on bananas. Some of it’s hard to see because of how it’s packaged, but you can get an idea. (Look how cute the puddings are! There were originally six, but I’ve eaten two because they’re delicious and easy snack foods.) You can consider for yourself if you think this is enough food for 9 days or not.

In terms of my own diet plans, I expect to eat almost exclusively these items for the next 9 days anyway because it’s what I have already. The biggest differences that I foresee from ending the $50 food month early is that I will eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs or toast (as was my plan for this last stretch) and that I will probably get some more fruit and maybe some lettuce.

Well . . . I guess that’s it. I will post my thoughts on how this went and of what I’ve learned and what I plan to change about my usual grocery budget in the future. Thanks for following along! 🙂



Lunchables and being well past halfway

I’ve had several moments today where I’ve gone from, “I’m two and a half weeks in and killing it!” to “Oh gosh there’s still twelve days left,” back to “I am doing an amazing job.”

$50 food month has not been easy. It’s day 18, and I have a growing appreciation for how difficult it can be to diversify on a budget.

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The Mountain Dew was on sale – I got it for a Super Bowl party I am attending tomorrow! Whoo contributing.

Earlier this week I spent $3.48 on the items to the left. The canned meat pasta thing had a reasonable calories per dollar score, so I got it as another thing to try for lunches next week. The broccoli cuts were the least expensive of the frozen veggies; they and the potato were for an attempt at soup. The soup was . . . less than delicious. I basically cooked the potato, then the broccoli, added milk and parmesan cheese, it was too thin, cooked some rice and added that, and at the end it really just tasted like soggy broccoli stems. Luckily it was only about two servings, so I ate some yesterday and some today and it is now happily gone.

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Unappetizing soup.
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For dinners I switch between pasta and rice with broccoli, polish sausage, and soy sauce. The veggies have to be replenished the most.

Today I spent $4.57 more, which brings me to $8.05/$9.71 for this week. I got the broccoli florets again instead of the cuts because I still think stems are gross, and the other items are for making my own lunchables. I haven’t had bologna or processed American cheese (actually, the package says Imitation American Cheese, which leads me to believe that it is not, in fact, cheese) in years, and suppose I am pleased to report that my palate has developed and I don’t love it. However, it is a huge improvement on the soup, so I’m happy with it.

I don’t anticipate spending any more until after the fourth week starts, which means I’ll have $6.67 to finish off the month. The scary part of that is that $6.67 doesn’t seem like much for 12 more days, the un-scary part is that I have rice, veggies, soy sauce, polish sausage, a little pasta, an egg, bread, a few apples, milk, cereal, chocolate covered pretzels, and a some other small things left in addition to the food shown above.

I weighed myself while at the gym today, and while I am at the low end of my normal fluctuations, I am not out of my usual range. An excellent place to be at the more than halfway point, I would say.






Halfway Point: An Alternative to PB&J?

Looking at the many things in my fridge and cupboards, this is starting to feel less like an experimental venture and more like a normal food situation (except for the non-use of my spices). However, I still have 15 days to go, with only $14.71 left to spend.

My packed lunches for the past two weeks have been PB&J sandwiches with miscellaneous supplementary items, but I am now at the end of the PB&J. Do I continue or pursue another lunch plan? The pros of going that route again is that I have few ingredients to buy for it and it’s high on the calories per dollar chart. Cons are that it’s boring.

Is there something I can do that’s close to as cheap? I have access to a microwave most lunchtimes, depending on where I’m at.  I’ve been pondering it, but all I can come up with is soup. Maybe potato and mixed vegetable soup. I already have milk and parmesan cheese. I have no flour, nor do I have chicken broth or bouillon cubes,  which could lead to a thin, less flavorful soup. It’s not even that risky, though, because I can just get one potato and the mixed veggies, and if it goes terribly then I’ll go back to the PB&J. Excellent. It will be tried.

Otherwise my plan is pretty straightforward. Buy more fruits, more veggies, maybe more meat. Coast on through. See what runs out first of what I have left.




My budget for this week was $15.64 and I have spent . . . $15.93.


This means that I am $0.29 in the negative, so I’ll start next week with only $9.71.

However, I I feel no regret and this is why.
1. Cereal was on sale at Aldi, so I bought two boxes, which will probably last well into week four, and I saved $0.60 on each box!
2. I bought more milk so that I don’t have to go back to the store just for milk when mine runs out in 2-3 days. This will also last into week four.
3. Aldi also had some old Christmas items on sale, which included giant chocolate santas, shortbread cookies, and chocolate covered pretzels. Each of those items was a cool twenty-five cents. They are not healthy, but they will be great to take in my lunches and their calorie per dollar figures are very high.

Seventy-five cents (plus about three cents tax) for 2620 calories of mostly fat, a tiny amount of protein, and negligible amounts of anything else useful. (Or 3359 kcal/$)
Seventy-five cents (plus about three cents tax) for 2620 calories of mostly fat, a tiny amount of protein, and negligible amounts of anything else useful.

The other two items I bought this round were bananas (2) and polish sausage. The polish sausage was $1.99 for seven servings, and though it has a little less protein per serving than the canned sausages, it’s calorie per dollar count was higher. It also tastes much better than canned sausages. The bananas are similar to apples when it comes to cost versus calories, so even though I have many apples remaining, I got bananas to add some variety.

Quick update on the calorie count – yesterday I got to around 2100, which includes a little bit of the chocolate santa. I had two servings of vegetables, one serving of fruit, one serving of meat, two servings of dairy, and 3.5 servings of grains. Not too shabby.

Week three starts on Wednesday. Since I don’t have to worry about staple items for a while, next week’s allotment will probably be spent on veggies, peanut butter, and maybe a little more meat.


Protein, Calories, and Vitamins, Oh My

It’s day . . . 11 of $50 food month. I think that the fact that I’m losing track of the days is a sign that it’s going well.

Thus far I’ve used $8.91 out of the $15.64 that I have for this week. A couple of days ago I bought a container of cottage cheese and sausages in a can to try to keep enough protein in my diet. I got 47.5g of protein yesterday, so that’s going well.

I don't love sausages in a can, but with the veggie rice and soy sauce they didn't taste too bad.
I don’t LOVE sausages in a can, but they went reasonably well with the veggies, rice, and soy sauce.

The next item on the agenda is caloric intake. According to this handy tool, I need between 1900-2100 calories a day. Yesterday I got about 1700, even with half of a snickers bar (I participated in a research study and won the snickers bar for extra participation). My plan for the next few days is to land in my suggested daily range and see how that affects my food stores.

While I was counting calories, I also calculated the cost of calories for different foods. If I have $50 to spend for 30 days of food, I should be spending an average of $1.66 on food each day, which would be 1200 calories per dollar spent . . .

. . . enter this very exciting chart. (Note: This is not every item that I have, only the ones I used yesterday.) (Double note: all info is based off of what I bought, so it would vary if I switched to a different type of cereal, different veggies, et cetera.) Items are listed in order from most calories per dollar (canola oil) to least calories per dollar (frozen veggies). This chart shows that most of the foods I consume on a random day are below the calories per dollar threshold, but the ones I eat in the largest quantities (like rice, bread, milk, cereal) tend to be a little higher on the list.


I was a little surprised that cereal and milk are both so much more economical than eggs. In terms of informing my purchases, I think I will kick up the cereal and milk game a notch. Milk has a lot of calcium and protein in addition to calories, and cereal can have various vitamins and some protein. It seems worth it to get a slightly more expensive cereal with lots of vitamins.

Considering fruits and veggies, I want to calculate this info for bananas and see how it compares to the apples. If they’re similar, I may focus on those two fruits for the rest of the month. The veggies in the above chart are a mix of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. I know that green beans have a higher calorie per dollar count because they cost less, had similar amounts of calories per serving, and had more servings per bag. I don’t like them quite as much, but since it will help to have them I’ll get them again when my other veggies run out.