I want to thank you all for your supportive comments. We’re going to make it–barely–and it looks like J will either be able to claim her California Paid Family Leave or get some other special federal extension. Either way, we’re going to be afloat until her teaching begins (fingers crossed) at the end of the summer (although, please keep your thoughts with us on that; we learned it’s less than a sure thing now). We have really been working well together to keep our family and household solvent, and while it’s challenging and gut-wrenching at times, it’s also reminding us of what we do have.
One of the things we have going for us right now is our creativity. For a long time, we have been tightening our belts and following a fairly strict budget, but now that we’re in such a precarious position, we are finding it necessary to pull out our best strategies for surviving on nothing. We learned to do this during college, then graduate school, and a lot of those strategies are coming in handy again. But let’s face it; we’re not college students anymore, and our standards for things like food–well, they’re quite a bit higher. So I thought I’d share with you some of the choices we’re making to live on what we’ve got–and not feel poor.
It’s no secret that J and I love good food. I mean good food. In college, we could easily subsist on ramen, ninety-nine cent cheeseburgers, and generic diet soda, but we’re grownups now, and we eat vegetables and whole grains and tend to avoid anything processed. Our palates have also grown to expect a certain standard of food. Fortunately, we’re both inventive cooks, and I’m willing to try to make just about anything.
One thing we’ve done to make eating more affordable is to dramatically reduce the amount of meat we consume. In the last year or two, we had been eating less meat, but now we only have it maybe a couple of times a week. If anything, it’s a small amount used as flavoring, and the bulk of our meals are made up of grains and veggies. Now that we really can’t afford meat, this is coming in handy because we don’t miss it, and our menus are far more creative as we try to make the last few frozen portions from the freezer stretch and work to get different types of protein into our diets.
We also have implemented a homemade-only, pantry-only strategy, which is to say, we’ve been eating all week just on what we have and making everything from scratch that we don’t. Now, we do tend to keep pretty stocked up on things like beans, grains, pastas, salad dressings, oils, vinegars, and the like, but even so, this does cause one to get creative. If you are having a chocolate craving, and the only chocolate you’ve got in the house is cocoa powder, it takes a bit more effort to indulge that craving, but it’s possible. When the craving hit two nights ago, we made a half batch of chocolate cupcakes. They were phenomenal, and they make us feel good. Really, who can be depressed eating a chocolate cupcake? We were also out of bread recently, so I decided to bake some. I had forgotten how much I love the process, and it was made even sweeter by the fact that Baby Genius napped on my back in the Ergo. It was such a poignant moment kneading that dough and feeling him sigh against me. In moments like those, I’m a very wealthy woman.
Our one big splurge is still fruits and veggies at farmer’s market. That is the one place where we have to spend a little bit of money on food, but even that we’re really stretching, making certain that each purchase we make is one that will be used wisely. (However, this week’s farmer’s market wouldn’t have even been possible had it not been for a gift from the carrot cash fairies. We are still so humbled by this sweet gesture. Thank you, A.)
It’s not easy to have fun when you’re a ball of nerves, but as someone who has long struggled with anxiety, I know well that one of the best things one can do to combat this is to be physically active. Because we also don’t want to spend money on gas, we’re doing a lot more walking to and from various places, but walking is also one of our favorite past-times. Fortunately, it’s completely free, so we’re taking advantage of that a bit more and coming back much less stressed. Last weekend, BG and I attended an organized walk with his pediatrician and some of the other families who see him, and it was great fun. The baby got a balloon for the stroller, and I had a chance to chat with another mom, kids, and BG’s doctor too.
One of recent activities we walked to was story time at the local library. We are fortunate to have a very active county library system, and our local branch has storytime for little ones from ages 0-3. We are also within a very short walk of the library, so we have started taking BG there. He’s mesmerized more than anything by all the other children. The librarian who conducts story time is wonderful, and it’s overall a great half hour. The bonus for J and I is that it’s a fairly intriguing ethnographic study of moms in our area. I plan to write a post after I’ve collected enough data. We have learned that this coming week, our library will be hosting a band that plays kids’ music, so this will be an extra outing.
Oh, and the library is awesome for another reason: free music and free movies. We checked out something like ten CDs that we had always wanted to buy and have been listening to them all week–all for free. They have a great movie selection, even some good yoga and pilates DVDs, so we’ll be taking advantage of that too. We’re so accustomed to university libraries that I don’t think either of us had realized how far public libraries had come. We officially love them and ours especially.
Farmer’s Market is, of course, one of our favorite places to go, and last week we went with our carrot cash donation and thoroughly enjoyed people-watching, chatting with farmers, and meeting up with people we know. We would have gone even if we hadn’t had any money because it’s an event that lifts our spirits so much.
In that same vein, we have never been to our town’s 4th of July celebration, but we hear it’s like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting (not surprising, considering this town’s endless charm). So while we’re normally not big on celebrating the 4th (we seriously used to have a furniture refinishing tradition for this day), we’re going because we need free fun things to do, and this is one of them. We have prepared a picnic, and we’ll spend as much time there as the heat will allow, soaking up the fun.
We can even have drinks…
So I’ve mentioned our wine clubs here before, and I know what you’re thinking, They better have given those up! But no, we haven’t, and once I tell you how these work, you’ll understand why. You see, wine clubs are sort of like a subscription to that winery’s wines. You get a shipment once a month or once a quarter–however that club does it–of their selected wines. The two we belong to only ship during the spring and fall to avoid extreme temperatures, so our wine club obligations were over a couple of months ago. This is, of course, a great relief at the moment because even though they don’t cost a lot of money, alcohol is way down the list of priorities, and it’s not something we are willing to buy at all right now.
When one joins a wine club, however, one of the other benefits is the free wine. That’s right. Free wine. We can go to either of these wineries at any time, and we can have free tastings. As members, they give us lots of free tastings. At the sparkling wine place, they give us four full glasses of sparkling wine every time we go. And artisan cheese. And spicy nuts. Yep, we get all of that for free. If we had money, we’d also be able to use our 30% discounts to buy really good wine at affordable prices, but for now, it’s just free wine. It’s one of the perks of living in wine country, even when you are poor as poor can be. Whether we will be able to keep the clubs when the autumn shipments begin is to be decided then, but for now, we’re definitely keeping them.
There are other things we do too, but they are things we started doing some time ago. Cloth diapering is one, as is using cloth wipes. I don’t know what we’d do if we had to buy diapers right now–or formula. We also tend to use really inexpensive cleaning products: vinegar and baking soda are our best friends. In fact, we’ve recently found a great recipe for homemade laundry detergent, which we’re going to try out once we can get the rest of the supplies because it’s super cheap and super easy.
And I’m sure there are more things that we’re doing that have just become so commonplace that I don’t notice, but this impacts every part of our lives right now. In school, J coined the term “PIC”–panic-induced creativity. But we’ve decided that PIC can also mean poverty-induced creativity. We’re seriously tapping into PIC these days.
As you can see, we’re not doing so badly. Yes, life has been more stressful, and it’s hard to breathe very easily at times, but we’re managing and sometimes even having fun in the process. In fact, I think we’re both hoping we can maintain some of the more positive changes once we’ve found some stability again because living this simpler life really does have its benefits.
So what do you do to cut corners when money is tight?