Frugal Tuesday: Create Less Trash


Our new, smaller trash can was delivered today. After the initial mess of moving in calmed down, we noticed that we weren’t filling up the city-provided can that was here when we bought the house.  If we forgot to take it out to the curb for a week– or even two– it was no big deal. We’re fortunate to live in a city that provide curbside recycling and even composting, and we also make an effort to buy used, and buy items with less (or at least recyclable) packaging. While we’re far from perfect, we think our new 24-gallon can will accommodate our landfill trash needs perfectly. The best part? Making the switch to a smaller can will save us about $8/month on our trash pickup bill, as compared with the 64-gallon can we had before. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather do with $96 a year than spend it on garbage. Plus, all the coolest neighbors on our block have the smallest can… peer pressure works, y’all!

If you are living in an apartment, or somewhere you don’t pay for trash pickup, focusing on generating less landfill trash might not seem like a money-saving activity, but it still is. You might be able to save your bottles and cans to recycle for return for cash. You might try starting a worm composting bin on your patio or balcony, which is an easy way to turn your daily food scraps into nutrient-rich compost that your potted plants will love. Your efforts at reducing your trash production may find you buying from the bulk bins and farmers markets, buying used, or going for out-of-the-box floor models at deep discounts. You probably already shop at stores that gives you a nickel or a dime off your grocery bill when you bring your own bags. The more lightly we can live on the planet, the more money we can keep in our pockets!



Seriously: Live Beneath Your Means!

Stretching a dollar!

Stretching a dollar!

This past Summer, I realized that the full-time job I had taken on was not a good fit for me. I called my husband and explained my feelings, and he responded “Then quit! We’ll be fine, we always have.” The next morning, I tendered my resignation.

A couple of months later, A Random Thing happened at one of my several jobs, and work hours were cut in a way that affected some people (myself included) more than others. It’s been humbling to hear people speak about the problems that the drop in income is causing. Because while the change has tightened our finances, it did not constitute a financial emergency in our home, the way it has with some of the others.

Shortly after that, Mr. Vega reached his personal stress limit at his place of employment– in fact, with his entire field of employment– and we were able to make a plan for his career change that allowed him to leave his job within a couple of weeks. He is registered and ready to return to school in January, for a two-year program to train for an entirely different career.

Most recently, a family friend lost a close relative, and Mr. Vega was able to get on a plane with a week’s notice to attend the funeral in another state. Spending time with his friend of more than twenty years, and with his friend’s extended family of origin, gave him insights he would have never gotten otherwise. Not only was he able to support a dear friend during a sad time, but their connection was enriched simply because he could be present.

Although it’s actually a lot more fun that most people might imagine, living beneath our means isn’t always easy. Mr. Vega wore the same three pair of dress pants for work until they literally wore out. I finally replaced the last pair of work appropriate flat shoes I owned… about six months later than I should have. We have eaten beans and rice and potatoes and leftovers cooked more ways than I previously thought possible. We drive subcompact cars when we would prefer SUV’s and classic trucks. We bought a house with one fewer bedroom, one fewer bathroom, and one less garage space than we would have liked, because it was important to us to keep our payments well below what we could afford. Those are all choices we have made so that we could pay off our debt, save an emergency fund, and buy our own home.

Spending less when you have the ability to spend more feels, in some ways, more challenging than being flat broke. Because the money is there, after all, and there are days when it feels like everyone we know has more than we do. They drive newer, nicer cars,  eat out in fancy restaurants, wear more fashionable clothes, live in bigger houses, and take actual vacations to exotic locations where they aren’t even visiting relatives! Most people assume from our spending habits that we’re broke, and those who know better wonder why don’t just “treat yo’self” the way they do. On top of that, we see tens of thousands of advertisements a day, all of them telling us that life will be better, we will be more attractive, and that we will feel more successful if we just buy their service or product.

That all starts to look pretty darn tempting, until we realize the true cost. In 2013, CNN Money reported that 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and earlier this year, Deutche Bank published findings that 47% of American households have nothing saved for an emergency. Which means that for the vast majority of people living in my country, a job loss, an illness, or even a cut in hours could throw them into bankruptcy, or worse: The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that more than half a million Americans are currently homeless, and nearly 8 million of us (including members of our own family) are living doubled up with family or friends, representing a 67% increase in doubled-up living since 2007.  Another 6.4 million of us are spending more than half of our monthly income just on housing. That’s not living, that’s survival.

We still go out, spend money, and have fun… we just make sure that when we do, we’re spending less than we could potentially afford. Last night, we picked up some good friends in our little paid-for car, went downtown for a few $4 Happy Hour cocktails, and then took a walk to view a free, outdoor art exhibit. We spent hours talking about everything that was on our minds, encouraging each other in taking steps to achieve our goals, and having a really, really good time. At the end of the night, we went back to their modest apartment, talked some more, and rolled around on the floor with their affectionate, happy (and rescued!) dogs for about an hour. You can’t buy that type of contentment.

This morning, we made a breakfast hash of leftover coffee-rubbed pork and– you guessed it– potatoes, that was as delicious as any $12-a-plate restaurant meal, and we’re looking forward to taking in a movie tonight at Alamo Drafthouse with some new friends. Although the food at the theater is very good, we’ll probably have dinner at home first and then just get some drinks and snacks at the movie, and our good time won’t be lessened because of it.

Because when Life Happens, and it always does, we don’t want to have to stay in jobs that make us miserable, or go into debt to make our bills, or miss out on showing up for the major life events of the people we love… or lose our home. Choosing to live beneath our means allows us to retain control of a lot of other decisions in our lives. Decisions that would be made for us if we lived paycheck-to-paycheck and an emergency arose.

Can you find one thing you can spend less on than you have been, no matter how small? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  

Frugal Tuesday: Homemade Greens Powder

Kale Drying

We have smoothies for breakfast a few times a week, and the organic greens powders we like to mix in cost in the range of $15-20 a jar. Last week, staring sadly at yet another bunch of wilting kale in our fridge, I had an idea: Dehydrate it and make it into greens powder!

That bunch of kale spent a few hours on three racks in my food dehydrator, after which I pulsed it into a fine powder in the food processor. It really couldn’t have been any easier.

A closer reading of the ingredients on the expensive stuff revealed a long list of foods I could dehydrate and grind to avoid food waste and save on pricy supplements: beets, spinach, carrots, broccoli, ginger, tomatoes, lemon peel, pineapple, parsley, mint… basically any fruit, vegetable, or rhizome that we enjoy eating (but didn’t get around to) can be dried and added to our little jar of smoothie powder. I can’t believe I’m actually looking forward to next week’s fridge clean out day!

Can Two Live as Cheaply as One? We’re About to Find Out.

For several months, Mr. Vega has been in slow burnout mode at work. Telecom sales is a constant, high-pressure environment that has been fitting less and less with the person he is becoming. About a month ago, we spent five days camping off-grid, enjoying good food, the company of friends, and time spent in nature. His first day back at work, I got a text from him: I’m sitting here at my desk thinking that I’m wasting my time and my life here… This weekend really did me good.

We spent a week and a half talking about what he wants to do, how we want to live, and how to make that happen. We ran the numbers, and we ran them again. And a few more times, just to be sure.

Ten days later, he resigned.

The plan is for him to start school full-time in January, spending a couple of years training for a career in which he doesn’t have to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything. Or sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed, you know, as a career. *

For the next couple of months, he will be a full-time homemaker, quite literally: there are garden beds to be built, a porch to screen in, rain gutters to install, and a host of other home-improvement projects to tackle in our Little Hippie House. There is a lot that we’ve been wanting to do, but we haven’t had much time for it.

Building Raised Beds

We’ve spent the past few years ensuring that we could handle a shift like this: We are debt-free except for the house, and we made sure to buy a house that we could afford on one income, if it ever came to that. After we paid off all our consumer debt (and before we started saving for a down payment), we built an Emergency Fund that would allow us to continue our lifestyle unchanged for four months with zero income, or for much longer if we reduce our expenses and maintain some kind of income. Since purchasing the house, we have resumed our Emergency Fund contributions, with a long-term goal of saving a full year’s worth of expenses.

We believe that with the right cuts, we can live modestly on my freelance income, without tapping into our Emergency Fund, and maybe even continuing to grow it, little by little. Mr. Vega has committed to getting at least a part-time job if we find ourselves unable to manage, although we would both prefer that he didn’t have to.

There will be sacrifices, mostly involving entertainment and travel, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to walk our talk to live meaningfully, and happily. We’ll continue to work toward making our home as self-sustaining as possible, and welcome all the friends and family who have the means to visit us in Austin. And we’re grateful to be cultivating friendships here with folks who share our values, and who are just as happy as we are to spend a weekend camping or an afternoon playing board games, instead of doing spendier things.

At the end of his training, Mr. Vega will be eminently employable, with a starting income that will at the minimum match what he was earning at his high-stress job, and with the potential to double in a few years’ time. To our farway friends and family, you can expect a visit from us beginning in 2017, but in the meantime, y’all are welcome to come on down any time you like!

*with gratitude to Cameron Crowe, Say Anything (1989)

Frugal Tuesday: Fun With Leftovers

A couple of weeks ago, after a fantastic camping weekend, all we wanted were some margaritas and Tex-Mex food. So we went to Matt’s Famous El Rancho, and got exactly what we were seeking. Except, I got just a little bit too much of it!

Their brisket tacos were too filling to finish, but too delicious to leave the last one on my plate. So we took it home.

The next day, at lunchtime, we kind of both wanted that taco. But there was only one.

So, we grabbed a couple of spuds from our Giant Bag of Costco Potatoes, baked them up, and invented the most delicious meal ever: The Brisket Taco baked Potato. Our handy kitchen shears turned the taco into delicious brisket bites, we added some leftover chili and sour cream and it. was. awesome.

Brisket Taco Potato

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done with leftovers?

Frugal Tuesday: Use it Up!

Yesterday I made a honey-lime vinaigrette salad dressing directly in the nearly-empty honey jar. 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup olive oil, and the juice of two limes… the recipe called for two teaspoons of honey, which was about how much was left in the container.

It went beautifully with our grilled chicken and pineapple salads!

How do you get the last bits of product out of their containers?