Frugal Challenge: Become Vegetarian One Week, Every Month!

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I’ve attempted a lot of frugal life hacks in the past year, all with the goal of paying down my student debt of over $550,000 in less than ten years. These include co-housing to reduce rent, travel hacking to jet set around the world for free, and more. It seems I am very much up for these challenges, so I figure, why not start a series detailing some of the frugal hacks we come up with!

This month, we decided to start a new challenge. Become vegetarian for one week, every month. Seems arbitrary, but you can’t really deny that meat and fish are very expensive to buy. Even more so, when you have a determination to never come home from the grocery store with anything packaged in plastic. Because of that, we cannot buy meats and delis from large discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. We also cannot buy them from cheaper sources such as Albertson’s and Ralphs. Pretty much, we have only been buying meats and fish and deli and cheese from Whole Foods, which sells them wrapped in paper. With the change of going zero plastic last year, we have watched with heavy hearts as our grocery bill went up and up and up. The fact that I gave up beef and alcohol more than a year ago hasn’t helped. So we decided that it’s time we wrangle in the grocery expenses, without going back to plastic.

We were talking to our friends about the meat dilemma when we were visiting San Francisco. It’s amazing what everyone else is thinking but not saying. Once the topic was brought up, it seems that we’ve all struggled with the concept of pricey meats at one point or another. One of our friends said that he knew someone who split an entire cow among him and his guy friends to reduce the cost. It requires contacting the farm and ordering the cow at a discounted rate, but, split an entire cow?! That’s SO much meat going into the freezer. It’s a great idea, but I am not sure it’s one I am ready for, especially since I gave up beef and Mikey will have to finish all of that. Also, the minimalist in me shudders at the thought of so much excess in the house. So Mike and I kept on thinking…

Our solution? Vegetarian for one week per month, to test two things. Firstly, if we can get better about eating more greens, and secondly, if it helps the financial aspect. This was week one. The verdict: Our grocery bill was LESS THAN $25! For two people who bring lunches into work every day and dine at home every dinner, that is spectacular!

How did we do it?

We meal planned our way to a lower amount. Mostly, all we bought this week was produce. I cut down the costs as well by baking my own bread, as well as preparing pizza dough from scratch and freezing them, so that they were readily available for the weeknights. Before we even stepped foot into the market, we took inventory of things we had at hand. For example, olive oil allowed for homemade pesto sauce that required just a handful of pine nuts and basil. Since pizza requires just a smear of the stuff, we now have pesto for weeks of pizza, readily available! Additional toppings for a pesto pizza included two mushrooms, one red onion, pepperoncini, and a can of olives. Since we were already getting basil, why not add margherita pizza to the list? This would only require us to buy two more ingredients: tomato sauce ($0.89 per can) and a single tomato ($0.99 per pound). The tomato sauce will also last for weeks upon weeks, or could be used for pasta at a future date. The total cost for 8 pizzas (with extra sauces for the future) was less than $6. Granted, home-made sourdough took half of Saturday to do, but I enjoy the task and it was so worth it.

Our meals this week consist of:

– Egg sandwiches using homemade bread with homemade tomato soup or pasta salad for lunch, a couple days of the week.

– Vegetable pizzas – I prepped enough dough for 8 personal pizzas. To be honest, neither of us can finish one personal pizza per meal. At most, maybe 3/4 of a pizza is eaten, therefore leaving 3/4 of a pizza (each) for lunch the next day given that I cook 3 personal pizzas in the evening. Which is what we do!

– Fried Rice – The most basic of fried rice was taught to me by my dad. It used to be a staple at our house when we were growing up, because it feeds many mouths and costs very little. I carry that tradition, today.

– Vegetable Stir Fry – It was the simplest and easiest thing I could think of, after the fried rice. Plus, more veggies!

– Vegetable laden omelettes. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?

We did cheat a little… but only because there was left-over ramen from last week, which also meant left-over pork belly slices. Mike was happy we were able to eat meat for a day. But no meats were purchased this week, thus resulting in a total of $25 in groceries. So that’s fine by us. Final ruling: roll-over meat from previous weeks does not count. Additionally, no intentional cheating allowed (a.k.a. purposefully buying extra meat the week prior!). We make the rules up as we go.

Let’s see what we come up with next month!

How about you guys? Willing to try going vegetarian for one week? How do you go about cutting the grocery bill, without purchasing plastic?

A Simple Holiday Gift Guide – 10 gifts for the holiday season

Call yourself frugal, minimal, mindful, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There’s still the matter of gift giving for the holidays. Unless you’ve found a way to completely let go of gift giving without hurting or disappointing your closest loved ones, there’s the issue of buying more material goods that could do the planet more harm than good. Gift giving is a bit of a funny thing. You hand someone something to celebrate a birthday or holiday, as a way of saying, “Here’s a piece of the Earth I killed for you in your name.” Extreme much? Yeah, I am sometimes, but there’s a little bit of truth to that statement, don’t you think?

It’s taken a bit of time for me to find a balance in my gift giving strategy. There is the issue of giving someone something they actually want. If there’s a specific list or wish, I don’t stray much from that, only because the point of gifts should be making someone else, and not yourself, happy. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could do an alternative. And for those people that didn’t insist on a particular item, there are always these options. Here are my top ten gifts for the holiday season.

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+ Home baked cookies – wrapped in linen napkin or placed in a reusable container (also being gifted). If your group of friends or family is anything like ours, bring it to a party Pizookie style. We recently served a pizookie this way at our Friendsgiving dinner, and it was way more fun to grapple over each other, digging in with our own spoons, and frantically trying to eat more than your neighbor. It was an awesome way to end a group dinner, bringing us together to literally share our meal. Grossed out by the idea of sharing? Make traditional individual cookies, plate, and top with a heaping scoop of ice cream.

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+ Your best homemade sauce in a mason jar. This is great whether it’s pasta sauce, a secret dressing, or a favorite dip. It is a sure way to bring a little piece of your home into someone else’s. Mike and I share a love for Mexican food, and in the last year, we’ve found a Tomatillo Sauce recipe that tastes almost as good as our favorite sauce in Valle de Guadalupe. Made from scratch, we wanted to share this sauce with our friends and family. We gave away little jar samples as a gift for attending our Thanksgiving dinner. The “Thank You” email sent the next day included our three go-to ways to cook with this tomatillo sauce, from something as simple as chips and salsa, to chilaquiles and enchiladas, which added even more of a personal touch!

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+ A bouquet of everlasting flowers from a local flower shop. I am a huge fan of supporting local farmers, florists, and small shops. Stop by your local florist and ask for a bouquet of flowers that dry beautifully. These in particular are Everlasting bouquets from Petals and Pop, a local floral shop in Huntington Beach. These bundles will last through multiple seasons, and technically, could last forever if left alone. Place in a mason jar or a vase to your liking.

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+ A bar of soap, without the wrapping, tied with a reused bow. My favorite gift that Mike and I ever received during the days leading up to our wedding was a single bar of soap, unwrapped, from my friend Jo as a housewarming gift. On it was a handwritten note tied with a single bow that read, “In my culture, a bar of soap symbolizes prosperity.” The simplicity of the gift stunned me, but it’s something I never forgot. It was my favorite present because she gave us a gift that symbolized a wish.

+ A mini Christmas tree for holiday cheer. Having an early party this season? Bring in a mini Christmas tree, small enough to stand on a coffee table or on the floor. Nothing beats bringing some natural element or other into the home. Plus, the smell of pine is a winner.

+ A reusable shopping bag, with some produce bags and linen bread bags, or mason jars, collected over time. I love these items, and they are particularly useful and actually friendly to the environment. I have a couple of tiny produce bags for fruits and veggies, and a disarray of totebags. The point isn’t to match (although matching is a plus!) but to have a sense of sensibility and practicality when it comes to shopping for those holiday dinners your loved one is about to throw.

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+ Homemade candles, infused with your favorite scents. There is nothing I love more than lighting scented candles. These are easily homemade in a mason jar or a jar that once held a previous candle. It’s great for lighting dark afternoons, when the sun has just gone done but the sky isn’t dark enough to turn on the lights. I love working by candle light in the evenings. There’s something romantic and peaceful about that, and it reminds me of childhood days in the Philippines when the electricity would go out and we only had candles to get us through to the morning. Click here to learn how to make one of your own.

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+ A stack of your favorite books that you’ve read this past year, ready for de-cluttering. I had a goal of reading through the leftover unread books that I foolishly hoarded in my early twenties this past year. But the year flew by so fast, that it seems I only got through seventeen or so books. With my new ways, I no longer feel the emotional tie to books like I once did, and can’t wait to part with them once I have sucked all the knowledge out of their beautiful smelling, yellowing pages. But what to do with them has been a dilemma. I’ve donated a bunch to my sister’s charter school, which does not have a library and wherein she is trying to create a collection of books for her high school students to read. Some of my favorites, I’ve held on to and gifted to fellow bookworms for their birthdays. So why not do the same for the holidays? Choose some of your favorite reads, add a review or synopsis, and wrap them stacked and with a bow. Their book lives are not yet over.

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+ A bottle of wine, brought to a holiday dinner party. Since giving up alcohol, I have constantly been trying to pawn off bottles and bottles of wine at every dinner party we’ve hosted at our house, and then some. It’s a great, merry addition to a party, and a good gift for any host or hostess. Plus, you and the guests may get something out of it too!

+ Handmade cards, for future birthdays and other well wishes. I love giving cards with every gift, but I hate paying $5 for them. I have recently acquired a novice level skill of using a calligraphy pen and could use some practice. I figured, why not practice by making a set of handmade cards? I started to do just that, then grouped ten cards together to gift to someone else for the holidays. Practiced a new skill, and saved someone $50 worth cards for the following year. Win win.

** All gifts were given sans wrapping paper, and tied with a bow that has been re-used from previous gifts that I’ve received.