My mind has been stretched.
I don’t see it going back to its original dimensions.
The last week of February 2010, my partner and I took a roadtrip to Florida, visiting both Disney World (ostentatious fun!) and my uncle Ken’s Miami house (opulent sanctuary!). On the drive home, dreading return to our jobs and mundane lives, we hatched a plan. We wanted to be our best selves, constantly. We wanted to have our Disney World joy and my uncle’s comfortable luxury on a regular basis, created by us, maintained without strain.
In short: rid ourselves of the debris and the chains. Improve and impress. Ad astra per aspera, and all that.
I posted before about my weight loss, which was an ultimately minor result of this new plan. It’s a very tangible result, and thus notable through pictures and numbers – but it came about only through the grand overhaul. Money, food, exercise, and learning all came together.
Before the Frogality Movement (frogality because our symbol is the amphibious Frog, and our mindset is frugal), we’d order in or dine out 10 meals a week. We’d over-buy fresh ingredients, and most of them would go to waste. I made an excel chart (based partly on conjecture, partly on shame-ridden remembrance) and figured that between Jimmy John’s ordering at 3am, pizza twice a week and frequent stops at the Cupcake Station, we’d spend $160-200 a week on food, not even considering groceries. A trip to Kroger’s or Busch’s could set us back $50-80, regularly.
That’s at least $1,000.00 a month.
It’s taken about 9 months to fully work it out of our system, but we haven’t gotten pizza (except for maybe a special occasion) in several weeks. I can’t remember the last time we ordered Jimmy John’s. And the only cupcakes I eat are the incredibly delicious, free ones graciously brought to my workplace by a coworker whose mom owns a cupcakery. We even make our own tortilla chips and salsa.
Maybe more importantly, though, we’ve really learned how to grocery shop, which means learning how to cook. No more rubbery broccoli or moldy lunchmeat or rotten eggs because we bought too much and didn’t use it; no more specialty ingredients for one crazy recipe that calls for an ounce of a $5.99 bottle of fish sauce that won’t be used again before it expires.
We’re now spending about $40 on groceries a week, and trying to work it down to $30 or less. We’re using bulk ingredients – rice, couscous, quinoa and beans – as our base, and buying fresh veggies once a week. We’re being more creative with our recipes – if all we have left is one sweet potato, a green pepper, some amaranth and leftover black beans – I’ll make it work.
Granted, eating a mostly vegan healthy diet, and being invested in challenging my culinary skills are the biggest assets to simplifying our budget. Knowing about nutrition is a necessary combination with being thrifty, too; it’s not enough to think “this sandwich is a whole seven dollars! I could eat on that for a week!” – it was also necessary for me to know that it contained 773 calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat. I’ve also recently taken a (much needed) step down at work, which forces us to utilize a potentially lower income instead of just trying to do better.
But it can be done. Eating at home takes a bit more time – but truly, I’d probably be spending that time refreshing my facebook page or watching a Hoarders episode. I used to be daunted by the idea that if I was going to make a meal, it would have to be this fancy, delicious thing – instead of comfortably edible. I make some tasty things (homemade hummus, Moroccan veggie stew, tamari tofu) but also some comfortable but meh dishes (lentils and rice).
In all, your food doesn’t have to cost more than your rent. I never knew. Our goal is to spend $100/month on food – I’m confident with a little more practice, we can do it and eat well. And we’ll have more money to frolic and gallivant – just like our Disney World trip.
And now I can’t go back to my original ways. (At least, not without wiping the crumbs of guilt from my face.)