Monthly Archives: October 2013

Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part II – Food & clothing

This post is part of a series called “The margin”.  If you missed the introduction, you can go back and read it here.  In this part of the series, I will talk about building in a financial margin when you consider your budget for expenses.  This is the second installment on the financial margin.  If you missed the first one you can read it here

DSC_0195

A clarification before we begin again
After talking with a friend about yesterday’s installment, I realized my advice about the margin could be taken as a cavalier suggestion to simply spend more.  That would constitute irresponsible and insensitive advice, especially when so many of us are doing the best we can with limited resources.  Let me clarify, please, before continuing.

When I urge you to consider building a margin into your budget, please note, Dear Reader, I’m not suggesting that you budget or spend more than you can afford on the items discussed in this series.  I’m merely asking you to think about the costs you can’t fully anticipate, and factor those in by adding a margin for error.

When you get real about the repairs your car could need, vet bills your pet could incur, the appliance that could blow at any minute, etc… you may find that there’s not as much room in your budget for the other things you’d like to spend some money on but don’t really need to.  I would argue that that’s okay.  If costs are going to come up that you will need to pay for regardless of whether you or not you want to, then better to cut back on cable service now and be ready to pay the mechanic, if that’s what it will take.  Capice? Okay, let’s roll. 

Part II: Food and clothing

1. Food

As a nation, Americans spend far less on food than people in other countries and less than prior generations of Americans (thanks in part to heavy agricultural subsidies that make much of the food supply relatively cheap).  However, expenditures on food still make up 11% of our take-home income, on average, and a lot more if you’re poor.  Furthermore, it’s an area in the budget where we can exercise more discretion.  The choice of exactly what and how much to buy is entirely in our hands.  And then there’s the whole needing-it-to-survive thing.  So for many reasons, food prices matter a great deal to a lot of people. Continue reading Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part II – Food & clothing

Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part I – Housing

As a (still relatively new) mother undergoing some major life changes, I’ve started recognizing a lot of things about life that had never occurred to me before. They are not earth-shattering discoveries, but they are my major breakthroughs. In this space, I will share with you some of what I’ve learned so far. I hope the thoughts I’ve gathered will inspire you to reflect on what you’ve learned about life (or at least laugh at how long it took me to figure these things out).

The financial margin

This post is part of a series called “The margin”.  If you missed the introduction, you can go back and read it here.  In this part of the series, I will talk about building in a financial margin when you consider your budget for expenses.

DSC_0195

Some items in a household budget are relatively stable.  Think mortgage payments (with some tragic exceptions), car payments, gym membership, internet service, landline phones (does anyone still have one of those?), and household supplies like light bulbs and toilet paper.  But many are not stable.  There are the obvious ones (heating/cooling, car repair, home maintenance) and then there are some sneaky ones like gas, groceries, medical bills and more.

To prepare yourself for unpredictable expenses, I suggest building a margin into your household budget.  That is, tally up what you can reasonably expect your costs to be, and then add some more.  How much more?  That depends on your situation.  Read about how each of the budget items can vary, adding non-trivial amounts to your total household expenditures, and then determine how big your margin should be.  Continue reading Things I’ve learned so far: The financial margin, Part I – Housing

Pumpkin pie smoothie

Here we go.  Pumpkin recipe number two.  This one uses up, or perhaps annoyingly leaves you with, half a can of pumpkin puree.  Never fear.  There are more pumpkin recipes coming that will give you additional excuses for opening another can, or using up what’s left from making these smoothies.

This recipe uses traditional pumpkin pie spices, but is a bit tart.  If you’d like, add extra maple syrup to make it sweeter.  Either way, the earthy pumpkin and tangy yogurt will come through.  Sweet, sour, earthy and spicy.  Delicious.

DSC_0654

Recipe
Time: 5 minutes
Yield: ~4 cups

Ingredients
2c plain yogurt (or vanilla, omitting the vanilla and maple syrup)
1c pumpkin puree
1-2T maple syrup
1t vanilla
½ t ground ginger
½ t ground cloves
½ t ground nutmeg
1-2T coconut oil (optional)

Directions
Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Enjoy!

 

Do you have a favorite way of using up half-cans of pumpkin?  We’d love to know.  Share your ideas in a comment below. 

Slow Down Saturday: Pumpkin patch

Weekends provide the opportunity to slow down for a minute and catch our breath.  Or if not, at least change our perspective a bit.  With that in mind I am starting an occasional weekend series called Slow Down Saturday, which contains only photographs.  Sometimes it’s nice to just rest your eyes on something beautiful.  Enjoy and happy Saturday!

Pumpkin patch

DSC_0276 Continue reading Slow Down Saturday: Pumpkin patch

Beyond babies and bums: Cloth wipes for all ages and stages

I’ll confess. My favorite thing about cloth diapering our son is not the cost savings or even the moral superiority I feel from taking the (harder) more eco-friendly route. (I’m kidding about the moral superiority, but only a little. I was raised a Yankee. If it’s more work, it must be better.)

DSC_0640

My favorite thing about cloth diapering is cloth wipes. These things are genius. Soft, absorbent, and really effective at cleaning up a big mess without getting it on your hands. (TMI? You’re reading about cloth diapering. If that offends you, you better just stick with Huggies and save the planet some other way.)

Rant aside, with cloth wipes you control exactly what goes on your baby’s sensitive skin twelve times a day (or twenty, in the case of my son as an infant). Many commercial wipes are made with harsh chemical including parabens, a class of substances that Walmart is moving to ban from personal care products in its stores over the next few years (so you know it’s gotta be toxic!). Would you want that stuff on your intimate areas?  If not, you shouldn’t put it on your baby’s.  Continue reading Beyond babies and bums: Cloth wipes for all ages and stages

Lazy weekend breakfast for autumn: Pumpkin pancakes

Are you ready for the onslaught of pumpkin recipes??? Now that zucchini season is winding down my thoughts turn to pumpkins, squash and apples. I haven’t made it out to the orchards for apple picking just yet, so pumpkin it is!

DSC_0295

I found some beautiful heirloom varieties at the farmer’s market, which I’ll use to make a simple dessert (perhaps a custard?) in which the pumpkin really sings. And, my grocery store ran a sale on organic canned pumpkin last week so I stocked up to use in recipes where the taste of pumpkin (and possibly tin) is more muted. Think muffins, bread, and pancakes.

The first in that series is pumpkin pancakes. Continue reading Lazy weekend breakfast for autumn: Pumpkin pancakes

Things I’ve learned so far: The margin

As a (still relatively new) mother undergoing some major life changes, I’ve started recognizing a lot of things about life that had never occurred to me before. They are not earth-shattering discoveries, but they are my major breakthroughs. In this space, I will share with you some of what I’ve learned so far. I hope the thoughts I’ve gathered will inspire you to reflect on what you’ve learned about life (or at least laugh at how long it took me to figure these things out).

The margin (in 4 parts)

Don't cry over spilled milk.  Keep a rag handy.
Don’t cry over spilled milk. Keep a rag handy.

My first two years of motherhood were fraught with unexpected overages, to borrow an apt term from the mobile phone industry. Diapers that leaked, food that spoiled, bills that were higher than anticipated, bills that were never anticipated in the first place, deadlines that took longer than planned, messes that had to be cleaned up, minor disasters that had to be handled, illnesses that required time to rest and recover, and so on. And I got angry nearly every time it happened (okay, every time). I hadn’t planned for this! I had budgeted a certain amount of time, money, and energy (or all three) to take care of {fill in the blank} and there wasn’t enough to cover the latest mishap.

So I ran short day after day, month after month. And then one day wh…..

[As if the universe were trying to send me a sign, my laptop battery died right here in the middle of typing this post – mid-word even. Thank goodness I had taken my own advice on building in a margin and wasn’t counting on publishing this immediately. Geesh! Okay, back to what I was saying…]

One day when I was revising our household budget and I realized there was no line item for the little things we forget about (e.g., Sirius radio – for the traffic updates) and those we can’t anticipate. Let me tell you, homeowner’s roulette is not my favorite game. Which appliance/structural feature/piece of furniture/part of the plumbing system will need repair or replacement this year??? I have no idea. But I’ve finally realized that at least one will, or maybe more. Continue reading Things I’ve learned so far: The margin

I’m a convert…to slow cooker “roasted” chicken

I have never perfected the timeless art of roasting a chicken.  I can handle a turkey (perhaps because everyone’s expectations of the bird are pretty low, let’s be honest).  But roasted chicken has me stumped.  I’ve tried numerous can’t-miss recipes (techniques really) and I still failed.  Usually they come out undercooked, so I put them back in the oven and let it go a little longer, which turns out to be too long.  Dry chicken.  Boo!

I’ve roasted whole birds on a rack and on a bed of root vegetables and a rack over a bed of root vegetables.  I’ve slid butter and herbs under the skin (ew!), roasted it breast side up and breast side down, and even flipped it part way through.  Stuffed it.  Left the cavity empty.  You name it, I’ve tried it.  To no avail.

With breast meat that tends to dry out and thigh meat that determines the proper cooking temperature, I feel like the deck is stacked against me.  It’s like betting against the house in Vegas  – I’m gonna lose, it’s just a matter of how badly.

But then I spotted a tip for cooking a whole chicken in a slow cooker.  I was skeptical, but I tried it.  It was okay, but too plain for me, and lacking the glory of a true roasted chicken.  It tasted of compromise somehow.  Continue reading I’m a convert…to slow cooker “roasted” chicken