Grocery Strategy: Making Food Budgets Stick

Tyler and I have often said that if we didn’t like to cook so much, we probably wouldn’t have made it together. He likes death metal, I like folk music. He likes skate boarding, I like bicycling. He wants to go fishing, I’d rather read a book. We worked around all these things. I don’t listen to death metal but I will listen to punk. I spare him from my guilty pleasure country pop tunes (most of the time) and he’s open to hearing talented musicians of any genre that’s not jazz. Tyler used to take his skate board when I wanted to go for a walk (much harder to do with a baby and a dog) but will gladly ride bikes. I’ll happily go along fishing as long as I can bring my book. This may sound lacking in romance but what I think we really enjoy is each other’s company and we can do that outside over food then all the better.

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Hiking!

One of the downsides though of life with a tiny baby is cooking has been more functional than fun. We’ve struggled to be prepared at come meal time with ideas, food and the energy to accomplish actually making a meal. We’ve gone to bed without dinner in the last 9 months more than we have in our 7 years together. And yet our refrigerator is never bare. Between the downtown farmer’s market, our weekly Produce Box and general grocery shopping, we are much more likely to let food spoil and go over our food budget while we fall asleep at the dinner table. Our stomachs may be big (I blame baby- how long can I do that for?) but our eyes are bigger, at least when it comes to shopping.

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I’m not giving up our trips to the farmers’ market (mainly because it gets me out of the house) or our Produce Box (because local and love it- use my referral code to check it out!) Finally we’ve started to use meal planning to help us get things on track. We don’t use an app at this point (although I’d love some recommendations!), because Tyler is fairly anti-technology. This is our kitchen board with our meals for the week, our grocery store and Costco lists. I’ve also started putting what’s left in our grocery budget and alcohol budget (priorities!) on the board to help keep us in line. We’re about 3 months in and we’ve yet to make our budget.

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All the Stores

We utilize Costco primarily to stock up on organic meats, drinks and paper products as well as dog food. We bought a chest freezer from Better Than Never and use that to always keep meat on hand. If it came in jumbo packs, we use our vacuum sealer to keep it fresh and in reasonable quantities. Harris Teeter is our go-to for almost everything else. Like everyone else I, too, love Trader’s Joe’s but it drives me nuts that all their produce seems to be wrapped in plastic and there’s always something you can’t get there. Same with Aldi (although the cost savings is worth the extra trip). Tyler has been doing a lot of off-shore fishing and crabbing so we’ve been able to have a fish or crab night almost every week. In the colder months we’ll swap in oysters for crabs. Beach living has some serious food perks!

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Holding Ourselves Accountable

So basically every month I set what should be a realistic budget that we won’t possibly meet, even though we rarely eat out. What does this mean? We’re not actually using our budget. The very last thing I want to do is make us miserable or feel like a budget nag so instead I’m creating more touch points throughout the month. I tend to be in charge when it comes to money but if Tyler doesn’t know where we are, then it doesn’t help either of us. Basically, he just needs to be using our YNAB account more (YNAB is my the answer to everything.Use my referral code to see for yourself!) so he can see where we are in real time. (Okay, also sometimes I shop hungry and ruin this all on my own.)

When in doubt, freeze it.

There is always a point each week where I start sizing up the likelihood that our leftovers, produce, etc is going to make it much longer. Instead of shutting the fridge door, I’ve started to drop it in the freezer. Most items freeze well, even if you do need to repurpose them. Frozen tomatoes- great for cooking pasta or pizza sauce! Frozen leftover herbs- freeze in water or oil and drop in soup or sauce! Equally important is remembering to use said items. Checking the freezer before I start meal planning isn’t my strong suit but I’m working on it!

Make a plan, Stan.

We’ve made great strides in creating a meal plan each week. Before Tyler goes to work on Saturdays we hash out ideas while taking turns checking the fridge for needed items and running to stop Haines from pulling down the floor lamp. (Anyone else battling how to have light in your house without a baby knocking themselves unconscious?) Tyler wasn’t wild about meal planning initially but now we each pick a couple meals to organize so that it’s not one-sided towards one person’s preferences. Now we always go to the store with not only our grocery list but the meal list as well. The next step will be better incorporating ingredients across the week so we don’t end up with extra random items like cabbage, which we never know what to do with. (FYI green cabbage in your smoothie- no. Purple cabbage, yes.)

With our powers combined we’ll eat healthy, delicious meals every day and stay on budget. Next up, world domination!

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June: A Time for Balance and Reflection

This month has been a total whirlwind. It’s been pretty stressful and incredibly wonderful.

June has brought:

The realization that I can’t do everything.

I ended up having a wee little breakdown at work somewhere around the time my managers realized they’d given me too much to be responsible for. I’m working on delegating things more proactively and prioritizing more appropriately. Some things will just have to wait.

Similarly at home, I’m attempting to be a bit more relaxed about things. Contrary to my family’s beliefs our messy, often dirty home does bother me but by the time the baby goes to sleep it is hard for me to care. To be honest, it’s hard for me to remember. In the evenings I often think, what is it I said I was going to take care of tonight? I can’t remember it until way later. (Dear sleep, please come back.) I’m at the point now where I’m behind on birthday gifts, thank you’s, letters, cleaning, yard work, meal prep. The list goes on. In fact, I don’t think it’ll ever stop so I’m trying not to stress about it.

Adventures with baby

HEB turned 6 months on June 14th and every day it seems he has learned something new. This month he has found his voice and babbles or makes noises nonstop. He’s also found his tongue which is always sticking out now. We’ve started to introduce food and he’s on the verge of crawling. Our house is desperately in need of baby proofing!

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Nectarines should be worn as well as eaten.

Haines also took his first flights this month. We traveled two weekends in a row by plane which was totally stressful and honestly not that bad. He slept at least 50% of the time as it’s hard for him to resist a snooze in any mode of transportation. We were prepared the rest of the time with toys and our best funny voices. I don’t think any passengers hated us.

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We survived the Atlanta airport!

Quality family time

We don’t see any of our family nearly enough. Our closest family member lives only 4 hours away but we haven’t visited in over a year. Our other parents and siblings all reside in other states or countries so our visits definitely aren’t frequent. This month we got in two visits though which made June a pretty awesome month.

Father’s Day weekend Haines and I traveled with my mom, sister and her girls to Oklahoma for a long weekend. The newest member of our family got to meet my aunt and uncle on my mom’s side as well as several of our cousins. We were celebrating the life of my grandfather who passed away in October. It would have been his 99th birthday that weekend! While a sad occasion, I loved hearing the stories about PopPop- some familiar, some new to me. Our family is hardly ever all in one place so it was hard not to feel overjoyed at the chance to be with everyone.

Last weekend all three of us flew to Florida to be with Mum-Mum (Tyler’s mom). Unfortunately our reason for gathering was another sad one as Mum-Mum’s husband passed away a few weeks ago. He was truly a unique soul and I got to learn so much more about him during his celebration of life. We chatted with friends and family and saw so many great photos of Eric through the years! Just as the weekend before, the feeling of being together dominated. We hadn’t seen Tyler’s mom or his brother and girlfriend (BFF extraordinaire Natalie)  in several months and the reunion was much needed!

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 Time for reflection

We spent a significant portion of the month with family celebrating loved ones we can no longer be with. There is an obvious silver lining to this. We were reminded how important those individuals were and are to our lives as well as how grateful we are to have wonderful people in our lives. I have a healthy, growing son, a supportive husband, incredible friends all across the world, and a loving family from my parents to my siblings to the cousins, aunts and uncles I don’t often get to see. We’re a lucky bunch!

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Irrefutable Proof that May is the Best Month Ever

I think everyone is inclined to like the month they were born in but if you’re born in an extra good month, all the better. May has all the best things.

May means being outside:

I was born in May. Growing up in Piedmont Triad in North Carolina it’s a no-brainer that May is a great month. It starts out with everything in bloom. Azaleas are finishing up. Tulips are popping. Dogwoods are in their prime. By the end of the month you’re at Memorial Day weekend. It’s getting hot but the nights still cool off. The pool is open and you leap into summer. In Wilmington the temperature tends to be a little hotter and a little more humid but it still falls under the range of feels good to be outside.

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It’s hard to work in the garden with a bambino but I’m trying to figure it out!

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May is my birthday month:

I have to admit I’m one of those people who loves their birthday. I’m not looking for gifts or being princess for a day or whatever.  I just love birthdays. I love other people’s too! People send you really kind cards and messages online. It’s the one day of the year where you don’t take your friend or family for granted. You remind them that you love them. I love reminding people and I love being reminded.

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Birthday party goodness stolen from Better than Never blogger’s instagram.

May is for Mother’s Day:

This year May was extra special. I also had my first Mother’s Day. I know I talk more often here about struggling with motherhood than about the joys but there are also so many joys. Writing this, thinking about HEB, my chest tightens. I can feel a physical space where our connection lies. It’s not in my heart or my now empty womb. It’s in my lungs. He is so much of every breath I take. I cannot think about loving him without tears.

My first Mother’s Day is exactly what I might have hoped. I got to sleep in (although not through the night) and woke to an enormous breakfast. We were in Virginia visiting Tyler’s dad so we went on a boat ride before heading home. No one threw up on the car ride home and we finished the night with cheese and crackers. It was all the best things in life.

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Best Mother’s day gift!

May is for baby milestones:

Baby milestones can be difficult and wonderful. We’ve stopped swaddling Haines which has been difficult. He’s started rolling over regularly which is wonderful. He can’t roll back over from his stomach easily (particularly in the middle of the night when apparently that’s important to him) which is difficult. He’s paying attention to everything which is wonderful. He’s getting more mobile which means we need to baby proof our house. This is wonderful and difficult. He babbles nonstop. This is adorable.

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Almost there!

May is for family and friends:

As I anxiously await a friend’s arrival from California for the weekend, I’m reminded that I saw so many wonderful people in May. There was the impromptu visit of my Austin bud, LaDonna, as well as our first trip to see “Poppa” in Virginia. Plus my mother came, which is pretty much all I want/need in life.

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“Poppa” Earl, Haines Earl and Tyler Earl. That’s a whole lotta Earl. 

 

Live with Focus

There are a million things I’d like to accomplish this year. I’d like to get outside more, save all my money, make all my food from scratch, establish a thriving garden, excell at my job, concentrate on making my time at home quality time with my family, write more often, put myself out of my comfort zone, go hiking, get back in shape, travel to new places and so on. But let’s get real. A year may seem like a long time but days and weeks pass by in the blink of an eye. The year that we have a brand new baby is not the year for lofty goals. It is not the year I’ll hike the Applachian Trail or start making my own pasta. It’s a year to soak in this time with baby Haines and survive our lack of sleep.

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But how do I stop making pies?!

 

Regardless I am the time of person who creates goals. I need focus and plans to guide me. This is most likely a fault that speaks to me being a control freak but…one thing at a time. This year we spent New Year’s Eve in the hospital so it was not a time for a resolutions (although how about no more trips to the hospital in 2017?!). My time at home on maternity leave was a foggy blur of sleeplessness and long walks. I’m back at work and back in a routine and starting to find a tiny sense of focus.

I really just want to use my time wisely and purposely. I don’t mean that I won’t watch TV or check my Instagram feed (FYI- taking Facebook off my phone was a great choice) but I don’t want to let myself get lost in it. I’m going to make my lunch for work at night so I can enjoy my baby cuddles in the morning without stressing. I’m going to go out with friends or go off by myself so that I can come back and better appreciate and be more present in my time with my family.

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This guy is pretty hard to resist.

 

To keep my focus I’ve determined 4 activities/goals.

Me: Be Patient

It starts with me. I want to have more patience with myself and others. I don’t need to accomplish everything today. Like many women, I put an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself to excel and worse, be perfect. It’s past time to get rid of that inclination. Time to slow down, communicate more often and more kindly.

Community: Get Involved

Contributing to  my community has always been important to me but often it gets pushed to the back burner. I need to move this up the priority list. It’s a value that I want to impart onto Haines and there’s only one way to do that.

Finance: Reduce Debt, Reduce Stress

It’s well known in my family that I put a large focus on financial security (some might say too much…) and I’ve let it cause my unnecessary stress in the past. While I don’t want to do that I do want to get to the point where we are making more strategic decisions when it comes to our finances and reducing our debt.

Travel:

This isn’t a deep and life-changing goal but getting outside my immediate surroundings has always proved to be key for my sanity. The one thing I’ve wanted to do since returning to North Carolina was visit the mountains in the fall. So far two falls have passed and we haven’t made it. This is the year! Fall leaves, I won’t miss you this time! It’s also a part of my home state that Haines won’t get as much exposure to in our beach town and I want him to see all the beauty of our state.

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Winter in Wilmington, NC

The Best Time of the Year

I love most holidays. In general, I love any day that is out of the ordinary. This means I embrace holidays that seem created by Hallmark (Valentine’s), and fraternities (no offense, St. Patrick’s Day). I equally love my birthday and yours. Any reason for fun food and beverage is worth while to me. If we get the day off the work? Then it’s the absolute best!

Regardless Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Its focus- being thankful- is hard to argue with. It’s safe to say that each of us has something or someone in our lives that we take for granted, even despite our best intentions. Maybe it’s our health, our spouse, our parent, our home, our job, a friend, our hobbies. It doesn’t matter. Being grateful and thankful on every day often escapes us. A reminder really couldn’t hurt. Plus we celebrate the day with the two best things in life: family and food.

Often the people we spend Thanksgiving with aren’t related by blood. Although my family will most likely be annoyed by me saying so….I like Thanksgiving this way. I celebrate with my family every Christmas. Thanksgiving is my opportunity to be thankful and spend quality time with the other family in my life- those I choose to make a part of my life.

After 4 years of Friendsgivings in Texas, I didn’t know what we’d do when we moved back to North Carolina. Would we start going home? But last year we hosted our first Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving potluck (with my mother which was an added bonus!) with many new friends. This year, we’ll do it again.

I’ll have to control myself and my urge to make a thousand different dishes. I’m doing my best to limit it to 2. With only 3 weeks until baby’s arrival, I’m not having to work too hard to convince myself to take it easy. My back and legs do that pretty well.

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I’ll just do this instead.

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Clara’s getting her cuddles in pre-baby arrival.

Tyler and I already got the week of Thanksgiving off to the right start with our annual tradition of watching The Last Waltz. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing then check out:

It Takes a Village

This past week has been pretty busy in a great, whirlwind way. All my projects at work made significant progress which made me feel much better about my job. This is something I imagine we all deal with- the feeling that we are just trudging along and to what end? Hitting a milestone is exactly the encouragement I needed to keep going right now!

At home we have been making crazy, progress on putting in our upstairs bathroom. I’ll share all the details on this later, but the gist is we’re going to be a 2 bathroom household! Tyler has been moving this project along at warp speed and it’s getting pretty exciting.

In addition, I’ve had the chance to see my lovely Wilmington friends so much this week! As a boring pregnant lady it’s pretty rare I venture out on school nights  (without drinking happy hour just isn’t the same, ya know?) but it’s been incredibly lovely this week to make an exception. Earlier this week during a birthday celebration (cocktails and sushi – another fun night to be pregnant) I was completely stunned when one friend blurted, “I can’t wait to meet your baby.” She wasn’t the first person to say this but she was the first person to say and mean, “I can’t wait to know your baby.” She wasn’t referring to wanting to know what baby B will look like or even playing and cooing over baby B. She was entirely referring to the person he or she will become and how they will become a figure in our little group of friends.

I was completely overwhelmed by this. Both overcome by the emotion of her statement we dropped the topic to more birthday dinner appropriate things but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. The idea that my child already has true friends waiting on here for him or her to arrive is too wonderful to express. I grew up in a small, quiet family of four that divided and shrunk early on in life. My sister went to college when I went into the third grade and my parents spent most of their time not speaking to one another before they separated when I was twelve. Although we had a few family friends that I would certainly consider part of our family “village” I rarely saw them outside of my mother’s best friend, Ed, who came into our lives in when I was in middle school. Going over to my friends’ houses with larger families and friends always around always left me envious. I would soak up the noise and chaos as much as I did the laughter and excitement. For baby B to experience the love of an extended family would really be a dream come true.

I am also embarrassed to say that I had not yet put a lot of thought into knowing baby B in the way my friend meant. I’ve been entirely preoccupied by the more superficial concerns of being pregnant. What do we need to purchase? Am I eating well enough? Exercising enough? How will we handle maternity leave or daycare? Although I have thought about what this munchkin might be interested in, I hadn’t yet really considered baby B a whole person. There is someone growing right now that I will have a chance to know soon. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to get to know them, little by little, more every day.

Twenty-three weeks, y’all. We’re over halfway and getting bigger every day.

Our Family Stories

When my parents first got married, my half-sister was six. All the time she would ask him for stories about when he was her age. She wanted to know all about him. My dad though, ever practical, had no desire to tell my sister the true stories of his youth. These were tales filled with disobeying parents, sneaking out of the house, freaking out babysitters and just generally getting in trouble.

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Eventually he came up with the tales that developed what I think may be his secret super power- story telling. These are detailed, dramatic stories full of perilous situations and child heroes. My favorite might be the ones where his mother is pregnant with him. She is in the car driving somewhere, lost and my father realizes her confusion. He peeks out of her bellybutton (which is apparently more like a little skylight) and tells her which way to go. She listens and they get where they are supposed to! This story is an adorable and quintessential little bit of Dad- he’s the hero but also, a bit of a know it all.

This Easter we were able to bring these stories into the lives of my nieces. My mother emailed Dad requesting he clarify the details of his Easter story and he did one better- he wrote out the whole thing! For years I have been requesting this and it was an incredible treat to have. It was made better only by my oldest niece reading the story of how “Granddaddy” saved Easter aloud to all of us.

 

I never thought of my dad as a writer until recently. These stories have been with us for so long there were just part of a part of his goofiness we cherished as children. But now that he writes us infamously long emails about his travels, I can see it. Everything he writes is full. It’s sensory, it’s visual, it’s emotional. This is the way he describes a taxi ride but also, how his travels have impacted him. It’s all with the same intensity. I’m especially glad my nieces can experience this, even if their Granddaddy is thousands of miles away.

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