Quarter beef

Back in March, we stayed on a 100 acre farm up in the San Juans as a much needed getaway for our family. We spent three days exploring the farm, feeding the animals, watering the plants in the hoophouse, and exploring the rest of the island. The place was beautiful and peaceful and a restorative to our souls (it sounds dramatic, but it was). Heading back down to our crowded town was painful after the quiet stillness of the island. 

While we were there, we focused on preparing meals using only local ingredients, which was quite easy, as the owners stocked the fridge with eggs and hoop house vegetables for us (in March!) and we purchased beef from the farm stand a few hundred feet from the cabin. A small artisan bakery leases space on the farm, and we picked up a loaf of their awesome bread that had been baked fresh that morning. The potatoes came from the local organic grocery in the village and the beer from the island’s one very small brewery. The butter was the biggest traveler, coming from a dairy co-op off island but not far past the ferry. 

If only all our meals with this simple and delicious

We do our best to buy local and sustainable ingredients at home, but it requires constant diligence. We have tons of great farmers markets during the summer months, and local, humanely raised meat is hard to come by at a decent price, which is always the struggle – our path to FI is filled with high cost grocery items. While I am well aware that eating a plant based diet is best for both our budget and the planet, my guys are both big meat eaters, and I quite enjoy it as well, so while I am working to reduce what meat we eat, my bigger focus is on humanely raised local meat and wild game. The big downside to local meat is the cost – it is so much cheaper to buy from Costco or grocery store sales, but there is a high environmental cost to that choice. 

Enter in the option to buy a quarter of a cow from a farm we’ve stayed at and gotten to obvserve first hand how well they are loved and cared for. Bonus – the owners are very focused on sustainability in all aspects of their lives, and they are the island’s commercial composting facility. 

Feeding the pigs

Buying locally in bulk brings the price down considerably and we get much higher quality for it. Plus, when our freezer is stocked, we are less likely to head to the grocery store last minute and end up buying more than we need. 

The cows were slaughtered a few weeks ago, and we picked up our four large boxes yesterday. The excitement felt like Christmas as we inspected our purchase. We had done a good job of emptying our chest freezer prior to pick up, which was a very good thing, because the beef filled it to the brim. We plan to buy a half pig from them come winter, but we now have our beef needs covered for a good long while. Having awesome quality ingredients at home should help us to continue our relearned habit of weekend breakfasts at home, which is supplemented this time of year by produce out of our garden. Any day we can prep meals from what we have at home is a great day.  

Not pictured: the 1/3 carton of ice cream that needed to be eaten because it no longer fit in the freezer

The biggest learning experience thus far with purchasing locally in bulk is realizing how small our freezer is. My husband will hopefully hunt us an elk or mule deer (or both!) this year, along with smaller game, and if he’s successful, we won’t have enough space in our current freezer, so we will have to consider upgrading to a larger one. We’ve gotten parts of deer in the past from my brother, and that hasn’t been a problem, but an entire one definitely will not fit. Since that won’t be until this fall at earliest, we have some time to figure out how we will handle large quantities of game in the future and save up credit card rewards, just like we did when we bought our current one. 

The quarter beef purchase came with a third night free at the farm, so we should be headed back up there this fall. Maybe one of these times we won’t come back and decide to live the island life – once we reach financial independence and can decide where we want to live independent from a job location. 

Living in a “starter home”

When my husband and I went looking for a home six summers ago,  we knew we wanted to look for our forever home – not one to build equity and then trade up when we could afford bigger and “better.” Months and numerous offers later, we found it. 1350 SF on a quarter acre lot (large for in city), backing miles of park and forested trails. We were thrilled. At 23 years old, we had found our forever home. 

We shared our excitement with our friends, and over and over again, we got the comment that it was such a “great starter home” – most people couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that we were planning to stay for the long term. According to most, it was “too small” for a family. Oh, how American views on home size has changed. When our home was built fifty-odd years ago, the average home size was under 1000 SF, and most people had more than 2 children (the most we’ve ever considered – though we are now likely one and done). After World War II, a single family home was considered an important luxury in and of itself, and returning soldiers flocked to these homes to raise their children. In the years since then, homes have gotten larger and larger, filled with more and more stuff – and then we fill storage units with the things that spill over from there. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of packing a home full of things, so we went smaller. When you have a smaller home, you have to be mindful what you bring in because you don’t have the space to hide it in closets and basements. By choosing smaller, we were choosing less in a positive way. 

We still struggle with enormous amount of “stuff” in our home, and it is a consistent struggle to keep it in check, but I’m thankful our home isn’t larger. The sheer size of our space limits what can stay and what must leave. A closet filled with items you no longer use becomes a burden when you then can’t find space for your essentials and becomes the catalyst to pare down again. 

While I may never reduce our belongings to minimalist standards, I hope to reduce to a reasonable, uncluttered space that is enjoyable to live in. By reducing our space to what we really need, we leave room for the things that really matter – which isn’t cleaning. 

While the inside of our home may be smaller, we have a lovely yard and we spend lots of time in both the front and back yard. Lounging in our front yard has made it so we talk to our neighbors and really get to know them. We have block parties, trade homegrown veggies, sled down our hill in the snow, and generally enjoy each other’s company. I think in some part this comes from living on a street of smaller, older homes where people spend more time out front and decide to stay long term because of the community it engenders. 

Enjoying an evening walk through the trails behind our house

Our property may be only a quarter acre, but we have over 14 miles of trails directly out our back fence and many more once we cross the street. In a way, it feels like we have hundreds of acres, but without the enormous tax bill and maintenance that would come with owning that kind of land individually. By choosing location over the house itself, our lives are so much richer for the time in the woods. 

Oh, is your dryer broken? 

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve had someone presume our dryer is broken when I mention our clothes line / they see it hanging on our back deck. Much like when we lived in South Carolina and I had people stop and ask me if I needed a ride when I walked to the store, people automatically expect that your dryer must be broken if you use a clothes line. Really, anything that bucks the trend of convenience gets a sidelong look at minimum, even if it’s better for your pocketbook/health/the environment. Comfort and ease is usually king unless you’re mindful to how you spend your time. 

Oddly enough, line drying clothes outside is one of my favorite chores. Maybe part of this comes from living in the damp Pacific Northwest where the weather only cooperates maybe 1/3 of the year, so line drying means it’s lovely out. It’s also something that requires both hands, so I can’t be multitasking/on my phone and instead be present in what I’m doing at the moment (or using it to listen to my audiobook and enjoying some time to myself – in short order since becoming a mom). 

As it is with most frugal choices I make, starting line drying didn’t come a drive to save money, since the cost savings isn’t huge (though it is there). Environmentally, using air (and occasionally sun when it decides to grace our presence) to dry clothes uses less electricity and is gentler on fabrics, so your clothes last longer. This was especially important to me when it comes to cloth diapers, because I want them in good shape to pass to someone else once my son is potty trained. Now that I’ve given up buying clothes for myself for an indefinite period of time, I have that much more incentive to treat the pieces I do own gently and get them to last longer. Any time we can cut down on buying new (even new from the thrift store or hand-me-downs) because we’ve kept our things in better repair, the lighter our impact on the planet. Saving a few dollars on our utility bill is just an added bonus. 

Kids are a bit like cats when it comes to boxes (or laundry baskets).
Once late spring rolls around, we shut off our furnace, but we do have window ac units. Air conditioning never used to be common here, but warmer summers than we’re used to has them selling out at Costco now very year. Running the dryer during the summer and heating up our house and then having to turn the ac on to cool it down drives me nuts. Not only does air drying save the cost of the dryer but also the air conditioning needed to cool the house back down. If we’re really serious about minimizing our environmental impact, we need to be thinking about our every day habits – ignoring our dryer for a part of the year is just one part of it. 

Avocado toast and relearning to love weekend breakfasts at home 

Confession: I’m a millennial and I LOVE avocado toast. I’ve even bought it out at a restaurant (twice, happy hour, and it was fantastic). 

My love of avocado toast though has actually helped me with my financial goals – but definitely not buying it from a restaurant. 

I have always been a big lover of breakfast and going out to eat. Breakfast and brunch out used to be a special event, usually for a birthday or some other kind of celebration. And then it became a more regular event. And then it became every weekend – sometimes just with my husband and son, sometimes with a big group, but every weekend. We made a habit out of sitting down at a restaurant or at least heading to the coffee shop for a quick breakfast before going for a walk through the park. It was a quick, laid back way to enjoy the weekend with a baby, but it definitely wasn’t cheap (or healthy most of the time). 

Avocado toast isn’t usually on the menu though, and I love avocado toast. Hence, if I was going to eat it somewhat regularly, I was going to make it at home. Avocados aren’t that cheap up here in the northwest, so this breakfast doesn’t come in at under $1 a serving, but it definitely saves over going out to eat. 

  • Avocado: $3
  • 2 slices of toast: 33¢
  • Pat of local butter: 3¢
  • Two local eggs: $1.17
  • Coffee w/cream and sugar: $1

$5.53/person x 3 = $16.59

(toddler eats a lot, but not quite as much as a whole adult, and my husband eats a lot – construction worker – so they average out to two adults) 

An average breakfast out usually costs us $15/person plus 10% tax and 20% tip = $59.40. Yikes. Multiply that by 8, and the relatively expensive avocado toast at home saves us $342.48 a month, or $4,109.76. Ouch. Thankfully, we’ve cut our weekend breakfasts out to maybe twice a month now. Avocado toast (along with bacon and eggs, from scratch pancakes, French toast on brioche, etc) help to make it so it doesn’t feel like we’re “missing out” by eating breakfast at home, but instead it’s something to look forward to. 

The biggest pieces of this puzzle for us have been 1) break the habit of eating out as our weekend routine 2) making sure we have all the ingredients we need on hand. If we have to make a list and walk to the grocery store before making our breakfast, odds are we’ll just keep going and have someone else make it for us. 

Bonus points: the toddler can run around and make a mess and we don’t have to chase him around a restaurant. He’s a pretty laid back guy, but we’d somehow deluded ourselves into thinking it was easier to have someone else make our food even when we had to entertain a squirmy toddler and keep him in his seat. 

Once again, I’m learning that I am a VERY pattern oriented person. Once I got used to eating out, I didn’t even consider having weekend breakfast foods on hand at home. Now that we’ve reversed the habit, I’m loving our quiet mornings at home once again. We haven’t lost anything, but maybe gained some peaceful time instead. Plus, I like my coffee better. 

Christmas (presents) in July

July is a great time to start Christmas “shopping.” This might sound a little crazy, but I give gifts to a LOT of people – mostly family, and a few friends. Gift giving is hands down my love language, so skimping on Christmas presents just isn’t my style. Ask me to wrap them and that’s another story.

So in order to do Christmas in the way that makes my heart happy without completely blowing out my budget for the entire year, I start early.

Pickles and cucumber relish – so pretty and so much tastier than store bought.
The first year I canned produce from my garden, I ended up with way too much (had fun learning how and kept trying out new recipes) and had a cabinet full of canned goods. Fast forward to that December, and I had a cabinet full of homemade presents ready for gift giving. By starting on presents during the summer, I’m able to spread out the effort and cost it takes to make really special gifts. By the time December rolls around, I’m usually at least halfway done with all of my “shopping.”

Since that first year’s foray into canning and pickling, I’ve paid close attention to what gifts have been devoured (jalapeño jelly) and which are still sitting on the shelf a year or two later (dilly beans). I’m now mindful of what others will actually be excited to receive versus get put away on the shelf to be eaten never. This way, I’m really cutting down on waste and giving a truly consumable gift. Homemade gifts are the very best, unless they become another dust-covered trinket like the last minute drug store purchase.

Mixing up homemade taco seasoning.
Homemade spice mixes has surprisingly become one of the favorite homemade food gifts I give, even though they take so much less time than canning and pickling and are definitely less fun to create 🙂 That being said, I love to give gifts that are excitedly received and used, so a large part of my homemade food gifts end up being spice mixes. Bonus – they can be whipped up last minute, like the taco seasoning above. I had a friend’s birthday party to attend that day and wanted to add a little more to her gift. 10 minutes later, it was mixed up and put in a pretty mason jar.

My favorite way to give spice mixes/other presents that don’t need to be canned but still look pretty in mason jars are with reusable mason jar lids. They’re especially great for spice mixes and I use them at home as well.

Just over 5 months until Christmas is here again. I can’t wait.

I should probably stop buying clothes

When I was 15, I remember working a few days stuffing mailing envelopes and making close to $100. At that age, that was a HUGE amount of money.  And as soon as I got that money, I turned around and spent it on one pair of Lucky brand jeans. Looking back, I have no idea why I just had to have them. Like most teenage girls, I liked to look pretty and buy new clothes, but it wasn’t the only thing that mattered to me by any means. Since then, I’ve slowly learned that just because because something is on sale and I sort of like it that it should come home with me. Over the years I’ve gotten more and more discerning about what clothes I do purchase, but I always seem to find plenty to get rid of when I decide to purge my closet. It almost seems like they must breed back there, because I KNOW I’ve given away more than I’ve purchased. Apparently not. 

So. Many. Running. Shirts.
Six months ago, I decided I really really REALLY didn’t need any more clothes and mostly had stopped buying them. Except for that really cute shirt at Ross. About this time was when I had put dollar limits on my work lunches and pulled myself out of that habit, and I realized that I need really strict boundaries for myself if I’m going to stick to something. 

I realized I needed a full stop to really tackle this problem head on. I had already gone through my closet numerous times and had gotten rid of anything I truly didn’t wear and my closet and dresser were still stuffed full of clothes. I wanted badly to have a minimal closet but couldn’t justify getting rid of more clothes when I knew I did actually like (and wear) them all. 

Really. I still have a ton of clothes.
The only way I was going to shrink my closet further was to completely wear my clothes out and not buy any more to replace them. And so I haven’t bought a single piece of clothing for myself in 5 months now (my kiddo somehow keeps growing, so I don’t have much of a choice there) – no shoes, jewelry, sweaters, pants, skirts, dresses, nothing. 

At first telling myself I was not going to buy any more clothes, period, felt really restrictive. I would go past clothing racks and want badly to look in order to update my wardrobe. I looked in my closet and felt limited by what I saw, knowing I wouldn’t be supplementing it at all. But then a couple of months passed, and I started looking at my clothes differently. Limiting my choices eased up getting dressed because there were only 10 or so shirts I could chose from for work (I know, compared to a truly minimalist closet I still have a TON of clothes – I have a tote full of sweaters and winter clothes tucked away as well). Not only that, but there were no longer clothes that I would put on just because I owned them and felt they needed to be worn. I felt good in any shirt I picked out and was comfortable wearing it during the day. 

And then one of my favorite cardigans (the only colored one) got a hole in the armpit. Normally, that would be when I would donate that piece of clothing as textile scrap in order to pare down my closet. Instead, it is now sitting on my dresser to be mended. 

Hopefully I don’t do a terrible job. Sewing is not my strong suit.

Without the option of replacing an item when it begins to wear, I’ve started to look at them with new eyes and see how important it is to mend what I already own. As the saying goes, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” In the United States we have completely lost this concept, especially in the face of fast fashion, and it only takes a little internet research to see what that wastefulness is doing to our planet. It might be a small gesture, but I want every part of my life to be done with our environment in mind, as well as the money in my pocket. 

*It turns out that apparently I’m not original here. Another few years before I’m in the awesome no-buying-clothes category like Mrs Frugalwoods (http://www.frugalwoods.com/2016/05/16/why-i-havent-purchased-any-clothes-in-2-5-years-and-counting/)

The allure of picking up lunch

Just out of college, I had an internship that made less than minimum wage and added a second weekend job to pay my student loans. Unsurprisingly, I had to be frugal about work lunches by the fact that I was constantly close to broke. Once I had a bit more breathing room, I continued to pack my lunch because it was such a habit by then. 

My packed lunches tended to much much cheaper, healthier, and way less wasteful than my occasional lunch out, and I didn’t think much about it. Then I got pregnant and had my son and was so overwhelmed with my new life as a mom. Suddenly, packing a lunch seemed impossible, and I could afford picking it up, so I just didn’t worry about it. Once I finally started feeling in control of my life again (and the little guy was sleeping through the night), I realized my occasional lunch out had become an almost every day occurrence…and so had coffee and breakfast. 

Change wasn’t as easy as I had expected. I continually forgot lunch at home (or didn’t pack it at all). I constantly ran out of time in the morning and would run in to the coffee shop for breakfast. I knew I was wasting a ton of money, but I wasn’t making a huge effort to do anything differently. I decided I needed to get serious and set myself a $150 lunch budget for the month (I know, I know. That is still a ridiculous amount for one person, but I was spending $250-$300/month when I really looked closely. Ouch.) Month one, I spent $87. Now, I probably average $20-30/month. Writing down a goal with hard numbers is what really gets me focused, and now I don’t even have to track it because I’ve pulled myself out of the habit. 

My favorite crock pot meal: red beans and rice.

I started looking at WHAT made lunch out so appealing, and I realized it wasn’t the lunch itself that was the main driver. What I liked most about it was the time to take a break from my desk, time that was all mine, and I got a bit of exercise walking the 10-20 minute round trip to grab food. Realizing that, I decided I would just go for the walk without actually picking up food (since I started packing it again). To get there, I had to unpack the guilt of taking a break just to go for a walk – I work in an office where being at your desk for long hours is a badge of pride, no matter how unhealthy it may be. Somehow it felt different to walk without a purpose of picking up lunch. It’s pretty strange how we’ve gotten into such a place where taking a walk during the workday is seen as indulgent. And yet, I am so much happier – and more productive – when I take that 10 minute break in the middle of the day. 

Now that I pack my lunch most days of the month, I notice so much more about the days I pick up take out. While they are usually very tasty, they’re darn expensive. And the trash. Home cooked meals show up in glass Pyrex containers and real silverware. Take out comes in plastic wrappers, styrofoam, disposable napkins, plastic forks and spoons, all inside a plastic bag. When I was buying lunches every day, it was so normal I hardly noticed it any more. Going back to home meals though, I’m shocked at the waste. The more frugal I am, the less damaging I am to the planet. Over and over again, the choice aimed at financial independence is the choice that treads most lightly. 

Why FIRE?

I’m in my (very) late 20s and most of my friends are early in their careers/relationships/retirement planning stage of life, and most aren’t really thinking about quitting working. I’ve been at my job for 7 years now and I’m still very much in the learning and growing phase of things. Most of the time, I’m pretty content heading into work, and I don’t dread Monday showing up (though it definitely helps that I cut my hours to 80% time and leave the office by 2 or 3 every day to go hang out with my favorite little man). 

So why care so much about FIRE? Because of the people I work with. The company I’m at consists mostly of people in their late 40s to early 60s. And none of them are financially able to retire. While some of them seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs, most are really there only because they have no other choice. They may have once been excited about their career and their work, but that time has long past. And many of them are clearly unhappy about sticking it out, and that bleeds into every part of their work. I don’t ever want to be stuck working a job well past the “I like it most of the time” phase just because I don’t have enough to survive. 

What would you do if you won the lottery?

If your answer isn’t to continue working, then financial independence is probably pretty dang important. I want to be able to make decisions based on what I most want to do and what will make the greatest impact, not just because it pays the bills. 

Once you hit financial independence  and you decide to continue working, the perspective changes. You are no longer beholden to your job, and you can make decisions on what is best for you. And that seems like a pretty great place to be. 

Why not run to work?

Before I had my son (he’s almost 2.5 now), I worked on leaving my car home as much as possible. My office was about 4.5 miles away from my office (it’s now a little under 6 miles). I regularly biked/bused/walked/ran to and from work (even occasionally in rain and snow), though not nearly as often as I could have. We live at the top of a 500′ hill and that elevation gain kicked my butt and convinced me to take my car way too many times. 

Flash forward to life with a toddler in tow. The first few years as a new mom were so overwhelming to me that the idea of making my commute longer/harder didn’t even enter my thought process. 

As my son has gotten older and life started to feel more manageable again, I started thinking every once in a while about trying an alternative commute again, but every time I looked at distances and childcare drop off logistics, I would decide it was too complicated and table the idea for later. 

And then about a month ago, MrMoneyMustache wrote a blog post about a guy who bike commutes every day in Houston, Texas (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2017/06/08/bike-to-work-houston/). This of course started quite a few conversations online about how to make the bike commute work, and I started thinking again on how to ditch my car commute. To be perfectly honest, riding a bike, especially up a steep hill, is not my favorite thing to do. But running is. I’ve managed to squeeze in 2-3 runs a week (usually 2-5 miles), but it hadn’t occurred to me to combine them with my commute. This time around though, I was determined to ditch my car at least once a week. 
And so began my weekly run commute. Tuesday afternoons I pick my son up from daycare (3 miles, mostly on a lovely gravel trail) and then he and I hop on the bus and head home. The bus drops us about 3/4 of a mile from our house, and we get a bonus walk through the woods on our way home, looking at birds and plants and snacking on edible berries. Wednesday mornings my husband takes my son to my mom’s for the day, and I take off for work when they leave (6 mile run). My car is at work where I left it, and I drive home that afternoon. 

Hanging out on the bus home together.

This has been our routine for a month now, and I have to say my son loves it as much as I do. He loves riding the bus and gets excited for our Tuesday “adventures” home. I have worried about how an alternative commute would take time away from him, but I now realize that I haven’t lost any time at all. In fact, I have gained the time I would normally be in my car. I had been running those days anyway, and now I’m actually getting somewhere. Heading home Tuesdays now isn’t just about getting home but about doing something fun together. Getting out of the car and saving money and gas is just an extra bonus. 

Two degrees


Two degrees Celsius. The do-not-cross line for the most damaging affects of climate change.

NY Magazine published yet another article (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html) yesterday on how bad climate change is for all of us. As someone whose undergrad degree is Environmental Science and went back to grad school for Sustainable Building / Sustainable Food & Agriculture, the content itself wasn’t really surprising. 
But I’ve been in quite a funk the last 6 months or so about my career / where I’m at in life. I’ve been so bogged down in the everyday slog of M-F job and the associated politics that the content the job hasn’t seem to matter. I’ve been unhappy and wondering if this is what I want to do with my life for the next 30-35+ years. 
Which brings me to the idea of FIRE (financial independence/retire early) – how can I change the trajectory of my life so I don’t HAVE to be sitting at my desk 30 years from now? Selfishly, how can I create a different life for myself? But in reality, that is still another 15 years out for me in all honesty. So I continued to struggle with the day to day, wishing I felt that same fire for my career that I have since I first really learned what climate change meant back in 6th grade (thanks Mr. Frank – you’ll probably never know how much you’ve influenced my life). My head knew what I do is important, but my heart hasn’t been in it. 

Then I read the NY Magazine article today. It may not have been groundbreaking, new information, but it struck me in the heart. We need to do better, and we need to do better now. I’ve been reading for 20 years how we’re running out of time to avoid the worst of the possible climate change impacts, and that time is now.

Two degrees Celsius. 

The FIRE movement really focuses on individual lives and creating independence from your career and your need to earn an income. But for me it needs to be about more than just personal independence. Frugality and mindfulness have evolved out of green living for me, which has been the basis for how I live my life. I’d just forgotten the big picture of why it matters. 

I intend to tread lightly, and retire early.