September 28, 2015

30 Days of Nothing - Winding Down

I guess I thought it would be more dramatic.  That I would be kind know, twitching and having all sorts of glee about the last few days of "nothing".  Plotting out where we'd go first.  Scheming for all things sushi.  Because after all, Thursday marks October 1st AND the end of my suffering.

Except, as we sat around the table last night talking about the past month - we realized some important things.  First, it wasn't that bad after all.  (Did I just admit that?)  It helps that AB is a stellar (and I mean, STELLAR) cook.  That softens the blow.  It helps that I don't really like to shop.  Not for clothes, not for shoes, not for really anything.  That helps.  But I've said many times over: this is a counter-culture experience.  Most people are genuinely impressed that we did it.  Or shocked maybe?  Or just shrug their shoulders.  But I found that when I would share about this challenge, people would actually shudder.  As if to say "no way, no how".

At the beginning of this challenge, I argued that our lives were so busy we would never make it.  We couldn't possibly find MORE time in which to prep, cook, eat, and clean up (thirty days x 3 meals a day).  After all, weren't we overwhelmed and tired ALL the time?  How can having to cook at home alllllllll of the days and nights be helpful?  But it turns out, we could.  Turns out?  It sometimes takes that long to go somewhere, wait to be seated, order, be served, wait for the check, and head back home.  Granted - there's less work involved for us - and sometimes you just need that.  But several times a week?  We decided, no.  Definitely not.

If your budget allows, then God bless ya!  Our doesn't.

We realized that what we really needed with this challenge was a mental reset, if you will.  A chance to stop a pattern dead in its tracks and start over. 

Does this mean we'll never eat out?  Nope.  Does this mean you'll never see us in a drive through line with our littles after a long day of work and soccer practice and homework or at our favorite sushi place on date night?  Nope.  Because you will.

But we also got a thirty day reminder that a lot of times we eat out (and spend our $$) because we forget that eating at home is just as good with a little extra effort.  That planning is key.  That smart grocery shopping is worth it. 

There were days when we forced ourselves to stick to this challenge when we ALL wanted to do the opposite.  There were late nights when ALL OF US wanted to cave and grab a burger - just for the sake of time.  I'm happy to report - we didn't.  We forced ourselves to come home, get creative, and stick to it.  I'm proud of that, because it was HARD TO DO.

Will I be glad when it's over?  Yes.  Do I feel proud of what we accomplished and pleased with what we gleaned?  Absolutely. 

September 22, 2015

30 Days of Nothing - Sirens Call

I'm not saying that it can't be done.  No.  Not at all.  I'm just saying that it kinda stinks.  Like my attitude.  I don't know...I'm on the fence.  There are some days when we get so creative and the food we make is so tasty, that we don't care as much.

But there are also times when, drive by your favorite Mexican place and you can literally smell the food in your car.  (Thanks, La Hacienda.  You're killing me.)  You can try to will yourself into dwelling on all the good you're doing by following a discipline - but the impulse.  It's powerful.  It is like a siren...following you around all the time.

Then there are the times like last night when AB cooked up Pioneer Woman's Pasta Besty...and we all drool into our bowls and no one talks and our heads are down and focused on our forks.  There's shrimp in there, friends.  And the whole thing was so good I almost wept.  Those nights it's so much easier to forget we're even in the middle of a no-spend challenge.

AB's delicious and super easy version of Pasta Betsy © Bushel & A Peck

I'm not sure why the siren call is so freaking loud?  When there's no challenge, we're over all of it.  Over the fried food, over the crap, over the prices and loud restaurants when you're tired and want to be at home.  But gracious, when the challenge is in place, we're like salivating wildebeests for all things fast!  And food!  And not at home!  And served with no clean up!  What the heck is that about?  Habit?  Simplicity? Convenience?  All of the above?

This time around, there have been a few grocery trips.  And to be honest, I took the pressure off (of myself at least) right out of the gate and said we're getting whatever we need/want to get.  It's a big enough challenge that we haven't hit up a drive through in 22 days.  I'm getting shrimp at the grocery store.  You feel me?

Meanwhile, last Saturday we realized that our son could no longer get his feet inside his soccer cleats.  So we did head out and get him a new pair of cleats.  Technically, that is "counter" to the challenge.  However, it became a necessity and so we just took care of it.  These things happen.

Here's what also happens when you challenge yourself to no spending for a month.  You will find every clearance rack, every sale, every "too good to pass up" deal on everything you never knew you needed.  Those shoes you've been wanting?  On sale.  That dress?  Half off.  That new cooking gadget?  Marked down. Books, Groupons, clothing, shoes, makeup, fall decor, on and on and on...yep.  All beckoning.  The siren call.  That's what happens when you say NO to parting with your cash for 30 days.  And guess what?  It's the worst.  It's hard.  I don't like it.

In other news; 8 more days.  Sirens be darned...can't give up now!

September 14, 2015

30 Days ~ Two weeks down

I like to think I'm organized.  Day to day, I have a calendar and a to-do list and a million little things stored in my head about how the hours of the day will go.  This type of "planning" comes naturally to me and I re-adjust my expectations as needed to get through any particular day or week.

30 Days of Nothing, it has become clear, is all about planning.  Unfortunately, it's all about MEAL planning - one of my least favorite things to do.  This explains so much in my own life.  But it also explains why 30 Days feels so difficult to me.  Planning meals out for this day and often the next two makes me want to crawl back in bed and cover my head.  I can't tell you what sounds good now for Wednesday!  I don't know.   How will I know that until 5 o'clock Wednesday rolls around?  (insert deep chagrin here)  I can't tell you what to make for dinner tonight!  Who knows?  Maybe Mexican will sound good?  Or Italian?  Or hamburgers?  Who can say?!  I'll let you know. 

Therein lies the problem so many of us have.  Because we're used to deciding what's for dinner when we're just about to have said dinner, we end up gazing at a menu while we wait for our drinks to arrive.

In and of itself, waiting on those drinks and looking at that menu is not a problem.  The problem for us is when that becomes the norm and eating at home becomes the anomaly.  Not so good and a real financial drain on the budget.  Also Starbucks.  Ahem.  I confess to having had a couple days where I slipped up slightly, and felt really bad about that.  Did I mention it's not easy?  This is not my forte.  It does NOT come naturally to me. 

Enter the picture above.  We've been planning out our meals a couple days in advance, and last night I walked through the kitchen to discover that Anton had carefully set aside the things he needed to make Monday's dinner for us.  (for the curious, it's beef roast or in our house "stringy meat")  This got me thinking about how sometimes just a little bit of extra planning makes all the difference.  The expectation is set.  This is what we're having.  The supplies are already in hand.  The prep work can be done ahead so that we have less to try to "weasel" out of come dinner time.  And also?  I got to wake up to the glorious smell of perfectly seasoned beef roast searing in a pan this morning.  UH-MAZING.  And into the crock pot it went...

Saturday, when we might normally head out for lunch after our late morning soccer game, we instead packed a picnic lunch and invited some of our soccer family friends to join us at the park.  Additionally, because AB had planned ahead, we already had a delicious pulled pork bubbling away in the crock pot for dinner.  Because we had plenty, we extended the invite to some friends and had an impromptu (and delightful) "pulled pork tacos" evening. 

Meanwhile, I'll be transparent and say that this does not quench my love of dining out. First of all, some things you just can't duplicate at home.  Second, my kitchen counter has been littered with a CONSTANT and overwhelmingly large influx of dirty dishes.  My dishwasher always full.  My hands?  Soapy.  So, three meals a day and I'm baked.  Pardon the pun!  Have I mentioned how, out of all the chores on the house list, the kitchen is my absolute and utter LEAST favorite to tackle?  I do not deny that I despise kitchen clean up.  

On the other hand, the discipline itself - you can't deny.  It's a shock to your system to just STOP spending.  The fact that so many people will not even entertain the idea of this type of challenge gives you the info you need.  Have I said this already?  It's not easy.  

Tomorrow is the half-way point and I'm convincing myself that this can be done.  But I'm lying if I don't tell you that I'm ooooooovver it.  I'm weak.  Yes, I am.  Here's an actual conversation from our home this week and I'll paraphrase:

AB:  Do we have plans on October 4th?
CB:  Yes.  We do.  We have plans the first five days of October.
AB:  We do???
CB:  (deadpan) Yes.  We're booked.  You'll find me living in gluttony having dinner and drinks at pretty much every eatery in town from October 1st through the 5th.

I joke.  (cough)

But the struggle is real people.

Pressing on...

September 6, 2015

Week 1 - 30 Days of Nothing

Ham Sandwich courtesy of our kitchen.  ©Bushel&APeck
Well, it's uneventful to report daily, so I felt weekly would be more efficient.  

Guess what?  Whole lot a' shakin going on.  Actually, I'm lying.  There's nothing going on.  Because news flash?  30 days of nothing isn't something - it's the opposite.  It's nothing.  Nothing to see. Nothing to report.  There are no Friday night dinners with friends to weigh in on, or frozen margaritas and chips and guac on late summer night restaurant patios, or sushi date nights to wax poetic about.  No, none of that.

There's some home cooking (AB...and all that).  There's reheated leftovers.  There's bread baking (again, AB).  There's been weeping and gnashing of teeth (me and all that).  And there was also the time in the past six days where my son was craving burgers from a popular burger joint and declared "I wish this was 5 days of nothing!"  To which his little sister gave a hearty "yeah!"

So there's that.

Basically, we're weak.

I mean, we haven't caved.  But we're undisciplined goons when it comes to money.  Or at least when it comes to eating out.  

I would be lying to you if I said we were as strict with ourselves as we were in, say...2011.  When we wouldn't even buy groceries except for absolute necessity.  I'd also be lying if I told you I didn't hate that particular year's challenge.  Ugh.  Cleaning out the pantry darn near killed me.  

This time, we've been to the store.  We've allowed ourselves to buy some of our grocery favorites.  We've even had a quick dinner at our local grocery store (they have a small table area - we bought the food and ate there).  I know that's not technically "nothing", but we rationalized that we were, after all, in the grocery store.  (no stones)

Another day, a friend graciously provided lunch for me at a local fast food chain.  I accepted greedily.  Ugh.  I'm like a junkie.   

In the spirit of full disclosure, I can tell you that yet another day we met Keira's Kinder teacher from last year for an ice-cream social.  Technically, that was full-on cheating.  But we felt it was worth it and gave ourselves grace.  

Outside of that, and who am I kidding - you might think we're pretty pathetic at this point - we've eaten all other meals at home or as left-overs for work, etc.  The kids have not bought lunch at school.  We have stayed away from Starbucks and $1 drinks in the drive-thru and buy one get one whatevers from wherever.  We have otherwise abstained.  

I'm here to testify:  this is HARD.  It is completely counter-culture not to spend in small and big ways all the time.  I have had people email/text/message/even call me to say "I admire what you're doing, but we CANNOT do it."  Like they literally cringe just thinking about it.  They, like us, rely too heavily on the convenience of eating out or drive-thru or take-out or shopping.  

Listen, I get it.  We're trying to swim against the flow.  Sometimes it feels unremarkable.  Other times, it feels almost impossible.  Like Saturday when we did yard-work for over eight hours in the sweltering Texas heat and I thought I would drop on the ground and die a long theatrical death if AB wouldn't cave and take me to a Mexican restaurant and let me have a margarita and tacos.  Die, I tell you.

Instead he grilled steaks and corn and veggies and we had a wonderful meal in.  It was just buckling down and making ourselves recognize that it's one day, one meal at a time.  It's fighting the urge in the short-term so that we can afford other things in the long-term.  So we can teach ourselves how to keep to our budget better and think before we swipe and measure what we've been given with what we expend.  

It's hard.  It's not really that fun.

On the other hand...none of our paychecks this month will be going to local restaurants.  Not a dime.  Instead, we get to keep all that money.  And it adds up really fast with a family of four. 

That's kind of fun come October 1st.