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Serendipitous Jamaica

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Trading the beach for the rainforest.

It is stupid cold and there is snow on the ground in Connecticut so I thought why not grab a cup of tea and close out 2017 by writing this long overdue post about one of the best things I did this year: I went to Jamaica!

Let me set the mood. It was July and I was tired. My soul was weary.

Between the national foolishness that by then was seven months young and a spring spent doing the absolute most in the best way possible,  my spirit was parched. And to top it all off, I was physically coming down with some type of bug.

But Jamaica.

My wonderful friend, hairstylist, and favorite Jamaican Karaine “Kay” Holness had let

Kay

Kay makes friends everywhere.

me and another friend and client know months prior that she was planning her annual trip home.She has made the pilgrimage every year since 1999 with a travel group she founded called Sistahs Jammin’. She told us that this year’s trip would be different from any previous one —  no turn-up, no structured days. Then she showed us the small boutique resort high up in the Jamaican Blue Mountains where we would be staying. We jumped at the chance to go.

It wouldn’t be my first trip to Jamaica. I had the pleasure of spending some time in Negril several years ago. But this was going to be different

I’d known I needed a retreat — unplug back when I said yes. So you can imagine how much I needed it by July. I was more than ready to lay my burdens down and pick up my carry-on bag.

And for seven days and six nights, we did just that.

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Best travel squad.

I must confess, the idea of group travel kind of makes my ass itch. I knew two of the women on the trip would be cool. But the other two? I didn’t know them.

Would they want to do a thousand things together? Would they be incessantly picky about everything? Would we all grow to hate each other and fall out? All possibilities. All wasted energy. Nothing close to my concerns ever happened. Because serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” It also is the name of the resort where we stayed. And it is where we each reconnected with Markeshia, Babz, Karaine, Jackie, and Sharon.

At home in Connecticut, we are mothers, daughters, sisters, citizens, employees, business owners, lovers, and friends. We are all the things we do for others but don’t do for ourselves. We were all our secret anxieties and fears.

And we were a tired lot when we touched down in Kingston. But as soon as the heat and humidity of a Jamaican morning hit us, instantly creating a light dew on our skin, we began to unfurl like flowers greeting the sun.

It takes a harrowing ride from Kingston up into the Blue Mountains to get to Serendipity Holistic Resort. And this ride is not for the faint of heart honey. But when I tell you it is worth it, I mean it.

IMG_5500.jpgI don’t think anyone of us realized that our resort would be literally carved into a lush rainforest teeming with the sounds of animals, birds and the occasional falling mango.

We had the whole place to ourselves for the most part and we hadn’t counted on that. But serendipity.

We also hadn’t counted on every day that we would rise to the sound of the rushing water that flowed through the small waterfalls on the property. And the rooster. Never forget the rooster.

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I never thought that every night we’d want to come together and have amazing Jamaican dinners and laugh over the day’s adventures before tucking into the most comfortable beds at 9 p.m. or earlier.

Or that we’d rise early, for a first breakfast of the most delicious fruit our mouths had stopped to enjoy in a long time, with the juice dripping down our arms. And that at second breakfast, we’d linger over Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee so good that we’d often plot how to save the world one cup at a time.

There was time for hiking, swimming naked in a very cold waterfall, getting sunburned and being covered in the healing love of sisterhood and aloe. There was time for reading, coloring, sleeping, and yoga. There was time to think without all the responsibilities drowning out that still small voice.

And more importantly, there was time to discover the sound of our own laughter, the refreshing freedom of tears, and to listen to those hopes and dreams that we’d tucked away for someday.

The resort’s owner, who we serendipitously discovered was someone that our friend Kay knew from their younger years in Jamaica, would open her beautiful home on the property to us. And then she would teach us many things.

IMG_5550.jpgTwo things she said have stuck with me since we’ve returned home. My paraphrase of what she said is this: Guard your peace dangerously and do not leave this earth without knowing you are loved.

We would realize that everything about the resort — all of its natural beauty, the way that all of the cabins are designed, and the amenities offered — was designed with teaching these two principles to all those who want to learn such powerful things.

As I told Kay after the trip, Jamaica owes me nothing. I arrived nearly empty and left so incredibly full. Jamaica taught me the way. It’s up to me to keep up the practice.

Click below to hear what the sistahs of Sistahs Jammin 2017 had to say about the trip in this episode of LoveBabz LoveTalk on WNHH radio.

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Two Weeks. Two Professors. Thirty Students.: What Traveling to Morocco with Students Taught Me about Teaching

On May 5th my students turned in final exams. May 6th, I closed on my first home. On May 7th, I boarded a plane to Morocco with one colleague and thirty students. I graded exams on the plane and the first two nights in Morocco. I was tired. What in the name of all things holy and restful was  I thinking?

I know what I was thinking: who turns down an all-expense paid trip to Morocco? ::looks around:: Not me. Secondly, I teach anthropology. I constantly ask students to imagine and consider different perspectives; to dream up worlds in which we learn from insiders’ knowledge;  to reconsider what we believe as “right” or “true.” This was an opportunity to take what I do in the classroom and live it with students.

13323260_10100156598247900_5789730391267701544_oWe spent A LOT of time together. 10-12 hours on many days.  In some cases, too much for my need for quiet and solitude. The first half of each weekday included language lessons and a course in intercultural communication. In the afternoons, we explored Rabat’s history and culture through organized tours and experiences. On the weekend, we took a trip to Marrakesh where we ate, shopped, talked and (in the case of the students) partied. We also hiked the High Atlas mountains (first time hiking for most), rode camels, and shared in a group reflection session that made me so proud to be one of the professors accompanying this group of students. I would love to share more about those reflections, but that time was sacred. 13308526_10100156598452490_5577182120150535706_o

I did not, however, anticipate how much this trip would influence my pedagogy. Before the trip began, I made a commitment to spend time with each student. In one such conversation, one of the students said, “I love the way you live your life, Dr. Reese. I want to be like you when I grow up. You’re just so cool.” I paused for a while before responding. I looked at her and said, “let me tell you a story.” I told her about struggling with expectations as a teen and college student. I told her about the lure to create a life that looked like someone else’s rather than the one my spirit wanted to create. I told her about my emotional breaking point in which Liz (the bestie) showed me exactly why she is one of the strongest pillars in my life. And I told her about this irrevocable joy that I have now as a result of daily choices to live life on my own terms. Afterwards I said, “what I want for you is to live life exactly as you want, and if some of that looks like mine, great. But if it doesn’t, it is still yours to do as you please, and it is still good.”

13329436_10100156597843710_3159774233758217301_oThat moment (and so many others) made me think about vulnerability in teaching and learning. We ask students to share. We push them to share about their lives, about their opinions, about their values. Where do we fit in this sharing? What is our role in modeling this with students? Morocco was a two week crash course in this for me. I have thought about it before. I thought I was doing it. The two weeks with those thirty students cracked open a deeper well that I have not explored in my teaching. I’m thankful that students saw a glimpse of it, took risks to share with me, and trusted me to take the risk, too.

To those thirty students: most of you tried new things. You stepped outside your comfort zones. You laughed. Some of you cried. Many of you kept me up with your loud talking and utter ridiculousness at night (lol). There were moments like discussing “American” values or grappling with having U.S. American privilege as a black woman or conquering fears while hiking in the mountains when I looked at you all and felt immense pride and joy. You all embody so much of what I love about my job. Teaching you all is a redemption of sorts. Through you, I get to be the person I dreamed of. Through you, each day I have a built-in accountability system that reminds me that my outsides (actions) should match my insides (integrity, soul, spirit). Our time in Morocco demanded that you see me beyond the “professor” title. I obliged by showing you. Thank you for reminding me (and I hope each other) that you/I/we do not have to be superhuman. We can be tender, flawed beings and still be magical. Thank you for an amazing two weeks.


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For Annie Mae Jones Jeffers

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You are hand kneaded dough that rises to become hot bread. Bread, that along with molasses is considered a meal. But I don’t like molasses, so I always just ate it plain. You are gravy and fried chicken. You are coffee that I am too young to drink. But you. You let me drink it anyway, and the taste for it is always with me even to this day.

You are summers spent barefoot in the sunshine. You are a garden tomato eaten raw, juicy with salt. You are a cut in half tire, turned seesaw. You are muscadine grapes and flowers that grow in controlled chaos. You are my love for rocking chairs and sitting porches. You are chocolate cake and maybe I have been craving the taste of chocolate because I knew this day was coming.

You are women gathered at the table. Gathered in the wonderland of your yard. Gathered long after dark and the lightening bugs have come out. Laughing. Loud and untamed. Happy tears of mirth, running down dark cheeks. And occasionally a little trickle of urine. You are a dip of snuff. Tucked expertly between teeth and lower lip. You are the master pincher. In a family full of men that you loved and gave life, you are the heartbeat at the center of the tree.

FullSizeRender 105When I was told that you had passed, my heart went straight into my throat and then took a free fall into my stomach. Given that you were in your 80s, your passing is not unexpected — should not be unexpected. But who can ever be prepared for death?

I remember very clearly the last time we really spoke. I was in town for A.J.’s wedding. I’d stopped by your house to change clothes.

“Who you,” you asked. “It’s me, Mommae. Keshia.” You looked at me. Uncertainty clouding your face. “Keshia?” “Yes, Mommae. Keshia.” We went through that line of questioning about three times. We did it again after I changed into my dress.

“That’s a pretty dress,” you said. “Who you?”

I am what you helped make me. I am every ounce of love that you poured into me and everyone you have ever come into contact with. I am the wind from rolled down windows on winding country roads. I am pallets on floors and fatback meat. I am wild plums and wild strawberries. I am one of the many seeds in the garden of your family. Thank you for the sunshine of your smile, the strength of your hugs and the nourishing water of your laughter. I honor you. I love you. Thank you for being my bonus grandmother.

 

 


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Final Recap: Low Spend January. The End.

Hello Chicks and Chucks. We made it through the last week of Low Spend January and the answer to the question of the last post of whether the last week would be a truly no spend week alas is…NO.

But I was so close.

From Jan 24-28 — five whole days — I spent no coins. And then Friday the 29th happened.

Things were going well. I had even packed my lunch for Friday because I already had it in my head, if I could get through the weekend, on the 31st I was celebrating with a really nice brunch.

Lunch

The Missing Lunch

So, I go bopping off to work, confident in the fact that I was going to make it through the work day without buying anything. Imagine my horror when I reached into my backpack for my lunch and I couldn’t find it.

After weeks of bringing my lunch, this past Friday I forgot it. I was bummed to say the least, and I decided to try Shake Shack’s new chicken sandwich and fries to cheer myself up.

And Friday just got spendy from there. I kept a promise to hang out with a co-worker/friend. I intended to eat before going out, but I didn’t. So I picked up a prepared sandwich from the grocery store. I also took an Uber to the place we were chilling and took one home because the bus won’t let me be great and I wasn’t in the mood to walk home in the dark.

But on Saturday, I realized that this process had changed me.

I stayed in bed late and luxuriated in having a day where I legitimately had nothing that I needed to do. My food supply, however, was getting low. The old me jumped online and set about deciding on what I wanted to order. But it occurred to the new me that I could go to the grocery store and buy enough food to eat for the next three days with the money I was about to spend on one meal out.

The new me and the old me closed the laptop and went to the grocery store.

While I’m not happy that I broke my streak, or that I spent $54.98 in TWO DAYS, I am very happy to report that I achieved my savings goal for the month and only spent $308.75. It would have been nice to have saved that $300 in addition to the other money I was able to save, but it probably wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Would I do this again? Yes, though I think I would torture myself about it a little less. I never realized how mentally taxing not spending money could be. Instead, I think I would stockpile my personal hygiene items and do a better job of meal planning.

In fact, I’m committed to a No Spend/Low Spend Month at least once a quarter because it will help me reach my debt-pay off goals, and eventually my savings goals, that much faster.

And because I am doing it on a quarterly basis I can better prepare for No Spend/Low Spend months. I already know that February and March will be higher spend months because I have travel coming up. I also plan to throw an extra payment at a bill. So neither of those months would be good months to try a challenge. But April is looking like a contender.

So what about you? Want to give it a whirl? Here are my top three tips for a No/Spend, or Low Spend month:

  1. Be realistic. Leaping into a no spend month might make you miserable, so try a no spend week, or pick a day or two each week where you won’t spend money and make sure to save the money that you might otherwise spend.
  2. Pack your lunch. This is where I probably got the most bang for my buck in terms of savings. This month helped me realize that I was being a baby about eating leftovers, and just cooking in general. I like to eat out as much as the next girl, but I have realized I like saving money more. I wanted eating out to be what it should be for me — an occasional treat, not a means for survival.
  3. Make a list. Never go into the grocery store hungry or without a list. If it’s not on the list, leave it in the store. Period.

That’s all I’ve got for now friends. If things didn’t go as planned in January, I encourage you to make this a Fresh Start February. Take a mulligan for the first month of the year, or consider it a practice month. Start fresh on your goals, whatever they are, today.

Happy Adulting!

— Ricks

 

 


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Recap: Low Spenduary Week 3

Hello Too Thrifty Chicks (and Chucks)!

Can you believe that we’re in the last week of this month? I can’t.

But since the calendar isn’t lying, that means we’re in the home stretch of this No Spend/No Spenduary Challenge. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read about it here, here and here.) As you can also see, I have changed the name of the challenge to more appropriately reflect what has occurred this month. I didn’t NOT spend, but I spent WAYYY less than I usually spend.

Like I said in the previous post, I knew that I would spend money during week three. And I did. I needed some grocery odds and ends, I had to purchase a ticket for my sorority event (which was postponed thanks to Winter Storm Jonas), and I’m having an ongoing battle with fibroids that insists on making my life hellacious on the worst days and really inconvenient on nearly all the other days, so again back to the store for personal hygiene items.

As I was in the grocery store last week, I realized how often I sabotage myself when I go in without a list. I needed flour tortillas and cheese. That’s it. I also had a taste for some chicken wings and since I wasn’t going to order them out, I knew I could get them at the prepared food section of the grocery store, but that was it.

Guess what was in my basket? Peanut butter and jelly, bread and various snacks. I was properly thinking ahead for the coming snow, but I had not initially planned to buy those things. When I realized what I was doing, I put everything back but those things that I had originally stopped at the store to pick up.

At the end of the week, I did go back and purchase the things that I had originally put back. Sure, it added an extra trip that I could have saved, and I forgot the bread. But this whole experience reminded me of how important it is to plan out trips to the grocery store. Planning saves you money and time. On an intellectual level, I know that. But in practice it is often hard to remember.

All and all, week three is my lowest spend week yet. And new budget nerd that I am, I thought you all would like to see some numbers.

Week 1 Total Expenditures: $108.08 on mostly groceries and transportation. These were all allowable expenses under the original “No Spenduary” rules.

Week 2 Total Expenditures: $93.74 on mostly personal hygiene items, groceries and some eating food out. Food out was not an allowable expense under the rules, and I spent about $19.54. Personal care items also were not allowable expenses under the rules, but I spent $36.46. Groceries during this week came to $37.74.

Week 3 Total Expenditures: $51.95. ::pops collar:: I spent $25.12 on groceries. Another $13.83 on personal items (damn these fibroids!), and $13 on my sorority (the ticket to the event was $25, but I had a PayPal credit (thanks, YNAB!) which picked up $12 of the cost).

Already I can see that I would spend far less time in the grocery store (which y’all already know I don’t really enjoy that much) if I really meal planned a little more tightly and made sure that I had the things on hand that I need. Every trip to the grocery store increases the risk of me putting stuff in the basket that I hadn’t intended to buy. That said, this was my best week of meal planning so far and I ate the three things I had on hand all week long without any complaints.

I have to say, not eating out hasn’t been as painful as I thought it might be. Mind you, it’s cold outside and the way the bus system runs in New Haven, I really don’t want to be out in the cold waiting for a bus that 1) might not come on time, or ever, and 2) isn’t going to drop me off right in front of my house.

In this last week of the challenge, my question to myself is: Can I really make this last week a No Spend week?

You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

— Ricks


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Recap: No Spenduary Week 2

I might have to officially start calling No Spend January/ No Spenduary, Low Spend January/Low Spenduary. If you missed my announcement of this challenge read it here. Check out the first week’s recap here.

Yeah, your girl spent money during week two of this challenge, but this second week was full of revelations. This week, I got very clear on what I absolutely will spend money on and what I won’t.

As much as I love clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup and books, I can resist spending money on those things, and I can stay away from stores that sell them for the most part. This experiment has reminded me that I can make planned purchases in those areas.

For instance, I have a wedding coming up in the spring. I also plan to become more active in my sorority again. All of these are things that require me to dress a certain way. That means a beautiful, well made dress that can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ is on the list of things to buy soon.

But one thing I’m not going to do is go hungry when I don’t have to, nor am I going to be ashy, or go without legitimate personal care items.

I ate at home and brought my lunch nearly every day this week, but I caved at a Dunkin’ Donuts on Monday and had a croissant and a small coffee. I was meeting people there for an assignment and I had not had breakfast. A failure to plan is a plan for failure.

I had diligently eaten food I had prepared for the week. Reese can attest to the fact that I almost broke on Thursday when I was hella sick of eating soup for lunch again and wanted to order out. Some of my colleagues saved me later in the afternoon with bread and a slice of pizza. But by Friday I was out of leftovers for lunch and on deadline. I ordered lunch, and I don’t feel bad about it because…life.

I also realized twice during the week that I was not going to be able to go 31 days without some lotion that really worked and some other personal hygiene items, so I spent money in those categories.

I will admit that things get tricky in grocery and drug stores because there are other things like snacks that I don’t need (and foundation because black girl make up problems are real). Impulse purchases happened in both stores this week, and I spent a little more than intended.

As I shared with Reese this week, it occurs to me that this experiment is about more than not spending money. It’s about changing habits. And I think some habits are definitely trying to change.

Though I have spent money on eating out, I can count on one hand how often that has happened and the total spent is less than $20. You might not be able to appreciate that because you don’t know that there were months I spent a smooth $150 on restaurants and fast food alone. I want eating out to be what it should be, an occasional treat, not a means of survival.

Looking back at previous months of transactions, I can see that at times I spent money not only every day, but multiple times a day. In fact, I decided to look back at my transactions from this time last month and it was truly eye opening.

By this time last month I had swiped my debit card 24 times. So far, I’ve only swiped it 12 times. And if that weren’t enough, the amount of time between transactions has lengthened. I spent money on Monday and didn’t spend money again until Friday. For me, that’s a miracle. I don’t want to spend money every day, especially if there is truly no good reason to do so.

I can already foresee that I will spend money during week 3. I need a few items to help my meal plan truly stretch so that I might actually accomplish not eating meals out. There also is a sorority event this weekend that I’m really looking forward to attending which has a cost associated with it. I could stay home, but it’s a good opportunity to make some friends in my new town. There will be times in the future where I will have to say no, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times and I feel pretty good about that.

-Ricks

 

 


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Recap: No Spenduary Week 1

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These damn bunnies had me caught up. #nomnomnom

The first week of No Spend January, also known as No Spenduary, was the spendiest week, but I’m not willing to declare it a total fail.

For one thing, 98 percent of my spending was within the essentials category — groceries and transportation. During the winter months, I typically buy two, 10-ride bus passes, which are usually enough to get me through a month of work. I employ a combination of walking, biking and riding the bus to get to and from home and to assignments. It’s not always convenient, but it saves a ton of money.

Groceries, however, are an interesting area of spending on which I’m keeping a close eye. I think I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it again, but shopping for groceries isn’t my favorite thing to do — except when I can’t shop for anything else.

It is amazing how much fun meal planning and grocery shopping becomes when I decide that I will not spend money in other areas. In one week, I made three trips to the grocery store. Three!

One of the trips was for  what I’d call legitimate grocery items; the second for snacks that I didn’t need; and the third to pick up something for a dinner to which I was invited. And those trips are not without consequence. I’m just about $3 shy of having spent the $75 I’ve budgeted for groceries this month.

It’s a good thing I bought that ramen. I will be eating it. I also spent money on stamps, which came out of my “Stuff I Will Forget” line item in my budget because, well, I forgot.

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Impromptu lunch out. #notlovinit

And then the unexpected. I got a worried phone call from my landlord Sunday afternoon, urging my roommate and I to evacuate our apartment. There was a possible gas leak, and the house needed to be vacant until the problem could be solved. Did I have somewhere I could go, possibly for a few hours?

Sure. I had my laptop and stuff to do, but I hadn’t really eaten anything but a banana for breakfast. It was lunch time. So off to Mickey D’s for food and WiFi. Now, my YNAB buffer is $8.39 smaller. Boo! And my secondary January challenge — Brokepedia’s zero restaurant spending — is off to a rough start. Hiss!

There was a time that this kind of “failure” would make me feel kind of crappy and I would just give up on the whole thing. But in the wise and sage words of the late Aaliyah, “If at first you don’t succeed. Dust yourself off and try again.”

— Ricks

Are you on a No Spend Challenge this month? We’d love to hear your progress. Share your story in the comments.