Too Thrifty Chicks

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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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Use Those Photos: DIY Cards

I take photos. Lots of photos. Seriously, I have about 30,000 photos.

What do most of us do with our photos these days? Post them on Facebook and Instagram. We might print them out and tuck them away into photo albums. But aside from that, what else can we do?

This year, in lieu of traditional holiday cards, I used some of my favorite photos to create cards for a few people. In a small way, this was an opportunity to give something I love and am proud of to some people I care about deeply. I was super happy with the end results! Not as cheap as buying a box of generic holiday cards, but not as expensive as buying single cards for each person. Total cost for this project (including photos, 30 cards, and markers): $60.

I ordered a variety of cards from Photographer’s Edge. When I first received them, I was worried that the card stock was not thick enough. However, once I added the photos, it was perfect. I’ll likely use them again for other projects.

Materials:

  • Printed Photos (I printed mine in matte to avoid finger prints)
  • Scissors
  • Pre-cut frame cards
  • Markers/Pens

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You would think choosing the “right” photographs would be hard when you have so many, but it wasn’t. I looked at photos and often times instantly knew who should receive it. I did not send cards to everyone. I sent them to people who had been on my mind, who inspired me this year, who were coming out of challenging times.

 

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A few of the final products

 

….and if you’re worried about whether or not you need to use photos from a fancy DSLR camera, the answer is no. A few of the photos I used were from my iPhone! Also, places like Walgreens and CVS now let you print your photos directly from Facebook or Instagram.

If you create your own cards, tag us in a post so we can see!

Happy Creating!

-Reese


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Too Thrifty Chicks Cook: A twofer with three ingredients

The Too Thrifty Chicks are a day late and a dollar short these days when it comes to posts. We’ve both been living life on the run — Reese in Austin and me working my temp job — and things are crazy to say the least. But we haven’t forgotten you, nor have we forgotten the multitude of posts that we promised all of you. Person pairs and Affordable health care 101, anyone? We are hoping that things are going to even out soon, but in case it doesn’t, we encourage you to follow our motto: “Just go with it!”

We’ve been cooking sporadically these days and by sporadically we mean you-will-not-believe-how-much-we-have-eaten-out! Like seriously, we have been all Operation Do Worse instead of Operation Do Better. While it’s not impacting our budget so much, we have some concerns that it might be impacting our health. So at first opportunity we got in the kitchen and made some kitchen alchemy as Reese likes to call it.  We’ve been kind of stumped for ideas, but have vowed to stay out of the grocery store and eat what we have on hand when we cook.

Meal #1: Butternut squash and sweet potato curry

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There has been a butternut squash sitting in our kitchen and silently mocking us (what your vegetables don’t mock you?) each time we grabbed something out out of the bowl where we keep our vegetables. Did we want soup? A casserole? Roasted? What, oh what, to do with the butternut!

Turns out we didn’t want to do any of those things. Instead we decided on curry and boy were we glad we did. I found a fairly simple recipe for butternut squash and sweet potato curry. Ding, ding! We have a winner. We love Indian food and we make and eat Chana masala and even get our Tandoori on from time to time. The spicy curry powder in this dish was a nice foil to the sweetness of the butternut squash, sweet potatoes and sweet onions we used in the dish.

All you need to make the dish are things that you might have handy in your pantry: mustard seeds, curry powder of choice, coconut milk and veggie broth.  I’m not going to lie, I didn’t follow the recipe very closely, but it still turned out great. Here’s what I did:

Sauté the mustard seeds, but be careful they start to pop when they get hot. To avoid popping I tried to keep the heat at a medium flame and essentially put the chopped union in half a second after stirring the seeds just enough to get them coated with oil. Once your onions become a bit translucent, add in a teaspoon of curry powder. I only used a teaspoon to begin because Reese said the particular curry powder I chose to use was rather spicy. Coat the onions in the curry powder. Your house should smell amazing at this point. Then dump in your chopped butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

I sautéd the butternut squash and sweet potatoes much the same way I do when I make home fries, allowing the sugars from the veggies to carmelize and covering it with a lid to allow the steam to sweat the veggies at the same time.  At this point, I also sprinkled some sea salt over the mixture. To help the veggies cook down enough to get tender, I added a little organic veggie broth. Don’t overcook your veggies, or it will be mushy. I threw in a handful of curry powder that had much less spice and then another teaspoon of the spicy curry. If you like spice, but not this much, skip this step. I added a half can of coconut milk, stirred to incorporate, allowed it all another few seconds to heat through and Violá! Butternut squash and sweet potato curry. Serve with some brown basmati, or jasmine rice and red wine.

Meal #2: Roasted butternut squash and sweet potato as a side

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Warning: Objects should be bigger than they appear. We do not advocate these portion sizes.

It’s that time of the year when Mother Nature’s bounty runneth over, and that was the case with the fairly good sized butternut squash and gigantic sweet potatoes that started this whole thing. When I chopped up both the squash and the potatoes, I was overwhelmed with how much we had. Reese suggested that we curry half and roast the rest. She whipped out some traditional spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and olive oil. She tossed the veggies in the oil and then got her sprinkle fairy on and popped them in the oven until they were fork tender. Serve this as a side dish to baked fish, sautéd swiss chard and our crockpot black beans (not pictured) and you have an easy and colorful dinner.

We hope you find your way back to the kitchen and we hope it’s delicious. Happy feasting!

— Ricks


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Tidbit Tuesday: The Power of Pesto

It’s time for another installment in the Thrifty Cooking Series and today’s topic is pesto. Yes that deliciously flavored green slurry that makes certain Italian dishes taste so yummy — pesto. For a long time, when the Thrifty Chicks thought “pesto” we immediately thought “pasta”. But we are here to help you change how you think about this flavor-filled rock star and how it can bring more than your pasta dishes to life.

Around the same time we started cooking nearly every meal we’ve eaten since we started Operation Do Better, we began making our own pesto. Don’t get us wrong, the jarred stuff is delicious and convenient. But for the size, usually less than 7 ounces, and our money, pesto is pricey. When we read the ingredients on a jar, we were surprised at how simple the ingredients were.

Aside from the preservative ingredients that give jarred pesto its shelf-life, pesto is nothing more than parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, basil, or some other kind of green herb, garlic and some kind of nut, usually pine nuts. Blend them in a food processor and Presto! Pesto! There also are tons of other ingredients you can use to make pesto and plenty of recipes on the Internet to help you do it.IMG_3951

For our recipe we substituted pine nuts with walnuts because they were cheaper. We bought a rather large bag of walnuts from Trader Joe’s and it’s lasted us about six months. We keep the walnuts in the refrigerator so that the oil in the nuts doesn’t get rancid. We usually buy the biggest container of basil we can find and make a rather big batch.  We preserve our pesto, without preservatives, by freezing it in an ice tray with a layer of olive oil on top. The stuff keeps in the freezer, without getting freezer burned, for a pretty long time. We never leave it in the freezer longer than a month because we use the stuff in so many of our dishes.

When in doubt, add pesto

Pasta: Of course we use pesto very traditionally in pasta dishes, but the way we use it is probably a little different. We occasionally use it as a stand alone sauce, but often times we use it to add flavor to store bought white and red pasta sauce. We’ll soon be making our own pasta sauces, but we’ll likely still add pesto because we really love the flavor.

Fish/Shrimp: We discovered this summer that pesto is great on fish and shrimp. Slather it on skewered pieces of shrimp and salmon, grill or bake.  Not only is it delicious, but it keeps seafood from drying out in that cooking process. What you’ll have is succulent morsels of seafood that will disappear from plates.

Mayo replacement: During a recent tubbing adventure, our girl Sunny S. whipped out these mini-sandwiches with pesto, mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. All served on mini-whole wheat bagels.  And she blew our entire minds! They were that good. The pesto was the delicious glue that held these bad boys together. And when you think about it, pesto would make a pretty awesome replacement in many of the salads and sandwiches that call for mayo. A new twist on potato and macaroni salad, you say? Why certainly!

Pizza: We like making homemade pizza more than we like ordering it out. The act of flavoring IMG_3771our dough and deciding what kinds of toppings we want to add to our pizza really is an ever-evolving thing at our house. We have put pesto in our dough and we certainly have made it the primary sauce on top of our pizza and mixed it in store-bought sauce.  It is delicious. Period.

If you’re bored with what’s on your plate and what it taste like, give pesto a chance. We don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.

— R & R


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Tidbit Tuesday: Homemade Laundry Detergent

We are always looking for ways to save money. Always. So when our friend Bridget M. told us about making her own dishwashing detergent we immediately wanted to give it a try. When we went looking for a recipe for dishwasher detergent we stumbled upon a blog post from happymoneysaver.com that had a recipe for laundry detergent.

We were big fans of the new Tide detergent pods that look like dishwasher pods, but not fans of the price, especially since we kept forgetting to take a coupon to the store and were running out of detergent when it was not on sale.

IMG_5325When the post for the homemade detergent promised that the recipe, which could be made with about $20 in ingredients, would last for about a year, we were sold. Most of the ingredients for homemade detergent can be found at your local supermarket or Walmart. Just look on the lowest shelf in the cleaning supply or laundry detergent aisle.

You can get some of the supplies at Target, but we were unable to find all of them there. If you are one-stop shopper, Walmart likely is your best bet for finding all the ingredients you need in one place.

IMG_5323When we initially attempted the recipe we used Ivory soap, because we couldn’t find the soap recommended in the post, or flaked-soap. It was an EPIC FAIL. Putting soap in your food processor is not the business, and in fact, is not what the instructions call for doing. Reading is clearly fundamental.  We encourage you to not waste your time with trying to grind up Ivory soap and hunt down some flaked-soap like Zote.  It will be so much easier to mix. Trust us,

We have been using our homemade laundry detergent for about four months and all of our clothes look and smell fresh and clean. And by all, we mean our stinky running clothes (not that we’ve been running so much this year) too.

IMG_5348But we do have a confession: Our first batch of detergent has not lasted a year and it is totally our fault. See what had happened was…we use more than the recommended amount of per load. The recommended amount is just a couple of tablespoons per load. We use a scoop that came with the Oxi-Clean and sometime, Ricks even uses two scoops. ::Kanye shrug:: Looking at our pictures and happymoneysaver.com’s photos, it didn’t seem that we’d made 18 lbs. of detergent. We could be wrong, since we didn’t weigh it. Again…::Kanye shrug::

IMG_5311The ingredients are inexpensive enough that even if we made it three or four times a year, we would still come out ahead in the laundry game.  When we consider the time and effort it would cost us to clip coupons, diligently wait for sales and then not forget the coupons at the house on sale day and have to turn around and  drive back home to get them? Nawl. Just…nawl.

This project is Too Thrifty Chicks approved. It’s easy, cheap and works. Try it.

– R&R


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Tidbit Tuesday: Dumpster Chair Makeover

I spent a large chunk of last weekend eating IKEA cinnamon rolls (which happen to be 6 for $4), sniffing candles, and picking out fabric with my good friend Keila H. Keila is my ‘I like to do crafts but I’m not always very crafty’ friend. She is an amazing bargain hunter and usually has great ideas for how she wants to transform new pieces. So when she came to me and said, “I want to re-do this chair I found near a dumpster,” I paused and waited for the inevitable…

“…and by I, I really mean us.” BAM! There it was. And of course I said, “Let’s do it!”

Exhibit A: The God Awful Chair from the Dumpster

IMG_4724Keila saw potential in this chair and rescued it. When she got it, she knew she wanted the chair to have lot of life and a lot of color, so she perused fabrics at IKEA online. She found one she loved….

…except she didn’t choose that one. When we finally went to IKEA to get the fabric, something else caught her eye.

EXHIBIT B: The Ridiculously Awesome Fabric20130810_152503

…so we left with this. We bought two yards at 4.99/yard along with white paint and primer to round out the things we needed.

EXHIBIT C: The Staple Gun

If you want to quickly re-do a chair, the staple gun is your very best friend. We unscrewed the chair seat and back, measured out the amount of fabric we needed to cover the seat and the back of the chair, and went to work with the staple gun. The tricky part of covering a chair like this is making sure you fold the corners or edges in a way that looks nice and neat. For the seat bottom, that didn’t matter so much because no one will see it. The seat back was a little trickier. We arranged the seams in such a way that the chair frame would cover them.

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After stapling the fabric to the cushions, Keila primed and painted the chair frame white and let it dry before screwing the seat back and cushion back on.

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EXHIBIT D:  The Finished Product

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For less than $16 and an hour of time, Keila left with a chair that got a fabulous second chance. If she wants to give it additional pizzazz, she can add upholstery tacks/nails like these along the seams to camoflauge them even more.

Next time you need a new piece of furniture, check to see if your neighbor’s have thrown out something that has potential.  It worked for Keila. Maybe it will work for you too!

-Reese


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Thrifty Transformations: A Multi-purpose Space Makeover

At the Thrifty Palace there is only one place more popular than our kitchen and our couch — our basement. And until recently it was the place where we stored the little bit of junk we have, the place where we worked out and the place where Reese occasionally worked on her dissertation.

What warranted the need for a thrifty transformation? So glad you asked. As you know almost a month ago, I quit my job and decided to give the self-employed life a go. After about two weeks of working from the couch and most nights falling asleep on said couch, I realized I was spending too much freaking time on the couch! At my previous place of employment, I’d had a stand up desk that I utterly loved. In fact, my “office-thigh jiggle,” a condition that I believe office workers develop from sitting at their desks all day, was starting to dissipate because I spent the majority of my day standing up.

I had no plans to develop “couch-thigh jiggle” and wanted to recreate the magic of a stand up work space at home. I decided that the opposite corner of the basement would be as good a place as any to create my own home office, for little to no money. Real talk, stand up desks start at about $500 and can cost more than $1,000. As Sweet Brown said, “Ain’t nobody got time for all that!” Luckily, we had all of what we needed to make such a project possible.

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All you need, really, is some cinder blocks and some left over scrap wood to create a flat surface. We already had a number of Sterilite modular drawers in the basement and I used them to provide further support to the blocks. I covered the scrap wood in leftover fabric. Put up a piece of cork liner, decorated with pictures, quotes and keepsakes and presto! I have an office space I love. The other perk is when I get bored, I can hula hoop or bellydance to pass the time and burn some calories as the majority of the space between my corner of the basement and Reese’s corner is still our personal fitness studio. Total cost: Zero dollars.

Reese had carved out a space for herself to work, but she hadn’t really done anything to make the space personal. I knew that she was going to be on assignment shooting engagement photos for friends and I got a wild hair to really jazz up her side of the room so that she might be inspired to go down there and work. I knew she was tired of her binders full of papers not having a dedicated home, and her small desk was losing valuable real estate to her printer.

20130716_163102Fortunately, we had an extra piece of wood that I knew could be used as a tabletop for her printer and other keepsakes such as framed photos. We had two smaller Sterilite modular drawers, but I didn’t think they would be sturdy enough for the printer. A box of books we are supposed to go through at some point provided the perfect amount of stability. I covered the wood in a leftover piece of fabric from Reese’s window seat project. I also repurposed the extra shutter that she had purchased for her headboard project as a space for her to stick notes and pin pictures.

We picked up some inexpensive metal clips and these cute little buckets  at Target for additional storage. All together this thrifty transformation cost about $10.

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We plan to add more lighting because the basement is rather dark with just two bare bulbs and a lamp. We also plan to add a world map to chart our thrifty travels and to paint vibrant, inspiring quotes on these blank canvases that we call walls. I’d also like to put a cute rug down on my side and I suggested that we add some spray paint, which we have an abundance of, to Reese’s basic black desk.  All mostly inexpensive ways to make our basement a much more user friendly and inviting space. Transforming a space that has multiple uses can be a big, challenging project that is hard to visualize, but my best advice is to always keep in mind what the space will be used for and then decorate with what you’ve got on hand. Besides, if you hate it, you can always change it.

— R&R