Ha!  You CAN save money and eat healthy, earth conscious foods!  It’s so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before!  

Here is the secret:

Switch to a plant-based diet. 

That’s it….

Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me.  I don’t mean you have to become a vegetarian or a vegan (although those are very healthy, good lifestyles – just not for everyone).  Instead you become what is rapidly becoming known as a “flexitarian”. 

Apparently, and I just learned this new word last week, a flexitarian is someone who eats mostly a plant-based diet but isn’t opposed (morally or otherwise) to eating meat on the occasion.  

We did this a while ago, after working with a holistic health/food counselor who taught me new uses for old foods and coaxed me to eat vegetables I NEVER thought would darken my door, much less my refrigerator!  But being brave, and not one to ever shrink from a challenge, I pushed on.  Now we are full-fledged “flexitarians” eating meat only once or twice a week.  

We are a  family of three, fully organic/wild, including meat purchases – which in other words reads E.X.P.E.N.S.I.V.E.   And my grocery bill had creeped up to $250 a week (including whatever sundries we purchased, which are all natural products too)!  

Today, even with those expensive meats and products like for instance,$20 for a free range chicken! $18 lb for fresh caught wild Salmon, $7.99 for a small  container of laundry soap that is safe for the earth and for me and my family….

my grocery bill is…..drum roll please…..$150 a week!  Holy SMOKES!  I never thought I would see the likes of those prices again once I committed to eating organic foods and using organic products. 

So a regular weekly menu in my house looks like this:

Breakfast:  Whole Grain Cereal (usually Kashi brand), boiled eggs and fruit, omelette, or spinach Quiche

Lunch:  Left overs, sandwiches (made with boars head all natural meats and LOADS of veg including tomatoes, sprouts, onions, ect., salad and a slice of sour dough bread or homemade bread

Dinner:

Monday: Double Mushroom Soup, whole wheat bread and fruit salad made with seasonal fruits and sweetened with agave nectar. 

Tuesday:  Cuban Black beans & Rice

Wednesday: Roasted Chicken, Cajun spiced boiled potatoes, sautéed collard greens, sliced tomatoes

Thursday:  Left overs

Friday: Stuffed Portobello Mushroom caps (stuffed with spinach, cheese, etc), some sort of vegetable side

Saturday: Clean out fridge – left overs

Sunday: Warm Shrimp Spinach Salad with sliced bread

snacks include: roasted pumpkin seeds or nuts, fruits, pretzels, popcorn, smoothies, banana bread, guacamole and baked tortilla chips, etc. etc.

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I am finishing up a great book on sustainable living written by Barbara Kingslover, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.    Not only is the book well written – Barbara Kingslover writes well renouned works such as The Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible, but it is also full of useful information, facts and even recipes.

The book explores the Kingslover family quest to spend one year consuming only what they could produce or was grown or produced locally.  Throughout the project, and the book, you and they learn the fine art of gardening, planning, preserving and canning and raising animals for meat. Frightening facts are sprinkled liberally throughout the book such as the water piped into to serve Arizona residents is considered toxic to aquarium fish but safe for humans or how humans are closer to starvation than we know because of our reliance on unicrop food production has dwendled the available food species to just a few, meaning just one blight could put the earth on a course for global famine.  She also pulls no punches on “big food” and their appalling practices such as raising over 1,000 turkeys into a room the size of my bathroom all in the name of mass producing cheap turkeys for the holidays while not criticizing farmers, including tobacco farmers, for making a living.

Even if you don’t plan on living off the land, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a good read and a good opportunity to think about how and where you get your own food and why paying more may be worth the price.

I didn’t put a source for this quote because I have seen several sources. It is mainly attributed to Mohandas Gandhi or Mohatma Gandhi but I have also seen other names attached.  Knowing how accurate the web is (sarcasm alert), I am not going to take the chance of attributing it but will just say…it is a great quote.

In this season of consuming, it is important to think about what we buy, where it comes from and how it is made.  The United States is among the worlds most prolific consumers, utilizing resources worldwide to keep our ever constant demand supplied.  But our demands negatively impact people’s lives in the third world by purchasing goods made from slave labor, sweatshops, and resource depletion all in the name of feeding the god…Consumerism.

Today, take a step back and rethink what you give for Christmas or Chanukah.  Think about giving of yourself, your time, or an experience over a material item.  Afterall, memories are the only thing we take with us, in the end.

The third step in simplifying your life is to look at your obligations and prioritize them.   Once you have prioritized your list, eliminate anything that isn’t a required obligation.  For instance volunteering, book clubs, bunko groups, birthday parties, etc. etc.   You won’t have to eliminate these things forever, just long enough to regain control over your life. Once you have freed up time and money, you can bring back the things that are most important to you.

Below is a look at some of my obligations and the changes I made:

Most of us have to work in order to feed and cloth ourselves so obviously work goes to the top of the priority list.  But you will find that as you simplify your life, you need less money and you may be able to work less in the future.   However, there may be things you can do today to lessen the burden of a stressful job.  Can you work from home, eliminating a commute and possibly reclaiming two or more hours a day?   Can you work part time, freeing up more of the day to put toward the wants in your life?

Volunteering is important but it can be put off until you have achieved balance and simplicity in your life.   I have always volunteered.  In the past I was on a homeless feeding group, I was on the board of my son’s daycare center, I was on the board at church to establish a mobile homeless food canteen and I volunteered at my son’s elementary school.   In the end, I had to drop every single one of those until I had gotten my life where I felt I needed to be.   Today, I have a saner volunteer schedule.  I volunteer weekly in my son’s school on a program that early identifies and early intervenes in dyslexia and other learning disorders but don’t volunteer for things like parties.  I do try to make one class trip a year because it makes my son happy for me to be there.   I am slowly getting back into my homeless causes, something that is very important to me.  I will realign those and re-volunteer because now I have the time to devote to it without feeling overwhelmed and pushed.

Family and friends.  I used to be involved, along with  my crazy volunteering schedule, in many neighborhood activities like a book club and a bunko group as well as sitting on several committees for our neighborhood association.   Many women in my neighborhood enjoy this time out.  But I found it became mostly an opportunity to complain about their lives, their husbands and their children.  I wasn’t comfortable in that environment because my husband has always been my refuge so, after deciding I wasn’t getting anything out of it and spending money on hosting or providing entry fees, buying books and the obligatory holiday white elephant gift exchange, I dropped them all.   We try to spend more time on what really matters,  family members and close friends.   We have a standing Friday  night date with our son for dinner and a movie – we cook at home and watch a family movie from Netflix.   We reserve Sunday as a time for just us and our son because it is easier to do without interrupting his time with friends.   Most importantly, we remain flexible and if he has a Friday night sleepover with friends, my  husband and I lock the door, light candles and enjoy being together.

Incessant child parties, and adult parties for that matter…We completely eliminated these.  We don’t even go anymore.  With 22 kids in our son’s class, we could be having at least two parties a month (and sometimes we did).   This costs money for gifts that the kid probably doesn’t need and won’t play with more than once, money that you could be saving for something far more worthwhile.   It also takes time and lets face it, with a large, rambunctious party the kids aren’t really attending to developing meaningful relationships.   We usually RSVP with regrets that we have a conflict that cannot be avoided.   That conflict may be us staying home and riding bikes together, the host doesn’t have to know and I don’t feel I have to explain.  I haven’t seen where this as unduly affected our son’s friendships.  We make sure to organize meaningful time together with friends so he  can build relationships and spend meaningful time on friendships that are very important to him.

Grocery shopping.  Many of us live in areas that have grocery delivery.   If you do, take advantage.  Shop on the internet and let the groceries come to you.   If you can’t, plan well in advance what you need and minimize your stress level by going at an ‘off peak’ shopping time – I used to leave my husband and son home and shop at 9 pm because I knew the crowds would be at home getting ready for bed.

Kids activities.  These need to go right now.  Yes, extracurricular activities are important but in America we have over scheduled our kids to the point they need their own daily planners.   Our child actually did this for us when he broke his arm so spectacularly that he couldn’t participate in anything for three months, it was during this time we realized how crazy his life had gotten.   Once he was able to rejoin extracurricular activities we decided to limit it to one a semester.  Instead of robot club and chess club after school, music lesson and baseball – most of which he didn’t care about, we now focus on one activity.  If he really wants to join a second we probably wouldn’t stop him but we encourage him to rationally choose what he wants to join, keeping a balance between activities and school work as well as prioritizing free play.   He chose to drop everything except music lessons.  We have one music lesson weekly — for 1/2 hour plus his daily practice sessions.  The rest of the time he spends time with friends and free play activities like riding his bike or scooter around the neighborhood or playing legos or games indoors.   There is nothing quite like the shock on your drum instructors face when he shamefully asks if we can accommodate a schedule change and we happily say “Dave, we are at your disposal, you are our only obligation on Saturdays….”   There is also nothing quite like the beauty of waking up and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be on any given Saturday or Sunday with the exception of our one half hour commitment.  Again, we have freed up more money by not being involved in many organizations that each require a fee and support throughout the season.  Kids don’t need a host of activities to be happy and healthy or have strong sense of self and accomplishment.  That is an adult creation and a fairly modern one at that.  I believe kids need far more free time, down time and opportunities for free play than they need soccer three times a week.

I know, I am slightly late a day late posting the second step to simplifying your life.   Last week, you should have been focusing on identifying the things you want in life, from big to small, the things that you think will make you happy.  

This week, the focus is on obligations.  We all have them.  These are the things we either think or know we cannot avoid.  In order to get to the next step and set priorities, you first have to know what you want out of life and what you have to do to get those things but you also have to recognize when there are activities that cannot be avoided that you must account for in your quest to simplify.  In a later post we will talk about how to make those obligations as simple or as enjoyable as possible.

Here is a sample list of obligations that you feel you cannot avoid.

  • Work – most of us are not fortunate enough to have been born with enough money to simply float through life doing what we want.  Generally, in order to live or survive, we have to work.
  • volunteering – whether it is with your child(ren)s school or the community, many people feel that giving back to the community is a “must”.
  • family
  • friends
  • social or adult “playdates” – these are those little things like bunko with the girls or poker with the guys.  They build community, relationships and help you unwind or even required attendance for work like cocktail parties or those awful holiday parties
  • vacations – everyone needs time off – even if you just stay at home
  • our children’s obligations – sports, theater, dance, etc.

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This post begins a new idea.  There is a lot of information bandied about on the net about simplifying your life but there isn’t really a “step-by-step” guide so to speak.  The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming and a life change isn’t easy, often it is hard to find a place to start.  I am going try to create one.  This will be the first post in a series on steps to simplify your life.   I will try to make these posts at least once a week because I want to keep to the new format I am creating of offering up inspirational quotes on Monday, personal experiences on Tuesday, and simple living resources on Wednesday.  I am reserving Thursday for the Simple Living Guide.  

So here goes – Simplify – Taking the first step.

The goal of simple living is shedding the unwanted and unnecessary obligations in favor of filling your life with peace, beauty and well…things you actually DO want to do.   But often, with our incredibly fast paced society and forced obligations, it is difficult to listen to that voice inside you that directs you in the way you want to go.  

Like anything, simplifying our lives is a process.  The first step in this process is to start listening to that inner voice.  But we are so conditioned to external noise.  How do we go about the task of figuring out what we want out of life?

Find a quiet place, a sheet of paper and a pen or a pencil.   Spend a few minutes picturing what you feel is the perfect life for you.  Include where you want to be, where you want to go, what you want to do and how you want to feel.  In other words, it is kind of like a bucket list – you know, from the movie – all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket.

I will share a bit of my perfect life list.

  1. Spend uninterrupted time with my husband and my son.
  2. Read a book in one day.
  3. Eat something I have never tried
  4. Learn a musical instrument.
  5. Learn a foreign language.
  6. Travel, both within the US and outside the US.
  7. Write a book.
  8. Sit in the sunshine.
  9. Cook a gourmet meal.
  10. Climb a mountain.
  11. A safe home.
  12. A garden.

Don’t worry if your list looks different than mine, we are all different people and there is no right or wrong answer, no right way to be, right things to want.  This is only a partial list and it contains small things like a day in the sunshine as well as big things like a safe home.

The only way to simplify your life is to first know what you want.  In the next post we will tackle obligations.

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