Reflections of the Full Week

Last night we were discussing the budget diet. An epiphany came in the form of even though our portions were fine, we felt more hungry. There are likely a couple of reasons for that…

I think we as individuals were getting to used to eating more than we might need in a given day. I know I was drinking more coffee than I needed nearly every day. I’d grown used to getting lunch at the food window in the stadium or at the corner market most days. If I was tired on the way home I might stop at a drive through or the BBQ place near our house. And ice cream at the end of the night usually sounded like a good idea.

why-the-treatsTaking one day as an example, I had a bowl of Honey Nut O’s (generic) with milk for breakfast (about 20 cents), a peanut butter sandwich with a banana for lunch (about 35 cents), and spinach risotto with black bean bake for dinner (around $1.50 at the portions I dished out. Which left me with just under $2 to put towards a different day, or to use for coffee beyond my allowance in the morning. At the end of the night though, I did choose to add another 10 cents to my spending for some more Honey Nut O’s while watching TV. (To be fair, someone insisted I share a couple.)

I looked at my coffee drinking and tried to figure out how I might incorporate it into my budget. I can use our french press without having to buy filters, which means for about 25 cents I can make the amount of coffee I get in the mornings if I go without cream. So between 25 to 40 cents a day for my morning coffee. Take a look at the $2.05 budget for the sample day, and this is totally possible. Especially on days when I don’t have meat. Were I inclined to do so (and I might be next week), I could reduce the daily budget to $3.60 a day and still get my coffee in the drive through. Since this isn’t fully about the money, I can pay for the convenience and deduct it from my total.

I also feel there is a psychology to it. We know we are eating off of less money than we used to spend on coffee so the subconscious message is we will be hungry. Additionally, when you’re looking at price per serving, you dish yourself out specifically one serving. Which in most cases means we eat less. Not that much less, but that lends into the perception of being denied something.

So I started this to gain a view of the possibilities to live off of that number. Additionally I was looking at if one could eat healthy off of those numbers. What I am finding is that if I can change my point of view, that will not only impact my budget, but also lead me to a healthier diet.

Though I’d still add the kale back into the risotto instead of the spinach.

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Short Update on Budgeting

The cookbooks aren’t even at my house yet. I am still at least a week from flipping the switch on this. And yet I am noticing the change in my view of things already.

krispieThis afternoon I decided to go out for a soda and a rice cereal treat. I brought leftovers for lunch and I’ve been having a rough week. Also, I had taken note that my Chobani yogurt I brought with me this morning on sale was 25% of my daily budget (keeping in mind I am not yet on that budget).

You know what else is 25% of my daily budget on sale? That rice cereal treat from the convenience store on the corner. Granted they go on sale every week for a day. You can set your calendar to it. But that is still $1 when my total budget for the day will be $4. So this is a luxury I won’t have for a long time. And look at it, consider that I just called that a luxury.

cherry-pepsiDon’t even get me started on the soda. If we still had Coke machines in the stadium I would still be dropping $1.50 on a bottle – around 37% of the daily budget. But at $1.79 a bottle (plus tax), that is about half the daily amount I have to spend. Even if I find a sale, the lowest price I am likely to get is $.25 per can of soda. Which means I will get one can a day at best. I should be drinking more water anyhow.

Last – and by no means least – is beer. I was listening to the morning show talk craft beer with the owner of Trixie’s Liquor on the morning show. This lead to me making a mental list of the beers I wanted to pick up for our family vacation to Door County this weekend. A bomber of Trixie’s Forbidden Fruit (a grapefruit IPA made by Mob Craft for the store) is around $8.99. You see where I’m going, right?

Mrs. Zombie and I have been working budgets for a number of years now. The idea is to pay off all debts, a goal we should hit in 5 or 6 years. The mortgage being the only debt the last 4 of that. So even though we can afford more than $4 a day, and can afford to pick up that six pack of craft beer for the trip this weekend (much less the trip itself), this is a really strong exercise in seeing what it’s like on the other foot. Without relying on the memory of the “Mac and Cheese Days” long past.

naptime-gingerNot to mention if we’re going to take our budding new rock climbing puppy out to Aladdin’s favorite park on the anniversary of his death, you better damned well believe I will be having a beer that night. Of course, realistically, Ginger will probably look more like the photo here all weekend long. Which is fine. I have work to do.

One More Caveat

I also came across one more caveat that I need to enter into the challenge. Every week I go to my writer’s group on Thursday. We meet at one of two spots where we can get coffee and a bite to eat. Many times I will just get coffee and a cookie or tart because Chocolaterian makes some of the best treats and their coffee is something brewed by Walter White. Seriously, that shit is addictive! And more over, as we use their space every week I feel it would be rude to not “pay the rent” in some fashion. Especially when I am able to. So I will have dinner when I get home (in budget), but at the cafe I will partake of coffee and a cookie.

And in “payment” for this, I won’t get coffee on Thursday mornings on my way into work. So really it isn’t one more caveat to the project, but an addendum to an existing one.

New Project/New Challenge

I became aware this week, that this time last year I was elbows deep in a project to do 30 short stories in 30 days. That worked out to only 23 short stories, but over 50,000 words for the month. During one of my worst months in a really long time. But what am I doing this year?

Sure, I’m still doing book reviews, my bi-weekly game and helping out with the monthly D&D at Pegasus Games here in town. But I was doing most of that last year too. I’m feeling like I need a goal… a specific project… to light a fire under me. So I came up with one.

$4 a Day

good-and-cheapFor a while now I have been considering the challenge that some politicians and other public figures have done to eat on $4 a day – the amount that people on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) live on. Though this year I found the book Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. Not only is it a cookbook to guide you through this process, but it has a program where if you buy a copy, a copy is given to a program or person in need that cannot afford it. Which appeals to me, because if you’re using SNAP or just living on $4 a day up-assisted, chances are you don’t have the money for a cookbook.

So I ordered the book to work with the mason jar meal cookbook I also picked up. And decided to go on a challenge to hit the $4 a day for a month. I figure this is also a good way to get my kitchen and pantry in order. Plus, I think my wife is secretly getting tired of risotto (my newest go-to dish to make).

The Caveats

I have two caveats that are for the protection of others as well as myself. My $4 a day limit does not include my morning coffee. If I don’t have that, someone will get hurt. That limit will prevent me from grabbing a green tea lemonade on the trip home though.

Additionally, my wife only is bound by the $4 a day meals if I am making them for her. My lunches will be made with this in mind, and I will not be going out for lunch at all. She isn’t bound by that, because I don’t want to get hurt. And if she wants a coffee on the way home, I can get her one. Just not one for myself.

The Reasons

Mostly because I want to. I have lived through hungry times. I called them The Mac and Cheese Days™. And honestly, I have family members living in those days right now. I want to prove to myself that it is possible to eat healthy at that amount. Limit the sugars, starches and salt in the diet. Limit the processed foods too.

The Reality

latteLast night, while going through the bookstore on the way home, I picked up the books I needed, a latte, and desert for after dinner. Partially it was a craving for something I knew I wouldn’t be having for a long time, and partially it was a peace offering for the wife I was about to put on rations. (Sort of… let’s face it, she can get seconds if she wants.)

Consider the triple venti latte I picked up in the cafe last night. It was an after-thought to get a coffee with my books. A little extra to keep me going. And it cost $5 to get it – a full 25% higher than the daily amount of money I would be spending on food soon. It tastes more like a luxury if you consider it a day and a half worth of food.

cheesecakeThen there was the blueberry cheesecake we had for desert. Without even considering the fact that it was a heavily processed food (lending to high sodium and fat content), it was $4.50. Just over the daily amount of money for food. Again, much more decadent factoring in that would soon be all I would eat in a day based on budget.

Grocery shopping is different though. You’re getting steaksfresh food that you’re making yourself (or at least you have the ability to do so). And you can get foods on sale, purchasing items when they’re  in season and such. But the bacon-wrapped sirloins I picked up last night were on sale 5 for $10, or $2 each. So that one small steak is half the budget for a day. Possible, but that does restrict what you can do with the rest of the day.

The Format

I will be posting updates as I go, possibly including some of the recipes as I post. I’m Italian, we don’t do well sticking to the script. Of course, when I have to calculate the cost per meal, I will have to curb that as much as possible. Which leads me to the summary per meal.

thug-kitchenAt the end of each post on meals – including the cost per meal – I will be posting revisions. In the event I have more than $4 to spend on a day (due to budgeting days previous or simply opening the budget back up again), I will list alterations I would do to the recipe as shown. Like upgrading the cut of steak (or size) used. Adding fresh basil into the risotto instead of sprinkling in the dried herbs from my pantry. You get the idea.

Also, in addition to the mason jar cookbook I have, I will be looking into some of the recipes from the Thug Kitchen. While the title is what originally drew me to it, the content held me there. The idea of cooking/eating like you give a damn what you’re stuffing in your hole is one many of us have gone away from. I intend to make the trip back.

The Timing

The cookbook will be at my door Friday. Though we are also taking Ginger on her first Door County trip this weekend. We’re going to see how well she likes Aladdin’s favorite park. She did show signs of wanting to be a rock climbing dog this past week. So the actual budgeting and diet will likely start the last week of this month, or the first week in August. I’m sure you’ll notice when this happens.

Budgetary Book Constraints

So we are 10 days into the strict budgets and we are doing pretty well. We had a small section known as Mother’s Day we hadn’t budgeted for, but otherwise we are ahead of the game. Of course while nobody commented on which would be their one book a month for the upcoming months, through the magic of Twitter I was directed to fictfact.com.

Looking through there, I was seeing the enormity of the situation with my book budget. If a trade paperback was coming out, I could skip coffee a couple days and make up the difference. But what am I doing in July when Ghost Story comes out? That is a hard cover bad boy. Moreover that is a hard cover bad boy that will likely not come to Audible right away (as I was hoping).

Furthermore, I entered in the titles I found there in my Google calendar to get a feel for the decisions I had to make. I also noticed that not all the books I knew where coming out in the next couple of months were there. My Life as a White Trash Zombie for instance, wasn’t listed. All of this started as I was deciding that since Dead on the Delta and Neon Graveyard both come out on the 31st this month that one could be my May book, and the other could be my June book. Here is what I found when I looked deeper…

May Books

  • Hounded – Kevin Hearne (out already)
  • Dead on the Delta – Stacey Jay (31st)
  • Neon Graveyard – Vicki Pettersson (31st)

June Books

  • Deadline – Mira Grant (1st)
  • Blackout – Mira Grant (2nd)
  • Hexes and Hemlines – Juliet Blackwell (7th)
  • Hexed – Kevin Hearne (7th)
  • Hammered – Kevin Hearne (28th)
  • Eat Slay Love – Jesse Petersen (28th)

July Books

  • Heartless – Gail Carriger (1st)
  • My Life as a White Trash Zombie – Diana Rowland (5th)
  • Snow Queen’s Shadow – Jim C. Hines (5th)
  • Bloodlust – Michelle Rowen (5th)
  • Dance of Dragons (HC) – George R. R. Martin (12th)
  • Rebirth – Sophie Littlefield (19th)
  • Ghost Story (HC) – Jim Butcher (26th)

August Books

  • Downpour – Kat Richardson (2nd)
  • Bloodhunt – Shannon K. Butcher (2nd)
  • Bloodlines – Richelle Mead (23rd)
  • Succubus Revealed – Richelle Mead (30th)
  • Crossroads – Jeanne Stein (30th)
  • Dust and Decay (HC) – Jonathan Maberry (30th)

Look at that. All of those are books that I am reading the series of, or are new books I was considering picking up from my favorite authors. Only one of the above in the list is an author I have not read before, and he is a member of the League of Reluctant Adults. Seriously though, check it out. July is hell month for me. How do I choose there?

One of the saving graces is contests that get run for books. Ironically Jim C. Hines started one this afternoon (while this blog sat on my laptop half finished). That is by no means a realistic answer, but it always gives one hope. Also, with his book coming out in July I have to look at it honestly. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is my top pick for that month. Were I to pick Ghost Story, I would not only have to take the budget for books that month, but even more from coffee and the like.

The other answer could be selling off the gaming books and such that I have determined that I do not need. Liquidating a few of those should make up enough for an extra book or two. And from the anti-4E comments that even plagued the Roll a D6 discussion on YouTube, it shouldn’t be hard to find people looking for some 3.5 books, right?

Now there is still the possibility of using the library. Ghost Story and Dance of Dragons should be there, right? Here’s the obstacle there… even if I can get it release day (assuming they have enough copies), for popular books like that there is a fee to check them out. So I would have to go without coffee for a day or two just to check one of those books out from the library. How is that even fair? A late fee before you even step out of the door?

Just browsing over the lists, here is what I am seeing:

  • No offense to the other July authors but I have to go with My Life as a White Trash Zombie first. It fits into the budget, it is a book I know I can get personalized (maybe not with debauched stick figures, but still) and if it hits the NYT Bestseller list Diana has said she will get the tattoo on the cover done permanently on her arm.
  • Dead on the Delta is my May book.
  • As we are on a cruise, there is a couple weeks I am not buying dinner at writer’s group. This will more than cover Neon Graveyard (which I will be preordering this week). That makes this a second May book.
  • June will be a tough month to make a decision. No one author/title really stands out there. If I go with signature potential I will have to go League title. If I stick with content, zombies may win out. Which zombie title remains to be seen.
  • July is still going to be hell. After White Trash Zombie it gets rough. Rebirth might take it and I will likely have to wait for Audible to offer Ghost Story (oh and I will be banking a credit until they do). Snow Queen’s Shadow may be my son’s responsibility since I originally bought the goblin series and stepsister series for him.
  • August, I may have to start with Bloodhunt. After that there may be a cage match between Kat and Richelle for the second potential slot. Of course GenCon is that month, so I will be starting from over budget.

If you are wondering what all of this internal blathering that is making it out onto the blog means, the general thought is this… Strict budgets are hard. And having gone 10 days without a coffee that I didn’t brew at home I am finding what things in my original budget are really important to me. Sorry local coffee shops, the authors win.

As nobody had a comment as to the single book you would purchase in each of the coming months, how about a different question to fish for comments? What would you give up to be able to pick up one more book this month?