Right now

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Do you ever have a moment during the week when you stumble across a Pinterest board with hundreds of pins you already love, but you’ve never seen? And you think to yourself: “I’m saving that for Friday night.”

That is my Friday night. Cheers.

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How We Save: the magic of Aldi

Via The New York Times

Via The New York Times

When it comes to saving money every month, and hitting our ambitious household budget, not spending an arm and a leg at the grocery store every week is absolutely essential. Because we don’t eat out very often (or, limit ourselves to $100 a month between us in that department), we cook almost every night, and when we’re not, we’re eating leftovers…so glamorous!. That means we actually have to shop at the grocery store, for real food, used to make more real food.

For some reason, this can be a very expensive endeavor. Over the years, we’ve tried a lot of things to save money at the grocery store, and they’ve worked – to a point:

  • We rarely buy snack or junk foods, with the exception of some hardy pretzel sticks every now and then
  • We avoid processed food whenever possible
  • We buy the store brands for almost everything
  • We regulate our meat purchases, with the goal of buying only one kind of meat per week
  • We buy wholesale ingredients rather than the pre-made shortcuts (a big bucket of quick cooking oats instead of instant oatmeal, for example)
  • We limit our indulgences and guilty pleasures, and try to buy the most affordable option rather than the best (yeah, I’d love me some Starbucks brand caramel latte coffee, but I’ll stick with my Foldgers and store-brand coffee creamer)

We even avoid shopping at the better-for-you, organic, all-natural grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s or Whole  Foods. Oh, I know these places have better produce and products, and I know I’d feel better about myself shopping there. But oh no, I stick with Kroger to avoid the stupidly high prices on your fancy-schmancy avocados.

And yet, even though our fridge is stocked with fresh fruit and veggies, the only drinks we keep on hand are OJ and milk (and water, duh), and our pantry is full of simple ingredients that we use to construct our meals, the grocery bill is still a headache. Plus, it’s only the two of us – I can’t even imagine what it’s like shopping for kids (actually, don’t tell me because I’m not ready for that). It just doesn’t seem right to me that two healthy adults, who don’t snack, who cook their meals, who avoid expensive grocery stores, who have insane self-control – it doesn’t make sense why we can’t buy a week’s worth of groceries for $50 a week.

I have a feeling this is going to be a lifelong battle for me – the battle for the grocery budget. However, our most recent attempt to save money actually feels like it’s working, and I’m really excited about it. What’s the secret? One word: Aldi. Now, I’m not sure how other people feel about Aldi, their quality of food, their businesses, and whatnot. But ever since we started shopping at Aldi every week before hitting up Kroger, we’ve noticed some major savings and we’re very excited about it.

If you don’t have one in your area, Aldi is a German discount grocery chain known for its cost-saving efforts. The store stocks staple items – food and for the home – usually their own brands. The stores don’t have everything, and they may not have the same items week-to-week. Aldi doesn’t provide bags, or baggers – customers have to bring their own, or pay for extra in the check-out lane. Carts are dispensed for the price of a quarter; customers get their quarter back by returning their cart to the corral outside the store. Aldi does not accept credit cards, only cash and debit. There are usually only one or two employees working at a time, even on busy Sunday mornings (when we shop).

All this adds up to lower prices for customers, and it shows. For a few weeks, J and I compared the prices from our Aldi receipt to similar products at Kroger, and almost every time, Aldi won out. Sometimes Kroger’s sales prices were lower, but sometimes Aldi even beat the sales. But since J and I do not have the patience to coupon and stalk the sales every week, we know that going with an Aldi product is the best bet, every time.

Now, J and I hit up Aldi first during our Sunday morning grocery shopping trip, buying everything we can there. Then, we buy everything else at Kroger. What’s been most exciting are the savings: shopping at Kroger alone, our grocery bill would fluctuate between $60-$75 a week, sometimes getting as high as $80. Some of that would be spent on household items, but most of the time, it was food. Since we started going to Aldi first, the amount we spend on food at both stores is right around $50 a week, every week. That’s awesome, and it really helps us hit our $250-a-month grocery budget.

What about the quality of Aldi foods? Well, they’re not always a hit. There is some produce that I’ll always buy at Kroger – I had a very, very disappointing Aldi avocado a few weeks ago. And we like Kroger milk, and a special brand of Kroger bread. But we’ve found that most Aldi products are just as good as the Kroger brand we would have bought anyway – some are even better! Let’s face it: a cake mix is a cake mix, and a bag of dried pinto beans is the same everywhere you go.

On this subject:

The guilt of ‘not contributing’

I’ve been thinking about a post like this all weekend, but truth be told, I’ve been a little nervous about writing it. Nervous because it’s very personal, and yet it’s an issue I’ve been dealing with for the past month or two, and I think an important one.

What finally convinced me to get over my nerves was a post from one of the bloggers I regularly read, Jessie Knadler over at Rurally Screwed. In one of her latest posts, she talks about the future of her blog (I for one hope it doesn’t go away!), but also about the guilt of being a stay-at-home mom vs. being a working mom. Now, I’m not a mom, but this bit did touch a nerve:

I love being a stay-at-home mom for now even as I’m wracked with guilt for not producing. Isn’t that the way it goes? I feel guilty when making money because I’m not there for the girls.  I feel guilty when I’m not making money because I love to work (for money) and don’t feel like myself when I don’t have some kind of paycheck. See? You can’t win. Moral of the story, boys and girls: You can’t win.

It’s been about a month now since I left my old, full-time, salaried job at the bookstore. It was a good job, and I was able to gain some valuable management experience. It wasn’t a forever job, and it certainly wasn’t going to be my career – maybe it was the job to get me through grad school, but a job in the library world was always in my future. Then, I had to leave that job, and it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. Long story short, I really didn’t want to leave, but was given no choice.

While I don’t particularly miss the work (retail isn’t the most glamorous of industries), I do miss the paycheck. A lot. Now, J and I are fine financially. Plus, as J continually tells me, “I’m in school”, so it’s OK if I take a little time out from full-time work to focus on my studies. And I am. And I’m also really lucky to have found a great part-time job at one of the libraries on campus, where I’m gaining even more valuable experience, making important connections, and learning a lot.

But still, I really miss that paycheck. Especially now that we’re future home-buyers, and we have to pay triple attention to our bank accounts. Especially now that I’m forcing both of us to “be on a budget” – and not just a suggested budget, but a strict, real, budget-budget.

But I miss that paycheck because the simple fact is: I like working, and I like working for a paycheck. I like to “contribute”. I like to pay my own way. I like to provide for my family. I’ve never made a lot of money, neither when I was working for the bookstore or a reporter, but at least I made enough to contribute to our family income in a significant way.  And because both J and I had decent jobs and weren’t burdened by unreasonable credit card debt, we always felt financially free. Not rich or really “well off” by any standards, but we never had to worry.

And we don’t have to worry now, either, but still. Whatever income I have is just a tiny drop in the bucket – not the modest splash I’m used to – and it fills me with guilt. I feel guilty every time I remind J that, “Well, maybe you should think twice about going out to the bar with co-workers because, you know, budget.” I feel guilty every time I want a new pair of shoes or to have coffee, at a coffeehouse, with friends. I even feel guilty taking on the additional expense of a house even though we’re more than ready and gosh darn it, I want this more than anything.

But the guilt described by Knadler is still there. I think it’s tough for women to admit this guilt, just like it’s tough to admit that, as a woman, I like working for a paycheck. While I wouldn’t describe myself as, and I certainly don’t want to be, a workaholic, I do derive a real sense of identity and self-respect from working. Who am I? Well, I’m a reporter/bookseller/manager/librarian, and I believe in what I do, and I work hard at it. To be cut off from the working world, or just cut down to part-time, is difficult for me to admit is acceptable. And while I know it sounds goofy, and I don’t want to believe in it, if I’m being honest with myself, it is hard to feel like myself without that paycheck in the mail.

A big part of this is because I am, in one way, a workaholic – I always have to be doing something. Hence, this blog (and my other blog). Hence, my endless planning. The cleaning. The reading. I also have some big plans to help fill my time in the coming months: applications for internships and graduate assistantships, some academic writing, maybe some creative writing? I’ve considered getting another part-time job, and I do think I could make it work, but there’s a reason working two different jobs is difficult – two different bosses, managing two different schedules, lots of driving, even less free time than if you had one full-time job. I’ll do it, but if only if the right opportunity comes by.

Now, why is this a “woman’s issue”? I certainly don’t want to insinuate that it’s unusual for a woman to feel guilty when she doesn’t bring home the bacon. Quitting or being laid off from your job doesn’t have to be a “woman’s issue”, and the guilt associated with it affects men and women. But the fact of the matter is – and this is how it’s impacting me, personally – due to circumstances out of my control, I’ve been thrust into the part-time housewife position, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind spending the extra time I have at home cooking and cleaning – in fact, I enjoy it. One the key philosophies behind this blog is that there is no shame in enjoying these chores.

But I was forced into this situation, and I don’t like not having the ability to choose how I live my life. Similar to how I feel about a lot of women’s issues, choice is important. A woman can work 40+ hours a week, or she can be a stay-at-home mom, but she should have the right to choose. What I dislike is having that choice taken out of my hands. Now, I know that I didn’t leave my old job because I was a woman – I know there’s a difference, and like I said, losing your job isn’t a woman’s issue. But I still find myself in this position, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it yet.

Unfortunately, I can see this issue continuing to weigh heavily on my mind until, well, I graduate with my Master’s and find that full-time job as a librarian. Until then, I’ll continue to feel grateful that I married such a generous, loving person who insists, rather vehemently, that I do whatever is best for me and not feel guilty about it. Marriage, I’ve found, really is a partnership in this sense, and helps assuage just a little bit of that womanly guilt I feel. When I figure out how to get rid of the rest of it, I’ll let you know.

Songs for a rainy day

I’ve never considered myself a Type-A personality – though maybe I am – but I am definitely the type of person who always has a plan. I have dozens of to-do lists. I plan out my everyday schedule a week at a time, making sure I keep track of chores, meals, homework assignments, work schedule…everything.

But sometimes, you just to have to sit back and let life take the reigns. Sometimes, things are just hectic, and there’s no way to control your schedule or predict what will get done. We’re having one of those weeks, and now that it’s Friday afternoon, I’m definitely feeling the weight of accumulated stress and anxiety. Right now, we’re in a state of waiting. If not being productive annoys me, waiting is absolutely unbearable.

However, I find the best thing to do in these cases is to just take a deep breath, let it all go, and just listen to the rain. It’s been raining all day here in Michigan, making for a gloomy start to the weekend. But, if the rain helps those dirty piles of snow disappear quicker, then let that cool, cleansing rain come down.

Usually when I’m at home during the day, and actually during the evening as well, I like to listen to the local classical music stations, both out of Detroit and Canada (a perk of living so close to the Great White North!). But when it’s raining, sometimes you need something a little more chill. I prefer my Avett Brothers Pandora station during these times, which has plenty of relaxing, soft, rainy day tunes.