Image

5 things I never thought I’d do to save money

For most of 2022, there’s been a lot of media coverage on inflation and the rising costs of groceries, in particular. In 2020, when we were planning for our new construction home, we accomplished some major financial goals after living on one income for 3 years as a result of my husband, Bryan’s, disability. In the last year and a half, we’ve been living very comfortably in our new home and have not been as vigilant with preserving our finances as we had in 2020. And we need to because we have other goals (we have a child who’s in her last year of high school in the house) and the costs of most things have increased so much. Just because you think you an afford something doesn’t mean you should. It’s time to reign in on our spending.

I’ve read many articles and have seen loads of videos on what to do to save money and live frugally. I’ve engaged in various strategies to save money for years, but I thought it would be fun to focus on things I’d thought I’d NEVER DO to save money. We all do things that work for us and it’s taken me some time to buy into some other activities. I started at least 3 of these activities in 2022.

  1. Buy generic or store brand items – Over the years on my blog I’ve shared my love for preparing healthy meals for myself and my family. In many areas of the country (not just in Texas), it can be expensive in up front costs to eat healthy, especially if you purchase solely organic foods. I realize it’s all in how you see it (pay for healthy foods now, or don’t, and pay in medical bills later). However, you can save money on eating healthy and one way is to reduce, or not buy unless on sale, name brand items. I’ve since learned many name brand items are made in the same factories as generic items and even have the same ingredients. Some store brands even have organic store brand items. If you aren’t sure, you can compare the labels while you’re shopping like I often do.
  2. Grocery shop at multiple stores and stop shopping at some – On my quest to find the best deals, I’ve learned I need to branch out to other stores. I’ve even stopped buying at certain stores because I’ve learned I can find a better deal elsewhere. Sorry Target, but I haven’t thought about buying groceries from you in years. Target used to be a store a frequented several days a week when my children were younger, but I’ve since branched out to save some money. Currently, I shop at about 5 different stores during the month to ensure we’re getting the best grocery deals.
  3. Freeze vegetable scraps for broth – I’ve been sharing my food on this blog for years, so it’s no surprise I make my own broths (chicken, vegetable, beef) when I can. However, I have to admit, a few years ago, I used to make broth weekly; whereas, I’ve slowed down in the past couple of years. It’s convenient to buy store bought broths at the grocery store, but have you seen those prices lately? Broth is so easy to make so there is no excuse. One thing I’ve been doing this year to not only ensure I keep broth stocked, but to also avoid wasting food, is saving the vegetable scraps in my freezer rather than throwing them away in my normal meal prep activities. I’m talking about the ends of cut onions, the tips and skins of carrots after I clean them, celery ends, and herbs on the brink of death. Now, they all just go in the freezer bag and when full, I’ll cook some nutritious and tasty broth.
  4. Shop at thrift stores – This one has to be the most surprising activity I’ve done because I’ve never been a thrifter. If it weren’t for my daughter, Elise, asking me to take her to Goodwill on day, I would never do it. I won’t go into what some may perceive as my UPPITY attitude about thrift shopping….just know I’m converted… to a degree. I know how to find great bargains at non-thrift stores. I’ve purchased sweaters for $5 dollars at a mainstream store, so why do I need used clothes and other items from stores such as Goodwill? You catch up on my blog post Shopping deals during COVID-19 to read about the epic deals I got at the beginning of the pandemic. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate at thrift stores is the variety of brands you can find.
  5. Propagate my own plants – I love plants. My home is filled with beautiful plans. I’m probably at 70+ container plants in my home and another 20+ in containers on my back patio. One thing I’ve learned is that plants are expensive. By the time I buy the plants, the pots (I refuse to leave a plant in the nursery container I purchased them in), soil, and fertilizer, it’ll cost a pretty penny (it’s EXPENSIVE!!!). So I got to thinking how can I get more plants by spending very little to zero money? I began following some plants groups on social media and I learned it’s so easy to create more plants from existing plants. It’s a DREAM COME TRUE. Not only that, since I’m a generous person, I love that I can share my love for plants with my family and friends by gifting them my plant babies when they come visit.

See below for my photos and more ideas on how to save money.

Store brand items in my pantry from different stores. Store brands have become an essential part of my grocery supply. Some store brands also have their own organic line of products like O Organics sold at Randall’s.
I made this delicious cauliflower, chicken ALFREDO with the Sprout’s brand Cavatappi pasta from the previous photo. I boiled, then pureed in my blender a head of cauliflower. I added nutritional yeast, pasta water, vegetable broth (see below photo), and lots of spices to the cauliflower in the blender to make the base of the “alfredo” sauce.
Liquid gold aka vegetable broth. Over a month or so, I would add any vegetable scraps to a freezer bag I kept in the freezer. Once I had enough vegetables to fill the bags, I loaded them in a pot with water, garlic, and other aromatics for broth. I simmered for about 8-10 hours. Another way I save money is by saving empty jars of marinara, pickled foods, mayonnaise, etc. They come in handy for my smoothies and general food storage.
I froze some of the broth in 1 cup servings in this freezer tray I purchased from Amazon in the fall 2021 for my 10-day soup challenge which you can read about here: Bring on the soups. I use it to freeze so much more than soups like broths and pureed fruits. This allows me to keep my supply longer and avoid wastes. Once frozen, I remove the cubes from the tray, wrap the individual cubes in parchment paper, place all in one freezer bag, and store back in the freezer.
I bought this cute little orange dress from Goodwill and wore it on Easter Sunday 2022 with a denim jacket I’ve had for 5+ years. This is a quality dress from the brand Maeve. I researched the brand online while in the store before I bought it because I wanted to justify the cost….it was $20 which is typically more expensive than other dresses at Goodwill.
This is another top I bought from Goodwill sometime last year. I love this color. I wore this to my medical clinic on Friday (yesterday) and received several compliments. The brand is New York and Company and I probably paid $5.
July 2022 – Babies from my gigantic spider plant. It took the larger ones in the back about 1 month for them to get to this size. To my dismay, none of the smaller babies survived. I don’t think they liked the jars. All glasses purchased from Dollar Tree.
September 2022 – These babies are growing up. Same plants as the larger ones in the previous photo. They love it outside.
This is my second batch of Sunflowers from seeds. They grew really quickly…a few weeks. I’ve become obsessed with sunflowers and want them in my landscape throughout the fall season. I have more sunflowers and gladiolus in nursery pots on the back patio.

What do you do to save money? Feel free to comment to let me know.

Image

4 Week Post Surgery Update

I can hardly believe it’s already been four weeks since the surgery.  To think, around three years ago, I totally rejected the option of having surgery and two of my doctors agreed. However, as my symptoms progressively got worse, the hysterectomy turned out to be the best option. For just about all of 2021, I spent lots of time imagining what the experience would be like, and even put some things in my life on hold to plan for the procedure and attend to my health. Well, I tackled my fears head on for the prospect of experiencing a better quality of life. If you haven’t been following my progress, you can catch up on the background by reading my posts Fight and How it started vs how it’s going: 2 weeks post surgery. In this post, I will share some of my recovery progress. My disclaimer is as a squeamish person myself, I feel obligated to caution readers I will be sharing information which might make you squeamish, or which may be considered TMI (too much information).  And for the first time, I will share an unexpectedly odd complication from the surgery.

You can do a basic Google search on “hysterectomy” to learn about what the procedure entails as there is ample information on the internet. It is a major surgery. My surgery was the least invasive procedure called a laparoscopic hysterectomy (performed with the assistance of a robotic device and through my abdomen) and was completed in 3 hours. My uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix were all removed. I was under anesthesia. I stayed in the hospital for one night. I was released with a catheter, so I had to go to the doctor’s office the next day to determine if my bladder would cooperate without the catheter. I was able to get the catheter removed at the doctor’s office. The first week was rough. For the first two weeks, I was primarily on bed rest, meaning I layed in bed all day, sleeping a lot, except for going to the rest room. I’ve been progressively getting better with each day.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, my pain from the surgery has been zero for at least two weeks. This doesn’t mean I don’t feel the dull aches from the four incisions on my abdomen because I do sometimes, especially depending on my activities in a day. I stopped taking the narcotic pain medication (it wasn’t very helpful anyway) about two weeks ago. I do take over the counter Motrin (Ibuprophren) on occasion, but if I do, it’s only once in a day. I’ve been exercising for a little over 2 weeks now. I went from walking 19,860 steps the week after surgery to walking 61,239 steps last week. I’m at full mobility without assistance in that I can finally lay down in bed to sleep, I can bend over, pick up items off the floor, put on my shoes, prepare meals, walk in the neighborhood, and do some light cleaning.

My energy levels have been increasing, which has been wonderful. However, I need to pace myself because I do get tired when I do too much. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t share sometimes the increasing energy goes to my head. Last week, I decided to do some minor cleaning out of my pantry, and as I attempted to reach for an item on the top shelf, I fell off an old stool that broke (while I was standing on it). The jar in my hand hit me in the head as I tripped against the kitchen island and grazed my abdomen. OUCH!!! I avoided falling on the floor though, but not without pain. I took some Motrin and got in the bed the rest of that day and the next day. Bryan was sure to tell my gynecologist about it at my appointment the next day.

Some things I haven’t started doing yet are driving, lifting weights (or any other items) heavier than five pounds, and working. I saw my gynecologist last week and she said I’m healing well. I did share with her since the surgery I’ve developed a speech stutter which is really odd. I’ve not had a problem with stuttering EVER IN MY LIFE. I’m obviously not a doctor, but I attribute it to the anesthesia because it does affect the brain and I had difficulty “waking up” from the anesthesia. I’m somewhat self-conscious about stuttering, but thankfully I’ve mostly only been talking to my family. It doesn’t occur all the time and even seems to be occurring less often compared to the first week of recovery. Bryan was sure to tell the gynecologist how bad it has been. Since the full recovery is eight weeks, my gynecologist plans to discuss an action plan at that time if the stuttering continues.

I’ve made so much progress in just four weeks, but I’m reminded I’m still in recovery and need to take it easy. I’m not at 100% yet and that’s not where I’m meant to be at this time. The main light lessons I’ve learned from this experience are “my health is my number one priority”, to have “patience”, and to know things will get better “in due time”. 

Image

Day 8: Post Surgery

It’s hard to believe I’m this far along into my recovery. The days are running together. Today felt especially like a long day with the frigid and icey conditions causing surrounding areas in Texas to shut down. We don’t need to brace ourselves for the fiasco that occurred last February, but it will get very cold tonight. I know our friends and family in Illinois and other states are feeling the cold also.

Our iced tree in Buda, Texas 2/3/2022

My new normal is to lay in bed most of the day, take frequent walks to the rest room, and doze off in between binge watching something on the laptop. I did prep my own meals a few times which is definitely a sign I’m feeling better. In fact, in my 48 years of living, I’ve experienced several medical procedures that required some time for me to heal so I know when I’m on the mend. With this hysterectomy, there are several signs I’m doing better. Keep in mind I’m still in pain overall. Some items on the list maybe TMI (too much information) so read at your own risk.

  • I can laugh without my stomach hurting as much. I do brace myself for the laugh by holding my stomach which helps. Last weekend, my husband, Bryan, said things to make me laugh, but I couldn’t take it at all because I was hurting so badly. I turned off a video of a comedian providing commentary because it hurt too much to laugh.
  • I’m awake for longer periods. Since I’m up, I do more things like prepare a meal or smoothie and take walks around the house, but once I do those things, I get back in bed to rest. I do get tired and will take a couple of naps throughout the day.
  • I can get out of the bed completely without help. I discussed this in my previous post and it keeps getting better. I’m able to prop myself up and slide my legs around to get out of bed. It’s not without some strain and pain, but I can do it.
  • My bladder and bowels are fully functioning. My bladder started off as an issue so I was discharged from the hospital with a catheter. It’s been smooth sailing since it was removed the second day post surgery. My bowels became active by the fourth day post surgery and since I eat mostly a plant-based diet, I have a couple of bowels throughout the day like I did prior to surgery.

In the next week, I’m hoping to be able to lay down flat. I think this will help me sleep more deeply throughout the night. For now, I have lots of pillows propping me up. I want to give my core a little more time to get stronger. Also, some time next week, I will start incorporating more structured exercise into my day. I will start off slow, of course, with maybe 10-15 minutes.

It can only get better from here and I’m looking forward to how much better I’ll be in a few weeks. In the mean time, I’m taking it day by day and am grateful for the time I have off work to rest and heal.

Until next time…

Image

Soulful Sunday

My weekend started off rocky because I was coming down with something like a sinus infection on Friday. By the end of the work day, my right inner ear was sore, the right side of my face was burning, my throat was raw, and I was exhausted. I signed off my computer, threw on my PJs, and waited for my husband, Bryan, to return with my chicken tortilla soup from one of our favorite, local Tex-Mex restaurants. Although I could barely swallow by the time I ate, the soup HIT THE SPOT.

In addition to the pain I had, I was also irritated beyond my limits. It was like a cloud came over me mid day. Saturday, I felt better after sleeping in for hours, although I was still achy. It occurred to me that I was bursting at the seams with work stress. Could the stress have manifested into a physical reaction? Possibly. What I do know is that it’s Sunday and I feel much better. My inner ear doesn’t hurt anymore, but I’m not 100%.

I’ve been craving cooler weather and hoping that the delicious soul food I made on Sunday would cool the temps down. What I just typed probably doesn’t make much sense(how can food cool down temps???) but essentially, I want cooler weather. Growing up in Chicago, fall was my favorite season. I loved the falling leaves, crisp air, and indescribable feeling. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been craving soul food while trying to recover from “something”. I’m very good at self-soothing myself with cooking. I decided it’s been way too long since I made fresh collard greens. Then, I thought about some delicious red beans and rice, mashed sweet potatoes, and corn bread. And guess WHAT??? Meat wasn’t even the star of the show, just a supporting member.

Big ole pot of nutritious collard greens simmering in chicken stock and other goodies -no meat. LPC
My roasted, mashed sweet potatoes. LPC
Corn Bread muffins. Jiffy mix is what I used but I know how to make them from scratch too. LPC
Collard greens, red beans and rice, and mashed sweet potatoes. LPC

This meal took a good amount of prep. I soaked the greens and beans overnight. I layed out the butter for the chocolate chip cookies (not pictured) and eggs for the corn bread mix and cookies. I started cooking early Sunday morning. I made 2 different pots of red beans: one with smoked ham hock and one without (my daughter doesn’t eat pork because she loved mini pigs). The meal could very easily be vegetarian with a few tweaks and vegan with even a few more tweaks. After our morning walk, we came back to the house smelling like Thanksgiving. This meal was so satisfying.

My light lesson from this weekend is really a reminder and not a lesson. I NEED MY DOWN TIME WITH MY FAMILY. When I’m feeling sick, no matter the reason, a SLOW down is within reach. I don’t need to panic. I just need to nuture myself and take in the nurturing love of my family.

Image

My fit life

My coworker recently joined the YMCA and we’ve been sharing our experiences with certain group exercise classes. Turns out, I’ve participated in several that she’s recently tried, so I’ve been giving my point of view. Yesterday, she blurted out in excitement, “Lucrece, have you tried STRONG?” I replied excitedly, “Yes…Zumba Strong? Strong by Zumba? My friend is licensed in Zumba Strong and I love it.” Her response, “No, Lucrece. Just STRONG. Everything isn’t about Zumba you know!” I picked up on the sarcasm. In my mind, “Says who?”

I’ve been a licensed Zumba instructor for 4 years now and it’s been a fabulous ride. I remember watching Zumba fitness infomercials about 6 years ago and knowing that I would love that class if I could just find out where to attend locally. My husband signed us up for the YMCA out of the blue one day in 2011, I took a Zumba class, and the rest is history. I have a confession. While in treatment and recovery for breast cancer, I lost my Zumba mojo. I didn’t desire to teach it anymore and was getting bored with it, but that was short-lived. I’ve been attending my friends classes regularly a couple of days of week since January 2017 and my Zumba fire has been ignited. I’ve enjoyed being the student and not the teacher, so that may have a lot to do with it. I haven’t been back to teaching Zumba at work since I was on medical leave. I’ve been thinking about resuming my class, but we’ll see.

I’ve always loved the family vibes at the YMCA and had been a member in Chicago in my early twenties. After I  had my son in 2001, I stopped going to gyms because I didn’t trust the child care. I don’t know why we didn’t join the YMCA in Austin. I began working out at home and gradually developed a library of exercise tapes/DVD’s. I would get up 5:00 am and do an hour of one of my DVD’s before work. One of my favorites was The FIRM because they combined cardio and free weights. I shredded some serious pounds (the same 15-20 have come and gone…I think I’ve finally permanently gotten rid of them).  I still have my vast collection and exercise at home a few days a week. Every now and then in amazement, my husband will comment, “You still have those DVD’s…? How old is that one?”

20170513_063522

In addition to Zumba and my DVD exercise collection, I love to exercise outdoors. For the almost 20 years of living in Austin, I’ve loved the long hot summers. But it’s become more apparent to me this year that spring is actually my favorite season. Temps in the lower 70’s to mid 80’s make me want to be outside all day.  I love soaking up the warm sunshine rays. Over the last few years, my health has made it more difficult to enjoy the hot heat because it tends to exacerbate symptoms related to my autoimmune disorders. The conditions are mild, but I still need to be careful. Whatever the case, that doesn’t stop me from getting outside.

Me at Townlake March 2017

Me at Town lake March 2017

Being outside in nature is relaxing and rejuvenating. When I can, I love to go for a hike along the Lady Bird Johnson Hike and Bike Trail. For the past few weeks, I’ve gotten my husband to take walks with me in the short trail near our house so that I can get my Fitbit steps in. Now that he has a Fitbit, he’s more interested in getting his steps also, so I take advantage of that. I’ve enjoyed bonding with him during this time. On Friday nights, my daughter has her gymnastics class at the YMCA, so my husband and I will spend that time walking the track and catching up.

This habit of exercise I started in my early twenties has enriched my life in so many ways. Exercise is like breathing to me – it’s essential for my survival. It helps me cope, relax, de-stress, unwind, and focus. It’s an anti-anxiety and anti-depression remedy that keeps on giving. You can see that I’m not skinny and that doesn’t bother me. My body wasn’t designed to be skinny and that is not my purpose in exercise. I love how strong and fit my body has become. I believe I’m more productive because I exercise regularly. This fit life of mine has paid me back thousands in dividends. My goal  has been to have my kids adopt this healthy habit into their lifestyles.

20170513_072544

Family time at the Veloway…2014

One of the best things you can do is find an exercise(s) that you enjoy. Then do it all the time.

Commit to be fit

I’ve committed to be fit!