Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Pecans

A vegan inspired “stuffing” for Thanksgiving (or anytime of the year).

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about mindful eating, sharing recipes, and pretending I can cook. Oh ya, pretending I can take food pictures, too.

And if you are vegan – you’ll be happy to know this recipe is 100% vegan. This is my test recipe for an upcoming family gathering. You see, when our families get together for the holidays, my aunties opt me in to, “bring a green salad”. Granted, I make awesome mixed green salads – filled with cranberries, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, sprouts, purple onions, seasonings, the list goes on. But who wants to always bring the salad? That’s like being the designated soda person.

I wanted this year to be different. Flipping through my cookbooks and paging the web, I found this delicious Autumn inspired vegan dish, Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Pecan ‘stuffing’. It reminds me of a stuffing. In fact, if you want to be ultra creative, you could stuff this wild rice mixture into halved acorn squashes and roast them for 25 mins or so at 400 degrees. It would make for a pretty plate.

Ya! totally bad lighting. Where’s the daylight when you need it?

Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Pecan
adapted from Tasty Palettes

Ingredients

1C wild rice mix
2C butternut squash, cubed
2/3 C pecan, chopped
½ C white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
1 Tbl thyme, fresh
½ C dried cranberries
1 pinch Red Pepper flakes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper

With a French accent, repeat, “Mise en place” or Putting in Place. It means to prepare your ingredients before you start cooking. Measure, wash, chop, cut, and place ingredients in individual bowls. I love this step before cooking. Like pulling off the fresh Thyme leaves by pinching the stem with your fingers and railing up so the leaves fall off. Or chopping the celery in thin slices. It my mini-therapeutic Zen session. Weird, I know.

Wish I had a better pic of the Thyme and red pepper flakes together. It reminded me of Christmas with the red and green. Holidays on the mind.

Directions

  1. Steps 2 and 3 take similarly the same amount of time to complete. Prepare these steps at the same time.
  2. Heat Oven 400 degrees. Place cubed butternut squash on a sheet pan. Roast for 30-35 minutes.
    Roasting the squash gives the dish a delectable taste due to the it caramelizing. Alternatively, you could steam the squash for 15 minutes or boil it in water for 10 minutes.
  3. Cook the Wild Rice. One cup of wild rice, add 2 – 2½ cups of water and a dash of oil. Bring to a boil. Then turn heat down to medium-low and cook until water has been absorbed. About 40-45min.
  4. After the rice and squash are cooked. Heat a wide skillet on medium-low. Gently toast chopped until aromatic. Watch carefully that they do not burn. About 1 min. Transfer nuts to board and reserve.
  5. Turn heat up to medium-high, add oil, and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent and soft. Add celery, carrot, and red pepper flake and stir-fry for a three minutes. Then add cooked rice, squash, thyme, cranberries and pecans. Add salt and pepper to chef’s taste, toss to combine. Pair with a green salad. Enjoy!

Oh ya, I said to pair it with a green salad. Well, looks like I’m bringing the salad, too! The dish? It is rather tasty. I almost forgot to add the salt and pepper. Geesh on me. But enhanced the flavor of the dish right at the end. It’s a good tasting dish. And I look forward to the flavors developing even more overnight.

Frugal New Parents – What to Buy For a New Baby

essential baby itemsProspective and new parents often rush out to buy everything that a baby could possibly want or need even though this isn’t practical if you’re on a budget. Even if this isn’t the case for you, things that you buy still may not ever be used and can turn out to be a big waste of money. Note that I won’t be listing absolutely every item that you could feasibly need/want – think of it more as a list for those who want their new baby to be fully kitted out without going overboard on the spending front.

Sleeping Essentials

  • Crib/Moses bed/Travel cot. The baby will obviously need somewhere to sleep but new parents often disagree on the form that the sleeping arrangements should take. This one is probably a matter of personal choice.
  • Bedding. Whatever type of bed you choose, you’ll need blankets and sheets for bedding. A waterproof mattress is also advisable.
  • Baby monitor. It’s not realistic to be with your baby every second of the day so you’ll need a baby monitor to be able to keep tabs while you’re in another room.

Changing Essentials

  • Changing mat. Technically speaking this isn’t strictly an absolute essential. Many new parents just use the floor instead but a changing mat can be useful to prevent you from having to keep bending down to the floor every time a baby needs changing. To protect your back, you may consider this to be a necessary item.
  • Diapers/Diaper bags/Diaper ointment. These are self-explanatory so I won’t go into details on this one!

Transportation

  • Stroller. This one is pretty self-explanatory for when you’re traveling on foot. Until your baby is old enough to support its head by itself, you’ll need a stroller that reclines. This can be one of the most expensive purchases you’ll make for a new baby.
  • Car seat. If you’ve got a car and are planning to take the baby out and about in it, a car seat is a must. This is one area not to be skimped on – you don’t want to put your baby’s safety at risk. Ideally, look for one with top-notch safety reviews for piece of mind.
  • Baby sling. Even if you’ve got a car, there might be situations when you don’t want to travel this way and a baby sling can be an ideal way to transport a small baby on foot if a stroller would be too much hassle to set up and maneuver.

Feeding Essentials

  • Sterilizer/Feeding bottles/Bottle brush. This comes down to whether you’re going to be breastfeeding or using formula milk. If it’s the latter, you’ll need feeding bottles and a sterilizer.
  • Nursing bras/Nursing pads/Nipple cream. If you’re going to be breastfeeding, these items can make it easier. Baby/parenting websites often advise having at least six nursing bras.

Clothing

Most new parents receive a lot of baby outfits from friends and family so you may be able to get away with buying predominantly essentials like:

  • Babygros (somewhere between six and eight is recommended)
  • Bodysuits (again, six to eight is recommended)
  • Vests
  • Hat
  • Coat
  • Booties/Socks
  • Mittens

If you’re not lucky enough to be helped out in the clothing department, you’ll also need:

  • One-piece outfits
  • One-piece pajamas
  • Fleece outfits for winter

Optional Items

If you can borrow these items from friends, do so as chances are that your baby won’t need them for too long. For this reason, you probably won’t want to buy most of them brand new, especially if money is already tight.

  • Moses basket
  • Newborn clothing
  • Baby bath
  • Baby bouncer

Buying Tips

If money isn’t plentiful, you may not be in a position to buy brand new items. You can get some absolute second-hand bargains if you want to go down this route. I would never buy things like car seats second-hand because of the safety aspect, but you can buy a lot of the items mentioned in this post second-hand if needs be. Shopping online is another alternative, because you can shop around and maybe find discounts.
What are your suggestions for preparing for a new baby if you’re on a budget?

(photo credit: jessicafm)

How to Get a Free Home Energy Efficiency Audit to Cut Costs & Conserve Energy

I recently started looking into ways where I could find out if I was leaving any money on the table regarding my monthly heating and cooling bills. I don’t think that I pay a whole lot for electricity in the summer, but my gas bills in the winter can really be through the roof sometimes. From my novice experience, I think I have a fairly energy efficient home, but I am just not sure. What I wanted was to have some professional come to my house to give it the “once over” and make appropriate recommendations.

Where to Look?

I had envisioned getting a list of HVAC experts and getting a list of estimates and then making my choice. It was then that I found a “gem.” A diamond in the rough so to speak.

What I found out was that in most states…

Your energy provider will come out and do an energy audit of your home for free.

Yes, free. At first I didn’t believe it. My thought always was that these companies would want you to use as much energy as possible to drive up their profits. It seems the opposite is true. What I learned was that as we the consumer use more and more energy, it requires energy providers to have to go out and build more power plants. This is the last thing that they want to do.

So I had one scheduled, they came out and did it yesterday, and I‘d like to outline for you how it works and what they found.

One Phone Call

All it really involved was making a simple phone call to my electricity supplier and scheduling an appointment. These audits normally take about an hour, but depending on how thorough you want them to be, they can take less time or more. Mine lasted right about an hour.

A Consultation

It started off with a consultation. The rep came in and asked me a series of questions, mostly about where I thought I was losing money and anything in particular that he wanted me to focus on. He brought with him a print out of my energy usage for the last several months and a basic comparison for other houses of my size. As it turns out, I was pretty much on spot. My electricity use in the summer was quite good; my energy usage in the winter time was high.

A Walk Through

He then performed a walkthrough of my house. He checked the general condition and workability of my AC unit, my hot water heater, the condition of my windows, and so on. He made several notes along the way about smaller things he noticed in the house, and then went upstairs to check out my insulation. All the while making verbal recommendations and giving me the costs of different repairs and improvements that I could potentially make.

The Report

He then put together a pretty comprehensive report, along with booklets and brochures on various pieces of equipment. To make one thing clear, he was not there to sell me anything. He made his recommendations without promoting any particular product or company.

The Results

I was very impressed with the results. I have outlined here what he came up with for my particular energy audit.

  • Buy Energy Star appliances only.
  • Switch to energy efficient bulbs.
  • Check all exterior doors for proper weather stripping and replace where needed.
  • Check all window frames and other potential “crevices” for proper caulking. Caulk as needed.
  • Keep AC unit as free and clear from any obstructions as possible. Also, keep it clean.
  • Change the air filter in your AC unit regularly—every three months is recommended.
  • Lower hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower.
  • Keep thermostat at 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter, or as close as you can.
  • Seriously consider adding more insulation in my attic.
  • Consider installing a programmable thermostat.
  • Seal minor leaks in duct work stemming from AC.

Just Do It!

I would highly recommend you check and see if your energy company offers this service, and if they do it for free I would jump all over it. They may find much more glaring opportunities in your home, or they may find minor repairs that potentially could be fixed for pennies on the dollar. That’s what he found with my home. Of all the actual repairs or replacing of things in my home, he said that I could do most of them for a total cost of less than $100, and I would make this up in savings in the first year. To me, that’s a no-brainer. Adding insulation in my attic is a little more expensive and time consuming, but he also said that I would make up that cost in about a year as well, especially in the winter time, and after that I would see increased savings on my winter heating bills.

All in all, I couldn’t have been more impressed. I got a wealth of common sense and low cost recommendations to save on the energy costs in my home given by an expert for free.

What else could one ask for?

Have you had an energy audit of your home? What did they find? Feel free to share.

(photo credit: rockinfree)

Keeping your Pet Safe with Spot-on Flea & Tick Control

I tried so hard for it not to happen. And many years I have been successful, but I just couldn’t keep them away this time. The fleas are popping up around around house. DRATS!

When you have a household furry friend there are many preventive measures you can take to keep the fleas away.

The EPA’s following tips may help to prevent, reduce, or eliminate flea infestations:

  • Vacuuming on a daily basis to remove eggs, larvae and adults is the best method for initial control of a flea infestation. It is important to vacuum the following areas: carpets, cushioned furniture, cracks and crevices on floors, along baseboards and the basement.
  • Steam cleaning carpets may also help as the hot steam and soap can kill fleas in all stages of the life cycle. Pay particular attention to areas where pets sleep.
  • Wash all pet bedding and family bedding on which pets lie in hot, soapy water every two to three weeks. If an infestation is severe, discard old pet bedding and replace it with fresh, clean material.
  • Flea combs are very effective tools in the suppression of adult fleas. They allow hair to pass through the tines but not the fleas, removing fleas as well as flea feces and dried blood. Focus combing on those parts of the pet where the most fleas congregate, usually the neck or tail area. When fleas are caught, deposit them in hot soapy water to kill them.
  • Consider keeping pets indoors.

The last one, riiiiggggghhhhhhttttt. Try telling my cat to stay indoors. Mr. I-Own-the-House-I-Will-Do-What-I-Want. Cody has his own Cat Door mounted in the screen (works really cool. Just watch your pet, because they start bringing their prey indoors, too. Ewww.) ;)

I do a good job keeping things clean around here. And I know when spring and summertime comes around, its vital to take a bit more precaution. But the fleas are waging the war this time and I need to stop it quick. Now its time to look into topical flea treatments, specifically spot-on products (i.e., the one that generally comes in tubes or vials and is directly applied to specific areas on the pet’s body to control fleas and ticks).

But what is the best way to safely keep your pets free of fleas when buying spot-on products?

Surely, we all have heard complaints about topical tick and flea treatments. In fact, in 2009, the EPA logged some 600 pet deaths and about 44,000 reports of harmful reactions, including skin irritation, vomiting and seizures.

So the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an advisory warning consumers who use specific types of flea and tick control products on their pets to take precautions. The advisory applied nearly 70 “spot-on” products, including Frontline and Advantage products, that contain registered-pesticides (yup, pesticides – scary stuff).

What can you do

The Natural Resources Defense Counil (NRDC) published a pocket guide to flea and tick treatments, which provides the group’s assessment of chemical used in pet pest control products along with safer alternatives.

If you do decide to use spot-on treatments, follow these safety tips when treating your pet for fleas and ticks:

  • Always read the label carefully
  • Use protective gloves when applying
  • Follow the directions exactly.
  • Monitor your pets for side effects
  • Call you veterinarian if your pet shows symptoms of illness after using a product
  • If you pet experiences a bad reaction from a spot-on treatment, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with lots of water, and call the vet.
  • Do not apply a product to kittens or puppies.

What I did

We went to the pet store to pick out a spot-on treatment for our friendly feline(s). Sixty dollars for a 3 month supply?!?! Ouch. So we checked out the cheaper brands and compared.

Zodiac Spot On Plus: $10.99 for a 4-month supply
Contains (S)-Methoprene: 3.6%, Etofenprox 40.0%, Other ingredients 56.4%

Sergeant’s Sentry PurrScriptions: $12.99 for a 3-month supply
Contains Pyriproxyfen 2.20%, Etofenprox 55.00%, Other Ingredients 42.80%

Etofenprox was not listed on NRDC’s pocket guide (discovered after I got home). However, I thought with the chemical being in the same ‘prox’ family (as the Pyriproxyfen) I went with the first choice for three reasons, it was $2 cheaper, contained the same ingredients, and I received an extra month supply. Great deal, right? NOT!

After researching Etofenprox, I found out some disturbing information. Etofenprox is a Pyrethroid (aka permethrin). Permethrins should NOT be used on kittens or cats. I found this alarming shout out on various websites. So why do various companies, like Bio Spot, Zodiac, and Seargent’s use this pesticide in their flea products???

I discovered the answer (yes, this post is longer than intended but I had to share the info). I discovered a product performance evaluation review in regards to etofenprox and discovered it works just as well as the high priced Advantage for Cats containing imidacloprid) and FrontLine Top-Spot for cats (containing fipronil). BUT products containing permetherin (like etofenprox), while have a good range of safety on dogs, a few drops of concentrated permethrin could be lethal to a cat. The signs commonly seen with permethrin toxicity in cats include generalized tremors, muscle fasciculations, and seizures. Signs can develop within hours or may be delayed up to 48 hours.

What this means

Companies can produce a cheaper product proved to be just as effective as the top brands despite the fact its harmful to cats (but they don’t have to tell you that).

Conclusion

Shame on these companies developing such unsafe products!
Cat Owners: stay away from products containing etofenprox!
While I didn’t price out the products for dogs, if they contain etofenprox your animal is safe under directed guidelines.
Research proved to a valuable lesson.
And in this case, quality is much better over quantity.
I am returning my Cheap-O product and coughing up the $60 for Frontline Top-Spot for Cats.

Another Option: Anyone have some green friendly pet practices they use for keeping the fleas away (like using flea treats) or a eucalyptus collar?

How to Control Emotional Spending

Emotional spending… we’ve all played victim to it when situations arise in our life. But how do recognize they symptoms before they happen and control the urge to spend?

What is emotional spending?

Emotional spending is when you buy something you don’t need, in some cases, don’t even really want. This happens because it improves the mood. Some people allow this to occur:

to cope with stress,
bring one out of a bored or listless mood,
to increase self-esteem,
to feel special

In fact, we even spend when we are happy. Do you remember what you bought yourself last time you got a raise or when you found out your BFF was going to have a baby?

The problem with emotional spending is that it happens on impulse. And when it’s allowed to keep happening then we spend more than we need to.

How to Get Emotional Spending Under Control

Acknowledge. Notice your feelings and circumstances when you are spending. Did you just finish get into an argument with someone? Have you just been sitting around not knowing what to do with yourself? Being aware of your feelings can help you understand the desire for instant gratification received from impulse shopping.

Stay away from Retail Shops. If you recognize the feelings that tempt you to spend, then it’s not a good time walk into the store or mall. Perhaps, its not time to peek online, too. Instead occupy your time with other inexpensive or free activities. Maybe going for a walk, spring cleaning, or talking with a friend.

Keep the Ads away. Less advertising, less spending. The ad campaigns on TV and paper are psychologically designed pull your full attention to their products. Deliberately, keep your exposure to the ads at a minimum.

Here is a list of things you can do to help keep the ads away:

Opt-out of credit card offers
Unsubscribe to catalog mailings
Sign up for the Do Not Mail Registry
Block TV sites like QVC, the Shopping Channel, etc…
Install an ad blocker on the computer

Be aware of the small purchases that can quickly add up. A person will rationalize that small purchases are okay because it is cheap. The problem is when we buying items at small totals and think it’s okay. You’ll be suprised when you add up the sum of them all! (this is my total weakness!)

Budget for the cause. Set up a category for emotional spending (or the self fund) and budget a small amount of money towards the cause. It’s okay to occasionally spend for a ‘moment’ when its planned. :)

Try finding other activities. Go to the library to check out a great book to read. Have a friend over for lunch and a rental movie (highly recommend seeing It’s Complicated – Hilarious!). Give yourself a home spa treatment. Take a walk. Play a game of basketball with the kids. Get a group of friends and bring out the board games. There are many great ways to spend without spending any money.

We’ve all succumbed to emotional or impulse spending at sometime or another to try and lift a week moment or make up for a bad day, but when we make purchases we can’t afford, we end up feeling worse instead of elated. The next time you have a bad day or want to eleviate stress, try to acknowledge your feelings before you spend and question your motivation.

How do you cope when tempted with emotional spending? And if you did partake in impulse shopping did you bring back the item for a refund or take the financial loss?

How to Set Up a Spending Plan

The word budget feels like a four letter word to some. Just the thought of going through expenses and figuring out how get them all organized is overwhelming. Then there’s all the time involved. Most of us don’t have time to eat a proper lunch, much less figure out a budget. 

Or maybe the idea of a budget seems too rigid and constraining. The free spirit doesn’t want any hard rules about spending money. But everyone needs a budget. Even the free spirit will find her wings quickly clipped when she runs out of cash. 

In truth, a spending plan doesn’t restrict you. When managed properly it sets you free to live the life you want. And it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Here’s a spending plan that can work for everyone.

Simple Budget Spreadsheet

All you need for a budget is a simple spreadsheet. You can use Excel, Open Office or Google Docs. To help you along, here is a simple Google Docs Budget Spreadsheet. What you will do is open the spreadsheet and save it to your own computer by clicking “File” and choosing the download option that works best for you. Once you save it to your own computer, you are ready to go. 

Enter the amount of income in the appropriate box, including all your jobs, side jobs, etc. Enter any interest you earn on accounts or investments in the next line. The spreadsheet will total the income for you automatically. 

The next section will be for your recurring expenses. List each expense following the example of the spreadsheet. Include rent or mortgage, utilities, cable bill, loan payments, kids’ expenses, etc. If you like, break the expenses down into categories that make sense for you. 

Now you need to estimate what your other expenses might be. Things that change month by month, such as groceries, entertainment, etc. Estimate on the high end. If you find them going down over time, you can lower your estimates. Again, the spreadsheet will total it up for you. 

 

How Much Should Your Expenses Be?

The spreadsheet will also calculate the percentage of your expenses compared with your income. The idea is to keep pecking away at your expenses until your expenses fall below 60% of your income. 

The other 40% should be divided into four categories: 10% for retirement, 10% for long-term savings (retirement), 10% for short-term savings (emergency expenses). The last 10% is all yours to do with as you please. Ideally, you would use that to pay down your credit until you have no monthly credit card bills. Now was that so hard? 

 

Controlling Your Cash

If you don’t trust yourself to stay within your budget, you could try a cash filing system. A recipe box and index cards work well for this one. Divide the recipe box into 31 days with the index cards, each label with the day of the month. Then divide you remaining cash into each portion of the 31 day file. Let’s say that you have 30 dollars for each divider. At the beginning of the day, you remove the 30 dollars. That is what you have available to spend on that day. Do not take money from another divider until that day has arrived. If you have left over money at the end of the day, put it behind the next day’s index card for tomorrow. For this to work, you must never take from the next day.  

This gives you the feeling of freedom by always putting cash in your pocket. If you put the day’s leftover at the end of the month each time, you’ll see firsthand how much you have to spend towards something special at the end of the month. You can leave the money there or spend it as you please.

 

Jessica Bosari writes for the money-saving site, Billeater.com. The site is devoted to helping people reduce expenses, save money and find great deals. Pay Billeater a visit for more  budgeting and saving tips!

Early Retirement Extreme Day 1: Finding a Place to Live

When you go to Las Vegas, do you pay for a nice luxurious suite or a minimalistic room with a bed & a sink? I opt for the latter {because we’re out partying 18 hours of the day ;)}. And it is this type of mentality we are going to use today in looking at options for finding a place to live. We will be discussing the first half of Day 1, up to ‘location’ and complete the rest later in the week.

If you are new here, we are exploring our options for reaching Financial Independence with the Early Extreme Retirement {21} Day Makeover.

I will be using my living situation to reference in this analysis. Thus, we are a family of 4 {pa, ma, & the two inklings}. Please map out your personal living situation to see what scenerios may work for you.

The Basic Necessity

Even thought the song does not have relation to money, the beginning lyrics to Ludacris come to mind, “How low can you go? how can you go? how low can go?”

Jacob recommends $200-$300/month/person for living arrangements. I can see why if you consider the true cost of your living arrangement.

To strive for Financial Independence (FI) at the upper limit of $300 for living arrangements you be required to save:

$300/month = $3600/year in living expenses. This needs $3600/0.04 = $90000.

Family Scenerio

We live in Southern California {cha-ching}, specifically in the Inland Empire. What does that mean? The family is located in the outskirts from major cities like Los Angeles and Orange County. Decreased housing costs.

  • We pay $1100 month for a 4 bedroom 1277 sq. foot home
  • We are bound by a mortgage
  • The husband and I are responsible for our children’s living arrangements
  • We have a boy and a girl {aka: need their own rooms due to gender}

We are living pretty low in costs on the So. Cal totem pole. Pretty dang good deal for us! That is $275/person/month – (but the children are not paying their rent – YET ;)). So, $500/adult/month.

We are required to save (adult/month) :

$500/month = $6000/year in living expenses. This needs $6000/0.04 = $150,000.

If you share your expenses, then double the numbers. With these figures, it may explain why some say to financially prepare for children before having them.

Play Out Different Scenerios

Our mortgage costs are relatively equal, if not below that of an apartment rental in southern California (if you rent an apartment or house, what is your rent?). I was browsing apartment/housing costs on Craigslist and found rent to be $500 higher on the low end of the spectrum. Renting room(s) from someone is out of the question.

Potential Extreme options:

  • Get a bigger house and live with another family or take on roommates only if the cost of living for us equates to less than $500/adult/month.
  • Sell the house and rent a mobile home (I did locate one, but it was still the same price in rent that we pay for mortgage. The lot price alone is $600 per month)
  • Live with our parents (maybe if we were a younger couple)
  • Move to a different state with a lower rate of living (I have legal obligations that keep me in this area until one of my kids turns 18 – maybe in a couple years we can look at this suggestion)
  • Have any suggestions?

Your exercise today, figure out how much you need to save for housing to meet the Financially Independent goal in the living arrangement category. Can you reduce your rent/mortgage rates to meet a $300/person/month? And think about different living arrangement options. Brain storm those crazy ideas. Write them all out. If you’d like to share, please comment below or try out the forum in the works (the latter offers more privacy). I have a category labeled ‘Early Retirement Extreme {21} Day Makeover’.

Get Your Debt Under Control | Reduce your Variable Expenses

The best way to begin getting the debt under control is to reduce your monthly spending. We all know the tried and true adage, “Spend Less than you Earn”. But do you ever wonder where to begin?

One simple solution, focus on reducing your variable expenses.

Variable expenses include those that can be changed or eliminated entirely.

Variable expenses are those that fluctuate each month, such as clothing, food, entertainment, vacations, utilities. And since it is easier to reduce variable expenses than fixed expenses it make for a great place to start cutting back.

Get Rid of Unnecessary Expenses

Reducing variable expenses is done by altering your daily habits. But if you can prepare meals by scratch instead of buying take-out and prepared or frozen food. Eating out is one of the most excessive categories for wasted money. Keep track of money you spend eating out for one month, you might just realize you are spending $416 on fast food and restaurants!

You might also start doing your own manicures or getting your haircuts done at a beauty school.

The goal is to reduce variable expenses to free up enough money to pay down your debt and build your cash savings or emergency fund.

Start or Join a Challenge

For those who need extra motivation or tips for cutting variable expenses, consider starting or joining a challenge. I just joined the Catfight of the Personal Finance Blogger Chicks. It’s a group of gals {Single Mom, Rich Mom, Barbara Friedburg Personal Finance, Move to Portugal and myself} clamoring for the win of who spent the least in the month of June.

We actually will all come out winning in the end, but it’s a great way to maintain motivation in paying down your debt, building your reserves or just making ends meet.

Reducing the Variable Expenses

Here are some of the ways I have started reducing variable expenses for this month:

OLD Habit NEW Habit
Eating Lunch @ Bistro Bring Lunch to Work Everyday
Cook Single Meals Batch Cook to provide several meals
Run errands several times a week Limit to once a week
Go to the Movie Theater Rent a Movie
Buy a Book Library or Kindle version

*I will need to come up with more ways, as I’ve pretty much eliminate things like subscriptions & gym memberships and I rarely go out to the bar or to a restaurant

Make your own list

Take out a blank notebook or piece of paper {or a blank Excel worksheet}. Across the top label: Expense, Current Monthly Cost, Budgeted Monthly Cost, and Monthly Savings. Then under the expenses column label the variable expense categories like, subscriptions, clothing & apparel, maintenance, groceries & food, entertainment, transportation, restaurant foods and utilities.

Consider all the ways you could start reducing your variable expenses today. List them all. Brainstorm freely. Is it turning down the thermostat a few degrees? Is it learning to fix things yourself {hey, I know how to change the brakes on my car!}. Or is it learning to darn the hem on your pants?

Now calculate the difference between paying someone to do these things versus you doing them yourself {Manicure $30 at the salon versus free if you do them at home}.

What are some of the ways you can reduce your variable expenses right now or have been practicing already in your life? Please comment and share those awesome ways. We can help each other save money if we “lead by example” – incorporate the following attitudes and practices into your life, which will help improve your own life, but also begin to fashion yourself into the kind of person that others will follow and emulate. ;)