Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Here's to 2012!

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     2011 went by much too fast, don't you agree? I accomplished most of what I wanted to and enjoyed the time I was able to spend with family, but I was so busy most of the year that it was hard to enjoy the moments as they happened. 2010 was kind of a miserable year for me that was capped off with a shitty end, so I was determined to make 2011 much, much better. I think it was a success.

      Not only was I able to come back to work for my old employer in February (the one I quit so that I could move to Portland, Oregon at the end of 2010), but I landed a great job with them in a department that I have wanted to work in for a while now. I started that position in November and am enjoying the new challenges and increased customer interaction.

      During the summer I was able to travel around Texas a bit with Thomas and his family. We visited Colorado Bend State Park, Longhorn Caverns, Inks Lake, and went tubing with friends in Gruene.

      I started school up full time this past fall and pulled in all but one A for the semester. This past fall we even had a new kitty join our household! She adds spice to the mix and is always looking for mischief. She's a beautiful cat. 2011 was the year I was determined to make it happen, and I did. I'm even saving for retirement!

      With January 1st rolling around, I have been thinking of ways to make 2012 just as successful as last year. Two clear goals came to mind. The first is to break 1,000 miles on my bicycle this year. I was just shy of 900 miles for 2011, so I think with a bit of effort I could do the 1k! I'll keep you updated on my progress for that goal. The other goal is finding ways to trim our grocery budget this year without trimming out fresh produce, the most expensive part of our diet. This one will be more challenging for me because in the last year I have seen the price of a half gallon of soy milk rise from $2.10 to $2.89. We use just shy of one gallon per week. That's an extra $5.53 per month in milk from one year ago. Add that to the extra few cents per item here, a bad peanut crop there, and the next thing you know your grocery budget has risen by $50 per month. It's just two of us and we can feel it, I can't imagine what it's like for a family of four or five. I'm having to come up with different strategies for saving.

One of the ways I've already been able to cut down on grocery costs is keeping a spreadsheet of prices. This may seem odd, but knowing where to get the best price on a pound of rice or a loaf of gluten free bread is a powerful piece of budgeting. Buying some things in bulk on Amazon, like my favorite cornbread mix, is nearly $1 cheaper per item than in the store. I would not know this had I not had a record of what I've paid for the item in the past. This accounting method also makes you aware of any price changes. The cookies Thomas likes are $2 cheaper at the grocery store down the street rather than the Walgreens across the street.

      Another way I've been able to cut down on prices is to reduce the amount of produce I purchase per week. I think this is another way of saying 'only buy what I am really going to use.' I hate to waste produce, but sometimes it just goes bad before I (or the rabbit) get to it. I combat this by planning my meals to incorporate the items sold in bunches (carrots, spinach, green onions, herbs, leeks, etc) several times throughout the week with the single-use items (broccoli / cauliflower head, bok choi, avocados, tomatoes, etc) to be used close to the start of the week. Because I was already used to meal planning, with just a little extra planning, this was no sweat. I still have my weeks where I am tempted to just eat soup or tots every night, especially with full time work and school, but I know that will just make my body feel tired and run down with low energy intake.

     These strategies and some others that will really save you money on a grocery store trip are found in a book by Jennifer Maughan called “100 Meals for $5 or Less.” You can find the book here. This is a great book that has tips for everyone including the first time 'serious' grocery shopper and the avid couponer. There really is something for everyone in this book. It's a weekend read that you'll want to keep around for reference and future ideas. The first half of the book is tips and advice (bring a list and stick to it!) and finishes with tons of recipes. While the book is not geared for vegetarians or the gluten free, it does have the basic tips that we can all incorporate to make a cheaper trip to the grocery store. With just a few simple substitutions in the recipes, many of them become workable. If you've been vegetarian or gluten free for any period of time, you're used to substitution in cooking.

      I already have several food and recipe books lined up to share with you in 2012! I got Thomas a Kindle for his birthday last summer and we've been reading constantly since then. This year Thomas is challenging himself to read 52 books. He read 22 since getting the Kindle in July, so I think that is a do-able goal for him. This year I am also going to try and stick to being as dairy-free as possible. I have always talked about how unhealthy it is for Celiac patients to be off their diet. I know that milk can be tolerated again after a period of time, but my body just doesn't do well when I intake large amounts of it. Say, a pint of ice cream or a pound of giant holiday-themed candies. I've got a weakness, what can I say?

I'll keep you updated on the progress of my goals throughout the year. I'm hoping to tackle this semester with grades just as good as last semester, cut down on the dairy, increase the miles on my bike, spend less on groceries this year than we did last year, and spend more time enjoying the time in between all that. This is going to be a busy year!

What are your goals for the year?

- Patricia

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