Category Archives: beans and rice

Free Events in Portland, Oregon

When you’re working on eliminating debt, it’s important to keep your entertainment options open. Luckily, Portland is full of incredible opportunities on a very regular basis.

Here are some resources to find free events in Portland, Oregon.

try using only half

Early in my time in Portland (before we hit our debt payment plan hard), I was exploring different ways to maintain quality of life, while living clean and healthy with less waste. Our little cottage is fully furnished but didn’t have much in the way of cleaning supplies. Since we were living out of our car for most of 2010, we didn’t have things like big bottles of shampoo or detergent sitting around, and were determined not to mindlessly clutter up our shelves with big plastic bottles full of chemicals. ((This was the time I discovered the wonders of Dr. Bronner’s, a nature-friendly soap that can be used for everything from doing laundry to personal hygiene. It’s kind of spendy when you first get the bottle, but a refill only costs about $3.))

One of the ideas that has been the most useful to me over the past year is a simple guideline: use only half. Whether it’s toothpaste or laundry soap or a sheet of paper, if you use half of something, you won’t need to refill or replace it as soon. You have doubled its value and shelf life. The easiest is with dryer sheets. I just take kitchen shears and cut all of the sheets in half or thirds and the results are just as fine, maybe better. There are certainly variations on this, and sometimes using half the recommended amount is not enough (start with half and then add to that amount a little until you reach desired end result). I was surprised at how many things in life, such as the daily dollop of shampoo, that I had defaulted into using as much as DOUBLE the recommended amount.

I don’t remember where I picked up this simple guideline; it was probably someplace like mnmalist.com – but I have thoroughly enjoyed working that principle into the fabric of my life as we worked out our debt snowball and our struggle with materialism/consumerism in the past year.

It’s less about money and more about philosophy and habit.
Try using only half. It’s just a little thing but it can change your relationship with substances forever.

celebrating… the budget way?

We’re celebrating Ali’s birthday this weekend, and had a really fun time hanging out with friends at the bowling alley yesterday. Two hours of bowling for 10 people – $85. Not bad! The best part was inviting a special birthday buddy for Ali, a three year old who was experiencing bowling for the first time. Now that alone was worth the price of admission! We asked friends to bring some treats in lieu of gifts and ended up with a large booty – red velvet birthday cake, lemon and chocolate cupcakes, and the most delicious chocolate chip cookies. (Three cheers for people who know how to make delicious baked goods!) We also had a star sighting – Jenny Conlee (aka “Sparkle Pony” from Portlandia) who is apparently Kind of a Big Deal as a member of Portland-sourced The Decemberists (of course they have woodland creatures on their website!) was bowling a few lanes down with her husband and badass entourage. After bowling, we went across the street and tried valiantly to hit up happy hour, but a 45 minute wait at Hopworks Brewery pushed us out of that option into less budget friendly but still yummy territory. Overall, budgeting in the $100 price range for a birthday celebration with cupcakes, local indie rockers, and hoppy beer is not bad at all… with a nod to the fact that everyone paid for their own dinners!

In fact, while we are on the topic, this is a DOUBLE CELEBRATION WEEK! I’ve mentioned before, Ali and I were married on a day that doesn’t exist in most years… leap day! We decided early on that we would choose to celebrate yearly in a tiny way, but REALLY ROCK IT OUT every four years when out real anniversary date comes around — with a big [international?] trip of some sort. At the moment we are thinking about visiting Kenya or maybe Iceland for February 29, 2012 assuming we can slay this rhino before that time and pile up cash for international travel. Ali teased me that we’d have to take next year’s anniversary trip to the Oregon Coast and it made me sad (no offense to the coast, but… KENYA!).

This year we will celebrate modestly by doing our Bizarre Anniversary Portrait this afternoon, and perhaps eat a celebratory burrito on Tuesday. One of the things that charms me about Ali is that he has an innate ability to make the smallest things into adventures, so something as seemingly everyday as a trip to a food truck to grab a burrito turns into all kinds of awesome.

Celebrations are important, and I’m glad we have enough wiggle room in our budget to plan for spending time with friends for a bowling alley birthday party and taking an afternoon to stage a Bizarre Portrait.

January 2011: challenges

January was a tough month. After holding out for so long I finally hit a wall– after my little happy hour breakdown halfway through the month…. downhill from there. Suddenly, it seems like I should “just this once” indulge in things – whether at the grocery store adding a few too many luxury items to the cart, or sliding into a booth at Burgerville that one lunch hour when I was really hungry. It strikes me that this is a really basic principal of frugality at work — that when you try to deny everything, your willpower breaks down and the flood lets loose. (Reader Micah also pointed this out on the 1/15 post).

Being prepared with food is the best way for me to avoid extra expense incurred by eating out. Ali is my personal chef and gets lunches ready every morning, I’m thankful for that. I also try to keep some packets of cashews or almonds, along with fruit snacks in the car for emergency blood sugar situations. Having a plan for dinner – something in the slow cooker or an idea of what I’m craving that day – also helps avoid thinking too much about eating on the way home. I don’t WANT to think about food so much, and I’ve never had a problem with food aside from needing to make sure to regulate blood sugar. But this longing for what I’m not supposed to have goes deep – a little bit of the ol’ “forbidden fruit” mentality? Definitely a little of “awakening the dragon” and a little bit of boredom (beans in a crock pot only stay exciting for so long).

What should I do about this food issue? I have been thinking about food a lot lately. I think the denial of eating out in some way triggers a little bit of survival instinct (scarcity mentality), which is a tiny bit ridiculous since our fridge and cabinets are full. I have thought about giving myself one day a week to eat a moderate lunch out… I may try this for February and see if I can curb some of the appetite for luxury and convenienceĀ  – or maybe that will make the longing worse. We also have a gift certificate for a really excellent restaurant a client gave me as a thank you for doing some family portraits, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to use that.

Any other suggestions? I am fascinated to explore these new and unexpected issues — the psychology behind desire, contentment and longing, and reaching for a big goal that necessitates lifestyle shift. The goal is abundance mentality in all areas of life.

the grocery shopping conundrum: local, or inexpensive?

There’s so much I want to write on this site every single week, but since picking up the day job to help us work off our $70k in school debt, I have been limited on time and energy.

The grocery shopping conundrum: local, or inexpensive? You can’t have both.

Ali and I love the idea of spending a little bit more to get local, fresh goods that taste better and support local businesses. Luckily, Portland has a wonderful farmers’ market system for much of the year that makes it easy and convenient to find a market close to your home or daily route. But… what to do in these winter months when the markets are on hiatus and local produce is limited to tubers and beans? We like and have a membership at our closest co-op, a tiny but mighty little store on Alberta Street we frequent for bulk foods, greens, and quick refills that fall outside of our big shopping trips. It certainly costs more to shop in a place like this, and I try to avoid buying any non-food items (toiletries, paper goods, etc.) here due to the huge markup.

But then you get into the other issue — the places where I know I can get paper products or the toiletries we like for a good price — such as Tom’s of Maine, Dr. Bronner’s, or Burt’s Bees… well, traveling outside of Portland to get to a Target isn’t exactly helping the local economy in any way. And me going into Target isn’t exactly encouraging toward staying on track with spending…. AND THEN there’s the whole issue of all the “natural” brands selling out to bigger companies, who use the good reputation of the little guys to make themselves look better.

Back to the point of writing this blog post. Ali and I have patched together a reasonably satisfying mix of shopping at our little co-op for small weekly trips, and stocking up at a big employee-owned warehouse store WinCo on the edges of town every 10 days or so. In doing so, I’ve been able to purchase enough food for daily lunches and dinners, with enough variety to avoid the felt need of eating out because we’re bored or lazy. Wintertime cravings for warm comfort food translates into soups and warm stew dishes with the slow cooker, which means dinner is almost ready when I walk in the door after work. IT’S GREAT!

We’re curious: how do you handle the local versus inexpensive conundrum in your house?

busting open the bread bag on the way home from the grocery store

This afternoon I was driving home from the Saturday errands and realized I was ravenously hungry. I’m one of those people who stops functioning when my blood sugar is low, so I NEED TO EAT when I feel hungry. As I drove out of the WinCo parking lot I noticed a Sonic next door. Before going on our “budget diet”, I would have pulled right up to the little order station and gotten hooked up with some tots and lime-cherry soda to tide me over until I got home. The hugeness of our financial goal means eating out is not really an option. [Ed. note: I just realized how gross fast food tater tots and soda are for a messed up metabolism! What was I thinking?!] And then… THEN I saw a Burgerville — a highly-regarded local chain that features locally sourced “slow” fast food and a seasonal menu in some ways similar to the relationship Californians have to In-N-Out. I was so tempted to pull over and try their food after hearing friends rave about it – and I was SOOO HUNGRY I could have easily justified it. Then I thought about Dave Ramsey and how he always counsels people trying to get out of debt “shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant… unless [you’re] working there”

This story has an up-side. I had a little victory when I realized I could take some bread and hummus that I had just purchased fair and square with our grocery budget and make a nice and MUCH HEALTHIER snack for the 25 minute drive back home. Food budget victory! I would have never even thought about that before we put this budget into place and started heavily concentrating on ways to quickly eliminate our debt. Constantly treating yourself to small indulgences can become the equivalent of “death by paper cuts” in the financial world.

While we’re talking about food vignettes and in the spirit of transparency I should also admit that I had a food-related failure this week as well. There was one day this past week when I didn’t take my lunch break until 3:30pm and had to go back for the last 30 minutes of the day anyway. I was innocently going by the local library to pick up a book when I noticed that there was a McMenamins next door. I found myself heading inside to take advantage of happy hour at the bar — I ordered a beer and an appetizer. It was ‘only’ $7 with tip but it felt like a total rebellion because I was spending money for food I didn’t need to buy, and also because I was drinking a beer and then going back to work. A little like a decadent Mad Men-esque triple-martini lunch. Obviously I didn’t drink enough to even get tipsy or I would NOT be admitting this to the internet. I am sad that we are now $7 further away from meeting our $70k goal.

So there are my food stories of the week. Is this the equivalent of tweeting what I ate for breakfast? Or is it relevant enough to be interesting?

meet Spencer 2.0

Hi. This is Ali and I will be giving the numbers around here while Rachel will be providing the words.

Since Rachel is a visual person, I built Spencer 2.0 with some grids that we can fill in to show our progress. There are roughly 650 squares contained in Spencer with 10 of them in the horn. We will assign $100 to each of the 640 non-horn squares. The 10 horn squares are special super squares that help us get rid of the remainder. We’ll deal with those later.

For now I give you Spencer, with [zero] squares filled in.

spencer the rhino

$69,176.76

Many people view education debt as good debt; we don’t believe this to be true. Although education loans often sit at lower interest rates than credit card loans or mortgages, they encourage borrowers to make minimum payments for many years, accruing lots of interest while continuing to purchase new cars and houses and living life as if any money that comes into their hands is not already spoken for.

We have a pretty huge goal. We are planning to pay down the remainder of our student loans by December 31, 2011.

Ali and I have been thinking about this idea and preparing our lifestyle since we moved to Portland in August. We have been experimenting with levels of frugality, envelope budgeting, and finding areas where the money leaks out. We’ve been making a grand attempt to “right-size” our lives, taking into account the fact that we don’t need as much as we think… and most of all finding ways to live in abundance mentality. Finding joy in what we have rather than concentrating on anything that seems to lack seems to be the key to success.

Frankly, we find it surprising that so few in the US talk about personal finances. We think about money constantly, but few people share details of their budgets. Since the US is at the absolute front row when it comes to personal spending, disposable income, and consumer mentality, we should know the most about how to handle our finances. And yet, few people even know how to live within their means let alone think that’s a good idea.

We’re going to open up this space and share some real numbers with readers in an attempt to encourage others who may be in similar situations. We’re withholding specifics on our salaries, but will share details of the loans and our spending/saving patterns. We understand this may draw criticism on all sides, but we’re hoping for the grace that comes from knowing we are doing our very best to make decisions that will take our little family in the direction of true freedom.

As of December 1, 2010 our loans total $69,176.76.
We have $0 in credit card debt (we no longer use credit cards), our car is paid for, and we do not have a mortgage. When we pay off our student loans, our goal is to be completely debt free.

This blog is an invitation to readers to join us as we fight our ingrained overspending tendencies and battle our student loans to the death. Are you ready for an epic journey?

If you’d like to join in the fun, we’re going to take reader submitted questions in old-school mail format. So once a week or so (or however often we get them) we will post reader questions and challenges for us and for Spencer. The more entertaining, the better! Find your stash of stamps and envelopes, and submit your message:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

For future reference, you can always find this address on the ABOUT US page from the blog menu.