How to do Your First Pantry Challenge

I know.  It was just Christmas.  But, this pantry challenge is coming and I want you to have this in the back of your mind as you go through the holiday season.

One of the big things about living an Enriched Life, is being able to feed my family healthy, delicious meals and keep costs low.

Soooooo…. It’s nearly Pantry challenge time, baby!  Round 3, we are just getting bettah & bettah!

Pantry Challenge 3
Pantry Challenge 3

January is right there.  Can you believe it?

As we’ve been on our financial journey, I’ve learned that a great way to make money work for us is how we do with the groceries.

Because you decide.

Because you can make a little protein go for 3 healthy meals.  All different meals.  All delicious meals.

But, ahem, the holiday season we’ve been a little more…frivolous, no, fancy, no, lazy, that’s not it either… we’ve just been more spendy on the groceries.

Spendy.  It’s a word.  Okay, not really, but you know that feeling.

We have been wasting food.  It makes me angry at myself.  And ashamed.

GoodCheapEats, one of my favorite blogs for healthy, budget-friendly meals walked me through a pantry challenge years ago.

Oh?  A pantry challenge?  Sounds a little weird at first.  I attempted my first pantry challenge two years ago and it was a real win for our family!  Last year was when more people got really excited about saving money on the groceries, paying off big bills, and really making some great financial strides.

Know what else?  A pantry challenge is seriously…FUN.  It’s like food Tetris.  Seriously.

You know you’ve got to make it work through the 31 days and spend as little as possible but still make sure your family is eating healthy, delicious meals.  I love the challenge part of it all!

A pantry challenge is:

  • a chance to clean out your kitchen,  make sure you eat the food you’ve already purchased to avoid waste
  • time to take inventory of what your family eats regularly to ensure they are getting healthy meals
  • one month (or the time frame that’s best for your family) to minimize the food budget and give your debt payments a nice boost
  • a chance to look at the small appliances in the house and eliminate them (giving you some prime counter space)
  • a pause to reflect on grocery shopping habits
  • a creative break to try new food combinations as you “shop your pantry”

A great way to clean out the kitchen, avoid waste, take inventory, and shop smarter AND can also help the family save some money?

Sounds like a perfect January project.  There’s something so refreshing about starting the year this way!

And, like seasons of the year, you’ll come to expect a good pantry challenge in your life.

Last year, my friend Amy,  sent me a message saying, “I think it’s time for a pantry challenge.”

My husband mentioned during December, “You know, hon, we should do another pantry challenge to start the year off…”

Uh, yes please.  I love it when the people around you are working together, setting goals and building each other up like a power team.  It’s so amazing!

Let’s make those dollars s-t-r-e-t-c-h.  So, those few days after Christmas, is the perfect time to look through your pantry and plan for a healthy January pantry challenge.

My Pantry Challenge Goal

Our usual monthly grocery budget is $300 per month.

My personal goal: Spend half of that and make sure that we eat well.

Half?!  Like $150 for the entire month?

We did it once.  I’m hoping we stay well below the 150 mark for the month.

How to Get Ready for your First Pantry Challenge

I know.  It feels weird thinking that you are going to feed your family healthy meals on half your normal budget.

But, you can do this.  And you won’t starve.  And you’ll be amazed at all the yummy things you can come up with to feed your family.  They will be amazed.

You’re nervous about this, I know.  I’ve got ya covered, girl.

I’ve created your Pantry Challenge Guide and I’ll send you my own insights.  Like, how to prepare for a month; food combos that have worked for us; and my best kept secrets.

Fill out the form and I’ll send you the Guide to help you through the month.  Print it out, keep it by your recipes, or in your phone.  We’ll be going through this together!

Get Your Pantry Challenge Guide

Pantry challenge 3

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Declutter and Delight Yourself

I know it’s April.  I know we finished the March challenge.

To De-Clutter is to Delight
To De-Clutter is to Delight
ThinkEnriched.com

But I’m still not done with the de-cluttering process.  This has been hard.

In fact, it has become a physical representation on what is going on inside.

And. This process is freakin’.  awesome.

Through this process I’ve received some incredible advice, like Toni’s, “Don’t beat yourself up.  When you bought something you had a purpose intended for it. Do something totally different, without the meaning attached to it.”

Or Kristen’s, “Keep at it. You are doing great!”

Or Monica’s, “We can organize that in just a couple of hours.  We’ll come over one afternoon and help you with that.”

Whoa.

The lessons learned here are far more than just cleaning.  I couldn’t blog or share on the podcast what was going on with me.  I didn’t have the words.  All I know is, going through this life changing magic of Tidying Up, my entire life, perspective and focus has changed.

And by changed, I mean improved.  Edified.  Enriched. Because I’ve been able to clear the cobwebs of what I do and do not want in my life, and my home, and my world.

Here are a few things they just don’t tell you about the process of de-cluttering.

[clickToTweet tweet=”De-cluttering your life is giving yourself freedom. @itsamyrobles” quote=”De-cluttering your life is giving yourself freedom. “]

This is hard, at first, but you find yourself.  And then it’s crazy easy.

That’s not a cliche.  This is work.

10K Gone
10K Gone
ThinkEnriched.com

Some deep work on yourself even though you aren’t focused on you.  You look at your stuff.  Ugh.  S-t-u-f-f.  It’s just stuff.  You find out exactly where you are in the process of aligning your life.

Then you donate, give away, toss or purge that stuff out of your life and your home.  You start to find out what your real priorities are in your life. And, if you’re smart about it, you pull your family into the process and then the real magic starts to happen.

Case in point:  this is our hair care station.  I already had the box container.  The small white containers holding the items are old “spreadable butter” containers.  And no, I have not taken off the labels,replaced them with beautiful contact paper so they make me happy.  They work like this and this works for me.

Tidy Hair Care
Tidy Hair Care
ThinkEnriched.com

My little girl is right in the golden time of piggy tails, braids, curls, and bows.  I love doing her hair and talking with her as we are getting ready for the day… you know, the mindless, seemingly pointless conversations about the adventures of the day that turn out to be the really important stuff of life.

What I love about this image?  It was taken a month after I originally organized the hair care station.  I was going to put it away and noticed that even though we had pulled it out of its place multiple times a day to freshen up, the station was organized, things were so easy to find and I didn’t have too many products, bottles, and stuff to dig through as we are getting hair done.  She has grabbed brushes and combs and know where to put them when we’re done.

A place for everything and everything in its place.  Or something like that.

It’s so much easier.  That’s when it hit me.

You aren’t just budgeting money, you are budgeting your stuff.  And your life’s priorities.

This wasn’t just about my stuff.  This wasn’t about the many moves we’ve had in the years we’ve been married.  This was much, much more.

I am setting the boundaries for our life and our future.

Medicine Cabinet
Medicine Cabinet
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I am getting over the buying of too many things to make our home safer.  I’ve finally realized that our home is safe.  And, for some reason, I used to bought a lot of medicines, band-aids, and over the counter medicines to fix every illness, and make the sicknesses pass away quickly.

Once I went through the process and completely de-cluttered our medicine cabinet/hall closet…I could see it.  I was living in fear.  I was so afraid my little girl would get sick and I wouldn’t know what to do.  Isn’t that part of parenting?  There are times when you just have to work to figure it out. But I was buying stuff, filling my closets fuller, collecting more things just to eliminate fear.  It will never work that way.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Buying too much stuff is just feeding your fear.’ @itsamyrobles” quote=”Buying too much stuff is just feeding your fear.”]

Here’s the medicine cabinet/closet now.  I eliminated so many products that were expired, old, or just plain…nasty. Gone.  All gone.

And it’s not just a diet, think about the first time you made a budget.  It was crazy hard for me just to face the facts of our financial situation, and yet, in a short time, we’ve been able to completely turn it around.  We are choosing to live in a smaller space.  Not because we can’t afford the bigger one, but like Dave Ramsey says, We are “Gonna live like no one else, so we can live like no one else.”

It feels like the best diet of your life.

Bathroom Bliss
Bathroom Bliss
ThinkEnriched.com

You are literally getting lighter with all the things you no longer have to keep with you.  You are saying to the world, “I am driving my MoneyBus.  This is my stuff.  This is my life.  I don’t need you to tell me what I need.”  It’s that refreshing.

Others are experiencing this change, too.  There are a few Facebook Groups that have helped me through this progress, encouraged me to keep going, and have worked as an outlet to talk through the challenges while you are in it.

Every trip to make a donation feels like I’m becoming a new person.  I can see how in the past I was looking for more compartments to put all our stuff.  Now I see that with less stuff I won’t need all the compartments.  Think “cart before the horse,” not the other way around.

Looking at the bathroom organization of this drawer, I can tell you that nearly every item was on top of the counter most of the time.  Why?  Because I had way too much crap in the drawers.  You know, old make up I “may absolutely want” one day; curling irons that have seen better days; and all the other stuff.

But no one ever tells you that part.  The world tells us to buy more, and then a little more.  And, well, why not a bit more.

Know what I say to that?  No more.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Less really is more. Especially when dealing with household clutter.’ @itsamyrobles” quote=”Less really is more. Especially when dealing with household clutter.”]

It’s like freedom.

You are literally creating the place you want to live to enjoy the life you want to live.  Taking control of all the “things” in your life.

By working through the debt, and being able to have hope again in our finances, I’ve been amazed how this has transferred into our possessions, our life, our personal needs.

Truth is, we don’t need a lot to be happy.  [clickToTweet tweet=”‘You don’t need a lot to be happy.’ @itsamyrobles #konmarimethod” quote=”‘You don’t need a lot to be happy.’ “]

And sure, as a family, we knew that, we had just forgotten that along the way.  Now we are working together, focusing on our goals in every capacity and seeing the real power in teamwork.

The best part?

This is only the beginning.

Tell me now, how has getting your finances in order helped you in other capacities of life?

 

How to find an apartment you love

So many people talk about finding the right home.

How to find an apartment you love
How to find an apartment you love
ThinkEnriched.com

You know, the perfect family room with kitchen, the open plan, the separated rooms, the bathrooms that make you feel like you’re at a spa.  Blah, blah, blah…

What about an apartment?  Sure, you know that you’ll be there only a temporary time… but, temporary can sometimes mean years. And you know you need to find a place that you can afford, does that mean you have to have a major commute to work daily?  Some people save a couple hundred dollars in rent only to turn around and pay that in gas money to get to work or school.  That’s not smart financially. Or smart on the stress levels.

I don’t want to live like that.  I want to live enriched.  Finding an apartment has become not just a challenge, but an adventure!  I know this is a short-term situation, but I want our family to be happy, at peace, and feel safe in our temporary home.

It’s more than just location, location, location

There are several excellent tools on your phone to help you find a worthwhile place. Forbes has a great post about finding an apartment in the big city here, while Lifehacker offers suggestions here.  The apps we’ve been using are: Zillow, Redfin, Hotpads, and Trulia.   Each app offers great options, allows you to filter your search for what you are looking for and allows you to save the search and send your favorites via email.

The problem is, like finding a new minty toothpaste, there are just way too many choices.  And some great properties are listed one app will be missed by another.  What my husband found on one app was different than locations I was finding on another app.

We are on the hunt to the find the right apartment for our next few years and we have done some intense looking.  I never looked for an apartment like this before, and I know that this one decision will have impact on other decisions in our life, like:

  • Will this area be safe for our family?
  • Where will we meet our next good friends?
  • Will my daughter be able to make friends in the next community?  What about a playground?
  • Where will we attend church services?
  • What about the daily commute to work and school?
  • What grocery stores are nearby?  (Sure, we do the big shopping trip of the week at our store, what about the late night gotta get just 1 or 2 things before school tomorrow runs?)

We have been on the hunt, checked out properties, big complexes, small ones and have had several random conversations about making a decision.  But here’s the problem:  we aren’t getting anywhere.

Ever been there?  It’s probably because even though an apartment looks great on an app, we aren’t able to see that apartment in the context of the location.  We aren’t seeing how close our neighbors are, how the parking is for the complex and if and where the playgrounds are located.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Finding an apartment is temporary living, but temporary can be… years. @itsamyrobles” quote=”Finding an apartment is temporary living, but temporary can be…years.” theme=”style4″]

Prioritize

You can talk about all the cool things you’ll want in the next place you’ll live, but until you have a plan and priorities it is just talk.  That’s what we’ve learned.

We’ve been talking about the next place to live for too long that we had to start looking at the locations, making the drives, and getting a feel for the different complexes in the area.

We also had to start evaluating the kind of floor plan we want.  Oh, and the price.  We know that smart family budgets spend 25 -35% of their monthly take-home pay on rent and utilities, we want to stay as close to 25% as possible.

Through conversation we determined that our priorities include:

  • A more open floor plan.  (We would much prefer space to host family & friends over than have a couple of extra closets.)
  • We want a pantry in the kitchen to ensure we are cooking as many meals from scratch as possible.
  • We could be happy with two bedrooms, but having three would give us the space we could use for an office/ guest room.
  • We are determined to stay within in our housing budget to keep our financial plan on track.

Start looking early

You are not just looking for a bachelor pad for a couple of months.  You are looking for your own personal spot in the world.  This decision matters.  When I worked at a high school, the most important thing for incoming freshmen was to have their own locker assignment. They would freak out and you could see the stress in their eyes, desperate to have their locker.  What I didn’t understand is that they were making their own safe place in school.  It wasn’t about getting a place to hold their books, it was about their place have some peace during the day.

Your apartment is way more important than a locker at school. Give this decision the time it deserves.  Starting at six months just driving around the area on a lazy weekend afternoon will give you an idea of the area, see how comfortable it is, and let you see what the routine would be like in your life.  While I know that six months isn’t always possible, I’ve had those company paid for weekends to find my next spot to live in an entirely different state, the earlier you start looking the better prepared you are to make a wise decision.

[clickToTweet tweet=”An apartment should feel like a home. Not a box to hold my life for a while. @itsamyrobles” quote=”An apartment should feel like a home. Not a box to hold my life for a while.” theme=”style6″]

Ask more questions than you think you should

Sometimes, especially in apartment living, the most important part is precisely what they don’t tell you.  Ask questions about the utilities, how much does the price in heating go up in the winter, really?

Garbage and trash pick up is on Tuesday.  Decide now if you are taking things to the dumpsters or taking a bin out from your place.

What about the amenities?   Sure, the pool is gorgeous. But if it closes every day at 6pm, there’s not a lot of swim time after work.

This is going to be your home.  Make it yours.

A gift for you

After discussion with my husband, we decided that best way to make this happen was to actually be able to see it.  We talked about a few methods and decided that in a couple of Saturday afternoons we can take the decision between dozens of places to just a handful.  But remembering all those specifics, taking all the notes can be tedious and getting all the numbers accurately would be a nightmare.  So I made a matrix to keep all the differences clear in my mind.

And if you are looking for a copy, I’d be happy to send it you!

The people who were hosting the properties and showing us around took us much more seriously and seemed to “step up their game” when they saw me with the list of questions, asking all about the specifics and no-nonsense approach to finding our next place to live.

How to Find the RIGHT apartment
How to Find the RIGHT apartment
ThinkEnriched.com

If you would like your own copy of this to help find your own place, join the email list and I’ll send it to you directly!

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Declutter. It’s not about things

Editor’s note:

Declutter: It's not about the Things
Declutter: It’s not about the Things
ThinkEnriched.com

Heather Shue has been a source of inspiration and focus as I’ve been working through the March Challenge to minimize the clutter at home.  Here’s a guest post sharing her perspective on the beauty of getting rid of all the s-t-u-f-f around the house.  Check out her blog SimplySaveMN, or shout out with Heather on Twitter or on Facebook.

It’s Not Just About Things

Decluttering isn’t just about having a tidier home; it goes much deeper than that. It’s a process and a journey and no two are the same.

It’s about time.

Declutter: It's about Time
Declutter: It’s about Time
ThinkEnriched.com

Things involve maintenance and upkeep. Whether it’s as simple as replacing batteries or dusting around the knick knacks, this is time away from the people and things you love the most and that time adds up. I’m sure that you wouldn’t hesitate to agree that you value your loved ones and passion projects much more than knick knacks, so why do we give away so much of our time to the upkeep of things?  Time is finite. We all get the same amount of hours in a day and there’s nothing we can do to get any extra.

It’s about money.

Declutter: It's about Money
Declutter: It’s about Money
ThinkEnriched.com

Sometimes we fall into this cycle of cleaning out the closet and selling the clothes, only to fill up the closet again with brand new clothes. That’s not the type of decluttering I’m talking about, but when you do declutter, you can sell many of your things and have some extra funds to put towards debt, holidays, or whatever your financial goals are.

You can sell books, movies, CDs, sports equipment, clothes, accessories, and more to consignment stores. Facebook garage sales, Craigslist, and NextDoor are other great places to sell things. Most local police department lobbies or parking lots serve as a safe place for these transactions.

You may not get a ton of money, but you’ll earn more than you would by letting the items continue to collect dust in your home. When you learn to be comfortable with less, you eventually want less, which saves you money in the long term.

It can sometimes be difficult to let go of things that we spent money on, especially things that haven’t been used or still have tags on them. But the truth is those are exactly the things you should get rid of. The money has already been spent, hanging on to the item won’t make it a good value, enjoying it and using it regularly will. If you haven’t used it within a few weeks of purchase, you likely never will. Let someone else get joy out of that item.

It’s about head space.

Declutter: It's about head space.
Declutter: It’s about head space.
ThinkEnriched.com

Decision fatigue is a real thing. What seems small, like choosing what to wear or which new TV to buy, takes a little bit of your brain power each day. Multiply that by the countless small choices we make every day and that’s a lot of brain power used up in just our daily routine! No wonder we’re exhausted by the end of the day and just want to chill in front of the TV!

Eliminating clutter reduces decision fatigue. Even the smallest amount makes a huge difference, leaving you more brain power and head space to be present and engaged with your family.

It’s about acceptance.

Declutter: It's about Acceptance
Declutter: It’s about Acceptance
ThinkEnriched.com

Although we may not realize it, we tend to buy many things because we think that we “should.” For example, the media and society tell us that when we have kids we need all these fancy things to be a good parent. Or when we buy a house, we should have a kitchen full of the latest gadgets and be ready to entertain guests at the drop of a hat. Well what if you don’t enjoy cooking or hosting parties?

We all have different values and interests; therefore, our possessions should be as unique as we are! There is no standard Parent or Homeowner checklist that we all have to follow. It’s ok to accept that you don’t enjoy cooking and that your child will be just as safe and happy without the latest popular toy.

The same philosophy applies to decluttering. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. You may choose to keep things that your best friend would part with. But I bet you each have different hobbies and priorities! You likely won’t keep the same things so don’t waste energy comparing. Use that energy to motivate and encourage!

Your self-worth is not defined by your possessions. Let go of “should” and the items that come with it.

It’s about joy!

Declutter: It's about Joy.
Declutter: It’s about Joy.
ThinkEnriched.com

Decluttering is not about getting rid of things you love, it’s quite the opposite! When you eliminate the excess, you get to enjoy your most cherished possessions that much more! They’ve been there all along, but you can really see them when you get rid of things you kept out of obligation or because you thought you “should” have them. You may find yourself sitting on your couch, looking around, and smiling at your things as though you’ve only just discovered them.

A Real Life Example

Think about your morning routine: you stand in front of the full closet assessing your options and you might think to yourself, “What to wear? I really should wear that top I bought last year because it cost $30 and still has the tags on. It’s the latest fashion, but it’s just not that flattering on me. I have nothing to wear! I guess I’ll wear my old standby favorite outfit that I wore a few weeks ago.”

What a way to start your day! What if the feeling you get when you wear the old standby outfit that you love is how you felt in all of your clothes? Confident, comfortable, ready to start the day feeling great! Decluttering the closet covers many of the principles mentioned above:

  • You save time and brain power when you know you look good and feel good in everything in your closet. Easier choices equal less decision fatigue and more time being present with your family.
  • You made some cash by selling the clothes you got rid of and are a little closer to your financial goals!
  • You accept that you prefer some styles over others, regardless of the latest trend. You let go of “should” and save money by sticking with what you like and not following the trends.
  • You’re left with a closet of fewer clothes, but clothes that you like! You don’t feel the pressure to wear things only because you spent money on them. You no longer start your day with negative thoughts and low self-esteem about your image. You feel good and confident in everything you own!

It’s not just about the things.

Sure, when you declutter your house is tidier and it’s easier to find things, but that’s just the beginning! Decluttering is about much more than just the clutter. It’s a worthwhile process. Start small, work at your own pace, and don’t worry about what others are doing. You’ll be amazed at the impact it has in your life.