Minimalism, Zero Waste, Oh My!

About five years or so, I started noticing minimalism enthrall the corners of the internet where I lurked. It started with Marie Kondo I think, with her decluttering prowess and gently folded sock drawers. Less was more; furniture was sleek, simple, and Scandinavian; and that’s without even us reaching the level of hygge.

This pursuit of minimalism for me felt like an outgrowth of my own personal diminutiveness. I was newly graduated, had little more than a suitcase of clothes and a mattress to my name. I didn’t need much of the world and maybe, if I kept it that way, it wouldn’t ask too much of me either. Rather than try to go out and make an impact, I wanted to be as invisible as possible, as light and unimpactful to the world as I could be. Like footprints on the beach.

Minimalism also appealed to my sense of environmental consciousness. Sure, as a member of modern society my carbon footprint was almost necessarily large. But maybe I could make it less. And here was this well-marketed, consumerist-centric way to do it (for, I believe, much of internet-minimalism has morphed into thinly veiled marketing for over-designed luxury products, if it ever was anything else). What could be more easily actionable than to buy something or not buy something else, as the case may be.

Nowadays, I feel myself falling for another trend, similarly pinging at my sense of environmental unease and appeal for nice things: zero waste. Less trash? Sounds good. “Plant-based” products? How a-peel-ing. It’ll save me money? Tell me more!

Here is a list of “zero waste” things I have done already:

  • use reusable cloth tote for groceries and other purchases
  • replaced paper towels with cloth napkins and rags
  • composting scraps, zero food waste
  • replace one-use sanitary pads with reusable cotton pads
  • nix dryer sheets in favor of wool dryer balls
  • mostly purchase used clothing
  • mostly eliminated disposable dish ware
  • purchase vegetables through CSA delivery with minimal to no packaging
  • don’t own a car, generally walk or take public transit
  • improved energy efficiency for the house – solar, heat pump, water saving, LED lightbulbs, insulation

Here are some things I’m considering to become more “zero waste”:

  • bringing my own containers to use for takeout (this feels like it could be a health code violation, more research needed)
  • use bees wax wrap instead of disposable plastic bags to store food
  • eliminate 2-day shipping and food delivery in favor of my own two feet

Here are some things I am interested in changing, but have no idea how to begin (suggestions welcome!):

  • how to get food delivered to my house for game nights, etc. without producing a metric ton of takeout container trash
  • finding sustainable home supplies, especially for items that are regularly replaced, e.g. HVAC filters, vacuum bags, batteries, etc.

And here are the zero waste things I 100% will not be doing:

  • ask my fiancé to give up his car
  • grey water or composting toilets (nitrogen cycle human waste)
  • stop myself from having kids
  • not travel on planes (though I do want to be more mindful of how often I travel)
  • eliminate plastic from my life entirely
  • going vegetarian (though I may change my diet to limit myself to chicken and fish for protein)

Do you try to be a “minimalist” or “zero waste”? What “zero waste” things do you do? How do you feel about these paring-down lifestyle trends?

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Window Shopping: All The Grana Edition

As I mentioned in my clothing roundup posts from last year, I feel like my closet is in a pretty good state. I can go through around three weeks without doing laundry and everything feels comfortable and just chic enough for casual situations and work. There is no absolute need requiring me to buy clothes for the next few months.

That said, sometimes it’s nice to window shop. Imagining what I could buy is like 75% of the enjoyment of actually purchasing an item. And with the internet, that’s easier than ever. I’ll probably have this as a series up here every once and a while to vent some of the idle shopping feelings. No links– affiliate or otherwise. I’m not trying to push anyone to spend where they otherwise wouldn’t.

Here’s what I’ve been looking at lately:

Grana Silk Ankle Pants
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After Xin’s post about these, I’ve been really itching to buy them for work. Imagine it: slacks but with an elastic waist band. And a loose comfortable fabric that breathes. My heart skips a beat just thinking about it. I think I can probably pull it off if I don’t tuck in my shirt, the elastic band look would not go over well with my supervisors. I also like the texture, a nice suede-looking crepe de chine. So often my modus operandi has been to use blouses as the interest piece, but it’s interesting to consider flipping the script. A crisp white button up with silk ankle pants? I can dig it.

Grana Round Neck Dipped Hem Dress

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One of the reasons I would buy Everlane clothing so much is that– barring their general problems with quality, their color game is just so on point. I am not into saturated jewel tones, so the muted colors suited me well: forest greens, brick reds, powder pinks. Grana, on the other hand, has much brighter colors: mint blues, fresh leaf greens, lavenders so vibrant you can almost smell them. It’s not loud exactly, but starting to speak in an outside voice.

The one color I cannot get enough of in Grana’s catalog is this coral though. Classic and cute. And the cut of this dress is just so gently flirty and versatile. I feel like it’s a very lady-in-a-commercial dress. She’s eating a picnic on the beach, twirling in the sunlight, stops by the cafe for a croissant on the way home. She reminds you that you’re young and vibrant, and that maybe you should have something in your closet that makes you feel pretty instead of put together.

As you can tell, I’m weirdly emotionally invested in this dress.

Grana Silk Loose Shorts

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Take all my thoughts about the coral dress and apply it to these shorts.

 

Grana Silk Bomber

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Completely impractical for my life, but also overwhelmingly cool. I like the idea of an all-silk outfit on a summer’s night. Clothes so light and breathable I can barely tell where I end and nature begins.

Equipment Liam Floral Top

Maybe it’s the three days of 50 F weather (after a week hovering near zero plus a bomb cyclone), but I’ve been really crushing on the florals lately. I love the contrast between the front and the sleeves. A blouse of just the sleeve textile would be too loud, of just the front too dowdy. This feels the right amount of off-kilter.

Elizabeth Suzann Linen Pants

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I’ve been searching for a pair of minimalist black linen pants for about two years. Lo and behold everything Elizabeth Suzann. I feel late to the game on this but I really like the lack of adornment on her clothing. It looks simple but versatile. But so expensive with a limited secondary market where clothes cost nearly as much as they are new.

 

Anything you’ve been window shopping lately?

Cooking As A Means To Health, Not Frugality

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I’m a big fan of cooking and an even bigger fan of eating. As a “personal finance blogger” (in name only, really), one would expect that my reliance on home cooking is mostly for finances, but I am here to tell you ’tis not so. I mean, saving money is great and all, but the real reason I cook most of my meals is for my health. The physical kind, not the financial.

I was nineteen when I suddenly and painfully became lactose intolerant. Without getting too much into it, it took a complete overhaul of my food intake to figure out what was going on. I tried various elimination diets. Through trial and error, I learned that, in additional to my lactose intolerance:

  • I cannot eat tomatoes for more than two meals in a row,
  • I cannot eat certain spices,
  • Non-fibrous carbohydrates give me drastic energy spikes and can greatly exacerbate my anxiety,
  • I am extremely sensitive to caffeine and other stimulants,
  • I have mild sensitivity to wheat, and
  • Chocolate makes me break out.

You know how much American fast food contains one of: dairy, non-fibrous carbs, or tomatoes? Like, 95% of it.

So, out of necessity, I started cooking all my meals myself. Obviously from my food spending, I don’t cook everything still. But, I’ll cook most of what I eat. And given my new diet, I figured out what I could make that would not only taste good, but make me feel good.

At this point, I have everything down to a system. I eat 150 kcals of almonds or cashews each morning, offered free at my workplace. Sometimes I’ll drink tea in the morning, but only once in a while since multiple days of green tea can literally keep me awake and jittery at night. Each week I get a delivery of my vegetable CSA, each month a delivery from my meat CSA. Once a week, I break out my podcasts and let myself flow into cooking. This week I set aside four hours to turn a pound of ground beef and this:

Into this:

From the top, left to right: roasted watermelon radishes and beets, stir fry broccoli with peppers and onions, romaine lettuce, sweet potato fries, roasted cabbage, celeriac puree, kale chips, and ginger ground beef stir fry. 

(Obviously I’m a big fan of roasting. It’s almost impossible to screw up! If I ever own a restaurant, I’ll name it Maillard in appreciation.)

Using my prepped food, it’s easy for me to throw together meals. Sometimes I’ll put together a protein with a carb and vegetables and call it a day. Other times i might supplement with some simple cooking. From the above, I was able to throw together a root vegetable salad, beef lettuce wraps, and Asian fusion sweet potato poutine.

Because I’m always getting 8-15 pounds of vegetables a week, I don’t worry too much about my micronutrient intake. I don’t have to sacrifice health for taste, either. Cooking all my meals means I can generally avoid unnecessary fat, sugar, and salt and season everything just the way I like. Instead of a heavy cream-filled ranch, I can throw together my own delicious savory dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinagerette, sesame oil, soy sauce, white miso paste, and just a dash of honey. Shaking smooth until a deep brown gravy forms, it makes for a delightful concoction of tang and umami while still keeping everything feeling light. In spite of and sometimes because of the health-consciousness of my meals, I’ll get semi-jealous sometimes-digs, sometimes-compliments from my coworkers on how my food smells in the office kitchen. Having everything already on hand is also great in that it reduces my daily stress– I never have to worry about planning my next meal.

Note that while I mention how wonderful cooking has been on multiple dimensions– health, taste, daily convenience– I don’t really harp on it being cheaper. That’s because, for about $45 worth of ingredients (including spices and oils), I only make about 10 meals worth of food. Assuming I could buy fast food for $10/meal and that I spend 4 hours/week batch cooking, I only really save $55/week or about $13.75 per hour of my time. While it’s not nothing, the benefit here in terms of cash is dwarfed by the benefits in terms of living.

Why do you cook? What’s your cooking style?

Do You Buy Yourself Gifts?

Content warning: Mild cynicism, don’t read when in the thrall of holiday cheer.

I’ve long since given up buying my family gifts. I’ll lend or give money, but the effort of looking for a gift only to have it politely rejected and thrown away is more than I’m willing to put in.

Similarly, I don’t really like getting gifts myself. Oversized clothing, notebooks I’ll never use, chocolate goods that’ll give me hives. I feel awful and ungrateful for not wanting these things and try to smile (however unconvincingly) in return, but my family has never known me that well and, honestly, I am at a level of income where if I want something I can get it myself.

Other than handmade art and food, I think cash gifts are the best gifts. But since it’d be silly to just hand each other envelopes of money, killjoy that I am, I’ve asked that my family just cease gift-giving altogether. This suggestion has been met with weak approval, some parts confusion, and a sinking realization by my parent that her kids are now full-fledged adults.

But sometimes it’s nice to get something out of the ordinary. And for that, I might give myself a gift or two.

During my long vacation, I decided to book a couple massages for my fiancé and I to decompress after a long and stressful year. That’ll happen next week and afterwards we’ll have a nice 30-minute soak in a Japanese style hot tub. $200

In addition, as part of my drive to decouple myself from my generalized internet addiction, I’ve decided to order myself a Kobo Aura 2 e-reader. That way on my commute, instead of scrolling mindlessly through my phone, I’ll have something else to focus on. And long form reading is so much better without the glare of normal screens. $100

Before the year is out (and in particular, before I join finances with my fiancé and have to stick to a personal indulgence allowance), I’d also like to get myself some nice earbuds to replace my broken ones. Is there such a thing as buy-it-for-life earbuds? $50

So yeah. With the $350 I’m spending on gifts for myself, no wonder there’s no more room in my holiday budget. Sorry, fam.

How about you? Do you buy yourself gifts? Any suggestions for BIFL earbuds?

Combining Finances Part One: Creating A Joint Budget

Fiancé and I are in the process of joining our finances. For the sake of my own record-keeping and for the benefit of others maybe going through the same thing, I plan to walk through the steps we are taking to meld our financial lives together.

As a reminder, we’ve decided to structure our accounts in a his-hers-ours fashion:

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To begin the process of bringing our accounts together, I wanted us to start at the very beginning with the most basic building block of a financial plan.

Yes, that’s right: the dreaded budget.

Steps to create a joint budget

  1. Draft list of current recurring expenses to personal credit cards and bank accounts.
  2. Identify which expenses will be considered “joint.”
  3. Outline a basic budget for the household.
  4. Agree on rules for joint non-recurring spending and to add new line items to combined budget.
  5. Check individual credit scores.

Joint versus individual expenses

The first thing we did was lay out all our common expenses and determine whether they would be considered “joint” or “individual.” We agreed that joint expenses would cover those things that are considered “needs” and that are used by us both or pivotal for our general welfare. That means covering the house, the car, health care, groceries, utilities, and basic household and personal care items.

Everything that’s not considered a “need” will be covered by our individual slush funds, which will each get $600/month. This money will not be monitored in our joint Mint account. It’s our own private money that we can do with as we please.

Items that will come out of individual expenses include:

  • Shopping
  • Entertainment (other than Netflix)
  • Takeout/Restaurants
  • Fancy gym memberships
  • Fancy hair cuts, massages
  • Fun individual travel, conferences
  • Excessive amounts of eggs
  • Pokemon
  • Gold-plated waffle iron

The last three items were added by Fiancé. He’s a silly biscuit.

Our household budget

I didn’t realize how much we were spending as a couple until we drafted this combined budget. It was eye-opening and not in a good way.

I’m not going to itemize all our line items, but the below summary by category will give you a good picture of our projected spending. Similar to my monthly updates, this budget does not include mortgage payments or charitable contributions, which are pegged at 10% of our net income.

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Right now our joint spending is way higher than I’d like it to be. There are a few clear areas of improvement:

  • Once fiancé finds a job that covers his expensive recurring medical costs (which are not being covered by his plan now), we’ll be able to reduce the “Health” category by $400-500.
  • Due to a car accident a couple years ago and his new vehicle, fiancé’s car insurance payments are $285 per month, nearly half our monthly transportation budget. I wager we can shop around and knock off $100.
  • I’ll also be working to combine our cell phone plans and hopefully cut costs by $25.

If we manage to make progress on these three items, we’ll be able to cut our joint non-mortgage spending down to $2250 per month (the number I’m going to focus on for “Barista FI”). That plus $600 each into our individual spending accounts means we’re expecting a monthly non-mortgage outlay of $3450/month or $41,400/year. Which… isn’t great. But it’s a start. Sigh.

Rules for joint spending

Establishing rules for joint spending will help us make sure we’re not silently inflating our expenses and that we feel comfortable with the level of mutual oversight of our joint money.

We’ve decided that we will:

  • Check in with each other when adding new recurring line items, no matter the amount.
  • Check in with each other for one-off purchases other than regular household maintenance items. 

We plan to set most of our recurring expenses on AutoPay and reconcile our budget quarterly-ish. But still there will be a couple dozen times a month we’ll make joint purchases manually. Since it’d be a hassle to text every time we buy anything jointly, the following items won’t require checking in:

  • Auto: Gas, tickets, registration
  • Consumable household items — paper towels, toilet paper, etc.
  • Consumable personal care — shampoo, soap, lotion, etc.
  • Groceries
  • Healthcare expenses: minor

This list probably covers 95% of our manual joint spending. For everything else, we’ll give each other notice and have a brief discussion if needed.

Credit scores

Since the next step to combine our finances involves opening checking accounts and credit cards together, I thought we should make it a habit to check in on our joint credit. Luckily for me, in spite of all my churning, I’m still in the high-700s. Fiancé’s score is nearly identical, so we’re in a pretty good spot credit-wise.

Do you and your partner(s) have joint finances? How do you handle individual versus joint spending accounts?

RealEats Meal Delivery Review

Back in the day, I made it my unofficial goal to try every meal delivery kit out in the market. Blue Apron? Been there. Plated? Done that. I wanted to see if I’d learn any new and interesting flavor combinations from the experience. Plus, there was the novelty of it. And the first box was often heavily subsidized by sweet, sweet venture capital money.

The biggest downsides of these services was always the cost and the effort. At $10/meal they were often no better than getting takeout, but I’d have to cook and ingredients always came in 2-meal portions (whereas I normally cook for 4+ serving sizes). For someone who actually enjoys meal planning and gets my groceries delivered through by my CSA anyway, there never seemed to be much benefit.

But when I saw RealEats I was intrigued. RealEats is a weekly food delivery subscription that sends out full, already-cooked meals. So the convenience of other food boxes, but without the hassle of actually cooking. Each meal is separated into its constituent components and vacuum sealed: grains separated from meat separated from vegetables. In order to prepare the meal, all you have to do is sous vide the vacuum sealed bag for the indicated amount of time (usually around 3-6 minutes) and plate.

Here’s what I chose for my trial box:

Clockwise: salmon grain bowl, turkey with coconut rice and green beans, moroccan chicken, shiitake chicken with green beans and fingerling potatoes

By and large the meals had good though subtle flavors but were overcooked (to be expected with poultry in a delivery service). My favorite meal by far was the salmon grain bowl, though none were bad. Just not really to my taste. Each meal was balanced with a grain, vegetables, and protein. The website displays the nutrition facts so you can make sure you’re hitting your preferred macro allotment. Many of the ingredients are organic and most of the dishes were around 500 calories a piece.

The biggest downsides of the service are, like its kin, the deadly combination of too much plastic packaging, too much time to cook, and cost. While the meals only take 3-6 minutes to warm under boiling water, it probably took me 15 minutes on average to get enough water actually boiling in my pot. And while the trial box only cost me $30 for four meals ($7.50/serving), the typical weekly meal plans cost more: four meals cost $60 ($15/serving) up to twelve meals cost $153 ($12.75/meal).

So at the end of the day, would I order RealEats again? On a week-to-week basis, probably not. I enjoy cooking and the price is still pretty steep, akin to what I’d spend for cheap Asian takeout. But, in the first few months when we have a kid or some other time I know I’ll be too slammed to cook, I could see myself picking RealEats to tide myself through a rough patch. Similarly, I would recommend the service to someone who might eat out a lot and want to have a healthier alternative, even if it ends up not being all that much cheaper.

Have you tried any meal delivery services? Any that you would recommend?

All The Clothes I Bought This Year Part 2

This post reflects all my clothing purchases in 2017 after I wrote the post “All The Clothes I Bought This Year.” For the most part, I mostly got winter gear to help with the increasingly chilly season (curse you polar vortex!). There were a couple somewhat unnecessary vanity buys like my new leather jacket (gasp!) and a bucketful of tailoring.

Everything I Bought

Brunello Cucinelli silk tank (tan) – $46.50

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I got this from The Real Real to go underneath my slightly-too-sheer Hugo Boss white silk shirt. It’s also a nice addition to my wardrobe generally since I don’t have any other tanks or camis. It looks really powerful solo with my pencil skirt or with a blazer. Probably more expensive than I needed, but the delta between this (EUC) and a new lower-end silk tank was pretty small.

Patagonia quarter-zip fleece (navy) – $26.50

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This was a replacement for my old North Face shell which after five good years of service ended up twisting all up on its zipper. Being a fleece piece, it can’t exactly be worn alone especially since it gets windy out here. But it’s cozy and nobody blinks an eye when I show up to work with this and a T-shirt.

Coach lambskin leather bomber jacket (black) – $168.00

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Pure vanity buy. I was craving a quote-unquote classic piece and don’t particularly care for trench coats so I decided to go for a leather jacket instead. Seriously, I spent about a full month contemplating whether to buy it. Save for my loafers– maybe including my loafers?– this is the most expensive item in my closet. The leather is super buttery but thin (it’s lambskin so that was expected), so I can only really wear it when it’s in the 40-60 F range and not raining. Which in my New England city is, oh, approximately never. But it’s darn beautiful.

One thing I will say is that I got this off The Real Real and I was really disappointed in their team when checking this item. There were definitely more scuffs on it than the listing noted and there was a half-opened piece of nicotine gum in the pocket. Major ew. They outsource their customer service to Zendesk so I wasn’t particularly hopeful my note to them will reach their garment review team. Though I love the jacket and plan on keeping it, I do not plan on using TRR again.

Neck gaiter (black) – $10.00ng-teal_1024x1024

I lose about two neck gaiters a year so I don’t bother to buy an expensive version, else I’ll be saddened when I ultimately misplace it at a restaurant or whatever. Fleece-lined, does the trick solo or, even better, layered underneath a scarf.

Patagonia better sweater mittens (marled white/black) – $39.25

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A replacement for my old Isotoner gloves which, though they let me use my smartphone, fail miserably at keeping my hands actually warm in the freezing winter weather. I like that these can convert between mitten and fingerless glove style, makes it easier to access my fingers quickly during my commute.

REI silk sock liner (white) – $11.00

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These are to go under my thick calf-high Smartwool socks for the coldest days in winter. They’ll help with the itch from my wool allergy. Also, they’ll add an extra layer of insulation when the polar vortex comes.

Patagonia beanie (navy) – $26.50

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A slightly cuter replacement for my current beanie which looks like a nerdy winter helmet. Made with recyclable materials, which I love. Also covers and keeps my ears warm, which is a major win.

LL Bean silk long llbean.gifunderwear (black) – $50.50

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In previous years, I have used hosiery, thick fleece lined tights, and even yoga pants as an extra bottom layer during winter. All these were fine, but left a lot to be desired in terms of comfort under my trousers– so many layers left my legs feeling like sausage stuffed into its casing. I haven’t gotten a chance to take these for a spin since it hasn’t gotten below freezing yet, but they certainly are thinner and feel more flexible than what I’ve tried before.

Red Coral Necklace – $5.00

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Statement piece to jazz up my otherwise boring neutral-color wardrobe. The picture isn’t of my exact necklace, but it’s pretty similar with the same thick finger-like coral protrusions. I particularly like to layer this over my crew neck Everlane silk tops.

Coach Willis messenger bag (black) – $56.50

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Originally I was going to try to get the lock on my burgundy cross-body from Cambridge Satchel fixed. But this was the third or fourth tie it broke in two years and it costs $25 each time to get the push lock shipped in from the UK. At some point I might bring it to a cobbler to fix and then resell, but for now I’m going with a classic alternative that I know has already been through a couple decades of wear and is still going strong.

Tailoring, dry cleaning, repair – $191.50

This is how much it cost me to hem and take in at the waist four silk shirts and to dry clean and re-line my peacoat. Tailoring is expensive. It basically doubled the cost of my shirts. But now they fit slightly better. Worth it?

Total – $631.25

Next steps

Altogether I’ve spent around $1825 on clothes in 2017. That’s about six to seven times as much as I’ve spent in any other year. While I don’t regret spending that much– I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe and am still in a great place financially– I would like to ratchet it back to my previous spending levels for a good long while.

Now that I’ve finished filling all the holes in my winter wardrobe, I feel pretty set to not buy any more clothes until at least April 2018. I would like to set a budget for 2018 to spend no more than $350 total, or just below $30/month. That includes all alterations, underwear, etc. This does not include my wedding dress, for which I’d like to spend less than $250.

Insofar as I might upgrade my wardrobe next year, I’d like to keep it to cheap basic items. For one, I’d like to get a few V-neck cotton shirts (probably American Apparel or another good quality cheap tee brand) to replace my current suite of crew necks. I’d also like to streamline my work socks so I don’t have a variety of too-large-for-my-feet hand me downs making up half my food wardrobe. Lastly, a good tote bag or backpack would be nice as well. These are all minor wants though and– given how burnt out on shopping I currently feel– I think I can go without for a year or more.

What do you wear for winter? Have you purchased any clothing in Q4?