The government has reopened! But my heart goes out to the many people who went more than a month without pay. Yes…they are going to be paid now, even if they were furloughed during the partial shutdown. But that doesn’t take the sting out of not having the money when expected.
I, like so many, live paycheck to paycheck. I have a tiny bit of savings, a really tiny stock portfolio, and a retirement fund. I do not have the recommended three-to-six months of expenses tucked away in an emergency fund. If I were to have to go without pay for a month I would be up the proverbial creek without the requisite paddle. I suppose it could be worse. My parents would probably be able to float me a loan. Or I could borrow against my retirement savings. I have credit cards I could use. But none of these ideas appeals to me. I’m 51 years old. I’m supposed to have a strong understanding of money. Yet here I am without emergency savings. I’m flying without a safety net, mostly because I never thought about the fact that I might someday fall.
The government shutdown has really brought the importance of a contingency plan to the forefront. What would you do if you found yourself without anticipated income for a month. Would you be able to keep yourself afloat? Do you have somewhere to turn for short-term help? It’s always good to have a backup plan in place. We never want to think about the worst case scenario. But it could happen. And you should prepare for it just in case.
I had the flu the first week of spring semester. It’s a rarity for me to miss three days of work in a row for illness. Especially at a busy time. But the flu is the flu. I didn’t want to share it.
While I was recovering I couldn’t help but think how the flu is like an onion. It’s layer after layer of symptoms. As soon as the fever broke, I realized that I was light-headed. When I was finally able to breathe again, I realized that I was achy. It was just layer after layer of symptoms, and the more difficult outer ones were distracting me from the lesser ones hidden underneath.
Money works like an onion too. Big financial challenges make you ignore smaller ones that really deserve your attention. A giant pile of credit card debt distracts you from the fact that you haven’t started saving for retirement. You worry about your student loan balance so much that you fail to pay other bills on time. You’re so concerned about paying the rent for the whole semester that you forget to budget enough money to buy groceries. There’s always another layer.
Luckily money is a little easier to deal with than the flu. If you look at things right it’s possible to see all of the issues. It’s like taking a knife and chopping through the onion so you can see all of the layers at once. You can (should) make a list of all the different money issues that are concerning you and tackle them in an order that makes sense for you. You don’t have to peel away the bigger outer layers first. A budget (or spending plan if the B word scares you) can help you plan your attack. Putting it all out in writing (or spreadsheet) can make a world of difference in seeing where you stand and where it makes sense to start.
So many things in life are layered like an onion. But with your finances, you are able to chop it up and attack it in a way that works.
I can’t help myself. I love a good kitchen gadget. If it’s supposed to make cooking easier, healthier, or more fun, I’ve got to have it. So, on Black Friday when the shopping discounts were flying madly, I grabbed myself an Instant Pot. Everybody seems to have one these days, so I had to have one too. I laid out my money, hoping this wouldn’t turn into one of those gadgets sitting on top of my cabinets collecting dust and kitchen grease.
Now that the Instant Pot has been unboxed for a couple of weeks, I have my doubts about whether this thing will ever leave my kitchen counter. I have long loved my slow cooker and my rice cooker. And this can replace both of those and do so much more. The first experiment was a batch of macaroni and cheese. Way better than the box and in about ten minutes. The Instant Pot had my attention. My next go-round was Thai peanut chicken ramen. And if someone had told me a month ago that I had the ability to make Thai food that good I would have laughed. Yet here I am…somehow a master one-pot chef!
Since I now have the ability to cook a lot of food really quickly (this is where the Instant Pot really excels!), it dawned on me that I should join the meal prep movement. I love the ability to just grab a dish from my fridge or freezer for the day’s lunch. But Lean Cuisine has grown a bit tiresome and I can certainly do without the extra sodium that comes in those convenient plastic dishes. So Sunday afternoon I grabbed a five-pack of those infamous meal prep containers from my local Wally World and got to cooking. I started with a jumbo batch of brown rice, which the Instant Pot makes perfectly in about 30 minutes. Then I whipped up a big batch of my Asian favorite, chicken and broccoli. And just like that I had lunch for the week, with a few extra cups of cooked brown rice on reserve in my freezer. I’m sure the total expense of the ingredients was significantly less than I would have paid for five Lean Cuisine entrees, and I feel like the food is better for me.
I’m a gadget girl. But with this particular gadget I somehow fell backward into the money-saving world of bulk meal preparation. Right now my plan is to continue that trend. I’ll probably slip up at some point. But this week I’m loving my own cooking for lunch!