Not too long ago the New York Times ran a recipe for a vegan thai curry. It is now a go to meal for us, costing less than five bucks for a huge pot of yumminess. The base of coconut milk and green curry paste is key, as is the lime and basil you’ll add at the end; the rest can be improvised with whatever you’ve got in the vegetable drawer or the freezer.
For the specifics, see the NYT’s recipe, but here’s my general approach:
First, I keep in the pantry some canned coconut milk, which I buy for about $1.49 a can, and I’ve got a lovely Bright Green Curry Paste that seems to last forever and is wicked hot. I only need one tablespoon of this stuff instead of the six that the NYT’s recipe calls for. I also try to pick up some sweet basil leaves to keep in the fridge (maybe I should get an indoor plant), and I make sure I’ve always got limes and tofu in the fridge (which also work with lots of other recipes of mine.) These are cheap. Other than that, you just need some other vegetables, maybe even just a red bell pepper.
Technique: Open a can of coconut milk and scoop the creamy top off into a big pot. Heat that and add about 1-2 tablespoons of the curry paste. Fry that for a bit, then add chopped sweet onion. Sauté some more. Sometimes I add a small spoon of coconut oil. Add anything else you want cooked with the onion, like maybe some mushrooms slices. Then pour in the remainder of the coconut milk, some water, glugs of soy sauce, and dump in some chopped up tofu and any vegetables you want: bell peppers, green beans, bamboo shoots, frozen Chinese stir fry vegetables. You really can’t go wrong. But not sweet peas — those are totally wrong. Cook for about 15-30 minutes. Then at the end pour in juice of about 1 or 2 limes. Turn off heat and add a handful of slivers of basil. You can serve with brown rice if you want.
Here’s my technique for easy brown rice: Boil 1 cup of brown rice in 5 cups of water with about a half teaspoon of salt for 30 minutes. No lid necessary. It’s like cooking pasta. When rice is plump and chewy, pour it into a colander, shake, and put it in a bowl. Easy peazy.
Serve, savor, and sit happy that all that goodness set you back maybe five bucks at the most.
Waiting for payments I made to show up so that the credit card debt drops a bit further. Waiting for next month for another paycheck to knock down the debt further. Waiting for months and a year to pass to get out of this frigging mess.
But what am I doing while I am waiting? Waiting is dying. I’ve got a life to live — and it has a termination date. I need to keep living.
So I’ve been thinking about how to think and feel while I am going through this process, how to keep focused without losing my life.
At this moment I’m thinking that the way to do this is to meditate and focus on living minimally, taking pleasure in life that does not need lots of stuff.
Perhaps the underlying problem is not being able to live with what is but always wanting something else, thinking I need something else.
So, let’s meditate on this: I already have everything I need. I am, every day that I live well within my means, losing debt and creating wealth.
Breathe. It’s going to be fine. It is fine.
In my attempts to live well on the cheap, for this month, I’ve just bought a case of ten-dollar Malbec at a 10% discount. I’ve discovered Aldi’s, which just opened up in my neighborhood and where I bought beaucoup stuff for 25 bucks. I went to the local import store that carries stuff from My People and got a huge thing of olive oil for $27. And I’m finding that I’ve got more than enough in the fridge and the pantry to make things. Honestly, I can’t make things fast enough. There’s plenty enough.
So let’s say we spend this month — honestly and I’m not at all proud of this — $300 on booze. I think it is realistically possible that we spend only $300 on food. I have to work to find ways to meet with colleagues that’s not “let’s do lunch.” Then maybe the February food and booze budget is down to $700.
Budgeting is a miraculous thing. So basic and fundamental and so easy to ignore. I am now dialing in the budgeting like never before. It’s astonishing. I suddenly have more money to pay for things. Instead of trying to pay for what I spent last month, I’m setting aside money to pays for what I will incur this month. And then I can see what’s left over to pay off past debt.
So I now have a super clear picture of where my money needs to go:
- housing expenses (including utilities): $4,000
- food: $720 (my former total downfall, often triple this amount)
- transportation: $180
- lifestyle: $1,160 (including dog food, once a month house cleaning, and pocket money for both of us mostly to avoid putting anything on a credit card but not a cent for stupid stuff like any more clothes or shoes)
- insurance: $259
- minimum for debt payments, including car loans, home equity loan, credit card debt: $3,000
- Extra to throw at one debt at a time until it is totally obliterated: $2,000
Yes, we make a lot more than most folks, but the ratios are probably about the same for those of us who have been clueless about budgeting: still too high a percentage on housing and also way heavy in paying off debt.
So the debt payments are extreme now. Mortgage plus those debt payments take 2/3 of my income!!!
But I am now super focused on paying off all that debt. I can do it in six years — though kids college may throw a wrench in that, so let’s say eight years. And then those dollars can go to something for the future and the here and now, not the past and gone.
Look at me! Grocery bill slashed, baby, slashed. This month’s $770 is $1,000 less than last month’s.
Separately, the booze budget was also down, about half of the previous month.
Next month I’ll do even better.
I ventured into a mall today to return a blouse and get some makeup, both totally allowed ventures on my year of no shopping, But it was pretty spooky — all those sunglasses making eyes at me, mannequins leaning toward me, salespeople smiling desperately, sales racks of shoes in my periphery. Macy’s felt creepy, Bloomingdale’s empty and longing. My return didn’t work — wrong gift receipt — and the makeup wasn’t easily found, so I stopped by the food court on the way out. I looked at all the prices at everything and realized all must be marked up at least 50 percent. Hawkers plied me with bits of their processed sweet fried chicken. Overdressed people in too tight clothes sat at tables eating. I paid cash for a cup of tortilla soup, and then left as soon as I could. Jeez, how depressing.
I thought the hard part was going to be a year of no shopping—that’s what kicked me into gear just five weeks ago, motivated by an op-ed by Ann Patchett: no more personal shopping for clothes, shoes, bags, or jewelry.
I was wrong.
The hard part is not being able to not shop fast enough to make all this debt go away. I was so clueless about the mess I was in. Serious denial. Crazy. Batshit. Crazy.
And now, as I wrote a few days ago, I am totally woke.
So now I make lists of how long it will take me to get out of debt. I’ve used a variety of budget apps to budget loose $4,000 a month. With that, along with my side consulting income, I think we will be
- free of credit card debt by January 2019;
- liberated from auto loan payments by March 2019 (and the two cars should see us through the end of the era of the personal automobile);
- flush with an emergency fund to cover three months expenses by June 2019;
- back to investing in retirement accounts (on top of what our employers already do) by August 2019;
- in the process of cash flowing our remaining kids’ college expenses through 2022;
- paying off the house by 2025 (there’s a lot of dreaming involved in this aspiration);
- and then maximizing our investments over the next five years until we retire in 2030 with, if my numbers and the economy hold up even moderately, about $2 million saved plus the worth of the house.
Those are the goals that will keep me focused. And I hardly care if I ever buy another pair of shoes again.