How Do We Do It? Meals On Wheels (Part 1)

As you can see from our previous post, we have a very limited monthly grocery budget. As a matter of fact, if you were to break it down to an average per day, we allow less than $9.37 per day for that portion of our overall expenditures. You can do the math and find out that it is about $1.56 per person per meal when considering 3 meals per day. You might think that is a bit crazy and you would not get an argument from us. So let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

The USDA actually publishes a monthly report that shows what US families should be expected to spend, on average, to provide healthy meals, prepared at home. They take in to considerations such things as how many people are in the family, their ages, and the spending category they fall into (Thrifty, Low-cost, Moderate, or Liberal). They actually use these calculations in the determination of the distribution of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits which they administer. This is a copy of their July 2019 bulletin published in August 2019.

As you can see, our budget is well below even their allowance for a family of two adults, ages 51-70 years of age. Problem is, we don’t receive SNAP benefits so we have to live within our real life, limited budget. Thus, we have the $285 per month and that is what we work with. Now, the purpose of our discussion here is not to complain about whether or not it is fair that some receive government assistance while others do not. It is to help show how we overcome the restrictions we deal with. So, I would like to share a few tips with you that can work, no matter what your budget level.

  • Create a written plan and stick to it. It has been proven time and again that meal plans that are on paper and posted in the kitchen are much more effective.
  • Shop for your ingredients in advance. You are much more likely to stay on plan if you have the right stuff on hand.
  • Shop and prepare in bulk. You can save both time and money if you shop for bulk items, such as family packs of meat. When you prepare double and freeze a meal ahead you will still be able to eat nutritiously if you run into a day where you run out of time.
  • Use ads, coupons, and lists and stay on track. Save additional costs by planning menus around the items that are on sale. Compound your savings by using coupons. Always use a list to avoid compulsive shopping and overspending.
  • Cut out the CRAP! No, really. Stop buying chips, water, soda, and all of those other prepared items that you can make yourself for far less. They are not healthy, they are not cost effective, and they do not provide any nutritive value. Not to mention they are usually the most expensive items in the store.
  • It’s not an “Old Wive’s Tale”. Never go to the store on an empty stomach. Make sure you go after a fulfilling meal. You will spend less, guaranteed.!

Now these tips are pretty generic but I promise you that they will work for every single one of you. There are many, more detailed efforts that I make to keep our costs so very low, however. In Part 2 of this discussion I will get into some of those creases and crevices to show you just what I mean. I do quite a bit of planning before I just head out the door to the local grocer. Until then, if you have any specific questions or comments you would like to discuss, let me know. I would love to hear from you.

God Bless!

Can’t wait to see you on the ByWays!

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How Do We Do It? Budget (part 2)

So just to bring us back up to speed, I am posting a copy of the budget as shared in part 1. That way it will be fresh in our minds and close at hand as we go through the rest of it. Let’s get started…

The next area of this budget which usually draws questions is the mention of the items that folks don’t usually find in a typical household budget. In our case they are the RV Passes, Etc. and the Social Media portions. So let’s tackle those two first.

We have already established that we live a non-traditional life being as we are in a constant travel mode in our Skoolie full-time. With this choice we do have to find a place to park the bus when we are not actually driving. For the most part, we do try to use boondocking (which we will cover in a future post). This method keeps our costs at a minimum because our dry camping choices mean no cost to park. We do, however, have a couple of memberships which allow us to enjoy some amenities from time to time. You might look at it as a vacation from our vacation.

We currently have a Thousand Trails membership which, rather than give discounts like a Good Sam or AAA membership, allows us to stay at their RV parks free of charge. We purchased this pass by paying the total purchase price up front so we do not have a monthly fee. By doing this we saved a bit on the monthly processing fees, etc. Plus, we know we won’t miss a payment this way. It shows in our budget as a monthly expense because we are putting those monies aside for renewal next year. By doing this now it won’t be an impossible payment when it comes time to renew and we can save those same monthly processing fees next year.

This segment also reflects some other groups we have joined that offer benefits to boondockers, such as Harvest Hosts, Sams Club, and Good Sam Club. The discounts on gas, diesel, and bulk products along with the variety of alternative boondocking accommodations that many of these groups offer is phenomenal. They are not the only groups or sites we follow though. There are numerous free groups and pages chock full of information that we will cover in future posts as well.

The Social Media section is something that took a while to decide about. We weren’t really sure how much we would use our accounts while traveling, or even if we wanted to. However, we have decided that sharing issues honestly and openly will help others who may be thinking about this lifestyle. Thus, we have costs associated with our upgraded YouTube and WordPress accounts. This covers some extras for Cloud storage of videos and Filmora 9 which we use for video editing also. Again, we pay the full amount at the beginning of the year. The line item is simply indicative of the monies we put aside specifically for the renewal costs for the next year.

The rest of the line items on our budget are probably pretty self explanatory. If you do see anything that puzzles you, please feel free to contact us. We would be happy to go into detail with you as they are pretty generalized categories. We would also welcome any comments from you on areas where we may improve or that you feel we might have missed. Please, keep you comments friendly. You may disagree with how we have budgeted our life but, it is OUR life and this budget does address OUR needs. It is not set forth as a set budget that all of us living on the road must follow. Simply as an example of how it is possible to live this lifestyle comfortably even on a limited income. Perhaps even easier to maintain than the traditional situation that many folks find themselves struggling with.

God Bless!

Can’t wait to see y’all on the ByWays!!

How Do We Do It? Budget (part 1)

This is number one of a series of “How Do We Do It?” blogs. In these I will share actual, real life information that covers just about every aspect of our daily lives. It is an attempt to help those of you who browse the internet looking for information, as I did, only to find that what is out there is so far over your head that you need 12 college credits to understand the basics, or you end up going in circles without ever reaching the central truth. In some cases, such as this first category, I found a lot of theory but no one was ever really sharing actual, hard, realistic figures and when they went to balance their end of month I always wondered where they got the extra money that they spent. Here, I will show you the truth, period. Real numbers and facts. Shall we get started?

Okay, I am giving you the projected budget for November 2019 because that is when we will be hitting the road again. Right now we are busy working on our “Plus One” which I will cover in a future post. That means that we don’t have a realistic budget to share for the next two months. The funds for the “Plus One” build came directly from the sale of a house that we inherited so the budget for September and October will not do any good to follow.

I know there will be a lot of questions regarding the categories here and I hope I can answer some of them here. So, the first one is “If you pay for everything cash, why do you have a car payment.” Well, our last vehicle was a 2006 Toyota Tundra that we purchased outright in Florida, before our move to Tennessee. We literally wore that truck out because we used it for our retail business as well as personal. Even after putting over 130k miles on that old gal she was still going strong. We actually sold her to a very dear friend when we purchased our new car.

So, we had to decide what vehicle would be best suited to our needs and we had some specific requirements to meet. The first was our income and budget. We live well below the 138% standard figures used by the US government in determining poverty, as you can see by our monthly income. (For 2019 that figure would be $23,336 per year.) There are a number of factors which contribute to this but the long and short of it is that retirement before the age of 67 is difficult at best. Unless, of course, you have developed or inherited a financial dynasty. We didn’t. We are average, white collar workers who have both been in serious accidents which required we leave work at an earlier than planned age.

That aside, we also had to consider our health because getting into and out of a vehicle can be a challenge for me. Add to this the fact that we are looking at this being the final vehicle purchase for us, it would need to last the remainder of our driving years. Thus, the manufacturer had to be reliable and dependable. They needed a stellar reputation. We looked and looked and looked. About 6 months in all we spent comparing makes and models, going on so many test drives it made our heads spin. Reading so many reviews that I swear I almost went blind. Our brains were in definite overload.

Finally, we settled on the BMW x1 28i as the best we could find for our needs. We also found it aesthetically pleasing and comfortable for the long trips we knew we had ahead of us. Trips in the car, not the Skoolie. Now, we had a defined budget for a vehicle and it did not matter which make or model we looked at, across the board our budget just wasn’t sufficient for any auto that met our needs. Thus, we had to finance a small portion for a short term and, as much as we hated it, we were forced into the situation.

I will note, however, that we were able to add a couple of additional warranties to our purchase which will counterbalance the fact that we have to make a payment. For instance, we purchased a warranty that covers our tires for nearly every event you can imagine. These tires are low profile, run flat tires so to replace one would cost $300+/-. With the warranty our cost will be $0. On a recent trip to Tennessee we found out just how valuable that warranty is. Because of the pitiful condition of our nations interstate highways we had to replace 2 of those tires. That would have been out-of-pocket $600+ for the tires and an additional $420 for the tow. Our actual out-of-pocket was $0. If you take a second look at our budget, it isn’t hard to see that $1,020+ out of a months budget would have been devastating.

The second warranty we were able to obtain was one that covers the car itself, bumper to bumper, for an additional 3 years beyond the manufacturer’s extensive warranty. The actual car we ended up purchasing was a 2016 certified pre-owned vehicle so it still had 2 years on the original warranty. We now have 5 years on this car and it is awesome. Twice now we have had the car in for work that was strictly interior cosmetics. Both times the work was covered 100%. When they say bumper to bumper, honey they do mean it at BMW.

Now, I have to say, I loved our Tundra. That was the most dependable, comfortable, ecological truck we could have had at the time we purchased it. She served us well for the entire 8+ years that we had her. It was time for something more convenient though. This BMW is a better fit for the life we have now. We don’t like having a payment that eats up so much of our budget. It is a necessity with the ridiculous price of cars in the USA now, though. It is also the only payment we have and we intend to keep it that way.

Next time we will cover answers on the rest of our budget line items. Until then God Bless!

Can’t wait to see you out there on the Byways!

What? Who? When? Wait, WHY? (part 2)

Here we are again! Let’s get right into the second part of our conversation without any further ado….

WHEN? Now this question is the easiest to answer but actually sparks the most questions and puzzled looks. We live in our bus. Yes, live. All day and night, every day and night, 24/7/365. It is our home. With all of the new interest in tiny homes, it is funny how people still consider this strange. Tiny homes are on wheels too! But, since our home has an exterior that looks like it’s first life (a church bus) folks get all skewed about this being our “tiny home”. Not just the general public. All types of government officials in all forms of municipalities get funky about this being our home as well. We are, technically, considered homeless. It is amazing how many times the VA has offered us a housing voucher because of their concern for our “homeless” situation.

Wait, WHY? Okay. This is my favorite topic. It is also the hardest for others to understand. We have been so conditioned to believe, since the return of troops from WWII, that the “American Dream” is a Cape Cod on a postage stamp lot in a nice neighborhood with a white picket fence where Dad gets in the family sedan wearing a suit and tie every weekday morning while Mom takes care of the home and the 2.5 children (one boy, one girl). Then, on Saturday, Johnny mows the lawn, Suzy weeds the flower bed, Mom bakes a pie, and Dad barbeques hamburgers and hotdogs. Sunday, of course, the whole family dresses in their best and attends church together after which they go to the lake for a picnic.

Sturgeon Bay, Cross Village, Michigan

NOT! I am not, nor will I ever, knock that version of the dream. Go for it if you really feel that is your dream. I am behind you 100%. However, that is not where we found happiness. We tried it! We gave it our all. What did we find. Well, for us it was more like both of us working 70-80 hours each week with no such thing as a Monday to Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm job. When we weren’t at work we were grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, or sleeping. There weren’t many barbeques with the family and we rarely ever got to the lake for a picnic. As a matter of fact, when we lived right on the beach we spend most of our time walking out the back door to the car. If we tried it usually ended up creating more frustration than joy. On top of that, whatever shopping, cooking, or cleaning was put aside just tended to pile up and create havoc later on.

Shreveport Boardwalk Merry-Go-Round

On top of that, we wound up further and further in debt because the harder we worked to pay things off the more the government wanted and the faster the cars, clothes and other “necessities” wore out and needed to be replaced. It was like a tornado twisting backwards and we were caught in a cycle of destruction with no hope of coming out the other end alive. We found it felt like a life spent waiting to die. So, we decided that we would rather have a life of actually living and we jumped off the merry-go-round.

Actually, it’s our home!

We chose to get rid of all of our “necessities” and the payments and interest that went along with them. We put every penny we had into the switch and now we pay cash for everything. (We have one monthly payment which we will cover in a future post where we discuss our budget.) We own our home. Own it! We do not have to make a payment to someone else who actually owns it. It is ours. 100% free and clear. If we want something, we save until we can purchase it outright or we do without. We live a very minimalistic existence and we have found that to be so liberating.

You know, never once, when we were on a vacation or away from home for some other reason, did I ever find myself wondering how my crystal goblets were doing while I was gone. I never had reservations about leaving my vintage teapot collection. I didn’t hope my vintage pie plate collection would be fine without me being there every day to check on them. Truth! Yes, they all looked nice in their places and our home was beautifully decorated. Still, not one of them was something that I needed to be happy. They were simply things that I continually spent more and more money on collecting even more. Honestly, not one of them added anything special to my life. I can admire them in another’s collection just as much as having them in my own place.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have a few knick knacks sitting around the bus. We do like beautiful things to create a soothing environment. The difference is that we have two or three pieces instead of cabinets and shelves full of collections. When we finish a couple of small changes in our living space and get it set back up I will share photos so that you can get a visual on what I mean.

I would like to mention one more WHY before I close this out. The cost of our lifestyle is now so much less than before. Yet, it is even more rewarding. We produce our own energy with solar. We use only what we absolutely need rather than leaving stuff running 24/7 out of sheer laziness. We watch our water usage because we no longer have a unlimited supply coming from the chemically treated public system. We use tanks and we recycle our water so, while we only have a finite source, our water is free. Since we use a compost toilet we have no sewer costs. Plus, we no longer have a mortgage payment or real property taxes that can increase continually by millage votes, leaving no individual control of that expense. Just like that, we took control of our expenses and cut our expenses for the “necessities” by 2/3 of the traditional lifestyle.

I will delve further into how we manage all aspects of life on the road as we go along, but this is a brief overview of the basics. I hope you will feel free to send any questions you have to us at inquiries@mybluejeanlife.com. We would love to see what you think about this topic as well so feel free to send comments to the same address.

Until then, God Bless. Can’t wait to see you on the Byways.