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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Blog After My Own Heart: Kosher on a Budget

Hat Tip: A reader

A reader pointed me to a new blog, Kosher on a Budget: Live fruitfully without multiplying your budget. The blog has a beautiful and inviting layout, is well written, and has something for everyone.

I'm enjoying taking a look around. Particularly inspiring is Mara's Jewish Dave Ramsey Story. The writer's family managed to pay of $30,000 in debt in 6 months through a combination of expense cutting and selling stuff. Following that, the family built an emergency fund. Now the rest of the journey continues. She was initially shy to take advice from an evangelical Christian, but what works, works! (My own commentary: the biblical principals that Dave preaches are mostly found in my own handy-dandy Tanach, particularly Mishlei and Tehillim).

The blog is a great resource. If you like to coupon shop, she is doing the work for you by posting up the great drug and grocery store deals, amongst others. If you are interested in kosher, frugal cooking, there are recipes, all of which appear to be simple, quick, and family friendly.

Something I find exciting is the one month menu plan. While I tend to shy away from long term menu planning--my preference is to plan a one week menu around inexpensive produce, with recurring themes based on the night of the week so the kids know what to expect--I find the idea of a one month plan very intriguing. I also like the tips on doubling and freezing. While the frugal amongst us might argue if menu planning saves money, it is so important to find something that is practical. Perhaps I will give a one month plan a trial run during one of my busiest seasons, especially since Mara's blog provides a usable format. I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, so it is fun to discover a kosher, frugal blogger (with a frugal and practical Shabbat and Chagim section) who is happy to share.

One other thing: I have yet to publish some of my commentary on frugality blogs and books. In short, I find that many frugal resources, from books to blogs, are beyond intimidating, and not just to the newly thrifty. While I do read some frugality resources that lean towards the extremes, and sometimes even adopt ideas I was initially resistant too, I would define my brand of frugality as "middle income." Mara's money saving tips don't throw 7-11 convenience to the wind. Nor, is she a minimalist. In fact, we happen to share a love of plastic organizing boxes as mentioned in one post! While there are a lot of great resources out there, I think this resource will prove relevant to the greatest number of readers.

What a great resource! Highly recommended.

23 comments:

Mara ~ Kosher on a Budget said...

Wow, I am so blown away. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is truly an incredible endorsement ... especially from a blogger I respect and admire!

tesyaa said...

Mara's site is very difficult to load, and I've tried two different computers. Are there a lot of gadgets and widgets that are slowing it down?

ProfK said...

Interesting site but many questions raised in my mind by the monthly menu. Let me state up front that I believe in this kind of planning. First, to be fully useful for budgeting purposes, all three meals plus snacks should be accounted for--they don't come for free. Second, as someone who pays attention to nutritional requirements, I'd really need to see those other meals--what is being shown (again depending on portion size, which can up the amount of money being spent)is nowhere near adequate for meeting the daily nutritional requirements. And saying "salad" as one of the dishes means what? I've got over 100 recipes that would qualify as "salad" and most are not cheap. Priced fruits and vegetables lately?

So yes, a good idea, but not comprehensive enough for people like me.

NJDebtor said...

Loved her story although the title is a bit misleading. Yes they had $30,000 of debt, but over half of that was in physical assets that proved to be fungible. So crossing that off they only had just under $13,000 of debt and lucky for them, they stumbled upon a forgotten $5,000 savings account which took them down to under $8,000. So really in 6 months they changed their ways and worked to pay off $8,000.

I don't mean to minimize their efforts, it's wonderful to be debt free and kol hakavod to them for taking the necessary steps but it's just not quite the $30,000 they describe. If I could somehow sell my as to now useless Masters degree to pay my student loan (like they did with their car/car loan) I too could be almost debt free.

JS said...

NJDebtor,

I think you're being a bit too harsh/unrealistic. As for the car, perhaps you'd be surprised as to how many people see a car as an asset in the same way they view a house as an asset. After all, you take out loans to fund both purchases, no? They don't see a car as an asset that rapidly depreciates to $0. They don't realize how completely upside down they are on a car loan starting from the second they drive it off the lot. It can become even worse for leased vehicles. A friend lost thousands of dollars leasing an expensive car he couldn't normally afford - he could no longer afford the monthly payments or the gas and was over the mileage limits for the lease and the dealer made him a "deal" in which he'd fork over the car and several thousand dollars to get out of the lease and lease a new, cheaper car (which was still a bad move, but better than the previous deal). Point is, realizing where your debt is coming from and how to dispose of it is a HUGE step for some people. Only now that my friend is getting married is he starting to realize that tracking income/expenses and living frugally is important. And, I'd note for the additional irony, my friend is a certified financial advisor. So, go figure.

Similarly, some people's finances are so out of whack and disorganized they don't even realize they have that lost savings account. Again, getting a handle on things and realizing where your money is, can be a huge step.

Think about it. That savings account could have continued being lost (and eventually the bank would have to turn it over to the state) and the car could have depreciated to $0 and they'd still owe the money to their parents. The fact that the situation was turned around is worth celebrating. Small decisions can have a huge impact on finances.

NJDebtor said...

@JS:

As I said, I don't mean to minimize their accomplishment, but I believe you've also furthered my point. The fact that a year after purchasing a car (that by US standards was already far in it's life) they were able to sell it for nearly 90% of what they paid negates much level of effort. As you detailed with your friend's story, once someone makes a bad decision when it comes to cars (or houses) usually they are stuck with it or must suffer a SEVERE loss.

Again, I must stress that these people made a significant and wonderful lifestyle turn around, I just find much of their case atypical (e.g. "refund" on a bad decision, lost accounts, easily created additional income). For most people I know the only method they have of turning around debt is to cut back on optional living expenses, (hat tip to our faithful blog owner for reviewing that subject with us,) a step which this family did take. However, even assuming a whopping turn around of $1500/month you're still talking nearly two years to pay off that debt, and that's assuming the status quo remains and no money is put to savings.

rosie said...

I like it that she uses a lot of tuna. My husband got a bunch at CVS for 49 cents a can last week and now we have a coupon for 29cents a can at the grocery this week.
Personally I am into making my own cleaning supplies. I want to try the olive oil plus lemon juice furniture polish recipe that I found on a website since I react badly to commercial furniture polish.
I like kosher frugality blogs and hope that people will add their own ideas to the blog.

Commenter Abbi said...

Tesyaa- it was very slow for me to load too.

Mara ~ Kosher on a Budget said...

I hope Orthonomics doesn't mind if I share a few thoughts on the comments here. I don't want to hijack things and I certainly welcome dialogue on my blog, too :)

@NJDebtor -- You are right that we had a good numbers of things that made it easier to pay off our $30K of debt in a very short amount time. Given our income level, it otherwise would have taken us well over a year -- and probably two. So we were definitely fortunate in that respect!

I'm not sure if you read the post where I said that before we "got real" about our finances, we were spending as much as $1000 a month more than we were earning. So, to pay off any debt meant that we had to first STOP SPENDING $1000 a month and then scrounge up an extra $1200-$1500/month to put toward debt payments per month. This required a huge change in our lifestyle -- which, honestly didn't feel that indulgent to begin with.

For me, more than anything, this process has taught me that just because so-and-so has cable/a new model car/a gym membership/inset your typical middle class lifestyle item here, doesn't mean that we can AFFORD to have the same thing.

The reason I shared my story is not because I think we're extraordinary, but rather the opposite. We are just like anyone else. Sure, everyone has different income, different debts, different timelines, and different obligations. But the universal element is that we can all make a choice to control our money... or we can continue to let it control us.

@Prof K - Sharing my menu plan (and really, as you correctly pointed out, these are just our dinners, not breakfast, snacks or even lunches on the weekends) is meant to help point people in the direction of making a plan and being intentional about that plan. I do something a little bit different than most menu planners, which is monthly meal planning. I haven't always done this -- in fact, I used to think it was impossible to plan that far in advance! -- but now that I've been doing it for a few months, I see a lot of benefits. If you're really curious about our "salad" (;-)), that usually means a simple tossed salad with lettuce, some cut up veggies and maybe some nuts or seeds.

@Abbi & Tessya - I appreciate the comments about the load time -- I don't have a lot of widgets, but the site was just (as in 6 days ago) redesigned. Until then I'd been using a freebie from wordpress. I will talk to my designer and see if she has any ideas about how to improve that.

I am honored that you all have been reading the blog today and welcome you back anytime!

Orthonomics said...

NJDebtor-I have worked with many individuals and entities on budgets and what I have found, consistently, is that without a will there is no way.

Yes, for some, ridding of debt (or alternatively saving big bucks) comes easier. But, the underlying essential ingredient is always the same: being willing to change behavior. That is the hardest thing to do, and I think our mesorah can attest to that. As chazal tells us, changing a middah can take a lifetime.

There is nothing easy about taking an honest look in the mirror, getting everyone on board to change, and implementing a plan and sticking with it.

Thank you Mara for sharing your story on your blog.

Shoshana Z. said...

Thank you for posting about this new blog. I love everything you post, but it is really a pleasure to depart from tuition discussions and debased "frum" behavior in favor of something so practical and inspiring. I would love to see more orthonomic topics like this in the future. :)

rosie said...

http://www.rd.com/home-garden/15-foods-you-should-never-buy-again/article179928-14.html#slide

For all of you frugal frummies, check out this readers digest online article about foods you should never buy. I found several of their 15 suggestions that would save me money.
I agree with Shoshana Z. There are now so many blogs devoted to debased frum behavior that some of them bend over backward to emphasize how big the crisis is. I am not saying that we should hide our heads in the sand but practical suggestions could slowly but surely reverse some trends.

NJDebtor said...

@ Mara:

I'll repeat it since I think it's deserving -- Kol hakavod on changing your behavior I know how monumental a task that is. You did exactly as the Rambam recommends and took your middah ra to the other extreme in order to find a middle balance.

I didn't mean to come off as so harsh, I guess I was just let down a bit by your solution as I was hoping it could help out my own family. As it is, like you I chart out our expenses each month ad nauseum but the only frivolous item I can find is rent so I"YH we'll be moving in with my parents in the next few months to help pay off our student loans.

JLan said...

"For all of you frugal frummies, check out this readers digest online article about foods you should never buy."

Rosie- I loved this article. We don't buy 14 of the items on this list (out of 15). The only one on there that's an occasional buy for us is gourmet "ice cream," by which I mean a pareve substitute (often coconut based, since it's the creamiest and best, but soy based when we need it in larger quantities). Unfortunately non-dairy ice cream is by default a specialty item. We do at least use it only for a la mode applications, so we need less than one would need to server an entire dessert.

rosie said...

I also liked her Shabbos meal advice. It is fine to serve stretched meat and chicken dishes where small amounts of meat and chicken are served with larger amounts of starch and veggies. I also liked the reminder that if people eat at a shul kiddish, they don't need another whole meal. It is also true that not everyone will be able to eat both a fish and salad course and a meat and starch course, especially when soup is served. While it is a minhag to serve both fish and meat, apparently Hashem is satisfied if we pick one or the other. It may be a "guy" thing to eat both courses. I have a feeling that I am not the only lady out there that can't handle all that food.

conservative scifi said...

I thought the kosher on a budget story was wonderful. I think one of the more subtle take home messages she sent was about increasing income, as well as decreasing expenses. I don't know if their income is higher, but it seems like they are getting more consulting income.

While not wasting money is important, so is working to earn enough. When I was much younger, getting my post college degrees (in a scientific field, where they pay you a small sum to go to school, rather than the other way around), my wife and I had my very small stipend and her slightly larger salary.

We lived extremely inexpensively, but we were working towards improving skills, which has resulted in good salaries, long term. I know this might now work for many, but we held off having kids until we were more established in our careers (and I'd finished my graduate education).

Anonymous said...

so glad you posted this. lately all your posts are about the society's ills, and these are not really fixable. (by me) If I am interested in changing, I have to change myself.
my problem is that whenever I read "frugality" articles, most of the tips dont apply to me. ex: i never buy fancy coffee so I cant cut that out. I dont buy ANY coffee! I am already maxed out on all my spending cuts, the only thing left is to give up one of my kids! JK! I love them all.
seriously, my biggest expense after rent and tuition is overdraft fees!

~~struggling mightily

Leigh Ann said...

Thanks for highlighting this fabulous lady and her awesome blog! I happen to know Mara personally and it is a real honor. For those of us struggling to live frugally and get completely out of debt, $30,000 of debt gone in 6 months is an inspiration no matter how it was come by. In our American culture especially, it takes a strong family to live on less than they make and work towards those financial goals. You rule, Mara! And thanks again, Orthonomics, for featuring her.

~Leigh Ann @ www.thefrugalima.blogspot.com

Orthonomics said...

Leigh Ann,
I'm checking out your blog too. Perhaps a review is also in your future. :) Shabbat Shalom.

RAM said...

Prepared snack foods, even many store brands, are way overpriced, and are often not too nutritional, either.

Jim said...

Interesting blog. My family's emergency fund includes a stock-full of pantry and PPI to take care of us in times of unexpected events. Hopefully, we get our debts paid off in 6 years - if all our computations and expectations work out well. Was I mis sold PPI

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