From the Blog

Thrifty Ninja Skills

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As you may know, Dave and I quit our relatively well paying jobs earlier this year. We wouldn’t have been able to quit our jobs without a comfortable amount of savings. But we also reduced our expenses by paying off all our debt. And we cut back on buying stuff we don’t need. Moving to Astoria lessened the cost of living somewhat compared to Portland. But we now pay more for independent health insurance, so it negates any small town savings.

In the past few years, we reduced our rent by almost half. By getting online quotes for car insurance, I reduced my rate by over $50 a month for the same coverage, from my own provider. When it is time for your car insurance renewal, be sure to get some quotes online. Your car insurance company is probably not going to alert you if are eligible for a lower rate.

Our cellphones are a bit of an extravagance, but we share a family plan and are still getting a corporate discount, so we are saving a bit off the conventional price. We share our internet with our landlady for $20 a month. Our rent is a bit more than we wanted to pay, but the heat is free, which is sort of important in a 130 year old building.

We feel good about some of these changes, and it has helped to keep our expenses down without having to sacrifice too much. However. We know we can do much better. I’m researching how Skype and Google Voice, as well as turning our iPhones into pay-as-you go phones. Our provider doesn’t really support pre-paid iPhones, but it may be as simple as switching out a SIM card. We will be able to cut out phone bill in half. Our friend Tammy at Rowdy Kittens recently got rid of her phone all together, which Dave would be happy to do.

Our largest variable expense is groceries. I’m a little stunned at how much we spend on food for two people. I buy grocery items on sale, and I’m happy to get store brands. We bake our own bread and have oatmeal practically every day for breakfast. We try to get staples at Bob’s Red Mill or Costco. And while those are epically expensive trips, they last for a long time.

I think the problem may be that if we want to eat something, we get it. If I want to cook an elaborate meal, I do it. I try to get less expensive ingredients, but I’ve never said no to cooking a meal because it would cost too much. We don’t buy lobster or filet mignon. But we do like seafood. We want to eat fairly well, so we get produce and we plan out meals according to what we need to use while it is fresh. And of course, there is beer. Thank goodness beer is free. Eh-hem.

There are super thrifty ninjas out there like Katy at Non Consumer Advocate who has turned frugality into an art form, while managing a family of four. We just have to manage us two. It feels like we are being thrifty at the grocery store, but really, we are not. It’s going to take more than buying store brands and stocking up on sale items. We haven’t been good about budgeting for groceries. We don’t want to have hot dogs and beans for every meal. But not all dinners need to be elaborate or expensive. It seems reasonable that two people could live off of $75 in groceries per week, right?

We’re going to try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. My first roommate taught me to shop the outside of the grocery store. Only go into the aisles if you absolutely have to and then get what you need and get back out. It was 1986 (ahem) but I managed to feed myself well for $10 per week. Seriously. She did better than that because she was a vegetarian. Just another way to look at the grocery budget/meal planning thing.

  2. Other ideas could include coop buying. Get your neighbors together to buy together. How about growing your own veggies? Get a preside cooker and cook and freeze into portion sized reusable containers. We do this with rice and oatmeal (Bobs Red Mill of course).

    BTW…great shirt and shirt design….



  3. Thanks, guys. I was doing some calculations and realized we spend $50 a month just on coffee beans. Probably an equal amount on beer. A third of this budget just for beverages? But we reeealy neeeed our coffee.

    SnJ, when you get up here, you’ll have to visit Bob’s Red Mill. It’s a wonderland of grain.

  4. ok, so i am poor and struggling to pay the bills. i live alone and spend about $75 every 10 days on food, including coffee. I don’t really drink, so no alcohol is included in that budget. here’s my take on things, re: budgeting. fuck it. you need to enjoy your life. what is the point of scrimping and such if it is a miserable existence? if you have $2 to spend on dinner, then you budget, otherwise eat what you like, do what you want. enjoy while you can, and i mean that in a positive way. each moment in life is glorious, spend it enjoying another cup of coffee rather than worrying over pennies in the super market.
    the rest will work itself out.

  5. we’re in the exact same boat, we’ve always been pretty conscious of what we spend and good at saving but grocery is our downfall and there’s only 2 of us also. we eat mostly produce and fruit and i like to cook. I can’t figure out how to eat healthy, cheaply. If you come up with some new pointers, please share. Best of luck!

  6. I know that in Portland, at the OHSU branch of the Farmers market they offer some really great weekly “Market Baskets” that include (usually) a variety of fruits or veggies, or both. Everything is organic, in season and grown locally. To get a full basket of Fruits and Veggies it’s $20/basket (which might be enough for two but you might pick up some supplementals while you are at the Market it’s self to make sure it works for two) and they offer additional $5 – $7 add ons such as a pound of Organic Grass fed and finished beef, home made chicken basil sausages, special breads, dips like home made hummus or babaganoush. There’s also CSA, which usually offers weekly boxes of fruits and veggies (and some times eggs) per week at $22 -35 depending on what and how much, that can be delivered close to you or at your door even.
    These are just a few ways that I find I am able to cut down my grocery bill. I am also predominately a vegetarian, though, I too love seafood and still eat it regularly. I try to hit Asian groceries, where they keep live fish and seafood. I find that they are cheaper and the fish tastes much better since it is super fresh.

  7. Hi Heather! Chris and I get a weekly organic veggie delivery too, from Abundant Harvest it costs $21.80 for a small box, there is a pick up site at Dreamworks. I generally use everything (with the exception of a few wilted lettuces that have been sitting in work his all day) It is fun to look at what arrives and concoct meals with the ingredients , which change all the time. You can get really great locally-produced add-ons as Jamie said above , its a similar deal it seems. If you find one near you, I’d recommend it, it reduces the supermarket schlep and encourages you to experiment.

  8. Here’s another thrifty ninja move. I had a big jug of shampoo that I disliked because it made my hair greasy. It has now filled my hand soap dispensers and has become moisturizing hand soap.

    Might be slightly trashy. But eh, two birds, one stone.

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