Dates, Dollars, and other Directions for 2019

Happy New Year! I hope everyone is off to a great start and ready to write a new chapter in your life story this year. I know I’m ready!

2018 was a good year. We accomplished much, but by the time December rolled around, I was ready for a new challenge. With minimalism as the basis for all that we do, we’ve decided to focus our efforts this year on two fronts: our relationship with each other and our relationship with money. To address the former, we came up with a fun idea that we’re calling 48 Really Great Dates. The goal is simple; we want to make our relationship with each other our number one priority by blocking out time each week for just the two of us – no family, no phones, no chores, no errands, no distractions – and do something that is both fun and memorable. The rules are:

  • We must take turns planning each week’s date. Dates can be a surprise or an activity planned together; however, the person whose turn it is must take the lead on making arrangements for the date.
  • There is no set budget, but all funds must come from our entertainment account.
  • Dates can take place any time of the day, any day of the week (Monday – Sunday).
  • There’s no maximum time limit but each date must be at least 2 hours long.
  • Dates can involve a meal but do not have to.
  • We must take at least one photo while on the date.
  • There are 4 “skip” weeks built into the calendar year. These skips can be used at any time to cover illness, vacation, or family obligation.
  • Dates can be repeated, but not in the same month.

We’ll be posting our date ideas and photos on our Projects Page, in case you want to borrow a few for yourself. And, as always, we’d love to hear your suggestions for great date ideas.

The topic of money will require a bit of a different mindset, but I think exploring our relationship with the Benjamins (and the Jacksons, Lincolns, and Washingtons too) can also be fun and memorable. Though we may explore a few options for living with less money, our biggest focus will be on ensuring that our use of money aligns with our values. To do that, we’ll take a look at:

  • Our current relationship with money
  • Our actual financial fears vs. society’s fears
  • Saving, investing, or stuffing cash into a mattress – which might be the better option for us
  • Spending in ways that support (or don’t support) our values
  • Charitable giving – how to align cash with the right causes

Throughout the year, we’ll also chat about real-life scenarios that make us consider (or reconsider) our ideas about money. A recent request from my uncle will be one of those.

Along with our posts about fun and finance, we’ll continue to keep you apprised of our efforts toward simplicity, minimalism, zero food waste, and sustainability, as these are the goals – above all else – that guide our lives each day.

What are your goals for 2019?

Bye-bye Cheese Nips!

In the hilarious travelogue, Dear Bob and Sue: Season Two, Matt and Karen Smith miss getting to their campground on time (it is first-come, first-served) because Matt can’t decide on what type of Cheez-Its to buy. He stands mesmerized and paralyzed by the various flavors along the “wall of Cheez-Its” in the grocery store until Karen must rip him away. It was easy to picture myself in this scenario. Though I prefer Cheese Nips, which only come in one flavor, there have been times when I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving home without this beloved road-trip snack.

Cheese flavored crackers (Cheese Nips, Cheez-Its, Goldfish, etc.) have been a mainstay of our snack box for years. I can’t remember a time when one or the other of them has not gone on a trip with us. In fact, I had a bag of Goldfish in my backpack the whole time I was in North Carolina. Are they good? Sure. Are they good for you? Probably not. Well, at least not the Cheese Nips.

Though we strive to eat mostly whole, plant-based foods, the occasional box of cookies or Cheese Nips finds its way into our pantry. We’ve always reasoned that in moderation, this was acceptable, especially if we selected snacks that avoided HFCS, too much added sugar, artificial flavors and artificial colors. Lately though, we’ve begun to rethink that statement.

Maybe it was reading The Consumption Cleanse or watching the documentary Stink! that got me thinking about toxic ingredients in our food and personal care items again or maybe it was shopping with my mom. Since her recent allergic reaction, she’s been hyper-vigilant about what she puts in or on her body (for the most part; I still haven’t convinced her to avoid sugar yet). As she read the labels on everything from juice to detergent, we had a chance to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of ingredients and one seemed to really annoy her the most – propylene glycol. It was in the baby wipes that were on sale (that she did not buy) and it was in the expensive eye drops that her doctor recommended that she use. Propylene glycol is antifreeze. It is used to de-ice planes and winterize RVs. And it’s used in a lot of food-like substances that many of us eat without thinking much about it.

Personally, I don’t want to eat antifreeze, regardless of the fact that the FDA classifies it as GRAS (or generally regarded as safe). I didn’t think we would find anything in our home containing propylene glycol but nonetheless, Angie and I launched an audit of our cabinets this week. Sadly, I was wrong. We found it in a box of Jiffy Yellow Cake Mix. We picked this up on our last camping trip because it was incredibly cheap and we wanted to experiment with baking a cake on a campfire. Thankfully, we never did. We also found it in our deodorant, which is made by Tom’s of Maine by the way!

Along with propylene glycol, we also purged anything that contained:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – this “poison” which is in almost everything, causes the body to store fat, yet it leaves you feeling hungry for more. We usually look for this at the store before we buy anything but somehow, we ended up with cereal (Honey Bunches of Oats) that contained it.
  • Artificial Sweeteners – sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin have been linked to cancer and believe it or not, actually make you crave sweets.
  • Azodicarbonamide or Dough Conditioner – also called the “yoga mat chemical”, this plastic is in some kinds of bread.
  • Maltodextrin – this preservative has zero nutritional value and with a glycemic index twice that of table sugar, it causes rapid spikes in blood sugar.
  • BHA/BHT – these additives have been banned in the EU because they are endocrine disruptors and affect the brain’s ability to signal the gut to stop eating. Luckily, we did not find any of these in the cabinet.
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – also called yeast extract and hydrolyzed proteins, MSG is a “flavor enhancer” that can cause bloating, headaches, and even depression. We found MSG in the Cheese Nips. It’s also in a lot of fast food chicken products, like KFC’s original recipe and Chick-Fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are a lot more ingredients that we could list here but for us, these are among the worst offenders. In total, we got rid of one box of Cheese Nips, two boxes of cereal, the Jiffy Mix, a bottle of Italian Dressing, a handful of Sweet & Low packets (picked up while traveling), pretzels, Uncle Ben’s Rice (a freebie from Kroger), and a pancake mix. The unopened items were donated to the food bank. The crackers and pretzels were crushed for our backyard friends. No food was tossed into the garbage in our purge.

The harder part though has been grocery shopping. We buy a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts but we also buy almond milk, dairy-free yogurt, veggie burgers, hummus, and a few canned goods, like tomato sauce and soup (for quick meals). We were surprised to find quite a few questionable ingredients in these items, including methyl cellulose (aka: Citrucel, a bulk-forming laxative) in our veggie burgers and the always worrisome catch-all “natural flavors” in our supposedly “all-natural” yogurt. Natural flavors are anything but natural, as they can contain up to 100 undisclosed ingredients including propylene glycol!

What’s the answer then? For us, it’s simply to make good choices one product at a time. This may require a little time and research, but we believe the benefits will be well worth the trouble.

Are there certain ingredients that you avoid?