3 Easy Steps To Spring Clean Your Expenses

Remember the chunk of time in 2020 when we were debating the true villains of “Tiger King” and lockdowns had just started?

Remember those early weeks when we baked lots bread and Zoom happy hours were still kinda fun?

Remember when we ran out of activities and started doing deep dives of Netflix until we realized we needed more options?

If you’re like me, you have Netflix. And Prime. And Disney+. Oh, and Hulu, HBO, Showtime, and something called FXX? I don’t know..it was for the show “Archer” and it’s $7.99 so it’s baaaaaa-a-a-sically free.

Sound familiar?

Those little subscriptions here and there are quietly adding up; because they’re all under $20/month, it’s easy to justify. Soon you have more than five of these subscriptions and that’s just for television. Chances are you probably also have:

  • A gym membership
  • A monthly skin-care regimen/essential oil/hair care product
  • A food delivery service
  • An editing app or software
  • A magazine subscription

You get the picture.

To get an accurate snapshot of how much you’re spending, you will first have to remind yourself of all the things you added to the cart in the last 12 months. This audit may take an hour or two, and it does require you do some gathering, but I promise you’ll find some extra cash (without having to dig through the gross center console of the car.)

  • Step 1: Print statements, save them as PDF’s, create yourself an Excel spreadsheet…whatever makes the most sense to your brain, just get your bills in front of you.

  • Step 2: Grab a highlighter and start color coding your expenses. GREEN for any recurring fee that is absolutely necessary: mortgage/rent, utilities, insurance, etc. BLUE for recurring fee that is nice to have, but technically a luxury. RED for anything you forgot that you’re paying for.

  • Step 3: Take a deep breath and add everything up. Does it make you cringe? It’s ok if it does! The good news is you have items marked in red that you clearly haven’t touched in months that need to go, ASAP.

If you’ve cleared the red from your totals and you’re still worried the amount you’re spending, revisit everything in blue. Do you NEED to support your friend’s skin care business? Do you actually use your meditation app? When was the last time you went to Anytime Fitness? If these sound real, it’s because I had to have a real heart-to-heart with my own credit card.

Ok. You have your homework. Complete this audit and then we can talk about guilt-free spending.

Shop Smarter: How Grocery Delivery Changed My Spending

I’ll never forget how scared I was this time one year ago: eight months pregnant, beginning of lockdown, wiping down groceries that my husband picked up in what I could only imagine was a post-apocalyptic grocery store free-for-all. (I hadn’t left the house in weeks and had no concept of the outside world…and I’ve watched “Contagion” too many times.)

When we realized we could just have our groceries DELIVERED, for a fee, I was skeptical. I didn’t love the idea of someone choosing my produce for me, and paying for it seemed a little insane. But after a few deliveries, I realized I was actually saving PILES of money, and time. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Hear me out…

  1. For the first time, I actually saw what groceries cost. Instead of mindlessly dropping things in the cart and keeping a very rough tally of my grand total, building my cart online was eye-opening and a little surprising. I’d set a limit for myself and quickly realize that if I bought the usual “essentials,” I was always going over that number in my head.
  2. I didn’t have the urge to buy those end-cap impulse items which are specifically placed front and center, and are usually more expensive than other brands. (think the “HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND BBQ WITH CHIPS, SALSA, VELVEETA AND S’MORES! that smacks you in the face after you get your toothpaste. Which leads me to number three…
  3. Impulse buys cost more than the delivery fee and tip. You know what I didn’t plan on buying before going into the store? $75 steaks. A fancy cheese platter concept based on the $14 wedge of brie which I’ll shove in a drawer and forget about completely.

Since we are now a year in and I DON’T spend 40 minutes scrubbing down boxes of crackers on the front porch, I have a fairly stream-lined process. Delivery isn’t essential all the time, but I do plan my shopping list throughout the week, adding things as need.

Pro-tip: plan the list online, screenshot it, and then use that at the store.

Better yet, screenshot this image and save it for any time you need to restock your BLW essentials. These 12 items on their own could be meals in a pinch, and are great paired with any protein or vegetable you’re already cooking for yourself.

Consider this your permission to take shortcuts that could save you time and money…and if it means one less frazzled grocery run, it has already paid for itself.

How to Fix Your Budget and Ditch the Guilt

Let’s just face it…budgets don’t work.

Ok, sometimes they work but–I’m guessing– if you’re reading this, yours isn’t serving you.

Here are three of the big reasons budgets fail:

  1. Life happens. You can plan down to the penny how much you will ideally spend on food next month, but plans change, people come over (maybe. In small groups.) Cars break down, basements flood, kids have field trips they SWEAR they told you about.
  2. Not everyone in the household is on board. Whether it’s a spouse or a teenager, anyone with access to the bank account affects how the budget is handled.
  3. Budgets are generally very restrictive. Similar to number one, we like to fantasize about fitting our future selves into smaller boxes. When we can’t fit into these tidy, arbitrary confines, it feels like we’ve failed.

What if we reframe it and call it “guilt-free spending?”

Doesn’t that just sound better?

Here’s how it works:

There are some important rules to keep in mind.

Guidelines for the expense account:

  • The expense account can have a debit card but it should never be in your wallet. It should only be used to pay a bill that doesn’t accept an ACH or credit card.
  • This account should be on auto-pilot, taking in a little more funds than necessary to cover all the bills. I like to pad it with at least $100. Sometimes errors happen, things pay twice (not likely, but they do.) The last thing you want is to have your rent or mortgage bounce.
  • Set up alerts to let you know if the balance approaches $100, or whatever you’ve padded it with.
  • Only add signers to this account who you trust. If you have roommates, it may be safer to ask them to transfer you funds through Venmo or PayPal or a good old fashioned check.
  • Getting this set up takes some time, but once all of your billers and the direct deposit are in place, you should never have to think about it again.
  • I like to set up a payment to my credit card, usually a little more than the minimum, that will get paid no matter what. I always pay my cards down, but I’m checking those statements daily and paying the remainder of the balance manually.

Guidelines for the operating account:

  • This amount may fluctuate month-to-month, so I like to set up balance alerts here too.
  • How you spend it is up to you. Maybe you withdraw the cash so you can physically see how much you have. Maybe you’re buying a big item online. Maybe it’s a date night you’ve been planning for.
  • This account is a good indicator of your spending habits. If NOTHING gets funneled here, or it’s not enough to do the things you want, something needs to change. If making more money isn’t feasible, then it’s time to revisit your expenses.

The bottom line: it isn’t about how much you make…it’s about how much you spend.

Pumpkin for breakfast, for when spring feels like fall.

I know, I know, I know.

It’s much too early for pumpkin spice anything. We had a cool, rainy weekend and I found a can of pumpkin puree in the pantry. One thing led to another…pumpkin spice waffles appeared on the table. I’m not mad about it.

I wanted to mix up breakfasts for Maya AND I have jury duty this morning, which is not related but does mean my husband may be on meal duty for the week.

One can, two baby-friendly recipes: let’s do this.

On Sunday morning I made Cookie and Kate’s delicious whole wheat pumpkin spice waffles and used whole wheat flour instead of oat flour. I really wish I’d just tried the oat flour…they were DENSE!

Maya and Eric, my husband, loved them, so I left a couple out for the week and froze the rest.

To serve to baby, cut into pinky-sized pieces and top with yogurt or nut butter (or both) to prevent choking.

With the rest of the puree, I’m going to make overnight oats from Wholefully. To make them BLW friendly, use maple or agave instead of honey. I also like to add hemp hearts for crunch.

Breakfasts for Maya this week might look like:

Monday: Scrambled eggs, strawberries, avocado

Tuesday: Pumpkin waffle, yogurt, banana

Wednesday: Overnight oats

Thursday: Avocado toast, fried egg, strawberries

Friday: Pumpkin waffle, nut butter, banana

Off to do my civic duty! Wish me (and Eric) luck. I can only imagine how hard it will be to clean pumpkin-spice-anything off of every surface within a two foot radius of the baby.

Mimi’s Perfect Eggplant Parmesan

We were lucky enough to have my mom in town for the week and she did ALL the things. Between entertaining a very clingy baby and walking a very needy dog, she also cooked the most amazing food.

Since I wanted to be able to replicate this relatively quickly, we used jarred sauce and it still turned out great. We served this with spaghetti, but your favorite pasta shape would work too.

Maya had a little of the eggplant after it was roasted and it was a hit!

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut in 3/8-inch slices, skin left on.

2 eggs

1 cup or more of Italian Style Bread Crumbs

2 T. avocado oil

2 T. olive oil

large log of whole milk, pre-sliced, mozzarella cheese (16 slices)

48-56 0z. home-made or prepared marinara sauce (I love Rao’s)

*Optional 1c of mushrooms, sliced

5 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

10 Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Prepare the eggplants and mushrooms

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2. Grease a large roasting pan with avocado oil

4. Prepare 2 shallow bowls, 1 with the beaten eggs, 1 with the bread crumbs

5.Dip eggplant slice in egg coating both sides, then dip eggplant slice in bread crumbs, coating evenly. Place eggplant slice on greased roasting pan. Repeat with remaining slices, trying to fit all of them in the pan. Since eggplants are all different sizes, you might exceed the pan with extra slices, which will require a second batch in the oven. If you run out of egg and bread crumbs, add more until all slices are coated and ready to roast.

6.Roast eggplant 8-10 minutes per side, until the coating begins to brown and get crispy on the edges.

7. (Optional) Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1T of oil or butter. Sautee mushrooms until they release their moisture, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Assemble

  1. Adjust oven to 350 degrees
  2.  Coat bottom of a 9’x13’ glass or ceramic rectangular baking dish with one ladle full of marinara sauce.
  3. Place roasted eggplant slices side-by-side in the pan to create the first layer.  Place a slice of mozzarella cheese on each slice of eggplant.
  4. Scatter mushrooms between layers, if using.
  5. Lightly ladle marinara over the eggplant/mozzarella slices, but do not drown them in sauce.
  6. Add the second layer of eggplant slices and mozzarella slices on each one.  Add more marinara to lightly cover the slices.  If you need a third layer of eggplant, add that with mozzarella slices and more sauce.
  7. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese to cover the entire top layer.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes.

The BLW Gear I Can’t Live Without

If you’ve already started baby-led weaning, you know about the mess.

My Instagram may show the fun finished product, but my husband will attest that the kitchen is in shambles 90% of the time.


I have two set-ups in our kitchen/family room, depending on what and when she’s eating and how messy I know it’s going to get. There are so many options for baby bowls out there, and I highly recommend using one rather than putting food on the tray. Since babies don’t develop their pincer grasp until month 9-10, they need something to push their food up against.


Option 1:

Bumbo chair + Goobie baby bowls + Ava and Oliver bib

Maya eats the majority of her meals in this setup, sitting on top of the kitchen island. I love this chair because it’s almost impossible for her to move around in (though I always stand very close by) and the whole thing comes apart and can go straight into the sink to be hosed down. We took this chair on vacation and it was perfect. The Goobie Baby bowls are miraculously strong enough that she can’t break the suction from the tray. I portion the food out in the bowl but she always mixes it up anyway and doesn’t seem to mind things comingling. The bibs are great at catching the 65% of food that doesn’t make into her mouth. They’re very easy to clean. I recommend having two bowls and two bibs, at least.


Option 2:

Inglesina Fast Table chair + dining tray + EZPZ mat + Ava and Oliver bib

Maya rarely sits over here unless we are all eating breakfast together or she’s having a relatively “clean” snack, like puffs. This chair is great in theory but much harder to clean and dry out. In order for her to have a footrest, we’ve sacrificed a dining chair to the cause so she can stand on it, rather than have her legs dangling. The mat sticks some of the time, but recently she’s been able to peel it off and throw it like a frisbee, food ‘n all, to the patiently waiting dog. As she gets older and (hopefully) less acrobatic at meals, this will probably be a great option.


Other tools I love: EZPZ Tiny Cup and Tiny SpoonGoo-Tensils


A note on spoons: While spoon-feeding your baby directly is not the goal of BLW, pre-loading a spoon and handing it to her or setting it down in the bowl for her to grasp is a great way to help her learn how to serve herself.

Done there, been that: if Tiny Morsels had a resume

Sitting at my dimly lit table, facing the tidy kitchen so I can ignore the toy-strewn family room behind me, I revel in this moment because it feels like I’ve come full circle. When I think back to my very first job, ALL the way back when I was 12, I was a mother’s helper for the family two doors down. My younger sister always came with me, and together we would bring arts and crafts, invent new games, spend days at the park, help run their lemonade stand. We practically lived there each summer, and I loved every second of it. As I got older, if I wasn’t at their house I was playing with my younger cousins, shuttling around my step-brothers, working in the gym day care, caring for senior citizens at their homes.

No matter what my job morphed into, I was always “mothering” on some level.

Tiny Morsels is the culmination of decades of wandering down new career paths, some that were SO CLEARLY not for me…I’ll get to that in a minute, and some that helped me grow. During college, in my search for a career path that spoke to me, I took a job as a Production Assistant at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

Hold on, I should back up.

I went to college, originally, pursuing a degree in Music Therapy. After several summers volunteering alongside trained Music, Speech, Occupational and Physical therapists at a summer camp for special needs children, it felt like the perfect fit: I played piano, loved working with children…undergrad major declared! One semester’s worth of non-stop practicing and 8:00am sight-singing lessons later, a professor sat me down and said,

“Look. You know all the techniques and can write all the action plans, but your singing…

It’s just not therapeutic…for anyone.”

Cool cool cool. I will just show myself out then.

Enter the 2006 Olympics: AKA a serendipitous excuse to delay declaring a new major. I turned 19 my first day on the job and spent three months getting Olympic venues ready, keeping them running 24/7 , and tearing them down at the end. It was thrilling and exhausting, and it opened my eyes to the world of broadcast journalism.


Ultimately I graduated with a degree in secondary English Education and tried to find a teaching job in a district that was laying off many of its first-year teachers. Luckily an old friend and fellow educator-in-need-of-employment was up for a bit of a detour. We got jobs as ski instructors at Breckenridge mountain, following in the footsteps of both of our ski-pro fathers, and spent two winters teaching 3-6 year olds how to stand on their skis, drink copious amounts of hot chocolate, and sometimes get on a chairlift.


I wasn’t as die-hard as my friends and fellow instructors; I only taught part time, and the majority of my days I spent tutoring one-on-one at a private learning center down the road. I helped students who thrived in non-traditional settings for various reasons, and it is one of the happiest times of my life. Living alone and being single in a mountain town had its challenges, and eventually I needed more consistency and moved back to the city, but I will always miss the afternoon rain storms cooling off our little tree house of an office and the families I helped while there.


Back at a lower altitude, I took my first public school teaching job and taught high school English and Journalism for three years.


Ok. Here is where I want to fast forward and move the story along. My mom infamously uses “long story short” at the end of the LONGEST stories ever told. So.

Long story short: Loved my students, got burnt out, met my future husband, switched careers, became a banker, started investing in real estate, got married, moved to Washington, got my real estate license, had the world’s cutest baby.


Oh and somewhere in there we got the world’s best dog. She’d be pissed if I didn’t include that detail.


Since having Maya and trying to figure out when my “maternity leave” ends, I feel like I’ve been fighting the most obvious and natural path for me to walk right now. I am a new mom in every sense of the word. We are almost a year in and every day is full of unmarked obstacles and hazardous terrain. I’m still up at night googling “is it normal if…?” and I’ve yet to figure out how to consistently get myself showered and dressed before starting Maya’s day. I’ve been many places and had many titles, but as I look back at this resume of life experience, I’ve always been caring for and educating others.


Maybe you’re here because you, too, have a baby born in quarantine whose friends are mainly plants and pets, or you want to learn more about baby-led-weaning (the non-judgey, purely for fun kind). Maybe you need help budgeting for the cascading waterfall of expenses that you now face.

Maybe you also curse like a sailor when you’re fired up and love a rye whiskey. I don’t know.

Either way, I’m glad you’re here!

10 Foods in 10 Days: Start Your BLW Journey

I have a confession: I stocked up on piles of purees before I started learning about baby-led weaning. It freaked me out until I learned from the very best, the BabyLedWeanTeam, and I armed myself with all of the knowledge I’d need to feel confident.

Here are some of the biggest things to know before you start:

  1. Gagging is GOOD, choking is not. Google “baby gagging videos” and watch a lot of them. If your baby is making sounds, they are learning to clear their airways. No sound=no breathing. Brush up on your baby CPR just in case.
  2. On that note, never leave baby unattended while eating. Sit with them and watch them closely. Try to avoid reaching for them if they are gagging. It could cause them to inhale and then start choking.
  3. Pay attention to sodium! Try to stay under 100mg per serving and don’t add any additional salt to the food you are serving. Aromatics are great: cinnamon, pepper, garlic powder, etc. Rinsing canned food such as beans helps remove an additional 30% of sodium.
  4. This may be a no-brainer, but serve food at room temperature or cool.
  5. If possible, put baby in a chair that has a footrest. If their feet dangle, they have little to no core stability. Read more about it here. We solved this problem with our Inglesina table chair by sliding a dining chair underneath it. Maya’s feet are flat so can focus her energy on swallowing safely.

So…where to start? These 10 foods are also some of my favorite BLW staples that I always have on hand.

  • Sweet Potato: Peel, slice into wedges about the size of your pinky, toss in olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
  • Avocado: These can be hard to pick up, so offer as wedges and smash a few up with a fork.
  • Chicken: Boneless skinless thighs are less of a choking hazard than chicken breasts. Put the thighs in a small saucepan and add water or low sodium chicken broth until they are just covered. Bring to a boil and then simmer until meal shreds easily with a fork, about 10 minutes (internal temp of 165 degrees.) Serve in strips.
  • Pineapple: Canned is just fine! I like Dole pineapple slices in 100% pineapple juice. Cut into strips and serve.
  • Yogurt: Look for full-fat, low sodium options. And be ready for a BIG mess!
  • Carrots: Peel and cut into matchsticks. Drizzle olive oil over the top and season with pepper and garlic or ginger. Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, until very soft.
  • Oatmeal: For the first time introducing this, I pulverized the oats in a blender to make them a little smaller. In a small saucepan, combine 1c water, 1/2c oats, and 1/2t of cinnamon. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed. -Toppings to add to the boiling water after week 1: Diced apples, hemp hearts, chia seeds.
  • Cantaloupe: This one can also be hard to pick up. If baby is struggling, try rolling one end in flax seeds.
  • Cauliflower: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut one large head of cauliflower into florets. Leave a little bit of them the stem as a handle. Toss in olive oil and season with your favorite savory (low-to no sodium) spices: garlic powder, basil, turmeric, curry. Pick 1-2 flavors to start. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until fork tender.
  • Applesauce: Look for no-sugar-added options. **not sugar-free.**