Valentine’s Day on a Budget

Tips for Celebrating Valentine’s Day Through a Lens of Healthy Abundance, Not Lack.

Do you just do Valentine’s Day, or do you really DO Valentine’s Day? What I mean by that is do you simply go through the motions of buying the obligatory cards, candy and flowers and maybe a nice dinner out? Or do you really put thought into it and use it as a chance to let the most special people in your life know how much you truly love and appreciate them? Obviously, I’m leaning toward the second way, and I’m going to show you how Valentine’s Day on a budget and with meaning is possible. It may also turn out to be one of the healthiest days that you celebrate all year!

Photo of hand drawing a heart on a card as an example of Valentine's Day on a budget

Valentine’s Day on a Budget

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember that when the term ‘on a budget’ is used on this site, it’s meant as a way of looking at life through a lens of abundance, not lack. It’s about being thoughtful with your valuable resources – your time, your money, your emotions and your energy – and making sure that they’re supporting you in the best, healthiest way possible. That’s where thinking about Valentine’s Day on a budget can serve us well. It’s a chance to really take stock of our riches when it comes to the people we love and who love us back and to be truly intentional about recognizing and appreciating that love.

While there’s no doubt that Valentine’s Day can be very commercial, Bean Robinson, PhD believes that special occasions like this can still be extremely meaningful for our closest relationships. She should know, she’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and Clinical Director for the Program in Human Sexuality in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Bean says that these occasions “kind of force us to think about that person and give us an opportunity or a reminder to do something special to demonstrate how we feel about them and how much we value them, love them, like them and care for them.”

Doing this is certainly good for our relationships, but it’s also good for our health. It puts our focus on what is good and positive and loving in our life and triggers the release of the so-called happiness hormones such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. These hormones can carry us a long way in balancing out the ‘business’ of everyday life.

Photo of heart shaped candy molds as an example of Valentine's Day on a budget

Expressions of Love That Don’t Cost a Lot of Money

The great thing is that demonstrating our love doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Valentine’s Day on a budget is about spending energy and effort, not depleting our bank account. Here are some low-cost ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day in a way that’s meaningful and healthy for everyone involved.

Cook a nice dinner at home together

I know that the idea of taking the night off from cooking dinner and going to a fancy restaurant might be appealing, and if that’s something that is easily within your budget and there’s a place that’s meaningful for you and your love, go for it. Otherwise, having dinner at home can be just as meaningful and just as special. The key here is cooking together. Plan the meal together, buy your groceries together and cook together.

Tell the kids it’s an early bedtime night, or if they’re older, that they just need to spend some time in their room or in some other part of the house. Set the table with a nice tablecloth, cloth napkins and lit candles and you’re set. Most importantly, the TV is off, and no phones are allowed anywhere near the kitchen or where you’re eating. Talk to each other and take the chance to remember why this is the most important person in your life.

Make a card instead of buying one

I don’t know about you, but I usually feel like buying cards is a waste of a lot of money because I can never find one that’s exactly right. If I can’t find one that says what I want it to, I’d much rather use my own words and get it like I want it. If I don’t know what I want it to say, then that means I’ve got even more homework to do. Valentines are an expression of our love, and we should be able to put that into words at least one day a year. A couple of years ago, I bought pre-cut large hearts and gave some to everyone in the family. The entire pack cost no more than $4. The instructions were to write words on them that describe all of the things that we love and appreciate about each other. Those cards are some of the most meaningful I’ve ever received.

Make your own candy

I make fudge for Valentine’s in a heart-shaped mold that I bought years ago. There’s nothing healthy about the fudge, but the happy hormones released because of the effort I put into it for those I love do wonders for me mentally and physically. I’ve also bought strawberries, dipped them halfway in chocolate and ended up with a treat that looks and tastes as good as anything that you’ll buy at a store.

Buy flowers at the farmer’s market or plant seeds

If you’re lucky enough to live where you can find flowers at the farmer’s market in February, this is a great option for buying an arrangement that looks beautiful and doesn’t cost a lot of money. Some farmers with environmentally-friendly greenhouses are able to provide flowers in even the colder climates, so don’t count this out until you check. Another option is to buy a pack of flower seeds and start them in small cups so that they’re ready to be given on Valentine’s. They’ll provide enjoyment as your Valentine gets to watch them grow indoors and then they can be planted outside so that they’ll continue to give joy for a long time to come.

Plan a no-cost or low-cost outing

Putting the effort into planning a special outing or an entire day with your Valentine will pay off big in terms of how much pleasure you both will get from it. Making sure that it costs little to nothing can be a fun part of your challenge and will force you to be as creative as possible.

Lean on Your Community

There’s no doubt that you can spend a lot of money on Valentine’s Day if you want to, but that’s not what it’s about. Valentine’s Day on a budget is about putting thought and effort into showing those you love how much they mean to you. The health benefits that you and your Valentine will reap from this will last for a long time to come. Hopefully some of the ideas here will give you some inspiration. If you have other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments below.

If you also want to learn more about nurturing your romantic relationship on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year, be sure and check out Craving Connection: The Importance of Intimate Relationships.

Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are in season everywhere in the U.S. right now and are among the easiest ways to get multiple important nutrients through the food we eat. In fact, the nutritional benefits of mushrooms are immense. If they’re not a regular part of your diet, they should be!

Photo of mushrooms at farmers market as example of the health benefits of mushrooms
Mushrooms courtesy of Haw River Mushrooms

What is a Mushroom?

Mushrooms are fungi that play a similar role to a flower or a fruit in plants1. The part that we see is the fruit.2 The “seeds” that are produced are spores that form under the mushroom’s cap. They can be spread in many ways, such as being blown by the wind or through animals feeding3. Mushrooms don’t contain chlorophyll and most get their nutrients from breaking down dead plants or non-living organic matter2.

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

It’s important to note that there are edible and inedible mushrooms. Clearly, we are talking about the edible ones here. All edible mushrooms contain protein and dietary fiber. They also have significant amounts of copper, which is important for helping the body to form red blood cells; niacin (or vitamin B3)4, which is important for the development and function of the cells in the body5; and antioxidants6 that help protect cells against free radicals, which may contribute to heart disease, cancer and other diseases7.

Importantly for people eating a plant-based diet, mushrooms have the distinction of being the only natural non-animal dietary source of Vitamin D.8 Growers can increase those levels even more by exposing them to ultraviolet light.9

Nutrients in Mushrooms

White mushrooms are among the most popular that are eaten raw or cooked in recipes. Here is their nutrition information according to the USDA.4

Protein 3.00 g/100 g

Fat .3 g/100 g

Carbohydrates 3.69 g/100 g

Dietary fiber 1.45 g/100 g

Calcium 4 mg/100 g

Copper .30 mg/100 g

Potassium 358 mg/100 g

Niacin* 2.8 mg/100 g

*While white mushrooms have some of the lowest amounts of Niacin, Enoki mushrooms have some of the highest levels at 7.03 mg/100 mg

How to Eat Mushrooms for Nutrition Retention

Mushrooms should be kept as dry as possible. In most cases, you can simply pat them with a paper towel to clean them before eating. The nutrient content noted above was for eating white mushrooms raw. The USDA says that if you’re going to cook mushrooms, the best way to retain most of their nutrients is through stir-frying or cooking in a microwave oven.4 Another study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, found that grilling and microwaving mushrooms were the best ways of cooking to retain their nutrients.10 Bottom line – if you’re cooking mushrooms, it looks like microwaving them is best, followed by stir-frying and grilling.

Budget Benefits of Mushrooms

The Environmental Working Group includes mushrooms on its Clean 15 list, which means that you don’t necessarily need to spend the extra money to buy them organic. While you can certainly spend a fortune on specialty mushrooms if you want, white mushrooms and portabellas are much more affordable. An 8-ounce package of white mushrooms can cost anywhere between $1.50 – $2 and the same size of Baby Bellas usually cost around $2.50. As far as I’m concerned, mushrooms are a very affordable way to get a lot of nutrient bang for your buck.


  1. Nathan Wilson, Marine Biological Laboratory.
  2. –
  4. USDA.
  6. Science Direct.
  7. Mayo Clinic.
  8. Black LJ, Lucas RM, Sherriff JL, Björn LO, Bornman JF. In Pursuit of Vitamin D in Plants. Nutrients. 2017;9(2):136. Published 2017 Feb 13. doi:10.3390/nu9020136 –
  9. Michael D. Kalaras and Robert B. Beelman, Graduate Student and Professor, Department of Food Science, Penn State University.
  10. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.

My Personal 21-Day Back on Track Challenge

Back on Track to Health and Wellness.

Getting back on track with our health is different than when we’re just starting out. We know we can do it. We know what the benefits are and have experienced them before. And we know generally what we need to do to get back to feeling the way we want to.

Life simply happens sometimes. Instead of beating ourselves up about it, we just need to guide ourselves back to where we want to be. That’s where I am at this point. Life not only happened recently; it body slammed me. While my health and wellness habits are part of what helped get me through, they also took a beating. That’s why I need a tune-up. While everybody’s version of getting back on track is and should be different, I wanted to share what I’ll be doing over the next 21 days to get myself back to where I want to be.

Photo of clear serving bowl of salad sitting on a colorful plate as part of my back on track challenge

Drink 96 Ounces of Water a Day

This is the amount that Brooke Goldner, M.D.  recommends so that we can survive and thrive. Dr. Goldner is the founder of, and creator of the Hyper-Nourishing Nutrition Protocol for Lupus Recovery.

I can vouch for the fact that when I drink this much each day, I simply feel better. It also makes me feel full so that I’m not snacking throughout the day. I know that the key for me is to finish my 40-ounce water bottle by the time I’m done with my morning workout. Since I’ve already had 8 ounces with my tea and 8 ounces in my smoothie, all I need is another 40 ounces throughout the day.

Cut Out Wine

This is my version of Dry January. I don’t feel like I need to cut wine out of my life completely, but after extremely stressful times, I think it is helpful to take a break and get back on track. If I drink a glass here or there, I want it to be out of enjoyment, not because I rely on it as a coping mechanism.

Move More

When I don’t make getting enough movement into my day a priority, things go south pretty quickly. I need it to feel better physically and mentally. Five days a week at the gym for an hour each day is my goal. I’ll also be working in some type of movement on the other two days. I’ve found that I need a combination of cardio to de-stress and to just get my energy going, strength training to keep my muscles strong and stretching to keep my body flexible. Since I sit at a desk all day, I’ll also be working in hourly breaks to just get up and move for a couple of minutes.

Eat a BIG Salad Every Day

This is another Dr. Goldner recommendation that goes with her suggestion of eating eight cups of raw vegetables every day. While I don’t need to get all of that through my salad, a big serving bowl full is about 5 cups – just the right amount.

Dramatically Reduce Refined, Added Sugar

When I feel my best, I’m eating virtually no refined, added sugar. The problem though is that I am without a doubt a stress eater, and when I stress, I often want chocolate (or popcorn). There are plenty of times when I have a great deal of self-control, but when I’m stressed is not usually one of them. If I know it’s going to be a stressful time or now, as I’m trying to wean myself off of too much sugar, I’ll try to keep 85 percent chocolate around or bite-sized servings of something that’s naturally sweetened. I still have to limit myself to small portions of those though because even natural sweeteners can spike blood sugar.

Write in My Gratitude Journal

Writing in my gratitude journal forces me to take a few minutes every day and appreciate my life. It’s hard to get too down or stressed when I can recognize everything that I have and the lessons that I’ve learned. I will spend a few minutes first thing each morning writing down at least five things that I’m grateful for. This will help add perspective as I start the day.

Meditate Every Morning

Since my head tends to flood with thoughts, worries and to dos the second I wake up, meditating helps to counter the “noise” with some balance. As a naturally fairly intense person, it helps me to step back and be more thoughtful for myself and others. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s safe to assume that it’s been a while since I’ve meditated. When I meditate regularly, I simply don’t get like that. That’s why strengthening my meditation practice will be a big part of my getting back on track over the next 21 days.

Connect More with Others

Working from home is a good fit for me because I need quiet when I’m truly thinking, and I think more creatively when I’m by myself. I honestly believe that’s my brain’s retaliation for the years of sensory overload from working in a noisy and hyper-vigilant newsroom. The challenge though is making sure that I’m not too isolated and that I make an effort to connect with others.

That’s why I’ll be pushing myself over the next three weeks to find new communities that fit my interests and to take more initiative in getting together with friends. I certainly don’t feel the need to fill up all of my spare time just being “busy,” but I know that I need more meaningful connections and the only way that’s going to happen is by putting myself “out there.”

Eat 100 Percent Plant-Based

Let me be clear. This is a personal goal for me. I do not believe that a purely plant-based diet is best for everyone. It can be a healthy choice for some, as much as I know that eating meat as a source of protein is better for others. I have eaten what I call a 98 percent plant-based diet for several years now, and I know that I simply feel better eating that way.

My two percent not counted in there is the fact that I love cheese. While I don’t eat it most of the time at home, if you put a platter of cheese and crackers or a pizza in front of me, I’m going to have trouble saying no. It’s also a way of participating in social situations without eating meat. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that as I’ve gotten older, I simply don’t feel as good after I’ve eaten cheese. Since real health is about finding what makes us feel the best individually, I think cheese is going to have to go.

Ethical Considerations

The other major factor in my decision years ago to start eating this way is that even though I’ve eaten meat for all of my life and grew up on a farm, I realized that I truly don’t want to do harm – either directly or indirectly – to another animal. That is my personal choice and viewpoint, but I do not judge those who do eat meat. My sons and husband certainly still eat meat, and I respect their decision as much as I expect them to respect mine. When I buy meat for my family however, I do try to buy it from farmers that I know at the farmer’s market so that I know that it was raised in the most humane way possible.

Have More Fun

There’s no doubt about it. As I’m getting back on track, I need to get more genuine fun into my life. I love to work and that’s an integral part of who I am, but it certainly can’t be everything. I’m also very good at handling crisis situations – whether they’re my own, my family’s or someone else’s – but when they’re done, it’s hard for me to remember what I’m supposed to do during regular times. Having fun should be a consistent part of the regular times.

These are the 10 things that I’m tackling for myself over the next 21 days. If you decide that you need a reset as well, maybe my challenge will get you started in thinking about how you feel and what you need to get yourself back on track. If you develop your own list, feel free to share it in the comments below or through social media.

Creating a Budget for a Healthier You

4 Essential Steps to Creating a Budget

Creating a budget is like doing exercises that aren’t necessarily your favorites. It may not be the most fun, but it is necessary for your overall health and wellbeing. On the other hand, chronic stress is not good for our health. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2019 report, about 60 percent of us say that money is a significant source of personal stress. That’s why creating a budget (or as money expert Ellen Rogin prefers to call it “A values-based spending plan”) is so important. It lets us take control of our finances and in many ways, our health, our wellbeing and our future. 

Image of creating a budget with a spreadsheet

I know all of this firsthand. As someone who started out early adulthood in major debt, I quickly realized that was not a place where I wanted to stay. My husband and I began developing a budget at the beginning of every year, and then we stuck with that habit. It has impacted everything. On very modest incomes, we were able to pay off the debt within a few years and start an emergency fund. This fund has saved us repeatedly from having to take out loans for emergency-type expenses or put them on a credit card. Yes, life happens, but you can have a great deal of control over how prepared you are for it. That’s why I wanted to share with you the 4 essential steps for creating a budget that have worked for us that will help reduce stress and foster your dreams, your reality and your health.

Identify a Budgeting Tool 

Identifying a budgeting tool that works for you is a must. You can simply use a good old-fashioned notepad (we did this for many years), but it is certainly helpful to have something that will at the very least automatically do the math for you. That way you’re not spending valuable time repeatedly adding and subtracting the same numbers. 

The most important thing to look for in any tool that you use for creating a budget is that it lets you add and remove lines to fit your needs. It also needs to be able to recognize what you’ve added as part of its overall formula. 

We currently use the basic budgeting spreadsheet included with Excel. It’s simple and easy to use and lets us clearly see how much money we have coming in, how much we’re spending and what the difference is between the two. We do a spreadsheet for every month. This is budgeting at its most basic, but it’s free and it works. 

Other good, more comprehensive tools that make it easy to track daily expenses, include credit card debt, investments, loans, etc are:

Identify Monthly Income 

I start the process of creating a budget by identifying the income for each month. This lets me see from the beginning what I have to work with. If both you and your spouse or partner work, include each of your monthly incomes on a separate line. If you have any other sources of income – no matter how big or small – add a separate line for them. This lets you see what your regular sources are that you can count on each month as well as what is extra and shouldn’t be relied upon on a regular basis. 

You’re going to hear me say this over and over but be as specific as possible. I strongly dislike the term “other.” Be specific. If it’s cash you’ve earned from your credit card, say “credit card cash back.” This lets you track how lucrative those types of programs are and whether you’re using them as much to your advantage as you can (more on that in the next section). 

Identify Specific Monthly Expenses

There are some money experts who say that tracking every little expense fosters an attitude of scarcity instead of abundance. That you should focus on broader categories like how you’re investing your money and then you won’t have to worry about tracking every penny that goes out. I get that concept completely, but at the same time, I can tell you that closely tracking the money that is flowing out can make a difference in how it adds up – whether it’s in the positive or negative. 

We’ve ended some of what should have been our best financial years with me shaking my head – wondering where it all went and how we didn’t end up in much better shape than we did on some of our tightest years. The challenge that we found is that when we were earning more, we were more prone to not tracking our spending as closely, or at least not making sure that it was going to the places where it would make the most difference in the long-term, such as putting more in savings. Yes, we were more comfortable in not thinking about every cent we spent, but in turn, we also weren’t thinking about how the choices we were making were going to serve us best – now and in the future. 

That’s what creating a budget is all about. Making choices about how your money is going to serve you and your goals as opposed to letting it just flow out with no real purpose. In my opinion, a budget helps to support an attitude of prosperity, not limit it. 

Here’s the order that we follow for determining our expenses. 

  • Identify fixed, essential monthly expenses such as housing, food and utilities. You may be thinking that food expenses may fluctuate from month to month. The truth is though that you should have a fairly specific idea of what you need and what you can afford and then STICK WITH IT. If this is a struggle for you, money expert Dave Ramsey suggests getting your monthly or two-week allotment for groceries out in cash and keeping it in a marked envelope. You only spend as much money as you have in the envelope. That’s it. While I don’t currently use this system, I learned it from my grandmother, have used it many times, and it does work.
  • Identify long-term goals and what you need to put away in savings each year to work toward these goals. These could include building up an emergency fund (you should have 3-6 months of cash to cover living expenses if needed), retirement, paying off debt, saving for college, buying a car and big house projects. Once you’ve determined how much you need to put away each year for each of those goals, divide those amounts by 12 to figure out how much you should set aside each month. 
  • Identify short-term goals such as Christmas, birthdays, vacations and small house projects or maintenance. Friends, Christmas and birthdays come around at the same time every year. They should not sneak up on you, and they shouldn’t catch you by surprise. Plan for them and include them in your budget. If you’re creating your budget in January (highly recommended!), decide how much you can spend for Christmas and divide by 12 to determine how much you need to put away each month. Then Then STICK WITH YOUR HOLIDAY BUDGET when it actually comes time to buy gifts.
  • Identify any other expenses for the year such as sports for kids, hobbies for you and gym memberships. Again, get as specific as you can, and each type of expense gets its own line. I even include a line for back to school expenses in August, entertainment, clothes shopping, pet expenses, eating out, etc. The more specific that you can be, the more closely you can track how you’re spending your money. 

Important notes for identifying expenses.

  • This process may take several revisions. As you get down to the more flexible expense categories, you can start by including as many specific items as you think will be feasible based on how much money you have left after the essential items and essential long-term goals. Once you see how those costs fit with everything else that you need to do, you can add or delete expenses as necessary. 
  • If you’re going to use your credit card, pay it off each month. Create a line in your budget for any expense or category of related expenses where you’ve used your card and exactly how much is owed. I mark these with (CC). That way, you still budget for that expense even though it won’t disappear from your bank account until the credit card payment is due. If you are disciplined and follow this way of using a credit card, I think the cash back that you get from some cards is worth it. We get hundreds of dollars in free money every year for purchases that we were making anyway. But we NEVER carry a credit card balance, and we have one primary card that we use. If you don’t think you’ll be able to be that disciplined, DO NOT have a credit card. The interest that they charge is simply not worth it. Unless it’s an emergency, and you don’t have any other cash available to you, putting off a purchase until you can pay for it in cash is always going to be the best way to go. 
  • If you need to use any of your emergency funds, include in your budget a plan for paying that money back so that you can return your fund to the 3-6 months of covering living expenses as soon as possible.

Make Sure Every Month Balances to Zero

The final step in creating a budget is to make sure that every month balances to zero (income minus expenses = zero). That means that every dollar should have a home within the budget from the outset. Doing this provides a thoughtful framework for making sure that your financial goals for the year are realistic. If flexible dollars need to be moved around as the month progresses to support unexpected costs, that’s fine. Just make sure that the end result is always zero.  

In order to do this, you’ll need to regularly update your budget with your actual expenses and use it to guide your decisions. I take 5 minutes every day to do this, but it can also be done on a weekly basis. The main point is that it’s done regularly so that you don’t end up with any unexpected deficits.

Creating a budget doesn’t mean that you won’t have to make choices about how to spend your money, but it will mean that you can have the control of making those choices. Using your money to build the present and future that you want is certainly a much healthier option than stressing over how to dig out of a financial hole. 

Disclaimer: The information included in this article is not intended to give specific financial advice. If you need help determining what your long- and short-term financial goals are, please consult a professional financial advisor. 

10 Best Kitchen Gifts for Healthy Cooking

Kitchen Gifts That Make Healthy Cooking Easy.

Healthy cooking doesn’t require a lot of fancy gadgets, but it’s definitely made a lot easier with the help of a few essential items. Some of these things many people receive as wedding gifts but after 5-10 years, they may need to be replaced. Others are things that it’s easy to assume that everyone just has, but if they weren’t handed down or they haven’t been received as gifts, it may seem hard to spend money on them, even if they’re not that expensive. And still others are things that would either help us save money or leave less of an imprint on our environment, or both. That’s why I’ve put together this list of the 10 best kitchen gifts for healthy cooking.

Just when you think someone has everything, there’s almost always one or more of the items on this list that they could really use and that would make healthy cooking easier. They also range in price from $1.99 to $199, which means there’s something for all budgets. Whomever you’re buying for this year, if they’re cooking healthy, there’s something on this list that they could use.

Photo of empty glass spice jars  that are among the best kitchen gifts for healthy cooking
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Seasonal Produce Spotlight: Brussels Sprouts

The brussels sprout is an extremely under-appreciated vegetable in my book. I had never even had it until a few years ago (I’m nearly 50 years old!) because all I knew growing up was that it was to be avoided. It was the stuff that threats were made of – “You’d better behave, or we’ll have brussels sprouts for dinner.” I didn’t even know what they were, and I’m fairly sure that my mother has never cooked them. 

Photo of brussels sprouts on cooking sheet
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Money Saving Tip: Develop a Holiday Budget

5 Tips for Sticking With a Holiday Budget

Now that the holiday shopping season is here, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the “deals,” excitement and checking things off your list. That’s certainly understandable, but one major cause of stress this time of year is overspending on gifts. According to the 2019 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey, about half (51 percent) of the survey respondents told Bankrate that they feel pressure to spend more than they are comfortable with on gifts during the holidays. That’s why it’s so important to develop a holiday budget and stick with it.

photo of wrapped holiday packages
Photo by from Pexels
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