What is Real Health?

Actionable Steps to Achieve Real Health.

Have you ever had periods of time where you simply feel right? We’re talking both mentally and physically. You feel in balance, you feel strong, you feel… well. That’s what I call Real Health.

If you have felt that or you still do, this website is geared toward helping you maintain that incredible state of being. If you haven’t felt that in a long time or maybe ever or when you did, it was fleeting, helping you achieve your version of Real Health is what Peppermint Tea & Me is all about. That’s why we need to define what Real Health is as well as lay out some actionable first steps that you can take to achieve it.

photo of rice and vegetables in bowls on white tablecloth as an example of what to eat for Real Health

Please Note that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included on this page. 

What is Real Health?

As you’ll be reminded frequently if you hang out in this space regularly, I believe that Real Health is achieved by recognizing that every part of us – mind, body and nutrition – is connected. Monique Class, MS, APRN, BC agrees. She’s a board-certified family nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist in holistic health at The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Monique Class, MS, APRN, BC

In a conversation about holistic health, Monique told me that “the mind, body and spirit (if you want to use that word), are all connected and are a unified whole. There’s bi-directional communication, meaning what happens to the body influences the mind and the emotions and what happens in the mind influences the body.”

This is understanding that when it comes to our health and overall wellbeing, causes and effects are not simply either physical or “mental.” Most of the time, they’re both. Melissa Grabau, PhD reminds us in her book, The Yoga of Food: Wellness From the Inside Out (affiliate link) that “How we feel day to day, our general health and energy levels, and our overall sense of safety and peace in our own flesh have an enormous impact on how we feel about ourselves and our capacity to function effectively in the world.”

Role of Nutrition

Julie McGregor, MD

So, what does all of this have to do with nutrition? Everything! Julie McGregor, MD works with the Integrative Medical Clinic of North Carolina and is a board-certified internist and nephrologist trained in integrative medicine. She told me that, “Nutrition is a part of building up our physical cells, but it’s also an emotional choice and has a lot of overtones. What we choose to eat has to do with where we are emotionally and also then leads to an emotional response in our body.”

This connection can lead to a healthy, well-oiled machine when it comes to our body and our mind. Failure to recognize this relationship though can lead to us living a life that is less than our best or even worse, spiraling through physical or mental issues that we have more control over than we may think.

Photo of ice cream in cups beside ice cream cones surrounded by candy and toppings as an example of barriers to Real Health
Photo by Teejay from Pexels

Common Barriers to Real Health

According to our experts, the most common barriers that many women run into when it comes to achieving Real Health can really be narrowed down to two primary areas.

1. Unhealthy relationship with food.

Both Monique and Julie say this is one of the primary issues they see when women especially don’t recognize how connected everything really is. Some of the primary reasons for this unhealthy relationship can include emotions, social or community expectations, or programming.

Monique gives the example of coming home at 8:00 p.m., going straight to the freezer, pulling out the ice cream and eating it until the whole container is gone. If you do that every night, it becomes a pattern. “We know physiologically that every time you do that pattern, you create wiring in the brain. It’s called neuroplasticity. So, neurons that fire together wire together. Every time you do something over and over again or choose a particular food over and over again, you get hardwired into the brain where that choice becomes automatic and not conscious.”

The same concept is true of emotions. If you reach for chocolate or something sweet every time you feel anxious or stressed or alcohol every time you feel angry, you’re hardwiring your brain to react to those emotions with food.

2. Lack of self-care.

Julie says this is a huge issue for women because we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect in every aspect of our lives. To have perfect careers, to keep a perfect home, to be a perfect mom, to be perfect daughters and to be perfect friends.

“There’s a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves, and the one who ends up coming last is ourselves. So many of my female patients who are in their 50s or 60s come to me fatigued, worn out, completely depleted, having not concentrated on wellness for themselves. They were out trying to achieve perfection in every component of their lives for, you know, 50 or 60 years. Then, they just can’t keep going because there isn’t that attention of self-care or focus on wellness for oneself.”

She’s found that this often leads to obesity, depression, thyroid disorders and general physical unwellness that plagues us around the time of menopause. “This, coincidentally, is a lot of times when we’re retiring or when we’re empty nesters, or during these transitions when the adrenaline stops and the body is just feeling the effects of decades of neglect.”

Photo of water being poured into a glass as an example of steps to take toward Real Health

First Steps Toward Achieving Real Health

To shift away from these barriers, there are several first steps that you can take to achieve Real Health.

1. Love yourself and be happy with yourself just as you are.

There may be things that you want to change, but Monique says that accepting and loving where you are right now has to come first. Then you can identify and become aware of the areas that you want to change in a healthy, realistic way.

2. Carve out time for self-care.

We may not be able to exercise for an hour every day, get a massage once a week or meditate for 30 minutes every morning, but there are plenty of things that we can do. It’s all part of making sure that we’re the best versions of ourselves now and that we don’t end up tired and depleted when we finally do feel like we have the time.

3. Become aware of the choices that you’re making.

According to Monique, this is critical for making any kind of change in your life. She suggests that as you reach for that ice cream every night, that you notice the behavior and check in with yourself and think about what you’re feeling, what you’re eating for, or what you’re hungry for. More times than not, you’ll find that you’re not hungry for the food, you’re looking for something else.

The first step, she says, isn’t taking that food or behavior away. You have to first recognize the behavior and then begin to figure out what you’re really hungry for or what you really need in that moment. At that point, you can substitute the behaviors that truly address those needs for the ones that aren’t serving you well.

4. Drink more water

You may think that you don’t like water, but your body does. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey says our bodies are made up of up to 60% water, so we have to have it to survive. Since we want to do more than just survive, we want to thrive, Julie puts this step toward the top of the list for achieving Real Health and adopting an attitude of overall wellness.

5. Get better sleep.

Julie says this has to be a priority. I’m the first to acknowledge that this isn’t always as easy to do as it sounds, but there are things you can do to not only make sure that you’re getting the amount of sleep you need but that it’s quality sleep as well.

6. Move as much as you can.

Here are some ways that you can work movement into your day, whether you have 30 minutes at a time or 5-10 minutes here and there.

Photo of coins pouring out of a jar as an example of Real Health on a budget

Real Health on a Budget

“That all sounds great, but even if I can find the time to take care of myself and to eat more healthy, nutritious food, I can’t afford it.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I’m here to ask you to be willing to think differently. Gym memberships are not a requirement for achieving Real Health and neither is having someone else to watch your kids while you focus on yourself.

Yes, whole, nutritious food is going to be more expensive than a 99-cent fast food burger, but in the long run, it evens out. Without health issues that could have been prevented with different lifestyle choices, you’ll likely save money in a number of ways. These include doctor’s visits and prescriptions as well as not missing work or losing opportunities among many others.

Real Health on a budget isn’t about an attitude of lack, it’s about an attitude of abundance. It’s being grateful for what you have and recognizing that healthy can be affordable. It’s also allocating your dollars in a way that supports your priorities rather than automatically spending money in ways that don’t serve you well. 

The concept of Real Health on a Real Budget is such an important part of this website that you’ll find budget-friendly tips and realistic suggestions incorporated throughout. There’s also an entire section dedicated just to that idea. Feel free to check it out here.

Mind + Body + Nutrition + On a Budget = Real Health

Julie sums it all up in a beautiful way. “How we exercise and what we choose for our physical wellbeing as far as movement and environment and choices about stretching or meditation, and our choices with our nutrition all affect how we think and our emotions. In turn, all of our emotions affect how we move, where we put our bodies and the choices we make for our physicality and our diet.”

Because of how entwined these factors are, Real Health looks different for everyone. Yes, the general steps outlined here are good places to start in achieving it, but Real Health is very individual. What it looks like for me probably won’t be the same for you. The goal for all of us though is to live in that place of personal wellness as much as possible and to draw on the strength and power that brings to live our best life possible.


Buying Food During a Crisis

Meal Planning to Stay Healthy and to Keep Costs and Stress as Low as Possible.

One thing that many of us are learning firsthand these days is that buying food during a crisis can be more than a little complicated. Grocery shopping for healthy food on a budget is what I do, but if you’re like me and don’t usually keep a lot of extra food in the house, it’s clear that a different approach is needed.

To help with that, I went to a couple of experts and called on tactics that I’ve used in the past but had let go of along the way. Between us all, some pretty sound strategies emerged for buying food during a crisis that I have now implemented. I wanted to share them with you because they’ve already started making a difference for my family in keeping us as healthy as possible while lowering costs and stress.

Please Note: I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included in this post. You can read my disclosure policy here.

Take an Inventory of What You Have

At this point, your pantry and freezer may be fairly full of certain types of food, but do you really know what you have? If your answer is anything less than a resounding “yes!” you need to take inventory. It’s one of the crucial first steps to buying food during a crisis.

Inventory Process

My husband and I did this recently, and it was eye-opening to say the least. We went through the pantry, the fridge, the freezer, the cleaning products and regularly-used household items (such as light bulbs). Literally everything in those categories was listed. How many of each item and whether we would need more to get us through the next month. This was definitely a helpful exercise because we found things that we forgot we had, and I realized that we had less of some things than I thought.

If you don’t have a spouse or partner to help, enlist an older child or send your starter list to a neighbor or friend. They can be on speaker phone calling things out to you. The whole process could take take several hours, but I guarantee it will be well worth it. See below in the resources section to access the free Food Inventory and Shopping List Template that we came up with.

Image of 2 bowls of vegetables sitting on table as example of planning basic dinners

Plan 30 Basic Dinners for the Next Month

Elise New

This idea came from Elise New over at The Frugal Farm Wife. Because Elise lives on a farm, going to the grocery store many times a week isn’t convenient for her family. She’s such a great resource because her family already implements many strategies that would help during a crisis. She says that she likes to have a big list on hand of 30 potential dinners for the month. That way, she can stock those ingredients, draw from that list for her weekly meal plan, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or brain power.

Since you may have random ingredients around that you found during your inventory, this is also a chance to think about how you can incorporate what you already have into meals for the next month. Let’s face it, in preparing for our current situation, most of us have already spent much more than we usually do on groceries. Now, it’s time to pull it all together so that we can actually use what we have and not have to spend as much for a while. Since we’re now thinking in terms of meal planning for a month or at least two to three weeks instead of a week at a time, it’s okay to start using what we have on hand.

Registered Dietician Kim Barrier says that for some of her dinner options, she’s trying to double the recipes or choose dishes that make many servings so that there are leftovers to reheat for lunches. That’s important when planning out food for the next month – remember to include breakfasts, lunches and snacks as well as dinners.

Image of woman's hands pushing grocery cart in store as she does one larger shopping trip for the month

Do One Larger Shopping Trip for the Month

This will include stocking up as much as possible on the food you’ll need for your meals, as well as any household or cleaning items that you’ll need for the month. When buying food during a crisis, it’s fine to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but you’re just not going to be able to rely on them as much as you may normally. Buying more storable foods is going to be the way to go. That includes beans, nut butters or sunflower seed butter, brown rice, whole wheat and bean pastas, oats, nuts and seeds.

Keep Canned and Frozen Vegetables and Meat on Hand

Kim Barrier, RD

Kim Barrier and Elise New both suggest keeping a good supply of canned tomatoes and frozen vegetables on hand as well. Kim reminds us that frozen and canned vegetables are just as nutritious if not more so in some situations than fresh. Fresh fruits and vegetables start losing some of their nutrients once picked, so the longer they’re in transport to the grocery and/or sit in the produce section the more they lose. Kim says that “frozen fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are picked at peak season and immediately processed, which locks in the nutrients.” 

Canned vegetables are also picked at peak season and canned. “If you were to compare the amount of nutrients you would get from fresh, frozen or canned foods you would find the difference is only a matter of a few percentage points for most nutrients.” In fact, Kim adds, “Some things even increase with canning. For example, lycopene, the phytonutrient found in tomatoes that might help prevent some cancers, is only released when the tomatoes are cooked.”

Elise urges everyone not to forget about freezing meat or buying meat that’s already frozen, which is often cheaper than buying fresh. While you don’t want to hoard more than your family is going to eat in a month, buying meat and freezing it lets you take advantage of sales that are still going on. Elise says that holds true for other items on a whole foods diet as well. Vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, garlic and onions store well for a while and make a good base for a number of soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes. So, if you find these items and they’re on sale, stock up. 

Image of frozen vegetables in grocery store that are good when buying food during a crisis

Do Smaller Shopping Trips Once Every 1-2 Weeks When Buying Food During a Crisis

The main goal with buying food during a crisis (or any time for that matter) is to reduce your shopping trips to once every 1-2 weeks. This will reduce the stress of feeling like you should constantly be looking for food, and it will ease the strain on your pocketbook since every time you go in the store, you’ll usually pick up more than what you went in for. Since you will have done the bulk of your shopping in your larger trip, this trip is just to get any milk or fresh foods that you can’t do without.

Money-Saving Tip

To save money, Elise suggests keeping an eye out for produce that has been taken out of the regular displays and marked down because it’s about to go bad. If you also notice employees removing produce from the displays, ask them what they’re going to do with it or if you can just have it. Many stores are happy to deeply discount or giveaway food that they were going to have to throw out anyway. You won’t know unless you ask.

During regular times, Elise recommends getting to know your stores and when they tend to have sales and mark down produce and meat on a regular basis. While many of the stores still honor their sales during a crisis, stocking routines and procedures are probably different than they usually are so this may be difficult to do until things get back to normal.

image of online grocery ordering which is good when buying food during a crisis

Online Shopping and Curbside Delivery

Elise is a strong believer in online shopping and curbside delivery with your grocery store because it limits everyone’s exposure to germs. I highly recommend that before you sign up and pay the initial fee for one of these services, be sure to call the store and find out if pickups will be able to start immediately or if there’s a delay because of the current situation. If there is, you may still want to try it anyway, but it’s important to know what you can and cannot count on before you sign up.

Image of brown eggs sitting in a carton.
Photo by Monserrat Soldu from Pexels

More of Elise’s Tips for Buying Food During a Crisis

  • Learn how to use what’s left in the produce section or on the shelves. This will help you to stick with your one large and limited smaller shopping trips a month. If you’re looking for canned beans and you can only find dry, learn how to cook dry beans.
  • Look outside the grocery store. Take eggs for example – if egg prices at the store are getting high, check with your local farmers. Chances are that if you buy eggs from pasture-raised chickens, you’ll probably get the eggs from the farmer cheaper than you will from the store.
  • Keep looking at weekly sales flyers because many stores still honor them for the items that they have in stock.
  • Use your planned meals as a guide but be flexible in the way that you fix them if an ingredient isn’t available or if something comparable is on sale. If a recipe calls for zucchini, can yellow squash be substituted instead?
  • Make your own condiments. It’s almost always cheaper to buy the ingredients to make healthier versions of condiments than it is to buy them.

** My note based on my experience and discussion with Elise – Make desserts and “treat” foods from scratch as much as possible. Doing this limits the amount in the house at any one time, and it’s also a lot less expensive!

Image of Food Inventory and Shopping List as way to streamline buying food during a crisis

Resources

  • Elise’s Grocery Budget Mastery (affiliate link) is a fantastic resource that walks you through the six essential steps to slashing your grocery budget. It’s served as a valuable reminder of some of the strategies I used to use but let go along the way. I’m definitely using it to tweak some of the less than ideal habits we’ve gotten into.
  • Feel free to access my free Food Inventory and Shopping List template here or through the box at the side of your screen. My husband made the first version of this as a standard spreadsheet years ago, but I’ve found that it’s more useful as a Google sheet so that it’s a live document that I can easily access while I’m shopping.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Choose My Plate program’s resource for food planning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lean on Your Community

If you try any or all of these steps, feel free to let us know how it’s working for you in the comments below. Also, if you have other strategies that you’re trying, let us know that as well. Whether we’re veteran frugal meal planners or fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants food buyers, we all have something to learn from each other.


Money Saving Tip: Gauge Your Financial Fitness Daily

Even with everything that’s going on right now, I hope you’re finding a way to get out and get some movement or exercise into your life on a daily basis. We know this is good for us anytime, but we especially need it now – to help keep us as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically. That’s not earth-shattering news to anyone, but did you also know that the same is true of our financial fitness? We should be gauging it daily – assessing it, maintaining it and giving it tune-ups when needed.

Image of hand putting coin in piggy bank covered by text that says "Gauge Your Financial Fitness Daily"

Perform Daily Financial Fitness Checks

I want to be clear here. I am not talking about checking your stock portfolio, your retirement plan or your child’s college savings plan daily. That is a migraine waiting to happen at this point in time. What I’m talking about is your personal budget. If you don’t have one, I strongly encourage you to use any extra time you may have these days to develop one. Feel free to check out my tips and suggested resources for doing that here.

As an experienced budget maker and follower, I know all too well the benefits of having a spending and savings plan at any time, let alone when there’s a major crisis and it’s easy to think that the sky is falling. Having a budget and checking in on it daily actually helps to put you in the driver’s seat and lets you have at least some control over what is happening to you personally. Unlike with our retirement plans or stock portfolios, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the amount of money we have at our disposal right now.

Daily Financial Fitness Checks Encourage an Attitude of Abundance

The key is looking at personal budgets through a lens of abundance and not lack. A budget helps to support your dreams and your reality. Knowing where you stand financially on a daily basis helps things not to seem as bleak as your imagination may be telling you they are. Or, it may provide a much-needed wake-up call about how you’re choosing to spend your money and whether your choices are really a good idea at this time.

For example, can you really afford to keep going through a month’s worth of stockpiled snacks in one week just because they’re there? Or is it better to exercise some discipline and put the extras out of sight so that you’re not tempted to go through $50 worth of snacks every week when that may be your snack budget for the entire month? Think about what will serve your goals and your immediate needs best. If you’re not checking in on your finances daily, those extra purchases may not seem like such a big deal in the moment. But if you’re keeping an eye on the big picture, they may mean the difference between being able to afford the basic healthy food you’ll need later on or being able to do something fun that you had been wanting to do when this is all over.

5 Minutes a Day is All You Need

I’m not talking about investing hours a day on this. I’m talking about investing 5 minutes a day while you’re having your morning coffee or tea. Whether you’re using an online tool (see below for some suggestions) or a spreadsheet, here’s what I recommend that you do with this time.

  • Make sure that you have an accurate record of how much is in your bank account (we used to call this balancing our checkbook).
  • Record any expenses or deposits from the day before in your budgeting tool (this includes from your bank account and any credit card activity because it will impact what you owe later in the month or the following month).
  • Scan over your budget to make sure everything looks like it’s on track with where you want to be. If it doesn’t, briefly consider where you need to make changes (starting with that day), to get you back on track.

These are challenging times. While we don’t know exactly what the full impact will be on us financially, the one thing we can control is how we manage our personal finances. Daily financial fitness now will hopefully help to prevent too much stress in this moment as well as further financial hardship down the road. And that will be good for every aspect of our lives – including our overall health and wellbeing.

Recommended Online Budgeting Tools


How to Effectively Work from Home

6 Hacks for Staying Sane and Productive Even with Kids Around.

There’s no doubt that world has turned upside down for many of us – especially when it comes to keeping work going for those who are now having to do that from home. If you’re used to talking about “working from home” with air quotes as you really use the time to deal with a repairman or some other project that needs to get done around the house, the current situation may be providing quite a shock to your system. That’s even more true if you have kids at home while you’re being asked to be just as productive as you would be in the office. As someone who has worked from home for the past 15 years starting when I had a newborn and a 5-year-old, I wanted to share some hacks I’ve learned along the way for how to effectively work from home while staying sane and productive even with kids around.

Take a Shower and Get Dressed

What I’ve found is that getting dressed and ready for the day first thing in the morning makes me feel like I’m ready to go. I’m as mentally prepared and ready to be productive as I would be if I were heading out to an office. Even staying in my workout clothes if I’ve worked out in the morning doesn’t feel right. I need to be in regular clothes that may not be as dressy or fashionable as they would be if I were going to an office, but they still make me feel like I’m prepared to meet the day head on.

Be Disciplined and Focused

I fully recognize that being disciplined and focused on the work that you’re doing can be challenging if there are numerous other distractions vying for your attention. Being home 24 hours a day can magnify everything that needs to get done, whether it’s the pile of laundry sitting in the corner or the dirty dishes in the sink. The trick is getting to the place where it mentally doesn’t matter – at least not for the time that you’re supposed to be working.

If it’s your time to work, you have to tune everything else out, unless you have younger kids. In that case, you’ll quickly learn the difference between a “The dog just knocked down my cardboard box castle” yell and an “I’m bleeding profusely” yell. Trust me, they can sound similar, but there is a distinct difference. If it’s not the later, be aware of it, but keep it in the background. If it is something that needs your attention, briefly address it and then get back to work.

I know for a fact that if your livelihood depends on it, “work from home” in air quotes simply turns into getting the work done no matter what.

Set Specific Times to Work

Your ability to focus fully on your work at least for certain amounts of time during the day is going to be critical to your ability to effectively work from home during this time. If you don’t have young kids at home, it’s fairly easy to set hours that you’ll be working. You should be aware though that even with teenagers or another adult in the house, there will be times when everyone will be in the kitchen or everyone will need something or simply want to talk. That’s why it’s so important for anyone who is working in the house to set regular times and let everyone else know when those times are. A whiteboard in the kitchen or a note on the refrigerator listing everyone’s working times are good ways of doing this.

If you do have kids in the house who need your supervision or help with schoolwork, things get trickier, but it is possible for you to get work done too. Here are a few suggestions. You’ll notice that most include the phrase “If at all possible.”

  • If your spouse or partner is working from home too, divide the responsibilities between the two of you so that each of you has some dedicated work time during the hours when others may need to get in touch with you. Let your colleagues, customers or clients know when those times are so that if at all possible, meetings, emails and other types of communication can happen at that point. This may require close coordination with those same people when determining your hours to begin with so that it coincides with when they’re available as well.
  • If you have young children who still nap, by all means, plan to work during that time.
  • If you have school age children, there should be certain points in the day when they’re working independently. If at all possible, use this time to get your work done as well (this is not the time to fold clothes or do the dishes). Clearly, if you have multiple children who need your assistance with their work, you may also be using independent work time for one to help another, so this definitely falls under the “If at all possible” category.
  • If you have young children, have books, blocks and coloring supplies set up near your work area. Even better, have activities that they only get to do in that space. Let your child know that this is work time and while you’re working, he can be working on his special projects and that he can surprise you with what he’s done when the time is up. This approach was a lifesaver for me, and my youngest son would often ask if we could “play work time” because he enjoyed it so much.
  • Get up early enough to allow yourself 2-3 hours of quiet work time before the rest of the house gets going or stay up late. For me, getting up early has always been the answer because that’s the time that I’m at my freshest and that I feel like I have the most control over.

Have a Set Place to Work

While setting up a dedicated office space may not be possible, you can carve out a spot to work somewhere. It may be a corner of the table, a side table turned into a desk in the living room, or anywhere else that lets you keep what you need to work in one place. That’s the key, keeping it all in one place and having a space that lets you know when you’re there, you’re working.

Turn Off News and Social Media Alerts on Your Phone

Yes, there is a lot going on right now that we need to be aware of, but it doesn’t need to be every minute. Turning off news and social media alerts while you’re working will cut down on the distractions and let you be in charge of when you allow information and other people in. Have set times or intervals when you check one to two news websites and give yourself a set amount of time to do it in. This will make sure that you get the most important need-to-know information without falling down an information rabbit hole.

Keep Quick and Easy Healthy Snacks on Hand

If you’re new to working from home, the temptation to snack or “graze” throughout the day may be strong. The situation we’re in is different to say the least and in many ways, very stressful. Snacking while you’re working could easily become a “go to” way of dealing with that. I think it’s best to acknowledge it upfront and make sure that you have quick and easy healthy snacks on hand. That way, you’re prepared when the snacking urge hits, and you don’t have to reach for whatever chips or sweets might be laying around. Nuts and seeds are my favorites for this.

Of course, even if you do all of these things, there may simply be times when you end up with a kid on your lap and a phone in your ear while sitting in front of the computer. Whether you’re a pro at working from home or a newbie, sometimes you just have to do what you gotta do to get it all done. And if I’m being honest, as long as you can keep your wits about you, these are the times that will put it all in perspective and remind you of what you’re working for in the first place.

Lean on Your Community

If you’re using any of these suggestions, let us know how it’s going and what your experience has been. Or, if you have other hacks that you’ve come up with, please share in the comments below. And certainly, if you’re facing a particular work-from-home challenge, post it here, and let’s see if we can come up with a solution together.


How to Simplify Your Life So That Less Means More

Tips on how to use simplicity to support your health and wellbeing.

By anyone’s standards, these are challenging times. It would be very easy to feel like victims of circumstances outside of our control, but it’s important to remember, that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, we could use the forced simplification of our lives that many of us are experiencing as a chance to look at what really matters and to make sure that we’re putting our valuable time, energy and money toward the right things for us. Fewer commitments, more time with those we love and the chance to bring it all back to the basics may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it could be a time to figure out how to simplify your life so that less means more.

To help us do that, I turned to Courtney Carver, an expert on how to be more with less and author of Soulful Simplicity and the recently published Project 333. Through this Q&A and her tips on how to use simplicity to support our health and wellbeing, we may be able to use this part of our journey to get back to ourselves and to become healthier and happier along the way.

Image of bouquet of daffodils with the title "How to Simplify Your Life so that Less Means More"
Photo by Suzie Hazelwood from Pexels

Please Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included in this post. You can read my disclosure policy here.

Peppermint Tea & Me: When you talk about simplifying our lives, what does that mean?

Courtney Carver: For me, simplicity is just one of the steps that I’ve taken to live a healthier and happier life. This means removing the stuff that weighs me down, removing the stuff that was really getting in the way of me being me, and for me, reaching a level of health and really purpose in my life. I was so bogged down with stuff and obligation and ideas – what we all do – we just pile it all on and keep piling and piling until one day, for most of us, we say, ‘This is enough’ and try to dig out.

PTM: In both Soulful Simplicity and Project 333, you talk a lot about remembering yourself and making you. What does that mean and what does it have to do with simplifying our lives?

Photo of Project 333 author Courtney Carver
Courtney Carver

CC: I think that in the busyness of our lives and in the very full lives that we build, in the process, we step outside of ourselves and inch by inch really forget who we are and what matters to us and what power we have over that. We just forget, and we make these little compromises. Whether it be in work or in relationships or in things that we say yes or no to that don’t really resonate with who we really are. Every time we do that, we just break away a little bit. I think that through simplicity – kind of peeling back those layers, we can start to remember what matters to us. So, I like to think about simplicity as something that doesn’t change us, it brings us back. It gives us that space to connect with our hearts, to remember what’s important to us. Once that happens, once you make that connection, then all the things that you thought were so hard, like saying no to things or going in a different path than people in your life might expect or approve of, that doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did. It becomes much easier to stand in your truth.

It’s not that I wanted to have a simple life. I wanted to use simplicity to have a healthy one.

Courtney Carver

PTM: What does simplifying our lives have to do with our health and overall wellbeing?

CC: I think it’s like the secret superpower of health. At least for me, when I started to become very intentional about becoming healthy, simplicity wasn’t on the docket of things to do. For me, the number one thing as someone who is living with Multiple Sclerosis was to eliminate stress. Stress can be very damaging – especially if it’s an overwhelming amount that you can’t begin to chip away. That level of stress has to manifest somewhere and it’s often in our bodies – whether it’s physical health, mental health; it shows itself. So, for me, it was all about eliminating stress.

Even outside of MS, just day to day energy and feeling well. I think that we forget that we can feel well.  So many people around me were tired and sick and overwhelmed and feeling like crap was their cross to bear. I just felt like I was part of that.  That this was adulting. I’m supposed to feel kind of crappy. Thankfully, that’s not the case. That’s not to say that we don’t get sick from time to time, but on a day to day level, most of us can feel better than we do.

Obviously, there’s exceptions to everything I say but for the most part, and certainly for me, eliminating stress was the answer. Stress with food, stress with clutter, stress with debt. As I was doing these changes, I started to see the connection. The thread that ran between all of these things was simplicity. Then I started to quickly apply that lens to all of the changes I was making. How can I make this more simple? It’s not that I wanted to have a simple life. I wanted to use simplicity to have a healthy one.

You don’t have to fill up all the space… I think there are answers in that space.

Courtney Carver

PTM: When you say we don’t have to fill up all the space, what do you mean?

CC: What I mean by not filling up the space is that so often, and I did this for years. I would declutter and then I’d see an empty space on the bookshelf or in my closet and I’d think automatically that this is an invitation to add something to that space because it shouldn’t be just empty. That feels uncomfortable. I think we often try to fill the empty spaces for fear of that discomfort – it could be physical spaces like I mentioned, but they could also be spaces in between waiting at a red light or waiting in line somewhere. The natural tendency is to pick up our phone. We have so many availabilities to fill up all these spaces. If we’re heartbroken or feeling really down, I think we fill that space with alcohol, with food, with reality TV, whatever it is, we just don’t want to be in that empty space. I think there are answers in that space, so I think it’s worth thinking about. When you feel like you have to fill up the space to be comfortable, pause and consider what it would be like just to sit with how things are, the way they are.

PTM: You say that “Simplifying with the goal of becoming as simple as possible will prove to be as empty as changing your diet to be as skinny as possible.” Please explain what you mean by that?

CC: Simplicity sometimes makes me think of dieting, which I used to do to lose weight and to be thinner because that’s just what we did. Once I was diagnosed with MS, I started thinking about my diet in terms of health. How do these things fuel my body? How do they make me feel? And not worrying so much about the weight. I remember in those moments when I could stick with a diet for any length of time, and I would reach a goal weight or feel very skinny. It would last for a fraction of a second and it was never enough. Even as thin as I could get, I would always think ‘I should lose another 10 pounds, or I should be more fit’ because the focus wasn’t on the right things. It was on this superficial version of how I thought I was supposed to look to fit in the world. And then with simplicity, I noticed, at least when I was first starting out, there was a lot of competition around living with less and how a simple life should look or if you want to be a minimalist, you have to own this number of things.

I realized that it has to look right for your life. There aren’t a correct number of things to own to have a simple life. If you live downtown in the city, your life is going to look different than if you live in the suburbs or in a more remote area or depending on what your interests are. if you love baking, you’re going to have more items that contribute to that love in your life versus someone who doesn’t care about baking. It’s really not about the end result of how many items you have or how much you weigh, but rather how you feel in that process and how the things that you own are supporting your life.

Courtney’s Most Important First Steps to Simplify Your Life

  • Have a great reason to simplify. Really identify why you want to simplify your life because that will keep you motivated and on track.
  • Start small. It doesn’t matter whether you start with your closet or your kitchen or your garage but start small. To say, ‘I want to simplify my life,’ sounds out of reach for a lot of people. It did for me in the beginning as well. But simplifying my junk drawer or reducing some of the toiletries in my bathroom or working on one shelf of my bookshelf – those things are something that you can say, ‘Okay, I can do that today.’ Don’t make it this big stressful thing, just focus on these small changes. Whenever you can make big change small, there’s a much better opportunity for success.

Courtney’s Steps to Simplifying Your Wardrobe

Courtney believes that in order to make permanent change when it comes to simplifying your wardrobe, you have to own up to your behavior around shopping and clothes. Here are her steps to help you do that.

  • Dump everything on the bed so that you can see everything you own in one space. For me that was like an ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’ve actually spent this much money on this stuff where I only use a percentage of it.’ I needed to have that realization.
  • Watch your behavior around shopping. Think about why you shop. Do you really need something new or are you just in a bad mood and want to shop your way out of it?
  • Create distance between you and your clothes before making decisions on donating or selling. I recommend boxing up everything that you’re not wearing in that moment and getting it out of sight for a good three months. There’s an emotional connection that develops when we’re looking at our stuff every day. We think it belongs to us, like it’s a part of us, but when we separate ourselves from it for a while, we feel differently when we look at it. You may say, ‘What was a I thinking?’ or ‘Of course, I never wear that’ and it becomes much easier to make those decisions.
  • Keep what fits you and your lifestyle now. This isn’t what fit you and your lifestyle 10 years ago, five years ago or yesterday. The same holds true for moving forward. I mean sometimes we can have these aspirational wardrobes or aspirational ownership of other things where we buy things for the person we want to be or the person we hope other people perceive us to be. In reality, you’ll be much happier if you own what actually fits you, your body and your lifestyle now.
  • Ask for help if you need it. If you’re having trouble making decisions, consider asking someone you trust for help – not on what you should wear but on how things fit. If you have three pairs of black pants, and you’re not sure which ones to keep, somebody on the outside may be able to help you make that decision.

My Notes – Resources to Help Simplify Your Life

  • Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that Courtney created for herself to dress in 33 items or less for three months. Those items include clothing, jewelry, accessories and shoes. They do not include things like underwear, sleepwear and workout clothes. The catch – your workout clothes have to work out if you’re not going to count them in your 33 items. The project has become so popular that tens of thousands of people from all over the world are practicing it as well. You can find out more about it through Courtney’s new book, Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really is So Much More (Affiliate link).
  • Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More (Affiliate link) was Courtney’s first book and the way I found her. It not only walks you through the practical steps of simplifying your life, it also walks you very gently through identifying the most important part – why you want to simplify your life.
  • bemorewithless.com is Courtney’s website and a valuable resource in how you can use simplicity to help live the most authentic life possible for you.
  • Pinterest. Get ideas on how others have done the Project 333 challenge by searching for Project 333.


Money Saving Tip: Meal Planning

I’m going to make a bold statement here. Meal planning is one of the most abundant, creative things that you can do.

Stick with me on this. Too often we think of meal planning (if we think of it at all) as pure drudgery.

But, if we enter this undertaking with an attitude of abundance and appreciation for the fact that we get to be proactive and in control of what we’re going to put in our bodies for the next week and how much money we spend on that, we can experience a profound mental shift. Meal planning suddenly goes from being a mundane chore to a creative and exciting privilege. What makes it even more wonderful is how much money it saves us along the way!

Photo of grocery cart full of groceries as example of meal planning
Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

What is Meal Planning

While I walk you through the crucial first steps of meal planning in this video, here’s my definition of it in a nutshell. It’s deciding ahead of time in a very conscious way every meal and snack that you and your family are going to have during the week and then creating your grocery list based on any ingredients that you don’t have to make them.

There are a number of great tools to help with this process (some of which are free) that I look at in more depth here.

A Money-Saving Mental Shift

The key is carving out a set time to sit down and devote your full attention to meal planning. I highly recommend having a steaming cup of your favorite hot drink in hand. This is the time to be inspired and creative – not when you’re rushing home from work and trying to figure out “what’s for dinner tonight?”

The weeks I look at it in a bored and tired way are inevitably the weeks that I forget to include half of the ingredients that I need and end up going back to the store multiple times. As we all know, every trip to the store costs more than what it should because we think of something else that we may need or want at that particular moment.

The really costly part to both our health and our budget is that when we make those middle of the week stops, we’re usually tired, rushed and either emotionally or physically hungry. We’re in a place of lack, not abundance. Unhealthy wants suddenly seem like needs and before you know it, you have half a basket full of things that if you were in a better place, you wouldn’t even think of getting.

I know for a fact that during the weeks that I make multiple unplanned trips to the store, I end up spending $25-$50 more than during the weeks where I plan everything out. That’s not to even mention when we completely throw in the towel and end up eating out because we don’t have what we need. Half the time, we still have to go by the grocery store to get the missing ingredients for something else that we’ll need them for later in the week.

There’s no doubt about it in my book. An open and abundant approach to meal planning is crucial to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy pocketbook. May your next trip with a grocery cart contribute to both!


Pros and Cons of Almond Milk

A Dollars and Sense Take on What to Expect from This Popular Drink.

Let me be clear from the beginning. I love my almond milk. I discovered it when I was switching to a healthier way of eating and have never looked back. The key though, as I will explain, is that I use it as a vehicle for other healthy ingredients. I do not expect it to be the ultimate healthy ingredient in and of itself. That’s where I think a lot of confusion lies for many people and why I wanted to look at the pros and cons of almond milk while offering a dollars and sense take on what to expect from this popular drink.

Photo of glass of almond milk sitting on red pad as example of how to weigh the pros and cons of almond milk

What is Almond Milk?

At its core, almond milk is almonds and water. That’s it. That’s all you need to make it. Completely contrary to those who malign it as the newest “trendy” health drink, almond milk has been around since medieval times1, and yes, it was called ‘milk’ even at that point.

Because there are so few ingredients, making almond milk is incredibly easy. This recipe from Minimalist Baker (which I recommend if you are making your own) calls for soaking almonds overnight, adding water, blending and then straining.

In addition to almonds and water, commercially-made almond milk usually contains gums as thickeners and stabilizers as well as various other additives used to fortify it with vitamins and minerals.

Overall though, it’s almonds and a little to a lot more water.

Nutritional Value of Almond Milk

Almond milk sounds like it should be really healthy. It’s made from super healthy almonds – right? But, unfortunately, if you weight the pros and cons of almond milk, it’s not quite as simple as that.

For those who can’t or don’t consume dairy or who simply want to cut down on it, almond milk is a great alternative. You can use it for baking, you can drink it straight or you can make delicious smoothies with it. You just have to know that whether you make your own or buy it from a store, almond milk is not going to have the same health benefits as eating whole almonds.

That’s because it’s strained and the pulp, which contains many of the vital nutrients, is not used. It’s also watered down and isn’t as nutritionally concentrated as whole almonds. If you have a recipe that uses 1 cup of almonds to 2 cups of water, you’ll have a higher concentration of nutrients than you would if you use 1 cup of almonds with 5 or more cups of water, but it’s all going to be diluted, nonetheless. Commercially-made almond milk is usually going to be on the higher water content side.

As a point of reference, 1 oz of whole almonds contains 6 g of protein and many vitamins and minerals2. In contrast, half a cup of our homemade almond milk contains 1.1 g of protein and the vitamin and mineral content has been watered down or stripped through the straining process. Half a cup of commercial almond milk usually contains .5 g of protein.

On the other hand, commercially fortified almond milk contains plenty of vitamins and minerals and is definitely a way to make sure that they are a regular part of your diet. It is important to note that while added vitamins and minerals are fine, additional sugar is not. Be sure and buy almond milk that specifically says unsweetened. If it doesn’t, you’re getting added sugar, which works against any health benefits that it may be providing.

How I Use Almond Milk

As I mentioned, almond milk played a major role in my starting to eat healthier. Once I learned what a green smoothie was, I was off and running. Since many smoothie recipes call for almond or some other type of non-dairy milk, I automatically started incorporating it into my diet. At this point, I primarily use almond milk for my smoothies and protein shakes, and on average, go through about 60 oz per week.

As I weigh the pros and cons of almond milk for myself, here’s where I land. Since I use the commercially-made variety, I know that while the vitamins and minerals that it’s fortified with are helpful, its nutritional value is limited. But that’s not what I use it for. I use it as a way to start my day with a huge helping of greens, other vegetables, sometimes fruit and various seeds. That’s where the nutrition is packed. The almond milk is just a vehicle for blending it all together.

I’ve tried only using water in my smoothies, but I need the little bit of thickness that the almond milk provides to make it go from just okay to something that I enjoy drinking and crave every day.

Used in this way, there is no pretense that the almond milk itself is giving me a huge nutritional boost. The fact that it’s enabling me to get in up to five different vegetables and fruit for breakfast is where its power lies.

Store Bought vs Homemade – Dollars and Sense

I’m all about using my food dollars to buy the cleanest and most nutritious ingredients possible for food that I will make myself, but when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of almond milk, I have to factor in the dollars and sense of store bought versus homemade.

Whether you’re talking about commercially-made or homemade, you do want to make sure that organic almonds are involved because nuts easily absorb pesticides even through their shells3. Keeping that in mind, I certainly can’t say that making homemade almond milk is cheaper than store bought. Given the diluted health benefits of both, I also can’t say that I think making homemade is the most effective use of those food dollars – at least for me.

Since raw organic almonds normally cost around $11.50 for a pound, and the Minimalist Baker recipe calls for 8 oz of almonds to make 40 oz of almond milk, it would cost me $8.62 to make my 60 oz that I use each week. On the other hand, organic almond milk from Sprouts costs me $3.69 for 64 oz. That’s a $5.02 difference each week between buying store bought or homemade.

While you definitely have more control over the ingredients if you make homemade, I’m actually okay with the ingredients in the organic store-bought versions. That’s especially true since most commercially-made almond milks in the U.S. no longer contain carrageenan4, which was a concern. If you try almond milk and find that you’re having stomach issues, you may want to consider making your own because most, if not all of the commercially-made versions contain gums, which can cause stomach problems in some people5.

I’m also okay with store bought almond milk because it’s one of the only highly processed foods I eat. Except for the occasional flour tortillas or tortilla chips, everything else is either minimally processed or whole foods.

Bottom Line in Weighing the Pros and Cons of Almond Milk

When weighing the pros and cons of almond milk, you need to consider how you’re using it and what you expect from it. As long as you know what it is and what it isn’t and the realities of homemade versus store bought, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that’s right for you.

Sources:

  1. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/nut-milks-are-milk-says-almost-every-culture-across-globe-180970008/
  2. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170567/nutrients
  3. World Wellness Education. http://www.worldwellnesseducation.org/nuts-and-seeds/
  4. Food and Function Journal. Revisiting the Carrageenan Controversy: Do We Really Understand the Digestive Fate and Safety of Carrageenan in our Foods? Shlomit, David; Carmit Shani Levi; Lulu Fahoum; Yael Ungar; Esther G. Meyron-Holtz; Avi Shpigelman; and Uri Lesmes https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2018/FO/C7FO01721A#!divAbstract
  5. Gums: Is There a Danger Lurking in Your Food? https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6840/gums-is-there-danger-lurking-in-your-food

Money Saving Tip: Taking Your Lunch

There’s no doubt about it. The money saving and health benefits of taking your lunch are enormous. This is one area of your life where you can quickly see the savings and positive health impacts add up.

Photo of quinoa salad as an example how taking your lunch is less expensive than eating out

Budget Benefits of Taking Your Lunch

If you’re not sure whether it will really be cheaper to take your lunch, try tracking what you’re spending on eating lunch out for a month. Visa’s free Lunch Tracker app for iOS can easily help you do this. The app was developed after Visa’s 2015 Lunch Survey found that on average, Americans eat lunch out about 2 times per week and spend $20 per week or $1,043 per year on eating lunch out. Remember that’s only for eating lunch twice a week.

In contrast, those who packed a lunch or ate at home an average of 5 times per week spent $32.76 per week or $1,704 per year. That’s for 3 days more per week of lunches.

Here’s more proof of how realistic it is to take your lunch less expensively than it is to eat out. On average, I spend about $27 for 7 days of incredibly healthy lunches. That’s about $3.85 per lunch. Even if you ate the cheapest fast food possible – for around $3 per lunch – that’s still $21 per week on lunches that will without a doubt come back to bite you (pun intended) with extremely high health costs in the long run.

Health Benefits of Taking Your Lunch

Here’s a look at just some of the health benefits of taking your lunch.  

  • You’re in control of what you eat.
  • You don’t spend time waiting on your food in a restaurant or going through a drive-thru. You can use the extra time instead to sit outside and enjoy your lunch in a much more healthy and relaxing way or you can even have time to take a walk or move a little after you eat.
  • Spending less is healthier because it causes less stress over money.

Things to Keep in Mind

There are several things to keep in mind to make taking a lunch do-able and healthy.

  • Use reusable food storage bags. I highly recommend silicone bags (Affiliate Link) for making sure that chemicals don’t leach into food.
  • Use glass food storage containers or  Stainless steel lunch containers (Affiliate Link)
  • Batch prepare your lunches on the weekend or days off.
  • Be sure and take your own reusable water bottle. Going to all of the trouble of packing your lunch is diluted if you have to spend a fortune on buying a drink from a vending machine. Even water in a vending machine is expensive and comes in unhealthy plastic bottles.

If you need some inspiration to get you going in taking your lunch, be sure and check out my 5 Healthy Lunch Ideas for Busy Women.


Seasonal Produce Spotlight: The Nutritional Benefits of Shallots

If you’re not familiar with shallots, you’re going to want to make room in your pantry for this small but mighty bulb. It looks similar to an onion on the outside, but when you peel off the skin, it looks more like garlic. While it may seem like this onion cousin is going through an identity crisis, it’s very clear on its purpose – to offer a subtle flavor and plenty of nutritional benefits. In fact, it’s the nutritional benefits of shallots that have caused them to be used for centuries for their potential medicinal properties in both prevention and treatment and why they definitely deserve at least some of your attention.

Photo of shallots on the ground as an example of nutritional benefits of shallots

What are Shallots?

Shallots belong to the Allium family, which also includes garlic, onions, leeks and chives. They’re usually found with fresh garlic in the grocery store because their internal structure is similar to that of garlic with a head made up of multiple cloves. They can range in color from brown to red, and they have a much milder flavor than either garlic or onions. Just like their other family members though, there’s no escaping the potential for eye irritation. You’re as likely to tear up when peeling or cutting a shallot as you are an onion.

Nutrients in Shallots

Shallots contain protein and fiber, but it’s their vitamin and mineral content that really stands out.

Nutrition Facts(1):

(100 grams or just under 7 tablespoons)

Calories 72
Protein 2.5 grams
Carbohydrate 16.8 grams
Fiber 3.2 grams

Calcium 37 mg (4% of DV)

Iron 1.2 mg (7% of DV)

Magnesium 21 mg (7% of DV)

Phosphorus 60 mg (9% of DV)

Potassium 334 mg (13% of DV)

Zinc .4 mg (5% of DV)

Folate 34 ug (9% of DV)

Nutritional Benefits of Shallots

The nutritional benefits of shallots are many. Research has shown that those include antibacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties as well as possible prevention and treatment of certain blood disorders2. This means that they could hold potential for helping to prevent many inflammatory diseases as well as cancer, but the actual amounts needed to lower the risk of each needs to be studied further.2,3

How to Prepare Shallots

According to the University of Vermont’s Department of Plant and Soil Science, shallots have a sweet flavor that comes out even more when they’re cooked or roasted4. They’re often used in French and Asian cooking4 but are often called for in other types of recipes as well. Many of the nutritional benefits of shallots, such as antioxidants, are released when they’re chopped, crushed or chewed.3 They’re so mild, they can just as easily be eaten raw in sauces and vinaigrettes as they can be when cooked with meat and/or vegetables. Bottom line, if you want a milder flavor than onion in your recipe, shallots usually make a good substitute.

My Great Recipes has a fantastic Beginner’s Guide to Shallots that offers tips on how to use the bulbs, as well as plenty of recipes.

Cost of Shallots

Shallots do cost more than yellow onions, but you’re probably not going to use them as frequently either. They usually cost around $3/lb versus $1.30 – $1.50 for a 3lb bag of yellow onions. If you’re not familiar with shallots, it’s probably going to be in the best interest of your pocketbook to start by following recipes. Once you get a feel for their taste and how they can be used, you’ll probably feel more comfortable experimenting.

Sources:

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170499/nutrients
  2. Mohammadi-Motlagh, H. R., Mostafaie, A., & Mansouri, K. (2011). Anticancer and anti-inflammatory activities of shallot (Allium ascalonicum) extract. Archives of medical science : AMS7(1), 38–44. doi:10.5114/aoms.2011.20602
  3. Nicastro, H. L., Ross, S. A., & Milner, J. A. (2015). Garlic and onions: their cancer prevention properties. Cancer prevention research (Philadelphia, Pa.)8(3), 181–189. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0172 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4366009/
  4. University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science. https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/shallots.html

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.