WiFi, Cell Service, and the Full-Time RVer


We are now in California for the next 3 months. We booked a monthly KOA site in advance because it (surprisingly) happens to be one of the less expensive options in this area. Now that we’re here, though…

First of all (my friend, Monica, starts her rants by saying, “First of all,” and I love it, so I have adopted it) this RV park is in the bottom of an effing canyon. The Soledad Canyon, to be exact. The Pacific Crest Trail passes right next to us. Which sounds charming on the website.

In reality, we don’t have any cell service, and the WiFi is spotty as heck. I was throwing an internal tizzy almost all day yesterday because the WiFi was OUT and didn’t get restored until 3:30pm.



I can survive without cell service if I can get WiFi. I can still text and make calls with WiFi. I can also survive with no WiFi if I have cell service, which is usually the case. I pay extra for a hotspot, so I can make it work.

Seriously, guys, just give me one or the other, and I can live.

No cell service and no WiFi make me feel like I’ve teleported back to 1920. This is 2018!!! Why don’t I at least have the technology to call for help if I need to? I mean, we aren’t doing this travel thing to “unplug” or go all rustic. I’m not camping! Ironically, I have better cell service when I go camping at Detroit Lake every year, when I do like to unplug.

This is my day-to-day life and I would like to be able to Google the Skinnytaste recipe for Arroz Congri when I feel like eating vegetarian Cuban comfort food for dinner.


I got this garbage all day

And in 2018, I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask.

Since I see this question asked A LOT online, I will try to summarize what I have gathered from reading thousands of responses over the last year.

What a lot of non-full-time RVers don’t know is that often with WiFi hotspots, regardless of if you have an “umlimited” data plan (which I don’t- I have 8G of data to use a month, and it lasts me about 3 weeks without streaming), all cell phone carriers will “throttle back” your data speed once you hit a magic data amount. Usually it’s around 10G. So even if you pay for “unlimited data,” if you are streaming Netflix for 3 days straight, your cell provider WILL throttle back your data speeds. So the reality is that you are essentially getting 10 gigs of high-speed, 4G data, then the data beyond that magic number slows to molasses speeds.

There are only 2 ways around this:

  • Some people are fortunate enough to be grandfathered into Verizon’s unlimited data plan from back when it was actually unlimited (I groan every time I think about this… that was me, but, through lack of foresight, I was lured away by a less-expensive plan when I was broke). Through a series of loopholes, and a lot of money, you can find some of these individuals who are willing to add you to their plan for a hefty price.
  • Many, many RVers simply carry extra plans and phones. They will have 2 or 3 phones/plans with hotspots, and when one runs out or throttles back, they move to the next one. This is probably the easiest to do but also can get pretty expensive. I mean, my ONE cell phone plan costs too much. I can’t imagine having 3.

How else can you get reliable internet while living in an RV? (Reliable being the key word here… Never, ever count on an RV park’s WiFi. They, in general, all suck. Worse than hotel WiFi or Starbucks WiFi).

Satellite Internet:

I actually don’t know enough about this to go in-depth. I do know that it’s extremely expensive, so I stopped my research right there (we went from 5 incomes to 1- I am not in any position to pay an extra few hundred a month to stream Netflix). I also don’t have a lot of faith that a satellite will work everywhere you want to go. I couldn’t get DISH network to find a signal from my old 2nd-floor apartment in McMinnville; I seriously doubt some satellite internet company will be able to find me a strong signal in the bottom of the Soledad Canyon.

Not a lot of RVers go this route, and I suspect there may be the reason for it. Either it’s the expense or the logistics.

Stay Stationary and Have it Hard-Wired In

You could always just live in one spot, in an RV park that has cable hookups (only a handful of places we’ve stayed at have cable hookups) and who will allow you to have a technician come out and get you all set up with a cable modem. That’s not an option for us. We try to not be stationary. If I wanted to be stationary, I would rent an apartment with better insulation and a maintenance person who I could just call when my refrigerator dies. The purpose of living in a 5th wheel is exactly so I don’t have to stay stationary.

That’s about it. There are entire forum groups on the internet dedicated to Internet for RVs. These are the same things that keep coming up.

If anyone can invent a really reliable RV Internet solution that doesn’t cost as much as a car payment, that person would be rich.

So far, we have been able to limp by on my 8 gigs of hotspot data and the spotty RV Park WiFi. As a general rule, I try to save my data for sensitive or confidential things, where I really need a secure and reliable connection, like paying bills, and I use the public WiFi for things like downloading my next digital library book to my Kindle, or perusing Pinterest and looking at pictures of dolphins.

If I had a job that required me to work from home and telecommute, I’m not sure how successful that would be. I might splurge for the satellite internet AND an extra cell phone or two as backup, if that was my livelihood. Added bonus is that I could likely write those expenses off at the end of the year. But for googling recipes and looking at pictures of dolphins, I can deal with mediocre connectivity.

That being said, we will probably still look into other RV parks that are slightly more connected. I have a toddler and I hate the idea of not having the ability to call for help in case of an emergency. Or to call Kevin and tell him to come home right away if there is a wildfire heading this way and we need to evacuate (the trees around us are BLACK, so this is a real possibility). Or even just so Kevin can text and let me know if he’s working late or not, so I’m not sitting around wondering if he’s at work or dead on the highway. We are surrounded by RV parks, I think this weekend we might drive around until we find one with cell service and go from there.


UPDATE: As if to illustrate my point, just as I tried to publish this post, the WiFi kicked me off.  So this may or may not get published… sometime.

*Headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*


RV Bathroom Makeover: Before and After!

What do you do when another cross-country (well, cross-Southwest) move is looming?

Why, update the bathroom, of course.  (I can hear Kevin’s eyes rolling from the couch.)

I’m sorry, I just HATE brown.

I didn’t mind brown until I was surrounded by brown in every shade for the last 9 months. As a stay-at-home-mom, in a tiny space, when the weather is too dang cold to keep a toddler outside for any length of time, the dreary drabness of being surrounded by Poop Brown starts to really wear on you.

Oh, by the way, we are relocating from beautiful and cold Colorado to beautiful and less-cold Southern California! I will miss the gorgeous scenery, but I am looking forward to exploring a new area! And I really miss the palm trees from Phoenix. I love palm trees . Well, I mostly love what palm trees represent.

So here is the BEFORE:









I just decided to paint the walls. I vaguely wanted to also paint the cabinets and trim a much lighter color, but that was just way more of a project than I was willing to take on one week before moving day.

Just doing that one thing made a HUGE difference in the feel of the bathroom. A very pale cornflower blue won the color choice. I wanted a complimentary color to the wood, which is like a mid-cherry color. So that narrowed it down to blue or green, and since I painted my old bathroom in McMinnville green, I decided to paint this one blue. It’s blue’s turn. I went with a semi-gloss sheen because it’s a bathroom so it’s good against condensation, and I noticed that even the sheen of the paint helps bounce light around the tiny bathroom so much better.

But most importantly, it’s not brown anymore.

Then I upgraded the details. My favorite part!


First things first, I wanted Peel and Stick tiles from SmartTile, but since it would take them a while to ship to me, and I am impatient, I got these from Lowe’s on clearance for around $12 for four 12″ x 12″ sheets (I started with 4, (my sink took 3 across then I demolished one for spare tiles to fit the gaps on the edges) which looked okay, but then I decided that I wanted to bring the tile all the way up under the cabinet, so I went back for another set).  I went with peel and stick because 1) the technology is getting so much better on these and they look GREAT and 2) I didn’t want to add a ton of extra weight to the flimsy RV wall.

We got an under-cabinet battery-operated LED light from Walmart for around $10. I attached it under the cabinet with a Command Picture-Hanging Strip.

The soap dispenser I got from T.J. Maxx (my favorite store of all time) for $2.99. Added bonus: I buy soap by the gallon and save myself tons of money on hand soap.

I stole Kevin’s shaving soap because I think it looks nice on the counter.


I found this rustic towel ring at Hobby Lobby (my 2nd favorite store after T.J. Maxx) on clearance for $6! (WHAAAA?? Shut up and take my money!) I think I like it so much because it looks like a tie ring for horses… I omitted the screws and just used a black Command Picture-Hanging strip


Everything in the little toilet nook area I also got at Hobby Lobby. I couldn’t help myself- metal wall décor was 50% off this weekend. I knew that I wanted whatever I hung up to be pretty as well as functional as storage.

The file basket is 4″ deep, which, coincidentally, is the diameter of a roll of toilet paper.

The corrugated half bucket thing was supposed to be a planter, but I store the toddler’s shower toys in there. So much better than having them floating all over the bathroom!

Then there was the little metal mesh basket. I’m not 100% sure what it was supposed to be for, but I hung it on the wall and stuck a plant in it. Plants make everything look nicer and more homey.

Everything was hung with Command hooks. I honestly think that for the paper-thin walls of an RV, Command hooks might be *more* sturdy than nails or screws because there is almost nothing for a screw or nail to bite into. Plus you have the added bonus of not putting a bunch of holes in your RV. You can see in the photo above where the trim was removed to accommodate some kind of shelf from the prior owners, and there are three screw holes that I should have spackled over when I was painting, but I didn’t because I don’t care enough. They should have used Command hooks, though!

Last but not least I found this adorable little sign:

These are some lyrics to 90’s country song, “Little Houses” sung by Doug Stone. I think it was his One Hit Wonder song? I love 90’s country and can’t think of any other songs he did… I still to this day sing it all the time. It’s kind of my philosophy on raising a family in a small house. It is because of this song that I don’t ever want a big house. So when I spotted this, there was no way I was walking out of the store without it.

But I digress.

Maybe in the future all of the trim will be painted a light color, but I’ve painted cabinets before and to do it correctly (so it doesn’t look like a preschool art project) is a royal pain, so for now I am super happy with the little makeover. I finally have ONE room in the trailer to escape the Sea of Despair Brown. (Look at the “before” pictures. That is literally what the rest of the 5th Wheel looks like. Ugh!)


Wintering in a Non-Winter-Rated RV

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When we were shopping for RVs, one thing that we learned was that there are certain RVs that are made for “4-Season Living” or “All Season Living.”

A lot of RV’s are marketed as having a “Polar Package” or something similar. What does that mean, exactly? Well, it means nothing. Not really. It is an unregulated industry, so a “Polar Package” can mean whatever the manufacturers want it to mean. The common wisdom in the RV community is that instead of looking for an RV equipped with a “Polar Package,” you need to be looking for an RV that is rated for “All Season Living” or “4 Season Living.”

In the 5th Wheel World, your 2 Big Players are the Heartland Bighorn and the Keystone Montana. As far as I can tell, these two 5th wheel models seem to have cult followings similar to “Chevy vs. Ford” (or “Canon vs. Nikon” in the photography world). People are fiercely opinionated about which is better, and the reality is that they essentially accomplish the same thing (Arctic Fox is also a big player but it seems to be more of a Travel Trailer phenomenon instead of in 5th Wheels).

After digging into this even further, we discovered 4 things:

  • A 4-Season RV is marginally better insulated, and comes already equipped with tank heaters and insulated pipes.
  • Many of the features that make a 4-season RV “4-Season” can be added aftermarket. You can buy tank heaters and install them yourself. You can get pipe insulation from Lowe’s.
  • There are lots of tips and tricks to keeping your RV warmer from people who have been full-timing for years before full-timing became a thing.
  • We could only afford one of these 4-Season RVs if we won the lottery (or financed one, which I refused to do since we are trying to get OUT of debt, not accrue more).

We ended up buying a Keystone Cougar High Country. A High Country is the “lite” version of a regular Cougar. It’s literally lighter. That’s what makes it the High Country. The frame is aluminum, the body is a lightweight fiberglass composite. Even our countertops are thinner to save weight. This was done so it can be pulled by a lighter tow vehicle. It is NOT a 4-season RV by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of a completely meaningless “Polar Package” sticker, we have a completely meaningless “Helium Technology” sticker.

We went with this particular 5th wheel because it was in our budget, I felt the floorplan was really livable with a toddler, yet it was still smaller than some of the monstrosities we looked at (which would really limit our maneuverability and where we could stay- many RV parks don’t have sites long enough to accommodate 45’ rigs). As much as I covet a 45’ bunkhouse 5th wheel, we are just mobile enough that I have to worry about things like where we will be able to park. We can figure out winterization when we get there.


This is how Kevin and I handle the world. Our motto, as graciously summed up by Kevin’s dad, is “Eh, we’ll figure it out.” We have complete faith in our own resilience and problem-solving ability.


An easy solution to the winter problem is for mobile RV-ers to do the snowbird thing and only travel to mild climates. We only have a little control over where we go, so the snowbirding isn’t really an option for us. We get sent a handful of contracts to choose from and they aren’t always our dream locations. We go where the money is, and the money does the exact opposite of fly south for the winter.

So we are spending winter in Colorado. We actually did all of our winterization stuff back in October, but it hasn’t been truly cold enough to test it all out until now. I didn’t want to write a blog post in October all about how awesome we were at winterizing a limited season RV only to find out we failed miserably when it actually got cold out.

Early this morning got down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Exactly. The forecast predicted 2*, but when Kevin got up he said it was reading zero:


All is well, our insulation held up beautifully, and we are nice and cozy, so I finally feel qualified to blog about what we did:

  • We ordered a heated water hose off of Amazon back in October. Make sure you order one for RVs or at least make sure that it is approved for potable water to keep your fresh water clean and non-toxic. The heated hose screws on the water hookups like every other hose, but has an electric element that you plug directly into shore power to keep the horse from freezing. I believe our hose is rated to -42* and it works WONDERFULLY.

Water hookup all wrapped in insulation. The orange piece sticking out is the heat tape for the RV park hookup, our hose is the blue one and you can sort of see the black cord that runs along the bottom, disappears in the snow, and reappears in the background to be plugged into shore power. Totally handled the 0* temps.

  • The previous owner had removed the corrugated plastic underbelly and slid big sheets of Reflectix inside so they rest on the top side/inside of the underbelly. I’m assuming the previous owner did this because he or she seemed to have a real fondness for Reflectix and left us a ton that was cut to exactly fit all of our windows. We used them in Arizona to keep the heat OUT. This is essentially the equivalent of what many manufacturers do for “underbelly insulation.”


  • Our RV park allows skirting. Some don’t, but I think in general most of the cold-climate parks allows some form of skirting. You need to check with each park, though, because they are all different. Some only allow the vinyl skirting, some say “do whatever you want.” Ours just required pre-approval by the office. Essentially, they didn’t want plywood or straw bales or anything else that made the park look trashy or attracted rodents. We asked them what they recommended and they recommended the rigid Polystyrene sheets. We got the 2”-thick sheets (which I believe probably does a way better job than the thin vinyl, anyway) and Kevin skirted around the bottom of the RV. This insulates the bottom of the trailer and Oh. My. Goodness. does it make a difference! Seriously, we stuck our hand under the skirting last night when it was 20* outside and it was crazy warm under our trailer. This not only keeps all of the pipes from freezing (and possibly bursting) but it also keeps the interior of the trailer warmer. I promise I will do a separate blog post on how exactly we did this. Best investment ever.

Ghetto Econo-skirting that works way better than the $2,000 custom vinyl skirting we were quoted. Savings: $1,800.


2″ think polystyrene insulation boards with reflective tape that is specifically used for heating and insulation and can be found in the same aisle of Lowe’s at the polystyrene. I have heard horror stories of people using duct tape on their RV’s and having it damage the paint. Lots of internet research tells me that this is the best tape for the RV and it allegedly won’t hurt out finish, but we will find out when we pull it all off to move.

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This photo was from October when we installed the skirting. I took it so you could see how fortunate we were with positioning of our waste hose under our slide-out, so we ended up enclosing it completely inside the skirting and now we don’t have to worry about it freezing. Some people can’t do this just because every rig is designed differently, so they keep their black and gray tanks closed and dump them every day to prevent waste water from sitting in the hose and freezing. We always keep our black tank closed and our gray tanks open.


Kevin was smart and cut a little window out of the skirting so we can easily pop it out and reach our tank valves to open and close our tanks. The temperature difference from inside here and the outside air is incredible. This would have been much more annoying with vinyl skirting.


  • We got shrink wrap for the windows. Yes, we could have used the Reflectix that we already have, but since I occasionally battle a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the last thing I wanted to do was remove the sunlight during the winter. The shrink wrap turns our single-pane windows into double-pane windows and it also makes a HUGE difference. It actually got too hot in the trailer a few days last month so I ripped 2 windows’ shrink wrap off so I could open them, and you can totally tell the difference when you sit next to the insulated windows vs. the non-insulated windows. Plus, I can still see outside! And I am pretty sure that the direct sunlight helps keep us much warmer than the reflectix would have, bouncing the sunshine back outside.
  • We got fluffy vent insulators to keep the warm air from leaving the trailer out of our roof vents.
  • Kevin resealed everything on the roof that might leak water into the trailer (like around our vents and skylights). There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to do this.

That is literally all that we have done and we are toasty warm in our trailer, nothing has frozen or broke (well, our water hookup froze because the heat tape that the RV park had on there wasn’t working, but that was the park’s issue, not ours, and they were very apologetic and got it fixed immediately).

Side note: Blog posts are very challenging right now because the RV park is updating their internet service. So that means that the internet has been more or less shut off while they make updates. If I want to get on the internet, I have to go to the RV Park clubhouse (which is where I am now) or I have to use my wireless hotspot. However, I do not have an unlimited data plan, and it’s amazing how much uploading photos eats in data, so if I want to be able to Google random TV trivia on my cell phone, I have to ration my data usage carefully.

Arapahoe Bend and Devil’s Backbone

First of all, I adore this area.

I am mystified by the excessive use of traffic circles in Loveland: There is even one in between the hospital and the airport for a left-turn only road. They could have just made the road, you know, turn left, but there is a traffic circle there.

The weather patterns confuse me: In Oregon, the weather is cloudy and drizzly. In Arizona, the weather is sunny. In Colorado? The weather will be snowy in the morning, sunny around noon, in the mid-60’s by 3 p.m., 60-mile-an-hour winds by 5 p.m., then crystal clear and silent and in the 20’s by 9pm. In the same day. Colorado weather is drunk, like, all the time. “Dress in layers” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Just, be prepared to almost always be at least a little uncomfortable.

This sucks because I have to have ALL of our clothes out. In Arizona, we just had our summer clothes and all of our winter gear was in storage under the bed. In Oregon we had jeans and hoodies. Not possible in Colorado. I can’t put ANYTHING in storage, because you just can’t anticipate when it will hit 80* in December. Since we sacrificed our closet for the kiddo, we don’t exactly have a ton of room for 5 different weights of jackets.

With that out of the way, it is so pretty out here. I love love love the view of the Rockies. I love how the snow is light and powdery, and how they deal with it appropriately so 1/2″ doesn’t shut down the entire city (I’m looking at you, Portland), and I love how it is sunny probably 90% of the time.

Fort Collins is an adorable college town, it reminds me of a bigger, better Corvallis (Oregon). It’s also home to a ton of Natural Areas, which I am giddy about. What? Public access natural areas with trails ALL OVER THE CITY?? And we can just go hiking without having to drive at least an hour out of town? (Still looking at you, Portland)

So in light of the Natural Area Wonders, I thought I would dedicate a post to natural areas near me (as in, all within 20 minutes) that I am lucky enough to get to practice my landscape photography on. And you, my dear readers, will benefit by getting to see actual halfway-decent photos from actual cool and interesting places we go to.

Kevin’s recruiter, Brad, has sent us my favorite email of all time: “Start thinking about where you want to go next…” Ahhh, I love it. It’s seriously better than Christmas.

Here are my favorite shots of a Natural Area in Fort Collins called Arapahoe Bend at sunset:



Kevin patiently waiting for the sun to set so I could get my photos and be done.


I think this one might make Large Print status. My favorite sunset photo of all time. But honestly, nearly every sunset in Colorado looks like this. I’ve never seen so many amazing sunsets in such a condensed amount of time.


This is my reminder to occasionally turn around and look behind me during a sunset to see what is happening in the other direction.

In the interest of being transparent, this particular sunset didn’t happen on accident. I actually tracked the weather, cloud cover, and topographic maps for a few days until everything aligned, and I made a good educated guess that this sunset would be more spectacular than most. Of course, sometimes you can plan all day and it will still turn out a dud, but this one didn’t disappoint. I also had a good idea of which natural areas we could go to so I could get the shots I wanted, and started driving around to check out a couple different spots earlier in the day. When I found this spot, I just parked it and waited.

So here are a few that I got after a light snow at Devil’s Backbone Natural Area, just outside of Loveland (like, literally 10 minutes down the street from us). I hear that this place is usually very busy, be we only encountered maybe 1 other human being, so I am going to say it was due to the snow. Or the fact that we went mid-week.


Seriously, you guys, this is a real photo. To me it looks a little like a painting. I just love how moody it was with the sun trying to break through the trees. Another one of my favorites that might make large print status.


This is why they call it Devil’s Backbone.


One of my favorite pictures of Kevin reading the trail map.


I have a weird obsession with photographing fences, fence posts, and barns. I think it comes from my love of horses, but I definitely believe that fences can be beautiful.

Okay, so WordPress has frozen on me like 7 times in the last hour, so I will call this a day before I lose my mind and throw the laptop out of the window in a fit of rage.

Obviously, my love is landscape and nature photos, but I promise I will try to get some city photos before we leave in January. Loveland has this very odd obsession with sculptures (and traffic circles) and I’m trying to figure out if I want to try to make a collage out of them (the sculptures, not the traffic circles).

Chateau de Hoss: The Tour

It occurs to me that the only people to have ever seen our 5th Wheel (Named “Hoss”) are my parents and Kevin’s daughter. That’s because we bought it only a few short weeks before we hit the road. So here is a little virtual tour of our tiny house.

I think a 5th wheel counts as a “Tiny House,” right?

Is that even still a trend?

Personally, I always thought it was a little silly to build those heavy and awkward things when you could, you know, just buy a travel trailer or 5th Wheel of the same size for (usually) less money, that is lighter and easier to pull. RV’s have had the market on mobile, small living for way longer, so they must have gotten it right by now. Plus, RV parks are everywhere, but very few of them accept tiny houses.

Here is the floorplan of our Keystone Cougar High Country 299rks. We looked at many much larger than this, but ultimately I liked the huge (for an RV) kitchen in the back, and the flowing layout. It feels just as large as it’s 35′ counterparts that have the kitchen in the middle.


Of course, manufacturers usually put the kitchen in the middle of the rig because it is the most stable while going down the road. As you can imagine, I have to pack our kitchen pretty well to withstand the massive bouncing the rear of the rig sustains while traveling. However, since we only move 3-4 times a year, I am happy with the trade-off.

Plus, fewer and fewer breakables are getting unpacked at each destination, because why unpack our pretty plates when we are perfectly happy eating off of the toddler’s plastic rainbow IKEA set?



These are the photos from the dealer’s ad. So clean, so uncluttered, so pristine. And then we threw a toddler in there. And he puked all over the very first night. Ah, the joys of parenting.

The first thing we did is get rid on the bulky awkward table and chairs and replaced them with an IKEA table that folds up and has 6 drawers. Extra storage and lightweight, winning all around. We picked up 2 folding chairs and a bench that has even more storage. The folding chairs can be tucked away when not in use, and the table folded up, and we magically have more floor space AND more storage.


Then we pulled one rocker/recliner out completely. while they did both technically fit in that spot, they were so smooshed in there that they couldn’t actually, you know, rock or recline or swivel. Since it’s just our small little family we opted to have one chair that was actually functional over two that weren’t.


In our house, the step ladder is a necessity, since I’m 5’2″ with shoes on, and my cabinets are 6′-7′ (depending on where they are located in relation to the slope of the ceiling). Also, 99% of the time the step ladder is used by the Little One as a dining chair (it puts him at a good height at the table) or the adults use it as a side table.

When we first moved in, I was delusional about keeping the couch clean enough to sell one day for a new, less-brown couch, so I left this brightly-colored comforter tossed over it to help protect it from spills and dog hair. Also, I really need color in here to brighten it up. As you can see, we live in a sea of beige and brown. Beige and brown everywhere. There must be some universal rule in the RV world that manufacturers must make the decor as bland and depressing as possible. Seriously, get Joanna Gaines to do an interior and I bet that one model will suddenly and singlehandedly outsell every other model on the planet where the interior is awash in the color of sadness and excrement.

Yes, yes, I am planning on redoing our entire RV. I haven’t yet because, well, it’s kind of a shame to destroy something that is essentially brand new and in great shape as-is, and the other reason is that I need to plan it very carefully. History has shown that as soon as you do a successful “before/after” on something as unique and wistful as a 5th wheel interior, your Pinterest presence will explode, and, frankly, I am not ready for that kind of traffic influx on the blog just yet. I’m still pondering changing the blog name and have been for months, so obviously paint colors that I’m going to plaster all over the DIY web community are going to be a much bigger commitment than I am psychologically prepared for.

Also… we don’t have friends in Colorado. Who am I really trying to impress, here? It’s just us.  Well, us and now you 7 followers… 😉

Someday, though, I will lose my mind at all of the brown and not be able to stand it for one more day. That will be a good day for the local Sherwin Williams store.



Ahhh, from my “throw pillow” period. These were left over from staging the house when it was on the market. I went through a phase that lasted approximately 1 month where I made the bed up all pretty, complete with throw pillows, every morning. Back when I was embracing the “homemaker” side of being a stay-at-home mom. Then I finally got pissed off at having a collection of worthless, stupid pillows that no one saw except our immediate family unit, so I threw them all out in a fit of purging. Now I am 100% “If it’s not practical, it’s gone.” My inner dialogue went something like that scene from Along Came Polly. 


I actually get a lot of questions about where the kiddo sleeps from people on the Full-Time RV message boards that I’m a member of. It’s a really common question from people considering full-timing with kids.

Well, he sleeps in the closet.

Not in a Harry Potter way.

Like, we don’t shut him in there when we don’t want him or anything. We actually removed the closet doors to expand our room a bit, but keep it like a little nook. The floor area where the closet once was is conveniently a few inches off the floor, and the platform just so happens to be the exact same size as a toddler mattress, with space at his head for a hanging organizer. The organizer was originally intended to hold his stuffed animals and books, but since we now have zero closet space, it actually serves triple-duty as shoe storage, linen storage, and book storage, and the stuffed animals live on his bed.



I’m not going to lie, this momma LOVES having her kiddo so close. He loves it too. We have never, ever had any issues with him going to bed aside from the occasional request to sleep in the big bed. For the most part, he likes his bed, and I think it gives him a sense of security being so close to Mom and Dad. Plus, I usually can sense when he is restless or waking up, and if I’m quick enough, I rub his back or re-tuck him in, and he will pass right back out rather than hopping into bed with us.

Sometimes if he does wake up, I will hear a quiet, “Momma?” and all I do is reassure him that “Mommy’s here, everything is okay, go back to sleep” and it works. And if he falls out of bed? The floor is 3″ down. Most of the time I will find him half in, half out of bed and still sleeping.


So that’s Hoss. Not the biggest 5th Wheel, not the smallest. It fits us very well, the floorplan is open and surprisingly functional. Our family of 3-4 (4 in the summer), and a dog and cat fit in here very comfortably. There are challenges, of course, but also huge benefits to living smaller. It was actually very easy to adapt to RV living. I don’t miss my house one bit.

Well, maybe I miss the bathtub.


How to Hand-Wash Dishes Like a Surgical Technologist

Prior to being a full-time mom (my bank labels my occupation as “homemaker,” which I loathe), I was a surgical technologist. I guess I technically still am, if we are being completely honest; I keep up on my continuing education and certifications, dreaming of the day when I can go back to “the real world.”

Surgical techs are an interesting bunch. We are frighteningly well-versed in things like germs and the difference between “disinfection” and “sterilization.” We toss around profane language in everyday conversation but the word “contaminated” makes us shudder.

Nothing makes me more insane than labeling those baby bottle sanitizing machines as “bottle sterilizers.” Really? You’re selling a miniature autoclave? Or when canning recipes call for “sterilized canning jars.” Please tell me more about how I am supposed to sterilize glass jars on the stove in my kitchen…. but I digress.

In tech school, we spent quite a bit of time learning the difference between cleaning chemicals and their corresponding levels of disinfection. I even had a project where I ordered some petri dishes and agar from Amazon (prior to tech school you could find me spending my days hanging out in the biology labs at Portland State University like the super-cool kid I was, so this is right up my alley), and took swabs from different medical instruments that had been cleaned with varying levels of disinfection.

No surprise, but the petri dishes grew all sorts of nasty, smelly gobs of yuck in them, but there was a significant correlation between the level of disinfection and the size of the germ colony. My high-level disinfection swab, where the instrument was soaked in household bleach, hardly grew a thing. If it did, it was microscopic after weeks in the petri dish.

I tell you this story to explain why I think the way I do about hand-washing dishes.

In an RV, I do not have the luxury of a dishwasher. A dishwasher is an excellent way of getting a higher level of sanitation than hand-washing, because of the high temperatures and long running time it can wash with. Unfortunately, as a scrub tech, I am painfully aware that hand-washing my dishes is not the optimal way to sanitize my dishes.

So I turned to chemistry (which was, coincidentally, my college minor).

In surgery, if we cannot use the usual vapor-heat sterilization (autoclave), the alternative is to look towards chemicals to get the job done.

Alright, here is where is is going to get controversial:

I use bleach.

Here’s why people hate bleach:

  • Although it is not technically toxic in and of itself (it can cause mild irritation to eyes, skin, lungs, etc.), it’s very reactive, and can release chlorine gas, which is super highly toxic.
  • The bleach manufacturing process is not great for the environment: one of the byproducts released into atmosphere is dioxin, which is bad for the ozone.

Here’s why bleach is awesome:

  • It destroys the cell membranes of nasty things like bacteria and fungus and kills them. There are certain nasties in this world, like clostridium difficile, where bleach is the one recommended substance to actually kill it. Affectionately called c.diff in the healthcare world, it’s one heck of a nasty stomach bug (well, technically colon bug, if you get my drift… *wink*wink*)

Quick chemistry lesson on bleach:

If you do not want a chemistry lesson, skip this part. But if you are someone who likes to know why we do the things we do, and make an educated decision for yourself on if this is a good method to try, read on.

Common household bleach contains sodium hypochlorite (NaClO). The “chlorite” part of that molecule means chlorine. Essentially salt (“sodium”), chlorine (“chlor”),and oxygen (“ite”).

It destroys bacterial and fungal cell membranes using a oxidation process.

Which is great. Kill all the bacteria, as far as I’m concerned.

This is where people get hung up:

If you mix chlorine bleach with any kind of acid, it causes the bleach to release its chlorine molecule as a gas, creating chlorine gas. Chlorine gas was used as a chemical weapon in WWI. Yep, same shit. Mix bleach and vinegar and you are making your own personal chemical weapon. 

With that being said, I use bleach while doing the dishes.

There are ways around the whole chemical weapon scenario, if you have a basic understanding of chemistry.

Method 1: Non-chlorine bleach.

This is usually made with sodium percarbonate. See what they did there? They replaced the chlorine with carbon. Way less toxic. And, while it still uses oxidation to break molecules apart, it’s not as strong or effective as chlorine bleach, making it excellent for your colored laundry. It’s usually marketed as the “color-safe” bleach. Some non-chlorine bleaches use peroxide, like the OxyClean brand (I think). Same idea. Oxidizes, but not as violently as chlorine.

We usually buy non-chlorine bleach. Granted, we do have a stash of chlorine bleach, but it’s tucked away for special uses, and 90% of the time we just go with non-chlorine bleach to be on the safe side.

Yeah, it’s not as strong. But we use it for our light-duty jobs.

For doing the majority of my dishes, my method is as follows:

  • I fill one side of my sink with hot water and a splash of non-chlorine bleach.
  • On the other side of the sink, I hand-wash my dishes with soap, water, and a scrubby sponge as usual, then drop them in the bleach-water side rather than rinsing. (Remember: I’m using a non-chlorine bleach so I don’t care if dish soap gets in there. Dish soap is pretty much the best de-greaser on the planet.)
  • Because we use the safe-but-weak stuff, I let it soak for 20-30 mins, and I’m a little bit more generous on the amount I add to the water.

The bleach soak is replacing my (much-missed) dishwasher in the whole dish-sanitation process. In other words, my healthcare comrades, we can’t autoclave, so we are going to Cidex. Figuratively.

For practicality’s sake, I generally skip the whole bleach thing if I just use that pan to, say, make stove-top popcorn. Or if I’m making coffee, I feel zero need to bleach my Aeropress when a quick wipe down with soap and water is perfectly fine. It’s more for the nastier stuff, like if I make my toddler mac n’ cheese and let the pan sit out on the counter just a few hours longer than it probably should have (I’m not even going to pretend that doesn’t happen regularly). Or if I look up from the couch and see the cat gleefully licking the coffee creamer remnants off of the “I might make another cup of coffee so I won’t wash this yet” spoon.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I use chlorine bleach to bleach the heck out of that plastic cutting board that I just de-boned a raw chicken on. Or the really expensive travel coffee mug that we discovered in the back seat of the car and we can’t recall when the last time we saw it was, but clearly there was some mystery liquid left in it from however-long ago.

Method 2: Bust out the Big Guns for the Extra Nasties:

  • Fill half the sink with HOT water (hot water increases the bleach’s effectiveness) and a splash of chlorine bleach.
  • While the soaking side of the sink is filling, hand wash the item on the other side of the sink, if you can stand the smell of the nasties without making yourself gag. If not, just rinse quickly and immediately plunge into bleach bath. If you *can* wash it, be sure to use a cheap sponge you won’t mind parting with. I will toss the sponge out, because I don’t believe that you can ever really clean a sponge once it’s gross. I buy like 6 of them for $1, so there is no need to cross-contaminate.
  • Let soak. I don’t have soaking guidelines, I just let it soak until I’m comfortable that whatever nasties I’m trying to kill are good and dead. I’m sure there’s a formula, but my motto is that it’s can’t be TOO clean, so it’s usually in the 1-2 hour realm. Honestly it probably only takes a fraction of that time, but I don’t care. Salmonella is a thing that I want no part of.
  • Rinse the item in plain water well. I should recommend wearing gloves while handling bleach, but I don’t have sensitive skin at all, so I never do. But, you know, be an adult and make good choices for yourself.
  • Once the item (and the sink basin) has been rinsed completely with clear water, proceed to hand-wash as usual.

To keep things nice and safe in the small confines of an RV, we buy Seventh Generation natural dish soap, which has a pH of 7.9-8.1. This puts it just oh-so-slightly on the alkaline end of the pH spectrum, meaning it’s not acidic. So technically I could mix this with chlorine bleach and be fine. I still like to just rinse well with water. It take a few seconds but gives me peace of mind.

If you aren’t sure where your dish soap sits on the pH scale, just go online and look up the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for your particular brand. As long as the pH is higher than 7, you are fine. Seventh Generation’s dish soap pH sits somewhere in between stream water and sea water. Surprisingly, it does a fantastic job cutting grease. Like, comparable to Dawn. No joke. (And no, no one pays me to say that, either, but it would be awesome if they did…. ahem.)

Air drying dishes on a drying rack is more sanitary than wiping them with a towel. if you have time and space, air dry. We have a nifty collapsible rack that sits inside my sink so it doesn’t take up precious RV counter top real estate.

It seriously just occurred to me that I could never have a single-basin sink. I love big farmhouse sinks, but clearly I use both sides of a divided sink often enough that a beautiful, single-basin sink would be highly impractical… sad.

I think the only people in the world who can optimize the dish washing process better than a scrub tech is definitely a sterile processing tech. I bet their dish-washing routines are impeccable.

I don’t even want to hear from people who are going to email me to tell me that vinegar works just as well as bleach. It doesn’t. Sure, there is a place for vinegar in cleaning. Like washing windows. But don’t think that scrubbing your toilet with apple cider vinegar is going to make it germ-free. I don’t care what you read on the internet.




Arches National Park, Utah

Sorry it has been so quiet. We are solidly in December, and since December is The Month Of Obligatory Gift-Giving, and we are on a super-tight, single-income budget, we have been seriously limiting ourselves in the “fun” department, and have been saving our money by sitting at home at lot more. It’s a lot harder to travel and sight-see when you are on a $10-a-week gas budget.

It’s making me so stir-crazy, I don’t even know where to begin.

So I tried to take up running as a hobby, promptly got a bad case of shin-splits after only 3 days (I hear crappy shoes are to blame, but again with the poor/broke part).

Then I decided to get into website building (WHY??? I have no idea. I am the least techie person I know, and we only have a bottom-of-the-line, elderly laptop that has an agenda to make my life miserable).

So the moral of the story is that I have nothing new and exciting to write about.  I literally wrote a 1,500 word essay on hand-washing dishes as an outlet to my pent-up writing energy. I thought it was funny, I made Kevin read it, he thought it was funny and wants me to publish it. I, on the other hand, would like to keep up the appearance of NOT being a psycho. So it sits.

I have decided that since I have nothing new or interesting to say, I will blog about our road trip that we took 2 months ago.

After we went to Mesa Verde, we headed North and decided on a whim to “just swing by” Arches National Park.

For the record, Arches is 130 miles away from Mesa Verde, which is roughly a 2.5 hour drive, making it a 5-hour round-trip “detour.”

The reason I haven’t written about Arches yet is because we got there at 4:30pm. The visitors center closes at 4. So we didn’t get a stamp in our Passport, which, to me, means we essentially didn’t even go.

In all seriousness, because I didn’t have the opportunity to research the park in the visitors center, I had zero idea what we were looking at as we drove around, besides gorgeous scenery.

I definitely need to go back. That place is beautiful.

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Seriously, Child. Can’t we just hold still for ONE nice photo???

We were there during sunset, making it even more beautiful as the sun caught the rock formations on fire:

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Right before this trip, Kevin was so sweet and upgraded my Fuji bridge to a Nikon DSLR, and apparently I decided that sunset at Arches was the absolute best place for me to challenge myself to shoot in full manual mode.

Which is a little tricky, since the lighting changes every freaking few minutes so there is a constant need to adjust settings.

However, I can think of no more spectacular place in the world to learn on:

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I actually don’t know why the rock on the right is glowing. The only thing I can come up with is that was the side where the sun had recently set? Oh well, still one of my all-time favorite photos. 

The one fun tidbit I learned from Google (since the visitors center was closed) is that the arch formations are actually formed under ground and then are slowly revealed as the soft desert sand is eroded away. They keep discovering more and more arch formations, and since this park is SO huge, they expect to continue discovering more. I imagine that now that drones are a thing, it might be easier to discover the hidden arches, but we will see.

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Kevin being a jackass silly when I told him to go “pose pretty” in front of the arch. 

Scorpion Hunting: Only 4 Months Later…

I had this post mostly written and saved, and life just kept moving on and I never really got a chance to finish it. Okay, that’s only partially true. I forgot about it. I just found it when I was busy adding photos to the Scotts Bluff post.

I will apologize in advance: I didn’t get photos of this. Well, I did, but nothing showed up. Cell phone cameras don’t do well in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. Pitch black darkness is not super conducive to excellent photography.

There was tons of stuff to do in and around Phoenix. It seemed like we were always busy. One of the surprising highlights was going scorpion hunting.

Well, we hunted them with blacklights. It was a kid-friendly program that was put on by the Parks and Rec department and it was a blast.

I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re from Oregon like us and the only time you’ve seen a real scorpion is when it’s encased in a paperweight in a gift shop. We actually took the hour-long free class before embarking on the hunt to learn about these little creatures.

Granted, it was 4 months ago that we did this, but here are the standout points that I still remember (because they are all terrifying and still give me nightmares):

  1. Scorpions are members of the arachnid family. Which means they are essentially spiders with body armor and poisonous weapons. As someone with a mild arachnophobia, this is terrifying. They are spiders on steroids.
  2. Their sting is not often fatal (unless you are elderly or an infant or otherwise immunocomprise, just the demographic who should not get the flu). Their poison is a neurotoxin that allegedly feels like 30 bee stings at once and then you have shooting pain until your nerves heal again. Like, in a month. No thank you. Hard pass on that.
  3. Apparently they live in colonies which live in the same geographical area forever and they don’t tend to migrate. Meaning that there are some parts of Phoenix that have never seen a scorpion, and others who find them all the time. Those that have them often get used to checking their shoes before putting them on or checking inside the dryer before reaching in. Nope nope nope.
  4. These things don’t die. They’re like cockroaches. They can survive for 3 days underwater. Months or years without food. One lady even claims that she froze one to see if it would die, then forgot about it, and a year later her freezer broke and lo and behold, when the ice melted the little Demon Spider was still alive.
  5. I will never live in Phoenix because scorpions are scarier than spiders. They didn’t teach me this in the class, I just came to this conclusion all by myself.

Fun side note: My toddler was successful in drawing the attention of all 80-ish people in this class when he got his head stuck in the folding chair he was supposed to be sitting in and mom had to rescue him.

On the cool side, they glow under black light. You do have to bring or buy your own black light flashlights. We bought 2 in the gift shop.

After the class was over we all hopped in our cars and drove to the trailhead and waited until it was good and dark outside before we hit the trail.

The trail itself was only a mile: 1/2 mile in, 1/2 mile out. Since it was dark and we were out there looking for poisonous armored demon spiders, we put the toddler in the backpack to keep him contained.

On our walk we counted 58 scorpions.

They did not come attack-flying at me like I figured they would. They usually just ran away. Scattered back into their little caves of horrors.

It was surprisingly fun and I loved hearing Kevin’s daughter squeal in delight every time she spotted one.

As far as free activities go, this tops the list. It was surprisingly one of the more fun things we did in Arizona.

Can someone explain to me why PetSmart has big-ass giant scorpions for sale as pets??? WHY??? The handling instructions for the pet scorpions pretty much said, “Don’t.” Unless you are buying them to release into the car of your worst enemy, why would anyone want one?

Day Trip From Fort Collins, CO: Scotts Bluff, NE

When we are unsure what to do on a day off, we ask Google what is near us. 99% of the time we ask it what National Parks are nearby, because we have the annual pass and are determined to get the best value out of it as possible (in other words, we are cheap broke frugal).

Who would have thought that Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska is only about 2 hours away from Fort Collin, Colorado? And you go through Wyoming to get there? Whaaaat?

Clearly U.S. geography has never been a strong area of mine.

Come to think of, geography in general is pretty hit-or-miss with me. I also get lost in shopping malls, so really, my judgement on where anything exists in relation to other things is apparently a concept that I just can’t wrap my brain around.

I do have to say that this was the first road trip where I repeatedly asked Kevin what state we were in. On a two hour road trip. When I was the one driving.


First of all, can I just say that I did very minimal editing on this photo? Minimal. Like I cloned out some dust specks because my camera sensor is in dire need of a cleaning after dragging it all over the Southwest. The sky is actually that blue. I even had this one printed off at Walmart to check the color, and it’s still that vibrant blue. I’ve never seen sky as blue as in Nebraska.

As always, we recommend starting at the visitor center, and that is exactly where we decided to start. Plus you had to pay your admission (or flash your annual pass like some kind of touristy VIP) inside the visitor center, since the entrance booth wasn’t staffed that day. The visitor center/museum is in the process of being moved to a different building, so unfortunately the exhibits were a little sparse, but the lone ranger (teehee) running the whole place was very friendly and welcoming.

Side note: Apparently the apostrophe in “Scott’s Bluff” was dropped in the late 1940’s (by the United States Board on Geographical Names, which is apparently a thing that exists), so the correct spelling is technically Scotts Bluff, but every time I type it, it stresses me out because it just seems wrong.

We had the option of hiking 3 miles to the peak of the bluff and back, straight up the side with lots of switchbacks, or hopping in our car and just driving to the top.

We drove. I enjoy hiking, but not that much.


The view from the parking lot on top of the bluff. See that trail there? Waaaaaaaay down there? Yeah, that is the trail to/from the visitor’s center. Kevin really wanted to hike through the tunnel, though.

There are a few easy trails around the top of the bluff. 360* panoramic views. These bluffs rise out of the middle of nothing but flat plains. You can see forever in any direction.

The bluffs were a key landmark along the Oregon Trail (and the Mormon trail, and the California Trail, and the Pony Express). The pass between the buffs, known as Mitchell Pass, was so heavily used, and the trail so worn into the ground, that later settlers describe the trail as having 6-foot embankments on each side.


Mitchell Pass

Sadly, these bluffs will not be here forever. They are made of sandstone. It’s like dense sand. Dense sand that is slowly blowing away in the wind.


I admit that I didn’t actually read this sign, but it is a good visual of how they are measuring erosion on Scotts Bluffs. It probably gave some kind of timeline for how long the Bluffs will be there, but I will just say “not forever.” I’m such a bad journalist.



Just so you know, you could fall off the edge of the bluff. Don’t do that.

Because Kevin was still dying to walk through the tunnel, we made the illogical and irrational decision to hike DOWN the bluff to the tunnel, then hike back up at the end of our hike when we were good and tired. Because, you know, we enjoy a good challenge.

So down we went.


Stunning views!


You can see how this was once a bluff, but is eroding into a very cool sandstone formation.

It’s a lot further down than it looks, and since our trip to the bottom of Silver Creek Falls in Oregon taught us that for as far as we go down, we would have to go back up, we called it quits before we got to the tunnel.

With a little more pre-planning, we could have started from the bottom by the ranger station, and gone up then back down, we would have dressed appropriately for a hike (as in, not in jeans), and we would have gone at a time that wasn’t lunchtime when we were hangry, and packed snacks.

But planners we are not.

(Hmmm… I’m sensing a theme throughout this blog)

We finished out trip by refueling on snacks that we had in the car as we drove back down off the bluff, and walking along the Oregon Trail pathway. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the Mitchell Pass campsite, and they had some covered wagons on display. One looked authentic, one was clearly a reproduction, and I was on the fence about the 3rd one.


Seriously, you guys. I cannot get over that blue sky. 


My attempt at “real” photography.  Wagon wheel with Dome Rock in the distance.


National Parks Service post marking the path of the Oregon/California/Mormon trail and the Pony Express route.

All in all, I was super excited to get to check off one of my bucket list items, which was “Walk along the Oregon Trail.”

I want to take this moment to challenge all of my readers (all 3 of you, LOL):

Pick one item on your Bucket List and start attacking it. Attack it with gusto. With a vengeance. Just do it. Stop putting it off. Life is too short and you never know when the moment will come when it is too late.

I’m always super curious what other people have on their bucket lists. Drop a note below with something you want to do, and why you haven’t yet. 🙂

Eating Well with No Space and a Tiny Budget


Okay, I am going to step away from the travel blogging for just a second, and venture into another aspect of the travel life: space, budget, and food. Normally I wouldn’t even bring these things up, but one of my photography mentors has challenged us to step out of our usual style of photography and try a genre we haven’t tried, so I chose food. And a blog post idea was born.

(I honestly couldn’t care less about food photography, but I understand how being well-rounded will make me a better photographer in the long run.)

Since we downsized from two incomes (well, technically 5, since I was working 3 jobs and Kevin was working 2) to only one income, we have a pretty tight budget to be able to afford this amazing travel lifestyle. So we have to be very careful with our money, and where our pennies are allotted.

A bigger grocery budget means a smaller gas budget, which means we can afford less travel adventures. So I made our grocery budget into a game:

How low can we go and still eat well?

Another obstacle that we have to overcome is limited food storage space. I mean, have you ever seen an RV refrigerator? Take a tiny little apartment fridge and cut that in half.


We are actually really really fortunate in that we have a relatively large kitchen for an RV that is this size. It was part of the reason why I chose the rear-kitchen floorplan: the kitchen is actually similar in size to that of my first apartment and our trailer is only 30 feet. There’s an actual pantry, albeit a small-ish one. Kitchen and food storage is simply something that you will have to compromise on if you are going to move into an RV. Unless you get one of those behemoth “residential” RVs that we can only dream about affording someday…

So due to a lack of space, by necessity we make frequent trips to buy groceries. We simply cannot hit up Costco and buy 10 lbs of coffee at a time, because we have nowhere to put it. When we lived in our house, I would go grocery shopping every other week, because I hate grocery shopping, but in the RV, we go a minimum of once a week, and often need to make a quick run mid-week for those 2 or 3 items that we just couldn’t make last all week long.

I budget $100 a week (in cash, so we aren’t tempted to “fudge” with the debit card).

Any extra cash we have at the end of the week that we have leftover goes into an old coffee can “Cruise Fund.” The last few weeks we have been consistently hitting between $60 and $80 a week on food. We only have about $100 to go to be able to book our cruise. (Yay!!!)

How can we afford for our family of 3 to eat (and eat well) on $60-$80 a week?

Two Rules:

Rule #1: Be smart about what you buy. 

  • I don’t buy a bunch of processed crap. We eat whole food. About 50% of our budget is spent in the produce section (50%!!). About 20% is then spent on dairy, because we love cheese and yogurt in our house. Maybe 20% on beans and grains (bread, pasta, rice, etc), and the remaining 10% on misc. staples like spices, granola bars, and peanut butter.
  •  I don’t coupon. I have learned that this causes me to seek out a certain brand, which inevitably costs more than a comparable store brand, even with the coupon. Couponing, at least for me, causes me to spend more money (example: Chobani greek yogurt is $1 normally, but with a coupon for 20% off makes it $.80. The Kroger brand of greek yogurt is like $.50. This coupon would only save me money if my family will only eat Chobani, but since no one cares, I will not spend the extra $.30 just for the allure of “saving” $.20 using a coupon). Plus, very rarely do coupons exist for whole foods; 99% of the time it is for processed garbage.
  • We eat mostly vegetarian. Meat is expensive and, honestly, unnecessary. I was a vegetarian for years until I got severely anemic while I was pregnant, and for some medical reason that I never bothered looking up, you shouldn’t take iron supplements while preggers, so I started eating more meat. But now that I’m not anemic (or pregnant!) anymore, the majority of our meals are sliding back into the vegetarian realm.

IF we have money left over after buying our produce, grains, and dairy, we might swing by the meat department and see if anything is on sale or a crazy good deal, and get ONE thing that we stretch for the entire week. Any kind of roast is popular, one week we got half a turkey on sale, sometimes we’ll get the $5 rotisserie chicken, etc and make that work on salads, in soups, or on sandwiches for the whole week. But really, no one needs a 32oz steak in one sitting. No one.

Healthy food being more expensive is one of the world’s biggest myths that makes me crazy. Yes, eating nothing but boneless, skinless chicken breasts and drinking kefir and buying organic pears in the middle of winter will probably get spendy. But a pound of dried beans is less than $1 and will feed my family for a solid week, and beans are good for you, too! Eggs are cheap, versatile, and packed full of protein.  Onion, carrots, spinach, cabbage, etc are all inexpensive and all good for you!

Just be smart about what you’re buying.

Rule #2: Learn how to *really* cook, and seriously question the “meal-plan” model of food prep.

The common wisdom of the internet these days says that if you write out a detailed meal plan, write out a detailed shopping list, and then only buy those things, you will waste less food and therefore save yourself money.

I have not found this to be true.

Really, these experiments are my most expensive shopping trips by far. My family doesn’t eat 7 dinners a week. My family eats 3, tops, and then 4 nights of rotating or re-purposed leftovers, or improvising because we don’t feel like eating what we are supposed to. Plus, 7 meals’ worth of ingredients will never fit in our kitchen at one time.

Making 7 distinctly different meals in a week is so wasteful for us. Especially if you go and find 7 different recipes off the internet that don’t even have interchangeable ingredients. And I am not that highly motivated to try to come up with 7 really cohesive but different recipes on the internet. I do not have that attention span.

We did, however, have a really successful week of “Mexican” food. We just made a big batch of beans and ground beef with taco seasoning at the beginning, had plenty of tortillas, lettuce, cheese, salsa, cilantro, and sour cream on hand, and kept re-purposing those same ingredients. Tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, nachos, and enchiladas all require near-identical ingredients just rearranged in different ways. So we only had to buy one head of lettuce, one bunch of cilantro, one container of sour cream, and nothing went bad. We used it all up that week, but those were literally all we bought that week.

Instead of spending my stay-at-home-mom days searching Pinterest for the perfect recipe that incorporates everything in my fridge that’s about to go bad, that my child will also love, and that has the proper amount of nutrients and macros, and blah blah blah, I taught myself how to cook.

Like, how to really cook. Not just follow a recipe. But to cook like a contestant on Chopped. 

Let’s see, I have half an onion, greek yogurt, whole wheat spaghetti, and cheerios, but dang it, I *really* want to put my last $20 into the Cruise Fund instead of buying food for my family, so I will just have to make this work. 

So instead of “pinning” 32 recipes for chicken noodle soup, I learned about mirepoix. Instead of searching for fajita recipes, I learned about Mexican and Southwestern flavors. Instead of giving up and ordering takeout, I learned how to stir-fry. I am figuring out what flavors compliment each other, and which flavors don’t work at all.

Why is this important? Because when I am wondering what to do with the Butternut squash sitting on my counter taking up space (but that we got for $1.10), I can remember that I really liked butternut squash in a curry dish I once had, and since I now have an understanding of curry flavors, we concocted an amazing curried butternut squash stir-fry with wheat noodles, bell pepper, onion, and served it over rice.

No recipe (or Cheerios) required.

I’ve got an upgraded grilled-cheese sandwich idea swirling around in my head that involves bleu cheese and pears… maybe some dijon mustard and would it be weird to have walnuts on a grilled cheese sandwich? I love that flavor profile but I also really love sandwiches.

How does this save us money?

I am learning that with the same handful of ingredients, we can create thousands of different combinations to keep our meals interesting and balanced. I don’t need to buy certain (larger) quantities because I can adjust the cooking to suit (I just have 2 potatoes? Sweet, I only need to buy 1 leek for soup).

And honestly, it saves me a ton of time because I can whip something up without having to read recipes, constantly washing my hands to wake my phone up every time I need to check quantities and cooking times, dig around for my dry measuring cups, and so on. I seriously wont cook anything more complicated than 5 or more ingredients, or if it involves an oven in any way (with the rare exception of baking sweet treats, like cinnamon rolls… yum…)

I know, I know; I’m a stay-at-home-mom and so I have “all the time in the world to cook.” But I still hate cooking. Just because I’m learning how, and it’s easier, doesn’t mean that I enjoy being in the kitchen. It means I figured out how to make it easier on myself. Cooking has never been my forte. Before I met Kevin I subsisted on cereal and Lean Cuisines. I would happily return to that if I didn’t have a family whose health I actually care about.

So I prefer to cook things that require minimal time in the kitchen. And I can throw something together really quickly, because I know how. 

I also still do some form of food prep early in the week. I turn our scratch, raw ingredients into “convenience” ingredients. Like, I will cook dry beans so they’re soft and ready to go in recipes. I will cook beets (I love beets) once, chop them all, throw them in a tupperware container in the fridge, and they’re super easy to toss on top of salads or even to toss in a snack cup for my kiddo, or to toss with some feta and fresh parlsey for a really pretty and super yummy salad.

This is easy to do with our Instant Pot.

Seriously, if you could have ONE kitchen gadget (like if you were to, say, move into an RV with limited storage), the Instant Pot should be it. It’s WONDERFUL. We use ours probably 3-4 times a week.

These really pretty beets that I prepped? Perfectly steamed to the proper texture in 15 minutes. Set it and walk away. I totally forgot about them for like an hour. No big deal, the Instant Pot took care of it, and they are still just as perfect.

I can make chili from scratch, with dried beans, and frozen hamburger in like 90 minutes (when you start with frozen items, it takes a while to get the Instant Pot to pressure, so I always add an extra 15 minutes).


Butternut squash in 15 minutes.

I can make my mirepoix in the bottom of the Instant Pot set on the saute function, build my soup on top of it, then just set the cooking time for the longest-cooking ingredient and done.

It’s a pressure cooker so it forces flavors to “meld,” making anything taste like its been simmering all day. I honestly can’t tell the difference between spaghetti sauce lovingly simmered on the stove for 8 hours or tossed haphazardly in the Instant Pot for 10 minutes.

I might get hate mail for that statement from the Spaghetti Sauce Purists, but I am not a sauce snob, nor is my 2-year-old, so easy and fast wins every time.

So to recap:

  1. Make smart shopping choices. Buy store brands where possible, don’t buy watermelon in December, and remember that filet mignon is a rare treat, not a nightly staple.
  2. Learn how to actually cook without recipes. Recipes can and should guide you, but you should be able to make swaps or omit or add ingredients with confidence so that random rutabaga in your fridge doesn’t go to waste.


If you all have made it this far, I challenge you to see how low you can get your own grocery budgets. Start with $100 a week and go from there. Let me know how it goes!