Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Budget Christmas

We have always tried to keep our Christmas simple. I have no control over grandparents. But this year with the tightening of our belt we are forcing ourselves to have an even simpler Christmas.

How are we doing this?
  • two gifts per child. Santa gift included. One toy and one other (in this case it is a clothing item), with a strict already saved limit on each child's total amount. If what they wanted wasn't in the budget they just aren't getting it.
  • we rotate my siblings, this year we have my sister's family. I'm making their gifts.
  • E-Christmas cards. With my digital scrapbooking business I made a beautiful card. We then emailed it, put it on facebook, sent it as personal message on facebook, and even sent as a picture text to a few people. With the exception of a few people exactly 6 that don't do the internet we printed and mailed to them. Spent, including stamps, $7.16 on our cards total. Even with the best deals you might get in printing out there. Once we started adding the stamps the cost of our Christmas cards was just taking a ton out of our Christmas budget.
  • We decided to not do gifts outside our family this year. Normally I make some fun and cute baked good with cute packaging. Not this year. No cute packaging and no baked goods. A small part of this is that I had surgery and although I'm mostly healed I decided the stress of getting the few we were going to do was just too much. In the past we would put together about 50-70 plates ect. This year I was going to do a mash up all the left over packaging from previous years (and not buy anything this year). 
  • No new Christmas decorations. In the past we've bought a few new things every year. New string of lights, replacement for broken items,  new ornaments, new cute item I thought was so fun. But we decided that we were going to buy nothing this year. No moments of weakness. No frivolous purchases, No replacing broken items. Not this year.

Here are some ideas of homemade gifts:

Jar treats
pillowcase dresses
polar fleece knot blankets

Anyone of these can result in lots of options search them on pinterest.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Life will *always* be CRAZY

When Life happened before we started our financial revolution I saw it was life happens and I don't want to think about it. I would then hand whatever it is my credit card and not think about it.

So EVERY month there has been something or multiple somethings. Each time one of these things come up it has created two responses. First, getting upset at how this is delaying our ability to pay off the debt. Then second, as we change our budget around it shows us that we can take care of this, stay on track, and have managed to still pay off some debt.


  • Between August and October our family over $600 in dental work.
  • End of September I chopped off the tip of my finger and we found ourselves at the ER. Between all the bills it cost us over the next couple months over $300
  • In August and September everyone got sick at least once (some twice) and we had about $200 in medical bills (doctors and prescription).
  • November brought us two blown tires. That was another almost $400 to fix everything connected with it.
  • My doctors have been urging me for a year now to get my tonsils out. Since we've had sooo many medical expenses this year we decided that financial we'd get the best price for having them removed if we did it before the end of the year. We now added all the surgery expenses to all our crazy medical bills this year. 
But we have to remind ourselves that we are still staying afloat.

We are making progress. Since starting in June. We have paid off almost $8000 in debt. There is a small part of me that looks at all of our "life happens" expenses and think about how that is another $1500 we could have paid off. But I need to remind myself that no matter what "life happens" and will continue to happen, but as long was we are trying to do it right we'll survive. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The month was long and I fudged it

So near the end of September we were talking about some upcoming things in October and how we wanted to budget it.
October is the LDS General Conference, and since we are Mormon that is a thing for us. Our family started what we wanted to be a tradition almost 2 years ago is to have Eggs Benedict for Conference morning breakfast (one of the two mornings). Now from my last post I ranted about the price of eggs. Plus the extra cost in the budget of buying English Muffins and the sauce mix package (I have never successfully make good tasting hollandaise sauce).
Conference is the first weekend in October, and once it was "October" I wasn't going to have time to run to the grocery store and do even a short trip. So since the money was "already" in the account for the first half of October I wanted to "borrow" from October to do purchase the items for Conference weekend. He wanted Eggs Benedict, but he was uncomfortable with me "borrow" from the next month. With considering some other upcoming events, my husband agreed to let me "borrow" to pick up what we need to cover us until our next "once a month" shopping trip.

The eggs were costly. The hollandaise sauce was more than I remembered, I normally buy two packs for our family, and the English muffins just felt so costly... That all being said I decided to take some chances, I felt guilty that I was going to spend so much on one meal. I decided to try to get buy with only one pack of sauce, and to try making my own English Muffins from scratch. I have been watching a show that is new here in the States, but has been in Great Britian for a number of years now, The Great British Bake Off. I am in love with the show. It gives me hope that maybe one day I can be a baker too. I very much recommend watching it. It is fun and educational, and makes you so hungry. I have learned so much about baking and it has inspired me to try to make more things myself. It is available on  To learn to make the English Muffins, I found this Youtube video from a Brit. She gives a nice step by step and you know what my muffins were so tasty. In addition, I love Alton Brown. He has an episode where he makes Eggs Benedict- I love Alton, but I have tried his recipes, and although they are not impossible, as a beginner I did not succeed.

So everything turned out great. Still used a ton of eggs. But I tried to stave and be creative in other ways- and my kids loved them! But now I start my month $60 down from what I normally have. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ugg the cost of EGGS!

With the cost of eggs going up I have really been feeling the pinch in my grocery budget. Just as my husband and I start talking about maybe getting 2 sets of 5 dozen eggs so that we can enjoy eggs more often for breakfast. It then becomes even more not realistic in the cost. The cost last year around this time for 5 dozen eggs was about $10, often $9.99 with on sale deals of $7.99. Right now at the same store 5 doz are now $15.99. Yes I know the reasons why, but lets get realistic here- are the cost of eggs actually going to go back down- I doubt it.

We slowly been eating less breakfasts that are giving each person their own egg or two. When we first started this path 3 times a week we had eggs with toast for breakfast. Each time my family has eggs and toast we went through 9 eggs sometimes 11 if the twins decided they wanted two eggs that morning. Almost a whole dozen eggs just for one meal. Considering that is a meal that is about $3.20 for the eggs and about a half of loaf of bread that I bought at .50, yes it isn't terrible, but for $3.20 I can do a box of cold cereal and some milk for my kids and they will be just as happy. But it isn't saving us any money. Nor is having to plan on once a week going through a whole dozen eggs just for breakfast fitting that many eggs into my fridge when I do once a month shopping.

So I have increased my search in finding less egg non cold cereal breakfasts:
as a review here are some we have been doing for a while now-

This was our rotation with cold cereal once a week and eggs and toast once a week.

New recipes I have found for breakfast-
  • bread pudding (been saving all the heals and make it in the crockpot overnight), here is a suggested recipe, I don't make it exactly but until I figure the perfect one out and make a post out of it this one will do
  • Muffins- how did I miss this one. You  go get coffee/cocoa at a shop and you pick up a muffin, easy to make, the thing that takes the longest is heating the oven, but can also be done the night before and stored.
    I recommend this recipe by Better Homes and Garden. The only cookbook my husband owned when we got married was their big "Cook Book", tons of basic recipes that is where you need to start. I use their muffin mix recipe and then experiment with my own add ins and such. The recipe even comes with a few variations suggestions. For my family of six I often double the recipe but only use one egg (recipe says one but would be two after doubling and either add extra milk for the missing egg or I use the flax seed substitute. )
  • cream of wheat or crack wheat
It makes me sad that enjoying a fried egg for my breakfast has become such a luxury. Especially since when I was in college and first married it was a super cheap breakfast compared to cold cereal. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

We haven't Given Up!

The end of last month marked the end of 3 full month of us making over our money by making over how we deal with our money. When we realized that we celebrated by pulling out the bottle of Sparkling Cider we had saved for our anniversary but when we were both sick forgot that we had it. We celebrated that we had stuck with it, that it was getting easier, and that we were slowing changing our mindset and starting new habits.

So last month's grocery budget:
It was blown. I can't find all the receipts so I can't give you exact numbers (hence I didn't report at the time), but we decided to support a school fund raiser, that ended up costing us a lot more than we initially thought. Just about everyone in our family got sick, needed a doctor visit and a prescription, initially we budgeted that the random prescription would come out of the grocery/household budget, but this experience changed our minds. After everyone got their unexpected prescriptions we were down out of grocery a little over $20. That hurts when you're only doing $200 a month. Add to that our fund raising budget fiasco and our grocery budget was left to $140. Early in the month my parents stopped at Costco for me and we ended up having them pick up more than we should have given the big picture. Opps. I had gone shopping early in the month to pick up a couple "stock up" items we use constantly, store well, and were the best price I've seen in years. Oh and each trip to the pharmacy, also ensued an item or two to make life easier for all the sickies or on me making food for sickies. When all was said and done and I went to the store for my once a month shopping I had only $75. We upped the grocery budget for the month, taking from our snowball (and a few other places in our budget to give us $110, so I could get everything we needed for a full month. But I felt like a failure. How did it get so out of hand. How it all those things add up so fast? Why does living feel like it costs so much?
But we made it through the month. We've made it through 3 months. We've paid off my student loan and my mini van. We have made progress!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Squaring the Lean Process, Food Storage, and my Life

My dad, for a living, teaches companies about the Lean process. Specifically with manufacturing but also helps non-manufacturing companies apply it to their output.
I don't claim to know a whole lot about it. I know he is good at what he does and is passionate about it.
Now one principle I do feel I understand and felt it could help everyone is the idea of eliminating waste through excess inventory. For example you always have one extra on hand. For example, I will use peanut butter- if you have one you are using, you then have one in your cupboard or if you don't have that one more extra you have one on order or on your shopping list. With this process you never run out of what you need and you never waste things just sitting there.
I am sharing this because I felt it is a great method, an easy method, for running our kitchens. I have been using it to help rotate items in my kitchen.
Once you get to this point of having the one in reserve, it is easy to think about, each time you pull a new one out of storage, you add it to your shopping list.
This works well when you start to stock up for a "year supply" or a "prepper" storage.
Sometime when there is a sale price you add another to your rotation. So then you have the one being used, the one in the cupboard, and now one extra. In order to build up an actual year supply of things you are rotating you then continue to add it to your shopping list every time you pull one out of storage. With items you use a lot- like cans of soup, you can keep a tally of how many you need to replace.
I am not perfect at this method, and it is really easy to do when you have only one item in your storage. It is still easy to keep tract of when you have two items in the storage. But it is harder to rotate perfectly when you have lots of items. The more of one item I have I use a pallet rotation (a box that holds about 12 or whatever a bulk purchase came in), I use that at a time, and when it is used up and I start a new one then I add x (the set) to my shopping list. This helps with items that I go through a whole set each month.
The real key to having a food storage is having items that you actually use and can rotate. Sure having dehydrated food in your storage is a great way to fill out your year supply, but they only have a 10 year shelf life and if you don't use it ever in your cooking then it will go bad and eventually become unusable. Yes it is still food, and if it came down to it you're going to use it (see post on Lessons learned from using 30+ years old Wheat). But there is a point where it is no longer usable and no amount of "it is food" is going to change the fact you can't eat it because it isn't safe to eat anymore.
So if you're trying to get started with a year supply- start building a supply with things you'll use. Then start learning how to use more traditional items in your storage. Start buy purchasing the smaller amounts at the store. Then when you've learned how to make meals with those items, buy them in the bulk storage items. Plan meals that incorporate items from your food storage so that you can start to rotate it. Make sure to use the Lean process of knowing when to order more so you are keeping a storage and not just depleting. Yes in times of plenty you don't have to use a lot of your food storage. But at least one meal a week should incorporate food from your long term food storage. Here is a great list from BYU's website that lists what is the minimum you should have for each person in your family.
Lately I have been learning how to use beans- pinto, black, kidney, chick...
Beans are a great long term food storage item, but up until recently I have not been successful in using dry beans to cook with. They never seem to taste right, and always seem to be too hard still. It hasn't seemed to matter how long I actually pre-soaked the beans for. Using dry beans isn't only a good way to rotate your supply but is also a great way to save money too. Dry beans are so cheap compared to the cans. I recently have been trying "re-fried beans" made in the crockpot. I am learning and the more I learn, the more I incorporate less can beans into our food storage and more dry beans. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lessons Learned from using 30+ year old Wheat

So if you didn't know already - member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka Mormons are commanded to keep a "Year Supply" Once you have a year supply of food, water, toiletries- you are suppose to aim for a 5 year supply and then a 10 year and then a 30 year supply for your whole family.
Guess you could call Mormons the original "preppers".
photo from A Prairie Homestead
Who has space for that? Tiny house living, using every space, has nothing on Mormons who have achieved the 30 year supply for a family of 7+ people.
Everyone who grew up in the Mormon church with food storing parents knows these realities:
picture from New Life on the Homestead blog
Under the bed is a convenient place to store food- but it is also a great way to keep your kids from shoving toys and stuff under it when it is time to clean up.
With the food all stored away under the bed it is hard to rotate. 
And my mom doesn't actually make bread (and when she did it wasn't from freshly ground wheat) and only actually used the wheat that was stored maybe once a year. Good thing wheat has a canned shelf life of 30 years.... only problem is what do you do with it after 30 years? My mom has always said that it is still food and she doesn't think the fact that it is over 30 years old will matter much at the end days and that its not like "oh yesterday was 30 years now its too old to use" will really matter.

My approach all these 7 years of marriage has been to to buy and store more of what I am actually using and try to find recipes that I can use the stuff I have and rotate it. If we had to live solely off what we have in the house I think we could last 4-6 months with some creativity and some boredom from the same foods. - so no we have not achieved the "Year Supply" levels. But I also haven't tried to can or use the storehouse to buy in food storage bulk levels.

So last year I wanted to start making some of our own bread. I started with Pizza.  I figured that was probably the most fool-proof place to start. But I wanted to use whole wheat flour. I had been using it to make all sorts of things we eat (I normally try to do half whole wheat flour and half cheap store white stuff). But I found that when you start using 5 cups at a time the whole wheat stuff became crazy expensive. I was at a friends house and she had a wheat grinder and was using it while I was there. She had got it not long after they had got married (almost 15 years ago) and it had been going strong all that time. After talking to my husband about how we could afford a wheat grinder we decided to ask both our parents for amazon gift cards for Christmas so we could use all the gift cards and some of our own money and afford to buy the grinder. When I told my mom they even threw in my birthday present money. So we now have a wheat grinder. 

This brings us to 30+ year old wheat. Even before we started to cut back and keeping to a budget, I asked my mom for her oldest wheat. My thoughts were, if it is still good- like it sort of should be (my parents go married in 1980 I was born in 1981, and most of the wheat in my parent's house has 1983 written on it- I think they used their tax refund that year to buy a 30 year storage of wheat . So it is just over 30 years old, lets see if it is good, not like my mom is using it and rotating it. I might as well. I could even start to replace hers with some new wheat when I start buying it for my family.

The wheat she gave me was marked 1979..... it came from my grandma's house and when she passed away my parents added it to their storage. So I've been using 36 year old wheat.

What have I learned?
  1. That my mom was right- it is still usable. Not wonderful, but edible. And if we were all having to live off of a 30 year food storage supply, we would all live.
  2. It takes more than you would think, if the recipe normally uses 5 cups of wheat for the bread recipe it will take more like 7 cups to get the consistency of stickiness you are use to for letting it rise. This has other implications that you have to adjust to. I am not that good at making bread to tell you how to fix those. But it ends up really "flour" tasting. I have tried to add sugar and/or salt last minute and sometimes that seems to help.
  3. It makes great puffed wheat for breakfast -not wonderful, but it is one of the most edible ways to eat it.
  4. The gluten in whole wheat is harder to work with (because there is less gluten per ounce of flour) then white flour- but it is even worse with the expired wheat, the gluten might as well not be there. If I don't add any white flour I will get no rise from the gluten. I have started adding the white flour at first and getting it good and sticky and then adding the expired wheat flour.
  5. Works best for anything when you grind it and throw it in, if you grind a lot at once, the longer it sits (even a day) it starts to get an older taste to it.
  6. Actually it works really well as a thickener in a gravy mix. I normally use corn starch but it works surprisingly well. 
  7. It makes decent Swedish Pancakes and cracked wheat. Haven't made pitas but I wouldn't be surprised if it worked decent for that too.
  8. It can't make cookies for the life of it.- so in the Zombie apocalypse there will be no edible chocolate chip cookies. It is just a mess.  The batter runs and runs and never rises. 
  9. Kids don't seem to notice. I can make a pizza with the 30 year old wheat and one made with all fresh ground new flour and the kids eat both the same.
  10. It over cooks faster- you have to watch it more it seems to always be fully cooked faster.
  11. That when it comes down to it, we can all be grateful for our parents who stored it and kept is around because it is still food. 
  12. I look forward to using all the old stuff up quickly because I would love to get to the newer hasn't expired stuff soon than later.
  13. Once I have a supply, I will rotate it and use it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Laws and Principles of Substitution

Something I haven't though a whole lot about before but I find myself thinking about it everyday is the principles of substitution.

In economics- as a product's cost increases some people start substituting or replacing the high cost product for a lower cost, or more available product. As more people make the switch to a substitute the demand (and often the value/cost) of the substitute item increases.

Well as I have streamlined our grocery bill down to more of the bare necessities I have seen this working in my house. For some of the items I have not purchases, or have not purchased it in the amounts that I use to, I tried to anticipate what items my family would choose as their substitute items. In some instances I anticipated correctly, and other things I did not satisfy my family.

For example-
1- Instead of buying individual servings yogurt. I decided to save by buying it in a tub. No one wants to eat it. My husband is the biggest yogurt consumer in our home. I learned through this experience that he values individual serving size- so he knows exactly how much he has eaten and the calories and is not tempted to eat over the serving size. He will just choose not to eat the item. He is also not a fan of the suggestion I could pre-measure out servings and put them in the fridge. He wants the calories right there to remind him of the exact serving size.

2- We don't have as many "pre-made snacks" anymore. I have tried to make some, but no one wants to eat them as much. In addition, everyone wants something they can just grab. We use to have lots of fruits that was good for grab and go. We use to have bagged fruit snacks or other treats that you can eat right away. Normally I have had a variety of crackers for snacking on too. I bought more animal crackers to replace most of it and more carrots. Instead my family hasn't wanted to eat the animal crackers as much as I thought they would, and the carrots haven't gone over as well as I hoped.

3- What has everyone been reaching for? Tortilla chips and salsa. Which has caused us to run out of chips and salsa before the end of the month- and since I didn't count on this, it has messed up my meals because I relay on both of those items for meals on our calendar. So for dinner on Sunday instead of having Pulled Pork Taco salad stacks - we had Pulled Pork sandwiches. So then I used up more BBQ sauce and bread then I had planned on. Also almonds have been a favorite. I know neither of these things are horrid for you not bad choices for substitutes, but I didn't anticipate those choices. Last month, I made ginger snaps to be a substitute for snacks- but my family gobbled them up in one day.

So you won't be able to anticipate all the substitute choices your family will make. But giving yourself some wiggle room to make your won substitutions when the need arises is good to have a back-up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cheap Meals: Breakfast Skillet

This use to be one of those meals that I did only on Saturday mornings to make my husband happy. But as we reevaluated our budget and did some math, potatoes are a cheap carbohydrate for breakfast than toast- even with our 50 cent loaves. We use to eat eggs and toast every other morning for breakfast and we have started replacing some of those mornings with breakfast skillet.

  • oil
  • 3-4 small/med potatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 3-5 eggs
  • options: chopped peppers, 1/2 c shredded cheese, salt and pepper to taste
suggestions- use a cast iron grill and it make a great dinner skillet- just add some veggies.

Heat the oil in the pan. Chop up all the veggies. When the oil is hot add the potatoes to the pan. Don't let the stick to the pan too much. Add the onions, and if you're doing peppers. Once the onions are mostly cooked (lightened up to the "translucent" stage). Make space in the middle, crack the eggs in that space. Scramble them.  Mix it all together. Add cheese if you so desire and salt & pepper. Serve as is or with salsa or ketchup.

download the recipe card- right click and "save as"

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pork- Its what's for Dinner

Long time ago, back when my husband and I were doing Weight Watchers. We started cutting back our portions of meat. We started to look at the amount of meat in our meals and decided that we didn't need to eat that much meat. I started looking into ways to cut back our meat. Adding lentils  - great way when you're using a ground meat, but less helpful when using shredded meats. The price of ground beef went up and we started looking at alternative cheaper somewhat healthy meats. Using more beans in Mexican-inspired dishes help with shredded meats.

Over time we have moved to eating more pork. The cost of chicken has gone up too. It took me a while to figure out things to make with pork.

When I buy pork I try to grind some of it. We have a Kitchen Aid grinder attachment. Then we have ground meat to use in any recipe that I would normally use ground meat for (Shepherds Pie, pasta, meat balls, sloppy joes).

The rest of it I freeze and then cook in the crock pot. I put about 3 lbs in the crock pot, first cutting off big sections of fat. I'll add some water to the pot so it won't burn. Also remember that the cut of pork -shoulder, roast, butt, are all less important. But not chops or ribs. I look for packages that are cheaper but are boneless when possible.

3 lbs will make 6-8 meals for my family of 6 (granted one baby and twin girls).
pulled pork sandwiches (takes the most meat)
pulled pork on rice
pulled pork tacos
pulled pork taco salad
Fancy Burritos (like Chipote)
Baked Tamale Pie
Shredded Pork over Zucchini
Taquitos *never made these myself, but have had lots of friends suggest it

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vegetables for Less (and some fruits we use like vegetables)

When doing once a month grocery shopping you have to recognize that your fresh vegetables that you buy at the store are not going to last the whole month before going bad. I advocate a mixture of mostly fresh and frozen veggies with a few cans in there. I am sure some of you have noticed how few veggies it seems like I have on our shopping lists and there are reasons for that (I buy bulk so it is a one item on the list, free veggies from friends gardens, frozen veggies, and a pantry full of food storage canned veggies).
But this is a great time to talk about some ways to get lots of fresh affordable veggies. And when I say veggies I am not using the scientific definition. Instead I'm referring to non-sweet mostly green and yellow foods that we use like vegetables and like sweet snack worthy fruits.
  1. Buy the ones on sale. Don't get hung up on that your family loves to eat asparagus or some other not on sale vegetable. Buy the ones on sale, learn to eat them and learn to like them. I have found that I like (or can easily eat) almost any vegetable when made up in a good way. Don't be picky or snob.
  2. Grow a Garden- Yes this take time and money to get started. But it can be done cheaply. I have tried many times, to grow nothing. But this year we did have a tomato plant, it has supplied all the tomatoes we have needed this summer. I bought it from a nursery that was closing back in April. We figure it has saved us a little on buying tomatoes, with the added benefit of the super fresh tasty tomato. Also everyone keeps telling me to put it in my garage for the winter and it should survive the winter just fine. So even little garden things can help eat fresh cheaper.
  3. Garden Extras- Lots of people where we live have gardens. We have lots of friends who have choose to follow the commandments for our church leaders to "grow a garden". Funny thing most of them plant things that they don't eat much of themselves. Keep your ears open for when people are giving away their garden extras. Sometimes it is because they don't like to eat what they grew but sometimes it is because their gardens were so plentiful that they can't eat it all in time. Also, when people talk about how plentiful their gardens are, don't be afraid to say "if you find you can't use it all, send some our way". We have ended up with many bags of random veggies on our porch from friends wanting to share before things go bad. You'll have to be open to which veggies you get. Again try new foods
  4. Bountiful baskets, Market on the Move, Coops... there are many groups all over that take 2nd grade veggies (ones that are good to eat but not pretty enough to go to the grocery stores), they often have a "cover" price and then you get bags full of veggies. Ask around groups are out there. Many are sponsored by church groups. If there isn't any in your area, maybe look into starting one. Ask around and find out what interest there would be. Start a facebook group. Contact organization groups like Bountiful baskets and find out what you'd need to go to start a local group. Talk to a local Farmer's coop and see if they would be interested and able to participate.
Now that you have fresh veggies (which most of the time turns out to be some sort of squash- if you got it for free) What do you do with it?

here is a list of generic ideas:
  • search pinterest - lots of ideas for unique veggies
  • baked/fried with a breaded crust
  • chop up small and put into pasta. I have found my family will eat ANY veggie (and I actually enjoy it too) chopped up with other mixed veggies and put into pasta sauce. This is my go to stand by for when I don't know what to a given veggie. Make pastas different by adding different things every time.
  • On top of Pizza- when we went to Italy there were all sorts of veggies (mostly squashes) topped on the pizza- and they were so good. Go out of your comfort zone. My kids don't notice- its pizza.
  • Stir Fry- again chop it small, when you chop large you get big tastes of it and kids are more likely to pick around large veggies in their food
  • Bolgolgi- Korean bbq stir fry, same idea, add what you have.
  • Skillet- sometimes known as hash. Get your potatoes going and add whatever veggies you have with a little bit of whatever meat you have. 
  • Stew it- or soup it. Simmer it all together add a little tomato sauce to the stewing broth. 
  • Lasagna- or a baked pasta. layer it with the meat layers, for a healthier and cheaper versions, use 1/2 the meat you'd normally use and fill the space with veggies. I lightly steam the veggie first and you will need to be careful not to add anymore extra water on the steamed veggies, you'll end up with a soup at the bottom of the lasagna pan. Or take a note from the Greeks and make Moussaka- a veggie and meat layered lasagna-like dish.
  • Orzo, Rizzoto, pilaf  - I find it best if you chop the veggies about the size of the orzo or rice. make how you would normally and add in the veggies. Sauteing the veggies first can add more flavor.
  • experiment

Friday, July 24, 2015

20 Ideas to Keep the Park Fun

Since we have been using public parks as a way to get out of the house and not spend money on entertainment here are some ideas for keeping the park fun- even when you are there a lot.

  1.  Pack a Lunch- don't bring the same thing every time. Try to mix it up the best your budget allows. But just having the picnic can change it up from just going to play at the park.
  2. Special Treat- we had a play group that for a while had snow cones at the park once a month. Don't go out and buy a snow cone machine, but there are homemade Popsicle, Otter pops, frozen fruit, cookies- lots of things that you don't give them all the time that you could bring to the park for a special treat. I actually find these the most fun when you bring plenty and encourage your kids to share with the other kids at the playground. 
  3. Bring a blanket and lay out on the grass. Have everyone point out a cloud and what it looks like to them. Or bring some books and paper and encourage them to read or draw while on the blanket. Read a book to them, or sing some songs together.
  4. Play games- tag, hide & seek, rhythm games (clap and pat games), mother may I, red light green light. Get other kids involved. Best part is if you get the game going with other kids you can normally sit out and no one cares.
  5. Bubbles- make your own with water and dishsoap (search pinterest there are a ton of "bubble recipes" on there) or at the Dollar Store you can get a really big bottle for a dollar.
  6. Sidewalk chalk- again at the Dollar Store, we also have buckets of the stuff around the house from kids birthdays (it is a very popular gift).
  7. Take a Walk- if you live close enough to walk to the park- cool, if not or if you do that all the time, change it up by going to a park with a walking path. Walk around before you go to the playground. Use this time to point out plants and wildlife.
  8. Bring your Bikes/wagon
  9. Water guns/ water balloons, even a kiddie pool can be fun at a park. But be considerate of families at the park if it isn't a splash pad park. They may have chose the non-splash pad park because they didn't want to deal with wet children.
  10. Bring a bag of balls- there was this dad who every time they came to the park he had a mess laundry bag full of different sized balls. He encouraged all the kids to play. It was awesome. Kids love balls and if it is a park with lots of running space they can throw, roll, run all over the place.
  11.  Play dates. Invite new/different friends to join you at the park. If you invite people directly (phone call, facebook message, text message) they are more likely to join to over a general invite through a mass text or a facebook status. By changing up the friends your kids have to play with, they will get board much slower.
  12. Change the park you go to- we all have the park that we like to go to because of whatever that reason is (clean bathrooms, walking distance, playground, grass, covered playground) but if you're going a lot -try a new park, it will help make it more exciting for your kids again.
  13. Get out into Nature- whether it is at our normal park and having them draw or play bingo to find local wildlife (birds, squirrels, bugs) or go picnic in the wild, make the goal to experience what is around them. Hint: If you have toy magnify glasses or binoculars this is a great time to use them.
  14. Buckets and shovels- my kids love the sand. I hate dealing with it in their shoes. But to change it up bring the digging stuff along and plan on them digging till their hearts are content. 
  15. Farmers' Market Time- Sometimes I avoid the city park on the days the Farmers' Market is there.  But if you aren't doing it too often, or go with it in mind, the people watching can be fun. Play "I spy" with your kids. Our Farmers' Market often has live local performers, my twins love to dance and spin around to the music. Also with the increase people there are often more kids to play with and make new friends.
  16. Scavenger Hunt- make a list of things to find, or do it like an egg hunt, bring the items, hide them and have the kids find them.
  17. Fly a kite- make your own (again check out pinterest) or the Dollar store has decent kites. 
  18. Make a tent- rope (laundry clothes lines work great) find to place to tie between tie it up cover it with the blanket you brought (sheet or tarp would work great too.
  19. Get daddy to take them, or go as a whole family. Whenever my husband goes with us, it changes the whole dynamic of park play time.
  20. Lastly, if you are going a lot, limit the time you spend physically at the park. Only stay an hour. If you are never there long enough for them to start getting tired of play at the park then they will still be excited to play there they next time they go.
Know your kids limits, but also don't limit yourself to how well that idea went last time. Your kids are growing up all the time, maybe this time...

Also I have seen parents try to do crafts at the park- I'm sure there are times it goes just fine, I have never seen it go over well. The closest was once when the craft was assembly of food, it didn't go great, but all the kids were super happy to eat their treat.

What things to ya'll do to keep the park new and fun?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Surviving Summer

Summer break can be hard keeping a balance. There is the pressure to make every moment of life a memory and count. This is unrealistic and most people will admit it to themselves but there is still that idea that we all feel the need to try to live up to. Now I've never been a super mom who even half way actually tries to live up to this ideal. But in the past I have done things that have in one way or another contributed to our debt. Even when I thought I was making safe and savvy choices, I was still probably adding to our debt. I'm not saying the choices I was making were directly contributing to our debt, but without trying to keep to a budget or even having a budget it was contributing.
What were some of the good/bad choices I was making:
We would go to the free/$1 summer movies at our local theater- but sometimes I'd fall in the pitfall of buying popcorn or candy. We plan on going to the park and having a picnic- but the downfall for me I would run out of time and we'd stop a fast food. We'd get discount coupons to go to the zoo, but in the end the cost of gas to Tucson and then all the passes even at a discount cost us a lot. We have also gone to stay with my parents to do swimming lessons up in the Phoenix Valley where swimming lessons through the city half the price per child's lesson. However, staying up at my parents we tended to eat out a lot and do activities that we can't do at home, but end up costing us a lot more- ie museums.
story time at our local library

  • Wherever you are going- bring cash for only how much you plan on spending. If that means you have to call ahead and ask some questions, plan ahead.
  • Planning ahead! & Be prepared. I met a mom at a museum once that she always packs a lunch and snacks for the day. Even when the plan is to be home in time for lunch. If we are planning to go out for the day, I have started making lunch for all of us while making lunch in the morning for my husband. Also I have just started planning ahead to be out for lunch.
  • Find out what summer activities and programs your library and city offer. 
  • Budget it in. Its not that all those things that cost money are bad, but figure it out and plan it in the budget. If you have places you love to go and would enjoy going once a week or more and they offer a family pass, figure out the cost, you might need to budget it out for the whole year and then when the year is over you can buy your family pass. For example: we looked into the zoo for a family pass. With our family's size and the family pass price we'd have to go 2 1/2 times (so 3 times) in a year and the pass is paid for. We then have to decide if that is worth it to us- right now it is not.  But maybe someday in the future (when we are out of debt).
  • Check out deal sites and ask at the grocery store. Deal sites like Living Social and GroupMe can be a great place to pick up deals to local museums and attractions. (I do this every time we are going on vacation, I watch to see what local things we can get deals). Also ask at the grocery store information counters. They sometimes have discount tickets to local attractions- check all year round some tickets are seasonal. Another place to ask is at the library youth desk.

I wasn't the only mom who was taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and the park shade
This summer with an entertainment budget of $0, we have spend lots of time at the park (we have been going at least twice a week and staying for an hour or two, each time I invite all our friends to join us), at story time, and at the free movies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Water and Water Bottles

Every parent knows the frustration of having their child cry at you because the park's drinking fountain isn't working and you didn't bring water with you... or maybe that is just an Arizona problem for Arizona parents. But I'm pretty sure it is mostly a first world problem we can all relate to.
I hate standing at my water filter filling water bottle after water bottle- one for each child and one for myself. Takes forever. We have an in fridge water family size water pitcher. I know there are those of you out there thinking 'suck it up and use tap water'. This is true, it would save me tons of time and probably the money from buying the water filters. But the thing is we are on a well and our well water isn't filtered. It doesn't bother me to bathe in it or wash my clothes in it, but I have issues with drinking it. It may be fine, or it may not be. We have never had it tested. So until then I prefer to drink water I filtered.
We all have (or maybe its you) that friend who every time you turn around has bought a new bottle of water from some store. Last summer I started buying a gallons of water at the grocery store. Then I had the idea of re-filling the gallon jugs at the water kiosks. Now in Arizona they are everywhere. I don't know if it was just where I was but when we went to California on vacation I couldn't find them anywhere. For those of you who don't know what they are, they offer 1 gallon fill ups at a time for 25 cents or 5 gallons for $1. Lots of people use them to refill their freestanding water coolers. Yes that is 25 cents every time I refill it. But I use random change, and when I can remember I will refill the gallon jug from my filter at home. Some Kiosks even have chilled water. Those are my favorite.  I refill our gallon jug at least once a week during the hottest part of the summer. I bring it with us to the park (which is at least once a week, often twice or more). I keep a few cups or water bottles in the car and we fill them up from the gallon jug. When all is said and done it is only about $1 a month if I don't fill it at home at all. Yes its not freezing cold water. But it is water and most of the time it is just room temperature. The important part is that it is making my life easier and is a lot cheaper then buying new every time you are out and about.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

July's Grocery Shopping

Finished my once a month shopping. This last weekend we went to Mesa. That means a trip to the bread store and to Costco.

To start my husband and I had a long talk about what needed to be purchased and we decided we needed to split the household items from the groceries. If I am going to have a budget of $200 for groceries it is $200 of food. But I wanted to have some flexibility between grocery and household. So for this month's budget was $230 for grocery and household $210 and $20 for household items (shampoo, toilet papers, paper towels, soaps, ect)
7/6/15 (husband had to pick up a prescription and I had him pick up a couple items in addition)
Prescription         $1.43*
Body Wash          $4.63*
cabbage                   $.94    
Bread store                 $15
Cherrios  ($7.89-2.30) $5.59
Yellow Onions      $3.49
Potatoes 20lb        $7.79
Skippy Peanut Butter (9.79-2.80) $6.99 x2
Mild Cheddar  2#    $4.85
Chocolate Chips      $9.99
Feminine Hygiene pads (12.49-2.50) $9.99*
Trident Gum         $7.89
5 Doz Eggs           $10.99
Batteries 9V         $15.89*
Mixed Veggies    $6.49
3pk Lettuce          $2.79
Seaweed               $9.79
Sliced Cheese      $9.99
Tortillas  40ct      $3.89
Tortillas  80ct      $3.49
Mini Peppers       $5.49
Sliced Ham          $9.89
Yeast                   $4.39
Corn Tortilla Chips $3.19
Carrots                $4.79 x2
tax                       $11.00
Dill pickle chips    $1.50
butter tub               $1.29
Yogurt     (.50x10)   $5
Milk  (3x1.99)       $5.97
Salsa                      $4.99
Shampoo               $1.39*
Animal Crackers (.88x3) $2.64
Hot dogs      (.89x2)  $1.78
Jello                       $.39
Blueberries            $.97
Butter Sticks  (2x.99) $1.98
Pork shoulder         $10.80
Apples                    $1.67
Graham Crackers   $1.69
                                  +tax =$41.79
Total= $7+$15+$164.30+$41.79= 228.09
leaving me $1.91
(household $31.94, grocery 198.06) 

I made one impulse purchase at Costco- I bought the Seaweed for my husband's snack food. I also made one purchase that I would have been better to have bought at the grocery store- the mini peppers. 

There were so many things I wanted to purchase that I just did because the money wasn't in the envelope. It is hard. I have never had to be that disciplined with our money. It was a little rough. I had to remind myself we have plenty of food we aren't going to starve. 

I still need to go get honey at the local farmers market but I will have to put it off for one more month.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

the 6 people in my life

Recently found an article on Dave Ramsey's site called "6 People You Need While Getting Out of Debt".
It made me think about who those people are in my life.

1. The Supportive Spouse
     I could see this being important, if one of you aren't ready to make the commitment to make changes those changes are never going to happen or stick. I am grateful that my husband sees this as important and we are working together.

2. The Jerk
    We expected to meet more of these then we have. Maybe my husband has met more then I have. As we told people we were cutting back and making changes we though we'd have more resistance. In fact, I can't think of one person we are friends with or personally acquainted with that has even scoffed at us. I did have one person on the phone, one of the people at the credit card company. I called them to get info from them that I needed from the card. When I said we didn't have cards anymore, he wanted to send new cards out and was quite rude when I said 'no! we don't want any cards'.

3. The Friend Who Understands
    Every one of our friends that we have spoke to about it has been very understanding. Some have gone out of their way to help us out.  Our families have been really understanding too. We have been blessed.

4. The Joneses
     Everyone has that neighbor or friend who seem to spend so carefree and have all the latest toys. The church ward we belong to has a lot of families that are really well off.  Over the past years I have had to remind myself that we can't live like some of them do. We can't take as many or as extravagant vacations. We have lots of friends that are dentists and doctors. They choose to live out where we do because there is lots of land to build dream houses. This summer has been harder than normal in watching because they are all doing their summer activities and vacations.
  One particular family any time I mention something they did this summer my husband responds "it must be nice to be on the hospital board of directors". This set of friends has are the Joneses that I wish the most we could keep up with. They are always taking big trips and doing lots of activities. For example for Spring Break this year they spend it in England, and their boys have been to summer camps almost every week this summer. In the past, I would compare and in a way try to keep up with them. They go on a Disney Cruise almost every year, when we decided to do a family cruise we in the end decided we would do a more affordable cruise line. Besides that the husband is a doctor and on the hospital board, I also have to remember that we are at different stages of life. Their oldest child is 12 and their youngest is 6. While my oldest is 6 and our youngest is 15 months. They have been working professionally longer, and I know when they were first married and out of school they lived really humbly. My husband reminds me that they lived like no one else already, and now they probably can live like no one else. We just aren't at the same place in our lives. I can't keep up with "Joneses" they are in a different place in life and the dad is a doctor.
   Another family I have a little harder time in the day to day is a family who our children are all about the same age. We have been friends with them since moving here. In the mean time, she now works full time in a well paying job along with her husband. Whenever we hang out with them she has picked up some sort of fast food for snack food, lunch, or dinner. Since Arizona summers are so hot she always wants to meet at the McDonalds play area- I am not against theses, in fact we love them, it is just when we aren't buying food, my kids whine and cry so much I can't do it. Many times I have fallen into the comfort zone of just buying fast food with them. This summer has been hard, but I have come prepared with snacks from home and sandwiches in a bag for lunch. I have to remind myself that we can't keep up with the "Joneses" they are a two income family and we are only a one income family.

5. The Co-Worker Who "Gets It"
    I remember back to when I worked full time. It is hard to not be part of the "group" at lunch as they head somewhere to pick it up and eat. My husband has mentioned that at least some of them have been understanding on why he isn't going out anymore. To make this easier on my husband I try to give his lunches some variety and something special. Even when you have a co-worker who "gets it" I'm sure it doesn't make it any easier to be left out.

6. Dave Ramsey
   I rolled my eyes at this one on the list but then I started to think- I liked his facebook page. Now every once in a while I see an article in my news fed. Seeing some of these articles have helped me to start thinking about different things and has helped a little bit to stay motivated. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Affordable Bread

Bread - We all eat it. Unless you're gluten free and have given up trying to eat gluten type foods. 
Here are the problems with bread...
healthy verses cheap
time verses convenience

I have friends who make their own bread. Some of them have their bread day and the spend the day making bread and that is their bread for the whole next week.
When you make bread- cheap bulk yeast, flour or wheat with a wheat grinder bring the cost lower and lower. But it takes lots of time. Also if you're bad at bread making, like myself, it can be less affordable when you have loaves that aren't edible. 
In all my blog reading of those trying to save money I remember one mom said she gave up on buying the organic super healthy thick bread. Instead she just went to stocking up when on sale and never spent more than $1 per loaf.
A few years ago my sister introduced me to Alpine Valley Bread. She is a huge fan of Whole Foods and Sprouts- and like stores. She had found Alpine bread there and fell in love with it. Their bread is healthy and hearty. It has the weight to it like homemade bread. Then someone introduced her to the bread factory and the discounts of buying the bread at the factory.
They are located in Mesa Arizona on Southern east of Country Club.
On Wed. and Fri. at 1pm all fresh made that day loaves are discounted to $1 a loaf limit 5 per person until all the loaves are sold (they close at 3pm).
But in addition to those sales and that going in and buying fresh loaves is cheaper and more fresh then the specialty stores, irregular loaves and day old loaves are 50 cents a loaf. Considering we bring our loaves home and put them in the freezer, day old is the least of our cares. The 50 cent loaves aren't the most exciting. They tend to be the less popular breads (ie multi-grains breads or cracked wheat). Sometimes they have specialty breads, buns, rolls, and desserts for great deals.
When we go, I have found going in the morning is best. The store section opens at 8am. If you wait to until the $1 deals (best way to get the specialty breads) the 50 cent loafs are all gone.
We don't live in the Phoenix Valley. My sister lives in Mesa, almost down the street from the factory. They don't have a huge box freezer. Since she didn't have the freezer space for a lot, she would go once a week and get their family's bread for the week. For us I go every other month or every three months. It depends on if we can get up on a week day before they close.
This last trip I had $15 of our grocery budget. So I was looking at about 30 loaves that would need to last us about 3 months. When I got there they has some boxes filled with 15 loaves each. I asked the cashier about them. My first thought wasn't a discount for the bulk but instead I was thinking if they were already in a box and wouldn't get smashed on the ride back home. She said that if I bought the whole box (unopened) they were $5 a box (would be $7.50 when 50 cents a loaf). Done. 45 loaves for $15 that will make a huge difference when it comes to making our bread last for 3 months till the next time we come up.
Showing up at the right moment to places like this makes getting great deals a matter of luck or in this case I don't see it as luck- I see it was a huge blessing. Yes we are going to be eating 9 grain bread and nothing else for the next 3 months, the point is we have enough bread for 3 months and it only cost us 33 cents a loaf. We were blessed.
There are places like this all over. Do some searches make some calls.
What are some things ya'll do to make staples like bread cheap and affordable?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Cheap Meals: Thai-Style Fried Rice

A huge portion of the world eats rice for every meal. Part of that is because rice is cheap.

My favorite way to eat rice is Thai-Style Fried Rice
I make this for dinner and every once in a once in a while I make it for breakfast
3-4 cups cooked rice (Jasmine is best but any rice works)
4 eggs
1 TBS minced garlic
1 small onion
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 TBS brown Sugar
Chicken or ham- 1-3 chicken thighs (you can use breast but it is a good      opportunity to use that cheaper chickens) or 1 cup chopped ham
optional items
   -green onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, carrots
   -breakfast: pineapple or mangoes

Heat the pan with the oil. To the hot oil add the eggs (whisked) and your meat. Once your eggs are scrambled and chicken cooking add onions and garlic. When mostly cooked add rice. Let cook for a couple minutes before adding the soy sauce and brown sugar (tip-mix/dissolve them together and pour over the rice). Cook until the rice is starting to stick and fry to the pan. Serve.

Downloadable and printable recipe card (right click and save as)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Making Holiday Meal special but Affordable

We all have our favorite holiday meals.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving are universal musts.
But what about other holidays? Birthdays? Special days?
Some meals we aren't willing to compromise cost over not having our special meals. Most of that has to do with our memories. Creating memories can be just as important and it doesn't have to be expensive memories.
What made me start thinking about this is the 4th of July. Today in fact. It has been my tradition to make homemade ice cream. This year when we started being serious about keeping to a budget and I realized I had agreed to keep to $80 grocery budget for the month and that had to include my homemade ice cream supplies and grilling for the 4th. It was hard to accept. We already had some hot dogs and Turkey patties in the freezer. I reserved those for grilling on the 4th. (With the cost of low-fat beef burger patties, turkey patties are a great alternative for saving money). I made sure I bought buns and cheese for the burgers. But there was the matter of the ice cream. How was I going to make homemade ice cream on a budget.
Then I saw this video from Buzzfeed. Around the time the video came out I had 2 friends say they tried it that night and their ice cream turned out awesome. So I thought this 2 ingredient ice cream was the answer to still keeping tradition. Not my normal recipes but sometimes you have to change it up to still keep what is important to you.
1 pint of Heavy Cream and 1 can of Sweet Condensed Milk
So I added about $1.50 for a pint of Heavy Cream to keep a tradition.*
What about other special days?
ideas- consider breakfast as a special meal.
Breakfasts are a cheap, nutritious, and there are so many options that are probably not apart of your regular breakfast rotation.

suggested breakfasts:
Eggs Benedict (if you have difficulty with the sauce, I recommend the Korrs brand sauce mix)
homemade muffins
waffles (to make them extra special use fruit as toppers)
Rice Pudding (can be made in the crock pot and makes a great Christmas morning breakfast)
Bread Pudding
Scones/fry bread/donuts
Hot cocoa with toast
German Pancakes
cinnamon rolls
biscuits and gravy
Breakfast Pizza
Apple cobbler

What are some of your families' favorite special breakfasts?

For Father's Day we made my husband a massive omelet. Twice a year (first weekend) in Oct and April are the General Conference of the LDS church. I made Eggs Benedict those mornings. Our ward (local church congregation) has a huge pancake breakfast on the 4th of July. We have Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast most Sunday mornings. Create some of your own traditions. It doesn't have to be one of the big holidays, and it doesn't have to hurt your wallet.

Don't forget that breakfast food can be used to make special meals for non-breakfast meals too. Breakfast food isn't just for breakfast.

What are some of your families' favorite tradition foods and how do you keep them affordable?

*Follow up story for the 4th of July: when my in-laws learned that the amount of ice cream this year was going to be decreased, they offered to buy the cream if I would make full batches. We took them up on the offer, after all who doesn't love lots of ice cream. That can be another tip. If the budget isn't going to allow for your favorite dishes, if others participate in the joy ask if they wouldn't mind adding to the pot. I did still make the Buzzfeed video recipe and it turned out really good.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Avoid our Pitfalls of Credit Cards

Credit Cards are the worst type of debt. I fooled myself for years into thinking having "revolving debt" was the way to go. I got into the habit of convince back in college and have continued those bad habits.
I realized in college that if I used my card for my every purchases instead of my debit card. I didn't have to pay attention to what was in the account at that moment. I didn't have to worry if my paycheck was deposited today (and was available) or if it will show up tomorrow. So I used my card to make the everyday purchases and then told myself I would pay it all each month.  Sometimes it worked out just like that. But then there were the months I was unemployed or didn't have as much income as I normally did for my spending. Or I straight up over spent. As life got even crazier and I paid even less attention those numbers added up even more. There are a lot of people who get into lots of debt because they impulsed bought, often big ticket items. We aren't bad at that. We have had our moments, but that is not the bulk of our debt. And to compound it all is the compounding interest. Once you have that carry over balance getting rid of that balance again is almost impossible only making payments.

So here is a warning to you.

All debt is bad debt. Revolving debt is still debt and the easiest pitfall get trapped into. Sure I thought it was making my life convenient (and it was convenient) but I was also ignoring the responsibilities to my finances. I was addicted to my credit cards. Not exactly to the overspending but to the easy non-accountable way I didn't have to worry about every penny. But that isn't good for our pocketbook nor is it good for the soul. God's plan is for us to be accountable.

Now we are paying the price of our non-accountable actions. We are now being held responsible for all the actions we have taken.

Learn before. Don't use credit cards. If you're in the same boat as I am. Cut up those cards, go cash, and force yourself to learn to be accountable. It is possible. We can do it.

No debt is good debt.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Metal Lunch Box for under $5

Hey everyone, today we went and let my son pick up a new metal lunch box for taking to school. I only allow him to take metal lunch boxes because he is so rough on them. Last year, we bought him a really nice thermal bag.
this is what happened to it on the first day of school. I took it back to the store.
After that he is only allowed to have metal lunch boxes. For his birthday my dad asked what he should get him and we recommended a new lunch box. After going to 3 stores my dad called and asked "Where do you buy metal lunch boxes?" I didn't know what to tell him. His one that we had (before it was lost) I had bought on the internet. I mentioned this to a friend and one day I get a text that she saw a bunch of metal lunch boxes at Hobby Lobby.
Awesome. Today we went to there, with the coupon on my phone we went to Hobby Lobby to let my son pick his lunch box for this next year.
All the metal boxes at our local Hobby Lobby are $6.99 each.
My son picked the Avengers box
$6.99 with our 40% off coupon total with tax came to = $4.52 YAY!
For under $5 we got our son a new metal lunch box. We had budgeted $20 to get something our son would be happy with and we only had to spend $4.52.

WE did it! One full month!

We did one full month. Our first month.

  • In our first month we were able to put aside our $1000 emergency fund.
  • Pay off my student loan
  • Pay on our Van's loan
  • Spend less than $80 on groceries for the month
  • managed to use cash for everything that is not on automatic withdraw
I know I should see this as a HUGE accomplishment. But I have to constantly remind myself of that. I have to look at this list and say "look how much we accomplished in only one month". Otherwise, I look at all the changes we have made in our lives and feel depressed that this is our new life for a while. 

So I choose to look at the list and remind myself we are making progress!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cheap Meals: Po'Man's Meal (skillet)

I got this recipe from "Great Depression Cooking with Clara" it is a series a family made so that would have it before their Mother/Grandmother was no longer with them, of her memories and recipes from growing up during the depression. She is so sweet and has great memories to listen to.  I have tried most of her recipes now. This is one that has become a family favorite, I have also adjusted to to fit our tastes more. She calls it "Poorman's Meal"

6-8 potatoes diced (I always leave my skins on)
3 hot dogs sliced/diced (can be substituted with ham, pork, chicken chunks, or bacon if that was cheaper for you at the time)
1 small-medium onion diced
2 TBS- 1/2 c. Pasta Sauce
1 cup water
*optional various veggies (suggestions- bell peppers, zucchini, green beans, broccoli, summer squash, carrots, celery)
Salt to taste (it always takes more than I think it should, pepper to taste

Skillet the potatoes in an oiled pan. Add the onions let them start to become translucent, add any veggies that aren't previous cooked at this point. Add your hot dogs (idea is use the cheapest meat available to you).  Add your pasta sauce. Clara's recipe is 2 TBS. I find we like it better around 1/2 c of sauce. At this point add the cup of water and let sit for a while (3-5 minutes). If you want the "sauce" to thicken a little you can add a tablespoon of flour/cornstarch. If you are adding left over veggies add them now and let sit over heat for a couple more minutes. Serve.

*Clara's recipe doesn't have any veggies but the onion and potatoes. I like to add lots of veggies. I add whatever we have on hand. If I have leftover veggies from another night- they all go into the pan. If we have zucchinis or peppers then at least a small portion we have into the pan.

downloadable and printable recipe card- just "save as" the image

Meal Cost Breakdown:
.69 potatoes+ .75 of hot dogs+ .43 of onions+ *.75 of various other veggies+ .62 of pasta sauce= 3.24 for the meal +whatever sides you choose

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Keeping our Costco membership

In deciding that we were going to cut out all the non-necessities from our budget as a way to sacrifice.

We had a long discussion about our Costco membership. The nearest Costco is about 65 miles from our home. So going has to be a planned and calculated choice. Is a Costco membership really worth it for us when we live so far and can go so infrequently?

We travel to Phoenix about every other month to visit my family, have my siblings see their cousins, pick up our bread, attend the Temple as part of our religious commitments, and to go to Costco. So is having a membership going to be worth it to us.

Math- we started with a list of what we buy and what the cost of starting to buy those at the grocery store (or online) would be and the cost verse buying them at Costco. In Oats and peanut butter alone our Costco membership is paid for in a year.

So we determined that the membership is not worth taking off our budget as a sacrifice (and it would be a sacrifice, I love shopping at Costco). We did discus canceling the membership and having someone purchase gift cards* for us any time we needed to go, but our past experience trying to get family in friends to do errands for us before we come up to town haven't worked very well and relaying on that we'd have what we need and when would not be a smart idea considering our tight windows.

*$ saving tip- you don't needed a membership card to go shopping at Costco, a Costco gift card will do

What do I buy at Costco?
first off great resource- QueenBeenCoupon's Costco price list or Pratical-Stewardship's list
Prices at Costco change all the time, but this is a good place to check when you're debating if that item at the store is a better deal than Costco or the other way around. This list of what I buy is always being evaluated and changing. Sometimes these items are even on the Costco which makes them even more of an awesome deal

  • Quaker Oats 10 lb total (2 bags) are $7.99 box = .80 per lb compare to the best price I have EVER got on the 42 oz canisters is .95 per lb- and that is Costco's everyday price- you can't beat it.
  • Peanut Butter the 2 packs of the 48 oz =.10 per oz the grocery store brand in the cheapest per ounce of peanut butter is .12 per oz on sale.
  • Whole Rotisserie chickens ~3lbs= 4.99 (1.66 per lb) these are huge, ready to eat, and I normally make it stretch it for at least three meals. Also great for when you are going to get home late from doing the shopping or on vacation- run into a Costco instead of fast food for your family.
  • Vlasic 1 Gallon Pickle jars- 1 jar ~$4.90 that is the same price as the small jars at my local grocery store.
  • Whole Almonds- $15.99 for a 3 lb bad. I love almonds and substitute them for pecans or walnuts (since I can't eat those) in every recipe, this is $5.23 per lb, at the grocery I can easily pay $7 for less than a pound of shelled almonds.
  • Chocolate Chips- $9.99 for 72 oz. an 11 oz bag at the grocery store has to be $1.50 or less to beat that price. 
  • Baby Carrots- we eat baby carrots almost every day at our house. As snacks with meals, yes if you don't eat carrots they will go bad and are not a good deal for you. But compared to the grocery store price about $1 per pound at its very best these 5lb bags of carrots come in at .98 per lb. If you like the pre-bags carrots, come home and split some of the bag into snack bags/containers. Without carrots we end up eating processed chips- which would you rather have your family eating. I buy at least 2 every time I'm at Costco, sometimes 3.

Now because I do once a month shopping and I'm not running into the store to grab the best deal every time it goes on sale there are things I buy at Costco because the every day price there is cheaper then the everyday grocery store price, and doing the coupons, price matching, and running around isn't worth it to me. If I happen to be at the store when they are on sale- awesome I'll pick it at there, but otherwise it is Costco:

  • Ham- There pre-cut extra lean ham it comes in 1.5 lbs 2 packs for around $10
  • Eggs- 5 dozen, if I can going home to my house and not traveling these bulk packs are cheaper then the local grocery store when they are not on sale. Lately eggs haven't been on sale much.
  • Frozen Veggies- The quality is better than the grocery story's and if the grocery story isn't having a good deal they are about the same price.
  • Cream of Mushroom Soup- yes I know, making it myself is cheaper. I'm a little intimidated that it will change the taste too much to use homemade versions. So if you're lazy like me =.89 per can, butter price then anything that isn't a lot sale at the grocery store.
  • Yogurt- its on coupon at Costco a lot, and unless the local store has a super 20/$10 sale, Costco is typically cheaper
  • Apple Sauce- the jars come in packs of 4 averaging $2 per jar. That is a typical sale price for the same size jar.
  • Flour- 25 lb bag for 7.99 that is about .32 per lb of flour. If you bake a lot this is a great deal
  • Sugar- 25 lb bag for 10.79 that is .43 per lb of sugar. If you do a lot of baking!
  • Fresh Spinach bags-  - Fantastic deal but you have to have a game plan to make this happen. You'll have about 2 weeks from leaving the store. Planned meals with Spinach (my husband loves it for lunch salads) good news it you can freeze what you don't get to in time.
  • Computer paper
  • Printer Ink
  • Tortillas
  • Minced Garlic
  • Otter pops- these are only available seasonally, they come 80 in a box and are a great price. I found them once at the grocery story for about the same price for 100 and thought I was getting a way better deal until I realized that the Costco otter pops are the 2 ounce pops and the grocery store are 1 ounce pops. Take your pick on what you value- if you're giving pops to 100 kids at a summer camp doing the smaller ones at 100 pops might be the better deal for you.
  • Fruit Snacks- when I'm not making my own and when these are on coupon, it is a good price for fruit snacks and the ones at Costco have more nutritional value then the cheap ones at the grocery store.
  • Yeast- when I am doing a lot of pizza, bread, and dough making I go through a lot of yeast. I go through those packets at the grocery store so fast and the Costco yeast is worth it. So if I'm buying yeast at Costco I am making a commitment to use it regularly and not get lazy on my dough making.

What I don't buy at Costco:

  • Animal Crackers- I love to eat them,  I love to use the canisters afterwards for storing all the other bulk items I buy at Costco- but $9 for 64 oz. I have found my kids love the super cheap animal Crackers that are $1 for 1 lb from our local grocery store.
  • BBQ sauce- yes there are some fun and tasty BBQ sauce at Costco, but every time I've done the numbers I am over paying even everyday prices at my local grocery store.
  • Hot Dog packages- Even when on coupon it always feels there are better deals at my local grocery story
  • Meats in general- I travel a way to get to the Costco- my meats have to survive the drive in freezer bags, in addition, they are never that great of prices. Yes they are around the average price at the grocery, but it is one of those items that I can regularly get cheaper at the grocery story- if I am willing to buy the meat and cuts that are on sale that week. Now if you want a specific cut or type of meat for a special occasion then this is a reasonable deal for not overspending on it. Example for me is Lamb- lamb is expensive but there are a couple times of year I like to make lamb for special occasions. If I buy it at my local grocer then I will pay about $10 per lb. I can similar cuts for around $5.50 per lb. Still more then my goal per lb cost for meat in general but it is for a special occasion. 
  • Soda/pop- if you are a Soda drinker of more than a can a day, this might be a good deal for you, but even when discounted at Costco they are still more per can then I would ever spend on it at the grocery store. My purchase price for soda has be to cheaper than .20 per can, Costco comes close sometimes, but not to my purchase point.

What are your must buys or stay-away products at Costco?