frugal living

Save Money While Cooking

With the prices of food going up (always!), it’s good to find ways to stretch things, if you can.  Fortunately, there are a lot of different ways to make the grocery budget stretch.  It seems that I learn new ideas every month, and I love it!  Need a few ideas?  Here are some of my newest favorite ways to make that grocery budget last a little longer:

 

  • rouxI make gravy after cooking meat in the saucepan.  Every time.  I sprinkle some bean flour in to thicken, and then I pour some water or homemade chicken stock into the pan, along with some onion powder and sea salt, to take advantage of the delicious drippings and bits left in the pan after cooking. You could also add milk or cream if you choose.  Meat is expensive, and so is the olive oil I’ll usually cook my meat in, and I’m not about to let any of it go to waste!  I’ll sometimes use it as a gravy, sometimes as a thickener in a soup later.

 

  • I put a filler in my ground meat.  Every time.  Whether I’m having pan fried hamburgers or meatballs, or taco meat, etc, I always add fillers.  Usually I’ll add an egg or two, but not always.  Sometimes it’s mashed potato flakes, sometimes it’s pureed beans, sometimes it’s leftover rice.  Anything to bulk that meat out is welcome.

 

  • Pop your own popcorn, instead of using the microwave popcorn packets.  Sometimes I’ll put 1/2 cup of dry popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag and microwave it like that, and sometimes I’ll pop it over the stove in coconut oil with a little sea salt – yum!  It’s generally quite a bit healthier doing it that way as well.

popcorn

  • If you make smoothies or banana bread or things like that, no need to buy full priced bananas.  At a few of my local stores, the overripe bananas are available for sale at a nice discount.  I’m going to freeze bananas anyway for my banana smoothie, so I buy the discounted ones and freeze the entire batch immediately.  I used to buy the regular-priced bananas and then when they got brown I’d freeze them.  No more.  Now I just buy ‘em brown and save that extra cash.

 

  • imagesEat leftover rice.  This tip is from my husband.  I told him that I’ve already shared recipes for this particular tip (HERE and HERE), and he quickly replied, “how about eat leftover mashed potatoes?”  Let me sum the whole thing up for you, dear….how about we all just eat leftover FOOD in general?  ha ha.  I had a good laugh and enjoyed making fun of him. :)  I suppose it IS a good point, anyway.  In fact, you can donate a night to leftovers.  One less meal to plan for the week.

 

  • Home make your snacks.  I no longer buy chips or crackers…this is mostly due to health concerns, but it’s definitely saved money.  When I want a crunchy snack, I reach for my homemade roasted chickpeas.  And these I NEVER make from the canned chickpeas – oh no, I cook them dry and then roast them.  Using dry beans is so much more economical, and I like being able to control the sodium.  The same goes for many snacks – cook your own plantain chips, your own potato chips, your own popcorn (as I mentioned above), etc.  Tastier, generally healthier, and cheaper!

 

  •  Stick with the basics.  My diet is fairly predictable, perhaps even boring.  Every week includes at least one leftover night.  We always have a breakfast or taco night.  And you know what?  That’s okay!  If I ate the nice steak on a regular basis, it wouldn’t be very special anymore, now would it?  We definitely do our best to get a variety when it comes to produce, but we also buy in season, which means for the next few months we’ll be eating a lot more oranges.  Predictable?  Yep.  Frugal?  Yep again!

 

Of course, there are dozens of other great ways to save money in the kitchen.  What is your tried and true tip?

 

November Budget Report

I’ve been putting this post off.

Not necessarily because the numbers are BAD, more because the numbers are…well, not all there.  Friends, my LAPTOP DIED.  What a sad, sad day it was.  With it, the budgeting software (which I can recover) with all the updated numbers (which I cannot recover).  So…yeah.  Oops.

 

One thing I have found since getting serious about budgeting EVERY penny is this:  There is NO such thing as a normal month, or at least there hasn’t been so far!  I keep thinking to myself, “when we have a normal month, without surprise expenses, then we’ll really get this debt paid down quickly!”, and yet, those kinds of months don’t seem to exist.  It’s been a great eye opener for me, and I’m so grateful for that.  We had over $500 in vet bills, in addition, or course, to the laptop dying (although that’s not really an expense right now, because I ain’t spending money for a new one).  And while the gymnastics bill wasn’t unexpected, I wasn’t exactly prepared for it.  Another great learning experience:  ya gotta budget every month for expenses that don’t come out every month.  (Y’all already knew that, didn’t you?  I’m kinda slow.)

 

indexI can still give you the main gist of the month, so let’s take a look:

 

Household Income:

  • My part-time job (Para Educator) – $537.79
  • Hubby’s full time job – $2,232.76
  • Online income (blog, surveys, etc) – $276.04

Total Household Income:  $3,046.59

 

Household Expenses:

  • Mortgage – $1,035
  • Tithing – $305 (We pay 10% of our income to tithing each month)
  • Other Charitable giving – $30 (Donations, etc)
  • Gymnastics – $180 (This comes out every 3 months, so I need to remember to budget $60 each month for this, so I’m not caught off guard next time!)
  • Vet bill – $518.81
  • Credit Cards – $664.14
  • Phone bill (this includes our 3 phones and internet) – $81.72
  • Utilities (heat, water, electric)  – $122.86
  • Car Insurance – $73.45
  • Emergency Savings – $35

Total Household Expenses- $3,045.98

 

Halfway through November, I had a higher debt payoff amount…but that was before the 2nd visit to the vet with my very sick cat.  That 2nd bill was put on our credit card (BLAST!), so I had to deduct it from the debt payoff to even it up.  Does that make any sense?  :)  It’s late and I’m sleepy, so one never knows…

 

Anyway, there’s the gist of it.  The two biggest lessons I learned this month:

  1. Budget EVERY month for the expenses that don’t occur every month.

  2. NO month is “normal”!  Plan for unexpected expenses EVERY month!

 

 

Down With Debt Mid-November Update

I’ve gotten so behind on posting updates about our finances, but I wanted to at least do a quick check in.  So far, November has been more kind to us, in regards to surprise medical bills and unexpected car repairs.

 

indexOur cat recently started peeing outside the liter box and the other day we noticed blood in his urine.  I called the vet and scheduled an appointment, and $233 later, we’ve got two prescriptions that I can’t get him to take.  Because I didn’t have a budget for vet bills, it was put on our credit card…AUGH!  I was quite shocked when I saw the bill and realized that $40 was charged FOR THE PHONE CALL I made to schedule the appointment.  Don’t think I’ll be calling them again.  We’ll just have to show up, ha ha.

 

Other than that, things have gone about as expected.  Our pet food bill will be going up, as we’re supposed to put our cat on a wet food-only diet to help with the crystals forming in his bladder.  I just bought a pet water fountain on Amazon to try and help encourage more water drinking, but that didn’t cost anything because I had earned enough Amazon.com gift cards with Swagbucks.  I also have a Prime account, so the shipping is free, and I’ll get it in 2 days!  I hope it’ll help.

 

Another expense that we don’t have monthly occurred (it happens every 3 months):  enrolling my daughter in gymnastics ($180).  It’s the one thing I will NOT sacrifice.  She’s waited so long to start, and when I finally bit the bullet earlier this year, she was the 11-year old girl in a class with 6-year olds.  She stuck with it and has advanced every single term, and, starting December 1, she’ll be enrolled in the highest level they offer before competitions!  She’s finally learning with girls her own age, and it’s been a dream come true for her.  I’m so happy she’s found her passion.

So far we’ve been able to pay $864.63 on our debt.  Using the YNAB budgeting software has been SO helpful in helping me to know exactly how much I can put to our debt.  I anticipate that as we keep using it, we’ll be able to pay a little more each month to debt, simply as we find little extra bits of money here and there.  Of course, it’ll help to avoid some of the financial “surprises” we had in the previous 2 months!  Fingers crossed. :)

 

 

 

 

Down With Debt – October’s Monthly Finance Report

Well, well, well.

indexIt’s already time – another month has passed.  October turned out to be fairly full of medical bills and car repairs – although not as full as September was (thank goodness!).  Let me show you the numbers, with comments:

 

Income:

Total (net) income from both our jobs for the month of October:  $2,798.89

Online Income (surveys, etc):  $74.66

Total Income:  $2,873.55

Expenses:

Mortgage:  $1,035

Utilities (phone, internet, gas, electric, etc):  $247.71 – I have a sinking suspicion that this will be our last low gas bill month, with the cold weather arriving!

Insurances (life and car):  $105.85

Tithing, charity:  $300

Debt repayment:  $211.91

School (fundraisers, pictures, lunch):  $69.25

Medical Bills:  $182.74

Grocery: $280

Gas Money:  $164.48

Car Repairs and yearly Registration:  $251.61

Emergency Fund:  $25

Total Spent:  $2,873.55

 

I love that I was able to find a spot for EVERY PENNY we made.  I used to estimate and get close, but with me wanting to get more serious about our budget, it’s important to me that I find a home for EVERY dollar, and yes, EVERY penny!  I have the YNAB budgeting software to thank for that.  Now that I’m using it, I feel more confident that my numbers will continue going in the right direction.

 

So…you know, it wasn’t an overly impressive debt repayment month, but we kept our heads above water.  We’ve started building our emergency fund again as well.  I’ve made a few changes that will save us an additional $100+ each month, so November will be even better.  I’ll be sharing what I did later this week!

 

Budgeting – The Basics

Okay, so most of us are familiar with the term “budget.”  If it’s something that is fairly new to you, let me give a very simple overview and explanation:

What Exactly is a Budget?  The Basics:A good builder uses a set of building plans to build a house. If he didn’t, the kitchen might get overlooked completely.  That’s how important a plan is.

Yet most of us handle our finances without any plan at all.

Not very clever of us, is it?

Without a money plan, we will travel on our financial sea without a direction and end up shipwrecked on the island of financial grief.

A money plan is called a budget.  A budget is the ultimate financial management tool and it is crucial for us if we are to get to our desired financial goals.  Budgeting is simply having a plan or guideline showing how your money will be allocated or spent during a particular period.  I usually build my budget for a month’s time, although you can certainly do it for a week instead, if that works for you.

The main objective of budgeting is to produce a spending list that is equal to or less than your income.  Being aware of how you spend money is the most critical step in financial freedom.  Budgeting is one of the hardest financial disciplines to keep (not the actual making of the budget; that’s fairly easy to do. It’s sticking to the budget that is difficult)!  And that’s okay. It’s a work in progress, after all.

The best way to make a budget that you can stick to in the long term is to make it realistic. Never (and I repeat never) make it a financial starvation plan. Instead make reasonable allocations for all your necessities, entertainment and savings as well as the occasional luxury item.

Why should you even bother with budgeting?

You will be shocked at ‘non-necessaries’ you spend money on.  If we can get control of the expenses that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives, we can enjoy financial freedom eventually.  And that is what we all want, isn’t it?

 

 

How Low Do You Turn Your Thermostat?

So, I’m curious.  How low do YOU turn your thermostat in the winter?  How low will you go? :)

 

 

Turning-down-domestic-hea-001

Over here we turn the heat off at night completely and use rice bags to keep warm.  However, if it ever gets below 55 degrees F, I will usually give in and turn it on.  We have it set at 60 degrees F overnight for those really cold nights when it gets much colder.  During the day I keep it off while we’re at school/work, and then keep it at 64 when we’re home.  On special occasions like Christmas, I say, “forget it!” and turn it all the way up to 70… ha ha.

 

How low do you go?

Frugal Dating: 8 Frugal and Easy Date Ideas

If you are like the average couple, your dates seem to revolve around the usual, tried and tested same old movie and dinner dates.
Could it be because you can’t think of other creative date ideas?  Or you think anything outside a movie and dinner date will dent your budget?

No way!

There are so many more fun, creative and affordable things you could do on a date!  It just takes a little creativity and thinking ‘outside the box’.

These 8 ideas below are fun, frugal and far-reaching. They should help get your dating creative juices flowing:

8 Frugal Date Ideas

 

 

  • Have a blindfold guess – our – location drive!  Go for a drive together with your partner blindfolded. Drive for a few minutes and have them guess where you are. They get points for guessing right or almost right. Do this in turns.

  • Go for a walk around town on a Friday or Saturday night. Soak in the atmosphere.

  • Challenge each other to a contest. It could be anything at all! The sillier, the more fun!

  • Have Theme night (or day) date. Pick a theme and do everything in line with the theme. Example, Time Travel.  Go back to the first date you had.  What were the top movies from that year, to your favorite food at that time.  Rent or borrow a movie from the year you first started dating, pop some popcorn, make your (past) favorite meal, and enjoy a night in!

  • Get 2 painting canvas and each paint an original art picture for your wall together.

  • Bubble bath and massage. Settle in for a night of pampering at home. Run a bubble bath and then treat each other to full-body massages.

  • indexGo to a thrift store and give each other a budget, say $5 or $10 each.  You have 10 minutes to shop for the “perfect” gift for your partner at the store, using the budget set.  OR, you can go to a thrift store and buy each other outfits.  Each is required to wear the outfit the other picked out for them for the rest of the evening.

  • Pick a new recipe for a food you’ve never made, but always wanted to try.  Work together putting together, and later enjoying the food.

    You don’t have to stick to the conventional date to have fun.

    An assortment of creativity and frugality can give you the amazing and memorable dates you always dreamed of.

What are some of YOUR favorite frugal date ideas?  Leave a comment below!

Final August Grocery Update

Yeah, I’m late.  What of it?? :)

Sorry about that, y’all.  I’m so far behind on everything – it’s pathetic!  One of these days I’ll be on top of it.

That day will be the day this world implodes.

In the meantime, let me share this very late update on our final August shopping trip.  Did we stay under budget??  Let’s see:

 

IMG_20140819_102338

We paid a visit to Winco, which I LOVE for their bulk foods section (as you can see).  They also mark their meat down in the mornings, every morning, but in all honesty, I don’t often take advantage, since I can usually find meat on sale for less.  We were running pretty dang low on our proteins, however, so I picked up the best deals I could find.  I didn’t write down the number of lbs I got, so I don’t know the exact price-per-pound, but I know that I spent less than $2.50/lb on each:

  • Boneless Pork Loin, $5.82

  • Beef Sirloin, $6.91

  • Fresh Ground Pork, $3.77

  • Jennie-O Ground Turkey, $4.74

  • 2 frozen Burritos, $0.38 each, $0.76 total

  • 2 Airheads (the kids behaved, what can I say?), $0.30 total

  • 1.86 lbs Fresh Ground Peanut Butter, $3.68 total

  • 3.55 lbs of Quinoa, $17.71 total (OUCH!)

  • 4.5 lbs of Brown Rice, $2.80 total

  • 2.6 lbs of Dry Garbanzo Beans, $2.66 total

  • 2.3 lbs of Buckwheat Groats, $2.20 total

  • 2.9 oz Ground Cumin, $0.59 total

  • 1.6 oz Dried Oregano, $0.39 total

  • 5 oz Chicken Soup Base, $1.08 total

  • 5.1 oz Ground Cinnamon, $0.86 total

  • 1.1 lbs Unsalted Peanuts, $1.75 total

The total plus tax for this trip was $57.70.  That brings the our total for the month of August to $228.46.

 

Our total grocery budget for the month of August was $220, so we did NOT make it under budget.  We overspent by $8.46.  Aw, man!

September is Case Lot sales, baby, so I get to budget more money for the month.  This makes me happy. :)

 

Debt Payoff Plan – Sept 1st Update

Love happy surprises!

Love happy surprises!

Since August 15, we’ve made a few small changes in the hopes to start saving more money and paying down debt.  We also had a couple of happy financial surprises, that although small, were definitely welcome.

  • Our mortgage company was switched on us, which usually doesn’t change anything.  However, every year since we’ve owned the house, we’ve had an escrow surplus.  Our mortgage companies in the past have just applied it to the following year’s escrow account, but this new company we’re with sent us a check for the extra amount, resulting in a surprise $128 extra.

  • I was accepted to do a 2-day (30 min each day) study, which paid me with a $75 visa card.  We’ll be using this Visa to buy gas for the first half of September, so it’ll save up some cash for other things.

  • There for you on a rainy day? :)

    There for you on a rainy day? :)

    We switched our auto insurance, and updated our homeowner’s insurance policy.  For 30 minutes or so of work, we saved ourselves $36/month on auto, and $200/year on home.  The home isn’t something we’ll see, but that extra $36/month will be awesome.  It’s not a ton, but it’s more we can sock away to debt!

 

 

Now for confession time.  In my Debt Payoff Plan Introduction post, I mentioned that we have far too little in savings right now:  only $102.  The first priority in the last 2 weeks should have been to build that up.  I have to admit, I was so horrified by our debt total ($8,445.86) that I chose to focus more on that.  I know, Dave Ramsey would not be happy.  I’ll try to do better in September!

 

 

The Numbers:

On August 15, our total debt was $8,445.86.  Today, our total debt is $8,073.91.

Total paid off so far:  $371.95

On August 15, our total savings was $102.  Today, our total savings is $137.

Total saved:  $35

 

Sweet!  We’re getting there, slowly but surely!

 

 

 

 

15 Healthy Snacks on a Budget

indexIt’s 11 O’clock and you still have one hour before your lunch break.

 

You find yourself rummaging in your drawer (or office fridge) looking for something to snack on. Ah!  There’s a bag of potato chips and with a sigh of satisfaction; you happily munch your chips.

 

But wait a minute…….

 

That snack you are happily munching contains about 200 calories that you don’t really need!

 

No, don’t spit it out!
Nutritionists have confirmed that snacking helps fight weight gain and also keeps your metabolism stable.

 

imagesSnacking is great as long as it is healthy and within your budget.  Don’t worry. There are loads of budget friendly healthy and tasty snacks that you can reach for when that snack craving hits you.

Healthy and budget snacks together?

Is that possible?

Definitely!

Below is a list of 15 health budget snacks that you can treat yourself to:

• Air-Popped Popcorn

• Hard-boiled eggs

• Apples

Bananas

• A serving of nuts (raw almonds are my personal favorite, though I eat them in moderation – they can be pricey!)

• Yogurts (make sure they aren’t filled with sugar!)

• Pickled vegetables

• Crackers and cheese

• Carrots (buy the big ones and slice them yourself – no need to pay extra for baby carrots)

5012685818_4bdc2e74baSo…..

 

Be rest assured that you are not alone in your craving for snacks.

 

But next time the craving creeps up on you, try to choose one of the healthy snacks above instead of reaching for that bag of potato chips.  Your body will thank you!  (No really, it will!)

 

Do you have a favorite frugal and healthy snack? Please share in the comments box below.

 

*Linked up at Frugal Friday