Sunday, October 25, 2009

Family Time and Date Night

One of our favorite family activities is to get outdoors to hike or camp. Michael found this new park with pretty fall foliage and hiking trails that was free. So yesterday morning we took the boys out there to check it out:

Not a whole lot of fall colors yet:

But it was still pretty. We loved all the cactus.

Then we went over to Michael's mom for the afternoon and she fed us lunch :) Michael helped her with some organizing and arranging, and then that evening we went out by ourselves!

We went to a restaurant that we found in our entertainment book. We purchased it for $20 from a neighbor kid doing a fundraiser. Last month I used one of the b1g1 free deals at my Moms night out, and last night we got my meal for free as well, so we've already paid for it and it is still good until the end of next year. We had $20 in the entertainment envelope, so we both got waters, and I splurged and used my spending money for a margarita. We ended up spending $23 including tax, tip, and what I chipped in for the margarita.

Then we headed over to Michael's school where the theater department was putting on the play "Almost, Maine." It was a cute romantic comedy, and since he teaches there, he doesn't have to pay for tickets and we get the best rock hard, butt-numbing seats in the house! I think they must make good money selling seat cushions during intermission. We still had a really good time though! The kids work really hard to put on a good show.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More of a brag post than a frugal post

One of my weight loss/fitness goals was to run a 5k. I ran my first one in February, and came in at 37:53, or a 12:11/mile pace. I had such a great time running that one, that I did another one in April, and yesterday I ran a 4 mile race. I came in at 43:09, or a 10:47/mile pace, so I'm definitely improving! It's become a really fun hobby for me. I really love having a race to look forward to, and trying to beat my best time. As someone who spent their whole life as an overweight/obese person, it's awesome to get out there with fit people and be able to keep up! And as far as recreational sports go, running is really cheap! I have totally flat feet, so I did go get fitted for some running shoes in January, after struggling through awful heel pain for months from my cheap cross-trainers. I spent about $75 on the previous year's model (cash, of course), and they solved all my pain problems. Now that I know what kind of shoe I need, I'll probably stick with the same brand, but shop around and buy them online next time. Other than the shoes, the only other cost is the registration for the races themselves. I used my spending money to pay for this race, which was $15 for YMCA members. I'll be doing the Turkey Trot next month, which is also $15 for Y members. One of the keys is to register early. People who register the day of the race always pay a lot more. For the race yesterday, it was $10 more to register the day of the race.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our lunch today--Leftovers recreated

Last night we had lemon & garlic roasted chicken, roasted vegetables (carrots, potatoes, and beets), steamed squash, and homemade biscuits. We had leftover biscuits and about 1.5 cups of leftover chicken, once I'd picked the chicken clean.

I took the chicken bones and put them in the crockpot overnight to make chicken broth.

For lunch I made a gravy out of 1 c. chicken broth and 1 c. milk, seasoned it up, and threw in the sliced up leftover chicken. Served the creamed chicken over the leftover biscuits. We only had five biscuits, so husband and kids had those, and I had mine over whole wheat toast. Peas on the side and we had a whole meal for four people.

Good comfort food on an overcast, chilly day!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stuff I never buy-Grocery/Food Edition

People often ask me how I keep my grocery bills so low, and I think I can attribute it to the things that I do not buy, that most people regularly purchase. I should say "seldom buy" because I do very occasionally buy some of these things, but they are definitely not regulars on my grocery list. I'm not saying we never EAT these things...we do occasionally have treats in the house, I just generally find the grocery store variety to be too overpriced to warrant purchasing it. I also think there are many less-expensive alternatives to these things.

So without further ado, here is my things I never buy list:

Frozen waffles
Pop-Tarts, toaster strudels
Other frozen breakfast foods
Sugary cereals (maybe one box a month, mixed with less expensive, plain cereal)
Individual packets of oatmeal

Canned soups
Pre-packaged salad greens
Bakery breads
Pre-cut fruits/veggies like baby carrots or sliced apples

Sodas and cokes
Juice (1-2 cans of frozen concentrate per month)
Capri-suns or juice boxes
Bottled water

Fruit snacks
Individually packed puddings, jello, chips, crackers, etc.
Granola bars

Frozen pizza
Frozen dinners
Frozen lasagna
Pizza rolls/frozen snacks
Chicken nuggets
Fish sticks
Frozen garlic toast

Boxed dinners
Rotisserie chicken/pre-prepared meats
Cream soups
Mac and cheese boxes (except the super cheap 4/$1 boxes, you can't beat the price on those)
Canned broths
Rice mixes
Spaghetti sauce (ragu, prego, etc)

Pre-seasoned meats
Expensive cuts of meat that aren't on super-great sale

Baking mixes
Pancake/waffle mix

cookie dough/ready to bake cookies
Ready to bake biscuits/cinnamon rolls

Salad dressings (only ranch and italian--make any others)

Bacon bits

Gravy packets
Spice packets (italian seasoning, taco seasoning)

Sliced cheese
Deli lunchmeat
Specialty cheeses
Individual yogurts
Go-gurt or drinkable yogurts for kids

Paper napkins
Paper towels (one roll a month and have learned to do without if we don't have)
Paper plates
Ziploc bags (seldom have to buy--wash and re-use until they fall apart)

Organic foods (just not in the frugal budget at this point)

Name Brands of anything

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yesterday I did my weekly fridge check/clean-out. I really like to buy certain fresh herbs to cook with--namely parsley and cilantro. I had parsley in my fridge that wasn't going to get used before it goes bad. I chopped it up, put it in an old salsa jar and put it in the freezer. A little bit comes off really easily to put in soups and other dishes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today's frugal lunchbox

For today's lunch we have a homemade "lunchable".
Wheat crackers ($1.39/box, 9 servings in the box, 1/2 serving=about $0.09)
Slices of cheese ($1 for 8oz. brick, 1 oz=about $0.10)
1 slice of deli turkey ($1.99 package, 12 servings, 1 oz=about $0.17)

1 banana (3 lbs. for/$1.00, so probably about $0.11)

Homemade chocolate pudding (I'm going to estimate this at $0.27, 1/2 c. milk, a bit of sugar, cocoa, and corn starch)

Water in a re-usable container=free :)

TOTAL: $0.74

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Meal Plan October 3-15

I didn't shop until the 3rd this month, since I was sick the first couple of days of the month.

My grocery budget for this planning period was $150.

Mushroom-chicken bake, mashed sweet potatoes, corn
Chili and cornbread
Cream cheese crockpot chicken, mashed potatoes, mustard greens
Homemade hamburger helper, steamed zucchini
Lemon-garlic roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens
Italian vegetable stew(subbing ground turkey breast)
Chicken fajitas on the grill, avacados and all the fixins'
English muffin pizzas, salad
Chicken enchilada casserole, black beans, lettuce & tomato
Ginger glazed mahi-mahi, brown rice, roasted veggies (beets, squash, carrots)
Tuna Burgers, potato salad
Barbecue stuffed baked potatoes, steamed broccoli
Leftovers/breakfast for dinner

I picked up the ground turkey breast when it the 1 1/2 lb. packages were marked down to $1.99. I also had leftover cabbage in the fridge which is another ingredient in the italian beef stew. It also calls for kidney beans and so does the chili, so on Sunday we cooked a bag of kidney beans and set some aside.

In the freezer I had some cooked brisket which will be used for the stuffed baked potatoes, and some cooked chicken which will be used for the chicken enchilada casserole. Mahi-mahi was on sale $3.99 lb., and whole chickens were on sale for 0.59/lb. so I bought three of them.

For breakfasts we'll rotate:
eggs and english muffins
cereal and fruit
Oatmeal (I like mine with peanut butter and honey)
Banana muffins with peanut butter and fruit

I bought three dozen eggs for $1/dozen at the 99 Cent Store, and I got english muffins at the bread outlet for $1/package. I got a box of generic rice krispies for $1.50 at Save a lot, and 2 gallons of milk for $1.99/gallon at Kroger. We still have a huge container of old-fashioned oatmeal, but I bought some steel-cut oats for myself. It should last me a couple of months. I stocked up on fruit at Fiesta, except for bananas which were 3 lbs/$1 at Save a lot.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scratch Beginnings

I just finished reading this book (borrowed from the library!):

The author is a 24 year old recent college graduate who set out on an interesting social experiment. He got on a train and went to a new city with just $25 and the clothes on his back. His goal was to have a job, a fully-furnished apartment, a vehicle, and $2500 at the end of one year. He lives in a homeless shelter while he struggles to attain those goals. He didn't allow himself to use any contacts from his previous life, and did not tell any potential employers that he went to college.

His writing style lends itself to a quick read--I finished it in about a day.

I really admire this young man's courage and tenacity. I cannot imagine putting myself in that situation. So many people have opinions on poverty and homelessness, but this guy chose to put his money where his mouth was by giving up a year of his life to really experience it for himself.

His experience really re-affirmed my belief that America is full of opportunity, and that our choices (not unseen forces that our out of our control) largely control our destiny. He had to make tough choices in order to be able to acheive his lofty goals, and his discipline and patience paid off in the end.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

September 2009 Wrap-up

I just finished resolving September's budget. It was a really stressful month and a lot of unexpected expenses happened. We were still able to put some money towards the current Sallie Mae snowball, dropping the balance to just under $2,000. It should be paid off in January, which is slower than I would like but October-December is always an expensive time of year.

Here are the numbers for September:
15% of our monthly income went to car repairs
19% of our income went to pay off debt
We spent $94.69 on unplanned expenses related to the flu
We spent an unplanned $24.56 to send a gift to my little sister who was in a serious accident

I made an extra $6 doing internet surveys (every dollar counts, right?!)
Michael made an extra $60 monitoring the cafeteria after school for three days

I also applied for term life insurance, so I should be hearing back on that soon.

Update on Michael and financially planning for illness

He did end up having the flu. I got a touch of it--no fever, but a little bit of cold symtpoms, and so far the boys don't have it.

We still ended up spending money that was not budgeted in advance and I felt like our spending was a little out of control this week. This morning Michael and I talked about planning better for illness. For one thing, it makes sense to make sure we have enough in our Medical Envelope to cover co-pays for everyone in the house. Michael's is $25, and we didn't even have that in the envelope. Then there was the $25 co-pay for the tamiflu. I went and bought more cod liver oil, and occillococcinum when I started feeling bad, and I had to run out and buy more ibuprofin. I bought the occillo at the health food store, and found out later that it was on sale at Walgreens for much cheaper, so if I had planned in advance, we wouldn't have had to spend so much and I wouldn't have been so stressed out running around to get everything we needed. We also ended up buying some extra groceries (not much--$15 worth), because we had nothing in the house and I was feeling too yucky to really make meals.

Michael is better at actually organizing stuff, so today he is going to go through the medicine box and see what we actually have and try to organize it. He's making me a list of his preferred OTC meds, and I'll add mine and the kids. I'll shop around to make sure we have stuff specifically on-hand, and I'll make sure we have stuff on hand to treat the flu since this flu season won't be over for a long while. I'm going to make a list of meds to keep on hand, and we're going to keep cash in our medical envelope with money for :

Doctor co-pays for each of us
1-2 prescription co-pays
money for vitamins and OTC meds
$20 for emergency groceries

That way, the money is right there and on-hand for if we get sick. I was way too stressed with all of it this week, when I needed to be taking it easy.

I'm also trying to figure out a way to plan some easy and healthy meals for if I am sick and can't cook. It seems like we eat the worst when we're sick because no one has the energy to cook! I might just start working on a list of quick, inexpensive meals. It would be good just to have that on-hand anyway.