Monday, August 31, 2009

A little rant and some homemade jello

At the beginning of last year, Ethan got made fun of for his homemade lunches. In a class of 24 kids, he was one of only about two that regularly brought lunch from home. The main reason for this is that the school is a Title I school, which means that a high percentage of students are on free/reduced lunches (I think it's about 75%). We don't qualify, so Ethan brings his lunches from home. I was unaware that this teasing was going on, until he came home from school one day, sat down on the kitchen floor, and tore into his lunch box to eat his uneaten lunch. Certain things were apparently totally unacceptable, such as leftovers from last night's dinner, in a thermos. I even bought him a really cute kids foogo thermos, but apparently that was not socially acceptable enough for the other kindergarteners. The offending food that day was chili from the night before.

As much as I want to protect him from teasing, I've felt like there is only so much that I can do about this. I won't let him buy his lunch everyday, because the food is not healthy, and I can pack him a much healthier and less expensive lunch. I also don't want to teach him to bow down to peer pressure. I know that a lot of the things that we do are a little counter-cultural, but we have more important things to worry about than whether or not his friends approve of his lunch. He does get to choose one day a week to buy lunch. I try not to pack any 'weird' leftovers, and just stick to sandwiches, fruit, etc. Sometimes I'll put chicken noodle soup or mac and cheese in his thermos--he says those are okay. The thermos is apparently where we get into trouble, lol.

I am hoping that this year will be better. This year, he is at the same school, but he's in their brand new Spanish Immersion program. We're in a large, urban district and there are only two elementary schools that offer it, and any students in the district could apply. My thinking is that the kids in this program are generally going to have parents that are a bit more involved, might be the types that will be more likely to pack a lunch, and for that matter, teach their kids some manners!

I have been trying to pack him more interesting, kid-friendly lunches so far this year. Last week I gave him homemade "lunchables". I pack him wheat crackers, and slices of meat and cheese. I also made homemade chocolate pudding for last week's lunches. This week I thought I'd make some homemade jello. I thought about just buying the packets of off-brand jello, but I really don't want him eating all that artificial stuff.

I bought a large box of plain gelatin from Kroger. It was about $5 for 32 packets, so about 16 cents a packet.

I usually buy fresh fruit, but I do like canned pineapple. It's hard to find a really good pineapple, and it's usually really pricey. I thought I would make good use of the leftover pineapple juice from two cans. I will never again throw that juice away--two leftover cans yielded 1 1/2 cups of pineapple juice!

With my first batch, I used 1 c. of pineapple and 1 c. of orange juice.

We ate it all pretty fast, so I made another batch for Ethan's lunches. I decided to decrease the juice, and add fruit to this one. I used 1 c. of pineapple juice and 1 c. of water for the liquid. I added about a cup of diced pineapple and one banana. Yesterday I bought a bunch of brown bananas for 19 cents a lb. at Save a lot. The skin was brown, but the banana was just fine inside. I sliced those up thinly and added them in. When it was close to setting, I put the jello in small containers for lunchboxes. I also tasted it just to be sure it was good ;) It was delicious!

This whole process was ridiculously easy. It was essentially the same as making jello the way most people make jello (well, maybe everyone just buys those little containers now?). I like to make this kind of thing before bed, so everything is ready to go in the morning.

As a side note, did you know that gelatin is actually really good for you? I'll probably do a separate post on that later.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meal plans 8/30 through 9/15

-Tonight is pork steaks on the grill, mashed potatoes, salad
-Pot roast, roasted vegetables, peas, fried plantain
-Tangy tuna mac, and fresh spinach salad (both from More-with-Less Cookbook)
-Torta pascualina (basically cheese and spinach pie), cooked carrots
-Cheesy italian tortellini (I got free tortellini from a Schwann's promotion), sauteed zucchini
-Chicken pot pie, basic cooked greens (MWL cook book)
-Creamed chicken and biscuits, cooked carrots
-Grilled chicken legs/thighs, basic baked beans (also MWL), corn on the cob
-Brisket, potato salad, green beans, peach pie (Labor Day!)
-Beef and cheese enchiladas, black beans
-Beef Tacos, lettuce and tomato
-pot roast, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob
-Turkey, cornbread dressing, zucchini
-Ginger-glazed mahi-mahi, brown rice, roasted broccoli, cornbread
-steak, baked potatoes, veggie
-Rice with cheese and tomatoes (MWL), veggie
-Leftovers or breakfast for dinner

Giant bags of chicken thighs/legs are on sale for 0.49/lb. at Albertson's this week, so I plan to boil them and pick off the meat, and make stock which will be used at the sauces in my creamed chicken and biscuts and chicken pot pie. That chicken will also be used for the grilled chicken meal. I already have three lbs. of ground beef in the freezer, so that will be used for the tortellini, enchiladas, and beef tacos. Spinach is on sale at Tom Thumb, so I'll be picking up three packages to use in the spinach pie and spinach salad. I'll probably save some for my lunches, as well. Corn on the cob is on sale at Kroger 4/$1. The turkey is a pre-cooked turkey roast that I got free from the YMCA. We ate one last cycle and it was SO good. I have two pot roasts already in my freezer, as well as one portion of mahi-mahi.

My budget for the next two weeks is $150.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tonight I made meatloaf sandwiches for dinner. Since the oven was going to be on for an hour to cook the meatloaf, I decided to go ahead and make the banana muffins for tomorrow's breakfast. When I bake, I try to bake multiple things at the same time to save energy.

The whole family is sick, so we definitely won't be spending any money on anything this weekend.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A day of memories for $20

We decided to take this Saturday to spend some time with the kids before Ethan goes back to school on Monday and our schedule gets all crazy hectic. We took them to ride the Forest Park mini-train. It's a really cool old children's train that has been in Fort Worth since the 1950's. It makes a five mile round trip along the Trinity River, by the duck pond, and even stops at a little depot for popcorn and drinks. It's a pretty inexpensive outing, at $11 for the four of us to go, and only $1 for popcorn.

Then we decided to do some more grown up entertainment, so we went to a local museum that is free. We've taken the boys a couple of times, and I love that each time they seem to understand more and more what it is we're looking at.

Then we headed to Dairy Queen for ice cream cones!

We ran a couple of errands, dropped books off at the library and picked up our free pics from Walgreens, then we headed home for dinner. I made a big pot of homemade beans and cornbread, and Grandma came over and joined us for dinner.

After dinner the boys put on a production of The Three Little Pigs (with a guest appearance by Spider Man).

Now they are off to bed early so that Mommy won't have to drag Ethan out of bed on Monday morning! I am dreading tomorrow morning though!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Photo prints

Michael has had the same family pictures on his desk at work since he started teaching in 2005. He mentioned wanting to put the cost of some new ones in the budget for this month. I told him that I'd first like to see if I could find a deal for free prints, since I do see them occasionally. Yesterday, my online friend Dina posted a Walgreens deal for 20 free prints for yesterday only, so we got them uploaded and will pick them up tomorrow. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sometimes it's just not worth it

Just sometimes though :)

Today there is a big county-wide back to school fair. Families who are under certain income limits can get a new backpack for their child with some general school supplies, a new pair of shoes & socks, and a haircut. We qualified, so I thought we would go. It was from 8am-2pm, so I figured we would maybe be gone a couple of hours. We got there at about 8:45, and it was sheer insanity. There was a line that was thousands of people long, and it didn't seem to be moving at all. I'm looking at that line thinking that not only will my kids never make it through without having to get out of line to go potty, but I was standing there really thinking there was no way that I was going to make it through that line without having to go potty!

So we decided to leave. It just didn't seem worth it to me. Ethan's school supply list really isn't that extensive, and I already have money in the envelope for school supplies. If we wanted to, we could buy the whole package from the school for $20, which I think is a bit overpriced for what you're buying. He got new shoes last week, and he still has his backpack from last year.

I'm glad that they have programs like that for families who struggle to make ends meet. But as I was looking at the sheer numbers of people who showed up for what amounts to about $25 worth of stuff, I realized that we would be fine without that help, and obviously there are a lot of people who need that help more than we do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So this is my trash bin

When I first started getting our finances in order I was looking for any little way that I could trim our budget. Everyone is issued the same standard-size trash bin. I noticed some people had larger ones, so I wondered if they had smaller ones. I called the city and found out that you can save $5 with a smaller receptacle. We only go through 1-2 kitchen bags of garbage every week, so I figured it would be fine, and it has. It helps that around the holidays, they allow an extra bag of garbage that doesn't have to fit in the receptacle.

We live in a duplex, and I've noticed that the way the city works is that they just leave the same receptacle from the previous tenants for new tenants, and it is the tenant's responsibility to call and change if they want to. I know this because our next door neighbors have had an upgraded size the entire three years we've lived here, even though there have been large and small families that have lived there. A young couple lives there alone now, but they still use the same large one from the previous occupants. I doubt they even fill it half-way. They just inherit whatever size (and bill) the previous tenant left. The city will actually not charge you at all the first time you change sizes.

I added it up, and I've saved $190 since I switched sizes. Not a ton of money, but certainly worth one five minute phone call.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Frugal Rule #122

Don't pay for services you can do yourself. This is probably obvious to most frugal people. If you're reading this blog and you have a maid, dog groomer, or a gardener, I'm going to assume you read just to point and laugh at the crazy frugal lady.

When I last visited my sister, I was accompanying her on errands and one of her stops was to take the dog to the groomer. I was floored. The groomer? Seriously?! You're a college student who waits tables to pay the bills! Wash your own dog! I am surprised at some of the services that people (even broke people!) will pay for.

So Foxy got her monthly (ummm, ish?!) bath today. I bathed her and had the kids help me brush her. Lately I've been making the boys take more and more responsibility for her. No groomer necessary when you have kids!

I also cut Andy's hair today. I still have never paid to have it done professionally since four year olds don't care if Mom cuts their hair! I'm going to cut it myself as long as I can get away with it. I'm dreading the teen years.

Monday, August 17, 2009

8/15-8/31 Meal Plans

8/15 -- Family pizza & movie night (Domino's had a coupon for $3.99 1-topping medium)
8/16 -- Steaks on the grill, grilled corn on the cob, baked potatoes, salad
8/17 -- Falafel with avacado spread, tortilla chips & homemade pico de gallo
8/18 -- Turkey roast, cranberries, cornbread dressing
8/19 -- Homemade baked beans, cornbread (leftover from yesterday)
8/20 -- Turkey strata (with leftover turkey), basic cooked greens from More with Less Cookbook
8/21 -- Tangy tuna mac, salad
8/22 -- Pork steaks, mashed potatoes, cooked carrots
8/23 -- Beef tacos, lettuce & tomato
8/24 -- Goulash, zucchini
8/25 -- Chicken caesar salad
8/26 -- Pakistani kima, fried plantains
8/27 -- Beef & cheese enchiladas, black beans
8/28 -- Pot roast, mashed potatoes, greens
8/29 -- Meatloaf sandwiches, salad
8/30 -- Tilapia Veracruz, brown rice, pico de gallo
8/31 -- Leftovers or breakfast for dinner

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I've been meaning to try this for a while now, but for some reason I thought it would be harder. Jacki, resident crafty homemaker on my Mom's board described it as "so easy you'll feel silly", so I finally decided to take the plunge. She was right, it really is stupid easy. I don't know why I waited so long.

I used the recipe in my favorite cookbook in the whole wide world The More with Less Cookbook.

First I boiled my jars and lids. It'd been a while since I had used them.

I decided to try a small batch first to make sure I wasn't going to waste a ton of milk on a flop of a project. I started with four cups of milk, and heated it to 180 degrees.

When it reached 180, I let it cool to 110 degrees. It took about 20 minutes.

Then I added 1/3 c. of plain yogurt that I already had on hand. Per Jacki's suggestion on her blog, I'm going to put the rest of this yogurt in an ice cube tray to use as a starter for future batches.

I stirred 1 c. of the warm milk and the yogurt together, then added the rest of the milk. I poured it all into two jars. I put both jars in my hot garage overnight, and by morning, I had yogurt!

I sort of felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away when he's yelling "I have made FIRE!" I guess turning milk into yogurt isn't as cool as making fire when you're stuck on a deserted island, but I was pretty excited about it :) Anyway.

My plan was to have one plain batch for us, and a flavored batch for the kids. Ethan will not eat plain yogurt even if it is topped with fruit or honey. I still won't buy those squeezable yogurts or the "kid" yogurts, because I don't want him eating all that sugar and artificial colors. I give him a little bit of the plain with some yogurt and fruit and make him eat it, 'cuz I said so. Gotta love Moms.

I had half a bag of organic frozen strawberries that I bought at the dollar store ages ago. I threw those and a few spoonfulls of frozen orange juice concentrate into a blender with a little bit of the yogurt. I blended it up and mixed it back into the jar with the rest of the yogurt and one packet of stevia.

And guess what?! My healthy- yogurt hating child said, "YUM!" and ate every last bit of the bowl I gave him! I think it helps that it's pink.

I've been looking for other healthy lunchbox options and will definitely be making this often!

And the best part, you ask?! Well, the price, of course! I did a little math and I made that amount of yogurt for about 52 cents. Those teeny-tiny cups of generic yogurt were on sale at Kroger today 2/$1. Woo-hoo!

My kiddos, getting in on the yogurt-making action:



And Foxy is never far away when someone is in the kitchen:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tomorrow is the 15th, so that means grocery shopping day. That makes today meal planning, grocery list-making day. We also have plans to go swimming at the Y with our friends, and today is Andy's last swim lesson for the summer. He's done SO well with his lessons.

As Y members we paid $45 for 8 25-minute lessons, and we got a $10 discount for signing up for a subsequent session. That works out to about $5 a lesson, which I don't think you could find anywhere else. Since we do pay for a Y membership we try to really use all the advantages of it. They offer a lot of extra family programs that you couldn't get with a regular gym. My kids attend a fitness class for kids two days a week, and enjoy playing with their friends in the childcare room while I work out. We use the pool a lot, and take advantage of their monthly cookouts, and lunches they have. They usually have programs for the kids around holidays, as well. Since having a membership somewhere is kind of a frivolous thing, I want to make sure we get the most out of it that we can.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This should win me some kind of frugality award

So I read in my Tightwad Gazette about a way to get more out of a container of deoderant. The reader said she would save 3-4 old deoderants with just the little bit left in them and use the leftovers to make another half full container of deoderant. So I thought I'd try it.

I had four leftover deoderant containers, and I took a knife and scraped out every little bit that I could out of them (a knife with a sharp point, like a steak knife worked best). I pulled out that little plastic thing, and there was a whole bunch underneath it. I dumped all the tiny bits into a coffee mug and nuked it for ten second increments, until it was liquidy enough to pour back into one of the deoderant containers.

My husband actually thought I'd lost my mind. He stood there watching in wonder in the kitchen at what his crazy wife was doing with all these leftover deoderants. He asked me if I thought the deoderant was going to catch fire in the microwave.

I poured the liquidy deoderant back into one of the containers, and stuck it in the fridge to harden for a little bit. You would never know I did this--it looks like perfectly normal deoderant. I ended up getting about 1/3 of a container of deoderant out of it. I was curious how long it would last me, so I put the date (7/26) on top. I just used it again this morning, so I'm currently at 18 days and counting. It should last me at least another week.

This really made me realize something. Just think how much is wasted when we don't use every bit of a product in a package. Think of how much more packaging is created by all the new product that is made, when we could have just tried to finish up every last bit of something! I know when I get a new package of something, for some reason I just feel this urge to use it, even if I still have some of the other product leftover. My husband does this with toothpaste. I'm the one who usually ends up using all the dregs in the toothpaste tube. I once showed him that he stopped using the old toothpaste and had moved onto the new tube, and it took me 2 full weeks to get through the rest of the old tube! I've noticed this with contact solution too. It always seems like the bottle is just about empty, but sometimes that last little bit lasts another full week or two.

I would have never thought to do this with deoderant, and I'll admit it's a bit weird, but it really proved to me how true the old saying "waste not, want not" really is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Taco Tuesday was a hit! I really enjoyed it. They also gave you a bunch of their homemade tortillas and honey....yum! My husband was less than thrilled with it, but he's a Mexican food snob. I don't know what he expected for $3.33 a plate.

Today is my hubby's first day back teaching. He's pretty nervous, since he's teaching AP History and AP Government for the first time. He went and got his hair cut yesterday, which was $15. We didn't have a coupon this time. He still won't let me touch his hair! He does wait as long as possible to cut it, and he seems to be getting it cut shorter and shorter each time, so he doesn't have to get it cut as frequently.

His Mom gave him a bag of clothes that belonged to his Dad, and he found a few things he could use. Some of the silk ties were really nice, and some screamed 1980! There was a brown belt in the bag, but he has one that he likes a lot better and he needs a black one. The back of it was black, so he used a tiny screwdriver to remove the buckle and put it on the other side, so now he doesn't have to buy a black belt.

(Thank you, honey for being a good sport and letting me take your picture!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taco Tuesday

A Y friend told me about Taco Tuesday at a Mexican cafe. $3.33 for three tacos, rice and beans. I have just enough spending money to buy three taco plates which should feed the four of us. I'm feeling a bit under the weather today so it will be nice not to have to cook, and to treat the family to a rare dinner out.
Yesterday was a productive day. I got some cleaning and organizing done. I'm noticing that being organized lends itself to being frugal. That gives me more incentive, because I am NOT a naturally organized person. Ethan spilled a jug of water the other day, and I hadn't noticed that a lot of it ended up in the vegetable drawer. I'm bad about checking the veggie drawer anyway, so yesterday I got in there and cleaned it all out, bagged up everything, and hung some cilantro in the garage to dry before it went bad.

Today I need to make a trip to the health food store. I was going to go pick up my vitamins last week, but I remembered that every Tuesday they take 20% off the cost of all vitamins/supplements. I also have a coupon for 25% off of one item, so I might see if they will let me use both.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cinching the belt a little tighter

Our main financial goal that we're working towards at the moment is saving for my graduate school for the Spring. I will not be going if I don't get an assistantship, because we really cannot spend more on education right now. But, if I do get an assistantship, paying for school will be in the form of a monthly paycheck, so I will need to have money to pay for my classes at the start of the semester. In order for this to be possible, I will also need to somehow earn or save an extra $1200 between now and January. So the next few months will be very, very lean. Michael is on-board with this and we're working together to make this possible.

I've dropped our grocery/toiletry budget to $300 for the month of August. I may try to go lower in September. We have $0 budgeted for eating out or entertainment. Michael and I will still each get our $40 for spending money.

Yesterday was grocery shopping/errand day. I found some really good deals in the Albertson's and Tom Thumb circulars this time, so my two-week grocery trip involved trips to Tom Thumb, Albertson's, The 99 Cents Store, Fiesta, Save a lot, Kroger, and The Mrs. Baird's outlet. The only one of those that is not all on the same two mile stretch of road is Albertson's. I have to go about a mile out of the way to get there. I did plan a good menu, and was able to stock up on some excellent meat deals that will last us much of the month. I spent $142 yesterday for two weeks worth of groceries, and also had to buy deoderant, soap, toothpaste, and dog food. I really used my grocery price book this time to make sure I found the absolute best prices on everything we needed. I bought three pot roasts, a family pack of chicken breast, and five lbs. of 93/7 lean ground beef. I have $8 left if I need some extra produce or a gallon of milk.

The Y where I work out at goes to the food pantry and brings back stuff to give to its members (it is a very low income area), so I got a few things that were helpful in meal planning. I got two turkey roasts, an angel food cake, bagels, and kaiser rolls, so I worked those things into my meal plan.

Here is my plan for the next two weeks:
English muffin pizzas, broccoli
Hamburgers on the grill, oven fries
Chicken with asparagus and roasted red peppers, mashed potatoes
Roast beef sandwiches on kaiser rolls, salad
Taco salad, corn on the cob
Turkey roast, cranberries, steamed broccoli
Pizza Rice Casserole, salad
Baked chicken nuggets, baked potatoes, greens
Chicken & Corn Chili, cornbread (double recipe)
Creamed chicken (or turkey if I have leftover) with cornbread dressing, salad
Grilled jamaican jerk chicken, rice, grilled corn
Beef tacos, lettuce & tomato
Pintos & cheese, cornbread
Steak, baked potato, peas
Breakfast for dinner/pantry meal