Monday, August 30, 2010

Canning, canning, canning...

This week I've been doing some canning again and I'm sure in the next few weeks I'll be doing even more! Last Wednesday my neighbor and some other friends got together to can pickles. This is the first time I've ever done it and it's really not hard at all! I didn't realize how simple it really is and if you like them whole it's very little prep work too. We just made dill this time, but there are plenty of mixes for other varieties as well. For the half bushel of pickling cucumbers my neighbor spend about $10 and we got 15+ pint size or quart size jars! Compared to the grocery store prices, which can be quite expensive, it was a great bargain. We did leave some whole, sliced some into circles and then sliced some length wise for "stackables". It was a great learning experience and doing it with great company made it extra fun.

Then, over the weekend we went to a local organic farm that is just up the street from us, maybe 5 minutes away. We love going there and have made it a tradition every summer since our oldest has come along. The thing that makes this farm special and extra fun is that they have huge berry patches and let you pick your own. They grow raspberries and strawberries, so we usually take home some of each. They are delicious and being that they are organic, local and fresh makes me even happier about feeding them to my family. This weekend we went with the intention of getting a good amount so we could use the berries to make jam. Typically berries are always a little bit pricier produce item, so we paid about $17 for all that we picked. This is also my first year making berry jams too. We did a peach and cinnamon preserves two years ago which was really yummy, but never just berries. It really is not difficult at all and takes very little time compared to other canning recipes. This is one I would highly recommend for a beginner. It's not overwhelming, could be done alone, takes very little prep time and can be totally finished in about 1-1 1/2 hours. Our final result was 16 jars of jam, 7 raspberry and 9 strawberry. One of my favorite things about the jams we made is that they are sugar free too. The sweeteners in them are honey and agave nectar which have a lot less negative health effects then white sugar. AND the recipe called for 3/4 C of honey/agave compared to 3 C of sugar! Great perk, right?!?!

We haven't tasted any of our most recent canning goods because both the pickles and the jam take a couple weeks to really set and get their flavor. So, I"ll be sure to post about them when we've tasted them to let you know how we like them.

Within the next few weeks we'll be doing some of my favorite canning projects: salsa and marinara. They are great money saving options throughout the year too. I'm planning on getting my ingredients at a local farmer's market that lets you fill a gunnysack (large cloth bag) full of the produce you chose for
$10! So, I'll be loading mine up with all the ingredients I need for canning that we don't already have in our garden. I'm excited!

Where's the audience?

This weekend we've had company, so I haven't had much of a chance to update on how things are going, so now I have a growing list of ideas to share with you! :) You'll have to be patient though as I get my life back in order to get them all typed up and posted.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you about an email I got from my girlfriend from high school who is now living in Africa! I had no idea she had been following along on the blog and it was so great to hear from her. So here's a shout out to living a simple life in Africa!! Thanks for following along.

Well, this got me thinking, who is reading? Where do you live and what's your story. If you've been a casual reader or a frequent follower, please leave a comment and introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you! For extra motivation, I'll be drawing names from those that leave a comment and send out a great selection of coupons for canning supplies that are good through the end of the year.

So lets get started, I'm Chelsea, nice to meet you. And you are? ....

Friday, August 27, 2010

Makeover Update

I figured I should write a short little update on how our money makeover is going. First, of all, the cash budget system is working really well. The thing that has helped us do the best job on it is that I set it up every two weeks (with each paycheck) because then I'm able to make sure we get all the bills paid for before figuring out what we have left to spend on our daily living expenses. Other times that we've tried it we ended up taking the whole month's worth out at a time, but then the paycheck didn't always cover everything else we had to pay for, so it just got stressful and confusing. It's also a little harder to predict my husband's exact income because he's paid an hourly wage, so if he works overtime, does training or anything at all changes in his schedule his check varies too. So, as of now, every two weeks is working much better for us.

The other thing I like about the cash budget is that I feel more in control of the situation. I know how much I can spend, there is a boundary set so all I need to do is stay within it. I'm good at "following the rules" kind of things, so this works for me! :) It has been challenging at times, mainly because it's hard to say no to things we want, when we want them, but that's all part of the process. Some sacrificing has to happen in order to get the result we want.

We did make a large payment on our smallest loan this month, which I blogged about previously. That has given us a good energy boost to keep things moving along. When I figured out the % of our income going to each category today, the way Dave Ramsey does it, we paid 43% of our paycheck this week to debt. Which is awful and exciting at the same time. First it's horrible, because that means we're only living on a little over 50% of our income. How depressing to know we could have that much  more going toward things we actually want it to go toward! On the other hand, it means we're doing the best we can to get out of debt as fast as possible too. So, that's exciting!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Better than Gerber

Who ever thought paying $0.85 per serving of baby food was a good idea? I know it wasn't the parents! If you have or have had kids you know that those baby food jars add up insanely fast, especially if you have a big eater in your house. When our daughter was getting ready for that stage I learned about homemade baby food and figured we'd be trying that first, over the overpriced jars at the store. I know you can make the cereal from scratch too, but I found a store here where I could get that (even organic/all natural ones) for $0.99/box so I just did that.

I found that making baby food is really quite simple and a way to cut a huge expense from your family grocery budget. Due to the seasons my kids were born I was able to get most of my produce for them at farmer's markets or out of our garden, but that doesn't have to be the case. You'll still save a large amount of  money even using organic fruits and vegetables from your local grocery stores & even more if you chose to skip the organic ones.

This is what I did. I went to the store and got several things that I wanted to make for baby food. I'd chose things that gave a good variety of nutrition, color and tastes. So my basket usually had the following items in it: a bundle of spinach, a large bag of green beans, a bag of peas, a broccoli, a cauliflower, a butternut squash, a few sweet potatoes, a few avocados and then some fruit like pears, apples, peaches, mangoes, and maybe bananas. Usually I'd spend between $15-25 for all that produce, depending on sales and amounts. I was the "mean" mom that made my kids eat their greens first. So I started with all the bitter greens for my kids. I've heard that avocado is actually an excellent first food nutritionally and it happens to be one of the easiest to make. My reasoning behind the greens first was that if I gave them the things that had a stronger taste first then they'd enjoy the rest as they got sweeter, but would've already been used to the bitter ones and not turned them down every time they were on their plate. I don't know if it really works, there really is no science to it, but neither of my kids have been picky eaters, so maybe it did help.

*To make avocado: peel it, cut it up, put it in a food processor or blender and it's done. If your baby is able to have a few chunks in their food, you could mash it with a fork even. No cooking required! :)

Once we were home I'd get to cooking. Again, this is something you want to allow a decent amount of time for because it's easiest to do a lot of it at once to avoid having to keep getting all your equipment back out. Although, if it works better for you to do a little at a time then that works just as well.

First, I wash, peel, and chop what needs it. Once I have one of the veggies prepped I start steaming it. I've read that steaming is the best method of cooking to maintain nutrients compared to other methods, so that's why I went with that option. While the first batch was steaming, I'd be prepping the next veggie. After the first one was done steaming I'd dump it all into my food processor (you could use a blender too, but the consistency may not be as smooth), add a little bit of purified water and let it do it's thing. Once it was smooth, I'd pour the prepared vegetable into ice cube trays, cover it, label it and put it in the freezer. That was the process I'd use for the next remaining fruit and vegetables until I had either run out of time, produce or ice cube trays.

The following day I'd remove my "veggie cubes" and put them into freezer zip lock bags labeled with the contents and date and store until I was ready to use them. Then I'd finish the rest of what I needed to make. There were times that I'd make it all in one day and store it in sealed containers in the fridge until my ice cube trays were ready and just fill them the next day. Having them frozen in that individual size made meals so easy because I'd take out the number my kids were eating per meal and warm it up, add cereal and it's done. It's also pretty easy to take places because I'd put a few frozen cubes in a sealed bowl and by the time I'd need it it would be thawed or I'd ask for hot water to add to it to make it warm enough for them to eat.

By the way, that one trip to the store would usually get me through 6-8 months of baby food. Of course, I'd occasionally supplement with more bananas or avocados (which I never froze, but probably could have) or adding berries, melons and other items as they were old enough to handle them. You will get A LOT of butternut squash out of one and same with the sweet potatoes, it doesn't take very much. The spinach cooks down the most and will not be a large supply.

A few things to keep in mind. It's important that you wash your food processor between each vegetable because of possible allergens that you may not know about yet. It's also not a bad idea to rinse the water and start fresh in the steamer, though I never got that specific about it.

I did keep some jars on hand for the times that we just needed the convenience of the jar, but I'd found a place here (the same one that sells the cereal for $0.99) that had jars for $0.10/jar and then they went up to $0.35/jar, but still very cheap compared to the regular price at the store.

For me the benefits out weighed the time it took on one or two days to make the food. For starters, I knew what my kids were getting. Everything was fresh produce that had never had any sugars, salts, seasonings or additives added to it. It was only steamed fruit and vegetables. The price was also a huge plus as I mentioned above, the savings are easy to see. Finally, I don't really feel like we lost most of the convenient factor either since the individual frozen cubes were easy to use.

So if you have a baby or have a friend who has a baby ready to embark down the road of food, give them the heads up--making baby food is a great alternative to Gerber!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Canning 101

It's the beginning of canning season for most people with summer produce needing to be used. A few years ago my husband and I decided to start canning from our garden. Our first summer canned salsa and marinara because our tomato plants produced amazingly well that year. My husband had a favorite recipe for marinara from his days of being the assistant chef at an italian restaurant in his home town. So, that's the one we chose to can. We did have to adapt it a little to make sure the acidity levels were right for canning, but that can easily be done by adding lemon juice or vinegar (you can look online for the amounts according to how much you are making). The salsa recipe we just searched for some online and picked one we thought worked well for our taste. During our garage saling days that summer we came across a sale where a lady had canned for YEARS and was getting rid of all her supplies, including her canning bath, tools, jars, extra lids, everything you need. She was selling her things for $1 a box!! AMAZING! So we spent $5 and walked away with everything we needed for that first year. After that first time, we were hooked. Now each summer we can something, usually several things and we've been trying new things each year and have really learned a lot about canning and really enjoy the process, using fresh and home grown produce, having a supply to get us through most of the year and being able to serve something healthy and fresh to our family and guests.

Of course every year we learn something new and have adapted our recipes and methods some to make things more efficient so I thought I'd share some of what we've learned with you. If there are other canners with great ideas, please fill us in too. We're always looking for better ways to do things.

*Give yourself plenty of time. Canning is not an instant project. It's something you'll want to allot a block of time to. For many canners, days/weeks are a more appropriate and realistic time frame because of the amount of recipes and produce they are canning. We usually do ours throughout the season for a day or two at a time. This is not a project you want to start at 7 or 8 o'clock one evening when you have to work the next morning. The prep work is usually the most time consuming. For recipes like salsa and marinara there is a lot of chopping involved so if you have a chopper or food processor those come in really handy. Some of that prep work can also be done the day before if you need to spread thing out over a couple days.

*Have a partner or two is helpful during several stages of the canning process. If you have someone to help you, take them up on that offer!

*Blanching-this is a process that helps preserve nutrients in your produce and is also a method of removing skin from things like tomatoes, peaches, pears, etc. The general idea is that you boil them for a few minutes and immediately put them into ice water. The skin will be cracked and easy to just peel off your with your hands.

*Once you have your ingredients prepped, you are ready to start cooking. Depending on what you're making it could be just a few minutes, but most things need to boiling for a set amount of time to ensure it is safe and healthy and preserved correctly.

*While you are cooking your food you should have your jars and lids boiling in a large pot to sanitize them and prepare them for the food.

* About the time your food is about ready to pour into your jars, you'll need to get your jars out and on the counter with a funnel. Pour your food into your jars allowing for the amount of space required for your recipe. Wipe the lid with a paper towel to make sure there isn't any food interfering with the seal of the lid. Place your lid (that was boiling) on there and lightly screw on the band.

* Processing the food- each recipe requires a certain amount of processing (boiling) time in your pot according to your altitude, size of jars and ingredients. All that can be looked up in your canning recipe or online. It needs to be completely submerged and standing straight up. You'll need a rack or something on the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pan.

*After you have boiled your jars for the amount of time needed you pull them out of the pot using the special tools for grabbing jars. Put them in a place on the counter where they can cool and usually after about 12 hours you can make sure the seal worked (the lid won't pop any more). If it did, you're all done and you can store things for later. If not, you'll have to re-process the jars that didn't seal.

*I forgot to add the funnel to this picture, you really should have one on hand for canning. 

During the cooking and canning, you have several things going on at once which is why a partner is helpful to help make sure you don't miss a step and things are ready when you need them. Some of the more simple canning recipes are fruit and jams. There isn't as much to prep or cook, so if you want to start with something that is less overwhelming that would be my suggestion. You can usually find a jam recipe right on the back of a box of fruit pectin (found in the canning isle, used to preserve fruit and an ingredient in jams).

If you give it a try let me know how it goes! Also, if you have done canning before and have other tips, fill us in on that too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Stocking up for winter

This week has felt like a "stocking up" kind of week. On Friday and Saturday I went garage saling for some clothes the kids will need this fall/winter and hit a few jackpots! For just over $20 I think I have most of what they'll need. Some dressier clothes for our son, it seems like he has plenty of every day clothes as handy me downs, but needed some nicer clothes for church, weddings, parties, etc. So, I think I got enough to get him through at least until Christmas present time! ;) For our daughter, I needed pants! I went to put a pair of her pants on from the spring a couple days ago and they were short....all of them. :( I figured I better get them before garage saling season is over, so that was on the list this week. I found her 8 pairs of pants at one sale, $1 each! :) I also got her several pairs of pjs (all princesses of course!), a couple sweatshirts and t-shirts. I'm thinking I may need to get her some more long sleeve shirts as we go through the winter, but there is always plenty of that on clearance throughout the season, and there is also Christmas! ;) For now, I think we're ready for the change of season for both of them, we're all stocked up!

Of course, the kitchen is another place to get stocked up. As I mentioned we had all the apples to use, so I decided to bake apple/cinnamon muffins with some of the pulp (I still have plenty left for another couple baking projects) I had from the juicer. While I was at it I figured I should also use the shredded zucchini I had in the freezer since last summer to use for bread. Then, I got a sweet tooth and figured cookies should also be baked. Yes, crazy, I know! I've always heard of people doing like bulk baking/cooking days and freezing everything and it was always something I had wondered about doing. Well yesterday, I did it. I pulled out all of the baking supplies and went to work. Now our freezer is stocked with 30+ apple muffins, 30+ zucchini muffins, 3 loaves of zucchini bread, 2 frozen batches of cookies (slice and bake kind of idea). Then the pantry has 2 batches of chocolate chip cookie dry ingredient mixes ready to have the liquid ingredients added at a moments notice or the first sign of a snow day to be baked and our counter has a batch of cookies calling us to eat them every time we pass them by! WOW! Of course, never forget the mess these things leave behind too...yes, I have that too. It was nice though to finally use those things that I have had and figured, I'll use them for baking and just never seemed to remember to do it. Now this year, I have them all prepared and at the first thought of company I have breakfast, snacks and dessert covered! The important things, right?

A few things I learned:
1. Don't do this if you aren't a multi-tasker, it requires thinking about a lot of things at once
2. Making similar types of recipes and just doubling/tripling them works better then multiple types of ideas
3. Clean as you'll end up needing those same supplies again anyway, so keep cleaning them.
4. I wish I would've borrowed some bread pans for this project and I could've had more in the oven at a time and been more efficient.
5. Pray that this is the day your kids take long naps and wake up in a good mood! :)

Not that I'm at all ready to see the summer warm days full of playing outside, hanging out by the pool, sitting out on the porch in the evenings, BBQ dinners and suntans go away--but now I'm ready for the change of weather when it inevitably comes. I'm trying to embrace it...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All things apple

Do you have a supply of large kitchen appliances that take up half your kitchen space and seem to be used just a few times a year? Well, yesterday I put nearly all of them to work! I'm sure today and tomorrow they'll be getting used too.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a lot of time cooking! I had bought a large box of organic apples (I think around 30lbs) for $30 and they were needing to be used. Of course we weren't going to be eating 30lbs of apples in the next couple days, so I made an apple canning list. The thing I love about fruit is that you can make so many great things out of them. This year we decided to make juice (we have a juicer--one of those big appliances I mentioned), apple cider (my husband's idea, which I like), applesauce, apple butter (but that might not make the cut after all), canned apples (for baking cakes, pies, etc). I'll also have all the apple pulp from the juicer to use for baking muffins, breads and cakes frozen for future use. Well, all that meant I had to do some serious amount of cleaning, chopping, cooking, and canning to do.

A few days ago I juiced about 20 or so apples and that juice was in the fridge waiting to be finished or made into apple cider. So yesterday, I dealt with that by draining the chunks and putting it in freezer bags to pull out when we are running low on juice. It's basically the frozen concentrate idea because we'll have to dilute it with some water before using it too. I also juiced about another 20-30 apples, drained it and froze it to make into apple cider maybe today or tomorrow.

This was about the half way point in the box!

After cleaning up that mess and picking out all the "really ready to be used" apples that were still left I got to work on applesauce. How did we ever know how to do things before google? I had no idea how to make homemade applesauce or how to can it, so I did what most people do and googled it. Here is the recipe I found. Basically, you wash and slice your apples, put 1/2 inch of purified water or apple juice in the bottom of a stockpot and boil them until they become really soft.

This was probably about half the amount I used being washed.

Ready to boil/steam for a while. 

After they are cooked you pour your apples into a food processor until it's smooth or the consistency that you like.  Pour it back into the pan to keep it warm and add cinnamon to taste. I used one tablespoon and that was perfect for us. That's it, applesauce made. :) 

Then, we went through the canning process and now have 6 pints of applesauce for our pantry. 
That's a really nice final result from your hard work isn't it? And then there is this...
the mess you made waiting for you at the end! That's my least favorite part, but it'll be worth it to have so many great things on hand that are healthy, free from preservatives, extra sugars/salts, and unnecessary packaging. 

Not bad for a box of organic apples, right? So far we have apple pulp for baking at least several baked goods, several jugs of juice, a few jugs of apple cider (almost done), 6 pints of applesauce and another ?? pints of canned apples (still need to finish). The other cool part is that for nearly all of these things, other then some water and some seasonings, I haven't used any other ingredients! 

A grocery store scam!

Thanks to Rachael Ray I'm now using my stale bread! Several months ago I watched her cook up some great looking meal (like usual) and while she was cooking she threw out a fantastic tip. (Who says TV isn't good for anything?) Her meal was using stale bread that she had frozen, which in of itself was a great idea. BUT the tip I liked and used today was to use it to make bread crumbs. She basically puts stale bread in the freezer until she has a decent amount stored up and then throws it into the food processor and voila--bread crumbs. Easy, huh? Well, I've been compiling a serious amount of stale bread since then. You know the random hot dog bun that doesn't have a hot dog to marry it, the butt of the bread that only 10% of the world's population enjoys so the rest of us throw it away, the hard & deformed english muffin that got shoved to the back of the fridge. I know you've got them, people! Why not make something useful out of those poor sorry pieces of bread? Anyway, I did and I think it took me a whole 5 minutes to whip up a huge amount of bread crumbs. I grabbed my big bag of random breads that had dried out (watch out that you don't use any with mold on them!), threw a bunch in the food processor, poured it into a ziplock bag, labeled it and DONE!

After doing that today, I saw how easy that was AND how "unwasteful" making your own bread crumbs can be. Then I thought, what a scam! They've been selling us this stuff at the grocery store for years and charging around $2 a tin for stale bread! It's almost as big of scam as bottled tap water. So, there you have it, a really simple way to use something you were going to throw away and save you a few dollars at the check out line. Thank you Rachael Ray! Breaded chicken for dinner anyone? 

P.S. I should note to all my local readers: if you need bread crumbs, I'm sharing! :) I have a TON as you can see. Let me know if you want some.

Good Bye Capital One!

Today our last credit card statement came in the mail. We haven't used it since the end of July, but that fell in the middle of their billing cycle. So we'll just pay the balance and be done with that bill coming in the mail! :) Since we use the cash system we don't even carry the credit card anymore. It's nice to know that I won't have to stress about what that total will look like when it comes each month. So, that's it. Good bye, Capital One--we won't miss you! :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sewing Classes

While we were out on our date this week, we were walking around downtown and came cross this great little store called "Fancy Tiger". It's a really cute craft store, so it naturally caught my attention and I needed to browse! :) It turns out the crafts they focus on are sewing and needle crafting (crochet, knitting, cross stitch). I heard a class going on downstairs so I asked them what they offer. I came out with a whole brochure full of awesome classes. Some of them teach the basics of sewing and the fun little extras you can do. They also teach you how to do alterations--what a cool trade to know, super handy! Then, some of the really fun ones include classes where you make your own A-line skirt (cute, cute!), a school house tunic, and a market tote--you pretty much can make your own little hip, personalized and one of a kind outfit! Then they also have some crochet/knitting ones that are great too like making a beanie or beret, a headband, a shawl, sweaters, socks and lace! Don't those sound like a lot of fun? Maybe I'm the only one that thinks it sounds great to learn how to  make my own clothes and clothes for my family. It's another one of those lost skills that few of us in our generation know how to do well any more. My mother in law is a fantastic seamstress and has made great clothes for my kids. My mom also knows how to sew, but hasn't spent as much time on it as my MIL. I know the basics of sewing, from taking home ec in high school. But trust me, I have no confidence what so ever to actually  make myself a skirt and it not look crocked, uneven, twisted and all around just not cute. I'd much rather spend $5 on a skirt on clearance then to risk making that big of a disaster and have to claim it! ;) Although, I'm always up for learning and this seems like a good opportunity. Maybe this will be a fun and useful way to let out my creative side and make things that we'll enjoy wearing! ;) So...if I'm wearing a crocked, messed up skirt next time you see me, you'll know I took the class and failed miserably--please don't laugh! But hopefully I'll be sporting a great outfit that I can proudly exclaim, "I made this!" and be pleased to show it off.

*Background info: Sewing our own clothes was a conversation my husband and I had after hearing about the effects of our dependance on foreign and/or corrupt companies that were mistreating and abusing their labors and employees. The list included sweat shops and other forms of child labor and abuse. It totally breaks my heart to hear these things happen to people and I'd love to make a difference for them, it's hard to know the best way. I've been curious about finding lists of these companies that use these methods and just do every thing we can to ban them and make them hear that we will NOT allow for such cruelty. The flip side of all of this is that those people who are working in awful conditions, need those jobs and that is their livelihood. So if you stop using their supplies, you're also taking away their income, so it needs to be a loud enough movement that shines the light on these corrupt people so brightly that they are appalled at what they have done and ashamed of their behavior enough to make the changes they need to within their company. Anyway, that awful truth is what got us thinking about ways to avoid "needing" to support things we didn't believe in. So, finding these classes may be my opportunity to learn something new and exciting and also make a small difference in standing against this mistreatment of people around the world by choosing fabrics and supplies that are natural and woven by honest companies.

I decided to do a quick search to find these companies that use sweat shops and I'm SOOO disappointed. The list contains stores/brands that I shop frequently and I just don't even know where to start! :( Here is what I found: Sweat shop companies (just to name a few), on the positive side, these are companies that give the sweat shop free guarantee. The downside to this list, I haven't even heard of a single one of them! :( Need to do something about all this. I found this website with a list of "to do"s to help change these awful conditions. I know I'll be writing some serious letters this week, please join me!

The Power of a Phone Call

Never underestimate the power of a good phone call! This past week we made some phone calls and came out ahead! First, we were on a promotional price for our internet and basic cable through Comcast. We had started with just internet, because we just don't want to pay for cable. Well about a year ago they told us we could lower our bill if we had cable, my husband said, well unless it's free you won't be saving me money. They actually lowered our bill by $10 and added cable with our internet. Okay, we thought, that works for us. Well, that "deal" was expiring so we needed to just disconnect the cable since it would be going up by some crazy amount of money. After talking to them about it, our bill was still going to go up just with the internet, so we told them we'd try another company and get back to them. Well, a couple days later we get a call from Comcast offering us another deal! This one was going to have upgraded cable and internet for $29.99/mo for 12 months (which you know by now means, we'll be disconnecting it at the end of that period and getting another "deal"!) and we had been paying $64.99/mo! Cha-ching! I love that "sound" and upgraded cable! :)

The other phone call was an expected discount. We just sold my "old" (still really nice) car in order to get a minivan. Well our plan was to sell my car for its value on Bluebook and buy a van within the same price range to avoid a car payment, since our cars are already paid off. It worked out beautifully, but it took a couple months. We just sold the car last week, so I had to take it off insurance. I couldn't wait! So now we have a large savings on our insurance too. (I'm not sure the exact am't yet because it's going to be pro-rated). Either way, those two phone calls landed us more money in our bank accounts! Score!

Friday, August 13, 2010


Just made a payment of $573.50 on a student loan that's minimum payment is $23.99/mo! Oh yeah, that's gonna make a dent! ;) Only $179 to go and that bill is history! Can I hear a cheer, please?!?! We're celebrating that tonight!

Pay Day!!

I don't think I've ever been so excited to see a pay day roll around! The last two weeks have been hard to live on our budget. It's been extra challenging because we had to account for all the money we had already spent on our credit card before learning about all the awfulness of our money habits. So, we didn't actually have the "normal" amount to spend because we had already OVER spent in several categories making us have to be uber responsible to  make up for our previously made bad choices. Finally, we can start living on a regular budget again. I'm thankful we made it through and I'm proud to say we have $3 left in the grocery budget! :) Whew! Now, today, I have to sit down and figure out how much cash we're going to pull out of the back for the next two weeks, so we'll have the remaining amount in the next pay check to get us through the month. For some of them, I might need the whole amount right away, for others we'll be fine with half until next pay day. I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes. I think it'll get less complicated as we get further into the actual program and start seeing our debt disappear. That'll surely be motivation to keep going. In fact, I think we might be able to pay a big chunk on some after I get our budget figured out! So great!

Happy Friday/Pay Day friends!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Small Changes=Big Difference

If you've been following along, you've heard me talk about how we are on a journey to change the way we live to better our world in a whole lot of ways. One of those ways is to protect and be good stewards of the natural resources God has given us. So when I came across an ad in the Ace Hardware flyer this week, I had to show it to my husband. It was for a Dual Flush Toilet Kit. Hello! Amazing idea! Who know these things existed? Obviously, not me! ;) Well, as I read up on it, it's a device you put into your existing toilet (saving you a bunch of money by not replacing the whole thing) and it flushes two different directions. One direction is a half flush and uses significantly less water and the other is a full flush. The benefits include using about 20-30 gallons less of water per day, lowering water intake, lowering sewer usage, reducing the impact on septic systems, making a positive impact on the environment, and saving money on your water bill. That's a nice list isn't it? So you ask, how much is this handy piece of equipment? The answer $27.14 including taxes! What a steal, right? I'm very excited about this find. It seems like such a small way to make a larger impact not only for ourselves, but for the world! It seems pretty easy to install, so hopefully that's true! ;) I guess it depends on how much of a handyman you're married too! :) I'll have to post about it after we've been using it for a while to give you some updates. We chose to only get one at this time because of our money makeover it'll be easier on our budget if we get the second one at a later date. I'm not expecting it to  make a huge difference for us on our bill right now because we only have 3 people in the house using the toilets regularly, but maybe I'll be surprised.

Along these same lines, some of our other ideas include changing out the shower heads to ones that use less that 2 gallons of water per minute. I saw one today that used 1.5/min and was $25. I'm going to be going to a store that I have $10 off a $25 purchase coupon though! :) Getting a rain barrel to use for watering our lawn, garden and other projects. We'd like to do some landscaping in the backyard that helps with shade, etc but that'll probably have to wait until we have a better handle on our finances. We're going to be signing up for a program through United Power to help the city use less electricity during the summer when ACs are running. A few others too, but I can't remember them all right now! I'm sure you'll be hearing about them as we get those changes made.

For now, here is a picture of our new toilet kit in case any of you are interested in going to get one too.

So there you have it! If you ever stop by for a visit you'll be saving water each time you go to the bathroom! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Garage Sale Tips!

The weekend is on it's way and something I LOVE about summer, is garage sales! I've learned a few tips from being a frequent shopper, so I thought I'd share some of my "secrets" and find out about yours--we can all benefit! :)

Sadly, this summer I haven't made it to many for a whole lot of reasons, but when I come across the jackpot that gives me the fix for the summer--still waiting for that one this year!

Shopper Tips:
*Be willing to bargain.
     -if you have a pile of items that add up to $7, ask if they'll take $5 for the whole thing. They very well could say yes and if not, maybe $6, either way you got a sweet deal even if the answer is no.
     -if a large item is marked higher then you want to pay, ask if they are firm on the price of if they are willing to take $_____ (a reasonable offer).

*If prices seem too high in general, it's probably best to move along, unless they mention they are willing to come down on their prices.
* Carry cash, $1s and change are really important, it also helps to barter your prices too. If you ask them to lower the price to $5 and hand them a $20 it just doesn't look so great and they may not be as willing to work on price negotiating either!
*Watch for community sales--lots more chances to hit the jackpot, with less driving and "hunting" to do.
*Only buy it if you can use it

Seller Tips:
*Be willing to bargain.

     -if they come with a pile of items that add up to $7, and they offer you $5 for the whole thing. I usually say yes, unless it's just not reasonable. Usually, that's $5 more then you will get if you keep it in your yard until the end of the day.  
     -mark larger items a little higher and expect people to bargain with you and give in when you receive a reasonable offer. 
*Be ready early, the serious shoppers are out early and ready for a serious deal. 
*Post very clear, legible and uncluttered signs. Also, post them at all the major intersections people will need to turn at/ go forward through so that people don't get lost and give up. For example my signs usually are on white paper and say in very large black writing "GARAGE SALE" with a large arrow pointing in the direction they need to turn. Very simple, but very easy to follow too. I also make them look as much the same as possible, consistency helps shoppers know they are following the right signs. I've actually had people mention that my signs were very helpful. :) 
*Bulk pricing--lump things into groups/categories for pricing. There is no point in marking very single item, it's much less time consuming and easier to be prepared. Just make a few signs listing your prices throughout your area.
*Sell food, drinks, snacks. People get hungry, kids get thirsty and even if they don't buy any of your junk, you might score with them buying a hot dog and drink for $1.50. You can even offer a breakfast/lunch special to give a little discount if they buy more. Make it super simple. Glazed or frosted doughnuts and coffee, hot dogs, bagged chips or cookies and soft drinks and bottled water. The breakfast combo could be $1 or $0.75 depending on the sizes of items and the lunch could be $1.50 for the combo, separately--drinks $0.50, hot dogs $1, chips $1, doughnuts/cookies $0.50, etc. (Remember to buy cheap/discounted items for this to be worth it. Stock up on the pop when it's about $2/12 pack and hot dogs and buns when they are $1 each package.) 
*Have something to do for the "low" times. Music playing, book to read, TV to watch, games to play. 
*It's best if you have at least two people watching the sale at all times
*If possible, do it during your community/neighborhood sale to bring in a larger crowd.
*We always post on Craigslist because it's free, but you can also post in your local newspaper and it will be added to the Garage Sale map for the area-very cool, but may cost some money. 

What tips do you have? What things have you tried that has been helpful for either the seller or buyer perspectives? I'm always up for a new tip to try! :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

So Proud!

Yesterday at the Fair there was a booth that was educating about recycling. They had a wheel that had pictures on it of various items, when the kids would spin the wheel they had to tell the ladies if that item could be recycled or not. Our oldest spun it and landed on styrofoam cups. When asked if we can recycle them, she knew the answer was NO! :) That made me a proud mommy and hopefully us recycling will teach her about the benefits of it and she'll learn that not all trash goes in the landfill!

Living on a Budget

Sometimes living on a budget stinks! I hate how much I have to analyze every purchase, wondering if that purchase is worth the amount it costs and will take from that month's allowance. Thinking about ways to find it cheaper or avoiding the cost all together. It's just frustrating to have to think SO much about every dollar that goes out of your wallet! The truth is that I already had a tendency to over analyze my purchases and be some what of a "penny pincher", but now it's just that much  more. I don't like it at all, but I do know that the end result will be to not have to think about every dollar because our budget will be more then enough to cover what we need. I can't wait for that day!! :) So, here's my example of some of these moments of sacrifice. The first one happened a few days ago. I ran out of eyeliner and didn't have any money left in the "personal" budget, intended for those types of things, until next Friday! BUT, I did have a bunch of sample eye liners from a pack of Mary Kay stuff I used to have. Yep, you guessed it, I've been using every sample size eye liner I have until next Friday. The good news is that it's actually good that I'm finally using them and I'm really going to appreciate my full sized eye liner when I get it too! ;) The other example happened yesterday. I took the kids to the County Fair. They were having a kid's day, so everything was free, unless you did rides (which we skipped anyway-the kids were are too small) and $5 for parking. Yes, our entertainment budget is also gone until next Friday (this month was a little messed up b/c we started it in the middle of the month so we had to take into account everything that was already on our credit card bill--nearly all of our budget for most things! :( ). Anyway, so $5 parking was not happening. I decided I had to park on the other side of the grounds and walk all the way up to the fair! I know, it was only $5, but this is what happens when you live on a cash budget, when it isn't there, it just isn't there! I did get a nice little workout out of the walk and really it wasn't that far, so I'm proud of myself for not cheating and following through with our plan to do this makeover as best we can.

On the other hand, thinking on a budget has been good for us too. It's made us really think through how we are going to pay for things that are a higher up front cost or something that may exceed our current allowance in that area, so we have to actually have a plan! We can't just say, "oh, we'll take it out of savings" or "we'll just have to cut back some where else." We have to actually decide how we're going to adjust things in order to make it work, because we don't have credit cards to fall back on and we don't have savings to dip into either. Since the program we are doing only allows savings to be used for emergencies, most of the purchases I'm referring to don't really qualify! Here is my example for how we've had to plan better. We have been looking into getting 1/4 of a cow from a farmer for nearly a year now, but just haven't been able to go through with it for several reasons. The benefits are great for getting your meat this way and for our family it could last us from 6mo-1 year, because we don't eat a huge amount of beef and we tend to be "small" eaters compared to others too. Anyway, the hard part is that it's a big upfront cost including the purchase of a larger freezer. We estimate it being about $500 for the meat and about another $100 for the freezer (which we already have an idea about getting that one through a rebate from our electrical company). We still have to find $500 though and our grocery budget is far less then that each month. So, here's the plan: save the money we would put toward meat for the next several months (we already have some in the freezer to get us by for a while) and any extra we have at the end of the month for the cow. As soon as we have saved the $500 we can order our cow. I know it's probably going to take us a while, but I'll be satisfied by the fact that we saved for it and didn't over extend ourselves for the meat. Then throughout the next year while we're using the beef I'll save some aside each month in order to get the cow again when we are done with our first one. Doesn't that sound like a great plan? Thanks to thinking on a budget, we aren't just dipping into savings, we will prepare for it! 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Date Night

While we were dating, my husband and I started a weekly date night. It was one of the ways we made spending time with each other a priority with our busy schedules, between work, school, homework, student teaching, him being an RA, etc...we had a lot to juggle. Anyway, we've been pretty good about continuing that habit for most of our married life too. Although, we've hit seasons where it's been significantly more challenging then others and honestly, there have been times when it's been non-existent. That hasn't stopped us from really trying to work at it though and we've experienced the value of having one-on-one time to talk about our goals, dreams, thoughts, ideas, and us stuff. Not about money, kids,  and work. It's nice to have the time carved out of our schedules that we know is our time to be "us"--the in love us. Like I was saying, some times it's been easier then others. There was a time when we could do real simple and cheap things like candle light dinners, rent a movie, picnics, walks downtown, and watching the stars in our backyard. Now, it's a little trickier to pull those off and they certainly aren't as cheap because now we have to add babysitting costs to almost all of them! Which is hard and I don't like it, but I know the benefits of us having a good relationship is worth that extra cost.

Due to the rising cost of our dates, we've had to do some adjusting and thinking through how to make this work. One of our ideas has been to have a separate checking account that is only for dates. We have put a set amount in there that we are able to spend this year and we use it for our dates and babysitting expenses. It's helpful to not feel like we're taking from the "monthly budget" to go out every week and it frees us up to just enjoy our time together and not be thinking about the cost. We've also used all kinds of coupons for restaurants and outings that we've found at different places. One of them is the Entertainment book that has local coupons in it. Another has been that sells gift certificates to a wide variety of restaurants (it basically works like a coupon b/c there are restrictions and requirements--all the small print kind of stuff).

So, last night was date night! We went out to a fun Thai place called Spicy Basil with really good food and for really reasonable prices. We walked around downtown for a bit afterwards and came across the most fabulous Goodwill! It had incredibly nice things and for really cheap too. So, we enjoyed browsing through the store and come out with two treasures. I found a brand new set of curlers for $5 and he found a vintage/old-style suitcase for all of his merchandise that he sells at shows. The best part was that we had great conversation all night. We really enjoyed being with each other. Cheers to great date nights, even when you're on a budget!

Here's a picture from last night. Doesn't that food look yummy?!?! :) 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cash Budget, Encouragement & Updates

So I was just getting on here to tell you how rough this cash budget is, but then I was totally encouraged by my friend Jessie posting about how she's working on doing things to save her family some money this summer! Totally changed my perspective and gave me a boost of courage to keep on going. I've got to keep focused that getting out of debt is worth all the sacrifices along the way, but boy it's hard some times! It's also really exciting to hear that other people are exploring ways they can make small changes too. Thanks Jessie!

Through some of the comments on here I've had some more thoughts to ponder and a few things to update everyone on, so I'll do some of that today.

I started using the dishwasher soap the other day and so far it's worked well. There have been a few things that haven't come of, specifically on the top shelf that may have been slightly covered by other things. I don't think it's any worse then the store bought soaps I've used though. I actually think they have less residue-like look to them now, so I'm happy about that. Also, I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but it helps if you put vinegar in the rinse section. I haven't tried that yet because I still have stuff in there, but once it's time to refill I'm going to try the vinegar idea and see how it goes.

Another comment, actually again by Jessie, got me thinking about how when we do SOMEthing we are inevitably not doing SOMEthing. It's a trade off. She didn't pose this as a question, but it made me think of it as question, "is what I'm doing worth what I'm losing?" If you think about that in terms of life in general it can add all kinds of depth to your life and choices. I like it! Here were some of my initial questions to ponder and hopefully I'll make this a daily habit to evaluate what I'm doing.
-Is cleaning the house right now worth not spending this time with my daughter coloring?
-Is watching this show worth the amount of sleep I'm missing?
-Is taking a nap worth not getting the dishes put away? (TOTALLY! Dishes can wait!! ;))
-Is surfing the internet worth missing the opportunity to read a book to my son?
It totally changes everything doesn't it? It makes you really put your priorities in perspective and makes you act differently and make decisions that will better your life and your families. This is TOUGH and super convicting. I know I took it a really deep direction, but that's where it resonated with me. I'm also thinking, that questioning the value of the activities in my day will in a way "simplify" my perspective. When it come down to it, my kids, my husband, my relationships trump stuff, housework, projects, internet, TV, to do lists any day--but do I live that way? Do I live a life that says to my kids, "you are more valuable then what I have to do today."? The bonus here is that if I do make it a habit to place value (or lack of value) on tasks that I'm doing, I think my life will be more simple!
-Less complicated
-Less full
-Less busy
-Less stressed
-Less flustered by things I didn't get to
-Less pressured
-More rested
-More peaceful
-More enjoyable
-More meaningful
-More memorable
-More significant
-More considerate
-More patient
-More relaxed
-More calm

Doesn't that sound wonderful? I could go for that. Thanks again Jessie for the challenge to think about the cost of what I'm losing!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rebates, Coupons and Freebies!

We've been looking into ways to make some "green" changes in our house. Our house is a fairly new home, so it's already got a lot of energy efficient products in it, but there's always some room to make changes. I've come across a few small changes that can make a difference that we're hoping to put in soon. Some of the list includes:
*New water-saving shower heads
*Dual flush conversion kit on the toilets
*Signing up for an energy saving program with United Power to help with the AC usage locally through the summer months.
*Recycling an old refrigerator and trading it out for a freezer

Well, while looking into some of these ideas, my friend Laura suggested I call the local companies to see if they run specials with any of these things. I did and found out that there are all kind of deals to be had. There are rebates for recycling different products, really cheap or free light bulbs, coupons and discounts on water efficient products and deals that help you save on your bill if you sign up for certain programs too!

I'm excited to make some changes that will make a larger difference for the future of our world too! Do you have any ideas of small changes that can be made in a home to be a little "greener"?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time is Money

"Time is money."--I've been thinking about this statement a lot in the last couple days. Analyzing it and thinking it over and coming to some of my own conclusions about this simple, but profound and full of meaning statement. So, here I'll share with you a few of the thoughts I've been pondering.

Typically this is a statement meant to be used as a reason for not spending a lot of time to do something, even something that may save money, because as the sentence implies, time is as or more valuable then money. Which I don't disagree with necessarily. I've used it within that context before too. There are times when running an extra errand or spending too much time doing something that only has potential to save a few dollars, may not be the best use of times in those situations. Yet, I kind of feel that it's become part of our culture's way of justifying foolish spending, in the name of convenience. In that case, I disagree completely! here's where I've been taking this a different direction....what if we think about it from the perspective that spending some time "working" will equal money, whether it be through savings or an actual dollar(s) in your pocket. Okay, follow me for a few minutes...

Being a stay at home mom I obviously don't make a pay check, but I don't think that means I shouldn't have a responsibility to contribute to the family's financial situation. So for me it looks different then for working moms or working women. Since I don't make an "income", but I still want to make a difference in our budget, I work through savings. I'm not going to a job all day, which "frees up" some time (not that I'm sitting around doing nothing, but my schedule has some flexibility) for me in the day, and if I can use some of that time to do things that will save us money, I consider that a dollar I've earned. I guess the bottom line is that if I can spend some time doing something at home that will help us be better stewards of the income my husband brings home, I'm contributing by stretching his paycheck by not over-spending. 

So, a few easy examples of things I've done that have taken time (more so then the more "convenient" route), but have saved us a significant amount of money are: 
*Homemade baby food
*Getting children's items/clothes or household items at Garage Sales or Craigslist
*Making the soaps I posted about on here
*Clipped or printed coupons
*Taken time to look at unit prices and done price & product comparisons while shopping for household items or groceries
*Gardening and Canning
*Done research for free or inexpensive outings for our family
*Waited for things to go on clearance
*Gone to multiple locations to get the best price on items we needed (this is one of those situations where sometimes it isn't worth the running around, but it they are close enough to each other and the values are great, then it can be worth it)
*Mended, created, fixed or "face-lifted" items in order to not spend the money replacing them.
*Had garage sales and sold things on craigslist

So, time really IS money! Money in my pocket, money I've earned and contributed by not spending it foolishly. Money I'm able to use toward things that will better my family's financial situation. A little extra time spent can equal a WHOLE LOT of money, especially over time! :) What ideas do you have? How have you spent some time in order to save money? I love hearing your ideas too!

By the way, the garage sale update--the total was just about $150. It doesn't sound like a lot, but considering we didn't really have a ton of great items for sale, it's people paying us to get rid of stuff we don't want! :) So, in that case, it's a good chunk of cash AND it's 6 times our minimum payment on our smallest loan, which means we're that much closer to paying that one off. Exciting isn't it? 

AND...that doesn't include the nearly $200 worth of items listed on Craigslist and another $300-$400 worth of items were going to be listing on Ebay and/or Craiglist. Not only are we paying of debt we're freeing up a whole lot of space in our garage!! Woohoo!!

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