A Year of Savings: 2013

Mar 22:  My kids are coming in for the weekend.  I made a few things ahead for meals so that I could spend more time with them and less time cooking.  I could have bought take out or even frozen entrees but homemade is just so much better.  Two meals prepared ahead of time netted me a savings of at least $20.

Mar 23:  The little wagon full of alphabet blocks wasn't expensive at Ross for Less.  I paid just $10 for it, compared to the $21 we spent for a similar item at Toys R Us a few years ago for another grandchild.  The kids loved it just as I thought they would.  Savings $11.  What they also enjoyed: empty plastic buckets (which became hats, were filled with toys), canning jar rings (bracelets), an empty oatmeal box (used as a drum and as a container to drop things into).  Toys are fun, but honestly, no money is required when you have children.  Imagination is a great thing.

Mar 24: No expenses associated with this day.  We didn't buy the Sunday paper, didn't go into town, didn't use a lot of energy cooking (used microwave to reheat leftovers).  I'm sure there were savings but I'll limit it to the cost of the paper and the gasoline saved.  Saved: $2.25.

Weekly Menu Plan And An April Challenge

Officially, April marks the start of a new quarter.  Unofficially, I spent last month rehauling our budget after we discovered the tax increase took our raise.  Back to square one...And that led to the great revelation this weekend as I surveyed the dismal outlook on my goals list.  I had done very little towards my goals both in the house and in my life.  Ouch.  Fail. Fail. Struggling with the budget made me feel pretty much that I'd lost the battle on three fronts.

So this month, I'm going back to basics.  Basic home keeping routines, basic goals and basic budget.  Back 2 Basics is my challenge for this month and in the spirit of basics, I thought I'd return to basic grocery shopping as well.  What better place than to shop pretty much exclusively at Aldi for our groceries?  I will buy beef at the meat market (usually enough for 2-3 months when I go).  I will allow myself the occasional shop at the local market, the drug and dollar store, but we'll just make do with what Aldi has to offer.  After one full month of nothing but Aldi we'll pretty much know for sure which products we really don't like and which we would rather buy elsewhere.  I admit after shopping there for more or less a year, there are few items I don't like, but there are some we just can't seem to find on the shelves. We'll just have to live without them or find them in one of the three other stores.

So that is my challenge to myself this month.  I didn't save as much as I'd have liked during my pantry freezer challenge but I saved a bit and I do have new stock in my pantry and poultry in the freezer so there is that bonus.

Shabbat Thoughts

This week, as we entered a week deemed Holy by both Jews and Christians, I prepared my home for Passover and The Feast of Unleavened Bread.  I thought a lot as I cleared yeast from my home. 

It was just about this time last year when we decided to step away from our synagogue for a time and go on sabbatical.  I've shared briefly about that time with you all. At the end of what turned out to be 70 days of time spent in deep prayer, study and continual seeking,  we were asked to step away permanently.  We were hurt and shocked and angry at the time.   We didn't see how on earth something that could be so hurtful could be an answer to earnest and heartfelt prayer.  Hurt, after praying as deeply as we'd done, is always a time of testing.  We had to grow up fast, beyond our hurt and repeat several times daily : "I don't understand, but I will trust You."  And it meant we had to stop being emotional and look rationally at what had taken place and why.

In the end, this time has proven to be an enormous blessing.  Yes, really.  Despite the hurt, despite the losses we gained so much more.  We've had a marvelous year in so many ways, both spiritually and personally speaking.

Meal Plan: Pantry Freezer Challenge Week IV

Wow what a Week End!  Grandbabies and their parents arrived Friday afternoon.  Dear DIL made dinner.  I don't know how she does it, drive 5 hours to our house and then make dinner, but then again she'd been in close confines with the kiddos for 5 hours so maybe that was a huge break for her!  She spoils us a bit, always has a new item or recipe she wants to try.  Friday evening was a fancied up meal of Artisan tomato soup and Panini style Grilled Cheese that was grown-up sandwiches: Havarti and Gouda on three cheese Italian bread.  Campbell's tomato soup suddenly seems so...I don't even have words.  Let's just say that I'd much much rather have the Artisan soup, but I'll probably have another can or two of Campbells soup before I give it up and admit that I've been turned into the worse tomato soup snob ever born. 

It was a rollicking weekend.  It was stormy outside with rain and thunder and lightning and inside it was just as noisy and loud.  Sleepy babies, babies thwarted in their intent to do exactly what they know they oughtn't, parents and grandparents shouting a warning to the nearest adult to prevent the disaster just milliseconds away, and a wee older brother who has just discovered the lack of freedom when twins become mobile enough to follow  you every single place you go.  Yes.  It was awesome.

I made a bunny cake.  I haven't made one in years upon years and no there will be no pictures forthcoming.  It was the oddest looking thing and I didn't think ahead before I got it made.  I used a recipe I'd found late last year and wanted to make for my own birthday cake back in February.  For one reason and another I didn't get to make it then.

A Year of Savings: 2013

Mar 15:  Received in today's mail: 1 Worship Cd.  It was an unexpected courtesy gift for a gift we made.  We never expected that!  The Cd is top rate and we enjoyed it greatly.  Savings $15, the retail value of the item.

Clipped coupons from the ALL YOU magazine issue I'd finished reading.  I clipped enough usable coupons today to pay for the subscription...if I'd paid for it myself!  As it is, I got my subscription using Coke Reward points.  Savings $22.

I love to do Sudoku puzzles.  I have several books on hand here at home.  Lately I've been systematically working the puzzles. I began at the beginning and worked them in order of difficulty.  I confess that the HARD puzzles are still a bit beyond my thinking skills at this point but using the whole book instead of just those puzzles I think might be my skill level or a challenge means I'm getting full enjoyment from the books.  I have about six books on hand averaging $5 each.  Fully enjoying them nets me a savings of $30, because it's not savings if you're not taking advantage of what you have, is it?

Mar 16:  Lovely easy day at home.  I was so totally relaxed all day long.  Dinner was pizza: HOMEMADE.  And we had enough leftovers that I put some in the freezer for a future meal and some in the fridge for a grab and go supper meal.  Savings $10 over the cost of takeout.

Random Thoughts, I Wonder...

Spring is here...Not a sign of it anywhere over the weekend except for the slight growth of the grass in one spot of the lawn, a circular shape.  John and I noticed it earlier last week.  I pointed it out as we went down the driveway.  John nodded and said he'd noticed it before.  We joked about crop circles and alien spacecraft landing pads.  And then one morning this weekend, I called out to him to come look.  I'd been watching the sun rise that morning and moved away from the window for a few minutes and when I came back there it was.  A perfect round circle of sunlight that shone between the trees on the hill like a spotlight on that one spot.  Mystery solved?  Maybe.  Certainly it's no less curious than that sun shaped circle on my lawn.

I did notice that finally a bit of show started just yesterday.  An old oak tree on each side of the original property lines displayed a flush of faint greenery.  They knew it was time to do that.  Which made me think of seasons in general.  Last year by this time every single blooming thing was done, finished and over.  The leaves were out and it was hot as mid summer.

Weekly Menu Plan - Pantry Freezer Challenge Week III

I've decided that I'll probably sail through next week without a care as my pantry/freezer are holding up very well to this challenge.  Even the meat that I had on hand has gone further than I thought it might.  I think this is wonderful and am really pleased.  I was fortunate last week that Mama shared some fresh produce items with me.  This meant I could extend our produce items by choosing the ones less likely to keep well and those that would keep longer.  No need to use up all of the broccoli right away, since it will keep well for another week.  Apples will keep, but the grapes won't, so we've had grapes this weekend and will have apples for the beginning of this week.

Baked Ruebens, Creamy Potato Soup
I put the rye bread in the freezer when we got home from the grocery almost two weeks ago.  I couldn't get another corned beef as the store was out and I thought this menu would do nicely for a St. Patrick Day meal. We should have leftover corned beef and bread so there will corned beef sandwiches for supper one night later this week.  

Chicken Fried Rice, Egg Rolls, Tangelo
I put so many vegetables in the fried rice (mushrooms, onion, celery, carrot, peas, broccoli stems) that I feel with the egg roll we're safely getting two servings of vegetables each and possibly more.    This will be the last meal from our whole roasted chicken.  I'll put the carcass in the freezer to make broth with in the very near future. 

A Year of Savings: 2013

March 8 (cont'd):  John washed a mixed load of clothes today.  That consisted of colors, whites, towels, etc.  We seldom separate our clothes preferring instead to wash a full load two or three times per week.  John hung clothes to dry today, forgoing the use of the dryer.  When he came indoors later with the towels he did something I've done many times myself: he held them to his nose and inhaled deeply, "GOOD!"  That's one thing the dryer is not going to give us, that lovely line dried aroma of clean laundry.  Fresh air and sunshine are FREE and no artificial perfume will ever duplicate that aroma try though candle and freshener manufacturers do.

Peaches to Beaches yard sale  stretches for about 250 miles from the start of the peach growing district to the coastline of Georgia.  I've attended this yard sale regularly for the past few years but this year I'm skipping it, as much as I've enjoyed it in the past (and the weather is lovely today!).  In years past I've spent about $40, my personal limit for the yard sale. I have that amount in my purse at present, but I'm saving $40 and the gasoline usage.  I don't have room for more 'stuff' at present and I need other things I never find at yardsales or thrift stores.  In the meantime, I figured I'd hold onto my money for a bit.

Made sloppy joes from scratch today.  I made up my own sauce.  A can of sloppy joe sauce costs $3 these days.  I saved $2.50 making my own sauce.

Made my own BBQ sauce, too.  Savings $2.59 the cost of one bottle of sauce.

Weekly Menu - Pantry Freezer Week II

The week has gone along swimmingly.  As long as we don't discuss my mood.  Oy.  Other than myself, things have gone very well.  I didn't save as much money this grocery shop as I'd thought I might, but I did save some. Now the holes in my pantry are filled, save a few spices I am out of, but I want to go to a slightly out of the way store to pick those up.

Which reminds me...I was asked how much we spend.  I have a budget of $400 per month which includes any paper, personal care, household (cleaners, minor equipment), pet products we require, as well as planning to stock up on items on sale that we'd normally use.  It also includes a small cushion of about $10 for impulse items.  I sometimes use that for further stocking up, sometimes for flowers or herbs or plants or a magazine though I confess even this is rare these days.  I'd say on average we spend about $170 on actual food items each pay period.  In our area we get plentiful fresh seasonal produce, dairy items are mid-priced.  It's the canned/frozen/meat products that we pay a slightly higher cost for.   Mind you this is the same amount I've had to spend for the past 8 years or so.  We just get a lot less for our money than we did 8 years ago, hence even though we now feed 2 instead of 4, we spend about the same.   Our snack items generally are nuts, crackers (saltines and grahams for the most part), 1 bag of chips per pay period and soda.  My husband has given up a great deal over the years along the lines of snackfoods.  He's cut down on sodas so that he drinks only one a day and I drink a soda about every third day.  Overall we eat better than we ever did 8 years ago.  We buy better quality meats and foods and waste less money.

A Year of Savings: 2013

A new month and a new opportunity to save.  I'm ready for this!

Mar 1:  I started the pantry inventory yesterday and today, I decided I needed to use some of the surprise ingredients I found: frozen chili, a can of pineapple (one of several that will expire come May), a box of just expired macaroni.  Determination to salvage was strong after tossing those two long expired items the last day of February.

So I made up TWO entrees from the box of macaroni, with a bonus single serve entree.  Chili Mac for dinner today, along with Pineapple Upside Down Cake with a single serve casserole of chili mac for the freezer was the first meal.  Entree Two: a freezer main dish of Macaroni and Cheese with a lovely homemade cheese sauce.  A frozen entree of mac and cheese at the grocery goes for $9.  I know because I have bought them on occasion, gasp...  I used 1/2 and 1/2 that had just reached the expiration date to make my cheese sauce, saving half a bottle from spoiling  which increased my savings in making this dish.  Savings: $11 (not tossing the macaroni or the half and half and NOT buying frozen mac and cheese).

Made up my favorite little cake recipe and poured over drained crushed pineapple, brown sugar and melted butter.  Yummy!  I thought of a dozen ways to use those five remaining cans of crushed pineapple.  Now I just have to choose which ones I will make.  In the meantime I saved $.50 making a conscious effort to use the pineapple.

Here's a bigger savings:  $32...  How so?  I noticed an ant on the counter top where I do baking early this morning.  I killed him and then found two more.  Then I noticed what looked like three or four 'bodies' lying about.  We've had a little spider that came in on the houseplants who has made it her personal business to kill ants this year.  Honestly she's the best pest control I've ever had!  She seems to track down all those little scouts and has no mercy whatsoever.  Natural pest control at it's best, lol.

However, she was unable to keep up with this infiltration.  And they discovered the baking cupboard where boxes of dried fruit, and more importantly two tubs of Ghiradelli melting chocolates were stored.  Hence the 'bigger savings'.  I discovered that the bottom of the dark chocolate tub was cracked just before the ants got into that container.  The cupboard was emptied, the chocolates and fruit repackaged...and disastrous loss was avoided.  Thankfully because...

Coffee Chat - Oh March!

Well Hello!  Come on in and forgive the lack of sweets in the house.  I thought I had a roll of chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer but I didn't and I've not bothered to take time to make anything at all.  I meant to, but I've been busy all day long.  One of those terribly frustrating sorts of busy too, because aside from a clean kitchen and a grocery list...well there's not a lot to show for all that busyness!  However, there's coffee, as always.  There's things to chat over, too, so come sit a while.

March rolled in on Friday with the coldest weather we've had to date.  You hear the heater is running now.  Well we kept the little propane heater going all day long Saturday and Sunday and the electric heat would still come on regularly.  It never crept much over 38F which I realize isn't real cold as far as some more Northern folks are concerned but it was such a damp, sink into your bones sort of cold that it felt even colder here.  That's one odd thing about living in the South.  Cold is colder and heat is hotter.  We're just an '-er' sort of climate here.  It's rainier when it rains and it's drier when we're having drought.

John slept hard those two really cold days and I didn't do much but bundle up and keep my cold feet pointed toward the fire trying to keep them warm.  But oh the lovely meals that come with really cold weather.  A proper Shabat dinner on Saturday and then Chicken and Dumplings on Sunday.  Such cozy cold weather foods.  I did chuckle Sunday morning when John came in.  The world outside the window was frosty white and he stamped across the porch, the way cold makes you want to stomp, trying to keep feet and legs warm.  But when he came in he informed me that the weather man said....Well you know how I feel about weather men...But the weather man said the cold was over.  I laughed out loud.  I realize that last year by mid-March we had headed into summer weather. And I realize that until February we'd had a very very mild weather.  But I'm no fool where March is concerned.  Weathermen just cannot predict March weather and that is all there is to it.

Q & A II

Karla wrote:  Everything sounds delicious! Your menu plans are always very inspiring and mouth-watering. I do have a question - do you have any tried and true resources for knowing what will freeze well and how you rewarm it all back up to taste good? Or is it just from experience and know-how? on Weekly Menu Plan - Pantry/Freezer version

Jillee compiled this list of things that you can freeze.  I thought it rather interesting. 

University of Georgia offers this guideline for freezing basic foods.

But I think what you're asking me, Karla, is how do I freeze things like mac n cheese and some of the other entrees that I will make ahead.  It's really been a matter of trial and error and reading suggestions on blogs.


 Not to criticize your meals, because they do sound delicious... but I am not sure how adding a rice dessert to a meal with baked beans makes a "complete protein"? There's a lot of carbohydrates and sugar in that meal, but I don't think the "complete protein" theory applies here... although, the meal sounds amazing and I would eat it in a second, protein or not! :)  Anonymous

Good question! I'd love to address you personally but since you didn't leave your name and chose to remain anonymous that's impossible.  However you know who you are...

My posted menu:  Baked Beans, Coleslaw, Corn Muffins,  Orange Wedges, Rice Pudding

I looked this up to be sure of straight facts, because I've always 'known' it and can't remember where I learned it.   I believe my knowledge came from reading a magazine article back in the early 80s when the U.S. was in another recession.  Or it might even have come from an older cookbook or WWII era magazine when meats were rationed.  Nevertheless  rice, beans, and/or corn do indeed form a complete protein when combined in a meal.  You can click on those words to lead you to a link that confirms.

Weekly Menu Plan - Pantry/Freezer version

I'm a little late this week.  One of my March goals was to be cyber free during Monday DAYS...but I just didn't have time to do all I wanted to do online last night.  I'll plan better next week.  For now, here's the menus, some meals already eaten and some to be prepared still.

I haven't finished my inventory of foods quite yet, but what an eye opener!  The little freezer in the closet?  I found a whole chicken and a pint of homemade chili in there I didn't even realize I had.  I won't tell you how many packets of chocolate chips I have either, but it's enough to last me a little while, lol.  That's the good part of inventorying your foods.  The bad: finding that foods have expired, sigh.  And discovering that the little freezer is roughly half full of fruit that I have been storing for far far too long in the hopes of making jelly or jam.  Apparently it's not going to happen and if it does, I'll definitely want fresher fruit than the freezer burned ice encased bits I found.

The third advantage: I've caught a few foods that are nearing expiration or which I've a quantity greater than usual that will expire in a few months.  Like 6 cans of pineapple.  Hello?  Guess whose eating pineapple at least every other week for the next couple of months?

Well here's to planning meals with what you have.

A Year of Savings: 2013

Feb. 25:  We spent the day watching it rain...and doing very little else.  I read that Sunday paper that we bought the day before, made dinner and watched it rain.  There doesn't seem to be any savings in a day like this but there was.  We RESTED.  Rest is very underrated.  It boosts the immune system, it relieves stress, and it allows the body to go into deep sleep at night.  I could buy vitamins and supplements and energy drinks and take them day and night but nothing restores energy like rest.

Feb. 26:  I doubled up today and planned two meals from one.  I had a corned beef in the freezer that I put in the crockpot and then I doubled the amount of potatoes.  That's one corned beef dinner and one meal later in the week of Reubens and Potato Soup for the weekend ahead.  I'm willing to wager that we get two meals off the second meal.  The corned beef dinner cost us about $10 which some non-frugal sorts might think is pretty good, since it's still less than take-out for two, but getting three meals  means we're down to $3 per meal.  That suits my frugal self very well.  Savings of two future meals: $16

I wanted a simple dessert.  John and I discovered our apples were no longer crisp but leaning toward the soft/mushy side.  I know he won't touch them when they get to that stage of ripeness, so I cut one of the apples in half and cored it.  Filled the center with a pat of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar and then used wonton wrappers from the fridge (using what I had) to wrap the apples.  I put in a dish and poured a 1/2 cup of apple cider around the 'dumplings' and baked them in the oven.  They were soooo good and the whole amount of sugar and fat was minimal.  I'd priced apple dumplings in the freezer section a few weeks ago and decided not to purchase.  My homemade version used what I had on hand and made good on an item that might well have ended up being wasted.  I think my version might have cost $1 to make.  Compare that to $4 for two.  Savings: $3

After last month's electric bill hike I was determined it would go no higher.We used the dryer a little less, used the propane heat a little more, cut off any unnecessary lights no matter how dull and gray it was outdoors.  All to the good.  The last bill decreased, a savings of $25.

Feb. 27:  Mama and I skipped the usual shopping part of our day out, but I can't say I saved money today either.  It was my turn to buy lunch.

Feb. 28:  I started planning for the new month today and began work on the inventory of the pantry and freezer.  I 'found' a whole chicken I didn't know I had, plus a pint of homemade chili and a big container of chicken broth with vegetables and meat bits suitable for a future chicken dumpling day.  That was the good side of the day.  The bad: I had some expired items. Namely one bottle off cheap syrup and 1 can of baked beans.  They weren't recently expired items either, like the box of macaroni that we will use tomorrow to make chili mac.  Losses today: -$2.25

I organized things while I was in the back pantry and put them in order of need to use.  I thought about it all afternoon long and decided what I need is a package of bright colored round labels.  I can put a label on each item that needs to be used FIRST. 

I made a good dinner today of leftover fried chicken, hashbrown casserole and peas.  Cooked the peas in the oven, letting them steam alongside the chicken and casserole.    

We didn't need all the casserole recipe for one meal, so I put up three smaller casseroles for future meals.  I like having these sorts of things in the freezer for future use.  You can buy these little side dishes in catering and cafeteria type restaurants already frozen but gracious goodness it cost next to nothing to make it here at home.

Decided to rework the budget based on a no overtime/no holiday pay/increase in taxes took all of our raise basis.  It's a tight budget, what is known as a Zero balance budget, meaning every single penny is accounted for, but it's do-able.  I'll have to toe the line with my grocery budget that's for sure. 

When we were at the hotel this past weekend, they put out single serve pod packs of coffee for our use.  As we left Sunday morning, I picked up the decaf packs (just two) and put in my food bag.  I thought they might come in handy and so they did.   John wanted a cup of coffee late in the afternoon, after I'd emptied the big carafe.  I used one of those courtesy pod packs to make him a cup of coffee.  Savings: $.25

Savings: $42.00

Total February 2013: $ 1,580.85

In My Home This Week: All Routine