Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monthly Meal Planner - March

Over the weekend I posted our monthly meal plan on the side of our refrigerator giving our family a glimpse into their culinary future.  I thought I would go ahead and share it with you as a source of inspiration, if nothing else.  I enjoy checking out other’s meal plans to give me ideas too. 

As you can tell I rely heavily on the use of leftovers and I do this for two reasons.  The first, and most important, is to stretch our grocery budget and eliminate as much food waste as possible.  The second is to save time and keep me from having to cook a new meal every single day. 

Here is a list of what we will be enjoying next month: 

·         Sausage Pesto Pizza
·         Beef Lo Mein
·         Lasagna
·         Pork Verde
·         Chili Dogs
·         Grilled Tuna Sandwiches
·         Split Pea Soup (I didn’t make this last month)
·         Pot Roast & Vegetables (I didn’t make this last month either)
·         Tuna Casserole
·         Beef Enchiladas
·         Pepperoni Pizza
·         Corned Beef & Cabbage (St. Patricks Day)
·         Black Bean Soup
·         Reuben Sandwiches
·         Teriyaki Chicken
·         Cheese Omelet
·         Nachos
·         Baked Ravioli
·         Pork Chops & Rice Pilaf
·         Poached Eggs on Toast (we really enjoy breakfast for supper)
·         Coconut Curry Thai Soup
·         Chicken Quesadillas
·         Creamy Chicken & Noodles 

I’ll be posting some of the recipes later on.  It all sounds pretty good to me.  What are you having?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Grocery Shopping This Month

I posted earlier this month that I strayed from the norm and made this another “pantry month”.  I purchased mostly items we needed and some stock up items on sale.  So far our total spent on food this month has come in at $81.99. 

So where did I spend my money this month?  A lot of milk, fresh fruits and veggies and because I had fewer obligations I think I bought more of these than usual.  There were some really good produce sales this month too.  So this is what I bought so far. 

NY Steak

Bacon (3)


Eggs - 1 doz. (3)
Milk - skim

Milk - 2%



Tater tots

Ice Cream

Tortilla chips
Chicken breasts
Sour cream (2)
Taco spice

Milk - 2%


Tortillas -ww


Non stick spray
Lettuce (2)

Cabbage mix
Tomatoes (3)
Milk - 2% (2)

The items in blue are markdown items I purchased for stocking up.  I think we are pretty well set for the remainder of the month.  I may need one more gallon of milk but other than that I can’t think of anything.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Debt Repayment - Mortgages

Nothing feels better than paying off debt.  It is a huge load off of our shoulders and our minds.  Debt is one of those things that nags at us, often subconsciously, throughout our daily lives.  It plagues most of us and causes a lot of strife within our relationships. 

We all acquire debt for many different reasons.  Medical expenses are the most common.  Then there is consumer debt – auto loans, credit cards, payment plans, etc.  Mortgages and student loans are big ones too. 

I like mortgages.  That kind of debt is OK in my book because it is a huge investment in your future.  For most of us it is the largest single debt item we will carry but I think it is well worth it.  We all have to live somewhere and what could be better than your own home.  The key is to purchase only as much home as you need and can well afford.  I don’t want to become a slave to my home or my monthly payment.  I have other things to do. 

I don’t like second mortgages or homeowner equity lines of credit (HELOC).  Unfortunately these types of loan arrangements can be difficult to re-pay and most have adjustable interest rates which cause payments to fluctuate.  Many homeowners have found themselves unable to afford to meet these payments when interest rates soared. 

If you have a second mortgage or a HELOC get rid of it.  Refinancing your home may be a good option, especially with the current interest rates so low.  Make sure when you refinance, however, that you are doing so with a fixed interest rate and not an adjustable rate.  Finance for the shortest duration possible or plan for early payoff. 

When I bought my house I personally took out a 30 year fixed rate mortgage, just in case.  I wanted the option of a low house payment in case I was ever laid off from work or had to take a lower paying job.  This actually did happen to me once and I was off work for ten months.  I was grateful to be able to make my monthly house payment while on unemployment without worry.

If you decided to take out a 30 year mortgage plan to add to your monthly payment to reduce the overall length of your mortgage and pay it off sooner.  You will save yourself thousands of dollars in interest.  A simple way to pay off your mortgage early and really impact your savings is by using the power of compounding interest in your favor.  A simple math equation will get you started: 

Take your house payment, divide it by 12 and add that amount to your monthly payment.  For example let’s assume your monthly mortgage payment is $800. 

$800 ÷ 12 = $66.67 + $800 = $867 new monthly payment.

Round up to $870 for even greater impact to savings.  Round up again to $900 and you will be amazed at how that will play out on an amortization calculator.

You can increase your savings and shorten your mortgage even more by adding “balloon” payments periodically throughout the year.  Say every quarter you pay an additional $500 toward your principal or you put all of your tax refund toward it every year. 

Make sure that when you pay your payment that you specify all the extra dollars are paid on your principal.  If you pay your mortgage online there is a place set up to do this.  If you pay by check you will want to specify this request on your payment coupon. 

If you are unable to refinance to get rid of your second mortgage or HELOC then you need to work on it first and pay it off.  The same principals above will help you to accomplish this as well.  Sometimes these loans just need to be paid down so that you can then refinance.  Depending on your situation sometimes it is in your best interest, no pun intended, to just pay off the loans you have and move on. 

Weigh and measure all your options.  Whichever the case may be, it is always a good idea to pay it off sooner than later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February – 28 Things To Do This Month - UPDATE

I don’t mind telling you I am failing miserably on my TO DO list this month.  I started off the month fine and then succumbed to a four day migraine.  I was just beginning to feel better from that when I caught a tremendous head cold.  That, compounded by work and family obligations, has really messed up my planned productivity.  I still have a little more than a week to salvage what I can.
Every day this month I am going to pick one thing from the list to do and then mark it off.  Some I can do quickly and some I will need to schedule time for.
1.                   Wash all the interior doors, doorjambs, and doorknobs upstairs
2.                  Complete one task on the HOUSE TO DO LIST
3.                  Super dust my bedroom and bop the cobwebs
4.                  Clean the ceiling fan in my bedroom
5.                  Spend a day investment cooking – see plan
6.                  Make a gift
7.                  Bake cookies with my girls, share with the neighbor
8.                  Make Valentines with the girls to give to their classmates & teachers
9.                  Send a Valentine to my aunt and my grandpa
10.               Create my March meal plan
11.                Clean and re-organize the bathroom cabinet upstairs
12.               Clean and re-organize the kitchen utensil drawer
13.               Purge my closet and drawers – collect items to donate
14.               Bake zucchini bread, take some to work
15.               Try a new recipe
16.               Vacuum the inside of the car, wash inside of windshield (it’s been raining)
17.               Clean the drawer under the stove
18.               Wash the inside of the upstairs windows (half are done)
19.               Super scrub the downstairs bathroom
20.              Super clean the laundry room
21.               Sew something
22.              Make new Thank You cards
23.              Bake two loaves of bread
24.              Super dust the entertainment center
25.              Re-organize CDs & DVDs
26.              Super scrub the litter box
27.              Take in the glass recycling
28.              Make new Christmas card list

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Debt Repayment – Student Loans

Nothing feels better than paying off debt.  It is a huge load off of our shoulders and our minds.  Debt is one of those things that nags at us, often subconsciously, throughout our daily lives.  It plagues most of us and causes a lot of strife within our relationships. 

We all acquire debt for many different reasons.  Medical expenses are the most common.  Then there is consumer debt – auto loans, credit cards, payment plans, etc.  Mortgages and student loans are big ones too. 

Student loans are a great investment in your future but they have to go.  You could spend the better part of your career paying those off if you only make the minimum payment every month. 

If you already have student loans then map out a repayment plan that fits in your budget and work your way to getting them paid off.  Even though the interest seems low and the payment as well it will look much better on your credit report if that debt is resolved rather than lingering overhead. 

If you are planning to acquire student loans remember they have to be paid back and the first payment is due six months after you leave school.  Don’t take on too many loans and watch those interest rates.  Make sure you receive those loans from reputable companies with fixed interest rates and payment schedules. 

Remember too that you may not be paying back on one lump sum but multiple loans with multiple payments due at once.  You could easily find yourself in serious trouble by owing several payments equal to a larger amount than you anticipated. 

My best advice is to use student loans as a last resort and in moderation.  Sticking with the same company will help you to work with one creditor and make suitable pay back arrangements that will work for both of you.  And always, read your paperwork thoroughly before you sign it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pizza Night

We made a great pizza for supper on Saturday Night and most of it was from leftovers but you never would have known it.  I think the final cost came in at about $1.50 in new ingredients. 

I started out by making a fresh batch of pizza dough, divided it in half and put one dough ball up for later and used one for our pizza.  The sauce was a ½ cup of spaghetti sauce and I used ¾ cup of sausage both siphoned off before making our spaghetti last week.  I love this budget stretcher. 

We also topped it with half a package of pepperoni (50¢) and one cup of grated mozzarella (75¢).  Then we finished it off with chopped onions & peppers and sliced olives leftover from Super Bowl nachos as well as four leftover mushrooms from our salad supplies. 

The girls and I worked together to prepare it which made for a fun time spent in the kitchen.  

It was a delicious meal and certainly healthier and much more affordable than delivery or frozen pizza.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Grocery Shopping – Changing Up The Game Plan!

Despite devoting the last week of November and the entire month of December to a pantry month, amazingly I find myself doing so again this month. 

Last month I did my usual grocery shopping plan and stuck to my meal planner with gusto.  I loved making all those fresh new meals and enjoying the leftovers but I’m afraid I was a little too devoted to my menu planner. 

In retrospect I needed to be a little more flexible because we ended up with a lot of food waste last month.  More than I have had in so I long I can’t remember when.  More than I’d want to confess to over at Frugalgirl.com that’s for sure. 

After perusing the grocery list I realized that most of what I had on it was to stock up on items we already had on hand and a number of “want” items we really didn’t need.  A few “wants” is fine but this was more than a few.  So I decided to change strategies this month and I am glad I did. 

I started out by declaring February a pantry month and then purchasing only items we really needed which ended up being milk, eggs, flour tortillas, non-stick spray, cheese and fresh fruit.  It has been nice because it freed up some cash to take advantage of a couple specials I came across.  One was NY strip steak for Valentine’s Day – 4 steaks for $17 and three packages of center cut bacon for $1.99 each.  Bacon has become so expensive lately so I was really glad to find it on markdown. 

I am still using my menu planner but not quite so rigidly.  If there is something to use up in the refrigerator we are doing that first before we make something new.  So far, so good.  We have had spaghetti three times for supper as well as several times for lunch this month, much to the sheer delight of my youngest, but other than that not too much repetition. 

Last week a dear friend of mine gave me a pot of chili and a tuna casserole to take home.  I appreciate that she thinks of me and likes to give me a break at supper from time to time.  Since I have been under the weather the last couple of weeks, first with migraines and now with a cold, I have really appreciated her thoughtfulness! 

So definitely some flexibility around here.  How are things going in your kitchen this month?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day

I challenged my girls and myself to spend no more than $1 on Valentine’s Day gifts this year.  They could only spend $1 each on me and I could only spend $1 each on them.  Thanks to Walgreens we pulled it off. 

A friend of mine took the girls to the store on Friday for me and I stopped on the way to pick them up from daycare a couple weeks ago with a coupon to purchase six Russell Stover chocolate truffles for 29¢ each.  I left having spent only $1.85 with sales tax. 

I don’t know what they got me but I do know they are pretty excited about it.  They spent Saturday morning making their own Valentine cards for me.  I put three truffles in a paper bag for each of my girls and stapled a leftover Valentine card from two years ago on the front of the bags. 

Sunday morning I printed off my computer homemade Valentines for the girl’s to give their teachers and classmates.  They cut them out and wrote the names on them while I made greeting cards on the computer to mail to friends and family.  I’m a little late this year in getting them done but at least I got them done.  Most will be delivered on time but three will most likely be a day late.  Bummer.

I also baked four dozen sugar cookies.  I tinted the dough pink and sprinkled them with white sugar.  They turned out cute and taste wonderful.  We had to test them, of course.  I put some in plastic zipper sandwich bags and into paper bags, then I stapled more leftover Valentines from my little stash on the bag fronts.   I will be sharing with friends and a couple neighbors.

I put a container of eighteen of the cookies together for our potluck lunch at work on Tuesday.  We are ready for Valentine’s Day and with a little creativity and some elbow grease got the job done on an amazingly tight budget.  Hurray!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sopa Seca

Sopa Seca is one of our family’s new found favorites.  I have been making it a little over a year now and we love it.  It is not only delicious but surprisingly budget friendly and easy to make 

Sopa Seca 

1 pkg. fideo pasta- 7 oz. (yes, it really is enough)
1 lb. ground beef, turkey or pork
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. black pepper
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 to 2 chipotle peppers, finely chopped (optional)
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
Sour cream or Mexican Crema 

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile brown meat with onions and garlic.  Drain any excess fat.  Add spices, tomatoes and peppers.  Fill tomato can with water and add to meat mixture.  Bring to a bubble, turn off heat and add drained pasta.  Stir completely and pour into 2 quart casserole.  Top with cheese and “bake” in microwave for 5 minutes.  Serve with sour cream.

Our store sells fideo for 28¢ a package!  Don’t let that little package fool you either because it definitely makes enough to serve four hungry adults.  The kids may find this too spicy so you can omit the chipotle peppers.  I really like them and I used to divide this recipe into two casseroles and add the peppers to half the mixture so my kids could have the milder dish.  Now they like the spicy version so I just make it in one casserole now. 

Give this one a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

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