Monday, January 30, 2012

Monthly Meal Planner - February

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: 

·         Sopa Seca
·         Chicken Quesadillas & Spanish Rice
·         Clam Chowder & Garlic Cheese Biscuits
·         Salmon Fillets & Rice Pilaf
·         Ravioli
·         Chicken Pesto Pasta
·         Beef Lo Mein
·         Pot Roast & Vegetables
·         Spaghetti & Meat Sauce
·         Grilled Steak & Orzo (Valentine’s Day)
·         Nachos
·         Beef Stew
·         Fried Chicken
·         Macaroni & Cheese
·         Eggs Benedict
·         Grilled Cheese Sandwiches & Tomato Soup
·         French Dip
·         Split Pea Soup
·         Pork Roast & Baked Beans
·         Tacos

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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Family Movie Nite

About once a month I try to schedule a family movie night.  It is usually a double feature – one rented and one from the archives in the hall closet.  I will typically plan for a brunch in the morning and an early supper around 3:30 or 4:00 so we can have snacks with our movie. 

Almost always there is “old fashioned” popcorn – popped in my great-grandmother’s old Dutch oven with oil and then drizzled with melted butter.  My kids are very impressed by popcorn that doesn’t come out of a microwave.  Funny, I remember when I was impressed by popcorn that was popped in a microwave.

We start around 6:00 and everyone can put on their pajamas and bring in pillows and a blanket to get comfy.  Even our two cats will join us.  Once we are settled in with our beverage of choice and our snacks we push play. 

Occasionally we will do movie marathon days.  That is when I really pull out the oldie moldies like Star Wars or Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Shrek, Toy Story.  We’ll pick a set of sequels and run those while we do crafts or work on projects we have going. 

It is a nice way for all of us to spend some much needed down time together in a casual and relaxing way.  We really look forward to it.  Super budget friendly too!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Home Budget – When It Doesn’t Balance – Part IV

For so many people money tends to run through their fingers like water.  Living paycheck to paycheck is more of a dream than a reality.  I know way too many people that are broke within three days of their payday.  To survive until the next one they rely heavily on their credit cards to the extent that it exacerbates the problem and they can see no end in sight. 

Most people aren’t in the dire straits they imagine themselves to be in.  Almost anything can be overcome.  It takes planning, courage and self discipline.  Once happiness and relief enter the picture the task at hand is much easier to master. 

Understand that budgeting and finances is not rocket science.  It is just common sense and basic math skills - addition and subtraction.  If your expenses exceed your income than your budget is not in balance.  To balance your budget you need to bring your expenses in line with your income. 

Look for ways to save money.  Consider implementing some of the following suggestions: 

·                     Cut the cell phone plan.  Purchase a prepaid plan like Tracfone or GoPhone and pay as you go.  Your monthly bill can be as little as $7 per month
·                     Cut the cable/satellite TV
·                     Cut the internet; use free WIFI at the public library
·                     Cut out the movie rentals – Blockbuster, Netflix, Red Box
·                     Stop dining out – no restaurants, fast food or deli items from the store
·                     Consider public transportation over using your car every day
·                     Become a single car family; sell a vehicle
·                     Cut up your credit cards; use cash
·                     Vow to purchase nothing but groceries and gas for one full month
·                     Use up what you already have on hand
·                   Purge your home; take nicer items to consignment shops or advertise for sale on Craigslist.  Use the income for debt repayment
·                     Turn the heat down and put on a sweater
·                     Cut your consumption – eat less, buy less, use less
·                     Put vacation plans on hold for one year
·                     Cut your Christmas budget in half 

Consider finding an additional income source.  Taking on a part time job to pay off debt may be a wise decision as long as work-related expenses are kept to a minimum.  If additional child care and gas expenses sharply cut the resulting income then it is obviously not worth it. 

Always call your creditors if you are not going to be able to make your monthly obligations.  Most are willing to work with you to help you come up with a workable plan.  If you agree to an arrangement make sure you keep to it. 

Raise some cash!  Have a huge yard sale and sell off what you don’t need.  Consider having a yard sale in different neighborhoods by borrowing a friend or relatives driveway one weekend until you are able to sell everything you need too.  Take nicer clothing and accessories into consignment shops.  List items for sale on eBay and Craigslist. 

If things are really tough contact a reputable not-for-profit credit counseling center for help in getting things straightened out.  There are a lot of classes on this subject taught in community education programs. 

Your clergyman is also a good person to contact if you are in need of assistance and direction.  He most likely will know someone who can help you with the particulars, especially if things have gone too far.

Remember that you are not alone in your struggles no matter how great or small and help is always available if you are willing to ask and then accept it.  I’m not talking about handouts but more along the lines of guidance and direction. 

You may be just fine.  You may just need a little tweaking to make things better.  Or you may have found yourself in a great big mess and no idea where to begin.  Regardless of which one you are I wish you all the best in your budgeting endeavors.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Easy Chicken Cacciatore – Slow Cooker

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 green bell pepper
1 medium yellow onion
6 – 8 large button mushrooms
1 15oz. can Italian style diced tomatoes
1 28oz can garlic and herb spaghetti sauce 

Cut chicken, pepper, onion and mushrooms into one inch pieces.  Place in slow cooker with tomatoes and sauce.  Stir to combine.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4.  Stir a couple of times during cooking.  Serve over hot cooked pasta.

Serves 4.

So delicious and so easy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

10 More Things I Don’t Spend Money On

There are plenty of things I have to spend money on - gas for the car to get back and forth to work, child care, mortgage, heat, groceries, etc.  In order to maintain our budget and have money left for vacations and other fun stuff there are several items I choose not to spend my hard earned cash on as part of my daily routine.  Here is a list of some those items: 

1.                   Paper Towels
2.                  Gym Memberships
3.                  Pre-Prepared Foods – chopped veggies, cooked bacon, Lunchables, etc.
4.                  Greeting Cards
5.                  Instant Rice
6.                  Frozen Burritos
7.                  Ice
8.                  Pay-Per-View Movies
9.                  Bakery Items – I rarely set foot in that section of the grocery store
10.               Movie Tickets 

I do keep a roll of paper towels, I purchased three years ago, in my travel trailer and I take rags camping with me as well. 

I have no desire to join a gym so that one is easy.  A year ago I did purchase an exercise ball and a new bike pump for less than the price of a one month membership fee. 

When they came out with pre-cooked bacon I nearly lost my mind.  Instant rice I don’t have a need for, frozen burritos taste terrible and I have no idea what is in one, frozen water I can make myself. 

Pay-per-view movies and going to the movies is just not a budget option right now.  I wait for it to come out on my $8.99 Netflix plan.  As a special treat I do take my girls to the $ theatre if there is something we really want to see on the big screen and we skip the snack bar. 

Bakery items - well, by now I am sure you have figured out I love to bake so I’ve pretty much got that covered and for a fraction of the cost.

What do you choose not to spend your hard earned cash on?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Home Budget – Working Within A Balanced Budget – Part III

If your budget is balanced you are ready to focus on the key areas outlined in Part I. 

Home Mortgage or Rent
Child Care
Non-food Household Items
Auto – gas, insurance, maintenance, registration, emission test, etc.
Transportation – bus passes, transit passes, carpool, etc.
Debt repayment – loans, credit cards, student loans, medical bills, etc.
Savings – retirement, emergency fund, savings account, college fund, vacation fund

Home Mortgage or Rent 

I am all about owning my own home.  For some that is not an option at present but it should be a goal for the not too distant future.  For homeowners the goal should be to pay off their mortgage as soon as they can. 

Here is an easy way to make a huge dent in your mortgage.  Let’s assume your monthly mortgage payment is $800. 

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

On a 30 year mortgage you will shave off nearly half your mortgage time simply by making one extra payment per year.  Adding it to your monthly payment makes the amount more manageable and impacts your mortgage every month so don’t wait to pay the extra payment at the end of the year.  It is all about compound interest.  If you can afford to pay more than by all means do so. 

Want to run an amortization schedule to see how your additional payments can affect your mortgage?  Go to 

Child Care 

I consider this my most important bill.  I am entrusting someone with my most prized and precious possessions.  I expect them to keep my children safe, nurture them and keep them fed and sheltered in my absence.  For this very reason I make sure no matter what this bill is paid in full and on time every month. 


I cut my expenses in this arena as closely as I can.  We only heat our downstairs and let the heat rise to heat upstairs in our house.  We are careful about wasting water, we don’t leave the lights on when we leave a room, etc., etc. 


By now I’m sure you know where I stand with my grocery budget.  Review my previous posts and know there will be more in the future. 

Non-Food Household Expenses 

This is another where area I have a tight budget in place.  I spend $25 or less per month on cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, pet care supplies, light bulbs, toilet paper, etc. 


This is for routine care to help maintain and keep us healthy.  Budget enough for regular visits to the doctor, dentist and eye doctor.  If you wear contacts or eyeglasses or your kids need braces you will need to have an amount in place for these expenses. 


Probably the largest amount for this expense category will be for gasoline.  After that insurance and then all the regular maintenance, registration fees, etc.  This does not include auto loans. 


Regular occurring public transit expenses – bus passes, transit passes, carpool, etc. 

Debt Repayment 

This category is a big one and we’ll need to explore this one more in-depth.  This will include all the minimum required payments owed to all your creditors – loans, credit cards, student loans, medical bills, etc.  You will need enough budgeted to meet your monthly obligations. 


This is another big one that doesn’t usually have the place of importance that it should.  We will definitely explore this area more in depth as well.  For now you need to know that something, anything needs to be budgeted for savings and as you probably already know you most likely aren’t saving enough.  We will explore ways to improve in this area as well. 


You need to budget and track expenses for gifts.  This is easily the most overlooked area because it is considered incidental spending.  It is also quite easily the biggest money leak for most people, especially at Christmas.  We will focus additional time on this so you can reign it in and still give nice gifts without blowing the budget. 

Looks like we are off to a good start!  How are you doing?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Take a moment today to reflect and count your blessings.

January –30 Things to Do This Month – Mid Month Update

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.                   Clean, purge and organize the junk drawer
2.                  Update my address book
3.                  Wash all the interior doors, door jambs and doorknobs downstairs (the girls did this one for me)
4.                  Super dust and straighten up my home office
5.                  Compile the information I need to file my taxes (started)
6.                  Create my February meal plan
7.                  Craft Project - make gift bags/tags with my girls
8.                  Bake two loaves of bread
9.                  Wash all the mirrors in the house
10.               Clean and re-organize the bathroom cabinet downstairs
11.                Walk through the entire house and make a TO DO list, room by room.
12.               Super dust the china cabinet
13.               Wash the inside of the living room windows and sills
14.               Schedule a day for some investment cooking and make a plan
15.               Clean the ceiling fan in the dining room
16.               Move the couch and vacuum underneath it
17.               Wipe off all the baseboards downstairs
18.               Bop the cobwebs downstairs
19.               Vacuum the lampshades and dust the lamps
20.              Try a new recipe new zucchini bread recipe – we didn’t like it
21.               Take an inventory of my spice cabinet, make a list of what I need
22.              Iron my least favorite chore, so I did this one first and got it out of the way!
23.              Make a gift
24.              Bake a cake
25.              Take the car in for an oil change
26.              Buy two new dish towels, make two old ones into rags I got two new ones for Christmas.  Now I still need to make the rags.
27.              Family Movie Nite – popcorn! Saturday night – Avatar.  We got that for Christmas.
28.              Clean and re-organize under the kitchen sink, wash the trash can
29.              Wash the silverware tray and clean the drawer
30.              Sew something
How is the progress going on your list this month?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas All Year Long – Making Gift Bags & Gift Tags

All the decorations are put away but for me Christmas is just beginning, once again.  I work on Christmas all year long.  The biggest reason is to spread out the expense and to take advantage of sales as they come my way.  I also like to be prepared so I am not overwhelmed with tasks when December arrives, which it does, all too soon.Every January I take all the Christmas cards I received and re-use them to decorate paper bags to make my Christmas gift bags.

For this project you will need: 

·                     Old Christmas cards
·                     Glue
·                     Scissors
·                     Paper hole punch
·                     Black, red and/or green felt tip marker
·                     Brown and/or white lunch bags
·                     Tissue paper
·                     Curling ribbon
·                     Christmas stamps and ink (optional) 

Cut the backs off the cards.  Glue the card fronts to the front of the bag above the fold.  The bag seam should be in the back.  Fold the top edge over about 1½”.  Punch two holes, evenly spaced about ¾” down from the fold and at least 1 ½” in from the sides.  When you use the bag you will loop curling ribbon through these holes to tie the bag closed.

Pair the bag with a sheet or two of coordinating tissue paper.  Then make another one.

You can stamp the front and back of the bag prior to gluing on the card front to further dress it up if you like. 

Use other card fronts to cut smaller into gift tags.  On the back of the card write TO: and then FROM: leaving it blank until you are ready to use it.  You can punch a hole in the upper corner and loop a piece of curling ribbon through it too if you like to further dress it up.  Make several of these. 

You can make the gift tags more three dimensional too by layering them with colored paper, foil, or gift wrap and gluing the layers on top of white card stock cut to size.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cranberry Orange Bread – Bread Machine

This bread makes the best toast, a great ham sandwich and delicious French toast. 

Cranberry Orange Bread 

2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
2½ tsp yeast
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp .salt
1 egg
1 Tbs. canola oil
1¼ c. hot orange juice -115°
1/4 c. dried cranberries, chopped 

Select the dough cycle.  Place dry ingredients in pan and select start.  Add juice, oil and egg.  Once dough forms a smooth ball (you may have to add a little flour or water depending on humidity) close lid and allow cycle to run completely. 

Once finished remove dough from machine and knead lightly on a floured surface.  Dough should be smooth and not be sticky.  Butter a 9” X 13” pan.  Roll dough flat as if you are making cinnamon rolls.  Sprinkle with chopped cranberries.  From the short side roll dough into a log tucking ends under and place in lightly greased pan.  Cover with a dish towel and place in a warm, draft free area.  Allow dough to raise until doubled in size, approximately one hour. 

Bake bread in a preheated 400° oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and brush top with butter. 


Cinnamon Swirl Bread – I make my cinnamon swirl bread the same way.  Substitute hot milk for the juice and 1½ tsp. cinnamon for the cranberries.
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