Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rules of Contentment

I was flipping through Lists To Live By: The Second Collection and this list caught my eye.

Even though I've read it before, it especially hit home today. Ouch!

Rules Of Contentment

Allow ourselves to complain of nothing, not even the weather.

Never picture ourselves in any circumstances in which we are not.

Never compare our lot with that of another.

Never allow ourselves to wish that this or that had been otherwise. 

Never dwell on the tomorrow; remember, that is God's and not ours.

~E.B. Pusey, English Theologian

While I am generally optimistic and happy where I am, I'm still guilty of complaining, comparing and generally being a whiny-pants. Especially lately. Not good!

Paul says in Philippians 4: 11-12:

"... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. "

I long to truly learn the secret of contentment and have an inner joy and satisfaction no matter where God has me in life. I pray that He will help me to not just "be positive" but to truly bloom where I am planted.

I know I can do this because the next verse, Philippians 4: 13 says:

"I can do everything through him who gives me strength!"


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bathroom Mirror Makeover

This was the bathroom mirror in our new home.

Cute and definitely my style, but in need of an update.

I knew that my trusty can of Krylon Fusion black spray paint would do the trick!

A few reasons why I love Krylon Fusion so much:

-- It sticks to everything. This is good when you have a house full of hand-me-downs with who-knows-what-kind-of-finish on them.
-- It dries quickly. I'm an impatient do-it-your-self-er. When I'm in the mood to do a project, I  want it done now.  Or yesterday. Which ever comes first.
-- The nozzle is very comfortable and doesn't hurt my fingers. I've spray painted some large pieces and I've used other paint at times. I know what I'm talking about here.:-)

Black is my accent color throughout the house, so I keep a can or two of black Krylon Fusion around for those inevitable painting emergencies. It never fails to come in handy.

And here she is... showing off  her new black coat!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Zucchini Casserole

This is probably my all-time  favorite zucchini dish! My mom made this all the time during the summer when we were growing up. It's definitely a family favorite.

I made this dish over the weekend to take to our church fellowship and was reminded of how deliciously yummy it is! I seriously could eat this every day. It's that good!

Yellow squash can be used instead of zucchini, if desired.

Zucchini Casserole

3 cups sliced zucchini
1 1/2 cups coarse saltine cracker crumbs--about 20 crackers (Ritz crackers also work well.)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients together and pour into greased 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle top with paprika for extra color, if desired.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until golden brown.

Serves 8 as a side dish. Serves 4 as a main dish.


Menu Plan Monday- The End of the Month Edition

It's the end of June, so this week's menu is based on odds and ends of what I have on hand. I'm getting creative with what I have in hand and making plans for a stock-up grocery trip at the end of the week.

While I have a full pantry, I'm very low on baking supplies, milk, cheese, butter and the like. You know, the essentials! Time to stock-up.

We still have lots of zucchini so it's the star of the show this week, appearing almost once a day!

**stands for freezer item!

--sourdough waffles, applesauce (3x)
--oatmeal (2x)
--hard boiled eggs, zucchini bread**(1x)

--white bean spread(my own creation-similar to hummus) on pita bread, cucumber salad (2x)
--supper leftovers (2x)
--cheese and crackers, fruit smoothies (2x)

--Chicken, mushroom, and zucchini pasta toss (my own creation), carrot sticks
--Zucchini soup (will make a double batch to freeze), French bread
--Chicken-fried steak strips, brown rice, steamed zucchini
--Beans and rice, zucchini fries (new-to-me recipe)
--Homemade pizza, salad
--Scrambled eggs, sauteed veggies

What's on your menu this week?

**To see what's cooking around the world, click on over to Organizing Junkie!

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Two Cents On Budgeting: The Envelope System

In our family, we've chosen to use debit cards and cash as our preferred methods of payment.

In the history of our marriage, we haven't used credit cards at all. Although I can see where a credit card could come in handy and I know that many people use them responsibly, our credit-card free approach has worked well for us.

As a single lady, I did have a credit card. Even though I was not a wild impulse spender, I spent an average of $100 more a month when charging purchases than when I paid with cash or writing a check. Those quick little trips add up!

I believe the reason for this was that I wasn't actually parting with money when using a credit card. Small purchases didn't seem like a big deal. After all, I could always pay the balance off when the bill came every month.

Before we were married, we were introduced to Dave Ramsey. His money managing tips were old-fashioned, simple common sense and easy to implement.

Don't spend more than you make.  

Pay cash.  

Avoid debt. 

We decided then to ditch the credit cards and live without them, committing to buy only what we had the money in hand for. 

One method Dave highly recommends is the envelope system. I had heard about this from other financial gurus as well, so it wasn't a totally new concept for me. I hadn't implemented it before marriage, but it seemed like it would be a good fit for us.

What is the envelope system?

Designate one envelope for each spending category. Put the agreed upon amount of cash in each envelope.

When spending throughout the month or week or however your budget is set up, you use the money from the designated envelope. When the money is gone, it's gone.

My husband and I really like this method for four reasons:

1. Paying with cash forces us to think through our purchases instead of just throwing stuff into the shopping cart or making impulse online purchases.

2. We spend less when paying with cash than when using the debit card.

3. Since we have joint accounts, paying cash is easier to keep up with than both of us using the debit cards independently and possibly overdrafting.

4. The envelope system keeps us organized. We can tell at a glance exactly how much money we have for the rest of the pay period.

We use the cash envelope system for cash purchases. We pay our rent, phone bill, utilities, etc. by check or automatic bank draft, whichever is applicable.

Currently we use cash envelopes for:

--Dog food
--Play money (Fun money for both of us.)
--Eating out/ entertainment
--Thrifting/ yard sales

It's often helpful to have a category with "blow money" as extra if you need it. Also, clothing and gift money can be included in the envelopes as well.  Look at your budget/ spending plan and designate envelope categories to how it fits into your life and where you spend your money.

We used to put clothing and Christmas money aside each month in our envelopes but found it was too easy to spend that money for something else if it came up. Therefore, when it came time to buy clothing and Christmas gifts, the money wasn't there. So we started putting those categories in savings  instead and it has worked great! The money is there when we need it. Out of sight, out of mind. :-)

I'm boring so I just use Plain Jane envelopes in a plastic coupon organizer. Someday, I'd love to make or buy a cuter system. But for now this works.

Using envelopes does not embarrass me in the least. But then I guess I'm used to being weird. I don't know! I've found that my cash envelopes are often a conversation starter. "Do you do Dave Ramsey?" "How does this work for you?" "What categories do you use the envelopes for?"

Come to think of it, it's as much of a conversation starter as when I use my coupon binder in the grocery store.  I'll share about all the Coupon 101 classes that take place in the pasta aisle another time!

I understand that this way of budgeting may not be an ideal fit for every family but it has certainly been very beneficial for us.

Let's talk! Do you use the envelope system? If so, what does and does not work for you? What categories do you have for your envelopes?

**Coming up next week: I'll be sharing a little about paying down debt. Hope you can join us!

**This post is a part of Frugal Fridays! Be sure to hop on over and read Jessica's great post on How To Live Without Credit Cards!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Leila's Birthday

My little niece Leila turned one a few weeks ago. We made the trip to her house to help her family celebrate!

 Chilling with Dad before the party.

With big brother Knox and holding her beloved baby doll- a birthday gift from her Grandpa and Grandma!

Her mommy decided on a fancy "Parisian" themed party and served several different kinds of fancy little appetizers along with this pink poodle cake. She baked the cake and I assembled and decorated it.

Leila seemed to be pleased with the cake!

Happy 1st birthday, sweet girl!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Freezing Shredded Zucchini

Our garden is producing a boatload of zucchini right now.

Not that we have a boat. But if we did, I'm sure it would be full of zucchini.

But even with several families gathering the harvest and sharing lots with others, there is still plenty to go around. 

I guess that's what happens when you plant twelve zucchini plants.


I did say 12.

Several years ago, my mom told me that you could successfully freeze shredded zucchini and use it for zucchini bread later. Like in the winter, when you'd like a taste of summer. 

The first year, I froze it in 2 cup portions of zucchini with the amount of oil that the recipe calls for. I thought my mom told me to do it that way. I must've read it somewhere else because she let me know that particular bit of information most certainly did not come from her.  "Why in the world are you adding oil? Oh, Mary Ann!"

So now I freeze it by itself and it works just fine and is simpler.

Freezing it with the oil worked too and baked up nicely without adding more oil to the recipe. You just want to remember if you added anything. When thawing, set bag on a plate or something, since you do not want oil leaking all over your counter. Not that I've experienced this, of course.

Anyways, all that to say that you can successfully freeze shredded zucchini to use in baking. Just shred and measure recipe-sized portions into baggies.

The frozen zucchini gets quite watery when thawed. That's ok for zucchini bread since the moisture is all part of the zucchini. At least it works well for my recipe. For other recipes, I'd recommend squeezing the moisture out for best results. 

Last night after supper, I ran several zucchinis through my food processor. Then while I washed dishes, my sweet husband bagged them up for me.

I may or may not have bribed him with ice cream. 

It will be so nice to have the zucchini in the freezer ready to use!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cucumber Salad- Two Ways

 Fresh cucumber salad with vinegar-based dressing.

Cucumber salad is one of those foods that says summer to me.

We eat a lot of cucumbers throughout the summer and although we love them raw, we are also quite fond of cucumber salad. One is made with a vinegar dressing and the other a creamy mayonnaise dressing.

Both are so easy and taste so fresh! And both recipes come courtesy of my mom.

Cucumber Salad with Vinegar Dressing

Mix together:

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
fresh dill or dried dill weed

Pour over sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. You can do this with just cucumbers or whatever combo you prefer. For the salad that is pictured,  my cucumbers were a bit on the skinny and small  side so I added  several small sliced zucchini to bulk it up.

Chill and serve.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

Growing up, we ate this nearly every day throughout the summer. It's a favorite. And no wonder my sister and I used to break out in hives from eating too many cucumbers!

1-2 Tablespoons finely cut fresh dill weed
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon vinegar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
 dash of pepper

Pour over a bowl of thinly sliced cucumbers and mix lightly. Chill and serve.

Other than in salad, I really like cucumber sandwiches, either plain or with a garden-ripe tomato. Mmmmm...

Provided that you like to eat cucumbers, what are your favorite ways to eat them?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Menu Plan Monday- The Getting Back To Cooking Edition

After a few weeks of not cooking a whole lot, I'm excited to be getting back into the kitchen and maybe even doing a bit of baking this week!

I've got my oven cleaning as we speak. I didn't get to it before we moved in and I've been waiting to bake anything until it's been cleaned. It really didn't look too bad, but still....

The garden is producing zucchini like mad, so one thing I want to bake this week is a big batch of zucchini bread. Yum! I also have pita bread and an extra batch of waffles on the list.

Even with some baking going on, I'm aiming to use the oven less this summer as an effort to keep the house a bit cooler and the energy bills a bit lower. I've been trying to think of cooler meals or things that can be prepared on the stove top, grill or in the crock pot.

Summer is such a fun time of year with so much to do, so it's appealing to me to simplify meals a bit to allow more time out of the kitchen!

My menu plan for this week:

-- sourdough waffles, fresh peaches (2x)
-- cold cereal, milk, bananas (2x)
-- hard-boiled eggs, smoothies (2x)

-- meat, cheese, crackers (2x)
-- egg salad sandwiches
-- Mexican bean dip (using leftover pinto beans) with tortilla chips
-- supper leftovers (2x)

-- leftover ratatouille, Italian bread
-- rotisserie-style chicken (crock pot), cucumber salad, corn on the cob
-- chicken-veggie stir fry over brown rice (leftover chicken and zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms)
-- chicken pasta salad with basil-walnut mayonnaise, zucchini bread, fresh peaches
-- cheesy beef and rice, sauteed zucchini
-- zucchini-cheese crustless quiche, smoothies

What's cooking at your house this week?

**There are lots of menu plans to browse over at Organizing Junkie!

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Two Cents On Budgeting: Savings

So we already know the benefits of having a savings account. We know that we should set funds aside for the proverbial rainy day. Have money in case of an emergency. Or to have the money in hand for an upcoming purchase that you know is coming. Like a new car. A new roof. Christmas.

Although we know why we should save, too often we put off being really diligent with it. Or at least, we do! We'll do really well for a while and then slack off.

The first step is to go to your bank and set up a savings account.

The second step is to put something in it. The obvious something here would be money.

The third step is to set goals for savings. This will keep you going for the long haul.

I can't tell you how much you should save each month. That's a detail only you know.

To be quite honest, our savings amounts each month fluctuate. We put more in one month and the next month only a little. Life happens and sometimes money is in short supply.

The main objective here is to purpose in your heart and set a goal to save something each month. Maybe it's a hard time for you financially and you have to sacrifice to save even $10. Don't scoff at small amounts. Save whatever you can! It all adds up over time.

Dave Ramsey recommends that you should save an emergency fund of $1000 before beginning to pay off any debt. Selling things, working an extra job or becoming extremely frugal are ways to make this happen more quickly. When you have some money in your account, unexpected emergencies won't seem quite so drastic. When you have the money saved, you won't need to put yet another bill on the credit card to add to your debt.

Except for a few periods of time, we've always made it a practice to put my income into savings and live on my husband's income. We made this decision before we were married and have been so glad. While we've never had a bulging savings account, saving the second income when we've had it has been beneficial in growing our savings.

This has not always been easy since it requires discipline to save rather than spend and to live below your means in order to have a little extra later.

Once the money in your savings account starts to grow, it's tempting to look at the amount and splurge on a  nice vacation.

While there's nothing wrong with a splurge if you can afford it, it's wise to have a plan for your savings account just as you do for your written monthly budget.

We've divided our savings account into categories. Instead of seeing one lump sum, it's broken down into different categories. This way we can see at a glance how much we have in our emergency fund, our Christmas fund, our vacation fund and so on.

I thrive on keeping things really simple so I do this on a an index card that I keep inside our savings passbook.

I call it our "Savings Breakdown"  and list the categories and amounts we have in each.

Car replacement
Car repairs
Dog (includes yearly exams, vaccinations, boarding)
Christmas (gifts for family and each other, tree, seasonal giving. Decide on an approximate amount and then divide by 12 to determine how much to save each month. )
Vacation  (our trips are usually to visit family ; this fund helps with extra gas and food money for these trips and for the occasional hotel room if we are away.)
Business expenses
Yearly expenses ( car taxes, tax prep are among the once a year expenses we have. We add these up and then divide by 12 to come up with a monthly amount to save. No more yearly surprises!)
Extra funds (We don't have a better name for this category. But sometimes expenses come up that don't come out of the other categories so we have a bit extra to cover those should we need it.)

In times of plenty, we would add to each category every month. In leaner times, we rotate between categories and add to them in order of importance. Things like vacation, Christmas and clothing aren't as crucial as say, car repairs.

When we add to or subtract from savings, I keep track by noting it on my index card beside the proper category. I also keep track of all savings account transactions in the passbook.

This takes a few minutes and is something to keep up with but it is not hard and works well for us. Some folks may prefer online accounting software or even separate savings accounts if saving for a large purchase but so far this simple method is good for us.

A large part of saving for the future is anticipating needs. Not living in fear of what catastrophe is going to hit us next but saving for those things that most certainly will be coming down the pike. If your car is old and you know you'll be replacing it within a couple of years, now is the time to plan for that. If your dream is to put a large down payment on a home, then set goals and start to save. The truth is things will happen so it's best to be at least partly prepared for them so they don't completely catch us off guard.

As I write this, I'm reminded that we need to be more aggressive in saving for another car. I know it will not be lasting forever!

Anticipating needs and planning for them has really helped us in our budgeting and saving.

We cannot live in fear and money will not solve every problem. It's important that saving money does not consume us. However, we can choose to trust God with our lives and moneygive as He commands us and to budget and save the best that we can.

**Coming up next week: The Envelope System!

**This post is a part of Frugal Fridays!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trip To The Farmer's Market

The Cherished Dog and I walked to the Farmer's Market this morning.We combined our walk with a trip to get fresh produce and killed two birds with one stone!

After a couple of weeks of eating more restaurant and junk food than usual, fresh fruits and veggies are really appealing to me!

 My noble steed after his two mile walk.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Before and After Pictures

Since about mid-April when we discovered that our landlord was planning to put our current home up for sale, we'd been looking for another home to rent.

We aren't terribly picky people, but needed a dog-friendly home preferably with a fenced yard, one-story, a decent neighborhood, at least 1000 sq. ft. and very reasonable rent.

This may not sound like much to look for but after about a month and a half into the search, it was looking pretty bleak on the rental front. Very little was in our price range and if a house was the right price, it was in a very sketchy neighborhood and the house looked to be falling down.

At one point, we knew we'd found the right house, but several families already wanted the house and the landlord had to choose who she wanted and she ended up not choosing us. Ironically, the house we now live in is two streets over from that house!

We continued to pray, knowing that surely in our reasonably large city, a home would come available to us. And we waited, checked the listings daily, made calls, drove around and found For Rent signs on homes that might be promising, made more calls, and waited some more.

The most frustrating part about this was that we didn't hear back from many of the people we called. I'm not sure how they ever rent their houses out if they're not willing to call interested parties back, but whatever!

About the time it began to look quite bleak, as we were driving around looking at houses to rent one Saturday morning, we happened to cruise down the street on which we now live. My eyes had become just as adept at spotting For Rent signs as Yard Sale signs, so I quickly motioned for Andy to slow down so we could look at three houses that were for rent on the street. This one was the only one we were really interested in so we wrote down the contact info and drove away.

We called right away and discovered that this house had everything we were looking for and was in the right price range. We also discovered that another house for rent on the same street was owned by the same person for the same price and would we like to see both of them? Well, of course!

So we looked at both houses that were the same price, same size and ended up choosing this one.

This is a rental and an older home so it's certainly not perfect but is very cute and will serve us very well, I think!

We moved from a 2 bedroom/1 bath, barely 1000 sq. ft. home into a 3 br/ 1 bath, 1100-1200 sq. ft. home. It's funny but in some ways our new home is bigger and in other ways, it's smaller. The layout is different.

One huge drawback to this home was the wall colors. One room was pink and I do mean pink as you'll see in a minute, one was a peachy/ clay/ Carolina red dirt color, the bathroom was a peachy tan color that I think was supposed to be a neutral tone, and the living room, 3rd bedroom and hallway all different manners of wainscoting, bead board and paneling. The bright colors were blinding and the abundance of brown wood depressing.

Fortunately, our new landlord allowed us to paint whatever we wanted as long as she approved the colors so we wasted no time in selecting some more neutral shades and getting started.

This was a huge undertaking, especially the paneling. We knew it would be much easier to paint before moving in. We decided to tackle the worst and leave the rest until later. We chose to paint the living room, hallway, master bedroom, bathroom and the 2nd bedroom which will be our guest room.

The kitchen is sort of a sage green that although not my favorite, is definitely livable. The dining room is cream colored on top with wainscoting on the bottom. Again, I'd like to paint later and lighten that wood, but for now was not a priority.

I love light wall colors, especially in a small house. They really brighten and enlarge the space vs. darker colors. And they give me more flexibility in decorating, too!

Yes, we're renters so some may wonder why we were willing to paint and put so much hard work into the house. We lived at our last rental for almost six years and have signed a two-year lease on this one, so we figured that this hard work up front would be worth it in the long run, making our home more comfortable and overall leaving the home a little nicer than we found it.

I'm just showing you the before and after pictures of the rooms we painted. Later on, when boxes are unpacked and my home is in some semblance of order, I'll give you a tour of the whole thing. There are some very unique features!

Before: Living Room

After:  Living Room in a light gray color with white trim.
Before: Guest Bedroom

After: Guest Bedroom in Elegant Ivory with white trim. Much more restful now, don't you think!?!

Before: Master Bedroom

After: Master Bedroom in Elusive Blue with white trim. I love this blue and can't wait to decorate our room!

Before: Bathroom

After: Bathroom in Elusive Blue on top and white on the bottom.
This is not the best picture but hopefully you can see the difference! If you're wondering why the cabinet is taped shut: The one door wouldn't stay shut and I was tired of banging my head on it! We will be repairing that shortly!

**Pictures of our hallway did not turn out. Think dark, brown paneling before and the same light gray and white as the living room for after. The light color has really lightened it up!

We used leftover bedroom paint for the bathroom and have enough gray and white left for the kitchen and dining room when we paint later. The 3rd bedroom is also dark wood paneling but we've left it for now. It has a huge window that lets lots of light in so somehow it didn't seem quite so dreary.

Even though it was lots of work, I love what a few cans of paint have done to this house!

Monday, June 14, 2010

We're Here

We survived the move and are now in our new house.

We haven't had the chance to really get settled in yet, since we moved the last of our stuff over today. We also cleaned the old house, had the carpets cleaned there and got some minor home improvement repairs done here today.

Busy day...after many busy days lately!

Boxes abound everywhere I turn. I'll get to sorting them all out and unpacking later.

For now, I'm sitting and resting a spell.

**I'll be back with some before and after painting pictures tomorrow!

Monday, June 07, 2010

On The Move

We are moving this week! We're finishing up the last of the painting today and tomorrow. The rest of the week will be filled with cleaning the new house and the last of the packing and then finally the moving! We have had so much wonderful help through this, which has been great!

With all this activity, I'll be taking the week off from blogging. I'll be back next week with some before and after pictures of the house and our regularly scheduled programming.

Blessings to each of you this week!

Friday, June 04, 2010

My Two Cents On Budgeting: Listing Expenses and Making A Budget

To manage money effectively, we must know where it's going each month. To do this, it's important to write down your expenses and spending categories.

Don't skip this important step! A budget or a spending plan will help you to see where you are spending the majority of your money and whether or not it is allocated properly.

"A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went."  John C. Maxwell

Start by simply listing all your expenses. The mortgage/rent payment, electricity, water, phone service, gas for the car and groceries will likely top your list.

But don't stop there! Get into the nitty-gritty details of where your money really goes. This may take a while and it's ok. Write down whatever you can think of and then come back and jot other items down as they come to mind.

Our budget categories look like this:

--Tithes and offerings

   - rent
   - city bill (Our electric, water, trash pick-up, etc. are all on one bill.)
   - gas heat
   - satellite television
   - communication (Our phone, internet and cell phone service are bundled on one bill.)

-- Car
    - gas
    - insurance

-- Automatic Withdrawals
    - Life insurance
    - Website for business

-- Cash
    - groceries
    - prescriptions
    - hair cuts
    - personal allowance
    - dog food
    - thrifting and yard sales (This ends up paying for the bulk of our clothing and household purchases.)


- Extras ( This category includes any extra non-regular monthly expenses such as vet appointments, gifts, bulk food purchases, trips we've planned, etc. Many of these are already planned for and come from savings but it is helpful to write it down so we know exactly what's going on.)

** We are currently shopping for medical coverage and renter's insurance so that is why they are not listed above. They will be added once we get that in place.

Every person or family's budget is going to look different. It is individualized based on your own lifestyle and what's important to you. For example, we don't have a regular eating out budget. It varies from month to month based on income and activities. While we enjoy the occasional restaurant meal, it's not absolutely necessary that we have that in our budget at all times.

Be sure to remember to account for hobbies, crafts, gym memberships, manicures and pedicures, magazine subscriptions, Starbucks, etc. Also any debt or credit card payments!

We each have a personal allowance which is money for each of us to spend however we see fit. My husband often uses his to buy us a treat and mine often goes towards gifts, if needed. Several years ago, I saved a good share of mine each month to buy a grain mill. When we were first married, my husband saved for a while to purchase a fretless bass guitar. The amount that each person gets is up to you. It does not have to be equal; whatever you decide with your spouse is fine. The amount depends first upon your budget and then on what the money will be used for. If it includes stuff for the kids, lunch money, etc. it may need to be higher than just frivolous extra money. Our "play money" amounts have fluctuated over the years, with $40 month / $10 week each being the highest and the norm being around $20 month/ $5 week. For our lifestyle, this works great!

After all the budget categories have been written down and taken into account, the next step is to put dollar amounts beside each one and see if there is enough money to cover everything.

When doing this, I figure up basic needs first ( housing, food, car expenses) and then add other categories in order of importance and money.

After doing this, now it's time to add up your amounts and see if your income matches your outgo. Some tweaking will probably be necessary. Maybe a bit less in groceries or one less meal out. Or you may eliminate a category altogether until you have extra funds because something else is of higher priority  at the moment.

If you are new to budgeting, don't let this discourage you. This is a process that will most likely take you several months or more while you figure out how much you are spending. Press on! I find that even after regularly following a budget for a while, I still am constantly tweaking, looking for ways to cut back in some areas and adding to others.

Granted, this list may not be all encompassing and cover everything, but it should be a good starting point for those who are new to budgeting or are looking to fine tune the one they have.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have or offer suggestions for successful budgeting!

Tune in next time as we discuss savings and how we do it!

**This post is part of Frugal Fridays!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sweet Treats

I've found myself making a few more sweet treats than usual lately. I'm not much of a dessert maker; cookies and bars are usually the dessert of choice around here. Oh, and the occasional sheet cake or maybe a pie.

Not all of these are healthy but they are all so yummy!

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies: These are a healthier version of a childhood favorite. I've had trouble getting them to set up nice and solid but they are great when kept in the fridge. In fact, I would do just fine with a pan of these in the fridge to snack on all summer long!

Easy Butterscotch Bars: Five ingredients. All real foods. Quick to make. I'm not a butterscotch fan but I love these. If desired, you can use white flour and brown sugar in place of the whole wheat flour(I use pastry flour) and sucanat.

Ginger Snaps:  These are a great molasses cookie; soft and chewy. My husband calls them Shoo-fly Pie Cookies since they remind him of Shoo-fly Pie in texture and flavor. In the past few years, my mom's recipe has not turned out well for me so I'm happy to find this one!

Whole Wheat Shortcake:  Light and fluffy. The whole wheat doesn't make this heavy at all. This would be as delicious with fresh peaches or other fruit and berries as it is with strawberries. Peach ice cream would also be yummy! I made this back at the first of May and froze one round pan for later. We just got it out this week and it's just as soft and fluffy as it was fresh!

What's been baking in your kitchen?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Bottle Brush For Washing Dishes

Since I am obsessed with washing dishes right now, it's appropriate for me to share my favorite tool for cleaning glasses and small items.

A bottle brush.

About five years ago when I was caring for a friend's baby , she brought me an extra bottle brush to use for, well, cleaning bottles.

It wasn't long before I figured out that it was very useful for washing glasses, jars and other hard-to-reach-inside items.

And the baby was long out of bottles by the time I noticed the nipple brush hidden inside the handle.

What can I say? I have my moments...

The nipple brush also comes in very handy for cleaning cake decorating tips and other tight spots, like the ridges in the center of my Bosch Universal mixer bowl.  Cleans them right out!

A cheap bottle brush works for me!

**This post is part of Works For Me Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dishwashing Challenge

While our new house has many great qualities, the kitchen does not include a dishwasher.

I've been really spoiled to have had a dishwasher in the past five plus years that we've lived here.  While I still do wash a lot of dishes by hand, there's a huge difference between washing some of your dishes by hand and all of them by hand. Especially when you do a lot of cooking and baking.

I ran out of dishwasher detergent last week right about the time we decided to rent this particular house. Always up for a challenge and to not have to buy more detergent, I decided to start getting into the habit of washing my dishes the old-fashioned way again.

The first challenge is to discipline myself to wash dishes as I go and as soon as the meal is over to prevent the dishes from taking over. I really hate a counter and sink full of dirty dishes waiting on me-one of my pet peeves, for sure!

The second challenge, because I am a nerd, is to time myself and see how long it really takes me from start to finish- wash, dry and put away.

So far it is taking me approximately 10 minutes to clean up from the average meal. Obviously, the more pots and pans that are used, the longer it will take me to finish!

It's a bit scary how much enjoyment I get out of timing myself. I really need to get a life.

So far I've noticed two things about this challenge:

--There are less dishes to wash and put away when they are washed after every meal vs. loading up the dishwasher and doing a load every day.

--Glass is easier to clean by hand than plastic. Plastics tend to get and stay greasier. Thankfully, I don't use much plastic and this will motivate me to use even less!

One thing that I do love about my new kitchen is that it has a window over the sink. This will make washing dishes a lot more pleasant and bring more natural light into the room!