Monday, September 30, 2013

Today: The Beginning Of A New Season

Today marks the beginning of a new season.

After 8 years of working from home, I'm starting a part-time job outside the home.

I stopped taking care of kids in my home at the end of August. This came after months of praying, seeking out God's direction and feeling like it was time to start something new. I let the parents know of our decision at the end of May so they had all summer to make other arrangements for their children.

This wasn't an easy decision to make. And I certainly wasn't prepared for the emotion that came over me as the end of August drew near. I've cared for so many little ones over the years and haven't experienced the emotions that I did this time. These little ones had been with me since very young infants and had become like my own.

The question I get the most is "What made you decide to quit?" I don't have a smooth, easy answer for that. A lot of things, mostly small things. Right now it seems as though working away from home is a better decision for our family.

As for me, I am quite excited about this new venture. A little nervous, but then it's been 8 years since I've worked with little ones in a  classroom environment.

There will be changes and adjustments as we seek to make this work for our family but I'm looking forward to seeing what all God is doing!

**Picture taken a few years ago. Our leaves are barely beginning to change colors yet this year! 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Updates on Homemade Mayo, Laundry Detergent and Mystery Plants

Sometimes I post about things I've made or use. Some of you have questions from time to time about whether or not I still use it or how it works for me.

This post will answer  some of those questions.

Homemade Mayonnaise:

We really like this and I've been whipping up a batch about once a week since. The flavor has not changed after setting for a few days so using half olive oil has worked ok.  Some of you have asked about how long this keeps in the fridge. The recipe says it will keep 2 weeks. We mostly use mayonnaise in things like chicken, egg, and tuna salad which uses a larger amount of mayo at a time. Because of this, we go through a small batch rather quickly so we haven't tested the 2 week thing out yet! I say, try it and see if you like it and whether or not it works for you!

Homemade Laundry Soap:

I really have liked my homemade powdered laundry detergent.  However, I've had a lot of trouble with some "build-up", especially towels and things where I've noticed the lack of absorbency. Stripping the laundry by using hot water, baking soda and vinegar has helped a lot  but while using the homemade soap, it seems that it continues to build up. I'm pretty sure this has to do with our hard water as we didn't notice an issue before moving here. Not sure if making homemade liquid detergent would have the same results. For now, I've switched to whatever liquid detergent is affordable and am happy with the results.

Mystery Plants:

My mystery plants turned out to be cantaloupe! The plants have long since died and we didn't actually get to eat any before they rotted but there were cute little cantaloupes on the vines.Good to know!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sam's Club And What We Buy There

A new Sam's Club just opened in our town. We've been looking forward to this for a long time! Sam's Club is one of the only places we need to go out of town for. Now there is a store one mile from our house!

Andy's parents generously give us a Sam's Club membership each year for Christmas. I really like Costco but if we already have a Sam's membership then I'll be glad to save money by using that membership and get what I can there!

Regular items on our monthly Sam's Club list include:
  • Cheese--under $3 a pound.
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Organic salad greens
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Alka-Seltzer Cold
  • Acetaminophen (store brand Tylenol)
  • Raisins
  • Spices
  • Crushed tomatoes --#10 can--perfect for this recipe for spaghetti sauce
  • Diced tomatoes --#10 can-great for freezer cooking sessions where I'll be using multiple small cans of diced tomatoes
  • Toilet paper
  • Kleenex
  • Dog food
  • Dates
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Walnuts
  • Coconut oil
  • Cornstarch
Some of these items last more than 1 month so I don't have to buy everything every month but these are our regulars. Not everything at warehouse stores is a good deal so it's important to know your prices before going crazy!

Baking supplies and dairy products are usually pretty good buys at Sam's. We like to buy toilet paper and Kleenex there even though they may not always be the lowest price. There's something to be said for buying at a good price and saving myself the time of running all over the place to get something on sale.

Do you shop at warehouse stores? What do you like to buy?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Produce Box

We purchased a Groupon this summer for a box of organic produce. The regular price for this box (which includes delivery) is $32 but we paid half-price for it through Groupon. We decided to use it to help our grocery budget this month.

We were very happy with the contents of the box. Everything looked great! The broccoli and pears caught our eyes first thing!

The box included:
  • 2 heads broccoli
  • 1 bunch celery
  • 1 head lettuce
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 onion
  • 5 potatoes
  • 2 apples
  • 2 pears
  • 3 jalapeno peppers

Do I think it's a great deal? Well, it depends. For $16, yes. But at this point, I can't justify $32 for this amount of produce even though this is about what I would pay in the store for organics. If our grocery budget were to increase significantly, I would definitely consider this service.

The other thing is that we plow through a large amount of fruits and veggies each week. This box is for a family of two for a week. We would need 2 of these! :-)

All that to say, we really did like the produce!

What do you think--expensive for organic produce or a good deal?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

So I Cut My Own Hair

Yes, I did!

I wanted a haircut. We're in the midst of a no-spend month. I had a hair cutting kit that had never been used. Why not use it now? (I didn't use the clippers--just the scissors and comb!)

I followed these instructions. I have a natural side part so I parted my hair on the side in the front and in the middle in the back instead of all in the middle like she instructs. 
I was much more excited about this endeavor than my husband but he was willing to photograph the experience for me. And witness my early morning insanity, hoping that it would not be a train wreck!

Me: "If this works, I'll save us at least $15!"
Him: "And if it doesn't, it'll cost us at least $30."
Me: "Pretty much!"

This was all done before my morning shower so no makeup or anything fancy! 


Parting the hair to divide for cutting:

First cut:

 This looks more lop-sided than in real life! :-)

My thoughts about cutting my own hair:
  • I chose a dry cut because cutting wet hair can result in a shorter cut than intended.
  • This was a simple cut; no layers. Nothing fancy-smancy! Layers, pixies, and bobs would take much more expertise.
  • My hair is more on the wavy/rebellious side. The disadvantage of not having straight hair is that it was more difficult to pull and comb it down straight before cutting. The advantage of wavy hair is that it hides imperfections such as not quite getting it cut evenly since it curls up at the ends.
  • My hair is also very thick. It would be easier to cut in more than two sections next time. Between the waviness and the thickness, it took more  than one snip across to get each section done!
  • One side seems to be a little shorter than the other. This doesn't bother me. I don't think I'm usually still long enough for someone to notice--LOL!!! Furthermore, I figured I'd do more damage if I kept trying to get it even so I just left it at good enough. Plus, it's still long enough to pull back in a pony tail if I decide it looks awful after a few days.
  • The most difficult part was trimming the "V" at the back once both sides were cut. I enlisted my photographer's help for this--he was scared to do it but did just fine!
  • I washed my hair right after my cut and love how it looked after. Bouncy and curly on the ends!
  • I really like my new haircut! I think that it looks very similar  to haircuts I've paid to have done. So I'm happy to have done it myself for free!
I'm certainly not a professional hair stylist and I don't plan to start cutting my friends' hair any time soon. It's nice to know I can give myself a simple cut at home though and with practice I'll probably get better at it!

Do you cut your own hair? Would you like to try?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Football Season

I got some kind of stomach virus last weekend that knocked me off my feet for most of 3-4 days. After a week, my digestive system is starting to get back to normal and my appetite may be coming back! I can't remember the last time I've been sick like that and am so glad to be feeling better. Being sick definitely threw my week off course and thus, it's been very quiet here! 
 Go Redskins!

Football season is upon us! We love football at out house. And by we, I really mean my husband.

I have a really hard time following football. I see big guys running with the football and that's about as far as I get.

On the flip side, I really enjoy football snacks. Oh yeah! Dips, little weinies in sauce, cheese and crackers, stuffed jalapenos, meatballs, dips... did I mention dips? I love them all. I don't have any trouble at all following football snacks!

If only "football snacks" was a sport. I'd be a most loyal fan!

Well, this year I decided I would not be left behind during football season. I would try to learn a little more about football so maybe, just maybe, I could have at least an elementary knowledge of the game. I know just enough to enjoy watching baseball, basketball and hockey. Surely I could learn about football too!

I'd seen "women's guides to football" at bookstores in the past so I did an Amazon search. Then took my findings to my library to see what they had. I ended up with a generic Football For Dummies and Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching The Game: A Woman's Guide To Loving Pro Football.

So I don't condone the language in the title of the latter book but it was the only "women's guide" my library had. Besides, it's proven to be a very good read so far! And quite the conversation starter for anyone who sees the book!

I can't guarantee that I'll turn into a big football fan or that I'll retain a lot about the game. But I'm making an effort... and I'm sure I'll learn something!

Do you enjoy watching football or are you there for the snacks?

Inspiration for wreath from here and here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

No Spend September: Week 1

The first week of No Spend September went very well! We were away for Labor Day weekend so our challenge began on Monday 9/2.

  • We paid bills and allotted money to the necessary categories. 
  • My husband declared that he would not look at daily deal sites for the month of September. He loves them and finds all sorts of good deals this way but we don't want to be tempted to spend this month! 
  • I followed some of the techniques in this book and did some serious planning for a one-time grocery shopping trip and monthly menu planning. This took extra time but we can already see the savings! 
  • Cooked 14 meals plus spaghetti sauce, rice and some other meal components for the freezer. 
  • I miss thrift store shopping! We drove right by the Salvation Army while doing our monthly shopping. Funny--I don't go to thrift stores that often; maybe once a month, but when we are purposely avoiding shopping I want to go!
  • Same with eating out--we had several instances where it would've been so easy to eat out but I packed snacks to hold us over and we ate at home.
  • We did stop at Culver's for FREE one-scoop sundaes with coupons sent for Andy's birthday. Culver's not only sends the birthday person a free coupon but also one for a relative of the birthday person. So nice! We had to stand against the temptation of ordering a Butter Burger and I had a weak moment when I caught a whiff of onion rings. But we stayed strong and enjoyed the freebie without purchasing anything else! We didn't make a special trip to Culver's but stopped there when going by anyways. 
  • We've been careful to plan trips to make the best use of time and gas.
  • I hung some laundry to dry; also cut the dryer time down for other loads. Most dried in less time or I hung them on the back of a chair to finish drying. 
I'm sure there are other frugal things but that sums up the week! 

The first week went well so we're continuing onward!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dividing Nuts Into Portions

 Each month we buy some bags of nuts for snacks, usually from Trader Joe's. Their nuts don't have unhealthy oils and are very good quality.

Nuts are expensive and eating too many of them is counter-productive to weight loss.

So to help them last longer and make sure we ,meaning I, eat only an appropriate amount, I've started portioning them out into small containers and baggies at the beginning of the month.

We love this--the nuts are ready to grab and go and they last longer too!

When following the serving size recommended on the back of the bag, we end up with 15-16 servings of each kind of nut.

I don't have enough reusuable snack containers so I used sandwich bags too. To cut down on waste, we just put the empty bag back in the snack box to reuse the next month!

This has worked so well, I've been prepackaging other things too like cottage cheese and grapes. Super handy for packing lunches!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

28 Dinners for September

As I mentioned yesterday, to help with planning our once-a-month grocery trip, I made a list of dinners that we'll be eating in September.

I tried to take into account for Saturday and Sunday nights when I want easy stuff and also a few nights where we will be gone in the evening. For the nights where we will be away over dinner time, I just wrote in "Early dinner/big snack" and no specific meal plan. We'll either do leftovers or snack type foods that night like cheese, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, veggies, nuts, etc. We always have something of that nature on hand so it should work out great!

Most meals will be served with a veggie or salad which I will come up with at the beginning of each week. I will choose 7 dinners off the list each week and put them on my weekly menu plan.

There are some repeats throughout the month; these are listed in no particular order! Meals marked with** indicate freezer meals that I made after shopping day and are ready to cook and eat!

Warning: Lots of links in this post!:-) 

  1. Sunday: Breakfast-in-a-hurry**
  2. Sunday: Tomato soup, cheese melts
  3. Sunday: Rice Salad
  4. Sunday: Spinach and cheese casserole**
  5. Saturday: Hot dogs
  6. Saturday: Hot dogs
  7. Saturday: Bunless burgers**
  8. Saturday: Bunless burgers**
  9. Early dinner/big snack: leftovers or snacky meal
  10. Early dinner/big snack: leftovers or snacky meal
  11. Early dinner/big snack: leftovers or snacky meal
  12. Rotisserie-style chicken #1: Chicken salad lettuce wraps
  13. Rotisserie-style chicken #2: Mexican chicken skillet
  14. Rotisserie-style chicken #3: Chicken gravy over brown rice
  15. Skillet spaghetti
  16. Pumpkin curry soup (with chicken added)
  17. Crockpot Pork Stew**(substituted pork instead of beef)
  18. BBQ chicken legs
  19. Crockpot Lentil and Rice Pilaf
  20. Crockpot Taco Soup**
  21. Crockpot Thai Chicken with peanut sauce**
  22. Crockpot Italian Sausage with peppers and onions**
  23. Crockpot Cheeseburger Soup**
  24. Beef **and Veggie Casserole (used beef instead of pork)
  25. Chicken, sweet potato, green bean bake
  26. Meatza
  27. Breakfast-in-a-hurry
  28. Baked tilapia or salmon
**Many of my freezer meals this month were crockpot meals that I assembled in gallon bags and then popped in the freezer. These were very fast to put together!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How I Grocery Shopped This Month

For this month's grocery shopping, I decided to follow a lot of the advice in this book and do all my shopping at once for the whole month. Besides, staying out of the stores more is good for our no-spend month!

I still will buy more fresh eggs this month and I kept some money out to buy chicken breasts when they go on sale; the sale should be coming around again soon! In addition, I have a Groupon for a produce box that I will use later in the month to supplement our supply of fresh produce.

This wasn't too different than usual since I often do a lot of my shopping at once. But this time, I did a lot more planning. I first took a thorough inventory of my pantry, fridge and freezer. Then I began making a meal plan for the month. I planned 28 dinners and made sure we would have enough things on hand for breakfasts and lunches.

After this planning was done, I started making a shopping list. I already have lists of what we buy at what stores with the prices. I used my store lists and the sale ads to determine what I needed to buy. I then tweaked the menu plan and grocery list in order to stay in budget.

This all took extra time but was well worth it. When shopping, I knew exactly how much of specific products I had at home so it helped me as I made decisions. This helped me save money and as a result, came in under budget! Very good for our no-spend month!

After shopping, my kitchen table looked like this:

A closer view in case you want to see what I bought! :-)

Part of my menu plan was based on a freezer cooking session which I did the next day! Now we have 14 meals plus some extras like spaghetti sauce, cooked brown rice, cooked lentils and shredded cheese in the freezer to use throughout the month.

It was a full couple of days--planning, shopping and then prepping and freezer cooking. But now, a week later, our hard work is definitely paying off as I'm able to pull food out of the freezer and so much of the planning has already been done!

I will share my list of 28 dinners tomorrow!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Homemade Mayonnaise

I've been wanting to try making my own homemade mayonnaise for a long time now! The raw egg thing kind of freaks me out so I've  waited to try it until I had a good source for farm fresh eggs.

Store bought mayonnaise usually features less than healthful oils and often sugar too! So by making my own, I'm able to use good oils and make a more healthful product.

I had "make homemade mayo" on my list for this week and then I saw that Money Saving Mom is hosting a "Make It From Scratch" challenge. I don't know if I'll join in every day this week with a new project/recipe but today I will!

I had read several recipes for mayonnaise and finally decided on this one from Happy in Dole Valley.

 I don't have sunflower oil on hand so I substituted olive oil and grapeseed oil. Almost every recipe I read said to use extra light olive oil and not extra virgin as the taste will get really strong. My olive oil is labeled as a combination of refined and virgin. To be on the safe side, I combined it 50/50 with grapeseed oil. We'll see how it tastes after it sets a while!

The mayo was super easy to make. I used my food processor; you can also use a blender, immersion blender or by hand with a whisk.

First, I gathered my ingredients.

Then I put the egg and seasonings into the food processor.

After starting the processor and mixing the ingredients, I began pouring the oil in very slowly.

And lo and behold, we have mayonnaise!

We thought it tasted very good! I plan to use it in chicken salad tomorrow.

Have you tried anything new recently?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

**This post is part of the Make It From Scratch week at Money Saving Mom.**

Friday, September 06, 2013

Book Review: Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half

I recently borrowed the book Cut Your Grocery Bill In Half with America's Cheapest Family from the library. It was a wonderful read and gave me some new ideas and a fresh dose of motivation to work on fine-tuning my grocery spending.

I used to be a super coupon queen but since changing our eating habits, I just don't do as much of that as I used to. I still use coupons though when I can, just not in as large of quantities as before.

When folks ask me about coupons, I always tell them that coupons are only one way of lowering the grocery budget. While coupons, especially if your store doubles or triples the value, can help to drastically reduce your out of pocket costs, there are many other strategies to cut your grocery costs that are easy to put into practice wherever you live and don't depend on the coupons available or your grocery store coupon policies.

I loved that this book was not just about using coupons but thoroughly covered many aspects of grocery spending. The big emphasis was on planning and efficiency. The more planning you do--from your pantry/freezer inventory, to menu planning, to shopping once a month, to freezer cooking--the more you will save, both in time and money.

The authors, Steve and Annette Economides, grocery shop once a month for their family of 7 and at the time of writing, spent only $350 a month! This book isn't about just eating beans and rice either--they eat a good amount of meat, fresh fruits and vegetables.

We currently spend $300-350 a month to feed our family of two adults, plus regular hospitality. This includes food, cleaning supplies, paper products and personal care products. It doesn't include dog food, vitamins, or eating out. I'm not out to drastically reduce my monthly amount but rather to find ways to make my dollars stretch a little further. We find that we feel so much better when we don't eat many grains so we try to stick with that fairly closely while eating at home. The downside is that a low-grain diet isn't quite as cheap as eating more breads, pasta and cereal. Could I feed us a low-grain diet more cheaply? Yes, probably, but most likely I wouldn't be able to cut the amount in half at this point, except in dire circumstances. Then you just do what you need to do!

The strategies in this book are ones that can be applied to each family's situation and dietary needs. I'll mention a few tips that stood out that I would like to implement.

  • Before menu planning, make a list of main dishes, veggies, fruits and starches you have to choose from. This makes menu planning super simple since you'll just have to match up the meat/main dish with a side or two.
  • Before grocery shopping and menu planning, take stock of what you have on hand by taking complete inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry. Make notes of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack foods you already have. 
  • Menu plan for 2 weeks, then work up to planning for the entire month!
  • Food for thought: A fridge or freezer outside or in the garage can be an energy hog. The higher temps make them use more energy. 
  • The Economides family would eat out for $18 or less (usually take-out). I wonder, since there are just two of us,  if we could do this for $10 or less for those meals when it's been a super crazy day and we want something quick. Some ideas for this are Chinese carryout, chicken from grocery store deli, dollar menu items and pizza. They suggest adding some side items from home for many of these options. And obviously, if going to  a sit-down restaurant,
  • Because they shop once a month, they make sure they're stocked up on canned fruits and veggies to add variety at the end of the month when the fresh produce is gone. I use a lot of frozen veggies but know a few canned goods wouldn't hurt either.
  • To know how much of a certain item you use in a specific time frame, label cans/jars with 1,2,3,4 etc. of however many you bought and the date purchased. When you get to the last one, you can tell how long it lasted and how many to stock up on when on a good sale or to last the month.
  • 1 chicken, 3 meals: Roast a chicken. Divide meat into 2 piles. Use 1 pile for chicken salad sandwiches for meal #1 and then divide the second pile to use for stir-fry or stew for meal #2 and make soup for meal #3. I've used this idea before; many chicken recipes would work with this technique. 
  • The authors are big on Once-A-Month Cooking. They cook and freeze 17 meals each month right after their big shopping trip, divided into categories such as 5 beef dishes, 6 chicken/turkey, 2-3 pork/ham and 3 misc. dishes such as lentil vegetable soup or calzones.The other meals are roasts, chicken and things that can easily be made fresh.
  • A quick tip I know will come in handy for my own freezer cooking is to label pans on the end for easy reading once stacked in the freezer!
I got a lot out of reading this book and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see if there are any other ways they could be saving money on groceries!

**I was not  reimbursed in any way for this review. All opinions are my own! Thanks to my local library for having this book available!**