Thanksgiving on a Budget


I mentioned earlier this week that I’m hosting my first Thanksgiving since having kiddos. My Dad is coming to town so it will be a small group: 3 adults and 2 kids. Even though there won’t be a lot of us, I still want to have a “traditional” Thanksgiving with all the regular fix’ ins. The problem, of course, is that this can get pretty pricey in a hurry! Yes, turkey is on sale (I snagged mine for .79/lb!!!), but when you are buying a ton of food the cost jumps up pretty quickly.

To try to keep costs low I decided to plan a reasonable menu and stick to it. I often find that I can go overboard with planning enough food to feed an army, so I thought this would help keep things within check.

BUT, when husband saw the menu he instantly objected. Tell me what you think:

Thanksgiving Menu:

  • Turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Rolls
  • Cranberry Sauce

Anything jump out at you???

Husband brought up that there are no veggies (potatoes don’t count!) One of his favorite side dishes is green bean casserole and he voted we add it to the menu. But one more side dish feels a little over the top. So what could we remove???

Enter: The Great Potato Debate

We have two kinds of potatoes on the menu (sweet and mashed). The obvious choice is to cut one of them. Sweet potato casserole is probably my favorite part of the entire meal. But you can’t have thanksgiving without the mashed potatoes, can you? I mean, what are you going to drown in gravy and eat with your turkey??

What would you do?

I’d like to keep the side-dishes to a minimum but I’m really thinking I might just have to keep both potato dishes AND add the green bean casserole. Maybe just make smaller portions of everything??

Also – have you been watching your local store sales recently? Dang, there are some good deals right now! If you have a Fry’s grocer in your area, I’ve been killing it with some amazing deals on canned foods lately! I try to rely mostly on fresh foods for dinner, but it sure does help to have a stocked pantry in lean times and the deals right now are so amazing they’re not to be passed up! I got a ton of varieties of Green Giant canned veggies (39 cents each), chicken broth (39 cent), beef broth (39 cent), cream of chicken soup (50 cent), boxed stuffing (50 cents) and I’m sure more that I’m now forgetting. Such low prices!

To try to save money I made my Thanksgiving grocery list a couple weeks ago and I’ve been buying items as they come on sale (like brown sugar and pecans this week). Whatever hasn’t gone on sale and is still needed I’ll grab next week. Hopefully it shouldn’t be too costly. This is my first year doing Thanksgiving since blogging away my debt, and it has definitely changed perspective. Instead of just going to the store and buying everything I need in a single trip, I’ve been strategizing and scouring sales, and trying to still buy everything I need, but to get it to stay within my budget. It hasn’t been too hard with all the killer sales, but it’s definitely required some extra forethought so I could break up the purchases across a few weeks’ time.

I’ll also end up being able to save some money on dessert. A friend has invited us over but we’ve opted to do our own dinner (partly because I’d like to have our first “family” Thanksgiving, and partly because their dinner is during the toddlers’ nap times), but we’ve decided to go over to their house for dessert. So, instead of being tempted to make and/or buy 2-3 different dessert options, I’m going to be able to stick with one and simply take it to my friends’ house. They’ll have additional options there so there were still be plenty of variety.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? How do you keep costs down on Thanksgiving food? What would you say about our menu (keep both potatoes? Cut something from the menu?)

Life Happenings…


Hi guys!

Probably didn’t expect to hear from me this evening, hmm??

Truth is life has been scattered lately! Instead of having posts pre-planned and waiting to go up at “X” time, I’ve just been writing and pressing “publish” whenever I can. Writing as life happens, that is.

At any rate, we’re back in our house. It’s still a bit of a cluster. They had to re-carpet two rooms and although the carpet installers moved things for us, it was still quite an ordeal. The cribs were too big to fit through the door frames so had to be completely disassembled. Even with things finally moved back, it almost feels like we’re in the middle of a move or something! On the good news front, our landlord is going to work with us on some of the costs. I feel uncomfortable disclosing the numbers in our agreement, but I’m happy with the situation. This month will still require us to dive into our emergency fund (both for the house stuff and for the car repairs), but I’m knocking on wood for a calmer week this week!

In other news, I was able to get a couple work applications submitted! I had 2 due on the 15th (which was a Saturday) and one on the 17th (a Monday). I looked at them all and decided to ditch one of the applications. I selected the job I was least likely to get and metaphorically chucked it out. The other two applications I completed late Sunday night (the 16th). I realize this was past the deadline for one of them, but I figured the reviews wouldn’t start until Monday anyway so I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would work out. And guess what…I’ve already heard back on one of the jobs! They’re requesting additional information, which is always a good sign (means I’ve at least made it past the initial round of cuts). It’s for a job here in Tucson and is not a tenure-track position, though it still keeps me in academia. Obviously a tenure-track job is what I’d really like (or maybe its not so obvious….but I spent 6 years in graduate school specifically to try to earn a tenure-track position, so this is a big point of distinction for me). However, I’ve figured that if I get this position I could probably keep teaching at least 2 classes per semester online through my teaching job, and would effectively make my salary higher than most entry-level tenure-track positions. Plus then we wouldn’t have to deal with a cross-country move (so torn on this though, as I’d love to be closer to family). So, we’ll wait and see what happens. I know better than to get my hopes up at this stage in the game.

Also, I’m taking some of your advice and trying to fix my own iPhone screen. Since I initially mentioned that I’d broken my screen again, the crack has progressively gotten worse. There are now pieces of glass that have fallen out and I’ve actually sliced my fingers a few times (small slices, more like paper cuts). At any rate, it needs to be replaced. I found a $15 kit on ebay complete with new screen, all the tools, adhesive material, etc. and it should be here tomorrow. I’m a little nervous. I’ve watched a couple youtube videos and it does NOT look easy. But I did find a cheaper place that can do repairs here in town ($115, whereas last time I paid $150). I figured even if this doesn’t work out, I can still go with the cheaper place and be saving money over what I paid last time. Obviously I would prefer if it just works out with this repair kit and I get away with only a $15 fix (+ cost of a new OtterBox case, as that seems to be the consensus for best/strongest case). I’m still mad at myself over breaking the phone, but in light of the Crap River we just dealt with, it seems like small potatoes.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having to hold myself back from some retail therapy. I’m really not a big shopper, but I’ve been longing to go to Kohl’s and buy myself some new warm tops (now that it’s finally a bit colder in Tucson…sorry to those of you in negative degree weather!!) I think this is partly due to stress, partly due to simple change in weather and wanting newer clothes for the new season, and partly due to all the spending we’ve been doing. It almost feels like “oh, well, we’ve already spent $XXX on hotel and food, what’s another $50 or so for clothes???”  Don’t worry, I haven’t done it (and I have plenty of warm-weather clothes, for the record), but the struggle has been real!

And, lastly, I’m SO SO excited for Thanksgiving next week! My Dad is going to come to town and it will be the first time that I’ve hosted a Thanksgiving at our house since the girls have been born (the first year when they were 5 months we went to a friends’ house; last year when they were 17 months husband was in the hospital with his mystery illness and we skipped the holiday all together). I’m starting to think that Novembers are cursed (not really…but kinda), so it will be good to be with family celebrating everything we’re thankful for. I’m trying not to go too overboard with food, so I’ve planned a menu. I plan to write a whole post on this to run it by you all for some suggestions on how you save money at Thanksgiving. The point is, I’m really looking forward to it!! Now I need to find a free Turkey Trot 5K or something. All this eating out has made me bloated and “ugh” feeling!

I hope your weeks are all off to a great start! Let’s get a head start on Thanksgiving week – leave me a comment with something you’re grateful about! 


Tracking Expenses and Budgeting


Hi all!

I’m about to run out the door to drop the girls off at preschool. The plan is to check out of the hotel today and go back to our own home (fingers crossed). Should know more about that in the coming hours….

Right now, though, I wanted to ask you guys’ advice about how to handle all of the extra expenses we’ve incurred (specifically regarding the hotel room and food). Would you enter these into your regular budget?? I tend to think I would just make one entry – the $500 deductible for our renter’s insurance. Then I would track all of our expenses separately (not inside of our regular budget) so we can be reimbursed through insurance. Is this the “right” way to do it?

Or would you add all of these expenses to your budget (e.g., adding food expenses to the eating out or grocery budget), and then consider the insurance money as additional “income”???

I’m sure there are several ways to handle the situation but right now it just feels overwhelming and I want to make sure I’m not messing something up. I’m just accumulating a bunch of receipts and don’t know if I need to add them to our budget or if they should all be kept totally separate???

Not sure what to do about this to best track financials.

Thanks for your advice!


Am I Being Punk’d???


This was the question I thought to myself after my husband called me Sunday afternoon to let me know his truck had just stopped working. He’d been able to make it to an auto shop  right off the highway and was told the likely issue would be about a $2,000 repair.

I had to laugh, if only to keep from crying.

Husband immediately starts talking about buying a newer (used) truck by taking out a loan.

My reaction is, “Absolutely Not!! More debt is not the solution!!!!”

I tell him to start googling and/or craigslisting used trucks while he’s waiting for the mechanics to look at his truck.

I start looking at my bank account, trying to figure out how much we can swing and what monies can be moved around.

Imagine my relief when husband calls about 20 minutes later and the first words out of his mouth are, “Good news!!!!”

There was still some type of problem, but fixing the problem (including parts and labor) only ended up costing $350. It’s still a lot, particularly in light of everything else we’re currently facing. But it’s a far cry from $2,000 and we don’t have to worry about replacing the truck just yet.

What a wake-up call to get all our finances in order, though! First the house debacle and now this! If we were debt-free weathering these types of storms would be so much easier!

It’s also a little concerning that the initial knee-jerk reaction for how to solve the problem was to take on more debt. How brain washed are we, as a culture, to think that’s the answer???

Ugh! No more!

“Crappy” Day


Warning:  Pretty graphic details to follow so if you have a weak stomach….you’ve now been warned.

Friday started out pretty normal. I took the girls to preschool, hit up the gym, and settled into working at the JCC. About noon I had to come home because I was expecting a package that required a signature. I got home, ate lunch, and jumped in the shower. I took an indulgently long shower. This is one of the areas that I’ve tried to cut-back since I’ve been blogging away my debt but a long, steaming-hot shower is one of my favorite weaknesses and on this day I decided to be indulgent. My shower lasted probably close to 20 minutes. As soon as I turned the water off and stepped out, I heard the unmistakable sound of water running.

“Hmm, that’s weird,” I thought. “I didn’t accidentally leave a sink running in the kitchen, did I?”

I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me, and walked out of the master bedroom into the living room. At that point I see it. Water is streaming from the second bathroom. Still nekkid (save the towel), I run down the hall way, splashing through water to get to the second bathroom. At this point I see water just pouring from none other than the toilet. Sewage water, to be exact. I grab the plunger and furiously start plunging (totally naked at this point, as I’d had to abandon my towel to plunge with both hands), but the river flowing forth from the toilet is undeterred.

I’ve never dealt with plumbing issues this severe. I’ve learned a lot since this point (ummm…turn off the water to the toilet!!!), but at the time I had no idea what to do. I’m running around the house screaming and trying to stop the tide of water from entering the bedrooms by throwing towels down on the floor to act as little barricades. Finally the water stops.

I call Chris frantic. I tell him we have an emergency and explain the situation. I don’t think he realizes the full extent of the situation. He tells me to simply mop up the water and he’ll handle a deep cleaning when he gets home. I do what I can to try to mop up a bit and I had successfully kept the water confined mostly to bathroom, hallway, and laundry room (all tiled areas of the house).

Next I do what any person who has just splashed in sh*tty water would do. I take another shower.

This time it’s a quickie. I basically just soap up my hands, arms, feet, and legs to get the sewage water cleaned off of me. I turn off the shower and I hear it again. The toilet in the second bath is freely flowing like a raging river of crap water. Again.

I throw on a robe and race from my room in horror. This time I call my Mom in tears and explain what’s happening. She guides me through turning off the water to the toilet. I call Chris, explain the full extent of the situation, and he heads home. At the end of the ordeal we have literally two inches of water in the bathroom, and it has now expanded into at least 2/3 of the house, including the baby’s room, the guest room, living room, and into the kitchen.

I am absolutely frantic. There are actual human turds floating down the Ganges River that is my hallway. I have never seen or dealt with anything so uniquely disgusting and horrifying and it is about this point that I have a breakdown, sobbing as I watch the water soak into our beautiful living room rug, overtake the baby toys scattered about, and ruin everything in its path.

I’m sure you can imagine how the next several hours went.

We called our landlord who came out to assess the situation (we rent from a private individual, not a company). He called his home owner’s insurance, who came out and sucked up the water and set up huge fans to dry. A plumber came out and discovered that there is something wrong with the line out by the street. What I didn’t know earlier (while taking my long shower) was that all of the water that was going down the drain from my showers was meeting a blockade and somehow in the pipes it forced the closest thing (the sewage water) to come back up in our home. We were also told the problem would not be able to be fixed until at least Monday (at the earliest).

We gathered up some essentials and moved into a hotel.

I never did finish my job applications. It’s now 3:00pm (Tucson time) and not looking likely that I’ll finish them in time. I’m also hopelessly behind on grading first due to the girls’ being home sick and now due to this situation. I want to go to sleep and just wake up middle of next week and have everything be done. If only it were that easy.

But let’s look at the bright side of things. This situation, although disgusting, isn’t all doom and gloom.

  • I’m so glad we rent! It’s no secret that we’d like to be home owners but when situations like this arise, I’m so, so, so glad that we aren’t the ones footing the bill.
  • I’m so thankful we just renewed our renter’s insurance. The home owner’s insurance only covers damages to the house (e.g., if drywall or flooring needs to be replaced). Our renter’s insurance will have to step in to cover any damages to our personal property.
  • I’m so thankful we have a healthy emergency fund and that we live on last month’s income so we have a big buffer in our checking account!
  • I’m glad I’ve had a chance to calm down and gain some perspective. When this first happened I was literally like, “WORST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!!” That’s just silly. Yes, its a huge inconvenience. Yes, it’s freaking disgusting. Yes, it has screwed me with work. But it’s not the worst thing ever. We are all safe, healthy, and happy-ish (the girls get a lot of anxiety over the new situation so they’re not exactly happy campers). But we’re all in one piece, and that’s something to be thankful for.

I’ve already spoken with a claims person from our renter’s insurance and will need to work with them on reimbursement of various things. We will for sure end up paying our deductible ($500), but I believe they should replace damaged items and cover our costs for a hotel.

There are plenty of other financial implications from this situation. Unable to access our home (and the main water has now been turned off…not just water to the toilet), we have had to eat out for dinner last night and all day today (and will continue having to eat out throughout the weekend). We haven’t talked to our landlord about what our tenant’s rights are (will he cover any of these costs??) because right now we’re just in survival mode – hanging out a hotel and trying to keep things as “normal” as possible for the girls’ sake. That’s the most important thing to me. Next week, while the girls are at preschool on Monday, we’ll have to deal with all the financials further.

I’m going to be 100% honest and say I don’t know how much I’ll be able to check in for the next few days. I will try to keep you all abreast of what’s going on but this is still very much at “minor emergency” status in our lives as we are displaced from our home and trying to make things work. My order of priorities in the coming days is as follows:

1 = family

2 = work

3 = house drama

4 = everything else (which includes blogging)

Sorry to be so brutally honest but I’ve got to keep it real with you AND with me and not make promises I can’t keep. I hope to be back on Monday with some sort of update but if I’m not then you know what’s going on. We’re all safe and healthy, but just dealing with some major life drama right now.

Thanks so much for the support!

Oh Hell


Stuff is going down!!! And not in a good way, either. Potentially major financial implications.

More info to come soon…

Ashley’s Updates and Comment Replies


Hey guys!

Thanks for your patience with me this week! Husband and I both managed to escape any illness (knock on wood), but toddler #1 had to stay home from preschool on Monday and toddler #2 had to stay home from preschool on Wednesday (they only go MWF), so this week has been rough work-wise. Thus, I’m going to have to really get my rear in gear today while both are healthy and at school! I have so much going on I’m going to just word-vomit with bullet points instead of using full paragraphs…

  • I have two job applications to complete….today (due by the 15th). Yikes!!! In the past apps have taken me nearly 10 hours each and I haven’t even started either yet. Wish me luck!
  • I will definitely add a column in my future debt update posts to reflect the original balance (thanks for this suggestion – so obvious, but I’d never thought to do it before!)
  • Speaking of debt….I’m thinking a change of the plan of action is in order??? More on this to come as I think things through a bit more. I hate to make so many changes. It is not like me to be so “flaky,” but (credit to Walnut for mentioning this) since our income situation has changed it makes sense to re-evaluate our debt payoff plan of action.
  • A couple people mentioned our car being brand new. Just wanted to clarify that our car was bought used. It’s still a newer model (2011), but we bought it in March 2013. Also, we are not upside down on it anymore. Still don’t think we’re wanting to sell at this point though. Perhaps this topic can be discussed more in depth when I re-hash our debt plan of action.
  • Small win – we are set to pay off one of our (three) medical bills next month! We have 3 separate medical bills each month (for $25, $50, and $75, respectively). We’ll be ridding ourselves of the $75/month bill. Wahoo!!!

So there you have it. I’ve got to get some serious work done but I’ll be back soon!!