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Instant Pot Homemade Yogurt

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Remember when I made my own homemade yogurt in a crockpot and made the bold declaration, “I’m Never Going Back!”

Well, it turns out I lied. Because I’ve bought a great deal of yogurt in the 2 years since then.

Don’t get me wrong, the homemade yogurt was DELICIOUS and significantly cheaper than store-bought varieties.

But it also took forever and was kind of a pain to babysit all day in the crockpot. I did make several batches, but the habit didn’t stick.

This weekend, though, I tried the new-age version of crockpot yogurt. I introduce you to Instant Pot Yogurt!

My mom got me an Instant Pot this last Christmas and I honestly haven’t used it nearly as often as I’d thought I would. The whole idea of cooking using pressure is cool in theory (cook from frozen in 30 minutes!), but it still takes awhile to come up to pressure (and release pressure after cooking), and I haven’t fallen in love with it as some others have.

But even so, I’ve been looking for ways to save money on our grocery bill and thought I could likely use the Instant Pot to make some homemade yogurt. Faster than the crock-pot method, less counter space used, and still the same great end result product!

I followed this recipe and had great results. I’ve reposted the recipe below (with my comments and modifications):

Instant Pot Homemade Yogurt

Start with a cool cooking pot. Pour milk into instant pot and cover with lid (note: it’s not going to be cooked under pressure, so the lid can be removed at anytime but keeping it covered helps the milk warm up faster).

Press the yogurt button and adjust until the screen reads “boil.” Whisk the milk occasionally while the heat kicks up. You must get your yogurt to at least 180 degrees (I usually aim for a few degrees higher). It took me two complete boil cycles for mine to get hot enough.

When the boil cycle is done the pot will beep and you can check the temp. Once you hit the magic number of 180, get the cooking pot out of the instant pot and soak in an ice bath in the kitchen sink. Continue to whisk the milk occasionally so it cools evenly. You want it to cool to 95-100 degrees.

Once the milk cools to 95-100 degrees, remove a cup and mix it together with a yogurt “starter.” This can be from previous homemade yogurt or store bought. The best yogurt to use is plain with nothing added. Just live yogurt cultures and milk. I used a 2% plain yogurt variety from Chobani.

After the cup of milk and yogurt starter are thoroughly combined, pour all back into the instant pot and recover with a lid. At this point, you want to let the yogurt sit for about 10 hours. Less time (8ish hours) will result in a milder taste and longer time (12ish hours) will result in a tarter taste. I made my yogurt so it would rest overnight so it was right about 8 hours.

Push the yogurt button on the Instant Pot again until it displays 8:00 (8 hours). You can adjust the time, if desired.

After the pot beeps that the incubation period is complete, use a glass cover or plastic wrap to seal the pot and put it in the refrigerator to cool (about 6-8 hours).

At the point, the yogurt should be thick enough for a spoon to stick in it!

Scoop out to store (I store mine in glass Ball jars in the refrigerator).

Or scoop into a bowl, top with fruit and granola, and enjoy!

I also like to make smaller batches with fruit. I’ll muddle some strawberries, add some lemon juice and sugar, and blend into the yogurt. If I do that, I try to eat the yogurt the same day because I don’t have any preservatives in the fruit mixture (so don’t, for example, make a giant batch of strawberry yogurt to last a week because the strawberries will start to go bad!). The plain yogurt should store for at least 2 weeks as-is.

To get Greek-stye yogurt, just strain once or twice using a cheesecloth. Voila!

Makes a great breakfast, snack, or side! I’ve been sending some for a lunch side-dish for my kids by putting into the little portion-sized containers (like these < not an affiliate link, just an example) and including a spoon in the lunch box. They LOVE the homemade yogurt and gobble it up! It’s a win all around!

Does anyone else make their own homemade yogurt?

What’s your favorite instant pot recipe?


3.5 Years Into Debt Repayment: Reflections & Looking Ahead

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Let’s get brutally honest. I never thought I’d still be blogging here right now.

When I first started blogging back in February 2014 (see my introduction post here), my goal was just to get out of credit card debt. At the time I had nearly $150,000 in total debt, and that amount seemed totally insurmountable. (See my first ever debt post here or read about what lead me to start my debt-reduction mission here). I had over $10,000 in credit card debt, so that was my original goal when I started blogging here. With a household income of about $45,000/year, I thought it would likely take 12-18 months to pay it all off.

I shocked everyone (myself most of all!) when I somehow managed to pay off my final credit card (over $10k in total credit card debt), in just shy of 3 months!!!! 

Where had all that money come from? It didn’t even seem mathematically possible, but the second I put my mind to it, things just started happening. Hubs’ got some big checks, I got some big checks, and we absolutely slashed our spending and expenses  down to next-to-nothing.

We ended up paying off over $25,000 of debt (+interest) in 2014.

We went on to pay off over $26,000 of debt (+ interest)  in 2015. 

And we kept the train rolling, paying off over $30,000 of debt (+ interest) in 2016!

Source

After just shy of three (long and hard-fought) years to get to this point, I finally reached the half-way mark in my debt-eradication journey in February of this year.

I received a lot of encouragement around that half-way point:

“The debt will just start melting away”, they said.

“It will start going so rapidly”, they said.

“It will feel so easy in comparison to the start”, they said.

“They” lied. Or maybe not lied, per se. But they were wrong. It’s not any easier. The debt is NOT falling away. And I do NOT feel like it’s a downhill run, easy in comparison to the start of the journey. If anything, it’s the hardest now that it’s ever been.

Why? What’s changed?

At the beginning of the year I’d set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2017 and beyond. My goals included:

  • Pay $30,000 toward debt
  • Fully fund a Roth IRA ($5,500)
  • Take a Mom & Dad Getaway trip

One goal about debt eradication, one about saving, and one that’s just a total splurge.

Guess which of the three actually happened? Just the splurge. That’s it.

We will likely have nothing to put into a Roth IRA this year. No extra money for savings of any kind really* (*caveat: my employer requires a mandatory 7% retirement contribution and provides a full match,  so I do have a pre-tax retirement account that’s being funded. But no additional savings of any kind – no liquid cash in a savings account, no Roth, etc.).

In terms of debt, we’ve managed to actually increase our debt burden. Things have been rough since April – first discovering a HUGE tax liability we had (still have), and then when my part-time job ended, hubs’ work ended, and the entire summer (May-August) we kept on spending like we had this phenomenal income (we’ve grown used to an income around $10,000/month), but my first full-time paycheck at my new rate of pay indicated that I’d likely only be bringing home around $4,500/month. It was a HUGE wake-up call. HUGE.

We’re still making pretty hefty debt payments, but it’s to the IRS and credit card companies in addition to the student loans I’d finally thought were starting to get under control. We’ll still have paid a good amount toward debt this year, maybe $20-25,000. But I doubt we’re going to hit that $30,000 mark that we’d planned on. Oh yeah…..and now we’re starting off in a worse place than we were at the start of the year because of all our new debt that’s been tacked on for the ride.

I have lots more to share about how our debt increased – all the over-spending we’ve been doing (and some unavoidable medical expenses, as well). But I’m going to save the nitty-gritty details for another post.

Right now, I just wanted to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we hope to be in the future.

Getting out of debt is hard work. Especially with the amount of debt that our family was grappling with. $150,000 is no joke. No small stuff to scoff at. It’s the real-deal, legitimate, takes years and years and lots of hard work and persistence type of debt to get out from under.

Life continues to happen. Life doesn’t care about our financial goals and our hopes and dreams and what we’ve got planned. Life just comes right at you full-force with job changes or job loss, unexpected health issues, costly car repairs, etc. Kids grow up! When I first started blogging here my twins were 18-months old! Now they’re five and entering kindergarten! Life doesn’t just “pause” and allow us to get out of debt real quickly so we can take our kids on fun trips, make lifelong memories, and  allow them to participate in all the activities and extracurricular that I would prefer None of that stuff happens.

Kids grow, parents age, emergencies (of the major + minor kind) occur. All while just trying to scratch and claw and slooooooowly climb out of the giant hole of debt that is our financial life. It’s tough. And it’s not fun. But I also cannot wait. I want to scream it from the rooftops: I CANNOT WAIT TO BE DEBT FREE!!!!!

Back when we made our financial goals for 2017 we were anticipating being debt free by early 2018.

Sorry to say, but it’s going to be longer than that, folks.

Hubs is back in school (= no income currently and only the possibility of part-time employment at best) and my income is pretty well “set” without a lot of room for flexibility. I just got a huge raise, but had to sign a non-compete for the next 3 years (lucky I love my job and where I’m at, but it means no chance of additional or outside employment in my current field for the time being). Without a chance for any significant increase in household income for now, our only option is to get our spending down. Spending, which has been a HUGE issue this summer.  This, to undoubtedly be the topic of several blog posts in the future.

I have to be honest. I don’t feel as much excitement as I used to. I don’t feel the same level of passion and enthusiasm. Right now, I’m just worn down and tired. We slacked off big-time this summer – I must admit. So it’s not like we’ve been living the rice-and-beans life for the entire 3.5 years. We did for the first 2 years, but our spending as of late has been unacceptable. So there’s certainly room for improvement.

But that doesn’t make it any easier.

So right now I’m just going to put out the big “pie in the sky” type of goal. We’ll get around to all the numbers and the concrete financials. But for now I just want to declare: 2018 will be our year!!! I don’t know that it’s possible. In fact, I think it’s likely a mathematical impossibility right now. But so was that $10,000 of credit card debt. And somehow, someway we managed to pay it off in 3 months. So I will keep the hope. We may not be done in early 2018 as originally projected, but I’m going to make it a personal goal to figure out how to sell any and everything of excess, how to totally scrimp and save and cut out all unnecessary spending and once and for all just GET OUT OF DEBT BY THE END OF 2018. December, I’m looking at you! What a wonderful Christmas present it would be to our family and ourselves to make a final debt payment in December 2018. It’s happening, folks. This debt is going down!

Who else is with me?

What are your current debt-reduction goals? When do you plan to be fully debt-free?


Kids and Money: Allowance

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I’ve written several times about my kids and money. One of my main goals is to teach them all about money everything from managing their own checking and savings accounts to monthly budgets and even on to credit scores. I didn’t have an inkling about what a credit score was until I went to purchase my first home with my husband back in 2003. Way too late for me to have done anything about it if I had screwed up. My kids will go in to ‘adulting’ and managing their own money with their eyes wide open to the good and the bad.

I think I mentioned in a recent post about Sea Cadet remaining in VA for the summer and working at the same summer camp he worked at last year. He loved it! He was required to save 50% of every paycheck, and he did very well with that. When he officially moved down to GA in August, he and I had a sit down about how that money should be handled. This is what we agreed on:

  • $400 was put into a joint savings account.  It will be used towards car repairs as needed.
  • The remainder will be doled out to him $20 a week as spending money.
  • I am giving him another $20 per week as spending money.
  • At this time, I am paying all his monthly bills: gas, insurance and phone.

With the younger two, they are given $20 a week as allowance. It’s not earned, it’s given.

With their own monies, they all are responsible for any activities they want to do, personal hygiene purchases and Gymnast must pay for hair cuts if he wants more than 1 per month (I pay for one per month.)  They are able to earn extra money with odd jobs, but when they earn money they must save 50% of it in their savings accounts.

Sea Cadet it not working at this time. I wanted him to focus on his college classes.  He is completing his senior year of high school as a college student at the local technical school.  He is taking 11 hours, and thusfar doing really well.  I imagine I will encourage him to seek a part time job beginning the next semester, but I wanted to give him every opportunity to be successful as he begins the EMS program and wasn’t sure how challenging it would be for him.

Princess has started cleaning houses (family to start) to earn some money after the opportunity presented itself.  And Gymnast almost daily asks for paid jobs from everyone he knows.  Little does he know how busy he will get as these leaves start coming off the trees.

All of my kids pitch in around the house, everyone cooks one night a week, cleans the kitchen after themselves, takes care of their own laundry and so on.  These are not paid jobs, it’s just expected that we take care of our home and our belongings.  We are to that age and that expectation level that I do not have to push them or schedule ‘chores’ anymore, they just do it.  I couldn’t be more proud, and frankly our home has never been cleaner.


It’s Good to Be Back

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I’m so excited to be writing here again. I was shocked when Ashley’s post mentioned we had been writing here for 3 1/2 years now (we started the same week.) I feel like I need to go back and re-read where I’ve been sometime soon to prove how far I’ve come. Just a recap of what comes to mind:

  • We lost our home and moved into a tiny apartment.

    Not sure what we would do without board games. Between work, gymnastics training and school, board games keep us sane!

  • We sold our giant van.
  • We lived survived and thrived living in 900 square feet with all five of us and our 4 animals.
  • I lost my primary source of income.
  • We spent 9 months ‘glamping’ when I could no longer afford our apartment. I’m grateful for the gift, it kept us from becoming truly homeless or spending a single night in a shelter.
  • We had to say good-bye to all our animals in one way or another, but enjoyed raising chickens while we were glamping.
  • We moved to another state earlier this year and in with my grandmother.
  • I got a great new job.
  • I continue to work 2 part time jobs and a variety of odd jobs.
  • We rented our very own home in Georgia, leaving one of the twins in Virginia, and now we each have our own bedroom after 3 years of tiny living.
  • For the first time in a LONG time, we are not living paycheck to paycheck.  But I still have a long way to go in learning to make better money choices and becoming truly debt free.
  • And this is where we begin today.

So much has happened during my life on BAD. I can’t wait to see where we go next. I write this as Irma rages outside. I was so grateful to be able to work from home today and tomorrow while she moves on through. We’ve had some limbs fall on the roof, one took out our backside neighbors brand new fence. We will wander out when it’s over and see the damage, but for now I’m just grateful for a cozy home.

I’ve made some terrible financial decisions lately. And it’s huge for me to be able to just say that. I even said as must out loud to a friend this past weekend when we went out for chips and dip. Thinking with my heart instead of my head. More on those coming soon. But I definitely recognize that I have a problem.


Coffee Date

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Hi Friends! I know I said it in my last post, but I’ve really missed you guys! This has been the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken since I started blogging 3 and a half years ago (<how has it been that long?!?)

So before diving straight into fully-financial posts, I wanted to just do a casual coffee date today. It’s as if we’re buddies meeting up for a cup of Joe, catching up on each other’s’ lives. See some past coffee chats here or here.

If we were having coffee today, I’d tell you how much I’m looking forward to some true Fall weather. Here in Tucson it’s still over 100 degrees F every day. I’ve been working out in the 5am hour and even at that time it’s already in the low 80s. I’m ready to bust out my fall decorations, drink some homemade pumpkin spice lattes, and cuddle up on our back porch in an oversized sweater while feeling the crisp in the air.

Exercise

Speaking of exercising at 5am, I’m training for another race. Last November I did my 3rd half-marathon. This November I’m signed up to do a Ragnar relay race. For those unfamiliar with Ragnar, these are running races that last 24+ hours. The traditional style of run is a road race, but the run I’m signed up for is a trail run in McDowell, AZ. I’m on a team of 8 and we will each run 3 legs (approx. 5 miles each) over the 24-ish hour span of time. I’m starting week 5 (of 12) of training and have really been enjoying it! I’ve always been a solitary runner. I’m not very fast and have never joined any running groups, etc. But my team (consisting of members of my department at school) has been meeting up on weekends to do our trail runs together and it’s been so fun having a group to sweat with, and to help keep me accountable when I’m not wanting to roll out of bed at 5am on a Sunday morning! Ha!

What about you? Are you working toward any goals or doing any type of diet or exercise regimen right now?

Texas Family

So much has been going on with my Texas family lately! All are located in Austin, so they were inland enough to be spared of any serious Hurricane Harvey damage. Remember that my mom and stepdad both broke their arms back in early July? They have lots of physical therapy and rehab ahead, but they’re both on the mend and expected to make a full recovery! My little sister welcomed a new bundle of joy to the world in late August! The delivery was smooth and easy and the baby has been a perfect angel – sleeps and eats well and only fusses when hungry, tired, or wet. She says it’s their 3-year-old whose been the problem. Tough transition from 1 child to 2, but they’re doing well. We believe my Dad is in the process of experiencing another step-down with his dementia. He was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration back in August 2015 and is currently living in an assisted living memory care facility. Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) has been woefully understudied, so I can’t say anything definitive from a medical perspective, but several patients with FTD experience absolutely debilitating neurologic pain in the areas of their brain that are degenerating. I believe this corresponds with neuronal death. The pain is often associated with a “step down” in cognitive functioning. FTD is not a slow, gradual decline. Instead, it’s marked by periods of stasis, followed by rapid decline, then another period of stasis, etc. The periods of stasis can last weeks or months. The past few days have been painful ones for my Dad so we’re expecting another decline. His language has been impacted first and he’s really having a tough time with it these days. It’s hard for me because, living in Arizona with my Dad in Texas, our primary form of keeping in touch is phone conversations. I send pictures and letters, but we talk and/or text daily. It’s becoming increasingly challenging, though, as it upsets him when he doesn’t understand me (which is happening with increasing frequency).

How are your parents doing? No health issues, I hope?

Husband 

Hubs is doing well, but has had a tough time not working since his business closed down a few months ago. He used to be a flooring contractor but is now back in school for engineering and cannot sustain a full-time job. The cost of all the licenses and insurance were too much to justify renewal so he let the business come to a natural conclusion when everything came up for renewal. While he’s done well in school (last semester was his first one back full-time), I think it’s been a big transition for our entire family for him to not be working. He’s used to having his own income and additional spending money and it’s been tough to balance wants and needs within our family budget. I mentioned how my first full-time paycheck was a bit of a shock. Much lower than I’d been expecting. Budgeting is still a work in progress, and one I’ll be talking a lot more about in future posts. On the bright side of things, hubs is also in the process of obtaining his personal training certificate. He’s midway through the program and will be done in mid-October (juggling it along with his course load). He’s hoping to be able to pick up some part-time work after he receives his certification so that he can make enough money to cover his own personal effects and expenses while in school. He may be able to contribute a little to the household too, but even if he’s only able to cover his own wants and needs it will be a big help. Hubs has always been the “breadwinner” in our family, so having the roles reversed and being in a position where basically every expense is discussed (and budgeted) has been a change for him. (Edited to add: Check out this throwback post I wrote years ago about Our Financial Relationship for more background info.).

How’s your spouse, partner, girlfriend/girlfriend, significant other? Single? Are you on the dating scene? Any funny stories or interesting people you’ve met recently?

Kids

The kids (5-year old twins) are now a month-deep into kindergarten and they just got a new teacher! Yup. The old one, while kind, was having a lot of personal problems that interfered with her ability to do her best work. I was worried when I saw the stark contrast in what my kids were doing compared to the kindergarten kids in other classes (I’m friends with other moms and the curriculum is supposed to be the same for the whole grade). While I do feel bad for the old teacher and hope that she finds some peace in her life, I’m beyond relieved that my kids got their new teacher. She has been absolutely fabulous and it’s just the breath of fresh air that we needed. She jumped right into the role, hit the ground running, and I’m so impressed with how much the kids already love her! It gives me warm-fuzzies and makes me confident that they’re at the right school (we chose a charter school, as the public schools in our area don’t have the best ratings). They have been doing karate the past few months and, while I absolutely love it and all it’s done for them (boosting self-confidence, increasing independence, etc.), we’ve made the tough decision to cancel our membership for the time being, September being our last month. It was costing $150/person/month. At $300/month in total, we just can’t continue to afford it. It doesn’t fit within our budget. The girls do still participate in a gymnastics program, but it costs less than half that amount ($65/person/month; $130 for both per month). We like for them to be involved in extracurriculars, but can’t be paying nearly $500 a month for it!  At $130/month we feel comfortable. We also try to only do one activity at a time. So far they’ve done ballet, swimming, karate, and gymnastics. I’d love for them to be involved in some type of music lessons and I want them to do some team sports (like soccer!), but right now just be sticking with gymnastics.

How are your kids? Are they involved in any extracurricular activities right now? How do you find quality ones that don’t break the bank?

Work

Work is going great! I’m now only doing my one full-time job (up until a couple months ago I’d been working full-time plus a part-time job). I thought I’d have all this extra time on my hands once the part-time job ended but of course that’s never the case. I do think I have more time, I’ve just filled it with other things (like my 5am workouts – which used to be 5am emails and work). I also have more time to do my meal planning, shopping sales, and food prep. So we have less money, but I think my life has more balance. And with any luck (and a lot of planning and prep), hopefully I can save enough money to offset the loss-of-income from the part-time job. We shall see. One big area I will be targeting is FOOD costs. More info to come.

How’s your job? Things with your boss? Your co-workers?

 

I hope everyone is staying safe! My thoughts are with anyone impacted by Irma! I did my Masters degree at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton (about an hour north of Miami, right on the coast) and I still have lots of friends in the area. Thinking about all of you! Also, on this Patriot’s Day, I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank all first responders and helping professions (nurses, doctors, paramedics, etc. etc.). I don’t have the gumption to do that type of work and our country would be lost without it, so thank you to those of you selfless enough to go into these professions! Thoughts with any/all who were impacted by the events on 9/11.

 

Hugs to you all! Stay safe out there!

~Ashley


Thoughts on Increasing Debt

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Hi all! Sorry for the long hiatus! I’ve missed this site and am glad to announce that I’ll be staying and continuing to blog here under our new blog ownership! Hope you haven’t gotten sick of me yet! 😉

It’s been awhile! I plan to do a little “coffee chat” update post soon. But I wanted to jump right back in to talk about some of the things I noticed while we’ve been moving in the wrong direction with our debt. The summer months were rough on our budget and our finances. It was the first time in my 3+ years of blogging here that we’ve gone in the WRONG direction with our debt. Yep, it’s increased.

I’ll be posting some numbers soon. A whole “starting over” series to come. But in the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had these past couple months as our debt has started to slip the wrong direction.

  1. I’ve never seen so many credit card offers in my life. It’s smart, I guess. But it appears that all the credit agencies in the world were tipped off (or following credit reports) and have pounced the second that they realized we’ve accumulated a little bit of debt (meaning, we’re now paying interest to credit card entities instead of paying cards off in full at the end of the month). Seeing the opportunity to make some cash, every company and their mother has been sending me mailers with credit card offers. Kind of creepy, really. And sneaky, too.
  2. “Don’t forget about us” cards. My rarely used/unusued credit cards started showing up in the mail, too. They were sent along with different credit offers, cash advance checks, etc. The new cards were sent even though the old ones haven’t expired. It feels a little predatory, in my opinion.

Source

These credit-lending places sure JUMP at the chance to capitalize on our increasing debt load! They’ve got a business to run and all, but it sure feels a little grimy. Leaves a bit of a dirty taste in my mouth.

Meanwhile, we haven’t had a penny of credit card debt in over 3 years (since we paid off the Bank of America card back in June 2014). Here we are, now September 2017. We have a significantly higher household income than we did back in 2014; back when I swore we would absolutely never ever go back into credit card debt again.

How did this happen? How did we get here?

It’s all a little overwhelming. It’s also frustrating and disappointing. But here we are.

I’m not a quitter. I don’t plan to give up. Instead, I think this little detour just goest to show that not everyone’s debt-eradication path is in a straight line. We’re fighting the good fight and it’s full of curves, ups and downs, unexpected issues, etc. We’re normal.

I hope you’ll stick around and continue to cheer me on as I dig deep and re-commit to finally – once and for all – getting out of debt for good!!!

 

PS: Stay safe out there for all affected by the horrific storms/earthquakes/etc impacting our world right now!


Quick Update with Irma

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Hello everyone,

I wanted to let everyone know that I will try and get an update up in the next few days but right now, we are covered up trying to prepare for Irma to hit. I hope everyone is safe and secure from the storm.

 

Stay safe.

 


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