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Birthday on a Budget


Shhh, this is a secret post.  You’ll remember a month or so back I mentioned that I was going to find a way to throw together a birthday party for the littles since they so graciously gave it up last year.  Well, we started exploring and talking about it…and I started pricing things.  The bowling alley ($15-17 per child,) the trampoline park ($250+,) and so on and so forth.  And frankly, in my frugal state of mind, I was just flabbergasted.  So I’ve come up with a fabulous, frugal plan and the kids no nothing about it.

Prepare for a Surprise Pool Party!!!  And it’s next week.  I went to our apartment management and asked how much it would be to rent the clubhouse and pool for a party.  My thoughts were since school was still in session we might could get a pretty good deal doing it during the week.  Well, they wouldn’t rent them to me.  The clubhouse is never available for rent, but as long as I kept the guess list to less than a dozen…I could use the pool for FREE!!!!

So next Thursday, we are having a SURPRISE pool birthday party for the littles.  I have invited all their homeschool friends via text message (free,) ordered a birthday cookie cake (discounted because one of the twins works there,) will order pizzas for lunch (discounted because of the twins work there,) and will have a cooler full of drinks.

And the icing on the cake is that our best family friends, who also homeschool, are going to come in town the day before and spend a long weekend with us so they can celebrate with us!  (The littles know they are coming, but not about the party.)

I am so excited about this surprise for the kids, so now I’m just praying the weather cooperates!  (I will post the numbers after it’s all said and done, but am anticipating less than $100 for the whole thing and that includes feeds 5 other families lunch and cake – woot, woot!)  Another plus side to living in our wonderful apartment complex!

Summer Groceries – KISS Style


It is HOT outside.  I mean we’ve approached 90 degrees on a couple of days already.  Needless to say, we are very grateful for our wonderful apartment pool which we are enjoying as often as we can.  And one other thing that comes with HOT is that we start eating differently, craving different foods then we do during the cooler months.  I’m sure there are studies on this, but my statements are only from years of observing my family.

So we are once again re-vamping our grocery lists.  For the last few months, the kids have each chosen a theme for their night and we ate accordingly.  But with summer two things are different, one we don’t want as heavy or filling of meals and two there are a lot of nights when there are just a couple of us eating (work, camps, friends all take us away and feed us.)

We are going to focus on fruits and veggies that can be grabbed quickly on the run, put our “bigger” meal earlier in the day and each person has a water bottle to keep full and cold to keep them hydrated.  I’m calling this our KISS style of groceries: Keep It Simple Stupid.  So here’s what our weekly grocery looks like:

  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • 8 bananas
  • Blueberries
  • 2 Cantaloupe
  • 3 Tomatoes
  • 1 head of Broccoli
  • 1 mixed bag of Salad (twins have to be forced to eat salad)
  • 10 lb Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Corn chips
  • Salsa
  • 12 pack of Activia yogurt
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 1/2 bacon (as needed)
  • 2 lbs of sandwich meat
  • 1 large pack of medium sized tortillas
  • 2 loaves of bread (used for sandwiches or toast)
  • Bisquick (as needed for pancakes or biscuits)
  • Peanut Butter (as needed – I buy the GIANT size at Sams so it tends to last a while)
  • Popcorn kernels (as needed)
  • 10lb bag of frozen chicken breasts
  • 3 lbs of ground turkey meat
  • 1 family size pack of boneless pork chops
  • 1 other meat (roast, shrimp, fish, etc.)
  • Large bag of rice (as needed)

Items below delivered weekly based on order preferences and what we have used the week before

  • 1 1/2 gallon of Skim Milk
  • 1 gallon of Chocolate Milk
  • Blocks of cheddar and colby jack cheese as needed
  • 6+ gallons of water

I freeze a bunch of the berries for smoothies and then the others disappear in handfuls.

So we will make a couple of BIG meals during the week when we are all home and have some time together, but mostly the kids will do grab and go based on what their bodies are telling them they need.  I cook one meal a day (big or little) and the kids will eat when they are home.  Their favorites for summer time are:

  • Red beans and rice (it just takes a little to fill them up and it’s very flavorful)
  • Fried rice (some add chicken which I always have some on hand, some add shrimp, some no meat)
  • Breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, rice or grits, homemade biscuits)
  • Taco meat for either salad toppings or in tortillas/sometimes cheese quesadillas
  • Crockpot “meat” meal – heavy on the meat and a couple of sides (as I’m writing this I have a roast in the crockpot with carrots and have cantaloupe and rice to go with it.)

The kids are all hoping to have some cookouts at the pool and invite friends this summer, and I think that will be a great idea.  I have a bunch of bison burgers in the freezer with buns that a client gave us, but I’m sure as it goes closer we will have to add some additional items.

I still maintain that Sundays are sandwiches and subs days to save me from spending the day in the kitchen, but otherwise during the summer it’s pretty much what is on hand and what whomever is cooking has a mind to cook.  Little Gymnast’s favorite meal to cook these days is chicken fried steak…he’s doing a pretty good job with it, a couple of burns…but oh, the mess afterwards!

We are still on track with spending $100-150 per week on groceries, just the nature of the food changes a bit.

Happy Memorial Day!


I said it at the end of my Thursday post, but I just want to say Happy Memorial Day to all present and former U.S. military members and their families.

Sorry I don’t have a great second post for today. My MIL and grandmother-in-law just left to go back to Texas this morning and I have a bit of a fun-hangover from all the activity of the past few days.

Luckily that means this holiday will be very low-key and cheap for us this year! We went to our neighborhood pool for an hour this morning (despite the warm air-temps the water was still FREEZING), and are planning to take it easy this afternoon. I may nap when the girls nap. : )

I also plan to do all my weekly meal planning and food prep for the week, too. We’ve definitely gone a little over-budget this month with groceries (I hadn’t accounted for needing to increase the budget a bit to compensate for the two additional adults we’ve had visiting us this week). Doing really thorough meal planning and preparation is an absolute lifesaver in terms of trying to save some cash to recoup our losses from the overage. While the family was here I made a huge (14 lb.) turkey that I’d bought and frozen from this past November when the prices were super low. So its time to get creative with a ton of turkey recipes so I can try to eat up all that food and save money on meat, which tends to be one of the more costly items we buy. Also on the menu are a couple vegetarian dishes (black bean burgers – hopefully better than last time – and spaghetti squash with marinara sauce).

What are you up to this Memorial Day (or regular Monday for non-U.S. folks)?

Whats on your meal plan for the week? Any good turkey recipes?


A Reward for Us


Over the years that I was a reader of this blog prior to becoming a writer, I always found the “reward” posts interesting.  And as I have been facing down this “consumer loan debt free” date, after months of extreme budget living, I started thinking about giving ourselves a reward for all we’ve done this year to get to this point.

For those newer readers, we have done the following (some by choice, some not:)

  1. Moved out of our more expensive home to a tiny apartment.
  2. Sold our fabulously large, though gas guzzling family car.
  3. Tortured ourselves by squeezing like sardines into a tiny, though paid off and good gas mileage car (and learning to drive stick shift to do it.)
  4. Given up all travel since August – HUGE for us!
  5. Lots of individuals sacrifices to which my kids have learned to respond when someone asks “Budget Cuts” which cracks me up every time.
  6. Lived without many conveniences ie microwave, fenced yard, individual bedrooms
  7. Purge – we have sold, given away, trashed or donated almost 70% of everything we owned since September, 2014.
  8. Several months of pretty much living on nothing, not a single dime of money to spend.  We call it living on air.  This was by choice to reach the “living on last month’s pay” and “consumer debt free by July” goals, but we are doing it.

Did I miss anything?

So I have decided we deserve a reward and I need your advice on it!  This is what I want….Drumroll please….

A counter top water filtration system!

Not what you expected was it!  Ha!  I guess, I’m now so engrained in frugal and practical and all other things that continue to point us toward debt free living, that it’s now habit.

So here’s my reasoning:

1) Our apartment water is NASTY!

2) Gallon’s of water eat up our budget and we go through it FAST!  (Typically $0.79 per gallon.)  Lots of time when we are tight, I just won’t buy it and then we suffer through the nasty taste, and thus drink less water. (Ok, I can’t even drink it so we will put lemon in it or some of my essential oils to help.)

3) We need to drink WAY more water…all of us!

So while counter space is prime real estate in our tiny apartment, I have decided that a counter top water filtration system is a wonderful reward for us becoming consumer debt free.  I haven’t priced them, haven’t researched them, so now I am here…asking for your suggestions, advice and recommendations.

Tell me everything you can about your counter top water filtration system!  Anticipate purchase date…July, 2015!

Quick Tip – Taco Seasoning


Mexican food is one of my all-time faves (comes with the territory of growing up in Texas and currently living in Arizona…I’ve always been very close to the border!)

It tends to be cheap, quick and easy to make, and delicious!

So I just wanted to peek in today with a quick tip on cheap taco seasoning.

One word: COSTCO!!!!

I mentioned a couple months ago that I buy Taco Seasoning from Costco because its so cheap and I had several commenters mention that they make their own for pennies compared to the store bought stuff. So feast your eyes on this photo….


That’s $4.29 for a 24 oz jar of seasoning, coming out to .179 cents per ounce. (To be clear, this is not a sale price, either. This is the normal everyday price).

To make my own, the very cheapest seasonings I could find were $1 per 2oz. container. So even if I made my own taco seasoning mix (by buying garlic, chili pepper, etc. and mixing everything together), I’m still coming out way ahead by just buying the Costco taco seasoning.

Those of you who make your own….do you find seasonings somewhere cheaper? Grow (and dehydrate) your own? Other secrets I don’t know about?

If not, then you might be better off just picking it up from Costco, too.

But if I’m wrong and you actually do have taco seasoning cheaper somehow, please let me know in the comments!

Goodbye, Good Friend!


A little background information about me (this may be a review for long time readers) – husband and I are originally from Texas, then moved to southern Florida (for my Masters degree), and finally out to Arizona (for my PhD). We’ve now been here (Tucson, AZ) for nearly 6 years. But one of the bad things about moving to a place specifically for grad school and then staying there is that all your friends eventually move away! They graduate and get jobs or drop out and move back home. Either way, they leave.

So although I had a lot of grad school buddies my first few years here, the further I get away from grad school (I’ve been done for nearly 2 years now), the fewer friends I have left as they all leave.

I still have a handful of more casual friends/neighbors, but I’ve got 2 really good/close friends in the area. Sadly, one of them is leaving on March 1st  (edited, for mistake): May 1st.  This is a friend I’ve mentioned several times on the blog. We get together about once a week to do a workout (walk/jog a pretty river trail in town), and she’s the friend who got married this past October.

I’ve known for awhile now (and just haven’t mentioned it here), but her new husband scored a new job that will cause them to relocate this summer. His contract doesn’t officially start until June 1st, but they’ve bought a house in their new city so they’re getting a U-Haul on May 1st, driving cross-country, and taking a few weeks to get settled in before his job begins. Hopefully I’ll see my friend again. I’m not doing a lot of “fun” travel these days so it’s unlikely I’ll fly to visit her in her new city. But we’re in the same basic field so hopefully our paths will cross at academic conferences. Also, her parents currently live in Tucson so hopefully I’ll still get to see her every once in awhile if she chooses to come visit them here.

Regardless, it will probably be quite awhile until I get to see my good friend again. So this month has been a bit more spendy than usual in terms of eating out.

First, I went out with my friend and her husband to celebrate her husband’s successful dissertation defense (they met in grad school, so he’s in the same program we had been in).

Second, she expressed interest in having a little going away party. The timing didn’t work out as she’d hoped with everything going on so, in lieu of an actual party, I told her I’d love to take her out for a “going away” lunch the day before they pick up the U-Haul.

To try to offset these expenses a bit, I’ve really tried to reign in my family’s eating out. We try to stick to a $100 monthly budget and this usually equals one time eating out as a family (as a real restaurant), a pizza night, and another cheap food night (like Mexican take-out). The budget also includes if I run through Wendy’s for a strawberry lemonade (my favorite) or if the family goes to Sonic for an after-dinner ice cream treat. You get the idea.

At any rate, I’ve gone out of my way to really make everything at home and avoid eating out at all. I think this has helped to off-set some of these other eating out costs that I’m incurring this month. But the going away lunch has yet to happen so I do have one more potentially spendy meal out. Luckily, lunch is generally not as pricey as dinner but I still wouldn’t be surprised if the single meal ends up being $50. Might not seem like a lot for a going away celebration of sorts, but it’s 50% of my entire month’s budget for eating out, so it makes me nervous about potentially going a little over in that budget category (and trying to find another category to cut-back in this late in the month is a bit of a challenge, too).

At any rate, I’ll keep you updated with how it goes. I can’t believe how quickly this month has flown by! Just as March seemed to draaaaaaaag on, this month has just disappeared! I guess its a good thing – I’m already looking toward next month and being able to make a larger car payment now that those pesky license fees are gone! Yippee!!!

What do you do to celebrate a good friend when he/she moves away?

And  – just for fun – what’s your eating out budget set at for your family (and what’s your family size)? Just curious and nosy on that one. ; )

A General Life Update – Rambling Style


Accept my apology up-front for this kind of rambling update.  I think Ashley sent us her cooties (ie allergies) and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks for those of us with allergies and those of us without listening to those that do have allergies.

As of this week, I have paid all this month’s bills and next month’s bills (ie rent + utilities + insurance.)  For the first time in I don’t know how long I am not waiting nail-bitingly to see when my checks arrive and prioritizing who to pay with this money and who to pay with a subsequent payment (remember, as contract labor I have no set pay dates and am really at the mercy of my clients time table.)

I still have 4 checks that should arrive before the end of the month or soon thereafter.  I will be socking away that money for June’s monthly bills and then proceeding with debt payments (remember we only paid the minimums this month to allow me to get to a place to live on last month’s income.)

We’ve spent all of our grocery allowance for this month and I’m hoping to save May’s until after our mini-vacation in mid-May.  We will have 2 months (April and May) of our Misc money to spend on our vacation.  And frankly, living with no extra has not been so hard.  I think having the incentive of what promises to be a really nice mini-vacation has made it much more bearable.

As  I mentioned last week, I have gotten two new work jobs…one project and one on-going.  I have decided to delve into that money a little bit and give eh kids a birthday party this year.  It will still be frugal, but with us being so close to being consumer debt free, this being “extra” money that is not currently incorporated in our budget and the kids being SO, SO good about our cutting back in all aspects of life, I think this is a great way to treat them.  I’m hoping that since they are not expecting a party, I can pull off some sort of surprise party…still frugal.  So I’m sure I’ll post on this once I get more of a solid idea.

We are wrapping up our school year this week with standardized testing.  So every morning the younger two kids go to a small private school who is also doing their testing.  For a nominal cost of $25 each, they sit in a classroom with kids their age and take their tests.  We’ve done it this way since they were K and 1st grade and it’s a week they look forward too as they get to be in a “classroom” and it symbolizes the end of their school year.  (We school year round, but our summer schedule is much looser and we will take the next few weeks off until after our mini-vacation.)  The twins can’t go to this same school as it only goes through middle school, so I order their tests from setontesting.com and I proctor them. That costs me $40 per child and it will take 2-3 days 2-3 hours per day.  Just a glimpse into our homeschooling world and costs associated with it.

I think that about sums it up on the financial end.  We are still staying busy with gymnastics 3 days a week, field hockey 2 days a week, Navy Sea Cadets 1 drill weekend a month and finishing up the high school lab sciences for the twins.