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Never Going Back: Homemade Yogurt

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One thing that is consumed A LOT in our house is yogurt.

We can have yogurt just about any time of day….

For breakfast I’ll often serve it with fresh fruit and wheat toast for the girls/raw oats for me (don’t knock it ’till you try it. It actually tastes really good, and way healthier than super sugar-fied granola!)

I’ll sometimes serve it as an accompaniment to lunch. Particularly on days that the girls are in preschool I like to send yogurt since its a good source of protein. The girls’ preschool is meat-free, so I sometimes struggle with protein-based options (peanut butter gets OLD after awhile). Yogurt as a side is always a good option.

And yogurt is just about everyone’s favorite snack.

MMMmmmmmmm yogurt!

Until this point I generally spent a good $5-6 on yogurt per week. Maybe more (okay, probably more).

But no more, my friends!

I have discovered how incredibly EASY and DELICIOUS homemade yogurt can be! Who knew?!?

I used this recipe and followed it to a T, so I won’t rehash all the recipe deets, but I wanted to give some commentary on my experience making my own homemade yogurt for the first time.

The Basics

Okay, so read the recipe, but to give you the gist, you’re going to pour a gallon of milk into a crockpot, heat it up in your crockpot for nearly four hours, then cool down to a specific temperature (which can take another hour), add a yogurt “starter” (you need the live yogurt cultures…this could be store-bought or leftovers from your last homemade batch), then let it sit for up to 12 hours.

Whew! That’s a lot of time!

My Thoughts.

First, you’re going to have to plan ahead to make your own yogurt. I tried for 3 consecutive days to do it, but time got away from me and I ended up having to put it off until the next day (because making it in a crockpot takes HOURS to do). Sure, there are faster ways (like stove-top), but I liked the leave-it-and-forget-it method of the crockpot and I didn’t have a timeline for when I needed the yogurt, so I just pushed it back a couple days until the timing worked out. But just a heads up that it DOES take some pre-planning.

Second, Stephanie mentioned how the “tang” in homemade yogurt might surprise you. I’ve had plain yogurt before, so I wasn’t at all surprised. If anything, I thought my yogurt was less tangy than what I’d expected. As she mentioned, the longer it sits the tangier it gets. I’d left mine for about 10.5 hours, so it would have been tangier if I’d left it longer.

The Taste.

In my opinion (and the reason I’m Never Going Back <<the title of this post), the taste of homemade yogurt is WAY superior to store-bought! OMG, it tasted so decadent and delicious! I could close my eyes and almost have an out-of-body experience, pretending to be in some super swanky brunch spot enjoying a freshly prepared yogurt parfait. Dramatic? Yes. True? Yes!

Plus homemade yogurt costs PENNIES per portion, compared to store-bought yogurt that often costs up to $1+ per portion!

Storage.

You should note that homemade yogurt doesn’t last as long as store-bought yogurt. This makes sense since there are no preservatives (or other icky stuff for that matter). According to google, it can last for up to 2 weeks in your fridge, and 3 months in your freezer. Not too shabby if you consume as much yogurt as we do. Bonus – the frozen homemade yogurt can be thawed OR eaten frozen (duh! Like frozen yogurt!)

I store my yogurt in glass mason jars that I keep in the fridge. If you’re going to freeze it, however, you may want to put it in a plastic container (sure, glass freezes, but I’ve had more than my fair share of “oopsies” after accidentally breaking a frozen glass container)

Fruit Options.

There are a ton of ways to eat yogurt. I’ve used plain yogurt before as a substitute for sour cream in various baking recipes (healthier and cheaper). I also enjoy plain yogurt, but most people probably prefer to add in a little fruit.

I made a strawberry-banana yogurt that was TO DIE FOR (ahem, if I do say so myself *brushes shoulders off*)

All I did was take a very ripe banana and some strawberries and put in a large container. I used a potato smasher to “muddle” the berries and basically worked everything into a pulp. Then I stirred in the yogurt and mixed everything well. It’s important to note that once fruit is muddled like this, it immediately starts to break down (meaning:  decompose). So you cannot do this if you plan on putting it in your fridge for 2 weeks. But, its perfectly fine for a few hours. In fact, allowing the flavors to meld for a few hours is what makes it really taste like HEAVEN! I did this in the morning and then served it as an afternoon snack and it was the perfect amount of time.

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Fruit in the bowl before muddling

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All together now!

You could do this with any of your favorite fruit combinations, or you can always just serve the plain yogurt with whole or sliced fruit, too.

I honestly can’t decide what’s best:  the money I’ll be saving making homemade yogurt from now on, or how good I feel about healthify-ing one of our favorite foods!

Most people already think of yogurt as a pretty healthy food (it can be, though lots of the stuff sold in stores is loaded with sugars and additives), but it really doesn’t get any healthier than making it yourself! I used rBST-free 2% milk when I made mine (you can use any type you like), which I thought was perfect! I’d imagine that whole milk would provide an even richer taste, while skim milk will obviously save you some calories. Since my kiddos are some of the biggest consumers of yogurt, I like to buy 1% or 2% so they can get some of the healthy fats from the milk (and/or yogurt), but you can use whatever you prefer.

Let me know if you try your hand at making homemade yogurt and what you think!

Do you make any “fun” foods homemade? I’ve toyed around with the idea of doing homemade cheese but I’ve been scared of dealing with the rennet. I’ve also thought of doing homemade pasta one day, but it also seems so prep-intensive that I’ve been scared off for now. Maybe one day. : )

 


Cheap Meals

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I mentioned that money is extra-tight this month, and I’ve really been making a conscious effort EVERY.SINGLE.DAY not to spend money. It’s weird really. You know how once something is “forbidden” it’s suddenly all you can think about?

For example, I’ve been pining over the idea of doing a little garden. I have the blackest thumb known to man, but I like to try to plant flowers from hanging baskets in the back yard and see how long they’ll live (my record is about 2 years, but most only last a matter of months). I also used to have a pretty good herb garden and I’d love to get that going again, as I’ve been missing fresh rosemary and basil in our meals. Sorry to those of you in freezing weather, but we’re probably past our last freeze here in Tucson so it’s the PEFECT weather for planting stuff! But that all costs money – soil, seeds (and/or starter plants), maybe some new pots, etc. Sigh. That stuff’s all been put on the back burner for the time being (maybe next month when things aren’t so tight I can squeeze an extra $20 from our budget for gardening stuff).

But that’s not all. It’s probably no surprise that the area where my shopping urge has manifested itself the most is with food. Oh, food. But unlike last time (in January), where I justified extra grocery shopping trips as a necessity, this month I’m really, really trying to be good. No extra trips to the store. Use up everything at home first. Figure out creative ways to make meals with things we already have. Eat stuff out of the freezer. You get the point.

And I have to say that so far I’ve been proud of myself. Here’s a look at some of the cheap meals I’ve made lately to try to stretch our grocery bucks to the limit.

Side note: I am NOT a chef, nor am I even a very good cook. So I’m not giving recipes here, I’m just giving ideas of cheap foods I’ve made. If you want a recipe, do yourself a favor and google one because I have no advice to offer on the cooking front. : )

Black Bean Burgers

Okay…..this meal came THISCLOSE to being just tossed in the trash. I was all proud of myself to use all ingredients we had on hand, many of which were begging to be used up (e.g., leftover beans and cilantro from a previous taco dinner). But when I read the directions I missed the part where it said to put everything in the food processor except the beans!!! Instead, I food processed everything to a pulp, then wanted to cry as I thought there was no way the burgers would hold together. I seriously stood there with the glop mess next to the trash for a good 30 seconds contemplating my options when I finally decided just to try the bean mess. The original recipe called for cooking it in a little bit of oil in a skillet. I immediately nixed the idea (0% chance the burgers would hold together), and instead opted to bake them in the oven. God must have smiled down on me because, lo and behold, the burgers held together! They didn’t look pretty, but they tasted just as good as if I hadn’t pulverized the beans into a nasty-black colored pulp.

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Uh oh, caught a little hand trying to still the cheese!IMG_0790

Much better! Well…still not the most appetizing-looking, but you get the point. And it tasted great!

Pantry Foods

I haven’t always been this way, but in recent years I’ve tried to make more of an effort to eat FRESH and NATURAL foods.  So although it is not the norm for us to essentially eat-out-of-a-can, I do still have many canned foods in the pantry. And – what can I say – they’re cheap. I’ve found myself resorting to a meal-in-a-can a couple of times this month so far, particularly for quick lunches. The two main things we’ve had so far are canned soups (seriously, these needed to be eaten because they’ve been hanging around forever, but I know the sodium content & ingredient list is awful and I never buy them anymore) and tuna fish sandwiches (something about canned meat creeps me out). No disrespect intended to those who love these foods. I think our knowledge about food nutrition has come a long way and these are totally normal foods that I ate all the time as a kid, but not something I want to be feeding my own family on a regular basis. But I also hate waste and these are foods we already owned, so might as well eat them up. Highly unlikely that I’ll be replacing any of these canned meals, so it almost feels like a free lunch.

Vegetarian Meals

One of the best ways to stretch a buck is to make vegetarian meals since veggies often cost way less than meat. This can be tricky for us carnivores, though, because it often doesn’t feel as filling or you might get full initially but then be hungry again an hour later. But I make a couple of vegetarian meals that are particularly hearty. One is eggplant parmesan. It’s a bit prep intensive, but I always double the recipe and freeze half for a quick meal sometime down the road. Plus the eggplant is thick and hearty – I’d even call it “meaty.” Plus super tasty. I also like to cook up some  frozen cheese tortellini as a super quick veggie meal. In my local stores I can get a bag of cheese tortellini for $2.50 and its enough to feed my family of 4. I boil the noodles, add some marinara sauce, and stir in spinach over the heat so it wilts before serving. This is another great idea for a quick lunch, but it can be dressed up for dinner with a side, too (steamed broccoli pairs well).

“Steak” Quesadillas

We’d had a pot roast a few nights prior that was huge. I’d eaten leftover roast for a few days and was sick of it, but didn’t want to waste any of the leftovers. So on this particular day, I sliced up the roast, sprinkled it with some taco seasoning (pro tip:  I buy the bulk jar of taco seasoning from Costco instead of individual packets from the grocery store. It’s much cheaper per oz. and then you can just use what you need instead of being committed to a full packet), and called it steak fajita meat. LOL. Obviously I could tell that it wasn’t the real thing, but I got no complaints from the girls and even hubs was tricked into thinking I was serving a new meat (he’s not a huge fan of leftovers). Mwhahaha!!!!!!!

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Here’s the roast meat all sliced up and sprinkled with taco seasoningIMG_0738

Cooked in a tortilla with some cheese, beans, onion, and bell peppers (another pro tip: I buy bell peppers when they’re super cheap in summer, then slice them up and freeze them so it’s easy to take out just a few and cook as needed). I add spinach or lettuce after its been cooked for a little boost of greens.

Chicken Everything

Okay, no pictures to share of this, but can I just say how many different chicken meals I’ve cooked lately? First, chicken is one of the cheapest meats around. Second, it’s just so easy to spice up in so many different ways! From regular grilled chicken to bbq chicken, chicken on a salad or in a wrap, chicken smothered in honey mustard and cheese, chicken stir-fried and served with noodles and peanut sauce, chicken dunked in wing sauce and served with ranch, etc. etc. etc. Lots and Lots of chicken dishes. It’s getting comical. Hubs asked the other day, “What are we having for dinner? Let me guess, chicken!” Yuuuup! Though you’re welcome to cook if you want something different ; )

So there you have it. These are some of our cheap, quick, and easy meals that I’ve been relying on lately. And anytime I can cook once and eat twice (or three or four times!!!) is always a good thing to me, so I’ve been loving trying to find ways to rollover and repurpose already cooked foods into a new meal. Good stuff!

What cheap meals are you loving lately? Feel free to link to any recipes you use!


Converting to Cash

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Going back to my recent post on The Cost of Convenience – Snack Time, I am finding the temptation to overspend or spend in situations where I don’t need to has become more of an issue as my debt load and monthly obligations continue to drop.  I have more available income and carrying plastic around…well, I have found myself making some bad decisions.  So effective immediately, I am converting to an all cash system.  I’ve cut up two of my cards and put the others away.

I will still pay my monthly bills online using either my debit cards or bank bill pay.  But for any “spending money” I will be withdrawing the money at the beginning of the month and sticking to it.  This money will be my grocery money and the money I would pay the kids for work (since they no longer get an allowance.)  And I’m debating the car money.  Obviously I have to get gas at least twice a month, and paying with a plastic is most convenient.  Not to mention maintenance, etc. that is not always predictable.  I’m considering opening a car only account (checking, that is, not credit) and using that card only for card related expenses.  Thoughts?  But since on most months there are monies left over for that budget item, I really want it in an interest bearing account.  So I’m still figuring that one out.

But essentially I am taking away all possibility of over-spending on a whim or giving into the temptation of convenience or acquiescing to the kids’ “mom, can I have this?”  And when the money is gone for the month…it’s gone.  The kids are used to this on a smaller scale as I’ve been trying it out on a weekly basis…and I’ll just tell them, we are out of  spending money for the week, we have to make due with what we have.  And they are getting that.

Teaser: New monthly budget coming soon as we have cut back on some other expenses to keep us on target for our 6 month credit payoff goal!


Grocery Shopping Update

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Remember how I went way over budget last month with grocery shopping? One of the worst parts was that I really had nothing to show for the huge overage (no stockpile of meat, canned foods, pasta, etc.). I literally had no idea where all the money (and food) went, but I knew it was gone.

But this month I was bound and determined to get back on track. Here’s what I’ve done differently this month to get my grocery spending under control:

  1. Meticulous meal planning. I always know that I save money when I stick to a meal plan instead of doing the whole “what should we eat?” (asked at 5pm) thing. That lack of planning had lead to many last minute trips to the grocery store to pick up “one or two” things for a given dinner (which, inevitably, always turned into 10-12 things by the time I was leaving). None of that this month! Not only have I stuck to my meal plan, but I’ve also purposely planned meals around items we’ve already had on hand and/or items that I could rollover into a second (or third) meal easily.
  2. Limited grocery shopping. One of my issues last month is that I was going to the grocery store a LOT. Like….5-6 times a week! How is that possible? I don’t even know. This month I refused to go grocery shopping at all during the first week of the month. Thereafter I’ve limited myself to a maximum of 2 trips per week (generally 1 larger trip at the beginning of the week, and a second much smaller trip to the farmer’s market for produce mid-week).
  3. Keep your eye on the prize. One thing that has helped with trying to really be mindful about my grocery spending is that I’ve been so focused on my debt-reduction mission this month. I’m trying to make some extra debt payments this month (above and beyond what I reported in my debt update last week), but the last extra payment is contingent upon my grocery spending. If I go over, then I have nothing extra to put toward debt. I’m SO, SO focused on knocking out some debts SOON that I am trying to squeeze every extra dollar I can find from my budget. It only makes sense to try to get some of that money from my grocery budget, particularly in light of having gone so far over in that budget category last month.
  4. Doesn’t hurt that it’s February. Can’t really claim any pre-planning on this one, but it sure helped that this was a shorter month than most. Whereas most months I’m left with more month than money, I still have money to spare in my grocery budget this month, even as the end of the month is fast approaching.

And although we still have a few more days left in February, so far the prognosis for my grocery spending is good. I did my last “big” grocery trip on Saturday and will probably need to go again mid-week (Wednesday-ish) for fresh fruits and veggies, but that is always a much lower-cost trip (maybe about $20ish). If that’s the case, then I should still have close to $60 leftover from my grocery budget. Combine that with little bits leftover from here and there and I should be able to scrape up about an extra $100 toward debt before the month ends. Fingers crossed! I know $100 doesn’t seem like much, but every extra dollar counts; every extra dollar is one dollar closer to paying off a lingering debt. Plus I’m getting so, so close to paying some debts off in full! I cannot wait until March because I’m really, really hoping I’ll be able to report a couple of newly cleared debts!!

How’ve you done on your spending and budgeting this month?


The Cost of Convenience – Snack Time

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One of the things that gets me almost every time is food on the go.  We are extremely busy 80% of the time.  Rushing here or there, no time between activities and thus no time to eat.  In the “olden” days, I always carried granola bars, bags of nuts and other healthy but long lasting snacks to tide kiddos over.  But now with all the peanut allergies, well, that’s not an option anymore.

So I’ve been struggling with this ALOT and little Gymnast is especially affected by it because he has such a high metabolism and spends so much time in the gym, he is ALWAYS hungry and if not fed will have meltdowns.  (We’re not going to start on the self-control that I think he should have by this time, but it’s proven over and over again that when he gets fed he can calm right down.  He’s 9 for anyone who wonders.)

This week, I made a trip to Sams Club and broke down and bought one of the $40 bags of protein powder and some nut free protein bars.  We are going to try these and see if they do the trick, but I have to say, the price tag made me nervous.  $40 is almost half of my weekly grocery budget.  I know it’s a big bag, but whoa.

I’m keeping little tupperware containers in my bag with the powder in them.  And we have one blender cup that my little brother left here when visiting one time.  But I figure otherwise, it can just be mixed with a water bottle which I always have in the car.

Do you have some go to snacks that you keep with you all the time for kiddos who just need something right then?  Or maybe even go to snacks for yourself that you keep in your gym bag or purse?  I really need something that doesn’t have the common allergens in it AND can last as I just keep them in my bag all the time.


Weekly Update #4- Orlando Trip

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Hey everybody!

I’m back from my visit with my sister and my nephew. I couldn’t be more stoked that I went. An amazing trip. I got to Orlando on Wednesday night/ Thursday morning at 12:30AM (just barely, though. I made my connecting flight by the skin of my teeth. 2 minutes later and they would have taken off without me.) Since my sis and her fiance are both Cast Members at Walt Disney World, we spent all of Thursday at Magic Kingdom with the baby. Friday was spent hanging out with my sister and other family that was visiting, while her fiance worked. Saturday was spent at Epcot and Animal Kingdom and I left very early Sunday morning.

Here’s a picture of me and baby on my favorite ride, Living with the Land, in Epcot:

Disney Pic

 

He was so amazing and seemed to love the rides we took him on (if sleeping on them means loving them, lol). The only ride he didn’t like was Haunted Mansion, which he just screamed and screamed and screamed on.

OK, so for the financial aspect of my journey, I had budgeted $200.00 (above the $70 I normally carry in cash) for the trip, but it ended up tallying $280.00, give or take. I took it all in cash and had too much change left over to count, I just threw it all in my change jar. I would have been pretty close if I had accounted for the $25 in baggage fees each way for my checked bag. Oh well, I’ll know better next time. The remaining $230.00 was spent mainly on food. I bought dinner on Wednesday (McDonald’s) when I arrived, snacks throughout Magic Kingdom on Thursday, dinner at Sweet Tomatoes Thursday night, dinner at Downtown Disney on Friday night and snacks throughout the day on Saturday. Given the fact we ate so much in Disney, the damage could have been much worse, but my sis gets a pretty nice Cast Member discount that could be used at each stop.

So, here’s what my budget looks like for February:

Weekly Update #4

I have yet to return the juicer (ugh), but I’ve vowed to do that sometime this week, hopefully as early as tonight. But thankfully, even though I spent a majority of week in Florida, I was still able to pay $497.85 on my student loans, which brings the tallies to:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid Off
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$24,462.48$3,374.76
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$19,189.15$3,007.87
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$655.99$20,036.11
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,723.61$2,226.57
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$5,356.99$739.04
Sallie Mae 06 & 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$57,338.22$53,249.44

My current slush fund balance didn’t change from the previous post:

Slush Fund= $2,577.57

For the following week, with V-day (Saturday) and my birthday (Sunday) coming up we have some plans for the weekend, but nothing that will cost a significant amount. I have some money budgeted and a pretty good plan for my V-day gift, but I can’t reveal how much and what I’m buying until next week (my GF reads this too, lol). How is everyone else going to spend their Valentine’s Day? Do you treat it like a holiday to celebrate your spouse, or do you see it as a “Hallmark Holiday”? Let me know in the comments! I know couples that do both. Some see it as a nice day to enjoy time together, and others just see it as another day.


A New Budget + Stretching Food Budget

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Hi all! Hope your Friday is off to a good start! We’ve been battling colds over here (again!!! I swear, this cold/flu season has been the worst!!!!!) but we’re all finally on the mend, the girls are back in preschool (after being home sick on Wednesday), and life is good! ; )

I’ve already mentioned that I overspent January’s budget (particularly in our grocery budget). I’ll give you all the details on Monday with my January budget update post, but today I wanted to tell you a little bit about how I’m making our food dollars stretch to try to spend a lot less on groceries this month.

First, I’ve been really trying to eat from our pantry and freezer. Second, I’ve been trying to repurpose meals by making leftovers into a second (or even third) meal so that every single bite of food is eaten and not wasted. I HATE wasting money and food waste is always one of the biggest culprits! Whenever I have to throw away old lettuce or meat or whatever, I see dollar signs being tossed in the trash. It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine! So I’ve really tried to re-focus on making sure all food gets eaten before it goes bad. Here’s a list of the things we’ve eaten lately, and how I’ve tried to re-purpose leftovers so meal time doesn’t get stale:

  • Sausage wraps with broccoli & shells with cheese (sausage from freezer, broccoli was on hand, and shells & cheese and tortillas were in the pantry).
  • Ham and potato cheese soup (ham chunks from freezer leftover from last time we ate ham, potatoes from pantry, cheese from fridge, homemade rolls on the side). Also ate leftover soup throughout the week for lunches!
  • Cheeseburgers with home fries (meat from freezer, sliced and baked fries from potatoes we had in pantry, cheese on hand in the fridge, and leftover homemade rolls for the buns).
  • BBQ chicken, corn, and shells & cheese (chicken from freezer, canned corn from pantry, leftover shells & cheese from a previous dinner).
  • Spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread (crumbled leftover burgers for meat, used sauce and noodles from pantry, sliced up leftover rolls that I buttered and sprinkled with garlic before broiling for the garlic bread)
  • BBQ chicken “pizzas” and corn (leftover BBQ chicken that I shredded, cheese from fridge, made on top of tortillas instead of traditional pizza crust; leftover corn…doesn’t really go with pizza, but it worked).

It takes a little forethought to make sure I can reuse and/or repurpose leftovers, but I’ve already noticed such a huge difference in my grocery spending. Not only does it cost less money this way (i.e., re-using leftovers in future meals), but its actually easier, too! It’s the whole “cook once, eat twice” mentality (not sure where I’ve heard that, so can’t credit a source but I think it’s a pretty well known phrase). It’s so, so much easier when parts of the meal are already cooked (especially when the meat is already done, as with the spaghetti and meat sauce and the bbq chicken pizzas). When the main protein is already pre-cooked all I have to do is just assemble, heat, and serve! Score!

So I’m really making an effort to try to get my spending back on track and, so far, I think I’ve been doing pretty well. Toward this end, I’ve also made the decision to do a new budget. Not just a new budget, but a  new budget software, too! Remember back when I’d tried to do YNAB (you need a budget), but I’d bailed less than a week into the month? I wasn’t ready at the time. But I gave it another shot a few weeks ago and have fallen for it hard. Once you get a hang of it, it’s really so superior to my old Excel spreadsheet. If there’s any interest I’d be happy to write a full review at some point.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in purchasing the YNAB software, usually $60, I’ve got a link I can share that will get you a 10% savings. Note that if you purchase through this link, you get $6 off the price and I get a $6 referral credit. A win-win (plus you can share your personal link with friends to earn credits, too). Just wanted to be transparent on that (you can also try a free month-long trial by going to their website, too).

What are your favorite rollover meals or cheap meal ideas?