:::: MENU ::::
Browsing posts in: Saving Money

Always Check Your Receipts

by

In my continual battle to lower our grocery bill, I’ve been making lots of lists:  lists of meal ideas, lists of sale foods, and standard grocery lists. I’ve set ourselves a strict budget and have been following it to a “T.”

I estimate food costs in advance (it’s written directly on our grocery list). Then when I go grocery shopping I make little tally marks so I can keep a running total of what our bill will be (to ensure we don’t go over the limit I’ve set).

Even with all this preparation, you have to have a watchful eye on how items are scanning!  We used to be a Velveeta Shells & Cheese family, but at $2.50/box, we’ve decided the cheaper Kraft variety (usually $1.29/box) is just as good. This week, all the macaroni and cheese was on sale for only $1 per box. I decided to stock up, getting 5 boxes in total. But when scanning my receipt after checking out, I realized that somehow only one box rang up for the correct price. No idea why/how it happened. But I was overcharged 29 cents per box.

The old me would likely have let it go. Not worth the hassle of going to customer service over about a buck and some change.

But the new me is focused. Determined. We’re counting every single cent over here. Even the pennies matter.

So I walked right on over to customer service (I hadn’t noticed until after I’d already paid and the transaction at the register was complete). It didn’t take more than 2 minutes for me to get a whopping $1.16 handed back in cold hard cash. I stuffed the dollar in my cash envelope (oh yeah, totally doing the cash envelope thing again! More on that to come.), and the change went into my wallet. Virtual high five to me for catching the mistake and following through with seeking the reimbursement I was owed.

So let this be a reminder to always be watchful of your purchases and how they’re ringing up! If you’re expecting to buy something on sale and it doesn’t ring up correctly, don’t be afraid to ask for a price check or to return to customer service for a reimbursement if needed. It wasn’t nearly as much of a “hassle” as I’d assumed it would be. No hassle at all, really!

If you notice an overcharge, do you go back for the refund? Have you ever just walked away (< I know I have before!!!)


Instant Pot Homemade Yogurt

by

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 for 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?


Fully Vested and Planning for Retirement

by

Just as I was getting my monthly budget together, the quarter was up and I was given the opportunity to invest in the company sponsored 401K plan…fully vested immediately.  The company matches up to 5% of my salary.

It has been a LONG TIME since I had a company matched 401K opportunity. So effective this week, I am investing 20% of my corporate job’s income in the 401K. I can change it at any time, but I have some catching up to do.

What do you think? I’ve picked a pretty mixed portfolio but lean toward more aggressive options.  I’m so excited.

Any tips or trips would be greatly appreciate for this as really it’s been years and I was in a VERY different place back then.

I have an idea of how this will affect my take home pay, but won’t know for sure until the end of this week when I get my first check with the deduction taken out.  Then I will post my new monthly budget.


Money in the Bank

by

I feel like I’ve hit a milestone today that I hadn’t really thought of…money in the bank.

I’m not talking about the 10% I’ve been setting aside in a hard to reach savings account. I’m talking about there being several hundred dollars in my primary daily living account that is not earmarked for some upcoming bill or that I’m watching like a hawk to make sure I can cover something that is coming up.  And the cool thing is, I get paid today too.

As this realization hit this morning, I was able to take a really deep breathe. And smile.

I’ve started working on a budget — really! And am also starting to think about giving back. I’ve had the opportunity of late to give back in small ways, but after what we have been through the last two years and all the blessings we received from others I really want to give back in some real tangible ways, not just sending a check to some big charity.  Something like paying someone’s electric bill as someone did from the BAD community did for us a few months. Or taking some kids back to school shopping. You get my drift. I know I have to put this in my budget AND I still have some debt to dig into.

A financial post will be forthcoming, but I just wanted to let you know that today, I smiled when I thought of my finances rather than trembling with fear or stressing about every day obligations.


Mended Knees: A Lesson from the Kiddos

by

Yesterday as our kids were getting dressed for preschool, one of my daughters picked out a pair of pants to put on that had a big hole in the knee.

My initial thought to myself was, “well, those pants now belong in the trash.”

I told my daughter the pants-with-the-hole weren’t going to work and that she needed to pick out different pants.

Her initial reaction (in stark contrast to mine) was to say, “That’s okay! Grandma knows how to sew and she can fix it!”

I was initially a little surprised – Grandma sews? How do you know?

And then my surprise turned to embarrassment. My own daughter doesn’t even know that know how to sew, too. Here I am, trying to teach these life-lessons over water bottles and I’m just going to throw away a pair of pants that still fit just fine when I could easily mend the knee with a couple quick stitches. I don’t own a sewing machine or anything fancy, but we sure do have some little sewing kits and mending a knee by hand is no-big-deal.

I sent my kid off to school with different pants, but that same evening I busted out the old needle-and-thread. It took all of 5 minutes to mend the knee until the hole was no-more.

How easy it is to forget and slip back into old habits. I was thankful for the gentle reminder from my 4-year-old to live frugally, try not to waste, and to take care of our things rather than simply discarding them.

In other news, we sure did run out of money before the month was over this month. Don’t you hate it when you end up with more month than money? lol ; )  We’re doing a no-spend week all week. I did semi-cheat a little because I had a Fry’s gift card (which is a local grocery store). I had to use it to get some gas (they have their own gas pumps) and some very basic necessities (lunch meat, bread, milk). But no money is coming out of our account for anything for the rest of the month. I know there are only 4 more days at this point, but we started 3 days ago so it will be a solid week in total. Fingers crossed there are no disasters and nothing crazy comes up! (knock on wood)

What are simple ways that you try to reduce waste at your house?


Valentine’s Day Kid’s Craft

by

We have a long history of using homemade kid’s crafts as a way to give gifts to friends or family in an affordable way, while still having a personal, meaningful touch.

This year, we decided to make some homemade Valentines for the kids’ class. To be fair, we did still buy some Valentines because the twins are in the same preschool classroom so we didn’t want to be giving identical/duplicate homemade gifts. But doing one fully homemade (and the other store-bought), we still saved 50% of the money!

Better yet, our craft used all things that we already owned so we didn’t spend a single penny on any of these!

IMG_5076

For Halloween we had bought a giant Costco-sized package of mini playdoughs to give out for kids who needed/wanted a non-candy treat. They ended up not being very popular among our trick-or-treaters (go figure! lol) so we still have a pretty good sized pile leftover. I decided to use those instead of a candy for the basis of our Valentine’s Day “Card” to give to classmates (last year, one of our daughters came home and promptly threw up from the candy/sugar-overload, so I purposely emphasized non-candy treats this year).

I helped the girls to cut out the hearts. I wrote the message on the front and the girls signed their names on the back and decorated with heart-shaped stickers (every valentine was different and unique). Finally, I was able to fold over some tape to affix the playdough to the card. They’re little mini-sized ones, so the tape held just fine.

I think my hand-writing could have been neater and we could have decorated a little better if we’d spent more time. But for 4-year-old Valentines, it’s not half bad. ; )

If you want to check out last year’s home-made Valentine’s Card (+ a bonus homemade idea I “borrowed” from a classmate), check out this post.

Do you ever make homemade Valentine’s for your kids’ class exchanges? Have you seen any other good homemade Valentine’s card ideas? 


Buying & Selling Houses

by

For someone who has had zero experience with real estate in the past, I’m sure getting pretty familiar with the buying and selling of homes now!

We have officially hired a realtor to sell my Dad’s Texas house (I orchestrated the sale of his Utah house over summer; it closed in mid-August). It needs some make-ready stuff so it’s not on the market yet, but should be within 2 weeks’ time. All the necessary work has been outsourced and is scheduled. Fingers crossed, we hope to net nearly $200,000 from the sale of this property.  I met with a financial advisor over Labor Day weekend while I was in Austin, but I wasn’t crazy about the person. He also does insurance and kept pressuring me to do an annuity and seemed a bit shady when I asked about fees, etc. Luckily, it was a free consultation so no money lost, I’m just out the time it took to meet with the guy (which was 2 freaking hours!!! and i literally had to get up and walk out because I had another meeting but the guy was STILL talking).

Any suggestions on ways to find trustworthy financial advisors? I had found this guy through Dave Ramsey’s site (he was listed as an ELP, even though the things he was telling me definitely do NOT align with Ramsey’s views).

Meanwhile, we’re also on the brink of buying our first home! Eeek! I’ve had quite a few suggestions to hold off for the time being (see this post) but I think we’re already too emotionally invested in it at this point. We found a house at the end of August and put in an offer over the Labor Day weekend. It took a couple weeks for negotiations (the “owner” is actually a company that does flips and – it seems – is not as eager as a physical occupant might be to sell the place. We went back-and-forth a few times, but it was at least 2-3 days to hear back after each offer/counter-offer). After negotiations our offer was accepted and now we wait for the inspection. My mom (a real estate broker) has warned me to stay guarded until we get a report back because, of course, it could be a game-changer. The house is 30 years old, so there’s that. If all goes well we could be moving in early October! Woohoo!!!   Oh – Also (!!!) – the monthly payment is actually going to be smaller than we’d originally planned. Even with the taxes included in escrow on a 15-year fixed mortgage it looks like the payment will save us probably $200/month off our current rental rate.  I’m trying to temper myself and not get too excited (since things could still fall through), but it’s tough!!! I’m already envisioning furniture placement, etc.

Aside from real estate stuff, this weekend is going to be jam-packed! We’ve got a playdate at the local (free!) splash pad on Saturday morning (probably our last hurrah of the summer), then “Parents’ Night Out” (a free kids’ care program offered by our preschool so parents can have a date night. They do 2 per year and its such a nice perk – and totally free!!!). Sunday I’ve got a long run planned in the morning (have I mentioned I registered for another half-marathon?  My third total, but second since I’ve been blogging here.) The half-marathon is in December but my training plan started a couple weeks ago and Sundays are my long run days. Then Sunday afternoon we’ve got a kids’ birthday party for the girls to attend. Lots of fun and mostly free events. Now I just can’t wait until it truly feels like fall weather here – it’s still hot as blazes in Tucson! Bring on the cooler temps!!!

Hope your weekends are hoppin’! : )

 


Pages:1234567...49