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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? 


Preparing for Winter Weather

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I know this may not be debt related, but we are anticipating our first snowy/icey weather here in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area tonight (last night when you read this, I suppose.)  Originally it was predicted to get here today.  I stocked up last week on food/water just in case since I had a crazy busy weekend with Little Gymnast out of town meet and Sea Cadet’s drill weekend.  Feeling pretty comfortable with where we are at, but thought I’d throw this question out there: What are your must have items for winter weather?

Since I don’t drive AT ALL if the roads are hazardous, I make sure that we are well stocked on all food essentials, plus batteries, flashlights and charge all our electronics fully.  Do you have any must dos to prepare where you are?

We are blessed that we don’t get too much snow here although every year that seems to increase.  As a result of the last couple of years, we are fully stocked on snow pants, gloves, sleds, hats and other warming stuff.  I HATE the snowy stuff, I don’t mind the cold, but the snow and ice is not my thing at all.  This year I’m dreading the dog chores with snowy weather since last year we could just let them out the door…now we have to walk them which normally is no issue, but in snowy, icy, not so much.

Any tips, tricks or ideas for getting through winter?  What to keep in stock, what to ignore? I’m definitely all ears.


Failure to Pay – Hope

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My biggest client pays me pretty consistently every two weeks.  It’s not like clockwork, but I can generally count on getting paid on a regular basis.  But last month, well, I didn’t get paid.

I expected it to arrive the week of Christmas, and I thought, “Great, just in time for me to do a little Christmas shopping” But no payment.

In previous years, they’ve always asked for my year end invoice early so they can get it paid before the new year starts (I always assumed for tax purposes, but never asked.) And I’ve always enjoyed getting those monies early especially with the holidays, etc.  But again, not this year.

So here I was, the last two weeks of the year, no income, no extra money and I didn’t panic. I had the little bit of money in my EF but I was firm that the was not an emergency.

So we ate up the food in our pantry, which would probably have just lingered, went to the movies with gift certificates received as Christmas presents and really enjoyed some down time at home. We spent no money, not a dime the last two weeks of December. What a blessing this was!!

That gets me started in January.with double the money I would have had. They’ve paid me for my 1st December invoice now and I expect payment for the second one any day now.  Christmas came late this year by helping me avoid the temptations to spend over the holidays and giving me a kickstart on my debt payoff journey for the new year.  Who knew that not getting paid as expected could be such a blessing!


Thanksgiving Leftovers

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I know you’re probably getting sick of hearing about Thanksgiving by this point, but I wanted to write one last Thanksgiving-themed post to tell you about how far our Thanksgiving food stretched this year…

From a single meal we were able to serve:

  • 3 adults + 2 kids for lunch on 11/27
  • 5 adults + 3 kids for dinner on 11/27
  • 1 adult + 2 kids for lunch on 11/28
  • 1 adult + 2 kids for lunch on 11/29

And still going strong….

I finally had to eat something different for lunch yesterday (11/30), but I packed up and froze enough leftovers to feed our family (2 adults + 2 kids) a full Thanksgiving dinner for some future meal. And we still had an extra serving of sweet potato casserole for some future meal side-dish (now frozen) and extra turkey leftovers that I’m planning to make into turkey-noodle soup tonight (same recipe as chicken noodle soup, but using leftover turkey & turkey broth).

IMG_5088 IMG_5089

In my conversions, 2 kids = 1 adult (in terms of portion size), so our Thanksgiving dinner made 17.5 servings, not including the leftover sweet potatoes and turkey noodle soup planned for tonight.

Not too shabby to get nearly 20 meals out of a single dinner!

Also, I wanted to thank you guys for the tip on saving leftovers! I don’t mind eating leftovers but in years past I’ve never thought to freeze any uneaten Thanksgiving leftovers. I think I’ve eaten leftovers for a couple days, then the rest sits around in the fridge until it eventually goes bad and/or gets thrown out. I’m excited to get every bit of use out of the leftovers this year (saves money and cuts down on food waste!) I’m particularly proud of myself for saving all the turkey broth. This is something I never used to do, but since I’ve started blogging I’ve been saving chicken broth anytime I’ve cooked a full chicken (tip: although most breast meat is at least $2.50/lb.+, you can often find full chickens priced at as little 88 cents/lb.) I like to cook a full chicken in the crock pot and I’ve learned to save any chicken drippings and/or broth for future cooking. Flavorful AND frugal! : )

Hope you all were able to stretch your Thanksgiving into many meals, too!

Any other tips for saving food so leftovers don’t go to waste? I have a friend who posted a picture on Facebook of a “Thanksgiving leftovers” quiche with potatoes, stuffing, eggs, turkey, and cheese. Thought that was pretty creative, too!


Thanksgiving on a Budget

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Menu:

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

Anything jump out at you???

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

Enter: The Great Potato Debate

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

What would you do?

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

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

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

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

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