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Day #2: No Spend Week Diary

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Today is Day #2 of our No Spend Week challenge. So far, so good. We’re out of milk now, but have managed to not go by the grocery store yet. I’m trying to hold off until at least Wednesday to spend our $13 on milk and fresh produce. I do have some almond milk (that’s what I use for my coffee), and the kids will use it with cereal when in a pinch, though it’s not their favorite. We’re soldiering on for now. 🙂

Day #2  Notes:

I made PB&J sandwiches for the girls’ lunches; only 2 slices of bread left after today’s sandwiches.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:   nectarines, 4 strawberries, couple chopped pieces of celery (for dipping in PB as snack tomorrow), half spinach bunch, couple of carrots. Supplies are definitely dwindling!

My meals:

Breakfast:  Coffee (meant to make another smoothie since we still have frozen fruit, but ran out of time getting to work!

Lunch:  Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice. Getting pretty old by now, the 3rd day in-a-row. Still have more chicken to eat up (that was a big chicken!), but the green beans are now gone.

Dinner (cooking now):  Pork roast (from freezer) with carrots cooked in crockpot (win!); canned corn on the side from pantry. I’m mad at myself for forgetting to pull dough out of the freezer before leaving for work. I’d intended to have rolls on the side but by the time I get home, dinner will be ready (thank you, crockpot!) and we won’t have time to let the dough rise. I’ll have to remember to do that for later this week, because I’d been looking forward to some yummy, doughy goodness! (I love breads and cheeses, what can I say?) 😉

 

I still have plenty of ideas for dinners we can make from foods we’ve got on-hand. Our freezer still includes a lot of meat (different cuts of beef, boneless chicken breasts) and bagged stuff that’s easy to throw in the oven (from Costco we have packages of Orange Chicken, Fish Sticks, and Coconut Butterflied Shrimp). Lots of possibilities for the rest of the week! Other than being bored with my chicken-and-rice leftovers, we’re doing good! I’m confident we’ll make it through the week no problem!

 

Whats on the menu at your house tonight? If you’re participating in the No Spend Week challenge, what types of meals have you planned out from food in your pantry and fridge/freezer?


No Spend Week Diary – Day 1

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Today marks Day #1 of our No Spend Week challenge (see here for why we’re doing an unplanned No Spend Week). I wanted to give a bit of baseline for where we’re at and what we have planned in terms of meals. I started by taking a good inventory of our fridge/freezer and pantry. We have plenty of meat, lots of boxed/jarred/canned goods, and a little bit of fresh produce, milk, etc. I came up with a whole list of possible meal ideas based around foods that we already have! I’m more excited about some than others, but I’m confident we’ll have plenty of food to get us through the week, especially if I get a little creative in the kitchen. 🙂

It’s still early in the day here in Tucson (we’re currently on Pacific time zone), but I brought my lunch with me to work today so I know breakfast and lunch and I’ve already got dinner planned as well.

Day #1 Notes:

I used the last of milk for girls’ with breakfast. <yikes! That will have to be replaced likely tomorrow or Wednesday, coming out of my $13 cash that I’ve still got in my wallet!

Husband ate the last of our homemade Instant Pot yogurt and an apple as his breakfast. No more yogurt is going to be a bummer, and it’s not likely to be something we replace mid-week. I’m going to save the $13 for milk and fresh fruits & veggies, as needed.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:  2 nectarines, 10-12 strawberries, half a celery stock, half spinach bunch, plenty of carrots

 

My meals:

Protein smoothie with frozen fruit, protein powder, & spinach

Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice <I made a big batch of white rice so I can use it throughout the week. Saves time and money!

Chicken (Sunday leftovers) with cooked pasta and jarred pasta sauce from pantry. < this is one of my favorite ways to “make over” a previous meal! I’ll take leftover cooked protein (usually either chicken or ground beef) and add some type of pasta sauce (e.g., Alfredo or creamy sun-dried tomato with chicken; usually a marinara/tomato-based sauce with beef). I boil up some noodles since we always have plenty of boxes of noodles on hand. BAM! A leftover/made-over meal in 15 minutes or less! Not too shabby for a manic Monday night! 😉

 

For those of you joining along, tell me whats on the menu at your house today! What are some meals you’ve got planned for the week? I did a big rotisserie chicken over the weekend, so we’ll likely be having it a couple of different ways in the coming days as we try to eat it up and conserve our money!!!


No Spend Week

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Hi friends! I hope everyone’s weekends are going well!

Imagine my excitement (hint: sarcasm) when I logged into my email and got this lovely little notification.

(it reads: Account Alert: Balance Below $25)

Low balance!?

What the heck???

Apparently, I had a couple auto-payments go through that I’d forgotten about and/or at different amounts than I’d expected (e.g., Navient has raised my monthly payments < more fun phone calls have ensued; I’ll write about it soon).

I get paid on Friday – thank goodness! This is a 3-paycheck month, Wahoo!!!! – but I’m on operation SPEND ZERO DOLLARS until then.

I’ve decided to officially make this a No Spend Week, even though it wasn’t planned or expected. And even though we don’t have a ton of food on hand already. I do have some stuff from my mid-week produce trip last week. And we still have a fair amount of meat in our freezer. But I’m going to have to get creative to make it all work. It’s not going to be easy – not like I’d just freshly grocery shopped and have a fridge and pantry overflowing with food or anything.

My one caveat is that I have $13 in my wallet. I’m planning to spend it this week on milk and produce at some point, but I’m going to try to see how long we can last without it.

It’s funny because Jordan from Fun, Cheap, or Free (check her blog out here) has been doing a whole series of blog posts about what she’s called “Shelftember.” The idea is that for the month of September, she’s challenged readers to shop their own pantries instead of going to the grocery store. Her challenge is for people to only spend $25/week on groceries (with the expectation that the bulk of food will come from one’s own home – freezer, pantry, garden, etc.). I haven’t participated in the event thus far, but it’s kind of ironic that I’ve been seeing her videos and posts all month and now here we are doing an impromptu No Spend Week in which I’ll be forced into “shelf-cooking” (cooking foods straight from one’s pantry shelves).

Wish me luck! I’m going to try to check in daily (fingers crossed < don’t hold me to it if I miss a day) to give a little re-cap of what we’ve eaten and how we’ve gotten by! With any luck, we’ll make it to Friday (pay day) making do with the food we’ve got. I may have to get creative, but I think it can be done!

 

Wish me luck! Or better yet, join me! Want to do a little No Spend Week challenge??? Tons of fun!!! 😉


Always Check Your Receipts

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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

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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 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

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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

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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.


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