Monday, July 11, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week was hit and miss on the frugal accomplishments.  We did really well with our regular things, but ended up having to get the Subaru towed for some work.  (Thankfully, we have AAA, so the towing was free.)  Here's how we saved last week:

  • Cooked all meals at home or with friends from things on hand.  This included broccoli and cheese casserole, lentil sloppy joes, black bean enchiladas, homemade chicken tenders, salads, black bean burgers, bagel pizzas, and homemade bagel chips.
  • Accepted castoffs from the food pantry including kale (loads of it), bagels, sugar snap peas, snow peas, red peppers, jalapenos, two loaves of french bread, squash, and some broccoli and carrot mixes.  We processed most of this for the freezer.  
  • I made four batches of bagel chips for snacking.  We made one batch of kale chips in the dehydrator.
  • Continued to compost kitchen scraps, used paper towels and paper bags, and composted shredded paper.
  • Picked and froze three quarts of blueberries from friends.  Began picking blackberries as they ripen.
  • Made two sticks of herb butter for the freezer using parsley, dill, and garlic from the garden and our CSA.
  • Made two gallons of herbal tea using mint and lemon balm from the garden.
  • Browsed my canning books to refresh my memory on the amount of fruit needed for some recipes.  Planning to try making blueberry mint jam with a friend in the next week or so.
  • Used an empty cardboard box to line the new garden bed as a weed barrier.
  • Took containers to local brewery to collect spent grains.  We'll pick those up this week and spread them in the garden mixed with compost.  We'll cover them with newspaper, as the spent grains can be kind of smelly.  This will need to rest for a few months before planting.
  • Spent a few days with friends helping them install kitchen cabinets and mow their grass (their mower is broken).  This saved them significantly, and they'll return the favor when we have some patio work to do, which will save us some money.
  • Had some unexpected news that our downstairs tenant will be leaving, but we've already scheduled several showings, and had two that are promising.
  • Showed the upstairs space to a very promising tenant.  He seems like he'll be a perfect fit with our family and really seems excited at the prospect of living here with our family.
  • Renewed books online to save a trip to the library.
  • Hung all laundry out to dry on line or on drying rack.  Most laundry was washed in cold water, with the exception of diapers and towels.
  • Completed one scholarship application for little man's preschool.  I plan to call about another application tomorrow.
  • We celebrated our anniversary with a meal out, which we budgeted for.  The restaurant is one of our favorites, the Blowing Rock Ale House, where they make everything from scratch including condiments.  It's worth it to save for and splurge every once in a while.  We skipped dessert and made these cheesecake bars at home.  We replaced the graham cracker crust with a chocolate graham cracker one, which made them doubly good.
What about you?  What did you do to live and save green last week?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July Meal Plan

This month is all about using what we have, minimizing expenses, and not heating up the kitchen.  We'll of course be making good use of the excellent summer produce from our CSA, be purchasing our share of fresh fruit from local vendors to feed little man and ourselves, and picking our share of fresh goodies from our garden, generous friends' berry bushes, and the neighborhood roadside blackberries.  We're also probably going to be gifted some items from the food pantry, so we'll include those in the plan too.

Without further ado, here's the plan:

Breakfasts:  egg and cheese sandwiches on bagels, fruit smoothies with yogurt, homemade granola and yogurt with berries, crockpot oatmeal and a new breakfast rice porridge I'm dying to try, bagels with cream cheese, raspberry muffins, blueberry muffins or blueberry buckle, whole wheat and berry scones

Lunches:  leftovers, grilled/roasted veggie sandwiches with herbed ricotta cheese, smoothies, chicken salad sandwiches

Dinners:  lentil sloppy joes with roasted veggies, dinner salads with hard boiled eggs or tuna, roasted turkey (using the crockpot roaster) with salad and crock pot baked potatoes, black bean tacos with summer squash and greens, beans and rice with fixin's, turkey salad with fresh fruit, grilled lamb chops (from the food pantry that are in our freezer) with salad and rice pilaf, veggie stir fry, sausages over rice with cucumber/squash vinegar slaw, pesto pizza with salad

Putting Up Projects:  This is the time of year that we try to put away fresh goodies for later in the year.  I'll be making the following things this month for later use:

  • pesto with fresh greens and basil, and garlic from our garden (goal of at least 10 half pints)
  • cook and freeze at least two quarts of greens (kale or swiss chard) for use in winter soups/stews
  • freeze fresh berries (goal of at least three quarts of raspberries, five quarts of blueberries, five quarts of blackberries)
  • make and freeze applesauce (goal of at least three quarts this month, at least 10 quarts total for the season)
  • peel, slice, and freeze peaches (goal of at least five quarts)
  • make at least 10 half pints of peach salsa
  • make at least 10 half pints of peach rosemary jam
  • make at least 10 half pints of mixed berry jam
  • make at least five half pints of apple butter
The canning will be tough this year with the boys, but if I can meet these goals, then it will make Christmas gifting so much easier since all the prep work will be done.

What about you?  What are your July menu plans?  Are you putting up any summer produce for later use?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past month has been pretty good in terms of frugality.  There were a few expenditures out of the ordinary, but nothing that we hadn't planned for.

  • We continued to eat at home for all meals.  I'll include a meal plan for July soon.
  • The crockpot was used at least once a week for meal prep, which yielded leftovers for lunches.  It also saves on electricity and doesn't heat up the house like using the oven or stove.
  • Washed out produce bags for reuse.  We get a lot of bags with our CSA share, and if we're careful, they can last us the entire year, which means we have to buy very few storage bags.  The only ones we do purchase are freezer bags for storing produce from the garden for later in the year.
  • Kept up our grocery budget and managed to keep it to our $100/month goal.  This is largely due to having CSA veggies now.
  • Continued to use rags for cleaning, homemade cleaners, and very few paper towels/napkins.  What paper was used was composted.
  • Composted all appropriate kitchen scraps.
  • Enjoyed a few pot luck meals with friends, which made for easy meal prep and fun entertainment.
  • Picked blueberries and raspberries at friends' houses, so we didn't have to purchase these.  I managed to put one quart of raspberries in the freezer.  All other berries were eaten by our resident three year old fruit monster!
  • Harvested and braided our garlic, which should provide for the rest of the year.
  • Continued with cloth diapers and baby's diaper rash is gone!  This means less expense on diaper rash cream.
  • Used the clothesline to hang most laundry.  When it was raining, we hung clothes inside on racks.  We've even managed to hang towels and sheets out, which saves even more on our minimal dryer usage.
  • Prepared three more raised beds for the garden.  We'll use these for more raspberry plants, some gifted strawberry plants, and annual herbs such as basil.  These were filled with our own compost, spent hay, and lined with old newspapers and cardboard.
  • We are continuing to look for more sources for our compost.  I've found  a local brewery that will let us have spent grains, and we'll begin collecting coffee grounds from the coffee bar at church.  I might also find some things from the local food pantry, though I'm looking for more brown material than greens.
  • Kept our electric bill to around $100 by not running the AC and keeping windows open.  We draw the curtains in the afternoon to keep the sun out.  The ceiling fans are a huge help.
  • Made use of our Playhouse membership, public library story time, and pool membership (gifted for our birthdays) for free family outings.  
  • Found free music in the park for Friday night family fun.  We take a picnic dinner, and it really helps that the park is only a 10 minute drive.
  • Found out about some grants to help us pay for little man's speech services in preschool.  This new preschool is pricey, but the services they provide are amazing.  We'll continue to watch our budget to keep this a reality for the school year.
  • Have a potential lead on the room rental upstairs.  This tenant can't afford our usual $400/month, but we can negotiate some labor for rent.  He's willing to help with our painting projects, so it'll all work out.  Praying he finds a job to make his move a reality.
  • Found a dresser at Goodwill for the boys' room.  It was $40, a little more than I wanted to pay, but is in good shape and very well built.  It will add much needed storage to their closet.
  • Continued to post things on eBay for sale.  We sold some Mary Kay products, and Benny sold some electronics.  
  • Found clothes in the lost and found bin at school for the boys.  It will take a few years for them to grow into them, but it's worth the storage.  Otherwise, things were going to be donated to Goodwill.
  • Asked a friend about hand me downs for little man to save on clothing purchases.  You never know until you ask!
  • Made a birthday present instead of purchasing.  We bought a pack of t-shirts to tie dye, which yielded several shirts for the cost of one new toy.  The gift was useful, and it gave little man something fun to do, and he loves wearing his new shirts.
  • Got a good report from the endocrinologist and I don't have to go back for two years!  This means no $65 copays for a while, and fewer three hour road trips there and back.  It also means peace of mind.
  • Combined errands whenever possible.
  • Found kit to attach to downspout for the rain barrels.  Hoping to get rain barrels installed next month so we have that water to use when things get really hot.
I'd love to hear how you're living and saving green!  Feel free to leave a comment!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baby's Arrival and April Menu

I've been absent for a little while because baby boy arrived on March 9!  He was a little early, but really healthy.  He's doing well and we're all adjusting to being a family of four, which is a little turbulent at times with a three year old around. But we're loving it, and are blessed to have church family and friends who have been a huge help with meals.

However, our meals run out this week, so we're back to planning our own.  We're going to try to keep things easy and simple, so that means lots of crock pot meals and things we can prep an evening before while the boys sleep.  We'll also be making use of seasonal ingredients, including greens, ham, and eggs.  So, without further ado, here's the plan for the month:

Breakfasts:  oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese, homemade granola and yogurt, smoothies, waffles, egg sandwiches, muffins (some in the freezer, and we may make some pumpkin ones too)

Lunches:  leftovers, hard boiled eggs and fruit, egg salad sandwiches, yogurt

Dinners:  lentil curry with naan and yogurt, veggie stir fry with egg rolls, black beans and rice with corn bread, chili with cornbread, jambalaya, salmon and pesto pasta, pesto pizza, open faced meatball sandwiches, split pea soup with whole grain bread (using leftover frozen Easter ham), loaded mac and cheese with ham and broccoli/green beans, cabbage and sausage soup in the crockpot, lasagna (frozen) and salad, egg pita sandwiches and roasted potatoes, and possibly a ham and broccoli or asparagus quiche (we'll make a double batch)

We'll need to purchase a few things to make this menu happen.  We'll try to find all of these things on sale with a coupon.  There are several on sale this week at both Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods.  Here's the list:

  • milk
  • fruit
  • naan (we'll use a gift card for the local bakery)
  • frozen veggies (mostly broccoli)
  • kidney beans
  • farro (for the curry)
  • brown rice
  • yogurt
  • avocados
  • cream cheese
So, how're your spring menu plans going?  I'd love to hear how you're living and saving green this spring!  Leave a note in the comments!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week was pretty good for us, frugally speaking.  We didn't have any unexpected expenses, and we were able to take advantage of a community meal, which saved some meal prep and food expenses this week.  I also had a snow day, so this saved on some fuel, since I didn't have to drive to school on Friday.

Here's what we did this week to continue to stick to our budget and keep things frugal:

  • Made all meals at home, including potato soup in the crockpot, lasagna soup, smoothies, salad, foccacia using the bread machine for dough, waffles with fruit, and oatmeal.  
  • Had lots leftover from Greek Day at school, so this made up lunches for several days.  These included hummus, pita chips, olives, grapes, and cheeses.  We will use some of the cheese this upcoming week for homemade mac and cheese.
  • Used brown paper bag for cooking bacon instead of paper towels in the microwave.  This paper was then composted.  (Our composter is closed, so we don't have concerns about animals getting into it.)
  • Continued with regular composting and recycling.  We continue to add brown paper to our compost, and are acquiring some of Mom's pecan shells to add to the compost as well.  
  • Made a minimal trip to the grocery store to pick up some produce and almond milk that was on sale.  The almond milk should last us for at least two weeks.  They had a lot of produce discounted, so I picked up some bell peppers, fruit, and blue potatoes unexpectedly.  
  • We had a meal at church on Wednesday night for the kids worship service.  This made meal prep easy and allowed us to stretch leftovers one more day.
  • Used the crockpot for two meals, which yielded leftovers to last most of the week.  This saved significantly on electricity.
  • Enjoyed a big family breakfast on Friday of waffles, smoothies, and bacon.  This meant that lunch was just snacks of fruit and cheese.
  • I saved an unopened carton of milk from being thrown away in the school cafeteria.  I took this home, though if we get more than a few, I usually take them to the food pantry or save them for kids who need a drink during the day.
  • We took advantage of a cooking class at the Playhouse for little man, where he made homemade granola.  He really liked this, so we're trying out a granola recipe at home this week.  He also enjoyed painting there.
  • A potential upstairs tenant visited, and we think she would be a good fit.  We're waiting to see if she sends us references.  Fingers crossed!
  • On our snow day, we finalized our taxes and got them in the mail.  We're hoping for some of a refund, which should help to round out the baby fund.  We also took some more pictures of eBay items to post online.
  • We planned two shared meals for the next week with friends.  One our friends will host, one we'll host.  This is a nice way to get some social time in without spending a lot to eat out.  It's also a fun culinary stretch for us, since both of these friends are vegan/vegetarian.  We're planning meals of enchiladas for one and these egg sandwiches (the pitas with feta) for the other.
  • The weather was beautiful, so we spent a lot of time outside over the weekend walking, blowing bubbles, and I spent some time surveying the garden trying to assess what needs to be done next.  We need to trim back some of the dead flower heads we left over the winter for the birds.
  • We discussed scheduling our mulch to be delivered and spread.  We should do it soon, before too many more perennials come up.  So, maybe we'll have that done right before/after baby comes home.
  • Benny touched up the paint on the coffee table where it had gotten scraped and scuffed.
  • Benny also finished the new TV shelf to add to our TV nook above the fire place.  It looks great, even though it doesn't quite meet his "OCD" tendencies.  And it was so much cheaper than purchasing something ready made.
  • We cleaned off the mantle and dusted some parts of the house.  We'll finish this deep cleaning this coming week.
  • We organized the freezer and put some things in the large freezer downstairs.
I'd love to hear what you did to live and save green this week!

Monday, February 29, 2016

March Menu and Grocery Shopping Plan

This month will be a little different for us since we're expecting baby #2's arrival mid-March.  So, we're stocking the freezer and hoping some friends bring us some meals.  We're also trying to stock the pantry with easy to fix meals, such as pasta and stir fry.  And, we're able to take advantage of Harris Teeter's Super Doubles this week, which is really helping to save.  So, we're hoping to keep this month's grocery budget to under $100.

It's really helping out that my mom is volunteering at the food pantry and able to bring us some items that would otherwise be labeled as "waste"  (they only are open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so what's left on Thursday in terms of fresh produce is usually tossed because it won't hold until the next week, but it's still good.).  Most of this, we end up processing for the freezer or dehydrating and using at our leisure.

Just a few of the items we've been gifted from the food pantry include:  Panera bread and bagels, jalapeno peppers, potatoes, pomegranates, kiwi, citrus, bananas, fresh herbs, turnips, carrots, mushrooms, and many others.  It's not like we get a whole crate, but even a small grocery sack helps to offset our grocery bill and round out our meals.

Here's the menu plan for the month, including some gifted items:

Breakfast:  bagels with cream cheese, quiche with gifted eggs from friends, gingerbread muffins with dried cranberries, banana breakfast bars, oatmeal with dried fruit, lemon poppy seed muffins, smoothies, egg and cheese sandwiches, homemade yogurt with cereal and fruit, and "big boy breakfast" of eggs, grits and sausage or bacon.

Lunches:  leftovers, egg salad sandwiches, fruit and hard boiled eggs, pasta salad with olives, canned salmon, and veggies

Dinners:  lasagna soup with bread and salad, baked potato soup with fixin's, beans and rice with fixins and corn bread, veggie stir fry over rice or noodles with egg rolls, bean tacos/quesadillas with fixins, lentil sloppy joes with cheese and steamed veggies, hot dogs/sausages with sauerkraut and oven fries, Asian ginger chicken with rice, breakfast casserole with smoothies, waffles with fruit and sausage, open faced meatball subs over homemade bread with oven fries, pizza with pesto and veggies, pasta with pesto, and any gifted meals from friends/family once the baby comes.

Snacks:  popcorn, dried fruit, yogurt, fresh fruit, carrot sticks and dip, tortilla roll ups with guacamole, sour cream, and salsa, smoothies, crackers with peanut butter

The plan is to make the more labor intensive meals (waffles, lentil sloppy joes, stir fry) early in the month and save the "quick and dirty" ones for once the baby arrives.  Many of the easy meals are crock pot meals or one pot meals on the stove, so they will come together quickly.  Unlike many of the "recommended" ideas for when you first bring baby home, we will not be doing paper plates, etc.  I find this really wasteful on so many levels, and am blessed to have a wonderfully helpful husband who does dishes and knows his way around the kitchen (sometimes more than I do!).  So, we'll use our regular stuff and run the dish washer like we always do.  We are hopeful that having some meals from friends and family will help to ease the kitchen cleanup, so that it's just plates/silverware we're cleaning up and not the whole kitchen.

Here's what we'll need to purchase this month to make this menu work:

  • salad greens (we'll use a gift card so we can buy organic and in bulk)
  • avocados/guacamole (HT has this on super doubles this week, so we'll stock up)
  • whole grain hot dog buns (I usually make these, but am too tired right now to think about that!)
  • organic milk or almond/soy if it's on sale with a coupon
  • canned tomato products if they're on sale or have a great coupon
  • 5 lbs potatoes (these are on sale at Lowes Foods this week, so I'll probably get them there)
  • paper towels (these are on sale at HT)
  • onions
  • diapers (not a food item, but necessity before baby fits into our cloth ones... on sale at HT w/ super doubles)
  • large bag of popping corn (still can't find this locally in bulk... ideas for online?)
  • kefir (for smoothies and general health in recovering after the baby arrives)
  • yogurt (if deeply discounted, there's some at HT this week for less than 20 cents a carton)
And here's what we'll be making from scratch:

  • whole grain sandwich bread (I may cheat and use a gift card to buy a loaf from the local bakery, if I'm too tired)
  • yogurt
  • cooking dry beans (lentils and either black/pinto beans) for easy use later
  • of course all our regular meals, as mentioned above

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This week was a little different for us, since Benny's mom came with our two year old nephew.  It was great fun for little man to have them here, and it definitely helped out with groceries, since she brought a bunch of stuff from Costco for us.  Here's what we did to save this week:

  • I made pizza dough in the bread machine twice to make pizza on Sunday night when they got here, instead of opting for a Domino's deal.  (Takeout would have been easier, but more expensive, and not as healthy.)  We used homemade pesto and veggies we had in the freezer for the toppings.  I added slices of meatballs to one.
  • Monday night, we got to have a date night while Benny's mom watched the boys.  We used an Applebee's giftcard and took advantage of their burger special, so we had enough to order dessert too.  We didn't have to pay anything out of pocket, and we really enjoyed the time together.  (Though, for the record, there are other places in town we'd much rather go for a really good local burger, but this was free.)
  • Tuesday night, I had a Wesley Foundation board meeting, so dinner was provided.  I got to bring home a few of the leftovers.  Benny cooked at home with his mom, and they had French toast and fruit.  During the day, they went to the Playhouse, and had lunch out, which Benny's mom treated for.  They all had a great time and the boys were wiped out.
  • Wednesday they left, and Benny and I helped out with serving dinner at the Wesley Foundation for church that night.  This meant that not only did we get a free meal of tacos after the students were served, but we also ended up coming home with some things that the students wouldn't eat (leftover sour cream, extra salsa, and taco shells).  This gave us at least three extra meals this week.
  • Thursday and Friday were snow days for us, so I didn't go to school, which saved on fuel.  These days gave us a little bit more time to catch up on prepping for baby, and general cleaning.
  • We made a double batch of quiche last night with the last of the pie dough we had in the freezer, plus frozen broccoli and cauliflower and a few chopped tomatoes.  We used cheese that had been purchased on sale and frozen, and some powdered and evaporated milk, since we were out of regular milk.  I used saved butter wrappers to grease the pie dishes.  Little man loved the quiche and requested a piece of "pie" for breakfast this morning, which I happily gave him.
  • Benny's mom brought a boatload of stuff from Costco for us, including a lot of fresh fruit (most of which is gone, thanks to two hungry boys and a pregnant mama), organic cereal, yogurt (which is also gone), crackers, quinoa and kale mix which they didn't like (and we love), dried fruit, and some cheese.  She also brought some stuff for our Greek day at school, which I'll probably end up with some leftovers of.  There were also some things in there to stock our freezer when baby arrives, such as soup and whole grain bread.
  • Mom gave us some bagels from the food pantry (they were going to be labeled "waste" otherwise), and a jar of bacon grease (we are currently out because I haven't been doing as much bacon) that we like to use for frying eggs and greasing pans for corn bread.
  • We made our list for Super Doubles, which starts tomorrow.  I've budgeted about $30 for this trip.
  • I found a deal on Vitacost, so I'll be able to save about $10 off my probiotics this month.
  • I made this salad dressing recipe to take with our salad to a friend's house for dinner tonight.  I've made it once before, but was out of some of the ingredients, so I substituted some things.  I hope it's good.  I reused an old salad dressing bottle to take it in.
  • We continue to cut down on our waste and are filling a kitchen trash bag about every 2 1/2 weeks, which is including night time diapers.  (This would be much less if we weren't using these.)
  • We used scrap paper for little man's collages and scissor practice this week.  He had a great time doing that today, which made my artist soul happy.
  • I found a few more crockpot recipes to try out once the baby arrives.  My mom is graciously filling some freezer bags with the ingredients for these, so that all we have to do is thaw, dump it in, and cook.
  • We finalized our Barnes and Noble list, so we'll place that order using gift cards.  It will be nice to have some new books for us and puzzles for little man once baby arrives.  
  • Benny found a way to repair the sink top in the apartment, so we're thinking if it works out (he did the first step today), then we won't have to pay for a whole new top or entire vanity.  (It was damaged when the mirror inexplicably fell off the wall, while our tenant was out of town, so we're not charging her for the damage.)
  • Someone is coming to check out the upstairs rental space on Monday (hurray!).  She sounds very nice and normal, so we're hoping this will work out.
  • Because I did have school earlier this week, I did get to tutor two days, which meant that I did get paid for that this week.  That extra money will go towards the baby fund, I think, at this point.  I also offered to tutor over the summer, so we'll see if that pans out.