Friday, March 14, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments this week, and a recipe

This week, I feel like we've done really well with living frugally.  Here's how it's played out:

Grocery shopping on Sunday was only sale, coupon, and need items.  (Well, ok, I did splurge on a $1.99 box of clearance junk cereal for me.  I'd been craving some for about two months.)  We stocked up on cabbage, which is on sale around St. Paddy's Day, and keeps in the fridge for several weeks.  I also found some bell peppers on the discount produce rack at 3/$2.50, which is really good for grocery store prices around here.  It's hard to find them for less than $1.00/pepper.

We were also given some eggs and cheese by my mom, which was a nice treat.  Now I probably won't have to buy either until the end of the month.  When I got to school on Monday, I found the conference table covered with leftover concessions items, including a whole box of bananas.  The items were available to anyone for a donation of their choice, so I took a whole bag of bananas and a few other snack/breakfast items for the week for a small donation that fit our budget.  The bananas were mostly frozen for later use in bread and muffins.  Of course we used our reusable shopping bags, which we got a five cent credit for at one store.

Made a crockpot of cabbage, tomato, and ground beef soup.  I usually make this with ground sausage, but all we had was the beef.  It was a great way to stretch a half pound of meat, and we love cabbage in soup.  We supplement the protein by adding beans, this time pintos.  But usually, I prefer red kidney beans.  (I'm listing the "recipe" below.)  This lasted us for lunches all week, and dinner on Tuesday night.  By cooking it in the crockpot, it means we used a fraction of the energy of the stove top.

Made enchiladas with more pintos, turkey from the freezer, half of a sale pepper, onion, and cheese and flour tortillas.  (Most of these were bought on sale or with a coupon.)  I used store bought enchilada sauce.  This made enough for dinners and lunches to fill out the week.

Benny made a loaf of whole wheat bread in the bread machine.  This was great with soup and for toast for breakfasts.  We also made muffins early in the week using raspberries we had in the freezer from the summer, which we picked for free from a friend.

We were a one car family this week, since the Jetta was in the shop again, and found it really worked for us, especially since I carpool to work  We're slowly thinking that perhaps we could do this full time.  We'll continue to evaluate and see.

We didn't eat out, buy anything extra, or splurge (aside from my cereal) this week.  We went ahead and scheduled all our bills for the rest of the month, so they're all set to be paid.

Made a birthday card instead of buying one.  Made a loaf of banana bread as a gift for a friend.  Found a coupon code for a photo book for a birthday gift, so it's much less expensive than we originally thought, but still a very thoughtful gift.

Found the code for our tablet and realized that we still have a week before the warranty runs out.  This is great since the touch screen junked out earlier this week.  Benny's taking care of the details; we're hoping to get a replacement.

We sold about $70 worth of stuff on eBay, so we're that much closer to cleaning out and having our CSA money. Yay!

What about you?  What were your frugal accomplishments this week?  How are you living and saving green?

Cabbage, Sausage, and Tomato Soup:

1/2 head cabbage, chopped into about 1 inch pieces
1/2 lb ground sausage or beef, browned
1 small onion, chopped
1 24 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can kidney beans or 2 c homemade
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic salt or minced garlic
generous tsp of ground pepper
fennel seeds if not using sausage

Combine all ingredients except beans in crockpot.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Add beans about 4 hours into cooking time.  Serve with homemade bread or saltine crackers.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

$100 a month grocery budget update

When we transitioned to basically a one income household, we tightened our belts a bit and committed to a $100 a month grocery budget.  We knew this would be tight, but we were committed to it in order to make our other savings goals a reality.

So, now that we're about eight months in, we can definitely say that it's tight, but do-able for us.  We've been diligent about keeping grocery receipts and entering them into our budgeting spreadsheet, so we know where we stand.  There have been a few months that we went over budget, like around the holidays, but there are also months where we were significantly under budget.  January was one of those where we tried to eat from the pantry, freezer, and use gift cards to purchase food (such as Panera cards for a dozen bagels for breakfast for a week instead of one lunch out).  We came in under budget for January by $40, which was awesome considering it was really six weeks since the December paycheck that came in before the holiday break.  But on average, we're sticking to our budget, and it's allowing us to continue saving for retirement and for emergencies.

How are making it work?  We've decreased our "extra" spending, so there are no more chips, crackers, store-bought cookies, or convenience items like frozen pizzas, in our pantry or fridge.  Our snack food of choice is now popcorn popped in our air popper.  Any beverage other than milk or water is not something we purchase.  We have been given some juice by friends and some beer and wine around the holidays, which have been nice treats for family pizza nights and dates.  Pricey dairy products like cheese, sour cream, and yogurt are carefully portioned out to last.  So, when I purchase a bulk package of mozzarella cheese for pizzas, I know that it needs to make eight pizzas, and we make it stretch for that.  Yogurt is only something I purchase for 15 cents a carton or less, so by carefully matching coupons and sales, I can get a few cartons a month.  I'm also contemplating making our own yogurt in the crock pot, which will make organic yogurt a lot more accessible to us and not as cost prohibitive.

Keeping pantry staples on hand is important too.  By having powdered milk, flour, sugar, flax seed meal, yeast, and corn meal, I can always whip up bread or corn bread, even if I don't have the eggs.  (You can substitute one tablespoon of flax seed meal and three tablespoons of water for one egg and get most recipes to come out just fine, and they even have more omegas than some eggs do.)  We always have canned tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, and lots of dried beans of various types.  This way, we can always come up with a soup, chili, or sloppy joe recipe from the pantry.

We also try to be very intentional about meal planning, and because of that, grocery list planning.  Going to the grocery store once a week, if that, cuts down on the opportunity for impulse spending.  If we can go two weeks, so much the better.

We've found that eating this way can be a challenge, but it's also forced us to be more creative.  We've found a fabulous lentil sloppy joe recipe that we might not have otherwise found.  We love our new recipe for lemon poppy seed muffins and recently found one for coffee chocolate chip muffins that both make great week day breakfasts.  We've had some great pizzas and stir fries with whatever we have on hand in the freezer.  By adding barley, rice, or pasta to soups, we get more nutritional content and can stretch the stock and veggies a bit further.

How are your budget challenges going?  Do they force you to be more creative?  Any creative meals you've come up with just cooking from the pantry and freezer?  I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cleaning Green

Since having our little one, we've definitely streamlined our cleaning (not the we loved doing it so much that we spent hours on it before!).  We're in the process of implementing a cleaning schedule, including the diaper washing rotation, and have found that incredibly helpful.  It is super nice that Benny's home and can do some of the cleaning during the day, so that we aren't doing it all in the evenings or on the weekends.

Perhaps the most pivotal thing we've done is to really streamline cleaning the bathrooms.  I've never minded cleaning the counters or toilets, but I LOATHE cleaning the shower.  I always liked the idea of the shower sprays that keep a clean shower clean, but I hated the chemicals in them and knowing that they were going into the air and water each time they got sprayed.  And I know it'd stay cleaner if I dried it after each use, but I had trouble remembering to do that in the morning rush.

But now, I have a solution, literally.  And it is so. simple.  One repurposed spray bottle.  One cup of white vinegar.  One cup of dish washing soap (I used Seventh Generation Lemongrass and Clementine).  That's it!  I heated the dish soap in the microwave a little to have it mix better with the vinegar, and you shake the bottle prior to each use.  Using this has majorly cut down on our time cleaning; no more scrubbing on hands and knees with homemade cleaner or Borax.  Now, you have to start with a clean shower, so that might be the challenge, but man is it worth it!

So, now we can literally clean the bathroom in 10 minutes on a weekend morning while the muffins bake for breakfast.  (Of course that doesn't include the deep cleaning of blinds, windows, etc., but a quick once over sure does help!)  And I love that it's totally green and low cost.

What about you?  Have you done anything to streamline your cleaning routine?  I'm on the hunt for a homemade stain remover to get tomato stains out of a little one's favorite shirt... any ideas?  Here's to living and saving green!