Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December Menu and Shopping Plan

This month is all about celebration for us.  Part of that means that we'll be hosting a few parties, part of that means we'll attend quite a few potlucks and parties.  All of that means some fabulous food, easy meals, and lots of leftovers.

We plan to really trim our grocery spending this month.  (December and January are historically tough months for teachers in NC because we get paid before the holiday break in December and don't get paid again until the end of January, so it's almost six weeks to make a regular four week check last.)  This month we'll only purchase absolute necessities (milk, occasional cheap yogurt), except for placing our spice order with San Francisco Herb Company.  We like to purchase dried onions, cocoa powder, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, and other things that we tend to use a lot of from them.  They have great prices and the quality has been good for us.

This plan will work because we've been able to stock up on Thanksgiving sales on sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberries, and because our citrus fruit order will be in next week.  (We ordered almost 100 lbs of fruit from the school band and orchestra, which will store for months in our unheated section of the basement.)  We also have a fully stocked freezer from CSA days this summer, as well as 25 lbs or storage potatoes from our CSA farm.

It's also been really nice to be the recepients of some great food gifts, including some things the local food pantry needed to clear out to make more space in their freezers (mostly bread and bagels, but also some guacamole and salsa, which will be great for chili and Mexican nights).  My in-laws also stopped at Costco on the way up for Thanksgiving, so we've got Costco sized portions of some things to last us through this week.

We'll also be having our share of soups this month.  I'll try to keep it to only once a week, but we may double up some weeks, just so we can stock the freezer with soup for easy meals later.

Here's our menu for the month, not including the potlucks and parties we'll attend:

Breakfasts:  cranberry oat muffins, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, homemade yogurt with fruit, toast with jam, egg and cheese sandwiches, French toast, smoothies, lemon/orange poppy seed muffins, winter squash muffins, monkey bread, breakfast casserole

Lunches:  leftovers, egg and cheese sandwiches, smoothies using frozen fruit and veggies from summer, fill in with citrus fruit, cheese and crackers, or a small side salad

Dinners:  loaded mac and cheese with broccoli and ham, French toast casserole with frozen blueberries and cranberries, chili with corn bread, potato soup, vegetable beef soup, turkey enchiladas, barbecue turkey and chickpea wraps, butternut squash and chickpea salad, turkey and wild rice soup, dinner salads with turkey and hard boiled eggs with homemade cranberry vinaigrette, winter squash and refried bean quesadillas,  shepherd's pie, pesto pizza, potato and vegetable hash with sausage, waffles with fruit and bacon

Baking:  This will include some holiday baking for gifts.  Rosemary olive oil bread x 8, magic cookie bars, candy coated popcorn, chex muddy buddies, sand dabs, gingerbread house (this will be a fun morning with friends and little man!)

How are your holiday grocery and meal plans coming?  I'd love to hear how you're living and saving green!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Saving on Maternity Clothes

This time around, I've tried to be just as frugal as we were with our first little man.  We're trying to save as much as we can for the baby fund, while also building up our regular savings and paying down our car and home equity line debt.  Part of this means saving what we can on maternity clothes.

I've been fortunate to be able to borrow maternity clothes from a few friends and family.  I also had a few things left over that were my own from the first time around.  I haven't been choosy about things, but willingly took whatever was offered to me.  Some of it isn't my normal style, but if it fits and suits the occasion, I'll wear it.

My mom also generously purchased a few new to me things at the local consignment sale.  These have been really nice to fill in the gaps from things that I've borrowed.

The only thing I've had to purchase this time around has been some compression tights and leggings.  (Yea! for varicose veins in pregnancy.)  I found a great website, Preggers by Therafirm to purchase them from that's been wonderful to work with, especially when we had to return a pair because they were obviously going to be too small a few months from now.

So, the basics for saving on maternity clothes:

Beg and Borrow  
Don't hesitate to ask friends to borrow their stuff.  I asked around at work and was able to score a few things too.  Most maternity clothes are worn for such a short time that they're in really good shape.  If pants are too long, you can temporarily tack them up with some simple stitches that you can remove when you return them.  Take care of things, of course, because you'll want to return them in as good a shape as they were loaned to you.

Use Your Own Stuff
There are some of your regular clothes that will work and stretch, at least for the first two trimesters.  I have several shirts, sweaters, and leggings that will be modified to work all the way through.  Scarves and jewelry also allow you to personalize things that you've borrowed.

Purchase Used When Possible
Shop consignment or online (eBay, Twice, Thread Up, etc.) for used maternity clothes.  I found a deal on a maternity coat for $10 at the consignment sale, which probably would be upwards of $40 or more new.

Expect the Unexpected
I never thought (or even really knew) that varicose veins would be an issue this time around.  And compression hose, socks, leggings, tights, etc. are not cheap!  But by finding a well designed product with great customer service, I've been happy and comfortable.  We also found coupon codes to use, and shopped the sale items, to find items that would work for me.  For example, I found that the tights with toes were way too tight and my toes really hurt by the end of the day.  So, I found some footless tights and leggings through Preggers that worked for me.

I've probably spent about $50 in compression hosiery, but that's all we've spent out of pocket in terms of clothing this time around.  By borrowing things and using what I already had, I'll make it through this pregnancy in comfort and well dressed.  Do you have any tips for saving on mommy stuff during pregnancy?  I'd love to hear from you!

November Shopping and Meal Plan

This month is the month for us to stock up!  If you're into baking, it's prime time to build up that baker's pantry again and fill it with your favorite flours, brown sugar, and all the baking things you'll need for a joyous and yummy holiday.  For us, it is also the time for a big Costco trip and maybe a repeat order with San Francisco Herb Company, where we stock up on bulk spices, seeds, and herbal teas.

With travel plans this month, that can mean spending less on food because you're away from home and visiting family, or it can mean spending more because you're traveling.  For us, it's the former, which gives us some more wiggle room in the grocery budget to stock up.  If you're traveling, consider packing your own snacks (homemade roasted pumpkin seeds are an obvious choice) to save the frequent stops for fast food.

For our Costco list this month, we're stocking up on the basics:

  • powdered sugar (we've price checked and it's cheaper than coupon prices)
  • store brand dish washing liquid (we go through it making our own shower spray)
  • chicken sausages (they don't have phosphates or nitrates, which means they're safe for baby #2)
  • ketchup 
  • frozen fruit for smoothies (we're slowly working through what we put up this spring/summer)
  • block cheddar cheese
  • dried beans
  • frozen ravioli (a treat, but really convenient for nights when I'm tired and we need dinner quickly)
  • maybe fresh fruit or carrots, depending on price
  • sweet potatoes (we'll go through these in soups, sides, and love them in tacos)
  • tortillas (hopefully whole wheat and/or organic)
  • dried fruit (raisins, hopefully apricots)
Our grocery plan is to keep things to the bare minimum since we're stocking up at Costco.  We will restock our baking pantry this month, since things will be so much on sale.  I'll also stock up on cranberries to load in the freezer and for Thanksgiving, and probably some herbal teas and cocoa mix (though I'll make my own too) if they're on deep discount.  (They do make nice stocking stuffers.)  We'll get our organic milk and will probably pick up a few frozen veggies too (corn for corn chowder and maybe broccoli for broccoli cheddar soup)

For our menu plan this month, we'll make the most of the root veggies we have around, such as the last few beets from the CSA and potatoes and carrots.  Tis the season for the crockpot, so we'll put Mrs. Cleaver (thank you, Barbara Kingsolver, for that lovely crockpot name!) to work for cooking winter squash, baking potatoes and beets, and lovely soups and stews.  We'll also make leftovers into entirely new dishes; think turkey enchiladas, butternut squash and chickpea salad, sweet potato quesadillas, etc.

Breakfasts: oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts/seeds, egg and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread, breakfast burritos, winter squash muffins, zucchini and flax muffins, winter squash pancakes/waffles, smoothies

Lunches:  leftovers of course, tuna or egg salad sandwiches, quesadillas

Soups/stews:  lentil and sweet potato soup, potato soup, corn chowder, broccoli cheddar soup, winter squash black bean chili  (all served with homemade bread and/or veggie side such as carrot sticks), turkey and wild rice soup

Crockpot:  loaded baked potatoes, sausage w/ peppers and onions on noodles or bread, roasted root veggies

Stovetop meals:  veggie stir fry, breakfast for dinner (usually eggs, smoothies, and some sort of bread), waffles with fruit, chicken sausages with cabbage, apples, and cranberries, quesadillas, turkey and bean enchiladas, leftover turkey with orange glazed carrots and rice pilaf, veggie pesto pizza, ravioli with homemade pesto and roasted root veggies

Snacks:  roasted pumpkin/squash seeds, dried fruit, sliced apples, carrot sticks and dip, popcorn, homemade muffins/oatmeal & whole grain cookies

How is your November shaping up?  I'd love to hear your plans for living and saving green in this holiday season!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Making Five Meals from One Pot of Beans

So, this week we've been trying to take advantage of our crock pot, our last CSA week (so sad) and our pantry.  This meant that we cooked up a bit crock pot of pinto beans on Monday evening.  Beans and rice can get pretty boring pretty quickly, but here are a few ways you can mix things up.

Bean Tacos with Fixin's 
 We love tacos around our house.  They're always a hit with little man, and there are so many ways to fix them.  This week we prepared whole wheat soft tacos with rice, pintos, chopped lettuce, pepper jack cheese, Greek yogurt (higher protein than sour cream), homemade guacamole, and salsa.  You could also mix it up and saute peppers and onions for a veggie fajita.

Beans and Rice with Cornbread
We did beans and brown rice with homemade cornbread last night.  We topped things off with cheese, salsa, chopped avocado, and lettuce.  You could add sour cream, chopped tomatoes, jalapenos, or whatever else your family is into.

Crock pot Chili
This is your basic slow cooker chili with diced tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, jalapenos, and spices.  You can also add a cup or so of frozen corn, if you have it.  We'll be adding some ground sausage this time around too, since we have it in the fridge.  Chopped mushrooms are also wonderful in a vegetarian chili.  We usually serve this with rice, cornbread, or tortilla chips and top it with cheese, sour cream/Greek yogurt, and chives (when they're fresh in the garden).

Corn and Bean Gratin
I picked up this recipe from the library a few years and love it.  It's sort of like a quiche, but flavored with cumin and Mexican spices and filled out with beans and corn and cheese.  If you like egg dishes, this one is a fun one to try.  (I'll try to post the recipe in a later post.)

Bean and Cheese Quesadillas
If you still have tortillas around, bean and cheese quesadillas are a cinch and always a hit.  We love to serve these with guacamole, Greek yogurt, and salsa.  They make a great easy Sunday lunch after church or a nice side to go with a bowl of soup or chili.  You can make them a meal by serving a side salad or steamed veggies along side.

Can you tell we like Mexican flavors around our place?!  Of course, you can always add beans to pasta dishes, vegetable soups, etc. for added protein.  How do you stretch a buck and your time with a pot of beans?  I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October Menu Plan

Our no spend September was great!  We kept our food budget to well under our usual $150/month, so the extra will go towards paying off our home equity line.  Having a well stocked pantry and freezer, as well as our CSA, really helped with this. We did splurge on Saturday on a family meal out, but we used a coupon we had through Restaurant.com and only spent about $10-12 for the three of us.  Since we haven't done this in well over six months, and it was a perfect day (all the toddler planets were aligned!), we are glad we splurged a bit.  We also restocked the freezer with bananas from the discount produce rack, so these will go into smoothies and breads throughout the next few months.

For October, our menu focus will be on making the most of what we can glean and using seasonal ingredients.  We've already picked some apples in a public space and plan to glean some more from a friend's tree.  These will be made into applesauce primarily, but we'll also use them for apple crisp, and we love the combo of apples and cabbage.  We'll also try to glean some winter squash from school after we do a lab (I generally end up bringing about 10 home), which we process into puree for the freezer.  This will serve double duty as prepared baby food and great filler for soups, chili, tacos, and muffins.

This is also the time of year when we try to make good use of our slow cooker.  We use it for cooking apples for applesauce, making apple butter, baking potatoes, casseroles, and of course soups and stews.  Now that Benny's working a few more hours a week, that gives us one less evening to really do meal prep.  So, trying to do two to three crock pot meals a week that he can prep during the day really makes things so much easier, both for dinner and for planning lunches of leftovers.

October Menu Plan:

Breakfasts:  oatmeal with dried fruit, baked oatmeal with applesauce from Simply in Season, banana nut muffins, pumpkin/squash muffins with raisins and/or nuts, bagels (from Panera with gift card), big boy breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, and/or sausage

Lunches:  leftovers, fill in with seasonal fruit/veggies/applesauce, homemade yogurt with frozen fruit, egg salad sandwiches

Dinners:  lentil sloppy joes, tomato basil soup, meatball sandwiches with peppers and onions, enchiladas (I'm going to try a slow cooker recipe), pizza with homemade pesto and veggies, quesadillas with refried beans, cheese, and homemade yogurt and peach salsa, roasted winter squash with sausage and sage, winter squash salad with chickpeas, black bean chili, white chicken chili, roasted turkey with corn bread and roasted/steamed veggies, potato soup, loaded baked potatoes, homemade mac and cheese with veggies or stewed tomatoes, lentil and sweet potato soup, stir fry/fried rice

Also, we're kind of getting in a rut with our meals and are looking for new slow cooker recipes.  If anyone has some to share, I'd love to hear from you!  Here's to living green and saving green, and eating up all that yummy fall goodness!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

September Menu Plan and Updates

I realize I've been kind of absent from the blog for a while.  I was home with little man for the summer and that kept me super busy.  In addition, we're expecting baby #2 (yay!), so I haven't felt up to doing much beyond the necessary.  Now that school has started back and I'm almost at the end of the 1st trimester, I'm feeling more normal and have a little more quiet time to do some blogging.

Budget updates:  We've been really enjoying our new tenants.  We have one downstairs in the apartment and one in the upstairs bedroom.  They're both great fits for our family, and we're hoping that our upstairs tenant will get into grad school in the spring so she'll be able to stay on longer with us.  Having both of them has really allowed us to pay down some of the home equity line this summer, as well as having Benny back at work full time for the summer.

We're looking into replacing the Jetta, which would be a hit to the budget.  While we love the Jetta, it's almost 15 years old and in need of some major repairs, which we're having trouble rationalizing when we feel like we'd like a slightly bigger vehicle now that we're going to have two kiddos.  Thankfully, we have a friend who has a car for sale that looks like a perfect fit for us, so if it all works out, we'll be able to purchase that for about $5,000 out of pocket, after the sale of the Jetta.  Doing all this certainly means more debt to pay, but we feel like it's worth it in the long run.  And every little bit of extra cash we earn (from Mary Kay, tutoring, extra hours at the store, eBay sales, gifts) will go toward this, so hopefully we'll have it paid within a year.

Little man got into preschool!  He starts next week, and we're hoping he'll love it, although it will certainly be an adjustment.  We're only doing one morning a week, but it will give him some much needed time with other kids and will allow Benny some time to pick up more hours at work (which will allow us to pay down debt a little faster).  He already has some friends from church who are in this class, so we're hoping it will be a relatively smooth transition.

We had a new water filter and water softener installed for the whole house this summer, which we used our tax return to pay for.  This will definitely save wear and tear on our appliances and will mean that they will last longer, so it's a worthwhile expense.  We're also going to have the guttering on the front of the house replaced, as it was only a patch job when we did the new roof a few summers ago.  We're also paying to have leaf guard installed, which will save us some money on having gutters cleaned.  (Since we live in a 2-3 story house (two on the back, three on the front), we're not comfortable having Benny doing that job.)

Our plan for September includes a no-spend month, so except for regular bills and absolutely essential groceries, we're going to try to not spend any extra cash.  I stocked up this month, especially during Harris Teeter's super doubles event, so we shouldn't have to spend much on groceries.  We're also moving into fall when soup is more appealing, and that definitely stretches the budget.  We'll continue not eating out and will take advantage of leftovers, gifts of food, the abundance of garden tomatoes and herbs etc. to make the budget stretch.  So, without further ado, here's the plan:

September Menu Plan

Breakfasts:  egg and cheese sandwiches, oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts, homemade yogurt with frozen fruit, smoothies, "big boy breakfast" for the boys which includes bacon, eggs, and homemade hash browns/toast, muffins/sticky buns on the weekends

Lunches:  leftovers, egg salad sandwiches, tuna salad w/ crackers, BLTs

Dinners:  loaded baked potatoes, black bean tacos w/ rice, beans and rice with chopped tomatoes, cheese and homemade peach salsa, vegetarian chili with cheese, plain yogurt, and salsa, crockpot pesto chicken with noodles or rice, roasted root veggies with barley or brown rice, breakfast casserole with eggs, cheese, and veggies, winter squash pancakes with hash browns and smoothies, crockpot cabbage, tomato, beans and sausage soup, pesto pizza with veggies (x4 we do this almost every Friday), homemade mac and cheese with some veggies, tomato basil soup with garlic toast, meatball sandwiches with steamed veggies or fruit, lentil sloppy joes with steamed/roasted veggies and peach & blackberry crisp

Things to bake/make:  loaf of bread x 4-5 (I think we have one loaf in the freezer), muffins x 4, sticky buns x 1, homemade yogurt x 2-3 batches, peach salsa to can x 1

How're your budget and menu plans shaping up?  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Making a Healthy Diet Healthier

We're really trying to eat more healthfully these days, for a number of reasons.  One is that I recently found out that I have slight hyperthyroidism, which means that my thyroid is slightly overactive, and could lead to bigger things down the road.  We've also recently had a family member diagnosed with cancer, which is treatable, but has been a reminder to us that we could be doing more to support our bodies and prevent disease down the road.  Because of this, we're trying to be more conscious of how we eat, mostly by adjusting two categories.

Eating Less Refined Sugar
This one has probably been the hardest for me.  I didn't realize how much I craved sweets until I started cutting back on this.  I'm working to find some natural substitutes, but in the mean time, we've done several things.

1.  I am now eating oatmeal for breakfast about five days a week.  I make this up the night before with 1/2 c rolled oats, 3/4 c milk/almond milk/unsweetened coconut milk, a handful of dried fruit and a few tablespoons of nuts and seeds.  This has been really filling and cuts down on the sugar I was eating in muffins.

2.  When we do bake for breakfast, I cut the sugar in half.  I also try to choose recipes that are naturally sweet with bananas, winter squash, etc.  When I bake cookies, I cut the sugar by about a third.

3.  I splurge once a week and have something really decadent.  And I don't feel guilty one bit.  It's been great.

4.  We've been making smoothies several nights a week for dessert or to take on our walks, and it's been great.  I usually start with a banana, add some frozen fruit or berries, a scoop of unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, and some flax or chia seeds, and it's really good.  We've also had fun adding in some of our fresh herbs like lemon balm (which is good for thyroid health) and mint.  This is also a great way to use up leftovers... winter squash, cooked rice, and avocados are all great in smoothies.

Eating More Whole Grains
We've been working to trim back on the all purpose flour in our routine and eat more whole grains.  Overall, this one has been easier, but also a little more expensive.  Here are a few ways we've tackled this:

1.  Brown rice or barley instead of white rice.  This has been a super simple switch and we really haven't minded the change.  There are a few dishes we still like white or jasmine rice with, like stir fry or fried rice, but in general, this has been easy.

2.  Whole wheat flour in place of part or all of the AP flour.  This is easier in baked goods and pancakes than loaf bread.  In cookies or muffins, I can easily substitute half of the flour as whole wheat.  In bread or pizza dough, I tend to go with about 1/4 whole wheat to 3/4 all purpose.  I have found some whole wheat pizza dough recipes I want to try, but haven't done it yet.

3.  Whole wheat flour tortillas instead of white flour.  These generally cost about $1 more a package, but the boys are still happily eating corn tortillas, so it's really not too bad.

4.  I've also been trying to incorporate more flax, soy, and alternative flours into our baking recipes.  These have to be done in much smaller amounts, but are easy and add a little more nutritional benefits.

These two things combined mean less blood sugar spikes, which means the whole body isn't working as hard.  The added fiber from increased fruits and veggies (another reason for the smoothies) also helps the body to process increases in blood sugar, as well as being really helpful nutritionally.  We're so looking forward to our CSA starting up again soon and having more local veggies to work with.

So, what about you?  Have you been working to eat more healthfully?  How are you making some easy switches?  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Making the Most of Your Garden

This spring and summer, I've been working hard to make the most of our garden space.  We've added more garden space, but also improved the space we have to make better use of it.  We're also working to do some smaller projects to boost how we use the space and beautify things.

We've added some more garden space out front simply by clearing out some weeds and filling in low spots with some dirt.  This will be an ornamental space that we'll keep low maintenance by mulching it well with newspaper or cardboard, and then free mulch from the landfill.  We'll transplant some forsythia bushes that have multiplied in the back, and fill in the space with some transplanted ground cover to crowd out weeds.  This will really finish off the front and make it a little more maintenance free because it won't have to be mowed in the summer.

Another small garden space was added where we put in the stone patio under our deck.  This space is along the foundation, but is fairly narrow, so I'm going to try to fill it in with perennial herbs and some ornamentals, like hostas, blazing star, sage, and bronze fennel.  I'm trying to go for a variety of leaf texture in this bed, and I think this mix will all be really pretty together and will give flowers throughout the season.  I still need to add some newspaper mulch, compost, and free mulch from the landfill to this bed, but I think it will look really good when it's done.  We plan to get a little creative with this bed and edge it with recycled wine bottles, which will require a small trench being dug and then inverting the bottles in the trench.

In trying to make the most of our existing space, we've started a lot of herb seeds in places this year.  I started cilantro from seed in the garden, and it's just started producing.  We also planted garlic in the fall, which we're looking forward to harvesting next month.  Some raspberries were transplanted to a raised bed, and we allowed some wild blackberries to flower in some unused spaces this year.  I'm also working harder to harvest our perennial herbs, mostly sage, mint, chives, and lemon balm, throughout the season, so that we can dry and freeze them for use throughout the year.  I also experimented with making dandelion tea this spring, and found I really liked it (and it's really high in vitamin K, which is good for eye health, and has many anticancer properties).

We worked last weekend to add a step barrier to the end of our gravel and stone path to help keep the gravel from invading the yard.  This was made with some bits of leftover railroad ties we had from building the retaining wall a few years ago.  We also used some found rocks to edge out the bottom of our central flower bed, which looks really nice now.  Next week, we plan to visit a friend's garden, where she regularly splits perennials to share with us.  And it's always such fun to see her gardens, and we're looking to little man's first trip out there.  And we plan to finally get our rain barrel installed this year so that we can really use it, instead of watering things with potable water.

I'm also looking forward to painting our exterior doors this summer.  It's a small project, but I think it will really make our house pop, and will bring together the flowers we have in the planters along the entryway.  I'm also thinking about putting some bulbs in our larger containers in the fall so they'll be ready to bloom in the spring.

I'd love to hear what you're doing in your garden!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

May Menu Plan

This month is all about anticipation of our CSA starting in June.  We're also taking advantage of strawberry season and stocking up the freezer with yummy fresh berries.  We're looking forward to restocking the freezer with berries and fresh produce this summer from our garden, the CSA, and the farmer's market.

We also have a little fruit monster on our hands, so we're having to increase our grocery budget to accommodate that as well as our desire to eat a little more healthfully (we were already pretty good before).  We're planning to make fresh fruit smoothies, popsicles, and pureed soups for the freezer with our new Ninja blender.  (Thanks to the in-laws for the birthday/anniversary gift early!)

We're also looking forward to the Duke intern from church joining our family for the summer later this month.  It'll be another mouth to feed, but we love doing it and it's so good for little man to have someone new to interact with around the house.

You'll notice a breakfast for dinner theme in our menu.  We love breakfast foods, but they're often too much work (i.e. more dishes) for weekday meals.  So we reserve them for dinners.  This time of year, our friends' chickens are laying really well, so we're getting lots of wonderful fresh eggs to use in meals.  Breakfast eggs are easier to fix than quiche, though we love that too, and usually breakfast for dinner comes together pretty quickly, which means we can spend more time outside together as a family in the evenings.

So, without further ado, here's this month's menu:

Breakfasts:  breakfast burritos, oatmeal, eggs and grits, whole wheat banana muffins, winter squash muffins with pumpkin seeds and raisins, strawberry coffee cake, egg and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread

Lunches:  egg salad sandwiches or wraps, leftovers, black bean salad with barley, homemade yogurt with granola and fruit

Dinners:  winter squash pancakes with eggs and fruit, dinner salads with hard boiled eggs, dried fruit or fresh, and cheese, quesadillas with refried beans and avocado, roasted turkey with broccoli and herbed rice pilaf, turkey tacos with squash and greens, french toast with bacon and fruit, roasted root veggies with barley and herb butter, tomato basil soup, meatball sandwiches with fresh fruit, breakfast for dinner (roasted potato hash browns with yummy blue and red potatoes from the farmer's market, fried eggs with garden chives, grits, and fruit or sauteed peppers and onions), beef and cheddar pie with rice pilaf

I'd love to hear from you!  And a happy belated Mother's Day to all the moms, "adopted" moms, and women longing to be moms out there!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

April Menu, Baking, and Stocking Up

April is a month for making use of all sorts of spring time foods.  With Easter this month, there are great deals at the grocery store on eggs, asparagus, ham, and strawberries are starting to show up here.

Around our house this month, we're working to eat up last year's produce that's still in the freezer to make room for more goodies.  We know we'll be seeing the trucks bringing strawberries from "off the mountain" soon, and we want to have plenty of freezer room for those and other goodies once our CSA starts again.

I'm also working to do some baking for the freezer to make the summer months a little easier.  Summer tends to be a little looser in some regards, busier in others.  We have more time for playing outside, picking berries, etc., but tend to want to spend less time in the kitchen.  So, I'll be baking up bread, pound cakes, muffins, etc. now to make summer months easier and cooler (not having to heat the oven in June and July as much).

I also scored an awesome deal on jalapenos at HT on the discount produce rack, so I'll be processing those to can.  These will be wonderful to have next winter, and they make a great addition to other homemade goodies for Christmas gifts.  (The time to think about canning for Christmas is spring and summer!  But it makes Christmas so much less stressful.)

Here's our menu plan for the month to make use of our springtime goodies and freezer stores.

Breakfasts:  banana nut muffins, french bread and rosemary olive oil bread from The Prudent Homemaker, lemon poppy seed muffins, winter squash pancakes, egg and cheese sandwiches, bagels from Panera (with gift card money), baked oatmeal, and marmalade muffins.  I will post the winter squash pancake recipe soon.

Lunches:  leftovers filled in with egg salad sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, three bean salad, or seasonal fruit

Dinners:  ham and asparagus quiche, baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli, corn chowder, these yummy egg sandwiches, pasta with pesto and ricotta (cheater's lasagna), homemade pizza with veggies and ham, roasted asparagus with salmon and baked potatoes or oven fries, bean and cheese quesadillas, vegetarian chili over rice or baked potatoes, black bean tacos, dinner salads with hard boiled eggs and tuna, and maybe a turkey pot pie to use up the last of the turkey in the freezer.

What about you?  I'd love to hear your plans for how to use those deals on Easter groceries!  Blessings to all this Easter weekend!

I'll be linking up to The Prudent Homemaker and Strangers and Pilgrims this week.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments and Garden Preparations

Last week was a rather unusual week for us.  I was presenting at a professional conference, but it was close enough to family to combine with a visit.  So, Benny and little man also went.  It was a wonderful conference and a great visit with family.  Here are some of the things we did along the way to save money.

Since the trip was professional, I was able to get reimbursed for mileage and meals.  I won't see this money for a few weeks, but it will be nice that the money will more than cover the cost of the trip.

While at the conference, I was able to gather several activities to use in my classroom.  This will be wonderful for planning for next year, and a few of them I can use this year.

While visiting with Benny's family on Sunday after church, we went to Costco.  We purchased several things in bulk that we normally use, including flax seed meal, all purpose flour, red bell peppers, and strawberries.  You really have to know your unit price when shopping, because some things at the warehouse clubs are not great deals.

We took our cloth diapers traveling, so we saved the cost of disposables while there.  This is a huge blessing!  I can't imagine how much we've saved by doing cloth, probably at least $1000.

On the way back on Tuesday, we stopped at Panera and bought a dozen bagels.  We purchased these with gift card money, and it made breakfasts easier since we were coming back in the middle of the week.  We ate them as egg and cheese sandwiches, and plain with butter or peanut butter.  Little man loved them.

I collected unopened milk from students during lunch and took it to the food pantry if I had enough.  I only had two small cartons this week, so one was used for coffee and one for baking. I also had a coworker give me grapes at lunch on Friday, so these came home for little man's breakfast.  He loves fruit, especially grapes, but we generally don't purchase a lot because they tend to be pricey.

There was no grocery run this week, but we did find a deal on Chutes and Ladders for little man at Walmart.  With the coupon, it was $1.77 before tax, so we will save this for his Easter present this year.  It's fun to begin thinking about board games with him!

We ate Sunday dinner with my mom, which included hotdogs, slaw (from The Smitten Kitchen cookbook), sauted tomatoes (they were on their last leg, but so good with garlic and olive oil), and baked beans.  I also made a loaf of bread and we made our favorite chocolate stout cake dessert.  Mom had all the other ingredients, so it was nice that all I had to provide was the bread.

All laundry was washed in cold water except diapers.  We hung it all out to dry, some on the line outside now that it's warm enough to do so.

We made a huge pot of white bean rosemary soup for the week, which will be great for lunches.  We thought it was a little thin, but loved the flavor, so we will add some chopped celery or barley next time after pureeing and let it cook those things.

We did our usual composting, recycling, etc.  We also collected coffee grounds from the coffee bar at church.  Our Christmas wreath was finally deconstructed, and we added these branches to the compost.

Our garlic is finally emerging from its straw mulch, so exciting!  This is the first year we've grown garlic, and so far it has been super easy.  We will definitely do it again next year, and maybe plant even more so we don't have to buy any.

We cleaned out the flower bed and trimmed things back (I left some seed heads up for the birds over the winter).  We will hire a friend from church to pick up the free mulch from the landfill and spread it for us.  This is a job we could do ourselves, but it is easier to hire him, and we feel like it's worthwhile because he uses the money from these jobs to pay for his college education.  We may also pay him to trim back some of the larger trees along the back of our property that we can't easily reach, but he has the tools to do.

At school, my gardening class planted some herb and flower seeds for our plant sale.  There are a few varieties that I want, so it is a win win.

I will plant the leftover seeds from the plant sale at home, and hopefully little man will help this year.  We would love to have some more sage, parsley, lavender, marigolds, and zinnias for our garden this year.  I love zinnias... so happy and full of color!

What did you do last week to live and save green?  How are your gardens doing?  I'd love to hear from you!  I'm linking up to The Prudent Homemaker and Strangers and Pilgrims this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

Last week was finally back to a regular work week for us with no snow and beautiful spring weather. We saved by:

 •Benny stayed home with little man and took care of many chores, spent time outside in the spring weather, filled the bird feeder with discounted birdseed, and enjoyed being a SAHD

 •Took advantage of produce manager cleaning out bins and got free carrots, parsnips, and other veggies. Some went to our friends’ chickens, some were still good enough for us to eat.

 •Purchased cabbage on sale and with 20% off app, as well as BOGO apple cider vinegar, toothpaste (with coupons), and ketchup

 •Made all meals at home and from scratch including sweet and sour stir fry w/ homemade egg rolls, winter squash pancakes, muffins, focaccia, black bean burgers w/ homemade whole wheat buns, and pesto pasta salad

 •Tidied up back garden by trimming back and pruning, did minimal weeding to prepare for spring plantings.

 •Have the first herbs coming back including chives, oregano, sage, lemon balm, and mint. The chives will be big enough next week to begin harvesting.

 •Carpooled to work as usual to save on fuel and have time to plan with my teammate

 •Took walks and hikes numerous nights for exercise and family time.

 •Made a powdered orange cleaner (1 cup borax, 1 cup baking soda, 2 tablespoons ground, dried orange peel—I grind in a coffee grinder) and finishing up orange infused vinegar for use as a cleaner. The powdered orange cleaner has been great for cleaning the sink or counter tops.

 •Began assessing freezer contents and using up in preparation for CSA and farmer’s market season 

•Cleaned out little man’s drawer and noticed lack of summer clothing, so emailed a few friends and colleagues with older kids to see if they had hand-me-downs. They did! So we now have enough clothing for little man for the spring and summer, which saves us some money and helped friends clean out their closets.

•We did a little yard work, so one garden now has a rock edging and the stone cages we had the rock in are now deconstructed. We’ll recycle the wire and we have friends who are going to use the pallets for their garden edging and compost bins.

•Cut little man’s hair at home… not perfect, but an improvement and it didn’t cost us $10 or more. 

•Met a friend for some time together. We opted to BYO coffee and a walk in local gardens instead of a brunch meeting or coffee at a coffee shop. It was wonderful to be together and a great way to celebrate the coming of spring.

What did you do to live and save green last week? I'd love to hear from you! I'm linking up to The Prudent Homemaker and to Strangers and Pilgrims this week.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

It was another snowy week for us, so that meant that I got to stay at home while Benny went to work.  He was able to work almost a full 40 hour week, so we will appreciate that income in savings.  Little man and I did not venture out because of our snow-covered road, so we were able to save on gas as well, since I was not driving to work each day.

We made all meals at home, except for Saturday lunch with friends (we took a salad) when the snow cleared and Sunday dinner with my mom (we again took a salad).  Our "winter" salads consist of loose spinach, citrus, dried fruit, nuts/seeds (whatever we have on hand), and some feta cheese if we have it.  They are always tasty and well received, and a cinch to put together.  We also made vegetable soup in the crock pot (clean out the freezer soup), homemade french bread (four loaves), flat bread with olive oil dipping sauce, homemade pizza with white sauce, lentil sloppy joes with roasted asparagus and oven fries, broccoli apple salad, double batch of quiche, zucchini banana flaxseed muffins, breakfast oatmeal cookies (these weren't our favorite, but little man liked them and they helped use up bananas in the freezer), and banana chocolate chip muffins.

We continued to minimize waste by composting as much as possible.  I started a batch of citrus infused vinegar to use for cleaning using peels that would have otherwise gone to the compost.  Once they're done infusing the vinegar, they can go to the compost.  Also, I began drying orange peels for use in a powdered cleaner using baking soda, borax, and ground citrus peels.  Froze more orange peels for use in marmalade later, or for candied peels.  I will post later about the recipes for these and their effectiveness.  We we are really trying to use organic cleaners now that little man is big enough to help with simple cleaning like wiping counters, and it is nice to be able to use something that would otherwise be considered waste.

I read more on perennial herbs that grow well for our area and began planning our spring gardens.  I would like to remove some of our hosta plants that the deer ate last year and replace them with herbs that can be used in the kitchen and for crafts.  (The herbs do not seem to be something the deer are interested in eating.)  I am thinking of planting some new types of sage, more chives (we love these and would like to use them more), dill, more varieties of basil, lovage, and more lavender.  I might also plant some nasturtiums also; they would be pretty on salads.

We used the gas logs more to offset the electric heat.  This was really effective one day, because the heat didn't come on until the sun started to set.  We keep our heat pretty low at 62 degrees anyway, to conserve more energy.

We washed and reused plastic bags and containers.  I am in the process of gathering our large jars from Costco (sun dried tomatoes, olives, etc.) to repurpose for storage containers for items we buy from bulk bins (corn meal, specialty flours, lentils, etc.).  Strangers and Pilgrims has fun pantry labels for containers like these and other wonderful homemaking ideas.

All laundry was hung to dry, and we continued to use our cloth diapers, wipes, and family cloth.  I wore the same jeans all week, since I didn't really leave the house and didn't get them dirty.  Sweaters were worn more than one day also, saving on laundry time and supplies.

We did a small grocery run and kept it to about $20.  This included stocking up on dish soap, frozen salmon, frozen meatballs (I prefer to buy local, grassfed beef, but we're out until market season), oranges and strawberries (a treat, but on sale), canned tomatoes, free shampoo, and frozen veggies.  Southern Savers really helps us out here by matching up store sales with coupons, and it's free, unlike the Grocery Game that we used to use.  (Though it doesn't always seem as comprehensive or quite as accurate for our area as the Grocery Game.)

A few of our eBay postings sold, so that's money we can put toward our CSA subscription for this year.  I can't wait for that to start again!  I'm so ready for fresh local veggies again.  It really does help make our meal planning easier and it allows us to spend less during the spring and summer months on groceries in general.  It's also nice to be able to stock the freezer with the extras so that we have local produce in the winter too.

On a non-frugal note, we think our microwave is about to go (it's beeping and changing screens, even when no one is using it or anywhere around).  It's an over the stove, integrated hood type, so it's not cheap to replace.  We're thinking we'd like to replace it with an actual range hood and a counter top microwave.  We've discovered that we don't use all the fancy features that came with it, and we'd rather have an actual vented hood.  We're thinking that the tax return we get should cover the costs of this replacement, plus maybe our water filter for the house too, so at least it wouldn't have to come out of savings.

What did you do to live and save green last week?  I'd love to hear from you!  I'm linking up to The Prudent Homemaker and Strangers and Pilgrims this week.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

March Menu Plan

This last week was another snow-filled week for us, with me and little man venturing out only to take the dog out.  So, I've had lots of time to dream about gardening, catch up on reading during nap times, and come up with some other creative uses for our kitchen scraps besides composting (which I'll share in a later post).  But I also had some time to think about our menu for March.

March is, for most areas, the beginnings of spring.  Around here, that's a hotly debated topic, as the old timers don't ever set anything in the ground for spring planting until Mother's Day.  But grocery stores can give us the illusion of spring time, with all the berries and spring greens that show up (who am I kidding, they're there year round!).  But we still try to eat seasonally around here, which means mostly winter foods and what we have in the freezer and pantry.  So, here's our menu for the month:

zucchini, banana, and flaxseed muffins (using frozen shredded zucchini and frozen bananas)
cranberry oatmeal muffins from Muffins A to Z
"pumpkin" chocolate chip or pumpkin seed muffins (we use frozen pureed winter squash)
egg (using fresh, free eggs from dear friends) and cheese sandwiches on homemade french bread or rosemary olive oil bread
cranberry coconut breakfast cookies
marmalade muffins from Muffins A to Z (See link above)
baked oatmeal from Simply in Season

leftovers filled in with homemade yogurt, homemade applesauce (frozen or canned from the fall apple gleaning), or homemade cookies

crockpot soups including vegetable barley soup, potato soup, vegetarian chili (I finally came up with a recipe I like), black bean squash chili, rosemary white bean soup (I haven't tried this one yet, but I like all her other recipes) * We try to have soup at least once a week because it makes the budget stretch and makes great leftovers for lunches.

quiche with mushrooms (bought on the clearance produce rack, sauteed, and frozen), asparagus (we trim the ends off and chop them to use in other dishes), onion, and ham (frozen from Christmas)

chicken/turkey pot pie with green beans (frozen from summer CSA), mushrooms, onion, asparagus, and corn)

winter squash pancakes (from Start Fresh) with fruit (either citrus or we still have some peaches in the freezer from the summer) and bacon (little man loves these pancakes and it's a good way to sneak in more nutrients)

fried rice with homemade egg rolls (we skip the pork and just use more veggies in them to cut costs)

spicy noodle veggie stir fry with homemade egg rolls

homemade pizza with pesto or white sauce (just discovered this white sauce and love it!)

lentil sloppy joes with steamed or roasted veggies and oven fries

whole wheat pasta with pesto, salad, and garlic toast

black bean burgers with steamed veggies or oven fries

enchiladas with orange and lime rice (just zest and orange and sprinkle lime juice after preparing rice)

Beans and rice with fixins and corn bread

loaded mac and cheese with broccoli and sausage or ham

popcorn (made with air popper #2--little man pulled the other one off the counter, broke it, and felt horrible for it!) with garlic salt, cheddar powder, or taco seasoning

homemade cookies of the week

homemade bread with butter or jam

homemade yogurt with fruit

homemade cocoa (we buy our cocoa and powdered milk in bulk to make this more affordable)

I tried to provide more links here so that those of you looking for recipes to fit a $100 a month grocery budget know where to start.  Some of these are made more affordable by getting the produce in season and freezing it, or by purchasing ingredients in bulk (flour, cheese, corn meal, cocoa powder, spices, etc.).  We also can quite a bit of summer produce in the form of salsa, jams, pesto, sauces, etc. to make our winter plentiful.

If you have any questions about our recipes or how we manage to feed our family on $100/month, feel free to ask!  (And I promise we do... we've only spent about $160 total for 2015 so far on groceries.  We spent more than that for just our last month's electric bill!)  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

Last week was an interesting week for us.  It was brutally cold (minus 3 one morning), and there was no school for the week due to snow and the extreme cold temperatures.  But it did mean that Benny could get out to go to work, and he was able to pick up some extra hours at work.  And, since I stayed home all week, we were able to save on gas since I wasn't driving to work each day.

Here are some other ways we saved:

  • Ran gas logs for extra heat to keep from running the HVAC (gas is cheaper than electric here)
  • Ate entirely from the pantry and freezer including vegetarian chili, loaded baked potatoes, homemade french bread, homemade pesto pizza with veggies, corn bread, winter squash pancakes from frozen winter squash puree, beans and rice, baked oatmeal, lemon poppy seed muffins, and leftover winter white pesto lasagna (no meals out)  
  • Read library books and listened to one free Audible book, Inkheart
  • Prepared grocery list using Southern Savers and coupons
  • Washed clothing in cold water
  • Showered every other day to save hot water and keep my skin from drying out
  • Used family cloth and cloth diapers
  • Worked more on "pre"-potty training with little man
  • Taught little man a few more signs (berry, cat, and potty) (this at least saves our sanity because it means he can tell us more of what he wants)
  • Left oven door open after use to heat up the house (when little man was elsewhere occupied, of course)
  • Recaulked two living room windows for better insulation
  • Closed curtains to insulate windows better
  • Cleaned exhaust fan filters in kitchen hood and bathroom to improve efficiency
  • Changed out all incandescent bulbs to CFLs (we are working on saving for LEDs to save us more money)
  • Benny redemed a coupon for a free sandwich at Chick-Fil-A before it expired and brought it home
  • Used Christmas gift of windshield screen during really snowy/icy days so we didn't have to run the car as long to warm up and defrost the windshield (and minimize scraping)
  • Composted anything we could (toilet paper tubes, food scraps, paper towels, tea bags, etc.)
  • Researched online and found recipes for citrus vinegar cleaner, homemade body butter, and homemade liquid dish washing soap
  • Hung all clothes and diapers to dry after washing
  • Finalized our lease for the apt and got it signed
  • Installed a draft dodger in the basement and at our door to the basement stairs
How did you live and save green last week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Saving on Glasses

Face it, glasses are expensive.  So are contacts.  And for those of us who need vision correction, there's not much other option that's really affordable.

I used to wear contacts for a while in high school and college, but once I didn't have vision insurance anymore and had to pay for them on my own, it was cheaper to wear my glasses.  Contacts got expensive with the solution, cases, occasionally tearing them and going through them faster.  Plus, I was always a hard fit because mine had to be weighted, which meant that if they were a bad fit, they floated around and didn't do their job and made me woozy.  Then, I realized that it was easier to do glasses too.  Just pop them on to begin the day or off at the end of the day and you're set.

But after ten plus years (we'd been fortunate that our prescription hadn't changed much), the frames of mine were a little worse for wear.  Benny's were in the same shape.  And we both had been wishing for prescription sunglasses for a while to deal with winter driving and the glare from the snow, and (for me at least) to take to the pool or the beach in the summer for reading.

So, we started hearing about Zenni Optical a while ago from friends.  We were a little hesitant to order glasses online.  We didn't want to waste money and end up with something that didn't work or we didn't like after receiving it.  But we were curious enough to watch the site for a while and wait for a good deal.  We figured if we got sunglasses that didn't work, it wasn't a huge loss.

Finally, a few months ago, we got our chance.  They were running a buy two, get one free sale.  So, we took a date night one night to pick out our frames and ordered ourselves each sunglasses and a new pair of glasses for Benny.  The grand total?? About $45 for all three pairs!

And the best part, we love them.  It's been great having sun glasses and Benny's really enjoyed his new glasses.  The one drawback was that they needed some minor adjustments, but that's an easy fix by taking them to a walk-in optician, like Walmart or somewhere.

What have you done to save green on glasses?  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Composting to a New Level (Did You Know You Could Compost THAT?)

In an effort to reduce our waste even more, I've been on the hunt for things we weren't composting that we could.  In my search, I found some surprising things.  As a result, we've begun reducing our waste even further and creating more compost for our spring and summer gardens.

I knew, but hadn't really thought about the fact, that recycling takes a lot of energy.  This means that anything we can remove from our recycling bin and reuse or dispose of in another way ends up saving energy.  We already do the obvious, like using both sides of the paper and reducing the packaging that we purchase.  But recently, we've started composting any paper that we can (newspaper, brown paper, brown cardboard, etc.).  To make this decompose faster, we cut it up into small pieces.  You can also compost paper towels, paper napkins, tissues, etc.  You do want to be careful of papers with certain dyes that aren't organic (newspapers use soy-based inks).

We've begun composting used cotton balls and cotton swabs made with cardboard (not plastic).  This cuts down on our bathroom trash some.  You can also compost hair trimmings, so when I cut Benny's or little man's hair, I put it in the compost.  We also compost the gunk we clean out from the drains when we clean them out, since this is mostly hair.  You can also compost pet hair (thank goodness for those of us with dogs with long hair) and the dust, crumbs, etc. from emptying the vacuum cleaner bin.  Dryer lint is also compostable.

I recently read that you can compost steel wool, which I use for cleaning in the kitchen.  We'll try it with our most recent steel wool pad.  It's supposed to add some more iron (duh) to your soil.  We're also composting muffin wrappers (white or brown ones without dye are best).  Composting natural fibers (wool, cotton, etc.) is also a possibility, so when we cut up a shirt for rags this week, we composted the scraps (cut into small pieces).

We're also beginning to scavenge for our compost bin some by collecting coffee grounds from the coffee bar at church and any organic food scraps from Sunday dinner with Mom.  I also collect pencil shavings from school, which adds some nice "brown" to our compost.  I'm considering talking with a local brewery to see if we can collect their spent grains, hops, etc. for composting.

If you're looking for ways to reduce your waste stream and have a compost bin, I found this resource really helpful.

I'd love to hear how you're living and saving green this week!  Leave a note in the comments for me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Going Paperless (or Reusable) as Much as Possible

We've made the effort to go paperless as much as possible in our household.  Not only does this mean we're using fewer resources, and therefore being more environmentally friendly, but we're saving in our budget too.  Here are a few places we've started:

1.  Paper towel-less.  We try really hard not to use paper towels to clean up messes, cover food in the microwave, etc.  We use rags for messes, and have a microwave cover for the microwave (you could also use a plate you turned upside down too).  I've been known to use brown grocery bags cut down to cook bacon in the microwave, or to drain meat instead of paper towels.  (We then compost these; we've never had any trouble with the minimal amount of grease affecting our compost or drawing unwanted pests.)

2.  Tissue-less.  We use handkerchiefs instead of tissues in our house, and have for a long time.  We use them for a few days at a time and then wash them in warm water with towels or sheets, so we don't have any bacteria issues to worry about.  If we're sick, we sometimes do use tissues because they're easier on the nose, but we generally compost them too (as long as your compost gets hot enough for long enough, bacteria shouldn't be a problem).

3.  No disposable dishes.  There are a few times a year we break this policy (for parties mostly), but even then, we try to choose items that can be composted or washed and reused.  We always use dishes that can go in the dishwasher, so clean up is a breeze for weeknight dinners.

4.  No paper napkins.  Cloth napkins have been the standard in our house since we got married.  They're nicer for guests, and easy to wash with the weekly load of towels or sheets.  We try to use patterns that hide stains, such as plaid or darker colors, so we don't have to use a lot of stain remover.

5.  Cloth diapers, not disposable.  For the first year of little man's life, we had him in cloth diapers exclusively.  Now we use one disposable at night, because he sleeps through the night that way.  We also use disposable for travel, but we plan to potty train next month over spring break, so hopefully we'll be done with diapers all together soon.

6.  Cloth wipes (or "family cloth").  We use cloth wipes for our little one, and also use them some for ourselves to cut down on our toilet paper usage.  This actually ends up being really good for those of us with sensitive skin, because it means that we're not exposing our skin to all the bleach and other chemicals that are used in commercial toilet paper.  We just wash the wipes with the cloth diapers, so it's pretty easy.  The wipes that we use are just cut from a few old t-shirts, so there's next to no work involved.  For some people, this would be over the line, but for us, it works.  We still have TP around for times when we need it and for guests.

7.  Less packaging.  Buying in bulk saves a ton of paper and plastic packaging.  Buying used saves packaging all together (think Craigslist, thrift shops,etc.).  What packaging we do get, we try to deal with responsibly (recycle, reuse cereal-type boxes for projects, composting unwaxed cardboard, etc.).  By using whole foods (whole produce, baking from scratch,etc.) and cooking from scratch, we save a ton of packaging.

8.  Reuse containers.  We wash and reuse plastic ziplock bags that didn't contain meat.  Saving produce bags and bread bags from our CSA subscription gives us enough bags to handle our homemade bread for a year, usually.  Repurposing plastic containers (sour cream containers, large yogurt containers, etc.) gives us a ton of storage containers for small toy items, craft supplies, etc.  We can also use these for starting seeds early for the garden.  This is a huge help with our herbs and lettuces.  You can also do some cute kids crafts with paper milk cartons.  Some of these containers make fun bath toys too.

9.  Use both sides.  When cleaning, I use both sides of a rag.  When we print something, we try to use both sides, or at least use the back for a to do list or something else.  When I use cotton balls or pads to clean my face, remove makeup, etc., I use both sides.

10.  Reduce magazine subscriptions and bill mailings.  We're trying out an online subscription to a magazine this year and so far it's working out.  By paying most of our bills online, we save on paper and on stamps.  The company saves on resources too, which hopefully would trickle down to us.  Our church recently went to online giving, so this has saved us paper in the form of checks each month too.

These things have become so much a part of our lives that we rarely consider that they might not be the cultural norm.  It's only when we go to someone else's house and see something like *shock* paper towels or the lack of a compost container that we realize how much we have reduced the amount of disposable resources in our lives.  (It also registers when we consider that we only have to take one kitchen trash bag out about every two weeks, and that's with someone who rents our upstairs space contributing.)

What have you done to reduce your resource consumption?  Did I leave anything off my list?  How are you living and saving green this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Weekend Warriors and Updates

This weekend was filled with lots of frugal projects... and we totally blew the no spend grocery month for February!

We discovered on Friday that our upstairs bath, which we rent out as a part of renting an upstairs bedroom, had some cracked caulk that needed to be replaced.  So, we purchased a new tube of caulk for a few bucks and Benny worked to get the old caulk scraped out on Saturday afternoon.  After we cleaned the tub, we let it dry and had dinner, and went back to caulk later that evening.  Well, the brand new tube of caulk busted and oozed all over the place.  So, we were in a holding pattern until we could return the tube and get a new one, which was Sunday.  Ah well, it was a project checked off the list by 5:00 yesterday, and way cheaper and easier than having someone do the work for us.  (Well, Benny did most of the work, I made sure little man didn't try to tackle him while he worked.)

The weather was unseasonably warm here this weekend, and beautiful, so it turned out to be a great time for Benny to give me my Valentine's present... raking the leaves out of the ditches and culvert at the bottom of the driveway, mulching them with the lawn mower and bag, and adding them to the compost.  This took a few hours yesterday afternoon, but it's so nice to have them all cleaned up and it will really help to balance the compost out (which means it will break down more quickly).  We had enough left over that we could fill out one new bed we started with leaves, which I'll pull back in the spring and add to the compost then.

We ended up blowing the no spend challenge because we found a great sale on bacon and cheese, which allowed us to restock the supply in the freezer.  The cheese ended up being under my target price of $1.80 for 8 oz, and the bacon was rock bottom prices with coupons.  We didn't spend over our normal grocery budget, though, so it's not a total loss.

Our basement apartment is also rented starting in August, and maybe as soon as May!  We worked to get our lease updated and sent to the tenant, so as soon as it's signed, we'll have the security deposit, which will help things out too.  That extra rental income will really help us achieve our goal of getting the home equity line paid off and adding to our emergency fund by the end of the year.

I'd love to hear how you're living and saving green!  Leave a note in the comments!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

No Spend February

We're challenging ourselves this month to eat from the pantry, fridge, and freezer as much as possible.  We will buy a few fresh produce items, dairy (cheese, milk, etc.), but we'll also make use of our stock of frozen veggies and evaporated and powdered milk.

We issued this challenge because we knew we were facing some car maintenance and repairs this month, so spending less in the grocery budget freed up these funds for the car repairs.  (The Jetta needed new tires and breaks and the check engine light just came on for the fuel sensor in the Subaru.)

This challenge was also a little easier to do this month, since February is a shorter month.  Additionally, we knew that we'd have at least six meals covered, since we were doing two potlucks and four Sunday dinners with my mom.

So, here's most of the menu for the month.  This, of course, is subject to change a bit as we're gifted food or come along freebies (like I saw free hard shell tacos at HT this week with a coupon).

Breakfasts:  Panera bagels (free with gift card), cranberry muffins, lemon poppyseed muffins, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, banana nut muffins, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches

Lunches:  Leftovers, pasta salad with tuna, frozen peas, and basil, fruit, homemade yogurt

Dinners:  potato soup with garlic toast, quiche and roasted veggies, tomato basil soup, sesame orange stir fry with veggies, jambalya, winter white lasagna with pesto and steamed veggies, pesto pizza with green peppers, mushrooms, and ham (in the freezer from Christmas), fried rice, sauteed cabbage with peppers, potatoes, and sausage, beans and rice with fixins, chili with corn bread, loaded baked potatoes with chili, cheese, and sour cream, meatball subs (meatballs purchased on sale with coupon for 80 cents a bag), lentil sloppy joes, tacos or burritos with cilantro lime rice (cilantro butter is in the freezer from this summer) squash (winter squash frozen from the fall), beans, and toppings (homemade peach salsa canned this summer, homemade yogurt, cheese, olives, etc.).

We've discovered that The Prudent Homemaker's tomato basil soup makes a great base for meatballs and lentil sloppy joes, so making a big batch in the crockpot yields us several meals.  It's nice that the recipe has carrots, so it ups the nutritional content.  Creatively using leftovers to make a new meal keeps things from getting old.  We'll do this again with loaded baked potatoes with chili, since we'll have chili earlier that week.

To make the produce cost less this month, we'll purchase from the discounted produce rack.  I have discovered that Saturday mornings early seem to be a good time to do grocery shopping, since no one's out yet at 7:30 and it's when the produce managers seem to clear out things.  We were also able to glean several bags of broccoli and beets last week for the chickens and our compost from the produce department's waste bin, which was really nice.  Some of it was still good enough for us to eat.  It hurt my green-loving heart to leave the rest behind, but I didn't want to take advantage of such a gift either.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

We cooked all meals at home.  These included corn chowder, veggie stir fry, veggie fried rice, beans and rice, chili and cornbread, and homemade pesto pizza.  We used a lot of frozen veggies from our CSA subscription, so they were still locally sourced, which is a nice green bonus.

We made a meal to take to a family with a new baby, helping out their finances a bit.  This was chili and cornbread, and we included some homemade applesauce and muffins for breakfast.  This is their fourth child, so the meal was a total blessing and I think they really enjoyed it.

The temperature outside was really cold (below zero with the wind chill), so we pulled out the down comforter rather than cranking up the heat.  We also ran the gas logs a bit to take the chill off, which was cheaper than running the HVAC more.

I carpooled to work each day.  My teammate will drive this week.

Because we had a snow day, I was able to stay home and allow Benny to get some extra hours in at the store.  This was nice since he took some extra time off over the holidays, but time off for him now means time without pay.

Showers only happened every other day last week.  This saved us on water, water heating, toiletries, and, most importantly, it saved a bit of time and our skin.  Our skin really dries out in the winter, and our dermatologist recommends showering less frequently in the winter to preserve the skin's natural oils.

We combined errands and went out very little during the day.  Our Walmart trip was funded with gift cards, so no money out of pocket was spent.

We took advantage of Harris Teeter's Super Doubles (good through 1/13), and saved a bundle on groceries.  We are now well stocked on hot tea for the year, as well as potatoes and laundry detergent.  We also got some great deals on birthday snacks for Wubby's birthday bash.

We placed our annual bulk spice order, including pumpkin seeds, flax, and dehydrated onions.  We'll use these throughout the year.  Since we did this order this month, we're trying to keep other grocery costs low so that this total can come out of the grocery budget.

Our citrus marmalade was finally made and canned, which freed up some freezer space and we were glad to have it made.  We made some yummy muffins out of it from Muffins A to Z.  Marmalade is awesome, because it uses the part of the fruit that most people generally throw away.  This year's batch was pretty cheap because we used sugar we'd bought for practically free during holiday sales.  We have enough peels in the freezer to make another batch, which I might do on a snow day.  It always makes nice holiday gifts, and it's nice to do it well ahead of the holiday rush.

Our basement apartment is finally ready to list!  We wrote up the ad yesterday and should have it posted today.  Having this rented will be a welcome cushion back in our budget.

Closets began getting cleaned out again, in search for more things to list on eBay and Craigslist.  The funds from these sales will help to pay for our CSA subscription this year.

We started tidying up our basement craft area and storage area in preparation for little man's birthday bash later this month.  This meant that things got more organized, we cleaned up the chairs, and began a plan for painting the shelving and trim.  This didn't really save us any money, but it did mean that we got the spaces better organized and found some things (supplies, tools, etc.) that we might have otherwise purchased had we not found them.

What about you?  What did you do to live and save green last week?  I'd love to hear from you!