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.