Saturday, January 30, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This week we started out strong, but ended up being kind of a bust, thanks to some medical expenses that were out of our control (but necessary for baby).  Here's the lowdown:

  • I carpooled to work daily.  This was my week to drive, so I drove the car with best fuel economy.
  • All meals were made at home, except on Monday when we joined Mom at Chick-Fil-A.  She had coupons to use, and paid for what was not covered, so it was a nice treat.
  • Wednesday we served a meal for the Wesley Foundation, so we had dinner there with the college students.  This was a lot of fun, and nice to have a free meal.
  • We continue with our regular composting and recycling, which really cuts down on our trash and helps out with our spring gardening.
  • Our spice order arrived from San Francisco Herb Company, so we're excited to have new nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and refills on our spices.  We also have some new things, such as coconut milk powder, to add to smoothies or to reconstitute for regular use.
  • It was our week to do snacks for preschool, so we opted for frugal homemade caramel corn for little man's birthday on Tuesday.  Later in the week, we did apple slices and a large carton of vanilla yogurt.  (There are some in the class who can't do nuts or gluten, so this is limiting some of our homemade options.)
  • We did a fun gift for little man's birthday and he got to pick out a beta fish from the pet store.  He's super excited about helping to take care of it, and is loving watching it.  (And we already had all the supplies on hand, so we only had to buy the fish.)
  • We're hosting the birthday party at our house, and made it a potluck, so we're only having to prep a few things.  The only special item we bought was a candle for the cake (which a friend is making), and some chips.  We will also make the requested caramel corn again, and will have some hot tea/cocoa set up.  We are using our regular mugs for hot drinks, and will use plastic plates we have on hand for easy cleanup.
  • The budget buster this week was that I ended up having to go to the hospital birthing center last night for some tests.  Without too much detail, there was some concern about baby's status, and they couldn't check it at the office.  Thankfully, all the tests showed that everything was ok and I just ended up with a prescription for an antibiotic.  Regretfully, we don't have a large enough OB clinic to accommodate the lab testing there, so we're just waiting for the big bill to arrive.  Hopefully, since it was during the day, it won't end up costing as much as an ER visit would.
  • On the up side, rent is due this week, and I got paid.  My paycheck was a little less this time, due to now covering Benny with our family health insurance, but it really ends up being a wash because the money comes out pre-tax.  This medical coverage is also better for Benny, so that will be nice if/when he needs it.
  • We continue to advertise the rental space upstairs, and are having a few interested parties, so we're hoping to have that space filled soon.
  • I found a summer professional development opportunity that pays a significant stipend, so I'm hoping I'll get accepted.  We'll figure out the nursing/pumping thing once we find out if I'm accepted or not.  It sounds like a great opportunity, so I'm really hoping it works out.
What about you?  I'd love to hear from you about how you're living and saving green this week!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week has been out of the ordinary, but not necessarily for this time of year.  We've received about 12 inches of snow over the past several days, which meant that school was cancelled every day but Tuesday (and Monday was a holiday).  In light of the weather, we hunkered down and ventured out very little.  This saved us tremendously over the week.  Here's how:

  • I carpooled to work on Tuesday.  Every other day, my principal was flexible enough to allow me to work from home, which was a great blessing both financially (by not having to use the gas) and to our family time (I could work while little man slept or was otherwise occupied).
  • Tutored on Tuesday, and was paid for that.
  • Little man did have preschool on Thursday morning, so Benny took him and picked him up.  He did our small bit of grocery shopping ($15 in milk, almost free yogurt, 28 oz tomato products on sale for $1/can, and a few staples), got the car inspected, and filled it up with gas while little man was at preschool.  This saved on gas and time.
  • Otherwise, we have not left the house since Thursday.  This has saved on gas, and thankfully, Benny was able to get his hours in at work on Monday and Tuesday before the weather got bad.
  • We were able to meet for little man's IEP this past week via phone, which saved on gas.  This also means that we'll now be receiving his speech services for free through the school system and no longer paying for them out of pocket (our health plan does not cover any speech services).  This will save us a few hundred dollars a month.
  • We did "splurge" and have the gas refilled for the gas logs.  This cost about $160.  While this is not our primary heat source, and we rarely lose power, it is nice to have them and to know that we could use them as an emergency heat source if necessary.
  • All meals were prepared at home.  This included:  vegetable beef soup and corn bread, baked potatoes with lentil sloppy joes, foccacia (x2), baked oatmeal, salmon and roasted veggies, and pizza.  We also plan to make stock in the crockpot today, using leftover turkey parts from Thanksgiving.
  • Met one of my new year's goals by trying out this recipe for pumpkin spiced baked oatmeal.  We did jazz it up with the addition of raisins and pecans, and found that it was better leftover than the first day.  It would be good with pumpkin seeds and other dried fruit too.  We used pureed winter squash from the freezer instead of canned pumpkin.
  • Worked to assess the pantry/freezer stash, and have found a few more items to use up (such as some of the barley that went into the vegetable soup).
  • Accepted a few gifted items that were going to go bad at the food pantry, including:  two turnips, four carrots, one peach, and a mango (which ended up getting composted because it was too ripe).
  • All compostable items were composted, including salmon skins.
  • When the oven was done being used, we tried to leave it open to benefit from the residual heat.
  • All laundry was hung to dry, and only full loads were washed.  (This also helps with the humidity in the house, since the air is so dry this time of year.)
  • Potty training continues to go well, so our loads of laundry continue to decrease.  
  • Entertainment took the form of shoveling snow (a great workout), filling bird feeders, and watching a few shows for free via Netflix.  Little man and I also made some paper collages using paper destined for the recycle bin, which he's had great fun practicing his scissor skills with.
  • Made thank you notes in preparation for meals, gifts, etc. when baby #2 arrives.
  • Graciously accepted hand-me-downs for baby #2, including an infant car seat and base.  We were also able to secure a second seat and base for our other car.
  • Organized baby clothes, so that we know what we have and if we have any gaps (it doesn't appear that we do).
  • Made a small dent in organizing the garage space.  It is going to get worse before it is better, but Benny is using up some scrap drywall to hang in the unfinished space.  This will insulate it a bit more, and will clear out some more space.  We stored a few more items up on the high shelves, since they are rarely needed (camping water jugs, etc.)
  • Cleaned the rental room upstairs thoroughly.  Have now posted it to Craigslist and the university housing site, with the hopes of renting it soon.
  • Repaired the stain on a chair upstairs.  Plan to put a coat of paint on an existing shelf today.
  • Invited our new downstairs tenant up for dinner, which was fun.  She seems to be settling in, and aside from the big snow, is enjoying being here.  She is quiet and is keeping the space nicely, so we hope she'll stick around for a while.  Her lease is a year long.
  • Researched natural alternatives to commercial lotions.  They have bothered my skin in the winter for years, and now, I think I've found a few easy recipes using ingredients we already have around.
What did you do to live and save green this week?  I'd love to hear from you, so leave some notes in the comments!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This was a pretty normal week for us.  I tried to keep grocery spending low, and succeeded at about $15 with coupons, e-coupons, and apps, such as Ibotta.  We're looking toward some more wintery weather this weekend and next, so are glad to have kept things within budget in terms of electric use, thanks to the new thermostats and moderate December temps.  It will be interesting to see how switching Benny over to my workplace health insurance affects my paycheck this month, since that money will be pulled out pre-tax.  We're anticipating not a significant increase in our total income, but it will obviously drop my paycheck some.

So, here are this week's accomplishments, including some that work toward my efforts to form some new habits:

  • All meals were eaten at home.
  • We tried a new recipe for a brown rice salad with olives, feta, and cucumber.  I liked it, but I don't think the boys did much, so it might just be something I make occasionally with leftover rice to fill out my lunches.
  • We used the crockpot twice, once to make black beans, and again to make black bean chili.  That provided lots of leftovers for lunches and dinners.  This saved us substantially on energy usage and on cleaning up the kitchen.
  • Made waffles, zucchini and flax muffins, oatmeal, and bread for breakfasts/snacks.
  • Used applesauce and baked beans from the freezer to fill out some meals.
  • Composted and recycled as usual.  We continue to only fill about one kitchen trash bag/week with our family of three.  We hope this continues as we become a family of four.  We continue to look for ways to reduce waste further, such as reusable produce bags and buying things from the farmer's market, which generally come with less packaging.
  • Washed all clothes in cold water.  Diapers and towels are always run in hot water.
  • All clothes and diapers were hung to dry.
  • Working diligently on potty training, and little man is doing great with very few accidents, so that's eliminating some extra laundry cost (at least until #2 comes along in March).  Used a printable potty chart found online and stickers we already had to make it more fun, and less about sweet treats, for little man.
  • Carpooled to work daily, using only about 1/2 tank of gas by using the most fuel efficient car, as it was my week to drive.
  • Combined errands to make the most efficient route possible.
  • Benny stayed home with little man at least two days this week, saving on gas.
  • Watched a few shows for free online.
  • Tried to close curtains nightly to save on energy loss, and kept them only partially open during the day.
  • Washed my hair every other day to save on shampoo, water, etc. and also keep my hair from drying out as much in the winter.
  • Benny began sanding, priming, and painting a shelf for the living room that was upstairs.  This will be additional toy storage for the living room, and with the new coat of paint, will blend nicely into the room.
  • Tutored twice after school to earn $35.  
  • Our new tenant moves in this weekend, which will provide income from that space.
  • Posted room ad for upstairs with Samaritan's Purse.  Will post it through the university in February to have it filled for summer/academic year starting in August.
  • Used Evite to send out little man's birthday invitation, saving on the cost of paper invitations and postage.
  • Plan to move recycling to the basement and put a kid sized table in its place this weekend.  The "new" table is coming from my mom, so it is at no cost to us.  It will just need to be cleaned, as it has been in storage.  We will have to figure out a new system for recycling, though, to make it easier with kitchen/office recycling, so that we're not going downstairs multiple times a day.
  • Set up diaper changing station using things from little man.  Also brought out newborn clothes out of storage to wash.  We plan to reuse everything we have for #2, so that we don't have to buy new.  There may be a few seasons that we are off, so some "new " things may need to be purchased.  If this is the case, we will shoe thrift stores and consignment.
I'd love to hear how you lived and saved green this week!  Leave some love in the comments!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week, I've tried to be really conscious of what we're spending.  This is so that we can build up the baby fund and begin paying down the rest of the home equity line, as mentioned in this post.  To that end, I'm going to try to post a weekly update on our frugal accomplishments.  (I fully realize that the blog rhythm might change when baby #2 arrives.)  So, this past week's frugal accomplishments include:

  • regular composting of kitchen scraps, including crumbs and plate scrapings and any brown, unbleached paper to reduce waste and build compost for spring gardening
  • catching water from the shower warm up to use to water plants
  • pouring leftover water from glasses in the dog bowl
  • using the crock pot for one big batch of soup, which provided leftovers for lunch all week
  • sharing leftovers with Mom twice this week, eliminating cooking time and energy
  • took advantage of Harris Teeter's super doubles sale and spent $50 for $100 worth of groceries, including three packs of diapers for shower gifts and baby #2 when he's too small for cloth
  • welcomed the gift of leftover fruit, including apples, bananas, and pomegranates from Mom
  • used up some pasta sauce our previous tenant had left behind
  • saved two cartons of unopened milk from student lunches from being thrown away
  • carpooled every day to school
  • combined errands for a single trip and planned the route to be most efficient
  • froze cranberries before they went bad in the fridge for later use in cobbler and smoothies
  • Benny installed the Ecobee thermostat in the apartment, which should save us substantially from the old model we had.
  • hung all clothes to dry using drying racks and hangers and washed only full loads
  • purchased little man's birthday gifts online with a promotion
  • will finish making Christmas gifts this afternoon to send to family that Mom is visiting, saving on shipping and homemade goodies are always less expensive, and sometimes more thoughtful, than store bought things
  • made all thank you notes to send out for Christmas gifts, saving a bundle on stationary
  • decided not to purchase another pair of compression tights, since these seem to be holding up with regular washing, saving $30
  • found a new recipe to try using ingredients we had on hand, saving the purchase of new ones
  • made all meals at home
  • plan to post at least five new items to eBay this weekend for sale
  • tutored after school two days for $35
  • signed up for Ebates, which should earn us some gift cards for online purchases we'd normally make
What did you do to save money or earn money this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Goals and Habits to Cultivate

We've never been huge on setting New Year's resolutions in our house.  It just seems like these are generally things we've put off or don't do, and then come the new year, we think we should all of the sudden change.  This year, we're taking the approach of cultivating habits that will help us achieve those goals that we're already working toward as a family.

Know Where Every Dollar Goes:  We'd like to begin using You Need a Budget to really narrow our focus on our budget and be sure that we're making the most of every dollar we earn.  This is even more important as we look toward adding baby #2 to our family in March.  Of course, we're already really frugal and try to keep close tabs on things, but the idea of You Need a Budget is to live off of last month's income, so that you've essentially already got a one month emergency fund.  We'd really like to totally pay off our home equity line this year, and have already paid off the new-to-us car, and we think this is a budgeting tool that can help us.

Invest More for Retirement:  As a part of using YNAB, we think it will allow us to see more clearly just how much more we can invest toward retirement.  Since Benny has been a SAHD, we've cut his contributions some, but we're really feeling like we could be contributing more toward his retirement.  This will of course be easier once we've paid off the HEL, but we think by using tools like Acorns or Betterment, these microinvesting tools might make the retirement contributions even easier.

Intentionally Work on our Home Improvement Projects:  This year, we've got several things on the list that we'd like to tackle.  Many of them are small projects, but they're also the type that we tend to put off just for that reason.  We'd like to be very intentional about checking these off each month so that they're done by the end of the year.  A lot of these projects will be tackled in the evenings after little man is in bed, or while he is at preschool, or on weekend afternoons.

  • Paint trim in boys room, including closet doors by March.  (This includes new caulk, etc. where needed)
  • Touch up trim/paint in rental spaces by end of January.
  • Advertise upstairs rental through Samaratin's Purse and have rented by February, if not sooner.  Advertise both spaces for August/when lease runs out and have filled by April for upcoming season.
  • Install Ecobee thermostat in apartment by January 15 (this is when our new tenant moves in).
  • Organize garage space by March 15.  This includes installing some drywall and pegboard, as well as generally sorting and storing tools, etc.
  • Have new mulch spread and gutters cleaned by March 15 (this is a job we will hire out).
  • Paint shelving and trim in craft room downstairs by March 15.  Paint chairs to go around table in craft room.
  • Move forsythia bushes to front bed and plant creeping Jenny ground cover.  Have this done around the same time as mulch is spread so that mulch and compost can go here.  (March-ish, depending on soil workability.)
  • Mulch leaves with mower and add to compost by end of February.
  • Have mower serviced for spring by April 30.
  • Paint exterior doors in chosen new color by June 30.
  • Have new front porch railings installed and bead board on the ceiling of the porch.  Maybe an outdoor ceiling fan installed over the table area?  by June 30
  • Can at least two batches of peach salsa and two of berry jam for Christmas gifting and personal use.
  • Have both porches re-stained (we're thinking of hiring this out to a contractor who Benny does a lot of work for at the paint store).
  • Maintain garden beds with regular weeding and trimming throughout growing season.  Prepare for fall/winter by October 30.
  • Make curtains for craft room shelves to hide some supply bins by November 30.
  • Make reusable coffee sleeves for Christmas gifts by November 30. (And learn how to use new sewing machine)
  • Make at least one batch of citrus marmalade by December 15 for Christmas gifting.
Have at least 26 dates with Benny:  This works out to be at least two a month, which I think it do-able with a newborn being around.  This might be as simple as popcorn and a movie at home one Saturday afternoon, or maybe dinner out somewhere. We're going to set a budget of $5/date, which doesn't sound like much, but I think with giftcards, coupons, and having some free at home, we'll be able to make it work.  We know that we're much better as a couple when we spend some time for just us doing something we love, so we'll make this a priority.

Read at least 26 new books this year:  Again, this works out to about one every two weeks.  It'll be a mix of adult fiction, young adult fiction, nonfiction, and devotionals.  I know that reading is one thing that feeds my soul and gives me the quiet time I crave each day.  I also know that I'll probably read more while on maternity leave than I anticipate, with many nursing sessions, and I tend to read more in the summers than during the school year, so it may not be exactly one every two weeks, but it seems like a good goal.

Try at least two new recipes a month:  We tend to get into ruts with our menus, as I know many people do.  I'm hoping that this goal will grow naturally out of my habit of reading cookbooks for pleasure, and will introduce us to some new recipes that will become family favorites.  Some may be a total flop, but I'm hoping that most will be a success.  (Do the new ones I tried for Christmas gifting count?!)

What are your habits to cultivate in the coming year?  I'd love to hear how you plan to live and save green in 2016!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January Menu Plan

This month is all about keeping expenses low.  Since we're in the crunch month for teachers (where we get paid before the Christmas holiday and have to make a single check stretch over six weeks), this is super important.  So, we're relying on some old standards and what we put away from the CSA this year in our freezer.  We're also really grateful for the little treats that came in our stockings that will provide some snacks and variety.

We'll purchase the staples and items that are at rock bottom.  These include:

  • eggs (our chicken sisters friends have quit laying for the winter)
  • milk (either whole organic that we water down for baking, or almond/soy w/ coupons)
  • spices/nuts from San Francisco Herb Company
  • yogurt (only if 20 cents per cup or lower)
  • carrots
  • onions
  • maybe bread flour
  • corn meal
  • cabbage
  • dried lentils

So, without further ado, here's the plan for January:

Breakfasts:  oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts/seeds, butternut squash pancakes/waffles, egg and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread, whole wheat banana nut muffins, zucchini and flax muffins, smoothies, cereal and grapefruit

Lunches:  leftovers, egg and cheese sandwiches, smoothies

Dinners:  potato soup with grated cheese and side salad, homemade pizza x 4 (with pesto, sausage, mushrooms, and whatever else we have on hand), black bean chili with ground beef and corn bread, vegetable or minestrone soup, lentil sloppy joes over homemade bread with cheese and steamed veggies, BBQ turkey wraps/sandwiches with roasted veggies, veggie stir fry, refried bean quesadillas with winter squash, jambalaya, breakfast for dinner with waffles or pancakes and fruit, beans and rice with fixin's, beef and cheddar pie, tuna noodle casserole with steamed/roasted veggies

We find that the crock pot is our saving grace, especially when the weeks get busy.  It's so nice to be able to start something in the morning, have minimal dishes, and know that there's something yummy and easy for dinner.  We can round these meals out with a veggie side or just some bread.  Little man is really getting adventuresome with his tastes in soup lately, so it's been fun to try some lentil soups and he liked the potato soup last night (well, maybe it was just the bacon and cheese!).  I'm on the hunt for more crockpot recipes besides soups that will be a hit with our crowd, especially ones that I can prep and freeze for when baby #2 arrives in March.

The bread machine is also wonderful, helping us easily pull together a healthy homemade pizza for dinner that is a crowd pleaser.  It's also really nice to have a freezer full of prepped veggies that we processed this summer from CSA extras.  These really help meals to come together quickly, especially stir fries and soups.

What are you doing to live and save green in the kitchen this month?  I'd love to hear from you!