Monday, September 28, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Breakfasts- eggs, english muffins, milk ($2)
Lunches- PB sandwiches, pretzels, fruit, milk ($5)
Monday- free dinner out! ($0)
Tuesday- Ham, squash, bread ($5)
Wednesday- Tuna Casserole + one to a new mom ($5)
Thursday- Venison Fajitas ($2)
Friday- Pizza Night ($3)
Saturday- church pot luck: cornbread ($1-2)
Sunday- Eat What You Want Night

Feeding my family for $20-25 this week! That's the plan!

For more great menu ideas check out the Organizing Junkie's website.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Envelopes Make It All Work

Let's pretend that you've sat down and figured out how much you have to spend on various things each month. You go through a month or two and tally your receipts, only to find that you've over spent in a couple of categories. Month after month. "This budget thing isn't working" you think. But really it's not that the budget isn't working, but you haven't found a system to make it work for you.

I struggled with this for a couple of years. I diligently kept track of my expenses at the grocery store, but each month that last bill bumped me up over what we had agreed to spend. We tried increasing my budget- only to go over that one, too! We heard about the envelope system, so I gave it a try, and we found that it really, truly works! Dave Ramsey is a strong advocate of this method, as well.

We actually use one of those "coupon organizers" you can find for $1 at Target or a dollar store. Each month, I take the cash for our cash expenses (groceries, date night, etc), and put them each into it's folder. Once it's gone, it's gone. We can take the money out of another folder to cover an overage, but it doesn't get replaced until the new month begins. The cash that we start out with is all that's alloted, and we don't withdraw more. There's no more budget overages with this system!

Some people use this system and have it broken into a weekly or bi-monthly budget so they're not carrying around huge amounts of cash. Often, I'll take the money out of the folder at home that will cover the cost of my list, plus a little more if I stumble across a good deal. This is another way to prevent me from going over budget, or purchasing items we don't really need. And I'm not carrying a month's worth of cash around the store!

If you struggle with staying within your budget guidelines, give this method a try. We've done some tweaking over the years, adding or changing categories and adjusting how much goes into each folder. It's not static, so it may take a couple of months to get it all working for you. But the simplicity of it makes it an incredibly useful tool for managing your cash expenses.

It works for me! What works for you?

For more helpful tips on a variety of topics check out We Are THAT Family.
Also linked to Thrifty Thursday- check it out for more stories of using cash envelopes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

There's nothing like two weeks in a row of traveling to make a mom go crazy with planning menus! This weekend, I'll be heading out of two for a convention, and need to leave food my husband can find and prepare. He's a great cook, he just hasn't had to do it in a while... so I over plan and give them plenty of options to choose from. This means I should have a couple of easy meals ready to go for those nights when looking at my plan seems daunting. It's nice to have those so I don't feel tempted to beg for an unexpected night out :)

Breakfasts: cereal, bagels, bananas, milk
Lunches: sandwhiches, popcorn, trail mix, grapes or apples, milk
Monday- Raising Cane's (This is a mystery shop, I'll write more about that in a later post)
Tuesday- Hot dogs and mac n cheese for kids (date night for mom and dad!)
Wednesday- Chicken fried rice, leftover birthday cake
Thursday- ?? (any ideas for something I can have left ready to grab and go)
Friday, Saturday, Sunday- tuna helper, frozen pizza, quesadillas, hot dogs, leftovers

That's my plan! Check out the Organizing Junkie's website for more menu ideas.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Live Within Your Means

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' ~Luke 14:28-30

Whether you make $1000/month or $10,000/month, everybody wants more. We think, "if only we had an extra $xxx each month, we'd be fine." But it never works that way. Whatever your income, you need to make a budget for that amount- and then stick to it. It doesn't matter how your money is allocated, it matters that your expenses are less than your income.

My husband loves excel spreadsheets. He developed one for our budget and we track all of our monthly expenses. (A program like Microsoft Money does the same thing.) I recently looked back at what was included in that budget those years right after the layoff. Here were our line items: tithe, house, food, electricity, water, gas, phone, garbage, car insurance, vehicle (gas), school loans. I'm not going to include how much was budgeted for each item, because that would be too shocking for you. There weren't any new clothes, no babysitter, no dinner out, no cell phone, no internet, no movies, no gifts, no extras of any sort at all. We did not use credit cards, and were continuing to pay down our debt. We continued to tithe, but did have to give up our extra giving.

Slowly, as my husband recieved raises and bonuses, we added some of those extras to our list, but still not at a very high dollar amount. Some of those categories need to build up over the course of a couple of months before some purchases. Clothing, for example, is only budgeted at $25/month. What if we need new shoes? We save up in that envelope. I'll write more about envelopes later.

If you need a jumpstart on budgeting. There are many resources out there to help you out. We were doing pretty well on our own, but Dave Ramsey's materials helped us fine tune our system. I've also heard many good things about Crown's resources. Better Budgeting has some resources I've also found helpful.

So, cut those credit cards up, budget your monthly expenses, and save up for the things you want the most. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

I love looking at cookbooks. All the yummy looking food and fun ingredients. I often have high hopes of trying some of those new things, but we tend to stick to our family basics. I'm always so frustrated when I find what looks like a promising book or article about meals on a budget. The budget of those writing the article is vastly different than mine, though! $10/meal is a special dinner in our home. We shoot for under $5 per dinner, and there's not a lot out there that's helpful for that budget. I did recently find a great site that I'm excited about, though. Check it out! $5dinners It has a bunch of recipes (cost included) and other resources about using up garden produce, or stocking your freezer. I'm really excited to check out this website more!

Sometimes I will try something new. Usually, I'll look at a couple of recipes and see what's common among them and try to replicate it. It often takes a few times before we have a "standard" that works for our family. This is how I learned how to make fried rice, stir fry, red beans and rice, marinara sauce, chili, soups, broth, and all sorts of things. My favorite site for recipe searches is allrecipes. Hundreds of recipes at your fingertips, often including a picture, and user reviews. kraftfoods has a site with lots of pictures and ideas, but I don't usually use their brand of products, and that cuts the cost down to something within my budget.

Breakfasts: eggs, bagels, fruit, milk
Lunches: PB sandwiches, pretzels, fruit, milk
Sunday-Tuesday- still traveling!
Wednesday- Fried Rice, juice
Thursday- Tuna Melts, fried potatoes, juice
Friday- Pizza, juice
Saturday- Pasta Party: pasta, salad, bread, cake & ice cream, punch
Sunday- Eat What You Want Night (ie leftovers)

For more menus, visit the Organizing Junkie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Becoming a Squirrel

This year we planted a few sunflowers in my garden. It was so cool when they were growing- inches taller every day! Some of them had edible seeds, and my kids were so excited to pick their own seeds. But the squirrels got to them first.

It's that time of year. When squirrels, birds, and other animals are stocking up their storehouse for the winter. I re-read the Little House books as an adult, and was amazed at how much of their time and effort went into storing food for the winter. They also put squash and apples up in the loft and ate them fresh all year round! If you have a garden, or a friend who has a garden with abundance, learning the basics of food storage is just a good idea.

Freezing produce is a great plan if you have a deep freeze. Freezer storage bags have come a long way, and there are many sizes to choose from to fit the need of your produce. I love the quart size baggies for cut up tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Just pour a bag into a jar of tomato sauce and you have a yummy garden "fresh" sauce for your pasta. Slice peppers and onions for use in stir fry or fajitas. You can even freeze peppers whole and use for stuffed peppers later- just defrost under running water! Don't forget to blanch them first to get rid of any bacteria- stick in boiling water for 10 sec then immediately into an ice bath. Dry off and freeze. Peeling the skin off the tomatoes makes the finished product much tastier, as well!

I also spend some time at the food processor making baby food, if I know that's going to be a need in the next year. Cook up the food (squash, carrots, peas, etc) and throw it in there. I love the small 1/2 cup size plastic containers for this. Some folks freeze in ice cube trays then pop them into a gallon size baggie.

Canning is another great way to preserve your produce. You can literally can anything, if you have the proper instructions. Last summer I took some jars to a friends' house and she showed me how to use a pressure canner. It's so much faster than the water bath method! I have canned fruit syrups, pickels, salsa, and marinara sauce. I'm waiting find a good deal on a used pressure canner. At that point, I will also be able to can fruit, beans, and anything else I can think of!

There are so many ways of preparing and preserving our garden produce for use throughout the year. And I haven't even mentioned my food dehydrator! There's no reason to let the bugs or the composte pile have the food that could be feeding your family in January.

Preserving websites to get you started:
Fresh Preserving
General Info (and pick-your-own directory)

Now, the next time your neighbor brings you a sack full of tomatoes, you'll know what to do with them!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Get It Out

It's so easy to get stuff here in America. Everywhere we go, people are selling or giving things away. And, of course, we need it ALL. So our homes become filled with stuff, that we never use, don't need, and create clutter. All we really need to do is get rid of it. Then commit ourselves to not bringing any more in.

We spent two weeks in Asia this summer. The most spacious apartments there would fit into two rooms of my house. That is the case in the majority of the world. Could you get rid of half the things in your house? Look around you, what's been sitting on the shelf or in the back of the closet for months or years? What do you have boxed up "just in case?" Get it out!

When you clean up the clutter, you could have a garage sale and earn a few bucks. Or you could give it away. I have discovered that the more I give away (to friends or shelters), the more I get in return. We have four kids and they are clothed almost entirely by hand-me-downs from other people. My counter is overflowing with fresh produce from the gardens of two or three others. And if you're still not convinced, I once heard it said that keeping all that stuff (hoarding) is not trusting in God's provision for your future.

So, we give it away. Baby clothes, maternity clothes, books, toys. Whatever we're not using can go right out the door. If you need help getting started, here's a list of my favorite websites to motivate me to clear out the clutter.

SHE - don't get sidetracked, get organized
FlyLady - simple steps to starting the process of cleaning up the clutter
Organizing Junkie - great tips and tricks for home organization
Titus 2 - home/school management, and a chore book for your kids, too!
Organized Lifestyles - just found this one, but it looks like a keeper

What's your favorite tip or tool for clearing out the clutter? How do you convince yourself you really don't need to hang on to particular items any more? Who do pass it on to?

Monday, September 7, 2009

When You Give it Will Come Back to You

"Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." ~Luke 6:38
My husband is a giver. And I am not! I have learned that his method is more profitable. When he was single he quite often covered expenses for other people- whether it was treating someone to a movie with the group, supporting a staff member with GCM, or covering a roomie’s rent for the month, he used his money to bless others.

One day after balancing the check book and seeing our savings dwindle some more, our door bell rang. There was one of his old roommates holding an envelope “God told me to give this to you. Greg was generous when I was in need, and I thought you could use it now.” And there was a check that covered the very bills I had been fretting about.

It isn't always going to be the case that someone you specifically bless will return the favor. Remember the concept of "pass it forward?" Often it goes around a circle and comes back to you completely unexpectedly. We've recieved hand me down clothes, produce from abundant gardens, free babysitting, and so on. When you live a lifestule that seeks to bless others as you have the opportunity, you'll soon find that others are living that way as well. The sharing and caring eventually makes it's way back to you. Often right when you need it most!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

I love menu planning. I usually do it for a whole month at a time, and make a big Sam's run the first week of each month. We keep a calendar on the wall of the kitchen, and the kids love checking it to see what's for dinner. I start by putting night time activities on the bottom line. This helps me decide if a particular day needs a quick and easy meal, or if we can try something new. Really, we tend to eat the same things over and over! Next I put the "title" of the meal on the top line and the ingredients fill the rest of the space. That makes checking my cupboard and compiling a shopping list quick and easy! I'll also include the rough cost of what I've paid for the meals we'll be eating. (I have some great cheap/free food sources, so your price may be higher than mine.)

Breakfasts: cereal, bagels, cottage cheese, cantelope, milk ($5/week)
Lunches: PB sandwiches, pretzels, fruit (apples, cantelope, watermelon), milk (yes, we eat the same thing every day!) ($5/week)
Monday- Hot dogs, fried potatoes, broccoli, juice ($2)
Tuesday- Fried Rice, juice ($2-3)
Wednesday- Pizza Pasta, juice ($2)
Thursday- Homemade pizza, juice ($2)
Friday-Sunday- the kids and I are visiting family while Daddy goes on a men's retreat.

Estimated cost of our meals for the week: less than $20 for a family of 6!
That's my plan! Visit for more menu ideas!

Lifestyle Logic

I'm so excited to be making this foray into the blogging world. I have so many great ideas to share about how to save money, make money, or to make the most of what you have on hand. I am a wife and mother of four. We are expecting another baby this December. I homeschool a first grader, a kindergartener, and a preschooler. We are actively involved with a church family, and make time for other friends and organizations, too. We are pulled in many directions, but a common theme to our lifestyle is the logic we use when approaching our finances.

It all started when my husband got laid off the week before our first child was born. We had no desire to move, but his field had really slowed down and there wasn't anything available. It was five years of the frugal lifestyle before he got another engineering job, and that one didn't come with the pay raise I had been looking forward to. I have learned a lot of great tips and tricks and look forward to sharing them with whoever will listen! Here's a list of my best tips (in no particular order), and I look forward to expanding upon each of them in the coming weeks.

I had several years of learning these lessons before the recent economy started putting pressure on people. Now, I'm not concerned about our financial future because I have learned that my husband is faithful, and my God will provide for all of our needs.