Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ticker Update (January)

I am not wild about the particular ticker that I chose when I started this blog, so I am not really updating it all that much. It's just a pain in the butt and I get more annoyed than excited when I go in to update it.

In any case, what I hope to do is a monthly "ticker" update so that I keep myself motivated and on track.

Starting debt: $39216.30
Amount paid: $21728.30

$17,488 until we are DEBT FREE

Friday, January 22, 2010

Breaking News: Water is Wet!

I always joke around that there is breaking news right now: water is wet, the sky is blue, and it gets cold in Michigan. So why is it that people are shocked when snow falls on the ground? We've been pretty much wearing our winter jackets since before Halloween and I anticipate we'll be wearing them through March and possibly into April, you just never know how long it's going to stay that cold here.

One thing I started doing years ago was buying my kid's clothes a size or so bigger at the end of the current season for the next. It's not really that hard, and I've done pretty well guessing on just about everything. One thing I try and remember to do every year in January is hit the clearance racks and get winter jackets and snow pants. Last year I got wrapped up in just general chaos and missed my window, and ended up not getting a very nice jacket for Nathan.

So the other day I noticed that JcPenney was starting to mark their jackets down, and I decided to swing by today and see what was what. I don't like to spend more than $10-$15 on a jacket (a girl has to have her limits right???), so when I did the quick math and saw that the jackets I had picked out for Nathan and Nick were going to be closer to $20 I did hesitate a little. Do I risk it and wait for the next wave of markdowns? Or do I just get them now and be done? The deciding factor was that I was only able to find 3 jackets in about 10 racks that were even in Nick's size that I was looking for, so I knew if I waited much longer, I was taking the risk of not getting a good quality jacket or not finding one at all and being stuck paying full price later this year when the snow falls again.

Original price: $222.57
Clearance price: $50.32 (or $16.77 each)

Of course I'll still have to budget for boots and stuff later on this year, but the biggest expense is already out of the way!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fake A Roni

When Matt and I first got married at the ripe old ages of 22 and 21 years old, we discovered the wonderful world of prepackaged side dishes. Oh they were so tasty! Who wouldn't love seasoned rice one night, noodles the next, creamy cheesy mashed potatoes the next...The only problem? They were expensive and full of ingredients I couldn't even pronounce! The ingredient thing (oddly enough) didn't bother me as much as the fact that they were so darn expensive! I kept buying them, but limiting myself to buying them with coupons and on sale to bring the cost down.

After we had Nathan and we were faced with the first of a few layoffs in our marriage, I discovered a whole new world of frugality, and enter The Tightwad Gazette. To say that the book changed my life is an understatement. Nothing was safe in our house because Amy (the Frugal Zealot) had trained me through her book to reduce, reuse and recycle so many things. I don't think I've ever taken things to the extent that she has, but I still have my Complete Tightwad Gazette book, still in excellent condition with hundreds of little pieces of paper sticking out of it directing me to the most important parts.

The Tightwad Gazette has the following recipe for Rice A Roni:

3 cups uncooked rice
1/4 cup parsley flakes
6tbsp bouillon (chicken, beef or veg)
1/2tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme

Mix everything together and store in an air tight container.

To use, mix 1 cup mix with 2tbsp butter and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

I used this faithfully for several years, mixing up batches and storing them over and over again. But I decided one day that I wanted to mix it up a bit and decided to do a few things different.

The first thing I do different is that I don't use the bouillon granuales. They are hard to find and I don't think that they taste very good. We almost always have beef and chicken soup base on hand in our fridge, so I just use a tablespoon of that when I make my rice. It's got a much better flavor and it's very reasonably priced at Sam's Club or GFS. Just make sure to store it in your fridge!

Secondly, I like to follow the Rice a Roni directions. So I typically put the butter in the pan and then brown the rice a bit before adding the water. I might throw some broken (raw) spaghetti noodles in there, some orzo noodles, or even some slivered almonds (bought in bulk at GFS). Definitely gives some variety!

Finally, I check and see what's hanging out in my fridge or freezer. A few peas, some frozen carrots, maybe a few lonely pieces of broccoli, just whatever I have to give it a little more flavor. While the parsley gives it some color, it doesn't really add any flavor, so a few veggies here can do that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Step by Step

I've been thinking a lot lately about processed foods and budgeting. I am the first to admit that I get caught up in the day to day crazy routine of being a full time working mom and resort to the quick fix dinner, the quick fix lunch, and breakfast in the car. As I was grabbing lunch the other day (Wendy's chili, by absolute weakness!), I started to think about how far I've strayed from basic whole foods and our dinner table.

I'm already pretty basic. I've been making my own "mixes" for things now for quite a few years. I think my homemade "rice a roni" tastes pretty darn good, and I can't even remember the last time I bought a packet of taco seasoning mix, but I am guilty of buying more than my fair share of Hamburger Helper!

So I am doing some kitchen science in the next few weeks to see if I can add a few more cards in my hand and cut a few more dollars out of the grocery budget.

Last night I made homemade noodles and I think they turned out pretty good! We have a pasta machine thingie, and it's pretty complicated! I ended up just using a cutting board and a pizza cutter and that was much easier and certainly got the job done! Now that I did a batch and tested it, I feel more comfortable making it for a family meal.

Tonight I tried "baking" bread in my crockpot and it didn't turn out quite as well as I wish it would have. Truth be told, I used some yeast we've had stashed in the back of our freezer for probably 2 years, so it was not a good way to start the experiment. Yeast is pretty inexpensive when you buy it in bulk at Sam's Club, so it's on my shopping list for Monday and I'll give it another try. We got through a LOT of bread and I used to be able to get it for about 50cents/loaf at the bread outlet, but they are right around $1/loaf now and I see it as something I can do at home and save some money on.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wait, Wait, Wait!

Ok, so I discovered recently that there is something I do that drives my husband crazy. Kind of shocking that it's taken 10 years of marriage and 2 years of dating to figure this out, but I learn something new every day!

It drives Matt crazy that I don't just buy things I want, and even worse than that, I don't really want a whole lot. Needless to say, this makes shopping for gifts a bit of a challenge for him and I can see how it would because I have a hard time even coming up with a list of things I want. Matt on the other hand is pretty much an open book, and I can easily pick off a few things here and there that I know he would like.

I have been eyeing a Shark steam mop for awhile, and I've done a bit of research here and there about them, but it was nothing that I was returning empty cans to scrape together the money to buy it with or anything. For Christmas this year my mom gave me a nice gift card to WalMart/Sam's Club and I decided that the Shark was going to be mine. I dug around online a little and saw that the best deal probably would be at Sam's Club because they often sell packages that have a few extra bonus items, and the one they carried did have a few more bells and whistles than the one I saw at Wal-Mart.

I was very happy with my purchase, I've used it at least once a week and it definitely gets the job done. But what made me the happiest was seeing the exact same thing I bought at Sam's Club at Walmart, only it was $30 more. I might not have gotten it the very minute I decided to buy it, but I did come out $30 ahead on the deal!

Same thing with a dock for my Ipod. I knew I wanted one, and I've been watching the sale papers and SlickDeals for one, but I hadn't seen one that jumped out at me at the right price point. I wanted a nicer one than the $10 deals that they sell that are basically just speakers, but I wasn't exactly looking to spend the $500 on the Bose one either.

On a whim the other day I was browsing the endcaps at Target and in the back of the shelf in electronics I found a nice one that was regular price $50 marked down to $12! I looked in the box and all the pieces were there and it looked like it had everything I was looking for, so I decided to give it a shot. Worse case scenario it sucked and I would just bring it back. Turns out it was an online purchase that someone returned to the store and they price those to go quickly since they don't usually stock it.

I still have some money left from Christmas that was gifted to me, and I can't really decide what I want to get with the rest of it right yet, but I am sure that if I wait patiently, I'll come across something!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kicking off 2010

I am not one to make resolutions, but those who know me well know that if there is a list to be made, I am on it! Sometimes, just for fun, I write lists to organize my other lists, and when that's done, I'll devise a MASTER list to clean up those pesky other lists laying around.

So how could I possibly kick of 2010 without a list? If I put it on THE LIST, then I will be compulsively driven to complete the task because if there is anything more fun than writing lists, it's being able to cross something off the list!

THE LIST v.2010

1. Pay off our credit card debt
2. Eat healthier: more fresh fruits and veggies
3. "Run" (or slightly jog) a 5K
4. Drop these last 30lbs of baby weight
5. Track the amount of coupon savings for the entire year
7. Read the entire Bible

Who's with me???