Thursday, July 30, 2009

Big Frugal Failure

I like to get soft granola bars as an easy convenience snack for my toddler. It's a good item to have on hand for those last minute occasions when something pops up and there's no time to make a healthier snack, or when I need to take a snack on-the-go.

My daughter really likes the Kashi soft cereal bars, and I got the idea that I could make something similar using homemade pie crust wrapped around a homemade blueberry filling. How hard could it be, right??

I made a whole wheat pie crust and had the (not-so) bright idea to add some wheat germ plus a touch more butter than the recipe called for. I used some frozen blueberries, water & cornstarch to make a sugar-free filling.

The problem is that my pie crust was WAY too dry. It was crumbly and wouldn't roll out or fold without tearing. I tried patching the dough with water, but it was a mess.

So I wasted whole wheat pastry dough, a stick of butter and a cup of blueberries on my Oooops! recipe.

They are ugly and don't taste very good, but my husband and I will be eating them anyway so it won't be a total waste.

Still, I'm glad I tried and I'll definitely try again. But next time, I won't modify the crust recipe on the fly!


Posted @ Frugal Friday & Fearless Friday

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Twitter update

Not sure why, but my Twitter account has been suspended. I've contacted their Support. Just an FYI for those of you who follow me. I hope it will be resolved soon!

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Talking about money with aging parents

My parents have recently retired and moved across country to a city where they don't know anyone.

That decision caused my sister and me quite a bit of stress, as we felt that our parents were making many poor financial decisions:

  • Selling their (former) home at the bottom of the market, in one of the worst-hit real estate markets in the country
  • My mom quit an excellent job in her field and filed for Social Security at the earliest possible date
  • Stopping contributions to, and preparing to withdraw income from, retirement accounts that are down about 40% of their value prior to late last year
  • Considering buying a home in a new-construction development that was barely started, when the market is glutted with unsold homes

Each of these decisions is the exact opposite of the financial advice aimed at those of retirement age.

In addition, they left an active social life with a group of family and friends to move to a city where they don't know a soul.

Thankfully, they did decide to rent a house for a year to see whether they like their new location before buying a home.

My sister and I had several conversations with my parents to try and encourage them to learn more about the current financial climate and the steps they could take to secure their financial future long-term, rather than just continuing with plans made before the bubble burst.

Although my kids are still very young, I feel that these futile conversations gave me insight into the frustrations of dealing with stubborn teenagers who refuse to acknowledge or consider any viewpoints besides their own!

It was finally my brother who stepped in an gave me a word to the wise: "All you can do is all you can do." I've said my peace, I've sent them financial literature, I've recommended that they see a financial planner. I've done all I can do.

My focus needs to be on frugal living and family financial management for my own little family- my husband and our two kids.

I'm happy to share what I've learned about those topics with anyone who is interested but I certainly can't force my parents or anyone else to make the choices that I would make. I also need to learn to accept things I cannot change, rather than letting them cause me undue stress!
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Decorating with metal trivets

I have a small collection of metal trivets that I use for hot dishes in the kitchen. I like the look of these trivets and wanted to hang them, but still have them convenient for use in the kitchen.

My solution was to hang them on the wall next to our kitchen cabinets.

The trivets and hooks are from the flea market and the wood frames are from a craft store.

Much like my collection of plates and vases, I feel like a small collection like this has more impact when displayed in one group.

I like that this trivet display is multipurpose--- a pretty display of items that I like, and a useful kitchen tool in a convenient location.

Posted at Works for Me Wednesdays

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

We had a whirlwind weekend with family in town, so I'm going to try and take it easy for the early part of this week.

I'm also going to make some extra pasta & sauce to take to a friend who just had a baby!

Mini-ravioli w/ tomato sauce & spinach
Black Beans & Rice (crockpot) - Carryover from the last 2 weeks!
Mom's stew (I need to type up this recipe and post it, will do that soon!)
Pizza
Fish wraps

See more menu plans at orgjunkie

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Update on our Garden

I posted previously about our plans to save money by planting a garden. We've done a modest container garden this year, but we're still reaping the money-saving benefits of gardening.

We have basil, tomatoes and sweet peppers planted and so far we've harvested some basil and tomatoes. We have a few small peppers growing, but nothing ripened yet.

The tomatoes are smaller than I expected, but tasty! And of course the size really doesn't matter when you're cutting them up into salads or other recipes.

It is such a pleasure to have a thriving basil plant out the back door. When I need some for a recipe, I just walk out back and snip, snip! Growing basil is an especially great money saver, since a handful of fresh basil stems can set you back $3 or $4 at the grocery store.

While I'm enjoying our little harvest this year, my dream still lives for a raised bed garden next year!

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

5 Inexpensive Breakfast Recipes

Need some cheap and easy breakfast ideas? Here are some of the staple breakfast meals at our house.

1. Eggs & Toast
The classic breakfast! Beat 2 eggs with a dollop of milk, then scramble in a hot skillet.

Pair with some homemade bread and homemade freezer jam (using pick your own berries, of course!)

If you don't have jam, try topping your toast with peanut butter or soy butter.

2. Oatmeal with raisins
1/2 C Quick Oats
1/8 C Raisins (or other dried fruit)
1 T brown sugar

Mix all of the above, then add boiling water and stir.

This is a great make-ahead meal. Lay out a row of small plastic containers and put the above ingredients in each one. Store in the pantry, then in the morning just boil the water and pour it in for a quick meal.

3. Granola with Applesauce or Yogurt
It doesn't get any easier than this. Dump some homemade granola into applesauce or yogurt.

This is a great go-to meal when a cranky toddler needs breakfast NOW!

4. Breakfast Burrito
I made these burritos vegetarian by substituting TVP (textured vegetable protein) for the meat. This is a great freezer recipe, so you can just pull out a few to use as you need them.

5. No sugar breakfast cookies
Make these cookies ahead for the perfect breakfast on the go!


Try these ideas out and let me know what you think!

See more Frugal tips at Frugal Friday.

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Everything in moderation

I don't normally post about my grocery store trips and savings, mostly because I'm too lazy to lay everything out on the table before putting it away!

This week, I'd like to make an exception and talk about my grocery store trip. We didn't need much for our menu plan , and I could have easily gotten away with a $25 shopping trip rather than our $50 budget.

In our home, we had a tough week last week. We're trying to transition our kids to a big girl bed and crib, respectively, and it hasn't gone well.

The kids are cranky from not sleeping. My husband and I worn out from having cranky kids. Losing our "down time" of a couple hours while the kids are napping has really got us on edge.

So this week, I loosened the purse strings on my shopping trip. I bought more convenience foods and treats than I normally do. The crackers, pretzels and cheese sticks will make snack times and meals quicker and easier for us.

The treats for mom and dad are just that-- treats that we don't normally get like Pop Tarts & ice cream.

I still managed to spend just $43 and will save the remaining $7 to put toward stocking up on a few things at Harris Teeter's Super Doubles this coming week.

While the rule of the day in our house is thrift and frugality, there are times when it is OK to go a little easier and cut ourselves a break. This is one of those weeks! This is the week for frugality in moderation.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Living in a frugal way

If you read the news, you may have the impression that this country is in a self-inflicted downward economic spiral from which there is no escape. You may think that there's no good news, and that we're all getting our just desserts from years of living beyond our means.

In reality, there are many, many people in this country (and, I'm sure, around the world) who are spending less than they earn and doing it with pleasure. They've been doing it through the economic boom years and will continue to do it through the "Great Recession" and beyond.

Living frugally isn't a gimmick and it isn't a short-term solution. It's a long term lifestyle that puts the focus on what's really important: family, home and time.

I've been introduced to the wider frugal living subculture as I document my family's frugal lifestyle on this blog.

If you are living on less, by choice or by necessity, realize that there are many others doing the same, with a cheerful attitude and a pleasure in the things that money can't buy!

Here are some of my favorite resources on frugal living. I hope you enjoy them!

The Frugal Girl
Northern Cheapskate
Frugal Upstate
Money Saving Mom
The Non-Consumer Advocate
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

We've had a rough week at my house. We're transitioning our toddler to her big-girl bed and our baby to her crib, and neither of them is happy about it!

My meal plan didn't go quite as planned last week, but we did pretty well in not just throwing up our hands and ordering take-out after days with crabby, non-napping kids!

Here is what I have on tap. Wish us luck for a smoother week!


Squash & Feta Pasta

Black Beans & Rice (crockpot) - carryover from last week
Quinoa in the Crockpot
Avocado & Cream Cheese Sandwiches - (I plan to make these like paninis on my Foreman grill) with a side of baked potatoes


See more meal plans at ORGJUNKIE!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Bedside Table

Furniture is the foundation of your home decor, but that doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money.

This bedside table was purchased at a local flea market. It is an old wood piece that's been painted white then distressed for an aged finish.

The table was already finished when I bought it, and I paid less than the price of an unfinished table from an unfinished wood furniture store.

I also got a small matching bookcase for my husband's side of the bed.

You could replicate this look yourself with any wood furniture. First, lightly sand the wood to rough up the existing finish, then clean off the grit with tackcloth.

Cover the surface with any color paint you choose and let dry. When completely dry, use large grit sandpaper, a power sander, or any other rough material to remove some spots of paint down to the bare wood. When you've achieved the look you want, seal with a clear coat finish.

This is similar to the process used for my custom picture frame.

See more Frugal Home Decor

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is Composting?

A commenter on my What to Compost post last week mentioned that she never really understood what composting is.

I suppose that my Composting Cheat Sheet wouldn't be very helpful if you aren't familiar with composting!

Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil that can be used as fertilizer.

A simple backyard composter is easy to create from a plastic trash can. Add your yard waste, kitchen scraps and shredded paper to the bin, then stir every few days. You can roll the trash can to stir it, or get in there with a pitchfork or shovel.

In 2-3 months (more or less depending on your compost and your environment), the resulting compost can be used as a fertilizer for your flowers, vegetable garden, or other plants. The compost is ready to use when it is dark and crumbly, and smells like rich soil.

Composting provides you with free fertilizer for your plants and also keeps your waste out of landfills.

It's not too late to get started with composting! Try it now, and have free fertilizer ready for your Fall plantings!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saving Money on Produce

A recent discussion on Frugal Girl led me to thinking about my tips & tricks for saving on grocery produce costs.

I'm a dedicated coupon shopper, but rarely get coupons for fruits and vegetables. Still, we value healthy eating in our family and I prefer to buy whole foods over packaged or prepared items.

So, how can you save money when buying produce? Here are a few tips that help me save money.

Use the Salad Bar
The salad bar at your local grocery store can be a great resource for buying only what you need and saving money in the process.

Need just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds for a recipe? Skip the large bags and hit the salad bar instead. Want to make a fruit salad for one person? Skip the whole cantaloupe, watermelon, etc, and use the salad bar.

When I was single, I hated buying a large amount of one produce item because I'd have to eat it every day for a week before it went bad! Salad bars can be a great way to add variety to your diet and cutting waste from your grocery shopping.

Look for Scratch & Dent produce
Our grocery store puts out damaged produce on a "reduced for quick sale" rack. This is the perfect place to pick up overripe bananas for baking or freezing, or apples with a few bruises that can be cut off.

I buy the bulk of our fruit from this scratch & dent rack. I cut up fruit for my daughter's snacks anyway, so it is no trouble to trim off and compost a few bad spots.

This is also a great source for fruit that is just going to be cooked anyway, such as in banana bread or berry recipes.

Branch out from the standard display shelves of perfect produce and you can find some great savings!

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Savings Bonds: Cash in or let mature?

My godparents always gave me Savings bonds as my gifts for birthdays and Christmas when I was growing up, and my dad recently unearthed a stash of them in a lockbox he'd forgotten about.

Some of the savings bonds have reached full maturity and I've cashed those in and deposited the proceeds into a savings account.

I have 8 bonds remaining that have not yet reached full maturity. I'm debating whether to keep them and let them mature, or cash them in and deposit the money into a savings account or IRA.

Here are the options I'm considering, and the Pros/Cons of each.

Let the bonds mature:
PRO
- Guaranteed rate of return in a government-backed, secure form
- Getting the money would require a trip to the bank, so we certainly won't spend it on a frivolous impulse purchase

CON
- Low interest rate (in the neighborhood of 1 to 1.5 %)
- In case of emergency, access to the funds isn't immediate-- need to go to the bank to cash in.

Cash in and deposit in savings
PRO
- Bump up our emergency savings account
- Likely would earn similar interest to the savings bond, but with easier access to the funds

CON
- Savings account interests can change, and lately they are dropping more than they are rising
- Easier access to the money means that we might spend it on something. Even if it is a "worthy" expense, we'd still be out that little bit of reserve stashed away as savings bonds.

Cash in and use to open a Spousal IRA
PRO
- Potential to earn a higher return than a savings bond or savings account.
- Retirement savings replacement for the 401k contribution I am not longer able to make since I opted out of the workforce to stay home with my kids.

CON
- This option has the highest risk, since neither principal nor interest is guaranteed in any investment vehicle I might choose that would beat the interest rates of the other 2 options.
- Tieing the money in an investment earmarked for retirement makes it the least accesible of any of the available options

Right now, I'm leaning toward cashing the bonds in and putting them in a savings account. I'd love to hear any advice you have to share!

Also see my previous post discussing whether Savings bonds are a good investment today.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Now that I've been doing more cooking the last few months, I'd like to step up my game a bit and try my hand at some new and slightly more challenging dishes.

I still need to make dishes that are fairly simple and healthy, but I'm willing to try something beyond easy casseroles!

So, here is what I plan to do this week:

Whole Wheat Pasta with Green Pea Pesto (I plan to omit the capers & nuts from this recipe)
Black Beans & Rice (crockpot)
Tofu & Noodle Salad (will mix up this recipe a bit: leave out the agave & chili oil, and use whole wheat angel hair pasta for the noodles)
Quinoa Pilaf

Veggie Burgers with all the fixings

Notice how I threw in a crockpot meal and some veggie burgers so I don't get overwhelmed! :)

See more menu plans at orgjunkie.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Premios Dardo Award

A big thanks to Melissa from Frugal Creativity for giving me the Premios Dardo Award!

Premios Dardo award: This award acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his or her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values every day.

I do try and share my personal value of thrift on this blog, and I hope that provides fun and valuable information to you all.

I'm supposed to pass the award on to other worthy bloggers, so I need to get cracking on a list!!

Thanks again to Melissa!


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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Decorative Hanging Wall Plates

Next up in my ongoing series on Frugal Home Decor is inexpensive wall decor using decorative plates.

Each of these plates was either a gift or a thrift store find, so the only item I purchased (TJ Maxx Home Goods) was the plate hanger.



This small grouping of plates hangs next to a window in our breakfast nook, over the kitchen table. As I mentioned in my post on shadow boxes, a small collection holds more impact when it is displayed together rather than spread throughout the house.

If you have some pretty plates, platters or chargers, get them out of your cabinets and up onto the walls!

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Being a stay at home mom

I posted earlier about my decision to opt out of the workforce and stay at home with my 2 kids. It was a difficult and stressful decision for me to make, as I loved my job and was nervous about relying on only one income.

Now that we've made the change, I wish I hadn't taken so long to do it! After almost two weeks at home, my stress level is so much lower than it was when I was working in an office part time and shuttling the kids back and forth to daycare.

I have more time to experiment with new recipes, keep up with chores around the house and run our errands. It is wonderful freeing up our family time and couple time when my husband is home.

We are still sending our older daughter to preschool 3 mornings a week, so I also have plenty of one-on-one time with my 4 month old.

All around, I'm so happy with this decision and am looking forward to the coming years with my little ones!

That being said, living on one income does mean that we need to keep living frugally and cut back in our budget. I'm focusing on sticking to our grocery budget, as well as finding thrifty activities to do with our 2 year old.

I know that not everyone is in the position I am to be able to choose to stay home, and I am thankful to have the opportunity to be home with my kids and to focus on making a happy home for my wonderful husband!
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What to Compost

My husband recently made us a trash can compost bin. This is my first experience with composting and I had no idea what went into the bin and what didn't.

We also have a nice little cookie jar with rubber sealing lid on our counter top. I put our scraps into the jar and my dear husband will (!) empty the jar into the compost bin each evening.

I created this handy-dandy little cheat sheet with info gathered online about what items can and cannot be composted.


Until it's second nature, this cheat sheet will be hanging on my kitchen cabinet over the compost cookie jar to remind me what to compost and what goes in the trash.

Want your own copy? Download a printable PDF version of the Composting Cheat Sheet.

Composting works for us! Find more ideas at Works for Me Wednesdays.

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No Sugar Breakfast Cookies

I loved the idea of this recipe for Breakfast Cookies at Little Momma & Company. It sounded like such a clever way to use up all the odds & ends of different cereals in my pantry.

I wanted to mix up the recipe a bit to cut the sugar and fat, so here is what I came up with:

No Sugar Breakfast Cookies

1/2 C softened butter
1/4 C honey
2/3 C applesauce
1 TSP vanilla
1 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Salt
1/2 C white flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1 C Quick Oats
2 C flake cereal
1/2 C dried fruit

Cream butter, honey, applesauce & vanilla. Mix flours, soda & salt, then mix dry ingredients into wet. Stir in oatmeal, cereal & fruit.

Bake 8 minutes at 375 degrees. This will make about 4 dozen small-ish cookies.

I found these too dry when they first came out of the oven, but after cooling they were just right. I don't know how that happened!

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

I'm sticking with mostly pantry items this week, with a few produce items thrown in. We need a fair number of staples at the grocery store, so I don't expect to have a ton of room left over in the budget for menu ingredients.

The Egg in a Tomato looks like a fun idea, but we'll see how many tomatoes come out of the garden this week! :)

Pasta & Cheese Bake
(with spinach) with Panzanella
Taco Pie (beans instead of meat)
Veggies & Couscous with Egg in a Tomato, using tomatoes from our garden
Black bean burgers with freezer veggies

See more menu plans at OrgJunkie

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Easy Sewing Projects

Basic sewing skills can be a great money-saver around the house. Here are 3 easy projects that only requiring hemming or finishing edges:


Sweeper dust cloths

I got tired of buying replacement dusters for my Swiffer, and decided to make my own from old kitchen towels. Using a Swiffer duster as the template, I cut down my old towels to wrap around the Swiffer and tuck into the holders. Then I just finished the edges of the towels with the zigzag stitch on my sewing machine.

The dusters work great and after each use I just toss the cloth into the washer.

Rags

Another use for old kitchen towels is to cut them down into rags. Just cut them up and hem or finish the edges, and again just throw them into the washer once they are dirty. This is helping me to reduce the number of paper towels that I use in the kitchen.

Baby Blankets

Finally, I got a cute remnant at a fabric store and cut it up into 2 smaller blankets and hemmed the edges. They aren't fancy, but they sure are cuddly!

See more frugal ideas at Frugal Friday.


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Q2 Update on Financial Goals for 2009

I've posted a series on my family's Financial Goals for 2009. Here is an update on what we've accomplished toward our goals in the second quarter of 2009.

1. Refinance our home - DONE in Q1

2. Fully fund our Roth IRAs and 401ks
This goal has changed a bit, as we've decided that I will stay at home with the kids. So while my husband will fully fund his accounts this year, I will not. I'll be investigating opening a spousal IRA for myself and will update on that process.

3. Maintain 6 months living expenses in an emergency fund- DONE
With the addition of our new daughter, it made sense to add to the existing 6 months of living expenses that we already had in place. We've funded an additional 10% to our emergency fund.

4. Cut "fixed" monthly expenses

5. Review/Adjust asset allocations across retirement accounts - DONE in Q1
My husband and I reviewed all 4 retirement accounts and decided on an asset allocation strategy we were both comfortable with. We've adjusted and rebalanced our accounts as necessary to get in line with our strategy.

6. Check for better credit card deals (rewards/interest)
7. Review Life Insurance policy/needs
8. Make a Will

9. Open 529 for #2 - DONE!
It took longer than expected to get a Social Security Number for our new daughter, but as soon as we got it I opened the account and we began contributing.

10. Contribute $2000 to each 529 account - 1/2 DONE
We've met this goal in one of the 529 accounts and still need to do it for the second account.

11. Put $2000 extra to car loan 3/4 DONE
We've sent an extra 1500 so far, just 500 more to go!

4 goals accomplished, and 7 more to go! 7 seems like a lot, but 2 of those are partly completed so that gives me hope that we'll finish all of our ambitious goals for this year.


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