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3 Feb 2010   ·   55
Money Saving Mom

Lessons I’ve Learned from The Pantry Challenge (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Jennifer from Saving and Giving

Our family decided to take The Pantry Challenge in January and this has been quite an experience for us!  Not only have we cleared out some of the older items that were lurking in our pantry, but we’ve learned many unexpected non-cooking lessons along the way:

1) We’ve slashed our grocery budget by another 30%.

Before I started my own frugal shopping adventure, our weekly grocery spending was hovering around $100 per week.  That was for a family of three, and our daughter was under three at the time.  Once I learned the ropes and began hunting bargains, I got our weekly grocery spending down to about $70 per week.  I was even creating a nice little stockpile as I did our weekly shopping.

I used to wonder how Crystal was able to feed her family (which is slightly larger yet similar in age to mine) for $40 per week. I couldn’t seem to get out of my $70 rut!  This month, I had my ah-hah!  moment.

It all came down to the menu plan.  Since joining the frugal shopping ranks, I have been menu planning using what we had on-hand as a starting point.  This month has shown me that, while that’s a good start, I was making one fatal mistake.  I was using my pantry as a starting point AND purchasing several additional ingredients for each meal.

If I had a can of diced tomatoes, I would decide to make chili.  So I would buy ground beef, tomato sauce, kidney beans, and chili beans.  I saved $0.99 by not having to buy the diced tomatoes, but I was spending another $6 to $8 on the other ingredients.  Somehow that just wasn’t saving me money!

I wholeheartedly jumped into the Pantry Challenge.  I wanted to give it my all!  So I planned meals that truly used what was in the pantry.  If I found a can of diced tomatoes, I paired it with several other ingredients I had on-hand to create a meal.  I had to buy a few extra ingredients to round out the month, but not many.

Since we have truly been eating from our pantry, I have been able to use a smaller amount of grocery money (less than $50 each week) to purchase a few fresh produce/dairy items and whatever was on sale at rock-bottom prices.  I’ve found myself adding things to the back of the pantry for use when the challenge is complete.  Once the challenge month is over, I will menu plan from the new items I’ve added to the pantry.  Then I can continue the cycle of cooking with what we have and purchasing only the very best sale items each week.

I am so thankful that the Pantry Challenge has helped me break the $70 per week grocery cycle.  This challenge has been exactly what I needed to kick-start a new way of menu planning!

2) I’ve learned that my meals don’t need to be extravagant.

As I searched my pantry, I found several cans of Progresso Tomato Basil soup.  At first I thought they might be good for lunches, but then I realized that my husband loves grilled cheese with tomato soup.  That’s not even close to what I usually make for dinner since our dinners are usually the meat-potato-vegetable variety.

But in the spirit of the Pantry Challenge, I served grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner one night.  It didn’t seem like much of a dinner to me, but it was a hit!  Preparation was quick, our meal was enjoyable, and clean-up was a breeze.  It was a very healthy meal, and we were all quite satisfied.

I realized that maybe I’ve been making things too hard–and too expensive at the same time!

3) The Pantry Challenge has encouraged me to stop making excuses.

Though I always menu plan, I don’t usually stick to my plan.  I might be tired, feel lazy, or just not want to make my planned meal.  I always find some reason to either eat out or make something other than what’s on my plan.  Normally, I skip a planned meal or two and then forget that I’d bought the ingredients to make those meals.  My habits are what lead to so many orphan ingredients being in my pantry!  (Though I must admit that the dry black beans I found turned into some fabulous Crock Pot Black Bean Soup during the Pantry Challenge!)

This month, I’ve stuck to my meal plan.  I have had to make a couple of changes due to being treated to a meal out and forgetting to defrost some meat.  But I’ve adjusted the plan and am really and truly using up the ingredients this time!

4) I’ve been reminded how very blessed we are.

I knew that I had a reasonable amount of food on-hand.  If we had a snowstorm or other issue that kept us from the grocery store for a week or two, I knew that we would be just fine.  However, I had no idea exactly how much we had.

Cleaning out my pantry, freezer, and cupboard area as part of the Pantry Challenge was an eye-opening experience.  I was saddened by what I had to throw away, knowing there are many people in our area who could have used that food.  I was surprised at how little meat I had to buy for this month’s plan.  I was thrilled to know that, with very few additions from the grocery store, we would be able to eat for a whole month without our cupboards being bare.

God has blessed us with more than we need.  In fact, I’ve even taken some bags to the food pantry collection area at our church over the past two weeks. In reality, this challenge hasn’t been a challenge to stretch what we have.  It’s been a challenge to be better stewards of what we have, and to share more with people who aren’t as fortunate.

Jennifer Bruce is wife to Jason and mom to five-year-old Emma.  She blogs at Saving and Giving where she encourages people to save money and be generous.  Jennifer hosts a weekly meme called A Time to Give where she invites others to share simple (and often free!) ways to give.  When Jennifer is not blogging, she can be found playing Candy Land with Emma, spending time with Jason, reading, or making stationery and invitations for her clients.

photo credit: Br3nda; jkelber

2 Feb 2010   ·   26

Freezer Cooking Day: You mean I was actually supposed to cook something?!

I have a big confession to make: I sort of flaked on you on the whole Freezer Cooking thing.

I have a whole lot of excuse cards I could whip out: my 8-month-old is cutting 4 teeth (bless his heart!); I’ve been battling a infection in my mouth which got really bad this weekend and was almost debilitating (I’m on the mend now–thanks to a great doctor!–but ouch!); and this whole switching servers and changing from Typepad to WordPress has been a bear (Gratefully, I have some amazing tech people working me on it–like FiveJs!–or my site would be permanently broken and maimed!).

I had visions of all these delicious meals I was going to make, wonderful pictures I was going to take, and well-crafted blog posts I was going to write, but it just didn’t happen.

Instead, you’ll just have to suffice for no picture and a small list of what I was able to get done over the past three days:

3 meal’s worth of Barbecued Beef

5 Chicken and Dressing casseroles (This is a new recipe and I reworked the recipe so majorly because the original wasn’t turning out as I’d hoped so I’m not even sure how to replicate. I wasn’t too impressed with the final result, but my husband LOVED it. I was happy about that considering he has to eat it four more times!)

2 bags of cooked chopped chicken (Having the meat already cooked and chopped makes preparing Homemade Pizza a complete snap. I can have it in the oven in 15 minutes or less!)

4 meal’s worth of Marinated Chicken

So all totaled, we have enough for 14 dinners–which is actually not too bad considering I only cooked for about 2 1/2 hours total! And I have the ingredients on hand to make about 8 other main dishes for this month (I was supposed to make some Cheeseburger Meatloaves and homemade Macaroni and Cheese but I never got around to it!), so I think that’ll probably last us the whole month through!

And next month around, I hope to do a much better job of cooking and blogging about it.

Have you entered the Freezer Cooking Day giveaways yet? If not, they end tonight and you’ll definitely want to put your name in the hat to win one of three great items to help you in the kitchen! Head over to LifeasMOM to enter.

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Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I’d love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I’m guessing many others would be inspired as well.

29 Jan 2010   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday

I didn’t step foot into a grocery store of any kind this week. So I guess that qualifies as my savings for the week!

After four weeks of not even paying attention to sales or touching coupons, I’m anxious to jump back into bargain-shopping again, though. And I’m especially curious to see if I can pull off re-stocking our pantry, freezer, and refrigerator on $40 per week. Stay tuned for my weekly reports on how that happens!

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Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

29 Jan 2010   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: My Plan (and come link up yours, too!)

Are you ready to fill up your freezer again? I know I am!

Ours is looking pretty sparse after a month of Eating From the Pantry! I’ll be sharing my Freezer Cooking Day play-by-play on Monday (complete with recipes, pictures, and real-time results), but here’s my Master List:

–Macaroni and Cheese x 4
–Cheeseburger Meatloaf x 3
–Anytime Chicken and Dressing x 3
–Shredded Barbecued Beef x 3

And that’s it! Yes, I’m keeping it super simple this time. My husband, son, and I are going to Nashville for the Blissdom Conference and the Savvy Blogging Dinner next week, so there’s lots to do in preparation for that. Plus, I wanted to try a smaller-scale Freezer Cooking Day to see how that worked for our family.

All of the recipes are new-to-us, so I’ll be posting them after I make them. Here’s my planned order of cooking:

1) Boil noodles; boil and chop chicken

2) Start beef in the crock pot

3) Mix together meatloaves and freeze

4) Put together Anytime Chicken and Dressing and freeze

5) Make up pans of Macaroni and Cheese

6) Shred beef and freeze

7) Clean up the kitchen and enjoy some nights off from cooking!

Are you participating in February’s Freezer Cooking Days? If so, post about your cooking plan on your blog and then come back here and leave your direct link below so we can all be inspired!

28 Jan 2010   ·   22
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in February: Are you joining us?

After a month-long sabbatical from Freezer Cooking, FishMama and I are planning another big Once-A-Month Cooking session this weekend and we’d love to have you join us. The official dates of the Freezer Cooking Days are January 29 through February 2, 2010. However, we’re big on being flexible, so you can cook and bake whenever you’d like.

I’ll have a link-up on Friday for you to share your Freezer Cooking Day plans and recipes. On Monday, you can follow along here with my cooking adventures as I share pictures and recipes of my Freezer Cooking Day. And then on Tuesday, you can come back to link-up your accomplishments and pictures.

Whether you just double and freeze a casserole or two, or make 30 meals, you’re welcome to join in! Sign up on our Facebook event page if you’ll be playing along. Also, be sure to follow along on twitter, using the hashtag #oamc. This time around, we also have some fun giveaways planned!

If you’re new here and wondering what these Freezer Cooking Days are all about, you can check out past cooking day entries here.

27 Jan 2010   ·   27
Money Saving Mom

Why You Should Set Financial Goals

Recently, I’ve been sharing our story of how we met last year’s financial goal of saving up to pay cash for our first home. While that goal might be unrealistic for you, I highly recommend that you make it a practice to set financial goals each year–even if they are seemingly “small” goals. We’ve been doing this for the past three years and have been completely amazed at what a difference this simple act has made in our lives.

Here are three reasons I believe everyone should set financial goals:

1) Goals Give You Purpose

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” If you don’t have financial goals, there is little reason for being frugal, clipping coupons, or sticking with a budget. Goals, on the other hand, give meaning to your efforts.

When you have a purpose for why you are forgoing eating out or shopping at thrift stores or driving an old car, it’s much easier to stick with it for the long haul.

2) Goals Give You Accountability

We write our financial goals down at the beginning of the year and then review them throughout the year to track our progress. The exercise of discussing and writing down our goals forces us to be accountable–to one another and to the goal sheet. It’s a lot harder to go blow a sizable amount of money on a needless purchase when you know you’ll have to face that goal sheet hanging on your refrigerator.

3) Goals Give You Momentum

Tracking the progress of our yearly goals on a monthly basis is a huge motivation for staying on track. We’ve found that it’s helpful (and fun!) to break down our yearly goals into monthly bite-size chunks and then challenge ourselves to see if we can exceed those.

Sometimes, it can feel like you are spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. Just as soon as you save up enough money to replace the broken washing machine, the car breaks down. However, we’ve found that even if we’ve had a month with lots of financial setbacks, the goal sheet serves as an encouragement to us that we are making progress and going something–even if it’s at a slower pace than we’d hoped. And that always inspires us to keep at it!

Do you set yearly financial goals? If not, what are you waiting for? Mandi over at Organizing Your Way has some excellent input here to help you get started on your financial goal-setting journey.

photo credit: hpk

26 Jan 2010   ·   97
Money Saving Mom

Saving 100% Down for A Home: Part 2

Stepping Out in Faith

I well remember the day we moved. All of our family helped us pack up our little apartment and drive up to Topeka to unload it in our basement apartment there.

It was a bittersweet day. We knew that this was how God was leading us. We were excited to begin the law school experience. But we were so sad to be leaving behind our friends, our family, our church, our community, our jobs — basically everything we’d known for over 20 years.

And we were scared. Our savings was nowhere near enough to live on for three years, so we were going to have to get really creative and resourceful, as well as come up with some sources of income pretty quickly. Since we were in a small town and knew no one, this was going to limit our options (in the past, almost all of our jobs had been offered to us without us even applying or even looking for them!)

But, since we believed this was God’s will, we knew He would provide. So we couldn’t worry about the next three years for long, because we had to dive right in and start figuring out how we were going to make ends meet in the here and now!

We settled into our little basement apartment, Jesse started his classes and I set out to find a job. I had worked as a mother’s helper before we got married and loved this, so I decided to advertise in the local homeschool newsletter to see if there were any families interested in this. Within a month, I was working for three families a total of four days per week, plus I had a regular babysitting job.

Jesse worked part-time virtually for his dad’s business and, between our two incomes, we made enough to just barely cover all our expenses. In the extra time I had while I wasn’t working, I started researching more about work-from-home jobs.

We were hoping we would be blessed with a baby soon and I knew I wanted to stay home as soon as we had children. So I figured now was the time to be preparing for this.

Soon after Jesse began his second semester, we were elated to find out we were expecting! The only problem was that I was soon so sick that I had to quit working. This cut our income in more than half and created quite a bit of anxiety since our outgo was suddenly much more than our income.

Jesse was able to get a job working part-time for an attorney so our income increased some — which was a huge blessing! — and I spent most of my days in bed with the laptop researching anything and everything I could come up with about ways to make money from home. I knew that I needed to come up with a way to make at least $200 extra each month in order for us to barely eek by and not dip into the law school savings.

As most of you who have tried to start a home business from scratch know, making a $200-per-month profit in the beginning is no small task! I’ve recounted my story of how I became a work-at-home mom before, so if you’ve missed that series, be sure to read it here. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I learned so much in the process!

During the last year of law school, we discovered this guy named Dave Ramsey. Jesse started listening to his radio show and kept coming to me all pumped about what he was learning. I really wasn’t too excited. After all, I stubbornly thought, weren’t we pretty smart when it came to finances? Did we really need some guru with a radio show to tell us what to do? I mean, c’mon, we were debt-free, we were living on a budget, we were living beneath our means, and we were giving–even on a very small budget. What more could some guy on the radio really teach us about money?

I drug my feet. I made up excuses. But Jesse persisted in encouraging me to listen to Dave Ramsey. So I finally gave in and said I’d go through Financial Peace University with him. I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything. And maybe, I’d learn something new.

Boy, was I ever stubborn and proud.

After the first week of Financial Peace University, I understood why Jesse was excited about this guy! Dave really knew his stuff, he thought a lot like us, and he was a great communicator. And believe it or not, I was getting a little hooked.

As we went through the next 13 weeks of classes, I learned all sorts of stuff I realized I had no clue about when it came to finances. Things like the various pros and cons of different kinds of insurance, what exactly mutual funds are, and how to wisely prepare for retirement.

But more than the typical financial terminology, I had a complete paradigm shift when it came to money.

I’d always thought it was great to live beneath your means and it was good to give generously, but I’d never really thought extremely long-term concerning money. Nor, had I ever had a strong reason for practicing frugality other than that we had to—or else get ourselves buried beneath loads of debt.

Dave Ramsey gave us a vision. He inspired us to think big, plan ahead, and dream big dreams. Most of all, we were motivated to get our family in the best financial shape possible so that we could bless and help others by being generous givers.

When we were finished with Financial Peace University, we sat down and made some big goals. In fact, the goals were so big, they seemed impossible to us at the time. But we decided to aim for the stars. After all, we figured that even if we didn’t hit them, we’d likely make more traction than if we hadn’t aimed at all!

One of the seemingly-impossible goals we made at that time was to buy a house debt-free within five years of finishing law school. It felt so far-fetched that we didn’t even have the courage to tell anyone else about it. However, we thought that if we really scrimped and saved, we might be able to squeeze out enough extra from our budget to buy a small, very basic fixer-upper home at an incredible deal within five years.

It was also during that last year of law school that our income increased a fair amount. Jesse got a better-paying part-time job working for our state’s Attorney General, and I was finally landing upon some work-at-home jobs which were actually producing a regular part-time income. For the first time in two years, there was actually money left over at the end of some months!

We started realizing that, once Jesse was out of law school and able to work full-time, there was a good possibility we’d be able to save a nice amount of money every month. So we began to talk about our post-law-school financial goals.

Changes After Law School

When Jesse finished law school, by the grace of God, we had no debt and we had a few thousand dollars in savings — thanks to our income increase over the last year of law school.

We were ready to jump in with both feet and start saving everything we could. But first Jesse had to pass the bar. It was a grueling six weeks of study. He took off work and we lived on our savings while he studied.

After the two-day intense bar exam, he went back to working part-time and we waited for the bar results. A lot was hanging on him passing the bar, as we didn’t really have plan B — or the funds to cover another round of studying and prepping for another bar exam if he were to fail the first one.

We were elated to find out about six weeks later that he had passed the bar! He was sworn in as an attorney a few weeks later and began his job as a full-time Assistant Attorney General in Kansas.

For the first time since we were married, we now had a full-time income coming in each month, in addition to the part-time income from my business. We were excited about being able to increase our budget some and start building back up our savings again. It looked like we were “set” for the next few years and it was an amazing feeling to finally be adding to our savings, instead of just depleting it.

In the middle of all this, we were thrilled to find out we were expecting our second child! We started looking at the possibility of moving from our little basement apartment to a duplex and we began thinking of how fun it was going to be to actually be able to afford to splurge on little things every now and then.

There was a very real temptation to want to significantly increase our standard of living. Hadn’t we lived on beans and rice for long enough? Hadn’t we spent enough time wearing secondhand clothes and driving old cars?

Instead, thanks to Dave’s encouragement, we decided to think long-term. Sure, we could easily blow the extra money which was coming in on nicer cars, expensive clothes, lots of restaurant meals, or extravagant purchases. But what would be the point of that?

We’d stopped worrying about impressing people a long time ago, we’d learned that money and things don’t buy happiness, and I really liked getting good deals at the grocery store and elsewhere and couldn’t bear the thought of paying full price for things.

In addition, we also considered the possibility that our income could go down significantly or we could have some major medical crisis. Wouldn’t we rather do all we could now to put ourselves in the best position financially while we had the opportunity?

So instead of going out and buying a house or even increasing our standard of living by much at all, we opted to continue our beans-and-rice budget and sock away as much of our income as we could into savings.

And that was a good thing, because God had other plans… plans much different than we could have imagined.

Just a few weeks later, much to our surprise, the Kansas Attorney General was defeated in the October election. In hindsight, I’m not sure why we never considered this outcome; I guess we were walking around on Cloud Nine, wearing rose-colored glasses.

Needless to say, this was a major blow. In fact, I remember standing there watching the concession speech with the biggest knot in my throat and the sickest feeling in my stomach. All our dreams, plans and hopes seemed to be dashed to pieces right then and there. Jesse didn’t feel comfortable working for the elected Attorney General for a variety of reasons, but that meant he was left jobless once the new Attorney General came into office.

The next eight weeks were a rollcoaster ride. Something would come up and it would look like a great job possibility only to have it fall through the next day.

Near the end of the year, we started feeling a little desperate. Nothing was turning up on the horizon and Jesse had already turned down the opportunity to stay on at the Attorney General’s office under the new administration (a decision we were starting to seriously question, even though we prayed about it and had felt strongly that’s what God wanted us to do!).

At the very last moment, a job opened up in Kansas City. It wasn’t Jesse’s first choice for a job and it looked like it probably would only be a two-year position, but it was our best option at that point. So, in a record five day’s time, we packed up our little apartment, found a rental in Kansas City and moved.

Little did we dream what difficulties lay just ahead of us in Kansas City.

25 Jan 2010   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Eating From the Pantry: The Final Stretch (Come link up your progress reports!)

Whew! We’ve made it to the last week of Eating from the Pantry. Our stockpile is getting a little thin, but I’m every bit happy to have used up so many odds and ends. I’m also happy that my freezer is almost empty. It had been so full at the end of last month that things would sometimes fall out when you opened it up (wait, did I just admit that out loud on the internet?).

This last week, we’re just aiming to make it through without mishap. So, in other words, I won’t be trying four experiments in one recipe. I will, however, be trying to use up the last little bits of everything so that we start February with a clean slate.

And it’s a good thing, because FishMama and I are planning another big Freezer Cooking Day the first week in February. Truth be told, I’m also really looking forward to using coupons and hunting for deals again. It was nice to take a four-week break, but I have really missed it.

Here’s our plan to use up the rest of the assortment of random ingredients in our house right now:

Breakfasts Ideas:

Cereal x 3 (trying to use up some of our extra boxes of free or $0.50-$0.99 cereal!)

Oatmeal and bananas

Pancakes

Yogurt and granola

Bread-machine Cinnamon Rolls (A reader sent me a winning recipe last week. I made it and we all loved it. I’ll be posting it later this week in case you’d like to try it, too!)

Lunch Ideas:

Tuna Salad, apples

Beans and Rice with cheese and sour cream, carrot sticks

Chicken Nuggets, apples

Fish Sticks, carrot sticks

Baked potatoes with broccoli and sour cream

Leftovers x 2

Dinner Ideas:

Broccoli Chicken Cheese Casserole, Cornbread Muffins, Grapefruit, Chocolate Pudding

Barbecue Chicken Stirfry over rice with Chow Mein Noodles, Slab Apple Pie

Turkey Meatballs, Sweet Potatoes, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls, Corn, Grapefruit

Chicken Tetrazinni, Mixed Green Salad, Broccoli, Homemade Bread

Lasagna, homemade bread, steamed veggies

Dinner at friends’ house

Waffles, scrambled eggs, fruit

Dinner out

Snack Ideas:

Popcorn, Fruit, Cereal, Hot Cocoa

How’s your Pantry Challenge going? If you’ve been blogging about it, be sure to leave direct links to your update posts below so we can all be inspired!

22 Jan 2010   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: We made our goal of only spending $75 on groceries this month!

As you may recall, our goal for this month was to only spend $75 on groceries, to only buy dairy and produce, and to eat from the pantry.

January is almost over and we made–well, almost!

We went shopping for the third time this month yesterday and spent $23.63 on groceries bringing our total for the month to just shy of $75. And we have plenty on hand to finish out the month so, unless some major catastrophe happens, we should finish out the month hitting our goal.

I did buy contact solution and trash bags this week, so I didn't completely meet the goal of only buying dairy and produce. But I'm happy with how it all went nonetheless–flopped pizza and all!

Here's what we bought:

004

3 pounds of organic Braeburn apples
Dannon vanilla yogurt
2 bags of frozen mixed stirfry vegetables
International Delight Creamer (used free coupon)
contact solution
1 gallon milk
Cheddar cheese
1 dozen eggs
Trash bags
1 bag mixed organic apples
2 bunches reduced organic bananas (will freeze most of these for using in banana bread)
2 Happy Baby organic brown rice cereal (used free coupons)
4 Happy Baby organic snacks (used free coupons)

Total: $23.63

Stay tuned for Monday's post with our last Eat From the Pantry Menu. We also have another Freezer Cooking Day in the works for the first week in February. More details will be coming on that shortly.

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Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways?
If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link
below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you
personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order
to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in
their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content
other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to
make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your
link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

21 Jan 2010   ·   109
Money Saving Mom

Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Homemade Pizza (er, how not to improvise when making pizza!)

050
The pizza might not look that bad, but let me tell you, looks can be deceiving!

As you all well know, we've been eating from the pantry this month. We've used up lots of odds and ends, we've tried some new recipes, and we've been eating better than usual because it's inspired me to cook and bake more.

And so far, the challenge has gone on without much mishap. Until last night, that is.

I had planned to make Homemade Pizza–something I've made countless times before. I already had the dough frozen and the meat cooked up, so I thought it would be a snap to pull off.

Well, it spiraled downhill quite quickly.

First off, the dough just didn't feel right when it thawed. Something seemed "off" but I couldn't place it, and I didn't have time to re-make it so I just rolled it out and went with it.

Then, I went to get the barbecue sauce out of the refrigerator and discovered we had used it all up. Oops.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? So I attempted to replicate barbecue sauce using ketchup, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Bad idea.

I pulled the thawed browned turkey out of the bag and noticed it also seemed really tough and dry. But I threw it on the pizza anyway along with some cheese. And then I stuck it in the oven without waiting for the oven to heat up entirely–which was also a dumb mistake.

When I pulled it out of the oven ten minutes later, I was congratulating myself on my improvisations and felt so happy that the pizza looked just fine despite the issues which had arisen while making it.

We cut it and starting eating it and I quickly stopped patting myself on the back. While the pizza looked just fine, it tasted awful. The crust was doughy and yeasty, the "barbecue sauce" was icky, and the meat was anything but appetizing.

All put together, the pizza was disgusting. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is the worst pizza I've ever had in my entire life.

We did our best to try and eat a few pieces, but we finally gave up and pulled out some Tyson Any'tizers we still had lurking in the freezer. And we did something we've never done before–we threw the homemade pizza out!

Maybe that seems wasteful, but the pizza wasn't fit for anyone to eat, believe me. However, the flopped pizza was good for something–we all had a hearty laugh over how bad it tasted. And we also were very relieved to remember that the Eat From the Pantry Challenge is almost over. Almost!

20 Jan 2010   ·   107
Money Saving Mom

Living with One Car in a Two-Car World

Car

Guest Post by Liz from Frugally Blonde

When I tell new acquaintances that my husband and I share one car, I am usually met with a mix of shock and pity. In our affluent society, it is practically unheard of for each adult driver in a household not to have his or her own car.

However, my family has managed well with only one car for four years, and we plan to continue to live this way as long as it seems necessary. While our lifestyle might not work for everyone, I hope that it demonstrates that living without a second car can be both possible and practical.

When my husband and I were first married and both working, it was easy to just have one car with the help of public transportation. However, a year after our wedding we moved to an outer suburb/small town bereft of a subway or bus system that we could use, and shortly after I quit my job to stay home with our newborn daughter.

There was no other way for my husband to get to his job 30 minutes from home except by driving–which meant that I was left without transportation during the day. So that’s what we decided to do. Now, three years later, we have added a second daughter to our family, but not a second car!

The girls and I stay at home most days without a car. Once a week (occasionally twice), we get up early in the morning, drive my husband to work, and spend the entire day on errands and appointments. Then we drive 30 minutes to pick him up in the evening, and we all drive 30-45 minutes home in rush-hour traffic.

Why do we have only one car?

The simple answer is that we do not feel that we can responsibly afford another one. At certain times during the past four years, we might have been able to squeeze a car payment into our budget, but it would have been at the expense of our other priorities.

For instance, we were blessed last year to be able to purchase our first home. We knew that doing so would seriously hamper our ability to get a second car in the near future, but we felt that a home was more needed as well as a much better investment. Further, although we would not rule out a car payment, we would much prefer to pay for a second car in cash, as we did for our first one.

Clearly, living with one car can be challenging and a sacrifice. However, after four years in this situation, we have discovered a host of unexpected blessings and benefits that have come with our unconventional lifestyle.

First of all, we easily save hundreds of dollars a year by not paying for gas, insurance, maintenance, fees, and taxes for a second car.

It also helps us save money in other ways. Out of necessity, I have become extremely organized about my shopping trips. I combine trips and map out the route that is most efficient. I try to do most of my grocery shopping for a two-week period in one trip, and I can often go at least a week without going to the supermarket, except perhaps for fresh fruit. Limiting my shopping trips to once a week also prevents me from being tempted by impulse purchases.

On a more personal level, I feel that our situation has also blessed me with the opportunity to truly blossom in our home and to focus on my life there.

At first, as a new mom, I chafed at being unable to get out of the house, and I admit that some days it is still hard. But now with two little ones, I have so much to do that I can’t get it all done even with being home all day! And my girls and I have developed a rhythm to our days, so much so that I feel very discombobulated if I take the car more than one day a week.

I believe that the day will come when our lifestyle and/or our growing family will require us to purchase a second car. God-willing, at that point we will have the money to do so. And quite honestly, I am looking forward to that day.

I know that I will never take having my own transportation for granted, but rather see it as a wonderful privilege and gift.Until then, I tell my friends, I may not get out much, but they’re welcome to come over!

Liz lives in Nothern Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Her blog, Frugally Blonde, is a place to discuss frugality and celebrate living the good life on less.

Photo credit

19 Jan 2010   ·   94
Money Saving Mom

Bookin’ It in 2010: My Reading Goals and Book List

Reading

“You’ll be the same person you were last year except for the books you read and the people you meet.”

Books have had a profound impact upon me since I first began reading many years ago. They’ve helped to shape the way I think and the way I live. They stimulate me intellectually; they challenge me to improve as a person; and they teach me new concepts and ideas.

I set a goal at the beginning of 2009 to read 50 books over the course of the year. I didn’t quite reach that goal, in fact, I only ended up reading 26 books in total. However, aiming high motivated me to find the time to read more than I likely would have had I not set that goal in the first place.

In 2010, I’ve committed to attempt to read 4 books per month–a book which encourages me spiritually, a practical book (on homemaking or homeschooling), a business-related book, and another book of my choice.

I’ll be joining in with FishMama’s Bookin’ It Challenge and posting an monthly update with the books I’ve read and a short review on each of them. This is not only for my own personal accountability, but I hope it also serves to inspire you to consider making time in your life to read. You just might be surprised at how much you learn and change as a result of reading!

Here’s my list of books I’m hoping to read this next year:

(Please note: My list is rather audacious and I don’t necessarily think I’ll actually find the time to read all of these in 2010, but I’m at least going to try! My husband and I are also reading through the Bible in a year using The MacArthur Daily Bible.)

January

Bootcamp for Lousy Housekeepers

Flipping the Switch…: Unleash the Power of Personal Accountability Using the QBQ!

Still Growing: An Autobiography

Treasuring God in Our Traditions

February

What He Must Be: …If He Wants to Marry My Daughter

Hired @ Home

First Things First: The Rules of Being a Warner

A Charlotte Mason Education

How I Know God Answers Prayer

March

America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money

Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.

The Elements of Style

For the Children’s Sake

April

The Complete Tightwad Gazette

The Heart of Homeschooling

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

May

Put More Cash in Your Pocket: Turn What You Know into Dough

Womanly Dominion: More Than A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson

June

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half

Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment

Beloved Bride: The Letters of Stonewall Jackson to His Wife

For the Family’s Sake: The Value of Home in Everyone’s Life

July

Frugillionaire: 500 Fabulous Ways to Live Richly and Save a Fortune

In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms

Revolution In World Missions

Creating an Intimate Marriage: Rekindle Romance Through Affection, Warmth and Encouragement

August

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Michael Phelps: The Untold Story of a Champion

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

Professionalizing Motherhood: Encouraging, Educating, and Equipping Mothers At Home

September

The Financially Confident Woman

Honey for a Child’s Heart

Kohila

October

Living Rich for Less: Create the Lifestyle You Want by Giving, Saving, and Spending Smart

Created for Work: Practical Insights for Young Men

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

November

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play

Elizabeth Prentiss: More Love to Thee

A Mother’s Heart: A Look at Values, Vision, and Character for the Christian Mother

December

Living Simply: Choosing Less in a World of More

My biggest problem when it comes to reading books is actually finishing them. I’m really good at starting books–and often have 4 to 6 started at once!–but I’m much less disciplined about finishing them.

I’m going to aim to only start and finish each month’s designated books during the specified month. If I finish them all early, I’m giving myself license to read whatever–but not until I’ve finished that month’s books. Yes, I’m really working on following through with things I’ve set out to do this year. 🙂

Photo credit: Yves

18 Jan 2010   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

The Frugal Map: Finally, a State-By-State Frugal Blogger’s Listing!



I often receive emails from people asking if I know of a blogger in their area who blogs about local deals. I'm usually not able to take the time to answer all these emails and I often can't keep up with exactly who blogs about what and where. But these emails have made me realize how much of a need there is for a state-by-state frugal blogger directory.

A few weeks ago, I discovered–much to my excitement!–that Bargain Briana had taken on the mammoth task of creating a state-by-state listing of frugal bloggers. Her creative directory, The Frugal Map, just rolled out today and you'll definitely want to stop by and check it out.

Briana writes:

The Frugal Map was created to help readers find their perfect blog
match. Whether the perfect blog match is by category, store, location,
there is a blog out there for your particular style.

At launch, there are 35 bloggers on the map. I would
love to get the map filled out as much as possible with bloggers all
over the country! If you aren’t included on the map, please read
submission guidelines along with the form here.

The Frugal Map has some unique features:

  • Frugal Map Function: Allows users to find a blogger near their location in an interactive map format.
  • Search Function: Allows users to search multiple blogs across the Frugal Map Network.
  • Hottest Deal RSS Feed: Gives users the most recent hot deals from the bloggers in the Frugal Map Network.
  • Specific Store Landing Pages: Allows users a one
    stop resource for for store deals including blogger store deal links,
    resources, and FAQ for the particular store.
  • Specific Blogger Landing Pages: Allows users to
    read more about their favorite blogs and connect with them via Twitter,
    Facebook, RSS, and specific store deal links.
  • Embeddable iFrame: Embed The Frugal Map on your blog as a resource for your readers.
17 Jan 2010   ·   30
Money Saving Mom

Eat From the Pantry Challenge: Week 3 Menu Plan

Eat-from-the-pantry-challenge 

We've been Eating From The Pantry for over two weeks. The first week was hard but it seemed to get easier the second week. My creativity kicked in and I had fun experimenting in the kitchen, trying some new recipes, and using up a whole lot of odds and ends from our freezer, cupboards, and refrigerator.

There was only one night when Jesse and I both just felt really tired of the whole Pantry Eating thing. So we decided to forgo the Chicken Tetrazinni planned on the menu that night and eat at Taco Bell instead. It was a nice diversion–and then we just skipped our planned dinner out on Friday night!

Here's my list of ideas for Pantry Meals this coming week (some of these are repeats from last week because we still have more ingredients or I ended up making something else last week instead of what I'd planned–yes, I'm giving myself lots of freedom to experiment on this Pantry Challenge!):

Breakfasts Ideas:

Cereal x 3 (we're still using up some of our free or $0.50-$0.99 cereal!)

Whole-Wheat Blender Pancakes

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls (A reader sent me a yummy-looking recipe to try out in my bread machine so I'll post it if these turn out well.)

Whole-Wheat Waffles

Oatmeal with cinnamon, apples, and sucanat

Side options: Fresh Orange/Apple Juice, Oranges, Grapefruit

Lunch Ideas:

Creamy Mac and Cheese

Tuna Salad

Homemade Stromboli

Taco Potatoes

Beans and Rice with cheese sour cream, and lettuce

Leftovers x 2

Side options: oranges, apples, carrot sticks, frozen veggies

Dinner Ideas:

Barbecue Chicken, Cornbread Muffins, Oranges, Chocolate Pudding

Hot Wings/Chicken Nuggets, Steamed Mixed Veggies, Twice-Baked Potatoes, Oranges

Sweet and Sour Chicken Stirfry over rice with Chow Mein Noodles, Apple-Pineapple Salad

Turkey Meatballs, Sweet Potatoes, Homemade Rolls, Corn, Grapefruit

Chicken Tetrazinni, Mixed Green Salad, Broccoli, Homemade Bread

Homemade Pizza, Carrot Sticks, Apples, Brownies

Dinner out

Snack Ideas:

Popcorn, Crackers/Cheese, Popsicles, Fruit, Cereal, Hot Cocoa

How's
your Pantry Challenge going? If you've been blogging about it, be sure
to stop by FishMama's place tomorrow morning and leave your link so we can all be inspired. See more menu plans for this week over at I'm An Organizing Junkie.

16 Jan 2010   ·   21
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: $25 total for the month so far!

Well, we survived another week of Eating From the Pantry. We only made one quick trip to the store and purchased the following:

A bag of grapefruit
A bag of oranges
A gallon of milk
A 16-oz. block of Cheddar cheese
Organic lettuce
4 packages of frozen veggies

Our total was a little less than $25–which is all we've spent on groceries this month and it's halfway over. I think we're going to make our goal of only spending $75 total on groceries this month.

Except, we are definitely going to have to buy eggs. Because I came out to the kitchen earlier this week to discover this:

006

I'm not exactly sure what that was all about but I do know that it involved two little girls who were apparently trying to "help" by concocting something in the kitchen.

And I couldn't help but be a little cracked up about it. (Yes, I know, I just had to throw that in there!)

I'm glad my girls are eager to learn how to make things… now I just need to teach them to learn how to clean up after they cook and we'll be all set.

Ahem.

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Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.