Monday, May 13, 2013

Menu Plan May 13-17

I'm not ashamed to say that our eating last week barely resembled our menu plan.  Our sausage and pepper pasta on Sunday evening turned into turkey and pepper pasta when the sausages were freezer burned beyond salvaging (I know better than to put meat in the freezer in its original package - I really do!).  It turned out well, however, and I'll remember that for future skillet meals.  We ate the chicken and black beans on Monday night, but then on Tuesday my hubby requested a take and bake pizza, which stretched into leftovers on Wednesday.  Thursday I made homemade chicken strips.  Friday I decided we'd better have something quick since I had to make two different kinds of shortcake for Saturday, so we just had hot dogs, potato chips, and baby carrots. 

Menu Plan Monday

The name of the game this week is FAST.  Two swimming lessons and a parent teacher conference are sucking up most of our evenings this week.  I'll be doing some prep ahead and hubby will be helping by putting things in the oven before I get home from work.

Monday:  Taco Bell (promised this to my daughter last week - it's been a long time and she's going through potato taco withdrawal.  Kind of regretting it after eating out all day yesterday, but a deal's a deal!).

Tuesday:  Hamburger casserole (I'll make it tonight and hubby will put it in the oven tomorrow so we can eat right when I get home from work).

Wednesday:  Chicken and Stove Top (I'll make it in the morning and hubby will put it in the oven while we're at swimming lessons)

Thursday:  Broccoli Beef

Friday:  Dinner with family.

Have a great week, and see you all over at for more fabulous menu ideas!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Menu Plan May 5 - 11

I'm feeling rather blah about this week's menu.  Actually, today I'm tired and not in the mood to even think about cooking, let alone actually do it.  So this week's theme is going to be "quick and simple" because, no matter what, we will not be eating out!

Last week we mostly stuck to the plan.  I did end up making chicken strips and tater tots instead of tetrazzini on Thursday, after spending most of the day at the zoo with my daughter's preschool class.  It was a hot day, and I was tired, so I relied on my fallback plan in the freezer.  It worked out well.

We did run into issues with side dishes last week.  I don't know what I was thinking, but I shorted us on fresh vegetables when I went shopping.  Then I discovered we didn't have nearly as many canned and frozen veggie options as I thought we did.  But, we worked it out and I remedied that at the grocery store this week!

So here's the plan:

Sunday: Sausage and pepper pasta
Monday:  chicken and black beans
Tuesday:  jambalaya (we us the Zatarains brand)
Wednesday:  Bruschetta Chicken Bake
Thursday: "More" Casserole (hubby's family recipe)
Friday:  Pork Chops (I'll probably dredge them in one of those Kraft Fresh Take things)
Saturday:  Early Mother's Day/Graduation party for my sister-in-law.  We're having ribs - I'm making strawberry shortcake for 16!

Have a great week!  Remember to visit for more menu planning ideas!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

How I Budget

Grab a cup of coffee…this is going to be a long one!

I love our budget.

There, I said it.  I love our budget.  We don't always follow it, but I love looking at it and knowing that we at least have a PLAN for where our money should go.  Sometimes we're impulsive and go wildly over in some categories (I am, after all, a compulsive grocery shopper, and my husband can't get within 10 miles of an electronics store without deciding that SOMETHING needs upgrading).  But, through it all, I have my little spreadsheet that tells me where, when we're paying attention and giving it thought, everything should go.

My budget is...complicated.  It's long.  It's detailed.  It requires daily maintenance.  It is accompanied by 14 (yes, 14 - I just counted them again) different savings accounts that ensure that we have money set aside for big purchases, special projects, and expenses that come around less frequently than once a month.  And I love it.

I get paid twice a month.  My hubby gets paid every other week.  I thrive on consistency, so I have built our budget around my pay schedule, rather than a calendar month.  So our budget month runs from the 8th of one month to the 7th of the next. 

My budget is divided into two sections.  One for the first half of the month, and one for the second.  Some budget categories, such as utilities, show up only in one section, because we only pay it once a month.  Others, like groceries and gas, show up in both sections, because we spend on those throughout the month. 

Here are my budget categories:

1st half of the month:

           Garbage Bill
           Gas Bill
           Water Bill
           Gift Fund - auto transfer to savings
           Clothes/Dry Cleaning –auto transfer to savings
           Car Repair/Replace –auto transfer to savings
           Eating out
           Misc. Household Stuff
           Home Improvement Fund- auto transfer to savings
           Pet Emergency Fund - auto transfer to savings
           Phone Bill
           Day Care
           Dog Food
           Weight Watchers
           Car Payment
           Vacation fund - auto transfer to savings

2nd half of the month:

           Auto/Earthquake Insurance - auto transfer to savings
           Gift Fund
           Eating Out
           Life Insurance - auto transfer to savings
           Electric Bill
           Day Care

I have this worked out so our expenses are basically balanced about 50/50 between the two. 

You probably noticed quite a few categories marked as “auto transfer to savings”.  As I said, I have 14 savings accounts.  Early on I decided it was going to be too difficult for me to keep track of all our separate funds on paper with all the money in one account.  So, I started working with an online bank (which pays slightly higher interest than my regular bank) and set up a separate account for each of our different savings needs.  Then, I took the annual amount we anticipate spending, divided it by 12, and set up automatic transfers from checking.  The only exception to this is our gift fund, which transfers weekly.  All money for birthdays, Christmas, and other gift-giving occasions throughout the year comes from this fund – I just transfer it back as I need it.  I realize there aren’t 14 accounted for here – I have some others that I put money in from time to time, and others that have built up so much money that we’ve stopped transferring till we need it. 

All of this is set up in a spreadsheet.  Every day, I write down what we spent the day before, and check our checking account and credit card to make sure we’ve accounted for everything and haven’t had any unauthorized charges.  Leftover money at the end of the month (we always budget to have padding) is transferred to our general savings account. I add new columns each month, so I can go back and easily look at our spending over time.  It sounds arduous, I know, but it really only takes a couple of minutes.  I find that if I don’t do it daily, I don’t do it, so I’ve just worked it into my morning routine.  Get up, get my coffee, check the bank account.  It works for me. 

And really, that’s the important thing.  Find something that works for you.  Some people use cash and the envelope system.  We’ve decided not to do that because we enjoy getting points (traded in for gift cards or cash) from our credit card, which we pay off weekly.  Also, I find it easier for cash to slip through my fingers without a record – at least with my credit card or debit card there’s a note on my account if the receipt disappears. 

This past month I’ve been challenging myself to stay within our budget (it’s been a while).  We’re not going to make it, but we’ll be close.  I’ll be posting next week about how we did, where we went over, and why. 

How do you budget?

Thursday, May 02, 2013

May 1. New Habits.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm taking some baby steps toward creating new habits.  My ultimate goal is to feel better about myself and where I am with certain things, but also to be more organized and to have a bit cleaner house.

Here are some things I've already started doing, before I even took on this new challenge:

1.  I joined Weight Watchers in January (and have lost more than 32 pounds so far).  I faithfully track my food to make sure I'm staying on program.

2.  As part of #1, I make it a point to get at least 30 minutes of exercise three or four times a week (unless I'm sick, then all bets are off).

3.  I read every day.

4.  I've inventoried my freezer and am making meal plans mostly using what food we already have in the house.

5.  I've reestablished our household budget and track our expenditures daily.

So, as you can see, without even intending to I've already started down this path.

Here are my two new habits for May:

1.  Every night, I will wash and put away all my knives.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, or know me in person, you know that I love to cook.  The kitchen is one of my favorite places to be.  I have a very nice set of good quality knives, which I don't treat with the respect they deserve.  They never go in the dishwasher, but they also don't get cleaned right away if I'm cutting anything that requires more than a quick rinse.  My goal is to wash them as I use them, but if that doesn't happen I'll definitely make sure I wash them in the evening.

2.  Every day, I will wash, dry, and put away one load of laundry.  I started easy on myself - yesterday I had to wash my daughter's sheets (pull-up leakage).  Actually, that will probably be my load three days a week or so.  But laundry is my nemesis - I get it washed and dried ok, but it's the folding and putting away that creates the problem.  I have about five loads to catch up on this afternoon, and then I'll be starting fresh. Hopefully by taking a few minutes each day to tackle a small amount, I won't end up with piles of laundry everywhere.

Little things, but a good jumping off place!