Friday, August 31, 2018

A New Budget Month is Upon Us

Note:  this blog post contains no affiliate links.  I just really, really like these sites.

It's the last day of August (how did we get here already???), which means that another budget month is coming to a close, and a new month is upon us!  I'm a bit of a geek about our budget, and when I actually follow it, it works really well and we are able to save some money!  I've switched things up in the last month to make it even easier for me. 

This is the way I used to budget.  It was long and complicated and involved way to much moving of money during the month (it was all automated, but still, lots of money moving around).  Also, because I worked off of my pay dates, my month didn't follow a calendar month, which tended to confuse things just a bit. 

One of my favorite blogs is Six Figures Under.  I love how transparent she is about finances, and they have used their budget to do amazing things to pay off their debt!  She often talks about how they live on last month's income.  This intrigued me, but I never thought I needed it because we don't have the irregular income that her family does.  We get regular paychecks that are usually the same amount, unless my husband works overtime.  That and his occasional third paycheck (he gets paid every two weeks) were the only variances. 

Then, I started listening to the YNAB podcast (available here).  He also talks about living on last month's income.  Then, suddenly, one day I realized that it would make sense for us to live on last month's income.  And we had enough in savings to be able to do that and still have a nice cushion. 

So, last month I switched.  And it was glorious (hey, I'm a budget geek.  I can say glorious!). 

Here's the new system.  A few days before the end of the month, I transfer a budget month's worth of expenses from our general savings account to our online checking account (we have a local checking account and two savings accounts, and an online checking account and 11 savings accounts - more on that in another post!).  From there, the amount we need for spending is forwarded on to our local checking account, and the rest is divided up among our "sinking fund" accounts.  By the first of the month, when our mortgage is automatically withdrawn from our local checking account, all the money is there. 

As we get paychecks or any other extra income throughout the month, I transfer them directly to our general savings account, to be used the following month.  I record that income in an Excel spreadsheet so I can see exactly how much we have to work with the following month.  

Tracking expenses is, of course, key to the success of a budget.  I find that if I stay on top of it, it literally takes me less than five minutes a day to accomplish this.  When I get up in the morning, I get my coffee, sit down at my computer, open my bank accounts online and pull up my budget spreadsheet.  I record any expenses or income we had the day before.  Voila.  Tracking done.  With few exceptions, all of the actual moving of money between accounts is done automatically, so I also make sure this happens on schedule and then track it accordingly.  If it's a payday, I set up those transfers to savings.  Easy peasy. 

This month, the expense tracking will be made even easier.  I have switched our budget from Excel to the free version of EveryDollar.  It's essentially the same as my spreadsheet, but it has an app so I can track spending on the fly with my phone.  I like to have redundancy when I'm trying out new systems, so I'll still keep my budget in Excel, but I won't track daily expenses - I'll just go back at the end of the month and put down the total spending in each category.

There you have it - our (very long) budget update.  What's your favorite budgeting tip? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Apples Apples Everywhere!

Fall is nearly upon us, and at our house, that means one thing - the apples are falling off the tree! We have a decent size tree with the weirdest apples I have ever encountered.  First, they are normally HUGE, but this year's are about half the usual size.  Here are a couple next to a pint-size Mason jar for comparison.  

Second, they are the mushiest apples I have ever encountered.  They have a strangely astringent flavor, and (in my opinion) are terrible to eat raw, though my daughter claims to love them (though she won't eat more than a few bites at a time).   If you try to put them in a pie, they basically dissolve.  I can fill an 8x8 pan to make a crisp, and by the time it's done cooking it's totally flat (though delicious once cooked!). 

We're actually going to cut this tree down after the season, because we're going to plant several different varieties of dwarf fruit trees that will be easier to prune and give us more fruit varieties than just the one apple tree.  So this year, we're going all out on the apple usage and preservation.

So far, I've made about nine quarts of applesauce, with about six and a half currently in the freezer, and another pot is on the stove as I write this.

I bought some Clear Jel to make apple pie filling.  Yes, the apples will cook down to mush, but this is my husband's favorite waffle topping, and I haven't made it since I found out you're not supposed to can with cornstarch (yes, I canned with cornstarch, and no, we didn't die, but no, I'm not going to do it anymore now that I know it's not safe).  This will probably happen next weekend.

I'm trying my hand at apple cider vinegar from scratch.  I took some of the apple cores and peelings and will follow these instructions.

Cores and peels, just waiting for the water.

I'll cook some of the applesauce down to make apple butter.  I love it on toast in the winter time - so warm and cozy!

We also love apples in baked oatmeal (this is a great recipe), and these apple walnut butterhorns (minus the walnuts, as I'm not a fan). 

And, of course, we eat lots of apple crisp.  It's one of my husband's favorite desserts - with or without ice cream! 

Are you a fan of apple season?  What's your favorite recipe?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Menu Plan August 26 - September 1

It's finally here!!!  The first week of school!!!  Our summer of chaos is officially over!  It's been a fun summer but I'm ready for my schedule to return to normal.  Bonus - I still have two weeks before evening activities begin so not only do we get back to a normal daily schedule starting on Wednesday (Tuesday's the first day but it's only three hours), we don't have to rush to be anywhere after dinner for a bit.  So nice!

Visit Menu Plan Monday for more great menu ideas!

I have exactly $5.90 left in the grocery budget for the month, and I'm trying really hard to stay within it (that would be the first time ever, I'm pretty sure!).  So I've planned the menu around what I have in the house.  We're a little shy on fresh fruit for general eating but the apple tree is full and ready to pick, so I'm planning to make applesauce, and we have some canned fruit that we didn't eat on our camping trip.  Only thing I might run out of is onions.  I have one left in the pantry and about six little ones in the garden.  So...I may be taking a lunch hour walk down to the store one day to buy a couple.  We'll see.  Can't cook without onions! 

Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday:  Back to School Picnic (school is providing the meal)
Monday:  Irish Sundaes
Tuesday:  Pork chops and potatoes (I have some Trader Joe's frozen potatoes I'll probably use)
Wednesday:  Tuna Casserole
Thursday:  Pork and Cabbage Stir Fry (this is my base recipe but I add a few things to it)
Friday:  Fried Rice
Saturday:  I don't know where we'll be (we have a few plans for the weekend but no schedule set yet), so I can't plan.  If we're home I'll probably roast a chicken but I'm guessing we won't be.

Have a great week, everyone!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

I'm feeling so on top of things!

Now, let's see if I can keep it up!

Lately I've been trying to do one small thing every day to help my life be neater, more organized, and less cluttered.  Some days, those things are smaller than others.  Some of the things I've been doing:

  • Clearing off one corner of the kitchen table at a time.  Someday, we'll see the top of it again!
  • Doing the dishes every single night (for two weeks!), and slowly getting through the backlog of pots and pans that were sitting on the counter (all caught up!).  
  • Clearing counters during non-active cooking moments (i.e. when I'm waiting to stir something).
Slowly, gradually, things are starting to look better.  My husband is noticing, too.  I've started running the dishwasher every night, even if it's not quite full (it's amazing how quickly the dishes accumulate around here!), and he has started unloading it before he goes to work in the morning.

I've also given our budget an overhaul (more on that later) and have been diligently tracking our spending.   It only takes a couple of minutes each day and has really helped me figure out where we're spending and how we can ramp up our savings. 

I've been meal planning and sticking with it!  My meal plans start with things in the house (believe me when I say I cannot put one more thing in our freezers, so we're eating out of those!).  Then I just shop for things I need to fill in what I don't have, and things I can get on deep discounts with coupons and sales. 

School starts next week, and the chaos of summer will transition into the chaos of the school year.  I'm going to work toward maintaining these new habits and developing others that will help us navigate my long, busy days of school, work, and driving my daughter all over creation! 

What are you doing this week to make your life more organized?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Menu Plan August 19-25

This is the last week before school starts!  Yippee!  My daughter has been going to camps all summer long and she is exhausted and ready to be back in the classroom.  We're coming up on week 10 of what I've been calling "The Summer of Camp."  This week it's just a four-day, half day clay camp at the local arts center.  She's excited for the break!

Here's the menu for this week:

Tonight:  burgers (pork or beef, diner's choice) and oven fries
Monday: Chicken BLT Tacos (trying a new recipe)
Tuesday:  Corned beef hash (note to self - get the corned beef out of the freezer and cook it!)
Wednesday:  Sweet and Sour Chicken
Thursday:  Kielbasa and Cabbage
Friday:  Broccoli Beef

Saturday my daughter is having a girls' day with my sister-in-law, so it'll just be hubby and I for dinner.  I imagine we'll call it a date night but we'll see...

Have a great week everyone!  This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday on

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Chicken Gravy

I think I liked this better than my family did.  Ok, I *know* I liked this better than my daughter, because her definition of "gravy" is the pepper gravy that comes in the little yellow packets - you know, the powder you mix with water?  She loves that stuff, adds a ton more pepper to it, and would eat the whole batch out of a bowl like soup if I'd let her.  What can I say...she likes what she likes. 

Anyway, I read a couple of Amish blogs and I ran across this post last week.  I was intrigued by the recipe for "Dixie Chicken Shortcake."  Looking at it, I knew I would have to make a few changes to suit my tastes.  I'm glad I did - it was delicious!

I did serve it over cornbread.  I used some cornbread mix that I had in the pantry, and it was way too sweet to handle the gravy.  I was thinking it would be fantastic over homemade noodles (the thick kind), or biscuits.  If I was going to do cornbread again I'd make my own and leave out the sugar.  My family ate their cornbread on the side, so they didn't have the same experience with it that I did. 

Here is my revised recipe:

Chicken Gravy

2 T. fat (chicken fat, butter, oil - it all works)
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. flour
1 t. ground black pepper
2 c. chicken stock (I used homemade, and half my fat was the chicken fat I pulled out of the stock as it thawed)
4 c. cooked, shredded chicken
cornbread, biscuits, or cooked noodles for serving

Heat the fat in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and mushrooms, and cook until the onions are soft, about five minutes.  Add garlic, pepper, and flour and cook for two more minutes.  Add stock, bring to a boil, and cook until slightly thickened.  Add chicken and continue to cook until heated through.  Add salt to taste and serve over hot cornbread, biscuits, or noodles.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cranberry Beans with Onions and Celery

I made this for dinner last night to go with fried ham and zucchini fritters.  It was DELICIOUS.  It was one of those times that I wish I measured my ingredients as I'm cooking, because I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Here's my best approximation:

1 1/2 cup sweet onion, cut to 1/2 inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut in 1/4 inch slices
2 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups cooked, seasoned cranberry beans (I cooked these from dried with bay leaves, onions, and thyme - if you're using canned, drain the liquid, and you may want to up your other seasonings to taste)
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, saute the onion and celery in the oil until the onion is soft.  Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly.  My beans were slightly overcooked and they almost had a refried bean consistency.

Simple and delicious!  There were no leftovers.  I wish there were.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Menu Plan August 11 - 17

Happy to report we totally stuck to the menu last week!  This is rare, but since my daughter was away at camp the schedule was a bit calmer than usual.  That and we've basically decided that all but a couple of the restaurants around us are either rapidly declining in quality or way too expensive for what we get, so we're staying closer to home, eating much better, and saving some money.  We did pick up dinner at our local teriyaki place yesterday for my hubby's birthday. It's still a good bet, and since the portions are huge my daughter and I always share a meal and I have enough leftover for a workday lunch!

The highlight of the week for me was the fried rice. I always forget how quick and easy it is, especially since we almost always have rice in the freezer.  I cook up a big batch in the InstantPot or microwave rice cooker and freeze the extras.

Here's what's on the menu for the coming week:

Tonight:  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Caitlyn asked for this before she went to camp and actually still was thinking about it when she came home four days later!

Sunday:  Grilled marinated chicken (I am loving marinating with Goddess Dressing from Trader Joe's right now), tomato/basil/mozzarella salad, crusty bread

Monday:  Sausage and pepper pasta

Tuesday:  Ham and Beans

Wednesday:  Chicken gravy over cornbread (the "Dixie Chicken Shortcake" recipe here)

Thursday:  Potato leek soup, salad, bread

Friday:  Korean Beef Rice Bowls

Have a great week, everyone!  And remember to visit Menu Plan Monday for tons of recipe inspiration!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Camping 2018

My family spent last week on our annual camping trip in the Tillamook State Forest.  We lucked out and got one of our favorite spots, right where a creek runs into a river.  It's beautiful and there are crawdads galore for the kids to find! 

We "primitive" camp, which means we haul in our own water and dig our own toilet hole, but we have also collected enough camping gear over the years that it's not really roughing it.  This year we used part of our tax return and added a huge camp kitchen and two XL cots from Cabelas to our supplies.  We also got a little pop-up tent to go over our toilet (which my husband built out of plywood and black plastic). 

I spent most of the week reading.  I read two whole books and finished four others.  Most were great, one not so much.  I love to just sit by the river and read!  My daughter practiced lots of outdoor skills, made swords out of sticks and rope, and got to do a little target practice with her BB gun.  My husband spent most of his time dozing by the campfire. 

On Thursday my sister-in-law showed up with her family.  This is our tradition - we go first, spend two to three nights on our own, then overlap for two to three nights, and then we go home and they stay on their own for a few nights.  This year we had two nights together and it was not enough!  The kids ride their bikes around on the logging roads, hunt for crawdads in the river, and generally have a fantastic time together. 

Here are a few pictures of our adventures!

We love the river!

Staking down the pop-up.

Our tent by the river - nature's white noise.

This book was AMAZING.

No, we didn't eat him!

In the swimming hole.  COLD WATER!

My Girl Scout got lots of outdoor skills practice!

We were lucky to get a spot where we could have a campfire!

In the firelight.  I love this picture.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Menu Plan August 5 - 10

It's been a while since I've posted!  I've spent the spring and early summer working on getting a few things under control - budget, my eating, my health (nothing serious, just working on eating better and moving more), and menus.  I've still been menu planning somewhat faithfully but I haven't been posting them, and I must say I miss being able to look back at what we've eaten in the past for ideas!

This week, my daughter will be away at her last sleepaway experience of the summer - three nights of Girl Scout camp.  Last month she did a five-night camp and in June she spent a week with my parents.  I think she's ready to be home in her own bed for a while!  So meals will be somewhat simple, since it's just my husband and I eating.  I'm definitely planning some leftovers for my lunches though!

Here's the plan...

Tonight:  Leftover pizza (we got home from a week of camping yesterday and hit Papa Murphy's on our way into town).

Tomorrow:  Taco salad

Tuesday: Sheet pan chicken and vegetables with sweet potatoes

Wednesday:  Fried rice (I found some leftover roast pork in the freezer and we already have rice frozen so this one will be quick to put together!)

Thursday:  Beef fajitas

Friday:  Out for my hubby's birthday

Saturday:  My daughter's choice, since she'll be gone Tuesday - Friday.  This typically means spaghetti.

What's on the menu at your house this week?

You can find menu inspiration and more at Menu Plan Monday!