Saturday, June 30, 2012

Looking for Healthy, Easy Recipes

One of the biggest challenges I'm finding in living within our means...inexpensive meals that are also healthy. I could cook pasta every night and nothing else but that's not very healthy. Meat is expensive, more and more so lately it seems.

And while I could eat the same thing every night for weeks and not get bored, hubby is less easy going...apparently he prefers variety.

Oh and of course there's the little guy. Out of all the recipes I've tried lately he has maybe liked two of them...maybe.

So how do you keep a three year old happy, making something that is healthy, and inexpensive??? So far I'm at a loss.

I'm going to make pizza tonight, which isn't super healthy, but it is inexpensive with home made dough and left over pork. At least I know that Marshal will eat it and hubby will like it too. I'll need to do some extra exercising.

Any ideas for easy to make recipes for a picky family?

Friday, June 29, 2012

New Month, New Budget

In June, we successfully stuck to a $200 cash budget for groceries. We won't be able to do that in July. It's just not sustainable for us since we went through quite a bit of our stock pile in the freezer.

But we do have quite a bit still so I am going to try to keep us to under $350 and still use cash only. That amount will include any Costco purchases as well as toiletries, soap, and eating out.

I'm hoping the weather will be nice so we can do a good amount of BBQing. We've got several pounds of chicken and almost seven pounds of pork in the freezer.

We'll see how July's budgeting goes but I'll definitely be keeping myself accountable by sharing our journey.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Food Obsession

I'm addicted to food. More specifically to eating things that are not healthy for me. And when unhealthy things aren't available I will eat healthy things in abundance.

I've lost 25 pounds since January but the last four to six weeks I've been in a lull of weight loss. I think the biggest reason is I have started letting myself cheat every weekend. And when I cheat I cheat good.

I have never been able to eat in moderation. If I have a candy bar, I will eat four more with it.

It's been a struggle my whole life, and one of the main reasons I gained so much weight. If I didn't have a good metabolism I'd weigh over 400 pounds by now. I can consume thousands of calories in one day and out eat my husband.

This last Saturday through Monday I ate like food was going out of style. I don't know what to do about it. I need to lose another 25 pounds but obviously won't be able to make that goal if I don't figure out how to overcome this issue.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fun at the Zoo - Woodland Park Zoo - Part 2

Read Part 1 Here.

While it was pouring cats and dogs, we waited in line to feed the elephants, which costs an extra $5 per person. And that includes people NOT feeding the elephants but want to come in and watch or take pictures. I didn't love that as my sister in law wanted to come in and take pictures but didn't need to feed the big gal. Thankfully Marshal was still free with a paying adult so we only had to pay for two people.

The elephant we fed is a 44 year old female African elephant. We fed her bamboo with a really long stick. She was gorgeous! I just love elephants. The staff took time to talk about her and described her personality and routine. It was amazing.

When we finished feeding the elephant, it was still pouring down rain but we kept going and made our way to the Zoomazium. This is a fabulous place for kids under 8 to play and explore kid related zoo science...but mostly to play. I love that they limit the age to under 8. There are things to climb that even little kids like Marshal can tackle ... and a bigger tree house for the bigger kids to climb.

We killed 45 minutes or so and it finally stopped raining outside. We had to pull Marshal away from the slide, but once we got going he was happy again. We went to the Willawong Station where you can go inside and feed tropical birds. It was SO cool! The birds are super tame and are obviously used to being fed because they swooped us even before we had our feed sticks.

Marshal was N O T a fan. He completely lost it when a bird flew toward the stick he was holding. Poor kid. I loved it and ended up holding Marshal (calming him down) while feeding the birds. Totally worth $1 per stick. We bought 3.

Marshal got to ride the Carousel. Did you know it is solar powered? It's fabulous and he just loved the "up and down horsies" as he called it.

After elephants, the gorillas were probably my second favorite exhibit. These guys are stunning and were so serene.

I wonder what she's contemplating.

I couldn't get a good picture, but the Orangutan there was incredible. He was putting his hand up against the glass and "touching" hands with people through the glass. SO sweet. The lighting was horrible though, which is a bummer because it was really neat.

We had so much fun but after about four hour we were spent. We never made it to the African Savannah so we definitely will have to go back.

There are so many things to do at the can even make paper from elephant poo! I want to try feeding the giraffes too.

We will definitely be planning another trip to the Woodland Park Zoo this year...hopefully on a day when it isn't pouring down rain. I plan to bring some sandwiches to cut down on the cost for food.

If you're in Seattle and have time, especially if you have kids, I highly recommend visiting the zoo!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fun at the Zoo - Woodland Park Zoo - Part 1

Saturday was supposed to least 60% chance. When we left the house it was partly cloudy and beautiful. Headed to the zoo and got there around 10:30 am.

The Woodland Park Zoo is pricey if you're just visiting one time and don't already have a membership. It cost us $17.75 per person (two adults). Ouch. Thankfully Marshal isn't 3 yet so he's still free but once that clock flips he'll cost $11.50! For a three year old. Sheesh.

If we became annual members it would cost us $42 a piece ($84 for the year for two of us) and once Marshal was 3 he'd cost $11 for an annual pass. The zoo is about an hour away from our house. Marshal had a blast but I don't know how many times we'll go in a year. We may wait a little while and if we make it up to Seattle again in the next month or two we may consider becoming members. It definitely is worth it if we plan on going more than three times a year. And for Marshal we may as well sign him up for an annual membership since it's actually cheaper than the one day fee.

When we entered the gate we saw Penguins and they were so cool. Marshal loved watching them swim and see them under the water.

We went through the Tropical Rainforest and it was beautiful. We saw Jaguars and several other species that were so neat. I loved the Jaguars. We got up so close that Marshal got scared when one cat got too close to the window.

This third jaguar was sitting on this log a ways away from the windows. There were two others right up against the glass.

We stopped for lunch and I had to laugh.  Our hot dogs and fries were served on very pretty acrylic plates. Real plates, not paper or baskets. It was pretty snazzy and probably why it cost us $17 for two hot dogs, fries, a soda, and a chocolate milk. Ouch. And no straws! I hate drinking my liquids without a straw but they had signs up everywhere saying they did not offer straws or lids for the protection of the animals. Oh well.

As soon as we were done with lunch and ready to head back outside it started POURING down rain. Not just sprinkling like it does so often here in was dumping buckets! We hemmed and hawed and finally decided to go for it...we ran to the Zoo store hoping to find umbrellas or something. Thankfully we got there and they weren't sold out.

Marshal was actually pretty excited to wear a first. It got old though.

The great thing about toughing it out in the rain...way fewer crowds. We got to feed elephants and hardly waited at all. Of course we ended up getting soaked, but we survived and after about an hour of monsoon weather it cleared up for us.

This post would be ten pages long if I included everything so I'll do it in a couple parts...this concludes Part 1. Read part 2 here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Cash Has Been Found

I swear if my head wasn't attached I'd lose it. Hubby found the grocery money in a drawer. I knew it was in the house somewhere. Now I'll pay back our garage sale stash and I'll still have $11 left for this week.

We had an amazing mini vacation in Seattle and took money out of our vacation fund for it ... so it's a little misleading to say that we made it through the month on $200. But unless we need anything major this week we did it!

I used a lot of our stockpile in June so I am going to need to increase our monthly budget a little. But I'd like to see just how little I can spend in July. We are adding a new $500 payment to our bills starting August 1 and it will stretch us for sure.

We need to pay all our bills and start saving up for our goal of building a home. June was good practice but we definitely slipped up here and there. Hopefully we'll be able to continue to learn and increase our ability to save and spend less.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Avoid E-Mail Scams

Apparently e-mail scammers haven't given up. This article talks about several scams that I hadn't even heard of (specifically the Facebook hacking scam).

I thought everyone knew better than to fall for "FREE widget" if you enter your bank account information e-mails that get sent out all the time. But I guess as consumers get more savvy, the scammers find ways to be sneakier too.

Even Aflac, a Fortune 500 company with millions of clients, has had their name sucked into a scam. The scammers use Aflac's name and logo to try to trick people into sending them money in order to "claim" their prize.

I even got an e-mail a few months ago, supposedly from one of my own clients, asking for money because he'd lost his passport while traveling overseas.

Complete and total rubbish and anyone with a lick of common sense wouldn't fall for it. We all know how common common sense is.

If you didn't enter a lottery, you probably didn't win one either. Duh? Those are some of my favorite e-mails to receive...I've WON!!!!

Even I have *almost* been fooled by these yahoos. Several years ago the Paypal scam e-mail was going around ... it said something was wrong with my paypal account and I had to click on the link in the e-mail to fix it. Thankfully I never did. I entered the Paypal website address in my address bar directly and all was well. When I figured out the e-mail was fake I forwarded it to Paypal's fraud department.

Be careful. Use common sense. And do NOT click on e-mail links from senders you don't know ... and sometimes even senders you DO know.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Lost the Cash

So it appears that the biggest danger in using cash only for groceries isn't being limited in our spending...but in losing the cash!!!

I can't believe it, but I've actually misplaced the money envelope. I know it's in the house somewhere but I didn't have time to find it before leaving the house this morning.


Thankfully we have some garage sale money tucked away in the safe so I "borrowed" from it to get groceries today. I know I'll find the envelope somewhere but it's a little disconcerting to not know where it is. There is $48 in an envelope somewhere in our house.

I know I'll find it eventually but this is something I need to be more careful about...always put the cash envelope in the same place!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's Not Just Overtime

When most husband's are late coming home it's because they have a project or they volunteered for extra hours.

When my hubby, and thousands of other law enforcement officers out there, isn't home on time it is an immediate cause for stress.

Is he okay? When will he be home? Is he hurt? Or worse?

Besides the inconvenience of it (I'm such a planner that it always bugs me when my schedule is off) the fear is very real every time he's late coming home.

Monday he was over three hours late. Thankfully right at the end of his shift he sent me a text warning me. He learned very early that if he didn't warn me in some way I would freak out. He has even had Radio call me when his cell phone was dead and traffic was really bad.

The worst is when he's working night shift and I wake up when I know he should be home and he isn't. He doesn't call in those cases ... anymore. I guess I'm a hypocrite because he called me once at 3 in the morning and I yelled at him. But he was just doing what I wanted...letting me know he was late. *grin*

We've been married ten years this year in August and we've gotten these kinks figured out, but that doesn't mean I don't still get worried when the unexpected comes up.

So when you see a Law Enforcement Office out there, please remember that he has a family who misses him (or her) and wants them to come home safe and sound.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Angel Chicken

In our attempt to live off $200 in June for all our food, I have been working super hard to plan our meals. I was not trained as a cook in any way, shape, or this experience is a challenging learning experience.

Using what we have in our cupboards and freezer has been a goal ... also challenging. We are so used to "finding" things in our freezer that we forgot we had...usually when they're past their prime.

I found this Angel Chicken recipe and didn't have to buy anything extra...we had all the ingredients in stock already.

I didn't cut up the chicken. I probably should have. I used frozen chicken thighs that were probably at the end of their life. Hubby noticed their texture wasn't ideal...if I'd have cut them up he may not have noticed.

I'm not sure if they're the same, but I didn't have anything called "dry white wine" but I did have cooking sherry so I went with it.

I loved the wasn't too strong or over whelming. The more sauce we added to the pasta the better it tasted. :)

This isn't an every week meal. Hubby did not have seconds, which is the measure of how successful a recipe is in this house. He did say he liked the flavor and he'd want to try it with chicken breast or some other sort of meat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Down to $48 and 1 1/2 weeks

Saturday was shopping day. I'd planned my recipes for the week, scanned the ads, printed my coupons, and made my list. It was a long Saturday starting with dropping Marshal off at his nanny's house. I just couldn't run all the errands I had, as quickly as I wanted, with him in tow.

After weight training at the gym, I headed to Target to do a mystery shop. I earned $13 for taking a couple pictures on my phone. From a previous shop, I can cash out $17 into my Paypal account or wait and earn more if jobs pop up soon. If I need extra groceries I may cash out. :)

I discovered Cash and Carry...they have a pound of butter for $1.77. When I need butter I'm going there.

I had $108 left of our monthly grocery budget and I gave myself $60 to spend because there was a great price on chicken breast at Albertsons...$1.99 a pound as opposed to $3.19 at Costco.

I spent $22.76 at Albertsons and $36.45 at Winco for a total of $59.21...officially under the budget I set for this trip!

I bought:

  • 5 pounds of chicken breast
  • 5+ pounds Pork Loin
  • Bulk Bowtie Pasta
  • 2 boxes of granola bars
  • 3 Hillshire Farms sausage ropes
  • Produce - onion, red pepper, bananas, 2 lb bag of carrots
  • Bulk Granola (goes great in yogurt)
  • Flour (about 7 lbs)
  • Peach Salsa
  • 2 lbs Lunch Meat
  • Black Olives
  • eggs
  • Coke 12 pack (free)
  • Milk
  • Bulk seasoning

The bulk section at Winco is AMAZING!!! I got flour, spices, granola, and pasta for way cheaper than packaged. The spices in particular are amazingly cheap...I knew there was a reason I kept the old glass seasoning containers. :)

From now until June 30 we have $48 remaining for groceries. We shouldn't need any more meat until July. We have lots of pasta and flour for bread. I expect I'll need lunch meat, yogurt, milk, maybe eggs, and some produce. I'm hopeful we can make this challenge!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rediscovering Christ

I've been a Christian for as long as I can remember. Thanks to my grandparents I attended Sunday school every time I visited their house. They'd keep me and my brother every summer and we'd attend Vacation Bible School at their local Presbyterian church. I vividly remember making the coolest felt rainbow artwork showing God's promise.

Oh and trying to memorize scripture. I suck at it. Yup. SUCK!

After my dad died I didn't turn away from God as some might expect me to...I talked to him and asked him to say hi to my dad. :)

My mom was never one to go to church...but she was kind enough to drive me to Wednesday night Awanas and until I could drive the Living Water church's youth group where I attended all through high school.

I was pretty passionate in my early high school years but as most people do I drifted and didn't exactly live up to the standards of the Bible I had been taught. I wasn't horrible - I never did drugs or drank but I did do many things I'm not proud of today.

Nevertheless, I always felt like God was blessing me even through some of my struggles.

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deut. 31:8

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I haven't typically "celebrated" Father's day with too much gusto. My dad died when I was 8 so the only other person we would celebrate was my grandfather. And as much as I love him, it's not the same as a dad.

Now that Marshal is a little older, Father's day seems to be playing a bigger role in my life...and I'm not always sure what to do.

This year is special though. Marshal is being dedicated at church.

My church is wonderful. One thing they do that was foreign to me, but that I appreciate, is they do not baptize children until they are old enough to commit their lives to Christ on their own. They DO have a dedication service.

Marshal is nearly three and we still hadn't had him dedicated. I'm not sure why...maybe it was timing or God just deciding that we weren't really ready yet.

But this Father's Day Marshal is being dedicated at our church. Hubby took the day off work. Grandma Laura is attending (a miracle in itself) and aunt Jennifer is coming down too. It really is such a blessing.

From our church website:

"Child dedication at Life Pointe Church is a moment in time when, in the presence of the community of believers, parents vow to fulfill their God-given stewardship, to impress the commandments of God on their children’s hearts, to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. It is also a moment when the Life Pointe community makes a vow, to prayerfully and lovingly support parents in fulfilling the commitment they are making, by investment of time, talents and resources. To paraphrase a well-known saying, “It takes a church  community to make a disciple.”
As such, child dedication is really parent dedication.
So hubby and I are dedicating our son to the Lord on Father's day. My own spiritual walk has been growing and obviously God wanted to make sure I was in a good place before making this commitment.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” —which is the first commandment with a promise — “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."
Ephesians 6:1-4

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cutting Down on Credit Use

By this time in the month our Visa normally seemed to be pushing the $1,000 mark. There were some months in the last year where we were making a two or three thousand dollar payment in order to pay the whole thing off. Some of these were major expenses that we'd anticipated and had cash in a savings account to cover but not all of them.

Our Visa is an awesome card in terms of the interest and the rewards. It is through our credit union so I don't recall the last time we had a late fee (even when I was a day or two late) or an interest payment. We've earned hundreds of dollars in rewards which I redeem for gift cards.


It's still a credit card and it is obvious to me now that it enabled us to feel like we were sticking to a budget when we really weren't.

It is so easy to throw something extra in the cart when you don't have to worry about having the cash on hand. An extra box of cereal. Some chips. Oh why not that ice cream?

Not to mention eating out and other shopping trips where it was "only" $30 or $20 here and there. It added up fast.

Then the automatic payments that were scheduled. Our iPhone "insurance" of $17 a month PER phone. The Cell phone bill. The Cable bill. My Aflac insurance (the policies I had before becoming an agent are charged to my card...all the others come out of my monthly statement). Prepaid legal (now known as Legal Shield). Send Out Cards*. LA Fitness.

It all added up to a whopper of a bill each month. I still do not know how we've kept our heads above water so long.

First things first...we cancelled the iPhone insurance. We have emergency funds and if we had to replace our phones we would just go with the least expensive functional phone we could afford. Hubby spent quite a bit on a super secure, extra padded case too.

Next went the automatic $150 gym training payments...I had signed up for this a little over a year ago...and it came with a contract. The good news is that I get the lowest training rates (6 appointments a month). But the bad news is that it cost me $150 a month. Plus tax. :( Not cool. So that amount is now $27 for one automatically billed appointment a month. I've got plenty saved up and can cancel now at any time.

Then I started looking for a way to lower our Verizon bill. Amazingly I found out that through my work I could get 20% off. WOW! That is $40 huge. Can't wait for that one to kick in. We will keep making this payment via the Credit Card though because I do want points for bills that are 'static' each month. I take the money out of the checking account at payday and apply it toward the card so no interest payments.

I figure I've managed to trim at least $250 in automatic payments alone from the monthly bill.

As for the food bill...that's another topic entirely. Let's just say the grocery store hasn't seen my Visa for two weeks now...and hopefully won't see it ever again!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

$200 Grocery Budget for June

Ever since I realized we spent $1,000 on groceries and food in one month I knew we had to make a change.

In June, hubby and I agreed to attempt to stick to a $200 grocery for the month of June.

We're almost half way through the month and we've spent $95.

We aren't starving. We aren't only eating top ramen.

It's definitely not a sustainable budget for us but it is a good "reset" amount. Because I'm pretty obsessive compulsive we have a large stock pile of things like peanut butter and frozen meats. I'd buy things when we didn't need them...because we might need them at some point.

This is good in a sense because there was always food in our house. But bad because hubby and I were often cleaning out the freezer saying "I didn't know we had that" and throwing it away because it was no good anymore. SO much waste!

In June we are focusing on eating from our stock and only buying things we truly need. Lots of frozen chicken has been used in the last two weeks as well as ground turkey recipes.

Some of my budget has had to go toward main ingredients that weren't already in my cupboard. Who knew real Maple Syrup was so expensive? Not to mention Sesame Oil.

But I'm shopping around and am even going to try the Cash and Carry where folks have told me they have really inexpensive cuts of meat.

Our Costco budget is separate and $50 for the month. Considering I would go in and often spend more than $150 each time with multiple trips each month, this was a big budget change for me. My last trip I spent $23. It was TOUGH!

But I am determined to become a better steward of the blessings God has given us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Budget Living

If you aren't friends with me on Facebook you probably don't know about our budget issues. We got a letter in the mail from the IRS saying we owed them over $38,000.


We're pretty sure it's not the real amount but we do owe some, and we knew we would come 2012 (long story having to do with converting my retirement plan from my last job) and 2013.

Anyway, it was a real eye opener to say the least. Not to mention that we are trying to buy property...another challenge in itself.

Even though we thought we were doing a good job of budgeting, in reality we were out of control.

I signed up for Mint (which I don't recommend at this time) and figured out that we spent over $1,000 in February on food - groceries, eating out, and things like diapers. $1,000!

I was flabbergasted. There are two adults and one less than three year old living in our home. There are no excuses for spending that much money. It's more than 25% of our take home pay!

How in the heck the Lord has provided for us in the last few years is beyond me because we obviously have been spending more than we make for years. And yet, we're really not in a heap of debt compared to what it could be.

So we're buckling down. I think it would be therapeutic to share my experience here so hopefully I will be able to blog more often ... it's been a little quiet around here.