Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Budget Stretcher: Leftover Makeovers

One area that can create a slow and steady leak in the budget is in the kitchen.  Our intent is good.  We buy good foods to feed us several meals and somewhere after the first and perhaps second day, we're faced with leftovers that sit there and spoil because no one will eat them, everyone groans when you announce that it is dinner, and you yourself groan thinking of eating them once more.  That's if you even eat leftovers.  I've talked to many people and I'd say that roughly 75% of those I spoke with tell me the same thing over and over again: "We don't eat leftovers. I just throw away whatever is left."  Seriously?

I confess that I occasionally 'lose' a leftover in the fridge.  Just today I found a cup of cooked summer squash and a half cup of broccoli salad.  I don't like to toss foods but I don't PLAN to toss them!

This is where I hope I can help you to re-think leftovers.

The number one mistake people make about leftovers is thinking they  must serve the same meal repeatedly.  No!  You do not have to have the same meal over and over again, not if you plan meals rightly.  Always look at leftovers as pre-cooked ingredients for another meal (or two or three!).  Roast chicken is a prime example.  First meal: Roast Chicken with vegetables.  Second meal: Chicken salad in Tomato cups.  Third meal: Chicken pot pie.  And you still have the carcass to make a yummy broth, the bones to pick over..so you might find you have enough basic ingredients to make a pot of Chicken Noodle soup! Would any one of the last three meals make you think you were eating leftovers?  I'd guess that answer would be 'No.'

Yesterday we were out and about running errands.  John needed a hair cut, we'd run into love bugs on our trip down to see the grandchildren and the car had to be washed once more, and I needed to go into the grocery to pick up the fruits and dog food I didn't get last week.  We filled the car up again... I looked at the checkbook balance after and told John "That's it.  No more spending for us this pay period."  "Remember I don't have overtime on the next check so it will be short," he replied.  We both checked our wallets for cash and realized we were on a self imposed budget diet until our next allowance.  It was 3pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast.  We looked steadfastly AWAY from the fast food places and headed home.

Thankfully the night before I'd had a sudden inspiration for using the leftovers in the fridge and I wrote them down (key for memory for me).  We had one for our dinner last night and we're eating another for our dinner today.

Meal 1: Sweet and Sour Chicken Kebabs with Pineapple Rice and Corn Muffins

My leftover ingredients: 1 leftover BBQ chicken breast half
                                    4 slices juice packed canned pineapple
                                    1 1/4 cups cooked white rice
                                    3 corn muffins
                                    1/2 cup homemade BBQ sauce
Additional ingredients:   1/2 large red onion
                                     Stem end pieces of four green bell peppers (peppers to be used as stuffed peppers)

I cut the chicken into cubes, and cut large pieces of pepper, onion, and pineapple.  Since the vegetables were raw and the chicken wasn't, I knew that I needed the extra moisture of the pineapple to help the vegetables steam as they broiled.  I alternated the meat, vegetable and pineapple on the skewers then added a bit of the pineapple juice to the BBQ sauce to thin it a little and spread that over the skewers:

I put the kebabs under the broiler and then moistened the rice, using the last of the juice from the pineapple:
and heated that in the microwave.

In about ten minutes time we had this on our plates:

 and we were ready to eat.  It took about 20 minutes to assemble and cook.  It tasted very much like a Sweet and Sour Chicken.  Mmmmm mmmm!

Makeover II:  Chicken Parmigiana with Green salad and Croutons

My leftovers:  1 very large fried chicken breast half
                      1/4 jar of dried tomato pesto
                      1/2 jar Pizza sauce
                      4 slices ripe tomato
and from the fridge:
                     minced garlic
                     shredded mozzarella
                     Parmesan/Romano cheese
from the cupboard:
                    4 ounces Angel Hair pasta

I stripped the meat from the bone (and some of the excess skin and breading, too) then sliced the breast.
I diced the tomato and mixed that, garlic, dried tomato pesto and pizza sauce together.
After cooking the pasta, I drained well, put in a casserole dish and layered on chicken slices, pizza sauce and cheeses, then baked until bubbly.

I'm not sure John even realized it was leftover fried chicken.

Now that's just two meals from a handful of leftovers.  I could have left any of that to just sit in the fridge and regretted the 'loss' but instead I used my imagination and made  two entirely new meals from them.

I'll be posting ideas such as these periodically to help those of you who are Leftover challenged. I hope I inspire you to think of leftovers as more than just a meal to repeat.

Weekly Menu Plan

Sigh...lol.  Some weeks I look back at the previous week's menus and wonder why I even bother to plan.  I used two meals from that week's menu.  Oh well.  Most of that food is still on hand and will eventually make it into rotation of meals once more.  Thankfully I used the items most likely to spoil (or froze) so no waste there.

The week ahead isn't too busy so meals should work out rather well this week.  We bought an 8pc fried chicken this past week at the grocery.  My only excuse is that we were shopping rather late, we were hungry and tired and wanted to be done and home and still had another store to go.  It was not a good way to shop and in future we'll skip it and wait as I'd thought I'd do in the first place.  I should have listened to myself!

We ate chicken for dinner that night, and today for dinner as well.  I have a huge chicken breast leftover and plan to make a meal from that for Monday.  I didn't get all the foods I'd planned last week.  Remember I said we were hungry and tired?  Well the second store was Aldi, where I do the bulk of my shopping and we grabbed lettuce, milk, eggs and headed home.  I had a long list for the day but we'll call it savings for now and I'll try hard to stay out of the store until next cycle.

Sunday:  Fried Chicken, Potato Salad, Green Peas, Corn Muffins with Honey
We had dark meat pieces today for our dinner and saved a very large breast to use for tomorrow's meal.  I made potato salad, cooking all the potatoes I had after finding one with a soft spot.  I'd rather USE than LOSE and have potatoes go to waste.  I have a plan for the remaining cooked potatoes.

Monday:  Chicken Parmigiana over Pasta, Pan Roasted Eggplant, Tossed Salad
I'll use the remaining chicken breast sliced, layer over cooked pasta with sauce and bake while the eggplant roasts in the oven.  I'm pretty sure after today John will be ready to see some beef on the table, lol, but I want to be sure we EAT the food we buy.  I expect there may be some leftover eggplant, but I have an idea how to use it.

Tuesday:  Pan Broiled Steak, Armenian Potatoes and Eggplant, Lettuce Wedges with Bleu Cheese dressing
I bought Chuck Eye steak and had it marinated and vacuum sealed at the meat market.  I was promised this would help further tenderize the meat.  Normally the potatoes cook in the oven with tomatoes and garlic but I think it will do just as well to reheat the vegetables in the tomato garlic seasoning.

Wednesday:  BBQ'd Shredded Chicken on Buns, Chips, Pickles, Cabbage Slaw with Nectarines
More of my leftovers.  I cooked BBQ chicken last week instead of oven frying as planned.  I had two large breasts, cut them both in half.  Homemade BBQ sauce was poured over the shredded cooked meat that was leftover and put in the freezer. It's a perfect meal to pull out today when I'll have less time to cook and a meal I can easily leave for John to have on his own, while I eat later.

ThursdayRed Beans and Rice, Carrot and Raisin Salad with Pineapple, Cornbread
I have a piece of beef chorizo I will use to season the red beans. Leftover rice will reheat in the microwave.  Leftover pineapple slices will be diced and used in the salad.

Friday:  Stuffed Peppers, Whole Kernel Corn, Peach Salad, Leftover Cornbread
I bought green bell peppers pretty inexpensively last week at our local grocery.  I usually stuff with rice/ground beef mixture (just as I'd use to make porcupine meatballs) and then top with tomato soup and cheese.  My recipe makes enough to stuff four good sized peppers, so this will be a make one/freeze one dish.  I like having an entree I could simply pull from the freezer and bake and serve.

Saturday:  Marinated Roast Beef, Mashed Potatoes with sour cream and chives, Green Beans, Sliced Tomatoes
I hope to go to an estate sale on this morning and since John will be at home, hopefully sleeping, I will try to prepare the meat the day before.  I'll prepare the vegetables (using instant potatoes since I'm out of fresh) when I return from my morning out. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Menu Monday

I haven't thought too hard about meals since last week.  The roast chicken was made Saturday morning.  We had sandwiches from one of the breasts then, a light supper that included the legs (1 each) Saturday evening and then the other breast divided between the two of us for our dinner yesterday and I put the carcass on to boil last night.  With the thighs and wings, plus the pickings of meat from the bones, I have about 3 cups of chicken.  I'll be incorporating that into this week's meals.  I love how meals seem  to just naturally stretch and grow these days. I call it a blessing.

I made a Plum Tart using this recipe:

Monday:  Corn and Bean Enchiladas with Cheese Sauce, Pineapple Salad, Pudding
I am not locked into the idea of a meatless Monday but I do try to serve meals that use no meat at least once a week and are very light (used more as flavor/seasoning) twice more.  These enchiladas do not come across as being meatless at all because they are well seasoned and the combination of rice mixed in with the corn and beans creates that 'perfect protein' that satisfies the appetite for meat.

Tuesday:  Chicken and Dumplings with vegetables, Coleslaw, Plum Tart
I need to use some flour tortillas that I've had in the fridge.  If cut into strips they cook up a little fluffy and tender much as homemade dumplings would.  I thought this would be a nice use of them.  I do find that well seasoned broth (plenty of salt to taste, pepper, garlic, onion) will make a better soup base for the dumplings.

I made the Plum Tart on Sunday.  It is really delicious but truly it is a bit tart.  My plums were not nearly as sweet as the last batch we'd bought, which explains why they were left behind no doubt.  Since I'll be running out today to pay bills, I'll pick up a pint of vanilla ice cream.  I think a scoop of that on slices of the warm tart will offset the tartness.

Wednesday:  dinner out
I don't know which day we'll be out shopping and running errands, but I am certain that a meal will be eaten out sometime this week.  No need to plan to cook.

Thursday:  Slow Oven Stew, Waldorf Salad, Corn Muffins
I may end using the slow cooker for this recipe.  It's a very good stew, with a tomato based sauce.  I'm craving autumn and the good hearty foods we'd eat in that season.  This stew should hit the spot.

Friday:  Oven Fried Chicken Breasts, Steamed Broccoli with Lemon Butter,  Mashed Potatoes
I suspect these breasts will be large and we'll get two meals off the two.

Saturday:  Eggplant Parmigiana, Pasta, Green Salad, Crusty Bread, Plum Tart
Mama gave me a medium sized eggplant the other day.  I'll use the half jar of pizza sauce mixed with a bit of tomato sauce for my Parmigiana.  We'll finish the Plum Tart

Sunday:  Grilled Marinated Chuck Eye Steak, Grilled Zucchini, Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes, Crusty Bread
I've never tried a Chuck Eye Steak but I read about them recently in one of the magazines Mama gives me.  I asked the butchers about them when I bought meat last week.  One described them as a 'bit chewier' than Rib Eye, but honestly the rib eyes there are so tender that the Chuck Eye seemed worth the try.  At about 1/2 the price I figured I wasn't out much money.  The butchers assured me that marinating would  help tenderize the meat.
I expect to have leftover vegetables.  I'll serve next week over pasta or on a pizza.

Warehouse Shopping and Bulk Purchases

Ella wrote:  I am curious what you think about warehouse stores like Sams Club. Perhaps you don't have those in your area, but given that you sometimes buy in bulk and try to have stock on hand, just wondered if you belong to one and what you think about it. 

I don't currently have a membership at Sam's Club (nearest to my location).

Mind you, when we had growing kids at home, we shopped routinely at Sam's.  It was more than worth my while to buy six heads of romaine at once when I knew full well we'd eat them in less than two weeks time.
In some ways I miss shopping there because invariably dairy products were an excellent buy, as were Over the Counter meds, minerals and vitamins and fresh seasonal produce (like blueberries or cherries) for canning or preserving. Flour, sugar, olive oil, seasonings were almost always good buys as well.  The meats at our Sam's were beautiful cuts, and fairly priced but buying two HUGE chuck roasts would eat up a chunk of the budget for just the two of  us.  And that's why I no longer have a membership, though I do visit about once a year as a guest.  I simply cannot use the volume of perishable bulk purchases I once did and it was in the perishables that I found the very best buys.

I confess I've found warehouse shopping terribly, terribly tempting!  Books, appliances, dishes, jewelry, gorgeous gift baskets, were all too tempting for words and distracting, too. I do NOT miss the temptation to spend more than I have (and I so often did).  I don't miss the limited selection of brands which often led me to believe that I should buy 'x' brand even though I'd normally have opted for a less expensive or store brand, etc. I don't miss going because invariably someone else was along (Mama, Granny, sister in law, etc) and I was tempted to purchase things I'd normally bypass.   I don't miss the long treks through the store when I'd shop with Mama (she has always had stamina plus when it comes to being behind a buggy she can fill to the gills and beyond), that I started tossing things in just to be done and not have to go anywhere else later in the week.

I think NOW I'd be far more disciplined than I was way back then.  For one thing, I have a better viewpoint and grasp of spending money overall and I think I'd go it all alone rather than tandem shopping.  But again, not having a family at home it hardly seems worthwhile.

I follow certain 'rules' when purchasing in bulk.

My Rules for Bulk Purchasing:

 #1. Know pricing.  Use a price book if you must.  For some reason, I've been blessed with a memory for numbers.  My price list is in my head.  I can tell you right now the lowest and average prices I've seen recently on hundreds of items but I'm weird like that and I admit it.  (And by the way that awesome memory only works for numbers.   It's unlikely I can tell you your name the day after we've been introduced.  Also highly unlikely I can tell you where my keys are if I haven't tucked them into my purse as I've trained myself to do... so don't envy me, lol).

Recently 40 ounce jars of Jiff peanut butter were Buy One Get One Free at Publix.  The cost worked out to about $3.99 a jar.  I knew the cost of a 40 ounce jar of Aldi brand peanut butter was $4.29. Two jars of Jiff went on our shelf that week.  The average cost of ketchup at present is $1/12 ounces.  If I see it for less than that price, I'll buy several bottles for the pantry stock.  A good sale/coupon combo price on bottles of mustard right now is about $.66 a bottle.  If I see it for less, I'm stocking up.

#2.  Buy at the lowest price available.  I learned this while working in central supply at a nursing home.  It was a given that we were going to use  certain items over and over again regardless of the special needs of patients.  Things like Ensure, Depends, syringes, etc that were used on a daily basis for most of the general population.    If a sale came up that had those items I stocked up, buying enough to carry us until the next sales cycle (it's universal, truly, that sales go in cycles no matter what you're shopping for) rolled around.  Initially, the corporate office thought we were spending too much money, but at the end of the quarter we were spending LESS money than the other nursing homes the same size.  Since they charged for these items at the same rate of markup their profit margin was higher, too.

I am ashamed to admit it took me probably six years after that job to realize  that I could purchase my personal home's foods using the same principles.  I only wish I might have charged my family the same markup and earned a heaping big profit, lol.

#3  Know the average sales cycles of foods.  I'll grant you sales cycles have changed a bit in the 35 years I've been homemaking.  Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter used to generate great sales on baking items, while summer brought on sales on condiments.  Winters you could expect to find roasts and round steaks, short ribs and such on sale, while summers there were better prices on steaks and ground beef and ice cream.

There are still cycles of sales, but it takes a little harder look at sales sheets to know which foods are considered seasonal sales.  The best way to learn is to look over multiple sales sheets (you can access most store ads online now.

Mayonnaise is generally a better buy in summer months, not so much throughout the rest of the year.  I realized this past winter how much less expensive it was to stock up on mayo in summer as compared to the prices throughout the winter months.  You can bet this summer I've watched for sales and mean to have 12-14 jars on hand by end of the season just for the great savings it will net me.

#4.  Don't be too hard and fast about what you will buy.  If you find an item on clearance that you can substitute for one you normally use (tomato sauce vs. pizza sauce for instance) then buy as much as you can reasonably use before the listed expiration date.

I've just used the last jar of pizza sauce I bought last October.  I found the jars of sauce on the clearance rack at Dollar General for something like $.50 each.  I knew I could easily make two large homemade pizzas with each jar (I think they were 12 ounce) and that price was less expensive than el cheapo store brand tomato sauce with my own seasonings added in which I'd been using.  I checked expiration dates (October 2012) and figured how often I'd likely make pizza (about every third week) and bought as many jars as I thought we'd use before they expired.  I think I ended up with 10 jars.    

#5 A monthly budget should allow room for stocking up and impulse buys.
  I learned this one the hard way...I have a set number of dollars to spend each month. I think it's very reasonable to plan to spend at least 10% of the monthly budget on stocking up and higher if you can afford it and set a dollar limit on impulse items.  I personally average about 15% per pay period for stocking up and no more than $10 for impulse buys (which sometimes is also used for stocking up). 

#6 Ask two simple questions:  Can I make it myself cheaper?   I happen to like pancake mix from a box.  I've finally pinpointed why: it's a little sweeter than most recipes for pancakes   This week pancake mix was on sale for $2/box which is a good price and in the past I've picked up at least 2 boxes each time it was on sale.  BUT for $2.59 I can buy 5 pounds of flour and for another $2.59 a 4 pound bag of sugar at Aldi.  I can make a LOT of pancakes for $4 and have flour and sugar leftover to make breads, muffins, cakes,cookies, etc.  I like the pancake mix because I can just add water which is handy for those times when I may be out of eggs and milk.  I'll likely continue to keep a box on hand but I won't stock two-four boxes as I have in the past.

 A few months ago I  purchased a dozen jars of Ragu spaghetti sauce at Publix.  It was buy one get one free, and I had coupons for $1 off two, which meant I was paying about $1 a jar for spaghetti sauce.  I bought a variety: traditional, three cheese, chunky garden vegetable and again I made sure we'd be likely to use them all before they expired (sometime in 2013, I have three left).  Can I make homemade spaghetti sauce for $1 a quart (more or less)?  Not buying raw ingredients I can't.  If I had a garden I'd still need to purchase certain things (like onions and tomato sauce) in order to make the sauce and so I'd be hard pressed to keep my costs as low as the Ragu came in.

 Question 2:  WILL I make it?  In the case of pancakes or cookies, I can safely answer "Yes, I will."  For a few other items the answer might be "No," because it's a degree of difficulty I haven't yet mastered, or because it's labor intensive and the end result not noticeably better than store bought.

#7  Know what you will USE.  I've fallen victim a time or two to purchasing an item in bulk because it was a great buy...only to end up tossing half of it in the trash.  If you cannot possibly eat six (or even three) heads of romaine before it will need to be tossed, then don't buy it.  If  your family don't really like pork and beans but you see a case for $.25/can, pass it up.  If you don't understand the idea that food tossed out is money in the trash, look at it this way.  It's better to have four cans of green beans at $1 each that your family will eat on the pantry shelf than a dozen cans of something you bought for $4 they won't.

On the other hand, I grossly underestimated how much mayo we use and so ran out about February.  It was quite a shock to have to pay full price for something I'd been buying for $2.25 a jar.

#8 Don't get tunnel vision.  The dollar store, the drugstore, a grocery, warehouse store, Target (we don't have a super Target) etc all have great sales on items at one time or another.  My last toilet paper purchase was made at Target when they had an awesome sale.  I bought a 36 roll pack of a name brand paper double roll for $16 including tax.  That's $.44/roll which is a good buy. I mentioned my pizza sauce purchase at the dollar store.  For about two years, I  stocked up on coffee at the drugstores in my area which had the best sales. 

#9 Check the expiration date.  I cannot repeat this often enough, check the expiration date.  If you have some stock of an item at home, and you know you plan to purchase more, know the expiration date of what you have at home first!  Recently I found a good sale on Mayonnaise (sale/coupon combo) which I took advantage of, buying four jars.  I checked the expiration date on the jars in the store before I purchased them.  The newer jars had the same expiration date as the jars I had at home (March 2013) which limited how many I would buy.  I decided I'd wait until I found jars with an expiration date beyond March 2013 to stock. If they had expired in October 2013, I'd have bought a dozen jars.

#10 Go for items meant for long term storage over short term.  Here's where you need to know two things: how often do you use any product and what is the expected life of the item?  I do not find it viable to stock up too heavily upon batteries, bread, soda or beef or chicken as a rule.  I might have several weeks worth in the house, but rarely do I have several months worth.  These things tend to expire long before I can use them up.  On the other hand, canned goods, light bulbs, whole turkeys, personal care items (but not gel type deodorants, they tend to solidify) have a longer storage life.  They are well worth stocking
up on and keeping a rotating stock on hand.  A frozen whole turkey is good for up to a year in the freezer.  Most meat cuts have a limited life of about 3-6 months at most in the freezer before losing a degree of taste and texture and overall quality.  Know this when you shop to help determine what is worth stocking more heavily. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For the Purpose of Clarification

Arden asked a very good question this past week when I posted my intent to return to more frequent postings on thrift.  Here's her comment:
Something you said stuck out a bit. You said the home is paid for but it is still taking all of a full time income to make it. That seems high to me. We have one income also but we have a large family to provide for (8 children, 2 adults), numerous pets, 2 cars, etc. Plus a dh that commutes almost an hour each way so our gasoline prices are almost equal to our food budget. My dh makes an average salary for our area but our family size is far from average. If it were just the two of us and no mortgage, I would think money wouldn't be a huge issue.

I did reply to this via email, but am not sure that when I reply in that manner you all get my retorts.  And I thought it well to address this.

It is true that our home is paid off.  Why is it still taking a full time income to make ends meet?

My husband works as a paramedic in a small rural county.   He loves his work and he likes working where he does.  He and I have discussed his job many times.  Larger, less rural counties have a far better rate of pay overall than the county where John works but he likes where he is and what he's doing.  I could harp and whine and nag at him until he changed jobs but if he's not happy, what have I achieved?  I've worked in jobs I hated and in jobs I liked very well (homemaking...hello?) and who am I to demand that he be unhappy and bring in more?

He works at a tough profession.  The rate of suicide and burn out in his field is very high.  If he LIKES where he works despite the stuff he has to see and deal with on a daily basis, then I have no problem with it whatsoever.  That said, it is also my determination that he not work a lot of extra hours to make up for what he might get paid elsewhere.  Number 1: he's putting in a 7 day week of 12 hour shifts already with a week off in between shifts.  WHY ask him to work more than that?  At his own insistence he usually manages 1-2 days of extra work during those off weeks.  In the past, between his worship leadership and overtime, I felt he put in quite enough hours.  The worship leadership position was  a part time job in hours alone!

Here's how our budget/paychecks break down:

First we tithe. We don't consider that a payment or a bill.  It's what the Bible says do and it's what we do. We tithe on the gross amount of each check.  The government may take first lick at the with-holdings but we want God to know that we honor Him. We consider the gross amount the amount to tithe from to show that honor.

When we paid off our home, we automatically channeled that money into savings.  We didn't have a huge house payment but it was about 1/4 of our income.  We don't even count that money into our budget.  It is SAVINGS and while we use savings occasionally for things like major repairs or major upkeep issues we tend to forget about it.

We set aside about 15% of our pay each pay period in various categories that we use for annual bills, routine maintenance on the house, car, gifts for the grandchildren, annual renewal fees, taxes, tags.  In the long run this means that we are less likely to dip into savings to cover these things.  In essence it's an immediately accessible form of savings.  When the need arises, we write a check and we're done, no transfers necessary except to alter the balance of the appropriate sub-account. These three items: tithe, savings, and sub-accounts are not touched or even considered as part of the general account.  That said, we don't pay the sub-accounts until our bills are paid.  Then we budget groceries and gasoline from what remains.

Now I've accounted for  50% or so of our income.  That we live on  half of what John makes is a wonder to me.  We are paying off a loan we took from ourselves at a fairly aggressive rate (double and sometimes triple payments) when we bought our last car.  We have cell phones (John considers mine as a safety thing and uses his for work and no the county does not reimburse it ) and cable and internet.  We could live without all of those things as they are not necessities but nice to have.  I find that my children are far more prone to call or email me than otherwise, so I could almost move cell phone and internet over to the necessity part.  In our area we'll not pay less than we're paying now for our internet and that's fact.  Cell phones...well...we'll see what we do in the future when this contract has run its course.  As for cable that is under discussion.  We're locked into a contract that is more pricey to get out of than to stay in at present and football season approaches.  This is a BIG deal in my home for my husband and worth the current cable bill until we determine how we might manage otherwise.

Which leaves us with enough money to cover groceries, electricity, gasoline, and propane (winter use).  It has been my habit to pay for my own clothing with Christmas and Birthday monies or allowance and the occasional gift from John (usually money to buy some needed item).  I also tend to buy decorative things for the house with these monies and to pay for a 3 or 4 night off season stay at the beach. I  save all of my $1bills for the same and John usually matches my savings with his savings to help make the vacation each year.

John so seldom wants or needs new clothing that we tend to buy his from the general checking account as needed.   His uniforms are supplied by his job and that has included boots in the past, but may no longer.  He usually buys pricey items like boots from his birthday and Christmas gift monies and allowance and that's also where he gets his music equipment needs/wants as well.

We've never had an entertainment fund.  It's only in the past year that we've occasionally had a bit extra left at the end of the month and we've chosen to earmark it as entertainment, which is why we now eat out a little more often than we did in the past.  

Now that's how it all divvies out.  There are times when we might well reduce a sub-account amount or grocery budget or watch the gasoline usage harder than usual if we have several pay periods that are tight.  We tend to be frugal and careful with our money but we're by no means broke or in dire need.  My biggest concern at present is merely that we've trimmed and cut and trimmed back on groceries and gasoline and we're getting less and less for the same amount of money spent.  I see what I have in the pantry and freezer is less than in the past and   I figured if we're feeling the pinch in our fairly easy budget then others probably  are, too. 

John has generously assured me that I am to go without nothing in the grocery department and to not be so concerned over the budget, but I do because keeping to a budget there means no reduction necessary in our savings.  If he can see savings grow, even by inches, at least he has some sense of financial serenity.  Occasionally we lose sight of how well we do on our income and complain but usually one of us is ready with all the blessings we have and remind ourselves that we are by no means broke, just temporarily strapped.

I am amused however to note that John's current income, while low, is still about what we were making 20 years ago with BOTH of us working, lol!  Five kids, a mortgage, a car payment and a few other debts often left us weeping at the end of Harvest night.  Thankfully those days are behind us but the experiences we gained will live with us forever I think.  We do not take lightly the responsibility of paying our own way, living debt free and being determined to not burden our children as our retirement years come nearer.

The one thing that stands out when looking at your plans is the frequent desserts. If you are trying to stretch foods and budget, cutting out the unhealthy stuff definitely comes to mind

I grew up in a day and time and region where 'a little something sweet' after the main meal was a given. We usually do have that 'little something' most days though not necessarily a rich heavy dessert. Sometimes it's as simple as a single square of dark chocolate with our coffee.  I often include an idea for desserts in a week of menu's but that's not to say we always eat those items.  Just as I often use the menu plan more as an idea jumping off spot and then use ingredients in the same plan in different ways, so too with the desserts.

This week we had one serving of pecan pie left after Sunday's dinner.  We had that Tuesday after our meal.  Mama sent home 1/4 of an 8" cake with me yesterday which served us two days.  Will I make dessert this week?  Likely not.  That said, I do still have a number of plums in the fridge (and some cherries) that are not being eaten otherwise.  Dessert is often a good way to 'dispose' of fruit that might otherwise go to waste, tempting diners to eat what was formerly seen as unpalatable or of which they had grown tired.  I'd rather EAT the food we buy than toss it in the trash.  In my body it has the opportunity to do some good.  In the trash?  Well I might as well just toss the cash in behind it...at least that is the way I see it.

I also want to say this:  How we snack/eat dessert/etc could easily become a debatable thing.  We all make choices in where and how we spend our grocery budget. I try to make it a point to buy good fresh seasonal foods, lean meats and very little processed "stuff".  Do we buy 'junk foods'?  Oh yes.  We buy soda and often a bag of chips per pay period and John is fond of the fig bars from Aldi.  I purchase good old fashioned graham and saltine crackers which I consider basic snack items.  I buy a good natural ice cream but a half gallon(if there is such a thing anymore, lol)  typically lasts us a month.  I often keep cookies in the cookie jar, albeit homemade, but usually only bake cookies twice a month if that often.

Unhealthy?  If eaten as a steady diet with no real food intake you are soooo right.  Eaten in moderation , not so much.  I'm pretty hardcore about portion sizes and I've no trouble whatsoever putting away or even banning a food that triggers a frenzy of munching.  That's why you'll almost never find certain items in my home and often in very very limited quantity if they are brought home.  Years of compulsive eating, binging and purging have left their mark on my psyche.  I tend to cut trigger foods a wide swath for that reason alone, we won't even mention the expense of giving in to a binge!  

I had two or three comments on this thread and Anonymous was the only way to identify readers.  I do ask if in future any of you leave a comment and don't have a blogger or google id that you include your name in the comment so that I might address you personally.  I think some felt this comment was a criticism and given the 'Anonymous' signature it can seem a bit like a pot shot.  I choose not to see it as being an aggressive criticism but simply as a reader remarking on what I've written.

Also, most comments are sent to my email address.  I sometimes reply to a question (I can't to Anonymous but do to those who have a user name) via my email but I do not know if the recipient ever receives those replies.  In future I'll try to address them on the blog to insure that you know I do read (and reply!) to the comments.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weekly Menu: Stretching Meals

When we didn't visit the meat market this past week but chose to visit another Butcher shop instead, I was a bit wary.  I didn't find the prices the best nor the state of the meat either but opted to buy a sirloin steak and four cryopacked ground beef packages.  John was a bit concerned that wouldn't be enough meat but I reminded him that we had chicken breasts and chickens in the freezer at home.  Considering how our meals have gone lately, there was little reason to worry we wouldn't have enough meat for the pay period, indeed for a month!  That's one advantage to being aware of what you have on hand and how to introduce it as a new meal if you happen to have leftovers.  I think I'll re-introduce the Leftover Makeover feature I'd begun on Penny Ann Poundwise a couple of years ago.  It is, truly, a huge help in knowing how to make your meals go a bit further without spending a great deal more money.  I'll start with yesterday's meal.

Sunday:  Grilled Burgers and Hot dogs, Baked Beans, Chips, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and Pecan Pie
I made up two packets of hamburger into burgers yesterday.  We thought we might have more guests for dinner.  As it happened, Mama came by after dinner and so we had a few leftovers.  Kate took a burger home with her.  John had one for supper last night.  I have a very few leftovers now, just enough for a single meal.  John used two hot dogs this morning in an omelet he prepared for our breakfast as well as the remaining onions.

Monday:  Ravioli Lasagna, Salad, French 'Buns'
I made a crock pot of lasagna this morning. I  used cheese ravioli, cottage cheese and mozzarella, along with a jar of chunky vegetable sauce from the pantry.  There were enough leftovers to make up a casserole dish for freezer.  That's one of my 'secret' leftover uses.  Put it in a dish, freeze it and use as a convenience meal later. Just thaw and reheat.  I do recommend keeping track of ready prepared foods on a separate list of freezer items.  

Tuesday:  Grilled Steak, Scalloped potatoes, Three Bean Salad
We cooked the steak yesterday on the grill, since the coals were hot.  I plan to cook potatoes in the crock pot.  A friend lines her crock with aluminum foil and sprays with non-stick spray for messy things like this dish.  I'll follow her lead.  If you use heavy duty foil you can form TWO containers and cook a second item in the crock pot as well.  I mean to do just that with a can of beans, chopped leftover hamburger and hotdogs.

Wednesday:  Bean Pot Bake, Coleslaw, Corn Muffins, Plum Tart
The baked bean dish I cooked in the crock pot yesterday will reheat in the microwave (or oven as I bake muffins).
Thursday:  Lemon Roasted Chicken, Pan Roasted New Potatoes, Green Peas with creamy herb butter
I do occasionally cook my roasted chicken in the crock pot...and if it is to be hot Thursday, I shall use it to cook the chicken.  I stuff my chicken with lemon halves, onion and rosemary as a rule.  I noticed that the Pioneer Woman has a similar recipe up today and she smooths butter over the skin of the chicken.  It looked wonderfully brown.  I don't expect I'll use my butter for an everyday  chicken dinner, but I might be tempted for a Sunday dinner perhaps.

Friday:  Chicken and Broccoli Pot Pie,  Mashed Potatoes, Peach Salad
I had a lovely pot pie recipe years ago that called for ham and broccoli in a light lemon sauce.  It was delicious but when we stopped eating ham years ago, I never used the recipe again.  I've thought of it often and this evening as I typed out the Lemon Roasted Chicken menu it occurred to me that I might substitute chicken for the ham and it do nicely, too, since lemon is such a great accompaniment to broccoli or chicken either one.  I'm looking forward to attempting this old favorite recipe once again.

Saturday:  Corn and Black Bean Enchiladas, Salad, Molten Lava Cakes 
I have one last pan of the enchiladas in the freezer.  I put a sauce with green chilies on the last batch and John thought they were too 'warm'.  I'll use a cheese sauce on these which should be a better choice I think.  It shall easily be heated up if we choose to go to synagogue.  I'll make the molten lava cake batter and the salad on Friday.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

And Now for a Public Service Announcement

                                  An optimistic couple looking over their ration book.

A bit over a year ago I dropped the Penny Ann Poundwise persona.  I did so for very good reasons and I still think they are good reasons.  I also dropped a great many of the thrifty postings I'd been drumming out for twelve years.  I enjoyed the break from it and liked being able to focus on other things. I still do.  However, of late, you've seen more of my thrifty postings.

There's a reason for this.  More and more, I've had reason to polish up some of the old frugal skills I'd let drop.  I guess about everyone has been doing what I've been doing,  digging back down to past experiences, checking out blogs where money savings are the focus and looking for any new ideas I might not have known before in order to make money flow a bit better in our household.

It's no secret that over the past five years we've decreased our household by 50%.  Our grocery budget hasn't.  In fact, were it not for returning to my frugal roots I'm not sure we'd be anywhere near our 'normal' (that's all I know to call it since it hasn't dropped!) level of spending either.  I'm pretty sure we'd be paying half again as much as we did 5 years ago.

Did you know that when 'cost of living' is figured the government does not include food or clothing and such mundane things?  Seriously.  That's why they might say the cost of living is up 3% but you feel like you're getting far, far less for the same amount of money.  In actuality the cost of goods has risen 40% over the past 3 years.  40%.  It's that extra 37% rise that is making you feel like you've been sliding backwards down a hill you'd struggled hard to go up! Next year, the year following at latest, we'll all see a tax increase.  It's a fact.  It's going to happen.  It's estimated that the average tax payer will see a $1600 annual increase in taxes.  And that's just federal taxes.  Our county has just increased our taxation by another 1% on purchases which puts us somewhere near the same level as larger metro areas.  For a poor rural county that 1% means we're that much further away from making ends meet.  There's the current drought across the mid-west and subsequent loss of crops to consider bringing in further price increases on goods.  There's a lot of talk from small businesses about increased prices to customers to cover government ordered health care costs.  I sincerely believe that we're going to see our current level of living decreased still further.

Just this past week, I had a short grocery list, far shorter than usual.  I walked out of the stores we visited with half the items on my list.  For the first time in 20 years I did not buy a single can of soda.  Not one.  That has never happened, EVER.  While John long ago agreed to limit his soda to 1 a day, this is the first time in memory that I've not put at least 1 12 pack or 8pack in the buggy. I simply didn't think I had the extra cash to spare this week in light of other needs we'd meant to cover and I did have a small stock at home.  I haven't bought cut flowers for my home in six months.   Mind you, I've never before let short funds stop me, but I realized after coming back home that things are getting pretty tense on the home-front when I decide that we can make do for two weeks without purchasing any soda at all and that a $4 bunch of flowers I took for granted every other week is a rare occasion item now. Even with my decreasing the list and forgoing the much wanted flowers, we were $16 over our budgeted amount when we finished shopping that day.

While I do not want the main number one focus of this blog to be solely frugal living, cost cutting, money saving methods, expect to see a bit more of that here these days.  John and I are nearing retirement age.  We don't have much of a retirement fund built up.   Ten years ago we truly expected at this point for John to be able to retire with perhaps a part time job to keep us afloat.  That isn't happening in today's economy.

We aren't crying the blues.  We're blessed that our home is paid for and we're free of debt.  That said, it takes what he makes full time to keep us going with a bit leftover for savings.  Not enough savings to make a dint in a retirement fund but enough to at least make us feel if we keep pedaling really hard we might at least stay afloat if we aim for a later retirement date.  My part of the pedaling hard is to make sure that the household runs as efficiently and thriftily as possible, hence my greater focus these days on being ever more frugal.

I know it isn't just us.  Many people I've spoken with or with whom I share on a daily basis are doing the same.  I'm not blaming this president or the last.  I am saying that the economy is not recovering and we might all just be prepared and improve our skills once more.  One historical economist said we could expect to be in this recession/depression for another ten years. Funny isn't it how these things come in cycles?  In my short life as a homemaker I've weathered the recession of the late '70s and early '80s.  I weathered a major life event that rocked my financial world down to rock bottom and had to start over again. Twenty years ago when we were starting out as a married couple with a previously acquired family I brushed off my frugal ninja skills because we were starting over from scratch and it took every penny we had to do it.  Then we hit a spell where we began to pay off debts and build up a savings account and we could ease up and just be regular thrifty folks.  And now, I'm dealing with another recession which appears to be every bit as dramatic as the first great depression in proportion.  I've found over the past three years that I'm easing back into frugal ninja skills.  It seems as though every single month I'm adding back in an old habit that I'd dropped in the days of ease. 

I'm an optimist for the most part.  If we experience a sudden great turn around and everything comes up like roses in four years I'll shout hurrah with everyone else.  But in the mean time, I believe I'll just err on the side of caution and trim and tuck and cut back.   Practice makes perfect and I think I'm going to need these skills and more besides.  I don't mind if you don't agree.  I'm not going to argue the point.  I'm telling you what I'm seeing with my own eyes.  I've reduced what we purchase by over 50% in the past two years and I'm paying more for less.  I'm hearing this same story over and over again from others. I think we should all take heed and be more cautious.

I'm happy to share my experience, my trial runs, my new discoveries if it helps you run your household in a way that makes ends meet.  I'll cross post to Penny Ann Poundwise blog on Xanga and Thrifty Homemaker here on blogger too in an effort to reach more people than this blog alone might reach. Maybe I won't BE PennyAnnPoundwise ever again, but the frugal skills that brought about that inspiration in the first place are certainly going to come in handy once more.