Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekly Meal Plan

I have been so happy to spend so much of my time at home this week.  I've accomplished something every day except Wednesday when I was out with Mama and that was just sheer 'I don't wanna', because I had plenty of energy and time to have done anything I wanted.  January to me is the perfect month to declutter and re-organize and re-think what isn't working.  So far I've cleaned out more stuff than I thought possible, considering I pretty much have de-cluttered twice a year at least.  I'm not a pack rat, but...well, things do accumulate and now and then it's good to see what you have, discover what you'd forgotten, think about what you own and what you're letting own you, etc.

I can't say I'm anywhere near done, because I've only done a bit here and bit there, not even finished one entire room yet (scarey thought!) but I can say that what has left the house hasn't hurt my feelings one little bit.  I look forward to continuing this project until I've been through every room in the house. 

I've been  more on target with my menu this week.  I think because I really thought about what I'd like to eat this past week.  I didn't take into account exactly how much some of these meals make, for all that they were low on meat.  There was enough Sweet and Sour Chicken for John to have a portion for his dinner on Wednesday.  I still have rice left (it's very good stirred into pancake or muffin batter by the way).  Then the Shepherd's Pie we had today for dinner is definitely going to serve us again.  Instead of making Chicken Gnocchi Soup, I made Spaghetti Diable with the second chicken breast and half that went into the freezer for a future convenience meal.  There's enough Cheeseburger Soup for another meal despite my eating it for supper.  Amazing, truly, how food can stretch!

And that leaves me with three meals I never made in any shape or form.  It's like money in the bank!  I won't boast too hard.  I'm having buyer's remorse over that huge head of cauliflower I purchased last grocery shop and haven't used a morsel of yet.  Sigh.

Here's the plan for this week.  You'll note I start out with a proper 'meat' meal.  I've noticed we go along fine for about six days without a meal that focuses on the meat and then we start snacking a lot, trying to fill that craving for Bvitamins, iron and protein.

Fried Chicken, Potato Salad, Black Eyed Peas with Tomato Jam, Biscuits and Gravy
I never did make biscuits this past week...well I didn't make them but I did buy the canned biscuits John enjoys.  I like a good homemade biscuit myself and plan to make them this week.  I'll double the recipe and put a pan or two of unbaked biscuits in the freezer for future meals.

This menu is feeding my "I'm Southern and I want MY food" craving, the sort of meal I grew up eating.  Mama always served her potato salad warm and that's the way I like it.  Leftovers go in the fridge and John considers that a treat.  No competition from me on that score, I am loathe to eat cold potato salad!

I'll cook a few extra potatoes when I'm boiling them for the salad.

Roast Beef Hash, Garden Peas with herb butter, Coleslaw
I discovered a portion of roast beef in the freezer, which should be just enough for two if made into hash with the extra potatoes I cooked.  If there are any leftover biscuits I'll add those to the menu as well.

Chili Dogs, Sweet Potato Fries, Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad
Our favorite brand of hot dogs are on sale this week and I couldn't be more pleased.  They are pricey and only come 7 to a package but we get two meals off a packet.  John found a deal on canned chili (a good brand) at the grocery a couple of weeks ago and we bought several cans.  I prefer canned chili on my hot dog...The leftovers of the can will make a supper of nachos or Mexican pizza one night for us.

Mock Filet Mignons, Cauliflower Au Gratin, Tossed Salad with homemade croutons
 One of the meals I didn't get to make this past week was the mock filet mignons.  I think the cauliflower will be a good accompaniment. If I find, as I suspect I will, that there's still going to bea lot of leftover cauliflower, I'll blanch and freeze.  I can always use it later that way.

Chicken Tostados, Corn with cumin butter, Avocado slices
One chicken breast will stretch nicely to serve two.  If you need to serve more, you could spread refried beans on the tostado.  I've got a half cup of leftover kidney beans I'll mash and toss into the meat as it simmers in the taco sauce which isn't quite going to stretch the meat but will help add to the proteins in the meal.

Chicken Curry with Cauliflower, Rice Pilaf, Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Pita bread
Some of the cauliflower can most certainly go in with my chicken dish.  The pilaf is just plain white rice with add-ins like a bit of green onion, coconut, raisins and sliced almonds.  It's a nice side for curry dishes.

Leftovers Day
This week taught me that we will have leftovers of something from most meals, even though I've gotten very good at reducing recipes.  The main culprits are those 'meat stretcher' meals which serve far more than two.  I don't have a meatless meal this week but with a leftover day, that's a huge savings right there.  However, if I change my mind we could do a meatless meal of bean soup, mac and cheese, etc.

That's my menu plan for this week.  What's yours?

Are Coupons Worth It?

I had a question from Karla this week:    

I notice from your menu plan that most of the foods you prepare/cook/plan are not processed foods (which is very helpfully inspiring). What percentage of coupons do you say you actually use from the paper since so much of it is processed foods? That's the only reason I stopped getting the paper but I'm thinking of signing back up for it to use the savings. 

You're perfectly right that we eat more whole foods/basics than we do processed.  That's because I like knowing how to pronounce the majority of what I eat, prefer to control our sodium and sugar (I'd rather have a handful of homemade cookies or a handful of chips than sugar/salt I hadn't planned to eat).  But make no mistake there are many ways to save with coupons besides food, like those other things that tend to get lumped into our grocery budget (pet food, cleaning, paper products, personal care items, etc.).

I confess that my current interest in coupons is three-fold: #1. I'm inspired by "Extreme Couponers" even though I don't think I'll ever have the stockpile that some of those folks have.  I just can't imagine it.  I do understand that many of these ladies also provide for shelters and foodbanks in their areas or send care packages to soldiers, but I just don't believe I see a need in my life for dental cream when I don't have dentures, etc.  I can't fathom the number of products they buy...BUT I learn a few things every time I watch that program.

I loved the rotation system a homeschooling mom of seven had in place.  It gave me ideas for a smaller scale system in my own pantry.  Two of the couponers I watched recently both bought a product with both a manufacturer's coupon and a full rebate offer, which meant they were being PAID to buy that product.  That money was used to purchase meat in one case and in the other, the couple reapplied the saved money to their grocery budget.

#2.  Most all of these folks have a STRICT budget that is far less than my own, but they have built their stockpiles from that budget.  Nearly all of them spent 50-75% less than I spend.  I could so use an extra bit of money each month!  I have worked hard to get my budget to the place it is now, but I would love to see it go lower still.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I would write out a check to pay for my groceries when the teller told me the total, then I'd hand over my coupons and get 'cash' for the coupons.  This was an accepted practice as they knew they were getting their money, but it's now frowned upon.  At that time I'd take the cash and put into our vacation fund.  Now I'd like to do that again, but I'll have to 'pay myself'.  And it won't go into the vacation fund, but the repayment of our car loan.  True some weeks it might hardly seem worthwhile if I save only a dollar but  I learned with eBay that those $1 and $3 amounts add up each month.  I just have to be BELOW my usual budget for those amounts to truly be a savings.  I can't spend the same amount AFTER coupons or more than usual and say I had savings, if you see what I mean.

#3  One girl said she NEVER paid out of pocket to buy shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, laundry detergent, etc.  And she was strict about not buying it if she had to pay for it!  The truth is, she's not doing anything I haven't done at times in the past.  I may not have 50 coupons for the product but almost every single week there are sales on some personal care/cleaning product that I use for which I have a coupon.  I find these sales are generally best at CVS with the extra cash bucks program. I got $35 worth of products FREE Christmas Eve.  Mostly personal care items which we are still using.  Because I also used coupons on those ECB offers and had some ECBs to redeem I stocked up on John's favorite candy.  It cost me NOTHING.  Chocolate for FREE!

Which coupons do I clip from magazines/papers?  Every single one that I even remotely think I might use, even if I normally don't purchase that product because I am only brand loyal in a few areas.  Otherwise I'm open game.  I won't buy more than one of a product I've never tried even if they are free, but if I've tried it and liked it I'll certainly happily buy all I have coupons for at the time.  And yes, even those preservative ridden coupons get clipped too, but I confess I seldom will use them.

I recall we once picked up about ten of those Hormel shelf stable meals that we found on sale when I had a plethora of coupons for them.  We gave them to our son who was working part time at that time, while attending college and his roommate had just lost his job.  They were very happy to have those meals and we were happy to be able to help out.  I've often let my kids come in to 'shop' my extras when they were in a tough patch.

When Katie married she took a stockpile of groceries with her to her new home, all bought with sales/coupons.  All she had to purchase was fresh meat and produce for her first grocery trip.  She called me after to tell me she'd wandered the aisles and looked at prices and was astonished that I'd been able to be so generous with her.  I had to point out the power of shopping with coupons and sales was the reason she had such full shelves at home.

Our paper costs $1.50 to $2 depending on where it's purchased.  If I get only three coupons out of it and use them,  I've recovered my costs.  I usually get far more, but the percentage is hard for me to figure.  I sometimes use only one or two coupons in a shopping trip and other weeks I might use twenty or so.

So yes, I think coupons are worthwhile and the purchase of a magazine such as ALL YOU or the Sunday paper (and in some cities, such as our own paper,  the Wednesday edition, too) for coupons.  You can also print off coupons from online sites BUT don't print them until you see the sales.  It's not worthwhile if you waste ink printing and then don't use unless you have a super efficient printer.

I am excited to see how coupons help me in this 'Year of Savings' and in accomplishing that goal of paying down that car loan!

* I wrote this last night.  Today I had a chance to shop earlier than usual for my weekly groceries, taking advantage of some good sales at Publix.  One of the purchases was deodorant for John.  I bought 4 and paid just $.55 each for them.  I won't have to buy deodorant for him for a number of months now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Year of Savings: 2013

January 8:  Pancakes from scratch are easy peasy to make.  I do keep pancake mix on hand (nice to have for those emergency mornings when I have no milk or eggs) but for the most part I make them myself.  I freeze extras for other mornings when time and hunger command a super fast breakfast.  I can  microwave or toast as I choose.  A box of frozen pancakes costs about $2.50 on sale.  From scratch pancakes cost less than $.75 to make.  That's a savings of $1.25.  And note that $.75 price nets us TWO meals.

January 9:  I really don't remember doing it but I did and I'm glad, because my husband decided it proved how very smart I am.  What did I do?  Last spring we had to replace the tires on the Honda.  John was working at the time and I was alone when the purchase was made.  Apparently I opted to purchase a warranty/insurance on the tires.  Normally I wouldn't do any such thing.

Just before my roadtrip I asked John to check air in the tires on my car.  While he was doing so, he went ahead and checked the tires on the Honda as well.  That's when he discovered a four inch slash on one of his tires.

We went to purchase a new tire this week.  And that's when John discovered I'd purchased a warranty.  Yea, me!  The new tire cost us HALF what the old one cost.  And yes, we purchased the same warranty for this new tire.  Savings: $52.00.

January 10:  It pays to ask.  I haven't purchased flowers in quite a long while and I was just longing for some fresh flowers in the house.  I noticed a bevy of tulips at the grocery this week and went over to price the cut bunches.  No price, just a barcode. I asked the florist how much they were and she came over to scan the.  I figured they were about $5.99 and determined I'd get one bunch.  The florist scanned, shook her head, "That cannot be right!" and went to the computer to check. She couldn't get into the system to check the prices, but printed out some labels and they printed out for $1.  I was happy as could be and purchased 3 bunches.  I figure my savings at what I expected to pay for one bunch: $2.99, but I might have figured it for all three bunches at $14.97.

At this particular store, I have a members rewards card, and my purchases totaled (not including my flowers), $119.  I paid $82.  That's a savings of $37 at that particular store where I purchased lost leaders and sales items only.

January 11:  I don't know why it is so, but nine times out of ten, our internet will go out on a Friday afternoon.  The last three times we've been told it's the same problem: ethernet cable.  I figured it was the same thing this time and knew we didn't have any spare cables.   I decided to call the free tech support service and yep, it was determined the cable was at fault.   Surprisingly enough, however, the cable began working again ...I suspect it was an outage, but I'll play along and pretend it was my cable.  Savings:  $10.

January 12:  I really wanted pesto dressing with my salad today.  During the last 'Italian' week at Aldi, I purchased basil pesto in 12 ounce jar.  Too much pesto for me to use up at once.  I froze it in ice cube trays and then packed the cubes into a jar.  I had Italian dressing, I had pesto.  I used about a teaspoon of the pesto to about 1 tbsp of the Italian dressing.  Presto! pesto dressing for one!  That little jar of pesto wasn't expensive, under $2 but the method of freezing and using means I get to use it all.  NOT tossing out pesto saves me $1.50 let's say, since I used only a small portion before freezing.  Making my OWN pesto dressing using what I have saves me another $2.50 over the cost of a bottle of dressing that likely won't get eaten either.

January 13:  We went to do a bit of shopping.  We made out a list before we left home.  John surprised me and headed away from our more usual shopping area and we went to Macon.  We were in the same shopping center as the place where I buy my bras.  I always check whenever I'm there for any in my favorite style that are my size.  No luck today at all.  However, I'm not upset.  I've been following Rhonda's recommendations to handwash only and make sure to rotate when wearing, so no bra is worn two days in a row.  I've got five bras in rotation at the moment, the oldest of which is almost 18 months old and still going strong. 

My last purchases were made in June of this past year.  I learned a little further info about bras last year that has also helped extend the life.  When you purchase a bra, always start on the first set of hooks.  That's where it should fit you the best for your size.   Adjust the straps so that they are comfortable and don't slip.  You shouldn't need to adjust the straps ever again.  As the bra ages, the straps will start to slip down off your shoulders.  Instead of adjusting the straps (which seems the most logical thing, but truly is counterproductive), adjust the bandwidth by moving to the second set of hooks.  No more slipping straps.  When they begin to slip again, move to the third set of hooks.  It's when you're on that third set of hooks and the straps begin  to slip that you should toss the bra and buy a new one to replace it.

I thought purchasing a more expensive bra would be more costly in the end. The price of the bras I like best are $26.50 each.  I do find them on sale buy one get one half price, which lowers the cost.  Caring for them properly and adjusting the band as needed means I can wear my bra about two years or so before they must be replaced.  I've actually reduced my costs buying the better bras!

I save, on average, about $26.50 a year (the cost of two GOOD bras per year) purchasing bras over the cost of the el cheapo bras I used to wear ($13 each every six months or so).  The back and shoulder pain and pinching and such I used to experience is unheard of now that I buy the right size and know how to adjust them as they age.  That alone is priceless!

Picked up the Sunday paper while we were out today.  Coupons almost always offset the cost of the paper.  John thoroughly enjoyed hours of entertainment with this week's crossword puzzle and I netted enough coupons to buy a Sunday paper for the next two months. Savings: $2 (just counting the cost of the paper which paid for itself).

January 14:  Mama called while I was working away at my decluttering task and offered to bring out lunch and pay a visit.  I had a  meal plan but you know the offer of company and the opportunity to continue working for another half hour or more was very appealing.  I agreed.  We saved a meal, which was pushed to tomorrow's meal plan.  I figure the cost savings to us was about $5, which is nice but the best part was not having to stop work until Mama arrived and not having to clear away dishes, so when she left I could go right back to work. 

Calculated savings: $156.74

Leftover Makeover: Lasagna Rolls

I haven't done a Leftover Makeover post in a while.  This was not my idea, but one I found on Pinterest and in the interest of not just pinning but DOING, I realized this would be a great way to use up a bit of homemade spaghetti sauce.

A few weeks ago, I made spaghetti sauce while John was sick. It was cold and blustery outdoors and he was sick with a cold and what is better than homemade spaghetti, loaded with vitamin C and the good carbs and rich sauce that make a hearty meal?  So while the sauce was simmering, I was pinning...and I saw this pin on a friend's board.  It occurred to me that I had a partial box of lasagna noodles in the cabinet (a leftover from a previous meal) and that I'd definitely have leftover sauce because I always do.

When I boiled my spaghetti for the meal, I let inspiration lead me to a 'savings'.  I laid out the lasagna noodles in a 9 X 13 pan.  When I drained the spaghetti, I set the colander in the pan with the lasagna noodles, removed my colander, covered the pan with a cookie sheet and we had dinner while the lasagna noodles soaked in the water from the spaghetti.

After dinner the lasanga was just soft enough to roll and still al dente enough to freeze and reheat very nicely.  I layered on a bit of cottage cheese.  Here's one of my favorite tricks.  I seldom buy ricotta cheese as I find it too pricey and pretty much a lone ranger ingredient in my home, bound to be leftover and spoil.  I keep cottage cheese on hand nearly all the time because John likes to eat it with fruit, I stir it into mac and cheese, homemade blue cheese dressing, scrambled eggs, etc.  There's always a way to use up cottage cheese in this house!  So I use cottage cheese but to give lasagna the richness that ricotta would lend, I dollop on a wee bit of cream cheese over the cottage cheese, just little pinches of cream cheese.  It's incredibly good!

So lasagna noodle, cottage cheese, smidges of cream cheese, spoonful or two of homemade really thick sauce, and roll up.  Repeat until you run out of lasagna noodles.  I had seven.  Sprinkle the top with a bit of grated mozzarella and parm/romano blend and spoon on any extra sauce but not too much because when you freeze these, then bake they produce their own moisture.

I kept mine covered and baked at 350 for about an hour.  They were mostly frozen (I'd partially thawed in the fridge overnight).

I really liked this idea and that the portion is pretty much measured out for you.  We ate two roll-ups each and that was just right in my opinion.  We'll split leftovers for a second meal sometime this week.  Next time I make these I'll freeze in such a way that I can take out just enough for one meal.

Meals This Week

I felt like such a slackard last week coming up with a menu plan so late...and then we barely even followed it.  I don't think we ate more than one or possibly two of those meals.  Some weeks it is just that way.  This week I've put more time and thought into it and I hope that indeed we do stick to the menu plan.

I didn't get to make my potato soup, but Patsy asked especially if I'd post my recipe.  It's really not a recipe per se, just my tossing things into a pan, but here goes:
Potato Soup:
 Boil four cups diced raw potato in chicken broth to cover until tender.  Salt well.  Add a little minced garlic (1tsp or so), 1/2 cup diced onion (or skip and add in green onions later) to the potatoes while they are cooking.  When potatoes are tender, add 1 can of evaporated milk and four ounces of cream cheese.  Smush and mash potatoes around in the liquid as the cheese melts.  Depending on how thin the mixture is you can add instant potatoes to thicken slightly.  Serve as is or add finely minced green onions, cooked crisp bacon, shredded cheddar, sour cream, etc.  I usually end up with just enough soup for three servings (we eat big bowls and very little sandwich, lol).

Now, that done, let me get busy with this coming week's planned menu.  It's very warm and pleasant here in Georgia at the moment, but supposed to turn off cold once more, so I've planned two soup meals this week ahead.  We'll see how that goes.  If it remains warm we probably won't have soup but once.  I'll figure out an alternate meal using the same ingredients.

My plans are to use no more than 1 1/2 pounds ground beef and 2 chicken breast halves this week.  I'm pretty sure I can manage just fine on that and will likely have leftovers as well, I usually do.

Sweet and Sour Chicken, Fried Rice, Steamed Broccoli, Clementines
1 breast, bell peppers (2 colors) a few bits of carrot, onion and pineapple in homemade sweet sour sauce.  The fried rice may just end up being steamed rice with extra made to make a later meal for fried rice.

Shepherd's Pie, Fruit Cocktail, Biscuits
I don't make the standard shepherd's pie.  This recipe is an old Pillsbury or Betty Crocker mini cookbook recipe and I've made it for year's on end, but lately every time it appears someone refers to it as Shepherd's Pie.  It's a layered casserole: green beans, cooked ground beef with onions and tomato soup, mashed potatoes topped with cheese.  It's tastier than Shepherd's Pie in my opinion and one of MY favorite meals.  I use just 1/2 pound of beef in this dish and it will probably serve four.
I'll make extra biscuits for breakfasts in the week ahead.

Quiche, Sweet Potato Fries, Salad, Ambrosia
I never seem to make quiche when it's on the menu and I finally figured out why: most recipes make an 8 inch pie which is four times too much for us.  I'm going to make a mini quiche, just big enough for two this time and see if that isn't best.  Of course, leftover quiche is good for a lonely supper for one.
Ambrosia on the menu for this day will be made as I zest and then peel and section a bag full of navel oranges for the freezer.  It's my plan to 'harvest'  something in my kitchen that is seasonal every month this year.  This month I've chosen oranges.  I'll buy another bag or two over the next few weeks and freeze them too.  I love ambrosia and the frozen orange segments are so good in the middle of a long hot summer.

Olive Garden Chicken Gnocchi Soup, Parmesan Breadsticks, Salad
The first soup meal planned for this week, a Pinterest recipe.  I hope to use just one chicken breast for this and some of the fresh spinach we bought.  I purchased a dried gnocchi several months ago at Aldi and popped it into the freezer.  I'll use that for this soup.

Mock Filet Mignons, Baked Potatoes, Broccoli-Cauliflower salad, Molten Lava Cakes
This is tentatively planned as my Shabat day meal.  The mock filet mignons are nothing more than broiled ground sirloin patties with bacon wrapped around them. A half pound of meat will net me two nice 'filets'.   I'll bake extra potatoes to use for this week's meatless meal.  The broccoli and cauliflower salad is raw florets mixed with a rich ranch dressing and shredded cheddar cheese.  I won't make a lot of this as it is very rich.

Twice Baked Potatoes, English Peas with Mushrooms in herb butter, Spinach and Apple Salad
The potatoes will be split and scooped out and restuffed with the mashed potato, egg, shredded cheddar and a bit of cooked turkey bacon and green onion for added flavor.  I think this is hearty enough to allow me to skip meat for this day.

Cheeseburger Soup, Tomato and Lettuce Salad, Corn Muffins, Crisp Apples
A new to me recipeAgain, just 1/2 pound of meat is all that is required and I'm sure there will be leftovers.
A second harvest from my kitchen this week if there are still a lot of apples left at week's end.  I'll probably cook this and make homemade applesauce (not sweetened but oh so very sweet and good!) which I can freeze or can as I choose.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013: A Year of Savings


A few years ago, when I was still Penny Ann Poundwise, I spent a full year totting up the savings I made.  I did this for two reasons.  First, I was inspired by a January magazine article that said if I followed every single step I could save $5000 in a year's time.  I discovered that I already DID do everything on their list.  And second, I was doubting my value as a homemaker at the time. I had to see on paper exactly what my being at home meant to our household.  There were some huge savings that year, once in a lifetime type savings, but also lots of little things that I didn't even count as a daily or weekly occurrence but as a one time only thing.  Still, the figure at the end of the year surprised and delighted me and really boosted my confidence in my skills as a homemaker and a frugalite.  I saved  about $27,000 by my skewed figuring back in 2008.

My friend Louise read my final post of the year in 2008 and sent this letter to me.  I'm posting my reply to her  because it illustrates what I think is the true value of saving skill in the home:

Now you got me curious.....Does your bank account really reflect that almost $27,000 saving??? Wouldn't that be awesome?? 

When I quit smoking I had a quit meter that told me how much I was saving by NOT smoking but my pocketbook never showed that. 

Dearest Weezie,
Does my checking or savings balance reflect an additional $27,000?  Sadly, no.  And on the other hand, YES.  You see, our balance amounts remained relatively stable over the past year, without huge drops despite major purchases, vacations and some pretty stiff price increases courtesy gasoline and groceries and electric.   

I realize the most popular theory about savings is that if you don't actually physically put money into an account and increase your balance you can't call it savings  is floating around in that world out there.  But I'm also aware of true facts.

For the 11th year in a row I've been a homemaker.  I 'saved' more money than I've ever earned in a year's time working outside the home.  I've effectively doubled the money we have at our disposal.  We've lived, so to speak, beyond our means, without going into debt, without my going into the workaday world and without relying on government assistance or handouts. The savings added up to a fairly comfortable life on an income that we're repeatedly told time and again is impossible to live upon for ONE much less three.

We are constantly being asked if we have a 'private' income from an unknown source by people who find it necessary to work two or three jobs to support their lifestyles.  Imagine my surprise when a friend recently shared that her college graduate son took his first job.  I asked if he'd then be moving out on his own, and was told firmly that it would be impossible as his job only paid '$X' income that is relatively the same as ours!

However, I'll not take all of the credit for our current mode of living well on little.  Remember also that we tithe faithfully and I truly believe it is the combination of my diligence in trying to find savings in the daily living expenses, and God's faithfulness in supplying our need, that adds up to the comfortable life we have.


What changed after 2009?  Not a lot.  We were three years into our 'no raise' living at that time with two more to go.  Prices rose, we got a little older, our household got a little smaller, we found still more ways to save, we paid off a car loan and acquired another, we were given a car, we began to travel a bit more...we lived, in other words.

So why return to a year of savings?  Have you been listening to the news?  Yeah, me too.  However, I proved once before that  a woman who is savings savvy, willing to change what isn't working, willing to be dedicated to what does work, can stretch income and live well.  I've been doing this for years on end.  I can throw up my hands and quit or I can keep going and prove that one can continue to manage in this economy, too.

So welcome to my version of A Year of Savings, 2013 style.

January 1:   No big party for us, no big dinner day out either.  What did we do?  We ate Chinese stir fry at home.  Savings:  not a lot over the cost of traditional Chinese take out, except we didn't have to drive over and pick it up.  About two gallons of gasoline as a matter of fact, which happens to be about what we paid for our dinner so we broke even.  No added cost is a savings, too, even if it is invisible.

January 2:  My day out with Mama.  I SPENT money this day and I spent a good bit.  How is that 'savings'?  It goes like this: #1 I bought some things for the house that I've been wanting for months.  In fact, two of the items I bought have been on my list of wants for two years.  I bought both at a substantial savings over previous excursions when I priced them at discount stores and websites.  I saved $20 on two sets of flatware and $10 on a set of Corelle dishes.  But  is this savings moot?  Because those two items purchased, while at a substantial savings are being paid for from my personal savings account where I deposit Christmas and birthday gift monies given to me each year.  Out of that account I provide many of my household wants and the majority of my annual clothing expenses.   That's $30 I can use towards my other wants/needs and won't have to hit  up our checking account for personal expenses.  #2  While in the store, I bought dog food.  I noted that it was on sale as I flipped through the Sunday papers.  We've been paying about $13 a bag for this particular food, which was on sale for $10.  I bought four bags for $40, saving $12 (or a bit more than the cost of one bag of food at our usual price).  #3 I also picked up two 36 roll packs of toilet paper that was on sale for the 'best price' mark.  That will last us about six months, which means I can easily wait until it's on sale for the 'best price' before buying more.  I saved $14.40 almost the cost of a $36 roll pack.

January 3:  John's prescription was ready for pick-up at CVS.  I'd received a high value ECB reward for my annual quarterly savings and a $4 coupon savings if I purchased $20 worth of vitamins.  I looked over the sales sheet, noting sales on items we truly needed, noted vitamins were on sale as a b1g1 value and pulled manufacturer's coupons as well.  My total was $88 on all items with a savings of $65 in sales prices (not including the prescription) and then I turned over coupons and ECBs.  I paid $34 out of pocket.  We have about a 3 month supply of vitamins, dish-washing liquid, facial tissues, and shampoo.  I got $153 worth of products for $34. I saved $119.  Know what?  That out of pocket amount wasn't the best I could have done.  I misplaced a high value, $20 off $80 coupon.  I could have walked out with just $14 out of pocket!  Ack...You can bet I'll be a lot more careful of my coupons in the future!

January 4:  Mama gave me an item from her freezer that she'd purchased by mistake: a turkey kielbasa sausage.  No problem for us as we usually buy turkey sausage anyway.  Savings to us at the current price: $3.49

January 5: Gathered the $1 bills from my purse and put them in the vacation folder.  I make a deposit at the end of each month.  I had $5 for vacation savings this week.

January 6:  I didn't go anywhere yesterday nor make any purchases.  That's a great savings.  This day I had to make a long road trip...not a savings but I determined that with a full tank of gasoline and five hours on the road I could at least make sure I didn't spend more than $20.  I only spent $10. Not calling that a savings yet...

January 7:  Trip back home.  If I could manage the trip down on 1/2 tank of gasoline and $10, I figured I could do the same this day as well.  I did even better and came home with $4 in my purse.  All $1bills went into vacation savings.

Total savings for week: $187.89

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Deep Cleaning Routine

Angela wrote after reading my Shiny New Year post:  " Terri, could you please speak about your deep cleaning routine? I would love to eliminate the big seasonal clean. As I get older it is just not doable and I find myself always behind!"  Girl, I so understand!  The reason I broke my cleaning down into a 3 month long routine was to eliminate the seasonal deep clean.  Yes, it's nice to have all the house at once all clean and fresh but it takes too much effort the older you get.  I'd rather have it continually clean, rather than just once every six months or so.  You'll note too that I said I do these tasks every three months.

Daily routines are easy and accomplished in a matter of an hour or so.  I've shared before what my daily routine is.  It consists mainly of the top five: make the bed, clean the floors, wipe down the baths, empty trash, clear the dishes.

I divided my home into four zones (five really but you'll see why I say four in a few moments).  I allot one week (six days of cleaning) to each zone.  The final two or three days of the month are usually allotted to maintenance cleaning/clearing in the shed, so I can keep that in some semblance of order, hence that is my 5th zone).  I have monthly cleaning tasks and quarterly cleaning tasks 

My zones are as follows: #1 entries, laundry, porch, deck, patio
                                      #2 bedrooms, baths (there are only two of each)
                                      #3 living room/dining room
                                      #4 kitchen/breakfast area

 Zone #1 Entries, deck/porch/patio:
               Monthly:        clean glass doors and windows
                                     wipe down railings and woodwork around doors
                                     clear clutter that has accumulated

               Quarterly:  freshen plants, add new ones as needed
                                wash floors/siding
                                 Update door decor
                                 touch up paint  railings/floors/furnishings

Laundry: Monthly:   dust
                               empty the trash (a box where I keep lint,gum wrappers etc found in laundry)
                               inventory paper goods/ cleaning products I keep stored in that area

             Quarterly:  clean washer and dryer (vinegar rinse/scrub agitator, wipe down inside dryer)
                              move machines to sweep and mop under
                              wash curtains in doorway

Zone #2  Beds and Baths

               Monthly:  wash mattress pad/ vacuum mattress
                               dust furniture and ceiling fan
                               put away clutter
                               straighten closet
                               vacuum perimeter of carpet (that area where the vacuum doesn't get next to the wall)

              Quarterly:  lip mattress (marked by quarters so I know if it needs to go up/down or side/side)
                               vacuum under furniture
                               clean mini blinds
                               wash curtains
                                freshen/change seasonal look
                                go through clothes and make mend/house/discard piles
                                straighten drawers of dressers
                                dust walls
                Monthly: clean showers
                               wash window
                               wash area rugs
                               wipe down cabinets/outside of shower/tub
                               treat drains

               Quarterly:  wash curtains
                                wash shower liners
                                 freshen decor
                                dust walls

Zone #3 Living Room/Dining Room
              Monthly:  dust chair rails, blinds,
                             clean ceiling fans
                              wash windows
                              vacuum perimeters/under chairs, cushions (do this weekly in our fave seats)
                              cull magazines
                              clear clutter
            Quarterly:  wash curtains
                             wash slipcovers/ pillow covers
                              change seasonal decor
                              cull books (Owie!)
                              sort file folders (file cabinet/in dining area)
                              straighten drawers (dresser/buffet)
                              wash/dry unused linens (I do a few each quarter)
                              dust walls

Zone #4  Kitchen/Breakfast Area
               Monthly:  clean microwave
                              wipe down cabinet doors
                              wash walls around cooking area/behind sink
                              clean appliances fronts/tops
                              clean windows
                              clean inside of refrigerator
                              wipe down inside of oven
                              clean drains

               Quarterly:  clean oven
                                vinegar rinse coffee maker
                                vinegar baking soda dishwasher
                                clean/organize inside of cabinets
                                clean under stove hood/ under stove top
                                move fridge and stove and clean under/clean sides
                                declutter drawers
Breakfast area:
                Monthly: clean ceiling fan
                              dust furniture
                              clear top of armoire
                              wash windows
                              clean blinds

                Quarterly:  wash curtains
                                 turn rugs/vacuum and mop under them
                                 clean rugs (every six months)
                                 pantry/freezer inventory (I try to update as I use/add things but a fresh list each quarter
                                     is a help)
                                 declutter/straighten inside armoire
That's how I break it down.  It looks like a lot of work and it is, but it's NOT all done at once, which is the beauty of it.  I break each quarterly  list down and choose a certain number of quarterly jobs to do each month.  Some months I might do more and less others, but I try to keep it fairly even so I'm not overwhelmed.  This method doesn't give you that same 'everything is all clean and fresh all at once' satisfaction but it does keep exhaustion at bay which is far better and the house remains fairly neat on top and under the surface as well.  My home is not large and there are just the two of us so the 2nd bed and bath really don't require much attention beyond rotating towels and restocking supplies.  We have just enough company to insure the bedding is freshened routinely.

For this reason, I don't include yard work (the flower beds, picking up limbs and trash are my responsibility) and I save those last few days of each month for the shed or bigger tasks that I want to accomplish.

When I set up this list I purposely did so with an eye to what I might accomplish if I worked full time. At the time I set it up, I was cleaning my own home and my dad's and later it was Mama's and Granny's as well as my own, so I figured that was the same as working full or part time, lol.   I might concentrate my time for quarterly tasks on one weekend day, but divide monthly and daily tasks over the weekday mornings or evenings. I try to be zone specific when working but with John's new night schedule I might mix it up and work part of a week in one zone and part of it in another.  I feel a schedule is much like a budget: you have a road map but it's okay not to stick strictly to just one path so feel free to mix it up to suit YOU and your home.  I find housework truly can be a joy when chores don't overwhelm.


New Year Door Decor

I wanted to put something on my doors now that the holiday season is over.  Typically winter is my 'bare door' time which is rather depressing when you consider that 9 months out of the year something is usually hung on the doors for decorative effect.  This year, I've decided that winter is not going to depress me with lack of flowers, door wreaths or  curb appeal.  So I've set aside money to purchase pansies to plant in the pots (and parsley and cilantro seeds to sow, nice cool weather herbs), and daffodil bulbs which should make their appearance in a few weeks time to add to the joy.

It meant a good bit of work to create the curb appeal, such as it is.  The leftover pots from summer and fall blooms had to be cleared away.  I had to move a few furniture pieces off the deck and onto the patio.  I rearranged what I left there and then arranged my pots.  Then I hung my wreath on the back door.  I mean to paint this door the same color red as the front door, which I love.  I got it at Walmart and it's a mix called Candied Apple.

I bought a square wreath at one of my favorite (and least visited lately) thrift shops, The Lord's Attic early last Spring.  I've found the nicest bits of treasure there.  Hmmm..I think it's time to go visit once again.  When I saw this wreath, which was obviously handmade by some creative soul, I thought immediately it would be a nice winter time door decoration.  

It's rather unique isn't it?  I like it a lot because it's just full of the sort of natural elements I love to seek out when I'm walking in the woods or fields or driving along dirt roads here in our rural county this time of year.  Just above the wreath I have a leather magnetic frame with one of my favorite verses from Joshua: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  I need to replace that since the paper faded over the summer months.  I'll get that done shortly. (DONE.  Didn't take a photo but I straightened up this wreath and put this image in the center in a magnetic frame:

There wasn't much I could do to clear the front porch.  We just won't discuss the state of the front porch which my dogs turned into a barn with the hay bales we'd meant to put under the carport for them.  We put them on the porch to keep them from getting wet when we had an unexpected shower of rain.  When we went out to move them to the carport...well let's just say we were overwhelmed by the amount of hay in three bales on an 8 x 10 front porch once the binding twine was pulled off, which Maddie proudly demonstrated she could do very well, thank you!  John and I just looked at each other and vowed that next year we'll (a) have a separate shed for the dogs and (b) probably not buy three bales at once...And in the meantime, he's getting me a pitch fork so I can turn and pitch the hay on the front porch.  Sounds fun, doesn't it?

So I had a wreath for the back door but nothing for the front door...What to do?  I've got a running list of things I'm looking to buy in the coming year...a wreath for the front door is NOT on my list.  As it happened, when I was hauling Christmas things out to the shed this morning, I picked up a wreath I'd used for fall and had failed to put in storage when I moved fall decor back out.  So there I was with this wreath in my hands, minus the quail I repainted cream and used on my Christmas swag:

The wreath was merely a grapevine wreath I made years ago and then wound autumn garlands around.  It occurred to me that the grapevine was perfect for a winter wreath, but it looked so bare without the silk garland.  My first thought was to make a burlap bow and call it done, but I am the type of person who can be intent on one course and inspiration suddenly burns bright. I suddenly 'saw' muslin roses.   Muslin roses was what I wanted and  impulsive creator that I am, I cut strips of muslin.  Then I looked up different sites to see how to make them. I needed muslin strips. I had strips cut.  Entirely too small it turned out, but I wasn't going to waste them. I found a tutorial that gave me a good start, even with my too small strips.

I couldn't find my glue gun, so I used straight pins and glue dots to hold the roses together. I tied a few strips of muslin  around the wreath here and there.  Then I added the wee bird from my Christmas wreath.  I think it looks just fine!  At some point when I have more time and have worked less hard (that might happen, lol) I may add a few larger roses. For now this will do very nicely. 

You can see a bit of the detail here... just ignore the pinheads that are visible.  I've since adjusted the muslin so they are well covered.
I wired the bird to the wreath using floral wire.  You can't even tell I dropped the wee bird and knocked off his beak.  It's stuck back on with a glue dot.  I've never had luck with any type of glue and resin figures.

Weekly Meal Plan

A quiet finish to the week in my home.  John is not feeling up to par.  He reminds me periodically that he is not sick but simply resting to keep from being ill.  It's cold and cloudy and very windy today.  Ever since we've entered winter season on the 21st the weather has been decidedly wintry.  I'm not complaining.  Winter here means cold days with freezing nights and bouts of rain.  We had rain again last night.  I noted that there was only a 10% chance of rain on the weather forecast.  I should be so lucky with a lottery ticket!

Meals...Nothing appeals to my husband just now.  So I am just making whatever I want myself and hoping he'll eat some of it.  I'm trying to plan meals that are Vitamin C rich, nourishing, aromatic enough to penetrate a stuffy head.

Tamale Pie, Green Salad, Clementines
I'll use thawed chili from the freezer and add corn to the mixture, then top with cornbread  and cheese.  I haven't made a tamale pie in quite awhile and don't want to make a big 9 X 13 pan of it this time, so I'll try to keep the proportions smaller.

Stuffed Cabbage Soup, Corn Bread, Peach Cobbler
Leftovers from our porcupine meatball dinner last week will be 'madeover' into my version of stuffed cabbage soup.  I'll make a peach cobbler with peaches that expire this month.  I hope it will tempt John to eat a bit more.

Chinese Takeout, Rice, Steamed Broccoli
For our New Year's dinner an easy to prepare frozen version of Chinese takeout.  We'd planned to buy an entree but picked up a frozen dinner bag from Aldi instead last week.  The price is about half the cost of take out entree.  I can steam broccoli in just a few minutes.  Our dessert will likely be more Clementines.

Slider Sandwiches, Sweet Potato Fries, Baked Beans
I'm taking Mama to the doctor, John will be home.  He can heat these in the microwave.

Salisbury Steaks, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Grape Tomatoes, Biscuits
Just a glorified hamburger with gravy but very good for a cold wintry sort of day.  I'll make the biscuits for dinner and put half aside for raspberry rolls for breakfast.

Tuna Noodle Casserole,  Green Peas, Broccoli Salad
I'll use bow-tie pasta for my noodles...and again I'll be downsizing the dish. I'll add a bit of chopped red bell pepper (high Vit C) to the dish for added color. We certainly don't need a huge pan of this hearty dish for the two of us!  There are several versions of broccoli salad.  We especially like the one that uses diced apples, craisins, and roasted nuts with finely chopped broccoli.

Roast Beef, Baked Potatoes,  Canned Asparagus, Russian Salad, Rolls
I don't want to do a pot roast this week but to have roast to slice for sandwiches as well as for our meal. I may make it as Granny used to so that it cooked slowly in the oven in it's own gravies.