Friday, September 18, 2009

Financial Friday

Welcome to Financial Friday!

Friday is the day that I sit down and pay bills, balance the checkbook, and update the budget. I just feel better if I can do it once a week. When I go longer, it seems too overwhelming, and I then will procrastinate......which makes it even more overwhelming. If you don't have a regular schedule for managing your finances, I really encourage you to start one. Even if you aren't thrilled about where your finances are at, it really makes things more manageable if you have a handle on where you stand financially.

As part of our simplifying this year, we've gone to paying cash for a lot of our expenses. But there are still some things that it's just so much easier to pay with a credit or debit card. When I have to fill the car up with gas, there is no way that I'm going to unstrap my son from the car seat, stand in line behind the lotto fanatics to put $20 on the pump, go back out and pump the gas, go back in and stand in line again for my change, go back out and strap my son back into his car seat. That's definitely NOT simple!

I use a coupon accordion file to keep track of our cash, just like you would with an envelope system. At the first of the month, I look at our budget and total up the amount of cash we'll need for the next two weeks. I write a check for cash, and make sure that I get the correct change to be able to break it down into the different categories in the accordion file. I do it again in the middle of the month. That way, if we overspent in the first half of the month, we can try to make up for it in the last half by adjusting in that category.

I am really liking the simplicity of the cash system. I don't have to save receipts and worry about getting them into the budget and/or check register. Once the transaction is over, that's it. I only take the money out of the file that I plan on spending and leave the rest at home. This way, I have to consciously plan to overspend before I use my debit card to make up the difference. I do have to be careful to make sure any leftover change gets put back in the file. If not, we tend to spend it on who knows what and then wonder what happened to it. I also find it easier to save a little here and there when I have the actual cash, rather than just a number in my budget and the money in the bank. If I save just $5 from each of the categories, this can really add up!

I keep track of our budget in an Excel spreadsheet. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone. I work in accounting, so I have a good knowledge of and am very comfortable in Excel. I say do what works best for you.....just make sure that you're doing it!

My husband hates the Excel spreadsheet. He would rather it be on old fashioned ledger paper. The problem is, he hates doing paperwork, so I do it. Since I do it, I am going to do it the way that is easiest and most efficient for me. I do printouts occasionally for him. As far as he's concerned, we're doing okay if there's still money in the accordion file.

Friday is a great day to sit down and manage your finances. It's good feedback for how your week went. I like knowing where we're at by Friday so when we're planning our weekend, I will know what we have in our budget for house projects, yard sales, entertainment, etc. It keeps it from hanging over my head all weekend, and frees me up for living a Simplistic Saturday.......tune in tomorrow for more on that.

Do you have a regular schedule that keeps you on top of your finances? What budget system works best for your family? I'd love to hear your comments!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Creatively Frugal

Today was a day for combining creativity and frugality. I really don't enjoy sewing, so I've been letting a couple of projects pile up. Today was a really slow work day for me, so I thought I would take the opportunity to work on that pile.

My son is quickly outgrowing his cloth diapers. We make our own pocket diapers. I had already cut them out and sent them off to my mom for piecing together -- she has so much more time and sewing ability than I do and loves helping out even when she's six hours away. I really needed some diaper covers for the new diapers. I prefer to use wool wraps during the daytime. After looking at them online and realizing it was going to cost a small fortune for us to stock up, I began looking for other ideas.

I went to the thrift stores earlier in the week and picked up some nice wool sweaters. All of the thrift stores here have their winter clothes at 50% off, so I ended up paying $1.50 - $2.00 per sweater. I had washed and felted them, so I was all ready to go with the sewing today. I ended up making three wraps, and one pull on for $4 total. This saved me over $50! I am not great at sewing, so it did take me a few hours, some seam ripping, reworking, and a little frustration......but I am thrilled that I saved $50.

I've been needing a bag for our clothespins. We just put up a new clothesline (using free steel posts that we received off of freecycle). Since I had all of my sewing supplies out, I decided to dig through the rag bag and find something to create a bag with.

I found some great canvas-type material with a pretty floral print (leftover from place mats that I made a couple of years ago). I cut out a design and pieced it together. At this point, I passed it on to my husband to scrounge up the piece of wood and hook from the shed. I can never find anything in that shed!

In less than 20 minutes, I had a brand new clothespin bag swinging in the breeze. It was so easy to make, used scraps that we had on hand, and saved me from having to buy one. Not to mention that I get the satisfaction of looking out the kitchen window and seeing my own creation hanging in the yard.

Hoping this inspires you to find creative uses for supplies you already have on hand!

For more great Frugal Friday tips, hop on over to Life as Mom.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good-bye Microwave

One of the things that I've really been working on since the beginning of the year is simplifying. Since the birth of my son, over a year ago, I feel like my life has been non-stop running. I am a work-from-home mom, help my husband with his business, and also have volunteer commitments. With this being my first child, I kept thinking it would just work itself out in a couple of months. After not much of a change 10 months later, I really decided that I needed to be more proactive and simplify......for my sanity. And also to make the things that are really important more of a priority.

I've read lots of books about the subject and cleaned out lots of closets, but that's not enough. I've reorganized my schedule, streamlined my work tasks, and re-ordered my housekeeping. All of this as my husband silently stood by just thinking that that was another phase. A couple of days ago, while we were on a walk through the neighborhood, he finally asked me about it......after almost 3 months. I guess I was so convincing, now he's in the mode too!

Tonight, as I was cooking dinner, he casually suggested that we get rid of the microwave. I had to stop and look at him to see if he was serious. He has always had this little weird suspicion that the microwave "radiates" our food to an unsafe for consumption state, so I thought this was going to be another talk about that.

"Why?" I asked. "Because we don't use it that much" he said. But what about when............
and I listed a few scenarios, and for each he had an answer. Pretty much use another one of the several other appliances that we have in the kitchen, or do it the "old fashioned" way.

At first, I was really against the idea. Everyone has a microwave. I mean everyone.....don't they? I don't think I've ever been to someone's house that didn't have a microwave. Even my 90-something-year-old blind great-grandma had a microwave. With newer houses they come built-in. This idea didn't sound like it's going to "simplify" anything in my life.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we really don't use it that much anymore. When my son started eating solids, we would warm them with warm water, on the stove top, or in the toaster oven......mainly because my husband was so freaked out about the whole "radiating the babies' food" thing. (I know, I can't even write it without smiling.) But in my tired and bleary state of newish motherhood, it was just easier to comply. It just sort of happened that we got out of the habit of using it. Even now that I'm cooking more, I'm using it less. Mainly because I'm cooking mostly homemade-from-scratch meals and relying less on prepackaged and prepared foods.

So, here it goes. I'm still not in a 100% (maybe like 90%), but I really want to support my husband's effort to join me in simplifying our lives. We took it out and put it in the office, as a trial. If after 3 days, we find that we really don't "need" it and miss it too much, I will find a new home for it. Who knows, maybe it will simplify our lives even more.

Any bets? Will it stay or will it go?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Free Storage Containers

Here's my Tightwad Tuesday tip:

Looking for some FREE sturdy storage containers for your bulk foods?

Try your local grocery store bakery. I called the local Fry's bakery, and they were more than happy to give me their empty frosting and glaze buckets. These are perfect for storing bulk foods like flour, sugar, oatmeal, rice and beans. They have a sturdy handle and good lid that snaps on tightly to keep out any moisture or bugs. Just be sure that you wash them out and let them dry very good before using them.

The ones that we've gotten that didn't have lids are used in the yard and garden.

For more great Tightwad Tuesday tips, visit

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pinto Bean Casserole

We had pinto beans leftover from a couple of days ago. Around my house, no one really likes to eat them plain after they've sat in the fridge and thickened up. This is a great recipe to use them up. I also like it because it's a whole meal in one. Maybe add a veggie or salad for the side, and you've got dinner. So easy!

Pinto Bean Casserole

1 lb. turkey sausage
2 c. pinto beans
2 T. minced onion
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilis (or appropriate substitutes)
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 recipe of cornbread batter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook turkey sausage and minced onion. Drain well and crumble into a 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish. Next, layer pinto beans tomatoes, and cheese. Top with cornbread batter. The batter will run down throughout the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes, or until batter is cooked through.

The first time I made this, I used a whole recipe of cornbread batter and ended up with a huge mess and a very dirty oven. Not to mention it took a LOT longer than 30 mins to cook. Now, I still make the full cornbread recipe, but bake corn muffins with the other half.

You could easily stretch this one into a 9x13 dish, by adding more of your favorite ingredients from above and using the full cornbread recipe.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

March is the first month that I've done a menu plan for the whole month. I love the whole concept of the menu plan because it takes the daily stress out of it all. No more wondering "What in the world am I going to make for dinner?"
"Didn't we just have that two days ago, or was it last week?"
"What am I going to do with all of these leftovers?"
"Oh, forget it! We'll just go do takeout.....again."

On the downside, I like to try to plan meals in line with the weekly grocery sales and whatever we get in our twice monthly produce co-op basket. Not knowing these things in advance, this month I just started with the main dish basic ideas. At that beginning of the week I filled in the sides or switched things around a little depending on what was on sale or in the co-op basket. If anyone has a better suggestion on how to do this, I would love some suggestions. Please leave a comment!

So here's this week's menu:

Monday: Pinto Bean Casserole (leftover beans from last week) corn

Tuesday: Corned beef brisket, cabbage and carrots, Irish soda bread

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Veggie Burgers, homemade fries and salad

Friday: Squash soup and homemade bread

Saturday: Spaghetti and homemade meatballs, green salad, garlic bread sticks

Sunday: Leftovers

I know it looks like I plan a lot of leftovers, but when we cleaned out our fridge at the beginning of this month we realized there were a lot of leftovers that we let go bad. We've made it a goal for the month to try to use up or freeze all of our leftovers and produce. My freezer is really full right now from the great turkey breast sales a couple of weeks ago, so we're trying to eat up all of the leftovers. We also try to use them up for lunch. This works out great because my husband LOVES leftovers.

For other great meal plan menus, head on over to: $5 Dinners who is guest hosting for Organizing Junkie this week.

Have a great week!