Oh, New Year’s resolutions, you sneaky bastards

The crazy person in my head wants to make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions.

Well, not resolutions per se, but projects I want to start that could start on the first of the year as a time for a good “new beginning.”

But that sounds suspiciously like a New Year’s resolution.

Shut up, crazy person.

Recipe: Lazy Tacos

I make “tacos” about twice a month, but it’s not the whole involved spread that a lot of people seem to do. Tacos are really a simple meal for us, because they often include just meat and tortilla chips. Today we brought them on our weekly market run. Twenty minutes before we left, resulted in a portable meal to sit at a table near favorite produce stall and pair with a fresh-bought apple and bananas. And since I use my own spices rather than a flavor packet, there’s no MSG or other fillers mucking things up.

Now, usually, I just cook up the hamburger meat, throw in the spices and water, and taste test from there. But in the spirit of teaching my son to cook, I’ve been trying to measure out my put-these-spices-in-until-it-tastes right recipes to give him a starting point. These recipes will all be linked to my recipes page.

Here’s what I used this time around:
20141115_133009
3 tbsp cumin (we got off brand cumin this time and it tasted really stale, bleh)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp black pepper (I remembered afterward that I ususally do half black pepper and half red pepper flakes. I’ll measure that out next time.)
0.5 tbsp garlic salt
0.5 tbsp onion salt
1 tsp onion powder (Next time, I’ll use just onion powder. It was a bit too salty.)
Water – enough to wet the cooked meat and get the spices flowing around

Dump it in a bowl, add chips. Voila! Lazy tacos.
20141115_161510(1)

Weekly Check-in

This is the last weekly check-in. No, I’m not going to quit doing them altogether (I think we have a long way to go, and I need to be held accountable), but after this I’m going to switch to a bi-weekly check-in and meal plan post. The new plan will go from the Saturday after payday to the Friday of the following payday. I’ll post an update on payday (every other week). Today is payday though, and only a week since the last check-in so I’ve just got one week to report.

But I do have the meal plan for the next two weeks. And I’ve started posting some of my recipes here for easy reference.

Food spending
Meijer

(Tuesday)
(2) 2-liter Faygo ….. $2.38
I returned $2.20 in recycleables and paid less than the cost of the deposit out of pocket: $0.18.

Meijer

(Friday)

Frozen fruit ……… $2.99
Frozen berries ……. $3.99
(5) Bananas ………. $0.73 (saved $0.25)
Sour cream ……….. $1.00 (saved $0.99)
(2) Raspberries …… $1.00 (saved $6.98)
Flour ……………. $2.29 (saved $0.20)
(3) Evaporated milk .. $4.00 (saved $0.17)
(2) Deli Turkey …… $4.99 (saved $4.99)
Bagels …………… $3.00 (saved $0.79)
(3) Pomegranates ….. $3.00 (saved $2.07)
(2) Chex …………. $2.00 (saved $2.38)
Canned tomatoes …… $1.00 (saved $0.09)
Manwich ………….. $1.00
(2) Mushrooms …….. $2.00 (saved $2.00)
Celery …………… $1.00 (saved $0.79)
(2) Waffles ………. $1.00 (saved $3.50)
Pretzels …………. $1.00 (saved $0.99)
Tomatoes …………. $1.00 (saved $2.49)
Bread ……………. $1.00 (saved $0.38 plus $0.25 Ibotta refund)
Salsa ……………. $1.00 (saved $0.73)
Blackberries ……… $1.00 (saved $2.49)
Chocolate Chips …… $0.83 (saved $2.79 – because they were Halloween colors)
Cottage cheese ……. $1.79 (saved $1.20 – it was close to the expiration date)
(2) Ground beef …… $8.96 (saved $2.24 – close to expiration date)
Beef Short Ribs …… $10.21 (saved $2.55 – close to expiration date)
(5) Pasta Sides …… $2.80 (saved $2.20)
(2) Faygo 2-L …….. $2.38
(3) Faygo 20oz ……. $1.62 (saved $0.30)
Sprite 2-L ……….. $1.10 (saved $0.69)
Fanta 2-L ………… $1.10 (saved $0.69)
$70.76

Groceries: $70.76; Out-of-house-spending: $4 on pop early in the week + $10 at Dunkin Donuts (this was all cash so I’m estimating); Total: $84.76

Groceries: $70.94; Out-of-house-spending: $4 on pop early in the week + $10 at Dunkin Donuts (this was all cash so I’m estimating); Total: $84.94

Our next check in will be on Friday, Nov. 21. I didn’t expect to do any more groceries until that day, but I’ve already realized we forgot milk and bottled water. And we likely will need more meat to get through the meals I have planned. We’ve talked about doing one vegetarian day each week to save money, but I haven’t gathered recipes to try there yet (and again, we’re moving, comfort food dammit!).

This weekend, we realized that T prefers evaporated milk over creamer, which is a huge savings opportunity as far as her coffee consumption. But it makes me feel even guiltier about my on-going pop consumption. I’ve been cutting back and I still haven’t drank caffeine since Aug. 17. But I really enjoy the sugary convenience of a bottle of pop. It’s my weakness. We’ve been buying bottled water and that has helped. But I’ll be the first to admit: I’m a sugar addict.

Meanwhile, I had a coupon for Pasta Sides and they were part of Meijer’s 10 for $10 this week. It’s one we normally avoid (it contains MSG, but I’ve been wanting it and it’s been a rough week, so I let myself buy (and eat already) comfort food.

Two-week meal plan

There’ve been some changes to my schedule at work, so this meal plan crack at the new format. I now have Sundays and Mondays off, and on Saturdays the family is going to bring me food at work so we can have dinner together after the first edition closes.

We’re going to try to go out to dinner with T’s mom every other Sunday, in addition to their current Wednesday night dinners. Dinners on Sunday and Monday will be something the little one and I cook together (he’s really starting to enjoy cooking). Tuesday and Thursday lunches will be leftovers and dinners will be something simple I can make ahead for us. Wednesday, I eat leftovers and they go out to eat with T’s mom. Friday is a bit of a haul for me at work now, so I’m not sure what’s going to be happening there. Saturday mornings are simple portable meals to bring to the market/eat in the car, with a make-ahead meal in the slow cooker or oven that they can bring me at work. Somewhere in here we are aiming for one day a week with no meat (although at this point eggs are on the table because we get them so cheap).

(S)
Lunch with mom
Dinner: Slow Cooker Short Ribs (I’m actually making 2 lbs of short ribs, but I’m making them in the oven, so I’m using the full amount of sauce.) with canned beans.
(M)
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Sticky Pomegranate Chicken and Butternut Squash
(T)
Lunch: Egg Fritters and Bacon couscous
Dinner: Leftovers
(W)
Lunch: Lasagna (Made Saturday and stored)
T&D have dinner with Mom
Dinner for me: Leftovers
(R)
Lunch: Sandwiches and salad
Dinner: Leftovers
(F)
Lunch: Hamburgers? and pasta
(S)
Lunch: Bagel pizzas
Dinner: Roasted Chicken (at work)

(S)
Lunch with mom
Dinner:
(M)
Dinner: Steak and Mushroom Fajitas
(T)
Lunch: Egg dish
(W)
Lunch: Veggie stir fry
T&D have dinner with Mom
Dinner for me: Leftovers
(R)
Lunch: Leftovers
(F)
Lunch: Nested Eggs
(S)
Lunch: Lazy tacos
Dinner: (at work)

The other method T has asked me to attempt is to list what meals we want to make and let them fall where they will in the weeks. I like having it plotted out because I can see where we might not have enough food planned for the whole week. But here’s the other way to do it:

Week 1:
– Slow cooker shirt ribs
– Sticky pomegranate chicken
– Lasagna
– Egg Fritters and Bacon Couscous
– Sandwiches and salad
– Hamburgers and pasta
– Bagel Pizzas

Week 2:
– Steak and Mushroom Fajitas
– Nested Eggs
– Veggie stir fry
– Lazy tacos
– Sandwiches and salad

As you can see, I think we need two more meals in the second week to hit my goal of 7 planned meals each week. I imagine that much of that will be pantry raiding as we prepare to move again.

Have I mentioned enough times that we’re moving again? Ugh.

Cleaning Out the Kitchen Challenge: Day the Last

So I’ve decided that yesterday’s post is the end of my journey with the Don’t Waste the Crumbs cleaning out the kitchen challenge. At the start, I told myself I’d finish before Samhain, because I wanted to be in a clear fresh place. It’s now Nov. 1 and I really feel that I am. Here’s what I won’t be getting to (in addition to the Bake Bread challenge that I skipped):

  • Try a New Fat – This is one that I will probably do. I periodically experiment with new foods and ghee and coconut oil are on my list of things to try when the money is available. But considering the several bottles of olive oil in the cabinet, I don’t see a new fat in the grocery stars anytime soon.
  • Make Something from Scratch – This isn’t a new phenomenon in our household. This month alone, I’ve made teriyaki sauce twice (once for chicken and once for pasta), meatloaf twice, and a number of smaller meals and sides.
  • Ditch High Fructose Corn Syrup – We stopped buying HFCS in October of last year.
  • Create a Back-Up Plan
  • Save Money
  • Make Yogurt – We don’t eat yogurt (I don’t like it, and it isn’t a favorite for everyone else), so like the Bake Bread challenge, I would have skipped this day anyway.
  • Address Medications – This is another area where I don’t trust Tiffany’s version of science. I agree that we should toss expired medications. Especially those packs of nebulizer refills that have been sitting there since T got pneumonia in 2011. We pulled one out and it looked like there was mold in it. Yuck. I started to get really worked up over this one and then realized the reason this bugged me was because we tend to be tough-it-out people. I like to let a fever under 102 run its course. And we don’t generally take things unless the symptoms have gotten so bad it’s interfering with the ability to work or go to school (in which case we’re likely staying home to sleep instead). So what I initially read as “modern medicine is bad, mkay?” wasn’t that.
  • Go Meatless – Our “breakfast nights” are often meatless. My meal plans are designed around 2lbs of hamburger, 1 lb of chicken and 1 lb of other meat for dinners, plus 1 lb or less of deli meat. I’m happy with that proportion and don’t see myself changing it anytime soon. I think the amount of meat we consume is a good amount considering a growing 5 year old and a wife who is trying to get pregnant.
  • So now we’re at the end: Don’t Give Up

There are a number of reasons I didn’t get through the challenge in the time I allotted for it. The biggest thing I got out of this challenge, though, was letting myself off the hook. Which is kind of the opposite of what this challenge was intended for. There were days when I was exhausted, and sick or caring for someone who was sick, but I still photographed a ton of stuff for the blog. And then it was suddenly time for work and by the time I got home from work at midnight, it obviously hadn’t happened. And it was then a question of “Do I stay up late alone to write this or do I spend time with my love and go to sleep so I’m rested for our child in the morning?” And the obvious answer here is: my family comes first. Before all else. They’re the reason I wanted to do this, after all.

Plus, I find enjoyment in writing. I don’t want to pressure myself to keep doing it so much that I stop enjoying it. So for better or worse, this is where I let myself off the hook.

I am really happy with what we’be gotten out of this food- and budget-wise. It had been a much-needed spotlight on an area I was discontent with but couldn’t pinpoint the problem. And getting to the root of things is the first step. I’m sure I’ll continue to check in about our progress.

This series

Oct. 4 – Clean out the fridge
Oct. 5-6 – Eat the old stuff
Oct. 7 – Create a grocery budget
Oct. 9 – Ditch hydrogenated oils
Oct. 10-12 – Clean out the Freezer
Oct. 13 – Eat a Simple Meal
Oct. 14 – Make money
Oct. 20 – Bake Bread  Plan meals for one week
Oct. 30 – Clean out the pantry and cupboards; Create a signature company dish; Use food twice
Oct. 31 – Budget check-in
Nov. 1 – All the rest

Cleaning Out the Kitchen: Day 12 and Weekly Check-in

As I said last week, I’ve been tracking my budget and my meal plan separately and that’s led to some confusion in my records. But the point of this whole exercise is to find something that works. So as week four of this budget experiment draws to a close, I’m making some adjustments. Fortunately this has lined up with Day 12 (by my numbering) of the Don’t Waste the Crumbs cleaning out the kitchen challenge: Budget check-in.

As I mentioned before, our out-of-the-house spending was way out of control, clocking in at more than $1000 one month this year. And the beginning of the month was very similar (We actually ended up coming in at $900 for this month total). There were reasons (there’s always a reason), but instead of explaining it away a meal at a time, we started reigning it in and planning ahead (with the help of this guide).

For the final weekly check-in I’ve got 4 shopping trips to report (all done in one day, actually). Here we go:

CVS

CVS shopping Oct 25
3 16-count Charmin … $29.97 (saved)
1 Jif ……………. $ 1.40 (saved
6 Puffs ………….. $ 5.94 (saved
Plus I had a 30% off email coupon which reduced the total by $10
$32.61 + $10 ECB back
+ $1.30 bottle refund (used at the farmer’s market)
 
 
 
 

Target

This one was broken up into two trips to take advantage of a cash back deal.
Target shopping Oct 25 2 Target shopping Oct 25 1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Part one:
4 Pop Secret … $14.00
Went on a gift card. Got $5 back.

Part two:
2 Nestle smart water … $ 7.00 (got $1.50 Ibotta rebate)
1 Jam ……………… $ 2.49 (after $1 coupon)
4 Peperoni …………. $10.16 (on sale)
2 Bread ……………. $ 5.30 (on sale + 10% off cartwheel deal + $0.25 Ibotta rebate)
4 Raisins ………….. $ 3.88 (5% off cartwheel deal)
1 Organic Beef ……… $ 4.39 (after $3 off coupon, also got $1.50 Ibotta rebate)

I paid with gift cards leaving $6.80 out of pocket. + $2.75 back in Ibotta rebates.

Farmer’s market

This is actually the first time we’ve been to the farmer’s market this month and man it was good to be back. We didn’t get much, but what we got was some great finds. (All but the bananas are local and organic.)
1 yellow and 1 red pepper … $1.00
2 squash & 5 bananas …….. $2.00
2 baskets of thin carrots … $1.00
1 medium sized pumpkin …… $1.00
2 more pumpkins …………. $1.00 (the little one was SO excited)
Mums …………………… $2.00
3 dozen eggs ……………. $6.00
2 full chicken breasts …… $10.94
Total: $23.64 (after the $1.30 bottle return from CVS)

Meijer

This was the end of a very long day for two (under-the-weather) moms and one very patient little boy. So the first thing we did was Halloween costumes. I’m glad we waited as long as we did because we found costume parts for T and the little one for less than $25. We’re putting together the rest of the costumes at home, so some of the expense is eliminated.
The boy will be Optimus Prime. We bought the robot part of the suit and T made this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIBcZbowkJ8. Since we have a ton of boxes from the move, it was no extra cost to make him a really cool outfit.
Meanwhile, T and I decided to do a couples costume: Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. We got her hood on this trip and I grabbed a wolf hat on Amazon. Again, we’ll fill out the rest from items we have at home.
Optimus Prime … $ 9.99 ($5 savings)
Hood ………… $11.24 ($3.75 savings)
We also got a seasonal towel for $4.99 ($2 savings)
I’m hesitant to include these things in our grocery total, especially because I don’t have to count my costume in this because we didn’t get it on a grocery trip (bought on Amazon using Discover cash back rewards), so I’m not going to. In my Mint.com app, I’ve split off the $26.28 (including tax) and counted it as “Shopping”.

Here’s the groceries:
Shampoo ………. $ 5.59
Conditioner …… $ 5.59
Soap …………. $ 0.99 (saved $0.50)
Ramen (x44) …… $ 9.24
Cucumbers …….. $ 0.77
Pizza Sauce …… $ 1.19
Celery ……….. $ 1.99
Dressing ……… $ 1.99 (saved $0.30)
Tortillas …….. $ 1.99 (saved $0.90) This one was exciting because we finally found some without hydrogenated oils!
Teddy Grahams (x4) $10.36 (saved $2.00 plus coupons below)
Ritz crackers …. $ 2.59 (saved $0.22 plus coupons below)
Ritz chips ……. $ 2.59 (saved $0.60 plus coupons below)
Mac & Cheese (x4) $ 5.00 (saved $0.95 plus coupons below)
Lettuce ………. $ 2.50 (saved $0.49)
Onions (x2) …… $ 2.00 (saved $1.98)
Creamer ………. $ 1.67 (saved $0.52 plus coupons below)
Tomatoes (x2) …. $ 2.00 (saved $2.98)
Shells (x2) …… $ 2.50 (saved $2.48)
Mushrooms …….. $ 1.67 (saved $0.62)
Bagels (x2) …… $ 6.00 (saved $1.78)
Cheese (x4) …… $ 9.00 (saved $4.92)
Milk …………. $ 1.73 (saved $1.16 + $0.25 Ibotta rebate)
Wine …………. $ 8.99

– $6 on 6 Nabisco items
– $1 coupon on Teddy Grahams
– $1.50 coupon on creamer
– $0.60 bottle refund
– $2 off for spending $10 on Aussie
Total: ($105.78) $79.50 on groceries + $0.25 back in Ibotta rebates.

Other runs
We grabbed drinks at CVS on Sunday for $2.18
We also stopped at Meijer on Monday while I was sick to return some bottles and grab some Faygo and grapes (read: feel-good food) for $8.56

The meal plan

We’re not going to talk about it. I came down with something Thursday night, was sick through my weekend (Friday and Saturday) and then missed work Monday and Tuesday. This week has been a haze of leftover meatloaf (that I managed to make Sunday) and breakfast-for-dinner meals.

October breakdown

In total, we spent $152.79 on groceries and $66.30 on eating out (including 4 coffee shop beverages, two fast food stops and one sit-down meal). That brings the four week total to $305.22 for groceries and $379.31 out of the house. While calculating all this, I discovered a $44.67 CVS run that I didn’t record in the first week, several others in the second week (I don’t even remember these trips, how awful is that?) and recalculated all our numbers. The weekly totals were:
Week 1: $125.57 groceries | $187.69 eating out Total: $313.26
Week 2: $ 92.80 groceries | $ 99.76 eating out Total: $192.56
Week 3: -$13.16 groceries | $ 45.99 eating out Total: $ 32.83
Week 4: $152.79 groceries | $ 66.30 eating out Total: $220.39

Four-week totals: $358.69 groceries | $399.74 eating out Total: $757.74

Now, this does not include the $160.89 we managed to spend in the two days before I started counting (not sure if all of that was bought in October, but it’s showing up as hitting the accounts on Oct. 1 and 2). All of that was during the move week, though and I’ve vowed to forgive us for the time we were moving.

Looking forward

Part of me is kind of annoyed that the first day of the month is landing between pay periods, because it makes things less ordered in my mind. But anyway, our starting point for the next month is about $350 groceries and $400 eating out.

I want to reduce the eating out category as much as possible (mainly by not stopping for fast food or coffee/pop outside of grocery store runs). This may increase the grocery category and that’s OK. That’s the goal even.

The food stamp budget for a family of three (which seemed like a good benchmark for our household grocery budget) is $497 per month. But we’re coming in $197 under that goal, and I don’t know that it’s a good thing. If we could trade $197 of food at home for the extra $400 that we spend eating out, we’d save $200 per month. I don’t know that we will honestly reduce all of our eating out costs, but if we reduce them that’s a great thing.

Another thing to consider is that our nephew will be coming to live with us for the next two months. He will be contributing $25 per week to food, but the added $100 per month may not offset the full cost of feeding him. (Although, the food stamp budget for a family of 4 is $632 per month, for what it’s worth. Sounds like the government thinks an extra $135 would cover it. Have they met any 21-year-old guys lately?)

So where this ramble is going, I’m not quite sure.

Here’s what I do know:
– We don’t make enough to keep spending at this pace
– Our money can go further by making food at home than by eating out
– We’ll be healthier eating at home than fast food
– And I want to be cooking more
– If we went to Pronto (a slightly-higher-than-average-priced restaurant near us) once a week we would spend $200 for the month and get about two meals each out of each visit (24 meals total).

I still don’t know what our eating out target should be money-wise, but I know we can find better things to spend $400 on. I don’t want to stop eating out altogether, but I want it to be a special thing we do, rather than a I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-let’s-grab-McDonalds thing.

I feel like there’s a point I’m supposed to be driving toward, but I’m not sure what it is. I will keep checking in on this budgeting thing though. It’s nice to feel some sense of accountability.

This series

Oct. 4 – Clean out the fridge
Oct. 5-6 – Eat the old stuff
Oct. 7 – Create a grocery budget
Oct. 9 – Ditch hydrogenated oils
Oct. 10-12 – Clean out the Freezer
Oct. 13 – Eat a Simple Meal
Oct. 14 – Make money
Oct. 20 – Bake Bread Plan meals for one week
Oct. 30 – Clean out the pantry and cupboards; Create a signature company dish; Use food twice
Oct. 31 – Budget check-in
Nov. 1 – All the rest

Cleaning out the Kitchen: Day 9, 10, 11

I don’t have a ton to say about the next three days of Don’t Waste the Crumbs cleaning out the kitchen challenge. And it took me a while to get through Day 9Clean Out the Pantry & Cupboards. So I’m rolling these into one.

 

Day 9

The reason it took so long was every time I thought I had all of the pantry stuff unpacked, I found more. So here’s what it looks like today:

pantry And that’s not really going to change in the near future. Or rather, it is going to change: Every. Time. I Find. More. Food.

This overabundance of pantry items did come in handy on the week when we didn’t have a lot of extra money and managed to spend nothing on groceries (actually less than nothing if you count the return I made at CVS that week). We didn’t have to buy produce because there was (and still is) various canned fruits and veggies. In our meal planning, I’ve started looking to the pantry first and making meals based on what we have there.

While I cleaned the pantry before we put anything into it, I don’t feel confident in organizing it because, well, there’s still so many bins that haven’t been unpacked.

 
 

Day 10

Day 10 was Create a Signature Company Dish, and I almost threw this one out because it’s been so long since we’ve had guests regularly for dinner. (One of the hazards of being on the evening shift.) But I thought about it and realized that maybe if we had a go-to meal that I could prep in advance and have on hand, having company over wouldn’t feel so daunting.

At one time, my go-to dish was stir fry over rice. It’s easy enough to throw everything in the pan while the rice is cooking and have a whole meal in 30 minutes. Chop some fresh fruit on the side and you’ve got a pretty decent meal. I was having friends over every Wednesday (one of my days off) and we’d have stir fry at least once a month. The thing that I love about stir fry is you can chop all of your produce and meat in advance and throw it in the freezer. It’s just a matter of throwing it in a pan after that. Plus, if you go heavy on veggies and pair it with rice, it’s not a very expensive dish.

That’s the parameter that I’ll be planning company meals around: Not so much meat that I feel the need to be stingy, lots of produce and whole grains, and it should be something I can make in advance. Maybe ask guests to bring a desert.

The things that seem to fit these parameters are casserole, stew and stir fry. Any other suggestions?

Day 11

I’ll admit, I read through all the entries in Don’t Waste the Crumbs’ cleaning out the kitchen challenge before I started, so I knew Day 11 was coming. For this challenge, Use Food Twice, I’ve been throwing vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer. When I get enough, I’ll use them to flavor soup. I’ve also set aside some beet juice (from a can of beets) to add to the soup. It’ll give it an odd color, but it packs a flavor punch.

This series

Oct. 4 – Clean out the fridge
Oct. 5-6 – Eat the old stuff
Oct. 7 – Create a grocery budget
Oct. 9 – Ditch hydrogenated oils
Oct. 10-12 – Clean out the Freezer
Oct. 13 – Eat a Simple Meal
Oct. 14 – Make money
Oct. 20 – Bake Bread Plan meals for one week
Oct. 30 – Clean out the pantry and cupboards; Create a signature company dish; Use food twice
Oct. 30 – Clean out the pantry and cupboards; Create a signature company dish; Use food twice
Oct. 31 – Budget check-in
Nov. 1 – All the rest