Friday, January 23, 2009

Frugal Momma - The "B" word!

Oh, yeah. I'm gonna say it. Budget.

So you're supposed to have one...but how do you decide what to do & when to do it? Well, first, the budget should apply to everything. From groceries & utilities to vacations & after school activities.


1. Decide what items have to be paid at a fairly standard rate every month. This includes your mortgage/rent payment & most utilities (including things like car insurance).

Using some made up numbers, I'll give you an example of those costs:

  • House - $850
  • Electricity - $125
  • Phone/Internet/TV services - $150
  • Auto insurance - $100

I know some people pay for gas & water, but I wanted to go basic here, to keep my math easy! ;) Alright, so that total is $1,225.00. Forget for now that most people cut off their TV services & often the home or cell phone when they are trying to save some money...I just need an example.

2. Every time you get a paycheck, put at least half that amount into checking. The half of that is $612.50, but if it were me, I'd round up to $620.

If the average family income is $50k (ish...I believe this number is combined for the whole household), then you are bringing home approximately $1,923 for a 2 week pay period. If we subtract 20% from that...assuming you are having SOME kind of deductions taken out from taxes to benefits that leaves you with a take home pay of $1,539.00. Putting your first $620 away leaves you with $919.00 to spend.

3. Take cash out for the unfixed items. Gas, food (grocery & eating out), clothing, work/school events, etc.

These may take some time to figure out. You might have to do some research...find out how many miles you drive to & from work and school. What does your family spend at the grocery store, and how many times a week do you get take aways or fast food? How often does clothing need to be replaced, what about shoes? How much do you need to pay to events like field trips, sports teams, the office pool for birthday cake??

As you are figuring these numbers out...try to decide what you can cut out. If you bought 5 pounds of ground beef last week...why did you eat out 4 nights in a row? Can your child walk to school, carpool or take the bus instead of being driven? Can YOU walk or take the bus...or carpool? If you explain to the office party planner at work that you are trying to keep to a budget...can you refrain from adding to the birthday kitty? You wouldn't expect cake on your birthday or worry about having a piece on other's days. (I have done this...and trust me, it's not that weird. Sing the song, clap...and go back to your desk.) Cancel the daily newspaper (or get it only on weekends), make breakfast at home, make coffee at home, if you bring your work home with you...don't print it out at home. Get to work a few minutes early to print it out there instead.

Here is another sample budget for those items:

  • Grocery store - $200/2 weeks.
  • Gas - $75/2 weeks.
  • Non-food shopping - $100/2 weeks.
  • Unexpected errand - $50/2 weeks.
  • Fun money - $50/2 weeks.

Yes, this is a fairly short list. But again...I like simple math. Notice I separated my grocery store money from my non-food money. If you make a point to only buy food at the grocery store, you will notice a difference in your bill. I don't do diapers, detergents, or clothes shopping with my food. (I say this mostly b/c so many use super stores now, that yes, it does happen that you will be in the same place with those things.) If you decide to buy some of those during your grocery trip...put one of those plastic dividers between the items and have the clerk ring up two separate transactions. They won't look at you funny...Not about this anyway. :)

Unexpected...ugh. You know what I mean. The midnight trip to the drug store for cough medicine, on the way home your kid tells you that he volunteered you to make 3 dozen cupcakes for his class tomorrow. If you don't use it...leave it in place for the next unexpected event. Or keep adding to it for a family surprise!

And yes, I did want to leave you something to enjoy. Fun money can be your fast food money...a special treat from the vending machine. (Mmm...C7 you call my name!) Whatever you need it to be. You don't have to spend it all...you can always save it up for a rainy day...when you need a real pick me up...or if you want something special like a mani/pedi. Or a paintball gun.

Okay...those totals are $475.

4. Get an accordion organizer...the ones for coupons are PERFECT. Label each section for each of your cash expenses. Separate your cash by need. When you shop, replace it with a receipt (for future research...to know if you should adjust your budget)...and when it's gone...it's gone. You don't do any more shopping!

Alright, so we've got our money in checking & our cash in the organizer. That leaves us with $498.

5. Put the rest of your money into savings. If possible, get a savings account that you can't just click a button to transfer funds from savings into checking. If you have to make an effort, you may decide that the purchase isn't worth it.

6. Now, after 2 paychecks you can pay your monthlies right out of checking. See if your bank has free online bill pay services...or just go traditional & write out a check.

I realize it may take a few pay periods to get used to this. And you may not be able to put as much into savings at first. But if you give it a chance...you'll at least have something that resembles order & a good start to a home budget plan. Be sure to take a look at your receipts and billings statements periodically to see if your budgets need to be adjusted. If you find you are spending less than expected, put a little less cash in the organizer.

A friend of mine recommends paying utilities with the same amount every month, regardless of the statement (assuming you are paying over rather than under). This way, at the end of the year you may have enough credits to cover a whole month. That extra money might come in handy if you are the sort to celebrate holidays in December!

That money that gets put into savings can go for emergencies, nest eggs, vacations, or whatever you decide your family needs. Maybe periodically set a goal for a certain amount in your savings. Then make an extra house or car payment, decorate a room, replace a mattress.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frugal Momma - Tools!

I don't mean your hammer & nails...although learning some do it yourself stuff ALWAYS comes in handy. I mean the stuff you can use to keep better track of what you're spending!
  • Calculator! Seems basic, right? But it really can be a big help. Most stores will have their price per ounce/pound/unit/etc. listed right on the shelf price for most items. BUT...when the items is on "sale" that price per unit no longer applies. AND if you have a coupon...it helps you figure out if you're really saving anything. Different sizes also throw a kink into the works when trying to compare. Soooo....

"What do I USE the calculator FOR, Momma??" Well, I'll tell you. To figure out the price per unit...type in the price of the item. Divide button, then the unit of measure. Let's use dishwasher liquid. A large bottle is 30 loads for $5.99. $.19966 per load. A smaller bottle is 22 loads for $3.99. $.18136 per load. That's $.0183 cents less PER LOAD for the smaller bottle. A penny less a load sounds like nothing...but I run my dishwasher at least once a day...some days twice.

What if you have two similar items but their sizes aren't compatible at all? Paper towels. 4 pack with 60 sheets each & a 5 pack, each roll has 56 sheets. First figure out how many sheets you're getting. 4 rolls x 60 sheets = 240 sheets total. Now, 5 rolls x 56 sheets = 280 sheets total. Even though the larger pack has less sheets per roll, you still get MORE sheets. Now, figure out the cost per sheet using the above equation! (That is [price of roll] divided by [number of sheets].)

AND if you are shopping with coupons...remember to consider the price AFTER the coupon discount when you are doing an equation.

  • Internet. Shop around online. Look for your weekly sales ads from local stores (I always just toss all that junk mail that comes to the house). Try http://groceryguide.com/, to see what items you regularly use that might be on sale at different local locations.
  • Excel. Now, this may only be for those who are very meticulous. Get out your excel spread sheets! Pull out your grocery list & type in all the items that you've purchased. Then you'll want to enter the prices for those items. (Be sure to tally at the end of the column what your total cost for that trip was!) Then as you use different grocery stores you will have your own comparisons. Be sure to note when an item was on sale (take advantage of those different fonts & colors!), and if you purchased a national brand or store generic.

I have the capability to use excel on my cell phone...so if I have a spread sheet, I can quickly look up what I paid for a pound of frozen peas at any number of stores I have visited recently. This also might help you decide which everyday items you might want to buy at one store, while choosing another store for larger purchases (like bulk warehouses).

Which brings me to the last tool for this blog entry...

  • You cell! There are new apps you can download that help you calculate the price per unit & coupon details. These are not going to be available for everyone...but if you have the opportunity you may want to check it out! In addition, most cell phones now feature a built in basic calculator.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stinky kitchens & kiddo woes.

I am so very tired...but there is a stink in my kitchen that I just cannot get rid of! I can't figure out where it's coming from. This happens every now & again. It definitely does not smell like an animal or something gross. (Ugh, I actually just dry heaved a little thinking about it.) It smells like spoiled food. It smells stronger the closer I get to the sink. Maybe something is trapped in the pipe? The water isn't clogging up or anything. But gross.

Also...I am not sure what's happening to my kiddo's clothes. When I buy clothes, I am usually ready to do it when practically everything needs to be replaced. One big buy & then I wait for another growth spurt. Last time I shopped I got a bunch of stretchy leggings (I think 4 pairs). Two pairs of jeans (and brought 2 pairs out of a closet that I had found earlier on clearance for $1.50 each!), about 8 different shirts that would be for school & church (the old shirts went into the 'play clothes' drawer), one skirt with a Hannah Montana t-shirt (I tend to stay away from character stuff, but it was a reward for some good behavior)...some new socks & a pair of canvas shoes that were sort of 'ballet flat' style. Not like sneakers. Well, now I am down to about 2 pairs of leggings (one missing, one with a hole in the knee), 2 pairs of jeans (the other 2 are missing), 3 shirts (NO clue where the shirts have gone)...and the shoes smell like old seaweed & sweat.

I am not in a position to go out for more clothes. We're not due for that until closer to spring...when usually I change the season of her clothes!

Oh...did I mention the hoodie jacket that was super cute until it got ruined by a mysterious yellow/brown stain that won't come out? It happened at my mother's house. Hmm. I had to pull out an older jacket that is a little too short in the sleeves. Hopefully we won't have many more freezing days. Someone gave me a poncho thing for Jocelynn...but she won't wear it. It confuses her. She's not stupid...but everything she has worn up to now has had SLEEVES in it. She just does not get the concept of no sleeves.

So, here I am. Awake. Because of a stink. I am also trying to do laundry, hoping the clothes will somehow turn up. They are not in my car, and not at the grandma's house! If anyone sees them...please return!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Frugal Momma - PARTY!

Yeah...you're broke...but it'd be nice to entertain once in a while, right? Well, if you've got an event coming up that you'd like to celebrate, or you're one of those Super Bowl partiers...here are a few frugal ideas:
  • BYO...Make it a pot luck and have people help with a side dish. Spiffy things up & choose a theme like foods that start with L...foods that are red...foods that don't require forks. It seems less mooch & more more mood-setting that way.
  • Brew it up right. Instead of spending money on expensive and BAD FOR YOU sodas...brew up some tea. Family size teabags are 2 bags per gallon. You can reserve pitchers & make sweetened or unsweetened. I sometimes fancy up my gallons of iced tea with a single bag of flavored herbal tea steeped with the regular teabags. Try mint or ginger tea.
  • Set a specific end time. Partying into the night might be fun once in a while...but if you set a specific end time, then you don't run out of refreshments & have to go racing to the more expensive (but more convenient) corner store instead of the bigger grocery.
  • Snack light. Pretzels are less expensive than chips, and not covered in greasy oil. Little bowls of raisins can replace M&Ms. Fresh salsa is cheaper per pound than the pre-made stuff & it's easy to personalize. Salsa is really just a mix of chopped tomato & onion (canned tomatoes are pretty inexpensive & often come in different flavors or even heat intensity) and your preference of herbs. Cilantro, cumin, garlic (okay, not an herb)...
  • Homemade dips can also be easy with a little bit of sour cream or low-fat/no-fat yogurt and a soup mix.
  • Buying naked chicken wings to cook & flavor yourself is also usually cheaper than ordering from a deli or specialty restaurant.

Enjoy your fun...and clean up as you go so you're not in the kitchen until midnight.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

To help get frugal with food...

Here is a recipe for some nice Indian food that hopefully will be a cheapy dinner.
Chicken Curry:
  • 3 TBSP Olive Oil (36 cents)
  • 1 small onion, chopped (25 cents)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (25 cents)
  • 3 TBSP curry powder (50 cents)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (20 cents)
  • 1 tsp paprika (20 cents)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp ginger root (20-60 cents for ground versus fresh)
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 2 breast halves, cut into bite sized pieces ($1.29-2.99/lb for bone-in vs. boneless)
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste (25 cents)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt ($1.50)
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk ($2.12/can)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until lightly browned. Stir in garlic, curry powder, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaf, ginger, sugar and salt. Continue stirring for 2 minutes. Add chicken pieces, tomato paste, yogurt, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.

  2. Remove bay leaf, TASTE and [if desired] stir in lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Simmer 5 more minutes.

Remember the lemon & pepper will add tart & hot to your sauce...which is why I recommend a taste. I found prices where I could and then divided the prices into cost per tablespoons & teaspoons. Some prices were so small, it was mere pennies or LESS per serving (like the sugar). I used the lower price on the items with a range...just to give an idea. I added that meal up to about $7.12. To feed four that is $1.78 PER PERSON. Most people will serve this over rice...another item that is pennies to the serving. Even rounding it up to $8, still means you served your family for $2 a person. How satisfied would your family be if they had to spend that same $8 at a fast food restaurant??

If you'd like to add another $3.40ish to your bill, try this naan bread with your curry.

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast (60 cents)
  • 1 cup warm water (free!)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (40 cents)
  • 2 TBSP milk
  • 1 egg beaten (15 cents)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour ($2)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (optional)
  • 1/4 butter melted (25 cents)
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
  2. Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  3. During the second rising, preheat grill/skillet/griddle to high heat.
  4. At grill side, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

The naan rounds out your meal for just over $10 total. And it's unlikely you'd have to purchase ALL of these ingredients to prepare this meal! I think all I need to add to my shopping list is bread flour, coconut milk, and yogurt.

Enjoy!

ETA: Had an email suggestion of adding a bag of frozen peas & carrots to the curry...the mix with the little square carrots is apparently the best way to go...Thanks!

Frugal Momma - Kids!

You've got 'em...but how do keep after one...or two...or...more?

Now, I've only got girls, so those of you with boys may be able to send me an email or two & give me some hints...but I've got some quick keep-your-cash ideas on how to take care of these little buggers.
  • Stop the treats! It might be hard to listen to the whining at first...but don't give in to treats or extras when you are out shopping. I know I have been guilty of doing the, "If you're very good, Momma will let you pick something out..." when I just want to get through a shopping trip without tears. Besides, if it happens less, then it TRULY becomes a treat & they might just learn to appreciate it a little more.
  • Hide the toys. No, I'm not being cruel...I promise. (Not about this anyway.) See what your kids can live without for a while. You might come to see they do not need a whole toybox, a closet, a rubbermaid tub, a basket, and a backpack full of toys. If you hide a few toys for a while, when you give them back...it will be new & exciting again. If the toys always stay new & exciting, the kiddos may not ask for new toys as often (thus you don't have to say no as often...and keeping the crying to a minimum). I have a box in the top of the closet & bring them out when I start hearing how boring things are. While they're digging through the "new", I toss a few old into the box to bring out when the boredom hits again.
  • Recyle the toys. I have two little ones a few years apart. Every few months (usually near a birthday or other gift-giving holiday) I will go through the toybox and pull out all the broken toys, the toys that have been outgrown (teething rings for a 3 yr old?? I'm sure it's not the favorite anymore), and anything that might be simply taking up space (happy meal toys come to mind). Anything that is still intact but too young for the current child I'll put away for the next. Chances are...enough time will pass when it's time to give the toy to the next in line that the previous owner has forgotten about it. If they haven't...just remind them that toy stores make a lot of the same toys. ;)
  • Keep the Summer dresses. Okay, so this is girl-specific, but it's a good trick! Some of you might be tempted to put your boys in dresses just to take advantage. :) In Florida, we have fairly mild Winters. There are a few freezing overnights & just above freezing days...but for the most part, we can get through with just a light covering. Instead of tossing the Summer dresses (which have gotten shorter by Winter because of growth spurts), I pair them with warmer items. I find a few long sleeved shirts & some nice leggings of different thickness. I usually find the leggings in 3 packs, and they might come black, white, & red to a box. So the dress turns into a little jumper. I find tights that are fairly thin (similar to a woman's pantyhose), to thick...probably equal to a pair of cotton leggings...which is another excellent item to put under a dress as it gets shorter and your girls get taller.

Okay...much shorter list than last time...and probably for the good!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Frugal Momma - Food!

Everyone is having some tough times...and trying to figure out how to save money in various places. Well...as someone who has fed a family of four on about $200 a month, I hope I can give you some tips!




  • Sales and coupons are great...but keeping your menu basic works best. I do waffles/pancakes, eggs, or cereal (varies between hot & cold) for breakfast. Lunch is sandwiches or leftovers. Dinner is where I will make some variety...but sticking to some basics like chicken, rice/pasta, beans...and then changing that up with different seasonings and veggies.
  • Go vegetarian a few nights a week. You don't HAVE to eat meat at every dinner. If you're worried about getting enough protein, then eat eggs for b'fast & PBnJ for lunch. I also stretch my meat with beans. Works best when you are using ground or shredded meat.
  • Go halfsies with the milk. Half REAL milk...half powdered. This works well on little kids. If they complain that it tastes funny, add a little chocolate syrup or powder. A lot of chocolate milk powders are fortified now-a-days...so you're not doing too much damage if you go with that over the syrup.
  • Puree away! When you have fresh veggies or fruits that are getting a little past their prime and might be unappetizing, puree them and add them to other foods. Veggies can be added to sauces or meatloaves, and fruits can be put in with muffins, pancakes or breads (think banana bread not sandwich bread).
  • Learn to bake. Baking helps with the above suggestion...but in the long run one 5 pound bag of flour lasts much longer than a single box of cake mix or cookies. You can also control how much GOOD nutrition goes into your family's food when you bake it yourself. Use whole wheat flour & brown sugar instead of the white, overprocessed stuff.
  • Recycle...This might sound weird for food...but think about it. If you buy a can of bread crumbs...what do you think it was before it was in the can?? BREAD! Instead of tossing the last few pieces of bread from a loaf, put it in a plastic bag into the freezer. When your bag is full, stick it in the food processor and you have your OWN bread crumbs. You can season it any way you like. Stale bread also works for french toast, stuffing, croutons, or casseroles. (Best for casseroles that will have a lot of liquid in it, or is being made with a lot of egg, just tear it up & toss with your ingredients.)
  • Leftovers. This goes along with the recycling. If you are having chicken for dinner, shred the leftovers for enchiladas or soup. Try making more than one meal out of what USED to be a single evening's fare. Roasted potatoes for dinner means home fries for breakfast.
  • Go international. It changes things up a bit! Naan bread has ingredients most people have in their pantry...and since Indian dishes don't use beef, you already have a chance to find some cheaper items to go in your curry! Mexican food is REALLY easy to do cheaply. Flour tortillas can be made at home in seconds...add some beans, rice, and fresh tomatoes & you're done. If you want a little decadence then add some sour cream...store brands aren't usually more than a dollar for a medium sized container.
  • Shop with a LIST and stick to it! And don't just put random things on your list. Make sure you have exactly what you will need. There is a great tool on http://www.allrecipes.com/ that lets you choose recipes and then add the items needed onto a printable shopping list. I do this for my dinners. I typically choose 5 dinner meals and put them on my list. Why 5? To give me 2 nights a week to let me work with leftovers and in case our schedule gets mixed up and we end up having grilled cheese one night b/c it's faster than a roast. And in case we go all week and stay exactly on schedule or have no leftovers, I always grab a jar of pasta sauce & spaghetti to have on hand. (Although, it might be to your advantage to make your own spaghetti sauce in a crockpot and then freeze it in manageable size freezer bags!) The shopping list lets you delete items you won't need to buy (things like water, or items you know are already stocked in the pantry) and add things you will need in addition to the specific recipes.
  • When you DO buy meat...look at the packages carefully. Yes, boneless skinless are more convenient...but more expensive, too! Buy bone-in and do a quick de-boning before or after cooking. You can boil the bones in some water (add herbs!) to make stock. Whole chickens are about or just under a dollar a pound right now. Roast 2 in the oven at the same time...pick out your pieces for that night's meal & at cleanup go ahead & carve or pull the meat off the bones. Stick it in a bag for the next night...or a freezer bag for next week! And again, boil the bones for stock! If you put the stock in the fridge overnight, any fat will rise & harden on the surface...pick it out for a lower-fat stock. Stock can be used for soups, adding to a roux for gravy or used in place of water in things like rice or mashed potatoes.

Last one...I promise!

  • Use your crockpot! Crockpots help you make larger batches of food. You can eat some now & freeze the rest for later. It also keeps cheaper, tougher cuts of meat tender & juicey. If you don't have a fancy crock with a timer that shuts it off on it's own...you can still make foods while you are away at work or school. Buy a timer switch (like this one http://tinyurl.com/8zm68z). You plug one end into your crockpot & then plug it into the wall. Set the timer and it will automatically shut off your crockpot. That timer might look familiar...I have seen people use them for lamps, lights, and TVs when they go on vacation...to make it seem like someone is home. :)



I hope you enjoyed my Frugal Momma article on food. I think I might make a short series out of this...so keep your eyes peeled!

Aha!


You thought I'd skip a whole 'nother month huh? Well...I DIDN'T and here I am...just a few hours before the new year.


Remember, it's better to sleep in your car than use it as a deadly weapon! Also...if you're the DD, then try and get some cash from your drunk friends. They will NEVER remember it in the morning. ;)