2016 Meal Plan #6

Happy Monday! I hope you had a fantastic weekend!

I spent Friday night at a local children’s theater production of Alice in Wonderland, and did some cleaning at home on Saturday, before taking my daughter out for a final round of door-to-door Girl Scout cookie selling. She lost steam pretty quickly, but we still managed to add 15 boxes to her total. Yesterday, I took her to a Girl Scouts-sponsored Chinese New Year event at an area world culture museum for children. One thing I did NOT do yesterday, is watch the Super Bowl. With apologies to any fans who might be reading, I don’t like football at all. My husband is a fan and watches quite a few games throughout the season, but is not a nut about it. One thing that I do love about the Super Bowl, is that it marks the end of football in our lives for the next six months or so.

This week is getting off to a somewhat hectic start for me. I typically work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the other part-time worker in my office asked me to swap my Thursday for her Monday – we share an office, so we can’t be there on the same days – and since she’s swapped several days for me in the past, I agreed. This will make this evening a bit chaotic, since my daugher has ballet from 5:00 to 6:00. We leave home for ballet at 4:30, and she gets off the bus at 4:15. (And I get home from work at 4:00.) She and I will have to change quickly, grab a snack, and head right to the ballet studio.

My altered work schedule also complicates matters a bit further because I usually go grocery shopping on Monday mornings, right after my daughter gets on the bus. Since I swore off Sunday grocery trips a while ago, we’re going to have to make do with what’s already in the fridge and cabinets, until I can go shopping on Wednesday. We’ve got plenty of food on-hand, but I don’t think I’ll be able to come up with anything too exciting out of it…

Another unusual thing about this week, is that my husband and daughter are heading to NJ for the weekend, so I only have to worry about my own meals Friday evening through Sunday morning. Woo-hoo!!

Here’s what’s on my dinner meal plan for this week:

  • Monday: Cheese quesadillas with leftover roasted sweet potatoes
  • Tuesday: Pasta with garlic and olive oil sauce, with frozen veggies
  • Wednesday: Pork tenderloin with roasted broccoli
  • Thursday: Quick & easy clean eating veggie chili
  • Friday: Leftover chili
  • Saturday: Grilled cheese!!
  • Sunday: Slow-cooker pot roast

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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Goals for 2016 – Update #1

Wow – we’re (a little over) a month into 2016 already; how did that happen?? I’ve been very focused on my goals for 2016 these past few weeks, and here’s first monthly update on how I’m doing with them:

Move more. I’m measuring this in two ways: my daily steps count, and my daily stairs count, thanks for my FitBit. I set out to achieve these daily benchmarks at least five times per week. I accomplished (or exceeded!) the stairs benchmark every week in January, but I only accomplished the steps benchmark one week in January. (More precisely, I hit my daily steps goal five days per week once, four days per week once, and three days per week, twice.) There’s clearly room for improvement here.

Meditate. My goal here is to meditate at least four days per week, and I’ve been using the (free) Stop, Breathe & Think app. I achieved this benchmark two weeks in January. Again, there’s room for improvement here. I’d like to try some other guided meditations, so please feel free to share any suggestions you may have.

Meal plan weekly. They’re generally not very exciting, and some weeks I deviate from them a good bit, but I have created and published five weekly meal plans so far this year.

Read 24 books. I read 1.5 books in January. I probably would’ve finished the second one, if I hadn’t misplaced the (library) book in our house for a week. I knew it had to be in the house and that I’d eventually locate it, so I didn’t want to start another book. Instead I used the time that it was MIA to catch up on my (free) magazine reading. You can follow my progress on this goal here.

Pay off car loan. If you read my February 1 debt totals post, you know that January was kind of a rough month for us financially, and that we weren’t able to pay more than the minimum on this loan. At the time I’m writing this, the loan balance is $2,651.58.

Grow 100 pounds of produce. Since it’s winter in upstate New York, I haven’t made any progress on this one, yet. However, I did place my Botanical Interests seed order, so that’s a step in the right direction…

Have monthly money meetings. I’ll admit that I’ve been dragging my feet on having a January recap meeting with my husband, because I know he’s not going to want to do it. But I’ve finally completed my January spending report, so I plan to have that meeting this weekend.

Clean something daily. First, I’ve decided to reset the benchmark for this goal from seven days per week, to five. I hit the latter two weeks in January, so there’s work to be done on this one, too.

How was your January? How are you doing with your 2016 goals/resolutions?

Did you know you can find me on Facebook?? I share my own posts, as well as some of my favorites from other bloggers, there. Please stop by and check it out!

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February 1 Debt Totals & January Side Hustle Income

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January Overview

So… 2016 is off to a less-than-stellar start. January ended up being an expensive month. I had an eye exam and purchased new contacts, for a total of $410. My sweet kitty Tony’s health declined dramatically, and we ultimately had to say goodbye to him. We ended up spending a little over $850 on his last 8 days. We received a $227 propane delivery, but they don’t hurt nearly as much as they used to, now that we own our own tank and purchase through a co-op. And, our bi-annual car insurance payment ($596) was due. Finally, we’ll be reimbursed for it in early February, but my husband had just over $1,000 in work expenses in January.

On the income side, I resumed working at my (very) part-time job in January, after the seven-week winter break. Because of the pay schedule, though, I won’t receive my first 2016 paycheck until early February. My husband was supposed to receive his 2015 Q3 bonus in January, but it’s been delayed until February, as well his annual review. (His employer is not very on-the-ball about these things.) The good news is that his raise will be retroactive, so it doesn’t really matter than his review is a little late.

February 1 Debt Totals

Given our hefty expenses in January, we did not put any extra funds toward debt repayment. Here’s what our (non-mortgage) debt looks like now:

Home equity loan: $57,498.81 (down $246.22)

School loan #1 (mine): $2,859.82 (down $93.67)

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $55,126.93 (down $17.85, hmm, I must’ve calculated this too closely to the most recent payment…)

Car loan: $2,651.58 (down $171.88)

One of my goals for 2016 is to pay off the car loan, which actually comes due in March of 2017. We currently pay the minimum monthly payment of $181.45. While I’ll be happy to have this paid off at any point during 2016, the earlier we can start applying that $181 to something else, the better!

January Side Hustle Income

Swagbucks: $3 Amazon gift card

My Points: $10 Target gift card

Surveys: $10 Amazon gift card

ThredUp: $11.20

Children’s consignment store: $13.75

Amazon store: $20.14

How was your January?

Disease Called Debt

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

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2015 Meal Plan #5

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend!

My weekend began with my first restorative yoga class on Friday evening. (A couple of months ago, I took my first yoga class, Yoga for Anxiety Relief, and was briefly introduced to restorative yoga, there.) It was… interesting. My fairly limited undertanding of restorative yoga is that it consists of poses that are meant to facilitate a more rapid activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. In short, the aim is to achieve deep relaxation. What I didn’t realize was that in addition to helping us get into the poses, the instructor would be swaddling us. Each participant had a spot on two overlapping blankets (with a yoga mat undernearth), and we were wrapped up in them, once we were settled into the poses. I didn’t dislike the class – or the swaddling, since the studio was pretty chilly – but it wasn’t 100% my style, either. At my yoga-intructor friend’s suggestion, I’m going to try another restorative class, with a different instructor. And like the last yoga class I took, my health insurance company will reimburse me for the cost!

The rest of our weekend was an unusually social one, for us. We spent Saturday afternoon doing cleaning (me), and some painting (my husband), and that evening, my husband and I went out to dinner with another couple, using a great Living Social deal I purchased for the restaurant. (And I purchased it through Ebates, so I earned 3% cash back on the purchase.)

Yesterday, we went to a friend’s house for a family lunch/gathering. There were four girls our daughter’s age – 6 – there (including ours), so the adults had lots of time to hang out and catch up. Of course, there were also the requisite complaints of, “She said she’s not our friend anymore,” and, “They’re being mean to me.” Is it me, or does the drama start surprisingly early with girls these days??

I almost let putting together this week’s meal plan slide for another day, but since doing it is immensely beneficial for both my sanity and my wallet – not to mention that creating a weekly meal plan is one of my goals for 2016! – I buckled down and did it while watching Downton Abbey last night. Here’s what’s for dinner at my house this week:

  • Monday (ballet 5-6pm): English muffin pizzas with veggies and hummus
  • Tuesday (work day): Pizza! (I’m hosting a few other local Girl Scout troop leaders for a meeting, and will be getting a pizza for our working dinner. And since it’s for volunteer work, I’ll be saving the receipt for my taxes!)
  • Wednesday: Freezer-to-crockpot chicken fajitas
  • Thursday (work day): Leftovers
  • Friday: Baked ziti with roasted broccoli
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Husband’s choice for the Super Bowl, which probably means something like takeout wings.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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Charitable Giving While Paying Down Debt

CHaritable Giving while paying down debt

It’s no secret that my husband and I have a lot of debt. It’s also no secret that we’re not approaching it as Dave Ramsey’s much-touted gazelles. For us, it’s more important to lead a balanced life of enjoyment and making memories with our debt repayment, than to simply pay it down as fast as humanly possible. I understand and respect that not everyone would approach our situation in the same way, but that’s what makes personal finance so personal, right?

One of the things that we like to include in our finances is charitable giving. I’m obviously not talking about making Mark Zuckerberg-sized donations, but we like to contribute to our community in small ways. We’ve found that our daughter’s (public) school provides many opportunities for donating, particularly since our town is very socio-economically diverse. Here are some of the things we’ve done in recent months:

  • Donated foods (most purchased using coupons and SavingStar rebates) to the school food drive.
  • Donated free cat food samples to the student council’s pet supply drive.
  • Donated travel-size personal care products purchased with coupons and gathered during hotel stays, to a local homeless shelter.
  • Anonymously purchased a few books for children in our daugher’s class during the Scholastic book fair. (The books sold through Scholastic book fairs cost as little as $1 each.)
  • Helped our daughter sell Girl Scout cookies for her Daisy troop, including boxes that are donated to local veterans groups.
  • Made a small cash donation to the nonprofit organization from which I adopted our recently-deceased kitty, Tony.
  • Helped promote an upcoming school fundraising event at a local restaurant.

You may have noticed that most of these cost us little or nothing. For me, this is a great reminder that helping others can be fit into any budget (or financial situation, since we’re no longer budgeting). If you feel that you simply cannot donate anything material, many charities are more than happy to have volunteers help with their work – some even have tasks, like stuffing envelopes, which can be done at home!

Disease Called Debt

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2016 Meal Plan #4

Happy Monday! I hope you had a lovely weekend. We were fortunate, and received not a single flake of snow from Jonas. In fact, we’ve been very lucky, and received very little snow at all this winter (so far??), which is something I’m not generally able to say, as an upstate New York resident!

We had a pretty quiet weekend. My husband and daughter spent some time at an arcade – each spent only $5 – on Saturday, while I did some cleaning at home and caught up on the phone with my 36-weeks pregnant sister, who lives in the Boston-area. Yesterday, my daughter and I went to an area Girl Scouts program at a world museum for children, and I made a big pile of chicken cutlets when we got home. They’re one of the few “normal” foods all three of us enjoy eating. I just wish there weren’t so many steps and so much mess involved in making them… I also turned my nose up at the recent temperatures in the 20s, and placed my garden seeds order from Botanical Interests. I wanted to make sure to take advantage of their offer of free shipping on orders over $40, before it expired at the end of the month. I’m really looking forward to greatly expanding the size of my straw bale garden this year!

If you’ve read any of my previous meal plans, you’re probably familiar with my feelings about cooking: I’m not a fan. So creating meal plans are key for me – so much so, that they’re back on my list of goals for this year.

Even though I created a meal plan for last week, I strayed from it a good bit – and not in the healthiest of ways. It was an emotional week, with the rapidly-declining health, and then the death of my sweet cat, Tony. Also, my husband had to spend several nights in Syracuse for work, so it wasn’t worth cooking anything elaborate for just myself and my picking-eating six year-old. I’m not going to lie: cereal may have passed for dinner one night, as did boxed macaroni and cheese another. (I did make this recipe one day, and it was delicious and easy.) So, I’m ready to get back on-track with cooking reasonably-healthy meals. With that in mind, here’s what’s on my dinner meal plan for this week:

What’s for dinner at your house this week? Did Jonas drop any snow in your area?

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Why We’re Taking a Budget Break

 

Why We're Taking a Budget Break (2)

As an avid reader of personal finance books and blogs, I’ve learned a great deal about budgeting. I started to feel like I was being financially irresponsible without one, so my husband and I officially started creating a monthly budget last summer. I learned a lot the first few months, and eventually got better at predicting all of the categories we would need for a given month. I never felt like I nailed it, though, and it felt like quite a chore, rather than the useful and liberating tool I expected it to be.

Perhaps I would’ve had a more positive experience with budgeting, had my husband been fully on-board with it. However, he was far from it. He mainly listened as we “talked” about putting it together every month, and he was disinterested in my updates and monthly summaries. Honestly, he wanted no part of it.

Since I was basically going it alone, and I didn’t find the process particularly enjoyable or beneficial, myself, I decided to take a break from creating a monthly budget. Instead, I was inspired by something one of the guests said on an episode of Shannon McLay’s Martinis and Your Money podcast. (Sorry, but I neither remember the episode, nor the guest’s name! I’m blaming it on turning 41 this year…) He said that he and his wife don’t create and follow a monthly budget with categories. Instead, they simply allocate a chunk of their money to spend each month, and spend it on whatever they need and want. It includes food, gas, utilities, clothing, extras – everything. I like the simplicity of this system, and the flexibility that comes with not creating specific categories and guessing what we’ll need to spend in them each month. I’ve continued to track and sum our monthly expenditures every month, so watching where and how quickly our money is being spent each month is easy enough. So, at least for the first few months of 2016, I’ll be tracking our monthly income and expenses, as well as an overall budgeted amount for the month’s spending.

Do you create and follow a budget with categories every month? Do you have any challenges or frustrations with it?

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2016 Meal Plan #3

I’m posting this meal plan a little later than I usually do, this week. We had an up-and-down weekend with Tony, and finally had to say goodbye to him yesterday morning. It was my first time making this decision for a pet, and my first time going through the procedure. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was the right things to do for sweet Tony, and it was quick, peaceful, and very sad. I was very worried about what it would be like, but he truly did just go to sleep.

While I’m much more focused on the emotional toll of Tony’s passing, I can’t ignore the fact that we spent over $800 on him in the last eight days of his life. I don’t regret a penny of it, but it certainly complicates our financial picture for this month. I also had to miss a day of work to take him to the vet for the final time, so our monthly income will be a bit lower than expected.

Here’s what’s on my dinner meal plan this week:

  • Monday: Breakfast for dinner – scrambled eggs, bacon, and English muffins
  • Tuesday: Crockpot lasagna soup and frozen veggies
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: English muffin pizzas with raw veggies
  • Friday: Chicken cutlets with roasted carrots
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Pasta with sausage sauce

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

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Some Sad News

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve undoubtedly read about my sweet old cat, Tony. I adopted him and his feline sister, Sophie, when I was 25 (!), and had recently moved to California for work. I’m now 41 (!!), and Tony and Sophie are closing in on 16. They flew across the country with me, when I moved back to the East Coast. They have lived in two NYC apartments, one Jersey City apartment, the apartment my husband and I lived in when we first moved to upstate NY, and finally, our house. They survived the arrival of our daughter, and have grown to love tolerate her.

I’ve mentioned Tony on this blog on a number of occasions because he’s been a VERY expensive member of our family. There was the time he jumped off the top of our kitchen cabinets, onto the hardword floor, and broke his leg. He had surgery to repair that. There was the time he got very sick and had an endoscopic biopsy to diagnose his inflammatory bowel disease. (That procedure alone – forget the xrays, vet appointments, and medications that went along with it – cost $1,200!) As a result of this condition, he has required pricey, precription cat food for the past four years or so. And more recently, there was the very unfortunate $550 enema. Tony’s chronic IBD has required countless trips to the vet, and I have no doubt that we’ve paid for his child’s first year of college.

Yesterday I learned that Tony’s kidneys are in bad shape, and his time with us is probably very limited. There’s not much that can be done for him, because his dietary options are very limited, due to his IBD. We’re basically keeping him comfortable for as long as we can, and then we’ll have to say goodbye.

Some may find the amount we’ve spent on caring for a cat difficult to believe, especially considering the fact that we already have a lot of debt. I’ll just say that our pets are truly members of our family, and we accept that we are responsible for their care. It has indeed been expensive to care for Tony, but also so very worth it to have him as a part of our family.

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Have you ever lost a beloved pet?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

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2016 Meal Plan #2

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Mine got off to a rough start on Friday. My husband decided at the last minute to head to NJ to visit his grandmother, who fell and broke her hip on Christmas Eve. Our daughter gets VERY upset whenever he spends the night away from her, and I had the unpleasant task of informing her that he would be away for two nights, when she got home from school on Friday. (In case you’re wondering, she has no problem with me going away overnight…) She sobbed and begged me to take her to NJ for about 45 minutes (!!), before finally being distracted by Daniel Tiger. I’m not going to lie: she got more screen time than usual on Friday night and on Saturday, but we also attended a friend’s cake-decorating birthday party, went to the library, did her homework, and played some games. Overall, I think “ladies’ weekend” was a success, and my husband got home at 11am on Sunday.

We have a pretty normal week, this week. I’m heading back to my (very) part-time job on Tuesday, after a seven-week winter break. The winter term is the busiest time of year in my office, and I’m going to offer to work some extra days, if needed.

Here’s what’s on my dinner meal plan for this week:

  • Monday (ballet, Girl Scout leaders meeting): Easy slow-cooker chili w/ raw veggies
  • Tuesday (work): Leftover chili
  • Wednesday (school play meeting for parents): Ravioli w/ garlic spinach
  • Thursday (work): English muffin pizzas w/ frozen peas
  • Friday: Meatloaf w/ roasted red potatoes
  • Saturday: Leftovers and fridget clean-out
  • Sunday: Chicken cutlets (with Zayon chicken)

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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