2015 Meal Plan #40

Happy Tuesday! How was your weekend? My husband and I had a lovely weekend away, celebrating our tenth anniversary. My in-laws stayed at our house and took care of our daughter and our cats. We went to Lake Placid, which is absolutely beautiful, but experienced below-average temperatures over the weekend, requiring us to grab some wool sweaters and our winter coats out of storage, on our way out the door. Saturday’s overnight low temperature was 28 – brrr!

We take a day trip to Lake Placid with our daughter at least once every year, but it was nice to do the things we can’t do when she’s with us, like walk through every shop on the main street, and eat in restaurants that don’t have chicken fingers on the menu. We also got to sleep in, and lay around and read in our hotel room. I may or may not have even taken a brief nap on Saturday… In short, it was a dream weekend for parents of small children. :)

Here are the pictures I shared on Instagram over the weekend:


A peek of Whiteface Mountain off in the distance


Cheers to ten years!

I spent most of yesterday digging out – doing laundry, tidying up, and going for a long walk to burn a few of the calories from the yummy chocolate tart and other goodies I consumed over the weekend. I also finally put together this week’s dinner meal plan. Here’s what I came up with:

Monday: Slow cooker chicken Parmesan with spaghetti and raw veggies

Tuesday: Leftovers with roasted asparagus

Wednesday: Spice-rubbed grilled pork tenderloin with rice and leftover asparagus

Thursday: Spicy peanut noodles from Simple Vegetarian Pleasures and frozen edamame

Friday: Cheeseburgers on the grill with roasted carrots and beets

Saturday: Homemade mac and cheese with frozen peas

Sunday: Leftovers (fridge clean-out)

How was your weekend? What’s for dinner at your house this week? If you’re married, how many years has it been?

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September Budget Review

September was the very first month that my husband and I put together and used a full budget. We’ve been tracking our spending for over a year, but that’s pretty reactive, and I knew we needed to be more proactive, if we want to get a better handle on our spending and pay down our debts more quickly. We knew what our fixed monthly expenses were, but we hadn’t previously created any structure around the other expense categories – and this can get one in a LOT of trouble – trust me!

I’ve read quite a few blog posts about budgeting, as well as two helpful books by Jessi Fearson, The Budget Mama: Build a Budget that Works, and Real Life on a Budget. (You can read my review of the first one here.) So in late August, I sat down with what I’d learned, and put together our first budget. My husband and I met to review it, and off we went!

Categories Included & Results

These are the expense categories I included in our September budget, and how we made out with them:

  • Mortgage (fixed amount)
  • Home equity loan (fixed amount)
  • Husband’s grad school loan (fixed amount)
  • My grad school loan (fixed amount)
  • Accord loan (fixed amount)
  • Internet (fixed amount)
  • Electricity – under budget!
  • Trash/recycling – (fixed amount)
  • Phone service – very slightly under budget!
  • Food – way, way over budget
  • Ballet – way over budget
  • Gas – way over budget
  • Cat care – under budget!
  • Medical – under budget!
  • Car care – very slightly under budget!
  • Household – under budget!
  • My daughter’s YMCA membership (fixed amount)
  • Dining out – way over budget
  • Savings (fixed amount)
  • Slush – me – ever so slightly over budget
  • Slush – husband – under budget (show-off)!
  • Gifts – slightly over budget
  • Birthday party (deposit for my daughter’s upcoming birthday party) (fixed amount)

Categories I Missed

Almost immediately, I realized that I had missed a few categories. For example, I had just started using a “new” laptop that we actually purchased over a year ago, but it didn’t have Microsoft Office on it. I signed up for a free 30-day trial, but quickly realized that I would need to purchase Office at the end of September. So I quickly added an office supplies category. Good thing, because I also needed an ink cartridge for the printer! Here are the other categories I missed:

  • Entertainment. We’re not as good at enjoying 100% free entertainment as Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods are, and we ended up spending $62 on a day trip to Lake Placid. We spent it on a boat tour of the lake, and the entry fee at Whiteface Mountain. It was money well spent, in our view
Lake Placid

Hazy view of Lake Placid

  • Activities. I had forgotten about the $20 fee for the canning class I took. Also, I learned about a yoga for kids class that my daughter took twice ($15 per class), and I pre-registered for a yoga class for myself. My class takes place over four weeks in October and November, but I had to pre-pay for it. All of this added up to $130, but we’ll be reimbursed by our health insurance for all of the yoga classes – once I submit the paperwork.
  • Fines. The DVDs from the library are going to kill me! The late fee is a $1 per DVD, per day, and my daughter typically takes out two or three at a time. I don’t want to make this a regular category, but I can’t say I’ll never have to pay a fine again, either.
  • Books. My daughter’s school sends home Scholastic book order forms every month. I don’t purchase books for her every month, but I did get her three for $10 this time.
  • Clothing. It seems like, between the three of us, something is going to come up in this category almost every month – especially since my daughter is growing like a weed these days!
  • Personal care. I’m not sure why I left this off. Sure, I have lots of shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste stockpiled, but this seems like another category that will come up almost every month.
  • Misc. I decided to purchase labels with my daughter;s name on them for her outerwear. I plan to stick them in all of her coats and jackets, as well as her rain and snow boats, since these are all worn and changed out of at school. I didn’t know how else to categorize this one expense, but I think I should created a small “misc.” category for similarly random expenses each month.

Everything I’ve read about budgeting indicated that there’s a learning curve, and it may take several months before we get into a groove with it. I definitely saw that play out with our September budget, and I imagine there will be some kinks October’s budget, as well.

What are some of your September budget “misses”?

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October Budget Plans

The good news? I’ll be getting my first paycheck since May, in October.

The bad news? October is going to be a very pricey month. The highlights include a tenth anniversary weekend getaway, a sixth birthday party, and the potential for some extra medical bills.

October is – GASP – only the second month that my husband and I have put together and used a complete budget. We’ve been tracking our expenses for over a year, but that’s pretty reactive, and I felt the only way to gain more control over our spending, was to be more proactive and create a budget. Figuring out in advance what categories we’ll need in a full month was a little challenging on the first try, and I’ve applied what I learned to October’s budget. Not only did I add several additional categories for October, but I also created a miscellaneous category, for the inevitable surprise expenses.

Regular Expenses

These are the fixed expenses that we have every month. The amounts may differ monthly, but they are expenses that we have every month. They include:

  • Mortgage (fixed amount)
  • Home equity loan (fixed amount)
  • My husband’s school loan (fixed amount)
  • My school loan (fixed amount)
  • Accord car payment (fixed amount)
  • Electricity (variable amount)
  • Internet (fixed amount)
  • Cell phones (very slightly variable amount)
  • Trash (fixed amount)
  • Life insurance (fixed amount)
  • Food (variable amount)
  • Gas (variable amount)
  • Savings (variable amount, but with a monthly minimum)
  • Household (variable amount)
  • Membership (fixed amount)
  • His and hers slush (variable amount)
  • Dining out (variable amount)
  • Miscellaneous (variable amount)

Month-Specific Categories

Every month, there will be expenses that are out-of-the-ordinary. For October, they are:

  • Anniversary trip. My husband and I are going away for a weekend for our tenth anniversary. (Shout-out to my in-laws, who will be watching our daughter!) We’ll be paying for one night at a hotel (we prepaid for one when we booked), meals, and massages for both of us.
  • Birthday party. Our daughter turns six this month, and we’ll be having a party for her at a local fall farm. (Think pumpkin patch and hayrides.) We’ll also be paying for a cake, and for food for the “after party” at our house for family members coming from out-of-town.
  • Medical. My husband will have at least one visit to the ophthamologist, to check on his retinal issue. The copay for that visit will be $50. If he needs treatment, there are several different options, including medication and a laser treatment. We don’t have any information on pricing of the different options, nor what we would have to pay out-of-pocket.
  • Office supplies. This is one of the categories I left off in September, and I ended up needing to renew our Norton anti-virus protection early in the month. I may need some printer ink in October, so I’m budgeting some funds for this category.
  • Personal care. I haven’t purchased makeup in months, but I’m getting low, and I wear it to work. I’m also low on hair gel, and I imagine there may be some other small items that need to be replenished in October.
  • Car care. I’m not great at predicting when our cars will need oil changes, but I think the Accord will in October.
  • Cat care. Tony has been doing very well for the last six-plus weeks, but we never know when he’ll experience a flare-up of his IBD, and need a trip to the vet for anti-nausea meds. Cross your fingers that he makes it through another month without it…
  • Gifts. This includes gifts for our daughter’s birthday, as well as the birthday of one of her friends.

Whew – I can’t think of a better month to start earning a paycheck again!

What does your October budget look like?

Taming the Laundry Monster

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter
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October 1 Debt Total & September Side Hustle Income

September Overview

Ah, September… It was the first month that my husband and I were working with a complete, line-by-line budget. A full post on how it went is coming later, but let’s just say it was a “learning” month. There were unforeseen expenses, and even unseen expense categories! But it was also a good month for income, since my husband received a quarterly bonus check.

October 1 Debt Totals

September was yet another uneventful debt repayment month. Since I haven’t received a paycheck since May, and won’t be getting one for a couple more weeks, we didn’t put any additional funds toward any of our loans in September. Here’s where the debt total stands now:

Home equity loan: $58,477.22 (-$241.93)

School loan #1 (mine): $3,231.60 (-$92.89)

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $55,887.05 (-$239.46)

Car loan: $3,336.33 (-$169.56 )

Ugh – that feels like a lot. I’d really like to pay off the car loan in 2016. (I believe the scheduled payoff date is in the spring of 2017.) It’s for our Accord, which is a year younger than our paid-off Camry, but is at the same mileage, (161,000), since my husband drives it a lot for work. It’s in great shape, but I don’t like owing money on high-mileage cars. The thought of having to replace the car before the loan is paid off frightens me.

September Side Hustle Income

My side hustle income was up a bit in September, mainly thanks to some good sales through my Amazon store. Here’s what I earned:

Amazon store: $115.23

Swagbucks: $8 in Amazon gift cards

Surveys (Ipsos I-Say): $15

Small business: $27.81

User testing: $3

SavingStar: $18.45

How was your September?

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2015 Meal Plan #39

Happy Monday! I hope you had a fantastic first weekend of fall! We drove to Massachusetts for my nephew’s third birthday party on Saturday, and spent the night at my sister’s house. We drove home yesterday, and spent the afternoon pulling our autumn decor out of storage in the basement, and decorating our house. We also picked up a couple of mums at the garden center.

This week is going to be a busy one at our house. My daughter has ballet class on Monday evening, and I’m heading back to work – for the first time since early May! – on Tuesday. Like last year, I’ll be working Tuesdays and Thursdays this fall. Two new full-time staff members were hired over the summer, so I’m anxious to meet them and see how the new organizational structure of the office is working out. I’ll also be attending a meeting for parents interested in Girl Scouts on Tuesday evening. I think I inadvertently volunteered to run a Daisy troop for first graders at my daughter’s school, so I’m sure I’ll learn more about what I’ve gotten myself into…

Thursday night my in-laws are arriving from NJ, and they’ll be staying at our house all weekend. They’ll be caring for our daughter (and cats), while my husband and I go away for the weekend to celebrate our 10th anniversary. This will be the first time we’ve left her overnight!

With all that scheduling in mind, here’s what’s on my meal plan for dinners at my house this week:

  • Monday: Easy slow-cooker chili with avocado, sour cream, cheese, chips and raw veggies
  • Tuesday: Leftover chili
  • Wednesday: Skillet meatballs and pasta w/ roasted veggies
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Dinner out!
  • Saturday: Dinner out!
  • Sunday: Bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast – breakfast for dinner!

How was your weekend? What’s on your family’s dinner meal plan this week?


MightyFix Review

I try to be pretty green. I bring my own bags to most stores, we use cloth napkins, I use rags for cleaning, and when our light bulbs burn out, we replace them with LEDs. Being green is a priority for me, not only because I want to help the environment, but also because it often saves us money.

I haven’t found a single store that sells a wide range of eco-friendly products, so I’m always looking for websites that do. ePantry is one of my favorites for household cleaners and personal care products, but there are many other categories they don’t cover. So when I learned about Might Nest, I was pretty excited.
Shop mightynest.com for non-toxic products to create a healthy home

Mighty Nest carries personal care and household cleaning products, too, but they also offer a wide array of other items, from water bottles and lunch boxes, to candles, toys, and dishware. In fact, Mighty Nest is a place to find natural, non-toxic, and organic products for all areas of home. Their products are all free of parabens, lead, melamine, BPA, PVC, flame retardants, and phthalates. What could be better? I know: how about that 15% of your order is donated to the school you designate?? Talk about a win-win!

Since I’m always looking for new green product ideas, I’m particularly excited about the MightFix. It’s a subscription service, and for $10 a month, Mighty Nest sends me a full-size, eco-friendly product that’s worth at least $10, and it ships for FREE! Plus, your school still receives 15%. Oh, and if you see something else on the Mighty Nest site that you’d like to order, they’ll ship it to you for free with your MightyFix!

So what kind of products come in the MightyFix?  I’ve received two so far, and have been very excited about both of them. I received a LunchSkins Reusable Sandwich Bag and a LunchSkins Reusable Snack Bag in my first MightyFix, and a set of five reusable produce bags in my second.


The LunchSkins bags are actually something I’ve used in the past, and really liked. Since my husband and daughter both bring their lunches to work/school every day, and I bring my lunch on my work days, as well, we go through a LOT of plastic baggies. I try to reuse them whenever I can, but quite a few still end up in the trash. (Okay, I admit that I don’t hand-wash our used plastic baggies…) LunchSkins bags are dishwasher-safe, enabling them to be reused over and over. I’m saving money on baggies and keeping plastic out of landfills and water!IMG_4690 (1)I bring home at least three plastic produce bags every time I go to the grocery store. I use them to line our bathroom trash cans, but I still often have a ton of them stashed away. (I mean, how many bathroom trash bags do three people need??) These reusable produce bags will enable me to greatly cut down on the number of plastic produce bags I use. Oh, and they’re machine-washable, which makes me very happy.

If you have any interest in eco-friendly products, I highly recommend that you check out Mighty Nest.

Are you “green”? What are you favorite ways to save money, while being eco-friendly?

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2015 Meal Plan #38

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? Mine felt a little hectic. On Saturday, my daughter auditioned to be in a local production of the Nutcracker.


All lined up and ready to audition!

This was a first for all of us, so my husband and I didn’t know what to expect. Since our daughter was auditioning with the five-to-nine age group, we figured her chances were pretty slim, since the older kids probably had several more years of ballet experience than she does. Anyway, we were thrilled when she came out of the audition studio holding a coveted “packet”, meaning she got a part. She’s going to be a mouse in the battle scene, but I got so teary when I saw her come out smiling, you would’ve thought she was playing the Sugar Plum Fairy! More than anything, though, we are so proud of her for auditioning in the first place. There’s no way I would’ve been brave enough to do something like that when I was her age. I think it has a lot to do with one of her favorite books, Tallulah’s Nutcracker


Selecting a celebratory treat

After grabbing a celebratory chocolate cannoli, we raced home, my daughter got changed, and I took her to a friend’s house for a playdate. Since her friend’s mom is a friend of mine, I stayed at the playdate and we caught up on our girls’ first couple of weeks of school. (Sadly, they’re not in the same class again this year.)

Yesterday, we went apple-picking, and then my daughter took a yoga for kids class. A friend of mine is a yoga instructor, and she told me about this class. My daughter took it last week, too, and loved it. I also registered for my friend’s upcoming four-session workshop, “Yoga for Anxiety Relief.” I hesitated it a bit, since it’s on my work evenings, but I decided the universe was sending me a message and I had to take it. The best part? Our health insurance will reimburse me for it – and for the kids’ yoga classes!

When we got home from the yoga class, I went outside to check out my veggie and flower gardens. I found two cucumbers, and picked some lovely flowers.


I’m really going to miss this…

Now that we’re back into our fall routine and evenings are getting busier, I have to be more careful with my meal-planning. For example, my daughter has ballet on Monday evenings. We get home at around 6:30 on those nights, so dinner has to be very close to ready at that point. This means we’re either having a slow-cooker meal, or leftovers. This week, Thursday evening is going to be a little busy, too, because I’m taking my daughter to a program at the library after school. And it’s going to get even nuttier when I return to work next week, and when Nutcracker rehearsals start next month!

With all that in mind, here’s our meal plan for this week:

  • Monday: Leftover tuna casserole and raw veggies from the garden
  • Tuesday: Baked ziti from the freezer and tomato salad
  • Wednesday: Pork tenderloin and roasted sweet potatoes
  • Thursday: Leftover baked ziti and broccoli
  • Friday: English muffin pizzas and frozen peas
  • Saturday: Visiting my sister and her family = no cooking for me!
  • Sunday: Quesadillas and frozen veggies

How was your weekend? What’s on your meal plan this week?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

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Things I’m Loving Now

Happy Friday! I had a lovely week, and now I’m looking forward to a busy weekend. Tomorrow morning my husband and daughter are planning to get up before the crack of dawn, to watch the launch of hot air balloons at a local balloon festival. I’ve seen hot air balloons launch before, and while it’s a pretty neat sight, there are very few things for which I’ll get up obscenely early on a Saturday morning. Hot air balloons do not make the list.

Saturday afternoon, my daughter is auditioning to be a part of an upcoming production of The Nutcracker. She has been taking ballet for several years now, but because she can be anxious – I wonder where she gets that… – I was shocked that she immediately said she wanted to audition, when I told her about it. She’s auditioning in the five-to-nine age group, so she’ll be going up against mainly older kids, who could potentially have been taking ballet for several more years. As a result, my husband and I don’t think her odds of getting a role are great, but we’re very proud of her for trying. Please cross your fingers for her that, whatever happens, she has a positive experience.

On Sunday, we’re doing one of my favorite September activities: apple-picking! I usually stuff myself full of apples while picking, then finish off the morning with a warm cider doughnut. It’s all about balance, right??

Speaking of great things, here are some things I’m loving today, and wanted to share with you:

  1. Back-to-work clarity. I work part-time in a college career center, and meet one-on-one with students, exclusively. As a result, I only work when the students are on-campus. I typically return to work the week following Labor Day, but this year my boss kept me hanging for several weeks, before committing to a date. The final verdict? September 29th. Two new full-time employees were added to the office over the summer, so part of me is relieved to be returning at all! The flexibility this job gives me is not something I could get anywhere else, so I plan to hang onto as long as they’ll have me. (And, boy, am I excited to start earning a paycheck again!)
  2. Great blog posts. I love reading other blogs, and regularly read quite a few of them. This week, my two favorite posts were from Frugalwoods, and a blog I’d actually never heard of before, Pretend to be Poor. The latter really spoke to me, and more than once, I felt like I was being called out by it. “We’ve all been tempted to spend extra to get a “free” gift, “free” shipping, or a tax write-off. But spending $50 to save $10 doesn’t mean you saved $10. It means you spent $50.” Been there, done that.
  3. Sorta Awesome podcast. I’ve been hearing about the Sorta Awesome podcast for a few months, but only finally listened to an episode this week. Lucky for me, the most recent episode, #26, was called, “The Truth About Anxiety.” As someone who has experienced varying degrees of anxiety over the years, listening to Megan and Laura discuss their experiences and how they’ve found relief, was like coming home. I found myself nodding along and feeling like I was part of the conversation. So while I’ve only listened to this one episode, I’ll definitely be going back for more!
  4. Summer’s last gasp. I love the fall, I really do! My husband and I got married in October, our daughter was born in October, and I love everything apple. But, man, do I hate winter. As a result, every year I find myself dreading the end of summer and the start of fall. The chilly mornings, the shortening days, the withering of the lush plants – I can’t take it!! So with fall officially less than a week away now, I’m loving the last gasp of summer we’ve been enjoying here in upstate New York. The days have been sunny, and high temperatures have been in the eighties. Bring on the pumpkins!
  5. Apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies. Last week, I tried a somewhat healthy cookie recipe, which included zucchini, walnuts, oats, and chocolate chips, and they were disappointing, to say the least. This was especially painful, because oatmeal raisin cookies are my absolute favorite kind. So, when I came across a recipe for apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies, I had to give it a try. Consider the oatmeal raisin cookie redeemed.

What are you up to this weekend? What are you loving today?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans


Canning 101: Getting the Gear


I’ve wanted to learn about canning for the last year or so, inspired mainly by blogs like Grow. Pray. Build., The Frugal Farmer, and more recently, Food in Jars. Both my husband and my daughter bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with them to work/lunch almost every day, so we go through A LOT of jam. Also, I’d love to make and can my own pasta sauce, using tomatoes grown right in my own garden! I talked to someone I know who cans, and she said it’s easy to learn and she taught herself. While I’m sure that I could’ve learned from a book and/or a blog, I wanted to have someone knowledgeable talk me through all of the food safety issues, and be available to answer my many questions. And, of course, I wanted to ensure I wouldn’t be giving botulism to anyone who ate my canned goodies!

A few days ago, I took a basic canning class, which gave me a great foundation to get started. Unfortunately, I don’t own any of the necessary gear and will need to purchase it all. Since food safety is so critical with canning, this is not one of the areas where improvising or creating work-arounds is going to work. To can, I’m going to need the following items:

Purchasing everything will cost in the $85 – $90 range. Since I’m limiting my “extras” spending these days. I’ve decided to fund this purchase through side hustling to earn Amazon gift cards. Starting today, any and all Amazon gift cards I earn will be earmarked for my canning equipment. I hope to have enough gift cards to purchase everything in about four weeks.

How Will I Earn Amazon Gift Cards?

I earn Amazon gift cards through a variety of sources. Here are the primary ones:

I don’t typically earn almost $100 in Amazon gift cards in a month, but I do think it’s achievable.

Do you can? If so, how did you learn?

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2015 Meal Plan #37

Happy Monday! I hope you had a fantastic weekend.

It was a mostly cool and rainy weekend here in upstate New York. We took a day trip to my parents’ house, where we had a gathering of my extended family, on Saturday. Yesterday, we all slept in, had a leisurely morning of pancakes and laying around, and then I took my daughter to a kids’ yoga class.

Afterwards, I met a group of friends at a local grocery store, where we took a canning class. I’ve been wanting to start making my own jam for quite a while, since both my husband and daughter take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their lunches almost every day. Because I am was terrified of giving them botulism, I asked the demonstration coordinator at the grocery store to do a canning class. I look forward to getting started with canning this fall!! Until that happens, here’s what’s on the dinner meal plan at my house this week:

What’s for dinner at your house this week?