Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year! Welcome 2014!

Wishing you the happiest New Year!  Spend the day with your family and friends!  It's 2014, no more excuses!  Your mission continues tomorrow!  Enjoy your day off!!  :)

Closing out the end of the year.....

Well, New Year's Eve has fallen and apparently, we are going to entertain a few people tonight.  We normally do, but with everyone being sick, I really hadn't given it much thought!

Budget buster?  Nope!  Not at all!  Here's the menu and how it's coming together!  Click titles for recipes of Tortilla roll ups, veggie pizza, pizza dip and Buffalo chicken dip!

-Tortilla Roll Ups - bought ingredients to make for Christmas, but didn't have time
-Pizza Dip - last minute change.  Saw it posted and I had everything on hand to whip it up!
-Trail Bologna/Cheese - again, bought too much for Christmas and hadn't cut the other ring of bologna
-Buffalo Chicken Dip - always have ingredients on hand to make this!  It's hubby's favorite!
-Veggie Pizza - using up leftover veggies from Christmas Veggie Tray
-Fresh popcorn - from my fabulous machine hubby bought me last Christmas!
-Pop - have bunches of 2 liters left from recent sales.. though most will be bringing their own adult beverage

By the way, everything above (except Trail Bologna) can be purchased at ALDI!!

If needed, I also just stocked up on DiGiorno Pizzas, so I can toss a few of those in too!

No matter what you are doing this evening, or who you are spending it with, BE SAFE!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Progress Check!

Awful quiet around here!  You know you can comment at the bottom of each post?

I just wanted to check on you.  Yes, YOU!  I'm sure you read the first few posts and got really excited!  However, it is a busy time of year AND I have a feeling that the numbers that were staring you in the face were a little bit scary.  Ok, maybe REALLY scary!

So now what are you going to do?  If you do nothing, there is no doubt that those numbers are only going to get worse.  In life, when you just go through motions without paying attention, things always go bad!  Let's decide that we can NOT just ignore what you have started to uncover about your budget!

You MUST face it head on... no matter how it is!  No matter how embarrassed you are!  This has gone on long enough!  You deserve to have control of the money you work so hard to make!

So, progress check time!  Have you done the following things?

1.  Evaluated the past 6 months of spending to create a current budget?
2.  Decided you WILL pay cash only for your groceries?  I promise, it makes a difference in your spending!
3.  Written an inventory of food on hand you could build meals around?
4.  Made a list of meals for the next week, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks?
5. Made a list of actual ingredients you still need to complete your entire week's menu?
6.  Gathered up your shopping bags, cash, quarter for the cart, your list and headed to ALDI?

If not, what is holding you up?  2014 is only 2 days away!!  Let's start the new year off right!  Now log off and get caught up!!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Phone apps = cash back!

First, my shopping programs, all of these work on Android or iPhone.  In addition, SavingStar only requires a computer.  I will describe each program.  With these 3, I manage to get back $200+ per year.  I do not add this back into my grocery budget, I use the cashback from these to pay for our netflix and to buy gifts for Christmas and birthdays.

ibotta  (click to sign up and start saving!)

With ibotta, there are certain offers available to redeem.  These offers change often and sometimes include generic offers, such as any brand ice cream or soda.  To earn cash back, you click on the item you wish to purchase and complete tasks, such as posting to facebook or reading a fact about the product.  When you get home from the store, you will need to open ibotta, click on redeem and take a picture of your receipt.  After uploading the pic, you scan the bar code on all the products you are redeeming.  Buehler's shoppers need to enter their Advantage card into the program, which makes everything automatic so you don't have to upload receipts!   Cash credits usually within an hour.  You may transfer it to your paypal account, or redeem for gift certificate, including amazon.  Please check the list of stores before you shop!

Receipt Hog  (click to sign up and start saving)

Receipt hog can be used with any grocery receipt from any store.  I have even submitted Rural King!  With ReceiptHog, you upload pictures of all of your grocery receipts.  Each one earns your points towards paypal or an amazon gift certificate.  You can earn bonus points through spins earned and answering a few questions about products you buy.  This one is a bit slower to earn big bucks than ibotta, but it works at Aldi and anywhere else you buy groceries!

SavingStar  (click to sign up and start saving)

Saving Star is completely automatic.  You sign up for an account, load your loyalty cards and click to add offers to your account.  Currently, you can use SavingStar at Rite Aid, Buehler's, CVS, Kroger and Giant Eagle.  If you live somewhere exciting, there may be more stores available to you.

Checkout 51

Checkout 51 is for iOS and Android platforms.  Similar to Receipt Hog, you can submit receipts from any store.  The deals are based on certain products, but you do not have to do any tasks to earn them.  Simply shop, upload your receipts and claim your offer.  They mail you a check when you hit $20!

There you go!  4 different programs to give you even more savings on groceries you are buying anyway!  If you have questions about any of them, just shoot me an email or comment below!


First, download the app.  IF you put in my code, GMHCEKRM , you get a FREE Lindt chocolate bar refunded to you!!

A bit about this program.  It did just roll out and like Checkout 51, you can redeem the offers at any store.  The offers are a mix of $ in cash back, Get it for x$ (so they rebate the price over the x$), x% back.  You simply upload your receipt, scan the barcode and wait for the money to hit your account.  Currently, paypal is the only cashout option for Shopmium!

Again, you can combine this with coupons, or with the other apps.  For example, right now, the Belvita soft cookies are on Checkout51, ibotta AND Shopmium.  :)

Shopping and dinner recipe for 12/29/2013

The ham bone is boiling up to make the water base for the Cheddar Ham Soup.  Click for full recipe!

Even though I'm under the weather, I ventured out for a short shopping trip to the local drug stores to snag a few deals and even a treat!

Rite Aid

2 bags chex mix $1.59 each
2 Crest Pro-Health toothpaste $4.99 each **
3 bags of Schick disposable razors $6.49 each

Initial Total:  $32.63 + $2.13 tax
Coupons used: 2 printed coupons from bettycrocker.com for $0.60 off 1 bag of Chex Mix
                        1 printed coupon from Rite Aid Video Values for $1/2 bags of Chex Mix
                        2 newspaper coupons from 12/29 paper for $0.75 off 1 toothpaste
                        3 newspaper coupons for $3 off any Schick Disposable Razor
                        $10 worth of UP rewards from shopping last week

New Total:  $11.96, including tax.  Plus, I earned $0.50 on Chex Mix via SavingStar, got $8.50 back in
                UPs rewards to use next week AND those Schick razors had a mail in for a free movie ticket
                from Fandango if you bought 2!


3 packages of Charmin toilet paper 20 double rolls each $9.99 each
2 bottles Dawn Dish Soap $0.99 each
2 boxes of Poptarts $1.67 each
1 Gallon of Milk

Initial Total:  $37.78 + $2.02 tax

Coupons used:  3 coupons for $1 off Charmin (cut from Puffs packaging)
                        1 coupon for $1 off 2 Dawn (cut from Puffs packaging)
                        2 printed coupons from Kellogg email for $1 off 1 poptarts
                        $5 off any $25 purchase coupon emailed from CVS
                        $1 Extra Care Buck from last week's shopping
                        $1.81 remaining balance on a gift card I earned from a rewards program

New Total:  $25.99, including tax.  Plus I got $10 back in ECB for next week's shopping and $0.50 back with Ibotta for purchasing a gallon of milk.


Not necessities by far, but I've been sick and this is an awesome price for these yummy treats!

2 boxes Snicker's Ice Cream Bars $2.99 each

Initial Total:  $5.98

Coupons used:  2 internet printables for $1 off 1 box of Snicker's ice cream bars

New Total:  $3.98 for 10 yummy ice cream bars!  (Hey!  You gotta treat yourself sometimes!)

What kind of good deals are you finding this week??

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Menu for Saturday 12/28/13 through Friday 1/3/14

I would never ask you to do something I don't do myself.  I looked through my cupboards and pantry earlier this week.  Here is what's for dinner at my house.  I will post recipes as I make them!

12/28 - revamped because I'm sick on only crackers and toast sound good for breakfast and lunch!
      Last night, I packed hubby a lunch consisting of ham sandwiches, trail bologna/cheese, yogurt, chips and deviled eggs.
      Dinner:  Finger food night! Cocktail wieners, deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, veggies and dip

12/29 -
Breakfast: Cinnamon Rolls
Lunch: Grilled cheese and chips
Dinner:  Cheddar Ham soup and bread machine bread (Using the holiday ham!  I froze the rest!)

Breakfast:  cereal/milk
Lunch: pizza rolls
Dinner:  Chicken patty sandwiches, macaroni and cheese

Breakfast:  cereal/milk
Lunch: chicken quesadillas
Dinner: homemade pizza

Breakfast:  no peek rolls
Lunch:  corn dogs and fries
Dinner:  pork and kraut and/or frozen pizza

Breakfast: muffins
Lunch: mozzarella cheese sticks and sauce
Dinner:  Chicken fettucini, garlic breadsticks

Breakfast: cinnamon rolls
Lunch: chicken noodle soup and crackers
Dinner:  Belgium waffles and sausage

*Always plan a way to use leftover holiday food.  Notice today and tomorrow, I am using up the leftover food in the fridge.  I have already frozen a pound of diced ham to use later this winter.
*Keep in mind that I have stockpiles of miscellaneous foods on hand, which is why cereal is plentiful and we have some processed junk food on this week's menu!
*Due to shared custody, there are days I am home alone for breakfast and lunch.  Some of these days I may skip a meal, or even munch on a sleeve of crackers instead of making something just for me.
*Lunches posted above do not always take into account what my hubby is eating.  I am currently off work on winter vacation, so I am eating at home this week.  Hubby usually takes leftovers from the night before's dinner, or lunch meat sandwiches.

The first steps in taming your grocery budget....

Hopefully you completed the first assignment in creating a first budget and have calculated how much you have spent on average for groceries and eating out in the past 6 months.  I'm not here to judge, remember, when I first did this, I was spending over $1000/month!  I asked you to make a realistic budget amount for your food budget based on your actual past spending.  You are doing amazing!

The biggest key to my success for taming your grocery budget is going to seem strange to most of you.  You are not going to think it will make much difference.  Do you know how I know what you are thinking?  Because when I found Dave Ramsey and he said this would be life changing, I laughed too!  The big secret?  Using CASH only to buy my groceries.  CASH, not a debit card, not a credit card I plan to pay off every month, COLD.... HARD..... CASH!  Stay with me here as I attempt to explain how this helps.  It's really a mind set and a concrete way to stay on budget.  I used to swipe my debit card for groceries, but I never really knew how much I'd already spent or even how much was in my cart!  There is a completely different feeling when you have cash in hand and it's easy to know when your grocery budget it gone because you are out of money!  

Every pay, I take $200 out of the bank for groceries and put it in a little zipper pouch in my purse.  All groceries, McDs, pizza, etc is going to come out of this little pouch.  I try to make it a game to see how much I can have left when the next pay rolls around.  I either roll that money over to the next month to help stock up on things, use it to buy a special meal we normally won't have, or put it in the vacation or gift fund.  Just the fact that you are paying with cash will help you stick to your list and will also make you much more aware of the cost of your cart!

Trust me!!  You must pinky promise me that if you go over your cash, you will NOT whip out a debit or credit card.. or even a check.  You must promise that IF you go over, you will put items back!  Knowing that you will go through the embarrassment of putting things back if you go over will help you pay attention to how much you have in your wallet AND in your cart!

The second biggest key to my success in the grocery area is making a plan and following it!  Think of all the times you have had a rough day and coming home, you have been clueless what you are having for dinner.  One of three things usually happen:
          1.  You hit the nearest drive though and spend a bunch of money on greasy, unhealthy food that is going to give you a belly ache later!  Don't get me wrong, I love McD's, but it doesn't love me!
         2.  You pull into the closest grocery store and just grab a handful of stuff.  Money is no object at this point!
         3.  You call the pizza guy to bring you dinner because you "deserve" it.

You ever been there?  I have been there more than I'd like to admit.  I really used to believe in #3.  Fact is, I didn't deserve it.. and neither do you.  I'm serious, do we DESERVE to spend $20+ on one meal to feed our family because we failed to plan?  Nope!  Now I am not saying you shouldn't eat pizza.  We order pizza, but the difference now is that it is planned for on the menu and also in the budget!  Think of the groceries that $20 would have bought!

How about those times that you've gone to the store without a plan and have grabbed $150 worth of food to make whatever meals you thought you'd eat this week, only to have a "bad" day and eat out or have those precious food items be shoved to the back of the fridge only to be found on the day we finally decide we MUST clean the fridge? Or you didn't get all the ingredients you needed to make a certain thing because you were "winging it" without a list?   How many dollars of food do you think you throw out in a week?

Are you starting to see how we waste food and money without meaning to?  This has to stop!  We work much to hard to be throwing all this money into the trash!  Are you mad?  Good!  Let's move on!

Your mission:

1.  Grab your handy, dandy notebook and head to the kitchen.  You are going to write down the ingredients you have on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer.

2.  Look over your list.  Are there some meal ideas jumping out at you?  Good!  Write out a menu for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner for the next 7 days.  Try to use as many things on your list as you can!  This will reduce the number of items we need to buy at the store this week and save us money and waste!

3.  The next step is to look at your calendar to determine which meals are going to be cooked on which days.  In my house, I go for a crockpot meal if I know I won't be home to cook dinner at all or I'll go with something simple like spaghetti when I know I'm going to be exhausted from an especially long day.  Also look for days that the kids don't have school.  My normal plan only accounts for lunches for my husband and me, so the lunch plan changes a bit when the kids are home from school!  Days off school mean more snacks too!  Think cheap things like popcorn, homemade cookies, or fruit.

4.  Got holes in your menu?  Think outside the box!  Muffins and pancakes freeze really well and are cheap to make from scratch.  Put wax paper between your pancakes to keep them from sticking together.  Can you make breakfast for dinner?  Will there be enough leftovers from Monday's dinner to eat for Wednesday's lunch?  Think outside the box, but make sure you are planning things you and your family will eat.  I could save a ton making just beans and rice, but no one would eat it!  lol

***Now you should have a list containing 7 days worth of breakfast, lunches, snacks and dinners.  If you want to get fancy, there are many free printable forms online for menu planning, but then I'm wasting paper and ink, so I keep it old school, but to each their own!

5.  Now it's time to make our grocery list!  Go through each meal and write down any ingredients you need to purchase.  Don't assume you have ingredients.. go look!   Also take a peek at your trash bags, milk, toilet paper and toiletries.  Add anything else you NEED to the list.

We must talk about the actual physical act of grocery shopping.  I know most of us do not enjoy doing it, so we try to go in and out of one store just to get it done.  We must break you of doing this!  For some, this is going to seem way out there, but I insist, you MUST go to Aldi for your shopping trip!  I'm amazed by how many people have never shopped there.  Oh, am I referring to YOU?  Well, here is what you need to know about Aldi.

When going to Aldi, you need to bring a quarter to get a shopping cart.  Calm down!  You will get this quarter back when you return the cart.  They do this to minimize damage to cars in the parking lot and reduce thefts of carts.  Next, you will want to bring bags or totes to bring your groceries home.  They do have cardboard boxes you can take and they do sell bags there, but I'm sure you have several laying around.  I usually take my large reusable totes and a large cooler bag with me.  Also, Aldi does not accept credit cards.  They take cash, debit and Ohio Direction.

Aldi has very good quality items.  I actually think their produce is better than Walmart, Buehler's or Baker's and the prices are way lower.  You will NOT be able to buy absolutely everything in Aldi.  You will more than likely need to go to another store to finish out your list.  I do NOT want you to chicken out over this step.  I know it's not convenient!  I know it's cold outside!  I know you don't wanna!  BUT you must!  Suck it up cupcake!  Grab your list, your bags and your quarter.. you are going to Aldi!

6.  Hit the bank to get your CASH money! Only take out your weekly or biweekly budget amount.  (Meaning if you get paid every week, it may be easier to break your monthly budget into 4 so you don't spend it all in the first week.  We get paid every 2 weeks, so I take out 2 weeks worth of grocery money when I go.)

7.  Once inside Aldi, we are going to purchase everything on our list that is available at Aldi.  We are ONLY buying what is on our list!  We are NOT adding anything to that cart that isn't on the list.  (And no, you may NOT add to your list once you are in the store!)

8.  Go to your secondary store.  Depending on how many things I need, I usually run over to Walmart.  However, if I only need a few things, I might go to Buehler's because with the cost of gas.

9.  Once you are home, put away your items (leaving out any dry goods for today's dinner!) and post your menu on the fridge so everyone can see it.

Congrats!  You have officially planned and shopped for your first planned menu week!  Now, all you have to do is follow it!!

PLEASE, in the comments below, tell me how much you had to spend and also what you thought of the process!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Got leftover holiday ham? Whip up a pot of Cheddar Ham Soup

Cheddar Ham Soup - Recipe from Taste of Home

7 Servings
Prep/Total Time: 30 min.

2 cups diced peeled potatoes
2 cups water
1/2 cup sliced carrot
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
1 cup frozen peas

In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, water, carrot and onion.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 10-15 minutes or
until tender.

Meanwhile, in another saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour until
smooth. Gradually add the milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil;
cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheese until
melted. Stir into undrained potato mixture. Add ham and peas; heat
through. Yield: 7 servings.

**I am boiling the ham bone in water to flavor the 2 cups of water and omitting the salt. I don't have any peas, so I'm going to add a few more potatoes.

The dreaded "B" word! Yes, you really DO need to do it!

Budget.  Some people think of it as such a dirty word because it sounds like if you are on a budget, you won't be able to have any fun or do anything.  I have found just the opposite to be true.  There is a certain feeling of freedom that comes from being able to go on vacation, or make a purchase, without the panic of "OMG... do I still have enough money to pay X, Y, Z?"  You know, that gut dropping feeling where you wonder if you really screwed up?  Relax.  We have all be there.

The thing about a budget is that it is not meant to limit you.  Instead, it is to help you determine how much money you have available for your life spending.  Don't believe me?  I don't blame you.  And honestly, the first couple of months you try to do a budget, you are going to hate it.  You are going to feel like a failure.  You are going to feel angry and shocked that you have wasted so much money and not even realized it.  This is normal.  However, you must work through this.  I promise, if you stick with budgeting, 6 months from now, you are going to have a sense of peace and control in your life that words cannot explain... IF, and only IF, you put in the work and stick to it!

Are you ready??  Ok, let's do this!
1.  Grab a notebook.  Without looking at your checkbook or online account, make a list of everything you spend money on and estimate how much you spend on each item.  Think larger categories such as food, eating out, gas, utilities, etc.  Now, if you have a Starbucks addiction or smoke or drink, these things must be accounted for!  Our goal is to write down anything we spend money on.

2.  Find the total of everything you just wrote down.  Shocked yet?  No?  You must have forgotten something OR you are super good with money!

3.  Write down your best estimate of how much take home money is brought into your home each month.  I know this can vary, but just a safe estimate.

4.  Compare #3 to #2.  How's it look?  Are you overspending what you make?  At this point, most people are either still showing positive money, or are going back to everything listed in step 2 and trying to justify why they are now erasing and lowering that amount trying to get it to balance.

5.  Are you ready to give up?  I hope not, or things will never change for you and you will always be a slave to your bills!  Now, if you need to take a break until tomorrow, I give you permission.  However, if you are all fired up and ready to keep dragging on... read on.

6.  This is the step that is really going to get you thinking and make you really angry!  I want you to dig out all financial statements for the past 6 months.  In this day and age, you can log in to the websites to find them.  I want you to use these statements to come up with the REAL totals for the categories you listed in step 1.  Don't be surprised if you are adding categories you forgot about!  Also don't forget to pull up credit card statements, those are spending too!!  Be honest with yourself here!

***Good job for facing your fears and getting through the first 6 steps.  Can you go on?  Are you ready to come up with a plan?  Good!  You can do this!

7.  Turn to a clean page in that notebook (or open up a spreadsheet).  Make a list of every "fixed" monthly expense.  This includes mortgage or rent payments, car payments, utilities, and insurances.  These are the things you really don't have much control over that are due every month.

8.  Take that amount of estimated take home pay per month and subtract step 7.  What do you have left?  If you have nothing left, or are in the negative, I have really bad news for you.  You MUST either get another job, downgrade your car or find a cheaper place to live!  Think I'm wrong?  We haven't even gotten to food, medical or gas yet!

9.  If you made it to this step, you must have some money left over after step 8.  That's great :)  Now, we have to look at the expenses we do have control over, or expenses that vary from month to month.  Things like gas, medical, groceries, vacation, gifts, etc.  Without a doubt, the one we have the most power over is the food category, which will be the focus of tomorrow's entry.  For now, divide the remaining money over the categories in this step.  PLEASE do NOT set yourself up for failure here.. BE REALISTIC!  If you just found out that you spend an average of $1000 per month on food, please do NOT write down $250 here.  I am not trying to discourage you and I'm definitely NOT saying you will never get it down to that amount.  However, I also don't want you to feel like a complete failure when you spend over that in these first couple of months!  This part of your budget takes time and you will be constantly adjusting your budget over the first few months.  Be realistic here!

Ok.. how do you feel?  Overwhelmed?  Hopeful?  Shocked?  Motivated?
Stick with it!  It will be worth it!  YOU are worth it!

Good job for making it this far!  Tomorrow, we will talk about that darn grocery category and how we are going to kick it to a much lower number!  Take a deep breath and congrats for taking the first step!!


2014 is just around the corner... how did 2013 treat your budget?

2013 is winding down quickly.. and I can tell my friends have saving money on their list of things to tackle in 2014 because several have started asking me for tips and help with their budget.

What makes me so special?  Why are they asking me?  Good question!  lol..  Seriously, in 2009, I went through a divorce and I wanted to keep the house.  Up to this point, my household had not been very responsible with money.  We used credit cards and debit cards for everything, not really thinking about what we were spending.  Suddenly, I was faced with wanting to keep my sons' lives as "normal" as possible on just my income.  Cuts had to be made for us to survive, but I really didn't know where to start!

I found and read everything on budgeting and saving money I could get my hands on.  I became obsessed with ways to save money.  Probably the biggest influences during this time were Dave Ramsey, YNAB (an AMAZING budgeting software that I am still using and absolutely love!) and the Economides family (also known as America's cheapest family).

The constant that every source seemed to tell me was that I had to do a budget.  I was terrified and clueless.  I had no idea where my money had been going.  All I knew was that I never had any!  I sat down with 6 months of bank statements and started putting together a picture of where my money had gone.  The biggest shock of my life was my grocery spending.  I had been spending over $1000 per month on groceries and eating out.  I'm not talking steak at home or fancy dinners on the town.  I'm talking McDonald's, pizza, and processed junk.  I was floored.

I made it my mission to get my grocery spending in check.  My initial goal was to try to spend $750 total in the first month and keep dropping it from there.  In the past 4 years, I have gotten remarried and still managed to cut my grocery budget down to $400/month.  That number includes all toiletries, paper products and food.

So, if you are wanting to start saving money and you are willing to put in the work, you are at the right blog.  If you want a "quick-fix", check late night infomercials, because this is definitely not a quick fix!

Grab a notebook, take stock of your current spending (for groceries and other categories) and let's get going!