Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's OK to Cheat...Once in a While

No, I'm not talking about indfidelity here, I'm talking about baking mix! I woke up bright and early this morning and couldn't fall back asleep so it dawned on me that I should make a nice hot breakfast to surprise the hubby when he wakes up.

Since we're leaving for California in a few days, I didn't really do a big shopping trip this weekend so the only thing I had available were eggs and baking mix...hmmm...pancakes!!! So suffice it to say, yes I do use a pre-made baking mix for my pancakes. I have tried the homemade from scratch versions (making my own buttermilk and all), and really I have to say I haven't found them to be all that much better than using a pre-made mix so why go through all the hassle.

I am actually quite pleased with the mix I can get at ALDI. It's cheaper than the Bisquick mix and you can use it for almost anything (pancakes, muffins, shortcake, bisquits, waffles, etc.). Plus if you look at the ingredients, you'll see that they are all the same as if you would make your own mix from scratch (no added junk). So I don't feel too bad about cheating in this area at least!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

One Chicken, Many Meals

In the past I've avoided trying to cook a whole chicken for a few reasons. First off, it's only the hubby and I right now so I didn't know what to do with all that leftover meat. Secondly, I've always been intimidated with the whole process of taking a chicken apart and removing all the meat (my cooking skills are a work in progress). Then a few months ago I was perusing the internet and found the slow-cooking method for cooking a whole chicken and now this is one of my favorite things to make.

Buying a whole chicken is far more economical than buying chicken breasts. Now there are still instances in which I might still prefer chicken breasts, depending on the recipe but ultimately the whole chicken is the way to go. I primarily shop at two different grocery stores Wegmans and ALDI. A whole chicken at Wegmans costs around $0.88/pound and at ALDI it's about $0.85/pound. That's significantly cheaper than the $3-4 a pound you can spend on chicken breasts.

When you cook a chicken in a slow-cooker you don't want it to just sit at the bottom of the pot or it will start to boil in it's juices after a bit. To avoid this you can roll up little balls of aluminum foil and put them in the slow-cooker and then place the chicken on top of them. If you are potatoe eaters like the hubs and I, you can even put some potatoes in the bottom of the crockpot. Just cover the potatoes in foil, put them in the bottom of the slow-cooker and place the chicken over them. Make sure to pat the chicken dry and season it to taste (you can choose whatever seasonings you prefer). Close the lid and set the crockpot on low for 6-8 hours.

When you pull the chicken out it will be literally falling off the bone, and will be super tender and moist, and the potatoes will be perfectly baked and soft. That's meal one. After dinner I pull off all the remaining chicken meat off the bones, which is very easy since it's falling off anyway. I will then choose another meal or two to make with the leftover chicken such as a casserole, pot pie, soup, etc and freeze those for another day.

After all of that, we're still not done. I still have a chicken carcass to take care of. This is the perfect opportunity to make some homemade chicken broth. In your slow-cooker you will already have the fat, juices and drippings from the cooked chicken as well as the remains of the carcass. To make broth you simply dump in some veggies (whatever you want, I've used carrots, onions, celery, even the leftover cob from corn on the cob), whatever you have left over and some seasonings (I usually use italian seasoning: orgeano, parsley, garlic) Then pour water into the slow-cooker until it's about 3/4 full. Set your slow-cooker to low for 8 hours. This is a great overnight project.

After your broth is completed you will want to gather a large bowl and a colander. Place the colander in/over the bowl and dump the contents of the slow-cooker into the colander and discard the contents of the colander. What will be left in your bowl will be a delicious and nutrient packed homemade chicken broth.

You can store your broth in either tupperware or zip-lock bags. I like to freeze 1 cup portions in a zip-lock bag and then freeze them laying flat to save space in the freezer. The broth can be used for many recipes. I love to use it to make homemade chicken gravy or white sauce for pot pies.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baked Oatmeal

I recently saw a recipe for Baked Oatmeal on one of the blogs I frequent and thought to myself "I need to try this." Not only do I love oatmeal, but I love a warm homemade breakfast in the morning, especially one that can be made quickly. I adapted this recipe a bit to fit our taste and made a smaller batch as there are only two of us in our household.

Baked Oatmeal
1/2 cup oil (olive or canola)
3/4 cup sugar (more or less depending on your taste)
2 eggs
3 cups slow cooking oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup milk

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease a 8" x 8" baking pan (glass works better in order not to burn). Put in the refrigerator overnight (you can skip this step, but it's a great way to save some time in the morning). When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F and bake for 35 minutes. Top with any of your favorite options (brown sugar, fruit, maple syrup, butter, etc), I just pour a little milk over it and enjoy!

This recipe doubles well for a larger group, and it also freezes well if you want to make ahead of time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How We Are Getting Out of Debt: Part 2

If you are just joining us you can read Part 1 posted on 01/21/2011. Needless to say I was shocked, humbled and very grateful for my Dad’s gratitude. My parents are very hard working individuals and have spent their whole lives working to build up what they now have, and truly want to bless their children with what they can. Within a few months my dad had my car paid off and we were just down to one car loan (Alan’s car which was only purchased a few months before we got married so we had a few years left on it) and our school loans. Since we had paid off so much of our other debt by this time we had started to pad our savings account a little more heavily in case of emergency, and felt that now it was time to concentrate our efforts on getting his car paid off as early as possible. We figured out that once we knocked of his car payment, we would be able to live completely and totally off of what I made with my salary and would no longer have to chip away at any money saved up, or use any financial aid from his school that wasn’t to pay just for classes and books. Well I’m proud to say that we took some aggressive steps and a little bit of chance by taking a good chunk out of “savings” and we paid his car off yesterday! That would be 3 ½ years early!!! I didn’t even think it was possible, but with very hard work and perseverance, we have eliminated all of our debt with the exception of school loans, which will realistically take us a much longer time to pay off, especially since Alan graduated in May but is now going back for two more years for a second Bachelor’s degree. We are very grateful to be at this point and know that we could not have gotten here without letting God lead our lives, having faith and being able to make sacrifices. For the past couple of years we have had to say no to a lot of things. While we had friends going on vacations and buying things that we also would like to have, we’ve had to sit back and watch and not to able to participate in those things that we would enjoy. But I’m so grateful to have to go through these times so early on in our marriage. We have learned to have something that many people nowadays don’t seem to have, and that is contentment. We can find enjoyment in spending time at home, enjoying a cup of coffee (not bought from Starbucks, but made at home) and reading a book or renting a movie and staying home instead of paying $20 to go to the movie theatre. We haven’t taken a vacation since our honeymoon (unless you count when we go to California to visit my parents), and we hardly ever go out to eat, and when we do it’s usually with gift cards we got for Christmas. But we have learned that these things are not what’s important, and not being able to do them often makes them all the more enjoyable the few times we are able to indulge a little. We’ve learned to look at our lives and see all of the abundant blessings God has bestowed on us, instead of looking around at what we don’t have. And because of that we have become one of the few people nowadays who do not complain about their finances, but embrace the little we have and know how truly blessed we are. When it comes time to start a family and buy a house we will feel confidant knowing we learned the lessons we’ll need to be successful now instead of learning them the hard way when those times come. I do not mean to sound haughty or boastful in the above comments. Please know that we have only been able to come to this point by the grace of God and not because of our own knowledge, strength, or efforts. God has provided us with all of the resources we have and He is the one teaching us how to be responsible in the management of those resources. If you have a story of how you’ve been able to manage debt or change your family’s situation that could be inspiring to others, please email me at so that it may be shared and be a blessing to others. Be blessed!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Target Deals 03/30/2011

Today I stopped by Target to use some coupon matchups that I had worked out. Here is how my tripbroke down: Purex Crystals Fabric Softener = $2.99 - $2.00 MFR coupon - $1.00 target coupon = FREE Colgate Advanced Total toothpaste = $3.24 - $1.50 MFR coupon - $1.00 target coupon = $0.74 Suave Professionals Curl Cream Mousse = $2.69/each - $1.00/2 MFR coupon - $0.50 target coupon =$1.94/each Zyrtec (30 count) = $18.19 on sale - $4.00 target coupon - $5.00 MFR coupon = $9.19 (great price for thisproduct!) My total for all of the above items = $13.81 I saved $16 in total during this shopping trip by stacking manufacturer (MFR) coupons with targetcoupons as well as some items being on sale to begin with.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekly Savings Walmart 3/25/11

I also stopped off at Walmart yesterday during my lunch break to see if I could mix any good sales with coupons to get some great savings. I am glad I did! Here is how my Walmart trip broke down:

3 Hamburger/Chicken helper meal kits = $1.50 each + $1.00/3 coupon = $3.00 ($1/each)

1 Uncle Ben's Whole Grain White Rice product = $1.50 + $1.00/1 coupon = $0.50

2 boxes of Healthy Harvest Rotini pasta = $1.08 each + $1.00/2 coupon = $1.16 ($0.58/each)

1 bottle of Purex laundry detergent = $2.97 + $1.00/1 coupon = $1.97

2 (3 pk.) Irish Spring soap = $1.97 each + $1.00/2 coupon = $2.94 ($1.47/each)

1 (3 pk.) Zest soap = $1.98 + $1.00/1 coupon = $0.98

2 boxes of Smart Tasta Penne pasta = $1.08 each + $1.00/2 coupon = $1.16 ($0.58/each)

2 tubes Crest toothpaste = $1.96 each + $1.00/2 coupon = $2.92 ($1.46/each)

2 bottles Aussie hairspray = $2.84 each + buy one get one free coupon = $2.84 ($1.42/each)

1 bottle dial hand soap = $1.47 + $1.00/1 coupon = $0.47

12 Pack Angel Soft double roll toilet paper = $5.97 + $1.00/1 coupon = $4.97 ($0.41/roll)

Total at Walmart = $22.91

Weekly Savings CVS 3/25/11

I stopped off at CVS yesterday to take advantage of some sales they were running. This is how it broke down:
First Transaction:
1 box of playtex tampons = $7.99, get $3.00 in extra bucks
Second Transaction:
2 Mitchum men's deodorants on sale for $1.99 each = $3.98 + $1.50/2 manufacturer's coupon from sunday paper = $2.48
2 Suave women's deodorants on sale for $1.00 each = $2.00 + $1.00/2 manufactuer's coupon from sunday paper = $1.00
Total = $3.48 + tax = $3.96 + $3.00 extra bucks from first transaction = $0.96 for all 4 deodorants
Total at CVS this week = $8.95

Friday, March 25, 2011

Saving Money With Your Freezer

The freezer is my favorite kitchen appliance; mainly because it's the only appliance that can help me save money. Here are just a few ways that I use my freezer to save my family money on food:

1. Buy produce in bulk
My husband and I prefer to eat fresh produce versus buying the pre-frozen vegetables. However as most people are aware, fresh produce can sometimes be more expensive. When I used to buy produce I would go ahead and make my menu plan, go grocery shopping, and buy whatever fruits and vegetables we wanted to eat that week. Now what I've started doing is going to the store and seeking out what fruits and vegetables are on sale and buying a large quantity of that produce that week. So for example, if broccoli is on sale this week, instead of buying just one or two crowns to go with one or two meals for the week, I would buy 5, 6, or 7 crowns (whatever I can fit into my weekly budget). Now if I were to put all that in the refrigerator and just try to eat it up quickly, it would definitely go bad and be a waste of money. So instead when I get home from the grocery store, I take the time to prepare that extra broccoli for the freezer. A lot of fruits can just be cut up and frozen. Some vegetables can as well (peppers and onions being a good example). However many vegetables need to be blanched prior to going into the freezer. Here is a link for a blanching timetable that I use from a good freezer cooking blog I have followed.

2. Buy meat in bulk
Now I know this is no new concept. Buying meat in bulk more often than not equates to some good savings, however you want to make sure you do this correctly. We often assume that just because something is packaged as "bulk" that it must be cheaper to buy it that way than in individual packaging. For example buying 6 pounds of ground beef at once must be cheaper than buying 1 pound in it's own package. And usually this is true to some extent. Manufacturer's can save money themselves by using less packaging for bulk meat products and so they usually trickle this savings down to the customer, but sometimes the savings isn't always worth as much as we think. This is where we need to pay attention to unit prices! If you look at the price per pound on a bulk package of meat you might find that you are only saving a few cents per pound (which is fine since it's good to save what little we can), however this might not be worth it to you for the amount of time and effort that will go into preparing the meat once you get home to be properly frozen and preserved. For maximum savings it's best to look at your grocery store's weekly ads and look for those "loss leaders" in the meat department. Grocery stores will usually run one or two different meats a week on super sale because they have purchased an overabundance of that products and now need to unload it before it goes bad (which would lose them money anyway). So they decide to take a small hit and drastically drop the price of the meat and make good relations with customers. Each week when you go shopping, you want to look for these items that will often be marked down $2/pound or less, which is a significant savings on meat. When you get home, make sure to portion these cuts of meat off into 1 pound portions and freeze them and then you will always have a freezer stocked with different meats with which you can plan your weekly menu, and be saving money in the process.

3. Freeze leftovers
Leftover are a huge area in money waste for many of us. Whether you have a large or small family most of us tend to have some type of left overs throughout the week that sit in our fridge for a few days and then get tossed because no one is eating them. We aren't only tossing out food but hard earned money! So if know your family members are not likely to touch those leftovers withing the next few days before they go bad, it's better to pack them up and freeze them. Many leftovers can be re-used in conjuction with other food to make a whole new meal. Or once you have a bunch of leftovers stocked up you can pull them out, reheat them and do a leftover buffet night for dinner to use everything up. Get creative, but try to have a "no food waste" policy in your house and see how much money you can save!

4. Freezer cooking
Freezer cooking is one of my favorite ways to save money in the kitchen, especially since I'm busy working full-time outside of the home. It's great to come home at the end of a long day and just have to grab an already prepared meal out of the freezer and just pop it into the oven; no food prep. Freezer cooking can be daunting for some people as while it might save you time in the long run with cooking each week, it usually takes a good chunk of time to get all those meals put together and in the freezer. If you don't have the time or energy to spend 5-6 hours on a weekend making all your meals for the week, you can still do some freezer cooking on a smaller scale, and it will still help you to save time and money. The first thing you can do is look at what food prep you will need to do for your meals in the coming week and do some of the smaller tasks ahead of time. For example, I like to save money on my beans by buying them dried instead of canned. Of course this might mean money saved, but it also means more time in preparing them (something I'm willing to sacrifice for this particular task). So to try to save some time, I make a large pot of beans ahead of time, and pre-portion them off and freeze them. That way when I have a recipe during the week that calls for beans, I just have to pull them out of the freezer instead of going through the hours it takes to cook them then. Cooking double batches of meals is another way to do smaller versions of freezer cooking. When you are making a meal that you think will freeze well, just make a double batch of it and stick one of them in the freezer. For example if you're making a lasagna, save yourself some money by buying some of the ingredients in bulk, make two lasagnas, one gets cooked tonight and the other goes in the freezer for a later date. If you practice this one or two times a week, you will always have a few meals in the freezer that you can just pull out when you don't feel like cooking.

5. Package properly!!!
After all your hard work using these techniques and your freezer to save you money, it would be a big waste if all the food you froze went bad. Yes, food can go bad in the freezer. Items can get freezer burn, and meats can actually rot in the freezer. You can prevent this by making sure you always package items properly and label and date the food you freeze. I choose to use zip-lock bags for most of my freezing as it saves me space in my small apartment freezer versus using tupperware. When freezing food, I always make sure to have a permanent marker handy so that I can write the name of the item and the date it's going in the freezer right onto the bag. Then when planning our weekly menu, I always make sure to check the freezer, and the dates, and use things that have been in there the longest.

These are just a few ways in which you can use your freezer to help you save money with your grocery budget. If you have any ideas to share in regards to what your family does, please leave a comment!

Monday, March 21, 2011

How We Are Getting Out of Debt: Part 1

This is an old post from "My Proverbs 31 Calling", but thought it would be a good one to re-post here.

When talking to people about finances and some of the things we have done over the past couple of years to cut down on debt, I am constantly hearing things like “I would love to get out of debt, but…” or “I’m so broke, hey do you love the new shoes I got yesterday?” I am having a hard time having a whole lot of empathy for people who complain about their finances but then continue to do things that are irresponsible or make excuses for why they can’t put the effort into fixing things. I realize that this is not a very loving attitude, and therefore is something that I am working on. However I would strongly urge people who do feel that they are not in control of their finances, or have too much debt, to stop making the excuses and do something about it!

Some of you know our story, but many of you might not. My husband Alan and I were married two years ago on January 10, 2009. When we married, we both had a decent amount of debt between the two of us. Alan had a few small personal loans and a car payment. I had a car payment, school loans, credit card debt and a personal loan. On top of that we started to soon accumulate more school loans as Alan’s GI Bill was running out and he would need to start using some financial aid in order to finish up his last few years of college for his Bachelor’s degree.

We quickly decided that this was not the situation we wanted to stay in. With Alan being in school and us living off of my income (which is not a lot as I work for a non-profit), the little we had left over from his financial aid and what he could make during his summer jobs we knew that we had to learn how to make the little bit of money we had go a lot further and to do that we needed to eliminate as much debt as possible. Luckily Alan was much more financially responsible than I was at this point in our lives, though over the past two years I have learned a lot from him and have turned over a new leaf so to speak.

We spent the next couple of years working hard taking any little extra we got (from Christmas and birthday presents, tax refunds, or what we could try not to spend from my paycheck) and slowly paid off all of my credit card debt, and any of the smaller personal loans we had. Next we knew that we had to attack those car payments. We started to slowly chip away at mine (since it was the lowest payment, interest rate, and had less time left to pay it off). We would put a little bit extra on the monthly payment here and there as we were able, and we even projected that we might be able to have it paid off a few months early. Well then last spring we received an amazing blessing and surprise. My dad called me one day to tell me that it has been on his mind for some time and that he wanted to pay off what was left on my car!

Please see Part 2 for a continuation of our story…


Welcome to my new blog, Home Stewardship. If you followed my first blog My Proverbs 31 Calling, you might have already gotten a hint that I am striving to be a better steward of the things God has put into my care. One of the biggest focuses for me is my temporary home here on this earth that I am meant to take care of, as well as of the people in it (only the hubby and the cat right now). This blog will be about all things home related, with a particular interest in frugal and simple living. I will transfer over some of the posts I wrote from My Proverbs 31 Calling just as a refresher of some ideas we covered as well as for those of you who may be just joining me.

The reason for starting a whole new blog from scratch was that I felt that the purpose of the first one was starting to get a little muddled. I got overwhelmed and felt the need to "give up" for a while, and take a step back. I'm back with a better focus and committment to living a frugal and responsible life and invite you to share in my journey.