Thrifty Thursday #2: (Less) Meaty Meals

Every Thursday, I’ll be posting tips for frugal living, beyond “use Netflix instead of going out to the movies.” Because tips like that imply I’ve seen a movie in the theaters… this year. Sillies.

Over the next few weeks, all the tips will involve food, because to be honest, that’s where a lot of our savings come from. We don’t eat food that we can get using coupons, so we’ve had to get really creative about how we prepare our meals to see any significant savings in our grocery budget. The grocery store is one of the easiest places to start seeing savings, as well as one of the easiest places to spend WAY too much on, so I thought it was important to start here first.

Take the meat department. Have you noticed that even sale prices for things like chicken, beef, and pork are still higher than they ever have been? Watching these prices rise has made me hesitant to put huge slabs of meat on a plate next to a vegetable and call it a meal. However, if I only served my RBS (see Tip #1), even my easy going husband would be a little miffed. No, we have to eat meat in this house.

So here are my tips for reducing the amount of meat you serve at each meal, and keeping everyone happy at the same time. Some of these might not work for your family, but hopefully you’ll be able to walk away with one takeaway tip.

  • Use meat as the side dish, not the main course. I do this all the time on accident. Between serving our RBS at almost every meal, steaming broccoli or roasting squash, and one other component of our meal, everyone ends up with less meat on their plate because A) they run out of room and B) they get full! Beans, rice, veggies are all really good for you, and filling up on those instead of a grilled chicken breast or slow-roasted pork is a good thing. When I put the food out, I set it up on the kitchen counter in a line, with the meat at the very end of the counter, so that you naturally fill your plate up with more of the healthier, inexpensive foods up front. Voila! Less meat per plate= more meat left behind to use in another meal.
  • Repurpose leftover meat. This is grilling season right now, and I *love* it. My favorite thing to do is get the grill hot and then throw food at it until the coals die down (and then we roast marshmallows, but that’s a different story). Some sausages, the steaks, a package of chicken… the cuts that were on sale this week. Oh, and veggies. SO MANY VEGGIES. (Are you seeing a pattern here? I feel like your mom right now. Eat your veggies kids. They keep your bank account strong and healthy.) The first night we might have the sausages along side some roasted corn, salad, squash and broccoli, and some beans. No one starves in this house! Most of the cooked meat gets cut and cools off in the fridge before being transferred to the freezer where it will hang out for a little while… I always need help making dinner prep go a little faster, and having pre-grilled food means I get that yummy grilled flavor without having to spend the two hours getting the grill hot enough to cook two pieces of chicken. The rest of the meat goes towards meals we’re making throughout the week. Steak fried rice, tacos/nachos. Our RBS with some grilled chicken on top makes a mighty fine lunch. Burritos, chicken spaghetti, … the possibilities are endless. And those roasted veggies make awesome sides as the week goes on. I cut the corn OFF the cob after it’s cooled so it is easily sprinkled on top of nachos or anything else (Also? That corn freezes beautifully for when I want to use it in a taco soup or in shepherd’s pie. I love summer produce in fall foods!).
  • When ground beef isn’t just ground beef. When I bring ground beef/turkey/pork home from the store, I divide it into half pound packages. We used to go through at least a pound of ground meat per recipe, but at almost six dollars a pound. For ground beef? We had to find a way to cut it back. Enter once again, my favorite money savers: vegetables. When making something like spaghetti and meat sauce, we add in: a whole onion, a finely cubed carrot, a diced bell pepper (or two!), some zucchini, possibly some mushrooms, and a small handful of oatmeal. This makes that half a pound of ground meat expand and expand. What used to feed us for only one meal and use a whole pound now gets us two or three meals, and uses half the meat. That’s not an insignificant amount of savings. And for tacos? Instead of zucchini and mushrooms, I peel and grate a sweet potato and add a can of rinsed and drained beans… whatever kind we happen to have (usually black or pinto beans). Doing this alone has really helped shave costs out of our grocery budget. Plus, it insures my family is getting tons of good stuff in their diet. Everyone wins.
  • Go meatless, sometimes. Eggs and beans. I’m not saying to do this all the time (like I said before, that wouldn’t fly at our house), but serving a quiche for dinner along with some homemade pancakes and fruit is a fun way to mix things up and keep costs down. Bean burritos, nachos, and even black bean burgers on occasion soften the blow of a meatless meal. Plus, it’s better for you. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the healthier our meals have become, the more our grocery bill has gone down. We love Budget Bytes Curried Chickpeas with Spinach, and have it all the time (it makes a great freezer meal, too, which makes me love it even more). We don’t even miss the meat!

Hopefully some of these ideas help you as you attempt to lower your grocery budget and live a little more thrifty. Have any ideas for stretching that grocery budget even more? Share them in the comments! Let’s help each other save up for the things that really matter.

I promise next week I won’t talk about vegetables.

…I maybe will still talk about vegetables. 🙂

I’m kidding. They’re just so good!

Have a good morning!

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We’ve Moved!

Well, my little blog just keeps on moving!

This time, we’re at a fancy new website, that you can find if you mosey on over here.

So excited for these new changes, and I hope you are too. If you are subscribed by e-mail, make sure you subscribe to the new site so that you don’t miss a thing (I wanted to make sure I had your permission to transfer your e-mail to the new list, and this seemed like the most ethical way to do it. Sorry it’s also the most intensive on your end).

First post goes up on the new site on Tuesday. Can’t wait for you to join me there!

Have a good morning!

August Goals

I’ve always been told it’s really important to write your goals down and put them somewhere you can see them. This not only keeps you focused, but also keeps you accountable. I think blogging your monthly goals makes you even MORE accountable, because then, you know, your friends can ask how your goals are coming. Not only will I be posting my goals for August today, but in about a month, I’ll post an update on what was successful, and what was not. And then maybe, depending on how helpful this actually is, I may post September goals, too.

You guys are like my ultimate accountability partner.

I’ve broken them down into categories, because almost nothing makes my heart happier than a list of lists. Plus, they’re easier to keep track of, or something. But lists of lists.

Family Goals

  • Go on a date with Dustin, and a mommy-daughter date with Holly.
  • Plan and host Holly’s birthday party!
  • Go out of town.
  • Finish putting together Holly’s craft corner (and don’t forget to take pictures so you can post it on the blog! Because hopefully it will be awesome.)

Blog Goals

  • Learn more about picture editing, and begin posting pictures more often.
  • Invest in hosting and my domain name.
  • Watch/read five articles/videos about blogging (because I’m basically clueless when it comes to this stuff).

Personal Goals

  • Read at least one book for fun. (I just checked one out from the library that seems fascinating. If it’s any good, I will let you know.)
  • Go for a 30 minute walk every day.
  • Complete two craft projects (pick two of the sixty thousand you have started and finish them, woman!).

Financial Goals

  • Get back to budgeting consistently (this summer we’ve slacked. It’s time to get back to it!).
  • Have an awesome garage sale.
  • Purchase a chest freezer! Yay!

That’s it for my big monthly goals for August. I’ve got other things that I’m working on as well, but they’re more day-to-day things. Plus, I’ve got to keep at least some illusion of mystery about myself, right? Ha.

What are you’re big goals for the next 31 days? Post them down below. We can help keep each other accountable. Plus, lists are just fun. There is nothing quite as thrilling as crossing something off a list, at least for me. Let’s make a list of lists in the comments, and then we can cross things off of them together.

Have a good morning!

Serious Questions for Other Bloggers

Hey, other folks who write on the internet. I know you all have written posts about blogging at least once, and while I appreciate your insistence that I should start a blog of my own, or crop pictures using one format or the other (I have to learn how to take pictures before I learn how to crop them and edit the brightness using photoshop and sorcery), I’ve got some questions that you have yet to answer.

How do you take pictures of your meals before your family immediately devours the food? Because, y’all, I have easily made 3-4 meals this past week that I wanted to use as posts for the blog, and as SOON as I turn the stove off, the food is gone. There’s only my husband and I who can reach the food, so not pointing any fingers but… How do you get those perfect pictures before it gets cold? Or before your husband gives up on you and orders takeout instead? I need to know.

– How do you know when enough information becomes way too much? Maybe some of you are less cautious about sharing every aspect of your lives on the internet, but I don’t know how much is too much. Do I share my kid’s names, or go through and quickly invent pseudonyms? Do I share pictures? Should I wait until I can ask my child if they want their picture shared online? If I post about budgeting and frugal living, do I post our budget? If I post relationship advice, is that betraying my husband’s confidence by revealing we sometimes don’t agree one-thousand percent on absolutely everything?

– How do you know what to write about? I’ve been doing this about a month, and while I have a few ideas buzzing around, and occasionally I’ll see something and think, “I must write about this,” for the few days I’ve been coming and sitting at the computer, drawing blanks. Which is why I turn to you, oh Goddesses of SEO. Oh, PicMonkey Pros. How do you know what to write about every day? And maybe even more importantly: How do you figure out how to write when you’re tired and your heart hurts? Because my heart hurts this week. And I’m pregnant, so it’s safe to assume that napping sounds great 10,000,000% of the time. Unless my other option is eating.

– When do you have time to live life outside of your computer? Maybe it’s because I’m just learning about how much I love blogging and all the things you can do to make your blog pretty, but I definitely spend hours looking at other people’s blogs, writing and then tweaking posts, making a pretty calendar to help me schedule posts better, learning that WordPress defaults to London’s time zone and then spending longer than necessary trying to fix it. I know lots of these things are one time lessons, but how do you find the time to keep learning now, and how did you find time to start learning then? Because I only have one toddler, and she naps like a champion (mostly), and I have no idea how I’m going to continue writing like this when I have a baby and a toddler. I remember what having a baby was like. I didn’t coherent much… I still don’t coherent much. haha

– How do your everything always look so perfect??? This. How is it, in your busy schedule of cooking beautiful meals, sharing your heart and soul with your computer friends, and living life does everything you touch look so freakin’ perfect? Can you come wave your magic wand at my house? Because my house on it’s best days looks cluttered and a little dusty, there is almost always dirt under my daughter’s fingernails from an unknown source, and even meals I  make with every intention of posting end up looking like a messy mash of mush, not something that anyone else would want to eat. Plus, you’re recipes are all so easy to read and printable. I think there’s a tutorial for that, though. You’re excused… just this once.

These are the questions buzzing around in my brain as I sit in front of my computer, staring at my cluttered house, a half-eaten meal that I did not take pictures of, and thinking about how to delicately write about the fact that my pregnant belly makes me feel like a bloated beached whale. I turn to you, Women of Pinterest, and tip my hat. Mad props to you, ladies. Teach me your wisdom. Come do my laundry.

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You might be my only hope.

Have a good morning!

Not Mom. Not Me. Not Yet.

Last week, my daughter pointed at my husband and I and said, “Mom! Dad!” and grinned broadly, proud of the new names she’d learned for us.

But my heart broke a little.

I’m not ready to be Mom. Mom is the one you roll your eyes at because she asked you to clean your room. Again. Mom is the one who shuttles you to sports practice. Mom is the one who makes dinner, does the laundry, and keeps the house clean… invisibly. Mom is a disciplinarian. She’s not cool. It’s not fun when Mom dances or sings with the radio. It’s not cool when Mom joins the game. 

It’s water, y’all. I’m not *that* cool.

She’s not even two. I’m supposed to have years of being Mommy to look forward to. Mommy hosts tea parties. Mommy always has snacks in her bag and a game in her back pocket. Mommy is fun. Mommy kisses owies and makes them feel better. Mommy is a playmate. Mommy knows all the songs and all the best dance moves. Mommy is cool.

Who taught her this truncated version of our names? I blame Daniel Tiger. Or possibly all those library books we’ve been reading together. Should I have changed their names to Mommy? Would that have helped?

I know part of this is silly. That one day being Mom will be my identity. That there are plenty of wonderful things about the transition from Mommy to Mom. I don’t want to be Mommy forever, after all.

But a silly, selfish part of me isn’t ready to let it go just yet. I don’t want to be Mom right now. I don’t want to lose those last two letters in my name. I’m just not ready. My name is Mommy.

Not Mom. Not me.

Not yet.

Have a good morning. I’m going to go smell my daughter’s baby shampooed hair, while I still can.

Thoughts on Homeschooling for Toddlers

Today at the bookstore, I began chatting with a mom who had a child just a few months older than Holly. She was sitting at the couches where Holly and I go to read sometimes, and her sweet son was playing with puzzles next to her. We talked about our kids ages, and how hot it’s been this past week (hot… really, REALLY hot), and other general new mom acquaintance chit-chat.

I noticed her son was using a lot of sign language, something we really hadn’t practiced at our house. I commented on how well he was able to communicate, and she said she was impressed with Holly’s verbal skills. We were about to leave to pick out a present for a friend. And then suddenly the conversation changed, and left me feeling green around the gills.

“So.. what curriculum are you using with her?”

Me: “Curriculum?”

“Which curriculum have you purchased for her?”

Me (slightly stunned): “Curriculum?”

“You mean you haven’t purchased any kind of curriculum for her yet? I’ve been homeschooling *insert son’s name here* since before he could crawl.”

And on and on it went. Surely you’ve gotten her flash cards. Printed off worksheets. Done something. Anything? Don’t you care at all about the well-being and future success of your daughter? The questions hit my heart like tiny arrows. Am I doing this wrong?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I take education very seriously. I am constantly trying to find new ways to teach Holly about the world we live in. We talk about shapes and colors and animals and vehicles and the weather… and that was just at breakfast time! I am always looking for that teachable moment. But I’ve never purchased curriculum for her. We have no flash cards, no Montessori stations in our living room, no laminated worksheets for her to fill out… and my heart dropped listening to all the work and preparation this other mom had done for her son. How she had been practicing sight words with him since before he could hold his head up straight and how he could spell his own name using sign language (and his name wasn’t Bob or Jeff, either.. it was 7-8 letters long), and I felt a twinge of shame.

Were we supposed to be doing all that? Had we failed our daughter already?

Before I continue with my thoughts, I’d like to make it known that I have nothing against the creative Montessori teaching method, or flash cards, or anything this woman was doing. If anything? I felt a little jealous that she was so put together. She gave me a list of five or six different homeschooling methods she’d purchased for her son. And I thought there was no way I could catch up to her.

In the coming weeks I will be posting some educational toddler activities that we’ve been trying… like I said earlier, I want my daughter to learn, and am always looking for new ways to teach her.

But more than likely there won’t be any worksheets on my blog for a while. No downloadable sight word flash cards from me… at least not any time soon.

Toddlers need to learn how to focus and pay attention, sure. But they also learn best when they are in motion, when they are digging through the sand or kicking the ball. Holly has been learning her colors from our trips to the produce section at the grocery store, and our long walks past our neighbors flower gardens. She learns about animals by seeing them at the zoo, or the pet store, or in our backyard. We chase butterflies and rolly-polys. We play with puzzles and clay and colors. We jump like frogs and roar like lions.

So no, we don’t have a set curriculum for our daughter right now. I don’t have a workbook for her, and while I know this momma was trying to be helpful, the list of five thousand things our kids need to know before they get to kindergarten will probably be put in our compost bin. The world itself has been a wonderful source of curriculum so far, and I don’t think I need five different curriculum sources right now to stress the both of us out.

A friend gently reminded me earlier that I am exactly the mommy my children need, and the woman at the bookstore is exactly the mom her children need, too. She was most likely not trying to be condescending, but helpful, and it just came across wrong.

What are your thoughts on workbooks and flash cards for teaching your toddlers? Do you homeschool your toddlers? AM I DOING EVERYTHING WRONG?? I need answers. Kind answers, if you please. Let’s discuss this further in comments. Teach me your wisdom, other mommies on the internet!

Have a good morning!

Five Favorite Things: July

I know July is barely halfway over, but since I switched blog platforms at the end of June, I didn’t get post my five favorites last month. So this is more of a June/July mishmash of favorites. And also there might be more than five. I have a lot of favorite things, okay?

  • Ibotta– Y’all. I’ve been using this app for months, and I’ve liked it okay. But with the addition of the “Any Brand” rebates? It’s become my favorite app on my phone. Head to the store, load up my cart with the things I already purchase, watch a couple of videos and upload my receipt. Bing, bang, boom. Simple. And because they’ve added so much produce to their list of any brand rebates, I almost always get $2-3 back every week. That adds up fast, my friends. Add a couple more rebate apps, a few coupons and that reusable shopping bag bonus? I end up saving over $25 a month on groceries. That’s about $300 a year for those who don’t have a calculator handy. Favorite, favorite, favorite all the way. If I had teammates, we would be able to help each other save even more (hint, hint). If you don’t have the app already, let me know and I’ll get you my referral code. We can help each other save even more!  
  • Kinetic Sand– My aunt came into town earlier this month, and she brought a tub of this stuff with her for everyone to play with. And Holly sat there, transfixed, for over two hours. Molding, squishing, and poking it. I don’t know how it works (sorcery, perhaps?), but it was wonderful, and I need more of it in my life. Play-dough is for the weak. Kinetic sand all the way!   
  • Baby Kicks– This month, Two-ie has taken to throwing raves in my belly. Usually at six in the morning. I’m not a six AM kind of girl (at all), but there’s something truly special about this little window of time we have just the two of us. Does it make me extraordinarily tired by the time dinner is over? Yes. Do I wish that maybe we could share this special time at seven AM? Yeah, a little bit. But it’s nice that we have a moment to bond, just the two of us, before the day officially begins. So even if it’s not the most convenient thing? It’s still up there with my favorites.
  • Art “Class”– Over the past few weeks, Holly has gone from hating all suggestions of creative play to only wanting to participate in creative play. That has been both a blessing and a challenge as I look for things to keep us both from being bored. After her post-lunch nap, I try to have some kind of new art project set up for her. From the simple (water painting, coloring, play-dough sculpting with different tools) to complex, goal-oriented crafts. And then if she asks to do something else, we do. It’s fun seeing which things captivate her the most, and which things leave her bored and wanting more. I’ve been using these art projects to talk about shapes, colors, and letters, and she’s been soaking it all up like a sponge. I’ll try to do some posts about our art projects as soon as I remember to step back from them long enough to take pictures. I think I might like the crafting part as much as she does!
  • The Great Yarn Stash Obliteration of 2015– Upon moving to this new house, one thing became abundantly clear. I have too much yarn. Not in a cute couple extra projects lying around kind of way… three full storage tubs of extra kind of way. So. Over the next few months, along with putting my house together, freezer meal preparing, toddler chasing, nursery nesting, and everything else we have to do to prepare for October, I will also be adding yarn annihilation to my to-do list. I’ll update you on this process as it/if it unfolds. Or rather… as it.. unravels! Oh, man. I am punny.
  • Freezer cooking– I have used my freezer for lots of things in the past. Mostly to hold meal components. Beans, meat, bone broth of various kinds, smoothie ingredients… my freezer has always been stuffed pretty full. But this summer we have slowly started trying out putting meals together to quickly pull out when we need it. I am probably going to do several posts on freezer meals, because you guys? These things are a game changer. Instead of individual components, I’ve got full meals just waiting to be heated up. Pair them up with a big green salad and another vegetable, and you’ve got a convenient, homemade meal for *way* less than if we ordered take out. We’re trying the meals out now before I really start freezer cooking, because if we are going to invest in freezer meals? We want them to taste good.  So far, we’ve had nothing but winners. I’m hoping that while we’re learning about how to take care of two tiny humans, that our freezer meals keep everyone fed. The less time we have to spend shopping for food or thinking about what to prepare in those first several weeks, the happier I know we will be. And who knows? Maybe meal prep will become part of our routine. I kind of hope so. Even now, it makes me feel a lot better knowing I am twenty-thirty minutes away from having food on the table. Awesome.

That’s five-ish, right? Obviously, this is just a small sliver of all the things that I’ve been super excited about over the past few months. I didn’t even mention the house (because I imagine you’re bored of hearing about how awesome our house is), the fun summer activities we’ve been participating in, the fourth of July(!!!), the list goes on and on. But that’s a small slice of what made me happy these past few weeks.

What about you? What’s been your favorite parts of July so far? I’d love to hear about what you’re excited about, too!

Until then!

Have a good morning!