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Monday, August 10, 2015

Cut Your Grocery Costs | How To Make a Meal Plan

One of the biggest areas families can save money is on food. Many times, life gets busy and before you know it, dinner time is fast upon you. Without a real plan, you decide to order a pizza, head to the drive thru or to have a nice mid-week dinner at a restaurant. Maybe this happens a few times a week. Add in the cost of eating out every day for lunch and the forgotten groceries that are wasting away in the fridge, and the money spent on food can really sneak up on you!

A simple plan for the week's meals and a list can really go a long way when you're trying to save on groceries. It will also help you avoid spending money eating out.

The first thing I do every week when making our meal plan is to get out the grocery sale ad from our local store. I like to use the flyer from the mail, but you can also pull it up on your mobile or tablet using the Flipp app. Knowing what's on sale and what's in season is the first step in making a meal plan that will save you money at the checkout. You can get a good idea of what's in season by visiting the Sustainable Table Seasonal Food Guide.

Next, I go through my pantry and freezer to see what I have already. Have some ground beef in the freezer and know that bell peppers are in season? Stuffed peppers are an easy meal that won't cost you much! A good way to keep track of your pantry and freezer stash is to keep a list on paper or on your phone. That way, you don't have to keep opening doors to check what you have.

Now, the fun part! Get your favorite cookbooks out and pull it all together. Now that you know what's on sale and what you have, you can start making your meal plan. Here's what ours looks like this week:

Sunday: Chicken Tikka Masala, creamed eggplant, Saffron rice
Monday: Pasta with Italian sausage in marinara
Tuesday: Chopped salad
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Bison burgers and french fries
Friday: Date Night
Saturday: Open/Leftovers

We always make enough to have leftovers for lunch the next day and we usually have a leftovers night during the week. We like to keep Saturdays open in case we need to finish off leftover meals or we have a family event to go to. To make things easier for ourselves, we'll cook some things ahead. For instance, since we are grilling chicken and eggplant on Sunday, we go ahead and grill the Italian sausage for the next day's meal also. Now on Monday, we just have to cook pasta and heat up our sausage in the marinara sauce.

If you like going to warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club, you can make your meal plan for two or more weeks at once. Know what is worth buying in bulk and what freezes well.

While you're creating your meal plan, write out your grocery list. Make sure you account for breakfast and snacks. When you get to the grocery store, use your list and don't buy anything else! If you do this right, you can cut your grocery cost down significantly. Our trip to the grocery store for the week only cost us $52 for a family of two plus baby. That includes all the meat for our meals.

So here it is in a nutshell:

1. Shop in season and use the sale flyer
2. Shop your pantry and freezer
3. Make a realistic meal plan from #1 &2
4. Make a shopping list and stick to it!

What are some things you do to save on groceries?

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

5 Most Helpful Things During My Pregnancy

Sure, I probably should have written this post while I was still pregnant. But I was really busy...eating and sleeping, and reading lots of pregnancy books and articles. And watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I didn't have a particularly difficult pregnancy, but it did have its challenging moments. Here are the things that helped me most through my pregnancy.

The information below is intended for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other professional health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.

1. Chiropractor Visits. Early in my pregnancy I developed pretty severe pain in my lower back and hips that I mistakenly thought was sciatica. It was actually Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP). Frequent trips to a chiropractor that specializes in prenatal and infant care made a huge difference. After a few weeks, I was able to walk around again. I continued with my visits until the end of my pregnancy. I have heard that adjustments help women have an easier delivery. It seems that if the hips are not aligned, it would be more difficult for the baby to come out. My labor was quick and delivery went very smoothly, so that could have helped also.

2. Magnesium Supplement. Pregnancy wreaks havoc on your insides. Hormones combined with your growing baby pushing everything up can really slow digestion and, well, make the rest of the process more difficult. I used a magnesium citrate supplement called Natural Calm to get things moving a little easier. It's also supposed to help you relax and sleep, although I never had any trouble sleeping.

3. Pregnancy Pillows. Despite frequent chiropractor visits, my hips would really start to ache at night when I slept on my side. The only thing that helped was keeping a pillow between my knees. The Snoogle was a great one, but it was a bit bulky for me sometimes. I would turn a lot throughout the night and had to keep bringing it over to the other side. Sometimes I would just grab one of our smaller decorative pillows to sleep with between my knees. If you are a stomach sleeper, there is a pillow called the BellyBabyBreast Pillow that allows you to sleep on your belly while pregnant.

4. Cool Mist Humidifier. Again, hormones do some strange things to your body that you wouldn't expect. Mucus production increases and can cause lots of nose and throat problems, especially during the night and early morning. Using a cool mist humidifier really helped me. I used this one by Crane.

5. Breathe Right Nasal Strips. I'm not a snorer typically and I really hate hearing other people snore. I will make my husband change positions in his sleep when he starts snoring. In my third trimester, though, I had the worst snoring problem! All that pressure against the diaphragm and nasal congestion from that mucus can turn the quietest sleeper into a human chainsaw. I actually woke myself up a few times with my own snoring. After I started using Breath Right Strips, it got better.

Hope that helps you pregnant ladies! If there are any other helpful tips you've learned, please let me know.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Our Debt-Free Journey | How We Paid off $29k in a Year

When we got engaged, Jacob and I decided to take a pre-marriage class to make sure we both had the tools we needed to have a good marriage. One of the lessons was about finances and featured a segment of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. We had both heard of Dave Ramsey before, but never really looked into his books or classes. What we heard in that lesson really sparked our interest and began us on a journey that really changed our lives.

We were both doing pretty well; we had good jobs, we knew how to save and we didn't think we were in a great deal of debt. Jacob had just purchased a house that was very affordable and we planned to slowly fix it up and furnish it together. I had a car loan, a student loan, and a credit card with a small balance. Jacob also had a student loan and credit card.

After we were introduced to Dave Ramsey, we decided we wanted to live our lives free of debt and teach our children why that is so important. We recognized that if we had no debt and built up our savings, we would have more freedom to do what was really important to us. So we read all of Dave Ramsey's books, borrowed the Financial Peace University DVDs from a friend, and started on our 7 baby steps. The first is a small emergency fund, the second is to pay off all debt but the house, and the third is to fully fund the emergency fund with 3-6 months of expenses. But we also had a wedding to pay for.

We started tackling our debt individually while saving for our wedding. We had nine months to save because we were determined to pay for all wedding expenses with cash. Jacob and I are both planners and like to use spreadsheets, so we created a budget and a plan. We started meal planning and being smarter with our grocery shopping, stopped eating out so much, and took our lunches to work every day.  We had garage sales and sold things on Craigslist. We were being gazelle intense! By the time August came around, Jacob had paid off his credit card and we had saved $12,000 for our September wedding and honeymoon. It was a beautiful wedding and very relaxing honeymoon. But most importantly, we knew we were starting off our marriage on the right foot.

Now that we were married, we combined our finances and really started concentrating on our debt. Together we now had about $29,000 in debt, not counting the house. We really kicked it into gear. Jacob put in a lot of overtime at work, I got a part-time job for the holidays, and we rented out one of our rooms. We continued doing meal planning and I tried finding good deals wherever I could. Jacob kept driving his old truck, "Leaky Lou" which he owned for 11 years. He did as many repairs on his own as he could for both our vehicles.

One by one, we tackled each debt while setting money aside for car replacement/repairs and travel. Our goal was to be debt-free within a year, and then take a big vacation to celebrate our one year anniversary and being debt-free. By the time our anniversary came around, we had scheduled our last payment, we were on a fun vacation in Seoul, South Korea, and I was pregnant!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's a Girl! My Labor Story

It's been a REALLY long time, and this is long past due! Being a new mommy has consumed much of my time, but I am loving every minute of it. This is how it started.

My husband and I welcomed a sweet baby girl into this world on February 8th at 10:01pm. The whole thing was not really what I expected. It was very fast and intense, and completely natural.

I woke up that morning feeling huge, but nothing was out of the ordinary. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions off and on for a couple months, but they were tolerable. It was my husband's birthday and we decided to go out for brunch with my mom and a friend to celebrate. I wasn't due for another two weeks. We were having a nice weekend, not expecting anything to happen so soon. While we were walking around a store around 3pm, I started having some discomfort which quickly escalated to full blown contractions. I was thinking the Braxton Hicks contractions just started getting stronger. This couldn't possibly be real labor so soon! By the time we got to the car and started heading home, I was in full on labor. We wanted to try and have a very natural experience and stay at home as long as possible. We had taken Hypnobirthing classes and hired a Doula to help make that a reality. I turned on some calming music in the car and started my deep relaxation breathing.

When we got home, I called our Doula. I hadn't seen any evidence that active labor had really started. My water hadn't broken. The pressure was quickly growing, though. My husband made me a snack and I took bites between contractions, which were holding at a steady 3 minutes apart for 90 seconds. I got in the tub for a little while and I had only been out for a few minutes when I realized this was getting too much for me to handle. I had only been in labor for a few hours and my water hadn't broken yet so I must have a good 10 hours or more to go! What! I was going to need some help. I told the hubby to get the car packed up, we have to get to the hospital NOW. I couldn't talk anymore, so he told our midwife and our Doula we were heading out.

My body was already trying to push in the car. I wasn't sure why since I still had so much longer to go. I was concentrating and breathing while my husband was trying to get us to the hospital as quickly as possible. When we got there, I was barely able to think. I was just concentrating on breathing and relaxing my body. I got into Triage and my midwife showed up just a few minutes later. When she told me I was already 7.5cm dilated, I was so relieved. I got wheeled into my delivery room right away and the nurse started getting the labor tub filled up for me.

It's amazing what the human body can do if you let it. Fear tenses your body and makes things much more difficult. My body completely took over. I could feel my body pushing, but I wasn't doing anything.

There was no time for the beautiful labor that I had envisioned. We left everything in the car - the music, the essential oils, the relaxation scripts. Our Doula barely made it to the hospital in time for delivery. But we had the most important things - my labor team was there (Hubby, Mom, Doula, and Midwife), the lights were dimmed, I was laboring in the tub, and I didn't have an IV (I really hate needles).

When it was time for Baby Girl to come out, I somehow got out of the tub and onto the bed. After another hour or so, baby broke through her sac (my water never broke) and came out very peacefully. Her warm little body was placed on my chest and I stared at her little head in complete awe. So I had 6lbs. 3oz. of perfection snuggled up on me. There's much more that followed that wasn't so pleasant, but as far as baby is concerned, we had a perfect delivery.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Frugal Bride - DIY Aisle Chair Decor

Photo by: Nichol Davis
I loved making these decorations because they were so easy and very inexpensive.  Since I used artificial flowers, I was able to make these ahead of time and concentrate on other details. If you really want to use fresh flowers, that will work, too.

Here is what you will need:
  • A container with handles (or you can drill holes in the sides)
  • Floral foam, trimmed to fit snuggly
  • Rope or ribbon to go with the look you want
  • Artificial flowers
I found the floral foam and the copper containers at Dollar Tree, the rope from Home Depot, and the flowers from Michael's. I also used fall-specific pieces like stems of leaves and pine cones.

You'll want a large area to work on. First, create your bouquets. Push the floral foam pieces into your containers, trimming if needed to fit. The artificial flowers come in bunches, so you'll need to clip each stem off the bunch to allow you to mix lots of different flowers into each arrangement. Start by creating a bouquet in your hand and then push them into floral foam in the containers. Make sure your bouquet is nice and full so you don't see any gaps from the top or sides.

When you're happy with your arrangement, tie your rope or ribbon to the handles of your container. I used a rope to give more of a rustic feel, but you can use anything that will hold. Make the loops long enough so that the container will hang the way you want.

If you're getting married in the fall next year, gather your fall decorations at the end of this fall season when they go on sale. This is the same with other seasons/holidays if you're weaving that into your theme.
Go to the dollar store early and often to stock up on your wedding supplies.

Check out more from my Frugal Bride series!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why We Don't Use Credit Cards

Photo: GonzaloMMD
I'm sure everyone has their own reasons for using or not using credit cards.  My husband and I had several conversations and did a lot of researching before finally making the very scary decision of cutting up our credit cards.  We listed out all of our pros and cons, and decided that we were really just keeping them around for security; because it just made us feel secure in case we had an emergency.  Yep, we had a ton of rewards points which really in the end are kind of a joke, and the backing of the credit card company, and travel insurance, and the list goes on and on.  

My Safety Net
We weren't impulse shoppers and we usually didn't hold a huge balance on any of our cards.  Paying them off and cutting them up was a pretty quick process once we decided on it.  We were stuck on thinking somehow these little plastic cards were going to save us from a disaster that was just waiting around the corner.  I had a Firestone credit card that I applied for as soon as my warranty and maintenance plan on my car expired.  What would I do if something happened to my car?  How would I survive without my car?!  

The fact is, emergencies happen.  Cars break down and AC units go out and the pool pump will stop working.  Sometimes all at the same time, usually in the middle of summer, especially if you live in the desert.  If emergencies are unexpected, how can we possibly know when they're going to happen?  Well, we don't know WHEN, but we do know that they WILL happen, eventually.  I shifted my thinking and feelings from Credit Card Safety Net to Emergency Fund Safety Net.  And I found that I had a false sense of security with my credit cards.  If I used a credit card to pay for something like new tires, I would have to pay that money back anyways.  But what if I couldn't for some reason?  Having cash in my emergency fund instead of a credit card is real security.  Just pay for the tires and be done with it.  No worries and no what ifs, and no bill to keep paying on.

His Security
My husband's reasoning for keeping our credit cards were more logical.  With identity theft being such a huge problem right now, he liked having the security of using only his credit card to make purchases.  If the card number was stolen, he had the backing of the credit card company.  If his debit card was stolen, the money in his bank account could be taken out.  

You see that VISA logo on your debit card?  If you do not use your PIN to make purchases, you are backed by VISA if your card number is stolen.  Now, if he uses his debit card, he only uses it as Credit at the register.  Otherwise, he likes to just carry cash on him.

So why not just keep that little piece of plastic tucked away in a safe?  If we don't use it, what's the harm?  Well, we are currently on our way to financial freedom.  We're following Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps that you can read more about in his book The Total Money Makeover.  We knew that this was the first crazy thing we had to do to really get our Baby Step #2 on a roll.  It comes down to a change in habits and behavior.  Debt free life is so close now - just a few months away!

What are some of the things that keep your credit cards in your wallet?

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Frugal Bride - DIY Wedding Signs

There are some really great ideas out there for rustic weddings.  One that I just had to do myself was the weathered wooden sign.  I made a few different signs from a bunch of old wooden planks that were sitting in a friend's backyard.

Since our wedding was very informal, we didn't have assigned seating for the ceremony or reception.  It had a very backyard picnic feel, which I loved.  To let our guests know that there was no assigned seating, we posted a sign at the entrance to the ceremony area.  These were just three pieces of wood planks screwed to a wooden post.

We had a ring bearer and a sign holder to announce the bride's entrance.  Our "Here Comes the Bride Sign" was also just two wooden planks.  My husband attached them together with two galvanized straps.  He also added handles to the back to make it easier to hold.

These were really easy to make and added to the rustic feel of our wedding.  Keep it simple with black painted letters or add some color and stenciled designs.  Like the choice of wedding themes, the possibilities are endless!
Check out more from my Frugal Bride series!

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