Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another way to save

I love coffee. Always have. As crazy as this may sound to some, I acquired a taste for coffee when I was in elementary school. Of course I preferred my coffee with cream and sugar back then but how else would a kid take their coffee? I remember so vividly my cousin and I walking to the Quick Stop around the corner from my aunt's apartment and getting a cup. We were only allowed to get decaf and remember actually abiding by that rule. What good kids we were.

My mom and dad were big coffee drinkers (mom drank hers black and dad took his with cream) and at our house, no matter the time of day, you would likely find the coffeemaker on. Now it's not that my parents were serving us kids coffee with our meals or anything but they would give us a sip now and then. And I know it was those occasional sips and the comforting aroma of fresh brewed coffee in the house that gave me the taste for java.

Fast forward almost 20 years and my love for coffee is still going strong. Providing a little (and necessary) pick up in the morning (and afternoon for that matter) is only part of why I drink it. A good cup of coffee is comforting and can truly turn my mood around. Coffee is very social for me too. Many of my friendships started with a cup of coffee - some of my best in fact.

As I've been addressing our budget, the reality of what I/we've been spending on coffee was definitely higher than I assumed it was. How much can once in a while during the week and on Saturday with the family be? Well add sometimes more than "once in a while" and Sunday as well as any stressful afternoon or evening any day of the week and the amount being spent can be $30 a week.  At first, I thought we'd just cut the cafe out entirely but I realized the pleasure of a good Americano or latte from a coffee shop is something the husband and I deserve, just can't have them everyday. So for the majority of the week, I've committed to home brew only.

To assist with that commitment, I've been dressing up my cups a bit. I have a decent "cute" coffee cup collection and always use my favorite ones. And although I usually just drink my coffee black, I do like lattes (hence the high cafe bill). I'm a 1% or soy milk gal. A couple of weeks back a friend of mine mentioned he was using one of those battery-operated wand frother things. I've seen them but had never given them a second thought - until then. I decided to give one a try. Upon looking for one, I found a variety of brands and prices. I was going to buy this one from Amazon but ended up finding one at Cost Plus for $2.99. I asked the cashier about it and he said they worked great and so much more affordable than the other one they sell (forgot the brand name) for $30. And he was right. It works really well and makes a nice mock latte. So for a bit less than the price of a latte, I have a nifty little gadget that makes it easy to keep out of the cafe. Gotta love that!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Over budget

Our spending this weekend was a budget nightmare. Not just in groceries but in "entertainment." We had family in town which always requires a little extra cash. Going out, having fun and eating out is a must when people are visiting and that's just what we did. And honestly, I'm not stressing about it. It's going to make this week (and next) a little tougher money wise but with the recent changes I've made, it should be doable. Fingers crossed.

Our groceries added up to roughly $155. Yikes! I think I've figured out why. Because I'm really monitoring what I'm eating (getting close to my goal weight!), I bought some extra items just for myself. This combined with more fruit than the past two weeks is what made for the extra spend. In regards to the fruit, we've noticed a shortage of fruit about mid-week since reducing our grocery budget. Fresh fruit is big at our house and running out wasn't good. While at the store this weekend, we loaded up on fruit. I did weigh everything, actually my son weighed everything (he loves to do that part), in an effort to keep tabs on how much each item would be. But in the end, it all added up pretty quickly and helped bust our budget.

It's hard to get upset about going over budget when it's for items that are good for us. But the fact is, we need to stay on budget. I'm going to look at how to incorporate my special diet needs more economically. I'm also going to accelerate reducing more of the boxed items. For instance the ginger cookies I bought because I had a coupon. Could have saved $3.69 instead of just $1.00 if I had passed on them altogether. And for an item like cookies? Something we should never buy, only make. The cookies not only helped break the budget but break one of my food rules.

So this is still a work in progress. I have a lot more planning to do and strategies to create. And to follow up on my last post about Kashi cereal, it's actually only a .30¢ difference at Target. With the $1 coupon I used I still saved .40¢. Also, I was successful at getting the last few things at Trader Joe's and the Farmers' Market within budget.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Budget update

Between the budget software I purchased (YNAB), the coupons and specials I've been utilizing, our new budget goals are coming together. I set a grocery budget of $125 a week (based on what I've seen others budget) and we came in at $130-ish for week one and are on track to spend about the same this week (week two). Not too bad. And it wasn't until I came back from the store that I realized we already had a pound of 100% grass-fed ground beef in the freezer. I told myself to take inventory before heading out but, like most mornings, I got frazzled and sidetracked on our way out the door. I would have saved nine bucks had I been more focused. In theory, we should see the savings next week by not buying more beef.

As I was reviewing the receipt, I noticed where I may be able to save more next time around. For instance, Kashi cereal. I had a coupon for $1 off of two. The retail price was $3.99 per box at Whole Foods (WF) so I paid $6.98 for two after coupon. But I believe Kashi cereal is cheaper at Target or even Trader Joe's (TJ's) although the selection may be smaller. I will confirm this the next time I'm at the other stores. The other item that would have saved me at least a buck if I had waited to buy it at TJ's is the box of Annie's Shells and Cheese. It costs $2.19 at WF and only .99¢ for TJ's brand of regular mac and cheese. TJ's Organic Shells and Cheese is only $1.29, which would still be a savings of almost a buck. My oldest son insisted on getting the box ("for his lunch today") and to be honest, I wasn't up for the battle he was ready to wage over it if I had said no.

The item we saved big on this week was chicken. WF has an early bird special on Saturday mornings. It can be just about anything and this week it was chicken breasts. Not organic but local, pasture raised chicken for $2.99 a pound. We got six split breasts for $14. We can pay $12 to $14 for just two so this was definitely a great deal. I won't have to buy chicken for two weeks, maybe three, yay! WF also has Friday only specials. Last Friday was organic cherries for $2.99 a pound. I saw them in the store today and they were $5.99 a pound so that was definitely another great deal. The only bummer is our normal shopping day is Sunday (this week it was today, Monday) and the above mentioned specials are on Friday and Saturday. If I wasn't close to the store on those days, it may be a wash but since I am, making three separate trips isn't so bad I guess. Maybe I'll talk to the hubby about moving our big shopping to Saturday mornings? Here's our list from this week's shopping:

Whole Foods:
Clover 2% milk, 2 gallons
Clover 2% milk, half gallon
Clover 1% milk, half gallon
Clover organic yogurt, 4
Fage 0% plain yogurt, 17.6 oz.
Clover Eggs, 1 dozen
100% grass-fed grounf beef, 1.25 pounds
Diestel ground turkey breast, 1 pound
Chicken breast halves, 6 (Saturday early bird special)
Diestel deli turkey, 1/2 pound
Wellshire deli ham, 1/2 pound
Raw almonds, 16 oz.
Roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, 16 oz.
Bananas, 5
Organic cherries, 1 pound (Friday special)
Organic blueberries, 1/2 pint
Organic strawberries, 1 pint
Organic Gala apples, 4
Organic Granny Smith apples, 2
Organic celery, 2 pack
Organic Russet potatoes, 2
Kahsi 7 Whole Grain Flakes
Kashi Indigo Morning
Organic flax fig waffles
Organic flax berry waffles
Annie's Shells and Cheddar
Annie's Cheddar Bunnie

Total: 100.71

I have a little less than $25 to get:
Canned tomatoes
Organic strawberry jam
Natural peanut butter
Organic spinach
Organic spring mix

I'll report back. We also didn't make it to the Farmers' Market this week, boo! I'll also write more on the YNAB software. So far it has helped us avoid a negative balance in our checking, keeps me aware of what we have left in each budget category and where we've overspent. Looking forward to digging deeper into the program and sharing my experience. And just in case anyone is wondering, I have no association with YNAB.  I stumbled upon a post about the software here and purchased it with my own, almost maxed out credit card. :)

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reusable sandwich and snack bags

We've been out of plastic sandwich and snack bags for a few days now. I've been meaning to get to Target to replenish our supply but haven't. Then I got to thinking... why not finally make the move to reusable bags? I've been talking about making the switch for a long time but just haven't. Until today.

I think now that I've started to get back to a strict budget, I was even more motivated to make the initial investment. Plastic sandwich and snack bags aren't super expensive but they aren't cheap. More importantly though, they're so much waste. If my family and I can eliminate the countless number of bags we use a month (we all take lunch and snacks everyday) by using reusable bags then why not?

As I mentioned, the initial spend is an investment. One I feel will be worth every penny. Each bag, depending on the size, is a little more than a box of 100 zipper style sandwich bags. But keep in mind, we will no longer have to purchase those. I bought a couple of cute prints for myself (including the one pictured), a few cool prints for my boys and a few plain ones for my husband. Since this was my first purchase, I went with three brands that seemed to have consistently good reviews. The brands I got were ReUsies, reuseits and LunchSkins. I purchased them at They have a huge selection and offer discounts if you buy more than two or four of something. And if you decide to make the switch as well or add to what you may already have, they have a referral program that can save you five more bucks and give me credit as well. To save $5 (new customers only), simply use my referral code: rck2b0u. Here's to helping the planet, one reusable sandwich bag at a time!

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Recipe: Raspberry Almond Yogurt Loaf (Beta!)

I had an idea that led me on a search for a raspberry yogurt bread recipe. While on that search, I found a handful of recipes but not any that I was compelled to try as is. That's when I decided to wing it. The results were not perfect but decent. And based on my husband's comments, good enough to post.

I based my recipe on this one and went from there. I wasn't sure how much leavening I would need to add by using whole wheat and all purpose flour in lieu self-rising flour so that's when the "winging it" commenced. Part way through mixing the batter, it was clear it was lacking moisture - like severely lacking. I added milk and it seemed to do the trick. Experimenting was fun and has inspired me to do more of it. I've got super ripe bananas waiting to be used. Yay!

If you decide to give this recipe a go, I highly reccommend wrapping it tightly and refrigerating to keep it moist. Also, checking it while baking, as you would with any new recipe, as you don't want it to overcook. I think if it did overcook, it would be a brick. I'm going to continue to work on this recipe and variations of to make it less fragile. If you know what I mean?

The best part about this bread is the occasional crunch of almond (that didn't get entirely ground) and the intense pockets of raspberry. This is not a very sweet snack but more mild like a traditional scone. Perfect with coffee or tea.

Raspberry Almond Yogurt Loaf
Makes one standard loaf

1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Ground Almonds
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt, plain
1/2 cup Milk, 1%
3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup All Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Raspberries, frozen

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl combine brown sugar, ground almonds, eggs, yogurt and milk. Add whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and salt to mixture. Gently combine. Fold in raspberries. Spoon into prepared pan, smooth top of batter and bake for 50 minutes.