Category Archives: Budget

Strawberry Math

In preparation for our upcoming outing to the U-pick farm for fresh strawberries, I did some quick math to double-check that it was going to be worth the effort to pick them myself.

quart pound gallon
Oak Hill Farm $3 $2 $10 ($2 discount)
Winn Dixie grocery $4.49 $2.99 $17.96 + tax
Sam’s Club $3.74 $2.49 $14.96 + tax
* bold prices are those advertised.

According to Circle S Farms, a quart of strawberries weighs approximately 1 1/2 pounds. Using that information, I figured out that picking our own berries will definitely yield us the best price for our money. Looking at the per pound price it appears that Sam’s Club would be a decent choice because for only 49¢ more per pound I won’t have to stand out in the sun and pick them myself. That’s the premium we’d pay for convenience.

However, hand-picked berries will be much fresher and sweeter because they weren’t picked days or weeks ago and packaged up to sell at the store (much like a vine-ripened tomato tastes far better than a big fat one from a pile in the store). Aside from that, what really pushed Oak Hill Farm over the two stores was that they give a $2 discount when you pick and purchase by the gallon. Since there are 4 quarts in a gallon, that should run us $12 per gallon but they advertise that you can buy a quart for $3 or a gallon for $10. In that case, I’d be saving about $5 over the Sam’s Club price and about $8 over the Winn Dixie price. That works for me!

I really wish that I had a child old enough to do this math for me. Jeremy’s 5 and still working on addition/subtraction. Complex multiplication and division are far beyond his abilities at this point. It’s a good thing I’m blogging about this because then I can pull it out a couple of years from now to help as an example of why we do indeed need to learn how to do this type of math.

When I started, I had the following table and information:

quart pound gallon
Oak Hill Farm $3 $__ $10 ($__ discount)
Winn Dixie grocery $__ $2.99 $__
Sam’s Club $__ $2.49 $__
1 qt. = 1.5 lb. 4 qt. = 1 gal.

To find the missing information for both Winn Dixie and Sam’s Club is easy. We are given the per-pound price. Easily multiply that price by 1.5 (pounds per quart) to come up with the per-quart price. Multiply the per-quart price by 4 (quarts per gallon) to get the per-gallon price.

Winn Dixie: $2.99  x  1.5 = $4.49  x  4 = $17.96

Sam’s Club: $2.49  x  1.5 = $3.74  x  4 = $14.96

Now this is how far we’ve filled out the table:

quart pound gallon
Oak Hill Farm $3 $__ $10 ($__ discount)
Winn Dixie grocery $4.49 $2.99 $17.96
Sam’s Club $3.74 $2.49 $14.96

Since we are given completely different valuations for Oak Hill Farms pricing, a different approach is required. I had to re-teach myself Equivalent Fractions, fifth grade math.

$/quart $/pound
Oak Hill Farm $3 $__ numerators
Winn Dixie grocery $4.49 $2.99 denominators (using known pricing)

 

The fractions: 3/4.49  =  p/2.99 (I’m using “p” as the unknown numerator)
The math: 3  x  2.99  =  8.97 Multiply first numerator by second denominator.
4.49  x  p  =  4.49p Multiply first denominator by second numerator.
8.97 ÷ 4.49  =  1.9977 (round up to $2) Divide each cross multiplication total by the same number.
Always check your work! Divide to get the whole number for each fraction: 3 ÷ 4.49 = 0.668   2 ÷ 2.99 = 0.668   If the whole numbers match, you’ve correctly completed your equivalent fraction.

We’re finally finished!

quart pound gallon
Oak Hill Farm $3 $2 $10 ($2 discount)
Winn Dixie grocery $4.49 $2.99 $17.96
Sam’s Club $3.74 $2.49 $14.96
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Loving Previously-Owned Items

I just love Craigslist!

We made some quick money today!

A couple of days ago Jason put some various spare furniture up for sale. We were hoping to get it sold before we participate in the massive group yard sale at church this weekend (mostly because we didn’t want to have to lug a bunch of furniture to the parking lot).

Last night Jason happened to do a search for “swing set” and came across the exact thing that we’ve been wanting to get for our boys. New sets like this go for about $1000 at home improvement stores and there’s just no way that kind of purchase was going to fit into our budget any time soon, but $150 for a 3-year old one? Absolutely!!

It’s got a slide, two individual swings, and a tandem glider swing, as well as a little half picnic table and bench seat on one side (can’t see it in the picture). The bottom can be used as a sandbox but we won’t be doing that as we don’t want to attract fire ants which are already a big problem where we live.

I was telling Jason that between this new-to-them swing set and the pool, our boys are never going to come inside the house this spring and summer! Also, there are lots of inexpensive add-on items available (periscopes, rock climbing walls, chalkboard kits, replacement roof kits, steering wheels, etc.) that would make excellent birthday gifts for the boys for years to come. Someday maybe the bottom half could be turned into a playhouse area for our little girl. So many possibilities!

There are a couple of boards that need replacing ($20 investment in wood) and we’d like to purchase a bucket-seat (about $30) to replace one of the regular swings because Jesse is still to little to use the big-kid swing. Otherwise, this is in great condition. What a deal!

As we were driving the hour down the interstate to pick up the swing set this afternoon we got a call from a guy wanting to come look at the 6-piece bedroom set as well as the wine rack we had for sale. Sure thing, see ya later man!

No later did we get home from putting out $150 for the swing set and Jason partially assembling it in the backyard did the man and his son show up and give us $560 for a ton of furniture that we had up online for sale. All that’s left now is one headboard and a dresser from a different bedroom set. He also took pictures of our china cabinet to show his new wife and if she likes it he’ll be back for it as well.

We are so happy! The money for the swing set was already set aside in our budget to spend, so the money from everything that we sold this evening just goes right back into our pocket. Some of it will be spent on getting a new dresser to match baby girl’s bedroom furniture and another dresser for the boys since we sold the nightstands that they had been using, but the rest will be going straight to our emergency fund. It feels so good to be building that back up again after having to deplete it over Christmas when Jason’s motorcycle needed repairs.

Hopefully the china cabinet sells soon and we do well at the yard sale this Saturday, it would be great to get all of this spare stuff out of the way and have less clutter around the house and taking up space in the garage.

I went to lunch this morning with some girlfriends and our kids and we got to talking about Craigslist. When we were kids we didn’t have internet and I don’t ever remember going to a yard sale. Everything we had was brand new from the store and our old things were either donated or thrown away. I felt terrible when the playhouse and wooden fort and swing set that we had in our backyard growing up were torn down and thrown in the trash after several years of sitting unused when my sister and I outgrew them. I don’t think we ever thought to run an ad in the newspaper or Pennysaver offering them for sale before they were so weathered that they were reduced to trash. If we’d sold them as soon as we had stopped playing with them instead of letting them sit out there to rot and rust, other children could have enjoyed them and my mom would have had some spare cash in her pocket.

Jason and I have been lucky to have had good experiences in using Craigslist lots of times to both buy and sell various things. Even though I didn’t grow up buying used items, I am very glad that this free listing website exists so that I can buy a used-but-still-in-great-shape swing set for our kids and save $850 in doing it. Like I said, there is no way we’d be able to shell out a thousand dollars for a brand new one (at least not without going into debt for it – which is not an option we’d consider) and our kids are 5 and 2, they wouldn’t know new from “previously loved” anyway.

Financial Peace – A Start

Jason and I have always been really open about our separate and combined financial situations. When we first decided that marriage was in our future we discussed our past money mess-ups and how we stood at the time – full disclosure. Ever since then we have had regular talks about how we feel about money, what we want to do with what we have, and what our end-goal is. Oddly enough, we’ve never fought about money, I think it’s because we never hid anything from each other and made every financial decision together, even the little stuff.

When we were making the decision to move from California to Alabama this past summer, we took a good long painful look at our financial situation. We looked at our then-current budget and we made a realistic budget for after the move. We took into consideration the extreme changes in income and did some severe cut-backs in our budget (i.e. swapping the $400/month cell phone plan for a single emergency cell, eating out whenever we wanted to once-a-month or less date nights, etc.) We also estimated future budgets by considering when Jason would be getting expected raises and when certain expenses would decrease (like finishing the car notes).

We’d heard of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and looked into ordering the dvds but decided that our plan was complete enough for our needs. However, after moving here we realized that we did not accurately estimate the moving costs and just how much would not be reimbursed by the Coast Guard. Our well-planned and generous savings went down to nothing in a hurry and we were getting really worried about how we were going to make it. For the past few months we’ve been even more diligent about making all decisions together so that we don’t spend money that was earmarked for something else and did our best not to spend any savings unless we had to. It was tough, but we made it through Christmas.

During our time in California we worked with my former employer and our bank to roll-over my 401k and cash it out. Knowing this would create an extra wrinkle in our taxes this year, we decided to go for it and made a clear budget for how it would be spent to pay off debts. Well, our cross-country trip expenses mounted to more than expected and we had to do some more creative budgeting. We were still able to make the money do mostly as we designated but weren’t able to pay down either of our cars as expected. Very disappointing.

When we got home from our trip a few weeks ago we decided to buy Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover kit from Sam’s Club and give it a shot. After reading the book and watching the two free dvd lessons Jason and I hunkered down and put together our $1,000 mini emergency savings, Dave’s Baby Step #1. I’d already gotten a start on Baby Step #2 earlier by using the 401k money to catch up on all of our past due bills and pay off our smallest credit card. We’re expecting a reimbursement from the Coast Guard for Jason’s travel in early December for school and that will go completely toward another credit card and will almost totally pay it off. We’re also expecting little bits of extra funds to come in here and there over the next year, all of that will pay down more debt.

We are really stoked! The people on the dvds and in the book who tell you their stories really aren’t kidding when they tell you how great it feels to get that first Baby Step done and get started on your Debt Snowball. It is truly empowering and shows you just how much you can accomplish when you and your spouse are on the same page and you decide together to make the necessary sacrifices for the benefit of your financial future.

I just turned 28 this month, Jason will be 30 in a couple of weeks. We feel that cashing in my 401k this year (when I only worked half the year) was a good decision to help us through a tough time and get us started on our quest toward financial peace. Jason’s got 8 years in now and another 12 years to go in the Coast Guard, we’ve got a lot of job security and he’ll amass a good retirement in that time. When our kids are all in school I may go back to work part time to supplement our savings. We’ll see how things stand when we get that far. We’re young and have lots of time left. Good thing we got started on this early!

We’re both really excited to keep going through the Baby Steps and get out of debt. The only thing that hurts is that all of this debt that we have now is from both of our screwed-up previous marriages. We hate having this debt to remind us of our mistakes and the best thing about getting it all paid off will be that there won’t be any more painful reminders of those former lives. What’s great is that since we got married, we haven’t amassed any additional debt aside from what we each brought to the marriage. We feel good about that because it means we learned from our mistakes.

I’ll definitely be writing more about our journey to financial peace as we go along. Hopefully it’ll force me to actually update this blog more often, I’ve been horrible about that.

November Menu Plan

This monthly menu planning and shopping almost entirely at once is really working out well for us.

Breakfasts: Cold cereal, oatmeal, waffles, toast.

Lunches & Dinners: As follows… On weekdays we have our large meal at lunchtime so that Jason can eat with us before he goes to work for the night shift. On weekends we have our large meal in the evening. For the other meal we have a selection of sandwiches, leftovers, quesadillas, pizza, quickie pasta, or the occasional snack tray with smoothies. Here is my plan for the large meals:

Sunday, 1st: Italian chicken with carrots and rice.

Monday, 2nd: Farfalle (bowtie) pasta with meat sauce.

Tuesday, 3rd: Pork roast with mashed potatoes and corn.

Wednesday, 4th: Tacos and fruit.

Thursday, 5th: Chicken noodle soup and rolls.

Friday, 6th: Hamburgers & fries.

Saturday, 7th: Monterey chicken with potato casserole and skillet corn.

Sunday, 8th: Beef stew and cornbread.

Monday, 9th: Pork chops with baked apples and rice.

Tuesday, 10th: Baked ziti with corn-on-the-cob.

Wednesday, 11th: Chicken & gravy with Rice-a-Roni and carrots.

Thursday, 12th: Pizza and watermelon.

Friday, 13th: Chicken noodle soup and rolls.

Saturday, 14th: Pot roast with mashed potatoes and carrots.

Sunday, 15th: Spaghetti with garlic breadsticks.

Monday, 16th: Italian chicken with skillet corn and fruit.

Tuesday, 17th: Cheese enchiladas and rice.

Wednesday, 18th: Tacos and fruit.

Thursday, 19th: Potato soup and salad.

Friday, 20th: Hamburgers and fries.

Saturday, 21st: Beef stew and cornbread.

Sunday, 22nd: Eggs, fried potatoes, and bacon.

Monday, 23rd: Lemon pepper chicken with carrots and rice.

Tuesday, 24th: Pizza and watermelon.

Wednesday, 25th: Baked ziti and salad.

Thursday, 26th: Thanksgiving! I’m planning the usual feast of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. None of us are fans of pumpkin pie, so we’ll be having apple. Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday of the whole year, and this is the first year in my life that I’ll be cooking the whole meal on my own. I’ve always celebrated the holiday in a potluck meal with my extended family (20-something people). All of them are in California and we can’t afford to visit both at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we’ll be doing Thanksgiving on our own here in Alabama and visiting California for two weeks at Christmas.

Friday, 27th: Oh good heavens, there will be SO many leftovers from the day before!

Saturday, 28th: Pot roast with rice and carrots.

Sunday, 29th: Jason is leaving for a 2-week school and I’m not sure what we’ll be having for dinner without him. Probably something that isn’t already repeated this month like potato soup.

Monday, 30th: Italian pork chops with rice and baked apples. Ever since I made baked apples once the family has mandated that I’m not allowed to prepare pork chops without the baked apples ever again. S’ok by me, I love it!

 

We shopped for the month at Sam’s Club on Friday and I stopped off at Winn-Dixie earlier today for the items that Sam’s doesn’t carry. We’ve done this a few times now and we’re really taking to the routine. It limits the “just a few things” stops at the grocery store and helps keep our budget under control. I still have to go each week for refills on milk and fresh fruits, but otherwise this monthly shopping meets our needs.

Rant Rant RANT!!!

My last couple of days haven’t been all that great. Actually, I can’t say it that way, it’s been the last week but off-and-on, culminating in today.

When we left California, we still had about a year left on our DirecTV contract. Upon moving to Alabama, we hooked it back up and switched from the $75/month premium plan to the $29/month family plan to finish out our contract. We got AT&T for our land line and DSL internet. AT&T owns DirecTV, so we were able to get a good deal on a bundle. However, the phone had annoying static and Jason had horrible issues with the internet. While he was playing World of Warcraft he’d get kicked offline every 15 minutes or so. During the day while he was at work, I’d have to reboot our router every few hours because it would randomly lose connection with AT&T.

Jason called Mediacom and found out that they would pay up to $300 to buy us out of our DirecTV contract if we switched over to their cable TV; also, their internet promised to be much faster than AT&T could provide. We happily switched our TV, internet, and phone over to Mediacom. The installer came last week to hook us up. He spent four hours talking to himself and drinking all of my lemonade, tramping up and down from my attic, and complaining about what the DirecTV guy did to our cabling. When he left, I had fast internet but only while tethered to my modem (leaving us to set up our own wireless network, which AT&T included in their service), the cable box didn’t work all I had were 11 broadcast stations (which I could get with a pair of rabbit ears), he left the DVD/VCR and Wii unconnected, and whenever I got a phone call the internet would pause until the call was over. What kind of service is this?

We called Mediacom to complain but they said that the soonest they could get another installer out was a week later, today. A rude man showed up on our doorstep this morning and spent about thirty minutes fiddling with the TV. He tuned the TV to a news station, made some really off-color comments (not under his breath, he turned and commented to us), and did nothing but attach our DVD/VCR. I still don’t have a functioning cable box.

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Another separate issue, but I want to get all of the rant out in one post… My car is having a breakdown. We haven’t had a single problem with it since bringing it here to Alabama. We towed it on a trailer behind Jason’s truck, so it didn’t even get all of those miles put on it. It’s on mile 4,000 (approximate) of it’s last oil change, but it is supposed to go 5,000 between changes. Never had a problem with that before, ever. It’s about a thousand miles from it’s next scheduled maintenance (85,000 miles) but it’s not supposed to freak out like this until you miss a significant maintenance event.

Jason and I took my car to Sam’s Club earlier today because it needed gas and Sam’s Club has the cheap stuff. Right as we pulled into our driveway the car started making awful noises and the engine light started blinking. I parked it and popped the hood. A really bad smell was coming from under the hood but nothing jumped out at either Jason or I. The engine temperature was normal and the oil light wasn’t on. I turned the car off and we took Jason’s truck to our afternoon appointment, vowing to figure out my car tomorrow.

With only one working vehicle and two working individuals in the same home, we face a serious scheduling problem. Luckily, I am home all day every day and neither Jason or his mom work far from the house. Until we get my car towed to a mechanic and fixed, I will be taking my mother-in-law to work at 10 am, coming home to spend a few hours with Jason, taking him to work at 2:30, swinging by to pick up Carol from work at 3:00, catching a nap after dinner, and driving back to pick up Jason from work at midnight.

How did my life turn into a carpool mommy when my only child is still living with his father 2,700 miles away (at least until October)? We’ve got some savings we can use to fix whatever is wrong with my car, but I’m hoping and praying that it won’t zap the whole amount we have socked away. That would be really bad for our tiny budget and we likely wouldn’t make it through the month if we didn’t have a little that we could pull from savings to get us through this month and next until Jason gets his flight pay back (he has to get re-qualified to fly since it’s a different plane than he worked on in San Diego). We budgeted to pull a certain amount from our savings for the first two months (three at most). After those first couple months, we’ll be fine without pulling from savings.

I do NOT want to refinance my car AGAIN in order to pay for car repair. I had to do that when I got my brakes done because they snuck up on me.

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What can I say? At least I picked this month to plan all of our meals from the start and bought all the food we’ll need today. If we run out of cash due to the car, at least we’ve already got food for a month.

Menu Plan, month of September

This is my first shot at planning a full month of dinners. I picked a good month for it because I’ll be out of town visiting my family for a week and will be leaving Jason and his mom to their own devices. I never plan breakfast, we’re all grazers in the morning and are happy with a bowl of cereal. With Jason having switched from the day shift to nights, we’ll be switching our main meal of the day from evening to lunch time so that he can have a good filling meal with the family before heading off for work at 3 pm.

Here are our September lunch plans:
Tuesday, 1st: Tuna salad sandwiches, chips & dip, & fruit.

Wednesday, 2nd: Monterey Chicken.

Thursday, 3rd: Pot Roast with carrots and potatoes.

Friday, 4th: Chicken & gravy with corn and Rice-a-Roni.

Saturday, 5th: Shake & Bake pork chops with crash potatoes.

Sunday, 6th: Orange Chicken with Veggie Fried Rice.

Monday, 7th: Spaghetti with garlic breadsticks.

Tuesday, 8th: Pork Roast with mashed potatoes and applesauce.

Wednesday, 9th: Chicken Noodle Soup

Thursday, 10th: Tacos and green salad.

Friday, 11th: Roast turkey breast with baked potatoes and skillet fried corn (the way Mimi made it).

Saturday, 12th – Saturday, 19th: I’ll be in California visiting Jeremy for his big 3rd birthday. Jason and his mom are on their own.

Sunday, 20th: Beef Stew with pull-apart rolls and Lemon Pie.

Monday, 21st: Chicken Pot Pie

Tuesday, 22nd: Cheese enchiladas and rice.

Wednesday, 23rd: BBQ Pulled Pork and potato cheese casserole.

Thursday, 24th: Chicken Noodle Soup

Friday, 25th: Leftovers with fresh bread.

Saturday, 26th: Eggs, fried potatoes and fruit.

Sunday, 27th: Baked Ziti

Monday, 28th: Chicken and gravy with carrots and rice.

Tuesday, 29th: Hamburgers and tater tots.

Wednesday, 30th: Pizza

Jason and I took our detailed list to Sam’s Club and Winn Dixie, spent about $275. Our regular food budget is at $450 now (same as it was in California) and I’d love to get that down to the $300 or less range. Hopefully changing from weekly to monthly menu planning will help out with that. I’m considering September as our first month with a real food budget. We moved into our house on July 31st, and our August grocery receipts are bloated due to stocking up on stuff like flour and sugar, pasta, and other such things that we keep on hand all the time.

Now that we’re done with the initial “moving in” stock up, I can start analyzing our regular grocery receipts to see where I can cut costs and help out with coupons. I’m already getting pretty good about shopping sales and making the best of our Sam’s Club membership. The biggest thing that has helped with our budget in the past nine months or so is that I’ve been cooking more from scratch. It tastes lots better, costs much less, and is far healthier. We very rarely eat out anymore unless it’s a special occasion and we stock almost no convenience food.

When I first started menu planning a year or so ago our food budget was $600, or more depending on how much we ate out – which was way too often. We’ve made big strides to get to $450 and now we’re working toward $300, half of our original budget. I’m feeling good.

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Visit OrgJunkie for lots more menu inspiration.

Menu Planning 101: Assignment 2

Last week we came up with 15 of our family’s favorite meals. This week’s challenge from The Happy Housewife was to add another 5 meals and list our favorite side dishes.

My first list of meals from last week included our absolute favorite main dishes. This week I’m adding a few meals that we like to splurge on once in a while:

  1. Taco Cheese Dip
  2. Breakfast for Dinner (eggs, potatoes, pancakes, homemade muffins, waffles, any combination of breakfasty foods)
  3. Big Chef Salad with veggies (uncooked sweet corn and raw carrots) and different meats (turkey or chicken, salami or pepperoni), shredded cheese, and fruit like raisins, craisins, pineapple bits, mandarin orange slices, apple chunks. Basically a mish-mash of an antipasto tray mixed into salad greens.
  4. Hot Dogs (I have a weakness, but I try to keep it in check and at least buy the quality hot dogs)
  5. Orange Chicken

We don’t really worry about too much variety in side dishes, we’ve got our favorites and stick to them:

  • Carrots
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Rice
  • A Simple Walk’s Simple Pull-Apart Rolls
  • Potato Cheese Casserole
  • Rice-a-Roni
  • Corn on the cob
  • Baked potatoes
  • Green salad
  • Tater tots
  • Guacamole with chips
  • Fruit cocktail
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Watermelon

Having our favorites lists written down really helps to make up our menu plans. Much easier than wracking my memory every week or looking back over months and months of menu plans. At least once a week I like to try a completely new recipe or a new version of something I already make just to shake things up. Sometimes I’ll find a turkey breast or spiral ham on sale or get a coupon and I surprise the family with a big deal instead of whatever mac-and-cheese with hot dogs night we had planned.