Friday, January 29, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 24: A two pound bag of black beans...

Sometimes I forget about beans.  They are, of course, an excellent source of protein and quite inexpensive.  Also, Robert really enjoys them!  There are some protein-rich foods he will not eat, but hummus, in particular, is a favorite--and so easy to prepare and serve.  So, the other day I decided to sort, rinse, quick-soak, and cook a whole two pound bag of dried black beans to make a couple of different things.  Sorry there are no pictures.

After the beans were cooked, I got out our Ninja blender and made two batches of this black bean hummus.  The whole family likes it, and will eat it with celery sticks, carrots, and tortilla chips.  This makes an easy snack or most of a lunch!  I made enough for lunch, some to go in the fridge, and two containers to put in the freezer.  This was incredibly cheap to make--much cheaper than store-bought hummus even at Aldi, and the kids like it just as well.

When I was done with that, I didn't even need to wash the Ninja out before making black bean and salsa soup with the rest of the beans.  Since I already had something else planned for dinner, I put this in the freezer for another night.  I hope the kids will like it.  If not, we will probably let them eat hummus instead.  That's the beauty of having hummus and veggies in the fridge--it's an easy alternative dinner choice that is healthier than PB&J, which is good because we don't keep bread in the house anyway.  I'm going to try to make time to cook dried beans and make hummus every month or so.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 23: A timely snow day

We don't get a lot of snow around here.  When we do, it's a major day of excitement for the kids--almost on par with Christmas morning or a trip to Disney World.  Also--and this is my favorite part--even if the snow (or ice) we get isn't decent enough to play in, it's an excellent excuse to have a day-long pajama party because all prior commitments are cancelled anyway!

So that's what we did last Friday and Saturday.  Jordan had the day off work Friday, when things were just starting to get icy, so we stayed in and relaxed.  By early Saturday morning, enough snow to have a little fun in had fallen!  We got up early, put on waterproof gear and coats, and grabbed our sleds.

There was just enough snow to pull the kids around the neighborhood in their sleds.  They made snow angels too, even though around here our snow angels usually end up looking a bit dirty because the snow is so shallow.

Suzi even made an adorable baby snow unicorn!

Snow cream...  Very cheap to make; the main ingredient is snow!

When they were tired of playing in the snow, they came in to dry off and Jordan made two big batches of snow cream.  It was wonderful!  Then we watched the movie Snow Day.  

We did make it to church on Sunday, and then to my mom's house for lunch, where we discovered that her snow was much better than ours and still had not melted!  So the kids got to play all over again.  It was an ideal snowy three-day weekend that even ended up helping us out with our spending freeze.  Yay snow!

January Spending Freeze, Day 22: Two little girls teaching themselves to sew

For Christmas, Suzi's aunt and uncle got her a really cool craft/sewing set.  It includes pre-cut pieces of felt and instructions for projects, along with needles, thread, pins, beads, and more.  She loves it.  Shortly after we returned home from Christmas traveling, she took it up to her room and spent several hours working with it.  She has sewn things before, both with me and independently, but this kit really seemed to get her motivated in a new and powerful way.  When she finally came downstairs, she proudly showed me an adorable little owl she had made all by herself.  "You know," I said, "you can take any fabric, cut it to make anything you want, and then sew it with the tools in your kit!"  Anytime I sew a project and have a bit of fabric left over, I put it in Suzi's fabric bin.  I especially like to give her sweater or t-shirt scraps and fleece, because they do not require hemming--the edges will not unravel.

A few days later we read The Lorax, one of the kids' favorite Dr. Seuss stories, and Suzi was inspired!  She ran up to her room, and a while later presented me with this adorable little guy, crafted from one of her Dad's old t-shirts, two buttons from Grandma, and a couple of felt pieces from her sewing set.

He speaks for the trees.

Ivey wanted to do some sewing too, so I said sure!  Suzi gifted Ivey her old, smaller sewing kit with threads and a little thimble, and I found her a dull needle.  She found a leftover scrap of fleece and made this.

"Bunny" by Ivey

As I was looking around for cashmere sweaters to start a project of my own, I stumbled upon some cashmere scraps I had meant to give away a few months ago.  I had been crafting simple little dolls to sell at craft fairs, but after I decided to give up crafting for profit, I realized I was never going to use up all those little pieces.  I gave the girls one large ziploc bag each of various colorful, soft, fluffy scraps--perfect for small, easy projects.  It's already kept them busy for hours practicing basic hand-sewing skills on their own, which I've always felt is the best way to learn.  They do not want their mother hanging over them, telling them a better way to do this or that, and stopping them from making mistakes they could learn from.  I offer tips and help when requested, and then send them off to enjoy themselves.  There is literally nothing to lose, nothing to waste.  This little pursuit is a spending freeze win for them and for me!

January Spending Freeze, Day 21: Other unavoidable spending

From December 27 to the time of this writing (which is actually 1/26; I'm a bit behind in my blogging!) we have spent $309 on items other than regular bills and pet stuff (see previous post).  That feels like a lot, but in reviewing it, I don't see much that could be helped.  Here is a breakdown of our unavoidable spending:

$100 - Gas
We had to go out of town once, and that alone cost us about $30 in gas for the van.  Also, I am currently in a local production of The Secret Garden, and have had to attend rehearsals 30 minutes away from home.  If not for those two things, this number would be less than half what it is.  It doesn't take much gas to get Jordan to work and back.

$157 - Groceries 
We did make one cheaty trip to the discount food store, which accounts for a lot of this.  It was probably a good idea, though--we've already used up some of the stuff we bought, and we really have not gone out to eat or stopped for fast food this whole time.  My mom has kindly taken us out a couple of times when we were spending the day together, but other than that it's been meals prepared at home.  So, if we've traded fast food for spending a bit more at the grocery store than we'd hoped, I'd say it's still a win.

$42 Food exchange (milk and eggs)
I've given this one a lot of thought.  We pay about $3 for a dozen eggs and $6 for a gallon of milk.  The quality is excellent--the milk is from grass-fed cows, and the eggs are from hens who roam about daily on grass paddocks rather than staying caged.  All the products are from local farmers.  I consider this an investment in our health, so we probably won't be giving it up.

$10 Other 
Jordan's clear vinyl shower curtain was a torn-up, nasty mess.  Normally I throw these in the washer with a couple of towels, but his was too tattered to survive that.  I was very disappointed with the quality of the one we ordered, but at least it was a 2-pack.  Kind of aggravating to have to buy this during the spending freeze, but what can you do?

Overall, I feel we've stuck to the spirit of this spending freeze and I'm satisfied with our efforts.  I can tell it is making a huge difference in the areas we wanted to change--particularly in helping us reset our spending habits!  Our Amazon orders have dropped off to the point that the UPS man probably wonders if I'm still alive!  :-)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 20: New toys for our cats without spending a dime

Our three kittens.  Not as innocent as they look.

Ever since we started the spending freeze on non-essentials, I've kept a running list of everything we did spend money on.  As soon as I started the list, I knew we would have one conspicuous category (no pun intended, but Jordan found one) that would keep popping up, and it hasn't disappointed:  cat stuff.  We do have five cats, so this was bound to happen.  We have two dogs as well, but somehow the cats cost significantly more; I think the litterboxes are partially to blame.  From December 27 - January 23, the time of this writing, we have spent a total of $183 on cats alone.

$183 in less than a month, on cats--and we didn't buy toys or silly outfits or anything frivolous at all.  Normally it wouldn't be so high, but our eldest kitty is sick.  We've taken her to the vet quite a bit over the past several months and have been back a few times to buy more medicine and prescription cat food.  With a full blood panel and later an ultrasound, our kitty spending for November and December was much higher!

One thing I do to help lower our cat expenses is buy our cat food by the case on Amazon.  For Fancy Feast and probably several other canned foods, Amazon offers the best price and free shipping to Prime members.  Prices fluctuate wildly on Amazon, so I track all our preferred types of cat food on and get an email when a price drops unusually low.  When it does, I buy 3-4 boxes.  We have an Amazon Rewards credit card, and often use our rewards points to buy cat food or cat litter.  Our favorite cat litter has been ridiculously overpriced lately, so we're going to have to look for it locally.

We try to only buy decent quality cat food, and natural litter that will not be a respiratory irritant to us, our children, or our pets.  I'm not willing to skimp on things that will cost us more (or cost us more than just money) in the long run.  So, yes, the cats are relatively expensive.  But there are certain things our cats love that don't cost a lot of money.

Our three not-so-little kittens are now about eight months old and incredibly rambunctious.  They tear around the house chasing each other, bouncing on and off the furniture as they go.  If they get bored or if their curiosity is not redirected sufficiently, they can be destructive and extremely annoying.  But, thankfully, it doesn't take much to entertain them!

Boxes are a favorite.  Anytime we get an Amazon order (usually of cat supplies) I put the empty box in the floor for them to enjoy for a while.  A few months ago I even made them this cardboard box funhouse.  It only took a few minutes, and they still play in it sometimes!

But today I decided to use up some of my wool sweater stash and make a few simple catnip toys for them to play with.  I already had the catnip--months ago I paid $4 or so for a big bag of it at a local shop where they sell bulk herbs.  Sometimes I make fancy novelty cat toys, but the cats honestly don't care much what their toys look like.  They will end up dusty under the couch no matter what.  So, I simply cut circles about 6" in diameter, and loosely stitched around the edges with some wool yarn and a big needle.  I put 2-3 tablespoons of loose catnip in the center, placed some little wool scraps on top (this will help keep the loose catnip contained), then pulled the yarn to gather the circle into a drawstring pouch.  Finally, I tied it off tightly and trimmed the yarn.  I made five or six...  Not sure exactly, because as soon as I finished one I'd toss it to a kitten and they'd carry it off!

Clemmy got the first toy, but Pumpkin stole it

Please excuse the shoes, socks, and junk in the floor

The toys are now scattered around, and occasionally a mischievous kitten will spot one and play with it for a little while instead of, for instance, finding a roll of toilet paper to shred into bits.  I really need to come up with a few other good ways to keep them occupied and entertained.  Maybe a toy rotation.  It didn't work for the children, but maybe it would for the cats!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 19: Adorable, fanciful temptation

It's been a total of about 25 days in a row so far that we have only spent on necessary items, except for Monday when we grocery shopped a little.  It has mostly felt great, and I'm so glad we're doing it!  However, last night I felt my first big pull of temptation that was a cut-and-dry "NO, that's definitely not allowed!"

My temptation is probably different than most people's.  It was this.

Created by GameGuardians on Etsy.  Isn't he just majestic?!

In case you are still confused, I will explain.  This whimsical crafter has taken Falkor the Luckdragon, probably the best character from one of my favorite movies, The Neverending Story, which came out the year I was born, and artfully immortalized him in fluff and faux fur.  But that's not all.  Of course everybody wants their own luckdragon, and since she couldn't keep up with the relentless demand, she is selling the pattern and instructions!  So, not only is it now possible to have a luckdragon, which I have always wanted, but I can make one myself!  I could make one for every member of our family, all in different colors!  And the instruction booklet is only $16, shipped!

When I saw that, I almost fell off my unicorn.  I am going to wait until February 1 to order my copy.  I am.  But I had to practically sit on my hands last night to keep myself from jumping the gun.  I cannot wait to make this for Suzi.  She got her very own Auryn for Christmas, so a luckdragon to cuddle with is naturally what I want to give her for her birthday in May.  I don't know how long it might take me to make this, but hopefully I can keep it a secret until it's finished so it'll be a surprise!

What is your biggest temptation?  Is it something normal like shoes, wine, or Starbucks?  Or are you a little bit weird too?  ;-)

January Spending Freeze, Day 18: A sort of cheaty shopping trip

Just a little of what we bought.  The mac and cheese comes in super handy for lunch!

We had planned to NOT go on any big shopping trips until the spending freeze was over, buying only what we absolutely needed to complete recipes that would use up what we already had.  Well, on Monday we cheated a little.  We had driven out of town for the day for an appointment, and on our way home we passed right by our favorite discount grocery store.  It's a little over 30 minutes away from home for us, and the store is rather cramped and crowded, so it's really hard for me take the kids there by myself.  Also, you never know what they might have in stock on any given day.  Usually they have a pretty awesome selection of gluten free products, but if you don't go on the right day you might miss out.  So we stopped, telling ourselves we would only buy a certain amount, and not a bunch of junk.

We ended up spending $72.40, a fraction of what we normally spend during a discount store stock-up.  Here is what we got:

24 double rolls of toilet paper
6 pounds of Purina Beyond cat food
6 boxes of Quaker Oats quinoa bars
1 extra large can of Pam olive oil spray
24 boxes of gluten free Horizon mac and cheese
2 pounds shredded mozzarella
2 boxes of Challenge butter
1 pound of sausage
2 small boxes of baking soda
2 ten ounce bags of coffee
4 pounds of basmati rice
3 boxes of quinoa
6 packs of gnocchi
1 pint of whipping cream
3 pounds of powdered sugar
4 boxes of gluten free cake mix
2 boxes Krusteaz gluten free blueberry muffin mix
2 boxes gluten free apple cinnamon muffin mix

While I've learned to be careful what I buy at discount stores, keeping an eye out for expiration dates and cleanliness, it is insane how far our grocery money goes at this place!  The Horizon mac and cheese alone was worth stopping for.  Wal-Mart sells the regular kind for $2.76 a box if you buy a pack of 12.  Gluten free is always more expensive, but the discount store was selling it at the unbelievable price of 3/$1!

Since we only go shopping there every 3-6 months, we usually stock up so much that we are unable to fit it all into our kitchen (we have no pantry).  But this time, even though we went shopping before we meant to, my three weeks of clearing out after Christmas meant that all this food easily fit into our space.

While I know this was technically deviating from our plan, I feel like we made the right choice.  I passed by a lot of things I normally would have bought, such as a great deal on a big bottle of my favorite Bailey's coffee creamer!  I'm still using up the peppermint mocha one I bought before Christmas, and if there's still month left at the end of my creamer, I will just use milk.  I'm hoping that next time we go to the discount store (in a month or two), they have more of my favorite Schar gluten free pancake and baking mix.  We are nearly out!