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!

January Spending Freeze, Day 17: Rainbow sprinkles

On Sunday the 17th, day 17 of our official spending freeze, I was ordained and installed as an elder at our church.  I'm very excited about serving on session!  After church we had a potluck luncheon, so I made gluten-free cupcakes.  I actually made these the day before, along with some brownies.  We packed them up and carried them out to our van that evening so we wouldn't be scrambling on Sunday morning.  We arrived to church on time and much more relaxed than usual.

In this process I realized two things.  First, we have so much more time than we realize.  Most of our Saturdays are spent shopping for one thing or another.  We go to yard sales, or thrift shops, or maybe decide to run to Lowe's and pick up a few things for a home improvement project.  Without any of that, we had plenty of time to be lazy for a while and get some things done on our Saturday.

Also, I noticed once again--and I hope the kids will, too--that a spending freeze doesn't have to be completely austere.  We have so many wonderful things we can already enjoy.  Board games we haven't gotten around to playing, favorite movies we haven't watched in forever, cake mix we were saving for just such an occasion, and of course, sprinkles.  

A spending freeze is a great way to simplify, relax, and rediscover the little joys you might have forgotten in your life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 16: Goal #2 - A new family vehicle

Our second and larger immediate goal is to purchase with cash a hybrid vehicle we can all ride in together.  We are a two-car family.  While we have discussed the logistics of having only one car, it isn't something we want to do in our current situation.  

Our main vehicle is our van, a Hyundai Entourage.  We bought the Hyundai after our well-loved-and-paid-off 2004 Honda Odyssey, Broke Ass Betty, had her transmission go out somewhere between 190,000 and 200,000 miles.  I wanted to have her repaired and carry on driving her for several more years, but a new transmission is expensive.  We worried that we might wipe out our savings having that repaired, only to have another expensive problem pop up, at which point we would be broke AND vanless.  So we went shopping at the dealerships, which I detest.  Nearly all of the salesmen wanted to know "what kind of monthly payment we were looking for," and seemed offended when we insisted on discussing the actual price of the vehicles.  Our refusal to take on a five year financial obligation seemed completely foreign and confusing to them.  We left most of the dealerships within five minutes of arriving.

September 2014.  Goodbye, sweet paid-off Betty.  I will miss you!

I wish we had looked for a van on Craigslist or Facebook from a private seller, and if we'd had more cash saved, we probably would have.  But we did find the Hyundai for a somewhat reasonable price, and then paid it off within a year of taking out the loan.  It did improve our credit score, so it's water under the bridge and I'm satisfied.

...And hello, Miss Honey the Hyundai.

The kids were thrilled when we got the new van.  This is how I want to feel about our next car (because it'll be the right car for us, bought with CASH)!

Our other vehicle is my husband's pickup truck, an older Dodge Dakota.  We found it on Facebook from a private seller and got a good deal.  Having a truck comes in handy occasionally, but there are several issues with our current vehicle situation.

First, the truck and the van use up far more gas than necessary.  Maybe once or twice a year, my husband hauls something in the truck that he couldn't fit in the trunk of a car.  Even that is sometimes a favor for a friend who asked him to do it because he had a truck.  We can fit most bulky things in our van anyway, especially if we lay the seats down.  99% of his truck driving is just back and forth to his work, which is IT/computer related and does not require a truck in the slightest.  As for the van, I often drive only myself 30+ miles round trip in it, for things like play rehearsals.  This is incredibly inefficient!  Even when we are all five going somewhere together, I would love to have the option of using less gas.

Second, the truck is manual transmission, and I can't drive it.  I'd like to learn, but that would require childcare to be arranged, so we haven't gotten around to it yet.  This means that I must drive the van everywhere I go, even if I'm leaving the children home with Jordan, which leaves him stranded due to the third problem...

The kids can't ride in the truck.  Well, one of them can, but that's not much help.  Over the past several years, whenever our vans have had issues and we've waited for them to be fixed, we've had some rather stressful (or at the very least, annoying) times.  One evening this past summer, our van broke down when the girls and I were on the way home from a Wizard of Oz rehearsal.  I found a safe place to pull over and called Jordan.  It was getting dark and we wanted to be picked up ASAP.  However, he couldn't help us.  There was no way he could drive us all home.  I had to call my mom, who also has a van with car seats for the kids, since she spends a lot of time with them.  If she couldn't have helped us, I would have been frantically scrolling through my contacts to find an available friend.  Transferring the car seats in the dark would have been super fun, I'm sure.  But my mom picked us up, and then we had to borrow her van for several days, inconveniencing her while Jordan battled with the dealership to get the benefits we were due from our "bumper-to-bumper warranty."  (Helpful hint:  The warranty is NOT AT ALL what they make it out to be!)

Therefore, what we desire is a small hybrid vehicle that can fit all three kids' car seats across the back.  Now that the girls are in boosters, this should be attainable, and I'm pretty thrilled at the prospect of driving a regular-size car again!  We are thinking perhaps a Prius, but will be open to any good deals that pop up.  With a minivan and a small hybrid, both of which we can all ride in, we will probably save $50/month or more in gas.  It all depends on what we are involved with at any given time and where and how often we must drive.  I was in Sweeney Todd this past fall, and the frequent rehearsals nearly 30 minutes away from home had us filling up the van depressingly often.  A small hybrid would have made so much more sense!

In addition to the gas savings, transportation logistics will be vastly simplified.  We will easily be able to handle breakdowns or having a vehicle in the shop, all on our own.  Best of all, when it's finally time to replace either vehicle, even if it happens suddenly like it did with Broke Ass Betty, we will be able to handle temporarily owning one car without too much hassle.  We would be free to shop for a few weeks until an awesome new-to-us vehicle came along, or even save up more money for a while if necessary.  

In short, getting a hybrid for our family to ride in will put us in a more stable position and will allow us to save money for years to come.  This time we will be starting our vehicle search on Facebook and Craigslist, and will wait until the perfect one comes along!  We should have the money saved and be able to begin our search in late spring or early summer.  I'm excitedly looking forward to it!

Do you have any advice on which hybrids are best, or which ones can fit three car seats in the back?  If so, I'd love to read it!

January Spending Freeze, Day 15: Our #1 current financial goal

A few days ago it occurred to me that I haven't really written about our goals yet.  Resetting our spending habits is the main goal, of course--that aspect of the spending freeze will benefit us for a very long time.  But right now, what are the short-term rewards and accomplishments we are working toward?  There are a couple.  The first one is smaller and we've already accomplished part of it.

Our emergency fund.

We do already have an emergency fund, but it's smaller than I'd like (here's a Dave Ramsey article on that).  Due mostly to our desire to never have a vehicle loan again, we want to add about $2500 to our existing EF.  If all goes well, we should have that accomplished this March.

There are many reasons to build a healthy emergency fund, as there are many different things for which an emergency fund might be needed.  Here are my favorites.

1)  Quick recovery from overdraft.  We haven't made this mistake in a long, long time.  I keep such a close eye on our accounts that I would be shocked to find us overdrawn.  Everyone makes mistakes, though.  It's good to know that if something crazy happened and we did overdraw, I could fix it within seconds.

2)  Peace of mind when facing life's little problems.  Once, when Suzi was a toddler and we still had quite a bit to pay on the loan for our 2004 Odyssey (Broke Ass Betty), we found out it needed about $1200 of repairs and maintenance.  That can really knock the wind out of you, especially if you don't know how you're going to come up with the money.  After that, I listened anxiously for any little noise while driving, and panicked whenever a warning light came on.  What was that noise?  Jordan, do you hear that clunking sound?!  If something is broken, can we even afford to fix it?  But, as our EF grows, I am feeling more and more confident that we can handle any mild to moderate issues.

3)  It saves money.  Because we now have a healthy EF, we were able to raise the deductible on our homeowner's insurance to get a lower premium.  (We have Mr. Money Mustache to thank for this decision.  Please read his explanation; it's life-changing.)  Even if we happen to have a claim, which is unlikely, the impact this relatively minor deductible change would have on our finances is negligible.  However, because of the lower premium, we recently got a $200 Escrow surplus refund check in the mail, along with a notice that our monthly mortgage payment is dropping by $30!  So having a decent EF is going to help us quickly build an even better EF.

4)  It's a solid foundation on which to build.  The emergency fund supports and protects future, as well as past, financial goals.  If you have worked your way out of debt, the emergency fund will keep you from going back into debt.  If you have saved up and bought a car (see my next post!) the EF ensures you can keep driving that car as long as possible.  If you stumble upon an amazing deal on a house, a vehicle, or some other life-enriching or wealth-increasing opportunity, you'll be in a better position to take advantage of it if you have a decent cushion built up.

So, while it might not sound as exciting as some financial goals, I feel highly motivated by our quickly growing emergency fund.  We've found it to be the best insurance policy ever.  It pays every claim quickly and without a fuss, and if you don't use it you get to keep every penny you paid in, plus a little interest!  I feel wonderful knowing it's there.

Friday, January 15, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 14: My credit score just got a boost!

A long time ago, Jordan and I signed up to keep track of our credit for free at  It has been incredibly helpful to us and I highly recommend it!  Back in December, I got an email from Credit Karma explaining the tendency of credit scores to drop temporarily due to Christmas shopping.  Credit card balances tend to be higher, increasing the percentage of total credit card utilization, which is a main factor in determining credit score.  Well, even though we never carry a balance on any of our cards, we do run most of our shopping through them in order to take advantage of rewards--and in November and December, we did quite a bit more shopping than usual.  My credit did take a little dive and I was bummed.

Right after Christmas, we completely paid off all our cards (like we always do, usually twice a month), and immediately started the spending freeze.  We've hardly spent any money since, so my credit utilization is down to about 1%.  1-9% is considered "excellent."  As a result, my scores are up 27 points (TransUnion) and 19 points (Equifax) since the last time I checked!  

I can't do much about some of the other factors.  Age of credit history is probably what I need most, and that takes time, obviously.  But I am excited to see that my credit is steadily improving, and it's awesome to sometimes be able to do specific things to improve it instead of guessing like we used to.  Seeing that the spending freeze has helped it, even in the short term, brightened my day and gives me motivation to press on through the end of the month!

January Spending Freeze, Day 13: Goodbye for now, Sling TV!

The morning after the national championship game, we got to do something I'd been waiting to do for a while--cancel our Sling TV subscription!  Knowing it would be the final game of the (college) season, I had put a reminder on my calendar weeks ahead of time, and called Jordan to tell him to log in and cancel as soon as I saw it.

We don't watch a ton of TV--at least not current TV.  We still love watching old episodes of The Office, Dead Like Me, and The IT Crowd.  But when people are chatting about some awesome new TV show, I am probably clueless.  Of all the shows currently running, I love The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, and Days of Our Lives.  Also Doctor Who, but I'm behind on that one and need to catch up.  Therefore, the only reason we needed Sling TV in the first place was so Jordan could enjoy football.  It's one of his few indulgences, and I think it's worth ~$27 per month during football season to have these games available to him.  Here is how we get the rest of our shows, and why they do not justify keeping Sling TV year-round:

1) The Walking Dead - Jordan takes surveys on his phone to earn Google Play credit.  They are generally quick and easy, and he usually has enough credit built up to get us the latest episode, which is about $2 each time.

2) Downton Abbey - Because this comes on PBS, it's free!  Our media center PC (built by Jordan) records it for us.

3) Days of Our Lives - Comes on NBC for free and our media center records it.

4) Doctor Who - I am ashamed to say I have hardly watched any of season 8, all of which is on Netflix, which we have.  Perhaps by the time I catch up on that, season 9 will be on Netflix as well.  If not, the entire season can be purchased on Amazon for $22.99.  We have Amazon Prime, and whenever I order something with Prime shipping that I don't need in a hurry, I choose no-rush shipping to get a $1 credit toward digital content.  Those credits (many earned during Christmas shopping!) would cover part of the $22.99.

As you can see, cable would be a terrible waste for us, which is why we cancelled it quite a while back.  We still have internet with Charter, and they keep calling Jordan trying to get us signed up for cable TV again.  They want to know why we cancelled.  Um...  It was the biggest waste of money ever?  I honestly felt like they should be paying ME for suffering through all those irritating commercials.  So, while it is much cheaper, we don't need Sling TV 7.5 months out of the year, either.  We will probably be renewing it in early September, but this month I was excited to cancel and throw that $27 into savings!  Every little bit helps!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 12: Pumpkin spice cake for breakfast!

I realized yesterday that there were several items in my kitchen that I needed to use up:

1) Frozen pumpkin puree.  A while back (embarrassingly far back), we baked and pureed some pumpkins after Halloween.  Then we filled a few freezer bags with 2 cups of puree each, labeled them, laid them flat, and froze them.  It's pretty awesome--all you have to do is thaw it, snip the bottom corner of the bag, and squeeze it into your favorite pumpkin recipe!  Some of it was forgotten in the bottom of the chest freezer, though.

2) Gluten-free yellow cake mix--two boxes.  I picked up several boxes of this from our local discount food store.  At 99 cents a box, it was too good of a deal not to!  But like many of the items at the discount store, this had passed its expiration date and I didn't want to leave it sitting too long.  Besides, we really prefer chocolate cake.

3) Buttercream frosting...  From the football game cupcakes!  Usually leftover frosting just clutters up the fridge until fridge clean-out day, when we finally toss it.

I decided to make a big bundt cake with all of this.  I had no idea if it would work, but figured as long as it was somewhat edible, I'd be happy.  Because I added 2 cups of pumpkin, I was able to use a little less butter and one fewer egg than the recipe called for.  I could have used less than that, but I can't stand dry, crumbly cake and wanted to be sure this one was moist (sorry if that word offends you--haha).

The cake popped out of the pan beautifully.  I put it on the cake stand and frosted it before it could cool, so the frosting would melt down the sides.

We had some for breakfast.  It's delicious--and I'm not used to this much dumb luck in the kitchen!  What do you have in your kitchen that you need to use up?

January Spending Freeze, Day 11: Snacks for the big football game

In case you're not a big sports fan, there was a pretty important football game last night.  It was a huge deal to my husband, and I was a little sad he didn't get to go.  But of course, we watched it on (Sling) TV.  Before a football game, especially one that's this big a deal, we usually run to the store for snacks and beer.  We did not do that this time!  I'm proud of us.  But I still wanted to have some fun snacks, and Suzi "had a dream" of eating pizza while she watched the game.  So here is what we had.

1)  I actually had to make more cupcakes, because we made some the other day but then ate them all!  We had everything to make them except for the butter, which we picked up at the store on Sunday.

2)  For Suzi's pizza, I used this quinoa crust recipe.  It's not the same as a thick, sweet crust made out of wheat, but it's gluten free.  Also much easier to make from scratch than a regular pizza crust, and full of protein.

3)  I used what we had on hand to make Chex mix.  No pretzels and no wheat chex, but extra cashews and pecans!  This snack with last a while too.

4)  No picture, but Jordan made himself a homemade version of Takis using masa flour.  He has a tortilla press and also makes corn tortillas whenever we have tacos.  It's very cost effective!

5)  We drank the alcohol we already had.  Because we only drink occasionally, certain bottles tend to just... sit.  We are still finishing off a bottle of rum that we purchased on our honeymoon 11 years ago.  There was no beer, but there was plenty of other stuff to choose from.  We both had a couple of drinks and I don't think either of us suffered.

Suzi enjoyed her pizza and cupcakes and curled up with a couple of kittens to watch the game!
(Then she fell asleep.)

January Spending Freeze, Day 10: Improving our heat savings during the winter

Even though we live in the south and it rarely gets extremely cold, our electric bill in the winter has always been higher than I would like--higher, even, than the hottest summer months when we are forced to run our AC pretty continuously.  We've worked on this on and off over the years, but while we are on this spending freeze, Jordan and I are trying to significantly step up our heat savings game.  Here's what we've done so far, and what we still need to do.

1)  I mentioned the other day that we sealed up some cracks under our stairs where cold air was seeping in.  Since then I have been eagerly awaiting the (email) arrival of our power bill.  Today it came.  It was $128--down from $160 this same time last year.  I am pleased.  I had budgeted $150, so that's an extra $22 that can go straight to savings!

2)  We also use a heat saver on our dryer.  Jordan was thrilled to find ours new in the box at a thrift shop!  However, we did have to spend a few dollars on new dryer ducts.  This device re-directs the warm air from our dryer back into our house, instead of outside.  We don't use it every time we dry our clothes in the winter.  Sometimes, if it's been rainy, we've found it's better not to add the extra humidity to the house.  Also, I prefer to use it with unscented laundry detergent.  If we decide we don't want to use it, all we have to do is flip a switch and it sends the air outside instead.  Of course, this only works when the dryer is running.  It does the most good if we dry our clothes during the times we need heat the most--in the late evenings and early mornings.

3)  While we are spending time together in the evenings, watching TV or otherwise relaxing in the living room, sometimes I find that I am cold and no one else is.  If I'm the only one who is cold, I heat up my favorite microwaveable flax seed heat pack and cover up with a blanket instead of cranking up the heat for the whole house.

4)  This winter, I've tried to keep a closer eye on the thermostat.  In general, we keep it set low, especially at night.  On my way to bed, I try to remember to turn it down to 63 or lower, depending on how the house feels.  I'm mostly concerned with our kids staying warm.  Our bedrooms tend to be warmer than the rest of the house and we keep extra blankets on all of our beds, so if I don't turn it down, it sometimes gets uncomfortably warm at night.  We can always turn it back up if we are cold the next morning...  Or better yet, dry some clothes!

5)  By late morning on a clear day, I usually notice that the house is warming up on its own.  We have several windows that really catch the heat of the sun.  On hot summer days, we keep our curtains shut and even hang special shade material over the hottest windows.  In the winter, I am happy to let the extra heat in!  (In fact, I should run around and open all the curtains right now!)

Some days, even in January, our thermostat stays set at 61 or 62, and the house will stay several degrees warmer than that, never tripping the heat to come on.  I love those days!  For those frigid days that run our bills up, however, there are two things I'd like to do:

1) Get a programmable thermostat (someday when we aren't on a spending freeze), perhaps even one that can be adjusted remotely

2) Thoroughly search along the edges of the house, find where cold air is getting in, and seal it out

A few years ago I sewed this draft snake (actually, it's a pair of draft snakes, but only one survived) out of a beat up pair of khaki pants and some rice.  The long one is still in place under our sliding glass door, and now that we have laminate flooring instead of carpet it is even more instrumental in keeping the cold air at bay.  We have eliminated most of the obvious drafts, one way or another.  But we truly need to pull our furniture out and check for problem areas along all of our exterior walls, then fix them with caulk, expanding foam, or something more creative if necessary.  This would be an excellent little project for a chilly evening.  We will get it done soon!

Monday, January 11, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 9: Our big trip to the grocery store(s)

We used to be a lot better at grocery shopping.  A few years ago while we were saving up for two homebirths 20 months apart, saving money on groceries was an absolutely necessary task in our lives.  Now things are completely different, and on occasion we need a self-imposed spending freeze to remind us of the amazing things we can accomplish and to get us back into some good habits!

On Sunday, after carefully making a list, we went to the store for the first time since starting the freeze (which actually began a day or two after Christmas, for us).  Here is what we spent:

$27.60 at Aldi
$11.95 at Bi-Lo
$11.32 at our local food exchange (ordered online)
Total:  $50.87

At least $8 of the Bi-Lo amount was for expensive fancy cat food.  It's definitely not what I would normally choose to buy, but we have a sick kitty and it is a necessity.  We only got the things on our list--fresh produce, pantry staples we use a lot, and ingredients to complete meals we are planning to make with what we already have.  We bought milk and eggs from our local food exchange, which I feel good about even though they do cost significantly more than the ones at the grocery store.

It felt so strange to leave Aldi with only a couple of cloth bags of groceries, having spent $27.60.  Normally we have a nearly overflowing cart and a bill around $100!  Aldi can be tempting; there was a $20 set of kettle bells I really wanted and would have certainly bought, had we not been on the spending freeze (this may be a good topic for later).  There were also a few snack items I would have tossed in the cart.  I realize now that I normally stock way up on convenience foods, or at least ready-to-eat foods, while letting ingredients for things I could cook or bake sit in our cabinets or spoil in the fridge.  Shopping like that for a family of five is expensive, even at Aldi.  We've done pretty well with getting out of the fast food habit.  My new goal is to spend a little more time in the kitchen so we will have more homemade snacks.

Our meals are planned out for at least a week and a half without us having to go shopping again, and when we do have to shop it'll just be to pick up a couple of items.  Our cabinets are gradually emptying out and I'm finding so many forgotten treasures.

I know many people (even the super-frugal) wonder if it is wise to have a spending freeze on groceries, reasoning that one would only have to re-stock the pantry at the end, possibly missing out on some good sales.  But I think only extremely diligent pantry-keepers, who cycle through their well-organized goods and use everything up in a timely fashion, would find that to be the case.  Most of us have some forgotten food in the back of the cabinet that we need to use up...  And most of us have a couple of bad habits we need to break.  I highly recommend an annual grocery spending freeze!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 8: Cupcake Reflections

We've made it a week!  I'm feeling great.  Yesterday, after spending some time at my mom's house, Ivey and Robert and I came home* and found our kitchen counter clear.  There were a few crumbs here and there, but it wasn't covered in junk the way it so often is--and that is significant.  Because the counter was clean, I asked the kids if they wanted to make some cupcakes.  We have lots of gluten-free mixes purchased at the discount store that we need to use up anyway, and I always have the stuff to make frosting on hand!

While we wiped the counter and gathered our cupcake ingredients, I talked to the kids about the difference the spending freeze had made in our home.  You see, our large kitchen counter is a "hot spot."  Dirty dishes end up there, of course, but it also collects toys, mail, half-finished projects, and all kinds of random junk that doesn't really have a home.  If we buy something new, the bag ends up either there or on the dining room table.  If a box arrives from Amazon, it ends up on the counter to be cut open and the items dispersed to where they belong.  If we don't stay on top of it, the counter gets buried.  And when it's buried, do you think we can make cupcakes?  No.  Before we can do anything at all we have to spend half an hour dealing with clutter, and by the time we're done, the opportunity for fun baking time (or whatever we had in mind) has probably passed.

Because of the spending freeze, we haven't shopped--not even at a thrift shop or yard sale.  Because we haven't shopped, there has been very little to put away.  So, even though we spent the entire morning at my mom's, we came home to a clear counter.  (The dining room table in the background is pretty clear too--also a big deal for us!)  It was ready for us to use, and we did use it.  Ivey and Robert were excited to surprise Daddy with cupcakes when he came home!

The whole house seems to be enjoying a break from the influx of new clutter.  Obviously, the lack of regular grocery shopping means our kitchen cabinets are emptying out and we're discovering we have more food to use up than we ever imagined!  But sometimes it's good to take a break from even the sensible bi-weekly trip to Goodwill.  $10 spent at Goodwill can add quite a few items to our home.  On a Sunday, $10 can buy 20 articles of clothing from the clearance section!  It feels like our home is thanking us for doing this spending freeze, as it breathes a sigh of relief...  And we aren't even a third of the way through the month yet!

*Suzi spent the night with Grandma; it was her turn.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 7: Cutting my son's hair at home

I should have gotten Robert's hair cut a couple of months ago.  It's just hard to find the time, and to remember to make an appointment.  That's how he ended up like this.

Just for fun, I stood him where Ivey wrote "Rodert" on the wall a while back

I have cut Jordan's hair before and have even tried cutting my own, a long time ago.  Since then I've been going to a friend who does a great job.  But the other day when I was reading The Tightwad Gazette I came across Amy's home haircut tips and thought maybe I'd try to cut Robert's myself, since we are on the spending freeze and he needed a haircut so badly.  I looked to YouTube for advice and found this video, which I thought was very helpful.

Cutting Robert's hair was slightly more complicated than what I've done before, but I figured if I really screwed it up, Jordan could always cut it with the 1" guard on the clippers.  I mean, it's been shorter!  

Someday I might like to get better scissors, but for now I used the ones that came with Jordan's clipper set.  They seemed to work a little better than my small, sharp fabric scissors, which surprised me a little.  It took at least an hour, Robert and I got rather annoyed with each other, and we made a huge mess with all the hair.  But in the end, it turned out better than I expected!  Maybe next time I will take pictures of the process, but things were looking pretty bleak there for a while and I didn't even think about the fact that I might want any pictures of it!

This is Robert's favorite photo of the new haircut.

I think this haircut should last a while, and trimming it up should be easier for me than cutting a shaggy mop like I did today!  My hair and the girls' hair I'm not so sure about--but luckily long hair doesn't need to be cut nearly as often.

January Spending Freeze, Day 6: Fixing our storage issues without spending a fortune

We've lived in this house eight years--and we have never felt like we had enough storage.  Some of it, of course, is an issue of too much stuff, and we're working on that too.  I'm about halfway through the KonMari method and love it!  But it really sucks not having a decent place to store the vacuum cleaner, or a few tubs of stuff.  Those things are the worst eyesores when out in our living space, but that's where they've had to be...  Until now.

Can you guess what we did the other day to help with this problem?

We'd love to someday have a house with a basement or a garage, but due to a variety of issues, moving is not a great option right now.  Neither is adding on to the house.  I cannot stand rental storage units.  BUT we had a pretty big chunk of empty space under our stairs!  We just couldn't get to it!

So, the other day we cut it open!  Jordan pulled a stair tread off, climbed in, cleaned up a bunch of garbage, dust, and dirt left by our lovely builders...  And finally, we worked together to be sure we were cutting in the right place.  We still need to go back to even things up and smooth them out, but this part of the project didn't cost us a dime. 

We couldn't put a door on it without doing some serious rearranging in our living room so that the door could swing open.  So, we bought a thin piece of oak plywood to use as a cover and hung it on two hooks.  Then we used a little E6000 to glue two magnets to the wall and two to the wood panel at the bottom to hold it shut (mostly so our cats can't pull it open and go on an adventure).  This all cost under $20, and we bought the supplies before the spending freeze.  Yes, we have quite the backlog of projects.  It feels good to check a few of them off!

We were able to fit four storage tubs, several large toys, a folding table, and the vacuum cleaner under there with room to spare!  This has already given us a little elbow room in several cramped areas of our house, and it looks so much nicer having them tucked away.  I may paint something on the plywood later when I have the time, but for now I'm just happy to have this area functional.

BONUS:  Our illustrious builders not only threw their garbage under our stairs (fast food wrappers and other junk!), they also left it very drafty under there on the exterior wall.  We've been paying more for heat every winter than we should have been because of the cold air that creeps up through the stairs.  As soon as we got it open and cleaned up, Jordan took a $3 tube of caulk and his caulk gun and sealed up the cracks.  We can feel a dramatic difference when walking up and down the stairs now!  I'm sure this effort will make a difference in our electric bill.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 5: Tightwad inspiration

When I was about 14, I stumbled upon a copy of The Tightwad Gazette at my house (the first volume; now there is a complete version combining all three books).  My mother had bought it, and it was full of money-saving ideas I had never even dreamed of.  Of course, most of it didn't apply to me at the time because I wasn't running a household, but the writing style, layout, and illustrations appealed to me, so I read most of it.  I looked through the clever ideas, but I also read Amy Dacyczyn's reason for becoming "the Frugal Zealot," which was to be able to have a large family and stay at home with her children.  I can't remember exactly what I thought of that concept back then; my own mother had always worked and some of the ideas in the book seemed rather extreme.  It wasn't until years and years later that I finally came to love thrift shops and yard sales.  However, I think it must have helped to have these ideas in the back of my mind over the years, especially when we had to quickly save up to pay for Ivey's homebirth out of pocket while simultaneously preparing for me to quit my job to stay home with the kids.  I've always loved The Tightwad Gazette--and now, I have all three books!

Today we had to drive out of town for an appointment, so before we left I grabbed the first book and handed it to Suzi, telling her to look through it for ideas.  She found a few things that interested her, particularly the ideas for making popsicles from various ingredients.  Then when we got home, I let the kids watch this video...

When I first saw this video a while back, I enjoyed being able to put a face and a voice with the words and drawings I had enjoyed for so long.  But what I hope they take away most from the video is this:

"Saving money on small things adds up...  Little behaviors add up."

When the video was over I showed the kids how I had budgeted the next couple of paychecks.  In particular, I pointed out the amount we planned to put into savings and the amount we planned to spend on groceries.  I explained that if we went to Aldi for most of our groceries and shopped carefully, we could spend less than planned and put even more money into savings, reaching our goals faster.  I told them that avoiding little things like fast food dinners could add up to helping us reach the big things we really wanted.

Then I explained that this not only applies to our household budget, but to their personal "budgets" as well.  We talked about big things they might want to save up for (Ivey mentioned an American Girl doll) and I asked them what little habits they could change that, all together over time, would make a big difference.  Two things they came up with?  Stuffed animals, and dollar store toys.  I added candy to the list, and they agreed.  Praise the Lord, they are getting it!  As always, The Tightwad Gazette served to renew my focus as well.  These books will always be a fixture in our home...  But if you haven't read them yet, check your library!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 4: An open letter to my future (Christmas shopping) self

My post for Day 4 is a bit late.  I tried to write it last night, but by the time I had a moment to work on it, I was just too tired to think.  We watched Downton Abbey instead.  So here's a little something different for today (or really yesterday), something that won't help me as much this month as it will later:  An open letter to my future Christmas-shopping self.

Dear Future Self,

It's time for Christmas shopping again, huh?  Halloween is over.  (How was Halloween, by the way?  Magical, I hope!)  Thanksgiving is swiftly approaching.  Maybe they are just starting to put Christmas music on the radio, and the kids are writing out their wish lists.  I bet you have a few items "saved for later" in your Amazon cart, don't you?  Maybe you're price-tracking a toy or five to get a better deal?!  Just can't wait for your Amazon credit card points to hit so you can buy some "free" stuff?!!  And you're just certain you're going to find that PERFECT gift, that toy that becomes an iconic memory of their childhood, or the most wonderful educational thingamajig that will revolutionize your approach to homeschool math.  This will be the BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER!

Okay, calm down.  This is how it always starts.  You think, well, I'll find a good deal on the one big thing on their list, and I'll get 2-3 of the smaller things, and then a few surprises.  No, seriously, just a few!  Small ones!

Jenny, I think part of the problem is that you start shopping too early.  According to Amazon's record of past orders, you began buying gifts for the children on November 2.  By the time the Christmas order cutoff date rolled around, you'd had a full seven weeks to worry whether you had bought them enough, or if you were missing out on a great deal that would be THE perfect thing to complete their stockings, or (and this is probably the worst part!) if you'd bought for them all equally.  So you buy just one more thing.  Oh, and that cute thing too.  And now Robert doesn't have as much as the girls so let's just get him this.  Aw, but that's the perfect thing for Ivey...  And Suzi has just written the sweetest letter to Santa saying she knows it's late in the season, but if it's not too much trouble for him to bring her these other little things she needs for her future career in showbiz, she would be forever grateful and would make him some cookies...

You know I normally don't say things like this, but STAAAAHP!!!

I know holiday amnesia has likely set in and you aren't going to want to hear this, but you must.  I'm going to remind you of how you felt January 4, 2015 upon entering the children's room to put away laundry and seeing the state in which they had left it.  Toys, those precious toys you had shopped for so carefully, along with others lovingly purchased by relatives and even more toys from years past, were strewn everywhere.  Pop-O-Matic Trouble had all its pieces thrown about; who knows if they were all there.  Robert's Lego set was in complete disarray--and those pieces are so tiny and impossible to keep up with!  A game you'd bought for the children because you thought it would be just the thing for family time is open in the floor with its container possibly broken and its pieces scattered.  Nerf darts are everywhere.  This is all in addition to the dirty clothes you came to collect.  Now your laundry momentum is derailed--and this is but the tip of the iceberg, Jenny.  It was a truly sobering scene.  I could have taken a photo to share here, but I don't want to be petty.  I just need you to remember this, because you know what comes next.  Oh, yes.  The cleaning.

The children don't understand how these things happen.  Maybe it's because there are three of them.  There was only one of you to mess up your room as a child.  Nevertheless, you must help them pick it up.  This wastes at least an hour of everyone's time.  Robert isn't helping.  Suzi is being bossy.  One of Ivey's toys is broken but I guess Casper the ghost did it because it certainly wasn't one of the kids, they swear!  You feel heartburn coming on and ask if you need to put some of these toys on vacation.  You inevitably lay a guilt trip about how they don't care for their things.  Sad faces all around.  I have to ask you, Jenny--is this the JOY you hoped to ignite when you purchased these wonderful playthings?  Sure, some of the gifts are from relatives, but they were generally quite thoughtful in their shopping this year, giving things that would be useful, educational, or at least not take up much space.  Look at the gifts that were your idea.  You created your share of this.  It may be small compared to our society's average Christmas haul, but it's most certainly more than your family needs.  So, please--let's not repeat it.

Here are some things you might do instead of buying more gifts for the children:
1) Read the Christmas part of Little House in the Big Woods
2) Watch Little Women
3) Buy gifts for (or donate money to) someone who really needs it
4) Make them hot chocolate again
5) Watch the old Christmas specials while cuddling on the couch
6) Read them all of the Christmas books - at least once
7) Attend Suzi's annual Christmas party she throws in her bedroom
8) Make handmade ornaments for the people you love
9) Find the Advent calendar and use it
10) Go caroling
11) Let them set up the Fontanini nativity scene where they can see it and touch it every day

Are you still worried they'll be disappointed on Christmas morning?  A little underwhelmed?  Well, what if they are?  The best part is not the unwrapping.  It's not the getting what you want plus loads more.  The beauty of Christmas is that the very best part stretches from Thanksgiving all the way to Christmas Eve, and if you do it right, maybe even through New Year's.  Putting up decorations with your family, helping a four-year-old proudly wrap a gift, seeing them spend time with their great-grandmother, going to church and seeing the Advent candles lit one by one, the kids being so happy on the days Daddy is off work.  Taking the kids to the tree lighting and the parade, driving home when it's dark and seeing the neighbors' Christmas lights, watching the kids in the church pageant, taking them to see a Christmas play, watching the Grinch for the umpteenth time and remembering how the music always gave you butterflies because it meant Christmas was right around the corner...  And Jenny, as a homeschool mom, you get so much time to experience all of this joy with the kids.  Soak it all up.  Wallow around in it.  Toys break, but the time parents spend with their kids lives on forever.  It shapes their hearts and flows into future generations.

I have to go now.  It's time to homeschool the kids.  I think we'll play one of the games they received for Christmas--because that's what iconic childhood memories are made of--the fact that your parents took the time to play a game with you, make you hot chocolate from scratch, read you a book.  What good is a game if you don't have time to play it?  Mull that over, will you?  Think on that before you shop, and maybe next year you'll end up with less mess, more time, more money, and happier kids.  And a happier YOU.  Because that's important too, Jenny.

Your Recovering-from-Christmas-2015 Self

Sunday, January 3, 2016

January Spending Freeze, Day 3: Using up the fridge treasures (and saving $$$ on groceries)

As I mentioned on Day 1, I have a bad habit of forgetting about items in my fridge (or anywhere in the kitchen, but it's usually the fridge) until they spoil, and have to be thrown out.  I feel so terrible when that happens!  So the first thing I knew I needed to do during this spending freeze was to find those things and figure out how to use them.  Here's what I have found so far, and what we did with it all.

1) A turkey carcass.  We boiled this, simmered it for about a day, then strained it and threw in some small pieces of turkey that were left on the bones.  I make turkey noodle soup with some of it--easy lunch, plus leftovers for dinner!  The rest I froze to be used later.

2) Rotel/sausage dip.  I reminded my husband to eat it, and he did.  Easy!

3) Overripe bananas.  This is something we waste regularly, and I need to quit.  They are so easy to save and use that there's no excuse not to!  I used about six bananas to make these mini-loaves of gluten-free banana chocolate chip bread.  I wrapped them in plastic while they were still warm (it forces moisture back into the bread) and am storing them in the fridge to be used for breakfast and snacks.  There were still several bananas left, so I peeled those, broke them into pieces, and froze them.  I'll tell you what I used them for later.

4) A whole pomegranate.  This one must have gotten shoved to the back, or we would have eaten it sooner.  The outside was dry and hard, which worried me a little, but it was still beautiful on the inside!  The kids love these, so they had some with their lunch.  We'll eat the rest soon.

Ivey decided to photobomb, eggnog mustache and all!

5) Eggnog.  I didn't like this when I was a child, so I hadn't tried any in a decade or two.  A few weeks ago I thought I'd try it again, and bought myself a carton.  Turns out I was right the first time.  Even with alcohol added, it is much too sweet and thick for me!  I started googling for ways to use it in a recipe, and found that it can be used as coffee creamer.  Alcohol optional--it's good either way.  The kids didn't seem to mind drinking it plain, but I don't think they'd be able to drink much of it.  Either way, I'm happy it's getting used up--and since coffee creamer is NOT an essential grocery item and I can't buy more until February, it's nice to have a little bit extra!

6) Cottage cheese.  After years of thinking it was gross, one day I was out grocery shopping and had a strange urge to buy some.  I'm so glad I did, because cottage cheese is a delightful, affordable, protein-packed food that can be eaten lots of different ways.  I enjoy having it with vegetables, chips (especially spicy ones) or crackers.  I also eat it with quinoa or dirty rice.  At least two of my kids will even eat it!  The problem was that I accidentally bought extra cottage cheese, and this was a nearly full forgotten container that didn't have much time left!  So, I decided to use some of it to make "milkshake" smoothies for the kids.  This is where the frozen bananas come in, too.  I didn't measure anything, but here's about what I used:

~3 frozen bananas, in pieces
~1 cup cottage cheese
3+ tablespoons cocoa
~1 cup milk
honey (kept adding until it was sweet enough)

I threw it all in the Ninja, blended until it was smooth, tasted it, and adjusted the honey and milk until it was the right flavor and consistency.  When it was done and I tasted it, I was worried the kids wouldn't like it.  I think using sugar instead of honey would make it taste more like a conventional milkshake.  But I served it to them and they enjoyed it!  The lumpy bits were pulverized, making the cottage cheese unnoticeable as an ingredient.  There was some left over, so I poured it into these little popsicle molds my mom gave me.  The kids are already asking when they will get to eat them.

As for the bit of cottage cheese left in the container, my husband plans to mix it with hot sauce and eat it with chips.  Such a versatile fridge treasure!

7) Spaghetti sauce.  We opened a new jar of spaghetti sauce a few days ago when we made quinoa crust pizza.  It was lovely.  Next time I'll make the crust a little thinner.

Sometimes when we make pizza and use just a little spaghetti sauce from a jar, the rest of it gets left for too long, or we can't tell how long it's been left, and it goes to waste.  Fortunately, we are having spaghetti tonight and will use it all up!

Confession:  We did lose most of a jar of salsa that had been shoved to the back of the fridge for an indeterminate amount of time.  It was just too late for that one.  I'm going to try to do better from now on.  It's amazing how far groceries can be stretched when you're careful to make sure they get used!