iCate

laid off and learning to love it… my journey from corporate sprinter to life marathoner

saving money: one month down 02/01/2011

Filed under: Organization,SAHM Choice,Saving Money — ccatet @ 7:54 am

i need tangible goals. i will admit that i enjoyed the annual review process and goal setting when i worked in corporate america. i know, i am a sick person. yet there was something rewarding and fulfilling about knowing what was expected of you for that upcoming year.

the first year after i was laid off was all about survival: could we pull off living happily on one salary plus my part time meager income? once i knew the answer was yes, i knew i needed to challenge myself. in the absence of goals, i tend to lose focus on the bigger picture. to combat this, last year i set a few financial goals, never even sharing them with anyone but my husband. i was thrilled that by december 1, 2010 we had met all goals!

for 2011, i needed to change it up. i stumbled upon a simple organized living article in november which spoke of items a certain frugal family never pays for. i was intrigued. click here to read it. subsequently, i spent time over the holidays reviewing our 2010 budget. specifically, i was curious which categories we spent the most in and where we might have room for additional savings.

let’s be serious. i wasn’t willing to go to any extreme. i refuse to cut out diet coke, a margarita here and there, 1-2 monthly restaurant outings, my iphone, running shoes, gutter cleaning, or the rare trip to the dollar movie theater with the kids. first, i made a decision to not renew any magazines during 2011. this is no biggie since i have ZERO time to read them anyways. plus i know i can find the same, if not better information, online.

next comes the second and much larger goal. during 2011, my husband and i will refrain from purchasing clothing and accessories for ourselves, with the exception of running shoes. although my husband would probably survive given the +15 pairs of running shoes he has around the house currently, i am not willing to injure myself in the process of meeting this goal!

in the 31 days since 2011 started, this goal has already not been easy – for me. my husband will probably not notice that the year has passed without new clothes – men!! me on the other hand, i have been eyeballing a more functional winter jacket and have gotten ticked off at the lack of water protection on my current winter boots. yet, almost daily i remind myself that they are perfectly fine and i do not need anything.

on the plus side, i am looking very closely at everything i wear (and don’t wear) and already have a nice pile of items to donate. i am fairly certain that by the end of this year, i will know exactly what items i truly need and will be much more conscious about clicking “add to cart” and “submit order” in the future. i also hope to sock enough away in our family vacation fund that we can actually go somewhere this year and pay for it all up front –  maybe even disney!

i can now say that – whew – i made it through one month. only 11 more to go. wish me luck.

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sahm: the monthly meal plan 02/01/2010

Filed under: Saving Money — ccatet @ 11:38 pm

it seemed a little too planful when i first heard about it on the 5dollardinner blog, but i was intrigued by the monthly meal plan idea. last summer, i had done a weekly plan but it seemed as though we were spending more money than we needed to. i also found that there was not enough flexibility to change things around if a last-minute outing came up. to top it off, i was always reworking the plan… and it was only meant to cover a week!

some people might think we’re crazy, but doing a monthly meal plan has actually reduced my daily/weekly stress about meals, simplified planning around weekly shopping, reduced food expenses and also contributed to greater variety and enjoyment around cooking in the house.

taking into account the stockpile concept, monthly meal planning is actually not too ridiculous. tp be honest, it does take 1-2 months to build up a stockpile big enough to even think about a monthly meal plan. but once you have the stash of dry goods and enough go-to recipes, you realize how much flexibility it can offer.

most weeks when i shop, i am only after produce and dairy to accommodate whatever is on the meal plan for that week, then i stock up on any great deals that are available.

i admit that we flip the plan around a fair amount during the month. i am human… and often forget to thaw pre-cooked dishes, run out of key ingredients, or decide to run errands in the evening and stop somewhere for dinner instead. the beauty of the monthly meal plan is that it’s soooooo easy to swap a planned future meal for tonight’s meal. when this happens, i also make sure any missing ingredients get on next week’s grocery list!

and yes, we do repeat meals. 3 of 4 family members eat pizza happily and we plan that for 1-2 times a month. one day, we will all eat pizza – i just KNOW it! also, when one parent is gone for dinner, which is at least once a week, the remaining members usually have cold cereal (with 20 boxes of cereal in the stockpile, you would too!) finally, my kids love pancakes. if everything else goes out the window, we make pancakes, turkey sausage and fruit. i can only hope that one day my kids will eat eggs!

a monthly meal plan works for us and i plan to stick with it. i love how organized our meal planning is and how little i worry about feeding my family of four. we do this on a small budget which is pretty amazing to me. however, what would be even more amazing is if the meal cooked itself. if anyone has a tip on that, i am all ears.

 

sahm: coupon intimacy 01/10/2010

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 11:00 pm

i am often asked where i find the time to organize myself and my coupons to maximize our savings. here’s my secret: coupon intimacy. i seriously know my coupons inside and out… of the binder. yes, i am a nerd: i have a coupon binder, fancied after one i saw put together by a fellow (albeit much more active) blogger. click here to check out her version.

putting the damn thing together was a big time investment and medium cost investment: searching for and buying materials, creating categories and labels, and finally, getting the coupons in. i spent about 3 hours and $50 completing these tasks before i was pseudo-functional.

now comes the maintenance: i try to take 45-60 minutes every week to maintain the binder: pulling out last week’s ads, reviewing the new week’s ads, removing expired coupons, sorting and filing any new coupons, and finally making my list. if i have time, i go back and look for price matching opportunities for items on my list. most weeks, i am lucky to get these tasks completed prior to my shopping trip. usually my daughter is belly-flopping on the coupon stacks or my son is asking which coupons he can have. i want to scream, “NONE!” i do restrain myself and typically give him a few expired coupons to play with, which he loves.

overall, i do the best i can with the time i have. what i have learned in almost 9 months of living with a coupon binder is that the most important thing is coupon intimacy. if i have only a few minutes, i have to know my coupons. if i don’t know what’s in that binder, i cannot save.

at a minimum, this means that i take the time to see what coupons i have (plus the ones that just came in the paper) and compare them to what is on sale in the store ads. when making my list, i aim to purchase items that fall into the sweet spot: where they are on sale and we have a coupon. over time, i have been able to build a mental list of “buy prices” for every item. often when i get to the store, i stumble on unadvertised sales. if i know what coupons i have, i can easily determine if the cost is at or below my buy price and make a quick decision on whether to buy.

the beauty of the coupon binder is that you can drop it entirely for a few weeks if you run out of time (or just need a break) and pick it right back up when you’re ready to invest the time again. i have not had to walk away yet, but it’s nice to know it’s possible.

also, my husband is verbally appreciative of the time i invest with the binder. i know he recognizes the financial benefits and reaps the rewards when i stumble on a good deal for him (usually peanut butter or gatorade). however, he would prefer that i keep the binder out of the bedroom… too much competition.

 

sahm: garden therapy, part 3 – pesto love 08/09/2009

Filed under: Activities,Garden,Saving Money — ccatet @ 1:47 pm

a few weeks ago, i cut my first crop of basil… keep in mind that i would have probably reaped 2 or more crops by now if not for the homemade insecticide fiasco, but let’s not relive that nightmare!

DSC_0122trimming the basil took no time at all, but i lingered over the task as the smell is truly heavenly. the kids only sleep for around 2 hours so i couldn’t hang out too long! once inside, i rinsed the basil and threw it into the food processor along with a few other ingredients and whipped up some pesto. we had no immediate plans for the pesto, so i froze everything. i had a full ice cube tray of pesto… yet i secretly wondered if we’d ever eat it?

low and behold, the time came upon us. last night, i decided to make pasta, salad and french bread with baked pesto & parmesan on top.

DSC_0124not to be outdone, my brother delivered homemade tomato sauce – 14 cups – just before i started cooking! i am grateful for the sauce as it will last us until winter, but seriously, what does he feed his garden???

i added a cube of pesto and ground turkey to the simmering sauce, baked the bread, then cut the bread up to broil the pesto and parmesan on top.

i have to say that the pesto bread plus the homemade sauce (with added pesto) were      FA-BU-LOUS.

so far this gardening thing is not so bad, now i am just waiting on our zucchini. it’s been almost 3 months since i planted that monstrosity and only have one small zucchini to show for it. the full plant is seriously taking over the dirt pit! everyone keeps saying it looks good and healthy and they will come – i guess i just have to wait and see…

 

sahm: the spice of life 07/22/2009

Filed under: Laid Off,SAHM Choice,Saving Money — ccatet @ 9:35 pm

the business where i used to work had a fabulous brand new cafe with every possible food you can imagine: stir fry bar, pasta bar, daily pizza specials, a deli, grill, mexican food station, salad bar, soups, milkshake machine, the works. when i was pregnant with my daughter, i lived it up every single day. sometimes i miss working there JUST because of the cafe.

in general, i have always enjoyed eating out. however, since i was laid off and on our new and much reduced budget, it’s much more rare that we eat out. if you’re wondering, our budget is a total of $50 for the month to eat out and we average 2-3 times out a month with those funds plus a plethora of coupons. as a result, i have been known to fantasize about eating out and ordering something tasty that i didn’t have to prepare for DAYS in advance.

tonight, for example, i am having dinner with an old friend and we’re going to a great local burger joint. i have been dreaming about the amazing salad and the burger for three days. even more so, i am not indulging in a cookie right now in order to justify that scrumptious burger.

i cook with a fair amount of variety but there will always be something nice about someone else cooking for me. however, the frequency of someone else cooking for me has substantially dropped since i was laid off. i am the sole grocery shopper, meal planner, food preparer and usually, the clean up person. my husband offers, but i usually send him to play with the kids so i can have a few minutes alone to myself and he can visit with them after his day at work. sometimes those 5 minutes are the only minutes i get alone until bedtime.

when i do get out to eat now i make sure to enjoy every second, especially when there are no children hanging off of me. i am learning how to slow down when i eat since i usually have to rush with the kids. i order something that i don’t cook at home and make sure the meal is ordered exactly how i like it. when the food arrives, i dive in – YUM!

since we don’t eat out as much, i am also trying more new recipes than i have in years. if i am craving a meal, i try to reproduce it at home which has made cooking very experimental and a little bit exciting. i am proud to say that i am making variety in our lives in a place that it never existed before.

if you’re wondering, as of now i have no plans to return to my old employer’s cafe… even if i still do dream about the food from time to time.

 

stockpile IV: planning for special events 07/07/2009

Filed under: Organization,Saving Money,Stockpile — ccatet @ 7:44 am

the last piece of stockpiling that deserves attention is stockpiling for special events: birthdays, bbqs, holidays, vacations, etc. even if you’re working or don’t have much storage space available, this can save you some serious cash and cut down on pre-event chaos!

the idea is that you do not buy supplies right before the event – instead you buy them weeks or months in advance through coupons and sales.

the summer months are a perfect time to kick start your special event stockpile… including memorial day, fourth of july, and the upcoming summer season until labor day. in our world, that translates to lots of bbqs, a birthday party for my daughter, a week long vacation, and several impromptu dinner gatherings. such excitment.

unless you like to run your dishwasher multiple times a day, you probably use paper/plastic bowls, cups, plates and utensils during this season. i highly recommend to closely guard your coupons and watch the ads to stock up on these items! every single store has had different brands on sale – dixie, solo, chinet – and i have been fortunate enough to purchase all of the plates, bowls and cups for the birthday party at the bargain price of $4. i would have paid $15+ had i paid full price.

as for vacation planning, i know we’ll eat out a few meals while on vacation – as you should in order to fully relax! however, with a full kitchen on site, we should be able to manage breakfast, most lunches and snacks, and a few dinners in house. with that in mind, my goal for the past few weeks has been to acquire all vacation dry goods as a part of my weekly shopping as deals surface. i am 90% there right now and still have plenty of time!

if i play my cards right, i will stock up for little to no cost on these vacation goods. then when vaca-time comes, we can spend our weekly shopping amount on dining out and the few perishables that we’ll need that week. by planning ahead, the additional food budget for our vacation is almost non-existent… if only i could say the same for the gas budget as we will be driving 10+ hours each way!

who knew one had so much to say on such a boring topic – i hope to never write about stockpiles again!  no matter, good luck to you if you venture into the world of stockpiling – and if you have any other great ideas, please leave a comment and share them!

 

sahm: let the flour fly 07/06/2009

Filed under: Activities,Saving Money — ccatet @ 9:28 am

since i was laid off, i absolutely refuse to waste. i hated it before, but only had the time to feel guilty – no time to do anything about it. i can’t even begin to count the amount of fresh fruit and veggies i tossed when i was still working full time.

being home has afforded me the time to bake with very ripe bananas, salvage the end of the red peper before it turns, and plan meals around the last few things in the fridge.

every few days, i am online trying to find recipes for random ingredients that are about to expire or take over the fridge. things like carrot puree, zucchini, bananas, raspberries, blueberries, cauliflower, noodles, peas, pineapple and cottage cheese to name a few. if it’s fresh fruit, i usually cut it fast and freeze it for smoothies or baking.

totally by accident, i am starting to enjoy cooking more.

in the past few weeks, i have made chicken salad (gasp – without a recipe!), zucchini bread (lots of it!), homemade sweet potato fries, power muffins (with peanut butter & carrot puree), blueberry banana muffins, mexican minestrone and even a vegetable spaghetti with leftover peas and zuch.

i have acquired open-mindedness about dropping random ingredients into an existing recipe (which i would have NEVER done before) and i also have cooked without recipes! it’s amazing the confidence you gain in the kitchen when you actually have time to cook and bake often.

i also am letting the flour fly – seriously. my son likes to *help* in the kitchen and at 2 and a half, his accuracy with dumping measuring cups is not perfect. but it doesn’t need to be… it’s good for me to let it go and deal with it later. the excitement he has about cooking is contagious!

this enjoyment is an unexpected perk of being home and living on a tight budget… and it goes beyond me. my whole family is enjoying the new recipes, the stash of baked goods in the freezer and a more relaxed attitude about the kitchen. and my son – a picky eater – is actually eating more, especially when he gets to help prepare.

i highly recommend scanning the fridge weekly and checking for what’s on the verge of turning and making use of as much as possible before you waste. i am a big fan of the site Allrecipes where you can search for recipes by specific ingredients you want (and also excluding the ingredients you don’t want).

try it for a few weeks – maybe you will find a new recipe or snack to spice up your life.  my guess is you won’t need to run to the store so quickly and maybe, like me, you will also find yourself wasting less and saving more money. unfortunately, i think the number of diapers we put in the trash offsets any positive gain from reduced food waste… but thankfully, no one seems to be counting.