Confessions from a Single-Income Family

There is no right or wrong way to manage your money, just so long as you manage it, but these days it seems like you either have to struggle to keep up with the Joneses or compete to see who can live in the tiniest house. I’m not sure when it became taboo to eat out once in a while or have satellite TV with NFL Game Day, but sometimes it feels like if I don’t use 20 coupons at the grocery store, I’m failing at managing our money.

8142758607_be95b991ca_z

PHOTO: Rafael J M Souza

I have to remind myself that budgeting isn’t a competition and life isn’t a game to be won or lost. Who cares how much money I’ve saved if I’m not living a life I love and am proud of? There was a time when I tried to save more money and control all of our spending to the point where my husband and I had unnecessary arguments about beer. It’s taken a while, but after years of living on a single income, we’ve found a way to make financial decisions without fighting and without guilt: we align our decisions with our values.

Warning: this technique only works if you are in agreement about your values. But, the real benefit to this approach is once those values are established, you never have to feel guilty about what you spend your money. You don’t believe in having cable television because it rots our brains and drives consumerism? I agree completely. You binge watch Netflix shows while drinking wine from a box? Awesome, me too! My main point is it doesn’t matter what I do personally because I’m not you, you’re not me, and quite frankly, your finances are none of my beeswax business. But if you’re curious how this values thing plays out in real life, I’ll use our values and budget as an example…

read more here: Don’t Feel Guilty About Eating Out…

(BANNER PHOTO: TaxCredits.net)

 

Recipe of the Week: Pinto Beans

I am not a big fan of beans. I’ve learned to eat them as I’ve grown older, but I primarily make them because my husband likes them. He’s convinced that if he didn’t have me to make dinner, he’d eat beans and rice every day. And by beans he means beans from a can. Since I think that’s a little bland, I try to make beans in a variety of ways. This is one of my favorites.

The recipe is from a blog called The Black Peppercorn. http://www.theblackpeppercorn.com/2012/04/mexican-pinto-beans/ Even though it’s called Mexican Pinto Beans, I’ve never had beans like this in a Mexican restaurant. And our family from Mexico do not make beans like this either. But, because I love them, I’ve made it regularly for a couple of years now and I pretty much follow the instructions step-by-step. This is a great vegetarian recipe, and it could easily be vegan if you swapped out the butter. I think coconut oil would work well, but I’ve never tried it. These are not spicy beans; instead they remind me of a baked bean.

I almost always pair them with plain rice. The first time I made this recipe, I paired it with Mexican Rice, but I found the flavors to be overwhelming! It tastes much better with simple white or brown rice, whichever you prefer. I made these on Sunday and paired it with a simple Shepard’s Bread that I found on sale at the grocery store. It was delicious! Beans, bread and some sweet corn and my family was pretty happy to settled down to dinner.

How do you usually prepare your beans? Are you a straight out-of-the-can type like my husband? Or do you prefer to throw in some spices or salsa? Do you have any bean recipes you’d like to share?

Tell Me: What do you do on date night when you’re sleep deprived?

My husband and I started Friday night date nights three weeks ago. Tonight would/will be our third date night. Since we have a 4 month old, our “dates” are on our couch in front of the tv. We eat junk food and popcorn and spend 45 minutes deciding what to watch.

However, tonight I need some advice. We are going on three nights of very little sleep. Our beautiful baby has decided to wake up at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, finally falling asleep at 5 am. Since my husband works full-time, I try to get up with the baby so he can sleep. This means I am totally exhausted. Plus, I need a lot of sleep anyway. In my perfect life, I’d get 9 hours every night. (I can hear you laughing from here)

So, do we keep our date? Do we reschedule? What do you do when life gets in the way of romance? Give me your best advice, because my brain is not firing today!

Recipe of the Week: Secret Ingredient Chili

So one of my lovely readers asked me to share some recipes. I largely look for recipes on Pinterest, in health magazines, or in my cookbooks (Better Homes among others). The recipe I am talking about today I found on Pinterest.You can follow me on Pinterest by clicking here or by looking me up (ChillyHawaiian).

Because yesterday was a snow day, I had a bit of extra time and cooked up some chili, which I normally only cook vegetarian. I tried a recipe with meat for the first time and it was fabulous! I made a bunch of changes, so the recipe outlined below has the changes I made. Here’s the original recipe from Certified Pastry Aficionado, http://www.certifiedpastryaficionado.com/simple-classic-chili/. There are a bunch of great tips about making it, including a note about cooking times and vegetable options.

This is NOT a food blog, so I don’t have any of those fancy print icons or anything like that–I’m sorry! But if you want to give this a try, it makes a ton of food. The secret ingredient in my recipe is cinnamon. Yes, you read that correctly–cinnamon! I love the taste along with the ancho chili pepper. I served it with some boiled potatoes and extra sharp cheddar cheese. Note: this is a mild chili.

Meat Chili Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 -1 1/2 pounds ground meat lean (or ground turkey)
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Ancho chili pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (28-ounces), or 2 cans (14.5-ounces), or fresh tomatoes
  • 1 can white kidney beans (15.5 ounces)
  • 1 can pinto beans (15.5 ounces)
  • toppings (cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro, etc)

Instructions

Heat a dutch oven or other oven safe pot (not cast iron, see CPA’s note) over medium heat. Add oil and ground meat of your choice. Once its cooked all the way through, remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon. If you use the cheapest ground beef option, which is what I always assumed you should use with chili, then it’s probably about 70 or 80%, in which case you need to get rid of some of the grease. I’d leave about a tablespoon of grease, if you can eyeball it. If you use a leaner ground meat, then you can leave all the grease in the pan.

Add the diced onions and cook until brown (about 5 min.). Add the bell pepper and cook until softened (about 5 min). Make a well inside the pan and cook the garlic in the middle of the pan, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. It only takes about 30 seconds until its fragrant, at which point you mix all of the veggies together.

Add all of the spices to the pot. If you like spicy, add more chili pepper. The original recipe calls for cayenne pepper, so you might want to add that. We have two picky eaters, so we leave off the spice. My recipe here has zero heat and my two year old was happy to eat it. Stir the spices until it’s fragrant and evenly distributed throughout the veggies. This is an important step! Don’t skip it because this is where you get all that flavor!

Add back in the ground meat and then add in the chicken broth. Stir to deglaze the bottom of your pan a bit. Then put a lid on it until it begins to simmer. Uncover, reduce heat, and let simmer 45-60 min. I did 45 min and was happy with the slightly soupy consistency.  If you like thick chili, then you need to cook it longer. You can see the original recipe for more notes on that.

Once it’s the consistency you like, add in your diced tomatoes and beans. You can also use fresh tomatoes if you’d like and you can use any kind of bean you’d like. Simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes to heat up the tomatoes and beans. Taste test to see if you like it and add more of anything you think you need. I didn’t add any more salt or seasoning when I was done, so be sure to taste it before adding things like salt.

Serve with your favorite toppings. Makes 8 servings (seriously, I counted). We had enough for leftovers and I froze some for later.

Do you have a favorite chili recipe that you’d like to share or link to this post? Did you make my recipe? How’d you like it? Any suggestions for serving leftover chili?

LIFT 4 Autism 2017: Auction & Anthology

2017_HeaderVersion

LIFT 4 Autism Online Auction: Monday, April 24 – Friday, April 28

Enter the GIVEAWAY celebrating LIFT!

Autism.

A mystery to some. A way of life for others. A cause for all since it is now the fastest growing and most common disability in the US. 1 in every 68 children are diagnosed with Autism. Many of these kids will rely on their parents to some degree, depending on severity, all their lives, with estimated costs between 5 to 7 million dollars in services and care over their lifetime. Many of the services those living with Autism require are not covered by insurance. It is an expensive and difficult lifelong diagnosis to navigate.

Authors Ginger Scott and Kennedy Ryan started LIFT 4 Autism a few years ago as a charitable initiative rallying the romance reading community in April, which is Autism Awareness/Acceptance month. All proceeds go to this year’s charitable partner Kulture City, who is doing amazing things for Autism families. Discover more about them at kulturecity.org. Specifically, LIFT will benefit Kulture City’s lifeBOKS program, which provides families with free kits to curtail wandering, a common and potentially life threatening challenge. Proceeds will also benefit Kulture City’s tablet program, which provides iPads to improve communication for non and limited verbal children on the spectrum to families who cannot afford them.

HOW WILL WE RAISE FUNDS?

  1. Online Auction, featuring many of your favorite romance authors!

Find the full list here: http://lift4autism.com/contact. If you are an author and want to donate, sign up here.

Browse all the amazing items up for bid here: charityauction.bid/lift4autism

The auction will be LIVE and open for bidding Monday, April 24 – Friday, April 28.

 

  1. 1-Click the YA Fantasy Anthology Ever In the After for 99¢

insta 6

Amazon: http://buff.ly/2kM0D2j

Nook: http://buff.ly/2kM83SX

iBooks: http://buff.ly/2kLTS0j

Kobo: http://buff.ly/2kM2J2f

*All proceeds go to LIFT 4 Autism!

 

  1. Buy LIFT Wear! (t-shirts, mugs, totes, etc…)

https://teespring.com/Lift2017

LFIT 2017 t-shirt

  1. Make a financial donation through the LIFT Campaign.

DONATE here: https://www.kulturecity.org/lovewithoutwords/lift-4-autism/#lwow-donate

 

Don’t miss a thing this month!

*Subscribe to the LIFT mailing list at lift4autism.com.

*Join the LIFT Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1705524696326889/
*Support the LIFT Thunderclap Campaign: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/54946-lift-4-autism-auction

*Follow us on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/lift4autism/

*Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LIFT4Autism

“Excel”ling at Meal Planning

During the first six years of my marriage (before children), going grocery shopping was done only as often as necessary to survive. It could be pushed to three to four weeks between shopping trips. This is arguably the worst method unless your grocery goal is to waste money, food, and time. However, my family grew and needs changed, so my routine required the same. I needed more fresh fruits and vegetables, to be cost efficient, and throw out less food. Below are the 3 changes I made:

Weekly Shopping Trips
Since incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into our diet was a priority, this decision was a no-brainer. To no one’s surprise, I was throwing out less food because I was only buying what I needed for the week. The unexpected benefits were things like becoming more aware of what produce was in season and when, and rotating what I bought (except bananas… my kids go bananas over them and they are on my list every week). And this task/chore/headache that used to be pushed off until our cupboards resembled old Mother Hubbard’s, hasn’t been so bad. In fact, I enjoy it (and that doesn’t have anything to do with it being the only consistent alone time I get on the weekends).

Planning Ahead
In order to be cost efficient on my weekly shopping trips, I have to plan ahead. And by planning ahead, I mean writing a list that I intend to stick to. I bury any spontaneity deep down inside and stick to the list. Instead of Master Kenobi’s words echoing in Luke’s mind to use the force, he tells me to stick to the list.
Unless I see that pint of lemon cookie ice cream or macadamia milk, then screw the list. Before going to the store, I’ll write down the things I need to get weekly (bananas, veggies, milk, shredded cheese, sliced cheese, string cheese, and of course, cream cheese). Then I’ll do a quick inventory on what basic items
may be needed (bread, rice, cereal, eggs). The most laborious part of planning ahead is deciding what will be for dinner. I may choose a meal based on what I want, on what ingredients I need to use or what’s on sale/has a coupon. Once the decision is made, I just need to add the required ingredients to my list, and voilà my list is complete.

Excel Spreadsheet
I have some of those classic cookbooks that you get when you do your wedding registry, a Pinterest board for food, and also receive daily emails with new recipes. So it was not surprising with so many formats, I was having a hard time remembering what was where when it came to my planning. So my “Meal Planner” was the byproduct of my administrative office background and organizational obsessiveness. I created an excel spreadsheet with all of the recipes I’d collected over the years and pull it up on my iPad. The first tab is the “Planner” with meal ideas. When you click on the recipe you want, it takes you to the ingredients and directions for that meal. So that’s how I easily make my shopping list for the week. I can then click the “Home Page” cell within the recipe tab to take me back to the
“Planner” tab. I can easily delete a meal from my planner if it is a tested “failure” and add anything great I found on Pinterest.

image

image

Saving Money on my Food Budget Part III

This is the last of a three part series on how I save money on my family’s food budget. If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them. I am always on the lookout to save money, eat healthier and waste less.

Back At Home

  1. I use Ibotta for cash back

I love Ibotta. I know there are other cash back apps out there; I’ve even tried one or two, but they never work as well for me as Ibotta. So far I’ve gotten about $190 dollars back over the year or so I’ve been using it. Not too bad since I buy what I buy and only THEN do I check Ibotta. I’m a big believer in not using a coupon just to use a coupon, so I don’t check Ibotta before going shopping so I’m not tempted to get things I don’t really need (like that third air freshener, which has happened before). The exception is if I’m buying alcohol for my husband or for a gift. Then I check it and make sure to buy a brand with cash back. It’s like having a coupon without having a coupon.

 

If you want to sign up for ibotta you can use my link and code. It basically gets you a free $10 and gives me a free $5. You will also be added to my team and we can earn more “bonus” money for getting a certain number of rebates. Go to: https://ibotta.com/r/hytagjg And use my referral code: hytagjg

 

If you’d prefer to just sign up on their website, you still get a free $10 just for registering. The money comes back to you in the form of gift cards or you can transfer the funds into your paypal account.

 

  1. I put things in places for best use

I put things in places that are either easy to access or hard to access depending on how quickly I want them to be eaten. For example, fresh produce I have out on the counter or within eyesight in the refrigerator. The granola bars, breakfast bars, and potato chips I hide in the bottom pantry where no one except me goes. This way the process stuff that’s actually a bit more expensive gets consumed at a slower pace than the fresh stuff that’s healthier and cheaper for us. What’s in eye sight is so important when it comes to food and I try to keep that in mind when I put away my groceries.

 

  1. Prepare vegetables for snacks for the week

I usually go to the grocery store on the weekend, so I try to make sure that I clean my celery and cut up my carrots before the work week begins. I put them in a jar and then put them in the door of my fridge. That way everyone has easy access and my husband is reminded that we have healthy snacks, instead of reaching for whatever crackers I bought for the kids. Sometimes I even take all of the grapes off the vine so that it’s easier to serve them to my kids. In any case, I’ve found that we eat a lot more celery, carrots, and sugar snap peas if I do this.

 

  1. Fill out the store survey

At the grocery store where I shop, King Soopers (a Kroger’s store), the store survey on the receipt gives you 50 extra points, which is half way to getting ten cents off per gallon of gas. I can do the survey once every 7 days. So if I go shopping once a week and fill it out every time, I can get 20 cents off of gas, not including what I spend at the grocery store. It’s basically getting a discount on gas for giving my opinion, which isn’t hard to do. The limit on the gas discount is $1. I’ve never gotten to that point yet, but boy would I love to get a dollar off of gas one of these days. I know other stores enter you into a drawing, and I’m never really interested in doing those, but I do know of people who enter every drawing they can and sometimes it pays off. So check the fine print on your receipt and see if it’s helpful or not to take two minutes to fill out a survey.

Saving Money on my Food Budget Part II

This is the second part of a three part series on saving money on food. If you missed the first blog post, you can find it here.

Shopping at the grocery store

  1. I shop at the same grocery store for gas rewards

I know some people like to shop at different places to get the best deal, but I’m really not interested in doing that. I’m sure I’m no more or less busy than other people who use that strategy, but I really don’t like to be going to three or four different stores, so I stick with the one closest to my house. The benefit of doing this is racking up rewards points, which equates to discount on gas.

 

  1. I go shopping alone

Going shopping by myself helps me to concentrate and only buy the things on my list. Additionally, it gives me a chance to concentrate on prices. Sometimes what I’ve planned needs to be switched around because items are on sale that weren’t on the store’s ad. It usually takes me about an hour to do the grocery shopping and I’ve found the slower I go, the better decisions I make.

 

  1. I always buy a frozen dinner

In our household I am the only one who cooks. I am also human so I know that there are days when I am going to be so exhausted or stressed out or sick that I’m not going to cook. We plan for those instances with frozen dinners. Usually I buy a couple of pizzas which I can get on sale for less than $4 and if the week goes well and we don’t need to use them, then they roll over to next week. But eating a $4 pizza is a lot cheaper than feeding our family of 4 (the baby is still breastfeeding) at McDonalds.

 

  1. I use cash to pay for my groceries

I just started doing this and it’s hard! When I say use cash, I mean I allocate a certain amount of money to spend on groceries for the month and then I take out that amount from the ATM. Anytime I go to the grocery store, I use cash instead of my debit card. This has a few benefits. The first is that I only go grocery shopping with intention. If I don’t have the cash on me, then I can’t swing by the grocery store for the random donut I am craving or a bucket of fried chicken on my way home from running errands. The second is that I actually stick to my budget. The first two or three weeks of using cash are easy because I don’t worry quite so much about how much those bananas weigh, or how much the yogurt costs after I’ve used my coupons. But that last weekend when I only have $40 left to spend on groceries for the week is nerve wracking. I have to weigh all my produce, make sure I have the right coupons and even leave the bag of chips behind. But it’s good practice to be disciplined about my budget and that way I buy much fewer processed snacks and foods because those tend to be a little more expensive than buying bananas for the week.

 

  1. I go through my receipt item by item when I get to my car

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked an item based on its sale price only to have it ring up at a different price at the register. It’s really annoying when you’re on a cash budget to calculate your costs and then get a different number at the register. And since I also try to be a polite person, I don’t want to read the receipt right there and hold up the next person in line, so I wait until I get in my car. I’m not in a rush there, so I can take my time to read item by item to see if I got anything wrong. This past week I picked up a bottle of olive oil, having read the price per unit price tag as lowest amongst all the other bottles of olive oil. When I got to my car, I realized that the price I read was not the price that rang up (it was almost double ). Since I was in the parking lot, I was able to bring the bottle back in and get a refund. Evidently between the time I put the bottle in my cart and checked out, the sales tag had been ripped off. While it’s annoying that it happened, I would have been even more annoyed had I gone home and realized that I paid way more for olive oil than any person who doesn’t have a show on the FoodNetwork should.

Saving Money on My Food Budget

Saving Money on My Food Budget

This is the first part in a three part post. These are things that I do so our family can live on a single income. Please feel free to share things that you do to save money, budget wisely, and/or be kind to your body and the earth.

Preparing Before I Go Shopping

  1. I use my store’s circular to plan my meals around what’s on sale

I recently started doing this and found it’s been really helpful. I look at my grocery store’s weekly ad and use it to plan my meals. This helps me twofold: 1) I save money on my meat dishes; 2) it helps to narrow down the recipes I use. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed with recipe options that narrowing them down using the circular is a relief.

  1. I plan meals with a variety of fresh ingredients and shelf stable ingredients

When I plan my recipes for the week I always try to integrate a few meals that use shelf stable ingredients. This means pasta dishes, canned tuna, rice and other foods like that. This ensures that I use the fresh ingredients before they go bad and gives me some flexibility with the week’s meals. If we have a ton of leftovers then it doesn’t hurt anything to move one of the shelf stable recipes back a few days because nothing will go bad. Anytime I can use up all the food in my fridge, I feel like I am succeeding at life.

  1. We Integrate more beans into our diet

Beans are great for a variety of reasons. 1) They are cheap. 2) You can keep them on your shelf for ages in case of a dinner emergency. 3) They are healthy and good for you. I only plan about 3 meals a week or less with meat in them so I have to be creative in other sources of protein. Beans are an important part of how I feed my family while keeping our costs down.

img_2737

  1. I use Pintrest to organize my recipes

I organize all of my week’s recipes on a pin board called “At Home Eats This Week.” I used a word that begins with A so that it is one of the first boards that pops up when pinning a new recipe. I also have two more boards that help in my recipe planning. One called “Recipes to Try,” and a second called “Tried and True Recipes.” This way I can split my week’s meals into those we’ve tried and I know we’re going to like and those I haven’t made yet. You can follow me on Pintrest at ChillyHawaiian to see some of the recipes I enjoy making.

  1. I get my online coupons through the grocery store app

Along with the store’s circular, I always check their coupons via their phone app. A lot of times there are coupons similar (sometimes exact) to what I find on coupons.com. Using the app allows me to load the coupons to my loyalty account so I don’t have to carry paper coupons around. The other great thing about doing this is sometimes there are coupons on store brand items. Store brand items are often the cheapest options, so I add coupons on top of that to save a bunch of money.

Why Everyone in a Relationship Should Read Romance Novels

It’s Valentine’s Day week and many of the romance authors I love are thinking about the genre of romance novels. Here are just a few:

http://www.romancerehab.com/blog/whats-wrong-with-the-romance-genre

http://bookpage.com/the-book-case/20884-why-do-we-crave-happily-ever-after#.WJ_R8RLyuRu

 

So here’s my reasons why everyone in a relationship should read romance novels. And by everyone I mean everyone, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual.

Why Everyone in a Relationship Should Read Romance Novels