smart phone, spendy phone?

For a long time I’ve been holding out against buying a smart phone. I’ve had a tracfone (with double minutes) for a good long time that WILL go on the internet, but does it so slowly that the vast majority of the time I wait to check my email til home. My son calls it a dumb phone. And I’m just fine with that. It lets me call and text my family and it doesn’t cost me triple digits in monthly phone bills. My tracfone bill averages about $25 a month even texting multiple kids and friends multiple times of the day. Perfect.

There are times when it might be convenient to access google maps when I’m going someplace, or to be able to google the location or phone number of a business.  But in the past each time I’ve investigated a smart phone, the initial cost has been at least a hundred bucks, with a monthly bite of at least $60-$80.  Not for me.  I’m just not willing to part with that much cash in a month for a cell phone.

The other day I got a tracfone ad touting some smart phones with triple minutes that could be used on a tracfone plan. Wondering if something like that might actually be a good option for me, I looked on the tracfone website.  Several phone models were listed, all of which were $80-$100.  I zipped over to amazon to read the reviews of those particular models.  One I nixed right away– I’m not interested in a battery that only lasts half a day.

But the other one, despite not having tons of space for apps (ok with me),  had a lot of favorable reviews, and — glory be! — it was a cool $25 on amazon.  Yes, with triple minutes.  And the version of triple minutes on this phone is pretty neat– a 60 minute card will get you 180 minutes of text, 180 minutes of talk AND 180 minutes of data.  So that’s actually 540 minutes altogether.  And the phone will find and use wireless at home or in public places for data whenever it is available, which should keep the data use down. 

So.  I am now the happy owner of a smart phone, finally, that should cost me no more to operate that my old dumb phone, with a lot more features and convenience. The camera isn’t fabulous– 3mp– but that’s twice as much resolution as on my old phone. I figured out how to load music onto it.  I’ve been having great fun voice-searching information on the internet and having my phone read me the answers.  I even found it a fun case.  I’ve only been using it a week, so it’s too soon to tell you anything about durability.  But I’m thrilled with how it’s working so far.  And the price is right!

 

Though I wasn’t asked to review this phone, this post does contain affiliate links.

Frugality this week

Chicken

Whenever I read a frugality post from The Prudent Homemaker, it always gets me thinking about what I’ve done lately. I enjoy surrounding myself (virtually or IRL) with folks who encourage me toward wise stewardship. Here’s my list for last week. I’d love to hear yours in comments below.

  • I bought 20 pounds of chicken legs and thighs in 10-lb bags that had been reduced from 79 cents/lb to 53 cents/lb. I brought them home, cooked and deboned the meat, then froze it in meal size portions.  I should be able to get 4 generous meals from about $11 of chicken.
  • I happily accepted two kitchen garbage bags of fresh broccoli from my sister and brother in law who were up from California for a visit and brought us some of their excess.  I used some immediately, and blanched and froze the rest for later.  And the garbage bags that the broccoli arrived in?  I used them again.
  • I accompanied my daughter to a large baby consignment sale in our area — it was half price day– and found a dozen or so items of clothing and three pairs of shoes (mostly for our youngest daughter) for a grand total of $37.  One really nice air of khaki pants fit (and pleased) my 18yo daughter and only cost $1.25.  Big win.
  • I served 20+ people a Sunday dinner of broccoli-chicken enchiladas using the above-mentioned very affordable ingredients.
  • My daughters went to a birthday party and gave their friend several rainbow loom bracelets along with another item from my gift stash.
  • I bought my son an xbox game for his birthday from the local video-game store, used, with a one-year guarantee for half the cost of the game new on amazon.  Extra bonus:  it was my son who suggested buying the game used.Hooray for passing frugality on to the next generation!

Victories at your house lately?  Share them here so we can encourage each other!

~~~~~

Looking for a good chicken recipe?  Try one of these:

 

frugality this week

bracelets

  • I reused bags from the bulk-food grocery items I purchased.  Any bag I can use an extra time or two is a money savings.
  • We used cloth napkins at most mealtimes in the past week or so.
  • Bought oranges for 25 cents/lb.  They were the last from a big sale that the store had the previous week, and needed to be used quickly.  But I think we only ended up only tossing one of them.
  • Used leftovers as wisely as possible so that very little was wasted.
  • Fed questionable leftovers to the chickens, which makes the true amount of our food waste really low.  We also routinely give chickens carrot peels and apple cores and other produce scraps to enrich their winter diet.
  • Bought a HUGE (5+ pound) cabbage for 50 cents/lb that I will sliver very thin and use gradually for cabbage slaw and stir-fries over the next week or two.  Maybe some egg rolls too.  I made a bunch of egg rolls for the Super Bowl and they were so yummy!
  • Served canned applesauce a few times in the last week when our fresh fruit was running low.  I have quite a lot of home-canned food still, but we’ve definitely put a dent in it.  I am nearly out of jam already, and the kids have been gobbling the dill pickle spears I made.  I will definitely be making more of those instead of the pickle slices that I seem to have too many of.
  • Today I’m soaking beans to make a big pot of chili for easy eats while I’m gone this weekend.  I also made and frozen a couple of tater tot casseroles and a couple pans of enchiladas.
  • Finally got good-student verification and Alive at 25 verification sent to our auto insurance company to decrease the cost of insurance for the three teen/college drivers on our current policy.  With 2 more drivers set to be licensed this summer, we need every bit of savings we can scrape together.

Just in case anyone is curious about how we handle insurance for our kids:  we pay for all their insurance while they are still in high school, and half while they are in college, as long as they don’t get any speeding tickets.  If they get a ticket, they assume the entire cost of their own insurance. Also, when they get married and/or graduate from college, they take over that expense.

This year with two sons getting licensed, our insurance will definitely be jumping.  But another son graduates from college and will be finding his own insurance, so that will make the bite a tiny bit less painful. Our coming drivers also did the Alive at 25 class so that will help too.  Their very FIRST driver’s ed drive is today, so wish them luck.

And speaking of frugality, my 11 yo daughter is LOVING the rainbow loom bracelet maker that she got for Christmas.  Where do you think is the most affordable place to get the rubber bands?

Our Menus: The Last 10 Days

Meatloaf and cheesy hash brown potatoes

We ended up spending $529 for the month on groceries– not as fabulous as the $400 I hoped, but a solid $200+ less than average, so I’ll still call that a success.  I also ended the month with a good bit of meat in the freezer due to stocking up on sales this month, so that will be helpful going forward.  I really would like to keep our budget more in the $600 range if I can, instead of edging up toward $800 like it is so easy to do. We are feeding 8-9 people most meals, with more on weekends, but I still think I can do it, and I know our budget would appreciate it!

Here’s what we ate for the end part of the month.  Nothing too thrilling, but no one was hungry!  :)   I think this menu will show you how often I cook a bit extra, to save myself cooking time on a different day.  Fortunately my people eat leftovers reasonably well.

Wednesday, Jan 22

  • Breakfast:  Eggs, toast and oranges
  • Lunch: Grilled cheese
  • Dinner:  Creamy potato soup, hot dogs

Thursday, January 23

Fri, January 24

Sat, January 25

  • Breakfast: Pancakes
  • Lunch: leftovers
  • Dinner: Meatloaf and potatoes

Sun, January 26

  • Breakfast: Cold cereal
  • Lunch: Church potluck (we brought cheesy hashbrown potatoes)
  • Dinner: Chicken enchiladas (leftover)

Mon, January 27

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Tuna Sandwiches
  • Dinner: Spaghetti

Tues, January 28

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Spaghetti
  • Dinner:  Taco John’s  ($16)

Wed, January 29

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch:Split peas with bacon over rice, cookies
  • Dinner:  Beef stroganoff, green beans

Thurs, January 30

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast, potatoes
  • Lunch: Leftovers
  • Dinner: Stromboli, with picnic cake for dessert

Fri, January 31

  • Breakfast: Eggs, sausage and potatoes
  • Lunch: Cheesy potato cauliflower soup
  • Dinner:  Pizza, eggplant lasagna (for the brave)

 

And just for random extra fun, here’s a video of Julianna, 9, singing her new favorite song. :)

~From Frozen from Mary Ostyn on Vimeo.

Week 3 eats (and a splurge)

Splurge day for me today!  I got my hair cut like the picture I showed you the other day, except shorter, and added some subtle red highlights.  I’ll get a photo in daylight tomorrow. Looks tons different– I can’t remember the last time my hair has been short enough to show the back of my neck–  but I do like it. I’m just hoping when I wash it I can get it looking half as good as my salon guru Cindi does.

While at the mall, I went to Sephora and tried foundation til I figured out one that is just right for my skin. I’ve bought many different ones lately that were almost but not quite right– some too pale, some too dark, some too drying– and I just got tired of guessing. When I told the lovely ladies I was moisturizing and cleansing with olive oil, I expected them to look at me askance, but instead they showed me their own oil moisturizers for dry skin, one of which just arrived in the store this week.  Apparently oil moisturizing and cleansing is a ‘thing’ these days. Guess I’m not backward after all. They gave me some samples of their oil to try, but I will probably stick with my olive oilt. I managed to get out of the store with only what I intended to buy: foundation and under-eye concealer in the right tones for me.  Which, believe me, was spendy enough.

Speaking of spendy, I am officially over budget in the grocery department, thanks partly to sending others shopping on my behalf.  The good news is we’re only $25 over the $400 goal that I made at the start of the month– not bad– and we have oodles of food. Hopefully we’ll end up less than $500 for the month, which is still a cool $200-$300 less than we routinely spend.

Are you getting bored with hearing what we eat?  I kinda am. Especially this week–except for our lovely Ethiopian feast Saturday evening, and some YUMMY orange chicken– oh, and a really yummy creamy chicken soup– the food was kinda unexciting.

Wednesday, Jan 15th

Thursday, January 16th

  • Breakfast: Eggs, potatoes, toast
  • Lunch: Hamburgers, tater tots, salad
  • Dinner: Stirfry with chicken, veggies and rice

Fri, January 17th

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast
  • Lunch:  ??? I don’t remember!
  • Dinner: Spaghetti

Sat, January 18th

  • Breakfast: Pancakes
  • Lunch: Peanut butter sandwiches
  • Dinner: Ethiopian food

Sun, January 19th

  • Breakfast: Cold cereal
  • Lunch: Leftover Ethiopian food
  • Dinner: Lentils and rice, root beer floats

Mon, January 20th

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Ham sandwiches
  • Dinner: Creamy Chicken-Potato-Kale Soup, crackers, fruit

Tues, January 21st

  • Breakfast:  eggs and toast
  • Lunch: leftover soup and bread
  • Dinner: Fried rice with ham and kale
  • Snack: cookies

This evening I am making a big batch of chicken broth for more soups later in the week.  I need to get it into jars in the fridge soon.

I also made homemade yogurt. The yogurt met with a calamity though.  I left it in the oven like I usually do, to incubate while I was gone today. Then the kids decided to make cookies and turned the oven on.  They discovered it after about 10 minutes, and stuck it in the fridge.  But the quart jar that I’d only filled halfway looks a little watery, and not as thick as the other three.  So I’m not sure how it will taste.  Ah well.

What did you cook this week that was fun?

6 Ways to Avoid Food Waste

Soup

Statistics say that the average family of 4 produces 840 pounds of food waste a year. After being so careful when purchasing my groceries, the last thing I want to do is end up throwing them away. Here are some ways that I keep our hard-earned food dollars from hitting the trash.

  • ‘Soup’ any leftover veggies that you have.  I stash mine in a bowl in the fridge for easy soup starters. The soup pictured here is a great use for leftover green beans. (Related: MAKE soup at least a couple times a week.  It is filling, healthy, and affordable.)
  • Scrape containers out well. A dab of water added to near-empty condiment bottles, shaken well, will usually get you another serving or two. Obvious stuff, I know, and sometimes it feels like it isn’t worth your time.  But getting the last dab out of everything will save you many servings over the course of a year, and models wise stewardship to your kids as well.
  • Shake out and wipe out ziplocks and re-use when they’ve been used for dry things like bread or cookies.  I do this with thin bags I’ve gotten in the bulk food section at the grocery store as well. (Any bag that has been used for raw meat always hits the trash, however.)
  • Store leftovers in reusable containers as much as possible instead of using spendy ziplocks or yards of plastic wrap that will be thrown away.  Recently I got a nice pyrex set that makes it easy to see what I’ve got in the fridge, and more likely I’ll remember it in time to use it.
  • Stash single servings of leftovers in freezer containers and freeze them immediately to go in lunch boxes.  This keeps you from having to guess if  a leftover is still edible. My husband routinely takes frozen leftovers to work and reheats to eat at lunch time.  He says that the ladies at work often notice the good smells and asks what he’s eating today.  :)
  • Serve it different ways.  When I’ve made a large quantity of an item, I rarely serve it the same way twice. Beans can be served with rice on the first day.  A second day I’ll toss a cup or two of beans into beef stew. Another day I’ll make the remainder into re-fried beans served with cheese in tortillas (hint for making refried beans yummy: butter).  I sometimes freeze extra items to be served a different week, saving my family boredom now and me cooking time later.  I also routinely have one or two leftover meals a week, where I set out all the leftovers and folks zap what they want.

Like everyone, we still waste food at times, but these tips keep us from throwing too many dimes, quarters and dollars into the trash. What do you throw away most often? How do you minimize food waste at your house?

Recipe: Vegetable Pancakes (and what we ate this week)

Vegetable Pancakes

This week we spent another $140 on groceries, partly due to the fact that we needed chicken feed, cat food AND dog food all in the same week. We also went out to eat once at Panda Express and once at Costco, which ate up the budget rather quickly. That means that to keep within my $400 goal, I have $120 to last the whole last two weeks of the month.  Yikes.  We’ll see how that goes.  I feel like I wasn’t terribly disciplined this week.  Ah, well.  But I did get pears and apples both for 39 cents/lb.  Not tons, but enough to eat for a week or two.  I rarely see either of those for less than 89 cents/lb, so that was a nice find.  (Thanks, mom!)

Today I read this article about a bread bucket, which is basically an old-fashioned arm-powered kitchenaid that is big enough to handle dough for at least 4 loaves of bread (16-18 cups of flour) at once.  Isn’t that awesome?   Pretty much they’re antiques and only available on ebay and at estate auctions, but I’m wondering if it would be fun to own one.  The most flour that my kitchenaid will handle is enough about 8-10 cups and then it sounds like it’s working hard, and two loaves of bread is gone at our house in less than two days, usually.

Here’s what I cooked this week:

Wednesday, Jan 8th

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Tater tot casserole, Donuts
  • Dinner:  Taco soup

Thursday, January 9th

  • Breakfast: Eggs, potatoes, toast
  • Lunch: Vegetable pancakes, applesauce
  • Dinner:  Panda Express ($30)

Fri, January 10th

  • Breakfast:  Scrambled eggs, oranges and toast
  • Lunch:  Ramen noodle soup, grilled cheese
  • Dinner:  Tater tot casserole

Sat, January 11th

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Peanut butter sandwiches, soup
  • Dinner: Pizza and sauerkraut

Sun, January 12th

  • Breakfast: Cold cereal
  • Lunch:  Hamburgers and mashed potatoes, ice cream
  • Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, cinnamon rolls

Mon, January 13th

  • Breakfast: pancakes and oranges
  • Lunch:  Grilled cheese sandwiches, saurkraut, applesauce
  • Dinner: Shepherd’s Pie

Tues, January 14th

  • Breakfast:  eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Costco ($10)
  • Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, vegetable pancakes, salad

Since I mentioned vegetable pancakes a couple times, I thought I’d give you my recipe.  It’s pretty adaptable and could be done with a variety of grated vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and carrots.  I tend to make them most often with potatoes and carrots, with some minced garlic and onion tossed in there too.  The ones pictured here have some kale in them.  But here’s the basic recipe you can start with, and then customize as you wish.

Vegetable pancakes

Vegetable pancakes

Ingredients

  • 4 potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour (or cornstarch for gluten free)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  1. Begin by grating and then rinsing the potatoes, making sure to squeeze off the water so that they're not too drippy. Add remaining ingredients and mix together.
  2. Heat about 1/2 an inch of oil in a small, heavy pot over medium heat til a punch of the batter sizzles when you toss it in the oil.
  3. Add several clumps of batter (about 2-3 tablespoons per clump) to the oil in the pot and let cook for a couple minutes on the first side, til you see some brown at the edges.
  4. Turn gently and cook another minute or so, til the second side is also browned and crispy. After you've cooked the first couple batches, you may need to turn down the heat on the burner so that the oil won't get too hot and burn the pancakes.
  5. Keep frying until you have all the batter cooked. You can keep the first pancakes warm in the oven until you're done with them all, or do like I do and just let the kids eat them fresh from the skillet as you make them.
  6. I serve these with applesauce, wasabi, and soy sauce so everyone can choose what they want to use for dipping. :) Yum!
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What we actually ate

sriracha

This week we spent $145 on food, quite a bit more than I was originally intending, but there were sales, people!  I bought 40 lb of oranges for $20, 10 lbs of chicken thighs for $10, and 35 lb of ground beef for $70.  Yup, $1.99/lb ground beef, yehaw!  Lately I’ve been lucky to find it for $2.49/lb. The oranges should last a month, the chicken a couple weeks, and the ground beef a couple months.

In two hours I made 1 meal of meatloaf (for 18 people), 2 meals worth of taco meat, 46 hamburger patties, and 8 packages of precooked ground beef that I can use for stroganoff or Ethiopian sloppy joes or shepherd’s pie or Thai chard wraps or any number of other meals.  I love having pre-cooked ground beef in the freezer– it’s such a time saver.  And when I can get it for a great price, that makes it twice as nice. It really helps me to have benchmark prices to look for, so that I know clearly when it’s a good time to stock up.

Jan 1st

  • Brunch:  Eggs/rolls/pears
  • Dinner:  Pineapple/hot dog stirfry over rice
  • Snack: Cookies, homemade gummies

January 2nd

  • Breakfast: pancakes
  • Lunch: Peanut butter rolls
  • Snack: meat and cheese tray (kids’ party)
  • Dinner:  pizza, salad, cookies

Fri, January 3rd

  • Breakfast:  Scrambled eggs, oranges and toast
  • Lunch:  Frozen burritos and apples
  • Dinner:  BBQ chicken, baked potatoes, green salad, magic cookie bars

Sat, January 4th

  • Breakfast: Pancakes
  • Lunch: Split peas and rice with firfir
  • Dinner: ‘favorite’ casserole (macaroni with ground beef, tomato sauce and olives, topped by cheese)

Sun, January 5th

  • Breakfast: cold cereal
  • Lunch: Chili, green salad, garlic bread, and birthday cake for dessert
  • Dinner:  leftover ‘favorite’ casserole (I made way too much Saturday night!)

Mon, January 6th

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch:  Thai cauliflower chicken soup, apples
  • Dinner:  Leftover chili from Sunday, raspberry gummies

Tues, January 7th

  • Breakfast: French toast, apples and oranges
  • Lunch: Chili corn pone pie (Family Feasts p.112)  salad and cookies
  • Dinner:  Tacos

~~~~~

What about you?  What have you served your family recently?

January menu preview

Snack tray

My final kitchen project for 2013 was a cheese and meat tray, inspired by A Thoughtful Place, and by the lovely serving tray that my daughter gave me for Christmas. And before you feel intimidated by the fancy shmancy, let me tell you– no way I’d have thought I could pull together something like that before I watched this video and found out it isn’t actually hard!  This one was for a New Year’s Eve party. I had so much fun making this one that I’m planning to make a similar one when we have the kids’ friends over to hang out for games in a couple days.

Now, on to January menu planning! I’m planning on spending no more than $400 for the month, which is going to be lots more doable if I spend as little as possible during the first half of the month.  I’ve been digging through the cupboards and the freezer, looking at how far I can get using what we have.  I canned lots of tomatoes and pickles this fall, and have lots of butter and a reasonable amount of meat in the freezer.  We also have beans, pasta, potatoes, cabbage, onions, canned applesauce, canned pears and frozen green beans.  We have a good stash of baking ingredients including WAYYY more chocolate chips than is strictly necessary– literally 10 bags of different chips, including butterscotch.  (Hello, Butterscotch Chip Cookies!)  There will be no cookie shortages around here.

Since the chickens aren’t laying terribly well right now, I’ll probably need to buy eggs, and doubtless I’ll think of a few other things.  If I happen to see ground beef on sale for $2.29/lb or less, I’ll be grabbing it, since I doubt I have more than two weeks’ worth right now. Another goal of mine is to use more bone-in chicken, both to take advantage of the affordability of whole chickens and to make chicken broth for winter soups. But here are the meals I can make with the current provisions.

  1. Pasta carbonera & salad
  2. Cheesy Corn and Potato Chowder (Family Feasts for $75 a Week, p. 192)
  3.  Chili for a Crowd and cornbread (double batch)
  4. Make-your-own pizza
  5. Cauliflower Tom Kha Gai (Thai soup)
  6. Split pea soup with bacon (Family Feasts, p. 190)
  7. Hearty Beef Dumpling Stew
  8. Hamburger lo mein (from Family Feasts, p. 161 )
  9. Korean vegetable pancakes (Family Feasts, p. 204)
  10. West African Sweet Potato Soup
  11. Tuna sandwiches (with grated carrot and cheese, toasted)
  12. Beans and rice
  13. Tacos with refried beans, ground beef/lentils and soft shell tacos
  14. Biscuits and hamburger gravy
  15. Ethiopian Sloppy Joes and Injera
  16. Grilled cheese and tomato soup
  17. Korean sushi using smoked salmon I got for Christmas  (yum!)

Lunches tend to be leftovers from previous dinners as well as sandwiches.  Our youngest got a panini grill for Christmas, which she adores.  So we have been doing lots of grilled cheese sandwiches with soup.  For breakfast we mostly do eggs and toast, and occasionally cereal, waffles or pancakes.  I also want to make Lemon Cream Cheese Pancakes (GF). I’m sure I’ll be adapting this menu a bit as the days go on, but I’m pleased to see how much food we have in the house at the moment, and am planning to dig through the freezer and use up more odds and ends during the month as well.

Are you setting a spending goal for January?  I’d love to hear what it is, as well as how it compares to your usual spending habit.  My $400 goal is about half of what I usually spend.  We’ll see how it goes!

Looking back, looking forward

 Pizza

In finishing out 2013, I did a bit of looking back at what was interesting to the most people during the year.  Here are some of the posts that were shared more often or commented on more than average.  Maybe there’s one that you missed?

Natural Tooth Care: Four Changes We’ve Made

My Stuff and Theirs

High School Chemistry: Helpful Links

Six Things I’d Rather Buy at the Thrift Store

Make-Your-Own Pizza

So You Want to Stay Home With Your Kids

Looking forward to a new year with you as well!  I’ve got all sorts of plans brewing!

In January I’ll be writing about our grocery budget.  I’d like to see if we can get by on $400 for all 8 of us in January– kind of a post-Christmas recovery plan, you know?  To make that $400 stretch the furthest, I’m starting my month with a cooking-from-the-pantry challenge, and will see what I can rustle up with all the food we already have. But I also want to emphasize good food and healthy eating.  Think soups and stews and crock pot recipes.  On January 1st I’ll share my meal plan for the next two weeks.  Want in on my $400/month grocery challenge?  Think about what might be a good spending goal for your own family, and stay tuned!

Also in January I am planning on getting more intentional with my computer time, with a focus on having a no-screen-zone during part of every day. I’m converting old home movies to computer files, brewing kombucha and making kefir, working on saying yes to my kids in creative ways, and organizing my wild and crazy laundry room.   I’d love to have you along for the ride in this new year.  Thanks for reading!