Where fine and frugal come together

How Does Your Garden Grow

herb

This morning when I woke up it was 5 degrees in the Midwest.  So like all crazy mid-westerners I thought today would be a great day to start planning our garden.  We moved last summer, so this year we will start from scratch at our new home.  As we are planning the new garden space, the very first thing we need to do is call about where all of the underground cables are on the property.  Anytime you are starting a new garden space, this needs to happen so you don’t accidently hit a utility line.  You can call 811 from anywhere in the United States to get this information.  Once this is done, we will plot out where the garden will be.

We will have two distinct garden plots.  The first plot will be our vegetable garden.  For this plot, we will have an “early” garden.  The early garden will consist of lettuce, radishes and onions.  We sow the lettuce and radishes directly in the ground.  We will buy the onion sets.  These are great early vegetables as they prefer the cool nights we have in the spring.  I found this great chart online with a calendar for planting in your particular area http://www.burpee.com/gygg/growingCalendarNoZipCode.jsp.

Soon, we will also start some seedlings inside for transplanting later in the Spring when they will be ready. We did this last year for the first time and had some success.  I am planning on starting some herbs (basil and cilantro), peppers, broccoli and cauliflower.  We did not have great luck with tomatoes so we will likely go to the local greenhouse and buy the plants.

The second garden area will be my herb garden.  This will be our fourth year for an herb garden and I finally have the basics.  I am starting to do more on a personal level with herbs and natural remedies, so I will expand.  In the meantime, I know we will at a minimum have basil, cilantro (lots of cilantro), rosemary, and oregano.  I have begun researching other herbs that have historically grown well in our area and will expand.  At our previous home, I did the herb garden as a raised bed and thrived.  The picture at the top of the post was my very first herb garden right after it was planted.  I will probably do the same thing here.  We will also need to figure out some squirrel deterrent as there are tons of squirrels in our new neighborhood.

As the days grow longer, I know there won’t be too much more brutal weather like we are having now. I am looking forward to the warm sunshine and getting my hands in the dirt again and seeing my garden grow.

menu planAs part of my concentrated effort to pay off my car, my dear husband and I are going back to basics of saving at the grocery store.  The first thing we did was go through the freezer and make sure our freezer inventory was up to date.  There a several ways to keep track of your inventory.  The easiest is probably to just keep it in a handwritten notebook and update as you use up the contents.  This gives us a starting place.

With the inventory in place, I now begin the week’s plan.  Normally on Sunday, we will have a larger piece of meat.  We will then take the leftovers of this and reuse in a different meal later in the week.  In this way, we don’t waste the leftovers and it doesn’t feel like we are eating leftovers every other day.

For instance, this week I am going to make roasted chicken and vegetables for Sunday’s dinner.  On Tuesday, we will take the leftovers of the chicken and make a chicken vegetable soup.  Roasted chicken is one of my favorite leftovers as there are so many ways to reuse.   This week we are making chicken vegetable soup, but we could have also used the leftovers to make enchiladas, grilled chicken for salad, chicken tacos.  The chicken I choose is a six pounder, so we will likely have enough to freeze even after we make the soup.  Any leftovers of the soup will also be frozen and I will take them in my lunch in the next 6 to 8 weeks.  Because it is still cold, we will also have chili this week.  When we make chili we make a huge pot.  My dear husband shares with friends and relatives, we will eat leftovers and we will freeze some for later.

At our home, we plan the menu together and make our grocery list based on the plan.  We also keep a list on the fridge of staples we are low on so we don’t forget, or worse get to the grocery and say “do we need _____” and end up overspending buying stuff we don’t need.  If there is a really good deal on a staple we love, we will stock up a bit.  However, we try not to have too much more than we will use in a month’s time.  We like to shop together, as this makes us more accountable.  We never ever go hungry — we always overspend when we are hungry.

During the week my dear husband does all of the cooking, following the plan. Using a dry/erase marker, I put the menu on the fridge for him.

I made a magnetic border for the fridge using duct tape and magnetic strips.  I don’t think it is Pinterest quality, but it does the job.

tools for menu board

border

The Power of Cash

cash

Three years ago, I started a journey to get debt-free.  All of my adult life, I have had some sort of debt.  It was the “normal” debt (credit cards, auto, mortgage).  When I began my journey as a newly single lady, I knew I had to get more control.  What I have found on this journey is that many of us seem to live just a little above our income.  This puts us in a vicious circle of paying one thing, creating new debt, paying it down and on and on.  When I met my dear husband, I found there is a better way to live.  So for the past three years, not only have I been living below my income level — I have been dumping debt.  I am now to the point I will be debt free in three months.

When I started the journey, the first thing I did was sit down and see exactly how much debt I had.  I was shocked when I saw the real numbers.  Although I had always knew about what my bills were, I really wasn’t doing much to get out of debt.  Debt is normal and everyone has it, right???  The number scared me — I didn’t even have any mortgage debt and I was almost $40,000 in debt.  A large part of this was my car which I had just purchased — brand new.  I also had multiple credit cards I had used throughout my divorce.  This turned out to be about $10,000.  It was time to get serious.

The first big change I made is I started using cash for most purchases. What I found is I didn’t spend nearly as much money when I really saw what things cost.  The other thing we do each month is put our budget in writing.  As a part of this budget process, I notate the cash line items.  I get paid twice a month, so I break our budget into two parts.

Before beginning my debt-free journey, I used to eat out every day.  Most days, this was at a “sit-down” restaurant.  I was averaging $15 a day for lunch.  This is more than $300 a month — just for eating out at lunch.  Once I realized this, I stopped doing this immediately.  I still occasionally eat out, but it comes out of my “personal” budget.  This is the same budget I use for hair care and any other pampering.  I on purpose made this dollar amount as small as possible to make me think before I do.  This extra money went directly to paying down the debt.

Groceries were another weak area for me and frankly my dear husband, who is more frugal by nature than I am.  We both felt we were a little out of control on grocery spending, so we came up with a monthly dollar amount comfortable for both of us, but less than we were spending.  I divided this number two and it is the amount of cash I withdraw each month for this category.  For both of us, our grocery spending went way down because we had a finite amount of cash.  Again this “extra” money goes toward debt.

As you all know, not every month is the same and there are some months where you know you are going to spend more.  How we managed this is any cash leftover at the end of the month stays in the envelope.  We then use the extra cash on months we have bigger grocery expenditures.  In our case, we had a nice little amount built up as we went into the holidays.  We also budgeted a little bit extra in December for all of the holiday gatherings and parties.

We do still use a card for gas purchases.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, when you go to get gas, it is so much easier to pay at the pump.  The other reason is we really track our gas purchases and adjust our budget on a monthly basis.  I have a very long commute to my full time job and it is important to stay on track.

Just by realizing what I was really spending and changing it to a cash mentality, I was able to add this “extra” money to my debt.  As the months turn into Spring, I will talk more about how I dumped all my debt and got to where I am today.  I hope you enjoy my journey.

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As we are all putting our houses back in order from the 2014 Holiday, this is a good time to begin thinking about 2015.  There is one thing for certain in life — birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations comes at the same time every year.  As we were doing our goal setting for 2015, we set aside a budget category for gifts and vacations.  We started with birthdays.  We wrote down everyone we give a gift to on their birthday and wrote down the amounts.  We then looked at Christmas.  We set the amount we were going to spend on each person on our list and then added it up, this became our gift budget.

Next we looked at vacation.  We know how many vacations we plan on taking in 2015 and set out budget amount for each of these vacations.  After this was completed.  We took the total amount and divided it by 12.  This is the amount we need to set aside each month.  By doing it this way, we always have money available for birthdays or other celebrations.  This makes the holidays and vacations much more stress free.

The reason we combine these categories is two-fold.  First, we try to not make our budget too complicated.  We feel by having more general categories it gives us more flexibility.  The reason it make sense to combine these two categories is this is the first area we would cut if we needed to tighten our budget in any way.

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I have heard goals not acted upon are really just wishes. On New Year’s Day, we sat down and set our goals for 2015. When we set goals, we use the S.M.A.R.T. approach. The first part of this is setting a specific goal. An example of a specific goal would be “I want to pay off $1,000 in debt in six months.” A vague goal (dream) would be “I want to pay down debt.”

By setting a specific goal, you now have a measurable goal. For instance, if you are trying to pay off debt and you set the goal of paying off $1,000 in six months, you now know how much you need to pay over the next six months to reach your goal. So your goal of paying off $1,000 in six months is really paying $167 a month. By breaking it down in smaller increments, it now becomes achievable.

If a goal is not realistically achievable, it is also really just a dream.  I have found in all areas of my life if I break something down into smaller increments, it is easier to achieve.  If you make smaller goals out of your larger goals, you will reach your destination.  In addition to being achievable, your goal needs to be results-focused.  By breaking down your goal of paying down $1,000 to a monthly amount, you can see each month the $1,000 becoming a more attainable number.  In our example, your $1,000 is $833 after one month, $666 after two months, $499 after three months, $332 after four months, $165 after five months and $0 after six months.  Each month, you see the results of your hard work and this helps you keep your focus on your final goal.  There are many tips to help you visualize your steps along the way.

The final step in SMART goal setting is putting a set time on achieving your goal.  In our example, our time is six months.

For us, a real life example of this is paying off my car (our last debt) by the end of March.  This goal is a stretch for us, but because we know the dollar amount (specific), the amount needed each month (measurable), we know with a stretch we can do this (achievable).  We know we will see results each month and by setting a date of March 15, it is time bound.

Happy Goal Setting!!!

Getting Healthy

Every year we all promise to get healthier, exercise more, be more successful — all those things New Year’s resolutions are made of. As we enter the New Year, I have made a commitment to get more healthy and I am going to use this website as the platform to help me be accountable to myself.

In late November, we started back our exercise routine. Because of this, rather than gaining five pounds over the holidays, I actually lost five pounds. We were doing great — hitting the gym to walk at least three times a week. I was feeling great. THEN — the flu hit us. Not a happy time. We spent Christmas Eve morning at the doctor and then traveling all over town to find the allusive Tamiflu prescription. We were then down for the count and Christmas was officially cancelled. Well now 9 days later, I am almost back to normal and it is time to get back on track.

The first thing I am doing is setting a workout goal. This helps me keep on track. Because I have a job with a big commute, it is hard to do during the week. I am committing to working out on Saturday, Sunday and one day during the week. I am also going to try to sneak one day in a week at work.

Next — I am giving up all diet soda. I had done this in November and had not had a diet soda in almost three weeks when the dreaded flu hit. I fell off the wagon a bit, but am getting back on board. As I think it hard to make lots of changes at one time, I am planning on making a small change to our diets on a weekly basis.

After we get used to regular exercise, lots of water and no diet soda, my next change will be no cream in my coffee. Let’s face it, I’m over 50 years old — surely I can get by without cream in my coffee. We already eat pretty non-processed, but we are going to get serious. Each week, I am going to commit to set out what my weekly goals are for my healthy life. I am also going to commit to trying one new “healthy” recipe a week. If they are successful, I will share along the way. I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

New Beginnings – 2015

This past year has been a very good year in many ways. Unfortunately, in other ways it has been a difficult year. What I have learned over the years is to count your blessings where you can.

In early 2014, I married the love of my life and we began our life together as one. This was one of the joyous things. Over the summer we purchased our first home together and have made it a warm inviting place for our families and friends.

The not so good side has been the loss of an expected grandchild, not once — but twice. I know there is a purpose in the Universe for this, but it is still a very hard thing not only for us, but for our children. I am hopeful 2015 will bring them the joy they are seeking.

As winter is really settling in here in the mid-west, I am looking forward to the New Year. I am looking forward to expanding beyond my comfort zone into new exciting areas. Happy, Happy New Year!!

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