Stretching $20 to feed my family

I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. I took some time off from writing to get other projects done around the house. Today, I want to share with you what happened last week when it was time to go grocery shopping.

Wednesday is my grocery shopping day while the kids are with their dad. I pulled out my wallet to see how much money I had left before payday to get food with. I was almost out of bread and milk, peanut butter and a few other essentials and also need to make dinners for a few nights. I started to panic when I opened my wallet and saw I had $20. Break and milk would eat up $7.50 of that! It was time to get creative.

 

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I searched my pantry, freezer and fridge to see what I had. Tuna, rice, soup, crackers, some fresh fruit, salad, and frozen ground beef, chicken and fish as well as some french fries. Ok, this suddenly seemed doable. I am so grateful that I do keep a decently stocked house for emergencies like this. I searched the ads for more vegetables that were on sale. Corn was less than $1, peanut butter was on sale, I grabbed some green beans, a cucumber, decided I could do without bread, got some turkey from the deli and some milk. Grand total…$11! I made myself a nice fish dinner the first night, had some bun-less hamburgers with lettuce, corn and fries the second night, and chicken with leftover rice and veggies the next. Luckily it was payday then, but I was still able to stretch out a couple more healthy meals before heading to the store on Sunday. I used egg whites to stretch out my remaining eggs for the kids and I ate what was left of my spinach scrambled with egg whites. The kids had PB&J one day for lunch and turkey and cheese with crackers the next. I had tuna salad with crackers and a salad with whatever was left for mine. I had a can of organic soup in my pantry, which I had for lunch on Saturday. I love to eat healthy and this got me excited to see how much more I can stretch my dollars and still eat healthy, balanced meals. Here are some photos of the meals I created.

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I also felt great because I used all of my fresh produce and nothing went to waste. What are your suggestions for eating healthy on a small budget?

 

Tools of time management – the calendar

Life is busy and whether you are single, married, have kids or don’t, you have appointments and other things that you need to keep track of. One of the most helpful time management tools that I use is my calendar. I actually have two calendars: a wall calendar and a phone calendar. I have reasons for having both and I am going to share how and why I use them below.

The wall calendar: I put this up right next to my key rack between my kitchen and my garage door. It is in a central location so I can glance at it quickly and add to it immediately. My key rack has a white board and a spot to store pens and pencils so I can make notes quickly and easily. I am all about convenience so I have no excuses. I use my wall calendar for a few things. First are the kids’ schedules – their school schedules, birthday parties, special events at school, extra classes, play dates, and special family trips all go on my calendar the second I find out about them. Second are appointments – doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, massages, gym classes, oil changes, lawyer meetings, court dates, dates with friends, etc. Third are important reminders, including birthdays. My gardeners only come every other week, so I mark it on the calendar so I don’t miss it. Also I highlight the days the kids are with their dad. Reminders are not my to-do list items, just scheduled events that don’t qualify as an appointment. Lastly, I use this calendar for a couple of home items. I write what is for dinner at the bottom of every box. I usually plan at least a week out sometimes longer. This helps me know what prep I can do the day before to make dinner quicker when I get off of work. I can make quick switches if my schedule doesn’t allow for cooking time. I also write at the beginning of the week what are of the home I am going to work on cleaning. I have a different color pen for each person in our family and I write meals so they can be easily changed.

The benefit of having a wall calendar like this is that it’s easy, convenient and quick. I can glance at it without having to find my phone, enter a password and go into my app. It also gives me the ability to see how my day, week and month look at any moment all in one place.

The phone calendar: I also have a calendar in my phone that I use regularly. It contains my schedules and appointments that are on my wall calendar as well as some reminders. The benefit of an electronic calendar is that I can set up recurring appointments. I don’t have to keep reentering birthdays or schedules. I can also set appointments for the next calendar year without having to have a physical calendar to write on. I don’t keep as much detail in here as I have everything on my home calendar. For example, if there is a sharing day at school, that just goes on my wall calendar. I don’t put dinners in my phone because while I’m out, I don’t need that information. I basically set up my phone so that if I need to schedule something on the fly, I know exactly what is going on and when and I don’t double schedule myself. Another benefit of the phone is the ability to set alarms. This ensures that even if I temporarily forget about somewhere I am supposed to be (especially if it is irregular), I get reminded with enough time to get there.

The important thing with having two calendars is to make sure you synch them up. At the beginning of the month I will make sure that everything matches and then I review it again on Sundays to make sure I know exactly what is going on during the week. I try to enter appointments from my phone to my calendar as soon as I get home, but that doesn’t always happen.

Using a calendar give me a sense of peace because I know what is going on in my life without having to rack my brain and I’m not panicking that I’m forgetting to be somewhere.

I hate cleaning bathrooms

I don’t think many people like cleaning bathrooms. I love having a clean bathroom, but I despise having to clean them. A while ago, I found a way to keep my bathroom clean without spending a large amount of time every week to keep it that way. Here is my simple routine that I use for both bathrooms, that keep them clean and sanitary without taking a chunk of time or a ton of elbow grease.

Daily:

  • Spray mirror, counter and toilet (seat and lid) with cleaner – wipe down with a rag
  • Swish a toilet bowl brush around the toilet bowl
  • Wipe down or squeegie shower/bath immediately after the kids or I use them
  •  Put away everything we take out – toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrushes, makeup, bath toys, towels (hang to dry), etc.

Weekly:

  • Sweep and mop floors (I usually just swiffer the bathrooms)
  • Wash bath mats and towels
  • Empty trash cans

Monthly:

  • Wipe down fixtures
  • Remove spiderwebs (if any)
  • Use cleaner in shower or bath if needed
  • Use cleaner in toilet bowl if needed
  • Check bleach tab in toilet – replace if needed
  • Wash bath toys
  • Clean shower curtain (if you have one)
  • Straighten cabinets
  • Wipe baseboards
  • Sweep and thoroughly mop floors

By keeping up on this cleaning routine, I can guarantee that my bathroom looks clean most of the time or can be clean and ready for guests in a matter of minutes.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Sleep is so important for our overall health, yet most of us do not get enough of it. I know I am guilty of trying to squeeze one more thing into my day instead of getting to bed at a decent hour. I am currently making a conscious effort to get to bed a little bit earlier every night. My goal is to get enough sleep to where I can wake up when I want to without an alarm. I did this about a year ago, and it felt great. With my move, divorce and going back to work, it’s been a struggle to get back to that refreshed feeling, but I am getting there. I clearly remember waking up before my kids, full of energy and well rested from the night before. Now, I have very limited time during the week to get things done, so I am having to reprioritize and shift how my day goes to ensure I go to bed on time and get a good night’s sleep. I have to keep reminding myself that my health should be my number one priority, and then the rest will fall into place.

Here are some things I have learned about getting the best sleep possible.

  • Figure out how much sleep you need – Everybody is different. Through trial and error, I have discovered that I need about 7 ½ hours of sleep. When well rested and eating healthy and exercising regularly, it tends to be a little less. I figured this out by going to bed at a decent hour (before I went back to work) and seeing what time I woke up without an alarm. This needs to be done for at least 5-7 days to get a good average. Track the time you go to bed and the time you wake up without an alarm.
  • Calculate your bed time – I need 7 ½ hours of sleep. So this means that if I want to wake up at 5:30 to work out, I need to be in bed by 10 pm.
  • Adjust your bedtime – I am slowly changing my bed time. My latest was midnight, the next night 11:45, the next 11:30. Tonight my goal is to be in bed lights out by 11:15 and I will continue to work my way down in 15 minute increments until I hit my goal time of 10 pm. Because I am not going to bed early enough, I am also not getting up at 5:30. Today I got up at 5:45, with an alarm, and was tired, but did get a short run in and got out the door on time.
  • Create an ideal sleep environment – turn the tv off, keep the room cool, make it as dark and quiet as possible, create a calming evening routine to unwind and get your mind and body ready for bed. I do a short yoga routine or listen to a mediation for 5-10 minutes before heading to bed. Some other ideas are reading a novel, taking a warm bath, writing in a journal, and enjoying a cup of herbal tea (no caffeine)
  • Avoid stimulants a couple of hours before bed – try not to exercise or have a cup of coffee in the hours leading up to bedtime. I personally can’t drink coffee after 3 pm or I am tossing and turning all night long. Limit tv, computer and ipad time as studies have shown that the lights from these electronics can affect how well you sleep.

Getting enough sleep will allow your body to repair itself, give you more energy, make you more alert and less irritable. It is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, and it doesn’t cost a thing. Why not do a little something for you tonight and sleep!

Healthy breakfasts that are quick and easy

Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day. So many of us chug down a cup a coffee and dash out the door without a second thought to how we are fueling our body. Breakfast is literally the meal that breaks the fast. Your body has spent the past 6-8 hours repairing and regenerating while you slept. It needs a nourishing meal to restore energy levels and continue to work optimally. Think about it, if you drove all night and stopped to refuel your car, would you fuel it with sugar water? HECK NO! That would make your engine freeze up….so why do we do this to our bodies. We deserve premium fuel!

Below are some of my favorite ways to fuel my body on those days I am in a hurry to get out the door.

Prep Ahead (make on the weekends and are ready to go):

Breakfast burritos – scramble some eggs, potatoes, rice, beans, veggies…whatever you want…put in a tortilla, wrap in paper towel, wrap in foil, then freeze…just take it out of the foil and microwave for about 45 seconds…and you have breakfast to go!

Hard boiled eggs and fruit – Hardboil eggs and prep fruit on the weekend, grab one or two and some fresh fruit…a healthy quick breakfast on the run

5 minutes or less:

Oatmeal w/ fruit – quick oatmeal (not instant) cooks in less than five minutes, put it in a to-go cup or bowl, add some fresh fruit and go

Yogurt parfait – I love to make greek yogurt with berries and granola…you can sub in any fresh fruit. I put it in a Tupperware container and if I’m extra hungry I grab one of my hardboiled eggs and I’m out the door.

Breakfast sandwich – cook up an egg, toast an English muffin, add some cheese or turkey and tomato and/or spinach – wrap it up and head out. A healthy more savory option.

A nutty muffin – One of my favorite last minute meals is a toasted English muffin with nut butter, sliced banana and flax seed. Delish!

If you have time to sit and eat before leaving:

Scrambled eggs/egg whites with veggies – spinach, bell peppers, onions, zucchini…whatever is in the fridge. A nice quick veggie scramble will hit the spot

Eggs and fruit – I love over easy eggs, some whole grain toast and a fresh fruit salad, but it’s a little too messy to eat in the car

Waffles – I like to pair my whole grain waffles with fresh fruit, egg whites, a little maple syrup and a side of cottage cheese

Cereal with fruit – a whole grain cereal (low sugar high fiber) with fresh fruit is quick and can be taken on the go with the right container, but I prefer to sit down and enjoy this one. This is a great option if you don’t like eggs…which I clearly do!

Don’t forget to start your day with some water too! It’s a great way to stay hydrated, clean out your system and increase your energy!

Having an emergency fund

I used to think I didn’t need an emergency fund because I had credit cards. If there was an emergency, I could just charge it. Easy peasy. One day I sat down and though about it. If I were in a car accident or had a medical emergency (with three kids…it could happen…) and had to pay out $1000, how much would it cost me? If I had an emergency savings, it wouldn’t cost me anything.( I keep mine in a safe easily accessible place, not earning interest because it stops me from using it to cover spending from my checking. ) If I charged it, I was looking at paying 10-20% in interest, which is $100-200 per year until I pay it back..and that interest compounds.

Let’s look at how that would be paid back at $50/month (what I currently budgeted for savings). If I borrowed from myself, I would pay $50 per month and have my money back in savings in 20 months. If I put $50 on my credit card (and this is assuming there is no other balance on the card), with a 15% interest rate, it would take me 24 months to pay off and I would spend $157 in interest. $157 may not seem like much, but remember that for those 2 years, you can have no other emergencies and cannot use credit cards for anything else or you increase your payments and interest. It becomes an endless cycle of charging and trying to pay off your balance. And this is just looking at $1000 emergency…what if you lost your job?

If you have never had savings before or you have debt, I suggest starting off small. Look at your budget and see how much you could save each month. If the answer is nothing, it’s time to get creative. Cut or cancel your cable, reduce your cell phone bill, cut your grocery or fast food bill, have a garage sale, sell some valuable items, get a second job or do some side work. If you are ready to end the cycle it’s time to take massive action. Get that money saved!

How much should you save? I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey and he suggests $500-$1000 while paying off debt. This ensures that if there is a genuine emergency, you don’t have to reach for plastic to cover it and you can then focus on paying down your debt. I went with $1000 because I have 3 kids and that covers all my insurance deductibles. Make sure whatever you choose covers at least your deductible. Remember, this is an EMERGENCY fund, not a shopping fund, or a Christmas fund. Those are not emergencies. If you are debt free (congrats!), you should have 6 months of expenses saved…you’re your income – just expenses. That way, if you lose your job, get sick, have a family emergency, or something else happens you know you can keep the lights on, the mortgage paid and food on the table.

I did not realize how much peace would come just from the simple act of creating an emerency savings. I don’t even think about it any more. I know that I can go grab the cash if the kids chip a tooth or if I get in a fender bender. I don’t have to stress, wondering if I have enough credit avaiable to cover the costs as I continue to work toward becoming debt free.

If you can have money for the good times like that brand new pair of shoes, a concert or a trip to Hawaii, you better have money in the bank to cover you for the bad times. Make it a priority to prepare and you will enjoy that vacation or pair of shoes a lot more!

Stop spending your Saturdays cleaning!

Do you remember the carefree days of your youth, when Saturdays and Sundays were for relaxing and playing? What happened???? It seems like they have become a mad dash to get the house clean, laundry done and squeeze in extracurricular activities. Well, if you are willing to work a little harder during the week, there is a way to get your weekends back. In case you haven’t figured it out from my other posts, it’s by creating ROUTINES! If you do things on a regular basis, you don’t have to spend HOURS getting caught up. There are really four levels of routine when cleaning a house – daily, weekly, monthly and one-off items. Each home is different and you have to create routines that fit your life and level of cleanliness, not someone else’s. The best way to do this is to set aside some time to write everything down and then come up with a plan. Once you have it written down, try out your new routines and tweak as you go to make them work for you.

The first step – write it down. I find it easiest to do this room by room. Get a piece of paper for each room. On the top of each page write down what room the cleaning list will be for. Don’t forget hallways, laundry room (and laundry), garages, yards, sheds, etc. Now go into each room, write down EVERYTHING that needs cleaning, organizing or straightening(or decluttering depending on where you are at in the home organization process). Then record how often you need to do it – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, once a year. I personally make columns and run down the list quickly marking how often I need to do each item. This is like your rough draft. Don’t make it pretty, just get it written down.

The second step – organize your lists. Take everything from each room that needs to be done daily and make a master daily to do list or add to your morning and evening routine. Whatever works best for YOU. Then create a basic weekly routine that covers the duties that have to get done each week – a quick dusting, vacuuming, mopping floors, taking out trash, clearing out papers, cleaning sliding glass doors and mirrors. The nice thing about a weekly routine is you can either do a little every day, or find about an hour a week to get it done…even early on a Saturday if you don’t have time during the week. If your weekly routine takes much longer than an hour….you either have a really big house or too much stuff! For the monthly and one-off items, you need to divide them up into 5 stacks. Each stack represents one week on the calendar. During that week you will focus specifically on that room for 10-15 minutes a day. Again, you are only looking to spend an hour or so a week in each area. You may not get through each item every month, but the next month you can start where you left off and as long as you are consistent, your house will stay clean! Lastly, grab your calendar and schedule when you will do the one-off tasks on your list (not all the same day!). I try to tie them in with the weeks I’m already cleaning in that area and also with the season, but again do whatever feels right for you.

The third step – trial and error. Implementing your new routines is the next step. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss something, just pick back up the next day. Some days, I don’t have time to clean, I just do what I can, starting with the daily, then weekly, then monthly tasks. Somehow they all get done. If something isn’t working for you, try another way. Maybe you don’t have an extra 15 minutes a day to do monthly cleaning tasks, so set aside an hour on your weekend to knock these out (two hours of cleaning in a weekend really is better than all day Saturday). Or you could get up 30 minutes earlier and get your chores done before everyone wakes up. Only you know what is best for you.

Now, I’ve talked about cleaning, but the reality is there is a step that comes before that. We live in a consumer driven society, and most of us have too much stuff! If you are one of those people (I know I was) try to get rid of some clutter before you start cleaning. Make the first 3 or 4 months all about getting rid of clutter and organizing what you keep. Once you do that, then cleaning is a lot easier. Don’t expect to wake up tomorrow with a perfect house, just take baby steps to getting your weekends back and getting your house clean.