August 31, 2011

Living a Downsized Life or Lowering your expectations, Plus some tips from Amy Dacyczyn

My father was born in 1917. My mother was born in 1930. I was born in 1959. My father was a disabled American veteran from injuries he received serving in World War II. He worked in a factory for 31 years and he earned 2/3’s the wage of an able bodied worker. Still on that low salary he was able to buy a home and fix it up and pay off the mortgage. Our family had one car until we were able to get a second car for only $100. It was a “beater” that my dad took to work so my mom could use the family car when she needed it.

My mom went to work when I was in 9th grade and all of her salary went to put my sister and me through college. Then she quit working once this was accomplished.

My parents were able to fulfill their American dream on a lot less money than most families were earning at that time. The difference is in the kind of house they owned, the type of cars we drove, the clothes we wore and the food we ate.  So, can you still have the same dream now?

The answer is yes but we have to go back to living with the values of the time that my parents’ lived. Both lived through the Depression, World War II and many economic troubling times such as we lived through in the 1970’s with layoffs and strikes.  What does it take? It takes the courage to buck the system and dare to live below our means even when we have all of our debts paid off and we could spend more on stuff.

I believe the American Dream is still alive if we downsize our expectations.

Now some advice from Amy Dacyczyn.

Retail Revelation – Second Hand Clothes for teenagers

When Amy was writing her newsletter she received some letters from readers that said “just wait until you’re kids become teenagers” meaning they would rebel if they had to wear second hand clothes. One day Amy took her daughter to some major department stores so that her daughter could show Amy her “style.” Amy and her daughter were surprised at the selection of clothes and even her daughter was shocked at the prices of the clothing. About the only thing that her daughter saw that she liked were jeans, flared jean skirts and dark colored turtle necks. These three items could be found at garage sales or thrift stores without a problem.

Then Amy took her daughter to the Salvation Army and she found a denim skirt with a little lace at the bottom which her daughter loved. Amy bought it for her. Their thrift shop shopping trip paid off as her daughter saw that the thrift store did have about the same thing that the department stores had. Amy surmised that her daughter felt like she was missing something by not going to stores to look at brand new clothing. Her daughter quickly realized that she wasn’t missing a thing and could find what she liked at a thrift store.

I think that this is a great idea for a teenage girl especially if you give them an allowance for clothing and they can see how much more can be purchased at thrift stores. I have looked through catalogs and gone to department stores to look at the styles and then I have gone to several thrift stores to see if there is a way to replicate the same look. It definitely can be done and I think it is so much more fun to find “retro” clothing or used clothing and make it into a different look.

The key is to downsize your wardrobe and try to make use of several items to mix and match. Thrift shops are also great for finding some neat accessory items.

August 29, 2011

Tightwad Gazette III - Day Eleven

No, I haven’t forgotten our journey through the Tightwad Gazette III. We are almost to the end of this book. Today’s posting gives a recipe, a few tips and an article on dehydrating. I’m hoping that anyone out there that dehydrates food, will respond to this article. But first, here’s a recipe from Amy that uses that ever handy browned ground beef crumbles.

Amy’s Rice a Roni Casserole

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup rice
8 ounces spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces
4 tablespoons margarine (or use cooking spray or some olive oil)
4 cups broth or water and bouillon
Salt and pepper

Brown the ground beef with the onion and drain (or rinse if desired). Brown rice and spaghetti in margarine. Add in beef, onion and rice and broth. Cook and simmer for 20 minutes or til rice and spaghetti are fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Tip One: A reader wrote in to say that instead of buying “Snapple” she mixes iced tea with juice. This is cheaper and tastes better.

Tip Two: After you wash your yard sale tennis shoes or your kids’ dirty tennis shoes, stuff them with newspaper and they will dry faster. My husband is a runner and when he runs in the rain or runs throw puddles, his shoes get drenched. He stuffs them with newspaper and the newspapers help absorb the water and they do dry faster. He’s been doing this for years.

Should you try drying Food?

A reader wrote Amy to say that while she enjoys her food dehydrator, she wondered about the economy of using one. After you factor in the cost of purchasing fruit to dry, and the cost of buying and running the dehydrator, is it a worthwhile product?

Amy talked with 4 people that use dehydrators to dry food. Generally speaking, unless you have a free or cheap fruit source, this type of food preservation (dehydrating with a dehydrator) is purely recreational.

Then Amy questioned if drying vegetables is a valid form of food preservation vs. canning or freezing. Dried food is more compact and can be stored simply. The disadvantages include that dried vegetables have limited uses such as only in soups. To rehydrate some dried vegetables such as green beans, you have to pressure cook them. Only a few vegetables such as dried tomatoes can be used in their dried form.

Good quality dehydrators can be expensive and the cost to use them can also be high. Perhaps a cheaper method would be to make solar dehydrators and lay the food out on wood framed racks of cheese cloth to allow the air to circulate the food. The disadvantage to solar drying is that the sunlight destroys some vitamins.

You can make fruit leather by pureeing the fruit and spreading the mixture to dry in the sun or in your electric oven or in a dehydrator. Amy felt that an electric food dehydrator may be fun to use, but it probably has too few cost effective applications to justify a large initial investment. Solar drying might be a better option if you want to dry a few foods.

I do not dehydrate food but I know some people that do. Perhaps dehydrating food shouldn’t only be looked at from a financial viewpoint, but as a way of diversifying your pantry. I think it is a good idea to have a mix of freezer foods, canned foods, mixes and dehydrated food in your food supply. Also when you dehydrate your own food, you know what is in the final product. There are no additives or other preservatives, just good wholesome dried food. Of course if you are keeping dried food on hand for emergencies, remember to keep on hand bottled water to use to rehydrate the food.

I would love to hear from individuals who dehydrate food and what they feel about Amy’s article. I personally feel that I should try my hand at dehydrating food for the sake of diversifying my food supply.

We will continue on this week with our discussion of the Tightwad Gazette III. We should be winding up the discussion in a few days.

August 26, 2011

Recipes from my Bridal Shower

I want to share some family recipes with you.  These were given to me at my Bridal Shower almost 31 years ago.  They may not be healthy by today's standards, but they are delicious.

Broccoli Casserole

2 – 10 oz. pkgs. – frozen broccoli cuts
35 Ritz crackers
1/4 cup butter or margarine (more or less)
1/2 lb. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Partially cook the broccoli. Crush the crackers and mix the crumbs with the melted butter. Grease an 8 inch by 8 inch dish and put a layer of broccoli, cheese, crumbs and repeat. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes til the cheese is melted.

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake


1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder


1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips

Cream together the butter (or margarine), sugar and eggs. Add the sour cream, vanilla, flour baking soda and baking powder. Mix together. Spread the batter in a greased 10 x 7 inch pan. For the topping, mix together the sugar and the cinnamon (can use half of this mixture and it will still work well). Pour topping mixture over coffee cake and stir into the batter (a little) with the end of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Frozen Pickles

2 quarts sliced cucumbers (about 3)
1 onion, sliced
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups sugar
1 cup vinegar

Sprinkle the salt over the cucumbers and onions. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Heat the sugar with the vinegar and pour over the cucumbers and onions. Freeze.

Overnight Casserole

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 – 7 oz. package shell macaroni, uncooked
1 cup celery, chopped
2 cups ham, turkey or chicken
2 cups milk
1/4 cup onion, chopped

Topping: Buttered Bread Crumbs

Mix all of the above together and pour into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Refrigerate overnight. Top with buttered bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. (I have made this recipe for church potlucks and I prefer to use 3 cans of cream of chicken soup.)

Cracker Spread

2 – 8 oz. packages lite cream cheese
1 – 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 teaspoon seasoning salt

Mix all of the ingredients together and chill overnight.

August 23, 2011

Do you feel deprived living on a budget?

With all of our talk about the Tightwad Gazette and with many people doing what I am doing -- cutting back, how do you not let yourself feel deprived? 

Deprivation for one person means something to another person.  I have always felt that within a budget you must somehow find some "fun" or "entertainment" money.  Everyone should be able to spend a little money on themselves.  The problem is figuring out what that amount is.  When we started our journey to live on one income, Netflix was our entertainment and that was our "fun" money.  We have more wiggle room in our budget and I use my "fun" money to purchase whatever I feel like buying for me. 

The amount that I set aside each month for me is $50.  I can save it or spend it guilt free.  We have worked into that amount as I didn't have that much extra per month when I lost my job 2 years ago.  $50 a month is the perfect amount for me.  It is plenty enough for me to buy some Kindle books or to buy a few dvd's or whatever I want.  It is also a perfect amount for me to save or save half and spend half.  $50 is my reward for sticking to a budget and by doing so actually having $50 to spend on myself.

The point is that when you have a little money to spend on whatever you want to spend it on, you tend to stay on budget.  This is why I am totally against a strictly stringent budget only if necessary.  Many people go gung ho and just cut back everything and live on an extremely strict budget.  Then after a few days or week or maybe even two, they fall off the wagon and spend recklessly again.  It's just like going on an extremely restrictive food diet over night.  You will set yourself up for failure. 

At one point years ago I had only $5 per pay period that I could spend on anything I wanted to or I could save it.  When everything else in our finances was out of control, I at least could have control over what I did with that $5.  It was mine to spend recklessly on myself if I wanted.  Many times I would just put it in a tin on the counter in my kitchen and leave it there.  But, it was there for me whenever I wanted to use it. 

Do you feel (or have you ever felt) deprived financially and how do you deal with it?   

August 21, 2011

Tightwad Gazette III tips and more

I am lining up food for a weekly meal for our youth group and being as we have limited funds, I will be putting together some frugal meal plans. Today someone mentioned that when the high school football players got together for a meal, someone served homemade baked macaroni and cheese and they scarfed it down. Some had never had the "real" stuff, so I am thinking that could be one of our meals. I have a recipe that will make a 9 x 13 inch pan of macaroni and cheese and it uses about 12 oz. of cheese slices melted into a "roux" (butter and flour mixture cooked on the stove until bubbly). Fortunately I attend a church where there are a lot of people willing to help out, which makes it so much more fun especially when it comes to cooking.

In the financial realm of my life we had a great milestone this month, we paid off our car. This is the vehicle that our youngest son drives and will be his to drive throughout college and then we will sign over the title to him. When you pay off a debt of any amount it really gives you a sense of pride and spurs you on to tackle more debt.

I'm spending some time perusing my recipes for some really tightwad, frugal casseroles and such to post. I have been spending some time re-reading some of my mother's and grandmother's recipes that I received years ago. I'll have to post some later in the week.

Now for some advice from Amy Dacyczyn.

In her third book Amy lists some quotes from famous people. Here are two of my favorites. "Budgeting is doing well with one dollar which any bungler can do with two." Arthur Wellington - British Soldier and Statesman. "Economy is the art of making the most of life." George Bernard Shaw I love this quote especially. So when you are out grocery shopping and are stretching a dollar remember that you are making the most of your life.

Tip One: A reader wrote in to say that she uses inexpensive hair conditioner in place of shaving creme. A little bit goes a long way and doesn't dry your skin. I've never tried this but I do use a cheap lotion in place of shaving creme to shave my legs. It works great too and softens the skin.

I Wouldn't Steer You Wrong

A few readers wrote in to ask some questions about purchasing meat. One asked "Could you write down your rules of thumb such as the prices that you generally pay for meat?" Another reader asked "I have been toying with the idea of purchasing a steer and having it slaughtered for my family's consumption. Have you researched the cost to purchase meat in this manner versus store bought?" And still another, "Shopping for chicken is frustrating. It can be bought in at least 6 different packages, all with different combinations. Are boneless breasts really that much more expensive when you consider all the bones and innards you throw away from the other packages?"

Before Amy tackles the question of meat, she talks about her protein philosophy. “Meat consumption is a subject surprisingly loaded with political, environmental and health beliefs. Our less-meat meals might not meet with the approval of vegetarians or hard-core carnivores. So you can make different choices based on your beliefs, health restrictions, or personal preferences."

Amy researched three basic ways to compare meat prices:

1. Keep track of the prices of all the various cuts of meat. Unfortunately there are too many types to track easily, and there are variables within each type, such as how much bone or fat are included. I keep track of the cuts of meat that I normally buy. These include ground beef, chicken pieces, bone-in chicken breasts, boneless breasts, roast and so on.

2. Calculate the cost per gram of protein. This is quite tedious and although you could use a chart, it is very time consuming. There is more protein in chicken breasts than in a hot dog because of the fillers. Amy actually doesn’t feel that we need to track our protein consumption as the majority of Americans get enough protein and even eat too much protein. Unfortunately due to our economy, many people are not getting proper nutrition and they should make sure that they are getting protein in their diet.

3. Calculate the cost per portion or the cost of one meal for your family. For example a one serving portion might be 4 ounces of turkey, but just 1 ½ ounces of cheese. So although the turkey costs less per pound, the actual cost of the meals might be the same.

When Amy was trying to reduce her food budget, she rejected the first two methods. Instead she used the third method. Amy paid attention to how much each type of protein meal cost. For example if she bought a roast and it yielded four family dinners (with all of the leftovers put into casseroles or sandwiches), Amy would divide the price of the roast by 4 and she would use that number for comparison with other protein sources.

From this she developed guidelines. At the time of the writing of the book, Amy would pay 69 cents per lb. for bone-in meat and $1.19 a lb. for boneless. Her guidelines eliminated the following meat from her diet: seafood, chicken breasts, and most cuts of beef, deli meats and pork chops. As of today I use $1.99 as a sale price for ground beef, $1.50 for boneless chicken breasts, $2.39 for beef roast and $1.79 for pork roast. Last Thursday I was able to buy 5 boneless chuck roasts for only $1.99 a lb. These were marked down to be sold that day.

Amy’s family doesn’t eat 100% organically raised meat or some of her meal choices are not always the ones with the least fat and preservatives. Meat is used as an ingredient most of the time rather than as a main course.

As to buying a steer, many times Amy noted that you pay wholesale price and you end up with cuts of beef that you may not normally buy such as steaks. Also is the price of the whole steer the same amount that you would pay as if you had purchased the beef as you needed it on sale.

And as to the last question regarding purchasing chicken, the amount of waste with skin and bones varies but you can use as a rule about 1/3 of the meat is waste. So if boneless costs 1/3 more, then it is about the same price as bone-in. The only way to really test this is to buy both and see how many meals you get out of both options.

I have been missing in action for a couple of days but for wonderful reasons.  My oldest son turned 26 years old yesterday and we celebrated with him and his wife and his wife's parents. Our youngest son starts college tomorrow.  Life is good, no matter what the economy looks like. 

August 19, 2011

I'm Having a Busy Day

I am sorry that I didn't post anything last night and I won't be posting tonight.  I have had a lot to do yesterday and today and haven't had a moment to sit down and write what's on my mind.  I will definitely be posting tomorrow.

Have your days gotten busier lately?  Next week our youngest starts college and I will be happy to get back into the swing of things (school year that is).  In the meantime I am getting caught up on some volunteer work. 

Many times I feel as if my posts are conversations with all of you and I must say that I do miss "talking" with all of you. 

August 17, 2011

Here is a picture of the assortment of cupcakes I baked for my son's political Meet and Greet last night.  I baked lemon, strawberry, carrot, German chocolate and red velvet cupcakes.  I piped on the frosting as this always makes cupcakes look more "finished" and special.  They were delicious.  There were a few cupcakes leftover so I took them to our staff at our church and also to a few neighbors.  Here is the link to the recipe.  For the chocolate frosting add 6 ounces of cooled melted unsweetened chocolate to the mixture.

Now on to Amy Dacyczyn. 

Here's a recipe that Amy gives in this book and it is perfect for this time of year when you need to use up those veggies from the garden. 

Corn-Broccoli Casserole

1 can corn, drained
1 can creamed corn
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs, beaten
3 cups frozen broccoli, thawed and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
1 small onion, minced
2/3 cup milk
1 sleeve saltines crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine first seven ingredients and 3/4 cup of saltine crumbs.  Pour into a 10 1/2 inch metal handled frying pan or large casserole dish.  Combine remaining crumbs with the margarine and use to top the casserole.  Bake uncovered for 40 minutes, or until firm.  Serves eight.

Per Amy, "Yellow squash, zucchini, cauliflower; and a wide variety of other vegetables can be substituted for the broccoli with impressive results." 

Tip One: - Freezing food in Ziploc bags

A reader wrote in with advice about freezing food.  Air is the main cause of freezer burn.  Here's a way to almost completely remove the air from food to be frozen in these bags. Place food in bag and almost seal the bag up completely.  Place a straw in the corner and suck all of the air out of the baggie.  Then, while still sucking, remove the straw and quickly seal the last section.  Then place the baggie in the freezer. 

I have read this tip before and it is worth a try.  Just be careful not to suck food into the straw.

Tip Two:  Buying Boots

A reader wrote in to say that she had saved up money for winter boots but was finding it hard to part with the money.  Out of desperation she tried the boys section, and found the same style and it fit her wider foot nicely.  The boots were half the price of women's boots.

I have done this when I bought boots two years ago.  I needed some real heavy duty boots for when I shoveled snow.  I was able to get boots that fit me in the boys section and they were cheaper. 

Well tonight you got some tips from Amy's book the Tightwad Gazette III along with pictures of cupcakes that I baked.  Tomorrow I want to post a few more frugal recipes that I have to pass on to my readers.  Sometimes I will try a casserole recipe because it isn't expensive to make and it ends up being a family favorite.  Perhaps a recipe that I post will become one of your favorite recipes. 

August 15, 2011

Won't be Posting until August 17th

My son is running for the local school board and tomorrow evening he has a "meet and greet" event.  I am quite busy helping him get ready for this event.  I baked 10 dozen cupcakes today and will frost them tomorrow (with homemade frostings of course).  I baked red velvet, carrot, lemon, strawberry, and German chocolate cupcakes. 

So - I'll get back to my regular postings on the 17th.  Sometimes I can only concentrate on one thing at a time and this is taking up quite a bit of time this week.  Election day is September 13th so this  "Meet and Greet" is important for him and I am devoting as much time to helping him as possible.

August 13, 2011

Tightwad Gazette III - Day Ten - Understanding your Wow Know How

This is an interesting concept of Amy’s that I have pondered several times when making or contemplating purchasing an item.

As an example Amy had purchased some second hand snow boots for one of her daughters. The daughter wore them for a while and then complained that she wanted green L.L. Bean snow boots. The daughter also said that her boots were a little too big. So, Amy went out garage sale shopping and she came across some like new plum colored L.L. Bean snow boots. She bought them for 25 cents and took them home. Her daughter took one look at them and didn’t like them because she had wanted green ones.

Amy sat her daughter down and talked with her about the boots. New boots would cost $25. Amy asked her daughter if new green boots would be 100 times better than the plum boots. Her daughter thought about it and said no. So the daughter wore the plum boots and that was that.  After a while she started to notice that many friends had plum colored boots also.  If this were my daughter I would have done the same thing but I would have knitted or made a scarf out of fleece fabric that had green and plum in it to pull it altogether.

I love the way Amy thinks about things like this. I have used this type of rational many times. One example was when we purchased my vehicle. It was a great deal yet the interior of the vehicle was a light tan and I was worried about it getting too dirty and hard to keep clean. I was shown another vehicle that was similar but it had a dark grey interior with a few more options that made it more expensive. Hmmm – we went with the tan interior and because it is made of durable fabric it has been easy to keep clean. So, it was another one of those it wasn’t worth the extra money for a darker color interior with a few more options that we didn't need.

Amy uses another example of comparing a $600 camping trip to a $6,000 cruise vacation. On a scale from one to ten the camping trip would rate a 5 and the cruise would rate a 10. You will enjoy the cruise twice as much but you will be spending more money and would only get a fifth of the value. Also by spending so much money on the cruise, you won’t have as many funds in reserve to purchase other things that are rather low in cost and contain a great “wow” factor.  However camping isn't for everybody so perhaps you can find other resourceful ways to go on vacation without having to camp.

Another view that I take is that I would rather have money in the bank for an emergency than spend a lot of it on a vacation. Now we just took a big vacation to Washington, D.C. and we did spend more money than we usually do on a vacation, but that was an exception and not our general rule. It was also a graduation present to our youngest son.

When I find something that I want to buy, I like to do some research. More than once I will have the money saved up and then I won’t want to part with the money for the item. Or I decide to look a little longer to see if I can find the item cheaper. Right now I have been looking for two red diner style chairs for my kitchen. If I come across some yellow diner chairs at a great price I would purchase them and make them work. Red or yellow would look great in my kitchen, but my preference is red.  I would settle.

This type of thought process can be used in so many situations. Here are some examples:

Your kids are involved in a lot of activities and you sit down and have them decide on the ones they enjoy the most or the ones that they get the most from. Then you look at the list and start to cross off the activities that give the least “wow” factor.

Other smaller items on a list could be the wow factor between:

1. Restaurant versus homemade meals. I would much rather go out and buy two steaks and grill them myself for a nice meal, than to go out to a restaurant for a steak dinner. The wow factor for me is in the steak and not in eating it in a restaurant.

2. Going to a theater to see a movie or renting a movie and watching it at home.

3. New car versus keeping a used car to drive a little longer.

4. Real maple syrup versus homemade “maple” syrup.

There are some cases where more expensive options do pass the one to ten wow factor scale. Amy gave the examples in her life such as her large farmhouse that is so much better for her family than a much smaller, less expensive home. Also, she said that a new computer is almost twice as good for her business than a used one at half the price. Amy feels that an antique dresser that cost her $200 is definitely 4 times better than a $50 yard sale dresser as the antique dresser will be in her family for generations.

When my oldest son was married in 2007, I determined to find a gown that I would wear at the wedding that I liked and that would look great on me no matter what the price. I refused to buy a dress that was cheaper just because it was on sale. I purchased a beautiful gown that was not on sale that cost me about $325 including alterations. I purchased a beaded purse and beaded shoes (I did get the shoes on clearance). I spent around $425 for the dress and accessories and I was very, very happy.  (I'll have to scan in a picture and post it.)

I went to a wedding about a year later where the mother of the bride told me that she got her dress for $25 on sale and didn’t care particularly for it, but it fit her budget. She was at the other end of the spectrum in that price was more important to her than getting what she really wanted and she was fine with it. I in turn was more interested in the gown and getting exactly what I wanted. Perhaps it goes back to my own wedding when I could not afford the gown I really wanted and I had to settle.

No one can dictate the “wow” factor of another person. Each of us must decide on this. 

August 09, 2011

Hold Fast...

I've never wanted to spend much time on my blog to discuss politics and I won't do it much here today except to say this.  If you have children you know what it is like for a child to do something and say I didn't do it or it's not my fault or point the finger to someone else and say it's there fault.  I have never liked when my boys said this.  I always hoped that they would someday say, I did it and I'm sorry.  What about when something gets broken or spilled and no one in the house will claim responsibility? It was my goal as a parent to teach my children responsibility and to teach them that it is not a sign of weakness to admit a fault or mistake.  My boys did learn their lesson and they accept responsibility and admit when they are wrong. 

How many of you would like to win a contest that makes it possible for you to go to Washington, D.C. and stand before a joint session of Congress for 15 minutes and tell them to knock it off and quit blaming each other.  It is wasting time and hurting people.  Sit down, give a little, compromise and quit blaming each other.  Nothing is more frustrating than to be in a crisis and everyone is spending their time blaming each other and not spending precious time trying to remedy the situation. 

So here we are facing an economy that is slowing down and we really are unsure what to expect next.  With that in mind, I think it is time for all of us to "Hold Fast" to what we believe in which is to live below your means as much as possible.  The news is discouraging and that is saying it mildly, but if you were to turn off the news and look around your livingroom you will see that it looks much the same it did last week and the week before.  Be thankful for what you have and know that in the midst of  this chaos, you do still maintain some control over your finances. 

You can go to the grocery store and buy only name brand items and pay more or you can try store brands to save some money. You can start cooking from scratch and make your own healthy bread goods.  You can cancel the cablevision, sell a car, cut back on entertainment and do whatever it takes to set some money aside or at the very least work hard to pay your bills. 

We have gone through a lot since 2007 with the economic crisis in this country and the one thing that I do know is that you can let someone control your situation or you can take control of your life.  I know there are people out there who are unemployed or underemployed and you feel that everything is out of control with your limited income.  It wasn't your decision to be unemployed or to go from full time employment to part time.  That was out of your control.  But, there are some things that are in your control.  You only have so much money and you have cut back as much as possible without cutting food and medicine from your budget.  I want to encourage you that even in your situation, you can control some things. 

At the very least you can control your attitude toward life.  You can let the situation rob you of your joy or you can become overwhelmed with worry.  I've been there and worrying didn't bring in more money.  If you have done as much as you can possibly do, I applaud you.  You are doing your best and that is all anyone can do.

The one thing that I am doing to lift my spirits and to put my career skills to work is to volunteer more and more of my time to my church.  Churches and other charities are suffering from decreased donations due to lowered incomes of families.  If you don't have the money, you may have the time to volunteer and serve others.  It helps to keep your mind off of bad news and focus on helping others. 

Before I give a frugal recipe, I want you to know that I haven't forgotten about tips from the Tightwad Gazette III.  I just felt I needed to sidetrack for a couple of days.

Now for a recipe.  This recipe was given to me by a dear pastor's wife the week after we were married.  She had made this casserole for us and I loved it.  I asked her for the recipe and she recited it to me. 

I have given it the name "Mrs. Hatch's Casserole."

1 lb. ground beef (or less)
1 pkg. onion soup mix
1/2 of 1 (10 oz.) pkg. spaghetti
French Salad Dressing

Brown ground beef and drain. Pour 3 to 4 cups water over the beef.  Add onion soup mix.  Bring to a boil.  Break up spaghetti, place in beef mixture and reduce heat.  Cover and allow spaghetti to cook.  When spaghetti is cooked, remove cover and allow the water to evaporate.  Top with some French salad dressing.

This is a simple recipe and it tastes great.  I always have these ingredients on hand so it is something that I can easily make in a pinch and everyone loves it.  I have substituted macaroni for the spaghetti and it works too.

You can easily reduce the amount of ground beef in this recipe and increase the amount of pasta. You may have to add additional water to cook the pasta if you do this. 

August 06, 2011

Ever had a meal flop?

I'm curious, have you ever tried a recipe and really thought it would be great and it was a flop?  When this happens you end up with food that no one will eat. 

I made meatloaf one time from a recipe in a magazine that proclaimed it was "Mom's Best Meal."  The meatloaf had dill in it and I thought it would be great.  My husband and sons took one bite and asked if I had put pickles in it.  I told them it had dill in it and they disliked it so much they couldn't eat it.  I ended up eating it in sandwiches for the rest of the week. 

Every now and then they say "remember when mom made the pickle meatloaf?"  This happened over 15 years ago and they still remember.  There have been a few more since then, but this is the most memorable.

So, leave a comment on any flops.  It happens and sometimes it leads to some fun memories.

August 04, 2011

Tightwad Gazette III - Day Nine

Ever since I painted the livingroom this spring, my right shoulder and arm have hurt.  I'm not sure what I did, other than I probably shouldn't have painted so much every day without taking time off. 

Last Saturday I helped paint a Sunday School room at our church and today I helped with putting on the second coat.  By the time I got home my shoulder hurt and my hand was a little numb.  I put ice on my shoulder and I am now laying on the couch resting.  Icing my shoulder has helped and my husband (a trained coach) told me that he recommended icing it for the next 48 hours.  If I have to ice a shoulder, I am glad it is summer.

Enough about my sore shoulder - let's look at making Sourdough bread from the Tightwad Gazettee III.   

Sourdough Simplified

Tightwads love Sourdough bread as it is the cheapest bread to make only needing flour, water and salt.

One of Amy’s staffer’s loved Sourdough bread and he became quite adept at replicating it. Unlike other Sourdough recipes, Brad’s is very simple.

The first step to making Brad’s Sourdough bread is to make a starter. Mix 1 tablespoon of yeast with 2 cups of chlorine free water and 2 cups of white flour. (Allow your tap water to “air out” in a jug for a couple of days to make it chlorine free.) Combine these in a glass or plastic container – do not use metal. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 48 hours until it foams and develops a pleasantly sour smell. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If the sourdough starter ever turns orange, pink or any other strange color, then throw it out. In all of the years that Brad has been making this bread, he has never had this problem.

The ingredients and directions to make two loaves of bread follows:

5 ½ cups flour (you can substitute whole wheat flour for 1 or 2 cups)
2 cups starter
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup water

Dissolve the salt in the water in a mixing bowl. (Some sourdough cookbooks say not to use a metal bowl, but Brad had been mixing his dough in a metal bowl with his Kitchenaid mixer and never had a problem.) Add the starter and then the flour. Stir and knead into a ball. (Brad uses the dough hook on his Kitchenaid mixer.) Cover with a damp towel and let rise overnight.

The next morning, punch the risen dough down and divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf, make an X slashed on each top, and place the two loaves on a greased baking sheet.

Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise at room temperature for about 4 hours. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Bake the bread for 35 minutes.

Each time you remove some starter, you must “feed” it. Just add back 1 ½ cups water and 1 ½ cups flour, stir, cover loosely, and return starter to refrigerator.

Brad uses his starter fresh from the fridge for several weeks. When the bread rises slower, then he takes the starter and sets it out on the fridge overnight to ferment.

Brad felt that his success with Sourdough bread was due to the fact that he bakes this type of bread twice a week and thereby he feeds his starter often. Also Brad doesn’t just let his bread double in size, but he lets it quadruple in size during the rising phase.

I have never made Sourdough bread and from reading this article, I am inspired to give it a try.

August 02, 2011

Advice Needed for the Unemployed

What happens when you have done everything to cut back and still, your expenses are more than your income?

I have an e-mail address for my blog and I have been contacted my individuals who have said that they are going through unemployment and they have cut back to the bone on their expenses, but still are short money every month. When I say cut back, they have shared with me what they have done and I can say emphatically, yes, they have cut back to the bare bone.

The only seeming answer is to bring in more income which is easier said than done these days. If you were in this situation, how would you bring in around $300 to $500 more in a month?  This is something that is becoming more and more common. 

This is a priority for me to help these individuals as more and more people are finding themselves in this situation and the rest of us could easily find ourselves in this situation too. 

New Fridge and Planning

I spent the bulk of my day dealing with refrigerators - the old one and the new one.  The freezer in the old fridge was still working and sincer the fridge part was still a little cool, I left produce and condiments in there.  This morning I went to the appliance store and finalized the purchase of the fridge.  Then I came home and took everything out of the freezer and put it in a cooler.  What didn't fit in the cooler went into the sink, with ice on it and covered with a towel. Then I took everything else out of the fridge and did the combining of the ketchup bottles - why are there always one bottle half full and the two others with a little bit in them?

At one point my son asked me what was for supper?  I pointed to the sink and told him "potluck."  We ended up having homemade vegetable beef soup along with homemade rolls all from the freezer.  Now the heat index was 105 degrees at dinner time and I was serving hot soup, but my family enjoyed it as we hadn't had homemade soup for a long time. 

The fridge is smaller which means the freezer above the fridge is smaller too.  Cleaning out and organizing the new fridge was the priority of the day.  After taking inventory of everything I am starting to make a menu plan for the month of August. 

As to my planning day, well, I'm still planning.  You know how you set aside some time to do something, and then urgent things take over?  Well, it happens, so I am still working on my lists and tasks.  Here is what I have been doing.  I would love to go all electronic, but I find that when I am at meetings at my church, I need to be able to look at my calendar by year, month, week and day.  My smart phone just doesn't do it for me for this purpose.  I need something to be bigger, so I just take my planner with a legal pad to any meetings I have. 

Yeah, I know, it is so old school but for now, it is the best I can do.  I do put appointments into my cell phone so I get a reminder, which is helpful. 

So here is a picture of what I have to work with.  My planner, my household notebook, my notebook with my church activities and my youth group notebook that has all of the information I need for preparing the meals for the youth group meetings.  When I go to a meeting, I grab the appropriate notebook and my planner.

My household notebook has a section for menu planning, pantry and freezer inventories, laundry section with tips and recipes for laundry soaps and pre-treatments, home improvement project lists, Bible Study, cleaning schedules (daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, annual), expense log and exercise/fitness log.  This is my command central notebook for running our household. 
Some day I would love to have a tablet computer like a Galaxy Tab 7 inch version and then I could put everything on it.  It's a dream but even if I had the money and I could afford it now, I wouldn't buy it.  Why?  Because I look at things differently now - especially money and what I am saving and buying. 

Now I am going to go and have a nice big bowl of ice cream. I found my favorite flavor in the back of the freezer (Butter Pecan).  I bought it a couple of weeks ago and forgot all about it. 

August 01, 2011

So much for a 1/2 day of planning . . . . . .

Our refrigerator died today.  I sat down to work on my planner but I first made myself a cup of coffee.  I poured some milk into it and noticed that the milk was sour.  I had just bought that milk.  I checked the fridge and I immediately knew it was too warm and some things had already spoiled.  So much for spending time working on my planner.  I had to figure out what I was going to do about getting a new refrigerator. 

It wasn't really a surprise as our refrigerator is 22 years old, but I had hoped that it would make it through until Christmas when we would have the money saved up.  I should be thankful for great craftmanship as this old fridge never needed a repair and never gave us any trouble, until this morning.

We are kinda caught right now betwix and between with our finances.  In other words, we are doing some creative financing.

We have to replace our roof this summer.  We have signed a contract with a contractor, the shingles have been selected and are sitting in our driveway and the workers should arrive this week to get the job done.  The price - $13,500.  We do not have $13,500 in our savings account.  So, we refinanced our house and took out an additional $13,000 to pay for the roof.  We refinanced to pay the house off sooner than before even including the additional loan amount.  How did this happen?  A very low 3.75% fixed rate. I didn't want to borrow money, but it was necessary. 

Now for the fridge.  I was able to get a decent deal - 18.5 cubit foot fridge for $550 with a $50 rebate as it is an Energy Star appliance.  It is strictly no frills.  By no frills, it is a refrigerator without an ice maker or water dispenser and it is white.  This is perfectly fine with me.  I don't have the money right now to pay for it but will at the end of the month.  This means I will be putting this purchase on a credit card and will pay it off at the end of the month and will therefore not have any interest to pay. 

We paid off our car in July.  The $300 that would have been used to pay for that car payment was going into savings, but will now go to pay for the fridge.  The $250 balance will come from basic grocery shopping and eating from the freezer and pantry. 

Once we weather this major purchase, we should be able to start to really put a good sum in savings each month.  My husband's truck is paid off in October and that will add more money to savings. 

So, what then?  Buy some stuff that has been on my wish list?  No, no, no.  If anything, we have worked hard to pay off bills and I am not going to "reward myself" by going out and buying some stuff that will only bring temporary happiness.  I want to see my bank account grow.  That is what will bring me happiness. 
For any of you who read my blog and are going through a financial crisis, you may read this and think "wow that is great, but that is a far off dream of mine to get a car paid off and put money into savings."  Take heart.  I was where you are a few years ago.  It takes time, persistance and a lot of prayer along the way to make it happen.

So, tomorrow I will get back to my planning day and will post what I do to try to keep my life organized and in balance.  Also, I will post more from Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette III.  You see Amy's advice isn't just for those who are going through tough times, it is for anyone who wants to stretch every penny, dime, dollar so that they can meet their financial goals. 

If you are going through some tough financial times, don't look at my situation and envy where I am at, remember it hasn't always been like this for us.  We have been through many tough financial times over the course of our 30 year marriage.  I know what it is like to get so discouraged over not having enough money to pay the bills and having to put a major car repair on a credit card because we don't have the money.  I know what it feels like to go to bed and not be able to sleep or worse yet wake up in the middle of the night with worry. 

Nothing is hopeless, you can dig your way out, it is just that you may need a small miracle along the way.  It can happen. 

1/2 Day of Planning

This morning I am spending some time in planning and working on a new planning/calendar system.  My calendar expired at the end of July so I need to update or upgrade. 

What is necessary is that I need to upgrade to a system to handle more of the details in my life as I am getting busier.  Tonight I will report on what I am doing and I would love to hear from any of you as to whether you use some kind of system to organize home and family and other commitments.  Remember - everyone is different and everyone's system for being organized is different. 

One thing that is important to me is to maintain some kind of home organization as being organized does save money.