What’s for dinner?

On Monday, I gave a small glimpse into what our family eats for breakfast.

Today, I am going to cover our dinner ingredients, which is kind of not a small list.

We eat spaghetti and tacos, like normal people. We also eat some meals that aren’t in our usual line up. Theoretically I could go a whole month without repeating a meal. However, since we are trying to keep a small grocery budget, I have started putting spaghetti and tacos and homemade pizzas into the line up more than once. I try to make sure that I only repeat a meal once every two weeks. Why do I repeat and how does it save me money? Well, take spaghetti for example. I use one lb of ground alpaca in the sauce, but our alpaca comes in two pound packages. I cook up the entire package, but freeze the second pound so I can use it in a future meal. Also, I buy the pasta in a large package for the best savings, and making the meal twice in a month insures I am using the entire package in a month.

If you are truly interested in what we eat for dinner, here are some examples:

  • Hearty Black Bean Quesadillas:  I double the recipe and freeze the second half. This made making dinner a snap the other night. All I had to do was take them from the freezer and cook them over low heat.
  • Korean Beef and Rice: Not too much to say about this. It’s just good!
  • Asian Marinated Chicken Thighs: my link to it doesn’t work, but you can google for this recipe
  • Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Quinoa Chili: Hearty and healthy.
  • Spaghetti: I have always made spaghetti with the pasta in one pot and sauce in another. I love this recipe because I only get one pot dirty. I use about 1lb of spaghetti and a can of sauce. It will serve dinner and lunch for several days. 

Some of my methods for saving money on dinner ingredients are:

  • Plan a month’s worth of meals. I use Plan to Eat. Our lunches and breakfasts are so simple, I only use the planner for dinner. 
  • Plan meals whose ingredients complement each other. I can use spaghetti noodles to make this. this and this. I choose 4 meals per month that use noodles and space them one week apart. I do the same thing with other ingredients, such as carne asada and rice. (our favorite rice is Short Grain Brown Rice or Brown Jasmine Rice. It’s a little spendier, but a lot tastier)
  • Soups: We love Black Bean Soup here.  
  • Salads and veggies for dinner that are on sale. When broccoli is on sale, I will make it several nights, but in different ways. We always have salad with our dinners, which is honestly a way we could save more money. We love those chopped salads and I know it’s cheaper to make your own, but the one time I did, it took me hours and at the end of the week, I had to throw a lot away because it made so much. 

I realize that there isn’t really anything earth shattering in this post. Our dinners are so varied that it’s difficult to contain it all in one post. Planning our meals has been the biggest stress, sanity, money and time saver. I never ask “What’s for dinner?” because dinner is always planned and prepared. 

Do you have any money saving tips for dinner?

What’s for breakfast?

One of the most common questions I am asked when I mention my ridiculously low budgeted amount for groceries is 

WHAT DO YOU EAT????

The second question is usually “Are you an extreme couponer?” No, no I am not. I used to coupon, but with 5 kids, one in high school and 2 homeschooled, I don’t have time for that. I wish I did. :)

Naturally if you are not spending a fortune on groceries, people assume you are eating crap. I can assure you, there is no crap buying here. Why buy crap when you can make crap for free? 

Okay, that was in poor taste. Sorry. :hangs head in shame:

I was talking about chocolate chip cookies. Promise. 

Let’s get back to what we eat. I think one lie that I bought into for many years is that we need variety. I used to stockpile 12 different kinds of cereal. I think I stopped doing that, because I stopped couponing and then I just couldn’t get a good deal. My kids love Fruit Loops, but they don’t need Fruit Loops. If they want Cocoa Crispies, they buy Cocoa Crispies with their own money. 

I’m really good at going off on a tangent. Variety. Focus. We pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast most of the time:

  • Cream of Wheat (my husband’s current kick) There are 24 servings in one box, so it lasts about a month. – $4 (at the most)
  • Oatmeal – With my cholesterol issues, oatmeal is my breakfast of choice at least 4/5 of the weekdays. Our local grocery store has it on sale for 69 cents a pound in the bulk section. I buy the thick cut oats and stock up when it’s on sale. 
  • Cheerios – I keep one box on hand, because my teen likes it and it lasts about a month. A large box is about $3.50
  • Eggs – $7 for 5 dozen. One will last a full month.
  • Potatoes – $2 for a 10 lb bag, unless it’s on sale in a larger size. I buy two for a month. I like to make this at the beginning of the week, then the kids or my husband can just pop it in the microwave for a quick breakfast. Her prices and portion sizes seem to be a bit higher than mine. I make 10 servings from one recipe and calculated that each serving costs about $0.50
  • Pancakes – I use this recipe. We rarely have pancakes, but when we do, it’s a weekend. 

The above is what we generally eat. We always have fruit, veggies and yogurt on hand. Every once in a while we will make omelettes. Charlee, the baby, likes to eat bananas and cottage cheese for breakfast. Piper sticks with toast. In our house, everyone is on their own schedule and pretty much on their own for breakfast. 

I’ve found that keeping breakfast simple makes the mornings easier. Us Dixons are creatures of habits anyway and once we find something we like, we usually stick with it.

While we don’t have an enormous amount of variety in our breakfasts, as individuals, we don’t indulge in a lot of unhealthy breakfast items. Every once in a while I throw in a surprise breakfast item. In fact, I plan on making this for my husband this week. I just want to know if it’s good.  

What do you eat for breakfast? 

Update: That HUGE grocery shop

Last weekend I alluded to a HUGE grocery shop and dangled a carrot in front of my friends. I said I would be back to share how it went. Then life happened and I am not making excuses, but… 

Well, yes I am. School happened. A high schooler. Yikes! Two home schooled kiddos, yi yi yi. Several doctor appointments, and working my little side job. I am not a waitress in a cafe bar. Although that is not a bad idea. 

Yeah, so anyway, In this post, I mentioned that I would like to switch to a huge monthly shop for non-perishable groceries. I planned out an entire month of meals, which was a whole lot easier than I thought. If you want to know how I did that, I can tell you… later… again. I use Plan to Eat to plan our meals. Try it, you’ll like it, then come back and thank me. You’re welcome. 

I checked my list and deleted all the items I already had on hand. I only planned side dishes for the first week of the month, because I fully anticipate returning to the store each week for produce, salads, cottage cheese, etc. 

Our first stop was at our local produce store. We stock up on a week’s worth of produce and a month’s worth of bulk here. We gravitate mostly towards items that are on sale. Our fruit consisted of apples and bananas last week because those were the least expensive. The total amount for produce for the week and bulk for the month (mostly rice) was $50. We filled 6 bags. 

Our next stop was at Winco. Let me tell you, it got a little stressful here. One reason is because I was using the Plan to Eat “app” on my phone. I set the dates for the full month and started on the non-perishable foods. After that, I switched the dates for just the week so I could get all of the perishable foods we needed just for the week. Before this, I did not realize that when you toggle between dates, your items will show back up on your list. I will definitely need to come up with a better system. I typically have a good memory, so I knew what I had already picked up, but we had 4 kids with us, and it was a busy day at the store and I felt like I was in the way of everyone. I haven’t decided how I am going to handle this on future shopping trips, but I trust I will figure something out!

Total spent for a month’s worth of staples and the weekly perishables: $200. I didn’t get EVERYTHING I needed, because some of the stuff wasn’t on sale and I knew it goes on sale every other week. So I will check the prices on those things when I return for our small weekly shop. 

We picked up 20lbs of ground meat from a friend and spent $50 there. This will last us at least 10 weeks, but usually more like 15. They also blessed us with a few different cuts, which I found out when I thawed some ground meat yesterday, only to open the package and find some tenderloin. That will teach me to read the package. 

Pizza was on the menu tonight, but Chad and I talked about it and decided that instead of going to the store to buy the toppings and sauce, we would see what we could make from what we have. We are barbecuing the tenderloins we thawed yesterday, making a potato salad (thank you, mom, for the mayo!), and grilling some zucchini that our friends AND the neighbor gave us. 

During the past week, I went to the grocery store one time and that’s because my daughter wanted to buy herself a cake. I found some marked down meat, a pound of ground lamb and a sirloin steak, and paid $8 total for those. 

So our total spent for the month, so far is $308, but some of this stuff will last past a month. I am excited to go pick up our perishables tomorrow and see how little we can spend. I am also interested in the time we save. I think we spent a total of 3 hours last week grocery shopping. It’s hard to tell, because we also went school clothes shopping and those trips tend to run together. 

Update next week? Same time, same place? Maybe? 

Rabbit-Proof Fence

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to sit and watch a movie in its entirety. By not often, I mean it never happens. It has taken me up to 3 or 4 days to complete one 90 minute movie. Such was the case for Rabbit-Proof Fence. I found the movie to be enjoyable, because I am a sucker for true to life or based on real life stories. I felt that the subject matter was infuriating. Shortly after watching the movie, I posted on Facebook:

“Life is cruel enough on its own, why do people feel the need to help it in its cruelty?”

We get one life and people consistently devalue the life of others. It’s sad and sad is not a big enough word for it, but is there one?

Though I watched this movie several weeks ago, i came to mind today after watching a so-called debate on Facebook. It seems to be common for someone to think that if they did something, everyone else should be able to do it as well. “I quit smoking while I was pregnant, there is no reason you can’t”. “I go to school, run a business, raise 5 kids, make all my meals from scratch, you have no excuses.” “:I went back to work a week after giving birth, no reason you can not”. “my kids never did that, you obviously did something very, VERY wrong. (loser)”

Seriously. 

You can not judge another person’s outcome on your very own experiences. 

I feel like I should repeat that, but I won’t, so please read it again. 

We each have our own lives, our own experiences, our own set of windfalls, and misfortunes. We can set out and attempt to achieve something that another has accomplished and have our results turn out completely different. This doesn’t mean one person is a failure, it simply means that life is different for them! They most likely had a different set of cards handed to them. 

In fact, I have a deck of cards sitting in front of me. I can shuffle them, hand out ten cards per person, and rarely will any of those people be holding the exact same cards. It usually does not work out that way! 

Back to Rabbit-Proof Fence. I was thinking about Molly Craig. She was kidnapped by the government along with her younger sister and a cousin. They were sent to a camp 1500 miles from home to be re-educated. Shortly after arriving at the Moore River Native Settlement Camp, Molly plans to escape. She, her sister, and cousin watched the tracker bring another girl back to camp, who had escaped, but was quickly found. Escaping was pretty much not an option. The stakes, and punishment for being found, were pretty high. 

Molly did it anyway. It took 9 weeks to walk 1500 miles back to her home in Jigalong. It was not easy, but she accomplished what she set out to do. She and her sister were reunited with their mother and grandmother. Why did others not accomplish their mission? Were they failures? If Molly could do it, why couldn’t they do the same? What if Molly had listened to the girls that said it was impossible? What if seeing others brought back to camp and severely punished had deterred her? 

Her journey, while it looked the same on the surface, was completely different from any of the other girls. She had a different set of circumstances, a different background, different knowledge, and different opportunities. They may have been trying to achieve the same goal, but they were achieving it with a different life. Those other girls were not failures for not achieving what they set out to do. The wind could have blown in a different direction for them, yes, it’s as simple as that!

So why don’t we start encouraging people in THEIR journey and stop projecting our experiences on them? Am I advocating that we should not share our experiences? Absolutely not. Our shared experiences can be encouraging to other people! We do not have to criticize another because their experience did not turn out exactly the way ours did. We can recognize that the tools at each of our disposals are not the same, even if they appear to be. Stop saying “if I did it, you can too”, because I will drop you in the middle of nowhere, and tell you to walk 1500 miles home. If Molly Craig did it, we all can, right? Yeah, if we need to walk that far, we could, how many of us theoretically need to make that trek though?

So, encourage! Share! Please, though, let’s not discredit someone’s experience because it doesn’t mimic our own.

I Need a Budget. Do you (need a budget)

Or Do you want to build a snowman?

Do ya? Uh? Uh? Uh?

So annoying.

Moving on.

Okay. I’ve had too much coffee today, or too little. It’s all about perspective. I really want to tell you about You Need a Budget (YNAB)! We have been using YNAB for a month now. Originally I signed up for the 30 day trial version, but the very next day I won the software from a contest at Not a Stepford Life the very next day! I can no longer say “I never win anything”, because there was that one time (now)!

Do you want the short version or the long version? The long is really long and the short is “I LOVE IT! How did I live for so long without it? How come when I heard ‘You Need a Budget’, I thought ‘no I don’t!’?”

WHY?

Now that we have been using YNAB for a month, I can see clearly that yes, I do need a budget. It has kept us accountable for the past month. We have diligently budgeted, recorded our transactions, reconciled and looked forward to the next paycheck!

YNAB has four rules: 

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2. Save for a rainy day
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Live on last month’s income

You can read more about the rules here

Prior to using YNAB, we were pretty good at rules 2 and 3. Rule 4 is interesting because while we had enough in savings for last month’s income, we weren’t actually living on it. As far as rule 1, our dollars that went towards monthly bills had a job, the rest of the money was FREE MONEY! Whoo hoo. Not really. 

Early in the month, while reading about living on last month’s income, it suddenly made sense why they make that a rule. I explained it to my husband, we thought about it for a while and figured “hey, if we don’t like it, we will take our paychecks and put them back in savings and live on the current month’s income”. We held hands, transferred all of our savings to checking, jumped and have not looked back. It is the best feeling ever. I’m not worrying about the next paycheck and how much it is, because it’s just going into our account. I don’t need it for THIS month, because I am still using LAST month’s income. Our bills were paid early in the month and the amount of mail we receive has been drastically reduced! 

You should check it out. I know that some of you are like me and you think you don’t need a budget, but what if you do? 

As August draws to a close, this is where we are at with our budget: We overspent our budget for August by ($0.51). Yep, we are less than a dollar in the red. It’s okay though, because I still have this month’s income waiting to jump in and be used for September. We only have 4 days left in the month and we have been really good about not spending money. Our gas tanks are relatively full, we have enough food to last. Something may come up, but we have our buffer, so no worries. 

Do You Need a Budget? Go on over, check it out and then come back and tell me what you think. Sign up for a class! It’s free. You don’t even need to purchase the software and they give one away during each class. It could be you! 

  

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

We are a family of seven. Our ages span from one (the baby) to 48 (the daddy) and we cover a lot of ages in between. We are for sure not lacking in love or companionship. There is something we do lack, though. Guess what it is? Ding, ding, ding! Yes, correct! TIME!

It just seems that there is not enough of it. I know this isn’t true, because if I had to wait 24 hours for something, I would think that’s too long. 24 hours is a long, long time. I guess, then, it’s up to us how we use that time and are we using our time wisely? Well, yeah, I think I am. I don’t watch tv (much), so I can’t give that up. I’ve toyed with the idea of giving up Facebook, but I don’t want to do that, I just don’t. So where else can I save time and why do I want to save some?

I told Chad the other day “I just wish we had more time for fun, how do we do that?” He looked at me blankly as he often does when I ask him a question. I don’t blame him. I ask a lot of questions! So I came up with my own idea. I will have to redefine what fun means. 

Dictionary.com defines fun as: 

noun
1.
something that provides mirth or amusement:
A picnic would be fun.
2.
enjoyment or playfulness:
She’s full of fun.
 
What if fun was something different? What if fun was laundry and dishes and dirty diapers? I’d be having fun always and I wouldn’t be bemoaning the lack of fun in my life. Right? Right! 
 
Yeah, I didn’t think so either and we quickly nixed that idea, although it was fun, for a moment, to redefine all the fun things we do in life. “Look! Dog poop! How fun!” 
 
Sometimes the things we do just seem to take forever! Grocery shopping, weekly, 2-3 hours? UGH! it’s insane. Then at the end of the day we throw our hands up in the air (sometimes) (did you sing it?) and wonder where the day went. 
 
Here are 3 things I have put into practice in MY life to cut down on how long things take:
 
  • Delegation: Simply put I have started delegating jobs to my family members. I know, I know, I am a little slow to get on the boat, but I’m on! If it takes mama 3 hours to do things, guess how long it takes six of us to do those same things? Yes! Just 30 minutes. Oh, it’s amazing. I’ve only delegated a few things, and right now, since it’s new, it seems like I am spending time REMINDING others to do their job, but they do them and that’s an auto-win!
  • Auto-pay: We have been using You Need a Budget for a little over a month. Whoah! It’s a whole new way of looking at things. We were fortunate that we started out with a good cushion and were able to start out living on last month’s income. We were 100% buffered from the get go! Last month, I paid all of our bills on one day. The rest of the month I didn’t know what to do with my time and getting the mail was fruitless, because there never was any. :) Well, to save even more on time, I set up auto-pay on everything that can be auto-paid. That’s pretty much every bill I have. Since we are fully buffered, I no longer have to worry about the money being in our account when payments are debited from our account. It probably doesn’t save a lot, but it’s not my worry anymore. :)
  • Grocery shopping: This is a huge chore for us. A few months ago, I was in the grocery store at least every other day. We have been using Plan to Eat since the end of March. I have been planning our menus weekly and shopping one day a week. I *might* run into the store one other time during the week, but honestly, it’s rare. Even going once a week is still taking a tremendous amount of time. For September, Mr. Dixon and I are setting up a menu for a complete month, but we are only planning for two weeks and then we are going to double it. We will buy all of our non-perishable goods once a month, then we will only have to go to the store for produce, milk and bread. We buy all of our produce from Chuck’s produce and all of our non-perishables from Winco. Since we won’t typically be doing both stores in one day, I am anticipating a huge time saver! I also think this will be a money saver. If I make spaghetti, I typically only use half the package. Then it sits and sits and I buy something else, because I never want to repeat a meal. Now I will use the whole package in one month, therefore saving a meal or two. 

Now I just have to figure out what to do with all this extra time. Do you have any ideas? mwah ah ah!

What are your time saving strategies? I would love to hear them!

16 Years? We Have Arrived! (Not really!)

10346373_10154428523370187_2136238812045424257_nWell, well, well. Congratulations to Mr. Dixon and me. We are “celebrating” 16 years of marriage today. If by celebrating, I mean working,making and eating dinner, and taking care of life. Apparently that’s how 16 years is done. Don’t worry though. We will mark this occasion with child free wanderings at 16 years and one day. That’s just the way it’s done around here. 

If you’ve read about our marriage, or heard about our marriage here, there, or elsewhere, you may be fooled into believing that we have a perfect marriage. This is so far from the truth that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. A wonderful marriage, yes, perfect, ha! Ha! And another HA for good measure. 

No one survives 16 years of marriage without a few roadblocks, pitfalls, and forks in the road. Oh, we have had issues. Ironically, those issues have given us the marriage we have today, right this minute. It’s like I told a friend lately, you don’t show up to the gym and get in shape. You not only have to show up, you have to work out. You have to put effort into what you are doing. Without the resistance of weights, you’ll leave the gym in the same condition in which you arrived at the gym. It’s a lot less work, but you’re already paying for the membership, you may as well put some effort into your workouts and improve yourself. 

So, much like showing up at the gym, having a great marriage is not just getting married. There is some work involved and if you just show up and expect to get the same results as someone showing up and working for it, you are going to be disappointed. In our marriage, our strength has been built by the resistance we have faced. Resistance from him, from me, from us, and from every day issues that come up. I’ll tell you the truth, there are days when I wake up and he just irritates the living daylights out of me. I can choose to react based on my feelings, or I can breathe deep and show grace. Feelings are not facts. When I choose to show grace, I grow stronger and so do we. (just don’t ask how often I am actually able to put that into practice, mmmmmkay?) 

So, yeah, of course we have problems. We have disagreements and arguments. I don’t talk about these, except with a few friends. There is no profit in me blasting him on Facebook or here on my blog. I would end up with the proverbial egg on my face anyway, because somehow I am usually in the wrong. (That’s my gift to you today, Mr. Dixon! Admission of wrong doing. You’re welcome. (he’s not reading this. I know it)) Anyway, it’s just wrong. No one wants to read my negativity and I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression about him, me, or us as a couple! 

So, today is our anniversary and marriage is wonderful. I really, truly love the guy. I love who he is and I do love him more each and every day. This love and marriage thing is an amazing journey, really. I don’t know what I was thinking the day I married him, but I know I’m beyond grateful today for the past 16 years and the next 25! 

How long have you been married? Can you sum up your marriage in 5 words? I sure can not! 

I show up for marriage and put the effort in…. now I should work on that showing up and working out at the gym thing.