Friday, March 16, 2018

As far as blogs go, this one had great intentions when I first started it almost 5 years ago. I wanted to lose some post-pregnancy weight, be healthy and lead by example. Well, I deleted all of those early posts. Why? Because nobody wants to hear the rantings of a slightly overweight mom saying, "What do I do?!" over and over.

Instead, I'm beginning another journey. A bigger, more exciting, fantastic journey with my family. In the past 5 years, we have accrued a fair amount of consumer debt. I was determined to NEVER get into credit card debt... but it is SO easy to fall into. Thankfully we have hit our "I'M SICK OF THIS!" moment that Dave Ramsey talks about.

Oh yeah, Dave Ramsey. Basically, my husband and I were sick of never making headway on our payments and decided we needed to change the way we were living so that we can live well for the rest of our lives. So my husband found a podcast or something, not really sure how it happened, and we started listening to Dave Ramsey. Turns out, the way he encourages getting out of debt is exactly the way we need to do it. So here we go! We already had baby step #1, $1000 in an emergency fund. So we are courageously and anxiously embarking on baby step #2, pay off all debt except for our mortgage. 

Funny enough, we decided to consolidate a few of our credit cards onto a single card two days before discovering Dave Ramsey. So... I mean kind of a mistake, but at least the interest rate is less than half of what it was before. 

I'm going to lay out the numbers. 

As of January 18th, 2018, we owe $39,463.10 (includes credit cards and vehicles). 
Annual income is about $70,000/yr. 

We have given ourselves the date of December 31, 2019 to be completely debt-free. 

Basically, I'm going to document how we stick to a budget and show our debt snowball in action. Meal-planning, cutting spending where we can, and even setbacks or mistakes will be documented.  

Follow along, and check out our progress! My next blog will explain our first attempt at meal-planning and how we had to adjust. (I'll include recipes, too!)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Favorite Kitchen Gagdets

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I love to be in the kitchen, and I love using gadgets in the kitchen to make my life easier. Shockingly, with each new child I find myself with less and less time to cook and bake. About a year ago, I realized that I was starting to hate cooking for my family because it took SO LONG to make exciting foods that I wanted. When I would start in on a cooking/baking project, I would either get interrupted multiple times or would totally screw it up because of my three super cute distractions.

I mean, I loved my Crockpot. I still do. But, after awhile I was wanting to make something besides soups, roast, and very mushy mac'n'cheese. It also takes some fore-thought, and my focus in the morning usually isn't what I'll be eating for dinner that night. (Ironically, I do often think about breakfast as I am going to bed).

Here are my top 5 life-changing kitchen gadgets. (Maybe not life-changing, but my chaos would be so much worse without them!)

Kitchenaid Stand Mixer - Ok, my sister will argue with me that HER mixer is better, but I love my Kitchenaid mixer. I have had it since before I got married (that is, it was my mom's. She gave it to me when she got remarried, but accidentally threw away the bowl and attachments and bought me new ones. It was a pretty sweet deal). I use it for my sourdough, to mix any and all batters, and to even make homemade whipped cream. I'm not sure where I would be without it. My bonus mom has a beast of one that she uses to feed armies of hungry Hawaiians, but my 5-quart is more than enough for my family.

Ninja Blender - I was gifted the Ninja Kitchen System by my freaking amazing in-laws a few years ago, and I use it at least a few times per week. My two favorite party tricks are mashed potatoes and cookie dough. Nothing beats perfectly creamy mashed potatoes in seconds, or 30-second cookie dough. We also really like the individual nutri-cups. They make a quick grab-and-go breakfast on busy mornings.

Enameled Cast-Iron Pot - This was purchased solely for the purpose of making my artisan sourdough loaves, but it turned out to be pretty handy! We have done "indoor" Dutch oven recipes in this pot, since I don't like bringing our ashy camping Dutch ovens inside the house. Sometimes you just NEED dump peach cobbler in the middle of January. It also looks very, very pretty when taken to parties and BBQs.

Air Fryer - Ok, so I saw this as a fad gadget (kind of like my Instant Pot, see below), except that people were still talking about them 6 months after I first heard of them. I messaged Brad while at Walmart asking if we could get one, since I decided to throw away our totally disgusting, greasy, stinky deep fryer when we moved. He (grudgingly) said sure, and we have loved it ever since! It uses no oil to cook things like french fries, fish sticks, chicken tenders (super healthy, I know), but also takes less time than the oven (and believe me, my convection oven kicks butt). I have heard/read that you can use silicone cups to make things like cupcakes and other goodies, but I have yet to try it out.

Instant Pot - Where do I even start? I was hesitant to even try one because I was so afraid of being disappointed. Rumors of perfect hard-boiled eggs, tender roasts in an hour, and a 20-minute from-frozen chicken breast had me seriously checking it out, though. Brad bought me one for my birthday last summer, and rarely a day goes by that I don't use it. Rice pilaf, chicken wings (from frozen, people!), amazing soups, homemade tamales steamed to perfection in less than an hour (with a steamer basket, I strongly encourage the steamer basket), and absolutely amazing hard-boiled eggs. I legitimately cried the first time I made eggs, and sent out about 10 different texts to various friends and family showing a video of me peeling them. So little work, and great food. I want to get a small second one (a 3-quart) so that I can make sides and main dishes together and save even more time. I have the DUO60, 6-quart 7-in-one. I plan to make yogurt in the next month-ish, so watch for that. YOU NEED AN INSTANT POT!!!

What are your favorite time-saving gadgets? What do I need? Let me know below!

How I make sourdough, and how you can, too!

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I have spent the last two years learning this sourdough curve. There are times when it feels almost easy, and my loaves and other baked goods turn out fantastic! Other times, I want to just dump it all down the sink.

In high school, I worked at Great Harvest and remember thinking it was such a pain to feed the sourdough before closing every evening... but the loaves that came out of the oven three times per week made it SO worth it! Our sourdough was amazing.

When I had my gallbladder removed a couple of years ago, my brother's girlfriend at the time brought us some artisan-style sourdough that reminded me why I loved the stuff... and it was easier on my blood sugar than regular bread, so I jumped on Pinterest to learn all that I could!

I began my own starter after reading many blogs and sourdough websites. Ultimately, I came up with my own way of making it work that I feel is MUCH simpler. By trial and error, I give you how to make your own sourdough starter. I'll do another post about how I do my round loaves, waffles, and other baked goods.

My first time making a starter, I followed a tutorial that I can't find now, and it worked well, but the second time I made a start I adjusted after I noticed that my starter wasn't growing and smelling quite like it should (we had moved to a different city, so I blame the water and the air). There comes a point when you can tell by the smell alone whether your starter is "sour" (good) or "off" (bad). (My mother-in-law gags regardless of the smell, so I'm pretty sure that she killed the starter I gave her after the first week, but never told me. She's thoughtful like that. 💗💗)

If you want to read through the links at the bottom, go right ahead. Sourdough information is kind of a rabbit-hole. If you just want to jump right in, then here you go.

FIRST, the supplies
- A long-handled wooden spoon (don't use metal on sourdough, it will kill it)
- A LARGE glass jar or plastic bowl, with a NON-METAL lid that can sit loosely on top (I love this 1-gallon wide-mouth glass jar)
- A scale (just the first time, though not totally necessary)
- Measuring cups
- Patience

Day 1: In a clean, sterile glass jar or bowl (I'm talking at least a gallon size if not bigger), mix 4 oz (by weight) of flour (all-purpose is fine) with 4 fl. oz. FILTERED water. My tap water seems to make my sourdough kind of... blah... so I prefer the filtered water from our fridge. Mix it up with the wooden spoon, then set the lid on top and you're done. Ta-da! You don't want to seal the lid because the gases need to escape, but you don't want to introduce bacteria into your starter.

Day 2: Feed your starter. Add 4 oz (by weight) flour and 4 fl. oz. filtered water. Mix with a wooden spoon, place lid loosely on top.

Day 3: Same as day 2.

Day 4: Same as day 2.

Day 5: Same as day 2, you may start seeing bubbles or smelling the signature "sour" smell.

Day 6: Same as day 2, may see more bubbling.

Day 7: Same as day 2, should see bubbling by now, but don't give up if you don't!

Day 8: Same as day 2, almost there!

Day 9: Same as day 2 (Understanding why I said you needed patience?)

Day 10: You can use your starter! If you aren't seeing any bubbling yet, and you aren't seeing weird coloring (orange, green, or a rancid smell), then give it a couple more days of feeding.
If you DO have a nice bubbly starter, you can start using it in recipes! If you aren't ready to conquer bread yet, I suggest muffins, waffles, or pancakes.

You can feed your starter more than once per day, and during the two days leading up to making bread I will feed it every 12 hours, and as close to 8 hours before starting bread as I can. I typically feed the starter at 10pm, then start bread at 6am (or close). If I know I will be making waffles I'll do this as well, simply because a starter that has been fed 6-8 hours before use yields better baked goods.

To use your starter, measure out the amount of starter needed, and follow your recipe. I will feed my starter again after I have measured out what I need, then let it have a rest for the day. If you have a ton of starter, you can throw some out, share it, or dehydrate it. I keep a baggy of dehydrated starter chips in case something tragic were to happen to my starter (it is much faster than growing a brand new starter). I also share my starter frequently, and it makes me feel better than throwing some away.

That's a basic breakdown. Below are my favorite recipes to follow. When making bread, I strongly encourage using an enameled cast-iron pot (check the temperature rating, and make sure it can withstand AT LEAST 450*F). I get my best, chewy-crust bread with my cast-iron pot.

Artisan Bread (My favorite, and goes great with this Caulifower Potato Soup)

Sourdough Waffles

Sourdough Pancakes

Loaf Bread

How to dehydrate your starter (This website also has a lot of cool information about sourdough)

Let me know how your starter/bread turns out! I love comments. :-)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

February budget (and 2-week meal plan)

I'll be completely honest - I am not a person of routine. Obviously I have my basic routine (wake up, eat breakfast, eat lunch, take my daughter to school, nap time for the boys, dinner, kids to bed, I go to bed), but I never really know what we are doing between meals, much less what we are doing FOR meals. Psssshhhh....

I realize, though, that I HAVE to have a routine or plan to make this whole thing work. I have been able to do well on a meal plan before... for about two weeks, then I get bored and start impulse-buying and spend way more on groceries (and various other items) than I should.

We use the app Every Dollar to budget. We have been doing a very loose budget/expense sheet for a few years now, but now instead of "watching" our money go a million different places, we are "telling" it where to go. We are assigning every dollar, and to be honest it feels pretty good. I thought I would feel pretty restricted, but I am giving myself permission to spend wisely.

We started true budgeting halfway through January, and for that reason we budgeted for "miscellaneous spending". Don't worry, we totally blew through the budgeted amount and almost tripled it. This time, we subdivided the miscellaneous spending budget and allowed each adult a certain amount to spend on random things if we need to. This isn't permission to just go blow money, but if one of us has a legitimate need that isn't grocery/toiletry/household, then there is money set aside. It also doesn't roll over... I can't save up my "extra" money for 6 months and go get something big. At the end of the month, if it isn't used then we throw it at our current snowball payoff.

Every Dollar is pretty awesome, too, because at the top it shows how much money you have left to budget. After setting up our budget for the month, we have $89 left to budget... usually we would spend that on something like an evening out or a fun electronic, but instead we will throw that at our snowball at the end of the month. It's nice to see where everything is going, even though it makes my stomach a little sick to see how much of our income is being spent on debt payments. Yikes!

We just did our first two weeks on a meal plan (the second half of January), and aside from a gallon of milk and $20 to take snacks while we went out of town for a funeral, we didn't spend ANY more grocery money. I'm typically the person who goes grocery shopping every couple of days because I am bored or get a craving. Seriously, impulsiveness is my downfall. Two weeks of groceries ended up being $95. I'll have to spend more here and there, but that is MUCH less than we were spending before (about $100 per shopping trip).

For the next two weeks, my goal is to go shopping once this evening for nearly everything we need for two weeks, and go once next week to get more milk and possibly fresh fruit/veggies.

Without further ado, my meal plan. (From Friday to Thursday, because we get paid every-other Thursday)

B: Oatmeal & Toast
Sn: Fruit Snacks
L: Stir-fry Ramen (not super healthy, but uses some veggies and is CHEAP)
Sn: Grapes
D: Chicken sandwiches and Fries (to avoid eating out, I like to do a few meals that are "fast food" style)

B: Sourdough Waffles & Bacon
Sn: Fruit Snacks
L: Tuna sandwiches & chips
Sn: Graham crackers and grapes
D: Pizza (determining if it is less expensive to make my own, or buy a $5 pizza)

(Because of our church schedule, we do two meals, and do extra snacks or a small dinner-ish meal)
B: Cinnamon-roll Casserole
Sn: Graham Crackers
L/D: Burgers and Broccoli
Sn: Fresh Sourdough slices

B: Cold cereal
Sn: Goldfish & apple juice
L: Grilled Cheese (possibly with tomato soup)
Sn: Graham crackers
D: Lasagna & Salad

B: Sourdough Pancakes
Sn: Fruit Snacks
L: PB&J and carrots
Sn: Apple slices & peanut butter
D: Tacos!

B: Scrambled or poached eggs & toast
Sn: Granola bars
L: Turkey sandwiches (meat and cheese for the picky ones)
Sn: Apple slices & peanut butter
D: Chicken Alfredo & Broccoli

B: Cold Cereal
Sn: Fruit snacks
L: Egg salad sandwiches
Sn: Graham crackers
D: Fish sticks and Coleslaw

B: Oatmeal & toast
Sn: Grapes
L: Stir-fry Ramen
Sn: Fruit snacks
D: Mac'n'Cheese

B: Waffles & bacon
L: Turkey sandwiches
Sn: Fruit snacks
D: Hot dogs & Fries

B: Cinnamon-roll casserole
Sn: Graham crackers
L/D: Enchiladas
Sn: Fruit Snacks

B: Cold cereal
Sn: Fruit Snacks
L: Grilled Cheese
Sn: Goldfish
D: Ziti & zucchini/squash

B: Sourdough pancakes
Sn: Fruit snacks
L: PB&J & carrots
Sn: Apple slices & peanut butter
D: Burritos

B: Scrambled or poached eggs & toast
Sn: Goldfish crackers
L: Turkey sandwiches
Sn: Apple slices & peanut butter
D: Tilapia, rice pilaf, veggies

B: Cold cereal
Sn: Cheese sticks
L: Egg salad sandwiches
Sn: Treat (rice crispies)
D: Orange chicken & fried rice

I'm giving myself the flexibility to switch meals, and supplementing with other snacks as necessary. Also notice that I'm not worrying about being super healthy right now, portion control and "better" choices are going to be our way of life until we get rid of our consumer debt.

I went through each day and wrote down what is needed to make each meal/snack, and compared it to what I already have on hand, and also included other grocery items that I knew we needed. Then, I opened a tab to Smith's (Kroger) and Walmart, built a pickup grocery list, compared them, and went with the cheapest option. To be honest, picking up my groceries is probably the best plan of action for me. Remember, impulsive? ;-)

If you are new to Walmart Grocery pickup, use this handy link! You'll get $10 off your first order, and I'll get a $10 referral bonus when you do. Win-win! -->  <--