Tuesday, October 31, 2017

How much does a pork roast bone weigh?

This is an entire cookie sheet filled with shredded pork, and there was still more in the slow cooker!

Have you ever debated between paying more for a boneless pork shoulder or less for a bone-in one? I wondered this myself and so the last time I made a pork roast in the slow cooker, I decided to weigh the bone after I shredded the meat.

I was shocked at how little it weighed.

The picture is a little blurry, but this is only 5.15 ounces. The roast itself was over 8 lbs and was on sale for 99 cents a pound. So even after I subtracted the weight of the bone, the price per pound of meat was not that different.

My favorite way to cook pork roasts is to make a spice rub the night before and start the roast on low when I go to bed. Usually when I wake up the roast is done. It's nice to wake up feeling that most of dinner is already made!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How I plan for our weekly grocery trip

I have a friend who hates grocery shopping. I'm not sure why, but I've always loved making a menu plan and working out a list for what we need. Maybe it's because it's one of the few times a week where I get to go in a store and buy lots of things :). I also always look like a hero to my kids when I return home with bags and bags of food! 

Today I'd like to share with you my process for creating a grocery list each week. I've used this plan for several years now and it's worked really well for us. There are sometimes midweek runs that my husband needs to make to the store but usually I can cover most of what we need with this list. I rarely use coupons because most of our grocery shopping is done at Aldi.

I always start with looking at the sales flyers that week to note any good sales that I'd like to take advantage of as well as consider what's already in our pantry. Once I know that, I am ready to plan! 
  1. I use a spreadsheet on Google Docs. (I created a blank sample sheet here that gives you an idea of what I'm talking about.) I use the same list every week and delete or add to it as needed.
  2. I scan a list of meal plan ideas on the right side of the spreadsheet
  3. I go through last week's list and delete what we don't need for this week.
  4. Then I fill in what we do need, whether it's for meals this week, or items we've run out of or things on sale I want to buy.
  5. For each item I enter, I make sure to enter in the quantity times the price in the cost column.
  6. Then, once I'm done with my basic list, I look at the total at the bottom that factors in sales tax (yes, we pay sales tax on food here!). 
  7. If I haven't met my weekly budget limit (usually around $75-$80 with tax), sometimes I will add in some fun foods or things we don't always get to eat. Other times I will just save that money for another week where we might really need it. But if I've gone over, then I go back and look carefully through the list to see what I can cut out or swap to make that week work

Exceptions to this plan:
  • There are some weeks where I need to buy a few larger purchases and go over the average weekly amount. Once a month I usually have to buy a big 5 lb block of mozzarella from Sam's, for example, or diapers. There also might be a really good sale going on that week on meat or another stock-up item. Because our weekly average usually lands us below our monthly budget goal, I have some wiggle room.
  • I used to get really upset if we went over, but I've slowly realized that we are not the family who has a spending problem in the food department. Month after month, we generally stay within budget, but there are some months where we just go over (like the holiday months). I still tally up what we've spent to track it, but I don't freak out if we've gone over. That's just life. Now if we were going over by $150 every month, I would need to revisit what's going on, but that's usually not the case.
Do you have a tried-and-true method for planning grocery shopping to maximize your savings? If so, I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October 2017 Debt Repayment Update: $57,426.88

Hey everyone! After an unseasonably warm start to the fall, the end of October has snuck up on us. The one thing about time flying by though is that it means we are one payment closer to paying off our debt!

This month, our total debt (with clarifications below) is: $57,426.88. We are really close to dropping our monthly interest paid to under $200/month. It used to be around $300, so an extra $100 a month toward principal really helps!

Traveling and spending
October was a really really busy month. Not only did we have a trip to New York for a family member's wedding party, but we also had to get a lot of paperwork done for different things like financial assistance applications and more. I also worked on a bench to go with our farmhouse table.

As far as spending went, we had a few extra expenses on top of the New York trip. Our van needed an oil change and a headlight replaced, and I needed to order some more books for homeschool.

Re-adjustment to food budget
After writing recently about dropping our food budget by $100, I realized that it was putting a lot of stress upon me and my family to cut it by that much. That extra $100 is helpful in making the 5 week months easier and allowing us to have some cushion money to stock up on sales. I decided to raise it back up to $400 a month.

A note on medical spending
One thing I am not including in this debt is an outstanding medical bill (about $3,500) we have at this point. When our son was hospitalized for a kidney infection that included a 2-night stay as well as an MRI, CT scan, IV therapy and an ultrasound, I knew the bill would not be cheap. We have a high-deductible health plan, and while we have had money saved up in an accompanying HSA for times like this, I knew that his bill would probably blow a large amount of those savings out of the water. So after some discussion with my husband, we decided to apply for financial assistance. If for some reason we don't qualify, there is money to pay for everything so we wouldn't incur additional debt.

So that's it for this month. It may sound strange saying this, but I am looking forward to November and December being a little slower and focused more on home and family. The holidays can be notorious for letting your spending get out of control, but this is the second year I've set aside a little each month to cover Christmas presents so we aren't caught off guard. Here's to a drama-free November!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Building a new farmhouse bench to go with our farmhouse table

After a weeklong trip to New York for a family member's wedding party, I am glad to be back in the Midwest and settling back into a normal routine. We were grateful to have a free place to stay in New York thanks to my brother-in-law (a cozy little studio apartment) but I will say, there's nothing like living in a much smaller space for a week to make you appreciate how much space you have in your modest ranch home!

Since we've been back I've had a little time this weekend to begin working on a bench to accompany the farmhouse table I recently built. The table is not small - it measures almost 9 feet long. I built it for a couple of reasons: one that it was getting to be a little tight for the six of us eating at our current table and homeschooling there with books spread out, but also because we have very little space for visitors. The bench will be almost as long as the table and hopefully great for squeezing a few extra little bodies in. I am using these plans from Ana White that accompany the plans for the table.

The bench top, almost completed and covered with various signs of life around here, like a dryer sheet. I found a piece of paper glued to it this morning which probably was due to a curious 3 year-old ;). 
At least the top was upside down!

For whatever reason, this build is going a lot faster than the table did. I think part of it is that I know more what I need to do and in what order, and also, because the construction of the bench is almost identical to the table, what pitfalls to avoid. Still, that doesn't mean mistakes haven't been made. We were trying to add an exterior piece to the bench seat last night only to flip it over and discover that some of the screws had poked through the surface. It was a little disappointing, but will be easily remedied by a quick trip to Menards this to pick out another piece of wood. The beauty of working with inexpensive cuts of wood like construction lumber and medium quality pine is that correcting a mistake can only cost $4 or $5.

We haven't actually started using the new table regularly yet aside from folding laundry because of two needs: a bench to provide some of the seating, and lighting. Currently there is just a ceiling fan there without a light. I initially was going to pay for a new light like this one with birthday money that I was saving, and then I saw that Stephanie at Six Figures Under was holding a blog post contest on ways to save money. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to share my newfound love of furniture building, so I entered and ended up winning second place! You can read the post here if you'd like. The prize was a $75 Amazon gift card which I plan on using to pay for a majority of the new light. It's so fun to see the space slowly come together!

A different view showing the blank wall behind our table (and the lumber waiting to become a bench :)) 
After the table and bench are finished, I have plans for the wall behind it. I would like to build shelves like the one in my mudroom to flank both sides of the window. I would also like to build a long 3-desk unit to span the wall kind of like this one and provide additional buffet/food serving space when we do have guests over. And once those are done, perhaps a wall cabinet to house and hide a dry erase board for our homeschool.

It can be challenging to find time to work on these projects but we have made it work  by committing Saturday afternoons when we can to working on projects and sometimes evenings when one of us can be watching the kids. My husband and I have found it to be a good way to spend time together too - it certainly makes you improve your communication skills ;). It also helps to be patient and work on projects as you have time. For example, I started the table in June and just finished it a couple of weeks ago. I'm hoping that the bench will take much less time!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September 2017 Update: $58,374.53

This month has been busier expected with two birthdays, getting back into the groove of school, a visit from my mom for five days, and an unexpected hospital stay for one of my kids (kidney infection). Consequently, things have been quiet around here.

That said, we did make another payment toward our debt, and it now stands at $58,374.53. This does not include any potential medical debt that might emerge from the hospitalization. At the time of this post, the bills were still being calculated and we had not received many yet.

Aside from the cost of things, I was grateful to be reminded of the most important things in life when our son had to be admitted. He had been complaining of some pain in his sides and was running a fever with chills and shaking. At first I thought it was just a virus, but as the pain in his sides increased I took him into our pediatrician who referred him to the ER (who then ran an ultrasound and CT scan). Things could have gotten bad really quickly, but we felt watched over by God when one of the best and only pediatric urologists in our area walked into our hospital room that night. He was a friend of our friend and had been on rounds that night at another hospital. He spent a lot of time going over the CT scan with us and the probabilities of different causes. An MRI the next morning ruled out a potentially problematic cause and for the time being we are trying dietary changes to see if that prevents blockages.

The funniest memory I have of that night is when the urologist, after going through different scan images and serious possibilities, suddenly asked, "So, what homeschool curriculum do you use?" How often do you get asked that by your physician? He had six kids as well and they had also chosen to homeschool. Because it's still not a mainstream choice, when you find other homeschooling families you usually have plenty to talk about!

You never know what each month will throw you - this is true in life as well as in debt repayment. I care about the numbers, of course, but this month I was glad that my son was okay and that the diagnosis wasn't worse.

Friday, August 25, 2017

August 2017 Debt Update: $59,456.19

We've had much cooler temperatures this August than in summers past, and I wonder if that's why the summer has felt like it's flown by - I can't believe that fall is already on its way! Anything that makes the time go faster and the debt get paid quicker is great in my books, though!

This month our debt finally dropped below the $60,000 mark. It's still only about a third of what we started off with, but still, it's something! 

Expenses this month
We traveled this past month to my sister's place in Texas for a family vacation. There were a few expenses like gas and some eating out associated with that, but overall we stayed within budget for our trip. 

My husband also sorely needed a new pair of shoes - his other ones were stained with grass stains and ripped in many places to the point he couldn't really wear them out in public. We were all set to buy a pair at a Buy-One-Get-One sale and then I found the same pair for $39 on Amazon, so we were able to buy just his shoes without having to get another pair. 

We started homeschooling about 2 weeks ago, and pretty quickly I realized I had made a mistake with the math curriculum I ordered for one of my sons. It just wasn't clicking with the way he learned, and so I needed to make a few more purchases to round out his curriculum. I wasn't really planning on spending more on homeschooling at this point in the year, but I also didn't want to lose a year of his math education to a curriculum that just didn't work.

Discouragement, and how I dealt with it
I won't lie - even though we dropped beneath the $60K mark this month, I also struggled a lot with discouragement. Part of it was due to a few house and car issues that cropped up this month - our shower had been leaking in the back bathroom and we have to do a few repairs associated with that, and then our car's power door stopped working. All of the discouragement flooded in, and I struggled with thoughts like:
  • What if we never get out of debt? What if something major happens each month that keeps us from making our payments?
  • I'm so tired of being "poor." I'm tired of not having enough money for clothes, of questioning every dollar that goes out, of having a super-tight food budget for a family of 6, and I'm tired of not having the money to work on house projects that we'd like to do.
My husband patiently listened to my frustrations. In some ways, it has been hard and exhausting. We've either been in debt-repayment mode or living-on-a-tight-budget mode for the entirety of our 11 years of marriage. There has never been a time where we could just "take it easy" and put major money into projects that are our choice instead of debt that is our obligation. Life has often felt like we are just surviving.

After awhile, though, I found perspective again. I reminded myself that while it's frustrating that about $1,200 of our paycheck this month went to debt, that much of that payment was our choice. We do have flexibility in what we spend, and we are making a tough choice to put that money toward the debt, month after month. I also realized that I was perhaps becoming a bit too hyper-focused on how much debt we had. After all, we could only pay what we could pay in a given month, and I realized how blessed we are to be able to put any extra money toward it. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Best (and Simplest) Homemade Ranch Dressing

I've always loved the classic taste of a good homemade ranch dressing. The bottled ones just don't cut it, even those with the label of the maker of my favorite Ranch dressing seasoning packet. I used to use the big bottle of this seasoning from Sam's Club, and then found affordable packets at Aldi.

These worked just fine, but one day after reviewing a few recipes I tried making ranch without the packet, and you know what? It tasted even better than the packet-based dressing! And the best thing is, it's pretty simple!

Here is what you need to make your own:

The Best Homemade Ranch Dressing
1 cup of buttermilk (I like to use homemade)
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp powdered garlic
1-2 tsp dried parsley (or 1-2 Tbsp fresh minced parsley)

Mix all ingredients together and let chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend.
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