720 sqft & 6 people...

720 sqft & 6 people...what could possibly go wrong?!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Eating Well on a Budget

I am just going to dive right in here. I think most of know how to eat cheaply. And I think we all have an idea of how to eat well. But, what I struggled with for a while was eating well on a tight budget. When I couponed, we ate so cheaply, but a lot of our food was highly processed. Then, we ate really well, but very expensively. Now, we eat very well for relatively little. It's possible! I also don't coupon anymore and only go to 2 stores- Sam's for bulk items and Sprouts for fresh produce. Going to multiple stores per week was fine when we had a little commuter car, but the grocery savings just don't justify the gas or my time anymore. My 3 biggest tips for eating well on a budget would be to meal plan, look at the circulars, and think ahead.

Meal Plan- know with reasonable certainty what you're going to eat and when you're going to eat it. This not only keeps you from buying a ton of crap at the grocery store you won't be using, but it eliminates those last minute runs to the store to pick up the one thing you need, but that always turns into four things. Unplanned grocery runs are a budget killer. I typically plan 3 days at a time, so my meal plan looks something like this:

If you prefer to plan a week at a time, or just want a pretty template, you can check out my Pinterest board here.

Look at the circulars- armed with the knowledge that mangoes were 4 for $1 last week, I stocked up. We ate all we cared for, then sliced up and froze the rest for smoothies later.

Think Ahead- this goes hand in hand with Looking at Circulars. Obviously, 4 mangoes for a buck is a screamin' deal, at least where we live. And, I'm obviously going to want mangoes all summer long, because who doesn't? Buying them cheaply and freezing for later use will keep me from having to go out and buy them at full price later (anywhere from 80cents to a buck or more each)

Food quality matters, too. I really hesitate to write this part, because, my kids are younger. Read: I am not in the business of trying to feed a teenager, at least not yet. And I get that not everyone has the time to prep 99 percent of their family's meals, or deal with chickens, or garden. I really do get that. But, as I was talking to a cousin last night about the whole trying to keep our kids fed thing, she casually mentioned that her family of six spends about 700 bucks a month at the grocery store. She works full-time, as does her husband, and they have a teen AND a toddler who eats like one. With their schedules, convenience foods are just gonna have to happen some of the time. So, her grocery budget should be higher than mine. With that said, I really think one of the best ways to curb your kid's desire to eat you out of house and home is to eliminate the junk food. Her toddler put away a prodigious amount of Fruit Loops after daycare, then went after the next box of cereal in the pantry. If it's colorful and sugary, it's a good bet your kids will stuff their faces on it. A big bowl of oatmeal with a banana on top probably would have filled the kid up faster and kept him full longer. At the very least, a cannister of oatmeal would have been a helluva lot cheap than the darn-near two boxes of cereal. Seriously, have y'all seen cereal prices lately? Ridiculous! "But my kids don't like that stuff." If they get hungry enough, they'll eat. You can retrain your kids palate, at least to an extent. It took our kids a while to get with the program when we started our healthy eating, but now they ask for strawberries in the afternoon instead of cookies, so it can be done.

So, what's my weekly grocery budget? Most weeks, I try to adhere to a 50 budget. I should add that we buy meat in bulk every couple of months and freeze it, so that doesn't figure into my weekly expenditures for food. Our local Sam's Club discounts their meat each Thursday. So, when the freezer gets bare, hubby goes and scoops up a bunch, parcels it into appropriate portions, and that's the end of it until we run out. This typically costs between 120-160 dollars. On the high side, that would add about $20 bucks to our weekly budget, making it $70 per week for the 5 of us. Full disclosure: I had a gift card, so I splurged this week. I spent a total of $64 bucks, $22 of which was out of pocket.The receipts are still representative of what I normally buy, except for the stuff like coconut water and sorbet.

So, what do we eat? For breakfast the kids had a half bagel with cream cheese and a half banana each. I had my favorite smoothie:

I take a nice big handful of whole oats and blend it until the consistency looks like wheat germ:

Then dump in a big spoonful of peanut butter, a cup (or so) of almond milk, some frozen strawberries, and a pinch of cocoa powder. Blend like crazy and enjoy.

And if you're in the market for a new addiction, I'd recommend you try Talenti Roman Raspberry Sorbetto. Worth every overpriced penny.

 And lest you think we are super-annoying-healthy-pants-perfect.... We keep a gigantic tub of cookie dough in the freezer and eat about a spoonful nearly every day.

Have a great Wednesday, y'all!

Friday, May 2, 2014

How to Cheaply Diaper Multiple Kids

Edit: Obviously, I'm a couple days late (sorry) and the pics are taken with my phone (crappy).

I do not exclusively cloth diaper our kids. It isn't feasible with our schedule, plus I'm just not the kind of girl who's willing to cart around poopy inserts in a plastic bag while we're out and about. I cloth diaper for both the comfort of our child and to save money, but you'd better believe I also keep a small stash of disposables on hand!!!

A few things to consider:

1. If Dad isn't on board with cloth diapering, I'd avoid an all-or-nothing approach. My hubby was less than enthused when I suggested we give cloth diapering another try (more on that later) so whenever I changed Dumpling, I used cloth and when he did it, he used disposable. It took a couple months, but he actually prefers cloth now, too. Give them time, they do eventually come around.

2. If you give birth to 8 pound-plus babies, the one-size-fits all cloth diapers may just work for you. If like us, you birth barely 6 lb stringbeans, one size most certainly does not fit all. Regardless, for at least the first few meconium-ridden diapers, I recommend using disposables. No new mom needs to try scrubbing that stuff out of an insert.

3. If like us, you choose to cloth diaper at home and use disposables for extended car rides or overnight trips, you are NOT a bad person. Two of my super-crunchy mommy friends exclusively cloth diaper and they let me know that I'm wimping out, like all the dang time. Whatever. They have 1 kid and I have (nearly) 4. Love them to bits, but they can take their organic granola and shove it. Bottom line: do what works for your family and your situation.

Ok, here we go: this is our basic setup/system. This is not in any way a sponsored post. If I mention any brand-names, it is only because we use and love them.

I mentioned earlier that this is our 2nd attempt at cloth diapering. When our oldest was born, we had evey intention of cloth diapering. We bought 12 AIO type. Our daughter hated them. They were supposed to accomodate birth-potty training, but really I think she would have needed to weigh at least 10 pounds before they would have fit her. She wore one of them once and that was the end of that little experiment. I sold them to a local mom. That's actually the nice thing about cloth diapers; if you try and just don't like a certain kind, you can almost always sell them for nearly what you paid for them. We only ever used disposables on her and now she is thankfully, blessedly potty trained.

Take home message: Either be prepared to use newborn disposables until your child is large enough to fill out an AIO or use a fitted cloth diaper. We like Thirsties DuoWraps. They come in just 2 sizes, can be used with a variety of inserts, and fit our kids really well. We just moved Dumpling up into the 2nd size. They are supposed to work for 18- 40 pounds. Dumpling is 18 lbs and change, but given their adjustable nature, I have every confidence that they will work for the entire weight range. The old style had an exclusively snap closure system.
The new style combines snaps and velcro. We were a little hesitant to try the new stlye, but the velcro actually works great and provides a much trimmer fit.

We use a combination of Indian Cotton prefolds (cheap) and Thirsties Doublers as inserts (not so cheap, but a bit more absorbent).

Whatever cover you choose, insist on a leg gusset. Really keeps things contained.

But, as diapers always do, the inserts get dirty and need washing. I soak mine until laundry day in a Lowe's 5 gallon paint bucket with lid. I mean seriously, Diaper Genie-type things are expensive and I'm doing this to save money. I fill it about half full of hot water and dump in a mixture of baking soda and oxi-clean, probably about half scoop each. Please be sure you store this up high, preferably with something heavy on top. I keep it strictly out of reach of my kids, since accidental drownings are always a concern. Dirty inserts go in, then on laundry day, I drain the excess water, toss the inserts into the washer and wash them in my homemade detergent. (More on that in a bit).

I typically just wash the diaper covers with my regular laundry, unless of course, there's been an awful diaper explosion.

The Detergent: My "homemade detergent" was actually born out of necessity. I was in the middle of laundry day and ran out of my liquid. I had lots of oxi-clean, baking soda, and washing soda on hand and figured I'd give it a whirl. It did great. I now mix roughly equal parts of all three and use 1 full scoop per full load on our cloth diapers and also our clothing. Our clothes come out clean, scent-neutral and soft enough that I can skip the fabric softener. It also doesn't irritate my son't sensitive skin. It works for us- if you decide to try it, be aware that your mileage may vary depending upon your washing machine, water type etc. I am in no way saying you should do this, just that it works for us. Again, I'm doing this to save money, not shell out on fancy organic cloth diapering detergent.

That's it! We buy 1 small pack of Huggies for Dumpling and it lasts us anywhere from 4-6 weeks, depending upon how much we are away from home. That's pretty cheap, as far as diapering goes. We also look for Huggies coupons and save the rewards codes to enter on the Huggies website. It takes a while to accumulate enough points, but every so often, we cash out for a free pack of diapers, which is a nice little bonus.

How about you- are you a cloth, disposable, or combo family?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blue Angels and Air Power Expo

The Air Show was amazing! NAS JRB Fort Worth put on an amazing show. Meet Spooky (above) who still flies with donations from the local community. My hubby and his dad, 2 generations of Navy men. Note the UT hat....I graduated from Texas A&M and my FIL never lets me forget it!

Our niece came up for the festivities, too.

Mom and Dad in Law. They totally win cutest couple award, dontcha think?!  Trying to get them in the same picture involved lots of "Dad! Daaad! ad, will you please get in the picture?!" What can I say, it was really windy.

Our son was less than thrilled to pose with the girls.

Our youngest, getting cuddles.

Hope your weekend was as much a blast as ours! We'll be back on Wednesday with my tips and tricks for keeping our kids in diapers without going broke or crazy. See ya then!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Anticipating Needs

Hello and Happy Friday! Today's budget post will be quick: I've got company coming for the weekend to attend an airshow and see the Blue Angels! GAH!!!!!! I LOVE Blue Angels and I'm so excited for the kids to see them for the first time. As my husband put it, "I had to enlist to see them; y'all are lucky!"

Anyway, I like to keep a running tally of what each person in our household needs or is going to need in the near future. I do this for anything that is could cost me more than 5 bucks.

 It's so simple. Its purpose is two-fold: for big purchases like hubby's glasses, I won't be blindsided by the expense and for smaller items (summer shorts) I'll know I need to stalk the sales. I'd much rather pay 5-8 bucks for a pair of shorts than 12-16! Most everything in our house is new, mainly due to the renters trashing it, but when we lived in an older house, I also kept a list of upcoming home needs. Armed with your list, you can wait for sales, or free shipping promotions, etc. Every little bit really does add up.

Hope you have an awesome weekend!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Appliances That Save Money

I'm going to assume if you're reading this, you're already pretty budget conscious and are already shopping the clearance section for your appliances. So, I'm going to skip the whole How-To-Not -Pay-Full-Price-For-Your-Appliances chat and dive right into the subject of Not-Strictly-Necessary but Really Awesome Alliances that can can save you serious dough over the long haul. If you have the up front cash (think tax return) these babies can make life quite nice and even cheaper. Apologies for the picture quality. Here we go:

Bosch Automatic Espresso/Coffee Maker:

I am not gonna beat around the bush, this bad boy was expensive. We paid roughly a grand for it after a particularly nice tax return. But, before you decide that I am nuts for putting this in a "budget living" post, let me explain myself. We go through quite a bit of coffee. It is sort of our thing. We actually met in a coffee house! Hubby and I drink it together in the morning while we review the day's agenda and if the weather sucks, we drink it in the afternoons while we chat on the couch. The Bosch uses very little in the way of beans and has also (nearly) replaced our trips to Starbucks. Here's the cost breakdown: before the Bosch, we went through about a bag of coffee per week. 7 bucks per bag x 4 weeks per month= 28 bucks We also frequented Starbucks about 3 times per week at roughly $10 per visit= $30 per week or $120 per month. YIKES! Total Monthly Coffee Habit Before Bosch: $148

I mentioned the Bosch is much more coffee efficient than our old drip maker. We now go through about 1 bag per month. Yup, that is it. The Bosch wrings out every last bit of goodness from an insanely small amount of grinds, which saves us $21 bucks a month on bagged coffee alone. We typically only go to Starbucks twice per month now, so we're saving a total of $121 bucks a month by owning this machine. That means that we will break even on our Bosch in just over 8 months of ownership and realize significant savings over the life of the machine, which should be at very minimum a good 5 years plus. Worth the initial cash? For my family, yes!

SodaStream Carbonator:

If you're into soda or Sparkling water (guilty) I can't recommend this machine enough. I can't remember what we were spending on our sparkling water habit before we got the SodaStream. For us, this purchase was more about having the ability to control the ingredients and eliminate the waste of single-serving cans and bottles from our recycling bin.

We bought a mid-grade model which cost us about 100 bucks up front and took advantage of a $25 rebate that SodaStream was offering at the time. The best time to find rebates like this is typically in the Black Friday through Christmas time frame. Each CO2 cartridge retails for 20 bucks, but after the initial purchase, you can exchange cartridges for 15 dollars. You just strut into Target's Customer Service and swap them out. With very regular use, each cartridge lasts our family about 3 weeks, meaning we fork over about 5 bucks per week for "fun water." The carbonating bottles can get expensive as they do need to be replaced frequently, but you can find them for significantly cheaper on Amazon.

Jacuzzi Tankless Hot Water Heater:

Note: I don't recommend Tankless unless you get the gas model. I just don't like the electric ones! you may have one that works awesome, but after my in-law's experience with an electric tankless, I just won't be going down that road anytime soon.

Again, this purchase wasn't really about the savings for us at first. We have limited space and lots of people, so the diminutive size of the tankless hot water heater as compared to the traditional model really appealed to us. We actually hide it in our pantry. I can't give you firm numbers on what we save on our utility bills and here's why: I lived in this house as a single person with a traditional hot water heater. Then, we (all 5 of us) moved back in with the tankless heater. All I can tell you for certain is that both our gas and water bills are smaller now for our family of 5 than they were when I was the only one living here. YMMV, but when your gas bill is literally only a few dollars more than the "basic customer charge" each month, I think our tankless heater kind of speaks for itself. We also love the ability to adjust the temperature of the water up and down at the touch of a button depending upon whether or not we need to soak or are giving the kids a bath. Definitely a cool and very convenient safety feature.

Disclosure: I have not been compensated in any way whatsoever for this post. We own these three appliances and love them. That is all.

Your turn: what "unnecessary" appliances do you own that save that money and make you happy?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Clothing Kids on a Budget

Well, life happened and obviously, we haven't blogged in about a year. However, a friend recently confided that she was looking at cutting back at work in order to spend more time with her daughter. She asked me to share some of our best tips and tricks for frugal living and staying home with our large family. I figured this was as good a time as any to begin posting again. I'll be tackling some of our big money-savers over the next few weeks, starting with how we keep (cute) clothes on our kiddos' backs. Without further ado:

1. Figure out what your kids need to have in their closet. Make a list. This is the bare-bones minimum that will keep your child in seasonally appropriate clothing that is also activity appropriate. You can add to this list as your budget permits, but in a money crunch, it's good to know how little each child truly needs. Our kids aren't in school yet and I do laundry often, so they don't need to have a huge wardrobe.

2. Buy a size up and buy in the off season. Paying clearance prices for my kids clothing saves us a ton of money. The downside is having to store it, but would you rather pay $3.80 for a button down long sleeve shirt or 15 bucks? I would urge you to buy heavy winter coats 2 sizes up. They aren't cheap and getting 2 years' wear out of them leads to significant savings. Buying off-season also allows me to clothe our kids in new things, rather than relying on consigned clothing that may not wear as well or as long.

3. Keep a list of the items you intend to buy and a price range you find acceptable to pay for these items.  Then, set a budget for each child. our toddlers have a clothing allowance of $250 per year, which includes shoes (yes, they have plenty of shoes). Our youngest has a $100 budget, simply because her older sister outgrows clothing with alarming regularity. Her hand-me-downs are hardly used. We could probably eliminate the $100 from our budget, but we don't feel that it would be fair for her to not have new clothing when her siblings do. When our oldest starts school, I expect that her budget will double, but for now $250/year keeps them very well and very adorably clothed.

4. Thredup.com I clean out the kid's closets twice a year as the weather changes. Most of it gets trashed or sent to Goodwill, but anything nice enough to be consigned gets shipped off to thredup.com. I should note that you won't make much using their service. They are super-picky and they don't pay well. The last bag I sent in was stuffed to the brim with good stuff and I made about 30 bucks. If you can take your items to a brick-and-mortar consignment store, you'll do much better. If, however, you don't have the time/patience/inclination (like me!) it may be worth it to you. I typically find that the prices on their women's clothing is better than the kid's pricing, so I use the credit to fill in any wardrobe gaps I might have if the kids have everything they need.

If you're anything like me, right now you're thinking, "prove it." Okay :) My last purchases:

My order was from Crazy8. I shopped the sale section and used a 20% off code and free ship offer I received for signing up for their email list. I got blue jeans and a button down for our son, a skirt and shirt for our youngest, and a denim skirt for our eldest. My grand total was $23.53.

3 of my items were originally priced 16.88 and 2 of them were 12.88. Had I just gone out and bought these items at full price my total would have been $76.40.

Next up for budget friendly living- appliances that aren't super necessary, but save you a bundle in the long run!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

We are doing something a little different, maybe even a little drastic by some standards. We are all going to be living in 720 square feet of space...for the next 6 years while the husband redoes a portion of his bachelors and works on his masters...more on that later. Yes, all  almost 6 of us. Yes, our family and friends think that we are nuts.

We've owned the house for a while now and used it for rental income, which was great. It supplemented the husband's military salary and put a little fun money back in our lives. But after 7 years of ownership, the mortgage is down to a truly tiny amount. Like less than a car payment. We decided to live here so that I could continue to stay home with our kids. We both figure that our kids need us more than they need space. They probably won't always agree with me on that, but while they're little, why not?

When we first started rolling the idea around, we did a lot of research on small-space living. We learned the the average family home in the UK is just 800 square feet, not much bigger than our place. We stumbled onto tiny houses and saw some of the awesome things people are doing with them. We noticed that most small space dwellers cited the ability to save serious amounts of cash or a need to simplify as their reason for downsizing. While some of the families we read about did eventually move up to slightly bigger homes, most stayed put and even had normal, well-adjusted kids :) 

We considered adding on, but quickly nixed the idea. Paying a contractor would eat into our savings and with four kids, major diy construction just isn't feasible. We are gutting the whole house and reworking the space to accommodate all of us better. We'll definitely be putting some "real" money into the house, but when we move to the next chapter of our lives, the improvements should translate into higher rent. Actually, the plan is to use the rental proceeds to help finance private school for the kids. In the mean time, living well below our means should allow us to continue building our savings, putting us in a much better position for retirement and kiddos' college. In addition to the monetary savings, our little house saves us time, too. I can clean the whole thing in record time and when there's less to maintain, well, there's just less to maintain. Our weekends will be spent with each other, our kids, and our hobbies, not maintaining a lifestyle.

With that said, I do realize that putting 4 kids in the same room won't be without challenges. I think the scariest part is going to be sharing one bathroom. But, we'll work it out.

I hope you'll check in with us often as we share our adventures, what is (and isn't) working for us in our space, and our cash-saving, backyard farming lifestyle!