Updates Galore! June Debt and No Spend Month

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june-debt-update

So I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you like first? I’ve always been a bad news first kind of girl myself, it’s kind of liking ripping off a bandaid and the good news ends up being like a soothing balm. How’s that for poetic?

So here it goes, the bad news is our no spend month hasn’t really been no spend. Although I will say we have spent a lot less than we normally would. I had thought we were doing great, and then I balanced the checkbook last week. I noticed that the little trips I sent my husband on to the store were adding up a bit more than I had budgeted for. That’s right, he was great at talking the talk all month about our no spending pact, but when it came to the things he loved at the checkout he apparently couldn’t help himself.  To the tune of about 50.00.

That honestly wouldn’t have been so bad, but I have this little chip on my shoulder called the unfair monster. As in, it’s really unfair you got to spend extra and keep it from me, I didn’t spend any extra this month! Yea, I’m really mature. So out I went to do a couponing run I had been talking myself out of (in my defense I got both toilet paper and laundry detergent at my stock-up price) and a swimsuit top for my no longer nursing assets.

But hey, we spent a little over a hundred non-budgeted money this month, and actually came in under budget on things like gas. So while our no spend month did not go as planned, it still wasn’t all that bad.

And now for the good. Our debt update. We didn’t go crazy and cut our debt a ton this month, but we did cut it some! As of today our total is 146367.97. That’s 1267.53 less than it was last month!

In all fairness this is just from us paying minimums-let that sink in. And starting next month three of our cards will start to accrue interest (they’ve been interest free for the last year) so our debt will not go down nearly as much.

But tonight we go to week three of Dave Ramsey’s FPU. We’ve created our first budget and are talking about both big and small things we can cut. We’re chugging along, but we’re not using our cards anymore and are committed to tackling this mess we’re in. We can do it!

Our Favorite Tomato Sauce Recipe (And Water Bath Canning)

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I’ve always thought of us as having a pretty healthy diet. We rarely eat out, eat as much organic as possible, and make a lot of things from scratch. But back in March Austen’s doctors put her on a new Whole Foods diet, and it’s taken our eating habits to a whole new level.

Austen is very rarely allowed to have any preservatives or processed foods, in fact we try to limit ‘cheating’ to once a week. I feel this has greatly helped with her seizure control, but man is it tough! I can 100% say that before March I never would have considered making things like mayonnaise and ranch dressing from scratch. But I’m determined to give my family the same foods they loved before, but in a healthier manner.

And y’all my family cannot live without it’s pizza or spaghetti. It’s just not an option. But most tomato sauces are full of the preservatives that Austen isn’t allowed to have. And the ones that are free of them are way out of our budget.

So here I am, calling up my aunt to figure out just how we made all that tomato sauce from scratch as a kid. And spending two days preparing the two cases of tomatoes I found on sale at Sprouts (because who can beat .50/lb!).

I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of work. But I now have enough tomato sauce for an entire year, and pizza sauce for six months. So I’m considering myself the real winner in this situation.

Tomato Sauce:

You will need:

50lbs Roma Tomatos

3 Tbsp Salt

4 Tbsp Dried Oregano

4 Tbsp Dried Thyme

4 Tbsp Dried Onion Powder

4 Tbsp Dried Garlic Powder

Citric Acid

First, blanch the tomatoes in batches by first putting them into boiling water for one minute, then ice water for an additional minute. Once the tomatoes are all blanched carefully peel and core them (this should be easy once they are blanched). Place cores and peels in a bowl as you go through the tomatoes, these can be thrown into the compost when you are done.

Place tomato pieces into a blender and blend until there are no chunks, then place the tomato puree into a large stock pot. Once all tomatoes are all blended and put into the stock pot place pot on the stove and heat at a medium high heat until boiling.

When the tomatoes reach boiling add the salt, oregano, thyme, onion powder, and garlic powder to the pot and stir thoroughly. Reduce heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer until reduced by 1/3.

While the sauce is reducing wash out jars, lids, and rings with hot soap water. If you are going to do waterbath canning put the lids, rings, and jars into a pot of hot water to keep them warm until sauce is ready.

Once sauce is reduced dry off jars and sprinkle citrus acid on the bottom of the jar in the following quantities:

Pint Jars: 1 tsp

Quart Jars: 1/2 tsp

Small Jelly Jars: 1/8 tsp

Place sauce in jars leaving 1/2 inch of headspace, wipe off the rim, and place on the lid and ring. You can then freeze these jars (if they are freezer safe, and after they have cooled off) or you can  follow the directions below to do water bath canning to keep them good for up to a year.

** Note: You can also add sugar to the jars (in equal amounts to the citric acid) to counteract the acidity that the citric acid can bring. I choose to sprinkle sugar on my sauce after I open it, instead of before canning.

Water Bath Canning:

Water bath canning is my preferred method of canning. I don’t have a ton of freezer space to freeze my sauces (jars take up a large amount of space), and I’m scared to death I’d explode something in a pressure canner.

To water bath can you simply need-

For water bath canning you simply fill a large canning pot half way full of water, with the wire rack already inside, and place lid on the pot to allow water to simmer until jars are ready. Then using the jar lifter place the jars into the pot on the wire rack and fill the pot with more water until the water reaches 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Place lid onto the canning jar again and bring water to a rolling boil.

Once the water reaches a rolling boil start the processing time. For tomato sauce, this time is 40 minutes, but each recipe requires different times, and times go up depending on altitude.

When the time is up use the jar lifter to take the jars out one by one and place them upright on a towel to cool. Leave jars undisturbed for 12 hours to cool.

Before putting jars away test the seal by pressing down on the center of the lid. The lid should not pop up and down if it is properly sealed. Put all properly sealed jars away for future use, and unsealed jars can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

tomato-sauce-from-scratch

Experiences Over Gifts-Why We Stopped Spending Money On Birthday Presents

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Last year my husband and I made what many people think is a pretty crazy decision. We decided to stop buying our kids birthday presents. For real. They might get one small present on their big day, Austen got a doctors kit, for example, but other than that not much. Not much material at least.

You see we used to go all out for the kids birthdays. Big parties, lots of presents, the works. But all that money was wasted. It was money down the drain and if I’m being perfectly honest my kids weren’t getting a lot out of it. So we decided to change our mindset, we decided to focus on things that could last. You see, those parties were over within an hour, the toys broke within a week. Heck, some of them didn’t even last 24 hours.

These things that we spent so much money on didn’t last. If we were going to be forking out so much, we wanted it to be something that would stand the test of time, tangible or not.

We decided that memories were the thing to focus on.

So we made the choice to shift our perspective, we chose to believe that our children would get more out of experiences than they would out of toys that did not last.

For Addi’s birthday we went to Great Wolf Lodge.

For Atlas’ birthday we took him to see Thomas.

For Austen’s birthday we went to the Denver Children’s Museum.

Each of these things did cost us money, but the joy on our children’s faces, and the memories they talk about months afterward are worth so much more than those toys. We are choosing to give our children something they can take with them into adulthood.

Something that will never leave them.

Free (Or Cheap) Things To Do With Your Kids This Summer

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Summer is finally here! No more homework checks, or school lunches, or uniforms. The kids get to have sleep in, have fun, and enjoy some time being kids.

And it took all of three hours for mine to say I’m  bored.

When you’re on a tight budget the idea of keeping your kids entertained throughout the summer can seem pretty daunting. So many things cost so much money. With three kids a single day at an amusement park can easily cost us 200.00 or more…that is definitely not in our budget! But summer fun doesn’t always have to break the bank. Below are some ways you can have fun with the kids this summer, without dishing out a bunch of cash in the process.

Parks and Splash Parks  

They are fun, and they are free! Pack a few snacks and some sunscreen and hit the park for an afternoon of fun. The best part is that the other kids there will keep your little one occupied, so mama can sit down and snag a small break…maybe.

Museums

Although many museums do charge an entrance fee, if you do your homework you an often find once that offer free admissions or search out the few days a year when your local museum offers free or reduced price admission. For example the Smithsonian Institute, Pioneers Museum, Bronx Museum, and Olympic Sculpture park all offer free admission. Museums are a great way to keep your child’s mind engaged and learning this summer, and they usually have air conditioning which is always a plus for me.

Movies in the Park, or in the backyard

Movies in the park is one of our favorite summer activities, we pack a cooler with our favorite snacks and a blanket and load up to go spend a night watching movies under the stars. Every place we have ever lived has offered this activity 100% free. If your community doesn’t offer this activity you can still turn your backyard into your own drive in. You can get projectors fairly inexpensive on Amazon and hang a sheet on an outside wall as a screen.

Invite some friends over for some DIY Jenga, or a water balloon fight using reusable water balloons, and it turn it into a party.

Craft Your Heart Out (DIY sidewalk paint, bubble paint, make a bird feeder)

My kids love any chance they have at making a mess, it’s honestly just a bonus to them if something cute comes out in the process. In the winter time I find myself trying to keep our crafting low key, because I don’t want to spend 3 hours cleaning up a 20  minute craft while my kids destroy the rest of the house. Can you blame me?

But in the summer, the kids can craft outside, and they can make any mess they want as long as the water hose will clean it up! We’ve tried DIY Sidewalk paint, making bird feeders, and adding food coloring to a homemade bubble mixture to create bubble paint. To help with our budget, I generally look for crafts with ingredients we already have, as well as things like thread spools as bubble blowers so we don’t have to spend extra money.

Go for a hike

Whether it’s a state park with long and winding trails, or exploring your town on own two feet, getting out and hiking together is a great way to spend time as a family. It also will wear the kids out, so that’s always a plus.

Stargazing

Any reason to stay up late earns a big thumbs up in my kids books. Lay out a blanket and grab an astronomy book for kids. Make a game out of seeing who can find the most constellations, or count the most stars. My kids love to play ‘connect the dots’ to see what kinds of shapes they can come up with on their own!

Lowe’s and Home Depot Workshops

My grandpa always told me that he was so glad I loved to learn, but to make sure I learned skills as well as books. Lowe’s and Home Depot must feel the same way, and both provide the perfect learning environment for our little ones. Lowe’s offers Build and Grow Clinics every Saturday, while Home Depot offers theres once a month on average from what I’ve seen. The best part is both are completely free, and kids get to keep what they build.

Volunteer

I mentioned that giving back can be a fun activity in my Date Nights post a few weeks ago, but it’s not just for grown ups! There are a lot of areas where kids can get involved in communities too. Like playing with animals at the pound, collecting food for shelters, or helping to organize the inventory at the local food pantry.

Library Fun

Story time, crafts, foreign language classes, cooking classes, and so much more are offered at our local library for kids. And all of it is completely free. As a family we try to go once a week to get new books, and we try to schedule it at a time that an activity is scheduled. This summer our local library has programs teaching kids about music and movement, recycling, and the Rain Forest, and community helpers.

What kinds of things do you plan to do with your kids this summer? Let me know in the comments below!

Why Minimal Waste (And Why I Don’t Say Zero Waste)

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So I spoke a little bit about why we are going minimal waste in a video last month, but I left many people confused because minimal waste is not nearly as popular of a phrase as it’s Zero Waste sister. Although I could have left things at that video, I thought it would be best to address why I call my journey a Minimal Waste journey, and what that exactly means for my family.

First off, like I mentioned in the video, going Zero Waste is really not an option for my family. We got through so many syringes, oxygen masks, and medicine bottles that I will literally always have some sort of plastic in my home that is unavoidable. But that is not the only reason why we are Minimal Waste instead of Zero Waste.

Yes, I could go on a mission and get rid of everything disposable in our home other than Austen’s medical supples, and never bring those things back in. I could, but I won’t. And that’s because I do not feel that that is necessarily a healthy way to live my life. I know if I tried to live my life that way I would obsess over it to the point of not focusing on anything else, it’s just the way I am, so I choose not to.

Instead we have set up some ground rules for our home that we try to follow in order to cut down on the waste we create and not bring as many wasteful things into our home.

  • We follow the 5 R’s of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and Refuse that I learned about in the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.
  • We buy as much as we can without packaging. This includes shampoo, face soap, conditioner, and most food items.
  • We have made guidelines of what types of plastics we are okay with bringing into our home, namely cosmetics cases, milk cartons and milk cartons that I am unable to find in non plastic containers.
  • We do not purchase things in styrofoam, or use disposable plates or cutlery.
  • We got to know our communities recycling guidelines, and make sure anything we do bring in that is plastic falls within those guidelines.
  • We are focused more on lowering our trash output than our recycling output at the moment. Once we get that under control we plan to tackle that as well.
  • As things in our house break or become unusable that are made of plastic, we plan to replace them with sustainable alternatives. For example, when my plastic dish rack broke a few months back we replaced it with a bamboo option.

As time goes by my goal is to lower our output 85-90%. Right now I currently fill up my recycling bin every single week and throw away two trash bags full of trash a week as well. By December I hope to get that down to one load of recycling and one bag of trash every two weeks. Eventually I’d like to get it down to once a month or less.

I’m taking baby steps with my green journey, the same way I am with my debt free journey. And that is okay.

No Spend June

Today’s a special day, you’re getting two blog posts from me. I’m so excited about this news I just couldn’t help myself.

This morning I sat down with my husband and offered up the idea of a no spend month. A month where the only money coming out of our wallets is for gas, groceries, and bills.

No eating out. No trips to the ice-cream store or to the movies. No Target runs for mom (well, other than the once a month I have to go get Austen’s meds).

Nothing, nada, zip, zero, zilch.

I know that getting ahold of our finances also requires getting ahold of our spending habits, and a no spend month will help us in that endeavor. It’s going to be tough, but I know when July 1st comes around and I see my bank statements, it will also be so rewarding.

Six Ideas For A Fun (And Free) Date Night

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“Never stop dating each other.” 

It was a piece of marriage advice I heard once while I was a teenager. I think during a sermon but I’m not 100% sure. It’s funny how you can remember a quote or a saying, but not take it to heart until much later. It’s definitely true about me and that sentence.

Tomorrow my husband and I will celebrate seven years of marriage. Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it sure seems like a lot to us. Our marriage has not always been a walk in the park, and there have been times when both of us wanted to give up. But we’ve persisted and held strong. The other day I was thinking back on the last seven years, both good times and bad. I was trying to pick out what made the good years good, and the bad years bad. And while I truly believe it was several things, there was one common denominator during the good years: we dated.

During the good years we made a point to nurture our marriage and each other, and it showed.

It’s easy to stop dating your spouse. To make up excuses about why it’s not practical.

We don’t have a babysitter.

We work too much.

We don’t have enough money.

It’s so easy to come up with excuses, but let me tell you now there is no excuse to stop dating your spouse. Not even money. A date night doesn’t have to be an expensive extravaganza to be fulfilling, in fact some of my favorite date nights haven’t cost us a penny at all.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. A Walk in the Park: I love this one because it can be done with the kids in tow if the need arises. The kids are distracted by the playground and you can take some time for yourselves on a park bench. Just sit and talk, reconnect.
  2. Netflix and Chill: Put the kids to bed, grab a cup of tea or a bottle of wine and some popcorn and sit together to watch that new series you’ve been eyeing for weeks but can’t let the kids see. Grab a blanket and cuddle, you don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to.
  3. Game Night: You know that game of Scrabble that’s been sitting in the closet since college? Take it out and have fun! See who can come up with the longest or craziest word. Up the ante by declaring winner makes dinner and does the dishes tomorrow night.
  4. Volunteer Together: Volunteering cost 0.00 and it’s always fun to help others out, doing it with your spouse is even better.
  5. Budget Meeting: I can see the eyes rolling now, but hear me out. When you and your spouse are both on the same page, planning a budget, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and allowing yourself to just dream can be fun. I love sitting with a glass of wine and dreaming about what we will do when our debt is all gone.