Monday, October 20, 2008

Budgets and menus

Thought I'd share a picture from our trip to Scott's Bluff, Nebraska on Friday. The scenery was unlike anything I've seen. Very stark, but strikingly pretty at the same time.We went to the Brown Sheep Wool factory for a tour and to do a little shopping in their outlet store. I'm happy to say I actually spent less than I had anticipated, so I stayed within my budget for yarn. That is a big deal for me! I did get a lot of superwash wool for socks and mittens, then some regular sock yarn. The difference between regular and superwash is the fact that the superwash has been treated to allow you to wash and dry it without ruining it. If you wash regular wool, it shrinks and felts. Felting is great if that is what you are trying to do--for example felted bags and hats--but if you don't intend to shrink and felt, like a sweater that you spent lots of money on yarn and time--it can be flat out horrifying!! My oldest felted a 17" wide by 4 foot scarf down to 6"wide by 2.5 feet. At first he was going to toss it, but I am going to stitch the sides and use it for a knitting needle bag. Use up, make do, or do without....I'm working on the do without part.

One of the blogs that I have been following lately is Simple Mom. She had mentioned she keeps her budget online with Pear Budget. I gave the 30 day free trial a go and have since subscribed. At $3 a month, I have to say it is a bargain and an eye opener. Here is what it showed me:

The amount I THOUGHT we spent for groceries, eating out, entertainment and gas were completely different than what we actually spend.

I'd love to say it was LOWER than I had budgeted, but all the categories are higher. In the case of groceries, it is SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS higher than I had thought!! In the case of eating out, it is at least $150 more. All the little lunches through the drive thru and picking up little nibbles on the way to and from places adds up way too quickly!! I've included the times we just get a pop at Quik Trip in the figures since it is a small figure that is easy to overlook. After tallying all the small pop figures, it came out to more than I had figured in my head. Wow! I talked with the kids about the budget that I am keeping and was surprised that not only did they have a pretty good grasp on the concept, they suggested ways we can cut back.

Now I can see why we have more month left at the end of the money!

So here is what I am doing:

1. Going through my food cabinets and taking an actual inventory of what we have.

I have discovered we have several canned goods that have been hanging around and have not been used. For example, I have sauerkraut, several cans of beans (4 or 5 varieties), rice, canned pumpkin, cornbread mix and a ton of bread flour that have been in the cabinet a long time. So, the beans will be used for chili later this week to be served with either corn bread or hush puppies. The sauerkraut will be added to the slowcooker when I buy a pork loin this week. It imparts a nice flavor. Some people do not like sauerkraut--that is because it has been served straight from a can. If you add it to the meat as it is cooking, it absorbs that flavor and really mellows nicely. The pumpkin is going to become pumpkin bread and I'll add some dried cranberries to one loaf for pumpkin cranberry bread. These freeze well--if they aren't scarfed down immediately. The rice is going to be added to some soup I am making, also used as a side dish. We always have rice in the house, so extra is not uncommon...There are several other things that I will be utilizing in the cabinets. They have been pushed to the back and to be truthful, I forgot I had them. I also have some semolina flour I bought in bulk last month. I will use some of it for homemade pasta and then do an Internet search for recipes using semolina flour.

After I use up what we have in the cabinets, that will give me a better idea of what I need when I restock. I tend to buy way more than we really need. It is good to buy in bulk when things are a really good price--I do this often--but if you forget you have it and keep buying it, or don't use it at all, then it was not a bargain at all.

2. Making a menu and sticking to it. Tonight is going to be homemade pizza. We have tomato paste and sauce, Italian seasoning, garlic, mozzarella and peperoni in the house already. I'm making molasses crinkle cookies as soon as I finish this post. They are a good compliment to the pizza.Tomorrow I am using some of the beef broth from a roast I cooked as the base for a soup. We'll have that with crackers and a salad and fruit. Wednesday will be fish sticks and rice.Probably jello for dessert. We seemed to have a fair amount of that on hand for some reason.

Thursday will be leftover night with brownies. The rest of the menus for the week are unplanned at this point. I have a trip to Tulsa on Friday, so I am hoping to keep close to the budget this week since gas will be a consideration. Even though gas prices have dropped considerably, I am still in conserve mode. If we start relaxing our efforts to cut back on gas consumption, it will put us right back to $4 a gallon or more. I'm still bundling trips and cutting out others completely.

What do you have in your cabinets? Have you done and inventory? It's always good to have things stored for lean times, but keep an eye on their expiration dates and use them up. If you don't, it's money wasted.

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