Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Money Management Matters

Donnie and I have been struggling to stick to a budget for some time. We’ve tried weekly, monthly, and annual budgeting styles. We’ve tried calculating every last expense, planning for every penny, saving receipts, using multiple bank accounts, using cash envelopes, and just about every other trick in the book. And, for the most part, we’ve failed miserably. We are simply too disorganized to follow a strict budgetary system. Even worse, every time we fail to stick to a written budget plan, we end up giving up almost entirely, at least for a little while.

Finally, however, Donnie and I have developed a money management system that works for us, because it’s so simple. It’s not a budget. It’s just a basic plan for using and saving our income.

First we calculated our approximate monthly expenses, and our approximate monthly income. Then we determined that, each month, we’ll leave the amount of our total monthly expenses, plus a cushion, in our checking account. The rest will go into savings. When we decide to make a major purchase, we’ll comparison shop, wait for a good deal, then take the necessary money out of savings.

I know this probably sounds foolhardy to those who can budget brilliantly, but it’s the only method that actually seems to work for us. Since we don’t shop for fun, rarely get takeout, and don’t spend a lot of money on recreational activities, there’s no danger of us overdrawing our checking account. And we’re still building savings, one month at a time.

The best part is, I no longer lie awake at night, wracked with guilt over failing yet again to keep our budget balanced. I know we’re living within our means, and planning for the future. And it makes me smile.

How do you manage money?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wonderful Wednesday Samples!

Donnie and I have had some "stuff" going on in our lives over the past few weeks, but as things get more settled, hopefully I'll be able to get back to regular blogging.

In the mean time, enjoy some free samples!

Parent's Choice Formula

UnderJams Nightwear

Doggy Delightz

Total Cereal

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No More Money Down the Drain!

It's easier than you may think to lower your water bill. Donnie and I have implemented just a few of the strategies listed below, and our average monthly payment has decreased by approximately ten dollars. That's an extra $120 a year to pay down debt, contribute to savings, help those in need, or use for home repairs. It may not seem like much, but I'll take it!
  • Brush your teeth in the shower.
  • Turn the water off while you lather up soap, shave, brush your teeth, or floss.
  • Install a low-flow shower head.
  • Place a gallon milk container filled with water in your toilet tank.
  • Only flush the toilet when necessary (I'll leave it to your discretion to define "necessary").
  • Get out of the shower five minutes earlier than usual.
  • Only wash full loads of laundry or dishes.
  • Turn the water off while you scrub dirty dishes.
  • Make sure to turn all faucets entirely off after use.
  • After you boil pasta or potatoes, use the water to feed your plants.

How do you save money on your utility bills? Do you have any unique tips or tricks for cutting costs painlessly?

Originally published April 2008.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dining IN: Italian Sausage Soup

Italian sausage soup is one of my favorite simple suppers. It's delicious, satisfying, and full of nutrients. Plus, it's a cinch to make!

Sautee in a large soup pot:

1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic
A little olive oil


2 cups cooked, diced Italian sausage
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 large bag of frozen spinach
A sprinkling of hot red pepper flakes

Sautee until heated through.


2 quarts chicken stock (I use homemade)

Bring to a rolling boil.


1 lb of pasta (I use rotini)

Boil ten minutes, or until pasta is tender.

Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

One bowl of this tasty soup makes a complete meal. However, Donnie and I like to have homemade garlic breadsticks on the side!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Worth the Splurge

I usually don't mind cutting corners to save money. For instance, eating store-brand foods, wearing hand-me-down clothes, and driving a used car are all fine by me.

However, there are some areas where I won't compromise quality to save money, and I refuse to feel guilty about it. I just make sure to budget responsibly, only buy what I can afford, and use coupons whenever possible.

What about you? Do you have a few favorite splurge items? Or do you always buy the cheapest brands you can find?

Shoes. I've tried purchasing cheap shoes in the past, and always gotten disastrous results. Low quality shoes, particularly those made from synthetic materials, fall apart quickly, fit uncomfortably, and don't allow my feet to breathe. I now stick to well-made leather shoes, and usually buy my favorite brand. My feet are very grateful!

Bacon. Donnie and I have a favorite brand of bacon, which we can only get from a high-end grocery store. It's not cheap, but it's so flavorful that we only need to use a slice or two in most dishes. That helps make up for the higher price tag, and is actually healthier, since we don't have to eat a lot of bacon to get great bacon flavor.

Hair products. I have hard-to-manage hair, which only responds well to a very specific hair care brand. I haven't yet been able to get it free from CVS, but I still spend less than full retail by combining coupons and sales. It's worth the extra money for my hair to look healthy. Plus,Donnie just uses whatever shampoo I can get free from CVS, so our combined hair care costs aren't too bad!

Chocolate chips. I've tried baking with store-brand chocolate chips, and been very dissatisfied with the results. I find my favorite brand creamier, smoother, and better tasting than the generic version. Since I give homemade cookies and candies as gifts so often, it's definitely worth it to spend the extra cash and make something I'm really proud to share.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 2/23

Things have been really hectic for Donnie and me lately. It's not always easy to stay "sane," but I'm trying my best! Menu planning is one of the easiest ways I do this. Knowing what to buy at the store, what we'll be eating each night, and what food preparation needs to be done makes both our lives much easier.

  • rotini with red sauce and Italian sausage, garlic breadsticks, asparagus

  • creamy corn and carrot chowder, dinner rolls, broccoli

  • rice and black bean burritos, sour cream, carrot sticks

  • homemade pepperoni pizza, broccoli

  • beef stew with carrots and potatoes, dinner rolls, asparagus

  • dinner out with friends

For more great meal plans, visit I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Decadence on a Dime

I don’t like feeling deprived—it’s probably my biggest weakness. This is why I like to “dress up” basic menu items, to make them feel more luxurious.

Here are some of my favorite cheap, easy ways to make every day food feel special. What are yours?
  • Prepare homemade macaroni and cheese using extra sharp white cheddar. It tastes positively decadent!

  • Top toast with oven dried tomatoes or oven roasted peppers, plus a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

  • Roast carrots, turnips, or other root vegetables in the pan with chicken or turkey. They taste great, and add a beautiful flavor to homemade gravy.

  • Prepare your favorite hot chocolate mix with milk instead of water. A dash of cinnamon or vanilla extract makes for an even sweeter treat.

  • Top baked pasta with equal parts red and white sauce, for extra richness.

  • Round out a light dinner by serving garlic bread or breadsticks, plus olive oil for dipping.

  • Serve a small scoop of ice cream on a bed of fresh fruit. Sprinkle with granola if you like crunch!