More Meal Plan Ideas


More meal plan ideas!

I love these types of posts. Well, these and grocery hauls. Love writing’ em, love readin’ em.

Years ago one of the first things I tried (and failed and tried again) to wrestle into submission was our food budget. We ate out a lot, had a ton of food waste, and spent way too much at the store with no plan.

Fast forward to now, I’ve been meal planning every week for about 2 years and we eat at home every night except special occasions like our anniversary. As opposed to every time we celebrate Wednesday, or “not feeling like cooking.” All this home cooking still needs to be inspired though, and Pinterest gets most of the credit. Here are some dinner ideas I’ve found and tried!

IMG_7379 Ranch Chicken Roll-Ups- I found this one on the Pillsbury website and we really like it. I serve it with steamed veggies to balance out the ranch and crescent roll parts.

Insider tips: It says to buy and shred a rotisserie chicken. Those things are like $10. So I just throw a half a package of tenders in the crockpot all day and then shred that. Way cheaper.

Also, leave the crescents in the fridge until the last second. If they warm up they get mushy and harder to cut into rolls. Also, go with a sawing motion vs a press down when you’re cutting.

IMG_7663 One Pot Greek Chicken and Rice– I’m not sure this is actually Greek, I think its more like in the spirit of Greek food, using some traditionally Greek spices. But either way, I’m a sucker for one pot meals and I made this one entirely in my big cast iron skillet.

The next time I make it though I’m going to get some feta or goat cheese crumbles to sprinkle over the top.


IMG_7600 Baked Spaghetti Casserole– I found this one while looking for Weight Watchers dinner recipes. I’m not exactly sure how this qualifies, since it has cream cheese, pasta and ground beef, but the kids love it.

This week though, the grocery budget was a little tight so I didn’t get any ground beef to put in it, so we’ll see how it does with some extra veggies.



Hope these meal plan ideas perk up your menu this week! I’ll keep posting more as I discover them.


How to Make Any Boxed Cake Mix Amazing


I feel like I’m always making cakes or cupcakes of some type between birthdays, class parties, holidays, even National Firefighter Appreciation Day.  I’ve really taken a liking to it, and baking my own always is less expensive than buying from a bakery.

So in light of Ben’s birthday party this Saturday, I thought I’d collect all my favorite baking tips, tricks, and easy switcheroos on how to take any $.83 boxed mix and make it taste like its from a bakery.

Ben’s 1st Birthday; and How to Save on Kids’ Parties

Egg Whites– Remove the yolks from the eggs recommended on the back and use just the IMG_6927whites. Then replace each yolk removed with 1 tbs of melted butter. This makes the cake lighter and fluffier and also lightens the color of white cake mix.

Extra Eggs– For a richer denser cake, add one or two extra eggs.

Trade Oil for Butter– Butter obviously makes everything better, but its even more obvious with cake, and it improves the texture.

Instant Pudding– Add a package of instant pudding to the cake mix. This is where I sometimes get creative too. Have a white cake mix? Add a package of strawberry pudding mix. Play around with flavors a little bit and you might discover something you really like.

Switch Out Water for Whole Milk- This makes the cake taste denser like you would get from a bakery.

Switch Out Water for Brewed Coffee- To bring out the flavor in chocolate cake. Ive actually never tried this one before but I’m going to this weekend when I make Ben’s chocolate construction site cake. If you’re not into brewing coffee…

Use Hot Water- For chocolate cakes in the same amount recommended in the box directions. This will bring out the flavor.

Sour Cream- Adding 1/2c of sour cream adds richness.


People also rave about home made frosting, but personally I’ve never done it. Here’s a quick one from good old Betty Crocker.

For more boxed cake mix tips, here are some links:

All Things Mama

Rachel Ray

Happy Baking!

Meal Planning Ideas


Keeping the grocery shopping and out to eat budgets under control is such a huge part of keeping our whole budget.

Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It

Ive really gotten into the swing and habit of meal planning lately and thats really helped, but sometimes its a challenge to keep it fresh.

I really want to do more posts like this, so here’s the first meal planning post of 2018! These are a few meals I’ve tried lately that we really like and aren’t outrageously expensive.


Personal Pot Pies or “pot pie guts.” This one is super easy. I put half a package of chicken tenderloins in the crock put with salt and pepper, about 1c. chicken broth and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and leave it there for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.

Then I drain the broth out, and stir in a jar of chicken or turkey gravy and let it sit on warm for like a half an hour.

Put into bowls and top with a biscuit! Done.



Bang Bang Chicken This one is new to the meal plan and is SOOO good.

I found it on Pinterest here.

I might have cheated out a little bit and not gotten the sweet chili sauce or the fresh chopped parsley, but it was still good with just using things I already had or could find easily.

It also stores well and makes for great leftovers.


IMG_7329Garlic Cheddar Chicken Bake This one I found on the Pillsbury website when I was randomly searching for “easy family dinners.”

It only has a couple of ingredients, five of them are probably in your pantry right now.

Everyone loves it and I make it weekly (for now) with mashed potatoes as a side.

This is another one that stores perfectly and is a hit again on leftover night.


I hope maybe one of these piqued your fancy and made this weeks meal plan a little easier. I have another one of these posts planned. And I definitely have to get a new bulb for my dining room light because I hate the yucky yellow color it gives everything.

Bon appetit!

January Budget Update


January was an amazing month for us. I felt so rejuvenated in the new year. We were able to put $2,772.19 towards our debt, and paid off TWO student loans!!

Now while being super encouraged, I know this isn’t going to be a typical payoff, and a lot of things happened that we can’t really count on:

  1. I was able to score a (long and horrendous but lucrative) 12 hour shift on New Years Day that paid time and a half, and I brought home about $700.
  2. A medical bill from September that was billed improperly and had to be reprocessed hasn’t come yet, but we had budgeted for it anyways.
  3. Jeff has been traveling for work and was paid $328.78 in travel pay on top of regular salary.
  4. And lastly (most surprisingly), some money we had basically written off as never coming actually showed up! Jeff did a side project for a friend like months ago… I’m talking maybe August, and was going to be paid about $500. Well after a bit of waiting and patience and some run around, we finally decided that he wasn’t going to be paid, and to just let it go and not lose a friendship. And then out of the blue a check came!!

So all those things, plus our usual $4,056.56 in monthly income between me and Jeff helped on the income side. The nurse in me wanted to call it the “preload.” Lol But one cannot survive on preload alone, and debt (for us anyways) is a spending problem, so heres how we limited our spending.

Mortgage: $1,006.35, includes the mortgage, homeowners and taxes, Paid as per usual. We were notified by our bank today that this is going up for next month. Yay.
Food: This is my arena. We budgeted for $650. I spend $434.01 in four trips to Aldi. Meal planning takes all of the credit here.
Electric Bill: We budgeted for $170, actual bill was $179.84. Were still getting used to our new electric water heater, but I think with some careful monitoring we can get under $170 and not have to adjust the budget.
Oil: This one wasn’t fun. I wasn’t sure how much to budget for so we just left it open. It was sub zero here for weeks, and we paid $609 for oil. Soul crusher.
Car Insurance: $86, which comes out as two payments of $43.
Communications: $166, includes Dish, Internet, our landline and Netflix.
Food Bank: $20, always and forever. Until we can afford more.
Student Loans: $341, I included this in our debt payoff number too. Now that Small Potatoes 2 and 3 are both paid off, our minimum monthly payment is under $300 (I believe $297).

We did really well limiting any extra spending. We paid $99.95 for our year subscription to BeachBody for our workouts, $81.68 on my mom’s birthday gift and surprise party, and I took Abby and Ben through McDonald’s one day for lunch when the groceries ran out the day before we shop. To the tune of $14.86. Jeff has been traveling for work all week, so he drives to the site and then stays at a hotel 2 miles from work, so that really kept our spending on gas low, $118.75.

Now that I have a new wire so I can charge my laptop, I’m planning posting here more. I’m working on the February budget now, so I’ll be posting that pretty soon, and I want to write about how I’m using consignment stores to get the kids’ spring clothes and also more budget meals.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Pie


Need a quick dessert last minute? Or need one on the cheap?

I found this quick, cheap, and easy no-bake recipe on Meatloaf and Melodrama thats perfect for the holidays. It takes about 10 minutes to make, and all you need is a hand beater and a fridge.


The best part is you can make it on the cheap because it only has 5 ingredients, and one doesn’t even count because everyone has nutmeg (or even cinnamon in a pinch) in the cabinet.

I got everything at Walmart, which I usually don’t go to because I feel like its over priced. But all together I spent $.98 each on the prepared graham cracker crust, the pudding package and the generic cool whip. The eggnog what the priciest at $5.50, but I bought the half gallon because I’m making a punch with it later.

Make it even cheaper: You only need 1 1/2 cups of eggnog for the recipe, so get the single serve containers for $1 each, bringing your total cost to $4.94.

If you can’t stand the thought of a grocery store the day before a holiday, I’ve got great news. You can get the pudding mix, eggnog single serves and the CoolWhip at any convenience store. The one I worked at sold the pre-made crusts too, but if yours doesn’t, heres a link to a YouTube video on how to make a piecrust out of Graham Crackers.

I actually used white chocolate flavored pudding. I shopped yesterday, and was noticing that the regular eggnog was pretty much gone, but with this recipe, you can use light eggnog, or any of the flavored versions and it would still turn out great.

Also did I mention its only 80 calories per serving?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quick Start Guide


I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while; a very basic, down and dirty, step by step guide on how to get started on being debt free. This is what WE did, and more or less how I usually respond when people say “I want to take over my finances but how do I start?!”

  1. Get Mad. Write down all of your debts on a piece of paper. Everything. Every personal loan, every credit card medical bill, car loan, student loan (you can add the student loans together for each person in the household to save room on the page), the mortgage, everything. Make it look nice because its going to be on display.  Add all of those numbers together and write your total on the very bottom of the page. Woah huh? Now post that up someplace where you’ll have to look at it every day. One of those places in your house where the floor cleaner people call a “high traffic area.” Now leave it there for a few days and just marinate on that figure.

    This can also be the time when you dream about what you would do with your life if you didn’t have debt payments. For me it was to be a stay at home mom of a big family. If we didn’t have car payments, credit cards, student loan payments, we wouldn’t need as much income, I wouldn’t have to go to work and we wouldn’t have to count on baby sitters or after school programs or family members to take care of the kids.

  2. Educate Yourself. Now you know how deep of a mess you’re in, you’ve marinated on it until the point where you’re mad. But don’t be mad where you’re just flopping around like a fish out of water with no real direction. Educate yourself about debt reduction and financial fitness. If you knew how to manage your finances effectively, you wouldn’t be in this mess right? So ask an expert.

    fullsizerender-1-2Read Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover. Sign up and attend Financial Peace University. A lot of people like the book Barefoot Investor, but personally I haven’t read it yet. I also really was inspired by Ruth Soukup’s book Living Well, Spending Less. Find some expert plan that inspires you and create your game plan.

3. Make your Budget. You HAVE. To have. A Budget. Your budget is your new great uncle that died and left you all kinds of money. Never have we ever “found” more money than since we started a strict budget. Last month I wrote a post about how to make a budget that fits your income. You can read it here. I worked really hard on it and made sure to include tips on how to cut expenses and add income, so I hope that you find it helpful.


4. Track your Progress. Motivation is key. Personally, I know I can only deprive myself
of pizza delivery and Dunkin’s coffee for so long without seeing some type of payoff. I like these debt free charts and I used them a lot for my student loans. But they just weren’t doing it for me now that we’re tackling Jeff’s loans because he has like 17 of them. So I switched over to this style with the boxes. Find some type of way to show what you’ve accomplished, and then post it up in the same high traffic area you have your debts listed.

5. Tweak and Adjust. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not debt free in the first month, or if you fall short of some of your goals. Reflect on what you’ve learned so far and adjust your plan for the next month. Change your goals to be more realistic, or change your methodology to accomplish your goals no matter what. Cut out expenses, sell something, add more income through a side job or overtime. Like anything else this is a journey, and its not without stumbling blocks or a learning curve. But no matter where you are on the journey, you’re always better off than before you started.

How to Make a Budget


The most important thing we did when deciding to get out of debt and take over our finances was to make a budget. Right after making a list of all of our debts and posting it up in a central location, looking at it every day and marinating on it for a while. Now that we’ve had an updated, working budget, I have no idea how we were functioning (or trying to) without one.

If you want to get out of debt and have savings goals, you. Need. A. Budget. No lie. No way around it.

But when we were first starting out, actually MAKING one was the hardest part. This isn’t a skill taught in school anymore, and judging by, not only my personal experience, but the recent report from the Federal Reserve that states that Americans now carry more credit card debt than ever, even before the Recession of 2009, people are not seeing responsible financial behavior modeled in their homes or other relationships. What do you actually do? Pen to paper, what do I need?

  1. Gather your bills, receipts and pay stubs for 3-4 months. As with anything, you have to start with a good foundation. Income and bills can fluctuate, especially utilities and grocery spending, or income if you’re an hourly employee like myself. The rest of your budget is based on what you observe yourself bringing in and spending, so those numbers need to be accurate, and one month’s worth of info isn’t going to cut it. Grab 3-4 months worth to start.
  2. Figure out your monthly take-home pay. Whether you get paid monthly, weekly or bi-weekly, total up all of your paychecks for each of 3 months and get your total income for each month. Then add them all together and divide by 3 (or 4 if you’re using 4 months of data). This gives you your average monthly income. If you are self employed or have an otherwise irregular income, read Dave Ramsey’s guide here, on how to make a budget with irregular income. (This is the fun part where you say “Yay! Look at the money I make!”)
  3. Figure out your monthly expenses. This part takes some work, especially in regards to the time you put into it. To track your spending monthly, get all your bills together for one month. This is just going to help you create categories for your budget, and you’ll be surprised at how many there are when they’re all out there on the table. Don’t forget to track things like groceries and housewares. There is a worksheet here from for a visual aide.
    Then, get the bills from the other two or three months you’re using for your baseline data to make your budget, add the number for each category and divide by how many months. Example, for category Electric Bill, go back and find your electric bills from May, June and July (if those are the months you’re referencing), add them together and divide by 3 to give you your average expected electric bill.

    Tip: For utilities that fluctuate throughout the year, such as oil in the winter or electric in the summer when AC’s are running, use the months where these numbers are highest to create your budget to avoid running over your budget for an entire season. You might not spend all of the money allowed for your oil budget in August, but you’ll be thankful for the cushion come February. If you are running a tighter budget and aggressively paying off debts and not keeping a big cushion in your utilities account, redo your budget every few months using current or more relevant data and make your adjustments accordingly.

    The most important expense to include in your list here are your savings goals. These can include your starter emergency fund of $1,000 if you’re doing the Baby Steps, Christmas gifts, or medical bills that are upcoming. As Dave Ramsey says, “Pay yourself first.” After all, a budget is how you tell your money where to go to avoid wondering where it went (another Dave-ism), and every singe dollar of your income needs a purpose.

  4. Figure out the difference between the two. Very easy step but a very difficult one. Total up all of your monthly expenses (including your savings goals that we described earlier as a necessary expense). Then subtract that number from your total monthly income.
    Take a deep breath.
    Is that number positive? Then woo hoo!! Nice job, you make more money than you spend. You have met all your monthly expense requirements and savings goals and have money left over to service your debts.
    Is it negative? You then are in the majority of people who spend more money than they make. Proceed to step number 5.
  5. Make adjustments. If you spend more than you make, you will need to make adjustments to your budget. You can’t keep on running deeper and deeper into the red every month. You’re not Congress after all.
    Look back over each category of your monthly expenses. What surprised you? Were there a few things that cost a lot more than what you had been telling yourself there do in your mind? What we did when we were in this very same position a few years ago was to rank our expenses from most to least important, and then lop off a few at the bottom of the “important” list. This is called prioritization. It is absolutely essential. If you can’t meet your monthly expenses with your income, some things have to go.
    So what can you cut or reduce? This will be a mindset that will carry you through. Every month I’m thinking “what can I cut? What can I reduce?” Check out my post about What Do You NEED Really? for inspiration. For starters, the first things to go for us were:

    1. The cell phone bill. This saved us hundreds of dollars and was a huge motivator. This seems like a big shake up, and some people might stop right here and abandon this whole budget mindset because as a society were are addicted to our phones and cannot even remember how we survived just a few years ago without them. But sometimes a big shake up is exactly what you need. We have honestly not suffered at all without our phones. Jeff has a work phone that his company pays for, and I use my phone just like I used to except only when wifi is available. In the great scheme of priorities, the latest and greatest phone out there with the fastest internet were not even close to the top.
    2. Subscription box. I used to subscribe to Citrus Lane, a subscription box of kids stuff I used to get for $20 a month. I liked getting it, but it was an easy thing to cut. There are so many more subscription services on the market now than when we started; it seems like the industry has kind of exploded, whether its dog treats or kids stuff or new clothes and accessories or makeup or whatever. What seemed like a trifle to me then might be very relatable to people now. None of these are necessary for sustaining your existence.
    3. Weight Watchers app and Gym Memberships. The WW app was another $20 a month, and I don’t even remember what our gym memberships were. I like the WW app, but I had successfully done the program using pen and paper for free before. Cutting the account and going back to this low tech method was a pain in the butt, but I felt like it was worth it. There was a time we had gone to the gym regularly, but that was long ago. Both of us working and having kids at home, it was easier for us to work out at home, and the monthly gym payments had to go.
    4. Reduce grocery spending. When we first started out we were spending over $1,000/month on groceries and eating out. This is obviously outrageous and unsustainable. Since then, keeping food costs down has been my constant hobby. Read all of my thoughts on Surviving the Grocery Stores and Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It. And check out my Week of Budget Dinners.
    5. Reduce heating and electric. Even up until this week I’m still working this. A budget isn’t an iron clad soul surrender that guarantees everything is going to go perfectly. You continuously will have to recommit to your goal. Look at my post Little Things for ideas on how to cut utilities. Turn down the heat, turn up the AC’s or turn them off. Line dry clothes, shorten showers and go to cold water washing. Wring every penny out of your budget to work closer and closer to your goals.
    6. Increase income. Another thing that you can do to get things moving aside from cutting expenses is to add some income. I have a crochet goods side business. I have a friend that drives for Uber. Pick up a few shifts at a second job. One of my favorite things to do for more income is to sell stuff we don’t like/want/need/use anymore. Check out my post 7 Things You Can Do to Save Money This Week! for more information and ideas.

Thats it really. Finances are just numbers, and not even hard math, just addition and subtraction. Ok and division when you figure out the average in the very beginning.

Frequently revisit your budget to make sure that it continues to work for you. Adjust your expected monthly expenses and savings goals. A budget isn’t useful if its not accurate.

And a budget will change your life. You will feel more in control. You will see the change not only in your finances, but over time, in your outlook on spending, saving and what your goals are.

Just try it for six months and see where it takes you.