Foodie Friday: My Freezer Cooking Weekend

CaptureOver Martin Luther King weekend, I invited my mom and my twin sister over for a cooking fest. We made a bunch of main dishes to put in our freezers for those days when we know we won’t have time to cook. I have done this once before, and we have decided to get together for this purpose three times a year, taking turns hosting. This is a big project to take on, so it’s important to stay organized. Here is how I did it:

FIRST: Make a list of the dishes you would like to make. We did macaroni and cheese, lasagna, Reuben style shepherd’s pie filling, beef stew minus the potatoes, grilled chicken breast, whole roasted chicken, ground beef seasoned with onions, salt and pepper,and breakfast burritos. Keep reading for the recipes.

SECOND: Make a grocery list. You’ll want to decide how many of each thing you want to make. For example, we made a triple recipe of beef stew so each of us could take one. On my grocery list, I wrote “stew meat- 3 pkg” so that I would know to buy for three recipes. It gets trickier if you have an ingredient that you’ll be using in more than one recipe. I knew that we would be using ground beef in our lasagna, the shepherd’s pie filling and I wanted some just by itself. I had to make sure to add all of the amounts together and write that down. I think I ended up buying 15 pounds of ground beef!

Also be sure to include storage containers on your list. Think about each dish you are making and how it should be stored. Most things on my list above were stored in zipper-top freezer bags, but some will go directly to the oven, so I put them in aluminum foil loaf pans and covered them with heavy duty foil. There are also plastic freezer containers you can buy if you would rather use those.

You also might want to pick up some snacks, drinks, or convenience items to have while you are cooking. You’ll get hungry and thirsty but every pot, pan, and dish you own will be in use or dirty! Plus after all that cooking and freezing, you won’t feel like cooking dinner that night!

THIRD: Shopping. You’ll probably be buying a lot of stuff. Take someone to help you and be sure to take insulated grocery bags and/or an ice chest to keep all of your perishables cold on the drive home. Stay focused in the store, so that you don’t overspend on items you don’t really need.

FOURTH: Set aside at least one whole day, maybe a day and a half, to do nothing but cook and clean. I think we had 4 rounds of using and washing my three big 6 quart pots, both of my 9×13 in cake pans and all my good knives. Not to mention spoons, cutting boards and mixing bowls.

Give your food ample time (about an hour) to cool down before putting it in the freezer. You don’t want to raise the temperature in the freezer so  much that everything else thaws!

FIFTH: Make a list of all the wonderful meals you have on hand and place that on your freezer door. I used a magnetic dry-erase sheet and a wet-erase pen. I had a dry erase marker for a while, but they dry out so fast. I figured my wet-erase would work for now. I can cross off items as they are used and when everything is gone, I’ll clean it with a wet paper towel.

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Now for the recipes!

I marinated and grilled 2 large packages of chicken breast. Once cooled, I cut it into strips (like for fajitas) and packaged them 2 breasts to a quart size bag. I added in some sauteed peppers and onions and froze. When I’m ready to eat them, I will just thaw over night in the fridge and heat in the microwave.

I let 2 whole chickens cook away in my slow-cooker for 6 hours on low. Once cooked, my dear sister de-boned and shredded them. We divided the chicken up into 9 quart size baggies, each taking three. This can be thawed in the fridge and used for soups, casseroles, or tacos.

We also browned some ground beef with diced onion, salt and pepper. We packaged up several one-pound portions in quart size bags and froze those for to use for pasta sauce, tacos, casseroles, or anything else you might need ground beef for!

Breakfast Burritos

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24 taco size flour tortillas
1 to 2 lbs breakfast sausage
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
12 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb cheese of your choice, grated

Brown the sausage in a large skillet and drain excess fat. Add in onions and bell peppers, cooking until tender. Add in eggs and scramble. Toss cheese in and let it melt. You may want a little more or a little less cheese. Just whatever you prefer.

Place one serving spoon full of egg/sausage mixture down the middle of a tortilla, tuck one end up and roll. Then roll in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.

When you are ready eat, take it out of the plastic, wrap in a paper towel and microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

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Cindy Clampet’s Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese

IMG_4298 (That was one hug pot of cheese sauce!)

2 C dry macaroni noodles
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste
2 C milk
1 lb cheddar cheese, grated

Topping:
2 slices bread, torn into small pieces
4 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese

Cook macaroni in boiling water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add in onions and saute until soft. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Whisk 3-4 minutes to make sure you wont taste raw flour. Whisk in mustard until combined. Whisk in milk and stir until sauce gets thick and bubbly. Add in cheese and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Add in macaroni noodles and stir to combine.

At this point dish your macaroni into desired containers. I use disposable mini loaf pans. This size is perfect for my little family of 3 “solid food eaters.” You could use a pan big enough for the entire recipe, or break it up like I do.

Place bread in a mixing bowl with Parmesan cheese and pour butter over the top. Mix with your hands to make sure the bread has soaked up the butter and is coated with cheese. Top the macaroni pans with this bread. Cover with foil and freeze.

When you are ready, let the macaroni thaw in the refrigerator for a couple days, then bake at 350 until it is hot and bubbly, and the bread topping is nice and toasted.

Beef Stew Minus Potatoes

IMG_4295 This photo is of the meat browning process.

1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1-1.5 lb stew meat
1 onion, chopped
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1 small can tomato paste
1 box beef broth
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil and butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper your meat, then sear it in hot oil. You want a nice brown color on the outside, but meat does not need to be cooked through at this point. It’s best if it is not. Remove meat from pan.

Throw onions and carrots into the pan and cook until they are starting to soften. Stir to get all of the meat bits off the bottom of the pan and get a little color on the vegetables. Add in tomato paste and stir. Pour in beef broth, add meat back in. Put a lid on your pan and let it simmer for 2-3 hours.

Cool the stew down, then place in gallon size zip-top freezer bag. Lay flat in the freezer.

When you want it, let it thaw and reheat on the stovetop. Serve over mashed potatoes.

** I do it with the potatoes mashed for two reasons. The first is my husband likes it that way. The second is that potatoes do not freeze well. If you had larger chunks of potato in your stew when you froze it, the texture would be very unpleasant upon reheating.

World’s Best Lasagna

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1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon
ground black pepper
4 tablespoons
chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces
ricotta cheese
1
egg
1/2 teaspoon
salt
3/4 pound
mozzarella cheese, slices
3/4 cup
grated Parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

Let thaw 2 days in the fridge. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Reuben-Style Shepherd’s Pie Filling-
This is modified from Rachael Ray’s recipe. She uses a “smashed potato” topper, while I like traditional mashed potatoes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound thick-cut good-quality corned beef,  chopped
1 pound ground beef sirloin
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 to 3 small stalks celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup lager beer, room temperature
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
One 10-ounce can beef consomme or 1 1/2 cups beef stock

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the corned beef and cook until browned, and then remove to a plate. Add the ground beef and cook until browned. Add the garlic, celery, bay leaf, carrots and onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Return the corned beef to the skillet.

Heat the butter in a small skillet or sauce pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, until light golden. Whisk in the beer, Worcestershire, mustard and consomme; season with pepper. Remove the bay leaf.

Pour the gravy over the corned beef mixture and stir to combine. Once cooled, transfer to a freezer container of your choice and freeze.

To serve, thaw and pour into a casserole dish. Top with sauerkraut, grated Swiss and cheddar cheeses, and mashed potatoes. Bake in a 400 degree oven until heated through- about 30 minutes.

Smart Babies

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If you have a new baby or are expecting a new baby soon, I bet you have hopes that he will be smart. What if I told you that your personal interactions with your baby have a huge impact on his cognitive development? It’s true! Babies whose parents talk to them are smarter! Kids from families with educated/professional parents know about 1,100  words by age 3 while kids from lower education level/low income homes only know about 500.

What does this mean for you?

Well, let it be an encouragement to talk to your baby! Everyday interactions with parents and adult caregivers as an infant can significantly increase a child’s readiness for learning at school. Here are some ways you can do this:

Describe what you see at the grocery store, on a walk, or while giving baby a bath. Describe what you are doing anytime you are with your baby and she is awake and alert. Just talk to her in a soothing voice, but use complete sentences and stay away from “baby talk” where some of the words are not pronounced correctly.

Sing silly songs. They will make your baby smile and laugh, but they will also expose your baby to more words. That’s a good thing.

Tell stories.

Read to baby.

Give lots of hugs and kisses and take time to really enjoy your child. Let him know that he is loved and well taken care of!

If you’re still not sure what to talk about or how to talk to your little one, visit http://www.talkingisteaching.org for a little nudge in the right direction.

 

Quick Tip Tuesday: Closet Sachets

Make a quick and inexpensive sachet to keep closets smelling fresh by cutting cheesecloth into 6 to 8 inch squares. Add about a tablespoon of scent boost pellets from the laundry detergent aisle of the grocery store. Tie up with twine or ribbon and hang or place in all of your closets. When the scent starts to fade, simply untie and replace the pellets.

Foodie Friday: Slow Cooker Tips

There are two reasons I’m thinking about slow cookers today. Number one is that we had a slow-cooker lesson yesterday in my office. Number two is that just finished up a weekend of freezer cooking. As I have searched the internet for ideas of meals/dishes to cook up for my freezer, I have been rather shocked at the unsafe things I have seen. It seems that freezer cooking is pretty trendy right now, and I want to help all of you to keep your families safe when you do this.

The first offense I want to cover is “dump cooking.” I have seen this a lot. It is where you prep/chop your veggies, prepare a marinade and then dump the veggies, marinade and chicken into a zip-top baggie to freeze later. I realize that all of these items are going to be cooked together in one slow-cooker pot, but this storage method is worrisome to me. Raw meat should never be stored with raw vegetables.

The next thing I have noticed that really makes me cringe is the idea that you can take your “dump” bag from the freezer and put it directly into your slow cooker. These things need to be thawed for a day or two in the fridge before you try to cook them in a slow cooker. Slow cookers heat slowly. That’s why they’re called slow cookers. When they heat slowly, that means that frozen foods will most likely be left too long in the “danger zone.” The danger zone is the temperature range between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. This zone is where bacteria thrive and grow the fastest. Once food has been in the danger zone for two hours, it’s probably too far gone to be safe. So, even if the food reaches a safe temperature (which it may not if it was frozen going in) it still won’t be safe.

Another unsafe practice is not using enough liquid. Having ample liquid in your slow cooker will help to make sure that everything cooks evenly. Liquid is a great conductor of heat, so if you use liquid is important to make sure that your meats are cooked thoroughly.

The third thing to remember is cooking times. When I use my slow-cooker, I usually put the food in before I go to work and let it go all day. Some dishes can hold up to this long cooking time, others cannot. But it is important to make sure that the food cooks long enough. Most things need to cook 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Be sure to follow a good recipe.

Just remember: only put in thawed ingredients, store raw meats and veggies separately, and always use a liquid in the cooking process!

 

Backyard Gardens: Interview With a Vampire…. er, Ag Educator

A woman came into our office last week. She is new to Chandler, OK and she wanted to find some ways to get involved in the community. While she was here, we got to talking about backyard gardens. It got me really excited to start planning my garden for this year!! Since the weather is supposed to be really nice this weekend, I am hoping I have a little time to get out and clean my beds so they are ready to go for cool weather veggies next month!! I wrote a little bit about small space gardening last year. If you don’t already have a garden spot, you might want to read that post.

I decided to do a little interview with Cody Linker, our Lincoln County Extension Agriculture Educator and ask him what we need to be doing for our gardens, and when we need to do them. Here’s what we talked about:

What should we all be doing first? “Get a soil sample. It needs to be collected properly, which means you need to go six inches deep into the ground and take at least 15 different spots throughout the garden. So, you’ll want to get a clean bucket, take a little soil from your 15 random spots and mix it all together in the bucket. You will need at least 2 cups of soil to get a good result on the test.You can take your soil sample to your county extension office to get it tested. In the state of Oklahoma, a routine soil test costs $10.”

When do we need to do this? “For a spring garden, you really need to do this now. January is the best time. For a fall garden, get your soil tested in mid-June.”

What next? “Plant selection. There are very few garden vegetables that we cannot grow in Oklahoma, so depending on where you live, your plant selection is where you can have a lot of fun. Choose the vegetables that you like to eat! Keep in mind, different fruits and vegetables require different soil pH. When you have your soil tested, you might want to talk to your Ag Educator about pH and what you want to grow.”

When can I plant? “This time of year, when we get a few warm days, I get a lot of people coming to my office to ask me about this. The weather is so unpredictable January-April and it is important to not get in too big a hurry. We always have a chance of an Easter freeze. If you’re not prepared to protect you plants by covering them with buckets and mulch, you’ll probably be replanting. There have been years where people in this area have planted the same vegetable three times because of those late-spring freezing temperatures. Some root vegetables can be planted early, like onions, potatoes, carrots…Crops that are concealed under the ground can be planted between Valentines’ day and mid March.”

What about bugs? “Plain soapy water is where I start. You can make your own by mixing dish soap with water to make a pretty thick consistency. Put it in a spray bottle and you can just spray it on your plants. The soap basically suffocates the insects. it puts a coat around them that smothers them out. This is for minor pests like aphids and squash bug larva. You may need to manually kill larger adult bugs by squashing them, and you’ll need to check for eggs on the underside of the leaves. Just wipe them off and dispose of them. This works best for small gardens. A two-acre garden might require something more. If the soapy water isn’t working on your particular pest, you may need to move to a commercial insecticide.”

Are all bugs bad? “No. There are some beneficial insects too. You need pollinators, like bumble bees, butterflies, wasps and moths. Also there are some insects that eat pests like lady beetles eat aphids.”

Is there anything else we can do to protect our gardens from pests? “Sure. There are companion plants like marigolds that attract pests away from your vegetables and to the flower. These will also add a nice visual element to your garden.”

What else do we need to know? “There is a best time to water, and it isn’t at high noon. You want to water your garden either in the morning or late evening, so that the plants can actually benefit from the moisture, and it is not just evaporating in the hot sun.”

Which is better, plants or seeds? “If you have a good place to start your seed, and you don’t have to worry about frost, seed is a great option. It is much less expensive and you know better what you are getting. If you don’t have a good place to start your seed, then pre-started plants from a nice green house is also a great option for you. Just keep in mind that tags are easily lost and switched by young children in the stores. There is a good chance that you get a plant or two that were mislabeled.”

I am so excited about getting started, aren’t you? But after talking with Cody, I guess I will have to wait a little longer! I just love homegrown tomatoes and okra, and it is so much fun watching my little girl get excited about picking the vegetables. It is a great way to teach kids about where food comes from, and make some warm, fuzzy memories they will keep the rest of their lives.

 

Foodie Friday: Kid Food

I have a picky eater at home. Do you? One time she told me, “everybody has stuff they don’t like, Mom.” What a little sassy pants! But she’s right. We all have certain things that we don’t like and I’m okay with that. What bothers me is when she refuses to try something new or when she refuses to eat something that she previously liked, just because she’s not in the mood to eat dinner. It also really bothers me when she tells me “I’m just not hungry. Can I have dessert?” No, you cannot have dessert!!

The biggest “picky eater” myth I’ve heard so far is that they’ll eat if you let them pick it out or if you let them help prepare it. My daughter loves helping in the kitchen. She will pull over a chair to stand in and she will watch and help to her little heart’s content, but she still won’t eat it if she doesn’t want to.

The best advice I’ve ever heard is this: It is a parent’s responsibility to provide healthy meals. It is the child’s responsibility to eat it. And, kids will not starve with food in front of them. With those two pearls of wisdom, I offer the best meals I can and I let it go if she doesn’t want to eat… But it is still frustrating when I take the time to plan, shop for, and prepare a meal that is going to go into the trash at bedtime, so I do try to plan meals I know everyone will enjoy.

My very sweet neighbor gave me a “Kid Approved” cookbook and I have tried two recipes from it. One was a huge hit, the other wasn’t. BUT it gave me a great idea. There are certain foods that all kids love, but we don’t like preparing often because they are so highly processed and not at all healthy. What if we could make some of these things healthier by making them from scratch- or mostly from scratch? The recipe that was a hit was homemade, oven baked fish sticks. Instead of pressed fish parts that have been fried and flash frozen, this recipe used whole fish filets that you cut into smaller pieces before coating in breadcrumbs and baking. The fish was dressed up a little with some lemon zest and it was delicious! Amelia loved it, and so did my husband and I.

So that got me thinking: What other highly processed foods, that are loved by children everywhere, could I make more healthy at home? I asked some friends “Imagine you’re walking down the frozen foods aisle at the grocery store. What do your kids ask for?” Here were their responses: pizza bites, chicken strips, individual frozen pizzas, ice cream sandwiches and Popsicles.

Oven Baked Fish Sticks
Panko-Crusted Fish Sticks

1 lb cod, or other sturdy white fish filets
1 beaten egg
1/2 C flour
1/2 C bread crumbs
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste
cooking spray

Cut the cod filets into 1-2 inch strips. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Place flour in one bowl, egg in one bowl and mix bread crumbs, parm and lemon zest in a third bowl. Dredge fish pieces in flour, then coat in egg. Next coat in the bread crumb mixture and place on a prepared baking sheet. Spray fish with cooking spray and baked at 450 for 8-10 minutes.

Mini Pizzas

Skinny English Muffin Pizza's (Thomas' Light Multi Grain - 100 Calories & Use FF or Part-Skim Mozzarella)

Kids love mini pizzas. Make them healthier than the “frozen foods” version by building them on a whole-grain English muffin. Simply top the English muffin with a store bought pizza sauce, chopped vegetables and some mozzarella cheese made from skim milk..

Chicken Strips
These can be done in pretty much the same way the fish was done. You can buy chicken breast already cut into strips, or you could buy chicken breasts and cut them yourself. Coat them in the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs (seasoned any way you like) and spray with cooking spray, then bake. With the chicken, go with a 450 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the chicken is 165 degrees before serving. This will insure the safety of the chicken.

Homemade Frozen Berry Pops
1 Small Package of Fresh Raspberries
1/2 Package of Fresh Blueberries
Juice from One Orange
Pureed Spinach

Throw all ingredients in a blender and puree til smooth. Pour into popcicle molds or small plastic cups. Freeze for an hour, then insert popcicle sticks and put back in the freezer til frozen through.

** This could work with any fruit your kids like!

Ice Cream Sandwiches
I’m really not sure there’s a way to make these healthy, but making them at home might save you money, or at the very least, make some fun memories with your kids. Ree Drummond has a fun recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Ingredients1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup margarine
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 whole eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon (heaping) instant coffee granules
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (heaping) milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons flax seed, crushed in a mortar/pestle
2 tablespoons millet, crushed in mortar/pestle
Vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
Miniature chocolate chips
Miniature candy-coated chocolates

DirectionsPreheat the oven to 375 degrees F.In a mixer, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, butter and margarine until combined. Add the vanilla and eggs, and stir together.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, instant coffee and salt. Add to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing gently after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips, flax seed and millet.

Drop balls of dough on a cookie sheet and bake for 11 minutes. Remove from the cookie sheet and allow to cool.

Using a kitchen scoop, take one scoop of ice cream and place it onto the flat side of a cookie, then top with second cookie, pressing to allow the ice cream to spread slightly. Immediately roll the edges of the cookie in chocolate chips or candies so that the ice cream is coated. Wrap individually in plastic and freeze until the ice cream is very firm, at least 4 hours.

 

Do you have a budget?

Really, do you? Most people hate the word “budget.” There are a lot of words that people hate, and often the government will just give things a new name. Let’s give this a new name. Instead of a “budget,” we’ll call it a “spending plan.” That’s really all a budget is anyway. So, do you have a spending plan?

If you don’t, you should really think about making one for yourself. Having a spending plan gives you control over your money. Whether you have a lot or a little, it’s important to control it and not let it control you. If you think you are in control of your money, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know how much money I have right now in my wallet? My bank account?
  • Have I ever wondered “where did that $20 go?”
  • Do I ever run out of money before payday?
  • Do I ever pay bills late because I don’t have enough to cover them?
  • Do I ever purchase something that I do not need and do not use…. or maybe that I do not even like?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you NEED a spending plan!

Spending plans can be made in just 5 steps.

  1. Keep a record of your spending. Take out a notebook and a pencil. Write down these categories:
    • Food
    • Housing and utilities
    • Household supplies
    • Car plus insurance
    • Child care and child support
    • Recreation and personal goods
    • Medical plus insurance
    • Savings
    • Credit payments
    • Clothing
    • Other – gifts, church, school, sales tax, etc.

    Every day, write down what you spent in the proper category. To make this process easier, keep your receipts. At the end of the month, total each category and then total the entire month’s spending.
    Now think about those things that don’t happen every month- like property taxes, dentist visits or car repairs. It is important to remember to save a little each month to cover these things as they come up.

  2. Look carefully at your spending. When you see what you spent your money on for the entire month, all broken down into categories, you might notice that you are spending more than you thought in one area or another. Write down or highlight the categories that seem too high.
  3. Decide what to change about your spending. Now that you can see you are spending too much each month on clothing or eating out, you can make conscious choices to spend less in those areas. You are already gaining more control over your money!! See? It’s not hard and it isn’t painful, either!
  4. Stick to your plan. Once you have decided what habits to change, it is time to write down how much you are willing and able to spend in each category for the month. And you must stick to it! Yes, there will be months when you have to spend a little more on gasoline than you had planned, but maybe that month you cut back on something else- like clothing or fancy coffee drinks.
  5. Look at your plan regularly. Maybe you are consistently needing to spend more in a particular area-month after month. It is okay to adjust your plan to account for that. Just remember, that the ending dollar amount needs to be the same- because you probably won’t be making more money just because you need to spend more money!

Following your spending plan can help you to stay afloat or to reach some financial goals. One financial goal I have is to buy some new living room furniture and I would really like to have a new oven/range combination. Without a spending plan that includes saving for these things, I will never be able to purchase them. Without a spending plan, most people- myself included- would never have any money left at the end of each month.

Stay tuned. Throughout the next few months, I am going to be sharing some ideas for saving on utilities and at the grocery store!