Upcycled Fire Starters

Whether its a grill, fire-pit or fireplace, getting the fire going is the hardest part. There are all sorts of products out the for starting fires, and they all come with a pretty price tag. Over the years my family has tried a variety of DIY fire starters for the fire-pit at my grandparents farm. The one thing they all had in common? You still needed charcoal lighter fluid to really get the fire blazing. Alas, that day is gone!

Upcycled Firestarters

We’ve all heard at least one dryer fire story. But did you know that the same thing that causes dryer fires to be so destructive can make an amazing fire starter? Dryer lint. It is incredibly flammable but doesn’t burn out too fast. Making dryer lint the perfect fire starter.

Supplies:

  • Dryer lint
  • Empty toilet paper rolls
  • Newspaper
  • Twine

So here’s how it goes! Stuff the toilet paper rolls full of dryer lint. The tighter you pack them the longer they burn.

Fire Starter #1

Then roll the toilet paper roll up in the newspaper and immediately pinch the paper on either side of the roll. This will prevent the paper from unrolling.

Fire Starter #2

Then tie your twine around either end. Use something organic like cotton, hemp or sisal to prevent burning plastic.

Fire Starter #3

Viola! You just made your own fire starters by using up stuff you would have thrown out or recycled! Surround them with some dry kindling and you’re golden! I hope these prove to be as useful for you as they have for our family!

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

I love sauce, especially red sauces. While this will always be my favorite, this marinara sauce has quickly become a must-have staple in my freezer. Its perfect for spaghetti, dipping bread or topping Freezer Friendly Chicken Parmesan. I served it over Christmas with my Cheesy Garlic Pull-Apart Bread, and I think the bread may have become a delivery system. There was no marinara left behind!

Homemade Marinara Sauce

As far as sauces go, this one is pretty quick and fool proof. The most time consuming part is letting the sauce simmer to develop the flavors.

Start by heating the olive oil on low-medium heat. The oil is ready when it looks wavy. Saute the garlic and onion until they are translucent, pictured below.

Marinara Sauce #1

I like to go ahead and open the can of tomatoes and measure out the spices while the garlic and onion are sauteing. Once they are ready, you risk them burning if you wait to add liquid.

Marinara Sauce #2

Pour in the tomatoes and spices, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes. By now the flavors have developed, you can adjust salt and pepper to taste. The marinara sauce is very chunky at this point. To smooth it out either use an immersion blender (like this immersion blender I got for Christmas which is so much easier to use than a conventional blender and reduces clean up) or dump the whole pot of sauce into a blender and pulse until desired consistency.

Marinara Sauce #3

Use immediately or store in freezer safe containers to use for up to 3 months.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
  • 2 Cans Crushed Tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 1 tsp. Oregano
  • 1 tsp. Basil
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Garlic Salt
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil on low-medium heat until wavy.
  2. Saute garlic and onion.
  3. Add in tomatoes and spices. Reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes.
  4. Use immersion blender or conventional blender to smooth sauce to desired consistency.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

 

Freezer Meal Prep Tips

As I sat preparing for my next freezer meal marathon, I knew it was time to share what I have learned with you. I started making freezer meals about 3 years ago. There has been loads of research, experiments and some pretty remarkable failures. Haha! But every time I make a freezer meal, I learn something new.

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One of the experiments was how to go about making freezer meals. There are multiple methods to packing your freezer: making extra and freezing it, making one to two dishes a weekend or dedicating one day every month (or two) to a marathon session. I prefer to give a day to freezer meal prep, and then reap the rewards for at least a month! Play around with it and figure out a routine that works for you and your family.

Start with a list of what you want to make. (Avoid: foods high in water content like melon or potatoes, recipes with soft dairy like milk/cream or sour cream, and casseroles with cooked potatoes or rice.) Once you have your list together it’s time to organize your recipes. Make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to buy for each recipe and organize into a shopping list.

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Go shopping! To make your dollar go further buy in bulk wherever possible.

Let’s get cooking! Group recipes by main ingredient. For example, all your recipes with ground beef, then all the recipes with chicken and finally the recipes with sausage. Specifically if I’m making lasagna sauce, I’ll use the simmer time to assemble burritos or make enchilada filling. The more you can juggle at once the faster you finish!

Package & Label: First, you need quality packaging. I use a variety of Glad Press n’ Seal, Ziploc Freezer Bags, plastic wrap, foil pans and reusable plastic containers. You WILL NOT remember what is what or when you made it… Invest in some permanent markers and labels; include contents, date frozen and directions for cooking on each item.

What is on my freezer meal menu?

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What questions do you have about making freezer meals? Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them! Until later, happy meal prepping!

See my post on Saving Money by Freezing to learn what you can freeze to save money!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Autumn Stovetop Potpourri 

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the smell of cinnamon apple wafting through my house. I only have one brand of scented candle that I use because candles, air fresheners and plug-ins are packed full of chemicals. (My guilty pleasure is Vanilla Bean by Woodwick – seriously, they crackle like a fireplace and smell amazing… However, they are expensive and even they have a bunch of chemicals; I burn them sparingly and typically only for special occasions.) I love my house to smell “pretty” or reflect the season, but the majority of chemically produced scents give me migraines. Ain’t no scent worth a migraine. With a little creativity and my trusty essential oils I’ve been able to start enjoying  those “pretty” smells!

Autumn Stovetop Potpourri Graphic

This stovetop potpourri will leave your house smelling like you’ve been slaving away in the kitchen all day baking pies. Simply toss all of the ingredients in a pot with some water and stir. Simmer as long as you like, adding water as needed.

Autumn Stovetop Potpourri #2

Autumn Stovetop Potpourri

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • Water
  • 1 Packet Apple Cider Mix
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1/4 t. Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 t. Ground Ginger
  • Orange Peel (optional)

Directions

Stir ingredients together in a medium pot. Simmer on low-medium heat for as long as you like, adding water as needed.

40 Money Saving Tips

Money Saving Tips Graphic

I would much rather have some money left over at the end of the month for my husband and I to have a fancy date-night instead of buying my husband new shorts because the button popped off or because my dog was due for a nail trim and groom. But at the end of the month, the shorts are still without a button and the dog still needs a nail trim and groom. That’s where a little bit of elbow grease comes into play. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty! A bit of hard work can save you a ton of money while letting you keep the lifestyle of royalty!

 

Here is a list of things we have done to reduce our spending and increase our savings.

  1. Adopt the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
  2. Learn to cook from scratch. Check out my many recipes here.
  3. Pack your lunch – a great way to utilize leftovers.
  4. Get rid of cable TV.
  5. Check out YouTube for tutorials on basic home repairs.
  6. Learn how to groom your dog. See how we keep our high-maintenance pup up for almost nothing, here.
  7. Don’t pay someone for services you can do yourself i.e. dog grooming, mending, dry cleaning, housework or landscaping.
  8. Use the minimum toothpaste, shampoo, handsoap and laundry detergent to maintain the same results. (I realized I was using double the amount of shampoo that I needed. Oops!)
  9. Utilize your library’s resources. Our library provides DVD rentals, digital audiobooks and e-books for download straight to your tablet.
  10. Utilize digital, online and print coupons. (Coupons.com & RedPlum.com)
  11. Using Prime Households, split a Prime membership with a close friend. All the benefits for half the cost!
  12. Buy store brand. Kroger & Target’s store brands provide excellent quality for a fraction of the price.
  13. Explore reusable options for disposable products, like these Un-paper Towels.
  14. Grow a garden.
  15. Learn basic mending such as sewing on a button or sewing a patch over a hole.
  16. Use cold water whenever possible, like when washing clothes or rinsing dishes. There’s no need to pay for the water AND the electricity to heat it.
  17. If you truly need to replace an item, save up to buy a quality replacement.
  18. Hang your clothes to dry on a drying rack.
  19. Do not buy more than you will use. You don’t have to buy the whole bunch of bananas or a giant bag of grapes. Only buy what you are sure you will use, or you might as well throw cash into the trashcan.
  20. Make your own coffee at home.
  21. Leave the lights off and open the blinds and drapes. Natural light doesn’t cost a dime!
  22. Do your own pest control. Don’t over-pay a pest control company for something you can do with a little research and elbow grease. We use this outdoors for prevention.
  23. Unplug chargers that aren’t being used. Chargers continue to pull minimal amounts of power when they are plugged in.
  24. Plan your cooking to group the use of your oven together, or use a microwave or slow cooker instead.
  25. Do your own dry cleaning.
  26. Learn how to make your own freezer meals.
  27. If your pets have prescriptions, look into discount programs at a pharmacy instead of buying meds from your vet. Wal-Mart has some great prices on pet meds.
  28. Teach yourself a new hobby like sewing, knitting, crocheting or baking.
  29. Go on a FREE date night. After all, it’s about quality time not elaborate dates.
  30. Meal plan to at least some extent! Here’s my Monthly Meal Plan. Just fill in the dates and what’s for dinner. 🙂
  31. Sign-up for customer loyalty and rewards programs. Here is more information on how I save money with customer loyalty programs.
  32. Only wash full loads in your washer and dishwasher.
  33. Eat dinner by candlelight. It’s a romantic way to be thrifty!
  34. Explore DIY security systems. We LOVE our security camera which we can view from anywhere using our smartphones, but you can DIY house-wide systems.
  35. Buy in bulk.
  36. Put on a sweatshirt, fuzzy socks and curl up under a blanket in the winter rather than turning up the heat.
  37. Make your own body butter.
  38. Sell items you aren’t using or no longer have a use for on eBay, Craigslist or through a local Facebook group.
  39. Shop second-hand at consignment or thrift stores.
  40. Stop buying store-bought cleaners and use vinegar, baking soda or dawn instead.

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This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Embracing Customer Loyalty Programs

I am passionate about saving a dollar wherever possible. My husband laughs at how excited I get from the idea of saving a dollar or two, but those dollars add up! Loyalty programs are one of the easiest ways to keep money in your pocket. Everything from free pizzas to gas for $0.45/gallon as rewards for items you were already buying. I can’t wait to tell you all about the loyalty programs I’ve found to be the most worthwhile!

Loyalty Programs Graphic

Wal-Mart Savings Catcher: Above is our current redeemable amount, over $150!! Wal-Mart is no longer participating in Ad-Match. Instead, you enter (online) or scan (in app) your receipt and automatically receive the difference between what you paid and what was advertised at other stores. My parents and I share a savings catcher account, and we use the money to buy all our Christmas baking supplies. It’s like a year-long savings program!

Kroger Plus Card: Sign-up in store for a Plus Card, and then download the Kroger app to link it with an online account. The Kroger app allows you to load digital coupons straight to your Plus Card, view weekly ads and check your Fuel Points. On the subject of Fuel Points, we save up our points, watch for 2x Fuel Points promotions and buy our prescriptions at Kroger to make the most of our spending! Below is how much we paid to fill up both of our cars at $0.45/gallon! (This goes for any of Kroger’s sister companies too.)

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Papa Rewards: Our guilty pleasure is ordering pizzas and we do it way more often than we should. Set up an account, order online or in app and earn points! It’s really that simple. We recently cashed in some points we’d been saving up for a free dinner!

Above are the loyalty programs we receive the biggest benefit from, but Starbucks, Panera, Chick-fil-a and Regal Cinemas all have excellent programs too. I hope you’ve found some ways to stretch your dollar!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Talking About Money in Marriage

Disclaimer: I am not a relationship expert and this is not a marriage advice blog. The advice in this post is simply what has workied for me and my husband.

Here is the final part in my four-part series on Planning Your Financial Future.

Planning Your Finacial Future Series

According to Marriage.com the second most common cause of divorce is money. Call me crazy, but if I know something is more likely to cause a problem I want to face it head on. My husband and I have been very open with each other on spending and finances since early in our dating relationship. Remember how I helped him discover that he was spending $1,300/year on Starbucks? Yeah, that was probably 4-5 months in…

When it came time to get married, there was NEVER a question as to whether we would have joint or separate bank accounts. We are in this together, as a team which means a joint bank account all the way! I’m not going to delve into all the reasons you should have a joint bank account. Instead I’m going to direct you to my dear friend Jill’s blog. She very eloquently discuses how separate bank accounts can become a point of contention in your marriage.

I’m the primary money manager in our household. However, that does not mean I get to decide how to spend our money. So what does talking finances look like in our household? It typically starts with me sitting down with the computer and a notebook. I write out all of our expenses and their due dates. I look to see how we did with our budget the previous month. Are we spending a lot less in one budget category but going over in another? I check in with where we are in our financial goals, and I start brainstorming what can be done to improve.

When we are both fed, rested and not dealing with other stressors we sit down to look at all of the findings. The last time we sat down to evaluate our finances it was with a big change in mind. I was going to be out of work, without pay, for 3 months to recover from surgery. We needed to reduce our spending even more than we already had. Below are some key issues to discuss.

  • Can we cut anything and/or are we paying for a service we aren’t using?
    • We cut our Netflix DVD subscription. We weren’t using it because there weren’t any new movies we wanted to watch. When there are 8+ movies we want to watch we will subscribe again. (To make it the most cost effective you need to watch 8 movies a month.)
    • We love our Dollar Shave Club subscription, but we don’t see a reason to replace the blades every week when they still have a lot of life left. We ended up with a stockpile of blades. Therefore, we’ve postponed our subscription until we run out.
  • Discuss goals. Both you and your spouse deserve an opportunity to discuss what short-term goals you have in addition to your long-term goals.
  • Discuss areas that need improvement.
    • We went over our grocery budget by $100. Guess what equals $100? The amount of money we spent at restaurants. Probably need to work on reining in our eating out habit. Together, discuss what foods you might want to have at home. For us, running out of freezer meals is a recipe for failure to stay under budget.
  • Are there lifestyle changes that might help reduce costs?
    • Would you be able to cut a gym membership to start working out at home?

Keep your dialogue open and frequent. Together with your spouse you can make your financial dreams reality, but lean into one another through the hard times. At the end of the day your spouse is of exponentially more value than any amount of money.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Making a Budget – and then sticking to it!

Here it is! Part II of my Planning Your Financial Future Series: Making a Budget. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Amazing things can happen when you follow a budget, become accountable for your spending and start saving for your future. First, did you do your homework? I hope you sat down to look at where you are now, financially, and where you want to be in the next few years.

Planning Your Finacial Future Series

Dave Ramsey has taught me loads about how to end up debt free, but I’m not to the extreme he is. Dave Ramsey lives to the extreme of ALWAYS paying cash and not even having a credit score. Do I fuss much over my credit score? No. I check my free credit reports yearly to make sure all that is being reported is accurate, but I also don’t completely condemn lines of credit. I’m not saying to let things go to collections because your credit score doesn’t matter, but the system is rigged. Seriously, paying off a loan AND paying it off early hurts your credit score. Credit scores are not the be all end all.

For instance, I like Amazon.com. I like Amazon.com A LOT!! When we needed a new computer, we found a great deal on Amazon. The computer was a previous model and reduced to half off, it was tax-free weekend in our state and they were running a promotion to receive a $50 Amazon gift card instantly on approval if you applied for their credit card, plus 3% cash back on all purchases. So we applied. We got the computer, brand new, for $250 and earned $7.50 to spend later. A much better deal than we could find in a brick & mortar store without having to fight the crowds on tax-free weekend. The “catch”? We pay it off immediately. Always. Especially store cards, which have horrid interest rates, but the cash back allows us to save up points all year by buying items we would purchase anyway, to help buy Christmas gifts.

Let’s set up a budget now, shall we?

First, write down all of your planned monthly income. This is your regular income that doesn’t change too much from month to month. (Example: My husband works at a job where he makes salary plus commission. We NEVER budget for commission. Why? Because then what do you do when you are short on income because you didn’t make or made less commission than budgeted for?)

Next, use this handy Monthly Budget Planner I created to write down your fixed expenses. Fixed expenses are what have a specific due date. Examples include rent or mortgage payments, car payments, cable, internet, cell phone and utilities. Write down all of the expenses. If you can’t remember, check your online banking to refresh your memory.

This is the perfect time to evaluate your fixed expenses. Sit down with your spouse to see where your money is going. Are you spending over $200 on cable and internet? STOP! Please check out my post on Cutting the Cable for ways to watch what you want when you want for so much less! What about those really cool subscription boxes…? A little more than you realized, eh? When my husband and I first started dating he realized he was spending $1,300/year on Starbucks. Eek! Buy a Keurig instead. For a while he even used a milk frother and flavored syrups to mimic the latte’s he bought. Or maybe once you are looking at all your expenses written out you realize you haven’t used that Netflix DVD subscription that’s costing you $13/month for the last 2 months. Oops! That was a tank of gas… See if there are items you can cut to reduce your spending.

How do you account for your yearly Prime subscription? Or car insurance payment every 6-months? These items go into irregular expenses. Total up your yearly irregular expenses and divide by 12 months. Budget that amount each month to have the money available when you need it.

Finally, list out all of your budget categories. By looking at the last 2-3 months spending on your online banking estimate your budgets for grocery, gas/transportation and miscellaneous. You’ve probably noticed the personal money category listed. This is NOT a marriage advice blog, but here is some marriage advice anyway. HAVE PERSONAL MONEY! Seriously, even if it is just $25 each for you and your spouse, do it! Those arguments about “Did you really need to spend $2.56 at the gas station on an energy drink?” are gone. Make rules about what requires the use of personal money and follow them. Sometimes at work, I really need to sneak down to the cafeteria for a piece of cake… personal money, baby! No need to feel guilty or have to justify why I spent money in the cafeteria.

Everything filled out? All of your expenses accounted for? Now subtract your expenses from your income. Looking good? Or maybe not… Go back and revisit your expenses and budget as often as necessary. If you are coming in under budget in one category month after month, its probably too much. The money remaining after your budget should go towards paying off debt. If you are committed to paying off your debt that means that money gets prioritized for debt pay off over anything else. It’s up to you to make your financial dreams reality!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Making Financial Goals

Let’s start talking about why this blog exists in the first place. I was raised hearing about this fellow, Dave Ramsey. When I was in high school my parents bought me the book Financial Peace. With a little incentive, I read this book. I learned what could lie in store if I was free from debt. However, I still ended up with student loans and my husband and I have two car loans. My husband brought to the marriage “stupid tax” as Dave Ramsey would call it. For example, a T-Mobile account in collections because he just stopped paying mid-contract. Luckily, for me, my husband has embraced the idea of living debt free, remedying stupid tax and setting ourselves up for success.

This is just the first post in a series about finances, let’s get started!

Planning Your Finacial Future Series

 

Have you ever stopped to think about what you want your finances to look like 1-year, 5-years or 10-years down the road? I’m going to give you the first goal: Be debt free except for a mortgage. Beyond that, do you want to travel? Do you want to buy your own home? Do you want to remodel or buy a new car? Make yourself some goals to look forward to.

For us, our 10-year plan looks like this: pay off debt, save for a home and buy a home.

Before we start learning how to make a budget think about your top financial goals. Knowing your goals will tell you how far below your means you should be living. Next time I’ll help you create a budget to achieve these goals!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Pay Off Debt

Now that you have made financial goals and set a budget it’s time to live debt free! I won’t lie to you, the path to living debt free is not easy and its going to take a lot of hard work. You can do it!

Planning Your Finacial Future Series

The first step in your debt free plan is to understand Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps. (Even more information at his website, here.)

  1. Save a $1,000 emergency fund. Your emergency fund is there to keep you from going into debt for emergency expenses, but you can only use it for emergencies.
  2. Pay off all debt except for your mortgage using the snowball method.
  3. Save a 3-6 month emergency fund. This should equal all of your expenses for 3-6 months. Suddenly out of work or unable to work because of a medical emergency? You have 3-6 months of cushion.
  4. Start investing 15% of your total income towards retirement. (I recommend finding a great financial adviser to help you decide how to invest.)
  5. If you have have a kid or kids, start saving for their college education.
  6. Pay your mortgage off early.
  7. “Build wealth and give generously.”

Okay, so we are clearly focusing on Baby Step #2. So what exactly is the snowball method? First, order your debts from smallest to largest. Pay the minimum monthly payment on all of your debts except the smallest debt. Throw ALL of your extra money towards the smallest debt, i.e. any income above and beyond your budgeted amount should be applied to your smallest debt. Once you have paid off your first debt start applying the money you had been using to pay off your smallest debt in addition to the minimum monthly payment you have already been paying. The more debts you pay off, the more money you have to apply to the next debt.

The hard part is strictly following your budget, or even revisiting your budget to reduce it further. The more money you are applying towards your debts, the sooner you won’t be paying on debts at all because you will be debt free!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.