Everyone should have one of these….

A house? Nope.

A car? Nope.

A cell phone? Nope.

A daily shower? Yes…but that’s not what I’m getting at here (it is summer after all!)


A BUDGET! I know, I know…. it’s a horrible word.  The kind of word that makes people feel constrained and limited.  However, that’s not what a budget actually is.

A budget is simply a plan for where your money goes before it just disappears and you end up “broke until payday” with bills that need paid. This is not a situation anyone wants to be in, yet many people are.

So how do you make a budget?  First, you have to know what your income is, how often you receive it, and what all your expenses are.

You can set up an excel sheet or just use good old pen and paper for this.  I prefer the pen and paper method where my husband prefers the excel sheet.

  1. Income: List all your EXPECTED income for the month.  “Expected” being a key word.  Don’t add in any overtime you *think* you will be getting or that $50 your friend owes you.  JUST your expected income.  Your paycheck amount, social security, disability, etc.  **don’t put child support in with income.  It is never a 100% guarantee that your child’s father/mother will pay you what and when they are supposed to**  Now you know how much money you have to work with this month.
  2. Expenses (4 walls): Start listing your expenses that fall into the “4 walls” category.  This category ONLY includes things that are basic needs.  NEEDS, not wants.  Things to include in this section is: Rent/mortgage, electric/water/propane/natural gas, homeowners/renters insurance, car payment, car insurance, gas, food (groceries, not eating out), and basic clothing (again, NEEDS, not wants).  Anything that you NEED to cover housing, food, transportation, and clothing.  If you don’t eat, have a place to live, have a way to and from a job, or clothes to wear…you cant survive.  THAT is what the “4 walls” covers.  What you NEED to survive.  See the pattern? NEEDS not WANTS.
  3. Expenses (the rest):  Now you list all the rest of your expenses that you have each month.  Things like internet, cell phones, hair cuts, entertainment, eating out, and so on. **THIS IS WHERE YOUR DEBT GOES!  Don’t forget about any monthly debt payments like credit cards and student loans**
  4. Balance it out: Now, add up all your expenses and that total should be LESS than your income.  If your expenses are MORE than your income, you need to cut somewhere.  Always always always reduce or cut out the expenses that DON’T fall into the “4 walls”. If you want to keep an expense category where it is instead of cutting it down or out, then see where you may be able to make adjustments.  Can you call around for insurance quotes and reduce that monthly cost?  Can you change your cell phone plan?
  5. Stick to it: As you go through the month, keep your receipts and see how you are doing.  If you spend higher one week for groceries, aim to spend a much lower amount the next week.  By sticking to your budget, you are much less likely to have those moments of “Oh $&!#!!! Now what?”.  You are less likely to have to eat ketchup sandwiches for a week because you spent your money on things you cant even remember.
  6. Evaluate: At the end of each month sit down and look at how you did.  Were you over in groceries but under in gas?  Change the amounts you have budgeted for the next month to reflect this.  It can take 3-6 months to find the right balance in your budget. This is when you can plan for using any extra income you had for the month.  Is Christmas coming up and you want to buy gifts?  Do you have a vacation you are saving for?  Do you want to pay down some debt?  Plan where this extra money is going to go to and follow through.

By having a budget, and sticking to it, you will know what you can and can’t afford to do.  Having this knowledge is a huge stress relief.  Even if you can’t afford everything that you WANT, it’s better than falling behind on the bills and suddenly not having a place to live or a way to get to work.



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July 2017 Pantry Challenge Week 2 (and a new menu idea for McDonalds)


This past Saturday I managed to do the meal planning for this week and next week, weeks 2 and 3 of the pantry challenge.  Meal planning is probably one of the most important things I do to keep costs down.

It usually goes something like this:

  1. Look at the calendar to see what we have going on and decide what days need crockpot meals, what days need “on the go” meals, and if there are any days that we won’t be home so there is no use in planning for that day.
  2. Look through my recipe book and make a list of main dishes and sides while making a list of ingredients needed.
  3. Walk through the kitchen with the ingredient list and cross off what we already have in the freezers, pantry, and cabinets.
  4. Write out the shopping list(s) with what items we need to buy and where to get them the cheapest.

Seems pretty simple…. until you add in 2 young boys and a newborn.  As soon as I sit down to start, this is what happened.

*baby cries to be fed*

“Mom, I’m hungry” (he just ate 30 minutes ago)

*younger boy cries because older boy hit him*

*older boy talks to me constantly*

“Mom when are we leaving” (teen daughter interrupting because she is excited to be dropped off with friends)

*baby cries to be changed*

*baby needs put to sleep*

*baby cries to be picked back up*

*boys get into the pantry and get snacks* (I chase them down to put snacks away)

*boys complain about wanting to eat* (they seriously JUST ATE!)

*get boys snack while rocking baby*

*plead with the kids to please let me get this done*

*kids agree and go off to play, baby is quiet*

*sit down and open my recipe book…..baby starts crying again*

OMG.  I was ready to give up and just say “screw it”.  But, I didn’t want to make a separate trip into town (25 min drive each way) a different day.  Since I had to take my daughter up to drop off with friends, it only made sense to do the shopping while I was there.  Gas is expensive y’all.



This totally be a thing!

So at this point, my husband sees I’m actually really close to loosing my shit and takes the baby to the living room, thus freeing up my arms so I can get this meal plan done!

Here’s this week’s plan:

  • Sunday: BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, au gratin potatoes
  • Monday: Brown sugar meatloaf, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots
  • Tuesday: Shake and bake pork, applesauce, noodle side, veggie
  • Wednesday: Baked sweet and sour chicken, rice, broccoli
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Beef porcupines, egg noodles, peas
  • Saturday: Homemade pizza

Breakfasts include: cereal, eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, toast

Lunches include: PB&J, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, cold cut sandwiches, leftovers

I’ve got my meal plan done.  Great.  Fantastic even.  Until I realize that I have to go to both Walmart AND Aldi…. on a Saturday afternoon… by myself WITH the 2 young boys and the baby.



Ok.  I’ve got this.

I have my husband and daughter get the boys dressed and loaded in the van while I get the baby and grab my Lillebaby carrier, the backpack I use as a diaper bag, fruit snacks (aka little bags of “shut up”), and my shopping list.

Here we go.

After dropping off my daughter, and bribing my boys with a treat if they are good and listen (I will bribe them whenever needed!) we successfully managed to make it through BOTH stores without major issues!



I spent a total of $107.33 at both stores for the next 2 weeks.  This INCLUDES produce to make 3 batches of jam and 3 batches of salsa that need to be canned, and some food for week 3 for me because I am going to start a meal plan to try to drop 15-20 pounds.

Here’s what we got:

Walmart: 3 large containers of blueberries, 2 bags of raw carrot chips, romaine lettuce, 8 green bell peppers, bananas, 8 ears of corn, celery, 9 large cans of petite diced tomatoes, 2 large cans of tomato puree, 2 boxes of brown minute rice, 2 boxes of fish fillets, 2 packages of American cheese, lime juice, ground cumin, applesauce, 2 packets of fajita seasoning, 2 gallons of milk.

Aldi: 2 boxes of macaroni and cheese, 2 jugs of purified water, 2 cases of purified bottled water, hot dog buns, 2 loaves of bread, 2 packages of raspberries, 2 bags of apples, a bag of peaches, 9 mangoes, 2 bunches of cilantro, 3 bags of jalapeños, 3 bags of onions, blue cheese crumbles, 3 packages of string cheese, 7 cans of tuna, 9 yogurts, pretzels, 2 bags of chips, turkey bacon, soy sauce, 2 bottles of ketchup.

I’d say I had a successful afternoon! Grocery shopping done. I didn’t lose any kids.  No meltdowns (including myself).

I still think a supersized McVodka should be a thing though.


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July 2017 Pantry Challenge: Week 1


So I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I am going to do a modified pantry challenge this month in order to get back on track with grocery spending while using up what we may have accumulated over the past few months.

Here’s what we have planned for this week:

Breakfast: cereal, toast, oatmeal, eggs, pancakes

Lunch: PB&J, grilled cheese, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, meat and cheese roll ups, cheese/crackers/fruit, leftovers


  • Sunday: Island Kielbasa, rice, veggies
  • Monday: Beef and cheese crescent melt, veggies, fruit
  • Tuesday: Hot dogs/brats, baked beans, french fries, watermelon
  • Wednesday: Shake and bake pork, noodle side dish, applesauce, veggie
  • Thursday: Hamburger steaks, mashed potatoes, veggie
  • Friday: Chicken stuff with pasta
  • Saturday: Sloppy joe, french fries, fruit

I am not including the cost of these meals in July because the ingredients were purchased in June.

I looked briefly in the pantry and found some things to use up for snacks this week. I made up 12 jello cups for the fridge using boxed jello powder and really small plastic containers (the ones that come in a set and are WAY too small to actually use for anything) and will make up some vanilla pudding cups as well.  I also found a cookie mix pouch that my husband brought home a few months back with toffee chips to mix in.  So, there will be cookies made up for this week as well.

Week 1 of the pantry challenge is off to a solid start.  Next week may prove to be a tiny bit challenging because we will be taking care of someone’s animals twice a day for 5 days or so.  This always throws us off a little because it takes up about 2-3 hours in the morning and 1-2 hours in the evening.  I’m determined to plan ahead so there aren’t any spontaneous trips to Mcdonalds.

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July 2017 Pantry Challenge



It has been nothing short of chaotic here for the past few months.  We’ve gone through pregnancy, a crazy delivery and NICU stay, summer school, T-ball, surgery, and more.    I tried to plan ahead of time with some freezer meals for after I had out most recent addition, but when things didn’t go as planned, it was like a chain reaction was set off and we were thrown into “survival mode” which included fast food and more expensive convenience foods.

Now that things are finally settling down (knock on wood), I am focusing on reducing our grocery spending.  I’ve had $400 budgeted each month for this year and we have gone over that the past few months due to the chaos.  Enter the July pantry challenge.

What is a pantry challenge?  You eat what you have and get creative to use things up.  Along with this, you only buy milk, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables.   I decided I am going to do a modified version.  In my modified version, I am still going to plan on using only what I have.  In addition to buying just milk, fruit, and veggies… I am allowing myself to buy 1 additional ingredient per meal if I am out.  This would cover things like mayo, teriyaki sauce, salsa, spices, etc.  If the meal I am going to make is missing more than 1 ingredient, I won’t make it.

A pantry challenge is a great way to use up what you have, but is also a great way to cut your grocery bill for a month or two.  I’m hoping to come in way under $400 for this month, and maybe even next month so there is a cushion in that budget category to stock up on meat the next time we need to.

I haven’t fully inventoried the freezers or cabinets yet, but that is the goal over the next 3-4 days.  I have already planned meals and purchased groceries through July 8th because I had surgery yesterday and wanted to be able to not stress about what we were going to eat during recovery time.  Those items were purchased in June so I’m not counting that cost in this month.

I did a pantry challenge around this time last year as well and was fairly successful.  It’s nice to do this over the summer when the kids are home from school to help eat up what has been sitting on shelves.

I’ll be sharing my weekly meal plans on Sundays (starting tomorrow) which will also include a list of what I had on hand, what I needed to buy, and a link to recipes if I have them already posted on the blog.

Have you ever done a pantry challenge?  What is one thing you learned during it?


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Meal plan for the week of 3/12/17


Almost half way through the month already!  It’s crazy how fast time is moving for me right now.  Anyone else feel like their life is on fast-forward?

Let’s review last week.  I made a batch (9 1/2 half pint jars) of grape jelly finally after getting more jars to can, sold 4 dozen eggs and 7 jars of jam, had 2 days of sheer exhaustion which lead to a buildup of dishes and laundry (I napped instead!), we lost power for 10 hours during the day on Wednesday, and then there were 2 days of babysitting at the end of the week too. Oh, and don’t forget daylight savings which happened at 2am today.  Seriously though, why do we need it?

I spent $17.99 at Walmart for this week and $33.24 at Aldi for a grand total of $51.23 spent on groceries for the week.  But, because of the power outage on Wednesday last week, I had to spend $19.22 out of the grocery budget on pizza to feed everyone dinner at my mom’s house (she had power).  As of today we have $124.88 left for the rest of the month (2-3 more shopping trips depending on sales and how I can stretch out using what we already have).

The baked sweet and sour chicken moved from last week to this week because it was one of the meals that just didn’t get made.  Friday is St. Patrick’s Day and we are having a couple special treats that day.

Here’s the plan:

  • Sunday: Baked sweet and sour chicken, rice, veggie
  • Monday: Pork with Dijon sauce, egg noodles, veggie
  • Tuesday: Beef tacos with fresh veggies
  • Wednesday: Creamy chicken, rice, veggies
  • Thursday: Leftovers -OR- grilled cheese and chips
  • Friday: Oven roasted smoked sausage and potatoes, green jello parfaits and green chocolate chip cookies
  • Saturday: Chili with garlic cheddar biscuits

I’m starting to plan ahead and look at making some freezer meals for when this baby arrives (end of May-ish) so if you have any suggestions please comment with the recipe or link!  Thanks so much!

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Meal plan for the week of 3/5/2017

dana-whats-cookingWelcome to March!  I don’t know if its this pregnancy or just busy mom life, but this year is FLYING by.  I think as I get older, time seems to speed up exponentially. Not sure how I fell about this.

A new month means a full grocery budget! We currently budget $350 a month for just groceries.  Last month I went over by $2.31 because of a couple larger purchases but I’m determined to come in under budget this month.  In order to achieve this, I’m planning the majority of our meals based on what we already have stocked up.  It may get a little repetitive, but it will help to reduce out of pocket cost and cycle through our stockpile and reduce food waste.

So we are starting with $350.

I spent $85.00 (exactly! still no idea how I managed that.) on 3/1 at the Amish bulk store (post to come!).  This trip was stocking up on some bulk items and inexpensive snacks for the next 2 months.

This leaves $265.00 for the rest of the month.  I’ll keep a running total of what I’ve spent and what is left with each weekly meal plan post to stay accountable for no extra spending.  This includes eating out.  If we ever grab food while out, it comes out of the grocery money.

Onto this week’s meal plan:

I needed minimal groceries to be able to make these dinners, but I also needed to stock up on some other items because its the beginning of the month.  Things like American cheese slices, chips, cheese sticks, etc. I was able to spend $94.67 total between Walmart and Aldi.

This leaves $170.33 in the budget for the rest of the month.  Normally I would freak out over it being this low this early on, but we are stocked up on most of the extras and should only need to buy the basics for the rest of the month.

So far so good!

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Meal plan for the week of 2/26/2017


Would you believe me if I said I STILL haven’t made the gosh darn crockpot beef and noodles that has been on my meal plan for the last 2 weeks?!  Because I haven’t.  Seriously.  Why not?  Pregnancy brain.  It’s a real thing people!  I keep forgetting to take the meat out of the freezer the night before so it can thaw to go into the crockpot the next morning.  Speaking of… Id better take it out now (2:40pm Saturday) so I can put it in the fridge tonight and it’ll be all set for tomorrow morning. Be right back…….

Ok, so now that the meat is out of the freezer, I can continue.

Here’s the plan for this week:

  • Sunday: Crockpot beef and noodles, veggies
  • Monday: Oven roasted chicken legs, noodle or rice side dish (undecided, but I have both available), veggies
  • Tuesday: Pancakes, sausage, fried apples
  • Wednesday: Brown sugar meatloaf, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots
  • Thursday: Crockpot BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches, chips, fruit
  • Friday: Leftovers
  • Saturday: Beef porcupines, egg noodles, veggies

I went over my grocery budget this month by $2.31.  Pretty sure that was because I counted the seeds and starting soil and such for the garden as “grocery” items, and we had a couple instances of fast food.  because of this, Sun-Tues had to be meals we already had everything for.  Shouldn’t be too hard to follow!  I’ll just have to keep a closer eye on things this next month.

I’ll be heading out to my favorite Amish bulk store on Wednesday with my mom to (hopefully) stock up on some good deals.  It’s hit or miss, but I can always find something there that we need.  I know for a fact I need ingredients to make my next batch of homemade mocha cappuccino mix because the containers are running low.  I usually try to go every 2-3 months and haven’t been there since November.  The plan is to go now, and then again at the beginning of May right before this baby is due.  Some of my favorite things to get there are discounted ketchup, broth, snacks, granola bars, crackers, and so on.  You really won’t know what they have until you go look because they don’t advertise online and they have such a quick turnover of products.  I’ll be sure to share what I manage to find this week in a post.

Wish me luck that the beef and noodles actually gets made today!!

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