Favorite Frugal Recipe: Banana Bread

One of the most frugal fruits you can buy is the banana.  At my local Aldi’s, they have them on sale for $.44/lb and sometimes as little as $.33/lb.  My local Harris Teeter regularly has $1.00 bags stuffed full of spotted bananas that are still perfectly good for eating.  This can equate to costing less than $.20/lb which is when I buy several bags.  When they do start to get a bit more mushy and spotted, they are perfect for making banana bread.  Bananas also freeze beautifully (just remove from the peel first and store in a freezer friendly sealed bag).

This banana bread recipe can be made according to your preference.   You can make it with all AP flour, 1/2 AP flour + 1/2 whole white wheat flour, less sugar, applesauce in place of some of the butter (I do recommend you have at least some butter in it for the best texture), chocolate chips, walnuts, etc.  It’s a very forgiving recipe.  Just be sure to mash, mash, mash the bananas very well so that it resembles baby food puree.  This way you don’t have any chunks when you slice the bread.

Best Ever Banana Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan or a 12-cup muffin tin.

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1/2 AP flour and 1/2 white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt*
1/2 cup butter, softened**
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 mashed, overripe bananas (remember to mash these until no lumps remain)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

In the bowl of a mixer, combine butter and sugar and mix on medium-high speed until creamy. Add mashed bananas and mix on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients, including the cinnamon, if using. Add to wet ingredients slowly using slow speed to combine. Do not overmix.

At this point you can add chocolate chips, nuts, etc. You’ll want to gently stir these in with a spoon.

Pour batter into loaf pan or into muffin cups (don’t use paper liners as these will stick to much to the muffins; fill 3/4 full). If making a loaf, bake for 60-65 minutes or so. If making muffins, check them at 25 minutes by inserting an uncooked spaghetti noodle into the center. If dough is still gooey, return to oven and keep checking every 5 minutes.

Remove from oven once done and cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to finish cooling on a wire rack.

*if using salted butter, reduce salt to 1/8 teaspoon
**you may use 1/4 cup applesauce and 1/4 cup butter OR  1/4 applesauce and 1/4 coconut oil in place of the 1/2 cup butter

Delicious served warm or cold with peanut butter, almond butter or nutella. Enjoy!

Note: This also freezes beautifully. Wrap loaf/muffins in aluminum foil and place inside a freezer-friendly sealed bag.

Week 3 Grocery Spending and Menu: June 15-June 21

Aldi’s

Cocoa Rice cereal $1.39
Dried fruit medley $1.49
Woven Wheat Crackers $1.49                                                                             1 lb. butter $1.99                                                                                                 1 dozen large eggs $.69                                                                                     1 whole chicken $4.54                                                                                       1 container feta cheese $1.79                                                                             4-pack probiotic yogurt $1.49
1 jar hazelnut spread (like Nutella) $1.99
1-48 oz. canola oil $1.99
1 pkg. Swiss Rolls $.99
1-12 oz. pkg mini chocolate chips $1.79
1 box strawberry gelatin $.35
1 box orange gelatin $.35
2-8 oz. containers greek yogurt $1.30
Bananas 2.34 lbs/.39 lb  $.91
1 bag peaches $2.79

Total $28.98

Weeks one, two and three combined:  $93.33

Total amount left for June grocery spending:  $26.67

Menus for this week:

Breakfasts:  cereal with milk x 2; yogurt with dried fruit x 2; eggs and toast; pancakes and sausage; banana muffins with nutella

Lunches:  Chicken sandwiches and carrots; PB & J with peaches x 2; fruit, cheese and crackers; Grilled cheese and applesauce; Chicken nuggets with dipping sauce and bananas; Noodles with cheese, carrots

Dinners:  Chicken tetrazzini with extra veggies; Homemade BBQ chicken pizza, roasted carrots; Spaghetti with sauce and cheese, garlic bread; Breakfast for dinner; Leftovers x 2; Roast chicken with veggies and homemade rolls

Snacks:  PB & J; Snickerdoodle smoothie; Cheese, crackers and fruit; Bananas with peanut butter; milk and cookies; yogurt with chocolate chips; Bread with nutella

Desserts:  Homemade cookies; Jello; Swiss Rolls

How to Handle Spending Withdrawals

Let me start by saying that although I’m only on day 13 of my year-long spending freeze, I am really enjoying it (and hopefully that feeling continues for quite some time!). There’s an odd sense of freedom coming from it thus far that I find pleasantly unexpected.

I would be remiss though if I didn’t admit that on Sunday evening, I found myself horrified that I has just purchased a much “needed” baguette pan. Ok, so it was “needed” based on the fact that I had decided to make homemade baguettes on Monday and felt that this would be a necessary piece of equipment. I also had a gift card balance on Amazon that covered the pan’s cost completely.

However, this behavior is exactly what has gotten me into almost $10k in debt. These small purchases don’t seem like a big deal by themselves, but added up, well, they can do some major damage.

After I came to my senses, I went back into my Amazon account and cancelled the purchase right away. My gift card balance was back to where it was originally and I was reminded about why I wanted to leave it there — I’m building up this balance as I plan to use it to buy birthday and Christmas gifts during the spending freeze.

This little lapse of financial focus made me realize that I need to put in guardrails for future moments of the “needing” something demon. I hope this list will help you as well:

  • Shop for free items.  Check out freebie sites that allow you to score freebies that you’ll actually use.  Don’t knock this before you try it.  You can score everything from books, toiletries, food samples, bottle openers, perfume/cologne samples, pain relievers, baby items and even higher-value items like earphones and sunglasses.  My favorite freebie sites are Free Stuff Times and Hip2Save.
  • Do your research.  Although I didn’t buy that baguette pan, by doing a little research on the internet, I discovered that while that pan would have been optimal, I could still make beautiful baguettes by following a few simple steps.  While my baguettes may never be as good as the ones in a French bakery, my family scarfed them down with alarming speed.
  • Check your mailbox for department store advertisements.  At least twice per year, I receive from JCPenney and Kohl’s a coupon for $10 off a $10 purchase.  You’ll need to sign up for their mailing lists first (I recommend you open up a separate email account for not only this but for any freebies you sign up for as well to keep your regular email account from exploding with spam offers).  This means a free blouse, socks, serving dish, etc.  You’ll just need to make sure that you don’t allow yourself to go all crazy and end up spending a ton more.
  • Barter.  This is my personal favorite so far.  I love to cook and so when I know that a family member or friend has something that I don’t exactly want to own but would like to borrow, I like to suggest that in place of having to buy that “thing” that they let me borrow it instead for the price of homemade cookies, brownies, my famous meatloaf or even one of those baguettes.  If you do borrow, make sure to decide on an agreed length of time and return it in better condition than when you borrowed it.
  • Make do.  Think outside the box.  Invention is the mother of necessity as they say.  What do you have lying around the house that might work instead of that thing you want to buy?  What can you repurpose?  Allow yourself to be challenged.  It will feel great when you realize how very clever you are.  And how much you ended up saving!

I hope you found these ideas helpful.  What other tips would you like to add?

Weekly Grocery Budget and Menu: June 8-June 14

As mentioned in my previous post here, I do all my grocery shopping on Wednesdays so I base my weekly menu on store specials that begin on Wednesdays and end the following Tuesday.  This allows me to make the most of all the store sales each week which usually run from the same time-frame.  I almost always buy based on the loss leaders that the stores offer each week (loss leaders are the items that the store takes a “loss” on in order to entice you into their store.  They are hoping you’ll make up their loss by buying other items that aren’t on sale. By buying only the loss leaders, you can save a huge amount on groceries and still eat a good variety of foods for way less).

Here’s what I bought this week:

Harris Teeter

  • 1 box (40 ct.) of Zing Stevia $2.69 (used a $1.50 off coupon plus Ibotta .75 rebate)  Final cost:  $.44
  • 1 jar JIF peanut butter $1.47
  • 1 PowerBar $1.99 (used MobiSave rebate $2.00) Final cost: $-.01
  • 1 5 oz. bag of Popcorners $2.29 (used MobiSave rebate $1.25) Final cost $1.04
  • Luna protein bar $.64 (used Checkout 51 rebate $.50)  Final cost $.14
  • Poise liners $1.74 (used $2.00 coupon that was adjusted to $1.74)  Final cost: FREE
  • 2 bags lemons reduced to $.50 each.  Final cost $1.00
  • 2.07 lbs of yellow onions @ .50/lb.  Final cost $1.04
  • 1 loaf Nature’s Harvest bread $2.49 (used $.55 coupon that was doubled and $.10 MobiSave rebate).  Final cost:  $1.29
  • 3-1 lb. bags frozen veggies.  Final cost:  $3.00
  • Buy 2/get 3 free 8 oz. bags shredded cheese.  Final cost $6.58/5
  • 1/2 gallon Almond milk.  Final cost:  $2.00

Total including tax, coupons and rebates:  $20.48

Aldi’s

  • 1 seedless watermelon $2.49
  • 1 Turkey kielbasa $1.99
  • 2 lb. bag of red grapes $1.98
  • 1 can chunk tuna in water $.65
  • 2-1 lb. containers of strawberries 2 @ $1.29; Final cost $2.58
  • 1 dozen large eggs $.69
  • 2.55 lbs. bananas @ .39/lb;  Final cost $.99
  • 1 roasting chicken $3.61

Total with tax:  $15.79

Total for both stores:  $36.27

Totals for weeks 1 and 2 combined:  $64.35 

Amount left in budget for June:  $55.65

Menu for June 8-June 14

Breakfast:  Eggs, toast & turkey sausage X 2; Pancakes and turkey bacon x 2; Cold cereal with milk; Oatmeal with banana; Chocolate banana protein smoothie

Lunch:  Spicy cauliflower & butternut squash soup and rolls with butter; PB & J and fruit x 2; Grilled cheese sandwich with fruit; Homemade turkey pepperoni pizza and fruit; Fruit, cheese and chips; Protein bar (on the road during lunch)

Dinner:  Turkey kielbasa and vegetable stir-fry over rice; Crock-pot rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes and green veggies; Dinner provided by my daughter x 2 (every six weeks, on rotation, my daughter gets to bring home a substantial amount of catered leftovers from her work which equates to several free meals a month.  Her rotation was this week so she brought me a large amount of cheddar mashed potatoes; buttery garlic biscuits; roasted green beans and chicken in a lemon-butter sauce.  We’ll eat some this week and the rest will be put in the freezer to enjoy for future meals); Homemade BBQ chicken pizza and veggies; Leftovers x 2

Snacks:  Air-popped popcorn; fruit; cheese & crackers; fruit smoothies; cinnamon toast with milk; cookies and milk; PB & J

Desserts:  Fruit cobbler; homemade cookies

 

 

 

 

Paperback Swap – A Frugal Option for “New” Books

Paperbackswap, also known as PBS, is a great resource for frugal books during a spending freeze.  You start by creating an account and listing books that you have that you’d like to swap.  When someone requests your book, you’ll receive an automated email from PBS.  After checking to make sure your book meets the requester’s conditions, if there are any, (from a smoke-free home, no highlighting, etc.) you’ll mail* the book via media mail after paying the $.49 fee plus the cost of mailing (usually between $2-3 dollars).  Once the book is received by the requester in the system, you’ll then receive one credit (two if it was an audio book).  And once you have a credit(s), you can start requesting books yourself.  You’ll do this by following these easy steps:

  • Search for the book title or author in the search field
  • Once the desired title has been located, and the button to the right says “order”, click and follow the instructions on the screen.  You’ll need to make sure you have one credit available per book (two credits for an audio book)
  • If the button to the right says “post”, that means the book is not yet available in the system so you can instead put it on your wishlist by clicking that button shown under the listing summary
  • If there are several listings for the same book that show “post”, open up each of them and add your name to each wishlist to increase your chances of getting the book faster rather than waiting for just one of the listings. Note:  If you go this route, be sure to remove yourself from the other wishlists after you receive your book (sometimes requests are cancelled if the poster doesn’t answer the book request within a set amount of time or in case the book is lost in transit–it happens occasionally).

One way that I’ve been able to score newly published–and more expensive–books quickly and for close to free is to place a wishlist immediately after a book comes to press.  The sooner you can get your name on the wishlist, the better your chance to not have to wait months to get your hands on a copy.

It’s also important to note that many new books are available in your library.  If you have a book listed on your wishlist that you are able to read in advance from your library, you can then choose to keep your name on the wishlist so that you can get a copy to own or you can choose to remove your name from the wishlist if the book ends up not being one you want taking up space in your library.

*There are a couple ways you can prep your book for mailing.  My favorite and most frugal way to mail is to pick up a $1 roll of brown postal wrap at the dollar store.  You’ll wrap up the book like you would a present and use clear packing tape to seal all the edges so that the book doesn’t get damaged en route.  The 2nd option is to pick up several different sized bubble mailers at Target, Walmart, etc., and use the correct size for the book you are mailing.  I prefer the former method since it’s more cost-effective.  I can usually get about ten books wrapped from one roll so the cost is @ $.10 per book compared to a bubble wrap mailer that costs @ $1.00 a piece.

Happy Reading!

How to Entertain Yourself During a Spending Freeze

This past weekend was the first weekend of my spending freeze.  I was expecting to feel deprived since the weekend is normally when I go “window shopping” or get something to eat from a brick and mortar establishment other than my home.  I’m pleased that it wasn’t that way at all.  I believe it helped that I made a list in advance of all the things I could do that wouldn’t cost a cent.  Here’s ten ideas to get you started:

  1.  Sleep-in.  I don’t know about you but I don’t get to do this very often so it can feel so luxurious to get a little extra shut-eye.
  2. Take a nap.  Even if you slept-in (see above), why not take a  nap too?  Hey, if it’s good enough for kids, why can’t adults benefit as well?
  3. Play board games.  There are tons of games out there for anyone and everyone.  Favorites of my family are Milles Bourne, Sorry, Trouble and Monopoly.
  4. Go take a hike.  Literally.  If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with parks and other recreational areas, there is a good chance that there is a hiking trail nearby.  If you don’t know of any trails, you can see what is available in your area by visiting www.trails.com.  Just remember to wear proper shoes and hydrate regularly.  Ending up in the ER with a bad sprain or heat stroke is not frugal.
  5. Prep for the week ahead.  How about getting in the kitchen and cooking up all the chicken breasts you plan to use in recipes for the coming week, or slicing up a bunch of onions so you only have to cry once?  Or how about meal-planning so that you aren’t looking like a deer in the headlights staring into the fridge/freezer/cupboards at 5pm trying to think of what you are going to make for dinner?
  6. Go to the park and have a picnic.  We did a lot of picnics when I was a kid.  Good, frugal fun and the fresh air will do everyone some good
  7. Clean house.  Yeah, I feel that way about it too.  However, just think how good it will feel to have a clean house for the week ahead.  Bliss.
  8. Have a {free} movie marathon.  If you have Netflix or Hulu, you can watch your favorite T.V. series or movies to your heart’s content.  In addition, you can sometimes score a code for a one-day free movie rental through Redbox.   Make sure you have some frugal snacks and your favorite beverage on hand to up the oomph factor.  And then sit back and enjoy the show (and all the money you are saving).
  9. Read.  There are so many good books out there for every level of interest.  Your local library is your best, frugal source of great books but if you know a friend has a copy of a book you’d like to read, it never hurts to ask if you can borrow.  Just be sure to return the copy within a reasonable amount of time (think 3-4 weeks) and in as good condition as you received it in.  Another option is to utilize Paperback Swap as an extremely low-cost way of scoring new reading material.
  10. Pamper yourself.  There are loads of recipes for facials, manicures, pedicures, bath bombs, sugar scrubs, etc., on sites like Pinterest and mybeautybunny.com, the latter in which only has cruelty-free (although not vegan, they do have a vegan-friendly section in case you prefer staying away from ingredients like yogurt and honey which are common in many DIY beauty recipes).  This article from Huffpost Style also has ideas from trimming your own bangs to doing your own waxing to teeth whitening and more.

What about you?  Any great recipes you’d like to share?  Put them in the comment section below!  I’d love to hear about them.

25 Random Things About Me

These “random things about me” posts are my favorite when I visit other blogs.  I think that if I ever start dating again, I’m going to tell my date that we are going to share 100 things about ourselves on our first date. What better way to find out quickly that they have a side gig as an Elvis impersonator or once backpacked through Asia by themselves right out of high school?  By the way, I’ve done neither of the above.  🙂

25 Random Things About Me:

  1. I was born and raised in the suburbs of San Francisco, California
  2. I moved to North Carolina in 2015 to be closer to family
  3. I hate humid weather and bugs
  4. North Carolina has them both in spades
  5. My 2nd oldest grandson is non-verbal autistic so we are all learning sign language
  6. Both my parents were teachers so I read a lot as a kid
  7. I still love to read and manage around 100 books per year
  8. If I were stranded on a desert island with only 3 things they would be a never-ending supply of pepperoni pizza, matches for all the fires I’d need to make to desalinate water for drinking and pen/paper (yes, I know that’s technically four things but pen and paper are a combo in my mind)
  9. My favorite fruits are watermelon, apples and berries
  10. My favorite vegetables are pumpkin, onion and sweet potatoes
  11. I love to cook and bake
  12. I love to swim but hate being in water in which I can’t see below the surface
  13. My favorite movie that I’ll never tire of is Home Alone (I can watch it year around)
  14. I like going to the dentist (hey, it’s relaxing for me!)
  15. I’m fascinated with the English Tudor period of history
  16. One thing on my bucket list is to visit England and stay in a castle
  17. My favorite leisure sports are ice skating, horseback riding and walking/hiking
  18. I love fresh flowers and prefer them over plants since I can never seem to keep a plant alive
  19. My favorite color is blue
  20. I was named after my maternal grandmother
  21. I hate raisins in anything baked but don’t mind them alone
  22. I love a good ghost story
  23. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holidays
  24. Favorite seasons are Autumn, Winter and Spring.  I “tolerate” Summer.
  25. I have two adult children — a boy and a girl that I am great friends with. I am glad the hard days of parenting are over (for the most part) 😉

 

Day 3 Spending Freeze Update

So far so good!  And yes, I know I’m only on day 3 out of 365 but I need all the support/encouragement I can get.

I picked up my grandson from school today and he informed me that he wanted to use his first monthly coupon for a trip to McDonald’s.  After making sure he understood that this means that the rest of the months outings have to be $0 cost and him assuring me he “gets it Nana” I immediately had an internal squee! because I thought to myself how good one of their vanilla cones would taste on this very hot day.  {Enter balloon prick here and feeling deflated} Then I remembered that this was a treat for him and not for me.  I’m still on a spending freeze so that means no cone for me.  After a one-minute pity party, I felt fine.  I look at it as gaining some much needed discipline skills that will most likely extend to other areas of my life.  And to be honest, I’m totally not going to die from not having a vanilla cone.  I want something better:  to be debt free and able to live a life that allows me time for all the things that matter to me.

Grocery Budget & Menu – Week One

I’m fortunate enough to have an Aldi’s grocery store in my area.   Aldi’s* can’t be beat when it comes to lower prices.  They aren’t perfect–sometimes the produce can look a bit tired and they don’t have a huge selection of items–but overall I’m really happy with them.

I’ve given myself a weekly grocery budget of $30 for a total of $120 monthly.  What’s that you say?  That sometimes we have five weeks in a month (or close to that)?  You’re right.  For that period that extends past four weeks, I’ll be cooking from the fridge/freezer/pantry.  I’ll share my tips and tricks for doing that in upcoming posts.

For my first weekly grocery trip, however, here’s what I bought and how much I spent:

Aldi’s

Seedless watermelon $3.49

Gluten free crackers $.90 (I don’t follow a gluten-free diet but these were a great value and really good)

Gluten free cracker crisps $.90

1 dozen eggs $.69 ($.10 rebate from MobiSave* so final cost was $.59)

1 tub non-dairy whipped topping $.79

1-8 oz. container feta cheese $1.79

2-16 oz. bags of baby carrots 2/$1.38 ($.25 rebate from Checkout 51* so final cost was $1.23)

1 canister baking powder $.89

3 envelopes fast-rising yeast $.79

2 lbs. bananas $.88

1/2 gallon almond milk $2.49

2 lbs. red grapes $1.78

Turkey pepperoni $2.19

1 canister rolled oats $2.39

3 avocados $2.49

Total with tax:  $28.43

*Total with Checkout 51 and MobiSave rebates:  $28.08

Meal Plan for June 1-June 7*

Breakfasts:  Oatmeal with bananas and brown sugar x 3; Eggs and toast x 2; Pancakes and turkey sausage; Green smoothie

Lunches:  Avocado & feta toasts and fruit x 2; Grilled cheese sandwich and fruit x 2; PB & J sandwich and carrots; Cheese, fruit and crackers; Spinach salad with chicken with homemade vinaigrette

Snacks:  Fruit; nuts; cheese & crackers; PB & J sandwiches; fruit smoothies

Dinners:  BBQ chicken from the freezer with rice and veggies; Homemade pepperoni pizza and side green salad with homemade vinaigrette; Spinach salad with chicken and Italian dressing; Breakfast for dinner; Spaghetti with marinara sauce and garlic bread; Leftovers x 2

Desserts (just a few times a week):  Fruit; homemade cookies; Saltine cracker toffee

Beverages:  home-brewed coffee; water; almond milk; home-brewed iced tea

*In case you’re wondering why I’m doing the menu from Wednesday-Tuesday instead of the “normal” Monday-Sunday, that is because I plan my menu off of what I can purchase at the store based on their specials that start on Wednesdays.  Since June 1 landed on a Wednesday AND was the first day of my spending freeze, it worked out well to do it that way.  🙂

My Budget is Cooler Than Your Budget

Ok, here goes…the monthly spending freeze budget for the next 12 months broken down in all its glory:

-Rent:         $285.00 (my share of the rent)

-Utilities:   $130.00 (electricity and water; avg cost-electricity is paid monthly and water is paid bi-monthly)

-Groceries: $120.00 (this basically covers two adult people — myself and when I cook for/with others so I’m lumping the latter into one extra “person”)

-Insurance:  $131.27 (this covers monthly premiums for renters/life/auto insurance)

-Gas:  $20.00 (this may increase a bit once I have a job that is possibly further from my home; right now, I can keep gas costs low as my son borrows my car from time to time and therefore puts gas in whenever he borrows it)

-Car maintenance/property tax:  $30.00

-Basic grooming:  $10 (twice yearly haircuts and the occasional box of hair dye, etc.)

-Basic toiletries:  $10 (sunscreen; my favorite skin cream that I am not going without for a year plus the cost is minimal; etc.)

-Cell phone plan: $29.00

-Basic internet:  $50.66

-Amazon Prime: $8.25 ($99 divided by 12)

-Professional dues: $10 ($120 divided by 12)

-Debt repayment: $120 per month (for now — this amount will be increased once I’m bringing in more income)

-Monthly “dates” with my oldest grandson:  $5 ($60 divided by 12)

-Books from PaperBackSwap:  $.49 (This is the cost to get a book that has been posted by a member.  It’s such a small amount that I’m including it in the spending freeze)

-Monthly allowance of $30.  I wanted to give myself a small monthly allowance that I can spend on experiences.  I don’t want to turn down every invitation, especially if it relates to one of my grandchildren and a small amount of money needs to be spent

Grand total*:  $989.67

Grand total x 12: $11,876.04

*At the end of each month, I’ll post how much I actually spent to keep myself accountable.