Frugal Toolbox: Freezer Inventory

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I buy lots of loss leader meats. When it’s on sale, I buy it–usually in the large “family pack” serving, although there are only two of us at home. Most of the time I bring it home, plan weekly meals around it, and freeze the excess. What happens when the freezer’s full?

I took inventory today. Long overdue…I should be doing this monthly, but the last few months of full-time work and evening graduate school kept me way too busy. But I’m not busy now, and here’s what I found in my freezers…(we have a fridge with a freezer compartment, but we also have a chest freezer which saves us a lot of money on good meat deals.)

When I took inventory today, I found some things I’d forgotten: some frozen meatballs I bought buy-one-get-one-free. I love to make my own pasta sauce, but sitting on my pantry shelf I have some ludicrously cheap spaghetti sauce I picked up on sale. Voila! Spaghetti and meatballs, and the pasta jars can be repurposed to hold my future batches of homemade pasta sauce.  I also have a 10 pound bag of chicken leg quarters. We will barbecue, have friends over for dinner, and do all kinds of cooking with those chicken leg quarters. Some steaks I bought on sale which will be wonderful for Father’s Day and for those days when we feel deprived and want a treat but don’t want to blow the budget by going out to dinner. We’re stocked!

My inventory isn’t at all complicated. I just list the item and the serving size. I like to update it once a month or so.

The good news? I won’t have to shop for about a month–and when I do shop, it’ll be for add-ons to my main dishes. Some rice, maybe some beans, refill my cumin stash, some buy-one-get-one-free pasta. I have plenty of food to last us for a good long time.

How about you? What’s in your freezer?

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Frugal Toolbox: Refrigerator Review

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Eating frugally means you’re going to be eating something you cooked before (I just hate the word leftovers…but yeah, that’s where I’m going here.)

Enter, Refrigerator Review.

To cook frugally, you generally need to buy bigger packages of meat or to cook a fairly hefty batch of some kind of Food That’s Filling (chili, pasta sauce, homemade soup for example). What do you do with the part you couldn’t eat up in one meal? In a small household, like mine, that’s always an issue.

Your first line of defense: lunch.

I used to buy those frozen entrees by Stouffer’s or Lean Cuisine or Marie Callender’s or whoever was on sale any given week. I figured, I’m spending $2.50 a day for lunch, that’s pretty frugal, right? But when I did the math and realized that using leftovers saved me money (I made a big pot of spaghetti with meat sauce the other day and each serving costs me about 74 cents…well, that’s a no-brainer…) I made some changes. There’s also the fact that I was ingesting an awful lot of sodium with my convenience food.

Your second line of defense: Refrigerator Review.

Every few days I practice Refrigerator Review. What’s in the fridge? Do I want to eat it as it is? (After dinner, followed by a few lunches, I get a little tired of my culinary masterpieces.) How can I change it up a little? I’ve got that spaghetti, and, well OK, it’s not a HUGE difference but I could bake up what’s left with some mozzarella on top for a little variety—and serve it with some basil carrots using the canned carrots I bought for 60 cents a can.

I have some white meat chicken left over from baking a chicken on Sunday (79 cents a pound, y’all, yes yes yes!) I could make chicken salad out of it or I could make chicken croquettes and serve a nice little salad on the side. I could get creative with some chicken alfredo using the chicken. I could make fried rice with it. A nice idea: keep spices and noodles on hand and make a stir-fry with whatever you’ve got on hand.  Love Cajun? You know what to do—lay in a stock of file gumbo and some rice and you’re in business.

And soups are always your friend. I have the bones left from my baked chicken—with plenty of meat still attached—and some chicken breast bones from buying cheap chicken breasts and boning them myself. This weekend I’ll make a batch of chicken soup or maybe chicken tortilla soup—I’ve got beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and an awesome homemade Tex-Mex seasoning mix I could use.

What’s your favorite strategy for Refrigerator Review?

Frugal Toolbox: Multiple Streams of Income

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You want to live the good life. You have a fine day job that pays the bills, but you want to travel. You need more money to pay off debt. You have a side hustle and you want to parlay your work into more time. Multiple streams of income can make your dreams come true.

The concept is pretty simple. You make money from a variety of sources: your 9 to 5, the room you rent, the articles you write on the side, the electronics you refurbish and sell on Craigslist. Multiple streams of income mean that if you suffer a blow in one area of your financial life, you’re not helpless. Multiple streams of income mean that you meet your needs and go beyond.

Some ideas for multiple streams of income:

*Work. Do a little moonlighting. Start a microbusiness doing something you love. My friend Michelle worked as a waitress on top of her 9 to 5 to pay for her dream trip to Italy. Worth every ounce of effort, according to her.

*Sell. Find something you can buy cheaply, fix up, and then sell. We bought our lawnmower six years ago from a guy on Craigslist who makes a nice income buying broken lawn equipment, repairing it, and selling it. I paid for my grad school textbooks by selling books on Amazon.

*Rent. If you own a rental property, that’s a great source for one stream of income. You could rent a room at your house, go AirBNB, or “rent” your car by driving for Uber or Lyft.

*Invest. Make your money work for you by investing for income. Living the 25 percent life means you can put money into investments that grow over time.

What can you do to add multiple streams of income to your money life?

Frugal Toolbox: Your Pantry

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Serious about saving money? You need a pantry. Got a pantry? Is it working hard to keep cash in your pocket?

Even if it’s just two shelves in a crowded little kitchen, your pantry can save you money, make you healthier, and save you time.

When you shop strategically (using loss leaders and maybe coupons, if you’re ambitious) you save money and you usually end up with more food than you can consume in one setting. Your pantry is your stockpile of cheap food. Group like items together to help you find what you need in a hurry.  At my house, with only two of us, we implement frequent Eat Yourself Out Of House And Home campaigns—I buy meat strategically, too, so the freezer and the pantry get emptied in one glorious onslaught of cheap, delicious home-cooked yum.

Over at Six Dollar Family, Stacy tells you how buying and keeping money saving staples like rice, flour, pasta, and broth on hand in your pantry saves you money. No need to buy expensive, highly processed side dishes when you can raid the pantry and make something good using your staples.

You can customize your pantry selections for your family’s preferences.  I keep a few canned veggies on hand in my pantry because I can get them ultra-cheap at Save-A-Lot or (when they’re on sale) at Winn Dixie. We’re not big veggie eaters at my house, but some nice ginger carrots or a creamy corn chowder on a cold day can’t be beat.  I have a lot of canned tomatoes on hand at all times because we like homemade pasta sauce and chili. My addiction to Cap’n Crunch cereal means there’s a special spot for my stash in my pantry. What’s in yours?

Having a pantry means you can make more food at home and ingest fewer scary ingredients. My homemade pasta sauce uses stuff like tomatoes, oregano, and garlic. Not a multi-syllabic preservative to be found! Homemade tortillas use masa (a corn flour) and water. Period. No scary chemicals included. The homemade corn chowder I mentioned? It’s got some salt for flavoring, but a whole lot less sodium than the canned kind. Cooking at home means you control the ingredients.

So all this cooking from scratch sounds great, but isn’t it time consuming? It doesn’t have to be. When you need a quick meal, your pantry comes through for you. Homemade pancakes take a little longer to measure but we’re still talking only five or ten minutes (plus, pancakes for dinner—what, I ask you, is not to like about that?)

How does your pantry help you save money, eat better, and save time?

 

25% Toolbox: Your Local Library

old-books-436498_640Today’s toolbox features a celebrity in your own town: the library.

If you’re frugal, you know what the library offers: free DVDs, endless books, education, and entertainment. But did you know that you can research your family tree and learn a language at the library? I spoke with Catherine McElrath, Publication Specialist for the Broward County Public Library, about some surprising services offered by many libraries.

*Rosetta Stone. Want to use the gold-standard system for learning another language without paying the premium price? Check the library.

*Makerspaces. Does your library have a 3-D printer? Want to learn more about what a 3-D printer can do? Check out this article .

*Free resume coaching. Your library can connect you with resources to help you write, polish, and perfect your resume.

*Free education. Catherine notes that the libraries offer free online classes “In everything from Excel to meditation to anger management to flower arranging.”

*Auto repair resources. Access ChiltonLibrary for information on car care and repair.

*Prepare for your citizenship test. Your local library may have resources to help you ace that test!

*Genealogy research. My local library has Ancestry.com and the LDS Family Search among other resources.

You can access many of these resources online without even going into the brick-and-mortar building…but then you’d miss out on the ink-and-paper books. Check out your library for free resources to make 25% living even richer.

 

Toolbox: Escrow Accounts Give Payment Surety and Peace of Mind

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Back in the day, we’d throw our money into the checking account and pay the bills as they came due. In a general kind of way, we knew that income exceeded outgo and so we could cover those big, semi-annual or annual expenses: homeowners insurance, taxes, my tuition. Right? Well…

We generally covered the bills, but the cost was stress. We’d pay a big chunk of change and feel dirt poor, worrying about unforeseen expenses and waiting eagerly for the next paycheck to plump up our bank account.

Enter the escrow.

An escrow account, usually required by a bank or mortgagee which holds the note on a home, collects a monthly amount which goes directly to pay for taxes and insurance. In this way, the bank ensures that the home is covered by hazard insurance and that the bank’s investment is not lost due to failure of the homeowner to pay taxes.

Now our mortgage does not include an escrow account for taxes and homeowners insurance. Our first item of escrow business—really a no-brainer once we remembered paying into an escrow account for mortgages in the past–was to set up our own escrow account for homeowners insurance and taxes. My bank allows me to set up an infinite number of “checking accounts,” so we took advantage of that feature and automated our payments into the escrow account. Voila! Peace of mind and paid bills.

But why stop there? Tuition is a recurring expense for me, so I started up a tuition account. We also have escrow “accounts” for saving for our next car and for taxes from my side gig income. Escrow accounts are a pathway to peace.

While our bank provides a tool for us to literally create escrow accounts, you may choose to do it differently. You could stash the money in a savings account and keep track of what you’re saving for via budget software or a spreadsheet. The important thing is to make sure that you’re saving bit by bit, consistently and effectively, so that when that big annual payment is due you know you’ve got it covered.

Do you need to save for Christmas? For the annual school-supplies-new-clothes-and-a-haircut? For travel? How can escrow accounts help you?