Family Meal Planning on a Budget

Beside the cost of housing, food, literally, eats up one of the largest percentages of the average family budget. If we’re not careful, we could easily end up spending way more than we can afford on dining out and groceries. Our family rarely eats out, although, we do budget a small sum each month “just in case” we need to eat on the go. Instead, we try to plan and shop smart, for meals at home.

I haven’t done a budget grocery post since 2015’s Pantry Staples on a Frugal Budget, when I was unmarried, and without a child; and I thought now would be a good time to do so. Back then, I wasn’t cooking or eating (as a nursing mom) nearly as much as now, and cooking for 1 is much different than cooking for 2 adults and a choosy toddler. Furthermore, since I’m a stay-at-home momma (SAHM), I’m making food and snacks for myself and Cookie Girl throughout the day. So, my $30 a week budget from 3 years ago, definitely wouldn’t fly today. Now, we have about a $100 weekly budget. Some weeks we spend a little more and others a little less, but since we create a monthly budget (using the Every Dollar app), as long as we stay within what we’ve budgeted for groceries for the month, we’re good to go.

I’m gonna be honest, I struggled with meal prep and budgeting, for a while after baby was born. The hubbs did a lot of the cooking and grocery shopping, and while he’s a great cook (thank you, Lord), he doesn’t care much for sticking to a budget. When I did begin cooking again, it was a challenge because our family needs had changed. When we both worked outside the home, I would batch cook on the weekends so we’d have frozen/leftover meals for lunch and make simple stuff for dinner during the week. However, I’m no longer working outside the home, and we now live 30 minutes away from town; so we need meals that require little time for preparation, or we’ll end up eating fast food. Now that I’m a home during the day (for the most part), I have a little more freedom to make a variety of delicious, but simple home-cooked meals.

So, how are we doing it? Well, we’re still following those simple tips from that 2015 post, but we’re also incorporating the following…

  1. Monday morning I plan my week. That way I know what’s happening during the week.20180910_120555.jpg
  2. Then I plan my meals around what we’ll be doing during the week. We usually have leftovers on the days I won’t have time to cook, use the slow cooker, or pull out a freezer meal. (We’ve been testing recipes from the “Seriously Good Freezer Meals” cookbook; so far, I love it.)
  3. I plan 4 meals for the next week, so I can go grocery shopping the week before. That means, I have all the groceries I need this week, because I picked them up last week.
  4. I do most of our shopping at Aldi. We buy practically everything at Aldi because you just can’t beat their prices. Yes, it’s further away for me–we have a grocery store much closer to home–but the prices are nowhere near the prices we can get at Aldi. If there’s something I can’t find there, then I’ll go to another grocery store. (Note: Target is not a grocery store! Grocery prices tend to be much higher there.)
  5. We only go to Costco twice a month. I’ve found that if I made weekly trips to Costco I would over-spend every time and always end up busting our budget. When I do go, we only pick up pantry items, or items we can freeze, like meat, fish, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, bread, or rice; items that won’t spoil before we can eat it all and that will last us for a long time. There’s no point in purchasing groceries at a good price only to have them spoil. Additionally, Costco’s prices aren’t always the best deals you can find; I hardly ever buy fresh produce there, because the prices are too high. Always compare the cost per unit/lb/oz before purchasing.

As you can see, that takes care of dinner. As far as breakfast and lunch go, there are always items we keep on hand.

  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Milk (Almond milk in our house)
  • Rice
  • Lunch meat & sliced cheese
  • Peanut butter & jelly (The hubby’s go-to are PB & J sandwiches.)
  • Kodiak cakes (pancake mix)
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar/Stevia
  • Pasta
  • Cheese (blocks)
  • Frozen fruit & vegetables
  • Cheerios
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt
  • Tomato Sauce & paste
  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Coffee & creamer
  • Fruit & veggie pouches
  • Fresh fruit
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Garlic (fresh or minced)
  • Vegetable/olive oil
  • Butter
  • Chicken/Beef Bouillon, powder, or stock
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, chili powder, oregano, etc. (we have a pretty big collection)

Some of these we only keep on hand because we have a 13-month-old in the house, the fruit & veggie pouches, and Cheerios, for instance.

But these are pretty much staple items that we try to always keep on hand in our house. From here, we can fill in the gaps for specific recipes we put on the menu. Usually, that would include meat or fish, fresh herbs or veggies, or milk or heavy cream. Planning our weekly meals, grocery shopping with a written list, and on a full stomach are just some of the things that we do to prevent us from overspending on our groceries each month (which is very easy to do). What are some of the ways you save on groceries?

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Floods, Faith and Finances: A look at Proverbs

I’ve been following Dave Ramsey for a few years now and when my husband and I got married we were both committed to living a debt-free lifestyle. We were both working outside the home then, so each month we budgeted our income, and were able to very quickly pay off his vehicle, and then began to do the same with my student loan. Then, just 6 months into our marriage we found ourselves expecting, so we pushed pause on our debt-snowball (as Dave calls it, and as he recommends) and just started saving as much as we could, while still making the minimum payments on the loan. Once Cookie girl and I came home safe and sound, and the hospital bills were paid, the rest of money that we’d saved went to paying off the student loan. And then I was free to leave my job and stay home with the baby. I was nervous and excited about leaving my job to be a stay-at-home-mom.

After a few months we decided we were ready to purchase a home. Now, Dave Ramsey recommends that you save up a 3-6 month emergency fund and your 20% down payment before purchasing. Let’s just say, we were impatient, lol. We saved a couple thousand and were ready to move. We did not follow Dave’s recommendation, but we still tried to be wise in our financial decisions. We always kept a small emergency fund, refused to use credit (except the mortgage, obviously), and made sure our monthly mortgage payment wouldn’t exceed 35% of our take-home pay.

After a few months of being in our new home we’re finally back on track as far as budgeting and savings go. We’ve been putting a percentage of each paycheck in our emergency fund to build it up, and allocating money for our tithe, mortgage, utilities, groceries, etc. This means we’ve been taking some time to get our home in order, since we’re purchasing everything with cash, little by little.

The Flood…Well, a few weeks ago I called a plumber about a leak we noticed in our 2nd bathroom; the drywall was stained from moisture. He told us that it looked like the caulking needed to be repaired on the bathtub and the water was pooling in that spot. So, Saturday my husband and I went to the hardware store for items to make the repair. As he began tearing away old drywall, he noticed it was very wet. We decided we would call another plumber for a second opinion, but wanted to spray the area with a little mold and mildew remover since the area was now open. Suddenly, he heard a drip and then a pipe started spraying water everywhere! He raced downstairs to turn off the water and we called our insurance and the plumber.

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The culprit behind the leak, turned sprayer.

By Sunday afternoon, the pipe was repaired, the flooring and drywall removed, and dehumidifiers were in place. But Sunday morning, as I headed to church I was thanking God. For one, W was originally supposed leave on a work trip this weekend, and if that pipe had decided to spray when it was just me at home I wouldn’t have known how to shut the water off, or who to call for help. Second, we were home when it happened and were able to shut the water off before too much damage occurred. And third, we were able to pay for the repair using money set aside for our emergency fund.

Every day I pray over our home, that God protect it, and us; and that God give us wisdom over our household, marriage, child(ren), ministries, and finances; and I thank Him for His many blessings. Interestingly enough, I was thanking God for being our provider and helping us build our emergency fund, just a few days ago, and I noted that our emergency fund is not where we place our faith. Our faith is in God and His provision, because He gives us everything we need. And it’s our responsibility to be a good steward of these things. To plan and manage our finances according to biblical principles is to walk in obedience.

But what does that look like? The book of Proverbs is a great place to start. I want to share more on this book in the future, but here are a few financial principles you can find straight from the Word of God.

Tithe.

Proverbs 3:9 (AMP) says to “honor the Lord with your capital and sufficiency and with the first fruits of all your income.”

God doesn’t need our money, it belongs to Him from the get-go. The Word says the earth is the Lord’s and everything within it (Psalm 24:1)! To give Him the first fruits is to show that we recognize that it’s God who provides, that we are thankful for His provision, and that we honor and respect Him. At least a tenth of our income should be given to establish His kingdom and do His work.

Know the value of money.

Like I stated previously, money shouldn’t be where we place our faith. It can’t save us from the grave, and it certainly can’t save our souls; it’s simply something we use. Proverbs 3:13-16 states that godly Wisdom is much more valuable than riches, and it should be what we strive for more than anything else.

While there’s nothing wrong with wealth, in itself, putting it above God is wrong. Proverbs also states that “wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (11:4, NIV); “those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf” (11:28, NIV); and the rich man is deluded if he believes his wealth will protect him (18:11, my paraphrase based on the AMP, lol).

Work diligently.

While money and/or wealth should never supersede our obedience or love for Christ, we do need an income to provide for ourselves, our family, and in order to give. That’s why Proverbs has so much to say on this point:

  • Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth (10:4, NIV).
  • Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense (12:11, NIV).
  • Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor (12:24, NIV).
  • The lazy do not roast any game, but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt (12:27, NIV).
  • All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty (14:23, NIV).
  • Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank (22:29, NIV).
  • Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house (24:27).

The list goes on! Proverbs 6:6-11,16:26, 19:15, 21:25, 27:23-27, and 28:19 all mention work, and/or laziness, as well.

Don’t be in haste to make a quick buck.

Building wealth, an emergency or retirement fund, or paying off your home doesn’t normally happen overnight. But if it did/does, God has something to say about that, too. Proverbs states that “dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow” (13:11, NIV); “an inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end” (20:21, NIV); and “a faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished (28:20, NIV).

Be a person of integrity.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but being a person of integrity will go a long way in every area of life, including your finances. Proverbs has much to say regarding this as well:

  • The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him (11:1, NIV).
  • A wicked person earns deceptive wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward (11:18, NIV).
  • Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil (15:16, NIV).
  • Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice (16:8, NIV).
  • The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice (17:23, NIV).
  • Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a [rich] man who is twisted in his speech and is a [shortsighted] fool (19:1, AMP).

Again, the list continues with Proverbs 3:33, 16:20, 20:10, 20:23, 21:6, 22:1, 22:22, 28:6, 28:8, and 29:24.

Be content with what God provides.

Being content with what God provides doesn’t mean you can’t work harder to bring in more income, what it does mean, is that we don’t covet the things others have, or live in longing, and let our want consume us. Proverbs states that “the wicked desire the plunder of evil men, but the root of the righteous yields richer fruit” (12:12, AMP); “the craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing” (21:25-26, NIV); “he who has an evil and envious eye hurries to be rich and does not know that poverty will come upon him” (28:22, AMP); and “the greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper” (28:5, NIV).

Be generous.

As Proverbs 21:26 states, “the righteous give without sparing.” The Word says that when we give it will be returned unto us (Luke 6:38). However, this isn’t to say that when we give of our finances, we’ll receive more money in return; but a few things I’ve learned about giving are: 1) We honor God in our finances (and lives) when we give, 2) When we give, the remainder of our income is always enough to meet our needs, and 3) Our hearts are changed, and we become less concerned with our needs, than the needs of others. Proverbs says that “one person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (11:24, NIV); “whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (14:31, NIV); “whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done” (19:17, NIV); and “whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (21:13, NIV). Other verses concerning this, are Proverbs 22:9, 22:16, 22:22, and 28:27.

Don’t co-sign on someone else’s debt.

Now, being generous does not mean that we loan out money, or co-sign on another’s loan. Being generous means we simply give, no strings attached, and no expectations of being repaid. Proverbs states, more than once, that we should not co-sign on another’s loan. I love how the amplified Bible puts it:

My son, if you have become surety (guaranteed a debt or obligation) for your neighbor, If you have given your pledge for [the debt of] a stranger or another [outside your family], If you have been snared with the words of your lips, If you have been trapped by the speech of your mouth, Do this now, my son, and release yourself [from the obligation]; Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, Go humble yourself, and plead with your neighbor [to pay his debt and release you]. Give no [unnecessary] sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids; Tear yourself away like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.~ Proverbs 6:1-5

The author writes like it’s a life or death situation!

Proverbs also states that whoever co-signs a loan will suffer (11:15), that only a fool (or one who lacks sense) co-signs for another (17:18), and that the creditor will be quick to take the belongings of the co-signer when the primary cannot repay the debt (20:16, 22:26-27, 27:13).

Don’t be a borrower.

There’s a saying I once heard: “Neither a lender or borrower be.” I can’t remember where I heard it exactly, but it came to mind while I was writing my notes for this post. Proverbs 22:7 (NIV) states that “the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” A slave…

Being in debt, whether to a bank, credit card company, friend or family member, etc. is like being enslaved. It’s not something we think about in that manner, very often, is it? But every month we must pay someone else our hard-earned money (plus interest!), or risk repossession, foreclosure, calls from debt collectors, being sued, or liens on your bank accounts or estate (after your passing). Without that debt hanging over your head, your income would be yours to do with as you please (or as God deems fit).

Spend wisely.

Lastly, spend wisely. Proverbs says “the plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (21:5, NIV); “whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich” (21:17, NIV); “there is precious treasure and oil in the house of the wise [who prepare for the future], But a short-sighted and foolish man swallows it up and wastes it” (21:20, AMP); and “do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (23:20-21, NIV).

If we waste all our money on things we don’t need, or that deliver temporary satisfaction, we won’t be able to take care of our every day needs. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun, it just means that we have to set limits and budget. In the last chapter of Proverbs we read about the virtuous woman (often described as the Proverbs 31 woman); in verse 16 we read about how she considers buying a field–she thinks about it before doing so–and in verse 25 we read that she’s unafraid of the future because she and her family are ready. Are you ready?

I know this was a long post, but the book of Proverbs just has so much to say about our finances and I didn’t want to leave anything out. As I’ve mentioned before, there will be more posts on Proverbs in the future. I’ve been reading it over and over again for the last few weeks, and have been jotting down notes regarding different areas of our lives that it pertains to. I’d recommend reading it if you haven’t already, or re-reading it if you have, and check back with me in the upcoming weeks. Take care and God bless!

Babies, Budgets, & Faith

It’s currently around 2 a.m. and I’m beginning this post as I feed my 5-week-old baby girl, whom I affectionately call my Cookie Girl. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we discovered last Thanksgiving that we were expecting, and since then it’s been a challenge to write because I’ve had baby on the brain, lol. It’s no joke; once you discover you’re pregnant, that baby is all you can think about for the next few months and it’s a real challenge to discuss anything else.

Angelica&Wilfredo(1of39)Pregnancy is one of the most faith-testing things I think a woman can face; at least it was for me. I’m someone who likes to plan and be in control, and pregnancy is so outside your control. Everything is completely in God’s hands. From the timing of conception, to the sex of the baby, the health of mom and baby, and to the circumstances and time of the delivery; He plans and knows every detail, leaving us with no choice but to trust Him.

I thank God for a healthy and smooth pregnancy and delivery. I know not everyone has a good experience during pregnancy. I had some nausea during the first trimester, but nothing too serious, and not until my last trimester did I have a ton of difficulty sleeping and swelling in my legs and feet. I gained a pretty healthy amount of weight by mostly sticking to foods high in protein throughout, not giving in to every craving, and drinking lots of water. And when my water broke at 5:30 a.m., in July, we were blessed to welcome a precious, healthy baby girl into our arms, just 12 hours later.

When we found out we were pregnant, we were just a payment or two shy of paying off my husband’s car. So we finished that, and then, just as Dave Ramsey suggests, we paused our baby step two–paying off debt–to save for baby.  However, while we were adding to our emergency fund, my car’s power-steering gave out on me one night, just as I was merging onto the highway. This pushed up our timeline to purchase another vehicle by a few months, and we were able to purchase a new used vehicle with cash, in May. Then we went back to putting money into our emergency fund for the rest of the pregnancy.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t as on my budget game as I should have been during this pregnancy. The biggest budget buster for us was food, since nothing ever sounded appealing to me, lol. But we did save in other ways. An area I recommend to save money on is maternity clothes. I suggest only purchasing a pair or two of maternity jeans; two pair of dress pants, if you work outside the home; two maternity shirts; two tank tops; two or three pairs of maternity leggings; and three or four maternity/nursing bras. I also picked up a few stretchy, flowy, dresses from Ross to wear as tunic tops with my leggings, and my sister sent me a few beautiful dresses she’d found on the clearance rack, as well. Dresses, leggings and tunic tops were my best friends towards the end, and I’m still wearing them post-pregnancy, since my pre-preggo pants aren’t fitting just yet.

Baby clothes are another area to save in. We realized early on that there are sooo many cute baby clothes out there that it would be very easy to go overboard. I had to remind myself, more than once, that our new baby wouldn’t need all that many clothes. Baby’s outgrow them really fast; and clothes tend to get laundered every few days anyways. Most importantly, God really instilled in me that our children are not toys or fashion accessories; Cookie Girl has been entrusted to my husband and I to raise and train for His glory, not to put on display. Besides, what would we be teaching her if we were overly concerned about her appearance? The Lord, Himself, says that it’s our hearts that matter (1 Samuel 16:7), not outside appearances, and we would do well to instill that in our children.

I thank God that He’s given us this opportunity to love, teach/train another human being about Himself. It’s quite a responsibility to raise a little person that will ultimately become a full-fledged adult. My husband and I find ourselves praying quite often for direction, and we’re only in the first few weeks! We may still be learning about this whole parenting thing, but I’d like this to be a shared experience, so intermittently I’ll bring up challenges and things we’ve learned along the way with y’all, just as I have regarding other areas of my life. I love y’all and pray that God continue to use me and this blog for His honor.

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Planning a Debt-Free Wedding 

This post has been a long time coming. For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I were engaged in December 2015, and married by May of 2016. We’d been dating for about a year and a half before he proposed, so we decided on a short engagement. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’ve been following Dave Ramsey and have been trying to pay off all my debt for the last few years, so the then fiancé and I agreed not to go overboard on the wedding.

So, how did we accomplish a beautiful wedding without going into debt? I’ll explain.

Talk About Your Goals

Before we were even engaged, W (the now hubbs) and I had discussed our financial goals. He watched the Dave Ramsey FPU videos with me and we talked about how this would work for us. Therefore, when we went to pick out that engagement ring together–lol, yes, I wanted to pick it out–he knew going in, that we weren’t going to finance it, and we had a budget in mind.

Budget

There goes that dirty little word, lol. But it’s so important! Without a budget, the sky is the limit. I’ve heard about couples who start out their marriage tens of thousands of dollars in debt because they went for the huge engagement ring, lavish wedding, and expensive honey moon; and we didn’t want to be in that boat. Especially, since we were already going into marriage with my student loan debt and his car loan (we’ll talk about this more at another time).

Here are some ways we chose to cut down on expenses.

The Ring

We shopped around a few places looking for the ring. What I originally thought I wanted, once I saw it on my finger, I wasn’t really impressed with. However, the best decision we made was to go with a local, family-owned jeweler. Their prices were much lower than the chain stores AND they had the ability to replicate any designer piece that we wanted at a fraction of the cost.

The Dress

I chose not to go overboard on the dress. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a dress A&W-158that, let’s be honest, I was only going to wear once. Two of the most important take-aways during dress shopping 1) don’t knock the discount rack, and 2) don’t be afraid to try on something you think looks strange on the hanger. (That’s how I found my dress!) Also, don’t forget to include the cost of alterations, shoes, and veil, if you choose to wear one. Lastly, instead of going with the dress shop for alterations, check around for a good deal. We chose to go with a local tailor because they charged much less. (Don’t forget, you could always rent a dress if you won’t want to purchase one.)

The Guest List

It may seem like I’ve placed this in the wrong spot, but really, the size of your guest list is going to determine a lot about your wedding. When W and I were discussing our wedding plans, I originally didn’t want a wedding; I wanted to elope. Mostly, because I’m in introvert and get stressed out by crowds. Eventually, I changed my mind, but I wanted to keep the wedding as small as possible. Therefore, our guest list was less than 50 people. This meant we could choose a smaller wedding venue and had some wiggle room when it came to food and drinks.

(Disclaimer: If you go this route, don’t be surprised if people get upset with you for not inviting them to your wedding. Sadly, I have family members that refuse to talk to me because we chose not to invite extended family.)

The Venue

Living in Northern Virginia means that our area is rife with prime wedding locations.A&W-348 However, most of them cost MUCH more than we wanted to spend. We decided on a small, local farm that charged by the hour to use their barn space, and we chose to have a brunch wedding. Choosing the brunch wedding meant we didn’t have to pay the costs associated with an evening wedding (i.e. extra security, clean up, lighting, etc.). The cost was soo much better than if we’d gone with one of the bigger farms, or bed-and-breakfasts, that provided a full-service wedding. And we used the picnic tables provided in the rental, so we didn’t have to rent tables and chairs!

The Caterer & Baker

A&W-213My husband loves food. Like REALLY loves food. I was just telling someone today, that he’s pretty much an artist in the kitchen. I cook to eat, but when he cooks, it’s a creative experiment, lol. So, when it came to food we really had to do some research. We went with a local caterer, who provided his own staff and table linens, and worked well alongside the bakers from the cupcake shop we purchased our cupcakes from. And we ate family style! Meaning, food was passed along the table, instead of buffet style or plated. I loved it!

Photographer & DJ

We have quite a few friends who have side photography businesses, and I’m sure you do too, since it’s become much more common nowadays. I’d suggest you shop around, and check out portfolios before making your decision. Your lowest offer might not be your best, but neither might your highest. We chose to have a friend that we weren’t specifically inviting to the wedding take our photos, because we didn’t want our guests to have to work during the wedding. We also knew someone who offered DJ services, through our church, at a reasonable price. You’d be surprised how far networking and checking with your friends can take you.

Flowers & Décor

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For most weddings these two might go under separate categories, but for our wedding I’d say they went under one. First off, we didn’t have a wedding party. There were no bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, or ring bearers. Remember, we wanted to keep the cost and stress levels way down (and when you have additional people involved in the ceremony, the stress level skyrockets). I’d suggest, even if you do have a wedding party, don’t use a big flower retailer, because you’re going to pay way too much. We almost purchased our flowers through Costco, because they had good prices, but instead, we were able to find a florist who was just starting out. She gave us a great deal on my bouquet, W’s boutonniere, and our parents boutonnieres and corsages. I believe when it comes to flowers, less is more. (I think we actually ordered a little too many flowers for our table décor, lol.)

For our table settings we purchased some lace, crates, and milk bottles from the craft store and IKEA, and during the wedding ceremony our guests sat on bales of hay.

Friends & Family

Lastly, we couldn’t have had a debt-free wedding without our close friends and family. A friend did my wedding day makeup; our parents helped pay for the venue, my dress, and the flowers; and the night before the wedding, some of our friends and family helped us decorate our venue. Afterwards, they helped clean up and put everything back in order. A&W-217

I just wanted to share this with you to tell you that you don’t have to go into debt to have a beautiful wedding. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that you’re marrying the one you love. As I told W before our wedding, even if everything went terribly wrong, all that mattered was that at the end of the day we’d be husband and wife.

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Pantry Staples on a Frugal Budget

Living on a budget isn’t always easy. I don’t make much money and I’m still trying to pay off my student loan, so as a single, working woman my grocery budget is only $60 for every two weeks. As such, there are a few things I’ve learned about grocery budgeting and shopping.

  1. Always plan your meals. I always try to plan my meals in advance so that I can create a proper grocery list, which brings me to point number 2…
  2. Always go shopping with a written grocery list. Going without a list means that you’ll forget things you may need and probably pick up things you don’t.
  3. Use cash! Using cash prevents you from overspending. I know people prefer debit cards these days, but every time I use my debit card I end up spending more than I budgeted.
  4. Bring a calculator. As you pick up the items you need, add up the cost, rounding up to account for taxes; and if you go over budget, put something back! A budget is worthless if you don’t stick to it.
  5. Last, but not least…Eat something! I probably don’t have to tell you this, but I’m going to anyways…NEVER go grocery shopping while hungry. Please eat something before you go, otherwise you’re sure to just start throwing anything and everything in your cart.

PantryShopping began getting easier as I chose to stick to these rules. Additionally, I realized a few things would no longer be purchased due to my slimmer budget. Prepackaged foods ate up my money, as did meat, so I began making more from scratch and eating more vegetarian meals. I didn’t completely give up meat, but I don’t have to eat it with every meal. Since I work during the week, I batch cook on the weekend and freeze meals for lunch, and then I make simple things for myself at home for dinner (ahh…the unmarried life, lol).

In conclusion, below is a list of budget-friendly items that I try to always keep on hand.

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Steel-cut oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Tortillas
  • Cereal (Yes, I have a problem, lol.)
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • All beef or Kosher Hot Dogs
  • Almond milk
  • Cheese
  • Coffee/Tea
  • Creamer
  • Sugar/Honey
  • Spinach
  • Baby carrots
  • Apples
  • Strawberry jam
  • Vinegar & oil salad dressing
  • Seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, lemon pepper, etc.)

Depending upon what’s on sale or what I plan on making for lunch for the next two weeks I might pick up one package of ground beef, chicken, pork, or salmon. There are other items I pick up as needed, but these are the basic items I try to always keep at home.

Dumping Debt: Part 1

I’ve been a little hesitant to write this post, not because I don’t want to share this information with you, but because the Internet is swamped with this info. So, at the risk of sounding redundant, here goes…

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from UNCW in 2009, I left school without any school debt. I’d lived at home and worked my way through school; therefore, I paid off my small personal loans as I made money working through school. However, when I returned to school in 2011 for my Master’s in Human Services Counseling, I was working full time, and although I began while still living at home, I got a little rambunctious and prideful and moved into my own apartment while earning my M.A. I began to take out student loans for school, and even put a little on my credit card—books, new computer, a bloggie camera that I needed for a class—on top of this, during the summer I put a trip to Puerto Rico on my credit card, when a friend got married there. Yeah, I know, bad idea!

So, where am I going with this? Well, last year my mother gave me Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Kit for my 30th birthday. At first, I thought “really?!” Hahahaha, but once I started reading the book I realized the man made great sense! He breaks everything down into steps…

7 Baby Steps

  • Step 1: Save $1000 Emergency Fund
  • Step 2: Debt Snowball
  • Step 3: Save 3-6 months of Expenses
  • Step 4: Invest 15% of Household Income
  • Step 5: College Funding for Children
  • Step 6: Pay off House Early
  • Step 7: Build Wealth & Give!

So far, I’m still on Baby Step 2. I think I’ll be here for a little while, but I’m already proud of myself for creating and sticking to a monthly budget, not using my credit card for Christmas gifts (that was a big one for me, because I’d been doing it for the last couple of Christmases), and already having paid $446.48 towards lowing my credit card bill since I’ve started. I’m slowly but surely getting there. If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey or Financial Peace University (FPU) please be sure to check them out. I’ve added the book for FPU to my suggested reading list on my Resources link.