Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bill Payment Checklist and Budgeting

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After my husband and I decided this was really the year to buckle down and start saving for a down payment on a house, we knew that we had to really get a handle on our budget.  We've always been a little loosey goosey, generally knowing how much we spend, generally knowing how much we can afford, generally knowing when bills were due, but no solid set in stone plan to follow.
Between the two of us we have too many student loans, car payments, insurance payment, and regular bills to keep track of in my head.  Every few days I would check in to see what bills were due, did I forget anything, over look a due date?  Some bills come out through automatic withdrawal, but I don't like to do that with everything.  When we became serious about saving I knew that I needed a better system.
I looked around to see what options are out there.  There are all kinds off Bill Pay Checklists, most of them are free.  I found two that I prefer.  One come from A Mom's Take.  
Free Printable Bill Pay Checklist from A Mom's Take
It is a free printable, for the whole year, and is nice and colorful.  This is my monthly go-to guide.  I write down all of our bills in order they are due, how much the bill is for, and I check it off each month once paid.  I've said it before, I'm a list person.  Having this physical piece of paper as a list is hugely helpful to me.
Another one that I like is from My Frugal Home.  This one is very similar, still a free printable, but it's also editable on the computer.
Printable and Editable Bill Pay Checklist - From My Frugal Home
I like that this one is editable on the computer.  Each month I just need to open the pdf and electronically check off each bill as I pay it.
Something else that we have found extremely helpful for budgeting, is to pay all bills that are due within a time period right as we get paid.  So even if we are paying the bill before it is due, we pay everything that we know will be due before the next income check, right up front.  That way we know how much we have to push into savings, and don't over spend on the little things.
Keeping track of what we have in savings, and watching it slowly increase has also been rewarding in and of itself.  What are your tips for keeping track of expenses and bills?  How do you budget throughout the month?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Attack of the Fruit Flies!

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When we left for vacation I mistakenly left a vase full of, what used to be, fresh flowers.  After a week unattended they were not looking so hot when we returned.  And a huge following of fruit flies had gathered to feed!  Now our kitchen is swarming with the pesky little flies and I just can't get rid of them fast enough!
So far, the two best things that have worked are Apple Cider vinegar and Red Wine vinegar.  I covered the bowls with plastic wrap and poked holes in them like usual, but they were not interested. I did a little more research and learned that you can keep them uncovered, but add a few drops of dish detergent.  This prevents the flies from being able to swim back up to the surface.  I have caught a bunch, but it isn't working fast enough!
Apple Cider Vinegar seems to be attracting the most flies! 
Red Wine Vinegar works ok too
Do you have any tips or tricks on what works?  They are bugging (literally!) the heck out of me!
So we finished our shopping on Sunday, and started our first night of meal planning.  Up first were the Juicy Lucy's, one of my all time favorites.
We like to add in Onion Soup mix to our hamburger meat, with just a little bit of water.  Then I make 4 patties, and put the cheese in the middle, and then squish the two patties together.

The end result is a perfectly cooked burger with gooey cheese coming out of the middle.  So delicious!  I made a side of oven baked potatoes and corn to go with it.
Then I cut up all my veggies for this weeks lunch.  It saves me so much time in the morning to just dump pre cut veggies onto some salad and grab my to-go lunch.
Veggies ready to be added to lunch salad
What are your best practices for helping busy mornings go smoothly?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Meal Planning and Back to School Routine

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We just returned from our week long summer vacation on the coast of Maine.  It was a wonderful mix of relaxation and small day trips.  A perfect break from the usual day to day responsibilities, and we lucked out with some pretty great weather!  One of our day trips included Acadia National Park, where we saw the breath taking view from the top of Cadillac Mountain.  This picture doesn't do it justice, but Brian stood pretty close to the edge looking out on everything below!

Checking out the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain - Acadia National Park
My nephew, who is just shy of a year, got up close and personal with a lobster before our dinner.  I'm not quite sure what he thought, but he kept his distance!

Checking out the lobster, very pensive!
 And it wouldn't be a vacation without exploring some of the local cuisine!  We choose to check out two local vineyards/breweries.  It was the perfect way to enjoy each other's company on a rainier day where the beach lost it's appeal.

Trying out one of the local vineyards
It was a really lovely time away.  We were able to spend time reading, kayaking, biking, resting, eating, drinking, and overall just enjoying our family and a break from work.  But we sure did miss our furry friend!  Cody got to spend a week at a doggy resort and spa!  He seemed like he had a great time, they were very friendly and helpful, and he seemed well taken care of.  It was our first time leaving him with someone other than family.  Came right home and fell fast asleep, looks like it was a week of lots of playing!

Cody sure was tired after a week of puppy vacation!
Now that we are back, reality of the new school year is setting in!  My center goes year round, so I don't really have a "back to school" feeling, but my husband goes from a very relaxed summer schedule to jumping right into full school days and sports practices.  We need to get organized and prep for what our busier schedules will look like.  Our goals are to stay healthy and active while still staying on budget and saving where we can (the goal is to be buying a house this year!).

I have definitely found that the key to staying healthy, active, and on budget all comes down to organization and planning.  I have to plan my meals and plan my workouts.  I used to meal plan on sundays all the time, and then we would get our shopping for the week done.  It saved $ and having to make numerous trips to the store throughout the week.  But I fell off that bandwagon when things got busy.  We wound up with many late nights of take out and fast food.  Not only does that kill our nutrition, but we also spend way more than we typically would have.  So I knew it was time to get back into that habit.

I threw together a meal plan for the week.  When we shop correctly, we are both pretty good about bringing our lunches to work, which also cuts down on quick unhealthy food and spending extra money.  Before I decided on our meal plan I shopped the house first.  I know it sounds funny, but there are so many weeks where there are good sales and I stock up.  Now is the perfect time to put those ingredients to use!
Back to meal planning for the week
 Our grocery list is pretty small, based on the number of meals we will be preparing.  And again, this includes breakfasts and lunches.  For the most part I had almost all of the vegetables, meats and fish in the freezer and rice on the shelf.  This Sunday when we go shopping we will again be keeping an eye out for sales.  Its better to buy when the prices are right and freeze, then plan a meal around it, then to have to buy an expensive ingredient just because your recipe calls for it.

So far I'm feeling good.  We have our meal plan, and have mapped out what days we will be going to the gym.  As long as I can get myself back into a routine, I know it will pay off!

What tips do you utilize to make your busy days go by smoother?

All content, including text and original photos, are copyrighted and property of Jen Caffelle

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