Thursday, August 28, 2014

Freezer Cooking Basics: the WHAT, WHY, and HOW

It seems like freezer cooking is becoming more and more popular these days.  I don't know if it's because women are desperate to find ways to make dinner prep easier or if we're all just trying to find ways to save money by avoiding takeout, but it sure seems like I'm seeing more and more women talk about freezer cooking.

What is freezer cooking?
The concept is genius, in my opinion, so I am loving all the chatter.  Essentially, freezer cooking is preparing meals {or parts of meals} ahead of time and freezing them for later use.

Why do it?
There are probably numerous reasons to begin freezer cooking, but there are a couple that immediately come to mind.  First, freezer cooking saves time {and stress}.  If you are like me, it's very easy for dinner time to creep up.  If I haven't thought about dinner in the morning or early afternoon, even my perfectly crafted menu-plan won't get executed.  Either I've forgotten to defrost the meat or I've waited to long to get everything prepped and now my kids and husband are dying of starvation and can't wait another minute for me to stick my freshly made casserole in the oven.  Or maybe that's just our house?  Having ready-made meals {or even just some commonly used ingredients} in your freezer cuts down on so much of the time and stress surrounding mealtime.  Dinner then becomes as simple as pulling out your freezer meal the night before {so it can thaw} and then cooking it as needed.

Secondly, freezer cooking saves money.  If something happens to prevent me from getting a meal on the table, we end up eating out.  While I would love to eat out for every meal, there is just no way our budget would allow it.  Even though there are some ways to save money on eating out, there's just no denying that eating at home is by far the cheaper option.  By having meals ready in the freezer, it is less likely for us to be tempted to pick up dinner elsewhere.

Not only that, but by planning your freezer meals in advance, you can choose recipes that call for budget-friendly ingredients or you can shop for your freezer meal ingredients when they are on a great sale at the grocery store.    

Thirdly, freezer cooking is healthier.  It's hard to eat healthy when eating out.  By having ready-make freezer meals, you are more likely to be eating healthier meals.

How do I get started?
I've just started experimenting with freezer cooking in the past couple of years.  I haven't had the time to dive in as quickly as I'd like, but I'm slowly getting my feet wet.  I'd like to sit here and share loads of stories about how well-stocked my freezer is, but I just haven't gotten there yet.  But, I'm working on it as time allows.

From what I've read and in my {limited} experience, it seems like there are also a few different approaches to it.  So, depending on the time you have and how ambitious you are, you can tackle it from a few different angles.  At this point, I've only done #1 and #2.

1.  Prepping ingredients
This method could be done largely after shopping trips to the grocery store.  If you buy in bulk, this might entail dividing up ingredients and freezing them {such as with big portions of meats}.  This is also a great way to stock up on seasonal ingredients/produce.  Just the other day, I shredded and froze some zucchini that I got from a friend's garden, so that it would be ready for baking later in the fall.

You may think about this mostly with produce, but it can be done with other ingredients as well - shredding blocks of cheese, browning ground beef, shredding chicken, etc.  Even if you don't have an entire meal frozen, it's still a huge help to have some of your common {or out of season} ingredients at the ready when you may need them.

2.  Doubling meals
This is what I have been doing the most lately and is a great option if you are just getting started or time is seriously limited.  I have been trying to double at least 1 meal every week, if at all possible.  Just this week, we had Pioneer Woman's BBQ Comfort Meatballs for dinner, so I decided to make a double batch and freeze some for a meal later.  When I peeked in my freezer yesterday for this post, I noticed I still had some Bean & Cheese Burritos, Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Pancakes, and Chocolate Zucchini Bread left in there from when I had doubled those recipes previously.

 3.  Freezer Cooking Sessions
I haven't been able to make the time for this method, but I would like to eventually.  The idea behind this one is that you designate a large chunk of time {or even an entire day/weekend} to freezer cooking, so you knock it all out at one time.  You pick all your recipes, buy all your ingredients, and then spend the time prepping everything and putting it all together.

A friend of mine did this recently and it seems to have worked out well for her so far.  She spent a good portion of her Sunday afternoon putting together her meals, but it's made her weeknights so much less stressful.  Her meals are either ready to be cooked or in the crockpot ready to be eaten when she gets home from work.

Helpful Resources:

Ree at The Pioneer Woman has a phenomenal post HERE about how she tackles freezer cooking.  Her word means gold to me, so I'd give anything a try when she suggests it.  :-)

Crystal at MoneySavingMom has an article HERE with some great suggestions on how to get started so you aren't overwhelmed.

Ruth at LivingWellSpendingLess has some great posts with lots of different freezer-cooking recipes to try.  My friend got many of her recipes HERE from Ruth's blog.

I've started a Freezer Cooking Pinterest board if you are looking for some ideas as well.  I add to the board as I see good ideas, recipes, or tips that might help.

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Have you done any freezer cooking? 

What works for you?

photo source

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Teacher's Salary Series: Why You Need a Clothing Budget

Welcome back to another week of The Teacher's Salary series. Feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email if you have any suggestions for future topics.

Click HERE to see links to some of my previous posts from this series.

Since it's back to school time and the seasons are changing, I thought it would be fun to talk about clothing.  Before we know it, we'll be putting away those short sleeves and piling on the layers for fall!

Before I quit work and we got really serious about budgeting out every penny, clothing was one of those categories that I didn't really plan out each month.  I enjoyed shopping and would try to find good deals on clothing, but it was never really something I planned ahead for - I just bought what I wanted/needed as long as I felt like we had the money for it.

When we became a single-income family, things had to change when it came to buying clothing.  It could no longer be one of those mysterious spending categories.  It had to be planned for just like everything else.  

Now that we have been budgeting for a while, I'm actually thankful that our income level forced us to be more deliberate with our spending.  When money was more plentiful, we did our best to save and be good stewards, but I'm sure we could have spent our money more wisely.  Now, we are "forced" to be more purposeful with our spending, which is a good thing in the long run.

If you aren't currently budgeting money each month for clothing, I'd certainly encourage you to give it a try.  And here are my reasons why.

1.  It's a necessity.
This might sound like an obvious one, but if you are not a natural "shopper," you may have a tendency to forget this.  Whether you like to shop or not, clothing is a necessity.  Everyone needs clothing, so you might as well plan for it.  Simple as that.  If you are like me and like to shop, you are well aware of this fact already.      

There may be some months when you know you will need to purchase some clothing, so your budget will allow you to plan for that spending that needs to happen.  But, even if you don't know what specific items you might need in advance, you know you will need them at some point.  

2.  Always be ready.
You can't always predict when you will need new clothes.  You might have a closet full of clothes, but you can't always foresee when they will wear out.  We try to take care of our clothes so we can wear them as long as we can, but sometimes things happen.  A clothing budget will ensure you have some money set aside in case you have a need that you didn't see coming at the beginning of the month.  There shouldn't be the temptation to incur debt if the money is already there.  

In addition, I find that some of the best deals I find on clothing {especially brand new clothing} are when I least expect them.  I may not "need" a new winter coat as we head into the spring season, but it's often a great time to get one that I will need next winter at a deeply discounted price.  Buying at the end of a season {when you no longer "need" the item} is a great way to save a lot of money on clothing.  Your clothing budget ensures you have some money set aside when those good deals arise.

3.  Accountability.
This can work both ways.  If you are a "shopper," your clothing budget will keep you in check so that you aren't constantly spending more than you should.  It will also help you when making your purchasing decisions.  You might reconsider that half-priced item when you realize that one item will take up the majority of your budget for the month.

On the flip side, a clothing budget will encourage non-shoppers to buy clothes without guilt.  Again, clothing is necessary, whether you like to shop for it or not.  Buy setting a budget for it, there is no guilt when you have to make a purchase.  

4.  Spread the spending.
I know people who tend to shop just a couple of times a year, so those shopping trips tend to be large ones.  This might work for some families, but it can be difficult for those living on a tighter budget.  A clothing budget allows you to spread the spending out across the year, so you have the money when you need it.  If you don't need anything during a particular month, then let that money accumulate and roll into the next month.

This helps when purchasing more expensive clothing items too.  By rolling the money you didn't spend, you will have the money there when you need it to purchase some of those more expensive clothing items {such as boots, suits, or more formal outfits}.

Next week, I'll talk a little more about how we budget for clothing as well as some things to consider if you are just starting out.  
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Do you currently include clothing as part of your monthly budget?

Linking up with:
Kelly for Whimsy Wednesday
Rachel for Wednesday Whatsits

Monday, August 25, 2014

Getting Back in the Groove

Happy Monday!

We had a nice weekend.  I got some things done in my weekly focus room {which has been more like my monthly focus room at this rate}, but I still want to do a couple more things before I post about my progress here.  I'm hoping my Dad will help me with the TV armoire project {in the living room} this weekend, since Kev will be busy working at his part-time job.  Either way, I'm moving on to a different focus room next week.  

We also attended a great marriage conference on Saturday morning.  So much good information was shared and Kev and I spent a good portion of the rest of the day talking over what we had heard.  It was a great time of connecting and learning.  

If I'm honest, today was a bit crazy around here.  Kev is officially back to work and I'm flying solo during the day with the kids.  Man, I was spoiled this summer by having him home.  :-)

The kids were living in the twilight zone, which meant it was basically survival mode for me.  At a certain point in the day, I just had to chuckle at my ambitious to-do list because there was no way half of it was going to happen.  If it tells you anything, I was still in my sleep clothes at 3pm.  I was pleased because I got some cooking/baking done that I'd been wanting to do for quite some time.  It just happened much later in the day than planned.  :-)  

Way back in June, I wrote a post about trying to establish my morning routine.  As it turned out, that was a bad time to try and do that since we went to Florida on vacation shortly after that and then Kev was off work for the entire summer.  Needless to say, there was no routine this summer, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing.      

But, what it has meant for me is that I have a lot of work to do as far as getting back into a morning routine.  In fact, I think I'm going to re-examine everything again and come up with something that will work for us during this season of life.  As I get further along in this pregnancy, I do not have the same amount of stamina.  It takes me longer to get things done, so I just need to re-evaluate and try to come up with something realistic.

I'm probably crazy to do this before I have another child, but I still have a while until the baby comes and I desperately need some structure from now until then!  I'd love for certain tasks to become habitual, to the point where I don't need to even think about them.  

My plan is to spend some time thinking about it over the next couple of days and then jump right in!  I'll keep you posted about what I decide and how things go.  

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Do you have a morning routine?

What does yours look like?

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