Monday, March 31, 2008

Creativity with Leftovers

Trying to save money can take some creativity. Being creative can be hard when your brain refuses to operate due to lack of sleep.

One area I find I can be creative and help our budget is with the food we eat. Not creative as in the sense of the food sculptures my children build but with how I serve and use our food. I think I am fairly good cook especially judging by my husband's waistline over the last 14 years. One way I can help my food budget which seems to be ever growing right along with my plague of hoppers (said in all affection) is to serve leftovers.

Now before you groan too loudly, I like to serve leftovers but not where they look like leftovers. I give them a face lift. For example, tonight we are having Chicken & Spinach Linguine. The chicken is leftover from a meal this past weekend. Other makeovers would be a Shepherd's Pie from the leftover mashed potatoes and green beans I had with the meatloaf. Leftover Sloppy Joe's can also be made into Shepherd's Pie.

Ham and mashed potatoes one night can be a Ham-Potato Soup the next. Or perhaps you would prefer Potato Pancakes and Fried Ham Slices? A beef (or pork) roast can be shredded and made in BBQ Sandwiches, Enchiladas or Vegetable-Beef Soup. Not only are leftover make-overs frugal but time saving as well since you do the main cooking once for multiple meals. No who can't use a few extra minutes. You might even be able to grab a nap to let those creative juices flow.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mantra #1

A lot of people will ask how we "do it" with so many kids. A few years ago I was interviewed for an article when the first Cheaper By The Dozen movie came out. The reporter asked how much we spent on groceries, and when I told him(and at that point we *only* had 6 kids), he was floored. A couple years and 2 more children later, we spend pretty much the same amount every month. About $800-$1000 a month for 11 people--3 adults and 8 kids. That number includes diapers, laundry, and paper products. Our budget for other expenses, meaning clothing and such, varies. Still, we do manage--a feat that has been made more challenging as we struggle with job loss. The fact does remain that we still need stuff, beyond food and toiletries. So, how do you manage that.

I think if I had to pick the one key element that has really helped us in all areas, it would be the phrase "do we really need that?" This has been a mantra that has saved us for years--and one that I have forgotten at times in my life with dramatic consequences. It really isn't that hard to live within your means when you focus on your needs instead of your wants. You see that new bigscreen t.v., and you just so happen to have enough money on your credit card to get it. But you have a perfectly good television at home. What do you do? Ask the question...and answer honestly. Do you really need that t.v., or could you survive a bit longer with the old one? Sometimes your answer will be "yes", you need it, and it may be for no other reason than it is something that would make you and your family happy, so it's worth the splurge. In those cases I say go for it. We do need certain things in our lives that give us joy and entertainment. If it's a purchase that will set your family back to a point where they will struggle or won't make it, then I think you really need to walk away.

Which leads me to part 2 of this mantra. The 24 hour rule. Jim and I have a rule where if we really want something that costs, particularly potential impulse buys when walking through a store, we wait 24 hours. This is the cooling-off period. That $50 comforter may look so good on our bed, but is it really worth that much after we've slept in our bed with our current bedding? Also, waiting 24 hours also acts as a "find it cheaper" period for me. A quick search of the internet will tell me if the deal really was good, or if I could find it elsewhere for less. Now, I do know there will be times you run into a super deal that's ending, and you don't have 24 hours to think it out. Then try 24 minutes. Seriously. If there's only one on the shelf, grab it and put it in your cart, and then walk around the store for a while. After a half an hour of letting it stew, see if you feel the same way about it. I know that personally, I have put back many an item after only 10 minutes as I truly thought-through the "do we really need it?" question.

One last note on this, while you might think this question would only apply to impulse and major purchases, it doesn't. As you get more comfortable asking that question for bigger things, you can move into little things...even groceries. Particularly during lean money times, questioning your purchases can be the key to living within your means, or not. If it's not on your grocery list, do you really need it? As you are tempted to hit the McDonald's drive-thru, ask "do I really need that Big Mac?" Chances are, a lot of the time you will say "yes." But, even if you can say no half of the time, the positive impact it can make on your budget is amazing.

I do want to note that this Mantra is not simply about living within your budget, but also acts as a wonderful anti-clutter tool. How many times have you bought an impulse purchase and after the fact, not only had to lament over the wasted money, but then had to find a place to actually put the thing. If you're like me, you have closets and drawers and cabinets full of neat-at-the-time purchases which you really didn't need, and ended up not using after all. Ask the question, avoid the clutter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Last but not least ...

Then there is me. I'm Ranae and live in central Illinois with a cornfield for a neighbor. I am a SAHM to 7 kiddos (ages 5 months to 15 years) and growing menagerie of animals. I am told I can be rather anal and organized.

I beg to differ especially now since I am in the middle of a basement remodel. Perhaps I can join that knocking sound I hear often, the sound of many a mother banging her head against the wall in frustration. If I can't help with anything but give you a good laugh, I'll be happy.

One thing I enjoy is learning. I enjoy peace and quiet too, but there are more learning opportunities for me than there is peace and quiet. Whether it be a new recipe or a new skill, I like to learn and keep myself progressing. Some days it is just learning (rather re-learning) that eating an entire box of thin mints in one sitting is not very wise. My latest learning adventure is how to decorate my home cheaply without it looking cheap.

It'll be your luck (good or bad is your decision) that I'll drag you along for a bit in my decorating adventure. I know I am enjoying learning new tricks. After all, I really like the things that are easy but look harder than what it was. Kind of like that Rice Krispie Treat commercial where the mom makes a batch and then powders her nose with flour and puts on a performance of being so tired. I often have flour on my nose. My backend too because I forget and wipe my hands on my pants. I am often tired, but what moms aren't? I often can be dramatic as well. Wonder where my kids get it?

Nice to meet ya ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hi, everyone.

I am Mom to 8, living in Texas.

As I look about my house, right now, I'm thinking, "what could I possibly have to add to THIS blog?"


Maybe I'm the example of what not to do. ;) The learn from my mistakes poster. I'm a natural born "Messie" fighting hard to break out of it. Being a Messie AND a LOK mom presents quite the challenge. I have made huge strides over the past 17years (since I was "grown" and responsible for myself). Yet, I wouldn't let Martha Stewart in my yard, much less in my house!!! Everytime I get a good balance for my house, we've moved! LOL

We are working on moving out onto some land and building our own home. This is a slow, tedious process because we will not go into debt to do it. I love looking at floorplans, drawing up floorplans and dreaming about what to do with the house. I know that I want it to be right at 2000sf. We are planning our house as energy efficient and green as we can.

That's me, in nutshell, I'm the nut.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Not What I Planned, but it Worked!

Dinner the night before shopping day is often a spartan event and this week was no exception. It's not that I don't plan, I do, but sometimes, for various reasons, things don't work out and there's just not enough for a full dinner. So, I had a few cans of condensed tomato soup, about 6 hot dogs, a handful of mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, a small chunk of cheddar cheese, a couple packages of ramen noodles and a few other bits of this and that floating around. I could have done the same-old-same-old and heated the soups and tossed hot dogs over them. I couldn't do it.

Don't ask me why my brain is wired this way, I have no idea - but I couldn't bring myself to put that on the table. I could very well have run to the store for something, but that's where hidden food costs creep in and start to take over and the food budget is gone before you've even begun to think of a menu.

So, I persevered and served the tomato and ramen soups, with the hot dogs, but so not in the traditional way. I set out bowls of "fixin's" and everyone had bowls of soup with a little bit of international flavor.

  • Mexican- I shredded the cheddar and made a simple salsa with a tomato and some leftover green onion, cilantro and lime juice (it was actually so good I finished it later on with chips). I set out packets of taco sauce and a bowl of sour cream to top it all off.
  • Italian- The pepperoni was diced, the mozzarella set out as-is and I added oregano and basil to grated Parmesan.
  • The All-American- Those hot dogs were sliced, browned lightly for flavor and put together with popcorn in the tomato soup.


  • I also had saltines on hand for anyone who wanted to go really light.

    The kids really loved this whole idea, and what's more, DH thought it was fun enough to write about - so here it is.

    Dinner-on-a-dime in motion!

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Living Large in Small Quarters

    Since Anne gave a little peek at what she'll be focusing on in this blog, I figured I would follow suit. First of all, while I think the contributors will fall into their little niches, this blog is a free-for-all. I'm sure Anne may have some organizing tips that work, and I'll post a recipe or two. And so on...

    Nevertheless, looking for my little corner to stand in, I realize that I will probably be talking a lot about space. Or rather, lack of space. My family of 11 lives in a 2-story box which is 1,800 sq.ft. While it was quite large when we moved in, a married couple with 1 baby and a few in-laws in tow. Now, it's almost cozy with 8 kids, 3 adults, and a handful of pets.

    We have lived in our home for 12 years. It's over 100 years old, so we have done substantial repairs and upgrades, and continue to modify it to fit our needs. We are at the tailend of a year-long project of updating and organizing, which I'm sure I'll be talking about a lot.

    Do I wish I lived in a bigger house? At times. But, considering I have trouble keep this house clean, I think it's just right. I believe you don't have to own a castle for it to *feel* like a castle. As long as it feels like home, you're good to go.

    Lobster Taste on a Tuna Budget

    Some days soup from a can is just not right. Other days, it's all I can manage. Sometimes PB&J is abhorrent to me. Other times, it's just what works. Therein lies the crux of my position. I am a classically French trained cook. My culinary education was that of the brigade system in a kitchen and the belief that fresh is best and nothing should come from a can if at all possible. The train of thought was that each dish should be built from the ground up; from the roasting of bones for stock that journeyed on to brown sauce and ultimately became stroganoff.

    I do these things still, occasionally, but mostly my days are spent with my head and heart torn, wanting to serve up a breast of chicken and julienne of vegetables en papillote, but knowing that, with 7 children to feed, I only have the time and money for chicken nuggets.

    It's a tough row to hoe for me. I want the best for my kids in every sense and that includes a 3 Michelin Star meal. So, mostly my posts here will be of this nature: the best I can do with the little that I have.

    Isn’t that what we all do, anyway?

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Where do we begin...

    There is a great quote from Phyllis Diller:

    "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing."

    If that's true for the typical household of 2 kids, imagine a house with 4 or 6 or 8! That's not to say the large families live in a big mess, but it means that there are certainly unique challenges to running a family with lots of children. That is why we have started this blog. It's a place where our site editors and contributors can come and talk shop about budgeting, cleaning, organizing, and remaining sane in the chaos of a large family household.

    We hope you will enjoy our ramblings, and even better yet pick up some tips and tricks that will help you keep your household running smoothly.