“The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

My husband and I just recently discovered what has become one of our favorite tips ever…like the best thing since sliced bread.

Ever get produce and promise yourself that – this time – you will use it all before it goes bad? Been there; done that; wasted the money. Just yesterday I was throwing out cilantro that went bad. Cilantro. I love cilantro!! Really, I couldn’t have taken the time to do something with it before it went bad?

Maybe you’ve heard of the term blanching, the process of boiling a vegetable and then immersing it in ice cold water and drying it so that you can properly freeze it. This is super helpful for stocking up on a veggie sale!

This trick, however, not only saves you from throwing out produce that went bad before you could use it, but it is also so incredibly simple. No blanching required. Additionally, you will want to get this from the freezer regularly; it’s not something you stick in the freezer (to help you feel better about not throwing it out!) and then forget about it because it’s just not a favorite item. No, on the contrary, you may not even need to freeze it, but if it’s hot outside, it will serve a dual purpose: fruit flavor and an “ice” cube of sorts.

The trick I’m referring to is…wait for it… washing and slicing lemons and limes and freezing them for infused water!!! Sheer brilliance. We have tried to do infused water in the past, only to forget about it, get lazy, and not want to fuss with washing and slicing it (because if you slice it all at once and leave it in the fridge, they might get soggy and gross before you can use them all, right?). This trick, however, means that the lemons and/or limes are already washed, sliced, and frozen so that we even need less ice in our water!

If nothing else, this trick has helped us drink much more water than we were previously getting because we enjoy flavored water SO much more than plain water. Use as many or as few slices as you like, depending on how strong you like your infused water to taste and also depending on how juicy and flavorful your citrus fruits were. Then refill with more water as often as you’d like until you don’t taste the citrus anymore – then you know it’s time to get new slices from the freezer! How easy is that?

Do you like infused water? What’s stopping you from having it at the ready whenever you want it? Maybe it’s time to stock up on lemons and limes and store them for the upcoming months to ensure proper water intake as the seasons start to change. Let me know what you think!

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

How We’ve Had a Debt-Free Vacation 


It is time for vacations all around! Summertime just screams vacation, doesn’t it? We once thought we would start taking our vacation time in January, due to the nature of our jobs. That was quite a difficult adjustment to my way of thinking. You go from having all this extra time at Christmas with family and friends, relaxing, shopping, eating, paid vacation days for Christmas and New Years…and a couple weeks later you’re supposed to take your vacation for the whole year? Additionally I grew up taking family and/or church trips just about every summer. Again, summertime screams vacation!

Last year we decided we would go to Ohio for Jesse’s grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. More details on that to come. Suffice it to say, this trip to the Cleveland area was absolutely worth the saving and scheduling in order to celebrate such an occasion and to be with family that we so rarely see.

I’m not saying that this is a savings plan to follow in order to get to an incredible international or far away destination vacation. This was a more simple vacation, but we still made it across the country for a little over a week and have relaxed and enjoyed our time without going into debt. Some basic ways we accomplished that include:

We made the savings of the plane ticket cost a line item in our budget for months. This is the most obvious and worthy way of not going into debt (the rest are mostly practical ways of keeping costs low). Each month, we would save a particular amount because we budgeted to “pay ourselves.” Instead of looking at it as if we had saved $200 in a month or two for just anything, we knew we had that money specifically for the time to pay for our flights, and in our budget, it looked as if it were already spent. (More on why a budget is important here and how to keep track of a budget here.)

We are lodging with family. Though we might stay a night in a hotel (and have saved to do such a thing), we are with family for about 7 nights. That most certainly adds up into major savings for us!

We have not had to rent a car because we have had so many different people to ride around with, as well as an extra car available should we need it. We might rent a car for a day or two, but ride sharing has still kept our cost down tremendously.

We have rarely had to pay for food. We have eaten out and can afford to eat out more, but for the most part, we’ve been eating together as a family at home, and we prefer home-cooked food anyway!

We packed a lot of snacks for the plane ride; this particularly came in handy for our 7 hour layover through the night.

We don’t need any souvenirs. Since this isn’t a “destination vacation,” we don’t really feel compelled to buy a bunch of mementos of our trip.

Of course, vacations to see family are not always possible or practical, but when or if we can work it out, it can certainly result in great savings as well as great memories! If you’re looking for some easy ways to relax this summer without spending any money, here are some ideas.

Photo credit: Scott J WaldronJGrace Photography, and Joel Jones

Happy 60th Anniversary to Grandma and Grandpa Jones!


And these parents are celebrating their 35th anniversary this month!


Don’t we look so relaxed?

7 Killer Tips for Getting out of Debt 

Regardless of the size of your debt or how you accumulated it, it has to go. If you’ve never been debt free before, you can’t imagine the emotional feeling of freedom you will experience! If you chose that reason alone to motivate you to get out of debt, it would be worth it. At any rate, I believe this post will be both inspirational and practical.

How can you begin to tackle that $5,000 medical bill and stay on top of your already tight budget? Or will you ever be able to afford making extra payments on your $50K student loan debt? It’s all possible, my friend! And here are some great tips to start tackling that debt today!

  1. Get serious. As Dave Ramsey would say, “Get gazelle-intense!” Half heartedness will not help you get out of debt any faster. If you are determined, the battle is yours!
  2. Control yourself. Yes, you need to control your spending, but usually it comes down to controlling yourself. If you don’t have it, don’t spend it. Plain and simple.
  3. Devise a plan. Planning and thinking are some of the hardest tasks there are, which is probably why so few engage in them. Create a working budget and figure out how you can live under your means while you pay off this debt.
  4. Save $1,000 for emergencies…before you start trying to pay off your debts! It might sound crazy, but you NEED this $1K for inevitable emergencies. You should NOT go in to more debt trying to pay off your new set of tires, your new engine, or whatever it is that breaks while you’re knocking out your debt. And saving $1,000 feels pretty good, too! Just don’t touch it for anything other than emergencies.
  5. Throw every spare penny at your debt – every chance you get! This is probably where I get a little too crazy. I can bundle up with 5 layers of clothing to avoid running the heat, and I can wear my shoes to a pulp, and the list goes on. But when you’re trying to live a debt-free life, you will absolutely have to make some changes to your spending (if you didn’t have to make changes, you would probably already be out of debt, right?).
  6. Start with your smallest debt and only work on paying off that one debt. Dave Ramsey explains it so much better than I, hence why I included tip #7. You will gain so much momentum from paying off one single debt at a time and then working on each debt – one at a time, from smallest to largest – until they are all gone.
  7. Read Dave Ramsey’s book, Total Money Makeover. I can’t say enough about this book. I know it has helped so many people get out of debt, including me and my husband. While some of the topics are long-term, it will help you get a great perspective on what financial stages you should be working on and in what order.

“The borrower is servant to the lender,” according to the Bible. Not only do I want to be a good steward of what God has given, but I don’t want to spend my life trying to pay people back, constantly trying to catch up.

Again, no matter your amount of debt, start today with baby steps like these so that you can be on your way to financial freedom!

How to Keep Track of Your Budget



Recently we’ve been talking about how to create a budget and why a budget is so important. If you missed those posts, please go here and here before you go any further!

As a short review, budgets are about 10% math, 80% discipline, and 10% repetition. I apologize in advance, but this post has a little more about discipline than anything else. Here are some practical tips on keeping track of your budget.

  1. Look at your account daily. When you were creating your budget, you may have forgotten about that $10/month subscription that automatically comes out each month. You’ll need to adjust accordingly for that. Looking at your account daily will also help you stay current with everything. For those who live in the United States, we have opportunities CONSTANTLY to spend money. Even if you have the money budgeted, you should still know what’s coming out and when. If you’re looking at your account daily, it will help you see how quickly it all disappears and will help you keep your eye on the prize: saving money!
  2. Look at your budget daily. If you added savings to your budget as a line item – as you should have – it does so much good to remind yourself of that regularly. Seeing that $300 line item that is coming right to you at the end of the month can be such an encouragement to stick to it. (And looking at your budget may help you remember that you and your friend shouldn’t go out to lunch tomorrow but should instead eat at your place or meet for a $1 coffee.)
  3. Set a time weekly to go over your budget and account (if applicable, with your spouse). This helps ensure that both parties are on board, keeps you striving for the same goals, and aware of your finances. A unified team has so much underestimated power. If everyone on your “team” is aligned with your mission for budgeting, saving, etc., you can all arrive to your goal happier, healthier, closer, and faster.

If you create a habit of doing these simple tasks every day, it will soon become as normal and habitual as brushing your teeth every day. And your finances will show you the reward of your discipline. Happy budgeting!

12 Ideas for cheap, quick, easy meals


Ever looked at your budget and thought: the only thing that can give is the groceries! There’s just no other wiggle room! Well, the good news is there are plenty of resources to help you cut your budget without making everything from scratch (although that in itself can save you a lot of money!) If you’re not already doing so, going meatless one or two nights a week, is usually a help to your wallet.

Of course, these meals below are not meant to be consumed every single day for the rest of your life. This is just a season. A season for your finances to heal, for your savings to grow, for your bank account to get a fighting chance.

Maybe you’re not quite that desperate to save some money. You can incorporate one or two of these meals into your meal line up to save a little more here and there. If nothing else, you have some easy and quick go-to meals!

Basic carbs:

Spaghetti

Rice and beans

Baked potatoes

Mac and cheese

Garlic-Parmesan-Butter noodles

Breakfast for dinner:

Pancakes

Scrambled eggs and toast

Sandwiches:

Grilled cheese

Peanut butter and jelly

Soup:

Tomato

Vegetable

Black Bean

Here’s a meal for 4-5 that cost about $3.50. There was more than what’s pictured too! (I love Aldi!!)

Vegetables: $1

Spaghetti noodles: $1

Sauce: $1.50 (I think I used 1.5 cans; $1 each)

5 Ways to Save Money on Clothes

I was recently asked how I save money on clothing, and once I thought about it, I realized that there’s not just one way…at least not for me.

Personally, when it comes to clothing, I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for something. My husband on the other hand, if he’s with me and sees that I like the item and not the price, he won’t hesitate! Anyway, just saying “never pay full price for anything,” seems insufficient. You can easily find a 15% off coupon for Kohl’s, so instead of paying $100 for a coat, you pay $85 (which for me feels like it only covered the tax. You’re welcome, California). That’s not a deal, even if your 15% off wasn’t for an expensive item. And so, I have some money saving tips to help with our clothes shopping battle:

  • Shop only the clearance section. If you are truly a deal finder (and you have the discipline to only buy a great deal), you can probably safely branch out of the clearance section, but if you are truly trying to save money, the clearance section is the place for you. Now mind you, Target’s 30% off “clearance” is not really clearance. My idea of clearance is about 60%-70% off. Even 60% is sometimes not tempting.
Tip: try on anything you want to buy! Once you have it on, you may realize that it's not worth the price!
  • Find your top 2-3 favorite stores and only shop their major sales. This requires that you get some classic clothes that will remain “in season” for a little longer (solids for example), but it doesn’t mean you have to wear clothes from the last decade. I think my favorite go-to store is New York & Company; they have some GREAT markdowns in the summer and right after Christmas. And on top of that, they offer $10 off of a $30 purchase (and I can spend $20 at NY&C!) and the deals continue to go up as you continue to spend money.
  • Welcome hand-me-downs. When a friend knows 2 things: 1, that you like the clothes she wears and 2, that you are trying to save money, she may very likely offer you her unused or unwanted clothes. This assumes you’re similar sizes, of course, and that your friendship is strong enough that you won’t offend your friend by not wearing them. It’s safe to say that about half my closet (or more) was given to me. And I have no shame in that!
  • Find the best consignment and thrift stores around you. For me, that means I have to travel about 45 minutes. But when I go to my motherland, the great state of Texas, it means I have to go 3 minutes down the street to Thrift City (and I might just find a $3 Gap sweater or a $5 Ann Taylor skirt – both in great condition). Finding a nice area matters for a couple reasons: 1, the nicer the area, the better brands you find (which matters not because of having a certain status of wearing name brands but because often better brands last longer and look nicer) and 2, they’ve taken care of their clothes; they typically don’t donate them with stains or rips, and they haven’t worn the clothing to a pulp; they simply don’t want or need that item anymore.
  • Find clothes on Poshmark or other clothing resale app. I’ve sold unwanted or unused clothes on Poshmark, and I’ve used those earnings to buy things I do want (another $5 Ann Taylor skirt!). So I’m basically trading what I don’t want for what I do want. But you can also find good deals on there without having to sell something first in order to pay for it. For more info, check out my post on buying and selling clothes online. Use this code to get $5 off your first purchase (I get $5 also): JXAXJ
Tip: Ask yourself, Would I rather have this article of clothing or $(name the price of the item)?

My hope is that at least one of these tips will work for you or at least get you thinking about how you can improve your saving and spending on clothing. Happy saving!

Photo credit: Picture of Money

Under $1 – DIY Insanely Aromatic Home Fragrance!

DIY home fragrance: saving money and reducing our toxic burden one product at a time

I won’t deny that I LOVE the potent smell of some of Bath & Body Works’s candles. And there’s something about the way candles make a house look so cozy and homey. However, candles have who-knows-what in them, and if you have young children, they are even less safe.

And then there’s the price. Truthfully, that’s what really got me. How can I justify spending $20 on a candle that lasts maybe 10 hours? I can use it up in about week! Is it it worth $2/hour to me? Not really. I’d rather just have free, fresh air! And so I got to work looking for a cheap potpourri that can smell just as good, be just as potent, but cost so much less.

I wish my calculations were a little more exact. Because the recipes aren’t exact and because I can’t guess what you pay for electricity or gas (I struggled with even figuring out the price for my own gasoline!), I guesstimated the prices. Even if I’m a little off on all of the prices, the cost of this in addition to the reduction of chemicals is a big win!

Basic recipe:

A peel of a citrus: $.10-$.25 if you buy it for the peel only, depending on the sale (or free if you only needed the fruit itself!)

A couple spices you enjoy: $.05-$.50, depending on what spice and how much you use

4 cups or so of water: free for me (sorry, no idea… but cheap!)

Electricity or gasoline: Depends on how long you use it and what rate you get, but I’m guessing about $.50… I tried to calculate via SoCal gas. I just know it’s super cheap! (And their rates even went down as of this month!)

Fragrance potency: ridiculously amazing!

Life expectancy: at minimum, 5 hours if you continue adding water to it!

Basic cost for me: less an $1

 

For those of you who need to have a definite recipe, I made an attempt at some specific blends. Just know that the water, gas, potency, and life of these blends all depends on the amount of time and level of heat.

Rosemary Christmas Blend:

A few sprigs of FRESH rosemary (found on the side of the road growing wildly): free to me!

A few cinnamon sticks (bought in bulk at Winco): $.20

Peel of citrus fruit (I used lime): $.10

Water: free for me

Gasoline for stove: depends on how long you let it go 🙂

Total cost: definitely under $1! 

Orange Spice Blend

2-4 cinnamon sticks (1-2 tsp of ground cinnamon works too!): $.20

1-2 tsp of clove and/or all spice: $.20

Peels of oranges (3 would be great!): $.50

Water: free for me

Gasoline for stove: depends on how long you let it go 🙂

Total cost: definitely under $1! 

Next potpourri to try: citrus-basil (yes, like Bath & Body Works!) and a refreshing peppermint scent.

Enjoy your new homemade fragrance!

Photo Credit: cinnamonvogue