Meal Plan Round-Up 1

meal plan round up 1

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Hey everyone!  Who loves looking at recipes online when you meal plan?  I know I do.  What I don’t really like is how difficult they are to make or how expensive the ingredients are.

This is where the Meal Plan Round-Up will hopefully help you!  Each week, I’ll present a collection of recipes from the internet that you can make that week or that you can bookmark for later use.  I promise they are winners in our family and won’t break the bank.

I’m starting out with a bang!  We LOVE these recipes.  They are easy to make and have great flavor.  The win for versatility goes definitely to Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken. We had it over rice one night, then tacos for lunch and then quesadillas for another.

For the favorite among us grownups, it goes to One Pot Spicy Thai Noodles.  To make that one faster, ditch the one pot. That’s what I do.  I also make it with whatever veggies I have on hand.  I add in protein if I have it and I use that ground ginger that sits in your pantry all year long until Thanksgiving comes around.

One Pot Spicy Thai Noodles



Barbie’s Tuna Salad



Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken



Haluski + Kielbasa




lunch box favorites :: 1

lunchbox favorites

if i don’t plan ahead, i usually eat out for lunch. mostly, i tend to justify it because eating out gets me away from work as it’s hard not to get interrupted and taken away from my lunchtime if i stay onsite.

if i’m smart, i have my lunch packed and i eat it in the car. it doesn’t cost any extra and i can listen to npr, jot down notes or just relax in the slightly warmer than outside temperature of the car.

one of my favorite ways to cook is with a crockpot. over this past year, i feel i’ve found a bunch of really good crockpot recipes, either through pinterest or

when i saw this recipe for crockpot fried rice, i was really hankering for fried rice. it also had simple ingredients and i had everything on hand. i also liked that it called for leftover rice. the only thing holding me back was the photo. it didn’t look very appetizing. then somewhere i read said something like” trust me, it’s good, don’t judge it by the picture.”

they were right. it’s one of my favorites and i love making a big batch of it, so i have leftovers for work. i adapted the recipe a little bit based on what i normally used for chicken teriyaki.

crockpot fried rice
adapted from a year of slow cooking
(I usually double the recipe)

2 cups leftover rice (day old works best, or if you make rice in the morning, it should be good enough by mid day.  You want it really dry, no moisture)
2-3 T butter
2 T soy sauce
1 T worcestershire sauce (or 1 T fish sauce)
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/2 t black pepper (less, or none, if kids are going to be eating it)
1/4 t kosher salt (or 1/8 tsp iodized)
1/2 diced red onion
1 cup of frozen veggies. (I usually use a pea, corn, green bean, carrot mixture)
leftover meat (rotisserie chicken is awesome, frozen cooked shrimp is what i usually use, ham would be good too!)
1 egg
1. spray the crockpot with cooking spray
2. dump all ingredients in. (except if using cooked shrimp, leave it out)
3. stir and cook on high for 1.5 hours. if you can, wipe the moisture off the inside of the lid 3-5 times during the cooking time. (If using shrimp, throw it in the last half hour.)

enjoy! i would love to hear if anyone makes this!

what i would tell my 22 year old self

what i would tell

when i graduated college, i was 22. i didn’t have a ton of debt as compared to now ($40K vs. $290K), but as i mentioned before, if we had just followed the principles we are following now, my family and i would be in a MUCH different, and I know, better place than we are now.

i know i have some younger readers, so pay attention! i’m writing to you here at 31 and telling you things that would have made my life SO much better had I follow some, if not all of these.

this is what i would tell my 22 year old self:
– make a budget
– actually stick to the budget
– have savings goals (debt snowball, car fund, house fund, wedding fund, honeymoon fund)
– elope or have a super small wedding and have a honeymoon instead
– get a better paying job faster
– take more photos
– pay my student loan debt faster
– save 20% for a down payment, don’t borrow it
– have a capsule wardrobe
– learn to make recipes that you love to make and love to eat
– enjoy your time with your significant other, especially before having kids

what would you tell your 22 year old self? i’d love to hear!

our baby steps


since we are on the dave ramsey bandwagon, we are working through the 7 baby steps. you’ll see below, but we aren’t doing it exactly how he prescribes.

i think of the baby steps like benchmarks. i use benchmarks a lot at work and neil jokes that if and when i’m a stay-at-home mom, he’ll need to set benchmarks for me so i don’t get bored. he’s probably right and i get really excited for what my benchmarks might be….walking 10,000 steps, running, baking, going on guided tours with arya, no spend months, the list goes on and on.

a little information before i start. my husband and i both have full-time jobs with benefits. we made a great sacrifice moving FAR away from family, but we also get to enjoy beautiful weather and we do make enough that we can enjoy some of what we make. i get pretty upset with our debt decisions every time i make a payment. i always think,”if we would have just saved money for the past 6 years like we are doing now, we wouldn’t have all this debt and we’d be rich!!” but, it will come eventually and you got to start somewhere.

we started the baby steps in november 2014.

baby step #1: $1K starter er fund–completed november 2014, currently in an easily accessible savings account (not sure if that’s the best place for it)

baby step #2: debt snowball–total debt, not including our mortgage was $49,520.49. this includes a tsp loan, a personal loan and a home depot credit card. anticipated completion feb 2016 (bs#2 and bs#3 at the same time from may 2015-february 2016). we should call it debt pay down instead of a snowball, because we are tackling the highest tsp loan first, the other two have no interest and the money taken from the tsp was from our retirement savings, so the faster we get it back in there, the more it can earn for later.

baby step #3: 3-6 months er fund–we are going to add in an additional 3-4 months of mortgage payments in case we end up renting our condo and have trouble finding renters. goal: $15K-$20K. anticipated completion april 2016

baby step #3.5: save up for a car fund of at least $8,000.

baby step #4: save 15% of income for retirement. for the first 4 years of neil’s job, we put 20% of his paycheck into his TSP. since november 2014, we have been doing 5% with a company match of 3%. i also have a pension right now of about $700 that i can get once i hit retirement age. the longer i stay with the job, the higher that pension gets. neil also gets a retirement benefit from his work and we both have roth-ira’s. with a total of 5 retirement accounts and because of our pensions and our 8% into his TSP, we may be close to 15% already. when i figure that out, i’ll update ya.

baby step #5: save for college. when arya was born we opened a 529 plan and put in $2,000. we haven’t done anything to that since then.

baby step #6: pay off house early. if we stayed in san diego, doing what we’re doing, we’d have our condo paid off by 2020. if we move away, our goal is 15 years.  right now, we are paying the minimum on a 30 year mortgage.

baby step #7: build wealth and give

current monthly budget

i’m about to get really transparent!  i’m excited to share our budget, as i’m almost constantly thinking about it! once our debt is paid off, i wonder what i’m going to think about…i look forward to that time.

i know this isn’t perfect yet and it’s still pretty cushy.  soon, i think i’ll have a comparison of what could go to debt if we stripped the budget even further.

also, i should mention that we haven’t ever got this budget right so far and we’ve been doing this since november 2014…we’ve always overspent most of our categories, but i know we can fit within them, so we need to keep trying.

net income: $6599.17 with 4 paycheck total.

total expenses: $4614.41

anticipated debt paydown: $1983.76

expense breakdown:

mortgage, insurance & taxes: $1471.42

HOA: $250, this includes water, trash, recycle, outside maintenance, roof maintenance, pest control and landscaping.

gas/electric: $50. we live in southern california, no need for air conditioning or heat, except for about 4 weeks a year.  we just battle through those relatively hot or cold times.

phone: $25, neil has a prepaid phone for $25 a month and i use google voice for free.

internet: $47.99

gym:  $35, two memberships and childcare included. neil uses it often, i haven’t used it since december 2014, but the childcare is great for us both to get a break.

compassion international: $38

groceries: $400

gas: $200

fun money: $200, i mostly use this for eating out at lunch time and starbucks…this needs to change and i am getting better.

arya: $40, mostly for diapers, wipes, clothes and snacks/toys

hygiene: $30 for haircuts, waxing, barber shop, soap, etc

date night: $25, this is new

clothing: $50, this is newer

house: $200

misc: $100, this is new

christmas: $45

birthday/holiday: $35

car care: $300

car insurance: $50

car registration: $25

shutterfly: $10

amazon prime: $10

travel: $250

sports equipment: $20, neil wants a beach cruiser and kayaks

technology: $20, i want a color printer and neil wants a smartphone, i also think i want an iPad.

daycare: about $400

preschool: $288





beautiful family photos on the cheap



compulsion took over me a couple weeks ago and after i saw an ad for a new photographer doing mini sessions for $30, i emailed her right away. i mean, i love when a good deal comes along, but now that we’re on our budget it’s hard to enjoy it when we haven’t set money aside for it.








when we moved to our new place, i joined several facebook groups relating to our area. that’s how i found out about the wild poppies.  they were great and really friendly.

after some thought of how to pay for it, i did some finagling and pulled out $30 from our shutterfly envelope. shutterfly deals with photography, so i thought that would be most appropriate. i also wouldn’t need the money for shutterfly for a while, so i’d have time to recoup the fund. i didn’t want to use our debit card, if possible, because i’d forecasted through the end of april and we don’t have that much of a cushion and i really didn’t want to use our emergency fund.

we decided to stick near our new place and had the photos taken at dog beach in ocean beach (san diego), ca. poor arya wouldn’t look at the camera and just wanted to run off the whole time, but the photographers were able to get some good photos regardless.  since it was only $30, we got high resolution prints that we can print off ourselves.  i may print one out to frame, but for sure they will go into our annual photo book.

we also got some good photos on our own that i’ve been posted to instagram the last couple of days.

so it pays to join local facebook groups to find good deals, but it would also pay to have a fund for these unexpected (or is it expected…) expenses.

what have you have saved money on that usually expensive?

meal plan :: sunday-saturday #2

last week went ok.  i made most of the meals in our meal plan, however almost none of them were on the days i said we would eat them.  so, this week, i’m going to list the meals that way i’m not tied down to a specific one each day.  hopefully, it will still make me think i have a choice for what to eat for dinner!

we ran out of fresh veggies too soon last week, so i need to stock up.  we’ve been steaming most of our veggies since my mom gave us her steamer that i remember having when i was a kid. i absolutely love using to get our veggies ready. the bowl is cracked and it’s definitely old, but i’ll keep using it until it doesn’t work anymore!

i’m going to attempt to make the bulk of our meal plan from what we have in our pantry, fridge and freezer this week.  i had some expenses from work that i pulled money out of the food budget.  i’ll get reimbursed and could put the money back in the food budget, but i’m going to see if maybe we can just set it aside for our debt snowball instead.

here’s our meals for this week:

tuna noodle casserole (make ahead)

baked potatoes


soup and bread

crockpot fried rice with shrimp


steak tacos

for breakfast, we’ll have a mix of bean burritos, hash brown bakes and oatmeal.

for lunches, we’ll either have leftovers, peanut butter and jelly, or sandwiches.


we were debt free once :: our story, part 1

debt free part one

back in 2007, i graduated with my master’s degree.  i had racked up 15K in four years of undergraduate school and 25K in one year of graduate school.


a little history:

we decided to move to my husband’s (fiancé at the time) hometown in minnesota to plan our wedding and to get married. at that time we were both working 2 jobs, each paying just around minimum wage.

so, what jobs did a girl with a masters degree have?  well, for most of that year, i worked at the front desk of a hotel and also in a chocolate shop, first working the register and cleaning up messes, but eventually getting to make fudge and caramel.  the hotel job was absolutely horrible, mostly because of the management, and the chocolate shop wasn’t that bad. i was just working with high schooler’s for most of the time.  i hovered between 60-80 hours a week.  my husband, with his undergraduate degree (but no debt), was a dishwasher and a paper stuffer at the local newspaper, also 60-80 a week.

our jobs were embarrassing. it’s still hard to talk about them years later. but we were in the mindset of we need to make money!

our jobs were pretty easy and low stress.  in fact, now that we are older and have more professional jobs, i sometimes miss some of that time in 2007-2008. i can’t say i’d ever go back to job’s like that, but it was a starting place and i think many people fresh out of college have to have jobs like that.  we treated it like a stepping stone.

my dad shared this debt pay down calculator in 2008 when i got the better paying job in california and my husband got a job in his field of interest. i got super excited, the nerd in me came out, and i had amortized everything and had spreadsheets for everything. i anticipated we could get out of debt in 5 years, instead of 10, but that wasn’t doing it the dave ramsey way. it was living without a budget and just putting what was left toward the debt. we also cash flowed his master’s degree.  oh, and we bought a used car and got another loan of 11K.

now, our total debt was around $51,000!

our last debt payment was in 2013, so we were debt free in 5 years, including the car.  we paid it off mostly with tax refunds and extra paychecks (we each get paid every two weeks, so 4 times a year we get 5 paychecks a month instead of the normal 4.) if we could go back and do it the dave ramsey way, we probably could have paid it off earlier than that, saved up 3-6 months er fund and probably even started to save for a down payment on a house.

then, in july 2014, we decided we just had to buy a condo. we went back into debt again and again in february 2015…but that’s another story, to be shared soon, i promise!



our 2015 cash envelope system

cash envelopes 2015

if you are a follower of dave ramsey, then you probably know about  the baby steps. baby step #1 is saving up 1k as your starter emergency fund.  baby step #2 is the debt snowball.  we are currently on baby step #2 and with that, we needed to create a budget, stop using credit cards and use all our extra funds to pay down our debt (other than our mortgage) as fast as possible.

back in november 2014, we created our cash envelope system to use for 2015. basically, you try and figure out what you are going to need to spend money on throughout the year and then break it down into 12 and put money in every month.  so far, everything is going pretty well. like i’ve mentioned before, we’ve gone over budget on our food, but i’ve also been known to steal a little money from one envelope to pay for another envelope. i’m trying to stop that!  march is going to be the month for that.

we started using the plain old white envelopes and for some of our sinking funds, we are still using those.  for the categories we dip into more often, i started using the dave ramsey cash envelope system basic wallet that we got with our financial peace university kit. eventually, i think i’d like to get a newer system, but i’ll wait until my envelopes wear out.  my mom is a huge sewer, so maybe she’ll make me one! 🙂

The five envelopes in my dave ramsey wallet are:

food, my blow money, arya’s money, personal (haircuts, etc), and house. (my husband keeps his blow money in his wallet)

the plain, old white envelopes are:

car registration & insurance, car care, birthdays, christmas, amazon prime, shutterfly (for annual photo book), vacation, date night (new as of this month), & clothing.

there is one category that I’m not sure how to handle yet. every once in a while, i have to buy something for work and i get reimbursed as soon as submit my receipts.  its usually not more than $20 or so, so i usually just use the debit card and then deposit the check back into our account when i get it.  it hasn’t been an issue yet, so i’ll probably keep doing it that way.

i’m interested to see how everyone uses the cash envelope system! what categories do you have?


meal planning :: sunday-saturday #1

welcome to the first meal plan! i love looking at other blogger’s and vlogger’s meal plans and i always pick up good inspiration. i thrive more off of simplicity though, so most of our meals are pretty basic. every once in a while we’ll splurge and make something with a bunch of ingredients, but usually when we do that, our food budget goes out of whack!

we overspent on our food budget last month, so this month we are going to work hard to keep down, maybe even come under budget. wow, that would be awesome! meal planning takes the stress out of figuring out what to eat for dinner and we can all use a little of that.  my husband and i both work full time and we get home late, so getting food on the table is always a bit of a headache anyways. here’s what we plan to eat this week.

sunday :: ham, spinach, and potatoes

monday :: spaghetti & asparagus

tuesday :: chicken nuggets & carrots (mama’s late night)

wednesday :: macaroni & cheese & peas (mama’s late night)

thursday :: bean tacos

friday :: chicken, broccoli & rice

saturday :: loaded baked potatoes

(total grocery bill for march week #1: $54, still need chicken, popcorn, apples, raisins and peas)