Counting My Pennies :: The Recap

February was the month we kept the debit cards tucked nicely in our wallets and spent quite a bit of time wielding Santoku knives in the kitchen. It required a little additional work each week and getting creative in order to stay under budget, but last month’s No Spend Challenge was a huge success.

I discovered Cooking Light’s Weeknight Meal Planner and it was the perfect tool to get back in the swing of cooking every night.

Cooking Light Weeknight Meal PlannerYou drag each image into the appropriate day of the week and then print out the recipe/ingredient list. It’s seriously idiot-proof and the recipes are super easy. Here’s a few of the winners and what I’d recommend tweaking:

Filet Bourguignonne with Mashed Potatoes Probably the best dish from the planner. You can’t really go wrong with steak in a wine sauce and velvety mashed potatoes. Double the sauce – it’s rich and fantastic.

Sausage, Tomato, and Arugula Fettuccine This one fell pretty short. It came together quickly but the flavor wasn’t impressive and the fettuccine overpowered the dish. For light ingredients like cherry tomatoes and arugula, angel hair or thin spaghetti would be a much better choice.

White Pizza with Tomato & Basil One of the quickest meals of the bunch and while it was good, it definitely could have used something else to take it up a notch. Prosciutto would have been a nice addition.

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken This prompted me to finally invest in something I’ve been putting off for a couple years: a cast iron skillet. It’s not 100% necessary for this recipe but considering it’s been used three times a week since it came home with me from Target, I’d say it was worth every penny. It cooks food evenly and being able to go from a burner straight into the oven is a huge perk. Anyway, back to the recipe. This one is a keeper. I doubled the sauce and went a little heavy on the stone ground mustard so it wouldn’t end up too sweet. Skip the starch and serve this with crisp haricot verts.

Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese If you want to know what summer tastes like, it’s this. I’m ready to make this salad again already, it was that good. The flavors intensified as time went on and made it perfect for leftovers.

After the first week I got back into the swing of things and switched back into recipe development mode. Something about coming up with a dish on my own is so satisfying and I’d much rather start from scratch than follow a recipe line-by-line out of a cookbook. One thing I was worried would be an issue last month was lunch at the office. If I didn’t have time to throw something together in the morning before heading out the door, I’d grab lunch next door at Whole Foods. It’s a healthy and convenient choice. Obviously with the challenge in place, I wouldn’t have this option to fall back on. But since I was cooking dinner every night and most recipes served 4-6, there were plenty of leftovers to have for lunch. Crisis averted.

Overall, it wasn’t as difficult as expected and the month flew by. The extra time spent in the kitchen was enjoyable and we definitely appreciated the money saved by eliminating meals out. The hardest part was figuring out what to have for dinner on Friday nights. After working all day and grocery shopping immediately after, the last thing I want to do at 8pm on Friday is cook. I tried to plan ahead so there would be leftovers from Thursday night, but a couple times we ended up having either cereal or eggs for dinner.

cookbooks and spices

The purpose of this challenge was to save money and to get back on track after several months of excessive dining out. But in the process my passion for cooking was reignited and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the kitchen for the remainder of 2014.

How often do you go out to eat each week? Do you follow recipes or create your own?

Counting My Pennies

In the fall of last year, Brad and I were saving for our road trip to Florida and on a serious mission to keep our spending limited. Only the necessities were purchased and we ate A LOT of chili and spaghetti. Like, A LOT. It was cheap and large batches lasted us for several days. Between the cross-country trip and the week following it, I spent more time in restaurants than I did in my own kitchen. Shortly after that was our visit to Houston and then a 3-day weekend spent dining in fantastic restaurants all around Austin. Mint was pinging my email incessantly, sending warnings that I had exceeded my Food & Dining budget for January. 

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I’ve been loosely participating in this 12×30 challenge, ie. photos were taken every day in January, but not all made it on social media. February is a “No Spend Challenge” but I’m modifying it to only apply to food. This month will be sans happy hours, coffee runs, and lunches at Whole Foods Express next to the office. No ordering a pizza when I’m not in the mood to cook. Hopefully this will help get us back on track money-wise and eliminate the dependency on restaurants. It should also help me feel really sad about missing out on Dunkin’ Donuts for an entire month.

I’m also thinking of jumping on Mint’s #28DaysofSaving challenge on Instagram because hey, who doesn’t love free money? Probably won’t post every.single.day on Insta because I don’t do that anyway – not planning on spamming people. But there’s a handful of days I have ideas for so it’s time to get creative and try to win $50!

Mint-February-Instagram-Challenge-Win-50

Suppose I should go ahead and throw the disclaimer out there: NO, I am not partnered with Mint on this promotion or affiliated with them in any way, shape or form. I use their site to track spending on food, gas, and running crap. It’s a nice eye-opening experience at the end of each month [and year] to see how much you’re really shelling out on running shoes and “quick & cheap” lunches out. Anyway, Feedly recently recommended their blog to me [probably because I subscribe to And Then We Saved + Our Freaking Budget] and it’s full of helpful money saving tips. This post is where I learned about #28DaysofSaving.

Now, who wants to volunteer to buy me Dunkin’ Donuts this month?

Thursday Things

1. I’ve been doing that whole “run in the morning” thing. That “run before your brain knows what’s happening” thing. Let me tell you, knowing I can go home after work and do absolutely nothing except sit on the couch is pretty awesome. What is NOT awesome is the alarm that goes off at 3:45am to run. Do you know how dark it is out then? It’s basically still nighttime. We grab a headlamp, leash up the dogs, and leave the house by 4am for a 3-4 mile run. It’s awesome and terrible all at the same time.

2. I’m currently a slave to a budget. Well, I’ve always been spreadsheet-obsessed and had my budget planned out for the next 3 months. But since there are several trips on the horizon (Dallas, Florida ((yes Paula, we need to discuss this one)), New Jersey, Houston), we’ve been basically hibernating on the weekends. My color-coded Google Doc has every single penny allocated to a specific savings account and there isn’t much wiggle room. Christmas is cancelled this year, I’ll send you a high-five!

I did manage to find a trip to NJ for just over $300, which is a STEAL. I haven’t been home to the northeast for the holidays since 2010 … mostly due to the fact that it included 37 inches of snow and a 4-day-turned-2-week-trip.

No snow this time people, please and thank you.

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3. Austin is FINALLY getting a Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joes Rollingwood

source

I feel like we should have been one of the first cities to have one, but I guess being the home of the flagship Whole Paycheck may have had something to do with that. Anyway, it opens tomorrow and is 10 minutes from my work, so I imagine I’ll be stocking up on Cookie Butter and Two-Buck Chuck on my lunch break.

I already asked this on Twitter earlier, but what do I NEED to buy from TJ’s? It’s part of the “grocery” budget, so this is an expense I can justify. You know, kind of.

BONUS: In case you don’t follow me on Instagram (wait… why don’t you?!), here’s today’s #throwbackthursday post:

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Arlington, TX {circa 2010-ish}

Playoffs, here we come! Thank god there’s something to take my mind off this poor excuse for a Patriots team this season…

GRONK! WHERE ARE YOU?!

Gronk

Ah, there you are. Come back to the Pats soon. They need you desperately.

2012: Goals

racing…

Marathon – 5:15

Half Marathon – 2:15

10k – 59:XX

5k – 29:XX

 

 

running…

12 Races in 2012

Practice negative splitting

Run at least one race NOT for time – only for fun

Volunteer at two races

fitness…

Commit to 45-60 min workouts, 3x per week (excluding long runs)

just go

Focus more on stretching, yoga, foam rolling, and core work

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foam-roller

1000 miles in 2012

2011 mileage

 

nutrition…

Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate!

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Take vitamins + calcium supplements every day

Be more conscious of portion sizes

portion-distortion

 

life in general…

Blog consistently, at least 3-4 posts per week

Read at least 15 books

books

Surround myself with positive people to eliminate unnecessary negativity from my life

positive people

Create & follow a {realistic} budget

budget

budget on Mint

and most importantly…

enjoy every.single.moment of 2012

While 2011 had more than its fair share of ups and downs, it’s best not to dwell on the difficulties of the past and focus on the opportunities in the future. Let go of the disappointments and use them as learning experiences. Life is short and every minute should be cherished. Surround yourself with people you love. Take chances, live in the moment, don’t think twice. Appreciate everything you have, as it all could be taken from you in the blink of an eye.

happiness

All photos via Pinterest

Everyone (for the most part) has set goals and/or resolutions for 2012. Which of yours is the most important for you to achieve this year?