Saving Money with Meal and Grocery Planning

Meal and Grocery Planning

“Do you feed your kids?”  

I was at a family gathering a few weeks ago when my sister in-law asked me this. We were discussing grocery shopping and how much we spend each week.  My sister in-law gasped when I told her how much I spend; she said she spends twice as much, with my other sister in-laws confirming that they did the same.

“Seriously, how can you only spend that much?  There is no way.”

I felt that the need to justify myself.  I felt ashamed. . . did I feed my kids? They looked pretty nurtured and healthy to me.

I answered back: Yes, I do feed my kids.  Yes, I even buy junk food, but not an excessive amount. Yes, some weeks I spend more, especially if I am buying a lot of cleaning supplies or toiletries.

The truth is saving money on my groceries has become a game to me. I claim personal victory when I can come home with a week’s worth of groceries at a bargain price.

So how do I do it?

I will share what I told my sister in-laws (with additional detail).

1. Establish a grocery/food budget.

My husband and I have a family budget that keeps us financially-focused. Our savings, mortgage and other bills, summer camps, vacations, gas, and groceries are all accounted for in this budget.  The 2008 Recession prompted our diligent budgeting.

That Recession had a detrimental effect on our family’s finances. It is a time in history that I never want to live through again—a time that could have made us crumble as a family. Fortunately, it made our marriage even stronger. Together, through a lot of communicating, my husband and I were able to get through it and is something neither of us will ever take for granted.

2. Use a Cash System.

This simple system (take out cash in the amount of your allotted budget) makes it so much easier to stick to a budget. Seriously — there is something about SEEING the cash and knowing how much you have left that allows you to stay conscientious in your spending.

We tried keeping to our food budget without the cash system, but it was too easy to lose track of our spending without it.  All those little trips to Starbucks, the fast-food drive-in when you are running late, or eating out ADD UP.  You don’t realize (or we didn’t at least) just how much you can spend without really knowing it.

The Cash System is also a good motivator for our children when they ask, “Can I have? Can we get?”  I show them the money and say: “This is what we have left.”  I want them to see that money does not grow on trees; that you need to HAVE money in order to spend money. As my youngest would say, “Just go to the bank.” Umm, no son, it does not work that way.

3. Plan your meals for the week.

Planning out my meals for the week is probably one of the largest contributors to how I save money when grocery shopping.  The reason is simple: I buy what I need and only what I need. I used to go to the grocery store without a plan–I’d stroll along each aisle and just throw in what looked good or what seemed to have the potential as dinner. I didn’t know what I was making for dinner and I certainly didn’t know how much I was spending until the cashier provided me with my total. . .Oh my gosh! No!

Weekly Dinners Landscape

Now, I PLAN using the above Weekly Dinners printable. Click here to download a free copy.  As for dinner inspiration, I use a couple of methods:

    • Prepare “freezable” meals a head of time such as the ones listed on One Hour — Seven Dinners. Freezing meals that can be “dumped” into a crockpot or baked later saves a lot of time and can ease a lot of stress.

 

  • Supercook.com.  I just discovered this clever app, which provides a whole slew of recipes based on the ingredients you already have at home. You simply click off food in your kitchen, click, and recipe options appear.

4. Write up a strategic grocery list.

For the most part, I always sit down and plan out my grocery list before heading out to the store.  My planning includes several tactics:

    • I list out any ingredients needed for the meals planned out for the week.

 

  • I write out items needed for the following categories: lunches, breakfasts, snacks, desserts, produce, toiletries.  My boys know where they can find the mom-approved snacks including the ones found in our special middle refrigerator drawer (I love this middle drawer!).  This is where we quickly grab items for lunches as well.Snack draw in refrigerator
  • I check the store’s circular for sales and inserted coupons. If one of the items has a sale price, I put a circled S next to the listed item; for items with coupons, I put a circled C next to the listed item.  Be sure that you are signed up for your store’s Bonus Rewards Card. I save an average of $5 each week on just the in-store coupons.

5. Take advantage of coupons, rebate apps, and websites.

When many people think of using coupons, they envision someone scouring the newspapers for coupons and clipping them. Today’s technology makes this process a little easier.  Here are some of my Go-Tos for instant coupons or future rebates.

    • Coupons.com. I spend no more than 5 – 7 minutes quickly browsing www.Coupons.com for anything that I currently use. I simply click the images of products that I may want, and then hit Print when done. Voila — coupons at my fingertips. I may not always use the Coupons on that particular trip, but will save them for the next. I also compare the sale items against other similar items—the coupons are NOT always the best deal.
    • bottaIbotta and Saving Star.
      I just used both of these apps for the first time and found them very easy to use. I figured why not get a little extra reward for what I am already purchasing. How to use:
      (i) Downloaded the apps on your phone and set up an account.
      (ii) Click the stores you frequent and the items you typically purchase. This includes alcohol, which has fairly large rebates (smiley face, smiley face!)
      (iii) To claim your rebate, you will need to scan the barcode of the product and then upload a photo of your receipt. Your rebate can be placed into a PayPal account or paid out with a gift card.


    6. Use store scanner if that is an available option.

    scannerThe use of an in-store scanner is THE thing that definitely keeps my shopping intact. I realize that not all grocery stores have this option, but if they do, I highly recommend taking advantage of it.

    With this handy device, I know EXACTLY what I am spending. I almost have it down to a science and can estimate how much I will spend in each department.  Another added benefit: I can go in the 10 and Below aisle regardless of how many items I have since the items are already scanned.

    7. Sign up for gas rewards.


    gasCheck to see if your grocery store has partnered up with a gas station to provide rewards. My store partners with Shell Gas Station and provides discounts on gallons of gas.  Often my grocery store mails flyers with coupons including ones for extra bonus gas points. To me this is free money. On this very rainy morning, there was a bright spot—I received a .60 cents per gallon discount, which equated to over $7.20 in savings. 


    Please do not be intimidated!  If I can do this anyone can—it really is NOT time-consuming. In fact, planning ahead of time saves me a lot of time (and MONEY!) in the end.  Make grocery planning a game and be competitive with yourself. Make it your personal victory to save, save, save!

One Hour — Seven Dinners

The Easy Guide to Making a Week’s Worth of Dinners in One Hour

I am all about making things E A S Y (finding ways to eliminate the stress)—that is one of the goals of BrightLightLiving.com and for myself. I have not mastered this (not by a long shot), but the intent is there.

Seven DinnersAfter all, we all lead very busy lives and the simpler we can make it, the more time we have to really enjoy it.

Dinner: That is always a H U U U U G E stressor for me—it’s not just the figuring out what to make that stresses me; it is the MAKING it that stresses me. Making dinner is the last thing that I really want to do after a long workday and commute home. Full disclaimer, I hate to cook.

I decided that pre-planning had to be my solution, so I set out to create a menu of just drop-it-in-a-crockpot dinners. I did a lot of trial and error cooking with my family (aka, my sweet little guinea pigs). I switched out ingredients and modified recipes to suit our liking, which made me more confident in my cooking abilities. As a result, I created a week’s worth of dinner recipes, a complete shopping list divided by grocery store departments, a step-by-step guide to preparing the meals in the most time-saving way possible, and a set of labels with cooking instructions that can be affixed to the meals. In other words,

I did the planning to eliminate your stress.  

I also created this free, printable version of this post complete with preparation labels; click here to receive.

Oh, right. What are we making? Here are the meals—I hope you like!:

Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry
Chili
Beef and Broccoli
Chicken Taco Soup
Chicken Pasta
Cilantro Lime Chicken over Salad
Pot Roast (a great Sunday dinner)

Let’s get started.

The grocery list:

img_1344-e1491675449374.jpgMeats:
Chicken Breasts (10-12 pieces)
Ground Beef (1 lb.)
Flank Steak, Top Round, or Beef Chuck Roast (1.5 – 2 lbs.)
Pot Roast

Canned Goods:
Dark Kidney Beans 1 Can (15 oz.)
Chili Beans 2 Cans (16 oz.)
Black Beans 3 Cans
Tomato Sauce 1 Can (14.5 oz.)
Canned Diced Tomatoes 3 Cans (one with green chilies) (14.5 oz.)
Corn 2 Cans (14.5 oz.)
Water Chestnuts 1 Can (small)

Produce:
Green Bell Pepper (3)
Onion, Medium (4)
Onion, Large
Limes (2)
Cilatro (1 bunch)
Carrots (Medium Bag of Baby Carrots)
Potatoes (2 lbs.)

Spices and Condiments (you may have a lot of this already; check first):
Honey (1/2 cup)
Black Pepper (In most meals)
Salt (In most meals)
Rice Wine or Red Wine Vinegar (good to have a bottle on hand)
Olive Oil (2 Tsp.)
Soy Sauce (bottle to keep on hand as well)
Minced Garlic (Recommend purchasing a small jar)
Minced Ginger (1/4 cup)
Cumin (2.5 tsp.)
Chili Powder (1 Tbsp)
Chili Flakes (1/4 Tsp)
Taco Seasoning Mix (1 Canister – rather than packets; cheaper and great to have on hand)
Brown Sugar
Corn Starch
Chicken Broth Container (32 oz.)
Beef Broth Two (32 oz.) Containers

Frozen Foods:
Stir Fry Vegetables (1 Bag)
Broccoli Florets (1 Medium Bag or 4 Cups)

Pasta and Rice:
Rotini Pasta (1 Box)
Rice (4 Bags)

Other:
Spaghetti Sauce (24 oz. jar)
Salsa (8 oz.)
Crockpot Liners (this makes your clean up each day so much easier)
Large Freezer Bags
Bottle of Beer
Lettuce or Tortillas (Depends on how you want to serve the Cilantro Lime Chicken; as a salad or wrap)
Sour Cream (optional topping for several meals)
Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded (1 Cup)
Cheddar Cheese, Shredded (optional topping for several meals)

The Preparation (Easy and Time-Saving)

First, let me say that your cooking TOOLS are quite important. I encourage you to visit Cooking Tools I Cannot Live Without. The tools I list are not essential, but they will make your prep work so much easier and shorter. Such as this BLACK+DECKER HC306 One-Touch 1.5 Cup Capacity Electric Chopper, White, which takes the eye-watering and time out of cutting onions, which is step #1 in the preparation work. Shall we get started?

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1) Cut up your onions (chop the small onions and cut the large onion in fairly large pieces).
Place your chopped onions in separate small bowls (one bowl for each onion).

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2) Cut up your green bell peppers in inch strips. 
I recommend cutting these by hand. Place your bell peppers in separate bowls (one bowl for each bell pepper).

3) Peel and cut 2 lbs. of potatoes into 3″ pieces.

4) Cook pound of ground beef, drain grease when done.

5) Open all your cans and remove lids for easy access.

6) Label your freezer bags with menu names.
Take advantage of these printable labels by clicking here.

7) Place 2-3 pieces of chicken breast in the following marked freezer bags:

  • Teriyaki Chicken
  • Chicken Taco Soup
  • Cilantro Lime Chicken
  • Chicken Pasta

8) In the Chicken Teriyaki freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove (I use minced garlic from jar)
  • 1 tbsp. of minced ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. of black pepper
  • One bag of frozen stir fry vegetables
  • 3/4 of chopped water chestnuts (optional)
  • Ready to freeze

9) In the Chicken Taco Soup freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • Can of chili beans, drained and rinsed
  • Can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Can of corn, drained
  • Jar of Salsa (8 oz.)
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp. of taco seasoning
  • Ready to freeze (you will dump in beer when you dump into crockpot)

10) In the Cilantro Lime Chicken freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
  • 1 can of corn, drained
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • 1 can of black beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. of taco seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • Ready to freeze (you will dump in lime juice when you dump bag ingredients into crockpot)

11) In the Chicken Pasta freezer bag, you will dump in the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1/4 tap. of pepper
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • One of the bowls of sliced bell peppers
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Ready to freeze (you will prepare rotini pasta and dump in mozzarella cheese later)

12) In the Chili freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • Ground beef, browned
  • Can of dark kidney beans, drained
  • Can of chili beans, drained
  • Can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Can of tomato sauce
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • One of the bowls of sliced bell peppers
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • ½ Packet of Taco Seasoning Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic or minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Freeze

13) In the Beef Broccoli freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • Flank steak or beef
  • 1 Cup of beef broth
  • 2/3 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. of olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Freeze

14) In the Pot Roast freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 lb. of carrots
  • 2 lbs. of the potatoes, cut
  • 32 oz. of beef broth
  • The large onion
  • Freeze.  You do not need to put your pot roast in this bag (it probably wouldn’t fit anyway.)
  • In separate sandwich bag, put in your salt, pepper, tarragon, and thyme.
    Have this ready for when ready to cook.

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Please note: You will later put in corn starch and water in several of these meals.

Ready to eat?!

Cooking Instructions

* Put freezer bag and meats in the refrigerator the night before you are going to cook up meal.

Chicken Teriyaki:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients (except the water and corn starch) into the crockpot, starting with the chicken.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Add cornstarch and water, stir, and then cook for an additional 20 minutes.
(6) Cook rice as instructed on package.
Serve over rice. You can also add La Choy Rice Noodles for extra goodness.

Chicken Taco Soup:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) You take all of the above ingredients and DUMP them in a crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4 hours.
(4) Take out the chicken and cut up; place back into crockpot.
Serve with your favorite toppings such as sour cream or cheese.

Chicken Cilantro Lime Salad:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients into the crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Dump crockpot contents into a strainer to drain juices.
(6) Serve over a healthy salad.

Chicken Pasta:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients into the crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Thirty minutes before food is ready, cook pasta as instructed on package.
(6) Dump pasta (drain) and cup of mozzarella cheese.
(7) Cook for additional 20 minutes.

Chili:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients into the crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
Serve with your favorite toppings such as sour cream or cheese.

Beef Broccoli:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients (except the water and corn starch) into the crockpot, starting with the chicken.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Add cornstarch and water, stir, and then cook for an additional 20 minutes.
(6) Cook rice as instructed on package.
Serve over rice. You can also add La Choy Rice Noodles for extra goodness.

Pot Roast:

IMG_1376(1) Put freezer bag and pot roast in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Rub pot roast with olive oil and sprinkle 2/3 of the spices on to roast.
(3) Place pot roast in crockpot.
(4) Put in contents of freezer bag into crockpot and sprinkle with remaining spice mix.
(5) Add another cup of beef stock to crockpot.
(6) Cook on low for 7 – 8 hours until vegetables are tender and the meat pulls apart easily.
(7) Optional: Use beef broth and mix with cornstarch and water to make gravy.

Lessons Learned

There are a few things that I learned in this recipe process. One is that the clean-up was so much easier with the use of the crockpot lines. Two is that you should be creative–I was. I sometimes added broccoli or other ingredients if I needed my meals to stretch farther, i.e., if one of the boys had a friend over for dinner. Regardless, it was such a relief to know that I didn’t have to think about what to make. I would simply dump the ingredients in the crockpot in the morning and return home to an aroma-filled house with dinner ready.  What a relief!

Don’t forget to download a free, printable version of this post complete with a shopping list, recipes, preparation instructions, and freezer bag labels. Click here.

Bon Appetit

Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry Crockpot Meal

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I am all about EASY, and this recipe is quick to prepare and tastes great. Besides cooking up the rice at the end, the rest of the preparation is simply dumping in the ingredients. My kids love this too–they claim my crockpot Chinese meals are just as good as Chinese take-out.

What You Will Need:

  • One pound boneless chicken breasts or chicken tenderloins
  • ½ Cup Honey
  • ½ Cup Soy Sauce
  • ¼ Cup Rice Wine or Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Large Garlic Glove, Minced
  • ¼ Cup Ginger
  • ¼ Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • One Bag of Frozen Stir Fry Veggies
  • Water chestnuts (cut up)  or Onion (cut up). Water chestnuts are my preference
  • You can add other vegetables as well if you like (e.g., extra broccoli)
  • 2 tbsp. Corn Starch
  • 4 tbsp. Water

FullSizeRender (8)

Cooking Instructions:

(1) Dump all your ingredients (except the water and corn starch) into the crockpot, starting with the chicken
(2) Cook on low for 6 hours
(3) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy
(4) Add cornstarch and water, stir, and then cook for an additional 20 minutes.
(5) Cook rice as instructed on package

To Prepare:

Serve over rice. You can also add La Choy Rice Noodles for extra goodness.

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And, if you would like to save (freeze) for later, use these instructions:

  • In large freezer bag 1, put all the ingredients except for the water and cornstarch.
  • Follow the above cooking instructions.
    Yes, it is that simple!

Easy and Tasty Crockpot Chili

Chili is one of my youngest son’s favorites; he would eat it every day if I let him. Thankfully, this recipe is super easy to make and very delicious. Spring is almost here, so why not give Chili one last eating before grilling season officially begins. (Not that this household will stop eating chili. My son would not stand for that.)

This recipe is easy, easy, easy.


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned
  • 1  (15 oz) can dark kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can (16 oz) chili beans, drained
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can tomatoes
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • ½ Packet of Taco Seasoning Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic or minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt


To Cook
:

Cook and brown the ground beef.
I always use this grease protector to prevent splatters of grease, such as the Outills Splatter Screen with Silicone Handle – 13″Stainless Steel Twill Weave Mesh – Dishwasher Safe – Grease Splatter Screen that Protects your Cooking Surface.  It is also helpful for DRAINING the grease once done. I simply leave a little gap on the side to pour out the grease while the protector prevents the meat from falling out.

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Next, drop in ALL the ingredients, including the browned meat, into your crockpot.  Yep, it is that easy. Be sure to drain the beans.

Cook on low for 6 – 7 hours or high for 4 hours.

That’s it. You are done!

Top it off with your favorites such as cheese, sour cream, and/or scallions and then dig in.

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[Disclosure: This post has affiliate links. If items are purchased from this site, I will receive a small commission.]

How My Life Perspective Changed at a Gas Station

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I Have a Confession.

My name is Kristin and I, among other things, am a WRITER.  I write because I love it; I write because it is my thing—what I’ve done since I was a child; and I write because it’s what I think I’m on this earth to do.

But that is not my confession.

My confession is this:  I don’t always love writing. I don’t always feel like it is my thing—in fact, I often feel like a total fraud and question my ability.

I have days where I am gung-ho, all-in, motivated, and excited.  Those are the days when I see POTENTIAL; I see my dream of working from home as a full-time writer.

Then, I have days where I can just stare into the abyss of a white computer screen and convince myself it is all for naught.  Those days are usually fueled by a series of rejections or from a lack of results.  These are the times when my motivation gets shaky and my heart is reeling with doubt.

But I am not a quitter.  I will rest.  I will re-think my strategies.  I will allow myself to be human. 

I will even cry if I want to…and I do…and I did.

But, I will not quit.

I remember looking for my first “adult” job, fresh out of college.  It was a wonderful time to look for employment (I say sarcastically)—right at the onset of the Persian Gulf War.  Living in a military-saturated area, most residents were deployed, while many others, like myself, were unemployed.

I had to settle for a job at a grocery store while I pursued more-desirable employment.  I felt so humiliated when people from my high school or college would come to the store.  I knew what they were thinking—it was what I was thinking—you went to college for this?  But I needed money.  I was interning for free at a local chamber of commerce so that I could gain some marketable job experience.  My dad at the time did not understand this: “why don’t you go back to get your master’s,” he would say.  “Why are you working for free?”

I tried explaining that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life first.  I had been hitting a brick wall with my job search—the ol’ you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job—so I knew that I needed to find a way to gain work experience.  The internship was my way.

So, with my head down, I went to my  grocery store gig to earn money.  I finally resigned myself to the fact that I would run into people I knew; my confidence was at rock bottom.

It was at this time that I learned a valuable lesson—one that I still remember to this day—and it happened at a gas station.  In those days, full-service gas pumps were still an option. In fact at this station, every gas pump was full service.  In high school, the service attendants were often my fellow classmates. Post-college and on this day, it was a man whose child I used to babysit.  He was a bank executive, so seeing him wear the station’s uniform was surprising.

What impressed me the most was that he didn’t try hiding the fact that he worked there.  Instead, he walked over cheerfully and helped me pump my gas.  That was when it dawned on me that he must have lost his job in the throes of the Persian Gulf War recession.

gas-attendantUnlike me, some college graduate punk, who worked at a grocery store with shame, this man approached me with his head high.  He had more reason than me to feel down.  He had a wife, a child, and a prominent job.  But you wouldn’t have known it.  With a smile on his face and such a cheerful manner, he helped me—not just with my gas, but also with my perspective on life.

This man had experienced a disappointing and difficult set back.  But instead of surrendering to his despair, he faced it, embraced it, and did what he needed to do at the time.  This experience must have been so difficult and humbling for him. I am sure when he lost his job, he must have been devastated and felt as if someone punched him in the gut.  I am sure that he was scared, depressed, and wanted to cry.  He is human, after all.  And no human is without challenges.

I don’t know what happened later with this man. I can only assume that his positive attitude allowed him to obtain another job.  Shortly after this incident, I had gotten a job in another city and moved away.  The job?  It was at a chamber of commerce; they said it was my nonpaying internship at the local chamber that made them take notice.

I do regret not going back to thank this man, although I am sure he has no idea the impact he had on my life.  It was on that day that I promised myself that I would always try to maintain a positive attitude and do whatever job I am given with a cheerful attitude. I would always be thankful and persevere. 

So yesterday, I felt like quitting on all my dreams.  That is my confession.

But that was yesterday and today is a new day.  Today, I am figuring out my next move and how I am going to take action.

Because you know what else?  I am not a quitter!

ARE YOU?

My Pantry Organizational Re-do

This is my BEFORE (oh my, what a mess!).  

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And this is my AFTER.

Pantry Organization

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Photo Credit: TessaSollway.com

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Photo Credit: TessaSollway.com

It looks much more sparse, but the truth is everything has a place. I keep fresh fruits and vegetables elsewhere.  To create the space (clean and clutter-free) that I wanted, I did the following:

  1. Took everything out so that I could really see what I was working with.
  2. I took a visual inventory of my stash and decided on what canisters, bins, and baskets to purchase. Home Goods was my saving grace.
  3. I consolidated items and created strategic sections—one section for spices and cooking supplies, one section for the large, not-attractive cookware such as the crockpot and popcorn popper.   Those items were hidden from view on the side shelves. (See photo)
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  4. I created identifying labels using Avery 5162 and also used chalk clothe pin labels.See basket labeled with Rice and Pasta
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  5. I have a rotating spice rack on my counter, however, we also have an abundance of spices in the pantry.  These spices were always knocking over and it was hard to find just the right spice. By putting the spices in bins, I can easily grab the container and find the spice needed.img_1019

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6. I kept cooking instructions for pasta, rice, and other items placed on canisters.I gently taped (so that the tape is easily removable) the instructions to the back of the canister.

7. I found a wire rack basket that allows me to stack cans sideways without falling out.  This saves so much space.

Organizing Under the Kitchen Sink

I also got ambitiousimg_1011 and cleaned under the sink. The big clean-up there included a basket that hangs over the door. This basket contains all the frequently-used items, such as dish soap.

I also added shelving and hung bottles from the outer rack.

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Here are pantry organization items I used or recommend.

(Please note, this section does contain affiliate links.)

DII Stackable, Convenient Metal Storage Bin For Office, Bedroom, Kitchen, Closet, & Everyday Storage Needs, Black – Medium

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Crockpot Beef and Broccoli

If you are in the mood for a little Chinese food, reward your taste buds with this beef and broccoli dish.

Tastes like your ordered out!

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 – 2 lbs. top round steak, beef chuck roast, or flank steak.
    I learned that the meat will make a difference, so I recommend going with the flank steak especially if you can get it on sale.  Beef chuck roast works well too.
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil or sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
  • 4 cups broccoli florets or one frozen bag
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • Rice (4 Servings)
  • 4 tbsp. of water

To Cook:

Spray the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray and then dump in the following ingredients: meat, beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, olive or sesame oil, garlic, and chili flakes.

Cook on low for 3-4 hours in the crockpot.

Mix together 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 4 tablespoons of water and then dump into the crockpot, along with the broccoli.

Cook on low for an additional 30 minutes.

Prepare rice separately and serve entrée over the rice.

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And, if you would like to save (freeze) for later, use these instructions:

  • In large freezer bag 1, put meat, beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, olive or sesame oil, garlic, and chili flakes.
  • Separately, be sure to have frozen bag of broccoli florets, cornstarch, and rice on hand.
  • Put freezer bag 1 and the bag of broccoli in the refrigerator the night before to defrost.
  • Follow the above cooking instructions.

Crockpot Chicken Taco Soup

One word: Delicious!  

I absolutely loved this soup and cannot believe how easy it was to make. It is always a hit when the entire family (cough, cough — my boys) likes it AND asks for seconds. Best of all, it is healthy.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 can of corn
  • 1 (12oz) bottle of beer
    I ended up switching the beer to a pilsner — Baltimore’s Heavy Seas (good choice!)
  • Can of chili beans, rinsed
  • Can of black beans, rinsed
  • 8 ounces of salsa (half of 16 ounce jar)
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans of diced tomatoes
    I used one regular can and one can with green chilies:
    I originally was going to use just one can but added the second
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning mix
    We use a lot of seasoning mix, so I buy a large bottle of Old El Paso Seasoning, Taco, 6.25-ounce
  • Optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips

To Prepare:

Pay close attention, it is very tricky . . .not!  You take all of the above ingredients and DUMP them in a crockpot.  Then, cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4 hours. That’s it.
The only notes are (1) be sure to drain the beans and corn first and (2) make sure that the chicken is submerged in the sauce.  (See photo — the chicken is soaked deeply in the yumminess of the ingredients).

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And, if you would like to save (freeze) for later, use these instructions:

  • In large freezer bag 1, put in the chopped onions, corn (drain first), beer, chili beans (rinse first), black beans (rinse first), salsa, and diced tomatoes.
  • In large freezer bag 2, put in your two chicken breasts.

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10 Simple Things You Can Do to be More Productive

Life can sometimes feel overwhelming, but there are simple things that you can do to make yourself feel and be more productive.  For starters, take a deep breath and then exhale away your anxiety.  Integrate the following easy habits into your life and see your productivity soar.

1. Wake up in the morning with a good S T R E T C H.

Try it now: If you are standing, raise your arms over your head and reach up as high as you can go. You can even use the top of a door frame for support. If you are sitting, extend your legs and stretch them as long as you can make them. Doesn’t that feel good?  Now try this first thing in the morning–you will feel great.


2. Make your bed as soon as you get up.

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This simple morning ritual will immediately have you feeling as if you already accomplished something. Plus, a nicely-made bed instantly relaxes the mind. It also helps you fall asleep easier — I mean why fight with your sheets from an unmade bed? There is just something from a cozy bed to give you a good night’s rest. . .which brings me to number 3.


3. Get a good night’s rest.

Get in the practice of going to bed before 10 p.m. Use that time as a bedtime goal. Sure, you can read in bed — that helps you fall asleep anyway — but BE IN BED by 10 p.m.  Being well-rested is so integral to one’s ability to be focused, clear-headed, and productive.


4. Meditate or be still.

Spend at least 10 – 15 minutes in the morning taking time to meditate or be still. This helps calm the brain and eliminates the morning frenzy and frantic feeling. This silence also allows for insight and new-found clarity.


5. Read a positive affirmation about yourself OUT LOUD.

Create a positive affirmation that reinforces your goals. (Click here for how to effectively create positive affirmations.) Be your best friend and not your worst enemy–what you say about yourself ultimately comes true.


6. Listen to inspirational interviews or segments on your way to work.

Be inspired by others’ greatness. Listen to stories, interviews, and segments about successful people as they share their insight about accomplishing goals. Positivity breeds positivity.


7. Tackle the hardest thing on your to-do list first.

Procrastination is productivity’s worst enemy. Do not put off what you can do now. Pick the one item that is most challenging and tackle it head on.  Often people get caught up on the little things as a way of avoiding the big things. Doing the big thing will motivate you to proceed with your other action steps.


8. Maximize your peak times.

Everyone has them–peak times and down times. A peak time is the time of day when you feel most awake, focused, and energized. A down time is when you find yourself crashing and not being as effective. Recognize your peak and down times and use them appropriately. Your peak times should be used for more challenging tasks and your down-times can be spent doing more mundane tasks (e.g., stuffing envelopes).


9. Get your steps in creatively.

Get away from your desk and avoid always being stationary. Park your car far away from the entrance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk a few laps around the parking lot at cc19b1, respond to messages from work colleagues in person rather than by phone.  Think of ways in which you can get up and walk. This physical break is necessary to refuel.

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10. End your day with a to-do list.

Do not leave work until you have written out your to-do list for the next day. Give yourself time-allotments: write out when and for how long you will work on these items. Have your scheduled meetings listed as well. Just having a plan for the next day will allow you to — for the most part — leave the work stress at work.

I appreciate your feedback: Please scroll down to the comments bar and give me your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!  Also, I would be grateful if you would click any of the share buttons below and/or follow me on Pinterest. Click here for all my pins.  I am grateful for your support!  Thank you for visiting!

8 Ways to Drink More Water

Water – it does a body good.  I can honestly say that I have noticed a positive difference with my increased water intake.  On the flip side, I can also tell when I am dehydrated.

Let me start with the positive:  water makes me feel full. I snack less and eat smaller portions when I consume water all day. Seriously.  That in itself is enough for me to drink water. I also notice that I am more energized and feel less sluggish, which results in me sleeping better throughout the night.  While I cannot provide scientific proof of the benefits of water — other than repeat what the experts say — I am able share my experience.  I function much better with water!

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When I do not drink enough water, I feel run down. I can literally hear ringing in my ears and my bones cracking.  My body is not what it used to be, so it doesn’t take much to feel bad.  Drinking water is one of the few healthy habits that seems manageable to me.

It wasn’t always though.

Using the following tricks I have been able to make water consumption more enjoyable–and tasty.  The biggest help for me is to keep my WATER WITHIN REACH. If I have a water bottle beside me, I will drink it.  I am all about easy access.

1. Add a Splash of Lemon

Don’t like the taste of water? No problem, add some lemon and your taste buds will thank you. You can slice up a lemon in advance and store the slices for later. Or, for lemon water on the go, you can drop in a packet of True Lemon—my latest, favorite discovery. No mess, no cutting, and only 5 calories. I love these packets. Since discovering them, I have been drinking so much more water. There are other flavors too—True Lime Bulk Pack, 500 Count (Net Wt .88lbs), True Orange Bulk Pack, 500 Count, and True Grapefruit Bulk Pack, 500 Count.

True Lemon Bulk Pack, 500 Count


2. Use it as a Means to Lose Weight

Drink a glass of water before every meal as a way to suppress your appetite. You will feel fuller faster, making it easier to eat less. If losing weight is one of your goals than this trick will allow you to accomplish two goals at once. Water aids your digestion as well—an added bonus.


3. Get a 64-, 32-, or 28-Ounce Water Bottle


Fill up a 64-, 32-, or 28-ounce bottle with water to keep you accountable. Once the bottle is empty, you will know that you have met (or working to meet) your water quota. This is the one I use regularly: Contigo Shake & Go Fit Shaker Bottle, 28oz, Carolina Blue and I love it. Since it is 28 ounces, I try to refill it and finish it three times by the end of the day.  It can also be used for protein shakes or mixing the above-mentioned True Lemon packets.


4. Fizz it Up

If you are not a fan of water, try the taste of sparkling water. Something about the bubbles makes the water much more refreshing. I am grateful for my Samsung Refrigerator that contains a sparkling water capability. One push of a button and I have a glass of sparkling water at my disposal. The refrigerator contains SodaStream 60-Liter Carbonator-Spare Cylinder canisters that need to be replaced when empty. Be sure to keep a spare canister on hand—take it from someone who relies on her seltzer water. When the canister is empty and I do not have a replacement, my water intake decreases significantly.


5. Make it Fancy

Drink your water in a wine glass. You know that sparkling water I love? I like to put it in a large wine glass to really incentivize my water drinking. (It also reduces my wine intake J ). Wine always tastes better in a large wine glass and so will your water.


6. Use Water to Boost your Metabolism

Two of your eight glasses of water will be complete with this tip. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning and right before bed. It will help make for an energized morning and a restful evening.


7. Use a Menu Tracker
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Track your eating, exercise, and water consumption with a menu tracker such as the one shown here. Click form below to receive a free copy. The menu tracker keeps you accountable; you may be surprised how much you eat and little you drink.

 


8. Fruit Infused Water Bottle 

Try drinking your water out of a fruit-infused water bottle.  My boys find it especially cool to drink with fruit inside their water. It makes the water tasty and fun.

Fruit Infuser Water Bottle 25 oz Leak Proof Flip-top Sport Water Bottle BPA-Free Tritan 25 Oz (Pink)

I appreciate your feedback: Please scroll down to the comments bar and give me your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!  Also, I would be grateful if you would click any of the share buttons below and/or follow me on Pinterest. Click here for all my pins.  I am grateful for your support!  Thank you for visiting!

10 Ways to Get Rid of Paper Clutter–Including Your Kids’ Schoolwork

 

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Paper is like bunny rabbits — it reproduces and reproduces AND leaves little piles everywhere.  My house is often overtaken by this paper. I give this paper a good fight, but it is a mighty force. Thank goodness, I have been able to learn a few fighting tricks along the way. The tips below have helped me combat this infuriating thing called PAPER.

Helpful Hints:

1. Check the mail over a recycling bin.  

The mail can overtake your home if you are not careful. Be sure to check your mail immediately after retrieving from the mail box. As you read the mail, give each piece of mail a home.  A recycling bin (sadly) is where most of my mail goes.


2. Use a spiral pocket notebook.


I love, love having a portfolio of pocket folders at my disposal such as this  C-Line 8-Pocket Spiral-Bound Poly Portfolio, Letter Size, 1 Portfolio, Color May Vary (33080).  Paperwork that needs to be EASILY ACCESSIBLE (e.g., bills, children’s school reminders) can be filed and stored in an easy-to-get-at location for when needed.


3. Take a photo—it will last longer.

Every week, my son brings home a letter to us. It is his weekly account of what he did that week in school. I love reading them; some of them are just priceless!  [Did you catch the part about them being WEEKLY though?]  Take those letters and add it to the other school work and the paperwork is amazingly, crazily, overwhelmingly A LOT!
So, I take a photo of those priceless papers and store them online in a computer file.

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Even in school, the kids are learning about setting goals and negative and positive self-talk!  This is a sample of the “priceless” school paperwork saved electronically.

4. Convert electronic images into Memory Books.

Create a memory book of your children’s artwork, report cards, photos, school work—all the paperwork that you have captured by photo.  Your kids will treasure it!


5. Store children’s artwork in a frame.

 Use a frame such as the one pictured here (click photo for details) to frame your children’s artwork. The beauty of the frame is that you can rotate artwork with newer creations and store older artwork in the frame itself. I recommend selecting a frame that does NOT have a mat — even thought it is more attractive — so that it is easier to frequently update.

Craig Frames 1WB3BK 8.5 by 11-Inch Picture Frame, Smooth Wrap Finish, 1-Inch Wide, Black


6. Clear the homework away with one fell swoop.

I don’t know where your children do their homework, but mine do it on the kitchen table—the E N T I R E kitchen table. Our nightly routine when dinner is ready is to shout, “Someone clear the table. Get your homework off the table.”  However, my newest discovery is plastic baskets with handles — one for each child. My children can dump their homework in the baskets and even stick the whole basket in their back pack. However, I just saw these bins (also sized to fit in backpack).  They should do the trick too — I may switch.

Storex Book Bins, 11-Inch, Assorted Colors, 6 Bins (70110U06C) or Plastic storage basket with handles-Package Quantity,12.


7. Create a command center.

Mail, school work, meals for the week, keys, calendars, and electronics all have a home in this newly-created command center.  This has always been our informal command center. It just happened to also be the place where piles of “stuff” grew taller and taller.  Now we have a system so that everything has a home and a purpose.


8.  Pay bills electronically.

Eliminate paper bills by scheduling your payments to be made automatically each month. Every monthly bill has been set up to be paid online on the date scheduled. If hard copy bills are mailed to us, we know that — most likely — we can just shred it.


9. Invest in a shredder.

Some paperwork is too sensitive to be left in the hands of a trash can or recycling bin. Credit card statements or credit offers, for example, should be shredded. There is just something stress-relieving about shredding too. Maybe its the sound of the shredding . . . hmmm, or maybe it’s just me.  You can place the shredder in a tall decorative basket too!

AmazonBasics 12-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper, CD, and Credit Card Shredder with Pullout Basket


10. Invest in decorative boxes.

When all else fails, take advantage of decorative boxes to hide the clutter. They can make unsightly piles look so much more appealing. Just be sure to TACKLE the pile later.

Snap-N-Store Letter and Legal File Box, Interior Dimensions 9.5 x 14.75 x 12.25 Inches, Black and White Scroll Design (SNS01835)

 

 

I appreciate your feedback: Please scroll down to the comments bar and give me your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!  Also, I would be grateful if you would click any of the share buttons below and/or follow me on Pinterest. Click here for all my pins.  I am grateful for your support!  Thank you for visiting!


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