Friday, February 17, 2017

Recipe Savers: Chicken Bundles

Over the past 8 months we have dramatically reduced our grocery budget by shopping at Aldi... so much so, I've started to share my recipes, secrets and tips in a new feature called Recipe Savers.

This recipe comes from the makers of Pillsbury and is their Creamy Garlic Chicken Bundles ... but its been adapted to my families taste buds.

Do you know, this FREEZES amazingly well... So much so that I make a double batch so we can freeze some and we have plenty of leftovers for lunches or a quick dinner. Even the toddler eats this adaptation.

I use this recipe to make my own Alfredo sauce from scratch... it's so much better and doesn't take much additional time. I also add Broccoli instead of bell peppers and do more veggies than the original calls for because we like our greens and I think it makes it taste better.

So how much does it cost to make?

$20.31 for 16 servings at Aldi... that's $1.27 each... which is enough for 4 meals 

Heavy Whipping Cream: $1.99 (I've gotten it as cheap as $0.49).
Chicken Breasts: 6.25 (2/3 a family pack, about 6 breasts)
1 lb of Broccoli: $0.79
Butter: $1.34 (2 sticks of the 4 stick box -- whole box is $2.69)
Crescent rolls: $3.96 (4 cans @ $0.99 a can)
Minced Garlic: $0.40 (Whole jar is $2.19)
Parmesan Block: $3.79
Bag of Spinach: $1.29
Dried Parsley: $0.50

Step 1: Cook chicken in oven. 350 for 35-45 minutes.

Step 2: While chicken is cooking, Shred the whole Parmesan cheese block in your food processor or by hand. Put aside 3 cups for the Alfredo (your making a double batch)... Melt 2 sticks of butter in a sauce pan and heat the 2 cup container of whipping cream... then add the 3 cups of Parmesan until it melts and combines well. Stir in some minced Garlic and add some Parsley flakes... set aside.

Step 3: Wash and chop broccoli into pieces (I include the stem -- I just peel the thick skin off with a peeler or a knife) and steam in microwave. Then dump in a food processor to mince. add in spinach leaves so they get finely chopped as well. Put in a large bowl with the remaining Parmesan you shredded and with some more minced garlic.  

Step 4: Take Chicken out of the oven and after it rests and cools, put it in the food processor to shred.  Add shredded chicken to bowl of broccoli and spinach. Mix. Add 1/2 the Alfredo sauce from the skillet, and combine.

Step 5: Take the crescent rolls out of the tubes and place two of them to form a square/rectangle buy pinching the middle seams together (4 cans = 16 squares). Cram tons of filling (Chicken, broccoli, spinach mixture) into them and pull in the corners so they close the bundle. Bake in the oven 350 for about 25 minutes.

Spoon remaining Alfredo onto the tops of the bundles before serving. 
I'll serve this with some sliced fruit normally since the veggies are inside, so I treat it like a casserole meal. Hubs normally eats 2 at dinner, I eat one, toddler eats about a 1/2 a bundle, sometimes more, just depends. It also pairs well with salad. 

Pair my $0.65 breakfast burritos with my $0.93 Broccoli Bacon Cheese Soup and the have these tasty chicken bundles for dinner ($1.27) and a single person has three meals for $2.85! Grab an apple ($0.34), a glass of milk ($0.32); dunk that soup with 2 slices of whole wheat bread ($0.18) and its only $3.69... Just saying...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why we pay for good health insurance

There's a lot to talk about when it comes to the ACA and health insurance and i'm not going to debate it on the blog. When the law passed, our bills went up...But there is always one thing we have been glad to have as a family, and that folks is good coverage.

I've never had to deal with crappy insurance -- yes its always been expensive, but NEVER was it "I'm going to worry about my bills" crappy, which is why I won't debate the ACA.

I've never been in the position to not have insurance so I don't feel like I can weigh in on the subject. All I know is now, I feel like when I go to the doctor I get answers in that visit. Before, not so much. Tests, long lines and the run around for an HMO plan without real direction. Sure, it was labeled "great" insurance by many when I was in my 20's ---Yes, you read that correctly. At 20 I was working a full time job with benefits while I finished school. --- but I didn't feel like I got the best coverage for what my employer was paying.

(Growing up was different. As a kid, I was on Medi-cal or some state program because we were poor and I don't even remember going to the doctor for anything but vaccinations. I had to go once for a ingrown toe nail that had to be surgically removed and there was the chicken pox... Other than that it was OTC and wait it out...) 

My husband has had crap insurance and we paid our share of a couple hundred dollar doctor visits in exchange for cheaper premiums... and it's not something we will do again now that we are a "family" and I see how often hubs gets sick and needs a doctor to make him better so he's not miserable for a month. Health is health, and I don't want to have to have the "can i go to the doctor" chat. In our house, your sick and want to go, go (and hubs does.. I go for my annual visit and unless there's a chronic issue... they see me next year... but again, that's me and I come from a "power through it" mentality).

The policy we are on now feels more like a traditional HMO with the "approval" wait which we didn't really feel with our Kaiser plan... but that's because it's a different system... but even now, i'm super glad we have it. I love my doctor and little dudes doctors and nurses... and we figured out urgent care and all that.

With my city job, the premiums are steep and if we didn't have help from my employer this would be a different story all together, but oh boy does it cover things -- which is the whole point of this blog article!

Back in 2016 little dude needed to get tubes put in his ears. He was having wayyy too many ear infections and it was doctor recommended. He's been super happy since and HASN'T been sick... even with daycare germs floating, we only had one vomit virus... (Cross our fingers) and one head cold that he got over super fast because of the tubes...

But Holy Cow was that procedure expensive! Like $8,613

For a 30 minute procedure...

Our plan discounts and adjustments where $5,948.25, and our health insurance covered the $2,664.75 making our out of pocket cost, $0.00. They even paid our parking fees at the surgical center...

Yes, we had some follow up appointments and office visit Co-pays... but your talking less than $100

I might be upset at the price increases for 2017 and how they are affecting our paychecks, but boy and I glad that I don't have to pay almost $9k for my son's surgery. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Tax Time!

Me and turbo tax are bestie bros... not gonna lie. I love software that saves me time and finds me deductions.

I love just being able to roll over some information from one year to the next and with a toddler, making taxes easier is a win, win.

Between the state and the federal, we paid $126.98 to do our taxes because we need to add back in those business deductions now that I'm a Thirty-One Consultant ... and because I can't do state taxes by hand so i might as well pay to get both done.

We're actually getting a nice refund back (not that we try to give uncle sam our money on an interest free loan), but I'm always glad not to OWE money, that's for sure. Between our state and Federal taxes, were getting back $3,632.00 or just over $3,500 after you factor in the turbo tax fee.

Where is it going --- To Savings... mostly

Yup, we are boring practical people, but this chunk of cash is going into savings.

  • $500 to our Medical savings account to bring it up to $1K
  • $1,000 to our slush fund for larger purchases for the year (our fund is currently at zero and we won't get a profit share check until March and we all breath a little easier knowing we have some mad money set aside in case something pops up that we want to act on or if the computer breaks.).
  • $1,500 to our car replacement fund because this is our savings focus!! Both our cars are over 100k and are the same age so we need to start saving now so we have the funds when they eventually die on us.
The last $500 will probably be divided and spent on some initial wants. We had originally thought about getting a new couch, but as luck would have it, we scored a "new to us" couch from a family in our ward that was getting new furniture-- complete with Queen sized fold up bed for when the in-laws come and visit. So we may get a different mattress for the couch bed since our bed mattress we bought from Amazon comes in a 5 inch thick version that's a bit firmer then what we have, but would be better than whats in the couch.

I won't lie. I'ts not a perfect couch, but we are very happy with it and the additional floor space we have too with a traditional couch and not an L couch. We might need to stitch up a fraying end or two, but we are really gratefully to have a couch with support that SCB can actually lie down on and you can't beat free. 

We also really want to clean our carpets, but I have already set aside $300 for this last year so now its just about finding the time. 

I've always loved the Spend / Save / Invest idea when it comes to windfalls and bonus money. Put some aside for spending, some for saving and some for investing (our investing is saving for a new car this go around since we are behind -- but eventually it would be Roth IRA contributions).   

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Recipe Savers: Broccoli Cheese Soup

 Over the past 7 months we have dramatically reduced our grocery budget by shopping at Aldi... so much so, i'm going to share my secrets and tips in a new feature called Recipe Savers.

This recipe comes from 100 Days of Real Food and is one of our go to winter staples. Broccoli is one veggie I can get my hubby to eat regularly, so you'll probably see a lot of it on the blog.

Do you know, this FREEZES amazingly well... So much so that I make a double batch so we can have plenty of leftovers in the freezer for lunches or a quick dinner. The toddler doesn't get the concept of soup, so he normally ends up with a quesadilla and frozen peas on soup night, but we love this recipe. Below I just doubled the ingredients and I save time by making a double batch.

So how much does it cost to make?
$10.21 for 11 servings at Aldi... that's $0.93 each...

  • Broccoli: $1.58 (Need 2 of the 1 pound packages, sold at $0.79 each) 
  • Bacon: $2.79 
  • Yellow Onions: $0.25 (About 1 cup)
  • Chicken Stock: $0.25  (Homemade broth recipe)
  • 6 tablespoons Flour: $0.09
  • Cheese: $2.79 (1 blocks of Cheddar)
  • Heavy Cream: $1.99
  • 2 cups of Milk: $0.47
  • Salt/Pepper: Too cheap to Count
  • Oil: (still on a huge box from costco)

Pair that with my $0.65 breakfast burritos and your have dinner and lunch for $1.58! We normally eat it with a bit of bread to dunk, but its a meal on its own. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

We went to Costco

Hubs had a very generous client come in to work and gift everyone in the office a $50 gift card to Costco around the holidays. As you all know, we canned Costco a few months back because we were able to save so much $$$ just shopping at Aldi...

But apparently, you can use Costco gift cards without a membership and without a price penalty! So we decided to check it out and see what we were missing out on and pick up a few things for free.

Every other year we buy a ton of zip-locks for our pantry and we needed of a new broom for the kitchen... and we figured if worst came to worse, we get some movie tickets so off we went.

Oh Man... Did I forget how busy Costco can be...

The crowds....

The anxiety of being in the crowds...

The bulk....

It's safe to say we don't miss it... and we didn't really get sucked into the products... So we bought quart and gallon freezer ziplocks, found a broom 2 pack, grabbed a bag of Jerky for hubs and checked out... We even had enough cash on the gift card to grab some hot dogs at the food court for lunch.

Man i'm glad to be Costco Free -- Hubs was seriously stressed from the crowds just by going into the store, lol.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 2017 Spending

I love my tiger...
1 month down, 11 more to go before we knock out another year. This month we attended a toddler friends birthday party, battled a few colds, adjusted to my new work hours and hubs and I even got a date day in and we went to the movies!

January 2017 Spending:

  • Giving: $677.00
  • Daycare: $900.00
  • Groceries: $314.26
  • Gasoline: $252.12
  • Little Dude: $89.46
    • $20.48 Pants
    • $20.59 Food Pouches
    • $17.25 Diapers and a 3 pack of wipes
    • $31.14 Toys (Used Mega Blocks / birthday toys were hiding)
  • Eating out / Date Nights: $98.20
    • $32.06 was movies and snack-age
    • Cause every kid should experience
      dry ice in the sink
    • $66.14 was fast food
  • Clothes: (Hubs): $104.56
    • A cheap hoodie from walmart ($7.56)
    • 2 nice pairs of pants from a place hubs wanted to try out ($97)
  • Gifts: $102.26
    • Toddler Birthday Party: $15
    • V-day
      • $80.83 - lularoe... (my new obsession)
      • $6.43 - Card for hubs. He wants special socks for v-day but we haven't ordered them yet. 
  • Internet: $62.99
  • Electricity: $83.84
  • Cell phones:
    • Car mount: $13.78
    • Charge Cables: $17.74
  • Housing:
    • HOA: $350
    • Mortgage (including extra principal): $1,100.00
  • Medical: $93.54
    • Dr/Urgent Care visits: $30.00 (2 visits)
    • Over the counter: $54.44
    • Prescriptions: $9.30
  • Pocket Money:
    • $35 each (includes our Netflix bill)
  • Discretionary: $74.12
    • Kitchen/Cooking:
      • Tooth Picks: $1.48
      • Cookie Cutters: $0.82
    • House:
      • Vacuum Storage Bags: $39.95
    • Fitness:
      • Medicine Ball: $8.63
    • Husband:
      • Legos: $14.88
      • Machete Sheath: $8.36

I also am a Thirty-One Independent Consultant... started in August of 2016, so below are the business expenses for the month. You can visit BassettBags if your interested in placing an order or you can message me through the site if your interested in booking a party.
  • Website: $14.95
  • Flash Sale Discount: $12.96
  • Business Supplies: $93.57 (We're starting our new catalog so i needed to switch over some supplies and get a few Hostess gifts and I finally ordered my car decal)
Pet me... Love me... I'm still here...

I'm starting to have an obsession with LuLaRoe... It's so Comfortable and Cute!!! Yeah for Christmas $$$ to spend from last year, lol!

Friday, January 27, 2017

3 month emergency fund breakdown

Each year we take a look at our expenses and how they compare to our emergency fund. With fluctuating health insurance options and changing circumstances, it's always good to review where you stand each year to see if you need to add more to your EF as cost of living changes.

Our Current emergency fund is $16,700.00 -- all liquid in a savings account.

In the event of a double job loss, we would operate under a bare bones budget consisting of:

  • Heath Insurance (Purchased through Covered CA) Silver HMO Health Net for 2 adults, 1 kid: $680.49 a month
  • Mortgage/Taxes: $786.71 (no additional principal payments)
  • Gasoline: $230.00 (Drive to find jobs)
  • Eli Fund: $90 (Diapers/wipes, etc)
  • HOA: $350
  • Insurance: $167
  • Utilities: $150
  • Groceries: $333
  • Discretionary: $50 (always have a little padding)
  • Phones: $75
  • Car Reg: $25
$2,937.50... so call it $3K. We have removed Clothing, Christmas, Birthdays, and itemized savings because we would be pulling money out to live on. So naturally, more scratch cooking and more frugal methods would be put in place in actuality, but I like round numbers and this is all for estimating purposes. Essentially, we would have 5 months with a $1k buffer. I think in practical terms, we'd be able to go a full 6 months easily because we could pull from our itemized savings (like vacation), and our checking account padding to come up with another $3k.

If my husband were to loose his job, and I to keep mine, we would operate a modified budget which would not have us draw on our emergency fund at all. Yup, you read that right. We don't over extend ourselves with consumer debt or push ourselves with a mortgage we can't afford. 

Our second income allows our lives to be more comfortable as we can pay extra on our mortgage, save a bit for retirement, and cover daycare and some small "perks" in our budget. We don't really feel "comfortable" with our incomes (as we are not in our forever home to say the least), but we are able to get by. We use our tax return and profit share checks from hubs job for larger purchases, which helps us feel less pinched during the year when wants exceed our monthly budget. But this strategy leaves our Emergency Fund for true emergencies. So much so, that we have not pulled from our emergency fund since before 2014 (as that's all the data records I have access to since we moved it from one bank to another). 

We also wouldn't need health insurance through Covered CA because we take that from my work, and with a job loss, we would eliminate daycare temporarily to reduce expenses and use drop in/half rate for job interviews when they arose (paying for it with discretionary funds). So we won't have a line item for savings or as much pocket money or date night money, or the ability for overtime or cash to accelerate our mortgage, but we could survive and still put 9-10% in retirement.

  • Mortgage/Taxes: $786.71 (no additional principal payments)
  • Gasoline: $230.00 
  • Eli Fund: $90 (Diapers/wipes, etc)
  • HOA: $350
  • Insurance: $167
  • Utilities: $150
  • Groceries: $333
  • Phones: $75
  • Car Reg: $25
  • Tithe: $426
  • Car Emergency: $100
  • Discretionary: $100
  • B-day/ Christmas: $100
  • Clothes: $52
  • Eating out: $45
  • Pocket Money $20 each / $40 total
Now, if I were to loose my job, we would move out of state and use our emergency fund to get us through while the condo sold. My work would also have to pay out my ample vacation hours, which are around 300 hours, giving my last paycheck a $7,000 BUMP before taxes... (Just saying...)

But we would take our bare bones budget approach and end up needing to pull $1650 out of savings each month since my husbands take home pay is around $1500 a month. At this rate, we'd have 11 months to sell our condo and re-locate... which should give him an opportunity to transfer his job from one state to another since they are a company with locations across the US so hopefully we'd move to a cheaper area, closer to family and one of us would have employment.

How do your funds stack up? Have you run the numbers on how much you need for a 6 month emergency fund?