Tuesday, January 31, 2012

MENUS WEEK #3 VISITING WITH OLD FRIENDS, COOKBOOKS

February 1, 2012

Last night I went with a friend to a free herb growing seminar. The evening was pleasant and I learned a few new things. When she brought me home we sat and talked awhile about menu planning and Master Mixes. I drug out my stack of make it from scratch cookbooks that I start many of my recipes from. I of course tweak all the recipes to meet my family needs and personal tastes.

That is the great thing about making all your own mixes. It allows you to adjust for allergies and intolerances, special medical needs, taste preferences and much more.

Going through the cookbooks as we talked I saw many delicious and useful recipes I had forgotten all about due to being in a rut of cooking the same few meals over and over.

That is one of the great things about long term menu planning. You can climb out of the rut because with long term planning you can see very quickly what rut you are falling into.

Take cookies, those of us who bake cookies tend to make the same one or two over and over. Chocolate chip, sugar, Snickerdoodles, repeat. But my family loves all sorts of wonderful cookies. It’s just so easy to stick with the same three or so and repeat making them. But with menu planning and striving to stay out of the rut each week is different. In fact I’m trying to see how long I can go without repeating too much. Already in the first weeks Coconut Macaroons have reappeared. My husband dearly loves macaroons, but I very seldom make them. They aren’t hard, it’s just they aren’t part of my basic rut. In the weeks to come expect to see gingersnaps, refrigerator nut cookies and many, many more.

While I do tend repeat the sides of meals often I’m even going to try and switch those up. Instead of plain corn watch for corn relish, corn fritters, Mexicorn, corn on the cob, fried corn, corn nuggets, corn chowder and much more. I will also be working at breaking from the norm on what sides go with what meals.

My mother in law once went on a trip to Walt Disney World with us, during the trip I made meatloaf. She became upset because the vegetable of the night was green beans instead of peas. She said she could not eat the meat loaf without peas. I didn’t have a single can of peas in the camper so she had to muddle through. It’s not that she was being difficult it was she was so set in her rut that meatloaf required peas that she simply couldn’t be satisfied with the meal. I refuse to be in that rut. That’s where long term menu planning can be a tremendous help to get out of the rut and stay out of it.

So here’s the menu plan and recipes for week #3.

WEEK #3: BREAKFAST OPPORTUNITES

Waffles: leftover from the double batch cooking on Sunday

Serve with syrup, molasses, honey, butter etc.

Spread with peanut butter, chop a banana and add cinnamon sugar

Spread with other nut butters

Top with fruit in simple syrup

Hot Cereal:

Rice, reheat leftover rice from the previous dinner menus

Farina

Multigrain packets

Cold Cereal:

Corn Pops (store brand, but a guilty pleasure of mine)

Corn flakes

Fruit:

Kiwi

Dried fruits, bulk purchased or home dried—great in the cereals

Beverages:

Apple juice, from frozen concentrate

Milk

Hot tea

Hot cocoa, from homemade mix

LUNCH OPPORTUNITIES: WEEK #3

Sandwiches:

Egg salad, made from our farm fresh eggs

Toasted raisin bread with cream cheese

Deli ham

Salad ingredients:

Spring salad mix: bulk purchased

Feta cheese

Bacon bits, homemade or freeze dried

Shredded carrots

Red onion

Salad dressing:

Pecan vinegrette, homemade

French, homemade

Soups:

Navy bean, from making the Navy bean master mix

Gumbo

Pasta Fagoli

Fruits:

Kiwi

Assorted dried fruits

WEEK 3 DINNER MENUS—GROUND BEEF WEEK

Monday 1/23/2012

Bacon Cheeseburgers—on homemade buns

French fries , frozen—bought on sale

Sweet Potato Fries, frozen—bought on sale

Chocolate Pudding—made from Master Mix recipe

Pepsi—bought on sale

Tuesday 1/24/2012

Pioneer Woman Chili—use leftovers later in the week

Tortilla chips or Crackers—either homemade crackers, or on sale chips

Cheddar cheese—grate from the bulk purchase block

Onions—from the root cellar

Lime wedges—from the root cellar (bulk purchase)

Milk—bought at Sam’s to save $.50 per gallon

Coconut macaroons--homemade

Wednesday 1/25/2012

Hot dogs—wieners bulk purchased on sale and frozen, homemade buns

Baked beans—homemade from dried beans

Corn on the cob—frozen bought with coupon on sale

Pepsi—bought on sale

Leftover desserts

Thursday 1/26/2012

Sausage Rolls with Marinara—homemade, bulk purchase sausage and homemade marinara

Garlic noodles—homemade noodles from bulk cooking last week.

Green beans—home canned

Iced tea

Apple Crisp—homemade from food storage

Friday 1/27/2012

Indian tacos—use Pioneer Woman leftover chili and sopapilla Master Mix to make shells

Mexicorn—bought on sale

Green Beans--leftover

Flan—food storage from the gift given us by a friend

Tea

Saturday 1/28/2012

Italian Sausage Pizza—more bulk purchase sausage from previous menus, homemade crust and sauce, grated mozzarella from bulk purchase

Jarred Salad—vacuum sealed homemade salad mix to preserve freshness, and homemade dressing

Cheese bread sticks—made with some of the pizza crust dough and bulk purchase cheeses.

Pepsi

Leftover desserts

Sunday 1/29/2012

Pasta Fagioli Soup

French bread, homemade

Snickerdoodles

tea

SNACKING OPPORTUNITIES: WEEK #3

Salty:

Popcorn

Soft baked pretzels

Sweet:

Chocolate pudding

Coconut Macaroons after Tuesday

Apple Crisp after Thursday

Fruit:

Kiwis

Dried fruits

Veggies:

Celery with peanut butter or other nut butters

Carrot sticks

So now the menus are up let’s see what recipes I can share today. The hamburger/hot dog bun recipe can be viewed elsewhere in my blog at:

http://cjpattersonontheranch.blogspot.com/2011/05/playing-catch-up-on-garden-and-house.html

I use the same dough, for the sausage rolls, cheese bread sticks and pizza crust as well. It’s truly a versatile Master Mix.

When I speak of the Pioneer Woman Recipes these are recipes from Ree Drummond’s tv show or website. The chili recipe and those in the future can be viewed on her website at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/the-pioneer-woman/index.html

Last week and this both I used the Sopapilla Master Mix. Recipe can be viewed at:

http://cjpattersonontheranch.blogspot.com/2009/12/christmas-12-years-later.html

So on to the Navy Bean Soup for lunches, Molasses Baked Beans and Pasta Fagoili Soup. All are made using the

Navy Bean Soup Master Mix.

Yield: 12 cups

2 pounds dried navy beans, or other small white beans

10 cups water

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons butter, optional

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Wash and sort beans. Place in a large pot and cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes.



2. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.



3. Drain and discard water. Rinse beans and return pot. Add 10 c water and remaining ingredients.



4. Bring to a boil.



5. Simmer for 2 hours.



6. Freeze or can leftovers in 3 to 4 cup containers label and store appropriately.

Once the beans are tender you can eat this as Navy Bean Soup.

Molasses Baked Beans

Servings: 8

1/2 pound bacon, diced

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

4 cups Navy Bean Mix

1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 F.



2. In large skillet fry bacon until almost crips. Drain and discard all but 1 tbl of drippings. Put bacon in a lidded 2 qt cassrole dish



3. Saute onions and celery in bacon drippings Add to casserole dish.



4. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.



5. Bake for 2 hours until all moisture is absorbed.

Pasta Fagoili Soup

Servings: 8

1 large onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

3 large carrots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, Minced OR 1 tsp garlic powder

73 ounces chicken broth

3 cups Navy Bean Soup Mix

14 ounces tomatoes, canned, dieced and peeled, undrained

8 ounces tomato sauce

1 teaspoon oregano leaves, dried

1 teaspoon basil leaves, dried

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 whole bay leaves

1 tablespoon parsley flakes

1 cup shell pasta

salt, to taste

Parmesan cheese, fresh, optional

1. Spray large pan with non-stick cooking spray. Add onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Cook about 4 or 5 minutes until partially tender, stirring occasionally.



2. Add Broth, Mix, tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, pepper, bay leaves, parsley flakes and salt. Bring to a boil.



3. Add macaroni. Reduce to medium heat and cook 15 minutes until macaroni and vegetables are tender.



4. Remove bay leaves. Sprinkle with cheese.

Food Storage add ons for this week is the remainder of the 10#’s was used to brown with celery, onion, garlic and seasonings for future casseroles and soup add ins. Then canned.

The additional Navy Bean Master Mix can either be canned or frozen for future meals.

On a side note: You can make all your Hot Roll mix items up at once and then after the first rise freeze the doughs to use later in the week. I have in the past also held it in the refrigerator for a few days. It did develop a slight sourdough taste, which is not a bad thing.

Jan who is all about doing bulk cooking to save time and money in OK

PAYING FOR YOUR MAGICAL TRIP

January 31, 2012

So now you’ve got a rough idea of how much this trip will cost you and maybe a little bit of panic is setting in. Maybe the total was more than you thought it would be, but you REALLY want to take this trip, or a trip to anywhere, or maybe you just want to get debt free (just had to slip in a plug for that, because once you live debt free then you can travel all you want) but you don’t want to take out a loan or use charge cards for the dream trip (especially not if you want to live debt free). HOW in the world are you going to pay for this trip, because boy would it be fun to go!

The answer is simple. Two ways, cut the costs and save for it and pay cash for the entire trip. This post is about paying for it. The ideas here will work not only work for playing for a vacation, but for getting debt free, or buying any number of things. My next post(s) will be about ways to cut costs. There are hundreds of ways to do both ways, both on the trip and at home. First the cash, because the sooner you start on it the faster you will reach your goal.

You can start right now. Find a solid heavy jar, or that cutesy bank you picked up somewhere, a tin can whatever and put it where you can easily get to it. Maybe you would want to decorate it, or let the kids if you are letting them help you plan right now, Do something to remind you that any money that goes in this is for the trip (or debt reduction).

Now go to your purse, shake your pants pocket, dig in the sofa cushions, dump the coins out of the car ash tray, frisk the washing machine, look in your coat pockets, look everywhere you know you usually deposit pocket change and put it in the container. The clinking of those coins hitting the once empty container is Tinkerbell’s twinkle sound, do you hear Walt Disney World calling you?

While that doesn’t look like much right now it will grow and grow and you will soon be off on your trip of a lifetime. But just like those of us that are on the Dave Ramsey plan talk about feeding the gazelles, you need to feed Tinkerbell too.

You’ve done the first step, now start paying for everything you can in cash, dollar bills to be exact. No coins, because every coin is going to go into your vacation fund. I’ll call it Tink’s fund for now. Each night, drop all your coins into that bank and listen for Tink telling you thank you. You will be surprised how fast that fund is going to grow as time goes on.

Our first trip to Walt Disney World we paid cash for the trip for four of us, so have a few of the trips between then and the one we are currently saving for now using the methods I’ll be telling you. It took us exactly 9 months to save for the trip just out of pocket change and coupon money for the four of us. The more you do to feed Tink the faster you can get there.

So where are you going to get the cash to feed Tink? Let’s start with a simple one. Coupons. Don’t go running screaming into the woods at the sound of that. I’m not telling you to become an extreme couponer , although that wouldn’t hurt, I’m saying just incorporate a few coupons and discounts into your life. It doesn’t have to be a major production like you see on tv, it can be just one or two here or there. The volume you do is up to you.

Think outside the box, need an oil change, check the yellow pages of your phone book, often there is a coupon there for oil changes. Do you eat out often (we’ll discuss this more later)? Check to see if your favorite places you eat at have a free online club or a loyalty card. Because if they do you should sign up for them, and net the benefits from them.

If you read my Week #1 post on menus you will see we went to Ghengis Mongolian Grill for my birthday meal. I belong to both their online club and have a loyalty card. As a result the three of us ate for 1/3 of what the bill would have been normally. I got a free meal because it was my birthday, and we’d eaten there enough that we’d earned another free meal. So our nearly $50 meal cost us $16 including the tip (we paid our server a tip based on the $50 because we had extremely good service). The difference went into the trip bank that night.

Every way you can save with a coupon OR a discount of any type, use the money you saved to “feed Tink”. Save $.10 with a grocery coupon, put it in that bank. Get a discount because of a loyalty card, a student or senior citizen discount, put it in that bank. You will be amazed at how fast that money will add up.

Then once a month, or when you mystery shop your personal bank (I’ll explain this in a minute) deposit all but a few coins from your Tink fund into a regular bank into an interest bearing account. Even if it’s just $10 put it in the real bank. Because the sooner you do the more you will earn in interest and every penny interest is that much closer to your dream trip. The reason I say leave a few coins in the Tink fund bank is because I consider it “seed money” If it’s empty it’s too easy to leave it empty, but if you see coins in there it’s a lot easier to add a few. It’s a mental thing.

Now let’s look at cutting expenses. You saw how much we saved on that birthday meal, but what if we’d all drank water with lemon, which is free, instead of three $2 each drinks? At that one meal it would have been a savings of $6 plus tax for the three of us. That’s roughly $6.50 more to feed Tink with. Or if we hadn’t eaten out at all that night…you get the idea.

Do you REALLY need that double low fat whatever latte on the way to/from work? Could you make it yourself at home, or skip it one day a week even?

Of course coupons are a big saver on groceries too. So is the menu planning I write about in other posts. Don’t forget to mail in your rebates. All that cash goes into the fund. As the fund grows you will find more and more ways to save because you WANT that trip!

Around here when we are saving for a big trip we often equate what we are saving by either not buying something, using a coupon or getting a discount with what it will buy at WDW. One of us will often say “that’s a coke at Disney World.” Or if it’s a bigger savings “That’s a burger, a one day ticket, a night’s stay etc at Disney World.” And it all adds up.

My granny always said “mind your pennies and your dollars will mind themselves.” You see a penny in a parking lot, pick it up and feed it to Tink, it only takes 10 pennies to make a dime and 10 dimes to make a dollar. So don’t pass up that penny.

While we no longer use charge cards due to our personal decision to follow Dave Ramsey’s path to Financial Freedom, when we did we had one that paid a cash back bonus. We paid this card off pretty religiously so using it was another way we earned cash for our trips. We paid for everything with that card and then as soon as we had enough “cash back” built up we could withdraw it that money went into the Tink fund as well.

When it came time to take the trip we made certain we had enough money in the savings account to pay off the charge card when the bills from the trip started rolling in and then used that card exclusively for the trip-so we earned cash back for those expenses as well, for the next trip. The Tink’s fund stayed in the bank earning interest until the bill hit, but the minute the bill hit we withdrew from the bank enough to cover the bill in full and paid it off.

This plan works well as long as you don’t get a Murphy hit and can’t pay off the charge card. Then the interest will eat your lunch and you will have the stress of an additional bill. We made the conscious decision to do without the charge card at all. Because we learned the hard way that Murphy is just one knock at the door away at all times. But if you choose to use charge cards that is your personal decision and you can use it to your advantage to pay for the trip IF you pay the bill off in full each month.

A note about using a charge or debit card while at WDW or any out of town trip. Notify the company the card is issued from ahead of time when you are traveling, because if you don’t you might find your purchases denied, even when you have the cash there to cover it.

In this day and age of identity theft many companies will shut a card down if they see it being used outside its normal travel area. We had that happen once while at WDW and it was VERY embarrassing. A simple phone call straightened it out, but that was time away from our vacation and a bit of embarrassment we could do without.

Also, one of my bank debit cards will not let purchases from certain states go through on the debit card because of identity theft period. It’s a small local bank and there is no discussing it with them. Certain states are on their no go list. Another debit card has a daily limit of $1,000 they will let go through, unless you make prior arrangements before your trip or large purchase. So it’s better to find out BEFORE you go if you have a similar situation rather than get several states away and find you don’t have access to your cash. Be sure and check on that daily limit because when staying at the WDW resorts you will be issued a “room key” that will be used like a credit/debit card in the park and resort area and they will run a large total through on your account at once. You can tell them ahead of time how much you to allow at a time and then they will need to notify you of when they are running the amount through.

Due to the problems of identity theft and theft in general we actually have an electronic use only free checking account with a Visa debit at a bank other than our main bank set up. We use this account strictly for our online purchases and travel. Only the exact amount of money we need for the purchase/trip is put in this account prior to the purchase/trip. That way if theft does happened our main accounts are safe and our liability is limited. We keep the account open with just a required small amount in there at other times.

Another big fund raiser is sell stuff. Run a garage sale, list on ebay, sell media items on half.com or amazon.com, Craig’s list, upillar.com, your local cheap cycle the list goes on and on of places to sell things. Someone recently said they “only got $.75” for a book they had purchased years ago. I responded “that’s $.75 more than you would have had otherwise and now your bookshelf is cleaner and you aren’t paying to heat/cool that book. “ If I’d been talking to a family member I would have said “That’s almost half of a Mickey Ears ice cream bar at WDW.” I always have things listed on half. com http://shops.half.ebay.com/ladydressmaker_W0QQ_trksidZp2919QQmZbooks as an ongoing fund raiser for whatever our current goal is.

Older kids often can earn their own vacation souvenir/spending money by babysitting, doing yard work and similar jobs for others. Whatever you do the more you do the more you can save.

Consider mystery shopping and saving all of the income from that, above your expenses of doing so, for your trip. For more on mystery shopping check out my previously posted articles on the subject.



 
. Remember me saying that I put the Tink Fund money in a bank I mystery shop at. Well I make that deposit when I do a teller shop and use their coin counting machine to count the Tink Fund then make the deposit, as required by the mystery shop. File my paperwork and I make anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on the bank and the time of the month for making that deposit. Then the money I make from that shop goes directly into the bank via direct deposit when I get paid for the shop.

Because I schedule my mystery shops to coincide with my errands I’m not out any extra expenses for fuel to do the shop so the whole amount goes into the Tink Fund. If it was a mystery shop that I had to make a reimbursable purchase, like a nice meal out, for I deduct how much I spent for that meal from the check and only the profit goes into the Tink fund.

Make gift giving time part of preparing for the trip time. It might be the perfect way to tell family members about the trip. Disney or other gift cards, Disney cash, tickets for the parks (you can buy them ahead of time because the time on them doesn’t start until you actually use them). Special clothing for the trip, stuffed animals, Disney movies (often have rebates on them) reservations etc all make good gifts. Plus they are part of your trip budget so you kill two birds with one stone.

Speaking of gift cards it’s time to speak about mypoints and similar programs. These are programs where you click on emails or ads and you get points. These points are saved until you have enough to redeem them. While mypoints does not have Disney gift cards that you can redeem for they do have Wal-Mart cards, fuel cards, restaurant gift cards and various other gift cards that you could use while vacationing OR to use at home and put the cash you saved by using them in your Tink Fund. They are basically free money you can earn in just a few clicks. I personally use the mypoints tool bar and get bonus points every month by using it to do the numerous google searches I do each month anyway. No extra effort on my part once I installed the tool bar (which I got bonus points for doing) and it’s free money. Oh if you shop online you can also get bonus points from the various places by doing the shopping through the mypoints (or similar websites). Not a member of mypoints? I’d love to refer you, I get points for referrals too. Just e me privately and I’ll refer you.

Blogging is another way to earn bits of cash here and there. See the ads in and around my blogs? Every time you or anyone else clicks on one I get a penny. (all clicks appreciated) and that goes into my Tink Fund.

The whole idea is to save for the trip, so every penny you save or earn it goes into your Tink Fund. Our first trip cost right at $3,000 and that was when there were four of us going, now I only pay for two as my son always pays for his own expenses if he joins us. We still pay right around $3,000 thirty years later for our first trip of the year from OK when we purchase our annual pass, and then far less for the remaining 1-3 trips for the year.

That first trip there was one park, the Magic Kingdom, there are now 4 parks, 2 water parks and a large shopping complex. Plus to us the campground, called Ft. Wilderness, is an adventure in itself. There is a lot to do at each of the resorts as well. You can spend a whole day easily just going from resort to resort to see the differences and enjoy the ambiance of each resort. While pool hopping is frowned upon there is a lot to see as each resort is done in a different theme. We particularly like doing this during the various holiday seasons to enjoy the decorations on a “crash and burn” day.

One other thing to consider is what we did one trip we went down. A dear friend had moved from Oklahoma to Mississippi and had left a lot of their stuff in storage here. They paid for our fuel and the trailer rental for us to bring a trailer load of their items from OK to Gulfport, MS. This gave us not only fuel for those first several miles, but a place to stay one night and a nice home cooked meal. This was of course a big savings for all involved. So if you have a similar situation, or you do animal rescue transports on a regular basis you might try to schedule one for part of your journey to help cover the transportation costs. Or plan your trip when a family member has to travel that direction for business and just journey on from their first destination to WDW at a discounted rate.

We did this last one a few years ago when my husband was sent to AutoCad University in Las Vegas, NV in December. We combined the travel time with vacation time and used his travel expense account for paying for the part to and from Las Vegas, as well as lodging and meals while we were there. That left the rest of our nearly four week trip to travel parts of the western US on our private money. Since Vegas was our furthest point west on that trip it covered a good deal of our fuel consumption. If we’d had the time we would have gone on over to Disneyland from there, but alas we didn’t have the time.

Other ideas for saving money, or earning additional income can be found in the Tightwad Gazette books (I, II &; III) by Amy Dacyzn, The Total Money Makeover book by Dave Ramsey, various yahoogroups, and various frugal websites. For legit work at home jobs consider checking out ratracerebellion.com and volition.com websites as well.  You might also considering linking over to my other blogs.  Each one has a frugal theme.  Mind Your Pennies, is how to save money in day to day living without feeling deprived. Patterson's Princess Plan is how to go about decluttering all aspects of your life, including financial matters. At Patterson's Pantry I am planning out a year's worth of basic home cooking menus with the recipes for those menus at Patterson's Pantry Recipes.  At the last one you will find a lot of recipes for making your own conveniences mixes.

Whatever you do save your profits and you will have a vacation that you can be proud of without going into debt. Speaking of debt, consider all these ideas and more for becoming debt free because then as Dave Ramsey says if you “Live like no one else now, later you can LIVE like no one else.”

Jan who is using all these ideas and more to not only become debt free, but to take a celebration vacation trip to Walt Disney World when she is debt free in OK

Friday, January 27, 2012

HOW TO PLAN A FRUGAL TRIP TO WALT DISNEY WORLD

January 27, 2012

This time of year I often get a lot of inquiries about how in the world does my family afford to go to Walt Disney World so often when they know I work on a shoestring budget. Everyone is in vacation planning mode and the “world’ beckons. So I’ve decided it’s time for a blog post on the ins and outs of vacation planning, not just for the “world” but for any vacation.

The main thing is to remember it IS a vacation, don’t over plan your trip. Allow for down time in your schedule. Many a vacation has been ruined because someone in the family is determined they must “do it all.” And that makes for cranky folks old and young alike. Remember, you can always go back and do what you missed this trip next trip.

I am a big believer in pre-planning trips. I feel that half the fun in the trip is the planning, just not going overboard about it. That being said I will admit one of our most favorite trips to WDW was a spur of the moment trip we planned on the fly on one Monday and we left that Thursday.

Another non-WDW trip was a penny hike trip we took to Mt. Rushmore. On that trip we literally flipped a penny each night to see which way we would go and to decide what we would do each day. So there is a lot to be said for not planning as well. It’s just a lot riskier.

But this blog is about planning and doing the WDW trip on a shoestring.

First pick your dates, but be a little flexible on those dates. Often a lot can be saved on the accommodations and transportation by moving your dates one way or another just a few days.

I know on many airlines if you fly out on Tuesday-Thursday the airfare is cheaper than if you fly the other days of the week. WDW resort rooms and campsites are also generally cheaper Monday-Thursday than on the weekend. So if you can be flexible, then by all means be so.

Gasoline and diesel are generally cheaper during the winter months than summer months as well.

WDW also has “off season” discounts on their resort rooms, so if you home school, year round school, or for other reasons can travel during the non-summer and peak season months to WDW I highly recommend it.

Here are the historical peak season dates. Of course, as with all things it all depends on what is going on in the world as to how busy the parks will be on these dates. These dates were supplied by The Mouse For Less website (a great planning tool location for certain) /http://www.themouseforless.com/

Heaviest:
Presidents' week in February

-Mid-March through Late April ("Spring Break"); Easter

-Memorial Day weekend

-June through mid-August

-Thanksgiving Day and weekend

-Christmas week through New Year's Day

Moderate:
After Presidents' week in February through early March

-Late April through early June (except Memorial Day weekend)

-The first part of Thanksgiving week

Lightest:
Mid-January until Presidents' week in February (expect attraction updates; pool closures; and refurbishments)

-The week following Labor Day until Thanksgiving week

-The week following Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas

The Walt Disney World travel guides by Steve Birnbaum usually also have peak season dates listed in them. This information seldom changes much, so you could look at a library copy of it for free to get that information.
The Birnbaum books are great for info about the parks and are updated often. Older versions are good for general info, but will often be outdated for the current rides, shops, restaurants and meal prices. So if you are going to use them for your ultimate planning book spring for the issue for the year you are going. However, since they are put together a year ahead of time know that some of the info even in those most current issues may be out of date.

The best price planning info is the free DVDs and info you can get from WDW yourself. If you use mypoints (more on this later in the how to pay for it post) then by all means order it through there and get the points for doing so.
You can also get a lot of the prices from the following websites:
http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/

http://allears.net/index.html

The first is the official Disney website and the second is an unofficial one. I really like both sites. The Disney one gives you all the basic planning costs but the All Ears site gives you so much more. Right down to individual meal prices, no estimates, the actual cost.

All Ears also gives many helpful hints and lists current available discounts. A major plus when you are planning your trip on a shoestring. Two other sites that are great for helping you plan out your vacation are The Mouse for Less, which I previously mentioned and The Magic For Less. www.themagicforless.com

If you like discussion groups then I highly recommend themouseforless@yahoogroups.com I have learned much of what I know on vacationing on a shoestring from the folks on that list. The rest of my knowledge comes from my natural tightwad instincts. Be sure to check out all the files and links at the yahoogroups site. There is a wealth of information there.

A word of warning about the mouse for less group. It is a VERY active group and so if you don’t want to get 100 or more emails in a day I suggest you either read it from the web or go on digest for that particular group. It is well worth wading through all the emails to glean a lot of information from that group though.

Once you get all your research info together and you’ve chosen your time frame then it’s time to pick your resort, your tickets and whether or not a water park is in your future.

Picking the resort is strictly a thing of personal preference. Some folks prefer to stay off site because often at first glance the price is cheaper. There are numerous great hotels and condos for rent in the area and if that is your preference than you are on your own for the planning of that part, or check with the Magic for Less travel agency, more about these wonderful folks in a bit.

You see we have only stayed off site once in over 30 trips to the world and swore we’d never do it again. But that is OUR personal preference I know a lot of people who never stay on site and prefer it that way.

While our room off site was cheaper what it cost us in other ways was so much more expensive. Staying onsite comes with numerous perks. Here’s a list of some for you to consider when making this decision:

1. Once you arrive, if you are not leaving the resort area then you never need your car again until you leave. They transport you everywhere for free, even to their shopping complex called Downtown Disney. If you decide to leave the resort they do have a car rental spot onsite, where they will bring the car to your hotel room for you and you can rent the car for just the days you need it. Oh and by the way, it’s generally a cheaper rate if you rent it at the resort than at the airport due to airport usage taxes and such. Say for going to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure or Sea World one day. More on these two another time.

2. If you are flying in they pick you up for free at the airport with the Magical Express, collect your luggage for you and deliver it to your room. When you leave they pick your luggage up at your resort and check it in for you at the airport. This leaves you free to go directly to the parks or wherever once you have checked in and to visit the parks on your last day if your tickets are all inclusive. A big plus. It also means you do not need a rental car to get to the resort, pay turnpike fees (which are hefty) or pay for an airport shuttle. Nor do you have the delay and hassle at the airport. While you make a quick potty run after you get off the plane a Cast Member from WDW is collecting your luggage for you. How great is that? The transport is a large comfortable bus that shows Disney commercials and such on tvs to start your Disney experience immediately.

3. Extra Magic Hours are a wonderful plus for resort guests. This is an extra 1-3 hours a day at a different park every day either in the morning before the park opens or after the park closes at night. Only resort guests are allowed in the parks during Extra Magic Hours so the lines are much shorter then. It’s a great way to get to ride the most popular rides without using a Fastpass or waiting in a long line. It’s also a great time to collect a Fastpass for a special ride later in the day.

4. If you are staying OFF site you must pay for parking at the parks that can add up quick on a multi-day trip. However, once you pay for teach day that is all you pay. The current rates are: Automobile, taxi, limo or motorcycle $14, camper, trailer or RV $15 and Bus or tractor trailer $18. There are ways to get discounts like owning an annual pass—we’ll get into this more later or being a member of AAA.

5. If staying off site you must also consider the driving time and gas each day both to and from the parks and possible turnpike fees. If you have little ones, or a person who simply needs to rest occasionally it is far easier to go back to your hotel room/campsite by staying onsite than off site.

6. Amenities, the resorts at WDW have a LOT of them. From swimming pools, to tennis courts, hot tubs and a petting zoo at the campground. And you don’t even have to be staying at the campground to enjoy the petting zoo, just take the free ground transportation over and while you are there consider the walking trails, or rent a bicycle or water craft for a fun afternoon. At night time the campground has free Disney movies and campfire sing-a-long or you can take a special nighttime canoe trip. Don’t forget to watch the Electric Water Parade on the bay while visiting the campground after dark as well, or maybe pay for a carriage ride. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge they have free use of night vision binoculars for you to watch the animals on the savannah after dark. That is always fun to do.

7. Each resort has a place to grab a bite to eat and you can purchase a refillable beverage cup that is good for your entire stay at your resort and it more than pays for itself during any trip. To date there are no refillable cups at the parks, except I know that for awhile the AK did have one that was for the day of purchase only. There is generally pizza delivery available to your room as well.

8. Disney character wake-up calls. If you are staying in the resort, alas not the campground, then you can be awakened each morning with a wake-up call by a Disney character. It’s part of the magic and many an adult likes it as much as the younger set.

9. Entertainment, many of the resorts have free entertainment going on at various times. One night at the Port ‘o Orleans, back when it was Dixie Landings, we stumbled into a live show at one of the clubs. It was a very good show. This was our one spur of the moment trip to WDW and everything was just perfect that trip. Just the two of us and all the pieces fell together just right.

10. Resort guests get first pick at dining reservations.

There are more pluses, but you get the idea.

Next you need to decide on package, or non-package deal. Again this is a personal decision. We seldom go with the packages because we generally take our own food with us for at least part of the meals and we most often purchase an annual pass. So the non-package generally works out cheaper for us. However, that being said, Disney has been running some pretty sweet deals this last couple of years that include free meals. I recently priced out a trip for the two of us to take a long weekend down and found out that the package that included length of stay tickets and meals was only $50 more than without meals. I would have had to pay far more than that for a la carte meals for five days for two! if we had decided to make that trip, it would have been well worth that $50 for the quick service meal plan, or even to pay the additional for the upper meal plans difference. So check your prices closely, sometimes the packages are much cheaper, depending on what you choose to include.

Tickets are another consideration. Our big trip for each year is generally 14 days and we go into the parks for 10 of those days. The other 4 days we go shopping, visit the water parks, go to another park (generally US/IOA) or simply crash and burn for a day. Our shorter trips are generally 4-5 days and we hit the parks all of those days. You can purchase plain tickets that are good for one park per day, Park Hopper Tickets or never expiring tickets. Each ticket has it’s pros and cons. That is a decision you will have to decide.

If purchasing tickets for just that particular trip we choose the Park Hopper, because we won’t stay in an overly crowded park. We have learned if one park is really crowded then another one is probably nearly empty. Certain parks on certain days are crowded, (see the Birnbaum books to determine the days). Or we will want to go to a park for a certain show on a certain day and maybe not want to spend the entire day in that park. But that is our preference, again you have to decide.

Generally we plan on going more than once in a year so we will purchase an annual pass. When I list how to get discounts and such I’ll go into all the pros of having the annual pass. It is the most expensive of the tickets at first glance, generally about $50 more per person than a 10 day pass, but it is good for 366 days from the day of FIRST USE! First use, not January 1 to January 1, not the day you buy it, but when you first enter a park using it for the first time. It also comes with some major discounts for lodging, food, shopping, special events and special products that you can’t get otherwise.

Once you’ve made all the decisions and decided whether or not you are going to other attractions in the area then you will need to figure out your budget and how to pay for it all. Don’t forget to add in meals, snacks and souvenirs at the parks. Plus you need to remember the “other” expenses like pet sitters at home, (although WDW does have a kennel and in the campground they do have a pet area--check the rules about vaccinations prior to planning on taking your pet) transportation there, if you are traveling by car are you stopping along the way? Will you visit attractions, where will you sleep each night. There are ways to cut all these costs (well maybe not the pet sitter) and a later post will go into this in detail. As well as a post on where to get the money to pay for it all.

But first, now that I have scared you with all this “planning” part I’d like to suggest a way around a lot of this first step. While I’ve never used their service and have no connection what so ever to the folks there I have heard nothing but rave reviews about The Magic For Less Travel Agency. These are the folks that help with the yahoogroups I mentioned earlier and they work VERY hard to make certain you get the best possible vacation at the lowest possible price. Even after you have booked with them, they keep looking for better deals for you and make certain you get the BEST possible price. If you are from the Dave Ramsey list then you know Jeannette is with The Magic For Less and she’d be more than happy to help you with your vacation planning. She can be reached at:

JConaLarock@themagicforless.com or follow her on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/themagicforless

I suggest you shoot her an email and allow her to run some comparisons for you.

In a later post I’ll go more into what has to be paid when, refund policies and much more.

Next post: So now you’ve planned it how are you going to pay for it?

Jan who can’t wait to go again in OK

MOVING ON TO WEEK #2 OF THE YEAR

January 27, 2012

Some have asked about the recipe program I use. I am currently using Master Cook v9. I truthfully do not know all the ins and outs of it. I would love to do all the planning and such in that program rather than in all the various programs I am currently using. I’m thinking of upgrading to v11 so I can get some support and learn how to do it all in one program. Until I have saved enough blow money to do that I’ll keep on the way I am doing it in Word, Excel and Master Cook, which is of course causing some redundancy.

So if you ask for an export of a recipe directly from MC I need to let you know this is one of the features that I can’t get to seem to work right, but I will work my way around that for you.

Anyway, on to the menus for week 2:

BREAKFAST OPPORTUNITIES: WEEK 2

Biscuits (leftover from week #1 Sunday’s dinner) with:

Leftover gravy (see dinner menu)

Sausage patties from the freezer or canned

Bacon, pre-cooked from fridge or canned

Eggs, fried or scrambled, from our chickens

Jelly/Jam/Honey/Molasses

Hot Cereals:

Rice, leftover from dinner’s week #1

Oatmeal packets, homemade

Farina, from food storage

Multigrain packets, homemade

Cold Cereal:

Raisin Bran, purchased with coupon

Rice Chex, store brand

Fruit:

Grapefruit, from bulk purchase

Mango, dried from food storage

Beverages:

Orange Juice, from frozen concentrate

Hot tea

Milk

Hot cocoa, from Master Mix

WEEK 2: LUNCH OPPORTUNITIES

Sandwiches:

Roast beef, from leftover smoked roast of week #1 dinners

PB&J

Toasted Cheese

BBQ Beef, from leftover bbq beef dinner in week #1

Salad ingredients:

Jarred spring mix

Tuna, from food storage

Roast Beef, from smoked beef from week #1

Pickled eggs, from food storage

Carrots

Onion

Salad dressings available:

Ranch, homemade

Italian, homemade

French, homemade

Soups:

Potato, after Tuesday

Chicken Noodle, after Thursday

Gumbo, after Saturday

Fruit:

Grapefruit

Banana

Fruit cups, bulk purchase

WEEK 2: DINNER MENU

Monday 1/16/2012

Chicken Pot Pie, homemade

Tea

Multi-grain dinner rolls, homemade

Gingerbread with whipped cream, made from Master Mix

Tuesday 1/17/2012

Potato soup, homemade

Crackers, bulk purchase

Milk

Gingerbread with whipped cream, leftover

Wednesday 1/18/2012

Sweet ‘n sour Pork, made from home canned pork loin or Master Mix

Egg Rolls, frozen, leftovers from previous week’s purchase

Chicken Fried Rice, use leftover rice and chicken from Monday’s meal

Steamed Rice, cook a jumbo batch

Tea

Peach Crumble, from food storage items

Thursday 1/19/2012

Chicken Noodle Soup-homemade

Peach Crumble, leftover

Tea

Crackers

Friday 1/20/2012

Roast beef Hash, from leftover roast that had been previously canned

Dinner Rolls, homemade

Tea

Brownies, from Master Mix

Corn, bulk purchased can

Saturday 1/21/2012

Gumbo, Zatarain’s Mix bought on sale, and frozen smoked sausage from food storage

Crackers, food storage, bulk purchase

Leftover desserts

Milk

Sunday 1/22/2012

Waffles, plain and fruited, from Master Mix

Milk

WEEK 2: SNACKS AVAILABLE

Salty:

Southern Trail Mix, leftover from the holidays

Chips leftover from week #1

Cheezits leftover from week #1

Sweet:

Gingerbread, after Monday

Peach Crumble, after Tuesday

Brownies, after Friday

Fruit:

Assorted dried fruits, home dried and bulk purchased

Grapefruit

Banana

Vegetables:

Carrot sticks

This week’s addition to food storage was the canning of the excess meat from the 10# of chicken leg quarters that I got for $.69 per pound. I canned the deboned meat as cooked, rather than raw pack. Again following the USDA guidelines. I then made chicken broth by boiling the bones with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, poultry seasoning and parsley. This in turn was canned for future meals.

I’m often asked for the Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle Mix recipe so I will include that one today.

BUTTERMILK PANCAKE AND WAFFLE MASTER MIX

Yield: 10 1/2 cups

2 cups buttermilk, dried

8 cups flour, all-purpose

1/2 cup sugar

8 teaspoons baking powder

4 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons salt.

1. Whisk all the ingredients together in a large bowl.



2. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.



BUTTERMILK WAFFLES

Servings: 4

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Start to finish: 30 minutes



Notes: Make a double or more batch and cool on a rack. Layer them in a refrigerator container with wax paper, or cereal bags in the container. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Heat as needed.



Serving Ideas: Serve with butter, a variety of syrups, bacon, ham or sausage.



Categories: Breakfast Foods

1. Preheat waffle baker.



2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except egg whites until just blended.



3. In medium bowl beat egg whites until stiff.





4. fold into mixture. Bake per baker instructions.



6. Variations:

Nut or Berry Waffles



7. Add 1/2 c chopped nuts, or dried chopped fruit to batter.



8. Meat add ins



9. add 1/2 c diced ham, bacon, sausage etc to batter.



BUTTERMILK PANCAKES

Servings: 10

1 whole egg, beaten

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle Master Mix

1. In medium bowl whisk egg and oil together and then whisk in water.



2. Stir in mix. Add fruit, nuts, cooked meats if desired. Add extra water if thinner batter if desired.



3. Let set for 5 minutes.



4. Preheat a griddle , that is lightly oiled.



5. Pour 1/3 c batter on the griddle and cook each side until browned on each side, (the edges will be slightly dry and bubbles will form) Use a spatula to turn them over.



6. Repeat with remaining batter.



7. VARIATIONS:



8. Stir in 1/4-1/2 c chopped fruit, nuts, or browned breakfast meats.



So there is week 2 for your viewing pleasure.



Jan who knows doing the Master Mixes at first take a lot of ingredients, but the payoff in the long term is great in OK

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

January 27, 2012

So are you ready for the challenge of planning your menus for one year? As promised I will try and post my weekly menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks along with some recipes.

Because there are so many recipes that will be involved each week and my time and space are limited I won’t be posting all the recipes for each week. Once a recipe is posted when I use that recipe again later in the year I’ll post the link where it was previously listed. I’ll also go back and add a comment to a previous post if I should add the recipe at a later date.

At all times you can use the search feature at the left (hidden between the photos) and search my blog to see if I forgot to add a link. Hey, I’m human you know.

If you should ever see a meal/snack item mentioned you’d like the recipe for, that isn’t already on the blog, please feel free to contact me.

So on to week one. You will notice that breakfast, lunch and snacks are opportunities, not a set meal. This is because of our varied schedules and tastes in the household. Only dinner is at a set time, 5:30 pm, in this house and has a set menu for certain days (with some flexibility added in)

WEEK 1: BREAKFAST OPPORTUNITIES

French Toast, made from leftover Texas Toast bread from the week before. Used up the remainder of the loaf and cooked it all at once, then refrigerated/froze for a quick grab up meal.

Serve with butter, syrup, jelly, molasses, fruit or other favorite toppings

Hot Cereals available:

Oatmeal, various flavors from homemade packets

Farina

Multi-grain, from homemade packets

Cold Cereals available:

Raisin Bran

Store brand Grape-nuts

Fruit available:

Dried cherries, bulk pack from Sam’s

Grapefruit, fresh bulk purchase

Strawberries, frozen after Wednesday

Beverages:

Grape juice from frozen concentrate

Milk

Water

Hot Tea

Cocoa, master mix

WEEK 1- LUNCH OPPORTUNITIES

SANDWICH MATERIALS AVAILABLE:

PB&J

Toasted cheese

Bologna

SALAD MATERIALS AVAILABLE:

Jarred Spring Mix—vacuumed sealed to keep it fresher

Pickled eggs—homemade

Cheddar cheese—bulk purchase from Sam’s Club

Carrots

Onion

Celery, dried –reconstituted

Frankfurters

SALAD DRESSINGS AVAILABLE:

Ranch, homemade

Italian, homemade

SOUPS AVAILABE:

Tomato—bulk purchase

Beef—homemade and canned

Pinto bean and ham soup after Sunday

FRUIT:

Fruit cups, bulk purchase from Sam’s

Grapefruit

Strawberries—after Wednesday

DINNER MENUS 1/7-1/15/2012

Saturday 1/7/2012

Master Mix meatballs, recipe below

Mashed potatoes, make a double batch to use leftovers later in the week.

Bread machine bread, make a large loaf to use leftover later in the week

Black eyed peas, home canned from dried

Carrot cake, from a mix purchased on sale with a coupon

Tea

Sunday 1/8/2012

Pinto beans and ham, from dried beans and canned Christmas ham

Jalapeno cornbread, uses 1 of the few packages of frozen ground beef

Carrot cake, leftover

Milk

Monday 1/9/2012

Ghengis Grill for Jan’s birthday—a special meal for me! Although my birthday was the 6th ds couldn’t join us until Monday due to his work schedule.

Tuesday 1/10/2012

Smoked roast, leftover from the week before

Corn on the cob, frozen

French Fries, frozen

Black eyed peas, leftover

Garlic bread, made with Sunday’s leftover bread

Carrot Cake, leftover

tea

Wednesday 1/11/2012

Sweet and Sour meatballs, recipe below

Egg rolls, frozen purchased on sale

Fried rice, ham, made with leftover rice from the previous week and Christmas ham that has been canned.

Steamed rice, make a big batch for use in future meals

Tea

Almond cookies with strawberries, homemade cookies and frozen or freeze dried strawberries

Thursday 1/12/2012

BBQ smoked sausage, made with homemade bbq sauce (from last summer) and smoked sausage purchased in bulk and frozen 2 weeks ago. Recipe: http://cjpattersonontheranch.blogspot.com/2009/08/home-again-home-again-jiggity-jig.html

Cole slaw, make double batch for later in the week

Macaroni and cheese, purchased on sale

Pepsi

Lemon Bars, from Master Mixes

Friday, 1/13/2012

Bean burritos, refried beans made from pinto beans earlier in the week.

Mexican rice, use leftover rice from earlier in the week

Guacamole, homemade

Sopapillas, master mix

Tea

Saturday 1/14/2012

BBQ beef sandwiches , use leftover smoked roast and homemade bbq sauce recipe link listed above

Cole slaw, leftover from earlier in the week

Potato salad, made with leftover mashed potatoes

Chocolate chip cookies, from homemade slice and bake cookies

Pepsi

Sunday 1/15/2012

Biscuits, master mix

Gravy, master mix

Fruit cups-bulk purchase

Milk

Juice

SNACKS AVAILABLE FOR WEEK 1

Please limit your snacking

SALTY:

Chips, limited-bulk purchase

Cheezits-bulk purchase

Southern Trail Mix-bulk purchase, leftover from holidays

SWEET:

Carrot Cake

Almond Shortbread cookies after Wednesday

Lemon Bars after Thursday

Chocolate chip cookies after Saturday

FRUIT:

Grapefruit—bulk purchase

Fruit Cups—bulk purchase

Strawberries, frozen after Wednesday

VEGETABLES:

Carrots

So now that you can see what our family basically ate on week #1 of the year of menu planning now how about a recipe or two? The main dinner menu item is the Many Way Meatballs. This is one of our favorite meat Master Mixes. The meatballs can be used so many ways for a variety of meals. They freeze and can wonderfully. Making them a handy “convenience food” for those nights you simply can’t stick to a menu or you need something FAST!

Many Way Meatballs

Servings: 80

4 pounds ground beef

2 whole eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup bread crumbs, dried

1/2 cup onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 cups milk

1/4 cup parsley flakes



1. Mix all together well. Form into 1 1/2 inch meatballs. I use a small ice cream/cookie scoop for this. I recommend spraying the scoop with cooking spray before scooping.





2. Place on foil lined and sprayed cookie sheet with sides.



3. Bake at 375 F for 25-30 minutes or until done.



4. Cool and package in one quart containers for freezing or canning. Don’t forget to label and date.



On the night I make these my family likes the meatballs just plain, hot from the oven. In fact I have to watch the guys close or they just might eat far more than they should.

They make their second appearance later in the week as Sweet ‘n Sour Meatballs

Sweet ‘n Sour Meatballs

Servings: 6



Notes: You can vary the veggies to your family's likes. Consider things like snow peas, water chestnuts and other vegetables.



Serving Ideas: Serve over steamed rice and with all the usual sides for an Asian meal.



Categories: Ground Beef

1 tablespoon Vegetable oil

10 ounces Pineapple chunks, drained and juice reserved

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon soy sauce

3 tablespoons vinegar

6 tablespoons water

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 container Many Way Meatball Mix, about 20 meatballs

1 large green bell pepper

1 whole carrot, sliced

1/2 medium onion, sliced



1. In a large skillet, combine oil and reserved pineapple juice that has had water added to it to equal 1 cup liquid.



2. In a small bowl combine cornstarch and brown sugar. Then stir in soy sauce, vinegar and water. Stir this into the pineapple juice mixture in the skillet. Cook over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly, Approximately 5-7 minutesl



2. Add pineapple chunks and remaining ingredients. Mix well. Simmer 20 minutes or until heated through. Stir frequently and add a small amount of water or pineapple juice if needed.



Leftovers from this weeks worth of meal that would then go to food storage would be the remaining meatballs either frozen or canned (add water to the canning jar and then process pints at 15# pressure for 75 minutes or quarts for 90 minutes—please follow all USDA guidelines while canning).



The leftover steamed rice can be dried to make your own “minute rice.” Or refrigerated or frozen to be used in the future for a variety stir fried rice dishes, Mexican Rice, or to be reheated for breakfast and eaten with sugar, milk and butter.



So there you have it week #1 for 2012, and for 2013 because as I have mentioned previously. I am keeping the files I have created for these menus to use in the future. Complete with the full grocery list, so this time next year it will be a matter of point and click.



Jan who hopes this is helpful to someone in OK

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A YEAR’S WORTH OF MENUS

January 26, 2012

Some folks think I’m certifiably crazy. I announced at the first of the year I was going to do a year’s worth of menus all three meals a day and in doing so I would save hundreds if not thousands of dollars out of our grocery budget doing so. The idea grew out of my success with going without a freezer in December.

Learning to plan my menu without depending on a free standing freezer has made it where I can see the big picture of the value of long term menu planning not only for money savings, but for nutrition and food storage.

I’ve been doing it since the first of the year and it is really working out nicely for us. It has pretty well done away with the annoying nightly “What’s for dinner” discussion. A huge plus.

I’ve mentioned on various yahoogroups I’m on that I am doing this and there have naturally been a lot of questions about how to do it. I’ve also been asked to post my year’s worth of menus. After much thinking I’ve decided rather than clog those lists up to post the journey through the year here, along with the how to’s and recipes to do it.

So this first post is about the “HOW TO”, “HOW IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY” and. “HOW ABOUT WHEN LIFE HAPPENS?”

HOW TO

I have to admit that when I first decided to do a year’s worth of weekly menus for three meals a day, plus snacks I thought it was a huge mountain to try to climb. Then I remembered the old joke “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer of course is “One bite at a time.” So that’s the way I moved forward.

I started with planning my dinner menu for the first week of the year. I did this because then I could schedule leftovers for breakfasts and lunches for the same week.

I also decided with our grocery budget I could only afford to purchase one meat a week. That was a scary realization. As the regular readers of my blog and list posts know we are on the Dave Ramsey Financial Freedom plan and that means we have a zero dollar based budget with a set in stone amount for groceries each week.

Unfortunately we’d got away from our established $100 a week for our family of three over the last few months of the year and in November I spent over $1,000 rather than the scheduled $400. This was a serious lack of control on my part. A mistake that slowed our gazelle way down on its race to avoid the debt cheetahs.

So with the beginning of the new year I was determined to stay at or below that $100. This meant one bulk meat purchase a week, and a lot of planning to keep variety in our meals, especially as grocery prices are escalating.

The idea was a follow up on my previous post of living without a freezer. Buy one meat, use it for 2-3 meals during the week and then can the rest for future menus. This would build up my food storage, while feeding us well on a small budget.

We eat a LOT of ground beef, so I determined that doing a ground beef menu every other week would be the best pattern for us, at least in the beginning. That first week we started with ground beef and our favorite Many Way Meatballs Master Mix.

I put the menu together for dinners first. Then in my Master Cook program I entered the recipes for EVERYTHING we’d need to eat that menu for the week. This gave me the exact measurements I’d need of each ingredient.

I then constructed my grocery list, including the exact measurements needed, from those menus. From that grocery list I then put the same measurements in a spread sheet to be totaled to show how much I will need for the entire year for each ingredient. This is important for the “How It will save you money” segment.

I then repeated these steps with the breakfast and lunch menus. I now had a complete grocery list for the week and it was time to “shop”. I started with my food storage. I checked every single item, not trusting my memory for anything. I verified that I had the required amounts for the week on hand. If not then it went on the “to buy” list.

Once the “to buy” list was built I checked the sales ads and my price book to find where it would be best to purchase those items AND anything that was a true loss leader that I would need for future menus that I could afford in my weekly budget. (more on this later.)

Next stop was my coupon box. Where I pulled the coupons I needed for those purchases.

Armed with the list and my coupons I did all my grocery shopping for the week, my ONLY visit to the grocery store for the week.

Once home things were prepped and stored properly. It was nice to know I had everything I needed on hand for well planned out meals for a week.

HOW IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY

First of all if you have a menu plan you KNOW what is for dinner and there is no rushing out for fast foods. You can cook far better burgers and pizza at home for less than half the price and with pre-planning you can actually get the meal faster than loading the family up, driving to the restaurant, waiting for them to cook it, listening to other people’s kids screaming and then driving home. Oh and you aren’t tempted to stop and shop somewhere along the way. This can add up to huge savings right there.

By hitting the grocery store only once a week you save fuel, time and money. Yes money because you aren’t tempted to do impulse buying if you aren’t in the store.

Because the meal plan is there for the entire week you can also “bulk cook” a lot and save money and time. Because if you need browned ground beef for three meals, or for canning, you can brown it in one pan all at once. It will take the same amount of energy to do it all at once as it would to do a single meal of it. So you save by not having to heat the stove up for that browning the rest of the time.

You also only have to clean up once, thus you save on water, energy to heat the water, wear and tear on your dishwasher, dish soap, and your time. And we all need more time.

With creating your annual grocery list you can clearly see how many of non-perishable foods you need for the year. So if there is a great sale on that item and your food budget has room in it, grab your coupons and stock up at the lower price, so your overall grocery expenditure for the year goes down and your food storage goes up.

A friend gave a good example of this with a purchase she recently made. She serves Hamburger Helper one day a month to her family of nine. She recently found a loss leader sale that when combined with her coupons made it $.49 a box. This is versus the normal $1.50 to $2.00 per box. She verified the “best if used by date” and then picked up enough boxes for the year. This made her savings huge.

At this point there is usually someone that says “but I don’t have room for food storage.” Having lived in a one room efficiency apartment for a long period of time I can tell you there is ALWAYS storage room, you just need to know where to find it. I’ll do another post later on about where to find the room to store and tips on making sure nothing gets forgotten.

A side note on nutrition. I have found that by writing down a complete daily menu for a week at a time it has allowed me to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our daily diet. This is a very good thing.

Let’s be truthful, when you eat out a lot, be it fast food or a sit down restaurant or you slap something together at the last minute you tend to eat less than healthy. By taking the few extra steps at first to plan your meals you will find that good for you foods will filter more and more into your diet.

This can lead to future savings on medical and clothing bills.

The same friend who purchased the Hamburger Helper decided it was best for her to do a month’s worth of menu plans for her family and then multiply that times 12 to get her annual menu. This works well for her. We like trying different foods too much to be this limited, but for many families this is the best way for them to plan their menus.

She then followed the steps to figure her grocery lists and when consulting her price book for the best sale prices (which generally rotate about every six weeks) she discovered that by doing the annual grocery list and shopping accordingly she would save 75% on her annual grocery bill based on current grocery prices. That folks is a HUGE savings. What could you do with that 75% savings? How many debts could you pay off? She’s using the savings to pay her house off early. Who wouldn’t want to own their home?

HOW ABOUT WHEN LIFE HAPPENS?

One of the most popular questions is “Do you allow for diverting from the menu plan?” The answer is a resounding YES!

Life happens, Suzy has a school play, it’s Joey’s birthday, Mama is sick, Great Aunt Ethel dies, Dad is going out of town on business for a week, the garden produced a million more zucchini this week than planned on or the loss leader of the week is a great buy for a meat that is not on that week’s menu. These and many other things happen, including your hubby just flat does NOT want turkey this week.

In fact I’m not dead on schedule with my menus right now because I sometimes re-arrange the meals to fit what is going on in our life on any given day. The menu is a guide not a dictate. All meals from the menu eventually get eaten, they just might be done in a different order or on a different week. But they all get used as close to the schedule as possible to help keep the domino action of the pre-planning going.

An example: On a recent week we had a ground beef week scheduled and the next week was scheduled to be whole chicken. Only my husband, who really doesn’t care for chicken, was going to be gone for a week for work on the ground beef week. My son and I love chicken, so I moved the chicken forward a week and we’ll have two ground beef weeks in a row. It took moving leftovers around a bit, and doing a little extra canning to keep meats fresh from the previous week, but it worked out well. We stayed on budget and all were happy with their meals.

Speaking of leftovers, this is another way you can save big. There is currently a series of commercials running where it shows the people throwing away half of the foods they purchase because the leftovers go bad, or the meat isn’t stored properly.

With the menu planning you incorporate the leftovers into your meal plan each week, or you can/dry/freeze them for future meals. By cutting that 50% waste from your grocery budget you save big time. Unfortunately little Suzy won’t have science experiments in your fridge for the annual science fair as a result. But then is food mold REALLY that good of a science fair project?

So that is the plan. Posts on the implementing of it, including recipes, storage tips and much more will follow.

Jan who thinks this is going to be a challenge for her family but can really see the long term benefits in OK