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Favorite Books Read in 2019

stack of books to read with glasses resting on top

2019 was a good year for reading! If you are wondering “What good books should I read?”, I probably can help you out! In all, I believe this list comes to 80 books. Not too shabby. My 2020 reading rate is off to a much slower start. ūüėČ

This book list also includes chapter books I read to or listened to with the kids. (Those books are marked by an *.) There are also a good number of children’s novels Kenna and I both read (separately) and I few I just read.

I have divided this list into a handful of broad categories and I’ll try and tell you the highlights of each group! It was interesting for me to see which books I still get excited about a year later.

The categories are: Fiction (including classic novels), Missionary Biographies, Biographies/Memoirs/Historical Non Fiction, Christian Non Fiction, Other Fiction and Children’s Novels

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Fiction

Little Women
The Count of Monte Cristo
Jane Eyre
Daniel Deronda
Middlemarch
Till We Have Faces
The Chosen
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader*
The Five Red Herrings
Becoming Mrs Lewis
A Portrait of Emily Price

I had so much fun re-reading some of my favorite classic novels! The 4 books in bold are my top picks from the category. I had forgotten just how good they were: Little Women, The Count of Monte Cristo, Daniel Deronda, and The Chosen.

Of course Jane Eyre and the CS Lewis books are also must reads.

A friend told me Middlemarch was her favorite George Elliot book, so I tackled it for the first time. I enjoyed it, but still loved the story of Daniel Deronda more. I am going to read it a second time, because I have a feeling the story will grow on me. Deronda was like going back to an old friend. ūüėČ

Missionary Biographies

The Hiding Place
Through Gates of Splendor
God’s Smuggler
Evidence Not Seen
Daring to Hope

Honestly, I don’t have a top favorite. I’d say read them all! Except for Daring to Hope, these were all re-reads for me. Each of these individuals have amazing testimonies – these books are so encouraging and convicting.¬†

Biographies/Memoirs/Historical Non Fiction

Growing Up Amish
How to Be Like Walt +
The Boys in the Boat
Save Me the Plums
The Push +
Code Girls +
The King’s Speech¬†+
The Magnolia Story
Shoe Dog

I love this category. True stories are so fascinating. I also enjoy learning about times in history I know little about and about people who live lives nothing like mine. Books are a great way to expand your horizons and keep educating yourself. The Boys in the Boat and Save Me the Plums are probably my top picks. Both books were very well written (and made me want to pick up other books by those authors). I also really enjoyed Code Girls (I was so clueless about this part of history), The King’s Speech, and How to Be Like Walt. If you are into rock climbing at all, The Push is a must read! (Actually, I’ve only been rock climbing once and I still really enjoyed it.)

The Magnolia Story and Shoe Dog were easy reads that I did enjoy and found fascinating how these “empires” got their starts, but they were a little stressful! I found myself wanting to read a not so risk driven entrepreneurial¬†story after that. ūüôā

neat stack of books waiting to be read

Christian Non Fiction

If
God in the Dock
The Reason for God
The Practice of the Presence of God
Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus
Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus
Church History in Plain Language
The Jewish Jesus

Introverts in the Church
Missionary Mom
Memory Making Mom
Gift from the Sea
Friendish
It’s All Under Control
Everyday Love
2 Chairs

My number one pick(s) would probably have to be Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus and Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus. I LOVED them and found my self talking about them all the time. They also have helped me as I read the Bible.

I also quite enjoyed Keller’s The Reason for God and The Practice of the Presence of God. If is a super short and good book by Amy Carmichael based off of 1 Corinthians 13. So, my number one picks remain but after that I recommend any of those first 9 books.

In the last segment, Introverts in the Church I was just eh about. And 2 Chairs I didn’t love. Friendish is a thought provoking look at just what Christian friendship should look like. Everyday Love is a Bible study I enjoyed. The others were all quick reads I enjoyed but didn’t love enough to make the top segment.¬†

Other Non Fiction

White Fragility
Rising Strong
Essentialism
Smart Money Smart Kids
Everyday Millionaire

White Fragility is worth reading. It will make you think and hopefully see things from a perspective¬†beyond what you currently know. Rising Strong is one of Brene Brown’s books and I recommend reading her work. You won’t agree with everything, but again they make you think and have a lot of good stuff in them.

The other 3 books were all fine, but nothing life changing.

Children’s Novels

Bethlehem Books:
God King
The Lost Baron
The Borrowed House
Red Falcons of Tremoine
Becky Landers
Downright Dencey
Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal

The Penderwicks
The Pernderwicks On Gardam Street
The Penderwicks in Spring
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
The Penderwicks at Last

The Black Stallion
The Black Stallion Returns
Son of the Black Stallion

Grandfather’s Dance
Mask of the Wolf Boy
White Horse
Misty of Chincoteague

10 of these books my 8 year old and I both read separately. Black Stallion and Misty I haven’t read since I was a kid and they are so good! White Horse is the first Elizabeth Goudge book I have read, and the only one our library has. I always see Sarah Clarkson recommend her books and wanted to try them.

Children’s Books Read to the Kids

Sarah Plain and Tall*
Skylark*
Caleb’s Story*
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader*
The Trumpet of the Swan*
The Wheel on the School*
Snow Treasure*
The Sword in the Stone*
The Secret Garden*
James and the Giant Peach*
Because of Winn-Dixie*
Where the Red Fern Grows*
The Cricket in Times Square*
More All of a Kind Family*
Tuesdays at the Castle*
Holes*

A lot of these were books I read growing up and it was fun reading them with the kids. The Sarah Plain and Tall series is so good. They are also quick reads. Snow Treasure, All of a Kind Family, Dawn Treader, and The Wheel on the School I all enjoyed as a kid and again this past year. 

My 6 six year said that his favorites that we read aloud or listened to the audio book of this year were:

  • The Trumpet of the Swan
  • Because of Winn Dixie.

My 8 year old said she liked all of them but when forced to pick she said:

  • Holes
  • Tuesdays at the Castle
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Snow Treasure
  • Secret Garden

Enough words about what I read in 2019! My question for you is, what where your favorite books read last year?

Stack of library books to read

Must Have Kitchen Tools

Stainless steel skillet on a cutting board with a cooked egg

Don’t we all have those favorite things in our kitchen? Those must have kitchen tools that we always want to use? Sometimes, using them even makes you happy! Typically they make your life easier or work so much better than most.

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In my last post I shared my list of kitchen essentials. These are the things that are pretty much a necessity, even if you kitchen is tiny. I also tackled my favorite kitchen appliances here.

Today I’m filling you in on my favorite must have kitchen tools! Most of them are all essentials and some of them are brand dependent. I use these items week in and week out and often times day in and day out. (Be sure to check out the list of small kitchen appliances to know what else I use often!)

Good Pots and Pans

Several years ago we upgraded our pans to a stainless steel Calphalon set from Bed Bath and Beyond. I love them. They can also go in the oven (with the lids) up to 450 degrees. My set has 8 pans and pots plus lids. So much better than the really old, falling apart set we were using. ūüôā

If you don’t cook a lot or are limited on space, I’d recommend an 8 and 10 inch skillet, 1.5 quart sauce pan, 3 quart saut√© pan, and a 6 or 8 quart stockpot depending on your family size or if you’ll be cooking for groups. You can always add more later, but if you have limited cabinet space, these are the essentials. If you get a non stick pan, get an 8 or 10 inch skillet.

I recommend buying good quality cookware. You are going to have these things for a long time so you want to love them. Cheaper pans tend to warp and not cook evenly. When we were shopping, our top brands we considered were the higher tiered Calphalon products and All Clad. They are expensive so that did mean it took us a few years to purchase them.

Rubber Spatula

I have the classic scraper from Pampered Chef and love them. Would recommend having two. (Don’t tell anyone, but I actually have three and there are times when they are all dirty at once!) Don’t buy the cheap ones. They will fall apart way easier and not work nearly as well. I use them for cooking, baking, and scraping.

Kitchen Tongs

Buy the ones that lock (by pulling up the head not with the sliding ring)! These are great for flipping meat on the skillet, serving salad, removing corn on the cob from hot water and so much more. I have this one from OXO.

Kitchen Shears

I love using kitchen shears. They are perfect for snipping fresh herbs, green onions, or chives. They are also used weekly to cut my daughter’s pizza into bite sized pieces. You can use a pair for cutting meat into chunks and another for slicing your homemade cinnamon rolls to put in a pan.

Mini Cutting Board

This gets used all the time in our home. It’s perfect for a small job – cutting an apple or grapefruit in half, rough chopping a small amount of veggies, mincing just a clove or two of garlic. I love how little space it takes up. Great size to put in the cooler or slide under a car seat to take on a road trip.

wooden spoon and whisks on a counter

Cheese Plane

The cheese planes for hard and semi hard cheeses are awesome! You can slice cheese in a perfect thickness. No more overly thick slices of cheese for sandwiches, grilled cheese, or crackers. A block of cheese will go much further. This gadget might just save you money.

Flat Risotto Spoon/Saute Paddle

This wooden spoon is perfect for sauteing, browning meat,  and stirring anything you are cooking. The flat edge helps scrape the bottom of the pan much more effectively than a spoon.

Good Knives

You don’t need a block of knives. Instead get fewer but better quality knives. This is something I’d do over again if I could. We registered for a knife block when we got married and they are all very dull. We started replacing our knives with the Wusthof brand. Next I need to get a good sharpener. I would buy 2 Chef’s knives, a paring knife, and a bread knife to start. Do you have a favorite knife brand to share?

Mini Serving Spatula

These are the perfect size to serve any dessert made in a pan. We use it all the time for sweets and main dishes. When mine broke a few years ago it was something that I immediately replaced.

Pancake Turner Spatula

This gets used for pancakes, quesadillas, grilled cheese and other such items in our house. Whether you get stainless steel or silicone or nylon will depend on if you use non stick surfaces to cook your pancakes on.

Pizza Stone

If you make homemade pizza, this is a must have! I have two and they make the best pizza crusts. Well worth the investment. I have the large round stone from Pampered Chef but you can find them many places.

Salad Spinner

This in an item I’d say depends on your salad eating habits. If you make large quantities of salad, you are going to want this. Getting your lettuce dry is so much simpler and it lasts longer. I prepare a large quantity of lettuce for us to use for salads during the week every Sunday and this makes it a breeze. My spinner is one of the push knob kinds.

Microplane

Use this to add garlic, ginger, or nutmeg to a dish. It’s also perfect for zesting citrus fruit. If you don’t do a lot of cooking with fresh garlic or nutmeg you can skip tool and simply mince it with a knife and cutting board, but the microplane is amazing. ūüėČ

USA Pans

I only discovered these a few years ago but I am obsessed! They use a silicone coating and are nonstick. I first made egg muffins in these and was amazed when the eggs popped right and I hadn’t treated the pan at all. They are more expensive that your basics pans, so I have been building my stash slowly. I have the mini muffin tin, regular muffin pan, mini loaf pan set, and one larger loaf pan.

What are your go to, must have kitchen tools? I have one I’m wanting to try and honestly, I hope I get to update this list with it.

Between this list, the¬†kitchen essentials and favorite kitchen appliances, you’ll have a pretty stocked kitchen that you’ll want to spend time in!

Sharp knife on a wooden cutting board

My Favorite Kitchen Tools! You will want to make sure you have these in your kitchen: cheese plane, rubber spatula, good pots and pans and more! Great ideas for my kitchen or a wedding registry.

Originally published April 3, 2014. Updated August 29, 2019.

Aldi Finds

We are back again with another meal plan that uses the produce and meat sales in this week’s Aldi ad. I love shopping at Aldi – the bulk of my purchases come from there and then a will pick up a few items that are on sale at other stores. So an Aldi meal plan is the best!

aldi meal plan

If you struggle with coming up with ideas for what to eat this week, I hope this post gives you some inspiration.

I’m a huge fan of using menu planning as a way to keep grocery costs down (my first point in this post on drastically reducing your grocery budget). No matter how many of these recipes you use, I highly recommend you get your downloadable menu plan template and put it to use. It has saved me¬†so¬†much money over the years:

This week, I’m not only going to include the sample Aldi menu, but I will also share what I’m feeding my family for the next week on my $170 a month grocery budget. This means twice as many ideas.

Aldi Produce and Meat Sales to Check Out (10/17-10/23):

These prices are in my local ad – your prices might vary.

  • Bartlett Pears – 1.79 for 3 pounds
  • Grape tomatoes – .99 per pint
  • Raspberries – 1.49 for 6 ounces
  • 12 ounces chopped organic kale – 2.19
  • Honeycrisp apples – 2.19 for 2 pounds
  • Ground beef – 9.95 for 5 pounds
  • Pork chops – 2.19 a pound
  • Ricotta cheese – 1.49
  • Tortillas – .99

Aldi Meal Plan

Suppers:

Taco Tuesday (using the ground beef and tortillas that are on sale – or make your own)
Skillet Lasagna
Baked Garlic Pork Chops¬†(I’ve never made pork chops, these sound like an amazing first try)
Cheese Pizza (these are the dough and sauce recipes I use)
Pancakes and scrambled eggs (add some bacon or sausage if your budget allows)
Protuguese Chourico and Kale Soup 
Fend for yourself/leftovers/freezer meal

Snack and Side Ideas:

Apples and pears
Carrot and celery sticks
Roasted Kale
Kale Salad

Frugal Lunch Ideas:

Kale Salad (same recipe as above – also uses the grape tomatoes that are on sale)
Pancakes
Sandwiches
Rice Cakes (with peanut butter or meat)
Leftovers
Beans and Rice
Roasted Vegetables
Salad

Frugal Breakfast Ideas:

Oatmeal
Cinnamon apple toast
Southwestern Oven Omelet

$170 per month Menu Plan for this Week:

Okay, and now for my family’s menu for the week. I plan using the method I outline in my menu planning template:

Saturday
Pancakes for lunch
Steak Salad

Sunday
Eggs and hashbrowns for lunch
Small groups for supper (bring sides and desserts)

Monday: Chili

Tuesday: Leftover Chili

Wednesday: Kids eat at church

Thursday: Chili Baked Potatoes

Friday: Pizza night

Breakfasts: Oatmeal, leftover pancakes, eggs

Lunches: Soups from the freezer, PB sandwiches on homemade sourdough, veggies, fruit, salad, deli meat

Snacks: Cuties, pretzels, homemade orange juice Popsicles (my oldest’s request)

What’s on your menu this week?

Experience Gifts for Kids that They Will Love

Christmas and birthdays. They always lead to more presents and more¬†stuff¬†for the kids that you don’t have room for in your house. What’s another alternative? Experience gifts for kids!

wrapped presents for experience gifts for kids

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Experience gifts mean not only no clutter but your child gets to make memories and do something they normally wouldn’t.

Sounds like a win-win!

Coming up with the perfect experience gifts for kids can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here is a great list to get you brainstorming. You will find something perfect for your child.

Not only are experience gifts great for parents to give a child, they would also be a lot of fun to receive from a grandparent.

Wrapping the Experience Gift:

If you are worried about how this idea will work not having a gift under the tree or at a birthday dinner for them to open, there are a couple of easy options.

  1. Make up a certificate/letter with all of the details (use pictures for younger kids) and print in color. Place that in a box or gift bag and wrap like you would a present.
  2. Come up with a small gift that goes along with your experience gift and wrap it along with a note. Or wrap the small gift and note separately, having them open the physical gift first.

 

Experience Gifts for Kids:

Movie Theater

If your home is anything like ours, a trip to the movie theater only happens once every couple years. How fun would it be for your child to receive a ticket to a movie they would love. You can also do a bundle with tickets to a few other movies coming out the next year.

Small Gift Idea: Popcorn or movie theater candy.

Museum

The science museum and children’s museum are always a hit! Consider a day pass or even a season membership to a local museum.

Small Gift Idea: A book about science.

Zoo

Once again, you could do a gift of a day trip to the zoo or a year membership.

Small Gift Idea: A book about animals

Trip to a Ballet

My aunt and uncle took my sisters and me to see the Nutcracker when we were kids. Such a special trip. Dress up fancy and take your child out for dinner before hand and they will feel like royalty.

Small Gift Idea: Book, movie, picture of the ballet or a dress to wear.

ballet slippers

Broadway Show

Maybe you have some musical lovers in your house. Getting to see a favorite Broadway show  live in your nearby big city could even be a favorite gift for a teen.

Small Gift Idea: Book, movie, poster of the show or a dress to wear.

Baseball/Sporting Event

Maybe sports are more down your kids’ alley. Whether it’s a college basketball or football game or going to a minor (or major) league ballpark, this would be a memorable outing with your child.

Small Gift Idea: Peanuts, cracker jacks, ball, baseball cap

Tea Party

The little girls in your family would love this. How fun would it be for them to dress up and experience a tea room and scones and other pastries?!

Monthly Mom or Dad Dates

Put together a bundle of monthly (or you could just do quarterly) dates with mom or dad. Come up with a fun selection and write them down on separate cards with all the details and have each redeemable in a specific month.

Rock Climbing

Adventurous kids? They would probably love a certificate to the local climbing gym!

Small Gift Idea: Rock climbing chalk 

Horseback Riding

Horses are expensive. If you have a horse lover in your house they will probably think this is the coolest gift ever.

Small Gift Idea: A book about horses, an apple, horse brush, appropriate footware

Ice Cream Vouchers

What child doesn’t like ice cream? Again, if this isn’t something you normally spend your money on, trips to the ice cream shop when your child wants would be very enjoyed.

Small Gift Idea: Ice cream scoop

Train Ride

My son¬†loves trains. He’d be over the moon knowing that his presents was going to be riding on a legit train.

Small Gift Idea: Book on trains or a toy train.

Classes:

The options here are countless. Look to see what is offered in your community and compare that list to the interests your kids have.

Here are some ideas to look for:

Cooking Class
Art Class
Pottery Class
Sports
Gymstastics
Archery
Music
Any of interests

Small Gift Ideas: Any little gadget or accessory that would go along with your class of choice.

Zipline

Another great idea for the adventurer in your house.

American Girl

If you have a child that loves dolls, a trip to the American Girl Cafe and store could be a special experience.

Small Gift Idea: New accessory for their doll

Salon/Spa

Again, if this isn’t something you normally do your girls will feel pampered. Whether it’s a special hair cut or getting her nails done, she’s sure to feel special.

Small Gift Idea: Hair accessory or nail polish

What are your favorite experience gifts for kids? Have you seen unique ideas for gifting them before?

Be sure to check out these other gift guides for more ideas:

Best Experience Gifts for Kids
Educational Gifts Kids Will be Excited About
The Best Craft and Art Gifts for Kids
Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything
Gifts for Teen Girls
Gifts for Teen Boys
Gifts for Preschool Boy
Gifts for a 2 Year Old
Gifts for Preschoolers
Gifts for a Home Cook
Gifts for a Fitness Lover

rock climbing and list of experience gifts for kids ballet slippers and list of experience gifts for kids

Easy Ways to Save Money On A Tight Budget

I’m sure there are a lot of us wanting easy ways to save money on a tight budget.¬†Whether we are trying to save money up for a big savings goal or because of the lack of money coming in.

picture of small plant surrounded by coins and words easy ways to save money on a tight budget

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When we were in the middle of paying off our house early we were always looking for easy ways to save money on a tight budget. Every little thing added up.

Now that our house is paid off, we are still trying to save money where we can. Retirement needs more put towards it, taking a vacation, and saving some money up for kids’ college funds are all on the list of goals. Watching what we spend, budgeting, and making our money work for us is a part of life.

Some of them we are doing for a season and others are a pretty permanent part of our lives but together they are allowing us to live on less so that we can put more toward whatever our savings goals might be.

10 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

1. Lower Your Grocery Budget

This is one of the first things to look at when you are trying to save and my personal favorite of the easy ways to save money on a tight budget. It’s easy to gradually start spending more and more on groceries over time. If you don’t want to keep it super low forever, that’s fine but do it to help out while you income is lower or your are trying to reach a savings goal.

This is a big one in our house. In fact, our most popular post is on how I keep my grocery budget at $150 a month. Over the next year, these tips are especially important  for us as our extra money that sometimes went toward grocery splurges is now all going to the house.

Some favorite ways to lower your grocery budget: cook from scratch, menu plan, and using meat as a condiment.

I have my favorite menu planning template available for all of my newsletter subscribers. A lot of money has been saved using this method.

2. Simplify Birthdays, Christmas, and Holidays

It is super easy to go overboard. How often do we keep on finding one more present for our child or want to give them the newest and best gadget. Even the Easter basket has to be piled high.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but you might want to consider scaling back. Set a smaller budget and stick to it. Spend time with your kids and make memories with them instead of spending.

You or your spouse can consider doing without gifts altogether. As an adult, it’s easy to understand why and see the big pictures. Shaun and I aren’t giving each other birthday or Christmas presents and we keep things simple with the kids.

If you minimize your gift spending try using the next tip and you might be able to cover a good portion of your gifts without spending anything out of pocket! Here I have some tips on Christmas Presents on a budget and taking the emphasis off of gifts at Christmas!

pictures of clock and stacks of coins

3. Earn Gift Cards with Swagbucks for Presents

I love Swagbucks. It’s an easy way to earn points you can redeem for gift cards. If you follow tip number two and cut your birthday and Christmas spending down, the gift cards you earn will pay for a good chunk of the presents.

If you work at using Swagbucks (and have a smart phone) you could earn over $300 in a year. This post has some of my favorite easy ways to earn Swagbucks on your computer and this one is about earning them on your smart phone!

4. Drink Water

Forget the pops, juices, coffees, and teas for a while and just stick to water! Not only is it good for you, it’s also the most affordable! The costs of all those other beverages really add up. I promise your kids won’t die without milk at every meal and juice for breakfast.

Milk for drinking and juice are super rare purchases in our house and it really helps save money. Over three years later, this is still true at my house.

5. Skip the Vacation

Our vacations consists of trips to see family and a season tickets to a theme park 5 hours away. This year, since we knew we were going to be pinching pennies, we decided to forgo the season tickets.

We aren’t saving a ton on money because as far as vacations go, it really is quite affordable but the ticket purchase and gas costs for driving there several times still will save us hundreds of dollars. If you take bigger vacations, this could equal thousands of dollars.

I know it doesn’t mean skipping out on the vacation is easy, but remember the big picture and make it a goal to save up for a fun little trip down the road.

In the meantime, find ways to have fun and memories locally.

6. Shop Your Closet

Avoid the mall and all the clothing deal sites for a while and just wear what you have. I’m already a big fan of buying used clothes¬†and shopping clearance racks but sometimes you just need to take a break from even that.

A perk of this, is after wearing all your clothes (instead of having the stash you never touch) you’ll know what items you want to keep and which you should pass on. A more organized closet is never a bad thing. ūüôā

7. Eat at Home

It’s nice to get a break from cooking, but restaurants aren’t cheap. You have the cost of a meal and then add the tip in and you could cook a lot of meals at home with what you just spent. Even at a fast food or fast casual restaurant things add up when you are buying for a family.

If eating out is something you love, put gift cards on your birthday and Christmas list (and use coupons when you go out to make them go even further). Otherwise, think about your big financial goal or view it as something you are giving up until your finances increase.

8. Cut the Cable

Get rid of your paid television service. No more cable or dish.

It’s okay. I promise you’ll survive. I know these might be ones that don’t seem like an¬†easy¬†ways to save money on a tight budget. ūüėČ

When we got rid of it several years ago I think my husband was pretty skeptical. It really hasn’t been that bad. Then take it a step further and don’t replace it with Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. How much TV do we really need to watch anyway? Utilize your library, free Hulu, and free streaming on network sites so you can keep up with your favorite shows.

dollar bills with easy ways to save money on a tight budget on top.

9. Cheaper Cell Phone Rates

Cell phones are straight up expensive but there are a few things we’ve found to do to save money.

  • Save money by negotiating lower rates with your cell phone provider. We saved an additional $15 a month by talking to the retention department.
  • My husband has a smart phone and uses Google¬†Voice instead of paying for a texting plan. It has its quirks, but it is fine for his needs.
  • Use a dumb phone. I’ve occasionally thought about getting a smart phone over the years but it’s something I can’t justify doing right now. An extra $15 to $30 a month might not seem like a lot, but all those things add up so I keep my basic talk only phone. (Yes, I even have texting turned off). Maybe after we get our house paid off or our income increases I’ll reconsider, but right now it works.
  • 3 years later and I now have a smart phone. It wouldn’t have happened except that I was needing a new phone and we found a great deal and a new affordable plan.

10. DIY Lawn Care and Pest Control

Okay, so honestly weeds in the yard are something that doesn’t really bother me. Let them grow. (Bonus: it would ¬†mean no toxic chemicals I have to worry about.) My husband, on the other hand, can’t stand them. Plus it makes all your the people in your neighborhood upset if you don’t take care of your yard. Instead of paying a lawn care company to come take care of it, he went to the local lawn and garden store and got their recommendation on what to use and when. It takes a couple hours a few times a year but it saves a lot of money and we can put the money saved toward something else.

The same goes for spiders and insects. I’m not a lover of toxic chemicals being sprayed around the house, but I’m also really not a fan of venomous spiders (or actually any kind-of creepy crawly insect) in my house. You can pay someone or once again you can go to the local store and get recommendations for your area and do the spraying yourself.

11. Read Good Books!

Go to your local library and find some books with inspiration to help you come up with easy ways to save money each month. Try The Tightwad Gazette,¬†More Than Just Making It,¬†You Can Stay Home with Your Kids!: 100 Tips, Tricks, and Ways to Make It Work on a Budget¬†or even Dave Ramsey. If your library doesn’t have any, don’t forget you can ask them to purchase or interlibrary loan them.

This is just the start of the easy ways to save money on a tight budget that we’ve used in our house. I think a part two might be coming.

Those little things that you don’t think make a difference really do add up. Put them together and you’ll find you are saving a decent amount!

What are some of your favorite easy ways to save money on a tight budget? 

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plant and stack of coins with words easy ways to save money on a tight budget square stack of dollar bills saying easy ways to save money on a tight budget

Easy Tandoori Chicken Recipe

I’m all about fast, flavorful, healthy meals using real ingredients and this Easy Tandoori Chicken recipe is exactly that.

Easy Tandoori Chicken Recipe

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I received an early copy of Lisa Leake’s newest cookbook, 100 Day of Real Food on a Budget, last week and am looking forward to trying several of the recipes. My daughter has the Costa Rica Red Beans recipe on her list to try next week.

I am super excited to have permission to share this tasty easy tandoori chicken recipe with you.

You guys, this recipe was¬†so¬†simple. It’s a 30 minute meal that’s full of flavor. Definitely great for a busy school night or a leisurely weekend dinner. All three of my kids cleaned their plates. Even my pickiest gave it a thumbs up. The 5 year old at first protested at the spinach, but once I tore it up and mixed it into his food he proclaimed it good.

This easy tandoori chicken recipe is also one of those meals to have in your back pocket when your other dinner plans fall through. There are few simple spices (coriander, garlic powder, ginger, cumin, ginger, salt, and cayenne), coconut milk, tomato sauce, and rice from the pantry and chicken from the freezer. If you don’t have spinach, just add another family favorite vegetable and dinner is ready.

Super easy tandoori chicken recipe. This recipe will be on the table in 30 minutes and it's kid friendly and healthy! #tandoori #indian #chicken #maindish #30minutemeal #recipes #supper #menu

In true Deanna fashion, I made a tiny change. Notice Lisa keeps the chicken in full pieces. My simple tweak is below.

Budget Friendly Tip: Cut down on the chicken (I used 2 boneless thighs and 1 small breast) and after it finishes cooking remove from the sauce, cut into pieces, and add back to pan. You can also add cooked chickpeas or cooked, diced sweet potatoes to replace some of the chicken.

Easy Tandoori Chicken

Easy Tandoori Chicken Recipe
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoons coriander
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne (start with ¼ teaspoon)
  • ¾ - 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 13-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2-4 ounces fresh spinach (2-5 cups)
  • 6 servings cooked brown rice
  • Optional if using half the chicken: 1½ cups cooked chickpeas or roasted, cubed sweet potato
  • Suggested Accompaniments:
  • cilantro
  • mint
  • plain yogurt
Instructions
  1. Combine the garlic powder, coriander, cumin, ginger, salt, and cayenne in a small bowl. Put on one side of the chicken.
  2. Preheat large skillet over medium heat with the oil. Place chicken seasoned side down in the pan. Sprinkle remaining spices on the other side. Sear until golden brown - about 2-3 minutes per side.
  3. Add coconut milk and tomato sauce (and chickpeas or sweet potatoes if using), bring to a boil and cover with lid. Reduce heat to low and and cook until chicken is done all the way through, 8-10 minutes.
  4. If desired, remove chicken from pan, dice and stir back in.
  5. Add more cayenne if needed.
  6. Layer in bowls with brown rice on the bottom, then spinach, chicken and sauce mixture, and any accompaniments.

 

  • You can see the format for the cookbook above – that is how each page is laid out. Very simple, easy to understand, and I love the pictures.
  • In the recipe cost breakdown, Lisa includes what it’s going to cost you to buy the entire product from the store, not just the portion you use.
  • The first almost 50 pages of the book is food budgeting tips and resources. If you need ideas for that, I’m sure you’ll find it helpful. If you are already a pro at your grocery budget, most of the tips will be things you already implement.
  • A lot of the recipes are ones we’ll try. Some I don’t think will fly high in my family, but over all, Lisa always has flavorful, healthy recipes.
  • My grocery budget is a lot less than Lisa’s budget plan in this book. That means my budget can’t handle us eating a weeks worth of these recipes. But we don’t have too – I can incorporate a recipe here and there as I make my plan each week.

Do you have any of Lisa’s cookbooks? What are your favorite recipes from them? I want to know which others I need to try!

100 Days of Real Food and 100 Days of Real Food Fast and Fabulous are her first books and this newest one is 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget.
  easy tandoori chicken recipe

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

3 ingredient gluten free peanut butter cookies. Yum! In full disclosure, sometimes these 3 ingredient cookies get 5 ingredients added to them. But either way, they are made from pantry staples and whip up in a flash.

gluten free peanut butter cookies sitting on a plate

Affiliate links are used in this post.

These are also a gluten free and dairy free cookie! Woohoo!!! Considering we are in the middle of 3 months without dairy or gluten for one of our children right now, this is a big deal.

Someday soon I’d love to remake these using maple syrup or honey and 100% peanuts peanut butter, but in the meantime I needed to share this simple 3 ingredient gluten free peanut butter cookie recipe with you! The kids love eating them and I love how simple they are to whip up. Win win.

Before we dive into the recipe, I want to let you know what the 2 optional ingredients are. First off, vanilla. We know that vanilla makes pretty much everything better. Second, baking soda. This changes the color and how the cookie bakes just slightly. But again, you can leave it out.

The one problem with three ingredient gluten free peanut butter cookies is that they tend to fall apart easily. I would make them on the small side to help remedy that problem (a child in tears because their cookie fell apart is never fun, right?). If you can resist diving in right away, I would let them cool all the way as well.

I like to decrease the sugar to 3/4 cup, but that also slightly increases the breakability (like my made up word ūüėČ ) of them.

One last thing, I love using my cookie scoop for these. I find it faster than a spoon because the dough is quite sticky.

NOW, for this incredibly easy peanut butter cookie recipe.

If you are looking for another yummy cookie recipe (that includes gluten and dairy) check out this one that came from my grandma.

gluten free peanut butter cookies stacked on a plate

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¾-1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla, optional
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda, optional
  • Additional sugar for rolling
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
  3. Place small scoops of dough in bowl with additional sugar and lightly coat the top.
  4. Place on cookie sheet and use a fork to gently press down in both directions to create the traditional peanut butter cookie crisscross.
  5. Bake for 6-7 minutes. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet before removing to cooling rack.

 

 

Dave Ramsey When You Don’t Have Money

Dave Ramsey when you don’t have money.

Erasing the word debt. Dave Ramsey when you don't have money.

Dave Ramsey. Paying off debt. Living on a budget. Living on a budget when you don’t have money. Financial freedom.

Have any of those phrases ever left you feeling depressed, not good enough, that accomplishing them would be reaching for the impossible?

Have you ever thought being debt free and having money in savings was something only the rich could accomplish but for the poor or lower middle class it’s just something to scoff at?

I want to encourage you. No matter what your financial status, no matter the decisions you’ve made or what life has thrown at you in the past, you¬†can make forward progress.

No, it won’t be easy. Yes, it might be uncomfortable. Yes, you might have to make even more sacrifices. Yes, it might feel impossible.

You will most likely be living against the grain. There’s the chance your friends and family will think you are crazy. There’s also the chance some of your family and friends will be your biggest cheerleaders.

But just do it!

How to Conquer Dave Ramsey When You Don’t Have Money

Start by making a budget.

This is crucially important – and can be done no matter how much money you have. Budgeting when you don’t have money is so necessary. Tell every dollar you have exactly where to go. Yes, that means saying no to a lot of things. Find ways to lower your grocery budget (a huge passion of mine), vacations might have to take place close to home, clothes will probably be bought on clearance or at garage sales. These are all things that helped us on our debt free journey.

Build an Emergency Fund

After you have a budget, you need to have an emergency fund. This helps keep you from going backwards when life happens. And we know life happens. Save up in increments of $10, $50, $100. Every little bit will add up.

You might not have the extra money in your budget to put toward an emergency fund. Your finances might be so tight that even with budgeting and buying used clothes and not eating out, there’s not even $5 left at the end of the month.

What then? You are discouraged. Your emotions want to take over and you just want to quit.

Stick with it!

Ways to Build an Emergency Fund:

Sell

Think outside the box. See if there is anything in your house you can sell – on Craigslist, Facebook, eBay etc. You might need to sell the car you are making payments on. Look at your housing arrangements. Maybe renting a smaller place for a period of time will help you get ahead.

Bring in Extra Income

Maybe you have the bare minimum and there’s nothing to sell. Sometimes we have income problems and not a budget problem. All the corners are cut, we are telling every dollar where to go, our cars are old, homes are basic with no modern updates.

What then?

Look for ways to bring in some extra money.

That might mean getting a second job.

  • If you’ve listened to Dave Ramsey I’m sure delivering pizza has crossed your mind.
  • Or maybe you can babysit or pick up a friend’s kid from school.
  • What are you gifted at? Can you sew? Try mending clothes. If you are gifted in the kitchen, maybe you could sell¬† your famous cinnamon rolls.
  • Churches sometimes pay for a pianist or you could give music lessons.
  • Looking for a part time weekend or evening job is another option.

To  help with buying birthday presents or other Amazon.com purchases use Swagbucks.

Cut Expenses

Look hard at each of your expenses and find ways to save. Check out that post and the ones I linked to earlier for some inspiration. Put that money toward your emergency fund.

One of the easiest ways to start cutting costs is on your grocery bill! Be sure to get this free menu planning template to make your life easier and save money.

Your emergency fund is built up, now what?

Now you get to apply the money you’ve found by budgeting, cutting expenses, and increasing your income to¬†your money into your debt snowball. Only stopping if you depleted your emergency fund and need to rebuild it.

It might take years but keep at it. Keep finding ways to save and trying different ways to increase your income and earn little bits of money each month.
holding a $1 bill. Dave Ramsey when you don't have money.

You can do this!

It probably won’t be easy, but the rewards later are worth it.

Remember, hard doesn’t mean bad. Make sacrifices and think outside the box.

Start making baby steps to financial freedom. Even when life throws a curve ball, stay in the game and stay on course. Let the challenges bring you together as a family.

Find ways to celebrate and enjoy life even while you are on a budget.

These years might be hard and long, but it will be worth it later. Trust me. I’ve been there. When we got married my husband wasn’t making much and I was finishing college and working part time waiting tables. We argued, we did lots of discussing, we worked hard, we said no, we set goals, we celebrated milestones.

You can do it – you can do Dave Ramsey when you don’t have money! If there’s no one else cheering you on, know that I’m am rooting for you!

holding a $1 bill. Dave Ramsey when you don't have money.
Working on a spreadsheet. Dave Ramsey when you don't have money

 

 

DIY Foaming Hand Soap

This DIY Foaming Hand Soap is one of the easiest things you can make! Not only do you control exactly what goes into it, you also save a ton of money!

Foaming bottle and essential oils. DIY Foaming Hand Soap.

Affiliate links are used in this post.

Forget spending $3.50-$5.50 on a bottle of quality soap, this can happen for as little as $.50. Quite the savings for 30 seconds of work. (And nope, that’s not exaggerating.)

I know life can get crazy and sometimes we need to put DIY on the back burner, but this is something you can keep up with during even the craziest seasons. You also know exactly what’s inside of it and can easily change scents without adding harmful ingredients or artificial colors.

DIY Foaming Hand Soap Ingredients:

Liquid Castile Soap – 1/4 Cup

Where to buy:

Moisturizing Oil (optional)

Water (distilled, filtered, or boiled) – to finish filling container

Essential Oils Р15-30 total drops

Preservative – 1/2 teaspoon (optional)

  • Optiphen Plus. I’ve seen some places that recommend adding this preservative to extend the shelf life. It’s a¬†paraben and formaldehyde-free preservative.

Foaming Bottle

  • Here’s a 3-pack from Amazon.
  • An even cheaper option is to purchase a $1 bottle of foaming hand soap from the store, dispose of the contents, rinse the bottle, remove the label, and reuse.

Do you make your own hand soap? Any favorite essential oils combos I should try? (Keep reading for the recipe in printable, consolidated format ūüôā )

castile soap, essential oils, bottle to make foaming hand soap.

Are you new to saving money or interested in lots of tips to help you be able to live on your limited income? Check out Erin’s new book filled with 100 tips, tricks, and simple ways she provided for her family on a budget.

For more ways to save, check out:

What are your favorite (easy) DIY projects?

DIY Foaming Hand Soap
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup unscented liquid castile soap
  • 15-30 drops essential oils
  • Moisturizing Oil (optional) choice of: ½ teaspoon vitamin E oil, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon almond oil, or 1 tablespoon fractionated coconut oil.
  • ½ teaspoon optiphen plus (optional)
  • Water (distilled, purified, or boiled)
Instructions
  1. In the bottom of foaming bottle place castile soap. Add essential oils and moisturizing oil and preservative (if using).
  2. Gently swish around.
  3. Fill bottle with water being sure to leave room for lid.

Foaming bottle and essential oils to make foaming hand soap.

 

 

Hospitality on a Budget

You want to open your home, open your life, and build community. You have a little concern though: How can you show hospitality on a budget?

Dining room table with sign on it. Frugal hospitality.

There’s isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to your finances, but you feel called to reach out to those around you and invite others in.¬† (For help with hospitality as in introvert check out this post!)

There are several ways you can be hospitable without breaking the bank. Think outside the box – there are no rules that showing hospitality can only look one way.

Hospitality on a Budget

Dessert

Make up a pan of brownies or a sheet cake and invite a family over for dessert. Super simple and you don’t have to worry about a main dish.

Popcorn and Games/Movie

This again skips the pressure of having to make a meal. Make up some buttery popcorn and a batch of kettle corn and pull out a few games to play.

Tea and Muffins

Invite a mom over one afternoon and let the kids play while you enjoy tea, muffins, and fellowship.

Cookies at the Park

Make up a batch or two of cookies (made with butter you bought on sale and stocked up in the freezer) and text some of your friends with kids and have them meet up at a local park.

Simple Meal

If you go for a meal, remember it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Go for easy and affordable. Use what you already have in the fridge or what’s on sale. Soup and homemade bread is one of my favorite frugal options. Pasta also tends to be a budget friendly (and kid friendly) option. Also, don’t¬†worry about sides. If you have them, great, if not that’s fine too.

Simple

Don’t stress about decorations or drinks. Go for less unless you already have things to use. Watching after holiday clearance sales are a great way to add a few decor items to your stash for future events.

Potluck

You don’t have to do it all! Pick a theme and invite a few families over for a potluck. Perhaps Mexican, baked potato bar¬†where everyone brings toppings, Italian, finger foods, or just a good old church style potluck.

Meet up at Free Community Events

Watch out for fun events in your town. Meeting up with friends for the Rodeo Parade or hitting up the ladies’ night out at a local store doesn’t cost either of you anything and it is still fun.

Coffee Shop or Restaurant

This one has the potential to not be budget friendly so plan carefully. Find a local place with some frugal items on the menu Рa mug of black coffee or hot tea might cost you under $2. Split an appetizer. To save money, be sure to watch whether you are expected to tip or not.

Picnic table with apples and candle on it. Hospitality on a budget.

Hospitality at my house isn’t elaborate.

There aren’t 5 course meals or grilled steak on the menu. However, no one has gone hungry and the food is always appreciated.

Find simple things to do that work with your budget. Don’t stress. Just invite people in and enjoy their company.

What are you favorite ways to show hospitality on a budget?

If you are an introvert and find yourself struggling with hospitality, be sure to check out this post for encouragement!

For a lot more info on hospitality and learning to just open the door to your home and life, be sure to check out Jen Schmidt’s new book!

Picnic table with apples and candle on it. Frugal hospitality.

Dining room table with sign on it. Hospitality on a budget.