October – December 2016 Quarterly Budget Review

Budget Review

Each quarter I share a quarterly budget review of our spending so you can see the breakdown of how we allocate our money. It’s also great accountability for me and helps Dave and I to see how we are stewarding our finances.

Budget Review: October – December 2016 (actual spending)
budget breakdown piechartWhat happened this quarter?

Extra mortgage payments
The home-slice is bigger this quarter because we rented out our home for a weekend and came out with $450 profit that went toward our mortgage principal. We also have bi-weekly payments set up which results in 13 payments each year vs 12 payments. That extra payment happened this quarter. Wahoo!

Holiday gifts
We have a little money automatically transferred into a savings account each month so when the holidays come around we already have money accounted for to buy gifts. Of course, most of the gift-buying happened this quarter.

New wardrobe
Mama got a new wardrobe! I got 8 tops, a hoodie, a bathing suit, and a maxi dress for $125! I usually shop via Thred Up but I discovered Bellelily.com and snagged some great deals. This doesn’t show up in the pie chart because we had some bonus cash from credit card points so that covered the purchase.

dinner dateOur most expensive date ever
We met with a couple for pre-marital counseling and as a gift they gave us a $100 gift card to a super nice restaurant in the area. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you know how cheap and frugal we are; I’m not sure we’ve ever spent more than $50 on dinner. It was fun to look at the FOOD on the menu first instead of the PRICE 😀 Of course we ended up picking the two most expensive things on the menu (duck and seabass) plus we got an appetizer and drinks. Our total actually came out to $99 so the $25 we spent out of pocket went toward the tip!

How much did your most expensive date cost?

Meal Planning for ONE

meal planning for oneA common challenge I hear from those who cook for themselves is meal planning & how to prep the right amount so you don’t have to eat tacos 5 nights in a row (though I wouldn’t be opposed to that) or see food go bad. Rather than re-invent the wheel I turned to some fellow dietitian bloggers who have already written on these topics to provide plenty of ideas & tips.

Food Prep by The Lean Green Bean
I’ve been following Lindsay for years and she is the queen of meal prep. If you don’t have time to check out all of the articles below then this is your one-stop shop. The link to this particular post is a round-up of posts she’s done on the following topics:

  • How To Food Prep – 5 Tips For Beginners
  • Top 10 Foods For Sunday Food Prep
  • 10 Foods That Freeze Well
  • How to Prep Food on the Weekend
  • Weekend Prep for Easy Weekday Meals
  • How to Eat Healthy in College
  • How to Eat Healthy During the Week
  • Healthy Snack Ideas
  • 12 Ways To Use Leftovers

Need some meal ideas for your toddlers? She’s got you covered:

  • A Month of Toddler Meal Ideas
  • 40 Healthy Toddler Meals
  • 50+ Toddler Meal Ideas (free PDF)

Soup Swap by Smart Nutrition

3 Strategies for Making Quick, Healthy Meals by Whole Green Wellness
This article has a plant-based emphasis FYI.

How to Simplify Meal Planning by Food, Pleasure, and Health

Free E-Book on the first steps of meal planning by Nourish Nutrition Co

Weekly Dinner Meal Plans (Pinterest Board) by The Spicy RD

5 Ways to Eat Less Processed Food by Katie Cavuto
Plus a meal prep cheat sheet

If you’d like additional help with implementing healthy meal prep and planning tips please fill out this form and I’ll help you get started.

What method is helpful to you when cooking for one?

Unit Pricing 101

Unit pricing
Do you know what unit pricing is? If not, this will change the way you grocery shop and hopefully shave quite a bit off of your grocery bill.

What is unit pricing?
Here’s the actual definition of unit pricing: identification of and labeling of items for sale with the retail price per unit, permitting easier price comparisons among similar products in different sized containers.

What does that mean? 
Being able to compare unit prices will allow you to select the best deal. Those brightly-colored SALE stickers may be misleading and, in fact, not be the best deal.

6oz yogurt container 32ozExample: 
You’ll often see a 10 for $10 sale price for the 6-ounce containers of Greek yogurt.
$1 / 6 ounces = $0.17 per ounce

What you want to do is compare it to an EQUAL item of a different size. Let’s say a 32-ounce container isn’t on ‘sale’ but costs $3.99
$3.99/32 = $0.12 per ounce

Even though there was a sale on the individual 6-ounce containers, you still get more for you money paying regular price for a 32-ounce container.

Things to note
Compare equal items
Traditional yogurt generally costs less than Greek yogurt. I’ll add an extra sneak loophole- brands like Greek Gods are not actually Greek yogurt; it’s Greek STYLE meaning it’s traditional yogurt that has been thickened to have a texture similar to Greek yogurt. You’ll notice that the unit price of this option is closer to traditional yogurt so it seems like a steal if you compare to other Greek yogurt brands.

You can compare unit prices for equal items AND across similar categories. For example, walnuts have been the cheapest at Costco ($0.20/ounce versus $0.40/ounce at local supermarkets). I buy the big 3-pound bag, roast them, and keep them in the freezer in a Ziploc bag. Walnuts also happen to be the cheapest TYPE of nut at Costco. Almonds come in second at around $0.37/ounce followed by cashews & pecans which run around $0.40/ounce. I opt to use walnuts for our salads and yogurt; cashews and pecans are a more special occasion since they cost twice as much. FYI- peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut, so they run much cheaper than walnuts.

Waste not
Everything comes in bulk at Costco where I shop. I buy a 2-pound bag of organic greens because we will eat all of it. If you buy the big bag because it’s cheaper according to unit price but half of it will go bad before you have a chance to use it then you aren’t really saving much money. Yes, ketchup is cheaper at Costco BUT do you really need three 32-ounce containers of it? We rarely use ketchup so I’ll pay a little more just to have a small bottle on hand.

Consider ‘value added’
Value added is when something is done to a product that makes for less work on your part. This is why pre-cooked chicken is much more expensive than raw or baby carrots cost more than whole, un-peeled carrots. You don’t have to be a superhero and make everything from scratch. Some items I’ve found to be way cheaper and easy to make from scratch are seasonings (here are some of my favorite recipes), salad dressing (my favorite), and whole chicken or roasts in the crockpot.

Don’t sacrifice quality
Set your own standards of quality. I don’t buy deli meat too often but when I do I tend to go somewhere in the middle so I’m not buying deli meat that is one step up from SPAM but also not paying $10/pound for it. Check your ingredient lists and look for unnecessary fillers. Sometimes that’s what makes a product cheaper but it’s not worth it.

Non-food items
Diapers are a doozy when it comes to your budget. Aldi recently came out with their own line of diapers and they are INSANELY cheap. I asked around to hear if other moms had tried the brand and they seemed to be comparable to other brands so now that’s my go-to. I mainly use cloth diapers but buy disposables for when we are gone for more than a day. I had previously been following a coupon blog that told me what coupons to use and pair with deals at CVS to get a good unit price but now Aldi’s diapers are the best deal I’ve seen even without any coupons.

Tips to save
This will take a little extra time but only for your next trip or two: Make a list in your phone notes of the unit prices for products you often get and what store you got it from. This is how I found out walnuts were the cheapest at Costco versus a supermarket. I learned that Greek yogurt and salad greens are often similar or even less at my local supermarket. I suggest limiting your grocery trips to 1 or 2 places; there’s no need to waste gas money or time driving to 5 stores.

Do you pay attention to unit pricing? What items do you pay particular attention to?

Quarterly Budget Review: July – September 2016

budget reviewEach quarter I share a quarterly budget review of our spending so you can see the breakdown of how we allocate our money. It’s also great accountability for me and helps Dave and I to see how we are stewarding our finances.

Budget Review: July – September 2016 (actual spending)
summer 2016 budget review
What happened this quarter?

Annual fees
Not a big slice of pie but our annual fees for my RD (Registered Dietitian) license & Dave’s PE license were due. Womp womp.

dietitian groupNational Summit
Thankfully the annual Beachbody summit was in Nashville this year so the only expenses I had was from gas and groceries since we stayed with my sister & brother-in-law and I packed my own lunches for the day so I didn’t have to eat out. I snagged a photo with a handful of fellow dietitians at the conference!

High school Reunion!
My 10-year high school reunion was this summer. I was a bit disappointed by how much it cost and that people I was hoping would come didn’t show but I still had fun connecting with old friends. This was more than our entertainment budget so to us it was a big chunk for our spending.

NoraHair cuts

Nora’s got her first hair cut at 2.5 years old. Her hair is amazing and people pay big bucks to get her highlights and natural curls. It was just getting tangled easily with all the swimming we did this summer. We took her to a cute boutique shop for kids since they had a 1st cut deal for $15 but I may attempt to do it myself down the road since I’m not thrilled about paying $20+ for a trim. I also got my first hair cut of the year! I’ve only ever dyed my hair twice and it was a quick 30-day one that faded so I guess this is one way we save money since I don’t need to keep up with color or a certain cut.

New kicks

I am a simpleton. After 3 years of wearing out my one pair of summer sandals I gave in and bought a new pair of sandals. However, I go on walks with the girls a LOT and I knew the flat sandals I was using were not doing my feet any good so we invested in a good pair for me. I am so happy with my Keens and while it’s the most I’ve spent on shoes ($67 after coupons and a promo code) they are worth it.

square dancingEntertainment
We’ve kept our entertainment budget at $50/month for awhile now so that means we have to get creative with how we spend it. We never go out for a full dinner since that would blow through the budget quickly so we find fun, creative ideas. This quarter we went on coffee dates, played tennis, went on a fishing trip with my dad, Oktoberfest in Cleveland, Forro (Brazilian) dancing lessons, and we went square dancing with my parents and the girls at a local cider mill. My face hurt from smiling so much. Best $10 we spent on entertainment 🙂

Grocery bill back on track
I did a pantry challenge with my nutrition/fitness accountability group in September and it helped me prioritize the food we already had in our home rather than buying more stuff. We went over $13 one month and under $14 another!

Biweekly mortgage payments
We have biweekly payments set up for our mortgage (ex. If your mortgage was $1000/month you’d pay $500 every two weeks so you end up making 13 payments each year instead of 12 to get ahead of schedule). This means that two months each year there is an extra half payment. This month was one of them so that explains why the ‘home’ slice (ha) is bigger this month.

3 paycheck month
Something unique that we do is rather than dividing Dave’s salary into 12 months we budget based on two paychecks per month. Twice each year Dave gets 3 paychecks in one month so those “extra” paychecks go toward our financial goals. We had an “extra” paycheck month this quarter so it went toward our new (to us) car savings. Lord willing we’d like to add to our family but I’m not sure we can fit a 3rd child into the back of our Chevy Cruze so we’re saving up for a bigger family car and slowly adding to our “new car” folder in our Capital One 360 account which is why the ‘transportation’ pie slice is much larger this quarter. I would love to hear recommendations if you love your family-size vehicle!

What do you use to track your expenses?

“Healthy” foods that aren’t so healthy

healthy foods that aren't healthyThere are countless products that are promoted as “healthy” but could really be holding you back from your health goals. I want to share a few examples with you and offer suggestions to swap for better options.

Yogurt
Activia has a great marketing strategy: their advertisements and packaging talk about probiotics, how good they are for you, and that Activia is full of them. Their clever advertising has led consumers to think that only certain brands of yogurt contain probiotics when in reality all yogurt has probiotics in it. The cultures are what make yogurt yogurt!

With that knowledge, the down side to flavored yogurt (not just Activia) is that they are full of added sugar. To be clear: the naturally occurring sugar in milk is called lactose. I’m taking about there non-naturally occurring sugar that is ADDED to the yogurt. When you look at the ingredient list which is listed in order of most to least weight you’ll find that sugar is often the SECOND ingredient behind milk, not fruit. The amount of sugar in yogurt in many flavors yogurt brands is pretty close to the amount you’d consume in a can of pop as we call soda in the Midwest. You don’t do yourself any favors by buying light/lite yogurt since artificial sweeteners ironically promote fat storage, not fat loss.

Alternative: Have you tried plain Greek yogurt? It’s the better option but has a bit of a sour taste to it. Some might suggest adding fresh fruit to it but to me it still tastes like a scoop of sour cream with a strawberry on top. Add frozen fruit instead. Throw some cinnamon & nuts in there for good measure. As the fruit thaws there juices ooze out so when you stir your yogurt at lunch time you’ve got strawberry flavored yogurt with strawberries in it.

Nut butter
Check the ingredient list because the term “natural” has no definition tied to it. Processed nut butters have added sugar and added cheaply made oils.

Alternative: Look for two ingredients –> nuts and salt. A little trick you can try: after you get your arm workout stirring your nut butter after opening the first time, store it upside down in your pantry. No need to refrigerate. This way you won’t have to stir it every time you open after that initial stir.

Dressing
Costco has this beautiful, delicious salad mix that comes with a blend of kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a poppyseed dressing. What starts out as a nutrition powerhouse is brought down by dressing loaded with, again, cheap oil and sugar. You’ll find the same in store-bought dressing, even the kind that say “made with olive oil.” If you look at the ingredient list, olive oil is often AFTER the cheap oil like canola. A company can say a product is made with olive oil to sound healthier but there could be a teaspoon of it in the entire bottle and technically they could still say it’s made with olive oil.

Alternative: make your own. Don’t be intimidated; a mixture of balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil takes seconds to pour. Use a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil and store in a used dressing bottle or buy one of those dressing shakers with a pour spout.

Protein cereal/granola bars/drinks
Companies found a way to sell products by adding protein to it making it “healthier.” Three products that comes to mind are Kashi Go Lean Protein cereal, Nature Valley protein granola bars, and Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus drinks. More often than not, products that promote a high protein content are soy-based.

bolthouse protein plus ingredients

If you look at the ingredients of Bolthouse Protein Plus drinks you will likely find the starting line up of ingredients: low-fat milk, sugar, another kind of sugar, and a blend of whey & soy protein. They put a big sticker on the front bragging about the 30g of protein in a 15oz bottle but they forgot the bigger sticker that should say “AND 60 grams of sugar.” That’s almost a 1/3 cup of sugar.

If you are familiar with the balanced eating concept I refer to often you know that both cereal and milk both count as carbs in my book. With Kashi cereal, you get 6-9 grams per serving (3/4 cup) but that’s not enough protein for a meal (our protein needs vary but this is still too low for most adults) and you get 38g of carbs which is typically more than I’d recommend at a meal. Plus, who really only pours a 3/4 cup serving of cereal? Overall; you go under on protein and over on carbs for a meal. Instead of pouring milk over this and eating it as a cereal you could sprinkle 1/2 cup over plain Greek yogurt and add a handful of nuts for a more well-balanced PFC meal. That’s an option but I’m still a big advocate for getting your carbs from naturally nutrient-dense veggies which I assume you wouldn’t top on your bowl of yogurt… another reason why I’m such a fan of eggs for breakfast 😉

Alternative: Eggs, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt made as suggested above. These are all great, budget-friendly protein options to add to breakfast. If you claim you don’t have time to make eggs for breakfast, make egg muffins to keep in the freezer so you can pop one it two in the microwave before you run out the door. Simply crack an egg, cheese, and add chopped veggies to a muffin tin (or these silicone liners for super easy clean up) and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Think of cereal as a side dish if you choose to have it and prioritize colorful veggies for your carb choice most of the time.

Don’t feel like you need to do a complete overhaul and start making everything from scratch. You’ll get overwhelmed and feel defeated you can’t keep up. Instead, pick one change you want to make this week. When that becomes a habit and you don’t even think about doing it anymore, add another swap. No need for overkill and refuse dressing at a party because it’s the processed store-bought kind. It’s the majority of what you do, not the minority, that will lead to a LIFESTYLE of healthy choices.

What other swaps have you made?

If you would like help making swaps and upgrading your pantry while respecting your grocery budget I’m just a message away. Contact me budgetforhealth@gmail.com with the subject line “healthy food swaps” and we can chat.

Non-dairy calcium options

non-dairy calcium optionsAre you a female?
Are you pregnant or a mom of littles?
Do you have bones?

I would guess you can say yes to at least one of those categories. As a Registered Dietitian I work primarily with women and most of them are pregnant or young moms. I’m either pregnant or getting un-pregnant & breastfeeding in this season of life with a 3 & 1 year old so naturally I attract that niche. Your bones continue to grow through your 30s and beyond that is maintenance but calcium is a misunderstood and often neglected nutrient. Let me explain.

D comes before C
You need calcium but in order to absorb it you need vitamin D. Some foods are fortified with it but the best source is from the sun. However, if you live in Michigan where winter is hangs around longer than it should then you need some additional vitamin D support. I highly recommend a quality vitamin D supplement if you are not outside in the sun for at least 20 minutes each day.

Skip the milk, you don’t need it
With that said, let’s move on to calcium. Contrary to popular belief and billboards I see on the highway, you don’t need to drink milk. It’s fine to have in small amounts (count it as a carb if you do, not a protein. You can learn why in my article on balanced eating basics) but you can get all the calcium you need from other non-dairy sources.

Non dairy options
Aside from milk, calcium is high in yogurt and cheeses. If you are avoiding dairy due to lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or just because you don’t buy it often, here are a few  non-dairy options that are non-fortified (meaning naturally occurring in the food, not added in) and will give you plenty of calcium.

Broccoli, dark leafy greens (think kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, bok choy… make some stir fry), canned salmon with bones (don’t worry; the bones are so soft you can make salmon burgers and won’t even notice), almonds, almond milk. Be sure to check your nutrition label with almond milk; one cup has about 50% of your daily needs! Check labels though; I just learned that the Kirkland brand from Costco only has 2% of your calcium needs.

If you aren’t sure how much calcium you are getting I highly recommend keeping a food log for a week. You can either enter it in something like MyFitness Pal to verify your intake or simply look up the calcium content of each food I mentioned above. You need more calcium when you are pregnant so be sure to accommodate the higher need. Lastly, calcium is best absorbed in smaller amounts so don’t eat all the calcium-rich foods in one meal and can it good; space it out throughout the day. For example- sauté some kale with your morning eggs. Grab a handful of almonds (fat) with your small piece of fruit (carbs) and a hard boiled egg (protein) for an afternoon snack. Stream broccoli to serve alongside dinner.

Take good care of your bones, mamas! You need them to carry around those wiggly, talking 10…20…40# dumbbells.

What are your favorite calcium-rich foods? Any clever ways you use kale?

What We Ate: Summer edition

I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. This has been a fun post to write and it’s been a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

what we ateIf you’ve been following my blog you are probably used to a monthly round up. I’m changing things up and giving you a seasonal update for two main reasons:

1. We typically eat the same 10 meals and change up the sides.
For the most part you see a lot of the same meals from month to month as I aim for simplicity (note: simple, NOT flavorless or boring) and stick with the PFC concept I am always talking about:

– At least once or twice a week we eat homemade protein pancakes or our perfected hashbrowns.
– At least once a week we eat some type of burger- salmon, pollock, grass-fed beef… served alongside a bowl of veggies and avocado. Thank you Costco.
– We usually share a meal with friends or family so that accounts for another meal or two
– I either pull out a pre-made meal from the deep freezer or rotate our favorites a couple times a month like mom’s meatloaf, chicken curry stew, or a whole chicken in a crockpot.

2. I have been shifting my focus to my social media accounts.
On any given day you can see me posting a meal I’m eating or a workout I’m doing on Instagram. If you head over to my Facebook page you will likely see a 3-minute video of me sharing a tip or trick I’ve learned and have been applying. Nora and Etta are also likely to be featured in said video and may be slightly distracting but you are simply getting a glimpse into my life as a busy mom doing her best to take care of her own body and her family! I pull out articles from my archive and share those on my page as well. I like to share my journey as I go so as you follow me you can see first hand that eating healthy does not have to be difficult, expensive, or boring.

summer meals

I still plan to write posts although they will be less frequent. This blog has been an amazing platform that started my career as a dietitian and I frequently direct those in my nutrition/fitness accountability groups here for practical tips and ideas related to food, fitness, and finance since the 3 are so closely linked. I’m so thankful for your support as I pursue my passion as a dietitian.

What meals do you regularly have each month?