Family Meal Cookery

One of the most important things for your spouse and your kids is nutrition. Without proper nutrition, you can have all kinds of nasty problems, from obesity to being sick quite frequently. It makes sense to really focus on creating healthy meals that are both cheap and tasty.

If you aren”t what your friends would call a good cook, or maybe even a cook, fear not. Cooking is easy once you get used to it and there are also many ready to eat foods that are still healthy. I know, I know, ready to eat is such a bad word, but it doesn’t have to be. You can take something in a can or box, add a little extra something something to it and you have a great meal. Sometimes the hardest part is just deciding what to cook. And what food pyramid to look at and who to listen to on Food TV.

A great way to start getting some ideas and some diversity in your diet is to join a local farm program. Usually called CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, these are local farms that will provide you with a box of food weekly or so for a fee. Not only will you be supporting local farms, you will be forced to have a diverse meal. No more out of season foods for you, you will get in-season foods, packed with nutrition and flavor! They also sometimes give you recipes for exactly what is in the box, which is a great timesaver. You will be able to branch out and cook and eat foods that you normally would pass over in the supermarket.

In addition to farm produce, a easy way to cook and have leftovers is to the thing in your kitchen that everyone gets from their grandmother for their wedding, maybe even two of them and has probably never used. That”s right, I am talking about the marvelous invention called the Crockpot. Crazy idea I know, but they are really amazing. You can put something in when you get up and when dinner rolls around, you can have a complete one-pot meal ready. You can also have plenty of leftovers and can use up various veggies and other stuff from the fridge.

Buying in bulk can also help you financially. Just remember that you have to store all the food you buy and you don”t want it to go to waste. Buying a freezer chest for the garage is a great way to be able to buy lots of bulk food. You can package up your food in individual bags and only pull out what you need to defrost. You can even store you flour and other grains to keep them from spoiling.

Once you have your crockpot, your recipe books, your fresh produce and your freezer, you are ready to cook. Cooking large meals at a time will ensure a nice supply of leftovers, especially good for the working person in the house, spending $4-$6 a day on lunch is not the way to financial freedom. You can find tons of recipes on the internet, from Epicurious to Food TV.

Outfit the Nursery

Have you looked into nursery equipment lately? Cribs, strollers, diaper changing stations, toys, baby monitors, diaper trashcans, cute decorations and much more will set you back a couple bucks if you buy them new and at the local Baby Store.

But, as a frugal parent, you realize most of the stuff you buy will be useless in a few years, if not months. So you decide to do it on the cheap.

Before you head out to the nearest garage sale and start buying willy-nilly, make a list of things that you will actually need. What To Expect The First Year has a fairly comprehensive list of items most new parents need. You could also visit Babies ”R” Us and look at their suggested registry list. Think carefully about what you need and talk to your friends with small children. They may have good suggestions for you on what items work best and which ones are useless.

You might be lucky enough to have a baby shower thrown in your honor. Many couples register for necessary items at stores like Babies ”R” Us and Target. Make a list and ask around before you do the actual registering and then save the receipts after you receive the gifts. I know one couple who scoured garage sales for several weekends in a row and ended up being able to take many things off their registry. This left the more important items, and ones less likely to be found used, on their registry like the car seat and breast pump.

One of the best paces to get baby items are yard sales. Look for neighborhoods with younger parents, yard sales by retirement homes probably will not help much. You may be able to find fantastic deals. Cribs for pennies on the dollar and more newborn toys than you actually need. Be sure that what you buy, though, is up-to-date with the current safety standards. Car seats and crib mattresses are often better found new.

Make sure to clean your items with anti-germ supplies, non-toxic for the baby, when you bring them home. You will be amazed at how much stuff you can find. Also, check out craigslist or ebay for other items. Sometimes parents sell an entire lot of stuff, enough to outfit the entire nursery for next to nothing. Be careful they don’t try to gouge you on shipping.

Another place to find used baby gear is a consignment store. Go to ones in nice neighborhoods and you can usually find trendy items for low prices. That Eddie Bauer diaper bag can be yours for a song!

The cheapest way to get those gently-used toys and other baby items is as hand-me-downs. Ask your friend with the two-year-old if they would be willing to do a baby-stuff swap with you. Call your cousin and ask her to send all of her kid’s outgrown clothes. Borrow a high chair from the neighbor who is transitioning her kid into a booster seat.

The Budget

A what now?

If that is your first reaction to the word BUDGET, you may want to sit down which unless you surf the web standing up, you probably already are.

You will need a budget to keep track of all your expenses and income. As Benjamin Franklin, who should be the patron saint of budgets said,

Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19. Result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20.06. Result misery. Hopefully, that isn”t too much math for you.

You can use your budget to really squeeze every penny out of you salary and other income sources. You will probably be surprised by all the little things you purchase that you really don”t need and how they add up. Going out to lunch or just getting coffee everyday can start costing you $50, $100 or more a month! To start cutting down and prioritizing your expenses, let us start a budget.

An easy way to setup a budget is either in a spreadsheet on a computer, or in a notepad. You will want to make some categories. You can start with the basics. Housing, food, insurance, utilities, entertainment, taxes, one-time expenses and the ever popular, misc. Don”t get too crazy and make tons of categories. This will only confuse and annoy you and you will not want to make a budget and stick with it.

Once you have a budget set up, you have to put stuff in it! Keep track of what you spend in a month and use that as a baseline. The next month start averaging the previous months expenses and income to start getting a great picture of your situation. Once you have your expenses tracked, you can figure out how much you need to live on and what categories to really put the smack down on. One of the first to be lowered will probably be misc and entertainment. Obviously food and housing will need to stay the same because you can”t have a family in a tent. You don”t have to get it right quite yet, you have a little wiggle room. Try to aim for spending no more than 120% of your main income earner”s salary. So, if you make $3000 a month, try for a budget of $3600 a month. You will eventually have to tweak it down because debt is bad but you will have some time to get used to the fact you will not be buying those $200 shoes you wanted.

Hopefully you can have a budget for a year or so to really get a feel for the cost of your life. At the very least, you should have 9 months to figure it out. Don”t worry about keeping track of every penny, but try to keep it honest. You may not think those coffees are expensive, but over a year it will blow your mind.

After the baby is born, don”t worry about living in that budget for a few months or as long as you can. Since you will have a nice safety net built up, you won”t have to worry about going over budget (you will). Once you have had a few months, you can adjust your budget to make sure that it is an accurate representation of how much life costs. You will always find items that slipped your mind or those pesky one-time expenses you don”t normally think about. These include property taxes, life insurance, and holiday gift giving.

Can You Be a Single Income Family?

So you and your significant other have decided that you have lost your mind and want to have one of you stay at home to raise the kids. Let me be the first to congratulate you on making this important decision. It can be one of the best decisions you will ever make and probably one of the scariest as well. There are many reasons as to why you would want to do this. We don”t really care about these, everyone is different. We will focus on how this can be accomplished with regard to finance, physical health and the mental health of those involved.

The first thing you should think about is can you afford it? If both of you are working right now, you will be living on half the salary you do now with one, two or many more mouths to feed. Now I know this is obvious, but you should really think about what this means. No more daily trips to Starbucks, no wild sprees at the mall or the home improvement store. It may take a little longer to get those granite counters you want and the latest Prada fashions. But with a little patience and some planning, you can still spend a little money when you want.

But how can you figure out if you can afford this lifestyle and then make it happen? Well, you will need a budget. A very strict budget that will allow you to see exactly where you money is going. It will probably surprise you to find out how much you spend on things you could do without. Just keep in mind that in come places, people get by on less than a hamburger costs.

After a budget, a big consideration in today”s world is health care. Do you have health insurance through a employer that will cover the entire family? Does it include vision, dental, and all the baby care you will need? Do you get disability insurance in case something happens to the main money earner? Medical costs are insane right now and don”t seem to be going down any time soon. They can put quite a drain on your finances with proper insurance, either through your employer or purchased by yourself.

Another item is how much debt you are carrying right now. If you have a couple car loans, some credit card debt plus a big mortgage with an adjustable rate, you may have to do something about that before you have a baby. The bills can add up fast and so can compound interest on your credit cards. With home values sinking and interest rates going up, without a locked in mortgage payment, you could be hurting when the bills come.

If you haven”t run screaming yet, that is fantastic. All of these topics and more will be covered here so hopefully you will get some good ideas. All of them are based on real experiences and are actually put to use on a daily basis. Which explains why there are 50 rolls of bath tissue in the garage, but more on that later.