Category Archives: Money/Time Saving

Garden in January, Eastern NC, Zone 7b and Harvest Monday

January 12, 2015

I am combining Harvest Monday with my monthly garden update this week. It is AMAZING to see how the garden has changed in the last two months!

Beginning of NovemberDSC_6008-EditBeginning of DecemberDSC_6282Beginning of January© Nieto Photography - - 919.495.5916 - Christopher NietoWow. In the course of two months, the bushes and trees went from green, to red, to nothing! I never realized how quickly that happened before documenting it in pictures.

We dipped into the teens multiple nights this week and never got out of the 30s many days. So I went ahead and harvested a bunch of veggies — better safe than sorry! The garden is still covered. I am hoping the kale and broccoli plants will survive the cold and will bounce back. We will see.

Celery (from store cuttings) Used them juicing and in soup.

© Nieto Photography - - 919.495.5916 - Christopher NietoCabbage (softball size but again, better safe than sorry! And they made enough coleslaw for three nights!)© Nieto Photography - - 919.495.5916 - Christopher NietoKale (salad) © Nieto Photography - - 919.495.5916 - Christopher NietoLettuce (salad) © Nieto Photography - - 919.495.5916 - Christopher NietoI remembered to take a picture one night as an example of how we ate from the garden this week:© Nieto Photography - - 919.495.5916 - Christopher NietoThis is my 2yo’s plate. Sloppy joe (marinara sauce from our tomatoes & wild onions), coleslaw (our cabbage), roasted sweet potatoes (ours), steamed green beans (ours). Bread is homemade from freshly milled flour.

All-in-all I spent money on pinto beans, chickpeas, carrots, mayonnaise, mustard, some spices, honey and olive oil (bread). (I buy dry beans, soak, cook, and freeze them in 15oz bags) I may have spent 50c on the whole meal (no more than 10 cents/child, including seconds). Tell me eating healthy is more expensive! Pbsh!

Most of our grocery money these days is going into buying fruit! Fruit is costing us so much, I have fruit on the brain. I ordered extra watermelon and cantaloupe seeds for next summer. I ordered ground cherries. And this past week I ordered two sweet cherry trees and two fig trees. I wanted to order concord grapes as well but the order was getting pretty expensive so I guess I’ll have to wait until next year for those.

My hope is that soon, I will not have to buy any fruit during the spring, summer, or fall and maybe we can dry some fruit so we will not have to buy very much during the winter months either.

Right now, we freeze strawberries and blueberries for use during the winter. We went strawberry picking last May and we are still eating raw strawberry jam. We eat our blueberries in cereal and oatmeal.

Are you harvesting? Are you still eating from your stores? Whether it is your goal to eat only from your land one day, eat only in season, or you just like looking at others’ gardens, check out Daphne’s Dandelions this Harvest Monday 🙂


Thick, Easy Marinara Sauce

September 30, 2014

I have always had trouble growing tomatoes. I am getting better but have not ‘arrived’ yet. For this reason, I have not ventured out to find a really good marinara sauce. This summer, I decided that would be my goal: to find a perfect marinara sauce for our family. I was quite skeptical because my marinara recipe had to be

  • easy
  • smooth
  • thick
  • and easy… 😉

Smooth is pretty easy to come by but thick and easy do not tend to go hand-in-hand. The last marinara sauce I made was easy but only tasted okay. And I broke our crockpot in the process 😦

I ran across a Passata recipe from Chiot’s Run (wonderful blog) and decided to try it out. She is very knowledgeable when it comes to animals, gardening, and cooking so I trusted her comments about the sauce. From what I can tell, Passata and marinara are pretty much the same thing and we use marinara sauce for everything (pizza, pasta, making sloppy joes) so I went for it.

I do not want to heat the house up during the summer so when tomatoes come in, I just stick them in a freezer bag, whole. I used two gallon freezer bags full of tomatoes to make two quarts of thick, smooth sauce. There were only a few paste tomatoes. Most were large, slicing heirlooms and lots of cherry tomatoes.

I used the same ingredients as she does but I did a few things differently:

STEP 1: Line ingredients on pan. My tomatoes were mostly frozen still. I only let them defrost enough to be able to cut them in half.

Nieto Family - September 26 14 - 0013STEP 2: Roast 2 hours at 300. Nieto Family - September 26 14 - 0039Nieto Family - September 26 14 - 0041(YUM!)

Step 3: Scoop everything into the Vitamix with a slotted spoon. Save juice as a broth for soups.

Step 4: Pour sauce into jars and freeze (an idea I also got from her).
Nieto Family - September 26 14 - 0042Look how thick! The spoon was basically vertical. Nieto Family - September 26 14 - 0044 It was super thick. I had to use the plunger to blend it all up. There was no need to cook it longer in a pan/pot, as recommended.

The verdict: Wonderful! Even my daughter, who hates tomatoes, loved it 🙂 I still tasted a slight tomatoey taste that you don’t taste in store bought tomato sauce but I assume it is just because there is no sugar in my sauce. If there is anything else I can do other than add sugar, please let me know!

Highlights of the recipe/process:

  1. I can use frozen tomatoes and the consistency does not change
  2. the oven is on a fairly low temp (roasting is normally done on higher temps)
  3. the whole process takes about 2.5 hrs, including clean up (rather than taking all day)
  4. no crockpots were broken in the process
  5. I only used roasting pans and my Vitamix to make it (no pots, no food mills, etc.)
  6. and it makes a THICK, not to mention tasty sauce

I think we have a winner! Seriously, it is so difficult to find a good tomato sauce that can be used for pizza, spaghetti, whatever! This is it (I’m pretty sure)! Thank You Chiot’s Run! 🙂

Just to reiterate:

  • NO Peeling
  • NO Food mills
  • NO canning
  • LOVE IT.

I am linking up with Green Thumb Thursdays and Simple Lives Thursday, hoping to help some other struggling marinara-maker 🙂

Budget Revelation

October 7, 2013

I have been posting at the end of each month about  how our budget is going. Nothing has changed since we started it back in February, which is good (we have been living within our means) and bad (we are still in debt).

A couple of things that have changed in the past month:

  • my heart and, specifically,
  • my pride.

If you don’t remember, we have been using cash for the past 8 months. My husband cashes his pay check and brings it home. I get $250 for groceries for the two weeks & enough to fill my tank one time. He figures out how many times he will need to go to the city in the next two weeks & takes out what he will need. We also take out tithe. We deposit the rest and pay bills from our checking account. It has worked really well.

However, this is NOT because of us! Three years ago, we tried this exact same method to bring our spending under control (we weren’t in debt but we weren’t spending wisely) and we blew it HORRIBLY. What is different between three years ago and this year? Well…

  • we have 2 more kids
  • we make 1/2 as much money

certainly nothing you could point to and say ‘THIS is why it is working now!’

For these past 8 months, every time my husband got more work, I thought…’Okay, only ‘x number of months’ until we’re out of debt.’ or whenever a new bill came in and the Lord provided the means of paying it off, I would think, ‘Good thing we have been budgeting so we have the money to pay this but man, this money was going to go to paying off more credit card debt! How many more jobs does the hubby need for us to get out of debt by the end of the year?’

Did you notice, even though I am very thankful, never once have I been thankful to God for providing us with the money to pay our unexpected bills without using a credit card. Of course, if someone were to ask me if I was thankful to God, of course I would say yes. In reality though, I was proud of what we had accomplished. :\

I have been praying that the Lord would get us out of debt…while at the same time trying to figure out how to do it myself. It is similar to asking God to save you and then going about trying to save yourself. I realize it is not the same but I see similarities…me saying I have faith but at the same time, working so hard to do what I said I had faith in God to do.

All of this was revealed to me when I found out I was pregnant. We had been holding off pregnancy (something I am against doing for the most part) for a couple of reasons.

  • I wanted to nurse longer. The World Health Organization recommends up to 2 yrs and since I try to keep my children away from dairy other than my own, nursing this long is ideal for us.
  • The other reason we had been holding off was because we were in debt.

My husband was able to get a lot of work last year from his second job. So this year, we went in debt to expand his business. We thought we would have the debt paid off by March. Guess what? Life does not always go as planned. We were not able to pay off the debt by March…or by June…We took a risk and learned a lot. At the time I had a part-time job from home. I decided I was going to work more and pay off the debt by September. I was praying that God would get us out of debt occasionally but really, I was trying to pull us up from my bootstraps to the exclusion of all else, including the children, who got pushed aside for the time being.

Thankfully, this only went on for about a month and a half when I realized the money I was making, which was minimal, was NOT worth disregarding my children half of the day. I stopped working and reevaluated when we would be able to pay off our debt. Again, I was thinking, ‘If hubby can book x number of jobs, we’ll be out of debt by the end of the year.’

However, more bills kept coming in…unexpected ones…that were quite large. I was starting to become very discouraged that we would never have a baby again 😦 I never did like the ‘wait until you have everything together before getting pregnant’ plan. I saw too many friends and family do that and end up not being able to have babies because their bodies had been messed up so badly by all of those years of birth control pills.

The Lord put it on my heart before I got married to not try to control everything. The Lord controls when women get pregnant but I felt the Spirit’s leading to stop trying to control (the reason I am against holding off pregnancy for us)…obviously, I still struggle with control issues. Anyway, I was starting to feel quite despondent over never paying off debt and never having another baby 😦

Then I found out I was pregnant…I was worried because we had not paid off our debt yet and there was no way we would be able to pay for a baby and debt! At the same time, I was glad because God took the ‘decision’ away from me 🙂 As I was praying, I said, ‘Okay God, I’m just going to pray that you pay off our debt. Nothing I do seems to be getting it done so I just pray that You will do it.’ Light bulb. Why had I not been praying this all along?

Some thoughts the Spirit imparted to me:

  • God can do anything. He made me. He made this baby. At this time.
  • Debt is unbiblical. I know He does not want us to stay in debt.
  • God’s timing is perfect, as He is perfect.

Just because we wanted debt to be paid off in 3 months, if it had, we would have never created and stuck with a budget for 8 months. We would have continued to use our credit card (we have not used a credit card since February). We have much to learn. For now, I have made the decision to stop trying to ‘figure things out’ and instead, whenever I get another bill or when my husband gets a job or whenever my mind won’t shut off (which is often), I am praying that God take care of our debt…in His time…and that we are patient and diligent while we wait.

I hate that I struggle with control issues but at the same time, I love the struggle. Sometimes when the Shepherd is so good and provides everything  we need, we (the sheep) start to think we can do it on our own. I love the struggle because I need to stop being so stupid and see what a wonderful Shepherd I have!

PS. I have not been writing much & will continue to take a break for probably at least another month as the first trimester takes everything out of me & then some. My garden looks beautiful but healthy food always makes me sick during this time so hopefully everything will stay yummy a little while longer so we can enjoy it 🙂

Free Resources for the Garden

September 12, 2013

I am planning on adding two new crops to the garden next year. Strawberries and sweet potatoes. I prepared the beds by covering them with manure when I cleaned out the chicken coop this summer.

I am planting in the sweet potato bed right now for lack of room but I was able to find a free source of horse manure recently and went ahead and covered the strawberry patch and the newly prepared potato patch.

DSC_2926(strawberry patch covered in chicken and horse manure)

DSC_2923(potato patch covered in horse & chicken manure)

I am always watching L2Survive’s YouTube videos where he goes and talks to Paul Gautcshi. I love learning from him! One thing I learned recently is that he uses wood shavings (about 6 inches) in his coop. It soaks up the ammonia smell and makes a fine, very rich compost. He says to spread it very finely over the garden. Truthfully, I’m just looking forward to the lack of smell 🙂 Our coop doesn’t smell horribly but I love the smell of the wood shavings! I’ll post a pic when I get it all spread out 🙂

I saw an Asplundh truck the other day & they said they would be more than happy to bring by some mulch. They never showed up 😦 I guess they were not able to find our house. We don’t need any more mulch but I was excited anyway.

It hurts me to spend money in general so buying things for the garden tends to be put on the back burner. Especially since I’m saving up for expensive crops like strawberry sets and sweet potatoes! Are you getting any free things for your garden?

I am linking up to Simple Lives Thursday. Check out what other people are doing to save money (among other things)!

End of August Budget Wrap Up, Stocking up, and Going out to Eat

September 4, 2013

August turned out to be very different from other months. I started out the month with a surplus of money because of all the produce we are getting out of the garden and I ended the month in a deficit because of Poison Ivy.

At the beginning of the month a friend and I were talking about being pregnant and how sick we get. We agreed to bring food to each other during the first three months of being pregnant instead of after the baby was born. That got me thinking…that’s what I should do with my surplus grocery money! Stock up for whenever I’m pregnant again – and use all the self control in the world to not use up the frozen meals until then.

I made large batches of cream of…soups for pot pie, refried beans, and baked beans and then canned and froze them. I made large batches of muffins  and biscuits (frozen individually). I used most of our strawberries and blueberries and made and froze MANY jars of jam. I made enchilada casseroles and froze them. I made more loaves of bread than I could count and froze them. I also froze coleslaw and lots of beans (chickpeas, black, and pinto) for future cooking. I tried to make enough to last 3 months as I am typically sick from month 2 through month 5 of pregnancy.

There was more to do but I used all of my extra money and I was exhausted…oh yeah, and my kids were begging me to start school! 🙂

Then, three weeks ago, I got poison ivy 😦 My husband is a pediatric nurse so we have TONS of free samples of many drugs…even with all of those, we still had to spend over $100 on meds for me! That money has to come from somewhere so we used grocery money for the poison ivy meds and for the second half of August, we started eating from the freezer.

So now I’m not prepared to get pregnant 😉 but it is quite the blessing to know that even though I have half of the grocery money I’m used to having, we will still be able to eat well. I’m glad we were able to use the surplus grocery money in a wise way and were able to see how wise it was soon – it helps to encourage us to continue to be wise 🙂

As far as debt goes, we are still in it :\ We pay all of our bills and pay for groceries and gas from one of my husband’s part time jobs. It is steady work, even though it is only 20hrs/week, typically.

His other business is more sporadic as far as work and pay. Some weeks he is incredibly busy and others, we see him more (this is how we like to think about it, rather than $$ vs no $$). So from this job, after tithe & offering, we hold back 10% to put back into his business and 5% for going out to eat. The rest goes into paying off debt.

Some may think 5% for going out to eat is crazy but setting goals are useless unless you are going to reach said goals. You have to make a budget that YOU can KEEP! We used to go out to eat once a week and would take the whole family (7 people)! If we decided ‘no going out to eat until we pay off debt’, which is what some would say should be done, we would ‘break’ that promise to ourselves eventually and once you fall down once, it’s hard to pick back up where you were…just ask dieters how much they want to get back to their diet after they ‘caved’ and ate that gallon of ice cream.

So we budgeted 5% of the 2nd income to go towards ‘out to eat’. Because we are in the budget mind frame, however, we have been really good about finding other ways to save money when going out to eat.

  1. Go alone! We used to go out to eat with the kids (all 5 of them) but that gets expensive really quickly and there are some girls in our church that love to spend time with the kids (and do it for free!) and the kids love them so the kids don’t mind that we’re eating out without them. I’ll also make a less healthy supper (I hate that that makes things special but…) and a dessert so they get a ‘special’ meal just like us.
  2. Use gift cards! When we first started trying to get out of debt, it was February and we still had some Christmas gift cards. I earn gift cards periodically from Swagbucks as well. The other week, my husband won a gift card from one of his photographs. We don’t always have gift cards but we try to save them for our ‘date nights’.
  3. Limit going out to eat to once a month. This was not the plan to begin with but it is what we have ended up doing. Then again, this is what works for us. If you can go longer, great. If you need to go out 3 times every two months, I understand. But I challenge you to NOT go out every week.
  4. ‘Splurge’ WITHIN your budget! Sounds like an impossibility but hear me out. Because we are only going out to eat once a month, not taking the kids, and using gift cards, we have ‘left over’ money for going out to eat. So on those hard days, when my husband would normally call me from work and tell me to ‘get the kids up from a nap – we’re going out to eat’…instead, when the kids go to bed, he’ll go to Dairy Queen…or grab a pizza…or bring home something else, equally as bad for us. I know, I know, I wish these foods did not taste good. And yes, they do give me a tummy ache after. But this post is about sticking to your budget, not eating healthy 😉

The dilemma: This month is the month to buy NC State Fair tickets at a discount. We LOVE the fair! We typically go two days each year. We have already not gone on a family vacation this year because of debt…were we going to have to forgo our beloved Fair because of debt too? 😦 Then I saw it. We had a good amount of ‘date night money’ left in the budget…and I have $15 in swagbucks…and my husband just got a coupon for $10 off…and we have a little bit of a gift card left…so our next date night will be free. We have enough to go to one day of the fair! 🙂 So happy! So thankful!

Yes, we are still in debt. But, we are staying within budget. My husband hates following ‘gurus’ so I don’t know what Dave Ramsey or Clark Howard would say. I am frustrated because, well, who wants to be in debt? But at the same time, I’m proud of us for staying within the budget for 7 months now and I am just praying that we will be out of debt soon…and never.go.back.

Anyone else created a budget, stuck to it, and actually got out of debt?! I know it is possible but with our incredibly high interest, it seems impossible at times :\