Biggest Budget Killers

Making a budget and sticking to it can be very difficult. These are my top 5 biggest budget killers that can get you the most bang for your buck.

Eating Out – Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner eating out is costly. One of the biggest cost savings is cooking at home. The number one reason we eat out is time and convenience. Preparing make ahead meals that require just a quick heat in the microwave or oven is the best for time crunched people. To go coffee is a huge money drain. These range anywhere from $1 to over $5! Making it yourself will only cost you around $.20 per cup. Packing nutritious and filling lunches can be difficult. We aren’t always in the mood for leftovers. Noodle travel soups and salads in a jar are some amazing options. Pinterest is an awesome resource for finding quick, inexpensive and tasty options. Meal planning is one of the best options for cooking dinners at home. If you know what you can make that week and your fridge and freezer are already stocked, you’re less likely to call in take out. The average dinner per person cost $13 when eaten outside the home. For this same amount you can make a meal for a family of four with left overs.

Bottled Water – If you happen to buy the bottles in a case, you are getting the best deal. However, this is still money wasted as well as adding more plastic to the already full landfills. If you buy an individual bottle, you are looking at minimum $1 a bottle all the way up to $3+. Using a reusable bottle that is filled with filtered water can save you hundreds during the year. Not to mention most bottled water isn’t regulated in the same way that city/county water is. Whether you want glass, stainless steel, or BPA free plastic there are many kinds of water bottles in a variety of sizes to choose from. Those with a filtration system on their fridges have it the easiest. Filtration pitchers and systems that hook up directly to the faucet are a quick and inexpensive way of getting refreshing water to drink.

Cable – Most of us don’t want to give up the luxury of cable. Even with the invention of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, we still want to watch the most current TV shows and sporting events. Watching online is an option but can be an issue when multiple people want to watch at the same time. For most, we do not need the 1000+ channels offered at the ridiculous premium price. Basic cable (generally the first 13-20 channels) cost anywhere from $9.99 to $20 depending on the carrier. Reducing to this option can save you over $100 a month which is over $1000 in one year!

Electric Bill – We all know to turn off the lights in a room when we aren’t in it. Unplug unused electronic devices even when they aren’t on. But the biggest budget killer is the AC unit. The temperature you keep your house set can severely impact your bill. In the winter, keep the heat set to 68°F when you are home and awake. Reduce to 65° when you aren’t home and when you can snuggle under the covers. In the summer, set the cooling to 78° when home and increase to 80° when not at home. Many people have an issue sleeping if it’s very hot, so feel free to reduce the temperature during the summer at bedtime. The biggest impact will be seen with consistency. Don’t fiddle with the thermostat throughout the day. This causes the HVAC unit to work extra which leads to your higher bill. If you have a programmable thermostat, set it. If you don’t and can get one, they can make a huge difference in your comfort and wallet.

Gas – Driving can be a big expense especially in areas where public transportation is not very good. You may not have a choice but to drive but you can be smart about it. Making a plan of all the places you need to go to before you jump in the car can significantly reduce your gas usage. Your plan should have you driving in a circle to end up back home, not back tracking past places you’ve already been. Making fewer trips and making them count is the key to reducing your gas budget. Try to go to the grocery store once a week and don’t drive across town to save $.10 on an item you can get at the store you’re already in. When possible buy online and utilize free shipping options. Subscription options are available for many items that not only save you money on cost but also reduce the stores you need to visit to buy your goods. Amazon and Target offer this on everything from baby products to paper goods to groceries.

What are items you save money on? What are your biggest budget killers?

Lasagna In A Pot

I love lasagna but I don’t like how long it usually takes to make. There are shortcuts but it is still a time consuming and labor intensive process. This recipe is all done in one pot and takes less than an hour to make. Less mess and less hassle. This will feed 4 hungry adults and should still have some leftovers for lunch.

Prep Time: 10 minutes     Cook Time: 35 minutes     Total Time: 45 minutes

Total Cost ≈ $15 – $20

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1lb ground beef or Italian sausage
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 4-8 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • 6-8 cups of chicken stock or broth
  • 1 box Lasagna noodles broken or any macaroni noodle
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz Ricotta cheese
  • Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Parsley, Pepper, & Salt (add 1 tsp plus additional to taste for all except the salt; triple the amounts if using fresh versus dried)
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese optional

*Note: I use homemade chicken stock and “no salt added” tomato products so my soup has much less sodium because I add the salt myself. If you use store bought broth and regular tomato products taste your soup before adding any additional salt.

Steps:

In a large stock pot heat oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and cook until brown. If there is a large amount of fat drain a majority off (some fat is good for flavor). Add the onions and saute until tender. Add garlic and cook for additional 30 seconds. Add all cans of tomato products and 6 cups of chicken stock. Add all herbs & spices to taste. Bring to a boil. Add noodles (and additional 2 cups of chicken stock if you would like your soup to be soupier/thinner. It will be more stew like if you only do 6 cups), reduce to medium-low and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until noodles are tender.

To serving place soup in a bowl, add large dollop of Ricotta and a handful shredded mozzarella on top (plus the Parmesan if desired). You could add the entire container of Ricotta to the pot, mixing well, before serving but I wouldn’t recommend adding the mozzarella cheese this way. Serve with some toasted Italian bread.

Enjoy!

Money Savers & Tips

To keep your cost closer to the $15 range make your own chicken stock. Follow this recipe here.

Breaking lasagna noodles by hand is not as easy as it sounds. Place all noodles in a Ziploc bag and hit with a small mallet until they are bite sized pieces. Or replace with Farfalle, Fusilli, or Rigatoni.

If using ground Italian Sausage, try using low sodium chicken broth and “no salt added” tomato products. Sausage is usually saltier than beef so it’s best to add your own salt. Don’t forget that Ricotta and Mozzarella cheese add some saltiness to the final product.

To Plan Or Not To Plan

I read many different articles on whether or not I should write a birthing plan. Many stated they were a waste of time and you should just verbally tell your healthy care provider what your wishes were. Others expounded on the benefits of having one and the dangers of not writing every wish down. This is definitely a personal preference. I am somewhat controlling, so I decided a birthing plan would be helpful and make sure even I knew what I wanted on that big day. Doing the research really opened my eyes on all of the options and decisions that would have to be made before the baby comes, during the contractions and after they are delivered.

With that being said, birthing plans can be scary. There are templates available that list EVERY single eventuality. While these templates are certainly helpful, I recommend writing out your own plan with your specifics. It can be very short, only covering the most important aspects or it can encompass labor, delivery, c-sections, newborn care and post-baby. If this is your first baby, this is somewhat of a guessing game. You really don’t know what to expect or how you will really react. If it’s a consecutive child, you have a much better idea of how things will go and what your wishes will be.

Make your birthing plan a few months in advance for two reasons. Reason one, in case you go into labor early you are ready. Obviously, if your labor begins extremely early that might throw the birthing plan out anyway. Reason two, this gives you time to discuss with your doctor everything on your list and verify that they and the hospital are willing to accommodate your wishes. Some things are the law or are to protect you. It’s better you know what is allowed and what is not before your contractions start.

Understand that this is a plan and plans can change. Babies do not follow any rules. It’s a very good idea to include both natural delivery options and Cesarean requests, as you don’t know how you will have to deliver. It’s also a good idea to include “I would like unless” statements. This way you can state what you would primarily like but still state your wishes if a complication arises. Your plan can include newborn procedures as well, such as vaccinations refusals or cord cutting options. Make sure to include pain management options. This is probably the biggest area of difference between deliveries and most women are adamant about one or the other. It’s best if both parents can write the plan together. While the father isn’t giving birth themselves, they are usually present and it’s great if they know the mothers wishes and have input as to what happens with the baby after they are born. In worst case scenarios where the mother is unable to make a decision, the father doesn’t have to guess during such a stressful situation.

My entire birthing plan was based on a having an unmedicated natural delivery, as a c-section was only for absolute emergencies. Lo and behold, my pelvis was too narrow for my big baby and a c-section became necessary. Many of the items on my list that I was so concerned about, didn’t even make a difference in the long run since my labor was less than 3 hours long. I didn’t have time to worry about walking or eating. I didn’t verify everything on my list with the hospital, so I was required to have an IV instead of just a lock. Since I ended up having a c-section anyway, it was such a big deal. I held strong and didn’t have any pain medication until my Spinal Block moments before my c-section.

The most important part of my birthing plan ended up being our wishes for our baby. We were refusing the Hepatitis B vaccine, wanted her to be washed in our room, and in the event that we were separated my husband was to follow our baby. The last meant he left me in the OR but that was a choice we wanted. Our hospital was very pro-breastfeeding so we didn’t need to state we did not want any artificial nipples or sugar-water but this may not be the case for every hospital.

I recommend keeping your birthing plan to one typed page. Make extra copies once it gets the thumbs up from the doctor and hospital if necessary. Your doctor will probably keep one with your record but it’s best to have them with you at the hospital in case there is an issue. I’m going to include the links to the three birthing plans here here & here I used to eventually create my own. All three include everything you could possibly list. Even if you don’t have a preference on some of the options, it’s helpful to know what route your doctor does or will take. Do they use forceps or a vacuum and do you want that? What is intermittent monitoring versus continual and what does the hospital require? The more prepared you can be, the less stressful the big day will be for everyone.

Did you make a birthing plan? Did you get to stick to it?

All of the Baby Stuff

Once the thrill of being pregnant subsided enough for me to think, I realized we were going to need stuff for this little bundle of joy. Lots and lots of stuff. We decided to hold off on our registry until we found out the gender of our baby. If you don’t want to know beforehand, gender neutral colors are the way to go (though that limits some of your options). Some people even wait to have their showers after the baby is born and only buy the absolute necessities ahead of time.

We found out about our little girl around week 19, so we still had plenty of time to get registered. Or so I thought. The sheer volume of stuff that there is for a baby now is breathtaking. I researched plenty to find out what was absolutely necessary and what were the best brands. I will admit my job would have been a lot easier if I had gone the more traditional route on the things I wanted for my baby. I opted for organic bedding and clothes, glass bottles, and as many products made in the USA as I could.

Where to register was another speed bump. Our families live across many different states. Not everyone is adept at using the internet, so I needed to find physical stores that were close to everyone. I narrowed our stores to Buy Buy Baby and Target. Toys R Us/Babies R Us, Walmart and Amazon were all contenders at one point. I wanted to limited the number of duplicates but not decrease our likelihood of obtaining the things we needed. Most stores offer the same benefits for registering with them so this is really just a personal preference and a matter of convenience for those shopping for you and your child.

At one point I had over 300 items registered for on just ONE registry. Granted some of it was duplicates in different colors and sizes. But that is still a ridiculous amount of stuff. I will admit I didn’t pare my list down much but I didn’t receive a fraction of what I registered for either. Now that I’ve made it through those first few crazy weeks I can look back and see what we really needed and used and what was a luxury or still sitting unopened.

Must Haves:

  • Crib, bassinet, cradle, co-sleeper, etc  – Some place for your baby to safely sleep. I swore my daughter would sleep in her crib from day one. 18 weeks later she still sleeps in our room. Half the time in the bed with us. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s up to the current safety guidelines.
  • Corresponding Infant Mattress or dual sided mattress -Dual sided mattress are more expensive upfront but you won’t have to purchase a new mattress when they become a toddler.
  • Corresponding Sheets –  I would recommend at least 3 for sanity’s sake.
  • Receiving blankets –  these are lighter weight and can be used to swaddle if your baby likes it. Recommend 4
  • Baby blankets – these are heavier and good if your baby is born in the winter. Recommend 4
  • Changing pad/table –  Most lists said this was unnecessary as they just changed their baby wherever. We placed our $20 changing pad on top of her dresser so an expensive table wasn’t necessary. However, I found it extremely useful to have a designated place where her wipes, diapers, creams, etc were located within easy reach.
  • Diapers – whether you use cloth or disposable these are a must. Keep in mind, newborn diapers only go up to 10 pounds. We could only use the newborn size for about 2 weeks before we had to go up to size 1. Recommend  1-2 Large boxes of newborn size and 1 Large box of size 1. Most stores will allow you to trade up sizes for unopened boxes so open smaller boxes or bags first.
  • Wipes – With so many brands it’s hard to pick. Become a label reader and find the best for your baby. Ones without alcohol, chlorine, and fragrance will be less irritating and drying on their sensitive skin. Recommend 3-4 packages
  • Diaper cream – I don’t recommend using petroleum jelly due to what it’s made from. Read the labels of any product you will be putting on your baby. Coconut Oil is a good natural alternative or find brands that have the least amount of chemicals. You only need to use diaper cream if baby develops a rash.
  • Car seat/Stroller combo – You can buy these things individually but the combo makes life so much easier. If you’ll be riding baby in more than one car often, find a set that offers more than 1 base to save yourself a ton of hassle. You’ll need an infant car seat to bring baby home from the hospital, so make sure you get this installed and you know how to work it before baby comes. Umbrella strollers should only be used with babies 6+ months.
  • Clothes – baby shouldn’t be leaving the house for a few weeks, other than their check up, so heavy weighted clothes aren’t super necessary yet. Depending on the season, where you live, and baby’s comfort temperature there are many options you’ll need to have on hand. Similar to diapers newborn clothes will only fit up to a certain weight. And some brands are cut smaller or larger than others. I definitely recommend some newborn sizes and 0-3 month sizes as well.
    • Long & Short sleeved bodysuits – these have the snaps at the crotch and no leg coverings. Recommend 5 of each.
    • 1 piece footed pajama –  these can either snap or zip and will usually be long sleeved and have covered feet. These can be fuzzy material or thinner. Recommend 5-8.
    • Dress up outfits – You might need these for newborn pictures or baptisms. 1-2 outfits
    • Socks, tights, or hats – babies DO NOT keep these on. But worth having especially during cold weather.
  • Bottles & Nipples – Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed it’s a good idea to still have these on hand for emergencies or if you plan on pumping you’ll need somewhere to put the milk. If breastfeeding or pumping 4-8 4 ounce size & 4-8 8 ounce size. If using formula 10-12 4 ounce & 10-12 8 ounce size. Make sure the nipple is the lowest flow for the first few months of feeding.
  • Formula if you are not going to be breastfeeding or if you have to supplement/need for emergencies.
  • Pump – Manual pumps are cheaper but electric pumps are quicker and more convenient. If you are going to be pumping at work, I definitely recommend the double electric variety. *Note: some insurances will pay for a pump so make sure you ask yours.
  • Breast milk bags or storage containers – necessary if you need to save your milk.
  • Burp clothes – you will constantly be going through these, especially if you have a baby with reflux. Recommend TONS.
  • Bibs – Extra help against the spit ups and protecting baby’s clothes. Recommend around 10 until baby starts eating food.
  • Bottle/Nipple Brush – Impossible to clean these with just a sponge.
  • Wash clothes –  Soft materials are a must. Baby won’t go through these very fast as it’s not necessary to wash baby very often in the first few months.
  • Baby towels – These have little hoods to cover baby’s head to help keep them warm. Again many of these aren’t necessary and they will grow out of these.
  • Baby wash/shampoo – As with any product that is put on baby, read the labels. Tear free and fragrance free are the way to go.
  • Baby lotion – Check baby’s sensitivity before slathering it on.
  • Baby Thermometer – The ear kinds are the easiest and very reliable.
  • Nail Clippers – Baby’s nails grow super quick and are very sharp. They will scratch themselves and you.

Stuff for mom

  • Breast Pads – Moms will leak through their clothes often in the first few weeks. 1 box disposable or 12-16 reusable cloth
  • Nursing/Sleep Bras – Absolutely necessary for feeding baby easily. 3-4 Bras
  • Lanolin or Coconut Oil – The first few weeks can be painful and any ointment can be a lifesaver and enhance the breastfeeding experience.

Good to Have but not 100% necessary – I found all of these things very helpful and am grateful I had them. But if you don’t have them before the baby comes it’s not the end of the world.

  • Diaper Genie (Trash Can) – You can have a separate trash can if you want but if you take out your regular trash daily, it might not be necessary. You don’t have to splurge on the expensive diaper pails. Regular cans work just fine.
  • Diaper Bag – Spending $50+ dollars on bag to carry all of baby’s stuff isn’t necessary but you will need something to when you go out. Large purses, book bags or totes can be converted, just add a travel changing pad and you are done.
  • Sling/Wrap/Carrier – If you want to keep baby close but still be able to do anything around the house, this is necessary for your poor biceps.
  • Rocker/Swing/Pack n Play – A portable place baby can relax or sleep. One kind is helpful, you don’t need all 3.
  • Nursing Pillow – Breastfeeding can be done with a regular pillow or just your arms, but when you are just learning and have had 2 minutes of sleep, it can be very helpful.
  • Pacifiers – If you decide to give your baby pacifiers, you’ll definitely want these on hand. If you are exclusively breastfeeding it’s best to wait about 3-4 weeks before introducing to avoid nipple confusion.
  • Baby monitor – If baby is going to be sleeping in their own room or if you have a large house, especially 2 stories or more, this could be necessary. Babies cry very loudly but it’s not a bad idea to have one if you want to be extra safe.
  • Baby Sleep Sacks – Helpful if baby doesn’t like to be swaddled.
  • Waterproof Mattress Cover – Let’s just say that babies like to release their bodily fluids everywhere, so if you decide to use a crib this can help protect it and make your life easier.
  • Books – Reading to baby when they are very young seems pointless but there are many studies on early reading. You might also want breastfeeding books and pediatric books for yourself.
  • Laundry Basket – Some place to put the piles of dirty clothes your baby will accumulate.
  • Baby Tub/Sponge/Mat/Pad – Some people can wash their baby in the sink or are comfortable getting into the tub holding their baby. But the individual tubs or mats can be extremely useful.
  • Nasal aspirator – You’ll probably get one or two from the hospital but unless baby has a runny nose you aren’t using this to get regular boogers out.

Things you really don’t need – Most of these are not needed at all or won’t be needed until baby is older.

  • Baby Laundry Detergent – Any free & clear detergent is suitable. It’s extra helpful to not need more than one detergent.
  • Toys – It will be a few weeks before baby can really play with anything
  • Stuffed Animals – These are a sleeping hazard and also it will be weeks before baby can play with them.
  • Walker – Baby won’t be walking for approximately 7+ months.
  • Shoes – See Above
  • High Chair – The first meal shouldn’t come till baby is 4-6 months of age.
  • White noise makers or mobile – Baby won’t even be able to see the mobile for a few weeks. And anything that makes noise will work if baby likes noise or music.
  • Rocking Chair/Glider – I breastfed in the bed or couch 99% of the time. Waking up or moving to a specific location will seem like a herculean effort.
  • Bottle Warmer – These can overheat bottles. I used a bowl of hot water. It took about the same amount of time and would never make the bottle too hot.
  • Wipes Warmer – Will dry out the wipes and can cause bacteria forming conditions.
  • Hair brush or comb – Unless your baby is born with a ridiculous amount of hair, you probably wont be using these for months.
  • Baby Proofing – Baby won’t be mobile until 7+ months
  • Baby Oil – Yuck the chemicals. Use Coconut or olive oil if needed.
  • Baby Powder – Is a proven lung irritant and potentially linked to many cancers. Cornstarch is a natural alternative if it’s needed.

 What things did you absolutely must have? Which items could you have done without?

Poaching Chicken

Knowing how to poach a chicken can really add depth to your kitchen arsenal and help your wallet. Poaching can yield not only deliciously moist chicken you can use in a variety of recipes, but tasty stock you can use in soups and stews. Poaching is fairly easy and can be done in 1-2 hours. The chicken and stock can be refrigerated for later use or even frozen.

A 4-5 pound chicken will yield enough chicken for 2 separate meals that will feed 4, plus enough stock for 1 soup/stew that will feed 4 plus leftovers for lunch 🙂 If you can’t find this size, I often substitute 2 3 pound chickens because they are usually on sale. This will require picking out more bones but yields a bit more meat.

Prep Time: 30 mins    Cook Time: 1 hour 20 mins     Total: 1 hour 50 mins

Cost ≈ $12

You will need a large stock pot. The size will be determined by how much chicken you start with. All of your ingredients should fit easily and still have at minimum 2 inches of room to the top of the pot.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 pounds of whole chicken
  • 2 onions peeled and quartered
  • 2 carrots peeled and quartered
  • 2 celery quartered (remove leaves)
  • 3 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
  • 1 lemon sliced (include peel)
  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary (fresh) substitute 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme (fresh) substitute 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2-3 sprigs parsley (fresh) substitute 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Fill pot with water so tops of all ingredients are covered. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to simmer for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Chicken will be very tender and falling off the bones. Remove as much chicken from the pot as you can and place in a dish to cool. Strain broth through a sieve or small-holed strainer and set aside. Some chicken may be included with the strained vegetables and herbs. Pick that out and put with the rest of the chicken. Once the chicken has cooled, remove skin and bones. You can either diced or shred the chicken depending on the recipe you want to use it in. What to do with your strained vegetable is up to you. Some ideas include:

  • Remove the lemon pieces, herb sprigs and bay leaves and puree the vegetables in a blender. This can be added back into the broth when making a soup/stew for extra flavor and thickness. If you used dried herbs those do not have to be removed.
  • Carrots can be removed individually and pureed for baby food or left whole and given to family dog during meal time.
  • If you would like to use the vegetables in a soup or stew chop them into smaller bite sized pieces instead of quarters and double the quantity of the vegetables only. Remove the lemon and herbs and place vegetables back into the stock.

NOTE: Keep in mind, this is a stock not a broth. There is no salt in this stock. You will need to add salt and other spices or flavorings when using the stock to make it into a broth.

Tips

This is a basic stock that is great on its own but herbs and vegetables can be swapped out depending on the flavor you want to achieve. Here are some options you can try.

Italian : Trade out rosemary and lemon for basil, marjoram, oregano and more garlic.

Asian: Trade out rosemary, lemon, thyme, parsley, bay and add ginger, soy, scallions, mushrooms, and cumin

Mexican: Trade out rosemary, lemon, bay, thyme and add dried spicy pepper of choice (jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero), leeks, and chili powder

Adding potatoes to the stock will make the stock thicker, which yields great results in stews.

Check back for more recipes using the chicken and stock. If you haven’t already checked out the Chicken Pot Pie Casserole recipe, the chicken can be used in that dish 🙂

Happy Cooking!

What combinations did you use in your stock? What did you use your stock for?

Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

Casseroles are easy and quick. 2 things I need my food to be with an infant. I love chicken pot pies but the family size ones are not enough for my husband and me. Not to mention they are usually around $10. This is an easy recipe that can feed at least 2 adults and 1-2 small children.

Prep Time: 10 minutes     Cook Time: 25 minutes     Total time: 35 minutes

Total Cost ≈ $10

Ingredients:

1 – 26oz can Cream of Chicken (I use the one large can but 3 small cans can be substituted)

3 – 10.75oz cans Cream of Potato (A can of cream of celery or mushroom can be substituted to taste)

2 – 10oz cans of canned Chicken

1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (I often buy separate bags of peas, corn and carrots to use in multiple recipes)

2 cups Complete Buttermilk Pancake Mix (Any brand but if you don’t use the complete you will need eggs and milk)

1 3/4 cups water

Pepper

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven 350°
  2. Mix cream of chicken and cream of potato together in a large casserole dish to combine
  3. Into the cream mixture, mix in the drained chicken and mixed vegetables
  4. Add pepper to taste
  5. Mix together 2 cups Pancake mix and 1 3/4 cups water (this is a 1/4 cup more water than the directions on the box. You want it thinner than what you want your pancake to be) *Note: if you are not using the complete, follow the instructions on the box but increase the milk by 1/4 cups.
  6. Pour pancake mixture over the entire top of the pot pie filling as evenly as possible. Use a rubber spatula to spread the pancake mixture evenly if necessary, trying not to mix it into the filling.
  7. Cook 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden brown

Enjoy

Money Savers

Making your own shredded chicken can be a huge cost savings. A can of chicken usually costs $2.25 minimum (generic). Poaching whole chickens can yield more and tastier chicken. I can get a 3 pound chicken for around $4. That’s at least a 50¢ savings and double the meat required for this recipe *You can make a double batch and freeze one*. As an added plus the poaching liquid can be used as a yummy stock for soups and stews. This will increase your prep time for this recipe but poaching can be done in advance and the shredded chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for approximately 5 days or frozen for months.  *Check back for poaching recipes

Potential savings if you know how and already have the ingredients is to make the pancake mix from scratch. A box of mix is around $3. The ingredients for pancakes are ones we generally have on hand but the mix is definitely a time saver and a box goes a long way.

Unprepared knowledge

I read a ridiculous amount of articles on what to expect during my pregnancy. I owned a copy of the What To Expect When You Are Expecting book. I signed up for The Bump. Not to mention I asked questions of every mom and pregnant person I knew. I wanted to be prepared. I figured I could ease my over active mind if I knew what was coming and know that I was just like the rest of the childbearing population. Here are the things I knew but I was still completely unprepared for.

  • Weight gain. This is a no-brainer. Everyone knows you gain weight while pregnant. Your starting weight will determine how much you should gain. I’m 110lbs and 5’1″ so I should have gained between 25-30lbs. I gained 40 POUNDS. ALL. IN. MY. STOMACH. My belly stuck so far out I was scared I would fall over on a daily basis. I barely had any swelling so I can’t even blame water weight. I never knew how heavy an extra 40lbs could be. Not only could I barely take a shower, walking and breathing were a task. Reclining and breathing were also difficult. I know there are women who gained much more than I did, but on my tiny little frame I was sure I was going to collapse under all that weight.
  • Heart burn. Dear God Almighty. As an Italian-American (okay I’m 3rd generation but we love our culture) my normal diet consists of spaghetti, lasagna, spicy sausage, black pepper, garlic, you see where I’m going. I am not accustomed to very much heartburn. My body was designed to tolerate spice and more spice and tomato sauce. By the 3rd trimester saltines and water gave me heartburn. I felt like someone poured battery acid down my throat and then it decided to come back up. EVERY NIGHT. There were multiple nights I slept in our rocking chair because it was the only way I could sleep. TUMS were a life saver, however, make sure you eat enough fiber to counter the extra calcium if you use these often. There are many other options, but make sure to discuss with you doctor before you take any of them.
  • Morning Sickness. This was the one I most prayed I wouldn’t get. The 1st trimester was not kind to me. My toothbrush became the bane of my existence. I threw up every time I brushed my teeth. EVERY MORNING. Then I had to re-brush very carefully so I wouldn’t throw up again. If that wasn’t bad enough the nausea would linger for hours. I drank ginger ale and ate crackers for breakfast. Ginger ale was a heaven-sent. No caffeine and helps with nausea (a good bit of sugar but if you’ve cut out most junk foods and sodas you shouldn’t worry too much). There are these little ginger candies you can use but they are really potent. Thankfully, this only last until about week 12 and didn’t return like some in the 3rd trimester.
  • Sense of Smell. They say this is one of the senses that can become heightened. I was akin to a Basset Hound. As a non-smoker my whole life, I’ve always been able to pick out smokers. Once I became pregnant, I could literally smell them at 100 feet away. Certain smells would cause instant nausea. Cigarettes were the worst but body odor was more of a prevalent issue. Whether it was just stinky unwashed people or soooo much perfume, working with the public was difficult.
  • Food cravings (or lack thereof). The old pickles and ice cream cliché. I can say for a fact I never wanted this combination nor did I eat any laundry detergent. I had minimal cravings. I did go through a phase where I wanted loads of green olives. Ice cream sans pickles was a favorite especially in the 3rd trimester. And perogies. If you’ve never had one, it’s the best blend of Italian and Irish (think ravioli stuffed with potato and cheese). On the flip side, there were certain foods I couldn’t stand to eat. Boneless skinless chicken breast. I picked it out of everything and it didn’t matter how it was cooked. Add the bones in and I was fine. Sausage but only the ground kind that comes on pizza. No more supreme slices for me.
  • Water intake. 60 ounces is the recommended water intake while pregnant. While this doesn’t sound unreasonable, remembering to drink those 8 ounces with every meal and snack is hard. I love water and it’s my beverage of choice but trying to make sure I stayed hydrated proved difficult, especially while at work. My doctor did not agree that the water from other beverages (or foods) counted towards this total so my juice or ginger ale just added extra fillers that didn’t even help. Some doctors will state that other beverages and food will count towards your water goal but they will often increase the amount to 80 ounces. If you are fairly active, you will require additional water as well. Some more planning on my part and this might have been an easier task and wouldn’t have led to the next topic.
  • Bed Rest. 20% of women will be placed on some type of bed rest during their pregnancy. Mine was due to preterm labor most likely induced by dehydration. However, I can’t be blamed completely because even with medication and increased water intake my contraction never stopped. Luckily, I was only placed on limited bed rest so I could still shower, cook myself meals, and do light cleaning. I wasn’t able drive, work or go shopping which limited my interactions with people. With nothing better to do I watched Netflix and drank water for 7 weeks. Fortunately, I took out short-term disability before I become pregnant. So I had less stress financially while I was out of work.  *There is some controversy about bed rest and whether it’s helpful or harmful. All I know is my baby was born 4 days before my due date versus at 32 weeks. Make sure to discuss the pros/cons of any medical recommendations with your doctor and seek a second opinion if you feel it’s necessary.*
  • Baby movement. Around 16 weeks (sometimes later if it’s your first pregnancy) you can start to feel the baby move. Everyone told me it would feel like flutters or butterflies. That is absolutely NOT what it felt like to me. I thought I had snakes in my stomach. Those first movements were fine but once she got bigger, I was unnerved for a few days until I got used to it. My little one was extremely active and remained so until I delivered. I never had to worry about kick counts. She became so strong that she could kick the remote or my husband’s hand off my belly. If she grows up to become a gymnast, I wouldn’t be surprised. It felt like she routinely did somersaults from one side to another. Thankfully, she stayed cleared of my lungs and ribs and caused me very little discomfort.
  • Labor pains. I had Braxton-Hicks contractions regularly from about week 20 on. Near the end they were definitely stronger and would occasionally take my breath. I told my mom a week before my due date that I felt ready for the “real” pains. They couldn’t be much worse than this. No I was not. The doctors say you will know when you need to go to the hospital. They are right. The pain is nothing I can describe without falling short. It doesn’t feel like menstrual cramps. Or an upset stomach. Take the worst cramps, stomach ache and back pain you’ve ever had, add them together and multiple the pain by 100. It will still be more painful than that. Most of what I remember is severe pressure and back pain. Everyone is different but until you feel those contractions there is no way prepare for them.

What pregnancy symptoms or ailments were you unprepared for?

The Little Plus Sign

It was a morning in January before work, after multiple days of feeling sick and eating nothing but soup and ginger ale, I decided to take a pregnancy test. We had only been trying for about 3 months. My cycle had never been regular so that was not a very good indicator for us. With a few negative test results the feeling that came over me when I saw the little plus sign was indescribable. Part excitement, part panic, part disbelief. I seriously checked the box twice to make sure the plus sign meant pregnant. My husband was still asleep and I’m pretty sure I scared him silly when I came tearing out of the bathroom with a pregnancy stick in hand yelling, “Wake up! Wake up! We’re pregnant!”

It was a weird feeling knowing there was a baby growing inside me. Nothing had actual changed but there is something about knowing that changes everything. But before we got too excited, I had to call the OBGYN. Our doctor required a doctors letter stating the results of a pregnancy test before they allow you to come in for a prenatal visit. So I scrambled to find a place we could get a test done since I didn’t have a General Doctor. Since I would need to leave work early, we decided to let my boss in on the news and swore her to secrecy.

We went to a Doc-in-the-Box for the test and were astounded that they were going to charge $116 for a simple pregnancy test! I have insurance and it’s pretty good so this was a major shock. It was already after 5 pm and we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere else. We sucked it up (not quietly I might add) and paid for the test but it stung. I definitely recommend if you are trying to have children find out what your OBGYN’s policies are regarding this and if you don’t have a general doctor or family doctor go ahead and find one. It will probably save you time, money and hassle.

With the added verification from the doctor, it was time to tell our important people about the pregnancy. But who to tell and in which order was a completely separate issue.

Start From the Beginning

I am a new full-time mommy to a beautiful baby girl. During my pregnancy I scoured the internet for information on everything relating to pregnancy. “Am I gaining enough weight?” “What are Braxton Hicks?” “How does an epidural work?” I’m finding that as a new mom, I’m still scouring the internet. “How much should my baby poop?” “Why is my baby crying?” “When should my baby eat solid food?” Making the tough decision to quit my job and stay home, I’m constantly looking up information on how to budget and get great deals. There is a certain comfort in knowing others are going through the same situations and have the same questions that I do. However, I often found conflicting information (which is to be expected with the internet) and also found my experiences to be different from the stories I read. Many times important (and unimportant but helpful or interesting) details were  glossed over.

I decided I wanted to write my story and now that my baby girl is born, our story. Us moms (and dads) have so many questions and I want to do my part in sharing what I’ve learned with everyone else. My hope is that by sharing what I know, others will share back with me. So for all you parents who want to start at the beginning with me, welcome to my journey.