Showing posts with label money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label money. Show all posts


A Week (or so) of e-mealz

I reported here that I recently subscribed to a meal planning program called "e-mealz".  I had no idea if this was going to be worth my dollar, but being fairly desperate for help in the kitchen and a Cyber Monday deal, it was worth a risk.

I decided to keep track of what I spent and how our first meals turned out.

First, a disclaimer.

I am a NON-COOK.  Seriously.  We had nothing in our house for basics - no garlic salt, no brown sugar, no vinegar, etc.  I do not cook box-meals, but I also cook very simply....on the rare occasion I actually cook.  So our first week of groceries were more expensive and we live in New York City where coupons are challenged by the cashier and groceries are expensive.  I also bought EVERYTHING on the list (aside from the one meal we knew we wouldn't make due to personal taste).  Even the $8 chopped pecans. It was not easy for my frugal self to buy those!  I also buy some things organic.

Dollars Spent:
Key Food: $63.82
Berry Fresh: $51.05
Total: $114.87

I hated going to 2 grocery stores.  But that's life here.  One grocery store NEVER has all I need.  Even before e-mealz.

We had the ingredients to make 7 meals.  That's $16.41 a meal, with some leftovers and extra ingredients for future use (brown sugar, salad dressings, $8 pecans, etc.)

So how did it go?


Kudos to the e-mealz writers.  Most of these recipes are easy enough for a non-cook to follow.  I do not LIKE to cook either, and most didn't leave me twitching and annoyed in the kitchen.

The first night I made Lemon Chicken & Broccoli with brown rice.
I followed the recipe exactly.

The result: We (2 adults, 1 4-year old) all ate happily and had leftovers.  This recipe had quite a few little ingredients; a tablespoon of that, a bit of I did start to get annoyed and twitchy by the end.  I just wanted to be d-o-n-e already, but then at the dinner table my 4-year old declared the chicken "the best ever!" and even asked for more BROCCOLI.  I'd say we had some success here!  It was worth the twitching I did while making the meal.  I don't think it will make it as a normal recipe in my life, but it's fine for once in a while.

Next up, Apple-Pecan Pork Chops.  Using some of those $8 pecans.  To be served with rice pilaf and broccoli.  We did brown rice and asparagus.

The result: We (3 adults, my sister-in-law was added to the crowd, 1-4 year old) porked out and had a weeeeee bit of pork chop for leftovers that ended up in the garbage eventually.  Upon first look my husband said, "Oooh, fancy!" and it's true.  I felt like a cook this night!  I even shared the picture on Facebook and e-mealz's Facebook as well.  I was totally impressed with myself.  This was DELICIOUS and more importantly in my world....easy!  So easy!!!  No twitching tonight!

I was feeling confident in my sudden cooking skills, so I decided to walk on the wild side and try the Molasses Pork Tenderloin the next night...but I adjusted the recipe.

Dum, dum, dummmmmm!

I decided to put the meat and seasonings in the crockpot and let it cook all day.  I have had success with my crockpot in the past, so I was fairly confident. The pork was to be served with parsley potatoes and balsamic green beans.  I followed the potatoes recipe exactly, and only changed out fresh green beans for frozen ones (and a smaller quantity).

As expected, the pork tenderloin was easily shredded with a fork, so it ended up looking like this:

Does that look nasty?
Because it WAS!

The potatoes were awesome.  The rest was a giant failure.  I don't believe this is the recipe's fault.  I didn't follow directions by using the crockpot and the pork ended up overcooked as well.  I also bought white cooking wine instead of the white vinegar that was called for.  I have NO clue if this changed the taste, but it might have.  For the green beans, of which my child gagged on, I used about half the amount of green beans but failed to half the vinegar and other ingredients that flavored them.

Epic Fail.

We ended up with pizza that night!

I didn't let my one failure stop me.  Next up was Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup.  I have made chicken noodle soup before, this had to be easy, right?!  The soup was to be served with a basic side salad of spinach and other goodness.  The only thing I changed in the soup recipe was, instead of canned peas and carrots, I used frozen.  I also didn't measure the pepper or garlic salt.  I'm kind of a rebel sometimes.  And lazy.  I didn't want to wash the 1/2 teaspoon.  A couple shakes had to be good, right?

The result: Yumm-o!  My husband really enjoyed the flavor of it all - I think it was the unmeasured garlic salt personally.  As you can see by the pic there isn't much fluid.  The recipe called for 3 cups of chicken broth and 1 of cream of chicken soup.  I think I might add 4 cups of broth next time.  Regardless it was delicious and we had leftovers after 2 adults and 1 child eagerly ate on it.  Getting a child to eat vegetables that taste that good is easy too.

Next we have the Easy Oven Southwest Chicken.  "Easy" in the title says it all.  This was SIMPLE.  Throw everything in a pan and cook.  Momma likes.  To be served with a side salad.

The result: This was good!  The entire thing was soupier than I preferred, so I used a slotted spoon to pull out the goodness then opted to throw it all on my salad with a bit of corn tortilla on the side.  Making a sort of southwest salad.  My husband really enjoy this one.  He suggested it go into our "regular rotation".  I am more than fine with that, it's seriously easy.  Plus, 3 adults (sister-in-law is back) and my son all ate on it with a bit of leftovers.  Another winner.  I think I'll drain at least one can of the beans next time though.

Next we have Garlic Meatloaf, to be served with warm potato salad.  I was skeptic of the warm potato salad, but the meatloaf sounded awesome.  My husband cooked this one, he followed the recipe except we used turkey bacon in the potato salad instead of normal bacon.  We also made a vegetable.  I'm a big veggie eater, and a potato, while yummy, is not a vegetable.  Hubby steamed some carrots and cauliflower.

The result: HECK YES!  Holy deliciousness!  3 adults and the 4-year old all gobbled this down.  We DEVOURED that warm potato salad.  It was freakin' awesome.  We all ate and ate.  This is a "Portion Controlled" meal, but it certainly was not followed that night.  I couldn't stop myself!  We had a bit of meatloaf left over for a future delicious lunch.  This was my favorite of the week!

Now, as I said in the beginning, I had bought ingredients for 7 meals; however, we only ended up making 6 due to eating some of the ingredients for lunches!  However, we still had enough on hand to easily put together more meals for the rest of the days before we went grocery shopping again.  One of the meals was to be a ham and cheese scramble.  We adapted this a bit to just be ham and eggs (with zucchini shredded in) and sausage links.  I didn't take a picture - it was a basic, but good meal.  We also had pasta ingredients on hand, so we made a simple pasta one night that was not on the schedule.

Overall this has been fantastic.  Way better than I EVER thought it could be.  It's glorious to not have to think about what will be for dinner, or what to buy at the grocery store.  Myself, my husband, or my sister-in-law can easily look at the chart and make dinner, knowing we have all the ingredients on hand.  And I can cook.  That in and of itself is pretty amazing.

One drawback.  We will miss our friendly waitstaff at the local diner!  We actually saved enough in our budget this week to buy the very expensive ink for our laser printer!

Another week has begun.  I went grocery shopping yesterday and only spent $63.69 for 6 meals, that's $10.62 a meal for a family of 2 (sometimes 3) adults and 1 child.  I'm looking forward to another week of goodness!


Cruise Money & Awesome Cyber Monday Deals

I just added $353 to our cruise fund!  Yay!

On top of that, I've been doing some Cyber Monday shopping today and have spend $11 and gotten 5 gifts for Henry, 1 for myself, 1 for my nephew and 1 for the toy drive at church.

Here is a run down of my deals: I had a $20 gift card that I received from Disney Movie Rewards (free) and a 10% off code for being a Vacation Club member (our timeshare) and they have free shipping today.  We got Henry Spiderman pajamas, a Spiderman action figure and an ornament for myself for a total of $4 after taxes. I had $25 from Swagbucks (free) and $60 from loose change we had saved that I cashed into an Amazon gift card.  3 gifts for Henry (1 was $44, ugh!), 1 for my nephew and 1 for the toy drive.  Free Amazon shipping because I was spending more than $25.  Grand total was $7 after taxes.

I also earned 5% back on my order using Mr. Rebates!

It's been a GOOD day! :)


Bad News...Good News

I've got good news and bad news.

The bad news is that we had to completely deplete our cruise savings to pay off a debt that was looming over us.

However...the good news is....we have already MORE than made up for it!

I had $448 over there on my thermometer it's $523!

Of course if we hadn't had to use that $448 we'd be close to $1,000 now, but happens, right?  I expect to have a few more good amounts coming in before the cruise, and hopefully a few unexpected ones too.

I have much more to blog about - continuing our Disney trip and a LOT of NYC things, but I have to end this here as I have a scrumptious meal of Mac & Cheese on the stove. LOL  A goal of mine this week is to post a new NYC update and what's stirring with the family!


More Moola!

$70 has been added to my thermometer on the right!  This was one of my Mouse World Travel paychecks, it feels GREAT to put my paycheck into the travel fund!!


$40 in loose change

The other day we took a stroll to a local grocery store and cashed in our change with their handy little machine.  Henry had $20 and we had $20.  Pretty nice!

I had originally planned on that $20 of ours going toward the cruise fund; however, we paired it with another bit of "found money" we had and Joe purchased a new pair of Keen sandals off Amazon instead.

He GREATLY needed these shoes, and they are for our vacations - so it works!  We ended up paying only $12 out of our checkbook.  So while the cruise money hasn't increased, we did get a pretty stinkin' good deal for a pair of Keens.

Loose change certainly adds up!

Henry will be using his money to purchase toys he will most certainly want on our upcoming trip.  We are only buying him 1 or 2 things - the rest will come from his money, and when it's gone, it's gone!  Tough lesson for an almost 4 year old.  We'll see how it goes....yikes!


More "found money"

I added $50 to our thermometer to the right for our Disney cruise fund!  YAY!  It's not growing very quickly, but at least it's something!!


Disney Cruise Money!

As you all know by now I am a Travel Agent.  It doesn't pay a ton, but it's a nice little side-income.  We have decided to use some of the money I earn to put directly into our travel fund.  We recently put $100 in, so I was able to update my thermometer finally!  YAY!

We did cash in about $35 worth of change, but are using the money in another needed area....hopefully more "extra money" will be rolling in soon!


To Disney Dining Plan, or Not?

---Just an FYI, I posted this on my Facebook, and it's also feature on my agency's website-->Mouse World Travel Blog, and thought I'd share it here too!  Let me know if you have any questions, or share your experience!---

One of the BIGGEST questions for anyone going to Disney World..."Do I buy the Dining Plan, or not?"

If you are new to Disney Dining - the food is varied and overall pretty good, no matter where you eat.  You won't be stuck to burgers and nuggets only at the Quick Service Dining locations!  (though, the Kids Picks on the Quick Service meals could stand to be a bit more varied...)  So don't worry, everyone will find something good.

Now, let me take you on a journey of how I face this "to Dining Plan, or not?" question each and every trip (and sometimes for the trips of my Clients), and then you will have your answer at the end.

Do we, or don't we?

If we do--will we really save?

And if we do...which plan?  Quick, Regular, Deluxe???

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Like Disney doesn't have enough options already!!!!!


Let's look at this logically.

STEP ONE: The facts.

In my little scenario, we are going for 4 nights, a family of 2 adults and 1 child-let's call this family Brook, Joe and Henry.  Creative, I know.

All people on your reservation must have the same Dining Plan, for the entire length of your stay.

In 2011...

The Quick Service Dining Plans includes / costs:
2 "Quick Service" meal credits (entree, dessert, non-alcoholic drink), per person, per night
2 Snacks per person, per night
1 refillable mug, per person

Adults $34.99 per person per night;
Children (ages 3-9) $11.99 per person per night

$81.97 per night.  x 4 nights = $327.88

And the Regular Dining Plan includes / costs:
1 "Table Service" meal credit (entree, dessert, non-alocholic drink--gratuity is NOT included) per person, per night
1 "Quick Service" meal credit per person, per night
1 Snack per person, per night

For stays during off-peak seasons, cost is: Adults $45.99 per person, per night; Children $11.99 per person, per night
For stays during peak seasons cost is: $47.99 per person, per night; Children $12.99 per person, per night

For ease, let's just say we are visiting during an off-peak time.

$103.97 per night x 4 nights = $415.88

And the Deluxe Dining Plan includes / costs:
3 Meal Credits - to be used however you'd like.  Quick or Table. per person, per night
2 Snacks per person, per night
1 refillable mug, per person

Adults $78.99 per person, per night
Children $21.99 per person, per night

$179.97 x 4 nights = $719.88

STEP TWO: Who is your traveling party?

1) Is your family the type that likes to sit-down for a meal every single day?  You treasure the time to sit and relax and have a server at your table?

2) Or, is your family more the quick type - where you would rather grab what you'd like, whenever you'd like, eat, and move on?  Maybe with a few sit-down meals sprinkled in there...but not everyday?

We are currently, with a young child, in the Choice #2 Camp.  Hands down.  However, I know many families-with young children-that are in the first choice.  They use that sit-down meal as a time to get out of the sun and re-charge, re-apply sunscreen and relax -or, as a finale to a wonderful day in Disney.

What choice are you?  This will help you determine which plan is best for you.

Wow, that's a really large picture of my face.  It was a good pretzel though!

STEP THREE: Where to eat?
This is sometimes difficult even for a Disney World Veteran.  There are a TON of choices.  So research, read reviews and ask opinions of those you know.

If you are a first time Disney-goer, this is VERY difficult, and my recommendation to you would be, if you think you might like the Dining Plan - buy it.  Buy whichever plan you think will fit your family best, try it and see if you like it.  The best way to learn is by experience.  Every family is different!  If you don't, next trip you will know what not to do!

For the Table Service meals you want to try:
-Are most character meals? (they are usually expensive)-Are there any Signature dining places? (they take 2 Table Credits)
-Are there any dinner shows? (takes 2 Table Credits)

All these affect the credit usage if you are on the Dining Plan, and the out-of-pocket costs should you not buy a Plan.

Looking at the quick-service meals I need to evaluate where I *think* we might stop based on previous trips and what we like to eat.

-Are we wanting to eat at the most expensive of the choices: Wolfgang Puck's Express, Sunshine Seasons, Starring Rolls, or La Cantina de San Angel?  How about Cosmic Rays, Fairfax Fare, or Flame Tree BBQ-which also can be expensive?
 -Are we going to really eat that many desserts? (sometimes you can get fruit, or a bottle of water instead of dessert too-so keep that in mind!)
 -Are we just going to opt for the free ice water instead of a soda at our meals because of the heat?
-Are we going during the Food & Wine Festival and can use those snack credits during the festival for the expensive little-plates they sell?

Only YOU can answer these questions for your family.  And they aren't easy to answer!  Only from experience have I found that my family doesn't eat as much in the hot summer months as in the cooler winter/fall months.  My husband's stomach sometimes disagrees with the fountain sodas in the heat.  And I'm not a big dessert eater-unless it's very specific desserts.  My little man will eat and eat like no tomorrow one day, and eat a crumb the next.

Picky much?!! :-)

STEP FOUR: Do the math.

Now, open up:
(>Walt Disney World>Dining>The Menus!)

Look at the menus and prices of your choice restaurants, and COMPLETELY IGNORE the links to their Travel Agency sponsor.  Book with me instead. ;-)

Now, let's do the math.

Here is how I do it.

I take the total dollar amount from the dining plan above and plug it into my calculator.

We are mostly a Quick Service family, so let's tackle the Quick Service Dining Plan.

I then go through the list of restaurants, picking which ones I think we will eat at (based on our favorites and past experiences and reviews I have read online).  I guess what each person will eat at the meal.

That, again, is not an easy task!

How is someone supposed to know what they are going to eat days-even MONTHS in advance???

However, everyone has their habits and favorites.  So, I go with this - and if I'm not certain what we will order, I average the prices.

I ONLY add in the things we would order if we were paying out of pocket; meaning if we normally probably wouldn't order a dessert or a drink here, I don't add it in (even though the Dining Plan includes it, it's not really a value unless you would normally eat it, right?)

So, let's look at a favorite of mine, Casey's Corner in the Magic Kingdom:

I know I will order Corn Dog Nuggets $4.19 and either apples or fries on the side: $2.49 and a Diet Coke: $2.19

Joe will order Hot Dog Meal - served with apples or french fries $6.59, maybe a drink-let's not add it in, but I know he'll get Cracker Jacks! $1.49

Henry will order Hot Dog Meal - served with apples or french fries $6.59 (they do not have a Kids menu at Casey's) and a milk $1.99

And I go on with the other meals, remembering to just subtract what I think we will eat, being a bit more on the conservative side.  I include a snack or two, just thinking about our eating habits, like we might crave ice cream more during the hot months, and that we like to bring a few bags of candy home with us.

This step of the process really is to know your family / traveling party and what they might order.  I know Joe cannot go to Casey's and not order Cracker Jacks.  I also know if we eat at Sunshine Seasons in Epcot, we ALL get a piece of the $3.99 strawberry shortcake!

We also eat most breakfasts in our room - bringing a few options from home, or purchasing them in the resort's gift shop.  We are sloooooow movers in the morning and I like to sip my coffee.  It's rare that we make it out of the room in time for breakfast unless we have a reservation!

Okay - so that step is done.  Your calculator is smoking and you might be a tad grayer after all the "Will we do this, or this?" thinking.

STEP FIVE: Is it worth it?


What is the total left on your calculator?

Is there a LOT of money left?  If so, the Dining Plan is not for you!  Pay out of pocket and save the money!  Some people take the total cost of what the Dining Plan would have cost and put it on a Gift Card to use for the meals - then they still don't have to think about the costs of the meals, and will likely be able to splurge on a few gifts at the end of the trip!

Is the number on the calculator negative?  Then the plan IS for you!  Buy, buy, buy!  And enjoy!

If there is only a small amount left on your calculator - you are on the fence.  This is where we most often land.  And usually I say - buy the plan.  That way we don't have to think about the costs, and since I was conservative in my calculations above, we will be splurging on vacation with desserts and snacks, and that is always fun!!

What is a "lot" and a "small amount" of money is your determination.  Sometimes the ease of being all-inclusive is enough of a lure for some families to just buy the plan and be done with it.  Only YOU can truly decide.

It all can be a toss up!  And really, even if you choose wrong and we end up spending a bit more than you might have, it's probably not going to be THAT much more.  It's vacation....relax and just let it roll...or try to at least!

 So, to DDP or not?

THE ANSWER: "It depends."

Helpful, aren't I?  LOL!

Oh, and of course there are a few other options beyond these 3 Dining Plans, maybe I'll cover the Premium and Platinum plan in a future note! :-)  And if you are looking at 2012, it's a whole new ball-game.  New prices, slightly altered plans!!  Yippee!


"Found Money"

You might have noticed my thermometer to the right, slowly going upwards... I am on a bit of a mission.  A mission using "found money" to help fund our Disney Cruise!

What is "found money"?  It's extra money that comes in - like money from a rebate.  Or from recycling soda cans.  Spare change.  Money from anything you might sell.  Anything extra in the budget.

That sorta thing.

You'd be surprised how quickly this adds up!

Our thermometer has grown due to:
  • Money that was owed to us - we didn't miss it, so we stuck it in the cruise fund
  • Overtime on Joe's paycheck - we usually have this in a generic "travel budget", but we stuck a portion of it specifically into the cruise
  • I canceled my WeightWatchers subscription and am now using a free calorie counting tool instead ($18 per month)
I have a cup full of change, a bit more of money owed to me, and a rebate to send in, so I'll be adding more soon!

Our cruise is booked for June 2-10 on the Disney Magic.  It will be our first cruise ever and I'm currently torturing myself by reading Disney Cruise Trip Reports online.  It sounds AMAZING!  I can't wait for June 2012!!!!

I don't fully expect to raise all the money we need with "found money", but even a good chunk of it, or enough to cover a shore excursion or a few spa treatments will help.  It's a fun challenge and we'll see how much I can find in the next year!  I'll keep ya posted on our progress!