Thursday, February 11, 2010

Big Kitchen Day

We are driving to LA tomorrow - all day long, with 3 kids, in our tiny car. We'll be in LA for a couple of days, then in Oregon for a few more days, and I'll be home in about a week.

All of that to say that today is very busy with packing & getting ready to go including a lot of cooking & other food prep.

1) I have to leave enough prepared food so DH has something to eat for the few days he'll be home without me. If I don't make food, he'll either not eat or eat like, a piece of bread for dinner. Seriously. So I always leave food.

2) I also am attempting to make the homemade pumpkin puree today and baby food since I'll have the food processor out. I'll keep you posted.

3) I also will be packing food for the roadtrip: breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks. I don't know how much variety I'll manage with what we have on hand, but we'll see.

OK - I'm off to the kitchen. First things first, make lunch for the kids, and start the pumpkins.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

FREE Gymboree coupon

I have a coupon for 20% off your entire purchase at Gymboree. It can't be combined with Gymbucks, but looks like it's good for everything else. You can also use it to shop online. It expires February 28, 2010.

I won't be able to use this coupon, so I'll be happy to give it away to the first person who claims it. Just post a comment & I'll send it your way.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Charitable Mileage Deduction

Many of my friends don't know about this deduction so I thought I'd pass it along here. The 1040 instruction booklet published by the IRS doesn't discuss this deduction, but the IRS publication 526 which deals with charitable contributions goes into some detail.

Basically, you are allowed to deduct $.14/mile for the use of your vehicle in charitable volunteer work. You are also allowed to deduct mileage at the same rate for travel to and from charitable volunteer work. My husband and I do a lot of volunteer work at our church, so this ends up being enough of a deduction to make it worthwhile to keep track during the year.

For example, I serve on the leadership team for MOPS at our church, an IRS approved charitable organization. I don't deduct mileage to and from church on the days we have MOPS meetings because I would likely be attending MOPS whether or not I was volunteering in a leadership position. However I do deduct mileage to and from leadership meetings we have on other days because I would not be traveling those days if I wasn't volunteering for the church.

For another example, DH volunteers with the youth group at our church. He meets with a bunch of guys on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I don't deduct mileage to and from church on Sunday because we would be driving to church anyway for Sunday service. I also don't deduct mileage on Wednesday nights because we would be driving to church anyway to take our daughter to participate in the kids' program that night. However, if DH has a meeting scheduled related to his volunteer work that is before or after church we sometimes will take two vehicles. In these cases, I will deduct the mileage of the second vehicle because we wouldn't have driven two vehicles if it weren't for his volunteer commitment.

Here's what IRS Pub 526 says: "You can deduct the costs of gas and oil that are directly related to getting to and from the place where you are a volunteer. If you do not want to figure your actual costs, you can deduct 14 cents for each mile."

You would record this charitable mileage deduction with other charitable contributions on Schedule A of your tax return. You would record it as a non-cash gift.


I love to answer tax questions, so please don't hesitate to ask.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Refinance with Points?

I just got a tax question from a friend so I thought I'd post the question and answer here, too.


Hey, my tax guru -

Quick question - We refinanced our home this year. Are only the origination fee/points deductible, or are all the fees associated with the refinance (i.e. administration fees, closing fees, etc.) also deductible. I know the amount is spread out for the next upteen years, but just was wondering if how much I get to deduct. I've found conflicting/confusing info on the internet, so I thought I'd just ask an expert!



You can only take a deduction for the points. Other costs related to "lender services" are not deductible. And yes, you can only take 1/30th of the cost of the points each year, assuming a 30 year loan.

On the plus side, if you paid points on your last mortgage you can deduct all of those points that haven't yet been deducted. For example, if you got a mortgage in 2006 and paid points you have taken 1/30th of the cost of those points for 3 years (2006, 2007, 2008). In 2009 you refinanced which is in effect paying off the old mortgage and getting a new one. Since the old mortgage was paid off in 2009 you can deduct the remaining 27/30ths of points that haven't been deducted yet. The new mortgage starts over with 1/30th of the new points again.


Zucchini Bread

I made Zucchini Bread this weekend using some zucchini from our garden that I had frozen. I get an inordinate amount of requests for this, so I thought I'd share the recipe here. I can't post my own picture, but I'll include this one from the site where I found the recipe in the first place.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts
1.Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2.Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
3.Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4.Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.

I can't get a link to work today for some reason, but at you can search for Mom's Zucchini Bread and it will print nicely formatted for you.


Friday, February 5, 2010

RIP Camera

The camera fell off the desk last night and I'm pretty sure it's dead. Dear Husband thinks he might be able to resurrect it, but I am hopeful that it has met its end. I am thankful I got all the Disneyland pictures uploaded before it took a tumble.

Does anyone love their camera and have a suggestion for a new model? I am not picky and anything would be an improvement.

And no, I didn't not push it off the desk, though I may have if I'd thought of it sometime previously (Not really, since replacing it will be a challenge).


Thursday, February 4, 2010

February Pantry Challenge

OK - I have decided to continue the Pantry Challenge into February, but am allowing myself $75 this month since I have depleted my stockpile and have to buy a few more things to put meals together.

This is the menu plan starting with Tuesday when we got home from Disneyland:

Tuesday - Lentil Soup from freezer and BBQ Pork Ribs from freezer
Wednesday - Tuna Casserole - all ingredients from pantry except cheddar, onion, & celery.
Thursday - Baked Chicken (freezer meal), fake mashed potatoes, frozen green beans
Friday - Frozen Pizza - family movie night
Saturday - Cheesy Rotini Casserole (no chicken - so sad) - all ingredients in pantry & freezer
Sunday - Superbowl Chili - huge can in pantry I'll add frozen meat, tomato, & beans to

Next week:
Monday - ham bean soup - all ingredients in pantry & freezer
Tuesday - baked pasta - have some old shredded mozzarella in the freezer for this
Wednesday - Mexican dip - have all ingredients
Thursday - Fajitas - freezer meal

2/12 to 2/20 Out of town - will freeze several servings of leftovers for DH who will be on his own for 5 nights.

I've already done grocery shopping for this week, but will probably stop this weekend for a produce bump (like lettuce & more apples). Here's a photo from this week. The groceries were about $30.

There are some pantry items in this photo I feel like I should explain! I know there aren't many of you out there reading this, but it's great accountability! So the pasta was on sale & I had a coupon making it $0.94. I was planning baked pasta and a pasta casserole this week so I went ahead and bought it. The baby food worked out to $0.24/can which is excellent, however, it would be better to make my own so I am attempting that next week. The jars are great for travel & lunches and church, plus those little jars come in handy! I am running low on herbal tea & this was on sale for $2. A little bit of a splurge, but I hadn't decided to to the pantry challenge yet. Finally, I splurged on a can of olives since my family loves them. I don't care for them, but $1 surprise makes a very happy husband and little girls. We usually add them to salads and they last several days.

What I bought: Gallon organic milk, bananas, apples, oranges, celery, cucumber, dozen eggs, can of olives, 16 jars of baby food, box of pasta, box of tea, sour cream, & cottage cheese.


Fred Meyer Organic Deals

I was pleased to see some good prices on organic items this week at Fred Meyer & wanted to pass the along. I generally won't pay more than $1/lb for fruit, so I was especially pleased with the fruit sales.

Organic Minneolas $0.99/lb - These are a cross between tangerine & grapfruit. They look like oranges with outie belly buttons.

Organic Fuji or Gala Apples $0.99/lb - yum! I love both of these varieties.

Pirate Booty or Smart Puffs are $2.00. Not the lowest price I've seen, but pretty good.

Also - in the new monthly coupon book (dated 2/3 - 3/2/10) there is a coupon for Earth's Best baby food for $0.68. Again, not the lowest price I've seen, but I thought I'd mention it.

Happy Shopping!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

January Pantry Challenge Results!

OK - so I got the January budget closed & am happy to report that we spent only $61.25 on groceries the whole month of January. This includes groceries while we were at Disneyland. Yahoo! While I didn't stay under the goal of $60, I feel pretty good about $61.25.

A big thanks to our friends who met up with us in Southern California and provided lots of food for the days they were with us.

One of the best things of the Pantry Challenge has been using up old stuff. I don't know if I should admit some of this . . .

- I'll start with the worst one. I found an old lasagna in the freezer dated March 2009. Mom has always told me meat is fine in the freezer for a year, but most freezer meal cookbooks say 3 months. I went with Mom on this one & it was fine.

- A friend gave me some expired things from her pantry knowing that I don't mind using things a little past date. I will take things the food bank won't. Is that a little sad? Anyway, on our Disneyland trip I was able to use a "just-add-chicken" pasta dinner mix dated August 2009. It was like, gourmet or something, and wow it was good. I don't know how those mixes even expire. It's dry pasta and an envelope of spices.

- I was very, very pleased to use up several boxes of crackers, granola bars, & nutrigrain bars. These were getting close to, at, or just past their dates and we used them all up as part of lunches and snacks at Disneyland. We weren't able to use up some Pop-Tarts with January expireation though. Oh well. Sugary snacks I guess for a couple days in the next couple of weeks. I'm sure the kids won't be disappointed that Mom is too frugal to toss out junk food, even when she gets it for free.

I am also pleased to see some room in my garage freezer! I am hoping to empty and defrost it completely by June so it's ready to stock up with garden produce this summer!

The hardest part of the Pantry Challenge is that I don't have any chicken. And I can't really buy any. If I find it on sale I'm only allowed to buy five pounds which is normally a less than two week supply. I'm making a cheesy chicken casserole this week that I will be making without chicken. I plan to add more veggies for bulk, but I am sure I'l miss the chicken. I'll post my menu plan tomorrow. I don't have it all worked out yet.

I want to say a BIG thank you to my mom who brought us a cooler full of meat when she visited a few weeks back. While it didn't include chicken we are well stocked on round steak, ground round, pork chops, and bacon. She also tossed in 4 pounds of cheese. Is that awesome of what?! We are so blessed.

I am hoping that next week will be a kitchen week for me with lots of money-saving food prep and I'm hoping to get advice from you guys. Some topics: Making your own baby food, making your own croutons, making your own pumpkin puree. I've never done any of these & I'm looking forward to all of them!


Financial to-do list

We are back from Disneyland and I am happy to report that we had an excellent time even with very careful spending. I'll post about that later.

Today my huge financial to-do list is on my mind. I haven't mentioned it specifically yet on this blog, but my dear husband was laid off in July and has been re-hired in a 30 hour/week position. We are so thankful that he is working and that we have excellent benefits but losing 25% of salary is taking its toll. We have a deficit each month that is eating up savings so we are trying to fill that hole in a variety of ways and these items are filling my to-do list for the week and possibly longer.

1) Close January budget - see how Pantry Challenge went with goal of $60 groceries
2) Open February budget - see how little we can take out of savings
3) File taxes so we get refund ASAP (make blog posts about tax tips) - still do to: Medical expenses, job hunting expenses
4) Send documents to mortgage company so they can process our request for a reduced payment.
5) Close business books for January including all mileage, deductions, & reconciling bank statements
6) Plan meals for next 10 days continuing Pantry Challenge principles
7) Post about frugal Disney vacation
8) OH! I forgot about the most scary of these. I have to make a resume and apply for some jobs - Ack! I'm hoping to get on with Starbucks for weekend or early morning shifts. Wish me luck!

Phew! There is a lot to do in the next few days! I'll be posting about all this stuff, and I'll also post about any great bargains I find.