#82- Make Homemade Pasta


I'm a pasta lover. (Well, let's be honest, I'm a dough lover. Anything made out of dough is the pinnacle of edible goodness.) But pasta is especially close to the top of that pinnacle. So, when I was brainstorming to come up with ideas for my 101 Things list, I thought to myself, Man, it'd be pretty awesome to make homemade pasta.

I'm not sure why I thought, at the time, that this would be something I could do. I mean, who makes pasta? Aren't classically trained chefs and Italian grandmothers the only people who could possibly accomplish such a feat? I think I just put it on my list as a lofty dream, secretly believing it would never happen.

Then this week, I actually Googled how to make homemade pasta.

Um.

I was completely flabbergasted.

It's. Really. Easy.

Like, 4-ingredient easy (and one of the ingredients is water. Water. WATER.).

Yes, I am serious. Let me show you.


Flour, salt, and an egg. And a little water. That's it.

Just mix up the dry ingredients.


Beat an egg.


Heap the dry ingredients into a mound and create a little "well". Pour the egg into the well until it spills over, like a little eggy volcano.


Add two tablespoons of water (or more if needed) and stir it up 'til it looks like dough (and try not to eat it; salmonella is a thing).


Knead for about 4-5 minutes.


Roll the kneaded dough into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it rest on the counter for 30-60 minutes. Some reviewers on the original recipe from Google said you could let it rest overnight in the fridge, but I'm not so sure. It seems like it'd dry out to me (Thoughts?). 


(Impatiently waiting for the dough to finish resting.)
Once the dough is finished resting and has properly woken up (hahaha), sprinkle flour on a surface and a rolling pin and flatten the dough out as thin as you can get it.




Now it's time to cut the pasta. If you have one of those fancy pasta roller thingies with a crank, good for you! If, like me, you don't, you might at least have a pizza cutter. A knife would work too, but the rolling action of the pizza cutter makes this slightly tedious task a lot smoother and faster. 


As you can see, it doesn't have to be pretty. I was kinda going for fettuccine, but it's very difficult to get all the strips uniform, so I dunno what it turned out to be (except delicious). But hey, it's all gonna be clumped together and covered in yummy sauce anyway. You can't get too obsessive with the details here.

One thing I didn't think about until midway into this task was What do I do with all these strips of wet dough until it's all ready to boil?! You'll want to put it all in the water at the same time so it'll cook evenly, but you have to lay it out somewhere in the meantime as you go. I don't know the best technique for this, but I just grabbed some parchment paper, covered a baking sheet, and tried to set the strips out across it. But I ran out of room and had to overlap, and they got a bit tangled.


However, once I finished cutting all the dough and started shifting the pieces into a pot of boiling water, they got even more tangled, so I don't think it mattered too much that they were twisted and overlapping a little on the parchment paper. Because once in the water, they transformed into a thing of beauty. 

It looked like real pasta.


After boiling for about 4 minutes (yep, doesn't take long at all; probably could've pulled them at 3), it was time to drain. And I was so pleasantly surprised by what I found in the strainer.


Yep. Real pasta. Pretty pasta. Homemade pasta! 

I smothered it in homemade tomato sauce with some roasted veggies and WOW. It was amazing. The texture was so much better than the dried stuff; so much softer and chewier. 

And so, so tasty.


Here's the exact recipe that I followed:

Homemade Pasta

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra for flouring surface)
1/2 teaspon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water

Directions

1. Mix flour and salt in a bowl and pile it into a small mound, dipping a finger in the top to create a well. Pour egg into the well and mix well until dough becomes stiff, adding water until it reaches the proper doughy texture (soft and malleable, yet not-too-sticky).

2. Knead dough for about 4-5 minutes, then roll it into a ball and let it rest for 30+ minutes.

3. Roll dough out with floured rolling pin on a floured surface until it is as thin as possible. Cut dough into whatever shape pasta you desire.

4. Place entire batch of cut pasta into boiling water at once and boil until tender, usually about 3-4 minutes.

5. Drain and enjoy!

Have you ever made homemade pasta? Any tips or suggestions for making improvements?

Steps to Debt Freedom Part II: The Cash Envelope System


I'm so excited to finally talk about the Cash Envelope System! I am such a fan of this simple, tried-and-true method, and I can't wait to tell you how we've made it work for us. If you haven't read my post about making a budget, you should check that out before you continue, because I'm going to be making references to it throughout this discussion. 

I discovered the Cash Envelope System on Dave Ramsey's blog last year when I first decided to create an action plan to pay off my credit cards. At that time, I was single, and I had two credit cards (a Capital One card and an Old Navy Visa) with a combined balance of over $3,000. I put Ramsey's cash-only system into practice, and I paid off my Old Navy card within about three months. I (quite excitedly) closed out that account and got to work on my Capital One balance, which I paid off about six months later. (Sounds like I'm debt free, right? Well, I opened a credit account with Chase last fall and now the balance is over $3,000, so...yeah. That's why we're talking about this today.)

From these experiences, I've seen firsthand that this plan works. It really, really works. But only if you have the willpower to restrain yourself and follow the rules exactly. If you do those things, I promise you the long-term reward will be completely worth it.

So, let's get started!


The first thing to understand here is that the Cash Envelope System is a cash-only system. If you currently have debt and your aim is to be debt free, you cannot continue to accumulate debt as you attempt to dig yourself out of the hole. You would only be working against yourself if you did this, preventing yourself from ever making a dent in your debt balance. The easiest way to keep from doing this is to remove all temptation to swipe the plastic. 

After Matt and I calculated our debt balance and decided to take control of our finances, we locked our credit cards in a fire-proof safe, which is tucked away out of sight in our home. It makes it pretty darn hard to pull out the Chase card at the Walmart checkout when it's locked up in a safe on the other side of town. When the cash in your wallet is your only option, you're forced to stay on budget.

Now, you don't have to use a safe. You could hide your Citi card in your sock drawer. We just picked the safe because it's so much trouble to find the key, go to the safe, and dig through it to find the card that, by the time we do all those steps, we'll have pondered whether or not we should really be getting it out in the first place (yay for reducing our chance of making impulsive decisions!).

The same rule generally goes for debit cards, though I do carry mine in my wallet to use for gas and legitimate emergencies (which is not finding a ceramic owl statue for 75% off). I don't like to go inside gas stations to pay cash, so I just pay with my debit at the pump and keep track of how much of our designated gas money is left in our checking account. I'm not tempted to use it for other purchases when I run out of cash because I A) know how grim our checking account balance is, and B) have a strong enough fear of over-drafting. But, if you think you might be tempted to use your debit card when you shouldn't, lock it up with the credit cards. Or at least leave it hidden in your locked car before you go into the supermarket.




After you've made your budget and determined the total amount of cash you'll need to cover all of your adjustable expense categories (i.e., groceries, clothing, fun, etc.), head to the bank and either write yourself a check or hit up the ATM.

I've actually had a couple of hiccups with this step. First of all, to cover our categories for the month, we need to withdraw well over $500. Our bank has a $300 maximum ATM withdrawal per day. So, we either have to write a $500+ check to ourselves and deal with a teller to cash it (such a pain, having to talk to people and everything) or withdraw part of our cash at the ATM one day and the rest another. To keep from using checks (and making social contact), we just go to the ATM twice, on separate days, at the beginning of the month.

Another issue we've had that you may be wondering about is not having enough cash in our account at the beginning of the month to cover all our expenses for the entire month. This was a problem when Matt got paid on a bi-weekly basis, as opposed to a monthly basis as he does now. This sounds like a common issue, since most people get paid either bi-weekly or weekly. But it's not a big deal. If you get paid on a bi-weekly schedule, simply cut your monthly budget in half and get your cash twice a month, depending on when you get paid. It will require a little more work because you'll have to do all of these steps more than once each month, but once you get the hang of it, it's seriously no biggie.




I like this step. I'm not sure if it's because it makes me feel rich to see all of my money stacked up at once, or if I just like organizing things. Probably both. Anyway, if you're going to do this the old-fashioned way, you'll need to get out a few basic envelopes and a pen (or, if you have OCD tendencies like me, a variety of colored Sharpies to color-code your categories).


Label one envelope for each category that you've created in your budget. 


Now divide that fat stack of cash among your new envelopes according to your budget. If you want to spend $40 on dining out, put $40 in the envelope labeled "Dining Out". Pretty straightforward.

Once you've filled your envelopes, you're ready to shop. Just place your envelopes in your purse or wallet and go. When the cash runs out, so does the fun spending.

That's the old-fashioned, cheap-and-easy way. However, I perfected this method after getting tired of having to replace my envelopes every month (and getting embarrassed at the checkout when I shuffled through my many frayed envelopes of cash in front of an often annoyed and/or judgmental cashier). I got this coupon wallet with labeled tabs!
It's pretty life-changing.

You could always just go to the Dollar Tree and get one of their plastic expanding coupon organizers, but I wanted something that would 1) fit comfortably inside my smallish purse, 2) neatly hold my drivers' license, insurance cards, debit card, and all my frequent shopper cards and junk, and 3) look enough like a normal wallet to prevent embarrassment when I checkout somewhere (I know that's lame. But still.). This wallet does all of these things quite well, so I definitely recommend it. There are also some SUPER CUTE handmade cash envelope wallets on Etsy if you have the extra dough to go that route (but if you're needing to put this plan into motion, you probably don't, so...yeah. Don't use your credit card to get a cute wallet for this, okay?!).

Anyway. Here's how I organize my money each month with my wallet.


Before I go to the ATM, I write down how much I need for the month on an index card (sometimes I forget). I also list how much of that total goes into each category, as well as how much I'm leaving in my checking account for gas.

Then, I remove my cute little wallet tabs, which I neatly labeled to correspond with my budget spreadsheet, and I divide and place the cash on top of them. Then they go back into the wallet.


To make sure we're on track with our debit card gas purchases, I just keep our receipts in the gas tab where the cash would normally be. If you're using actual envelopes and would rather use your debit card for gas, just set aside an envelope for your service station receipts and carry it with your others.




This step is technically optional, but I highly recommend it. If you want to keep up with how well you're staying on budget, you can always just count the cash remaining in your envelopes/wallet tabs. I mean, it'll be pretty obvious when you spent too much. You'll definitely notice when your cash starts depleting (which is why this method is so effective; you don't see this and feel the sting of loss when you painlessly swipe a credit card).

But if you want to keep an extra close eye on exactly where your money is going, save your receipts and keep a spending log. You can do this with a notebook, but of course, I'm going to show you how we do it with Excel.

Every time you make a purchase, immediately put the receipt back into the envelope/tab from which you pulled the cash. When you get home, use the receipt to record the purchase. Or if daily updates are too much for your schedule, save your receipts and enter them once a week.


Like I said, you don't have to do this step to follow the Cash Envelope System. However, this additional step requires you to stop and truly see how much you're spending, how much you have left to spend, and where you may need to adjust category amounts. It was a real eye-opener this week when we saw, after entering our receipt information into Excel, that we'd gone $80 over our $90/week grocery budget...only one week into the month. Being aware of this will enable us to plan better for next week's shopping excursion.

If you follow the four basic steps above with fierce determination and self-control, you'll be fine. But here are a few other thoughts to make the process a bit clearer:

1. When the cash in one envelope/wallet tab runs out, that's it. No more spending. You make do with what you have.

2. Do NOT "borrow" money from one envelope/tab to help out another envelope/tab that's running low. It'll throw everything off. Just don't do it. (However, if it's close to the end of the month and you're truly hurting for a legitimate need, like grocery money, have a family meeting and collectively make the decision to pull from an envelope with money leftovers.)

3. Resist temptation to pull out the plastic. You have to be a responsible adult who lives within your means. No more using other people's money to cover your expenses. You can do this

4. Stick with it and be patient. Don't worry if the first couple of months aren't perfect. It'll probably take a few months to get the hang of things. 

Now, I want to add a little bonus to this method. If you (by some miracle) have any leftover cash at the end of the month, you have a few options. For instance, let's say I have a $40 clothing budget but in July, I only spent $20. I have an extra $20 in my wallet that needs to go somewhere. For August, I can either A) roll this $20 over to the usual $40, giving me a cushy $60 budget for August, B) rollover the $20 to the August budget and withdraw only $20 at the ATM to keep my usual $40 for August, which would give me an extra $20 out August's paycheck to pay toward debt, or (my favorite) C) put the $20 into a savings envelope.

We just came up with this idea last week and are anxious to put it into motion. This is different from a regular savings account. This is tangible; you can see and feel the money adding up. It's wonderful.

There are several "big things" we want to buy that don't fit into any of our budget categories, and they're not essential enough to dip into our bank savings. So, to save up for these things, we created envelopes. And, because I felt crafty at one point, a road trip jar.


I really want a bike, and Matt really wants a table saw, so we thought we'd start there. And of course, we're always wanting to go on road trips, so that's just a given. At the end of the month, if we have any cash leftover, we'll distribute it into these funds as evenly as we can.

Actually, this is how I paid for my share of the wedding. I think I've mentioned on here before that, despite all of our debt, none of it is from the wedding (Woohoo!). I saved up leftover adjustable expenses cash in an envelope labeled Wedding, and it led me to a debt-free ceremony and reception!

I don't know how long it will realistically take us to save up enough for a bike, a table saw, or a road trip, but hey, at least we're saving.

What are your thoughts on this system? Have you tried it? How have you made it work for you?

#15- Adopt an Animal


Sometimes, life is really weird.

I'm married to a wildlife scientist. He's a serious animal lover, and he's been talking about getting a pet since we started dating. We've been strolling through Petsmart and Petco just about every time we've seen one, looking at everything from guinea pigs to parakeets to... rats. Ugh. (I'm sorry, I try to have an open mind, but I've always had a rodent phobia.) We've been frequenting the websites of local animal shelters, "just looking", as he always says, but how can you "just look" into hundreds of gloomy, orphaned, unwanted faces, when their pitiful, Sarah-McLachan-song eyes stare into your soul?

We did a lot of "just looking" over the weekend, and I told him we had to stop. I don't see the point in looking at the poor things, getting all worked up and emotional over them, when we- as he keeps reminding me- can't afford to adopt one right now.

So that was that.

Then Monday morning, while he's at work, I unexpectedly get this text:


Then this happened.


He went on to tell me that during one of his stops in the field, this tiny, emaciated, tick-covered puppy with a wonky hind leg came up to him out of nowhere, all sweet and friendly despite her ailments. Since she was clearly starving, he gave her some of his lunch, and "before he knew it", she was in the truck with him. 

He said he wasn't sure what to do with her, but the pictures he sent me progressed like this:




Oh goodness. 

I think it's safe to say we had both fallen a bit in love at this point, but we had to be realistic. We've just decided to work on getting out of debt, to get on a budget and go cash-only. And this mysterious little pup likely needed more medical help than we could afford to give her. Not to mention the cost of food, toys, a bed, a leash, and all the other expenses that come with a dog.

He had me call the vet to see what he should do with her. Since she was covered in ticks, the vet told me not to bring her in until we had cleaned her up. He advised taking her to a professional groomer. But, as fate would have it, all the groomers in town were closed on Mondays.

So she came home with us.


When I finally saw her in person, my heart broke. As Matt said, she was covered in ticks. Before we could do anything else, we took her to the garage and pulled off as many ticks as we could.


We took turns, but even after removing 20+ fat, engorged ticks, there were hundreds of tiny seed ticks we couldn't detach. 


We tried our best to clean her up with Dawn, which we followed with Adams flea and tick shampoo from Walmart. Several of the smaller ticks fell off, dead, after the bath, but her poor skin was still gruesomely infested.

But she was sooooo sweet and well-behaved the entire time. Nothing seemed to faze her. She seemed so happy to be with us, she just wanted to cuddle constantly. Well, cuddle and eat. I picked up the cheapest "healthy" dog food I could find before Matt brought her home, and man, when we started her off slowly with a quarter cup, and she didn't even chew it. It vanished in two seconds, then she was scurrying around, sniffing everywhere in search of more.

We got a $4 blanket for her at Walmart and two $0.94 squeaky toys (all of which she LOVED) and placed her in the garage that night. The next morning, I called the nearest dog groomer and made an appointment for her at 11:00, and we scheduled a vet appointment for 3:00.

The whole day was kind of odd, and I felt antsy. It seemed like all of our sentences started with, "If we keep her...", though it felt obvious to me that that had already been decided (she just took up with us so well). But we knew it all depended on what the vet told us. If we couldn't afford to help her, we knew we would have to take her to a shelter.

And after bonding with her all day, I really, really, really did not want to do that. Especially after our special experience at the doggie spa.

Earlier, at the kitchen table, I'd pointed out the obvious to Matt: "You know, if we keep her, we're gonna have to come up with a name." To this, he responded, "If we keep her. You've already picked one out, haven't you? No, you've picked out five." Actually, I'd narrowed it down to three, but I just said, "I have a couple in mind, yeah. Do you?" He replied, with surprisingly little hesitation, "Actually, I do. Just one. And I thought of it pretty early on." We argued about who should volunteer their name(s) first, when finally he went for it: "Annie."

I almost fell out of my chair. Annie was one of my three.

So, she became, unofficially, Annie. Though Matt continually reminded me, "You never name an animal until you know you're keeping it."

And that is why he scolded me when I showed him her report card from the doggie spa:


And that is why I giggled when he told the receptionist at the veterinary clinic, when we first arrived to check in, that her name was Annie.

Mmhmm. You never name an animal before you know you're keeping it. (I suppose he knew, too.)

(Her complimentary bandanna from the dog spa. When she looks up at you, her ears flop back. It's pretty hilarious.)
She weighed in at just under 6 pounds. The vet estimated she's between five and six months old, likely a beagle mix of some sort. The best news? She seems entirely healthy except for the ticks, which are getting better and should improve with Frontline. Her left hind leg does appear dislocated, but he says it may heal over time. We should just watch her and see how it goes. He did warn us that it could cause arthritis as she ages, and that could eventually warrant surgery. But for now, he said she should be fine. For the most part, she just needs fattening up! And if anybody is good at that, it's the two of us. :\

So, yeah. Life is weird some times. We were looking for a puppy to rescue, and she found us!


And I think we're all pretty excited about that. As soon as we got home from the vet, Matt grabbed some supplies from the garage and started making her a collar and leash.


It turned out great! I was pretty impressed. He put it together in no time, and it's been holding really well so far. And she looks very nice and sophisticated in it. 



And yes, that was #15 on my 101 Things list. I've always wanted to adopt a rescue animal from a shelter, so this was pretty amazing. The temperature has been dipping into the low 50's here at night lately, and Matt said she would have likely died from exposure this week if she hadn't found him when she did. So despite our tight budget, I think the timing was perfect (and I am excited to share that we've only used cash to pay for her supplies so far; still no credit cards! We're making do with some things we already have until we can afford to get her the nice stuff.)

We're all definitely enjoying the cuddles.

Steps to Debt Freedom Part I: Making a Budget


Recently, I shared my struggle with debt and my new resolution to demolish it. I warned you then that I have a lot to say on the subject of debt freedom, and that I wanted to do a series. Well...here it is!

Personal finance is something I'm becoming increasingly, intensely passionate about. And now that my husband and I are determined to become debt free, I'm ready to document our progress along the way right here. (Finance Fridays may become a thing.) I want to get things rolling with a discussion of the rules and methods we'll be implementing on the road to becoming debt free. But also, to keep in line with the focus of the blog, I want to eventually explore various avenues of living life- really living- on a cash-only budget. I'm getting excited just thinking about how thrillingly challenging that will be.

But first things first. Today, I'm talking about making a budget. The dreaded b-word. The first step, and probably the most depressing step, of gaining control over your financial situation.

Now before I really get going here, I should say that none of this is new. The bulk of what I'm about to go over is common sense, and most of the rest I got from reading and listening to Dave Ramsey. I'm only sharing how my husband and I are using Ramsey's advice and common sense to take action. With that little disclaimer out of the way, let's continue.



The whole point of making a budget is to determine how much you can realistically afford to spend on the things you normally put your money toward. Therefore, the most obvious place to start is figuring out how much money you have to work with on a monthly basis.  That means digging out your paycheck stubs and doing a little math.

You could just use a plain ol' notebook and pen (er, probably need a pencil, for readjusting things), but since I have a certain fondness for Excel spreadsheets, we organized our information there.

(BTW, these aren't actual numbers or income sources. I'm just making stuff up for illustrative purposes.)

Be sure to list everyone who contributes to the household income and, by all means, make sure you are basing your calculations on your take-home pay. Don't let your salary fool you into thinking you're richer than you are. $20,000 a year before taxes and social security and all that business may only equal $17,000 a year in your hands to budget. You need to know how much money you actually have to spend each month. 



Now it's time to dig out all of your bill statements to see exactly what your fixed expenses are. Fixed expenses are the expenditures that aren't going anywhere and can't be drastically reduced at your discretion. Like rent. If you're paying $600 a month for rent, you can't simply cut it down to $550 to save money. It'll be $600 a month as long as you're living in a $600 a month rental home. 


As you can see, this does not include things like groceries, dining out, gas, or clothing. Those are not fixed expenses, because you can always spend more or less each month on those categories depending on the budget you create. Before you can decide how much you can spend on those things, you have to see how much you're spending on the bills you can't get rid of. 

Note that I included a savings deposit as a fixed expense:


Technically, the amount you put into savings each month is an adjustable expense. However, to ensure that we're depositing the same amount into our savings account each month, we chose to include it as a fixed expense. If you go ahead and plan to pay yourself first as a fixed expense, you won't be tempted to cut it out when you're shaping the rest of your budget.






Now for the depressing fun part. Subtract your fixed expenses from your total income to see how much you have left to live on.



According to this, after we pay our bills, we should have around $1113.58 leftover in our bank account each month to work with. Let's go from there to outline our adjustable expenses.




You'll need to make up a few categories to guide your spending. Since all of us have different needs and priorities, these categories and the amounts we choose to allocate to them will differ drastically from one individual/family to the next. The categories Matt and I have created for our budget are: groceries, gas, dining out, clothing (just in case), entertainment (like a new CD or a trip to the movies), and miscellaneous (any unexpected costs that don't require dipping into our emergency savings account).

If you tend to spend a lot of money on a particular hobby (one you're just not willing to give up for your budget's sake), like scrap booking or golfing, you might want to create a category specifically for that hobby. If you have a medical condition that flares up from time to time and requires irregular medication or doctor's visits, you should consider creating a medical expense category. It's really up to you and your wants and needs.


Like the words "adjustable expenses" indicate, the amounts in these categories can be adjusted until you find a number that works comfortably for you. Your family of four might need to spend $500 on groceries. You may be a single chef who cooks all your meals at home; you may put only $10 in your dining out category, if that much. 

If you're lost or just don't have any idea how much you should allocate to a category, wait a month or two before you outline your budget. During this one or two month period, spend as you normally do, but keep your receipts. List out your categories on a spreadsheet or a piece of notebook paper and log your purchases. Then, at the end of the month, see how much you spent on each category. This will show you where your money goes, and that will help you decide where you need to expand or cut back when you're writing out your budget. 

Whatever numbers and categories you designate, the ultimate goal here is to make sure your Income For Budget ($1,113.58 in the spreadsheet above) can be divided among the categories comfortably with a decent chunk leftover at the end of it all that you can use to improve your finances.

The Income Leftover ($293.58 above) is this chunk, and it needs to go one of two places: 1) into savings, or 2) towards your debt. This will be the extra money you can put toward your debt each month (on top of the minimum payment that's already listed in your fixed expenses) that helps dig you out of the hole.  

That's pretty much it. You'll need to keep up with your receipts and log your expenses to make sure you're staying on track, and of course, you'll probably have to play around with the numbers for the first few months to see how much you'll spend in reality. But this is an excellent place to start.

Next up in the series on debt freedom, I'll discuss the Cash Envelope System and how we've made it work for us. It goes hand-in-hand with the budget categories listed above, so if you're interested in budgeting, be sure to stay tuned for that!

Also, if you really want to follow the steps I just listed, you can click here to download a blank version of the Excel spreadsheet I used to set up my budget. I hope it can be of some help!