Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hoping Our Budget Doesn't Blow Up

What is this unattractive food? It's the Beef Noodle Casserole I made a few days ago. Let's talk about how we got there.

On Sunday, our 5-year-old complained that his stomach hurt. Before long, he was sick to his stomach. A small bowl of crackers was about all he could handle. I ran to the store and grabbed egg noodles in case he'd be hungry later. I figured he might eat some plain or lightly buttered noodles. His appetite didn't come back by dinner, so we saved the noodles for the next day.

So what to do with those noodles? I googled around for recipes and came across an idea from Not glamorous, and certainly doesn't pass the foodie test, but it turned out to be pretty tasty and I like meals that are budget friendly. Five bucks for the beef, two for the noodles, two for the cheese, one for the onion, one for the tomato sauce, 50 cents for the garlic. $11.50 thank you very much, with leftovers for lunch. When I use recipes from the web, I read the comments to pick up suggestions. One helpful tip was to use beef stock instead of water. I had beef stock on hand, so that worked. I added extra spices because some reviewers complained it was a bland dish. I didn't use the full package of cheese, yet it was still very gooey. I drained the beef before adding the tomato sauce and beef stock. I also added a bit of Worcestershire. If you can spell Worcestershire without looking it up, you're better than me.

This sounds like a paid advertisement for, It is not, though I will kindly take on sponsors. I have a student loan balance that I would like to pay. One reason for describing what I made is that the recipe reminds me of the recent Slate article, "If You Are What You Eat, America Is Allrecipes." It's a good read. The author observes that the popular recipes on the site reveal "most people are far more concerned with convenience and affordability than authenticity or novelty."

I love to cook. I try to make inexpensive, good-tasting meals. I prefer they include vegetables, and most of our dinners do. I have to be realistic about what our kids will eat. Budget, convenience, and the palates of children are key factors in our meal planning.

Budget takes on greater significance this year. We are trying to save for a family vacation. Last year we road tripped to Boston and Chicago, and the year before that we road tripped to New York City. But we'd like to leave on a jet plane in winter and end up somewhere with blue water and beach. The kind of vacation when you send postcards. And so we are being extra careful in what we spend. The budget smiles when a meal doesn't cost too much and leaves enough for lunch the next day. Our vacation fund is looking pretty good. But we're afraid there will be a surprise that empties the jar, like the scene in Up that makes me cry.

I write this as I await a call from an electrician with an estimate to do repair work. We have a few problems that need to be addressed. You know the feeling right before you hear what something is going to cost you? I'm just hoping the number is lower than the guesstimate I have in my head. The number in my head is one we can manage. Something a little bit higher will be hard to absorb. And anything higher than that means breaking the vacation jar.

Of course, life will go on if we don't get the postcard vacation. Expensive vacations are not something we expect or feel entitled to. We're fortunate to even have a realistic chance of taking a pricey vacation. If we stay frugal and don't encounter too many surprises the rest of the year, off we go.

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