Delicious Homecooked Meals: It’s Easier and Cheaper Than You Think

As the old slogan says, “Set it and forget it!” The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting longer. Whether you’re running around with your kids, running around with your pets, or running because that is your chosen form of exercise – it feels like there are truly never enough hours in the day this time of year. Sure, your favorite local restaurant delivers – but there’s no beating a comforting homecooked meal. The average commercially prepared meal costs $13, while on the other hand – the average homecooked meal costs $4.

Now, it’s true that not everyone enjoys cooking or considers themselves skilled at it. However, you can make delicious, cheap, and easy meals with an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker! We’re all about making your life easier here at First Financial. We wanted to share some of our favorite easy, low cost recipes to help you out during the upcoming busy holiday season. With each recipe we’ll give you a way to dress it up, as well as how to cut some costs.

For the first two recipes, we’ll be using an Instant Pot. This handy kitchen device can do it all – from sautéing, pressure cooking, and everything in between. If you don’t have one, they are regularly on sale (especially now as we start to approach the upcoming holidays) and come in various sizes.

*Note: If this is your first time using an Instant Pot, be sure to read the device set-up instructions carefully and complete the water test first.

Instant Pot White Chicken Chili

Creamy, hearty, and comforting – this recipe is a new take on the classic chili. If you aren’t a huge bean fan, feel free to cut back on the specified amount or omit them completely. Serve this chili with tortilla chips for a delicious and easy Southwestern meal.

Ingredients for White Chicken Chili:

2 large chicken breasts

15 oz can black beans (drained and rinsed)

15 oz can white kidney beans (drained, not rinsed)

1 medium red onion, diced

15 oz can of corn (do not drain)

10 oz can of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilis (keep the juice)

½ cup chicken broth

1 ½ tsp chili powder (use less if you want to cut down on spice)

2 tsp cumin

Ranch dressing packet

8 oz package of cream cheese cut into six pieces

Instructions:

1. Place all of your ingredients into your Instant Pot bowl in the following order: 2 chicken breasts (uncooked), your drained black and white beans, chopped onion, undrained corn, undrained Rotel tomatoes/green chilis, and ½ cup chicken broth.

2. Add the chili Powder and 1 tsp of cumin, as well as the ranch packet. Stir everything to combine. Be sure to lift the chicken breasts slightly so that some of the juices will get underneath the chicken.

3. Place your cut cream cheese dotted across the top of your chili. Then place the lid onto the Instant Pot and seal.

4. Cook the chili for 20 minutes on manual high pressure. Once the cooking is done, allow the Instant Pot to de-pressurize naturally for 10 more minutes. Then, completely release the pressure on your Instant Pot.

5. Remove the chicken breasts from the mixture and shred them. PRO TIP: You can easily shred cooked chicken by placing it in a bowl and using a hand mixer. Before putting the chicken back into the chili, stir the chili. Once everything is combined, return the chicken to the chili. You’re now ready to serve.

Tip: If you want even more spice, add a diced jalapeno to your chili mixture. For more spice, use more seeds.

Money Saving Tip: If you don’t use much cumin, buy a packet of taco seasoning instead. You’ll be ready for tacos and won’t have to spend money on a spice you rarely use.

Instant Pot Spaghetti

This is the ultimate easy Instant Pot recipe from the noodles to the sauce. Not only that, but this is a supremely versatile dish. You can add as many vegetables as you want, or take out any of the veggies listed in the ingredients too. You’ll want to serve this spaghetti with garlic bread (with cheese for a real crowd pleaser).

Ingredients:

1 lb. lean ground beef

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

1 tsp Italian seasoning

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your spice tolerance)

1 lb. box of dry spaghetti noodles

24 oz jar of your favorite pasta sauce

5 mushrooms, diced

36 oz of water

1 can of crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Turn on the Instant Pot to the sauté setting and add the ground beef. Sprinkle in the garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Cook the meat until completely browned, breaking up any large chunks. Turn off your Instant Pot and once the meat is cooked, you may want to drain any excess grease.

2. Break your spaghetti in half and place it on top of your meat. Pour in the sauce, crushed tomatoes, water, red pepper flakes, and mushrooms. Make sure the pasta is completely submerged in the water.

3. Seal the Instant Pot and cook for 8 minutes on manual high pressure. When the time is up, manually release the pressure. Once the pressure is fully released and not steaming anymore, open the Instant Pot and stir everything together.

4. Serve immediately.

Tip: If you aren’t a big beef fan, you can easily substitute Italian sausage for the beef.

Money Saving Tip: Pasta is essentially universal, save yourself a couple of bucks and buy the store brand.

Slow Cooker Chicken and Stuffing

Even when it’s not Thanksgiving, there is something comforting about a home cooked meal that includes stuffing. The good thing is, it pairs just as well with chicken as it does with turkey. And with a recipe this easy, you can have it any time of the year! This recipe takes minimal effort and will make your home smell amazing besides.

*Note: For this recipe, you can use an Instant Pot or a traditional Crock Pot.

Ingredients:

14 oz bag dried seasoned stuffing mix

1 sweet onion, diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 (10 oz) cans cream of chicken and herb soup

½ cup chicken broth

1 tsp ground sage

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 ½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Spray your Instant Pot or slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Add the chicken broth and stuffing mix to the slow cooker and stir to combine.

3. Sprinkle the sage over the top.

4. Lay your chicken on top of your stuffing mix and season with salt, pepper, and garlic.

5. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours and 30 minutes if you’re using a crockpot, or pressure cook manually on high for 25 minutes in your Instant Pot.

6. Remove the chicken and shred, cube, or serve whole.

7. You’re ready to eat!

Tip: Sage is what will give this meal a holiday flavor, but if you aren’t a fan, you can substitute for rosemary instead. Just as tasty! If you are using an Instant Pot, you may need to add more broth – more than likely 1 cup instead of a ½ cup. You’ll want to make sure all the ingredients are submerged before pressure cooking, if not – add more chicken broth.

Money Saving Tip: Buy a large carton of chicken broth instead of smaller cans. It will go a long way and will keep for quite some time, plus you’ll be able to use it in multiple Instant Pot or Slow Cooker recipes.

There you have it! Three meal ideas that won’t break the bank and don’t require a Michelin-Star chef to prepare. When it comes to cooking at home, just get started. Not every meal may turn out perfect, but the money you save will be worth it. And you really can’t go wrong with the ease of use of an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker. Enjoy!

How to Create a Space Saving Garden on a Budget

Were you scrolling through Pinterest during quarantine and trying to figure out how to create your own garden, but you don’t have a lawn or much backyard space? Even if you only have a small area for plants or vegetables, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your Pinterest-worthy garden. Here’s how you can make the most your urban, space-saving, garden on a budget.

Seeds vs. Potted Plants

Did you know that buying plants and flowers from seeds is less expensive than buying a full-grown potted plant? When shopping for your urban garden, consider whether you want to splurge on the already grown plant or if you want to save some money and grow your garden and flowers from seeds. Your local garden shop, nursery, or home improvement store should have both seeds and potted plants for you to choose from.

Pro Tip: Save some green by using seeds from the vegetables and fruit you already eat!

Annuals or Perennials

Another thing to consider when choosing what plants to put in your urban garden is longevity. Plants and flowers that are considered annuals bloom once a year, and then their time is done. Perennials are plants that bloom once a year, but do not die. They re-bloom the following season and remain alive. In the long run, it is more cost effective to buy perennials that will last longer, however they may be more expensive than annuals. One way to look at this is to consider your garden as an investment.

Containers

Look around your home. Chances are you have old pots, glass bottles, or unique boxes and containers already there for you to use and plant your garden in. This will help you from having to pay for containers and pots at the store that are costly. Using what you already own is also eco-friendly as well as cost effective. Recyclable glass sauce jars are excellent for propagating plants you already own, or growing a new plant from the trimming of another plant.

Pro Tip: Leftover vegetable cans are great for growing herbs in the kitchen.

Now that you have chosen between seeds and potted plants, annuals or perennials, and found the perfect container – it’s time to talk about the placement and functionality of your urban garden.

Save Space

Save some room in your home and on your patio by planting vertically! Ferns are great for hanging from the ceiling or above, and any vining plant will grow well vertically in a hanging pot. Save room in style!

Pro Tip: Trendy macramé planters are not only beautiful, but extremely functional for a space saving option.

Another option to save room is to use a balcony railing. Use rail planter boxes to save room on the ground. This is also a great way to add additional privacy to your patio.

Lastly, put your potted stationary plants that are on the ground onto some rolling carts. Rolling carts for your plants are a great option to move your plants around for optimal sunlight, but also functionality. If you need to move a potted plant to have room, simply roll it to where it needs to go.

Privacy

If you’re looking for added privacy at your home, plant tall grasses and put them up against railings. This will add an extra level of privacy and create an outdoor oasis!

Pro Tip: Most grasses are perennials! Plus, if you use rail planter boxes – you’ll have more privacy.

You’re now ready to start a space saving garden on a budget! When you go out to shop for your plants and supplies, don’t forget to take your First Financial credit card with you, so you can earn rewards or cash back on all your purchases. Happy gardening.

*APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

5 Ways Being Home Can Save You Money

As the public health emergency continues, what are you up to these days – working from home? Taking fewer trips? Eating at home more? Chances are, you’re probably saving money on gas and your usual food tab.

Hopefully, there are other areas where you’ve been able to save money as well. Check out these tips below that can help save you money whether you’re quarantined or not!

Unplug It

How many devices do you leave plugged in during the day? Did you know that even in standby mode, any electronic device that is plugged in will still suck energy?

Energy.gov reports that “an appliance constantly taking in 1 watt of electrical current is equivalent to 9kWh per year, adding up in annual costs (basically $1/watt/annual). Considering how many appliances are used in an average household, costs can quickly add up to $100-200 a year.”

If you’re not using it, unplug it. Or, use a power strip that can be turned off. It’ll save you money in the long run!

Save Water

You might be tempted to throw half a normal load of wash in, but first ask yourself – are there enough dirty clothes to make it worth it or do you have an energy efficient load sensing washing machine? Another tip to conserving energy is washing in cold water when you can, since the majority of your machine’s energy consumption happens when it needs to heat the water.

While you’re home – conserve water by taking shorter showers. If each member of your family reduces their shower time by 3 minutes, you’ll save about $100 a year on your water bill.

Check Your Policies

You’ve probably seen the car insurance commercials advertising a credit to customer accounts. Check into that. Give your insurance company a call or check your account online. Most companies are giving their customers a 15 percent credit because they aren’t driving as much. In some cases, customers are getting a $150 credit added to their policy for the duration.

Don’t sleep on the chance to save some money on your auto insurance. While you’re at it, check on your other policies and accounts. You might find other places offering a similar discount to help out their customers.

Cool It Now

What is your thermostat set on? If you’ve adjusted your thermostat during the day now that you’re working from home more, you might want to tweak that a bit to offset the cost.

Find Your New Normal

We’ve all said it – “when things get back to normal.” But now we’re all in the position to redefine what normal looks like for us. Take a moment to reevaluate your priorities and budget. Are their unnecessary subscriptions you can cut? Is there a magazine, streaming service or even gym membership that is no longer valuable because you’ve found an alternative? If so, cut those from your budget and save some money each month.

Article Source: https://www.schlage.com/blog/categories/2020/05/5-ways-to-save-money-at-home.html

 

Smart Reasons to Live Below Your Means Right Now

Having things and buying items is great, but life can still be amazing even when it’s simple. Cooking meals at home more often will definitely help you save money, and many are probably realizing that due to the recent pandemic. When was the last time you used your credit card just to shop? You are most likely not doing it as often as you used to. Living a modest lifestyle can actually be very satisfying. Even if you haven’t missed a single day of work due to COVID-19, here are a few reasons to live below your means anyway.

You’ll pay off debt faster: Debt is not cheap, which you probably know. If you’ve ever had to swipe your credit card for an unexpected bill you know it can sometimes take years to pay it back. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s probably even worse. These days during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re spending has probably slowed down – but if you focus on cutting back even more, it will provide you with an opportunity to pay down your debt even faster.

You can still have amazing experiences: Sometimes we remember the items we spent our money on years ago, and may regret those purchases thinking that we actually wasted our hard earned dollars on them. However if you really think about it, what most individuals remember are the people and experiences in our lives. Once things start to return to normal, most will want to have those experiences with the people that they’re unable to spend time with right now.

You’ll teach your children: Don’t let your kids see you trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” it only teaches them that material things and spending money are important. You want your children to learn to appreciate the little things in life. Recently staying at home and spending time together as a family and playing outside has probably shown them exactly that. Plus, this may also teach them to be a lot more frugal when they’re spending their own money one day.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

How to Stick to a Food Budget

If you’re spending a lot of money on food, the quickest fix is to take a look at how and where you are buying food and eat out less (or not at all). In addition to cutting back on dining out, here are a few easy ways to keep your food budget in check!

Don’t wander around the store: It might be convenient to get all your shopping done in one location, but that might not always be the best money saver. There are certain items you can purchase at the grocery store, but if you’re looking to save – it’s probably best to buy these items elsewhere. Think: Cleaning products, detergents, medications, and so on. You might not be a fan of having to drive to another store, but the money you’ll save by purchasing these household items at Walmart or Target will quickly change your mind.

Don’t buy what isn’t on your shopping list: No matter where you’re shopping, it’s easy to buy something that’s not on your list. This can be especially true when at the grocery store, and can break your budget. One important thing to remember: Never shop while you’re hungry. Be sure to have a snack or meal prior to going to the store to protect your budget. Also ensure your list is complete before you go to the store, and force yourself to stick to it.

Sometimes it pays to buy in bulk: It’s never a good idea or money saver to buy more than you really need, but for those items you buy often (and that aren’t perishable), it’s usually best to buy a larger pack. If you’re a member at a warehouse shopping club, you already know about saving money by buying in bulk. Even if you aren’t a warehouse shopping club member, your local grocery store may also carry household necessities in bulk for a cheaper price (paper towels, toilet paper, etc.). Just look at the price carefully and the quantity before you buy, to make sure you are getting the best deal and maximizing your savings.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

How to Stop Thinking Your Paycheck isn’t Enough

Do you ever feel like your paycheck just isn’t enough to do everything you’d like to do? Maybe in some cases it may not be or you may have to find other ways to supplement your income, however most of the time – this feeling is a mindset that you can make positive changes to.

Here are five ways to change your thinking:

1. Stop comparing yourself to others. Social media is very good at allowing us to compare ourselves to other people. You see your friends posting a brand new car, going on lavish vacations, buying expensive shoes or clothes, and the list goes on. If you want what others have, you will always be disappointed. You also don’t know another person’s financial situation – maybe they put all those vacations on a credit card and will spend the next five years trying to pay it off. The bottom line is, stop looking at what others have and focus on all the good things in your life that you are grateful for.

2. Pushing your lifestyle ahead of schedule. What you can afford is different if you earn $20k a year, $100k a year, or $1 million a year – and for everything in between. If you make $50k a year but are trying to live a lifestyle of someone who makes $100k or more – your paycheck will never be enough and you will probably be in a great deal of debt. Change your mindset and live and spend within the means of your annual salary and your annual salary alone.

3. Take note of what you have, not what you’re lacking. If you make an espresso in a regular large coffee mug, it won’t look like a lot of coffee – right? The answer here is that it’s not about volume, but about contents. Don’t look at the glass as half empty, but instead half full. What are you thankful for? Try to appreciate what you do have rather than what you think you’re missing.

4. Cut off your spending on occasion. This idea is in relation to things that are not necessities. For example, think about any subscription services you pay for (cable, Netflix, gym, Amazon Prime, etc.) or extras that you might buy (coffee each morning on the way to work, snacks from the office vending machine everyday, and so forth). Do you “really” need these to survive? If you take a break from them do you miss them, or can you find other ways to satisfy these habits? This exercise will make you realize what are truly necessities and where you can scale back on your spending and save the money for something else more important.

5. Look for alternatives. There is probably a cheaper option out there for pretty much anything you want to do or purchase, you just have to do a little research. For example – do you really need brand name food? Opt for the store brand instead, you are guaranteed to save money and most times it is the exact same product. If you’re looking to cut your cable bill you might try using just Internet service and connecting through an online subscription like Hulu to save some money. The possibilities are endless, you just have to experiment and find what works for you.

The moral of the story here is that if you think your paycheck is never enough, it never will be. The goal is to change your mindset, save as much as you can, and research cheaper alternatives to getting what you want. You can do it!

Article Source: David Ning for Moneyning.com