Budgeting Feed

The key to smart budgeting is learning how to tell yourself, "No"

By Mike Thayer

BudgetBudgeting can mean a variety of different things to different people.....

For some folks, budgeting means pay yourself first by putting 10 or 15% away in savings every paycheck, leaving the rest for bills and living.

For others, budgeting means using an accordion file or the envelope system, putting dollars in segmented categories for bills, clothes, rent/mortgage, food, entertainment, etc.

For still others, budgeting can mean "I'm going to go on a diet of Ramen for awhile so I can afford to buy that new couch."

But there's something all these budget approaches have in common that make them work....

Discipline, the ability to tell yourself "No" when tempted to purchase that delivery pizza for dinner or buy that item of clothing just because it's trendy or on sale.

That's no easy task.  But as finance guru Dave Ramsey so aptly puts it, "When you see planning a budget as simply spending your money intentionally, you can actually find more freedom to spend! Once something has been budgeted for, you’ll be able to spend that money without feeling guilty."

It's a frame of mind.

Always keep your goals in mind when tempted by impromptu and/or frivolous satisfactions like a convenient fast food meal or buying a new fishing rod that you really don't need.

The ability to say "No" leads to success.  Never mind that telling yourself "No" is WAY better than saying, "Oh Shit, I don't have enough money for the electric bill!"

Once you've covered the basics in a monthly budget, food, transportation, utilities and shelter, it becomes easier to tell yourself "No" on other things, those feel good or impulse buys. 

Here's another way to look at it, ask yourself three things before buying something that really isn't in your budget or what you haven't saved up for:

What do you have?

What do you want?

What will you give up?

Asking yourself these three questions help you think through making a purchase you may regret later. 

If you have some food in your refrigerator, but you want to order that delivery pizza, are you willing to give up that $20 you need to put gas in your car to get back and forth to work next week?   Oooops, don't get the pizza, don't go digging in the couch cushions for gas money later....  Just don't....  Eat the leftovers in the fridge.

Or how about:

You have $1,000 in savings.

You love to fish and want to buy a fishing kayak.

Will you give up the comfort of having some money in the bank should some kind of emergency pops up?  What if you need some kind of car repair?

And don't think about putting a car repair bill on plastic, that only compounds your problem.

Learning how to tell yourself "No" is WAY better than accumulating debt.

Budgeting a.k.a. planning ahead, isn't a bad thing, it's simply smart money management.  Learning how to tell yourself "No" however is the hardest part of budgeting to master.  Once you get that down though, you'll enjoy financial success.   To quote Dave Ramsey again, "Once something has been budgeted for, you’ll be able to spend that money without feeling guilty."

Au Gratin Potato Battle: Name Brand vs. Store Brand, Betty Crocker vs. Kroger

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Potato, PotAto...

Who doesn't love potatoes?

I've always got a bag of potatoes in my pantry and an assortment of boxed potatoes to choose from as well.  The boxed versions are both convenient and tasty.  They can be rather inexpensive too, but do you focus on buying name brand foods when you grocery shop?


Even with most coupons, name brand foods are still more expensive than the store brand and a taste difference is non-existent, negligible perhaps.

Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes
Au Gratin Potato Battle: Betty Crocker vs. Kroger

In another food battle, today I put Betty Crocker Au Gratin potatoes against a store brand, Kroger Au Gratin.  I compared price, weight, the look and most importantly, the taste.  I prepared each according to the package instructions, adding only black pepper and some chopped up ham.  Yes, Ham & Taters for dinner!

Au Gratin Potato #1, the name brand - Betty Crocker:

Betty Crocker has been a trusted name in food and recipes since 1921.

Price: $1.39 for a 4.7 ounce box

Note how much larger the Betty Crocker box is compared to the Kroger box, also 4.7 ounces.  It's a marketing gimmick, the name brand box is taller, thicker and wider.  Betty Crocker is betting you're like most people, who don't read the details of the labeling.  Some people think they're getting more value with a 'bigger box' of potatoes. 

Au Gratin Potato #2, the store brand - Kroger:

Price: $.79 for a 4.7 ounce box

Au Gratin Potato Battle
The look is the same

Look how much cheaper the store brand is, a savings of $.60 and remember, even though the Betty Crocker box is taller and wider making some folks think they're getting a better value, both boxes weighed in at 4.7 ounces.

So how does Kroger compare to Betty Crocker in look and taste?

Preparing and baking the potatoes in totally different baking dishes, I couldn't see or taste a difference.  The size and shape of all potatoes was virtually the same, the added ingredients the directions called for in measuring out water, butter and milk was the very same and the final products were equally Au Gratin cheesy.  The list of ingredients on the box had no remarkable differences either.  Each made for a tasty dinner and plenty of leftovers too!  If you have been a buyer of the name brand, there's really no reason to continue doing so. Save yourself some money and get the store brand.  The ONLY edge Betty Crocker had in this battle is marketing... and why pay a premium price for THAT?

Leftover Au Gratin potatoes make for a convenient microwaved lunch the next day.  They're also great for breakfast topped with an egg, over easy.  These leftover potatoes freeze well too!  You can also portion the potatoes out for future meals and/or the freezer by baking them in a jumbo muffin tin.  That's what I did on this occasion, giving each portion a nice crispy edge.  It was another dose of YUM!

Next Up:  A pizza roll battle!

Spend Wisely My Friends.....





Recording your expenses and tracking your spending

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

How do you keep track of your spending?  Do you reconcile your checking account or do you depend on the bank being accurate?  Do you know how much you spend on a given day?

There's a lot to track, the grocery budget, bill budget, vehicle budget, house/apartment budget, entertainment budget, savings goals and more.  

I use an excel spreadsheet to stay on top of my finances and spending, logging every expenditure, be it a cash, debit card or credit transaction.  On average, I know how much I spend every day, on what and how often.  My buying habits are documented and I don't ask myself, "Where did that $20 go?"

For example I try to keep my grocery budget between $200 - $300 per month.  For most of my home cooked meals, I can fix something that tastes great but costs just $2 or $3 to prepare and doing that allows me to splurge sometimes, maybe spending $10 for a 'Chef Mike' cooked meal once in awhile.  For a single guy that likes to play in the kitchen or at the grill, I eat pretty well. 

Truck Spread Sheet
Knowing how much your vehicle really costs to maintain

Another example in how tracking your spending can help you budget and more importantly plan for future expenses and savings goals, is a vehicle budget on a spread sheet.  Currently, my truck costs me an average of $104 a month to maintain.  I don't have a truck payment, so that $104 a month is oil changes, preventive maintenance, the occasional repair, etc....  That figure does not include gas or insurance.  But yes, all other costs, to include any accessories I might purchase - yep, even the air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror - is logged on a spreadsheet.  When the spending on my truck gets up to the $200 a month to maintain mark, it's time to start shopping for a new one.

Here's without question the best reason to track your spending, whether you do it with an excel spreadsheet, QuickBooks, an accordion file or a good old fashioned journal - Tracking your spending on a daily basis can help you avoid living paycheck to paycheck.  I've been there and done that and it sucks.

The best way to understand your spending habits, is to document them and doing so only takes maybe five minutes a day.  Decision making with the bold facts right there in front of you, becomes much easier. 


Put some gold or silver in your monthly budget

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Gold and silverYou budget for food, housing, utilities, a vehicle, etc., but are you including the purchase of gold or silver in your monthly budget?

You should.

It doesn't matter if your motive is retirement, a hedge against inflation, or just a defensive financial asset decision, the purchase of physical gold and/or silver is a prudent thing to do.

Owning physical gold or silver means you have a real asset, not a piece of paper or a digital certificate.  It's more practical to sell, there's no three-day waiting period for a transfer, there's no default risk and perhaps most importantly in today's world of digital transactions, there's no hacking.

You can go online and find 10 or more reasons to be buying physical gold and silver and only one of those is because the price will rise.  The key to remember is that physical gold and silver is the ultimate form of money. 

So if you haven't already done so, find yourself a local, reputable coin/precious metals dealer and start including the purchase of gold and/or silver in your monthly budget.

Spend Wisely My Friends.....

Mainstream Grocery vs. Discount Grocery: Dillon's (Kroger) vs. Aldi

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Are you interested in saving money without sacrificing on quality to do it?

AldiDo your regular grocery shopping at Aldi.  If you're not already familiar with the discount grocer, I'll show you why you should start shopping there. 

On my list of things to do today was grocery shopping, so after enjoying some bacon and eggs for breakfast (One never wants to grocery shop on an empty stomach) I headed out to my local Aldi to pick up a few eats.  It was business as usual, but on a whim while loading groceries into my truck, I decided to head over to Dillon's, THE mainstream grocery store in the Wichita area.  Pulling out my grocery list for a second time, I bought all the same stuff at the 'Top Dog' store for a cost comparison.

Dillon'sI focused on buying the store brand (Kroger) to make things fair.  I did that because I already suspected Aldi would come out cheaper, but I thought it would be close in an item-by-item comparison.  And if you didn't already know it, buying the name brand in most cases is like flushing money down the toilet.  No, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is not the best of its kind out there.  A box of off-brand toasted oats is just as good as a box of Cheerios.

Here was my shopping list:

  • Milk
  • Coffee Creamer
  • Pork Sausage
  • Steak
  • Little Smokies
  • Lunchmeat
  • Sliced Cheese
  • Baby Carrots
  • Bananas
  • Salad
  • Avocado
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Canned Mushrooms
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Tortilla Chips

Aldi Receipt (2)I didn't deviate from the list, I just needed some bare necessities this week to supplement what I already have at home in the pantry and fridge.  I bought 16 items at each store.

My cost at Aldi:  $30.46

My cost at Dillon's:  $43.19


The difference is $12.73 on just 16 items and I bought the store brand stuff (whenever possible) at Dillon's!  I really didn't think the total bills would have such a big gap, but there it is, in black and white.  Can you imagine how much larger that gap would have been if I had bought name brand products at Dillon's?  And here's the kicker, I used my Dillon's loyalty card which rewards the purchase of the store brand stuff with discounts!

"So Mike," you ask, "Were there any notable product/price differences?"

Yes there was, most all to Aldi's advantage.  Check out the following examples:

  • The garden salad at Aldi was 89 cents for 12 ounces.  The garden salad (remember, whenever possible, everything purchased at Dillon's was their in-store Kroger brand) at Dillon's was 99 cents for 12 ounces.
  • The ham lunch meat at Aldi was $2.39, the ham lunch meat at Dillon's was $2.69, same weight containers.
  • A 1/2 gallon of milk at Aldi was $1.13, a 1/2 gallon at Dillon's was $1.79.
  • The price for a large Haas avocado at Aldi was just 49 cents.  Dillon's offered medium Haas avocados at 99 cents each.  Check out the pic!

Dillon's ReceiptAll but three items purchased at Aldi were cheaper than the same but store brand item purchased at Dillon's.  The only real outlier was the steak, but only because of weight.  I bought a top sirloin cut at both stores.  The steak at Aldi, cost $6.97.  Now marinading in the fridge, it weighed in at 1.27 pounds, or $5.49 a pound.  The steak at Dillon's, also marinading in the fridge along with the Aldi steak, cost $11.83, and that's with the loyalty card discount!  It weighed in at 1.48 pounds, or $9.99 a pound.  How the two steaks, using the same preparation, will differ in taste is another story.....

The bottom line to this story is, I'm a fan of Aldi.  They offer quality products and significant savings over a traditional, mainstream, full-service grocery store.  I have no problem bagging my own groceries.  I enjoy saving money for virtually the same product and that allows me to budget those savings (significant savings) into other areas of life. I don't do any regular shopping at a mainstream, full-service grocery store and if/when I do shop at one, it's just to pick up a few items as a matter of convenience or to take advantage of a coupon deal.  The mainstream store in my neck of the woods just happens to be closer to where I live, than the Aldi's or the Club Membership store (Costco, my second favorite grocery store) is.  So there you have it, logistics, is pretty much the ONLY reason I would shop at a place like Dillon's. 

Spend Wisely My Friends.....

Dillon's vs. Aldi Avocados

Dillon's vs. Aldi Steaks

Dillon's vs. Aldi steak labels



Don't waste money on vitamins and supplements, eat better food instead

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Simple Truth:  If you eat a balanced diet, you don't need bottles of vitamins and supplements.

I'm not writing something you haven't already read..... getting the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, proteins and good carbs in a regular diet eliminates the need for pills, powders or those gosh-awful chewables.  Besides, your body is smart.  It flushes the excess intake of vitamins and supplements anyway (the water soluable ones).  Think about it logically, it makes no sense to virtually flush money spent on vitamins and supplements down the toilet.   If you are the taker of vitamins and supplements, you know what I'm talking about, look before you flush.  If it's yellow, your intake of whatever supplement is too high, your body is getting rid of it.

Replace those pills, powders and/or chewables with better food.  Enjoy the intake of vitamins and minerals with the real thing - FOOD!  You'll save money to boot!

Even if you have a condition you are trying to treat, look for foods that help out with that issue, rather than rely on a costly supplement.

Glucosamine is a typical example.  Marketed to manage joint pain, the manufacturers of the supplement largely target what group of people?  You guessed it, people suffering from arthritis.  The U.S. glucosamine market is expected to reach beyond $227 million in sales by 2022, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc.  That's a lot of $8 - $25 bottles of supplement, depending on the brand.

I used to buy the stuff myself, I am an arthritis sufferer.  But instead of researching food and the treatment of arthritis, I went with the trend in 'managing' arthritis pain.  It was the 'easy' thing to do.

BroccoliAfter a period of time and tired of shelling out money for a bottle of pills I didn't want to take and not truly satisfied with what those pills were or weren't doing for me, I finally took the time to do some homework.    By increasing my intake of certain foods, establishing a regular exercise routine and simply drinking more water, I started feeling much better.  The glucosamine went into the trash can, there was no need for it and truthfully, never was.

The change in my routine, eating more broccoli, cabbage, fish, garlic and any fruit/veggie with vitamin C helped reduce my arthritis pain, along with exercise and drinking more water.  I put the money I was spending on glucosamine into the grocery budget.  And seeing the success in eliminating that supplement, I no longer buy multi-vitamins either.  There's no need for them!

Eating/enjoying a bowl of quality cereal with a 1/2 cup of berries is better for you than a multi-vitamin or some supplement.   And here's kind of a 'gross' fun fact:  Eating too much cereal and berries can make you pee yellow too.

Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Find the cheapest gas prices in town with Gas Buddy

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

A lot of folks use those grocery store and/or convenience store loyalty cards to buy gas at a discounted price.  Those cards do come in handy and depending on your shopping habits can benefit you with saving 10 cents a gallon on gas for example.

But that loyalty card gas discount doesn't guarantee you're getting the best possible price for gas.

If you aren't already familiar with Gas Buddy, you might want to consider doing so.

From the Gas Buddy website:  "GasBuddy is a smartphone app connecting drivers with their Perfect Pit Stop™. With nearly 70 million downloads, GasBuddy is the leader in crowdsourced information to help drivers find the best gas prices, closest stations, friendliest service, cleanest restrooms, tastiest coffee and much more. "

The app, easy to use, will bring up a list of gas prices in your area, searching by city or zip code, helping you determine the best price to buy gas, loyalty card or not.  Gas Buddy also comes in very handy when traveling and you can't use that loyalty card.  In fact, the app includes features such as gas price maps and a trip calculator.

Check out Gas Buddy, you'll be glad you did!


Take advantage of coupon deals, weekly specials of your local chain grocery store

Mike Thayer 2016 (2) T-boneBy Mike Thayer

If you don't already subscribe to your favorite/local grocery store's emailed coupon deals and/or online weekly specials, you should.  They really do make it worth your while, providing significant savings over regular prices.

Here's an example, the current weekly special at my local grocery store includes ground chuck for $2.49 a pound, T-Bone steaks for $4.99 a pound and avocados for just 69 cents each.

I challenge you to find better prices elsewhere.  Everyday prices at Aldi are at or a bit above these prices, but my local chain store is much closer to where I live.  That's about the only drawback I have when it comes to Aldi, it's where I do my regular grocery shopping, but I do have to drive a bit to get to one, there just aren't enough of them.  Hence the reason I shop specials at the local chain store...  They do indeed make it worth my while....

Weekly specials are convenient not just because of the price savings, but because it is a time saver if you don't live close to a discount grocer like Aldi.  Weekly specials are also convenient to meal planning for the coming week.  Why not plan out a steak dinner with prices for T-Bones at just $4.99 a pound?  That is menu YUM at a great price!

My local grocery store chain's weekly special price for ground chuck is saving me 50 cents a pound over what I usually pay at Aldi, their regular price is $2.99....  I'll be racking up quite a few chubs of ground chuck for my freezer.  If I buy ten chubs at that sale price, I've saved $5 over what I would pay for ten chubs at Aldi.   In further comparison, I'm not saving anything by buying the avocado at the local store, it's at the same price as Aldi, but I am saving time with store proximity.  Then there's the T-Bone, not even Aldi has a T-Bone price that low.  I'm saving a buck a pound.

Coupon deals and weekly specials are something to take advantage of at your local chain grocer, the key is to stick to buying only what's on special, don't drift off your list with impulse buys!  That's where the local chain store gets you.....  As in, you need some chips with that guacamole you'll make with that avocado right?  DON'T DO IT!  That's where the $20 budget for some quick, weekly special shopping turns into $40!

Spend wisely my friends......

Fried Rice, a budget staple

by Mike Thayer

Veggie stir fryIf you have some rice in the pantry and just about any kind of veggie and/or leftover meat in the fridge, you can create some rocking fried rice. 

Rice + meat + veggie + an egg = YUM!  And for pennies! 

Leftover steak?  Chop it up, make fried rice.  Leftover pork chop?  Chop it up, make fried rice.  Leftover chicken breast?  Chop it up, make fried rice.  Heck, got some lunch meat?  Chop it up, make fried rice!

There is no reason to pay the $$$ for Asian take out when you've got a decently stocked pantry, a few veggies on hand and some leftovers. 

The key to good stir fry of course, is to have all your ingredients chopped and ready to throw in the pan and knowing WHAT to throw in at what time and on some high heat.....  The beauty of this recipe is that you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand.  Be flexible with it.


  • One cup rice
  • Two cups water
  • One tab of butter
  • Tablespoon, vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces of leftover meat or fish
  • 5-6 baby carrots, sliced Julienne (like match sticks)
  • 4-5 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 green onions, rough chopped
  • Tablespoon, soy sauce
  • Tablespoon garlic powder
  • Tablespoon chicken boullion powder
  • teaspoon hot sauce (your favorite brand)
  • One egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Melt the tab of butter in a medium sauce pan, add the rice, half the garlic powder and chicken bouillon powder, saute for about a minute, then add the water.  Bring to a boil, cover, then simmer for 20 minutes.  While that rice is cooking, chop up the veggies and leftover meat.  A few minutes before the rice is done, fire up the wok or a large non-stick skillet on high heat.  Once the wok/skillet is hot, add the veggie oil.  Give it 30 seconds, then put in the carrots, mushrooms, meat and let those sizzle for about a minute.  Next, add half the rice and the remaining garlic powder, let sizzle for another minute, giving some of that rice a nice crispy 'edge.'  Next, add the green onion and stir fry for about another minute.  Add the rest of the rice and all remaining ingredients, stirring constantly, for about another minute.  The goal here is tender crisp vegetables and a lightly (but done) scrambled egg.  Salt and pepper to taste.

This is a very satisfying dish, both for the stomach and the wallet.  Enjoy!

TIP:  While this recipe calls for cooking the rice, cold, leftover rice is actually better to make fried rice with.  Using cold rice gives the grains a better texture, making for a better bite.

Grilling on a budget

By Mike Thayer

Here's a great recipe if you're on a tight grocery budget, costing less than $10 to prepare.  

And tight budget or not, this is just a flat out great grilled hot dog recipe!

Mike's HamDawgs
Stuffed hot dawgs


  • 1 cup finely chopped cooked ham or luncheon meat
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 2 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 package of all beef hot dogs
  • 8 to 10 slices of bacon
  • Your favorite BBQ sauce
  • Louisiana Hot Sauce (optional)

Mike's HamDawgsDirections:

Mix the first six or seven ingredients.  Slit the hot dogs, cutting them almost end-to-end and about ¾ the way through.  Stuff with the ham mixture.  Wrap the stuffed hot dogs with bacon and secure with tooth picks on each end.  Grill over hot coals, giving them ¼ turns and brushing them with BBQ sauce (and optional BBQ/Louisiana Hot Sauce blend) until the bacon is crisp.  Serve in toasted garlic buttered hot dog buns. And um, don't forget to remove the toothpicks.....