Paying Off Student Loans

Disclaimer: The advice provided may not work with your lender.

Student loans are overwhelming.  The interest rates are frequently higher than a mortgage rate and the amount owed is sometimes equal to or more than a mortgage.  Rather than give up, here are some things you can do to help the balance decrease.

  1. Figure out how much interest is accumulating each month.  If you select one of the lower amount payment plans they typically only pay off the interest and you don’t even hit the principal amount.  Look at options that your lender has to calculating the interest earned per month so that you know exactly what you’re paying on.
  2. Try to put one larger amount down so that you can get a month or two ahead of their calculated due date.  I’ve had two of the lenders that take on the federal student loans.  Both of these have given me a longer period before the next payment when I pay a month or more in an extra payment.  This will be useful to get you to the next step.
  3. Make payments more than once per month.  It’s a trick that works well with a mortgage as well.  Interest on student loans accumulates more than once per month.  By dividing up your payment into one or more per month it can cut down on the interest that’s adding up.  If your lender won’t allow you to split payments you will need to be at least one month ahead so that you avoid their late fees.
  4. Pay slightly more than your payment each month.  Even if it’s only $20 it will help to pay off the loan.
  5. Remember that interest.  When you first start paying loans you are only paying on the accumulated interest.  This is one of the ways that makes it difficult to pay off loans.  Most people don’t start paying off their principal until years after they’ve begun payments.
  6. If you’re still in school try to pay on the interest.  You may not be required to make payments, but in most cases the interest keeps adding up.  Knowing how much interest is adding up each month can help you determine what you would need to pay to keep it from growing too rapidly.
  7. Don’t spend that tax refund.  The refund should either go towards tuition if you are currently in school or towards your student loan.  Unless you have circumstances that can’t be avoided, this is a great way to get ahead in their calculated payment schedule.
  8. Get a side gig if necessary.  There are tons of ways to earn extra money, especially in the growing field of e-commerce.  Even if you’re only earning an extra $50 here and there it can help pay down your loan.
  9. Examine other debt that you may have.  If you are focused on student loans and ignore other debt these tips won’t help.  Make sure you note interest rates and how much of the principal you are paying on other debts before fully focusing on student loans.
  10. Keep debt to a minimum.  Avoid purchasing items that will add to more debt unless absolutely necessary.  Make sure you pay off your credit card and carefully examine loans or deals that seem too good to be true.

These are just some things that I’ve followed.  Feel free to chime in with other useful tips and tricks to reduce debt, especially student loans.

Souper Prep!: Making a Schedule

I’m about 3 weeks away from my next major soup round.  It sounds a bit weird since it’s so hot out, but now is the best time to stock up on produce to make some extra healthy soups so they’re ready for fall.  By doing some of the organizing ahead of time it makes the prep time that much easier.

If you’ve read any of my other prepping techniques you know that by now I have all of my recipes selected and I’m purchasing non perishables as they go on sale.  To prep for my next round of 13 soups I’ve found it’s easiest to create a plan for the week so I know what to make when.  It sounds a bit daunting so here is how I make a plan for week long cooking:

Shopping: The majority of what I need will be fresh produce, so I can’t buy this too far in advance.  I know I can get the best prices on fresh produce at our farmer’s market on Saturday mornings so I begin with that since the hours aren’t as flexible as the stores.  I know I should be able to get almost everything I need there and then just a few items at a grocery store.  I also know that I’ll need to run the items home and place in the refrigerator since it is so hot out before running to the grocery store for the rest of the list.  One of our grocery stores is closed on Sundays so Saturday makes the most sense for me to get all of my ingredients.  Previous experience is that I plan a solid 3-4 hours for getting supplies, hauling inside, and putting things away.

Prep:  I know I’ll need to make veggie broth and clean and prep my kitchen the day before.  Once the broth is going on the stove I can prep my kitchen for the week.  Usually I clean and sanitize everything and then get out measuring cups, prep bowls, etc. so they are ready to go.  I also organize all of my recipes in the order that I need to make them and group the dry ingredients with the recipe so I don’t have to hunt for the ingredient I need. This round also calls for a lot of chicken so I’ll stick that in the slow cooker so it’s ready to go the first morning of cooking.  If there’s time I’ll start prepping some of the veggies as well.

Order of Recipes: This is the part that everyone always asks me how I determine so I’ve included my steps below:

  1. Group recipes by meat.  I have more recipes that need chicken so I know I’ll need to have the chicken ready to go.  It’s easiest to stick all of it in the slow cooker and then portion it out.
  2. Next I look at my recipes that call for chicken and figure out which pot I’ll need for which soup.  Some recipes make a smaller batch where I can use a 3 qt pot, some require a 6 qt pot, and others require my giant 12 qt stockpot.  I only have one of each of these so I choose three recipes for the first day that require one of each pot.  The same process is used if I had any for the slow cooker or if I was borrowing pots from friends.
  3. Day two will be the remainder of the recipes with chicken.  I know that I will have more recipes coming up that require a roast, so that will be put in the slow cooker for day three.  Again I look at pot size.  If I have two that require the 6 qt pot I typically make one and prep for the other while it’s on the stove.  I let it cool while I do up any dishes and then portion the first soup out and clean the pot and make the second soup.
  4. Days three through five follow the same method of determining which pot size each soup needs.  Each day the more complicated soup is done first and the easier ones are done while the first is simmering.  The process works much better if you have a friend helping!

Helpful hint:

soup prep

I use a notebook to write out which soup needs which pot before I begin.  I’ve also written down how many cups the recipe makes and if the recipe needs a particular type of storage container.  I use a sticky note on top of the recipes with the day and title of the recipe to use for putting things in order the day before I begin preparing.  If using recipes out of a cookbook I write the page number down as well.

Surviving the Holidays-Hosting Thanksgiving

The key to surviving any holiday planning is to start ahead.  Sure people may think you’re a bit odd, but the stress you will save yourself will be worth it.  I developed the habit of planning 2-3 months ahead of time long ago so I’m actually a bit behind where I usually am. I may have also begun planning my Christmas baking at the same time as planning on what I want to make for Thanksgiving…

It’s never to early to start planning, so here is a checklist of things to keep you on track so stress is less.

  1. Get a rough idea of the guest list.  It doesn’t have to be definite, but a rough head count and who is coming is handy, especially if there are allergies to work around.
  2. Determine if people are bringing items or if you are supplying everything.  Having a checklist of who is bringing what will help keep you on track.  If you need a visual a handy dry erase board on the refrigerator is great for making notes. I make a huge mess in the kitchen so I tend to not use technology around food, but there are several planning apps out there if you’d rather use a phone or tablet.
  3. Your menu should be finalized at least two weeks before the big day, so looking for ideas for recipes can begin at any time.  Check out my Thanksgiving Pinterest board for ideas and links to recipes.  Try to choose some items you can make before and don’t forget to leave room in the oven.
  4. Don’t forget it takes a few days to thaw that turkey or ham.  You also don’t want to go to the store the night before (I made that mistake once and I’ll never make it again).  Most turkeys have a thawing chart right on the package if you aren’t sure how many days you’ll need.  You’ll also want to make sure that you place it on a pan to prevent a mess of water in your refrigerator.  Plan on purchasing food 7-14 days before, especially if you are making food early.
  5. Cleaning the house will depend on when people are arriving.  Aim for 3 days before your guests arrive unless you need to deep clean.  The kitchen should be clean and ready to go before preparing any food.
  6. When planning oven space figure out which items need to be served hot (green bean casserole) and which items can be served warm or at room temperature (rolls). You’ll also want to look at what can go in a slow cooker instead of an oven to save space. It’s also good to note which dishes need to be cooked at which temperatures and for how long. If you find yourself with five items with five different temperatures and five different times you may need to adjust your menu or come up with another way to prep the items.
  7. Appoint one person to be in charge of the organization of the kitchen and keep everyone else out. If you are cooking have someone else keep track of what needs to go in the oven and when and help you to bring items out to the table. Too many cooks in the kitchen definitely equals disaster and chaos.
  8. Remember to account for that turkey taking longer than you planned. Have plenty of board games or activities for your guests to do while dinner is cooking. My grandmother is the only person I know that managed to get the turkey on the table at exactly the right time. I did not inherit that skill.
  9. It always annoyed me that dinner was hot and ready to eat and we had to wait for 20 people to say what they were thankful for before we could dive in. An alternative to this if you have a large group of people is to do it while food is being passed around, during dinner as part of the conversation, or even after dinner before dessert is served.
  10. Remember earlier how we wanted to keep everyone out of the kitchen. At the end of the meal allow them to help by clearing dishes and bringing items back to the kitchen and helping with clean up. Do not try to clean up everything yourself!

These are just a few tips and tricks. Remember that everyone has traditions around the holidays and these should also be incorporated into your plans. Staying organized is key to everyone enjoying the day.


Finding Recipes

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is “Where do you find your recipes?”  Since I’m a librarian by trade I have no problem in sharing my resources with you.

  1. Cookbooks-it’s true print is not yet dead and I still use these.  Small town midwest ones are best because it’s very rare that the recipe isn’t excellent, otherwise the entire town would be all over the person that submitted it.  Definitely the accountability factor for those.  I also have a few of my own that I’ve picked up on sale (Barnes and Noble sales get me every time) and I check out some from the public library.  The library is a great go to if you don’t want to purchase and entire book and just want to browse through some to get ideas.
  2. Pinterest-linked from this site is my Pinterest.  I will give the disclaimer that I haven’t made all of the recipes yet, but I’m working my way through them.  I’ve also attempted to organize them for easy browsing.  Again my librarian skills are being used in my personal life.
  3. Websites-just a quick disclaimer, I’m not receiving anything from recommending these so hopefully they won’t mind.  My favorites are Taste of Home, Pioneer Woman, All Recipes, and Betty Crocker.
  4. Make up my own-sometimes I just have a bunch of leftover stuff and I throw it into a pot and make it into soup.  I also modify most of the recipes I find and add in my favorite ingredients.  I’m not afraid to experiment, especially with soup.  When it comes to soup you can either add in more broth to dilute the flavor or add in more flavor.  Since it stirs right in you can always taste test once it heats up.  I always taste test anything I fully make before it goes in the freezer.

There are definitely other resources out there, but these are the main ones that I use.  Happy cooking!

Soup: The 2nd Round

soup ingredients August 2018

Last year I decided to try only soup as freezer meals.  After some mishaps, I determined that it turned out not to be a bad deal and last fall I loved coming home from work and having a wide variety of choices in the freezer full of summer veggies. This year I decided to do the same and learn from my mistakes last year.

My biggest struggle with making this much soup at once is choosing which recipes to use. Limiting myself to only 12 soup recipes is actually difficult!  After pulling six of my favorite recipes I tried my skills out on six new recipes this year and modified two of the ones I tried before.  I’m happy to report that again I have a freezer full of amazing soup.

meatball couscous soup

I stayed under $120 for all 12 recipes and managed to get over 72 meals out of this round.  This time of year is amazing in Iowa for the local farmer’s markets and I ended up spending less on produce there than at the store. I also made my own broth and saved quite a bit of money doing that.  I did end up buying a new stock pot this year as the 6 quart size was just too small for a few of the recipes and I decided to make my own veggie broth this year and needed quite a few cups for the recipes.  Having the extra pot definitely came in handy and I got one with a ceramic liner so food didn’t stick and it was lightweight (weight becomes important when looking at 12 quart pots).

Again I spread out the process over a week since ingredients have to be added, simmered, etc. and there just isn’t enough time to do that in one day.  Not to mention that I only have so much room on the stove.  When I organize the soups I’m going to make I typically calculate which pot I’ll need to use and try to have one going in the slow cooker at the same time as one or two on the stove.

minestrone soup


Here are the recipes that I made this year (you’ll note some are the same as last year):

Pepper Jack Chicken Fajita

Olive Garden Pasta e Fagoli

Olive Garden Minestrone

Italian Sausage, Kale, and Tortellini

Beef, Tomato, and Macaroni

Ham, Potato, and Corn Chowder

South of the Border Corn Chowder

Beef Stroganoff

Couscous Chicken

Couscous Meatball

Meatball Veggie (I used a recipe out of a cookbook for this one, but this is close to the recipe I used)

Roasted Tomato-for this recipe I combined two recipes and made up my own.  Basically I roasted 5 pounds of tomatoes (seeded and quartered) and 2 red bell peppers (sliced) in the oven with olive oil and garlic.  Added those to some cooked, diced onions and boiling veggie broth and simmered until nice and mushy. Added in some basil then used an immersion blender to blend smooth and finished with adding a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream.

Roasted tomato red pepper soup

Again getting everything into the freezer took some work, but the end result was worth it!

soup in freezer August 2018

Just one of the freezers during the organizing process.