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15 Things to Evaluate Before Creating a Budget

15 Things to Evaluate Before Creating a Budget

15 Things to Evaluate BEFORE Creating a Budget… boy, typing these words makes me realize I am finally adulting and doing it well!  Before we jump into this post head first, I want to discuss a few things.  Budgeting has never been my strong suit nor has it ever been something I have strived to do.  I always thought budgeting put restraints on your lifestyle, and that was something I was not a big fan of.

Since we had always been a two-income household, budgeting was never a huge focus.  Then, right before our lil’ Moose was born, I lost my job.  Talk about panic time!  Thankfully, after some research, getting organized, and revamping our financials, we realized we could still live the lifestyle we wanted and flourish with one income.

With the success I have had with implementing my budgeting strategies and getting organized, I decided I really wanted to share them with my readers.  I will admit, this post is not for the frugal person that wants to live a minimalist lifestyle, in a tiny home, and only eat bean and cheese burritos.  I’m all about cutting costs and figuring out how to save a penny here and there, but we still do splurge   and go to Starbucks, dine out more than we should, and buy toys that our children do not need but want.  These tips are really for the person that wants to find ways to save a little extra, waste less, and know and be accountable for where their money is spent.

15 Things to do BEFORE Creating a Budget:

  1. What are your mandatory costs?
    These items are things that cannot be avoided and must be paid each month.  For example, a mortgage or rent payment is a necessary cost to avoid having to move.  However, spa appointments or carwashes are not necessary costs.
  2. When is each bill due?
    It is important to know exactly when each bill is due and how much is due at that time.  Also, are there penalties to being late?  If so, what are they?  If the due dates don’t fit well within your pay dates, be sure to contact the source and see if you can move the due date.
  3. Income
    How much do you make each month?  When are your pay dates?  Does your income fluxuate from each paycheck or are you salaried?
  4. Pay Dates
    When do you get paid?  How often do you get paid?  Are taxes taken out or are you responsible for saving for income taxes?  Does your pay fluctuate?  Are there times or seasons you must worry about down time?  If so, this would be a great time to map this out and plan your budget accordingly.
  5. Extra Income
    Do you have extra income from another source (Etsy, garage sales, craft fairs, child care, etc.)?  Are these streams of extra income more consistent during certain seasons?  If you can, map this out as well.
  6. Consider Events, Holidays, Birthdays, and Vacations
    Unfortunately, attending events, celebrating holidays, birthday ventures and vacations all take money!  It is imperative to plan for these events.  By planning and including them in your budget each month, you are much more likely to stay within your budget.  It will also help prevent unnecessary splurges that don’t fit within your budget.
  7. Cut Costs
    Of your mandatory costs, what can you reduce?  I suggest calling each place and discussing if there is a way to reduce your monthly bill.  A great place to start is insurance… just be sure that you don’t also reduce necessary coverage.  You want to save money, but not play Russian Roulette.
  8. What comprises your debt?
    As painful as this might seem, you need to write down every penny of debt you, your partner, and your family has.  Write down interest rates, due dates, and anything else that is imperative to know to pay off your debt.
  9. Record Your Spending
    This was groundbreaking for me and my husband!  To say the least, we had no idea how much money we were wasting.  After recording our spending for less than a month, I found so many ways that we could easily save without changing our lifestyle that much.  It was very enlightening.
  10. Make a Menu… and STICK TO IT!
    Cooking, grocery shopping, and saving money had never been spoken or typed in the same sentence prior to starting a budget.  However, when I realized we were spending over $1,000.00 per month on groceries (we are a family of four with two toddlers) and this did not include our dining out, my husband’s lunches, or Starbucks runs, I nearly fainted!  Make a menu and stick to it… even if it doesn’t sound good.  I do recommend having a flexible menu if you are new to menu planning.  Try to keep your menu simple and easy to make, so that sticking to it is easy in the beginning.  Leave trying new recipes and complicated ventures for later when you’ve perfected your menu planning skills.  Here is an example menu from when I first got started:Sunday – Cheesy Enchiladas, Mexican rice, and corn
    Monday – Spaghetti, green salad, green beans, and garlic bread
    Tuesday – Tacos or taco salads
    Wednesday – Breakfast foods
    Thursday – Baked chicken, broccoli and cheese rice, and steamed carrots
    Friday – Shish Kebabs, steamed rice, and grilled veggies
    Saturday – Dine outIn the beginning of my menu planning days, I only planned on dinner and then I just made sure to have items for breakfast, lunches, and snacks.  As menu planning got easier and I became more efficient, I started planning more meals and snacks.
  11. Make a Grocery List
    Make a grocery list of items you need to make your meals, but be sure to check your pantry before making your list.  There is nothing more irritating than realizing I wasted money on duplicate items.  Do not shop while you are hungry, the store is super busy, or if you have cranky children with you.  Also, be sure to have coupons ready to go (check expiration dates and any requirements for the coupons), use ibotta, and consider buying generic.
  12. How often are you going to the store?
    I recommend trying to reduce the number of times you go to the store.  It will save you transportation costs and reduce the opportunity to buy items that are not necessary.
  13. Get Organized!
    Being organized and budgeting go hand in hand.  It is hard to not to buy duplicate items if you can’t find anything in your pantry, or if you don’t know how much you spent yesterday before you lost your spending log.  Take the time to get organized and budgeting will be easier.
  14. Make sure everyone has the same goal and is on board the budget train!
    It is great you are ready to budget like a champ, but if your partner isn’t, the budgeting journey is probably going to be bumpy.  Like anything else in a relationship, you have a to be on the same page to make it successful.  If your partner isn’t there yet, maybe start chatting about wanting to start budgeting and all the positive reasons why it’s great for your family.  You could even start with just one thing… kind of get their feet wet before diving in head first.
  15. Execute, and Be Accountable and Consistent!
    If you are anything like me, this one is probably the hardest!  I am amazing at making lists, plans, and even having a process, but I am not always great at executing.  Be sure to have check points and if you have a partner that you are doing this with, have weekly meetings to make sure you are both staying on track.   

Phew… made it through the list!  I really hope you find these tips useful and that they help you save a few extra dollars each month.

Cheers to a penny save!



15 Things to Evaluate Before Creating a Budget
Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants - Dreams and Caffeine

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants

Oh man… spring is in the air and Mother’s Day is just around the corner.  If you are like our family, we are gearing up for a fun-filled day that includes a delicious brunch and yummy desserts.  One of our family’s favorite things on the brunch menu are croissants!  Seriously… the buttery goodness, can it get any better?  Well, unfortunately for your waistline, it can!  Enter… Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants!  Doesn’t the name just make your mouth water?!

Loosen your belt my friend and cut ties with the bathroom scales, because it is a croissant stuffed with chocolate and fresh strawberries.  Then to make your scales scream, there is chocolate drizzled on the outside.  You might be thinking that these are too time consuming or expensive to make, but you are wrong!  They are easy to make, there are very few ingredients, and they are not expensive (I will note that strawberries this time of year are a little ridiculous in price, but that is just me ranting!).

Ingredients for Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants:

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants - Dreams and Caffeine

  • 1 Package of Pillsbury Croissants
  • 16 oz. container of fresh strawberries
  • 12 oz. chocolate chips of your choice (dark, milk, or white)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 13” x 9” baking dish
  • Butter or nonstick spray to grease

Assembly & Baking Instructions for Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants:

Read Entire Recipe Before Starting

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2:  Grease 13” x 9” baking dish and set aside.

Step 3:  Wash and slice strawberries and set aside.  Make sure to cut them small enough so you can fit a few pieces in each croissant.

Step 4:  Gather your chocolate chips and set aside.

Be sure to have a decent sized work area when you go to assemble the Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants. 

Step 5:  Open the croissant package, then take the first one and lay it flat in your work area.

Step 6:  In the middle of the croissant, put a couple pieces of sliced strawberries and a few chocolate chips and then roll the croissant like you normally would.  Repeat with the rest of the croissants.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants Build

Step 7:  Place the raw croissants in the greased baking dish leaving room in between them, since they will get bigger as they bake.

Step 8:  Take the sugar and sprinkle over each of the completed croissants.

Step 9:  Place baking dish in the preheated oven uncovered and bake according to the directions on the package, erring on the side of caution, I checked mine around the 7 minute mark to gauge how much longer they needed to bake… keep a close watch.

Step 10:  Once they have finished baking, remove from the oven and let cool for 3-5 minutes

Step 11:  Take about a cup of chocolate chips and melt them in the microwave.

Step 12: Drizzle the melted chocolate over the tops of the freshly baked croissants.

Step 13:  Grab one along with a glass of much deserved champagne and enjoy… just make sure to leave some for brunch!

There you have it… easy to make, bakery-style, delicious Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants!  I hope you give these delectable treats a try, and if you do, leave me a comment below.  If you’re in need of a delicious drink for that special mom in your life, check out this recipe for the Holiday Sparkler, which can be made with or without champagne. I hope everyone enjoys spring and their Mother’s Day weekend!


Fiesta Casserole - Dreams and Caffeine

Fiesta Casserole… The Perfect Pantry Meal!

Fiesta Casserole – doesn’t it just sound cheesy and delicious before you even hear the ingredients?!  I am going to share one of my all-time favorite comfort food recipes.  Now, as many of you already know, I am not much of a cook, so if you’re looking for gourmet… you have come to the wrong place!

The Fiesta Casserole is a pantry favorite, and the simplicity is bliss especially after a long and busy day.  This recipe is very flexible and easy to customize, especially if you don’t have something on the ingredients list.  A few other wonderful things about this recipe is that it is cheap to make, the kiddos love it, and it is easy to clean up.  All wins in my world!

Ingredient List

Fiesta Casserol-2-Dreams and Caffeine

  • 1 Bag of Tortilla Chips (I would avoid low fat ones… they will get soggy)
  • 3 Cans of Chili (you can replace this with seasoned and fully cooked ground beef or homemade chili)
  • 1 Bag of Shredded Cheese (shred your own or buy a bag of the Mexican Shredded Cheese)
  • 1 Tomato
  • ½ Cup of Jalapeños (you can use fresh or from a jar)
  • Cilantro
  • Sour Cream
  • Salsa
  • 13X9 Casserole Dish
  • Foil


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Layer the bottom of the casserole dish with tortilla chips
  3. Spread 1 1/2 cans of chili over the chips
  4. Cover the layer of chili with shredded cheese… don’t be stingy!
  5. Repeat steps 2 – 4
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes
  7. Take casserole dish out of the oven and remove foil. Check to be sure cheese is almost completely melted.  Stick back into the oven uncovered for an additional 5 minutes
  8. Remove casserole dish from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving
  9. Cut into appropriate (or ginormous… depending on your mood) squares and plate
  10. Garnish with sour cream, salsa, jalapeños, cilantro, and tomatoes
  11. ENJOY!

Fiesta Casserole-1-Dreams and Caffeine

Literally, a nap must follow from the deliciousness of this casserole.  Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find this recipe as yummy as I do!


Chore Chart in Pixels - Dreams and Caffeine

A Chore Chart in Pixels

Let’s start with the obvious question of, what in the world is a Chore Chart in Pixels?  And, why do you need one?

How it all began…

I will be the first to admit that it took a little adjustment period for me going from a full time working mom to a stay at home mom to two under two.  Especially because becoming a stay at home mom wasn’t planned and to top it off, our lives were in the middle of some pretty large transitions.  Long story short, the child development center that I ran decided to shut its doors permanently, our daughter was about a year and half old and I was eight months pregnant.  Talk about a time of chaos!

After my husband and I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to stay at home and raise our kiddos, I realized I had no idea how to be a stay at home wife and mother.  I can just hear the gasps from all the Martha Stewarts and June Cleavers out there (my mother included).  However, neither housekeeping nor cooking have ever been something I wanted to do, something I was good at, or something I strived to do.  On top of that, having two young kiddos to care for was quite overwhelming.

The Chore Chart in Pixels is born…

I have always had a love affair with planners, pretty paper, pens, markers, and stickers!  So, after many failed attempts of becoming a consistent Martha Stewart – June Clever hybrid (hahaha… just kidding), I finally found a system that worked and allowed me to be successful.  Basically, I made a reasonable list of everything I wanted to accomplish each day and then I put it into a grid chart.  Each day I picked a pen color and as I completed a task, I colored in the box.  It allowed me to know what I needed to accomplish, plus it gave me an overview of each month.  I could see where I was struggling to complete certain tasks, which allowed me to adjust and make another plan of action to allow me to be successful.

A Chore Chart in Pixels has worked so well for me, that I have started using it in other ways as well.  I have one for cleaning the house, one for keeping the kiddos on schedule, and a personal one that I use to track bill paying, date nights, exercise, and personal growth.  What I love about this concept is that it is so easy to adjust to what you need to track.  I have also included a few pictures below so you can see how I utilize this nifty tool.  I used a black sharpie to fill in the boxes for tasks I didn’t complete, making it easy to see areas I need to work on.


Chore Chart in Pixels Sample (1 of 3) Chore Chart in Pixels Sample (2 of 3) Chore Chart in Pixels Sample (3 of 3)


Below is a free Chore Chart in Pixels, so you can simply print it and start tracking today.  I hope you find this as fun and useful as I have!  Feel free to let me know how it is working for you by commenting below or if you have any questions, feel free to email.

Chore Chart in Pixels – Dreams and Caffeine

Cheers to becoming a Martha Stewart – June Cleaver Hybrid,