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Ask the Miserly Mom: Homemade instant pudding and budgeting advice

Jonni McCoy, the "Miserly Mom," shares her frugal tips for making homemade instant pudding and offers budgeting advice for struggling families.
Homemade instant pudding
Q: My family and I really enjoy Jell-O pudding. I know there has to be a way to make our own and save some money. Do you have a recipe for pudding? Thanks! - Mindy M.

A: We love pudding, too. Making it yourself does save money, especially if you make a large batch of instant pudding, and make servings from that. Doing it this way makes each serving cost 15 cents as opposed to 25 cents from a store-bought mix. I have included four flavors of pudding recipes.

Vanilla Pudding Mix
Ingredients:
3 cups nonfat dry milk
4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Mix all except the vanilla, and store in an airtight container. To prepare, mix 1/2 cup of mix to 2 cups milk. Heat and stir constantly while boiling. Cool, then add 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract.

Chocolate Pudding Mix
Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk
5 cups sugar
3 cups cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa

Directions:
Mix and store in airtight container. To prepare, add 2/3 cup mix to 2 cups milk. Heat and stir constantly while boiling. Cool, then serve.

Coconut Cream Pudding Mix
Ingredients:
3 cups nonfat dry milk
4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cornstarch
1 1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Directions:
Mix the extract and the shredded coconut in a small bowl until the extract is absorbed. Add the coconut to the other ingredients and store in airtight container. To prepare, add 2/3 cup mix to 2 cups milk. Heat and stir constantly while boiling. Cool, then serve.

Butterscotch Pudding Mix
Ingredients:
2 cups nonfat dry milk
5 cups brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cornstarch

Directions:
Mix and store in airtight container. To prepare, add 1/2 cup mix to 2 cups milk. Heat and stir constantly while boiling. Cool, then serve.

Budgeting advice
Q: We are a Christian family of six: my husband, myself, and four children. One is 16, the others are under eight. We homeschool. I obviously stay at home, and I always have in this marriage. My husband brings home approximately $34,000 per year. We have almost no debt, about $3,000 on a Visa card that we pay down and use again. We rent our home. We have no car payments or any other type of furniture loans, etc. We should be doing quite well!

My frustration is that we can't seem to save any money, and we're always short, so that when something happens like a car break down, we can't fix it. We use Quicken at home to balance our checkbook, so we always balance to the penny and know how to make a budget. But somehow, getting the budget to work isn't working. We just moved to Tucson from Phoenix, and since we've been here our tithing has almost disappeared. The funds just won't go around. Can you help? Many thanks! - LSZepeda

A: Your situation is a common one... unfortunately. We have the money, but we are using it in places we can't afford. It is impossible for me to give the lengthy answer that you deserve in this column. But I will touch on a few basic principles that should help.

First, having a budget is essential. I am glad that you have one. But it needs to be adhered to in order to be effective. So the first step would be to reevaluate the budget to make sure that it is realistic to your family's needs. Is there too much allowed for in one area, but not enough in another? Go over your checkbook records and see what categories the money is currently going into, and compare that with what is being spent. Is the difference due to impulse shopping, or is a realistic change in that budget amount needed.

Second, the family now needs to find a way to stick to the plan. If impulse spending is the culprit, then a few changes may be necessary. Is the motive for overspending the cause? Is someone feeling that they deserve what they want whenever they want it? Does that person believe that "doing without" is a sign of failure? Our society has taught us that to be successful in the world's eyes, we need to be able to have what we feel like buying. To say "I can't afford that right now" is looked down upon. We need to "renew our minds" and not look at things and money as our source of happiness and self-worth. If the motive is not the cause, then I would look at finding tricks that will curb the overspending. Many people use cash envelopes to limit their spending. They take cash out once per week for their budgeted amounts for groceries, household expenses, and entertainment (and any other categories that are commonly used). Then they put these in labeled envelopes and draw only from them. The key to making this work is to leave the checkbook, ATM cards and credit cards at home. If a "true" emergency arises, one can usually get home to get these if needed. Once the envelopes are empty, no spending can occur until the next "refill" day comes around. It's like putting yourself on a money diet. Sometimes we need to do this until we get used to the changes.

For more help, I recommend reading more on budgeting and how to cut expenses. My books as well as others can offer tips in those areas. For a list of budget idea books, please visit my web site.

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