Friday, September 28, 2007

Day 30: Life's Great Lessons

This is the last day in our series and I admit it took much longer than I had ever anticipated. I share daily ways to save money, but to sit down and really contemplate thirty really good ways to save money...well, that proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought. I think I will stick with my quick tips and quips that I normally share. I hope that someone can walk away with one thing that will help their family in the future. That was my goal and intention with doing the series.

Today I just wanted to end the series by saying how important it is to me that I live within my means. There are many simple things that we have chosen to do to reach our financial goals in life...
  • We make a conscious choice to be smart consumers and chose to buy used items rather than new, to help minimize our costs. There are times where a new item might be appropriate (underwear does come to mind!), but in most cases buying a used item is a better financial choice for us. You can do this through thrift & yard sales, consignment shops, auction sites, or through the classified advertisements. Used is better for the environment and I find it a great thrill and privilege to hunt through the junk to find those precious items.
  • We chose to be wise consumers and research big ticket items before purchasing them. I would never run out and buy a television without good research and I would never just take a salesperson's word for what is the best value for my money. I can justify the purchase of my Consumer Reports annual membership because I use this often to base my decisions on making a good purchase. I also frequently check sites like Amazon or Epinions to get the scoop from customers on how they like items. We cannot afford trial and error in our house so we try and pick things that we know will do well and last a long time.
  • We chose to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Maybe this shows signs of weakness or that I am just a newbie in the world of saving money, but I find myself feeling more confident in myself and my choices when I am around people who feel the same way. When I am around people who put more value into their possessions and the material things, I find myself redirecting my focus in that direction. I hope someday to be the type of person that is unfazed by these people, but for now I enjoy being with people who have similar financial goals and think of material things as secondary to everything else.
  • We are choosing to work towards a goal of a debt-free life. I have very specific goals in mind for our family. I have written these goals down on paper and I reread these goals often. I want to own both of my cars. I want to own my house. I want to pay off my credit card. I want to be free of student loan debt. I say these things to myself often and focus my energy towards making these goals a reality. Our goal is to have this done in six years. Six years of careful discipline and determination- what is your goal?
  • We chose creative ways that we can achieve the things we want in life. For example, bartering for goods & services instead of paying for them. I might make someone a fabulous dinner or babysit for them if they help me with A, B, or C. These exchanges are more creative than opening up my wallet and save us a lot of money. I also try to be creative by learning to make things myself, thrifting for gift items, and constantly researching ways I can be more creative with our money.
  • We chose to enjoy the good things in life, not to live a life of sacrifice and grumbling. I love good things- good coffee, an amazing dinner, a well-decorated room. I love all of these things, but I love to enjoy these things without the debt. I do what any smart frugal gal should do- I search on the internet for that perfect coffee recipe, I teach myself to cook, I look for inspiration in the magazines and find these decorative items in the thrift store. Enjoy that fine living, but do it in a way that can make you & your family proud.

We recognize that we have made bad financial choices, but we also know that some of those choices have lead to other great and wise choices later in life. I admit that there have been times where I have made stupid choices and I suffered from them. I also admit that if I had never made a bad choice in my life that I wouldn't be human and I wouldn't be able to have those experiences to draw from. I can nod my head and say, "Yes, yes, I know!" because I really do. I didn't just read about it in a book- I am living it!

Here are all of the days that we discussed- just in case you happened to miss one!

Ask for Your Discounts

Take Your Own Pictures

Pay Your Bills Online

Use Your Phone as a Money-Saving Tool

Use eBay & Save

Take Advantage of Rebates

Brown Bag Your Way To Savings

Open Your Own Beauty Shop

Lower Your House Payment

Car Repair on a Budget

Creative Gym Membership Alternatives

Social Obligations on a Budget

Get Your Java Fix

Creative Toy Replacements

Keep Your Bills in Check

Bulk It Up

Find an Inexpensive Hobby

Get Yourself Organized

Curb Your Weekend Spending

Create Your Own Secret Emergency Account

Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford

Just Ask

Become a Coupon Queen (or Not)!

Schedule a Day in the Kitchen

Extending it Further

Save on Clothing

Get to Know Your Freezer

Get Rewarded for Your Shopping

Sound Off: What was your favorite day in our Month of Savings?

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Product Review: Play Along Dolls

As a mother of a daughter, I would like to throw some interesting facts out to you:

- In a recent survey, 1010 mothers with preteen daughters expressed their feelings about the array of inappropriate dolls invading their kids' playrooms. 90% of these mothers expressed a desire for a wider section of dolls that were positive role models for young girls. 85% of the mothers said that they are fed up with the "sex pot" playthings available (USA Today).

- "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girl or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed for 4-8 year olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality"(American Psychological Association).

- "We usually have a great time checking out new toys, but we were totally put off by many of the doll lines for 2007- trash's the word that comes to mind. And it's not just us. The American Psychological Association found that all these sexualized images of young girls are seriously harmful to a girl's self esteem and healthy development" (Parents Magazine)

I guess I am not alone in believing that these dolls are highly inappropriate and am discouraged by the choices that are offered. This is not a RELIGIOUS thing, this is a MOM thing!

I received a package from the Play Along company and was so encouraged by what I found. This is a company that is going against the popular trashy dolls and taking a stand to work towards bringing back good old-fashioned dolls.

These dolls still enjoy fashion, but it is modest and they resemble a modern version of the Cabbage Patch dolls. The dolls are poseable and come with different outfits and something fun that you can do with your doll (shoelaces to make bracelets, chalk to play hopscotch, etc...) Currently they offer three cute little girl characters and accessory packs that you can purchase separately. The "Olivia Reese" doll is sporty and loves nature. The "Sophie Kate" doll is an artsy girlie girl." Finally, the "Zoe Madison" doll is hip & trendy. All of the dolls have a suggested retail price of $19.99.

The accessory packs (purchased separately) can build on the wardrobes and things that you can do with your doll. The packs include a trendy outfit, an interactive themed activity, and a poseable Play Along Club pet. The suggested retail price on these accessory kits are $12.99.

The dolls are very well made and are just the type of dolls that I grew up with. I love the idea of returning to the good old-fashioned fun things in life and dolls that my daughter can relate to and will have a positive influence in her life.

We thank the Play Along company for sharing their dolls with our family! We stand behind their choice to offer fun & positive role models for our girls! They will be launching their new website for the dolls this fall.

Sound Off: What do you think about the dolls on the market today? Do you buy these dolls on the shelves or do you not buy them? What are some positive dolls that you have bought for your daughters?

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Product Review: Signing Time! Products


The Signing Time! company sent us some of their products for review for the website. Included in my box of goodies were Signing Time videos and music.

Let me preface by saying that we have incorporated signing with our children since my son was around eighteen months old. Ethan had a speech delay and it was a very frustrating time for him and for myself. He made no audible sounds and would not even turn towards me when I would say his name.

We started speech therapy with him and the speech therapist encouraged us to sign with Ethan. She gave me a book on signing and asked us to start implementing sign language in our home. We were open to anything, but I had big reservations that he would rely on signing instead of talking to us. I was worried that this would delay the process longer, but within a week we noticed a remarkable difference in our son.

The tantrums stopped and he began to sign and tell us what he needed. Gradually, he began saying the words with the signs. Then he stopped signing and began just speaking. Who would have thought this is what we needed for him?

Since then, I have been a big believer in signing with your kids. Emily seems to have a speech delay, but we know how to use signing with her and I feel like I have a better idea of what I am doing this time.

Our family really loved these movies from Signing Times! Rachel Coleman, the star behind the series, sings beautiful songs and teaches children through her music how to sign. She wanted to do the series because she had a deaf child and then a daughter born with spina bifida & cerebral palsy. Both of her children struggled with communication and she began the series to try and teach them (and later other children) how to communicate through sign language.

These videos are an invaluable teaching tool and are used widely by educators, pediatricians, homeschoolers, speech therapists, public schools, daycares, libraries and families. They offer a wide array of products from babies until eight years old.

Rachel's hopes come from a personal goal, "My hope is that everyone will know a little sign, just as most people know a little Spanish- so when your child seems my child at the park, there would be no awkwardness, no communication barrier- just three signs... 'Hi-Friend-Play' that is all it would take to change her world."

We thank the Signing Time! company for giving us the opportunity to review their products. We would highly recommend their products to any family who would like to begin incorporating sign language in their homes.

Sound Off: Have you used sign language in your house? What have been your favorite teaching tools?

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Freebie Friday: September 28, 2007

Just wanted to send a quick reminder that National Museum Day is tomorrow!


Health & Beauty:

Good Nites Sleep Boxers

Playtex Bottle (printable coupon)


Food:

Folgers Gourmet Coffee

Hostess Cakes (It took me a few times for this one to go through)


Entertainment:


Spin Magazine


Dog's Life


Psychology Today Magazine


Spiegel Catalog (Enter offer code: F9710)

Home & Garden:

Dry Cleaner's Secret

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deceptively Delicious- A MUST For Healthy Eating

I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" and I would recommend either checking this book out from the library or buying a copy when the book is released (set release date of October 5th).

If you haven't heard the buzz about this book, author Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld's better half) shares smart ways to sneak veggies and fruit into your children's diet. As a mother of three children, she knows how difficult it is to get your kids to eat their fruits & veggies so she shares a technique for pureeing these foods and mixing them into fun recipes. Everything from dip to breads to donuts...all of her dishes contain an element of healthy eating with sneak attacks from the four food groups.

It is smartly written and beautifully designed. Included are tips for creating all of your purees, how to stock a healthy pantry, and easy nutritional guidelines for children. She even shares her family's opinion on the dishes with cute little retro pictures of each of them (even Jerry!)

The idea is very simple- fill your children's foods with the good things in life so that they can live a long and healthy life!

I am looking forward to adding some of her recipes to my next menu planner and am looking forward to trying some of her puree techniques on my children. My kids are pretty smart, but maybe I can fool them! If the pictures are any indication of how good these dishes taste, I know they will enjoy them throughly.

Many thanks to Harper Collins and Jessica for giving us this sneak peek into such a cool cookbook! We wish Mrs. Sienfeld much luck with the launch of her book and look forward to trying her dishes in our kitchen!

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The Dollar Stretcher Tips 09.27.2007

For a sample copy of The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, send $2 to: Dollar Stretcher Sample, 6695 Cortez Road W., Bradenton FL 34210. Copyright 2007 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. Visit The Dollar Stretcher for even more tips & ideas!

Post Hospital Help
I recently broke my foot. Since I live alone, many people I know offered me home cooked food, which was very thoughtful and appreciated. Since I was overwhelmed with food, the idea occurred to me that a gift of first aid items that I needed would have been nice. Since I had pins put in my foot, I had to buy various items. To be quite honest, these items really cost a lot of money. So, in the future, if anyone I know is down on their luck, I will ask if they need supplies instead of food.Cara

Menu Coordination
I'm sure everyone has heard of doing a weekly menu, but I do a monthly one. The last week of each month, I get the school calendar and game schedules and pencil in those nights, including any meetings I'm aware of. I keep a list of freezer contents on the refrigerator (add to list as I put them in the freezer). Then I make the menu. On nights we have games and won't get home until 8:30pm, it's a simple meal like tacos or grilled cheese. Other nights it's meat, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. I let the kids pick out a couple dinner ideas and add them to the menu. I have teenagers so they're asked to pick one night a month to fix dinner (with my supervision). This has saved me a lot of money! I buy items on sale ahead of time. I get food out to thaw the night before instead of running to the store to pick up dinner items. And this saves me from fast food!Kendra A.

Grocery Totes
I purchased four cheap plastic/canvas type tote bags on clearance (less than $5 each) to use and reuse for grocery shopping. They're stronger than the plastic bags you get at the store, hold more, and are easier to carry into the house.Patty S. in Norristown, PA

Easy Winter Preparations
I measured our windows and bought enough polar fleece at the fabric store (at 50% off) for all of our windows. I pieces about 2-4" wider than each window. Polar fleece doesn't fray or ravel so it needs no sewing. I cut slits in the top and bottom of the fleece to work like belt loops.
I found spring-tension rods at the dollar store. Then I ran the tension rods through these slits. The tension rods fit snuggly inside the window frames. There are two rods for each window with one at the top and one at the bottom. If we need to look outside, the fleece can slide side to side a little, or we can loosen the bottom tension rod so we can lift the fleece. For a kids' room, fleece with characters or a sports theme may be nice. We don't have kids, so I chose white for a uniform look from the outside. This immediately reduced window drafts. An excellent option for people who are not very craft- oriented.Gabby in Columbus, Ohio

'Child Proof' Solution
I use over-the-counter medicines. My disabilities make it hard to see the arrows on the childproof caps and bottles that need to be lined up before they open. I color them with red permanent marker. Now opening those bottles is a breeze.MR

Deadly Sweetness
Pour sugar on plants that you want to kill. Sugar gets microbes into high gear; that is why teeth rot from sugars. The sugar actually improves the health of your soil long term, but it will cause so much microbe action that the plant/root will overload and die. This is a great way to kill off stubborn thickets or vines, which you keep trimming back.W.

Tasty Rolls
To warm bread or rolls from the refrigerator, put them in the microwave next to a cup of water. This makes them come out fresh, moist and warm.JF

Ground Meat Stretcher
The easiest and cheapest way to stretch ground meat is to add fresh bean sprouts to the raw meat and brown it with the meat. The veggies will pick up the flavor of the meat from the meat juices, and once it is browned, you cannot tell which bite started out as meat and which was veggie sprouts. This works very well for strongly flavored foods like chili, taco meat, etc. I have often stretched two ground beef patties to enough to feed four to six adults this way. And it is lower calorie, higher fiber, etc.
I have used this for bulk sausage, ground beef and ground turkey and see no reason why it would not work with venison or chicken as well.Debbie

Luscious Lips!
The easiest and tastiest lip mask I've ever tried is plain honey straight on the lips! A thin layer will do, and it will work miracles if you can resist licking it off before it can work its magic. Make sure your lips are clean. It's great if used daily for about three days to a week. You can leave it on as long as you'd like, and I like to put it on right before bed and let it sink in all night. My lips are so sweet in the morning!
Honey is bacteria-resistant and has a generally emollient effect. Because it's such a great skin softener, it can be used on the face and neck as a simple moisturizing mask.Grace H.

Removing Pet Urine Smells
I had a tenant that had an older cat that sprayed and urinated behind their entertainment center. After trying just about everything, I decided to cut out the sub-floor. I had already pulled back the carpet and padding (it was time to replace the carpet anyway) when a neighbor stopped by and suggested I try vanilla flavoring. All I had was pure vanilla extract, so I poured it on. It killed the smell that was emanating from the plywood.Michael E.

Controlling 'Cling' Wrap
Plastic wrap or cling wrap often gets wasted as it tears apart or sticks together. A simple solution that I found is to keep it in the freezer. It pulls apart easily with no more wasted wrap.Angie

Spot Free Dishes
Instead of buying expensive spot eliminators for the dishwasher (i.e. Jet Dry), fill the reservoir with plain white household vinegar. It works just as well and it is much cheaper. It's probably better for the environment as well.Lorre J. in Phoenix, AZ

Easy Dusting
I keep an old paintbrush with my cleaning supplies. Whenever I have to dust the bookshelves, I spray it with Endust and brush the dust away. It's also made dusting a favorite job for my two kids.Iris S.

Need Extra Freezer Space?
I have a small apartment refrigerator with a freezer above. I have found that I double my freezer space simply by taking the frozen contents out of the boxes that they are purchased in. Most frozen items are sealed in plastic inside a box or other container. I simply cut out the instructions for cooking and tape to the plastic. This works really well for pizzas or boil-in-bag vegetables. Now I take advantage of sales on frozen items and stock up with no worry about freezer space. If you're concerned about the sell by date, then just cut the date out as well and tape it to the item.Charyl S.

'Gentle' Dishwashing
When my son was an infant, we had received a little basket to use on the top rack of the dishwasher to hold the bottle nipples and bottle rings. That came in handy then, and when he was a toddler, I used it for sippy cup parts. Now six years later, I'm still using it, but I'm using it for the little plastic containers and such. We don't use the heated dry on our dishwasher, so I can even toss in the cream cheese container to wash and re-use for storing single servings after dinner.Jen B.

Last Year's Backpack
My 5- and 8-year-old boys share a room so storage is an issue. I almost threw out their backpacks from last year because they were a little ratty, but instead, I washed them and use them to keep things in under the beds.Cindy B.

Funding Next Year's Garden
I love to vegetable garden. I always have more than I can use. I take my produce into the office and have a "Take Some and Leave a Quarter" cup next to them. I use this to buy my plants for next year. They get fresh produce, and I haven't had to pay for new plants in three years! I even take requests.Christian F. in Olathe, KS

Delightful Souvenirs
We travel several times a year. We like to go to a local "antique/junk" shop and browse for a souvenir. There are always local items available that delight us. We have a framed painted feather with the Tuzigoot parrot symbol from AZ, a pair of a child's Chinese slippers, a enormous skeleton door key from England, and a myriad of other souvenirs. Each time I see one of these items displayed in my house, I think of the place we visited and the money I saved that I can use toward the next trip!Lyn

Used Auto Auctions
We just bought a used van at an auto auction. We took our time and shopped at the auction over a six month time period until we found what met our needs and what constituted a good deal. When we took possession of our recently purchased van (a bank repo that we got for 50% of retail), the engine light was on. We weren't worried because we did all of the checks. The engine sounds wonderfully quiet. When I took the van to the auto repair shop, they wanted $78 to scan and tell us what the engine light code meant!
Being a do-it-yourselfer, I went home and researched what was needed to do the scan. Just imagine when I found out that I could buy the software and cable hook-up that scans the van for a mere $120. That's less than having to diagnose two engine lights! We may also let our friends and neighbors know that we will provide this service for a small fee! Our scanner will pay for itself in no time! So, shop and research to make sure that you know what you are getting and what you are paying for! By the way, the scan showed that it was time for an oil change.D. B. in Manitoba, Canada

Brown Sugar
Brown sugar never gets lumpy in my house. I always have it available and I never have to pay the extra price to purchase it either. Instead, I put together just the right amount of brown sugar when I have a recipe that calls for it. I always have granulated sugar and molasses on hand. When I have a recipe that calls for brown sugar, I first measure the granulated sugar for the exact amount the recipes calls for and then pour in a drop or two of the molasses at a time (it only takes a little) and work it in until I get just the right color.Cheryl C. in Midlothian, VA

Keeping Veggies
I have at least doubled the life of my fresh veggies by first washing them, then wrapping them in a paper towel and wetting the paper prior to putting them in the crisper. If you keep the paper towel damp your lettuce and other veggies will last two to three times as long!Jim O. in New Westminster BC

Visit the Country
I live in the suburbs of a large metropolitan area. My sister lives in a rural area, just 10 minutes from my house. My pet recently needed veterinarian care and she suggested her rural vet. I called around and I saved $150 by using her vet over the one down the street. This was well worth the trip! Apparently he makes most of his money on livestock, not household pets.Teresa E.

Frugally Famous
It's easy to go over the food budget when you're frequently asked to bring a dish to family, work, church and social events. So become "famous" for something inexpensive. I'm "famous" for my hard rolls. I purchase the yeast at discount pricing and flour on sale. The rolls are five inches in diameter and four inches high with an egg wash glaze. They are tasty and delicious, and even if I include the cost of gas for the oven, 16 cost about 40 cents. Even if I make honey butter to go with them, I spend less than a dollar for my specialty. Never become famous for something like cheesecake. It can destroy the food budget quickly.Mary Ann

Stinky Clothes?
While working in the theater wardrobe department, I learned that Vodka will eliminate odors. Just put in a spray bottle and spray. It evaporates leaving no stains or odors. It not only saves on cleaning bills, but will help conserve your clothing.Susan G.

Before You Begin Christmas Shopping
This would be the time to send out letters to family and friends to finally stop exchanging Christmas gifts. Most people have more than they need, and extra shopping just ends up causing stress. Last year, I received a card that read "a donation has been made in all the names of the people of my Christmas list and sheep have been purchased for an underprivileged village" in a 3rd world country. I was very touched to receive such a gift!WB

Running Tally
I arm myself with a small calculator when I shop for groceries. It's a snap to keep a running tally of my purchases so I never go over budget. It also reminds me to buy according to needs not wants because I can see immediately what a dent the wants make in my spending.M.

The Code Readers
We had a friend pass along this tip to us that has saved us a ton of money at the car repair shop. Most auto parts stores will hook their reader up to your car when your check engine (or any other light) comes on and tell you exactly what the error message is and what it means. They don't charge for this service. Recently this happened with one of our cars. We found out that my husband hadn't screwed the gas cap on all way. We tightened the cap, the auto part store employee reset the light, and it has never come on again. It saved us the time and trouble of taking the car into a repair shop, especially since we have to drive 60 miles to the nearest car dealer.Stacey S. in Muncie, IN

Part-Time Teacher
If you enjoy teaching and have a special skill or hobby that others might enjoy, check with your local community or junior college about their non-credit or adult education classes. Our community college is always looking for new ideas for classes and the instructors to teach them. I have taught several classes on both professional, work-related topics and leisure or travel-related topics. After my class proposal has been accepted, I work with their class coordinator to determine the night(s) and times and we schedule the class. It is printed in their booklet and online, so they take care of the marketing for me. I can either ask them to order a book for the students or I can prepare my own materials. I am paid a flat fee for teaching based on the contact hours. It's a fun way to earn some extra money, meet new people and, on occasion, create a new business contact.Tina B.

Wrinkles
To prevent clothes from wrinkling, place a sheet of tissue paper on the garment and then fold as you normally do. This keeps them from wrinkling both in a drawer or in a suitcase.Eileen K. in Philadelphia, PA

Textbook Savings
The prices for textbooks today are ridiculous. Often, the professors don't like it either, but don't have much choice in their assignments. I've learned to ask my professors at the beginning of every semester if the previous edition of a text is acceptable for class. When it is, it can mean big savings. The Chemistry book, 10th edition, for my course was $180. The professor said the 9th edition was fine, and I was able to purchase it from www.abe.com (used books online) for $13.
I've also ordered international editions of texts. Even with shipping, it was much cheaper to get the international edition of my anatomy text from India. Just remember to allow for shipping time. Email your professor before the semester starts if possible. Also check reviews if you're buying an international edition to make sure it's the same content.Renee

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

After Photos: Making Our Home More Inviting

I am beat, but I got some of our outdoor projects done today. I discussed yesterday that we are working on making our home more inviting to our friends and neighbors and I hope that we have accomplished that.

The project is incomplete until I can plant some annuals and fill out the beds, but I did freshen the beds up for fall and hopefully give the impression that we care a teeny bit about the outside of our home. Unfortunately, while I have been working hard on the outside of the home, the inside has gotten neglected so that is what I will be working on the rest of the week. Remember, I am still attending boot camp!


First, this is the new wreath that I put on our front door. Our front door used to be an ugly boring brown color and our house lacked a little spark to it. The coat of fresh red paint added a little pop to our house and a pretty wreath completes the look. This wreath was made from a grapevine wreath (that I had in our basement) and I got the sprigs of autumn touches from Wal-Mart for $3 total. The ribbon happened to be in my ribbon collection so I used that to hold the wreath in place. I hope this lets our visitors know that this is the place to be!


I love fall mums for my flower beds so I bought some of these from Home Depot for $3.88 each. It adds a little color to my beds and I love that these plants will be back next year. An inexpensive solution for a boring bed.

These beds also were looking overgrown and tired so I thinned them out and cleaned them up. This was a free solution for freshening the beds up a bit!

I loved the color of these mums so I added them to a pot for my front step. It was a great way to make our front step look more inviting and add some color to the front of the house.

The tired tree (with no grass around it) also got a face lift. We used our free brick and bricked around the tree. I added four hostas ($5.99 each) and three bags of red mulch ($3.38 each). Next year I will plant some pretty impatients to add some color to this spot. I loved how it all turned out!

The last thing I did (although I didn't take a before picture, but I am sure you can imagine boring and dull!) was frame our mailbox out with the plants and brick. The greenery came from one of my beds, on the side of the house, so this was free. Another addition of a mum and a little of the mulch completed the look.



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Feeling Like a Professional Florist

I am feeling like a professional florist after making this beautiful centerpiece for my dinner table. I found this idea through The Sparrow's Nest and I am so impressed with myself. Her tutorial was so simple, but could it really be that easy? Well, it truly was! I was able to whip this up while the water was heating on the stove for our dinner.

It was also a great opportunity for me to use my new cake stand too. I am so proud of it and love the detail on this piece. This centerpiece was the perfect way to showcase my new piece and add a fall element to my table.
I also made the candles that she had showcased last fall on her blog. I had the jars leftover from all of my Christmas crafting and I am still working our way through all of the popcorn in our house. I actually pulled some of the popcorn out of Ethan's popcorn table for this craft. The candles were the only purchase- two Pumpkin Spice candles at $1.44 each at Wal-Mart. They tie in the pumpkin theme well!

Thank you, Mrs. Wilt, for making me feel like a professional florist!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Momma's Working Hard

You know that song, "She Works Hard for the Money?" That is the song that is stuck in my head and I am working it over here in this corner of the internet world.

First, we want to thank the New York Times for including us in an article that they did in last week's Sunday edition. There is nothing like seeing your name in the NYT to put a smile on a girl's face. We welcome all of these new readers to our site and hope that you will visit again!

We are also working on some super secret projects that we hope will help the look and feel to our website. I promise to share more about that later! For now, they will have to remain super secret. These projects are in addition to several chicken scratches that I have written down for new articles that I would like to add for the holiday season.

We are working on relocating our Product Reviews to a new destination. We are hoping to get this up sometime next month and this will be a separate blog, but still an active part of our site. Since this blog is called, "The Mother Load" I am thinking that I will call this other blog, "The Mother Loot." What do you guys think of that title?

All of the previous product reviews will be moved to the new home and this blog can continue chugging along with loads of ideas for saving money, organizing your space, and sharing yummy recipes.

In addition to all of the blogging and site magic, I will be on each Tuesday on WSBT, sharing more tips for the frugal moms of the world...or um, Michiana moms of the world. Monthly I will continue appearing in the "Frugal Mom" column in the Michiana Family Magazine, sharing some other great money-saving tips. These magazines are located everywhere- in your doctor's office, dentist office, major supermarkets, and the drugstores.

I have also made the recent addition of writing for Frugal Hacks each Tuesday and am enjoying sharing fun ways to entertain and be entertained on a budget.

This next month, I get the opportunity to speak with two moms groups in the area, which I am really looking forward to. I am a very interactive person and getting to be with other moms and share homemaking and money-saving tips is a true honor. Hopefully this will lead to many more speaking engagements and fun opportunities.

It has been such a pleasure to get my name out there in the community and to get some national recognition too. I hope to continue supplying quality content and am commited to being the best I can be on here, but also do my best as a mom & wife too. After all, that is what my life is truly all about!

Please understand if I do not answer emails immediately- I PROMISE that I am reading everything that everyone is sending, but am admittedly on overload right now. I am just one person, but feel like I am doing the work of an entire company. It is just how I want it though and I wouldn't change a single thing! Being home with my children and getting to do what I love has been the biggest blessing and it is because of your support and your referrals.

I want to recognize my top referrers this month because you all are what keep my community growing!

Top Referral Links:

Baby Cheapskate- Thank you to Angie for letting us ride her big wave of traffic from her Parents Magazine mention. You are a great alley to have and a wonderful writer!
New York Times- Thank you for including our expert opinion!
Frugal Hacks- Thank you to Kim for including us in her team of writers!
Homespun Living- This is a favorite in my feed and I read it often. It was such an honor to be mentioned in her corner of the internet!
Like Merchant Ships- My true blue friend and an inspirational writer who shares about our site regularly. I am so lucky!

As always, we are open and ready for suggestions on new articles and features you would like to see here.

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Making Our Home More Inviting

I spend a lot of time on the interior of our home, but not enough time is spent working on projects on the outside of our house. We decided that we would spend these last few weeks of the warmer weather working on some of these projects. The benefit of waiting until later in the summer/fall to do your projects is that a lot of these outdoor items are on clearance. The downside though is that the selection is very limited and can make getting supplies for your projects more difficult.

The first project on our list of things to do was to work on our back patio. We had a brick patio behind our house that had been uprooted by a large tree root. We saved the money to remove the tree and then needed to put our patio back together. What we found were lots of broken bricks and our hopes of expanding the patio (and matching old street pavers) seemed very far away. My in-laws happened to be redoing their patio and graciously let us have their brick so we made a new design with the new brick and old brick together. The only cost to us is the sand, blood, sweat and tears that are going into the new patio. I think it is going to be beautiful when it is done.

Our next project is working on the front exterior of the home. We had several cracks in our driveway and don't have the funds to repave the driveway. Ryan got some crack filler (I will not go into how many jokes go along with that phrase when we talk about the repairs!) and filled the spots so that they will hopefully not continue cracking.

I spent a great deal of time on our flower beds and planted mums for the front bed and also got a pot and planted more mums in it for our doorstep. I divided some of my perennials and relocated them to the back bed, which was looking very sparse. I rounded it out with some red mulch, which made the bed look more finished.

Finally, our front tree needed a little sprucing up so we decided to use some more of our free brick and brick a box for it and fill it with some shade-loving perennials and mulch. I was originally going to do all of this myself and surprise my husband, but the surprise ended up being on him because I was too much of a wimp in the heat and couldn't get the bricks level like I wanted.

I just wanted to share some of our before pictures and then I will share some of our after photos. I am hoping it will be everything we are hoping for and that it help give our house a little more curb appeal. It is all still a work in progress, but we have high hopes of creating the home of our dreams on a budget!

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Cleaning Out the Coffee Carafe

I love my coffee carafe and use it regularly. When we had a mommy's helper this summer, I would pour all of my coffee into it and then take it with me into my office and shut my door. It was a great way to keep the coffee warm and also keep me from going up and down the stairs for refills while I worked.

Cleaning a narrow thermos or carafe can be difficult, but my trusty baby bottle brush has pulled through for me on these occasions. I use this to wash these narrow items and get them squeaky clean. They also are great for washing wine glasses or other dainty glasses.

Sound Off:
What baby items do you still use in your house? What new purposes have you found for these things?

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Frugal Hacks: A Fun Brunch Discussion

Today's entry on Frugal Hacks is all about why brunch can be best and this actually came from a recent brunch that I had this past weekend. It was such a fun way to entertain and the dishes I prepared were very budget-friendly, compared to a more expensive dinner option.

For this brunch, I included a fun breakfast tray for my guests. I draped a pretty red & white dish towel across the tray and then filled it with lots of fun coffee goodies. I made a good pot of coffee and then poured it into my coffee carafe (purchased from a thrift store). I also included pretty coffee mugs, sugar, flavored creamer, flavored coffee syrups, and an assortment of teas. Since my table is long & narrow, I used this as my centerpiece for this brunch. It looked so pretty and it made it easier to clear the table when were done.

A quick clearing of the table and the ultimate Turbo Edition of Cranium (purchased for $1.50 at Goodwill) and it made our time together even more fun, while still keeping it easy on the wallet.

I hope you can swing by the Frugal Hacks blog and read more on this fun entertainment option!

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WSBT-TV: Getting Ready for Halloween

This morning on our Mom's First segment, we got the opportunity to share about getting ready for Halloween. This segment goes along with our new article, "Scary Deals on Halloween Costumes" that we had recently posted.

This year my daughter is going to be Minnie Mouse, compliments of my dear friend AnneMarie, and my son has decided to be a Ninja.

Have you seen this video on You Tube about how to make a Ninja costume out of a black shirt? I loved this idea and am hopefully going to try this for our little Ninja! This clip gets a little long near the end, just watch the beginning where he breaks down how to make a mask for your kids.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Dunkin Donuts Coffee at Sam's Club

I have been missing my Dunkin' Donuts coffee in the morning. When we lived in Massachusetts, you couldn't go half a block without seeing one of their locations. In Indiana, I would have to drive an hour just to get a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

What a nice surprise to see that Sam's Club is now carrying the Dunkin' Donuts Original Blend coffee in bulk. While a tad more expensive than my usual coffee ($15.88 for 2.5 pounds) it is still cheaper than traveling all that way for a cup of this delicious goodness.

It brings back fond memories of going to work and splurging daily on a cup of coffee. I even had a cup that I kept at work to refill regularly. They would see me coming and start adding the skim milk and sugar- just how I like it! Now I am making my own coffee amidst crying children who might die if they don't eat breakfast right this second and my morning coffee is a bit more rushed than it once was. Maybe there were a few perks of being in the working world, but I wouldn't trade sharing a bowl of cereal with my kids any day!

Sound Off: Is there a particular brand of coffee that you are loyal to? Any good deals on coffee that you have found?

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Sour Cream Muffins


I recently checked out a great book from the library called, "The Ultimate Muffin Book" that was chock full of awesome muffin recipes. The book contains 100 base recipes for muffins and then includes tons of variations on each recipe, boasting over 600 recipes in all. The book also had tons of great tips for good baking and how you could make your own ultimate muffin.


Last week I baked a batch of Sour Cream Muffins, from the cookbook, that were so delicious. The sour cream added a yummy tang to the muffin and I loved that the recipe didn't require any butter or oil. The muffins were moist and chewy and I added a cup of chocolate chips to sweeten them up.

The only disappointment was that the muffins really stuck to the muffin liners and made it difficult to remove them. I think next time that I will just spray the pan really well instead of using the liners on these. My husband didn't like the chocolate chip addition, but everyone else in the house did, so next time I will do some plain ones for him.

The biggest fan of the muffins had to be Emily. Judging by her plate, she had no problems with the chocolate chips at all!



Sour Cream Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream (regular, low-fat, or nonfat)
2/3 cup milk (whole, low-fat, or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the muffin tins, spray the indentations and the rims around them with nonstick spray, or line the indentations with paper muffin cups. If using silicon muffin tins,, spray as directed, then place the tins on a baking sheet. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl until uniform. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sour cream until smooth then whisk in the milk and vanilla extract. Stir int he flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Fill the prepared tins three-quarters full. Bake for 18 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned but smooth. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for ten minutes. Release muffins from the tin. If storing or freezing them, cool them completely before sealing in an airtight container or in freezer-safe plastic bags. The muffins will stay fresh for up to 24 hours at room temperature or up to one month in the freezer.

Variations:


Banana Walnut Sour Cream Muffins- add 1/2 cup chopped dried banana & 1/2 cup chopped walnuts with the flour.

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins- Add 1 cup dried blueberries with flour.

Cherry Sour Cream Muffins- Add 1 cup dried cherries with the flour.

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Muffins- Add 1 cup semisweet or milk chocolate chips with the flour.

Cranberry Sour Cream Muffins- Add 1 cup dried cranberries with the flour.

Raisin Sour Cream Muffins- Add 1 cup raisins with the flour.

Coconut Sour Cream Muffins- Add 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut with the flour.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Enjoying the Last Days of Summer

We are coming to the end of the summer and it is that weird time in the season where I find myself preparing for the seasons ahead while sitting in my bathing suit in hot & humid weather.

Yesterday we enjoyed a day outside. The kids played in the sprinklers while I worked on our laundry and flipped through recipe books for the Christmas season.

I have been working on planning my Christmas treat boxes and have been hitting the thrift store often for pretty tins to put my cookies in. We had so much fun delivering to the firefighters and other people in our family, that I find myself really looking forward to our next delivery. It was a lot of work, but so neat to surprise everyone with treats from our kitchen.

Today I washed all of our fall linens for the beds and they are hanging out in the sunshine. I have a fall quilt in burgundy & navy flapping in the hot sun. My space heater, flannel sheets, and electric blanket will have to wait until it gets nice and cool.

I bought my mums to plant and a pot to put some of them on our step. Next I will be working on my fall decorating around the house. I don't have a ton of decorations, but just a few pieces to add to the fall spirit around here.

Finding acorns lying next to my beach chair reminded me how close we are to being able to enjoy some crisp fall weather. Until then, we will be soaking up the sunshine and enjoying as much time outdoors as we can.

Have you been doing any fall preparations in your house? Are you enjoying these last dog days of summer?

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Freebie Friday: September 21, 2007

Don't forget to mark your calendars for next Saturday- it is National Museum Day! Check the Smithsonian Website for additional information.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

All Around Our House: 09.19.07

I thought I would share what we are up to over here in our little corner of the internet. Linking will be provided through Amazon, but what I am reading/doing is usually loaned through our library and not purchased. The links will provide specific information though on what we are doing!


The kids are listening to: Justin Roberts, "Meltdown"







I am listening to: Dashboard Confessionals, "Dusk & Summer"





On my nightstand you would find, "Queen of Babble in the Big City" by Meg Cabot

I found this when I was thrifting yesterday, "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman. I paid $4 for it- a little more than normal, but it was too cool to pass up!

My children's latest fascination is "Yo Gabba Gabba"


Fall is coming so I need to start whipping up my cocoa mix- yummy!




I am adding some of the items from the new Martha Stewart Collection (from Macys Department Store) to my Christmas list this year. I love these cake stands! I wonder if Macy's will let me use my coupons since Michael's would not!


Let me know what you think and if you would like to see this regularly!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

WSBT-TV: Family Nights On A Budget

Here is today's segment from WSBT! We talked about family nights on a budget and discussed all of the great things you can do with your family without spending a ton of money in the process. Above the video is an email that you can use to send in suggestions for the next show. Even if you don't live in our area, I am sure they would love the story ideas!

On a personal note, I just wanted to thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. My mom got to come home yesterday from the hospital and is on the mend. Thank you for thinking of her.

On a lighter note, you should watch the clip so you can see my new hair cut. FINALLY got to go to the hair dresser after four months without a good cut. Only a mom could appreciate what a luxury that was! Maybe next time I will do what Meredith did and just have Ethan chop it for me...That would be a lot cheaper! Of course there is always opening my own beauty salon!

Back to the family night topic, what is your favorite thing to do as a family? Any suggestions for my next family night together?

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Day 29: Get Rewarded For Your Shopping

I love shopper rewards, but not the kind that require me to take out a credit card. Yes, I know there are tons of personal finance gurus that would disagree with me on this, but I do not feel comfortable using a credit card. Call it lack of discipline, call it sheer fear...heck, you could call it pure laziness, but I am trying to avoid using credit cards for any reason.

No, the rewards that I like come from shopping that I am already doing. You can find great shopper rewards from places you are probably already visiting- your grocery store, the gas station, or doing your online shopping for the holiday season.


As someone who is frugal, I tend to overlook signs that advertise reward cards because I automatically associate them with credit cards. For example, our local Speedway had advertisements that were hanging over their pumps, advertising gas savings and I immediately got that glazed over look and would ignore them. There was no way I would sign up for a gas card, nope, not me!

Fast forward to a day trip with my sister and she whips out her Speedy Rewards Card, which credits her three cents per gallon and then gives her an additional savings on other items in their store. She explained that you could get points for buying your gas there and then you could credit those towards gift cards. This was an opportunity that I would have lost out on if she had not explained that this was not a credit card, but just a reward card. Now I happily swipe my free card and get my three cents back on each gallon. Yes, it is a drop in the bucket, but why not take advantage of it? Many of my frugal endeavors might only save me pennies, but pennies do eventually add up to dollars, and I am looking forward to putting some of that money in my secret account.

There are also rewards at grocery stores. Many grocery stores offer gas savings or savings on your groceries, just for using their free card. There could also be rewards available for your child's school, as many grocery stores offer a percentage back on your spending for non-profit organizations and schools.

Finally, there are great rewards programs for doing your online shopping. I have always been a fan of MyPoints because I could do my shopping and use my points on gift cards for myself. I also love Ebates and enjoy getting my big fat check every now and then. I won't go into detail, but these are two shopper programs that have some great benefits IF you are already planning to shop online, not shopping just to get points & rewards.

Since I often have that glazed over look when it comes to reward cards, what are some of the cards in your wallet that you find have been beneficial to your family? What rewards do you cash in on?

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Frugal Hacks: Hosting a Game Day Party

Today at Frugal Hacks, I am discussing some great ways to host a game day get together without spending a lot of money.

I will be doing a piece each Tuesday and discussing creative and frugal ways to entertain and be entertained!

Is there anything you have in mind for discussion? What is not budget-friendly in your house, when it comes to the subject of entertainment?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Perfectly Pantry: Cinnamon Muffins

Tomorrow is grocery day so this means we are down to the bare minimum in our pantry. I did a search for muffin recipes and found a great one for Cinnamon Muffins to try. All of the ingredients were in my pantry and it would make a great treat to start the week.

These muffins are delicious. The only changes that I made to the recipe were to add one teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter and to decrease the melted butter, to be brushed on top, to two tablespoons. Making cinnamon muffins with no cinnamon actually in them didn't seem to make sense to me so that was why I made the addition. Even with only melting two tablespoons of butter, I still had some leftover and I didn't want to make these muffins too heavy.

I was a little scared by how thick the batter was, but the muffins were nice and light when baked. I was able to get nine muffins out of this batter.

These were enjoyed by everyone in our family and I will definitely make these again!

While I am on the subject of our pantry, I just wanted to direct you over to Frugal Hacks and Meredith's thoughtful piece on how to stay within your grocery budget,while practicing her theme of cheerful frugality. I loved this!

Since I am in the test kitchen mode, do you guys have a favorite recipe for muffins that you could share? I would love to try them!

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Sister Swap Shoe Box


I got the opportunity to participate in a shoe box swap with the theme being sisters and refresh. This is my first swap ever and I was running so behind on this. I feel very badly about that so I apologize to my "sister" in this swap for not getting my box out on time. When I received her box though, I was so glad that I had not yet sent mine. When I was thinking "shoe box" swap, I actually was planning to send mine in a shoe box, until I received her gift and about fell over at how beautiful it was. No matter what I could have done, nothing could top this gift!

This had to have been the most thoughtful and sweetest gift EVER! In my beautiful floral printed luggage case, was everything a girl could ever want. I had told her that my favorite colors were blue and pink, and she found everything she could in those shades.

In my box was the best coffee mug ever, a beautiful pleated half apron with cupcakes all over it, a cupcake dishtowel, a cupcake oven mitt (with the rubber inside to protect my hands), a beautiful notepad with matching pen, tons of rubber stamps to add to my collection, a measuring spoon set, and a beautiful HANDMADE purse-size memory album to carry with me.

My month has been so bad and this was just the pick-me-up that I needed to feel better. A gift just for me? Unheard of! Thank you to my "sister"Amy (what a great name!) for sending me such a lovely gift. Many thanks to Monica & Carrie for doing such a wonderful job arranging this for all of us!

Since this swap was in honor of (and hosted by) sisters, I also wanted to include a picture of my real life sister, who is my absolute best friend. She means the world to me and I am lucky to have her! I don't know what I would do without her friendship and I am so thankful that I can call her my friend and my sister!
Isn't she so cute? This picture was taken at our friend's bridal party- thus the fabulous hot pink feather boas!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Product Review: "Rockstar Princess" from Aunty E

Music has always been very important to me and I am trying to make it important to my children too. On Sundays, I have made a jazz playlist of music to listen to, on Fridays we listen to music that you would hear in coffee shops, and when I am cleaning I have fun & fast paced music on. Wherever we go, I try to always have good music on in our car and we often use the music stations that are available through our satellite television station.

My children also have some musical heroes of their own which include Laurie Berkner, anything from the Disney films, and Raffi. We often listen to the Kid Tunes available through Yahoo Launch (commercial free for folks that use their internet service and with commercials for those who don't).

My children's favorite shows right now are Yo Gabba Gabba (Nick Jr) and Jack's Big Music Show (Noggin Network), two shows that teach children about musics (although they are each very different). These shows focus on all types of musical appreciation and my kids sing right along with the words. It brings me a lot of joy to hear their sweet voices.

We recently were sent a new CD to review entitled, "Rockstar Princess" from a band called Aunty E. This group has earned great notoriety in their native Texas and they are now gaining a fan base in other areas of the country.

If your children love the more recent styles of children's music that have come out, they will really love this disc. The tracks incorporate many different variations of music including pop, soul, country, and blues. The music is targeted to the age group of four through eight, but even my (almost) two year old was dancing right along.

Despite the name containing princess (and the pretty pink cover!) the disc is not mean to aim at just girls, it is meant for all children. Aunty E sings along with Grammy award wining artists like Joe Blondell & Floyd Domino, encouraging children through her lyrical stories.

Her music can be found on Apple iTunes, Napster, MSN Music and more information can be found on their website.

And since everyone loves a freebie, they offer free ringtones for wireless carriers.

What are your children's favorite artists? Any music that you can recommend to us?

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Caring for Stainless Steel Appliances

We have been gradually making the switch over to stainless steel appliances. The cost on these is higher, but I have been doing bargain shopping to get the best prices on these. I am hoping that when we sell our home that it will make our kitchen look a little higher end and I love the look of the appliances for our family.

My best friend also has stainless steel appliances and when she found out that I had gotten a stainless steel stove, she told me she was going to bring a special gift over for my new stove. She showed up on my doorstep with a bottle of her favorite stainless steel cleaner that she had sworn by. She had picked up a bottle of Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish that she had purchased for me from Wal-Mart. She said it was the best cleaner out there and instructed me to spray a very tiny bit on a soft cloth and wipe the appliance off going with the grain of the steel.

Thanks to this little bottle of cleaner (and my extremely smart friend!) I have been able to keep my appliances gleaming clean, requiring very little cleaner and effort on my part. The bottle of cleaner was $5.99, but I have had it for over two years and have barely made a dent in it.

Scotch-Brite recently contacted me though to see if we would be interested in reviewing a new product that they had come out with for stainless steel appliances. They recently came out with two new cleaners, their Stainless Steel Cleaner & Cook Top Cleaner. These cleaners have handles for gripping, making it easier to get in all of the nooks and crannies of your appliances. They are ergonomically designed and offer streak-free cleaning.

After trying these out, I was impressed with how it could into all of the grooves of my stove and I was able to deeply clean the crevices of the appliance that had not been ever cleaned. There was definitely some hidden areas that needed attention and the handle made the cleaning very easy.

Unfortunately, the Scotch-Brite pads are not reusable and would require additional refill purchases, much like the Swiffer systems and other similar products. I am not as big on products that require additional purchases and this is why I stay away from systems such as these.

The Scotch-Brite pads would be great for someone who just wants to do a quick touch-up, but with starter kits at $6.99 and refill pads an additional $3.99, this is not the most cost-effective option.

Scotch-Brite is offering a $1 coupon on their website though, if you would like to give their new products a try.

I am pretty hooked on the Weiman cleaner, but would be interested to hear how you all care for your stainless steel appliances. Do you use any special cleaners? Do you have any tips that you have found work the best for your appliances? How about cook tops? This is an area that I know nothing about!

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Check It Out: An American Hedge Fund by Timothy Sykes

Timothy Sykes sent me an advance copy of his new book, "An American Hedge Fund" for review. We were so thrilled to have our review included in his new book. We wish the author much success with his book launch and hope that you can get an opportunity to check this book out!


Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to play the stock market? In, “An American Hedge Fund” Timothy Sykes takes you on a roller coaster of ups and downs, sharing his wild experience of how he was able to make two million dollars as a stock operator and by creating a hedge fund.

Timothy takes you on the journey from the beginning, sharing his passion for making money quickly at the tender age of twelve. With hopes of making money with his baseball collection and then trying his hand at stringing tennis rackets to make some extra cash, Timothy always possessed a desire to make money fast and had the entrepreneurial spirit to make it happen.

While his classmates were making dates and planning for their prom, Timothy was dreaming of investing money and winning the stock market game. With his $12,415 Bar Mitzvah money, he was able to turn this sum of money into $1.65 million dollars in the course of just four years, all while finishing his high school career and beginning his college career at Tufts University.

Timothy shows how his good research and great gut instinct gave him the skills to know which companies to invest in and when to pull that money out. He shows how he was able to obtain his financial success, but also is wise enough to share his mistakes and what he wishes he would have done differently when looking back upon his youth.

I loved this book for a number of reasons, but the one thing that I really appreciated about Timothy’s story was that playing the stock market was a game for him, not necessarily that he wanted to be wealthy. He seemed to enjoy the thrill of investing and winning the game, but did not seem to be trying to achieve great wealth or notoriety. For him, investing was a fun hobby and his parents supported his dreams, but also wanted him to stay grounded and levelheaded about his fame and fortune.

This really struck a chord with me in my own financial journey. For me, saving money isn’t necessarily because I have to, but it is a game for me to see how much I can save by making changes in my life. It is not necessarily that I have to make my own bread, for example, but when crunching figures I find deep satisfaction in knowing how much I could save by making that small change in my life. For me, it is about saving money and the satisfaction I get from keeping money in my account. For Timothy, it is about how he can take that money and make that money grow by making wise financial investments.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing how to work the stock market and also how one young man was able to turn a small investment into an amazing career as a millionaire hedge fund manager.

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Freebie Friday: September 14, 2007

Look for our mention this Sunday in the New York Times! We got the opportunity to chat with a reporter about our experience with the HP Touchsmart Computer. Very cool! Here's hoping for lots of new readers!


As always, everything on Fridays is FREE, FREE, FREE (*in my best car salesman voice*)! I am excited about the Better Homes & Gardens Magazine, and Nylon Magazine this week.

Have a wonderful weekend and may your mailboxes be overloaded with freebies!

Health & Beauty:

Eucerin Redness Relief Creme

Pantene Shampoo & Conditioner

Jergens Extra Dry Skin Moisturizer
(Must fill out a 100-200 word essay on beauty)

Biore Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser and Pore Unclogging Scrub

Food:

7 day supply of Coffee-Mate Creamer

12 Months of Cranberry Recipe Guide (paperback or in PDF format)

El Paso Taco Seasoning & Recipe Guide (use PIN NUMBER: 11005-194063)

Just Like Sugar

Free popcorn from Clearview Cinemas

Entertainment:

Nylon Magazine

Opera News Magazine

Jet Magazine

Throw a Cartoon Network House Party (includes lots of freebies)

AT&T Customers can get a free ringtone download (valued at $2.49 or less)

Better Homes & Gardens Magazine

Climbing Magazine


Pet Care:

Friskies Cat Food

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Entertainment On a Budget


Kim, from Frugal Hacks & Life in a shoe, has asked me to guest blog on Frugal Hacks and I am so excited to be joining their team of bloggers. She has put together some really great writers and we each are covering a topic of our choice.

Meredith from Like Merchant Ships will be covering the topic of Cheerful Frugality each Monday. The Headmistress of The Common Room will be discussing What is In My Hand? each Friday. My topic, each Tuesday, will be discussing Entertainment & Entertaining on a Budget.

I have posted my little introduction today, but will begin our entertainment posts on Tuesday. I hope you will join us and add us to your feed! It should be some great discussions and all content will be unique from each of our blogs.

Is there anything you guys would like me to cover on this topic?

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New Article: Frugal Halloween Time

It is that time of year again! I have been getting lots of emails asking how to save money on Halloween costumes so I wrote an article to answer the questions.

Check out our new article, "Scary Deals on Halloween Costumes" that we have added to our site!

Sound Off: How do you save money on your children's Halloween apparel?

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Amy's Notebook 09.13.07


I just want to thank you all for your awesome comments this week and for all of your encouragement to our family! I truly feel blessed to have you all and it is such a pleasure to have a format like this to share on.

Here are my picks for top reads this week:

Apartment Therapy shares some great tips for a great bento lunch box experience.

Wise Craft has a cute idea for getting your kids to do what they are supposed to in the morning.

My Byrd House turns an old pair of jeans into a cute apron.

Parent Hacks has some great ideas for what to do with those old baby bottles.

Inside a Black Apple has a yummy recipe for Rosemary & Olive Oil Bread.

Storybook Woods has a great tutorial for making a beautiful autumn project.

Baby Cheapskate shares the scoop on Craigslist.

Blogging Away Debt shows the difference in their electric bill just by switching to CFL light bulbs.

Chronicles of a Curious Cook makes mini quiches that are a roaring success in their house.

Frugal Upstate tells you how to feed your baby inexpensively.

GoodyBlog features some of the cutest cupcakes ever!

My Home Redux shares the best type of paint to use when painting your kitchen cabinets.

Tip Nut shares a great tutorial on making homemade gift baskets.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thrifty Treasures: Pampered Chef Bread Tubes

Does anyone have one of these? I just picked two of them up for $2 each at our thrift store.

I was wondering what you use yours for? Do you have any recipes to share?

I was so excited to have found them...now what do I use them for?

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Frugal Subversive Award & My Nominess


Kim, known for her talent at Frugal Hacks and Life in a shoe, has tagged me for the Frugal Subversive Award. This has been circulating on all of the blogs that I read so I was thrilled to get a nomination. Thank you so much for including me!

I am supposed to pass this on to three bloggers who consistently turn their backs on consumerism to live frugally in a creative and authentic way. Here are my nominees for the award...

1. The Homespun Heart- Has anyone nominated Monica yet? She deserves it for all of the creative ways she inspires others. I love her ideas for inexpensive birthday parties, her crafty crafts, and the recipes that she so generously shares with the blogging world. Did I mention that I consider her one of my dearest friends in the cyberspace?

2. Homespun Living- Not to be confused with the first nomination! This blog focuses on simple living and the sweet country life. I find the photos to be inspiring and they bring me back to the days spent in my great grandmother's country kitchen. The pictures just make me happy! What more can I say?

3. Simply Thrifty- An excellent resource to anyone who is looking to lead a life of frugality. Deb has so many ideas and she links to excellent information on how to be thrifty. She is great for someone who is just beginning to learn to save money and for those who are more experienced in the art of stretching a buck.

Enjoy the reads and feel free to pass on the award to others!

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Day 28: Get To Know Your Freezer

Today I was working on some items to put in my freezer when I realized just what kind of savings a person could cash in on just by learning what they can freeze and how to store the items in their freezer.

Here is the view into our freezer in our refrigerator. We also have a small chest freezer in our basement, but it isn't as easy to view as the one upstairs.

What might one find in our freezer?

- Ice cube trays filled with ice to make our favorite Slushies and Magic Milkshake from Miss Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife. These make great frugal treats for the kids and save us a lot of money by not going to places like Dairy Queen in the summer.

- Coffee ice cubes to make my frozen coffee treats.

- Mashed bananas in measured containers for all of my baked goodies that might need this ingredient.

- Pizza sauce in measured containers for our Friday night pizza nights.

- Banana pops made to help the kids beat the summer heat.

- Lunch meat packets that I made for my husband's lunch and quick dinners using our panini maker.

- Self-Rising & Cake Flour- which I use less regularly, but wanted to keep the ingredients fresh and on hand when I needed them.

- Homemade soup

- Homemade waffles

- Items that I got on sale- hot dogs, shredded cheeses, butter, margarine

- Cupcakes

In our downstairs freezer you would find loaves of bread, meats purchased on sale, gallons of milk, and homemade spaghetti sauce. I also stockpile anything that I can when it is on sale

Your freezer can be your wallet's best friend if you use it. For example, when an item goes on sale and you want to stockpile that item, make some space in your freezer for the extras instead of letting them go bad in your fridge. You will have the item when you need it and you will pay a lot less money for those items.

Freezers can also be handy for bulk cooking and preparing meals in advance for your family. Prepare a meal that can be eaten by your entire family or prepare single serving dishes that can be eaten for just one. Veto the middle man and do your own freezer sessions in your kitchen and make dishes that can be eaten later. Dream Dinners even has a cookbook out that you can use to do your own freezer cooking. Check this book out from the library and see if you can come up with your own menu plans. You could start a group with girlfriends or trade meals with a buddy. (Note-This did not work for my picky family, but is great for families that are open to more types of foods).

Need help navigating the freezer? Here are some helpful resources for getting started:

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide
Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking
Freezer FAQ
30 Day Gourmet
Recipezaar's Freezer Recipes

Books to Check Out:

Dream Dinners Cookbook
Frozen Assets
Super Suppers
Don't Panic- Dinners in the Freezer

Potential Monthly Savings- $30 or more

Sound Off: What could I find lurking your freezer? Is there anything that people might find unusual in your freezer?

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Perfectly Pantry: Spiced Pumpkin Waffles With Honey Butter

Growing up, I remember that if my mom was really upset about anything, she would begin a white tornado through our house. Her therapy was cleaning and it was a quick way to know if something was wrong because she would clean the house from top to bottom. My therapy when I am upset? Cooking! I start a cooking frenzy and work all my issues out with a mixing bowl and a spoon. Hey, at least it isn't shopping, right?

Right now I am riding the wave and stocking the freezer for the winter and getting some food ready for my mom for when she comes home from the hospital. I have also been testing some new recipes to add to our Aldi Queen blog, which I have been struggling with keeping up on. A girl only has so many recipes and so I am needing to try some new ones in our house.

Last night I tried a recipe out for Spiced Pumpkin Waffles and they were perfection! The spices are perfect in these and there is just a hint of pumpkin in them, which makes it a great choice for people who don't like pumpkin (crazy people, I should say!) I followed the directions exactly except I added 1/4 cup white sugar to the batter, in addition to the brown sugar that is listed, because they weren't sweet enough for my taste. If you are watching your sugar intake, then you can prepare these as is. I made a double batch of these and froze half of them for later. I thought they turned out beautifully, but make sure to spray the heck out of your waffle maker or butter it really well or they will stick. I added 2/3 cup batter to my Belgian waffle maker and cooked each waffle for four minutes.

I had to try this recipe though for a Honey Butter to go on top because it just sounded like heaven. Honestly, this just set the waffles over the top and made them taste even better than I could begin to describe. This butter reminded me of the butter at Texas Roadhouse or Logan's Steak House, that they serve with those cinnamon rolls. I used margarine so it was a little softer than the butter when I mixed it so I popped it in the freezer while I made the waffles. When the waffles were ready, this came together beautifully.

I am going to use the honey butter on top of those Buttery Bread Machine Rolls and make a roast chicken in the slow cooker for dinner.

If you aren't up for making the cinnamon butter, my other "kitchen trick" is to heat store-bought maple syrup (I like the lite version from Aldi) for one minute in the microwave and add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and one teaspoon vanilla in it. It would make a great substitute for the butter.

But if you have time- make these recipes! Heaven, I tell you!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Life in Turmoil

I apologize that our Month of Savings series has taken a small detour. My mom has been very sick and has been in the ICU these past two weeks. This past month has been a rough one and I am trying hard to keep all of this interesting, but family stuff takes the priority right now.


Most of my spare time has been spent over at the hospital so I was unable to do my morning segment this Tuesday and my posting hasn't been the best these past couple of weeks. I appreciate your patience and prayers very much!

My husband did start his new job and with a new job comes new financial issues. No insurance for ninety days is one of the things we are facing, but I will need to spend some time looking into insurance options that might be available to us during our lapse in coverage.

He is also doing a different type of job where he goes from place to place, so lunch has now become more of an issue for him. He used to just take leftovers everyday, but now we are running into the issue that he may or may not be at a location where he can warm his food up. One day of him running out for a burger and soda (at the only restaurant nearby) for $11 was all I needed to get myself in gear and try to figure out how we could make this work.

We decided leftovers for the days he is at his office and sandwiches and snacks for days he is somewhere unfamiliar. I went to our local restaurant supplies store and got 9 pounds of turkey and five pounds of cheese. Total spent was $38, but I was able to make 38 packages of lunch meats with cheese, to store in our freezer, and had forty slices of cheese leftover for grilled cheese for the kids. Now he can grab whatever he needs for his lunch and we won't have to pay for $11 burgers.

The latest dilemma though is that he will only be paid monthly. While he will be making the same amount, only getting paid once a month is really beginning to freak me out. Does anyone have any experience with this or how to manage when only getting paid once a month? Yes, I feel I am a pretty good manager of our money, but am I THAT good?

Any words of wisdom on any of the above issues would be so appreciated!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Product Review: New Suave Products

Boy, did I feel pampered when Suave contacted me to see if we would be interested in sampling some of their new products. I have always been a Suave girl so I was up for the challenge of testing out some of the new items that they have put on the market. They included Suave Professionals Extreme Strength Hair Products (shampoo, conditioner, and daily leave-in treatment), Suave Exhale Inspiring Body Lotion (in Lime Verbena) and Calming Body Wash (in Lavender Vanilla), Healthy Curls Anti-Frizz Cream, and Suave Kids Cowabunga Coconut Shampoo.

All of the products were excellent, but I have to say that the children's shampoo and the lavender body wash were my most favorite. My children's hair smelled so good that even my son commented on how good the shampoo smelled. The shampoo also contained a conditioning formula within it, so no need to try and deal with tangles in my daughters hair or an extra application of conditioner.

The lavender body wash was the perfect conclusion to a stressed out day. The lavender and vanilla smelled delicious and it was a great way for me to unwind after another crazy day with the kids.

The suggested retail price on the Suave Exhale Calming Body Wash is $2.50. The suggested retail price on the Suave Kids Cowabunga Coconut Smoothers 2-in-1 Shampoo is between $1.92-$2.49. I consider this quite affordable and that is something that I have always appreciated about the Suave products.

Suave also sent me an in-depth report on a survey they did of mothers with children under the age of fifteen. The survey was called "Motherhood vs. Womanhood" and the results were very interesting. A quick summary of some of their findings were:

- Moms put family first, but agree that they should take care of themselves
- Moms agree on the importance of taking care of themselves, and most wish they could do more
- Two things moms would like to add back to their days: exercise and sleep
- Moms would like to improve their hair care

It was a very interesting survey and I found myself shaking my head, "Yes, yes, yes!" to all of their results. I wish I had some time to myself, but do feel selfish carving that time out when I could be doing something for someone else.

If you have difficulty carving time out for yourself and you live in the Los Angeles area, then I have just the freebie for you! Suave is offering a nice freebie to their L.A. moms so here are all the details on this...

Suave Back to Beauty Moms-Only Field Trip. LA-moms are invited to treat themselves to a FREE day of pampering, complete with beauty makeovers from celebrity hairstylist, Luke O’Connor, and his team, a gourmet lunch and more.Bring your friends, and you could win $20,000 for your school! Suave will award a $20,000 grant for after-school programs to the school with the most moms who sign up.

When: Monday, October 1st, 2007, 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Where: LuKaRo Salon, 323 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

More: Appointments are strongly recommended and available on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, moms can book a free appointment by September 15 by:

- Calling 1-877-SUAVE-411
- Emailing back2beauty@webershandwick.com- Please be sure to include your name, school, contact information and time preference.

Once again, I would like to thank Suave for being so generous and giving this tired mom an opportunity to truly treat herself!

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A His & Hers Gift to Remember

We went to a beautiful wedding this weekend for a dear family friend. I wanted to give her something special, but funds are tight this month.

One of my favorite gifts to give is a small wine rack, filled with a couple of bottles of wine for their honeymoon. I found some cute gift tags at Wal-Mart and labeled them "His & "Hers" tied to each bottle with a strand of raffia. The wine rack was purchased for $1 at our local thrift store.

To make this gift more special though, I tucked a note from my husband and then a note from myself on each side of the wine rack. My husband came up with a list of "HIS advice" and I came up with a list of "HER advice."

We had a great time coming up with tips for marriage and it was a fun way to pass the time on the trip to the wedding. My husband's list included buying your wife flowers and never cutting your spouse down in public, but always bragging on them, particularly at your work! My list included never going to bed angry and always remembering to date your spouse, even after you have children.

I hope that they will enjoy the gift as much as we enjoyed creating it for them!

The wine chosen was a new favorite of ours called Banrock Station and it is an excellent wine for the price. It has been featured in the Wine Spectator for years now as a great buy for your money. They sell a crate of this wine, with six bottles in it, for a little over $21 at our wholesale club. Unfortunately, they only carry the wine in bulk (at least at our Sam's Club) in the Chardonnay. I have bought the reds on sale though, at our local supermarket, in a case of six bottles to get our ten percent off of the purchase. I can usually get the bottles for under $4 each, which is a great buy for good wine.

Sound Off: Do you have any great advice for a newlywed couple? What advice would you include?

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Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

I found this recipe for Pumpkin Muffins and I just had to try these! These muffins are extremely moist and airy. They taste just like the filling in a pumpkin pie and they make the whole house smell delicious!

I had some crumb topping leftover from making a batch of my Banana Crumb Muffins and had popped the topping in the freezer to be used on another batch of muffins. The topping was actually easier to use and maintained its pretty appearance as the muffins baked. I just had to separate the topping a bit with a fork, but it was much easier to handle than when it has been freshly made.

These would be great to make with your kids so have them help you out in the kitchen. It would also be a great recipe for a beginner chef!

Give these muffins a try- you won't be disappointed!

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

1 package yellow cake mix (you can try different variations with other cake mixes too!)
1 can pumpkin (15 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 T butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the muffin ingredients together and pour into a greased muffin tin. Combine brown sugar, flour, ground cinnamon, and butter to make the topping. Cut the topping together with a fork until it resembles a coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping on the top of the muffins before baking. Bake for 20-25 minutes (my muffins took 22 minutes).

**Weight Watchers version contains only the cake mix and pumpkin- no egg and no oil. You could add the spices though!**

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Amy's Notebook 09.07.07


Stitch a colorful lunch bag.

Turn some pants into skirts.

Make a quilted fabric wallet.

I needed this inspiration for doing my fall decorating.

Learn how to make your own preserves.

I adore these fabric buckets- why can't I be more crafty?

Aren't these crocheted cropped cardigans so cute?

I am going to have to try this chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Here are more ideas for a money-free weekend.

Some more tips for the back-to-school season.

I will have to try some of these homemade stain removers.

A cookie troubleshooting guide that I love!

Am I too cheap for a Nintendo Wii? I want one so bad!

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Freebie Friday: September 7, 2007


Health & Beauty:

One week pass to 24 Hour Fitness Gyms

Playtex Gentle Glide Tampons

Prilosec OTC


Food:

Curves Honey Crunch Cereal

2 free cups of Wild Woods Soyogurt for registering

Zip N Steam bags for Sam's Club Members

Free scoop of ice cream from J.P. Licks (Massachusetts residents only)

Appetizer from Longhorn Steakhouse

Honey Bunches of Oat Cereal (bottom right-hand corner is the link)

Dunkin Donuts Coffee (I was having some trouble with this page earlier- let me know if you guys are having problems too or if it goes through for you)

Folgers Gourmet Select Coffees in a variety of flavors (These are the BEST!)

Entertainment:

One year subscription to American Journal of Nursing Magazine

Copy of Hope Again by Charles Swindoll

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Snickerdoodle Cupcakes


We had a reason to celebrate this week because my husband started a new job. We are so grateful that he has been given this opportunity and that he will be able to start a new adventure on his career path.

We wanted to do something to celebrate his first day of work so we made him one of his favorite treats...Snickerdoodle Cupcakes!

These are so delicious and I got the recipe from one of the Cake Doctor books. It has been a favorite in our house for several years and a frequent request for family birthdays.

The cake has just the right blending of flavors and the cake mix make these easy to whip up for unexpected company. It is the cinnamon frosting that pushes it over the top though so take the time to make the icing from scratch since you are saving time on the cake by using the mix!

I hope you can try these in your house- let me know what you think!

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes (these can be made into a cake too- whichever you prefer)

1 package plain white cake mix
1 cup whole milk
1 stick of butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Frosting:
1 stick butter
3 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
3-4 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and flour & grease 2 9" pans (for cakes) or line your cupcake tin. Place cake mix, milk, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Blend for three minutes (stop to scrape once). Pour into pans and bake for 27-29 minutes (for cake) or 22-25 minutes (for cupcakes). Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Beat butter until fluffy for frosting. Add all other ingredients.

Note: I froze half of these (without frosting) to keep in our freezer for another occasion. They freeze very nicely!

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 27: Save on Clothing

There are so many great ways that you can save on your clothing and there is no reason in the world that you should ever have to pay full price for anything. I have gotten some of the best clothing for my children and most of it has been purchased secondhand. I would also say that ninety percent of my own clothing is bought from our local Goodwill store. Rarely would I ever pay more than five dollars for an item and I still maintain my snobbery towards the name brands that I love. Here are some easy ways that you can save on your clothes:

1. If you shop used, ask if they offer half off days or any special discounts. Most stores offer a deal, at least one day of the week, and those are the best times to shop. I always try and come as soon as the store opens for special discount days because you will have the most to choose from when making your selections.

2. You can be a brand name snob, but just because it is a certain brand doesn't mean you should necessarily buy it. This is something that I had really struggled with in the beginning because I was focusing too much on the label name, rather than if I truly liked the item itself. A beautiful Ann Taylor dress that is not your color or style is better left at the store instead of taking up space in your closet.

3. Know your brands when you go to a store and know them well. I loved Meredith's post on recognizing name brands because many of the brands that she has referred to were not ones that I was familiar with. Read the fashion magazines (from the library, of course!) and familiarize yourself with the quality labels. It is not only good for you to do this for your own wardrobe, but if something is not your size/style, but you know it is worth a lot, you could sell it to the highest bidder on an auction site.

4. Try and hold the items up in good lighting and really look at them. I do an armpit check, hem checks, underarm stain checks, seam checks and take an overall look at the item to make sure there are no rips or tears. Make sure you really look at the item closely before buying it. It has always been such a disappointment to me to bring home something that I am really crazy about and find out exactly why it had been donated in the first place.

5. Try on sizes that aren't necessarily your size because many times they have been donated because the item was shrunk in the wash. I might try on sizes that are two up from my normal size and find something that fits me absolutely perfectly.

6. If you are petite, you can check in the girl's sizes (sizes 14 & 16). I am really short and I have found a 16 in girls fits me perfectly lengthwise. Items with elastic waists, like jog pants, can be bought in these smaller sizes for petite adult women. The bonus, of course, is that the children's clothing is cheaper than the adult clothing so I can get the item for even less money than I would have paid in the adult sizes.

7. Finding clothing can be time consuming so make sure that you have a good block of time to work with, especially if you are hunting for something in particular. I think thrifting gets easier as you get in the groove of doing this. Well-trained eyes seem to gravitate towards the good items and I have found items start to jump out at me a little easier because I know where to look and how to navigate the stores quickly.

8. Know that it is fine to leave with nothing in your hands. I think this is one of the hardest things for me because I want a good deal so bad. There are days that I spend a half hour in the store and come up with nothing. I know there are other days though where ten items jump out at me at once so I look forward to those days and understand that there are dry times too. Patience and waiting are difficult, but you will be glad you waited when that item finally appears!

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

Sound: Off: What are your tips for saving on clothing?

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Thrifty Treasures: Betty Crocker Heaven

Labor Day was half off day at our Goodwill so I stopped in to see what I could find. I am trying to limit myself to only going on half off days since we don't really need anything. I did find some wonderful treasures that day, but the ultimate had to be the box of Betty Crocker recipes. The date on them is 1971 and I am totally loving the recipes and categories that they had. Some of the categories were Budget Casseroles, Mens Favorites, Gala Menus (probably among the most interesting dishes served to statesmen and celebrities- Hot Bouillon & Cottage Cheese , anyone?), Ground Beef to the Rescue, and hundreds of recipes in the Fondue category. I also got:

1. A pretty pot of fake mums (for our family room)
2. Two vintage coffee signs for our kitchen
3. Two pairs of new tights
4. A pair of sweats
5. A fleece hoodie
6. Three pretty green & white plates
7. Party Invitations for my daughter's next birthday party
8. A pretty Pier One frame set

Total spent: $14

Here is a recipe from the recipe box that I am looking forward to trying:

Apple Crisp
(Betty Crocker, 1971)

Butter crunch (recipe below)
1 can (21 ounces) apple pie filling
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream

Prepare Butter Crunch. Heat oven to 450 degrees. In an ungreased 9" pie pan or baking dish, mix pie filing, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Sprinkle one cup of the butter crunch evenly over the top. Bake ten minutes or until top is light golden and bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream

Butter Crunch

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts or coconut

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients with hands. Spread in an ungreased pan (13x9") Bake fifteen minutes; stir with a spoon. Store in a covered container in refrigerator. Yields two cups.

Pineapple Crisp: Substitute one can (22 ounce) pineapple pie filling for the apple pie filling.

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Day 26: Extending It Further

We are closing in on the end of our Month of Savings series and I hope that (at least) one of the ideas is something that you can incorporate in your house. While the truly zealous frugal person might not find my ideas all that inspiring, those who are beginning a journey into this world might be able to gain some insight on how to make small adjustments to their lifestyle, to create big savings.

Today I wanted to talk about extending the items in your home. There are two tools that I have found that have really helped me in extending the products we use. The first tool is the beloved spatula, which tends to get a royal workout in our house. The second tool is water and the art of watering down products to extend them further.

I am a big fan of using my spatula because nothing else works better when trying to clean out every last little drip in a jar. I shudder to think how much I had thrown away before, not caring if there was enough for two more peanut butter sandwiches, because I didn't feel it was worth the effort. Now that I am on a tight grocery budget, the spatula is my best friend and we share a lot of time together in the kitchen. Using a spatula in your containers is a great way to make sure you get everything you can out of the food products in your house.

I also am a big fan of water for extending the products in our home. Shampoo, for example, lasts twice as long if I water it down. Just add it about halfway with water and give it a shake. The difference won't be noticeable in the product, but it will be noticeable in your wallet. Other things that can be watered down: soap (to create foamy soaps), dish soap, and juice (for little mouths who don't need all the sugar anyway). My theory is to try things watered down and see if they still perform well. If they are still doing what they need to do, why not water it down a bit? You might have to tweak how much is too much/too little, but find that magical equation and use it each time you replace those products.

I extend other things in our home. My coffee in the morning is a great example of a simple way that I can make my coffee last. The first time I make my coffee, I use the directed amount of grounds and prepare it as it is explained. The next day, I reuse the old grounds and only add half the amount of grounds required to make a batch. The second batch still tastes great to me and I have made my coffee last a little longer than it would have if I had just dumped the old grounds out. I can also extend it further by not allowing the coffee to go to waste and keeping it in the fridge or making ice cubes out of the rest of it. The coffee just keeps giving in our house.

Another scenario of extension is when I do my laundry. I never add the suggested amount of laundry detergent because I know that my clothing doesn't require that much soap. If you use fabric softener, you can do the same thing by cutting the softener sheets in half or adding half the amount to your loads. Extend it further by repeatedly using the softener sheet until it has lost its effectiveness.

Extending these items may seem like a waste of time, but I am trying to prove how the little things really can add up towards a savings account for your family. In my opinion, it is all about the little things and this is just one way that I can work towards pulling our family out of debt and wastefulness.

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

Sound Off: Are there products in your home that you extend? What are some of your favorite frugal tips for making things last in your home?

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WSBT-TV: Stocking & Organizing Your Medicine Cabinet

Here is a link to this morning's segment. We discussed ways that you can organize the medicine cabinet and how to score great deals on prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Sound Off: Do you have any tips in the medicine department? I also need your help with story ideas...is there anything you are interested in seeing on the segment that I could talk about? It would be a huge help to know what people would like to see!

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Boot Camp for Amy

Ethan returning to school seems like the perfect time for me to start getting myself and my home back on track. The lazy days of summer are gone and my house looks like I have been enjoying a lot of days outside, instead of inside. I am using the index card system and this past week has went so much more smoothly for me. I have always been a big believer in breaking down the week, but some of the important things that I wanted to get done seemed to lay by the wayside. I also was facing a new schedule with our son going to morning preschool instead of afternoons. Throw in a busy side business and one more child (with her own schedule) and my week of organization was turning into mad chaos.

I sat down and wrote everything out on the index cards and then broke down my spring cleaning activities throughout the year. With one week behind me, I already feel more at peace with my week and I am actually getting to enjoy the weekend more, instead of cleaning for hours on end.

This is my new routine:

Daily:

Sweep Kitchen Floors
Unload dishwasher
Load dishwasher
Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Have Ethan do his chores (He is five years old and we have him make his bed, tidy his room, do all of the recycling, clean up the playroom (while Emily naps & before bed time), put his clothes in the hamper, dress himself, brush his teeth, help set the table, do his homework, and put his dishes on the counter when he is done eating.)

Monday:

Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms

Tuesday:

Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands

Wednesday:

Do one thing I hate
Catch up on anything that didn't get done on Tuesday (just in case my errands run too long)

Thursday:

Empty lower level trash
Dust lower level
Sweep lower level
Clean windows and mirrors on lower level
Clean and organize the home office
Visit the library

Friday:

Day off from cleaning
Catch up on website work

Saturday:

Clean out car
Update our Quicken software
Mow lawn
Baking day

Sunday:

Church
Clean out fridge
Deep clean the kitchen sink
Clean stove (& stove parts in dishwasher)
Pay bills
Recycle papers
Clip coupons
Clean microwave & toaster oven

Sound Off: Am I missing anything? Do you have a game plan for your week or a cleaning system that works for you? I am ALL EARS!!!

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Thrifty Treasures: Hello Kitty Lunch Accessories


I found these super cute Hello Kitty containers for my daughter's lunches. The sandwich container has two compartments and the smaller container is actually two smaller boxes that fit together. These would even be cute for holding hair accessories! They were $1 each at our Dollar Tree and are available in pink, blue, and green.

Our Dollar Tree was stocked with lots of great hardback books, lots of pretty furry yarn, and they were starting to put the Halloween stuff out. Thought I would share, in case anyone was still looking for cute lunch containers.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Day 25: Schedule a Day in Your Kitchen

This is something that I was thinking about today as I was getting everything ready for the week ahead. One of the best things that I have done for my budget is to schedule time in the kitchen for myself, just like I would schedule anything else going in our home. One day out of the week I am able to cook and save our family tons of money.

It isn't necessarily the meals that I am preparing, but it is all of the other things that seem to cost so much. I usually bake a special treat (muffins, granola bars, or a loaf of quick bread) that we can put in the lunch boxes or be eaten as an evening treat.

I then try to mix up all of my ingredients for the things that I will need for the week. If you plan your menus, you can determine what you will be eating and what you can make ahead for your meals. You can chop the ingredients for certain dishes and mix any of the dry ingredients that you can for your dinners. Think of this as making your own convenience food. I promise it is much more convenient for you to dirty your kitchen once then it is to do this multiple times throughout the the week. I love to mix up waffle mix pancake mix, bread machine mix, pizza dough mix, cornbread mix, rice mixes, and anything else that I can think of!

I also make a big batch of coffee and keep some in the fridge for iced coffees and freeze the rest in ice cube trays for my mochas.

I throw on some really good music, light candles, dance in the kitchen...whatever I am in the mood for! I also have a good "fluffy" book to read while I am taking breaks between things baking. I can usually squeeze in a chapter here and there, which makes it more fun for me!

When everything is done, I individually wrap everything so it is ready to go for a quick breakfast or to be added to lunch boxes. Putting it in a pretty basket makes it more visually appealing (as if a homemade treat wasn't visually appealing enough!)

Here are some of a few of my favorite recipes in our house:'

Fun Treats:

Chewy Granola Bars

4.50 cups oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup honey
¼ cup peanut butter (creamy)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease on 9x13” pan. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the ingredients (minus the chocolate chips). Stir in chocolate chips. Press into pan & bake for 18-22 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes, and then cut into bars.


Banana Crumb Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cups white sugar
1 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 T butter

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease ten muffin cups or line with muffin papers. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut the butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake in preheated oven for eighteen to twenty minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

Heavenly Banana Bread


2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
1 t. vanilla
½ t. cinnamon
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (usually is about four bananas)

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 60-65 minutes. Allow bread to cool ten minutes in pan and then turn onto wire rack.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in walnuts, if desired.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until blended. Stir in chips with a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough by 1/4 cups at a time onto the prepared sheets. Cookies should be at least 3 inches apart. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until edges are lightly toasted then cool on sheets a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks.


Cinnamon Bread Delight

3 cups flour 2 cups sugar
1 (5.1oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 5x9 loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until smooth. Sprinkle the bottoms of the pans with cinnamon sugar and divide the batter between the 2 pans.
Bake 1hr or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more

Sound Off:
Do you have a favorite recipe to share that I could try in my kitchen? Something that has been a total hit in your house?

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Day 24: Become a Coupon Queen (or Not)

Should a frugal gal use coupons or should she not? Do coupons really save money or do you just end up spending money that you would have not spent?

I go back and forth on this topic and it really depends on where I am doing my shopping. When I shop exclusively at Aldi, I can't use my coupons. When I shop at other stores, it is usually a toss up on whether the generic is the better deal versus the brand-name with a coupon.

You will talk to some people and they are nuts for coupons and their receipts really prove it. Others of us, don't believe all of the hype and say it is a waste of time and effort.

Since I started doing more of the drugstore rewards, in conjunction with my Aldi trip, I have found that it is possible to get items for free or really inexpensively. You could say that I am becoming a believer again in all of the coupon hype.

Here are some of the tips that I have used to help me follow the path towards coupon savings:

- Organize your coupons in a way that works for you. I have heard everything from shoe boxes to baseball card collection holders can be great ways to organize your coupons. Each person has a different system of organizing, just do what works for you. For me, I like to categorize them and then arrange by dates. I have also been known to lump everything together and then arrange by dates, to insure that I use the coupons before they expire. Right now I am finding categories works a little better for me so that is what I am doing at this point. My arrangements do change, depending on my mood.

- Make sure you put your coupons in a place that you will always have them when you need them. There is nothing worse than having all of your coupons cut and organized, only to discover that they are not with you when you need to do your shopping. Try storing them in your purse or in your car so that you will have them when you decide to make a quick stop at the store.

- There are only savings to be had if you are buying something because you normally use it and would have put it on your grocery list anyway. If you are using a coupon to just get a quarter off and this still leaves you footing a $4 tab, then using the coupon is actually doing a disservice to your budget instead of benefiting it.

- When I first started learning about coupons, I actually was pretty confused. What is the difference between the manufacturer coupons versus the store coupons? Well, the manufacturer coupons are the kind that you find in your newspaper, that come from the companies themselves. The store coupons, however, are the ones that you find in your store specific flier. The great thing about store and manufacturer coupons is that they can be used in conjunction with one another. If Dole, for example, has a coupon for $.50 off of a can of pineapple and Walgreens has a coupon for $.25 off of a can of Dole pineapple, you can use the two coupons together. Your total savings would be $.75 off of the can, and that equals a really great deal for your family. You might hear coupon queens refer to this as the "double whammy." You can also achieve a "triple whammy" if you use the store coupon, manufacturer coupon, and you pick an item that is on sale.

- If you love certain products, call the 1-800 number and rave about the product. Share your experience with them and ask if they have any coupons or if they can add you to a mailing list. Customer service representatives get a lot of disgruntled customer calls, so not only will you brighten their day, you might also be able to pocket some savings on your next trip to the store.

- Look for coupons in unexpected places. Always check your receipt, at the end of your shopping trip, to see if any printable coupons were printed. Other unusual places for coupons are inside of your magazines, hidden inside of your piles of junk mail, and inside/outside of the packaging on what you are using. I am often surprised how many coupons I can find in these unusual places.

- Visit the websites for companies and sign up for their mailing lists. They will usually have printable coupons you can use on your groceries, or will add you to future mailings on special sales they are running.

- Shop at stores that double or triple your coupons. You will maximize your savings much more if you can go to one of these stores.

- Try using the Coupon Mom website, to figure out how to maximize your savings with your coupons. This website is free and can tell you exactly what you need to buy and when. There are also services that you can pay for, such as The Grocery Game. I have never paid for the service so I have no personal experience with it, but there are many people who swear by it.

- If your friends or family do not cut coupons, ask if they will save the coupon fliers for you.

Potential Monthly Savings: $10 or more

Sound Off: Do you have any coupon tips to share? Are you a believer in the coupon hype?

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