Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Summer Activity: A Visit to the Fire Station



It has been a tradition in our family to visit the fire station at Christmas and make special treats for the firefighters. This year our mom's group had it on the calendar to make a summer visit and the kids were so excited to visit the fire station again. I don't know why I had not thought to do this in the summer before!

I get a lot of promotional stuff from different companies and I had saved this tin (with a company logo on it) and recovered it with a bit of wallpaper from the thrift store and a little glue. Ethan worked hard on a thank you card for the firefighters and I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars. We packaged it in tissue and we were off for our visit to the fire station.

Don't you love those orange fire engines? I was sucked into taking pictures of the fire station and completely was not paying attention to my kids. There were just so many cool things to see there that I had a hard time capturing all of it.



Thank you to the firefighters at Harris Township Fire Station #2 for sharing all about your job and how things work at the fire station. My children could not have enjoyed the day more and we are so thankful we have such great people protecting us!

I encourage you to read Michelle's post, at Leaving Excess, on how important our firefighters are and what you can do to show your thankfulness to them!

What are some ways you thank those that serve or care for your family? I would love to get some new ideas for teaching our children thankfulness!

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Finding Beauty in the Ordinary

When we moved into our house, one of the things that I really wanted to change about our house was the landscaping. There were, however, many more pressing concerns though that required our funds and attention- a leaking roof, a monstrosity of an air-conditioner, cosmetic updating that made the space more livable. All of these repairs have trumped the landscaping funds for now and we have been doing things little by little in our yard.

One of the things I have disliked the most though has been one of our side beds. It is filled to the brim with giant ferns. The ferns are enormous and I have to mow through them to cut the grass. I don't find them all that attractive and they keep popping up in my other beds. Each year I have vowed that I am going to rip them out, but my efforts usually end up on other things and I forget about it...until the ferns pop up the next year.

When we had the original owner out to our house last summer, she commented how pleased she was to see those ferns there. They came from her father's lake cottage and she brought some back each time she went. Her eyes were misty as she told me how happy she was to see each of those ferns there and she shared with me her happy memories of planting them and the summers with her dad. I began to see the ferns in a different light than I had before. To her, they were a thing of beauty and held wonderful memories of her family's summers.

Last night I brought bunches of them in and started putting them in recycled single-size coffee jugs. They looked so pretty all fanned out that I started putting them in each room, adding a touch of green here and there. I marveled at how beautiful they were and how they added that little bit of life I needed to my living space.

Frugality is a lot like that though, isn't it? Sometimes it takes seeing all that you have through another pair of eyes to appreciate all of the bounty you already possess. My yard was filled to the brim with vases of green and all I had to do was pick it from my own backyard. Yet, each year I grumbled about mowing around them, shaking my fist as more ferns popped up.

Sometimes it just takes someone else pointing out the beauty for you to appreciate the ordinary.

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Family Tradition: Campfire Night

I decided to start a new family tradition in celebration of our son's last day of school... a campfire family night. What better way could you end your school year than a fun night of being together over toasted foods!

We have had this fire pit for years, but have not attempted any cooking on it until now. Sitting by this little fire pit is one of my favorite things about the summer though and it gets a lot of use in the evenings at our house!

I had been holding onto a gift card for Target from one of their prescription gift card deals. This gave us the money to put towards our supplies for our fun night together.

We did not have any roasting forks, but found them in the camping supplies at Walmart along with a log that would burn for three hours. If you have these things though, no investment is needed other than food!



This family night, of course, requires a lot of supervision. The kids had a wonderful time though roasting their hot dogs over the fire. Some of our hot dogs were toastier than others, but the kids thought it still tasted great.



No meal on the campfire would be complete though without the s'mores. They couldn't wait to get through the first portion of the meal so that we could snack on these. Perfectly toasted marshmallows sandwiched between graham crackers & chocolate, made for the best gooey snack ever.

It was such a fantastic night for all of us and a fun night off of cooking for me. We have decided to make this a yearly tradition because it was such a wonderful way to start our summer together.

Do you have any end-of-school traditions with your children? I would love hear what you do to celebrate this kick-off to summer!

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Play it Again, Momma: Sponge Ball Fun

It is that time of year again and I will be making another batch of these little sponge balls for the kids. If you don't have a clothesline, these are fun to just squish in a bucket of water or play with in your child's water activity table.

My once-a-year Martha Moment is here! These sponge balls are courtesy of Martha Stewart Kids Magazine (and a double inspiration from Betz White who was featured in one of my notebook entries).

I hit the Dollar Tree and got two packages of sponges to make our creations. I followed the instructions and cut two sponges into fours and then stacked the two sponges on top of one another with alternating colors. If you buy two packages, you will have enough alternating colors to make six sponges with different colors in each. Then, simply tie the sponges off with a long piece of floss and knot it a few times to keep it in place.


Here is my plastic ice bucket filled with these sponges. The colors are so beautiful that I wanted to spend an afternoon photographing this pail of sponges. Do we stop there and let the kids play with them like this though? NO!

You could say that I am even more inventive than Martha this time! Now take an old drop cloth or sheet and use painter's tape, a permanent marker, or paint to make your bull's-eye. Squares are much easier with the painter's tape so we have a nice square bull's-eye for the kids.

Now hang your game up on the clothesline (or wherever else you can find). We weighed the bottom of the sheet down with clothespins. This sheet is also folded in half to give it a little more weight. Of course, when the wind starts blowing, give the kids extra points if they can still hit it.

Not challenging enough? Have one of your kids stand in front and block it.

For some reason, that was one roadblock too many for this toddler.

You can also grab two at a time or a whole handful of them. Make it more challenging by backing the kids up further from the mark. Our point system was 10, 20, and 30 points depending on the size of the square they hit. (PS- I promise I feed my children, they just have extremely high metabolism)

An afternoon of water fun cost us $2 in sponges, but this is a game that I hope we can play many more times together.

What is one of your favorite frugal summer activities?

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chari-Tea Bunco Cause Party

Recently multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Ashanti teamed up with Johnson's Body Care to launch a new charitable program that enables real women across the country to support local charities through simply hosting get-togethers with friends.

I was given the opportunity to host one of these "cause parties" where I could kick back with my girlfriends, pamper ourselves with Johnson's new line of lotions and body washes and help raise money for a local charity.

Lucky for me, it happened to be my turn to host our monthly Bunco so I decided to partner these opportunities together and host a Chari-Tea Bunco night at my house.

My guests were asked to bring monetary and/or food donations to support the St Joseph County Food Bank. Everyone also agreed that the winnings would be given to the food bank instead of divided among ourselves for the event and Johnson's gave us $100 to start the charitable pot for our charity.

By hosting this event with Johnson's they gave us the money to put towards the food and drinks for our event so I truly got to pamper my girlfriends in style because no one had to bring a single dish to share.
I still kept to a thrifty budget, but tried to add some special touches for our group. Our centerpiece was a bouquet of flowers displayed in a teapot with a variety of special teas in my china teacups for our table. These beautiful bouquets of flowers were purchased at Sam's Club for less than $5.

Here are some pictures of the great food that we got to eat. I wanted to stick with the tea party food and dishes that would be easy to handle while playing our game.

I got a huge croissant sandwich tray that served 18 for $32 at Sam's Club. I cut these sandwiches in half and then added colored toothpicks to hold them together so people could sample different varieties of sandwiches and to make them a little more bite-sized.

For side dishes, I purchased two huge vegetable trays for $9.87 each that were prepared by Sam's Club. I made a delicous pesto pasta salad from my new favorite cookbook, "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen," which you must check out! I then bought a variety of fruit and made fruit kabobs by skewering them for our guests out of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. These fruit kabobs were thrown into a pretty wine bucket for everyone to grab.

For dessert, I purchased two boxes of mini creme puffs that I served on cake platters with a decaf coffee to finish out the meal.

The star of the party though was the Bunco punch that I made that was a delicious summery drink to go with our food. We also had a box of the Black Box Cabernet which was another surprising hit with many of my friends who had not had the pleasure of trying boxed wines before. Sam's Club had the best price on this with a box that was equivalent to four bottles for only $18.32. I have to say, these boxed wines are an affordable way to entertain on a budget.

On my lower level, we had a little welcome desk where my guests could sign in and my coffee table got taken over by all of the great food donations.

Each guest got to take home a really cute reusable bag filled with Johnson's products to sample and share with their friends as a thank you for their charitable efforts. Each bag contained their 24 Hour Moisturizer, 24 Hour Moisturizing Body Wash, & their Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotions. These products were just for us, not for our kiddos, and they smell and feel great. My favorite is definitely the Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion- it smells divine!


We had the biggest turn out for Bunco ever with seventeen great women in attendance and we were so excited about all we could do for our community. With the donation made by Johnson's plus our own donations, we were able to donate $205 to the St Joseph County Food Bank and an entire car full of food donations for the cause.

With the job loss in our area, our food banks and shelters are in critical need right now and if you are able to give anything at all, I encourage you to take the time to do it.

Here are some of the items the Food Bank of Northern Indiana critically needs:

Cereal -- hot and cold
Meat, chicken or tuna
Mac/cheese, dry pasta
Vegetables
Potato flakes
Spaghetti O's, stews
Rice
Pork & Beans
Applesauce
Chicken Helper
Family-sized soups
Dry soup mixes
Fruit
Crackers
Spaghetti
Sauce
Juice boxes
Beans -- baked, refried
Pancake, waffle mix
Plastic containers

Individuals, clubs, churches, civic groups and local businesses can all conduct food drives. Donated food is a much needed commodity in their fight against hunger. They accept donated food between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, at their location on 702 S. Chapin Street, South Bend, IN. If this location is not convenient to you, there are many other drop off points including all of the Martin's Supermarket grocery stores. For more information please visit The Food Bank of Northern Indiana to find out how you can help.

Throwing a cause party was such a fun girl's night out and I encourage you to do the same with your girlfriends! It is a fun and easy way to give back to charities in your community and I am so thankful that Johnson's helped us support such a great cause in our own community!

Here are the star recipes from our fabulous Chari-Tea Bunco night that you could replicate for a charity night at your house!

Pesto Pasta Salad (courtesy of "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen") and you can visit The Farm Chicks Blog too!

3 cups bowtie pasta (about 8 oz)
1/4 cup pesto (Sam's Club has pesto for really cheap, if your garden isn't ready for pesto-making yet)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about two medium)
1/2 cup halved pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and rinse under cold running water and let cool. Place in a salad bowl. In another bowl, mix the pesto and sour cream together and add to the pasta, tossing to coat. Add the tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts and toss to mix. Serve.

Bunco Punch

ICE RING:
Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Water
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

PUNCH:
Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.


What are some fun charitable activities you do with your friends and/or family? I would love for you to share how you make charity a priority in your house?

Related Links:

Good Cheap Fun: Bunco

Retro Housewife Bunco

Kentucky Derby Bunco

'70's Bunco Style

Labels: , , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day Old Bread Gets A Makeover...Or Four

One of our favorite sandwich shops in town is Jimmy John's. If you haven't sampled one of their yummy gourmet subs, you must run out and get one. My husband loves these so much that this is where he wanted to meet us for his birthday lunch. The two of us spent many a late night over their subs at Purdue University. Now as parents, our children love them just as much as we do!

When chatting with my friend Jessica, whose husband happens to own and operate our local Jimmy John's, she shared with me that they offer their "day old" bread for a deeply discounted price. Day old simply means that the bread is more than five hours old and so they can no longer use it to make the sandwiches. I never realized that they offered this and was anxious to find out the price and if they would have any the next time I went.

After church on Sunday, we headed over to the restaurant to grab some lunch and I asked if they had any day old bread to spare. Stacked high on the counter were many loaves of bread offered at a discounted rate. For $.48 a loaf, I grabbed four loaves to see what I could invent in the kitchen with this inexpensive bread. That is right, only $.48 a loaf, far cheaper than even the discounted bakery cart at Walmart!


That evening, I worked on a beautiful roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and baby peas for a delicious Sunday dinner. The chicken had a yummy lemon sauce and we used the bread to mop up the sauce. We quickly polished off the first loaf that night. No need to change anything when the bread is fresh and a perfect side to any dinner hour.


I called my mother-in-law to see if she would like to come over for dinner the following night. For $.48 a loaf, I can afford to entertain! The second loaf of bread is reinvented into my favorite overnight breakfast casserole. We served this with orange juice, coffee, and a fresh loaf of my banana oat bread. Everyone left the table will full bellies and smiles on their face.

That evening, I cut the last two loaves into squares, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with garlic salt and threw them in the oven to make homemade croutons. The bread was still soft, but a little stale so this was a great way to use up what was left.

The next morning we had a playgroup to attend and we had to pack our lunches. My yummy lunch was a grilled chicken salad topped with those homemade croutons and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When I got home that night, I still had to make our dinner. Lucky for me, I have plenty of croutons so I gave them a spin in my food processor.

Poured them into my favorite thrifted tin platter.

I gave my chicken a little dip in some egg and then the breadcrumbs.

They were baked into my new new favorite Chicken Parmesan recipe, served with pasta, and a little wine. As everyone happily munched away, I brought up the bread that we had bought several days before. "This is the best you have ever made!" my husband proclaimed. I batted my eyes and said, "It must be that day old bread from Jimmy John's that makes it so good." His look of surprise was priceless.

I still have enough leftover to make a batch of meatballs and bread our pork chops this week.

As a frugal homemaker, I don't think I reinvent the wheel of frugality... but I sure know how to beat a dead horse!

What are some of your proudest money-saving moments? Do you have a "beat the dead horse" approach towards using what you have?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

At-Home Hair Coloring Savings


I have been coloring my hair at home for years now, but only in the last year has it started to become more necessary. I will peek at my hair in the mirror or my hair will catch the light in the sun and I see those wiry gray hairs coming through. Ah, the signs of old age are upon me.

Hair color in the box has come a long way though and I have experimented with different brands and products that have come out when I have a coupon to go with them.

I have found though that I rarely have to pay for the regular price on my hair color though and let me share why:

1. Hair color is always on sale. If you look in CVS or the Walgreens flier, you will find that on almost any given week, they are running a special on hair color. Walgreens & CVS often will either give you a rebate on these products or some type of register reward. Wait for the sales on your favorite brands and try to stock up in conjunction with these.

2. Hair color coupons abound. Make sure to check your Sunday coupon inserts for coupons and cut these out to apply towards your purchase. If you can combine those coupons with a rebate/Extra Care Buck reward, you can often get your hair color for less than $5 a box.

3. Sign up for mailing lists. Sign up for the mailing lists for coupons and tips on coloring your hair. Clairol, for example, offers the Color Source Club where they send an email newsletter out with coupon savings towards your purchases and updates on their new products. By visiting the Garnier website, you will find they offer a newsletter with updates on free samples and special offers. Likewise, Revlon offers a website where you can sign up for a similar type of program and be notified of savings and samples.

4. Look inside & outside the box for savings. Often on the directions page, there is a coupon to take off money on your next purchase. Make sure to scan all over the outside and inside of the box for coupons and use these on your next color purchase.

5. Don't forget savings in unlikely places. One week my hair color was not on sale and I was not stocked on any extra boxes. Our local Bed Bath & Beyond though recently added a beauty section that is fully stocked on all of my drugstore needs. I walked in with a manufacturer coupon and combined that with the 20% off a purchase coupon and was still able to score my favorite hair color for about $5.00. I don't know if all of the stores offer this, but this is another option for coupon savings.

6. Check eBay for coupons. Coupons abound for the products that you use and it is a great resource for savings on the things you use most. When my children were babies, I often used eBay to get coupons for savings off our baby food. Now that they are getting older, I am now looking for hair color coupons. My, how the circle of life continues!

I recently happened upon a product though that has had me shouting it's praises from the mountain tops and I doubt I will use anything else since I have become so spoiled. It is the Clairol Perfect 10 Hair Color.

I had a coupon for this product and since I have used it, I can never picture using anything else ever again. There are two reasons why I love it.

1. The applicator makes it a lot less messy. I am one of those people that is a constant disaster and I can't tell you how many things I have ruined while trying to get hair color on my head. It almost became a joke because every time I would color my hair, we would have to buy a new shower curtain because I had slopped color on it.

2. It is done in ten minutes. That is it. By the time I get it on, it is time to rinse it off. It colors my hair that quickly.

It is not the most frugal choice always, but regularly priced at $12.99, it is still a huge cost-savings over the $50-100 charge that is being charged at most salons. If you can apply the cost-savings above, you can still get this hair color for the $5-8 price.

Too scared to color your hair at home? Don't be! It is really hard to fail at at-home hair coloring unless you are trying to color your hair drastically. If the look is drastic, go to the salon and have them do it, but for just covering a few grays, it can be easy to do at home.

What if you fail or you get a bad color job at the salon? I have found the best product for you for that too!
I once had a botched color job at the salon and I was desperate to tone down my bright hair. I found this great product that you can buy at Walgreens called Color Oops. Within five to ten minutes of putting this on your hair, it will tone down your color. If you leave it on too long though, it will strip your hair down to your baby hair. I would be very careful using a product like this, but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and this will work in a pinch.

Your best bet if you get a botched job at the salon? Going back to the salon and asking them to put a little toner on it. They should do this for free for you and guarantee their color services so make sure you ask this before getting your hair done somewhere how long their color-guarantee is.

Don't forget that no matter where you choose to color you hair, that the most important thing to do to maintain it is to use color-safe shampoos afterward. The same tips for savings on hair color apply to those hair color shampoos too. It has been a long time since I have paid full price for any hair care items by taking advantage of coupons and savings at the drugstore. If you are looking for an affordable brand option, Suave corners the market on inexpensive hair products. They have an arsenal of hair products that won't put a dent in your wallet. For example, Nexxus shampoo would cost roughly $8.79 for 14.5 ounces. Suave makes a knock off of this same shampoo for $1.92-2.49 for 14.5 ounces. Combine that with a coupon, and you have practically free shampoo that will keep your hair looking great!

I hope these at-home hair color tips will help keep your lovely locks looking great for a lot less!

(Photo Source: Compact Collection)

Related Links:

Overcoming My Fears: Cutting Hair

Open Your Own Beauty Shop

Do you color your hair at home? What products do you love? How do you maximize your color savings?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boxed Wines: An Eco & Wallet Friendly Choice


I feel hesitant posting my personal thoughts on wine. After all, I am the girl who thought that Arbor Mist was the best you could buy for your money for years. Through the years though, my husband and I have become adventurous with trying new wines, I have been to countless wine tastings, and I love nothing better than a good glass of wine at the end of a long day with the kids.

While we both love wine, we don't necessarily desire the same kind of wine. I am a girl that gravitates more towards a good Chardonnay while my husband is a Merlot fan. Considering we are the only two wine drinkers in the house, the wine would sometimes go to waste because it was not used in the time span it should have. To me, there is nothing worse than throwing money down the drain so I have been looking into other options.

A few months ago though, I was watching the Today Show and they had a wine expert on to discuss the comeback of the boxed wine. "Boxed wine? Blech!" I thought. The expert continued on though to point out that these wines have come a long way and are a great affordable option for families.

We decided to put this theory to the test and began buying and sampling boxed wines instead. I even had the good fortune to receive a few boxes for my review from a couple of great wine companies, which helped add perspective on the different varieties that are available for families.

Why are boxed wines a better value and better for the environment?

Your Wine Lasts Longer- Remember the scenario that I shared about where I was dumping wine down the drain? Well, that doesn't usually happen when you buy boxed wine. The wine is stored in a Mylar bag with a spout attached. When you pour from the spout the bag acts as a vacuum, which means the wine doesn't oxidize. An opened box can last for four weeks rather than spoiling in just a day or two.

Boxed Wine is Better for the Environment- Top wine producers are trying to reduce their carbon footprint — that is, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the transportation of wine —and selling the beverage in alternative, lighter packaging instead of heavier glass is one way that they can make that change.These boxes of wine are ideal with some boxes reducing waste by nearly 90 percent of the equivalent bottle.

It Saves Space & Is a Hit at Parties- I took a box of wine to my Bunco night and it was the first thing to go on the table of wines. While some might consider it tacky, that pour spout is quite handy and makes filling your wine glass a breeze. These boxes can hold four bottles or more, but take up a lot less room. If you are short on space or you need something to bring to your next party, I highly recommend the boxed wine alternative.

Wine for Cooking Is Right at Your Fingertips- Many of the dishes I make call for wine in them and these boxes of wine are a cook's best friend. I no longer have to open a bottle for a dish and let it go to waste, I can now just pour it right out of the box and it costs a lot less than the wine I was buying to cook with.

Boxed Wine is Much More Affordable- You can get a box of wine for a far lower cost than you could get in a bottle. Check the side of the box to see how many bottles are contained within it and then divide that to get your cost per bottle. Some of the best boxed wines I sampled cost roughly $5-6 a bottle, making it much more affordable than even the sale prices on bottled wines.

Now that I have hopefully convinced you that it is a better deal, here are my top picks for best boxed wines on the market. I am happy to report that Epicurious also agrees with a couple of my choices!


Of all of the wines that I sampled, the Black Box wines were consistently the best of the best. The Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot are the best that they offer and they are elegantly packaged. The Cabernet Sauvignon has received a Double Gold award and the Merlot was listed in the Top Ten Best Buys by Wine Enthusiast. Best of all, this one was available at our local Walmart and I have also heard that Sam's Club members can get it for an even lower price. If I was just venturing into the world of boxed wines, the Black Box wines would be a great place to start.


Banrock Station Chardonnay is one of the best bangs for the buck and they now offer their wine in a 3L (the equivalent of four bottles) box. This Chardonnay is an excellent deal for the money and is recommended as a great budget-friendly wine by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Of all of the wines that Banrock Station offers, their Chardonnay is by far the best and is a great wine to bring to parties and a night in with friends. Even someone who is not a wine expert will recognize the hint of green apple and the crisp taste that comes through in the Chardonnay. This wine is particularly great for Pinot fans because this wine seems to mimic many of the flavors you would find in a good Pinot.

When they would run a sale on this wine, we would buy it in the six bottle quantity to get a discount at our local grocery store. I never knew that they offered this wine in a box and I will now be looking for this eco-friendly alternative to my bottles. It really is that good!

Hardys Stamp offers a variety of great tasting budget-friendly boxed wines. While we were not a fan at all of their boxed Riesling, I can say that I truly loved the Merlot. Hardys Stamp Shiraz is also well-known for offering a rich and full flavor. Epicurious shares that the Shiraz, "evokes warm blueberry pie, with hints of vanilla ice cream and toasty American oak, and just enough tannin to balance the ripe berries." Overall, I would definitely recommend sampling the red wines that are offered by Hardys Stamp because the flavor was such a great surprise and will now be added to my top list of the best of the best in the boxed wine market.


One wine that I really wanted to pass the test was the Target Wine Cubes. We tried several different wines from Target and I just was left feeling disappointed. I loved the chic packaging and I certainly spend enough time in Target to want to pick it up there, but these wines were definitely not my favorite. If you are going to pick up a box of wine at Target, go for the Pinot Grigio because it is the best that they offer. In 2007, the Wine Cube Pinot Grigio won a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Again, I love the packaging on the product, but the wines just weren't my favorite.

If you are a wine drinker, I would definitely recommend giving boxed wines a try! Once I started sampling boxed wines, we have never gone back to the wines in the bottle. I can't wait to continue our adventures in tasting and I look forward to more boxed wine products from future companies. I believe that more boxed wines are going to be offered as wineries begin to recognize that even the best wine drinkers love a good wine bargain!

(Photo credit: Paul Olson)

Have you ever given boxed wines a try? Please feel free to offer your recommendations for a great box of wine!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cost of a Homemade Happy Meal

I admitted to you that we had a problem eating out too much and one of the places that I have felt we spent far too many dollars over the years is McDonald's. It is just down the road, it is inexpensive, and it is quick. I will say that it is also not good for me, not always warm, and I never feel that great after eating it.

I wanted to show you the cost difference on a store-bought Happy Meal versus the cost on a homemade Happy Meal. I do use the term "homemade" quite loosely because I am purchasing the chicken nuggets so if you wanted to save even more, you could definitely make a batch instead.

McDonald's Happy Meal

4-Piece Chicken Nuggets
Apples
Reduced Fat Milk
Small Toy

Total Cost of Store-Bought Happy Meal- $3.19 plus tax (this is in Indiana, costs may vary depending on location)

Here is my homemade version for my children that I made for them. I have included exactly what would be included in the meal, but made at home.

Tyson 100% All Natural Chicken Nuggets- 45 per package, cost $6.55 (at our local supermarket, price may vary- I had a great coupon that I will not include in the total!)
4 Piece Nugget Equivalent- .15 each x 4= $.60

1 Gallon of Milk- 16 cups in 1 gallon, cost $1.99 (current price at our local Aldi)
1 Cup of Milk Equivalent- $.12

Apple Slices- 3 pounds for $2.99 (current price at our local Aldi)
Apple Slices- $.25 (generous amount considering how few are in the package)

Total Cost of Homemade Happy Meal- $.97


While $2.22 difference might not seem like much, if you times that by the amount of children that you have in your family plus the amount that you spend on your own meals, there is a huge cost savings to making even your own fast food at home. We try to stick to the $1 Double Cheeseburgers, but Trent, at The Simple Dollar, breaks down the cost of making those double cheeseburgers at home and found that even that price could be beat.

For me, it is hard to get out of the mindset that I shouldn't have prepackaged foods in my house. We keep our grocery budget low by making things at home. If I am out of commission or we have had a hectic night, I am often wishing that we had a few more convenience foods in our house.

A couple of bags of chicken nuggets in the freezer for these nights would still be more cost-effective than running out to McDonald's.

And to my poor math teacher that had to tutor me every single day after math class, I would like to thank you for believing in me and working with me over those difficult years in high school. Who would have ever dreamed that I would be putting together a story problem daily that makes my husband shake his head and roll his eyes at me? I have become obsessed with the subject I hated the most so thank you, Mr. Rossi, for never giving up on me! Thanks to your thoughtful tutoring, I have become a human calculator and can crunch numbers on diapers, price per ounces on cans, and dare I say it...even Happy Meals that would make you so proud.

Related Posts:

Boo to McDonald's
Cracking the McDonald's Coffee Code

Is anyone else plagued with the human calculator syndrome? What has surprised that is more cost-effective to your household budget?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ask the Frugal Momma: Throwing a Baby Shower on a Budget?

Amy,

I am turning to you for some advice about an upcoming baby shower that my husband & I are co-hosting because I know what a budget savvy and creative person you are!

A roommate of mine from college is expecting her first child in May. After asking her several times if anyone was throwing her a shower and her saying no, we offered to co-host a couple's shower with a guy that works with her husband and his wife.

So here's where I get to the dilemma...she e-mailed me the guest list this week and there are 30 couples on it...that's 60 people!

I need some advice for how to pull of the kind of shower that they deserve, but on my budget!! I feel like we have to feed all of these people and provide adult beverages, but I don't know how we could do that for less than a small fortune!!

Sincerely,

J.


Thank you so much for your question and I am so happy to offer a little advice on your baby shower! As always, if you have any questions that you would like to send me, you can email them to me at amy(at)momadvice(dot)com and I would love to share any expertise that I can offer.

Here are a few tips and tricks for throwing a fun baby shower on a budget:

Keep The Decorations Simple

You can burn through a lot of money quickly just on the decorations so one cost effective way to decorate is to decorate with item's that the mother can use or by making a few sweet handmade items.

One of my favorite decorations for a table centerpiece are diaper cakes because it is a special gift for the new mommy and it can double as an attractive centerpiece for the occasion. You can visit my easy instructions and a little cost-breakdown and my tips for how to make these inexpensively.


(photo credit: Wendy Copley)

(photo credit: Janice)

Make a baby clothesline to hang near the food table or behind where the mother will be opening her gifts. Pick cute coordinating items and then give them as a gift to the mother at the end of the shower.

(photo credit: Jaime Compton)

A simple, sweet banner can double as a decoration later for the child's nursery. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate at all, in fact, the simpler the better. If you know the mother's nursery colors, try and coordinate the banner to the baby's future room. For a simple banner tutorial, I love this cute square banner, a bunting made from newspaper, and for the ambitious a knitted bunting. The possibilities are endless and could be made from supplies that you already have on hand in your crafting supplies.

Inexpensive Food to Feed the Masses

If you have a large group to feed, you could stick to between meal times and just provide fun snacks or a fun dessert table. Appetizers will go a lot further than a meal will. If you would like to do a meal, a brunch can be a really cost effective way to entertain and is a classy way to throw a fabulous spread.

Spinach Balls

Bite Sized Sandwiches with vegetable & fruit trays

Mini Quiches with an elegant salad (photo credit: chanmelmel)

Breakfast Casseroles & a Festive Punch

Mimosas (photo credit: K Santos)
A Creative Cake


Instead of doing an elaborate cake, offer guests mini-cupcakes in sweet pastel colors with a creative cupcake topper. These cupcake toppers from papertreats are just one example of cute homemade toppers that can decorate your cupcakes very creatively and that will make them sparkle when your cake decorating skills are lacking. If you are really ambitious, you could make your own cupcake picks with the baby's initial stamped on them or even something more elaborate like this. Check a scrapbooking supplies store or a craft store to find cute paper and embellishments for your project.

Remember that you can freeze cake ahead of time, so you can crank out those cupcakes even the week before and keep them in the freezer. I like to decorate the cake while it is still frozen because it helps reduce the amount of crumbs that can collect in your icing. Ice them the day before and assemble them on pretty cake stand or make your own cake stands for a thrifty and creative alternative.

You will need to modify the length of time you cook your cupcakes for cooking mini-cupcakes. Follow the instructions exactly, but just cook your cupcakes for half the time. Keep an eye on them just because they will cook quickly!

Here are some of my favorite cupcake recipes:

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes With Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

The Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World

Fun & Games

I may be the minority, but I am not a fan of baby shower games. With sixty people in attendance, you are going to have a hard time pulling off an organized activity. Spend that time socializing or do a game like these that will not require everyone being quiet and sitting in a circle.

(photo credit: Emma Black)

Have your guests email you a picture of them from when they were a child. Print out copies of the pictures and make it a party game to Guess Who? is in the pictures.

(photo credit: the higher nest)

How about a Baby Shower Price is Right card and choose the closest winner on how much common baby items would cost?

(photo credit: nhearon2003)

Of course the simpler the game, the easier! Why not throw candy in a clear jar and have your guests guess the total amount? With large group activities, the simpler the better! The bonus with this game is that this game can double as a centerpiece!

Parting Gifts

In a party of this size, I do not think people will be expecting to take home a party favor. Everyone is going to be happy to be included and will just be enjoying the celebrating. Concentrate your efforts on the food, cake, and entertainment and your guest will leave with the wonderful memory of the occasion rather than a gift that they probably will not use.

Consider your shower and any of the centerpieces and decorations your gift to your friend. If you want to add a special gift that she can use, give her a basket of thank you cards and stamps which she can use to thank all of her guests for their thoughtful gifts!

Good luck with your shower and I hope these ideas will give you a good starting point for a festive and frugal celebration!

(Photo Credit: Picture 1- Jerusalem)


Do you have any tips or advice for the hostess for throwing a great budget-friendly shower? I know she will really appreciate it!

Labels: , , , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Post No Spend Challenge Confessions

There was a lovely and thoughtful discussion over at Northern Cheapskate on the difficulties that people would have had with the No Spend Challenge. I want to stress that it was a completely voluntary experience and that while I committed to a no spend month, I wanted people to modify it to their lifestyle and what they felt comfortable with. If a day was what you were comfortable with, if it is a habit you are trying to break, if a week would shed light on your finances- then those were all great and wonderful ways to implement a challenge in your life.

Most of the comments said how difficult it would be to not go on a spending binge after the challenge was over. What a valid point that is! I have also received some comments and emails since the challenge was over wondering if I was having problems with spending and if it will have saved me money in the long run.

The weird thing for me is that other than my little $15 in yarn excursion for some gifts I am working on, a hair cut (which typically happens each month), a necessary birthday gift for my husband, and my $1 Diet Coke that I buy myself after grocery shopping, I had no inclination to run out and spend loads of money.

Here is the weirder part... My husband's birthday is this week and I got him a watch for his 30th birthday (a killer deal that I scored off of eBay). I took it to the mall to get it engraved and they told me it would take an hour before it would be ready. I had all of this time to shop and instead, I took my daughter over to the play area, whipped out my knitting project, and just sat and knitted while she played for an hour.

She was so happy running around and talking to the children and counting the blocks on the floor, and reciting her 1-2-3's at the top of her lungs and I drank all of that in and worked on my project. There was no tug to shop... although I did feel a tiny tug to get a cup of coffee.

What did change is that the challenge did shed light on some problems that I have with my spending.

I now know that there are a couple of days that are harder for me with my work and I am trying to get dinner prepared ahead of time or work on slow cooker meals for those nights to reduce our eating out.

I realized that I need to scale back on outings that cost money and so I am choosing to do one thing a week instead of a few.

I am entertaining more because, frankly, my house looks better when I know I have people coming and it breaks my day up.

And most of all, it has made me conscious of my spending habits and how I can improve them. Even a money-savvy gal like myself, needed a little wake-up call into how we could improve our financial situation.

As for the economy and the negative impact I had on it by challenging others to a No Spend Challenge... well, I won't apologize for that and I know that might anger some people. I live in a part of the country that is particularly plagued with job loss and I am doing what I can to prepare our finances and make our situation stronger. My husband lost his job for a year and it took us five years to recover from that. I want to build a safety net for my family and not spending helped us gain perspective on how we can make that happen.

I might not have the influence of Oprah, but I still hope I made a difference on how families can improve their finances. And can I say to Oprah, I thought of the No Spend Challenge first? You know, just in case someone needs that information for historical purposes.


Are you reducing your spending to protect your family or are you increasing your spending to protect the economy? Do you believe it is an either/or philosophy?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Notebook Experiment & No Spend Day 11: Be My Valentine


Due to the MomAdvice Simplified podcast airing on Thursdays, I am going to be moving our Notebook Entry and Notebook Experiments to Wednesdays instead. I hope you will understand and will come back on Wednesday for these entries. Thank you so much for your patience!
Experiment: Can we craft up some Valentines?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.12.09

Materials Needed: Please see the long thread for the full instructions.

Results: Today's Notebook Experiment & No Spend Challenge picture are one and the same. Since we are not spending money this month, we have had to get creative with our Valentine's this year and are making them at home.

I loved the round-up of cute homemade Valentine's on the long thread and we decided to download and print the ones that she made available on her site. Unfortunately, we don't have a color printer so they are not nearly as cute, but they were free, which makes them the best kind of little love notes in the world.


Conclusion: This was a fun and free activity that I could do with the kids. Ethan is so excited to give them to his friends and I am so happy that we saved some money in the process. Thanks to the long thread for sharing such a sweet and fun little template!

**********************
Want to join in on the MomAdvice No Spend Challenge? Make sure to add your name to the linky list and read more about our challenge. You can also join our No Spend Challenge Flickr Group and upload your pictures of what you did each day.

To read all the entries on not spending, you can visit our No Spend Challenge category!
********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Gaining a Readership the Frugal Way


Q: How do you establish a reader base?

A: I am hopeful that I can help offer some advice to those of you out there who are trying to start a blog or website for profit. As always, I promise to be as honest as I possibly can and share any details about my work-at-home experience to help others.

Let's say that you start a website/blog and then you are left wondering, "How in the world am I going to get people to come to my corner of the internet?" You could obviously pay to advertise on websites that target the same audience profile, but usually when you are beginning your funds are often tight and it can be difficult to fork over money. After all, you are trying to make money for your family and you want to be as smart as you can with your dollars.

I will be very honest and say that I have never paid to advertise anywhere. In the beginning, we tossed around advertising on other sites to build our audience, but we just did not have the money to pursue the sites that we felt would fit our audience best. We are just now beginning to shell out real money to get our site known in the web-design community and to boost our traffic so I think it is very possible to have a profitable website without spending a huge amount of your profits to gain a readership.

But let's be frank, without a great and interactive audience your site just won't have that sparkle that keeps people coming back. You need an audience that can provide feedback for you not only as motivation to keep doing what you are doing, but also to also create a community of people who want to keep going back to your site over and over again.

Here are a few of the ways we have gained our readership:

1. Join like-minded communities- When we first started the site, I joined every Yahoo group that had something to do with personal finance or frugality. You will have to look into the guidelines for these groups, but usually you can have a signature line at the end of your posts. This is a great way to get your name out there, participate in a group of like-minded folks who will respect your ideas/opinions, and gives you an opportunity to peek into what other people are interested in on your topics.

With a signature line, I think it is important to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. None of us have time to read a paragraph of a signature line, but a link to your site/blog and maybe a quick quip underneath can get people interested in wanting to learn more about you and what you are doing.

My signature line could be:

Amy
MomAdvice.com
"Helpful financial advice for every mother!"

This is short, sweet, and to the point. You don't want to be booted out of communities for spamming them so make sure that when you are sharing on these sites that you don't continually drop in things that could qualify as advertising or make others feel uncomfortable. Understand the rules and play by them. People will respect you more for it and it is great fun to find a post that someone else has written about what a great resource your site/blog is without you spamming everyone to death.

If you are unclear about the rules, email the moderator and make sure. It is better to be safe than sorry!

2. Name Drop- And name drop often! This is something that I learned as I got further along in my career. I was so scared that I would lose my readers that I would never share about other websites or blogs. I thought I was keeping my readers secure in my grasp if I never gave them something to take them away from my spot. But then I realized that what I was doing was actually keeping my readership low and I was losing out on a lot of readers that might come my way.

I started doing the "Amy's Notebook" entry on Thursdays to highlight other blogs. I would share great things that I ran across on other sites and include them in a weekly round-up for my site. What ended up happening was that those blogs found out about me and would add me to their favorite links, would share my site with others, or would become a reader on my blog. All of a sudden, your name gets dropped in ten new locations and those ten locations have a whole slew of readers who never knew about you.

Better yet, when you name drop in a blog post, sometimes you don't even have to come up with content for the day. This can be great when you are suffering from a case of writer's block or you are too busy to write.

3. Share Your Content- One of the greatest ways that you can get readers is by sharing your content with other sites or print publications. If you are a blogger, many blog entries are the perfect length for ezines and newsletters.

Share content with sites that are going to bring in your perfect target audience. One easy way to figure this out is to look up a site that you really like (or your own site if you are already established) on Alexa and see what other sites they recommend. You will see "Related Links" on the left-hand side and you can click on that to see what other sites other people visit that are similar to your own. For example, here is the listing for our site. That can give me a good starting point for great sites that I could contact and see if they would use my content for their own site.

Sharing your content with competing and more established sites will give you the readership boost when and where you need it most. Not only can that be good for gaining readers, but it can also help establish relationships with other website owners that can be great for networking purposes.

You can also share your content through sites that keep a directory of articles for ezine and newsletter purposes. I would list mine on Ezine Articles and also send my articles to the website owners directly to make sure my content was making its rounds. Do be aware though that when you release your content out into the world that you relinquish the rights to choose where the content might be shared and you have much less control over how it appears and might have more difficulty tracking if your site is linked to that article. Some people don't mind doing this, but others are more protective of their work and like to have more control over where it is seen.

4. Update often- I love to read blogs that I know are updated often and always have something new for me to read. Updating can be difficult and working through a writer's block can be challenging, but this is one way to be sure that people know that you are always offering something fresh. This doesn't mean that you have to add a new entry daily, but even two-three times a week is good and keeps people coming back for more.

I am a big believer in quality over quantity though so don't update just to update. Likewise, don't crank out more of whatever you are selling, but decrease the quality of your workmanship. In a world that seems to consider quantity over quality, a quality looking site with quality content/goods is a rare gem.

5. Take theming to new levels-
When I first started out, one of the best ways for me to get readers was by participating in those group theme events. There are so many theme days that it is hard to know where to start, but chances are that you can find a theme that will relate to what you are up to on the internet. Sometimes it is even fun to participate in these events even if it doesn't exactly fit with your theme. A creative mind can always work a theme into what they are doing. Here are a few events to get you started:

Menu Planning Mondays
Tackle it Tuesday
Works-For-Me Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday
Thursday Thirteen
Frugal Fridays

Maybe you are someone who sells handmade aprons. You could participate in an event like Tackle It Tuesday and share tips for caring for an apron. Maybe you sell soy candles and you could come up with ideas for extending the life of your candles, making you a perfect candidate to participate in Frugal Fridays. Maybe you are an eBay Queen and are trying to make money by selling items online. You could share your tips for posting an auction on Works-For-Me Wednesday.

6. Comment & Share- One of the best ways to get people to come to your blog/site is by visiting other people's sites. I have made some of my best buddies and created some of our best networking opportunities by commenting on other people's blogs.

Make sure that you have created an account or made yourself reachable when you do leave an account. Leaving anonymous comments won't bring in an audience to visit you so make sure you set up an account. Our blog is through Blogger so you would need to create a free Blogger account and make an account that you can sign into and that will direct people to your masterpiece.

7. Start Locally- Local folks are going to be even more interested in you than the other people because you are part of their community! Don't be afraid to contact your local media and see if they might be interested in doing a story on what you are doing. Small-town communities are more receptive to this because there might be less to cover in your area. Check your local media's websites and see if they have a free local directory for businesses or if they have a community forum where you can chat with other local business owners.

Join a small business group in town, look on Meetup to see if you can find other people who are working from home, and join community organizations that will help serve as a networking opportunity. My mom's group, for example, has been an excellent way for me to get the word out about what I do. Not only do these women clue me in on things that will help my website be better, but they also let me guest speak on occasion and share my site with their friends and family. They have become my best fans and have helped me be better at what I am doing!

8. Participate in the Festivals & Carnivals- Participating in online festivals and carnivals can really help boost your traffic. These days they have an event for just about everything in the book and these can be a great way to draw more readers to your site/blog. Create an account on Blog Carnival and start browsing through the categories that fit with what you offer. Submit your articles through their entry form and schedule these events weekly on your calendar. I just submit all of my entries each Friday since most of my events have a deadline for Saturday or Sunday. Making this a priority can help you a lot especially when you are looking for new readers. Better yet, read the other entries for fresh ideas for content to your site or do a round-up of your favorite entries so readers don't have to read the entire festival/carnival to find the really great stuff.

These are just a few of my ideas for getting started with a reader base. As always, keep the questions and comments coming. I will keep answering them as long as I have questions coming to me! (image credit: Jen R.)

If you have an established site/blog, what were some of the best ways that you were able to get readers to come to your site, particularly in those beginning days?

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Free & Fun Resources for Book Lovers

The coffee tray was assembled with all the necessary items for a good cup of coffee.

I gathered a stack of books from my bookshelves that I was not planning to read right now and books that I had read and truly loved.

Our fearless book club leader, Jessica, suggested a book swap for the month. I offered to host our book gathering and couldn't wait to see what everyone brought. We piled the books on the table, we shared what we thought about our respective stacks, and we sipped some coffee. Everyone left with a bag full of new books and not a dime was spent. It was like going to the library, but no one will fine me if I don't get it read in three weeks time. As a busy mom, this is exactly the type of book activity that I was game for.

If you don't have some friends to swap books with, here are a few book resources that I have gathered for the book lovers of the world:

GoodReads or Shelfari- I use GoodReads to keep track of all of the things that I am reading or plan to read. I am not good about remembering the books I have read or that I would like to read in the future. This site helps me keep track of my impressions of books and keep my bookshelves fully stocked with the books I am really interested in reading. I love to keep a pad of paper with me in my purse or make notes into my cell phone when I am at the bookstore so if I happen upon a book I am interested in, I can jot down a note so I can pick it up at my local library.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor's offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won't get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what's due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it -- before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

Frugal Reader, Paperback Swap, & Bookmooch- Just three of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you recive to get more books.

Bookins- This is another great site where you can not only swap books, but also movies. Their system will automatically arrange for shipments from you to one member and from a third member back to you, and so on. You never have to contact anyone, there is no bidding, and there are no hassles of dealing with different traders and personalities for each exchange. The shipping charges are always a flat $4.49 for the service. You can keep what you get or exchange it again when you are done.

SwapSimple- This is a site where you can list textbooks, books, games or DVDs. Begin by listing what you have to be available to others. Right when you list an item, they will figure out what it's current market value is, and award you 20% of it's value up front for your use. You get the remaining 80% when you send your item to another swapper. This means you can list items, and get items immediately!

Amazon's Free Kindle Downloads- For those that have moved towards the electronic books, Amazon has books available to download for free through February 28th. Be sure to snag these books and save!

Of course, the ultimate in free resources for book lovers is your local library. Be sure to check the Resources page on your library's website and see what tools you might be overlooking. My library card comes with free passes to local museums, online memberships to many research tools, even iPods and audio book downloads right to my iPod!

Do you use any of these resources for your reading? Feel free to share your own resources that you have discovered that could help your fellow book lover out!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going Without Prescription Coverage

(originally aired: October 14, 2007)

I debated a long time about whether or not to post this, but I figured it might help someone else out there so I thought I would share my experience.

When my husband started his new job, we started a ninety day lapse in insurance coverage. We have purchased a temporary policy with a high deductible, but we are going without some of the perks that we had with our old policy. One of those perks was a reimbursement program on my prescription drugs.

I do want to begin by saying that the medication I was on was not working for me. I have IBS and I have depression and the drugs that my family physician had me on were not helping me at all. If there was a side effect listed with the medication, I had it. I am one of those people who experiences terrible side effects, which makes me hesitant to ever fool around with a good thing when it comes to my medicine. Unfortunately, since I have had Emily, I have not found that magical sweet spot where I have felt good and we have been bouncing me around on all sorts of medicines and no relief from either ailment. When my stomach medication was pulled by the FDA due to people dying from complications, I threw my hands up in the air and knew that I needed to make a change.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I talked with a girlfriend who is a firm believer in homeopathic remedies. My feelings towards these types of treatments have always been disbelief. I will admit it, I have always considered many of these remedies a waste of money. Her sister-in-law has three homeopathic practices and a long line of happy clients, so she said she could ask her some of the things that I could take after I explained everything that I was looking for, what wasn't working, and so on. I remember thinking that if it sounded too "weird" or "out there" that I would not take them.

Another important element to me was that I was not paying more for my treatment than I was for the prescription drugs. Always the frugal girl, I wanted my treatment to be affordable, but also to feel better.

My friend gave me a list of what she had suggested and none of it was strange or unheard of. For my stomach, one of her recommendations was a cup of hot water with lemon before bed (how frugal is that?) She also had a substitute for my anti-depressant and a few items that would boost my immune system.

I have been doing this for about a month now and I have never felt better in my life. My constant tiredness and that cloudiness that I felt is gone and I am feeling more like myself than I have ever felt before. I am amazed at the difference that I feel and how I react towards my family. I am experiencing no side effects and I see a noticeable difference in myself. I feel like me again and it has been a long time since I have felt that way.

The icing on the cake is the extra $200 that will be sitting in my account each month. My new medicines only cost me $50 each month! What a savings!

If medications aren't working for you, homeopathic remedies might be worth looking into. My depression and stomach problems were mild, but were having a negative effect on my life. With care from an expert in the homeopathic field, you might be able to relieve yourself of your symptoms and keep a little extra money in your pocket at the same time.

If you do have to take medications though, my articles on going without health insurance and my article on going without prescription coverage might provide some help! I also blogged on treating ailments when you are without coverage or are looking for the cheapest way to treat sickness.

Have you ever substituted homeopathic remedies for prescription drugs? What are your feelings towards these types of remedies?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, December 08, 2008

My Hostess Gifts This Year

I have been working on little hostess gifts to give this year for all of our upcoming holiday gatherings. I wanted something that would be quick to make and also economical. Thanks to my new knitting hobby, I am whipping up snowflake dishcloths for a mere $.75 each.


This pattern was easy to do and only required a bit of concentration when making the snowflake in the center. This is all knitting and purling so if you can do those two stitches, you can totally make these! I used Peaches 'N Cream in red and a robin's egg blue.

I have to say that my favorite part about these is the little addition of our family Christmas picture (courtesy of Brittani Renee Photography). I had a disc of our pictures and I copied the pictures to my computer. I then took one of our holiday photos and plopped it into a Word document. Right click on your image and click, "Size." You can then adjust your image to the size for your gift cards. This was reformatted with width and height at 3 inches. You could also do a smaller gift tag by resizing the image to 2 inches. Type your message below and mount it onto cardstock or pretty scrapbooking paper. This was hole punched and then I used a needle to weave in a strand of contrasting yarn with a little raffia.

I hope those who host us in their home will know how much their efforts are appreciated by this tiny gesture of thankfulness.

What is your favorite hostess gift to give? Please feel free to share your recipes or tips/tricks for personalizing those hostess gifts!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Younger Kids

One of the things that people wanted to see on our site were some ideas for giving gifts on a budget for children. I can cover the younger kid category quite easy, but will have to put some thought in for the teen and tween categories.

I know I am not the only parent who sat in amazement when my child became fixated on a box rather than the gift itself. Yes, young children are easier to please than what we might think so remember that when choosing gifts for kids. Don't add unnecessary stress to your life because chances are that our children will just be entertained and happy with the opening of the gifts and a fabulous spread of holiday food.

Things that I have discovered with choosing gifts for younger children are:

1. Thrifted gifts will be just as loved. Younger children are not at a stage where they are going to be disappointed that a gift did not come in a shiny new box. No, they will just be excited to see whatever it is you have wrapped for them so don't feel like you are disappointing them if you don't have a brand new gift for them.

2. Art supplies always make an excellent gift. In my house, you can never have too many crayons, drawing paper, or fun things to keep the kids entertained for hours. When out-of-town relatives send money for the kids, I always apply the money to a big bin of art supplies or goodies for our ornament-making station. I also usually give this gift a little early so that they can be entertained during those hectic days right before Christmas.

3. Giving gifts of traditions are always the best kind of gifts. We try to focus more on traditions rather than what is wrapped under the tree. Try incorporating a Christmas Jar or an Advent Calendar of goodies. Do a countdown to Christmas with items found at thrift stores or wrap each year a set of Christmas books that the children can look forward to every year.

4. Don't feel guilty about what isn't under the tree. In this tough economy and with so many job losses and higher prices plaguing families, please do not feel bad if you can't get your children everything that is their heart's desire. Remember that young children are impressionable and you can offer gentle guidance towards budget-friendly gifts at this stage in the game. When my son asked for Spike the T-Rex ($130), I showed him some other great dinosaurs that I thought he would really like that were less than $20. With a little guidance and an explanation that Spike was a little out of Santa's budget, we were able to steer him towards some more budget-friendly options.

Here are some examples of some of my favorite gifts for young children:
One of our favorite gifts that we have received is the Leapfrog Magnet sets. My daughter loves this farm animal set ($14.99) and also loves the alphabet set. The farm animal set is great for young children because they can just put two magnets together to make the animal and then it sings a little song about what the animal says and does. The alphabet set will grow with children more and will be used longer, but does comes at a little higher price ($16.99). When your child is a beginning reader, like mine, the set can be used to begin spelling words, which is really fun.

Both sets have been loved for years and years in our house and it keeps my kids entertained in the kitchen while I prepare supper. I will say that I hated this farm animal set when I was pregnant and would bump it with my belly and it would say things about cows. Um, thanks, LeapFrog!
My children love blocks and last Christmas we got them each a box of these for the holidays. My daughter is two and my son is six and they both love these blocks and play with them for hours. We gave them this gift early (one of our activities in our Christmas Jar) and they had the best time with these. I have a wicker basket that is the centerpiece on our coffee table in the playroom so that the kids can build and create with these anytime they want. This set is $18.99 for 100 blocks. If you get one for each kid, they can build a fortress out of them!

One of the most beloved gifts for both the kids was a sock monkey that I bought my daughter. She carried it around a lot and I have found him hiding underneath the covers in my son's bed too. My Mommy's Place has these for only $14. If you are ambitious, you could make a sock monkey yourself and make it entirely unique for your children. I think these guys look so cute popping out of the stockings.

My son is really into the superhero thing right now so I am planning to get him one of these superhero capes to fight off the bad guys in our house. This cape is reversible so he could decide which hero he wanted to be and is available from kidzescapes for $24.

Not to be outdone by the boys, every good princess needs a cape too and kidzescapes has that covered too. You can get this reversible cape for $25. The ambitious momma could tackle this project herself and come up with a wonderfully unique cape for their child.

I swear I don't work for Leapfrog, even though it might seem like it! I have to say that the best DVD's we have EVER bought our children are from Leapfrog. We actually bought the entire set of these and they are one of the best teaching tools that I have ever seen. It taught my two year old all of her letter sounds and gave my son an advantage in kindergarten. He was one of the only ones in his pre-K class that could recite every single letter sound. These movies build on beginning letter sounds, word sounds, and even work on math skills. If you are going to add to your movie collection, I highly recommend these. The Letter Factory is priced at only $8.99.
My son is six and his favorite book is definitely the Dangerous Book for Boys (priced at $16.17) We also have a sparkly Dangerous Book for Girls book (priced at $17.79) for my daughter when she gets a little older. These Things to Do editions are only $10.17 (here is a link to the girl's edition). In it are great activities to keep your kids entertained for hours and hours. Include some supplies to complete one of the dangerous activities and you will be the coolest parent on the block.

If your child is in the beginning stages of reading, they will love Mia's Reading Adventure. This computer software has been an incredible addition to our collection. Your child learns reading through games and story activities to help them learn word recognition. The characters are 3D and the storyline is really good so it has kept our son really entertained and engaged in it. We have tried other software from the company, but so far Mia has been the biggest hit. This is priced at $24.99.

If your children like to move and groove to the music, I can guarantee that both you and they will absolutely love the new They Might Be Giants, "Here Come the 123s" The CD comes with a DVD that has all of the songs on the CD with a music video to accompany it. The lyrics are hilarious, the movies will make you laugh out loud, and the kids will learn something. The DVD is just as good as the CD so you can get something for your car and to keep the kids educationally entertained in front of the television. This is priced at just $14.99.

One of our favorite things that has been loved literally until the color wore off and we had only two magnets left because we had lost them all is this School Zone Preschool Magnetic Set. We have taken this set with us whenever we travel or are at a restaurant waiting endlessly for food. The set comes with different heavy-duty backgrounds and comes with an entire farm of animals & magnetic letters that can be stuck to the different backgrounds. The different storyboards have different activities on them or if you have younger children who aren't reading, they can make up their own stories. These are magnets though so make sure you are supervising younger children or give this gift at an age where you can trust them.

The case is metal so if you have a rambunctious toddler like me, it can get warped from standing on it, but the kids have loved this so much that I plan to get them each a new one. They have a kindergarten and preschool version. Best of all, they only cost $9.99.


These are just a handful of my ideas for gift-giving and I hope it helps a little with your holiday shopping.

What are some of your favorite gifts to give for younger kids? Do you have any special presents that your children are requesting this year? Please feel free to share!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

(Image Credit: Craig)

I don't know what it is about men, but it seems that people are always looking for gift ideas for them. I have never really had a problem with buying for guys, in particular, but struggle more for those people in my life who seem to have everything. Buying gifts for the guys in your life doesn't have to be difficult and I want to arm you with some of my favorite gifts for guys that are always a hit.

Give the Gift of Music- I am a big music-lover and the men in my life are music lovers too. Music is always a great gift to give because it is something that can be enjoyed for a very long time. I love to make a "mixed tape" of great music and then follow these instructions for making a very personalized CD cover with pictures that I know the recipient would like. Print the covers on heavy card stock and add a personal message to the recipient.

If the man in your life is more into the digital music, why not give him an iTunes gift card that can be redeemed for picking his own favorite music? These gift cards start at just $15, which would make a great gift for any music lover.

Give the Gift of Movies- One of the best gifts I have ever given has to be the gift of movies. Netflix offers a wide range of plans that you can choose from and you can purchase a month or two for your recipient for very little money. Their plans start at $4.99 and you can present the subscription in a fun way or even tuck the gift in with a popcorn tub and and some movie theater snacks.

Give the Gift of Reading- Guys love magazine subscriptions and I have found that magazine subscriptions can be bought very inexpensively off of eBay. Make your own card and tell your guy that the gift is redeemable for any magazine of his choice (except those filthy magazines which will never be purchased for your guy thankyouverymuch) and that you will get him a gift subscription. I have found subscriptions to magazines for $3 or $4 for an entire year versus the newsstand prices. If it is in your budget, you could subscribe to two or three without breaking the bank and let him think you spent a mint on him.

Give the Gift of Food & Drink- They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and I have found this is absolutely true. Whip up a special batch of his favorite snack and pair it with some of his favorite coffee. You could make him a batch of these sugar and spice nuts and pair it with a little bucket of his favorite beer. By pairing your homemade specialty with a store-bought favorite drink, you have a great combination for a perfectly budget-friendly gift.

If you want to extend the gift further, wrap up his favorite snack and give him coupons to redeem the snacks for later. This is especially effective with college-aged guys and we have made more than a few college students happy with our boxes of goodies. You can download and print our free college coupon template and mount these to card stock for holiday gift-giving.

Give the Gift of Accessories- Just like women love a good handbag, a pretty scarf, or a hot pair of shoes, men have a desire for accessories too... just not the same kind as us. If your man is into gadgets and already has them, why not supply him with some accessories for the items he already has? For example, if he has a Nintendo Wii, you could give him some Wii points to put towards one of his favorite old Mario Brothers games. Likewise, if he uses any other game system, you could buy an extra controller or a different style of controller so he could play with more of his friends. If he has a Kindle you could give him a gift certificate to Amazon to buy some book downloads. Is he into computers? Why not try and find some computer software that he could put to good use by taking advantage of those rebate offers from the office supplies stores. We often forget to reload the tech gadgets we already have so this is a cost-effective way of building upon investments that have already been made.

There are the other accessories in life too so take a peek at his belt, his wallet, his hat, his scarf, his planner. While not maybe as much fun as some of the other gifts on the list, upgrading your man's accessories can be very thoughtful and will be used for years to come. I love to go to stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's to find these accessories because they are so deeply discounted and you can get some really great brand-names for an affordable price.

Give the Gift of Believing In Your Man- I know how much I appreciate it when someone believes in me and what I do so why not try and make that into a gift for someone you love? Are they self-employed or trying to start their own side business? Why not place an order for business cards for them? VistaPrint offers very affordable prices on business cards and think how much that would mean to someone who is trying to start their own business. You could pair that with a business card case that has been engraved with his initials which would make the gift even more personal.

Does the man in your life have a hobby that he is passionate about? Why not get him a book, a tool, or some items off of his wish list to support that hobby. Make these gifts more personal with a note that tells them that you are proud of them and give him a free pass to watch the children so he can go and pursue his hobby for the day... with no flack from you. Men value their alone time just as much as women so give him permission to go hit a few of those golf balls that are wrapped under the tree and enjoy some of your own quality time alone with the kids.

Give the Gift of Memories- Do you know something about the man in your life that you could use as a creative gift? Think of their favorite book as a child or think of a gift that he said he always wanted, but never got when he was young. Try and find those items on eBay and write a personal message to them about how you always remembered that this was special to them. You don't have to pay to get a first-edition of the item, remember that the thought is there and he will appreciate that you remembered that about him.

Another way to capture those memories is by finding an old picture that would have significant memories for him and have it printed up through a photo place and frame it for his desk at work. Maybe it is a picture of you with your father? Maybe it is a picture of you and your spouse on your honeymoon? Maybe it is a picture of your grandfather with his grandkids? Frame it and give it to them as a way of remembering all of those wonderful memories.

Whatever you do, just remember to make the gift as personal as you can. Wrap your gift creatively and tuck in a letter of what that person means to you. Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated and nothing says appreciation like a little time invested into a personal gift. Don't just give him the supplies to wash the car, give him a coupon that says it is good for one car wash done by you. Don't just give him a magazine subscription. Buy one magazine to wrap that says that it is good for the subscription and then tag the magazine with sticky notes with funny notes from yourself. Don't give him a generic coffee mug, have the children create one with you and fill it with his favorite snack. Make it as personal as possible and your gift will say a lot more than any expensive gift that is wrapped under the tree.

I hope these ideas have helped since this was a topic our readers really wanted to see!

Please share-what do you like to give to the men in your life? Have you done any of these ideas from this list?

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Me On You Tube: Save Money With a Baking Day



Emily & I decided to have a chat with you in our pajamas while preparing for our day of baking. Setting aside one day out of the week to work on baking and the prep work for mealtime can be really beneficial towards staying on track with your budget. You can read more of my tips for a successful baking day and I hope you will be able to watch the video for more ideas to help make your baking day go really smoothly.

Sound Off: What steps do you do to make your cooking go smoothly for the week?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Play it Again, Momma: Pumpkin Spice Lattes

With the Pumpkin Spice Latte season upon me, I thought it would be great to bring this little entry back for your viewing pleasure! After all, I can't be the only one with a Pumpkin Spice Latte addiction!

My absolute favorite drink at Starbucks is their Pumpkin Spice Latte. Each year, I look forward to them adding this onto their menu and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, my wallet can’t handle the frequent trips to get coffee so I have had to get creative this year.

My girlfriend, Christina, had this amazing little gadget called the Cocomotion. If you haven’t seen one of these, check it out and put it on your Christmas list. I decided to go with the Back to Basics Cocoa-Latte Maker (similar, but it has a dispenser to dispense the drink) and I have yet to be disappointed with it. It is so nice because it stirs and heats everything up, just like a blender. When it is hot, it will stop stirring and you can hit the Dispense button. As it comes out, it will come out with a beautiful froth on top, just like the coffee shops. I think the best part about it is no cocoa or coffee goes to waste. I hate when you get the bottom of your glass and there is all this cocoa that fell to the bottom and didn’t get mixed properly. With this machine, you don’t have that problem.

We have had our little cocoa machine humming every single night. As soon as I flip it on, it is like I have Pavlov’s dog in our house. Everyone runs up the stairs to wait impatiently for the cocoa to be ready.

Well, my handy little gadget makes the absolute BEST Pumpkin Spice Lattes and after trying several combinations, I finally have a recipe that I am happy with. This recipe will make two large lattes and I hope you can enjoy it as much as we have.

To save on cost, store your morning’s coffee in the fridge to be used for the lattes. You can also save on the cost of these by making a batch of powdered milk for your drinks.

If you want to splurge a bit, make sure to have whipped cream on hand to top with a dusting of cinnamon.

Let me know if you get a chance to try this recipe! Adjustments can be made according to your own taste! This is the perfect post-Thanksgiving Day treat!

Amy’s Version of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups milk
1 cup very strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons sugar (or one packet of Splenda)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)
2 heaping spoonfuls of pumpkin

Pour all of the ingredients into a pot and heat over medium-high heat until the coffee is steaming hot. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream & cinnamon. Enjoy!

If you are interested in purchasing a Cocoa-Latte Machine, check out Ebates and order from there. They have the Cocoa-Latte Machine (just go under Search in the left hand corner) for $30 with four percent cash back through the Ebates program.

Not an Ebates member? You can sign up today. You get five bucks in your account and so do I for referring you. It is THE place to Christmas shop! Please be sure the use the link provided so that we get credit for our referral & thank you so much! (Originally Aired: November 13, 2006)

(Photo Source:Dalboz17)

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How to Live More Simply & Why It is Important

I feel so thrilled to be sharing another amazing article from another amazing blogger. The Frugal Dad has been a source of inspiration to me and I am constantly in awe at all of his great advice. I could go on and on about him, but I think you should head to his site for yourself! He is a great resource for anyone who is trying to live a more frugal & simple life. This guest post was generously shared by Jason, a.k.a. "Frugal Dad." and we both felt it would be a wonderful addition to my site! When Jason isn't busy being a husband and father of two kids, he writes about frugal family finance topics at his blog, FrugalDad.com.

These days there are a lot of arguments being waged on the benefits of paying down debt, buying used cars, paying off mortgages early, and building savings. All of these are noble financial goals, and generally receive positive reinforcement from financial planners in the media. However, there is an element that disagrees with this logic, and they are quick to point out where the mathematics don't support these life-simplifying steps. This post is aimed primarily at that audience, and for the rest of you, perhaps it will provide some comfort when dealing with these types.

Excess Material Possessions + Excess Financial Worries = Stress


Since I know how much you "financial nerds" love formulas, I've provided one for you to chew on. I once wrote a post about homeowners paying off their mortgage early, and it was generally well-received. However, I received a number of emails from "financial experts" out there who disagreed with the idea. They were all-too-eager to tell me about the various ways that same money could be earning more in the markets. Maybe so. But their fancy formulas didn't account for the one variable most important to me at this stage in my life--simplicity.

How to Live More Simply


That stress I referred to in the equation above is the result of constant worry over reconciling balances, watching payment schedules, and fretting over the never-ending accumulation of interest, which has a way of cheapening future earnings at a rate faster than inflation. Add to this financial stress the worry of excess things and their storage, protection and maintenance, and you can easily see how too much stuff and too many accounts can lead to an ulcer. So how does one prevent such complication in their lives?

  • Learn to be content. Contentment is a powerful ally of the frugal-minded individual. When we are truly content we have very little that we desire, in terms of material possessions. This contentment keeps us away from stores, catalogs and advertisements.



  • Stop trying to impress other people. Millions of dollars are wasted each year by those trying to play up to the ideals of others. Those who incorrectly believe that material possessions are a symbol of true wealth are on a never-ending quest for something bigger and better, and more expensive. They constantly upgrade their cars, homes, jewelry and clothing in an effort to impress strangers at a red light, many whom they will never meet again, and are likely trying equally hard to impress them.



  • Rid yourself of things acquired merely for status. So you've made a decision to live more simply, but what about that Jaguar in the driveway and the "his and hers" Rolex in your sock drawer that are contradicting your new way of life? Get rid of them. I don't care how you do it. Sell them, give them away as gifts, or donate them to a charity. Just get rid of them. You will be amazed how freeing the experience can be. While I've never had a Jag or Rolex to give away, I've eliminated some "extras" from my own life and feel much better for it.



  • Consolidate your lifestyle. Do you have six Roth IRA accounts with five different brokerages? Are your insurance policies scattered around three or four different carriers? While there is some benefit in diversification, by going overboard you are adding stress to your life just from the effort required to manage all the various accounts and policies. Consolidate a couple of those accounts, and move your insurance policies to the same provider (assuming you have researched the provider and are confident in their stability). As an added benefit you may find discounts waiting for having multiple policies with the same carrier.



  • Recognize the difference in stockpiling and hoarding. It is prudent to stockpile necessities, particularly when you find a good deal, or receive a discount when buying bulk quantities. However, too much of a good thing becomes problematic when you have to spend time, money and energy just to store the items. After I returned home from school to live with my grandfather we stored a bunch of our stuff for $50-$60 per month in a storage unit. After several months went by it occurred to us that we had not used anything from the storage facility. We saved $600 a year by simply getting rid of the stuff. One less bill and a lot less worry!


Excess Material Possessions - Ego = Simplicity


Much has been written about wars with our own egos--I know I've lost my share of battles. But when I stop and think about the real reason why I want something I often find that I am simply feeding my own ego. I want others to know that I am successful. I don't want others to think I am struggling. I fall into the "I work hard, so I deserve it" line of thinking that is a recipe for financial disaster. However, once you are aware of this condition you can begin to take steps to resist the urge to give into your egotistical desires. Try to find the same joy that you once found in things in other areas of your life. Learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and is freely available to anyone willing to look. Go for a walk in the woods, or a barefoot walk in your own backyard. Read a great book. Spend time playing with your children. Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in. Seek out some of life's many other simple pleasures. All of these things will fill your life in ways things used to, and they can all be done for next to nothing.

A challenge: Find one thing you've been holding on to because it is a status symbol, or a luxury item that you don't really need. Give it away to a loved one, or a complete stranger, and enjoy the freedom of a simpler life.

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes

I decided to hit the thrift store this Saturday in search of a china cabinet or unit where I could rest my laptop for our kitchen. I have been hunting for awhile, but just haven't seen anything with the good bones that I was looking for. I walked around for awhile before I saw IT. You know? The one! The one that I have been hunting for ages looking for? Well, I basically threw my body upon an old eighties cabinet and requested the crew help me load it in my vehicle. The cost was only $99 and the units that I had been looking at in the stores were a minimum of $250 and upwards of $600. This piece looked like it was going to be perfect and I headed over to the hardware store and got all of the supplies to tackle this project.

I was inspired by Meredith's recent post about a project that was done on Notes from a Cottage Industry. This blogger had painted her unit black and had gotten hers for a mere fifty bucks and made it look like a million.

This was my first attempt at refinishing a piece of furniture and I was pretty nervous at first, but my tentative paint strokes turned to fast swipes as I became more confident with what I was doing.

This particular piece was a knotty oak wood and had worn brass handles on it. We prefer a more contemporary look with clean lines and a silver finish to our pieces so that is what I wanted to achieve when I refinished this piece.


I decided to leave the piece with the knots in the wood, opting to skip the spackling step altogether, and purchased a primer tinted grey to give us a good start on the piece.

I sprayed the unit with a liquid degreaser to get all of the grime and muck of off the wood. Next I primed it with primer and allowed that to dry for a couple of hours. The next step was to put on the black paint and then another coat. Then another coat. Finally, another coat was applied before I could do the final touch-ups to the wood.

The hardware was the type that had been dropped into the a cut-out in the wood of the piece so there was no way that I could replace it. The worn dingy handles received a face-lift with a coat of stainless steel spray paint that was made especially for metal. Fifteen minutes to dry and only four dollars to redo all of the hardware. We are going to be spraying some other ugly brass fixtures around our house that need a little TLC, rather than purchasing new pieces which would cost us a lot more.

I started the project at six o'clock in the evening and painted until 2:30 in the morning. I collapsed in bed and then picked it back up at nine and had it fully assembled with my dishes and cookbooks on it by six the next evening.

It was a bear of a project, but I can't stop glowing or patting myself on the back for what I accomplished in a single day. The unit is absolutely enormous and I did all of this by myself with the only help from my husband being the help with moving and reassembling it.

The finished product reminds of something you would get at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware and I doubt that it would be only $99!

The history of the piece was as interesting as the furniture was itself. A quick discussion with one of the employees seemed to indicate that it was repossessed. After pulling it all apart we found a very mysterious hole that at been cut out of the bottom. A hole that would have no purpose except to hide something. Weed, perhaps? Who knows!

What has been your biggest accomplishment that you have done in or around your house? Have you ever attempted to refurbish a thrift store or yard sale piece? Any blunders refurnishing anything?

* Originally aired April 2, 2007*


Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Our Kitchen Makeover

When we moved into our house, one of the big things that attracted us to it was the size of our kitchen. Now that we have lived in our house for four years, I don't think my kitchen is as big as I would like, but it seemed enormous when our last house had only a galley kitchen. Isn't that funny how accustomed we can become to more space?

The thing that I was not fond of about the kitchen was the dated look of it and the lack of storage and cupboards. The walls were white, the floors a really light pine color, and the cabinets were oak with no hardware. We didn't have enough cabinet space, the appliances all needed to be updated, and the kitchen lacked the style I wanted. If this was a reflection of the "heart of our home," it was certainly missing something. The owner before us had completely renovated the kitchen, but it wasn't our style and wasn't cohesive or finished the way we would have liked.

Our kitchen makeover has been a gradual process and we are still working on the details of it, but it has come a long way from the dated eighties look. We would replace things as they went out and updates would come when we had a little extra money. I did want to show where we are at now, with the updating process, and to share how we have renovated our kitchen on a budget.

I wish I would have taken more before pictures of the kitchen, but I hope my descriptions will help.
These are the pictures of our cabinets before the makeover. Nice, but not much to write home about. We had received a $50 Lowes gift card for Christmas (thanks, mom & dad!) so we thought we would put the money to good use. I used the steps provided in this tutorial to paint our cabinets. This meant no messy sanding and so it helped to save a step and saved me a lot of cleaning too!
We took all of the doors off and gave them a really good cleaning with a liquid degreaser that I had purchased from the hardware store. Once cleaned, we applied two layers of primer to each side of the doors and to the outside of the cabinets themselves. We allowed the primer to dry one day and then we began painting them the next day. The color that we chose was a Martha Stewart "Wainscot White." It wasn't a true white, but was definitely not a cream either.

The hardware for the cabinets was purchased from Target. They have ten packs of knobs that very closely resemble the stuff at Restoration Hardware, but they only cost $14.99 for ten versus $5-10 each. The drawer pulls were $4.99 each (also purchased from Target) and they all were in oil rubbed bronze.

These are the cabinets after. What a difference a weekend can make! The cupboards are so beautiful and have brightened the kitchen up so much. Not only that, but the whole space feels so much larger because of the white cabinets. The walls were also painted a pretty gray blue to bring the more up-to-date feel to our space. We left our counters the same, but hope to one day replace them with a more high-end material (or at least make them look more high end).

We replaced our dishwasher with a new GE dishwasher that we purchased from Sears. It is the stainless steel look instead of the real stainless steel, so little hands can smudge away without mommy having to clean the surface as often. We actually won the dishwasher in an advertising contest that was sponsored by Sears. Technically, all of you AWESOME people helped us earn the dishwasher so we thank you for that. This one is so much prettier than the other one and better yet...it works! What a novel idea!
Next to my stove are hooks for my aprons. This was a great way to add some "art" to the walls without making an investment. $3.99 to display a few of my favorite things in the world.

We updated our stove with this fancy stainless steel number. It has everything I could ever want for this space and, while not free, I was able to get a killer deal on it. The stove was marked for $1K and I was able to get them to accept $500. Always pick those floor models, I say, and point out any and every flaw you can...even the stupid stuff. That is how we were able to score this stove.

The range hood was free and part of our Sears shopping spree that we won. Our refrigerator is the last of the white appliances to make an exit, but we are watching Craigslist to see if we can score a good deal on that.
Since cabinet storage was an issue, I was able to find an old ugly eighties desk with a hutch from a thrift store to remedy the problem. I did my makeover work on it and it is now my favorite piece in the house. This was cheaper than buying new cabinets and I just love how it is open for guests to grab their own dishes. The white dishes really make me happy and make me feel like a little Martha when I am entertaining! These dishes were priced at $14.99 for a service for six, including all of the serving dishes! They aren't the best quality, but I love the clean lines and design on them.

I also have my new china from my mother-in-law that looks so elegant on our tables. She recently brought this over to add to my dishes and I was so thrilled.

While it can make our seating a little more cramped, we did add a narrow table along the back wall to keep our computer. This has our dinner music on it and I can watch the television while I cook. The two plants on either side were purchased from Target, clearance to $14.99 each. The basket on the table, normally brimming over with fruit, is empty since I need to head to the grocery store. The basket was also a clearance item that I purchased from Marshalls along with some of the decor for our walls.
Like this piece that is centered along our back wall! This was a clearance item at Marshalls for $9.99. It got discounted with some of their summer pieces and I thought it would be a perfect focal point in that open spot.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our kitchen!
We could not be more proud of the space we created...on a budget!

*Originally aired on January 2, 2008*

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Find An Inexpensive Hobby

In my basement are bins and bins of beautiful art supplies and oodles of crafty fun. I could spend years making things out of the items that I have already bought…and yet when I go to the craft store, I still feel that familiar tug that I really need more. I love to explore different hobbies and I love to craft. The fact that I am no good at crafting doesn’t seem to stop me and maybe you are in the same boat? Have you ever really thought about the amount of money you are spending on your hobbies? Have you ever thought about how most of the really popular hobbies cost lots of money to accomplish? Do you have oodles of craft supplies and still have an urge to buy more?

Hobbies are great for a number of reasons and I think they are important to be shared in this series. For one, if you have a hobby it can be a wonderful diversion from shopping and spending money. Hobbies can cost money, but you can choose to embrace hobbies and use your talents creating things that don't cost much. Although some people might consider shopping a hobby, it shouldn't be and finding things that fill your life in a positive way can have a positive impact on your wallet.

Not only do hobbies keep you away from shopping, your hobbies can also be turned into profits for your family. If you become good at one of your hobbies, you could potentially earn money with the talents that you have. For example, I love to create hair accessories for my daughter and my friend's love the accessories that I have made for her. I wasn't really intending to go crazy selling them, but my interest in making things for her created a small amount of revenue for me.

I can also use my hobbies to help us save our family money. Instead of buying a wreath for our front door, for example, I can make my own out of things in our home or by buying a small amount of greenery from a craft store. Learning to make things that you would buy can help your finances a lot!

Hobbies also have been proven to help people medically. People who are chronically stressed have poor health, while regular relaxation can promote good health. If I relax and really enjoy something in life, I can prevent things like high blood pressure, digestion problems, ulcers, heart disease, and insomnia. Having a relaxed attitude and enjoying the little things in life lead to better health and fewer doctor visits. Who could argue with that?

Hobbies don’t have to be expensive and many hobbies, in fact, don’t even cost a dime. I found a great book on exploring hobbies called (no less!), “Get a Hobby.” In it are tons of great ideas for hobbies that cost little to nothing and can keep you busy for months on end.

Here are some hobbies that you can pursue that shouldn’t cost you a lot of money and will help to keep you out of those craft stores:

Genealogy- Much of your research can come from things that you already have or from items in your relative’s possessions. Try to gather as much information as you can from your family members (names, birthdates, marriages, deaths, significant life events, etc…) and explore this information first. Next, look through old cookbooks, photo albums, newspaper clippings, resumes, scrapbooks, and yearbooks for more family information. You can then begin looking to websites like Genealogy.com or the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Utilize this information to make a family tree.

Tina Barseghian, the author of “Get a Hobby” also suggests creating a living history interview with people in your family. Record them on camera or with a tape recorder and ask them questions about the family and about themselves. (Note: I am going to be exploring this more through another avenue of recording your life history and I can’t wait to share it with you all!)

Journaling & Blogging- To be honest, I have never really thought of my blog as a hobby, but I guess this would be one of the best hobbies I have ever taken on! Blogging and journaling are wonderful ways to preserve memories, to share your life story, or to talk about things you are passionate about.

After I went to a viewing of "The Secret" I began keeping a gratitude journal. For me, this has helped to remind me of all that I have and I also try to do this when I feel the impulse to shop. This has been very therapeutic for me and I feel like it has had a positive affect on my attitude too.

I try to keep all different types of journals that I look forward to sharing with my children. We have a journal of all the funny things that they have said, a Christmas journal, my gratitude journal, and then I do my blogging about things that we do around the house.

You can find beautiful journals at the dollar stores and for one dollar you can begin focusing on all of the wonderful things you have in life.

You can start a free blog through Blogger, My Space, or LiveJournal (just to name a few!)

These are just two examples of great hobbies that you could start today. There are tons others like gardening, cooking, sewing needlework, rubber stamping, decoupaging, or calligraphy.

If you need crafty inspiration, visit the Martha Stewart site and behold her crafting glory! I love to just hunt through the archives and see cool ideas that I can do in my house, that don't require a lot of money.

I also spend lots of time at our local library hunting through books on crafts that I would like to explore. Many times just reading about the crafts gives me a feel for whether or not I would like to try something, without making the time or money investment into the craft itself.

If you want to learn how to tackle new hobbies, check the big hardware stores (Home Depot or Lowes) for free classes that they offer. Many craft stores also offer free or very inexpensive classes, where you can try a hobby out.

Just remember when going into a hobby, that you really want a hobby that will not require a huge financial investment. If it will require an investment, tell family and friends what items you will need to accomplish the hobby or ask for a gift card to the store to buy the items. One year, I used my gift card to take a cake decorating course at our craft store. The time invested has helped me greatly and saved us lots of money on birthday cakes.

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: What are your favorite hobbies? How do you save money when it comes to buying the supplies needed to do these?

*This entry originally aired on August 22, 2007*

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Eat Your Heart Out Martha: Bubbly Magnets

Today I wanted to share a little holiday craft that I have been working on. I have been making some bubbly magnets to go in stockings and as small gifts for those special people in our life.

Remember, I am no Martha Stewart, so any craft that I share is something that a child can do. I am trying to share some little ideas for things that you can make to give for the holidays. Last week I shared my homemade spiced nut mixture and this week I am sharing my magnet craft. Crafting can be expensive, but this craft is affordable and highly addictive!

Supplies Needed:

Flat marbles (These can be purchased at the dollar store or in the floral section of your local craft store)

1/2" or 3/4" Round magnets (These are the most expensive purchase. I believe they are $6.99 for 50 magnets, but you can use the Michael's 40% off coupon in your paper towards this tab)

Modge Podge Adhesive Glue

A small paintbrush

Hot glue gun and glue sticks

Scissors

Pictures for your magnets (you can use photographs, wrapping paper, magazine pictures, scrapbooking paper- anything with a fun design)

Instructions:


Take your marbles and center it over your desired design, just to make sure it will fit perfectly under your marble. Dip your brush into the Mod Podge glue and brush the glue onto your design. Center your marble over the design and stick it to the pattern. Allow the glue to dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you are doing more than one magnet, on the same sheet, repeat the process on the paper or move on to your next sheet of paper.

Once your glue has dried, cut around the marbles, as close to the edges as possible. Now take your glue gun and dab a bit of glue on the magnet and attach your marble over the magnet piece. Allow these to dry completely.

Ta-Da! Cute new magnets for your fridge!

* This post originally aired on October 15, 2007*

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Eat Your Heart Out Martha (Or How to Make a Diaper Cake)

Welcome to a Play It Again, Momma week! This week we will be highlighting some of our favorite entries and today's entries will be all about crafting. What could be better than that? I hope you will enjoy these and remember, if I can craft it, your kid can craft it!

If you can believe it, I have been sitting on this blog entry for a year now. I only know this because the cakes that I have pictured were for my nephew and my best friend's son and they are both celebrating their first birthday!

Even though I haven't shared about this, my heart swells a little because I was so proud to carry such a pretty gift into the hospital. I felt even more proud when the nurses stopped me and asked me where I bought it. It was one of my proudest Martha moments because I am not very crafty, but I try oh-so-hard to have those impressive moments in my life.

Making a diaper cake is so easy and the results are extremely impressive! I had seen many companies advertising these on their websites, but they were charging fifty dollars (or more!) for these cakes. I ran a search and ran across this great picture tutorial on how to do it, and decided that it was definitely something I could do with just a couple of small purchases.

For my diaper cakes, I needed to establish a base for them so that I could transport them easily. I found a box in our garage and cut a square of cardboard out of it to rest the cake on. I then covered the cardboard with pretty wrapping paper in blues & pinks.

Next I followed the instructions for making the first diaper layer and used a stretchy headband that I had to bring the base diapers all together, making the first layer of the cake. It had suggested using a rubber band, but I didn't have any that would secure that many diapers together. I then wrapped pretty ribbon around it and tied them together with that, securing them together with white tipped pins, which made it look like part of the ribbon itself. With the next two layers, I was able to use a rubber band to put them together, and then covered the rubber band with the ribbon.

Once you have all of your layers, you can stack them and stick a dowel rod in the center, or anything that is long and will help them stay jointed together.

I went to Target and found little man blazers that would be perfect to go with the cake. I pinned these to the back and stuck a little stamped card in the pocket that said, "Congratulations!"

Next I went to the dollar store to buy some shrink wrap and two sets of wooden blocks (over by the baby supplies). I spelled out BOY on each of them and saved the rest of the blocks for our daughter to play with.

Shrink wrapping is very easy! Take the bag and pull it over your item and hold it at the top. Turn your blow dryer on and blast it until the wrapping shrinks tightly to fit your item. Use the bow that is supplied, or tie off with a bow of your own!

Diaper cakes can have small items tucked in the center of them from the mom's registry or you can go with a themed cake. Remember, the more items you add, the more you add to your cost. If you are trying to keep the cost down, keep it simple.

Here are a few theme ideas:

Bath time Cake- add a baby towel, tuck washcloths in the center and put a Rubber Ducky on top. You can also add small bath toys or bubble bath.

Elegant Cake- Make your diaper cake look like a wedding cake, and surround it with fresh or silk flowers. People will hardly believe their eyes when they see it.

Beach time Cake- This would be for a little later in the baby's life, but you can fill it up with beachy items. Some suggestions are a shovel, pail, baby sunglasses, a hat and some sunblock.

Night-Night Baby- Include a copy of, "Goodnight, Moon" with this cake. Add a little sleeper set, some calming nighttime lotion, and a compact disc of sweet baby lullabies.

The cost for each of these was:

Diapers- Free! they were given to us as a gift and Emily wore cloth so we never used them!
Diaper Cake Base- Free- made out of an old cardboard box we had!
Ribbon- $1.98
Little Man Blazer- Clearanced out for $2.98 at Target! Gotta love those clearance items!
Shrink Wrap & Baby Blocks- $2

Total Cost= $6.96

Sound Off: Would you guys like to see more, "Eat Your Heart Out, Martha!" moments on here? I have one a year, but I am happy to share the few I do have! I hope this gives you another thrifty gift alternative!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Me On You Tube: Choosing a Coffee Maker

One of our most popular articles on our site is the Frugal Mom's Guide to Coffee so I thought it would be great to do a segment on coffee as a You Tube clip. This segment breaks down the cost comparison between a drip coffee maker and a pod brew system. I tried to share some of the features that I love on my coffee maker and how to care for your coffee maker so you always have a fresh cup.

If you are in the market for a new coffee maker, I did find the best price on my Cuisinart Brew Central Coffee Maker at Sam's Club. My local price is listed as $54.86. In the departments stores I have seen this model range between $80-129, but if you know of anywhere else that carries it cheaper, please leave a comment!

I got the opportunity to plug my experience with my coffee maker for an article in Woman's World Magazine. The article is set to hit the newsstands on August 18th with a cover date of August 25th. They found me when looking for a frugal mom who was a self-confessed coffee fanatic and I guess they thought I fit that bill perfectly!

As I had discussed before, I will be working with Wal-Mart to provide content for a new You Tube channel. I wanted to include a list of the participants because they are all so great and I am excited to see what each of them comes up with! I look forward to working with each of them and please check their sites out for more money-saving tips!

GeekMommy's WebLife
The Domestic Diva
Jessica Knows
Classy Mommy
Being Frugal
Deal Seeking Mom
Frugal Upstate
Keeping the Kingdom First
Coupon Cravings
The "Cent"sible Sawyer

How many coffee drinkers are in your family and what coffee maker works well for you?



Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Me on You Tube: Getting To Know Your Dishwasher

I have to say that I am QUITE nervous about all of this, but wanted to share with you the latest project that I am working on. Wal-Mart is partnering with You Tube and will be offering a new feature on their site, sharing video footage of how moms save money. They did some research and picked a handful of bloggers to help them kick this new feature off and sent us Flip Video cameras to document ways that we have found to save our family money.

I am very excited to be included and will be sharing more ways that moms can save through this feature. I do want to be honest with you and let you know that I am not being paid by their company at all and that I am under no obligation to promote Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart products, or am asked to say anything in my segments. The payoff for me will hopefully be getting our website name out there to other people and to have the opportunity to make our community here larger and stronger. It also is a great way to build stronger relationships with the other participants and collaborate together on projects.

Working in this format is new for me so please be patient. I tried to do a fun intro and I am looking forward to your feedback. What would you like me to cover? Is there something you would like to see in my house or in my kitchen? Please let me know and I will try to include the things that will appeal to you guys!

I really appreciate all your support and feel very blessed to have such great readers!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sponge Ball Bullseye

My once-a-year Martha Moment is here! These sponge balls are courtesy of Martha Stewart Kids Magazine (and a double inspiration from Betz White who was featured in one of my notebook entries).

I hit the Dollar Tree and got two packages of sponges to make our creations. I followed the instructions and cut two sponges into fours and then stacked the two sponges on top of one another with alternating colors. If you buy two packages, you will have enough alternating colors to make six sponges with different colors in each. Then, simply tie the sponges off with a long piece of floss and knot it a few times to keep it in place.


Here is my plastic ice bucket filled with these sponges. The colors are so beautiful that I wanted to spend an afternoon photographing this pail of sponges. Do we stop there and let the kids play with them like this though? NO!

You could say that I am even more inventive than Martha this time! Now take an old drop cloth or sheet and use painter's tape, a permanent marker, or paint to make your bullseye. Squares are much easier with the painter's tape so we have a nice square bullseye for the kids.

Now hang your game up on the clothesline (or wherever else you can find). We weighed the bottom of the sheet down with clothespins. This sheet is also folded in half to give it a little more weight. Of course, when the wind starts blowing, give the kids extra points if they can still hit it.

Not challenging enough? Have one of your kids stand in front and block it.

For some reason, that was one roadblock too many for this toddler.

You can also grab two at a time or a whole handful of them. Make it more challenging by backing the kids up further from the mark. Our point system was 10, 20, and 30 points depending on the size of the square they hit. (PS- I promise I feed my children, they just have extremely high metabolism)

An afternoon of water fun cost us $2 in sponges, but this is a game that I hope we can play many more times together.

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ain't No Party Like a LEGO Party

What a busy holiday weekend this was for us! We celebrated Ethan's sixth birthday with his dream party- a LEGO birthday party. I must say that I tried to put a lot of effort into this one and he was the happiest little boy I had ever seen!

What's a LEGO party without a LEGO cake though? I had bookmarked a recipe in my notebook entry for a LEGO cake, but we were entertaining a lot of people and the cake would not cover the amount of people that I needed it to. I also did not want to try and cut and make shapes out of a sheet cake. I opted to prepare two cake mixes in loaf pans to create this cake. One cake mix per loaf pan, cooked as directed, but cooked for at least an hour (mine took approximately one hour and ten minutes to cook these cakes at the same time). I then froze the cake overnight which helped keep the crumbs at bay and made it easier to decorate. I did use the marshmallows, but opted for blue and yellow for colors. This cake was extremely difficult to frost around and on top of the marshmallows, but I think the results turned out great, even though it was not as smooth as I had aimed for. The cost to make these two cakes was $5.50.

We had the party outside so I kept the decorating simple. I made pinwheels out of my scrapbook paper. To make these, just fold your paper accordion-style. Then fold your accordion in half and fan these out. You can then staple these to one another (along the back side) to make your pinwheel. Each of these pinwheels had three pieces of paper on them each. You just want to make sure that the paper is very sturdy so it will hold the shape. I gave them a hole with a hole punch and then tied them on the underside of the umbrella with green raffia. They looked really lovely under the patio umbrella.

For the indoor food table, I did a big basket of LEGOS and I framed a letter that I wrote to Ethan about how special he was to us. This is the first year I have done this, and we read this to him as a bedtime story before bed the night before. He loved hearing about how much we loved him and how proud we were of him. The grandparents loved reading it too and seeing what cool things happened this year. Total spent on decorations and party supplies- $0

I did serve food at the party and opted for some take-and-bake pizzas to help save me some time. Our Papa Murphy's is just down the road and I signed up for their e-club so that I could get a new batch of coupons. We printed these out and used these on four family size pizzas. Total cost for pizza for twenty $34 (with plenty of leftovers). We also served some fresh melon, spinach dip with carrot sticks, & tortilla chips with salsa, and soda. Overall, I spent about $50 on food (which includes the cost of the cake), but we also have a couple of dinners and plenty of snacks leftover to eat!

Entertainment consisted of dragging out every outdoor game and toy we could imagine to keep the kiddos busy. The kids also spent lots of time coloring on free LEGO coloring pages that I printed up from the LEGO website. They could take these pages home with them to color too so that filled in for those goody bags. Total cost spent on entertainment and goody bags- $0


All of that effort for this perfect moment right here. Ethan wished for a hundred kisses from his mom & dad. I think we can do that! How I wish he was always this innocent and that I could freeze this perfect moment forever. Perfect moment...oh, you know it... PRICELESS!

Total Amount Spent on LEGO Party for Twenty: $50

Labels: , , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cracking the McDonald's Coffee Code

Wow, my Boo to McDonald's post certainly received a lot of responses and I loved hearing how you all make your iced coffees. It gave me so many great ideas and so I decided to approach this in my traditional test kitchen fashion and try to crack the code. For all my hard work, I finally got a vanilla coffee I love and a lot of belly aches, constant shakes, and a little bit of time in the bathroom... BUT it was totally worth it!

Are you ready?

Here is my magical formula that gave me the best vanilla coffee without the chemical nastiness that McDonald's was giving me.

First up, I made my own coffee syrup. I used the coffee syrup recipe that I highlighted in my Get Your Java Fix from Slashfood. I used the recipe that they list for the Vanilla Bean, but substituted the bean with two tablespoons of vanilla extract. The two tablespoons number came from Ashley, a friendly McDonald's employee, who shared her secret for making the coffees at home. I stored the syrup in a mason jar and am keeping it in the fridge.

To make the coffee, I fill the cup with ice. Next fill your cup halfway with coffee (I used my Folger's Gourmet Vanilla Biscotti) and then almost halfway with milk. Top the coffee with two tablespoons of your homemade vanilla coffee syrup and then a splash of fat-free vanilla creamer (inexpensively purchased at Aldi or make your own).

With this combination, I did not need to add any extra sugar and it is just as sweet as McDonald's and just as tasty too! The splash of vanilla creamer gave it a richer taste, but the skim milk and fat-free creamer gave me a better calorie combination.

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finding Beauty in the Ordinary

When we moved into our house, one of the things that I really wanted to change about our house was the landscaping. There were, however, many more pressing concerns though that required our funds and attention- a leaking roof, a monstrosity of an air-conditioner, cosmetic updating that made the space more livable. All of these repairs have trumped the landscaping funds for now and we have been doing things little by little in our yard.

One of the things I have disliked the most though has been one of our side beds. It is filled to the brim with giant ferns. The ferns are enormous and I have to mow through them to cut the grass. I don't find them all that attractive and they keep popping up in my other beds. Each year I have vowed that I am going to rip them out, but my efforts usually end up on other things and I forget about it...until the ferns pop up the next year.

When we had the original owner out to our house last summer, she commented how pleased she was to see those ferns there. They came from her father's lake cottage and she brought some back each time she went. Her eyes were misty as she told me how happy she was to see each of those ferns there and she shared with me her happy memories of planting them and the summers with her dad. I began to see the ferns in a different light than I had before. To her, they were a thing of beauty and held wonderful memories of her family's summers.

Last night I brought bunches of them in and started putting them in recycled single-size coffee jugs. They looked so pretty all fanned out that I started putting them in each room, adding a touch of green here and there. I marveled at how beautiful they were and how they added that little bit of life I needed to my living space.

Frugality is a lot like that though, isn't it? Sometimes it takes seeing all that you have through another pair of eyes to appreciate all of the bounty you already possess. My yard was filled to the brim with vases of green and all I had to do was pick it from my own backyard. Yet, each year I grumbled about mowing around them, shaking my fist as more ferns popped up.

Sometimes it just takes someone else pointing out the beauty for you to appreciate the ordinary.

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Fast Father's Day Gift


Both of the dads in my life have birthdays around the same time as Father's Day so I ended up doing a combination gift this year to show how much we appreciate them.

Tucked in with a stack of my special music (made just for dad), I included a card for each of them. I used some of our tickets from our giant ticket roll and decorated the outside of the card with them. Inside is a gift certificate for Netflix for two months.

I used the same gift as a graduation gift for a family member so this would make an excellent gift for a college graduate too!

This gift can be as affordable or as expensive as you would want to make it. They offer so many different types of plans and you can pick the plan that fits your budget best. I would love a summer of free movies so I hope they will enjoy this as much as I would!

Happy Father's Day, Dads!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fast Father's Day Gift!

Did you wait until the last minute on getting your dad/husband a gift? Don't worry! I have a fast solution that is fun and cheap!

First, pick out some pictures that you truly love of your children and plop them somewhere on your computer where you will be able to find them (Flickr users can link directly through their account to their pictures)

Now that you have your pictures, it is time to get creative with them. Go to Big Huge Labs and choose the CD Cover link (or you can just click directly through here).



This is where I got a little confused so I will try and make it easier by explaining what I did. After you have uploaded your photo and typed in your message, it will take a few seconds and then produce the image. That image is not the size you need, but don't worry! Right click the image and COPY the image. Now open a blank Word document and right click to PASTE the image.

Next, you will need to resize your image. Right click your image again and click SIZE. Change the width on the image to 8.2" and hit enter.

When you see your image, it might look like it doesn't fit- don't worry! It is the perfect size for your compact disc. Print it out (either in black and white or in color) and then cut it out, being careful to cut off those dotted lines so it makes it nice and clean looking. Fold the side flaps, bottom flap, and then the top flap.

You will, of course, need to slip some rocking music in for your dad, but that will be the fun part! I am trying to introduce my dads to some new music, while still staying within their genres and tastes. I find it a challenge to introduce people to music that they haven't heard of before, and it makes me so happy when I can discover a new favorite for someone.


I am giving the dad's in our life a fun mix of my music and some homemade cookies! Not only is it frugal, but I hope it is a thoughtful gift too!
Happy Father's Day, Dads!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another Season of Gift Giving

It seems that the summer is our crazy season for gift-giving. Between high school graduations, weddings, new babies, and the regular birthdays, we can spend a lot of money on our gifts.

I am sure I am not alone so I wanted to share some links to frugal ideas for buying and wrapping your gifts this year!

Gift Giving:

Elegant Photo Albums- Would make an excellent Mother's Day gift!
Bubbly Magnets- A great addition to a college student's gift or Mother's Day gift!
Sugar & Spice Nuts- Would make a fabulous Father's Day gift
A His & Hers Gift to Remember
Frugal Wedding Gifts
Housewarming Gift Ideas
How to Make a Diaper Cake
Thrifty Graduation Gifts
Frugal Graduation Gifts
Painted Mugs- Great for Mother's Day, Father's Day, or for a special babysitter who might be off to college
Restaurant.com Gift Certificates- Great for any occasion
Give the Gift of Magazines Frugally
Starbucks Banana Pound Cake- Paired with a pound of coffee, it would make a lovely gift for Father's Day


Gift Wraping:

Gift Wrapping Made Easy
Be a Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have
Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift
Be a Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift
Simplifying Gift Giving
Introducing You to the Gift Closet

Sound Off:
Do you have a favorite baby, housewarming, wedding, or graduation gift that is always a hit?

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cute Jewelry Holder & Jewelry Cleaner Recipes

I like to keep a little dish by my sink to put my jewelry in while I am doing the dishes. I also love to thrift shop so I put my love for thrift and my little dish together and came up with this cute little idea.

I use a thrifted candle holder to put my jewels in. They look so pretty and, if the edge has a nice lip on it, it is a safe way to keep your jewels out of harms way. It also makes your jewelry a pretty display while you are scrubbing your little heart out and cursing your family for not helping you... or praying- whatever you happen to do while washing the dishes.

And, if you so choose, you could also be cleaning your jewelry while scrubbing your heart (as you curse your family or pray).

Here are two handy little recipes to keep tucked away for that special day!

Homemade Silver Jewelry Cleaner:

In a bowl, place strips of aluminum foil in and place your silver jewelry on top of them. Cover the silver with boiling water and then add three tablespoons of baking soda and soak for ten minutes. Mix remaining hot water and a drop of liquid soap into another glass bowl. Place your silver in the soapy water and wash. Rinse with clean water and polish dry your pieces with a soft cotton cloth. Please take care, some solutions that are great for some metals and stones may damage others.

(Side Note- I use this solution for cleaning all my silver jewelry and have never had any problems. This works like a dream!)

Homemade Gold Jewelry Cleaner:

Fill a small bowl with warm water and a drop of liquid dish soap. Allow this to soak for approximately ten minutes. Proceed to brush the pieces with an eyebrow brush (or a similar substation such as a toothbrush) while they are being soaked. Then you should transfer the gold jewelry to a strainer and then proceed to rinsing it off with warm water. Finish by drying with a soft cotton cloth.

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thank You Writers Strike Part III

We are down to basic channels, thanks to the writers strike! I am finding my life to be much fuller since we cut down our television watching. Direct TV had raised our rates again (just another $5 after the numerous $5-8 rate increases) and I just thought to myself, "Now what sensible person would continue taking it from the man?"

Ryan isn't really as on board with this decision, but I suggested all of the great things we could do with our thirty dollar a month savings. We could maybe get a couple of new Wii games, we could have a great date night (and TALK!), we could read the same book and talk about it, we could play board games, we can enjoy taking walks... the possiblities are endless!

I went on the website, I picked the option to change my plan, and then I thought of all the shows we couldn't see and that I would miss.

We will see how it goes, but I am committed to trying!

Sound Off: Do you have cable or satellite television? What type of plan are you on?

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

You Tube How-To: How To Shape Your Eyebrows

This is honestly the best tutorial I have seen on shaping and plucking your eyebrows. I wanted to post this to go along with our discussion yesterday on saving on beauty services. Eyebrow waxing or going to a salon to have your eyebrows shaped can tack on extra money to a strapped budget. This tutorial is a great introduction into learning how to do this yourself and keep that extra money in your pocket (or for your latte!)

I am a visual learner and this really helped me!

Sound Off: Do you shape your own eyebrows or have them professionally done? How much do you pay for this service (if you pay)? Please share!


Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Baby Steps Series: The Art of Stockpiling

I decided that I would begin a series on our site sharing baby steps that you can take towards learning how to save money and I am answering your questions. If you have something that you would like to see featured on here, please drop me an email at amy@momadvice.com or mention it by leaving a comment. This series will run as long as I have questions from all of you and I hope to provide lots of valuable information for ways to begin to save.

Money Saving Mom is offering a similar series, but focusing on creating and sticking to a budget. Read Crystal's first post here and share with her your budgeting challenges.

As requested by our readers, I wanted to begin our series by tackling the topic of stockpiling. I hope that you will find this post helpful and I thank each of you for giving me an opportunity to share in this way. We will be adding these posts to our Money section of our site for future reference!

The Art of Stockpiling

There are many ways to begin tackling the grocery budget and one of the most popular ways is the art of stockpiling items when doing your grocery trips. This method, also known as the “pantry principle” by loyal Tightwad Gazette readers, is a method of shopping that is meant to give you the best bang for your buck.

Let’s begin by discussing the methods that are commonly used when people are trying to save money on their grocery shopping and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The Planner- I feel that this is the first place to start when you begin learning how to save money on your groceries. This is for shoppers who are going from shopping whenever and for whatever they want, to accomplishing a more disciplined form of shopping for only what you need and shopping with a plan. This shopper sits down and menu plans for the amount of meals that they will need and makes a list of the ingredients needed to accomplish their task. The amount of meals planned depends on the amount of times they shop per month and they buy only what they need to accomplish their menu plan goals for the week. This is an excellent place to start and a great way to learn how to buy only what you need and to avoid impulse shopping. Being a planner myself, this method fit our lifestyle for a long time and served its purpose in helping our family save money. Unfortunately, planners focus more on the plan than the sale so this can sometimes be the most expensive option next to shopping without a plan at all. While this shopper has great meal ideas, they buy the ingredients possibly at premium prices and pay more to accomplish their plans then other types of shoppers.

The Flier Shopper- This method of shopping is the next step up and is another great way to save money. This shopper is excited when their weekly fliers and coupons arrive because this determines exactly what they will be eating for the week. Let’s say that chicken is at a bargain-basement price of $1.19 per pound. This shopper will plan a meal around everything they can make with that chicken and out of other ingredients that are featured in the flier. Their meals will consist of items made mostly from sale ingredients and they keep their grocery budget low by planning meals that fit with the sales advertisements and the items that they can get with their coupons. This shopper is still a planner, but their menu plans are created solely around sale ingredients.

The Stockpile Shopper- This way of shopping requires less initial planning and more planning after your food has already been bought. This shopper focuses on stockpiling their pantry with food purchased at the lowest possible price. Grocery shopping then becomes all about keeping your pantry stocked and not about a menu plan really at all. Let’s say that diced tomatoes are marked down to $.29 a can. This shopper would run out and buy twenty cans of diced tomatoes because they know that this is the lowest possible price based on their price book. This shopper has carefully tracked prices and they know that this deal only comes around every three months so they stock up until the next sale, calculated to happen three months later. This shopper looks at all the items that they have bought and figures that they can have a delicious spaghetti sauce, a pizza with a homemade red sauce, and the family’s favorite casserole…that all just happen to use diced tomatoes in their recipe.

Do you want to be a stockpile shopper? Here are some steps for beginning this process:

1. Sit down and make a list of the foods that you eat regularly. If you were formerly a planner, you should have some menu plans that you can take a look at. Write down these ingredients into a notebook and the prices that you normally pay for these items.

2. Cut coupons to go along with your items to gain even more savings to your stockpile. Utilize a free service like CouponMom.com to learn when to use your coupons and to help you find the best deals to apply your coupons towards.

3. Next, begin tracking the ingredients in your sales fliers and begin stockpiling the items when they go on sale. Continue writing and tracking the prices as you go along and when you see a large dip in the pricing, stock up, and up, and up. Stockpile only as much as you can afford in the grocery budget to spend and what you really can eat. The first few weeks will be difficult and you may need to allocate some money to set aside for beginning your stockpile. Understand though that each week will get easier and allow for more breathing room in the budget. As the weeks progress, you will have built up the beginnings of a pantry and will need less and less ingredients, allowing for more room in the budget to stock up on future good deals.

4. Only stockpile what you truly can eat. Even if tuna is marked to a quarter a can, if you spend ten dollars on tuna and no one really likes tuna, you are wasting money and you are wasting space in your pantry. If you find you overbought on items, consider donating them to a food pantry or a shelter so the food is not wasted.

5. If you end up miscalculating how much of an ingredient you will need, you will have to plan your dinner around that missing ingredient. A Stockpile Shopper will refuse to buy spaghetti sauce, for example, unless their store runs that item on a buy-one-get-one free sale. If the shopper runs out of that ingredient, her family won’t eat spaghetti until the next sale or they will find a way to make sauce from other ingredients that have been stockpiled.

6. Some items just can’t be stockpiled like fresh fruits and vegetables. This is where I rely on my Flier Shopper instinct. If bananas are $.19 a pound, I would scoop up ten pounds for my family. I would eat them fresh until they got ripe and then mash the ripe ones for banana breads and muffins. Applying my good shopping instinct, I would pick the sale items and also pick fruits and vegetables that offer longevity over produce that only lasts a few days or could not be used past their duration (like in the bananas example). This is why I tend to gravitate towards carrots, celery, potatoes, bananas, and apples to fill the majority of our fresh fruit and vegetable quota. Once these run out, I would rely on my stockpile of dried fruits, canned fruits, and frozen vegetables to make up the difference until my next trip.

As you can see, stockpiling can really extend your grocery dollars and can be a fun way to approach grocery shopping.

Next week we will be discussing creative ways to store your stockpile! Many of us live in smaller spaces so we have to be more creative with storage.

Sound Off: Which type of shopper do you identify with? Do you stockpile?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WSBT-TV: Saving Money On Your Printing

Each Tuesday on WSBT, I share tips to help save families money. This week I shared tips for saving on printing costs. This segment goes along with a past entry that I had written on ways that we save on printing and on ink.

If you have an idea that you would like to see covered on WSBT, please leave me a comment and let me know. I am always looking for new ideas.

Sound Off: How do you save on printing and ink expenses? Do you return your ink cartridges anywhere or do you refill them yourself? Please share!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's the Little Things

These little dinner trays are one of my favorite things for my kids to eat on. I found these awhile ago at Target and they continue to offer them in array of colors. For some reason, they really start marketing and selling them around the Easter season in pastel colors. I noticed they had them in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog last year for about three times the price.

One of the compartments is perfect for sippy cups or for a big glob of ketchup for dipping. The other compartments are big enough for generous portions of food and deep enough that it makes scooping things like macaroni and peas just a little bit easier. Bonus for the kids...the foods never touch.

A quick rinse and in the dishwasher they go! Cafeteria dining at its best!

*Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great ideas!*

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Leaner Ground Beef for Less

This past month I stocked up on ground beef and chicken at our local market. While the pricing was lower on the chicken prices, the ground beef was still $1.79 per pound for 80% lean. Of course their best ground beef prices had the highest percentage of fat, but I figured that I would just drain the fat and prepare the dishes like usual.

When I did a little research and digging though, I realized that I could cut the percentage in half by simply giving my ground beef a good rinsing. With just a little effort on my part, I could have the same lean beef and pay a lot less for it.

First, if you are new to the idea, I would recommend reading this tutorial provided by Hillbilly Housewife. It explains exactly how to do it and how much fat you are shaving off by giving your beef a rinse.

The best way that I have found to rinse my ground beef is to cook the ground beef and then pull the cooked meat out of the pot and put it into a bowl or on a plate while I drain the fat from the pan. I usually can find an empty can in my recycling that I can pour the fat into and then I rinse out the skillet that I am cooking in. Next, I start running the water on my tap as hot as possible. I rest the colander in the sink and then pour my cooked meat into it. I run the hot water over the meat and give it a good rinsing. Once it has been rinsed, I let it rest in the colander until the water has completely drained. Finally, just pour the ground beef back into your skillet and proceed with your recipe.

Now my question is, if I drain the ground beef am I removing important nutrients from my diet? I happened upon this answer, from the American Cancer Association, that I found very helpful when researching this topic...

"The original fat level in ground meat makes a difference in the amount of fat that can be removed from it. With each reduction from regular ground beef to 20% fat, 15% fat and 10% fat, the content of a three-ounce portion is reduced by 3 grams. The leaner the meat, the smaller the effect that draining and rinsing can have on the meat's fat content. Blotting a burger on paper towels (30 seconds on each side) can generally lower the fat by about 1 or 2 grams, while the fat content of drained crumbled meat (as for chili or pasta sauces) may drop by 4 or more grams. When you rinse crumbled ground beef in a fine strainer or colander, you can further reduce fat content in each three-ounce portion by at least 4 or 5 more grams. While draining and rinsing beef can dramatically affect the amount of fat it contains, studies show that protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12 content is not significantly affected."

I am always looking for ways to keep our grocery budget on track, but I am also constantly looking for ways to keep my family eating healthy. While we generally rely on ground turkey for most of our dishes, there are occasions where I prefer the ground beef. It is good to know that there are ways to reduce the fat content and still have a yummy dish!

Sound Off: Do you rinse your ground beef or do you just pay more for the leaner varieties? What is a reasonable price in your area for ground beef?

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, February 11, 2008

What to Do With Leftover Pitas?

We had pitas leftover from our dinner,but they didn't last long. Most of them got turned into little personal pan pizzas for lunches this week.

I topped them with some of my homemade sauce, a little cheese, and some pepperoni. The kids gobbled them up and ever since we ate these, Emily keeps pointing to the stove and saying, "Pizza? Pizza?"

These might be a fun variation on our pizza nights at home especially since everyone can pick their own favorite toppings!

Sound Off: What do you do with leftover pitas? Do you have a favorite topping or way to stuff them that is a hit with your family?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Snow Days for a Frugal Family

I am standing in the kitchen baking my little heart out. I have two trays of granola in our oven and the bread machine is humming as I make another batch of homemade pitas. The computer is booted up and I am typing in between flipping and turning pans. I work at a frantic pace, trying to crank out the work for the week so that I have my time free this week for making and attending my son's Valentine's Day party.

The smell of shoe polish is traveling into the kitchen, as my husband sits on the couch shining his shoes for the week. He has had the same shoes for years now, but believes in making a good investment in one pair of shoes and frowns upon my ten dollar Payless shoe habit. I have went through about the same amount of money as he has on his shoe splurge, but I try to keep up with the trends and he is more of a classic kind of guy.

As he is shining, the kids are running and gathering speed as they loop around and around chasing each other. Emily is banging a coffee can like it is a drum and they run past me as I type.

If you listen, you will hear the washing machine humming as it cranks out another load of our wash. The dryer buzzes, and I plop in the front room and fold our clothes. I head upstairs and place the fresh sheets on our bed. Sunday night is my favorite night to climb into bed because this is when I put on the clean sheets for the week. The sheets are crisp and smell like lavender- a fancy scented laundry detergent. The detergent is a splurge, but I love it too much to give it up.

In the evening, you can hear the sound of the hair clippers as I give the guys a hair cut. They both need one and we are all thankful that we don't have to try and schedule hair cuts for them anymore or put up with poor service at the cheap salons they used to frequent. I also spend the evening coloring my hair...a shade called, "Color Me Vibrant." I call it "Color Me Cheap" though because I save $35 each time I color my hair myself.

As we tuck the kids into bed, we break out the board games for an evening of fun. Games that were probably rarely used in someone's else's house and then donated as they gathered dust in a closet. They rarely get dusty in our house as you hear the clink, clink, clink of tiles being placed on the Scrabble board for the third night this week.

As I climb into my bed with the clean sheets against my skin, I grab a library book that I am working through. No guilt as I page through it quickly, devouring it at a record pace. There is no guilt because I didn't pay for it and I can return it with no buyer's remorse.

I am happy and I am content...Yes, this is the picture of a snow day for our frugal family!

Sound Off: What are some of your favorite things to do when you are snowed in? If you don't get snow, just offer sympathies for those less fortunate than you!

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Winter Day Activity: Pudding Paints (With Pictures & Details)

Surprise! A snow day! It truly was a surprise for me because I didn't see our school listed and so I got my son ready for his day and took him there. An empty school and a completely full day of nothing to do today. What's a mom to do?

Instead of sitting in front of the television, we worked on making finger paints and enjoyed a day of painting and then a day of bathing because we were so sticky and messy from our painting. The kids really loved these, although I think Emily ended up eating more of the paint then she did actually painting with it.

I spread out a plastic tablecloth that I had gotten with some promotional materials from a company. I would recommend using a plastic shower curtain or tablecloth (both can be purchased from a dollar store) and keeping this with your craft supplies. We also have old shirts from daddy or do the all natural look (as Emily has displayed) for the really messy stuff.

We had little finger sponges that had come with a finger paint set that I had bought from Target last year. The kids started out with these and then just begin slapping their hands in the paint. The sponges were fun for awhile, but bare fingers dipped in pudding taste much better!

Please ignore the horrible colors we made. We found green and red made mud. The yellow of the pudding mix made for some interesting colors, but my little artists didn't care!

This recipe is great because I always have pudding mixes in my cupboard. Next time I make this though, I will probably use 1 1/2 cups of water instead of two cups to help make it a little less drippy.

This is one of those fun activities for a snowy day or a rainy day that will only cost you one pudding mix!

Pudding Paint

1 package of instant pudding (3.4 oz)
2 cups ice-cold water
Food coloring

Whisk water and instant pudding together in a bowl for two minutes. Refrigerate for five minutes. Divide pudding into several small bowls or muffin tins. Add five to seven drops of food coloring to each bowl or tin and mix.

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WSBT-TV: Frugal Storage Solutions

I wanted to post my WSBT-TV segment before the crew head over and tape more of our future segments to air later this month. This morning I got to share easy ways that you can organize your belongings, without spending a lot of cash. This segment goes along with our article on Frugal Storage Solutions for your home.

Next week I will be discussing fun ideas for a frugal Valentine's Day! I look forward to sharing some of my thrifty solutions for the holiday and I hope you will check back for more fun ideas.

I promise to post our results from our Valentines giveaway later today and I will be guest-writing for Frugal Hacks so I will be sharing that later as well. In the meantime, did you enter the Starbucks $20 gift card giveaway? I am floored by how many people have entered. I don't know what I would do if I got comment love like that every day, but it has been so fun to see all of the entries for the contest. Who am I kidding? I would love comment love like that everyday. Who wouldn't? You feel like a blogging rock star and that feels pretty darn good.

Back to our topic for discussion...

Sound Off: What are some inexpensive organizers that you use in your home? Do you have an organizing project that you plan to tackle this year?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Worth Its Weight in Gold

Last week I went to a local market to stock up on meat for the month. I have been really disappointed in the quality of the meat at our supermarkets in town so I decided to go to another town to stock up on meat there based on some great recommendations from my mom's group. I ended up getting some really excellent deals for my money and the meat was a much better quality too.

I brought home ten pounds of chicken, ten pounds of ground beef, and two whole chickens. I broke out my FoodSaver, purchased from the thrift store, and one of my favorite kitchen tools...my postal scale.

I got my postal scale off of eBay and I use it often for shipping purposes. It has saved me a lot of time and hassle at the post office, but it also has been such a useful tool for me to weigh ingredients when cooking in bulk.

I divide my meat into one pound portions because that is the amount we typically use in a meal and it also thaws a lot quicker when it is in these smaller portions. Each one pound portion was vacuum-sealed and labeled for the freezer.

The whole chickens were rubbed with my Sticky Chicken dry rub and are all ready to go for a yummy meal one night. The chicken breasts were cleaned and trimmed, and then cubed for the various dishes I will be using them for.

With the grocery prices rising, this is one easy way that I can save my family money during the month.

Sound Off: Do you buy your meat in bulk or do you have store that you usually find good meat sales at? What would be a good price on meat in your area?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ask Frugal Momma: Brunch Birthday Ideas?

Dear Frugal Momma,

I need your birthday party help. I read your post about Emily's last birthday and loved the at home ideas you listed. We usually have our parties at home just like that, and they are perfect. This year though we are having my son's first birthday at the local park's carousel. We have to bring all the food etc. The kicker: the party is at 9am b/c that is the only time we could reserve it. What types of easy, portable, breakfast foods would you recommend?? Of course, on top of the sugary, yummy non-breakfast birthday cake we will be eating!! :)
Thanks!
L.

First of all, can I just say that I am green with jealousy at anyone who is able to plan a birthday party outdoors right now? This just makes me want to move to the South right now and leave this cold Indiana weather behind....but, I digress!

I think birthday parties at brunch hours are ideal for entertaining because brunch food is so inexpensive and children are so much happier during the earlier part of the day. You beat all of the grumpiness that happens closer to the nap hour and you also get the rest of the day to kick your feet up and just relax after all of that planning. If I had my choice, I would always do birthday brunches because of those very reasons.

The best part about breakfast foods is that most of them are perfect for eating at room temperature and can easily be made into portable servings. Here are some of my suggestions for the perfect birthday brunch.

Mini Frittatas

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
8 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces thinly sliced ham, chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray 2 mini muffin tins (each with 24 cups) with nonstick spray. Whisk the eggs, milk, pepper, and salt in a large bowl to blend well. Stir in the ham, cheese, and parsley. Fill prepared muffin cups almost to the top with the egg mixture. Bake until the egg mixture puffs and is just set in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, loosen the frittatas from the muffin cups and slide the frittatas onto a platter.

Fruit Dip

1 (8 ounce package) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 jar Marshmallow Creme

Using an electric mixer, whip the two ingredients together. Store in the refrigerator until it is time to go.

(Amy's Note: Cut up fresh fruit to go along with the dip and put the cubed fruit on skewers for fruit kabobs. Place all of the skewers in a covered container to take with you to the picnic.)

Spinach & Tomato Orzo Pasta Salad

1 pound spinach, washed, dried, stems removed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 lemons, zested
1 1/2 cups orzo, cooked to al dente
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the bowl
24 basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Pile spinach leaves in stacks 1 on top of the other. Thinly slice stacks of leaves to make spinach confetti. Pile shredded spinach into the bottom of a medium sized mixing bowl. Halve grape or cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and add them to the mixing bowl. Add the zest of 2 lemons to the bowl and save the lemons in the refrigerator to juice for another recipe. Add hot cooked and drained orzo pasta to the mixing bowl. The heat of the pasta will wilt the spinach and warm the tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl and get the juices flowing from veggies. The heat of the pasta will also release the flavor and oils in the lemon zest. Drizzle 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to combine the veggies and orzo. Add basil and salt and pepper and toss to combine. Taste your orzo to adjust seasonings and serve.

(Amy's Note: This might not be as big of a hit with the kids, but it will be something that parents can enjoy! To make it a heartier main dish for the parents, throw some cooked, diced chicken in. This can be served at room temperature, cold, or hot).

You could also do a simple cheese & cracker platter and a veggie tray to help round out your table a little more. You could do juice boxes for the kids and transport coffee in a coffee carafe or just do soda/water for the adults.

As for the cake, it sounds like you have this covered, but we did a wonderful brunch for Ethan one year that I just had to share. I used a coupon for buy-one-dozen-get-one-free on Krispy Kreme donuts. I bought plain and chocolate glazed donuts and then piped decorations onto the donuts (blue stars for boys, pink hearts for girls). If you stacked these on a beautiful cake platter, you can stack them just like a cake and everyone would get their own donut to take home! While not as cheap as making a cake out of the box, this is a simple portable solution and takes the pressure off of you to make the perfect cake.

Wishing your son and family a wonderful celebration day together!

Sound Off: Do you have any recipes that you could share with our reader for making her son's birthday extra special? Please leave a comment!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Apple Pie Muffins

Practicing hospital hospitality this past week for my nephew, I put together a basket of treats for the family to take down to the hospital with them.

I had lots of apples to use up and thought this recipe for Apple Pie Muffins would be perfect for a yummy treat. I made a double batch for them and for our family. I also made a triple batch of the crumb topping and put it in our freezer to help save a step the next time I make these or my Banana Crumb Muffins.

These muffins are super delicious and just the right balance of sweetness and tartness (from the apples). Serve these with a big glass of milk to wash them down.

Our house smelled so good after I was done baking these that I wanted to extend the scent longer. I used the peels and apple cores from dicing my apples and threw them in a pot with some lemons that were no longer good anymore. I topped the pot with some water and extra cinnamon and let it simmer away while I packaged the muffins up for the trip to Chicago. It smelled like an apple pie for the entire day. Thanks to whoever supplied that tip on Works-For-Me Wednesday because it really worked.

I thought these looked so beautiful in this red gingham basket that I had purchased from Goodwill. I put a little tag on it with a description of the muffins on it so that people knew what they would be diving into.

Although I couldn't sit in the waiting room with them, it was my way of showing that I loved and supported them during that time.

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don't Cut Up Your Princess Express Credit Card!

I ran across this from Life, In a Nutshell! This is classic and a great laugh (and lesson too!)


Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

WSBT-TV: Making Gourmet Coffee at Home

Each Tuesday I share my frugal ideas with our community on the morning show for our local news station, WSBT-TV.

This week I shared on a topic that is near and dear to my heart- making your own gourmet coffee at home. I share some of my tips for replicating a gourmet coffee experience and how I manage to keep my latte factor to a minimum.

I am working on an article to put up for our site, but wanted to share some links to some of the ideas that we have incorporated in our house.

Here are some related posts on making a Starbucks Coffee experience in your very own home! Imagine that I have over 116 references to coffee on my blog so scanning through our archives or searching under coffee can also yield additional fun ideas to create a gourmet coffee experience.

All About Coffee:

Make Your Own Flavored Creamers
Get Your Java Fix (Chock full of tips for replicating the Starbucks experience!)
Where to Get Free Wi-Fi (You need that while you are sipping your coffee)
Make Your Own Starbucks Iced Peppermint Mochas
Make Your Own Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Make Your Own Dried Coffee Drink Mixes (great for gift giving)
This is Coffee (a fun retro movie on how to make the perfect cup of joe)
A Little About My Coffee-Making Process
How to Score Free Starbucks Coffee

Treats to go with your coffee:

Make Your Own Biscotti
Make Your Own Starbucks Banana Pound Cake
David's Skinny Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do You Do Your Menu Plans?

Q: What is your experience and advice on planning a standing weekly dinner menu rather than planning out a month of meals? To save time, you pick either a meal or theme for each night of the week, and repeat it for the most part each week. This way you always know what you need to buy (in general) at the grocery store without spending much time planning each week. I would like to set one up for my family and right now we have Sunday - Something New, Monday - Mexican Fiesta Night, Tuesday - Leftovers, Wednesday - Italian Feast, Thursday - Leftovers, Friday - Breakfast for Dinner, Saturday - Homemade Pizza Night. I'm just playing with this idea and have only partially implemented it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

A: Menu planning, although it is a huge chore, is something that I really enjoy doing in our house. I really find a lot of pleasure in trying and implementing new dishes in our house. Sometimes the dishes are a roaring success, other times we find that a cold bowl of cereal would taste a lot better than my experiment.

Over the years, my menu plans have changed a lot depending on the needs of our family. Here are some ways that we have made our menu plans work for us and have saved our family a lot of money in the process.

1. Menu plan according to your family style- This might sound like a strange phrase, but I will try to explain. Generally, you probably have a style to your homemaking or the kind the of parenting that you do in your house. For example, some people live by a fly-by-the-seat of their pants mentality and may parent even in a similar way. For a family like this, expecting them to keep a rigid schedule would be awfully difficult because it just doesn't fit with their general personality. Likewise, a person who cleans the floors on Monday, recycles on Tuesday, changes sheets on Wednesday, etc... will find going without a menu plan would be extremely difficult.

I am one of those weird people that falls somewhere in between. I would love to be more rigid with the things we do in our house and set up more days of scheduled activities, but I am laid back and constantly trying to fight the clutter over here. I like to menu plan and enjoy knowing what I am going to eat throughout the week, but I hate to feel like I have to do exactly what is planned because I often give into my cravings. That is where my menu planning style comes into play. I just plan out a month's worth of meals and then pick from my twenty or so choices so that I always feel like I have lots of options. This gives me a game plan, but not a detailed game plan that I must stick to or else.

Think about your personality and what works best for you, but having a plan in mind will truly save your family a lot of cash. It is time-consuming, but it is only as time-consuming as you want to make it. If your family has simple tastes, don't feel like you have to be a gourmet chef.

2. Get creative with your planning- I love to be creative with my menu plans and have found lots of great recipes to add to my collection by spending lots of time researching new recipes and constantly being open to trying new things. I utilize websites like Recipezaar, All Recipes, and Food Network.

I also love to check out cookbooks and magazines from our local library to help inspire me in the kitchen. Many times I don't necessarily want to make exactly what is in the book, but I can flip through the cookbooks and get general ideas for recipes I can search for on the internet.

One other place I love to hunt for ideas is by saving take-out menus from our favorite restaurants and using these to do my planning off of that. Since eating out was such a temptation for me, I could take those menu plans and use those to build a menu off of them. Let's say that my favorite take-out food in the world is Chicken Lo Mein (which it truly is!) then I can take that menu description or dish idea and try and replicate it through a site like Recipezaar or Food Network.

When I began doing this something very strange started happening. I began to replace my cravings for food out with my own version. In a way it is really great because there are very few places that I really love to go out to eat at anymore, but in some twisted way it is a little disappointing because I don't enjoy dining out anymore. I just have to keep in mind all of the money that we are saving and then it all seems worth it!

3. Theme it up- Themes are definitely a great way to being menu planning and I loved the theme ideas in this question. Themes make planning a lot easier for families because it takes some of the work out of the planning.

One way to make themes easier to implement in your house is by arranging your recipes by your theme night. My recipes are in a giant Word file and are set up by my themed days. My theme was a Brunch Sunday, Slow Cooker Monday, Chicken Tuesday, Italian Night Wednesday, Casserole/Comfort Food Thursday, Kid Food Night Friday (usually pizza, but they have other options too), & Seafood Saturday. Sunday night is also Seek-And-Ye-Shall-Find Night. This is just a fancy way of saying, "Momma ain't cookin'."

You can pick from any variety of themes and you can go to town with your theme or just keep it a general night. You can make it special or keep it super simple. What I hope my children walk away with isn't just that their mom is the best darn cook in the world, but that they have fond memories of our family sitting around the dinner table being together.

4. Involve your children- Things just seem to go better if the family has some input into the week's meals. My son is five now and he is at the stage where he loves to express his opinion and feel like he is contributing towards the family.

That is why each Friday is his day to pick what he wants and I try to come up with a few ideas for things we can eat. Pancakes, waffles, calzones, pizza- those are just a few of the options that I offer. We usually watch a movie with them and have a special snack like popcorn or hot cocoa to make the night completely about them. He looks forward to this evening a lot and we look forward to indulging in some of our favorite foods too.

He doesn't get to pick the rest of the week, but I have made it a rule to only introduce one new thing at a time so that we can avoid the fights over the dinner table. I will always offer one thing that he is familiar with and likes, but I might introduce one new food in with the meal. My son is big on the routine and to hand him a plate of food that he doesn't recognize can make for a really stressful dinner hour. I try to always plan the meals with them in mind, but also like to indulge in trying new dishes. This is a happy compromise that we can all live with.

5. Remember it doesn't have to be all about the menu plan- There are so many elements to making the dinner hour enjoyable in your home. Is the kitchen table not cleared? Are you eating off of paper plates parked in front of the television? Is the baby is crying through the entire meal? I can picture all of these scenarios happening in our house at one point or another. Heck, it might even happen tonight.

Try and make the dinner hour at home fun because it curbs the temptation to want to go out to dinner. If you have an enjoyable dinner hour at home, there is just no need to go out and brave the crowds.

Now it doesn't have to be all fine dining and elegant candlelight, but keeping the dinner table clear for eating can be a great start. My ideal dinner hour has nice dishes and soft music and no children crying or whining at the table. It doesn't happen all of the time, but I try to make an effort so that we all want to be at our table instead of Steak & Shake's table.

6. Visualize your choices- I feel very accomplished when I have our menu plans hanging on our refrigerator and it makes me feel good to see all of our choices neatly typed up and ready to go. If I prepare a dish from the list, I take a highlighter and swipe a line through it. Seeing all of the things we ate all neatly highlighted also proves to me that I did not go out to eat. It makes you feel good and it also gives you ideas for food you can look forward to in the coming weeks.

7. Grocery shop according to your family style- Just as I mentioned in the first part, you need to grocery shop according to your family style or finances. I love, love, love to menu plan, but I hate, hate, hate to grocery shop. This is why menu planning once for the entire month works best for me. It keeps me out of the place I hate and I only have to sit down once a month to do my plans and grocery list.

If you only want to eat fresh produce all week long, then you will need to go weekly or bi-weekly to make that happen. Whereas my style is to rely heavily on canned applesauce, frozen veggies, and potatoes towards the end of the month. I sacrifice the fresh stuff in favor of shopping once a month.

Family finances can also have an impact on when you do your shopping. When my husband was paid bi-weekly I was able to visit the grocery store twice a month. Now that we are working with a monthly check, I find that shopping once a month makes it easier for me to manage our family finances and also keeps me out of the grocery store so often.

8. Save your plans & rotate them- One of the best ways that I have found to save us time is to just keep copies of my past menu plans so that I can rotate them. If you come up with two month's worth of meals, you can reuse those and rotate those dishes to make new planners for the future weeks. I do all of my plans on the computer and then save them so that I can look back on past ideas for inspiration.

I hope this gives you some more ideas on how we do the planning in our family! If you have a question you would like to ask me, just shoot me an email (amy@momadvice.com) and put in the subject line, "Ask Frugal Momma." I love to get your questions and it makes me feel like I am providing some truly useful content!

Some Related Readings:

Iron Chef Mom Challenge

Don't Throw Out Those Take-Out Menus!
Saving on Groceries
Pretty Menu Plans
Ding-Dong: Did Someone Order Groceries?
Become a Coupon Queen or Not
Milking the Milk Budget
Aldi Fall/Winter Planner
One Month of Slow Cooking
Aldi Menu Planner
Grocery Shopping on a Budget
More Aldi Menu Planners & Grocery Lists (Click on titles to expand)
Latest Menu Plans

Sound Off: How do you do your menu plans and keep that family grocery budget on track?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, January 14, 2008

Are Baby Carrots a Convenience Food?

I had never really thought about baby carrots being a convenience food until I did my grocery shopping at Target a couple of weeks ago. At Aldi, I am able to get baby carrots for $.78 a bag and it doesn't *seem* like much more than the carrots that are not processed.

When I shopped at Target though, I noticed a considerable difference because the unprocessed carrots were on sale for $2 for 5 pounds of carrots, while the 1 pound bag of baby carrots was almost $2 per pound. Have I been buying a convenience food? And exactly what have I been paying for?

I happened upon this excellent article from Wise Bread on what exactly is up with those baby carrots. If you don't feel like reading the entire piece, the premises of the article is that baby carrots are not a frugal choice for families. Not only are they not frugal, but you are actually paying MORE for a product that is of a LESSER quality. What? Did I read that right?

Baby carrots only have 70% of the beta carotene compared to the unprocessed variety and they actually have less flavor because they are produced in a different way than the regular old carrots we grew up on.

When I got my carrots home, I did a little taste test and I definitely could taste a major difference between the carrots I cut myself versus the carrots that were processed for me. The carrots that I cut just tasted more flavorful and fresher while the baby carrots just didn't have much flavor at all.

To speed the cutting process up, I reused one of those plastic grocery bags and rested that on top of my cutting board so that I could scoop and dump all of the peelings in one fell swoop. I chopped the carrots up for the week while I caught up on my television shows in the kitchen. It was a quick and easy way to make some snacks for the week that would save me time during our lunches.

I just want to say that I am not discouraging anyone from eating healthy. If baby carrots are worth the convenience and are an ideal way to get some nutrition in your family's day, then by all means, buy them. I just wanted to point out that from a frugal perspective, that I didn't want to pay more for the convenience especially now that I know how great a fresh cut carrot really can taste and I know that my kid's would benefit nutritionally from me cutting the carrots myself.

Sound Off: Going along with the discussion on baby carrots, are there convenience foods you buy to get your kids to eat healthy? Is there a convenience food that you are willing to splurge on to make sure they get all their nutrition in for the day? Please share!

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Our Kitchen Makeover

When we moved into our house, one of the big things that attracted us to it was the size of our kitchen. Now that we have lived in our house for four years, I don't think my kitchen is as big as I would like, but it seemed enormous when our last house had only a galley kitchen. Isn't that funny how accustomed we can become to more space?

The thing that I was not fond of about the kitchen was the dated look of it and the lack of storage and cupboards. The walls were white, the floors a really light pine color, and the cabinets were oak with no hardware. We didn't have enough cabinet space, the appliances all needed to be updated, and the kitchen lacked the style I wanted. If this was a reflection of the "heart of our home," it was certainly missing something. The owner before us had completely renovated the kitchen, but it wasn't our style and wasn't cohesive or finished the way we would have liked.

Our kitchen makeover has been a gradual process and we are still working on the details of it, but it has come a long way from the dated eighties look. We would replace things as they went out and updates would come when we had a little extra money. I did want to show where we are at now, with the updating process, and to share how we have renovated our kitchen on a budget.

I wish I would have taken more before pictures of the kitchen, but I hope my descriptions will help.
These are the pictures of our cabinets before the makeover. Nice, but not much to write home about. We had received a $50 Lowes gift card for Christmas (thanks, mom & dad!) so we thought we would put the money to good use. I used the steps provided in this tutorial to paint our cabinets. This meant no messy sanding and so it helped to save a step and saved me a lot of cleaning too!
We took all of the doors off and gave them a really good cleaning with a liquid degreaser that I had purchased from the hardware store. Once cleaned, we applied two layers of primer to each side of the doors and to the outside of the cabinets themselves. We allowed the primer to dry one day and then we began painting them the next day. The color that we chose was a Martha Stewart "Wainscot White." It wasn't a true white, but was definitely not a cream either.

The hardware for the cabinets was purchased from Target. They have ten packs of knobs that very closely resemble the stuff at Restoration Hardware, but they only cost $14.99 for ten versus $5-10 each. The drawer pulls were $4.99 each (also purchased from Target) and they all were in oil rubbed bronze.

These are the cabinets after. What a difference a weekend can make! The cupboards are so beautiful and have brightened the kitchen up so much. Not only that, but the whole space feels so much larger because of the white cabinets. The walls were also painted a pretty gray blue to bring the more up-to-date feel to our space. We left our counters the same, but hope to one day replace them with a more high-end material (or at least make them look more high end).

We replaced our dishwasher with a new GE dishwasher that we purchased from Sears. It is the stainless steel look instead of the real stainless steel, so little hands can smudge away without mommy having to clean the surface as often. We actually won the dishwasher in an advertising contest that was sponsored by Sears. Technically, all of you AWESOME people helped us earn the dishwasher so we thank you for that. This one is so much prettier than the other one and better yet...it works! What a novel idea!
Next to my stove are hooks for my aprons. This was a great way to add some "art" to the walls without making an investment. $3.99 to display a few of my favorite things in the world.

We updated our stove with this fancy stainless steel number. It has everything I could ever want for this space and, while not free, I was able to get a killer deal on it. The stove was marked for $1K and I was able to get them to accept $500. Always pick those floor models, I say, and point out any and every flaw you can...even the stupid stuff. That is how we were able to score this stove.

The range hood was free and part of our Sears shopping spree that we won. Our refrigerator is the last of the white appliances to make an exit, but we are watching Craigslist to see if we can score a good deal on that.
Since cabinet storage was an issue, I was able to find an old ugly eighties desk with a hutch from a thrift store to remedy the problem. I did my makeover work on it and it is now my favorite piece in the house. This was cheaper than buying new cabinets and I just love how it is open for guests to grab their own dishes. The white dishes really make me happy and make me feel like a little Martha when I am entertaining! These dishes were priced at $14.99 for a service for six, including all of the serving dishes! They aren't the best quality, but I love the clean lines and design on them.

I also have my new china from my mother-in-law that looks so elegant on our tables. She recently brought this over to add to my dishes and I was so thrilled.

While it can make our seating a little more cramped, we did add a narrow table along the back wall to keep our computer. This has our dinner music on it and I can watch the television while I cook. The two plants on either side were purchased from Target, clearance to $14.99 each. The basket on the table, normally brimming over with fruit, is empty since I need to head to the grocery store. The basket was also a clearance item that I purchased from Marshalls along with some of the decor for our walls.
Like this piece that is centered along our back wall! This was a clearance item at Marshalls for $9.99. It got discounted with some of their summer pieces and I thought it would be a perfect focal point in that open spot.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our kitchen!
We could not be more proud of the space we created...on a budget!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Eve for a Frugal Gal

We are excited that my in-laws have volunteered to keep the kids for us on New Year's. Getting a babysitter for the holiday is tough and a sleepover at Grandma's will insure that we get a full-fledged celebration in as a couple.

Lots of people dine out and spend oodles of money on drinks or cover charges to go to the latest hot spots in town. We spend our New Year's at home and avoid the crowds and the drunk drivers on the road.

A few years ago, I started doing a special dinner for us to celebrate the holiday. This one night out of the year, we don't eat our usual bargain-basement fare. No, we splurge and have delicious foods like a fabulous steak dinner with a bottle of wine. The celebration is completed with cupcakes purchased from the bakery to end our old year in a sweet way.

Maybe that doesn't sound that exciting to others, but when you are constantly crunching numbers for your grocery budget to work, a little vacation from that can be a wonderful way to celebrate the new year. It is a bit of a splurge, but it is a lot less than a splurge would be if we went out to dinner.

If you think about it, a dinner for two with a bottle of wine would cost between $50-60 for a meal. The food might not even be superb for that price and who knows how long we would wait for a table? We certainly wouldn't get to have seconds and service, on days like this, is typically slow and has usually left me with little to be desired. We usually are paying the tab and saying to each other, "The dinner was good, but I really love the A, B, or C that we eat at home."

Sometimes I feel like I am running a factory here because I try to make so many of the foods that people buy. Our desire to keep our grocery budget low has taken some of the fun out of cooking for me. I will admit, that there are times where I feel like cooking is just another chore to complete for the day.

That is why, when it comes to special date nights like these, I love to splurge and purchase fun ingredients that can showcase what I can really cook. This year we will be enjoying marinated steaks with blue cheese butter, baked potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and crusty bread.

Our evening is spent watching movies (rented from the local library) and playing our favorite board games.

No, it isn't a wild night on the town, but it will be a wildly delicious celebration to ring in the New Year!

Sound Off: How do you keep your NYE fun and frugal?

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Frugal Hacks: Themed Gift Baskets

Head on over to Frugal Hacks and you can read my ideas for themed gift baskets to give for the holidays. These are one of my favorite things to give (AND to receive!) so I hope it will help spark some ideas for the gift-giving season.

Sound Off: If you could pick a gift basket to receive, what would it be filled with? Remember, Santa just might be reading!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

WSBT-TV: Holiday Gift Baskets on a Budget

This morning's segment is on how to create holiday gift baskets on a budget. I just love putting these together and over the years have tried to put together gift baskets with great themes in them. I am hoping to talk more about themed baskets in our Frugal Hacks segment that I am putting together for today. I will post more on this topic later!

I hope this will give you some more ideas for putting together some fun baskets for the holiday season.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

When the Pantry Is Bare...

The creativity can come through! We went to a potluck playgroup today and I had to come up with something to bring. I really need to go to the grocery store, but wasn't planning to go until this weekend so I decided to try to be a tad more inventive for my dish.

I happened upon this great recipe for Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese. I happened to have everything on hand except the shredded cheese. I got out my trusty cheese grater and grated a block of sharp cheddar we had in the fridge and we used that instead.

I finished the dish with a sprinkle of Italian bread crumbs and a little more shredded cheese on top. Ta-Da! Better than that stuff in the box and just as fast!

Unfortunately, I lost my creative streak for dinner and we opted for McDonald's this evening. Sometimes the creative juice gets taken up during the lunch hour and I am left scrambling in the dinner hour. A self-indulgent nap in the afternoon didn't help the creativity, but it certainly made for a great midweek pick-me-up for a tired mommy!

Creamy Stovetop Mac 'N' Cheese (courtesy of The American Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

8 ounces macaroni (2 cups)
Salt
2 large eggs
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water1/4 teaspoon Tabasco (I omitted this ingredient)
Pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (3 cups)

Bring two quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the macaroni. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the macaroni and cook until almost tender but still a little firm tot he bite. Meanwhile, mix together the eggs, half of the evaporated milk, the mustard mixture, Tabasco, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Set the pot over low heat and stir in the butter until melted. Stir int he egg mixture and half of the cheddar. Continue to cook over low heat, gradually stirring the remaining milk and cheddar, until the mixture is hot and creamy, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

WSBT-TV: Getting the Cheapest Shipping

Today on our WSBT-TV segment, I am sharing inexpensive ways to ship your packages, good investments for creating a shipping center at home, and things you can use around your house for packing materials for your packages.

This goes along with a post that I wrote awhile back on shipping your packages frugally and our adventures in shipping. I plan to write a more extensive article after I noticed that it is one of the top things people have been searching for on our site.

You can also see our new Christmas tree, as our tree this year was looking a little um... Charlie Brown-ish. The top had broken on it and I had hot glued it last year, but it couldn't survive another year. We had just put it up, but no decorations for it yet.

Sound Off: Do you have any tips for cheap shipping or any frugal materials around your house that you use for packing your gifts?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Few Words About Convenience Foods

Convenience foods can ruin anyone's grocery budget. When my husband and I were first married, I shudder to think how many of my own grocery dollars were wasted on foods like these. We would load our cart with tons of convenience foods... and these were for the nights that we were "saving money" by dining in.

Now you will find very few convenience foods in our home and as I become more familiar with the kitchen, I am beginning to discover all of the things that I am able to make myself.

But, let's face it, convenience foods are called convenience foods for a reason. They are wonderful to have on hand for the times in your life where you don't feel like cooking and they are great when mommy isn't home.

There are things that I have been trying to do to keep convenient food in our house without going over our grocery budget. Here are a few of the things that we have tried in our house:

1. I try to individually wrap items for our family. Items like homemade granola bars, homemade fruit & cereal bars, muffins (any variety will do), and even slices of homemade breads can be wrapped in single-serving portions. These are great to throw into lunch boxes or for a quick snack as you are walking out the door. And if you have big eaters in your family, like I do in mine, then it also can help with portion control.

2. I try to take snacks for the kids in my purse, but just wrapping them in a small piece of foil or plastic wrap offers no protection from the destruction that can occur with my purse. It is easy to smash snacks when you are dragging one kid with one arm and have a little one slung on the same hip as your purse. In such cases, it is nice to have small containers that can fit inside your purse. Our dollar store has a set of four of five for $1 which fit perfectly for these kind of occasions. I like to put our snacks in these or make up a batch of trail mix for the kids for when they get hungry while we are out and about. These are helpful for when the grocery stores have not been so helpful and have put lots of goodies by the cash register for your children to throw tantrums over.

3. I try to make time to make snacks for our family. Since we have been going way over on our grocery budget, I am making even more of an effort to do this. My commitment to scheduling a baking day is working out well for us and it puts an emphasis on staying home with the family, spending time with my children in the kitchen, and staying out of the stores. You will probably find me baking on Black Friday- this will not only help our budget, but it will also help us to be home on one of the craziest days of the year.

4. Preparation is a necessity if you want to attempt making your own "convenient" food. For example, a well-stocked freezer or items that can be throw into a slow cooker can be awfully convenient when you don't feel like cooking.

5. And then, there are just those times where having convenience foods around could still do your budget some justice. For example, we have all been down and out with colds and tonight would be a great night for some good ol' Spaghetti-O's (or equally convenient food). This convenient food would still be cheaper than grabbing some junk food at the drive thru. Giving myself permission to take a night off could come from grabbing one or two items for these kinds of nights.

Sound Off: Do you buy convenience foods? How do you make food "convenient" in your home?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Freepeats

One of my favorite mommy bloggers, Angie from Baby Cheapskate, has started a community where you can freely trade mommy and baby gear through your local community. Her new program is called Freepeats.

Since she is an Atlanta resident, her first target for her community is her local area. She is offering a free membership to join Freepeats through December 31st. After this date, she will be offering memberships for a one time fee of $4.95! How awesome is that?

She has goals to expand the program to other areas of the country so if you are not an Atlanta mom, do not despair! Other big cities should be added in the future. She has plans to launch six more communities by 2008!

We thank Angie for her contributions towards making our mommy lives a tad more frugal!

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fun & Frugal Adult Halloween Costume Idea

Sometimes the adults have to dress up for parties too and couple costumes can be so outrageous. While deals can be scored on costumes through eBay or by making your own, many costume sets can cost fifty dollars or more for one night of entertainment. That is where creativity and fun can come into play, as we got the chance to do this year.

Above is my husband's handsome milkman costume. (Note: I hope you can click on this picture to expand it to see things in more detail. The lighting was not good so I apologize for the lighting in this!) The hat was purchased from a costume shop and originally was intended as a captain's hat. We took all of the gold roping off of it and made it into a milkman hat. The cost for this was $6.99. I purchased a white shirt for him from Goodwill on half off day which cost me $1.25. The bow tie was made from the ribbon that I had bought from Big Lots this past week for $1.00 per spool.

Although you can't see it, he also is carrying a small grocery basket from our children's kitchen set. We filled it with empty coffee bottles to mimic the old school milk bottles.

The kisses on his collar were free and completed his milkman attire!

As a housewife, I just dressed like I always do (in one of my fun aprons), but rolled my hair and made my make-up a little more reflective of the times. I carried one of our daughter's baby dolls with a little bow tie on it (also from the Big Lots ribbon) that indicated that this was most definitely the milkman's baby.

This was an adult-only party, but our son wanted to be "fancy" like daddy so we made a little bow tie just for him. He wore it for the duration of the evening and I kept joking that he looked much more like the milkman's baby than that silly baby doll.

We had a blast and it was fun to play dress-up for one night. We rarely do things like this and it was a real treat to have a night out like this.

Anyone else go to a Halloween Party? What did you dress up as?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Homemade NutraGrain Bars

My kids love cereal bars and I have trouble keeping these in steady supply for our family. I happened upon this recipe to make my own and I thought I would give it a shot. I think the results were nothing short of phenomenal!

I used strawberry preserves that I purchased from Aldi. I did notice that Aldi is also carrying some sugar-free preserves that could easily be substituted if you were trying to be more careful about sweets.

A tray of these made about fifteen generous bars. I don't think the cost-savings on these is that great, but the taste is much better and would be great if you were trying to make more things yourself or were in a pinch until grocery day. These can also be cut and frozen to be used later or tucked in your child's lunch.

You can also substitute your granola bars with my homemade version!

I hope your children enjoy these as much as our family has!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Lots Deals

I hit Big Lots this week and I am so glad I did. They had beautiful bolts of grosgrain ribbon (5 yard rolls) marked for $1 each. I bought 22 rolls for my ribbon stash. This might sound excessive, but it will be a great investment for making bows for my daughter and for my little side business. Thanks to Meredith for the mention on her blog because now I am filling a few out-of-town orders too! (Note: For all my local friends, I have just started back up since my mom was sick so if you are still wanting to place orders with me, just shoot me an email at amy@momadvice.com. I apologize that I had to take a break, but am hoping to get the ball rolling again).

I bought all the red and greens that I could find, in anticipation of the holiday season, and also bought some pretty autumn colors for my daughter. The ribbon bolts were hidden away in a small box by the gift wrap and gift bags.

Another steal of a deal were the boxes of hair color. Since I run my own beauty parlor over here, $2 for a warm fall shade seems like a reasonable investment to me. They had all different brands marked between $2-5 a box.

It looks like I will have some fun projects this weekend-hair bows and hair color!

The stores are putting their holiday decorations and goodies out this week. They had lots of holiday linens, mugs, gift sets, and lots of other fun treats.

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have

Sometimes it is more fun to spend money on the gifts themselves than it is to spend it on wrapping your gifts. While I love an elegantly wrapped gift, I do enjoy sharing on creative wrapping solutions too. In fact, sometimes those creative solutions are right under your nose. Wouldn't Hallmark be disappointed if we used items we already had to wrap our gifts instead of keeping them in business with their gift bags and wrapping paper?

Here in this first picture is a grocery sack. This paper bag was purchased for five cents from Aldi Supermarket. This was, of course, before I had made the switch to cloth grocery bags so I have many of these useful bags laying around my house that aren't being used.

You can leave the paper bag plain or you can decorate it. I happened to have a Christmas stamp that I stamped onto the paper. The gift tag came from a book of scrapbooking tags that I happened upon at Michael's. I used my coupon to buy them and they were $2 (less with the coupon) for 24 tags. Tie it up with a bow or a piece of raffia, and you have a beautiful gift out of items in your home.

This second gift is wrapped in a map of our hometown. You can pick these up in the different cities that you visit or in different hotels or restaurants. Save them in a folder for wrapping paper and use special areas for the special people in your life.

The gift tag was made out of my business card and then the gift was tied with green raffia. Business cards can be a fun way to tag your gifts to coworkers. Considering many companies overbuy in the business card department, this is a great way to use some of these cards up and also reminds your boss how much he should appreciate your efforts, particularly for large companies where employees and superiors can be a bit more disjointed. Just give it a hole punch and loop it through the ribbon.

Last, but certainly not least, don't forget all of those lovely coloring pages and how useful they can be for wrapping gifts.
Kids love to feel special and they love to contribute towards the making of and the purchasing of the gifts for your family. These scribbled drawings, while not as appealing to the eye as many fancy gift wrap choices, are true beauty to grandparents and other family members.

If you like to have more control over the color choices and such, give your children crayons in your color scheme that you are going for or make suggestions for drawings ("Grandma LOVES snowmen, maybe you could draw her a really special one?").

The gift tag was made from scrap cardstock that I had and then I stamped the tag with the same stamp that was pictured above in my paper bag wrapping job.

Don't forget the other solutions that I have shared on like tailoring your gifts for their recipient and using wallpaper for gift wrap!

I hope this offers some other creative solutions for your wrapping needs! I plan to put this all together into an article for our website for future reference!


***For more great solutions for your family, be sure to visit Rocks In My Dryer for more great ideas for this edition of Works-For-Me Wednesday***

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift

Last week I started a series of posts on wrapping your holiday gifts. I shared my obsession for beautiful wallpaper and a cute idea for your gift tags.

This week I wanted to talk a little bit about tailoring your gifts for their recipient. This is one way that I do try to make my gifts special because I try to wrap my gifts with the person in mind who is receiving the gift.

Sometimes I tailor the gift to the person who is going to receive it and sometimes I tie the theme into what the gift actually is. It is fun to wrap your gifts this way because it makes it fun for the person who is opening it and it shows that you had them in mind when you wrapped the gift.

The gift shown in this example is for your favorite budget-savvy blogger or someone whose occupation involved the green stuff. The gift was wrapped in the stocks section of our Business paper and the gift tag was made out of a piece of money from a Life board game. Tied in green raffia, to go along with our money theme, this brings it altogether perfectly.

I try to do this often with the elements that I bring into my wrapping. When I go thrift shopping, I look for cute serving spoons or whisks that can be used to tie on the outside of newlywed gifts or for the Foodie in our family. Any small item that can be tied to the outside of the gifts can be great items to add to your wrapping details.

The comics section can be used to wrap children's gifts, Wall Street Journals make great wrapping paper, and foreign newspapers can add a little pizazz to any gifts you are giving.

Best of all, what a wonderful and earth-friendly way to recycle your newspapers!

Sound Off: What special details do you add to your wrapping jobs?

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha: Bubbly Magnets

Today I wanted to share a little holiday craft that I have been working on. I have been making some bubbly magnets to go in stockings and as small gifts for those special people in our life.

Remember, I am no Martha Stewart, so any craft that I share is something that a child can do. I am trying to share some little ideas for things that you can make to give for the holidays. Last week I shared my homemade spiced nut mixture and this week I am sharing my magnet craft. Crafting can be expensive, but this craft is affordable and highly addictive!

Supplies Needed:

Flat marbles (These can be purchased at the dollar store or in the floral section of your local craft store)

1/2" or 3/4" Round magnets (These are the most expensive purchase. I believe they are $6.99 for 50 magnets, but you can use the Michael's 40% off coupon in your paper towards this tab)

Modge Podge Adhesive Glue

A small paintbrush

Hot glue gun and glue sticks

Scissors

Pictures for your magnets (you can use photographs, wrapping paper, magazine pictures, scrapbooking paper- anything with a fun design)

Instructions:


Take your marbles and center it over your desired design, just to make sure it will fit perfectly under your marble. Dip your brush into the Mod Podge glue and brush the glue onto your design. Center your marble over the design and stick it to the pattern. Allow the glue to dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you are doing more than one magnet, on the same sheet, repeat the process on the paper or move on to your next sheet of paper.

Once your glue has dried, cut around the marbles, as close to the edges as possible. Now take your glue gun and dab a bit of glue on the magnet and attach your marble over the magnet piece. Allow these to dry completely.

Ta-Da! Cute new magnets for your fridge!

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Friday, October 12, 2007

Just One More Year...

My poor laundry hamper has been looking pretty sad these days. We bought this hamper the year that we got married and each year it looks a little worse than the year before.

Somehow the top of the hamper got a tear in it and I noticed weird pieces of fuzzy stuff lurking all over my daughter's room. It appears that someone in our house had now made it a mission to pick out the foam interior and shred it all over their room. I can't say who this person was, but I am pretty sure that I can narrow it down to two little people. It was becoming necessary to replace this item or fix it.

I did happen to have some vinyl fabric leftover from recovering my dining chairs so I thought I could use some of this excess fabric and recover the top of the hamper.

Within a half hour, I had the whole thing apart and had recovered the top with the pretty chocolate fabric.

The hamper is still very stretched out and I doubt I have more than a year before it will be completely worthless, but I bought myself a year to look for a new one while I am at the thrift store. This was completely worth the time and effort and I can't wait to keep my eyes peeled at our stores to find a good deal on a new one.

Operation Foam Destruction has been disabled!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift, Yo!

I was asked to speak to my mom's group this week on how to celebrate Christmas on a budget. Since I do those Tuesday morning show segments, I figured it would be in my best interest to make some pretty props to go along with my morning discussions (and that could double for my mom's group discussion).

How about serving triple duty and sharing them on my blog here too? Why not!

I have several ideas for thinking outside of the box when it comes to wrapping your gifts. Sure, I could go to the store and get a giant roll of wrapping paper, but what is the fun in that? Some of the most fun is in the inventing of new ways to wrap those gifts under the tree.

The gifts might not all match, they may not be overly red and green, they also aren't going to be uniform, but at least each gift will have their own original style.

Today's gift wrapping idea is to check your local thrift store for wallpaper to wrap your gifts. I frequently find gigantic rolls for only $1. Try to pick a design that can be used for the holidays, but also can double for those other special occasions where a gift is needed.

This gift is not only covered in wallpaper, but the gift tag is made from a deck of cards. Is your dad a prankster? Give him the Joker! Is your brother the jack-of-all-trades? A Jack! Does your mom think she is the queen of the castle? Give that woman the Queen!


Tie it off with a little holiday cheer and embellish your gifts with a little ornament or something holiday-ish. I love those ornaments for those teeny trees to put on my gifts or I love to add big old jingle bells to make my present a little more festive.


I hope you enjoyed my quick tutorial on being a wrap superstar. I will discuss another idea next week!!

***For more great ideas today, visit Rocks In My Dryer for Works-For-Me Wednesday!***

Sound Off: Are you a wrap superstar? What are some things you use to wrap your gifts?

Labels: , , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out Martha: Sugar & Spice Nuts

Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming! It is time to take your inner-Martha to new levels! Get out your crafting tools and let's get to work on some gifts, ladies!

I am going to try and share a gift each week of things that you can make for all those special people on your list. These ideas will be budget-friendly and EASY! I am far from crafty, so if you see a craft here, you know your child can probably do it!

I would also like to say that my instructions are written exactly like I would hope someone would explain the idea to me. I hate when I read instructions and they omit the basic steps for accomplishing something. I am a novice so I offer up novice instructions.

Today we are going to make some Sugar & Spice Nuts. These nuts taste like a little bit of heaven! My husband hates mixed nuts and couldn't stop eating these. That truly says a lot!

These are very easy to make, but should be made when it is not humid out. I made these on a hot ninety degree day and it took an entire night for them to dry. Never. Again.


I bought a can of mixed nuts from Aldi that were less than $2. I then took the label off (very carefully) so that I can use this label as a template for my new label.


The new label can be made out of anything, but I had some wallpaper border that I had bought from our thrift store that I thought would be perfect for this occasion. The border was just wide enough and it was more durable than wrapping paper or other types of paper that I would normally use. It had pretty French writing on it so I just cut that portion off and left the roosters for another project. Too bad I don't know French...maybe someone knows what this says? Hopefully something beautiful and meaningful, but if not...oh well! A whole roll of this stuff only cost me a quarter so that was a double bonus! Take that old label and use that as your template and trace it onto your paper (whatever type you chose!)

Now, take a glue stick and put glue all over the back of the paper. Wrap your new paper around your canister and make sure that the bottom is all lined up, nice and neatly!

Finally, you can tie a bow around your beautiful masterpiece and make your yummy Sugar & Spice Nuts. Follow this recipe for making the nuts and prepare them exactly as instructed.


When your nuts are completely dry, break them apart and place them back in the tin. I also added a piece of wax paper to line the interior of the canister so that they wouldn't stick to the bottom or the sides of the can.

This would make the perfect gift for: Postal workers, beauticians, coworkers, bosses, teachers, the person-who-has everything, and as a pretty hostess gift!



Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

WSBT-TV: Tips for Staying Warm in Cool Weather

Well, you are going to get a glimpse inside our home since this morning's segment was taped at our house. The segment that aired today discussed ways that you can keep your home warm without raising your heating bills. Lucky for me, my segment timed perfectly with our weather cooling down or I think this one would have been a dud! According to this week's weather forecast, my tips might be put to good use this week out here in the Midwest.

For additional tips on getting your house ready for the cool weather, be sure to visit my article on Winterizing Your Home.

Sound Off: What do you do to get ready for the winter weather? What is your average heating bill in the winter months?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pretty Menu Plans

I thought I would take the plunge and do a big day of grocery shopping for our entire month. This took a couple days of planning and picking our menus for the month. I really thought it would be a great idea until I actually got to the store and realized that loading and unloading my groceries was a little like a complicated game of Tetris. Nothing fit in the cart and nothing fit in my car. The only thing motivating me was the knowledge that I would not have to do this again for another twenty-nine days. I used to only shop once a month, but had gotten into the habit of shopping every two weeks with my husband's past pay schedule. The new payment schedule motivated me to just go ahead and get it done all in one trip. Am I crazy? Maybe a little bit!

Inspired by my dear friend Monica, I decided to pretty up my menu plan this month. I found a cute pumpkin to add to my planner and now my menu plan looks organized and cute too!

As we have been going through the meals, I have just been highlighting them to remind me what meals we have left to eat and I can see what we have already eaten. I incorporated lots of new dishes and several of our old favorites this month. I am hoping I will have lots more recipes to share and that I can keep us on budget with our dining out category.

Sound Off: How often do you grocery shop? Why did you choose this schedule for shopping?

Labels: , , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Make Your Own Flavored Creamers: Mint Truffle Creamer

Flavored creamers are such a sweet treat to a great cup of coffee. I love to add a little cream to my cup of coffee in the morning, but the cost factor prevents me from indulging the way that I would really like to. Aldi carries a great fat free version of French Vanilla, which I have found is much more affordable than the creamers in the regular supermarket, but I would love to have a little more variation in my cup.

My new quest became figuring out how to make my own flavored creamers. I am not a big fan of powdered creamer so finding a recipe for a homemade version seemed almost impossible. Most recipes that I have found came in powdered form, but I wasn't willing to give up on figuring out how to make my own liquid creamer.

I finally happened upon a recipe and adapted it to fit my taste. Once I finish my first bottle of this creamer, I will start testing some other recipes, but this was a great start towards achieving the yummy flavor I love.

Although you don't get the same mouth-feel as you do with store-bought versions, you do achieve the great flavor that you are looking for from these (for a fraction of the price!)

I hope you can give this recipe a try! I can't wait to share some more recipes and I hope that this inspires you to make your own flavors at home.

Mint Truffle Creamer
1 can sweetened condensed milk (or make your own sweetened condensed milk)
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk (I used prepared powdered milk)
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 Tablespoons peppermint coffee syrup (or more, depending on your personal taste)

Blend all ingredients together in your blender. Pour into a mason jar or your old coffee creamer dispenser. This creamer will keep up to two weeks in your fridge.

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Best Homemade Nonstick Spray In the World

I hate the gunk that is left behind from nonstick sprays. I tried using one of those pump misters that you can fill with your own olive oil, but I didn't find it performed very well.

The Oatmeal Waffles that I made last week were so yummy, but had to be practically scraped from the waffle iron. Shredded waffles don't look too appetizing, but I was still trying to figure out a good solution.

I ran across this recipe for Better Than Pam Spray. It sounded strange, but the reviews looked like people were pleased with the results. I made a double batch of this before I made my sticky Oatmeal Waffles and hoped for the best.

This is an answer to any cook's prayers! The waffles practically fell out of the waffle iron and there was no icky residue on my appliance, like those aerosol sprays seem to leave.

According to the poster, you can leave this solution on your counter top or in your cupboards. In the comments, she also offers a recipe to be used for chocolate dishes (no white residue!)

This stuff is the next best thing to sliced bread and a little goes a long way. Baste your griddles and cake pans with a basting brush and watch your dishes leap out of the pan with ease.

This recipe is so inexpensive so you will save some money at the grocery store too! I hope you can try it- you really won't believe how great the results are. I won't ever use anything else again!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

WSBT-TV: Saving Money On Laundry

Today on WSBT we discussed ways you can save money on doing your laundry. I will be posting an article on this topic a little later this week!

Sound Off: What are some ways that you save on laundry costs? Do you have any recipes that you use in your house?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, October 01, 2007

Perfectly Pantry: Oatmeal Waffles

I wish I had a picture of these waffles, but we gobbled them up way too fast. These are stick-to-your-ribs waffles that have tons of fiber and good stuff in them. I am usually hungry after having a waffle...that was not the case with these. I was still feeling full the next morning! For me, that is unheard of!

I love oatmeal so I was excited to try this recipe for Oatmeal Waffles. My family, however, is not big on oatmeal so I used my blender to grind the oatmeal into a flour and then added this oatmeal flour to these instead of the coarse pieces of oatmeal. If your family doesn't mind the oat taste, by all means, make as directed. I added ingredients and took away others and ended up with this recipe. I hope you can try it- they are delicious and taste great with that infamous Honey Butter.

Oatmeal Waffles

2 cups quick oats (grind if necessary in food processor or blender)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk (you can use prepared powdered milk)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons corn or olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 cup sugar (or to desired sweetness)

Mix all ingredients together until there are no lumps. Pour batter into well-greased waffle iron and allow each waffle to cook four minutes. Serve immediately.

Note: If you make the batter ahead of time, be sure to add milk to thin it out. My batter became too thick to even put in my waffle iron so add some water until you reach the desired consistency.

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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.



Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, September 13, 2007

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?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

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?

Labels: , , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, September 10, 2007

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?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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?

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

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?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

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?

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Friday, August 31, 2007

Frugal Momma's Test Kitchen: Macaroni Grill Rosemary Bread


I made this bread recipe, a couple of weeks ago, and it was absolutely delicious. This recipe makes two loaves and is a great way to use up some of that delicious rosemary in your garden.

We served this with a plate of olive oil with Italian seasonings sprinkled in the oil and freshly ground black pepper.

We don't have a Macaroni Grill here, so I can't really attest to whether or not it tastes like the restaurant's, but I can say it was an excellent loaf of bread. I followed the instructions exactly as written.

Try not to eat a loaf before your husband comes home...that is the hardest part! Enjoy!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Day 23: Just Ask

One of the best ways that I have found to save money is to simply ask people questions. It sounds easy enough, but I have had a hard time doing this. I might be alone, but I just hate confrontation so this has been a tough one for me. After my first victory in asking though, I began to feel more comfortable doing this.

The first time I attempted asking for what I wanted was at a car dealership. We were completely broke, but needed to get out from under an enormous car payment that we could not afford. We asked my father-in-law to come along with us, to make sure we weren't getting a lemon, and decided upon a car that we thought would work for us.

We sat down across from the salesman and he began his pitch. He wrote down the car payment amount and turned it towards me. I crossed out his number and wrote down my goal number. He would head to the back to "discuss with managers" and then would come back with another outrageous number. We then began what I like to call the "car payment tango", him handing me his number and then me handing him back other numbers. When it was all said and done, I ended up being within just five dollars of my number. Only an hour of sitting there waiting for us to get to this point, but had I not asked for what I wanted, we would have been stuck with a car payment we could not afford. My husband watched me in disbelief, but then felt inspired by my tactics and applied the same tactics towards scoring his commuter car. We ended up with two cars for less than the car payment we were making on our one car. That was a big victory in the Clark house.

More recently, I needed to get a new stove for our house and I began pricing the stoves out. Everything just seemed too far out of our budget and nothing was coming up for me on Craigslist or at our local thrift stores.

We ended up finding one online that was a store model at a local warehouse store. The price tag was around $1,000...a far cry from what I was willing to spend. I told my husband that I would walk into the store and offer them $500. He looked at me like I was nuts, but I figured that the worst that they could say would be no. After a few minutes of chatting politely, I was able to get my stove for $500...just like I had planned.

Sometimes this works, like in the case of my stove, and sometimes it doesn't work. I went back to the same store and offered $200 for a $400 dishwasher and brought cash as leverage. I was turned down and left feeling disappointed, but if I had not asked, I would have never known.

The same case in asking is great when talking to your friends and family. Without being too invasive, you can ask questions about services that they have and how much they are paying for them. For example, I talked to a girlfriend about how I would love to get the newspaper daily, but just could not justify the price for a subscription. She told me that she was able to take advantage of a promotion that they were offering for $1 a week for seven days of the local paper. I emailed the customer service department and told them that I had heard about their past deal and was hoping that I could get the paper for $1 a week. An hour later, I was on the phone with the customer service department giving them our billing address, as they honored the deal that I had requested. You could do the same thing with cell phone plans, internet service, babysitters, phone service, interest rates on credit cards, plane tickets- anything!

You can also ask for discounts on pricing if you can find a flaw in the item that you are buying. I remember when my sister did this at a superstore. She found a stroller that she wanted and the box was torn. She told me she was going to ask for a discount on it, even though there was nothing wrong with the stroller inside. She was able to get them to knock twenty percent off, simply because she asked. I now tend to look for the items that have a flaw in them, that can easily be repaired, to see if they will come down on their prices. Nine times out of ten, I am walking away with what I want for a lot less than what I would have paid if I had not have asked.

Here are some additional tips for asking:

1. In my opinion, no matter what I am asking for I try to be very ladylike and polite. I ask in the nicest way that I can and the delivery that I use usually makes people more responsive. I have seen people negotiating that come in with both barrels, using rude tones towards the salesperson. They usually leave with nothing and might have gotten what they wanted if they had asked in a kind way. As someone who has worked in retail, I know that I responded well and tried to work with a customer a lot more if they were kind to me.

2. Try and go to the stores that you know are more willing to negotiate on their pricing. Warehouse stores, discount stores, and department stores can all be great places to try negotiating.

3. Ask the salesperson if they have a floor model of an item, and if they will give you a discount on this. I love to go to Linens & Things because they offer great deals on their floor items and returns. I have gotten top of the line appliances for half price or less. If you do buy the floor models, ask if they will let you still use your coupons or discounts. I have found that they will usually do this, increasing your savings even more!

4. Always know when to walk away from a deal, particularly if you know that you can't afford what they are offering. Try to be detached from the item so that you don't become too emotionally involved and end up compromising your budget. If you do find yourself attached to the item, still act as though you don't care. In the case of my car, I wanted it so bad that I could taste it. I had already pictured myself in it, but acting like I didn't want it seemed to make the salesperson want to push harder...he was afraid I might walk away from the deal. Exercise this same tactic when doing shopping on auction sites and be firm about what you are willing to offer. Try to never budge on this!

5. For a more disciplined shopper, when asked if you would like to open a store account to receive a discount on your purchase, ask if you can make the payment to them at the register after opening the account. At The Children's Place, for example, I opened a store account when we did our back-to-school shopping. After I opened the account, I could pay the "balance" with a check or debit card. I receive the coupons and sales fliers, but if I want to use the card for discounts, I immediately pay the balance. Ask if this is possible and utilize the discount, but only do this if you can be sure that you won't use the card otherwise. I would never encourage anyone to get themselves into debt!

6. Ask if the store will take competitor coupons or if they will price match flier prices. Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons can be used at Linens & Things, for example, so look for competitor coupons when going through your mail and papers. Wal-Mart will price match flier prices on groceries, so come armed with the prices when you come to the register. If you are appliance shopping, look for prices and comparable items in competitor fliers and bring those along with you. Ask if they will match or beat prices.

7. Ask what the price adjustment policy and return policy are at a store. Keep your eyes peeled for the item to go on sale and ask for the adjustment on your receipt.

8. Ask if the store has any discounts or coupons that they run. If you aren't on the mailing list, ask to be added. This goes back to Day #1 in our series, where I had suggested asking for those discounts.

9. Know when to be quiet. This is a great thing to do because someone has to fill that silence. Silence leaves salespeople wondering if they are going to get the deal, and then they began trying to convince you to buy the item. Sometimes salespeople will begin throwing in extras to try and get you to buy the item. Wait and be silent...see what happens!

10. On big ticket items, try to bring cash with you. I think cash, in an almost cashless society, speaks volumes and lets the salesperson know that you are serious and that you will offer exactly what is in your hand to them. I like to say things like, "I would love to give you the sale and I have brought cash so you won't even have to run a credit card through!"

11. When you make a contract with a company and they don't deliver on their end of the deal, ask what they can do to make this right. When our dining table, for example, ended up not being delivered when the furniture company said it would I requested that they give us some money back on the purchase. They knocked ten percent off for the hassle of having to wait for this item. Know what you are asking for and ask them to throw in extras for not honoring their end of the deal.

Sound Off: What are your suggestions on asking for what you want? What have you gotten just by asking?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WSBT-TV: How to Pack a Great School Lunch

Here is a link to this morning's segment on packing frugal lunches for your child. I am hoping to sit down and write more ideas down in the next week and I will be sure to let you guys know when this article goes up.

In the meantime, print out a little love note to your sweet children and make their day!

Sound Off: What are some ways that you save money on your child's lunch?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Day 22: The Poor and the Sick

Is there such a thing as being sick on a budget? Our family seems to think so! We try to even address our budget when it comes to our illnesses in life. Here are some ways that you can save money when you are sick:

- Try home remedies before reaching for the cough syrup. There are tons of wonderful remedies that you can do that don't require a big expense. I am a big believer in chicken soup, a warm bath, hot tea, and lots of rest. The rest alone is sometimes enough for me to kick what is ailing me.

- If you need over-the-counter medications, try and stock up on these items when doing your drugstore rebates. Usually CVS & Walgreens both will run rebates on these medications and you can get them for free or really inexpensively. Other great resources are the Dollar General, the Dollar Tree, and the generic equivalents available at your large superstores. The best way to save a buck is to have your medicine cabinet stocked with these items before you are ill. A 24 hour drugstore with no sale will run you quite a bit more than what you would spend normally.

- Organize your medicine cabinet so you know exactly where your items are. We have a three drawer plastic container where we have our medications divided by ailment (cough/cold, pain relievers, stomach) and we put these in there. I get really mad at myself when I have run out to get a medication, only to find it days later in a hidden drawer. Keeping this and your First Aid kit organized are the best ways to know what you have on hand when sickness and emergency situations arise.

- When you go to the doctor, ask if they have any samples of the medications you might need. Sometimes, particularly with my children, I am able to get enough for a few days.

- If they don't have any samples, ask if there are any prescriptions that they could give you off of the $4 list or free antibiotics from your local retailers. Call around and price check before you fill your prescriptions and always ask if you can get the generic version of any medication.

- If you start to feel ill, try right away to get in the doctor for treatment. A visit during normal office hours will be a lot less expensive than an urgent care clinic.

- When choosing a doctor, ask about evening hours and Saturday appointments. Pick a doctor with extended hours and this alone can save you quite a bit. I love that our doctor's office is open until eight in the evening and that I have many more options for appointment times.

- If you do become ill, try after-hours clinics or places like MedPoint to get the care that you need (unless the illness is life-threatening). I have saved our family a lot of money by visiting these places instead of the emergency room. Just walking into the emergency room can put me in the negative, before I have even been checked, so these after-hour clinics can be a wonderful option for the frugal family.

- If your illness does require a hospital stay, make sure to check your bills. There are many expensive and unnecessary charges that can be added to your bill. This is one of those types where diligence will be your best defense in lowering your hospital bill. Don't be afraid to ask what the charges are and have them explain the vague & general charges. You don't have to be rude, but you can be very firm and polite when asking someone to explain what a "lab fee" is for. You are your own best advocate when you are educated about what you are paying for.

- Don't forget to set up your emergency account for these types of situations. Check into getting a flexible spending account for your medical expenses. Consumer Reports offers this advice..."If your company offers a flexible spending account for your out-of-pocket health-care costs, go for it--but don't go overboard." Flexible spending accounts are usually use-it-or-lose it accounts. Figure out a rough estimate and go a little under that. Don't know what to do with all that leftover money at the end of the year? Check out these 24 suggestions for spending your leftover flexible account money.

- The best way to stop yourself from getting sick is prevention. Exercise, take a daily multivitamin, and make healthy lifestyle choices. People who do these things save tons of money on doctor visits and medications. If that isn't a powerful motivator, I don't know what is!

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: What are some ways you save money when your family is sick?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 21: Create Your Own Secret Emergency Account

I use the "secret accounts" phrase completely tongue-in-cheek. I decided one day to set up an emergency account and told my husband about it, but he apparently wasn't listening to me. One day I showed him how much we had saved and he asked when I went off and got a secret account. Ever since then it has become a big joke between the two of us and when we get extra money, he always asks if I plan to store this in my secret account.

In all seriousness, creating an extra account for the extras in life can be an important way to save yourself some money. The money gurus encourage you to set up funds in other accounts that you can easily have access to and to prepare for those big things in life. Check out books from Dave Ramsey, Mary Hunt, or Suze Orman for great ideas on establishing your own emergency funds.

For example, start keeping track of all of the receipts on home improvements you have made during the year. At the end of the year, tally up how much you spent and divide the number by 12. That would be your goal to set aside for the next year for home repairs. This will save you interest and fees that you would incur from putting these expenses on a credit card. This same scenario can be applied to auto repair, Christmas gifts, medical expenses, taxes, etc... These "emergency" situations come up when we least expect them and it is nice to have that money socked away for those rainy days. Sometimes we know these situations will arise (a family vacation or Christmas) and we end up putting them on our credit card even though their arrival was looming all year long.

This month alone we had the car in the shop twice and, of course, both times these visits were unexpected. Thank goodness for that super "secret" account that we set up.

If you aren't a good saver, have the bank set it up to be automatically taken out. Even if you can only afford to take $25 out of your account each month, that is $25 that you can use when an emergency arises.

If you are more disciplined, you can use the snowball technique towards your savings, provided your debts are all paid down. If you pay your credit card or car loan off, for example, start paying yourself that same amount and moving those funds into your emergency account. You won't feel the ouch factor if you were already taking that money out anyway.

These accounts can be great for the bad things in life, but they can also be wonderful for the good things in life. We have a vacation account set up and I am hoping that we can go somewhere really special for our ten year anniversary. We have the money automatically taken out and moved into our vacation fund each month.

Here are some more great articles on creating emergency funds:

Bankrate's Simple Formula for an Emergency Fund
How to Create an Emergency Fund Now
About.com Emergency Fund Guide
6 Ways an Emergency Fund Can Help Your Budget
The Emergency Fund

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more


Sound Off: Do you have an emergency fund? How did you determine your budget for this account?

Labels: , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Homeschooling on a Budget

Jenn, over at Frugal Upstate, has an excellent post today on how to homeschool on a budget. Guest blogger, Alexandra, from Happy Hearts at Home, gives the scoop on homeschooling. She lists tons of free resources and curriculum that you can use for your children.

This has been something that has been on my heart recently. I am really torn about what I should do with my son. Next year he will begin school and we have a few options in our area. I am not completely sold on any of the options though. Elementary schools seem fine, but middle schools and the high schools are scaring me. Private schools are not in our budget, but am I organized enough to take on an endeavor like homeschooling my child? Am I even smart enough to do something like that? Are there other people in the community who are attempting it?

What advice can you homeschooling moms give to someone who is just starting out? Why do you do it? What have you gained from it? What is the downside? Any books you can recommend?

Please share!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Day 20: Curb Your Weekend Spending


I have noticed something about myself that I don't really like. It seems that when I get bored on Saturdays, the first thing that I want to do is go shopping. I am a smart shopper and I try to only shop at the thrift store, but many times I don't really need anything... I am just looking for a quiet escape for myself.

I have really been thinking about this a lot and am trying to find new ways to fill the boredom that makes me want to shop. To be honest, if I limited my shopping to the times where I had both the children, my shopping would be nonexistent or very short & sweet. Neither of my children enjoy shopping so I don't find shopping to be all that enjoyable for me.

There are so many other things that I could be doing and I loved the idea of a Money-Free Weekend, which has been featured several times on The Simple Dollar.

Today I decided to stay home and get some things done around here. I was able to do a little reading, accomplish some stuff for the website, mow the lawn, make a really nice dinner, bake some muffins, and pay the bills. Continuing in this theme, this evening my husband and I are having a date night and watching "The Godfather" (taped from television) and playing a board game.

Here are some ideas for things you could do instead of spending money over the weekend:

1. Mow the lawn
2. Play board games with your family.
3. Mix up some dinner in a bag.
4. Menu plan & make your grocery list for the week.
5. Watch a free movie and pop some popcorn.
6. Tackle a project.
7. Try a free hobby.
8. Organize your pantry and make a meal out of those ingredients for dinner.
9. Clip and organize your coupons.
10. Do your laundry.
11. Soak your feet.
12. Read a good book.
13. Go to a free museum day or event in your community.
14. Make some cool toys and activities for your kids.
15. Start a garden.
16. Write a letter.
17. Make yourself a special coffee treat.
18. Do some baking.
19. Bake some bread.
20. Steam your carpets.
21. Create a routine that you can live with.
22. Make croutons.
23. Make some fun things for the tub.
24. Gather up the broken crayons and make some better ones.
25. Paint a mug with your children.
26. Decorate your child's room with things you already have.
27. Make something out of the ingredients you have in your freezer.
28. Create some new & free family traditions.
29. Clean out the fridge.
30. Take a walk together.
31. Clean your grill.
32. Make a set of cleaners for each level of your home.
33. Take the week's advertisements and start making your price book (you can use our free sheet).
34. Go as a family to the library and then read the books with your child.
35. Clean out your closet.
36. Organize your laundry room.
37. Make a baby (Note: This child will not be free, but making your baby can be!)
38. Share a meal with someone else.
39. Baby proof your house.
40. Make some powdered milk for the week.
41. Cut your family's hair.
42. Make an emergency kit.
43. Start a blog.
44. Think about and repurpose an item in your home.
45. Make some frozen banana popsicles.
46. Do something dangerous with your children.
47. Make your office more child-friendly.
48. Organize your car.
49. Have a great conversation with your spouse.
50. Start planning for your frugal Christmas.
51. Make some foamy soap.
52. Exercise to some library videos.
53. Make some yummy waffles for a Sunday brunch.
54. Make milkshakes and play in the sun with the kids.
55. Organize a yard sale.
56. Pray.
57. Start a gratitude journal or focus board.
58. Make some seasoning mixes.
59. Care for someone who is sick or the family of a sick loved one.
60. Find things around your house to organize your belongings.

Potential Savings:
$25 or more

Sound Off: What is your favorite free weekend activity

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Friday, August 24, 2007

Day 19: Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford

Potential Savings: Immeasurable!

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Day 17: Find an Inexpensive Hobby

In my basement are bins and bins of beautiful art supplies and oodles of crafty fun. I could spend years making things out of the items that I have already bought…and yet when I go to the craft store, I still feel that familiar tug that I really need more. I love to explore different hobbies and I love to craft. The fact that I am no good at crafting doesn’t seem to stop me and maybe you are in the same boat? Have you ever really thought about the amount of money you are spending on your hobbies? Have you ever thought about how most of the really popular hobbies cost lots of money to accomplish? Do you have oodles of craft supplies and still have an urge to buy more?

Hobbies are great for a number of reasons and I think they are important to be shared in this series. For one, if you have a hobby it can be a wonderful diversion from shopping and spending money. Hobbies can cost money, but you can choose to embrace hobbies and use your talents creating things that don't cost much. Although some people might consider shopping a hobby, it shouldn't be and finding things that fill your life in a positive way can have a positive impact on your wallet.

Not only do hobbies keep you away from shopping, your hobbies can also be turned into profits for your family. If you become good at one of your hobbies, you could potentially earn money with the talents that you have. For example, I love to create hair accessories for my daughter and my friend's love the accessories that I have made for her. I wasn't really intending to go crazy selling them, but my interest in making things for her created a small amount of revenue for me.

I can also use my hobbies to help us save our family money. Instead of buying a wreath for our front door, for example, I can make my own out of things in our home or by buying a small amount of greenery from a craft store. Learning to make things that you would buy can help your finances a lot!

Hobbies also have been proven to help people medically. People who are chronically stressed have poor health, while regular relaxation can promote good health. If I relax and really enjoy something in life, I can prevent things like high blood pressure, digestion problems, ulcers, heart disease, and insomnia. Having a relaxed attitude and enjoying the little things in life lead to better health and fewer doctor visits. Who could argue with that?

Hobbies don’t have to be expensive and many hobbies, in fact, don’t even cost a dime. I found a great book on exploring hobbies called (no less!), “Get a Hobby.” In it are tons of great ideas for hobbies that cost little to nothing and can keep you busy for months on end.

Here are some hobbies that you can pursue that shouldn’t cost you a lot of money and will help to keep you out of those craft stores:

Genealogy- Much of your research can come from things that you already have or from items in your relative’s possessions. Try to gather as much information as you can from your family members (names, birthdates, marriages, deaths, significant life events, etc…) and explore this information first. Next, look through old cookbooks, photo albums, newspaper clippings, resumes, scrapbooks, and yearbooks for more family information. You can then begin looking to websites like Genealogy.com or the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Utilize this information to make a family tree.

Tina Barseghian, the author of “Get a Hobby” also suggests creating a living history interview with people in your family. Record them on camera or with a tape recorder and ask them questions about the family and about themselves. (Note: I am going to be exploring this more through another avenue of recording your life history and I can’t wait to share it with you all!)

Journaling & Blogging- To be honest, I have never really thought of my blog as a hobby, but I guess this would be one of the best hobbies I have ever taken on! Blogging and journaling are wonderful ways to preserve memories, to share your life story, or to talk about things you are passionate about.

After I went to a viewing of "The Secret" I began keeping a gratitude journal. For me, this has helped to remind me of all that I have and I also try to do this when I feel the impulse to shop. This has been very therapeutic for me and I feel like it has had a positive affect on my attitude too.

I try to keep all different types of journals that I look forward to sharing with my children. We have a journal of all the funny things that they have said, a Christmas journal, my gratitude journal, and then I do my blogging about things that we do around the house.

You can find beautiful journals at the dollar stores and for one dollar you can begin focusing on all of the wonderful things you have in life.

You can start a free blog through Blogger, My Space, or LiveJournal (just to name a few!)

These are just two examples of great hobbies that you could start today. There are tons others like gardening, cooking, sewing needlework, rubber stamping, decoupaging, or calligraphy.

If you need crafty inspiration, visit the Martha Stewart site and behold her crafting glory! I love to just hunt through the archives and see cool ideas that I can do in my house, that don't require a lot of money.

I also spend lots of time at our local library hunting through books on crafts that I would like to explore. Many times just reading about the crafts gives me a feel for whether or not I would like to try something, without making the time or money investment into the craft itself.

If you want to learn how to tackle new hobbies, check the big hardware stores (Home Depot or Lowes) for free classes that they offer. Many craft stores also offer free or very inexpensive classes, where you can try a hobby out.

Just remember when going into a hobby, that you really want a hobby that will not require a huge financial investment. If it will require an investment, tell family and friends what items you will need to accomplish the hobby or ask for a gift card to the store to buy the items. One year, I used my gift card to take a cake decorating course at our craft store. The time invested has helped me greatly and saved us lots of money on birthday cakes.

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: What are your favorite hobbies? How do you save money when it comes to buying the supplies needed to do these?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day 16: Bulk It Up

For our Month of Savings, I want to share with you the benefits of using a wholesale club membership. Whether you are a family of two or a family of seven, there are many benefits to being part of a wholesale club.

First, if you haven't read my small book on wholesale club shopping, I would highly recommend this article. It does a good price comparison of what the clubs offer and the cost for your membership. I did this a couple of years ago and it is still one of our most popular articles.

In our area, the only wholesale club that we have is Sam's Club. When we lived in other states, we have had two or more choices, but this is the only choice now for us. Therefore, I can only really provide experience with this wholesale club, but all of them are excellent and have their own great benefits.

When I first began using my wholesale club membership, I just bought in bulk. I really didn't think about prices and I just assumed that buying bigger meant that I was getting a better deal. I know I have come a long way since that time, but I am still learning every day.

Here are some of my tips for good deals in the wholesale clubs:

1. Make sure to carry a price book with you and take the time to really crunch the numbers before you make your purchases. We have a free price book sheet that you can print off on our website!

On my first visit with my price book, I simply wrote down the quantities and prices of the items that I buy most often. I brought all of my research home with me and then plugged it into my calculator. I was able to really sit down and see who had the best deals.

If you have choices for wholesale clubs, see if you can go to all of them (with a friend who is a member or check into one day passes at the stores) and compare prices between the items that you buy most frequently. Some of these stores have their pricing available online too so check out their websites for additional pricing information. Choose the club that is going to give you the most bang for your buck.

2. Don't overlook the extra perks of your wholesale club membership. These clubs offer great savings on optical wear, prescription drugs, photo services and other insurance benefits. Check each website to see what benefits you can take advantage of and don't forget to flash that card- you might be surprised where you can get some discounts (like here or here).

3. If you don't think you will be using your membership that often, try sharing the membership fee with a good friend or family member. Schedule your shopping day together and split the cost of the membership.

4. If you have a Sam's Club, look into their Click N Pull shopping option. This is the best thing in the world for impulse shoppers and for moms with screaming children who hate shopping (like myself!) I use this feature almost every single time we go because it saves me lots of time and money. You can read my personal and in-depth review here on how this feature works.

5. Gas prices can be much lower at the wholesale clubs than your gas stations. Make sure to understand what types of payments are required before you go to the pump though. Costco, for example, will not accept cash at their pump.

I also received a great reader tip today that just so happened to fit our theme today!


Amy,


Our family loves shopping at Costco and we wind up there at least once a week to buy salad, milk, and fruit.
I send my digital pictures there to be printed at .19 cents per picture in only an hour. You can add borders and special effects at no extra cost!
We also chose to buy their Executive Membership for $100 per year. This is the way to go if you spend a lot of $$ there each year. We get our clothes for the kids, gifts for family, and large food buying done there so it works well for us. If you have the Executive membership you get a cash back reward each year that you can use to pay for the membership. We got a check back for $89 so we only paid $11 for our normally $100 membership!!!!
Thanks again for all of your ideas!

Maria

Consumer Reports also offers these great tips for smart wholesale club shopping:
  • Make a list and stick to it.

  • Know how to identify super-bargains. At Costco, “.97” at the end of a price generally indicates discontinued or slow-moving products. At Sam’s, a “C” at the end of the item number denotes a canceled item.

  • Compare the club’s unit prices to those at your supermarket for heavily discounted staples. Supermarkets might be less expensive.

  • For big-ticket items, compare the club price to that of other retailers by going to sites such as PriceGrabber.com or BizRate.

  • Consider splitting large buys with friends. Otherwise, don’t buy in bulk perishables or medications with a short shelf life (check the expiration dates). You’ll end up tossing a lot away.

  • Try unfamiliar products judiciously. You don’t want to get stuck with, say, a gallon of Brand X Vidalia onion salad dressing.

  • Pay with cash; it’s a reality check on how much you’re spending.

  • Shop on weekdays, preferably when the store opens or in midafternoon. That’s when crowds tend to be lighter.

  • Not sure about joining? In many states you can request a day pass at Sam's Club and pay a surcharge, typically 10 percent over what members pay. Costco used to have a similar program, but discontinued it. Now, only members can purchase there.
Finally, I have been able to pay for my wholesale club membership by just the savings I have received from my baking supplies. You can read all about my adventures in making bread and my discoveries on their cheap baking supplies.

Potential Monthly Savings: $30 or more

Sound Off: Do you have a wholesale club membership? What do you ALWAYS try to buy when you are at your wholesale club?


Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day 15: Keep Your Bills in Check

We are halfway through our Month of Savings and I am learning so much! I am loving the comments to these entries!

One of the main reasons that I am able to continue staying home with my kids is because I am fairly strict when it comes to money management. I try to keep track of everything that is going in and coming out by utilizing the Quicken Software and I also hand write items that I want to keep track of on those important bills (credit card, student loans, auto loan payments).

As I had discussed before, our cash system has also enabled us to stay on track financially. I try to use cash whenever I can, not only because I feel the impact of losing cash more, but also because I want our children to see us using our cash and not the debit card all of time. It really benefits the entire family if I can use cash versus the debit card so that is what I try to use, in most situations.

Another thing that I began doing several years ago is to compare and check rates on all of my bills that I can (at least) yearly. Interest rates are always changing and companies are continually offering new and better plans out there, so I make a date in my calendar to check our bills each year. You can set this up any day that you like, but I try to do this on January 1st since we are already starting a new year and a fresh start with our financial goals.

I have always used Lower My Bills to compare rates (Note: We are not affiliated with this company, but I have great success with them!) on all of our bills. They offer rate comparisons on mortgages, cell phone plans, long distance plans, internet, credit cards and insurance quotes.

You can type in your information and it will spit out quotes and comparisons on different plans that they offer in your area. Another bonus that I have found is that they also offer customer reviews of different companies. It is great to read these before signing on with any company since customer experience is usually a good indicator of the type of service that they offer.

We accumulated some debt while my husband was unemployed and had to put our move on our credit card. I believe that it cost about $8,000 to move to this area and my husband's employer, at that time, would only help us with a few hundred dollars of this bill.

When the first bill came, I realized how foolish it was to have put it on there, but at the time we didn't feel we had a lot of choices in the matter. I began to search on Lower My Bills to see if I could find a lower interest rate. While I don't encourage card-hopping, I did think it was important to see if the rates out there were lower so that we could transfer the balance and pay it back quicker.

We found a credit card offer with a fixed balance transfer rate of 3.99%. Of course, adding any new debt to the card did have a higher percentage rate, but we had no intentions of adding to that debt so we transferred all of the balances of our cards (one with student loans and the other with our moving expenses) over to one card. We have not added to our debt and are down to less than $2K left to go.

It is great if you can check your rates yearly or when your contracts expire with companies. Don't be afraid to ask the companies you are currently with, when your contract is expiring, if you can be put on the new plans that they offer to their customers. Many times the company will want to keep your business and will be willing to work with you!

Potential Monthly Savings: $50 or more

Sound Off: What are some ways that you keep your bills in check? Do you use software or just the good old pen and paper?

Labels: , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Friday, August 17, 2007

Make It Yourself!

Simply Thrifty has an amazing list of 100 Things You Can Make Yourself, with links to instructions on making anything and everything yourself. It received mixed reviews from folks about whether it was more economical to make or to buy certain items on the list, but certainly made for interesting conversation.

Carrying on with the DIY spirit, the next 100 More Things You Can Make Yourself list was born. Simply Thrifty shares some interesting links to things like making your own baby shoes, making your own cereal bars, and how to make whiskey.

It is great to see all of the wonderful ideas and with 200 links to explain how to do it yourself, I marvel at how much work this all must have taken!

Kudos to Deborah for taking it on! I can never say I am bored again!

Labels: ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Day 14: Creative Toy Replacements

Well, we have made it halfway through the series and I have really been loving your comments and hints. You all teach me so much and I really appreciated the coffee talk from yesterday. The tips are invaluable and the comments are what make this so much fun for me, so thanks!

My sister became a mom before me and I remember the first time that we came to her apartment and saw my nephew. Every corner of their apartment was stuffed to the brim with toys from family and friends. Her first words to us were, "Welcome to Toy Land!" Since my nephew has so many health problems and is in and out of the hospital, the natural thing that people want to do for him is buy him little toys and treats. What happened was that my sister's home was overrun with toys and they had lost their grown-up space.

She was the one who introduced me to the process of alternating toys and we did a lot of this when our son was born. She had several totes that she would alternate for him. When he became bored with his toys, she would haul those up into the tote and bring a new tote out. She is such a smart mom and I have learned so much from her!

We now have two children and the toys are overflowing out of our bins. We had lots of boy toys and now that we have a little girl, we need to get girl toys too. I often wish that I would have bought more gender neutral toys in the beginning because there would have been such a huge savings there.

You don't have to buy toys though to keep the kids entertained and there are lots of fun crafts and activities that you can do for free. I just want to share some ideas that you can do with your children that will hopefully inspire you to get more creative, instead of just opening your wallet.

Scratch & Sniff Watercolors

1 Tbs. unsweetened powdered drink mix
1 Tbs. warm water
Several small containers (muffin tins work really well!)

Mix water and unsweetened drink mix together in a small bowl. Repeat this step several times, using various flavors of drink mix to create different colors of paint. Allow finished works to dry overnight before scratching and sniffing.

Silly Putty

1 Tbs. liquid starch
Food coloring
2 Tbs. white glue
Plastic Easter egg or zip bag

Mix white glue and food coloring together in a small bowl. Pour liquid starch into a second small bowl. Slowly pour the glue mixture on top of the liquid starch. Allow the concoction to stand for 5 minutes or until the glue absorbs the liquid starch. Remove putty from bowl and knead. At first this mixture may look as if it's a mistake, but it isn't. The more you knead the putty, the better the consistency will be. Store in a plastic Easter egg or zip bag. You can roil this on newspaper comics or pictures printed with an ink jet printer. Slowly pull the putty off of the paper. The picture will transfer magically.

Fun Sidewalk Paint

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
6-8 drops food coloring

Mix cornstarch and cold water together in a small bowl. Add food coloring and stir. Repeat the process to create different colors of paint. This paint can easily be washed away with water. You can use it to make hopscotch grids, cakewalks, even make believe roads and highways for toy cars.

Pudding Paint

1 large package of instant vanilla pudding (3.4 oz)
2 cups ice-cold water
Food coloring

Whisk water and instant pudding together in a bowl for two minutes. Refrigerate for five minutes. Divide into several small bowls or muffin tins. Add 5-7 drops of food coloring to each bowl or tin and mix. You can paint with a brush or use them as finger paints.

Edible Play Dough

1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup dry milk
1/2 Tbs. honey
Plastic zip bag

Pour peanut butter, dry milk, and honey into a plastic zip bag. Close bag and knead until mixture turns to dough. Do not reuse or store this dough. You can use raisins and assorted candies to add eyes, mouths, and other features to your edible creations.

Invisible Ink

2 Tbs. pure lemon juice
Cotton swab

Pour lemon juice into a small glass or plastic dish. Soak one end of the cotton swab to write a secret message or draw a picture on a sheet of paper. When you are ready to view your secret message have an adult hold the sheet of paper near a light bulb. The heat will slowly turn the lemon juice dark brown and reveal a hidden message.

Amazing Bubbles

2.5 quarts water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup liquid dish detergent

Mix water and corn syrup together until completely blended. Gently stir in the liquid detergent. These will store for several weeks in an airtight container. You can create bubbles in different sizes using items like a plastic strawberry basket or a wire whisk.

Tornado in a Bottle

1- 16 oz clear plastic soda bottle with a cap (the rounder the bottom the better the tornado)
2 drops clear liquid dish detergent
1 tsp. glitter

Fill the bottle with cold water. Add liquid dish detergent and glitter to the bottle. Screw on the cap tightly. Holding the bottle by the neck, turn it upside down. Quickly rotate your wrist several times in a clockwise motion. When you stop rotating, a min-tornado will form inside the bottle. Using permanent markers, you can draw a picture of a city or landscape around the bottom of the plastic bottle. Add a few drops of blue food coloring to the bottle to create a sky effect.

There are lots of great sites out there that help promote fun and free activities to do with your children. DLTK's sites are excellent for finding coloring pages, cool crafts and fun activities that you can do with your child. Family Fun offers a whole a bunch of activities that you can do with your child. I love their magazine because they offer crafts for every age group. The Nick Jr and Noggin websites are a big hit with our son.

Whatever you do, your kids will love just spending time with you more than any new toy that you could give them. Try to savor these moments while they last!

Potential Monthly Savings: $5 or more

Sound Off: Do you have any great kid's recipes that are a hit in your home or a favorite kid's craft? Do you have any tips for toy clutter control?

Labels: , , , ,

ENJOYED THIS POST? SHARE IT WITH OTHERS:

Click to share on StumbleUpon STUMBLE This Click to share on kirtsy Add to KiRTSY Click to share on Mixx Add to MIXX Click to share on DeliciousIt's DELICIOUS