SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks











{November 29, 2012}   Creative Christmas

The down turn in the economy over the past several years has really affected my house.  I make more money as a teacher than I ever have in my life before, but haven’t had a raise in a few years and prices on everything have increased exponentially (my friend Perks would LOVE my incorporation of Math vocab!)  My husband owns his own business and it is construction-related, so you probably know what that means.  I’ve heard the economy is rebounding, but my bank account disagrees.

We have what we need, and I thank God every day for that.  We even have some of what we want.  However, without one creative mama managing the house, we would be lacking in several areas, I’m afraid.  DH, whether he realizes it or not, is brilliant in many ways but planning ahead financially is not one of them.  I freely admit I’m far from perfect.  But I’m ok with squeezing a nickel.

There have been times in the past where I’ve had Christmas gifts for everyone, wrapped, stashed, paid for byChristmas in the post-War United States August.   That was a while ago.  Now I count myself ahead if I’m finished the week before.  We’ve cut back on the number of people for whom we buy over the years, but we still have a bunch of folks getting gifts from our house.  I don’t mind because I enjoy giving gifts.  I put a lot of thought into the gifts we give.  This year I’ll have to be really creative.

Limited Numbers, Limited Stress

Pile of gorgeous gifts

If you follow my blog, you know I’m addicted to Pinterest. I have found some amazing money-saving ideas, as well as Christmas and general gift ideas on there.  I found one thing I’m definitely implementing this year.  I feel like my monkeys can be spoiled and expect a lot, so I’ve forewarned them.  This year, from Mama and Daddy, they’ll each get something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.  Surprisingly, Monkey 2 is really excited about the idea – I think Christmas sends her into sensory overload!  This way she has to put a lot of thought into her requests.  Monkey 1 was cool with it, too.  He says, “That’s okay, Mom.  Santa Claus brings us all of the good stuff.”

Ummmm…..

The Cheap Seats

I remember a time in the not-too-distant past that there was not a Target Store in my area.  We had to drive to Longview, TX, to get our Target fix.  Heck, I was in college when te first Super Wal-Mart came to our town.

I don’t shop these stores much.  My friend from college, Heather, told me years ago there is something fundamentally jacked up about being able to buy your food and your crap all at the same place.  And I’ve learned over the years that she’s right.  It’s too easy to throw in a couple of DVDs with your fish sticks and toilet paper, and your carefully planned list and budget might as well be toilet paper.

But I love love love the cheap bins at the front of the store.  The dollar bins at Target and Michael’s?  Heaven for someone in search of cheaptitude.  For example, DH’s aunt writes a bazillion letters each week.  I could go to a fancy specialty store and buy her a few pieces of fancy paper.  Or I can hit those magical cheap bins and get several packages of stationery, buy something both pretty and functional, and well within my limited budget.

I check out the cheap seats any time I’m in any store.  You never know what you’ll find.  I haven’t had to purchase valentines for school for 4 years now – and I have exactly enough to get Monkey 2 into Middle School.  And I spent less than fifty cents to do it!

“Making” Do

I’ve always enjoyed crafty projects.  One of my favorites was a framed scrapbook page I made of the monkeys. DH’s mom loved it, so guess what every grandparent received that year for Christmas?

When I cleaned out my closet for repurposing, I found several half-finished projects.  So I have 3 picture frames and a photo album ready to be wrapped. Each one is decorated differently, and each with a specific person in mind.  I’ve also been working on hairbows, using the stockpile of ribbon I’ve accumulated from various dollar bins.

Although some of my friends are very Southern Living in their tree decorating, all matchy-match, I’ve always loved handmade ornaments.  Very few items that are on my tree are store-bought, unless they came from Bronner’s, which is acceptable in my mind.  I’m planning for the monkeys to make salt dough ornaments this year that we can gift as gifts.  I also have a lot of scrap fabric I can make some things.

There are some people in my gift-giving circle that do not appreciate a hand-made gift – and that’s ok.  I put thought, time, and work into everything I make, and if someone won’t appreciate it, I’d prefer not to waste my time.

Black Friday All Year Long

I will not get up at the butt-crack of dawn the day after the day we give thanks.  I’m usually tired, either from cleaning and cooking and entertaining or from going and spending quality time with family elsewhere.  Holidays are exhausting.  And honestly, the deals aren’t that overwhelming.

English: This is a row of Cash Registers at a ...

There are websites you can check that tell you when the best time is to buy EVERYTHING.  For example, I can find amazing deals on computers in June.  Why?  Darned if I know, it just happens that way.  And I think January is the month to buy linens.  Which reminds me, my towels have seen much better days…..I’ve found that I can shop smart throughout the year and find great deals without fighting crowds and standing in ridiculous lines.

Do I shop all year-long? Well, not really.  If I see something cool on sale that will be a great gift for X, of course I get it then.  But one of my Christmas budget tricks is to buy gift cards while I’m shopping for other things.

Not to give as gifts!

Year before last, I thought it would be great to get Monkey 1 a Nook so I could stop driving across town so much to buy books.  Coming up with the idea well before Christmas, I started stocking up on gift cards.  I think I paid less than $40 cash at Christmas for his $100 gadget.  Gift cards are my way of doing a Christmas Club account.

And Christmas Club is a great way to put money away for holiday shopping, but I know me.  If money transfers into my checking account, I’m paying bills.  The interest rate at my credit union is pathetic, so gift cards are the way to go.

The Hostess with the Mostest

I’ve not done it this year, but boy do I love a home party.  I’ve been an independent consultant with several different companies over the years (and still am a home party consultant!) and have learned lots of tricks  in addition to earning a little extra holiday cash.  I’ve figured out which parties have high attendance because the people love the products.  I’ve also figured out which party plans have the best hostess benefits.

Pampered Chef goodies

Pampered Chef goodies (Photo credit: Carissa Marie)

I usually host a Pampered Chef party in May, while the “Help Whip Cancer” promotion is going on.  As a former Independent Pampered Chef Consultant, I have the kitchen goo gahs and gadgets I need (except the complete set of

executive cookware) and can use my hostess credits, discount, and half price items to get goodies for Christmas.  For example, DH’s smoky barbecue rub….

Starting around August or September, I like to host a party every 3-4 weeks.  There are a few reasons for this.  First of all, it forces me to clean my house. Second, I get to see friends and family I might not often otherwise. And finally, I can get Christmas gifts on the cheap or even free – and they’re high quality, nice things people love.

Hosting a bunch of parties is tricky.  You have to rotate your guest list.  But if you put some thought into it, it works.  For instance, I may not invite my Bunco Babe who has to dust her stove top once a month to a Pampered Chef Party.  But a purse party?  She’s on that list!  My stepmother who makes jewelry might not be too interested in a jewelry party, but she loves organizers so I’d invite her to a Longaberger party.  Just like gift-giving, party hosting takes a little extra thought and planning, but can totally work in your favor.

Like I said, I am still an active consultant with a company, and I’ll order some Christmas gifts from my favorite salesperson, too.  Then, in January, I’ll have a tidy little commission in my account to buy gift cards or invest in more toilet paper. (If you want to know which company, drop me a line and I can let you know!)

Christmas gifts.

Again, my methods might not work for everyone or for every situation.  I’ll be trying some new things this season and will probably implement some things that worked before.

Do you have any tried and true Creative Christmas Tips?

~ Katie

*Update*

Now the big day has passed and I can post project pics!

image

Ladybug frame for MaMaw….

image

Marine photo album for PawPaw. Notice the mod podge is still wet!

image

Snowy frame for Granny at the Farm…



{November 28, 2012}   Repurposing a Closet

English: virtual closet lower left empty

 

In the hall off the bedrooms, there is a closet.  This closet is wide and full of shelves, and has stored many things over the five years we’ve been in this house.

 

When we first moved in, I kept movies, kids’ crafts, and board games in this closet.  The movies were taken to the monkeys‘ rooms, never to be seen again.  The kids’ crafts were started and never finished.  The board games decided to cohabitate and mix up pieces, losing many along the way.

 

Then I decided to move to kid-centered junk to the built in cabinet in my living room and put my craft stuff in the closet.  But it was still in reach of the monkeys, an Mom’s stuff is so very tempting.

 

And of course, I’d started stockpiling.  My favorite, toilet paper, is in the monkeys’ bathroom.  I’m almost as proud of my toilet paper as I am my homemade jellies and my cereal stockpile.  Ok, a little weird, but it is what it is.  I stored a lot of toiletries under my bathroom sink and above the toilet in a little cupboard.  I thought it was cool, but my stockpiles were terribly limited due to the confined areas.

 

Last week while I was off work, I decided I wasn’t happy with that hall closet.  It was a mess, which wastes my valuable real estate, and disorganization is expensive.  I hauled out everything and started sorting.  My scrapbook supplies were condensed and reorganized.  Several projects that had been started, I kept out to finish as Christmas gifts (I have 3 photo frames almost completed now, as well as a photo album and several hair bows!)  Once I decluttered, I had beautiful open shelves again.

I used clear plastic sweater boxes to store shampoos and conditioners on one shelf.  In those cute matchy-match photo boxes from the craft store, I have shaving supplies and deodorants. One shelf will be dedicated to toilet paper (woo hoo!) and another to extra linens.  Thankfully, Monkey 2 has a big chest in her room where I keep her extra quilts and things.  But the hall closet will be perfect for extra sheets, towels, and my cleaning rag bag.  It’s a work in progress, but I’m really excited.

By cleaning out that closet, I also found enough valentines to get Monkey 2 through Elementary, projects to give for Christmas, and space to store my stockpiles!

Do you have extra space you can repurpose?  How would you use an extra closet?

~ Katie

 



Last night while DH and our friends watched the Notre Dame game, I cuddled up in my favorite chair with a blank calendar.  After all, how can I suggest menu-planning as a money-saving tip if I don’t practice it myself?  I filled in the calendar (in pencil) with family favorites and some great recipes from a wonderful website I’ve pinned (4 weeks of freezer-to-crock pot recipes and grocery lists – FREE!)  In no time, I had built a menu plan.

After planning my menu, I started putting together my grocery list.  Looking at the list, I figured it would be about $200, which is approximately what I budget, but I had no room left for cleaning supplies or toilet paper.  I justified it by telling myself 1. Most of my cleaning supplies are recipes that don’t cost much, except my Soft Scrub, to which I’m addicted, and 2. some things would last more than the month I’ve planned.

This morning, while DH and the monkeys were in the woods, I perused my Brookshire’s and CVS SmartPhone apps.  CVS has some decent deals, and I missed the good deals at Brookshire’s.  But for my groceries, I would have to go to the grocery store and save CVS (TOILET PAPER) for another day.  I cleaned out my coupon binder, as some coupons are close to expiration and some expired yesterday, and started matching coupons to my list.

Please note – If I find a better deal without the coupon, the coupon gets put away!

My original plan had been to go to the grocery when I first got up this morning, but there was frost on my car and I was feeling lazy, so I watched a movie while I double checked recipes and made breakfast for the hungry hunters.

I finally went to the store at 10:45.  And spent about and hour and a half shopping.  Partly because I love grocery shopping, and partly because I was making such a haul.  By the time it was said and done, I spent $156.21, had $7.65 in coupon savings (bought lots of off-brand today), and $33.61 in store card savings for a total of 23% savings. I did not purchase a pork roast (needed for pulled pork sandwiches) or a ham, both of which were on my list.  This was not a shining coupon day for me.

However.

I bought a lot of things that were not on the list.  DH’s friend Jamie asked me last night to make chili today, and I had nothing but some ground antelope – no beans or seasoning.  There was a sale on yogurt that I had coupons for and the monkeys love.  We didn’t have to have blueberry pancakes, but it gives everyone a change from cereal.  I bought 7 boxes of cereal today, one off-brand, but 6 of them were 3/$6 AND I had a coupon for $1.50 off four.  My Chef Michael’s dog food coupon had expired and the canine kid loves poultry, so I used a good coupon on some canned food that was on sale.  All in all, I had 117 items on my receipt.

The way couponing works best is to match your coupons to your sales and STICK TO THE LIST.  My menu plan is only dinners, and I probably could have done the grocery trip for $60.  But it’s been a while since I’ve been to the store, so I felt like we needed the extras.  And my cereal comfort zone is 12 boxes, which I’m in the process of rebuilding…

After putting up the groceries, I started the chili.I started out with the two alarm kit from the store, but didn’t exactly follow the directions.  This is the way I made it:

  • 1 lb browned ground beef
  • 1 lb ground browned antelope
  • Two Alarm chili kit – follow the directions to begin
  • 2 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce – usually I use my homemade red sauce, but didn’t can any this summer 😦
  • 4 cans chili beans
  • 3 cans kidney beans

I use the biggest pot I have and let it simmer all afternoon.  After DH, Jamie, and Danna all had healthy servings, I filled 3 quart-sized freezer bags.  When I use them later on, I will add some more beans, and maybe some rice.  I can also use one of the packages for chili dogs on a Monday night!

While the chili was cooking, I also made quart packages of chicken and dumplings (2 quarts) and chicken rice casserole (3 quarts) for the crock pot.  I’ll have to add cheese to the chicken and rice when I cook it, and I’ve learned to cook the rice separately or it has the texture of grits.  The quart packages may not work really well in my crock pot, but it’s worth a try.  The recipes I started with from www.sidetrackedsarah.com are just too much for my family.  They fill gallon bags to the brim and I end up with leftovers for days upon days.  Of course, she feeds a family of eight, not four.  So I’ve modified her recipes a little to suit my family.  And her recipes are terribly inexpensive to make, especially if you happen to have plenty of deer, antelope, wild hog, etc. in the freezer.  They take no time to throw together and you just dump them in the crock pot in the morning.  Easy peasy.

Another mess in the kitchen means it was another productive day.  Right?

Do you have any good freezer to crock pot recipes?  We’re having taco soup tomorrow.  And probably Tuesday. And Wednesday….darned gallon bags!

~ Katie

 



{November 25, 2012}   The Cost of a Disorganized Pantry

Right now, in my refrigerator, I guarantee there are two partially used bottles of ketchup, at least two barbecue sauces, and maybe multiple jars of pickles.  Does this make any sense?

Part of the problem is that I share my living space with Grizzly Adams (he isn’t DH today – he forgot to make coffee) and two monkeys.  If there is a gene for organization, they all lack it. I’m not the most organized woman in South Bossier, but I do know being disorganized costs money.  How does it money?  Let me count the ways.

  1. Any kind of storage in a house is a piece of real estate.  Your house is worth $X/square foot.  This includes your storage.  If you’re not using it efficiently, you’re wasting money.
  2. Stock rotation is important. I worked in hospital pharmacies for years and it was a concept that nobody loved, but it saved money.  Use what’s there and going to expire first.
  3. Keep track of what you have.  When I was trying the www.organizedhome.com system, I actually kept lists on my freezers and cabinets of what stock I had – and it helped.  If you have 10 bags of sugar already and no major project, do you really need another bag when you go to Kroger?  Well, I don’t.

But my pantry is a hot mess now.  I actually have two converted closets in my utility room.  While one is strictly food storage, the other has my stoneware, canning supplies, and infrequently used small appliances.  I feel like I can put my valuable real estate to better use.

Organization of any storage space is such an individual thing.  There are beautiful photos of stunning pantries all over the web.  And my Pinterest boards.  But not everyone has the same type or size storage space.  Like I said, I’m blessed with two converted closets in the utility to use as pantry storage, but I haven’t seen anything online that remotely looks like my storage.

I’m thinking if I sort things by frequency of use and type of meal, I’ll be a lot happier.  The second pantry can serve as back up, overstock, etc. along with my infrequently used gadgets.

So this afternoon, I took before pics (oh my goodness!) and emptied the main pantry.  It really didn’t take long to reorganize, but what a mess I made!  There is a lot of wasted space where there are no shelves, so I have to be creative.  The top shelf now has two crates to hold my cereal stockpile.  Next is my canned and boxed goods – beans, fruits, Hamburger Helper, etc.  Those things I might want to prep dinner (actually, DH, because I rarely do Hamburger Helper!) Below that shelf is my pastas, taco shells, rice, etc. and a dish bin containing extra spices and barbecue sauces (of which I found 4 bottles today!)  Next I have a breakfast & lunch shelf.  Peanut butter, all of my precious jars of jelly, a container of open cereal, oatmeal, grits, and fruit snacks.  The bottom shelf has a drawer of lunch snacks, crackers, and drink mixes that won’t fit in the pocket organizer on the door (a repurposed shower caddy.)  The dog’s food I keep in a small tote and it fits under the bottom shelf now.

But that left my baking stuff without a home.  I don’t bake much because of my oven situation, but I do have things in case I ever get it fixed.  With all of the jelly and sauce out of the back up pantry, I noticed I had some space to spare.  So I unloaded that pantry and reorganized.  My indoor grill is now on the top shelf, since we rarely grill indoors, along with a baking stone I almost never use.  My canning supplies are on a shelf to themselves now, and my actual baking supplies take up two shelves, very neatly, and share with my crockpots.  My bread machine still sits down below and I’ve moved a drawer to the floor in there for bags  and wraps.

It was a really productive late afternoon for me.  I wish, as I had been working, that I would have gone ahead and created my pantry inventory but I suppose it can wait.

How is your pantry organized? I think mine will suit my purposes for now. At least I know not to buy any more barbecue sauce when I go to the store this week!

~ Katie



{November 24, 2012}   An Explosion of Flavor

Growing up in Michigan, my great-grandmother had a farm with berries, beans, and I don’t even know what all else.  Summertime meant trips to Grandma Z’s to pick whatever was in season.  And pick.  And pick.  Tipping and tailing green beans is not the way a pre-teen wants to spend her free time, but I realize now those were invaluable lessons.  I’m not going to jump up and down in excitement over a day in the summer sun in someone’s garden, but I can do it.  I’m not afraid of hard work.

The monkeys have not had this experience.  Berries and popcorn come from the grocery, not from Grandma Z’s acreage.  Tomatoes are picked by someone else and bought at the Farmer’s Market.  They live in a world of instant gratification.  And I think it’s time to change that.

My cheertastic friend Peggy and I took the monkeys to a Pick-Your-Own farm back in June.  Blueberries ripen early in Louisiana and I wanted them to have a taste of my childhood.

Not the greatest plan ever.

We got a later start than I had wanted and it was hot as Hades.  After barely covering the bottom of a berry bucket, Monkey 1 decided it was time for a break.  Monkey 2 kept telling me how hot and tired she was.  I had sweat in crevices I didn’t know existed, but I was going to tough it out and show them.

We ended up with about 5 pounds of blueberries by the time we gave up for the afternoon.  Blueberries and three lemonades cost me about $7 and lunch at Pepe’s.  I consoled myself with the idea that it would have been so much more expensive at the grocery.

That weekend, my little family would be heading to Michigan, so I stuck the bag of berries in the freezer, with the idea I’d use them for something later in the summer.

Fast forward 5 months.

I’ve been doing some cleaning and reorganizing and those blueberries are taking up real estate.  Yesterday I had made some jelly and I started thinking – why couldn’t I use the blueberries for jelly?  My canning cookbook did not have a very doable blueberry recipe, so I’d have to get creative.

Have you ever heard of Champagne Blush jelly?  Here is a link if you’re interested: http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipe.aspx?r=193. Yum.  It calls for bottle raspberry juice, but why couldn’t I use blueberry juice?

Um, how do you get blueberry juice?

My five pounds of blue yummy came out of the freezer to thaw.  I dumped the entire mess into a colander in a big mixing bowl and started sorting.

Instead of using a potato masher, why not process in a blender?

I understand that you can squish the heck out of berries with a potato masher.  I’m a little lazier than that so I busted out the blender.  Then I cut a pair of panty hose and pulled them across a mixing bowl to strain the pretty purple juice for the jelly.

Except the hose had a hole in the toe.

So my smushed berries mixed back in with the juice.

And I decided it would be ok.

This is the modified recipe I used:

  • 3 cups blueberry juice – or, if your straining backfires, mush
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pectin
  • 1 1/4 cup champagneEnglish: Making blueberry jam. Blueberries (wi...

I combined my mush, lemon juice, and pectin, stirring constantly, and bringing to a boil.  After it reached a hard boil, I added the sugar.  Return to a boil.  After the concoction has been at a hard boil for one minute, remove from heat and stir in the champagne.  Skim any foam – the air bubbles are bacteria magnets.  Fill your jars and process in a Waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

The original recipe says it will make 6 half-pint jars, but with my mush, I ended up with 7.  Also, when blueberry mush starts to boil, it spatters.  Everywhere.  My kitchen currently resembles a crime scene.

Blueberry spatter is all over my stove, microwave, and walls – but boy, does this mess taste good!

And when DH came in from the woods, he asked me “Did you have some trouble with the blueberries?”

Wisacre.

I’m a rule-follower from way back, so modifying a jelly recipe is a little out of the norm for me.  I’m excited about the outcome, though!  The berries were not super-sweet Michigan berries, but the champagne really brings the flavor out.  I already have visions of serving this with cream cheese and crackers at my next Bunco.

Again, I had all of the stuff I needed on-hand so no extra out-of-pocket expense – yay, me!  And I’m using up stuff that has been taking up space.  With these 7 jars, I’m thinking it was under $1/jar, but there is a reason I teach ELA and not math!

Do you ever experiment with jelly recipes?

~ Katie



{November 23, 2012}   Meal Planning
A delicious-looking meal

A delicious-looking meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My best friend of about 30 years has massive OCD.  She calls it something else.  Her doctor calls it something else.  I call it OCD.

I like to organize, and I know that disorganization is costly, but I’m not obsessed to the point my BFF is.

Her to-do lists have to-do lists.

At one point when she and I were attempting to get on track, she told me about her family’s meal planning adventures.  I remember she had themes each night – “Toothpick Tuesday” scared me.  I had visions of one of the monkeys being stabbed.

I do not sit down with a calendar and plan out our meals.  My kids (the monkeys) are 8 and 12 and can fix toast or cereal for breakfast.  They eat school lunches, I pack  a PB sandwich each day, and I honestly have no clue what my DH (dear husband) does for lunch.  I believe he eats a lot of convenience store cuisine….Not healthy, but I can’t really fix it if he won’t meet me halfway.

Dinner is a different story.  I could sit down and plan it out, but I really don’t.  I have a general idea of what we’ll do each night and it’s based on our crazy schedules.

  • Monday – either the crock pot or something super quick and easy.  I have faculty and department meetings on Monday afternoons.  DH has pool Monday evenings.  Dinner has to be ready almost as soon as we walk in.
  • Tuesday – tacos, spaghetti, etc.  I have a little more time Tuesdays.  Monkey 1 goes to the math tutor while Monkey 2 is at Running Club, so it’s close to 4 when we get home.
  • Wednesday – if DH is home, it’s usually a grill night.  I’ve had monster hot dog cravings lately, but the only way I’ll eat them is off the grill or from a New Orleans street vendor.  Monkey 1 has our church’s version of Sunday School on Wednesdays and he eats there, so it’s just the three of us.  If we’re not grilling, it’s a frozen pizza night.
  • Thursday – Monkey 1 is again at tutoring and at this point in the week, we’re definitely on a crock pot meal.  I’m exhausted by Thursday.  But I try to keep freezer-to-crockpot meals on hand so I can throw something in the crock pot on my way out the door and it’s ready when we get home.
  • Friday – DH has pool again, so we usually go eat somewhere.
  • Saturday – we grill or I cook.  Many times, our friends down the street are grilling and we go eat with them.
  • Sunday – the monkeys are with my mother-in-law most Sundays.  DH is usually with his friends watching football or he’s hunting in the woods, so Sunday is a grab and go kind of day filled with leftovers.

Would it make more sense to actually plan meals ahead?  Of course it would.  Would it save me a bunch of money?  Of course it would.  Have I gotten to that point yet?  Maybe.

If you google Once A Month Cooking, Freezer Cooking, and Meal Planning, you’ll find all kinds of websites trying to sell you memberships for their meal-planning services.  It’s up to you how you spend your money, but I’m not buying a service when I have the resources I need in my kitchen.  Except an operational oven, which is a whole other blog post.

If I were scheduling meals out, I would start by taking inventory of my pantry and cold storage.  I could probably do a lot with what I already have.  Then I would go through my recipes, pull a few favorites, and build a list based on what I need to make those things.  I’d double my batches so I can freeze some meals.  And while I poke fun at Beca’s theme night meal planning, she always knew what they’d be having.  Just like every Wednesday I could plug-in frozen pizza.  Thursday is a crock pot meal.  Monday probably is , too.

Meal planning is a lot less intimidating now that I look at it in black and white.  I can combine my menu plan with my coupons.  And planning ahead saves money, so why not try it?

So maybe meal planning is the next step in my pursuit of ultimate cheaptitude.  Pinterest and Google are fabulous resources for this type of things – be sure to check them out.  I’ll let you know how my meal planning goes.  You let me know what you find!
~ Katie



{November 23, 2012}   Making Do With What You Have

a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, top slice ...

I don’t know too many kids who don’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  With droughts, salmonella outbreaks, flooding, freezes, etc., the price of peanut butter in my local grocery has gone up almost two dollars a jar in the past year, and jelly is steadily increasing.

Thankfully, my Rhonda Belle thinks ahead.  2 years ago for Christmas, she and Papa Mac gave me a Ball Canning Starter Kit.  She wants me to be more self-sufficient.  I started out with red sauce and moved on to a variety of apple products.  Rhonda Belle’s friend “Mother Earth” has been an invaluable resource as I’ve been learning to can.  Not only does canning save me money, but this way I know what is in the products in my pantry.  I definitely prefer chemical-free, preservative-free foods in my pantry.

Part of being self-sufficient is making do with what you’ve got.  And I am running low on jelly.  Thankfully, one of my sweet 8th graders and his mama gave me a pretty container full of Satsumas (thank you, Jamie, for the identification!) and I realized there was a good chance they’d spoil before the monkeys ate them all.

Using my handy-dandy Pampered Chef citrus juicer (not the best option, as much as I love a Pampered Chef gadget!), I spent over an hour on Monday juicing and straining my little orangey friends.  They are chock-full of seeds, which I have saved to replant at some point.  And I put the juice in the fridge till I knew what I’d do with it.

Motivation visited me today.  I ran jelly jars through the dishwasher and got myself together.  I found a recipe online, got my supplies situated, and got to work.  This is the recipe I used:

Easy Satsuma Jelly

  • 4 cups Satsuma juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar – I’m going to try to decrease the sugar next time
  • 1 package Sure Jell

Combine your juices in a pot.  Slowly add the Sure Jell, stirring constantly.  Bring it to a rolling boil.  Boil for one minute, continuing to stir.  After one minute, add the sugar and bring it back to a boil.  Again, boil one minute and then remove from the heat.  Fill your jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Easy peasy!  I already had most products on hand, so I spent no extra money on this project.  The jars I use again and again.  The orangey things were a gift.   The pectin I purchase by the jar, and actually got it free at Kroger with a coupon.  Sugar was under $2 for a 4 pound bag.  I’m not a math person, but I think I’m under $1/jar.

And I love all of those pretty jars lined up in my pantry.

I still have blueberries in the freezer from a berry picking trip in June.  I’m thinking blueberry champagne (still got a bottle from New Year‘s!) jelly.  What do you think?

If you’re new to canning, I highly recommend the Ball Canning Discovery kit, or the Ball Fresh Preserving Kit.  Also, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is great for beginners.  Follow the recipes or you’ll have a bit of a mess on your hands.  I’ve had to remake a few batches of jelly because I used recipes that looked great online but didn’t work out.

I’d love to hear your experiences!

~ Katie



{November 23, 2012}   The Method to My (Coupon) Madness

Coupons Ecover

It started with that crazy show.  That Sunday, I bought 3 newspapers.  And I clipped and clipped and clipped. And I used coupons.  Some of them.

And I’ve learned a few things since then.

Recruit a Money-Saving Buddy

My friend Stephanie started couponing about the time I did.  We traded coupons, alerted each other to amazing deals, and kept each other motivated.  When you’re on a tight budget like I am, every little bit helps!

Coupons from the Sunday Paper

I only purchase one paper on Sundays.  If someone gives me their inserts, I graciously accept them (Thank You, Dad & JB!), but why am I going to spend $10 on papers to save a few dollars with coupons?  It makes no sense to me.

As I’m clipping, if I spot something awesome that I don’t see often, I may go back for more papers.  $1 off Dog Chow is great for me and worth another paper.  Apart from that…..

Printable Coupons

I do use printable coupons.  A lot of products have FaceBook pages that you can “like” and get a coupon.  That’s how I stockpiled my Kool-Aid!  The website I use most for coupons is probably http://www.coupons.com.  In addition, you can sometimes go right to the brand’s site and print coupons.  Google for free coupon sites and you’ll be amazed at what you find.  Be careful, though, because some links that will show up are virus-ridden (thank you, White Rain Kids’ Shampoo).

Loadable Coupons

If you use store loyalty cards, a lot of times you can load the savings right to your card and not have to think about it. This is fabulous!  Both of the groceries that I frequent (Brookshire’s and Kroger) have this option.  However, both of these stores triple hard copy coupons up to 35 cents and double up to 50 cents.  Preloaded coupons do NOT double or triple at these stores.  I only load higher value coupons to my store cards.

Clip What You’ll Use

My Rhonda Belle and I had this conversation today.  She is enjoying clipping coupons but says she’s stopped clipping things she doesn’t use.  This makes sense.  Our time is valuable.  I don’t color my hair so why clip a Clairol coupon?

On the flip side of this, I don’t clip based on brand.  Right now I use the store brand dishwasher soap, but I’ll still clip Cascade or Finish coupons.  Why?  It might save me money!  If I see a coupon for something we use – deodorant, pasta, etc. – I’m not brand-limited.  Clip it and keep it!

Matching Coupons to Sales

It is a rare occasion that I use a coupon right when I clip it.  I know that after X number of weeks, Totino’s pizzas should be going on sale at Brookshire’s.  I pour over the sales ads when they come in and match up the deals to my coupons.  If my family’s beloved frozen pizzas are 4/$5 this week and I have a coupon for $1 off 4, then it goes on my grocery list.  I try to match the coupons to the ads to maximize my savings.

Coupon Match Ups

Don’t pay for your coupon match ups.  There are websites where this is available for free and many SmartPhone apps.  Personally, I check my GrocerySmarts app every Sunday morning to check on deals at my CVS (my other favorite place to shop!).  This app creates a coupon match, lists sales prices, and shows which items are generating Extra Bucks.  I have the free version, which shows one store at a time, and I refuse to upgrade just to compare stores – I don’t shop Wal Mart, Target, Rite Aid, or Walgreen’s often.  There is a GrocerySmarts website where you can see it all and create a printable shopping list.

Organizing Coupons

I used to love the little coupon wallets you can order through the newspaper or buy at the store.  They’re so cute – and collect dust on my shelf.

Coupon wallets and envelopes are not helpful for me.  I end up with expired coupons.  I can’t find the specific coupon that I know is in there somewhere. It’s more frustration and just not worth it for me.

When I first got into couponing, I went to a class (Duh, I’m a teacher). It cost $5 and I didn’t learn much, but it was interesting.  At this class, the instructor was SELLING coupon binders for $20 each.

Really?  I know you need to spend money to make money, but I’m not going to spend money to SAVE money.

I’m a teacher.  I have a ton of empty binders. If you spend $20 on some coupon binder, please do not let me know about it.

  • Supplies for Your Coupon Binder
  • 3 ring binder of your choice
  • trading card binder pages
  • dividers
  • pencil pouch

Like I said, I already had binders on hand and I’m not picky.  The trading card pages I bought at Hobby Lobby ($7.99 for a package of 30 and I used a 40% off coupon – on my phone – so it was under $5), but a quick Google search a minute ago and I found good prices from Amazon.com.  Dividers I also had on hand, but I printed my own on pretty paper from Dollar Tree and slid into page protectors.  My binder is sorted into store areas (pantry, beverages, freezer, baking, feminine supplies, etc.) and in order of my grocery.

There are 9 pockets on each of my pocket pages.  I slide the coupons in, with the soonest expiration at the front.

The pencil pouch holds my store cards, any extrabucks, maybe the coupons I’m already planning to use, a calculator, some cash…..

I use a binder clip to clip my list to the front of my binder.

I’ve heard people say they can’t remember what is in their binder.  For me, this isn’t a problem.  If you spend an hour or two loading your binder each week and cleaning out expired coupons, you’ll get familiar with the contents.

Again, this is just what works for me.  I never see 99.5% savings like the ladies on “that show.”  I’m just not that good, I work too many hours, and if I can stay within $50/week for my family of 4, I’m a happy couponer.  I have seen over 50% savings with my system.  It doesn’t happen really often, because we go through a LOT of milk and meat, but I’m usually at 30-35% saving between my store card and coupons.  And we eat REALLY well on a shoestring budget!

Again, I encourage you to search around the web and see what other people are doing.  Find a method you think will work and try it out.  Modify it.  Make your couponing system your own.

And let me know what you figure out!  Happy Shopping!

~ Katie



{November 22, 2012}   Never-Ending Love and Laundry

If you’re addicted to the smell of Gain, this post is not for you.

If you don’t mind spending $10+ on a bottle of laundry detergent, this post is not for you.

I’ve never been one to spend much money on laundry soap – except when the monkeys were babies and I spent a small fortune on Dreft and All Clear for their itsy bitsy baby gear.  None of us have particularly sensitive skin, so it’s not been a problem to spend $1.59 on off-brand, dollar store soap for our dirty drawers.

Over the past few years, however, my $1.59 soap has risen to over $4 per bottle.  I allow myself to spend $50/week at the store, and doing 2 loads of clothes each day, laundry soap was taking a bite out of my budget.  My Rhonda Belle encourages my endeavors in cheaptitude (she calls it frugality) and told me she’d begun making her own laundry soap for her HE machine.  And she gladly shared some.

And it worked ok.

Until I checked the pits of my DH’s t-shirts.

And I went back to my now high-dollar off-brand soap.

But I loved the idea of each load only costing a few cents in detergent.

And I opened the trusty old laptop and visited my friend Google.

There are probably as many recipes for laundry soap as there are users of laundry soap.  I decided early on that liquid soap would not work for me, not only because of storage concerns (huge batches – 5 gallon buckets!) but also the gross-out factor (I kept reading “consistency of snot”).  I found that most recipes called for about 3 ingredients, 2 of which I had no problem finding at my local grocery.  The third item I found at my local Kroger (not my favorite store) and cleared their shelf.  Following is the recipe I use for my family:

Katie’s Laundry Soap (1-2 tablespoons per load)

Because the Fels Naptha has been difficult to locate, I have changed to Ivory, which is easier to grate, easier on the skin, much cheaper, and doesn’t have the strong smell.  During the summer, because DH works outside, I also add some of the faux OxiClean from Dollar Tree.  There are no added perfumes, so if you like your clothes to smell a certain way, maybe add some essential oils to your wash.  It’s also easier to grate the soap if you unwrap it and let it dry out for a few days.  I keep lavender scented in my dresser drawers, so that may be an option for you.  The boxes of Borax and Washing Soda will make several batches before you need to buy more.

This powdered detergent could be stored in Tupperware or whatever container you have that seals.  Mine fits well in an old ice cream bucket.

This recipe is not the only one, or even the best one.  It works for me. I encourage you to snoop around the web and see what you find.  Explore, experiment – and let me know if you find something cool!

 



{November 22, 2012}   Starting Out….

I began my journey to more frugal living back in 2011.  My husband and I were both bringing home decent paychecks, but after watching a certain television show, I just knew I could save us some money.  That was the beginning of my couponing adventure.
This is not the first attempt I’ve made at saving money.  Several years ago, I tried the Organized Home system and Once a Month Cooking, only to fall off the programs after a short time (that was a good year – Christmas was bought with cash and wrapped by August!)  Then we did the Dave Ramsey thing for a while – but someone kept getting in the envelopes.

Something about that show, and the coupons, caught my eye.

This is the one thing that has worked for me so far.  I’ve added some things to couponing over the past year or so, and it really has made a difference.

I was playing around on Facebook the other night and a friend from back home asked about putting coupons on her SmartPhone (talk about 2 of my favorite things!)  I shared some of what I’ve learned with her, different websites and tricks.  I realized after a few posts that 1) I should’ve just emailed her, and 2) she’s not the 1st person I’ve talked to about frugal living.  And so this blog has been born.

Of course, I’m on Thanksgiving Break right now, so I have time to do a little blogging.  Please don’t be surprised if my posts are few and far between while school is in session.  I have some ideas and am always looking for more, so feel free to share.

Welcome to my journey!

KB



et cetera
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