SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks

{November 16, 2013}   Fall Freezer Cooking Session

It has been so crazy in the House of Cheaptitude since school started back in early August.  We’ve dealt with work stress, school stress, Pioneer Woman coming back from Cuba (YAY!!!!), a death in the family, a major realignment in our social circle, and a lot of illness.  Sometimes, with so much going on, it feels like life is completely out of control.  And when life feels out of control, I lose focus.

Last week, I experienced a shift. To make a long story short, Grizz had to have his gall bladder out, and I spent three days at the hospital with him while trying to maintain the house, the monkeys, and prep for sub-of-the-day for my sweet 8th graders.  Somehow, this got me re-focused!  Go figure.  He was discharged on Friday and I spent Saturday shopping and playing in the kitchen.

Remember, when I do my groceries, I arm myself with my coupons and I hit the dollar stores along with the grocery store.

I spent a little more money than I typically would because I needed to re-stock so much, and I wasn’t being too picky about the sales.  Note – I am back to ten boxes of cereal in my pantry and paid less than $1.50 per box.  But I did have several ideas for my freezer in mind.  And I have 9 crockpot meals in my freezer.

I used several different websites to locate recipes, and modified them based on what I had on hand.  Some amazing sites I can suggest are Sidetracked Sarah (my personal favorite), Six Sisters’ Stuff (Real Chick SWEARS by their recipes), and Just A Pinch, just to name the main ones.

Unless otherwise instructed, I just dump everything in gallon-sized freezer bags and smoosh (technical term, Jack!) to mix well.  So this is what all I’ve ended up stocking now:

Potato Corn Chowder (I made 2 of these – been craving corn chowder lately)

  • 2 small bags of frozen corn
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 can cream of potato soup
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1/2 bag of skillet potatoes (the little cubey ones)
  • cooked bacon – to taste

Most of my “canned” items came from the dollar stores.  I’m a total flop cooking bacon, so I put it on a rack in a pan and cooked in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes – perfectly perfect in every way!

Freezer Beef Stew

  • 1 package of beef stew seasoning ( store brand is fine)
  • 1 package dry onion soup mix
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1/2 bag skillet potatoes
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (mine was pre-cut/packaged) – I’ve actually used both antelope and deer lately, but this package is full of store-bought beef
  • 1 cup of water

Some of the sites I viewed said to brown the meat first, but I didn’t bother.  8 hours in the crockpot will cook it!

Creamy Ranch Pork Chops

  • 1 package boneless pork chops
  • 1 package ranch dressing mix
  • 1-2 cans cream of potato or cream of celery

Crockpot Chili

  • 1 lb browned ground meat
  • 1 package chili seasoning
  • 1 big can tomato sauce
  • 1 small can rotel
  • 2 cans chili beans
  • 2 cans light red kidney beans

Taco Soup

  • 1 pound browned ground meat
  • 2 cans chili beans
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 can rotel
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 cup of water

I like to serve this with tortilla chips and lots of shredded cheese.

BBQ Chicken (for sandwiches)

  • 1 package boneless, skinless, chicken breast tenders
  • 1 bottle bbq sauce
  • water – I fill the bbq bottle with water, shake, etc.

After this is cooked, shred the chicken and serve on buns.  It’s excellent with baked beans and mashed potatoes.

Chicken & Rice Casserole

  • 1 package boneless, skinless, chicken breast tenders
  • 1 package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 package frozen broccoli
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • minced garlic to taste

Notice I don’t include the rice in the freezer package.  I tried once and the rice got weird in my crockpot.  Honestly, give it a shot and see how it works for you.  I just cook the chicken concoction and add the rice at the end.

Tater Tot Casserole

  • 1 pound browned ground meat
  • 1 bag frozen green beans
  • 1 can cream of mushroom
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • salt & pepper to taste – I actually use garlic salt and pepper as I cook the meat.
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • 1 bag tater tots – keep this separate from your freezer bag

When you get ready to cook this one, spray your crockpot with a no-stick spray.  Layer your tots on the bottom and then pour your concoction over the top.  I also add some more cheese.  I’ve subbed corn for the green beans before and tend to leave out the onion because of Grizz and the monkeys.

So 9 meals in the freezer and I was feeling productive and nested for a bit.  I also have a huge new stash of aluminum cans for projects….

And I’m totally excited today because my Aunt Sus messaged me her cookie clay recipe for salt dough ornaments. So much more fun than grading papers or cleaning the house!

What is your nesting routine as the temperatures drop?

~ Katie






Sale (Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers l’Été ))


I posted back in December some tips and tricks with car-buying, as well as my experiences so far with my 2007 Camry LE.  If you don’t remember, here is a snippet:


Following are some things I have learned about cars and car-buying:


  • Educate yourself ahead of time.
  • Get pre-approved if you can.  It really increases your bargaining power. And saves you from potential embarrassment.
  • Shop around!  Do not plan to go home with something that day.  Look at different dealerships and test drive a variety of cars in the size and price range you want/need.  I love a Camry but I won’t rule out an Altima or Malibu if I can find a better price and the car is comfy for a household of Sasquatches.  I might even extend my search to a small SUV (um, no, not really!), but I really like the gas mileage in a car.
  • Find a salesman who isn’t a jackhole.  You don’t have to be their best friend, but you will be dealing with him/her for at least a few hours, and that time should be tolerable.  When we were on our GM streak, I dealt with one salesman.  I would haggle him to death, but we both came out winners every time.  The blue lemon?  Not so much.
  • Ask for a lot more than you want for your trade.  It doesn’t always work, but I ended up with $1,850 for an ’87 Bronco II that had a bad transmission one time.  I had expected about $3-500.  Be sure to find the Blue Book value of your trade before you go shopping.
  • Try to have some kind of down payment.  It needn’t be much, but more companies are willing to finance your loan if you’re actually putting down some cash. When I bought the blue lemon, I had about 2 years left on my note for Grizzly’s truck.  That note was paid on time, with extra, every month, but that company that held the lien on the truck would not finance the lemon without a down payment.
  • If you’re buying used, look at the extended warranty that is offered.  I’ve never believed in them, or even needed them, until this car.  You definitely want to have something in place at least while you’re paying the note on the car.  Apart from the Bronco, this is the only used vehicle that has given me so much trouble.
  • Check out the service department.  Talk to people who have used the service department.  One set of my parental units purchases their vehicles at one Toyota dealer and goes to another across town for parts and service.  I like the guy with whom I deal at my dealership, even though I am often frustrated with the service.  He’s given me enough breaks that I’ll continue our business relationship a little longer.


So a new car has been on my list for a minute.  And I never get rid of a car before it’s paid off.  NEVER.  A few weeks ago, I realized how ridiculous it is that I pay so much money each month for a vehicle I hate to drive.  Because I didn’t want to run into financing issues again, I called my credit union last week and did a loan application by phone.  The 2014 models are beginning to come out, there have been some great ads lately, and my credit union is offering fabulous interest rates this month.  My request was approved and the words from the girl in the loan department were “Go shop.”


I posted on Facebook that I was looking at cars and was contacted by a guy from my graduating class in high school who is now a salesperson for a Ford dealership in Stonewall.  Being business owners ourselves, Grizzly and I like to do business with folks we know.  Grizz, after our Camry experience, is concerned about warranties (Ford and Nissan offer the same one!)  I need a mid-size sedan and the Fusion sounded like a good car.  In fact, I was all set to drive down there last Friday to pick one out.


Until Mechanic Man told me about aaaaaalllllll of the problems he sees in Ford Fusions.  He recommended I check out the Chevy Malibu instead.


Please note:  I know James would have done everything in his power to make the numbers work for me.  He’s a great guy and people who didn’t attend school with us told me to go see him!  The way things are going, I probably will go see him and try on a Fusion.


I realized at that point that I had skipped several tips along the way.  I was having to re-think my plan.  Granny-at-the-Farm told me to use the weekend to “do my homework” and start looking Monday.


That’s what I did.  Mechanic Man sent me several notes about service update on a bunch of cars. Granny-at-the-Farm loan me her Consumer Reports.  I valued my car on several different websites to get some ballpark figures in mind, such as Kelley Blue Book, USA Black Book,, and NADA – max value is still a little less than I owe.  I also started Googling (surprise!) to find out what problems owners of the different 2013 mid-size sedan models are having.  I requested information through websites on each of the cars I was shopping.


I had a 9am appointment today at the local Nissan dealership.  The sales rep was a really nice guy, finally got the numbers where I wanted, and I was quite pleased – till I sat with the finance manager.  Apparently the out-the-door price?  Well, it sent me out the door in my old car.  They added the upside down portion of the Camry to the “out-the-door” number, which put my payments too high again.  The greasy finance guy apparently doesn’t speak English (I don’t need to apply for credit because my bank pre-approved me!) and he tried to bully me into a loan I can’t afford.


I kind of liked that doggoned Altima.  I could see where it would be fun to drive.


So I took my purchasing team to lunch to regroup and went to the Toyota place in Shreveport.  I’d been emailing with a sales rep there about the new Camry.  Not as many bells and whistles as the Altima, and the interior is ugly as sin, but it’s an acceptable car.   I test-drove one and it’s kind of like a security blanket – I’m used to driving a Camry. (I also tried on a Prius – negative!! Backseat is roomy but the front area is CRAMPED!)  But again, the numbers weren’t working.  I left because of around $3,000.


To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.  I really hoped to get this particular project knocked out today.  My top two car choices aren’t working out, due to numbers. And if either dealership had come off the darned sticker price, we’d be done.  I felt really badly for the guy at Nissan – he’d gassed and cleaned the car already.


If this adventure is anything like those in the past, I will actually hear from these sales guys by the end of the week.  It happens to be the end of the month and the 2014 models are already rolling in.  And the Realest Chick I know is having a poop fit because she’s away now and she loves to wheel and deal, she has a Nissan guy, and I’ve not gone to see him yet.  I’m being offered a decent number on my trade, so it’s doable.  I’ve also spoken to a Hyundai salesman and I have a Chevrolet guy to talk to.  Who knows, I may end up going to see James about that Fusion yet.


Everything comes in time.  Just not always when or how we want.


How was your last car-buying experience?


~ Katie




English: Hand I'm bored Español: Mano I'm bored

So The Realest Chick called after my last post and said, “I have an idea for your blog.” She has kind of become my idea chick. She comes up with it and I run with it. And it is my first day of summer, so I have a few spare minutes.

“How about cheap family activities?”

OK. She may not have said exactly that, but it was close. And the gears in my head are grinding.

Some of the ideas I have may be specific to my area, but a quick search of our bff, Google, may point you the right way for your own place. My monkeys aren’t into team sports, so I’m not addressing that. Besides, I’m staying in the zone of cheaptitude.

The Local Library Because we prefer monkey brains not to turn to mush over the summer, I sign mine up for the summer reading program at the local library. There are different goals for different ages, and ours meets every Friday. This year, it seems there is something different each day being offered, also. I’m kind of stoked about the bubble-making! I have agreed to take the monkeys on Tuesdays and Fridays (Friday being the program day), and they’re allowed 2 books each at a time.  They’ll be in the prize zone in no time.

Movies Our local theaters have “Dollar Days.” I think nowadays, it’s actually 2 or 3 but if you feed the monkeys first, you’re golden.  Ours show older releases but do you think my kids worry about that?  Also, there is an organization in Shreveport that has a “Movies and Moonbeams” program, where they show movies every other week in local parks for free.  It starts around 8:30, so the sun should be down, hopefully taking the miserable heat with it.

Kids Bowl Free Love love love this program! Go to the Kids Bowl Free website, enter a bit of info about your family, find a local bowling center in their list, and you’re golden! Every Sunday in your email, you’ll receive coupons for free bowling. I registered the monkeys and they can bowl 2 games per day all summer. The only expense is shoe rental!

Ten-pin bowling in action

Museums Local museums are usually  a low-cost hit.  The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum over in Shreveport is one of my favorites.  In the main building, all along the walls, are dioramas with scenes from our local history.  Some of the displays change and they have things in the middle, also.  In addition, we have a wildlife museum and several art museums locally.  Many museums charge a negligible admission, with some being donation-based.

Angela checks out Louisiana

Angela checks out Louisiana (Photo credit: kristykay22)

Take it Outside  We’re so blessed living near the river and many parks.  I’ve taken the monkeys in summers past to a park a few neighborhoods over.  Picnic lunch, a kite, maybe some basketballs, and we’re happy happy happy.  There are also several lakes and pools in our area, as well as bike/jogging trails near the river.  We also frequent the local Farmer’s Market (haven’t made it yet due to scheduling, but we’ll get there!) and we’ve tried out a pick-your-own farm in Haughton.

Sunday Funday A few months ago, ol’ Grizz and I invited a few friends over to grill.  Real Chick’s husband was out-of-town for the weekend, Crazy Math Lady lives on take-out food, and we all worry about Pioneer Woman‘s sweet husband getting a solid, home-cooked meal with her being deployed.  It was a lot of fun, very kid-friendly, and turned into something of a regular occurrence.  SOme weekends the host house changes, some of the faces change.  Everyone contributes something, so it’s still low-cost entertainment.  Break out the cornhole boards and we have a party.

So these are a few activities with the House of Cheaptitude seal of approval.  What are some other cheap/free family activities?

~ 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.


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 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 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 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!


et cetera
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