Sunday, February 28, 2010

March Goals

For March I have a few goals I want to meet. At first my goal was to add $500 to our emergency fund. I was planning on doing this by doing some surveys, selling on craiglist, squeezing the heck out of my grocery budget, and coming underbudget on our utilities. Now it looks like the $500 will go to finishing our living room remodel. Dh has decided he is tired of living in a half finished living room (which is great he is motivated!-we just need to make sure no purchases go on a credit card).

My normal grocery budget right now is $70 per week and I go every two weeks. (In summer I can usually be around $55-$60 when having a garden.) Last time I shopped was February 19 and I spent $150 (yes a little overbudget). I was planning on going shopping again March 5 but my sister in law has challenged me to try to make it another week.

So my next shopping trip is tentatively planned for March 12. (Except for milk and fresh produce). I am hoping to be below budget and put that extra into savings for the month. I also cancelled our twice monthly Schwan's delivery so that will also go into our savings account.

Also our electric bill has been running $150 per month. For the first time I am trying to air dry our clothes. The plan is to not use the dryer this month (only exclusion is towels and jeans drying for 5-10 minutes). It will be tough but I want to see how much money we will save on our electric bill. We are also going to be diligent about shutting lights off and the computer off at night.

My motto in March will have to be "every little thing counts". It is going to be a challenge - Hmmm is it April yet? :0)

Paying with Cash

This is one change that can save you alot and help you to follow your budget. I will admit this was a foreign concept to me. I had always had either a credit card or a debit card with me and I never used cash. This has also been the toughest change for me. Some weeks I will do really well with this, others I will not.

What I try to do each week is have 4 envelopes:
1. Groceries
2. Gas - Cars
3. Dh Fun Money
4. Me Fun Money

Each payday I take out the budgeted amount for each envelope. I then make an attempt to not use a check, debit card, or credit card until the next payday.

This does not always happen because to me using a debit card is much easier and more convenient that paying with cash. With cash I worry about not having enough when I go to pay vs. the ease of just swiping the card.

Switching to "cash only" does work very well for me. Because I worry about not having enough cash at the checkout I do not put unnecessary items in my cart. I think more about what I am buying. It is also harder to spend when you physically see the money leaving your wallet and you know when the money is gone there is not anymore. It makes the money more real and you more accountable.

I know I need to get back in the habit of using "cash only" again - one thing I am going to try is having a small calculator with me. I can then keep track of my total so there will be no surprises at the checkout.

Target / Walmart aka The Budget Busters

Have you ever planned to stop at Target or Walmart for one or two items only to find yourself with a cartful of items being pushed to your car and $100 gone?

This happened to me every week for years. When we were trying to cut expenses I knew these trips would have to stop. There are several things I have done to help me reduce the money I spend in both stores.

1. I stay out of the stores if I am only needing a few items. I will get that item at a grocery store, dollar store, or even a gas station. I might pay more for the one item I do buy but I am saving money in the long run by doing this. It saves me the temptation of filling my cart full of items I do not need.

2. If I do go to Target or Walmart it is a planned trip and I bring a list of items I need to buy. If it is not on the list I do not buy it! I also set myself a budget and bring cash.

With these two changes I have been able to go from spending $100-$150 per week to less than $100 per month.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Whole Chicken Cooked in the Crockpot

When I was first married I tried cooking chicken in the oven and ah- just imagine the turkey on National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. I still cannot cook a chicken in the oven without it being very dry. So I found an alternative way to cook a whole chicken. Now - cooking a chicken this way is not something you want to do if you are having guests over for dinner. When you take it out of the crockpot it literally is so moist it falls apart. So you end up with pieces that you have to remove the meat from.

1. To do this - you remove your giblets from the chicken. You place the chicken in your crockpot, season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Put the lid on and turn on low for 7-8 hours. It is that easy, you do not add water or any other liquid. The chicken ends up cooking in its own juices. Picture above shows what it will look like after 8 hours.

2. You remove the chicken from the crockpot - It will fall apart when you start moving it. When you get all the pieces on a plate remove all the skin and bones and put them back into the crockpot. Fill the crockpot with water. Keep on low for 10-12 hours to make your chicken broth.

3. Strain the bones/caracass out of your liquid.

4. What you have left is your chicken broth.

From this chicken I was able to get:
the original meal of chicken, mash potatoes, and gravy
4 c cubed chicken
1 c shredded chicken
14 cups of chicken broth that I freeze in 2 cup portions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

If you are looking for high value coupons and free samples to try vocalpoint is a great website to join. Since joining I have gotten free razors, cereal, and alot of high value coupons.

Coupons are usually for a free item, $2/1 item, or $1/1 item and you get between 5 and 10 of these coupons.

Click here to join!

Here are some of the coupons I have gotten from them:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Baking Day 2/21

Today's baking day I tried a new recipe for some healthy whole wheat graham crackers. They did got go over too well with dh and the kids, they all say they taste blah. They say that because they are not sweet. I think they are pretty good and would be good with hot coffee or tea. We are also going to frost some of them with vanilla frosting - Yum! Next time I make these I am going to substitute the honey with molasses. I think these would be great with molasses in them!

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Grahams
6 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c. oats
1 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
3 Tbsp. cinnamon
3/4 c. honey
1 1/2 c. oil
1 c. cold water

In large bowl mix the dry ingredients together. Make a well in center of bowl. In a separate bowl, combine honey, oil, and water. Mix well, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until you get a thick stiff dough. Grease two 10 x 15 pans. Put half the dough in each sheet and press flat. Use a pizza cutter to cut each pan of dough into 24 squares.

Bake at 400 degrees for 13-18 minutes - until lighly browned. Cool on racks, reslice and break apart and store in air tight container or ziplock bag.

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls w/ Cream Cheese Frosting
1 c. warm milk
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. yeast
4 c. flour

1/2 stick butter, melted
1/2 c. sugar
4 tsp. cinnamon

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine and stir ingredients in order listed. Knead dough and add additional flour as necessary to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

2. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease both sides, and cover with a clean towel. Set dough in a warm place to rise until double in size. If you have a bread machine, you can use the dough setting in place of steps 1 and 2 here.

3. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. On a lightly floured surface roll dough into a 12 x 20 rectangle. Spread with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.

4. Roll dough into log and pinch edges and ends to seal. Slice into 12 slices (I use dental floss to do this)

5. Place rolls, cut side down in greased 9 x 13 pan. Cover and rise until doubled.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar

Cream butter and cream cheese in bowl. Mix in vanilla and then add powdered sugar. Add milk to achieve desired consistancy.

Frost rolls while still warm.

Corn Beef Cheese Ball
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz extra sharp or colby cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. minced onion
2 Tbsp. milk
2 oz. Carl Budding Corn Beef or Deli Dried Beef, finely chopped
Chopped walnuts, optional

1. Combine cheeses, onion, and beef with hands. Add 2 Tbsp. milk to mixture so cheeseball is more easily spreadable.

2. Roll mixture into ball; roll in chopped nuts.

3. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until needed. Serve with crackers or pretzels.

Homemade Chex Mix (this is from a Crispix cereal box)
7 c. Crispix or Corn Chex (or off brand equivalent)
1 c. salted peanuts
1 c. pretzels
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. onion salt
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. worcestershire sauce

1. Combine cereal, nuts, and pretzels in 13 x 9 pan. Set aside.

2. Sir together remaining ingredients. Pour over cereal mixture. Stir to evenly coat.

3. Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool. Store in airtight container.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins
see recipe here

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lowering Your Grocery Bill Without Coupons - ALDI

The key to being able to cut our grocery bill from $125/wk to $60/wk has been Aldis. They have the lowest prices on almost every item I buy. My family has been happy with the quality of all the items we have bought there.

A couple tips for first time Aldi shoppers:
1. Bring a quarter for your cart. When you bring your cart back to the cart corral you get your quarter back. (This is my kid's favorite part of the trip - putting your quarter into the slot to unlock your cart and returning the cart and getting their quarter back.

2. Bring your own bags. You can also purchase paper bags for .05 each at the checkout. I use a really nice and large size reusable bag I bought from Aldi.

3. For payment they only accept cash or debit card. No checks or credit cards are accepted.

Here is a price list for some items I buy at Aldi. I cannot guarantee that every Aldi has the exact same price but prices should be similiar.

*I will add to this list as I purchase items and can get the price.

Whole Chicken .79/lb
1 lb. Frozen Ground Turkey 1.19
14.5 oz. diced tomatoes .49
6 oz. tomato paste .39
8 oz. tomato sauce .25
15 oz. canned spinach .59
Canned vegetables .59
Cream of Mushroom/Chicken Soups .69
Frozen Juices .89
1 pint heavy whipping cream 1.59
Cereal 1.79-1.99 per box
26 oz. dog biscuits .99
2 ply paper towels .65/single roll
Quart Half n Half 1.99
Dozen Eggs .99
32 oz. plain Yogurt 1.59
24 oz. cottage cheese 1.99
Cooking Spray (similar to Pam) 1.29
1 lb. peanuts 1.99
15 oz. raisins 1.49
Chocolate Chips 1.69
48 oz. canola oil 2.19
Butter 1.79
16 oz. sour cream .89
8 oz. baking cocoa 1.49
Saltines .89
Graham Crackers 1.39
5 lb. Sugar 1.79
5 lb. All Purpose flour 1.55
2 lb. Powdered Sugar 1.29
8 Qt Dry Milk Powder 5.99
Limes .29 each
Lemons .29 each
Fresh Bela Mushrooms 1.59
Fresh Snow Peas 1.49
Cucumbers .49 each
Bananas .39/lb.
3 lb. oranges 1.39
2 lb. seedless grapes 1.98
Fresh Pineapple 1.99
Head of Lettuce .99
Gallon Milk 2.29

Menu Plan 2/20 - 2/26

Here is my second attempt at a menu plan. I really like doing this and it is saving me alot of money. I plan meals based on what I have in the freezer and pantry and then add meals in as I need them.

Here is my meal plan for the next two weeks:

Whole Chicken in Crockpot, salad, bread
Homemade Chicken Potpie, salad
Crockpot Chili, bread
Hammy Mac N Cheese, veggie, bread
Hamburger Rice Casserole, veggie, bread
Leftovers-Clean the Fridge Buffet
Homemade Pizza
Tilapia, veggie, bread
BBQ Briscuit, salad, bread
Beef Stroganoff, veggie, bread
Ham n Cheese Quiche, fruit, toast
Soup and Baked Potato
Homemade Pizza

I didn't need too many items to make these meals so I restocked my baking supplies.

Grocery Shopping Trip:
Whole Chicken $4.39
2 Cucumbers $1.00
2 cans Diced Tomatoes .98
Tomato Paste .39
2 Tomato Sauce .50
3 lb. bananas $1.19
6 lbs. oranges $2.78
Half n Half $1.99
32 oz. Plain Yogurt $1.59
Cottage Cheese $1.99
Pint Heavy Whipping Cream $1.59
Peanuts $1.59
Raisins $1.49
2 Chocolate Chips $3.38
Saltines $.89
5 lb. Sugar $1.79
4 lb. Powder Sugar $2.58
3 Rolls Paper Towel $1.95
3 boxes dog biscuits $2.98
Flavored Creamer $1.49
Chili Powder $1.09
Baking Cocoa $1.49
Graham Crackers $1.39
8 Qt Dry Milk $5.99

Total: $46.49

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Budget

"The Budget" use to a frighten me. Budget - what budget, we had never had one.

Now the budget is one of the best tools we have in lowering our debt. Having a budget allows us to tell our money where it needs to go, instead of wondering where it went.

To make a budget you will need three things:
1. How much income you have coming in.
2. How much you have going out in bills.
3. And the most important - your spouse or significant other

To find out the amounts you have been spending in certain areas check the previous two months of your credit card statements, check registers, or online if you have online account access. (Doing this was a real eye opener for me, I noticed for the first time where our money was going - fast food restaurants, Target or Walmart, other stores in malls, sit down restaurants, and gas stations. Any correlation there ?:0) )

Once you have that, sit down with your spouse or significant other and make a list of budget categories. An example of what a budget could look like is:
Utilites (list them out separately)
Car Insurance
School Lunches
Child Care
Sports Fees
Hair Care
Pet Care
Med. Copays
Car Gasoline
Eating Out
Fun Money
Loans (list them out separately)
Credit Cards (list them out separately)

Fill in the categories with the average amount of money you spent for one month. Some items like loan payments will be easy since they are always the same, others will just be an approximate amount. Once you know what you are spending for one month you can now look at areas you think you want to cut.

Making a budget is one thing, sticking with it is another. You will hit bumps (we have many a time) and it took us 3-4 months to get a budget going that was doable. At first I tried to cut too much from too many categories and it just was not working. The trick is to start slowly and gradually lower your expenses.

It gives you a feeling of empowerment to be able to look at your budget and see exactly where your money is going to be going for that month. If you have never done a budget try one for March. You have the next week to gather all of your information and plan your month of March out on paper. :o)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My First Blog Award!!

I am excited to find out I have received a blog award! Thank you My Frugal Fun Life for nominating me! Now I get to pass along this award to 12 other bloggers who make my life a little brighter!

The Saved Quarter
The Simple Green Frugal Co-Op
Frugally Blonde
The Thrifty Mama
Down To Earth
The Homesteading Housewife
Debt Free Forever
Living 4 Free
Living Off-Grid at Maple Valley Farm
Money Saving Mom
Under $1000 Per Month
Penniless Parenting

Rules of Acceptance...
Put the logo on the sidebar or within a post
Pass the award on to 12 bloggers who brighten your day
Link to the nominees within your post
Let the nominees know they received this award by commenting on their blog
Link back to the person who gave you this award, as a way of showing your appreciation for being appreciated :)

Homemade Wheat Bread

This is our favorite Homemade Bread to make! There is nothing better than fresh bread from the oven slathered in butter. Yum! Yum! This dough is also very versatile and makes great dinner rolls and artesian style round loaf. (see bottom of post)

1 c. warm water
1 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. Oil
2 Tbsp. Honey
2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. Flour
1 1/2 c. Whole Wheat Flour
2 tsp. yeast

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in mixing bowl. Stir.

2. Add flours and yeast, and knead dough 5-10 minutes. Instead of kneading by hand I use the dough hooks that came with my handmixer to blend/knead the dough. You can also use a Kitchaid Mixer(or similiar brand) with dough hook. Here is a pic.

3. Shape dough into a ball (use a little flour if it is sticky) and place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with a clean towel and let rise until doubled, about 45-60 minutes.

4. Punch dough down and shape into a bread loaf. Place in greased loaf pan and cover. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 35-45 minutes.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove bread from oven and allow to rest in the pan for a few minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Additional notes: If you have a breadmaker, you can use the dough setting to knead it for you. Just put ingredients in according to order listed. Then shape into loaf, put into loaf pan and follow the rest of the instructions.

This recipe is very easy to double if you would like two loaves. (Do not do this if using bread machine)

I have substituted molasses for the honey and had great results.

I have also used 2 c. whole wheat flour and 1 c. flour for one loaf and it tasted great!

I have made dinner rolls with this dough - on step 4 roll dough into balls and place on greased cookie sheet instead of putting into a bread loaf pan. Follow rest of instructions as for bread. For a round loaf just shape the ball of dough into one round loaf and place on greased cookie sheet.

Kitchen Tip - Getting Your Bread Dough to Rise

If you live in a cold climate (like me in Minnesota) and you have a difficult time getting your bread dough to rise in the winter here is a tip that I found that works great!

Put your bowl on top of your crockpot and set your crockpot on either "low" or "keep warm" setting. It will look like this

I also do this after I punch down the dough and transfer to my bread loaf pan-

Up Next I will have an Awesome Homemade Wheat Bread Recipe!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Opinion Outpost - Earn $ Online Doing Surveys

If you would enjoy participating in survey research and helping companies better understand how to improve their products and services, click here to sign up for Opinion Outpost.

I have tried several different online survey companies and Opinion Outpost and Inbox Dollars (see other post) are my two favorites.

With Opinion Outpost I have done several fun surveys which range in time from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. *Longer surveys earn you higher amounts.

So far on Opinion Outpost I have earned $70 and also have gotten to try new products. You can cash out when your account reaches $5 for either a check or an Amazon gift card.

Inbox Dollars - Earning $ Online

I have tried a few different websites for earning money online. Inbox Dollars is one of my favorites to use.

There are several ways to earn money at Inbox Dollars. Once you get to a $30 balance you can cash out. I have received one check and am almost ready to cash out for another.

Get paid to read emails. Get paid .02 for each email you read. You click on "confirm read email" and the money is deposited into your account. Will you get rich quick dong this - No, but it easy to click on links while watching tv or if you are on the internet already.

Online Surveys - you can do surveys and earn .50 for each survey.

Cash Offers - You can buy products and earn money at the same time. One of my favorites for this was My dh wanted to sign up for Gamefly and I found a link on Inbox Dollars to get $10 for signing up.

100% Free Cash Offers - You earn money for doing surveys and trying products. These cost you no money to do.

Cash Games - Earn money for playing online games.

Cash Shopping - Shop on your favorite online websites and earn a percentage back of the dollars you spent. If you are shopping online anyways, why not get a percentage back.

Sign up here and earn a $5 Bonus for signing up!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Frosty Flicks - Movie & Popcorn for $3

Marcus Theatres is having Frosty Flicks from February 6 - March 20!
Join us February 6th - March 20th, 2010 on Saturday mornings at 10am to view your favorite family flicks for just $3! Popcorn is included, so grab the family and head to your nearest participating Marcus Theatre® location!

Here is the list of movies they will be showing:
Feb. 20 - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Feb. 27 - Where the Wild Things Are
Mar. 6 - Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mar. 13 - Planet 51
Mar. 20 - Alvin & The Chipmunks The Squeakquel

Check Here to find a participating Marcus Theatre near you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Baking Day 2/14

Here is what I made today:

2 c. flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. milk
2 eggs, separated
4 Tbsp. Oil

Combine beaten egg yolks, milk, and oil. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Beat egg whites and fold into batter. Makes 8-9 waffles. (I did a triple batch today)

Homemade Brownies
Boil 1 c. water, 2 sticks butter, and 1/4 c. cocoa in medium - large pot.
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. buttermilk or sour milk

Pour into a 10 x 16 cookie sheet/pan. Bake 20-25 min. at 350 degrees.

Boil 1 stick butter, 1/4 c. cocoa, 1/4 c. buttermilk, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Remove from heat and add 1 lb. powdered sugar. Beat well. Spread over brownies.

Heart Shaped Peanut Butter Cookies

Maple Flavored Syrup - click here for recipe

Banana Bread
3 1/2 c. flour
3 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 c. mashed bananas
5/8 c. water
1 c. oil or unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add rest of ingredients. Mix.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes. yield 2 loaves

*You can also substitute 2 c. pumpkin for the bananas and make an awesome pumpkin bread!

From Scratch vs. From Store - Maple Flavored Syrup

Today I tried making maple syrup for the first time. We were almost out of syrup to it was a great time to try this out!

Also have you ever read the ingredients on the back of your maple syrup bottle? Here is what mine listed: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, sugar, natural and artificial maple flavor, then a list of preservatives and coloring. This recipe is basicly the same thing but the bonus is you only have the healthy ingredients in it.

Basic recipe:
2 c. sugar
1 c. water
1 tsp. maple extract

Bring water and sugar to a slow boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat before it comes to a rolling boil(to keep crystals from forming). Add flavoring as it is cooling. Store in the refrigerator. This makes about 12 oz.

For thicker syrup replace half of the water with corn syrup.


I did not realize it would take as long as it did to get the mixture to a low boil. So try to talk one of your kids into starting the "stirring constantly" part of this for you. It took 15 - 20 minutes to get this to a low boil. Since I don't enjoy standing in one spot and stirring constantly I am doubling this recipe next time. The fewer times I have to do this the better.

The consistancy is really thin and I did not mind it but the kids said it did not look like the syrup from the store. So next time I plan to replace 25% of the water with corn syrup. I did not have maple extract on hand so I used 100% Pure Grade B Maple Syrup that I got Free from with swagbucks. I had boughten this syrup about 6 months ago but no one here liked it so I have been slowly using it up in recipes. This worked perfectly - I added enough for the taste and color we wanted for the syrup. The taste was excellent and everyone preferred it over the store bought. With the changes outlined above this will be our new syrup recipe.

Homemade = .30
Store bought = $3.00-$4.00

Friday, February 12, 2010

From Scratch vs. From Store - Jumbo Muffins

This is going to be the first of many threads comparing store bought items to making them from scratch.

My dh and kids really like the jumbo muffins you can buy for about $1.00 each in stores or even more from the work vending machine. Once I found out dh was buying these every day at work I decided to figure out a way to make them on my own. I knew I could make them cheaper and healthier.

I searched everywhere for a jumbo muffin pan but could not find one. Amazon came to the rescue again. I think you can get anything you need from that site LOL.

I bought this muffin pan and I love it! When I shop at Amazon I always try to order $25 worth of items so I can get free shipping. I did not have a bundt pan so I added this bundt pan to my order. My total came to $25.00 so I got free shipping.

This is where Swagbucks comes into play. I save up my swagbucks for $5 Amazon gift cards. I always wait until I have $25 in giftcards to use them so I can order with free shipping.

So total cost for these pans shipped to me was FREE thanks to swagbucks.

For the jumbo muffins we just use our regular muffin recipes and add a couple of minutes to the cooking time.

Here is a recipe we like:
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins
1c. oatmeal
1c. buttermilk or sour milk
1 egg
1/2c sugar
1/3c oil or unsweetened applesauce
1 1/4c. Flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
6 oz. chocolate chips

In large bowl combine oatmeal and buttermilk. Let stand 5 minutes. Add egg, sugar, & oil, Beat well. Add flour, b. soda, salt, and b. powder. Mix again just until moist. Fold in chocolate chips.

Fill cups 2/3 full. I usually have extra batter that I will use in a regular muffin pan. 400 degrees for 20 minutes. (check the larger ones-they may need a few extra minutes)

Price for 6 store bought jumbo muffins $6.00
made from scratch $1.50 or less (depending if you get chocolate chips on sale)


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lowering Your Auto/Homeowner's Insurance

This is one area that we were able to lower our bill by about 45%!

For over 10 years we had insurance with a man that dh knew before we were married. Over that 10 year period of time we had never checked on insurance rates because dh always said that his friend gave us the lowest rates possible. I kept thinking about calling around but did not know where to start or who I would even call.

I was having a conversation about this with my mom and she mentioned that we should call the lady she had her insurance through. My mom said she had gotten her and my stepdad lower rates.

I called Mary and gave her all of our information and she recommended what types of coverage we needed etc. That is when I found out the great news that Mary was an insurance broker. She took all of our information from me and shopped around for me to find the lowest rates available. She called me back the next day with 3 different options to choose from. All were lower than the coverage we currently had.

We were able to get a policy with all the exact same coverages we had for $80 less per month. We also had her check our homeowners and was able to save $400 per year on homeowners too.

Mary did all the work of switching our policies. We received some papers in the mail to sign and return to her. It was really easy to make the switch.

Menu Plan thru 2/19

Dinner has always been decided about 4pm and it was always a headache to try to figure out what to make. I work 3pm-7pm so I would get that daily call about "What's for supper?". My usual response was "I don't know, whatever you can find" or "You decide."

Last Friday dh and the kids complained that we had no food in the house. So my first response was "we will go to the store for a big grocery trip tomorrow". This grocery trip usually cost us around $200-$250. I knew there had to be a better way to grocery shop and save money in the process too. Here is my first venture into menu planning...

Last Friday I decided to try to make a menu plan. I was overwhelmed but got some help. I had always thought menu planning was about picking random recipes that you want to make. When starting to make a menu plan I found out the first thing you need to do is find out what you already have in your freezer, fridge, and pantry. So this menu plan is mostly using items I already had on hand. Next menu plan I will use a combination of what I have on hand and what items are on sale.

For breakfast we always have hot or cold cereal, pancakes, or waffles. Lunches are leftovers/we usually make a buffet of whatever is in the fridge.

These are what I had in my freezer:

13 lb. ham
4 lb. beef briscuit
box of 20 pork egg rolls
box of jumbo breaded shrimp
4 lb. pkg. of country style pork ribs
3 lb. pkg. of beef soup bones
2 lb. bag of leftover turkey meat
2 Beef Roasts
1 lb. ground turkey
various bags of frozen veggies

Here is my menu plan for suppers from 2/5 through 2/19

Breaded Shrimp, Rice, Veggie
Crockpot Turkey Soup, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Ham, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Gravy, Rolls
Crockpot Scalloped Ham & Potatoes, salad, bread
Clean the Fridge Night (leftovers)
Crockpot Beef Roast, Carrots, Potatoes
Beef Stroganoff with Noodles, veggie
Ham Quiche, Fruit, Toast
Homemade Pizza
Country Style Ribs, Potato Salad, Baken Beans
Sour Cream Chicken, Veggie, Rolls
Tator Tot Hotdish, veggie
Chili, Bread
Cheesy Potato Dish w/ Ham, salad, bread
Ham & Cheese Omelettes, Hashbrowns, Fruit
Homemade Pizza

Grocery Total for the items I needed to make these was $71.00.

I don't plan to enter a grocery store again until 2/20.

Based on what I have experienced this week doing a menu plan can save you alot at the grocery store. It is also awesome not to have to think about what to make for suppers.

Walgreens 101

Shopping at Walgreens can save you alot of money on Health and Beauty items.

Here are some examples of ways to save at Walgreens.


These coupons can be combined with MQ's (manufacturer coupons)or IP's. (internet printables) Also you only need one Walgreens coupon no matter how many of that product you buy. For example if a coupon states Twizzlers .99. You can buy 2 Twizzlers and you will only need one coupon. The register will automatically deduct the price for both Twizzlers when the coupon gets scanned. So in this scenario:

You have 2 MQ for Twizzlers that say .50 off 1 Twizzlers. You purchase two packs of Twizzlers. The Twizzlers are scanned at regular price ($2.59 each). You hand the cashier your two MQ's and the your one Walgreens 7 day coupon. The 7 day coupon will deduct $1.60 off each bag of Twizzlers, making your total $1.98. Your MQs get scanned which deducts another $1.00 off your total. Your total will be .98 plus tax.


In every weekly ad Walgreens does specials "When you buy $15.00 of the following products receive $5.00 back in register rewards (RR) for your next shopping purchase. Or Buy 10 items receive $5.00 back in RR.


Dimetapp Cough Syrup
$3.99 each
RR deal- Buy 2, Get $5 - Buy 3 - Get $10

I have (qty 3) $3 MQ to use so this is what I will do.
3 x 3.99 = 11.97
-$3.00/1 (x3)9.00
Total Out of Pocket: $2.97 + tax
I will get a $10 RR.

The RR prints off a catalina machine near the register. They are considered a manufacturer coupon. You can not do the same deal twice in one transaction and get two of the same RR's. If you have a $10 RR from buying Dimetapp you cannot use it to pay for Dimetapp in another transaction and get another RR.

Since a RR (Register Reward) is considered a manufacturer coupon you have to make sure you more items than coupons. For example you want to buy 3 items and you have a MQ for each of the items. If you want to use a RR to pay for your items you now are using 4 coupons. So you need to add something else to your order so you have 4 items. I usually will buy something really inexpensive like a pencil. This extra item(s) you need to buy are referred to as fillers.

Couponing 101

Are you new to couponing? Here is some basic information to help you get started. I will be doing coupon matchups every Sunday morning for local stores. If you want to join in starting Sunday all you need to do is buy your local metro area paper.

These are the three basic type of coupons you can use.

Manufacturer Coupons (MQ):
Buy your local Sunday paper. I usually buy two a week so I can get doubles of coupons. Holiday weekends do not have any coupon inserts in it.

Internet Printable Coupons(IP): (not all stores accept IP coupons)
Online Coupons

This is a free website to get coupons from. Tip: after you print the first coupon press the back arrow, hit refresh, and print another coupon. You can print two copies of most coupons this way. After two it tells you you have exceeded your limit. They reload new coupons on the 1st of each month.

Product websites:
Alot of products website will have coupons you can print off. Do you have a favorite brand of an item? - Try their website you may find a coupon for it.

Store Coupons (SC):
In my area these are Target store coupons & Walgreens 7 day coupons in the weekly ad

The great thing about store coupons is that they can be combined with either a MQ (manufacturer coupon) or an IP (internet printable) to save you even more. An example of this would be if Walgreens had a coupon in thier weekly flier for $.99 Twizzlers. You may have a MQ or IP for .50/1 Twizzlers. You can combine those coupons and get Twizzlers for .49 each. Even better is if you have $1.00/1 you will get Twizzlers for free and may make .01 on them. Technical term is "overage". I say "may" because not all stores will allow you to have overage. They will hand key the coupon in for .99 instead of $1.00. You can do this mulitple times in most cases. If you have 3 SC and 3 MQ you will get 3 bags of Twizzlers for $.49 or free depending on what MQ coupon you have.

To be able to get good deals you need to save the MQ's every week and match them up with store ad's. A big key to this is organization.


There are so many different ways to organize coupons. You can use a 3 ring binder with baseball card sheets and (4x6) photo sheets and slip your coupons into them. You can use envelopes, or a recipe box with dividers. There are many options. Some examples of dividing tabs you can use are:


Another option would be to further categorize into:


Some people take thier binders/boxes to the store with them. Others plan thier trip and just take the coupons they will need with them in a small envelope.

To the embarassment of my dh and kids I am one of those that brings my coupon box wih me all the time. I have gotten items for free by doing this. You never know what items you will find on clearance.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Low Cost Fabric Softner & Dishwasher Rinse Agent

Do you like to use fabric softner in your laundry? Here is a low cost alternative....

Vinegar -
just pour the same amount of vinegar into your fabric softner compartment.

I promise your clothes will not smell like vinegar!

Do you buy that expensive jet dry agent for your dishwasher? Low cost alternative....

You guessed it - vinegar

Homemade Laundry Soap (Liquid Version)

I use to always buy Tide. Then I decided to be frugal. So that was the end of Tide...

and the beginning of an awesome low cost alternative.

Homemade Laundry Detergent (Liquid Version)

1 bar of Kirks Castile Soap
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

Cut the soap into small pieces and place in the pot with 5 cups of water. Bring the water just below a boil and stir until the soap is completely melted. When the soap is just about melted, pour 3 gallons of hot water into the 5-gallon container and let it sit until the soap in the pot is melted. Once all of the soap shavings are melted, pour the mixture into the 5-gallon container and stir.

Once the soap and water are stirred, add the cup of washing soda and stir until dissolved. Once the washing soda is dissolved, pour in the cup of borax and stir again until dissolved. If you would like a scent add some essential oil to your mixture. *If you have a paint mixer attachment for your drill that works great for mixing this*

Now you've got a huge container of hot soapy looking water. Cover the container, place it somewhere out of the way and let it sit overnight. Once it's cooled it will gel. It will not gel uniformly so it will be lumpy and watery.

You use half a cup per load of laundry. This homemade laundry detergent works well in high efficiency washing machines since it is low sudsing.

This recipe makes 442 oz of laundry detergent - you will need 4 oz per load. You should be able to wash 100 loads of laundry.

Cost Breakdown
$1.75 per batch (same as powdered version)

100 loads of laundry comes out to $.02 per load

Homemade Laundry Soap (Powder Version)

I use to always buy Tide. Then I decided to be frugal. So that was the end of Tide...

and the beginning of an awesome low cost alternative.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

1 bar of Kirks Castile Soap
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

Grate soap on the smallest hole setting of your cheese grater or cut it up into small chunks and put it in your food processor/blender. Object is to get the soap into small pieces so it will dissolve in your water. Add the borax and Washing Soda to the soap flakes and mix well. Use 1 Tbsp. per normal soiled laundry load. You will be able to wash approx 32 loads.

We like the fresh smell of this but if you do want to add a scent you can add a couple drops of essential oil to your mix.

I was able to purchase all of the ingredients at our local Econo Foods Store.

Cost for the ingredients
Kirks Soap $.83/bar
55 oz Arm & Hammer Washing Soda $3.79
76 oz Borax $3.49

Total spent for supplies $8.11

Cost - Homemade vs. Tide
Homemade $1.75 per batch or .05/load of laundry
Tide on sale $5.00 per bottle or .16/load of laundry

Much lower cost and much better for the environment.

Swagbucks - Earn giftcards for searching the internet

I love swagbucks!
It is a site that gives you "swagbucks" for doing internet searches. You can download thier search engine onto your toolbar. So where I use to have a google search option on my toolbar I now have a swagbucks search engine.

Swagbucks gives you "bucks" randomly while doing searches. You then can exchange your swagbucks for prizes. If you look under "prizes" on thier website it will show you different ones available. The ones that interest me are the giftcards. The best value is the $5 Amazon giftcard for 45 swagbucks.

I have gotten $80 in Amazon Gift Cards in the last 9 months. You can apply as many $5 giftcards to your amazon order that you have. Amazon also has free shipping on most orders over $25 so I always save my giftcards until I have $25 worth and then I am able to buy items for free or nearly free.

Some tips to get more swagbucks:

I downloaded the swagbucks toolbar onto our computer so me, my kids, and my husband use it to search for everything. I also use it at work to search for items I need information on. I usually get 3-4 per day.

I also use it for all the websites I have in my favorites. Instead of clicking the link under my favorites I type the name in the search engine. I have gotten several this way when I type my bank name into the search engine.

Here is the link if you want to check it out or sign up!

Cutting Satellite or Cable TV

Cutting our satellite was the hardest change we had to make. It took me a year to convince dh to agree to it. We thought we could never live without it.

I called DirectTV to cancel and was told since I had 3 months left on my contract there would be a $20 per month penalty for cancelling early. In my head I did the $20 per month x 3 quickly. So a one time $60 fee to cancel vs. the $80/month we were spending.

So cancelling early would cost me $60, staying in my contract for the three months would be $240. To me it was worth it to cancel the service.

So what do we do now :)

We bought an antenna that my dh installed himself. He put it up and hooked it to the existing satellite cables on the house.

For movies and tv series we got the netflix plan for $8.99 per month. We are able to stream live movies from our computer to our television screen and we can also stream tv series. They have a wide selection to choose from. We get the 1 DVD at a time mailed to our house.
PBS has some really neat shows that are just not cartoons. I watch more PBS than the kids do.

Immediate benefits from doing this was of course $70 more per month in our budget. We also are spending more time as a family together. We are doing a family game night once a week and hope to add more time for this. Also all the marketing and commercials towards kids are not going to be missed by me. We no longer hear about Hannah Montana, SpongeBob, and all the other shows my kids use to watch. They do not miss them or even talk about them. When we go to the store I do not have them begging me for the latest new toy or gadget.

My dh who fought this change for a year has even admitted we do not miss all the junk on cable.

The new me - Frugal or as dh says the cheapest wife in the world LOL

So last year I got mad enough to try to stop the neverending cycle of money in - money out.

I realized I did not want to work full time and wanted to be home more. I talked with dh about it and he was ok with it as long as we could afford it. So I started looking at what we needed to do to achieve that.

Here are some of the things I did and I will go into more detail on each item in posts to come!

Sold the boat and ATV's.
Dh sold his truck and bought an older 4 cylinder car for driving to work
Called around and got quotes for car and homeowner's insurance
Cancelled satellite and home phone
Lowered Groceries from $125/week to $60/week
Started making my own laundry soap and stopped buying paper towels
Started Couponing at Walgreens and CVS
Started Cooking more from scratch
(I do not know how to cook something unless it is out of a box so this one has been quite a challenge for me)
Joined a credit union
Ate out less, then stopped eating out

The old me - Keepin up with the Jones's

Welcome to my Blog! I wanted to start out my sharing how we go to this place.

Ten years ago me and my husband were in our early 20's with an infant and a toddler. We had bought our first home two years earlier pre kids and had decided it was not large enough for our growing family. We were excited to be approved for a loan to build a new home. We never thought about "how much more is this going to cost us?", we just figured the bank is not going to loan us money we cannot afford to pay back. At closing we found out we were going from a house payment of $600 per month to a payment of $1300 per month. I did panick a little but in the excitement of moving into our new home thought "we will find a way to make it work".

Since we had this brand new home we needed brand new furniture to go along with it, a brand new truck to park in the driveway, and since dh got to get a new truck I could get a new minivan. We also had to get a new tv and sorround sound so it looked good with our new furniture. All of this of course on credit cards and new loans taken out. But again the thoughts were we would not be approved for all this credit if we could not afford it. As long as we could make the minimums every month we could afford it in my way of thinking.

Fast forward 2 years later to a pregnancy with complications. I was on bedrest during the end of the pregnancy and lost my income. After our youngest child was born we realized daycare is going to be really expensive for 3 kids under age 4. So I worked very part time a few evenings a week and on weekends at retail jobs. We made enough to pay our bills every month and nothing extra.

During the next year we made a valiant effort to hang on, paying minimums on loans and paying the minimum amount to not get a utility shut off, but also racked up more credit card debt.

Then our escrow statement came with the new figures for the following year. Our property taxes went way up which would increase our house payment $250 per month. Once that happened it was a downward spiral that quickly went out of control. We had always heard make sure you pay your house payment first so we concentrated on that. During the next 6 months we got the new truck repossessed, sold the van to a relative who gave us an older car to drive in its place, relied on the food shelf to feed our family, had utility shut off notices monthly, and tried credit consolidation.

We still could not pay our payments and decided to sell the house. This was much harder on dh than me. He really tried hard to keep it and kept putting off calling a realtor. I finally said I could no longer live this way - this house is a prison to me.

We sold the house and took the small proceed we got and paid off about half of our credit card debt. We rented a two bedroom house and concentrated on saving up money and fixing our credit score. During the two years we rented we did take on some credit card debt and a loan for a used car.

Dh hated renting and wanted to buy a house again. We worked with the same realtor who sold our previous home and knew our history and the trouble we had gotten into. I am so thankful for her, she really educated us and said she would not allow us to get in the same situation we were in before. First rule was that we were going to get qualified on only my dh's income and when the suggested loan amount number came in we were going to look below that. I am so thankful to her for that because I never ever wanted to be in a position again that me and my dh both had to work fulltime in order to pay the house payment. We bought an older home that was mechanically sound but needed to be updated-everything in it was from the 1970's. The best part is that my dh could afford it only with his income!

When we first moved in I really wanted to update right away but my dh was against it (for obvious reasons). Slowly over the past five years I would apply for a new credit card and start making little purchases. We purchased a used vehicle to replace the old junker a family member had given to us and then we decided I needed a minivan again and bought an older one. So we definitely were making some bad financial decisions again.

Last year I realized we were in trouble and had done the same thing again. We had credit cards again, we had two vehicles with loans, we had a boat and two ATV's that we had taken out a $5000 loan to buy. I think we got in the trap that as long as we were no longer buying new and taking out huge loans we were ok.

One day while paying bills I got angry, angry that me and my dh both worked fulltime but each payday our entire checks came in and went to all of our creditors in one day! We never even saw any of the money unless you counted the 24 hours in our bank account before my online payments were taken out.

So it has been a year of making hard choices, trying to cure my "stuffitis", and working towards being debt free. Join me on my journey as I share things that I found worked and things that ah,did not work out so well LOL. We have made progress but also have had bumps along the way.