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Monday, April 30, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Monday/Tuesday: Easy Slow Cooker Jambalaya (adding carrots and cauliflower, subtracting shrimp)
Wednesday: Last Dollar Dinner at the Beacon for the year
Thursday: Veggie Stir Fry
Friday: Mini Frittatas, Hash Browns
Saturday/Sunday: Chicken Bacon Ranch Macaroni & Cheese

I'll also be making Tomato Soup and Ham and Split Pea Soup to freeze in individual portions for Jesse to take for some of his lunches. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What I'm Reading...

While food was on my mind last week, this week it's mostly about being a mother.  A blessing indeed.

Children Are a Blessing, Right?  Yes, they are.  But I still don't have a good response for when people tell me I have my hands full. (Life Your Way)

Parenting Advice Every Parent Should Listen To. (Simple Organized Living)

Making Maintenance a Priority in Your Budget.  We've gotten better at saving up ahead of time for Christmas, our Internet bill, and our car insurance.  We could still use some sort of savings for auto maintenance and other random things that come up thought.  (Life Your Way)

The Definition of Motherhood.  All the little things.  Oh yes.  (Life Your Way)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Target Coupon Shopping

While we were at Target today, I picked up these Method products.  I wanted to make sure I got them before my coupons expired and before they were no longer on price cut.

2 Method dish soaps, 1 glass cleaner, and 1 all-purpose cleaner: $2.69 each.  Used four $1/1 printables (no longer available) and four $1/1 Target printables = $0.69 each.  With tax I paid $3.26 total, which is awesome for my favorite brand of cleaners.

While grocery shopping earlier at Walmart, I also used a few of my free product coupons that I have gotten in the mail: free Zone Perfect bar (Facebook promo), free Red Gold product (from a survey I got from their e-mail newsletter), free Post Great Grains cereal (Facebook promo), free Ocean Spray Craisins (Facebook promo), free Old Orchard juice (Facebook promo), and then 3 $1/1 Reach floss coupons (SS 3/04/12) to get free dental floss (normal price of $0.97 each) since they were finally in stock.  It was definitely nice to see my total drop by about $10!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grocery Shopping Audit

While reading in the world of blogs over the weekend, I came across this article: A Grocery Spending Audit.  The author talked about doing a review of her grocery shopping - who she shopped for, what she spent, and thinking about ideas to lower her costs so she could stop going over budget.  This sounded like a good idea to me, because most months we go over out grocery budget.  Usually not by much, but even a little is still over, so here is what I came up with.

Who I Buy For:

My husband, Jesse.  He is a creature of habit and would eat the same thing pretty much every day if that was what we had.  He likes "meat and potatoes" kinds of dinners, and has told me numerous times that he would love Sunday dinner to be a big sit-down feast. 


Me.  I love salads, fruits, and veggies, which are all good things, but I usually end up making sure the kids have the "good" foods first, and I end up with whatever is left.  I love curry, spicy foods, and certain veggies that the rest of the family isn't a fan of.  I like having something sweet, and I love baked goods like muffins and breads.


Jonah, 2 years old.  Jonah has some food sensitivities, so anything for him is without tomatoes, oranges, cantaloupe, or flax. The boy would live on some combination of cheese, black olives, bread, and hummus if we let him.  He likes pretty much anything, especially if he can help make it.

Matthew, 1 year old.  He'll eat anything if it's in small enough pieces for his 10 teeth to chew.  He likes fruits and veggies the best, and I'd like for it to stay that way.  He is a bottomless pit, yet is still only in the 15th percentile. 

How Much We Spend:

Our grocery budget is $200 cash per month.  This includes food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and disposable diapers (we do cloth diapers most of the time, but disposables at night and when we go out).  Our actual spending is usually close to this, although it's more like $220.  This does not include eating out or sodas/snacks purchased at other times.  Those are not in our budget anywhere, which is an issue we're trying to fix.  We also have WIC vouchers for the 2 kids, which supplement some of our pantry staples, as well as milk, cheese, and produce.  Through my Swagbucks earnings, I usually get $10-$25 per month in Amazon gift cards, which goes toward diapers and wipes.

What We Buy:

We plan for 2 big grocery trips per month (so about 2 weeks worth of food at a time).  We usually do at least one small trip in between to pick up more milk, or if we unexpectedly run out of something.  I aim for each grocery trip to be between $50-$75, but sometimes it is more if we are stocking up on toilet paper, or we've just run out of several pantry staples, and lately it's just been more anyways because I haven't been focusing on making more inexpensive dinners and snacks.

I also aim for about $50 for the deals for the month, which I show in my coupon shopping posts.  That usually covers all of our toiletries, cleaning supplies, and some of our grocery items.  I haven't been doing a good job lately of making sure I stick to my $50 for this, so I need to make sure I keep track of it better so I don't spend the actual grocery money on a good deal.

That leaves us with $25, sometimes more, to spend on diapers (plus the Amazon money I already mentioned).  Jonah is in the early stages of potty training, but his interest has waned recently.  Once he gets there, we won't need as much for diapers.

How Can We Lower Costs?

This is the big one, the reason for this whole process.  Here are some things I've thought of so far:
  • Make 1-2 soups to freeze in individual portions for Jesse to take for his lunches, rather than buying cans of soup.
  • Find a granola bar recipe that everyone enjoys for snacking.
  • Find a good cracker recipe that everyone enjoys for snacking.  We tried these Wheat Thins once, and I'd like to try them again to see if that's a keeper.
  • Figure out a homemade frozen pizza recipe.
  • Add in other breakfast options besides eggs/toast and cereal, because even at $1/box after coupons, cereal gets expensive.
  • Test the cost effectiveness of making our own bread for sandwiches in the breadmaker.
  • Would a meat and potatoes dinner on Sundays result in less eating out during the week?
  • Homemade yogurt.  For some reason, I haven't tried this yet.
  • Take advantage of my brother's Sam's Club membership and look at prices for bulk purchases of things like pasta, beans, flours, sugars, oats, etc.
  • Focus on more cloth diaper wearing when we're only running short errands.
  • Use cloth wipes more often.
I'm sure there are more, but this is quite a big list to start out with anyways.  Have you ever done a grocery shopping audit?  What did you find to lower your food costs? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

CVS Coupon Shopping

I am out of grocery money for the month, but I did have $5 in ECBs that I needed to use this week, so I picked up some cards and tissues.
  • 3 Hallmark cards: $0.99, $0.99, and $2.79.  Spent $4.77, got $3ECBs.  I would have spent longer looking for different ones, but the kiddos were getting antsy, so I grabbed 2 cheap birthday ones, which always come in handy, and an anniversary card for my husband, even though our anniversary isn't until July.
  • Tissues: $0.77.  Great price for tissues!
  • After my $5 in ECBs, I paid $0.88, and got $3 in ECBs.

Iron Craft 2012: Earth Day Challenge

The idea for this challenge was to use something you would normally throw away.  I don't normally save bottles after we're done drinking out of them (although I have crafted with the caps before), but I have seen a lot of yarn wrapped bottles on Pinterest lately, and I thought the were really cool.  I also have absolutely zero patriotic decor in my house, and since the next big (or at least big enough that I might decorate for it) holiday season is Memorial Day/4th of July, I decided to go with that color scheme.

I did the middle one first, which is why it isn't as proportional as the other two, but I really like how these turned out.  I used hot glue to attach the yarn at the top, and glued a line down the back (bit by bit, not all at once), so that as I wrapped the yarn, each loop around was held in place.  They're not perfect, but they're cute and simple.  I like them!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

I spent a good chunk of my grocery budget on a bulk order of diapers, so this week is an example of a "cheap eating" week.  Lots of beans, not much meat.  We actually really enjoy all of these meals though, so we don't notice that too much.

Monday/Tuesday: Slow Cooker Jamaican Red Bean Stew, Mini Corn Muffins
Wednesday: Homemade Macaroni & Cheese, Hot Dogs
Thursday: Dollar Dinner at the Beacon (only a couple more weeks of these before school ends!)
Friday: Breakfast Skillets (fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, bacon, veggies, cheese), Toast
Saturday/Sunday: Bean Burritos

I also want to do some baking this week, but I haven't had the chance to dig into my recipes yet to see what I have ingredients for.  Stay tuned for another treats post!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I'm Reading...

Food was on my mind this week...

Do You Use a Price Book? I don't have a price book, but I have a general idea of my stock-up prices for things. (Northern Cheapskate)

Buying From the Bulk Bins Could Have Saved Me 70%! I haven't shopped much from bulk bins, but it makes a lot of sense. (Money Saving Mom)

You Can Afford Better Food: 10+ Ways to Get More Out of Your Grocery Budget
. Lots of good advice. (Offbeat Home)

4 Reasons We Eat Out Too Much - And How to Break the Cycle. Boredom? Yep. And habit too. (The Happiest Mom)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Swiffer Duster Refills

My April goal was to make washable refills for my Swiffer dusters.  I received both of these as free samples, and when we had the actual Swiffer dust cloths on them, Jonah and I dusted a lot because it was easy and kind of fun.  But then the cloths got icky, I threw them out, and we dusted less.  I didn't want to continually throw money away by buying more, so I decided to make these. 

I used the pattern here, and leftover fleece from Jonah's blanket and a Christmas gifted scarf.  Because I was hand sewing, each refill took me about an hour to cut and sew, but I think it was well worth the effort.  Some of our window ledges were extra dusty, but as you can see, the dusters picked up A LOT of dust.

I am so happy that these were on my project list, because I know dusting will become a regular chore once again.  And the best part is that since Jonah's is made of "his" fleece, he thinks dusting is the most awesome chore ever, and anything 3 feet and lower is already clean.  Awesome!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jewelry Organization

Eight years ago, I took a mission trip with some of my high school classmates to Ukraine. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I brought back some great souvenirs. Some of them, however, have been packed in a box for too long. So I brought them out to make our bedroom dresser prettier.

After dusting the top of the dresser, I laid down this stitched table runner. The jewelry box in the center, a gift from my parents, holds some of my larger necklaces. Just to the left of that, in what was formerly a travel Q-tip dispenser, are my bobby pins.

This metal coaster and small kerchief, also from the Ukraine trip, hold some of my earrings and smaller items.

I got this green bowl at the thrift store for a dollar. It holds my bracelets, and my dangly earrings hang on the outside. The painted comb is also from my trip.

I didn't take a before picture, but this is a much prettier display than the mess that was the dresser top before.

Breadmaker Buttery Rolls

I really like using my breadmaker to do all the hard work for me when it comes to baking. So I used this recipe for Buttery Rolls and ran it through the dough cycle. I made a big rectangle and sliced sections, but didn't cut all the way through, and then once they baked, I just tore them apart.

Buttered and served with some mushroom barley soup, they tasted just like the ones you buy for Thanksgiving dinner, but even better because they're homemade.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

We made this batch of cookies this morning. I bet you can tell from the color of the M&Ms how long it has been since we mixed up the cookie mix! You can find the recipe for the cookie mix in a jar here. Next month if I have some wiggle room in the grocery budget, I want to make up several cookie/bar mixes, along with a few pancake/waffle mixes, so I can just grab them when I want to make something easy.

Dinners for this week:

Monday/Tuesday: Veggie Pasta Bake, recipe doubled
Wednesday: Mushroom Barley Soup, Buttery Rolls (we didn't have these last week)
Thursday: Dollar Dinner at the Beacon
Friday: Scrambled Eggs with Cheese and Veggies, Bacon, Toast
Saturday/Sunday: Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Bake, recipe x 1.5

HyVee and Target Coupon Shopping

I was really excited to find some produce deals at HyVee this week (which are good through today).

  • 4 Ken's Dressing: $0.99 each. Used 4 $1/1 (SS 3/11/12) = 4 free.
  • 2 2lb. Bags Carrots: $0.99 each.
  • 2 Heads Lettuce: $0.98 each.
  • 2 Red Peppers: $0.69 each.
  • 3 Roma Tomatoes: $0.88/lb. = $0.70.
  • 3 Navel Oranges: $0.77/lb. = $1.09.
  • Used $4 coupon from the cereal deal a few weeks ago, $0.18 left on my gift card, and paid $2.89 total!

Yesterday we went to Target to finish out our grocery shopping. The pasta is on sale for the rest of this week. We got a special grocery coupon mailer from Target because our store just got a grocery section, so I was able to get a few deals from that.

  • 2 bags Lifesavers: $1.84 each. Used two $1/1 printables and two $0.75/1 Target printables = $0.18/2!
  • 3 lb. bag Granny Smith Apples: $2.99. Used $1/1 (Target grocery mailer) = $1.99.
  • 2-liter Cherry Coke Zero: $1.89. Used free coupon (Target grocery mailer) = free!
  • 2 Up & Up Facial Tissues: $0.99 each. Used two $0.50/1 Target printables = $0.49 each.
  • Carefree Liners: $0.99. Used $1/1 (SS 3/18/12) = free!
  • 6 Market Pantry Pastas: $1 each. Used two $1/3 Target printables = $4/6.
  • Got $0.10 for 2 reusable bags = spent $7.27.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What I'm Reading...

The Magic of Childhood Is Kind of Totally Freaky. I agree with this, and also, have you heard our nursery rhymes? (Offbeat Mama)

Use Household Items You Already Have to Remove Stains. I'm a big fan of an extra cold water rinse to help loosen stains. I also learned in high school that if you bleed on something, you can spit on it, launder as normal, and the stain will come out. (The Simple Dollar)

How to Save Money on Meals While on Vacation. To add to this list, we also have purchased certificates from for the area we will be in. It's a gamble, but we've generally gotten lucky. (Money Saving Mom)

Realize That Clutter Itself Is a Giant Money Sink. Which is yet another reason why I'm working on getting rid of ours. (The Simple Dollar)

Is the Cost of Convenience Worth It? Single cup coffee brewing machines have boggled my mind since they first came out. (Northern Cheapskate)

Food for Thought
. A good post, that made me think about all the creepy things I hear and notice about processed foods. Just ask my husband about canned mushrooms and maggots. I can only talk so much, because we still have plenty in our diets, but not as much as we used to. We had Bisquick pancakes recently, and I was a bit shocked at how much I disliked their fake sugary-ness compared to my now normal waffle recipe. (Home-Ec 101)

You Own Your Money - It Doesn't Have to Own You. (Life Your Way)

I Am THAT Mom: Reflections on a Merely Adequate Easter Celebration
. "The rest of it [...] is all frosting. Frosting is nice, but cake tastes pretty great without it too." (The Happiest Mom)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

We went to my parents' house for part of the Easter weekend, so here is your Menu Plan update for the week.

Tuesday: Veggie Spaghetti, Homemade Garlic Bread
Wednesday: Mashed Potato Soup, Buttery Rolls (or leftover garlic bread if I'm feeling lazy)
Thursday: Dollar Dinner at the Beacon
Friday: Breakfast Sandwiches
Saturday/Sunday: Chicken and Black Bean Lettuce Wraps (basically using lettuce as a taco shell)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What I'm Reading...

Don't Forget to Wash That Reusable Shopping Bag. I wash mine every now and then. I still use plastic bags for meat, so I'm not as concerned about it. (Recyclebank)

My Running Story: Why I Refuse to Do It And You Can't Make Me. I so heart this post. I hate running. (Peas and Thank You)

What NOT To Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility. I'm thankful we've not had to go down this road, but I have friends who have, and I would hope I never accidentally say any of these things to them. (Offbeat Mama)

Offbeat Job Interview: 3 Things You Must Ask Your Interviewer. These are actually really good questions. I've never been good at coming up with good questions for interviews. (Offbeat Home)

Simple Stress Reduction To Improve Your Productivity, Focus, and Sanity. My little thing is making my coffee. And enjoying it. (Unclutterer)

8 Ways To Save Money On Children's Clothing
. We did really well at garage sale shopping for Jonah's first several sizes, but we've done pretty terribly since then. (Money Saving Mom)

Don't Wash Clothes That Aren't Dirty. Ours get stacked on the bench at the foot of our bed. Laundry day I evaluate them all. (The Simple Dollar)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kitchen Experiment: Waffle Muffins

We were going to have waffles for dinner. I decided to add M&Ms for a little treat. I don't know if it was the M&Ms, or if something was just off for my waffle batter, but they stuck horribly to the waffle maker, and came out like this:

Luckily, I had a few leftover whole ones in the freezer, so I pulled those out for the kids, and we just ate the crumbly pieces. But I decided to experiment with the rest of the batter.

I give you...Waffle Muffins! I baked them at 350 degrees for 23 minutes. They tasted pretty much like waffles.

They stuck to the cupcake liners pretty badly too though. I don't know if they needed to bake a little bit longer, or if they are a lost cause. I stuck them in the freezer, so we'll have to see if they're any better when we pull them out. What kind of kitchen experiments have you done lately?

Friday, April 6, 2012

HyVee Coupon Shopping

I was really excited about the cereal deal this week, but it ended up not being that great, at least at our store. The cereals I had the best coupons for were a lot more expensive than some of the other ones. I still picked up a few. First, though, I turned in my Baby Bucks for a $10 gift card. I wanted to see how far I could get it to go.

Transaction #1:

4 boxes of Trix cereal: $3.10 each. Used four $0.60/1 printables and $4/4 in-ad coupon = paid $6.00/4, got $4 back. I got $0.05 off for using a reusable bag, so I spent $5.95 on my gift card.

Transaction #2:
  • 4 boxes Cheerios: $2.99 each. Used two $1/2 printables and $4/4 in-ad coupon = paid $5.96/4, got $4 back.
  • 2 boxes Gingerbread Pudding: on clearance for $0.25 each. Used $0.50/2 (SS 3/25/12) = 2 free.
  • 4 Starbucks Refreshers Energy Drinks: $1.49 each. Used four $1/1 printables = paid $1.96/4.
  • I also used the $4 catalina I got from Transaction #1, and got $0.05 off for using a reusable bag again. Total spent was $3.87 on the gift card.
So now I have $0.18 left on the gift card, plus another $4 catalina, for next time. Not too shabby!

Potato Print Art

Yesterday Jonah and I made some potato print art. I saw the idea on Pinterest (of course), and it looked easy and fun.

Jonah liked using all of the colors, especially blue (his favorite).

I decided to do a pattern to match the colors of the boys' room. It turned out really nicely, except I messed up the pattern in one spot. I still like it though.

Now to figure out an inexpensive way to frame it...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spring Door Hanger

I realized about halfway through March that I hadn't worked on my goal for the month at all. That goal was to finish the spring door hanger that I started last year but never completed. It took me a few extra days, but yesterday I added the wire and hung it on our door.

Just in time for Easter! I like it!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Treats As of Late

I made these Reese's Bars yesterday, and they might already be half gone. They really do taste like Reese's, and they're equally bad for you. But they're so good...

I also made these Easter cupcakes for last week's Dollar Dinner, which we helped serve. I got the original idea here, but my chocolate shavings ended up just being tiny sprinkles of chocolate, so no birds'-nest-looking toppings for me. They were still cute (and delicious!).

Baking is one of my favorite things to do, but it usually results in my eating way too much of something for a few days in a row, so I mostly save it for special occasions, or for when I can share.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Dinners for the week:
Monday/Tuesday: Sausage and Lentil Slow Cooker Stew, Homemade Bread
Wednesday: Shepherd's Pie
Thursday: Dinner at Church
Friday: Homemade Macaroni and Cheese with Hot Dogs
Saturday: Waffles, Bacon, and Eggs
Sunday: Easter Dinner with my family

The stew at the beginning of the week is new, but otherwise we are sticking with tried and true recipes. How often do you try a new recipe? I usually stick with one per week, just in case we don't like them.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why I Don't Need an IKEA...

Since I have been doing lots of organizing lately, it's only fitting that I've been spending some time looking at organizing blogs. Because I like looking at how other people have their stuff. Is that weird? I hope not.

It's a good thing I'm not near an IKEA, because everyone uses IKEA products, and I almost always think, "That's a great idea!" when I see some of their uses for them. Especially these Expedit shelves. Everyone has them. I think my favorite theme of IKEA products so far, though, has been spice racks. While those shelves run at least $150, these little spice racks are $3.99 apiece, and just look at some of the fun you can have with them:

This is the one that started it all: spice racks on a dresser for extra childrens' book storage.

Use them in a bathroom to get all the bottles off the counter.

Shelving for all sorts of pictures, knick-knacks, and whatnot.

Okay, I'm not sure those last ones are IKEA ones, but you get the idea...

And chances are, next time I'm there, I will probably pick a couple of these up, because I think they are just awesome. I'm thinking all of the above ideas, plus showcasing cookbooks in the kitchen. Okay, I might need more than a couple...

And no, IKEA did not sponsor this post, but I think these are all awesome ideas.

What I'm Reading...

I have lots of linky-links this week, because last week got really busy, what with the birthday party and all, so I had lots of reading to catch up on this week...

My Picky Eaters Are in Love With GREEN Food: Here's How I Did It. I love the idea of a color themed meal, and Jonah is big into colors right now, so this would be perfect. (Offbeat Mama)

10 Chore Ideas for Toddlers. Jonah's laundry job is socks. He also helps set the table. Toddlers are actually capable of a lot, I've learned. (Money Saving Mom)

My Most Ridiculous Apologies
. This list had me laughing out loud, because I'm pretty sure at one point I told Jonah "I'm sorry hair is itchy". Because, you know, my fault. (Jason Good)

The Goodies in My Paint Supply Bin. A pretty much all-encompassing list of what you might need/want to paint something. (I Heart Organizing)
7 Things We Don't Buy. I always find it interesting to see what other people are willing to splurge on, and what they're willing to do without. (Money Saving Mom)

Understanding Egg Labels 101. Good to know. (Simple Bites)

Be a Frugal Example
. I try, but you all would have to let me know how I'm doing... (The Simple Dollar)

Resist the Temptations of Soda and Fast Food. This is so one of our trouble spots. Anyone else? (The Simple Dollar)

Zoo Animals and Kids: They're Basically the Same Thing. This totally makes sense, but I never would have thought to compare the two. (Offbeat Mama)