Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chocolate Covered Caramel Corn Recipe

I am in the midst of holiday baking, and thought I would share my latest recipe creation. I have spent plenty of money in the past buying chocolate covered caramel corn from various children's fundraisers. I thought I would try my hand at my own version of this tasty treat. I will be giving it out as part of our treat gift packages for Christmas. This is my own original recipe.

Chocolate Covered Caramel Corn

14 cups popped popcorn

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup

2 packages of milk chocolate almond bark

Pop the popcorn (I have a regular popcorn popper, and 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn yielded 14 cups popped). In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Heat on medium low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is lightly boiling. Continue to simmer and stir until mixture is a caramely texture. Immediately pour mixture over popcorn, stir and mix well until popcorn is evenly coated. Allow caramel to set. Take the chocolate almond bark, a few squares at a time, and melt in a small saucepan. Remove from heat. Roll chunks and pieces of the caramel corn in the chocolate, and place on waxed paper to cool. Let cool, then enjoy or gift wrap!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Probiotics Help Allergies?

I am by no means a medical doctor or expert, but I do try to keep educated and informed about ways I can improve my health, especially in ways that do not require putting medication in my body. Don't get me wrong, I do believe medications can be a blessing in many ways, but if I can find a solution to my health issues without using medication, I will try to go that route.

For many years, I required prescription medication and treatments for my allergies and asthma. If necessary, I will seek those treatments again, and I still have my rescue inhaler handy at all times. However, I have, through natural remedies and dietary changes, been able to keep my allergies and asthma at bay. One of the things that I have recently discovered that affects my allergies and asthma are probiotics.

Recently, I had run out of probiotics and had decided I could just forgo them until I was ready to put another order in at A week had gone by, and all of a sudden I was having allergy attacks, which often lead to asthma attacks for me. I got to thinking about why my allergies were flaring up suddenly again. Then I remembered I had stopped taking my probiotics for the time being. Curious, I decided to look up online whether or not probiotics affected allergies. Sure enough, there is ample evidence that suggests good bacteria in the gut affects allergies. I stopped by the local drugstore to pick up some more probiotics for the time being, and shortly after starting them, my allergy issues began to subside again.

There are many good food sources that contain probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, raw honey, raw milk, etc. I am not always good at getting these foods into my diet regularly, but they definitely do contribute to a healthy gut (if you are ever looking for some interesting health reading, studying up on how the gut affects overall health is fascinating!). While I try to eat some probiotic foods, in order to positively affect my allergies, a probiotic supplement is what seems to have the most effect. My preferred probiotic supplement is called Kyodophilus and contains several strains of good bacteria. This link is one of the Kyodophilus products that I have successfully used: .

Obviously, my story is more of an anecdotal type of evidence, but when looking into the issue, the scientific evidence backs up my experience. For further reading on this subject, you can click on the links that follow: . For even further reading, an internet search should turn up additional information.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Salt Dough Christmas Ornaments Craft Project

Yesterday, the kids and I started the process of making some Christmas ornaments out of a homemade salt dough. It was really simple, I mixed up the dough, then we rolled the dough out with a rolling pin and used cookie cutters to cut out different shapes. You do have to bake these ornaments, but before I put them in the oven, I used a skewer to poke a hole in the top of each ornament, so that we can use some ribbon, yarn, or string to be able to hang them. We will be keeping some of these for our own Christmas tree, but will also give a few for gifts. I got the recipe for the salt dough from .

Salt Dough Recipe

4 cups flour

1 cup salt

1 1/2 cups water

Mix ingredients together well and knead dough until well blended. If too sticky, add additional flour a little bit at a time until the right consistency is met. If too dry, add additional water in small amounts until desired consistency is achieved. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters, place shaped dough on a foil lined cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool, then paint.

I was going to buy some special paint to decorate the ornaments with, but the article at the above posted link suggested nail polish as a nice, decorative paint. Since I had plenty of nail polish around, we decided to try that out. I must say that it adds a nice touch to the ornaments, and the shine is lovely!

Overall, this was a great activity to do with the kids, and they loved it!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reflections On a Black Friday

First off, I would like to say that I really don't get into a whole lot of hype over Black Friday. Second off, I find that many of the sales offered on Black Friday are comparable to sales at other times of the year. With that being said, there are some good deals to be found out there. I did manage to make it to a few stores today, but I limited it to three.

As for shopping strategies for Black Friday, scouring the ads, making a plan of action (where you want to go, and what you want to purchase at that store), and getting your coupons together makes for an easier shopping day. I never wait outside the store before it opens, either. I arrive upon site at around 15 minutes after store opening, when I can snatch a parking space from someone leaving, and still be early enough to get the deals I want. And considering that there are already stories coming out about people getting trampled to death, I think it is wise to wait until after the crowd enters the store, since that is when people are getting injured/killed. No good deal is worth your life, or someone else's. The three stores I visited today all opened at different times, 3 AM, 5 AM, and 7 AM. It worked out perfectly time wise to be able to arrive shortly after the stores opened. The biggest drawback I experienced today was waiting in line to pay. And I am happy to report, that at least where I was, everyone was polite and cheery for the most part.

I would also like to add a short commentary on shopper conduct as well. For the most part, people were very friendly and in good spirits wherever I shopped at today. But please consider those who have been standing in line for quite some time before you decide to cut into line. Many of us go out of our way to find the end of the line out of common courtesy for our fellow shoppers. When you cut, you are making the pregnant ladies (ummm....that would be me), among others, stand in line for longer than necessary. You are also being rude. Just patiently wait your turn! On another note, I know I previously mentioned people being trampled. I did not personally witness anything like this, but if there is an unruly crowd, leave for your own safety. Don't participate in that madness! And as for parking, if you see someone is waiting for a specific parking spot, don't rush in and steal it from them. This did happen to me today. I was waiting as someone pulled out, I had my blinker on and everything. A purple jeep raced up and took the spot. RUDE! Extend to your fellow shopper common courtesies and kindness. We all want a good deal, but it is not worth being mean and nasty to those around you to get that good deal. And it reflects upon your character. The moral of my post is go shopping, have fun, and be polite! It makes everyone's shopping experience so much better!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Easy Mocha At Home Recipe

Every now and then, I love to treat myself to a mocha from a local coffee shop. It is only an occassional treat, as I find it difficult to shell out $3-$4 for one cup of fancy coffee. I have discovered a really easy way to enjoy a mocha at home, for basically a few cents per cup of coffee. I take a packet of hot chocolate mix, pour it in a cup and add freshly brewed coffee instead of hot water. Then I add a splash of milk. If you really wanted to get fancy, you could add a dollop of whipped cream and cinnamon on top. I am enjoying a cup of mocha right now, so yummy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yummy Cranberry Nut Bread Recipe

I just made some cranberry bread for the family today, and boy did it turn out yummy! Considering the season, now is the perfect time to try it out! Cranberries are on sale practically everywhere, so it is the most affordable time of year to make it. I got the recipe off of a bag of frozen Ocean Spray cranberries, and I tweaked it to make it a bit healthier, and to family size it.

Cranberry Nut Bread

4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups orange juice
4 tbsp oil
2 well beaten eggs
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans, or one 9x13 baking dish. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add orange juice and eggs, mix until well blended. Add cranberries and nuts and continue mixing until well combined. Spread into pan or pans, bake for approximately 1 hour, or until fork comes out clean. Serve warm, with butter if desired.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don't Forget To Vote Today!!!

Go express yourselves at the voting booth, don't forget to vote!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October Vitacost Coupon Code

If you need to order more supplements and supplies from, now would be the time to do it. There is a coupon code this month for 10 percent off your entire order, no minimum order required to use it. Lots of times, Vitacost coupon codes for percentages off require at least an order of $50, but not this time! I had a smaller order to put in, and I was still able to get the discount. If you decide to order, when you get to the checkout, enter the promo code EMOCT, which will get you the 10 percent off. It's good through the end of October.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Free Printable Math Worksheets - Fractions

We needed to find some supplementary worksheets on fractions so my daughter could get some more practice on working with them. I came across this website that has a comprehensive list of worksheets for all kinds of different fraction operations problems, all printable, and all of them free. And there are plenty of worksheets to choose from, so if we need to review more than just a little, there are more worksheets to print and practice with. Each worksheet also has an answer key, if you need it. The website is .

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dryer Balls

I have been wanting to try out a pair of dryer balls for quite a while. A local store carries wool dryer balls, but they are a little bit pricey. At a garage sale this summer, I found a brand new pair of "As Seen On TV" plastic dryer balls for 75 cents, so I decided to give them a try (and hey, for 75 cents, it can't hurt to try it out!). I have been using them for a few months now, in place of a dryer sheet, and have found them to be quite successful at keeping away the static electricity.

Eventually, I would like to have some wool dryer balls. Because of the cost of the wool dryer balls, I will probably make some at some point in time. There is a good online tutorial about how to make your own at this web address: . It looks relatively simple, and much more affordable than buying them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Washable Finger Paint Recipe

We tried a new finger paint recipe today. What makes it even better is that it is washable! I got the recipe over at . The kids are having loads of fun!

Washable Finger Paint

2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups water
1/4 cup dishwashing soap
Food coloring

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, and water. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil, continue stirring until mixture is a smooth gel. Add dishwashing soap. Separate mixture into several small containers. Add desired food coloring to each container. Let cool, then paint!

As a side note, I used a small whisk to stir the mixture while it was cooking. This helps prevent clumping so you get a smooth consistency for your finger paint.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Homemade Hamburger Helper

I haven't bought Hamburger Helper in quite a while because of how unhealthy it is. I can always find it on sale for about a dollar a box, but since trying to feed my family healthier meals, I refuse to buy the stuff anymore. I like the convenience and ease of making it, but the high sodium content, MSG, and preservatives are a no-go for our family anymore. I came across this blog post on making your own homemade Hamburger Helper with real ingredients. I thought I would pass it along for anyone else who might be interested. Here's the link: .

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Easy Meal Idea - Spaghetti Squash With Meat Sauce

If you are looking for a relatively easy, nutritious meal idea, try some spaghetti squash with meat sauce. Spaghetti squash is in season right now, so it is very possible that they may be on sale at your local grocery store. The texture of the spaghetti squash is stringy, kind of like spaghetti, so it can be a great vegetable substitute for spaghetti noodles. It has a mild flavor, and is delicious with a spaghetti meat sauce. It's very simple, basically you bake the squash, scrape it out of the shell with a fork, and then serve with spaghetti sauce and ground beef on top. Very yummy, simple, and nutritious! Here is a link for a good tutorial on baking spaghetti squash.

Monday, September 20, 2010

30% off Coupon - Hobby Lobby

This week's coupon for Hobby Lobby is for 30% off of needlework kits. Just thought I would post this if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oatmeal Playdough Recipe

Today, my kids and I tried a new playdough recipe. They are busy creating with their little hands as we speak! This oatmeal playdough recipe has a different texture than regular playdough, so it offers the children a different sensory and creative experience. I found the recipe at , and I made a few minor adjustments to it to ease some of the stickiness. It is rather sticky as the original recipe is written, so I added some cornmeal and some extra flour until the dough was the perfect consistency. The above posted website also has many other kinds of playdough recipes to try out, if you are interested.

Oatmeal Playdough

1 cup of flour
2 cups of oats
Food coloring
1 cup of water
Extra flour

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Mix desired food coloring with the cup of water. Slowly add the water/food coloring mixture to the dry ingredients, mix together well. Knead the dough by hand to continue to mix (will be sticky), then add cornmeal and extra flour a little bit at a time. Continue to knead and add cornmeal and flour until dough is a good consistency for play.

P.S. The picture is a birthday cake, made with the oatmeal playdough, by my 5 year old.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Really The Same As Sugar?

Recently, there has been more awareness about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and its effects on the human body. Because of the negative press surrounding HFCS, the FDA is currently being lobbied to change its name to "corn sugar" on ingredient labels.

HFCS is increasingly difficult to avoid. Most processed foods contain it, and the reason for that is because it is cheaper for manufacturers to use HFCS in place of sugar. HFCS is sweeter than sugar, so it takes less to sweeten a product. It is also cheaper because it is made from government subsidized corn crops. Yes, that's right. The government is subsidizing the nation's junkfood in a roundabout way. So much for the war on obesity, right?

Speaking of the war on obesity, a recent study on HFCS vs. sugar found that HFCS caused an increase in weight gain and an increased difficulty in the ability to lose weight. The study was conducted at Princeton using rats. One group of rats was fed HFCS, while the other group was fed sugar. Both were given the caloric equivalents of each item. The rats fed HFCS showed more problems with weight than the sugar fed rats.

Chemically, the HFCS and the sugar appear to be similar, but evidence is showing that how the body processes the two substances is different, thus leading to the weight problems with rats. Other health problems associated with HFCS include diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. It causes elevated insulin levels, which are also connected to cancer and heart disease, among other things.

HFCS is found in just about every processed food product there is, it seems. From obvious products like soda pop and candy and sweets, to less obvious things such as ketchup and barbecue sauce. The best thing is to read your labels before you decide to purchase a product, and to avoid HFCS if at all possible. Some companies have made the change to eliminate HFCS from its products because of increased awareness, but there are still plenty products that contain it.

For further reading, I have included links to a few websites:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cabbage Casserole Recipe

I tried a new recipe tonight, it turned out pretty well! Cabbage has been on sale around here, so I had some that I needed to use up. I found a recipe for a cabbage casserole intended to be a side dish, so I tweaked it and added some hamburger and made it into a main dish. My husband, who is usually wary of anything that has alot of vegetables, informed me that this recipe is a keeper.

Cabbage Casserole

1 medium to large head of cabbage
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (or more according to preference)
2 cans of cream soup (cream of mushroom, cream of potato, etc.)
1 pound ground beef, browned
cracker crumbs

Slice cabbage and boil for 5 minutes. In a 9x13 baking pan, layer cabbage, hamburger, cream soup, and cheese (2-3 layers total). Top with cracker crumbs. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until bubbling and slightly browned. is where I found the original recipe.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another Free Learning Website

I just discovered another great free learning resource today! It's called , and it has all kinds of free printables for math, english, phonics, social studies, spelling, and holidays. Go check it out!

P.S. The picture is the logo from their website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Free Learning Website -

I stumbled across an excellent parent/teacher resource today online. It's called , and it has printables for abc's, phonics teaching tools, as well as interactive applications to use as aids for teaching children to read. Best of all, it's free! It does have an online store where you can buy curriculum that goes along with what is online for free, if you choose to go more indepth with their program. As the mother of a preschooler and a kindergartner, I will be keeping this website in my stash of resources.

P.S. The picture is the Starfall logo and came from their website.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

List of Baking Ingredient Substitutes

We've all been there before. In the middle of following a recipe, you realize that you are out of a specific ingredient. In a pinch, I have used substitutes to save the day. It has saved me an extra trip to the store (which saves time and gas money), and my recipes usually turn out fabulous despite using a substitute. I thought I would do a post on common baking ingredient substitutions for a reference to use when you are caught off guard in the middle of a recipe.

1 tsp baking powder = 1/2 tsp cream of tarter + 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/4 tsp cornstarch

1 cup buttermilk = 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk

1 tsp allspice = 1/4 tsp ground cloves + 1/4 tsp ginger + 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 square baking chocolate = 3 tbsp cocoa and 1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp cornstarch = 2 tbsp all purpose flour

1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all purpose flour + 1-1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain unsweetened yogurt

1/4 cup cocoa = 1 square unsweetened baking chocolate (1 ounce)

1 tsp cream of tarter = 2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar

Also, most of your baking fats (butter, margarine, oil, etc.) can be interchanged in a pinch. I have substituted oil for butter many a time when I was out of butter. My recipes still turn out well.

If you need to substitute something else I don't have listed, I would suggest doing an internet search to find your answer. There are all kinds of substitute suggestions out there! I tried to stick to some pretty basic substitutes in this post, I hope you find these helpful!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Homemade Liquid Fabric Softener

I have known for a long time that vinegar is a natural liquid fabric softener. The only reason I never made the switch was because I was in love with the fragrances of store bought. I have been wanting to switch, though, in the effort to continue to cut unneccesary chemical usage out of my home, as well as for the purposes of cutting costs. I finally found a pleasing solution to that problem.

It is really quite simple, and I can't believe I never thought of it before! Basically what I did was to take a large jug of vinegar, and add 1 to 2 teaspoons of a fragrant essential oil. Before each use, I shake the jug, just to make sure it is all mixed up well. And for ease of use, I use a Downy liquid fabric softener ball to dispense my homemade fabric softener during the wash cycle. It has been working quite well for us so far, and right now my fabric softener is lavender scented. I won't be buying any more of the store bought liquid fabric softeners, although I will be buying some new scents of essential oils to experiment with :) While essential oils can seem expensive, since a little bit goes a long ways, they really do last for quite a while. For saving money on my essential oils, I order them from .

Monday, August 23, 2010

Canning Season

'Tis the season for an abundance of fresh produce! If you garden, have fruit trees, have a farmer's market nearby, or even hit some good produce sales at the store, you will have plenty to can and store for use during the rest of the year. At first, doing home canning kind of scared me, but I started learning how to do it about two years ago. I have successfully made and canned apple butter, apple sauce, chokecherry jelly, pickled beets, and homemade salsa. I'm just getting started this year and made some salsa yesterday. I am planning on making more chokecherry jelly, and trying my hand at wild raspberry jam, among other things this year.

Some things to keep in mind when canning are safety procedures to ensure safe food, elevation considerations, and having adequate supplies. It is very important to research what you plan to can by using tested recipes and by studying proper canning methods. If food is not canned properly, it can become contaminated with botulism and cause serious illness. Some foods are fine being canned using a water bath canning method, others require pressure canning to ensure safe food.

When canning, you want to keep your elevation level in mind. Living in higher elevations require longer processing times to ensure proper food preservation temperatures. You can usually do an internet search to find out your elevation level, and proceed accordingly. Last, but not least, make sure you have the proper supplies. A water bath canner/pressure canner to use for processing, glass jars with lids and rings, a funnel, and a jar lifter or set of tongs for removing hot jars from the canner. The jars and rings can be saved and used again, but you will need new lids every time you can something new in a jar.

Here are some links for some good general information on canning:

Here is a link for elevation guidelines:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Yet Another Reason To Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Recently, there have been reports that have come out stating that women who use commercial cleaning products more frequently have higher rates of breast cancer. Many of the chemical ingredients in these cleaning products are harmful and toxic to the human body. And, because of government regulations, manufacturers of these products are not required to disclose all the ingredients in the cleaners. I have tried to read the labels of these products before, and I have seen many that said, for example, "Ingredients: Surfactants", and that's all it will list.

I started making my own cleaners mainly because of my asthma, as the fumes in the commercial cleaners really bothered my lungs. However, I also realized that making my own was quite a bit cheaper than buying them, and you also get rid of the chemical exposure when using natural ingredients in your cleaning solutions. Another reason I love making my own is because my children can safely use them when I ask them to help me clean, and because it is non-toxic to them (and pets!) when used as the main household cleaning products.

Here are some links to previous posts with homemade cleaning recipes:

For further reading on the latest reports on this subject:

There are several experts who disagree with the findings of the study, and report that since household cleaning product use was self-reported (after the patient was already diagnosed), that the information is skewed and unreliable. However, in light of that, I don't agree that the information should just be ignored. I don't trust using these chemicals in my home, for my asthmatic health reasons, but also because I do tend to believe that they are poisonous and do have the potential to cause harm to human bodies.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yummy Crockpot Split Pea Soup

This recipe is rather unique, unlike any split pea soup I have ever had before. I really don't care for traditional split pea soup all that well, but this split pea soup I find to be quite delicious! It is different, but oh so yummy!

Split Pea Soup

2 cups green or yellow split peas, sorted and rinsed
6 cups water
1/2 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
6 bouillion cubes
3 cups firmly packed spinach leaves
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons fresh dill weed

Combine split peas, water, sherry/apple juice, sweet potato, onion, garlic, and bouillion cubes in crockpot. Allow to slow cook on low for 10-11 hours, or on high for 5-6 hours. Stir in spinach, cream, and dill. Cook for an additional 1/2 an hour.

I have also used a few substitutions in this recipe when I didn't have all the ingredients on hand. Sometimes I have used carrots in place of the sweet potato (about 2 cups), sometimes I have used regular milk or plain yogurt in place of the cream. It always ends up tasting great to me!

I adapted this recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook entitled "More Slow Cooker Recipes".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Shorten The Life Of Your Cold Sore

I just got over a nasty cold. I'm glad I am feeling better, but at the tail end of the cold came a few (un)lovely coldsores. I have a simple trick that helps mine dry up faster than if I just let them go. I dab a little bit of rubbing alcohol on them with a q-tip several times a day. By doing so, it dries the sores out faster so they don't last as long. I wish there was a way to make them stay gone, but since they are caused by a virus, there isn't. The rubbing alcohol shortens the life of my coldsores down to a few days, rather than a week or two.

There are a few things to remember when treating your coldsores. The most important is to not pop the little blisters. Doing so will increase the chances of them spreading. The key is to get them to dry out, and not spread them further. When you start feeling that telltale tingle, start applying the rubbing alcohol to the area in question. I use the rubbing alcohol on mine at least 5 to 6 times a day. Since we can't make them stop coming, the goal is to make them go away as fast as possible. I have used prescriptions before for my coldsores, but honestly the rubbing alcohol works just as well, if not better for me. I can't guarantee that it will work that well for you, as I am not a medical doctor, but it's an idea to try out next time you get one of those nasty little nuisances.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Printable Hobby Lobby Coupon

In lieu of the Christmas craft post I previously did, I thought I would post a link for a printable coupon for Hobby Lobby. It's for 40% off, and you can use one per day on regularly priced items. Here it is:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christmas in July?

If you are someone who likes to make your Christmas gifts, it might be a good time to start planning and thinking about what you would like to make. I find that not only does making gifts save alot of money, but people really appreciate the personal touch you put into it. And it really is the perfect thing to give someone who already has everything! I have found it easier to make my gifts over the years, because I have morphed my expectations into reasonable ones instead of grandiose ones (for example, there is no way I will be able to make an afghan for everyone on my list).

Smaller projects enable you to give nice gifts, and to be able to make several items. Some ideas for those who do needlework (knitting/crocheting) are doilies, hats, gloves, scarves, slippers, socks, hair pieces, potholders, dishcloths, etc. I have also made things like homemade jams/jellies for gifts (which go nicely with potholders or dishcloths as a gift). My kids have been begging me to crochet them some stuffed animals (they have seen the pattern books in the store, LOL). That just might make it onto my Christmas project list as well! To be even more thrifty, use a free pattern from or . They have tons of patterns and ideas! My only problem is choosing which ones to use!

If you start your projects now and stick with it, you should have Christmas covered by the time it gets here, and you will have less stress because most of it will be done by the time the season rolls around so you can focus on enjoying family and friends. Go forth and craft in peace!

P.S. The picture comes from .

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Add Some Oomph To Your Vinegar Cleaning Spray

One of the homemade cleaners I use regularly is vinegar and water mixed together in a spray bottle. Recently, I have started adding a few drops of essential oil to my mixture. One of the benefits of doing so is that many essential oils have disinfecting properties. The vinegar water itself does have some disinfecting properties, but adding the essential oil gives it a little more "oomph". Plus, it makes your house smell nice! Right now, my vinegar cleaner is laced with lavender oil. Very nice, if I say so myself, and essential oil scents do not bother my asthma the way commercial cleaners do.

To make your own spray bottle of this cleaner, fill spray bottle 1/3 of the way with vinegar, fill the rest with water. Then add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Shake well before each use. To use, spray desired surface and wipe. Very simple, very easy, and chemical free!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Great Crockpot Chicken

I made up this simple, easy crockpot chicken recipe yesterday and thought I would pass it along. The family loved it!

Crockpot Chicken

1 whole chicken
1 onion
1 - 12 oz bottle of Italian dressing

Place chicken in the crockpot. Next, cut up your onion, potatoes, and carrots (chop up as much as will fill the crockpot surrounding the chicken). Then, pour the bottle of Italian dressing evenly over the top of the chicken and vegetables. Cook on high setting for 5-6 hours.

The nice thing about using the Italian dressing is that it seasons the chicken and vegetables nicely. You can also use the remaining dressing/drippings as a gravy for your vegetables. It is quite yummy!

P.S. The picture came from .

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Always Check Your Safeway Receipt!!!

Just thought I would give you all a little warning about Safeway. While I really like their sales, I am disappointed in them. Almost every time I go, I end up being overcharged anywhere from $4 to $10 each time. Usually my average order is under $50. There seems to be alot of overcharging going on there. If you shop regularly at Safeway, be sure to carefully check your receipt. If anything, I have learned that they are rather consistent at this faux pas. Because of the club card, you can't catch the price mess-up with the cashier, you usually have to wait for your receipt to get it figured out. If you find that you have been overcharged, take your receipt to the customer service desk and ask them to fix it. I have never had a problem with them correcting the errors, but I really don't appreciate the extra time that I have to take to fix their mess-up. And sometimes I really wonder if they do it on purpose hoping people won't notice. Especially since it happens just about every time I shop there. So, the moral of this blog post is beware of Safeway and check your receipt!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Homemade Hurt-Free Antiseptic

A while back, I posted a recipe for a homemade astringent. Now, several months later, I can tell you that I have found another handy use for the stuff. Johnson & Johnson makes a hurt-free antiseptic for wound cleansing, which we have used in the past quite successfully. I have discovered that my homemade astringent also works quite well as a hurt-free antiseptic for cleaning small wounds, cuts, and scrapes. It doesn't sting like peroxide or rubbing alcohol does.

It is really quite simple to make. Take a bottle of witch hazel, add 25 drops of tea tree oil and shake. Shake well before each use. I have used this with my children, and it effectively cleans their scraped knees and minor owies quite well, all without the added pain of standard antiseptics.

For a little bit of information on how this works, witch hazel has both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The tea tree oil also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, but in addition is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. As you can see, using this concoction has the ability to thoroughly clean a wound without the additional pain. And really, it's not that expensive at all to make.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bargain Shopping at Department Stores

I am a bargain shopper. By bargain shopper, I mean that I frequently buy new things at the same price a thrift store would charge. Basically, I can get new items for the cost of used ones. Awesome! For example, today I took my kids to JCPenney's and ended up buying 10 items of clothing (cute t-shirts, capri leggings, etc.) for around $30 total. My receipt at the end said that I had saved $118.18! Woohoo!!!

I often prefer to shop at places like JCPenney's and Kohl's for my kids, rather than Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc. My reasoning for this is that often times, the clearance at the nicer department stores are priced better than what I could even get at the other places, plus I end up with higher quality clothing for my kids. And lots of times, Kohl's and Penney's have extra coupons that I can use on top of the clearance discount. I have also found plenty of nice, quality clothing for myself and my husband at steep discount prices at these stores.

I have a method to how I shop the department stores. Most importantly, the only things I ever really look at are on the clearance racks. If I have a specific item I need, I always check the clearance items first. Most of the time, the stores will have the clearance sorted by percentage off. I usually stick with the racks that say 80-90% off, or "final clearance". By doing this, I have been able to keep my kids clothed in fashionable items for rock bottom prices (OK, some of the stuff on the clearance racks I question whether anyone would actually wear, but I also find *plenty* of very cute clothes).

One of the biggest drawbacks to shopping this way is that sometimes you have to shop for your kids out of season and estimate what size they will be in when, say winter, rolls around again. Amazingly, this has always worked out for me. If it doesn't end up fitting, you can always donate the item/s or try to sell them on Ebay. Today I purchased summer clothing for my kids, but since we will still have several more months of warm weather, my kids can start wearing them now. My kids have nice things to wear, and I really haven't spent a whole lot of money.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quick and Easy Iced Tea

During the summer, I love having iced tea around every now and then! I have found a really easy, quick way to make a large pitcher of iced tea. I take 3-4 bags of tea and place them in the coffee maker, in place of a filter with coffee. That is how I quickly brew my tea. Then, I put the tea in a large pitcher and fill the remaining space in the pitcher with water. It goes in the fridge for a few hours, and is ready to drink. If you want to make it cold faster, fill the large pitcher to the top with ice and pour the tea over it, then fill it to the top with water if there is any room left. As a side note, you should not try the ice in the pitcher if it is glass because the extreme temperatures between the cold ice and the hot tea could cause it to shatter (I won't tell you how I know that!). And it only costs a few cents for that whole pitcher of tea. A great, simple, cheap, summer beverage choice!

P.S. The picture came from .

Monday, June 7, 2010

Plan Ahead and Bring Your Own Snacks

We just got back from a short weekend roadtrip. One of the things that we regularly do when we know we will be out of the house for a while is to plan ahead by packing some snacks and drinks. This saves lots of money when you're on the road. Convenience store snack and drink prices are outrageous! Multiply that times 5 people, and it adds up even more quickly. Plus, by packing your own, you can make sure there are plenty of healthy snack and drink choices available. Convenience store really don't have a whole lot of that available. On one stop at a gas station this weekend, one small apple was $1.09! Holy cow! I can get a whole pound of apples for that at the grocery store!

When traveling with children, inevetitably someone is going to start saying, "I'm hungry" or "I'm thirsty". With snacks already packed and with you in the vehicle, these problems are solved immediately, and we don't have to stop anywhere and pay outrageous prices for a small snack.

We usually take a cooler along, packed with drinks and snacks that need to be kept cooler. Some ideas of quick snacks to pack are granola bars, string cheese, fruit, crackers, etc. For drinks, we usually pack some bottled water, juice boxes, etc.

Packing our own snacks and drinks on outings saves both time and money, and it keeps people's needs easily met as we travel along.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


OK, so I finally broke down and joined Netflix. My reasoning for this is that my local video store was running out of "appropriate" movies for me to rent. I don't watch rated R movies anymore, and even many of the PG-13 movies nowadays are just out of line, in my book anyhow. And there really aren't a whole lot of PG movies to choose from at the local video store, unless I am looking for kids movies.

I am so glad we did decide to join. We have been members for around 2 months now, and I do really like it alot. We got the package for 2 dvds out at a time, which runs around $13.00 a month. At the video store, we were spending around $20 a month on rentals, so it is a small monthly savings for us. In addition to the 2 dvds a month, they also have some of their movies on instant play through the computer. We have utilized this feature quite a bit as well.

Netflix has alot of interesting documentaries, family movies, tv series, etc. to view that my local video store did not have. They also have exercise and fitness dvds available to rent. Don't get me wrong, I really do like my local video store and the employees, but when searching for things that we feel are appropriate to watch, the selection was getting pretty thin. Plus the fact that every dvd we have rented from Netflix has come in better condition than the ones we rented at the video store. We have had no issues with the dvds skipping or "getting stuck" in a spot the way we often did with the video store.

We do not have cable or satellite TV, but if we did, I would seriously consider cancelling and just going with Netflix. My reasons are that there are no commercials, and you get to pick exactly what you want to watch and when you want to watch it with the instant play feature.

And last, but not least, is the fact that you get to keep the dvds for as long as you want with no late fees. We are very pleased with their service so far, and I really hope we continue to be happy with it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cheesy Lentils Crockpot Recipe

Lentils are a great way to stretch a meal budget. For us, usually a one pound package, cooked and prepared, will last us for at least two meals (if we heat up the leftovers). Lentils are a small legume, but pack a big punch nutritionally. They have lots of fiber and iron, and they are very filling. A one pound bag of lentils usually costs anywhere from $1.00-$1.50 around here. Plus, by cooking in the crockpot, it saves money because it uses less energy than cooking on the stove or in the oven.

As for this recipe, it went over well in my house. Lentils usually have mixed reviews around here. My husband really doesn't like them that much, but will eat them when I make them from time to time. Well, he actually liked the lentils last night when I used this recipe. So did everyone else. We will be using this recipe again, and thought I would share it with you. It is different than most lentils recipes. It sort of reminded me of macaroni and cheese, only with lentils instead of noodles. Very yummy!

Cheesy Lentils

1 pound lentils
2 cups chopped onion
2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 bell peppers, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground marjoram
1/8 tsp ground sage
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese

Combine all ingredients, except cheese, in crockpot. Cook on high for around 3 -4 hours. Stir in cheese until melted. Serve topped with additional cheese, if desired.

I adapted this recipe from .

Monday, May 3, 2010

Homemade Whole Wheat Bisquick Mix Recipe

I have avoided buying Bisquick for years now because it doesn't come in whole wheat (at least not where I live), contains bleached flour, and it also contains hydrogenated oils (which is where trans-fats come from). Not exactly a healthy food product! I try to avoid these types of food products if at all possible. The downside of avoiding Bisquick is that there are lots of yummy recipes that call for Bisquick. I found an alternative, though! I can make my own Bisquick! And another added bonus is that by making my own, I will also save money over buying it at the store. I tweaked it slightly, but I got this recipe from .

Whole Wheat Bisquick Mix

4 Cups unbleached flour
4 Cups whole wheat flour
1/4 Cup baking powder
4 Teaspoons salt
1 Cup shortening or oil
1 1/3 Cups dry powdered milk

In large bowl, blend unbleached flour, salt, and baking powder. Add shortening (or oil) and mix until crumbly. Stir in powdered milk, and then the whole wheat flour. Store in an airtight container, refrigerate if made with the oil.

I made mine using oil instead of shortening. My reasoning for this is that shortenings are usually a hydrogenated oil, and they are REALLY bad for you! I tried this mixture out in a recipe I made for dinner, and it turned out great!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steam Cleaner Solution Alternative

I love having my own steam cleaner. It makes cleaning up tough messes easier. Since I have mostly hardwood floors, I don't need a full size one. I have a smaller unit that has a hand held nozzle, but it works well for steam cleaning our rugs and the furniture. In the past, I have always bought the cleaning solution from the store. My only problem with that is the smell, the cost, and the chemicals. I finally used the rest of my supply of cleaning solution at home, so I tried something a little different. Instead of cleaning solution, I put an equal amount of white vinegar in the machine in place of the solution. It works great! White vinegar not only disinfects, but it deoderizes as well. Plus it doesn't bother my asthma, and less chemical exposure in my house is always a goal. From now on, I will be using vinegar in my steam cleaner instead of the expensive cleaning solution.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cut Your Car Insurance Costs

We have used Progressive for auto insurance for a few years now. Our main reason for that is because they have been able to give us the best rate, hands down. I have periodically tried to get quotes from other companies, and they just could not even come close to matching or beating the price Progressive gave to us (like, by several hundred dollars!). I finally checked with a local insurance agency that represents several different brands of insurance. They were able to beat the price of Progressive, by around $40 for six months of coverage. Spread that out over a year, and that is $80 worth of additional savings.

We carry full coverage insurace on our vehicle, a mini van. To break the difference in savings down, when we have checked around on rates before, most places were asking around $450 for six months of coverage. We checked with Progressive, and they offered the same coverage for around $260. Obviously, most places were not able to beat that price! My husband suggested we try a local insurance agency that sells several brands of insurance. We did, and they were able to give us a rate of $220, and that was for slightly better coverage than we had with Progressive.

So, my main point in all of this is to shop around for the best deal. Even better, try a local insurance agency that deals with several insurance companies. They will usually know which company will give you the best rates, or you could get several quotes in one place because they do deal with several companies.
As for a few more ideas on saving on your car insurance, pay up front for all six months if possible. The reason for this is that if you do monthly payments, or some other payment plan, they often charge you an extra fee of around $5 per month for processing. That is an extra $30 added to the quoted rate for six months. Also, many insurance companies will give additional discounts if you carry other types of insurance with them as well, such as home owner's insurance. It may be worth it to switch things around if they can give you a better rate on that. As for us, when they asked what insurance company we insured our home with, they were upfront with us and said they could not beat the rates that company offers.

Hopefully this has given you a few more ideas on how you can save additional money on your auto insurance!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Saving Money On Handsoap

In our family, it seems like we go through alot of handsoap. The good side of that is that it means people are washing their hands and having good hygiene. Going through alot of handsoap can add up quickly, though. We have found a way to have plenty of handsoap to use for around $14 per year for our family of 5. Pretty impressive, huh?

Here's my secret, revealed to the public at no cost, LOL. I go to Sam's Club and buy the four pack of Dial foaming soap dispensers for around $7. Then I get a ginormous (is that even a technical word? I keep hearing all the cool kids saying it.) container of Member's Mark handsoap, also for around $7. When the foaming soap dispensers are empty, I refill them 1/4 of the way with handsoap, fill the rest with water, put the pump back on, and shake to mix the soap and water. The pump will then continue to dispense a foamy soap for hand washing. In our experience, the ginormous container of soap stretches for a whole year before we have to buy a new one.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Workout DVDs On The Cheap

I have been making an effort to be healthier and exercise regularly. Right now, buying a membership to a gym is expensive and inconvenient for me. Plus, I really do prefer to workout in the privacy of my own home. I have discovered an affordable way to change my workouts around to get more variety, but at an incredibly reasonable price. The last few times I have been to TJ Maxx, I have been able to pick up some new workout DVDs for around $2.99-$3.99 a piece. They also have other fitness equipment at very reasonable prices. Their videos are decent ones too. Tonight I picked up two Kathy Smith videos, and a Denise Austin video for around $10 for all three. Every time I go in to the store, they always have a new variety to choose from. Picking up a few new videos here and there keeps my workouts challenging, plus I can't complain about the price!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Make Your Own Detangler Spray

Several of us females in our house have longer hair. That can mean knotty hair! One of the ways to ease the pain of brushing hair is to use a detangling spray that you can buy from the store. But I saw several places online that have suggested that you can make your own. We recently ran out of detangling spray, so I decided to give it a whirl. I re-used the detangler spray bottle for this endeavor. Any small to medium spray bottle will do, really. First, take some regular conditioner and fill the bottle to about 1/4 full with it. Then fill the rest of the bottle with water. Shake well. Be sure to shake before each use. So far, it seems to be working out just fine for us. I hope it works for you too!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Standard Crockpot Chili Recipe

I have a standard crockpot chili recipe that I often use. Depending upon the ingredients on hand, I will sometimes deviate from this recipe for something a little bit different. But usually, this is the main one that I use. It has sort of evolved into its own after years of making chili. The family always enjoys it! As a side note, I should inform you that I have a family sized crockpot, and this recipe has been created using that, rather than a regular sized crockpot.

Crockpot Chili

1 - 46 oz can of tomato juice
2-3 cups cooked beans (black beans or kidney beans), drained if from a can
1 pound cooked ground beef
1 - 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press
1/2 cup of uncooked brown rice
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 tbsp Creole seasoning
1 tablespoon cumin

Place all ingredients in crockpot and stir well. Cook on high for 5-6 hours.

To make this a vegetarian chili, omit ground beef and add extra beans. For a slightly different flavor, try adding a bit of barbeque sauce to the mix. If I have extra veggies on hand, like bell peppers, sometimes I will dice those up and add those as well. For the diced tomatoes, you could always try canned diced tomatoes that come with the green chilis (yum!). Be creative!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bulk Spices

I went to the store today in need of some dill weed for a soup I am making for dinner. I usually prefer fresh dill, but right now in our area there is really no place to get it. Plus, I like growing it in our garden and picking it fresh to use, but that's only during the summer. But anyhow, back to buying it at the store. In the past, I have paid anywhere from $3.oo to $6.00 for a bottle of dill. I was pleasantly surprised to find organic bulk spices at the store, at a hugely reduced price when compared to buying pre-packaged spices. Plus the organic factor is a bonus! I bought a baggie of dill (about as much as comes in a bottle when I buy it that way) for $1.00.

Don't let the price tags on the spices scare you. The price tag on the dill said it was $19.99 a pound. Yeah, that sounds scary! However, the amount of dill I purchased weighed around 1/2 an ounce, so it turned out that I got a nice amount of dill for a small price. Many of the spices are sold by the pound, but they weigh so little that it really doesn't cost that much to get an adequate amount of the spice. So, the benefits for me to buy the spices in bulk are that they cost less that way, they are organic, and I can buy in any amount that I want to. Yay!

P.S. The picture came from

Friday, March 26, 2010

Natural Astringent Recipe

I have been on the lookout for a more natural alternative to store bought facial astringents. This is quite simple and easy to make, and so far I like it. It consists of two ingredients, witch hazel and tea tree oil. For acne prone skin, tea tree oil is supposed to reduce inflammation and redness. Just buy a bottle of witch hazel from the store, add around 25 drops of tea tree oil. Shake bottle before each use. A bottle of witch hazel around here goes for a dollar or two, and if you buy a bottle of tea tree oil, it really lasts for a long time because a little bit goes a long way.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guaca-Taco Cheeseball Recipe

We had a small family gathering today, and since we are trying to eat healthier, I have been making fruit and veggie trays every now and then. What goes well with fruit and veggie trays? Cheeseballs!!! I have been trying my hand at making cheesballs upon occasion, and today's cheeseball experiment turned out quite well. I always like to try to come up with new ideas and creations based on the things I already have on hand at home. I decided to name this creation "Guaca-Taco Cheesball", and it was a hit!

Guaca-Taco Cheeseball

1 - avocado
1 - 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp taco seasoning
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or put through garlic press
1/2 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup chopped peanuts, or nuts of choice

De-shell and remove pit from the avocado. Mash avocado with a fork, then add the cream cheese and continue mashing together until well blended with a somewhat smooth texture. Add the taco seasoning, garlic, and lime juice. Mix well. Take a piece of plastic wrap and place mixture in the middle of the sheet. Fold up the plastic wrap around the mixture while shaping into a ball. Refrigerate overnight, or place in freezer for 1 to 2 hours. After chilling the cheeseball, unwrap and roll in chopped nuts until well coated. Serve with vegetables or crackers.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Homemade Softscrub Recipe

Yesterday, I tried out a new cleaning recipe for my bathtub and shower. I have used store bought cleaners in the past, but I really think I liked this softscrub recipe better than those, and it got the soap scum off better than those other cleaners ever did. Plus, it didn't have all the nasty fumes and chemicals. I have asthma, so the fumes of store bought cleaning products really seem to bother me. All the more reason to continue to find and use homemade cleaning recipes! I found this recipe at .

Homemade Softscrub

1 cup baking soda
1 cup diswashing liquid
1/2 cup vinegar

Mix the baking soda and dishwashing liquid. Then add the vinegar. Use a sponge or a cloth to apply mixture to the surfuce you are trying to clean. Rinse well.

When I tried this yesterday, I used a sponge with a scouring pad on top. I used it to apply the solution to my shower walls and tub. I scrubbed a little bit initially, but I let the solution sit on the tub and shower for about an hour, then came back and scrubbed it some more, then rinsed. I also used it to clean the inside of the toilet bowl, which is now sparkling clean.

On a side note, the rinsing can get very sudsy, since there is dishsoap in the mixture. That was the biggest drawback of this cleaning recipe for me, but since it did an excellent job of removing soap scum, I think I can overlook it. I will be using it again for sure!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Just Say No To The Cashier!

We went out for a bit of shopping at a few stores this evening. One consistent thing that each store did was to have the cashier offer a 10% discount if we signed up for their store credit card on the spot. Then if you say no thanks, they try to tempt you with the extra coupons they send out to cardholders. Despite the floundering economy, these credit card offers persist like a pesky fly that just won't go away.

It never used to be this way. Even just 5-10 years ago, customers were not bombarded with credit card offers every single time they shopped their local department stores. It is rather annoying, and the benefits of their cards are not worth it. Often times, the store credit cards are charging interest rates of over 20%. Insane!

I am not a big fan of credit cards to begin with. I am an advocate for living within your means and using credit as little as possible. We ourselves are still working towards that goal. When you get that credit card bill, will you remember what you are paying for? You will be better off in the long run to just say no to that cashier. That 10% discount on your current purchase will not even begin to cover the interest charges you will get when the bill comes, and the stores are counting on that. Don't just walk away from those store credit card offers, RUN!!!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Broiled Grapefruit Recipe

'Tis the season for citrus fruits. That means that it is a good time to buy them because they are all on really good sales. We have gotten quite a bit of grapefruit on sale lately, so I thought I would post a recipe for broiled grapefruit, which makes a lovely healthy dessert alternative, snack, or side dish. This is my own version of broiled grapefruit, enjoy!

Broiled Grapefruit

1 grapefruit
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp butter

Halve the grapefruit and cut around each section. Place on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon, as much or as little as desired. Place a half tablespoon of butter on each grapefruit half. Drizzle each half with 1 tsp. of honey. Broil for around 3-4 minutes. Serve warm.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saving Money On Supplements

I like to make sure my kids have good quality vitamins. It has really impacted their health in a positive way. They are sick less often, and they are good and healthy kids. I recently found a website that offers a huge selection of supplements and health food items for a discounted price, plus a flat rate of shipping for $4.99, no matter what the size of my order. It is called We have ordered several times from them now, and I am satisfied with their customer service, as well as their prices. For the things I want to buy, they generally have the lowest prices on the web. You can also google for a promotion code to use upon checkout to get an additional discount, or a free promotional item. So far we have gotten two reusable bags for free with our orders. I will continue to give Vitacost our business, as they offer high quality supplements at a discount price. And better health is always thrifty!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Save On Paper Products

Quick question. How much do you spend on paper products per month? Things like toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, etc.? This is another area that you can save some money on and cut costs. I like paper towels, but a handtowel works better and is reusable. It's as simple as throwing it in the wash and using it again, and all it costs is the initial cost of the towel. Same with napkins. You can easily switch to cloth napkins and cut costs long term there too. I will keep paper towels and napkins around the house, but they are used sparingly, like when we have guests. The rest of the time we use cloth. I do laundry anyway, so it really is easy to just throw the extra handtowels we use into the wash. If you spend, say $20 a month on paper towels and napkins, that is $240 a year in savings just by switching those two products to cloth products. And the added benefit of being a good steward of this earth God gave us by wasting less.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saving Money On Your Food Budget

In this economy, it seems we all are looking to cut our costs and make our dollars stretch farther. One area of the budget that is usually easy to cut costs on is the food budget, if you do it right. A few very basic things to do, some of which I have blogged about previously, is to shop the weekly sales ads, only buy the sales items, buy less packaged and processed foods, use coupons if you have them, plan a weekly menu, eat at home more, and cook from scratch as often as possible.

In our city, the grocery ads usually come out on Wednesdays and Sundays. I will buy a newspaper each of those days and go through the store ads. Unless there are really good sales at several stores, I usually pick the store that has the most deals that I would use and shop there that week. Also, if you don't want to go to several stores, Wal-Mart will match competitor ads (there are some exceptions that they have, check with your local Wal-Mart). I generally avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible, but occasionally, I will take my ads with me and have Wal-Mart match the prices for me.

Buying less packaged foods and processed foods not only costs less, it is healthier for you too. Those bags of chips and cookies cost more, and most of the time they are full of all kinds of junk with little to no nutritional value, and lots of salt and sugar. Eating healthier is also thrifty, because it will promote better health. Better health means less unessecary trips to the doctor. You will get better value for your dollar if you spend it on nutritious food.

I occasionally clip coupons and use them, but most of the time the coupons out there are for the packaged and processed foods. Sometimes I have gotten coupons for, say, $5 off my next grocery order. I love those! But since the coupon usually promote junk food, I am finding I don't use them as often anymore (we have been striving to eat healthier at home, so junk food does not have much of a home in our house).

One of the biggest things we have done that has helped tame our food budget was to plan a menu for the week. Seriously, it only takes me around 5-10 minutes to plan, and it utilizes what I have in the house. We waste less food, spend less on groceries, and eat out way less now. I keep it pretty simple. Breakfast is usually cereal, oatmeal, or Malto-meal, lunch is usually leftovers or sandwiches, and dinner is usually a main dish, plus fruits and vegetables as side dishes. The kids snack on things like fruits, veggies, pretzels, etc.

One of the biggest things I do to save money on the food budget is to cook from scratch. Packaged convenience foods at the store are more expensive, usually, than making it yourself. For example, we don't buy frozen pizza most of the time. I use my breadmaker to mix up a whole wheat crust and make the pizza from scratch. I can make two healthier pizzas for less than $5.00, plus it will usually last for more than one meal. I try to make enough of the food so we can have it for more than one meal. Leftovers really are the first convenience food ever invented! All I have to do is pop it in the microwave, it's our own version of fast food, and it costs way less.

I hope some of these suggestions are helpful to you, and give you more ideas about how you can save even more money :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

File Your Taxes For Free

Ah, yes, the dreaded season of taxes is upon us! I wanted to let you know that there is a way prepare and file your taxes for free. It's called "Free File", and you can find an online service through . When you get there, click on the "free file" icon. This service is free as long as your adjusted gross income is less than $57,000. As long as you have all of your forms, and you don't have any complicated tax issues, it is really easy to use free file to file your taxes. Generally, they ask you a few questions and take you step by step through the tax forms. We have used free file through H & R Block (just select H & R Block from the website menu when they give you the company choices, if that's the one you want to use). Make sure you go through the IRS website to use free file, otherwise you might not get the free deal. We have used this for a few years now, and will continue to use it as long as our tax stuff isn't too terribly complicated (I know, I know - it's kind of an oxymoron to say that our taxes aren't too terribly complicated!).

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Cleaning Cost Saver + Recycling

I used to absolutely love the little Clorox type disposable cleaning wipes. They were convenient, and I could throw it away and forget about it. But I did begin to notice that the price of using those can add up quickly. Plus, really it just adds to the trash at the landfill. Aside from the fact that there were yucky chemicals in them, I decided that we needed to do something else.

You can recycle old clothes, dishtowels, etc., that are not nice enough to pass on to someone else, plus you keep them out of the landfill. You can do this by cutting them up and using them as cleaning rags. I just recently got some new dishtowels for Christmas, so it motivated me to go through my old towels and make some of the less-than-stellar looking ones into cleaning rags. I cut them into quarters, and they make an excellent rag. It saves you money, plus, it is environmentally friendly all at the same time!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Save On Milk - Powdered Milk for Cooking

Invest in a big, bulk box of powdered milk to lower your milk costs. I mix up some of my powdered milk for use in cooking and baking. Since the powdered milk is cheaper in the long run than regular milk is, it is more cost effective to use for cooking. It costs even less to buy the powdered milk in bulk than it is to buy the smaller packages of it, and it does not affect the taste of the food it is used in. I cannot tell the difference! If you do alot of cooking and baking, you may want to consider this as an option to further reduce your food expenses.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tips for Cutting Costs

We are so very blessed here in America. There are certain things that have been deemed by many to be necessities, but really aren't. I am talking about things like cable TV, cell phones, extra phone services, internet, etc. If you consider how much you are spending each month for these types of services, and then calculate what it costs per year for these services, it can be a real eye opener on how much these things actually cost.

There are several ways to cut costs associated with these services. One would be to cancel the cable and just watch the local channels that are free. Is your phone service basic phone service, or is it a spendier package (caller ID, call waiting, etc.)? If you have a home phone, is a cell phone really necessary? These are all things to consider and weigh when looking to cut your costs. If you feel you cannot part with these services, some companies offer a package deal called bundling (phone, cable, internet all from the same company, discounted for using all of their services). It is definitely worth it to look into some sort of bundling deal or promotion, it will often save lots of money off of your monthly bills for these services seperately.

Assess how often you are using your cell phone. For us, the monthly cost of around $50 was not worth it. I was only using my cell phone very rarely, so we decided that it was something that could be cut once our contract was up. I bought a Tracfone for around $10, and now I only buy minutes for what I actually need. I don't use it often, but it is nice to have for the convenience of communicating with my husband, or in case of emergency. Now we spend $30 every few months for cell phone service instead of $50 a month.

These are just a few ideas, but if you need to cut costs, these ideas can really significantly make a difference in your budget.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reinventing Leftover Spaghetti Noodles

The other night we had stir fry with spaghetti noodles. We usually have leftover spaghetti noodles after eating this particular meal. I really hate throwing food away because it is wasteful, and because essentially it is throwing money away. I know my kids will not eat them plain, so I decided to try something new and a little different for us.

I took 1/4 cup of butter, melted it and sauted a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic in it. Then I took the leftover noodles and mixed it in with the butter and garlic, and added about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning herbs. I also sprinkled a little bit of sea salt in there. I stirred it until the mixture was heated all the way through.

Needless to say, it was a hit! They called them "restaurant noodles", and ate them up in no time! We now have a new favorite to try with our leftover noodles, and it saves money because it uses up our leftovers rather than throwing them away. Plus, fixing them this way makes them into something new and different for the kids, and they actually like it!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Making Your Fancy Coffee Last Longer

Every Christmas, I usually receive a package or two of fancy flavored coffees. I have discovered a way to have my flavored coffee, and make it last longer too. Really, it's pretty simple. When I put the coffee in my coffee maker, I use half flavored and half regular coffee (i.e. 1 scoop flavored with 1 scoop regular coffee). I still get the flavor, but my flavored coffee will last twice as long because I am not using as much of it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Free Crochet Patterns, Plus Knitting!

I almost cannot believe it took me this long to discover an awesome website, chock full of free patterns! I just recently became a member of an online knitting/crocheting community. It is called . I have already been browsing through all the patterns they have available, tons of them! They offer knitting patterns too. There are also plenty of patterns available to purchase as well. But there is no shortage of free patterns! It is free to join the group. Head on over and sign up today if you want to enter a needleworkers paradise!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

After Christmas Clearance

Christmas has come and gone, so now is the time to stock up on cheap supplies for next year! Things like wrapping paper, tape, ribbon, bows, gift tags, and even some gift sets (plus candy if you like) are on super clearance right now at most stores. I went to Hobby Lobby today, and their Christmas things were 80 % off. I picked up a few things for only a few dollars total. If you have the storage space, go for it and get yourself some good deals! Reminder: it is not a good deal if you won't ever use it!