Posts Tagged ‘Saving Money’

It’s that time of year again…

time to start thinking about holiday cards! I was ecstatic to find my Christmas card list from last year (maybe I *am* getting a tiny bit more organized…), so now I just have the difficult decision of which card to send.

Fortunately, I already know the best place to get the cards. We have loved using Shutterfly for cards and invitations in the past, and had every plan to use them again this year. Then I discovered that they offer 50 free cards to bloggers. You can’t beat getting something you were already going to buy for free!

I have spent the last few days looking through the 2093 pictures I have taken this year and realizing just how few family pictures I have. Resolution for 2011: take more family pictures.  My goal for this Thanksgiving weekend is to get a great family picture, and then to get cards ordered soon.

One thing I love about Shutterfly’s card selection is that they have such a large variety of cards, and they are sortable by so many options. I can easily narrow down my card options according to how many pictures I want to use, or what colors are in my pictures.  Shutterfly also has several options for what sort of card to send — including 4×8 photo, 5×7 photo, or folded 5×7 cards.

I love brown…

Most Wonderful Story 5×7

And the two photogenic guys in my life love red…

 Keep Believing Christmas Card

Love the simplicity of this one…

Modern Joy holiday card

And the message of this one:

  Celebrate Family Christmas

I also love that Shutterfly offers cards whose purchase benefits nonprofits such as the American Lung Association.
Tree of Hope 5×7 folded card

Whichever card you end up choosing (and there are SO many more options on the Shutterfly site), you will end up with a promptly delivered and high-quality card.  I can’t wait to see which card we end up choosing, and I’d love to know your favorites too!  Browse around at their site — I hope you have as much fun as I have!  Hurry — their Cyber Week sale ends December 1st!

Disclosure:  I have recieved reimbursement for this blog post in the form of 50 free cards from Shutterfly.  All opinions in this post are mine only.  Are you interested in blogging and receiving some free holiday cards?  Sign up here!

Black Friday

I LOVE Black Friday. My husband and I have a tradition of shopping together on Black Friday and then eating breakfast afterwards.  It does vary a bit depending on where we are for Thanksgiving that year, or what gifts we are looking for. There have been years we’ve planned a strategy for where to go and what to buy in advance… and years we have just gotten what looked fun at the moment. We loved it because we could get better presents for others for less money (and not because we are stingy… because we are usually shopping on a budget!) This year, with much of our shopping done, we are looking more at items to get for ourselves for Christmas, stocking stuffers, and a few random gifts.

I have found that shopping on Black Friday is not the chaos that many imagine it to be (note: that is only if you avoid Best Buy and have a plan for Walmart). Yes, the lines are long… but it is amazing how much people will help each other out.  A kind of camaraderie is formed with others who are queued up in the pre-dawn, trying to stay warm and swapping sales ads.  Despite the media’s portrayal of the negative aspects, I have found there is more good than bad.

Here are a few lessons we’ve learned over the years:

  • Wal-mart matches competitor’s ads (which is great when you don’t want to drive to the toy store that is 30 minutes away).They also open first (that may depend on where you live)… and have really long lines… and are definitely the craziest place to be.  Please don’t base your opinion of how nice people are on Black Friday on solely a Wal-mart experience.
  • K-mart is open on Thanksgiving Day.  So is Walgreens.  And they have great specials on that day.  Walgreens is the place to go for cheap ribbons, bows and paper!
  • Forget about shopping carts… they just slow down the process.  Unless you are looking for electronics, of course.
  • Best Buy or any parking lot near a Best Buy is insane.  You can go there… but don’t expect to go anywhere else.
  • Old Navy has great sales (though we were quite disappointed in their selection of boys clothing last year)… and they make waiting in line a lot of fun!

What are your thoughts on Black Friday? I know some people who love shopping for bargains… some who hate the crowds and chaos (not to mention lack of sleep)… and some of see it all as too much commercialism or even greediness on the part of retailers and consumers. Do you shop the sales? Do you sleep in? Do you watch the kids so their parents can shop? What’s on your wish list this year?  Do you have any tips or traditions you would like to share?

(Whatever you do… just don’t let this happen):

(Oh, and I am thankful for having most of my shopping done and having a husband who likes to shop with me!)

Simple Life

When my husband and I first married, we had no choice but to live frugally. I was grateful that I had learned so much from my mom (who raised a family of 6 on one income) about couponing and rebates.. but moreso that my parents taught me the value of buying only what you need.   I’ve learned over the years that it is important for us to be as debt-free as possible (I’d say debt-free entirely minus the mortgage… but the last few months have taught me that is not always possible) and to spend our money wisely. For example, once we were able to buy a home we opted for a townhouse and mortgage payment which was well below what the bank said we could afford (though I must admit that I have no idea how we could have afforded what they thought we could afford!) I have been very grateful for this decision over the past 4 years as we have weathered multiple job losses and income fluctuations with no minimal worries about how we will pay the mortgage. So far, we are making it.

I am not as much into couponing as my mom was, or as I have been at other times of life. Part of that is that I have started shopping at Aldi (which doesn’t accept coupons) and that I tend to cook from scratch(ish) moreso than buying processed foods that have coupons available. (Plus, I’ll admit, I just haven’t taken the time to do so!) I have lately started paying more attention to money-saving blogs and sites such as or I’ve loved being able to receive a few freebies by blogging as well (a few books, at this point).

I realize that couponing and blogging are just part of the overall philosophy that has led to living frugally. For me, it is freeing to know that, even though there are times it doesn’t feel like a choice, this IS a lifestyle I have chosen. I am all for anything that simplifies life… and for me, simplifying the spending does that. I’m still working out what all that means to me (and our family… because sometimes it is too easy to not get everyone else’s input). I know part of it is reducing the clutter (ugh) in addition to following the budget. The upcoming holidays are a great time to start doing both.

Forwarding to you a blog post I found today and particularly liked. I am going to copy the post here to save you a click… but the original post can be found here.

8 Useful tips on how to prepare yourself for a frugal life in 2011 (reposted)

If you face trouble to manage your finances in the ever expanding cost of living, you may think of cutting down expenses. However, cutting down expenses is not the only solution; you need to change your lifestyle as soon as possible in order to survive the increasing expenses of 2011. In case you are facing monetary crisis the best way to do away with this crisis and also remain out of it in future is to start living a frugal life in 2011. Thus, go for a frugal living and stay debt-free as well as stress-free in 2011. This article provides you with information you need to know in order to prepare yourself to live frugally in 2011.

  1. Get clutter-free – If you want to start living frugally clear out the clutter in your house, it will not only save you money that you may have to pay for your extra storage, it may also help you gain some extra cash by selling out the things you will never need.
  2. Eat frugally –Avoid buying packaged and processed foods as they are much more costly. Purchase cheaper cuts of meat. Buy fruits and vegetables in season. Do not go out for grocery shopping unplanned as it results in more unexpected purchases. Make sure to make a list and buy only the essential things required.
  3. Don’t buy books – It may sound weird but it is better not to buy books when you can simply borrow them from the library. In case you do not re-read your books, it is better to get them from the library instead of wasting dollars on them.   (Melody’s note:  Not buy books?  Well… okay, I refuse to not buy books but I do have standards for what I will buy and what I will borrow.  I put them in the comments after a fellow book lover commented on this item!)
  4. Don’t buy DVDs – Don’t waste your hard-earned money by buying new DVDs when you can simply subscribe them from Netflix (US). Such a subscription allows you to watch movies of your choice but with a reasonably lower monthly fee.  (Melody’s note:  I have so many DVDs I want to get rid of… which gets into that making family decisions and not just my wants part of decluttering!  I also have to note I make an exception for Disney DVDs!)
  5. Buy second hand items – Buying second hand furniture, rug, waffle makers and night lights may help you get real treasures sometimes though at a terribly affordable rate. (Melody’s notes: I also have to throw in a plug for second hand Christmas gifts and children’s items!  No, not re-gifting… but we have gotten some great gifts in previous years for our little boy through using Craigslist and similar.  Plus an amazing deal on a twin bed and mattress!)
  6. Use one car – It is better to go for one car even if you have two or more cars. It is one of the expensive items that you posses and it may have various expenses related to it like maintenance and fuel. Thus, it is better to use one car as it will be more manageable for you.
  7. Smaller house – Even if you can afford a large house, it is always wise to go for a smaller one. You can easily save money and also still be comfortable even if you have a smaller house to live in.
  8. Use free entertainment – Frugal living does not mean, you have to sacrifice all the happiness of your life. Go for entertainments that are cheap and save money while you have some fun.

I’m thankful today that I don’t have to figure all of this out on my own… and so thankful that I have learned as much about saving, spending and simplicity as I have along the way!

It is Friday night…

and I am organizing my spices. Isn’t my life exciting?

I suppose I should say I am attempting to organize my spices. Here’s the dilemma: I have 40+ spices (most of which I use on a fairly regular basis). I have a tiny kitchen cabinet to keep them in, plus a spice carousel on the counter. They take up over 2 shelves. I can reach about 1 1/2 of those shelves (one of the joys of being 5’1″!).  Did I mention that these shelves are 12″ deep and 14″ wide (yes, I just measured).  So far, the best option seems to be the Spice Stack.

Ugh. So… anyway… here’s the list of my essential spices, should you be interested in starting to cook or stocking up. If you *are* just starting out with experimenting with your own cooking, I highly recommend McCormick’s Recipe Inspirations so you don’t end up buying a jar of spices that you don’t like.

Essential Spices:

  • basil
  • chili powder
  • cinnamon, ground
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • garlic salt (though I am thinking surely there is some way to make this from garlic powder?)
  • marjoram
  • nutmeg (apparently this is essential, since I have 3 containers of it!)
  • onion powder (good for making your own spice combos and rubs)
  • oregano
  • paprika
  • parsley (unless you have a greener thumb than I and can grow fresh… yum!)
  • rosemary
  • salt, popcorn (it is finer than regular salt and works better for homemade tortilla chips!)
  • salt, sea (we use instead of table salt)
  • salt, seasoning (it is a wonder that I manage to keep sodium as low as I do!)
  • Mrs. Dash 🙂
  • thyme

Not so essential, but nice to have on hand:

  • bay leaves (I use them for soups)
  • cayenne pepper (quick and easy way to add heat)
  • onions, minced
  • poppy seeds (for poppyseed chicken — yum!)


  • Cinnamon sticks (used for potpourri… I need to post that recipe!)
  • Cloves
  • Ginger, ground
  • Cream of tartar (used for meringue here)
  • Sage

Skip it (links to make your own from other spices)

So… if nothing else, I’ve managed to inventory my spices and put my substitutions links all in one post.
I guess I should be thankful that my life is boring enough at the moment that I can devote time to researching ways to store spices?  And that I can appear to be organized?  Trust me, this post makes me seem so much more into organization than I actually am!  I do think I could save quite a bit of time if I didn’t have to drag a chair over to the cabinet to reach the second shelf of spices, and then remove 28 spices before finding the one I need.  I guess I also need to be thankful for a husband who doesn’t think I am completely loony for organizing spices on a Friday night, much less blogging about them (he is happily occupied watching TV at the moment).
Feel free to comment if I missed something you find essential or if you have any suggestions!

Menu Planning Monday 5/24/10-5/30/10

Linking up with again for meal planning… feel free to join in if you plan meals!

Monday, May 24: Leftover Chicken Mozarella Spaghetti with Broccoli

Tuesday, May 25: Eating out with a friend 🙂

Wednesday, May 26: Black bean and corn quesadillas

Thursday, May 27: Sloppy Joes and Oven Baked Fries (carryover from last week), corn on the cob

Friday-Sunday:  Whatever we get fed by out-of-town relatives! 🙂

And… whew… we made it through the month and on budget!  Okay, to be honest, we went out to eat at least once that wasn’t in the budget because we got a gift of some money to use for a date night and free babysitting.   🙂  I’m still impressed!

Speaking of budgeting, I am participating in a challenge starting June 20th to feed my family for $25/person for 4 weeks.  Check it out and join me! 🙂

Menu Plan Monday 5/17/10-5/23/10

Linking up with again for menu planning! Wow, this becomes a habit quickly… it’s a good habit to have though! And we have tons of chicken in the freezer still so it is easy to plan menus! 🙂  Stocking up on plenty of fresh fruit and yogurt for snacks this week too — I’m so glad it is summer and fresh fruit and vegetables are starting to be in season!

I’ve been looking for (even more) ways to save on groceries… and yet I came across this link (on a government site!) stating that for my family of 3 we should be spending $128/week to eat healthily.  Um… we spend less than 1/2 of that a week and while it definitely takes some thought and careful planning, I think we eat fairly well.  We spent just under $70 at the store this week and I thought that was a pretty bad grocery week ($10 of that was for 5 pounds of ground beef which will probably last us over a month… we are only using 1 pound this week, and another $4 was for vitamins for the little guy who is much better at remembering to take them than I am… maybe I should buy gummy vitamins for myself!)

Since I’ve never mentioned it, we tend to do cereal, oatmeal or eggs for breakfast (though with all that fruit and yogurt around I think I’ll try to make some smoothies this week).  For lunch, we usually do leftovers, sandwiches, or salad (for me, at least… the 4 year old would eat PBJ for lunch every day if I’d let him.)

Lots of new recipes this week; I hope they are good!

Recipe update from last week — the egg drop soup was great and I finally made that Parmesan Arborio rice pilaf (which was great as well).

Monday 5/17 — Shredded Chicken Taco Salad/soft tacos for the boys; book club for me! 🙂

Tuesday 5/18 — Stroganoff Style Chicken with green peas

Wednesday 5/18/10 — Sloppy Joes and Baked French Fries for the boys;  Girls Night Out for me (taking baked beans)! 🙂

Thursday 5/19/10 — Leftover Buffet

Friday 5/20/10 —  Breakfast for dinner: Eggs, bacon and Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole with fresh fruit

Saturday 5/21/10 — Pork chops, green beans, cooked apples, leftover hashbrown casserole

Sunday 5/22/10 — Chicken Mozzarella Spaghetti (made Saturday and reheated…) or leftovers if we have enough

My Tip of the Week: Look for ways to use up ingredients you already have on hand.  We used some green onion in the egg drop soup but nowhere near a bunch of it… I decided to make this Balsamic Roasted Red Potatoes recipe yesterday instead of the mashed potatoes I’d planned to make… used up some more green onions and found another great recipe!

20 Ingredients to Make 10 Meals

So, I had a reader say I should start an organizational blog… and after I stopped laughing (because I’ve never thought of myself as particularly organized)…  I realized that I have learned quite a bit about household management over the past 15 years or so… mostly in the cooking/saving money departments rather than the cleaning department.  🙂  I started thinking of items that I try to keep on hand for last minute meals and this is what I came up with!  If we are out of most of these ingredients, we desperately need to go to the store!  Some of these, I’d usually dress up a little more, but basic is good when the pantry is getting close to empty.  I’m assuming most people keep salt and pepper on hand and not including those…

20 Basic ingredients I keep on hand (there are more, these are just 20)


  • Rice
  • Dry pasta
  • Spaghetti sauce (well, I usually keep canned tomatoes, fresh garlic, dried oregano and dried basil but jarred sauce is easier!)
  • Onions (you can dice and freeze if you need too)
  • Potatoes
  • Seasoned Bread Crumbs
  • Olive Oil
  • Chicken Broth
  • Sandwich Bread (can freeze if needed)… also peanut butter for sandwiches, but I don’t use it for any meals below.
  • Teriyaki or Soy Sauce
  • Cream of Chicken Soup


  • Eggs
  • Butter or margarine
  • Milk
  • Parmesan Cheese (fresh lasts a while, but grated is fine too!)
  • Cheddar cheese (shredded or block… block will last longer)


  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (bought in bulk and frozen in 1-pound portions)
  • Frozen stirfry mix
  • Frozen grean beans or corn
  • Peppers (buy fresh, slice and freeze)

Meals you can make with these 20 ingredients… just options!

  • Spaghetti with Garlic Bread (Cook dry pasta, Add onion/pepper/parm cheese to jarred spaghetti sauce, add butter and parm cheese to sandwich bread and bake)
  • Parmesan Chicken (serve over spaghetti or with parmesan roasted potatoes and green beans)
  • Chicken Stirfry (chicken, rice, frozen stirfry mix, teriyaki sauce)
  • Homemade Chicken nuggets (dip chicken chunks in milk or egg, then roll in bread crumb/parmesan cheese mixture and bake) and oven baked fries
  • Pasta with butter and parmesan cheese (and garlic if you have it!)
  • Baked Chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans
  • Combine chicken and cream of chicken soup in a skillet and serve over rice  (similar to this recipe) with green beans
  • Teriyaki Chicken Kebabs over rice (chicken, teriyaki sauce, onion, pepper, rice)
  • Breakfast for dinner:
    • Cheese, red pepper & onion omelet with potato pancakes (add an egg to leftover mashed potatoes and fry)
    • French toast (um… I guess without syrup…)
    • Eggs and toast or egg & cheese sandwich on toast with breakfast potatoes (diced potato, onion, pepper, oil)

Or add a few more ingredients and you can make these!  I found a few of these searching for recipes today so it’s pretty likely you’ll see them again.

  • Chicken fajitas (add tortillas and fajita seasoning),
  • Campbell’s Chicken and Rice Bake (add paprika and cream of mushroom soup)
  • Shredded chicken soft tacos (add Rotel to chicken breasts, cook in crockpot and shred, serve in tortillas with cheese)
  • Chicken noodle soup (add carrots and celery)
  • Quiche (add pie crust and half&half or cream)
  • Easy Skillet Chicken a la King (add pimentos, mushrooms, and onion powder)
  • Baked Mozarella Chicken Spaghetti (add mushrooms, mozzarella cheese and yogurt)
  • Super Easy Breakfast Casserole (add sausage and evaporated milk)
  • Baked Paprika-Parmesan Chicken (add paprika and flour)
  • Broccoli-Cheese Baked Potatoes (add fresh broccoli)

Coupons, coupons, coupons… loving saving money!

I have turned into my mother.  I think I am well on my way to embarrassing my children in the grocery store while price-matching/couponing/rebating.  However, I do draw the line at carrying thousands of coupons into the store and having a complete shoebox organizing system for rebates (I love you, Mom, even though I am sure you are not even reading this blog!).  I do seem to spend too much time trying to stretch a dollar though…

Here are some of my finds over the past few months:

Aldi — I *love* Aldi!  They don’t accept coupons but the prices are worth it.  I shop there mainly for produce (except for sweet potatoes… had a bad experience there!) and the things we almost always need on hand and can’t wait for sales on (sugar, everyday spices, milk, lunch meat, cheese, eggs).  They also have generic Goldfish (Sharks) and an amazing boxed pasta salad (which I haven’t bought yet but tasted and fully intend to buy next time I go!).  My love for Aldi’s goes far above the good prices though.  They are a haven for shopping with a preschooler.  No coupons means a shorter checkout time for me and their pretty small stores means less time going up and down aisles.  Smaller stores also means shorter checkout lines (I have only once been in a line with more than 3 people) and a smaller parking lot.  A few Aldi’s tips for newbies — they don’t take coupons, bring a quarter to get a shopping cart (they have a corral at the front of the store and you deposit a quarter to get a cart and then get it back when you leave), and bring your own bags (cloth or from other stores)  or come prepared to buy theirs.  I highly recommend their cloth bags — the one I have is HUGE and cost $1.99. — a site where you can add coupons to your store card (Kroger here) and not have to carry coupons around! — Coupon matchup sites are great… but it is so nice to have someone local doing matchups because it is *so* frustrating to see a great deal that is not available to you! — coupons galore.  Print them out and use them at the store just as you would regular coupons. — look here for any online coupon codes you need!

I tend to do couponing/rebating in spurts so I am trying to get a bit more organized about it.  Right now I am just shopping Aldi for deals, shopping for 30-day-meal items on sale and good deals at Kroger, and doing rebates if I happen to stumble across a great one… which is basically never right now since I am not even looking and Walgreens stopped doing rebates!

Some great finds of today’s grocery shopping at Kroger (thanks to some sites above!):

  • Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta $1.25 ($.75 if you buy 8 participating items in their March Madness event… I recommend buying DiGiorno pizza at $3.99 and Simply Orange orange juice at $2.99 as well!) — paired with coupon from ronzonis.comFREE!
  • Yoplait Delight yogurt — $2.00 — paired with $1 coupon at = $1.00 for 4-pack of yogurt bliss! 🙂
  • And be sure to check out Pillsbury products — Grands biscuits, breadsticks, pizza dough, etc. — buying them gets you $$$ off your next purchase and there are tons of coupons out there for them.  If you don’t get the Sunday paper you can find coupons at  This held true for me even though I bought the sale items that didn’t advertise money back on the price tag.
  • Off to Aldi tomorrow to buy the things I didn’t get at Kroger today!  I’ve had an expensive few weeks grocery shopping trying to stock up on some things (like chicken breasts on sale at Kroger last week!) but I know it will pay off in a few weeks or on those weeks when it seems like nothing is on sale.