Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ways we are saving money

Since March, my husband and I have really been trying to spend less/save more money. We have done the usual:
But there are also some more "outside of the box" things we have been working on that have really helped. I know I am not the first to come up with these, but they are simple and small things that can easily be overlooked, but can make a big impact!
  • homemade dish detergent
  • using the dishwasher less. it has been easy in the past to just throw everything in. and it has been easy in the past to run 2 loads a day. with just 2 of us! that had to stop! we are better about washing bigger things and things that were hardly used, things that are just easier to wipe clean in the same amount of time as rinsing and loading.
  • using washcloths instead of paper towels to clean messes
  • recycling (this saves money because we do not have to take our trash to the curb as often)
  • composting (same as above, as well as both being environmentally friendly)
  • using a deep freezer to cook in bulk and stockpile foods when they are on special.
  • reusing paper towels. we do still have them on hand, and I like to wash and dry fresh lettuce before making a salad. then I dry the towels and use them a few days later when I get more lettuce from the garden.
  • reusing dryer sheets for dusting
  • making my own baby food
Things I have thought about doing to save money, but am not totally convinced yet to do (I do believe that time and effort equal money too):
  • cloth diapering
  • drying clothes outside on lines
  • making all my food from scratch

WFMW - Homemade Dish Detergent

So, I have only used this twice, but I am really excited about it. And impressed.
I don't remember now where I found this recipe. I looked for a while at different recipes and feedback before deciding on this one. I think it originally called for Super Washing Soda, but I haven't found this anywhere yet, so I used plain old baking soda*.

The ingredients:
Baking Soda*
20 Mule Team Borax
Distilled White Vinegar

The first time I simply added 1 Tbsp of each powder to the dispenser (wasn't sure if I wanted to make a batch before I had tried it out for myself) and about a Tbsp of vinegar for the rinse cycle. I was expecting things to be dirty and cloudy, and was thinking I may have to make a fast run to the store to get the old faithful liquid detergent. But alas, I was pleasantly surprised!

Then I made a batch to have ready in a container so I wouldn't have to go around and find each ingredient to add. The second time I just added 2 Tbsp of my mix and the vinegar to the rinse cycle. This time I had left a few things in with a little more built-on mess to test the power. It is good, it is not super. There was a little residue on the things that had more set-on dirt when they went in.
Lesson: Rinse a little better before adding to the dishwasher.
Why I am OK with this: I find that rinsing a little more than usual doesn't take much longer, and often means that I have cleaned the dish well enough to set out to dry, thus making my time between running cycles even longer. Even less detergent I have to use.

This helps me to be more frugal. And environmental. And "Martha." I feel like a better wife and mother and homemaker!
This is what works for me. For more great ideas on what works for others, head on over HERE.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bananas for Baby Food

Bananas are so cheap!
Especially when they are a little older at the store and they get marked down even more. That is a good time to buy them for baking. And for baby food.
Last time I saw some like this I bought a bunch, brought them home, and broke them up into smaller pieces and froze them on baking sheets before putting them in baggies to store in the freezer for future use.
Now all I have to do is pull out the amount I want, let them thaw a little or put them in a warmer, mash them and serve them.
Simple. Cheap. Good!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gardening is Easy and Good!

This has been our first year trying to grow a garden. It has been a nice, rainy spring and summer, and this has helped our crop greatly! I have not been good about posting updates and pictures, partly because it is all so good that I eat it and then think "I should have taken a picture of that first!"

Here is a picture of some of the produce we are getting about weekly now. Our garden is not huge, so it is not a ton of crop, but it is a good amount for us to get fresh salads and sides a few days a week without having to buy the ingredients!

The crop has been good, it has been nice to save, and it has been a productive experiment! Can't wait to keep getting more great food to eat!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - July 19

Got a little behind again this past week with meals. I guess it's a good thing, really, because that means the food I bought to last the month is stretching further than I thought it would. This is partly to recipes being bigger, but partly because of the great vegetables we are getting from our garden and from others. I thought I stuck fairly close to my menu, but now looking back, there were a lot of meals we never got to.

So, for this week...

Sunday: finally had the Sticky PB&J Wings They were good. Not too strong on the flavor, but good, and moist, and turned out great on the grill! And this was fabulous with some fresh green beans from our garden!
Monday: Lemon-and-Herb Pasta Salad I ran out of eggs on the day I was going to make this, and then ended up having enough food to last all week, so I am planning on making it tomorrow. Already boiled the eggs for it.
Tuesday: Long day at work. Cookout for lunch. Something simple for dinner. Maybe a BLT with fresh tomatoes from my mom's garden. Thanks Mom!
Wednesday: Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese Going to try again this week to get it in. Having company and I think it will be a nice, easy dish that will go well with salad from our garden!
Thursday-Saturday: Leftovers, Pizza, something from the garden, something from the freezer...whatever is easy and around the house already.

If you want more great menu ideas, head on over here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

FREE Starbucks Coffee and Pastry!!

First, I used to work at Starbucks. It took me a little bit to get used to the coffee. It wasn't bad, just a bit stronger than I was used to. That said, I am now a BIG fan of their coffee. To the point where I may be called a coffee snob. But as our budget would have it, I cannot continue to be a snob about it. So deals like this get me really excited!!

First, this coming Tuesday, July 21, Starbucks will be giving away a pastry when you buy a coffee. It doesn't have to be an expensive specialty drink, it can be plain old drip coffee. Print this coupon to take with you. But you might want to go early because it says it lasts until 10:30 am or until pastries are gone (at participating stores). And I have to say, they do have some great pastries. No bias! They're just good!

Also, go here to register for a chance to win free coffee for a year. And if you don't like Starbucks, feel free to still register to give me your prize if you are the winner!! Contest ends Sept 15.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Using a Whole Chicken

A while ago I posted about cooking a whole chicken in the crock pot. And I was SO excited! It smelled good, and tasted good, and it was so simple!!

Well, this time I decided to go even further with the chicken! After cooking it for about 8 hours in the slow cooker (making the house smell scrumptious!) I let it cool for just a bit. Then starting pulling off all the meat.

I put some of the meat into a soup that was on the stove-top waiting. I also had some more meat left over that will go great on a salad with the fresh lettuce from our garden!
Then I took everything else, everything that was left after I got the meat I wanted. Kinda gross, but my husband did this part, so that made it a little easier for me. All of that went into a pot, along with a bunch of celery leaves and a few stalks, a couple of whole (including the skins) onions, a couple of bay leaves, and water. I would have put in some carrots (unpeeled) but didn't have any left after my carrot mac and cheese and making baby food.

I brought all this to a boil, then turned it down and let it simmer for an hour or two (don't totally remember, didn't set a timer, just checked on it occasionally and then eventually decided it had been long enough).
Then poured it through a strainer so all the pieces and veggies and such would stay separate, of course! And poured and poured until I got all the broth out I could get.
I have these containers in the fridge for now. I will go back and scrape off the top (fatty part), then used some to make some homemade pea soup for my little one, some will go in the freezer for a later date, and some will stay in the fridge to have on hand.

SO, I got (A) meat for a soup (B) meat for salad (C) broth for pea soup (D) broth for the freezer (E) broth for now and (F) a wonderful feeling knowing that I did it all myself (with husband's help, of course) and made the best use of a whole chicken that I could! And the cost of all of this? The whole chicken was $3, the celery leave and inside stalks I probably would have thrown away otherwise, a few cents for the far under $5 for all of this!!

I'll post more about the pea soup later. For now, this is what works for me, head over to We Are THAT Family for more great ideas!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Week of July 12

Last week was a good week. Some meals that I made lasted longer than I had planned, thus stretching our food. We also went out to eat one night (graciously provided for us).
I just got to make the Carrot Macaroni and Cheese last night. It was really good, although my husband said it should not be classified as mac and cheese, since it wasn't ooey and gooey and cheesey. But it was good.
My favorite meal, though
, was the Creamy Slow-Cooker Chicken! It was fabulous!

: Grilled Cheese-and-Chicken Sausage Waffles; cereal; homemade bread

Lunches: Lemon-and-Herb Pasta Salad; Chicken and White Bean Stew; Fresh Salad (from the garden)

Dinners: Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese; Turkey and Wild Rice Salad (I am planning to use chicken), Sticky PB&J Wings

Head on over to "I'm an Organizing Junkie" for more great meal ideas!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Homemade Baby Food is Cheaper!

I've been reminded again today why it is that I take a little extra time to make my own baby food for my infant. Not only do I know exactly what he is getting, but it is SO much cheaper!

I bought 2 lbs of carrots at Wal Mart for $1.66.

The whole process took me maybe 30 minutes (I don't count the time while the carrots were cooking and I could be doing other productive things).

I got about 40 oz of food out of this!

That is $.04 an oz! Can't buy pre-made food in the store at that price.

This is why I choose a little extra time in the kitchen. My son is worth it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WFMW - Using Fewer paper towels

It is so easy to have a small spill in the kitchen, grab a paper towel, wipe it up and throw the towel away. As I have been on a journey to find simple, yet meaningful, ways to save money, I have found I can be very wasteful with paper towels...
So i bought a package of 18 plain, inexpensive white washcloths for about $4 at Wal Mart. And I bought 2 small painter's buckets for about $2 each.

In one of the buckets I add a little bit of Oxi Clean powder (you can use any cleaner you might want) and some water. I add a handful of washcloths and let them soak. Then, when I need to wipe up a spill or wipe down my counters, I just grab one that has been soaking. If the mess is not bad, I rinse off the cloth and put it back in to soak for next time.
If the job was a bit bigger and I do not want to add it back to my bucket o' clean water and Oxi Clean, I use my other bucket to hold the dirty ones until I wash them all in the laundry.
I store them both right under the sink, so they are accessible and ready to go. I still buy paper towels, but use them for things like getting the grease off the bacon before I eat it and drying out my fresh lettuce leaves that I have just washed to eat...

This is something I have found that works great for me and my family! We buy and use less paper towels (good for environment and our budget) and the cleaner is stretched a lot further when in the bucket o' water! For more great ideas, head on over o We Are THAT Family.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

June Budget Review

June was a good month!

It helped that we were out of town for a week (with meals fully provided!).

We didn't stick as strictly to our "no eating out" rule that we had in May, but we definitely limited the stops we made. I couldn't pass up the Wendy's BOGO coupon they had for the coffee toffee twisted frosty. But it was worth every penny!!

I battled with myself a bit in May about my spending percentage. Well, I didn't try real hard to focus on this in June, but my saving was up to 48%. I gave myself a reduced budget since we were out of town (instead of spending the same but stockpiling) and I did very good with this. We had plenty to eat, but by the end of the month I was getting pretty lazy. I found it easier to just pull pizza out of the freezer instead of getting creative with the things in my cupboards. Oh well. We all need a little break sometime, right?

All we have gotten from our garden so far is lettuce, basil and oregano. I have found some great prices on produce at Kroger to go with the salads, and we have also had lots of corn on the cob. It is very economical and so good!

Some simple goals for the rest of July:
continue eating out only on rare occasions and with coupons (or when it is paid for by others;))
get more of a stockpile of meat and meals in my freezer
making sure I find more deals on fruits and veggies so this isn't the first to go in our diet
continue making food for my dear son
provide more meals for others by taking meals to them or having people over

What are you doing this month to help save money?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Week of July 5

I have taken some time off. I have been away. I have been lazy. I have been unmotivated. But I am back and excited for some new recipes!!

Breakfast: Cereal, Muffins, apples, Farmer's Casserole (I have made this before. It is very good, and very easy to make more than one at a time and freeze for future use. Which is my plan. Thanks OAMM!)

Lunches: Fresh salad (from the garden mostly), Chicken Cabbage Soup, BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

Dinners: Carrot Macaroni and Cheese, Creamy Slow-Cooker Chicken, maybe eating out with family in town?

I've got menus for all month ready to go and I'm ready to be back and motivated!! Visit I'm an Organizing Junkie for more great menus!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lots and Lots of Chicken!!

A while back I found a good deal on chicken and I stocked up! I had just gotten my big freezer and needed to fill it up!!
I was slightly daunted by the fact that it was a lot of chicken, and I also wasn't used to buying chicken with the bone in, but I knew I wanted to make good use of it...eventually...
I used some of it to make some Raspberry Chicken, enough so that we had some the week I bought it, have had some since then, and there is still one more bag of it in the freezer. Very easy and great on the grill this time of year! Thanks OAMM!

In the mix of all the chicken I bought were 2 whole chickens! I have only bought chicken this way from the store...when it has already been roasted for me, and I want to shred it for something tasty on top of a salad or in a soup...I've never bought any meat whole before!

Well, after searching for a recipe (the easiest recipe I could possibly find) I landed back at my favorite crockpotting site for a simple-and what sounded like delicious-recipe!

So, I gave it a go last night. We have next to nothing in our fridge. I've been holding off for a new month, and some new motivation for planning and shopping. So, in the meantime, I decided it would be a good idea to have some chicken on hand for meals, and what better way than to let it cook itself all night long while I was in bed sleeping. Granted, it is a little weird to wake up and smell food cooking in the house, but I have used the crockpot before and gotten somewhat used to this.

When I came down in the morning, here is what I found.
MMMMM...smelled good...and even though it was only 7am I had to try a piece! Moist and delicious! It fell right off the bone, just like she had said it would! If It hadn't been 11 at night last night when I was putting it in to cook, I may have taken the skin off first since we don't normally eat it anyway (at least I try to not let my husband eat it!) and this would have put more flavor into the actual chicken. But I am very satisfied.

And. Even Better! I spent $3.02 on this chicken. Can't get a roasted chicken from any store at that price! Unless maybe it's been sitting out all day and it is cold and dry, but who wants a cold, dry chicken when you can have one that looks like this and tastes professionally done?! It really can't get much more simple than this!

WFMW - Favorite Summer Recipe

There is a special edition of Works For Me Wednesday over at We Are THAT Family today. It's the 'favorite summer recipe' edition, so hop on over here to get more great ideas!

I have a new favorite recipe, at least for right now, and it's great for summer. Once our garden really starts producing, I will be even more excited because most of the recipe will come from our back yard!

Tomato Cucumber Salad

2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
3 cups chopped fresh cucumbers (peeled)
1/4 cup chopped onions (can be green onions OR regular)
2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon basil
2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice
Pinch of pepper
Dash of garlic salt

1. In mixing bowl, toss together tomatoes, cucumber, and onions.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the seasonings and lemon juice (or vinegar). Pour over cucumber and tomato mixture, and stir to coat. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

I've made it twice and loved it!! I can't wait to use my own tomatoes and cucumbers, and I am already using my own basil. I have used basil that has been dried from our garden, but I am going to try fresh next time. I have only tried it with the vinegar, but loved it. I have never actually measured the ingredients and it has turned out great anyways. I hate to dirty all the extra dishes and cause myself even more cleanup.

Hope you try it out soon, and let me know what you think, or what variation you might try!!