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This Week’s Menu Plan

(Strawberry Smoothies I made for the children for breakfast recently. I’ve found I can hide all sorts of healthful things — like ground flax seeds and more! — in smoothies and the children just lap them up and ask for more!)

I set a goal for myself to try at least two new recipes every week. That might not seem like a lot to those of you who are really adventuresome in the kitchen, but for someone like me, who tends to get stuck in a rut, it’s been a good challenge.

And I’m finding that the more I branch out and try new things in the kitchen, the more I’m enjoying it!


Scones, Smoothies
Homemade Granola, Fruit
Raisin Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Fruit
Cold Cereal, Juice
Orange Cream Smoothies, English Muffins
Toasted Bagels, Fruit
Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls, Scrambled Eggs, Juice


Leftovers x 3
Macaroni & Cheese, carrots
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, fruit
Cheese Quesadillas, frozen veggies
Seapak Frozen Fish, frozen veggies


Dinner Out
Tilapia, Toast, Frozen Veggies, Grapefruit
Brown Bag Burritos (from the freezer), Green Rice Casserole (from the freezer), Fruit
Turkey Chili Taco Soup,* Homemade Bread, Veggies
Whole Grain Chicken Soup With Rice,* Olive Garden Breadsticks,* Apple Slices
Homemade Pizza, Tossed Salad, Ice Cream
Dinner at Extended Family’s House


Homemade Starbucks Peppermint Mocha* (I’m going to tweak the recipe some, per instructions that Beth from The Natural Mommy emailed me.)

*Denotes a new-to-me recipe. If any of these become winners, I’ll be sure to let you know. And I promise to post my Homemade Starbucks Peppermint Mocha recipe, as soon as I get it perfected.

By the way, I’m on a restaurant recipe knock-off kick, so if you have any incredible restaurant knock-off recipes (especially Starbucks, Panera or Olive Garden!), be sure to leave the link in the comments below so I can consider trying them.

Four Tips for Becoming a Successful Mystery Shopper

Guest post by Mystery Shop Mom

For several years, I have been following frugal blogs to help my family save money. More recently, however, I decided to become proactive and actually help make my family some money. I wanted the extra income but not the extra time away from my family. That is when I delved into the world of mystery shopping. Here are some tips to help you decide if mystery shopping is for you and, if so, how you can get started.

1. Understand the Realities of Mystery Shopping

If you are expecting to put in little or no effort to get paid and receive free goods, you need to adjust your expectations. Mystery shopping does require time and effort but, in my experience, I have been pleased with the reward for my work.

Additionally, you should not expect to get fine-dining and five-star hotel shops in your first months of shopping. You have to prove yourself to the companies with small jobs before you will be entrusted with the more luxurious ones.

2. Decide Your Purpose for Mystery Shopping

Do you need to make some serious cash or are you shopping for a little supplemental income? There are people who have actually quit full-time jobs to full-time mystery shop. I am, however, enjoying a little extra income and the extra space in our food and entertainment budget thanks to the grocery and restaurant shops I have been able to do.

After you sign up with companies and see how much shops pay, set monthly goals for yourself. Decide how much time you want to put into finding jobs, shopping and writing reports to determine how much income you would like to have per month.

3. Sign Up With Numerous Legitimate Mystery Shopping Companies

Most legitimate companies will be members of the MSPA, the international Mystery Shopper Provider Association. Currently, scammers have caught on to the names of legitimate companies and are using them in emails they are sending. You should never sign up with a company through a link you receive in your email.

Most importantly, you should never pay a company a fee to shop for them!

Resources exist to help you sort through these companies. I have compiled a list of companies that I have shopped and name some resources on my blog Sense to Shop. Always go directly to the legitimate website and sign up that way. The more companies you sign up with, the more opportunities you will have.

4. Branch Out of Your Comfort Zone

When you first sign up, you are probably not going to immediately get offers to shop your favorite restaurant or retail store. Be willing to take some jobs that involve some different locations or tasks than those to which you are accustomed. I have found some of my favorite shops by doing just this!

Mystery Shop Mom is a behavioral therapist turned stay-at-home mom of two amazing children ages two and six months. She enjoys spending time with her wonderful children and husband and partnering with him in ministry at the church where he is Associate Pastor.

Time Management Without a Schedule

My friend, Jessica, over at LifeasMOM, shares how she’s learning to manage her time without a schedule:

Remember the love-hate relationship I have with schedules? Well, a few months ago I gave it a go. I really did. I wrote up a schedule and I ran it through the paces.

And ya know what? It really didn’t support what the players on my team were doing. It wasn’t good for morale. It really rankled the coach. So, I cut it from the team.

Yes, yes, I did.

But, am I throwing all caution to the wind? Have I thrown in the proverbial towel? Have I given up in the last quarter of the game? No, no, I haven’t. But, I’ve found a way to manage my time without an hour-by-hour schedule.

And it. is. amazing.

Read the full post.

photo credit

Super Savings Saturday: The “I-Didn’t-Cook-Clean-or-Shop” Edition

Those who are frequent readers here may have noticed I was rather absent last week. That’s because I spent all week with my husband on a cruise!

As I’ve mentioned before, we purposefully chose to go on a very inexpensive honeymoon because we knew Jesse was going to be going to law school soon after we got married. We’d both agreed that if we made it through law school debt-free and paid cash for a house by the time I was 30, we’d save up to go on a cruise. But I’d sort of assumed this was just one of those dream vacations which would never actually become reality.

So I shoved the idea to the back of my brain and pretty much forgot about it.

But Jesse didn’t and near the end of 2010, he completely shocked me by telling me he had a big surprise for me. I was baffled as to what it could be and totally giddy when he presented me with two different cruise vacation options.

Since we’d never traveled outside the U.S. before, never been on a cruise ship and never left all of our children, this was a really big deal (you moms with young children can likely empathize). In fact, just to make me feel better and more at ease, we actually left our children in December for two and half days as a trial run while Jesse and I went to Branson together. They survived beautifully and we truly had a wonderful time.

So, early last Sunday morning, we boarded a plane for Florida, leaving our three young children in the able care of our wonderful mother’s helper, and took off for our “Second Honeymoon” Cruise.

While I missed the children so much, it was really wonderful to be away with my husband — by ourselves. With no phone and little internet access, no dishes to wash, no meals to make, no diapers to change, no laundry to do, no children to wake us up in the night and basically no agenda but to just have fun and enjoy one another.

It was absolutely wonderful, though very weird. I realized that I hardly know what to do with myself without a long to-do list (not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing)! We experienced all sorts of firsts and we soaked up every minute of it, got lots of time to talk through goals and areas in our lives we want to improve, we took hundreds of pictures and we laughed harder than we’ve laughed in a very long time.

We are so thankful to our mother’s helper, Jesse’s assistant and the wonderful team who covered all the bases at home so we could be gone this past week. We’re indebted to each of them and could never have had such a relaxing vacation without their help!

And now, back to reality and our regularly scheduled programming here. 🙂


Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

Books Read in February: Organized Simplicity, Pour Your Heart Into It, On the Banks of Plum Creek

I was excited to read Organized Simplicity by my friend, Tsh, from I’ve long followed and loved her blog.

Truthfully, though, I figured the message of this book would probably be something I was well familiar with. And I figured the book would be filled with  ideas I was mostly already living out.

Well, I was wrong.

In fact, it’s hard for me to describe in words how reading Organized Simplicity impacted me. The beauty of the book drew me in, but the message of the book convicted me more than I ever imagined it would.

(Me reading Organized Simplicity while on a trip with my husband this week — more on our special getaway tomorrow! Chapter 7 was my very favorite chapter of the entire book.)

As many of you well know, I love simplicity and I strive to only have a things we love and use in our home. But in the last few months, consumerism and busyness has inched its way into my heart and life — without me even realizing it.

Reading Organized Simplicity was a wake up call for me. It forced me to examine my life, stuff and to-do list in a whole new light. I realized that maybe I wasn’t as much of a minimalist as I thought I was — especially if you were to open some of my closets and cupboards! 🙂

I usually go through our whole house from top to bottom twice a year and aggressively eliminate things which we no longer love and use. And while this book inspired me to do another total house overhaul, more than just eliminating stuff, it caused me to dig down deeper and examine my heart and what simple living really means for our own family.

Tsh’s thoughts in chapter seven on streamlining your life so you can savor the moments that matter especially hit home for me. Life can become so busy. Organized Simplicity really challenged me to be purposefully intentional and prioritize my life so I don’t miss out on those precious fleeting moments.

Want to get a copy of Organized Simplicity for free? Go here to enter to win one of ten copies.

(Pages of notes I took from Organized Simplicity)

Also read in February:

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time — This was an interesting book written by the CEO and Chairman of Starbucks on how Starbucks was born and the company philosophies and practices which have made it so successful. It’s a story of hope and perseverance and one which I found inspiring, though the book did drag a little at times. (Note: There is a little bit of language in the book. And I know some disagree with me, but I always find four letter words in books bothersome because I feel like they are unnecessary and crude.)

On The Banks of Plum Creek — Finished reading this next Little House book aloud to the children. We loved this book, though, after a few weeks of cold and snow here, I cannot imagine what it would be like to live without modern conveniences in the long, cold winter blizzards!

24 Books I Plan to Read in 2011

Business and Financial Books I Plan to Read and Review This Year:

January — 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
February — Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living

March — Becoming a Person of Influence
April — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
May — Life on the Wire: Avoid Burnout and Succeed in Work and Life
June — Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
July — Have a New You by Friday: How to Accept Yourself, Boost Your Confidence & Change Your Life in 5 Days
August — Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
September — America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money
October — Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
November — Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet
December – Personal Investing: The Missing Manual

Other Books I Plan to Read This Year:
January — Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment
February — Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

March — The Possibilities of Prayer
April — The Blessing of Boundaries
May — Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
June — Honey for a Child’s Heart
July — One With Christ
August — A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
September — Womanly Dominion: More Than A Gentle and Quiet Spirit
October — The Rose Conspiracy
November — Disciplines of a Godly Woman
December –Benjamin Rush: Signer of the Declaration of Independence

What books have you read recently? Any you’d highly recommend?

We Paid Cash! :: Two Master’s Degrees

We paid cash!

A testimony from Jenae

My husband and I both recently received our Master’s degrees in our individual fields — his in Business Management and mine in Education. Our educational pursuits came at a time of great transition for our family and wouldn’t have been possible without a financial decision made early on in our marriage.

The Background

My husband and I were married three and a half years prior to our first child being born. After lots of prayer and discussion immediately after we were married, we felt it was the best thing for our family for me to stay home (at least part-time) once we had children.

I finished up my last year of college that first year of our marriage and we were used to living on just my husband’s salary. After graduation, I was offered the wonderful opportunity of teaching first graders — a job I truly loved. Once those monthly checks came in it felt like we had tons of money!

Remembering our desire for me to stay home once we had children, we decided we would to continue to live on just my husband’s salary and elected to have my salary directly deposited into a savings account (that way we wouldn’t be tempted to spend it). This might have been the single best financial decision we have ever made.

After being a first grade teacher for one year, I soon realized that the only way to increase my salary was to receive more education, so I decided to enroll in a Master’s degree program at a nearby university.

During this time, my husband worked for a company that reimbursed 100% of tuition fees for a Master’s Degree program. My tuition, however, was our responsibility. Thanks to our decision to save my income, we had built up a nice nest egg and were able to pay cash and still have money left over in savings.

I graduated with my Master’s degree just three months after our first son was born and resigned at the end of that school year — a choice that wouldn’t have been possible without three years of saving! Even though I resigned immediately after graduation and have yet to receive any monetary incentive, I know that I will return to the classroom someday and will continue to reap the rewards — both monetarily and in knowledge. Plus, it helped prepare me to be able to start my blog with learning activities for parents of young children called I Can Teach My Child!

No More Paid Tuition!

A year after our son was born and right in the middle of my husband’s MBA program, he was presented with a new job opportunity. This new position had better pay and benefits, but no longer offered tuition reimbursement.

After prayerful consideration, we decided it was in his best interest to go ahead and finish, even though the cost was steep. This was quite a stretch for us, since we had gone from two incomes down to one, but we felt convinced it was the right thing to do.

Kevin graduated this past May with his MBA and we didn’t go a penny into debt in the process! We are so thankful for our decision to save all of my income for three years — it has allowed me to stay home with our two children and paid for both of our Master’s degrees!

Jenae is a wife, mother of two boys’ ages 2 ½ and 11 months, and former first-grade teacher. She loves spending time with her family and sharing fun and educational activities for young children on her website I Can Teach My Child.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.