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13 Nov 2009   ·   41
Money Saving Mom

10 Tips to Pack a Frugal Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

Next week is National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes. We've participated in this wonderful program for a few years and I'd highly encourage the rest of you to consider doing so as well. It's a simple and practical way to brighten up the lives of needy children around the world.

When you're on a really tight budget, it might be easy to feel like you don't have any extra wiggle room to be able to afford to buy the items needed to fill a shoebox. If that's how you're feeling, you definitely will want to watch this video by Clair from Mummy Deals where she shared creative ways their family is filling 45 shoeboxes for $45! I was very inspired!

Go here for more details on Operation Christmas Child and how you can participate in this Christmas ministry.

13 Nov 2009   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading Round-Up

Just a few posts I've enjoyed this week:

::Amy shares ways to Find Big Money in Your Budget. Sometimes, the answer to our budget problems lies in getting creative!

::Is it possible to eat organic foods on a budget? Check out Alice's post for 12 ideas to incorporate organic foods into your grocery budget without breaking the bank.

::Lily of the Valley shares practical ways she's earned money from home over the last few years.

::Strapped for cash but wishing you could find ways to bless others? The Money Jar posted about 12 Small Ways to Give Big.

13 Nov 2009   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

BeRuby.com: Earn money for visiting Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, GMail, and more

Flowers
If you frequent Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, or GMail on a daily or more-than-daily basis, you’ll want to sign up for a new site called BeRuby.com. I just found out about this site from Carrie at Money Saving Methods and was so excited because you can get paid every time you visit one of those sites or dozens of other sites!

Just sign up for an account with BeRuby.com here and then login to their site and click-through to Facebook, Twitter, GMail, etc. and you’ll earn a little bit each time you click through to a website. Plus, you’ll earn $0.10 each day that you just log in to the site.

Yes, it’s only a few pennies here and there but if you’re going to be accessing these sites anyway, you might as well make a few nickles, pennies, and dimes for doing so, right?

To make it quicker to find your favorite sites, you can set up a favorites list on your account and then just log in and click on the favorites button to click-through to your favorite websites.

11 Nov 2009   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

Tuesday’s Target Trip

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I got my wisdom teeth pulled out this morning (I opted for a local and it didn't hurt, but I have to say that drilling, yanking, and tooth cracking were less than pleasant!) so I did my shopping yesterday so that I could take it easy the next few days.

I was really excited about my Target trip as I stocked up on pasta and baby wipes and spent very little after coupons. Here's how it broke down:

8 boxes Ronzoni Whole Wheat Pasta–$1.19 each, used 4 $1/2 coupons here–$0.69 each after coupons
4 bags of Kraft marshmallows–$1.04 each, used $1/2 coupons here–$0.54 each after coupons
10 packages of Up & Up toddler/baby wipes–$1.44 each, used $1/1 coupons here–$0.44 each after coupons
5 $0.99 Bakery items–used $1/1 coupons here–free after coupons
1 3-lb. bag of apples–$3.99, used $1/1 coupon here–$0.99 per pound after coupon
2 boxes of Kashi waffles–$1.99 each, use $3/2 peelie–$0.49 each after coupon
4 bottles Ocean Spray cranberry juice–$1.98 each, used $1/1 coupons here–$0.98 each after coupons

Also shown are the milk we bought 3 packages of pears we got at Aldi for $0.89 per package.

The total for all the groceries shown above was right around $20. Usually 8 boxes of whole wheat pasta would cost just about that much. Gotta love coupons and sales!

See more deals and freebies at Target this week here.

7 Nov 2009   ·   13
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Organic apples and tangerines for $0.99 per bag!

I went to Aldi and to the health food store this week. Plus, I got some farm-fresh eggs from my family.

Here's what I bought:

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I got three bags of organic apples at the health food store for $0.99 each! (One bag isn't pictured because I shared it with my sister.) And the bags of tangerines were on sale at Aldi for $0.99 each, too! Looks like we'll be making some yummy fresh juice over the next few weeks.

All totaled, we've spent $25 from our $160 monthly grocery budget so far this month–and our freezer is full of meals! It's looking like we're definitely going to be able to stay plenty under-budget this month and have lots of wiggle room for some more bulk purchases.

Stay tuned for next week's menu on Monday.

————————–

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.

6 Nov 2009   ·   74
Money Saving Mom

The Method to My Madness: Start Where You Are and Learn As You Go

Every time I blog about a Baking Day or a Freezer Cooking Day, I invariably get a multitude of questions that go like this:

Can you tell me how you package the meals for freezing them? Do you just put them in a metal 9×13 and then cover the top with tin foil? Does this keep out freezer burn for you?

Or this:

I'm wondering if you use aluminum baking pans? I want to make up a bunch of stuff, but then I'd have to go out and buy a bunch of throw away pans for it…I've done it before. Now that I've cut my budget in half for groceries, I'm wondering if there is a way around this?

Or this:

It appears that you have frozen many items in the dish that they will ultimately be baked in; do you purchase additional dishes just for freezing? do you use foil pans? do you just own a billion more dishes than I do? I'm just curious as to your freezer storage method – not so much the wrap in foil/use a freezer bag, but do you use all your dishes and how do you fit them all in your freezer along with milk, butter, etc. that you seem to stock up on and freeze throughout the month?

For a number of months, I've just pretty much avoided these questions because I didn't really know what you'd think of me if I answered them. But I decided this Freezer Cooking Day it was high time I come clean on this whole freezing thing and what I do.

Are you ready for this?

I have no idea what I'm doing. Seriously. There really is no precise method to my madness; I just work with what I have and do the best I know how.

I'm not much of a "follow-the-directions" kind of gal (which is one reason I have a very hard time following recipes exactly!) so it's rather comical anyone is coming to me for advice–especially when it comes to cooking. I have a long history of flopped dinners. In fact, growing up, many of my family members were afraid to eat anything I made for fear of what it might taste like or be made of.

Practice has provided much progress in my cooking abilities, but I still have huge room for improvement. And as far as freezing goes, I'm just learning as I go.

So I'm probably not the person to go to if you're looking for specific and detailed instructions on how to freeze food. But I hope that my admission encourages you: it doesn't take much skill or knowledge or know-how to make up food for your freezer. It just takes some energy, some perseverance, and the willingness to make a few mistakes along the way!

Of course, I think it's helpful to check out books from your library on freezer cooking (you can see a few of my favorites here). But I think book-learning is almost always trumped by hands-on learning.

Now that I've confessed I don't know what I'm doing, here are the answers to your questions as far as what I do when it comes to freezing: I usually freeze half of the meals in the pans they'll be cooked in and half the meals in freezer bags laid flat (to conserve space). I usually try to use the meals in pans first as they are more prone to freezer burn. But I've rarely had a problem with this so long as they are sealed well.

I sometimes use a few foil pans–if I have some on hand–but most often, I just use freezer bags and glass or metal pans. I don't have a huge collection of pans (I'm a minimalist, remember?), but since I won't be doing much cooking because most of our meals are already made and frozen, I can tie up most of my pans for a little while without even missing them. I do try to make sure I set aside at least two pans of some sort since I usually have something or other I have to cook each week!

This is what works for me and for our family. It may not work at all for you or yours so please do what works for you. Amy has a post here with a freezing method that works for her. If you're the type who needs to have a detailed freezing tutorial, I'm sure they are out there. I've just never taken the time to look! (I take that back. I just did a quick search and found many different tutorials, including this one which is rather comprehensive.)

Think you're up for some cooking ahead (and I hope this week inspired you to save time and money by doing so!)? Don't be intimidated! Just start small, make a plan, work the plan, and learn as you go. You'll improve a little bit each time until you're soon an accomplished Freezer Cooking Pro!

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Who says you have to have a big deep freeze to cook ahead? I don't! You know all the meals I made earlier this week? All 21 dinners plus 14 breakfasts? That's them all stashed in my over-the-fridge freezer along with some frozen veggies and bread. Get creative with your freezer space and you can probably do a lot more with it than you once thought possible! I know that's certainly been the case for me!

6 Nov 2009   ·   9
Money Saving Mom

Wondering how you can pull off Freezer Cooking on a budget?

Frugalfriday

Were you inspired to try your hand at Freezer Cooking this week but skeptical as to whether it's possible to do on a budget? FishMama shares tips for Freezer Cooking on the Cheap for her Frugal Friday post today.

Just for the record, everything I used to make my meals this week was well within our $40/week grocery budget. Best of all? We've yet to even touch any of the grocery money for the month of November–and I already have a freezer full of meals! Which means–you guessed it!–I'll even have more wiggle room to stock up this month on bulk purchases (and maybe even to splurge on some more healthful ingredients–like the coconut oil I've been eyeing for the past few months!).

Truly bulk-buying and bulk-cooking are allowing us to eat much more healthfully on a very slim grocery budget. It's taken some practice and time to get there, but that practice and time is starting to really pay off.

6 Nov 2009   ·   1
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading Round-up

A few links I've enjoyed this week:

::IndiMoney shares how to make Whole Wheat tortillas from scratch here. I've done this before and they are quite simple to make and delicious, too!

::Abbi is hosting a Handmade Christmas Carnival every Thursday in November and December. If you're looking for inexpensive and creative gift ideas, be sure to head over to her blog.

::Need some efficient meal-planning help and ideas? Check out Jen's posts here, here, and here.

::My friend, Lorrie, who blogs at Natural on a Budget, put together a list of 50 Beans and Rice recipes here if you need some frugal meal inspiration.

4 Nov 2009   ·   46
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: The final results (and come link up your posts, too!)

I made it to the end of the list. Well, okay, not quite, but it's the end of the day so I'm calling it quits.

Compared to FishMama's accomplishments, it looks like I didn't do much at all these past two days. But she's pretty much Superwoman's clone, so I won't feel badly (I used to live in the same town as her and have spent lots of time with her and she's every bit as amazing as she seems on her blog–even moreso in real-life!).

Here's the fruit of around eight hours of labor:

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Here are the final tallies along with links to the recipes:

2 dozen Whole Wheat Waffles
2 dozen Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 dinners' worth Freezer Mashed Potatoes
2 batches Granola
3 dinners' worth of Turkey Meatballs
3 dinners' worth of Slow Cooked Pepper Steak
3 dinners' worth of Farmhouse Chicken
8 dinners' worth of Chicken Tetrazinni (I made two different varieties since we really like this!)
4 dinners' worth of Chicken Broccoli Rice

All in all, we now have 21 dinners in our freezer plus at least 14 breakfasts and some snacks and sides. That will most certainly cover our dinners for the next month (and we still have some meals leftover from last month's Freezer Cooking Day!) plus a number of breakfasts, too. What a great feeling!

Freezer cooking is not for the faint of heart. It's a lot of work and I won't be lying one bit when I say that there's a point in the middle of every Freezer Cooking Day that I wonder what on earth I've gotten myself into. But it is worth persevering through as it saves me so much time, energy, and effort the rest of the month.

In fact, I rarely cook much during the month outside of my Freezer Cooking Day! And we eat out a whole lot less when our freezer's full, too. So it saves me lots of mental thought and physical labor the rest of the month and it also saves us a lot of money, too.

Things I learned from this month's Freezer Cooking Day:

::Always double-check to make sure you have more than enough ingredients on hand (so you're not trying to make a big batch of granola without oats!)

::Don't try to do other things on Freezer Cooking Day. Cooking a month's worth of meals is enough work for one day. Sigh. Why do I always have to learn these things the hard way?

::It's better for me to start early in the morning instead of waiting until the afternoon. Otherwise, I run out of steam way before I run out of recipes I'm supposed to cook.

::And in the same vein, I think it works better for me to do all the cooking on one day instead of breaking it up over two days.

I'm making a game plan for next month's Freezer Cooking Day based upon the successes and failures I had the past two days and looking forward to implementing it the first week in December when FishMama and I plan to hold another Freezer Cooking Day.

But for now? I have a very messy kitchen to attend to.

——————————-

Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it
on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I'd
love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I'm guessing many
others would be inspired as well.

4 Nov 2009   ·   59
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day #2: Pepper Steak and Healthified Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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I stuck the Pepper Steak in the crockpot to start cooking while I mixed up a batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.

We're experimenting with replacing refined sugar at our house right now so I redid this recipe to see if I could tweak it enough to make it healthful but still delicious. I used fresh-ground whole wheat flour, farm-fresh eggs, and 1 1/2 cups sucanat in place of the sugar.

They ended up turning out quite delicious! They are a little heavier than usual and wee bit less moist than the original recipe, but they are still very good and the girls didn't seem to notice any difference. I'm pretty sure that they'll gladly eat just about anything so long as it has chocolate chips in it!

Now if I could just replace the oil, make my own pumpkin puree, use chocolate chips made without refined sugar, and replace the storebought milk with organic farm-fresh milk, these would be the most nutritional muffins you ever did eat. But it's all about making little changes and babysteps, right? So I'll just guilt-lessly feed my family these healthified Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins!

Next up: Turkey Meatballs and Farmhouse Chicken

4 Nov 2009   ·   16
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day #2: Almost-Oatless Granola

After cleaning the kitchen, I went to mix together the granola and discovered that I had completely forgotten to check to see if I had plenty of oats on hand when I was making my grocery list. There was only about 1 1/2 cups left. Oops.

Instead of ditching the granola idea, I decided to get creative and see what I could come up with. I used this recipe here and what oats I had and then added in lots of wheat germ, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, coconut, wheat bran, almonds, and sesame seeds to make up for the rest of the missing oats. 

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It actually looks like it might turn out quite well. And it will definitely pack a nutritional punch!

Now I'm sticking the Pepper Steak in the crockpot and starting on the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.

4 Nov 2009   ·   12
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day #2: Starting at 8:00 a.m. instead

Freezer

So I said I was going to start at 1:30 p.m. again today, but after going to bed so exhausted last night, I decided to revamp my plan for today and begin cooking at 8:00 a.m. when I'm fresh and energized. I should have known better than to attempt a big marathon cooking session in the afternoon when I'm usually tired and ready to put my feet up! You live and learn, don't you?

Hopefully I'll be able to do a better job of taking pictures and live-blogging today as a result of starting earlier. That just didn't happen yesterday while I was madly dashing around the kitchen trying to make it through my list in four hours.

First, though, I must clean up my messy kitchen. And then I'll start in on my list for today!

I'll be back with an update soon.

3 Nov 2009   ·   45
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Today’s Accomplishments

I'm wiped out! I thought it wouldn't be too hard to pull off my to-do list if my mom were here helping with the children this afternoon. I mean, after all, I usually have them and do this all by myself.

Was. I. ever. mistaken!

Oh, it was a huge help to have my mom here, don't get me wrong! I just bit off more than I could chew with trying to put in our normal full morning of homeschooling and homemaking, then a lunch date with my hubby, and then a whirlwind four hours of cooking/baking in the afternoon.

It's so worth it to have all this food in the freezer, but I'm going to devise a different gameplan next month because I'm not superwoman and ran out of steam very quickly this afternoon. I'm wondering if perhaps I'm more energetic in the mornings so starting out at 1:30 p.m. is just too late in the day for me to be as productive? I'm still mulling over it.

At any rate, despite all this, I did get quite a bit accomplished:

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I chopped up some beautiful red peppers I snagged for $0.99 total yesterday at the health food store and used them in the Chicken Tetrazinni.

I made two variations of Chicken Tetrazinni (see the recipe here) since this is one of family's favorite freezer meals–one I made with red peppers and onions and spaghetti noodles. The other I made with green peppers and fettucini noodles. They both turned out looking delicious!

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I also made four pans of Chicken Broccoli Rice. I wish I could point you to a recipe for this, but the truth is that I don't use one. I just mix brown rice, broccoli, cheese, butter, eggs, cream of chicken soup, and chicken together in amounts that look right and then freeze. Who needs a recipe when you can just dump some stuff together and call it "dinner"?!

After that was done, it was almost dinner time, so I hurriedly decided we'd have leftovers for dinner–since we had some in the fridge–and skip the meatballs I was planning to serve. I finished up the Freezer Mashed Potatoes (see the recipe here) and got everything ready to do in the freezer, and then I called it an afternoon.

So here's what I ended up accomplishing today:

1) Grind flour and mix together waffle batter and begin cooking waffles
2) Boil chicken
3) Get potatoes in the crockpot for Freezer Mashed Potatoes
4) Chop chicken, boil noodles
5) Quick clean up
6) Boil rice, make homemade cream soup, chop red peppers
7) Make Chicken Tetrazinni
8) Make Chicken Broccoli Rice
9) Finish Freezer Mashed Potatoes

It might not seem like that much, but here's a picture to give you a better idea:

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All in all, I made 12 meals, 2 dozen waffles, and 2 tubs of Freezer Mashed Potatoes. For 4 hours of work, that was definitely worth it!

Here's the revised plan for Wednesday:

1) Make Slow Cooked Pepper Steak and put in crockpot
2) Make Granola
3) Make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
4) Mix together Turkey Meatballs
5) Make Farmhouse Chicken
6) Make Pumpkin Scones
7) Make Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
8) Finish dinner preparations (Farmhouse Chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, apples) and clean up kitchen
9) Be thrilled with the finished results, put my feet up, and relax knowing I don't have to do much cooking for the next month!

Like today, I'm planning to begin baking again at 1:30 p.m. CST and will be tweeting my progress and posting pictures and details as I cross things off my list. And maybe I'll have more energy tomorrow?

For now, I'm heading to bed and hoping for a very good night's rest!