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6 Sep 2011   ·   259
Money Saving Mom

Q&A Tuesday: How do you keep your kitchen countertops cleaned off?

I am decluttering our house like a crazy woman because I believe, like you, that less is more. But I still struggle in the kitchen. I see your kitchen photo when you do your freezer cooking and I can’t believe you have only crock pot on your counter. How do you do it? -Nami

Growing up, my mom never liked to have anything on the kitchen countertops, so I’m pretty sure that’s where my love of clean countertops originated. I try to have mine completely clean and cleared off as much as possible. Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of homeschooling around the kitchen table, things will pile up. That’s life–and I’m okay with it.

However, I try to make sure the countertops are clutter-free every night before dinner and then again before bed. At least in our home, I’ve found that if I purposefully clean everything off the countertops and put it away at least twice per day, they never pile up beyond control.

To give you a little peek into my kitchen, here’s how I try to have it look every afternoon and evening (try being the key word there, believe me, it doesn’t always happen!)

And here’s a view from the other direction (don’t ask me why the lighting is so bad; I still have a hundred thousand things to learn about photography–as is very apparent from all the pictures I post!):

I keep our weekly menu on the side of the refrigerator. Having it there has been working so well for us to stay organized and to remind me of what I had planned to fix! I just print off the menu I format for my blog post each week and then cross things off as we make the meals:

I don’t keep a lot of cookbooks, since many of the recipes I make are online (thank you, Pinterest!). However, I do have a few favorites that stay on the shelf. And then I have a few others that are kept in one of the cupboards.

This house is the first we’ve lived in that has an actual pantry! It’s taken some shuffling and re-shuffling for me to determine what works best to keep in the pantry. Here’s how it looks now:

Our Busy Bags are on the top shelf in separate tubs. Jesse’s protein stuff and vitamins are on the second shelf. The third shelf holds the crock pot and lunch bags that we use when we take a field trip or have a picnic. The fourth shelf has my bread machine and a canister of oatmeal on it. The floor has the juicer, food processor, and some bulk items.

Since we do much of our homeschooling around the kitchen table, I wanted to have some place handy to keep all our current school books and notebooks, but I didn’t want it to take over our kitchen/dining room. I finally decided upon these storage tubs:

They don’t match our kitchen, but I got them free and they are fun and functional. We store the rest of our homeschooling items on the shelves in our school room/exercise room down in the basement and I just bring up what we need each week. I’ll probably need to revisit and revamp this system as our children grow and our schoolwork/books multiply, but this is working well for us right now.

We do keep a tea kettle out on the stove at all times since I use it often. But other than that (and the knife set you see in another picture above), all other appliances are stowed away when not in use. The built-in Lazy Susan serves as a perfect place for the Vita-Mix, toaster, grain mill, popcorn popper, and a few other items

It might seem like a lot of work to put appliances away when you aren’t using them, but I honestly have found that the extra seconds it takes are worth the clutter-free look it brings to our kitchen. This system might not work for others, but it works well for us. An added benefit is that I have a lot more countertop space to use when working in the kitchen!

6 Sep 2011   ·   44
Money Saving Mom

This Week’s Menu

Making Homemade Uncrustables for the freezer last week

I can’t even begin to express how excited I am that it finally is starting to feel like autumn around here. We’ve had our windows open in the morning and evenings (and sometimes in the afternoons!) for the past few days and it just feels amazing–especially after weeks of triple-digit temperatures.

I’ve been itching to bake more, so even though we have a fairly busy week ahead, I’m going to fit in at least a little bit of baking to celebrate cooler temperatures and the coming of Fall.

Here’s our menu plan:

Breakfasts

Pick-Me-Up Smoothies, toasted bagels
Pumpkin Pancakes, scrambled eggs
Oatmeal, fruit
Blueberry Muffins, fried eggs, fruit
Orange Cream Smoothies, cinnamon raisin toast, scrambled eggs
Breakfast at hotel x 2

Lunches

Salad with baked chicken and Homemade Croutons
Homemade Uncrustables, carrots, peaches
Egg Salad Sandwiches, nectarines
Alphabet Soup, Honey Rolls
Cheese Ravioli, frozen peas, peaches
Snack-y lunch
Lunch out

Snacks

Granola bars
Fruit/Veggies
Homemade Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

Dinners

Dinner with extended family
Hamburgers, Au Gratin Potatoes, salad, cantaloupe
Macaroni and Beef with Cheese, frozen vegetables, fruit salad, Honey Rolls
Grilled Gyros (I’m substituting lamb instead of the beef), fruit
Lasagna Casserole, Bread Machine Buttery Rolls, frozen veggies, fruit salad
Rehearsal dinner
Dinner at wedding

Freezer Cooking in an Hour

Pumpkin Pancakes
Honey Rolls
Oven-Baked Chicken

What’s on your menu this week? Share details and/or your link to your menu plan in the comments.

6 Sep 2011   ·   63
Money Saving Mom

8 Goals for This Week

I took yesterday mostly off from blogging, so today I’m a bit behind and didn’t get these posted this morning like I’d hoped. At any rate, I was really encouraged because I felt like I’d had a really unproductive week. You know, one of those where you just seem to go around and around in circles and accomplish next to nothing?

However, when I sat down to assess last week’s goals and make a list for this week, I was encouraged: maybe I didn’t get everything crossed off, but I really did have a pretty productive week! That was encouraging, as well as an extra motivation for continuing to set weekly goals.

Since Monday was a holiday and we’re going to be out of town the end of this week, I’m only setting eight goals this week, instead of my usual 10. And in an effort to give myself grace and not be unrealistic, I tried to keep the goals pretty simple this week. That way, I’m not starting out already feeling defeated. I’m all about aiming high, but it’s also important to know your own limitations.

Here are last week’s goals:

Mothering Goals

1. Finish reading Homer Price aloud to the children.

2. Continue teaching children table chores.

Personal Goals

3. Run 13 miles (total). {I had an “off-my-game” week in running and only ended up running 9 miles.}

4. Finish reading Quitter and Friendship for Grownups. {Still working on All The Money in the World.}

Home Management Goals

5. Keep the master bathroom clean. (This seems to be the one area in the house that has been sorely neglected recently. I want to implement the ideas from Totally Together to see if I can keep it looking great with just 3-5 minutes of maintenance every day.)

6. Make Homemade Scrubbing Bubbles (third time’s a charm, eh?)

7. Wash, dry, fold, & put away one load of laundry every day.

Business Goals

8. Re-shoot videos and send to publicist.

9. Start working on my presentation for an upcoming speaking engagement.

Ministry Goals

10. Meet an acquaintance who asked for counsel regarding her business.

And here’s this week’s short list:

Mothering Goals

1. Finish reading All of a Kind Family and Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims aloud to the children.

2. Make a Wigwam and Teepee.

Personal Goals

3. Run 9 miles (total).

4. Go to bed by 10:30 p.m. or before every night. 🙂

5. Finish reading What Women Fear, Chasing Daylight, and All the Money in the World.

Home Management Goals

6. Make Homemade Oxy-Clean.

Business Goals

7. Continue working on my presentation for an upcoming speaking engagement.

Ministry Goals

8. Write and send letters to our Compassion children.

How did you do on last week’s goals? What are your goals for this week? If you feel comfortable doing so, I’d love to have you share your progress on last week’s goals and your goals for this coming week in the comments. Let’s cheer each other on to live purposeful and productive lives!

You can download a free customizable weekly goal-planning sheet here.

photo credit

6 Sep 2011   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

Reader Tip: Recycle thrift store sweaters to get high-quality yarn inexpensively

Diannalynn at Dielle Designs emailed in the following tip:

I love making things by sewing, knitting, crocheting, etc. Yarn and fabric can be very expensive though, especially if you want nice quality, natural fibers.

I like to shop at thrift stores for wool sweaters or skirts of nice fabric. Then, I take apart the clothing for fabric and I unravel the sweaters for the yarn. I’m often able to get probably eight skeins of yarn (that would cost me $10 each at the yarn shop) out of a sweater that was $6 at Goodwill. And if I’m lucky and catch a sale, I get it for about $3.

I did that last week, and for less than $15, I got five sweaters of gorgeous 100% lamb’s wool, which would easily have cost me well over a couple hundred dollars if I’d bought the yarn new in a yarn shop. -Diannalynn

photo credit

5 Sep 2011   ·   53
Money Saving Mom

How to Use Bruised and Shriveled Apples

Guest post by Jackie at Mom on a Mission

Several years ago, I would have thrown away these mushy looking, bruised, shriveled apples, thinking they were unedible. Today, I’m always thinking creatively in the kitchen. What can I do with this unappetizing food to make it more appealing? In this economy, this is beneficial to my pocketbook.

I have a handy dandy slicer/corer, peeler for apples. I can’t live without this kitchen tool. I use it everyday during apple season. I can’t tell you the number of hours it has saved me in the kitchen. They suction to your counter, they peel, core and slice at the same time. I love it.

You can usually find these for less than twenty dollars at Bed Bath and Beyond with a coupon. I found this one at an outlet store for ten dollars, no coupon. I snatched two and gave one away as a gift.

I started with this tool on my poor apples. Most made it through the process, but the mushier ones I had to hand peel to get the rest of the skin off. Then I diced these into cubes.

I brought the apples to a boil with a lid on my stove. I didn’t want to overcook them so I kept a close eye on them while they cooked. I reduced the heat once they boiled. I cooked them until they were fork tender (about five minutes). I didn’t want them to be mushy so I kept them somewhat firm.

I then shocked them with cold water and rinsed in the colander.

After they were fully cooled, I spooned (with a 1/2-cup measuring cup) into a pint-size labeled freezer bag and laid them flat in the freezer.

Ways to Use Frozen and Cubed Apples:

* Add cinnamon, sugar or honey, and mash for chunky applesauce.
* Toss frozen apples in a smoothie.
* Drain well and sandwich between crescent dough and bake for homemade apple pies.
* Pile a bunch in a pie crust or make a mini-apple pie.
* Toss some in hot oatmeal.
* Make apple cinnamon muffins.
* Make apple cake.
* Puree and use as a substitute for oil in your next recipe.

Jackie Brown, is a Mom on a Mission, freezer cooking meals for her family while opening her arms to the poor and needy. She daily blogs how to save money, time and energy through freezer cooking.

5 Sep 2011   ·   13
Money Saving Mom

Sign up for the Math & Reading Busy Bag Swap

My friend, Brenda, is hosting another Busy Bag Swap, this time a Math & Reading Busy Bag Swap.

We’ve participated in some of the Busy Bag Swaps she’s hosted and it has been a great experience. My children have all loved the bags of fun activities we received and these have provided hours of fun and entertainment for them.

You’ll want to read the details on how the swaps work here and then, if you are still interested, sign up for the Math & Reading Busy Bag Swap here.

3 Sep 2011   ·   59
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Health Food Store, Dillon’s, Aldi, Walmart, Dollar Tree, Target

I think I may have set some sort of record in my grocery shopping today. I went to six stores–which is very out of character since I rarely go to more than three at a time! However, I only had a short to-do list today and I got it done right after lunch. So my husband sent me out to go shopping on my own and told me to just take my time and enjoy myself. So I did!

Each of the stores ended up being out of some of the things I was hoping to buy, but I was still able to get some great deals. Here are the groceries I ended up buying:

And here are the different store transaction details:

Health Food Store Shopping Trip:

5 cantaloupe marked down to $0.59 each (I gave one to a friend whom I ran into at Dillon’s, so there are only 4 pictured.)
Organic bananas marked down to $0.39 per pound (I’ll freeze these for smoothies.)
4 boxes of Rice Milk marked down to $0.99 each
1 box alphabet noodles (for alphabet mac & cheese that we’re making for a school project)

Total with tax: $11.71 (I can’t seem to find my receipt, but I’m pretty certain this is what the total was.)

Aldi Shopping Trip

Butter — $2.79 (ouch!)
Feta cheese — $1.99
2 packages of Multi-colored peppers — $3.18
Hebrew National Beef Franks — $2.49
Total with tax: $11.21

Walmart Shopping Trip

4 bottles of Spic & Span — $0.97 each, used 2 $1/2 Spic & Span coupons
Total with tax after coupons: $2.16

Dillon’s Shopping Trip

Mom’s Best Cereal — $1.50, used $0.55/1 coupon (“doubled” to $1 off), $0.50 after coupon
2 cartons of buttermilk marked down to $0.79 each (I stuck these in the freezer to use in pancakes.)
2 Luna bars — $1.09, used two $0.50/1 coupons (doubled to $1 off), $0.09 each after coupons
2 8-oz. packages of cheddar cheese — $1.88 each
Total with tax after coupons: $6.57

Target Shopping Trip

3 bottles of Simply Lemonade/Simply Orange — $1.27 each, used $1/1 coupons, $0.27 each after coupons
1 Rimmel Glam Eyes Eye Shadow — $2.49, used $2/1 Target coupon + $1/1 manufacturer’s coupon, free plus overage after coupons
Total with tax after coupons: $0.37

I stopped by Dollar Tree hoping to find some Nature’s Own bread. They were all out, but I picked up some fun activities for the children to do this week and for when we travel to Dallas later in the week.

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.

1 Sep 2011   ·   143
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking in an Hour: Homemade Uncrustables & Homemade Croutons

So, I somehow had this idea that my Freezer Cooking in an Hour Plan was very realistic today. I figured I could whip up the Homemade Uncrustables and Homemade Croutons in no time at all and then make the Pumpkin Scones and get the kitchen cleaned up before an hour had gone by.

I don’t know why I always forget that things usually take twice as long to do than I plan for them to (you think I would have figured that out by now?!). Here’s the play-by-play of today’s Freezer Cooking in an Hour:

I don’t have a circle cookie cutter, so I just used a glass for the Homemade Uncrustables.

12:30 p.m. — Our homeschool lessons are done for the morning and the children are ready for lunch. I get this “brilliant” idea to go ahead and start my Freezer Cooking for the day now and serve Homemade Uncrustables for lunch.

Note: If I would have been thinking, I could have made the complete sandwiches first (like this) and then cut them with the glass. But for some reason, that thought didn’t occur to me until some of you commented and suggested this!

12:33 p.m. — As I’m pulling out the ingredients, I realize we have a lot less bread and peanut butter on hand than I thought. So much for my visions of mountains of Homemade Uncrustables to stick in the freezer; instead I have ingredients enough to make a whopping 12. Oh well, 12 is better than none, so I forge ahead.

12:38 p.m. — The children are beginning to get really hungry. I set them to work “helping” me while I try to finish up the uncrustables.

12:45 p.m. — I glance at the clock and realize 15 minutes have already gone by and I’m still only halfway through making the uncrustables. Maybe this wasn’t as simple as I was envisioning?

And then I look around the kitchen table and just have to smile. The children are having so much fun “helping” that it’s worth the mess they are making.

12:55 p.m. — I’m finally just about finished with the uncrustables. Man, this has taken longer than I expected–especially since I don’t have much to show for my efforts! I feed the children lunch and set about making the Homemade Croutons with the leftover crusts.

The uncrustables ended up taking so much time and didn’t look pretty at all. I think if I make them whole and then cut them, it will go a lot better next time around. Lesson learned!

1:03 p.m. — I realize we’re out of oil, almost out of butter, and so I head to the computer to see if anyone has a recipe online for croutons made with coconut oil. I’m not finding much, but as I’m contemplating what to do, I glance into the cupboard and see a bottle of dipping oil my mom had given us awhile back. Perfect!

1:10 p.m. — I stick the croutons in the oven and realize that it’s time to get back to our afternoon homeschooling studies–well, after I finish cleaning the kitchen, that is. I really was looking forward to trying the Pumpkin Scones, but I decide I’ll save those for another week. And maybe next week I’ll remember not to try to do my freezer cooking session during our lunch break!

Finished croutons and a clean kitchen–it’s a beautiful thing, even if it never lasts for very long! 🙂

Note: The ideas for the Homemade Uncrustables and using the crusts to make Homemade Croutons were from Infarrantly Creative. Go check out her post as hers turned out much more nicely than mine and it’s very apparent she knows more about what she’s doing than I do!

1 Sep 2011   ·   49
Money Saving Mom

How We Saved $425 On a Car Repair

Lana emailed me about how they saved a big chunk on car repairs by thinking outside the box. I loved her story and thought many of you would enjoy it, too:

We have a 2000 Chevrolet Malibu that we paid cash for about four years ago. It has been a great, reliable little car, but, we have been having trouble with the air conditioning turning itself off and thought we had a loose wire.

We took in to our mechanic who said we needed an air conditioning control panel and it would be $425. Ouch! We decided not to make the repair and just live with the aggravation since the vehicle is 11 years old.

Over the next few weeks I noticed that I seemed to always be fiddling with the A/C switch when I was driving that car and commented to my husband that we were going to end up rear-ending someone and that would cost way more than the repair. My husband thought maybe he could remove and replace the part himself and started doing some research online.

He found that the contacts get dirty on that part and then it has the problems we had. The site he found went on to say that replacing the part would only help until the contacts were dirty again in typically two to three years. He followed the instructions for removing and cleaning the part and it works like a new one now!

I am thankful for my husband doing the research and making the simple repair that took him only an hour!

Lana Dixon and husband Bill, live in Wellford, SC. They homeschooled their five children for 23 years. Two of their children are married and three are in college. They are proud Poppa and Nana to three grandchildren.

1 Sep 2011   ·   39
Money Saving Mom

Mortgage Acceleration More Valuable than Kitchen Remodel

Testimony from Joy

In the summer of 2009, we bought a sturdy, 50-year-old house with a very needy kitchen. We had been renting for five years and saving for a nice down payment. Because of the imminent kitchen remodel, we kept back some of our savings for that project and paid just 20% down.

We made larger mortgage payments from the start but were also tucking a little more away for the kitchen project.
And that plan was growing as we got different opinions and considered what would be the ideal remodel.

After ten months of consideration, we decided we weren’t ready to start a never-ending kitchen-remodeling-and-expanding-into-the-garage-etc. project. With that plan, we would have proceeded with a new phase only when we had the money in hand, so the total time and money required was overwhelming.

During our hesitation, we found an online mortgage calculator that allowed us to play around with numbers. We were already on track to pay off our mortgage 13 years early, but we realized that if we put our remodeling savings toward the mortgage, both with an initial lump sum and in increased monthly payments, we could pay off the mortgage in five more years—saving in interest close to the full amount of the principal!

Seeing those numbers, we were eager to delay a big kitchen/garage remodel eight or so years until able to do the full project all at once and with cash. So last summer we painted the walls and homemade cabinets and replaced the original, cracked counter top and the stained flooring, making my kitchen a happy place to be–all for under $1,000!

Two Recommended Number-Crunching Websites

Now I know people have purchased homes in different housing markets—regarding both location and economic times. The when and where of our home purchase helped to keep our total costs low. However, the decision to pay more toward the loan’s principal each month can save any home owner money.

I knew that truth theoretically, but until we were using a mortgage calculator, I didn’t dream the savings would be so great or the acceleration could be so fast. Anyone with a mortgage could benefit from number-crunching on a website like the ones we used.

DecisionAide.com — This link is the site we found most useful and flexible (though it doesn’t include specific dates, just numbered months). This site also has a full menu of other calculators that could “lend” some help in other financial considerations (including renting vs. buying and large vs. small down payments).

Mortgage-X.com: If someone wants to have the help of viewing specific dates and doesn’t have that much variety in extra payments, this calculator was the first, more basic one we used.

Joy employs her English degrees in numerous ways in the homemaking realm—but not by blogging! Her husband of almost 7 years, Joseph, serves as the assistant pastor for youth and music at their Midwestern church. Their three girls (4½, 3, and 16 months) and a new baby boy.

photo credit

1 Sep 2011   ·   20
Money Saving Mom

How to Make Money Writing for eHow.com


I posted a short tip from a reader a few weeks ago about writing for Demand Studio. Many of you were very interested in this opportunity and I wanted to share a spin-off writing opportunity–writing for eHow.com. Rachel from Jewish Mommie took the time to write up a more detailed explanation about how writing for eHow.com works:

Writing for eHow.com is a nice work-from-home opportunity that pays $15 (usually) for articles that are written on your own time and about your own interests. I have been writing for eHow for several months and found it to be an engaging and rewarding experience.

To become a writer for Demand Studios (owner of eHow), you’ll need to fill out an application and submit a writing sample (generally a how-to type of article) on their website, www.DemandStudios.com. If approved, you’ll usually find out in 48 hours and can get started writing articles almost immediately.

The way eHow works is this: writers claim titles from a database of over 20,000 available titles. These article titles are generated from search terms that people are typing into Google throughout the world.

Topics are as varied as “How to Run for Student Council in the 5th Grade” or “How to Apply for a Marriage License in South Carolina.” Many titles are very obscure or technical, so it can sometimes take a lot of browsing before you find a title you can claim.

Writers have seven days to complete articles, which must include thorough research and sourcing. A copy editor then reviews the article and will either accept it or ask for a rewrite. If a rewrite is required, the writer then has four days to address the copy editor’s comments and resubmit. If it’s still not up to par, the article gets rejected.

Most articles pay $15, but titles can range from $5-$25. Writers are paid through Paypal twice a week.

The first three articles are generally the most time consuming to write as you need to learn Demand Studios’ formats and requirements. You want to craft a well-sourced, engaging and accurate article to avoid rewrite or rejection, but getting the hang of it takes time.

Demand Studios estimates on their website that writers spend an average of 40 minutes per article, thus earning an average of $20 per hour.  After writing for them for several months, I’m still spending over an hour and a half per article, but I hope to cut that time down with more practice and experience.

The key benefits of writing for eHow are that you consistently earn extra cash on your own time, you get paid to write articles and research interesting topics, you get to work with experienced copy editors who help you hone your craft, and you get online articles published under your name. It’s also fascinating to see the inside workings of an up-and-coming tech company and be involved in the creation of web content.

If this opportunity sounds like something for you, apply today as Demand Studios is currently hiring both writers and copy editors.

Rachel is an LA-based writer, wife, and mom. She blogs about cooking, mothering, and life in between at Jewish Mommie.