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30 Oct 2008   ·   50
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 3

Your "participation" through comments and emails is making this Baking Day so much more fun! Thanks for joining me! I just finished up making the banana muffins, boiling the pot of beans, cooking the brown rice, and freezing the bananas.

While I had banana bread on the list, I opted for banana muffins at the last minute. Guess it was due to a mood change? 🙂 At any rate, I'm really happy with how the muffins turned out. I used a whole wheat banana bread mix some friends had made up for us along with the organic bananas I bought marked down yesterday.

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I substituted applesauce for oil to cut down on the fat and they turned out beautifully. Plus, they don't have any sugar in them–the mashed bananas serve as the sweetener. These will make for a perfect afternoon snack or quick breakfast.

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I boiled the pot of beans and cooked the brown rice while I was working on these. Both of these need a bit more cooking time and then they'll be done. Once cooled, I'll portion them into bags and stick them in the freezer for easy lunch or dinner additions.

Next, it was time to freeze the bananas. Any time I can get a great deal on bananas, I buy as many as I can afford in our grocery budget and then we eat what we can and freeze the rest. Chopped frozen bananas are wonderful added into fruit smoothies or you can freeze the bananas whole and thaw later for use in baking.

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I'm planning to use these bananas in smoothies, so I chopped them and put them on cookie sheet and stuck them in the freezer. As soon as they are frozen, I'll transfer them to a bag to use as needed.

Now I'm off to make pancakes, bran muffins, and hopefully cook up some meat.

30 Oct 2008   ·   51
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 2

Just finished up my first two projects: making homemade yogurt and granola.

I've made yogurt before, but never in a yogurt maker so this was a new adventure. A kind reader gave me a yogurt maker she didn't want any more so Kathrynne and I had fun testing it out for the first time. So far, I really liked it as compared to making it without a maker, though I wouldn't necessarily encourage everyone to go get yourself a yogurt maker unless you have access to one for free. 🙂

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We used the marked-down Horizon Organic milk I picked up yesterday and some other marked-down milk we had in the freezer along with one little carton of vanilla yogurt as the starter. The basic recipe is that you boil the milk until bubbles form on the side of the pan, let it cool to 110 degrees, take out a little and mix it with the yogurt starter, mix it all back together, and pour it into the yogurt cups in the yogurt maker and let it run for 8-12 hours.

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When I make it without the yogurt maker, I do everything the same except for putting the yogurt in a bowl covered in a warm oven overnight. It's best to use plain yogurt as a starter, but I couldn't find any small things of it at the store yesterday so I fudged and got vanilla. We'll see how it works!

The granola recipe is a new healthy one I got from What to Eat When You're Expecting. It didn't look terribly exciting but it was very healthful and that's what I was looking for so I decided I was game.

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Here's the recipe, with my tweaking:

Great Granola (Makes 5 cups)

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons apple juice concentrate
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran (I added this instead of nuts, if you like nuts you could use them instead.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Spread oats in nonstick pan and toast in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees.

Combine the raisins and 1/2 cup of the juice concentrate in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain the raisin liquid over the oats (set raisins aside) and add remaining ingredients. Combine well with a wooden spoon. Bake in 300-degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in raisins and press the mixture firmly in the pan. Bake another 5 minutes and let cool to room temperature.

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I doubled the recipe because I had enough ingredients on hand. I wasn't incredibly impressed with this granola recipe, though I think it will be yummy with served over homemade yogurt with some fruit. If anyone out there has a particularly yummy recipe for granola which doesn't have sugar in it and is low in fat, I'd love to try it.

And now I'm off to make banana bread and start cooking a big pot of beans.

30 Oct 2008   ·   28
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 1

One of the ways we save a lot of money on our grocery bill is by cooking and baking from scratch. However, lest you think I spend hours every day slaving in the kitchen, let me tell you, I don't. Instead, I like to take one day every few weeks and bake/cook up a bunch of stuff to freeze.

In half a day or less, I can cook/bake up enough goods to last us for two weeks or more–saving us a lot of time and money in the process. And it's so nice to have our freezer stocked and ready for use at a moment's notice to pull off a quick and easy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Today, just for fun, I thought I'd let you peek in on a somewhat-typical baking day at our house. I'll be sharing pictures and recipes

First off, I start out with a plan. I took inventory of what we already have on hand and made a list of things I could make based upon that. The goal here is to save money, so it's all about creatively using what I already have on hand.

I went through our cupboards and refrigerator last night and came up with this simple list which I've posted up on the refrigerator:

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If I have extra energy, there are a few more things I'd like to make, but we'll see how the day progresses.

30 Oct 2008   ·   7
Money Saving Mom

Yesterday’s shopping trip: Aldi and Kroger (Dillons)

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There weren't any screaming deals at Dillons (Kroger-affiliate) this
week, so I just stopped by to see if I could score any markdowns on
produce or milk. Sure enough, I was able get organic bananas marked down to $0.37/lb, Horizon Organic milk for $2 per half gallon, and bagged salads for $1.49 each. I also picked up some wheat germ and yogurt which I'll be using for our Baking Day today.

At Aldi, I purchased two cartons of strawberries, grapefruit, carrots, applesauce, raisins, and four things of frozen juice concentrate.

All in all, I spent $10.23 at Dillons and $14.20 at Aldi. That should last us through the end of this week, so I'm well under our $40 budget this week! Yay!

Stay tuned for more on our Baking Day today.

29 Oct 2008   ·   0
Money Saving Mom

A “credit card crisis”?

Earlier today, my husband and I were listening to a local radio station and a bit of news caught my attention. The broadcaster was stating how America is facing a "credit card crisis" because credit card companies will no longer be sending out loads of credit card offers. Instead these offers will be "slowing to a trickle", according to the report.

Excuse me? We call that a "credit card crisis"? I think that I would instead refer to that as a "welcome change of pace". Call me old-fashioned, but I think anytime we can discourage people from buying stuff they can't afford with money they don't have, it's a good thing, not a national crisis.

Of course, I happen to be one of those weird people who pays with cash almost 100% of the time, doesn't own a credit card, hasn't ever had any debt, and isn't living paycheck-to-paycheck.*

*Note: All of this is only by the grace of God, the wise example of my parents, Dave Ramsey's inspiration, and a commitment to "live like no one else"! By the way, if you are struggling financially and feeling in a helpless situation, do not despair. Read more about our own personal financial journey and lessons we've learned along the way here, here, and here. And then check out my Top Four Tips for Those in Financial Despair.

29 Oct 2008   ·   152
Money Saving Mom

I’m not making this up!

I was just out for a quick grocery shopping trip when I passed a nearby gas station and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I must be seeing things. Surely that's not really right.

But no, the sign was very clearly advertising gas for $1.99 a gallon.

$1.99 a gallon!!

Now that is certainly something to get excited about! With many prices on the rise, it is exceptionally nice to see gas prices falling… and falling at such a rapid rate! Wow!

I've heard that gas prices are close to the lowest in the nation where we live but I'm curious if anyone else has seen gas go below $2/gallon in their area? If not, hopefully you'll be seeing it soon!

28 Oct 2008   ·   23
Money Saving Mom

An exciting day!

This is a bit off-topic, but I'm so excited I just had to share: I had my first appointment at the birth center and got to hear our baby's heartbeat for the first time! After weeks of nausea and fatigue, that was the sweetest, most encouraging noise ever!

After my appointment, we celebrated with free tacos at Taco Bell (did you get yours, too, today?) and then dinner at Jason's Deli. Tuesday evenings kids eat free at Jason's Deli so we got quite the bang for our buck tonight–getting dinner, drinks, and ice cream for less than $14 for all four of us. And then we took two to-go boxes of food home, too!

We are slowly settling into life in our new home and surroundings here. We are so glad to be back in our hometown, but as with all moves, there is a period of adjustment that takes place. With my husband's change in work schedule, I'm still figuring out how to adapt our schedule accordingly. And I'm still re-working where blogging is going to fit into this. It'll all work together eventually, but things are a little rocky right now–which is why I seem to be blogging in fits and starts. I hope to find my "groove" soon, but I appreciate your patience with me in the interim.

27 Oct 2008   ·   36
Money Saving Mom

Our $40 menu for this week

Mpm

After weeks of living in survival mode with our move and my morning sickness, I am so happy to be settled down a bit, feeling almost 50% myself again most days, and to be 
ready to start cooking, baking, and menu-planning in earnest again.

Since I'm pregnant and nursing, I'm especially taking care to eat well and get in lots of nutrition–especially when it comes to fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein. The challenge is to come up with a creative, balanced menu that meets all of my nutritional requirements on $40 per week. It's a fun new adventure!

Here's what I came up with for this week:

BREAKFASTS
Whole-wheat griddlecakes with pear butter, oranges, milk
Eggs, whole-wheat toast, grapes, milk
Homemade granola over yogurt, fruit, orange juice
Whole-wheat waffles, oranges, milk
Fruited oatmeal with yogurt, bananas, orange juice
Bran muffins, cottage cheese, fruit, orange juice
Banana muffins, yogurt, fruit

LUNCHES
Tuna salad on whole wheat toast, steamed veggies
Mixed greens sprinked with chopped hard-boiled eggs and grated cheese, whole wheat toast
Baked potatoes with cheese and cottage cheese, steamed veggies
Beans and brown rice with cheese, steamed veggies
Turkey sandwiches on whole wheat toast, steamed veggies
Leftovers
PB&J on whole wheat toast, fresh veggies

DINNERS
Chicken enchiladas, steamed veggies, mixed greens salad
Meatloaf, baked potatoes, mixed green salad
Chicken and brown rice in the crockpot, steamed veggies
Homemad mac and cheese with ground beef and onions, steamed veggies
Chicken and veggie pizza, mixed green salad
Dinner out
Leftovers (Sunday evening)

SNACKS
Bran muffins
Banana muffins
Veggies/Fruit
Granola over yogurt with fruit

To see more menu inspiration for this week, visit Organizing Junkie.

24 Oct 2008   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Prescription eye glasses for $12.95 plus shipping!

In between moving last weekend, three flea treatments at our new home (Ick! We’ve almost obliterated them–or so we hope!), and having a garage sale this weekend, I’ve not done much bargain shopping this week. Next week it appears life should be slowing back down to a more normal pace, so I’m hoping to jump back into the game. And hopefully, I’ll finally have some pictures to share of what I’ve purchased, too!

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That said, I did get a really incredible deal on prescription eye glasses that I had to tell you about. Back in September, a reader emailed me about Zenni Optical–a prescription eye glass company which sells glasses beginning at $8. While I was a bit skeptical myself, I posted about it since she had tried the company out and been pleased. To my surprise, a number of others left comments sharing about their good experience with this company.

Well, fast forward a few weeks later and my 15-month-old got a hold of my glasses and managed to break them beyond repair. I was really distraught over it as the glasses weren’t very old and I knew we didn’t have money set aside in the budget to buy new ones, nor did I want to pay for new ones.

I considered just not having glasses at all and only wearing contacts. After all, I wear contacts most of the time so glasses aren’t exactly a necessity, just a nice thing to have for back up.

But then I remembered that post about Zenni Optical. I showed the website to my husband and we agreed it was worth a shot. I picked out some glasses, we did the measurements, and paid our $12.95 plus shipping.

Two weeks later, the glasses arrived in the mail in perfect condition. While they aren’t the highest-quality glasses I’ve ever had, for less than $20, I was completely impressed. In fact, I like these new glasses much better than my last pair which I paid five times as much for at a discount eye glass shop with a coupon!

I would definitely recommend Zenni Optical to others needing prescription eye glasses. While you can’t try the glasses on ahead of time to see how they look, this is an excellent alternative–especially if you only wear your glasses part of the time or aren’t incredibly particular about how they look. Zenni Optical would also be a great place to order glasses for children who are prone to go through pairs rather rapidly.

I’m sold and doubt I’ll ever buy glasses anywhere else. A huge thank you to Education Mom and the other commentors here who shared this tip; you saved us a lot of money and made the glasses-buying process an exhilarating experience–something I didn’t know was possible!

So that’s one way we saved money this week. How’d you do this week? Post about the deals and
bargains you were able to snag this week or other ways you saved money
on your blog (with pictures, if possible!) and then come back here and
leave your link below. **To make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.**

 

24 Oct 2008   ·   18
Money Saving Mom

Tips for having a successful garage sale

A few of you asked wrote and asked for tips on having a successful garage sale since I mentioned our crazily-busy sale day yesterday. While I don't consider myself the "Garage Sale Queen" by any means, here are a few of my recommendations for holding a successful garage sale:

1. Collect stuff. Now I know this is a no-brainer, but a successful garage sale often begins months in advance by saving stuff to sell. Before you think I'm advocating the pack-rat mentality, let me tell you what I do: I keep a box in the garage or in an out-of-the-way place to toss things into as I come across them in the months leading up to a garage sale. As one box fills, I seal it, and start another.

I've been amazed at how much stuff I can collect by doing this! In addition, it gives me a set place to put said "junk" instead of having to walk by it repeatedly for months thinking "I'll sell that in our next garage sale." It also gives me an incentive to constantly be on the lookout for items which we are no longer using or loving and to free myself from this clutter.

2. Plan ahead. I know this should also be a given, but I learned the hard way with a garage sale I did a year ago that you can never plan ahead too much. At the last minute, I had so many loose ends left to tie up and ended up overdoing it as a result. So, at least a few weeks before you have your sale, start pulling things out of boxes and organizing them, start pricing things, and start thinking about how you will set everything up.

This is especially good to do if you are in a new location or have never done a garage sale by yourself before. A few days before the sale, make sure you have everything priced and organized in tubs and bins and boxes. The day before the sale, set up as much stuff in your garage as you can. Figure out what you will be using for signs, where you will put them, make sure you have plenty of cash on hand, and so on.

The more organized you are, the easier it will be when you actually have your sale, and it will mean that you are not scrambling around on morning of your garage sale. Plus, it will make it easier for your customers to buy things if you are organized and ready to go when you open your sale.

3. Price things to sell. When I go to a garage sale, I expect to pay garage sale prices. I always try to price things at what I feel would be a good bargain if I were buying the item at someone else's garage sale. I'd rather that someone pay me and actually buy my item, then 25 people pick up the item and put it back down because it is too expensive.

Also, be sure to price everything. Not only will those coming to your sale appreciate it, it will keep things more simple for you. As an added bonus, it will increase sales because people will know how much (or little) something costs! I try to have variety in pricing with plenty of $0.25 or less items.

4. Pick a good location. Make sure that wherever you hold your sale has a sizeable amount of traffic throughout the day. If it doesn't, consider holding your sale at a friend or relative's home. There's no point in having everything organized and lots of great stuff to sell if you don't have any traffic!

5. Pair up with a friend. This is one of the best ways to have a successful garage sale–join ranks with a friend or two! Not only will you have more stuff and more variety, but you'll also have lots of fun and fellowship in the process. Plus, you'll have more help in pulling it off.

6. Advertise well. Make sure you put up plenty of nice signs in conspicuous places which easily lead to your home. Also, consider advertising in your paper or a free local newspaper. In different areas, advertising in the paper is very helpful. Other times, it is not necessary if you have good traffic and good signage. Experiment and see what works best. Above all, have very presentable and attractive signs–a sloppily-thrown together sign is not very inviting!

7. Don't forget the cookies and lemonade! What better way to teach your children entrepreneurial skills and let them earn a little money in the process than to have them set up their own little cookie and lemonade stands at the sale? Or, if it's cold outside, try selling hot chocolate, coffee, and fresh cinnamon rolls. One garage sale, we even set up a pancake griddle and sold pancakes hot off the griddle on Saturday morning.

There are a few of my tips for having a successful garage sale; I'd love to hear from you all if you have any great ideas or thoughts to add.

24 Oct 2008   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: Aldi vs. Wal-Mart and Frugal Fall Family Fun

::Shannon did an excellent post today comparing staple Aldi prices to Wal-Mart prices. For those who aren't convinced it's usually less-expensive to shop at Aldi, this will be a great resource to check out. I use Aldi prices as my target prices for items we regularly buy since they are almost always less-expensive than traditional store prices. If I can get an item we regularly buy for less than the Aldi price with a store sale and/or coupon, I stock up.

::I enjoyed Jamie's post on how their family is enjoying a frugal Fall family day tomorrow for less than $20. You'll be inspired at her creativity and ideas and maybe it will spark a few of your own!

23 Oct 2008   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Bargain shoppers not deterred by cold, wind, and rain!

Despite the freezing cold and rain, we decided to go ahead with our yard sale today. I think it was a good decision judging by the fact that we've been crazily busy and barely able to keep up at times!

At any rate, I had planned to do some blogging during the "down times" of the sale. Problem is, "down time" has been non-existent–which I certainly don't have a problem with! 🙂

Once we wrap things up with the sale here, I'm hoping to have a chance to post. But until then, you'll know where I am… bundled up in the corner of the freezing cold garage taking money from all the folks who are eagerly buying our stuff!

20 Oct 2008   ·   13
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Saving Money Through “Stockpiling”

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photo by ninjapoodles

Guest Post by Andrea from Mommy Snacks

Our family of five spends around $100 per week for groceries,
which includes food, health and beauty, diapers and formula (since
our baby has a milk allergy). When I first began the journey to really
focus on our budget, I found a great way to save even more during my
weekly shopping trips: stocking up on items our frequently used items. This not
only helped save money in our budget, it also helped with saving time
and gas–which equals money, too!

 
Some of the tips I have used to build our stockpile without going overboard are:
 
1) Determine what your stockpile needs are.

Some of
these items that most families use on a very regular basis and would be good items to stock up on when there's a good sale are pretty obvious: toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, etc. Food items may require you to think about past meals to figure out what
was eaten the most.

I am a visual person so I found that looking at
past menu plans to see what meals we had over the course of several
weeks helped to determine this. Keeping a food journal is another way
to get this information, too. This will help to determine what those
highly-consumed items are for your family.

 
Another part of focus is knowing when to say when. Going
overboard can seem very exciting in the beginning; blowing your
grocery budget is not.

Try to stick to a stockpile budget that is
included in your grocery budget. This allows you to stock up on the
really good sale and also money in the budget for the weekly
necessities. I generally use around $10 of our budget each week. Some
weeks there are no opportunities to stockpile anything but at least I
know I have a goal to stay within.

 
2) Define what a comfortable stockpile amount is for your family.

This amount is completely individual. I personally keep a 3-month
supply of health and beauty items in our stockpile. Many of these
items can be easily replenished for free so I don't find a larger supply is
necessary for us.

When you are determining this amount for your food
stockpile, be sure to keep in mind the food expiration dates and
storage recommendations. You certainly don't want to have a supply
that expires!  Again, remembering what meals are more popular will help
to determine if you want a larger supply based on that item's sales
cycle.   

 
3) Know when a seemingly "good price" is truly a good price.

I generally stockpile items when they are
at least 75% off. This percentage varies some, of course, since some items can be
considered "stockworthy" at a lower percentage, others may be at a
higher percentage so it depends on the item.

Sometimes there aren't
coupons for what you may have to purchase but the item may be on sale
for 40% off. If you never see that item on sale, the sale price is a
great value in itself. 

 
An option to keep track of pricing is using a price book to track the sales trends in your area. Another resource I have found helpful is the
discussion on sales cycles here. This gives you a general idea of the cycles
many items follow. 

4) Establish a place for storing your stockpile.

 
Before you buy a
truckload of something, think ahead to where you are going to store it. Certain products
have storage recommendations that should be followed so truly
understanding what your needs are will help you from wasting money in
expired stockpile items.

I use the FIFO policy–First In, First Out. Meaning that I use up the items which have been on the shelf longest first. This helps me rotate the items as new ones are placed in our storage to ensure nothing expires before it can be used.

Andrea Deckard is a stay-at-home mommy with an amazing husband and three energetic boys. Mommy Snacks
is a representation of the life she lives:  faith-loving, money-saving,
weight-struggling mom who is trying to be the best that God wants for
her! Stop by Mommy Snacks to get your fill of "zero-calorie" snacks to help you make it through the day!
20 Oct 2008   ·   6
Money Saving Mom

Worth Reading: Menu-planning and KidVantage

::I enjoyed Trent's post on how menu-planning could save you a significant amount of money at the store each week. For those of you overwhelmed at the thought of clipping coupons but who want to shave off some excess from your grocery budget, here's a simple way to start.

::Have young children who are rough on their clothes? Ruth wrote about the Sear's KidVantage program and how to utilize it to save money on clothing. My mom always purchased my brothers' jeans at Sears in order to take advantage of this. They could go through at least a few pairs of them each Summer so it was well worth it to buy them at Sears in order to get free replacements for all the times they ripped up the knees!