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23 Jan 2009   ·   30
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: How I Save Money by Planning a Menu

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photo by jen maiser

Guest Post by Karen

It’s a popular refrain sung by all who would be truly frugal: “If you want to save money, you must menu-plan!” There’s no getting around it—it does require thought and… well, planning. But like any discipline, it’s well worth the effort!

If you’ve been following MoneySavingMom for any length of time, then you probably already understand the “why’s” for menu-planning. Nevertheless, a little review never hurts!

Some of the perks of a menu plan:

1. You save yourself a daily headache by knowing in advance what’s for dinner (truthfully, the biggest draw for me!).

2. You give your budget a break from all the “pick-up-a-few-things” stops at the grocer or convenience store.

3. You save time and money at the grocer when you do go shopping, because you’ve got a plan!

4. You spend far less dining out or picking up takeout.

We’re probably all in the same boat as to the “why” of menu-planning. But surely some of us simply haven’t a clue as to the “how.” Do I get stuff on sale and make a menu from that? Use what I have and shop for the rest? Plan my menu and then shop?


It can be overwhelming at first, for sure! Everyone approaches it differently; what works for me may not work for you.


However, I’ve experimented and played around over the years, and here’s what I currently do:

 

1) Take inventory of existing food items. This is my first priority—using what I already have (another hard-and-fast frugal rule!). This includes any meats, beverages, dessert items, everything. I try to come up with meals that I could put together with what I already have and I’m always surprised at how far my pantry actually stretches!

 

2) While I’m completing step 1, I also make a note of what meals I could make, if only I had _____________. Many times, I lack something very inexpensive, such as a can of cream soup, or a stick of margarine. I jot those items down, and my grocery list is underway!

 

3) Check and compare sale fliers and coupons. I shop at only two grocery stores now; I found I was spending what little I saved on gas for all the trips! Plus, I have 2 small kiddos. I’d swap a couple dollars for time and energy any day!


Often, the sale ads jog my memory about a coupon I have stashed or a favorite meal I’ve forgotten about. And I try to ask the hubby whether there’s something special he’d like to eat that week. He appreciates that, and he’s usually ready with an answer!

 

4) Once I’ve got 10-12 meals written down, I slot them into my calendar. For me, this takes up the most time, but I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful. I use a whiteboard, and I plan meals according to the specific days’ events.

For example, my husband is home for dinner only three days per week, so I plan the nicest meals for those evenings. Wednesday night is a church night, which means planning something quick and easy. On Sundays we uphold a
time-honored family tradition: Nacho Night! And I always designate one night as “Leftover Smorgasbord Night.” This practice also helps to achieve variety; no one wants rice three nights in a row!

In addition, planning out my meals forces me to be a good steward with what I have. If I don’t plan carefully, my 3-pound bag of salad greens that was on sale will certainly wilt and rot, wasting money! Instead, I’ll plan a nice big dinner salad
(with chicken, per the husband’s request!) for Tuesday, spaghetti and
a side salad for Wednesday, and then I’ll have a sandwich and salad
for lunch on Thursday.

5) After double-checking the menu plan and grocery list, making sure nothing has been forgotten, it is time for The Big Shop. I make sure I’ve got my shopping list, any related coupons, and a full belly. (Really! You’ll spend less if you’re not ravenous!)

I feel good about grocery shopping when I’ve thought through my menu intelligently. And the best part? No more feelings of panic or
frustration when the husband asks, “What’s on the menu tonight?”

When she’s not fussing over her 2 sweet girlies (and when is that, exactly?), Karen writes about a little of everything at www.karens2cents.blogspot.com

22 Jan 2009   ·   102
Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank: Part 1

Do you have a baby on the way, but you're worried about your finances? Read this encouraging series on how to have a baby without breaking the budget! TONS of great tips!

My wife and I are expecting our first child. We were wondering if you had any tips that we could put into place now to start saving as we shop. And also if you had any websites that offer freebies for mothers, and any other good info you may have out there. -Jonathan

I often receive questions like the above from new parents-to-be and while I don’t feel like I’m the most-qualified person to talk on the subject, since we have had two babies (so far!) without spending much money at all in the process, I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far in this new series Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank. I hope that those of you who have had children will also chime in and share what you’ve learned as well!

Despite what you often hear, having a baby doesn’t have to cost you an arm and leg. We had our first daughter when my husband was in law school and we were living on around $1000/month. By the grace of God and lots of creativity, we managed just fine!

There is often a tendency as soon as one finds out they are pregnant for the first time, to want to start buying things–baby things, maternity clothes, baby books, nursery furnishings, and on and on and on. My advice? If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

There are so many things that pregnancy books and magazines and even friends will tell you are must-haves. And you can fork out hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars on these items needlessly.

In my first pregnancy–when we were living on our very meager budget–we actually didn’t buy anything aside from a few maternity clothes, a few blankets, a few packages of diapers, and a few sleepers. Everything else we needed for the pregnancy and our little girl we either borrowed from some one, were given as a gift, or did without.

My mom had advised me not to buy anything since it was our first baby and she was pretty sure many folks would be generous in their gifts to us. She was exactly right. Though we were in a small town that was new-to-us and didn’t have a lot of local friends, we still ended up having three baby showers and receiving plenty of gifts. We didn’t have an abundance, but we had exactly what we needed.

The good news was that since we were living in a tiny basement apartment, we didn’t have room for much of anything either so if we had purchased a lot of stuff, we would have quickly run out of space to store it. And we also learned that you can survive quite fine and have a happy baby without all of the dozens of gadgets and gizmos advertised everywhere as the latest and greatest things for wee ones.

So if you are a first-time parent, I’d advise you to think twice before buying a lot of stuff before your baby is born. You might end up with being given almost everything you need–or even more than you need!

In the next installment, we’ll begin discussing the items I see as necessities for pregnancy and the first six months of a child’s life and ways to get these inexpensively or even for free. Stay tuned…


21 Jan 2009   ·   26
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 5

As promised, here's the final installment of this week's Baking Day posts. Only, unlike yesterday when I was baking up a storm, I didn't bake or cook anything today.

Instead, my sister came over to help me today and she made all of this for me–plus, she took the pictures! Yes, I'm very spoiled to live close to family again.

Here's what she stocked our freezer with:

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Whole-Wheat Banana Crumb Muffins–These are delicious! The recipe is here and was passed onto me by Donielle. She used some applesauce in place of the butter/oil and I don't think you can tell at all.

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Spinach, Brown Rice, and Cheese Casserole–I love this stuff! I'd recommend putting in a little less spinach (unless you really like the taste of cooked spinach, more cheese, and maybe some extra seasonings in place of the Worchestershire sauce). It makes such a nutritious and delicious lunch; I always crave it when I'm pregnant, too!

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Cranberry Orange Bread–Another great recipe! My friend found cranberries marked down to $0.50/bag at our nearby Dillons store and she tipped me off to the deal. Plus, she gave me this great recipe!

Cranberry Orange Bread
2 cups flour
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar                           
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder               
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                               
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg                             
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Cut in shortening (like for a pie crust). Beat the egg. Stir in orange peel and orange juice. Add these to the
dry ingredients and mix. Then fold in cranberries and nuts. Bake in a
greased large loaf pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

And, not only did she make all of that, but my sister also made a double batch of pancakes, too. Whew! See why I'm so blessed to have family nearby?

20 Jan 2009   ·   32
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 4

Well, I ran out of energy today before I ran out of items on my to-do list (that seems to be a fairly regular occurrence these days!) but I did get a big batch of meatballs made and a double batch of granola bars made before dinner time.

I have this big goal of having our second refrigerator/freezer stocked to gills with dinners, healthy snacks, and so forth by the time the baby is born. I've always made some extra food, but have never had the luxury of having an extra refrigerator, so I wanted to take advantage of that.

I'm also thinking that this being our third baby in four years and all, it's probably a wise idea to be as well-prepared as possible. I'm just guessing that cooking and baking in that first month or two after Baby arrives is not going to be the top priority.

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Seeing as I'm 11 weeks out from being full-term, I figured I can go ahead and get started with filling the freezer. So I made this batch of meatballs with that in mind. There's enough here to last us for five dinners so I'm going to freeze two dinner's worth to use before the baby is born and three meal's worth to use after the baby is born. I'm freezing these on baking sheets and then will divvy up into freezer bags once they are fully frozen.

(By the way, for those who may be interested in reading more about how we're preparing for Baby #3, check out my other blog, Mom of Littles. I post updates on my pregnancy over there and will be sharing a lot in the coming weeks on details of how we're gearing up for this big event and trying to be as organized and ready as possible!)

After the meatballs were finished and in the freezer, I tried out this new-to-me granola bar recipe. I've never made granola bars before, but these looked so good and so good-for-you that I couldn't resist. They were pretty easy to make, though I feel like I need to make them a few more times to really perfect the recipe.

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As always, I did some tweaking to it. I used some slivered almonds and flax seeds instead of some of the peanuts and sunflower seeds and added in extra oats to make up for the rest. Since I made a double batch, I added dark chocolate pieces to one of them as well. My hubby is quite fond of chocolate chip granola bars, so I figured he'd enjoy these better with some chocolate in them.

I wished I wouldn't have let the liquid mixture simmer for as long as I did; the bars turned out a bit crunchier than I was hoping as a result. But I'll know better next time! I also think that it was a little more complicated to make a double batch since you need to get them in the pan and shaped into bars quickly and doubling the recipe added extra time to it.

All in all, though, I was very happy with the recipe and will definitely be making it again.

That's all the cooking/baking that's happening for today. I still am planning to make pancakes, bread, muffins, and the spinach casserole that everyone's been asking for the recipe for. But that will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. I promise that I'll do my best to share a post on that since so many of you have requested the casserole recipe.

And now, I'd love to see any baking you've been doing at your house today! If you've blogged about it, post your link or links below so we can all be inspired and motivated (and probably pick up some new ideas and recipes, too!). Thanks for joining in today and sharing another Baking Day with me. It's always so much more fun to have you all following along!

20 Jan 2009   ·   46
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 3

Kaitlynn is napping and Kathrynne is quietly reading books. The house is so quiet it almost feels as if I have no children here at all… which is very, very rare!

I'm trying to take advantage of the quietness by getting a lot crossed off my list. I just finished up mixing up a quadruple batch of whole-wheat waffles and making a double batch of sweet potatoes.

Waffles are such a great thing to make when you're going to be spending a few hours in the kitchen since you can just easily stop every few minutes to take another waffle off the waffle iron and pour some more batter on.

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Waffles are a great way to use up reduced milk, too. I often find milk reduced at great prices at Dillons so I snatch it up and then store it in the freezer to use for making waffles and pancakes on Baking Days. I try to set it out to thaw the night before and then in the morning, it's ready to go!

Here's our favorite whole-wheat waffle recipe, adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook–a cookbook I think every woman should own!

Our Favorite Whole-Wheat Waffles
(Makes approximately 6-8 waffles. I usually triple or quadruple this recipe for Baking Days and it will make enough to last for at least 4-6 breakfasts for us.)

1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup milk (I usually use half milk, half water–unless I have a lot of excess milk to use up!)
1/2 cup oil or melted butter (I usually use half oil, half applesauce. You can use all applesauce, but we don't think they turn out quite as well that way. I've also substituted other pureed fruits and veggies and those work as well. So long as you do half oil/half puree, it doesn't make much difference.)
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

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Mix together dry ingredients in one bowl. Lightly beat together wet ingredients in another. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Pour batter onto lightly-oiled waffle iron and bake until done.

To freeze, I normally just let them cool and then stick 5-6 in each freezer bag. To thaw, just pull them straight out of the freezer and heat in the microwave, in a toaster oven, or in the oven.

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After whipping up the waffles, I peeled and cut up the sweet potatoes and stuck them in a pan with water on the stove to boil.

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Once they are cooked through, I mashed them, divided them into two
glass baking dishes, dotted them with butter and sprinkled them with a
little brown sugar. I just heat them through for around 20 minutes at 350 degrees before serving. We'll have one pan tonight for dinner and one
pan tomorrow night.

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Our whole family enjoys sweet potatoes made this way. And it's so easy to do and quite healthful, too. I stocked up on sweet potatoes when Aldi had them for $0.99/bag and have been slowly cooking them up like this.

I just cleaned up the kitchen and did the dishes for the third time today (trying not to leave myself a disaster to deal with at the end of this baking/cooking marathon!) and now I'm off to make BBQ meatballs and granola bars…

20 Jan 2009   ·   36
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 2

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We have so been enjoying our JuiceMan juicer that we just got recently! Our old juicer had been so well-used that finally a part came off of it. We tried in vain to fix or replace this part–to no avail. We ended up deciding to retire it.

I'd been missing fresh juice ever since but we didn't have any extra in any of the appropriate budget categories to buy a new one. Well, guess what? Thanks to patiently waiting, I earned enough Swagbucks gift cards to be able to buy the JuiceMan juicer. But combining the Swagbucks gift cards with a deal and an online code, we got the above-pictured juicer without paying a penny out of pocket! I love it when I find a way to practice "creative frugality" like that.

This morning, I made apple/orange juice this morning using free organic oranges someone had given us and some of the bag of organic apples I picked up at the health food store yesterday for $0.99! Yum!

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After I'd cleaned the juicer up and passed out the fresh juice, it was on to the next thing on my Baking Day list: cooking up the brown rice and wild rice. My uncle and aunt gave us a rice cooker for Christmas so I enjoyed trying that out this morning. I filled it to the max and am anxious to see how the rice turns out.

Once it's cooked, I'll use some of it in the spinach, brown rice, and cheese casserole and then freeze the rest in 2-cup portions. I use these to include in quick casseroles or crock pot meals or to serve as a side with dinner. Since brown rice takes fairly long to cook, having it pre-cooked and ready to thaw, heat, and eat is much easier for me.

Now I'm off to cook up sweet potatoes and make a big batch of waffles. Are you doing any baking today? If so, what are you making?

20 Jan 2009   ·   21
Money Saving Mom

Baking Day – Part 1

I have a lot of different deals and freebies to share with you right now, but I'm going to take a break from those for awhile today because I'm going to be "live-blogging" another Baking Day.

I'd love to have you join me and do your own Baking Day today or some other day this week. When I finish today, I'll post up a Mr. Linky post so you can add your link if you've done some baking and blogged about it. It's fun to find new recipes and ideas from the wealth of knowledge lurking out there in the blogosphere!

For those who might be new around here, once every few weeks, I take a morning or afternoon to bake up a bunch of things for our freezer. I use the term "Baking Day" fairly loosely, since I often cook up rice, meat, and so forth in addition to making baked goods.

The overall goal is that I do a large chunk of necessary food prep for the next two weeks in order to make meals much smoother on an everyday basis. Have a Baking Day also saves us a lot of money since it helps keep our freezer stocked with foods to make meal prep easier and thus often avoid the temptation to hit a fast food restaurant on those very busy or harried days.

To have a successful Baking Day, I've found it's best if you pick a day where you'll be home all day (this is especially important if you have little ones underfoot!), wear comfortable clothes (today I'm sporting my tennis shoes, favorite maternity yoga pants, and a hoodie), and begin with a clean kitchen.

It's also imperative that you have a plan for what you'll be making, a basic idea of the order you'll be making it in (to be the most efficient), and, of course, be sure you have all of the necessary ingredients on hand! There's nothing like being halfway through making up a big batch of pancakes to find you're out of eggs or flour!

Here's my plan for today:

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Make juice (to start the morning off with a nutritious kick!)
Cook up rice and wild rice
Cook up sweet potatoes
Make BBQ meatballs
Make granola bars
Make loaf of bread
Make pancakes
Make waffles
Make spinach, rice, cheese casserole

We're having salmon for dinner so I'll just thaw that and throw in a pan with marinade sometime along the way as well. Baking Day wasn't very successful if at the end of it, we have to order pizza or go get carryout!

There are a dozen other things I could add to this list, but I'm also trying to be realistic given the fact that I'm almost in my third trimester and have two little ones, too. I'd rather accomplish a shorter list than barely touch a huge list!

Before I get started, though, I need to follow my own advice and clean up the kitchen a little bit:

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I'll be back soon with a report on my progress!

19 Jan 2009   ·   33
Money Saving Mom

This week’s almost-$60 menu

Mpm12

I'm happy to finally be jumping back into more normal menus, baking, and cooking around here after a few weeks of stepping back from all but the basics for Christmas, New Year's, and traveling. However, I'm still trying to keep things simple since I'm 6 1/2 months pregnant and not usually oozing with energy as a result!

You can see what we bought for $62 at the grocery store this week here. And you can see why we've temporarily raised our grocery budget here (in case you missed it earlier).

One thing I do know I'm going to make a priority this week is to get back on track with having a bi-weekly Baking Day. It helps so tremendously when our freezer is stocked with breakfast, snack, and bread items. My planned Baking Day for this week is tomorrow and I'll be inviting you to join me, if you'd like. Stay tuned for more…

And without further ado, here's what's on the menu this week:

Breakfasts
Granola over yogurt with fresh apple/orange juice
Whole-wheat waffles with blackberries, scrambled eggs, orange juice
Oatmeal with brown sugar and apples, orange juice
Peanut butter banana smoothies, toast
Bran muffins, yogurt, fresh apple/orange juice
Whole-wheat pancakes, yogurt, orange juice
Breakfast pita pockets (whole-wheat pita pockets with scrambled eggs and cheese), grapefruit

Lunches
Spinach brown rice and cheese casserole, oranges
Shrimp, brown rice, steamed veggies
PB&J, yogurt, oranges
Whole-wheat pita pockets with melted cheese, steamed veggies
Annie's Mac and Cheese, applesauce, broccoli
Egg salad sandwiches, oranges
Leftovers

Dinners
Steak, sweet potatoes (I just cook and mash sweet potatoes and then bake in the oven with a little butter and brown sugar–yum!), homemade bread, steamed veggies
Roast with gravy over noodles, steamed veggies, homemade bread
Turkey burgers with melted cheese, steamed veggies, homemade bread
Steak, green beans, mashed potatoes, grapefruit
Salmon, wild rice, steamed veggies
Beef strips with gravy over noodles, green beans, sweet potatoes
Dinner Out

Snacks
Bran muffins
Cheese
Fruit
Yogurt
Peanut butter toast

See more menu plans for this week here.

17 Jan 2009   ·   46
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Finally back up and running again!

Thanks so very much for all of your patience with me over the last month or so as much of my usual blogging has been "shelved" for more important real-life things and a much-needed blogging break! I'm so excited to finally be jumping back into "real blogging" again and have loads of post and series ideas swimming around in my brain which I can't wait to get started on!

And, after a long break, Super Savings Saturday is finally here again–hooray!

Here's our shopping trip from yesterday:

001

I had planned to go to Aldi and Dillons (Kroger-affiliate), but it was so cold that I just decided to improvise when I was at Dillons and get everything there instead.

I'd also not been grocery shopping for 2 1/2 weeks so on our temporarily-raised $60/week grocery budget, I actually had $120 to spend. However, since we still have meat in the freezer and quite a bit of apples and oranges on hand, I didn't have to buy as much meat and produce as I usually do. Notwithstanding, I did splurge on a few items–like Annie's Mac and Cheese, whole wheat pita pockets, and Sara Lee bread.

Oh and I bought newborn diapers–I guess I just couldn't help myself! The Huggies diapers were on sale for $8.99 and I had a $2/1 coupon from a mailer I'd received. Plus, my ShortCuts coupon of $1.50 came off as well (wasn't planning on that!). So the package was $5.50 after coupons which is a pretty sweet deal for Huggies newborn diapers. Now I just hope that our little babe can actually wear these things and not have allergic reactions like Kaitlynn did. I suppose that I could always give them away if that happens, though. (And of course, as soon as we got home, I had to take a few diapers out of the package just to remind myself how teensy-tiny those things are!)

I also bought two packages of Kroger-brand diapers. I know, I know, I said I would never buy them again. But they were on sale for $6.97 with $3/1 peelies on them. And in this non-CVS-land, that's a super good deal for diapers. I'll probably regret it, but I just couldn't pass it up…

The Cottonelle, Johnson's Buddies, Softsoap, Johnson's baby oil, and Green Giant veggies were free (bet you couldn't have guessed that!). The meats and diary products were reduced or on sale, as were the fruits. I was especially excited to snag the blackberries for $1/package!

But the best deal of all was the Betty Crocker Sweet Potato casserole mixes. Originally priced at the exorbitant price of $3.98, they were reduced for quick sale to $0.87. However, a friend of mine had called me earlier to tell me to check the boxes on these as there were $0.75/1 coupons on them. Best of all? Our Dillons "doubles" $0.75/1 coupons up to $1. So yes, they paid me $0.13 per box to take these home. (By the way, for those of you locals who shop "my" Dillons, I left some on the shelves for you, too!)

The total before coupons and sales was close to $150. After sales and coupons? $62–substantially under the $120 I had available to spend! How I am enjoying shopping at a Kroger store again!

And if you want to know what we'll be eating using primarily the groceries shown above, I'll post our weekly menu on Monday.

—————————-
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.**

16 Jan 2009   ·   53
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: Making Your Own Baby Food

Guest Post by Alisha Hughes from Meal Planning Mommies

If you have itty bittys in your home, there are many great reasons to consider making your own baby food. Not only is it healthy, but I've found that it is much cheaper, and very convenient to do. 

Some of my favorite foods to use are apples, pears, peaches, zucchini, squash, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. I recommend using what is in season and on sale as much as possible in order to save money. If you buy in bulk and process enough of the baby food to last you for a few months, you should always have an ample supply of a variety of different fruits and veggies at your disposal to feed to your little one.

The steps for making any of these fruits or veggies into baby food are very similar:

1. Peel (if desired) and cut into chunks.

2. Cook in boiling water until very soft (or use a steamer).

3.
Puree in a blender or a food processor with a little water.
If I am
having a hard time blending all the chunks I sometimes add a little
extra water. (Extra tip: I sometimes decide to add a little baby cereal
to the blended food to make it thicker, or more substantial.)


4.
Pour into ice cube trays and allow to freeze.
Put these cubes into freezer bags, labeled with
what is inside and the date you made it. This baby food will be good for up to six months in your freezer.

I've found that three ice cubes are about the amount in an average baby
food jar. When it comes time to
feed my daughter, I just pop a couple of "ice cubes" into a bowl and microwave
them–usually for about 30-40 seconds. If it is a little too warm, I
just let it cool some before feeding her.

Other great foods to start with are bananas
and avocados which are already softened when they are ripe enough. When
the banana is good and brown, mash that thing up with a fork and your
baby will get dessert!

keely%20messy.jpg

There is something very rewarding to me about seeing my
baby enjoy food that I have prepared!

Alisha Hughes is the mother of two vibrant children. She and two of her friends, who are also mommies to itty bittys, have joined hands in
creating a blog for moms to get meal ideas called Meal Planning Mommies. They include pictures and step-by-step instructions–straight from their kitchen to yours!

———————–

Note from Crystal: The beauty of frugality is that different things work for different people. I've only had two little ones so far, but I've escaped ever paying
for a jar of baby food. However, I've found that making my own baby food up in advance like Alisha does hasn't worked very well for us so far. Instead, we have a bit of a different approach. If you're interested, you can read more what we do for baby food at
our home at this post I wrote here.

Do you make your own baby food or have other creative alternatives to paying full-price for the little jars of baby foods? If so, I'd love to hear!

15 Jan 2009   ·   11
Money Saving Mom

Review: BISSELL Versus Bare Floor Vacuum

76T8-L

As many of you know, I'm a no-nonsense, keep-it-simple kind of gal. I prefer to stick to the basics in most areas and am definitely not a big fan of keeping up with having all the supposedly "latest and greatest" things on the market.

However, when BISSELL contacted me regarding doing a review of their brand-new Versus Bare Floor Vacuum I decided to try it since we'd just moved and I was struggling to figure out how to clean my new Pergo "wood" floors in our rental home. Since nothing I was doing seemed to be working well, I figured that trying this out wouldn't hurt anything. And, I'll admit, the thought of foregoing a broom and dustpan in favor of a new-fangled vacuum cleaner was quite intriguing to me.

Over the last few months, I've enjoyed trying out this modern homemaking contraption. And surprisingly, I've come to like it quite a lot. I'm still not convinced that I can entirely do away with a broom and dustpan, but the Versus Floor Vacuum is quite handy.

PROS

::The Versus Bare Floor Vacuum is very lightweight and easy to maneuver around. Since this vacuum is small, it's simple to pull out and quickly run over our floor surfaces. I've found that it has cut my sweeping time by about 30% as a result.

::The Versus Bare Floor Vacuum picks up the dirt as you go. This is a huge plus for a mom like me with little children. When using a broom and dustpan, I've
found that I'll often be in the middle of sweeping and be interrupted
by a child needing immediate attention. More often than not, my dirt
pile will get messed up in the process and I'll have to redo what I
just did. The Versus Floor Vacuum eliminates this problem.

::The Versus Bare Floor Vacuum does exceptionally well at cleaning up big floor messes. If you have young toddlers in your home, you are probably well acquainted with the frequent spills of Cheerios or other such small items on your floor surfaces. I've found that this is one of the greatest advantages of this vacuum–large messes can be quickly eliminated in minutes! And I certainly love that!

CONS

::The Versus Bare Floor Vacuum doesn't seem to clean edges and corners quite as well as a broom would. While this vacuum was specifically designed to easily-access hard-to-reach areas, I found that those areas were still harder to reach and clean with this vacuum than a broom would be.

::The Versus Bare Floor Vacuum costs quite a bit more than a broom and dust pan. As you'd expect, a vacuum of this sort is a bit on the pricey side; it's average retail price is $79.99. I'm not sure that I'd encourage you all to run out and buy one of these if you're happily content with a broom and dustpan.

To read more information about the Versus Floor Vacuum, you can check out the website here. And if you've tried this vacuum yourself, I'd love to hear what you thought.

14 Jan 2009   ·   70
Money Saving Mom

Ask the Readers: Deals on TV adapters

Do you know anything about deals on those TV adapter boxes
the government is issuing $40 coupons on? I can't figure out where to
buy one or what a good price might be. I know I can't be the only Money
Saving Mom reader who doesn't have cable! -Catherine

Since we have a digital TV, I've not even looked into what a good deal on a TV adapter box might be. Anyone out there know or want to share hints or suggestions for those who are looking to buy one right now before all television switches over to digital service?

12 Jan 2009   ·   34
Money Saving Mom

I’m back–for real this time!

Well, so much for my grand idea that things would be back in full force last week–including all of our regular features like the Walgreens and CVS deals and Super Savings Saturday.

For those who didn't know, we took a long-anticipated and much-saved-for trip to San Antonio Thursday through Sunday to attend the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.

I had every intention of blogging while I was gone since there was supposed to be free wi-fi at both our hotel and the convention center. But not only would the wi-fi not work for me, I had little time for blogging anyway. Meeting many of you, taking care of the girls, and listening to wonderful lectures and films filled up just about every waking moment of the first two days.

And then Kaitlynn came down with an awful stomach bug the last day and a half. I'll spare you the details, but I'm sure many of you other moms of young ones can imagine!

It didn't take long for me to just hope and pray we could make it home in one piece–and soon! I packed as many changes of clothes, wet wipes, and so forth as I could scrounge up and we left for the airport for our scheduled return flights home.

We made it through our first flight only to discover upon landing that our next flight was cancelled and we were stuck in the Dallas airport for five more hours–with two little children (one who was very sick) and a tired pregnant mama.

Needless to say, I was never so grateful to make it home. Kaitlynn is much improved today and other than mountains of thrown-up-on laundry that I have waiting for me, things are mostly back to normal.

So I also hope that I'll really and truly be back to regular blogging here starting today. Thanks for your patience with me this past week–and these last few weeks. I'm blessed to have readers who are willing to let me put the needs of my family before blogging. Thank you all.

9 Jan 2009   ·   19
Money Saving Mom

Guest Post: The Balancing Act

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photo by Shopping Diva

Guest Post by Kasey Tross from The Beautiful Thrifty Life

 
This
fall my two-year-old and I signed up for Mommy & Me gymnastics classes. As we began attending the classes and she started learning some basic
gymnastic skills, I was surprised by how adept she was at the balance beam.
Usually, being a two-year-old, her balance leaves a lot to be desired, but once
she gets up on that balance beam, she just holds on to my pinky with one hand
and scoots right along.

Her only downfall (literally) is when she loses focus
on the end of the beam. Once she looks down at the beam or at one of the other
children practicing another skill on the floor, she immediately begins to
wobble and lose her balance.

 
One
day as she was scooting along holding my pinky, I started thinking about how
much living life on a budget is like walking on a balance beam: there is not
much room for error, and distraction can lead to disaster and frustration. But I
have also realized if you practice and start to get comfortable up there,
not only can you stay on, but you can make it a thing of beauty.
 
Life
on a budget can be difficult–much like walking on that balance beam. We have only a few inches on which to
keep our footing, and if you try to pretend there’s an extra inch or two, you
can completely miss your mark, lose your balance, and fall.

Up there on the
budget balance beam, it is tempting to focus on the restrictions. It is
tempting to stare down at the narrow beam and at the long drop on either side,
to wish for money you don’t have, and gripe about a small paycheck. But once
you start focusing on the limitations, you begin to lose sight of the goal.

For
most, the ultimate goal is to someday have a little more wiggle room, so that
the balancing act isn’t so hard. When you keep your eyes up and focus only on
that end result–the dismount–you can keep your balance and put one foot in
front of the other.

           
Another
fatal distraction can happen when you start looking around at everyone else who
isn’t walking the budget balance beam. They may be bounding across the floor doing
their tumbling or soaring through the air on the uneven bars.

If all you do is
watch them, you will long to jump off the beam and run out onto the floor. In the process,
your focus on the end of the beam will be lost and you will fall. If you want
to reach your ultimate goal, then that goal is where your focus needs to be–not on the financial situations of those around you.

 
We
all walk the beam differently; there are some people who, like my two-year-old,
gingerly scoot across the budget beam, somewhat unbalanced at times, nearly
falling off once or twice before dismounting. But there are others who see the
tumblers flipping and twirling across the floor and rather than be discouraged,
they are inspired. They see the beam not as a limitation, but as an opportunity
to test their skills and do amazing things.

Granted, they can’t leap and bound
with the same freedom of those on the floor, but in their own way, up on that
balance beam, they can turn their balancing act into a
beautiful and graceful
gymnastics show, just as remarkable as those on the floor, even with only a few
inches on either side to work with. Time after
time, cartwheel after flip, they nail the beam and come up with arms
outstretched, smiling triumphantly.

 
So,
what are the financial life lessons I learned from the balance beam? Don’t look
down, don’t compare your financial situation with those of the people
around you, and keep your eye on the ultimate goal: financial freedom. Remember, too,
that sometimes it’s not just about staying on–it’s about making the most of
the journey, about exercising your creativity, and finding real joy in your
beautiful thrifty life.           
Kasey Tross is a
stay-at-home mother of 2 living in Richmond, Virginia. She celebrates the fact that the most beautiful things in life don't cost
money and blogs at The Beautiful Thrifty Life.