November 27, 2011

Things I will not miss about public school

Our family is transitioning from public school to homeschool over Christmas break.  We have homeschooled before, but for the last year and a half, we've enjoyed the great teachers and staff at our local public elementary school.  However, in spite of the positives, these past 3 semesters have helped solidify my desire to homeschool again. 

So, here are the list of things I will not miss about public school:
1.  Having to get myself and the kids up and ready for school which starts at 7:30 a.m.!
2.  Having the kids gone for 7 hours, followed by 1 to 1 1/2 hours of homework!  (And this is elementary school!  Really?!?  When can they play?!?!)
3.  Fundraisers.  'Nough said.
4.  Hearing about the "assembly" my kids attended at school (instead of learning) where they were told what prizes they would earn if they sold a whole bunch of stuff for a fundraiser.
5.  Wondering what my kids are learning, doing, saying, hearing, observing for 35 hours a week.
6.  Giant amounts of papers coming home that inform me about activities, expectations, events, and fundraisers.
7.  Time wasted in my kids' lives from learning opportunities because of sickness, substitute teachers, snow days, fire drills, threat drills, standardized testing and all the prep that goes into it, holiday parties, reward parties, book fairs, etc.  (While I realize some of these things can have similar parallels that take up time in home schooling, I feel that in public school, much more time is taken, sometimes mandated, than occurs at home.)
8.  Feeling convicted that I need to do more to teach our children values and character, but being at a loss as to when.
9.  Making sure the girls' clothes and hair are nice every school day.
10.  Saying "hurry up and eat your breakfast or you're going to be late!" every weekday.
11.  Having to go outside in the rain or freezing cold in order to either drop off or pick up the kids.
12.  Trying to decipher instructions on homework about something I didn't teach.

There are probably more, but having those down should help keep me motivated on the hard days of homeschooling.  Public school has been helpful to us for a season, but I am really looking forward to all the benefits of partnering with my husband to be the primary educators of our children.

October 27, 2011

Cheap Taco Seasoning

We eat a lot of tacos, enchiladas, and other Mexican style dishes at our house.  Mostly because everyone in the family gobbles it up without any complaints.  I get a lot of taco seasoning for cheap, as there are often Taco Bell or Ortega coupons that deduct most of the cost.  However, if those coupons should stop becoming available, I think I will try the recipe at this Smashed Peas and Carrots blog. 

It really couldn't be any easier.  I have all these spices on hand already, so all I need is a container and my measuring spoons (and a label, because I might forget what it is).  And the benefits are that there aren't any added ingredients I don't know about in the seasoning, and she claims it tastes better.  She says 2 Tablespoons of this mix replaces a packet of seasoning.

Now I'm curious what other packet recipes are certainly out there!

August 31, 2011

Day 31: $400/month budget project

So I didn't stay in my budget, but there are a few pros:

- This is the first time I have actually tracked my grocery spending for a whole month.
- Some of what I bought with my budget went to charity.
- Some of what I bought I am still going to be using a few days into September.
- Paying attention to what I spend has helped me recognize where I can improve.
- I did come pretty close to my budget.

On the flip side:

- I didn't take the time to plan shopping trips and coupon saving every time I went to the store.
- Some of my trips to the store were to the nearest or most convenient for my errands, though not the lowest-priced store.

So there is room for improvement, but I'm happy with the realization that I can at least come close to my budgeted amount. 

Next month, I will track my grocery spending again, but instead of blogging about every trip, I'll do a summary at the end of the month.  We'll see if I can actually improve on August's results.

August 24, 2011

Day 24: $400/month budget project

Yeah, back to the store again after 4 days.  Call it poor planning, busyness, or whatever.  I needed some ingredients to round out a couple meals based on what I want to use up in my freezer.  This time I got everything for the rest of the month, and probably a few days into September.  I also got a few impulse buys.  I saved a lousy $5.15 in coupons today.  Didn't have the time to search for more.

Total for today:  $123.28
Total for August:  $450.82

I went over my $400/month budget.  I think it is possible to do, though.  If I'd had time for better planning of meals, coupons and sales, and shopping at the store with the best prices over the few trips to the nearest store for convenience, it would have made a difference.

August 20, 2011

Day 20: $400/month budget project

Back to the store again for more food.  Not bad, going 8 days between grocery trips.  I saved $10.50 in coupons. 

My receipt also informs me that I saved $23.27 with club card savings.  Truthfully, I don't put much importance on that, because it just means some items I bought were on sale from the store's normally overly-jacked-up prices.  I probably would have saved even more if I had time to go to my usual store, but this time I went in favor of convenience for my schedule.

Total for today:  $87.30 
Total for August so far:  $327.54

I don't have much left for my $400/month budget, but we'll see how it goes!

August 15, 2011

E-mealz is one amazing tool!

I just have to rave about the E-mealz menu plan!  A few months ago I finally subscribed to it for 6 months after trying out the sample menus and discovering that their recipes were not only good, but also very simple to make!  My family (husband and three small girls) almost always likes every part of the meal.  The ingredients are often basic - not the ones that are hard to guess what part of the store they'll be in and what the package looks like. 

Now, I'm a good cook, and I like to try new things, and I sometimes like to make my own menu plan based around recipes I want to try, or old favorites our family enjoys.  But when life gets busy, we need groceries, and I don't have time to put a meal plan and grocery list together, it's great to have it all planned out for me.

The menu plans they have vary widely.  You can find plans to cook for 2, or for 4-6.  They can be plans to match the sales of a particular store for that particular week, or plans to fit any store.  They can be regular, low-fat, gluten-free, low-carb, portion control, or vegetarian.  All the menu plans keep your cost down by giving you everything you need for a week of dinners on one shopping list that is less than $90 (4-6 family) or $40 (2 family).  I have found that with our family of 5, three of which are young children, we often have leftovers to send with my husband for lunch the next day.

I highly recommend this for busy parents.  At only $5/month, E-mealz is a great bargain to save you money and time and provide your family with delicious home-cooked meals!

August 12, 2011

Day 12: $400/month budget project

Finally got to the commissary for all the stuff we were running out of, plus all my groceries for 7 E-mealz, and a bunch of deals I wanted to get with my coupons.

Total for today:  $157.73
Total from 8/10 to get a giant jug of OJ:  $5.94
Total for August so far:  $240.24

By the way, I saved $38.57 in coupons with this trip.  I expect I can get more than a week out of what I bought today, which will leave me with one more big trip to the store to finish out the month.

August 06, 2011

Day 6: $400/month budget project

Sent my husband on a quick trip to Safeway for a few staples and salad ingredients to take to a friend's house.  It's been a busy week, but not having to cook dinner M-F helped a lot.  Planning a big shopping trip for Tuesday to get all of what we need for a week's worth of groceries.

Today's expense: $9.34
Total August expense: $76.57

August 03, 2011

Couponing Resources: Part 5 - Plan Ahead to Max Your Savings

Now that you can start amassing large (or small, yet strategic) amounts of coupons, let's get really practical.  After years of couponing and going from one extreme to another, I now coupon with two basic principals.

1) The best way to save money is not to spend it.  My point?  Don't let coupons get you to buy stuff you don't need or really want.  Be careful the coupons and their accompanying ads don't just act as commercials do and urge you to get a product you don't really want.  Think carefully about whether it's something that fits your health, lifestyle, quality expectations, or even if you really need it, as the company would like to convince you that you do.  Don't get sucked in just because it's new or because there's a coupon for it.  Buy only what your family needs or what you can donate to charity.

2) The best way to shop is efficiently.  If I can get the groceries I need in one trip to last my family for a whole week, that saves me time and gas money in going again until next week.  So I do some planning ahead.  I plan my main meals and make my shopping list to be sure I have all the ingredients.  I think ahead to any breakfast or lunch ingredients we need.  I consider staples like bread, milk, cereal, etc. and add those to the list.

Also, in the area of efficiency, if you have one or two main stores you shop at regularly, it's worthwhile to make a shopping list customized for the floor plan of that store.  I have one for the military commissary that is categorized from Produce, to what's in aisle 1, 2, all the way to meat, dairy, frozen, etc.  Having a heading with blank space on your list makes it easy to add ingredients under the proper places, so when you get to the store, you can go efficiently through the store and get things in order, up and down the aisles, without having to wander back and forth (like I do when I'm not organized)!  So if you can type and save a template as I describe here, just print out one and have it on your fridge, and grab it when you get ready to meal plan.  It saves a lot of time and headache, (especially if you're bringing small children along.)

Now that you know what you need, it's time to go through your coupons.  Start by checking your coupon box for any coupons for items on your list.  Check a coupon database (Part 2 discussed this) next, for printable coupons, and for coupons in your collected inserts which you may not yet have clipped.  As I gather my coupons, I put them in an envelope labeled with the store's name (the envelope is re-usable for several weeks) and also mark a little "c", which I circle, to note that I have a coupon for that item.  That way, while shopping, I can double-check the requirements of the coupon and make sure I meet them (i.e. the coupon may require a certain size package, or more than one package).

Once I'm satisfied that I have checked for any available coupons, I usually have anywhere from 5-20 coupons ready to use that I didn't have before, and this can save me several dollars at the checkout.  This type of planning takes time, but the rewards are worth it - you're saving money and time at the store!

August 02, 2011

Day 2: $400/month budget project

Spent $61.27 at WalMart today on groceries, children's vitamins and paper towels.  We had run out of some staples, so the trip was a necessary stop on our way home from a playdate at the park.  I did save $14.62 in coupons today.  Two were for free items (one Herbal Essence product, one Pantene product) that I had mailed to me from those companies' promotions, either on Facebook or elsewhere online.  I forget.  The things I didn't have coupons for, I compared prices and mostly chose generic, except for paper towels.  I figure I could either buy the brand I know is good quality and pay a little more, or buy the generic, which, with past experience, I know I end up using more because of the poor quality.

August total: $67.23

Couponing Resources: Part 4 - How I organize my coupons

There are lots of ways to organize coupons that I've seen.  When I first started, I clipped every single coupon and organized it in a zippered, 3-ring binder, filled with empty clear, plastic baseball card holders.  Keeping up with it all was a full-time job, and not worth the effort.  Half or more of the coupons never were used, so my time clipping and organizing them was wasted.  Here is what works for me in my now balanced approach to couponing that works in my real life.

As I mentioned before, I leave Sunday inserts intact.  (The exceptions are when I see coupons for something I know we will use, or something particularly high in value, and I want to have it ready on my next trip to the store, or be sure I don't forget about.)  When I get the Sunday paper, I pull out all the coupon inserts, grab a pen, write the date clearly on the front of each insert, and file the inserts into my hanging file-folder case, where each folder is labeled for a month.
This makes it easy for me to pull an insert out and find the coupons I need for a particular sale or item on my list.  It also is easy for me to store in an out-of-the way place in my house, while still easily accessible.

My clipped coupons get organized in a 12-section organizer like this:
I think these are called "check organizers" or something.  And it used to have an elastic fastener to keep it closed, but that broke off awhile ago.  Anyway, my coupons are sorted in the following categories:

- The front section is where I put coupons I'm about to use on my next shopping trip.
- Produce
- Health/Beauty
- Paper/Cleaning
- Snacks, Crackers, Cookies, Candy
- Cereal, Breakfast
- Juice, Tea, Drinks
- Ethnic, Soup, Canned, Spices, Instant
- Baking, Condiments, PBJ
- Bread, Butter, Meat
- Dairy
- Frozen
- Restaurant

I came up with the categories, then put them in this order by the general layout of the store where I most frequently shop.  Any coupons I have clipped, printed, or gleaned from other sources go into this organizer.

About 1-2 times a month I go through and discard expired coupons.  Often, when doing that, I come across coupons I forgot I had, and make a plan to use them on my next shopping trip if it's something we want or need.  This is what I have found works well for me.  Feel free to use my ideas, or modify them to fit what works for you.

In my next post, I'll talk about how I plan to maximize my savings before going on a shopping trip.

Click here for Part 5 - "Plan Ahead to Max Your Savings"

August 01, 2011

Day 1: $400/month budget project

So it's August 1st, and I am beginning to track our spending to see if we actually spend $400 or less on groceries.

I am going to have an easy first week, because our church is having VBS, I'm volunteering, and therefore I am elgible for free dinner for my whole family!  I don't consider this cheating on my budget.  I consider it a reward for my time in volunteering.  Actually, getting involved in your church or community is a great way to save money.  Whether it's a free meal or a pot-luck, you have the chance to save money on groceries AND spend time getting to know people better.  That's what I call a 2-for-1 deal!

So I don't plan on cooking any dinners until Saturday, which means we won't need many groceries, if any.

Our breakfasts will come from what we already have on hand:  bagels, toast, oatmeal, cold cereal, milk, juice, jelly, honey, butter, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, waffle mix, pancake mix, and leftover waffles in the freezer from the last time I made them (which go in the toaster, and taste yummy with peanut butter).

Our lunches, also from what's on hand, will include Easy Mac (sometimes I add chopped lunchmeat or steamed veggies), carrots/celery with ranch dressing, hot dogs, PBJ sandwiches, deli meat sandwiches, leftover pizza, and maybe tuna salad sandwiches.  My husband willingly takes a packed lunch to work whenever it's feasible with his schedule.

We did make a trip into the store last night for a couple jugs of OJ, which I will count toward August's expenses, even though technically it was purchased in July, but we didn't start using it until August.  :)  So, my total expense so far is about $6.00.  (I'll get the exact figure later.)  (Update: it was $5.96.)  And no, I didn't have any coupon with me.  It happens!

Couponing Resources: Part 3 - Where Do I Get Coupons?

In order to use coupons, you obviously have to have coupons.  Well, there are dozens of ways to seek out the coupons you most want and need.

First of all, since many of the suggestions in this post involve signing up for a free membership to a website, I am going to recommend that you get yourself a "junk e-mail" account.  Get a free e-mail from Hotmail, Juno, Netzero, or something else that is different from your regular e-mail.  This keeps your regular e-mail inbox from getting cluttered with advertisements.  Some of the e-mails may be valuable in saving money, and might be worth your time reading when you want to, but you don't want or need this constant barrage interrupting your regular life.  

Here is my approach to getting coupons:

Subscribe to your local Sunday newspaper.
- I don't bother with the whole week subscription, as I don't read the paper anyway.  My paper offers Saturday and Sunday as it's smallest subscription, so that's what I get.
- If you can find a discounted deal on your subscription from a door-to-door salesman, or by phone, or at stores when they're handing out free papers, you're saving even more money.  I consider my payment for the newspaper an investment.  If the cost of the paper is less than the value of the coupons it contains, I am money ahead.
- If you have a larger metro area which has a newspaper delivery available (or purchase at a local store), I recommend getting that as well, because often, they will have more coupons in their inserts, and possibly higher value coupons on the same products.  When I lived in rural IL, I sometimes was able to find the Chicago Tribune's Sunday paper, which was always a great investment for the coupons it contained.
- Find a schedule online,like the one HERE, which tells you which Sundays will not have any inserts included.  Then, get online or on the phone and suspend your paper's subscription for that weekend.   You can usually choose to extend the length of your subscription one week longer in this case.  I'm grateful to Springsbargains for this tip, as well as for reminders that they put out as those "no inserts" weeks come along.

Visit online printable coupon sources.  Here are some major ones:
SmartSource - Type in your zip code; On the page it takes you to, click on "Coupon Gallery"
RedPlum - Click on "Grocery coupons" or "Drugstore coupons"
Betty Crocker
EatBetterAmerica - (This is also a great recipe source!)

Ask companies for coupons.  
- You can go to a product's website and find their contact info, let them know you like their product or would like to try it, and request coupons.  Include your mailing address and e-mail address, and they may e-mail or mail you coupons.  I did this with Quilted Northern, and they sent me 5 coupons for 50 cents each. 
- CouponMom has a list of companies to try here.  This could keep you busy for an afternoon, but net several dollars in savings 4-8 weeks from now.

Watch for free sample requests online:
- Often, if you get a free sample by mail, it includes coupons for that product also.  Some free samples come in the form of a coupon redeemable for a free item.
- Keeping up with some of the savings blogs mentioned in my previous post will alert you to available free sample.

- Many companies have their own Facebook pages.  Often, they'll offer coupons.  Brainstorm the products you use, you like, or you want to try.  Search for their Facebook page, "like" it, then see if they have printable coupons available.  Keeping up with savings blogs, as mentioned above, will also alert you to these Facebook coupons and free samples.

Peelies, Blinkies, Tearpads, In-Store Booklets:
Whenever you're shopping, keep your eyes open for coupons in the store:
- Peelies are stuck to the product.  If you're going to buy it, peel it off before putting it in your cart so you don't forget to use it at checkout.
- Blinkies are the ones that come out of "blinkie machines" that usually have one coupon sticking out for you to pull, then it spits another one out.
- Tearpads are usually attached to the shelf near the product it's for.
- In-Store Booklets could be near the entrance, in the produce section, in the dairy section, (in any section, really) or at customer service.  These may contain store coupons or manufacturer coupons, or a combination of both.

Store Ads (from your newspaper, or at the store):
Some grocery stores not only have sales, but store coupons as well.  Occasionally they will include manufacturer coupons.
Note:  If you recognize the difference between store coupons and manufacturer coupons (usually clearly indicated on the coupon) you can sometimes use one of each on the same product, depending on your store's policy.  For example, if you have a manufacturer's coupon for 25 cents off a bottle of Heinz ketchup, and your grocery store has a store coupon for $1.00 Heinz ketchup, you very likely can use both coupons and pay only 75 cents for your ketchup.  Pay attention to the size requirements, and limits on how many the store allows per coupon.

Electronic Coupons
These are coupons you can "load" to your store's preferred card, and if all works correctly, your savings will be automatically deducted at checkout.  It hasn't worked foolproof for me all the time, so I recommend paying attention.  I don't often use this because I have had spent a lot of time with customer service to retrieve the savings that didn't automatically come off when it should have, and because I can usually get the same savings more tangibly with a physical coupon.  This method may improve, however, with time.
Also, check your grocery store's website for it's own electronic coupons.

All of this can net you a bazillion coupons.  You probably don't need that many.  The more coupons you have, the more you have to organize.  So be choosey.  You don't want couponing or saving money to take over your life.  I recommend spending a minimal amount of time collecting coupons, and learn to get only what you will really use.  Start gradually, and find what works for your lifestyle without letting it become an obsession.

In my next post, I'll talk about how I organize my coupons.

Click here for Part 4 - "How I Organize My Coupons"

July 30, 2011

Couponing Resources: Part 2 - What is a coupon database?

In my last post on couponing resources, I mentioned how couponing has come a long way in the 12 years since I started.  One of those ways is by the availability of online coupon databases!  There are people out there who apparently sit down and input all the available coupons, from Sunday newspaper inserts, online printables, and other sources, into a searchable format for your free use!

First, let me point you to the ones I use, and then I'll explain a few scenarios in which you can benefit from them.

Coupon Mom Database - you have to log in, then choose your state or region (because different regions get different coupons) and you're ready to start searching!

Springs Bargains Database - not all coupons may be available in your region, but I sometimes find more printable coupons listed here than on the Coupon Mom one.

Scenario 1: You have made your grocery list for the week, and you want to save some money.  Go through your list one item at a time, and start searching.  If you need ketchup, you can either search for "ketchup" in general, or if you prefer only one brand, like "Heinz", search for that.  Once it brings up results, you will see either a link to a printable coupon website, or a description of where to find that coupon.  For example, it may tell you "7/31 RP".  That means you'll find your coupon in the July 31st coupon insert from the Red Plum company.  "4/17 SS" means it's in April 17th's SmartSource insert, and "11/6 PG" means it's in the November 6th Proctor & Gamble insert.

Now, I don't go clipping coupons until I need them.  Instead, like CouponMom suggests, I keep my inserts in order of date for reference when I need them.  For me, this saves time, and saves me sorting through a bunch of coupons I may never use when I need something.

Scenario 2: You saw in your store ad that yogurt is on sale, and your family uses a lot of, so you want to get a good deal on as much as possible.  You search for that yogurt brand's coupons, clip as many as you have, print some more available online, and you are ready to stock up!

Scenario 3: Your husband just ran out of shaving cream, and mentions he's going to stop by the store for more on his way home.  You don't want him to pay full price if he doesn't have to, so you do a quick search, clip the coupon, and hand it to him to stick in his wallet.  Voila!  (This actually happened to me recently.  I gave him a coupon, and he saw that the military Exchange was having a closeout on his brand of shaving cream, simply because, it appeared, they were repackaging the product.  Between the closeout price and the coupon, each can cost 65 cents!  Therefore, I clipped 4 more coupons for the product, sent him back for more, then asked my sister to mail me any she had, and sent him for still more.  He is well-supplied for shaving cream until the end of 2012!)

As you can see, having coupon databases available are a valuable resource in saving us money.  Without it in the past, I'd spend a lot of extra time going through all the inserts individually, or clipping all the coupons and organizing them in a categorized binder.  But this easier method and free resource really works for my life.  Hope it helps you too!

Click here for Part 3 - "Where Do I Get Coupons?"

July 29, 2011

Couponing Resources: Part 1 - Getting Started

I have been couponing a long time - about 12 years.  In that time, I've learned a lot, and a lot has improved.  I'm not an extreme couponer, though, and I don't want to be.  My goal is to buy what my family will use, and some extra for my church's food pantry.  Any more than that takes up more storage than I care to use, and also takes too much time out of my week to plan for/shop for.  That said, here are the resources I use most to find the deals I get.

If you are a beginner to couponing, I recommend's tutorials here.  She has two video tutorials, and three printable tutorials, all for free.  Once you understand these basics, you will benefit from her list of deals for national chain stores like WalMart, Target, KMart, Family Dollar and Dollar General, as well as drugstore deals at Walgreens, CVS, and Rite-Aid.  She also has deals for some area grocery stores, listed by state or region. 

Next, you should check to see if there are people in your area who blog about coupon match-ups (when coupons that are available match with what stores have on sale, which means, sometimes, a great deal!)  I do that by going to's Store Deals page, where you can find bloggers for certain chain stores, or certain stores by your state.  Following these types of blogs will help you familiarize yourself with special coupon policies your local stores have, and restaurant and other store deals and events.  And because it's a blog, you can read other people's comments which include suggestions, questions, answers, and even sometimes when a store runs out of something.  My favorite local blog is (the Colorado Springs, CO area).  It is truly the best I have ever seen.

Then, consider some of the national blogs for the scoop on free samples, rebates, printable coupons, facebook page deals, and more.  My favorites include:

Each one of these has a wealth of insider information, such as what coupons are coming in your next Sunday paper, giveaways and contests, recipes, and more.  One could spend a lot of time trying to go about getting every deal that is on these blogs, so it's easy to get sucked in.  I prefer to follow them on facebook, and when they post a new entry that I happen to see, I click on it if I'm interested.  Otherwise, I skim over it.

In my next article, I'll talk about coupon databases and how to use them.

Click here for "Part 2 - What Is a Coupon Database?"

July 28, 2011

Cleaning out the pantry cooking

Before I launch into a month of tracking how much I spend on a month's worth of groceries, I am getting a head-start now at cooking from my pantry.  Yesterday, I took inventory of what I have in our pantry, freezer and fridge, and typed all the ingredients into  I love that website!  Once all my ingredients are on the list, it searches recipes all over the internet and tells me all the stuff I can make.  So easy to use, and it saves me money by delaying my trips to the grocery store.  It also came in handy when we were planning to leave town on vacation, and will be very helpful when we prepare to move at the end of this year.

Our pantry has a hodge podge of ingredients, because since May 29, we've either been traveling (total days gone this summer = 31) or cooking theme weeks!  In between our three family trips, we chose a different cuisine and planned our entire menu that week around it.  One was Mexican, the next was Asian, and the latest was Italian.  There were a few special ingredients purchased for each one which weren't all used up.  Also, I've made at least two trips in the last 2 months to take advantage of combined sales with coupons.

From all that, I came up with a list of 8 things I can make from what we have on hand, so I have a week's worth of dinners planned already.  Those ideas go on a list on a piece of scratch paper onto my fridge.  My first shopping trip in August will probably be small, just milk and fresh fruit.  I have plenty of breakfast cereal and bagels on hand, and some waffle mix.  I have two loaves of bread in the freezer for sandwiches for lunch, although we sometimes have leftovers from the last night's dinner.  My garden is currently producing onions, green beans, swiss chard and zucchini plus basil, oregano, cilantro and parsley.  Our pantry/fridge/freezer includes:

alfredo sauce
american cheese
baking powder
baking soda
balsamic vinegar
barbecue sauce
bay leaf
beef steak
beef stock
brown sugar
brussel sprout
canned tuna
canola oil
cayenne pepper
chicken soup
chicken stock
chili beans
chili flake
chili pepper
chipotle chiles
chow mein noodles
coconut oil
cooking spray
cooking wine
corn syrup
cream cheese
dijon mustard
Dream Whip mix
Easy Mac
frozen pizza
fruit juice
garlic powder
graham cracker
green beans
hot dog
italian seasoning
maple syrup
mozzarella cheese
olive oil
onion powder
onion soup
Parmesan cheese
peanut bars (Nature Valley)
peanut butter
Philidelphia cooking cream (2 pkgs)
pie filling(cherry)
powdered sugar
ranch dressing
red pepper flake
red wine
refried beans
rice vinegar
roasted red peppers
sesame oil
sour cream
soy sauce
suddenly salad mix
sunflower seed
taco sauce
taco seasoning
tomato paste
tomato sauce
tuna helper
Uncle Ben's rice pouch
vegetable oil
vegetable shortening
wine vinegar

A week from now, we'll see what's left!

July 27, 2011

$400 a month for groceries? Let's find out.

    One morning, awhile back, we had a visit from a rep from a company that delivers various meats, vegetables, and other foods to your home.  They claim that they are much more affordable for the average American family than shopping at the grocery stores, and of course, they claim their quality is much better.  I don't doubt their quality.  It appears (from the samples he gave us for our time) that quality is very good.  However, it's the amount I would "save" by going with their plan over my current shopping habits I don't see.

    I would be paying about $285 dollars a month for 6 months in order to receive about 480 servings of main dishes, consisting of fancy cuts of steak, various entrees with chicken, pork, seafood, sausages, and pastas with sauce.  Also included are 52 packages of vegetables, 8 oz each.   Sounds yummy, doesn't it?  I'm sure it is.  However, there are several reasons why I don't think this would replace my grocery shopping or save me any money over my current spending.

    1.  Their menu does not include staples like milk, cheese, eggs and other dairy, breads or crackers, breakfast items (except sausage and bacon), beverages, condiments, any lunch foods (like peanut butter and jelly, lunchmeat, etc.)

2.  I would use all of their veggies up in 7 1/2 weeks.  I would have to add vegetables to my shopping list after that.  The other meals, if only used for dinners, would be gone in about 4 months.

3.  I currently spend about $400 a month on groceries to feed our family of five.  The salesman didn't believe me.  He calculated that it would mean my family eats for $3.33 per person per day.  He even made me doubt that I was telling the truth.

So, in August, I'm going to start keeping track.  We'll see how much I really spend on a month's worth of groceries, and how it really stacks up.  Now, I am a simple person, and I don't need fancy steak or special foods to satisfy me.  I can make a lot of things with ground beef and chicken and other basic ingredients.  Still, I'm interested to see, and to share, how I can stay within this budget and feed my family of 5.

July 23, 2011

Traveling Food

This summer, our family has been on three long trips.  The first trip was a family vacation to Southwest Colorado to explore parts we hadn't seen yet.  The other two trips involved catching up with our family and friends at our respective hometowns.  We knew this was going to cost a lot of bucks, between gas, hotels, and food.  So we did what we could to reduce our food cost by eating from groceries instead of at restaurants.  Here is what I learned:

1) Most Hampton Inns don't provide a microwave or fridge in the room.  Only a few provided a fridge.  The few microwaveable meals we brought along didn't get used.
- I had hoped we could check in to our hotel at each place, scope out what amenities the room had, then hit the local grocery, coupons in hand, to let everyone pick their food for their dinner.  This only worked the first night on the first trip.

2) Having picnics at town parks with playgrounds or at rest areas can be fun, as well as save a lot of money.
- This is the plan we executed most often, always at lunch.  I think there's something mentally acceptable to us all about having picnic-type food for the noon meal.
- There are several things I am glad we brought along for these picnics:  a picnic table cloth, clips to keep it attached to the table, disposable plates, zoopals and re-usable picnic utensils, napkins, ziploc bags, water bottles, bottle of dish soap, dish pan, scotch brite sponge, kitchen scissors, rubbermaid and ziploc containers, chip clips, wet wipes, and of course a cooler, armed with gallon-size ziploc bags to hold ice.  Most of this fit in a couple of cloth shopping bags which rode in the back of our van.
- Some of the food we bought or brought along and used included:  water-flavor packets (like Crystal Light), fresh fruit, yogurt, flavored rice snacks, chips, peanut butter, jelly in a squeeze container, mayo in a squeeze container, mustard, bread, deli meat and cheese, ranch dressing, carrots, green pepper strips, crackers, cream cheese, granola bars, bottled teas and juices.
- There are a few things I brought but didn't use:  small Tupperware microsteamer, spatula, can opener, small cutting board and a sharp knife.  

3) Clipping coupons and taking them along saved us some bucks.  Before we left, I clipped coupons for everything I thought we might possibly buy, including paper plates, dishsoap, napkins, chips, etc.  I had also stocked up on some of the above food we brought along using coupons at our local grocery when they were on sale.

4) At some point, you just get tired of eating picnic food and saving money.  One day we just gave up and hit a fast food restaurant, but the next day we were back to feeling able to eat from our stores.

5) The less junk food we pack, the less we eat, which makes us feel better as we travel.  I tried to pack lots of tasty fruit and veggies and healthy options, and avoided buying packages of cookies.  The fact that I had crystal light flavors we all like kept us from purchasing or drinking as much pop or other sugary convenience store foods.  There were a couple of times I really craved ice cream though.  :)

6) Downtown hotels don't tend to have free continental breakfast, but they do have a mini coffee pot, which means we can have hot tea and oatmeal made from the hot water.  We bought some tea, splenda, and instant oatmeal packets, and voila!  (Our downtown hotel was charging $10/day for wireless internet as well.  We enjoyed a sabbatical from internet access those days.)  Thankfully most of our hotel stays were ones that included continental breakfasts.  We really like Hampton Inn's with hot options, including Belgian waffles!

7) Some other ideas I discovered in internet searches that I want to try next time are:
- Take a can opener, a can of tuna, and mix together with mayo, mustard and relish for a refreshing tuna salad sandwich.
- Pita bread or tortillas filled with hummus and veggies, or meat and cheese.
- Potato salad or pasta salad purchased from local grocery as a side dish.
- Eating an entire meal at the grocery store deli or kitchen.  We did this when I was a kid on some vacations.  It's like a buffet, and can be less expensive than a sit-down restaurant, and has more healthy options than a fast-food restaurant.
- Buy a fully cooked rotisserie chicken and a loaf of french bread for dinner.

8) With daily availability of a microwave, we could have had so much more.  These ideas are great for extended-stay rooms or suites, or military families like me who will, in the near future, find themselves in the middle of a PCS move and who are getting tired of eating out:
- Steamfresh veggies from the freezer section
- Easy Mac (We did this one evening, but the hotel water we used made the pasta taste weird.  I should have used bottled water.)
- Pre-made BBQ pulled pork on buns.
- Pre-made taco meat on tortillas with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce.  (Kinda messy, but really good!)
- Tortillas, can of black beans, cheese = bean and cheese burritos!
- Microwaved baked potatoes.
- Canned soups (need to take along containers for heating)

So, overall, we did pretty well saving money on vacation food where we could stand to do so.  Maybe you've got some ideas for your next trip that can keep some of your cash where it belongs - in your bank account!

June 27, 2011

When God first came alive for me

I'm working through a book called "Holy Conversation" by Richard Peace.  In the 2nd chapter, it challenges me to briefly tell a story about how God first came alive for me.

I remember attending a week of Christian camp in the Summer between 8th and 9th grade.  There, through the testimonies of the camp leaders and counselors of how God had changed their lives, God first came alive for me.  Having grown up in a Christian family who attended and served in church weekly, God was already part of my life and the lives of those around me.  However, I hadn't heard any life-transforming stories from the people around me.  Either they hadn't bothered to mention, or figured at my age, I wasn't interested.  But now, I was hearing firsthand from people who had experienced God as a real and personal change-agent in their life. 

Also, during that week, the camp leaders challenged us to daily read our own Bible and pray.  Soon after camp, I wrote to a friend and pen-pal my same age who had been a Christian herself for a couple years and asked her for some ideas on where to start when reading my Bible.  She wrote back with a list of some of her favorite verses, and some suggestions of where to start.  I then began to do my own Bible reading, sporadic as it was.  But I noticed that whenever I did, God always showed Himself to me through His Word.  I could see Him pointing out truths I needed to hear as I read that day's chapters.  I still find that today, as through the Holy Spirit, God teaches me about Himself, and myself, and helps me put life in His perspective. 

I'm thankful today for those camp leaders, and my friend who helped point me to God, and challenged and encouraged me to experience God for myself through study and prayer.  God is truly alive in my life every time I seek Him.

June 12, 2011

Colorado Family Vacation - Days 1 and 2

Now that my soldier is home and my children are out of school, it's time to explore Colorado!  So we took a week to leisurely go to some parts of our state that we hadn't been yet.

Sunday afternoon, May 29, we set off going South on I-25 past Pueblo.  Our first discovery was a "point of interest" sign I encouraged Derek to follow to see what was so interesting.  It WAS interesting, but we weren't sure what it was until that evening when I connected my netbook to the hotel's wi-fi and did a search.  The thing was Huerfano Butte.  There was no interpretive sign to tell us what we were looking at, at least not that we saw. Our online research fascinated us more so than the viewing of the orphaned butte itself.  Especially after we saw the next phenomenon, the radial dikes in the Spanish Peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  We only viewed these from the interstate, but the angle of the evening sunlight really made them stand out.  We decided we were already having an interesting vacation, geologically at least.

Monday morning, we headed toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park, but got sidetracked when we saw a sign pointing up a road for Zapata Falls.  It was relatively early in the morning, so there wasn't a lot of traffic out, and once we hit this road, and it turned into an unimproved gravel road, in land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, winding up the mountain, we wondered what sort of adventure we were getting ourselves into.  It reminded us of a drive we took on Maui in 2007 into a park where there were reported to be big redwood trees, which we never found, but had fun looking.  After a few slow, bumpy miles, we found a few trailheads, and finally the one to hike to the Falls.  It was a short distanced hike we felt we and our children could handle, so we took it, and were rewarded with a pretty neat view.  With all the snow the Rockies had this past Winter and Spring, there was plenty of snowmelt coming down this waterfall, and many others we observed on this trip.  After exploring and taking pictures, we headed back to the car and drove back down to the road toward the dunes.  The video at the visitor's center at the Dunes was very interesting - the most well-done and interesting video of it's kind I think I've seen, actually.  It was a VERY windy day, and pretty cold, and we didn't really wear proper footwear for dune-hiking.  So we explored only briefly, until the wind bothered us more than we could stand.  I had no desire to hike the dunes, especially to the top.  These are the largest sand dunes in North America, and they ARE pretty spectacular.

I intend to come back and edit this later with some pictures.