February 29, 2012

Menu plan

Here is my menu plan for the next couple weeks! I feel like I struggled more this week with using what I have in the house because I just wasn't feeling super creative. Oh well, did my best!

Chicken and Veggies


Homemade pizza


Chicken tortilla soup

Ham and Cheese pockets


Black beans and rice

Whole wheat chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes

Homemade pizza

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

Tater tot casserole

Cobb salad

Chicken and Noodles

Chicken and black bean enchilada casserole

Leftover/eat out/ creation night (this is basically a whatever night- if the budget allows we may eat out on this night. Otherwise we will eat leftovers or whatever creation I come up with based on what we have on hand. It also may be the night that a previous meal is eaten if something comes up and we don't eat dinner at home)

February 25, 2012

Ugh- need more mommy advice!

Ever since Jameson was a baby he has been a snorer. We asked about it when he was little and the doctor just assured us that it was normal, but that if he was still doing it when he was three or so we might need to have it checked out. Well, Jameson is well over three and the snoring has only gotten worse. And now we often hear his breathing pause during the night and then gasp, which is indicative of sleep apnea. When we told his doctor all of this he was in agreement that we should get him checked out by an ENT to see if/what needed to be done about it.

Well, Friday morning was his ENT appointment and, as I feared, he needs his tonsils AND his adenoids taken out! :( He informed us that he would grow out of it eventually but that it would probably be a long time due to how large his tonsils are (apparently they are "most definitely a size 3", whatever that means). And, because that all isn't fun enough, he saw some fluid in his ears and said that if the fluid isn't gone by the time of the pre-op appointment they are going to do tubes also. Ugh!

I know that his sleep is being VERY interrupted due to all this and that it is important that they do the surgery, but it doesn't make me any happier about it. We are going to wait until the beginning of May to do the surgery so it is after I am staying at home and Shaun's busy time at work is over so he can take off a week to help out. I really wish it worked out to do it sooner to get it over with, but I think it is going to be best for everyone for us to wait.

The advice part- if any of you can give me advice on any of this I would be most grateful. I am looking for any tips on how to best prepare him (he is afraid of any doctor outside of his regular doctor so I don't know how to get him the most prepared). Also, if your kiddo had this done, how bad was the recovery? The doctor said to prepare for a week of recovery. Did you find this to be about right? How did you get them through this week? Anything you wish you would have done?

February 23, 2012

Things to do when "Mommy, Jameson, Laney days" are everyday!

When I have the day off work, I explain this to Jameson as a "Mommy, Jameson, Laney day". In just over two months, these days will be everyday. I am, of course, VERY excited. But, I am also nervous.

Since they will no longer be going to daycare I am concerned about them getting in enough social time. I am wanting to make sure to give my kiddos plenty of opportunities for social interaction. Here are the ideas I have come across so far:

-Gymnastics Plus Open Gym
-ZooFari Trails
-Library storytimes
-Wee Wigglers class and adventures (preschool type classes for Jameson's age)
-Zoo Classes (Jameson has gone to several of these and loved them!)

I have also found a playgroup on Meetup.com but I haven't heard anything back from them yet.

Since we live 30 minutes away from pretty much any activities I am going to have to be careful to create a balance between getting them enough social time, not overloading the kiddos with car trips, and watching the gas budget. It would be awesome if I could find some activities closer to our home but our area is pretty small so it might be a little difficult!

I would love to know if any of you have ever tried any of these activities and what you thought of them! I would also love to hear of any other activities in the Manhattan, Riley, or Randolph areas! I am open to any and everything!

February 18, 2012

Sharing the Wealth: Buying kids clothing

When it comes to shopping, buying clothing for my kids is by far my biggest weakness. I am constantly finding more clothes that they "must" have. I am not sure how much a month I was spending on clothing for them, and I don't really want to know. What makes it so much more ridiculous is that my kids are very blessed with extended family who loves buying them clothing. In reality, Christmas and birthdays make up almost all the clothing they really need, so I only need to supplement, which is NOT what I used to do. So, when Shaun and I decided that we needed to change our financial situation, I knew that this was an area where I would need to make some drastic changes. Now, I think I still have a long way to go in this area, but here is what I have learned so far:

Focus on what they actually need
This is definitely the area where I had to make the biggest changes. I had many reasons for buying them clothes- It was a great deal, it was perfect for that child, it was too stinkin' cute... etc. Notice "my child actually needs this item" didn't make the list? Yeah. That's because that really wasn't a criteria for my clothes shopping. With the exception of my round up prior to the consignment sale, I rarely knew what clothing my children were needing for their current or upcoming season and size. It didn't really matter to me because it didn't effect what I bought for them. Now, I am still guilty of that "this dress is perfect for Delaney" or "Jameson would go nuts over this shirt" purchase every now and then, but now it is a rarity instead of the rule.

To make sure I always know what I actually need for my kids, I keep a constant inventory. For example, right now, I know that Jameson has plenty of 3T (his current size) and Delaney has plenty of 24 month (her current size) in winter clothing. They also both have plenty of t-shirts, so I know that, if they are still in this size come spring time, I will have only minimal shopping to do. I have barred myself from purchasing anything more in their current size for winter. Now, the next size up is a different story. Delaney has a few 2T shirts, and Jameson has a little in 4T play clothes. So, when I find some great clothing deals (more on that later), I can focus my energy and money on the clothing that they actually are needing.

Just like groceries, clothing needs a "buy-at" price
In my post about grocery shopping I talked about having a "buy-at" price for groceries. This is the price that you have determined to be the lowest price you can find a certain item for. When you find the item for this price, you buy as much as you need to hold you over until you think you will be able to get this item at your buy at price again. Clothing is no different, it is just a lot trickier. Because there are so many factors that change the value of an item- the size, the brand, which article of clothing it is (shirt, pants, dress)- it can be really difficult to determine a buy-at price. To remedy this, I have a "buy-at ballpark".

A "buy-at ballpark" basically means that I have a set price that I am willing to pay for things, but that there is more wiggle room when I find an item that I know is hard to find in good condition.  This is going to be set differently for everyone. If you are an expert garage saler, your buy at price is probably a lot lower than mine. If you have older children, your buy at price is going to be much higher than mine. For me, I set mine based on the  Little Britches Consignment Sale. Because these sales happen before the Fall/Winter season and before the Spring/Summer season, I know that, need be, I can pretty much buy their entire wardrobe from the sale. But, I would like to have a chunk done before the sale. After experiencing a few Little Britches sales, I have learned what prices I can reasonable expect to be able to get enough clothing for my kids for that size/season. Because I know this, I can restrict myself to only buying clothing when I find them at these prices. I know that my "buy-at ballpark" baseline price is $2 per item. However, I am willing to spend about $4 for a nice dress for Delaney or $3-4 for nice clothes for Jameson since these are items that either go for more at Little Britches or are hard to come by (Little boys are HARD on their clothing so it often isn't any good for resale). I am also more willing to spend a little more for brand name clothing, but more on that later...

Buy used
This is probably the most obvious way to save money on kids clothing, but it is certainly the one that makes the most significant difference, so it definitely deserves mentioning. But I am not just talking about garage sales! Here are some other excellent ways to score some used kids clothing for cheap (or free!)

-Consignment sales (Manhattan's is the Little Britches Consignment sale). It is kind of like a mass garage sale for only kids clothing
-Thrift stores
-Hand me downs/swaps (get a group of friends together who have kids of similar age and do a swap. I have never done this personally but have heard about it).

Buy ahead
Once you have a buy-at ballpark in mind you can effectively buy ahead. Buying ahead is buying clothing at the end of a season on the clearance racks to put back for the next season. For example, in the next few weeks, stores are going to start bringing in their spring merchandise which means that the winter stuff has to go. They will mark these items down to lower prices to get rid of them. By stocking up what you need for the next year you can avoid paying full price. I used to shy away from this because I didn't know what size my kids would be wearing. Now that they are in their sizes for much longer than when they were infants it is easier, but it can work with infants too! Sure, it might not be a good idea to stock up on sweaters and Christmas shirts for the next size up when you're not sure what size they will be in next December, but you can still stock up on items that transition well from one season to the next- lighter weight long sleeve shirts, jeans, light jackets, etc.

Put yourself on the selling side
There is most certainly nothing wrong with giving your clothes away to a thrift shop or a friend. In fact, I encourage it. However, another option to consider is reselling. When you resell your clothing you still get to help someone out by giving them the opportunity to buy clothing for their children at a fraction of retail while recouping some of what you paid for the clothing. And even though we are planning on more little ones in our future, I still sell the majority of their clothing. We simply don't have the space to store entire wardrobes when it is unlikely that our next child will be requiring the same season at the same size.

I have resold at garage sales and on Craigslist and, my most successful route, selling at Little Britches. A few tips to successful reselling:

-Before I mentioned that I prefer to buy brand name when possible. Overall, brand name clothing is more expensive because they have a certain name in the tag. However, part of the reason is also in the quality. Very often, though not always, brand name clothing is better quality. This translates to a better resale value not only because other moms want that name on the tag, but also because these are the clothes that can make it through several children before they start to show their wear. When you put the effort into buying brand name clothing at minimal cost, you are giving yourself an inventory to sell from that will be the most marketable and profitable.
-Take good care of your kids clothing. Kids are often DESTRUCTION on clothing. Taking the extra time now to care for clothing properly will help in the long run. Check clothing when your kiddo gets undressed and promptly treat stains. Also, attempt to wash clothing a minimal amount. No, not in a gross way. But when you find clothing on the floor, do the good old smell check to try and determine if it was actually worn. If it passes the test, don't just wash it anyway. Not only will it save the laundry detergent and water, it will prevent early wear.
-There are few things cuter than trendy clothes on a little one, but try to keep these outfits to a minimum. When buying their wardrobe, focus on buying more classic pieces like jeans and basic tees. When you buy super trendy clothing it is likely that you will have a more difficult time finding somebody interested in these items once they are no longer the current trend.

Plan for the occasional splurge
No matter how good of a shopper you are, there are going to be those items that you just can't buy for very cheap. For us, that is Easter attire for the kiddos. I put a lot of thought and time into selecting their Easter outfits, so I don't like buying them ahead. I want their outfits to be the right size and coordinate with each other so that pictures don't clash (no, I don't go matchy matchy, I just make sure that they don't look bad together). As much as I have tried, I am just not okay with settling for whatever I can find. So, I plan for this expense, and I plan carefully.

This year, for example, is going to be pretty easy. My work did a health promo last year that earned me a $100 card that is good towards certain stores including Children's Place, Old Navy, Gap, etc. I know that, between these stores, I can put together excellent outfits for them. No, I will NOT be spending the entire $100 on two outfits- that would make me cry.

Because I would like to have a good chunk of that $100 left over, I am also exercising some good shopping practices. I am waiting until I find that perfect outfit for both of them- I am letting myself be picky so that I am not tempted to get a different outfit when one I like better comes along. I am also being picky about the price. I have several outfits for each that I have my eye on. Because I am wanting to wait for a good sale, I know that it is possible that one of my favorites will sell out before I snatch it up. This is something I am totally okay with because I know that I haven't set myself on that being the outfit.

I am also going to try to make the purchase go as far as possible. I already know that their Easter outfits will likely only be worn once, possible twice. Even though we attend church regularly, I don't typically get them dressed up that much because our church is very casual. However, I can make efforts toward making parts of their outfits go further. Take their outfits last year:

Dang they were so little!!!!!

If I remember right, I spend a total of about $60 on their outfits- an amount that makes me want to throw things. But, I was able to stretch parts of this. For example, though Delaney only wore that adorable dress one or two more times after this, she got several more wears out of the sweater before it was out grown. And I actually didn't buy Jameson's pants for the occasion. He already had the khakis in his closet so I just bought the vest and shirt to match. I also don't think he wore that vest again, but he did get a few more wears out of the shirt.

That is pretty much my ridiculously long-winded explanation of my money saving techniques for kids clothing, but, as I said, I still have a lot to learn. I would love to hear any tips you guys have for saving money on kids clothing... PLEASE!!!!!!

My super exciting stay at home mom announcement!!!!!!!

Now that we have officially notified all the necessary people, I can proudly, exuberantly, blissfully (enter your synonym for "ridiculously over the moon happy" here) announce...

My last day of work is April 27th!!!!!!!!!

I don't totally believe it is happening yet. When my manager made the announcement on Wednesday that I am leaving, it took me a minute to process it: I put in my notice at a job that I have been at for 7 1/2 years. I don't know that I will totally believe it is happening until my second or third week. But, disbelief or not, I am over the moon.

Don't get me wrong, I am really going to miss certain things, and not all of this will be easy. For example, some of the people I work with I would count among my closest friends. I will very much miss having this social time on a daily basis. I am going to have to work hard at it, but I am really hoping that I am able to maintain these relationships on some level because I know I will miss them badly. Becoming a stay at home mom also means having to say goodbye to our daycare provider, Barb. Barb has been an enormous blessing in our lives. She has taken such amazing care of my babies. I have always felt like I was dropping them off with family, not a sitter. She has been there for me as well, answering more parenting and kid health questions than I can count. Though we hope that the kids can still have the occasional "Barb day" (when I need some mommy time!), we will definitely miss having her in our daily life. (By the way- if anyone in the Randolph or Waterville area is in need of a babysitter, I happen to know an AMAZING one...)

But... mostly I am so excited! Don't get me wrong- I am not under some ridiculous delusion that everyday is going to be this blissful, sunshiny day filled with constant yea mommy moments. I know that there are going to be days where I want to rip my hair out. I do know what I am "getting myself into". But I think it is 100% worth every hair ripping day to know that I got to spend this time with my kids during their tiny years. :)

February 15, 2012

Menu plan

Here is the current menu plan! You'll note that I keep my menu plan very simple. Along with what I list, I always fix a veggie, usually from the freezer. I don't typically plan which veggie with which meal since, well, I am just not smart enough to know what kind of veggie "goes" with a certain food. I do my menu plan for an approximate two week period because that is how Shaun's paychecks come. However, I usually make the menu plan through the weekend because it is rare that I can make it to the store in the middle of the week. Also, most of these meals will NOT happen on the nights they are assigned. Planning it out this way just ensures that I prepare for the right kinds of meals.

Wednesday (15th)
Rice and Beans

Thursday (16th)
Porkchops and sweet potatoes

Waffles and Eggs

Pizza picnic night (I make homemade pizza and use whatever toppings we have on hand. This usually means plan cheese, but we are cool with that!)

Crockpot BBQ chicken


Chicken and noodles (from the freezer)

Chicken Tortilla soup

Tuna helper (we don't do a lot of tuna helper, but Shaun is going to be gone for dinner and I have some in the cupboard, so we are going for it!)

Garlic Chicken pasta

Daniel and Ashley's engagement dinner! (We are TRYING to talk Ashley's mom into letting us bring something, so we shall see if I am making/bringing anything to plan for)

Roast (not sure yet how I am going to fix this. I have some carrots to use up, so I might just wing it!)

Chicken and veggies

Ham and Cheese Pockets

Crispy Chicken Wraps

Pancakes and eggs

Chicken Parmesan casserole

Shopping trip: Where the stocking up savings show

I have talked extensively about how stocking up during sales saves money. This week's shopping trip is an excellent example.

This week happens to be one of those "there aren't really any good deals" weeks. This means that I am able to keep to a pretty minimal shopping list and save the grocery budget for later. My total was $63.12, which will give us milk and produce for 1 week and two weeks worth of dinners. I will have another milk and produce shopping trip in between the weeks.


6 gallons of milk (yes, 6. We are ridiculous like that)
3 skim @ $2.65 each
2 2% @ $2.76 each
1 whole @ $2.79 each

Tortilla chips: $1.19
Oranges: $1.48/bag
Paprika: $.99
Aldi brand Ro'Tel: 2 @ $.59 each
Flour tortillas: $.99
Kidney beans: 2 @ $.55 each
Red grapes: $1.58 @ clamshell
Marshmallows: $.99
Bananas: 3.91 lbs at $.44/lb
Sugar: $2.04
Flour: $1.48
Granola bars: $1.59

Total: $35.38


Black beans: 2 @ $.69 each
Bread: 2 @ $.88 each
Reach floss: 1 @ 1.00, used $.50 coupon (printed at the register at my last Dillons trip), doubled to $1.00= free
Brown rice: $.75
Pyrex bakeware: (I was super excited to find this clearance deal. I have been needing a pie pan for awhile and I love to have a bunch of casserole dishes around for freezer cooking and I LOVE Pyrex)
Casserole dishes: 2 @ $2.50
Pie pan: 1 @ $1.50

Total: $11.32

Ray's Apple Market

8 lb bag of potatoes: $1.98
Boneless porkchops: 1.98 lbs for $4.27
8 oz cheese blocks: 6 @ $1.48 each

Total: $16.42

I am going to try to get my menu plan posted later (yes, I know that's a little backwards- oh well). However, I currently have two crazy children literally running circles around me, so that will have to wait...

February 10, 2012

11 Questions

Here are your 11 questions:
  1. Who is your fictional boyfriend?
    Forney from Where the Heart Is. What can I say- I love a geek and he is just such a good guy!

  2. What do you want to be when you “grow up” (aka dream job)?
    That's a tough one. Right now, I want to be a stay at home mom. But, once my kids are in school, I would love to be an elementary school teacher in a world where No Child Left Behind doesn't exist
  3. Cake or cupcakes?
    I have to choose just one? For parties and such, I am a traditional girl. Cupcakes are cute, but it isn't a birthday without a cake.

  4. Favorite quote from your favorite book?
    Oh geesh. I don't know. I don't really remember quotes from books, and I am not even sure that I have one favorite book!

  5. What is the last movie you watched at the theater?
    Breaking Dawn

  6. If you could meet any one person (from history, currently alive or even fictional), who would it be?
    This might be cheating, but I would "re-meet" my grandma Coon now that I am an adult and mom (I was in elementary school when she passed away). She was just such a fun lady and I would love to have her around for insight and laughs. My mom did take after her for those things, so it isn't like I am totally missing out. But there is something spectacular about a woman who will wrap Christmas lights around her head to entertain her family while she is so ill that she can't leave the house.

  7. What do you do when you are bored?
    Bored? I'm sorry. I don't think I understand... what is meaning?

  8. Do you remember your dreams?
    Sometimes. Often I wake up really excited to tell people about my dream and forget by the time I see them. Super frustrating.

  9. Favorite blog?
    Hands down, without a doubt, Money Saving Mom. It has literally changed by life. 

  10. Coke or Pepsi?
    Diet Pepsi. Regular pop is gross.

  11. What is the weirdest thing you have done while driving?
    Pump milk. Yeah...

    That was fun! Especially number 11. I'm oddly proud of that one...

    Erica Cope tagged me. I answered her 11 questions, now I am tagging some of you with 11 new questions! I am supposed to tag 11, but I don't have that many blogging friends!

    Here are the lucky ones:
    Lynn at The Mehlinger Family
    Aimee at Adventures in ADHD
    Tracie at Our Growing Family in a New City
    Melissa at Sassafrass 2.0

    If I tagged you and you aren't interested, you won't offend me (but I would like to see your answers, so I hope you are!). If I didn't tag you, it's because I thought you would want to do it. But, if you want to, that would make me smile!

    Here's your questions!
    1. What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?

    2. If you could only read three books for the rest of your life, what would they be?

    3. What is your guilty pleasure song? (You know, that song that you can't help but sing to but you are a little ashamed to admit)

    4. What is a talent you wish you had?

    5. Who is the first person you call when you have good news?

    6. Whether or not you currently have kids, what is the number one quality you hope to instill in your kids?

    7. Be honest- if you could relive high school, would you?

    8. If you wrote a book, what genre would it be? (Don't just say fiction- fantasy, Sci-fi, romance...?)

    9. Do you understand why Star Wars is such a big deal???

    10. How do you order your eggs?

    11. If money wasn't a factor, what job would you love to have?

    Okay- now answer away, and keep the fun going!

February 9, 2012

Sharing the Wealth: My couponing "secrets"

As I have mentioned previously, coupons are not entirely new to me. I have used coupons for several years now, but, up until about 9 months ago, it was just here and there on random purchases- diapers, laundry detergent, etc. I pretty much used them on the few items that I bought in name brand. However, since I have really gotten serious about using coupons I have discovered some little tricks here and there. These are the little tricks that have taken me from saving a few dollars here and there to making a significant impact on my grocery budget. Enjoy... but first:

All of these tips are 100% legal and allowed by store policies where they are used. I absolutely do not attempt to use coupons in any illegal or unallowed fashion- that is stealing. Some of these little tricks are things that I used to believe were coupon abuse, but I have sense learned otherwise. Because I have learned to consult stores' coupon policies and by researching on blogs whose writers I trust, I have learned that there are ways to use a coupon to its full potential while not abusing it.

Anyway... here are my "tricks":

-It's all about the timing: I have had many people tell me that coupons aren't for them because they find that, even with the coupon, the store brand is still cheaper. I used to have the same confusion about coupons. I didn't see where the value would come in unless it was an item for which you only bought the name brand. What I quickly learned is that it is all about the timing. Yes, when the item is regularly priced it doesn't take it lower than the store brand price. That is why you wait for the sale! By shopping the ads and following blogs that alert you to these sales, you can buy items for much cheaper than the store brand.

-Be flexible: To truly get coupons to work you have to be flexible. The way I have been able to create a decent stockpile is by being willing to use different brands. Now, as a person who was brought up on different store brands, this wasn't an adjustment for me. But, if you have particular item that you only buy in a certain brand, it is going to make it much harder to find enough to keep you from paying full price. But, if you are willing to try different brands, it is going to be much less often that your aren't able to find a good deal.

-BOGO coupons: Now, I was shocked to learn that this was allowed. You know those pesky buy one, get one free coupons? I call them pesky because, while they can be a great cost saver for some things, they don't allow me to get items for super cheap generally. HOWEVER, there is a little trick that you can use that is allowed in many stores (Dillons specifically indicates that this is allowed, but Target specifically indicates that it isn't)- you can use a coupon on the "buy one" item. So, this means that if you have a "Buy one deodorant, get one deodorant free" coupon, and you also have a coupon for $1.00 off one deodorant, and it is priced at $1.10 each, you are going to pay a total of $.10 for both sticks of deodorant. (Pay $.10 for the first one, get the second one for free). You do need to check your store policies (listed on most store websites) to determine if your store allows this. But, note that you can't use a BOGO coupon with a $$$ off of two items unless you are actually buying two in addition to the one made free by coupon (clear as mud?)

-Use coupons on clearance items: Again- didn't know this was allowed. This is an excellent way to score some items for super cheap, free, or even better than free. A great example of this would be a recent Dillons trip I had where I got a great shampoo stockup. They had Pantene shampoo on clearance for $1.59 a bottle. I had three coupons for $3.00 off 2 bottles of shampoo. Normally this wouldn't be an awesome coupon for this brand, but, by using it on the clearanced bottles, I was able to get 6 bottles at $.09 each! This is why I rarely go into the store without my entire coupon collection in hand and I always stop to take a peek at the clearance section.

-You can stack store and manufacturer coupons: Target and Walgreens are both very popular for their store coupons. On any one item, you can use up to one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon, as long as they are both for the same item. So, if a bottle of dish detergent is on sale for $3.00, and you have a manufacturer coupon for $1.50 off and a store coupon for $.50 off, you only pay a dollar! Something that is also really cool is that Walgreens will let you use multiple store coupons on the same item as long as they are "different" coupons. So, you can't hand them 4 coupons that came from their flier, but you can hand them a store coupon from their ad and another from an at home mailer. Now, you should beware that I have had awful experiences with this as many Walgreens employees don't seem to quite understand their very confusing policies. I don't do this all that often and only when it is an item I really want and deem to be worth the arguement. (Before you ever try to coupon at Walgreens, do your research. Here is a link to a great article about navigating their insane policies) Also, that BOGO rule that Target has? It does NOT prohibit using a BOGO manufacturers coupon and stacking it with a Target coupon.

-Catalina's are your friend: No, I am not talking about that tasty salad dressing. Catalina is the name couponer's give to coupons that print at the register. These coupons are printed when you purchase a designated number of items and are good on your next purchase. They are awesome because you generally don't have to purchase anything in particular to use them on the next purchase, so they are pretty much cash in your hand. They are also a way to make a deal into an awesome one for even a money maker. For example, let's say that there is a current Catalina for $2 off your next order when you buy 2 sticks of a certain toothpaste. The toothpaste goes on sale for $1.50 a piece, and you have two $1.00/1 coupons. You can buy two tubes of tooth paste with your coupons as $.50 each, totaling $1.00 and get back a $2.00 Catalina- a net profit of $1.00! Now, you aren't going to make rent with this method, but it is certainly a way to make a dent in your grocery budget. By the way, the same strategy holds true for Target (or other store's) gift card deals (buy so many of a certain item and get a gift card back). Just think of the gift card that you are getting as a Catalina!

-Remember that "free" items aren't always free: You often hear of those couponers that have a basement of free candy. This is downright ridiculous. I know that is harsh, but its true. The truth is, these are not really free. When you use manufactuer's coupons, you STILL HAVE TO PAY THE TAX OF THE FULL PRICE! Yes, just tax is cheaper than retail, but do you really need 250 candy bars? Umm... no. Now, most stores do count store coupons as sale, which means that if a store coupon brings an item to free, it really is totally free. But I am not talking about that. Remember that when you are using manufacturer's coupons that you are still having to pay tax. So, it isn't smart to buy something that you will never use just because it is free after the coupon, because it isn't really free.

-Double coupons: If you are lucky enough to have a store nearby that doubles coupons, take advantage! This is a great way to get items for free or almost free- often without waiting for a sale! Just be sure to understand any policies they may have toward how high they double to or if they limit the number of double coupons in a transaction.

-Get an overage from coupons: Some stores (not all) will allow you to use any overage you get from a coupon toward other items in your transaction. So, if an item is $2.50 and you have a coupon for $3.00 off, you have $.50 to use towards other items. Keep in mind that not all store allow this, and that most will only double a coupon up to the price of the item, not giving you overage. Walmart and Dollar General are two area stores that explicitly allow this in my area. Dillons doesn't have a particular policy and I have found that it tends to vary from store to store. Target and Walgreens policies state that they will adjust the coupon value down so that the item is free. However, I have received overage at Target before. And it would be to your benefit to have Walgreen's policy with you if you attempt to get an item free with a coupon over the value of the item as their policy specifically states that this is allowed. I have had many a bad experience where they tell me that I simply can't use the coupon.

There you have it- my little secrets I have gained. Happy couponing!

February 8, 2012

That whole debt thing...

I just wanted to post a little brag...

I am part of a zero credit card debt family!!!!

Oh how long I have been wanting to write those words!!!!!!! 

Can I just say how AMAZING it feels to know that there is no longer a credit card company eating our money each month??? 

We are now on to our next goal- building our emergency savings fund. :)

Soon I will share the news on what this means for becoming a stay at home mom, but we have a few little things to work out before I feel comfortable sharing that news with the blogging world!

Thanks for letting me brag a little!

February 5, 2012

Sharing the Wealth: Freezer cooking

I keep referencing my freezer cooking and I have finally put together a post on how I use freezer cooking!

One thing I have discovered while trying to wiggle more room out of our budget it freezer cooking. This is something I had heard about but never really understood. I discovered how to make it work for my family on (you guessed it) www.moneysavingmom.com. While freezer cooking isn't going to save you hundreds off your grocery bill, you will see some little money savings here and there:

-It will keep you out of the drive thru:
    If you have had an exhausting day and the last thing you want to do is go home and cook, it can be easy to stop and pick something up. But, if you know that you have a meal or two in the freezer, it is harder to justify that drive thru trip.

-You can use your items more efficiently:
     You know that recipe that your family loves that calls for half a can of diced tomatoes? Honestly, tell me what you do with that other half of the can. Don't feel guilty- I do it too. Even if you save the other half, it will probably start growing things before you remember that you had good intentions to use it. Now, if that is a freezer friendly recipe (this site is a great reference for what doesn't freeze well. You'd be surprised with what you can freeze!), why not double the recipe and put half in the freezer. You have now used the other half of that can of tomatoes and have a whole other meal in the freezer to show for it. The half a can of tomatoes doesn't sound like a lot, but if you make that recipe every two weeks for a year, that is 13 cans of tomatoes you just threw out!

-It will make your meal plan work for you, which saves you money:
     We all have those crazy nights when it seems like trying to plan a meal for them is laughable. These nights are perfect for freezer cooking. It is also a great way to avoid using prepackaged meals that are full of preservatives and cost far more than meals made from scratch. Just pop them in the oven and you have a meal! Viola!

The amount that I freezer cook in a week varies greatly. It all depends on what I have on hand and what I need to have on hand. For example, pancakes are a must in this household. My children are hopelessly addicted to them and they are a great go to for an on-the-go breakfast or snack. And you know what? They freezer super easy and well. For mine, I just put them in layers with foil in between on a cookie sheet and let them freezer for a few hours (or until I remember that I have pancakes freezing). Then I put them in a freezer bag and pop them in the freezer! That's it! I typically will either make a huge batch when I have a little bit of time or just make the huge batch when I make them for dinner. These are so handy to have around! Chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes happen to be our favorite. We also like to have other quick foods such as ham and cheese pockets and muffins.

I also always like to have at least a meal or two in the freezer at any time. These are typically eaten on the night that I close at work (otherwise they eat a lot of frozen pizza). But, on many occasions, they have turned into a last minute meal when we have a crazy day. And I'm not just talking about casseroles and meatloaf (though we always have some of these around). You know those giant packs of meat that you will buy at the store? Well, if you know that all of that meat is destined to be browned, why not do it all at once and put the rest in the freezer. That way, when you are ready to make your recipe that calls for that ground meat, you just have to heat it up and use it normally in your recipe! I also do this with chopped and shredded chicken. Is it really that much more work to make a little extra when you are cooking dinner?

Speaking of which, I have found that one of the easiest ways to freezer cook is to simple double or triple the recipe you are already making. An excellent example of this would be lasagna casserole. I usually buy my cottage cheese in the large tubs since the smaller tubs cost almost as much for half the product. This recipe also calls for a 1/2 jar of spaghetti sauce, so it was obviously destined to be doubled! I can whip up the second casserole for the freezer without any extra effort. Now, I have not only put a meal in the freezer, I have also ensured that the second half of the cottage cheese and sauce don't go to waste.

The final way I get the freezer cooking done is with a good ol' fashioned freezer cooking session. I will set aside a few hours during naptime or when Shaun and I are both home and bust out as many meals as I can. These don't happen super often, but I actually enjoy them when I can get them in. It feels good to be so productive and have so much to show for your hard work.

I have found that almost any meal has at least part of it that can be prepared and frozen ahead of time. I am not suggesting that you need to freezer cook for every meal, but it's an option! For more on making freezer cooking work, you need to go to my source! I honestly learned just about everything I know here. I hope you can find something that works for you!