Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Fun

Make the most of some free fun all summer long with these fun ideas!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Budget Tool

For people with a salary income (or predictable yearly income), this tool could come in handy while setting up your budget. It doesn't work well for us because our income varies so much, but I know it would work well for some-maybe you!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A great quote

I liked this thought when it comes to shopping, "It’s not how much you save, it’s how much you spend.  And what you get for your money." Angela, at The Grocery Shrink.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Getaway Saving Tips

Planning a getaway or family vacation this year?

Here are a few things that we've found to be helpful in saving money while out of town.

1. Minimize the eating out
-I know this is hard when you are staying in a hotel, but if you do have options of staying some where with a small kitchen/kitchenette or with a friend, getting a few groceries (or bringing some with you) are a big money saver. Breakfast food, especially, can be very overpriced at restaurants. Even without a kitchen buying some yogurts and fruit for breakfast to keep in your hotel fridge will save you a lot of cash! Another idea is to get a 1/2 gallon of milk and box of cereal, or some fruit and muffins.

-If your kids are still small, try skipping buying them a kid's meal. I know it's so tempting and easy to just get them their own meal, but if you get something that will be more then enough for you and them, it's best to skip the $3-5 you'll spend on their extra meal. It also will increase your taxes and tip too, not just the cost of the extra entree. Plus, if you're traveling, sometimes leftovers aren't easy to keep anyway, so get just what you'll be able to eat that meal.

-If you do have an option for reheating and keeping leftovers, then ask for a box after dinner and make it your lunch the next day. Every meal you eat in, will save you money and by the end of your trip can add up into the hundreds.

-Try using the dollar menus for quick and cheap meals. Instead of going with your usual meal # at a fast food joint, try to limit your family's selections to thing that cost a dollar or less and you'll be amazed at how much a family of four can get for under $10.

2. Plan outings away from the crowds
-The main attractions in most cities have raised their prices to usually ridiculous amounts! For instance while looking for things for the kids in the Chicago area, the "Chicago Children's Museum" was significantly more expensive then other children's museums in the area. We found several that were cheaper and closer to where we were staying. Plus, the others had free parking, because it was off the 'beaten path' a bit. There were other mini-type museums really close by too and again, for significantly cheaper. The most well known and popular locations typically charge more and usually aren't worth the extra cost, especially when it comes to kids things. Kids are just as impressed with a fun inexpensive play place as they are with a big fancy $25/person outing. Also, keep in mind that with toddlers, you'll only be at these places for about 2-3 hours before they'll need to eat, take naps and are on the verge of meltdowns from all the activity and stimulation.

-Most communities have websites that let you know what free/cheap things are taking place in the area during the time you're there. Interacting and asking the locals will also help you find out what's happening in town. For example, this week we came across a great little children's art fair taking place down town the city my sister lives in, all for free. The kids enjoyed strolling down the sidewalks, looking at the creations and enjoying the little "stops" with things for them to do too. There was also a FREE zoo/farm in the area my husband's conference was taking place, but unfortunately they didn't open until Memorial Day weekend! :( Otherwise, we would've been there!

-Do some research before you go to find things to do, parks in the area where you can do a simple picnic, look into rec centers, find out about festivals, shows that happen in town and you'll be amazed all the things the locals will be enjoying, while all the tourists are forking out small fortunes to entertain their families! Get creative and often times these types of things are much more fun and far less stressful then the pricey tourist trap.

3. Skip the hotel
-If at all possible, rent a house/apartment/condo instead of staying at a hotel. In a lot of cities and vacation sites there are rental properties that rent for short time periods and have wonderful amenities, including more space (separate rooms for parents and children), full kitchens so you can save on food and are right in the mix of all the fun in their local communities. A great resource for these types of rentals is: www.VRBO.com.

-If you have any friends that you know you can tolerate being with for a whole week, share the rental! We love to do this with one of our friends and have enjoyed the opportunity to spend time together while both of our families are saving money by splitting the cost of the rental. We fix our meals together, split the cost of groceries (and each bring some from home) and tag team the cooking and cleaning, which also helps us all save money.

Saving money will help you really enjoy your vacation and not feel stressed about how you'll be paying for it when you come home! :) Then you'll get to take pictures like this for your family album:

What tips do you keep in mind while traveling? How do you save money on outings and family getaways?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Getting the Kids to Help Around the House

Socks, ugh! Right? Well, my 4 year old is eager to help with things around the house and I'm just as eager for some help. So, the other day I told her to match up all the socks from the laundry basket. It's not only a good skill for her to be practicing, but it's also teaching her how to care for things and helping me out! I told her I'd pay her in "cookies and milk" after the task was finished. She has no need for "spending money" or allowance at her age and we don't have the budget to start giving her that, but she's just as happy--if not happier--to work for a treat she may not have otherwise been given. :)

How do you get your kids to help around the house?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bread Kits

Remember back a couple weeks ago, I mentioned in one of my menu blogs about a bread kit. Well, now I'm here to tell you all about it! :)

I found this idea at the grocery shrink, a blog I have referenced a number of times. This family is really extreme in some of their money saving ways, but they do have great ideas and I've enjoyed learning from her blog. This bread kit was a great tip!

Here's how this bread thing works. You start with your bread machine mix (which she gives you the recipe for) and then on the day you plan to use it you chose your bread "style" and add the remaining ingredients and follow the directions for that specific type of bread. Genius, right? I loved it! I hope you do too. Then you'll get to have some spreads like this on your dinner table with minimal effort:

The following is all straight from her blog post about emergency meals and having things on hand to make into quick meals.

Bread Machine Mix

4 cups of flour (half white and half wheat if desired, or all wheat)
1 teaspon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon of yeast
Combine flour, sugar, and salt.  Cut in butter until very fine.  Stir in yeast. Package in a quart jar or quart sized baggie. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.  To use Place 1 3/4 cups warm water in the bread machine.  Add mix and run dough cycle.  This will make 2: 14-15 inch pizza crusts, 2 loaves of bread, one large loaf of Italian style bread, cinnamon rolls, bagels, or dinner rolls.  I like to plop this in the machine in the morning and delay the dough cycle so that the dough will be ready right at prep time for dinner.
Pizza crust:  Divide dough into 2 balls.  Roll out on prepared pans.  Let rise for 15 minutes.  Top with sauce, toppings, and cheese.  Bake at 415 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese is golden on the top.
Bread:  divide dough into 2 balls, place into greased loaf pans.  Let rise Let rise until double 30 minutes-1 hour.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
Dinner Rolls:  Divide dough into 24 pieces, shape into rolls.  Let rise until double 30 minutes-1 hour and Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Or divide into 2 balls, roll each ball into a circle 1/4 inch thick.  Cut each circle into 12 wedges and roll up crescent roll style.  Let rise and bake at 350 degrees fro 15-20 minutes. 
Bagels:  Divide dough into 10 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball and poke your finger through the center to create a large hole.  Set on a floured counter to rest for 1 minutes.  Boil 2 quarts of water and 1 Tablespoon of sugar in a stock pot.  Boil each bagel for 1 minute on each side.  Drain on a dish towel.  Bush with beaten egg (optional) and sprinkle with seeds (poppy or sesame, chopped sunflower seeds, or a combination).  Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Cinnamon rolls:  Divide dough into 2 balls.  Roll each ball ina rectangle 8″ x 15″.   Or about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread each with 4 oz cream cheese or butter.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup brown sugar combined with 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  Roll up making it as long as possible.  Use dental floss to cut each log into 12 pieces and place in a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Let rise for 1 hour and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until golden brown on the top.  Frost with a powdered sugar and milk drizzle if desired.
(Non-sour) French style bread:  Turn the whole piece of dough onto a well-floured (or use cornmeal) pizza slide.  Without punching it down, gently stretch it into a long loaf, tucking the edges to the underside so that the top is smooth.  Let rest for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.  Place a bakers stone on the top rack of your oven and a broiler pan on the bottom rack.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  When the oven is preheated, brush the top of the loaf with water, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese or seeds if desired.  Use a serrated knife to cut 5 slits across the top of the loaf.  Slide the loaf onto the preheated stone and quickly pour one cup of water into the broiler pan.  Shut the door immediately to trap the steam.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a nice dark crust has formed.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool before slicing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A little getaway

Last week we got to enjoy a little surprise getaway. My husband's boss offered him the opportunity to go to a training/conference in IL for a week, all expenses paid along with his full salary for the week. We had to make the plans with only about a 2 1/2 week notice, but we thought this was a great excuse to go see my sister who lives in Chicago too. We did have to pay for my plane ticket and our daughter's, but our son still flies free for a little longer! :) We found a great price. We knew that this trip would set us back a bit on our goals, but hopefully not too bad. And, we decided our family was in need of a change of scenery, so we went for it.

We set a strict budget for our spending there, which we did fantastic on! We (me and the kids) didn't have all our meals covered, but we still managed to keep our spending down pretty well by eating at inexpensive places, at my sister's apartment and eating leftovers from dinner for lunches.

We planned a budget to include money for outings for me to do with the kids while my husband was in meetings too and that was really helpful since we realized there was no pool at the hotel after arriving there! :( It's always nice to have some variety and new options to chose from the usual things to do around our town. The kids enjoyed a fun little play area near my sisters house, a small children's museum and a pool at the University of Illinois. All of which costs us less then $15/day!

It was a great week and turned out to be a fun getaway for all of us!

With summer getting started (even though this weather doesn't feel like it!) I thought I'd share with you some of the ways we've found to save money on family outings/trips/getaways that may come in handy for you too. Watch for a few of those later this week! :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Poll

If you look to the left side of the blog under my profile information, you'll find the next poll. Here is this week's question:


Go ahead and vote! And you can always leave comments below if you have something to add to your answer. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Poll Question

I was asked to expand on my opinion from the poll I posted last week, so here you go...

First of all, there were only 6 people who voted, so it's not like it's a big scientific experiment or anything, but I do think that it showed that most people tend toward not cutting much out of their budgets to save money. I'm no expert on this stuff, but I do think that it's possible this tendency tends to keep people from getting to their ultimate financial goals. Which gives me my next poll idea! ;) I'll post that soon.

Anyway, I think that if you asked people if they'd rather have a. more stuff, more dinners out, bigger vacations or b. financial security like an emergency fund, a good nest egg to retire with, etc.; they would chose the second option. Maybe not initially, but I don't think any of us don't want some financial security for our families. So, if that's true (which I don't know for sure, but would assume so), then it'll require more sacrificing them people are willing to make upfront. Which is sad and maybe why the results of the pole were what they were. It's hard to take things out of our lives that we are used to having, but in order to reach a bigger goal, then sacrificing is a requirement.

So, where do I stand? It's a little complicated of an answer, but the short version is B (everything that is not essential has to go). Which I did vote for! ;) BUT, if you know me and have been in my home, then you know we have 'extras' and we don't have only the 'essentials'. I do think that 'essentials' is a matter of opinion and hard to define. If I were to define it, it would be things that cost extra that aren't really improving our quality of life, which for everyone will be a little different. So an 'extra' for some may be a vacation, but for us that is worth the extra expense and improves our quality of life. In order to make that possible, we budget for it and make the best of the money we can set aside for those things. We also see having regular date nights as an essential, so we budget for that and make it fit our lifestyle. Something that isn't worth the money for us right now are things like phones with data plans and cable. They aren't BAD things (we may have them some day, but right now it'd cost us about $120-140/mo to add them) they just won't improve our quality of life enough to be worth the extra expense each month, we'd rather save that money for our vacations, as an example. We drive paid for cars, because again, we'd rather have money for other things each month then to have a car payment on a newer car. Remember, these are just OUR preferences and aren't anything I would look down on other people for having. For some, those things count as 'essentials', whereas something we'd chose to keep wouldn't be for them.

Back to the bottom line. I think that if people really looked at their expenses honestly and re-evaluated what  is really a quality of life expense and what is just a waste of money (essentially define their 'essentials') and made those things a priority in their budget, then they'd save money by eliminated the extras they really could live without. What I'm saying, is that people don't want to live without things they enjoy, but a lot of times we mindlessly add things to our lives that we think we should/need to have, when we really don't. The end result of taking some of those items out will get us closer to our goals sooner, and in the long run our choices will make us happier with our financial situation.

How about you? What do you think of the results of the poll or what I've said? Feel free to disagree and/or add your thoughts to this discussion.


Poll Wrap Up

Last week I posted a poll asking you how far you would go to save money for your family. The choices were: a. Only cut out a few things you can live without, which got 4 votes, 66%. b. Everything that is non-essential has to go, got 2 votes, 33%. The final two didn't get any votes, but were c. Bring on the reusable toilet paper, baby! (Which I can't understand why NO ONE would vote for! ;) The truth is, I didn't make this concept up, there are people who really do use cloth toilet paper.) d. I'd rather not eliminate things from my lifestyle. (I actually think there are a lot of people who fall under this category, but they probably aren't reading a blog like mine regularly! ;)).

I'll post a new one this week, so check it out and be sure to put in your vote!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

April Grocery Budget

I had tallied up all my receipts a couple weeks ago to post and go caught up in getting ready for our mini, spur of the moment trip last week and forgot to tell you all about it! Considering the rise in grocery prices and the extra food I had to buy for our daughter's birthday party that month, we did pretty good. It wasn't under $150, sadly. BUT, I have my reasons! ;) The main one is that I had a separate budget for the birthday party, but bought all the groceries at the same time as my usual shopping and didn't take the time to subtract those items from my total for the month. It just didn't feel worth the time. My total spending for the month of April was: $175.53. May is shaping up to be a great grocery budget month because we've been out of town for a week and I didn't buy much the week before we left either. I'll post as soon as the month wraps up, what the total ends up being.

How are you doing with your grocery budgets? Are you noticing a difference in how much you've been saving? Have you been able to reduce it consistently for a few months? Give it a try! I'm sure you can do it.

Hopefully you're shopping looks a little more thoughtful and intentional that this, hehe! :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Garage Sale Season!

One of my favorite things to do is going garage saling! One more reason why I love summer! :) of course this weekend's forcast will not allow for any bargain shopping outside, so we won't be going. But for those of you have sunny skies coming out for you, check out this article before you head out! Happy shopping!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogging Class

Yesterday morning I got to spend some time with a group of an older generation and teach them about blogging. It was a fun time! A friend of mine works with a company that helps support the elderly and aging by providing services for them as every day things become more challenging. As a marketing opportunity they've been giving classes throughout the area. She asked me if I'd be interested in sharing about blogging and how that could be something they could do. I wanted to share with them that there is so much wisdom and experience that they can share with us through their blogs and leaving a legacy or some history for their families. I hope some of them take the plunge and start their own blog! For the most part they were quite intimidated by the whole process, the internet and computers just scared them! ;) Maybe this got them thinking though...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I'm giving a blogging class this morning! :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Clear the clutter!

I'm all about getting rid of all the extra junk we have right now, so when I saw this de-cluttering idea on msn, I had to check it out. Maybe you'll like some of the ideas too!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The psychology of splurging

If you are desperate for an excuse to splurge on something you have been eyeing, here's an article on how to do it well and stay on budget! :)

Monday, May 9, 2011


Being that we just wrapped up Mother's day weekend, the biggest gardening weekend of the year, it's on my mind! :) My husband and I have big dreams for our backyard every summer. We have re-imagined, plotted and planned our landcaping makeover ever since we have lived in this house and yet, it remains nearly the same as it did when we moved in. :-/ Other then our spacious vegetable garden and some berry bushes planted along the fences, we have a large open space waiting for us to add creativity, flair and life to it. So why aren't we you might wonder? Cash! I can't believe how much it can cost to do a backyard! Of course all our big dreams add up to quite a pretty penny too! So, alas, our backyard will probably remain as it is a bit longer. We do hope to start saving up to at least do a patio or deck of some kind soon.

The good news is that it hasn't kept us from loving our garden and using our backyard as much as we can every summer! I love this time of year when we all get outside to work on our yards and briniging home beautiful flowers and vegetable plants anxious for them to grow! Of course, I like to check out all these kinds of articles that offer suggestions on how to improve your backyard for cheap or quickly too.

For those of you with little space, but a love for a garden, here are some great tips on how to grow things in containers.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

I hope all of you Mom's are loved on all day! :)

Friday, May 6, 2011


If you look at the top left of the blog you'll find a money saving poll! :) Every once in a while you'll find a new question there, so take some time to give your answer! The current question is: 

 When it comes to saving money, how far are you willing to go?
You can't answer on here, you'll have to go to the poll to fill it out. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Action Plan

If you'd had a chance to see the video I posted a few days ago, you may be looking for ways to make a difference in your community. My husband got a whole list of ideas started for our church, so I'm sharing them with you now too. Some of them are local places, but I'm sure you can find a similar organization in the local areas you live in.

Here's what he came up with:

~Start saving all your aluminum and steel cans for Cans for Hope, a local non-profit that raises money through recycling efforts for girls rescued from sex-trafficking. (www.cansforhope.org)

~Volunteer one time to serve a meal to the poor or volunteer to help at one event at Denver Rescue Mission (www.denverrescuemission.org)

~Give up one family dinner out per month and sponsor a child with World Vision. (if you can’t afford it, give up two meals! Or go in with another person or family)

~Organize a food drive at your church or your workplace and collect non-perishables for a local food pantry

~Volunteer one time to serve a meal at the Delores Project (safe house for homeless women in Denver) www.thedeloresproject.org

~Volunteer to help at one event for SafeHouse Denver (shelter for victims of domestic violence) www.safehouse-denver.org

~Give up 2 Mochas a month and donate that money ($7) to the Mocha Club, a charity that looks for effective ways to help the poor in Africa.  Bring at least one other person in on this idea with you and start spreading the word!
Q: How far does $7 go in Africa?
A: Great question! Wrap your mind around this…$7 in Africa can:
SUSTAIN life for 1 person living with AIDS.
PROVIDE clean water to 7 Africans for 1 year.
        SAVE 1 person's life from malaria.

~Build a Lemon:Aid stand in your community to quench the thirst of someone in your neighborhood, then donate the funds to Blood:Water Mission to quench the thirst of someone half way around the world in Africa with clean, safe water. Over 320 million Africans lack access to clean, safe water - people like you and me - smart, talented, hopeful people - and we can partner with them to make a difference in their lives as well as ours. (www.bloodwatermission.com)

~2 Weeks Can Change a Life.
By giving up what you'd normally drink in exchange for the water from your tap you can save that money to help build clean water projects for African communities in need. Make water your only beverage for 2 weeks. Save the money you would usually spend on beverages. After 2 weeks, donate the money you saved by making such a simple choice and give someone clean water for a lifetime. (www.bloodwatermission.com)

~Organize a 30 Hour Famine with a group from Encounter, work, or your home Bible Study group.  Raise money for each hour you go without food to be donated to World Vision in order to make an impact on world hunger. (www.30hourfamine.org)

~Choose a country in the world where hunger is a real issue (check out www.30hourfamine.org/hunger/where-were-fighting-hunger).  Spend two weeks praying about how you can get involved in bringing solutions to this solvable crisis in your chosen country.  Start spreading the word about what you discover!  Optional: present your findings to your church family in a 3-5 minute presentation at the beginning of a service.

~Organize a Diaper Drive at your local church or your workplace to help homeless families with this basic necessity.  Donate your stash to Denver Rescue Mission (www.denverrescuemission.org)

~Free the Girls!! Collect used bras from all your girlfriends and/or organize a Free the Girls event to help victims of sex trafficking. “We will ship the bras to our partners in Mozambique, Africa. These safe houses provide shelter and rehabilitation for girls and women who have been rescued from slavery. The bras will be washed and mended, and sold by the safehouse as a means of supporting their rehabilitation programs—and more importantly, as a job opportunity for the former slaves. Of course, each woman in the safehouse will be able to choose several bras to keep.” --www.freethegirls.com

Another one he didn't mention but is an awesome opportunity especially this time of year has to do with gardening! We will participate this year and are looking forward to being a blessing to the hungry in our community. So what is it? If you have a vegetable/fruit garden already all you do is designate all your produce from some of your plants to be donated. So you can plant an extra plant or two or you can just donate from what you already have growing. Local food pantries rarely get fresh produce, so through this gardening ministry you're able to provide some fresh produce to the hungry. It doesn't cost you anything (unless you buy extra plants) and all it takes is your time, and since you're already growing the plants, it's just a matter of dropping your food off. What a simple idea, right? If you are a local reader and are interested in finding our more information you can check out this website.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Another week of menus!

Alright friends, here is another week of menus. My fridge is loaded and ready to be used, so here's a little sample of what will be served at our table this week.

Day One
Cheeseburger Macaroni
Veggies & Fruit
-Not the healthiest meal, but looks OH SO GOOD!

Day Two
Grilled Pre-Seasoned Chicken Breast (from the freezer)
Roasted Potato Bites
Garden Vegetables

Day Three
Colorful Chicken Alfredo (I have a bunch of fresh peppers right now, this will be perfect!)
Bread Kit **more on this on another post

Day Four

Day Five
Tuna Wraps

We'll see how that goes! Now I'm SO hungry! :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Recap on the Menu

A couple weeks ago I posted a week worth of dinner ideas to use the items we already had on hand to save on some groceries. So today, I'm going to give you a recap on how it went and a mini-review on the meals! :)

Day One
Lasagna-- totally great, it was our 'usual' recipe, so everyone ate it up. My daughter said, "I love sasagna!"

Day Two
Santa Fe Chicken Casserole
Our review was already posted on the original post! :)
Day Three
Bruschetta Chicken Skillet
Really, really yummy! The kids LOVED it. My daughter actually doesn't like tomatoes (which doesn't keep me from putting them in food, because I love them and she'll come around! ;)). This dish was LOADED with them and she asked for seconds AND thirds, she even ate all the tomatoes. Easy to make, ingredients for the most part are easy to have on hand (can't wait for fresh basil out of the garden all summer!) and tastes great!

Day Four
Grilled Steaks 
Scalloped Potatoes
The steaks were YUMMY! Thanks to our deer supply, they came straight out of the freezer and cost us less then the current cost of hamburger! I actually didn't make the scalloped potatoes, we ran out of time, so I just whipped up some baked potatoes. They are still on my list to try though.
Day Five
Creamed Chicken on Toast
A classic "poor mans food" meal. It was cheap and easy. The flavor wasn't anything crazy good, but the kids ate it up. My husband wasn't a fan of the 'on toast' part. If that's how you feel about it too, then it's easy to pour over rice or mashed potatoes too. 

Day Six
Ham and Cheese Loaf
I ended up making this for my daughter's birthday party instead of dinner. My husband LOVED it and I think everyone else did too, because it was the first thing to be eaten up! It's super easy and yummy. It's also cheaper then making individual sandwiches because you use less lunchmeat, especially when feeding a crowd.
Day Seven
Beef Stroganoff

Used our usual recipe, so it was yummy. I used the leftover meat from a roast I had made a couple days earlier.

Did anyone else try them? What were your thoughts?

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