Saturday, April 30, 2011

Retail Therapy....Frugal Style

I am constantly trying to find ways to live a Champagne (okay, Evian) lifestyle on a tap water budget. Keeping a family of six in clothing, shoes, and necessary frivolities can be a pricey venture.  To get the most bang for my buck , I have become quite a fan of  frugally creative shopping.  There are several places I like to frequent to purchase necessary items, and stay within our budget.

Thrift Stores:  You can find just about anything under the Sun at thrift stores. They are great for clothing, dressier shoes, household items, backpacks, canning jars, and sometimes furniture (usually furniture will require some TLC). This week's trip to Goodwill produced a messenger bag ($4.99), tote bag ($3.99), Pyrex serving dish ($1.99), two new glass storage container (to replace plastic ones out of my pantry $3.50 for both), Corelle luncheon plates (to replace the ones we've broken. 7 for $1.50), and a pair of khaki capri pants for me ($3.99).

Salvage Stores: We have a couple in my area. The ambiance in salvage stores may be a little rustic. Usually, organization is not always top priority, either. If you are willing to spend some time sorting through the mish mash; you can usually find treasures. Like an 18 piece set of glass Pyrex storage containers (to replace some sadly peeling plastic containers) for $20.00 ( I've already put them to good use). Salvage stores are a great place to find some non perishable food, non grocery and hygiene items, wrapping paper, party supplies, office/ school supplies, household items, clothing, and sometimes small furniture.

 The prices are really hard to beat!

Yard/ Garage Sales: Even though they are seasonal, they are a great place to find ANYTHING. They are especially fabulous for finding furniture, baby items, children's clothing, canning supplies, small household appliance, athletic equipment, tools, yard equipment.

Consignment Stores: Even though the clothing items are more expensive that thrift stores, they are a great place for finding higher end brands. Consignment stores are a great place to find jewelry, hand bags, business attire, dress clothing, bridal gowns, and party dresses. Some shop also sell furniture, luggage, household items, antiques, and books. I have found lots of decorating items CHEAP at consignment stores.

Clearance Bins and Racks: I have found everything from dollar t shirts, to $3.00 stock pots in the clearance sections of almost every store in my area. I make it a point to peruse them every time I am in the store. Clearance items are great for stocking up on gifts, clothing, bedding, decorating accessories, and cook/ bake ware.

To make "shopping" trips as efficient as possible (and not cave in to "frivolous" purchases), I keep a small notebook in my purse with an every changing list of items that we are in need of.  My list usually includes clothing items (and sizes) that the kid's need (or will need, such as school and dress clothes), household items to replace (a.k.a. plates, glasses.), sizes of canning jars, fabric needed  for projects, baskets for gifts, and holiday items.

As a side note: I am also a HUGE FAN of swapping and bartering with the neighbors (and family). Lots of times if you let it out that you are in need of something, someone has what you need and is willing to swap. I recently traded some outgrown kids clothing with the neighbor for some cleaning supplies that she had an abundance of. Lots of areas have Freecycle. It works basically the same way. I have not participated, but I know people who are huge fans.

What are your favorite frugal shopping tactics?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Baking Day

Well, I should have been scrubbing toilets and catching up laundry today. That was the plan anyway, but we ran out of bread this morning. Bread is a necessary evil at our house, so I decided to make a batch of bread. Which, of course, always leads me down the path of a baking free for all (BONUS:  I watched the highlights of the Royal Wedding on the kitchen television while I baked)!

I did bake bread:

In fact, I doubled the recipe for Potato Bread, and turned a fourth of the dough into buns for tomorrow's dinner. Hopefully, it will warm up enough here, so I don't freeze to death while I'm grilling hamburgers and hot dogs.

 I just happened to have a few frozen blueberries in the freezer that needed to be used. Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins seemed like the perfect recipe.

 Lastly, I have been trying to tackling my baking Nemesis', lately. I can bake and cook many culinary creations, but certain things still kick my posterior! From scratch brownies would be one. Since, I am avoiding box mixes in favor of their from scratch counterparts, and brownies are a FAVORITE, I bit the bullet and had another go. This time I was actually successful (see it IS good to face your fears)!

The recipe came out of a cookbook I got as a bridal shower gift (21 years ago). This cookbook has served me well. So well, in fact, that many of the pages are covered in greasy spots and are falling out.  Darling Daughter has informed that she will be inheriting it when I pass on. I did find the recipe I used on the BH&G website. You can find it HERE.

I think baking day was successful, but now I need to go finish cleaning up the mess that I made (and maybe consider scrubbing those toilets). If only cleaning up was as fun as making the mess!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Portion Control....Soap Style

I have had a monumental revelation,lately! It is getting really expensive to run a household. Of course, it doesn't help that utility, gas, and food prices are on the rise, but just keeping the basic non food necessities around really adds up (especially when you have a houseful of kid's). I have stopped buy most cleaning products. Opting to use home made cleaners, vinegar, baking soda, and micro fiber cloths.I pretty much only buy the ingredients to make my cleaning supplies (much cheaper and earth friendly). I do still buy Lysol wipes (I have a houseful of males......enough said!). I have been really paying attention to cost per ounce (or count) on the  personal hygiene and the household products we use. Most of the time it works out that the largest or warehouse size is the best price (praise be to Costco's coupon books).  I am great at  portioning out just about anything and trying  to use the least amount possible to make them stretch just a little further. However, the rest of the family not so much! Their philosophy seems to be that those big bottles and boxes of , whatever, are bottomless and FREE (silly, silly family)!

So to up the ante on portion control compliance, I have had to get a little creative. If you take the guess work out of it, they will comply....most of the time!

I switched from regular hand soap dispensers to foaming soap dispensers a long time ago (the day Child #3 pumped an entire bottle of regular hand soap on the bathroom floor). Now I refill my foaming soap dispenser by filling the dispenser 2/3 full of water and adding 1/2 tablespoon antibacterial soap. Shake to mix the soap and water. Then add more water to the fill line if necessary.

In fact, most antibacterial dish soap's can be used in place of hand soap. They also happen to be cheaper the regular hand soap refills, too.

My kid's can go through a bottle of shampoo in record time. Since the majority of the people in this house have hair an inch long, they really don't need a palmful of shampoo to wash their hair (or make bubble bath). To save money on shampoo I buy it on sale, and  then pour it into a pump bottle that we have been reusing for years.

To ensure that they don't use an unholy amount with each shampoo I twisted a wide rubber band underneath the head of the pump. Now the pump will only go so far before stopping. Giving them enough to get their hair clean, but not enough to waste. 

The same goes for dish soap. In my continuing efforts to produce marketable members of society, I have been making my kid's wash the dishes that won't fit in the dishwasher by hand (or if they are getting a little sassy...all the dishes).  I have been refilling a one liter plastic soda bottle (with a salvaged dish soap bottle lid on it) from the Costco size dish soap bottle to make it more manageable, but squeeze bottles = free for all + waste, at my house.

 So now, I refill a 20 oz plastic soda bottle (with a salvaged pump lid from a bottle of hand sanitizer) from the mondo container of dish soap.  Two pumps is enough soap to fill the sink with lots of bubbles!

Bar soap seems to be the Achille's heel. I have encased many bars in legs of worn out nylons. This method works great......if they remember to hang the soap up after their bath!!!  I guess some things are a work in progress!

How have you, My Dear Bloggy, Friends, been stretching your household supplies? I'd love more ideas!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Week's Menu 4/26: The "Ham"ilicious Edition

As I posted yesterday, I have been lacks in planning a formal menu this month! I didn't realize how much I had become to rely on my weekly menu. I am very sorry to confess, that I have tossed to many leftovers in the trash for my liking, and I have eaten way to many pancake and ramen noodle dinners!! Both scenarios are on the thumbs down list, in my book. So Saturday, I  sat down for a few minutes and put a culinary game plan together. Of course, Easter = Ham, so ham related entrees will be prominent this week. This week we will be eating:

Spiral Cut Ham
Cheesy Potatoes
Raspberry Jello with Mangoes
Strawberry Shortcake

Leftovers from Sunday Dinner
Steamed Broccoli

Leftover Rolls
Orange Slices

Ham and Beans
Green Salad

Skillet Ham and Pasta (Thank you One Crazy Cookie)
Asparagus ( I swapped my Dear Sweet Friend sweet potatoes for asparagus out of our Bountiful Baskets)

Breakfast Burritos
Honey Dew Melon

Grilled Hamburgers
Veggies and Dip

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hello Bloggy Friends!

Hello, everyone! Never fear, I have not dropped off the face of the Earth, and nothing catastrophic has happened here in Barrettpotamia (for which I am grateful)! I have just had a very, very, VERY busy month. The old adage "Biting off more than you can chew" has been very pertinent in my life, lately. April has consisted of four birthdays, one anniversary (twenty one years, thank you very much), numerous church committee meetings ( I have found myself the new coordinator of activities for our church's ladies organization and I have been volunteered to be Assistant Camp Director for this summer's Church girl's camp), baking for our Church's annual Cake Auction ( two cheesecakes and a gift basket of home made salsa), teaching a class on Square Foot Gardening, and throw in work and the worst cold in the history of colds (total duration 22 days of misery), for good measure. I have been left with very little time to do much else. In fact, at one point I even debated giving up blogging.  However, several dear, sweet readers voiced their concern over my lack of activity in the blogosphere, and that really touched me!  Thank you!!! Then I realized how much I LOVE blogging, and how much I have missed it, and ALL OF YOU!  Plus, if I am not blogging about my ventures in frugality, I find it much harder to maintain my lifestyle. You see, fabulous readers, you have been keeping me honest and on my toes! Oh, how I have been tempted to serve meals on paper plates, and stop at the drive thru  this month! Now though, it seems I have some breathing room, again. Of course, the next couple of month's will still be busy, and some posts may be short and to the point, but "This too, shall pass"..........right?

Never fear, though! I have been keeping my frugal nose to the grind stone most of the time! I still have found time to:

 Start this year's garden plants. I have discovered using a small black plastic shelf  absorbs the heat from the sun and helps the seedlings to grow. The shelf  is also portable so it can be taken apart and stored with the rest of the planting supplies for next year.

This year's tomato plants are coming along nicely.

So are the pepper plants. Can any one say SALSA?

Continue baking from scratch. I have expanded the hamburger bun experiment to include hot dog/ brat buns,too.

Incorporate more fruits and veggies into our diet. Bless Bountiful Baskets (check their website. Bountiful Baskets has been expanding, and they may now be in your area). Unfortunately, my menu planning has been lacking lately. This week I am back on the wagon with a written menu ( I will post it soon).

Well, there it is in a nutshell! I am a crazy women, but crazy isn't alway bad..........right?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Being Frugal = Being Green

 I read this GREAT ARTICLE  in Relish Magazine today, and I thought it was totally in line with yesterday's post! You see Bloggy Buddies, we are being FRUGAL and GREEN!!! I guess my hypothesis that being  frugal and being green go hand in hand! You can also click HERE, if you want to read some more of my thoughts on the subject.

What do you all think? Can being frugal naturally make you more conscientious about sustaining our planet?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rethinking My Grocery Shopping Strategy

 (that's Grandma's beloved Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook on the right)

As grocery prices soar in my area, I have been thinking about how my shopping strategy has changed over the last several years.  I still use some of my tried and true methods (tweaking them a little bit), but I have also rethought and changed others. A year ago I was a die hard coupon-er. I had my coupon binder with me at all times. I would spend a couple hours a week clipping and sorting coupons. I scoured grocery adds for match ups, religiously. If there was a fabulous deal I would  scrounge for extra coupons, and buy a bazillion items (maybe not a bazillion, but  close).  I bought tons of cereal, granola bars, fruit snacks, pudding cups, yogurt, anything I could get cheap or free. Several months later half of those items were still on the shelve uneaten, and rapidly approaching their expiration date ( crunchy fruit snacks and soggy granola bars, anyone?). I was getting great deals, but most of what I bought was highly processed, sugar laden, and not uber healthy, but cheap!

Then at Christmas time Dear Daughter's gall bladder went kabloohey.  We live in a small enough city that I knew the doctor, physicians assistant, and several nurses working in the Emergency Room the day I took her in for medical care. During the numerous hours spent at the hospital during her diagnosis and surgery (28 in all. I didn't ever leave the hospital.) I had the opportunity to visit with my medical friends. They mentioned that during the week previous to Dear Daughters hospital stay until New Year's Day six adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21 had  their gall bladders removed.  Most attributed the rise in  gall bladder surgery to the high fat, highly processed diet that most Americans (especially teenagers) eat. That disturbed me a little bit (okay, A LOT!). I felt enormous guilt that I was somewhat responsible for the demise of her gall bladder ( I wasn't really. The pathology report informed us that her gall bladder had a structural abnormality, and would have died eventually).

I did some long hard thinking about our  families diet, and started making some changes. Of course, all of my changes still had to fit into my grocery budget (which has taken a hit, as we are trying to pay off debt incurred over 2010).  Increasing food prices have also made it a little harder to keep healthy eating on a budget. It has been challenging sometimes, but I do LOVE  a challenge.  Here are my new and improved shopping methods for eating a healthier diet, and still stay within budget:
  1. I still clip coupons, but only for basic staples and non food items. I do still match sales to coupons for food basics: cheese, butter, dairy, cereal (less sugary varieties), pasta, meat, and produce, and non food items things like razors, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, laundry soap, lotions, and toothpaste.
  2. I participate in Bountiful Baskets, which is a produce co op. For a weekly contribution ($16.50) I receive two small laundry baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Because the co op purchases produce in large quantities from local farms and orchards, they get wholesale prices. Bountiful Baskets is a non for profit, so they pass the savings unto the participants. If Bountiful Basket doesn't deliver in your area, check out local co op or farmer's markets in your area.
  3. In the summer I grow a garden, eat out of it, and can or freeze the extra. I also glean the neighbors fruit trees or buy fruit from local orchards to can and make jam and jellies. If space is limited you can still grow a few veggies in five gallon buckets or pots.
  4. Read the grocery sales ads every week. Take advantage of loss leader items by stocking up to get you by until the next sale. 
  5. Read the labels!  I have really started looking at what is added into the food we buy. The less ingredients in the list the better it is going to be for you.
  6. Buy non perishable staples in bulk. My local grocery store has a great bulk foods section. Whole wheat pasta, dried beans, dried peas, dried fruit, oatmeal, rice, nuts, and spices are all available. I store them in recycled plastic containers or glass jars in my pantry.
  7. Stock up on perishable items on sale. Cheese (grated), butter, milk, and meat all freeze beautifully. Sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs (unless you scramble them and use them for cooking) do not freeze well, but will last at least a month if refrigerated properly. I plan my meals around these items.
  8. Make your own convenience items. This way I can control the ingredients, and making them yourself is much, much cheaper. The internet is loaded with sites for making your own mixes. Double a batch of waffles, french toast, or pancakes and freeze them for later. Doubling a batch of soup or casserole and freeze half for later. Pudding, applesauce,or canned fruit placed  into small reusable containers for lunches is far cheaper than their prepackaged counterparts.
  9. Be you own bakery. I try to have a baking day each week, or if  I am uber busy and a baked item is on the menu I double the batch. Home baked products freeze well, because they are not loaded with preservatives. I sometimes individually package muffins, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and quick breads before I freeze them, so they are easy to throw into lunch boxes in the morning. 
  10. If you don't own one, invest in a good basic cookbook (investment purchase) and use it. May I be so bold as to recommend; The Taste Of Home Cook Book or The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Both have step by step instructions for basic cooking skills. Cooking magazines are also a great resource, and many can be checked out of the library, or split the subscription cost with a friend and share (Cook's Illustrated, The Taste of Home, and Taste of Home Healthy Cooking are several favorites). 
  11. Take stock of what's on hand and plan a menu (always include leftover night). I have found that this one little step makes it easier to avoid eating out. I also don't waste nearly as much food, because it has been incorporated into the week's menus.
  12. Use meat as a condiment, and use other sources of cheaper and healthier protein. Cheese, eggs, yogurt, lentils, dried beans and peas, are great sources of protein. 
  13. Increase your fruit and veggie intake. Five a day keeps the doctor away! If you have some non veggie eaters in your house, hide the veggies in the food you cook. Mash cooked cauliflower right along the potatoes for mashed potatoes, Shred carrots and zucchini into muffins and quick bread. I have added cooked leftover carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and celery into spaghetti sauce. I puree the sauce and veggies in the food processor before I heat it up. What they don't know; won't kill them!
Of course, all of these steps won't work for everyone (we all have different lifestyles), but it works for my family.  Since I have really started paying attention, and choosing healthier options, I have noticed that my family has not gotten sick, as often as they use to. We feel better and have more energy!

I would love to hear from you, Dear Bloggy Friends, How do you check your grocery budget in check and  still eat healthy?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This Week's Menu 4/3

 ( I don't have a picture of produce this week, so here's a picture of Child #3 with the "Big One" he caught last year)

Wow! This week flew bye! I am proud to report that Child #3 placed in the top 30 students out of  100 in the State Geography Bee on Friday! We are very proud of him!! Maybe I'll  have a Harvard graduate someday, after all.

Well, last week was a strange sort of week. My Dear Neighbor and I were not able to get our weekly Bountiful Baskets (do to a glitch on the website Monday), I haven't really done any grocery shopping, and then we left town. Basically this week will be a scrape by kind of week; using up odds and ends, and making due till we get our baskets on Saturday (and a trip to the grocery store). This week we will be eating:

Baked Ham (dug out of the freezer)
Apple Crisp


Breakfast Casserole (with ham in it, of course)
Grapefruit Halves (or orange slices for the grapefruit haters)

Navajo Tacos (Chili from the freezer)
Lettuce, Tomato, and Cheese

(crock pot meal for family because I'm teaching a gardening class at my Church tonight)
Ham and Bean soup (using ham bone)

(Child #3's Birthday, so he picked the menu...definitely not  healthy)
French Toast (made with Oatmeal Cinnamon Bread)
Home Canned Pears
Orange Juice
Banana Cream Pie

Grilled Hamburgers
Veggies and Ranch Dip

As you can see from all the links in my menu that I am sticking to tried and true recipes this week! Sometimes old favorites are the best! What's your favorite tried and true recipes, Bloggy Friends (I'm always on the look out for yummy new recipes to try!)?


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