Archive for the ‘Frugal’ Category

Frugal Easter Baskets

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

I made my kids Easter baskets for the first time ever!  I used little buckets and pails that I had bought on sale for less than a dollar each.  I figured that these would be more useful than baskets in the long run.  I then waited until the week before Easter to buy the little plastic eggs.  I ended up getting 12 for a dollar on sale.  The obligatory Peeps were 50 cents for 3 boxes.  I bought Oliver a book and Evelyn some bunny ears for one dollar each in Target’s $1 bins.

Instead of buying that fake plastic grass, I made my own for pennies.  I folded up 2 sheets of construction paper accordian style.  With the paper folded up like a closed fan, I cut off 1/4 inch strips.  I fluffed the pile, and voila!  – instant filler for my buckets.

Oliver liked his bucket.  I filled the eggs with strawberries and blackberries.  He was hooked!  He also got to eat one peep all by himself (the other ones vanished in thin air!).  He stuffed the entire thing in his mouth and after giving it a few chews he spit it out.  Smart kid…

Evelyn liked her little bucket too.  The Easter bunny brought her a spring outfit to wear, a teething ring, and some cool rabbit ears.

After chowing down on peeps, we tromped outside to hunt for eggs.  That wascally wabbit couldn’t pull the wool over Oliver’s eyes!

He very efficiently found every single egg and then dropped the bucket to go play on his slide!

The shirt says it all!

Their Easter baskets cost $7.50 to make, including $2.50 in fruit.  Evelyn’s outfit is a hand me down from a friend that she is now able to wear and her teething ring was a gift at Christmas that we had put away.  Everything else was on sale.  The best part is that Oliver can use his pail (and shovel) outside for play and Evelyn’s bucket is going in her room to hold tubes of butt-cream and nose spray.  The eggs and bunny ears will be stored until next year and the “grass” will be composted.

We hope you had a happy Easter too!

Saving money by reusing, recycling, buying used baby gear.

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Believe it or not, one of the many deciding factors for having a second baby so soon after the first was that we still had all the baby gear.  Veteran parents can sympathize with how much “stuff” costs.  Other than diapers and wipes, we have spent very little extra with our second baby.

Oliver still remembers his play gym, but is graciously sharing with his sister.  Since the kids grow out of their toys so fast, most all of his stuff is in excellent condition.  Another way we were able to save money was from the help of very generous friends and family members who have donated baby clothes for Evelyn.  Again, newborn and infant items are usually in mint condition and can be passed from family to family for several babies’ benefit.  Our daughter thanks her fairy godmothers for the cute outfits or she would have been in all of Oliver’s blues and browns if her parents had their way.

If you truly need something that you don’t have, buying used is a great way to save money.  Yard sales, Sunday ads, consignment sales, and Craigslist.org are all great ways to find good condition baby items.  We bought this swing for a third of its retail value from Craigslist and it works great.

I know quite a few people who would never buy used baby items.  They’re worried about hygiene, safety issues, quality, whether or not it matches what they already have, etc… Some are also worried about some sort of stigma that they perceive with second hand things.  Well, I’m here to tell you that there are some great, high quality, fashionable, and safe things out there.  Babies phase through their first year’s equipment so quickly that most items look brand new. 

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Don’t be afraid to give second hand a shot.  Reuse, recycle, and save a pretty penny.  Also, don’t be afraid to let people know that you are looking for things.  You will be amazed how mothers pull together for each other.  Someday you will have the chance to do the same.

Frugal Food: TVP – zero fat “beef”

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Where’s the beef?  Many years ago, my favorite hairdresser turned me on to Texured Vegetable Protein (TVP).  She was a strict vegetarian who gave me a great recipe for meatless tacos.  She used TVP – a dehydrated product made from defatted soy flour – to replace the ground beef.

When I tried it, I actually added the TVP to my ground beef mixture nearly doubling the recipe and LOVED it.  Here’s why I’m so passionate about TVP:

1 ) It’s healthy.  TVP has 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 2 mg sodium, 4g fiber, 3g sugar, and 12g or protein per 1/4 Cup dry serving.  It also contains 15% of your daily iron and 8% of your daily calcium.  When using it as a ground beef extender we always add 1 Cup dry TVP to 1 lb of ground beef.

2 ) It’s cost effective.  TVP can be bought in bulk from a store like Whole Foods for $1.99/lb.   In comparison, 1 lb of 93% lean ground beef sells for $3.49/lb at our local Food Lion – and that’s on sale.  Per ounce, TVP costs approx. 13 cents and the aforementioned ground beef costs 22 cents per ounce.

But how does that savings work out for cooking?  Well, 1 Cup of dry TVP weighs approx. 2.75 ounces.  At  13 cents an ounce, 1 Cup of TVP costs about 36 cents.  To equal the volume of 1 lb of cooked ground beef, which is approx. 3 Cups, you need 1 and 1/2 Cups of dry TVP.  That comes out to a grand total of 54 cents.  Meanwhile, the 3 Cups of cooked ground beef still cost you $3.49.  That’s a $2.95 savings.

3 ) It’s convenient.  TVP is a dehydrated soy product and can be stored on your shelf.  It takes a few minutes to rehydrate after boiling liquid is added and you are ready to use it.  There is no freezer storage and thawing, no bloody mess, and no greasy cooking.  We actually cook up large batches of a ground beef/TVP blend, portion it out into freezer bags, and freeze for future meals.  It’s easy to thaw and add to recipes (like tacos) on a busy night.

4 ) It doesn’t taste too bad either.  The plain TVP has what I would call a slight soy flavor, but I think I’ve been biased since I know it is a soy product.  In either case, it has a mild flavor.  I actually munch on it dry or rehydrated sometimes.  The beauty of the product is that it absorbs the flavor of whatever food it is mixed with similar to tofu.  I recently started dissolving beef bouillon cubes in the water used to rehydrate the TVP and WOW!!!  It tastes great!  My son actually prefers the bouilloned TVP over real ground beef.

This  is the dry TVP with a regular ibuprofen tablet for size comparison.

We use TVP primarily as a ground beef extender for tacos, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, hamburger helper, casseroles, chili, etc… We also use it to add protein and texture to soups and stews.  Why haven’t we swapped out the beef completely?  Well, to put it plainly, my husband is a carnivore of the beefiest kind.  He would literally yell, “Where’s the beef?” and leave the table.  Currently, I add 1 Cup of dry TVP to 1 lb of ground beef.  That is the cooked equivalent of 2 Cups of TVP to 3 Cups of ground beef.  Since I’ve been using beef bouillon to rehydrate the TVP, I’ve been increasing the TVP portions so now we are 3 Cups of TVP to 3 Cups of ground beef.  For us, it’s a good balance between cost-savings, health benefits, and flavor. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how we use TVP to extend our ground beef.

1) Measure out 1 Cup of dry TVP into a bowl.  Add 7/8 Cup of boiling liquid (water, broth, bouillon, etc…) to the bowl.

2 ) Stir well with a fork and let set for 3 – 5 minutes to rehydrate.

1 Cup of dry TVP yields approx. 2 Cups of rehydrated TVP.

3 ) Brown 1 lb of ground beef.  1 lb of ground beef yields approx. 3 Cups of cooked beef.

4 ) Mix the two together.

Either use the mixture in current recipe or freeze for future use.  We normally cook up 3 – 5 lbs of ground beef when it goes on sale.  We rehydrate 1 Cup of TVP per 1 lb of beef, mix it all up and then portion it out in freezer bags.

When I want to use it, I either pop a bag in the fridge overnight, pop a bag in warm water for an hour, or nuke it in the microwave for 4 minutes at 50% to thaw.  Either way, making spaghetti sauce, tacos, etc… during the week has never been easier.

If you would like to try TVP you can probably find it at your grocery store.  Ask the people for help as it can be stored anywhere they decide to shelve healthy/vegetarian foods.  The most popular brand by the bag is Bob’s Red Mill TVP.  It comes in a 3 lb bag and costs more per pound than buying in bulk, but is a good trial size.  I cut out the back of my first package and affixed it to my bulk container so I would have the directions and nutritional info handy.  For buying in bulk, I go to Whole Foods.  They have it in the aisle with all the bins of loose grains, beans, granola, etc… I scoop out a huge bagful and it will last us months.

If you give it a try, leave a comment and let me know how you like it!

Family Fun: Outing to the Park

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Now that we have a child, we are constantly searching for things to do that are inexpensive, fun, and will provide new experiences for Oliver.  On this particularly nice day, we went to a park for an afternoon of exploration.  “A park? Well, duh,” you say.  But seriously, when was the last time you went to a local park in your area? 

I was very surprised at the diversity our public park system offered.  There are dozens of parks, with dozens of different features.  Some parks have playgrounds specifically designed for toddlers or for older children.  Many parks even post the suitable age ranges for their playground equipment.  Amenities, such as bathrooms, water fountains, and park benches, also vary from park to park.  Accessibility can also be an issue when you are dealing with strollers or wobbly toddlers and whether or not there are paved paths, dirt/gravel paths, or no paths at all. 

To sum it up, I never knew something so simple as going to the park with a toddler could be so complicated at times!    Now I finally understand what all my other “stay at home mother” friends were talking about when they would go on and on over this park or that and wax poetic about their favorites.  :-)

I packed water, some snacks, and a few kitchen utensils for Oliver to play with. 

Taking a break from his digging, he had a blast on the swings.

After a bit, he wanted to go exploring.  He pretty much had the entire park to himself and he burned off a ton of energy running around.

I showed him how to pick up leaves and float them down a little stream by tossing them through the bridge railing.  He thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread and proceeded to pick up every leaf in a 5 foot radius and watch them float away. 

After an hour or so, we went home and he took a nice long nap.  We all got some fresh air, he got some great exercise, and best of all – it was free!

Kids Winter Clothes for Pennies

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

At the latest large consignment sale I was able to score some winter clothes for the kiddos at rock bottom prices.  As with most of the large sales, the clothes racks are stuffed to the gills with mostly gently used items.  I always wait until the very last day of the sale when the majority of the remaining goods are marked down.  At the most recent sale, the last day was 50% and 75% off day. 

Oliver is now wearing 18 months and will probably grow into 2T during the winter.  We have a few pairs of pants, a couple of long sleeve shirts and a handful of short sleeve shirts already.  Our baby girl will be born at the end of November.  We plan to reuse much of Oliver’s baby clothes and jammies, but Oliver was born during the summer.  The seasons are all opposite and he doesn’t have any winter 0-6 month clothes.  At the consignment sale in July, I picked up 3-4 little sweaters to layer over his summer clothes.  At this sale, I wanted to get some pants for her to wear over his onesies.

Here’s what we ended up with:  18 pieces of clothes (6 infant pants, 4 toddler fleece pants, 1 jumpsuit, and 7 long sleeves shirts)

Here’s what I paid: $11.43 (including tax)

What a bargain!

Frugal Tip of the Day:  I will say it again and again.  If you have children, check out your local consignment sales.  While they are young and not picky about their outfits, wait until the last day to shop for the deep discounts.

Find a Coupon or Discount Before You Buy One More Thing

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

A penny saved is a penny earned.  I once told a friend that with access to the internet one can find a coupon, discount, or sale for pretty much anything.  At the time I had found her a BOGO (Buy One Get One) for Amtrak train tickets so she could come visit me from DC.

Today, another friend sent me a link to a website that pretty much consolidates thousands of sales out there.  The site lists weekly ads for retail and grocery stores.  It posts online and printable coupons for retail stores, restaurants, and grocery items.  There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of stores, retailers, and products listed.

I am going to love comparison shopping between my local grocery and drug-stores.  Usually, I wait until Wednesday and then go to each of the stores’ websites and run through a rigamaroll to get their weekly ads to pop up.  Now I can go to this website and just click on the store I want to see.  $1.99/lb roasts and $.99 cantaloupes be wary… I am coming for you!  This will also be helpful with my occasional soujourns to AC Moore, Michaels, JoAnns Fabrics, BabiesRUs, etc…  These stores typically always have some sort of coupon (20% – 40% off) in their weekly circulars, but since I don’t shop there regularly I tend not to keep the flyers on hand.  Now when I need to run out and get something, I’ll just print the coupon from the store I want and head out the door. 

FYI – if you think that I am getting anal about finding discounts and don’t think they save you all that much here are some true stories.  I recently spent $22.41 on 10 sewing patterns with a savings of $146 from the original price.  That’s a huge difference and not one to sneeze at.  In the case of my Amtrak friend, we were able to get 2 round trip tickets for her and a friend for a total cost of $86, down from $172.  For an intern, that was a huge savings for her. 

The site also posts money-saving articles, in addition to a blog which features the latest great deal out there.  I’ve only listed a few things that you can see on the site.  Go check it out for yourself and start saving some big bucks.

Be Frugal: Every Dollar Matters  – http://www.befrugal.com/

Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Today we celebrated our wedding anniversary and couldn’t believe how fast the time has flown by.  We’ve been married for 3 years now (seems like forever!).  I slaved over a hot stove all day cooking up a fantastic dinner, set the table with candles, and then we ended up eating in our pajamas and going to bed early exhausted from work and toddler chasing. 

It was the best anniversary I have ever had.

On each of our dinner plates were white envelopes and small brightly colored wrapped boxes.  We had each picked out “genuine leather” wallets for each other to celebrate our third anniversary.  As if that weren’t enough of a coincidence, we picked out the same EXACT card for each other too!  We were meant to be…

We both feel like we’ve finally found the other person that “gets” us and it is a good feeling.

Here’s a picture of us when we first started dating four years ago.  We were so young! :-)

The first year was paper and the second was cotton.  This year it was leather and next year is linen/silk.  We like following the traditional gift giving themes as it helps to keep our spending in check by giving us a category to choose from.  We also set a max of $50 each.  I told him that the max goes out the window when diamonds come around for the 65th, but he said that if I stayed with him that long then I have earned them! :-)

Frugal tip of the day:  When buying gifts for each other, set some guidelines, such as spending limits, that will allow you to have realistic expectations.  We had no pressure operating within the “rules” and there were no let-downs or disappointments in the end.  Some people have argued that it takes the fun out of gift giving.  I say that it is more liberating.  It lets us focus on the little things that make events special, such as cooking a favorite meal or giving a nice foot rub.

Finger Painting Fun

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I broke out the art supplies today so my little boy could make a birthday card for his daddy.  We had new fingerpaints and brush paints that we bought for 50% off at a back to school sale.  It was worth spending the money rather than use my personal art supplies due to the non-toxicity of the Crayola formulas.  I think he ate more than he got on the paper! 

He had a blast and was thrilled that he got to jump into the tub afterwards to play in the water.  Double score for him!

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Shop for your toddlers stuff when the big kids stuff goes on sale.  I couldn’t believe the bargains they had!  If you don’t wait for the sales at least use a 40% off coupon from Michaels or AC Moore.  You can usually find them online and can print them at home.  I hate to buy things brand new, but the Crayola products are worth it for the ease with which they clean up and also so I don’t have to worry when he inevitably puts everything in his mouth.

Dry Clothes Outside.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

We did tons of laundry today.  At least 6 or 7 loads.  Our poor air conditioner has been struggling to keep the house cool from the 90+ degree temps outside and here we were adding to the heat indoors by running the dryer all day and night.

I finally ran out to Wal Mart and bought clothespins for the clothesline that we haven’t been using all year.  We found we can fit about 2 loads of laundry at a time in the line and that it takes about 2 hours to dry in this heat. 

Save Money by Air Drying Clothes

So why haven’t we been doing this all along to save some dough?  Two reasons: pollen and mosquitos. 

I have very sensitive allergies and hanging out clothes in the spring and fall is out.  If you can’t tell by the picture, our little 1/3 of an acre lot has about 40 trees on it.  This isn’t counting the other 40 trees in all our neighbors yards as well.  That’s alot of pollen in the spring! 

The other problem we have is with mosquitos.  They literally hover outside our glass door waiting in line to suck our blood when we come out.  I think I saw one wearing a little bib once.  The solution? Those clip Off mosquito repellants.  Wow! Those things work like a charm.  They have a little fan that disburses some sort of repellant and instantaneously – NO mosquitos.  Of course, we are careful to keep that stuff away from me and the growing baby.  We don’t want 2 headed children or anything.  That leaves the clothes hanging to the hubby, which is perfectly fine with me! :-)

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Save money by drying your clothes outside!  They will smell unbelievably fresh.  To avoid having them dry hard and crinkly, use liquid fabric softener in the wash.  If you don’t have a dispenser, buy the Downy ball.  You fill it with softener and throw it in the wash.

Where do you play during a heat wave?

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Wow! It is hot around here.  We reached 100 degrees this past week.  100!  That was a record breaker.  Average temps are supposed to be 86 degrees. 

After a week of being stuck indoors trying to stay cool, we all had cabin fever.  I had the bright idea of going to the park, right after breakfast, before it got too hot today.  After one gratuitous swinging shot, we left with our tails tucked between our legs as it was already in the low 90s.  ick…

We had a quick swing before he melted in the heat.

Oliver was plenty mad to be back in the house again.  We decided to make a family trip to the kids museum downtown so he could blow off some steam. 

The frugal in me balked at paying $100 for a family membership to this museum last month.  However, at $5 per person per visit, we have nearly made up the cost of the membership in less than a month.  Was the $100 worth it?  Heck yes!  This museum is 2 floors of fun, adventure, exploring, and make believe for kids of all ages.  They have a small “crawl corner” where Oliver and I rest with the wee ones and a larger enclosed play area full of make-believe stations (a grocery store, a fire truck, a hospital, a post-office, etc…).  They also have water discovery play stations an outdoor garden, a large arts and crafts area, and a child-size sports area.  I haven’t even touched on the other 50% of the place.  Long story short, it is nice to have a place to go a couple times a week where Oliver can play and be around other kids. 

Our son is too darn cute sometimes!  When he is in the baby area he is usually the largest child there, but when he is anywhere else he is a small fry.  Ignoring his size difference, he loves to be around the “big kids” and will actually follow them around the play spaces.

Relief from the heat

Finally, some relief from the heat!  He loves, loves, loves to play in water.  He could stand there splashing for hours if we let him.

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