Posts Tagged ‘money saving’

Frugal Crafts: Baby Eye Openers 2

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011


Many people believe that babies are drawn to the circular shape and the symmetry of mandalas.  They say that mandalas capture a baby’s eyes causing them to focus and intently study the patterns within.  Their breathing and heart rates slow down and their bodies begin to relax.  Mandalas have been used for centuries for meditative purposes.  Why not introduce them to your baby?

There are many places to download free mandala images for this project.  I love Coloring Pages For Kids .  Go to their homepage and type in mandala in the search engine.  They have hundreds of free images you can download to your computer.

Break out the markers, crayons, colored pencils or whatever your favorite art medium is.  This is the best part.  Not only do mandalas relax you when you study them, but they relax you when you color them in.  Infants are attracted to black, white, and red.  As their vision matures, they like contrasting bright colors.

Cut out your colored mandalas and glue them onto some heavy construction paper.  Cut out your shapes and they are ready to hang or you can protect them with clear Contact paper.

You can buy clear Contact paper in a big roll at Walmart or Target wherever they sell regular Contact paper to line shelves and drawers.  Use the handle of your scissors to burnish the mandala.  This will smooth down the Contact paper, ensure a good seal, and de-hazes the image.

Here are the remaining mandalas from the set we made for Oliver when he was 2 months old.  We kept them posted on the wall next to his changing table and on the bottom of the shelf overhead.  Every couple weeks we would change them around and he would be entranced all over again.

Evelyn was immediately drawn to these when I put them up.  Oliver even started staring at them again from the floor where he was standing.

I don’t know… do you think she looks more relaxed?  :-)  For another fun eye opener project check out my animal flashcards.

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Search the internet for free mandalas to print.  Do you remember those old spiralgraphs?  I actually have one and can create my own mandalas from scratch!  You can also trace a perfect circle using a cup or small plate and then trace some symmetrical images inside the circle.  For example, trace a square shaped object several times and turn it slightly in between traces to create a star.

Winter Consignment Sales Are Here

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The blogosphere has been buzzing lately with consignment sale news.  Most big children consignment sales have a winter and summer sale.  The winter sales are right around the corner, usually in January and February.  The biggest sale for us, Kids Exchange, is in 7 short days.  I love, love, love consignment sales and list them as the Number 1 money saver for our frugal little family. 

If you have children or know people with children- please, give consignment sales a visit.  You will not only save a pretty penny, but you will be contributing and giving back to the vast network of families that participate.  In fact, participate yourself!  Empty your closets, garages, and attics of outgrown or unused children’s clothes, toys, gear, etc…  You will be recycling your goods and making someone else very happy.

To prepare for the consignment sale season check out my top 10 tips for shopping at a consignment sale .  If you aren’t convinced of the savings, see how we fared at last year’s summer sale .  For specific advice regarding how to sell and price items check out the Consignment Sale Queen.  She has been there and done that!

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Get online and search for a consignment sale near you.  Tis the season for second hand savings!  Most winter sales are gearing up right now.  Take the plunge and become a seller – you might have something that I could use, you never know…

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!

Triple Coupons at Harris Teeter – April 28 through May 4

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Grab your coupons and head down to your nearest Harris Teeter!  If you live in one of the 8 states and 1 District of Columbia that Harris Teeter is located in you are in luck.

From April 28 through May 4 they have triple coupons up to $0.99.  You can use 20 coupons per day, per household.

Check out my earlier post about triple coupon madness.  This time around, I’m going in prepared!

Gardening – Money Saver or Not

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

My husband doesn’t know it yet, but he will be turning over the ground for my garden tomorrow morning.  I haven’t had a garden since 2008 and cannot wait to get the seeds in the ground. 

Here are the crops that we plant regularly:

Cool season:  Sugar snap peas, radishes, lettuce, and arugula.

Hot season:  Tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers, cilantro, Thai eggplant, purple eggplant, spicy basil, lemongrass, Thai basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupe, Thai peppers, okra, and mint.

We save money buy planting items that we consume a lot of, such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini.  We also save money by planting items that cost a pretty penny in the grocery store, such as arugula, bell peppers, Thai eggplant, purple eggplant, lemongrass, Thai peppers, and the fancy leaf lettuces.  Lastly, we save money by growing fresh herbs that we use fresh at our leisure, or dry to fill up our spice rack.  The rest we plant just for fun, such as the watermelons and cantaloupes.

For me, planting the herbs and Thai spices are the most important.  These single things seem to cost the most at the grocery store for a tiny portion.  These items tend to rot in the refrigerator “crisper”, because we don’t use an entire package at one fell swoop.  If you haven’t noticed, cilantro has a shelf life of about 1.5 days!

Have you ever had a garden?  If not, here are some things to think about before you ever pick up a shovel or buy your first seed.

1) Do you have sunshine?

* Fruiting Vegetables need 6 hours – 8 hours of sun.  This includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and vine crops such as cucumbers, melons, and squash.  This also includes many herbs, such as basil.

* Root Vegetables need 4-6 hours of sun.  This includes carrots, beets, etc.

* Leafy Vegetables need 4 hours of sun.  These are your “greens” such as lettuce, spinach and collards.

2) Do you have land?  Or do you have the space for a container garden?

I have had garden plots from small (3’x5′), medium (6’x10′), and large (17’x25′).  I have also had successful container gardens, especially when growing tomatoes, herbs, and peppers.

3) Do you like getting dirty?

Digging around in the dirt and compost isn’t high on some people’s likes list.  Neither is getting sweaty, getting mosquito bites, and dealing with grubs, insects, and other pests.

4) Do you have the time?

Once you put in the initial work, you will need to do maintenance on a weekly basis at the bare minimum.  Ideally, you will be in the garden every few days pulling weeds, inspecting for disease, drought, bug damage, etc…  You will be tending the plants, pinching suckers off, tying up branches on sticks/stakes, mulching, and fertilizing.  Don’t forget the harvesting!  If you are growing herbs, you will need to pinch the plants back frequently so they don’t bolt.  If you have fruits and veggies, you cannot let them rot on the plant or go to “seed”.

5) Do you have easy access to water?

Several years ago we had a severe drought and I used rain barrels to water my garden.  I had to use a sprinkler can and go back and forth from the rain barrel to the garden.  Half of my garden died.  I’ve also used sprinklers where the spigot was on the opposite side of the house from where the garden was.  Half of that garden died too due to not remembering on a regular basis to turn on the water (out of sight, out of mind) and too many issues working out the kinks in a 150ft hose.

I see articles all over the web that say: Money saving tip – Plant your own garden!  Gardening tools, supplies, compost, fertilizers, mulch, seeds, plants, water, etc…  all generally cost money.  Your time is also money.  The time spent gardening is time you could be doing something else that you will have to give up to garden.

If you can say yes to these 5 questions, then jump in and have fun!  If you say no to these questions then you may want to second think your garden idea.  I’m not saying that it couldn’t or wouldn’t work, but you might not get a good return on your investment of time, energy, and money.  At that point, gardening is no longer frugal.  It is more cost effective to buy your veggies at the farmer’s market or grocery store.

Frugal tip of the day:  If you are overwhelmed by the idea of gardening, start small and plant high dollar items, such as herbs and unique veggies.  An herb garden can be as small as a 2’x3′ plot or a few nicely sized containers.  You’ll make your initial investment back quickly by never having to pay $2.25 for 3 sprigs of basil again!

Tutorial: Making Foaming Hand Soap

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I always thought foaming hand soap was too fru-fru for me.  I had tried a few of my friends nice smelling foaming hand soap and thought I would give it a try.  Well, I didn’t like my hands smelling like flowery cucumbers, so it sat in my bathroom forever.

Having a baby changed my mind real quick on foaming soap.  It is a million times easier to use to wash his hands than bar soap or plain old liquid soap with a pump.  When my fru-fru foaming soap ran out this week I was dreading paying another $3.50 for SOAP.  I researched online and came up with a foaming hand soap recipe!


1 Empty foaming handsoap dispenser
Clear liquid handsoap

For this experiment I cleaned out the foaming dispenser until clear water ran through the pump.

I used a ratio of 1/5 liquid soap to 4/5 water.  This dispenser was 8.5 oz.  I guessed that the pump took up an 1/2 an ounce of space.  I divided 8 by 5 to get 1.6 ounces of soap.  Subtracting 1.6 from 8 I needed roughly 6.4 ounces of water.

Remove the pump and add the water to the empty bottle first.  Next pour in the liquid soap.  By adding the water first bubbles will be minimized.  Twist on the pump and shake gently to mix the soap into the water.  (NOTE: The pump was about 1/2 an ounce larger than I expected, ergo the excess spilled all over the counter.)

I used the same method to fill an ordinary liquid soap dispenser as a control.

The ordinary pump produced no foam, just watered down soap.

The foaming pump actually produced soapy foam!

The results side by side.

I washed my hands with the foaming soap and it worked like a charm.

Provided that you have an empty foaming soap dispenser, the cost of this recipe was rougly $0.30.  That’s a steal!

Things to remember:

1) Do not use moisturizing liquid soap.  It can clog up the pump.
2) The ratio of water and soap may vary depending on the pump style.  Use more or less until you find something that works.
3) If the pump gets clogged after a bit, pumping vinegar through the dispenser should clear it up.

I will report back in a month to see how the soap and dispenser held up.

Frugal tip of the day: Need I say it?  Make your own refills for pennies instead of buying a new bottle.

UPDATE:  I emptied out a little of the soap mix and added more liquid soap to the bottle.  The ratio is now probably 2/5 liquid soap and 3/5 water.  Upping the soap made a thicker foam and has not clogged up the pump yet.  I’ll report back in a while to see if this penny pinching idea is worth it!

Triple Coupon Alert!

Monday, March 29th, 2010

This just in!  A friend has emailed me and told me that a local Harris Teeter has triple coupons through tomorrow!

Oh be still my beating heart.  I think I’m going to pass out from the excitement.  I am finally going to put my coupons to good use.  Nickel yogurt here I come…

I almost want to wake the baby up and go now, now, NOW!

CVS – A Penny Pinchers Paradise

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

While searching online for frugal shopping tips, I kept coming across CVS.  I always thought drugstores jacked up their prices and never considered shopping there as a regular customer.  I was intrigued.

Here are the very basics from what I found:

1)  Extra Care Card  – Get one!  You will need the Extra Care Card to take advantage of the discounts and to earn Extra Bucks.  You can sign up for one online at or better yet, go into a CVS and get your card instantly at the store.  Just tell the person at the register that you want to sign up for a card.

2)  Extra Bucks – This is like CVS monopoly money.  When you use your Extra Care Card your purchases are tracked and you earn Extra Bucks (dollars) that you can use towards your next purchase.  You can earn EBs several ways. 

            * Earn 2% back with every in-store and online purchase.

            * Earn 1 EB for every 2 prescriptions purchased.

            * Earn EBs on select brands as advertised in the weekly circular.

            * Earn 1 EB on every 4th visit using the green bag tag. (more info below)

The Extra Bucks are printed at the end of your store receipt and can be printed from your online account.  All Extra Bucks have an expiration date.  They also cannot be traded in for cash and you must use the entire buck – they will not give you change.

3)  $X off $XX coupons – Periodically, you will find an $X of $XX coupon printed at the end of your receipt.  This means X dollar amount will be taken off of XX dollar amount subtotal.  For example, $4 off of $20.  The coupon is only good if the subtotal, pre-tax is equal to or more than $20.  These have an expiration date.

3)  Online coupons – In addition to using manufacturer’s coupons, you can go online and print coupons from CVS for featured items.  You can also print CVS coupons for their product line.  These have an expiration date.

4)  Green bag tag – If you use your own reusable shopping bag/tote, you can purchase a Green Bag Tag at the register for 99cents.  Clip the tag to your bag and every visit have the green bag tag scanned.  On the 4th visit with the green bag tag, you will earn 1 EB and it will be printed on your receipt.

5)  Extra Care Account Online – If you haven’t figured it out yet, the CVS receipt is golden and must be tracked with the utmost care.  This is directed at those people who throw out their receipts and lose those precious Extra Bucks in the process. 

To assist with tracking all your mad money, you can create an account online and link your Extra Care card to the account.  Voila! All your coupons and Extra Bucks will be listed and can be printed before you go into the store.

Does all this sound complicated?  The only thing to do now is actually try it out tomorrow and report back how it went.

Frugal tip of the day:  Google money saving tips online and find scads of ideas to try.  I picked some of the most common ones hoping that they tried and true.

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