Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Cranberry Pork Roast

I got a new crock pot cookbook for Christmas and this is the first recipe I tried. It was awesome. I served it with baked potato and some peas. However, there is so much great sauce next time I'd serve it over rice. The cookbook is by a woman who used her crock pot every day for a year and blogged about it. An interesting concept. I love my crockpot but not enough to use it every single day!

Cranberry Pork Roast
From Make it Fast, Cook it Slow and Crockpot365

2.5 to 3 pound pork loin roast or rib roast
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup raisins
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup cranberry juice
1/2 of a small lemon, thinly sliced

1. Put the meat in a plastic ziplock bag with the ginger, mustard, salt, pepper, and cornstarch. Shake to coat. Pour the contents into your crockpot.
2. Add the cranberries, sugars, raisins, and garlic. Pour in cranberry juice and top pork with the lemon slices.
3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for about 4 hours. (I did low for 6 hours then high for one hour and it turned out well)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Just three days left in 2010

There are only a few days left in 2010. Is there anything you need to take care of before we get to 2011?
  • Do you need to deposit any gifts of cash or checks you might have gotten during the holidays? (remember ATM deposits often take a couple days to be processed, teller transactions are processed more quickly)
  • Any bags or piles of change sitting around the house? If you take it to the bank to be counted there might be enough for a couple New Year's drinks!
  • Take a look at any spending accounts (healthcare, daycare, eldercare, etc)- do you need to buy a few more health items or turn in some receipts you've been saving? Each account might have different rules, grace periods, and deadlines, make sure not to miss them!
  • Did you want to cash out of any stocks or other investments during 2010 to count the gains or losses in this year's taxes?
  • Any deadlines at work for requesting reimbursement for expenses or miles?
  • Do you need to max out your 401k, IRA, or a 529 account deposits? Again, there are often grace periods, but it's still worth checking.
You get the picture. Take care of these things now so you can relax and enjoy New Year's!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas readers! Have a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Potpurri

This past week we have been doing a lot of entertaining and celebrating the Christmas season. A few thrifty strategies and tips have come to mind:

Christmas Tree: We get a real tree every year, I just have to have the lovely smell of pine in the house. The past few years we have gotten our tree at Home Depot or Menard's. They have a large selection and reasonable prices. We have also tended to get a rather small tree. This saves some money, takes up less space, and we are also able to fill it up nicely with all of our ornaments.

Festive Food: My parents came to celebrate with us this week and my mom brought some amazing food. Lobster tails and a Frenched lamb rack. Yum! The lobster tails were from Aldi and the lamb was from Sam's Club. Places like this often have amazing deals on festive "foods of the season." I have heard that Aldi brings in lobster tails again around New Year's and Valentine's Day.

Another fun food tradition is to have fondue during the holiday season. Mushrooms, chicken, steak, and shrimp are tasty cooked in hot oil. You don't have to buy a lot of each thing since everyone eats a little of everything. Have fondue with several dipping sauces, a salad and baked potato and you will end the meal stuffed and have some great memories of that lone shrimp that someone lost in the fondue pot and tried to fish out! Or start with a basic cheese fondue (We love this one from Real Simple) and dip pre-boiled red potatoes, bread, and apple chunks.

Gifts: Gifts are usually a part of the holiday season and a part that can really set your budget back. One meaningful way to share with others is to forgo buying so many gifts and donating the money to a favorite charity. On year, we donated to a different charity in honor of each family member. We asked each person what kind of charity they would like us to give to, so they were able to be involved in the gift as well. Or a group can all chip in for one larger charitable donation in honor of one person or the whole family. Discussing spending limits with family and friends and drawing names for a gift exchange are other ways to keep the gift-giving thrifty while still meaningful.

Decorations: And as I mentioned here, remember to shop the after-Christmas sales on decorations and wrapping paper. Then remember what you bought and where you put it. I had a great surprise when I got out my tablecloths this year and found eight red cloth napkins I had gotten for 75% off at Target last year. Another way to save on decorations and paper products is to buy solid red, green, and silver paper plates and napkins throughout the year. They can be used during the holidays or on their own for other events too.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A bad online purchase experience turned OK

Last week, I found the perfect sweatshirt on for a Christmas gift (the recipient will remain anonymous). The price seemed kind of high for a screenprint sweatshirt at $33 plus shipping, but I figured it was worth it.

Then the shirt arrived.

It was the flimsiest "sweatshirt" ever! And the design on the front was at least an inch or two off-center. I thought maybe I was being over-critical, but my husband agreed with me on both counts. I went to the Cafepress website and filled out a webform requesting a return and refund.

Imagine my surprise when about 12 hours later I received this email:

Thank you for contacting!
We want you to be 100% satisfied with your experience.

I have processed a refund for you in the amount of $33.00. Please allow 3 - 5 business days for the refund to be reflected on your credit card statement. I know the item received is not up to your complete satisfaction but as our way of an apology please go ahead and keep it. There is no need for a return!

If there is anything else I can do for you please let me know. Your ticket code is 00000000. Please use this code in any further communication.

Best Regards, Support Representative

Wow! I get to keep the sweatshirt and am only out the $5 or $6 I paid for shipping. Not so shabby. I can still give the person the sweatshirt and will explain the story, it's the thought that counts, right?

Lessons Learned:
1. Cafepress products are of questionable quality
2. Their return/refund policy is good
3. In the future, don't just grin and bear it when I am not satisfied with a product, I might again be pleasantly surprised

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to avoid "bandit tows"

With the recent mega snowstorm and record cold temperatures, I'm sure many people have had to have their car towed in the past week. The New York Times recently published an article about how to avoid tow truck scams, otherwise known as "bandit tows." Some valuable information:

How to Avoid Tow Truck Scams-

Monday, December 13, 2010

2004 Diapers- Another Milestone

Chilling on the dock this summer
Well, we have made it to another milestone. Our 10-month old daughter started climbing stairs recently, but I am talking about a cloth diaper milestone. Yesterday we reached 2,004 disposable diapers avoided! As I wrote about here, every time I wash a load of cloth diapers I count them and make hash marks on a piece of paper posted on the wall in my laundry room. Here's what it looks like now:

My cloth diaper tally sheet

By my count we've saved about $250 if we had bought Target Up and Up diapers and about $450 if I had bought Pampers. We own 32 diapers, mostly BumGenius 3.0's, and received most of them as gifts, registering for them at Target and at Cottonbabies. We've also saved on buying disposable swim diapers, as my mom found an awesome cloth swim diaper at a garage sale that we used for all of her swimming lessons and at least once a day for swimming while on a recent vacation.

I haven't been on my cloth diaper soapbox for awhile, but I am still convinced that they are the thrifty, easy, environmentally responsible way to go. We were recently on a two-week vacation and brought 14 or so diapers along. We did a load of laundry every two days or so. We even used the cloth diapers while on the plane. They worked great as usual, no leaks or issues.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Slow Cooker Pot Roast

It's seven degrees outside as I write this. The perfect day for a nice hearty crock pot meal. This pot roast recipe was easy and turned out great! It also creates a lot of leftover meat that could be used for fajitas or sliced on sandwiches. The recipe is from the November 2010 issue of Women's Day Magazine.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Serves 8

1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed golden mushroom soup
1/3 cup dry red wine or cooking wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 1/2 to 4 pound boneless bottom round roast or chuck roast or similar
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces, thick pieces halved lengthwise

1. In a 5 quart or larger slow cooker, whisk together soup, wine, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Add beef, turning to coat. Arrange carrots around meat.
2. Cover and cook until meat and carrots are tender. On low 8 to 10 hours or on high 5 to 6 hours (I used a smaller piece of meat and ended up doing 4 hours on high and then one hour on low)
3. The recipe says to pull out the meat and slice, but I was able to break it into pieces with a fork and serve that way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thrifty Travel Tip: Libraries

On a recent trip, we didn't have room in our suitcases to pack many books for ourselves or our daughter. (please don't tell me I should get an e-book reader, already wrote about that) In researching our Caribbean island destination, we found out that there was a robust library system. When we got there, we went to the library and for about $2 were able to get a temporary library card and check out whatever we wanted. The library even had free wifi. We got some great board books for our daughter and novels for us.

So, next time you're heading out on vacation, in the US or outside, see how their library system is before you go. It might help save some pounds in your suitcase.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some thrifty Christmas shopping tips

Well, the official holiday shopping season is upon us. Black Friday is long gone and Cyber Monday is almost over. How are you doing on your holiday shopping? Have you made a budget and are you sticking to it? Here's an article from this month's Good Housekeeping magazine that gives some thrifty tips to save money this holiday shopping season.

Save Money on Christmas Shopping- Good Housekeeping Magazine

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Thankful and Thrifty Break

In honor of Thanksgiving week, I will be taking a break from writing for a bit. I'll be taking the time to think about all of the things I'm thankful for. I urge you to take some time this week to do the same. Back in college, I kept a gratitude journal for a year and really got a lot out of doing so. Maybe something to start again in 2011?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Apricot-Sauced Chicken

Another favorite from the Five in Ten Cookbook. It's great over white or brown rice and with broccoli or another green veggie. When you plan your meals for the week, try to include another one that uses heavy cream so the rest of the container doesn't go to waste.

Apricot-Sauced Chicken
From The 5 in 10 Cookbook

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to uniform thickness
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
One 8.5 ounce can apricot halves (around 12 halves)

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in frying pan, add chicken breasts and cook until white throughout but still moist, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan.
2. Add the wine to the pan, scrape any drippings off bottom of pan, and boil over high heat until reduced by half, about one minute. Pour in the cream and boil until slightly reduced and thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to tasts. Add apricots (drained) and warm through. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thrifty Travel Strategy- Airport Parking

From Kare11
Every time we have to fly, the question comes up: How will we get to the airport? If we have to drive the next question is: Where do we park? Of course the simple answer is to just park at the airport, a short walk away from the security gate. However, that is the far from thrifty answer. There are also offsite parking lots such as Park N Fly, but those aren't that much less. Minneapolis has a light rail line that serves the airport, but the problem is that most light rail parking lots don't allow overnight parking.

The article I linked to below caught my eye this week. There is a little-used program offered by a parking ramp in downtown Minneapolis. They let you park in their ramp (Ramp C for those of you familiar with Minneapolis), and from there you can take the light rail to the airport. Sounds like a great choice for those times we have little luggage and also have a little extra time to get to the airport.

Cheapest MSP Airport Parking- Kare11

For those of you who don't fly out of MSP, I encourage you to take a look at options in your city. Maybe there's an offsite parking lot that has specials or coupons, or a mass transit option that someone could drop you off at. In any case, it pays to plan ahead for a thrifty parking spot!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shutterfly- a thrifty lifesaver!

Go to the Shutterfly home page.

Have I told you of my love affair with Shutterfly? It's such a fun, useful site and can be thrifty. Let me count the ways:
  • Beautiful, creative photo cards for the holidays and any other occasion. I've used them for Christmas for seven years now and for our daughter's birth announcements. You can have them printed at your local Target instead of paying for shipping too. Even better, the cards come with envelopes, one less thing you need to buy.
  • There always seem to be deals going on, with codes you enter at checkout to get free shipping or a percentage off of your order. (Never order a photo book or larger order without a discount, if one isn't offered, just wait a few days and one usually comes up on their site)
  • Their photobook making tools are very robust and easy to use. There are tons of backgrounds, layouts, and book types. They make great gifts, too. You can design a book once and then have copies shipped to everyone on your list.
  • Again, you can order and have photos printed at Target in an hour, including larger prints like 5 x 7's. Couple that with a nice picture frame and you can give a gift of a photo the same day that the picture was taken! This works well for weddings and family events. Also great for loved ones who live far away, you can send photos to their local store to pick up.
Do you use a digital photo website other than Shutterfly? Which one and why do you love it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Baby Food Stories

Still making all of our daughter's baby food. Some recent purees include carrots, yams, and a mix of peas/carrots/corn. However, since she's nine months now she is eating more and more "real food." Some interesting things she's eaten lately:

- Vegetable curry from an Indian restaurant. I ordered it mild and mashed the peas, carrots, and chickpeas with my fork, then mixed with some rice and some yogurt. She loves it!
- Meatloaf. I made it from scratch and again, mushed some up with my fork and she ate it right up.
- Pulled pork. We were staying with friends who made an amazing pulled pork shoulder in the crock pot. I gave her some small pieces. The meat was so tender she was able to eat it with no problems.
- Pumpkin pancakes. We were out to breakfast and had to try this seasonal special. They were very tasty and our daughter agreed.

Have you fed your baby anything interesting lately? Experts say it's important to have them try many different flavors. Of course I still try to abide by the rule of not introducing more than one new ingredient at at time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Hawaiian Chicken Drumsticks

Made this earlier this week and it turned out really well. I had bought a huge family pack of drumsticks a couple weeks ago and froze them small zip-top bags in groups of four. To make this recipe, I thawed two bags-worth overnight before putting them in the crock pot in the morning.

Hawaiian Chicken Drumsticks

12 chicken drumsticks (I used 8 and it turned out fine)
1 cup ketchup
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Splash sesame seed oil

1. Place chicken in the crockpot (I left skin on but could also be done skinless)
2. Combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over the chicken
3. Cook on low for about eight hours, moving chicken around every few hours if some aren't covered by the liquid.

I served this with white rice and also made up a quick stir-fry to go with it.

Veggie stir-fry

1 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/3 of an onion, cut into strips
1 small can chunk pineapple (undrained)

1. Cook bell pepper and onion in olive oil until just tender
2. Add pineapple and juice and cook until pineapple is warm
3. Serve with rice

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Three Financial Terms Kids Need to Know


Now that we have a baby, my husband and I talk about what we want to teach her about money. Some of the important lessons, in our eyes, include being a "saver" rather than a "spender" and starting to save early in life, not trading individual stocks (using index funds instead), taking advantage of company matching dollars, and paying off your credit card every month. A recent column in the Wall Street Journal illustrated what one dad wants to teach his kids- Direct deposit, dollar-cost averaging, and index mutual funds. Some important topics.

Three Financial Terms Kids Need to Know

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fun Coupon Facts

There was a good article in the Star Tribune this weekend about coupon use. Some interesting factoids from the article:

2.9 billion coupons were redeemed in 2008 and
3.3 billion coupons were redeemed in 2009, marking the first increase since 1992

367 billion coupons were issued by brands in 2009

38% of "super heavy" coupon users and 41% of coupon "enthusiasts" have household incomes of more than $70,000

While Internet coupon use is growing quickly, 89% of coupons come from newspaper inserts

Source: Coupon Craze

Do any of these facts surprise you? I personally have been using more online coupons but the majority are still from the Sunday paper.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Post-Holiday Shopping

I hit up my local Target today for some 90% off Halloween items. Yes, that's right, 90%. Whatever is left will probably be gone tomorrow to make room for even more Christmas stuff. Here are the deals I got:

- A hooded sweatshirt for my daughter with a cat on it and cat ears on the hood. $9.99 marked down to $0.99
- Two picture frames. $4.99 each marked down to $0.49 each
- 2 plastic kids' cups with floating glitter and spooky shapes in the sides. $1.99 each marked down to $0.19 each
- A package of 24 foil muffin tin liners in the shape of ghosts. $2.49 marked down to $0.24

That makes a grand total of $2.59 spent for all of the above.

We have used this strategy for most of our Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day, Easter, etc home decorations. We buy when the discount hits 75% off or so and save for next year. The key is to put it away in the right, labeled, storage tote so we remember it the next year.

Have you ever tried this strategy?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

DIY Rule #1: Multiple trips to the hardware store

We are visiting some friends this weekend and my husband is helping them with a home improvement project- installing a new toilet. Sounds simple, right? Well, they are on their third trip to the hardware store in two hours! No matter how much you plan, make lists, and measure during a home improvement project, there is always just one more thing you need, one part that is the wrong size, or one more tool that would make the job easier.  And that's OK. Even with the cost of gas and your time, most DIY projects are still thrifty, plus you get the satisfaction of doing it yourself and the knowledge teach others.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rebates: good if you remember to send them in!

Have you ever bought something because it was "such a good deal after the rebate" but then not actually sent in the rebate form and receipt? Or maybe sent it in but had it rejected for some reason? Rebates really can help you be thrifty but can also have less then impressive results. A recent article outlines why and the title says it all:

Stores like rebates because shoppers are lazy

Some rebate tips:
- Make sure you read the fine print and follow all of the guidelines
- If you need to mail in the original copy of a receipt, make a photocopy for your records
- Send in the rebate or go online and fill out the paperwork the minute you get home, before you use the item

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Open Enrollment Season

As I discussed here in a previous post, it's important to take advantage of all of the benefits your employer offers. This time of year is open enrollment for many companies, where you have the opportunity to change your benefits- either sign up for newly-offered plans, change the number of dependents, drop coverage, etc. Even though it might be boring, you owe it to yourself to read all of the literature your employer provides. Try the online tools and resources they might provide to make sure you select the right plans for you and your family. Make sure to pay attention to the flexible spending account choices- they are a great way to lower the amount of taxes you need to pay.

So don't wait until the last day of your open enrollment period to think about your benefits, take a look at those brochures that are buried on your desk today.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I'm not posting a new thrifty topic today in order to make a public service announcement.

Make sure you do your civic duty and vote tomorrow!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Success

It was a fun Halloween weekend. Pumpkin carving, trick or treating, beautiful weather, the whole bit!

We did end up going to Chipotle tonight dressed as processed food for their Boo-Rito deal. I was a genetically-modified chicken, my husband was a genetically-modified lobster, and our daughter was a genetically-modified plant.  At $2 each, we had a thrifty dinner to eat in between trick or treaters at our door.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thrifty Travel Articles

There were two good articles in the New York Times today about travel.

One highlighted new ways to use frequent flier miles- to buy things from chocolates to car rentals. As I wrote here, we have used frequent flier miles quite a few times, for both flights and products. The key is to think of the cost per mile used.

The other article was an interview with the original thrifty traveler, the guy who wrote the original Mexico on $5 a day as well as several other frugal travel books. He's in his 80's and still traveling frugally, love it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Thrifty Halloween

A pumpkin we carved a couple years ago
Halloween can be frightening.... to your pocketbook! How can you have a fun Halloween without breaking the bank? 

It's a lot of fun to come up with and make your own costumes. It can also be really thrifty if you use things you already have or head to a thrift store. There are plenty of websites out there with ideas, here are a few:
Here are some ideas that I have seen or done:
- Crazy Sock Man: Wear a sweatsuit and safety pin all different kinds of socks all over you. Attach socks to a knit cap and wear socks on your hands and feet. You're the guy who always steals one sock out of the wash so there is always an unmatched one.
- Miss America: Wear a bridesmaid's dress or other fancy dress. Make a sash out of a wide ribbon and write Miss America on it. Get a tiara and you're set. (same idea can be used to be a princess)
- Frog: Get a green hooded sweatshirt, cut a ping pong ball in half and attach the two pieces onto the hood for eyes. Wear green or black pants and gloves. Go with a princess and be the princess and the frog.
- Butterfly: Make wings out of some cardboard and wear over your shoulders like a backpack with some pieces of rope or twine. Make antenna out of a headband and some pipe cleaners.
- Ugly/Evil fan of opposing sports team: Wear the colors/uniform of a sports team you don't like and make yourself unattractive with a mask, wig, etc.
- Field of flowers: hot-glue fake flowers all over an outfit

Do you have any fun costume ideas? Leave a comment!

Paper Plates/Napkins/Decorations:
I have two words for you on this topic- Dollar. Store.

- We have a yearly tradition of going to Chipotle dressed as a burrito for a free meal. However, they changed the rules this year- you need to dress as a processed food product and pay $2. More Info Here.
- Pre-packaged Halloween desserts from the bakery or those sugar cookies that have Halloween designs in them can be a rip-off. Try making brownies or cookies and then topping with some orange and/or purple sprinkles- instant Halloween dessert.

Have a spooky Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Land Hurricane" and Power Outage

1 1 a rec low.png
From MPR Updraft Blog

As you might have heard, there has been quite a storm passing through the midwest. (some are calling it a "land hurricane," a bit over the top if you ask me) Here in the Twin Cities, we have had strong winds, gusting to over 60 miles per hour! And yesterday a record was set for the lowest barometric pressure reading ever. This culminated last evening in a power outage for a few hours. Thank goodness we had a flashlight in easy reach that allowed my husband to go get our battery-powered lantern out of our camping gear box.

Sitting in the dark, wondering if the food in our fridge would make it, got me thinking about emergency preparedness. When we visited friends in Southern California a couple weeks ago, I was impressed that they have emergency supplies at their house just in case of an earthquake or other natural disaster. Here's a link to a list of supplies the government suggests you have at home just in case: Emergency Kit.

How do I tie this to being thrifty you might ask? You can be thrifty while you put your kit together- when gallons of water are on sale, stock up. Same with canned food, batteries, pet food, and more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Slow Cooker Chipotle-Lime Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs can be a thrifty choice. They have quite a bit of meat on them and can be really tasty. At our Rainbow Foods (which is basically the same thing as Pick N Save in Wisconsin), they often put the "family size" package of thighs on sale. Last week I got a package of 12 for about $4.00. Nice. I found this recipe online about six months ago when I googled "chicken thigh crock pot." It's a spicy meal which is great over plain rice. The Food Network website lists a rice recipe on the same page which is probably good as well.

Chipotle-Lime Chicken Thighs
From the Food Network

Picture of Slow Cooker Chipotle-Lime Chicken Thighs Jamaican Rice and Peas Recipe
Photo from Food Network
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
6 to 8 skinless chicken thighs (note that the recipe calls for cooking 4 pounds of chicken but then tells you to save half for another meal- I just go with 6-8 thighs)
Salt and pepper
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and 1 teaspoon sauce from can (I just buy a tiny can of chipotle/adobo salsa from the Hispanic section of the grocery store and use 1/3 to 1/2 of it)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 avacado, diced (optional- garnish)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional- garnish)
Lime wedges (optional-garnish)
  1. Put onion, celery, and carrots in bottom of the slow cooker
  2. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and put on top of vegetables
  3. Whisk together tomato sauce, lime juice, chipotle sauce, and garlic. Pour over chicken.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours (I've never tried it on high but it works great on low)
  5. Serve over rice with avacado, cilantro, and lime for garnish

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thrifty topics- what am I missing?

Hard to believe I've been writing this blog since early June. I'm trying to write about varied topics so there is something for everyone- men, women, parents, students.... But what types of posts am I missing? Is there anything you'd like to know more about? Let me know!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another cool thing about libraries

As a parent, the library is a thrifty treasure trove of information and activities. We go to a free baby and me storytime on Mondays at one of our local branches. The children's librarian leads a group of 5-10 pairs of parents and babies as we read four books, sing songs, and have playtime. The whole thing is about a half hour long. What a great way to improve literacy! Another local library has an amazing children's area with puppets, a train set, lots of board books, picture books, and several storytime offerings, for babies as well as toddlers and preschoolers. There are also large sections of parenting books to help us parents figure out what we're doing!

A weekly trip to the library is a must for any kid, whether they are 2 months old or 12 years old. I'm hoping that our trips and the many books we read every day will instill a love of reading in our daughter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christmas is coming....

and Halloween, Thanksgiving, birthdays, other celebrations....

Which means it's time to budget for gifts, travel, decorations, food and drink for entertaining, the list goes on. We're two months out from the heart of the (expensive) holiday season. Start thinking about it now, or your budget and pocketbook will be hurting come January 2011!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

DIY Project- Bathroom Remodel Part 3

As I mentioned here, here and here, in 2009 we (well mostly my husband) remodeled our guest bathroom. We were able to use high-end products and keep the project thrifty by doing the work ourselves.

After the heated floor coils were put in, it was time to lay the floor tile. We picked out granite tiles at Home Depot, the color was called Golden River.
Tiles all laid out

Had to cut a hole in one of the tiles for a toilet pipe

Mixing the mortar

This was the third home improvement project my husband had tackled that required a tile saw. In the past we had rented by the day, but this time took the plunge and bought one. Since he had to use it for the floor tiles as well as the upcoming wall tiles, it made sense. He was also tired of feeling rushed, like he had to get everything done in one day so he could return the saw. We can also use it on future projects. It was $50 per day to rent a saw and $140 to buy one. So thrifty tip: If you keep renting a tool, it might make sense to buy one instead.

Next Up: The vanity and sink!

Monday, October 18, 2010

YES! 5% off at Target every time!

Target started their new credit card rewards program yesterday. If you use your Target-branded credit or debit card at Target you earn 5% off. Every time. Genius. I saved $1.53 off of my grocery bill today.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Hotel Rewards

I was out of town this weekend and stayed at a Kimpton hotel. Last time I was there I had joined their (free) loyalty program in order to get free wi-fi access. When I checked in this weekend, I got a "welcome note" and received a $10 voucher to use in the minibar in my room along with $30 towards a spa service. The spa service discount wasn't really worth it to me, since all of their services were over $100, but I enjoyed a gourmet chocolate bar and a Luna bar for free!

So, it can pay to join loyalty programs. As long as they are free and get you free stuff I don't see a drawback.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tools: What basics do you really need?


I read a great article today in the New York Times. It outlines the key tools everyone should own in order to complete basic projects around the house.

The Tools You Really Need to Maintain Your Home

The article recommends tools that add up to about $250.  Having these tools will save you the expense of renting them or of hiring a handyman. It can also save you the annoyance of having to buy or borrow them as projects come along. I would recommend checking Craigslist for some of the items, especially the power tools and wrench set. Additionally, I think the hammer drill is more than most people need, you'd be fine with a regular cordless drill.

Do you agree with the article? Any items you disagree with?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A potpourri of everyday tips

I saw this blog post on and had to share. It outlines some basic ways to save on expenses such as groceries, cleaning supplies, and transportation. Several great ideas and links to useful websites and articles. Enjoy!
Get Your Everyday Expenses Under Control: Mint's Personal Finance Round-Up

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Krazy Coupon Lady?!

A friend of mine recommended a website/blog that shows you how to use coupons to save a ton of money at stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, and several others. It's actually similar to what I posted here a couple weeks ago.

Krazy Coupon Lady

Looks like some great ideas. Just remember, if you don't need something, don't buy it just because you can get a good deal!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's in your freezer?

appliances,food,households,kitchen appliances,refrigerators

Well, what is in your freezer? Some ice cream and a few ice cube trays? A frozen pizza? Your freezer can be an important and convenient tool in the quest to be healthy as well as thrifty. Here are some examples:
  • Buy meat when it is on sale and freeze it to use later
  • Make a batch of food like chili or soup and freeze in individual containers to bring for lunch
  • Before a big event, such as the birth of a baby, make and freeze dinners so you don't have to cook
  • Make a large batch of baby food puree and freeze in ice cube trays for easy serving
  • Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh and taste better than canned. They are also easy to make, just steam on the stove.
Some Tips:
  • Always label your frozen food. Include what it is, the date, and the amount or number of servings. It's easy to forget what something is! I have a roll of masking tape and a marker in the kitchen just for that purpose
  • It's usually better to package in smaller amounts (one serving at a time) so that the food takes less time to thaw and so you don't have to thaw more than you need
  • Make sure to thaw the food safely, in the fridge, in an ice water bath, or in the microwave
Here are links to a couple websites about freezing that have a lot more great tips
Center for Home Food Preservation
Article about how long you can freeze food

How do you use the freezer to help make life easier in the kitchen?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Buy vs Rent: CNN Money Results

In the rent vs buy debate, most of the time it seems that buying real estate is the better choice. However, there are definitely some places where this is not the case. CNN/Money recently published a report on 12 cities and whether renting or buying in each was the right choice. Not surprisingly, it's better to rent in Manhattan and Seattle, but a buyer's market in Detroit and Miami...

12 Cities: Where to Buy and Where to Rent

Anyone facing a rent vs buy decision right now? It's a tough one.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mini kegs, a thrifty choice for some

We are visiting friends this weekend and they have something fun and thrifty in the fridge:

My friend bought this mini keg at Ralph's grocery store for about $20. It is 5 liters which  works out to 14 12-ounce beers. Once it's tapped it lasts for 30 days. This would be a great choice for a couple (or even a single person!) who don't always drink a full beer or drinks very slowly.

So, drink up!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Magazine Subscription Discounts

When it's time to renew or subscribe to a new a magazine, do you fill out the little card that comes with each issue? If so, you might be spending too much. If there's a magazine you want, Google the title with the word "discount" or "cheap." You can usually find a great deal. We've used this strategy for Businessweek, US Weekly, National Geographic, and several others. The only problem is that it sometimes takes a few months for the subscription to start! Make sure to save your receipt just in case.

Here are some sites:

Another strategy is to give the magazine subscription as a gift, you can usually get a big discount on your subscription. I have done this for Real Simple.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How much do YOU spend per day?

The September U.S. consumer spending numbers come out on October 14th. is running a poll to guess how much the average consumer spent. In August it was $63 per day. Remember this is an average of spending over the whole month, on things from mortgage payments to gasoline.... so go to the site and place your guess. You'll find out if you were right on the 14th.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Vodka and Red Pepper Sauce Pasta

This is a thrifty go-to dish when I haven't planned anything for dinner. It's quick and the vodka ads some bite! The recipe is from one of our favorites, The 5 in 10 Cookbook. Serve with a green salad and some garlic bread.

Vodka and Red Pepper Sauce Pasta with Basil
Adapted from The 5 in 10 Cookbook.

1/3 cup vodka
1-2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh or dried plain or spinach fettuccine
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes in puree
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves (or you can substitute 2 teaspoons dried basil)

1. Combine the vodka and red pepper flakes; let stand for 5 minutes, then strain, discarding the flakes and keeping the flavored vodka.
2. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine according to the package directions
3. Place the tomatoes and basil in a saucepan on the stove and heat to bubbling. Add vodka and stir. Turn off heat. (this step can be done in the microwave, but we prefer on the stove)
4. Drain the pasta and toss with the tomato sauce.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New cloth diaper prints

Today is a big day, BumGenius is announcing their new printed diapers this afternoon via a YouTube video. I'm hoping there will be some cute stripes and polka dots. If there is a print that I must have, I think I will try their Growing Up in Cloth program. You can send in your clean, used diapers and get a credit towards a future purchase. Maybe I'll trade in a couple boring white diapers for a printed one! A thrifty way to try the latest product.

More info to come once they make the announcement.

** Update **
Well, I must say I'm not too thrilled about the prints. It's basically five different colors of the same print, kind of a tribal/modern look. You can see them on the BumGenius site. Guess I won't be trading in my old diapers for new prints!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

DIY Project- Bathroom Remodel Part 3

The Heated Floor

One of the features we really wanted in our new bathroom was heated floors. How nice would it be to walk on nice, warm, floors on a cold morning! The heating wires had to be installed on the subfloor and then covered with layers of floor leveler (a liquid that you pour on that dries smooth and flat) before the tiles were laid. My husband used a kit that included the long piece of wire and metal tracks that attached to the floor which the wire was hooked to. There are also kits with pre-made mats but this was the better choice for us. We also had to wire in a programmable thermostat which is on the wall so the floor warms up at the right time each day.

View of metal tracks and wires from the doorway
You can see the metal tracks and copper wire in toilet area (got to have warm feet while you're using it!)

Toilet area after one layer of floor leveler- you can still see the wires so another layer was needed

Once the wires were installed and the floor was level it was time to put in the granite tile floor.... stay tuned!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Buying lightbulbs online

Do you have any light fixtures that require specialty bulbs that you have to keep buying? We have four identical ceiling fans in our house that each have two 40W high intensity lightbulbs. It seems like we have a bulb burn out almost every month! We also have halogen bulbs outside in our landscape lighting.

My husband has discovered that lightbulb websites often offer better prices than stores do. You can Google the model number of your bulb (usually located on the side of the bulb) and then comparison shop online. The problem is that shipping can decrease your savings, so you usually need to buy quite a few in order to save money, but it's worth it. We placed one order for 20 ceiling fan bulbs and 20 halogen bulbs and were able to save about 50% compared to the Home Depot price.

Here's the site we used:

Friday, October 1, 2010

First of the month- budget time

It's the first of the month, and that means budget time! Sometime in the first few days of the month we sit down and take stock of what happened last month and plan our spending for the new month. Our credit card and checking account expenditures flow to on an ongoing basis, so after some quick categorizing on the Mint website, we're ready to look at the totals. A great thing about Mint is the ability to export, so we take the data from Mint and put it in an Excel workbook my husband built, and then take a look at our income and expenses compared to our plan. Next, we discuss what we plan to spend for the new month, enter it in, and we're done. The process probably takes 45 minutes but it's worth it!

Do you have a monthly budgeting process? In the future I'll share more about how we organize and categorize our income and expenses. We've been going through this monthly process for over a year now, and have made some tweaks along the way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Theatre ticket rush lines and lotteries

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis
In the mood for some culture but not in the mood to spend full price on tickets? Many theaters and concert halls offer last-minute or student tickets for a low rate. I did last-minute student rate tickets a couple times when I was studying in London and once in NYC.

The reason this is on my mind is because a friend from high school is in her first BROADWAY musical, how amazing is that! It's called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and looks like an awesome show. There is a lottery each night before curtain for 20 tickets at $20 apiece- a thrifty deal since regular seats can go for up to $130.

Local theaters here in the Twin Cities have similar deals:
Guthrie Theater- Public Rush Line
Orpheum Theater- Student Rush
Orchestra Hall- Rush Tickets

If you're in NYC there are always the TKTS Booths where you can buy discounted day-of and day-before tickets.

So go get some (thrifty) culture! Any deals in your hometown you'd like to share?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grocery planning for this week

As I planned my grocery list for the week I had some thoughts I wanted to share:


The word of the week is leftovers! I'm making a pasta dish that creates three to four servings of leftovers which are perfect for lunches. A two-pound meatloaf is also on the menu which means even more tasty leftovers. Not sure about the other nights but I think one dinner will involve the frozen salmon I bought on sale today.

Double-up Deals

Target has a big sale on grocery items this week to celebrate the opening of many newly-remodeled stores with fresh grocery offerings. When doubled-up with some of their available Target online coupons you can get some great deals.
Kraft cheese- on sale in circular for $2. Also a $.75 coupon available online
Archer Farms Chips- There was a coupon for a free bag with $25 purchase in the Sunday paper. Also they are on sale 2 for $5 plus there is an online coupon for $1 off with purchase of three
Progresso Soup- On sale in circular 2 for $3. Also online coupon for $1 off if you buy four

Monday, September 27, 2010

Don't Make these Retirement Planning Mistakes!

Have you thought about retirement lately?  Given that it's Monday I'm guessing you might have on your way to work this morning! This article in the Wall Street Journal outlines four costly retirement planning mistakes- including underestimating health care costs, giving too much money to adult children, being too conservative, and not planning for so much free time.

Four Costly Retirement Planning Mistakes

Saturday, September 25, 2010

DIY Project- Bathroom Remodel Part 2

The first step was demolition. We removed the toilet and stored it in our guest room throughout the project as we were planning to keep it. Everything else but the bathtub had to go. And yes, we did have guests during that time who got to sleep in the same room as a random toilet, I covered it with a beach towel to make it "blend in!" Too bad I didn't get a picture of that.

While demolishing the floor

Floor and vanity are gone!

Hole where toilet used to be

Tub surround is gone. Safety first! Note the red ear protection muffs ready for any loud noises.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Hummus

Hummus is a tasty, healthy dish to bring to any get-together. It's wonderful with pita bread, carrot sticks, crackers, or other veggies. My recipe is a combination of a few that I've read- Good Housekeeping, the recipe book that came with my food processor, and A can of Market Pantry beans at Target is about 65 cents, so this is certainly a thrifty recipe!

Yummy Hummus

1 15oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (if desired, you can saute the garlic cloves whole for a bit before you use them)
1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley or fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like spicy)
Dash salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

1. Place all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor and blend until completely combined and beans are smooth
2. While food processor is running, drizzle in the olive oil until the hummus reaches desired consistency

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Retailers Aim for a Head Start on Holidays - Kiplinger

I was slightly disturbed when my husband and I were at the mall three weekends ago and saw Christmas trees and decorations at Von Maur department store... I guess they're not the only retailer to move Christmas merchandise early.

Retailers Aim for a Head Start on Holidays - Kiplinger

What does this mean for a thrifty consumer? Don't buy yet, wait until later in the season when retailers have to markdown because of their high inventory levels.

Who knows, maybe next year it really will be Christmas in July at the mall!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

DIY Project- Bathroom Remodel

Back in December 2008, we (well mostly my husband) started our biggest do-it-yourself project to date: remodeling our upstairs guest bathroom. Here are some "before" shots. Over the next few weeks I plan to run a series of posts about the project, which was finished in April of 2009. It turned out to be a pretty thrifty project. My husband kept track of all of the money spent, and we ended up finding some good ways to save money while getting the new, stylish bathroom we wanted.

Right before demolition began- boring bathroom!

Before- Tub surround

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Private Label Food- Thrifty but Tasty?

Consumer Reports recently did blind taste tests of private label food items as compared to national brands.... check out the overview of the results:

Consumer Reports Conducts Blind Taste Tests

Monday, September 20, 2010

Are Frequent Flier Programs Worth It?

Wouldn't have been able to get this awesome picture on the Acropolis in Athens if not for frequent flier miles!

I read an article from the Washington Post this weekend that got me thinking. The author is very skeptical of the benefits of frequent flier programs. He thinks that the programs cause you to make irrational decisions, choosing flights that might not be the most cost-effective or convenient just to get miles. He also points to credit cards and other programs where you "earn" miles as not being worth it.

The Navigator: Frequent- flier programs cons outweigh the pros

I can't say that I agree with him that frequent flier programs are never worth it. My husband and I have seen some great rewards from our frequent flier programs. I have been a member of Northwest's frequent flier program since a trip to Europe in high school. When Delta bought them my miles rolled over to that program. Living in Minneapolis, Northwest/Delta is often the only choice for a given route anyway, so we have racked up a lot of miles.

Since 2008, I have bought three round-trip flights by cashing in frequent flier miles. We have never had a mileage credit card or taken part in any extra programs to earn extra miles. In 2008, we flew from Minneapolis to Rome and back using miles, and paid something like $20 in fees. This year, I have already flown from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to go to a wedding shower. Additionally, we just booked a weekend in Los Angeles using miles. We have also received The Economist and The Wall Street Journal for the past couple years by redeeming miles.

So, anytime you fly, make sure you're earning your miles. Sign up for the frequent flier program on any airline you happen to fly. It's free, and who knows, maybe over time you will fly enough to earn some rewards. Even if you don't, it's worth a try. I'm not a proponent of credit cards tied to frequent flier miles, especially since they usually have a high yearly fee and sometimes limit how you can use the miles. You're better off with a card that earns you a cash or gasoline rebate, such as the Exxon Mobil card. More on that in another post.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Podcasts

I have had an iPod Touch for almost two years now. Since our baby was born I have used it a ton, but mostly to check email, Facebook, the weather, and to read The New York Times. I haven't really listened to music or podcasts on it for a long time! This weekend, I happened to be in the car when "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" was on NPR. I had totally forgotten what a hilarious radio show it is.

So tonight I got back on the iTunes horse. I subscribed to "Wait Wait" and also downloaded a couple other podcasts I have enjoyed in the past. They include The Mighty Mommy, The Nutrition Diva, Marketplace, and The History of Rome. Podcasts are a fun, thrifty way to pass the time in the car, when exercising, or whenever you might otherwise listen to music. Most are free, and you can learn something or just be entertained. So check them out!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Turkey, Rice, and Apple Baby Food

We have quite a bit of leftover turkey from the recipe (posted here on my blog) I made this week. I decided to use some of it to make a new baby food concoction. It turned out well and she liked it! This is also quite thrifty as a Gerber 2nd Foods Turkey Rice dinner is about $1 a jar if you buy a 12-pak. I got an entire 5.5 pound turkey breast for $5.

Turkey/Rice/Apple Baby Food
  • Take leftover cooked turkey, break into chunks, and place in food processor bowl
  • Add cooked rice, brown or white, I used jasmine
  • Put in some applesauce. I'll bet it would also be good with sweet potato or even pears.
  • Turn on food processor and let it run until you don't see individual grains of rice, then drizzle in a little water until the mixture turns into a paste-like consistency, right for your baby
  • Store covered in the fridge for a day or two or freeze in individual servings

Friday, September 17, 2010

100 Thrifty Posts

Wow, this is my 100th blog post. Hard to believe I've been a blogger for over three months now. It's been a lot of fun so far. I still have quite a few ideas up my sleeve. Here's a preview of some of the topics:
  • Changing your own oil
  • Monthly budgeting process
  • DIY- Bathroom Remodel
  • Shutterfly photo books and enlargements
  • DIY- Picture framing
  • More Thrifty Recipes
  • Coupon finds
  • More on cloth diapers
  • Further adventures in making baby food
What else would you like to see me write about?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Frugal Traveler Blog

 We're working on planning a trip right now so I'm inspired to read about exotic locales we haven't visited before. I found a good blog on the New York Times website. It's called The Frugal Traveler. Looks like some really interesting posts. The blogger spent the summer traveling from Brazil to New York City for less than $500 per week- what a challenge!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who knew? Crazy deals at CVS!

Have you ever shopped at CVS Drugstore? I haven't even though we have one not far from our house. I have never even looked at their Sunday ad! A friend of mine has really figured out how to save money at CVS. It's all about their "Extra Care Bucks." Here's a link to her blog post from today outlining the great deals she just got. I'm going to have to check out the CVS ad this week...

What a deal!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wall Street Journal College Rankings- by Recruiters

The Wall Street Journal is out with its rankings of the best colleges according to corporate recruiters. If you or your child is in the process of picking out a college and plans to enter the workforce directly after graduation, I think that this ranking is just as important or even more important the one done by US News and World Report. It's one thing to go to a top-ranked school based on the amount of research grants, test scores, etc if you're looking to pad your application to medical school or another graduate program, but if you're looking to get a job after you graduate, wouldn't you want to know what recruiters think?

I'm happy to see so many public and state schools on the list, showing that your best option is not necessarily the most expensive, private institution. And go Big Ten with six of the top 16 spots!

2010 Wall Street Journal College Rankings

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why she never gets new things

Last week, we bought our daughter a new car seat. She is almost too big for her infant carrier so we got her the next size up, a convertible (meaning it faces rear now but can also face forward) car seat called the Graco Comfortsport. It was on sale at Target last week plus we had our extra 10% off from our Target Visa. And it seems really cushy and comfortable, we couldn't bring ourselves to get her the cheaper Cosco model that didn't seem to have enough seat padding.

Today I was reminded why we have bought her very few new things. Most of her toys, furniture, etc are from Craigslist, garage sales, gifts, etc. We haven't attached the seat into the car yet, and I decided to put her into the seat on the floor in the house to make sure the straps were adjusted correctly. I got her all strapped in and adjusted and she seemed very comfy. Then she spit up all over the straps and buckle! Of course the one brand-new thing she got has already been broken in. Oh well, I'm sure the car seat will have many more adventures over the next few years.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Library book sales

Have you ever been to a library book sale? Most public libraries have them a few times a year. They usually sell a combination of books they used to lend out and books that have been donated. You can find some great deals and they are usually well-organized, too. My mom got quite a few books for our daughter this weekend at a sale near where they live. I'm sure there will be several coming up now that school has started and it's fall, so do a google search and see what you can find near you!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Target online coupons- some good ones are back!

I saved quite a bit of money this week with the online coupons offered on Target's website. They have private label ones back again. I got $2 off frozen chicken, $0.50 off hand sanitizer, a free bottle of juice with purchase of two boxes of cereal.....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meals for the week- Part Two

As I wrote here, I put together a week of meals based on the Sunday newspaper ads. I was missing two recipes from my mom so here they are, enjoy!

Rosemary Turkey Breast

  • One turkey breast- rinsed and patted dry
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • Olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons rosemary
  1. Preheat oven to 325. Thaw and rinse turkey breast and dry with paper towels. Lightly salt and pepper breast inside and out.
  2. Using your hands, rub turkey with paprika, then massage with olive oil
  3. Pat rosemary leaves all over the turkey
  4. Cover completely with aluminum foil and place in 9 x 12 pan
  5. Bake 1/2 hour per pound. Internal temperature should be 170
  6. Let rest on cutting board, covered, for at least 10 minutes. That makes it easier to cut and the juices will permeate the turkey instead of running out all over.
 Leftover turkey is perfect for sandwiches, soup, you name it!

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

  • 1 can condensed cream of celery, chicken, or mushroom soup. I prefer mushroom soup
  •  1/2-3/4 cup milk
  •  Dash pepper
  •  4 cups thinly sliced potatoes
  •  1 small onion sliced
  •  Ham- already cooked, thinly sliced, around 1/2 pound, more or less depending on how much you like ham (note, the ham that I listed in the original blog post is not cooked, so you'd need to cook it before using in this recipe) You could also just buy a single slice of precooked ham
  •  1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  •  Dash paprika
  1. Blend soup,milk, and pepper.
  2. Arrange alternate layers of potatoes, onion, ham, and sauce in 1 1/2 quart casserole.
  3. Have potatoes on the top layer. Dot top with butter;sprinkle with paprika.
  4. Cover;bake at 375 for 1 hour
  5. Uncover;bake 15 minutes more.
  6. Stick a fork into the potatoes to be sure they are soft. Thinner slices of potatoes cook faster.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Baby products- what you need and don't need

I recently found out that a friend is expecting her first baby. It got me thinking about what items I couldn't have done without for the first few months and which I could live without...

  • Gilligan and O'Malley Nursing Tanktops- I have three of these, in pink, black, and white and basically rotated between them 24 x7  for the first three months of our baby's life. They are comfortable and convenient.
  • Boppy or other nursing pillow
  • Swaddles with Velcro- We swaddled the lower half of our baby's body, always leaving her arms out, most of the time for the first few weeks. After that we swaddled for sleep only for about another month.
  • Breast pump- I love my Lansinoh but I know many who swear by Medela.
  • Mam brand pacifiers- they look cute and are the right shape
  • The First Years Breastflow bottles- the only ones we have used, are supposed to be more like breastfeeding.
  • Kimono style onesies- Babies, especially newborns, don't like having things put over their heads and generally don't like being dressed and undressed. Our friends gave us a pack of these in newborn size and they were our go-to outfits for the first few weeks.
  • Diaper Champ- Can be used with disposable or cloth diapers. You can use regular plastic bags with them so you don't have to buy expensive refills.
  • Wipe warmer or bottle warmer
  • Baby lotion, baby oil, baby powder
  • Crib bumpers and thick blankets
  • Bumbo
Also, as I have mentioned in several past posts, we are using cloth diapers (BumGenius brand) which are awesome! I would call them a "need" too.

Any items that you want to add/delete from these lists?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fall Book Season

I love to read and am looking forward to the new crop of fall books that are about to be published. Here's an article from the New York Times about some of the biggest ones. Personally, I plan to read Freedom and Fall of Giants. I've already requested Freedom from the library and need to get online to request the other one as well.

Beach Reads Finished, It's Time for the Big Books
New York Times

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Meals for the week based on grocery ads- Part One

OK, here it is. A week of meals based on today's newspaper ads for the three biggest grocery stores in our market- Target, Cub, and Rainbow. There are five entrees and three side dishes. I included links to three of the five entree recipes, the other two will be coming in a future post as I have to find the recipes my mom always made.

Entree One: Boneless Country Style Ribs I've made this one a few times and it's really good. I don't usually add too much store-bought sauce at the end, sometimes I just put a little on when we eat.
Entree Two: Ground Beef Tacos Just a basic ground beef taco recipe. We always have tortillas instead of hard shells. Make sure to get some lettuce, tomato, and other fixings to top them.
Entree ThreeSlow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Thighs Note this makes a lot of leftovers. I don't make the rice recipe included on the webpage, just some white rice is great.
Entree Four: Scalloped Potatoes and Ham (recipe coming later this week)
Entree Five: Baked Turkey Breast with Rosemary (recipe coming later this week)
Side Dish One: Frozen vegetable
Side Dish Two: Corn on the Cob
Side Dish Three: Baked Potatoes

Sale Items to Buy (you'll need other ingredients for the recipes but these are the items from the ad)
Hormel Fresh Boneless Country Style Ribs $1.89 per pound
Corn on the Cob buy 6 get 6 free with coupon

Meal Deal- Buy one Cook's Portion Ham for $2.29 per pound, get one 3 pound Butterball boneless turkey breast and one bag of Roundy's frozen vegetables free
Roundy's Fresh Chicken Thighs Jumbo Pack $0.98 per pound
Roundy's Fresh Russet Potatoes 10lb for $1.99
Mission Tortillas two packs for $4

One pound ground beef- not on sale this week but they usually have the best price
I love Target and do most of my shopping there, but they didn't have any wow factor sale items in food this week. I would recommend buying all of your staples there, as they have an "every day low price" strategy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

DIY Project- Bean Bag Toss (Cornhole) Set

When we lived in California, we learned of a super fun yard game called cornhole (or bean bags, bags, corn toss...). You set the two boards across from each other and take turns attempting to toss the beanbags either on the board (one point) or in the hole (three points). You play to 21. The game is best played with a beer in one hand. You can play on grass, concrete, or even at the beach! It's fun for any skill level, you can move the boards closer together for kids or less-skilled players.

It's a fun project to make the boards yourself. My husband made a set, it took a few hours to make the boards and then he painted them over a couple days. The hardest part is cutting the circle. As you can see, our set has one Wisconsin Badger board and one Minnesota Vikings board. We also made a set of beanbags with our sewing machine and some heavy cloth, but they self-destructed after one season. After that, we got a set of beanbags as a gift.

Making your own set has several advantages: first, you know the quality of the boards is good- storebought sets are often made of cheap particleboard or an almost-cardboard like product. Also, you can choose your teams and combine teams from different sports or leagues, like we did with Badger/Vikings. If you already have the tools, it's very thrifty to make a set, you just have to buy a few pieces of lumber, some bolts, and paint. Finally, your friends will be impressed that you are handy enough to make your own!

Here's a link to the official American Cornhole Association site: On the site you can find the official rules which includes plans to make your own boards and beanbags.

Anyone out there like to play?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Future post preview- meal plans

Last month, I mentioned a woman who makes money by bloging meal plans and recipes based on the weekly grocery ads. I'm going to give it a try this week. On Sunday, I'm going to take the Target, Cub, and Rainbow Foods ads along with the manufacturer's coupons from the Sunday paper and put together meals using as many on-sale items as possible. My mom is going to be in town so hopefully she can help me with some great ideas!

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Home Mortgages- Shop around before you lock in

Did you shop around for your home mortgage or did you go with the first rate you found? If you don't get the lowest rate possible on your mortgage, the single largest financial outlay for most families, it doesn't matter how thrifty you are with coupons and travel because you could be spending thousands extra!

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune showed that rates can vary greatly. It pays to ask several banks for their rates before you lock in.

Mortgage shopping results in big savings

Did anyone out there get a great rate by shopping around?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Splurge- Worthy Wednesday- Working out?!

As you may recall, I posted here about the fact that it's OK to quit the gym if you aren't using it enough to justify the price. But what I didn't say is that for some people, working out is their favorite splurge and one that brings them joy. I have friends who are into marathons, triathlons, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, you name it. And they spend a good amount of money on bikes, shoes, mats, trainers, entry fees, etc. It's great, they get a lot of satisfaction, motivation, and positive health effects from their chosen workouts and the money they spend.

I, in fact, just got back from my first ever fitness yoga class at a local studio. They were offering a deal so I bought five sessions for $40. I'm going to give a few different classes a try. Who knows, maybe I will enjoy it so much that yoga and pilates will move to my personal splurge-worthy list! I'll keep you posted

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Craigslist Success Story- Selling

My husband made an extra $10 this week selling an old storm door on Craigslist. When we got a new front door last summer, we decided to discontinue using the storm door. It had been in our garage for a year and it was time to say goodbye.

The storm door as installed with our old front door

We had the hinges and associated hardware but not the closer (the bar that attaches to keep the door from opening too wide/pulls the door shut). After posting it a few times for more money, we decided to try for $10. A guy called soon after, showed up, looked at it, and bought it. Awesome.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Terri's BBQ Green Beans

One of my mom's best friends used to make this for parties at their house. I used to request my mom make it for special occasions. Now, I look for excuses to make it. This last weekend, I brought it to a party and it was a hit! We were running late so I baked it at 375 for one hour and then 350 for 15 minutes. It's a simple recipe and the ingredients are thrifty- perfect.

Terri's BBQ Green Beans

5 Strips bacon
1 Small to medium onion, finely chopped
1 Cup brown sugar
1 Cup ketchup
1 Teaspoon ground mustard (OK to leave out if you don't have it)
3 Cans French-style green beans, drained

1. Fry the bacon on the stove until crispy. Remove and drain on paper towels.
2. In the bacon grease (you can pour some out if there is too much), cook the onion until soft and beginning to turn brown/carmelize.
3. Stir in the brown sugar, ketchup, and ground mustard and continue stirring until the brown sugar melts.
4. Combine the green beans with sauce mixture in an oven-safe dish and stir to coat all beans. Top with crumbled bacon.
5. Bake at 350 for around two hours, check every 15 minutes during the last half hour to ensure it isn't drying out.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why it still makes sense to own your home

 Read an interesting article in the New York Times. Many people have been spooked by the real estate market downturn over the past few years, and have kept renting even when they could be buying a home. However, the benefits of home ownership, for many, outweigh the risks. Some key benefits include the fact that paying a mortgage is a way of forcing you to save money, avoidance of landlord issues, and the ability to live in good neighborhoods and school districts.

My husband is famous among his friends for his "rent vs buy" excel spreadsheet model. It takes into account taxes and the costs of renting and of buying and helps to show if renting or buying is better for a given person or family. If you are trying to make the tough decision, I encourage you to look online for rent vs buy calculators to help you make your decision.

In Defense of Home Ownership

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Air Conditioner Update

We are still without a working air conditioner, it's going on two weeks now. As I mentioned here, my husband decided to post on Craigslist to find someone to replace it. He has decided to go with a guy who gave a quote over the phone that sounded knowledgeable, gave a reasonable quote, and is able to provide a brand of air conditioner that is well-known and reliable. I insisted that he at least meet the guy in person before he hires him, so "Brian" is coming over Saturday morning. Next step, set up the installation date!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cool idea- creating menus from grocery ads

Wow! This mom has turned coupons and blogging into a money-maker! Each week, she takes the ad and coupons from her local grocery store and creates a menu for seven meals plus a grocery list. There is a monthly subscription fee for her recipes and meal plans. What a good idea. Maybe I will try to create a week of menus from the Sunday ad circulars one of these weeks.... but I won't charge you for it.

Stay at home mom converts coupons into a career

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Take the bus to the State Fair

That's right, the Minnesota State Fair begins on Thursday and runs through Labor Day. My husband and I go every year and have many traditions that have to happen at the Fair!

One thrifty tradition is to use the special Free State Fair Park and Ride lots to park and get to the fair for free. No fighting traffic, and we get dropped off right at the entrance gate. We usually park at one near the University of Minnesota, but they are scattered near the Fairgrounds. In the suburbs, there are Express Busses to State Fair for $5 and Southwest Metro Transit State Fair express service for $5.

Once we get to the fair...

First, we have to see the fattest pig and get our paper Pig Ears to wear

And climb the DNR fire tower for an up-high view

See the bunnies

Check out the Miracle of Birth Barn

And of course I have to eat a deep-fried Snickers Bar on a stick and my husband has to have a Pronto Pup! I'm sure there will even be some new traditions this year since we're bringing our baby daughter.