Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More about

The Wall Street Journal and I must be on the same wavelength! They just published an article today about recent upgrades to Haven't tried this new feature yet but it sounds like a great tool.

Goalkeeping Gets Easier at

New BumGenius 4.0 and travel with cloth diapers

For those of us who cloth diaper, yesterday was a big day. Cottonbabies finally announced their new cloth diaper product, which replaces the BumGenius 3.0 diapers. As I mentioned here, we have been using cloth diapers since our baby was a few weeks old.

I am excited about the new features and three new colors, and if I was looking to expand my cloth diaper supply, would definitely buy some 4.0's. The main updates are new colors, a choice between velcro and snaps, and the ability to fit bigger babies. One other cool new feature is the ability to easily replace the elastic on the diapers yourself if needed.

Cloth Diapers and Travel
Some people have asked me how I travel while using cloth diapers. Our daughter has gone on three trips so far. I used cloth for two trips and disposable for most of one trip. The main decision point is access to a washer and dryer. When we travel somewhere and stay in a home instead of a hotel, it is easy to travel with cloth diapers. I just bring about 10 diapers, enough for a day and a half, and do laundry a couple times while we're there. When we're in a hotel, I don't use cloth. However, I bring a few cloth diapers and use them on the last day, then just wash them when we get home.

Day to day I carry a couple extra cloth diapers, along with a roll of plastic bags, in my diaper bag. If she needs a diaper change, I just put the dirty cloth diaper in a plastic bag and knot the end. When we get home, I put it in our Diaper Champ along with the other dirty diapers. You could also use a "wet bag" when on the go which is a waterproof, reusable bag.

Do you have any other questions or comments about using cloth diapers? Let me know!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Private Label Brands

Looking in my shopping cart today at Target, I realized that almost every product I buy, from Up and Up baby wipes and toilet paper to Market Pantry crushed tomatoes and whole wheat bread, is from the private label line (otherwise known as store brand or in the olden days, generic). Why is this? Because private label products have become just as good if not better than national brands. We've come a long way since the days of generic packages in black and white with questionable ingredients. In some cases, food companies even make both branded and private label products in the same facility with the same ingredients. There has been a rise in the popularity of private label products, especially groceries, in the past few years. Here's a recent article about the phenomenon.

When I'm grocery shopping, whether at Target or elsewhere, I look for a private label version of each product I need. In most cases, there is one available. However, sometimes the national brands are on sale at a lower price point than the private label. I also clip coupons for certain brands (for instance, Yoplait yogurt is a good deal when you use a coupon).

So next time you're at your local grocery store and are reaching for that branded package you saw an ad for, give the store brand a try. You will save money and will most likely enjoy it just as much.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Rice, Cheese, and Bean Enchiladas

I try to plan a vegetarian meal once a week. This is a good one, I usually top with a dash of green Tabasco sauce.

Rice, Cheese and Bean Enchiladas
Makes 6 servings

2 cups cooked jasmine or brown rice (I much prefer jasmine)
4 cups shredded zucchini, drained
1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning (see below if you want to make your own)
1 15oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 10oz can reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 8oz can diced green chilies
12 8-inch flour tortillas
2 cups Mexican cheese blend or cheddar, shredded

1. Combine zucchini and Mexican seasoning in large skillet (with some olive oil if pan isn't nonstick). Cook and stir 5 minutes. Add beans, soup, chilies, and rice. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
2. Spray 9x13 glass or Pyrex baking dish with nonstick spray. Spoon 1/2 cup filling into each tortilla and sprinkle with cheese. Roll up and lay in baking dish. Repeat with all tortillas until dish is full.
3. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the enchiladas. Microwave for three to four minutes until cheese is melted.

* To make your own Mexican seasoning combine the following. Store in an airtight container in the cupboard.
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Pinch of salt

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thrifty Website-

Your assignment for today is to explore It's a really useful site for getting a handle on your finances. You can set up an account and then connect all of your credit cards, checking accounts, and even your 401k to one place. Then you can use their tools to help with budgeting, paying bills, the sky's the limit!

More posts to come about Mint, but first just spend some time exploring the features and resources the site offers.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Free Food- Noodles

A couple years ago I filled out a little slip of paper at Noodles with my email address (the email address I only use for this kind of thing, to keep spam out of my main email account), name, and birthday (not year). Every year since, I have gotten an email coupon for a free entree during the week of my birthday. The coupon doesn't require another purchase, which is key. That means I can get a large entree and a water for free! They also send out other random free meal coupons throughout the year. You can sign up on their website under the Noodlegrams header.

What's your favorite dish? I usually get penne rosa with baked chicken.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Do You Need a Job? Any Job?

I enjoy the blog Punk Rock HR, which is written by another former human resources professional. This posting offers some great insight to those of you who might be in the job market right now. Check it out:

Do You Need a Job? Any Job?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Streamlined Stroganoff

This recipe also works well with leftover steak. Just cut it into thin strips and add once the mushrooms are done cooking. I serve the stroganoff over egg noodles. The 5 in 10 Cookbook is a favorite of ours, all recipes use 5 ingredients and are done in 10 minutes.

Streamlined Stroganoff
From The 5 in 10 Cookbook by Paula Hamilton
Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 pound beef (a low-cost cut of steak works great)
3/4 pound fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons ketchup

1. Cut the beef into 1/2 inch thick slices, then into small chunks. Cut the mushrooms into thin slices.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the meat and cook over high heat, stirring, until it is browned all over.
3. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring, until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture, about 3 minutes.
4. Stir in the sour cream and ketchup and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper as needed. Serve over egg noodles.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cruisin' for a Deal- Part Two

Yesterday I covered ground transportation to/from the ship, luggage, and food. Today I'm back with more tips.

This can easily be the most expensive part of your cruise. On most cruiselines the only included beverages are tea, coffee, tap water, lemonade, iced tea, and some juices. However, the minute you get on the ship you might be offered fun, fruity, tropical drinks while reggae music plays and they welcome you aboard. Do not be fooled as we were on our first cruise. Once you take a drink they will ask for your newly minted room key/debit card and will charge you $9! If you purchase a bottle of wine at dinner, your waiter will re-cork it and then bring it out the next night for you to have again, a good option. Any alcoholic drink is going to be expensive. We have noticed that certain liquors look just like water when they are brought aboard in a water bottle....

Anyway, another way they try to get you to spend more money is by having tubs of cold, bottled water next to the door when you leave for shore excursions. Bring your own water bottles and fill them up at the buffet or in your room. If you are a big soda drinker, many cruiselines offer an unlimited soda card or sticker for a set price. It's a good deal, as otherwise they charge you per glass.

Shore Excursions
These can be hit or miss. I always do a lot of research on each port before I decide whether or not to buy a shore excursion package. Just by entering the port name and the word "review" into google you can find pages and pages of reviews and information.  If the port is near public transportation such as train or subway, that is often the best way to get where you want to go. When we were in Athens, we left the ship, walked to the train, and were at the Parthenon before most of the bus tour groups from the ship had even left! The same with the Bahamas, we got our own taxi for just a few dollars intead of paying $20 ahead of time for a shuttle. However, in areas where the sights are spread out or not near the port, official excursions are the way to go. Also, if a cruiseline-sponsored excursion runs late, they will hold the ship for you. Otherwise you might see the ship pull away before you get back.

Plan ahead for tipping. You're expected to tip a whole host of people on the last night/day of the cruise. If you didn't plan ahead to have your tips added to your overall bill, you will need cash. And of course, the on-ship ATM's charge huge fees.

Have Fun!
Our cruises have been some of our most memorable vacations. Every morning you wake up in a new place. There are activities of every kind on board, from rock climbing and dodgeball to lounging in a hot tub or next to the pool, or even learning about art history or playing competitive sudoku. I'm looking forward to our next cruise, hopefully it will be soon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cruisin' for a Deal- Part One

Cruises can be an incredible and thrifty way to travel. However, a great deal on a cruise can quickly turn into a blown budget if you aren't careful. Here are some tips that we have learned through the three cruises we have taken. Since I have a lot to say about this subject, it will be split into two postings.

Ground Transportation to/from the Ship
Pay attention to how far the port is from the airport and check into ground transportation before you book. The shuttle or other transportation arranged by the cruiseline is not usually the best deal. When we cruised out of Rome the port was actually over 50 kilometers away from town. We did some research and figured out how to take a train from central Rome to the port town, which worked great, allowed us to see the countryside and get the local flavor. It's also a good thing we did our research before our cruise out of Orlando. Turns out the port is 45 miles from the airport. We did two one-way car rentals and ended up spending much less than if we had taken a taxi or booked one of the shuttles provided by the cruiseline.

As you will find in later posts, my husband and I HATE to check luggage. The same goes for cruises. If you have large bags that you can't carry on, you must leave them when you get on the ship and they are brought to your room at some point later that day or even that night. Then when you leave the ship, you have to leave the suitcases outside of your room the evening before, and once you're off the ship you must find them in a large room full of luggage. When you carry-on, you have access to all of your stuff right away. You can also leave the ship whenever you want to during the disembarkation process rather than waiting for your "luggage group" to be called.

All food (unless you go to a "specialized" restaurant available on some ships) is included. That means you don't need to be shy. If two appetizers on the menu at dinner look good, get both! If you can't decide between the lobster and the duck entree, get both! You see where I'm going with this. We have also found that the food at the sit-down restaurants is a lot better than the food at the buffets. Try to grab some to-go food to bring ashore with you. I usually took a couple apples, bananas, and some little boxes of cereal from the breakfast buffet before we left the ship. That can help you save on snacks later when you're off the ship. If you're in port for an entire day and it's easy to get on/off of the ship, go back to the ship for lunch. Remember, you already paid for the food.

In my next post I will cover shore excursions, drinks, and a few other topics. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Leftovers

Leftovers. I have to admit that the thought of leftovers used to gross me out. Now I appreciate the ease and thriftiness of leftovers, but there are still only certain dishes that I really enjoy as leftovers. The key is to find recipes which you will actually eat when they are re-heated.

Most evenings when I make dinner, I plan to have at least one serving left over. That goes into a plastic container and usually becomes my husband's lunch for the next day. Did I mention he loves all leftovers? It makes a great marriage since he will eat any leftovers that I don't like. There are also certain dishes that I make specifically to freeze for another time. I will share those recipes on this blog, the penne recipe from two weeks ago was one of these. Others include chili, macaroni and cheese, chicken soup, and several others.

Leftovers can help you avoid spending on costly lunches out and can also be a real lifesaver for those evenings that are too busy to make dinner from scratch. If you have a few frozen meals of leftovers in the freezer you're all set. I was so thankful for a full freezer when we had our daughter. We were happy to be able to pull something out and have a homemade dinner without having to cook or to have a frozen pizza!

So plan leftovers into your week. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thrifty Strategy- Gardening

Yummy salad made with homegrown lettuce

We had some friends in town this weekend and they brought us several delicious things from their garden; leaf lettuce, strawberries, and even some early sweet peas. As the summer continues they will start harvesting jalapenos, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and several other vegetables. Gardening is a great way to spend time outdoors,  get some exercise, and get wholesome food for less.

The most cost-effective way to start a vegetable garden is by planting seeds rather than buying seedlings at the garden store. Certain varieties, such as tomatoes, take a long time to grow from seed and need to be begun indoors at the end of winter. Other seeds, such as lettuce and radishes, can be planted outdoors once the threat of frost has passed. Also, gardeners are often willing to give away their extra seedlings, some even post them on Craigslist.

If you have limited outdoor space or limited time to create and maintain a garden, flower boxes or flowerpots are a great option. Herbs, radishes, and even tomatoes can be grown this way.

Some Gardening Resources:
Better Homes and Gardens
Square Foot Gardening

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In praise of libraries

Do you have a library card? I sure hope you do! Libraries aren't just for dusty old tomes and quiet anymore. They loan DVD's, CD's, magazines, books old and new, book club bags, museum passes, host discussions and meetings, the list goes on and on. My local library even has free coffee.
  • One amazing deal in the Twin Cities is the Museum Adventure Pass. When you check this pass out, you get two free admissions to a cultural destination such as the MN Zoo or Walker Art Center. 
  • If you have kids, many libraries offer free story time for several different age groups as well as summer reading programs
  • Often a library or county library system will bring in local or even nationally recognized authors for book discussions
  • Many library systems are online, where you can browse for books, renew, and put items on hold via the web. Some even send you email reminders when your books are almost due.
Take a trip to your local library this summer, you won't regret it!

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's OK to quit the gym

Do you pay a monthly gym membership fee? Take that fee and divide by the number of times you actually went to the gym last month. How does that number make you feel? That is the amount you are paying per time you work out. If that number makes you uncomfortable, I'm here to tell you it's OK to quit the gym. Even if you have the best intentions of using that hot tub, taking a spinning class twice a week at 6am, lifting weights until you have huge biceps, if you haven't done it in the past few months, you probably won't. And it's summer which makes it even hard to work out indoors.

I'm not saying not to work out, but financially, could your money be better spent elsewhere or saved? Think about it.

Some free or low-cost ways to stay in shape:
  • Download a workout app on your iPhone or plan from a website. There are many out there that can help you drive towards a goal such as a 5k or marathon, or just give you ideas of routines.
  • Make an ongoing date with a friend to walk, run, swim, bike, rollerblade, or any other physical activity that you enjoy.
  • Walk the stairs at work or go for a walk over lunch. In my former workplace there is a group that walks the stairs in our 50 floor building over lunch.
  • Go to free open houses at gyms around town or go as a guest with a friend who is a member. I just took a free yoga/pilates class this week at Yoga Bella near my house, they have an online coupon you can print.
  • Use the gym at your work if there is one
  • Borrow some workout DVD's from the library or a friend
  • If you feel you have to work out in a gym, try a low-cost one such as Snap FitnessAnytime Fitness, etc
Anyone else have suggestions on free or low-cost ways to workout without a gym membership?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dollar Stores- The deals and the not so much

Sunglasses I got this morning

Dollar stores- everything is a dollar or less so it must all be a good deal, right? Wrong. Look closely at the packaging, often companies make specific, smaller package sizes to sell at dollar stores (for example cookies, candy, aluminum foil, etc) so it might not be a better deal than the grocery store or Target. Sometimes you will see products that you know cost less than a dollar elsewhere. Here are some things that I think are a great deal at dollar stores:

  • Sunglasses- Every time I buy sunglasses that cost more than $1 I end up losing or breaking them within a week! Dollar stores usually have sunglasses, buy a few and keep them in strategic locations. Some stores also sell reading glasses for those of you who might need them.
  • Party Supplies- Most dollar stores have a large selection of paper plates, napkins, table cloths, etc. Whenever I'm having a party or need disposable tablewear, I head to the dollar store.
  • Helium Balloons- The Dollar Tree offers helium-filled balloons in 20 or more shapes and styles. Such a steal! They are a few dollars each at party supply stores.
  • Vases- If you need a glass or plastic vase for a flower arrangement you're giving or need a bunch of vases for a wedding or event, the dollar store usually has a good selection.
  • Picture Frames- There is usually a wide variety of frames, many are basic but sometimes there are more fancy ones/themed ones.
  • Dish Towels- I hate to spend more than $1 on a dish towel that I know will probably get ruined within a couple months
  • Gift Bags- Even plain gift bags cost more than $1 at Target and other stores. Dollar stores have a whole wall of gift bags of every imaginable size and pattern.
Do you have any go-to dollar store products? Leave a comment and let me know!

Other favorite dollar store purchases

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Madras Chicken Curry in a Hurry

We have had a slight obsession with Indian food ever since our best friends took us to Panna II restaurant in NYC five or so years ago. However, going out for Indian food every time we have a craving could get expensive! This recipe is a staple in our house. Serve it with some white or brown rice, plain yogurt, and maybe a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers. You could also replace the chicken with four hard-boiled eggs. Cut them into quarters and add at the very end. Don't let the number of spices scare you, it is not too spicy, and feel free to eliminate the cayenne if you want to make it milder.

Madras Chicken Curry in a Hurry
From Healthy South Indian Cooking page 230
As usual, I have made some small edits based on experience with the recipe. Serves 2 for dinner with 2 servings left over for lunches. Make sure you make extra rice to go with the leftovers.

Ingredients (best to prep/chop all ingredients before you start):
  • 5 tablespoons canola oil (vegetable oil works well too)
  • 3 dry bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1 cup chopped onion (one small white onion)
  • 1 cup chopped tomato (I usually buy a couple romas or whatever is cheapest, it's going to be cooked so it doesn't have to be perfect)
  • 1/4 cup peeled and quartered garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger root (this is sold with the vegetables, usually near the jalapenos. Just break off a one-inch piece and buy that. To mince, peel the skin off and grate with small grater or mince with a knife)
  • 3 pounds skinned chicken pieces with bones- about 6 to 8 pieces (Instead, I usually use boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into chunks, it cooks a lot faster and is easier to eat. But you could use chicken thighs, legs, whatever is on sale)
  • 1/4 teaspoon tumeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder or garam masala powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 cup tomato sauce

1. In heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add bay leaves and cinnamon stick.
2. Add onion, tomato, garlic, and ginger root. Stir fry for a few minutes, until onion begins to soften a bit.
3. Add chicken and cook until browned.
4. Add tumeric, cayenne, curry powder, cumin. Sprinkle them right onto the chicken to ensure the chicken gets lots of flavor.
5. Add tomato sauce and slow cook over medium low heat until chicken is cooked.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Take advantage of your employer! (ethically)

OK, did that post title hook you in? What I meant by that is to take advantage of the benefits, discounts, and other perks your employer might offer. Companies buy a lot of things, from computers and real estate to insurance plans. They buy in bulk. An employer in most cases can get a better deal than you can individually on health and dental insurance. They also might be able to negotiate deals on things like dry cleaning, certain restaurants, and daycare centers for their employees. Maybe there's an opportunity to get a transit pass at a discount. Take a look at your company handbook or intranet or talk to your HR person to find out if there is anything available for you.

Flexible spending accounts are also offered by some employers and can be helpful. There are healthcare accounts which allow you to put income aside to spend on healthcare expenses. Similar ones are available for day care and transportation. The big benefit is that your taxable income is decreased, which means your taxes are calculated off of a lower amount.

Another biggie is retirement. Many employers match part of your contribution to a plan such as a 401k. My former employer matched dollar for dollar up to 5% of my pay. That is free money! If you can't enroll right away when you start with a company, mark the eligibility date on your calendar and sign up the MINUTE you are able. I won't lecture on compound interest, but beginning to put away even 5% of your income for retirement now at age 25, 30, or even later will add up!

So, long story short, pay attention at employee orientation and during annual benefits enrollment. Take some time to understand what benefits are available and how to use them. Talk to your human resources or benefits representative or financial advisor. Then go ahead and take advantage of your employer!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thrifty Strategies- Garage Sales

Some recent garage sale finds by me, my mom, and my husband, including a $1 exersaucer.

Where can you buy a side table, package of swim diapers, a cooler, baby clothes, some work gloves, a board game, and an exersaucer, all for a total of less than $5? At garage sales! Garage sales are hit-and-miss, sometimes you hit the jackpot and sometimes you come up short. Here are some strategies to make the most of your time (and money).
  • Use Craigslist to find garage sales near you. There is a whole header under the For Sale section. You can search on the location and/or on specific items or categories.
  • Once you have a list of several sales, use Google Maps to develop the best route, and print it out so you can find your way.
  • Once on the road, if you see a sign for a sale that's not on your list, stop in. You never know what you might find!
  • Bring lots of change and small bills, I use this as an opportunity to empty out our change jar
  • Don't be afraid to bargain or to offer one price for a group of several items
  • Go in with a list of what you're looking for and try to stick to it
  • Make sure the items you buy are in good condition and not broken. Wash and/or disinfect all items, especially things for babies or children.
I learned my garage sale strategies from my mom, who has made some amazing finds over the years. Especially recently with items for our baby, including a swing for $20 that sells in stores for $150, a bike trailer, and all kinds of baby clothes for 25 cents or less each piece. Give it a try, you might find some treasures!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thrifty Travel Strategy- Camping

This post was supposed to be about the camping trip we went on this weekend. However the weather didn't cooperate and we had to cancel our plans. Didn't want our first camping trip with our four-month-old to be a wash-out! Camping is a great way to get away from it all. It can be a very thrifty vacation if you don't go overboard on gear.
Upper Sioux Agency State Park, Minnesota- May 2009
Basic Gear
You don't need a ton of fancy gear, ours is from a combination of garage sales, Target, friends and family, and Menard's. A rundown of some of the key pieces of equipment:
  • Sleeping tent: we have a four-man dome tent that we got at an end of season sale at Target
  • Screen tent: a more recent purchase to put over the picnic table and avoid bugs and rain, we got it at an end of season sale at Menard's
  • Cook stove: We bought a Coleman 2 burner stove for $5 at a garage sale and the guy even threw in a whole gallon of the fuel it uses
  • Sleeping bags: We received our current ones as a gift, but before that we each had one from our families who no longer camp
  • Air mattress and pump: Another Target purchase
  • Pots and pans: You can often find these things very cheap at garage sales, ours were my husband's family's set
  • Folding chairs: Can be found very cheap on Craigslist, garage sales, or aren't too expensive new
Where to Stay:
State parks are a great place to camp. Most states have online reservation systems that allow you to reserve a specific campsite ahead of time. We have also camped in and near national parks including Sequoia, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Acadia. Those were also a wonderful experience and we were able to book those online as well. When we went to Acadia, in Maine, we flew with all of our camping gear, now that was an adventure!

Some Links:
MN State Park Reservations
WI State Park Reservations
National Park Reservations

Joshua Tree National Park, California- May 2007

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Since my husband and I only rent a couple movies a month, Netflix is not the right choice for us at $8.99 per month. We have been using Redbox for a few years, and it perfectly fits our needs. Redbox is basically a DVD vending machine. The rental fee is only $1 per day, and you can pick up and drop off your movie at different locations. It is great for vacations. We just did this on a roadtrip a couple weeks ago. My husband checked out Precious at a Holiday gas station near our house on the way out of town. Once we got to Milwaukee, we did a search on the Redbox website, found one nearby, and returned the DVD at a Sentry grocery store.

If you're looking for a specific movie, you can search for it at locations near you, then reserve it. When you go to the machine you just swipe your credit card and out pops your movie. Genius!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thrifty Recipe- Penne with Vodka Sauce

This is a favorite weeknight meal at our house. We make a full recipe, have it for dinner, then freeze the leftovers in individual Gladware containers to eat for lunch. Most grocery stores offer a store brand can of crushed tomatoes and line of dried pastas. We use Target's Market Pantry.

Penne with Vodka Sauce
From The Good Housekeeping Cookbook page 223
I have made some small edits based on experience with the recipe.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 3 tablespoons vodka (since you're cooking it, might as well use cheap vodka, not Grey Goose!)
  • 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, sliced (I usually use 1-2 teaspoons dried basil leaves instead and add when I put in the tomatoes. Definitely a money-saving substitution)
  • 1 package (16 ounces= 1 pound) penne pasta
  • The recipe also calls for 1 cup thawed frozen peas but we usually leave those out
1. In skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook until garlic is golden, about 30 seconds longer.
2. Stir in tomatoes and puree, vodka, and dried basil if using. Heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened, 15-20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile in large saucepot, cook pasta as labeled. Drain and return to the pot.
4. Stir cream and peas (if using) into sauce, heat to boiling.
5. Pour sauce over pasta in pot and toss to coat. Sprinkle with fresh basil (if using).


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Parting ways with your stuff- ebay vs Craigslist vs donation

We all have "stuff" around the house that we really don't need anymore. The question is- what is the best way to get rid of it? If it's still worth something, how do you know if Craigslist or ebay are the way to go? And what about donating it? Hopefully this will help.
  • If in good enough condition to sell, is the item new in its package or in almost new condition? Yes- ebay No- Craigslist
  • Is there a market for the item in your immediate local area? Yes- Craisglist No- ebay
  • Is the item difficult or expensive to ship? Yes- Craigslist No-ebay
Donating: If you are not interested in trying to sell, several organizations will pick up items at your home address. Make sure to keep a list of what you donated and the receipt they provide to use for tax purposes. Some organizations that offer pick-up are linked below. Or you can always drop items off at an organization such as Goodwill Industries.
Lupus of MN
Disabled American Veterans of MN
Vietnam Veterans of America

Future posts will go into details on the how-to of Craigslist and ebay. We have used both and made some good spending money!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cloth Diapers?!

While we were planning for the arrival of our daughter, my husband and I talked to a lot of parents about their experiences. A few of them mentioned that they used cloth diapers. My first thought was: cloth?! Aren't they messy and leaky and don't they use big pins? Then we started looking into it and realized that cloth diapers have come a long way since the ones our parents used for us in the 1980's and before. They come in cute colors and many have adjustable snaps and velcro. We then started crunching the numbers on the cost of disposable diapers vs cloth and came to the realization that we could save some serious money, especially since we registered for the diapers and received most of them as gifts. Also, we will be able to use them again if we have another child.

Here's what we ended up doing:
- We decided on the BumGenius 3.0 cloth diapers. We registered for them on our Target baby registry and on the Cottonbabies website.
- We bought a Diaper Champ on Craigslist for $5 to hold the dirty diapers until I do laundry. You can use regular kitchen size trash bags with it.
- We wash a load of diapers every two to three days, using the Target Up and Up free and clear detergent

I'm sure there will be more posts to come about the details and day-to-day of cloth diapering. We've been at it for four months now and it's working great!

Some Useful Cloth Diapering Links:
Great overview of cloth diapering: Lazy Moms Guide to Cloth Diapering
Website that sells several types and offers a gift registry: Cottonbabies
BumGenius Website: BumGenius

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thrifty Website-

When we were decorating our first house, my husband stumbled upon the website It is a great place to find the perfect artwork for any room. You can search and filter on a ton of categories and most of the pieces are available in multiple sizes. Once you create an account you can build "galleries" to save your favorite pieces in as you're exploring the site and trying to decide what to buy.

There always seems to be some kind of sale or deal going on. We receive email coupons from them every month it seems. When you combine that with the fact that we have a mat cutter and my husband makes the mats and frames for the artwork (post coming in the future about that), we save a TON of money. Most of the time we buy the art and then pick the paint color for the room afterwards. It's easier to match paint to art that you already have, you can bring the art right to the hardware store to pick the perfect color!

Want examples of what we have purchased? See below for some pictures.

This is one of the two pieces that started it all. We bought it along with a similar one of Cabernet Sauvignon for a bedroom in our first house, it's moved with us twice and is in a bedroom in our current house. We used identical mat and frame colors for both prints.

This is one of five prints we purchased for our upstairs hallway. It's a series of line drawings of animals by Picasso. We used a different color mat for each print but identical frames.

We purchased three Asian-inspired prints with similar colors and used them in our hall bathroom. Each print has a different mat color but the same frame color and thickness.

When we lived in California, this along with two other fish designs by the same artist were the color inspiration for our guest bathroom. Now they're in a bedroom. Each piece has the same color frame but different mat colors.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Thrifty Strategies- Meal Planning

Making homemade meals is a great way to enjoy time with friends and family while at the same time being healthy and of course frugal!

Over the past few years, my husband and I have tried to sit down once a week to plan our meals. Here's the routine:

1. Look through the Sunday paper for coupons and at the ads and websites of local grocery stores for what products are on sale (Target, Cub, and many others have printable online coupons)
2. Check the freezer and pantry for items I'd like to use this week
3. Get out our favorite cookbooks and/or head to the computer to find some recipes based on what's on sale, what we already have, and what we feel like eating that week (I'm planning to write about favorite cookbooks, cooking websites, and some of our favorite recipes very soon)
4. Plan the evening meal for each day, including side dishes. Write the plan and recipe page numbers on a pad of paper on the fridge
5. Make the grocery list and go shopping! And of course stick to the grocery list as much as possible.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

30 and Thrifty?

In looking at the definition of thrifty in the blog title (from Webster's College Dictionary), what words jump out for you? Flourishing, prospering, and clever were the big ones for me. Our family leads a thrifty life. At the same time, we are flourishing, prospering, and have developed some clever tactics to do so! Read on for strategies, tips, and insights into how to be thrifty while at the same time enjoying your life.