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

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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.