Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween Witch Sign for the Door

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This is the first Halloween that my little girl will be able to walk up to people's doors. I still get to eat most of her candy, but she will be more excited about Trick-or-Treating than she was last year.

So the hubby and I both want to take her Trick-or-Treating.

But who will guard the door and hand out candy?

The witch.

Yes, I know we will likely have some hooligans come and take all of the candy and/or homemade Halloween-colored playdough that I leave out in a shallow bowl. (What's that? I already scarfed down 1/2 of the bag of Snickers?)

I'm excited to be able to walk my little chocolate chip cookie door to door to get her (me) some hopefully the witch can handle any shenanigans at home.

Halloween Cutting/Gluing Craft with Paint Chips

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My house is severely lacking this year when it comes to Halloween decorations. I blame it on the craft fair that I signed up for at the last minute (with 2 weeks to get all of the supplies and make enough stuff to have a legitimate booth), but really, it's because we have limited decorations (until they're on clearance November 1st - so look out next year).

However, I saw some ideas floating around the internet on how to use paint chips for art projects. I stopped in the paint section of our local Home Depot (while the hubby was ogling power tools and such), and picked out some Halloween-ish colors. As I was making them, I thought that this would be a fun project for preschool or elementary school students to work on their cutting and gluing. Just pre-draw the outlines for the kids to cut out.

I made Frankensteins, ghosts, and candy corn. These can be used as Halloween cards, decorations, or just a fun craft project. Here's how you can do it, too.

1. Pick out the paint chip colors you like. I went with shades of green for my monsters, gray for the ghosts, and orange/yellow for the candy corn.

2. Pencil in the outline of your designs. I cut the monsters into rectangles, the ghosts into, well, ghosts, and the candy corn into triangles with rounded edges. Then cut out your shapes.

3. Cut small triangles off of the tops of the Frankenstein monsters. When glued onto black paper, it will look like they have black hair.

4. Cut out backgrounds for the characters. I used card stock because it is sturdier. Use black for the monsters (because it will double as their "hair").

5. Cut out circles for eyes (I used the scraps from the paint chips for the colored parts). Cut out mouth shapes. Get creative. I'm not a great drawer, so I went very simple.

6. Glue the cut out characters onto the backgrounds. (I used a glue stick.) Then glue on the eyes and mouths and decorate with finishing touches.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Avocado Mac and Cheese

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Are you looking for a way to sneak healthy food in with the foods your kid already loves? Well, this probably isn't it because the avocado turns the macaroni green. And I mean green. However, if you're looking for a tasty way to mix up your typical mac and cheese, keep reading...

I went through a long phase of being obsessed with avocado. If I saw an avocado recipe on Pinterest, I pinned it. I loved it mixed in foods, cooked in foods, and in plain slices. And best of all, baby Cady loves avocado, too. It's so much easier to prepare meals for a kid when they like what you like.

One day, I found this recipe for Stovetop Avocado Mac and Cheese that made my taste buds heave with desire.

So, I gave it a try...twice. Here is my version of the recipe.

* 10 oz elbow macaroni (almost a whole box)
* 3 avocados, cut into chunks and divided
* 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice (to keep avocados from browning)
* garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste
* 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
* 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 1 cup milk
* 2 cups shredded cheese (I liked Mexican Blend, or a 4 cheese blend)

1. Cook the macaroni al dente. Then drain.

2. Meanwhile, put 2 avocados, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cilantro, and lemon/lime juice in a blender and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

3. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Then whisk in the flour and milk. Stir it with a wooden spoon until the sauce begins to thicken. Then stir in the cheese until it melts.

4. Combine cooked macaroni, avocado sauce, and cheese sauce in a large bowl.

5. Garnish with the remaining avocado chunks and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6 people (or Cady and I for dinner and lunch the next day)

It's thick and creamy...and very filling. If you like avocado and cilantro, this is a good recipe to try.
A word of caution: The sauce hardens quickly so don't leave your dishes sitting out for very long. Lesson learned the hard way...twice.

Here is what it's supposed to look like.

Here's what mine looked like (when I first made it with different noodles).

Oh well. At least it tasted heavenly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Purse Organization on a Budget

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I don't know about you, but my purses were toppling off of the top shelf of my bedroom closet. There was no rhyme or reason to their positioning, and for the most part, they were just thrown in there as I quickly changed purses out.

I didn't even know what my collection looked like anymore.

Then I cleaned out my closet and donated a few old purses (and kept a few others for when Cady wants to do "pretend play" - can I get a holla for cheap toys, people?!).

I tried to reorganize the remaining purses, but it looked exactly the same as the mess I started with.

Solution: Hang them in the coat closet.

Inexpensive Solution: Hang them in the coat closet with shower curtain rings. You don't need to pay for fancy, expensive organizational tools...just be creative (or copy other creative people). I found this package of brand new shower curtain rings at the Goodwill store.

After 10% off and adding tax, my simple purse organization system only cost me $.96! Less than a dollar...and now I can find every single one of my purses.

If only I found money in each of those purses.

Hair Dryer and Curling Iron Storage

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We recently renovated our master bathroom, but don't let the word "master" fool you because it's a rather small bathroom. If my hubby wants to stand at the sink with me while we brush our teeth, he has to wedge my robe (that's hanging behind the door) into the corner of the wall so that he can open the door all the way. I have to hang my cosmetics behind the door as well or else our stuff just wouldn't fit in there. It has everything we need, but when it comes to storage, we have to be creative.

In order to have more space to move around, we went with a smaller vanity. We love it and it's beautiful, but storage space in minimal. I needed a place to put my hair styling tools and miscellaneous items, and it ended up looking like this...

Disaster in progress, I know. It could be worse...but if I didn't do something soon with the little that I had in there, it was going to get much worse very quickly.

So, I was at the Goodwill store and I found these two desk organizers. Hmm. They looked big enough to hold my stuff, and after tax, I only paid a total of $1.92!

I cleaned them up, put my hair dryer in one and curling irons in the other and voila! They fit!

For less than $2, my bathroom vanity is neater and now I have even more space for anything else I need to store in there.

from mess to magnificent

Jack-O-Lantern Felt Activity

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Hello, fall. This is the time of pumpkin everything...including easy early childhood activities.

What is my little Cadybug up to? She is happily playing with the pumpkin felt activity I made for her. With this one simple activity, she is learning so much:
* Fine Motor Skills - she is using her pincer grasp to place the pieces on the pumpkin
* Cognitive Skills - she is placing the pieces in a face pattern
* Social-Emotional Skills - as she creates a face for the jack-o-lantern, I talk to her about their expressions (silly, scared, etc.)
* Science - she is learning light vs. dark with the yellow face pieces vs. the black face pieces
* Body Parts - she is learning parts of the face
* Colors - as she picks up a piece, I say its color
* Shapes - as she picks up a piece, I say its shape

It took me about 10 minutes to make, but it has kept my toddler busy for at least 20 minutes at a time!

What You Need:
* 1 piece of orange felt
* < 1 piece of black felt
* < 1 piece of yellow felt
* scrap of green felt
* a dab of hot glue

Cut the orange felt to resemble a pumpkin.

Cut the green felt to look like a stem and glue it onto the pumpkin.

Cut the black felt to make different face pieces. These are the ones I did, but you can be really creative with this part. Cut the yellow felt to make face pieces so that the jack-o-lantern can "light up".

Store all of the pieces in a bag when your toddler isn't busy playing and creating faces.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kitchen Scrubber and Soap Plate

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My kitchen scrubber is always left on the counter, near the edge of the sink. It gets nasty and leaves the counter a slimy, wet mess. Who knows what kind of grossness is sliding around my counter top, but what I do know is that I want a place to put it so that it doesn't saturate everything near it. (Yep, first world problems...)

I saw this cute Kitchen Dish Soap Cake Stand on Pinterest, and I was inspired to try to make one of my own and quarantine my wet scrubber.

What a coincidence! Today was scratch-off day at the Goodwill store and I received an extra 10% off of my Cady and I spent about 45 minutes rummaging through the shelves to find craft-inspiring treasures.

Success! I found this medium-sized ceramic plate and this short (but sturdy) glass. I immediately loved the plate because it has dividers on it. Not only will my scrubber stop sliding around the counter top, but it won't even slide around this cake stand!

Glass: $.49 + 10% off + tax = $.47
Plate: $.99 + 50% off yellow tag items + 10% off + tax = $.48
Total Price: $.95

Less than a dollar to make my life a little simpler. I can handle that.

Here's what I did:

1. Peel off all stickers and residue and then wash thoroughly with warm water and soap (it was sitting on the shelves of a Goodwill, afterall). Then thoroughly dry the glass and plate.

2. Spread hot glue on the bottom of the plate and the bottom of the glass. Then quickly place the glass in the center of the plate.

3. Let dry and then display your frugally classy scrubber and soap plate!

You might be thinking, "Rachel, why don't you save yourself the trouble and just leave the plate flat on the counter?" Well, I've been wanting to do a test run of making a cake plate, so I thought this would be a nice start. Plus, yes, the plate keeps those scrubber juices from sliding around the counter, but I just feel better about it being a few inches above any accidental brushing with other items.

I really like how it turned out, but I think I will eventually try to paint it to match my kitchen decor better. Other than that, I am super happy with my new kitchen scrubber and soap plate...and the lack of scrubber slosh left on my counter top.

Penne with Bacon and Spinach

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* 1 box of Ronzoni Garden Delight Penne Rigate
* 8-10 slices of bacon, chopped into bite-size pieces
* 1 package of fresh spinach (I used 3/4 of a bag of pre-washed baby spinach)
* 1 can diced tomatoes with Basil, Garlic, and Oregano
* 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
* 6 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Cook the penne according to the package directions.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a pan. Put the bacon in and cook until crispy.

3. Add the minced garlic and diced tomatoes to the bacon and cook until heated through. (1-3 minutes)

4. Put the spinach in the bottom of the colander and drain the pasta over it.

5. Combine the spinach, pasta, bacon, garlic, tomatoes, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl.

Serves 4

This recipe was adapted from Recipe Matcher.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

62 Money Saving Tips

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1. Budget your money for the month. This is the most important way to avoid overspending. I absolutely love budgeting. If I could find a way to make a living by figuring out people's budgets for them, I would definitely do it. If I'm stressed, I work on the budget. There's just something about rearranging the numbers to make our purchases work that give me a huge satisfaction. It's weird, but it's one of the reasons my hubby loves me (because he doesn't have to do it).

2. Stretch the life of your hand soap. You can take regular liquid hand soap and water it down a bit to make foam soaps. Your regular liquid soap will last 3 times as long. Read here how to make your own DIY Foaming Hand Soap.

3. Menu planning is one of the top ways to save your food budget. If you find your freezer and pantry are decently stocked, save yourself from overspending on your weekly or monthly groceries by menu planning with the food you already have. Here is how.

4. Ditch the home phone. I kept our land line for a long time because it was my grandparents' phone number and I was sentimental about keeping it, but we were only getting sales calls on it and we preferred using our cell phones so we finally decided to ditch the land line and we're saving $20 a month.

5. Install a programmable thermostat and set the schedule so that it's not heating or cooling as high while you aren't home. We've been doing this for years and have noticed a dramatic change in our gas and electric bills.

6. Shut vents in unused rooms to save energy costs. If no one is currently using your guest room, why are you spending the extra money keeping it as warm or cool as the rest of your house?

7. Unplug appliances you aren't using. I typically leave the toaster, can opener, printer, baby monitor, and phone chargers unplugged unless I need to use them.

8. Brown bag your lunch. My hubby is a Taco Bell junkie and if we had unlimited funds, he would probably eat it for lunch every day, spending on average $40 a week. Instead, I make sure to stock up on plenty of lunch food items and he brings his lunch to work every day. This is much cheaper...and healthier.

9. Save your loose change in a change jar. If you can make yourself put all change aside, or even certain bills (like all $5 bills), you will be pleasantly surprised with your bonus cash when it's full. I use an old parmesan cheese container, and cash it in when I have quite a bit in it. Simply take it to the bank and use their free change counter. We typically see about $20-$30, and I don't even let it fill up all the way before I cash it in.

10. Save and recycle cans. I cringe when people throw their pop cans in the garbage - they're just throwing away money.

11. Pay your bills online and save stamps.

12. Make your own cleaning supplies. I have seen many versions of diy home cleaners on Pinterest, and I haven't tried them yet, but I plan to very soon. Store-bought cleaners can be so expensive!

13. Donate to your local thrift store. I love Goodwill because my store is so helpful unloading my stuff, they're friendly, and they give me a receipt that I can fill out and submit with my taxes. It's kind of like saving money later on because your donations will help fluff up your tax return, and those donations help out other people who are in need. Plus, de-clutter your mind by getting rid of excess around your home.

14. Sell your extra stuff on Craigslist, Ebay, in a garage sale, or on Amazon. Don't want to wait until tax time to reap the benefits of donations? Try selling your excess stuff on your own. This can become time consuming and disappointing if you don't sell as quickly as you want to, but why not take the time and give it a shot?

15. Avoid spending on last minute fast food with advanced meal preparation. Learn how to be a freezer cooker and prepare a month's worth of meals. If you already have a dinner ready to go, you'll be less tempted to go out to eat and spend unplanned money.

16. Don't waste leftovers. My hubby hates most leftover meals (with the exception of maybe 2 recipes that I make). I, however, love leftovers because it means I don't have to plan what to make for lunch and in most cases, all I have to do is nuke it. On my busiest days, leftovers are my rescuer. Too much food gets wasted as it is, so I'm teaching my baby girl now that leftovers make the best lunches. They're quick, easy, and don't cost a dime.

17. Invest in an extra freezer. Since we've had ours, I have been able to prepare many meals ahead of time and purchase certain foods in bulk when they were at incredible prices. This is one of those cases where you have to spend money to save money.

18. Carpool when you can. Gas is at astronomical prices.

19. Plan ahead when running your errands. Make it so that you don't back track too much when driving. I always plan my weekly trip to the library and the grocery store on the same morning because they are very close to each other. Save your gas and time.

20. Use shredded wrapping paper from birthday and holiday gifts to use as gift filler instead of buying tissue paper. Don't throw away that pretty paper - shred it and upcycle it!

21. Set a savings goal and stick to it. Whether you have something in mind that you really want (*cough cough an ipad cough*) or you just want to build up your savings, pay yourself first. I personally can only set aside $50 a month that we don't touch unless there's an emergency, but it adds up and I let it accrue interest. Speaking of interest.....

22. Find out if your bank offers any rewards programs. My bank has a free rewards checking account where I receive 3.09% interest and all I have to do is use online banking (which I already do anyway) and use my debit card 12 times a month (not a problem when you tally up gas and grocery purchases for the month). If there's a large amount of money in the checking account, this can be pretty profitable - just for doing what I normally do!

23. Make crock pot meals. On those hectic weekdays, sometimes the last thing you want to do is cook dinner. Avoid the temptation of picking up fast food on your way home by setting up the crock pot in the morning. There are oogles of slow cooker recipes online. Here is one that I made and it was delicious.

24. Upcycle. Find new uses for old items around your home. I turned an old baby formula can into a drum, a pringles container into a rainmaker, an old diaper box into a storage box covered in material, caps from baby food pouches into a sorting and counting game. Peruse Pinterest and get creative.

25. Pay off your debts. When I met my husband, he had about $5000 in debt with 4 different credit cards. I had it all paid off in about a year, even on a strict budget. I started by making the minimum payments on the large cards and a larger payment on the smallest card. This may seem backwards, but once I paid off the smallest card, I added the payment I was putting towards card 4 to the minimum payment I was making towards card 3. Then card 3 started shrinking faster and faster and once that was paid off, I combined that monthly payment with the minimum payment for card 2...and so on. He has been debt-free for 4 years.

26. Pack snacks for the car. When you spend extra time at the store or park then you planned, you may be tempted to purchased the quickest, most convenient snack to satisfy your hunger pains. I always make sure to have a granola bar, a snack for Cady, and water for both of us packed in the diaper bag. One time, I forgot and had to purchase a $2 banana for her. Lesson learned.

27. Clip coupons. You can find coupons in the Sunday paper, in certain magazines (like All You), and on the internet. Find a coupon organization method that works for you. I use a small photo book that has an elastic strap to keep it closed.

28. Combine coupons with sale prices for maximum savings. Often when a coupon first comes out, the product is listed at full price in the store. If you wait a few weeks, many of the products will go on sale. I will hold onto most of my coupons and wait and see if they go on sale in the stores, and if they don't, then I will use them right before they expire.

29. Combine manufacturer and store coupons. Some stores will allow you to use 1 manufacturer coupon AND 1 store coupon per item. You can score items for free (or close to it)!

30. Be on the look out for free samples. If you do some searching on company websites or product facebook pages, you can sign up for free samples. More often than not, the samples will also come with coupons. You can also try emailing or calling companies and ask for samples or coupons.

31. Enroll in rewards programs. Our grocery store offers $.05 off per gallon of gas for every $50 we spend in the store. We need to buy groceries anyway, so why not get the money towards gas? I also use a Panera rewards card. I swipe it every time I eat there (which really isn't that often), and I earn free items.

32. Start holiday shopping early. Black Friday offers tons of deals, but a lot of times you can get great prices by purchasing items in off-peak-seasons.

33. Shop around for prices. I buy a lot online (mostly Amazon). It's simple to compare prices this way and find the best deals. Often times people sell their items on Amazon at cheaper prices, plus you save on gas from driving store to store.

34. Shop through Ebates. If you're going to shop online, go through ebates first. They will mail you a check for a percentage of what you spend. You get paid to shop. What's better than that? We have saved a lot of money with the big ticket items we purchased. For example, we wanted to buy a snow blower from Lowes. I knew exactly which one we wanted, so I want onto, clicked on the link for, found the snow blower we wanted and purchased it to be picked up in the store (no shipping fee). It was ready for us to pick up the same day AND I got a check back in the mail for $36!

35. Wait for the deals. I love to shop at Kohl's, but I will wait until I get a 30% off card in the mail. Then I will purchase the items I need. I keep track of my spending while shopping so that I can maximize the benefits of Kohl's cash for every $50 spent (before taxes and not including the Kohl's Cares items - learned the hard way), then I will use the Kohl's cash with another % off I get in the mail. Then I make sure to budget and pay off my card right away...that's the important part. You have to use your card for the deals, but if this is a planned purchase, you can put aside the money for it.

36. Shop used. You can find great deals on the items you need or want by shopping resales, garage sales, or thrift stores. I really wanted to get a play kitchen for my daughter and after a couple months of searching, I found a used one in great shape for $3.68 (it cost $100 brand new).

37. Buy used books for you and your kids. Want to spruce up your child's book collection? Check out the library book sales or garage sales. I love finding books for just $.10!

38. Check out your local freecycle website. You can sign up for the emails or just check the sites when you want, but this is a great resource. You can offer your own items for the taking, or you can respond to the offers from others. So far, I have graciously received a felt board, a double stroller, an easel, and coupons for baby items. In addition, I have given away clothes and household items we didn't need anymore. Before you go shopping, list an ad on freecycle for the item you need and you may be surprised by the generous responses!

39. Make greeting cards yourself. Cards can be so expensive. Homemade cards can be much more personalized and fun to receive.

40. Start following someone who posts tons of deals and savings. Be in the loop when there are great deals on the products you love! Personally, I follow Mama Cheaps on facebook and through email.

41. Make homemade gifts. They are more personal and unique. You can find tons of great ideas on Pinterest. Here is the footprint art calendar that I did this year.

42. Make a shopping list before you go grocery shopping and stick to it. Impulse buying really digs into your budgeted amount for food. I like to use the Cozi app on my phone to keep track of my shopping list and then check off items as I pick them up.

43. Instead of going out to eat, invite friends over for a pot luck and have everybody bring something different.

44. Purchase holiday decorations right after the holiday passed. Need new Christmas lights? Wait until right after Christmas and get them at way discounted prices!

45. Buy generic. Try the generic version of items you use regularly. Sometimes the quality isn't the same and you'll have to bite the bullet and buy brand name. But most of the time, generic is just as good at a fraction of the cost.

46. Use cloth diapers. Of course, it has a start up investment cost, but it pays for itself in time (especially if you use them frequently or exclusively). You may be thinking "Cloth? Sounds inconvenient." But let me tell you, present day cloth diapers are so simple! We use them at least 2-3 days per week (it would be more often if my supply was larger and I washed them more frequently). If Cady uses about 6 diapers a day, that's 18 diapers a week (72 diapers a month!) that we don't have to buy - and that's just using cloth 3 days a week! Save your money and save room in the landfills.

47. Make your own baby wipes. You can save $150 a year by using my recipe for homemade wipes.

48. Make activities for your child. I like to make playdough, finger paint, melt leftover crayons together, stuff and tape up real food items (cereal boxes, plastic juice containers) for pretend play, etc.

49. Get free babysitting by trading off with another mom. It will be a play date for your kid and free time for you (without the $10/hour fee).

50. Make clothes or accessories for your child. I'm not good at sewing (at all!), but I make headbands for my little girl.

51. Make your own baby food. It can be time consuming (compared to just buying jarred food), but I loved knowing exactly what I was feeding my little girl and it tasted better than the jarred versions. Don't get me wrong, we used jars or pouches on occasions like when we went out of town and I didn't have a way to keep the homemade food cold. But 95% of the time, my hubby and I were making her food at home. We purchased a Baby Bullet (with a 20% off coupon at Bed, Bath, & Beyond) and many 4oz freezer/microwave/dishwasher safe containers (Rubbermaid from Walmart). Yes, it took time washing, peeling, cutting, blending, and dividing the foods, but we saved so much money! Grab a partner, start an assembly line, knock out a bunch of food and store it in the freezer. We made baby food once a week.

52. Love your local library. Check out movies and music for free. I go on my library website and put holds on new release movies a few weeks before they come out. They send me an email when I have movies ready to pick up, and it's as simple as that. Sometimes we get new release movies right away, and sometimes we have to wait a while, but I can't complain when they're free. Plus, don't you hate it when you spend the money to rent a movie and it turns out to be a dud? If it was free, all you wasted was a bit of your time.

53. Rent your textbooks from the library. Sometimes, you can find the textbooks you need through the library. Just renew it until you're done. I was lucky last year and found the book I needed at the library for one of my college classes. I saved $60 by not having to purchase it!

54. Go on daytime dates to the movies. Matinees are much cheaper than evening movie theater prices. We often go to the last matinee show time of the day so that it feels like date "night", but we spend half the amount.

55. Sign up for birthday clubs. Mama Cheaps posted an extensive list of birthday freebies. I know I sure enjoyed my free Noodles meal and free drink from Caribou Coffee.

56. Rent dvds from redbox. Don't want to wait for the free movies from the library? Redbox offers inexpensive movie rentals. If you sign up for the emails, you will get the occasional FREE movie rental. The only time we ever rent from Redbox is when we get offers for free or $.50 off. However, it's not a free movie if you forget to return it on time. Oops.

57. Find cheap or free events in your area for entertainment. Libraries offer a lot of free activities for children and adults (we are always going to story times and baby play). Some websites list free or cheap local events like festivals and craft fairs. Do a search and see if there is such a site for your area that will keep you posted on inexpensive entertainment. (I don't know about all locations, but I use Little Lake County and Chambana Moms.)

58. Find cheap gas. I use the Gas Buddy app on my phone to find the best prices on gas in my area.

59. Groupon and Living Social have great deals on local entertainment. These sites allow us to live our old lifestyle on half of the salary.

60. Save money when going out to eat. Purchase gift certificates through, especially when they have really good sales. There was one time when I got a bunch of $25 gift certificates for $1 each!

61. Be cultured without spending a fortune. See if your library has free museum passes. Our library had a summer program where you could check out museum passes for a week, so we took Cady to the zoo for her first birthday - for free! That's a savings of $30.

62. Set aside your grocery "savings". Does your grocery store receipt show you how much money you saved during your purchase? Try setting aside that money that you would have spent. For example, if your receipt says you saved $18 that day, set aside $18 in your bank account. Try doing this every time you go grocery shopping and you will be amazed at how much money you can accumulate with your grocery savings. I have yet to try this, but it is a goal of mine.

I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to save some extra money. Please feel free to list some ideas of your own in the comments section.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Crock Pot Italian Chicken with Potatoes

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We had the easiest and most delicious dinner tonight - Crock Pot Italian Chicken with Potatoes.

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 yukon gold potatoes, sliced
1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
1 tsp. Italian seasonings, divided
1/2 cup Italian Dressing, divided

1. Slice potatoes as thinly as you like. Cut the fat off of the chicken breasts.
2. Put the chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker

3. Add ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp Italian seasonings, and ¼ cup Italian dressing.
4. Scoop the potatoes on top of the chicken.
5. Add the other ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp Italian seasonings, and ¼ cup Italian dressing.

6. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours.

Serves: 3-4

Foaming Hand Soap - DIY

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I have an obsession. Bath and Body Works foaming hand soaps are one of my personal splurges. I limited myself to only purchasing it on sale or putting it on my gift wishlist. But even when I get it on sale for $3 a bottle, it's still a bit pricey for us. Regular liquid hand soap is okay and all, but sometimes you go to pump, and it spurts out a handful. I don't have 15 minutes to wash all of that excess soap off of my hands. Foaming soap, albeit expensive, is the way to go.

So I was perusing Pinterest one day and found this blog, "Full of Great Ideas", that suggested you can make your own foaming hand soap. Whoa. I couldn't pin it fast enough.
They use dish soap or body wash, but I figured I could try it with regular hand soap.

Of course, my supply of foaming hand soap ran out quicker than expected, so I logged into my pinterest account and gave this a try.

Here's what I did.

1. I grabbed my empty foam soap container and a new bottle of regular liquid hand soap (I have not tried the creamy-lotiony kind).

2. I filled the empty container about two inches with the soap.

3. I added hot water to the container, leaving about an inch or so at the top.

4. I screwed the lid back on and shook it (side to side, not up and down).

5. I pumped it and it worked! Now, I don't have any exact measurements. You basically add water until you get the desired foaminess. If you add your soap and water and it still seems too thick, just add a little more water. The first few pumps may need a little force, but it should work perfectly after that.

My soap refills last so much longer and I feel like I'm not wasting tons of soap every time I wash my hands.

This is one of my favorite money saving tricks that still allows me to feel like I'm living luxuriously. You know, because foaming hand soap is the epitome of wealth.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Save Dough with the Dough in Your Pantry

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Meal Planning with What You Already Have

During my last few weeks in my college apartment, I decided to go through all of the food I had in the pantry, fridge, and freezer and create my meals around what I already had. My reasoning was solely not wanting to pack food in my already-stuffed car as I move back home. Little did I know then that this was practice for my future home-making habits.

My husband and I went on with our lives, planning our menu based on what meals we were in the mood for, regardless of prices or what we already had on hand. Man, was I naively overspending on groceries month after month! But, it was a start because meal planning alone saves a fortune when you compare it to going out to eat frequently when you can't think of what to make for dinner.

"Ooh, what's that back there? A new box of my favorite granola bars. Sweet!" I pull it out, look at the box, and then think to myself, "Aaannndd, it expired last month." I stand there for a minute, pondering the differences between "sell by", "use by", and "I dare you to eat that". This type of situation was happening too often and I was getting sick of throwing away expired food from the back of my pantry. But then I forgot and I did nothing about it.

Fast forward a bit, we were planning for a baby and living on a smaller salary. The only part of my budget that seemed negotiable was what we were spending on food. I really got into couponing and shopping the sales, and stocked up our freezer and pantry with the foods we love at prices my checkbook loved.

Our freezer and pantry were full at a fraction of the usual cost...and they were cluttered.

Then, something broke on the car and we needed to save some money to fix it. I looked over the budget, and it hit me. We have plenty of food. Let's plan a month of meals based on all of the food I stocked up on with coupons and sales and save our grocery money to fix the car.

First, I took everything out of the pantry and put it on the counters. Typically, I open up a word document and type up how much I have of each item. (This time, however, I didn't want to walk the 15 feet to get my laptop, so I grabbed my trusty dry erase board and just started messily writing it all down. Laziness resulted in an extra step for me, though, because I had to transfer my hand-written scribble onto my word document later.)

Don't be afraid of the mess. It will look worse before it looks better...unless you are one to start projects and not finish them. I tend to be guilty of that, but not today.

Then I put it all back in the pantry, organized and easy to find.

Next I took everything out of the fridge and freezer and documented what we have available. *Note: This is a good time to clean out those expired condiments and freezer-burned items.*

Then, I embraced nap time, sat down with my laptop and my coffee and got to work making a menu. Again, I just opened a word document and created a table to look like a calendar and filled it in with dinner ideas. Simple. You could also use paper and pen, dry erase board, whatever works for you. I'm a computer person.

As I used one of the items on my inventory list, I simply deleted it.

Sometimes, though, there are those certain items that I just don't know what to make with them. If you have that type of situation come up, here is what I've been doing. I put all of the leftover ingredients from my inventory into Recipe Matcher and click on "Find Recipes Now". Wow! I instantly found a slow cooker recipe for the chuck roast that's been sitting in my freezer. It's easy and free to use the website. We're trying to save money here, right?

So for the next few weeks, we will be living off of all of the food already in our home and only need to shop for fresh items like produce and milk. Do some planning and save some money, mamas!!

Working off the Toddler Weight

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Is it still considered baby weight if I lost it all after having the baby and then gained it back? No? Then, I will refer to it as toddler weight instead.
As a busy supermom and homemaker, it has been a struggle for me to find time to work out as much as I used to, but I refuse to give up.

I was ecstatic when I lost all of the baby weight (and then some!) while I was breastfeeding...and then I stopped breastfeeding...and the pounds came back. 30 minutes a day doesn't sound like much, but when the laundry and dishes are piling up, I need to go grocery shopping, and my adorable baby girl looks up at me while holding a book for me to read to her, those 30 minutes have already been spoken for.

Ideally, I would get up at 6 and get my work out in, then take a shower and be ready for the day before the baby gets up. Here's what really happens, though.

7:20am I turn over as the hubby's alarm goes off
7:40am I turn over again as the hubby says good bye
7:45am I hear the baby calling for me and the unpleasant thought of actually moving my head off of the pillow starts to become a reality
7:50am I change the baby's diaper with one eye open and my hair in a nest hanging from the side of my head (so glamorous)
7:55am I yawn, and baby girl looks at me and imitates my yawn. Is it that obvious how tired I am? I guess so.
8:00am Feed baby girl her yogurt, resting my head in the other hand
8:25am Sit on the floor with baby girl and play with toys, while thinking of excuses why I'm not going to work out. I like to multi-task.
9:00am Finally muster up the motivation to work out

Hooray! Here I go! Pop in the dvd and start working out...OUCH! Stepped on Cadybug's drum stick.

Keep going. I hear "ticka ticka ticka" I look down, there's Cady trying to tickle me as I grapevine.

Somehow I manage to continue the work out, dodging Cady as she crawls around the living room floor and stepping over the toys that she keeps putting near my feet as obstacles.

Keep moving. Pull Cady away from the fireplace she's trying to get into, then jump back in the workout.

Time to stretch it out. I stand with my legs in a "V" position. As I look down, I see Cady poking her head through my legs, looking up at me.


Maybe I can force myself to wake up tomorrow at 6am...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Make a Baby Headband for just $1.23!

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Does your beautiful baby girl suffer from headband-indent-itis (a red mark caused by tight store-bought headbands)? Here is the cure you've been looking for...
I am one of those moms that has put a headband on my daughter's soft little head nearly every day since she was born. There is no question that I am toting a little girly-girl by my side.
All of those headbands that you can buy for little baby girls are cute and everything, but what's not-so-cute is the big red indent that is left on their little girl heads. I get that they have to be fitting so that they stay on and the baby doesn't choke themselves on it, but do they really have to cut off blood flow?

My awesome cousin Lissa is so good at making adorable headbands that actually fit well and she inspired me to try to make some for my little Cadybug.

Sometimes my headbands turn out really cute...and sometimes they look weird. Cute little girls can pull off weird looking headbands, though, right?

However, this one turned out adorable!

All you need is:
* felt cut into circles (no larger than the bow or flower you are putting on your headband)
* flower, bow, or whatever item you want to put on the headband
* hot glue gun/hot glue
* headband

That's it.

The absolute most difficult part for me has been finding stretchy headbands that fit well. My advice to you if you're just starting out is to look in the older kid's section for plain headbands. They seem to fit the best and usually come in packages with multiple colors.

Find some felt that will match the headband and cut it into two small circles.

I like to use fake flowers from the dollar store. If you want to try that, make sure you remove all of the hard plastic pieces in the middle of the flower first. Then you will need to glue each layer of the flower separately. The middle of the flower may look ugly from all the glue underneath, so I like to put something decorative in the middle (like a button or puffy paint glob). For this particular headband, I used a flower that was in the craft section of Wal-Mart. I chose the more expensive route simply because I was looking for a black flower at the last minute.

Your flower/bow/whatever will cover up the seam completely. Find the seam on the headband and glue one of the felt circles on one side of it. Glue the other felt circle to the back of your flower/bow/whatever, then glue that felt piece
onto the opposite side of the headband seam, making a headband sandwich.

1/4 piece of felt: $.07 (my store sells felt for $.29)
1 headband: $.83 (on average)
1 flower: $.33 (bouquet from the dollar store)

I have seen similar looking headbands in a children's store for $6 each. Make it yourself and save $4.77 per headband! And if, like me, you want to have one of every color to match all of your adorable baby girl outfits, you could save so much money!

Be creative and say goodbye to the days of head indents!!