Sunday, February 28, 2010

Birthday on a Budget...

As I mentioned in a previous post, we had our oldest daughter's 4 year old birthday on a major budget. We typically have a big family and family friend dinner, but I just couldn't do it this year. Instead, we had 3 friends and 2 cousins over for a pajama party! The plan was to have pizza, presents, cake, free play time, and some time to hang out and watch a Strawberry Shortcake DVD in their pajamas and sleep bags. I felt a little guilty about not having "structured" activities, but really, my girl just cared about having her friends over. In our neighborhood, I truly feel like I have to apologize for not having a pony and/or a bounce house, etc., but I just decided I wasn't going to buy stock in that this year. I just told the parents we were going to be really laid back and pulled the plug on my own personal guilt. I knew that my little girl would be thrilled with the activities, and she's the only one I have to answer to!

I planned ahead as best as I could and borrowed as my items as I could manage from our pantry and party supply overstock.I kept a mental tally (in rounded numbers) of what I spent, so I could put together a final cost. Here is the breakdown --

Little Caesars carry out pizza for guests and parents ($25)
Cake ($2)
Ice Cream ($3)
Fresh Pineapple ($.50)
Fresh Strawberries ($2)
Organic carrot sticks ($1)
Gallon of milk ($2.50)
Strawberry Straws (2.50)
24 bottles of water (free)
Plastic Tablecloth ($3)
New Gymboree jammies for the birthday girl ($3) Yes, $3.
9 Balloons ($9)
4 Carnations ($2)
Candles (free)
All paper and plastic silverware (free (leftover from the baby's first birthday))
Party Favors (princess pillowcases made and donated by my mom)

The total comes in at approximately $54.50, which I think is pretty darn good! I know I had a happy birthday girl too!

I'd love to hear more frugal birthday party ideas! As our family grows, we're not going to be able to keep up at the pace we had previously set. I'm going to need as many new ideas as I can get!

For my remaining $25, I got the items pictured above + 9 balloons and 4 carnations. I was happy to be able to squeeze the birthday party decorations in to what I had intended for my food budget. (Money was really tight for this birthday party as my husband had been out on light duty at work for nearly six weeks prior to the party. This cost us 5ish regular hours per week. Plus, he lost out on a significant chunk of overtime each week. We had to have a DIY bday party on the super cheap. I'm going to write a quick post about that too soon.)

Once again, I don't have too elaborate of meal plan this week. We'll be eating at Alpha on Monday night, and I think we are eating at my mom's on Tuesday night. My husband will probably have shrimp for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday, and the girls and I will likely have grilled cheese and tomato soup one day and fish sticks and fries another. I'm planning on making baked spaghetti for everyone on Friday. I was also very happy to be able to get a lot of apples, pears, pineapple and strawberries this week. Fruit makes my little people very happy, so they will enjoy that a lot!

I have two objectives for the week -

1. Get my coupons organized
2. Do some recipe research for some new frugal meal ideas
(Ok, three objectives, really..)
3. Start our taxes

Maybe I'll have some new surprises next week!

See this week's other purchase here.

See last week here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


My girls are eating me out of house and home lately! I just can't keep them full, and our cupboards are showing it! This week, I focused on getting some of their favorites and also on getting some things that were healthy yet calorie dense. My new 4 year old's birthday party is also today, so there is also some birthday party food in the mix. I allotted, $75 this week for food due to the birthday party. I tried to get some of the things that I needed ahead of this week (veggies and dip, cake mix and frosting, etc.) but there are some things you just can't do that with (strawberries.)

This picture is of our second trip to the store (Price Chopper) for the week. My pre-tax total was $38.41. I saved $35.96.

I also made a trip to Hen House where I got a pineapple, a pint of blueberries and three Lean Cuisine pizzas for $7.

View this week's other shopping trip here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Freezing Milk

Two weeks ago, I was able to get 2 gallons of milk B1G1 free.
We drink about a gallon of milk a week, so for us that is two weeks worth of milk. However, both gallons were set to expire before the end of this week. Whenever I find myself with an expiring bit of milk, I distribute it out in to sippy cups and freeze for a later time. They're really great to throw them in my kids' school lunch instead of an ice pack. I also use them a lot if we're going out to eat, out for the day, to run errands, etc. It saves a lot of money when you don't have to buy a drink (or two) for the kids when you're on the go. Works for me!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We made our third grocery stop of the week, and I was really happy to not go over budget by more than a dollar and change! Usually going to three stores is a one way ticket for me to go over budget, but I think I did pretty good!

Here is what I got --

1 bag of generic dried apricots
1 case of generic bottled water (free)
4 boxes of macaroni and cheese (Although I think I only got 3! Hard to tell in my picture!)
2 4 packs of Musselman's Healthy Picks applesauce
2 boxes of Nutri-Grain bars
2 Hormel refrigerated dinners
2 packages of Kraft singles
4 kiwis
4 bags of cranberries

My pre-tax total was $19 and change. I saved about $8.75 with coupons. Unfortunately, I don't know how much I saved by purchasing sale items.

I was really excited to find cranberries for $.50 a bag again. I found them right after Christmas in the produce section, and I cleaned them out. This time, I found them frozen with the fruit. Once again, I cleaned them out. I have a really great stash of frozen cranberries in the fridge now. I need to make some cranberry almond bars and pumpkin cranberry muffins some time soon. Yum!

Considering my attachment to the Daniel fast this week, I don't have a detailed menu at all. Too hard to think about that food! I will be eating fruits, veggies, whole grain pasta and nuts. The rest of the family will be enjoying things that I won't be cooking -- Hormel entrees, frozen pizza and mac and cheese. They'll miss some of my yummy cooking, but I bet they won't mind too much!

See this week's other purchase here.

Daniel Fast on a Budget

I decided at the very last minute to participate in our church-wide Daniel Fast from sundown on Ash Wednesday for 7 days. I decided that it was very important to take the time to draw near to God and to pray for vision for our family's individual and collective future. My hesitation was that I knew I didn't have any extra money to put towards the effort and that the rest of my family is not participating. While the budget issue made the effort just that much harder, I figured it was more authentic. I've had to be a little bit generous with the effort in terms of the "rules" but even in that moment where you know that you are eating white rice instead of brown, there is that opportunity to pray.

I actually made two quick trips to the store so far already this week. I spent $7 on 3 1/2 gallons of Minute Maid OJ and two lbs of whole wheat spaghetti. Last night, we went to Hen House, and I got the items picture above. The total was $21.30 pre-tax. I saved $20.41. We'll make one more quick trip today, and that will cover it!

See this week's other purchase here.

See last week here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sweetheart Cake

I saw this Lucky Leaf Sweetheart Cake on a few different blogs leading up to Valentine's Day. We are on a super tight budget this Valentine's Day, but I really wanted to do something for both sets of our parents. I was thrilled when I saw this recipe because 3/4 grandparents REALLY (like REALLY) love all things cherry. I figured if I could pull of this cake, it would not only be the cheapest way to go, but perhaps the most thoughtful as well.

Here is the recipe, from -


  • 1 (18.25 oz.) dry white cake mix (or your favorite flavor)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
  • 4 c. (1lb.) confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 2-4 Tbsp. milk


Preheat oven to 325° F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch. Mix together on medium speed; dry cake mix, eggs, baking powder, both extracts and ½ can of LUCKY LEAF Premium Cherry Pie Filling until moistened. Fold in the remaining ½ can of cherry pie filling by hand until blended. Batter should appear thick. Pour batter into pan and level with a spatula. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove cake from oven, and allow to cool completely in the pan before icing.

*For Icing: Cream together butter and both extracts. Slowly add sifted confectioners sugar, beating well. Add 2 Tbsp. milk. Mix well. If needed, continue adding milk 1 Tbsp. at a time, until icing is smooth and spreadable.

*Decorating Idea: Spoon additional cherry pie filling over the pieces when served. Sprinkle sliced almonds or mini chocolate chips on top of the iced cake.

*Substitutions: Substitute two 16 oz tubs of any flavor prepared icing, for the buttercream icing recipe above. If using a Wilton 9 x 2-1/2 inch heart-shaped cake pan, Bake at 325° F for 65-75 minutes.

Makes 15 servings


I followed the directions exactly, except that I didn't have a heart shaped pan. Instead, I baked two single layers for 30 minutes at 325. They turned out perfectly. The icing recipe made just enough to cover the top of each one of them. I was able to frost the sides.

The cake turned out really, really delicious. My dad ended up taking his to a couples game night, and I heard they all loved it and wanted the recipe. I guess that means it was a hit! Perhaps we'll make this cake a Valentine's tradition!

Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays, Tuesdays at the Table, LifeasMom,

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I've touched on a variation of this recipe before, but I wanted to share cavatini in it's "normal" form instead of in the variation that I talked about previously.

I basically make cavatini like a lasagna. I boil the noodles (my favorite is Campanelle) about half way and layer in a cheese mixture and sauce. I usually do two layers of each. (You can also do a layer or two of pepperoni, if you want, but we prefer it without.)Then, I cover it with foil and bake at 350 for approximately an hour and 15 minutes or until bubbly.

For the cheese mixture I use --

1 big tub of cottage cheese
1 8 oz bag Italian blend cheese
About a half cup of Parmesan cheese
A few shakes of parsley, garlic, oregano and basil, salt and pepper

I also make my own sauce sometimes, but I'm finding I can get jarred organic Ragu on sale with a coupon for cheaper than I can make it.

We reallllllly love recipe around here. It's so easy, and it freezes super well. Plus, the leftovers are even better!

Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays, Tuesdays at the Table, LifeasMom,

Hy-Vee and no receipt...

As luck would have it, I just pulled out my receipt and it's mostly blank. My littlest lady hit her head on the check out counter VERY hard as we were getting ready to leave, so instead of paying attention to what was going on at the check out, I was consoling my sweetie. She's ok, but the checker played a fast one on me, I guess! She sort of folded up the receipt really small and handed it to me! It's not really a huge deal, but I do like to double check my receipt to make sure my coupons rung up correctly.

If I remember right, my after tax total was about $29, which means that we stayed under budget. I did take a little bit of extra money out of our gift budget to buy cherry pie filling to make a cherry cake for both sets of our parents for Valentine's Day. Who knew pie filling was so expensive!?!?!

I don't have too extensive of a meal plan for this week. We're making chili for dinner and cherry sweetheart cakes later tonight. My husband is taking me out for Valentine's dinner, and we'll eat at Alpha on Monday night. I'll probably make a cavatini ahead of time for dinner on Tuesday night. Chili and cavatini leftovers ought to carry through on dinners for the rest of the week. We'll all be taking brown bag lunches this week, and we have lots of fresh fruit and and yogurt for breakfasts and snacking!

See this week's other purchase here.

See also

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Weekend!

I have a few announcements!

1. I feel like I owe a follow-up on my post about the need to reduce our grocery budget back in October. Very shortly after that, my husband got a raise and a promotion. It was a tremendous blessing and really great timing. Basically, the raise absorbed our increase in health insurance and tuition for 2010, so that was really great. We had a to wait quite awhile for it, but it was FINALLY on his check today! We are feeling very blessed, but at the same time, we know that we are required to be generous and resourceful stewards of God's money. I'm hoping that is an aspect of our financial strategy that I can shed some more light on. I should already be doing that. More on that later.

2. I forgot to mention that I am starting a 12 week diet through a word sponsored event...TOMORROW! I weighed in this afternoon. We did this same event last year, and I lost about 7 lbs. Guess what I gained back??? 9 lbs. I'm still at a healthy weight, but I wouldn't mind shedding some of the extra flab. My goal is to lose about 7 lbs this time. While I am as always trying to buy as many healthy foods as possibly, I prefer a strategy that allows me to eat what I want but just in smaller portions over diet foods. It worked last year, so I'll give it another go.

Now for our grocery trip to Hen House...

It was a good one! Here is what we got:

3 boxes of Barilla
3 cans of Red Gold tomatoes
1 bag of Mission tortillas
4 jars of organic RAgu
1 package of Double Stuffed Oreos (free)
1 package of Oreo Cakesters (free)
1 DiGiornio pizza
8 lbs of Russet potatoes
2.58 lbs of red pears

My pre-tax total was $18.22. I saved $29.43.

See this week's other shopping trip here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Superbowl Week

We are STILL down with the stomach flu around here. We have all had it now, and both my husband and the baby have had it twice. IF there is a "positive" part of all of this, it's that I didn't even NEED groceries this week, except for fresh fruit and milk. It was a good thing I didn't really need much because the sales were BAD. All I had on my list for this trip was Oreos (because they were free,) milk, cream cheese, avocados, the ingredients for cake balls and ketchup. I had a special request for Malt O Meal and everything else I bought on a whim. I was lucky to find several good coupons in the store (Price Chopper) for Cheez-Its, Cakesters and Wheatables.

Here is a breakdown of what I got --

1/2 gallon of organic whole milk
1 lb of butter
3 bricks of cream cheese
1 box of Cakesters (free)
1 box of Golden Oreos (free)
1 box of Cheez-Its Duoz
1 brick of Velveeta
1 box of Almond Wheatables (very nearly free)
1 box of Duncan Hines cake mix
3 bottles of Heinz ketchup
1 box of chocolate Malt o Meal
2 boxes of Orville Reddenbacher popcorn
1 package of Charmin Basic toilet paper
1 Betty Crocker vanilla frosting

I actually did WAY better that I thought I was going to. I saved $28.43. My pre-tax total was $37.37. It wasn't a great trip, but I knew it wouldn't be!

I will make a trip to Hy-Vee today, but I really don't have much on my list -- almond bark, tortilla chips and apples. That will take care of my grocery budget, but I also need diapers and wipes. I can't make it until the new drug store ads tomorrow, but I have a B1G1 free Huggies coupon! (How often does THAT happen???) I am really close to a $10 gift card with Hy Vee's baby bucks program, so I'll buy there this time.

As usual, we don't have much of an elaborate meal plan. We'll celebrate Superbowl Sunday with enchiladas, chips and Rotel. My favorite! Since we have Alpha again on Monday nights, I don't have to worry about Monday night's dinner. Tuesday night, I'll be working hard on cake balls for the girl's Valentine's Day classes, so we'll probably have something really easy like fish sticks and fries. It's everyone's favorite quick meal around here. Wed, Thurs and Fri nights are ALWAYS quick dinners around here. By the time we get this far in to the week, I have little girls that don't even care to stay awake for dinner, and our daddy doesn't get home until late. We usually snack on things like baby's favorite and peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

See more Monday meal plans at

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Black Bean Dip

I mentioned this recipe in passing when we had our New Year's Eve dinner. It's honestly SO yummy and so easy, and with it only having 4 ingredients, it's definitely a friend of the frugal kitchen! My husband swears he doesn't like black beans, but he had NO problem making a dent in this. My girls couldn't get enough of it either!

Here are the ingredients --

1 brick of cream cheese
1 can of black beans
about a cup of salsa
about 4 oz of grated cheese

All you do is spread the cream cheese on a plate, add a layer of salsa, a layer of black beans, and a layer of cheese. Then, you microwave for approximately 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted. That's it!

See other Superbowl recipe ideas at balancing beauty and bedlam.