Thursday, September 30, 2010

A new one on me...

Remember ALL that juice I bought last week? Yup, it's GONE. Barely made it a week. Of course, the little ones are not the culprits here. It's is the big one -- the 6 foot, 200 lb one. Aside from realizing the need to hide my stash of certain items, I've also been working on a little bit of innocent trickery.

I don't know why it never occurred to me, but I recently read a tip online about diluting laundry soap IN the bottle. Now (until recently,) I've never done this (or even thought of it) because I don't have a volume consumption problem. On the other hand, my husband, along with lots of others, I'm guessing, is not so cautious. I've started noticing that after a few loads of laundry, he's killed a significant portion of a bottle of detergent. (Not a good time to notice this as my stash is running low!) Diluting doesn't absolve his usage problem, but it does at least stretch the soap a little further! Not only have I been using this technique on laundry soap, but I've been using it on bottle juices too. Of course, I always dilute juice in the girl's sippy cups, but my husband conveniently forgets EVERY TIME. Diluting in the bottle solves that problem, and guess what, he hasn't complained that HIS juice tastes watered down. I don't think he has a clue. Works for Me!

See other tips here at, Works for Me Wednesday!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


(I do apologize because I'm having some trouble with the HTML on this post.)

I got a nice comment from a reader that I thought I would share and reply to...

 Lauren said,
I've been starting to get into reading "frugal blogs" (for lack of a better term), and I wanted to say that you are the first person I've seen mention college savings. I think it is really great to see a blogger drawing the full picture and considering costs which others might consider "splurges." I am curious if you know of/use UPromise. It's a college savings site that hooks up to your grocery savings cards, and helps you save money toward college with the products you already buy. It's usually just 1-2% of what you spend (on particular products) but your kids are young enough that it could be a chunk of change by the time they reach college years. I didn't start until late MS/early HS and we still had about $200 saved. I'll look forward to reading mroe of your blog." Thanks for noticing the detail about college savings! Our situation is a little unique in that we are a frugal 2 income family. A lot of frugal bloggers are SAHMs, and that's great! It just so happens that our situation won't allow that. I work because we think it is most responsible for us at this time to carry health insurance. My husband's income is reasonable, but without decent health coverage, it would be a very scary way to live. (Before anyone takes the time to fill me in, I know about co-op opportunities. Thanks though!) So, even though we are working hard on college savings now, there is NO WAY we would have the extra cash if we were a single income family. It just wouldn't happen other than few nickles and dimes there and there. I can't blame anyone else who can't get there either! And yes, I do use Upromise. It's definitely not a fast way to earn $$$, but as you said, it's something! In about 4 years, I've saved $150.88. It doesn't sound like a lot, but I figure by the time our youngest goes to college, we should have easily earned $1,000. $1,000 is a lot any day of the week! If there are any readers out there who are already not saving for their children or grandchildren, there are ways you can help out other members! The easiest is to do any of your online shopping through this link: With this method, you don't have to register any of your debit or grocery cards, you can just help out once or twice by moving through the UPromise stores link when you make a purchase online instead of going directly to the online retailer. It's really easy and a brilliant way for parents to rack up some extra savings by utilizing their contacts lists.

You can also join another account members family and friends. With this arrangement, you can register your credit, debit and grocery cards to rack up savings on more every day purchases. It's pretty easy! If anyone would be interested in joining our family and family, let me know, and I'll email you an invitation! Long story short, if you're trying to ramp up your college savings, UPromise certainly doesn't hurt, and I definitely recommend it!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Groceries and Preschool Snacks

We never made it a second trip to the store after last week's first trip. I ended up going the middle of this week to pick up preschool snacks, which did end up coming out of the grocery budget. I also used what was left of last week's money towards this purchase along with a little bit of cash from this week's budget.

Our total came in at right around $30 before tax. I was so excited to get all of the juice and chocolate milk for $1 a bottle. What a deal!

I don't have another shopping trip planned, really. We're going to Target later today because my girls need new fall shoes. We'll probably pick up what we can find for a good price, and that we'll be it for the week.

I also don't have a bunch of cooking planned for this weekend. I really want to eat through some of the stuff we already have, but we might make peanut butter white chocolate chip blondies as a special treat for daddy later today. Stay tuned for that recipe! It looks like a good one!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Financial Check Up

I've been meaning to do a financial check up ever since I reported that we paid off our minivan, and I'm FINALLY getting to it! Without a big, looming debt to pay, it's been a little hard to refocus our priorities. I'll try to explain a little bit about where we're at.

Where we're at...

Let's see...

Literally, we're in a house that we're outgrowing. With baby #3 we'll lose our office, and we literally have nowhere else in our 1,200 sq feet to move it to. I had a market evaluation done on our house tonight, just to see where we were at. We were hoping (although not optimistic) that we could sell our house without a loss. I learned that we could, save for the agent's commission, so a loss it still is. Where that leaves us right now is sort of in a place of limbo where the only thing that we DO know is that we need to be socking away some crazy cash towards housing. We may hold on to this house, rent it and buy another one down the road. We may wait until the market turns upward for us a little and sell completely. We may decide to do some work to this one and stick around for the foreseeable future. Regardless, it requires capital. So, every spare dime we can muster up is going in to an ambiguous house savings fund. It's hard to not know how much we need, how fast or even really what we're saving for, but we've just GOT to do it.

Additionally, we're still doing a lot of the things we were already doing. Most importantly, a 10% tithe. Savings-wise, we're adding $50 a month to our 6 month emergency fund, $100 a month in a general  savings fund, $100/kid for college, paying a little extra towards our newly refinanced to 15 year mortgage, a temporarily reduced 6% to both of our retirement plans, and a $145 biweekly contribution towards my employee stock purchase plan. Additionally, we've added a $150 bi-weekly contribution towards a new car fund. Every extra penny from that point finds it's way to the new "house" fund. There's really not a whole lot left for that house account, which is leaving me with a new sense of urgency pinch more pennies and to create a multiple income stream. (I'm having REALLY good luck making some extra bucks with Opinion Outpost, btw.)

With our pre-budgeted spending cash, we're working on paying cash for a long weekend in Branson, Mo, buying a new bedroom set for the girls, a heated mattress pad for our new king bed and painting some rooms in our house and just generally trying to stay afloat.

So that's a little on us. I hope everything is going well for YOU! I know it's hard to make those dollars stretch, but we can do it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Preschool Snacks

As I said last weekend, I'm starting a preschool snacks series. Our school has gone from having crackers and juice every day to having a student provide a snack on a rotation basis. I like the idea of this, but in practice, I cringe when my little girls tell me what others bring to eat. There are so many wonderful, easy and healthy foods, but it seems like people just lack a little thought and creativity when their planning their child's snack day. I also think that people might get a little afraid of the expense if they consider healthier options. People just can't get past the myth that healthier food is more expensive.

I scoped out the sale ad yesterday, and I just didn't come up with much. However, I figured you can't get much cheaper (even at full price) and easier than bananas! My total for snacks for 12 kids and two teachers before tax for both the juice and bananas was $4.20. Best of all, my girl is proud to take a "helfy" snack, and she's pretty sure the kids will be excited to peel and eat their bananas! My case in point, this is AS easy as a box of fruit snacks or cookies, and quite possibly cheaper!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Just Between Friends Review

Have you ever wondered if one of these co-op consignment sales would work for you? I certainly did! Since we're getting for baby #3 (who happens to be a BOY, btw) I decided it was time to start purging some of the girl clothes that I have in order to make room for boy clothes! I was unimpressed with both of my regular consignment store and garage sale efforts, so I decided to give Just Between Friends a go. I started this project by scoping out the actual sale last Spring. It seemed like a good possibility, so I put it on my fall calendar. JBF ended up being quite the experience! In sharing my experience, hopefully you'll pick up some tips and ideas from what I learned by doing things the hard way! 

Online preparation -
A few months back, I went to the Just Between Friends website ( and located my local sale. Next, I applied to be a consignor by signing up online, Once I'd done that, I used their interface to set up my account in order to start tagging my clothes. THEN, I spent probably a good hour reading over what exactly I was supposed to be doing and exactly how I was supposed to tag. (I should have taken notes! The instructions and supply list are quite extensive!) Even still, I learned that I could set my own prices and that I could also track my sales results every night when the system updated. Both very nice features! 

Clothing Preparation -
I started with hauling up my ginormous Rubbermaids and combing through each basket piece by piece to decide what I wanted to sell in in the Fall/Winter 2010 sale. Thankfully, everything was already clean! (This helped me a lot in the long run!) As I completed sifting through each Rubbermaid, I entered all of my items in to the online system for tagging, and I threw them in a few laundry baskets. I decided not to wash all of the items again, but I did run them through the dryer with a wet wash cloth. It really did a great job of helping everything look crisp! I pulled them out and hung them up while they were still warm. I had a hard time finding space to hang everything (or anything,) and my dining room ended up being completely overrun by clothes for about a week!The only other problem, I realized later, was that I had to sort them by size for delivery. Next time, I'll keep everything sorted by size from the get-go! It ought to save me an hour or sorting when I'm trying to get out the door for drop off! 

Tagging and Pricing-
I really did have to read through the instructions like 8 times. About the 9th time, after nearly deciding that this process was too overwhelming, I decided I really needed to write everything down. I wrote down exactly what supplies I needed and exactly how clothes were supposed to be hung and tagged. (It is more specific than one would expect, but for good reason, I suppose!) Once I got all of the details out of my brain and on to paper, I felt better, but tagging did take awhile! Once again, I think I would have been better off if I would have kept my sizes sorted from the very beginning. Just finding the clothes to tag in my stack of 100+ articles got a little irritating! I was a little concerned about over or underpricing items, but I really just ended up going with my gut. I tagged most of my individual items and pairs of shoes around the $6 range unless they were Gymboree or GAP, which I priced closer to $8-$10. I had outfits in the $10-$16 range depending on the brand, and if they were 2 or 3 pieces. Of my higher priced items, I had a Gymboree winter coat that sold for $18, 3 pairs of maternity pants that sold for $15-$18 and three Christmas dresses (one of which sold) that I priced between $28-$32. 

Delivery -
As I already said, before I left the house, I had to go through all of my clothes, group them by size and rubberband them together. I was tempted to NOT do this, but you will find out soon why I am glad that I did! I had no idea what to expect for delivery other than that I knew they would inspect my clothes. The website quoted to allow 30 minutes for inspection and delivery. I had a suspicious feeling that a 30 minute quote was overly cautious, and it also occurred to me that I had no idea how I was going to get all of these clothes from my car to the huge warehouse where the sale was being held. Thankfully, I was able to coerce my husband in to going with me to help haul clothes. I was HOPING there would be some sort of help there, but I'm so glad I took my husband because there wasn't! When we got there, I was filled out some consent paperwork while my husband hauled the clothes in from the car. It was standing room only -- just lots of people with huge mountains of clothes. If you were lucky, you could catch a rolling rack from one of the people who was finishing up. We were able to do that before we went back to have our clothes inspected, thankfully! At inspection, they were very picky about what they would take (especially for shoes!) I only had two items that didn't "pass," so that was lucky! If you think you might get a few items with little spots by, you won't! NOW, the biggest surprise of this entire experience for me was that we had to hang the clothes up ourselves! It doesn't sound like a huge deal, but think of what would have happened had I not sorted them by size!!! Scary! Even still, it took my husband a good 30 minutes just to find space on the racks where we could cram our clothes in. It wasn't the end of the world, but the entire process took about 2 hours -- a far cry from the quoted 30 minutes! I wish I would have kept track of my total time investment, but I didn't at all. I'm guessing it was in the neighborhood of 5-6 hours, and the better part of that time was just figuring out what and how to do go about things. 

Sales Outlook -
I tagged about 80 pieces (outfits, individual pieces, pairs of shoes, maternity pants, etc.) worth about $626 in prices I set. The JBF website quoted that you could expect to sell 80% of your merchandise unless it was infant sized. They did not provide a quote for infant sized clothes. (I will tell you that the 0-12 month selection was TREMENDOUS. I'm talking tens of thousands of articles of clothing. It was crazy. Seeing the volume really scared me in terms of selling my clothes. I felt like finding my clothes would be a needle in a haystack!) Knowing that I would make 65% of my sales because I didn't volunteer (commission is 70% if you volunteer 4+ hours,) I decided it would be reasonable to expect half of my stuff to sell. I was really pulling for making about $300. 

Shopping - 
If you are a volunteer or a consignor, you get "special access" on the first day. Since I didn't volunteer, I didn't get in until the end, which was really fine. Honestly though, a lot of the bigger items like outdoor toys, bouncy seats, cribs, etc were LONG gone. I did spend some time combing the clothes for shoes for my girls and new baby boy clothes. I ran out of patience quickly because the racks were SO full, and it was hard to manuever around the tons of ladies with mountains of clothes. (These people take this SERIOUSLY!) My allergies also started flaring up really bad which freaked me out a little bit about where these clothes were coming from! Regardless, I got an 18-24 months new looking Gymboree flannel shirt for $4 and a Children's Place 18-24 month fleece jacket for $2, and a pair of size 10 Cherkee boots for $3. All really great deals -- especially the Gymboree shirt!             

After extensive drop off procedure I was really worried the pick up procedure would be really time consuming. I was pleasantly surprised because it was the easiest part of the process! Everything was pre-sorted by my consignor number, and I just grabbed what I wanted and left! I also was pleasantly surprised that all of my items appeared present and accounted for. I was REALLY afraid that I would experience some loss from theft. For some reason I was especially suspicious because I thought I had some really nice things that didn't sell, so I was afraid they were just "gone."Regardless, they weren't! I think it's nice to know that I can really trust my items are in good hands!
Sales Results -
I was really interested to watch my sales reports online. I thought it would be good to know what days had the highest volume and what items were really selling. As I was tagging things, I was really concerned about overpricing or underpricing things. I was also afraid that there would be some sort of pattern to what sold (everything super cheap, everything Gymboree, etc.) and that everything else would just sit. Here's the good news -- there was NO pattern to what sold. I sold a little bit of everything! I can also report that the first day (the consignor shopping day) was by far the most productive. After that, Thursday, Friday and Saturday got progressively worse. I only sold one item on Saturday! Talk about disappointing! On Sunday, sales were a little bit better as I sold some of the items that I had OKed to sell at half off the tagged price. The other factor that is a little disappointing is that because I sold a lot of everything, I also DIDN'T sell some of everything. I will be bringing home several really nice, well priced items that I fully expected to sell. The end result of my sale and hard work after fees and the JBF cut will be a check for approximately $166 -- a far cry from my hoped for $300. I only sold 33/80 some pieces. (Again, a far cry from the closer to 80% number I was hoping for from the JBF recommendation.)
Final Word -
 Initially, I said I wouldn't do it again for anything less than $300. Now, I'm thinking that I am not making any money with a basement full of clothes, and I will likely do the Spring sale as well. I think the key will be to be MORE organized, and if I'm more efficient, I won't be expecting a hefty payout. Other than that, knowing what to do is half the battle! (Which is why I'm writing this!) Also, since I was also able to set the items I never wanted to see again for donation, I also donated about $98 worth of clothes, which I will be able to claim as a tax deduction. The best news is that I cleared out a lot of space and got rid of a bunch of stuff that I will never have to see, touch, carry upstairs or organize again!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Price Chopper

I made a quick run to Price Chopper today to take advantage of all of those great Kraft coupons. I had a few match-ups, but apparently those coupons are manufacturer coupons. Who knew???!!! They say "in-ad" coupon, so I thought it was relatively safe to assume they were store coupons. I ended up putting back a few things that just were,'t that great of a deal, or we didn't need. No big deal.

This ended up being about $38 in groceries after our ginormous nearly 9% Kansas tax. Initially, I thought I didn't do very well, but now I'm looking at the picture and feeling better about it.I even have another half gallon of ice cream that isn't pictured! My standards are pretty high, so I guess I'll let it be ok.

I'll make another stop at some point this week, I think, but I'm not quite sure what's on the list. We'll definitely need milk. (My girls are drinking MORE than a gallon a week these days, which is causing me a problem!) It is also our week to take snacks to pre-K,  but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to work that within the budget this week. It may be an extra! Regardless, I'm going to start a little series about school snacks. I've been SO FRUSTRATED listening to what people are bringing at snack time. It's super important to me that my kids are getting good brain fuel for their day at school, and it just isn't happening. I think the main problem is just that people are busy and can't think of anything other than a box of fruit snacks! I'm hoping to provide some ideas that are just as quick and easy -- maybe even cheaper! We'll see!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apple Cider Scones

Ya'll know I love my basic scone recipe. I am excited to try some new varities for fall. My dad's birthday is tomorrow, so I whipped up a batch of apple cider scones for him to bake up fresh for breakfast in the morning. Here is the recipe:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 quarter tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup room temperature butter, cubed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup of apple cider
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 cup Granny Smith apples (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp apple cider
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, spices and orange zest. Cube the butter and mix in to the mixture until the butter is pea sized. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, apple cider, milk and vanilla together. Stir into the flour mixture until the dough is moist, do not over mix. Knead in the apples. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a couple of times. Divide dough into two equal balls. Pat each ball into an 8 inch circle. (Be careful to make sure it is not too thick in the center.) Place each ball onto a parchment paper lined or greased cookie sheet. Score each circle with a knife into 6 wedges. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until done and lightly golden. Allow the scones to cool. Meanwhile, stir powdered sugar, apple cider and cinnamon together. Drizzle over cooled scones.

See also Country Store Fried Apples.

Country Store Fried Apples

These are the YUMMIEST apples. They are a dead-ringer for Cracker Barrel's cinnamon apples. They are great as a side dish and over waffles and pancakes, but I REALLY love them over ice cream. They're just awesome.

Here is the recipe, from an old copy of the KC Star:

5 to 6 cups of firm tart apples such as American Cameo or Granny Smith
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1/2 cup apple cider

Peel, core and slice apples into medium to thick slices. Places apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in slow cooker. Dissolve corn starch in apple cider and blend well. Pour over apples and stir to blend. Cover and cook for 5-6 hours. Stir halfway through cooking.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I finallllllllllly feel like I got my life in order enough to have a good shopping trip! I finally got my coupon book organized. It's been MONTHS. I also had just a few minutes to pull out the few coupons I knew I needed. Those two things, friends, are a huge success for me right now.

I'm not going to list everything out because it's getting late! I picked up the two bell peppers and the cucumber at the Farmer's Market this morning for $1. At Hy-Vee, we spent right around $50 before diapers, pop and tax. The apples pictured were free. They're actually spilling over that whole portion of my counter. I'm not exactly sure how much I have picked from my secret source, but I'm thinking around 20 lbs. My source is running dry, but I think I will be able to pick a few more still. So, stay tuned for some new apple recipes!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Autumn Lovin' Baby...

Yup, she's the cutest...

Freezer Cooking Plan

My goal for the weekend is to spend some time getting my house organized and less time cooking. It's just something that NEEDS to be done as we're getting ready to add a baby to an already crowded house. I started tonight by cleaning out my Tupperware cabinet. I decided it was VERY MUCH time to toss everything I didn't have a match for. I threw away just a few bases, but about 30 lids! Where on earth do the bases go??? Anyway, it was very liberating! I highly recommend it. The other big thing on my agenda is tagging for the Just Between Friends sale next week. I have about 80 items, so that ought to take me awhile! Hopefully, the return will be worth it! Regardless, I DO have a little bit planned for freezer day:

I've been making "baby's favorite" with my free apples like crazy this week. I've made and frozen a batch of apple pear, apple pumpkin and apple nectarine. I still have enough apples for 2-3 batches, and I might go picking again. This will not be a freezer "day" project, but an ongoing project this week.

I'm also wanting to try this Apple Crostada. I've never made a "real" pie before, so I thought this might be an easy start. I'll make sure to share my thoughts!

Additionally, I plan on making a big pot of our favorite chili for dinner tomorrow night and for leftovers for lunch at work this week. And, I'm making my Cracker Barrel cinnamon apples for my dad's birthday dinner on Sunday. I've not shared either of those recipes, and they are GREAT. You can really look forward to them!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Opinion Outpost

I have already talked about Opinion Outpost a little bit, but I am just so happy with it that I had to share again! I cashed out my first check on 08/07, and a month later, I have made a total of $54.00. It's honestly been such a blessing for us! I have had a few glitches a long the road, but they're minor, all things considered. After all, no one else is handing out $50 bills!

If you could use an extra few bucks this month (especially as Christmas is drawing near,) I really recommend that you sign up. You can sign up through this link:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fall Fun!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Baked Potato Soup

I was thinking this is almost more like Twice Baked Potato Chowder! It's so thick and rich, it really ends up being like twice baked potato filling!

This is my mom's recipe. The base is very basic, so when we make it, we serve it with a bunch of dump-ins so people can make it to their liking. Here is the base recipe:

2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup flour
6 cups of whole milk
5 lbs of baked potatoes
12 oz sour cream
4 oz of grated cheese
a handful of bacon bits (I omit.)
Salt and Pepper to taste (It takes a lot.)

You start by making a rue (browning the butter and flour together, so the flour cooks.) Add 6 cups of milk Then, scrape the potatoes out of the skin in to your stock pot. The soup will immediately thicken from the potato starch. Next, you stir in the sour cream and cheese and salt and pepper to taste, and you're good to go! (The recipe is very flexible. If the soup is too thick for you, add less potatoes or more milk. If you want more sour cream and cheese, go for it! The cheese will also make it very thick though.)

Then, I always serve with an extra bowl of grated cheese, sour cream, bacon and green onions. That way everyone can season exactly how they like it. I just like mine with tons of cheese (see above!)

The soup it's self is super hearty and filling. People always really like it -- especially a carb lover like me! It reheats really well and freezes beautifully. Enjoy!

Feelin' a little better...

I'm FINALLY feeling more functional this week. Thank goodness!

I've made to small grocery purchases this week. The first trip included the ingredients to make baked potato soup (I'll share the recipe later today.) and chips and dip. The total came in at about $12. The second purchase is what's pictured above. I got 2 2.5 lb bags of peaches, 2 Yoplait plus, 2 Yoplait Simply Gogurt and a Digiorio pizza also for right around $12. (Note, both of these prices are after tax. In KS, we now pay nearly 9% on all of our food purchases. Scary!) We'll make another trip at some point in the next few days.

The other lovely item that you see pictured are FREE APPLES! Last week on my way home from work, I saw a lady walking across the street between an abandoned parking lot and a bunch of apartments with a big trash bag full of apples. I could tell she had picked them somewhere, but WHERE?!?!?! Yesterday, I spent about 10 minutes driving around in the general vicinity, and I FOUND IT. I was so stoked. There are about 4 Granny Smith trees that are ripe and another red apple variety that is not quite ripe yet. I'm guessing I picked about 6 lbs.My girls have been getting way in to baby's favorite again, so I was VERY HAPPY for the free supply of apples. Even at apples at less than $1/ lb, it gets expensive when they eat a whole crockpot full a week. So, last night, I whipped up a batch of apple pear sauce and now I'm waiting for my nectarines to get ripe, so I can make some apple nectarine sauce. You can bet I'll be doing some serious baby's favorite freezing while I watch these trees over the next few weeks or so.