Thursday, December 31, 2009

I Resolve... make the best choices I can to save money to support my family in the New Year. It's been a great adventure, these past 11 months. We've discovered new ways for our family to save money, though there have been stumbles along the way. While I've always been frugal-minded, I've learned that to stay on track planning is KEY, so we aren't tempted to spend money we just don't have. And I've learned that in many cases we can live BETTER and have FUN without spending that money. 

I must admit it's scary, and I do hope that we will be blessed with regular employment soon. For my part, I resolve to make the best choices, learn, and be the best wife and mother that I can. My specific goals in the New Year are, in no particular order:

  1. Plant a garden. I had a garden in 2007 and 2008, but this past year I lost that area to our cottage remodel. With the increased amount of scratch cooking I've been doing, I will attempt to grow the items we use the most and that will save us the most money.
  2. Sew. While at Costco the other day, my eye caught some nice pillows. I was thinking how wonderful they would look on my couch. I did a doubletake. Wait a minute! I have the tools, materials and skill to make pillows. I need to do that! And that's only the beginning.
  3. Declutter. We have too much stuff! Space is luxury, and we want more of it. In the past year, I have learned a lot about letting go of things, but this is still a challenge for me, especially when something has clear value or creates an emotional reaction (either positive and negative).
  4. Exercise. I need to do this regularly for my health. Nuff said.
  5. Pass the A+ exam. I finished the class in November but I have yet to take the exam. This is an area I really enjoy; plus having this certification could help us earn a little money. I need to buckle down, study, get it done in January.
  6. Plan the Log House move. My husband and I want to build a Log House. We've been looking for property in the "country" for many years, but with all the remodeling and building going on around our Victorian house, it just hasn't happened. I know I need to facilitate this by working on the plan. Then we can make progress towards achieving that goal.
  7. Support. Personal challenges have been taking a lot of my energy in the past couple years, and I wasn't always the best support I could be for my husband. I will do better this year! He deserves it.
  8. and of course, Live Frugally and Have Fun! There are many ways we could be saving money that we haven't tried yet. I'll be exploring SOME of those this year, in addition to what I've mentioned above.
I hope that by writing these down I'll be that much closer to achieving them. 

What are your goals? How are you going to reach them? I wish you peace, happiness and success towards whatever goals you set for yourself in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Frugal Pantry, Stage One

What makes a pantry “frugal”? These are items that you should always have on hand, use often, and are there so you don’t need to run to the grocery store for every meal. They are also a cushion in case of a long winter’s storm or other emergency. We’re in earthquake country, so a minimum of two weeks of groceries on hand is recommended. In addition to what’s listed below, we also keep a few days of “zero preparation” foods, like prepared soups and stews that only need a can opener for preparation. If you live in an area where this type of preparedness is needed (who doesn’t???) you might want to add these types of foods to your list. But I digress!

Think about your family

I’ll be posting my sample Pantry List in two “stages”. This post covers Stage One -- these would be my suggestions for families who are just starting out in stocking their pantries. If you’re not quite ready to jump in to baking your own bread and making everything from scratch, but STILL want to cook at home and keep your food costs down, this is the list for you. Now, you will want to adjust this list for your OWN family’s health needs and preferences. It doesn’t make sense to stock items your family is allergic to, doesn’t meet health goals or needs, or won’t eat. Also, a family of six will have different needs from a single person. Adjust as needed!

Make a List!

First, you’ll need a rough list to get started -- use this one or make your own, based on your own family’s preferences and needs. Base your list on at least a week’s worth of meals planned. Use that plan to figure out how much of each item you’ll need. Don’t have a menu plan? Start with seven dinners your family enjoys. Then, buy what you need! Wasting food because it has gone bad before you use it is NOT frugal! For the most part, except for the fresh items, you should look for great prices on these and stock up. How do you know what’s a good price? I recommend keeping track of prices of items in a Price Book or List, a concept introduce by Amy Dacyczyn in The Tightwad Gazette. More on that in a later post!

So what can you make with all this? How about these ideas?

Breakfast: Oatmeal, Pancakes with fruit, Scrambled eggs and sausage, Biscuits and gravy, Omelets, Granola.

Lunch: Peanut butter and jam, Tuna salad, Green salad with hard boiled eggs, toasted walnuts and a Dijon vinaigrette, Lentil soup, Split pea soup, and Baked potato with chili and cheddar cheese.

Dinner: Everything included above (breakfast for dinner is always a fast and frugal solution!) plus spaghetti with meatballs, chili with cornbread, quiche with a seasonal vegetable or sautéed greens, and macaroni and cheese to name a few.

The possibilities are endless, all made possible with a well-stocked and frugally purchased pantry. More on what you can make with your pantry staples in an upcoming post!

Sample Pantry List, Stage One:

Dry Goods

All-purpose flour
White sugar
Corn Meal
Rolled oats
Brown sugar
Rice – Arborio and a long grain, preferably brown rice
Baking Soda
Pasta – spaghetti, penne, macaroni, egg noodles
Baking Powder

Canned Goods

Tomatoes –  whole or diced, crushed, sauce, paste
A variety of canned beans – pinto, chili, kidney, black
Basic red pasta sauce
Fruits – applesauce, peaches, pineapple
Tuna or salmon
Evaporated milk
Soup – Cream of Mushroom, Cream of Celery
Chicken (if budget permits)


Milk (soy or cow)
Dijon mustard
Cheese – mozzarella, cheddar
Plain yogurt
Condiments – ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, relish
Fresh veggies – carrots, celery, greens, other in season
Fresh fruits –in season
Concentrated stock base (beef and chicken)



Nuts  -- walnuts, almonds, pecans
Chicken – whole and/or parts
Ground meat
Frozen Spinach
Frozen Mixed Vegetables
Frozen Corn
Frozen Peas
Frozen Broccoli


Herbs and Spices

Sea Salt
Chili powder

Other pantry items

Split peas
Peanut butter or other nut butters
Vinegars – white wine, red wine, apple cider, rice wine, balsamic
Oils – canola or safflower, olive
Potatoes – white and sweet
Fresh bread

Tortillas (corn and Whole wheat flour)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frugal Popping Fun

This week, we're knee deep not only in holiday goodies, but POPCORN! My younger son is doing a science fair project about popcorn. This involves, as you would guess, making a LOT of popcorn! We just finished round one of testing, and there is a HUGE bowl of popcorn to be eaten! Don't want it to go to waste, so we're all helping out with that part of the experiment. :)

What's frugal about all this? We're trying out a method of making popcorn we read about from Alton Brown using a brown paper bag in the microwave. It would be interesting to try other testing methods, but my son chose this method for his experiments. We're saving money by using bulk popcorn, which we already had in the pantry, along with other ingredients we already had on hand.

We're only a third of the way through the testing, but at the risk of making conclusions based on insufficient evidence, I'd say it's clear that storing your popcorn in the refrigerator is NOT a good idea! If in the end the results prove otherwise, I'll let you know.

Without a doubt, we are going to have a popcorn-filled week! Thanks, Alton!

Link: Brown Paper Bag Popcorn Recipe

Monday, December 28, 2009

Use It Up!

Remember when your Mom told you to eat all your vegetables? Sure, she had your health in mind. In addition, waste is a bad thing! This week, my goal is USE IT UP!

This week, in the wake of our holiday celebrations, we've got various foods lurking in the frig. I spent this morning menu planning so they won't go to waste. Most the remainder of the ham was chopped and portioned and put into the freezer. I've got at least FOUR more meals from that ham stashed in my freezer now! The remainders of the pickled fish and smoked salmon will go into (separate) meals tonight and tomorrow. Tonight will be a tomato-ey fish sauce over linguine. Canned tomatoes are a great start for this sauce, as they are economical year round. Tomorrow will be a smoked salmon chowder with potatoes, carrots, celery, and of course smoked salmon.  Yum!

So, take a look around. What do YOU have that you can use up this week?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Home Stretch

Wow, there was a flurry of cooking, baking, cleaning, and visiting going on earlier this week. At one point, we actually ran out of all purpose flour. As we have many types of flour in the house, I had misidentified one of the bags in the pantry. In the end it was only a slight hiccup, but a good reason for me to start keeping an inventory of what we have on hand! Now, I sit here the day after Christmas and can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labors and reflect on all the fun we had over the last couple weeks.

On Day Nine, in honor of "nine ladies dancing", our boys each received an iTunes gift card. They each love having their own music for their iPod Shuffles they received last year for Christmas. As they are both very musical, they use these not just for pleasure, but for practicing instruments and learning songs for performances. The iPods are small and travel well, and the charge lasts a long time. We've been very happy with them, so much that my husband now wants one too!

Day 10, "lords a leaping", was a day for Starburst candy! At first the boys were confused, but I asked them if the candy made them "jump"!? They said yes! I knew it was one of their favorites!

On Day 11, the day before Christmas, the gift almost didn't happen. For "pipers piping", I really wanted to have bubbles! Along my travels for the past week, I had looked for them, to no avail! Luckily, while my husband was out shopping, he found some. Yay! Even at 10 and 14, my boys still love blowing bubbles. You can never go wrong with fun, simple things!

Christmas Day, while it might not have fit the "drummers drumming" tag, we were able to gift the boys with an xBox 360 I purchased new for $99. It was a great deal and it was great to give them a gift we knew they would enjoy. My older son also got an electric shaver (he's not sure he'll use it yet!) and my younger son got a new bike (he's been riding the older one's bike as he's outgrown his own). We felt good about the money we spent as we know that each item will be used and enjoyed. Also, we didn't break the bank or buy a bunch of things just for the kids to have something to open. The boys were happy, we were happy, and it was a wonderful day.

I wish you all happiness, joy, and peace in this season. Thanks so much for reading!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day Eight!

I can't believe we're on Day Eight of our 12 Days of Christmas. The boys have had such fun with this. I like that they can enjoy some small pleasures, and not be caught up in some mad unwrapping. Today, for "eight maids a-milking", they received Milk Duds. I wasn't sure they would like them, but the gifts were received with much thanks! The boys have treasured every bite.
Hersheys Milk Duds Milk Chocolate Covered Caramels - 1.85 Oz/ Box, 24 ea

I would definitely recommend this activity to any family. I love the opportunity to slow down and enjoy some special time every day, in celebration of not just the season, but of our love for each other.

Check out the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas!
Day 7, Day 6 , Day 5 , Day 4 , Day 3 , Day 2 , Day 1

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seven Swans a Swimming...

We're on day seven of our "12 Days of Christmas" for our children. I must admit this was the most challenging day to come up with something frugal and fun for today. Luckily, my husband came to the rescue! He suggested that we make a family outing of going to a local pond that is the home for many birds. We didn't know if there would be swans or not, but it fit well enough. Armed with a loaf of bread, we headed out. 

In the end, we didn't find any swans, but there were at least seven times seven other birds, including various kinds of ducks, geese, coots, and seagulls! The boys had not been there since they were small, and I daresay even our teenager had a lot of fun! They are enjoying this "12 Days of Christmas" journey, and now discuss the possibilities for the next day. It's interesting to hear what they come up with, though they have not yet guessed any of the "days". I will be remembering some of their ideas for next year, though!

Check out the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas: Day 6, Day 5, Day 4, Day 3, Day 2, Day 1

More Free Sounds of the Season

Add to your holiday music collection with these free mp3 downloads from Amazon! These are all part of Amazon's "25 Days of Free" holiday music December 1st to the 25th.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ornamental Tradition Meets the 6th Day of Christmas

Now we're at our sixth day of Christmas -- six geese a laying. I went with the "egg" theme. I decided to go with materials on hand, so using egg cartons and fabric scraps, I made this cute little ornament. Now, our family has a tradition of making a photo ornament for the kids each year. This was the perfect opportunity to blend that tradition with our "12 Days" celebration. Making these ornaments was definitely a learning process, but I had fun doing it! I just need to remember to add a date to the ornament before it is put away.

Check out the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas: Day 5, Day 4, Day 3, Day 2, Day 1

Friday, December 18, 2009

On the 5th Day of Christmas...

I had to get creative! Certainly our budget wouldn't stretch for us to give the boys anything golden, not to mention FIVE! Or would it? While at the store one day, I just happened to find these apple juice and jelly candies. Golden on one side, which was good enough! They came in a small bag so they were very inexpensive AND there were just enough for each of the boys to have five each. Today we were blessed with beautiful, sunny, California weather -- it was a "golden" day all around!

Check out the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas: Day 6, Day 4, Day 3, Day 2, Day 1
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Be Frugal, Go Veg!

Here's a great way to reduce your grocery budget without sacrificing flavor or taste. Make at least one night a week vegetarian! The most popular meatless protein choices in our house are eggs, beans, and legumes. Last night's dinner creation was a vegetarian lasagne with carrots, zucchini, and spinach. Yummy!

Beans and legumes are a fabulous addition to your weekly meal plan as they are inexpensive, delicious, plus they have have tons of fiber and protein. Beans have a low glycemic index which means you won't suffer a sugar crash after eating them, but will enjoy sustained energy. There are lots of menu choices which incorporate these great ingredients. Our favorites: burritos (add a seasonal veggie to make it extra yummy!) and split pea soup.

Eggs are also a great addition. Whether you're making omelettes for breakfast or quiche for dinner, this inexpensive ingredient is packed full of protein, every amino acid needed by humans, plus vitamins and minerals! In moderation, they are a great addition to your menu. Consider using a mixture of whole eggs and egg whites in your recipes, as appropriate. My favorite quiche recipe starts with a homemade crust. Add sauteed veggies and onions. Top the veggies with shredded cheese, then add the egg and milk mixture. Season to your taste and you've got an instant family favorite!

If you are looking for a great Vegetarian Cookbook, consider the Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook, Cooking for Health. Inside you'll find lots of great recipes using these inexpensive yet high quality ingredients to support your frugal AND healthy lifestyle!

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

Calling Birds? My 10 year old son, who adores all animals, would have loved a bird, but I don't think our dog would have been keen on the idea! So I started thinking calling... alarm! Both the boys needed watches, so that's what they are getting this morning. I found a nice one for a good price at Amazon for my 14 year old son. My younger son is getting a Coleman Watch from Target that was on sale.

Check out the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas: Day 3, Day 2, Day 1

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Third Day of Christmas...

... we stretched it a little bit. So maybe there aren't three hens in the soup, but who knows for sure! My boys smiled and said, "Ohhhhhhhh, I get it!"
Check out the rest of our 12 Days of Christmas: Day 2, Day 1
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the Second Day of Christmas... kids guessed this one even before they opened them! Two "turtle doves". Well, tomorrow will be harder!
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Check out our first day in our 12 Days of Christmas celebration: Day 1

Monday, December 14, 2009

On the First Day of Christmas....

Christmas unemployed... it was really getting us all down. Here's what we've decided to do to keep our family spirits up. We'll be celebrating the "12 Days of Christmas" starting with today (yes, yes I know it's not the true start!). We're keeping it fun AND frugal.

No partridges OR pear trees though. Instead they got: Pear Jelly Bellies! The kids were surprised... this morning they were wondering, singing, and considering tomorrow. We're having fun with this already!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Free Holiday Tunes to Put you in the Spirit!

Here's a lovely collection of Free Holiday music from iTunes. Enjoy!

Holiday Planning - KISKIFKIF

Here's my motto for planning our holiday activities this year: KISKIFKIF

Keep it Simple
Keep it Frugal
Keep it Fun!

Let's start with our Cub Scout den. Last year we started this tradition and I'm looking forward to continuing again this year. Each of our scouts brings a favorite holiday treat or cookie for  a cookie exchange. Of course, there is some tasting so not all of them make it home to the families, but the boys enjoy sharing their treats with each other. We also sing silly holiday songs. It's a very fun and inexpensive way to bring our families together.

For our family get together I'm planning for Christmas Eve, I'm using the same principles. As I'm not yet sure who will be attending, the menu is in flux, but it will all be simple, delicious, frugal, and fun!  I'll write more about our plans once we're sure of our menu and how many people we will have. If you have a similar event, here are some recommendations. 

1. First, start with a budget. Keeping in mind your guests preferences, fit your menu to your budget. We are planning a (mostly) traditional Polish Christmas, so I'm figuring out how to incorporate fish dishes without breaking the bank. 

2. Don't forget to include activities for the kids (simple ornaments or cookie decorating work well!), 

3. Music sets the tone! Have lots of great holiday music to lighten your guests' spirits!

4. And finally, incorporate simple yet beautiful decorations. Let nature be your friend here! Pine boughs, holly sprigs -- whatever you have available. 

5. Finally, free is good! If you need anything for your party, check out Freecycle and Craigslist. Right now, there are many offers for FREE holiday decorations!

Keep it simple, frugal and fun! You can do it!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Frugal Foul

Sometimes, what seems like a frugal choice isn't. Sure, it might be cheap(er), but in the end, you didn't get your money's worth. In our house, we call that a Frugal Foul! You might also say, "you get what you pay for", but we think the term "Frugal Foul" is much more fun :) Here are some recent examples of "Frugal Fouls" in our house. In both cases, I thought, "Wow, what a great deal!" Closer inspection or time revealed the FOUL associated with each.

First up is a piece of cookware. A couple years ago, as I was spending more time cooking, I found this great nonstick pan on sale for a fabulous price. I did my research, I knew it was a good deal. It was just the size and type of pan I needed, so I snatched it up. Here's what it looks like now:

So how did this foul occur? Part of the description of this item included the claim that metal utensils could be used, even with the nonstick coating. Obviously, this claim turned out to be untrue. Lesson learned: be skeptical of claims like this, even if it's by a well-known brand. 

Here's another example. I've spent some time recently going to each of the grocery stores within my normal shopping radius. I wanted to know who would have the best everyday prices for things I buy most often. One of the stores was an independent outlet, claiming to be no frills and cheaper prices than the big chains. Since I wasn't familiar with many of the brands offered, it was difficult to draw a conclusion. One of the items I did buy was something I use often: tomato sauce. While the brand was unknown, it was much cheaper than even the store brands of the other stores I frequent. Here's where the foul came in:

Yep, that's corn syrup listed as an ingredient. Also, this sauce is made from tomato paste, not fresh tomatoes. There are also dried peppers. Wait, I thought this was supposed to be tomato sauce?

This is what happens when you leap before looking. We're all busy, and sometimes these things slip by. My message is the old adage: Buyer beware! If it seems too good to be true, it very well might be. Read labels and know what you're buying. If you don't, you may end up in possession of a Frugal Foul!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sounds and Gifts of the Season

I love music, especially holiday music. For me, there is no better avenue to the true meaning of this Holiday season. As a child, I journeyed for hours to go to the nearest city to watch a production of the Nutcracker. I have fond memories of the beauty and majesty of those performances, so fitting of the season -- but what do you do if you can't afford to attend your nearest symphony's presentation of Handel's Messiah, or a local professional production of The Nutcracker? Not to worry! There are lots of free events going on all this month to help get you or keep you in the holiday spirit!

Let's start with Tree Lightings. I can't think of a more simple way to boost holiday spirit. If you live in a community that supports a community tree, this is a great place for you and your family to join in with the rest of your community in ushering in this season of joy and peace. There's just something special about gathering for a simple tree lighting, watching the children's faces filled with anticipation as the time approaches, and finally witnessing the awe and wonderment brought on by the lighting of the tree. Whether it's at Rockefeller Center, in your small town, at your family's church, or privately in your own home, this event is a great opportunity to take a moment and remember why we celebrate this month. If you're attending one of these events outside, just don't forget to bundle up and if it's not provided at the event, pack lots of hot cocoa! For our City's Tree Lighting this evening, we'll be packing warm pocket pies in addition to the hot chocolate!

If you are looking for a noisier yet still frugal way to celebrate the season, find out if there is a Holiday parade in your area. Here's a great opportunity to see and hear some of your local school bands and other organizations, all in one place! Need more music than that? This is the time of year that many churches, schools, and community centers put on Winter or Holiday concerts. Here you are sure to find many wonderful choices for fabulous music ready to fill you with the Joy of the season.

Where can you find out about these events? Local newspapers usually have an events listing. I found a special holiday events listing on the web page of our local paper. Some of these are free, and some are not, but there were plenty of fun, free events listed that would keep us busy through the new year! You can also call your local school, church, or community center, as well as your City Hall, to find out what's going on in your community.

I encourage you to take the time out to participate in at least one of these events. So often we're too busy with the commercial aspects of this season. Here's an opportunity for you to take a moment out, joining with your family and others. And you won't be celebrating with presents and bows, but with gifts of the heart, whether they are sung, played, or served in a mug of hot cocoa.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Free Holiday Songs from Amazon

Hi everyone,

I can't believe it's Tuesday, it's been a busy week already. There's always time to grab a little FREE holiday music, though! Today Amazon is kicking off it's "25 Days of Free" holiday music. This is a great way to add to your music library. Enjoy!

25 Days of Free

And here's a small sampler album, also free on Amazon, with Frank Sinatra, Robert Goulet, and others!

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