Monday, November 23, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

While it feels like a short week in every way, there are still meals to plan for this week! We cooked two turkeys this past weekend, and I'm looking forward to months of casseroles and soups made from those turkeys! What are your favorite leftover turkey recipes?

Breakfasts- cereal, oatmeal, cinnamon rolls, bananas, milk
Lunches- PB&J, pretzels/crackers, carrots/celery/apples, milk
Monday- Venison Steaks, baked potatoes, broccoli, cheese sauce
Tuesday- Hot Dogs, fried potatoes, carrots and celery
Wednesday- Fried Rice
Thursday- THANKSGIVING (pop, wine, green bean casserole and/or sweet potatoes)
Friday- Turkey and Rice Soup
Saturday- Pizza Night
Sunday- Eat What You Want (i.e. leftovers)

See what others are planning this week over at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Works-for-Me Wednesday

Ahh, once a month cooking. It seems like such a good idea every time I think about it. It exhausts me every time I think about it! I have used some of the methods from the once a month cooking and made it quite a bit easier on myself. Here are some ideas to consider incorporating into your own meal plan if you're not quite ready to fill your freezer with 20 prepared meals in one day.

1. Pre-cook your meat. A lot of people buy 10 lbs of hamburger when it's on sale and portion it out. Why not cook it first? If you want to, you could just brown half for use in sauces and soups, and turn half into taco meat all in less than an hour! One pan to clean for that 10 lbs.

2. Plan for leftovers. By the same token, if I'm going to make a whole chicken, I make two (or three) and debone the second for later use in recipes that call for cooked chicken. Then I throw those chicken bones in my pasta pot make some homemade broth. (I use my pasta pot so I can lift the bones out of there!) A similar method works for roasts and hams.

3. Double your meal. If you're going to all the trouble to make one casserole, it's just as easy to make a second at the same time and freeze it before cooking. I like putting my extra meals in freezer bags. I freeze them flat, than organize them like records in my chest freezer. Don't forget to label- everything looks different when frozen!

When just the mention of once a month cooking makes me break out in a cold sweat, I pull out one of these ideas and get a little bit going. It works for me! Find out what others are trying at Works for me Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Everybody Needs an Alice

Remember the Brady Bunch? Did Carol Brady work outside the home? I can't remember. Sometimes I think every stay-at-home mom needs a housekeeper. And Alice sure was a great one! If someone just did my laundry and shopping, I could get so much other stuff done!

Last night I signed up for and used a brand-new account. I'm pretty excited for this new and useful tool. It's a website where you can purchase groceries online and have the shipped to your house. They even have several items discounted with coupons!

I purchased a $5 gift card from swagbucks to try this out. I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of use and great prices. I bought Crest toothpaste for $1.22 among other things. They even offer reminders for frequent purchases, track your spending, show you their best deals, and have free shipping!

I have since discovered that there are $10 sign-up bonuses, and my understanding is that this cannot be combined with the swagbucks offer. So, if you want to give alice a try, here's a link for you!

Update: The $10 bonus is credited to your account after having made $50 worth of purchases. So, I think the Swagbucks offer AND the $10 offer could work in conjunction with each other. I'll let you know when I hit $50 how it turned out!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Free Finds

Signing up for free samples really helps stretch my budget. Whether I'm using these things for myself, gifts, Operation Christmas Child boxes, or stocking stuffers, it's money that's staying in my pocket! Free stuff can be found on many company's websites and you are just a couple of clicks away from a mailbox full of goodies.

I must admit that getting free stuff is pretty addictive. I've spent more time on the computer in the last couple of days than I'd like to admit. Here are my free finds:

Lipton Green Tea (free sample)
Gavalia Coffee (I did the 3 boxes of coffee for $3 offer)
Kohl's ($5 for newsletter signup)
Vista Print (bunches of free samples, including 140 return address labels, 100 postcards, and more for shipping costs)
Beauty Herbal Spa (free candle)
Crest w/Scope (free sample)
Taste of Home (cookbooks for $5 each)

In the mail today, I received my free sample of Dunkin Donuts coffee. they have this offer up again, if you missed out last time around. I also received a Kashi granola bar. Kashi has become my new favorite! I don't see any samples on their site right now, but will be coming my eye on them!

Usually these will be sample sizes, but there are a few places where you can sign up to receive full-szied free items, too! My favorite two are Vocalpoint and Kraft First Taste. I've been a member with each of these companies for a few months and have been very pleased with the free product offers. And they usually come with high dollar coupons, too!

Have you found any free samples or other great deals? Let me know! I'm always on the lookout!

Menu Plan Monday

Next week is Thanksgiving. I tried buying one of the .40/lb turkeys from Wal-Mart last night, and they were all out! I'll try again tomorrow. I'm hoping to cook and debone a couple of turkeys for my freezer. That's such a great price!

I also need to make some room in my freezer for (hopefully) another deer this season. And get some freezer meals in there ready to go for January (baby coming end of Dec). Plus, I still have two pumpkins that need taking care of, and a basket of tomatoes that actually turned red! There's a lot on my cooking to do list in the next couple of weeks!

Breakfasts- oatmeal, muffins, cereal, milk

Lunches- PB&J, pretzels, apples/carrots, milk


Monday- Pasta
Pasta, Sauce, Hamburger, Bread

Tuesday- hot dogs
Hot dogs
Fried Potatoes
(+cook venison for tomorrow)

Wednesday- Venison stew (in crock pot)
Venison, Potatoes, Carrots, Onion

Thursday- Chicken and Rice
Chicken breasts
Brown rice and broccoli

Friday- Pizza Night
dough recipe:
2 c warm water
1 c oil (vegetable is good, olive is better)
2.5 tsp yeast
2 tsp sugar
3 tsp salt
5-6 c bread flour (can sub 1/2 whole wheat)
optional- add italian seasonings (basil, oregano, garlic) to the crust or make breadsticks!
Let dough rise for one hour, punch down, rolls out 2-3 crusts (depends on thickness) top with favorite ingredients. (If making bread or breadsticks, let rise for 30-45 min after shaping)
Bake at 425 for about 20 min

Saturday- Eat What You Want (ie Leftovers)

Sunday- (Thanksgiving at church) Sweet Potatoes
sweet potatoes, butter/margarine, marshmallows
Do you have a good sweet potato recipe? I need to make a lot of these and my normal way may not be the best suited for the crockpot. Any suggestions?

That's the plan! If you'd like to take a peak at what some others are planning head over to Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." ~1 Samuel 16:7

There are many things that I have learned from having a limited budget: the importance of prayer, humbly accepting help, how to get a great deal. But most of the things I have learned have been heart-related issues. Understanding that God owns everything and is in complete control of all the things that we receive, learning how to be content with what we currently have and to stay content no matter what the future may hold, and realizing that my value to the Lord is not wrapped up in my husband's occupation.

God loves me just as I am. He loves me with an infinite amount of unconditional love. There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more than He already does. And there’s certainly nothing I can do to make Him love me any less. It became a status issue for me. Where my husband works, what position he holds, or how much he makes is not what should be defining my life. My life needs to built upon the Truth of God's love and mercy and my desire to follow and obey Him. I need to value my husband for his character, not his position or salary. I am married to a wonderfully faithful man who works hard and puts forth his best effort into everything he does. He provides financially for our family and takes good care of us. Those are the things that are important.

Realizing that I was thinking wrongly about this was a huge step for me. God was able to change my view of our situation and begin to value the things that are of eternal importance. Character, heart, and obedience. Your financial life should be a reflection of the things that truly matter to God. He does not look at the curb appeal of your home or the size of your paycheck. He's looking at your heart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dining Out for Less

I love eating out. Mostly I love the not having to cook part. But I really dislike how expensive it can get. Especially with four kids. I'm sitting there calculating our bill and how much it would have cost me to prepare the same meal at home. Kind of ruins the enjoyment. Here are a few tips for eating out for less that we have been utilizing to help our budget. And it usually keeps me focused on having a good time with friends and family!

1. Sign up for birthday clubs, VIP clubs, etc. Most places offer something for your birthday- an appetizer, dessert, or even a full entree! They may even send you other coupons to use throughout the year. The coupons are usually good from the week before your birthday to the week after. The only hard part is deciding which one(s) to use!

2. Get a dining club card or coupon book. Here in Lincoln, the POGO card is our favorite. It has a variety of restaurants offering free items with a purchase. Buying this card benefits a local organization, too. I saw a copy of the Entertainment Book at Menard's last week, and have heard that at many stores they are on sale.

3. Use a store punch card. These are most often found at coffee shops or ice cream places. Although some others have a card that offers a discount on your food purchases. If you tend to choose the same restaurant over and over again, this is a great option.

4. Kids eat free night. There are a lot of places that offer a free kids meal with an adult purchase on certain nights of the week. I do recommend calling your location, even if the website says "free meal." Recently, we visited a restaurant for kids' night and they didn't get a free meal, just a balloon. Highly disappointing.

5. Try I first looked at this site a couple of years ago and there weren't any restaurants in Lincoln participating. Now there are quite a few. You can purchase $25 gift cards for only $10. I finally took advantage of this last month when I had a coupon code and bought a 1-year dinner of the month club for just $24. Yes, that's right, we'll get a $25 gift card each month that I paid just $2 for! Plus, we got a $50 certificate just for signing up! You do need to watch the fine print as some places have minimum purchase amounts. We may even use some of these over the course of the year as gifts.

6. Sign up to be a mystery shopper. This is by far my favorite way to eat out for less. It feels like I'm spending someone else's money! Check out last week's post for a list of some of the companies I've had good experience with.

That's what helps me save money on eating out. Check out Works for me Wednesday for other tips across a variety of topics. What tips do you have for dining out for less?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Deals of the Day

Deals, deals, everywhere there's a deal! I'm overwhelmed trying to keep track of all the great deals that I'm reading about today. And we haven't even hit the height of our seasonal shopping! Here's what I'm taking advantage of today.

Family Fun magazine for $2.99 Sign up at Tanga and get your subscription for just $2.99/year when you enter the code 98c7 at checkout! If you already have a subscription, it will add to what you've already got. I think you can get up to three years at this price. I ordered mine this morning!

Sign up at See Here and get 50 free photo cards (no shipping, even!) with the code freebies4mom-1109 all month long. Apparently new customers can also get 100 free photos! See Freebies 4 Mom for more details. We'll be taking our Christmas photo this week and taking advantage of this great deal.

At 1-800-flowers you can sign up for their Fresh Rewards program and earn points from every purchase. For the month of November you get points for events you add to your reminder calendar. Up to 400 points- which is $40. Plus as a member, you'll get 15% off your order! I've got one November birthday gift taken care of!

I've spent a little more time than usual sifting through all the deals that are being posted on blogs and e-mailed to me. But I'm pretty excited for what I've accomplished. A little bit of time and a few dollars and I've got a bunch of great stuff coming my way! Do you have any exceptional deals you're taking advantage of this week?

Menu Plan Monday

I've been in a menu planning slump the last several weeks. Nothing sounds good, everything is too much work, we eat the same things over and over...sound familiar? I'm sure we've all been in this position at one point or another. Well, I'm taking the advice of a friend and am in the process of creating my "master menu." (Check out her blog post here.) This will be a compiled list of all the recipes we use consistently. Mine's almost completed. I have a huge list of about fifty items, now I just need to figure out what makes sense for organization- by meat type? by carb type? by meal "genre"? I may just set my husband loose to build me an excel spreadsheet. I could type the info into various columns and print lists according to all those methods. I could easily add and reprint as we find new family favorites. Then I can look at my list when I'm in a slump and remember the meals that we like and haven't had for awhile. This should enable me to put some variety back into our menu and maybe even have enough time and energy to pull out my cookbooks and try some new recipes! What do you do when you're in a menu slump? Do you have old favorites you go back to? Do you pour over the cookbooks?

Breakfasts- cereal, bagels, oatmeal, muffins, fruit, milk
Lunches- pb&j, pretzels/popcorn, apples/carrots, cheese, milk
Monday- Grilled Chicken, Fried potatoes, broccoli
Tuesday- Fish and rice
Wednesday- Bread and dip, cupcakes
(appetizers and desserts with friends)
Thursday- Venison Stew
Friday- Pizza Night
Saturday- Birthday meal (still planning)

For more great menu ideas, head over to Menu Plan Monday and see what other folks are cooking up this week.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Deals to Start Your Holidays

We're coming up on the holiday season. And that means that the stores will all be vying for your attention, or your dollar! They're not even waiting until the day after Thanksgiving this year. With all the great deals, it's sometimes hard to control myself! One thing we've found helpful is to set a budget for our holiday spending. Usually we set aside money each month so it's not such a shock come Nov/Dec. Have both an overall budget and a budget per person. Make a list of everyone you're planning to buy for early on, including teachers, work exchanges, etc. Don't let anything sneak up on you! Here are a few deals to get you started this holiday season.

Thanksgiving for Less turkeys for .40/lb and more
Free Samples updates every couple of weeks
Nov 7th In-Store Savings lots of electronics posted, not sure what else will be on sale

Community Day Sale donate $5 to a local organization and get a coupon booklet- a $10 off plus many % off coupons
(I'm selling these for my local MOPS group, e-mail me if you want some coupons!)

Home Depot
Christmas light trade in $3 off LED lights
Power Drill trade in 15% off a new drill

Photo Cards 50 free photo cards

Most stores will offer free shipping from their online sites. See if your favorite store has a facebook fan page, or an e-mail newsletter. These are great places to get extra coupons or free products. Do you know of any other deals coming up in the next week or two?

Check out Frugal Fridays for more great tips this week!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Get Paid to Eat Out

Date night is an important part of a marriage. Time out of the house, away from the kids and other distractions. Whether it's a time to go out and just have fun, or a time to revamp the family budget, time alone with my husband helps bond us together and unites us as one.

For the most part, we eat dinner out where we usually talk about something half-way serious. That can certainly be a budget killer! We have found a way to eat at nicer restaurants without spending $40 a meal. Usually, it's about $10 (with tip) and I have leftovers for lunch. You're wondering how, aren't you?

It's called mystery shopping. There are a number of reputable companies that enlist the services of private contractors (that's me) to evaluate their clients for quality service. We got into this a couple of years ago, and have never looked back! Here's a list of the companies I do most of my shopping for. These companies have lots of restaurants in our area, which is what we like, and some also do other things- retail, grocery, theater, phone calls, etc. There are a number of other companies that focus specifically on those types, as well.

None of these companies asked me to pay a sign-up fee or promised great wealth. They are reputable companies that will help you get started in your own mystery shopping experience. Some of these companies pay a flat fee while others will reimburse to a certain amount. Either way, it generally works out the same for us- two dinners, drinks, and an appetizer/dessert and we pay around $10 out of pocket for a casual dining experience. I try to get two per month on our scheduled date night. Sometimes we'll do a different night of the week and take the kids with us. One time we had three in one week- yes it is possible to eat out too much!

I've done a few phone call evaluations. That ends up being about $8 for twenty minutes of my time. I've done one retail- that was a lot of work for the $10 they paid me. It was also my first shop, so maybe it would be a little easier now. I'm also working on a special project right now where I'll be interviewing for three jobs and will get paid a nice sum. Just in time for Christmas!

Do you have any experience with mystery shopping? I love to hear about other companies and see what they have in my area. If you decide to check out mystery shopping, let me know how it goes! For other great tips across a variety of topics, check out Works for Me Wednesday! This week is even themed, and many posters have some great tips for preparing for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Affirming My Priorities

I woke up with a to do list a mile long. How about you? I took a few quiet moments and sifted through some blogs I follow. I read a great article and my day has been re-focused. If you, too, need a little mommy lift, take a look here. It's a little long, so I didn't want to copy the whole post over! Have a great Tuesday!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Do you ever get tired of cooking? Do you get tired of planning menus? Tired of making the same things over and over? Do you have a desire to try new things, but no time to find recipes that fit your family and budget? That's me right now... So, here's my un-inspired menu for the week. These are all easy meals for me, and my goal is to go through some of my dusty cookbooks and mark a few recipes for later this month. My goal for the month is to try a new recipe each week. I also need to keep my dinners under $5/meal. Do you have any fun, frugal recipes I could try?

Breakfasts- cereal, oatmeal, muffins, fruit, milk
Lunches- pb&j, popcorn/pretzels, fruit, milk
Monday- Cheesy Chicken and Rice
Tuesday- Venison Roast, Potatoes, Carrots
Wednesday- Fried Rice
Thursday- Waffles or Pancakes
Friday- Pizza Night
Saturday- New Recipe Night (Will update with recipe!)
Sunday- Eat What You Want Night (leftovers)

That's my plan! Head over to Menu Plan Monday to check out some other weekly meal plans.