I don't want to give up "from scratch"

I’m in a pickle people.  I need help.
I spent YEARS getting this recipe right.
First, I had to get mom to come up off her “secret recipe”.
Then, I had to feed my husband 1000 different versions of it while I tweaked it to 1) by fixed in ONE pot instead of baking it, 2) used little elbow noodles so my kids would eat it and 3) be “saucy” enough to compete with boxed.
Yea, I’m talkin’ Mac and Cheese ya’ll.
I have finally made a batch that they will eat.  All. Of. Them.
Do you KNOW how hard that was to do?
Here’s the problem.  I’m on a serious grocery budget while we try and beat down the debt monster.
My kids LIKE the boxed kind.  The boxed kind is CHEAP.
Read: I cannot possibly make this as cheap as I can get it in the box.
I realize the boxed stuff isn’t as healthy.  They like it, and I can easily sneak in pureed cauliflower.
Macaroni is one of only four things my 2yo will eat.  So I make it often and I can’t afford cans and cans of evaporated milk and blocks of cheese.
Anyone have a great, CHEAP, recipe?   This is one of the few things I’ve found that I can’t make from scratch cheaper than I can buy it in the box.

Suddenly, Purposely Unemployed: Making the funds last longer

Now, don’t get me wrong- I love my Starbucks. But I just quit my job. I quit my job with nothing lined up. So, save for long, productive days at the coffee shop, I am giving up my beloved Starbucks. I am giving up a lot of things. But there are some things we can’t/won’t give up. And that’s okay too as long as we’re realistic. On my last day at work I will have enough money to get by for about three months if I stop eating.
I don’t intend to stop eating.
So what on earth am I going to do? This is a great question and the answer is a work in progress. Maybe I should have figured it out before I quit my job but there were a number of factors that went into that decision and it just couldn’t wait any longer. (If you are interested in hearing all about it, feel free to visit my blog) In order to stretch my limited funds, I am already implementing a number of new rules. (If I had started this sooner I might not be so stressed about the money now.)

  • I am making coffee at home. Even if you drink only plain, black coffee (which I usually do) Starbucks is a $60/month obsession and that is for one cup a day. It’s much more than that if you’re going for lattes and those frozen-almost-a-milkshake-but-with-caffeine kind of drinks.
  • Gas is expensive! Are there errands you could run on foot? Do it! You can get your exercise and give up your expensive gym membership and save the gas money. (You may think these are minimal amounts but it adds up. If you are in an area where this is possible, consider it.) Plus, the walk will be good for body and mind.
  • Each of us have a list of things we know we are going to buy on a regular basis. Generally speaking, in regards to the things we know we buy a lot, we know the cheapest place to get them. If you don’t know then start paying attention to how much you spend on these purchases and (assuming it is not a big difference is gas usage) go there. The cheapest place may not be the most convenient, but if money is really tight, every dollar counts.
    • Gas is a big item that we all buy on a regular basis. The difference in price per gallon is not usually huge from one station to another. But how many gallons of gas do you purchase in a year? Figure out where the cheapest gas station is that you already drive by regularly. Start getting all of your gas there.
    • I know that produce is cheapest at the grocery store ½ mile to the east and that meat is cheapest at the grocery store ½ mile to the west. I try to lump my purchases together accordingly. That’s not to say I never pick up a red onion while I’m buying chicken. But the majority of my purchases come from whichever is cheaper now.
  • I am a big basketball fan. I like to go out to watch my team play and I think it is important that I don’t totally abandon all social activities. My first plan of attack on this was to drink fewer drinks during the game. I’m also shopping for the cheapest places to get one drink that I can slowly sip and still enjoy the social atmosphere of watching my boys play while sitting at the bar. (I can’t watch at home- I haven’t paid for cable in 5 years. This, by the way, was the best decision I ever made. Money saved AND time gained!) Also, check out happy hours. I can grab a drink with a friend for $3, have some time out of the house and not feel like I’m seriously impacting my financial state.
  • Food! This is one thing that nearly every person in this country can save money on. It is something every one of us consumes every day. And we can’t stop spending money on it, no matter how much we would like to. But we can:
    • Eat out less. This one explains itself. We all know that eating out costs more than cooking our own meals.
    • Eat out cheaper. For me, the biggest reason I go out to eat is to be social. I am there to enjoy the company but I can easily be suckered into the $14 dollar dinner instead of the $8 burger. But if I am there for the company, the $8 burger is totally sufficient. Maybe even just ordering a side of something if I’m not really all that hungry. I am focusing on the reason I am there. I can enjoy steak at home or the company of eating at a restaurant with friends. I don’t need both.
    • Eat everything I pay for. This is huge. We throw away so much food in this country. Especially those of us that are single. Our grocery stores aren’t set up for us single folk. Very few items are sold in single servings. So we have to commit to eating the same meal three or four days in a row or realize that certain ingredients will go bad before we eat them. I have to eat, and I want to eat good, healthy food. We all love variety but do we need it? Not really. Tonight is the fourth night I have eaten the same salad. It is a great salad. Spinach, heirlooms, red onions, feta and balsamic/olive oil for dressing. Tonight I ran out of spinach. But I am going to snack on the tomatoes until they are gone. The feta will go into a couple of omelets with the red onion- eggs are an excellent, cheap protein. And the eggs are also being brought to work, hard boiled, for lunch. I am really trying not to let any food go bad. (This counts for those restaurant meals too. You don’t have to have a lot left in order to make it a snack later that night. If there is food on your plate, bring it home! Eat it!)

What about you? Have you ever really needed to conserve your money? What corners did you cut?

Brooke Farmer is currently living in Los Angeles. She’s a writer, a blogger, and a freelance hopeful who is looking to create a life where her passions are her priorities. She can be visited atLearning the Language of Brooke Farmer or followed on twitter @brooke_farmer.

Back in the game!

There is ONE BIG thing that has really been a thorn in my side since last spring, my grocery bill.  Last fall, I began playing the grocery game and couponing and was saving money like crazy!  My stockpile helped us get through two months of snow storms with only stopping to pick up milk and bread.  There came a point where sitting at the table with my big fat pregnant belly was uncomfortable.  I didn’t want to cut coupons.  I didn’t want to plan my shopping.  I didn’t even WANT to go shopping.  The only one that suffered was my wallet.  Full price sucks.
Sunday night, I cut out my coupons.  Monday, I reactivated my membership to the Grocery Game.  Tuesday, I came home with $208 worth of groceries at Kroger for only $140.  33% savings.  I’ll take that.
Today, I’m hitting up Food Lion to “steal” some cereal.  (Not a grocerygame.com tip… I don’t subscribe to that store. I just happened to see their weekly flyer)
Even after getting cash back to cover paying my “mommy helper” for the next two Mondays I STILL saved money!!  It’s like I just earned FREE babysitting!
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Yes, you can win with coupons without using that site.  I’m lazy, and it’s convenient.  There is a four week free trial.  The fee is less than the cost of a Sunday paper every week.  If you sign up, please use my email address (memrband3 at gmail ) and help me earn a free week.  If it’s confusing, follow me on twitter and I’ll help you out!  It’s really easy once you do it.

Bubbles and Trays

We have a store downtown called Main Street Discount.  I L to the OVE this store!  I picked up some awesome heavy denim fabric (on an commercial roll) for $4 a yard!  We also get cheap restaurant take out containers that I use instead of the fancy plastic wear from the grocery store.
On our last visit we came across these restaurant trays for only $4!!  Hubby knew they wouldn’t fit in our oven and couldn’t imagine what I wanted them for but he bought me two of them anyway.
We have used them for flash freezing veggies, beading, crafting and today we entertained our tot with measuring cups full of bubbles from the sink!

Healthy and frugal is saving my sanity

I’m not sure if my Taderbug is just a very ‘active’ kid

I mean she flippin’ jumps up and down like a yip yip dog while trying to ask you for a bowl of cereal

or, if maybe she’s got a little too much dye in her diet but we’re going to try something even if it’s wrong.

Two weeks ago, we took the girls to the grocery store and let them pick out some flavored water.  We avoided aspartame and kept an eye out for too much herbal extras.  Our focus right now isn’t on avoiding sugar, it’s on avoiding food coloring and after choosing a couple different varieties we headed home with about $40 worth of WATER in our cart.

I HATED spending that much on water BUT if it broke her from her normal drinks then it was worth it.

and it did…

which means now this frugal momma needs to find a way to NOT spend $40 in water at the grocery store.

Today we are drinking cucumber lemon water… no sugar… and she IS DRINKING IT!

CIMG9825

I filtered the water through my Brita pitcher, cut up a small cuke and shot in a squirt of lemon juice. (My midwife says the lemon is good for the liver.)

Tomorrow, we’ll try cherries and frozen berries!

How NOT to make homemade laundry detergent.

1898 advertising poster
Image via Wikipedia

This post is going to be short and sweet because Peanut is stirring!
Yesterday I decided to make some homemade laundry detergent.  I love the stuff and it works great with our cloth diapers.  I had run out of the pre-packaged SAHM stuff that I bought online a while ago.  So I searched for some recipes, found them all the be almost identical, and then decided to follow my friend Amy’s recipe instead.
I had to use what I had around the house so our mixture included Ivory soap, Borax, and OxyClean (for the washing soda).
I want to let you know that the part in her recipe where she says LOW HEAT… she means it ya’ll.  LOW HEAT.. as in DO NOT BOIL or even let it simmer…
Ever act stupid and put bubble bath in a jacuzzi or hot tub? Yeah, you get that effect when you boil soap on the stove.  Taderbug was stirring for me and once I dumped in the oxyclean my pot started to look like something from a Halloween display!  I grabbed the pot and moved it to the sink where I think it overflowed bubbles for over 5 minutes(with no added heat!)
All came out well in the end, my kitchen sink is clean, and for hours last night the entire house smelled Ivory clean.  I scored 2 gallons of laundry detergent (four bottles) for less then a couple bucks!  I think I might bag some ‘kits’ up and sell them at our yard sale.
Do you make your own detergent?  Do you stick to a tried and true recipe or do you swap out whats available?

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Coupons! An Organizing Challenge for a Thrifty Mom

One of the biggest black holes for money in our household is in our grocery bill.  We totalled up one months worth of receipts (back before there were five of us) and it totalled over $1200 for the month!  (We went a little nuts at Sam’s Club)
Coupons
That was a while ago, and we’ve added more people to the family since then.  Still at $800, which included toiletries and diapers and such, it was more then I wanted to spend.  With the help of The Grocery Game I have managed to bring it down to $600 or less, with much of that still going towards Domino’s and the occasional cheese wonton from China Xing.
The key to the “game” is couponing and using Teri’s List.  The list is easy, the coupons though…wow, they get out of hand fast!
First I tried a basic coupon sorter. You know, the kind you pick up from the dollar store.  Well, when you’re buying or acquiring multiple sets of coupons every Sunday those little sorters don’t last long.
Then I stole my husbands baseball card holders and recycled an old binder and created my GIGANTIC “WATCH OUT KROGER HERE COMES THE CRAZY COUPON LADY” BINDER.  He was never going to put his baseball cards in there anyway.
It’s sorted by aisle, because I always shop at the same two or three stores, with the bulk of my shopping being at Kroger.  So I formatted it after that stores layout and after a while, finding what I needed at other stores was a breeze.
The baseball card slots are perfect for most coupon sizes.  The others can easily be folded to fit and still show what the coupon is for.  This has made it so much easier in the store, even the Mr. is willing to flip through the book and look for the picture of his favorite pickles.
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Then came the holidays.  We actually lived off our stockpile for 6 weeks only buying milk, bread, and ‘I just want that now’ type items.  So I had SIX WEEKS of coupons building up that had not been cut, sorted and filed.  Not only that but I had a binder full of mostly expired coupons.
The pile was getting bigger, and I was less and less inclined to touch it.  So I met my coupons in the middle.
I took out a bunch of envelopes, just plain ones, and labeled them to match the dividers in my binder.
Doodlebug and I cut coupons, Taderbug and Bubbagirl played in the scraps.  We had a SEA of paper on our living room floor.  Then I simple shoved them into the appropriate envelope.
Every day for the next week, I made it my goal to empty ONE envelope into the binder.  By the time my usual shopping day rolled around my binder was back in business!
I’m keeping my envelopes to use as a ‘presorting’ place, so I can get my coupons in order in case they are needed for a quick purchase between normal shopping dates.
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Do you use coupons?  How do you organize them?
(if you decide to try the grocerygame.com , please help a momma out and use me email as a reference.  memrband3 at gmail dot com.  I receive no cash, but will earn a free week of the game if you subscribe AFTER your FREE trial)

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