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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Did Christmas Wreck Your Budget? Ten Ways to Do Better Next Year

Christmas 2013 has now come and gone. We had a very nice celebration and I hope you did too. We have five children, three of whom have significant others, and we have two grandchildren. We get gifts for all of them as well as for my husband's parents, my three younger sisters, some nieces and nephews, a few co-workers, and we pay cash for everything.

We don't have a big budget with which to purchase all these gifts and we don't generally purchase big ticket items but everyone is usually pretty happy with what they receive. Let me share some of my tips and techniques that I have used to accomplish this feat each year.

  • Keep a gift notebook. I use a plain old spiral notebook but you might like to set up something in your phone or computer. I allot a page to each family member and I pay close attention to anything they say that they would like to get. I write this info on their page and keep my eyes open all year for these items to give to them for Christmas or birthday gifts. 

  • Use the Kohl's or other store gift cards that come in the mail to you. I received three $10.00 Kohl's gift cards in my mailbox. The first one I used to help purchase some lovely Melissa & Doug puzzles for my grandsons. Kohl's had the puzzles on sale at 20% off their regular price and I applied the $10.00 gift card to the purchase and got two nice wooden puzzles valued at $27.00 for a total of $11.50. The second $10.00 card was used to purchase a $56.00 sweater for my youngest son for only $11.99. The sweater was on sale for $21.99 and I applied the $10.00 card towards it, making it an amazing deal. My son was delighted with his sweater and wore it to his grandparents' house for Christmas. The third $10.00 gift card helped me to purchase $52.00 of items for only $17.99. I bought my older daughter a pair of Lauren Conrad leggings on sale for $9.99 (were $20.00) and I bought some very nice bath and body items for my son's girlfriend at 50% off the regular price, then applied the $10.00 card and went home very happy with my purchases. The young ladies were also very happy when they opened their gifts on Christmas Day. If you are keeping track, you will note that I purchased $135.00 of items for five people for only $41.48! That is nearly 70% off the original retail price of the items. Even on a very limited income, shopping this way allows me to stretch my precious dollars and bless my family.

  • Watch for bargains all year: I have a spot in my closet where I store items I bought on clearance for future events such as birthdays and holidays. I purchased a plaque for my daughter's boyfriend that said Man Cave. It was on clearance at Target for $5.00 but was originally $12.00. Colin loves his man room so I knew this would be a fun addition to his room. I saw it and purchased it in March 2013 and held on to it until Christmas. When I see a sign that says “Clearance” or see those wonderful orange clearance tags, I make a beeline to that area and go through that section to see if there are any items that would make great gifts.
    I bought this after Christmas last
    year to save for my younger grandson.
    I only paid $5.00 but I count it as a
    $10.00 gift. 

  •  Shop thrift stores: Yes, even for Christmas! Thrift stores are full of brand new and like new items. It is true that you cannot return the items that were purchased at thrift stores but don't let that discourage you from shopping there- you just need to know the person very well for whom you will be shopping to make this work. I have gotten many new items at my favorite thrift store that still have the retail tags attached. My thrift store runs a different daily special each day. A few weeks ago when I stopped in, the specials were: 50% off all books, puzzles, and bagged toys. I got six new condition board books for my younger grandson for $1.50, a new condition wooden puzzle for the same child for $1.00, and several amusing paperback books to tuck into stockings for 12 cents each! Earlier in the year, I bought a new 4-piece sushi serving set for $4.00 to give to my younger daughter.

  1. At retail price, these books would have
    cost me $13.00, but I paid 75 cents!

    What little boy or girl wouldn't love this
    puzzle for Christmas?


  •  Purchase memberships to certain stores to get discounts all year long: my youngest son has a memberships to Game Stop which enables him to get a 10% discount on purchases. He allowed me to use his discount to purchase items for my daughter's boyfriend for Christmas. I bought one game brand new and one game previously owned and saved 10% on the whole purchase. 

  • Many stores offer a bonus gift card for the purchase of a certain dollar amount of gift cards. Case in point: Half-Price books offered a $5.00 gift card good in January for each $25.00 gift card purchased in December. I had a lot of books on my list for Christmas gifts so when I went into the store, I bought gift cards, got my bonus gift cards to use in January, made my selections, and then used the gift cards I had just gotten to purchase my Christmas gifts. In January, I get to take $15.00 in bonus gift cards to go shopping for myself or get a head start on 2014 Christmas shopping.

I took $75.00 in gift cards and turned into
$90.00 worth of purchasing power

  • Shop discount stores: I live in a fairly small, semi-rural town so shopping options were, until recently, quite limited. This year, just before Christmas, a Ross store opened in our town. My middle son wanted an electric shaver for Christmas and when I looked at Walmart and some other stores I felt that this item would be out of my means to get for him. While in Ross, I went to the men's section and noticed a Remington shaver with the specifications he wanted for under $25.00 dollars. This same razor was nearly $50.00 in other stores! Thank you, Ross, for making my son happy this Christmas.   

  • Buy in bulk when you see a great item at a great price: a couple years ago, I walked into my local Walgreen's and saw that they had an end cap full of really nice jar candles originally priced at $9.99 marked down to $2.00. I bought five candles and gave them as Christmas gifts to folks with whom I worked. They got $10.00 gifts and I got to stay within my budget. I do this whenever I can as often as I can.

  • Use the discount coupons that various stores publish in the Sunday paper. We shopped at Hobby Lobby using 40% off coupons to purchase a hobby knife set and portfolio for our middle son. The items together would have retailed at $38.99 but using the coupons we only paid $24.00 which freed up our money to be used to purchase more gifts for more folks on our list. 
And finally my tenth way to do my gift giving affordably-

  • Sell books to Amazon: I sell my college children's used textbooks to Amazon when I have items they are interested in buying. This year I only had one book that was on the list of items they wanted. This book brought me $11.44 in Amazon credit. I also earned a $10.00 Amazon credit for doing a survey for a company so I had $21.44 in credit with Amazon. I let whatever credits I earn just accrue until it is time to start Christmas shopping. The small amount I had was enough to purchase 12-month magazine subscriptions for four people for Christmas gifts. Note that I was able to give four gifts without spending a dollar out of pocket.

I hope these ideas will help you to enjoy shopping for the holidays regardless of the size of your budget. I would love to hear what you do and how you save on these types of purchases, too!

Monday, December 2, 2013

After Thanksgiving Course Correction

Thanksgiving dinner was so yummy this year. The turkey was moist and tasty. There were lots of vegetables to eat so I was able to make healthy food choices...until I started eating the gluten-free brownies my mother-in-law had made and the gluten-free dairy-free pumpkin pie! Then, fueled by the influence of sugar, I went CRAZY eating too many portions of these treats.

How did you do with your Thanksgiving eating? Did you eat mindfully or did you do what I did?

I have a habit of weighing myself daily so when I go off the skids, I can see pretty quickly the effect it has on my weight and I pull myself back into good behavior within a day or two.

After enjoying the tasty treasures and gaining a couple pounds I upped my activity levels and signed up for a new challenge on LoseIt! This challenge encourages the participants to walk at least 4,000 steps each day this December.

In years past, if I over-indulged and gained some weight, I would beat myself up with recriminations. Then I would feel worse and eat badly. Now if I go on a food bender, I just resume my healthy eating habits, work out a bit more for a week or two, and get back to my "fighting" weight. I don't get too crazed about it.

These little off course events happen less and less often the longer I have been on the healthier path that I began in 2009. I have built up many good habits that keep me out of temptation.

I usually carry appropriate foods with me when I leave the house each day, including at least 16 ounces of water. I have at least an apple with me to help stave off hunger pangs until I can get home to eat something nutritious. I also exercise at least three days a week and usually work out five days a week.

It is hard to get too far off course sticking to good habits consistently.

What do you do if you get off course in your eating or exercising?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Low-cost or No-cost Weight Loss Resources That Worked for Me

The old Holly around September 2000.

Four and a half years ago, I was a size 16 squeezing into size 14 clothes! Today, I wear size 4 and 6 clothes. At the start of my journey to lose weight and become healthy I wondered if getting to my current size was a realistic goal for me. Along the way I found some really helpful low-cost or no-cost resources that you may also find as helpful as I did.

Me with my grandson in Sept. 2012.

Bob Greene's book Total Body Makeover was a huge help to me. It gave me very concrete ideas of how to structure a workout program and also helped me to deal with the emotional part of my weight loss journey. This book came out in 2005 and I still go back periodically to read it and encourage myself to keep up my efforts in maintaining my weight loss. There are many personal stories in the book that gave me faith that I could do what the other people in the book did!

Planet Fitness was the gym I joined when I began my steps to fitness. It was a wonderful place to go for someone who hadn't been working out because it is billed as "the no judgment zone" and that is truly what it was for me. A variety of people of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels go to Planet Fitness ( It has a nice variety of exercise equipment there as well: regular and recumbent bicycles, treadmills, elliptical machines, stair-steppers, free weights, and weight machines, and a circuit training area. It is VERY affordable with no-commitment plans starting at $10/month!

If $10/month is not in your budget, I have great news for you! PBS stations have fitness shows on their line-up several times each week. In my area, I enjoy doing Classical Stretch workouts up to five days a week ( and Wai Lana yoga ( from the comfort of my home. My husband bought me a pretty pink yoga mat, I found some really cute workout clothes at the thrift store, and I was ready to get fit! I started doing these exercise shows last year after I lost a job I had had for seven years and I could not afford a gym membership. I am still doing these workouts at home because I have gotten great results from them and enjoy them very much. 

Last October I realized that I needed a little help as I continued reaching towards my goal weight. I read in Fitness magazine of a lady who used a free app on her smartphone called Lose It! I began using it and have lost 7 pounds since then. ; )

Lose It! allows people to track calories of the foods they eat and calories they expend through exercise. I had tried to do this on my own but found it very difficult to do. Another feature of Lose It! that I enjoy are the various challenges in which I have participated. The challenges are very motivating. One such challenge to weigh in daily just ended after 278 days! I have established the habit of monitoring my weight every day which helps keep me from getting too far off track in my eating and exercising. 

One other fitness resource that I really enjoy using are the walking/running trails in neighborhood parks. Even in my small town, we have several of these trails. The hospital near my house installed walking trails all around it that are marked so people can track how much distance they cover. My husband and I enjoy walking on the trails at the hospital because it is
a safe place to walk, there are restrooms available, we can go inside to get a drink of water, and they have free Wifi to enjoy once we are done walking. 

What have you done in your journey to better health and fitness?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

My November 11-16 Menu (gluten-free friendly too!)

Menu planning is continuing to challenge me.  I realized recently that I only have to plan dinners right now so that should make my task a bit easier.

Breakfast is pretty much an "on your own" affair with four to five adults in the household. I lay in a supply of breakfast items and people just choose from those items. Generally there is a selection of regular and gluten-free cereals, bagels, regular and gluten-free frozen waffles, and eggs on hand at all times. We also have three different "milks" due to allergies so we have almond milk, soy milk, and regular milk in stock. One son likes to make protein shakes with 2% milk, I drink almond or coconut milk due to dairy allergies, and another son drinks soy milk due to dairy allergies and a hatred of almond and coconut milk.

Lunch is also an "on your own" meal mainly due to the majority of us being at work during lunchtime. The lunch food selections are quite varied due to dietary issues and preferences. One son likes frozen foods for his lunches (I don't advise this but he is 19) so he gets burritos, Hot Pockets, and occasionally frozen meals. My other son at home likes sandwiches with lots of meat in them (he is a black belt in Kung Fu and needs A LOT of protein). I like salads, cut-up veggies, hummus, and soups. So, I just stock up on the items we all want and we pack our lunches each day.

Which leads to dinner...

Dinner is the one meal of the day when at least three of us are home at the same time so I feel it incumbent upon me to actually cook a meal. Given all the dietary issues (I have celiac disease, two of us have diary allergies, and two of us cannot eat soy), creating a meal we can all eat is a bit challenging. Add to the mix the need to be on a very tight budget and it is a wonder I can make any meals at times!

So,  here are the meals we ate this week (Nov. 11-16):

Monday- Breakfast for dinner which consisted of omelets, leftover gluten-free hot dogs sliced in half and fried, hash browns, and apple juice
Tuesday-  Soup and Sandwiches (first really cold night of the season!) so I bought a variety of gluten-free Progresso soups with coupons and made both gluten-free vegan grilled cheese and regular grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday- Fried rice with egg and stir-fried veggies, egg rolls (sadly no gluten-free versions for me).

Thursday- Gluten-free General Tso's chicken, which is a crockpot meal from Stephanie O' Dea's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking ( served over rice. This was delicious and will be made again!


Saturday- Refried bean tostadas with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, regular and vegan cheddar        cheese, jalapenos, hot sauce, Spanish rice, garlic green beans

What was or is on your menu this week?


Monday, November 11, 2013

Strategies for Saving and Managing Calories

One of the "cruel" realities of weight loss is that the less you weigh, the less calories you can consume to maintain or lose weight. I have lost 60 pounds and am working on losing 10 more. I am allotted 1,372 calories each day according to Lose It, a very cool free phone app. So, I have to manage those calories really well in order to feel satisfied and stay on track.

I came up with a couple strategies that are working quite nicely for me and hope they will help you too. Instead of topping my gluten-free waffles with syrup (a calorie bomb as 1/4 cup of regular pancake syrup has 187 calories!), I top them with cut-up fruit such as bananas or strawberries, both of which contain nutrients, vitamins, and far fewer calories than syrup. I do spread a little pat of butter on my waffle before topping with the sliced fruit.

Doesn't this look yummy?
Summer waffles!
 I find these so satisfying and filling! Less sugar, more fiber, a plus all the
way around!

I use this principle when eating cereal as well. Instead of adding sugar to my gluten-free Rice Krispies, I add cut-up fruit. I find that I don't need the sugar because the natural sweetness of the fruit is enough.

Another way to save on calories is to switch to unsweetened almond or coconut milk. A cup of unsweetened almond milk contains 30 calories and unsweetened coconut milk contains 45 calories. A cup of skim milk has about 90 calories, so do the math and see if you would rather save some calories while consuming the same volume of "milk".

I have celiac disease, cannot eat dairy, and cannot eat soy. This necessarily limits many food choices for me. Instead of feeling unhappy about this, I have discovered a benefit in that many of the vegan "dairy" alternatives are much lower in calories than their dairy counterparts. A slice of vegan cheese has 40 calories while a slice of dairy American cheese has 70 calories. So, even those of you who don't need to avoid dairy like I do may find a benefit in switching to vegan alternatives. I have found similar benefits in my gluten-free choices. ; )

Of course, not all the alternatives contain the same nutrients as their alter egos-they can contain more or less depending on the item. You need to make informed decisions for yourself. Because I have medical issues that preclude my consumption of gluten, dairy, and soy, I do take supplements to be sure that I get my needed nutrients.

Another HUGE help for me is measuring my food. I realized when I started my weight loss journey that part of my problem was consuming too great a volume of food. I was eating a dinner plate full of rice instead of a portion-way too many calories! Now, my measuring cups and spoons are my best friends. They help keep me on track and mindful of what I am eating.

Did you know 1 cup is a portion?

1 tablespoon = 30 calories of Coffeemate.

What do you do to manage your diet while losing or maintaining a weight loss?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Build a Wardrobe on a Budget Part Two

I am continuing to work on building my wardrobe while on a very limited budget. I need to step up my efforts because the weather is getting colder. Shorts and flip-flops aren't all that comfy when the temperature dips down into the mid-40's!

Fortunately, I had purchased a pair of comfy leather slip-on's and a pair of black chunky-heeled loafers a few weeks ago at a really nice thrift store so shoe-wise I was ready for colder temperatures.

My new favorite shoes!
One of the keys to building a wardrobe on a budget is to buy ahead of the next season or two if at all possible. If I see a cute summer dress in my price range when I am out shopping for the current season, you better believe that I am going to snag it while I can! You should do the same. A lot of times, due to space being scarce at most thrift stores, clothing that is out of season is deeply discounted. Prepare yourself now to take advantage of these deals. One of my core philosophies is to buy needed items at the lowest possible price to keep as much money available as I can for those areas where it is difficult to cut costs.

Another principle I have used in building a wardrobe for the past 25 years is to wear a certain palette of colors. A very sweet friend did my color analysis for me after I had my second child and I am so thankful she did. I am an Ultrian Autumn, which is a Beauty for All Seasons designation (check out this website for more info

The best thing about finding out your best colors and wearing them is that EVERYTHING you buy coordinates. This makes your wardrobe seem much larger and more varied. Today I put on a pair of light tan colored Dockers, a brown cotton knit blouse, my new favorite leather shoes, and threw on a scarf that had all those colors in it. My pants were $2.00, my blouse was $2.00, the shoes cost $7.99, and the scarf was a gift. I clothed myself for $10.00 for this outfit and I often clothe myself for less!

This same scarf can be worn with many items in my wardrobe. 
Another great way I have gained clothing for my wardrobe inexpensively is to swap clothes with a friend. I have a dear friend who also has lost a lot of weight and we now wear the same size clothes. Whenever she is cleaning out her closet, she always checks to see if I am in need of clothes. I gratefully accept what is offered, take it all home to try it on for size, see if it fills a need in my wardrobe, and donate to our local thrift store whatever is left.

One other great way to add needed items to your wardrobe on a budget is to shop the end of season clearance sales at retail stores. I have purchased pants for as little as $2.00 per pair at places like Rue 21 and Old Navy. It is hit or miss at times but definitely worth checking. Accessories are also easy to find inexpensively this way. Having nice earrings, belts, scarves, and necklaces can help extend a wardrobe and make it seem much larger than it is.

I have found that I do not need a lot of clothes if I have a basic set of items to act as the backdrop for my accessories. I like to have a core set of neutral colored bottoms such as tan, khaki, or black pants that can be dressed up by wearing them with heeled shoes, dressy shirts, and nicer jewelry or made more casual by wearing sandals, flats, and nice t-shirts. Websites such as Real Simple have a nice list of what they consider wardrobe basics ( I also like to buy items that are medium weight fabrics so that I can wear them over most of the year. Pants that can be worn all four seasons are so useful when funds are limited for clothing purchases!

I will be sharing more of my acquisitions in future posts, so stay tuned!

What do you consider staples in your wardrobe? What shopping tips can you share for building a wardrobe on a budget?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Couponing Woes

I LOVE couponing! But, lately I have not really been utilizing my coupons the way I would like. I have a bag full of coupons to cut out and put into the envelopes in my coupon box. When I say full, I mean really full. The bag probably weighs at least 10 pounds! That is a lot of coupons waiting to save me money and stock my cabinets.

Last year, I carefully cut and filed my coupons each week. Then I went Walgreen's and CVS to get awesome deals. I had accumulated 6 months worth of toothpaste, laundry detergent, body care products, and toilet paper. Right now, the stock is getting a little low.

How will I solve my coupon crisis? I have a couple ideas.

1. I will take my coupons, coupon box, and scissors with me to work on during the time I am waiting on one of my sons to finish an activity.

2. I will designate an hour each week on Saturday to cut and organize my coupons. I will conquer my coupon problem and begin using my coupons responsibly!

3. I will rebuild my stock using my semi-extreme couponing capabilities of combining sales with coupons for the greatest savings and even to get free items.

It is very important to my budget to spend the least amount possible on any item I purchase. This policy frees up valuable resources to use in other areas of my budget. Since we are on a very tight budget, every dollar has to be allocated where it can be most useful.

Do you coupon? How do you manage your coupons?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are You Ready for Christmas Update

Christmas is approaching rapidly. According to, there are 68 days until Christmas! Eek!

The last time I posted on this topic was near the end of August. If you want to refresh your memory or you didn't see the post, you can go to it here-

My main focus was earning money that I would be earmarking just for Christmas spending. I do not have credit cards to fall back on when I have a budget shortfall so planning ahead is the key to success for me. ; )

A short while ago, I got an email from that I was given a $10.00 gift card. I received it by doing a survey for Math-U-See and being entered for a gift card drawing. Just a bit before that I traded in a book to Amazon and earned $10.44 on my gift card balance. So, with this recent gift card, I am now up to $20.00 in my account. This is enough to purchase at least one nice gift for someone on my list or a few gifts if I find really great deals! I also have an Amazon shopping portal right here on my blog. Folks can buy through Amazon just as they always do but enter through the "door" on my site and I earn a little bit of money. I have loaded my store with items I recommend but those are not the only items someone can buy through that portal.

I am also listing items on Listia to earn credits. I can use the Listia credits I earn to get all kinds of items later on. I will save my credits until closer to Christmas to use for Christmas shopping. You can sign up to trade/give away items there too. If you sign up using my link  ( , both you and I will earn FREE credits that we can use to get items for those folks on our gift lists. Recently, my husband used 55,000 credits he had amassed giving away seeds from our garden plants to get me some much needed and desired skin care products. Christmas came early for me!

I participate in another cool website called Moolala where I can purchase very cool deals and refer these deals to other folks. Everyone on Moolala has the opportunity to build a paymatrix when people sign up under them. I have earned $21.00 so far from my group. Give it a try and see if it is worthwhile for you too. Just cut and paste this code ( into your web browser and give it a try!

These various ventures do not take an expenditure of money on my part but they do require some of my time. I have a little Acer netbook that I take everywhere I go, so that when I am waiting for one of my sons somewhere that has free wifi, I can be productive on these different earning ventures. If I can do this without having an Internet connection at home, just think what those of you with the Internet can do to earn needed funds.

Another thing I do to get ready for Christmas is to begin to purchase holiday food items a little bit at a time the last three or four months of the year and right after the holidays if they have a long enough shelf life. I have several bags of brown sugar in stock that I purchased at $1.00 per bag on clearance. The brown sugar is good through the middle of 2014. I also have gingerbread mix that I purchased for $1.00 a box that is good until January 2014. I have cans of mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks also stored for holiday Ambrosia salad. I can look forward confidently to my Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking and baking with a stocked pantry.

And finally, I purchase nifty gifts all year that I see at good prices. A couple years ago, my local grocery superstore had women's fashion scarves marked down to $1.00 each from the original $8.00! I bought 15 scarves and was able to give seven gifts of two pretty scarves. Another time I went into a Walgreen's and found really nice scented candles in jars marked down to $2.00 each (originally $9.99). Such gifts are great for many gift giving occasions and do not break my limited budget. A little advance planning and watchfulness gives such peace of mind!

How are you doing at getting ready for Christmas giving or other gift giving seasons?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Meal Planning for Busy People Update

Gluten-free zucchini muffins and banana muffins cooling so I can store them for the week's grab and go breakfasts.
Okay, so after my trip to Little Caesar's, I was more determined than ever to master my meal planning issues. Check out this link to see why I am whining about my meal planning Right now I am feeding three adult men (hubby, a 21-year-old son, a 19-year-old son), myself, and my 27-year-old daughter and her 1-year-old son who live with us on a semi-permanent basis.

My husband brought home the following items from his shopping trip on Thursday (Oct. 3), all of which were marked down items: veggie kabobs (peppers, onions, mushrooms, yellow squash, and zucchini), two bags of broccoli and carrot mix, a package of sliced zucchini and yellow squash (this will be shredded and put into gluten-free zucchini muffins), a bag of sliced mushrooms, a five pound package of ground beef, a large container of medium salsa, and a large bag of tortilla chips. Then, on Saturday (Oct. 5) as he was leaving a market days event where he was selling craft and jewelry items, he purchased sausages, barbecue beef, and smoked pork loin that the concession stand was selling really cheap. There were two large (32 oz. size cups) of barbecue beef, a dozen sausages, and a package of pork loin sliced into about twelve good slices. He spent $9.00 for everything!

The vegetables in this package were on skewers as they were intended for veggie kabobs. I turned them into ratatouille and Slow Cooker Mediterranean vegetable stew. I put the mushrooms aside to use in pasta primavera, so this package of vegetables became ingredients in three meals.

Slow cooker Mediterranean vegetable stew is spicy with red pepper flakes in it and delicious over rice. 

I had on hand some frozen chicken, some cooked pork chops, rice, potatoes, refried beans, tostada shells, flour tortillas, some canned vegetables, spaghetti sauce, dried pinto beans, okra, and peppers from our garden and other staple items such as spices, eggs, and the like.

Here is the dinner menu I created from the items listed above:

Saturday, October 5- We ate the barbecue beef and had potato salad with it that hubby had picked up to make dinner easy on me. Because I am gluten-free, I ate my barbecue beef on tostada shells.

Sunday, October 6-Ratatouille, pasta, smoked pork loin.

Doesn't the ratatouille look pretty?

Monday, October 7-Smoked sausages on buns and tater tots. We have a very long Monday each week so I keep this meal simple.

Tuesday, October 8-Meatball sandwiches, oven fries, baby carrots.

Wednesday, October 9-Tostada casserole (I will use the dried pinto beans in this and cook them overnight in my crockpot the night before, making extra for Saturday's chili). This can be made ahead a day or two before and just popped into the oven for 20-25 minutes to reheat.

Thursday, October 10-Pasta primavera (will use the mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots in this), topped with sauce and meatballs from Tuesday's dinner.

Friday, October 11-Clean Out the Fridge Day. We will eat the leftovers that have piled up during the week today.

Saturday, October 12-Chili . We eat our chili over rice so I will make a big batch of rice to use with this meal and in the coming week. This is the third of four meals that I will have made with five pounds of ground beef.

I got three cups of shredded zucchini from the package of zucchini and squash. I used one cup in the gluten-free zucchini muffins and used the squash in ratatouille and Mediterranean vegetable stew.
I love my salad shooter for shredding
small quantities of foods quickly with
easy clean up.

What a deal! Isn't my hubby a savvy shopper?

I am feeling better about my menu and meal planning for this week. ; )

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Menu Planning Ideas for Frugal Busy People

Over the years I have had many challenges in my life. Who hasn't? One of my biggest current challenges involves menu and meal planning. I used to be really good at it but lately, not so much, due to a jam-packed schedule and the unpredictable way we do our grocery shopping.

This not a typical meal served at my house these days!

My husband does some of our grocery shopping and buys whatever he can find that is marked down or on clearance. This stretches our funds and is a huge help, but it also makes meal planning have to occur once shopping is completed rather than before. Most every article I see about meal planning encourages a person to get the sale ads, make a menu based on what is on sale, and then go shopping. We end up seeing what we can get for the funds available and then I have to gather my cookbooks together to compile recipes and a menu that make the best use of the raw materials I have available.

Frozen chicken tenders, a can of black beans, a can of corn, and a can of tomatoes and green chiles are the main components of Santa Fe Chicken. The canned items were all purchased on markdown by my hubby and cost 50 cents each!

The completed dish of Santa Fe Chicken. We serve ours over rice and with either tortilla chips and a salad or with flour tortillas. Some of us like to sprinkle a little Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese over this. The total cost to feed four of us was around $5.00!

In addition to the challenge of creating a menu based on available ingredients, four out of the seven nights of the week, I do not arrive home until between 7:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. This makes cooking a meal a little dicey unless we want to eat around midnight. So, I am currently reformulating my cooking routine.

On Sundays now, I am making two meals. One to eat on Sunday and one for Monday. Reheating an already prepared meal is much easier than preparing a meal from scratch. I am now avidly searching online and in women's magazines for recipes that are cook once, eat twice type of recipes. A recent issue of Family Circle was a big help in this area. Some ideas they featured were: roast a chicken one day and the second day make a pot pie, serve spaghetti and meatballs one day and the second day serve meatball sub sandwiches. This type of meal preparation will go a long way to make serving meals in my home much easier. Here are a couple URLs that look promising to me:,,20333807,00.html and

I used to do freeze ahead meals years ago and I think I will incorporate that into my meal planning as well. I really enjoyed looking at the nicely stacked packages filling the freezer shelves and knowing that we had meals at the ready. I used Once-a-Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg as my guide to cooking up to a month's worth of meals in one day or over a weekend (check out cookbooks in my Amazon store link to get their books). Most likely I won't have enough groceries at the ready to do a month of meals in advance but perhaps I can start with a week and utilize a freezer meal once or twice a week for those days when I am extremely pressed for time.

I am also employing the power of crock pot cooking at least once a week to help me over the meal planning and eating later in the evening hump. I am enjoying perusing the recipes at Stephanie O'Dea's website devoted to crock pot cooking. A big bonus for me in following her blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, ( is that she is also gluten-free. I have eaten gluten-free since 2007 and I really appreciate being able to grab a recipe and not have to take the time to convert it to a gluten-free concoction.

Stay tuned as I share favorite recipes from my frugal busy cooking journey and please share how you handle menu planning and meal prep in your household. I need all the help I can get right now because last night I had to make a stop at Little Caesar's!

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Build a Wardrobe on a Budget

Those of you who have known me a while know that I lost a lot of weight over the past few years. I weigh about 60 pounds less than I did most of my adult life.

This photo is from my driver's license and was taken about 15 years ago.

I lost the majority of my weight by late 2010 through portion control and exercise and then I had some health issues that sidetracked me from working out from April 2011-January 2012. I maintained the weight I had lost but still wanted to lose more. 

In the spring of 2012, I began exercising again and found a program on television that started me on the path to additional weight loss and increased physical fitness. Within a month of beginning to do essentrics ( and, I had lost a clothing size! I also lost 6 more pounds and am still working on about ten more to finish my weight loss goal from four years ago. 

I now weigh within two pounds of my high school weight and I feel great!

All this recent weight loss and improved shaping of my body has caused me to need all new clothes. I know, it is hard to sympathize with my problem! I have almost no budget for clothing so I did what I always do when confronted with a challenge. I prayed for wisdom and then formulated a plan of action. 

I decided to hit up the thrift stores but to focus on only buying from their daily sale promotions. At my local thrift store, a certain colored tag is chosen each day to receive a 50% discount if purchased.

I recently bought a pair of khaki Dockers, a pair of black crop pants, a Crazy Horse purse (division of Liz Claiborne), an exercise top, a top for work, and a casual top for fall for $13.00! I also received a sweater for free because it has a tiny pinhole in it and the store won't sell items with holes so they gave it to me! 

My recent purchases minus the khaki Dockers. 
I still need more clothing to round out a full wardrobe but I have a good start. I have made an concentrated effort to go to the thrift store at least once a week. I go to the racks and look for items in my size with the discounted tag and march off to the dressing room to try on everything I found that meets a need in my wardrobe. Sometimes I only purchase a single item. 

Just about every thrift store I have frequented has a daily sale of some sort. If you need clothing or household items I encourage you to give your local thrift store a shot at helping you fill your need without breaking your budget. 

Let me know of your deals, steals, and tips for building your wardrobe on a budget. 

I am off to the thrift to you soon!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Five Ways to Get Money Fast!

Recently I have been sharing ways to keep more of the money you earn. Sometimes being able to manage the money coming in is all you need to improve your life. Making your meals from scratch instead of eating out is a big enough savings that it can help you to free up money to use elsewhere. Changes like that put money back into your budget pretty rapidly. 

But then there are those other times when what you really need is to get some more money into your hands and fast! Perhaps you or your spouse has just lost a job. Even if you applied for assistance until a new job is found, that takes time to get processed and you still need to eat and keep the the electricity on. So, what is a stressed out, worried person to do?

I speak from all too much experience on this topic, so I will tell you some things we have done during job losses.

1. Hold a yard sale.  Some folks reading this know they have stuff to sell because they have a shopping habit. Some of us just have things that have piled up and are not currently needed. I had some car parts in my trunk that my mechanic and I had intended for him to use in making a repair to my car. It was not a pressing need...I had the parts in my trunk for a year! When I had another car issue that was a pressing need, I took those car parts back, bought what I needed, had enough left over to pay my mechanic, and had additional money to put towards some bills. 

Many years ago when my husband lost a job we had a succession of yard sales that netted us nearly $1,000.00, which was enough to keep us afloat while he looked for and landed a new job. Of course it would be much better to have an emergency fund ready and waiting. Due to the economic events of the past few years, many of us have not been able to stock an emergency fund so we need to explore other options.

2. Find and fill a need. Perhaps you have noticed that yards in your neighborhood are looking shabby. You  can approach your neighbors with an affordable offer to mow their yards. My husband has one regular mowing job for a neighbor down the street and an occasional mowing job for the neighbor next door. He wants to get several more in our neighborhood to help beef up our bottom line. Or, you notice the neighbor kids are home alone after school because they are hanging out at your house every afternoon playing with your kids. Approach your neighbors with an affordable offer to watch their kids after school. There are some local rules and regulations on child care so check into it first, but it is right now money right where you are. These are just two examples we have done in our family. Your skill set will determine what you can do.

3. Redeem aluminum, metals, and glass. Depending on where you live, aluminum cans and glass may have deposits assessed on them and you can redeem them for right now money. I just read recently about a woman whose 9 year-old son wanted some expensive shoes. She lived in one of these areas where cans have a deposit. Her son contacted neighbors, friends, and relatives who were only too happy to donate to his cause. He earned $161.00 in one month. Even in locales where all you can do is to sell aluminum cans, you can earn money that can put gas in your car. Aluminum cans are everywhere. I grab them whenever I see them. Every store parking lot has at least two near where I park no matter when I go. Copper is another metal that is worth a nice chunk of change right now. If you have any copper tubing lying around, you can sell it to a recycler and make a tidy profit.

4. Teach lessons in an area where you are proficient. One summer, I taught a week long morning craft class for kids in my home. I had lots of crafts I wanted to do with my five children and had to purchase a lot of materials. I defrayed the cost of materials, gave some moms five mornings of time to themselves, and taught some kids some fun activities, while putting some cash into my wallet. Do you speak a foreign language fluently? Do you know how to knit, sew, or crochet? Are you a whiz at cooking a special cuisine? People will gladly pay you to learn what you know. You can create a flyer and post it at your local library, on your church's bulletin board, or on Craig's List and be teaching and earning within a week or two or even sooner!

5. Rent things you own to others for short-term use. Do you have some tools or other items that folks are always asking to use? Perhaps you can make some money by listing them for rental to local folks. Do you have room in your garage, basement, or attic you can rent out? Renting a storage room can be quite expensive so you could offer someone a storage space for less and still earn decent money for yourself.
Check out this company (RelayRides) that helps you to rent out your car to others to earn money- There are all kinds of websites set up to help folks rent their homes, vehicles, and more.

Will any of these ventures replace regular income? Not likely. What they will do is put cash in your wallet pretty rapidly and allow you a little breathing room while you regroup and get a plan of action in place.

Have you faced loss of income and needed money quickly? What did you do to meet this need? I love hearing from you, so please take a moment to leave a comment and let's help each other by sharing what we have learned.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

More Ways to Earn by Not Spending

Yesterday I posted ten ways to earn money by not spending it. My savvy friend Melody also posted ten ways she earns money by not spending it. She and I are very similar in many ways and are constantly sharing ideas for saving and earning money with each other.

After publishing yesterday's post, some additional things I do to keep money in my budget came to mind so I thought I would share those before I get too busy.

My grandmother used to quote the following saying to me, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." This has been a guiding philosophy for me pretty much my whole life.

7 More Ways to Earn by Not Spending

1. Don't replace anything before it is necessary. Don't be a compulsive up grader. If your computer, couch, shoes, etc. are still in good, usable condition then continue using them. Keeping up with the Joneses is expensive! They are most likely broke and living on credit cards anyway!

2. Give careful consideration to where you decide to live. My husband and I purchased 3/4 of an acre and set up a large mobile home on it outside of the city limits of our small town. Our property taxes are under $1,000.00 per year. Our utilities are much lower than those of my friends who live in the city limits of our town. My home isn't increasing in value but I also don't have the large house payment many folks I know do and I can improve my basic home to be whatever I would like it to be as time goes on.

3. Find a beauty school in your area and use its services. Beauty schools offer hair cuts, colors, permanents, highlights, facials, manicures, and other services for a fraction of regular beauty salons. The students are supervised by qualified instructors. I have been very satisfied by the services I have received at the beauty school nearest to me.

4. Learn to bake and decorate birthday cakes for your family. Many craft supply stores host cake decorating classes for a nominal fee which often includes cake decorating supplies and discounts for the purchase of additional cake decorating supplies. My children loved the theme cakes I made for them when they were young and I loved the savings over bakery purchased cakes.

5. Buy a haircut kit and learn to cut your family's hair. Developing hair cutting skills saved us hundreds of dollars over the years I was raising my five children.

6. Learn to groom your pets. We acquired a darling little Shih Tzu a year ago who requires regular trims. I didn't realize until we got him how expensive having a dog groomed can be so I am learning to groom him myself.

Watson taking a break from being groomed. You may notice his name tag doesn't say Watson. He needs a new name tag because the one he is wearing has his previous name on it. 

7. Get your pets vaccinated at local vaccination drives held by various organizations. Pet vaccines from your vet are much more expensive than those at these vaccine clinics. Our local grocery store hosts a pet vaccine clinic at least every other month.

I hadn't realized that these ideas and the ones I shared in yesterday's post are not commonly done until my youngest son relayed a conversation he had with someone awhile ago. In the conversation, my son shared how we exist on a very low income. The person with whom he was speaking was incredulous at hearing that our family lived on under $25,000/year for quite a while. People have lost the ability to do many things for themselves and don't even realize that they CAN do the things they pay others to do.

People have been conditioned by the media and the government to think that a certain income means a certain lifestyle. While it is true that the problem for some folks is that they have a low income, for many others the problem is that they need to learn to use their income more wisely. I would rather enjoy my life on a lower income than to work all the time to earn more money and not have time to enjoy my life.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and related topics!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ten Ways to Earn Money by Not Spending

So many times I read an article that tells me how to "save" money by doing this activity or that activity. Unless I actually save that money somewhere, what I did was to earn it back by not spending. When my budget is tight, every dollar I don't spend in one area is freed up for me to spend in another.

Here are my top ten ways to "earn" money to spend elsewhere-

1. Plan meals from what I have on hand instead of going to the store. Most of us have plenty of food in our homes that we can use to create meals but we get too tired or lazy to make an effort to use what is on hand and we run to the store for something easy to feed our families. Need help with meal planning? There are lots of places online where you can put in the ingredients you have and get meal suggestions. I like this one quite a bit from Kraft Foods

2. Check out movies from the library instead of renting from Netflix, Blockbuster, or Redbox. I recently terminated my Netflix account that was costing me $12.00 a month. Instead of renting movies for a monthly fee, I take advantage of the large collection of DVDs my library stocks for FREE. I now have $60.00 per year more in my budget to use elsewhere.

3. Trade no longer needed items with a friend. I have a wonderful friend who wears the same size clothing as I do. We often pass on our no longer needed items to each other. I have quite a few articles of clothing in my closet that she gave to me. The money I didn't have to spend on clothes was able to be used in other areas of my budget, like utility bills.

4. Go to sleep earlier. There are many studies that show the later we stay up, the more likely we are to overeat and have a myriad of health problems. Being overweight can lead to expensive doctor visits. Money not spent overeating and/or visiting the doctor is money that can be used more enjoyably and profitably.

5. Learn hobbies that can generate or save money. Some people have hobbies that take money out of the family budget like going for manicures or collecting expensive trinkets. My family cannot afford those kind of hobbies. My husband likes to garden, a hobby that has fed us with healthful, tasty food. This past spring, he got paid to install raised bed gardens for other people so his hobby has now generated money for our family. I enjoy writing and have sold articles to various publications; another example of a hobby that generates money.

6. Learn to launder and iron your clothing. One of the first skills I taught my children (daughters and sons alike!) was how to wash, dry, and iron their clothing. Folks who take their clothes to the dry cleaners just for simple washing and ironing amaze me! I also avoid purchasing or acquiring clothing that requires dry cleaning. I just don't have money in my budget to expend in this way. Most washing machines tell you how to sort clothing and wash it so even if your mom didn't teach you this skill, you have no excuse for not learning.

7. Take proper care of your possessions. Everything we own lasts longer if we take good care of it. Clothes last longer if stains and sweat are not allowed to linger on the fabric. Furniture lasts longer if not misused. Cars last longer if we maintain them regularly. We can often get extra months and years out of our possessions just by being good stewards over them.

8. Terminate your gym membership and work out at home. I found several exercise programs on one of my local PBS stations and began doing them instead of going to the gym. Not only do I save (earn!) money by not having to pay a gym membership, I also save money by not having an additional driving trip. My favorite workouts are Classical Stretch ( and Wai Lana Yoga (, and Functional Fitness ( I have worked out consistently for a year with these shows and I feel great!

9. Use your library regularly. Being a regular library patron has improved my financial life in many ways. My library offers free wi-fi, which gives me all the advantages of going to Starbucks without the expense. Our library even allows us to consume food and drink in the lobby area. There are lots of tables and chairs where we can sit with our laptop computers and work. My library offers many classes for free: fitness classes, computer classes, foreign language classes, and more. The library has a summer reading program for children and adults that allows participants to enter to win prizes for turning in reading logs. One year, my youngest son won a 4 pack of tickets to a local water park! I have already mentioned borrowing DVDs from the library which is a savings, but how about reading the latest books, borrowing music CDs, and getting free downloads?

10. Scrap your magazine subscriptions and read blogs! Especially mine and my friend Melody's blog. Melody's blog is called Quirky Cottage and it is informative, delightful, and inspiring. Check her out at

I hope you find these ideas useful and helpful in making your money stretch in these challenging economic times. What do you do to "earn" money back from your budget?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Are You Ready for Christmas?

Christmas is coming, ready or not!

As of today, August 23, 2013, there are 120 days until Christmas ( Yeah, I hear some of you sighing. I understand. The gift giving holidays can cause a lot of stress, especially if you have a tight budget.

Take heart though, because I am here to help. Don't you feel better already?

I just received an email from informing me that my textbook trade-in was accepted (woo-hoo!) and that I now had $10.44 in my gift card balance. This is pretty sweet because I bought the textbook for my son two semesters ago for about $18.00 somewhere on Amazon. This is a way better return than selling to a bookstore on campus.

Now, don't get me wrong. I know I am not going to be buying all the gifts I need to buy for my kids, son-in-law, almost son-in-law, "adopted" son, son's girlfriend, grandsons, etc. with a $10.44 gift card balance at But, I am empowered to look a little more closely at textbooks I see at the thrift stores I frequent to see if Amazon wants them for their trade-in program.

There is my first suggestion for getting some funds together to use on Christmas gift purchases. Keep reading...

Here is another idea- join Listia. It is a very cool site that allows you to give and get free stuff. Go to my link to get started- (just fyi, I do earn credits when you sign up under me and you earn credits for signing up too!). Last year, my husband earned enough credits to allow us to Christmas shop for some very nice items for our children. So, go ahead and give it a try, it doesn't cost you anything but giving away some stuff you need to get out of your house anyway!

Recycle or redeem cans and bottles- this idea is an oldie but a goodie, especially if you live in a state where certain cans and bottles have a deposit. I just read a blog post on Money Saving Mom where a reader's son earned $161.00 collecting and redeeming cans and bottles. I don't live in a state where these items have a deposit but aluminum is paying well so I am collecting and selling  aluminum cans. Two 13-gallon trash bags full of crushed cans netted me $7.00 recently. Again, I am not going to retire on soda can money but $7.00 here and there is very helpful when saved over the course of a year.

Save change-if you clean out the change that accumulates in your purse or off the top of your dresser, you will be surprised at how much you end up with at the end of a month.

What if you ended up with $50.00 each month through all your ventures? Would $500.00 be helpful for Christmas? We are such frugal shoppers that $500.00 goes pretty far for us.

It is a really good feeling to be able to buy our gifts without putting them on a credit card. We don't cringe when January approaches because we fear the arrival of the credit card bills incurred for holiday gift giving.

How do you pay for Christmas gift giving? What money raising ideas do you have?