Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bath & Body Works Freebie

Yesterday, I got a nice $10 gift card in the mail for Bath & Body Works, thanks to mypoints. Before I head out to spend it, I thought I'd take a few minutes to look for a coupon to maximize my "free stuff" trip and came across this coupon for a free Signature Collection body care item with any $10 purchase. Bingo!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3-in-1 Meals: Part One - Spaghetti & Meatballs

Around here, we love America's Test Kitchen. Most of our favorite, and almost all our foolproof, recipes have come from the pages of their cookbooks or the web content of their show. Our latest favorite is this Marinara & Meatballs recipe. Although factoring in good ingredients which are essential to the recipe made it seem a little pricey, we found that we can easily get 7 or 8 meals out of one batch, thus reducing the cost to a completely acceptable range. And the taste is divine!

First up was spaghetti and meatballs, of course. A few notes on the recipe:

1. Be sure to buy decent quality, block Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself. It is absolutely worth the splurge - trust me!
2. Use fresh basil and parsley, not dried.
3. Don't skimp on the onions. I used three large yellow onions, which had my kids moaning about too many onions (I am a certified onion lover so it's a common moan around here), but they loved the sauce!
4. Unless you like meatballs the size of hamburger patties, do what I did. Make normal size meatballs (a scant ice cream scooper full works great). I reduced the baking time by 5 minutes for the meatballs and cooked them in two big batches, the first of which I added to the sauce as directed, and the second of which I froze for later use.

Whatever you don't eat, freeze for later. Here's what I got from one batch in addition to that night's meal:
  • 3 ziplocks with enough sauce and meatballs for spaghetti
  • 3 ziplocks with enough sauce (no meatballs) for pizzas
  • 2 snack-size ziplocks with just enough sauce for subs (1/8 - 1/4 c. is plenty)
  • 4 ziplocks with enough meatballs for subs

Coming Soon:
Part Two - Homemade Pizzas
Part Three - Amazing Meatball Subs

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Frugal Finds

Here are some of this week's highlights:

At Dillon's
4 bags Iams Puppy Food - $6.39 ea., used 4 $5 coupons
FINAL COST: $1.39 ea.
Peppermint Baking Chips - clearanced to $0.29

At Target
2 Mott's Applesauce (6 pk.) - $1.67 ea., used two $1 Target coupons and two $0.55 coupons
FINAL COST: $0.12 ea.
Dr. Pepper (2 liter) - $1.49 used free item coupon
Cat Food - $0.84 used free item coupon

Crest ProHealth Toothpaste - $2.99, used $1 coupon and got $2 ECB

To see even more great weekly deals, check out the posts at Money Saving Mom!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Garden Fever

Here's a fabulous gardening deal. Every spring, our city gives away the compost made from the curbside yard waste pickups. The giveaway usually lasts 2-3 days and is advertised well ahead of time. Residents can bring shovels and load their own containers/pickups for free or can choose to have a pickup loaded for the absolute bargain price of $10 a load. As you can see, when they say full pickup load, they mean it! So this weekend will see us building up the low spots in our yard and adding to our square foot garden plots and to our flowerbeds. And the best part? My husband unloaded almost the whole thing while I was picking up the kids from school, sparing me from most of the physical labor.

If you're in need of compost, be sure to check your city/area to see if they offer a similar program. Happy planting!

Mail Call

I was so excited to get my free copies of Martha Steward Living magazine TWO days in a row (March and April issues). When I signed up for a free subscription, I was skeptical that I'd ever actually see them so it was a wonderful surprise! I'll definitely have to keep better track of those free subscription offers now that I know they're legit and pass them on to you.

Of course, my husband raised his eyebrows at my magazine choice, noting that Martha Stewart may not be an aid on the path to frugality. But for the time being, I'm choosing to cover my ears and sing "nah-nah-nah-nah, I can't hear you" in response. Frugal or not, you gotta love pretty easter eggs and elaborate garden scenes, right?

Friday, March 6, 2009

You Might Be Turning Frugal If...

In true Jeff Foxworthy style, I thought it'd be fun to start a frugal list. Here's my first offering:

You Might Be Turning Frugal If...
You're more excited when your husband brings home extra coupons from the work paper than flowers. (Thanks honey!)

Preparing for Hard Times

With all the news about climbing unemployment rates and disappearing employer benefits, I've spent my share of time worrying about potential layoffs and hardships. Like most people, we've been tightening the budget and saving where we can. We're set to pay off the last of our nagging credit card debt within the next three months, and we're padding our meager savings as best we can. But today, I've been thinking of other ways that I could "prepare" for the hard times:

Build My Stockpile - Although I started stocking up on our most used food items and toiletries when I can get them at deep discounts, I could focus on building these stores even more. There's something infinitely comforting about knowing you could skip the grocery store for a few weeks if you needed to.

Start Those Seedlings - Last year, we started a couple square-foot garden plots, and we learned a lot about what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do. We'll be building the beds deeper this year and planting more strategically. Also, there will be no, I repeat no, grape tomatoes this year as my dear husband who insisted on them ate only a handful of the bucket loads they produced(okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but not much)!

Take Advantage of Our Medical Insurance - While we still have it! Chances are, our medical coverage isn't going anywhere. However, if my husband were to lose his job (they've already had a few layoffs) or his employer contribution were to change, it would create a huge burden on us. So my plan is to do whatever we can now. For example, my husband has some pricey dental work he needs - a crown and bridge to be exact. Rather than spread the work out, he's going to get it all done now. Likewise, I'll be making dentist, annual physical check up, and eye appointments for the kids over the next few weeks. Because we utilize a flex account for medical, we have already committed the money. We may as well do what we can now, when we're positive that we have insurance.

Are you doing, or contemplating, anything out of the ordinary in anticipation of harder times?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hooray for Gift Cards!

The latest addition to our gift card collection is a $25 gift card to a local restaurant courtesy of a raffle at my husband's work. In order to be eligible, you have to answer a safety question via email. Although the raffle is held once a month, only a few employees actually take the 3 minutes to enter, which means those who bother entering usually win a few times a year. It never ceases to amaze me how little effort some people are willing to put forth to put (or keep) money in their pockets. But, we'll gladly benefit from it!

This year, I've started keeping track of all the free gift cards that we receive from various sources. So far, we've already received $95 worth of gift cards! Here's the rundown:

$25 restaurant gift card, courtesy husband's safety raffle
$25 Home Depot gift card, courtesy of mypoints
$25 Walgreens gift card, courtesy of a prescription transfer offer
$10 Ace Hardware gift card, courtesy of rewards account
(which husband earns for work purchases - he was sure to ok with the boss)
$10 Chili's gift card, courtesy of mypoints

Keep an eye out for a forthcoming post outlining several ways to score gift cards for yourself!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Family Fun - Game Night

Stumbling on a well-used Clue game at the Goodwill Store awhile back had me reminiscing about childhood memories of playing. Ever the drama queen growing up, I was never satisified to simply set up the board game on the kitchen table and play. Instead, I would insist that my siblings and friends join me in getting into character. We'd dig out props, raid our parents' closets, and return to the table in full regalia to play. It was always a blast!

Fingering the dog-eared corners of my secondhand Clue game the other day, I thought why not share that tradition with my own kids? So here's my plan. We're going to institute game night at our house, but rather than settling for an ordinary night of Scrabble, we'll go all out just like I did growing up.

First up: Clue, of course. My husband (who, as of yet, doesn't know he's agreed to this), my two kids, and I will spend some time picking out a character and then helping each other transform into that character. But why stop with wardrobe and makeup? Clearly, the theme needs to be reflected in the food as well. For Clue, we're planning a formal sit-down dinner complete with candlesticks (was there any doubt), china, and tablecloths; all to be enjoyed in costume. After dinner, we can shove the dishes aside for later and get down to this game business.

Hopefully we can make this a regular tradition, alternating games and brainstorming ideas to complete our theme nights. Here are a few additional ideas off the top of my head:

Mouse Trap:
Pin on tails, draw mouse faces with eyeliner, and serve cheese and crackers.

Hi-Ho Cherry-O:
Dress for cherry picking (jeans or overalls if you have them and a wide brimmed hat), and serve cherry pie or desert along with cherry KoolAid.

Dress in uniform and serve homemade MREs. Be sure to talk the talk by checking out some of the lingo here.

Wear business suits/attire. Be sure to take lots of pictures of your little ones in Daddy's ties! Have a "jail" uniform handy for those frequent stints in the big house by making one from an old white T-shirt and black paint or marker. Be sure to use a shirt big enough to fit all players. Any time a player lands in jail, have that player don the uniform until he or she gets out. For snacks, serve chocolate coins.

If you have ideas for a themed game night, I'd love to hear them. I'll be sure to update as we try some of these ideas out so stay posted!