Sunday, September 30, 2012

Save money on your eats with a little planning

Meal planning is something we've done in this house since before we even got married 10+ years ago.  We started doing it initially to try to eat healthier, less take-out, less frozen meals, more home-cooked deliciousness.  It has since taken on an added purpose in that it saves us some serious coin too.  I've had a few people ask me what I do to meal plan, how I go about it, and if I have any tips.  To be honest, I really had to think about it, we've been doing it so long I'm not sure I know another way.  I figured this is probably a common dilemma that families/moms have.  How to get dinner on the table, and what to serve.  So here's what we do.

First some rules to follow.  Do NOT make more than one trip to each store/place you buy food at per week.  Let's face it, every time you go in the grocery store you come out with more than you went in there for, and if you don't, you may be the freakish exception.  So, don't go in there more than you have to! We buy food at SuperTarget and the farmer's market.  I usually go to Target on Thursday when it's just G and me in the morning so it's easier.  The farmer's market is on Saturday mornings, the hubs usually heads there solo.  I keep a list on our bulletin board for both places, throughout the week as we realize we need something, it gets added to the list.  Before my hubs heads to the market, we do a little meal planning and figure out what we're having for the next week, dinners AND lunches. Don't forget lunches! The ingredients for those plans get added to the list.  STICK.TO.THE.LIST. as much as possible, if they don't have something a quick swap out may be needed.  But don't buy things because they look good or because you think you may eat them.  You're just wasting money and wasting all the time you spent on your awesome planning!
our lovely model Z holds up our plan for the week
Now the meal planning itself.  If you're not already, become okay with leftovers, they can be just as tasty as the first time around, and they really make your life a lot easier.  
For lunches we do a lot of leftovers, I usually make a big batch of something on Sunday, or we get all the fixings ready for salad.  Rice dishes like beans and rice, or pasta dishes work great for lunches to pack.  
Dinners are cooked fresh more often. We tend to make 2-3 things per week for dinners and eat leftovers in alternating patterns.  
Cook Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday have leftovers, cook Friday, and cook either Saturday or Sunday, leftovers the other day.  When you're coming up with what to eat, be creative! Get inspiration from all the fresh foods available at the market!  And think of how to get the most mileage for what you make.  
the first part of a base, I added bitesize chicken breast pieces, one night it was over brown rice with soy sauce and sriracha, the other night it was in a tortilla with salsa verde
One thing that has served me well is making a "base" that can work for multiple, different meals.  For instance, I may cook up some ground beef with minced garlic and onions on Monday, and save half of it in that form for a meal on Wednesday.  On Monday, I'll take that ground beef and make what I call "deconstructed stuffed peppers" by adding some tomato paste and rough chopped peppers.  Pair with some brown rice and top with mozzarella cheese, BOOM, you've got a tasty meal!  On Wednesday I'll use the other half of that ground beef, heat it up with some cumin and chili powder and put it in a tortilla and some taco fixings, easy, tasty, different dinner.  And there are lots of things that work like this too.   Or there are often times where I just make enough of a meal on Monday to feed us the exact same thing on Wednesday, no big deal, because we have found our happy place with leftovers. 
zucchini lasagna made on a Sunday afternoon, make a double batch of sauce and freeze it!
Also, in the winter, we tend to do a lot of soups, stews, baked pasta dishes.  I usually make a HUGE batch of this on Sunday afternoon, and freeze half of it to have on hand for those weeks that cooking just isn't going to happen at all.  It's nice to have good food to fall back on rather than calling for pizza or using a store-bought frozen meal.  
quick meal thrown together, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, used to top corkscrew pasta
Sometimes the plan doesn't work, don't let this discourage you! There are times when Zach is super hungry and all of the sudden the food won't stretch for 2 days.  That's OK.  That's what your staples are for.  There are things I *always* have on hand and can make a meal out of quick and easy.  
1. Pasta noodles of some sort, corkscrew, macaroni, angel hair, penne, whatever your favorite is.  Always have a box on hand in the pantry.
2.  Every week I ask my husband to get garlic, onions, and tomatoes from the market, I can use those in a pinch and I always use them in my meals anyways.  Throw that together with your pasta and you have a meal!
3.  Eggs, an omelet will feed you in a pinch any day of the week.
4.  Cheese.  Enough said? We LOVE cheese, and we can do so much with it, quesadillas, omelets, grilled cheese, pizzas, the possibilities are endless.
5.  Tortillas, I usually get frozen ones from Costco, you throw them in a dry skillet to cook them and you can do tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas. WAY better than the preservative laden ones next to the bread on the shelf.  Ideally we'd make our own, but that's a different blog post ;).
I'm no Rachel Ray, but nothing I make for dinner takes more than a half hour if I do it day-of.  Something like lasagna or a soup definitely does, it simmers all afternoon on a Sunday but it requires very little attention from me after the initial prep.  
Making only one trip to the store, having a list, and eating in will definitely save you money, especially if you have a budget you stick to for food.  It's also healthier to eat your fresh homemade food instead of eating out, getting take-out, or eating frozen store-bought meals.  AND you're being green and supporting your local economy by eating fresh from the farmer's market.  Win, win, win!
I love to get new ideas! What are your favorite meals and ways to save money?

Friday, September 28, 2012

I'm turning into a crafty witch

Fall is my FAVORITE time of the year.  Not only does it (in theory) cool down, we were UNDER 100 today people! But all the holidays and festivities come.  Pumpkin Spice Lattes are at Starbucks, everybody's house smells like cinnamon and apples, and people are mostly in a good mood.  
This year, since I'm now home with the boys I'm even more excited about it.  I will have time to do crafty things with Zach for decorating the house, you know while balancing Gavin on my leg while he lunges for everything in sight to shove in his mouth, nice, relaxing, crafts.  So obviously with this baby/preschooler chaos I'm keeping the crafts simple.  This week we worked on a Halloween wreath for the front door, and some decorations for inside the house.  Both of which, could have been done in one afternoon if I was not juggling manic children.  

First up the wreath, you will laugh at how easy this is, and for once I did NOT get this from Pinterest, I thought it up in my own head mostly because I had a ton of googly eyeballs laying around.  Get yourself a 12 inch foam wreath from Jo-Ann's, do NOT forget your 50% off coupon from their app!. Pick up a spool of 1.5inch black ribbon while you're at it and a bag of googly eyeballs, don't waste money on those self-stick ones though, you have glue at home. That was the hard part, no joke.  

Now, wrap the wreath in the black ribbon, covering the foam and giving yourself a nice black base, like so:

Don't forget to give yourself some ribbon to hang it up with when you're done.  I had some orange ribbon from Gavin's crib bumper project, so I used that, attach that now, before you do the eyeballs.  

Now find your nearest 4 year old, they are qualified to handle this part.  Give them a bottle of glue and a bowl of googly eye balls.  Let them randomly place the googly eyeballs all over the wreath.  Trust me, a 4 year old will guarantee randomness.  When they are done, check it over for any glaring gaps, and fill those in yourself.  

Let the glue dry. Hang it on your door.  Enjoy your spoooooooky wreath :). Happy Halloween!!

Coming soon, a post on the inside decorations we made this week. What's your favorite part about this time of year?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

clothes on the cheap

In my last post I wrote about how to score toys on the cheap.  I touched on getting great deals on clothes too, so I thought I would elaborate some here.  Same as before I'll talk about new and used clothes.

First new clothes.  Kids go through clothes unbelievably fast, especially if you have giant children like I do that grow alarmingly fast, Z was in 2T by his first birthday, and it looks like his brother is definitely following in his ENORMOUS footsteps.  Repeat after me "I will never, ever, ever, pay full price for kids clothes".  
There is no reason to!  Buying ahead and stocking up is the easiest, most money saving way to go.  Especially after your kiddo starts growing more predictably and you can take an educated guess as to what size they will be in for the next year.  Every year I try to pay attention to when the stores are having their "end-of-season" sales and stock up majorly then.  Especially since the national chain stores seem to think the end of summer is in August, bwahahahahaha, ahem, excuse me, it's just that it's Sept 23rd and it's supposed to be 105 today here, yet there are sweaters for sale in the stores.  
Last month I stocked up on shorts for Zach for next summer.  My 4 year old giant is easily in size 5 now, so I picked up some size 6 shorts from my favorite store for him, Children's Place.  I paid under $6 each for nice cargo shorts for him that are regularly the astronomical price of $17, I shopped their sale, don't forget to look online if you can't find what you want in-store! Children's Place in particular regularly offers free shipping on any order, so I always check their site then, PLUS you add on a 20% off coupon, which if you sign up for their mailing list you will always have on hand.  Gymboree works very similarly, and you can always find one of their coupons in a magazine geared towards parents, although their clothes tend to be more expensive to begin with, although sometimes better quality, so it's a judgement call there.  Kohl's is also one of my very favorite stores for shopping for the boys.  I scored CRAZY deals shopping end-of-season sales there for Gavin.  We re-use as many clothes as possible from Zach, but Gavin prefers to be in footie jammies year-round where Zach wanted to sleep in as few clothes as possible, so there are a few things we have to get for him.  I found Carter's footie jammies for $5 each at Kohl's, add on a 30%off coupon and I got jammies for Gavin for $3.50.  Kohl's also regularly runs promotions to get Kohl's cash, for every $50 you spend, you get $10 in Kohl's cash.  A gimmick for sure, but not if you know how to use it.  Say for instance, I spend $50 stocking up on an end-of-season sale for stuff for the boys.  I get $10 in Kohl's cash, Zach needs new shoes for his rapidly expanding feet.  I take my $10 in Kohl's cash, my 30% off coupon, and score new Nike shoes for Zach for under $15.  

And just like I said for toys, ALWAYS check the clearance racks, even if you're not looking for something specific, check a size or two up from where your kids are now and get stuff super cheap to put away in a box in their closets to use for next year, or even the next!  Zach has a bin of next size clothes in his closet, when he starts growing out of the ones he's wearing I put those away for G and pull out the next size up from the box.
And that's just NEW clothes.  Same as for toys, if you're ok with used clothes you can save a bundle too! Hit the garage sales in the fancy pants neighborhoods and score awesome, barely worn clothes for super cheap.  I have scored Gymboree and baby Gap with the tags on for $1 or less each.  Ask your friends with older kids to tell you before they have a yard sale so you can go through their stuff!  Check out the used kid stuff stores, again you can find great deals for like-new stuff, it will be more than a yard sale but not as much as new.  Just make sure you keep in mind the price you can score on clearance to make sure you're getting a deal.  Check Craigslist, and facebook, same as I recommended for toys
What's your favorite way to save money on clothes?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

toys on the cheap

This is a crazy busy time of year for us.  It starts of with Zach's bday in mid September, which seems to kick off a series of bday parties for us, and then of course Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  Lots of gift giving occasions foh sho. Being *cheap* I refuse to pay full price whenever I can possibly avoid it. Kids go through toys and clothes so very fast it doesn't make sense to shell out big bucks for either.  There will be a post in the very near future about how to save money on clothes, this one is about toys.  
I'll start with the most obvious approach, shop.the.clearance.  Those fabulous little red stickers at Target are like little homing beacons to me.  Here's a tip you may not have thought of though.  Always check out the clearance, whether or not you have a fast-approaching gift-giving holiday.  I swing buy and check it out every time I'm in Target.  If I find something the boys might like, or one of their friends for that matter, I snag it and put it away in a closet until the next bday, bday party, or gift exchange.  I love being able to whip out something from the closet that is an awesome gift I know I got for like 70% off. PLUS that means I'm not making a last second trip to Target on the way to the party for a gift.
Now if you're not set on always buying new toys, there are tons of other options.  My rule of thumb is to new toys are for gifts for other people, but I'm totally fine with used toys for my boys.  That's probably the Southern deb in me though, I'd find it tacky to be gifted a used toy.  I know, I know, not very green of me :/.  For my boys I hit up any and every source for used toys and even other stuff we might need.  

Garage sales are awesome for that!  I'd recommend scoping out the most fancy pants neighborhood in your area and hitting those garage sales STAT.  Those people buy *nice* toys and get rid of them on the regular.  Not to mention their clothes are always the most pricey, you'll be grinning ear to ear when you score Gymboree clothes with the tags still on for $1 each.  I digress, this is not about the clothes, this is about the toys.  Maybe you're like "hollah! I'm all about the cheap toys" OR maybe you're like " that is nasty, used toys are full of germs and other nastiness!".  I'm a little of both frankly, so my solution is to scrub those bad boys down with some diluted bleach or other germ/nasty killing stuff before the boys play with them.  
Garage sales aren't the only places to score these goodies either.  Check your local consignment shop, or even google for secondhand stores near you.  Besides places like Goodwill, there might be stores that specialize in used kids stuff in your area.  In my area there is Kid-to-Kid, they buy and sell used kids stuff.  I'm getting ready to take a load of stuff up there to sell very soon, all the baby stuff that Gavin is already done with *sniff*. 
If you're looking for something specific, Craigslist is also a fabulous place to score used stuff on the cheap.  Some people will sell awesome new, or like-new stuff for crazy low prices.  Again, just clean the stuff thoroughly first and you're good to go.  A little elbow grease is definitely worth the insane savings.
One place you may not have thought of to score awesome stuff is Facebook groups.  I didn't think about it until recently, but a girl from one of my playgroups sent out a link to a group page and I have already scored some awesome stuff :).  Look for "used kid stuff" groups or something like that, ask the moms in your groups or peruse Facebook yourself.  People put up what they want to sell and everybody jumps on it.  I scored 2 brand new bean bag chairs for the playroom for $10 each.  And I happened upon a group where a lady that owns an online toy store is trying to get rid of some extra inventory in time for the holidays.  I scored brand new baby toys for $5 each that on Amazon retail for $16.
There is no reason to bust your budget on new toys, you can be cheap, green, or both!  What's your best tip to save money on toys?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Superheroes like to save money too!

Last weekend we hosted Zach's 4th birthday party at our house.  He has been requesting a superhero party for about 6 months, and as per usual, mommy took the theme and ran with it :).  I did a lot of stuff DIY, both to save money, and because that's my "thing".  I prefer to do their bday parties as DIY as possible so it's unique and not like the party store exploded in our house with all the matching decorations and plates and what not.  I'm not knocking that if that's what you want to do for kiddo, it's cute, easy, and straightforward.  Not everyone has a sickness like I do :p.

The decorations were a mixture of store-bought, crafted-up, and printed-up. I used the Marvel Kids website to make some signs to welcome guests and for the games.  Their comic builder tool lets you download the pdf after you create it, so I added some heroes and some text and printed those up poster-style.  Did you know that you can change some settings in your printer setup to print out a poster of any doc?  I learned that last year before Z's party, and I swear it changed my life lol.  

Last minute (the night before) we were working on the nightscape buildings to "set the mood" in the entryway.  This is just black construction paper cut out like building silhouettes with yellow rectangles glued on them to make like lighted windows.

Right off the bat I knew I wanted to make superhero capes for the kids, sooo easy, unique, and what kid doesn't want a cape?  This was a lot cheaper and easier than it sounds.  I went to Jo-Ann's and got 6 yards of red broadcloth.  I used my handy-dandy Jo-Ann app and saved 50% on this, so that cost all of $12 for 8 kids.  There are patterns you can buy for the capes, but I am way too stubborn and cheap to BUY something I can do myself.  So I took a big piece of Zach's easel paper and sketched out a pattern for the cape that I used to trace out on the fabric.  I toyed with finishing the edges of the capes but decided it was too much work for too little gain, so I just cut them out, slapped on some sticky velcro dots for fasteners and called them done.  Then of course I couldn't just leave them at that, I like to make something personal for the kids to take home, so I decided to add their initials, superhero style, to the capes.  I was very picky as to how I wanted them to look, so I decided to just draw out the letters, thankfully there were FOUR kids with "C" as their initial so it was relatively easy :).  I picked up some yellow sticky-back felt and used my created stencil to trace and cut out the initial, and stuck them to the back of the capes

Everybody knows superheroes need masks to hide their identities!  I had some leftover blue felt from my car organizer project, so I decided to use that, and pick up some black elastic, with another coupon, for $2. And make some masks for them.  I used pinterest again, shocking, to find a template for the masks, traced them on the felt, top-stitched only to give them weight, and attach the elastic, and those were done.  
For months beforehand I knew I wanted to do superhero cuffs too, so we'd been saving toilet paper rolls for that.  I like to have something crafty the kids can do as they arrive so they warm up.  I mod-podged some yellow construction paper to those, cut them in half and then got some stickers for the kids to use to decorate them.  SUPER easy, FREE, and the kids loved them.

I decided to keep the games and activities relatively simple.  At 4 years old, they want to play games for sure, but they also want to run around the house screaming as much as possible too.  There were pretty much only 2 games, and they only really did one of them.  I used Zach's sandbox and the villain Sandman.  I found these tiny superhero toys called "squinkies", they came 12 to a pack for $10.  I hid the superheroes in the sand and told the kids that Sandman had captured all of their favorite superheroes and they had to rescue them!  They were allowed to rescue one each and take it home.  The kids were pretty into it, although they did barter for their favorite superhero after they found them.  I admire their trading skills :).  

The other game was admittedly kind of lame, I took some peanut m&m's and put them in a jar.  I counted out 12 orange ones only (because Z's bday is the 12th) and put them in the jar.  They were the Green Goblin's pumpkin bombs, and the kids had to guess how many orange ones were in the jar.  The idea was the closest to the right number (I gave them a range 1-20) would win a small prize.  Only a couple kids were interested, probably too soon for this kind of game.

This year I decided to do cupcakes for the kids.  In previous years we have ordered a cake from a local bakery, and it has been delicious, but truth-be-told, I don't think Z likes cake, he never eats much of it, and that local bakery is expensive.  I just picked up some vanilla cake mix from Trader Joe's (YUM) and baked up some cupcakes, I used betty crocker chocolate frosting and called those bad boys done.  I wanted to decorate them somehow but I am no baker/cake decorator.  So, I went the paper/crafty route.  I found some cupcake topper patterns online with superman, batman, and spiderman.  I used a 1.5 inch circle punch to punch them out and then glued them to some cardstock I used a 2 inch circle punch on, then glued that combo to some lollipop sticks and voila! superhero cupcakes!  I was surprised how much the kids liked the toppers, one of them wanted to make sure he could take his home.

We went the easy/lazy route for lunch and ordered pizzas.  The party was a lot of fun, cheap, and easy.  I'm already trying to think of what the theme will be for G's 1st bday party in 4 months :).

If you want a tutorial for any of the DIY projects let me know!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Go ballz out!

So, it's been a while since my last post.  Life gets in the way sometimes, teething baby, birthday parties, and just general busy-ness mean that at the end of the day vegging in front of the TV is so much more attractive than thinking about a post.  The birthday party has passed and there is a lull in the teething so stay tuned for some posts!  There will be one about the DIY super-hero birthday party :).  But for now we're talking about balls.

DRYER balls!  They are an alternative to fabric softener sheets or liquid.  Dryer balls are tennis ball size balls of felted wool that you keep in your dryer that do the job of dryer sheets and more.  They get your clothes soft, they reduce static, AND this is the very best part, they reduce your drying time significantly.  Nevermind the fact that wool dryer balls are free of chemicals, and dyes that wear on both your clothes and you.
You can find them on amazon (affiliate link above), or on deal-a-day sites like greenbabybargains, or ecobabybuys for cheaper.  Or if you're crafty and find a good deal on 100% wool yarn, you can make them, I'm sure pinterest has a plethora of pins on this.  I found them on a deal-a-day site and decided that it was cheaper to buy them, I got a pack of 6 Woolzies brand balls for under $20.  There are different brands, just google for "dryer balls".  I have been using the Woolzies for about 6 months or so, and they have definitely shortened my drying time, probably by at least a third, if not half.  And they are so easy, literally, just put them in the dryer and leave them there.  

One investment, $20, and you don't have to buy dryer sheets,  your clothes dry faster, and you're not putting yucky chemicals on them.  Do you need more reason to try them?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals

This post is about feeding babies.  I am not anti-formula by any means, Zach was formula fed.  I am pro feeding babies however works best for you.  That said, this is going to be a rant about breastfeeding, and the perception of it in our society.
I read this article today and it made my blood boil.  Is this where we are as a society?  Breastfeeding is "disgusting"??  Our bodies are made to breastfeed, we are mammals after all.  Breasts are for feeding babies the perfect nectar their mothers make for them that nourishes them in the most complete way possible.  In my opinion, if you look at breastfeeding as "disgusting" then it's YOU that has the problem, not me.  
I breastfeed Gavin, sometimes I breastfeed him in public.  It's not a stance by me, or a protest, I simply feed him when he is hungry, wherever we happen to be.  I attempt to use a "hooter hider" and cover up, but Gavin hates having things over his head while he eats.  Who can blame him, do you want to eat in a hot tent?  So you might get a glimpse of a little boob while I feed him, it doesn't bother me, motherhood has removed all modesty.
I see story after story about women being made ashamed to breastfeed, kicked out of stores, being told to cover up, sent to the bathroom.  The BATHROOM, because where else would you like to enjoy a meal other than where someone is expelling DIARRHEA right next to you??  Most recently, the co-founder of Staples opened his ignorant mouth at the Republican National Convention to say that working, breastfeeding mothers are a great threat to the economic recovery in this country. Seriously.

Idiot women like the one in the story boggle my mind the most.  What will she tell her child? It's "sexual"???  If you think breastfeeding is sexual then YOU are the pervert, not me.  Do you think it's a zoophilic sexual act to drink cow's milk?  Because that comes from the cow's BREASTS you know.

Has anyone stopped to think, "why are we attacking breastfeeding?", "why is it so foreign and strange?".  It's not as is if we evolved to consume formula.  That is, as the name suggests, a formulation of chemicals and ingredients that is trying to closely resemble human breast milk to nourish our babies when breast milk is not available or possible.  In the history of humans, formula is a fairly recent development.  Yet we, as a society are apparently HORRIFIED to see a mother feeding her child the most natural way possible.
If you are pregnant or plan on having a baby soon, I hope that you will educate yourself as much as possible about breastfeeding.  I really hope that you will attempt it.  It will be hard, you will want to give up, but I urge you not to.  Remember what you are doing for your baby, and for yourself.  You are feeding your baby as nature intended, you are giving him one of the most beautiful gifts or nourishment.  And it will all be over in such a short amount of time relative to life and childhood. Don't let society discourage you with ignorance.  And if someone comes up to you and says something horrible like this woman did, smile, let them know you are feeding your baby, and suggest they see a therapist for their sex issues.