Our Cheap and Easy Holiday Card Display

17 Dec

I love to display our holiday cards but they quickly cover the flat surfaces in our house and become a daily chore of picking up cards that have fallen on the floor via drafts and mischievous kitties. Last year we taped them around the frame of the cut out that leads from our dining room into our kitchen, but I wasn’t thrilled with the presentation or the tapes marks left on the wall.

This year, I bought a few items and combined them with some things around the house to make what I think is a nice and workable display:

To create this display, I used two command hooks at each corner, and some ribbon I had around the house. I weighted the ribbon at each end with some ornaments I had. For $1 at the dollar store I bought more clothespins than I’ll ever need in my life time. Voila – holiday card display for under $5.

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Birthdays

7 Dec

My husband and his dad both have birthdays in December. Gee, if December weren’t expensive enough! Fortunately my husband and I haven’t exchanged gifts for our birthdays for some time. Generally we just go out to dinner, get take out, or make dinner.

This year I’ll be making Frank’s favorite, baked ziti, per his request. Tomorrow I’ll hit the grocery store with my coupons. I was excited to get some $1 doubler coupons in the mail so I’ll grab those, too.

Over the weekend we are going to Frank’s parents’ house to do a joint celebration with his dad. I am bringing a spice cake. Hopefully it won’t crack down the middle like last year! I think I’ll stick with a bundt cake this year instead of a layered cake.

Money is tight as per our new normal, so we won’t be getting his dad a gift, especially since we exceeded our limit on his Christmas present, anyway. I did want to bring a card, though, and Frank always expects a card (and is very good about getting them for me, too!). I’ve been having so much fun lately making gifts for our family for Christmas, I’m actually starting to feel like they are preferable to the ones I could have bought. So in that vain, I decided to make the birthday cards this year, too.

My husband and father-in-law are HUGE Redskins fans, so I made them this card (they have the same first name so I only had to design one and hit print twice! Score!):

It’s simple – but they’ll love it, and it’s $5 saved – why not?

If you want to make one of these yourself, go to wikipedia! They have .svg files of most sports logos. Usually to print a nice image you have to have a vector file which you often have to purchase, and licensed images like sports team logos are usually not available. Last week however, I fumbled upon wikipedia’s .svg files, which can be save to .eps and print GREAT! Just lay it out, print double sided, and pop into an envelope. Voila card!

Now back to making my Christmas gifts!

My New Hobby: Couponing

25 Jun

My new addiction is clipping coupons. What an amazing feeling to go grocery shopping and to turn a fist full of coupons into major savings! After some practice, I have brought our grocery bill down to between $200 and $250 a month for two and I save about 25% per visit. This is nothing compared to the “pros,” but it’s a great achievement for me. And as I go on of course I hope to better that!

I recently spied a post on a money-related forum I follow asking for sources for printable coupons, other than the Sunday paper. There were only about six responses to the post, but boy did the responders have some great ideas. I just had to compile the list for my blog mostly so I didn’t forget to hit all these sites!

http:www.mypoints.com “I usually try to get them from mypoints.com because I earn points for using them. They use coupons.com another site is smartsource.com and then you can sign up for shortcuts.com and load them to your shopper cards. My grocery store also has a program like this through their website.”

Krazy Coupon Lady’s coupon database “Target has good online coupons, but the best resource I’ve found lately is the Krazy Coupon Lady’s coupon database.  It has an A – Z list of every product that currently has a coupon and where to find the coupon.  I use it every week when planning my grocery list.  I do also look at coupons.com and smartsource.com though, in case there’s anything the coupon lady missed.”

And one girl just listed all her favorites:

coupons.com

smartsource.com

redplum.com

EatBetterAmerica.com

Pillsbury.com

BettyCrocker.com

upromise.com

makinglifebetter.com

And some other coupon sources I’ve found in my travels:

For loading store cards: Shortcuts.com & Cellfire.com

In store coupons or “blinkies”

The new cook in me reviews Paula Deen’s Mac & Cheese

23 Jun

In our quest to save money, I have started cooking in earnest. In the past I cooked every once in awhile but generally we survived on frozen dinners or take out. Since I am a vegetarian and my husband eats meat (and is picky) I thought it would be too hard to create meals every night that we both would enjoy. But we were spending a lot on food, so as money got tight it became obvious it was time to get cooking.

Last night I cooked ham steaks (for my husband), macaroni and cheese and corn. Perhaps not the healthiest of meals, but I have been making a lot of Mexican and Italian, and we needed something American for a change.

I have been on a quest for awhile to find a good macaroni and cheese recipe. Last night I tried Paula Deen’s “The Lady’s Cheesy Mac” recipe:

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked elbow macaroni, drained
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Once you have the macaroni cooked and drained, place in a large bowl and while still hot add the cheddar. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and add to the macaroni mixture. Pour macaroni mixture into a casserole dish and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Top with additional cheese if desired.

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The recipe passed my first test in that it was easy to prepare. I liked that it uses eggs to thicken it instead of flour, because eggs add protein. I thought it had an eggy flavor but my husband who hates eggs didn’t comment so I guess it wasn’t that noticeable.

The recipe calls for 4 cups of pasta but that seemed excessive to me. I couldn’t imagine two boxes of pasta fitting in my 13″x9″ casserole dish. I ended up using one box, but kept the rest of the quantities the same. And just to be fun, I used rotini pasta instead of elbow macaroni.

I thought the recipe was a good start but perhaps a little bland. I think I’ll keep this as my go to mac & cheese recipe but with a few modifications. First, it was a little greasy. I’m not sure the butter was really necessary. Also, next time I might add some garlic powder, paprika and chopped onion to give it a little more flavor. Lastly, I think I’ll try more cheese (we can never get enough cheese) and perhaps a different kind like swiss in addition to the cheddar.

In general, I thought the recipe was pretty good. I have found a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes to be bland, so it wasn’t surprising to me that I might want to add more flavor to this one. However, I really liked the consistency and easy prep of Paula’s recipe and will definitely prepare it again, but with a few modifications next time.

Best Place to Buy Baby Stuff?

27 May

As my husband and I are now officially trying to conceive, I’ve started thinking about the many, many things we’ll need when we have a baby. I recently polled two online forums, including one focused on money, to find out where people are finding the best deals for all that baby stuff.

The question I asked was: 

What was your best source for inexpensive baby items (I.E., garage sales, TJ MAXX, Kohl’s, Freecycle, friends, Ebay, etc.)?

According to respondents, the place to head after you get your positive result is straight to your friends and family. Those fortunate enough to have people in their lives with children close in age gobble up as many hand me downs as their arms can carry. Not surprisingly, baby showers given by friends and family are also a big source for baby necessities.

But what about if you aren’t having a big shower, or don’t know people who have recently had a baby? Then what? Shop garage sales! Of 50 or so women who responded to my polls, a lot mentioned they have found steals at garage sales for items such as swings. Some warned however that these sales can be hit or miss, so go out with an attitude to have fun and to maybe pick up a few bargains, and don’t forget to haggle!

Target

For retailers, Target was number one on the list of stores that offer great deals for baby things. This was followed by consignment shops, with Once Upon a Child being named as a resource for scoring new and gently used items, including the bigger ticket finds like furniture. But be forewarned, one person suggested it’s a great place to buy but if you want to sell, you’re better off going to Craigs List or Ebay, where you’re likely to get more money back in your pocket for your items.

Many people raved about the quality and good prices at Carter’s/Carter’s Outlet on clothing such as onesies and sleepers. One person said, “Carters is a great place for baby items…it’s great quality and it’s cute stuff. You can find everything there. And it’s ALWAYS on sale. I don’t think I’ve ever paid the actual full price for anything there.” And many people mentioned Carter’s clothing as a favorite whether they found the clothing at the Carter’s store, or on clearance elsewhere.

Other stores/resources mentioned in order of popularity included: Walmart, TJMAXX, Baby Gap/Baby Gap Outlet, Kohl’s, Craig’s List, borrowing from friends, thrift stores, Marshalls, Amazon.com, Ross, Old Navy, Macy’s, Kmart, Janie & Jack, Gymboree, Goodwill, Ebay, Costco, Children’s Place, Baby Depot, and Babies’R’Us.

Check back to see what other things I learned from my poll! I got great answers to questions like What baby items did you have too much of? What baby items did you not have enough of? and What is one baby product you couldn’t live without? I’ll post the results as I finish compiling them!

Mark Your Calendars for Free Days at National Parks

21 May

National Parks

There are still four more free National Park days this fall and summer:

June 5-6, 2010
August 14-15, 2010
September 25, 2010 (Public Lands Day)
November 11, 2010 (Veterans Day)

Enjoy our nation’s National Parks for free!

Here’s the link for more info:
http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm

Catching up on my DVD watching…for free

17 May

netflix

I used to have Netflix and I loved it. What a wonderful system to be able to keep a list of all of those movies and shows you haven’t gotten around to seeing, and then to have one sent to you every time you finished the last. It was great while it lasted but alas, it was an unnecessary expense that didn’t survive budget cuts.

Recently I got an email from Netflix with a come back for free offer. After a long phone call with their call center (funny how THEY send YOU the email but then when you call to inquire why you can’t get the offer to work, they tell you you’re not eligible. Yeah, that didn’t fly with me, either.) After that was straightened out, I signed up for my free 2-week trial and I went right to the 3 DVDs at a time option. Why pinch pennies on the cheaper choices when it’s a free trial?

So now and for the next two weeks, I’m enjoying those movies and shows I’ve missed out on. At the top of the list was Glee. Since my TV is permanently set to the Bravo channel, I miss all the network shows completely. It’s so fun watching Glee and finally understanding what everyone’s been talking about.

I’m starting to realize saving money does come with a price. You have to work for it in the form of being organized. For example, I wrote myself a note for what date I must cancel my Netflix free trial. If I miss that date I’ll be charged (they conveniently gather your credit card info before you’re allow to sign up for the trial). And, as much as I’d like to keep it going, that would really not be the point of this journey. But for now, you know where you can find me. It’s a movie marathon!