Let’s Talk Christmas

I know it’s July and with this beautiful summer weather Christmas seems eons away. In reality though Christmas isn’t all that far away and before you know it the local radio stations will be playing our favorite Christmas songs around the clock. While Christmas is a time for joy for many people it can bring a great deal of sadness and frustration especially when it comes to finances. Even the most frugal of families can feel the pinch when it comes to Christmas which can suck the joy right out of the holidays.

This year I want to make Christmas as stress free and as joyful as possible. I want to spend time with friends and family without the stress of finances hanging over my head like a cloud. I have decided that this year I am going to start planning for Christmas in July. With 24 weeks left until Christmas this gives me the opportunity to save $1000 by simply putting away $42 a week. My goal is to save a $1000 by Christmas to help pay for Christmas presents, host my annual Christmas party and so I can give a little extra to those in need. I have recently kicked an expensive coffee habit so I know that I can work the $42 into my budget.

If you are reading this and thinking it sounds like a good idea but $42 a week isn’t in the budget think about putting aside $20 instead. In 24 weeks you will have accumulated $480 and that can go along way towards easing the burden that holidays often put on our finances.

Let me know in the comments below if you already have your Christmas fund started. When do you start planning for the holidays?

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Are You Afraid of Leftovers?

Over the years I have encountered a strange phenomenon among men and women my age and that is an unnatural fear of leftovers. I happen to be really good at saving money on my food budget and when people ask me the secret to my success they are usually appalled that I make my family eat leftovers. The funny thing is that these same individuals love to fill their shopping carts with expensive frozen dinners because I guess that is their idea of “fresh food”.

Recently, I had a conversation with a woman about leftovers and she told me that she would never feed her family leftovers because they are gross, flavorless and unhealthy. She had no issue with cooking a homemade meal for her family but instead of packaging away the leftovers for another meal later in the week or storing them in the freezer she just throws them out. When I think of the amount of food this family waste as well as the wasted money it makes my brain hurt. I attempted to explain that leftovers are nothing to be afraid of and in fact are a great way to serve healthy food on a budget. In fact, having leftovers on hand saves time and dishes later in the week when schedules get hectic.

I don’t think I was very successful explaining the benefits of leftovers but it has compelled me to sit down and make a case for them in writing. If you are afraid of leftovers and stumble upon this post I hope you will reconsider the idea of cooking with leftovers.

Leftovers do not have to be gross, flavorless or unhealthy. When you make a casserole and you have leftovers refrigerate or freeze within two hours of serving. This will maintain the quality of the food and prevent bacteria from growing. I agree that bacteria riddled food is gross but proper storage prevents this from happening. I will link a great article below from the FDA that provides some guidelines for food storage.

When it comes to flavor most food will taste better the next day because it has had time to meld flavors. For instance, chicken noodle soup is great day one but it is way better day two because it has sat in the fridge with the veggies and spices melding flavors. When you throw out leftovers you are missing out on a wonderful culinary experience.

Eating leftovers is not unhealthy unless the food was unhealthy to start off with. A leftover chocolate pie isn’t going to gain nutritional value overnight just as a lasagna isn’t going to lose nutritional value overnight. Making food from scratch gives you the opportunity to create recipes that are healthy and nutrient rich. A homemade lasagna is going to be lower in sugar and salt when you compare it to a pre-packaged frozen lasagna. We know that excessive salt and sugar consumption can lead to a whole lot of health problems and unfortunately the convenient pre-packaged meals are saturated with sugar and salt.

Leftovers are nothing to be afraid of as long as you educate yourself on proper food handling and storage you can safely reuse leftovers. I love using leftovers because it gives me a break later in the week when I need to make a fast meal. Not only does this save me time it also saves me on kitchen cleanup because I am just reheating not creating the meal from scratch. Using leftovers can be fun as well it’s an opportunity to get creative. Over the years I have learned how to take leftover chicken noodle soup and turn it into chicken pot pie, creamy chicken and noodles, and chicken spaghetti. Leftover pulled pork is not only great on sandwiches but you can stuff baked potatoes and top with cheddar cheese for a whole new meal.

As you can see leftovers are not that scary and can be a great tool if used correctly to save you time, energy and money. If you are still on the fence consider this if you are feeding your family a steady diet of pre-packaged freezer meals then you are already eating leftovers. These meals are pre-cooked and frozen only to sit a month or two in your local grocery store before being purchased. They are full of sugar, salt, MSG, and other preservatives that give me chills. Skip these chemical laden leftovers and start reheating your home cooked meals. It really is the best thing you can do for your family and your budget!

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm529509.pdf

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Ordering Prescription Glasses Online

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Did you know that you can order prescription glasses online? I just learned it was possible about a week ago. I had received a new prescription from my eye doctor and when I went to pick out my glasses I discovered a very long line. I didn’t have enough time that day to wait so I figured I would just go back later in the week. That night I randomly wondered if I could somehow get glasses online so I turned to Google for answers. This is when I discovered Zenni Optical an online retailer that makes it possible to purchase prescription glasses from the comfort of your own home. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only was this a convenient option it was also an affordable option as well.

I found frames for as low as $6.95 with free lenses and I was able to add the anti-reflective coating for $4.95. I purchased two pairs of glasses and had them shipped directly to me for the low price of $29.07. The entire process was relatively simple the only hard part was measuring my pupillary distance. Luckily Zenni Optical provides easy instructions to help you figure this out with a ruler and a mirror. I measured three times to make sure I had the right numbers but this is the only tricky part. Other than that you select the frames you like, enter your prescription for each eye, your pupillary distance, and select whatever options or accessories you want to add. Once your order is submitted it takes between 7-10 days to receive your order unless you pay extra shipping to fast track the order. Since I enjoy saving money whenever possible I chose to wait the 7-10 days and was very happy when I received my order exactly 7 days later in the mail.

I have to admit I was still a little skeptical that I could get a quality pair of prescription glasses online especially with the price I paid for two pairs but I am no longer skeptical. After trying on both pairs I can happily say that this is a fantastic way to purchase glasses in fact I might be going back to their website to snag a pair of sunglasses. In the past every time I have picked out a pair of glasses at the eye doctor I end up with glasses I hate. It’s because I feel rushed and usually just pick the cheaper option but ordering them online allowed me the chance to browse and really find frames I liked. I absolutely love both pairs of glasses I picked out and no longer have to wear the bulky glasses I hate.

If you are in the market for affordable prescription glasses I urge you to check online. I know there are a few online retailers like Zenni Optical but I can honestly say this is a great company to buy through. I love the variety of frames they offered, the fact that they carry children’s glasses, their affordability and of course the convenience of ordering online. From here on out this will be the way I purchase not only my glasses but my family’s glasses as well.

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Disclaimer: I am not being paid or sponsored by Zenni Optical or any other party. This review is unsolicited and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.

 

Zenni Optical

www.zennioptical.com

 

 

 

Grocery Budget and the Bulk Store

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Today I took my monthly run to Costco to pick up my bulk items like toilet paper, paper towel and other random household items where buying in bulk makes financial sense. Over the past year I have learned what to buy and what not to buy at Costco and this has helped me avoid the trap of overspending. Unfortunately, while I was waiting to check out I witnessed a common situation where someone had attempted to do all of their grocery shopping at Costco and blew their budget. The lady in front of me had filled her basket with meats, cheeses and produce as well as some household items. When the cashier gave her the total of $400 I thought she was going to pass out right there in the line. Instead of assessing her purchases she swiped her card and left the store in what appeared to be shock.

Stores like Costco, Sams Club and other bulk stores are a great way to save money on household items and random groceries but you have to be strategic when shopping these stores. First never attempt to do all of your grocery shopping at a bulk store because this is a great way to overspend. Second make sure you know the unit cost of items that you buy on a regular basis because this will help you make an informed decision. Unless you have a very large family that can consume bulk produce before it goes bad do not purchase produce from a bulk store. My last tip is to avoid impulse buys if it isn’t on your list walk away and take a day or two to think it over. The seasonal department is the best place to encounter items you feel you must have so either avoid this section all together or practice will power. If you see something that appears to be a great deal take the time to investigate other stores and make sure it’s the best deal first. You can always go back and grab the deal later in the week.

I love Costco and often refer to it as “Disney World for adults” because it really is in my opinion the most wonderful place in the world. While I enjoy my Costco membership I have learned that not everything in a bulk store is a great deal and you have to be pretty choosy if you are working with a tight budget. It’s so very easy to overspend in bulk stores because you could purchase your entire shopping list in one convenient place but you will pay for that convenience. When it comes to items like paper goods, trash bags, laundry soap, dish soap and pet supplies you can find amazing deals in bulk stores.I have even snagged some pretty awesome deals on clothes, shoes and books at Costco.  You can find additional deals within the grocery aisles but you really have to hunt for them. Remember just because a deal is advertised as a “deal” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Things like cookies, crackers, cereal, chips and other snack items are often over priced and would be best purchased at your local grocery store.

If you often find yourself overspending at the bulk stores take a look at the things you are buying to see if you are really getting the deals. Take a notebook and jot down prices at your local store as well as the unit price so you can really compare the prices. I know it sounds like a lot of work but make it fun. Leave the kids at home with your spouse or a babysitter, grab something from your local coffee shop and stroll down the aisles at your local grocery store writing down prices. You don’t need to record every price in the store just on the items you buy weekly. Whenever you are out shopping this little record will help you determine if you have found a deal or if you should pass it by.

They say the one place American’s spend the most money is on their grocery budgets and I believe it. Life is hectic and we often find ourselves overworked and tired so a simple run through the grocery store never feels like a simple endeavor. This is why it is so important to plan your shopping in advance with a meal plan and a shopping list. When you do shop stay focused, stick to your list and really pay attention to prices. You will be surprised how a few simple steps can save you money in the short term and how it can really add up in the long term.

 

 

You CAN Cook!

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When my husband and I first got married almost 13 years ago I did not know a thing about budgeting or meal planning. This lead to us spending an exorbitant amount of money on groceries every week and put us deeply into debt. It took hitting rock bottom for me to realize that I needed to change the way we were doing things and this is when I began my education into home management. I realized that I needed to reduce our grocery budget and I had two options stop eating all together or make food from scratch. I enjoy food too much to give it up all together so I decided to start making as much as possible from scratch. It didn’t take long to see the benefit of making meals instead of buying processed food.

Over the years I have had people ask me how I am able to save so much money on groceries and when I explain how, I get the same token excuse, “I wish I could do that but I just can’t cook”. I have talked with moms who are spending $250 a week on microwaveable food because it is quick and easy but unwilling to try a different approach because they don’t think they can cook or simply don’t want to try. The truth is anyone can cook it just takes a little confidence, patience and motivation. The motivation part is easy if your trying to save money but I understand that confidence and patience can take a little time to acquire.

My advice is to start small don’t attempt to cook everything in your cookbook instead find a few simple recipes and practice those. Once you have them down you will feel more confident and with confidence comes patience. Soon you will be confident enough to tackle a variety of recipes. You may even find that you enjoy cooking because not only are you saving money but your feeding your family food that is actually good for them. Even if you don’t find enjoyment in cooking for your family you should still do it because like all chores it is necessary. Processed foods aren’t meant to be consumed at every meal despite what advertisers may tell us because they are too high in sodium, sugar, fat and too many chemicals to list.

Processed Food=Disease + Debt

If your grocery budget is out of control and your freezer is packed with frozen meals than this message is for you. In order to get control of your budget you need to scrounge up a few recipes and get into your kitchen. I know that it’s scary but in this wonderful world of technology you can find YouTube videos, blog post and Pinterest boards to help you navigate your kitchen. YOU CAN COOK! Your family will appreciate it, your health will appreciate it and you will appreciate the extra money in your pocket book. Start the New Year off with a plan to live better and feed your family better food.

 

 

 

Christmas Shopping on a Budget

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This time of year can be stressful for families as Christmas alone can create a bit of a financial burden. Even families like my own who keep things simple and work with a tight budget can feel that pinch. Every year my husband receives a bonus the second week of December and we use this bonus to not only help with Christmas expenditures but also to catch up on bills. This year the bonus has been delayed and at this point in time we are unsure if the bonus will be given out at all. This situation has definitely made things more difficult but I refuse to allow this bump in the road to derail my Christmas spirit.

I had to adjust my Christmas list a bit and I added a few more homespun gifts into the mix to help make our budget stretch. I hit my local Once Upon a Child ( children’s resale shop) where I found quite a few gifts for my little ones which has helped with my budget. If you are feeling the pinch this Christmas and you are worrying about how to make gifts happen for your kids I encourage you to check out your local resale shops. It is amazing what you can find when you dig a little, for instance, I found a beautiful doll chair for my daughter. This chair is  made from solid wood and after a quick swipe of furniture polish this second hand piece is like new and I know my daughter will enjoy it for many years to come. I found this chair on the back of a shelf covered in dust with a $10 price tag. I found similar chairs online priced for $90 so this was a great deal. I also found unopened packages of Shopkin sets for $2.00 which again is an amazing price.

I think that a lot of people overlook the value in secondhand stores for Christmas presents but you can find a lot of gently used items at great prices. Over the years my kids have received these items and they have loved them just as much as the brand new store items. Another great way to keep your Christmas budget on track is to make some of your gifts by hand. This year I am crocheting hats and scarves for my kids and I know they are going to love them. Over they years I have crocheted, sewed and put together gift baskets of baked goods and they have always been appreciated. In fact these gifts tend to be my favorite to give because so much love goes into making them just right.

Don’t let financial stress steal your Christmas spirit. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend or what fancy new toy is under the tree. In the end what matters most is sharing the true meaning of Christmas with the ones we love the most. It’s the memories we make with our friends and family that are the greatest gifts of all and the ones that will be the most treasured.

 

 

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How do you handle financial stress around the holidays?

Bookstore Adventures

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So you may or may not have realized it yet but I am a major bibliophile (I know that sounds dirty but it just means that I love books and I hoard them). Next to my husband and kids my two greatest loves are coffee and books. When I find a place that combines both it just sends me over the top. Lately, I have been feeling pretty blue and I really needed a pick me up so I headed over to one of my favorite places in the whole world, Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble might just be a bookstore to some but for me, it is a sanctuary. There is just something so soothing about the smell of books and coffee and I can’t help but sniff the air whenever I walk into this store. I am sure I look a bit odd sniffing the air the way a dog might sniff the air but I don’t care it is my therapy.

As I walked around the store dreaming about moving into Barnes & Noble on a permanent basis I stumbled across their clearance section. I took a moment to peruse the items that had been placed under a sign that said “All items $2”.  I found two books for my personal library so I was already feeling like a winner when I stepped to the back of the clearance shelf and saw a variety of toy items that had been clearanced as well. I couldn’t believe it I found a YoKai watch, a collectors album for YoKai with coins, and a stack of YoKai collector cards. I did a happy dance right there in the middle of Barnes & Noble but then I collected myself realizing that this might be a mistake.

I gathered the items clutching them to me in case anyone else saw my deals and attempted an intercept and rushed to the checkout. I presented the items to the cashier explaining that they were on the clearance shelf but I wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be there. After a few quick motions with his scanner, the cashier confirmed that they were part of the sale. Not only were they on sale but they took an additional 20% off with my Educators discount.  I may or may not have embarrassed myself by doing another happy dance but I will never tell. The reason for my happiness was that my youngest son is obsessed with YoKai and really wanted a watch for Christmas. I just got him 2 of his Christmas gifts and a stocking stuffer for under $6. If I would have paid full price for each of these items I would have spent over $40 so I basically won the lotto.

I keep a tight budget for Christmas and I love finding great deals that allow me to stay on track financially. Whenever you are out and about check clearance shelves because you can find great gift ideas at crazy low prices. I have found toys discounted at bookstores, hardware stores, and even a few truck stops so the deals are out there if you look for them. I know Thanksgiving hasn’t happened yet and it is a tad early to be talking about Christmas shopping but I just had to share my bookstore adventure.

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?

***This post is in no way sponsored by Barnes & Noble, in fact, they only know me as the crazy woman who sniffs the air as she walks around browsing books and sipping coffee in their midwest stores***

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

I know that there are a lot of people out there who do not like the flavor of cranberry sauce but I am not one of them. Thanksgiving dinner in my house is not complete without the cranberry sauce. Not only do we enjoy it with the main meal but I like to keep it on hand for leftover turkey sandwiches. I like to spread a little cranberry sauce on my bread and then layer on lettuce, leftover turkey and a slice of Havarti cheese. It might sound a bit strange but the flavors really do compliment one another making this a gourmet sandwich. This is my recipe for homemade cranberry sauce and it is very simple and can be made for under $4.00. You’ll have plenty of cranberry sauce for your turkey dinner and enough to use on sandwiches throughout the week following Thanksgiving.

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Maple Dinner Rolls

Hello everyone I am back to share another holiday recipe that would make a perfect accompaniment for this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner. One way you can keep your budget on track for Thanksgiving dinner is to make your rolls from scratch. I know that the grocery store offers a ton of ready to go options but it is definitely worth it to make your own. Not only will you save money but you will be rewarded with warm, fluffy rolls that will fill your home with the comforting scent of fresh baked bread. This recipe was tested by my kitchen elves and they gave this recipe two thumbs up so I hope your family will enjoy this as well.

Maple Dinner Rolls

Hashbrown Casserole Recipe

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to share some of my favorite holiday recipes. This particular recipe is one of my favorites because not only does it taste great but it is also very affordable and so simple to make. Sometimes I will make this the night before Thanksgiving and reheat it in my slow cooker on Thanksgiving so I can free up oven space. I am not sure where the original recipe came from but everyone in my family makes a version of this recipe and I know that it is pretty popular throughout the Midwest. I can make an entire 13×9 casserole for under $7 using ingredients that are on sale or generic whenever possible. Tomorrow I will share another one of my favorite holiday recipes so I hope you will stop by to check that out.

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Let me know if your family has a Hashbrown Casserole that finds its way to the table every holiday!