Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Halloween Pumpkin!

She was so excited she could hardly eat the grilled cheese I made her before we went out. I remember that kind of excitement and love seeing it through her eyes. You can't put a price on that!

The George Eastman House

This past Friday, my girl and I headed off to The George Eastman House to drop off a wreath my garden club donated for their annual wreath auction. Jeannine made it from materials that all of the club members had and contributed (How frugal is that!)

When we arrived and presented the wreath, I noticed the gardens were still in pretty good shape for October.

My girl and I decided to take a walk. It was gorgeous! It was fun! We were the only people there and had the whole place to ourselves (Now if that doesn't make you feel rich) There is a goldfish pond. We both had a great time. I got to enjoy the gardens, which I've never seen before and my girl got to run around, which I would never have let her do had there been people there. (and hopefully she liked the gardens too!)

Best of all-Totally FREE! The gardens are free to visitors in the summer when everything is in bloom too, although for a reasonable price you can get admission to the historic home and photography museum which can easily fill an entire day!

Edited to add that I am sitting here a little sad because I'm realizing that this is probably my last garden visit for a while. I saw so many this summer and spending time in a garden is one of my favorite, restorative and (mostly) free pleasures.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Tax Dollars at Work

I've been a bit behind writing lately (I just noticed it has been almost a week since I last posted!) I will try and play catch-up for the next few days! This topic is actually something we did last weekend but I wanted to mention it.

Over the summer my town built a walking path that goes around the lake, over a marsh and through the woods. Last weekend we checked it out. It was beautiful, well paved and A LOT of people were using it for a chilly October afternoon. Our daughterr was thrilled to be "in the forest" and on a "nature walk" and it was something that kept us all busy-And best of all, was free! (Ok perhaps not free in that I do pay taxes of course!) But this is just my reminder to everyone that you don't need to spend any money to enjoy the beautiful scenery at this time of year and there are things you have already paid for (via your taxes) where you live that you may not be taking advantage of!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Another great thing about October is that almost anyone who sells coffee has a version of Pumpkin Spice Coffee. Be it your local Starbucks or gas station, this flavor abounds in the month of October.

It's very easy to make at home and if you've made a pumpkin pie recently you have everything you need.

Last year I was thinking about the name-Pumpkin Spice Coffee and realized the flavor has little to do with pumpkin and more to do with pumpkin SPICE. So all I did the next time was mix a little pumpkin pie spice into my coffee after it was brewed and voila! Pumpkin Spice Coffee! Easy and cheap!

My husband actually likes to put the spice in with the grounds when brewing (about 1-1/2 tsp for a pot) but I don't get that crazy. A pinch in the coffee is enough for me.

If you want to add whipped cream and spices to top it off be my guest, but since I don't usually have whipped cream on hand, I just drink it with splenda and cream.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Product Review-Match and Win Dreamhouse Game

If you're tired of hearing me yammer away about saving money and being frugal, you may want to head on over to the Reynolds, Goya, and Tyson Match and Win Dream House game where the grand prize is a $500,000 dream house (actually, it's $500,000 in cash and there are also smaller cash prizes as well, with the next one being $50,000.)
Basically, you play by collecting game pieces on participating Goya, Tyson, and/or Reynolds products.  The game pieces show either the left or right half of a certain prize. If you collect both halves of a prize, you win.  Simple as that. The contest runs through Oct. 1, 2008.

My guess is you would need to buy A LOT of products from each of the product lines to match up any and win a prize. Face it, they aren't going to put the grand prize pieces on 2 boxes of Reynolds Wrap (which may be the only product I buy from any of the vendors) at my Wegman's.

I guess I'll just have to keep pinching pennies!

Product Review-Curves Cereal

My latest product to try and report back to you on is Curves Cereal and Granola bars. Curves, as in the exercise center. I think Curves is trying to create a brand like the Weight Watchers brand (which is very successful) But,unlike WW,which uses the point system and clearly tells you how many points each serving is, I don't know what, if any, the Curves plan is and how the product is supposed to help me.

Perhaps that isn't important. Maybe there is no Curves diet??? At any rate the cereal and granola bars are marketed to help you keep weight off. I can clearly believe that as the granola bars are VERY small. I think it was 4 bites- It would be 3 if I was really hungry. It was average as far as granola bars go. I think the portion size is the only weight loss thing going for it.

The cereal was good. It was VERY VERY hard and crunchy. (I actually liked it) It bugged my husband when I ate it. It didn't seem to me any more or less like a diet product than any other cereal (again I think portion size is the key) This portion was 1 C which is pretty large-However, you could probably get 1 cup of most cereal for the same calories. Also, I was hungry before lunch when I ate this (which does happen to me when I eat cereal. ) However, this caused me to eat more food which I think would be something the average Curves eater would want to avoid.

Even though I liked the cereal, both of these products pretty much seemed like fake food to me. If you want to save money and lose weight try something like Oatmeal-It will stick with you much longer, costs much less, and is good for you.

Planting Garlic

Jennine's Uncle Tony grows so much food in his supersize garden that I would almost call him a farmer! (At least compared to me anyway) For my birthday this year Jeannine gave me, among other things, a bunch of his Italian Garlic. When I say Italian, I don't just mean garlic=Italian, I mean it's from his father-IN ITALY! Since he plants his garlic crop right from this kind of garlic I decided not to eat mine and plant it this fall.

Typically the date to plant garlic around here is October 1st, although given the weather this year, I think I'm just fine. I put it out in the patch next to the driveway where I had the zucchini (I swear I think I'm not ever going to have grass there. Perhaps I will deem that my free food garden!) I put out about 56 cloves which should yield 56 heads of garlic. This is also hard neck garlic which means that it grows the scrapes that can be removed and eaten in the springtime.

I've never planted garlic before so this is pretty exciting for me. I don't know if I actually use 56 heads of garlic a year (we'll find out!) And I will, of course, share with friend and family!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bushel of Squash

Last weekend we wanted to buy pumpkins. We go to a mom and pop roadside farm stand. The couple who run it are older and every year we wonder if it will be there (it is far from our house) This year when we came upon it, imagine our disappointment when there were no pumpkins and no farm stand. (I did hear it was a bad year for pumpkins so perhaps they will be back next year.) They did still have squash for sale so I bought a bushel of mixed squash for $10!!! There were 40 squash in there so they were $.25 a piece. I think this week Wegman's is asking $1.49lb! Take THAT!

However, this puts me in much the same position that I was a couple of moths ago with the zucchini. I've already given some to my mom. So far this week we have used 2.

Squash and Sausage Sautee
-1 Butternut Squash
-sausage of your choice-We used some spinach chicken sausage that I got on sale for $1.39!
-Garlic, Onions
-Olive oil, spices
-Grated Cheese

Peel and cut squash into pieces you want to eat. Microwave for 3-5 min with a little water. Meanwhile, cut sausage into rounds and cook in a little oil. Add Squash and garlic/ onions (we just use garlic) You can also throw in some chopped apple but totally not necessary. Cook until squash are the consistency you like. You may need to add a little broth or water to keep things cooking nicely. Throw in some herbs of choice (a little sage works great here) and top with some grated cheese! YUMMY

Tonight I made a very easy and basic Squash Soup

1 Butternut Squash
1 celery Stalk
Olive Oil
Chicken Stock or Water
Herbs--I used herbs De Provence because we had them. You could use parsley, sage or whatever you like or omit them completely

Peel and cut squash into pieces you want to eat. Microwave for 10 min with a little water. Dice Carrot, Celery and Onion. Cook on Med with Garlic for 10 min. I like them to caramelize a bit. Add squash. Season with Salt and Pepper and Herbs of choice. Cover with chicken stock or water. Cook 10 min more. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Puree. (I used a hand blender.) top with grated Parmesan if you have it!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Garage Sale Decorating!

I moved into a new house a little over a year ago. We also live on one income so that doesn't leave a lot left in the budget for decorating. I sometimes long for the days when I bought new furniture and shopped in upscale window treatment stores! (Although not enough to make me go back to work until my girl is school age.) The other day I looked around the house and realized so much of what I have I either acquired for free from someone or got at a garage sale. I thought I would take you on a short tour!

The first picture is the entrance of my house. This staircase is what sold me the house. Love it. It was already painted when we moved in. The table is hard to see but I got it on clearance at Target but changed out the hardware so it looks more expensive. The vase on top is a silver plate trophy that Bridgett's mom won when she worked at Sibley's (I just turned it around so you couldn't see the writing on the cup!) The flowers were free from my brother's yard. The painting I got at a garage sale!! Can you believe it. I know it's hard to see but it's lovely and it came from a GARAGE SALE!

From the foyer you enter the kitchen. I wasn't sold on the wallpaper until Jeannine suggested yellow curtains. You should see these curtains. They are really beautiful, heavy chenille and I got 5 of them on clearance at Linens and Things for $2 each! Yup, you read that right! The shelves are from a garage sale as are all of the items (granite ware, milk glass S & P shakers, and marmalade jars. Around the top of the kitchen I have a bunch of metal painted trays that I got for $1 each!

I guess the old adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure really is true!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Halloween Candy Strategy

It's almost Halloween so I thought I would post this tip before you bought all of your Halloween candy. Each year I have a hard time determining how many trick-or-treaters we are likely to get. After the year that we ran out of candy because I under bought, I usually overbuy to compensate.

Some years I have a good bit of candy leftover. Rather than handing out 1/2 a bag to each kid at the end of the night I keep it. I usually buy Hershey's solid chocolate bars. That way if I have any leftover I can freeze it and use for my holiday baking that is just around the corner. Kids don't complain about chocolate and I haven't wasted my money. You can chop it up for cookies or melt it and it works just like chocolate chips! Last year I needed a quick cookie for a garden club function and I made a roll of refrigerator dough sugar cookies and dipped one half of them in melted chocolate. I got rave reviews.

Of course if you aren't into holiday baking and you don't want your candy to go to waste, you can always EAT it!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Apples, Cider and Bees-Kelly's Apple Farm

Fall is my favorite time of year. Along with the beautiful fall scenery, there are wonderful farm markets and cider mills to visit. My husband and I have deemed some of them Pumpkin Disney Land. Those ones include all manner of activities from pony rides to face painting to banjo music to bounce houses. They have their place and can be fun, but I prefer places that specialize in something and do it well. Today it was apples!

Kelly's Apple farm is the real deal. (They are so the real deal they don't even have a website I can send you to!) I've been going since I was a little girl and it's one of my favorite fall places. You can watch cider being made and then taste it. There is nothing like fresh unpasteurized cider. The stuff at Wegman's so does not compare! My favorite part is when the apples are crushed and all of the mushy apples get sprayed into the juicer part of the machine! (I swear every year I get excited to see that) After the juice is all squeezed out, the cardboardy apple pulp is put into the fields for fertilizer! No waste! We watched for a long time and then tasted and bought some cider ($3 1/2 gal-A bargain for something handmade right in front of you I think!)

You can buy apples grown by the Kelly family (We did-1 bushel for $6) and they make an apple pie that is famous around here (as well as some wonderful breads and other baked goods with apples of course)

There is a fireplace surrounded by large chairs and couches where you can enjoy your cider and sweet treats as well as a neat bee hive that you can look at and purchase honey from. They also had a nice display about the importance of the Honey Bee which I though was really cool given the current plight of the Honey Bee.

We have taken our girl on this trip before but she was really too little to get as much out if it as she did today. I think it was way better than a bounce house!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Effortlessly Saving Money-Rechargeable Batteries

I go through 4 batteries a week. 2 in my camera for my eBay business and 2 in my book light that I use almost every night. At the cost of Wegman's batteries, this comes out to $101.14 per year (It would be even more expensive if I didn't purchase the generic batteries) Not to mention the environmental impact of 208 batteries floating around a landfill for who knows how long as well as all of the packaging for said batteries.

Solution! Re-chargeable batteries. Back in January I got 4 batteries and a charger for $20 . (And I just saw the same exact set in Big Lots last week for $10) This is too easy! I don't even have to remember to buy batteries anymore. I plan to have them longer than the year so my savings will be much more than $100 for this simple thing. The charge seems to last longer than the normal batteries do too!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sometimes Kids Really DO Listen!

I'll tell you what I'm loving today!

Every week my mom picks up my girl to spend the day with her and my dad. Once in a while, they drive through McDonald's on the way home to get pancakes and sausage and a breakfast sandwich and coffee for my dad. As a result my DD knows all about McDonald's. Sometimes when we drive by she'll ask if we can go. I tell her "No, we have a lot of good food at home to eat." This morning on the way to Grandma's house, my mom asked my girl if she wanted to get some pancakes at McDonald's. My girl said "Nope" My mom said. "You don't, why?" My girlie answered, "You have a lot of good food at home to eat Grandma." I love it!! My mom called when they got home and said I must be doing something right!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Use it Up!

I love bath and beauty products. LOVE EM'! I love hand soap (please note this anyone who buys me Christmas presents ;-) ) I love how nice and shiny it looks at the store. I love how it smells. I could literally blow my budget on scented soap.

I don't like the cost. Especially the specialty store ones. (And you know the store I mean!)

And really, don't we all already have a lot of soap at home? (Well I do anyway.)

So, I play a game with myself. I tell myself that as soon as we use all of the other scented soap in the house I will buy myself WHATEVER soap it is that I want without worrying about the expense (provided I have the cash) But until that time, no soap buying. This means that I use up all of the baby wash that I have and can't use because my girl has eczema. It means that vanilla shower gel that doesn't really work for me goes in the soap dispenser too!

I use this trick a lot when I am tempted to buy something that I want but really don't need. I give myself permission to buy it when I really do need it. I know I'll get it. Sometime. Do you really need a new moisturizer before your old one is gone? Trust me, your wrinkles probably won't get THAT much worse in the 4 weeks it takes you to finish the jar. I'm just washing all that hand soap down the drain anyway.

Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do without! I love that depression era slogan. I love applying it to my life in order to achieve my financial goals.

I know that I've been rather philosophical about frugality these past few days rather than offering a concrete tips that will save you money. Sometimes though, I think the philosophy of being frugal is even better than concrete tips as you can extrapolate that into your own life. I mean you may or may not want to make your own jelly, but I bet everyone has SOMETHING that causes them to part with money that could be better used on something else!

And While We Are On The Subject of Crock-Pots

Since I've been talking about Crock-Pots, you may want to take yourself right over to my friend, Deanna's Blog and check out her oh-so-easy-and-yummy-beef-stew recipe! I can't imagine it would take anyone more than 10 minutes to make and with the ingredients she uses you have a complete meal in one pot!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pepperoncini Beef

Since I told you below that you should throw together a crock pot meal for a night when you feel too stressed to cook I figured I better provide you with a cheap and easy one to get you started.

Pepperoncini Beef

1 Chuck Roast
1 Jar Pepperonchini Peppers

Place roast in crock pot. Pour entire jar (including vinegar) of pepperoncini over the beef. Cook on low all day. Remove from Crock pot. Top with peppers and eat. It will shred very easily.

You can serve this over egg noodles with a lot of salt (well I like it with a lot of salt) You don't even have to use noodles. My husband doesn't eat a lot of noodles so mostly we just serve it on a plate. You could serve this over rice.

If you like those vinegary peppers you will love this dish!

Mindfully Frugal

I feel like I haven't written here in a while. I feel busy, and busy makes me feel stressed. Actually, I think everyone I know feels busy and stressed lately. For me, being stressed makes me less likely to pay attention to my spending and forget my careful planning and/or budget and just go with the easiest thing that gets the job done (To hell with the expense.)

It's times like these that we (or at least I) need to remember to be frugal. If you know you have a busy week coming up, put the ingredients to an easy crock pot meal on your grocery list and make sure you throw the stuff in the night before you need to plug it in (and refrigerate of course) . Then the next day you aren't staring into that frozen tundra that is your freezer at 6 pm and decide that $30 takeout is a better (costly) solution.

Fortunately, when I get like this, I have some pretty well ingrained frugal habits to fall back on that I don't do too much damage. For example, it's just second nature for me to look at the price per unit (lb, oz, whatever...) at the grocery store, even if it's not clearly stated on the package. Even if I'm in a hurry I do that. I can't help myself. I usually get the best deal. I say usually because I really DO like Hellman's mayo better than Wegman's (Though if I'm feeling broke then you can be sure I'm bringing home Wegman's Mayo.)

This really isn't about grocery shopping as much as it is about being mindful of those things that cost you money when you aren't paying attention to them. You know what they are for you.

Just like any skill, it gets easier and more second nature the more you practice.

Now go and work those frugal muscles!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Effortlessly Saving Money-Turn Off Your Computer

I think I'm going to start a new feature each week on Fridays. Yes, I know it is Thursday night. But most of you will be reading this on Friday so I'm still going to count this as a Friday post.

Anyway, I've always thought that there are a lot of easy ways to save money that aren't hard and don't take a lot of extra effort, but they may be things you (or I) haven't thought of. So each Friday I think I'll explore one of these areas and post the potential savings. Please feel free to send me some of your own ideas as I would like to see what else I can be doing and share it with you.

My first one is Turn off your computer at night. I'll admit that I don't do this. But I'll also pledge that I will after I finish this post. Depending on your computer and cost of energy, your savings could be anywhere from $50-$100 a year or more. I looked to a bunch of different sources on this one and was going to write a long post about it but really, you could just read the articles I did. For a nice overview, visit The Simple Dollar. For a specific calculator where you can calculate your own savings visit here. And finally, if you are a real geek, visit Mr Electricity and learn more than you ever wanted to know about the subject.

The calculator told me I would save $47 a year. That might sound small but it's $47 I don't have to shell out. It would also pay for the American Girl Bitty Baby that I want to get my girl for her birthday this year!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Crab Apples Part 2

Another thing I made with the bounty of Crab Apples that we got on vacation is this beautiful Crab Apple Liquer.

It was really easy and, of course, cheap!!!

4 quarts crab apples (free)
4 cups sugar (I'm calling this free as I purchased it for the jelly)
3 cups vodka -Cheap! (I spoke with the man at the liquor store and he didn't think I needed to use a very high quality vodka as I was using a lot of sugar. I bought one of the cheapest ones (can't remember what it was though)

Take a 4 quart mason jar, and fill it with crab apples that have been washed and quartered.
Add 4 cups of sugar and three cups of vodka. Store the jar on its side, turning once every day for 30 days to get the sugar to dissolve.
After 30 days, filter out the fruit bits and bottle. This recipe can be done on nearly any scale from 1 qt. to 4qt.

I bottled it in vintage soda bottles that I got for free at a Garage Sale this summer and then gave it with the crab apple jelly as gifts at our dinner party this past Saturday. We also served it over ice with a splash of seltzer for a cocktail upon arrival! It was really yummy! My supply of this is gone now but I liked it so much I may head on over to Deanna's house to pick some crab apples off her tree which she says is brimming with them!

Edited to add- Bridgett called me to let me know that she made Crab Apple Martinis with this and they were YUMMY!!!!!!!!
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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nature Valley Nut Crunch

My newest product to sample is Nature Valley 's Roasted Nut Crunch bars. I received both the Peanut Crunch and an Almond and Sunflower seed bar. They were packaged in an adorable burlap bag which is now hanging in my rustic bedroom. (of course in the store you would not get this very cute bag!)

I don't buy snack bars. They are usually full of things that we don't like to eat like partially hydrogenated oils. I also find them expensive for what you get and would rather eat cheese or plain nuts if I need a lift.

I expected not to like these. I was surprised as they are really quite good. I preferred the peanut over the almond. I was also surprised when I was hungry and was in a hurry to get somewhere that I thought of grabbing one. And it was a good snack that filled me up. They are smaller than your average granola bar but more filling. There are only 6 ingredients. Two of those are sugar and corn syrup, so this is not an entirely healthy snack. It was kind of like nut brittle. Still, there were only around 6 grams of sugar so that wasn't too bad. The 7 grams of protein was a plus and the reason I think it's so filling.

I still think you can do better nutritionally and economically with just plain nuts. I probably would not buy these weekly at the grocery store but I could see taking them on a car trip, they seem like that kind of treat to me.

Now, if I was only going somewhere!