Saturday, October 31, 2009

Inexpensive Child's Apron

With Thanksgiving & Christmas coming up, the chance to have the kids in the kitchen is expanding. Recently, I talked with a friend online about making an apron for my youngest daughter for Christmas. She is getting an easy bake oven for Christmas that another friend had sitting in her closet- brand new!

I am having one made for her, but after that, I found a really easy way to make a child's apron to use while baking. The main supplies- the towel & pot holder, can be found at Dollar Tree. For $3, you can buy 2 towels, and 1 2 pack of pot holders. Counting in the ribbon, this project should cost you about $1.75 to make.

Finished images of this project can be found on the blog by clicking the link below- it opens in a new window

Child's Kitchen Apron

What You'll Need:
1 Kitchen Towel
1 Rectangular Pot Holder
1 Spool of Ribbon
Sewing Machine or needle

  1. Clip the loop off the pot holder, if there is one.
  2. Take into account the child's height, then decide whether you want the towel to hang length wise, or sideways, depending on how tall or short the child is. Once you have decided, sew the pot holder onto the top edge, in the middle. The ends do not have to be bunched or gathered, they remain flat.
  3. Once you have the pot holder sewn on, cut a length of ribbon long enough to loop over the child's head, or create two lengths that can be tied around the neck. Sew the two ends to the upper corners of the pot holder.
  4. Sew two lengths of ribbon to the top corners of the towel, to tie around the child's waist. If you choose to make a sideways apron, you may want to fold the top corners down, and stitch the corner down before sewing ribbons on, to make it shorter around the waist. With smaller children, the apron might be too wide to tie around the waist at full length.
  5. To keep the ribbon from fraying, you can coat the ends in clear nail polish, or fold it over and sew the ends.
The image below shows how to place the potholder, and where the ribbons go. I didn't have anything on hand to demonstrate it, so I used my art program. Yes, I really should have been a serious artist, I'm just that good. ;)

Thanksgiving Cookies

As Halloween dawns on us, I am already looking towards Thanksgiving. Over the past few years, my family has started to make our own traditions. In 2003, I let everyone know, gently, that my little family was going to stay home on Thanksgiving, instead of traveling the 70 minutes to my Grandparent's home. My Grandma was very supportive of us starting our own traditions.

In 2004, we went back to doing Thanksgiving with family, and in retrospect, I am glad we did. My Grandma passed away on October 27th, 2005, so 2004 was our last Thanksgiving together. This time of year is hard for me, as her passing was unexpected, and close to Halloween. We said our final good bye's on November 1st, 2005.

From 2005 on, we have had our own, quiet Thanksgiving at home. We go all out, and make a huge meal, and eat off left overs for days. It's far more relaxing than when we were running around, driving all over the place. It's good for us, because we have our own traditions now.

Meanwhile, here are more fun kids recipes for Thanksgiving.

Pilgrim Hat Cookies

What You'll Need:
Fudge Strip Cookies
Melting Chocolate
Large Marshmallows
Yellow Decorating Icing with a Piping Tip

Individual cellophane bags
Twist Ties or Ribbon
Cardstock Tag
  1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, or on the stove top- adult supervision required!
  2. Lay out several cookies ahead of time, with the fudge side up, and the striped side down.
  3. Insert a toothpick into the flat side of a marshmallow, and dip them in chocolate, coating all sides.
  4. Moving quickly, press the coated marshmallow onto the middle of the cookie, and let it cool there.
  5. Once all of these are done, and the chocolate has hardened, use the yellow icing to pipe a square 'buckle' onto the front, like on a pilgrims hat.
  6. If you want, you can wrap these individually in a cello bag, and tie with a twist tie, or pretty ribbon. Attach a cardstock tag with a name on it, and these can be used as place setting tags! The Thumbprint Turkey Placecard design would look nice on these.

Pilgrim Hat Cookies 2

What You'll Need:
Fudge Strip Cookies
Miniature Peanut Butter Cups
Yellow Icing
Mini Orange Chiclet Gum, or Orange Icing

Cellophane Bags
Twist Ties or Ribbon
Cardstock Tags

  1. Using a rubber spatula, spread icing on the top of the peanut butter cup, and set the cup upside down onto the fudge side of the cookie.
  2. Using a piping tip, line the outside of the peanut butter cup with yellow icing.
  3. Place a chiclet in the yellow icing to make a 'buckle', or pipe orange icing in a square over the yellow icing to form a buckle.
  4. If you want, you can wrap these individually in a cello bag, and tie with a twist tie, or pretty ribbon. Attach a cardstock tag with a name on it, and these can be used as place setting tags! The Thumbprint Turkey Placecard design would look nice on these.

Pilgrim Hat Cookies 3

What You'll Need:
Chocolate Wafer Cookies, such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
Miniature Peanut Butter Cups
Yellow Icing
Orange Icing


Cellophane Bags
Twist Ties or Ribbon
Cardstock Tags

  1. Using a rubber spatula, spread icing on the top of the peanut butter cup, and set the cup upside down onto the cookie.
  2. Using a piping tip, line the outside of the peanut butter cup with yellow icing.
  3. Pipe orange icing in a square over the yellow icing to form a buckle.
  4. If you want, you can wrap these individually in a cello bag, and tie with a twist tie, or pretty ribbon. Attach a cardstock tag with a name on it, and these can be used as place setting tags! The Thumbprint Turkey Placecard design would look nice on these.

With all these fun, east to make cookies, your treat will be the most talked about at the table!

Rice + Fabric = WARMTH

Several years back, my mother had surgery done at the base of her skull, where her spine meets her head. It was for a rare condition called Arnold Chiari Malformation. With the surgery comes a long, highly uncomfortable, sometimes down right painful recovery.

It was during this time that I went to a craft show with my Grandma, and stumbled upon homemade heating pads. The note said it could be used cold or hot, and had instructions on how to use it. It was inexpensive, so I picked one up, and sent it home with my Grandma, so she could give it to my mom.

Fast forward a year or two, and I found out exactly what that homemade heating pad was. It was simply rice and fabric, nothing more, nothing less.

Since then, I've made these myself as gifts, and for myself. They are really handy to have around.

Homemade Heating Pad

What You'll Need:
Flannel fabric
Uncooked, Non-instant rice (very important! Instant will NOT work!)
Sewing Machine or Needle
Aroma Therapy Bath Quality Oil*

  1. Take the flannel, and make a square, rectangle, or oval shape about the size of a text book, give or take a bit. You will want 2 pieces the same size.
  2. Once you have cut your shape, put them together, face to face if there is a pattern. Sew it together with a zig zag stitch on 3 sides, leaving the 4th side open, then turn it right side out.
  3. Fill the fabric bag half way with the rice, then fold the unstitched edge together, and sew it shut with a zig zag stitch.
I usually add a handle to one side using grosgrain ribbon (the fabric ribbon with a ridged texture to it). To do this, insert one end in between the fabric at one corner, then insert the other edge into the opposite corner, so that the ribbon is sandwiched between the fabric before it is sewn. You want the handle to be on one end on the outside once it's been turned right side out.

To add aroma therapy oils, put the rice into a rubbermaid bowl with a lid. Drop just a few drops of oil onto the rice, then seal the bowl, and shake, shake, shake! If the scent isn't too strong, you can add just a few more drops, but be careful not to overly saturate any of the rice. If it's soggy, it will cook when warmed up!

How To Use It:

  • As A Heating Pad: Microwave 1-3 minutes, depending on the size. It will create a moist heat that is portable.
  • As An Ice Pack: Store it in the freezer, and use when needed. Warm at room temperature before using it as a heating pad.
The rice is usually pretty cheap. The flannel can be found at JoAnn's in the remanent section for 50-75% off the retail price. This allows for a large selection of patterns & colors.

I made these one year for Christmas, and just about every year since, I get requests for more, because they are so handy to have around. One aunt tells me her pad seems to walk off on it's own after people use it!

If you are in need of a heating pad for yourself, and want one right away, without the sewing, you can fill a clean tube sock about half way, and simply knot the end. These can come in handy for when you need something right away.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kids & Crafts- Making a Craft Kit

Crafts can be an easy and fun way to spend time together as a family, to make inexpensive decorations, and to keep kids busy. With winter coming up, the chance of an unexpected day stuck inside is pretty good. Craft time can fill those snow days up nicely, and allow you to make gifts for the holidays.

It's always a great idea to keep a small box filled with some craft items that can be used on the spur of the moment. I have a small tub that I keep stocked with basic items, and some not so basic items, if the price is right. Here are my recommendations for a kid friendly craft kit.

Foam- shapes, sheets, or items made of foam. You can find many good foam items at Dollar Tree. Craft stores are also a great source for foam items. Michaels & Hobby Lobby regularly put foam kits on sale cheap, so pick one or two up when you find them at a good price. Walmart carries these, as well, and after a major holiday, the holiday kits go on clearance.

Felt- Sheets of felt can be found for around $.25 each, sometimes cheaper.

Pipe Cleaners- an assortment of colors can be used to make all sorts of things, from ornaments & napkin rings, to animals. Dollar Tree carries these as well.

Construction Paper


Glue- I recommend a hot glue gun & glue sticks (to be used with adult supervision!), as well as Tacky Glue, and plain old white glue & glue sticks.

Markers, Crayons, & Colored Pencils for drawing- I pick these up when they are super cheap during Back to School sales!

All of these items alone can make plenty of fun craft projects, and you have something on hand for rainy, snowy, yucky days, when the kids are driving you nuts! To store all of these items, I get a small tub, big enough to fit the construction paper, and deep. You can use a pencil box to store the smaller items.

Picking up one or two things here and there can make it a cheap way to fill a box for a day of fun! And always remember- Freecycle, ReUseIt, Craigslist, and 2nd Hand Stores can make for a great place to find some cheap supplies!

Here are some additional items that you can pick up cheap to add into your Craft Kit.

Jingle Bells
Hole Punch
Spangles- these are the foil shapes similar to sequins, but usually larger
Paint brushes

There are a lot of items you can use around the house- egg cartons, foam meat trays (my store swapped to plastic, but either works good, if you wash it really well), cardboard boxes (you can use the boxes from cereal, mac n cheese, or anything else that comes in a box, as well!), the metal lid to frozen juice concentrate containers- there are plenty of things found just in the kitchen that can become a great craft item, instead of another landfill item! Feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section!

Good luck with your own craft kit!

Easy "Gourmet" Cupcakes

Recently, I saw a photo in a magazine ad for canned pie filling. It was a cupcake, cut in half, with cherry pie filling sort of oozing out of it.

I thought it looked easy enough, and went to the pie filling website to find a recipe- only to find none! I was kind of surprised by that, since they used it as an advertising ploy.

After looking around online, I came to the conclusion that they are as easy as "pie" to make. Since then, I've made numerous batches, and always get complimented on my "Gourmet" cupcakes, and asked for more! The basic recipe is simple.

Gourmet Filled Cupcakes

What You'll Need:
Cupcake Pan
Cupcake Liners
1 Box of prepared Cake mix, unbaked
1 can of pie filling
1 can of frosting

  • Simply prepare the cake batter according to the directions. Fill the liners about 1/3rd of the way, enough to cover the bottom with a decent layer of batter.
  • Next, scoop some pie filling into the center of each cupcake, taking care not to get it too close to the edges. Last, cover the pie filling with more cake batter.
  • Bake according to the directions on the cake mix. Once they've cooled, frost, and serve!
You will want to kind of match the various pie fillings with the cake & frosting flavors. Here are some I have tried, which went over well.

  • Blueberry Pie Filling with Vanilla Cake & Vanilla Frosting
  • Cherry Pie Filling with German Chocolate Cake & Vanilla Frosting
  • Cherry & Blueberry Pie Filling (left over from the previous 2 batches!) with White Cake & Vanilla Frosting
  • Strawberry Pie Filling with Yellow Cake & Strawberry Frosting
  • Raspberry Pie Filling with White Cake & Vanilla Frosting
  • Apple Pie Filling with Spice Cake & Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Apple Pie Filling, drizzled with Caramel Ice Cream Sauce, with Spice Cake & spread with Caramel Topping instead of Frosting.
The various combinations are endless! I imagine in the summer, a Strawberry Lemon mix would taste great together!

These make about 26-30 cupcakes, depending on how filling the fruit is. They make for a fantastic addition to a party, reunion, or just as a special treat. My husband took quite a few in to work, and my neighbor is constantly asking for more!

Thanksgiving Kids Crafts

These are more of those craft ideas that can help keep little hands busy while the adults make their Thanksgiving Feast. It would also make for a fun school craft while talking about Thanksgiving.

Harvest Necklace

What You'll Need:
Thread or Fishing line
Dried Fruit- Raisins, Apricots, Apples, Cranberries, etc
Popped Corn

This is a simple project, just stringing things on a thread. Set each child up with a length of thread or fishing line, knotted on one end, and threaded through a needle on the other side.

Let the kids do an assortment or pattern of the foods provided on the thread. When it's close to full, take it off the needle, and tie together like a necklace for the kids to wear, and snack on!

Candy Cornucopia

What You'll Need:
Sugar Waffle Cones
Fruit Shaped Candies or cereal or Nuts & Dried Fruit
Decorating frosting with a writing tip

Have the kids or an adult write their names on the side of the waffle cone. Once it's dried, let the kids scoop some candies or dried fruit & nuts into the cone for their own cornucopia Thanksgiving treat!

Thumbprint Turkey Placecards

What You'll Need:
Ink pads in various fall colors- browns, golds, oranges, reds, and yellows
Black & Red Marker
Construction Paper or Card Stock

  • Press a thumb into the inkpad and then on paper to print a turkey's body. Use the same technique with fingertips to create a head and feathers.

  • Use markers to add a beak, wattle and feet.

  • Complete the cards by writing in guests' names

Most of all- have fun, and enjoy your upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday!

Thanksgiving Turkey Treat Holder

Once Halloween passes, it's all too easy to rush right past Thanksgiving, and zoom towards Christmas. Planning, decorating, shopping... it can take over! Thanksgiving is a holiday rich in tradition, and family. Here is a craft idea I found online today, that I think would make for a fun weekend project. It would be inexpensive, and would make for a fun addition to any Thanksgiving table this November!

Turkey Treat Holder

What You'll Need:
Small Terra Cotta Pots- probably votive candle sized.
Sheets of foam or felt in red, yellow, orange, & brown
Googly eyes

  • Start by cutting 5 "feather" shapes from the red, yellow, & orange colored foam or felt. You'll want an assortment, with 5 total 'feathers'.
  • Cut a heart shape from the red foam or felt, and a small triangle from the orange felt or foam.
  • Next, cut a long oval from the brown foam or felt. This will be your turkey's head.
  • Glue the googly eyes in place on the head, near one end. Glue the orange triangle just below it, with one of the points aiming towards the side.
  • Glue the heart onto the bottom of the pot, so that the two rounded humps stick out like feet.
  • Glue the feathers into place on the back, over lapping them from the center outward in a fan shape.
  • Once the eyes & beak are dry, glue the head onto the front of the pot.
  • When the turkey is completely dry, fill with candy, and set them out.

If you are having a large gathering, these would make for a good craft to keep the younger group busy while the adults make the meals.

Decorating For Christmas- On a Budget!

Decorating for Christmas- on a budget!

I loved being at my Grandma's house all year around, but even more so at Christmas. She collected Snowmen. Grandma had more snowmen than we were able to count. To put it into perspective, no single ornament on her tree was anything but snowmen. She had a wall made into shelves, 8 feet tall, and probably 15 feet long, every shelf filled to the brim with snowmen. Her tables, wall shelves, even the bathroom, were all filled with snowmen.

But that sort of decorating takes years to accomplish. She got her snowmen mostly from gifts at Christmas, though she was also known to pick one or two up here and there.

So, how do you decorate your house frugally, but make it look nice? Well, forget the paper chains, fake snow, and window clings, here are some idea's that go above and beyond. While there is a definite place for the above mentioned items, not everyone is into preschool-chic decorating. ;)

Frugal Decorating

What You'll Need:

Pillar Candles in Holiday Colors*
Beaded Garland*
Wide Holiday Print Fabric Ribbon*
1-3 Packages Glass or Plastic Bulb Ornaments (if you have young children, or adventurous pets, I recommend using shatter proof, or plastic bulbs for this)
1/2 Yard Holiday Printed or Solid Colored Fabric
1-2 Roll Wrapping Paper in a Color or Pattern of your choice*
Wide Gift Wrap Ribbon*
1 Strand 35 count lights- multicolored or solid**
1 Bag Potpourri*
Suction Cup Hooks for Windows*

I have all the items listed as items to buy, but you should first raid your home to see what all you might already have on hand to use! Quite a bit of the items can be found at Dollar Tree for less than you would pay at a department store, such as Target or Walmart.

The items with a * beside them indicates items you can most likely find at the dollar store. Please note that while Dollar Tree does carry strands of lights now, I would not use them in the manner in which they are needed. I bought some one year, and used them in a potpourri jar, and the wires melted together, and almost caused a fire. Now, I skip Dollar Tree lights!

You might want to decide on a color theme before buying, so that you can stick to a general idea when picking up any items you may need to purchase. You can use any theme you want- jewel tones, traditional red & green, silver & gold, or pick a singular solid color for most of the items. The only limit is your imagination!

What you'll want from home:

1 large jar, like a mason jar, or a large, clear vase (make sure it has a wide neck, not a skinny one!)
1 large serving bowl
1 small "salad" or "dessert" plate for each candle bought (these can be covered if they are not "matching")
Hot glue gun & got glue

Here are the ways these few items can really make a nicely decorated home for your holidays. Many of these ideas would look nice in an office setting as well!

Potpourri Light Jar

  • First things first, put the strand of lights into the jar or vase, leaving the plug out. Tape the wire on the outside of the jar so that it lays flat against the jar, but leave enough slack to plug it in.
  • Fill the jar with the potpourri, and plug it in. These jars are perfectly safe, and they will heat the potpourri up enough to give off scent. They work great in bathrooms as a night light, and to scent the air.
Christmas Bulb Centerpiece
  • Next, lay some fabric in the bowl so it hangs over the edges, if you think it needs to be covered. If not, just skip the fabric and move on to arranging bulbs in it in different sizes, but you probably won't use all of them.
  • Drape the beaded garland in the bowl, and on top of the bulbs. The colors can all be the same, or you can mix it up for contrast. This makes a great table centerpiece. If you didn't need to use the fabric inside, then put it under the bowl when you place it on the table.
Candle Plates
  • For the next one, arrange the candle pillars on plates with 1 or 2 of the smaller sized bulbs on the plate. If you have beaded garland left, put that around it, too.
  • Take the ribbon, and cut it so that you have just enough to wrap around the candle. Hot glue it to the candle in the back.
  • Set these out on tables around the living room for a festive touch. If the plates need to be covered, use the fabric that's left over, cutting it into squares that fit on the inside of it, or drape over the edges.
Wrapped Wall Hangings
  • Find any pictures or mirrors that are hanging on the walls, and take them down. Wrap them up with the nice wrapping paper, tie with the ribbon, and add a bow, then hang it back up.
Window Ornaments
  • Last, take any left over ornaments and any left over ribbon, and tie small bows to hot glue to the top of the ornament, just below the hanger. You can use thread or fish string to hang them in windows from the suction cups. Please note, cats will bat at these, you may want the "shatterproof" plastic bulbs if you do this one.

Viola- a frugally decorated house with out a paper chain, snowflake, or window cling in site.

Ways to add more to the decoration for a few dollars more:

You can add to the elegance by weaving a strand of battery operated lights in the bulb center piece to light it up some.

Add battery or cord powered "candle" lights to the windows under the hanging bulbs to reflect some light off of them.

Buy more fabric ribbon to use on the picture presents in place of cheap ribbon.

Get a pretty table runner at the dollar store to put on the kitchen table under the ornament centerpiece.

Buy a set of taper candles and sturdy heavy (but short!) taper holders (I've found heavy glass ones at the dollar store), and put those into the bowl before adding the bulbs & garland for a candle centerpiece.

Buy a bag of jingle bells for about $1-$2 at the store, and add a few to each of the different candle plates, the ornament bowl, and even mixed in with the potpourri jar. Glue one to the center of each bow on the hanging ornaments as well.

I hope these idea's help some people with new decorating ideas!

Homemade Scarves & Hats

I have been making fun fleece hats for several years now. The kids love them, they're warm, and they are pretty cheap to make, if you shop right. At the bottom of the post, it tells you how I get my fleece dirt cheap, all year round.

This is an article I wrote a few years ago on Gather, and the original can be found here.

First things first- pick out 1 or 2 fleece fabrics. When you lay it out, you want the fabric to be laid out so that the stretch is what will fit around your head. Usually, that means using the raw edges as the top and bottom of the hat, not the material finished edge.

Next, using a tape measure, measure your head circumference- or the circumference of the person who will be wearing the hat. If it's for a gift, use a comparable sized head. ;)

Now, you want to measure the fabric. The general rule is to make the bottom edge the length of the head measurement, plus 2 inches. That gives an allowance for seams, while giving a snug fit.

If you want to use just 1 fabric, you'll want it to be 16-18" wide (tall) for an adult, or 14-16" wide (tall) for a child. If you use 2 fabrics, you want the adult width to be 14-16", and 12-14" for children.

If using the 2nd fabric, cut the contrasting fabric to be 4 to 4.5 inches wide, and the same length as the hat- your head circumference, plus 2 inches.

Next, we start the sewing. You want to pick a side of the fabric that you want to face "out". Usually, one side has a slightly fuzzier side. I usually put that side to face inward.

So, lay the fabric with the right side facing down on the work surface (which for me is the floor), then lay the shorter strip along the bottom edge (which can be either side if it's unpatterened, or without a specific direction to the pattern). This strip should also be right side down.

In comes the sewing machine! After it's lined up, sew a straight edge along the bottom edge of the two fabrics. Once it's done, snip the excess thread, and fold the flap so that both of the right side's are facing out.

Now, you want to fold the top edge of the 2nd fabric inward, and pin it into place. Sew another straight edge, this time along the top edge of the thin band of fabric to hold it into place.

You can sew another line under that one, and a third along the bottom half if you choose.

Now that this is sewn into place, you need to fold the fabric in half, so that the two side edges (the short edges) are lined up, and the hat is inside out again. Sew a straight edge down the side, but leave the top 3-4" of fabric unsewn.

From here, you'll need either yur scissors or a rotary cutter to fringe the top 3-4" of fabric. Turn the hat right side out. Gather the fringe, and take a spare peice of fleece fabric to tie around the top of the hat, gathering a "puff ball" of fringe.

Viola! You have a cute hat that took about 20 minutes, and only cost a dollar or two. To keep the price low, and your options high, I recommend scanning the remanent bins every time you go to a fabric store.

Anytime there's fleece, go ahead and pick it up. It's half the price it would be on the shelf for the same cut of fabric, and often, it's marked down even further. Joann Fabrics regularly has their remanents on sale 50-75% off the marked price, making it pennies on the dollar of buying it off the bolt.

And again, it gives you some awesome choices as you stock pile it. Of course, you eventually start to run out of room when storing it, but that's just semantics, right?

My favorite winter hat is a "Santa" hat I made- instead of a contrasting fleece, I used fake white "fur", which can be found at Craft stores. Instead of a straight hat, I cut it on an angle, to make it triangular. For the end puff, I made loops instead of fringe, and I attached a big jingle bell to it. The kids love that hat, and I get so many compliments on it!

Another thing I like to make in the winter are handmade fleece scarves. It seems like my kids are forever losing stuff, and these things can cost up to $5-6 at the store. This is a repost from an old Gather post of mine as well, found here.

What you need:

Fleece Fabric, 2 or 3 strips 60-80 inches long, 3-4 inches wide. Cut so that it is stretchy width wise, not length wise. I buy my fleece in remenents at Jo-Ann's & Wal-mart, and usually get it 25-75% off the price of buying the same cut from the bolt, and I get LOTS of patterns and colors to choose from this way.
Sewing Machine

What to do:
  1. Lay the fleece strips on top of each other. The edges do not have to match perfectly.
  2. Sew a zig zag stitch straight down the very MIDDLE of the fabric, not the edges.
  3. Use your scissors or a rotary cutter to fringe the edges. You can do it narrow or wide. Make sure you leave about 1/2 inch of space near the middle uncut, so the scarf doesn't cut apart!
Decorative Touches-

Use contrasting colors & patterns for the layers to make a full and colorful scarf.
Twist and pull the fringe to curl it.
Use school colors!

This project takes roughly 10 minutes, and can be done with help from little ones. Make sure to help them with the actual sewing!

One of the best parts of both of these items, are that you need almost no sewing "Know-How" to make them. You can even make them without a sewing machine, though it IS much faster with a machine. These make wonderful gifts for adults and children both!

Gifts in a Jar

Gifts in a Jar have been popular for enough years, that even the stores are cashing in on this by selling pre-made gifts in a jar now. Yes, really! By now, we all know what a gift in a jar is- a large jar with layers of different dry ingredients in it, and a recipe attached to the jar.

Tonight, as I sit here sleepless at almost 2am, I did a web search for frugal homemade gift ideas. Of course, Gifts in a Jar came up quickly.

Did you know, though, that there are gifts you can make in a jar that don't require the person to cook something? Here are some ideas.

Family Movie Night

What You'll Need:
Popcorn Kernels
Movie Store Gift Card

Keep the popcorn in it's own bag, or put it in a smaller baggie, and tie it off. Insert the gift card, then pour candy in around it, so the card is hidden. Wrap with black tissue paper, and add a 'recipe' card to it that reads like a real recipe.

1 Air Popper or Oil & Pot for Stove Top Popping
1 Free Night
1 Trip to Video Store

1- Go to the video store, and pick out a (or more, depending on the value of the card) movie, on us.
2- Pop the popcorn
3- Start the movie, and enjoy the candy, popcorn, and time together!

The cost of making this gift is dependent on how much you get the gift card for. I would recommend seeing what the cost of 2 brand new releases are, and making the card out for that much. If they pick older rentals, they might get 3 or 4 rentals instead of just 2.

Game Night in A Jar

What You'll Need:
A Deck of Cards
Poker Chips (or, raid Goodwill for old games, and put fake game money it it!)
Card Game Book- This wouldn't likely fit in the jar, but would be a nice addition to the gift.

Fill the jar with the items, and on the attached card, write out something like:

Have a Fun Family Game Night
Just Add The Family!

Sewing Kit, for someone you know who likes to sew

What You'll Need:
An assortment of thread
A packet of new needles
A pair of new scissors
Fabric- this is to cover the top- it should be a round swatch about 2" wider than the jar lid.

Simply fill the jar with the 'ingredients'. Cover the lid with the fabric, and tie off with a ribbon.

Gifts in a Jar are limited only by what will fit in the jar- if you have any other ideas, please let me know! I'd love to share them!

Make It Yourself- Gag Gifts

One thing many people worry about during the holiday season, is who they are buying for, who they can afford to buy for, and how much to spend.

I come from a large family. I'm the second oldest of 4 kids, with divorced parents. My mom is the oldest of 4 kids. My dad is the youngest of 11 kids. My step mom is smack dab in the middle of 7 kids. My husband is the oldest of 2 kids. His mom is the oldest of 3 kids.

All said and done, we usually hit more than our fair share of holiday parties each year, and I've always bought for a few select people, and tried to come up with something small for the rest of the people. Last year, my 'something small' was "Snowman Poop".

I got the idea on It's easy to do, and costs pennies to make.

Snowman Poop

What You'll Need:
Mini Marshmallows
Plastic Baggie- I used ziplock, because that's what I had, but it would look nicer with sandwich bags, tied with ribbon
A small note pad, or a printer with paper

First, put a small handful of mini marshmallows in the baggie, then sprinkle in a touch of glitter. Hold the baggie closed to shake it, then use a ribbon to tie it off. Please make sure to note that the snowman poop is NOT edible, due to the glitter.

Attach a small note with a poem:
Santa looked at his list,
Even checked it twice.
And he has seen that you
have not been very nice.
Since coal's so expensive,
Here's the scoop,
Santa's filling your stocking

There are a lot of fun ideas at for similar, easy to make, cheap to make, fun gag gifts.

Grinch Farts

What You'll Need:
Green M&M's, Skittles, or other round green candies.
Plastic Baggie- I used ziplock, because that's what I had, but it would look nicer with sandwich bags, tied with ribbon
A small note pad, or a printer with paper

Fill the baggies, tie off with a ribbon, and add the following poem:

The Grinch went down to Who-ville
And loaded up his sleigh.
He couldn't resist the yummy smells,
And sampled along the way.
His tummy started to rumble,
Then it began to shout.
Just when he thought he might explode,
He blasted these mighty "toots" out.

The Perfect Man

What You'll Need:
Gingerbread Man Cookie, decorated and ready to eat
Note pad or printer & paper

Bag each cookie individually, tie with a ribbon, and attach a note with:

He's quiet, he's sweet,
And if he gives you any trouble,
You can bite his head off!

The website has a lot of gag gifts, and not just Christmas oriented. Some of these would make fun stocking stuffers, or office gifts, or even just gifts to pass out at family parties for some fun.

Here's one I give to kids before Christmas Eve.

Magic Reindeer Food

What You'll Need:
White sugar
Red & Green Decrotive Sugar Crystals
Raw Oatmeal
Baggie & Ribbon

I mix a small amount of the sugars, oatmeal, and glitter together in a baggie, and tie it up. When I give it to the children, I tell them that while Santa delivers his gifts, the reindeer get hungry, too. The magic food in the baggie will help them fly fast all night long. We sprinkle it on the front lawn on Christmas Eve.

These little gag gifts are fun, festive, and best of all- easy to make, and cheap to make. Even the kids can help you make these!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saving Money on Groceries

West Michigan - Cut your grocery bill in half!

Groceries can add up to being a huge expense, and the more people in the house, the bigger the expense. I really miss the days when our 3 kids would barely finish a box of mac n cheese. Now, making mac n cheese requires 2 boxes for just those 3, or 3 boxes if we are all eating it.

One of the ways I save both time and money on groceries, is by using Savings Angel. I scoffed at the site for a few years. After all, I knew what they were doing, and knew I could do it for free on my own. What Savings Angel does, is finds the sale ad for YOUR area, and they go down the list, item by item, matching the sales with coupons from the Sunday paper, or coupons found online.

The hardest part of doing this on your own, is knowing where to find the online coupons, and taking the time out of your hectic schedule to do it. It is time consuming! Especially if you you have to sort through all your coupons each week, to see what you have.

Then there's the mess of removing expired coupons, and clipping all the new ones, and putting them in their place. It can be a total pain. In fact, it can down right wear a person out. I was an avid coupon clipper and shopper for a long time, but as the kids got older, and my time got shorter, I just let it fall to the side.

Recently, I decided I can't afford to shop the way I was, not anymore. I needed to save more money, and get more bang for our bucks. So, I sucked it up, and started to try again. I quickly remembered why I had stopped- all the work put into it, the time spent pouring over ads, sorting through the coupons, it was too much stress for me to be able to get it going.

About that time, a good friend of mine and my brother both signed up for Savings Angel. After talking with my brother about all the tips I had for coupon clipping (I had a lot, I realized!), I decided maybe Savings Angel would be a kick in the fanny to get me going on saving money again.

Savings Angel is a pay to use site, and there are similar sites out there that do the same service for free. However, what I found, was when I compared the SA site to the free sites, very few of the free sites listed had all the deals listed. Most of them missed coupons along the way, some missed the entire deal along the way. They just did not compare once I started looking at both.

Savings Angel is $19.95 per month. When you buy the first month, the second month is free, so up front, it's $19.95 for 2 months of service. There is a forum for help, and "mentors" who can also help people one on one. The site has coupons to print, and points out coupons found all over the web to print. When they list a sale item, they list all the non-expired coupons that were in the Sunday paper or online, AND, they tell you what week that coupon was in, or if it was in a magazine, or they show a link on where to print it.

Now, $20 a month is a big deal, I get that. For me, I look at what I'm saving on groceries that I wasn't saving before. My first 3 trips to the grocery store resulted in just over $100 worth of groceries. I paid just under $20 total for all 3 trips, saving me $80 off my grocery bill!

$80 is a lot of money saved. With a teenager, a preteen, and a school aged child in the house, we go through food a lot more quickly now. Getting the freezer filled is a big deal for us, because of how quickly we can deplete it.

Anyway, I highly recommend Savings Angel for anyone who needs the extra help saving money, like I did. It's been a very helpful site so far. Just click the banner above, or the image below to check the site out!

West Michigan - Cut your grocery bill in HALF!

Cutting Laundry Costs In Half!

Homemade laundry detergent is a topic that comes up every once in a while on a yahoo group that I help run. Detergent is so expensive these days, when it can cost $10 just to wash 20 loads of laundry, on top of the cost of water, electricity, and gas to run the washer & dryer.

Laundry is expensive business!

I have not yet made my own detergent, but I do plan to try it out soon. In the mean time, I wanted to share my tips on cutting down your laundry costs.

  1. Ditch the liquid fabric softener, and use white vinegar instead. Really! First off, the liquid fabric softener can build up in clothing, which causes them to wear out faster. It also makes clothing less absorbent. Take towels, for instance- an item you want to be absorbent. Washing towels with a fabric softener will make them less absorbent, which means they are less useful. Vinegar will naturally deodorize your fabrics, and will not leave any residue behind. That residue from the softener is also staying behind in your washer!
  2. Ditch the fabric softener sheets. Instead, use a wet wash cloth, and make a mixture of water & your left over liquid softener. Spritz the wash cloth with it, and put it in the dryer. It will do the same as the sheets, at a fraction of the cost. Do not use it with towel loads!
  3. If you still have sheets to use, cut them in half. Your laundry will come out the same, at half the dryer sheet cost.
  4. If you have space in your laundry room, basement, or backyard, rig up a clothing line. In cold months, or when it's raining out, use an indoor line. Line dry your clothing. Some fabrics feel stiff after line drying- toss them in the dryer for 5 minutes, and they'll feel softer, and cost you less in electricity or gas bills.
  5. Re-wear items! Yes, you really can! If you spilled something on it, or it smells from body order, or where you work, then set it in the wash. Otherwise, re-wear items 2-3 times between washings. Jeans especially can go several wearings between washings. Shirts I recommend wearing twice between washings. They tend to get dirty faster- spills usually hit shirts more, plus body odor, etc.
  6. Make sure your water load is set to the right amount. If you are only washing a few things, set the water load to small. If you have a full load, set it to large. Otherwise, you are wasting water!
  7. It's ok to set your washer to cold. You don't need special detergents to do this, despite what commercials will tell you. Using the water on hot or warm means you are paying to heat the water. Running a hot load costs more than running a cold load.
  8. Use less detergent. Most detergents will tell you on the front how many loads the bottle will wash. Yet, when you open them, and look in the cap, it has a line showing where to fill it to, right? If you go by that line, you'll get about half the recommended loads from that bottle. Your clothing needs very little detergent to get it clean. In fact, over use of detergent can lead to rashes, and clothing that has a buildup of detergent in them. Cut the amount in half first, and see how it goes. If that works fine, try cutting it in half once more. When you find an amount that still cleans, but takes less, mark it on the lid in permanent marker, so you know where to fill it to.
Laundry is such a hassle, and a huge chore, especially when you have a larger family. These are my tips to help you get the laundry done for less money.

Here is a link to a website that shows not 1, not 2, but 10 homemade laundry detergent recipes. There are both liquids and powdered recipes, as well as tips about making them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Link To My Frugal Family

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gifts Kids Can Make

I have 3 kids, and a whole lot of extended family. While we no longer try to buy for everyone, I do like to give something to as many people as I can, even if it's something small. This year, we are focusing on homemade gifts, such as the Christmas Dishtowel Angel.

With 3 kids, there is no reason not to involve them in the process as well! What Grandparent doesn't love a small homemade ornament, or a card? Or hand print art? While Christmas is still 2 months away, now is the time to get started on craft projects, so that you don't feel so rushed when December arrives. I like to set aside a Saturday with no other plans, and let the kids get creative.

Here are a few idea's I've been looking at to help get the kids into the spirit, and to help cut back on our Christmas gift costs.

Reindeer Pots

What You'll Need:
Craft Glue, Hot Glue, or Glue Dots (school glue won't cut it on this one)
Terracotta clay pots- any size you want, but a 4-5" would work nice
Plastic google eyes
Red pom-poms- glittery or non
Three shades of brown craft foam, cardstock paper, or construction paper- your choice.
Tulle or netting to wrap candy in unless the candy is wrapped already
Pretty ribbon if you use the tulle or netting
Holiday Candy

You are going to need to make 2 antlers (dark brown), 2 large ears (medium brown), and 2 slightly smaller ears (light brown) to be the 'inside' of the ear. You'll also need 2 eyes, and 1 red nose.

If you have a larger pot, the easiest way to make the ears is using a child's hand to trace the shape. With the smaller pots, simply draw an ear shape on the medium you choose from the darkest brown color.

Glue the middle ear to the bigger ear, then glue that to the middle bottom of the antlers. Glue the antlers to the inside rim of the pot in the back.

Glue the eyes to the middle of the front of the pot, and the red pom pom nose under that, near the bottom of the pot.

Fill with wrapped candies, or make a tulle or net bag to wrap candies such as M & M's into. Voila- a cute reindeer candy dish to give away. This is great for teachers.

Beaded Ornaments

What you'll need:
Pony beads in assorted colors
Tinsel pipe cleaners
Jingle Bells

This is basically just bead stringing, and twisting the wire to create shapes.

Similar to the Holiday Napkin Rings, you can make a snowman. Bead about 18-20 beads in the middle, then twist to create the bigger snowball. String 12-14 beads onto the remaining portion, leaving enough space to twist the strands together on top.

Cut 3 pipe cleaners in half. Laying flat, twist two of them together in the middle to create a cross shape. Use the remaining two to create an X shape on top of the cross. String 3 beads towards the center of each strand to create a sparkling snow flake.

Use a gold pipe cleaner to form a bell- fold the pipe cleaner in half, and pinch a small bit of the bed to twist. Fluff it out to a circle to create a hanger. Now, shape the two end strands into a small bell shape, bending the ends towards each other to form the bottom. String 1 small jingle bell to the bottom center as you twist the ends together.

These ornaments make a great addition to a tag on top of a gift, and take hardly any time at all.

Christmas Puzzle Frame

What You'll Need:
Assorted puzzle pieces, any size
Red paint
Green paint
Paint brush
An old picture frame- this works better if the frame is flat, and not decorative with edges and bumps, and designs
Thin holiday ribbon

Have the kids paint the puzzle pieces green or red, leaving an assortment of both. While still wet, the kids can sprinkle glitter onto the pieces. Once they are dry, the child can start gluing them to the frame, covering the whole outer side of it. Let this dry flat over night.

Once it's dry, tie a bow to place in the top corner, then run ribbon trails across the top, and down the side, gluing them into place here and there to create a bump going down it.

You can add a pretty picture from a past holiday if you would like, or the kids school photo, or leave it empty. This is a great craft for all those puzzles that are missing a piece or two.

The frame is my own directions, based on doing this when I was younger. Here are some alternate plans I found online, which differ, but could be a lot more frugal!

Christmas Puzzle Frame Alternate Directions

Glittery Holiday Napkin Rings

With two large holidays creeping up on us, I'm looking for new ideas for crafts that the kids can help create, and that will tie in with our holiday fun.

Today, as I was searching up ideas, I came across easy to make glittery napkin rings. These are listed as a Christmas craft, but I think it would make a nice addition to any nice holiday dinner table. I plan to have the kids make a set for Thanksgiving, and for Christmas.

Sparkly Glittery Napkin Rings

What you'll need:

Sparkly tinsel pipe cleaners
Pony beads in an assortment of colors- use translucent for the tinsel to shine through

  1. For each ring, string 24 beads into the center of the pipe cleaner, leaving about 2 inches open on either end.
  2. Once they are on, twist the two ends together a few times.
  3. You can either use wire cutters to snip the excess ends off, or twist them into curly q's to sit on the top of the napkin.

Some ideas:

Use red & white to make a candy cane motif.
Use gold tinsel, yellow, orange, and red beads for a Harvest theme at Thanksgiving.
For a night time meal, use silver and blue colors, for a Starry Night theme.
Pick up some cute, shaped buttons at a craft store to string into the middle.

To tie a theme in, have the kids string the left over beads onto the left over pipe cleaners, in the same colors. Bead them about 1/2 way up, securing a knot at the end, so the beads stay in place. Twist the pipe cleaner to make a long curly q, and hang them from the ceiling to dangle over the table just below your light from fish string.

Christmas Dishtowel Angel

This year, I'm concentrating on making items for gifts, instead of buying them. Here is my first attempt- A Dishtowel Angel.
You'll Need:
Ribbon (I've made 2 so far- one using wide, pretty, wired ribbon, and one using curling ribbon. The curling works better, the pretty ribbon looks better)
1 pot holder
1 dish towel
1 dish cloth or wash cloth

I shopped for supplies at Dollar Tree, and had decent luck. Almost all of their pot holders come in a 2 pack, as do their dish cloths. So far, though, I have not found any dish towels that came with more than 1, so that's the expensive addition at $1 each, instead of $.50. The total cost for this angel is $2 to make, if I don't count the cost of the ribbon, which is pennies since I can use it for quite a few angels.

Step 1: Fold the dish towel accordion style, length wise. I try to make sure the end edges are
folded towards the back, not the front. If you use a patterned dish towel, that is the "front" side. (See above)

Step 2: Fold the dish towel in half, and tie a ribbon around it near the tie, to create a
rounded "head" for the angel. (See above & below)

Step 3: Next, fold the dish cloth accordion style as well, also length wise,
if it's more rectangular than square. Set this aside without tying it. (See above)

Step 4: Pinch the pot holder semi-accordion style in the middle. Try it from
different angles to see how you like it best. (See above)

Step 5: While still pinching the pot holder, place the folded dish cloth on top of the front of the
wings, then tie them together. It should resemble a bow. (See above & below)

Step 6: Set the angel's body on top of the wings, and using a criss cross pattern,
tie the wings to the body. (See above)

Step 7: Last, gather the dish cloth "arms" together in front of the body, and tie them both
together near the ends of the cloth, so that they resemble two arms with the
hands clasped together in front of the angel. (See above)

I have not tried it yet, and likely won't, but you can use a chenille stem (pipe cleaner) to form a halo to go over top of the angel's head. Simply create a longer 'stick' on the end of the halo, and secure it between the wings & arms, and the body, so it rests over her head.
I think I may pick up some small flowers of some sort to add to the 'hand' part. When putting these together, keep in mind that they are a functional gift as well, so don't glue or cut the items to add things, unless you do not care if they are functional items still.
Here are some poems I have found on various websites that you can print out and attach to your little angel.
I am your Kitchen Angel
I'll watch over all you do,
Baking all those goodies,
And snitching one or two!

And if you ever tire of me,
Or some help is what your wish is,
Just untie my little ribbons,
And I'll help you with the dishes!

An angel in the Kitchen
Watching the stew
Blesses your cooking
And all that you do.

These angels are just adorable, and only take about 5-10 minutes to make. For $2, you are able to give a functional gift set, that looks unique, and not like just another store bought gift. Sure, it really is, but the presentation is so much nicer!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Counting Down

My Grandma collected snowmen at Christmas for as long as I could remember. She had a massive collection that encompassed decorating a huge house. She had a Christmas tree that was decorated only in snowmen. There were walls of just shelves filled with snowmen. Snowmen could be found in bathrooms, on the sofa, in the windows, outdoors, and more. She loved her snowmen.

Over the years, I've picked some up, and inherited several of Grandma's snowmen as well. However, last year, I finally settled on something I want to collect at Christmas time that takes up less space, and won't break- stockings. I love stockings! They're so cute, and fun, and the designs are endless.

One thing I've been trying to do for years is find an advent calendar that was reusable, and big enough to fit a small treat in it for 3 kids. It's harder than it sounds!

Last year, I finally figured it out- stockings! After Christmas, when Dollar Tree had their items 50% off, I picked up 12 2-packs of mini stockings for only $.50 each. This year, I plan to string them up along our large archway, and number each stocking.

At night, after the kids are in bed, I'll fill the next day's stocking with some small treat. They can count down to Christmas, get a small treat, and I get to indulge my love of stockings.

I was reading Family Fun tonight, and came across the same idea, only using colorful children's socks in place of stockings, and hanging the sock up each day one at a time. It included a list of ideas for what to fill the stockings with that I really liked.

Here are the ideas it listed:
  • Special Coupons: Get Out of Chores Free, or Pick A Movie Rental, for instance.
  • Puzzle pieces to a Holiday puzzle- the pieces are collected, and put together through out the month.
  • Trading Cards
  • Special coins- foreign coins, for instance, or even chocolate foil covered coins.
  • A small gift card for a special treat, such as a sundae at a local restaurant.
  • Jokes & riddles- stick the answer in the next day's stocking for more fun!
  • A mini game, Mad Lib, Sudoku, or even a Christmas coloring page.
  • Art supplies.
  • A special ornament to hang on the tree.
  • A new pair of socks!
Our kids love hot cocoa, so I think that might be a nice one to add as well. You can melt chocolate and cover a plastic spoon with it. Once it dries, wrap it up with plastic wrap on the chocolate end, and add it to the hot cocoa for the kids to stir with. An extra chocolaty treat!

You could put in the pieces to a game for a family game night, too. A coupon for taking the kids sledding, or out to look at the holiday lights would be a fun family way to spend some time, as well.

I hope to make this our newest family tradition, in a long list of traditions I have started over the years. Some are passed down from my family, some from Nick's family, and some are things we've come up with on our own over the years. For instance, we never put candy canes on the tree- Santa does that when he stops by on Christmas Eve.

I know more and more families are shying away from "Santa", but I was raised with Santa, and my kids are raised with Santa. I don't see any harm in it, and the kids eyes just light up when they see the stockings filled by Santa on Christmas morning.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Nice Halloween Night In

Today, we were able to finally sell our old mini-van. It was a nice boost to our bank account, so it was welcome. After doing my own running around, I came home to rowdy kids.

One of our favorite activities in the fall, is having a movie night, all snuggled in our warm PJ's, with warm blankets around us. In the summer, we just don't do it as often. We're busy, it gets dark so much later, so when fall comes back around, we really enjoy it.

While I was in town today, I splurged on a few treats for the kids- Candy Corn flavored Jones Soda ($1.99 for a 4 pack of cans- pricey, but they talk about it all year!), and 3 different flavors of candy corn- Chocolate Caramel, Caramel, & Caramel Apple. I saw them at Walgreens, and just knew the kids would love them.

They are settled in, blankets all over the living room, with some Candy Corn Soda, and a bowl with some air popped popcorn, and candy corn in it. We rented "Halloweentown" from Netflix, which comes with "Halloweentown 2" on it as well. We love Halloween, and the assorted kid friendly Halloween movies that come out.

I hope you enjoy your weekend!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hot, Mulled Cider

Tomorrow, my crock pot will be working to make another new treat we've never tried before- mulled cider. I just found out tonight that it can be made in the crock, so I let my fingers do the searching, and found out how to make it.

It's easy, and aside from the cider and an orange, we have all the ingredients to make it. All the recipes vary a bit on spices, but the general theme is allspice, cloves, cinnamon sticks, brown sugar, and orange slices. Some call for lemon slices as well.

Nick is loving cider this year. I've gotten some good deals, but that aside, we've gone through more than a couple of gallons. This will be a great treat for him tomorrow evening when it's done. The added bonus is how great my house will smell as I make it!

It's Chicken & Dumpling Day!

When we made up our last meal plan, I didn't account for as many left over days as we wound up having. That left us with extra groceries as the 2 weeks comes up today- yay! That'll mean good things for my grocery bill. Last time, I bought a 4 pound bag of individually frozen boneless, skinless Chicken breasts. It came out fairly cheap, too- around $1.50 per pound!

Until this morning, we hadn't used any of it. We thawed 5 pieces (which still leaves just about 6-7 big pieces!), and stuck them in the crock this morning, along with half a bag of frozen corn, half a bag of frozen peas, 1 can of cream of mushroom & chicken soup, 1 can of cream of chicken soup, and 4 sliced redskin potatoes. Being that it's a meal we did not plan for in our last meal plan, I do need to grab 2 things from the store to complete it- baby carrots, and a can of refrigerator biscuits to make the dumplings from.

We have never actually made Chicken & Dumplings before, so while we made the stew itself just from a basic stew recipe (2-3 veggies, potatoes, meat, soup, and a gravy mix), I looked around online to find an easy way to make the dumplings.

Most required prep work- making them from scratch. I'm not opposed to it, but I figured there must be an easier way- and there is!

I found a recipe at by Megan Durbin that calls for refrigerator biscuits cut into quarters, and rolled into balls. How easy is that?!

Meanwhile, I'm working on my meal plan for the next two weeks. I have a lot of left over food from two weeks ago, so I'm going to have an easy grocery bill this time around! It was our first two weeks of being on a meal plan. We didn't cheat for dinner at all over the past two weeks, and Nick was able to take left overs for lunch nearly every day! The few times he couldn't, he had enough snacks on hand in his cube to eat from. He also had a few FREE Deli Creation sandwiches in his mini fridge. I picked up two more yesterday for him to take in today. He leaves them alone so he has them for the days when he forgets his lunch, or we didn't have anything left over for him.

It's funny to hear him talk about how his co-workers come sniffing around when he warms up his left overs. They're always curious as to what he has each time! I told him one of these days, we should make a big batch of something over night in the crock pot, and send it to work with him to share.

Well, it's time to head to the store! If I didn't want those baby carrots in the stew, I'd wait until later, when I've completed a meal plan, but I have to get the carrots in soon, or they won't work.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cheap Groceries!

This week, I put my coupon skills to use. I used to do this all the time, but will admit, I fell off the wagon and stopped when we moved south. After some nudging, I've just recently gotten back into it. For two shopping trips, I've gotten $77.08 worth of groceries, and only spent $14.02 on it!

Here's what all I got for $14.02:

15 cans of Campbell's soup- ranged in sale price from $.68 to $.99
3 loaves of Pepperidge Farm bread- on sale for $2.49
4 bags of Voila meals- on sale for $2.99
2 Sara Lee Pumpkin Cheesecakes- $6.99
2 Deli Creations Sandwiches- $2.50
4 cans of Swanson's Broth- on sale for $.69
1 gallon of Milk- on sale for $2.19 (it just went up- sadness!)
1 can of Spaghetti-o's- on sale for $.49
1 package of Hamburger Buns- on sale for $1.29
1 20 ounce soda (it was an impulse purchase, I admit it, but boy was I thirsty!)- $.98 + $.10 deposit
1 30-count package of Halloween rings (another impulse buy)- $1.49

I got both cheesecakes completely FREE with the purchase of 2 Chicken Voila meals (each- 4 meals = 2 cheesecakes). I had coupons for 2 free Deli Creations (otherwise, they are too pricey at $2.50 each for a sandwich that won't fill a person up!). The broth cost me $.09 each.

For buying 4 cans of broth, I got a $1 coupon towards my next purchase. For each of the 5 soups/1 bread combo, I got a $5 coupon towards my next purchase.

I broke my trips up into 2 transactions each, to get the best deal, because the soup & bread was only good once per transaction. I wound up with $16 in coupons from the shopping trips, which helped whittle away the costs.

On top of all this, I had coupons for the soup each time, for both sets of Voila meals, for the broth, and the cheesecakes.

All in all, the soup won't last us a terribly long time. When we have soup together, we use 2-3 cans for the 5 of us. With all the great sale prices on soup lately, we've had it on the menu twice a week. It's my fall-to, cheap meal.

What's a fall-to, cheap meal? It's the meal I make when I have no desire to cook, and thoughts of McDonalds or Little Caesar's enter my mind. It's faster than running out to grab food, and certainly cheaper!

If I use 3 cans of the $.68 soup, and half a loaf of bread, and 5 slices of cheese, it costs me roughly $3.82- without calculating in the coupons used. I wound up saving $.80 off 4 cans of soup today when I bought the $.68 cans. That makes them $.48 each, instead of $.68, so it would cost me more like $3.22 for a family of 5 to eat a sandwich & can of soup. That's a mere $.64 per person!

You can't even buy a cheeseburger at McDonalds for that price. The $5 pizza's at Little Caeser's are nice, but we go through 2 of them in a sitting- that's $2 per person! If we stuck to JUST a $1 cheeseburger at McDonalds, that's $1 per person. Except that those rinky dink things certainly aren't filling, so we add in fries, or we break out more food when we get home.

Eating can be expensive. It can also be cheap, it's all in how you eat, and how you shop.

Making a (Cheap) Meal Plan!

One of the hardest parts of feeding a family of 5 is planning ahead, and getting what I need when I grocery shop. For a while, I fell into a bad rut- go shopping, come home, and realize almost every day that I didn't have everything I needed for specific meals. It was an expensive time, because of all the side trips to the store for something else.

With the economy what it is, people are looking to lower costs all over the place, any way they can. Here are a few tips to help you get the most for your grocery money.

  1. Get coupons- get the Sunday paper, ask friends, family, and coworkers for unwanted coupon ads, and learn your way around the internet if you have a printer.
  2. Learn the sales- take the ad you got for the local supermarket in your Sunday paper, and read it cover to cover at least two times. Scan everything, and look at the prices.
  3. Get out a notebook, and a calculator, or use a word document and the calculator on your computer.
  4. Go back to the ad, and starting on page one, write down ideas for meals on the notebook- complete meals, not just portions. If you want a pot roast, write in the veggies you’ll add to the meal. As you scan the ad, write down the sale price for the items. Your goal is to find as much of the meals as you can on sale.
  5. Once you have some complete meals listed, try to figure out the costs for the total meal, and the cost per serving. Here’s an example:
    • Spaghetti Sauce is on sale for $.99 per can.
    • Rotini noodles are on sale for $.79 per box.
    • Garlic Bread is on sale for $1.99 per package.
    • Green beans are on sale for $.66 per can.
    • You now have all the items needed for a spaghetti meal. First, add up the total cost for the items. In this case, the meal will cost $4.43. Then, divide it by the number of people it will serve. For me, that’s 5 people, making it $.89 per serving. Now, there are ways to get that cost down. If you are only serving 2 people, for instance, you probably don’t need to use the full box of noodles, or all the garlic bread. If I were to only use 5 slices of garlic bread, that would be $1.25 instead of $1.99.
    • Last, factor in coupons. For the meal listed above, I had 3 coupons- $1 off 5 cans of sauce, making each can of sauce only $.79. $1 off 2 boxes of garlic bread, making each box only $1.49. $1 off 3 cans of vegetables, making each can only $.33. Once you factor in the coupons, figure out the bottom line price: $3.40 for the meal, or $.68 per serving for a family of 5.
  6. When you have an idea of how much each meal will cost, figure out how many times you want to serve it. Is it something everyone likes? Do you often serve it once a week, or more? If so, plan to stock up on enough while it’s on sale, to last you several meals worth. Why go back to the store for the exact same items next week, and pay more for them? Here’s a break down of the same meal, not on sale.
    • Spaghetti sauce is $1.29
    • Rotini noodles are $1.19
    • Garlic Bread is $2.39
    • Green beans are $.99
    • The total price is $5.86, or $1.17 per serving for a family of 5.
    • In buying enough of the makings while on sale, I’m saving $1.43 over the sale price, and $2.46 over the sale price with coupons. It’s not much, sure, but let’s say you make that meal 5 times a month, and only buy it on sale 1 time per month. If you buy the items 5 times, and only once on sale, you are spending $5.72 more per month for the same items. Factor in the coupon savings, and you are spending $9.84 more per month. Those savings are easily another 2-4 meals, paid for.
  7. Now that you have a basic idea of which meals will cost more, and which will be cheaper, write down your grocery list, listing all items needed for each meal. You want to make sure you have enough meals for your time frame. If you grocery shop once a week, you want 7 dinners, enough food for breakfast 7 days, and if you eat lunch at home, or take lunch from home, 7 days of lunches.
  8. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to stick to a set day. Just having a plan in place before you go grocery shopping, will save you money and time. Often, people are running back and forth to the store several times during the week, because of little forgotten things, or needing to grab something for dinner. Those little trips add up- fast! How often do you run into the store for 1 or 2 things, and leave with a bag full? With a meal plan in place, the likelihood of doing that is much smaller.

The bottom line is this- shop smart. Use the sales to get the best deals. Take a calculator with you, so that you can add up the costs of items NOT on sale. Figure out if the item is cheaper in a larger or smaller quantity! Just divide the price by the weight (ounces, or pounds). Do it for 2 size packages, and you will get the price per pound or ounce.

For instance:

Let’s say a 10 ounce can of soup is $.89, and a 15 ounce can of soup is on sale for $1.29. Which is cheaper? Well, the 10 ounce can comes out to $.089 per ounce, and the 15 ounce can comes out at $.086 per ounce, making it slightly cheaper, though since both would round up, it would be the same- $.09 per ounce. However, now you know that on a regular day, when the 15 ounce can is NOT on sale, and is $1.39, that the 10 ounce can is the better deal.

Bigger is not always better. Years ago, product designers realized that if they sold a bigger container for a slightly cheaper price, people would buy it for the deal. Somewhere over time, however, they also realized that now we’re conditioned to think that if you buy more, you get it cheaper. So, while most of America is still buying into bigger is better, the savvy shoppers have realized- no, it’s not!

Your calculator will become your best friend at the grocery store. Don’t feel dumb or in the way when you stop to check the price. Your fellow grocery shoppers might get annoyed, but your bank account won’t!

One more piece of advice- always plan for at least 1 "quick serve" meal per week- something you can pop in the oven, microwave, or stove top with almost no prep time, or cook time. For me, this is soup & sandwich night. I reserve those for the nights when I have no desire to cook, and want to "cheat" by ordering in, or grabbing drive-thru meals. If I get everything on sale, I can provide soup & sandwiches for 5 for under $.40 per person, and it takes far less prep time than waiting for a delivery, or driving to McDonalds!

Good luck!!