Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Excess Shampoo Samples

We have a ton of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion freebies from hotels and samples we've received via mail. Not only are they unsightly, taking up way too much space in our home, but it is a virtually free product (since many of the samples have come from business trips).
Instead of sighing with disgust this week when my husband brings home three sets of half-used hotel shampoo and conditioner from his business trip, I'm going to view it as an opportunity to put off our next purchase of shampoo.

I won't have to buy shampoo for a year!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heating & Cooling Tips

Now that it is officially HOT here in NE Ohio, our AC is on. I can't sleep at night if it is too hot.

Our home has a small guest room with a large closet. We rarely have guests (approximately 1x/month) and to save money, we keep the registers and doors closed in this room. We also keep the shade drawn despite the fact that it isn't an 'energy efficient' shade, hoping it helps keep heat from escaping (or entering, in the summer). The room is by far coldest in the winter due to our attempts to close the register, door, and blind. The closet is even colder. Which brings me to my next point...

Keeping the closet doors throughout the house closed is another way to save a bit of money on heating or cooling costs. I once read that it is important to close the closet doors, otherwise one is just heating or cooling the closet space!

Budget Tips

1. Don't buy anything for a week. Write down what you think you want and look at it a week or a month later. This helps you truly evaluate if you really need/want something.
2. Don't be afraid to tell a friend you can't go do something. "It's not in the budget."
3. Commit to eating all your meals at home for a month. (Reduces food spending.)
4. Use saran wrap or storage containers (which you likely already own) instead of using zipper seal bags. We've found this saves a lot, especially if you're used to the premium brand bags.
5. Write down everything on which you spend money. Carry a notebook in your purse. At the end of the week, evaluate how well you did budget-wise.
6. Use the library. Don't buy books or DVDs. Don't rent DVDs.
7. When you do make purchases, use cash. For example, take out your monthly grocery allotment and put it in an envelope. Helps you visualize how much money you actually have to spend.
8. Drink water. Skip juice, soda and coffee.
9. Use willpower.
10. Line dry clothing when possible.
11. DIY...or at least research if you can DIY.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Healthier Pasta Primavera

This recipe appealed to me (I think it is from Family Circle Magazine) because it is meatless and healthy. We've been trying to eat less meat so that we can spend less money. My husband also loves pasta. Don't let the half-and-half scare you, the recipe isn't that awful for you (serves 6, uses an entire pound of pasta, there are tons of veggies).

Why I might not make this again:
-I found it time-consuming to prepare and make. I cut up all the veggies ahead of time.
-The actual cooking part was a disaster, as my little 11-month old didn't want me to do anything but play with him.
-Also, it used two saucepans, a skillet, cutting boards, measuring cups, and a strainer ('noodle-stay-water-go') so there was LOTS to wash and dry by hand, which is always a problem in my book.
-All the sauce ended up at the bottom of the pot. It was hard to mix.

The good news is that there are tons of leftovers. We will be having it tomorrow night, too, and one of us can have it for lunch.

This would be great to make if you're having company and have about an hour to devote for preparation prior to their arrival. Just make a loaf of bread in your breadmaker and you've got a frugal yet really nice meal for your guests.

Healthy Pasta Primavera

Makes: 6 servings (they are generous) Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 14 minutes


  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 sweet orange peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 pound spaghetti (break it in half)
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Shaved Parmesan, optional


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and green beans; cook 4 minutes. Add peppers and cook 1 more minute. Scoop out vegetables with a large slotted spoon and place in a colander. Rinse under cold water.

2. Add pasta to boiling water and cook following package directions, about 9 minutes. Drain; return to pot.

3. While pasta is cooking, place half-and-half, chicken broth, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

4. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add cooked veggies and tomatoes. Cook, stirring a few times, about 1 minute, 30 seconds. Spoon into pasta pot. Stir grated cheese into the half- and-half mixture. Add to pasta and gently stir in parsley until all ingredients are combined. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Shave Parmesan on top, if desired.

425 calories/serving; 11 g fat; 447 mg sodium and 6 grams of fiber.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Double Pane Window Seals & Warranties

We have been worried we were going to have to buy new windows. Several of the seals on our double-pane windows seemed to have broken (seen by moisture in the windows and some rust-looking stuff at the base of the window) and we were quite concerned about the cost. We couldn't seem to find a sticker or brand name on the windows.Then I looked a little harder. I found a sticker at the very tip top of the window. I googled the name and found a distributor in the area and called to see what we should do. The man told me they are under WARRANTY! So excited about this.

We don't tend to buy 'extended warranties' on products (electronics, furniture, etc), as I've heard that if the product is going to malfunction, it's likely to happen within the bounds of the regular warranty.

However, often times products must be registered in order to take advantage of the warranty at all. Sure, it costs $0.34 (or whatever postcard stamps cost) to mail the warranty back into the company for the product, but it can be well worth the time to mail the little postcard back.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tips for Ordering Online

I often order clothing online. I always make sure I can get free shipping (Google "free shipping for ___") and then also make sure I can make a return to a nearby store. I never pay for shipping but end up returning lots of things. However, I just found out about, which is a website where one can enter measurements and select from 150 brands of clothing. Apparently it will suggest the size you need in various brands. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that one can enter inseam measurements. My biggest problem with clothing is usually the length.

Also, try They have lots of discount codes if one was planning to order something from a particular retailer.

Real Freezer Burn

I freeze a lot of things for our little boy. When he was first born, I froze a lot of breast milk. *Don't stop reading*

Then I threw it away because it had ice crystals which formed on it and I deemed this to be dreaded 'Freezer Burn'. Breast milk is also known as 'Liquid Gold' so it was REALLY a sad day when I put it down the garbage disposal.

I am now kicking myself for doing so after reading this wasn't really freezer burned. This applies to a whole lot more than just frozen breast milk, by the way. It's worth it to click over so you don't waste your food.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DIY Shower Scrub

Ok, I haven't tried this yet, but you can make your own shower scrub. It exfoliates and hydrates and the rosemary helps reduce inflammation.

1 cup fine sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs chopped rosemary

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

DIY Firestarters

My husband just went camping with some guys this past weekend. They went backpack camping, not car camping, just to clarify.

He says fire starters are expensive. But yet they're the best way to start a fire while backpacking.

So, take a few (try three...) cotton balls, and place them in a film container (remember those??) and add petroleum jelly. Then, when you're in the woods, put the kindling down, take out three cotton balls which are covered in petroleum jelly, and light them on fire.

Easy, cheap & fun for you pyromaniacs.

Odor Removal

My car smells a little musty. I think it is because I put things from a basement into it and left them there overnight. I hate that odor and want to remove it. These tips also work for cigarette smoke removal*.

Several options:
~Put an open container of baking soda in the car.
~Put used coffee grounds in the car.
Both are odor absorbers.

Also, if you are going to store clothing in a basement or attic, I recommend making a sachet of baking soda to prevent odor absorption. We have lots of socks without mates at our house; find one (without a hole) at your house, fill the toe with baking soda and tie it off.

Many commercial odor absorbers and scented candles just mask the smell. Febreeze does this as well and also adds chemicals to the fabric and the air. Avoid these expensive chemical creations and just try baking soda and/or coffee grounds for a few days.

The other night, I cooked fish. It smelled awful at our house! I should have tried this tip to remove the odor:
~ Boil a teaspoon of white vinegar in 1 cup of water to remove unpleasant cooking odors.

*We found that these tactics wouldn't remove the cigarette smoke smell from wood. We had to strip and refinish in this case. Try them for fabrics, though.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cutting Hair @ Home

I cut my husband's hair all by myself! I am quite proud of this fact. He hasn't seen a barber for over three years.

We purchased a set of $30 clippers at Target (love that store...)

His hair grows quickly, but unevenly, so he needs it clipped every 4-5 weeks. At $10/cut and 12 barber visits per year, we've probably saved $360 over the past three years just by cutting his hair on the back porch or in the basement. We spread out a big sheet to make cleaning up easier.

To us, it is totally worth the savings.

Who Likes Free Samples?

I sometimes run across free samples on some 'frugal' or 'coupon' websites I read. I found this on a website! This guy wrote to 100 different companies to see if they would send him free samples! Sure, it cost him $39 in postage (when stamps were 'only' $0.39!)

Is it worth the time? Probably not, but the wording of his request letters sure is funny!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chicken Fajita Pizza

This is so easy and yummy. I make a crust with Bisquick (I know, not real healthy, but it's fast!) and then I use frozen bell peppers. This time, I used chicken that had already been cooked and frozen, but usually I do cook it in the skillet, the way the recipe cites.
chicken fajita pizzaChicken Fajita Pizza

1 1/2 cups Bisquick
1/3 cup very hot water
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the Bisquick and hot water together, about 20 strokes. Press onto pizza stone sprayed with cooking spray and then sprinkled with cornmeal. *the cornmeal makes the crust crispier*

1 T oil
1 package of frozen bell peppers
1/2 cup salsa
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into strips (or some cut-up cooked chicken...)
2 T taco seasoning
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for about 6-7 minutes, until no longer pink. Then add the frozen bell peppers and stir them around for about 5 minutes. Add the salsa and taco seasoning and stir for a few more minutes until heated through. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over the uncooked pizza crust. Cover with the topping from the skillet. Top with the other 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes and enjoy!

Learn From Mistakes...

I made a big mistake today. I was cleaning the floors and wanted to clean my kitchen throw rugs. My little boy was napping, so I thought instead of vacuuming, I could put them into the dryer on "air fluff" and the lint trap would catch the dirt.

The dirt ended up all over the inside of the dryer. I had clean(er) rugs, but had to wipe out the inside of the dryer. Yuck. Not a time saver. I was annoyed.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

French Pressed Coffee

I really like coffee. We usually buy whole bean coffee, whatever is cheapest, from Sam's Club or Costco and grind the beans ourselves. I had been making 3-4 cups each morning in the coffee maker, but it seemed like I was constantly grinding beans! I was using the coffee maker instead of the french press because I didn't have to wash the coffee maker. Also, if I wasn't ready to drink the coffee immediately, it would stay warm on the coffee maker, unlike the french press. It was purely a convenience issue.

My husband pointed out I could use fewer grounds if I used the french press. Also, I wouldn't have to use a disposable filter. (Note: we do have a reusable filter, but I don't often use it as I dislike cleaning it with a toothbrush. However, buying 100 unbleached coffee filters at $4.99 comes out to $0.0499 per use, so I'm opening my eyes to more money which could be saved!) Plus, the french pressed coffee tastes better!

I'm now taking the extra 2 minutes per day to boil water and then wash the french press. One con: the french press does make less coffee. A hidden pro: I consume less caffeine!

Avoiding Pesticides

It's well-known that there are fruits and vegetables known as "the dirty dozen" for their pesticide-ladennes (I think I made up that word!) In case you need a review, they are:
-Mexican cantaloupe
-Chilean grapes
-cucumbers (the wax coating actually helps retain fungicides!)

We eat a lot of those things. I've got to do better at finding other sources of fruits and vegetables. My son adores grapes, strawberries, apricots, peas and peaches! However, canned and frozen fruits are washed and treated and this actually destroys pesticides. This makes me feel a bit better since I always buy canned apricots and applesauce for my little guy to eat!

But what are some fresh foods that have the lowest rate of pesticides? What can we feed our children and ourselves and feel guilt-free?
-green peas
-sweet potatoes

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gift Wrap Idea

Do you get more excited to give gifts when they're wrapped in an interesting manner? I sure do!

I just used a paper bag and some ribbon from my stash (I save ALL it!) And I took an old greeting card, free-hand cut a monogram out of it, and poked a hole in the top. Easy, frugal, but really cute!

Cutting Out Cable

Is cable something for which you spend $40/month? $60/month? Maybe more? Maybe you're not sure how much you spend for cable because it is 'bundled' with the internet and phone bills. We've never paid more than $15/month for cable. Currently, we don't have cable and just have an HD antennae on top of our house which picks up basic cable channels just fine.

Sure, we've gone without ESPN, TLC, and HGTV for almost 6 years now. But how much have we saved?

($40 x 12)6 = $2,880

Is it worth it? To us, yes. My husband does love sports. I guess he's just adapted to watching whatever game is on the local networks. And me? I don't really watch TV, except 1 or 2 half-hour shows per week which are on a major network.

I am actually grateful we don't have the temptation of several dozen channels.

Could you give up cable for a year? Think how much you could save...only caveat...if you do give it up, then change your mind, you may have to pay a reconnection fee. Make sure you're CERTAIN you want to be cable-free like us!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rice and Beans for Lunch

This is a splendid discipline my husband has happily adopted. His BFF (Best Friend Forever) lives in Arizona. This friend likes to cook frugally, too. He told my husband about making a big crock-pot sized batch of rice and beans and placing them in serving-size containers to freeze and reheat as easy and inexpensive lunches.

I used to poke fun at the idea as there seems to be a learning curve* on cooking dried beans, as my husband insists upon doing. He has a point; they are cheaper and HEALTHIER. I used to think rinsing canned beans got most of the salt off, but in actuality, I understand it only removes about 11%. So we soak and cook our own beans whenever possible.

To make your own rice and beans:

~Rinse the beans.
~Soak them in water overnight.
~Cook them in the crock pot on low for several hours (try 4-5 hours, check for tenderness).
~Cook a large pot of long-grain rice. Try about 3-4 cups.
~Mix the rice and beans with about a cup of salsa, a can of tomato sauce, garlic, sauteed onion, peppers, taco seasoning, black pepper, fresh cilantro, etc...
~Sprinkle with grated cheese, if desired.

They're actually really good, if you give it a chance. Healthy. Sure, there's some salt from the salsa or tomato sauce, but WAY less than a salami or turkey sandwich. Healthier. Less expensive. Sure, it takes time (and freezer space, if you do the mass quantities we do) but it's worth it!

*Learning curve: I say this because the first few batches of beans were either undercooked and crunchy...ewww...or overcooked and mushy. So don't give up if the first batch turns out less perfect than anticipated.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Healthier Meats and Poultry

We've only been feeding our little guy meats and chicken for a month or two. During that time, we have decided it would be prudent for us to seek out sources of protein (meat, chicken, eggs, pork, milk etc) free of hormones and antibiotics often given to cows/chickens on farms.

Antibiotics are given to keep the animals from getting sick since they are kept in close quarters. However, many health concerns arise from Americans consuming antibiotics from their dietary sources. Hormones are given to cows to help them produce more milk. They are also given to cattle and chickens to increase their size and speed growth.

Another problem with our farms is that cattle are often fed corn or other grains because it is cheap and abundant instead of being pasture-fed. Corn isn't really a food that humans should be eating in large quantities (it isn't a vegetable, it is a starch and there's lots of political reasons why corn is touted as healthful). Many experts say corn should be avoided. It's high in omega-6 fatty acids, which we consume far too much of in our country. Omega-3's are far more beneficial and eating grass-fed beef is a great way to help increase the omega-3's in the diet.

So anyway, that's just some background to help bring understanding to why I felt it necessary to drive 35 minutes south of our home yesterday to buy beef, chicken, eggs, and even hot dogs from a farm raising their livestock without hormones and antibiotics. We've decided that for our family, it is better to spend a bit extra on meats yet eat them less often to attempt to avoid the additives many factory farms are injecting into our food sources. Even though I can maybe 'buy one chuck roast and get one free' at a local grocery store or buy frozen chicken breasts for $2.49/lb. at Costco, is it worth our health to have the cost savings?

Did you know that other countries (including Mexico??) refuse to import American meat?

I used to think it was great to buy meat and chicken so cheaply, but now I have our little boy's health to consider. Instead of eating meat every day, we're going to start having more 'meatless' meals. Nuts, cheese, and beans are a good source of protein (and there are lots more great sources of protein!). There's also research indicating that Americans eat protein in excess.

We do avoid soy despite the fact it is touted as a great source of protein. Soy is suspected to be detrimental to the development of children, especially boys. Since soy is an abundant crop in the US, it is cheap and soybean oil is used as a cheap filler in many processed foods. We look for foods containing canola oil, olive oil, or other non-hydrogenated oils (also known as 'trans fats').

We avoid high fructose corn syrup. Lots of reasons for this!

In the future, I want to find affordable sources for avoiding genetically modified crops (not just fruits/vegetables, but also beans and nuts). We only buy organic peanut butter since it is well-known that peanuts are some of the most chemically fertilized plants.

What are some concerns you have about pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics in your foods?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cheaper Chicken

Have you ever tried cooking a whole chicken? It is so much less expensive than purchasing boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (like I used to do). We don't mind eating dark meat in casseroles. I've also read that dark meat is especially healthy for toddlers because it is higher in fat and cholesterol. Babies need those "evil" things to help their brains develop.

I purchased a whole antibiotic-free, hormone-free chicken from a local farm. (More on the importance of antibiotic/hormone-free foods in another post.) It cost approximately $1.80/pound.

I cooked it in the crock pot for about 5 hours (cooking on low). I took it out after checking the temperature for "doneness", cooled it, pulled off the skin and meat and chopped it up. Then I put it back in the crock pot and boiled down the carcass for about 4 hours (cooking on high). I strained out the bones and other waste. Then I refrigerated the remaining broth to cause the fat to congeal at the top so I could skim it off.

I'm left with antibiotic/hormone-free broth! I am going to freeze it for future use in soup.

Here is a great photographic blog. I forgot to take my own pictures.

I can't even really say how much money I saved by doing this.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Beer Bread & Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread

We're taking this as an appetizer for a church gathering this evening. It's really easy to make.

Beer Bread:

3 cups flour
1 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 12-oz bottle or can of beer, any kind
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gradually add beer and stir to mix well. Spread in an 8" or 9" loaf pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10-15 minutes and then remove from pan. Cool 10-15 minutes more before slicing.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread

3/4 Cup light cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Blend cream cheese, canned pumpkin and brown sugar well with a mixer. Fold in the maple syrup and cinnamon. Chill in refrigerator.

Maybe this would be a better combination for a fall gathering, but my husband suggested this tasty combination and we're going with it! It turned out to be fairly inexpensive to make. However, I did have to search a few grocery stores for canned pumpkin!

Fancy Mac 'n' Cheese Dish

I usually don't make Rachael Ray recipes...too many ingredients and too much time, require too many cooking tools which need washed, they're usually not very healthy and plus, I just can't stand her voice! But a friend made this Spinach and Artichoke Mac n Cheese for me once, and I had to have the recipe. I was sort of avoiding making it because the cheeses are expensive and it seemed hard. Like, cooking with wine? What?

I broke down and made it yesterday. It wasn't that hard and it actually turned out pretty well and I even figured out how to get the wine bottle we've had in our basement for 2 years open all by myself! (My husband laughed since I mangled the cork pretty badly!)

spinach artichoke mac and cheese

artichoke and spinach macaroni and cheese

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pretend You're at a Restaurant...

Here is a really easy recipe that tastes like something you'd eat in a restaurant. The best thing is that you only need one large saucepan and this can be on the table in less than 15 minutes! (I hate doing dishes...)

Creamy Tomato Tortellini

1 bag of frozen tortellini
1# of frozen broccoli (I actually used green beans last time...)
4 oz reduced fat cream cheese, cut into cubes
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained
spices of your choice (basil, minced garlic or garlic powder, oregano)
optional topping: Parmesan cheese

Boil water in a large saucepan or stockpot. Cook frozen broccoli for 3 minutes. Add the tortellini and cook for 3 minutes more (or however long package directions dictate). Drain both the tortellini and broccoli in a colander.

Place cream cheese and tomatoes in the saucepan; cook and stir over medium heat for 3 minutes until cream cheese has melted. Add the spices of your choice. Return the tortellini and broccoli to the saucepan and stir to combine.

Can sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to serve.

You could also use ravioli. The vegetables could be omitted for those who are not fans of broccoli or green beans.

Sorry I don't have a picture. We were so hungry that the three of us finished off the whole thing!