Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What have you got for me lately?

We were out of town for the holiday and we missed all the crazy snowy Seattle weather. I had asked a neighbor to collect our mail while we were gone but because of the weather, they didn't deliver - that's how bad it was! It all got delivered today and here's what was in it:

1 Playtex BPA-free bottle
1 Orville Redenbacher's Natural popcorn plus $1.50/2 coupon
1 Free Genesis Juice coupon which also included 1 free container of Toby's Salad Dressing and Toby's Tofu Pate. Not a big pate person but I'll try anything for free!

Most exciting for me was the Pillsbury recipe and coupon book. It is awesome! Includes yummy-looking recipes that I can't wait to try and best of all, $10 worth of coupons for Pillsbury and other General Mills products. You really can't go wrong with this deal. You can still sign up for it here:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Try Something New - Veggie Crisps

I've mentioned that we get the majority of our produce from a local Community Supported Agriculture farm. Sometimes we get to try a new or unusual vegetable or fruit. Last week, we got kale. I can't remember ever eating kale before in my life. It looks like you could make a hearty salad out of it but a raw bite of it did not appeal to my salad taste buds.

I remembered seeing a Martha Stewart episode where she baked up some crispy curly kale that looked fun. A search of her website unfortunately yielded no results. So a quick Swagbucks search brought me to Mollie Katzen's website - Mollie is a well-known vegetarian cook and author of the famous Moosewood cookbooks. I used her simple instructions and added garlic salt because I like garlic salt.

All you do is pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop off the stems of the kale. I chopped fairly small pieces and left the middle parts in but if you want to use as more of a chip you could chop bigger pieces, and remove the middles. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush or spread 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread the kale on top of the oil and using a spatula, mix it so that the kale gets some of the oil. Sprinkle with garlic or other seasoning and put in the oven. I put it in for 10 minute intervals, then turning/mixing to ensure that the crisps are evenly cooked. Bake for a total of 30 minutes until kale are crisp. Cool and serve!

Mine wasn't curly but it baked up quite nicely and although it doesn't look all that pretty, they are actually very crisp and different. Tell your family to close their eyes to try it. These offer a change of pace from your usual chips and I will serve these in the future with maybe a light spinach dip, or other creamy dip. These might also be good sprinkled on top of mashed potatoes or other side dishes.

The Grocery Cart Challenge
has done it again - lots of great recipes in the weekly swap, fresh ideas for the New Year! Head on over there to check it out.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I hope everyone is enjoying this special holiday with family and friends. My parents weathered the brutal Seattle weather to come up to the mountains and we had an early Christmas dinner with them last night. My husband's family was all snowed in so we miss them today. It was a chaotic gift opening this morning but we are now relaxing and just enjoying the day.

I will be posting another great recipe tomorrow and posting regularly again next week. Safe travels to all and peace be with you!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Credit Cards - Why They Work For Me

A lot of frugal websites are families who are already debt-free, who live on less and I would guess the majority are those who don't use credit cards at all as part of their personal financial plans. Most financial planners and advisors do not advocate the use of credit cards at all.

I have a confession to make: I have credit cards. AND I use my credit cards as part of my financial plans and as part of my budget.

Here's what I do and why:

1) I only use cards that give me something back. For most everyday expenses, I use 2 cards: an Alaska Air Visa and Discover.

What do I get? 1 mile for every dollar spent on the Alaska card and additional miles when purchasing tickets on Alaska Air. They often have promo periods where you earn 2 miles for every dollar on Alaska tickets. We have earned a TON of miles this way.

My kids' daycare accepts no credit cards other than Discover, so I earn money back for all I spend on that huge expense. Discover offers a paltry 1% cash back in general. However, four times per year they run promotional periods where you can earn 5% cash back as a bonus in different spending categories. For example, October 1 through December 31 I earn 5% at all grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters and movie rentals. Although I've been cutting my grocery bills dramatically thanks to couponing and wise shopping, I'm also earning when I spend.

2) Pay balances in full every month. This has not always been the case but I save all my receipts and I diligently keep track of billing periods to make sure that I have enough to cover the whole month's expenses.

3) Use a card that gives you get an extra discount. Macy's is one example of this, they always seem to have an extra 15% or 20% off "when you use your Macy's card." Often this even applies to clearance merchandise. Since I already have the cash saved for these purchases, I pay the balance in full when the bill comes. This extra discount can really make the difference. We used these special discount days to buy furniture quite a few years ago, turning a large expense into a lesser one just by using the card.

Do I sometimes forget about purchases? Yes. Unfortunately, I am not one of those write everything down people - I wish I was! But I also confess that I pad my budget a bit for over the amount that I will actually need. That way I still have enough to pay off the balance in full every month.

Other frugalistas may disagree with these reasons but it works for me and I am earning either cash back (albeit not at an extraordinary rate, but something nonetheless) or mileage, which helps us vacation more frugally.

So even though I am working toward a Debt Free 2009, I will continue to use my credit cards as long as they continue to help me save. What about you? Take my poll above or leave me a comment with your thoughts on the credit card debate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apples Apples Apples

My in-laws live in rural Washington and they were kind enough to bring us two huge grocery bags full of apples a few weeks ago. I made applesauce right away and gave some to my folks but struggled to find something new and creative to make with the rest. Finally, this weekend I thought "Forget it, stick with what you know and what everyone likes best."

It's a nice variation on apple pie and I try to make several ahead of time and then freeze just before baking. It can then be pulled straight from the freezer to the oven if you make in an aluminum pie pan or other metal baking pan.

I give you: Apple Crumble Extraordinaire:

5-6 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbls brown sugar
1 1/2 tbls flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry filling ingredients in a large bowl. Add apples, mix to coat and then arrange evenly in a pretty pie dish. Mix dry topping ingredients together, then add egg and mix with hands until mixture is combined into crumbly particles. Sprinkle over apple mixture and then pour butter evenly over topping. Bake for 30-35 minutes until topping is lightly browned. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

I love the recipe swap every Friday at The Grocery Cart Challenge and know that you will too. Go over and see what everyone is cooking this week! Your family and your tummy will thank you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's nearly the end of the year so I am starting to think about and plan my goals for 2009. One of those goals is to really get our overall finances and budget solidified. I am taking inventory of what has been working for us as a family and what we need to improve.

I am so happy to have discovered the online community that is so generous in sharing great deals, tips and shopping scenarios, which really can help anyone get a better deal on all purchases.

One of my goals is to be more like my husband in the way that he saves. He makes more money than I do, actual salary-wise, but because he sends such a big portion to savings and his company's stock plan, we end up taking home the same amount each month. With both my son and our new baby in full-time child care, my share of expenses has increased, so I'm hoping that with all the savings I am realizing by buying food and household goods on sale and with coupons, that I can also increase my savings.

A catch-22 situation arises however when I talk about increasing savings, I also need to decrease my debt. Said debt being my Student Loan. Yes, I have not been in school for nearly 9 years and I still have a crazy amount of student loan debt. I worked my way through college and did not take more than one $5000 loan, which actually helped me finish college earlier than I would have if I had not taken the loan. But law school was so unbelievable expensive, I could not avoid the loans. When I first graduated, I struggled to keep track of each one so I consolidated. Financially naive at that point in my life, I consolidated at the highest possible interest rate that they can charge - 8.25%. Now I make a little more than the minimum payment each month but it just doesn't seem to make a dent.

Somehow, in 2009, I want to be so fiscally conservative that I can pay it down to at least half of what it currently is - a lofty goal perhaps but without a goal, there is nothing to be working toward.

Do you have a goal, resolution or vision for the coming year? I'd love to hear what others are working toward, financially or personally!

Monday, December 15, 2008

$500 Walmart Giveaway

Who couldn't use a little extra money this holiday season? My heart strings are pulled every time I watch the news about the food banks and the kids in need. Makes me wish I could save a lot more each month so that I could have that much more to give.

Here's a giveaway that would make it so easy to give that much more:

Denise at The Centsible Sawyer is giving away a $500 Walmart gift card. Wow! I've got her link posted under My Fellow Frugal Sisters and she's always got great deals and ideas for saving money. There are lots of ways to enter to win but you have to do it by midnight Eastern time (9PM Pacific) so go do it! My husband always laughs at the contests that I always enter. I always respond that someone has to win, why shouldn't it be me?!

Menu Plan Monday

I know that I am going to need to do some serious grocery shopping before next week's big holiday so I'm holding off going until the end of this week if possible! Plus, one night this week my husband and I are going Christmas shopping so one less meal to plan -phew.
Here's this week's menu plan:

Cobb salad
Stir fry with potstickers
Chicken enchiladas
Swedish meatballs

I haven't linked to it before but check out orgjunkie.com for more awesome menu plan ideas! I always like to see what others are cooking up.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Target Trip

The Glade holiday scented oil candle deal is still working at Target and I was finally able to find a Target that had the candle holders in stock - woo hoo!
Here's what I got:
4 Scented Oil Candle holders $2.50 ea
2 Airwick Luminair Candles $4.99 ea
2 Reed diffuser sets on clearance (not pictured) $4.24 from $16.99!
Coupons used:
2 $2.50/1 Candle Holder Smart Source (I'm behind on my coupon clipping so not sure when these were in the paper)
2 $2/1 Candle Holder (found in the refills that I bought a couple of weeks ago)
2 $5/1 Luminair from SS
Prior gift cards used: $6.66
Total OOP: $4.91
Got a $5 gift card.
My original OOP ($9.25) seemed way high but I figured I was just miscalculating with the diffusers. Then I noticed on my receipt that the cashier actually charged me for a nail brush that the woman ahead of me bought - I couldn't figure out how my math was so off. So I went back and got a cash adjustment of $4.34. It definitely pays to keep an eye on the register although I'm not sure how I could have caught that mistake ahead of time.
I wish I had bought the other 4 candle holders that the store had because I hit 3 Targets today and none of them had any candle holders. I was going to get more refills but could only find 2 refills with the coupons in them. I'm going to try and hit at least one more Target tomorrow before this deal is done on December 15! Happy candle shopping!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Pears Appetizer

This is an elegant appetizer to bring to any of your holiday parties. Poached pears, flavored with cinnamon on a base of cream cheese and bleu cheese with chopped walnuts (if you like).

2 large pears, sliced
4 cups water
1 tbsp cinnamon

2 blocks of cream cheese, softened
1/2 container crumbled bleu cheese
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Place water and pears into a large shallow pan and sprinkle cinnamon over pears. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until pears are tender (if your pears are very ripe, you may not even need the 15 minutes). While pears are simmering, put walnuts into small saute pan, heat on medium and toss the pan occasionally to evenly toast the nuts. Mix cream cheese and bleu cheese and spread into a shallow serving dish (I use a nice pie dish). Arrange pears over cheese mixture and sprinkle toasted walnuts over the pears. There are no walnuts in the picture because I forgot to take them with us! I also sprinkled a little additional cinnamon over the pears in the picture.

My girlfriends and I used to top slices of french baguette with this delicious-ness and eat as a meal. Can also be served with crackers or endive (a hoity-toity lettuce!).

I get nothing but raves from this dish - enjoy!

The Grocery Cart Challenge is where you can find delicious recipes every week for the recipe swap - thanks to Gayle for hosting it. She's got a great cookie recipe and gift idea this week - be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Target Gift Card Giveaway

I loves me some giveaways and Michelle over at Saving Some Green has got a most awesome giveaway right now - 3 $10 Target gift cards. Who couldn't use a little extra Green right now?

Michelle is on my list of fellow frugal sisters - I read her blog every day for great ideas on saving money, living simply and well.

Go and check it out - you'll be impressed!

Kroger Gift Card for Prescriptions

Fortunately, my husband and I and our children are very healthy and have no ongoing medical issues. None of us take any prescription medication on a regular basis. Howver, on the rare occasion that we do need prescriptions, I stay loyal to one pharmacy - QFC.

Why QFC? They have a pharmacy loyalty card that gives me a gift card to the store for every 5 prescriptions filled there. I filled a prescription there yesterday and since it was my 5th one filled, I got a $10 gift card to the store. The next 5 is a $15 card and 5 after that is a $25 card. I hadn't noticed before but it's actually a Kroger card so it will be good at Fred Meyer too!

I have seen the deals offering gift cards for transferring prescriptions but because of my health insurance, I do have to stick with certain pharmacies so those have not been an option for me.

So for those of you in the Northwest, this would be a great deal even for those who don't get prescriptions on a regular basis. Does anyone know if other stores offer similar rewards for prescriotions?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Walgreens Haul

My $24 in Register Rewards from November razor purchases was expiring today! So I had to go shopping. Problem was, I couldn't figure out how to get my purchase up that high - a good problem to have, right?!

Luckily, I saw these cool Gingerbread House kits for $9.99 each. We're going to our log cabin in the woods this weekend and these should make a great project for the kids. Here's the rest of what I got:

2 Pufs tissues w/WAGS coupon .89ea

2 3pk Scotch tape

1 Reynolds Wrap foil w/WAGS coupon .99ea

3 Jiffy Blueberry muffin mix w/WAGS coupon .39ea

2 Gingerbread House kits

Coupons used:

4 $6 Register Rewards

$1/1 Reynolds Wrap

$1/1 Scotch tape

I also had 2 .25/1 coupons for the Pufs but did not see that they were expired so those would not go through.

Total OOP: .35! I forgot that I had my rebate Gift Card with me so I just dug change out of my wallet. I will also get $2 on my rebate card for the Scotch tape.

2nd Transaction:

2 Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix .39ea

Total: $1.17 - paid with rebate card.
What a sweet deal!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

I'm looking forward to a little break before the holidays since my work slows a bit during this time. Here is this week's menu plan:

Slow cooker beef stew
Chicken chili
Crab cake salad
Turkey noodle alfredo

I'm working on some fabuluous Holiday menu plans and my New Year's Resolution, a Debt-Fighting Plan for 2009 so check back this week!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blog Award Thanks

I've been completely swamped at my work for the past two weeks so I completely spaced when Michelle over at Saving Some Green gave me blog award! I now offer a sincere albeit belated THANK YOU!

SSG's got great money- and time-saving ideas that I love to read every day and has been an incredible inspiration to me. Head over there to check it out!

Turkey Divan

This is one of my family's favorite post-Thanksgiving dishes. I've also made it with chicken instead of turkey. It's another scrumptious and somewhat healthy way to use up some more of your turkey and stuffing leftovers:

1 bag frozen broccoli, either chopped or just the florets
2 cups turkey, torn into pieces
1 cup low or reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup stuffing
1 cup cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Spread the bag of broccoli and turkey in a 9 X 13 baking pan. Mix together sour cream, mayo, salt/pepper and then pour over broccoli/turkey mixture. Sprinkle cheese over it all and then top with stuffing. You can also substitute bread crumbs for the stuffing. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes until heated through.

Gobble Gobble!

The Grocery Cart Challenge hosts the best recipe swap every week - go over there to find more fabulous and delicious ways to feed your family!

Monday, December 1, 2008

$10 in Coupons with the Pillsbury Newsletter

I usually prefer to make my own pie crusts, pizza dough and other bread but since I am a working mom I sometimes have to go the easy route and use pre-made dough. That's where Pillsbury saves me! Their newsletters have easy time-saving recipes and fun meal ideas. Sign up here for the Pillsbury Newsletter and you'll receive $10 in free coupons for their products:

Thanksgiving Bakes

Have a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers? We did and every year I try to come up with something new to do with them all! I'm not sure why, but this year I had a lot of the green bean casserole left and that was even after I sent all guests home with some. These little dishes are a little bit of everything from your Turkey feast. I thought it would be cute to put them in these little ramekins but you can make it on a bigger scale in a casserole dish.

I sprayed the ramekins with a touch of Pam just to prevent sticking. Then add chopped turkey:

Then add some green bean casserole. It's already got mushroom soup mix and milk that will blend nicely with the turkey:

Then I topped them off with mashed potatoes and a really delicious artichoke stuffing that my Dad made from a Sunset magazine recipe:

Bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes. I added some cheese to the tops - it was fabulous. The stuffing got nice and crunchy on top. This is a delicious way to use up some leftovers!

About Me

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Seattle Area, Washington - the state
I am an attorney, working mom of 3, who loves a bargain, a great deal and freebies. Who doesn't want the best, for less? Come here to see my triumphs and budget tribulations, good deals and my take on what the good life can mean...