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You spent HOW much?

That's the reaction I've been getting this week.

I think I'm becoming the poster child for stocking up and shopping the pantry - I'm several weeks into the mission and this week wasn't just a surprise - it was a mental a-bomb. I've been doing really good the last few weeks stocking up when the sales were good...but the proof was definitely in the pudding...

My total spent in groceries in the last 10 days? $7

No, that's not a typo.

How'd it happen? I've got a great stockpile of meat in the freezer, so dinners were covered. We had plenty of veggies and fruits between fresh, canned and frozen to last more than the week. We had enough breakfast food handy, and I got a deal on lunchmeat the other week plus there were always leftovers. So all I needed was:

Milk $3.29 gallon jug
Eggs $1.49 dozen
Bread $1.10 wheat loaf, $0.75 white loaf.

Grand total - $6.63

I think I just peed a little.

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Stirrin' it up

Stir fry - it's not just for take out anymore!

In the grand scheme of meal planning, nothing is handier than recipes with flexibility. And stir-fry dinners are one of the most flexible, and least expensive, recipes to have in your arsenal. The basic formula is this:

Heat oil in pan (in my house, oil gets lonely without 1 or 2 cloves of garlic)
Add 1 to 1.5 pounds (insert meat here) , cook almost all the way through
Add random veggie #1 - appx 2 servings
Add random veggie #2 - appx 2 servings
Season to taste
Cover and cook through (appx 10 minutes)
Serve over rice/noodles

Because I wait for the best prices on meat (max $2 per pound), and use frozen veggies wherever I can ($0.25 per serving), with the rice ($0.40 per cup) any combination of ingredients is going to make an entire 4 serving meal for $4.60! And stir-fry doesn't have to be asian, you can use whatever spices and seasonings are handy and come up with your own flavor combinations!

Below is the supper I made tonight, it went over like gangbusters!

Beef and vegetable stir fry

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 pound london broil, sliced thin and cut into 1-inch strips
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 bag frozen broccoli
2 med tomatoes, diced
1 Tbsp ground pepper
1 Tbsp onion powder
1/2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp cold water
4 cups cooked rice

Put london broil strips and soy sauce in a ziploc bag, seal and let marinate 20 minutes to 2 hrs.
Heat oil in large pan. Add minced garlic, cook until just beginning to brown.
Add contents of ziploc bag, cook london broil just until it starts to brown.
Add broccoli and tomato, pepper, onion powder and chili powder. Stir to mix. Cover and cook appx 10 minutes on medium heat, or until veggies are heated through.
Uncover, keep simmering. Add dissolved cornstarch and stir to mix well. Let simmer uncovered for 2 more minutes to allow sauce to thicken a little.
Serve over cooked rice

Total cost:
London broil - $2.20
1/2 bag frozen broccoli - $0.50
2 med tomatoes - $0.55
Rice - $1.60

Grand total: $4.65

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Another budget challenge...

I had a little chuckle to myself when I read this article - MSN Money put Melinda Fulmer on a challenge - feed her family of four on only $100 for a week. Now that included no household or paper products, but she also restricted herself to not using coupons, and not relying on the warehouse stores like BJ's and Costco. What impressed me is that she also completely avoided the "all-pasta, all-ramen" menu that might be extremely cheap, but also extremely unhealthy.

I did learn a few things though - did you know that the government considers spending $182 a week on groceries to be a "Moderate" food budget for a family of four? That's almost $800 a month! I am currently on track for a $225 month for three of us - but my meals could easily serve four adults and still have leftovers, so I feel pretty confident that even when I am dealing with hungry teenagers, I will still be fully half of that "recommended" budget.

The stigma of coupon shopping has GOT to go....I was among those who couldn't be bothered with clipping them, and now I thrive with them. She makes the comment "many of these are for things that are too fattening or just too expensive to begin with"...and yet I have purchased yogurt, juice, milk, bread, hummus, even fruit and eggs with coupons. I do rely on Couponmom to do a lot of the tracking for me, but it now takes me about 15 minutes at a computer with a printer to pull the info I need and print the coupons I want....I went from fear and loathing to downright adoration in just a few weeks and it has DEFINITELY been worth the learning curve. She even used Couponmom to check the non-coupon store deals, so why not cash in all the way?

Same goes for the idea that there's something wrong with shopping the warehouses, discount grocers and local ethnic markets. If you TRULY want to save money, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't investigate these goldmines. Ms. Fulmer avoided such stores because she "could have saved even more, but this had to be something everyone could do". OK...if you CAN save more, why wouldn't you? Can't everyone find a bargain in their area? I am lucky enough to live really close to a Price Rite, but there are 3 other good discount food chains in my state and I checked - in 10 years and 4 different towns, I've never lived more than 8 miles from one. And I wish I had thought to find them!

She did make some excellent points, and reminded me that I have to get back on task with one very important tight-budget tool. She found that "every meal and snack has to be meticulously planned, and the whole family has to eat it." Meal planning is something I have been lax about, but when you have a budget so tight it squeaks, you have to make every meal count and maximize everything you have on hand. It's possible, but extremely difficult, to do that on the fly. She also discovered some of my favorite budget savers - use less expensive meat in stews, casseroles and crockpot recipes to stretch it further, add more vegetarian (bean-based) meals to the mix, and don't be afraid to use canned meats and veggies. Stew meat and london broil do great in casseroles and slow cookers, and two chicken breasts can easily feed a crowd when diced small in a stir fry.

She pointed out that lunches were really challenging - I have definitely found that as well...I crave variety and don't like constantly falling back on sandwiches or leftovers. But until I can afford to get crazy for lunch AND dinner, it's an occupational hazard. I balance it by making sure I have a variety of fruits and veggies so that if the main lunch is the same, the sides can be mixed up a bit. She mentioned using bean and cheese burritos for lunch - that's one I haven't tried yet!

And the biggest adjustment for me - as she puts it "Dinners were tasty but required a lot more preparation than I was used to". Budget cooking takes work. Too much of our money is thrown away for the sake of convenience! Yeah it's a pain, and it takes time...I lived on my own for so many years that grand preparation of meals had all but escaped me by the time I settled down and had a family. But now I can whip up a meal for six that costs me less than one sit-down entree at a restaurant. Ms. Fulmer ventured into uncharted territory for me - she whipped up a few desserts on top of her meals - but it just inspires me to try adding that to my repertoire as I get more and more comfortable in the kitchen.

At the end of the day, she learned the same lesson that I have become a student of - we waste a lot more money at the store than we realize, and it IS possible to cut back drastically and still leave the table satisfied!

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Pennies into Dollars

Ever take a look into your wallet and wonder where that $20 disappeared to? Balance your checkbook at the end of the month and find you need to make a bigger-than-expected adjustment because of debit card spending you forgot about? We've become the Convenience Nation....everything is at our fingertips, including the means to spend money thoughtlessly on things we don't need or don't feel like waiting for. I found a pretty good article on MSN Money titled "10 little expenses that add up fast" - it brings to the forefront how much cash we throw away a little at a time, not realizing how fast it becomes a budget-breaker. Here are a few of my favorites:

Kind of a no-brainer, but how often do we find the drive-thru calling our name? I am a personal fan of the Dunkin Donuts large hazelnut, milk and one sweet and low. But at $2 a pop, it quickly becomes a budget killer. I only work 4 days a week - but if I were to get just one a day, that's $32 a month - I spend less on groceries some weeks. On the flip side, a container of Folgers that makes about 200 8-oz cups of coffee will run me about $10 when it's not on sale. which works out to a NICKEL a cup. For the same size coffee I get at D&D (20 oz) that's still $0.12 per cup. Even if I get the expensive flavored creamer from the store I'm still saving over $15 a month by brewing at home. Plus I never have to worry about getting "greasy" coffee...you know what I mean!

Public service announcements aside, this is a woefully expensive habit. The national average cost for a pack is at $4.54 right now, so a pack-a-day smoker is shelling out over $200 a month. Quitting smoking isn't just a health benefit, it's a budget benefit in a huge way - and if you're serious about quitting your doctor can probably get you a prescription for the quit-aids (Nicorette, Chantix, smoking cessation programs) so that your insurance copay covers it. And you'll live a lot longer to enjoy your newfound stash of cash too.

Bottled water
Did you know that Evian spelled backwards is "naive"? I'm still convinced it's just some french dude's backyard hose water. Seriously, bottled water is the WORST convenience consumable ever. Most bottled waters are from municipal sources anyway, so other than being chemically "purified" a bit, they aren't much different than your local tap water anyway. And if, like me, you come from a city where the water is fluoridated, it's better for your kids' teeth to give them water from the faucet. The impact on your wallet? Bottled water is between $1.25 and $1.50 for 20 ounces - so just one a day will run you $37.50-$45 a month. But who gets just one? Actual spending is probably a lot closer to $60-75 a month. Even if you buy the pallets of Poland Spring at BJ's, it's still going to run you more than your tap water. If you're attached to a well or your house has old pipes, a Brita filter will clean up the water nicely and still be less expensive.

Weekday lunches out
Forget to pack yourself something for the office? Don't feel like yet ANOTHER ham sandwich and fruit cup? There's not many inexpensive options if you're breaking out the takeout menus at work. After tax (and tip if they deliver) your chinese food is going to run about $6-7 each time. Getting out of the cubicle instead? Plan on at least $10 for a sit-down lunch. Doing that just a couple of times a week will creep towards $80 a month. I make whole dinners for 4 that cost me less than 6 bucks - if sandwiches aren't cutting it anymore, make an extra portion or two of your dinner meal and pre-package for lunch later in the week. Stock up when the frozen dinner entrees are $2 each (yes it does happen). Or if you live close enough, go home for lunch and shop in your fridge. No matter what you choose, more of your money will land in your bank account at the end of the week.

Vending machine snacks
The 3 o'clock munchies....we've all had them. A few hours left in the workday but the body is calling for a little energy boost - and it's the M&Ms, Fritos, Smartfood, or Snickers from the machine in the hall that answers the call. I remember when a couple of quarters could get me a candy bar - but now they will run you between $0.75 and a dollar. Once a day, and it adds up to over $20 a month. My solution? Buy in bulk if you have a pet snack food and invest in 6-oz storage cups and ziploc bags. For a quarter of the cost, you can keep yourself in snackie goodness all month long.

Unused gym memberships
How long ago did you sign the auto-withdrawal form, and when is the last time you were there more than twice in a month? Regular gym users get their money's worth, but if you find yourself with an ever-growing list of reasons not to go, cancel it. Most gyms will offer "day" passes for about 10 bucks, so unless you are going at least once a week you will actually save money by NOT having a membership. Or take the truly frugal route - put on your sneakers and take a nice walk, run, or bike ride. If you want to build muscle, invest in some basic freeweights and find a corner of the basement to turn into a small home gym. It's not the fancy equipment that makes you fit (otherwise the Bowflex company would get a Nobel Prize) - it's the effort you put in. If Jack LaLane could do it without the help of Work Out World, so can you.

Little steps to save money add up fast - almost $300 a month with just these few tips. It might require a little more work on your part, but your own time and effort doesn't cost you a penny...and saves a LOT of dollars.

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This seems to have been the weekend of bumps in my master shopping process. My computer connection was slow to nonexistent, and I had my first frustrating experience with Couponmom....I would log in, go to the page where I pull up deals for my stores, and instead of spitting out the list of sale items, it sent me back to the login paged. Over. And over. It just came back online yesterday afternoon, so I haven't been able to look over everything just yet. That is probably a peril of using a free service, I still think it's worth using over paid services like Grocery Game.

We're still working on solving the vehicle problem - my in laws got us a lead on a cheap car with low mileage - the last thing I need right now is a car payment! In the meantime, this week is shaping up to be a $12 shopping week - milk, 2 loaves of bread, eggs, and some produce. I might actually hit the local farmer's market on Thursday to see what the prices look like - we went to the farm stand up the street and their prices were pretty comparable to what I pay at Price Rite! Some things were more expensive but they had ENORMOUS heads of lettuce for $2.30 each - same price as the grocery store but twice the size. Plus my son got a kick out of watching the ladybugs crawling on them :)

I'm going to try and work on a real meal plan for the week today, but I did take stock of what I have for main dish ingredients. Here's what the pantry and freezer situation looks like:

3 packages ground turkey (20 oz each)
2 3-pound roasting chickens
1 15 pound turkey
8 split chicken breasts
8 chicken drumsticks
4 boxes of pasta (misc shapes, 1 pound each box)

That alone would make at least 14 meals, not counting leftovers. I need to sit down with my recipes (and my favorite website, Allrecipes.com - you can search by ingredients and even enter ingredients you DON'T want) and try to work out main dishes, and keep an eye out for things that I can make with leftovers. It seems like a lot of work, but I have certain things I know I can make and that will give me a starting point. I plan to have the store circulars handy so I can incorporate fruits and veggies that are already on sale, and I'm looking for a good make-ahead biscuit dough recipe so I can have that on hand along with the rice that's always in the fridge. I figure I can use that for dinner rolls as well as casserole/pot pie crust.

I will try to post the framework of my menu today so I can "officially" join in with
Menu Planning Monday!

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Welcome to MomDot day at my blog! :)

It's been such a hectic week or so, I'm just now catching up on my fave sites whilst the boy and the daddy sleep. I know I just gave a shameless shout out to the ladies at MomDot, but they asked their bloggers to post a little personal info....and who am I to turn down a chance to brag? Besides...here's your chance to see the chickie behind the coupon mania :)

  1. WHO AM I? - Jeez. Got a few millenia? I am a mom, wife, wedding planner, student of frugality, drama queen, 80's addict, comic/sci fi nerd, singer, dancer, purveyor of boardrooms and board books. And I make a mean blueberry muffin.
  2. KIDS? - Two boys for now, one 12 years and one 17 months.....hubby and I plan to add to the team at least twice more before my ovaries give out.
  3. WHAT DO YOU BLOG ABOUT? WHY DO YOU BLOG? - I started this blog partly as a means of keeping myself accountable as I tried to get my budget under control....if somewhere in my head I thought that the digital masses would be tracking my every move, I'd be more likely to stick with it. Now, it's just a really fun means of sharing what I learn every day - from recipes, to my shopping adventures, to miscellaneous bits of info I find along the way. Mom took great care of us but never passed on her own shopping and cooking tricks to me, so I am the equivalent of a 6th grade Home Ec flunkie. But I'm learning! And being able to pass on that knowledge gets me excited about what I might learn next.
  4. SOMETHING TERRIBLY INTERESTING THAT MUST BE SHARED - I was once an aspiring Broadway starlet before taking the Mommy ball and running with it. I have danced on the Shubert Theater stage, sang in front of 3000 Canadian schoolchildren, survived a 7-second costume change, and had a great conversation with Rue McLanahan (of Golden Girls fame) while waiting for my turn at an audition.

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Shameless promotion day

A little off topic today, I'm doing a little shameless promotion of a new mom-focused website called MomDot. They are officially launching the site on August 1st but there is already a ton of great content and links up and running.

You can find a link to my blog under the "Special Interest" section..(ooooh I'm a SPECIAL interest..wonder if that means I can break out the pretty white coat with the shiny buckles...hee hee) but check out all of the great links. I have browsed a few of them (their goal was to have 100 blogs listed by the launch and I'm pretty sure they far surpassed that) and there is definitely something for everyone out there! Mommy blogs, daddy blogs, crafting blogs, cooking blogs, and plenty of mom-run online boutiques that are making my wallet ache.

I'm really excited about it, the ladies at the helm are the kind of goofy individuals that I like to surround myself with and they have assembled an equally motley crew of bloggers and business owners to back them up. And as if a HUGE online community of awesome mommies (and daddies) wasn't good enough, they are running a bunch of contests to celebrate the launch! All that's missing is the dancing bears.

Bring your bad self and your blog to the party - click the link in my sidebar or head over to MomDot before I steal all the brownies.

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Converting the masses

I have a new inductee into the mission - my sister in law was kind enough to provide transport so that I could get my shopping done yesterday. Our car has gone the way of the dodo and we're waiting to hear if we might be able to procure one with a little more functionality from a family friend. Anyway, I had told her about my mission and about the wonder that is Couponmom.com, but she was interested in seeing me in action - so we had a mommy shopping day!

(this, by the way, may become a ritual - we let the daddies take the babies for the morning, and we got some Dunkin Donuts and shopped...what a great way to spend a Sunday!)

Anyway, this was another great week for me - our meat supply was running a bit low and I needed a few extra things for the pantry. BUT I only dropped 75 bucks on the whole shebang - and I actually didn't use a single coupon! This was all with store sales and getting what I could at the Price Rite. Here's how it broke down:

Stop & Shop: Spent $23.38, saved $11.37. (deli sliced turkey, two roaster chickens, half a watermelon, 2 pounds of strawberries, and a couple of mangos)

Shaws: Spent $20.02, saved $21.47. (2 bags salad mix, 2 pkgs split chicken breasts, 2 pkgs ground turkey, 3 cans pasta sauce, 4 bottles soda)

Price Rite: Spent $31.76 (3 bags frozen veggies, large box frozen waffles, 2 loaves bread, egg noodles, pasta, canned mushrooms, canned chick peas, big jar chopped garlic, squash, bananas, tub of butter spread, quick oats, 4 pounds shredded mozzarella, parmesan cheese)

I have to work out some kind of menu plan for the week - I am still planning to do the "Menu planning Monday" but with the unplanned bumps in the road I'll have to put that off for just a bit. My little guy is pushing "But Not the Hippopotamus" under my nose so I'm going to go read. It's kind of nice to know that in spite of everything going on right now, my only current concern is whether I will have to hear him say "DILLO!" at the end of the story 5...or 6 times this afternoon :)

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Cheap AND healthy eats

Ugh. I definitely had a Murphy's Law day yesterday. Without getting into gory details, we find ourselves needing to tighten the purse strings more than ever...and possibly having to get another vehicle. Well, hopefully this will meet my quota of bad news for a while.

I did find the below article on Yahoo yesterday - details about 20 cheap ($1 or less), and very healthy foods! I found that the recipes they linked to weren't exactly frugal fare, but it's easy enough to find recipes that would fit the budget and the existing pantry stock.

Food prices are climbing, and some might be looking to fast foods and packaged foods for their cheap bites. But low cost doesn’t have to...

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Shoppers beware!

I don't know how many of you caught this morning's news segment on Good Morning America that talked about counterfeit coupons. The TINY blurb about it on ABC's website can be found here. The nuts-and-bolts are this: coupon couterfeits are popping up in droves, to the point where some stores are refusing online coupons altogether. It's not really surprising, pursestrings are pulling tighter and folks desperate to save money are easy prey for the ne'er do wells.

Fortunately the sites I recommend and use are on the "safe" list - Coupons.com and SmartSource offer valid, manufacturer's coupons. But (and I didn't know this, being new to couponing) coupons are sold through eBay, membership clubs, and other less direct means of obtaining coupons. I couldn't imagine paying for coupons - if manufacturers give them out for free why should someone else make money off of them? But I can see how others might get roped in. I should mention that this is NOT the same as the Entertainment books - those are absolutely legitimate, and not the same as manufacturer's grocery coupons.

There is a non-profit group called the Coupon Information Corporation that monitors and helps prosecute coupon fraud. They provide an ongoing list of known counterfeit coupons and frequently asked questions regarding coupon scams and reporting counterfeits. For those interested in a longer read, they published a very thorough Internet Coupon Study that details the extent of coupon fraud since 2001 and how security can improved to prevent fraud.

Some basic points to protect yourself, and ensure that your stores will accept the coupon you print:

  • The coupon should not show on your screen, or be downloadable as a .pdf, .jpg, .doc, or other image file. The coupon sites I use send them directly to the printer and never display the actual coupon onscreen.
  • Expiration should be 30 days or less from date of printing - Internet coupons are immediately availabe so expiration dates do not have to account for distribution time.
  • Coupons should be in color - I only have a B&W printer and haven't had issues with stores accepting my printed coupons, but manufacturers will often use color layouts with embedded security images that are expensive to reproduce or fake.
  • DO NOT photocopy printed coupons - THIS IS CONSIDERED FRAUD. If you want multiple coupons of the same item, print several originals instead of trying to photocopy them.
  • Be sure the barcode is intact - if the barcode won't scan, the coupon won't be accepted.

Most of all, DON'T pay for coupons. This past Sunday, I couldn't get to the store until late in the day, and by then the newspapers were devoid of any circular inserts. I didn't despair though, I posted an ad on my local message board for Freecycle.org and got responses from a couple of nice ladies who gave me the coupons they didn't need. I ended up with almost 2 complete circulars!

Happy (and safe) couponing!

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Easy Thai-style Chicken

I was craving something besides the run-of-the-mill baked chicken tonight, and I must have had peanut butter on the brain....I scoured the 'net for ideas, and found a couple of basic recipes for chicken with a spicy peanut sauce - but all of them required stuff I didn't have handy. I ended up whipping up this recipe - the veggies and spices are all pretty flexible, and can be adjusted based on what you have in the pantry. The basic flavor mix I was going for is spicy, sweet, savory, and peanutty - so go to town!

Easy Thai-style Chicken


1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 Tbsp minced garlic (or to taste)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 split chicken breasts - skinned and deboned, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
2 zucchini or green squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
Prepared couscous, rice or noodles (whatever is handy)

In a large skillet, heat oil. Add garlic, cook just until it browns. Add chicken pieces, sprinkle with chili powder and cumin, cook thoroughly - appx 5-7 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix peanut butter, water, soy sauce, sugar and ginger. Add zucchini to pan, cook 2 minutes until just tender. Add peanut sauce, cook until sauce is smooth, appx 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Serve over hot couscous, noodles or rice.


Chicken - appx $2.00

Zucchini - $1.50

Peanut butter - appx $0.45

Soy Sauce - appx $o.20

Couscous - $0.75

Spices - negligible


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Independence Day reflections - coupons for military families

Fireworks. BBQs. Parades. Uncle Jack having one too many margaritas and dancing around with a bucket on his head. AGAIN. The old standbys of July 4th weekend.

But it's near impossible to get through the entire holiday weekend without reflecting on the benefactors of our freedom, as much as it's impossible to watch the news without hearing something about those serving our country overseas. In this election year, the war in the middle east will likely be a pivotal point in the decision making process...the men and women serving in the military are front and center in our minds now more than ever.

I can't do a whole lot to help the human face of the bigger "MILITARY". I donate items for care packages. I have dropped a buck on a sticker, ribbon or button here and there. But I got really excited when I heard about the Overseas Coupon Program.

Military personnel and their families living on base generally shop at the base commissaries - they struggle as much as we do to keep their budgets in line, and the commissaries aren't exactly discounted because they have to ship in the goods from the states. But we can help by mailing our coupons - current AND recently expired - to the bases, as the commissaries will accept coupons up to 6 months past their expiration date. In that way, we are not just helping those serving overseas, but also the families who uproot their lives to support their loved one who is serving. We sometimes forget those faces behind the scenes.

Guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Coupons should be no more than 2 months past their expiration date when mailed (there has to be time for the package of coupons to reach the base, be sorted, distributed, and used before the 6 month cutoff)
  • Manufacturer's coupons ONLY. No store-specific coupons, food stamps, or restaurant coupons
  • Clip the coupons neatly (not only to make it easier on those receiving them, but also to save postage...all that extra paper adds weight!
  • Separate into "Food" and "Non-Food" items. The bases have a "Commissary" - a grocery store selling food items, and "BX" or "PX" which is more like a department store. "Food" items are anything consumable by humans that provides calories. Pet food is a "non-food" item, as are vitamins, but things like Ensure are considered "Food".
  • Bag and label the coupons along with a total value of coupons for each type being donated. No staples, rubber bands or paper clips. For example, one package may have 2 ziploc bags in them - one marked "Food - $100" and the other "non-food - $75.00"
  • Mail directly to the base. Cheapest form of mailing will be "parcel post". Use a customs certificate when mailing that states you are mailing a "gift" and the value is 0.00. If the post office says you need a name of a person - tell them it is "official mail" and being sent to a position, not a person.

The Overseas Coupon Program provides a list of bases that are accepting coupons, there is no minimum donation amount so you can send something whether you are an individual or a group. Since most of that excess paper will just end up in the recycling bin, why not send it where it can be put to good use? If you'd be interested in starting a group with me, leave a comment!

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All that and a few bags of chips

Ahh...another banner day at the supermarket. We didn't need a whole lot, but there were some good sales on stuff we will definitely use so I extended the budget a bit this week. By extend, I mean I was planning on spending about $15, but the final bill will end up closer to $50. That'll put me at about $275 for the month. That magic number gets closer every time!

It started with the 12 packs of Pepsi. They were 5/$10 (already 60% off) BUT there was a coupon in the store flyer that was buy 5 get one Mountain Dew 12 pack free. So I got 6 of them for $1.50 each. Ball park hot dogs were 2/$3, and I had a $1 off coupon that I printed a few times from Coupons.com....so those were $0.50 each. Got 2 boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios for $1.50 each between the sale and coupons, 2 boxes of Pop Secret for $0.70 each, and a few other items that were part of a General Mills promotion....

Here's what the final tally looked like:
Total paid: $38.09
Total saved: $48.01 (coupons and store savings)

That's pretty impressive, especially since my cart was pretty full. BUT it didn't stop there....that GM promotion was to buy a certain number of General Mills products (all of which were on a store discount of some kind) and get 2 free movie tickets. I made sure that I met the minimum, and walked away with a coupon code for 2 free movie passes worth $25.50. SOOOO.....my total savings was ACTUALLY $73.51. I got $141.60 worth of stuff for $38 bucks. My husband thinks my giddiness is cute. I feel a little like an evil mastermind ;)

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Another Thursday, another round of sales flyers!

Got the sales flyers in the mail today, and I'm finding that now that I've been through a few weeks of the CouponMom system, I am better at catching the good deals on my own. It is now official, I will never pay more than $2 per 12 pack of soda cans! BOTH of the major grocery stores are running deals this weekend for that price, and one of the stores has a "Buy 5 get one free" coupon in the flyer. So tomorrow I will go pick up 6 12-packs for 10 bucks.

A couple of decent meat deals showed up, but I will wait to check the actual discount percentage on the CouponMom site tomorrow before I make any final decisions...and most of the produce isn't discounted enough for me to bite. I'm still in good enough shape that I can be picky about buying ANYTHING this week other than the milk, bread and eggs. I love $20 grocery weeks :)

I have gotten braver about checking the online coupon sites - these are sites like Coupons.com, Eversave, Coolsavings, and Smartsource that do printable online grocery coupons. I would personally recommend Coupons.com and Smartsource as they immediately send you to the coupons - the other sites require that you click through a bunch of online offers before they give you the coupons, and that's just not time I have to spend. I browsed the online coupons yesterday, so I had a general idea of what was there....when I got the sales flyers, one store has Ball Park franks on sale 2 for $3....I remembered a BallPark coupon on SmartSource, which turned out to be $1 off one package. So if I print 2 out, I can get each pack of franks for $0.50 each! Just in time for barbeques!!!!

It was a bit daunting at first to go through the whole process of checking flyers, checking online, tracking prices....but now that I'm several weeks in, I'm finding that it's taking less and less time. I have paid much more attention to the cost of stuff I buy regularly, and I have a much better handle on what I SHOULD be willing to pay for stuff. Plus now that I have built up a pretty good stockpile of stuff between the pantry and the freezer, I shop with less pressure. That alone has probably helped the process along, I feel more in control of what I'm buying so I make less impulse buys. I might not be a shopping black belt yet - but I'm getting there!

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Unexpected dinner guests and kielbasa

I've been spending this last week recovering from a long weekend down in Pennsylvania - got to see a lot of family but I need a vacation from that vacation!

I haven't posted anything about my shopping because I am 2 weeks into having nothing on the "need" list other than the basic milk, bread and eggs. I grabbed a couple of 1 pound containers of strawberries last week (they were on sale for $2 each) and 12-packs of canned soda for DH to bring to work (5 for $10, 60% off!) but other than that my pantry is quite well stocked. I may have some extra $$ to spend this week so I'll look at the sales on Friday and see if there's anything worth stocking up on.

My sister in law dropped by unexpectedly this evening with my 20 month old niece, which meant I needed to feed twice the usual mouths. I don't mind, my 16 month old son loves his cousin and they are just a riot to watch when they're together. We mommies also got some much-needed girl time. I pondered what to do and came up with the below recipe - I had picked up a couple of kielbasa when they were BOGO and pasta is always a good fallback to feed a crowd. I ended up with enough for 2 leftover servings, so DH and I will have lunch for work tomorrow covered.

Kielbasa and Pasta supper
1 kielbasa, cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 box pasta of choice (I used rotini, easy for the kiddos to get on their forks)
1/2 bag frozen peas
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp fresh ground pepper (optional)

Bring water to boil in a large pot. In a small fry pan, heat the kielbasa on medium-low heat. When water is boiling, add pasta and peas. Return to a boil, cook for appx 10 minutes or until pasta is tender. Drain, put into a large serving bowl. Add warmed kielbasa. Add margarine, pepper and garlic powder, toss until well mixed.

Kielbasa - $1.50
Pasta - $1.00
Peas - $0.50
Butter - $0.10


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The dreaded menu plan

Planning my week is a chore as it is - and you're telling me I should plan my MEALS for every day on top of the appointments, work schedules, play dates, bill paying, errand running, family events, and everything else on the agenda that I know I'm forgetting??? I have a 16 month old at home - there are days I barely know my own name.

However, as I'm researching this idea of "frugal living", meal planning rings through every blog, article and website like a mantra. And it makes sense - if I plan ahead of time, I minimize waste (one of my goals), maximize the food items I have on hand, and spend less money on convenience foods or take out. But it seems like such a daunting task, especially in my household. I am working a couple of nights a week at the local hospital, so I would have to plan ahead while taking into account that DH is responsible for a couple of dinners on his own. Did I mention he's got a taste for random, experimental cooking without much regard for plans or budgets?

There are certainly a ton of resources available on the 'net. As I see it, the best meal plan is the one that offers some variety, makes good use of leftovers, uses recipes that require little in the way of "special" ingredients (spices not otherwise on the rack, expensive ingredients that won't get used for anything else), and in the interest of frugality, includes at least one vegetarian and one pasta dinner a week. But I don't need yet ANOTHER chore added to the list, so if I am going to have any level of success with meal planning, it can't be a hugely time consuming process. If it's an activity I approach with dread, I'm more likely to count rice grains for fun than get it done.

So let's see what I'm up against....
Breakfast is easy in our house - weekdays see oatmeal, muffins, and toaster waffles with fruit while we splurge on the weekends with eggs, pancakes, or more involved breakfasts. Lunch is generally thrown together - either sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, or soup. I suppose that makes lunch and dinner my problem areas, in terms of actually planning meals and executing said plan. Two meals a day, that's 14 meals a week. Perhaps I should just start with dinner. Seven is a lucky number, right?

I found some good tips on meal planning at Hillbilly Housewife.com, including suggestions for last minute planning and how to make the most of sale items. It's a bit of a long read but there is definitely valuable info in there. Hillbilly Housewife also posts a very basic meal planning template to help keep things organized while working out the menu for the week. I'm a more visual person, and need tangible examples to get me on track. Those I found at Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. As her opening paragraph states, "Each week over 200 ladies share what’s on their menus for the week...It’s a wonderful opportunity to keep your menu planning efforts on track week after week not to mention the many great ideas and recipes that come from reading the menus of the many other participants." I have read through a few of the posts, and they live up to their mission. The OrgJunkie author posts her menu, and through the magic of Mr Linkey, other mom bloggers post links to their own Menu plans for quick reference. The drawback is that there's no easy system in place to quick reference certain recipes or menu plans, but I am OK with making use of that "favorites" button on my toolbar.

There are some meal planning software options out there, but OrgJunkie also lists a ton of menu planning resources and recipe sites that seems infinitely more useful....and free. I plan on doing a lot of reading over the next week in preparation of giving this planning thing a try....depending on how the holiday weekend goes, I may start adding my own Menu Planning Monday to the roll call!


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