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The $200 mission....
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The $200 Mission has relocated to savvysuzieblog.blogspot.com - be sure to update your subscriptions and links!


Menu Plan Monday - September 1st

Wow - is it really September already? I can barely remember all the things we meant to do this summer, and here we are with summer almost behind us. Our schedule doesn't change all that much since DS is far too young to be off to school just yet, but at work things will be crazy for the next week and a half, and then the extra time will dry up until Thanksgiving/Christmas. So I'm working yet ANOTHER overtime-laden week, though at least this time I managed to cram everything into 4 days so that I have plenty of time off mixed in.

I am trying a bunch of new recipes this week - my printer has been working overtime as I've read through all of the great Menu plans from last week! We didn't have too many experiments last week, the BBQ Quesadillas were good but not as crispy as I had envisioned...that should be an easy fix and I'll adjust the recipe once I figure out how :) The Sausage and Summer Squash was a hit, and the Naan toasted up really nice in the broiler - this one will definitely get into regular rotation!

Here's my week, head on over to I'm an Organizing Junkie to see what's for dinner elsewhere!

monday: Zucchini cakes with mushroom ragout - made with Homesteader Cornbread instead of muffin mix (see bottom of recipe page) ($6.29 - $1.57/serving)

tuesday: Bee Rocks - I had never heard of this recipe before but it sounds like a Shepherd's pie hot pocket - yummy! ($4.99 for12 servings! - $0.41/serving)

wednesday: BBQ pork ribs in the slow cooker, leftover corn muffins from Monday, mixed veggies ($11.53 for 8 servings - $1.44/serving)

thursday: Leftover day! Boys will fend for themselves while I'm working the night.

friday: Comfort food day - Grilled cheese sandwiches, Tomato soup ($1.95 - $0.97/serving)

saturday: 7-Layer Casserole ($5.88 - $1.17/serving)

sunday: Crockpot Brown Sugar Chicken, egg noodles, mixed veggies ($5.73 - $1.43/serving)

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The slippery slope

I've been remiss in posting my shopping trips the last little while...mostly because while I have been good about only buying things on sale, I haven't been very good about keeping track of what's going out of my wallet and whether I'm on budget. This month is bound to be a little more expensive than usual, I did a lot of stocking up when we got back from camping (total shopping was around $160), and I'm trying to latch on to some of the holiday weekend grocery sales and fill out the pantry a bit. But I don't want to get lax in watching my spending and my savings just because I had a tough week, old habits die slow, painful deaths and I want to stay on track!

This week I did pretty well, all things considered....I'm probably in better shape than I think - but being budget conscious is as much about where you're at mentally as financially. I FEEL like I've done worse because I haven't been keeping the mental tally like usual. Which means I can easily convince myself that I missed things along the way and suddenly we're in danger of having nothing but old receipt lint in the wallet :)

I have to sit down with the receipts but here's a few good finds from Friday:

Store #1
Boneless chicken breast - on sale $1.77/lb, bought about 6 pounds
Chicken things - on sale $1/lb, bought 3.65 lb (this price happens every other week)
Total spent: $14.50 Total saved: 14.28 Almost 50% savings

Pork shoulder ribs - $1.69/lb (the package I got was 5 pounds, enough for about 8 portions)
Ground Perdue turkey - $1.99/lb
Pepsi 12-pack cans - on sale 5/$11 but I had a coupon for "buy 4 get one free" so I got 6 for $11, that works out to $1.83 per box
Total spent: $28.86 Total Saved: 23.09

No big coupon excursions for now, I worked WAY too much and just didn't have it in me to do the legwork in time for weekend shopping. I have Tuesday off so I may see what I can come up with while the boy naps.... Menu Plan Monday is upon me again and I will be posting a bunch of new recipes tonight!

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New blog

I noticed I was using up a lot of post space to put recipes up...so I decided to make a new blog just for the recipes. I just put it up tonight, so I have a lot of catch up posting to do, but check it out at http://savvysuziefood.blogspot.com/ and feel free to submit recipes for posting as well!

**updated the link so it works now...that's what I get for posting after not enough sleep! :)**

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Recipes for success

I've been working a lot harder at planning meals ahead of time, more so now that I have started participating in Orgjunkie.com's Menu Planning Monday. It has motivated me to hunt down good AND practical recipes that will stick to the mission but still please the palates of my finicky boys.

I have some cookbooks at home, but what I find is that many of the recipes are either completely impractical (too many non-standard ingredients) or too complicated (if it takes more than 30 minutes to prepare, I probably don't have time!), or too involved (the cost per meal would be WAY off my scale). The internet has become my best friend in this adventure - between other posters and recipe websites, I've easily been able to fill that gap!

I started a 3-ring binder for recipes I find along the way - the computer is no replacement for a recipe on paper. I like to make notes on my adjustments and additions to recipes, and seeing the occasional splatter on the page lets me know where the family favorites are. And with so many great resources available, I know my printer will be working overtime filling that recipe book!

I would highly recommend checking out the MANY participants in MPM (here is the most recent post) as many post recipes - you can rest assured these are tested by REAL moms

Some of my other fave sites:

Cooks.com - The recipes posted here fit nearly flawlessly into my frugal mindset...they are basic, but simple and inexpensive...and they serve as fantastic base recipes so that you can add stuff and make your own masterpieces!

$5 Dinners - She's new to the blogging scene but already a fast fave of mine. Who doesn't love a recipe that feeds everyone for the same price as a Big Mac meal? Check out her post on portion distortion..

A Year of CrockPotting - One woman who resolved to use her crockpot every day for a year! There's a wealth of recipes, including over 200 that are gluten-free! I like having a resource for the days when I know I won't have time to prepare dinner after work.

Allrecipes.com - Another of my go-to sites. Recipes are rated by users (there are usually great suggestions in the comments), and they have a great search-by-ingredient tool - I've used this to find recipes based on what's on sale in the store flyer and get ideas for menus!

Supercook.com - I just found this one recently - it lets you enter as many ingredients as you have on hand (from meat to veggies to staples and spices), and will spit out as many recipes as it can find including any combination of your ingredients on hand. What I LOVE is that the top of the list is any recipes you can make without needing ANY other ingredients. I entered 12 items I had on hand at home, and there were 94 recipes I could make now!

Leave a comment and share your best go-to sites and favorite cookbooks!

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Menu Plan Monday - August 25th

I picked up WAY too many hours at work this week. Usually I'm scheduled for 32 hours but when there is extra time available I'm pretty quick to jump on it. Especially with recent financial challenges, saying "no" has been really difficult...but somehow I booked myself for 14 hours of overtime between Sunday and Saturday. Yeah, I'm a glutton for punishment.
I tried to plan meals that would be easy to make, I'm not going to be up for grand preparations and there are two days where I won't be home until well after supper and bedtimes. There weren't any fantastic meat sales this week so I relied heavily on what we already have on hand...thank goodness for the stockpile in my freezer downstairs!!!
I indulged hubby on one night when he's going to be responsible for dinner, he REALLY wanted a mac and cheese and franks night. He helps out so much when I work a lot, how could I say no :)
So here's where we stand for the week, costs per meal included...
Monday: Baked Ziti and garlic biscuits (originally this past Sunday's meal, but we got invited to a
BBQ!) ($5.50)
Tuesday: Beef and Broccoli with rice - I might add water chestnuts this time! ($5.70)
Wednesday: BBQ Chicken quesadillas (recipe below), corn on the cob ($5.45)
Thursday: English Muffin Pizzas, fruit salad ($4.00)
Saturday: Hubby indulgence day - Mac and Cheese with Turkey dogs, mixed veggies ($2.20)
Sunday: Thai Chicken with couscous ($4.90)

Don't forget to visit Orgjunkie.com for more Menu Planning Monday!

BBQ Chicken Quesadillas
I adapted this recipe from this quesadilla recipe at Allrecipes.com based on what I had on hand and the Lloyd's BBQ chicken I had picked up last week.
1 container Lloyds BBQ chicken
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced into strips
2 med tomatoes, diced
6 ten inch tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large skillet, heat the onions and tomatoes in the vegetable oil (stirring constantly) until onions are translucent. Add BBQ chicken, cook until heated through.
Place the tortillas between two damp paper towels and microwave on high for 1 minute.
Fill half of 1 tortilla with the chicken mixture and cheese, then fold the tortilla over the full half. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Arrange the quesadillas on a cookie sheet.
Bake the quesadillas in the preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven until the cheese has melted. Cut the quesadillas into fours. Serve with sour cream.
Appx cost:
BBQ chicken: $2.00
Onion: $0.20
Tomatoes: $0.55
Tortillas: $0.75
Cheese: $0.95
Sour cream: $0.50
Grand Total: $4.95

The CVS game - first attempt

So I got a little daring today and made my first attempt at the whole CVS game thing, sort of.

I didn't delve in as deep as some go, I only made one trip and I'm probably not going to head back this week unless I feel REALLY crazy...the motivator for tonight's excursion was a $4 off when you spend $20 coupon that was expiring tonight. But I took the opportunity to see what I could come up with between the CVS flyer and the coupon lists from Couponmom.com, and how I could do with ECB's and store promos.

I admittedly could have done better, it was already kinda late at night when I sat down to figure it all out. But for a first attempt I think I did pretty well!

Here's what I bought:

1 Kotex Lightdays 16 ct - on sale for $1.49 ($1 off coupon from online)
2 boxes OB tampons 40 ct - on sale 2/$9 (1.50 off cpn)
2 boxes Stayfree Maxi pads 36 ct - on sale 2/$9 (BOGO coupon)
2 boxes Carefree pads 120 ct - 2/$9 ($1 off coupon)
**used a $4 off $20 purchase coupon

Paid $16.50 out of pocket
Got back: Two ECB coupons totaling $6.49 and one coupon for $5 off $25 purchase.

Total rewards returned $11.49

So at the end of the day, I paid 5 bucks for enough feminine products to last me the next 15 months. I can actually already use the $5/$25 coupon this week to get some skin care stuff and earn more ECBS...I can see why this is so addicting!

Not too shabby, if you ask me :)

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Zuper Zucchini

I love zucchini. It's tasty, healthy, versatile....and cheap! If you know someone who grows it, you're not far from that time of the year when crops are over-abundant, and they're practically showering yummy greenness on you. But even when zucchini aren't free, they are still very inexpensive - I can usually get them for between $0.99 and $1.30 per pound without a sale. They're also a low-calorie, high-nutrient powerhouse...according to Caloriecount.com one full cup of chopped zucchini has only 20 calories, 1.4 grams of dietary fiber, and 35% of your daily vitamin C needs.

These lean greens are on sale this week, so I did a little searching and found a couple of very appealing recipes on MSN.com...I estimated cost based on this week's sale and stuff I already have on hand from past shopping trips. Can't wait to try them out!

Zucchini Cakes with Mushroom Ragout
I am not a big fan of roasted red peppers so I am going to try substituting tomato sauce thickened with tomato paste....

Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 of a medium zucchini, shredded (1 cup)
1 8-1/2 oz. pkg. corn muffin mix
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz.)
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
12 oz. assorted mushrooms, quartered (4-1/2 cups)
1 cup drained bottled roasted red sweet peppers (1/2 cup pasta sauce plus 1 sm can tomato paste)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly coat twelve 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with cooking spray; set aside.
2. In mixing bowl combine zucchini, muffin mix, cheese, milk, egg, and cayenne pepper; spoon evenly into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 11 to 14 minutes or until golden.
3. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Place roasted peppers in blender. Cover; blend until nearly smooth. (Instead of blending roasted peppers, cook mushrooms in sauce and tomato paste)
4. Arrange 3 cakes on each plate with some of the mushrooms and pepper sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Appx cost:
Zucchini: $0.50
Muffin Mix: $0.99
Cheese: $0.87
Milk: $0.05
Egg: $0.13
Mushrooms $3.00
Pasta sauce $0.25
Tomato paste $0.50

Grand Total: $6.29 or $1.57 per serving

Sausage and Summer Squash
I only buy kielbasa when it's BOGO so this ends up being a really cheap dinner. I would probably use the Naan flatbread and just brush it with olive oil and italian herbs to give it flavor, I know they carry that at Price Rite and it's cheaper than Boboli.

1/3 to 1/2 cup bottled Italian salad dressing
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. cooked Polish sausage links, halved lengthwise, sliced diagonally
3 small yellow summer squash and/or zucchini, quartered lengthwise
4 wedges Italian flat bread, split (Naan or homemade flatbread)
1/4 cup sliced green onions
Fresh oregano leaves (dried oregano is what I have on hand)
1/4 cup coarsely shredded Parmesan cheese (optional) (regular grated Parmesan from the can)

1. Preheat broiler. In small bowl combine dressing and garlic. In extra-large skillet cook sausage and squash in 2 tablespoons of the dressing mixture for 8 to 10 minutes or until sausage is heated through and squash is almost tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, place bread on broiler pan; brush with 1 tablespoon of the dressing mixture. Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until lightly toasted.
3. Serve sausage and squash with toasted bread. Drizzle remaining dressing; sprinkle green onions and oregano. Pass Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Appx cost:
Dressing: $0.75
Kielbasa: $1.50
Zucchini: $1.50
Naan $1.50
Green onions: $0.15

Grand total: $5.40 or $1.35 per serving

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Wanna be a hack?

I know that my posts usually center around grocery and food-related finds, but I just had to indulge a little...

I am an Ikea maniac. I fell in love with Ikea close to 12 years ago, when the nearest one was in Elizabeth, NJ and I could only visit when we were traveling to my grandma's house (later I could add trips to and from my college campus on Staten Island, but I SWEAR that didn't influence my college choice!) I always loved the style, the uniqueness, the CHEAPness...Ikea always satisfied my frugal side as well as my funky side. So maybe this post does have a place in my frugal tips after all :)

How this escaped me for so many years I don't know...but there's a whole Ikea-centric subculture of folks....hackers, if you will....who take old (or piecemeal) Ikea furniture and repurpose it, improve it, customize it, make it a whole new brand of awesome. My husband is a recent Ikea convert AND a tinkerer, so he blew a gasket when I showed him these sites. What I love is that these aren't just people taking Ikea furniture and refinishing it with new paint. These folks take old Ikea pieces and give them new life. They shop in the "as-is" section and turn leftover pieces of random furniture into fabulous and functional new pieces. They take an already economical furnishing option and get even more bang for their buck. Who needs Crate and Barrel when I have Ikea and a screw gun??

Ikea Hacker has a wealth of projects submitted by folks from all over the globe. I could spend a couple of hours just checking out all the great ideas and creative recycling going on here. This tv and music console really piqued hubby's interest, while I was getting geared up about these organization ideas..I'm thinking of using the pot racks to make wall hangings in the living room for my chotchkes and pictures!

This design article from a european website has a few good ideas - especially taking kitchen cabinets, adding legs and turning them into a sideboard.

This guy has pretty much furnished his place with nothing but hacks - I am getting ideas on organizing that pantry of mine...

Here's the ultimate in repurposing...an Ikea shower curtain into a waterproof dress. Can I get shoes to match?

I have to head up there for some funky fabric - my sister in law had a couple of extra firm (and very LONG) bed pillows that she didn't want so I am going to make pillow covers and use them on the couch...I will definitely be visiting the "as-is" section and dusting off my toolbox...

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Drowning in Cheerios!


Stop and Shop had a pretty good deal this week - certain GM cereals (Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs Combos, and Lucky Charms) were 4 for $6...that works out to $1.50 a box, slightly less than what I pay for the Price Rite brand of Cheerio knockoffs. Already a great deal, right?

It got better.

ALL of the GM cereals are on a "$4 off when you buy 4" promo. Not really a great sale, considering that most of the cereals are $3.50 to $4 each. BUT.....I stopped at Couponmom.com and hit up the Grocery Coupon Database. This is a handy tool if you find an item on sale but can't remember whether there was a coupon for it, as it allows you to search with keywords (Cheerios, cereal, General Mills, whatever..) and will show you ALL coupons that have not yet expired, what circular they appeared in, and any online coupons for the same item.

I plugged in "General Mills', and was given a gift....SEVEN GM coupons. All for $1 off. Four of them were for the "specialty" cereals (Total, Fiber One, flavored Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs). Two were $1 off any two cereals. One was $1 off any three ( I saved this one for another time).

Soooo....in two trips to S&S I picked up EIGHT boxes of cereal for $12.

It panned out like this:

First trip: One box each of Cocoa Puffs Combos, Total Cranberry, Fiber One Caramel Delight, and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. $4 taken off at the register, plus $4 in mfr coupons. Spent $8

Second trip: Four boxes Cheerios. Sale price of $6 for all, used TWO $1 off 2 boxes coupons. Spent $4

I didn't capitalize on this because my DS was getting ancy in the cart so I just dealt with it at the register. BUT....at least in my area, Stop and Shop has NOT entered the $4 off 4 boxes promo into their register system. So it rings in wrong. If you do what I did and bring it to the attention of the cashier on the spot, they will enter a manual coupon and send you on your way. IF YOU WAIT TILL YOUR TRANSACTION IS DONE and bring it to the customer service desk, they are supposed to credit you one box of cereal free PLUS the 4 bucks off because it's their mistake.

I still got 8 boxes for $1.50 each so I'm not complaining...but how sweet it would have been to get a freebie too!

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Menu Planning Monday - August 18th

Well I did manage to get some shopping done after vacation, and I hit upon a couple of really good deals! The tubs of Lloyds BBQ chicken, pork and beef were BOGO and I had FIVE $1 off coupons...so I got all of them for 2 bucks a piece (normally 6 bucks). And I had a couple of dollar off coupons for the sandwich size Thomas' muffins, so I got 2 packages for $2 each. Found Minute Maid lemonade on sale for $1 and I had a $1 off 2 coupon, so I picked up two for a buck. Overall it was a big stockup week, but I have plenty of ammunition for the next few weeks :)

Here's how the week's menu is shaping up...cost is total for the meal including any leftovers:

Monday: English muffin pizzas (with the large muffins) and mango & peach fruit salad ($4.00)

Tuesday: Chickpea Stew with rice ($3.44)

Wednesday: Baked Chicken drumsticks, mixed veggies, baked potato ($4.50)

Thursday: Lloyds BBQ pork on bulkie rolls, corn on the cob, steamed broccoli ($4.00)

Friday: Italian Chicken Skillet over rotini pasta ($4.35)

Saturday: Steak seasoned with hot sauce (Black and blue sauce from http://www.bandanabillsblazing.com/ - it's blackberry and blueberry...very cool!), veggies and easy cheese biscuits (see recipe below) ($7.75...splurge night!)

Sunday: Baked Ziti and leftover cheese biscuits with homemade garlic butter ($5.50)

Don't forget to head on over to OrgJunkie.com to check out hers and other monday menus!

Easy Cheese Biscuits
This recipe is one listed in The Best of Cooking with 3 Ingredients by Ruthie Wornall. I add more milk until the consistency is a little stickier because that's how I like them :)

2 1/4 cups baking mix
2/3 cup milk (I use closer to 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients until soft dough forms. Beat for 30 seconds. If dough is too sticky, add more baking mix. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Need a vacation from my vacation...

Well, I survived one whole week in the backwoods of Maine with my husband's family....Ten adults, two babies under age 2, two trailers, and more marshmallows than I can count, and here I am back at home mostly in one piece :) The hubby is helping unpack while I am catching up with the digital age again.

I hope you all enjoyed the tidbits I left behind while I was away (scheduling posts is a wonderful thing!)...I will be putting together my shopping list and my menu for the week between tonight and tomorrow morning. I've come across some great frugal blogs too and as I read thru them I'll pass on anything of interest that I find!

Happy Tax free weekend to my fellow Massachusetts residents!

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Ready to play...the Drugstore Game?

I've spent a lot of time talking about how I play the grocery game - particularly using the Couponmom.com to track coupons and sales and get the most bang for my buck. I've also used her site to track down deals at the drugstores like Walgreens and CVS....but did you know there's a whole school on how to play the DRUGSTORE GAME????

Money Saving Mom has the best explanation I've seen out there for how to play the CVS game. To be honest, I have avoided getting too deep into CVS because Extra Care Bucks confuse me. And I have a hard time keeping track of them, DS seems to get into my purse before I can file them away and use them later. But MSM reminded me that there's no rule saying you have to save those ECB's for another shopping trip. Yes, it requires a bit of preplanning. Yes, it also requires multiple trips to the CVS. But since I hit more than one store anyway, it's not impossible.

The idea is, you look for items that give you ECB's and use multiple trips and manufacturer's coupons to get lots of stuff for free. She uses a great illustration with a deodorant sale that lays it out pretty clearly. Here's how she explains it:

Deodorant is on sale for $2.49 with $3 ECB's and a max of 5 offers. She points out this is already a moneymaker, because the ECBs are more than the item cost. There happened to be a $1 off/1 coupon in the paper. If you can score multiple coupons, the trips would pan out as such...

  • Visit 1: Buy 1 deodorant with your coupon and pay $1.49, earn $3 ECBs
  • Visit 2: Use ECBs and 2 coupons to buy 2 more deodorants. Pay tax, walk away with $6 ECBs
  • Visit 3: Use ECBs and 3 more coupons, buy 3 more deodorants and one item worth $1.50. Pay nothing and walk away with $9 in ECBs

You make almost 8 bucks off of CVS by doing this...and don't have to buy deodorant for MONTHS! And the deals aren't just to be found in the weekly circular, they also put out a monthly ECB catalog just for CVS cardholders.

I haven't yet tried this particular technique, but the idea of a big chain PAYING me to shop there definitely has its appeal. Oh - and check with your local store, the one near my house accepts ALL competitor's coupons. That includes those Walgreens coupons that show up every week. It requires a little more vigilance too, making sure I'm not spending more than I would at Price Rite even after the ECBs...but I feel the bee stirring in my bonnet :)

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Menu Planning Monday - August 11th

Yes, I'm on a camping getaway right now...but through the miracles of modern technology, I am able to magically teleport my weekly meal plan..and...

Ok. I'm a little silly at the moment. Forgive me my indiscretion :)

I did want to post the family camping meal plan, if for no other reason than this whole trip fits into my frugal philosophy - we've rented a couple of trailers lakeside in Maine, complete with kitchenettes so we can prepare our own meals and free activities organized by the camp directors. The other night my mother in law, sister in law, grandmother in law and I sat around the table and wrote out all of our meals for the week, and divvyed up shopping and pre-cooking responsibilities. With a little luck, all 12 of us will be well fed and well rested when we get back!

Here's how it panned out, I left out prices this week because I am only doing a small part of the shopping:

Breakfasts: two egg, bacon and pancake breakfasts. One French toast breakfast. Cereal, fruit and muffins all other days.

Lunches: Cold cuts, mac and cheese, and cold cuts :)

Saturday: Spaghetti dinner
Sunday: Burgundy beef, fresh corn
Monday: Sloppy Joes, watermelon
Tuesday: Burgers and hot dogs, fruit salad
Wednesday: French meat pies
Thursday: Dorito Chicken Casserole
Friday: Pizza from the local eatery

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Attack of the Pantry Monster

As this reaches the blogosphere, my family and I are driving away on a week-long camping retreat to Maine....really it's my first extended vacation in about 15 years. To say I'm looking forward to it is an understatement!

My mother always made us clean the house before we went away...as a kid I HATED it, but there really is something mentally taxing about coming home from a week of R&R to a messy house. So I spent the last few days putting my duckies in a row and attacking everything with Lysol and the vacuum cleaner. In the process, I've been making note of some areas where my organizational skills are - ahem - lacking. The pantry is my current nemesis....we are really well stocked in there, but I haven't cleaned it and re-organized in, well....ever. I started to poke around for stuff that we could bring along for snacks and such, and found a bunch of Stage 1 baby foods. Did I mention that DS is 18 months old, and has been eating off my plate for the last 9?

It's starting to turn into my worst nightmare in there - stocked with food that I could completely forget about...thus flushing my fabulous savings down the drain. I've already had a few moments where I overbought on fruit and the week got too busy to bake, and we ended up hosting funerals for watermelon, mango, and bananas. I can't help it - I'm like a kid in a candy store when those sales flyers come in, and I have caught myself being a bit overzealous.

I think the process of menu planning will help keep me in check, even if I dive into the Once a month cooking pool I will be buying more with the intent of cooking it all relatively quickly. I decided to invest in a big whiteboard to hang over the stove - on it I can write up the menu plan for the week, with space for important appointments and a running list of "needs". It will force me to do my weekly menu by Friday or Saturday when the sales start, but I think I can handle that.

I'm also going to poke around for tips to organizing around the house. OrgJunkie.com has some useful tips on getting started (hence the name!). I'll be reading this post on organizing your pantry for ideas to attack my particular monster. And this article from MSN, The Emergency Fund You Can Eat has good quick-reference tables for storing foods, and reminds me not to go too crazy just because something is on sale.

I need to be thrifty AND smart...good habits now will help as our family expands, and I have more to keep track of. I'm going out to get that whiteboard today, and I think I will pick up some more Lock & Lock containers and wire shelf organizers while I'm at it. Coming home to a clean house AND a clean pantry would be HEAVEN!!

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Splenda, anyone?

I wasn't going to blog tonight, but I had another MAJOR coup in the savings game.

I've been browsing the blogosphere to get info that might be helpful to pass along, and I came across Bargain Hunting Moms. I had tagged her site a while back as a reference for online shopping deals, but when I visited tonight, her header caught my eye - she had just paid $19 for 128 Pop Tarts, shipped, from Amazon.com's grocery clearance. They have a thing going on right now where you use the coupon code CLRANC78 and get an instant $10 rebate at checkout on clearance grocery items.

My curiosity was piqued, so I hopped on to Amazon to check this out.

I mentioned when I started this blog that my husband is a Type 1 diabetic. One of the items I constantly have to blow my budget on is Splenda - it's the only non-chemical tasting sweetener that has been remotely useful in baking recipes as far as I can tell, and he hates to put the pink stuff on his oatmeal. So how happy was I to see that they had 3-bag packs of Splenda on the grocery clearance?

They were $26 for three packs, so with the $10 instant rebate I'd be looking at $16 for three, or $5 and change per bag. Even at the bulk stores I have to pay 8 or 9 bucks for a bag, so this was already VERY appealing. THEN I remembered that I had earned a $10 Amazon gift code for filling out a survey.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I just bought THREE bags of sweetener for $6.

Had to share this before vacation, in case the code expires soon. Check out all the Amazon Grocery Clearance Items and see what gems you can come up with!

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Down in the O(am)C


They are 4 letters that intimidate me. A lot.

OAMC, or Once-a-month Cooking, is a common meal planning technique that is pretty self-explanatory. You set aside one day (or one weekend) per month, and do an all-out cooking marathon. You prepare an entire month's worth of dinners for the freezer in one fell swoop. I can't imagine surviving such an undertaking without several chocolate martinis...which means there's no guarantee the last few dishes would be edible. :)

However, the end result appeals to me a LOT. I imagine my basement freezer stacked to the brim with neatly packaged mini-meals. If I have to work at night, hubby can tap into a storehouse of homemade TV dinners and I don't have to worry that the peanut is getting hot dogs and mac & cheese AGAIN. Meal planning that just involves a quick inventory in the basement. And me, freed from the bonds of the kitchen for 28 days out of the month...where's that martini?

There are lots of OAMC resources out there for those of us thinking of getting started:

Mom's Budget - a good quick reference FAQ list. Check out their recipe listings too!
Real Food for Real People - cookbooks listing complete with links to Amazon
Cook of the Month - a beta freezer cooking site that lets you select recipes, and organizes them to create a shopping list for you
Bulk Cooking by Jennia Hart - a wealth of how-to links, recipes, and planning tips

This is just the tip of the iceberg - because in truth, you can expand any of your favorite recipes to make them bulk-friendly. You can double or triple family favorites, and AllRecipes.com allows you to increase or decrease the number of servings on their recipes and adjusts the ingrediets accordingly, taking the math out of your hands. If I'm going to spend 10 hours cooking, I don't want to wrestle with a calculator too! The key to the whole process is PLANNING. Planning your shopping to maximize savings, planning your cooking day to be efficient in the kitchen, planning your packaging to freeze things in usable portions and label them for easy reference later.

I don't know if I will ever get to the point where I will make a whole month at a time, but it will definitely be worth my while to consider making three or four dishes in large batches to give me a buffer in meal planning. And when the produce sales hit, I can cook and freeze and not worry about either watching my savings spoil in the fridge, or serving 3 pounds of zucchini for dinner.

No matter what, it's another tool in my arsenal - whether it's used a little or a lot, OAMC (*shiver*) is definitely going to help take the mission to the next level. I just need to dust off those martini glasses....

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Menu Plan Monday - August 3rd

Ok so here goes - my first real attempt at menu planning for the week! I am heading out for a much needed vacation on Saturday, so I figured the short week was a good opportunity to get my feet wet. I decided to try and keep track of the cost of dinners too - most of my recipes are 5 bucks or less so if I can do a week for $35 total, I'm in good shape. It's just another way to stay on point towards my goal! I did a lot of reading on other posters at Organizing Junkie and it seems there are as many ways to go about it as there are bloggers joining in!

So here goes...

Breakfasts: any mix of the following: oatmeal and fruit, cereal and fruit, frozen waffles with yogurt, or eggs and toast

Lunches: Sandwiches, soups or leftovers.

Sunday: Dinner at the in-laws!

Monday: Slow cooker London Broil with potatoes and carrots, cheese biscuits ($4.10)

Tuesday: Tacos with lettuce, tomato, peppers, sour cream and cheese ($6.50)

Wednesday: Homemade pepper, onion and cheese pizza ($3.75)

Thursday: Chickpea stew with rice ($3.44)

Friday: Chicken Stir Fry (chicken, straw mushrooms, water chestnuts, broccoli) and rice ($3.65)

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What is frugal to you?

When I started this blog, I was a researchin' fiend....I had bookmarked every Google hit on "frugal living" and "frugal recipes" from here to Tacoma. There is a LOT of information out there, and it can be overwhelming to weed out what is truly useful to me, and what is either not current, or not as helpful for what I'm able to accomplish....try Googling "urban homesteading" and see what comes up...those folks are super ambitious, but it's not really in my realm of possibility right now.

One site, Hillbilly Housewife, had caught my attention pretty early on - she offers a lot of really good tips on frugal living to the max...and she got me started on making more of my own stuff from scratch which has saved a lot of money and made breakfasts more interesting! But she posts a pair of "Emergency" menus...one that is $45 for a week of shopping, one that is $70. I had printed them out, thinking that those were the weekly menus I should aspire to.

They are still fabulous examples of Extreme Meal Planning - every bite is accounted for, down to the beverages. But I had to wonder how realistic the dollar amounts were - and several weeks into my own shopping experiences, I look at those menus and think that perhaps my own pantry offers more variety. Granted, I can have 10 dollar shopping weeks because I have taken the time to stock a very happy pantry and freezer, but I think advanced planning like that is necessary when you're talking about being frugal.

So how realistic are HBHW's menu prices? Check out this post at Living Almost Large where she took the time to price out the entire $70 menu plan on current pricing for the New England area. I knew there'd be a difference, she points out that the HBHW prices are from 2006 and they live in North Carolina - but the 140% difference was a bit staggering. She used pricing from Stop and Shop, and while many of the items are cheaper for me at Price Rite, it wasn't hugely far off. And as other commenters to the article have pointed out, there are ways to be just as frugal without resorting to bacon ends, reconstituted powdered milk, and a few other tidbits within the menu plan.

Now don't get me wrong - I still turn to HBHW for recipes, she has a great listing of cheap eats that have required very little tweaking on my end - and that's just because my DH has particular tastes. And she definitely inspired me to move away from the pre packaged foods and make more from scratch...I make a mean muffin, and my DS is quite fond of my homemade pizza. But as with anything, test what you read against your own experiences....what works for one person may point you in a better direction, but may not be the ultimate answer. So keep reading, keep testing, and come up with the Frugal formula that works for your family!

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