Monthly Archives: January 2009

Frugal Friday: Cakes

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I will NEVER be confused with a cake decorator. I can bake yummy cakes.  I can make a tasty frosting.  I cannot put the two together.

My mother-in-law decorates beautiful cakes.  She made my wedding cake.  My mom does a good job too, albeit not as fancy as my mother-in-law.  Where do I go wrong?  Who knows.

I just finished making two small cakes and 48 mini cupcakes.  Grace’s birthday is tomorrow and we really celebrate birthdays around here.  One small cake is needed for our daycare treat today.  Another is for her birthday tomorrow.  The cupcakes are going with Grace and me to girl scout winter camp tonight.

Buying all that cake would definitely not be frugal.  Two cake mixes is a much better price…purchased on sale of course.  Some pink homemade frosting is a tasty topping.  But they look a bit plain.  How do I jazz them up?  SPRINKLES! I have many different types of sprinkles around here.  Add a few and you have instant festivity!  Then to really add fun stick some goofy candles in the top and you have a cake fit for a celebration.  Right?

Sprinkles are just the thing to spruce up my cakes on this Frugal Friday.  Check out Biblical Womanhood for more Frugal Friday posts.

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Filed under In the Kitchen, Kids

Hidden Gems

When you are frugal because you have to be, it can feel like the fun has been sucked out of life.  That’s how things started for us three years ago, and I know that is where a lot of people will be in the days to come.

With kids in elementary school we didn’t want to make them feel deprived of all things fun.  Once those kids are in school they know what they are missing.  My quest to find frugal fun began.

I literally called all the restaurants in town (ok, that isn’t very many…6 maybe) and asked about weekly specials. In half an hours time I knew who had buck burgers on Monday night and when kids ate free at the local diner and pizza place.  This would help when we really felt the need to get out for a meal, which still wasn’t often but even saving $10 occasionally meant a lot.

Read the classifieds of the paper closely. Our local movie theater offers free kids movies every Saturday in December with a donation to the food shelf.  Our community center offers special free or low cost events periodically.  We also found oil change coupons and other specials posted there.

I  checked into rates at the local community center where there is a pool.  We found out that our insurance would give us money back if we checked in at the center a certain number of times.  If  Dan and I both go 12 times a month, we each get money back.  This makes our membership for our family less than $10 per month.  For that the kids can swim and play basketball or air hockey or ping pong several days a week.

In reading handouts from school, we learned about many elementary sports opportunities that were inexpensive.  My kids could typically participate in a short basketball or wrestling program for $20 or less and receive a free t-shirt, basketball, bag or water bottle with the school team logo on it.  This is a great way to get out of the house and get some school spirit for a low cost.

Looking into local natural resources can be beneficial. Bike riding around the local bike trail was another fun activity for us.  We also have many local parks and a couple of state parks within a reasonable distance.  Hiking and picnicking are fun ways to get out too.

I never expected to find all these gems when I first went looking.  And we didn’t do extra things every week, but it gave us options that helped our kids feel “normal” while our budget was so tight.  In fact I almost didn’t “bother” to look for deals, sure there were none we could afford.

At home we did the typical tightwad things. I made room for the popcorn popper on the counter so we always had a good (cheap) snack for family TV viewing.  We dusted off the games and played plenty of games as a family. We put together large puzzles saved from my childhood.   We simply took time to hang out together.

And that is my favorite thing…simple, inexpensive times together with family.

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Rethink That Parking Spot

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At a baby shower for my first baby, I got some of the best, most practical  advice I’ve ever gotten.  Most advice people give is subjective.  Some things work, some don’t.  This is a tangible piece of advice that has always worked.

When parking at the store or mall, always try to park next to a cart return.  Always.  As close as you can get…even if that means parking farther from the doors.

Why?  When you have a newborn those carriers are heavy and you are tired.  If you park out farther you can always put that infant seat right in a cart in the parking lot and push the baby into the store.

But the  best part is on the way out.  Have you ever parked a distance from a cart return, then when you’ve unloaded your bags into your vehicle you have to push the cart back?  What did you do with your kids?  I was always nervous about  leaving them in the car…even if it was 6 or 7 parking spaces away.  So I would have had to drag them with when all they would want to do is sit down.  With a baby you are carrying them the extra distance to the car from the cart return.

Now that my kids are older and definitely do not ride in carts, I still park near the cart return.  It is really simple to unload those big things like cases of paper towels or toilet paper, or those 8 bags into the van and then pop the cart in the return stall and be on my way.

Next time you are out shopping give it a try.  Park next to the cart return and let me know if it worked for you…because it has worked for me for years.

For more works-for-me-Wednesday posts check out all the posts at  Rocks In My Dryer.

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My Weekly Lists

I struggle as much as the next gal with my list of tasks.  Some say to limit it to 6 things, or 8, or some other arbitrary number meant to keep us from overloading our day.  I’ve never been good at limiting the number of things on my list. I could add to that thing all day.

I love to cross things off.  I’ll even admit to writing a thing or two on the list after I’ve done it, just so I can cross it off.  On a good day I can complete at least a dozen things.  On a lazy day, maybe 4 or 5.

After the exhilaration of crossing off those tasks, I like to have that list out of my head.  I hate spending too much time thinking “what was I going to do?”   A nice long list means I won’t forget what needs done, right?

Planning my list out too far is troublesome for me though.  Obviously if there is something that has to get done on a particular day, then I note that.  Otherwise I might not feel like cleaning the refrigerator on Tuesday.  Or ironing on Thursday.

Making out a weekly to-do list solved most of my problems. I love my weekly lists.  That list can be long.  It can encompass a lot.  And yet is stays flexible.

When I am particularly motivated, I can conquer a good chunk of that list.  If I have a hectic day I can just do one or two things.  Keeping in mind that the goal is to complete the list by the weekend helps me pace myself. I learned the hard way not to leave 80% of it for Friday.

I no longer spend time rewriting the things I didn’t do today on tomorrow’s list.  I don’t worry that I forgot something.  And I spread the sense of accomplishment over the whole week, enjoying all those crossed off items.

My weekly list tends to run from Monday to Friday and then I make a separate weekend list.  Have you ever tried a weekly list?  Or do you find daily lists work best for you?

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Another Week…Another Menu

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I am a seasoned menu planner, but this is my first time participating in Menu Plan Monday.   My days run much smoother and life is happier when I know what’ll be cookin’ next in the kitchen.  You will notice that I serve big lunches.  As a daycare provider I am  to serve all four food groups at lunch as part of my food program requirements.  It is my choice to make them as healthy and cost effective as possible.  Most of the breads and pasta are whole grain and the meat is lean.  Enjoy.  And be sure to check out orgjunkie.com for other great menus.

  • MONDAY

Breakfast: doughnuts, oranges, milk

Lunch: lasagna hot dish, romaine salad, milk

Snack: peanut butter on whole grain crackers, water

Supper: fresh crappies, steamed broccoli & cauliflower, peaches, wheat bread & milk

  • TUESDAY

Breakfast: Cheerios, 100% juice punch, milk

Lunch: Sausage, pancakes, bananas, strawberries, milk

Snack:  Cottage cheese dip, raw veggies

Supper: Tator tot hot dish, salad, milk

  • WEDNESDAY

Breakfast: Pancakes, strawberries, milk

Lunch: Home-made cheese pizza, Romaine salad, apples, milk

Snack: Toast & milk

Supper: Chicken, corn, pears, rice pilaf, milk

  • THURSDAY

Breakfast: Oatmeal, apples, milk

Lunch: Chicken quesadillas, refried beans, oranges, milk

Snack: Cookies and milk

Supper: Leftovers (garbage day is Friday so we always empty out the frig on Thursday night)

  • FRIDAY

Breakfast: English muffin with peanut butter, applesauce, milk

Lunch: Tuna & cheese hot dish, peas, carrots, milk

Snack: Tator tots and milk

Supper: BBQ Chicken pizza, raw veggies, apple, soda pop

  • SATURDAY

Breakfast is whatever anyone finds/wants to make themselves.

Lunch: Tacos, salad, corn

Supper: Broiled salmon, baked potatoes, peas, toast

  • SUNDAY

Breakfast is cereal, juice and milk…it’s just the kids since Dan and I go out for a small breakfast while they are at Sunday School.  It is our weekly date!

Lunch: Potato Soup and grilled cheese, apple slices & milk

Supper: Chimichangas (frozen and easy) leftover fruit and veggies from frig

Snacks on the weekend include popcorn, apples, cereal or goodies I’ve baked recently.

Note:  I plan my menus from my pantry, so these may change a bit depending on schedule changes around here.

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Cold Lunches: Part 2

I mentioned here the main thing that works for me and my kids when it comes to packing lunches.  After jokes and the need for dessert, it is important to pack food the kids will eat in the right size portions.

At first I wanted to pack wonderfully fun lunches full of variety…then I realized that was more about me than it was about them.   Grace and Stanley are like many kids…they could eat the same thing day after day.

A usual lunch around here will consist of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold pizza, homemade “lunchables”  or yogurt and granola.  That is really it.  Occasionally there might be a ham sandwich or a spinach salad, but for the most part it is pretty boring.  And, they like it that way.

I have those Thermos containers to keep food hot.  I offered taco meat and chips and cheese.  I offered tomato soup to go with cheese and crackers or a cheese sandwich.  Sloppy Joe meat to put on a bun was rejected too.  They want it simple. Who am I to argue with that?

To accompany the main dish is always at least one fruit or vegetable.  Usually carrot sticks, orange sections, kiwi, applesauce, or fruit leftover from a recent meal.

I have a thing about sending milk to school.  The kids use a stainless steel water bottle in their lunch boxes and I am never sure the milk stays cold long enough, so they don’t take milk to school.  When I find a really good price on Capri Sun or some other juice/drink  box I will buy some to put in lunches.  This is totally a treat and they tend to space this out so it lasts longer.  The main beverage?  water.

And then there are the desserts.  Those vary depending on how much baking I’ve done recently.  I make an awesome monster bar that freezes well so I can freeze them cut and already packed in snack size baggies.  Brownies are good.  Mini cupcakes.  Rice krispie bars.  If there are no baked goods they are content with a couple tootsie rolls.

To keep costs low I use small cloth napkins and real silverware in their lunches.  I also have sandwich holders and various small containers that go into their lunchboxes.  The occasional snack size baggie holding their dessert is the only disposable item they have.  They even return the jokes to me.  Some I save to use the next year and some I send on to friends who pack lunches.

I am not one to pack lunches the night before nor do I have a lot of time in the morning.  I have daycare kids showing up before my kids need to be out the door, so time and attention to lunches is limited after 7:15.  I have found that it takes less than 15 minutes to pack lunch for both kids.  That 15 minutes saves me $3.50 that day. Definitely a good return on my time investment.

I don’t always want to pack the lunches…especially when I don’t readily know what to pack.  But the kids remind me that the same as yesterday is fine, it was good.  I make pizza every other week with hopes of leftovers for 2 or 3 days of lunches.   Keeping in mind that kids like routine and predictability and really don’t require big portions helps me enjoy putting their lunches together.  Knowing that it saves so much money in the budget doesn’t hurt either.

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Procrastination Station

Please tell me you all procrastinate too.  Everyone does…right?  This week simple mom talked about eating your frog first thing.  That is what I am trying to do today.

It already isn’t working.  If I were eating my frog I would be taking care of the papers on my desk and updating my accounts in Quicken.  Instead I am typing.  But I plan to eat that frog.  Right after I hit post.

My kids have had a funny habit lately of needing to go to the bathroom every time we tell them to do something.  Especially empty the dishwasher.  We’ll tell them both to go empty the dishwasher and inevitably one will say “just a minute, I have to go to the bathroom”.

Of course, they are hoping that the other will get a lot of it done and there will be less to do when they get back.  We have started telling the other to wait to start until their sibling is done.

I’ve teased them that it sure is weird that simply touching the dishwasher can make them have to go.  And we’ve renamed the bathroom the Procrastination Station.

I realized this morning that I too have a procrastination station. It is here in front of the computer.  I had better find a way around that since the frog I have to eat is right here too…my office clutter and mess.  Maybe if I shut the computer down for the morning.  Except I really should email my sister and my aunt first.  Oh, and I need to finish a photo book  for a gift.  Hmm…this could really be a problem.

Where is your procrastination station?

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