Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vocalpoint: Awesome Coupon Source

A few months ago I signed up at Vocalpoint. It's a place where people come and give their opinions of different products. They will also occasionally send you really nice coupons for free products.

The first set of Vocalpoint coupons I received was six coupons for Rice Krispies. One was for a free box, outright and there were five more for a dollar off each. I hit our local supermarket, which was having a sale on Rice Krispies for $1.50 a box. I walked out, completely giddy, with six boxes of cereal for $3.

Since then I've received similar coupons for Kashi cereal, Pantene, and most recently for Dole fruit jars. One coupon is for buy one get one free, and there are five more $1 off coupons.

Since signing up I haven't received a lot of spam from them (I think I'll get maybe one email a month), so they won't clog your inbox or spambox with anything.

It doesn't take long to sign up and you can save tons of money while stocking your pantry. Click here to register.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Save Money on Herbs

I love having an herb garden. There is nothing better than fresh pesto, rosemary potatoes or sage-stuffed roasted chicken. Each spring I plant herbs and each spring has me out in the garden wondering which of my herbs survived the winter and while I'll have to replace. Last year I got lucky and my thyme and sage survived while my rosemary and oregano bit the dust. This year I'm doing something different- I'm starting cuttings inside this winter.

I've started lots of plants this way. I have a plant of my great grandmothers that I'm scared to death to lose, so I have started that one over and over for fear I lose one. I figure starting new herbs will be similar.

Start by clipping the herbs close to the ground.


Bring them inside and clear the lowest leaves. Leaves left on the stem below the water level will just rot and hurt the chances of your cutting producing roots (which is the goal).


Place the cuttings in water on a sunny windowsill. Over the next several weeks, they will produce roots. Fight the urge to clip and use them during this time! When spring comes, the plants will have enough roots so that you can plant them outside.


Buying fresh herbs to plant in your garden every year can become costly (at $3 to $5 per plant). Starting your own will definitely save you money.

I've pictured rosemary here. You can also do this with the following herbs: lavendar, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, tarragon and thyme.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reminder: Do Something For Yourself

All mommies tend to put everyone first and when you work outside the home, your boss is just another someone in that line of people who need something from you. When you are working full time, want to maximize the amount of time you spend with your kids, keep your home organized and dinner on the table it's often difficult to find time for yourself. However, it is so important to do. I've heard Dr. Phil say a number of times "if momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy." Whether or not you like Dr. Phil, the saying is quite true.

So, try hard to find time for yourself. If your spouse can watch the kids while you go out for an hour or two, have him do that. Perhaps you have friends that wouldn't mind you dropping the kids at their home (maybe someone in your shoes with whom you can later return the favor). If you have no one to help you watch the kids call in sick one day (or take a personal day), drop the kids at daycare, and spend the day alone. You can shop, go to a show or just lay in bed all day reading a book. Recently I joined a gym and get up in the morning at 5 am so I can run for an hour before I go to work. What a difference this has been making to my mood (and my waistline!).

It's often tough to give yourself permission to take time alone to recharge, but remember how important it is. Every time I do something nice for myself, I'm a much nicer person to be around.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Several years ago a friend of mine showed up at a party with a selection of cheeses he'd made. They were delicious! I tucked that back in my mind as something I'd really like to try someday.

Well, that day came this weekend. I went onto eBay and found a 30-minute mozzerella cheesemaking kit on auction and ended up getting it for about $6.50 plus shipping. It was enough to make thirty pounds of cheese. It also sounded like something fun for my daughter to help me with.

We started with a gallon of whole milk straight from the supermarket and followed the directions exactly. I'm sorry to say I don't have photos (next time!) but it was super easy and definitely something we'll be doing more of. My little girl loved helping me. It was pretty safe for her, because the temperature of the cheese doesn't get much above 100 degrees. I told her we were making a surprise and she didn't figure out what we were doing til the end.

The cheese was (yes, was... we ate the entire batch- about a pound or so) delicious. It's absolutely devine when it's warm. I look forward to making another batch or two to freeze, and to use on homemade pizza. And I'm planning on starting to bid on a hard cheese kit from eBay soon.

Costwise... it cost me about $0.50 per batch for the materials plus the cost of a gallon of milk (less than $3). When I buy mozzerella balls at Sam's it costs me at least twice that, and the homemade tastes so much better. Not to mention we can make this into string cheese, which can be very pricey for what you actually get.

Cheesemaking... definitely a money saver and a fun thing to do with your kids.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Multitasking at Bathtime

One challenge I often face is justifying taking time to clean my house when I get to spend so little time with my kids. I work all day... all I want to do is come home and spend time with my family, not clean my house. At the same time, I like a clean house- so it gets tough.

A couple years ago, my daughter was taking a bath and I was just sitting on the floor reading the latest issue of Bon Appetit. I looked up and was grossed out at how dirty the mirror was. So, I got up and cleaned it. Then I cleaned the sink, vanity and toilet too. It honestly took me ten minutes! By the time I was done, my daughter was finished with her bath and I left the bathroom very satisfied that I'd killed (or cleaned, as it turned out) two birds with one stone.

I do this routinely now. I think of little ways I can spend time with my kids while I'm doing chores. In fact, last night while I was cleaning her bathroom she told me a very interesting story, so I had a little free entertainment!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Save Money AND Clean Green

I embrace green cleaning whenever I can. There are a few things I'd rather use a stronger, disinfecting cleaner on (e.g., toilets) but whenever I can I use natural ingredients to clean with.

I've done most of my cleaning these days with white distilled vinegar. It doesn't smell great, but the smell dissipates rather quickly and the fumes aren't as harsh as bleach-based cleansers. You can also add a little lavendar or tea tree oil to your cleansers to give them a better smell and more of a disinfectant property. I also love the fact that it's SAFE for my family. I can clean the tub with my green cleaners and don't have to worry about not getting all of the cleanser out before the kids' next bath.

Another benefit to using vinegar to clean with is that it is CHEAP! You can purchase a gallon for about $2 and it should last you weeks.

In case I've convinced you to try cleaning with vinegar, here's a simple way to clean your bathroom vanity (or any other surface). I like adding baking soda because it reacts with the vinegar to produce a fizz that seems to lift the crud off better. Plus, it is slightly (but not overly) abrasive. Another plus- it's cheap too.

It works best if you put a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water into a spray bottle. You can purchase these for about a buck apiece. I keep my baking soda in a bottle too (buying a shaker bottle for this is on my to-do list).


Sprinkle baking soda over the surface you wish to clean, then spritz it with the vinegar solution. It should fizz for a few minutes.

When it finishes fizzing, rinse it clean. I like using microfiber rags because they're really absorbant and do not leave lint behind.


There you go! Cheap clean and easy peasy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saving Money with Castile Soap

Oddly enough, I am quite picky about handsoap. I like the foamy stuff better than the gel (I feel like I am using less I think!). I also do not like to use antibacterial agents. Not only are the unneccesary but they're bad for the environment. Soap, water and a bit of scrubbing is all you need to rid yourself of bacteria anyway.

Having said all that, I have a money-saving tip involving handsoap.

I simply re-use foam dispensers I got from Bath and Body works and fill them with Dr. Bronners castile soap. Castile soap is a type of soap made from olive oil rather than animal fat, so appeals largely to vegetarians. I like it because it has so few ingredients and is SAFE. Bonus... if you ever buy a bottle of Dr. Bronners, you'll have a hoot reading his label, found here.

It's important to dilute the soap. The bottle costs between eight and nine dollars but it ends up worth it. Trust me.

Once you start drawing air from your pump. Add the soap.


Add about this much. Top off with water. Viola!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Monday Blahs

How does that old song go? Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

It's tough getting to spend the entire weekend with your kids, only to have to send them off to daycare on Monday morning while you drag yourself to work. Granted, the weekends aren't always dreamy- I think because they are a little disruptive of everyone's routine- but I think we all love family time.

So, what are ways to make Mondays seem less sad?

Talk to your kids about the fun you'll have at the end of the day together. Ask them what they think they'll be doing during the day. Talk about your weekend, asking them what their favorite part was. It's not even too soon to begin thinking about what you want to do next weekend.

If your experience is like mine, however, your kids will not mind going back to school. They have more friends, more toys, and honestly probably more fun. I think *I* am the one with the biggest problem.

So, what do I do? On Mondays I try to download any pics of the kids or our time together over the weekend. I also have a digital picture frame (GREAT Christmas gift for the weekend homemaker, by the way) that I download some of those pictures onto. All day the pictures of my family flash up and make me smile.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not always sad to return to work on Monday. But some days are worse than others. Just knowing that we'll all be together again very soon usually goes a long way to making me feel better.

Hang in there, fellow working moms!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Blog

I've been reading MoneySavingMom's blog for months now, and it's a clearinghouse of information on savings through coupons and weekly sales.

Each week she will post sales from various stores (Target, Walmart, RiteAid, Walgreens) and combine them with coupons. Many items end up being very cheap, free or even eligible for an overage (meaning YOU get money for taking the item out of the store). There are links to each coupon and if there are restrictions or limits she'll let you know.

She also posts other money-saving tips and information gathered from other money-saving moms that contribute to her posts.

I love her blog, and highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Making Your Oven Multitask

When I do my weekend cooking or baking, I plan how things are going to be cooking in my oven. When your oven is on, you are using electricity and heating up your kitchen (bad in summer, not as bad in winter). So, if you can put several things in the oven at once, you will be saving not only money, but time as well.

In the photo below (excuse the mess my poor oven is in) I've got a lasagna baking as well as a loaf of bread, a head of garlic roasting and a large sweet potato we will eat later this week. I'm sure I could have stuck something else in there like a pan of brownies or something. You get the idea though. Sometimes it takes adjusting (not everything cooks at 350 degrees), but you can usually get it to work pretty well for you.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Save Time by Making Extra

I don't get home from work until after 5:00 each day. By then, everyone is hungry and it's hard for me to cook a nice nutritious dinner when my two and three year olds are tugging at my pants and wanting snacks.

Most of the cooking I do, I do on the weekends. I'll make a lasagna or roast a chicken or make a pot of chili and it will last for at least a couple meals during the week. When I do cook, I always make extra and freeze it.

Last weekend I made a lasagna to eat, and one to freeze. Here's a tip to avoid freezing your entire pan and having to go without.

Line a pan (I use 9 x 9 but you can use any size) with aluminum foil. Use two pieces placed perpendicular to each other and make sure the entire pan is covered.


Fill the pan with your casserole, lasagna or whatever it is you're making that day.


Wrap it with the foil and place it in your freezer. Once it's frozen, remove it from the pan, foil and all, and wrap the foil tightly around the frozen food.


If you use a 9 x 9 pan you should be able to easily slide this into a gallon-sized freezer bag (which is why I use this size pan). Otherwise, you'll want to wrap it in another layer to prevent freezer burn. Don't forget your label, and place it back into the freezer.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Post-Halloween Money Saving Opportunity

Before Halloween I saw these cute little sugar pumpkins with faces painted on them for about $5.

Yesterday I went to Walmart and they were a dollar apiece. So, I bought two. These little pumpkins yield the equivalent of two to three cans of pumpkin, and canned pumpkin costs nearly $1 a can. I figure I made the equivalent of four to six cans for $2. They're relatively easy to roast, puree and freeze.

First, cut each pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and stringy goo. Of course, save the seeds so you can roast those too!


Place them cut side down on a cookie sheet and roast them for 45 minutes or so at 350. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool long enough so that you can pull the skin off easily. If it doesn't come off easily, it's probably not cooked all the way yet.


To toast the pumpkin seeds, rinse them a little and add a teaspoon or so of salt, mixing well. Dump them on another cookie sheet and put them in the oven with the roasting pumpkins for 20 minutes or so or until they are as done as you like.

Put the pumpkin in a blender or food processor. You should end up with a bowlful of puree and some toasty pumpkin seeds.


You can put the pumpkin in a freezer bag, or seal it up with a food sealer and freeze it.


Here is two pumpkins worth of puree:

Make sure to label the bags well with the contents and date.