Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here are my frugal accomplishments from the past two weeks:

*Had a couple marathon kitchen sessions: 1) cooked chicken in water and saved it for broth (Who needs to buy cans when you can make your own healthier, cheaper broth?!, cooked a pound of ground beef purchased on sale (Because I don't eat beef, and Eric processes at least one deer each winter, I purchase just 3 or 4 pounds of ground beef each year--when I see the price, I'm so thankful!), cut up a bag-full of overripe bananas (99 cents) to freeze for use in smoothies, cooked a pound of black beans
*Made apple muffins, bean and rice wraps, oatmeal bread, chicken and rice soup, syrup, banana bread and gingersnaps
*Ordered a book for a gift through PBS, as well as one for myself
*Received a free subscription to RS with some rewards points
*Signed up for a program at the library and received a couple goodies for doing so
*Stocked up on holiday foods in high quantities at crazy-low prices to use over the next year: canned veggies, stuffing mix, cream soups, etc.
*Stopped by a store clearance, but wasn't super-impressed this time. Found a few items at good prices, including a (seasonal) potholder for just 34 cents. Mine have burnt through at the tips and aren't really doing the job anymore. I have them on my Christmas list, but this one will get me through until then! Also picked up a couple gifts.
*Grocery deals: red hots and sunflower seeds for just 15 cents/pkg! (store closeouts), 2 containers of hummus (reg. $3.99 each) for $2.99 total combining sale and cpn
*Earned a $5 gift card through Swagbucks
*Used my resources in planning food for two different events recently. I needed to bring an appetizer and salad to a dinner. I wasn't sure what I'd do with the pouch of salmon I got last month for 4 cents, so I looked for dip recipes. I mixed it with a package of cream cheese (on sale for $1.19) and half a can of diced green chiles (on sale for 79 cents, and served it with (what else?) sale crackers for a total of less than $2! For the other meal, a potluck, I made baked sandwiches using on-hand and sale ingredients and a dozen cupcakes using a free mix I got and some leftover frosting. My contributions to that meal cost less than $5. Love it!
*Ordered two free mini pizzas and a small box of dessert pizza using free coupons we had (kids earn mini pizzas monthly from school reading program; dessert pizza was earned free through rewards program)--it was almost $12 worth of food for free! And it's a special treat for our family, so the kids were very excited.
*Received lots of free samples in the mail: granola, baby wipes, antacid, coffee, soap, shampoo
*Gave haircuts to Eric and Nathan
*Stopped by our neighborhood book swap box and found a kids' Christmas book that's been on my wishlist. I was excited!
*Eric needed some carpet remnants, and the hardware store was running a free rebate for up to 6 of them. So he paid just 84 cents tax for 6 carpet squares.

I did much better this month with the grocery budget, and should even have a little cash leftover. Hooray! It helps that we still have some garden goodies, including this giant potato, which measured 8 1/2 inches long. I made soup with it and only needed one more small potato to feed our whole family and have leftovers!

I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities. And to all of you in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

CANcer

It is hard to believe that it was six years ago today that my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 metastasized prostate cancer. Six years is a long time, and to be clear, he has never been in remission. He has been fighting cancer this whole time, enduring hours of appointments, tests and treatments. Just this week he completed his 6th round of chemo. We are so grateful that his pain has decreased during this time, but of course chemo is hard on your body in other ways, and he has been more tired and sometimes feels just plain lousy.

I definitely don't claim to be an expert, and of course every situation and even type of cancer is unique. When I was contacted by Heather, a women with a powerful story of surviving a rare and often fatal type of cancer, I wanted to merge her story with my dad's to inform and also raise awareness. Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma at age 36, just weeks after giving birth to her daughter. She has endured surgery and chemo and is now a proud survivor! I think it's awesome that she's using her experience to encourage and educate others.

I wasn't familiar with this disease. According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, "Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that attacks the lining of the body cavity called the mesothelium. The only known cause to mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is still not banned in the United States today."

Heather encouraged me to share with you ways that you can help keep your lungs healthy: by avoiding air pollution, exposure to toxic substances (particularly asbestos, which is how Heather was affected), and not smoking tobacco. If you would like more information, you can click here for a list of symptoms associated with mesothelioma.

It is so sad how prevalent cancer has become. I'm sure all of us have at least one close friend or family member who is impacted by some form of the disease. Let's do what we can to encourage those in our lives who are battling cancer, and also let's be aware ourselves of the risk factors that most impact us and our loved ones!
(Photo from the June 2009 marathon my dad ran in Iowa--7 months after his diagnosis)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here are my frugal accomplishments from the past two weeks:

*Scored a pouch of salmon for just 4 cents and free 7up with coupons
*Other grocery deals: cereal for $1/box, 1/2 gallon of chocolate milk for 93 cents (sale and cpn), coconut oil for $3.99 (combining store and manufacturer cpns)
*Won a $10 gift card in an on-line sweepstakes
*Went to the thrift store when shirts and sweaters for B1G1, and got several cute ones at half-price
*Made pumpkin apple muffins and cranberry white chocolate scones
*Ordered free photos
*Fought a sinus infection at home with various home remedies (I was definitely in full attack mode!)
*Stopped by our neighborhood book swap box and the girls and I both exchanged a few titles
*Used a discount certificate to take Naomi to a special play gym with inflatables, etc. She LOVED it! While there, I noticed a sign that if you fill out a form, your child gets one free admission in their birthday month, so we'll definitely take advantage of that offer!
*Redeemed a coupon for a free ice cream treat that I split with Naomi on our special outing
*Purchased rugs at a significant discount. Our dog, Reggie, is 14 years old and has experienced significant decline over the past year. Lately, he's been slipping around a lot on our laminate floors, so Eric wanted to get some rugs to cover the main areas. I found a pair of very good condition matching rugs at the thrift store for a few dollars each, but we needed a very large one for our kitchen. I selected one from a clearance bin at a retail store, and was thrilled when it rang up for much lower than the sticker price!
*Made a batch of orange vinegar for cleaning floors.
*Scored a coupon for a free 12-pack of pop for just 30 reward points (normally 250--thanks, Mom!!)
*Received a free sample of body wash
*Used two discount certificates for a fun getaway with a friend and her kids. We went to a children's museum a couple hours away, and then used a second discount certificate to enjoy some fro-yo! Part of the children's museum deal was a $5 credit to their gift shop, so I put it towards a unique puzzle for Nathan's upcoming birthday. (The kids loved the grocery store area, which was my favorite children's museum activity as a child, as well. And, of course, I still enjoy grocery shopping today!)
*Bought a large piece of on-sale ham and diced it up for use on pizzas and in soup. At $2.50 a pound, it is a significant savings over the small packages of diced ham I used to buy for double that price.
*Mended a dress
*Used a coupon to purchase a small item and receive a free full-size lotion at B&BW
*A friend invited me to go with her to S*m's Club on a church errand, and I was glad to pick up some bulk deals for our family while there. I surveyed my mom and Monica beforehand for tips on what to look for, and that was very helpful.
*Purchased a nice lip balm (reg. $2.99) for just 49 cents using a high-value cpn; also got a great deal on diapers--just 18 cents each for the name brand I prefer, which is pretty good these days (Hoping I won't have to purchase many more--c'mon, Naomi!)
*Continuing to attend a free exercise class (We just have to pay $2-3 each time for childcare, so it's half the price of the class I had been going to, plus Naomi gets to play with other kiddos in the supervised church nursery.)

I think my most significant frugal accomplishment was not purchasing anything at a home decor store that I love. It's fairly pricey, but it's festive and I enjoy window shopping and checking out their beautiful offerings. There was one item in particular that I really considered, but I think I can find something similar at a much lower price.

And, keeping it real, despite my consistent efforts with our monthly budget (groceries, in particular), we've been over our food budget two months in a row. I'm certainly not being hard on myself about it, but I do want to improve in that area this month and beyond. Perhaps it will mean making an official increase in this category, but I want to give it another month or two before reevaluating.

I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Trick-or-treat


Here are our super-cute costumed kiddos, along with a pic from a recent visit to the pumpkin patch.



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here are my frugal accomplishments from the past two weeks. I have so much fun compiling them!

*Stopped by a local thrift store when they were having a very rare store-wide 50% off sale. Found several goodies at half price: snow pants for Natalie, some small lidded glass bowls, pajamas for Nathan, a candle, a carbon monoxide detector (we have two but were recently encouraged to put one on the third floor of our old home), and a silver bowl. $7.50 for all--hooray!
*Eric signed up for a free trial of A-zon Prime. We've taken advantage of the shipping a couple times, and also watched some shows/movies on the instant video section.
*I think I forgot to mention last time that I bought some dried elderberries and local raw honey to make some elderberry syrup. (Thanks to Katie D. and Kristin  for the recipe and tips!) I don't love the taste, but I do think it's effective, and making it myself was a big savings over buying it.
*Took advantage of lots of bonus codes and offers with KFR points.
*Redeemed a code for free photo cards.
*Bought a summer pair of pj's for Natalie for just $1 on the Wmart clearance rack
*Scored a couple boxes sugar free muffin mix at the grocery store. I'd never seen this before but they had a cart full of them with a "free" sign! I also got some free taco seasoning and a chocolate egg using Saving *.
*Other grocery deals: free ground beef with rebate, cereal for 98 cents/box, soup for about 65 cents a can by stacking coupons, pre-made guacamole for just 50 cents--a huge score! I love avocados, but the sale price per fruit is 99 cents, so they are a special treat.
*Made hummus, syrup, apple pear crisp, pumpkin spice cake, and cinnamon bread (I love baked goods, but now I *have* to keep track of how much I consume--waahhh!)
*Attended a free exercise class
*Brought my rings in for their (free) annual cleaning--love seeing them sparkle!
*Received a free sample of facial scrub in the mail.
*The girls and I attended a carnival on campus, and scored several fun goodies (popcorn, pancakes, balloons, and a notepad). We also had coupons for a couple free games, which came in handy, as we blew through the tickets I bought very quickly. One of the things they wanted was matching rainbow face paint!
*Sent two books and received two books from PBS. (After a slow start, it's been fun to finally be receiving some titles I'm excited about!)
*Participated in a book and DVD swap with some other local moms. I brought the maximum 10 books, but wasn't very excited about any of the other titles. I did find some books I think the kids will like, and I grabbed a couple for gifts. The best part was that a mom with older kids had cleaned out their DVD collection. She brought 2 dozen, and wanted none in return, so each participant got to select 2 "free" DVD's on top of what we'd brought to swap. I was very pleased with the selection, and have one I think each kid in particular will enjoy. I cleaned them and tested them yesterday to make sure they work fine, and I plan to wrap them up for our road trip to CO in December. Fun!
*My sister-in-law gave me one of her extra pairs of (super-cute) yoga pants.
*I took Natalie to a costume party at a local grocery store. She got to paint a mini pumpkin, decorate a pumpkin cookie, and trick-or-treat around the store with a bag they gave her, partially filled with crayons and coloring pages. When we walked in, I was handed a coupon booklet that included a coupon for a free pound of bananas. Woo-hoo! I needed to get groceries anyway, and this certainly made it more fun! (Not a great pic, but here's a glimpse, at least.)
*Cooked two pounds of white beans.
*Eric stopped by the garden and saw that there were more raspberries, so he and Naomi picked a couple cups' worth. We mix them in yogurt for breakfast.
*After hearing for awhile about ThredUp, I finally decided to check it out when Monica sent me a referral email with a $10 credit. I picked out a very cute gray cardigan, something I've been wanting, and only paid $2.98 for shipping. (Here's my referral link if you want to check them out. The selection is way bigger than I expected, and I thought most prices were quite reasonable. If you order through this link, you start with $10 credit like I did (so could be a free item like my sweater), and I'll earn $10 for referring you.)
*I was so glad I checked my receipt IN the store the other day (something I rarely do), because I noticed I was charged twice for the last item in my cart. It was kind of a pain to get the refund but I'm glad I caught the error before leaving the store. If this happens to me fairly regularly, I can only imagine that it's a common mistake.
I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tipping the scales

About a month ago, I learned that I had gained several pounds over the summer. The amount itself shocked me, though I wasn't really surprised about having gained because I could tell it in how my clothes fit (or, ahem, didn't fit). I exercised pretty consistently this summer, so it wasn't that I was being inactive. The fact is that I'd gotten very lazy about my eating habits. I love snacks, I love sweets, and I was undisciplined about portions.

A week or so after learning about my weight gain, a friend was talking about how she's lost quite a bit of weight in the last year. Though she has been very faithful in exercising, she said the key for her was keeping a log of everything she eats. She has an app on her phone and she scans or enters each food. Well, that didn't sound like much fun to me! Plus, we don't have a phone with those capabilities. It stayed in my mind, though, but I didn't want to do anything about it. I wanted to lose a few pounds without having to change my eating, even though I knew in truth that's what I needed to do! 

So it was very interesting when another week passed, and Monica and I were talking on the phone about this subject. She told me about a website she's been using to track her food and exercise. I decided to sign up, and I'm now three weeks in. I thought it would feel really rigid, but it's not a diet, and there are no set guidelines. It's effective because of the very act of entering what you eat and seeing the numbers tally up at the bottom. 

I have been surprised that this project has felt very empowering to me. It reminds me of when Eric and I were newlyweds, and he suggested setting up a financial budget and using cash. I thought it would feel restrictive and was not looking forward to the change. But knowing how much money I had to spend each month in certain categories was helpful. And this food logging endeavor has been the same way for me. I like seeing the numbers, and knowing which categories I need to improve on.

For example, the first two days I logged my food, I was completely blown away by the amount of carbs and sugar I was consuming. I was shocked how many of those elements are in tons of foods, including healthy things like fruit. (Of course there are multiple types of sugar, but this site doesn't differentiate.) It was very eye-opening for me, and I have made genuine strides in this area. I also used to reach for seconds at many meals without really evaluating if I was still hungry.

I like that I'm not writing things down with pen and paper, which would be extremely tedious. With this site, you search for or enter the foods you've consumed at each meal (plus snacks), and you also input the amount you ate. I've been using measuring cups of all sizes, and I also bought a kitchen scale for $1 at the thrift store to help as well. I also like that you can enter the type and duration of any exercise you do each day, and it will increase your numbers for that day of calories, fat, etc. It's very motivating!

In the past three weeks, I have overall been eating less (but not much less--this girl loves to eat!), eating more healthfully, and exercising more (4-5 times/week instead of 2-3). That's not to say I've had a perfect string of great eating days, though. Eric's birthday in particular was a *yikes!* kind of day. But it's also a holiday. And if I'm eating better on other days, indulging on special occasions will hopefully feel more enjoyable.

Though I am excited to have lost two pounds in the last couple weeks, it's less about numbers and more about how I feel. I could never do anything extreme like eating no sugar or the paleo diet (I don't eat any red meat!), but this has been a good compromise for me. I'm eating better without it being too painful, and I'm pleased to be seeing positive results.

Have you ever tried something keeping track of what you eat? What did you think?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lilla Rose review and giveaway

TUESDAY NIGHT UPDATE: I entered numbers 1-6 (good odds!) in the random number generator, and it came back with #2--Angie! Thanks to all who entered.

I was so pleased to be contacted last month by Lizzie, a Lilla Rose consultant. She asked if I would like to try a hair clip for myself and then offer one for giveaway on my blog. Yes, please! I'd read about these a few years ago on another blog, and was interested in trying them.

When I went to the website, I was very impressed with the variety of products offered. With their flexi clips alone, there are 6 sizes and nearly 100 designs! They are designed to complement several different hairstyles. That is good news for a basic ponytail person like me.

Lizzie let me pick the size and design of my clip. I chose the extra small in simple band black nickel. It's pretty and basic, which I thought would be suited to a myriad of occasions. They do have plenty that are fancy, as well as an assortment of whimsical styles.

I tried my clip on right away when I got it in the mail. It's really neat how it works, though it does take some getting used to after using elastic ponytail holders for so many years. Though I'd watched the sizing video to help me determine which size to order, the extra small felt a little loose. It was not slipping out, but it also didn't feel firm. After having the same assessment multiple times, I emailed Lizzie to ask if I could exchange for the next size down--the mini. (Yes, I have fine and thin hair!) She was very gracious and allowed me to not only keep the first clip (which does work for me with some of the other styles like the "Tails Up"), she also sent me a mini clip in the same design. It doesn't quite hold all my hair for a ponytail (I must be in between clip sizes for that), but it does work for a "Half Up," which is cute.

My apologies that these are not great photos!
 Extra small clip--ponytail
 Mini clip--half up
Naomi wanted a pic of the back of her head!

I am glad to try these clips, and happy to offer one of you the chance to do the same!

If you would like to be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post, saying which size flexi clip you would like (Make sure you watch the video!) and your first and second choice of design in that size. (Special monthly design not eligible.) U.S. addresses only, please. Giveaway extended until Tuesday night. A winner will be announced on Wednesday.

In the meantime, Lilla Rose is having a 72-hour sale on all their products! Click here to browse the many beautiful options!