Wednesday, June 29, 2011

8th Grade Graduation Trip to the Waterpark

Six years ago we unwittingly started a family tradition of taking our 8th grade graduates to a water park resort.  After a very expensive get away with five 14 year old boys we decided to be a little smarter about it next time.  Fast forward a few years and I'm laying on a couch at 3:30 am writing about going away with three 14 year old girls!

Our daughter has been talking for the last few years about her graduation trip to the water park.  She has put a lot of thought and preparation into who she should take.  Since I had a few years also to plan I was better able to prepare both emotionally and financially for this trip.  I also had the hindsight of what worked well and what didn't last year.

Here's how five of us spent three days away for under $400

1.  Plan ahead for lodging.  I've found when traveling that staying at a condo is typically the best way to go.  A full kitchen allows you to do most of your own cooking and the additional space is necessary for my sanity.  Since we knew the general vicinity of where we wanted to go I was able to start looking for lodging very early on.  Last October we had a silent auction at work to raise money for the United Way.  I was able to win a three day/two night stay at an indoor/outdoor water park for $300.  The resort we stayed at included four passes to the park each day

2.  Plan ahead for food.  Food seems to be one of the most expensive parts of vacationing, hence my desire to stay in a condo with a fully furnished kitchen!  For breakfast we had cereal & muffins, lunch consisted of sandwiches and dinner was macaroni & cheese as well as pizza ( we did order out one night).  I was upfront with the girls that I would supply the meals and snacks in the hotel room but they were on their own for anything they wanted at the park.  Snacks consisted of chips, fresh fruit & fresh baked cookies (love the oven!)

3.  Take advantage of offers.  The condo that we stayed at was part of a time-share owned by a co-worker.  Upon check-in we were offered the 'opportunity' to tour the facility and receive a free gift.  I'm not real big into free gifts because they usually aren't that great.   However - this free gift was a $75 Visa card.  Sign me up!  I can listen to a 90 minute spiel for $75!  Of course you have to make sure not to buy the time-share otherwise it would cost you more than the $75 you were getting.  In addition to the money, the girls were able to take advantage of free mini-golfing which gave them something different to do.

4.  Skip the tourist traps.  Our mistake when we took the boys is we felt the need to 'entertain' them in addition to the water park.  With the exception of the free mini-golfing, the park is the only thing the girls got to do. 

Here's the damage:

Lodging           $300
Park pass         $ 20 (we needed to buy one extra since there were five of us)
Gas                  $ 50 (this is a little on the high side, I filled up before we left and we'll have at least 1/4 tank)
Condo Food    $ 50
Pizza                $ 30
Gift Visa        - $ 75
Total                $375

With the exception of to much sun and to little sleep (caused by being woke up at 1:30 am by giggling girls) we had a nice trip.  However, I will admit that I'm longing to be home in my own bed (especially because I'm still on the couch unable to sleep). Only a few more hours to go!

How do you make your get aways economical?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strawberry Picking

Guess what we did Sunday?  If you couldn't tell from the title or from the picture, we went strawberry picking!  For the last few years I've been dragging my family out to the field to pick fresh strawberries.  As payment for coming with me they get homemade strawberry shortcake with freshly picked berries on top.

We ended up picking three flats, would have been more but I think my husband ate a flat in the field.  I'm happy to say that for at least the third year in the row I picked the most berries.  The winner doesn't get anything except bragging rights, in our family that's pretty important.  The family likes to make all kinds of excuses (like - we ate a lot of the ones we picked) but it doesn't matter. The proof is on the scale and mine is the heaviest!

I typically quarter mine, throw some sugar on them, put them into quart bags and freeze them for future use.  The first two flats I did by myself, by the third I remembered that I had indentured servants to help me.  Of course, it's impossible for my son to assist me without wise guy comments.  He likened having to cut the strawberries to a punishment.  Some of my favorites were:

"So mom, is the water boarding station being used right now?"
"Wasn't there a spot available on the chain gang?"
My personal favorite, said to his sister after she sat next to him to start cutting "What are you in for?"

Needless to say we got them all chopped and I now have 10 quart bags in my freezer waiting for us.  I may make the family go out again on Thursday to pick another few flats, we'll see how ambitious I'm feeling!

What do you do with your fresh picked strawberries?

I've linked this up over at Courtney's "Women Living Well".  I would encourage you to head over and check out her site.  If you are visiting from there, welcome to my blog! 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Meet Me on Monday - June 26th

Today I'm linking up over with Java at Never Growing Old for her "Meet Me on Monday" post.  I'd encourage you to head over there and check out some of the other bloggers.  Happy Monday!

1. What is your favorite food?

New York Strip steak - medium rare

2. What color scheme is your bedroom?

Cream and green with a little bit of burgandy thrown in

3. Do you carry a donor card?


4. In your opinion, is the glass half empty or half full?

Half full

5. Vanilla or Chocolate?

Depends on what we're talking about.  When it comes to cake I prefer a white cake with white frosting.  If we're talking ice cream then I prefer chocolate.

Preparing for Christmas

I know, it's the end of June.  Why am I talking about Christmas?  Well, if you read my post about Saving for Christmas you'll know I'm trying to be better prepared this year.  While last week's post focused on putting money aside, this week I want to talk about ways to prepare all year long.

Some years I find that I have more time so I think a little bit more about what to get people all year long.  The trouble is sometimes I forget what I've bought, how much I've spent or where I put it.  Here are some suggestions for how to prepare all year long.

Keep your lists from year to year
I keep my Christmas lists in Excel and copy each sheet every year so that I can 1) remember what I gave the following year 2)start jotting down ideas as they come up.  Why do you ask is it important that you remember what you gave last year?  That's so you don't give you sister-in-law the exact same thing because you thought of her when you saw it.  Yes - I have done that before.  I try to do special presents (like the White House ornaments) for any of the kids where I'm their godmother.  I sometimes forget who get what so this helps keep me on track.  In addition to the gift ideas I write down the cost, this helps me to stay in my allotted budget for each person.

Add immediately to next year's list
It never fails, when I'm done with someone I find 'the perfect item' for them.  If I have the money I may pick it up and set it aside for next year (and add it to the list) or else I'll jot it down on my list for the following Christmas.

Periodically pull out the list to see if something can be bought ahead
As I stated there are some items I buy from year to year (like the White House ornaments).  By periodically looking at my list I'll remind myself if there is something I could order early or that is seasonal.  This has helped me avoid the 'ugh - I don't have enough saved for Christmas' crisis in previous years.

Shop off-season
My mother-in-law is a Master Gardener and my sister-in-law loves pigs.  I'm always on the look out during the summer/fall craft sales for unusual pig items or I shop the end of year clearance center at the garden stores.  I have picked up some really cool items at 75% which I would not have otherwise been able to afford. 

Wrap your purchases when you buy them
Who wants to think about gift wrapping in July?  Someone who doesn't want to spend hours upon hours doing it at Christmas!  If you can buy wrapping paper and bows at the end of Christmas sale you should be all ready to go.  Wrapping the presents ahead of time saves me MUCH aggravation during the holiday season.  As long as you put a name tag on it and have written down on the list what you bought the person you should be fine.

Put your gifts where you can find them
One Christmas I stuck my White House ornaments aside (because I bought them so early!) and couldn't remember where I put them.  During present opening I had to tell the girls that they were getting them but that I couldn't find them.  Luckily I found them in February in the drawer I had stuck them in for safe keeping.  Pick a spot to put all your presents and use it! 

Make your own gifts
Brandy at The Prudent Homemaker commented on my Christmas post that she makes a lot of her gifts.  I think that is fantastic as I love getting home made gifts.  Last year my mom made scarves for all of us, this year she's making blankets.  If you have a skill, use it!  I think that a gift that has been hand made is very special and tends to be cherished more than a lot of the plastic toys we give.  Preparing all year for what gifts you'd like to make can make the holiday season a little less stressful and will help stretch your dollar (maybe -  depending on what you make) quite a bit further.

As I have gotten older I've really gotten disenchanted by the commercialism of Christmas.  Later this week I'll be writing about some gift giving ideas to make Christmas a little more meaningful.

How do you prepare for Christmas all year long?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tomato Salad Recipe

With summer here cooking seems to get a little easier, especially since my husband takes over!  We tend to grill out quite a bit during the summer, this year will be a little more fun with our swanky new grill.  Yes, that was an unexpected expense that we had to fork out when our poor Weber took a digger when I moved it the day before we had 20 people coming for a cook out.  Who knew that a 15 year old grills legs would fall off if moved from it's spot of honor for the last few years?  If I didn't know better I would have thought my husband sabotaged it just to get the new grill :)

Since our meat tends to be simpler (grilled burgers, brats, etc) I tend to make the sides simpler also.  One of our favorite sides are:

Tomato Salad
Fresh tomatoes - chopped to bit size
Cucumber - sliced
Onion - small amount chopped
Italian seasoning (herbs, not the packet)
Dash of oil (vegetable, canola, olive - whatever your preference)

In a bowl mix together the fresh vegetables in whatever amount you prefer.  I'm not a big cucumber fan so I tend to put more tomatoes and less cucumbers but it's up to your personal preference.  I would caution about to much onion as that could overpower it a bit.

Sprinkle on Italian seasoning to taste, add a dash of salt/pepper and top with a little of the oil.  How much oil would depend upon how many vegetables you use.  If I'm using about 3 - 4 tomatoes I'll use about 1 Tablespoon or less of oil.  You want to be careful about using to much oil as you don't want the dish to taste oily. 

It's best to give this dish a little bit of time to sit so the flavors come together.  I would not recommend making it the day before a party, it doesn't keep for more than a day or so.

Do you have a tomato salad recipe you'd like to share?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Saving for Christmas

I don't know if you know this but Christmas is on the same day every year, can you believe it?  What tends to happen to me is almost every year I can't believe how quickly the pages of the calendar turn and Christmas is here, with no money set aside for presents!  Do you know what the definition of crazy is?  Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  This year I decided to step out of the crazy and actually do something so that I have some money set aside this year.

Here is how I plan to fund my Christmas account this year:

Christmas Club
If you are following my budget update you will know that setting up a Christmas Club was one of my goals for the year (you can read about my financial goals here).  I have never participated in our credit union's Christmas Club before but after the stress of last Christmas I decided that the week I was off over the holidays would be devoted to setting up a fund.  With about 8-9 deposits to go (the money is dispersed late October) I have enough money to pay for my kids presents.  I should finish with enough to cover about 75% of our Christmas spend.  If you go the Christmas Club route I would encourage you to do automatic deposit so that money actually gets in there!

This is the first year I have really been taking advantage of Swagbucks.  In addition to using them as the search engine I've also bought some things through there (that I would have bought anyway) which has helped increase my balance.  I'm expecting to have enough points to buy a $50 gift card that I will put towards Christmas presents

Credit card points
I know this is controversial but the fact is I like using credit cards (we don't carry balances, I pay whatever balance we have when I get my paycheck every two weeks) and don't overspend on them.  Little lecture - it's important when using credit cards to use them like cash.  If you don't have the money in the bank to pay it off don't use them.  I accumulate my points and choose the cash option which I will then use for Christmas presents.  If I'm not charged a fee, I will pay some of my bills with the credit card to get the points.  US Cellular lets you pay over the phone with a credit card without charging you extra but the power company charges a 3% fee if you use a credit card (at least in our state).  If it's going to cost you something to use the credit card don't use it!  I'm expecting to have a couple of hundred dollars to put towards Christmas.

Sell what you don't need
Look for outlets to sell your goods.  Rummage sales, Craigslist, bulletin boards at work, etc.  I've shared before that I don't like rummage sales but I've had a ton of success with using our electronic bulletin board at work.  I've sold a car, kids clothes, books, etc.  Any money that can be added to your kitty would help.

Make something to sell
If you have a crafty skill, put it to use.  Think about what you do that your friends rave about and see if you can find a market for it.  Are you a killer baker?  What about selling homemade Christmas cookies or candy to those of us who find it stressful to bake during the holidays?  Craft shows tend to be big in October/November.  Rent a couple of booths (they tend to be fairly cheap) and set up shop.

Get a part time job
Many places hire seasonal help in the fall with hours that could fit into almost any schedule.  If you stay at home with your kids you could try picking up some hours at a retail store or restaurant nights and weekends.  A lot of catalog companies are looking for extra phone staff.  I would think you could easily clear over $500 by working 10-15 hours a week for two months.

How do you save for Christmas?  I'd love to hear other ideas.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How I Save Money - Communications

When I look over I look over our bills our two highest 'non-essentials' are our electronic communications.  I'm including cell phone and cable in that category.  As I've looked for ways to bring our expenses down I've explored options on bringing those two bills down.  I'm happy to say that I've had some success with that.

Cable - I know the easiest thing would be to get rid of it, but that is not an option in our house.  The first thing that I did was go over my bill very carefully and look for items that I could get rid of.  After checking out my bill I went online to see what they were offering new customers, this gave me a gauge as to what I would probably be able to get them to do for me.  I then called our cable company, explained that I was looking for ways to lower my bill and ask what they could do for me.  After some negotiating (and mentioning that I knew what new customers were getting) I was able to bring my bill down by about $25 and lock the price in for two years.  Just remember, it's cheaper to keep an existing customer than to gain a new customer so ask for the retention department if you get a rep that won't help you.

Cell Phone - There are so many plans out there that this can get a little confusing.  The first thing that I would do if you are looking for a new plan or trying to bring down your existing plan is to see if you or your spouses employer has an agreement for a reduced rate from the cell phone company.  My company has an agreement with Verizon while my husband's has an agreement with US Cellular (our phone carrier).  We stumbled upon this discount by accident but we are now getting a 20% discount off our bill.  Of course now my husband is wanting to add a smart phone to his account with my money we're saving - I'm going to stall him on that one.

I would recommend when you are looking for a plan is that you don't let a sales person talk you into something you don't need.  The plans can be very confusing and I find that in store the pressure can be pretty great.  I would recommend calling the different places first and get an idea of what they have to offer, it's easier to hang up on someone than to be face to face.  I have seen a few people get pushed into plans they didn't need because of sales people. 

I would also see if you could share the family plan.  For our plan it's $10 for each additional line (base plan) and we can have a total of 5 lines.  We've recently added my mother-in-law to our plan since she only wanted the phone for emergencies and didn't want the expense of her own plan.  This isn't saving us any money but it is saving her some money. 

How do you save money on cable and cell phones?

Other posts you may enjoy

Coloring my own hair
Buying clothes off season

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Things I Love - Pedicures

Photo courtesy of healingdream

With summer here it's pedicure time.  While I really don't love actually getting the pedicures because my feet are horrible ticklish,  I do love how they make my feet look.  My opinion is pedicures are pretty much a must in the summer if you are a sandal wearer but they don't need to be done professionally or require colored nail polish even though I am a sucker for deep red.

Here's why I love pedicures:

  • Your feet get a clean, polished look.  A must have in my book whenever you wear sandals.
  • A flower painted on your big toe gives you a little sassy flair.
  • Easy inexpensive DIY project - I'll be sharing shortly the proper way to give yourself a pedicure.  This can make a fun activity for your daughter's next sleep over.
  • They make great gifts - to either get or give
  • Pedicures make for a great cross generational activity.  My grandmother loves getting her feet done as does my daughter.  Whenever we visit my grandma we make a trip to the nail salon for a four generation nail day.
Do you prefer to do your own pedicures or get them done at a salon?  What's your favorite polish color?

If you like this post you might also enjoy the some other posts in this series:

Wall Words
Just Dance
100 Things About Me

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Have you ever seen those beautiful chocolate covered strawberries in the grocery or candy store and wouldn't buy them because they were so expensive? Instead of spending all that money why don't you make them yourself? I can honestly tell you that these are some of the easiest things to make. If you have a little time you can really get creative and add all kinds of extras.

These are best eaten the day that they are made, if you can't serve them within a few hours I wouldn't make them. Trust me - I know this from experience!

1. Buy the nicest berries you can find. I purchased these four cartons for $6.  Wash and then make sure strawberries are thoroughly dried before dipping.

2.  Decide what kind of chocolate you want to use for dipping.  In the picture below I used Kraft - Baker's Dipping Chocolate which is about $3.00 tub, the other option is to melt your own chocolate.

Dipping Product
If using a product specifically for dipping follow instructions on the container.  Typically you will remove the lid, microwave for 30 seconds and then repeat until product is smooth and creamy.  DO NOT overcook the chocolate otherwise it will get clumpy and not dip well.  Once it reaches that stage it's impossible to make it smooth and creamy again.

Melting Your Own Chocolate
On occasion I will melt my own chocolate which is a little bit more difficult than the first option but not impossible.  I would recommend melting your own chocolate over a double broiler.  It is possible to melt in the microwave but I tend to have limited success when doing it this way.

3.  Grasp the strawberry by the stem and dip in the chocolate making sure to cover completely.

4.  Place completed strawberries on waxed paper to harden.  For best results place in the refrigerator for a few minutes until chocolate is set.

5.  Enjoy!

The above strawberries cost me about $4.50 to make and were delicious! 
Other options:
Double dipping - If I have spare time I'll run the strawberries through a second dipping to make them really chocolaty.  A little bit more expensive but really good!
Drizzle with white chocolate - Once chocolate has completely set you can melt white chocolate and drizzle over the top.  This kicks it up a notch and makes it look a little bit more 'professional'.
Tuxedo Strawberries - If you really want to knock the socks off your guests you can make tuxedo strawberries.  Instead of doing your first dip in milk chocolate you will want to use white chocolate.  After the white chocolate sets you will do a second dip in milk (or dark) chocolate making sure you only dip the sides meeting in the front.  The front of the strawberry should resemble a closed jacket.  Once you have 'added the jacket' you will want to take a toothpick, dip it in chocolate and add a couple of buttons to finish off the tuxedo.
Add extras - Immediately following the original dipping you can dip in whatever your imagination can dream up; Oreo cookie crumbs, mini chocolate chips, etc
Do you do anything special with your chocolate covered strawberries to 'dress them up'?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Meet Me On Monday - June 13th

I'm participating in "Never Growing Old's" Meet Me on Monday posting.  I would encourage you to swing by and meet some of the other bloggers.

1. What is your favorite yogurt flavor?

     I don't really like yogurt very much, when I do eat it I'll usually stick to strawberry or some boring flavor like that.
2. Ankle or knee socks? and on the same theme, white socks or coloured??
    The only time I wear socks is if I'm wearing my tennies.  The only time I wear my tennies is if I'm exercising (which isn't often enough) and it's not unusual to find me doing that without socks on.  Sooooo, I would say that white ankle socks are my typical sock.  In winter time I  might wear black dress socks with my heeled boots.

3. How is the weather right now?
    Absolutely gorgeous, sunny and about 70.  Wish I didn't have to work today :(
4. Are you a fast typer?
   In high school I typed over 90 words per minute.  I've slowed down a little bit in the few years between :)but I would say that I'm a faster than average typer

5. Red or White Wine?
    I typically like a Pinot Grigio but will also drink red depending on my mood and what I'm eating.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Strawberry Salad

Disclaimer - if you've followed any of my recipes you know that I'm not an exact measurer, they all tend to be a handful of this and a dash of that.  I tend to add more of the items my family likes and less of those they don't.

1 bag mixed greens (I use either spinach or a spring mix)
Craisins (about a handful – more or less depending on how much you like them)
1 can mandarin oranges (size of can depends on how much you like them)
Strawberries – about 5 to 7 nice size ones sliced
Pecans (optional) – handful (I leave these out since my family isn’t bit on nuts)
Shredded Cheese (optional) – handful of whatever cheese your family likes. The person who gave me this recipe used parmesan or Monterey, I think that a bleu cheese would be good also but I tend to leave the cheese out


¾ cup sugar
½ cup oil (vegetable, olive, canola – whatever your family preference)
½ cup red wine vinegar
1-2 gloves garlic (depends on size of cloves and how much you like garlic)
Sprinkle of paprika
Salt and pepper

Option:  Grilled Chicken

Mix dressing together and pour over salad right before serving

Typically I serve this as a side salad but for a quick meal I'll throw grilled chicken on top and serve it to the family as the main meal. 

The salad and the dressing can be made ahead of time and left to sit in the refrigerator for up to a couple of hours by themselves. Do not add the dressing until you are ready to serve.

I hope your family enjoys this salad as much as mine does.  If you try it out I'd love to hear what you think about it.

You might also enjoy:

Tuscan Chicken Stew
Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake
Banana Bread

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Meet Me on Mondays

I know it's Wednesday but I just stumbled across Java's blog "Never Growing Old".  The Meet Me on Monday theme sounded like fun and I didn't want to wait until next week to take part!  I would encourage you to head over to the Meet Me on Monday post and get to know other bloggers in the blogosphere.

1. What is was the last piece of candy that you ate?

     Peanut M&M's

2. Do you "read" in the bathroom?
     Only if I'm taking a bath

3. I can't stand when someone _________?
    is rude.  I think most of the times it's completely uncalled for and I would like to ask them what their behavior is getting them.

4. Do you do daily, weekly or monthly grocery shopping?
    Weekly.  If need something during the week I will typically send my son out to the store for me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Different Take on Freezer Cooking

I love freezer cooking (when I have the time) and truly believe it’s a good, cost effective way for busy moms to get convenient meals on the table relatively easy. With that being said, as a mom who works outside of the home, sometimes it’s pretty impossible to find the time to get food on the table let alone cook up extra meals for the future.

To combat the time element while still eating meals together as a family, I sometimes take advantage of a meal service that will provide a complete frozen meal for me. Typically there are different options to choose from and I’ve found that the food is usually tastier and less processed than buying pre-packaged frozen dinners.

I have used two different meal services in my area and have found each of them to run about $16 - $17 per meal (for four people). This is quite a bit more expensive than if I cook myself but is significantly cheaper (and usually healthier) than if I have to take my family out for dinner.

Here was the May menu for one of the places that I go:


• Sweet Thai chili chicken with vegetables
• Liver, bacon and onions
• Seafood tetrazzini
• Pork chop suey with white rice
• Chicken enchiladas, rice & beans
• Sweet & sour pork
• French toast,sausages, OJ and muffins
• Pasta & meatball stew
• Velveeta tex mex beef & potatoes
• Hawaiian pork chops with rice a ronni
• Lasagna roll ups salad and bread
• Smoked kielbasa and vegetables

Side Dishes (2 sides for each meal)

• Creamy herb Yukon gold smashed potatoes
• Pasta & peppers ( hot side dish)
• Parsley red potatoes
• Confetti corn
• Fruit fluff
• Broccoli and almonds
• Glazed carrots
• Peas and carrots
• Asparagus
• Corn & broccoli bake
• Herb vegetables
• Mexican skillet rice (contains chicken)
• Mini apple pie
• Loaf of sweet bread

As you can see it’s a pretty wide range of menu choices and contains both entrees as well as side dishes. I’ve used services that will provide the food and space but expect you to assemble (they will typically assemble for an additional fee) and I’ve used services that do all the prep work themselves.

Below is a link that I found on the Internet that lists a bunch of meal prep companies and the city they reside in. I’ve only used one of these companies so I can’t vouch for them, just trying to provide you with some information if this is a service you would like to explore. If you don’t see your city on this list I would try looking up “meal prep” or “freezer cooking” and your city or surrounding cities to see what’s available.  If you have used any of the businesses on this list I'd be interested in what your experiences have been.

Easy Meal Prep Vendors

Have you had any experiences with meal prep companies?  What has been your take on them?

Friday, June 3, 2011

How I Save Money - Grocery Shopping

Let me start this post by saying that my grocery budget is pretty large, I have a 20 year old son and a weight lifting husband who eats A LOT.  I don't have time to coupon or run from store to store.  This post is mostly geared to those who are looking to save what they can without a lot of effort.

Now that I've got my disclaimer out of the way, I do have a few ways that I save money on my grocery bill.

  • Find the lowest priced store possible and stick to it.  I know this seems like a no-brainer but I'm surprised by the number of people I know who willing pay a lot more for their groceries.  Years ago (I was a newly wed, my oldest is now 20) I was spending $125 - $150 at the grocery store.  That was sheer madness and I needed to find a way to trim that budget.  They were opening a new grocery store a few cities over that I heard was super cheap.  We tried it out and saved $50 - $75 per shopping trip.  I periodically take my receipt to stores in my city but am appalled at the price difference.  I would even go so far as to say shop at that store even if you don't like it.  The store I go to is huge and a lot of people don't like it for it's size.  I'm OK with it's size since I'm saving so much money!
  • Determine what you want to eat.  I'm not a huge menu maker but I do jot down several meals I'd like to make and buy the ingredients for them.  If you walk into the grocery store without any ideas for dinner you are in trouble.
  • Make a list and stick to it.  This gets to be a little bit of a struggle since my husband likes to grocery shop with me and likes to throw things in the cart.  When money was very tight and we had no wiggle room I would tell him how much we had to spend and told him if we went over it at the check out we'd have to put something back - that worked (I still use that every so often if he's going crazy with impulse buys).  Unless it's a phenomenal sale that I don't even buy things that I find on sale.
  • Take advantage of coupons offered by your store.  One of the ways that my grocery store keeps costs down is that they don't have store cards and they only accept checks, cash or debit cards - no credit cards.  They do however tape coupons to the shelves.  I definitely take advantage of that and will generally have 3-5 coupons to use at check-out, even if I didn't bring any with me.
  • Take advantage of easy to find coupons.  I don't cut or chase coupons but I do go online and check out Swagbucks for any available coupons while I'm making out my list.  Doesn't take much time and I can usually save a couple of bucks.
Do any of you have ideas to save money without extreme couponing?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Keeping Laundry under Control

Laundry is a topic that I think strikes fear in the heart of every household. There are many blogs out there about the proper way to do laundry, how to save money doing laundry, how to save time doing laundry, etc. If there is a laundry problem out there I’m sure that you will be able to find a solution to it.

The topic of this morning’s post is how my family deals with the mountain of laundry we accumulate every day, let me tell you it is a mountain. This isn’t money saving post because quite frankly this may be a little bit more expensive way to do it but it allows us to keep the laundry monster under control.

Appoint a laundry guardian

In our household my husband is the keeper of the laundry. That means he is responsible for making sure that it is done regularly and appropriately, stains are treated and proper tools are available (detergent, dryer sheets, etc). The laundry guardian is able to appoint a ‘folder of the clothes’, in our family’s case that would be our oldest son.

Note: If you are handing off the laundry responsibilities be prepared for some fall downs. Cashmere sweaters cannot be put in the dryer. The guardian now knows this but there were a few tears shed along the way until that lesson was learned (mainly mine). The downside of bargain shopping for your clothes is that it’s pretty impossible to find another cashmere sweater for $15 until the next year.

Everyone is responsible for getting their own clothes downstairs

Dirties are to be deposited in the laundry room hamper on a daily basis. If your clothes aren’t in the hamper they won’t get washed (exception to this rule is the Mama, the laundry guardian will take care of her dirties if she forgets  ) The guardian get quite cranky when he sees his kingdom piled with dirty clothes when he thinks he’s done, number one rule is Don’t Anger the Guardian!

Stained clothes need to be aside in the ‘spotting area’. My husband is pretty good about checking for stains but the kids have been trained that if you want a stain treated you better put it aside so that it can be taken care of.

Do laundry daily

I’m sure that there is plenty of your thinking this is a crazy way of doing laundry. All I can say is it works for us and if you haven’t tried it you may want to. Waaaaay back when I was in charge of the laundry I would do it once a week. My entire Saturday was spent washing, switching and folding laundry making me a pretty crabby mama. Plus, it never failed that there was something critical that needed to be washed and wasn’t leading to a stressful morning. Every morning my husband puts on a load of laundry and then switches it when he gets home from work. The clothes may sit in the washing machine for a few hours (or overnight if he does a load before he goes to bed) but I’m OK with that and as long as they don’t sit to long you shouldn’t have a problem with smells.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; we don’t do a lot of sorting. Jeans, t-shirt, towels and uniforms all get washed together if there isn’t enough for two loads. If I have any work clothes that need to be washed he will stick those aside until he can gather together a load of darks or lights. Any items that need to be hand washed I do myself.

The folder of the clothes should also be doing his job daily, however in our house this isn’t always the case. I wish I would have had time to take a picture of our family room (I may try to later today) since it’s piled high with clothes. The oldest child has been given until tonight to get the situation under control or face the exile of his Xbox as punishment

We average about 1-2 loads every day, if we waited and did all this laundry in one day if would be an ‘event’.  This is what works for us.  What about you, do you have any laundry tips you’ve learned over the last few years you would like to share?