Monday, August 12, 2013

Think Christmas--No it's not too early!

Today is part one of my 2 part series on how to prepare for Christmas financially.
I know what you're thinking 'Christmas, is this woman crazy?'.  Well there's only about 4.5 months until Christmas (see a countdown clock here) and you know that those 4.5 months will fly by.  Don't get caught with your proverbial pants down this year; prepare early!
Personally I'm one of those wackos that starts shopping for the next Christmas on the 26th of December.  I like to pick up gift sets, wrapping paper, ribbon, bags, ornaments and boxes as early as the day after Christmas.  Other items go clearance the first week of the year.
But enough about that, today I want to talk about how to prep for Christmas. 
  1. Start Saving.  Estimates vary from source to source, but it seems as though the general consensus is that Christmas costs the average family approx. $800.  If you haven't started planning yet that means you should be saving approx. $44 a week in order to pay cash for Christmas.  I'm not saying you should spend $800, only that you should look at your finances, set a budget and start to save.
  2. Look for ways to offset holiday expenses.  Some ways to do this...
    1. Swagbucks earns you points for using their search engine, watching videos, answering polls, doing surveys and shopping through their affiliate links.  You can redeem your points for giftcards.
    2. Secret Shopping.  MSPA has a list of accredited secret shopping services you can sign up for.  NO real secret shopping service will ask for money upfront.  On average shops pay about $5 and you'll get to eat for free!
    3. Survey sites.  I don't belong to too many of these, but I have gotten onto a few consumer panels via Communispace that pay me $10 in Amazon gift cards every month that I'm actively giving my opinion on new products!  Mindfield is a great company to start with.  They have high pay outs and a low cash out threshold. 
    4. Unload unwanted items via eBay, consignment sales, craigslist or consignment sales.  This will get you cash and help declutter--a win-win!
  3. Make your list, check it twice.  Giving is wonderful, much better than receiving if you ask me, however do you really need to buy for your 2nd cousin twice removed, or your hairdresser or your daughter's pre-K teacher?  Probably not.  Make a primary list of people you need gifts for.  Next make a list of people you'd like to be able to give to.  Baking cookies, making fudge or even a thoughtful card are probably all you need to to for those secondary people.  Remember you don't have to give to everyone, especially if you're on a tight budget.
Hopefully this has given you a little food for thought.  Check back next week for part 2 in my 'Think Christmas!' series!

**This post does contain affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Roast Pork and Pepper Sandwiches

We all get stuck in cooking ruts.  You know the times in your life when you end up cooking the same 2 dozen or so dishes in a cycle.  In an attempt to breakout of the seemingly endless loop of 'best hits' I've been cooking I decided to attempt roast pork sandwiches.  I was going for something similar to a Philadelphia style roast pork sandwich.  The results...erethral.  The pork had the benefit of marinating overnight and simply zinged with flavor.  To make this dish even better it's a fantastic make ahead dish.
The marinade recipe below is my house recipe.  I use it on chicken, fish, pork and it is delicious on potatoes.  This keeps in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.  You can easily double, triple or halve this recipe, but I definitely recommend making at least what the recipe calls for because it makes creating a flavorful dinner a real snap.

Marinade Ingredients
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or micoplaned
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
 Marinade Directions
Put all the ingredients in a mason jar.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake.  Presto, done.

Pork Sandwich Ingredients
  • 2-2.5 lb pork loin, tied if need be
  • 1/3 c. house marinade
  • .5-1.5 c. chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Rolls, whole grain mustard and provolone cheese
Place the pork tenderloin in a gallon size zip top bag and pour 1/2 c. marinade over it.  Make sure the pork loin is well coated.  Allow this to marinade at least 8 hours, 24 hours is best.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a large, oven safe saute pan (I love my Cuisinart stainless set seen here) over medium high heat.  Sear the pork loin well on all sides and remove to a plate (this will take 3-5 minutes per side).  Deglaze the pan with half a cup of chicken stock.  Once the brown bits are up add the Worcestershire, bell peppers, onions, salt and pepper.  Stir well and place the pork loin on top.  Place the pan in the oven and cook about 2 hours (about 20 min. per lb of pork.) until the pork is done. 
Allow the pork to rest 20 minutes.  Slice the pork nice and thin.  Serve up with the pepper and onions on a lightly toasted roll topped with provolone and mustard.
Make Ahead: Follow the directions.  When the pork comes out of the oven allow it cool at room temperature for an hour.  Refrigerate the pork and veggies.  To reheat place the veggies in a sauce pot with 1 c. chicken stock and warm over medium heat.  While the veggies are warming slice the cold pork very thinly. (A benefit of letting it get cold is it will be much easier to slice)  When the veggies are warm place the pork in the pot and allow to warm.  If you've sliced the pork thinly enough it should only take 1-2 minutes to heat.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Kroger Shopping 7/28-8/3 and Why it Pays to Shop Markdowns

I don't often walk out of Kroger going 'Wow, I saved so much!'.  Though I do most of my staple shopping at Kroger (some produce, milk, meat, baking items and those items that I need to fill in dinners) it's not a store I typically stock up on things from.  I consider it a good day if I save 25% at Kroger.  Today, however, I hit a jackpot of deals that I had to share!

The savings ratio on this trip isn't as impressive as other shops, but we needed some odds and ends (the reason I went into the store in the first place), so that raised my total. 

The truly impressive savings to me are the toilet paper and the fire logs (yes I know it's almost August what do we need those for, hang in there with me).  The logs, brace yourself for this, were just $2.19, yep you read that right.  An employee was bringing a cart with markdowns out and I saw them sitting there with a $2.19 price tag on them.  I asked him if that was per log.  He said 'Nope, we found them hiding out in the back.  I scanned it and it printed out a tag for that price'.  I was sold.  Those logs are more than that per log and I got 6 for that price.  I'll tuck them in the garage until cold weather season rolls around and then I'll be thankful to have gotten them!
The toilet paper was, for whatever reason, marked down to $6.49 from $12.99 (50% right there) and I had a $0.50 off coupon that doubled to a dollar, bringing 20 rolls of toilet paper down to just $5.49 (or just $0.27 a roll, my stock up price is $0.35 or lower).
I also got some pork chops on markdown ($4.29) plus I used a $1 off fresh pork coupon and a half gallon of Skim for $0.99 that still had a week left on the expiration date! 
It was definitely worth my time to scan the markdowns today!
The other deals I got today were included in the buy 5 save $5 sale.
  • 2 Crest Kid's Toothbrushes $0.79--used 2 $0.50 off coupons from 7/28
  • 2 2+ Gerber Meals $1.99--used a BOGO cash register printed coupon
  • 1 Oral-B Complete Toothbrush $1.49--used a $0.75 coupon from 7/07
I also bought other items, but those were the great deals in total I spent $23.49 and saved $17.51, which is over 42% and the savings amount doesn't include the markdown prices; if you include that I saved over double that amount!

So at the end of the day the lesson from this?  Take the time to shop the clearance.  What you find won't always be a great deal, but you never know what you'll find!

Back to School Shopping; Not Just for School Aged Kids

Everyone's talking about 'Back to School' right now.  Summer is wrapping up and teacher in-service is well underway is many parts of the country.  I'm sure most of us with non-school aged kiddos aren't paying too close attention to the wheeling and dealing centered around the back to school crowd, but maybe we should be.
Over the next few weeks I'll be keeping you posted with the best deals on items that are either a) for the under 5 set or b) items that we all need.
One of the best times to shop here in Tennessee will be this weekend (August 2-4) when school supplies, clothing and computers will be tax free!  For the details on Tax Free Weekend click here .  I know I'll be heading out to do some shopping.  In TN our sales tax is 9.75% so shopping during this weekend is like getting a 10% discount right off the top!
Now so far I haven't seen too many phenomenal deals, but that doesn't mean there's not anything out there worth shopping for!  Here are a few deals worth stopping in for.
  • Office Max.  They have a bag in your Sunday paper that gets you 20% off of anything that fits in the bag (some exclusions apply).  The best deal with this (in my opinion) is ink.  Ink isn't cheap and rarely goes on deep discount.  Stock up now to print coupons for a few months.
  • Toys R Us  Crayola Crayons are $0.25 a pack when you buy for (limit 8).  I stock up during back to school sales for my toddler.  If you have a tot you know how many broken crayons you can go through.  Remember to save your broken Crayolas for a craft project I'll be featuring in August!
Check back for more deals.  I'll be adding to this list as the week progresses.  I'm sure more stores will be advertising great deals, plus I'll be scouring the stores on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and bringing you my findings!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

CVS Shopping Trip 7/28/13

I don't shop drug stores weekly.  For me I find it more time efficient to focus on deals available to me at Publix, Kroger and Target--stores that I frequent regardless of a good deal.
However, every now and again CVS has a deal or two I can't pass up!  Last week and this week were two of those weeks.  Last week I stopped in and bought 2 packs of Huggies Pull-Ups for $15.73 and received $5 CVS reward dollars (I used 2 $3 off coupons).
This week I picked up the following
  • 2 Herbal Essence Shampoo--1 BOGO coupon from 7/28
  • 2 Pantene Shampoos--1 BOGO from 7/07
  • 1 Starbucks Coffee--1 $1off printable
  • 1 Oral-B Battery Toothbrush--1 $3off from 7/28

So I paid $2.38 out of pocket after coupons and reward dollars and walked out with $5.50 in reward dollars to spend another day!  Considering I was down to my last bottle of shampoo these deals couldn't have come at a better time!

My best drug store shopping advice.
  • Go with a list and shop the deals; nothing else.
  • Pick ONE drug store to shop.  Running all over town for deals and trying to keep track of rewards isn't worth the time in my opinion.  I simplified my life by picking a conveniently located drug store (CVS) and I don't shop any other drug stores regardless of the deals they offer. I realize that doesn't work for everyone, but it's worked well for me so far!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Life Hack: Non-Stick Cooking Spray

Here's a quick tip.  When you need to spray a muffin tin, cake pan or pot with cooking spray do it over your dishwasher!
I simply open it up and do all my spraying right over the door.  This way the mess is contained and when you run the dishwasher it's all washed away!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Money Saving Monday: Utility Bills

I don't know about your house, but in mine the electric bill is the largest bill (outside of the mortgage) that we pay each month.  Utilities can really eat up a chunk of your household budget, so why not try to keep them as low as possible. 
While we all like to enjoy the creature comforts of the 21st century (myself included) we don't like to shell out the big bucks associated with them.  Here are a few ways we try to reduce our utility bills.

  • Keep it as cool in the winter and as warm in the summer as is comfortable.  I typically let our house get up to 76 degrees in the daytime in summer months.  Yes it can get warm, but it can save big bucks.  Likewise in the winter we let the house go down as low as 62 degrees at night.  Pile on the blankets and snuggle up to the one you love!
  • Adjust the heating/cooling while on vacation.  It's not practical to let your heating/cooling go to extremes on a daily basis, but when you're away adjust it so you aren't wasting electric unnecessarily.  
  • Don't run the dishwasher if it's not full.  How many times have you run yours 3/4 full.  If you can squeeze in a few more dishes wait until after breakfast to run it.
  • Utilize rain barrels and harness the power of the sun.  When it's cold out, but sunny, raise the blinds and let the sun shine in.  If it's hotter than the sun out there lower your shades to help keep your house cool.  Put up a clothes line!  It might be low tech, but it works.
  • Shut the HVAC off!  For 2-4 weeks in Spring and Fall we turn our HVAC off.  We open the windows, air out the house and enjoy the beautiful weather.
  • Make sure your doors and windows are well sealed.  If you can see your curtains blowing in the wind it's probably time to look at sealing them up.
  • Utilize the grill in summer.  I love to bake, but when it gets above 80 you'll be hard pressed to get me to bake.  The oven heats up the house too much!  In the warmer months we grill, grill, grill--keeping the heat outside, where it belongs.
The list could go on and on, but I feel as though these are some of the most effective ways to save some $ while still being practical.  Do you have a favorite way to save on electric, gas and water? Share it with us!