Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Bedtime

I'm tired of being tired. Anyone else hear me on this?! I was reading over on this blog's Making your Home a Haven series and it got me thinking. I strictly and unwaveringly get my kids in bed on time almost every night. I don't want to deal with the crankiness that follows a short night of sleep. But, I often (okay, always) stay up way too late and end up getting only 5 hours of sleep. After a few nights of this, I am the cranky one in the house and my kids (and sometimes Fred too) have to pay the price. How fair is that? Not at all.

So, I'm giving myself a bed time. 11:00pm it is. That way I can hopefully get up at 6:00am and get my day going before the kids wake up. Although Hunter has been waking up around that time lately, so I may not be able to get my jump start. But, if I get to bed on time, I should be well rested enough to be happy to see him when he jumps us out of our bed in the morning.

I just realized that tonight is Thursday, which means coupons. Well, maybe I'll enforce my new bedtime tomorrow night. ;o) This really isn't a good way to start a new goal is it? We'll see if I'm successful in disciplining myself in the future.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Activities for Hunter

My son, Hunter, is a huge ball of energy all the time. He really struggles with sitting down and doing something structured for more than 5 minutes. I'm trying to slowly acclimate him to longer and longer periods of time spent in structured activities. Before my hospital stay during my last pregnancy, we had a letter of the week and did activities and crafts that centered on that letter. It was a lot of fun. But, after the hospital stay and the very long and heavily medicated pregnancy we got out of the habit of doing it. I never had completed the "curriculum" and so, even though I wanted to just start over again, it was hard to do without a plan. I am in the process of finishing the "curriculum" and so hopefully soon, we'll be able to pick up again with the letter of the week.

In the meantime, I've created a few activities for us to do. I created flash cards with colors, shapes and numbers. The main point of the flash cards is for Hunter to start learning to recognize words. I made them out of index cards. They can be used for a matching game, or later on, as a memory game. I haven't given them a test run yet, but hopefully I'll be able to get Hunter to sit down at least for a few minutes at a time and play with them.

The other thing that I made for Hunter is a car ride scavenger hunt. Hunter has always been an absolute angel in the car - we've never had any problems with whining or crying etc. But, I thought that it would be good to give him something to do - a good mental workout for him. I plan to laminate it so that it lasts through more than one car ride.

We'll see how they work out. If you're interested in all of the things that I have planned for the Letter of the Week, let me know. I've put quite a bit of work into finding activities and crafts for all the letters and would love to share them with you (once I finally finish it),

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coupon Bandwagon

I don't want to bore you all with reports of my wonderfully thrifty shopping excursions, but they are just so fun that I have to share. Yesterday, I went to Target, spent ~$18 out of pocket, and will get $7 back in a rebate, so it's like I really spent~$11, all for ~$40 of stuff. Today, I went to Albertsons, spent ~$25 out of pocket on ~$80 worth of food and I have a Catalina for 2 free movie tickets! Is that not awesome or what!

Most of the money spent in these shopping trips was on snack food. Now, I really don't like snack food, well, actually, I pretty much hate it. But, Fred is a snacker. And he works in construction right now, so he needs a near constant supply of food to keep his energy up. I hate snack food because it always seems to lead to less food being consumed during well balanced, healthy meals. I work hard to prepare our family's meals and I hate when people aren't hungry because they've been chowing down on granola bars all afternoon. But, this is tangential, so I'll get back to the point of this post.

The only reason that we are able to afford to get all of this junk that I loathe is that we've started couponing, big time. As you've probably noticed from my blog, I really enjoy this new thrifty hobby of mine. And I want to encourage you to get on the coupon bandwagon.

It all started for us a couple months ago. We were having Sunday dinner at my Aunt and Uncle's house in Kaysville. They never use their coupon inserts and so I asked if I could have them. Every time we're at their house (once a month) I gather all their coupon inserts and take them home with me. So, we don't even pay to get the Sunday paper. I just patiently wait for our next dinner, and collect the coupons then. Yes, I do miss out on some great deals this way - I have wished that I could get the coupons right away. But, it's saving us money to just get them from my Aunt and Uncle so I deal with it (the whole point of using coupons is to save money anyways, right). I you live in Utah and want to get a great deal on newspapers, check out Utah Deal Diva. I save every coupon, even if I don't think I'll use it. You'd be amazed at all the stuff you can get for free, and I hate to miss an opportunity at free things (if I don't need the item I donate it)

I also follow a whole bunch of blogs. They post when there's great internet coupons available, deal scenarios to make the most out of your coupons, freebies, sales, and a whole lot more. These blogs make coupon shopping a lot easier - I pretty much copy what others do. I have discovered a few deals on my own, but a lot of what I buy, I've seen others do it first.

After I had a stash of coupons, we began using them slowly. First, we used coupons for items that we were already buying. Doing this, lowered our weekly grocery bill and allowed us to start using coupons to get other things that we wouldn't normally buy. When there's a great sale on something we stock up. That way, I won't ever have to pay full price for that item - I buy enough to last until it's on sale again (usually 3 months at the longest). Essentially each week we focus on stockpiling whatever is on sale, and then the next week we move onto the new sales items. After doing this for a little while you have a huge supply built up of items that you paid very little for.

After I got the hang of using coupons at grocery stores, I branched out to Walgreens, Rite Aid and Target. The key is to start slowly, get comfortable and when feel ready, start shopping at other stores. There are great deals out there and you should snatch as many as you can. And by "can" I mean as many as you have time and energy for. There are so many sales and great deals going on all the time, there is no way that you can take advantage of them all. Just prioritize and realize that even if you don't get to a certain store for a certain sale one week, it is likely that they sale will come up again at another store. There are always more sales.

I try to wait to use coupons in combination with a sale- that way I'm getting an amazing deal. There are some coupons that I know that I want to use, and if a sale hasn't come and the coupon is about to expire, then I go ahead and purchase the item. There is a post here on the Southern Savers blog that has a price guide so that you know when you're getting a good deal and should stock up. Pinching your Pennies also has one here.

One thing that I've found that helps me get great deals is abandoning brand loyalty. I used to have my favorite cleaning supplies, moisturizers, shampoos etc. But, I've learned to stock up on whatever is on sale, and I've been happy with all the new products that I'm using.

Also, buying store brands isn't always the best thing to do. Usually name brands that are on sale, combined with coupons are way cheaper than store brands. The only time I buy store brands now is when I need something right away and can't wait for a great sale. And when I do this, I only buy what I need at the moment. When a sale / coupon combo finally comes around, I stock up.

I always have a plan when I go shopping. This is especially important when going to Walgreens - their sales are tricky and you need to know what you're doing.

All of this does take time. I spend a few hours a week, browsing blogs, planning shopping trips and clipping coupons. But, since I am a SAHM, this is kind of like my job. Every time I use a coupon, it is literally like putting that money in my pocket. We haven't really gotten to the point where we're saving money yet - we're buying too much junk food in my opinion :o) Right now, for us, coupons really are just a way of getting more for our money and not necessarily saving money. But, eventually, hopefully, we'll get to the point where we are spending less each week on groceries.

There are a lot of great resources out there to help you get started couponing. Pinching Your Pennies is a great site and has a beginner's tutorial here. Southern Savers also has a good one here.

If you haven't guessed it yet, I'm trying to persuade you to jump on the coupon bandwagon with me. It's a fun ride! If you have any questions, let me know. I'm just a beginner, but I have learned a lot from all of the thrifty women out there.

A Couple More Great Blog Posts

I found a couple more really great blog posts:

Great Gifts for Kids That Don't Involve Stuff


Daddy, I'm Bored

Both of these posts reinforce ideas that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I have decided that our society is too focused on things and not focused enough on having experiences and building relationships. I enjoyed reading these articles because it reminded me of my conviction to spend less money on things, worry less about what other's have, and focus on experiencing life. It is the simple things in life that make the brightest memories and build the tightest bonds.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Great Blog Post

I just read a great blog post entitled Frugal Strategies for Young Families that Pay Off as Your Children Grow. She lists 10 stratgies that she has used in her family. A lot of them are ones that I have been thinking about and trying to implement lately.

Early Morning Shopping

Today I hit up Walgreens as usual. But, I also decided to head across the street to Rite Aid for free laundry detergent. All in all, I spent $16.11 on $67.07 worth of merchandise. And I still have $5 in Register Rewards that I can use later. Not too bad, I wish it was lower though. I need to find cheaper fillers (additional items that you add so that you don't have more coupons than items). While Hunter loves all of the fun little things I bring home for him, I'd rather get something cheaper and end up getting a better bargain overall.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

One Year Ago...

Aren't these tulips gorgeous! They grow in our front yard and I just love them. I really missed them last year.

One year ago from yesterday I was checked into the hospital to be treated for my son's heart problems. I was 21 weeks pregnant and we had just discovered that our little boy had Supra Ventricular Tachycardia (very fast heart rate). As we pulled out of our driveway, heading to the University of Utah hospital, I looked at the tulips that had just bloomed and hoped that I would be back home soon and able to appreciate them.

I wasn't.

I spent 4 weeks at the hospital. Those 4 weeks were full of more emotional ups and downs than I had previously experienced in my entire life. I was worried, sad, frustrated, scared, confused, angry, grateful, lonely, hopeful, annoyed, happy, and tired. I have never prayed so hard, nor studied the scriptures more intensely.

When I was finally able to come home, I hoped that the tulips would still be blooming. They weren't and I was sad. At the time, our little boy's future was still very uncertain and a cloud of worry hung over me a lot of the time. I wished that my tulips were there to symbolize hope and renewed life as they miraculously grew out from the thawing ground.

Well, the tulips are back once again and they mean much more to me after the experiences of this last year. Our little Grant is doing great. We are one of the lucky ones. Our child was literally on the verge of death for weeks while the doctors were trying to treat him. It is only through the grace of God that he is here with us today. We feel very blessed. There is still a 50% chance that his heart problems will return sometime during his life. So, we cherish every moment that we have with him. He is such a blessing in our lives. Looking back, the 4 weeks in the hospital (and the rest of the very long pregnancy) was a very small price to pay for such a priceless gift. I am grateful that we are a forever family. No matter what happens to Grant here on this earth, we will be able to be with our son again - for eternity.

And when I look out the window or lay on the grass and see our tulips I think of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I think how He healed our little boy and allowed us to be his parents here on this earth. What an honor! I pray that I can prove myself worthy to be his mother. I have so much to learn. I hope that I can remain humble so that I can learn what my Heavenly Father wants to teach me.

Free Things

Through a combination of sales and coupons, I was able to snag all of these things for free over the last couple of weeks.

Do we need all these things? No. But there are lots of people down at the Food Bank that could really use them. So, I'll be stopping by tomorrow to drop them off. I'm sure they'll be much appreciated. It feels great knowing that I can make a difference in someone's life - I know they're just small things and don't really amount to much. But, I'm grateful that I've found a way to give to others despite our very tiny income.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Family Fun Magazine

When my first son was born, my mother gave me a gift subscription to Family Fun Magazine. At the time I hadn't heard of it, but was excited because it sounded like something that I would really enjoy. And I have!

Family Fun Magazine is loaded with crafts, activities (indoor and outdoor), birthday party ideas, organizational tips, traditions, vacation ideas, info on new toys and games, recipes, holiday decorations and traditions, kid-friendly decorating and more that I can't think of off the top of my head. It is packed with stuff that helps you be a better parent and have fun with your kids. A lot of the articles come from reader submissions so it's like a parenting network where you can steal everyone else great parenting ideas. The whole magazine is very upbeat, positive and inspiring. Just reading through it motivates me to do more with my kids.

Every month when this magazine arrives in my mailbox, I can't wait to see what great ideas it holds. I love having constant supply of new activities and crafts to do with my kids coming to me, without my having to search for them. I love hearing other parents solutions to common problems (there are a lot of smart parents out there!) I love hearing other families fun traditions - we've incorporated several into our own family.

Basically, I love this magazine! And, if you haven't guessed where I'm going with all this, I highly recommend getting a subscription to it. It only costs $10 / year (there are 10 issues a year) and it is so worth it. It makes a great gift too. This is their website. You can find some of their articles on-line without a subscription, but they save the best ones for those with subscriptions.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Walgreens April 20, 2009

Another great trip to Walgreens today! I usually head out early Monday morning so that I'm able to snag the deals before the shelves are cleared out, but I wasn't feeling too hot at 5 am this morning (I had to be back by 6am so that Fred could leave). So, I went at 11am. The upside to this was that I was able to browse some blogs and discover some unadvertised deals that people had found. The downside is that people had already cleared the shelves of several of the free items (not very nice, people!). But, I still did pretty good. I got all this for $9.35 out of pocket (I did use some RRs from previous weeks). Once I submit and receive a rebate on the esencia shampoo, I will have only paid $1.35! Pretty sweet, huh?!

I got home from the store and found the boys playing in the backyard. Hunter was showing off his T-ball skills while Grant was doing some serious grass eating. Check out my kids blog to see some cute videos of them. Since I had the camera outside with all my purchases I decided to just line them all up on the blanket and show off my killer deals. I do this to inspire others to get out there and hunt for deals too. It does take some time to research and there is a learning curve, but it you get the hang of it pretty quickly. I've only been shopping at Walgreens for a few weeks now, and I already feel totally confident and am scoring some great bargains. We don't have a CVS near us, but I hear that they're even better than Walgreens. If you wanna jump on board, just check out the money saving sites I have listed to the right - they do it all way better than I.

The Business of Being a Kid

The weather has been very crazy here in Utah. Warm and sunny one day, rainy and snowy the next. Everyday that it's decently warm out, I take my kids to the park. But, on the days that it's rainy and snowy, I get to listen to my 3 year old ask all-the-live-long-day if we can go to the park. In order to find a way to say "yes" to him, we go to the Playplace at McDonald's (that is, when I have access to a car). On the not-so-picturesque days, the Playplace is always packed. And every kid there is running, climbing, sliding, swinging, jumping, crawling, and throwing like their lives depended on it. And maybe they do. Maybe that's Newton's 4th and undiscovered / unproven Law of Motion: A kid in motion is a kid that is alive. Who knows if I'm right because kids never stop moving, so we will never know if when they cease to move, they cease to exist. But, just take my word for it - those kids at the Playplace were dead serious about their playing.

It got me thinking about the business of being a kid. They're job is to discover and learn and have fun doing it. Too often I think my job is to counter all of the madness they unleash. I need to be more of an enabler and maybe even an instigator. Yes, there does need to be order in a home and the parents cannot allow the children to rule the roost. But, that will never by my problem. I will always be one of those moms that struggles with being too controlling and too authoritarian. My goal is to let go a little. To realize that messes can be cleaned, clothes can be washed, and broken things can be super glued. I need to allow my children to express themselves more freely and not freak out about how much more work it means for me. I need to enjoy my children how they are now, and not wish for the future when they won't be stuffing crayons, bouncy balls, and sticks into the printer. Those days will come to and end, and I think that I will miss them a little bit when they're gone.

I guess if the business of being a kid is to having fun discovering the world, then I had better have fun discovering it with them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Got Kids?

You may have noticed that I blog very little about my kiddos here. I have a separate blog for my kids that's private. If you want to see it, just give me your e-mail address (either in a comment to this post, or in an e-mail) and I'll give you permission to check out their blog.

Amazing Shopping Trip to Old Navy!

Thanks to we were able to snag some amazing deals on clothing yesterday.

On Thursday, the coupons reset and we were able to get a coupon for 50% off our purchase!

My husband got two shirts:

I got a pink trench coat, 2 shirts and a black skirt:

We also grabbed a pair of socks for Hunter (he needed a brown pair).

I can't seem to find the receipt, so I can't give you the exact dollar amount, but we got all this for ~$47!. The coat itself was originally more than that!

What's even better is that we used money from Cashbaq to pay for this little shopping excursion. So it was all free! If you haven't signed up for Cahsbaq you should - just click the button on the right side of my blog.

And if you haven't checked out you need to as well. The coupons reset sometime on Thursday and Friday each week. They've been changing up the time the site goes live as well as the coupons available, so you have to be on your toes. There are several blogs and feeds that we watch to help us figure out when the new coupons are up and where they're hidden. If you wanna know what we do, just let me know and I'll fill you in on the details. It's a lot of fun and you get great deals out of it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Something from Nothing Part II

I've posted previously here my various adventures in making useful things out of items that would normally be thrown away. Well, I have a new creation that I wanted to share.

The cabinet under our bathroom sink has always been a disaster area. Since we moved here, it has been one giant pile of stuff that you had to dig through whenever you needed something. I dreaded packing for trips because it meant digging out the whole cabinet to find the tiny bottles of shampoo that had fallen to the bottom of the pile. But, in recent weeks it became even worse. I've been scoring great deals on a number of things at Walgreens and Smith's recently and have been building quite a stockpile. This has made the cabinet even worse - it wouldn't even stay closed and we had to keep a bunch of things in our back room because they wouldn't fit under our sink.

I finally decided that the madness had to end and I came up with a great way to make an organizer. I used Silk Soy milk boxes (from Sam's Club) and the cartons. I of course washed them out with soap as soon as we emptied one. I used the boxes to makes shelves and the cartons to make drawers. The drawers slide out so nicely and everything fits in them pretty well - the exception is all the toothpaste (I bought a lot when it was a moneymaker at Walgreens). Behind the shelf are more items like boxes of Kleenex, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, lotion etc. They are so easy to get to by just pulling out the whole shelf. I also used a box on it's end to hold all of our bars of soap. I absolutely love it!

Every time I open the cabinet I just feel a sense of order and calm - it's wonderful. Organizing your home feels wonderful. Being thrifty and resourceful feels wonderful. Combined, the feeling is out of this world.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection Easter Egg Hunt

Every year, when I was a child, we did a special Easter Egg hunt in addition to the usual one with candy filled eggs. My parents hid eggs that contained scriptures and objects that told the story of Christ's Crucifixion and resurrection. I decided that Hunter was old enough this year to appreciate it, so I went ahead and made a set of eggs for our family. I though I'd share them with you too.

You'll need 10 eggs, a sacrament cup, 3 dimes, a small piece of soap, a dice, a small square of red fabric, 2 toothpicks made into a cross, a nail, a strip of white fabric, and a rock.

Use the following scriptures:

Matthew 26: 14 – 15 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. [3 dimes]

Matthew 26: 26 – 28 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, band blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. [sacrament cup]

Matthew 27: 23 – 24 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. [piece of soap]

Matthew 27: 28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. [square of red fabric]

John 19: 17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha. [toothpick cross]

3 Nephi 11: 14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole dearth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. [nail]

Matthew 27: 35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. [dice]

Matthew 27: 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, [strip of white fabric]

Matthew 27: 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. [rock]

Matthew 28: 5 – 6 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. [this egg is left empty]

Print out and cut the scriptures into strips, fold them and place them in the eggs with the corresponding objects. Number them 1-10 so that you can go through them chronologically and tell the story in order. Hide and Hunt. Open them up and tell the story of Christ's Crucifixion and resurrection.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Saving Money...But to What End?

I have recently been converted to the uber-crazy world of super coupon shopping. I scour the Internet for deal scenarios, print and clip countless coupons and shop every sale that I can. This obviously has resulted in a lower grocery bill for us. Additionally, we've been making cuts around the house trying to lower our monthly budget over all. Obviously this is all done in an effort to save money. Our spastic and meager income is definitely a driving force behind these changes. But, an experience I had this week made me realize that living frugally for selfish reasons really isn't that satisfying. What is satisfying, is finding a way to give to others that are less fortunate even when you have very little of your own. When you find a way to give, even when you feel you have nothing, you experience a whole new depth of service.

This week I dropped donations off to a couple places. I dropped off a bunch of clothes and shoes that I either didn't fit in or didn't want anymore to DI (Deseret Industries). That was pretty painless. They were just taking up space in my home - I was glad to be rid of them.

The second stop was to the donations office for the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. I had some things that I wanted to donate to families with children in the NICU. Some back story: Our last pregnancy was really difficult and we are really lucky that our sweet little boy made it. The whole experience has really helped me empathize with others who are in a similar situation and I have wanted to do something to help. A little while ago I did cupcakes for a wedding and made a small chunk of change from it. I decided that I would use the money to make a donation to help out families with kids in the NICU. So, I went out and purchased gift cards for Subway (there's one close to the hospital). It is hard to spend all your time in a hospital, away from the conveniences of home, having extra expenses like eating out, all the while worrying about how much the hospital bill is going to be and how you're going to be able to pay it. I knew that these families would really appreciate the gift cards. Additionally, I dropped off a bunch of books and movies for the hospital library (good ones too, like DaVinci Code and Twilight). These were a little more difficult to part with. But, I knew that they would bring much more happiness to those in the hospital than they would to me by sitting on our bookshelf looking impressive in our collection. In reality, the things that I donated didn't amount to much, but I knew that they would make a difference to those who received them.

After dropping these things off, a wave of emotion came over me and I started crying. I was so grateful that I was able to help brighten someones day, especially knowing that I was there to help them while they were experiencing some pretty heavy trials. I am grateful that the Lord provided a way for me to do this despite our lack of money. I am grateful that I had the courage to follow the spirit and take a leap of faith. I believe that we can all find ways to give to others no matter how little money we have. Even doing something simple like eliminating paper towels from your home and using rags instead can free up at least $25 over the course of a year (more if you have kids!). Think about how much you could do for others with that $25. It is such an easy, painless adjustment to make. And that is just one suggestion - there are so many other ways in which we can free up money in our budgets. Moneysavingmom is doing a series all year entitled $100 Different Ways to Save $100 This Year - you should check it out, she has some great ideas. I also know of people who pick up all the free (after rebates and coupons etc) items at Walgreens and other stores for the sole purpose of donating them to the Food Bank or homeless shelter. It takes 10 minutes of their time, but it means the world to those who are on the receiving end.

I sure get a thrill after scoring a great deal and finding ways to live frugally. It feels great and I'm completely addicted to it! But, giving that money to others who have a greater need feels ten times better. Imagine how great it feels when you combine the two together - it feels like you can change the world. And you can, one person at a time.

Warning: mixing housekeeping and may be hazardous to your health!

Today the boys and I enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch outside on our lawn. The warm sunlight shined down on us - but not too bright because there were some clouds. We ate crackers, fruit snacks and granola bars - all foods that we only eat on special occasions. Hunter rode his tricycle and drew with chalk. Grant rolled around, drooled and practiced sitting up (he's getting better - about 20 seconds before face planting into the blanket). However the circumstances that lead to this idyllic moment were not so wonderful.

Rewind to over a year ago when something boiled over in our oven. And then, maybe a month or so later it happened again. Repeat about a dozen times and you get what our oven looked like as of last night. At the beginning of the week I snagged a great deal on Easy Off at Walgreens, so about 9pm last night I decided to spray down our oven and let it sit over night and then clean it out in the morning. This was also ideal timing because we are going out to eat tonight at Red Robin (bottomless fries - yum!). My Aunt and Uncle for whom we babysat a couple weeks ago gave us a gift card as a thank you. We are really excited for our first meal out in months. But, back to the oven...I sprayed it down and then went on finishing up the rest of the things that needed to get done yesterday.

Included on this list was coupon hunting on If you haven't heard of this site and all of it's craziness, allow me to fill you in. Every Friday coupons are hidden on the site and you have to click around to find them. They've been doing this for quite a few weeks now, but this week the $75 of $100 purchase ones were back and I was determined to find it. Lately the coupons have been resetting around 3am EST, or 1am here in Utah. The coupons reset around 1am and Fred and I began clicking like mad. We ended up finding the $75 off one right after it ran out (they only make 1,000 of those available). But, we did snag a $50 off one, huzzah! This was around 1:30am. We then headed to bed and fell asleep around 2am only to be awoken by Hunter around 6:30am.

I am not, nor will ever be, a morning person - especially when I only have 4 1/2 hours of sleep behind me. So, I've been a little off today. And that leads me back to my oven. Of course the excitement of coupon hunting and lack of sleep has lead me to forget all about the toxic chemicals lining the walls of my oven. I decide that rather than microwave the panko/walnut crusted chicken leftovers that we were going to have for lunch, I would re-heat them in the oven so that they'd re-crisp (I hate re-heating food in microwaves). After the oven beeps at the end of preheating, I go to put the chicken in and see white smoke streaming out the oven. At this point my mistake is painfully obvious. I turn off the oven, open the back door and grab the floor fan to blow the smoke out the back door. This helped, but it didn't take long the toxic smoke drifted into the rest of the house. I opened every window and door that I could, which isn't many because our house is old and most of the windows just don't open anymore. Since it was lunch time, I opened the pantry, grabbed some snacks, blanket and toys and hurried the kids outside. And that leads us back to the idyllic picnic scene. We were outside for about an hour and a half, which was enough time for our house to clear out.

We did have such a good time outside that I decided that we'd make picnic lunches a regular event this summer. Hunter thought it was about the coolest thing ever - partially because I relaxed our eating habits and let him eat all his favorite snacks. It was refreshing for me too. When you're a SAHM anything outside the normal routine is refreshing and invigorating. Kids love when you change things up too, unfortunately I don't do it very often. But, we will be eating meals outside a lot this summer, but next time we won't be chased out of our house by toxic smoke (hopefully).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wants and Needs

Any good home economist will tell you that living frugally and sticking to a budget is all about separating wants and needs. This has always been a struggle for me - I have always wanted a lot and thought that I needed a lot. During the last few years that we've lived on a very meager income I've learned how little I truly need. And in this time I've learned that not only do I need very little, I also don't really want a lot either. For me, the key wasn't simply distinguishing wants and needs it was needing and wanting less.

For example...I love to cook. And not only do I love to cook, I love to use lots of fresh ingredients. A lot of times when I'm preparing a meal, my cutting board looks like this (this particular meal happened to be Moo Shu Pork - yummy). Now, there are many reasons that I could say that I need a new cutting board. First, it's way too small for the how I like to cook. I have pretty good knife skills which really saves me time when I'm working through a huge pile of fresh ingredients. But, it's hard to work quickly on this cutting board because I am so cramped for space. So, it takes me a lot longer to chop things on this cutting board. Second, it stains and holds onto smells (even though Pampered Chef said that it would do neither). I really don't like being able to smell the pickles from yesterday's Cuban sandwich while I'm slicing the green onions for today's stir fry. It takes bleach to get out the stains and I really don't like the bleach fumes in my kitchen. Really, there are many ways in which this cutting board is not meeting my needs. And, it would be really easy to convince myself that I need a new one. But, I don't want a new one.

Another example is our office chair - it is 8 years old (and was very cheap) and broke the other day, I mean, really broke. Rather than going out and buying a new one, we were able to fix it very discreetly with duct tape. We didn't want to buy a new chair, even though we definitely need one. It still it's completely fixed and we have to adjust it all the time, but we deal with it.

I've finally come to a point where I don't want to spend money on things, even things that I probably need. I would much rather save the money for later when we really need something (like rent money). Life is not about having things, it's about having experiences. By lessening the money that we spend on wants and needs (ie things) we're able to spend more money on experiences - like vacations and charitable work.

It has been a long hard road that has lead me to acheive this mindset. We've had quite a few financial setbacks ever since I quit working when we had our first child. The Lord has humbled us and then taught us lessons that are so valuable. I am so grateful for the things that I have learned during these times and I hope that we will always remember them even when times are better in the future.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reducing our budget little by little

This last week we made a couple changes in our house to cut down our monthly budget.

I've decided to eliminate paper towels from our house. This is a big deal for me. I am an extremely germ-a-phobic person. I LOVE paper towels because they go in the trash and take the bacteria they wiped up with them. In general I am a big fan of disposable products for this reason - I don't like smearing bacteria all over my house as I clean. But, I've decided that our budget needs some trimming and so it's time for me to get over this paranoia. I cut several shirts that had stains, bleach marks, holes etc. into rags (I am extremely accident prone and unfortunately have lots of clothes that fall into this category). We used them all last week to clean up the kids after meals, wipe up counters and stove tops etc. and they've worked great. They're not very absorbent so they don't clean up the every meal occurrence of milk spills, but that's o.k. They haven't really added to my laundry load either - they just seem to fit in with all of the other towels and sponges that I'm washing each week anyways.

We've also switched over to using cloth napkins. I happened to have some that I got when I was single and threw lots of dinner parties. But, if you didn't have any you could make some very inexpensively by purchasing table cloths from thrift stores and sewing under the edges. Again, these don't seem to have increased my laundry load either - I still do all the towels, sponges and rags in one load once a week. I think that these 2 things are really going to save us a lot of money in the long run.

One other thing that we've done for a while that also helps save money is re-use the produce bags from the grocery store. I got this idea from my wonderful mom. We mainly use them instead of saran wrap to cover up bowls and plates of food. They work great and it's also a way to reduce and reuse so that we can decrease our garbage output. I have to admit that none of these changes were made in an effort to be more environmentally friendly - that's just an added perk.

Walgreens April 6, 2009

I did it!

I actually made money shopping at Walgreens today. It was so much fun!

I paid $33.25 out of pocket. To be fair, I did use $10.50 in Register Rewards that I got last week - that lowered the amount that I had to pay out of pocket today. I received $18 in Register Rewards today. I claimed $15 in rebates in the form of a gift card (which means that I get %10 back). So, in the end I made $1.25 profit on almost $70 worth of products! The Register Rewards do make it kind of tricky to claim that I actually made money, because I don't get the benefit from them until I use them later.

When shopping these deals at Walgreens there is in an initial investment period where you have to spend money out of pocket. But, once you receive your rebates (in the form of a gift card) and your Register Rewards, you should be able to shop the deals each week without paying anything out of pocket. It takes about 4-6 weeks to receive your rebate card. So, until then you may have to pay out of pocket each week as you shop. But, eventually you will get to the point where you don't have to pay out of pocket and will be able to get great deals on things each week. MoneySavingMom has a great tutorial on Walgreens shopping
here. I'm new at this whole thing and am just learning from all of the other expert deal shoppers out there. It is all a little overwhelming at first - you have to know what you're doing. But, once you get the hang of it, it's a lot of fun. I was actually excited to get up at 5am this morning to go shopping.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Becoming a Great Gospel Teacher

I finished reading an excellent book today. It is called becoming a Great Gospel Teacher by Robert Eaton and Mark Beecher and you can find it here. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially if you have a teaching calling. I am currently the Beehive advisor in my ward and so I teach a couple times a month. I read the book slowly over a couple of months. There are a lot of ideas and methods that they suggest using in your teaching and it can be a lot to take in and implement all at once. But, as I read a little each day, I was able to implement a one or two things each time I taught and it made it very manageable. Not only did the book teach how to be a great gospel teacher but it is very inspirational and motivational. After reading it I have a renewed enthusiasm for my calling and a greater desire to do the best job I can.

General Conference

Now that our son Hunter is old almost 3 years old, we decided that we needed to do something to help him participate in General Conference. I found great General Conference activity packet here. Most of the packet is geared for older kids, but we printed off the first few pages so that he could color in the ties of the General Authorities as they spoke. There is also a good General Conference activity packet for older kids here. I also printed off coloring pages from the Friend that I found on this site. I also created a tally sheet of key words that I wanted him to listen for. The list included: Jesus Christ, Scriptures, Prayer, Baptism, Temple, Obedience, Family, Prophet, Missionary, Commandments, Holy Ghost, Priesthood, Testimony, Love, God, and Faith. Each time he heard a word (or we told him that we heard it), he put a tally mark next to it and got a snack. I had fruit snacks, pretzels, crackers, and cheese cubes for him to snack on. Having not done this kind of thing before I didn't realize how often these key words were mentioned. About half way through the Saturday morning session he'd had all the snacks he wanted and ended up with almost 200 tallies after only 1 session. So, for next year, we'll probably have a shorter list of words.

This all worked quite well at keeping him focused. We also did a couple other things that probably helped too. We picked up the house so that there were no toys out to distract him. And we ran around like crazy during the hymns to burn off energy and help him sit still better during the talks. All in all, I think it was a success. We were able to keep his attention on conference for the full 2 hours. I don't know if we'll be able to repeat the success tomorrow, but we'll try.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kitchen Gadgets I Can't Live Without

In general, I am not a kitchen gadget kinda girl. I subscribe to Alton Brown's school of logic on this and feel that too much stuff in a kitchen only hinders, not helps, one's abilities to cook. In fact I built my wedding registry around his suggestions in this book . I absolutely love his shows on the Food Network too, but that's off the subject. As far as kitchen gadgets go, I am a simpleton really - give me a really sharp knife and I'm good to go. But, while babysitting my cousins last week, and working in a different kitchen, I really missed 2 things from my kitchen: my digital probe thermometer and my Silpat baking sheet.

If you don't have a digital thermometer in you kitchen - you need to get one - once you have, you will wonder how you ever lived without it. They don't need to be expensive - I got mine at Walmart for $10 - they don't have the same one, but this one looks like it would work great. You stick the probe into the thickest part of your meat, stick the digital display on the stove, set the alarm for the temperature that you want and just let your meat cook. The alarm will go off once the meat has reached the temperature and you can pull it out of the oven and know it's done - no cutting into it to check and letting all those juices run out. And you won't ever have overcooked, rubbery meat. I love that I can just forget about the meat in the oven and focus on the rest of the meal. I even use it to check meat that I'm cooking on the stove top - I just stick the prob in once I've flipped it over to the 2nd side and then remove it from the heat once the alarm sounds. A couple of tips for using it: 1) Set the alarm for a few degrees shy of your target temperature. The meat will continue to carry over cook after it is out of the oven and this way it won't get over cooked. If you don't know what internal temperature of the meat needs to be cooked to, go here to find out. 2) Don't remove the probe from the meat until after it has rested. Meat needs to rest for 5-10 minutes after it is removed from the heat before being cut into so that the juices don't run out and you end up with dry meat. If you pull the probe out right away, you'll get a little geyser of juice running out of your meat and it will dry out - which completely defeats the use of the thermometer.

Silpat. Ahhhhhh, how I love thee. Nothing sticks to it! I got mine from my mother who never used it?! I gave her a hard time about it every time I visited, and she figured the only way to shut me up was just to give it to me :) Thanks mom, I love it! I keep my Silpat right on my baking sheet so that's it's where I need it, when I need it. I cook almost everything on it. Unless, I'm broiling - that's a little too hot for the silicone, or when I'm cooking something that I want to be crispy on both sides, then I cook on a wire cooling rack. But, it is wonderful because nothing sticks to it and it is so easy to clean. We don't have a dishwasher and so this little baby has saved me from a lot of scrubbing. Even if you do have a dishwasher, you probably don't put your sheet pans in it and would benefit from using it too. You can get them almost anywhere that sells kitchen stuff. It is a little pricey (~$25) but I promise it is worth it. Your sheet pans will thank you too - they won't get gunky build up on them from non-stick spray and food residue.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


If you do any shopping on-line you have to check out Cashbaq. Once you join the site, anytime you shop on-line (while signed into Cashbaq) your Cashbaq account is credited with a certain % of the purchase (the % varies by retailer). You can have the money deposited into your paypal account or be mailed a check. They even give you $5 just for signing up. That's really all there is to it. There are no catches or hidden requirements. There are hundreds of stores that you can shop from - you can pretty much find anything you need through their site. It won't make you rich, but you'll get some money here and there, and every little bit helps. There is honestly no reason to do your shopping without Cahsbaq. I just wish I had heard of it sooner. There is a link to it on the right side of my blog. Check it out!