Monday, July 29, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Shredded Cheese

We use shredded cheese pretty often - mozzarella in baked ziti, on pizza, cheddar on chili or in burritos, etc.

I have noticed that there appears to be a shredding fee.  Look:

Shredded: 8 ounces for $2.28.

Un-shredded: 32 ounces for $7.98.

So, if I buy the block and shred it, it's like getting 4 of those 8-ounce bags for $1.99 each.

But, isn't shredding cheese by hand a pain the @$$?  Why yes.  Yes it is.

Or it would be...if I hadn't STALKED THAT FOOD PROCESSOR!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Clearance Time!

I love the change of seasons!  Is it because of the new and exciting parade of nature's beauty outside my window?  Heck no!  Nature's cool and all, but I'm in this for the SALES.

Clothing stores are cleaning out their lighter gear in preparation for fall and winter styles that they can promote with ridiculous back-to-school sales.  (FYI Stores - Screaming "SCHOOL IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER!" in July makes me want to punch you.  I'm a teacher.  Don't rush my summer.  EVER.)

Wandering with Preschooler of Doom into an Old Navy today scored me some nice stuff for work!

Yeah, I like pink.  Don't judge.

What you see here are three light sweaters, two pairs of slacks, one pair of earrings, and some pretty, girly bobby pins.  Total: $42.39 (pre-tax).

Here's the breakdown:
Black sweater: $2.97 (down from $29.95)
Pink sweater: $2.97 (down from $24.95)
Brown sweater: $2.97 (down from $24.95)
Black slacks: $12.25 (down from $24.50)
Beige slacks: $16.25 (down from $32.50)
Earrings: $2.99 (down from $6.95)
Bobby pins: $1.99 (down form $6.95)

Did you catch all that?  I got $150.76 worth of stuff for $42.39.

That means I saved $108.37.  Cool, no?

Do you have a clearance rack victories?  Share them in the comments!

<div align="center"><a href="http://www.elizabethandco.blogspot.com/" title="Elizabeth and Co." target="_blank"><img src="http://i1118.photobucket.com/albums/k616/meb263/150whitebutton.jpg" alt="Elizabeth and Co." style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Museum Memberships: Worth Every Penny

In May, my Mom and Step-Dad (Grandma and Grandpa Z) came visiting us for the weekend.  My Mom is a "let's go out and DO something" type, so I found a list of several things going on in the area.  The one we chose was a visit to miSci - The Museum of Innovation and Science, which is about two miles from here.  

My littlest exploring a powerful magnet...
...while standing on my lap.  He's small.

The boys loved it!  Which is good, because my Mom bought us a family membership while I wasn't looking.  (She's good like that.)

The membership gives free admission for my husband, both boys, and me.  All year.  It payed for itself in less than two months.

Membership (1 year): $80
Usual entry fee (1 day for all 4 of us): $32  ($9.50 per adult; $6.50 per child)
Amount we would have had to pay so far WITHOUT membership: Around $140.

This magnet is officially the most fascinating thing in the WORLD.

It's interactive, interesting, and educational.  The kids love it, and we go about every other week.  Now, every time we go there (it's especially wonderful when it's too hot or rainy outside for comfort) I feel like I'm pocketing 32 bucks.  Much better than walking around the mall, or sitting in the living room watching Wonder Pets.

My eldest posing with the electric car.

But wait!  There's more!  This museum does events for the kids!  For example, we have TWICE gone to a program for 3-5 year olds where our boys get treated to reading a science themed book, singing, playing a game, making a craft, and GET A FREE BOOK!  You can't beat that!  And it's free with the cost of admission which, thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Z, is free to us for this whooooole year!

Oh, and did I mention that there are big, robotic dinosaurs there now?  They're very impressive.  And they move.  And growl.  (My littlest didn't like that last part).  You can see awesome pictures of them here.

Oh, and did I mention that they have a huge Van de Graff generator?

Static.  It's fun.

So, take the plunge.  Support your local museums and science centers.  Buy a membership.  Use the membership.  You will get a lot of great days of family fun thrown in free of charge.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Home Made Ranch!

I have made no secret of my love for vegetables.  Now that the weather has warmed up, and I have discovered the tragic loss of my waistline from a winter of "comfort" foods, I'm spending even more time with my veggies.

The other day I bought carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and cauliflower from my grocery's produce aisle. I was going to pick up a container of ranch dip, but they were out.  Rather than schlep across town to plunk down four bucks, I decided to see if I could make my own.
Mmm.  Dippy.

To the internet!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Stir Fry Sauce!

Necessity is the mother of invention.  And Google.

I was in the middle of making up some yummy, home made stir fry, when I realized that we were totally out of stir fry sauce.  Husband offered to go on a run to the store, but he wouldn't have been back in time.

To the internet!

I came across this recipe on food.com, which looked simple enough - and I had all of the ingredients.  Time to grab a bowl.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Abandon Brand Names

The single most effective strategy for dumping cost at the grocery and other stores is this: IGNORE THE NAME.  It was actually in a high school marketing class that I first learned that off-brand things are often made by the same factories making the name brand stuff.

Think about it.  There are factories making Glad sandwich bags.  There are factories making Ziploc sandwich bags.  Do you really think there are whole factories dedicated to making Walmart Great Value sandwich bags?  Or do you think they farm it out to one of the big companies?

I'm not saying that off-brand and name brand are exactly the same (although some times they are).  They might be made to a lower standard, or with different materials, or a different pattern, etc.  By buying cheaper, you  may be getting what you pay for.

But seriously...what do you need the product to do?  Can that be done with the cheaper option?  THEN CHOOSE THAT OPTION.

$5.98 for 260 bags.  That's $2.30 per 100.

$3.97 for 200 bags.  That's $1.99 per 100.

Are Ziploc bags better quality bags?  Probably.

But I'm using these bags to keep goldfish crackers from spilling all over my son's lunch box.   For that, I don't need something especially thick.

Nor do I need to be paying for name.  Every penny counts.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saving on Shaving

It's summer time!  Know what that means?  I have to shave my legs more often!  Crap!

I love summer.  I really, genuinely do.   Partially because I'm a teacher.

I love the grilled dinners, the time with family, the fun activities, the sun, the sun, and the sun.

Unfortunately, it means wearing shorts and skirts all the time, and since my number of maxi skirts is sadly limited, I really do have to shave my legs more than once a week.

The problem with shaving:  For years I have been using a Gillette Venus Divine.  Unfortunately, the cartridges for those (and any other cartridge razors) are getting stupidly expensive.

Yeah.  And this was the BEST price I found.

You read that right: $21.99 for 8 cartridges.  That's $2.75 per cartridge.  There's got to be a better way.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Time Saves Money: Stalking A Purchase

I have been realizing that a large part of saving money is being willing to put in the time to get the best price on something.  Today's post is one example.

You may remember that I have been looking for a food processor.  (I mentioned that it was why I was in Goodwill in the first place).

See, I registered for a food processor years ago when Husband and I were getting married.  Since I did very little cooking (or at least, very little that anyone would want to eat), and had no idea what a food processor was really for (processing food?), I got a very small one.

Now, I'm cooking for four people, and trying to make stuff ahead of time and freeze it.  Yeah.  I'm going to need something...bigger.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Taco Seasoning Mix

My lips are on fire.  Allow me explain: Tonight is Burrito Night.

Mmm.  Burrito Night.

Usually, Husband makes up a meat filling and I make a vegetarian version, but we both add those envelopes of "taco seasoning" that have all sorts of ingredients that I can't pronounce.  I have read in quite a few places that making your own seasoning mixes saves money, and keeps you away from ingredients that you may not want to be ingesting (preservatives, etc.)  

I'm on it!  Tonight's the night I make my own taco/burrito seasoning mix!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Secondhand Shout Out

I rarely buy "new" clothes.  I happen to really love cruising for second-hand awesomeness at thrift shops, consignment stores, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army.  The other day I went to work like this:

This picture is actually from last year, so to be accurate, add new glasses and 5 pounds. 
...alright. 10 pounds.  Stupid cookies.

So, how much did it cost?

This entire outfit came from a secondhand shop here called Clothes Mentor. Here's the breakdown:

Funky awesome dress: $8
Belt to keep dress from looking like a funky awesome nightgown: $6
NEW Etienne Aigner heels: $10

The jewelry came from the back of my drawer (I forgot I had that set), so this entire outfit cost me $24.

And I get a lot of compliments whenever I wear it.  (SingingI feel pretty!  And so thrifty!)

But wait!  There's more!

This Halloween I dressed as Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz - not Elmo's fish).

With my kids: Super Mario and Spiderman

But what can I do for ruby slippers?

There's no place like thrift shops... There's no place like thrift shops...

These shoes came from the same store: again, only $10.  (Reprise: I feel pretty!...)

Okay, more.  I had the honor last spring of being my niece's confirmation sponsor (it's a Catholic thing, if you're not familiar).  I wore one of my favorite blouses:

It's my niece lovely?  

That blouse cost me $4.50 at Goodwill.  You can see in this picture, but it has a really pretty slanted hem and the fabric drapes very nicely.  It's professional enough for work, and comfortable enough for a movie night with my husband.

I swear this is the last one.  For now.

Yesterday, while I was cruising Goodwill in the vague hopes of finding a food processor, I came across this:


This is a Kate Spade replica (read: knock off) that I scored for $14.   It needs a minor repair on the snap, but is great otherwise.

That same Goodwill trip netted me a lovely purple striped maxi skirt (new with tags from Target), but I'm about 5 pounds away from wearing it.  Again, cookies.

Happy shopping!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cheap Trick: Freeze PB&J

I've been focusing most of this blog's posts on saving money.  But what about saving other things, like time and energy? I'm introducing Cheap Tricks - shortcuts that will make life a little less of a hassle, if not a little more frugal.

In a post a few months ago, I advocated saving money by bagging lunch.  The only comment on that post was a BRILLIANT contribution from a woman posting as momma-lana.  She said that I could make the pb&j sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them.

Like I said: BRILLIANT.  Now, if I'm on top of my game, I make sandwiches on Sundays, put them into reusable containers, and freeze them for the week.

Mornings are so much easier.

Sunday night.

Monday morning.

Now, if I could figure out what happened to the other reusable containers, I'd be set past Wednesday.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Grout Scrubbing

I have been cleaning the bathrooms.  It's horrible work, especially when parts just don't seem to ever look clean.  For example:


This is a picture of the icky, possibly sentient, black line along the base of the tub in my children's bathroom. The caulk there is old, and it's just not coming clean.  If only I could get it at least a little closer to its old, white self.

Wait a sec.  Didn't I just totally remove a bad stain (like a boss) from my mattress? Why, yes. Yes, I did.  I wonder if the same peroxide and baking soda combination would work here.   Let's try it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Clean Your Lint Screen

As much as I love the idea of being one of those awesome off-the-grid type survivalist home makers, I am not.  I love my appliances.  I know that I probably COULD get by without them, like in a nuclear war type emergency, but barring the zombie apocalypse, I do enjoy labor-saving machines.

For instance, my dryer.

I know what you're going to say.  I should line dry clothes and save money and energy, but I'm not there yet.  We have an itty bitty little yard, and I will try to set up a clothes line this summer.  In the meantime, I am in love with the dryer.

As with anyone I love, I want to see it happy and healthy.  The lint screen is super important for this.  I clean it out after every load...but is that enough?  Some times we use dryer sheets, and I have heard that this can leave a film over the lint screen that makes air move through less efficiently.  Let's check.

That's not good.

If the water is having a hard time passing through the filter, so is the air.  That's unfortunate.  It means that the dryer is not able to work as efficiently because it is not getting proper air flow.  This can BREAK YOUR DRYER.

(I can't handle that thought.  Did I mention that I love my dryer?)

Thank God and the internet that there's an easy fix!  Coincidentally, it's the same fix for most of the build-up issues in my house: white vinegar.

I sprayed the filter down with vinegar, and gave it a quick scrub.

The water runs right through now!  My nice, clean lint screen is back in my dryer, catching lint like a boss.  Hopefully my dryer will work even better for it, and lasts for years to come.

Did I mention that dryer service calls start at $147 through Sears?  I just hopefully prevented a problem for less than a penny.  Sounds good to me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Check Your Eggs

I hate wasting food.  Today I stood holding an entire carton of eggs that I had let slip past their expiration date unused.  Rookie mistake.

But...they're only one day past the date....I wonder if they might still be good...?

Apparently, there's an easy trick for this:

Healthy eggs will sink in cold water, while spoiled eggs will float.

Healthy eggs.

Spoiled eggs.

Done!  About a minute of work and zero dollars just saved me 9 whole eggs!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

DIY Soft Scrub

There's pen on my table.  There is PEN on MY TABLE.


I blame the toddler.

@#%$.  Now what?

Hm...a few of my go-to cleaning mavens recommend Soft Scrub.  Let's see.  Should I add another $6 or so bucks to my next grocery trip?  Or just try to make something myself?

What do you think my answer is going to be?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Microwave Popcorn

My older son is in kindergarten.  I get daily reports as a part of a behavior plan for him (I may have mentioned before, but he has Asperger's Syndrome).  If he does well, he gets a special snack when he gets home.

He always selects popcorn as a snack.  Always.

We've been stocking up on microwave popcorn, which is both expensive, and kind of slimy and gross.

I was looking into getting an air popper (mine died years ago), but I came across a few people in a post board saying that I could air pop corn in a microwave.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Clean Pee from a Mattress

I love curse words.  Especially on days like today.

I realized in my addled, early morning state, that the Toddler of Doom had a Pull-up failure during the night.  

Next to me.  

In my bed. 


But wait!  We have one of those expensive, ultra-protective mattress pads!  Thank goodness!

Oh...what do you mean it's in the laundry?


NOOOOOOO!  Not the Stearns & Foster!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I Love You, Library.

I read.

A lot.
My ideal day is to sit in a soft chair with a cup of coffee and a book.  And possibly cookies.  But I digress.

We live near the only Barnes and Noble for miles.  I used to spend an inordinate amount of money and time there.  It was a weekly ritual to go, sit in a soft chair, and buy a book and a coffee.  And possibly cookies.

When my cubs came along and disposable income became a mythical creature that I rarely spot, I had to stop frequenting my favorite book store.  Instead, I became the most loyal patron of my local library.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Check the Unit Price

For Easter I was going to make risotto (If you are unfamiliar, it's a creamy sort of rice dish from northern Italy).  This requires a special kind of short grain rice called arborio rice.  It has a high starch content, which gives the dish it's creamy texture (there's no actual cream in the dish).

Walmart ain't the right place to get arborio rice.  They don't exactly offer higher end international stuff.

Off to the local co-op.  I found several brands and sizes .  Usually, I buy in larger packages because it winds up cheaper in the long run, but I noticed something...odd.  I took pictures for you.  See if you can figure out what's wrong.


Friday, March 29, 2013

'No Poo" Saved My Hair


Don't believe me? How about some before-and-after pics?


So what did I do? Did I find some new shampoo? Start some crazy beauty ritual? Did the olive oil treatments start really paying off?

Nope. I stopped using shampoo.


Tiny Raspberry Pies

My husband has been working really hard. He is an English teacher and seems always to be buried in a pile of papers, but still emerges long enough to play with the boys, help me get time for my own work, and take care of tasks I fail at - like shoveling out the driveway after a big snow.

When I came across a bag of frozen raspberries in our freezer, I had an idea - RASPBERRY PIE! (My husband loves raspberries and pie with equal fervor).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Home Made Floor Cleaner

The kitchen floor. It is foul.

We have a very small, open floor plan on the first floor of our house. It's just a little L, made of the living room and kitchen. The floors are hard wood, but are taking pretty hard use with the kids doing...what kids do. I usually sweep every day, and mop once a week.

Sadly, I missed doing this last weekend.

The kitchen floor. It is foul.

There are jelly smears, mud from shoes, salt from last week's snow, ketchup, scary bits I can't identify, etc, ad nauseum. (Actual nauseum).

Sweet God. This is going to be a job.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Veggie Burgers

If you have been reading here so far, it's not a surprise that I'm a vegetarian. When it comes to burgers-and-fries night on our meal schedule, that leaves me with store-bought veggie burgers. These packages are usually between $3 and $4 for four patties.

Really? A buck or so EACH? I bet I can do better.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Millet

I keep seeing recipes for quinoa. The problem (other than that it took me weeks to pronounce it correctly) is that the only quinoa (KEEN-wa) that I could find around here was $9 for one pound.

Hm... There's this millet stuff right by there that cost $3 for TWO pounds. I wonder what that is.

Turns out (after a little internet research) that millet is actually often used as a substitute for quinoa! Well, what do you know!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Baked Butternut Fries

It's school vacation week, so I've been trying out the new recipes that I am just plain too tired to do during regular weeks.

This week: Baked Butternut Squash Fries

The recipe for this is actually really simple:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stainless Steel Sink Cleaner

Remember yesterday when I cleaned the stove with home made spray cleaner, baking soda, and a washcloth?

Well, it worked so well, that I decided to see how the combination tackled another horrible kitchen mess: the "stainless" steel sink.

Yuck. This happened because I fell behind on dishes and my husband chose not to bail me out like he usually does. Dang.

To the rescue:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Scrubbing the Stove

I have three friends with babies due in the next 4-6 weeks. Know what that means? NESTING!

I remember when I was nesting with each of my cubs. It was awful. I hadn't learned how to make my own cleaning supplies, so I was dealing with harsh cleansers that made me queazy, or made my hands itch and sting, or my eyes and throat burn. Now I'm convinced more than ever that those harsh cleaners are a pointless, toxic waste of money.

I'll prove it. Today, I'm tackling the stove.

(The stove was a mess when I began, but since it is white, the pictures didn't really come out.)

There are a lot of chemical cleaners out there that would do the job and do it well. We used to use Clorox Clean-up, or Formula 409, or any one of a number of things. They run between $3 and $4 per bottle.

I can do better.

I used my home made spray cleaner, a wash cloth, and some baking soda.

I've had a stressful week, so I used the frustration energy to get to every little crack and crevice. I even took the nobs off and attacked the grease built up behind there. Here's how it looked before:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday - Coffee

I know that I could lower my grocery budget by abandoning coffee. I won't do it. I love coffee. I tried to break up with it a couple of times before, but my resolve never stuck. I'm taking this as a sign that we were meant to be together.

A few tips on doing coffee on the cheap:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lemon Coconut Sugar Scrub

It's almost Valentine's Day, and you know what that means! Hearts and flowers? Candy and gems? Nope. Figuring out a gift for my son's teachers that won't break me.

I know that a gift isn't required, but I wanted to do something for them at Christmas and never managed it. I'm totally going to make that right for Valentine's Day.

But how?

Well, Valentine's Day is getting a reputation for being about indulgence, right? (Otherwise, who would need a ginormo heart-shaped box of chocolates?) Let's capitalize on that.

Recently I walked into one of those expensive beauty stores that I have no business entering. The lovely, slightly scary, over-plucked sales lady offered to let me try a lemon coconut sugar scrub.

I did. It smelled wonderful. It worked like a dream. It was $50 for 4 oz. Bye.

After the sticker shock wore off, I figured that I can do better. I experimented and made a simple, inexpensive scrub that works like a dream, smells wonderful, and costs pennies.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday - Cranberry Sauce

Way back during November and December, the store flyers all had typical holiday season fare front and center. Turkey, cranberry sauce, ham, potatoes, pies, etc. were all being highly promoted. We loaded up - like most families.

There's always one item in that list that just leaves me somewhere between angry and disappointed.

No, not the meats. The "cranberry sauce".

The problem is that they are promoting that freaky, gelatinous goo in a can.


Trust me.

Here's what to do instead. Get this stuff.

It's one bag of cranberries ($1.50), one cup of orange juice, and one cup of sugar (these cost me nothing as they were in my fridge and cupboard already).

Get a saucepan, and put in on the stove on medium heat.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saving the Mugs

A friend of mine was crowing about the great deal she got on new dishes - under $50 to replace all of them. (Deals are always a topic that gets my attention). Unfortunately she said that she really liked her old dishes but the plates and mugs were too stained to keep.

Hold on.

We have a cleaning problem.

I didn't want to tell her this, but she just wasted her cash.

There is a magic trick that I do for under a penny that saves my dishes and mugs from stains.

Behold: one of my befouled mugs.

To be clear, this mug was CLEAN in that I scrubbed it for several minutes with the scrubby side of a sponge and some water, then ran it through the dishwasher. These were true, honest stains that had no plans of budging.

Here's what you do: get a washcloth, and grab your baking soda.

Wet the cup, sprinkle some baking soda in, then give it a little scrub.

(I have no idea why this image is sideways on my preview. I think iPhoto and Blogger are trying to teach me patience.)

See how the stain is already coming up onto the baking soda paste? Maaaaagic!

After about a minute, I rinsed the mug and took my 'after' picture.


It was so clean and white and shiny, that I couldn't take a flash picture like I did with the 'before' shot. After turning the flash off...

So pretty! Now I want to fill it up with something dark and delicious that will probably stain it.

I do this with the mugs and plates every couple of weeks as needed. It costs me a couple of cents of baking soda, and saves me $50 of new dishes.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Some Visual Changes

Thank you all for bearing with me while I'm trying to decide on a better layout for this site. I have been trying a few different ones, but have been happy with none of them so far. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments for me!

Happy MLK day!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Meal Stretcher Monday: Brownie Bites

My Husband has a weakness for pre-packed desserts. His ideal grocery trip likely involves buying his weight in PopTarts. For the sake of convenience, he picked up some Little Bites Brownie Bites to throw into lunch boxes or keep kids quiet in the car (okay, that actually wasn't a bad idea).

The problem is that this little box here contains 5 envelopes of 3 brownie bites each, and costs around $3.50.

Nope. I can do better.

Thankfully, I have this pan here:

The wells are the same size as the Little Bites, but there are 24 of them instead of 15. Already we're on a roll.

You can use a mix (usually about $1.50), or if you have the ingredients, make them from scratch with a recipe like the Best Brownies recipe from Hershey's.
Fill your wells, and bake!

(Pardon the mess along the sides of the wells. There was a toddler attached to my leg chanting "browniebrowniebrowniebrowniebrownie".)

Note: these wells are small! You'll need a MUCH shorter cooking time (mine took 8 minutes). Had I tried to leave them for the 25 minutes in the original recipe I would have had charcoal briquettes.


It's a messy picture. I planned to take a better one with them all stacked nicely on a plate, maybe with a glass of milk in the background.... Too late. I was overruled and the brownies were gone way too fast.

Let's look at the savings here. Assuming that 3 brownies is a serving...

Little Bites: 5 servings for $3.50. That's $0.70 per serving.

Mix: 8 servings for $1.50. That's under $0.19 per serving.

Mine were from scratch and since I had all of the materials, they cost me nothing.

I know what's going into our lunch boxes.