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Chopping Out Meat

Our family is not one of vegetarians. My husband likes meals that involve a large slab of meat with some form of potato, preferably mashed, and not a vegetable in sight. Clearly, however, that type of eating isn’t good for us or for our wallets! Since we’ve been pushing to get our debt paid off, I’ve been looking at better ways to save money on our “fixed” expenses, like food and gas, and going meatless more often is doing a lot to help. Here’s how I do it without inciting rebellion:

  • I cook with dried lentils a lot more. This is twofold- first, WIC provides dried beans, but I hate cooking with most dried beans because I forget to soak them, and they take FOREVER to get soft. Blech. Lentils, however, are WIC friendly and don’t have to presoak! Love it. They’re also hearty and go great with a lot of different types of meals, believe it or not.
  • I aim to eat meatless meals 3x per week. This is currently Hubby’s limit for meatless frequency, but I might try pushing it to 4x per week in the future. All our meatless meals feature dairy or lentils instead of meat, so we’re not skimping on the protein.
  • The other 4 days per week, I use VERY LITTLE meat. Instead of adding 1 pound of ground beef, I’ll add 1/2 a pound. If a recipe calls for a pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts, I’ll cook up one. The secret to pulling this off without making it seem like you’re depriving everyone is to chop the meat up very, very, very small. One cooked chicken breast looks like a lot more meat when it’s been shredded and chopped. This is also handy if you’re pregnant and can’t stand the taste of meat (ahem)

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It’s Frugal Friday Again!

It’s Friday again, which means we check up on our frugal happenings this week!

  • We have family over, and the pantry challenge kind of took a dive. I ran out of food a lot faster than I anticipated I would, due partially to the family, partially to my brother-in-law coming over way more often during the week (this is the human garbage disposal), and partially to the growth spurts both Baby and LM are going through. As a result, we’re all eating a lot more than I had anticipated.
  • I did make a Target trip for toilet paper (another item I woefully overestimated my stockpile of), kitty litter, and a few other items, and saved $90 with stacked coupons, paying $45.xx out of pocket. I also made a trip to the MCX and got 4 toothbrushes for Operation Christmas Child (all four were free with a kick ass coupon) and a tube of lip gloss for 99 cents.
  • We have been tearing through coffee, which I purchased on clearance with a coupon. However, we’re still saving a ton of money by making it at home instead of stopping to buy it. I’ve gotten in the habit of filling my to-go cup before we leave the house, and it stays warm all day (it’s a Contigo mug I got for free off the curb).
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  • We are planning on going to the Great Cloth Diaper Change this Saturday, and there’s a cloth diaper/kids clothing garage sale going on at the same time. I have a big bin of things to take and sell, so hopefully that’ll pad our checking account nicely.
  • We are also planning on going to the San Diego Zoo on Sunday. Military members get in free, so Hubby and his brother will be free, as will LM (since he’s under 3).

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In The Spirit Of Full Disclosure…

Since I promised to share everything about our finances as we go through this debt journey, I feel that I need to share:

We unfroze our Discover cards today.

We’re driving twenty miles south to Buy Buy Baby.

We’re buying one of the $240+ car seats we need for when Baby comes.

We’ve chosen to defrost the Discover card for this because we earn 1% cash back on the purchase, and I can’t find any other freaking discounts on this particular brand of carseat.

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There is a redeeming part of this story, however! I intend to pay off the extra $260 some charge as soon as it shows up on the Discover statement. The money is sitting pretty in my bank account, ready to go, and I just need to hit “Pay” when the charge shows up.

Update: Before heading out, I sat down with my handy dandy¬†coupon generator laptop to check for cheaper options, since BuyBuy Baby will price match. Lo and behold, one website had the Pria70 with TinyFit (which is the version we needed for Baby) for $219.xx instead of $289.99! The fabric is a slightly different color than it’s advertised, so it can’t be sold at full price. I’m perfectly fine with my total black car seat not being totally black, so I snatched that up!

Then, we went to BuyBuy Baby and found Little Man’s version was on sale for $212.xx instead of $249.99! I almost screeched in the middle of the store, I was so excited. I did jump up and down a little bit. However, when we went to check out, it rang up as $249.99. I asked the sales associate to send someone to check the price, and it turns out the sale was over. Since the sign was still out, though, they gave me that price!

BOOM! Just like that, we paid $442.xx for two carseats instead of $580.xx. That’s $138.xx savings right there, just from pre-shopping and asking for a price check. I’m pretty pleased with myself, if I do say so myself.

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The Pantry Challenge

For the month of April, I have set a food budget of $50 per week. “That’s insane!” you’re probably saying. “Doesn’t this lady have four people in her household?”. Yes, I do. No, I haven’t gone off the deep end. We’re going to be undertaking a pantry challenge.

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What does this entail?

I’ll be cooking dinners based entirely on the contents of my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. I won’t be buying extra ingredients. I won’t go to the grocery store more than once a week. I WILL buy milk and eggs, along with bananas and apples and foods covered by my remaining WIC checks this month. I’ve set a budget of $50 each week, so if I spend less than that one week I’m letting myself use it for other staples I’ve run out of (I’m mostly doing this because my in-laws are coming, and I’m not sure if I have enough in the pantry to feed 6 people).

I’m hoping that this challenge will help me see what we have in the pantry in a different light. It will also let us start from scratch with our freezer, so we can stock up on frozen leftovers for when Baby is born. I learned the value of pre-frozen meals when Little Man was born and I want to have a whole freezer full this time around.

Week 1 is off to a less-than-stellar start. I did go through my pantry and reorganized it so I can see what all I have. This helped a lot, since I now know what lives in my pantry.

We ate dinner at Del Taco one night this week, which I feel wasn’t as much of a failure as it seems. We were running errands, my stash of snacks for LM and myself was depleated, and I had to eat something or pass out.

Some of our meals this week were lentils with saffron rice and cantaloupe, leftovers, meatballs, and elbows (noodles with tomato juice). Tonight I’ll be cooking for Hubby, the guy he’s on duty with, myself, Little Man, and whatever hungry Marines happen to wander through the duty hut. I’m not sure what we’ll be having, but I think it’ll probably involve beef and possibly quinoa.

I haven’t noticed a huge dent in the pantry yet, but I’m hopeful that I will before long. I want pantry space, gosh darn it!

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Frugal Friday- Toothbrushes and Bar Soap

Here we are again, at the doctor’s office, about to take our frugal pulse. Except it’s my couch. And I’m not paying anyone.

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This week, we did the following to save some moolah:

  • I used an at-home dry cleaning product to clean Hubby’s uniform. For God knows what reason, all Marines have to wear one of their dress uniforms on Fridays, which is uncomfortable and was racking up quite a dry cleaning bill, even if we only took them in every other week. Plus, we had to get new chevrons sewn on to Hubby’s uniform because of his promotion, so we would have ended up paying EXTRA to get them cleaned and pressed because the addition of chevrons made it a “rush job”. I don’t see how a week is “rush”, but whatever. The $5 Woolite stuff worked very nicely, and we have enough for the next two months of “dry cleaning”. Finish up with an iron and the uniform is good as new!
  • My friend and I went to Target and used their $20 off $100 of baby stuff. We’re both due around the same time, and we both have almost everything we’ll need for baby, but not everything, so we decided to use the coupon together so we didn’t waste that great deal. I ended up with a pack of disposable diapers for Little Man (we use disposables on overnight trips, which we’ll be taking soon to get Hubby’s parents), wipes, a step stool, two pairs of binkies, and a pack of the Gerber prefold cloth diapers. I know they’re dreadful excuses for diapers on their own, but when used as doublers, they actually add a nice little bit of absorbency without breaking the bank.
  • I also picked up noodles at 67 cents/box, toothbrushes that gave me back .43 cents each, and bar soaps for $1/2 bars. The toothbrushes and soap will go in shoe boxes for next year’s Operation Christmas Child. Shopping all year long for this saves me SO much money, and allows me to fill a lot more shoe boxes than I could otherwise.
  • I booked a hotel for when we go pick up Hubby’s parents. They hate driving in Southern California, and my mother-in-law doesn’t understand that this is the one place on Earth where it is infinitely safer to drive 70 mph than it is to drive 50 mph. We therefore drive up to pick them up where the “city” starts, mostly so they arrive in once piece and there are no panic attacks. I booked through Swagbucks, which should push my balance up enough to redeem my SBs for a $25 PayPal card! We’re also sharing a room with my brother-in-law, so he’ll pay for gas.
  • We visited JoAnne’s fabric to get some things for Hubby to make survival bracelets in his spare time, and I found St. Patrick’s day clearance items for 50 cents each. I snagged a bunch of toys and crafts for the shoe box project.
  • We ate one of the freezer meals I had made a while ago. IMG_1739It was a casserole, so when I was cooking it I made a double batch, took half to the potluck I was making it for, and froze the rest in two portions. Then when I don’t feel like cooking, I can open the bag, dump it in a 9×9 pan, top it with cheese, and bake, and POOF! dinner without resorting to takeout. I’ve recently become a big fan of this kind of cooking. Note: It’s best to freeze your bags flat, thus making them stackable. I have a piece of cardboard on the little shelf in my freezer just for this. I didn’t when I froze this particular casserole, and you can see the lines the shelf made.
  • I made coffee at home every day this week instead of picking it up en route. Considering the coffee came from a big tin I got at the commissary for $4.99, and the creamer was .98 for a bottle, I’m coming out WAY ahead on this one.
  • I also bought Hubby two bottles of creamer at.98 cents each, and three bags of coffee that ended up being $2 each. I’ve written about why here.
  • Little Man has been playing happily with his toy ride-on motorcycle all week. It’s just a plastic motorcycle that’s big enough to be ridden on. No engine, no noise, nothing fancy. We picked it up from the curb, cleaned it, and BAM! new favorite.
  • As usual, we’re cloth diapering, and washing our diapers in Tide purchased with stacked coupons (and usually on clearance).

Did you do anything frugal this week?

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Frugal Friday- Soup, Selling, and Diapers

We’re devoted to keeping our finger on our frugal pulse. This is what we did last week to save a buck or two (or fifteen!)

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  • Yesterday Hubby, Little Man and I went out to eat at a local Mexican restaurant (Baby needed a cheese enchilada). I checked reviews on Yelp and happened to find a Yelp Deal for $30 worth of food for $15. Our total bill came to $32.xx, so we spent $21 on dinner and a tip for the three of us as opposed to the $38 we would have spent!
  • We continued using cloth diapers, washed in Tide purchased with double coupons at Target. We also continued using shampoo and conditioner bought on clearance with coupons.
  • I sold several curb finds and things we no longer use, including one of our three brooms, a wheeled stand, several diapers I bought expressly to resell, and a few shirts I don’t like the fit of. I made $65 this week!
  • We ate Dirt Cheap Soup, and will finish the leftovers of it tonight for dinner!
  • We made a trip to Costco for flour and applesauce, both of which are much cheaper to buy in bulk. We feasted upon their free samples, and didn’t need to eat lunch later that day!
  • I called our internet provider and got them to lower our rate just by asking! They dropped our rate to the current introductory rate, which is $20 lower than our current rate.
  • I cancelled our Citrus Lane subscription. I love Citrus Lane, but on our extreme savings budget I can’t justify the price anymore. Once we move and get settled down somewhere else with good jobs, I’ll start this back up again for sure!
  • We watched several movies we borrowed from the library, including Elysium (which I really didn’t like), Ender’s Game (which Hubby and I both loved), and Cowboys and Aliens (which was good). We returned them on time and didn’t incur any late fees!
  • I shipped a lot of motorcycle trophies I picked up off the curb and sold on eBay. Free money in my pocket! I would normally sell on Bookoo to avoid paying eBay’s fees, but some things are a little too specialized to go on Bookoo.
  • I bought two of my school books for May semester on eBay instead of from my college bookstore. After some extensive comparison shopping, I determined eBay had the best prices for those two particular books, and used my PayPal balance from selling on eBay and Cloth Diaper Trader to pay for the books. I still have more to buy, but my short book list is VERY expensive this semester, so I’m spreading it out over the next few paychecks to lessen the financial blow.

Did you do anything frugal this week?

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Dirt Cheap Soup

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The cheapest food you can get is food that you already have on hand. This goes hand in hand with being kind to Mother Earth, since reduced demand leads to less production, which reduces the amount of dangerous chemicals in the atmosphere. That being said, it can be tricky to use up the last bits of leftover vegetables, fresh produce that’s starting to wither, and other odds and ends.

Enter Dirt Cheap Soup. Every family has a variation of this, but it’s such a frugal staple that I feel like I should mention it again. You can make this meal feel less like a depressing, we’re-broke-and-need-cheap-eats meal by serving it with homemade bread (I love this recipe, and it’s also dirt cheap!) and butter. I’m also a fan of the set-it-and-leave-it cooking method, since it A) forces me to stay home all day, which reduces the amount of gas and wear & tear on my car, and B) makes dinner a no-brainer. Just chop some stuff in the morning, throw it in a pot, and dinner is served!

So here’s what you do.

  1. Get a big pot. I have a giant stock pot that was a hand-me-down from my Mom, who I believe bought it from a thrift store.
  2. Open your fridge and pull out everything from your produce drawers and all those leftovers. Any vegetables that are starting to look a little past their prime are excellent candidates for dirt cheap soup. So are leftover side vegetables, rice, beans, lentils, noodles, etc. Chop what needs to be chopped, and throw it all in the pot. Just a quick note- veggies that have one or two moldy spots can still be used! Just cut off the moldy spots, carefully examine the insides to make sure there aren’t hidden issues, peel and chop as needed, and use.
  3. Open up that pantry to fill out the soup. I personally have a lot of lentils in my pantry, so I added about a cup of them. For small dried beans, don’t worry about soaking, since simmering all day will cook them sufficiently. You could also add dried noodles, frozen noodles, rice, barley, etc.
  4. Add some water. I like to fill the pot to just below the vegetable level, since the veggies will cook down.
  5. Add some spices. If you like it spicy, make it spicy. The only real rule here is to not salt until the end, because some vegetables will release a lot of salt as they cook.
  6. When dinner is about 3 hours away, you can add some meat. Here’s my ultimate guide to adding meat without breaking the bank: use very, very little. I added this much chicken to the entire pot of soup.IMG_1774It’s one chicken breast, cooked and chopped up very, very tiny. The smaller you can chop it, the more meat it will seem like the soup has, and the more luxurious the whole meal will feel. Seriously, if you’re trying to save money, never serve a chunk of meat- chop it up and put it in veggie-based dishes.
  7. Scoop up some soup and serve it with your delish homemade bread and butter. I like to put a little cheese on top, which boosts the protein content and the yum factor! You can salvage slightly moldy cheese by chopping off the moldy parts and using the rest- cheese is essentially mold to begin with, so removing localized spots of it won’t hurt the rest.

Et voila! A cheap, delicious meal. I like to freeze half of the portion I made, just so we’re not eating the same thing for four or five days. If Brother-In-Law was here, however, I wouldn’t bother- that man is a leftover vacuum! Enjoy the sweet taste of savings.

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This Is How I Coupon

I just wanted to share my last two grocery shopping trips with you. Both of these trips used coupons, and these pictures don’t include anything I bought with WIC checks.

First, the Commissary and Dollar Tree.

Retail (the price I would have paid with no coupons): $32.59.

OOP (Out of pocket price): $23.84.

That’s a savings of $8.75. All of these items are things we’ll use or eat (the hot dogs were for my husband’s platoon).

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Next up is Target.

Retail: $88.43

OOP: $56.16

Total Saved: $32.27!

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¬†Again, everything is stuff we’ll use or eat. The mini toothpaste and the two boxes of pens will go in shoeboxes we pack each October for children who would not otherwise get Christmas gifts. Check that out here!

Yes, there is a lot of shampoo in these pictures, but thanks to pregnancy #2, I’ve been having to take a shower every night instead of every other night like I used to. Hubby and I use the same shampoo, and we’ve been going through it a lot faster than normal, even though we water it down. I’m hoping this shampoo haul will last us until we move out, so I don’t have to buy more.

And yes, that is a pack of disposable diapers. We have to use them for nighttime, as we’ve never found a cloth diaper that will withstand a belly-sleeping, heavy wetting, directional peeing toddler while still fitting tight around the legs. We go through one pack a month, which I can usually buy with a Target coupon and Cartwheel.

The coffee and CoffeeMate are for Hubby at work. They have a system where a cup of coffee is $1, but if you bring in a bag of coffee or a container of creamer you get a week’s worth free. I can almost always find coffee for less than $5, so I generally supply the entire platoon with coffee in exchange for Hubby never having to pay for coffee. He also gets the contents of the coffee fund jar as extra take home pay for my frugal habits! The two bags of coffee pictured here were on clearance for $4.45 each, and Cartwheel knocked them down to $4.04 each. I then used a Target coupon for $1/2 to bring them down to $3.5x each, which is $3 savings on two weeks of coffee for Hubby. The creamers were $1.99 each (they were the cheapest flavor), and I used a manufacturer’s coupon and a Target coupon to take a total of $2.50 off of the two bottles. That’s $1.48 for two weeks worth of coffee, or a total four week savings of (ready for this? I was surprised) $11.52!

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Frugal Happenings- Date Night on the Cheap!

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I’ve been posting “frugal happenings” posts fairly randomly, but they deserve their own day. Keeping your finger on your frugal pulse helps keep your motivation up! Here’s what we did this week to save some money:

  • We’re going on a date tonight to take advantage of free child care being offered on base. We have from 6-9pm, and it’ll be good for Little Man to get to hang out with other kids! We’re planning on going to an Italian restaurant, which took the place of our regularly scheduled family dinner on Thursday (we usually go to the street fair for Thursday night dinner). We’ll drink water, and skip dessert. Considering child care usually costs $21-$36 for a similar time frame, I’m pleased with the savings.
  • I went grocery shopping with my coupons, and hit up multiple stores to maximize my savings. I got flour and applesauce at Costco (and you KNOW we went during lunchtime and sampled everything- free lunch!), bread at Trader Joe’s (It’s a little more expensive, but sooo much tastier that it’s worth it. Plus, TJ’s has free samples!), and coupon shopped at Target to take advantage of their stacking policy. Everything else came from the Commissary.
  • I made my own coffee every day this week, and added Coffee Mate creamer I bought with stacked coupons at Target. Cheaper than stopping, and I don’t have to wait for them to brew a new pot of decaf!
  • We ate at home every night this week, and emptied out our freezer quite a bit. My goal is to keep our freezer fairly empty for the next few months, so that we don’t end up with a full freezer come October and have to scramble to unload it before we move.
  • I sold several things on Bookoo, including a rifle sling my husband doesn’t like, a set of dishes we rarely use, and a teething necklace I got as a freebie with a lot of cloth diapers. I made more than $30 this week!
  • Little Man and I took advantage of our continued health care and had appointments at the chiropractor. My back is KILLING me during this pregnancy, and these visits help a lot.
  • I asked my friend if she would watch Little Man for my next doctor’s appointment. I’ve watched her daughter twice now, and she offered to watch LM during my appointments! This will save me $10-$15.
  • By turning off lights when we aren’t using them, opening the window shades during the day, unplugging our kitchen appliances, and not using the heat, we managed to cut our electricity usage by more than 100 KWH this month. I know February was a short month, but that’s still significant! We get a refund check if our electric usage remains below a “grace buffer”, and we’ll be getting $27 back this month.
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Tipping Talk

This article popped up on my Facebook feed today. Reading it made me consider tipping- how much? Where? Why? Does it depend? How do you balance tipping with saving money?

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We tip at restaurants, the barber shop, and salons. That’s about it. At restaurants, we’ll tip 15% of the bill rounded up to the nearest dollar, even if the service wasn’t fabulous. 15% is standard. It’s our baseline. If we had really horrific service, like if the waiter pulled our hair and insulted our mothers, we’d still tip, but it would be closer to 5%. If we have Little Man in tow and he fussed the whole time or made a royal mess, we’ll tip closer to 20%, to make up for the extra work of cleaning up after him.

We don’t tip at coffee shops, ice cream shops, or other little specialty food stops. The exception is the local bakery, where if you order breakfast or lunch they bus your table and bring your food to you. We’ll tip there, but only if we order breakfast. For pastries, we don’t tip.

Barbers get paid $10, regardless of how much the haircut was. The haircuts around here for active duty military are generally $7-$9, so we aren’t stiffing anyone, but we’re not giving huge tips either.

Hairstylists get about a $3 tip. I get my hair cut at chain salons, like MasterCuts, so the haircuts aren’t terribly expensive. If I go to a nice salon, I’ll tip 10-15% of the bill, depending on how pleased I am with my hair.

I’m sure that when we move again, we’ll have to change our tipping protocol based on the going rate in the area we move to. We will never not tip, however.