Friday, April 30, 2010

Money Saving Madness

Welcome, friends, from Kelly's Korner!

Being a stay-at-home-wife, I feel that it's part of my job to save our family money. We have been abundantly blessed, but by no means feel like we're rolling in the dough! The primary task I use for saving us money is Couponing. This term means different things to different people. For me, it simply means using coupons (of many varieties) combined with sales prices to achieve the cheapest possible cost for a given item. I had used coupons since we got married and, sure, I saved some money here and there. It wasn't until I started Couponing in the fall of 2008 that I really began to see a difference in how much money we were spending and saving on groceries and common household items.

I know that this concept isn't for everyone. So rather than try to pressure you into believing that Couponing is the only way, I'll simply tell you what I do and what works for me.

A common misconception about using coupons is that it takes too much time. Recently, I figured out that the total time I spend each week on clipping and sorting coupons/meal planning is around 60-75 minutes. The bulk of that time is spent clipping and sorting, but is usually accomplished while watching tv. I'm able to catch up on a favorite show and mark a big task off my weekly to-do list.

Last year alone, we saved nearly $2,000 on groceries and household items. Yes, nearly TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS!! If I consider that total with the amount of time I spend each week on this task, I'm "earning" about $35 an hour for my time. As a stay at home wife, I believe this is the least I can do to contribute to our monthly budget!

Here's my step-by-step plan.

First, I collect my coupons. My coupons come from the Sunday paper, friends and family and online sources such as I also subscribe to several bargain blogs where I find shopping lists for the stores I shop in, extra coupons and even online deals (you can find these blogs on the right side of the page under "links").

After that, I cut my coupons. I ONLY CUT COUPONS FOR THINGS I KNOW WE WILL BUY. I found that cutting out every single coupon takes a lot of extra time. Throwing away a big stack of unused coupons at the end of the month is very frustrating. As I cut the coupons, I separate them into "Food" and "Non-Food" stacks.

Next, comes the sorting. I have found that an initial sort like this saves TONS of time when I am looking for a certain coupon. I have 2 coupon for food items and another for non-food items. Each folder has several files. In each tab, there are envelopes to break down the sorting even more. For example, (below) the laundry tab contains envelopes for detergent, stain treater and fabric softener. This method allows me to search through a few coupons for detergent rather than rifle through a whole stack of coupons that may or may not be for detergent. My tabs and envelopes are based on things that we use and buy. Yours may or may not look like this.
I have a basket that looks like the one below to house all my couponing supplies. In the basket, I keep scissors, a Sharpie, a note pad, both coupon files, sales flyers to take note of and coupons that need to be cut/sorted/filed.
Now, it's time to make my shopping lists. I have a Grocery List template on my computer that I print once a week. This allows me to make my shopping list based on certain departments and aisles in the store. Under each department/aisle, I also have a column for coupons. This allows me to make note of the coupon(s) I have for the item listed. Then, when I'm shopping I know exactly how much my coupon is for and can compare costs without having to dig through my coupon folder for every single item.
The note pad I keep in my Coupon basket allows me to make smaller lists for other stores (like Target, Wal-Mart or CVS).

Once I've created a menu for the week (using as many food items as I can from the pantry, fridge and freezer), I peruse the sales flyers. I look for items that are on sale and that I know I have coupons for. I circle all the things I might be interested in buying with my Sharpie. Then, I match up coupons with sales items to see if the final price of that item is reasonable (once you've done this for a while, you'll start to see patterns in prices and know when something is really on sale). I add those items to my list and I'm off to the store!

Here are some things to remember when adapting a Couponing method:

*Get over brand preferences.
The key is to buy what you can get at a super cheap price, rather than to buy items that you might normally buy. I'm not gonna lie, I love Angel Soft toilet paper. But, if I can get a pack of Cottonnelle for 5o cents, you better believe I'm gonna go for it! I've found that, the majority of the time, I end up liking a new brand better than my old stand by brands.

*Buy items based on price, not necessity.
Obviously, things come up and last minute trips to the store are a must. The object, though, is to plan ahead as much as you can to save the most money possible. I've begun planning a week and a half in advance, and that seems to work pretty well.

*Save your coupons & watch for sales.
These two kinda go hand in hand. Some sites suggest that you do a month's worth of research on your most purchased products to figure out the lowest sale price for those items, and then only purchasing them at that lowest sale price. While that totally works, I've adapted my own little system. Instead of doing all the research, I simply wait for the sales ads, check out the items that are on sale and match them up with my coupons. The majority of the time, the items that are in the sales ads are near their lowest price.

*Stock up.
If an item is on sale and you have 4 coupons, use them and stock up!! It's better to keep 3 extra bags of frozen vegetables on hand and get them for 50 cents a piece than it is to only buy 1 bag at 50 cents and then have to pay full price for the other 3 bags later. This goes for items that you might not have coupons for, too, like meat. If a meat item is on sale, we buy enough to make 4 or 5 dishes.

I know all this looks intimidating. I can tell you that it WILL take some time to adapt to your liking, but by taking it a step at a time, it's a lot easier than you might initially think. Just remember that your pantry/fridge/freezer WILL be stocked and you WILL save money!

If you have questions about the process I use or would like for me to e-mail you with the Grocery List template I use, contact us at .

Happy Saving!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Outdoor Fun on a Dollar Store Budget

As the weather warms up (though apparently not this week... brrr!), we love finding simple and cheap-o ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Here are a few ideas from our stash that we keep organized on two shelves... one in the garage and one on the back patio. That way we have quick inspiration and easy access.

1. Bubbles... we've been collecting different size blow sticks for a while. Some of our favorites are the big wand sized blowers from the Dollar Store (grab a plastic tub while you're there too for easy dunking), but you can find a whole collection even in your grocery store for about three bucks or less. Once you run out of that commercial liquid, whip up a concoction of mostly Joy and water. For really fun bubbles, add a few drops of food coloring!

2. Sidewalk chalk... you can find this stuff everywhere now for a couple bucks or less. In fact, you can get a whole container at the Dollar Store. If you want to splurge a few more bucks, grab some containers of sidewalk paint too or take tempera paint and water it down for driveway painting.

3. Sand pails... For a $1.50 or less, these little containers can bring hours of fun. From sandboxes to creek hopping, from treasure collecting to rock dumping!

4. Blankets... Whether you're headed out for a picnic, ice-cream, or an afternoon of reading favorites you're ready to go!

5. Squirt bottles... Picked up again from the Dollar Store, these are fun for cooling off on a hot day as the kiddos squirt one another. You can also tape up paper on garage doors or the driveway and fill them up with watered down tempera or driveway paint and let the kids go wild. A little hose action takes care of any clean up.

6. Other favorites... play-doh (go Dollar Store generic or use a coupon to get them cheap from Target, etc.) , big coloring sheets (recently found on major clearance from Kroger), empty notebooks to make into nature journals (more on that one later), watering cans and all manner of cups for transferring water or sand (ranging from a buck at Big Lots to FREE), sprinklers (five bucks or so from Wal-Mart), plastic pools (a big one picked up for 99 cents at the end of last season), and the list could go on!

Any spring and summer favorites that make your stash?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sweet Springtime Recipe

I just HAVE to share this really easy and SUPER delicious recipe! My good friend, Eli shared this with me about a year ago and I'm not really sure why I waited so long to try it out...we've been missin' out big time! This recipe for Hawaiian Chicken is one of the best recipes I think I've ever tried. Seriously, y'all, the flavor is so good and the meat is so tender that it pretty much just melts in your mouth. YUM-O! We love to pair it with some flavored rice and summer veggies or a salad.

Hawaiian Chicken

*6 Chicken Breasts
*1 1/2-2 Cups Unsweetened Pineapple Juice
*1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
*2 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
*1/3 Cup Splenda
*1/2 Tsp. Garlic Powder or Salt

1. Combine all ingredients (except chicken) and mix well.
2. Poke holes in chicken using a fork. (I usually leave this step out and can't really tell a difference in the end result.)
3. Cover chicken completely with mixture, adding pineapple juice if necessary.
4. Marinate for 24 hours.
5. Grill or bake chicken until done.

One of my very favorite things about prep for this recipe is that you can make it ahead of time and freeze it in the marinade.

I usually try to thaw it for about 24-36 hours before I cook it. I also cut the chicken breasts in half before marinating and freezing.

Fix a plate and imagine you're on a beach somewhere. *sigh*

Monday, April 12, 2010

For the Bride and Groom

Sorry for the crickets chirping 'round here in the last weeks... between travels, Easter, and life there hasn't seemed to be much extra time in these sunshine-filled spring days!

Good news is that one of our travels brought the three of us together, along with four of our other beloved college friends, for an annual girls' weekend. In the days ahead, we'll be sure to download our photos and share some of the creative ways we try to love and encourage one another during those all too short weekend get-a-ways!

Some of my own personal travels took me back to my hometown where I had the privilege of helping throw my brother and his fiance a wedding shower. It was a co-ed affair for a fairly modern and easy to please couple, so we had a lot of fun with the theme of "His... Hers... Theirs."

The invites, which sadly I have no pics of, were printed with a light argyle print in the background. Over top of that were pink and blue towels monogrammed in brown with their initials.

The monograms continued at the shower as I took chipboard letters from the Hob Lob and modgepodged coordinating papers right on top. I snagged the silver frames, our accent color along with white, right off my guest room walls.
The main table itself was broken up into his and hers sections... blue and brown for my bro and pink and brown for his bride. The groom's side of the table hosted meatballs, ham biscuits, spinach dip with a variety of chips, crackers, etc. Her side was a little more feminine with petite veggies and fruits along with homemade dips. Since my mom prepared most of this food, I feel no shame in admitting... it was to die for! :) The fabric was bought on sale from the Hob Lob as well.

The cake table pulled in the "theirs" element with one of my favorite wedding verses.

There were six square tables for seating so we simply printed out pics from their engagement night and mounted them on more paper inside way affordable frames from Ikea (like four frames for a buck!) They were indeed cheap, but not super sturdy, so I borrowed a few blooms in tiny vases for extra support. A tiny brown tealight gave each table a bit more elegance. The fabric for these tables was unexpectedly needed, but we went easy with just a bit more paper. Time simply ran out on us!
On the way out, guests were invited to share love and encouragement with the new couple in a blessing book. Favors were pink and brown specialty M&M's (also found on clearance- yay!) along with other brown and white candies tied with coordinating ribbons from-- you guessed it-- the Hob Lob.

Oh, Hob Lob... how we love thee.

I loved that it was a drop-in shower since it brought together lots of phases from my brother's life. People really seemed to be able to eat, chat, and linger at their own pace. And the whole thing made me realize that he is really getting married!

I'm so excited, but really... where did all the years go, you know?

Now, on to the wedding! :)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Organized Chaos

Whether you are joining us from Kelly's Korner, a returning reader or stopping by for the first time, WELCOME!! We're glad you stopped by...and we hope to see you back again soon!!

The weather's finally taken a turn and there's something about open windows and doors with light breezes flowing through the house to get me in an organizing mood! I've always been an organizing junkie...baskets and label makers weren't really things I could use, but things I had to have! Alphabetical order makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Color coordinating sends me to the moon and back. And while I love, and desire, for my life to reflect this obsession (there, I said it!), I also know that organizing skills don't come so naturally to everyone. And so, here are a few little organizing tips I've learned over the years that will hopefully help steer you in the right direction or at least give you a new idea for a problem area in your home.

Before I share some storage/organization solutions that I use in my own home, let me share some basic rules I have for myself when it comes to organizing.

1-I should be able to search for and locate any item in our home in 30 seconds or less. If it takes longer than this, I know that that item is not being stored in the most efficient manner.

2-Set boundaries. If I only have one shelf for storing craft supplies, I have to purge items until what I have fits.

3-Store items where they are used. It makes no sense, to me, to store my cleaning supplies in my bedroom, or my ribbon in my kitchen. Think "where do I use this item" and store it as close to it's most used location. If an item is used all, be sure to store like items together in a central location. This rule is especially useful in the kitchen. I store everything it takes to make a cup of coffee directly above the coffee maker. The things I use most to cook dinner or bake are stored within reaching distance of the stove. You get the idea.

4-A occasional purge isn't an option, but a necessity. I can always tell when we've accumulated too much junk. I try to purge every room in the house at least once or twice a year. I've also learned that when an urge to purge strikes, I'll be more likely to get rid of things that I'd otherwise allow to continue cluttering my home.

And now, for a look at how I organize our chaos...

My oh-so-wonderful step-father built this little recycling center for us last year. I found the baskets I wanted to use, and he built it to my exact specifications. This keeps our recyclables from being a huge eye sore. When we're ready to take them to the dump, we just pile the baskets in the truck and off they go!

Here, I've used an office organizer (for sorting mail or files) to store my baking pans, cutting boards and wire racks. I really like being able to pull out the exact thing I want to use and not have to dig under 4 other pans to find the one that I want.

Oh, the lids. Seems like even the best laid plans for these little boogers seems to come up short! My rule here is to store them in a box or bin with other lids that same size. These lids all fit and are stored with mixing bowls.

We've been married long enough now to know what recipes work and which don't. A few years ago, I typed up all the recipes that we use on a regular basis and store them in this binder. Then, I was able to week out any cookbooks that only contained one or two recipes that we used. It's really nice to have everything stored in one place.

This is how I'm currently storing my fabric. Yeah, it's all color coordinated and tucked away nicely in those clear boxes, but I'm not happy with it. Any suggestions?

Here I am again with the color coordination. It might seem a little crazy to some people, but I'm a firm believer in storing your clothes this way. I never have to spend time looking for a certain shirt. I know that if it's not with shirts of the same color, it must be dirty. To store by color literally adds 30 seconds more to my laundry process. Spending time looking for that one long lost shirt that's buried in a corner could easily take twice that time.

Baskets and bins. Period.

The cabinet space under our kitchen cabinets seems to be more like a deep dark dungeon than a functioning area. These little pull out drawers make it so easy to store all kinds of things and keeps them from getting lost back in the abyss :)

Everyone should have a junk drawer organizer. We all have junk drawers, right? Well, for about $8 at Wal-Mart, you can keep your junk organized! This bi-level organizer keeps that out of control drawer somewhat manageable. And you gotta love those little stickers that come with it to help items get put away in the correct spot.

Check out some of our favorite organizing solutions below or click on the "Organization Tips" label on the right side of the page.
*Ribbon-here or here

If you have your own organizing tips, we'd love to hear them!
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