Frugal Friday: Shopkick

Do you have a smart phone? Put it to good use! Over a year ago, I posted on how to get more bang for your buck using a few different apps. One of these apps was shopkick, a phone app that rewards you for going to the store. 
Shopkick is a phone app that rewards you for simply going into the store. You receive points every time you walk into a participating store. You can also receive extra points for “scanning” items. I’ll be honest, I never scan. You can use your points for gift cards. So far I have used Shopkick to redeem $60+ in gift cards. My favorite store to get points at and redeem gift cards is Target.

Generally speaking, you get about 35 points for entering any store. On bonus days some stores will have 150 to 200 or more points for just walking in the store. I go to Target on a regular basis, at least twice most weeks. It’s almost no extra working, considering my phone is already out because I have my shopping list on it, and I use Target coupons, and cartwheel. Give it a try here

If you’re wanting to be super frugal, and perhaps a bit competitive – a friend of mine used to shopkick to spice up what would otherwise be a boring errand run with her significant other. They had a contest of who could scan the most items, the quickest. A modern day scavenger hunt if you will…….free gift cards and bragging rights??? 

[There are a few more check-in type apps out there. I have given a few of them a try, but have yet to receive any rewards. I’ll be sure to write about them when I do. Are there any apps you use? We’d love to hear about it!]

Frugal Friday: Ebates

Over a year ago, I posted about one of my favorite ways to get a little more bang for your buck: Ebates. With the new year here, and some changes to the program, I want to make sure everyone knows about it!
 Ebates is a way to get cash back on purchases you are already making. It is a website, but is also available as an app. You may have even seen some TV commercials for it. I’ve been using this site for nearly 3 years. I don’t make a lot of online purchases, and I forget about ebates almost every other time. Initially Amazon was not included, which is a majority of my online shopping, but it is now. However, in that time, I’ve gotten over $150 back on purchases I was going to make regardless. This cash is in addition to cash back from my credit cards rewards program. Cash back ranges from 1% up to 10% or more. Additionally, Ebates includes sales and discounts for some stores.

So how does it work? When you’re ready to do some shopping, go to the ebates website (or app) and log in. Then search for the store you want to shop at. Ebates will display how much cash back and the terms. Click the store, and a ticket will open into a new window, then the store website itself will be displayed. At this point you shop like normal. It sounds like a lot, but it honestly adds 30 seconds to your shopping experience.
Ebates actually has recently added the ability to get cash back for in-store purchases at certain stores if you link your credit card. Again, this is in addition to any discount, loyalty programs, or credit card cash-back programs you are already a part of.
Ebates policy allows for a certain number of days before your cash back appears, but I typically see it within 48 hours. Cash is sent back to you each quarter. Typically it’s sent back via paypal, but sometimes there are options for gift cards.
New users receive a $10 gift card after their first $25 purchase, so sign up today.

Quick Tip Tuesday: You Can Freeze Almost Anything

Over the years, and I’ve read any number of tips that have changed my life. Not only do many of these tips save me time and energy, some of them save me money too. So as part of the new MMC, we are now bringing you “Quick Tip Tuesday”: time and budget saving tips in short blog post form.
Are you ready for it…….Here’s this weeks tip………
This is life altering for many many reasons. First, freezing your food means that, like most of our meals, its available for use in the future. Second, if you ended up with some unexpected left overs, or excess produce you can’t finish in time, you can save it for later – this way it does not go to waste, and it saves you money in the future. Third, you can buy just about anything in bulk that is on sale.

Frozen Banana Slices – Perfect for Smoothies

I was quite skeptical in the beginning, of what I could or couldn’t freeze. I played it safe. Lately, I’ve been branching out, and doing some research and it has definitely paid off. Can’t finish off that huge container of Costco spinach? Freeze it. Throw it in smoothies, dishes calling for frozen or fresh spinach. What about the ridiculous large container of Costco pesto? Freeze it in cubes, throw in dishes at a later date. Bought a fridge full of squash and zucchini and suddenly have to leave town? Slice it up and freeze it. Throw it in some orzo at a later date. And those are just a few. 
Frozen Pesto Cubes!
I could go on and on, but in the interest of this being a short post, I’ll leave you with a few basics and some links. First and foremost – most things should be quick frozen on a cookie sheet, freeze for 1 to 24 hours, then bag. This freezes all the items separately, so you can store in a single bag and grab as much as you need. For example: slice up bananas and lay on a parchment paper lined pan. When frozen, transfer to a freezer safe bag. Scoop out what you need for a smoothie when you need it. This is the same for most fruits. I do the same procedure for meatballs and individual burritos. Sauces freeze great in ice cube trays. Once frozen, put in a bag. 

Why I Coupon

About five years ago, I was sitting in the atrium of my school working on homework between classes. At the table next to me, a girl in another class was talking to her friends about how she started couponing. She explained that she had purchased about $40 worth of items at CVS, and then had used coupons and sales, in addition to previously earned “extra care bucks” to continue to make weekly purchases for little to no money. Until this moment in my life, I knew very little about coupons. Coupons were found in the paper, or sometimes on items, or those little machines in the aisle. Well that changed rather quickly….

When I went home I spent some time googling, found out this girl was pretty spot on in her description, and a crazy coupon lady was born. In the beginning I went a little nuts… We are still living off the razors, hair care, toothpaste and deodorant I purchased back then. When I was really into couponing, I even had a few $0.00 receipts.

So how do you get started couponing? I could write a book, but honestly, Southern Savers, has one of the best coupon tutorials. It’s what got me started. When starting, I suggest only tackling one or two grocery stores and a drug store. Driving to multiple stores to get the very best deal, just makes me resent couponing. If you weren’t already couponing, than saving anything (even if it’s not the most) is already better for your budget!

Not ready to coupon, but still want to save? You can make decent changes in your grocery budget by just following some of the couponing principles. First, grocery store prices follow a sale cycle, usually six weeks. By purchasing an item when its at the lowest price, and buying enough to last until it bottoms out again, you can save yourself quite a bit of money. Southern Savers gives the following scenario: you can buy a box of cereal each week for $4, costing you a total of $24 OR you could buy six boxes of cereal on sale (with coupons) for only $6 and SAVE $18. Additionally, you won’t have to make as many grocery trips, saving yourself time and gas!

Gone are the days that you had to pick up a newspaper, and scour the weekly adds and match up your coupons with the current sales. Many coupons are printable, and sites like Southern Savers do the matching up for you! You can select items, print from a link, and print out your shopping list. They also have a coupon database, and an option to search for an item.

One of the biggest changes that we made to our grocery shopping habits, regardless of whether I am in the mood to coupon or not, is paying attention to “buy it now” prices. Southern Savers offers a suggested list. This is a list of items and what prices are appropriate to stock up on. These items are available regularly at this low a price with a coupon (sometimes even lower). Being aware of this has really prevented me from making impulse buys. I just cannot bring myself to pay double for something we really don’t need!

Here’s a recent shopping scenario:
My son drinks almond milk. The best (non coupon) price for Silk Almond Milk is at Costco. You can purchase a 3-pack for $7. That’s $2.33/container. As almond milk lasts longer than regular milk, purchasing three cartons at a time is fine. Grocery store prices are generally >$3.00 each. So Costco’s price isn’t bad, but I can do better!.

Recently, Kroger offered Silk (on sale) at $2.99/container, and when you buy three, you receive a dozen organic eggs for free! I was able to print 3 coupons for $1 off each container of silk milk. This makes the milk $1.99 each, a savings (from the Costco price) of $1.02 on three containers. However, when you add the “cost” of the eggs, the savings are much greater. There was also a coupon for a FREE silk container, when you share with friends, but I had used this in the past. If you were able to use that coupon, you would pay $3.98 for three milks ($1.32 each) AND a dozen eggs.

At the time there was no coupon available for eggs, BUT I have seen a similar scenario where there was. Usually you can use a coupon on this type of “free” item also, bringing your total down more.

Save Time and Money by Menu Planning

One of the most effective ways of saving money and cutting down on mealtime stress is to menu plan.  I know that some of you are shuddering at the very thought, but stick with me.  There are many different ways to menu plan, and it is important to find one that works best for you.  There are also web-based services that will do the planning for you at a reasonable cost.  (I will be adding links to some of these at the bottom of the post.)  I prefer to do my own planning, and will share what works for me.

A few of the many different ways include planning all three meals, lunch and dinner, or just dinner; planning for a week, bi-weekly or monthly; assigning themes to each day of the week such as Mondays are Mexican, Tuesdays are soup, Wednesdays are chicken, Thursdays are pizza, etc.; making a list of meals that you want to fix in the next week and not assigning them to any particular day; and whatever other method that may work for you.  One of the crucial elements that they all have in common is making sure that you have all the ingredients on hand to fix all the meals (obviously that may not apply to a monthly plan, but you would need to have a specific grocery plan to cover the month).

Start simply and stay flexible!  Kayte has just started menu-planning, so I am going to share her experience with you.  She is planning only the main meal for a week, since breakfasts tend to stay the same.  Lunches are leftovers or something simple for her and her toddler, and her husband and older son are at work or school all day.  The first thing we did was to print off a form (a simple Excel spreadsheet) and note what days had something scheduled that would affect cooking.  In her case, that is the two days that she works (on those days, her husband fixes whatever he wants).  On Saturdays, they plan an “Eating Out” meal, knowing that often that gets switched to Sunday.  This left only 4 meals to plan for the week.

The next thing we did was to make a list of what she had in her refrigerator, freezer and pantry, making a special note of what needed to be used soon.  (We kept that list to use for the next menu-planning session, marking off what was going to be used this week.)  Kayte’s comments after the first week of using the meal plan were that it was great not having to try to figure out what was for dinner every afternoon – just look at the list posted on the fridge.  It also eliminated daily grocery store runs. Her 10-year-old son also has a habit of asking repeatedly what was for dinner as soon as he gets home from school, and a few days into the week, he asked and then immediately said, “Oh wait, I can go look on the refrigerator.”

I usually plan for a week in advance, looking at sale ads and what I have on hand, and plan only my dinners.  I eat my main meal in the middle of the day, and eat very light in evening, mostly eating leftovers or sometimes just a bowl of cereal or yogurt and fruit.  (I will confess that I sometimes have a big bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine for supper.)  Since I cook only for myself, I am free to eat pretty much whatever is handy.  However, this last month I have been doing a Whole 30, which takes much more planning, so I planned out lunches and dinners for an entire month. (The meals in red are new recipes.)

Another thing you can do that makes it easier to come up with meals for your plan is to make a list of what meals you cook often and/or what your family really likes.  Make a special note of quick and easy (including slow cooker) meals for the days you have limited time to cook.  Here is a list of some quick and easy suggestions to get you started:

  1. Burritos (tortilla wrapped around any combination of beans, meat, cheese, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce or cabbage, sour cream or feta cheese, etc.)  A side of fruit is a bonus.
  2. Soup and a good bread (homemade or store bought)
  3. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich
  4. Anything in a slow cooker that can be left to cook while you do other things
  5. Fried rice (leftover cooked rice, any kind of veggies and/or cooked meat, stir fry everything and add a scrambled egg (optional) and some soy sauce)
  6. Repurposed leftovers (or pull out all the leftovers and let each person build their own plate)
  7. Baked potato bar (potatoes baked in slow cooker plus toppings in separate bowls for everyone to make their own)
  8. Salad bar (greens, leftover cooked chicken, shredded cheese, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, chopped or cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, craisins, chopped apple, etc. in separate bowls for everyone to make their own)

A few months ago, I sat down with my daughter-in-law who was very skeptical about the benefits of menu-planning.  We started by making a list of everything she already had on hand, brainstormed potential lunches and dinners for her family (her, her husband, and three sons ranging in age from 2 to 8).  After planning the next week’s meals, all she had to buy to prepare them was one can of tomato sauce.  Needless to say, she was sold!  After a few weeks of planning, she told me that their grocery spending was 1/3 less than before she started.

There are several reasons it saves money.  You aren’t wasting food or buying unnecessary items because you have a plan for everything you buy.  Your refrigerator is not overstuffed, with forgotten leftovers turning green and fuzzy because they are out of sight.  You are eliminating emergency runs to the grocery store where, if you are like me, you always pick up a few things that aren’t on the list.
Keep it simple to start with.  There are lots of blog posts with information on how to do it, and, as I mentioned earlier, plans you can pay for to have someone else do it for you.  I am including a few links below, but know that there are plenty more out there.  I have not used any of the paid services, but I follow blogs that have comments very pleased with those services.

Good Cheap Eats – Planning easy economical meals
Money Saving Mom – Free printables, links to many other money-saving tips
Life As Mom  – Some free meal plans
eMeals – Meal plans sent to you (for a fee)
Plan to Eat – Meal plans done for you (for a fee)
Once a Month Mom – A variety of different freezer meals (free) and/or membership (fee).

Rotisserie Chicken & Chicken Broth

Toddler approved chicken quesadilla

If there is one thing we eat in this house more often than pulled pork, its Costco’s rotisserie chicken. For $4.99 + tax, you can walk home with a fully cooked 3.0lb bird. Deal of the century! Personally, I find the meat pretty delicious on its own, and often the first night home that is what we eat…. But, what makes the rotisserie chicken so amazing is that its cooked chicken to use as you like! Talk about easy, cheap and convenient. There are plenty of you tube videos showing how to cut one up if they intimidate you (check out this one). I will be posting some real recipes but here are some ideas to get you started….

  • Chicken Salad
  • Chicken Quesadillas
  • Fajitas
  • Chicken Tacos
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
  • Chicken Alfredo
Crockpot Dinner on Left, Chicken Stock on Right

But wait! Even the left overs can be used! Once you’ve used all the meat you’re going to use, throw the bones into a bag and into the freezer. Once you’ve got 2-3 chickens worth you can use them to make some delicious broth!

It’s easy, delicious, and cheap. Ok – I know chicken broth isn’t really all that pricey, but if you can make it with ingredients you had on hand – why not? All you need is your left over chicken scraps and bones, some veggies (celery, onion, garlic, carrot), water and a pressure cooker or crock pot.

First, brown the chicken bones in the oven. Broil for 15-20 minutes. Then throw them in your crockpot/pressure cooker. Throw in some veggies. Put in just enough water to cover all the bones.  Add a splash of vinegar (optional) to help pull the calcium out of the bones and into the stock. Cook on low for 12 (or more) hours in slow cooker, or for one hour in pressure cooker. My last batch made close to 8 cups.

Afterwards I allowed mine to cool, then cooled over night in the fridge. I poured mine into ice cup trays and froze, then transferred to a bag, for easy access (Trays are about 2/$2 at Bed Bath and Beyond. Four cubes is a 1/2 cup). Now I pretty much always always have chicken broth available!

Pumpkin Spice Latte – A Guest Post

HI All!  I’m Desiree and have the honor of knowing all of the lovely ladies running this awesome blog.  I’m a busy momma with 2 kiddos, a full time job (A nurse!) and I’m going back to school to get my Masters degree.  I’ve been a vegetarian (technically an ova-lactovarian) for about 24 years and generally TRY to eat fairly healthy.  I’ve recently made some huge dietary changes cutting nearly all breads and excess sugar!  So when I discovered just how bad for me some of my very favorite foods were, I started looking for yummy substitutions!  Kayte asked if I would be willing to share some of these, YES!  So, you’ll find me here as a guest blogger occasionally with some tips for healthy substitutions I hope you guys enjoy as much as I do!
Love your Pumpkin Spice Latte but HATE not knowing what you’re really drinking?
Fall is coming and if you’re like me (and Racheal apparently!), I LOVE a good Pumpkin Spice Latte. Many of us have seen the ads claiming our favorite drive-though latte is filled with chemicals, sugar, and doesn’t even have any real pumpkin! I (as much as the next busy working momma) love the convenience of having someone just hand me my coffee in the morning but is it REALLY worth it?
I’ve found this awesome recipe that not only gives me my pumpkin spice fix, it helps me get through my busy morning with a healthy dose of protein powder, it’s low in sugar, and so much cheaper than my daily trip through the drive through. Most days it doubles as coffee AND breakfast as I rush the kids to school and get to work!
Get your ingredients ready
To make this yummy latte just throw the following into a blender and blend well:
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla whey protein (added benefit, helps make it frothy like a latte) 
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk 
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin purée 
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract (It’s good with a little more too!) 
  • Stevia to taste preference 
  • Average cup of brewed strong coffee
Almost ready
Just a few tips: Once you’ve added all these ingredients, your coffee may have cooled a bit. I usually toss mine in the microwave for a bit! I use the lowest sugar almond milk I can find to keep the calories lower. Sometimes the pumpkin spice powder seems too chunky, I had been taking an extra step and dissolving it in the milk before adding it, but I found some finely ground pumpkin spice and it blends better.
ALWAYS find the time to wash your blender out after making your latte….because honestly, it cleans quite quickly when fresh. If you forget and wake up the next morning to a dirty blender you’ll never make your yummy coffee…who has the time to wash a blender first thing in the morning BEFORE coffee with kids running around.

Breakfast on the run