Monday, September 29, 2014

Make it yourself - a garden spot

I will be the first to stand up and tell you that I am, by no means, a gardening expert. We always had a garden when I was a kid, but it wasn't my thing. I wish I had paid closer attention! However, I believe that growing your own food is like printing your own money. For the cost of some seeds, water, and effort, you can feed yourself and your family year-round if you do it just right.
I'm posting this now, because I love raised beds and lasagna gardening, one of the reasons being that you get more food from less space, if properly cared for. And now is the time to start thinking about Spring and getting your soil ready. Here is how to do it. Choose a spot in your yard that receives LOTS of sun. Choose a size for your garden. I keep mine 4-feet wide, so that I can reach the center from either side. This is important, as you will never set foot in the soil of a raised bed. The length is up to you, though I'd encourage you to start small at first.
Now, put down a layer of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper on the garden spot to kill off any grass and weeds underneath. Wet it down and put rocks or bricks on the edges to hold it down. All Fall and Winter long, add your kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, leaves, and other plant materials on top of the kill layer. Add anything that you would normally put into a compost pile. As the "green" materials pile up, add another layer of cardboard or newspaper, then top that with a compost layer. You see how lasagna gardening got its name? In the Spring, you should have a great spot to start your garden that the worms have already worked over for you!
There are TONS of great books on this type of gardening out there that can do it way more justice than I am able. Two of my favorites are Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza and The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Spicy stir fry

This recipe is a great way to cut back on meat, bulk up on veggies, and use up any produce that may be on its way out. I'm sure there is a name for this dish, but I don't know what it is. I play around a lot with stir frys. I switch up items I put in the sauce. This sauce is spicy because of the Thai sweet chili sauce. I toggle between rice and noodles, and use whatever vegetables I have on hand. This time, I didn't happen to have any vegetables that needed used up, so I used a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. They are always nice to have on hand for stir fry, soups, pot pies, and the like. Have fun playing around with this recipe.


1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken breast
2-3 TBSP Olive oil
1/4c soy sauce
1/4c water
2 TBSP Rice wine vinegar
2 TBSP Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp ground ginger
3 TBSP Corn starch
1lb frozen vegetables
1 TBSP Sesame oil
2c rice, cooked

  • Place the oil and onion in a large pan on high heat. Cook until slightly translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken to the pan and cooked until browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan, cut into bite-size pieces, and return to the pan, along with any juices. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until cooked through. Sprinkle the corn starch over the chicken and stir to coat.
  • In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, water, rice wine vinegar, Thai sweet chili sauce, and ground ginger. Stir the combine. Pour over the chicken and stir. 
  • Add the vegetables and stir, cooking until the vegetables are crisp-tender and the sauce is slightly thickened.
  • Pour sesame oil over the chicken and vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Serve over rice.

Onion - 30¢
Chicken $2.40
Olive oil 30¢
Soy sauce 20¢
Rice wine vinegar 10¢
Thai sweet chili sauce 30¢
Ginger 5¢
Corn starch 5¢
Vegetables $1
Sesame oil 30¢
Rice 25¢

TOTAL $5.25 for 6 servings
89¢ per serving

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Task #4 - Stock up when items are on sale

We have made it all the way to task #4. Hopefully, you are already seeing big savings in your grocery budget. Task #4 is stocking up on items when they are on sale.  It may take you a bit longer to see your savings with this task, which is why I think people tend to skip it, but in the long run, it can save you lots of money!
The first item of business is coming up with a "buy price" list. This is the cost at which you stock up on items you normally use. You can do this several ways. For maximum savings, get a notebook and, for several months, jot down how much you spend per ounce on frequently purchased items. This will give you a good sense of when items can be bought at a big savings. The quick and easy way is to find a buy price list online. They are relatively accurate, but you may need to do a little tweaking here and there. I found a pretty good one over at Passion for Savings. She does break her prices down into "buy price" and "stockpile price" which may be a bit more helpful.
Once you have your list, as you look over the weekly ads, plan meals around add items to your shopping list that are at your buy price. If it's a really great deal, buy lots. This becomes easier as you continue to save on groceries and have an excess in your grocery budget.
Here's a great example. Store brand canned vegetables usually run around 70¢ per can. This week, Meijer had their canned corn, beans, and peas 3/$1. I stocked up. It was an item I would be buying anyway. The price was over half off the regular price. The cans will keep for over a year and I will likely not have to buy canned vegetables for months. This savings will reflect in my monthly grocery budget for months to come.
Now, some words of caution. First, if it isn't an item you are likely to use, don't buy it just because it is a great price. If it doesn't get used, you saved nothing. Second, be sure you only buy as much as you can use before it goes bad or expires. Buying 15 boxes of Raisin Bran at $1.25 a box only saves you money if you can eat that many boxes before it expires or your family becomes breakfast mutineers!
Good luck!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Additional price matching

As Christmas shopping presses in on us (only 95 more days, y'all!), I want to share with you an additional opportunity to price match that may save you some time and money. Remember from my previous post, that Wal-Mart will price match any item in the store from a competitor's ad, not just groceries. That's a great way to save on your Christmas shopping.
ToysRUs also has a price match guarantee. They will match prices from a competitor's ad (unlike Wal-Mart, you will have to bring the ad with you) or from selected retailer's websites. That could save you some serious cash this holiday season. Happy shopping!

[UPDATE: For even more savings, Best Buy price matches, as well, including warehouse club prices and online retailers! Check out their policy here.]

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cheesy Chili Mac

I was looking for a new recipe the other night. Chili sounded good, but I really wanted a comfort food. (It's been a tough week, y'all!) Thus was born Cheesy Chili Mac. Remember the bechamel sauce from earlier this week? We will add some cheese to it for this recipe, making a lovely mornay sauce. Everyone ate it up.

I was sure that by using ground beef, the recipe would work out to more than $1 per serving. However, by mixing the mac & cheese with the meat and beans, it made 8 generous servings. It made a great lunch.

Again, to save time, you could use canned or frozen beans and canned tomatoes, but your cost per serving would be slightly higher. I also use individual spices in lieu of chili powder. I eyeball it and add to taste salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, and coriander.


1lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 c pinto or red beans, soaked and cooked according to package directions
4-5 tsp chili powder
1lb elbow macaroni
Bechamel sauce (recipe link above)
2 cups shredded cheddar

  • Start a large pot of salted water to boil; In a skillet, cook the ground beef and onion on medium heat until the beef is no longer pink, breaking up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add tomatoes, beans, and spices; Stir to combine; Continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Put macaroni into the boiling water. Make the bechamel sauce. Remove from heat and add cheese; Stir until completely combined; Drain macaroni and return it to the pot; Add sauce to the macaroni; Add beef mixture to pot; Stir to combine.
Price breakdown:

Beef $2.47 (on sale)
Beans 30¢
Tomatoes FREE from my garden
Onion 30¢
Spices 10¢
Macaroni $1
Mornay sauce $2.75
TOTAL $6.82

Price per serving 85¢

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Make it Yourself - Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel, basic white sauce, is one of those things I avoided trying myself. It sounded too fancy and fancy means difficult. However, I finally broke when I needed some for homemade Mac and cheese, because #1, that boxed stuff is for fish sticks only, and #2, I could not bring myself to spend the asking price for Velveeta, which isn't even cheese. It is a cheese-food-type product. No thanks.

Now, that said, cheese sauce made from bechamel is delicious, easy, relatively inexpensive to make, and you're gonna need it for a few recipes you'll find here on the blog. PERHAPS you may even need it this week for an amazing new recipe I whipped up...

You only need a few ingredients to make a white sauce, though you can get as fancy as you'd like and throw in some sauteed onion or any number of spices. I hear paprika and nutmeg are great additions.


5 TBSP butter
1/4 c all purpose flour
5 c milk
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the two are combined. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until desired consistency is reached. Salt to taste.

BAM! You just made one of the four "mother" sauces in French cooking. It can be used as is. Kids love it on cooked veggies. However, in my humble opinion, it is best turned into a cheese sauce. Toss a cup or two (why not) of your favorite cheese in there while it's still hot and stir until the cheese is melted. Mmmm...

Task #3 - Price Matching

If you are just now joining us, I have given task 1 and task 2 for saving money when buying groceries. Today we talk about task 3 - price matching. This may seem a bit daunting, but start small and you'll get the hang of it in no time!

Both Wal-Mart and Target with match a competitor's lower advertised price. There are some big differences, though. At Target, you have to pay for the item, take the item, your receipt, and the ad whose price you are matching to the service desk and they will refund your money. None of those are true at Wal-Mart.

Here is Wal-Mart's price matching policy. In a nutshell, you don't have to carry the ads in with you, though you should have a list. The item has to be identical. They do honor:
Buy One for $_______, get one free
Any advertised price
Prices "with card"

This even includes 10/$10 items and you DON'T have to buy ten items to get the advertised price. It applies to any item in the store. This is especially helpful when buying school supplies.

Stores will often have what is called loss leaders. These are items that they take a loss on to get you to come in and spend money at their store. You should stock up on these and only have to make one trip by price matching at Wal-Mart.

Here is how I keep this all organized. I look at the Sunday ads on the week that I am going shopping. I make a list of the items I am going to price match with the store name, the item and quantity required, and the advertised price. I do this on my Cozi calendar on my Kindle so I can add other needed items and also rearrange this list by where I can find it in the store.

I take my list to Wal-Mart, load up the cart and head for the check out. I put all of my non-price match items on the belt first. I leave a gap on the belt and load up my price match items. I warn the cashier where the price match begins. As the cashier scans each item, I tell her the price and store (though this is not required). That is it!

Happy price matching!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Easy Red Beans and Rice

This is my quick and easy cheat on red beans and rice. It is delicious and filling. You could shave off some time by sauteeing your veggies with your sausages and using canned beans and tomatoes, but your cost per serving would be a bit higher.


1lb dried red beans
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 16oz package smoked sausage, cut into coins
2 garlic cloves, minced
Tony Chachere seasoning or hot sauce
2 cups cooked rice, for serving

Soak your beans overnight, according to package directions. Bring the beans to a rolling boil. Add pepper, onion, and tomatoes. Continue to boil until beans are almost tender. Add sausages, garlic, and seasonings. Boil for 10-15 more minutes. Serve over cooked rice.


Beans $1
Pepper 50¢ (on sale)(cents if you garden)
Onion ~25¢
Tomatoes $1 (cents if you garden!)
Smoked Sausage $2 (on sale)
Garlic ~10¢
Seasonings 10¢
Rice 25¢ (bought in bulk)
TOTAL: $5.20
PRICE PER SERVING (six servings): 86¢

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Task #2 - Shopping Less Often

Let's get to it on saving money on groceries. I gave you task #1 here. So, let's move right on forward with task #2. Shop less often. That's it. This task may not seem like such a big deal, but it really is. This has saved our family more money than any other task I'll give you. As a matter of fact, it makes about a $200/month difference for us!

I shop once a month with a trip a couple of weeks in for fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. I started out by shopping every 10 days instead of weekly. Then I eased into every two weeks, and so on, until I was shopping monthly.

Now, this takes planning. You have to go armed with a list made from your menu. Don't go without a list. You'll be throwing items willy nilly in your cart. You'll end up having to figure out how to feed your family on 3 packs of Oreos, some hot dogs, and canned corn for the month. I personally, use a Cozi shopping list on my Kindle. That allows me to make my list and put it in order of where I'll find it in the store. And I am way less likely to lose my Kindle than a paper list.

This is also much easier if you own a small chest freezer. We freeze our bread, meat, and frozen veggies. You can usually purchase one for around $150 if you shop sales. The best months to buy are September and October, when the new models come out and they are trying to move last year's models.

For our next task, we'll talk about price matching!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Easiest Chicken and Dumplings

I love chicken and dumplings, but rarely is there time to cook down a whole chicken. This was requested tonight, so I thought I'd go ahead and share the recipe.


3/4 lb. frozen chicken breast
5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp dried basil
4 c flour
4 tsp baking powder
2/3 c butter, softened (just over a stick and a half)
  • Place 3/4 pound of frozen chicken on a pot and add 6-8 cups of water, carrots, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and 1Tbsp. dried basil; cover & bring to a boil.
You can see this starts like my homemade broth recipe. You don't have to use frozen chicken. I just can't remember to thaw meat for dinner and this seems to work for me. You could shave off some prep time by using chicken and carrots that are already cooked and pre-made broth.

  • While the chicken and carrots are coming to a boil, combine the flour, baking soda, and 2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Add 1 1/3c. of broth from the pot and stir until the dry ingredients are moistened.
You could use shortening instead of butter here, but, personally, I steer clear of the stuff. I recommend getting a pastry cutter, because they are relatively inexpensive and handy to have when cooking from scratch. (Which you are, right?)

  • Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes. Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness; cut the dough into 2 inch squares. Drop the dumplings one at a time into the boiling broth. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

I use my tiny counter or table for this. Don't skip the kneading. It elongates the gluten strands and gives the dumplings a great texture. (I know. Gluten is the new Al Qaida, but what are you gonna do?) This will thicken upon standing. It also freezes great or at least it would...If your family doesn't eat it mine...

Cost break down for 6 servings:
Chicken - $1.35
Carrots - 50¢ (on sale)
Spices - ~5¢
Flour and baking powder- 15¢ (bought in bulk)
Butter - $2.50

TOTAL - $4.55.   PER SERVING - 76¢

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tub and shower magic review -updated


Back in early 2012, I made the Tub & Shower Magic that I found here. I LOVE cleaning with vinegar. I just wasn't sure about all of that Dawn...So, here's what's up. I mixed up the solution with a 13oz of vinegar and a 10.3oz bottle of Dawn. The only reason that I did it this way, instead of equal parts, is because of the size of the bottle of Dawn. As a side note, which will help in making this recipe even cheaper, Walgreen's regularly runs this size of Dawn on sale for 99 cents (I price match at WalMart to save the trip) and you can almost always find a 50 cents off Dawn coupon monthly in the Sunday coupon circulars.

The cleaner worked really well. My tub and shower tiles sparkled. However, it was VERY thick! And, you can imagine, there were quite a lot of suds and I spent a good deal of time rinsing and re-rinsing to get the bubbles down the drain. So, after I'd used it a few times, I added about 4 more ounces vinegar to the bottle. It worked just as well.

After using this cleaner for months, I recommend a solution of closer to 3-5oz. of Dawn or any other dish detergent and the rest vinegar. This is a more cost effective solution while being just as adequate a cleaner without all the suds.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Make it Yourself - Quick, easy chicken broth

Not only do I love saving money, I love saving time, as well. With homeschooling three boys, keeping up with household duties, working part-time, and keeping up with an etsy shop, time is golden!
So, here is my quick cheat for making chicken broth. Chicken broth normally takes over an hour, but once I'm in the kitchen, I don't usually have an hour. I start with frozen chicken breasts, usually about 3/4-1 lb. (I eyeball A LOT). I place it in a pot with about a teaspoon or two of salt, a half teaspoon of pepper, a half teaspoon of dried basil, and two to three crushed garlic cloves and just cover it all with water. I put the lid on the pot and boil it on high for 30 minutes. That's it.
Shred the chicken for another recipe. You can use the broth immediately, keep it in the fridge for up to three days, or freeze it. I tend to never thaw my frozen chicken before hand. I poach it like this, so that I will always have broth when I need it and I don't have to spend money on canned broth.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tortilla Soup

  • So, here is a quick, easy, inexpensive, and tasty recipe. That's a pretty hard combo to find! You can find the original link here. I, personally, use dried and soaked black beans, because they are cheaper. I also make my own broth, because, again, cheaper. If you use dried beans and homemade broth, this whole batch comes in at less than $4! 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) diced  tomatoes in juice
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 cup crushed tortilla chips, plus more for serving (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Cook garlic and chili powder until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes(with juice), beans, broth, corn, and 1 cup water; season with salt and pepper.
  2. Bring soup to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Add tortilla chips; cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lime juice, and season with salt and pepper. Serve soup with lime wedges and, if desired, more chips.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reinventing/Task #1

So, by multiple requests, it appears that the blog will be back up and running. Apparently my penny pinching is worth following! I have not yet thought out exactly what it will look like, but I know it will include menu planning, recipes, and money saving ideas. I am open to all questions and suggestions!

Task #1 - Plan a menu, even if it is only for this week. Think of 5-6 meals you can cook. Look around your fridge and pantry. Start there and try to incorporate what you already have. Try to plan one night meatless. Try to plan for one left over night. Stretch your meat useage by trying a casserole, soup, or stir fry.

If you need help finding recipes, look on to enter in ingredients on hand or do a Pinterest search.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes! Jennifer