Friday, October 31, 2008

Shoppings and Month End

So after September's budget upset, October has proved to be a much better month. Most successful, actually! To recap, having learned a lot of the fun rules of this shopping game I've been playing, my next goal has been to start the harder task of seriously reducing our monthly budget (food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, eating out, etc. There are still some things that I have a seperate allotment for [clothes, dog related stuff, and such], but our basic month to month expenses are all counted in that total).

I've shrunk our monthly budget down to $60 a week. While I would ultimately like to get my total down a little bit from there, I honestly don't know how much more that will be possible because of the price of all of the fun and far more expensive gluten free products for which I see few deals. Regardless, I've shrunk our budget down by over $100, so that's good. I'm going to leave it at $60 a week for now and see how it goes for a few months before making further budgetary slashes.

Admittedly, not having the option of eating out that much is really helping matters (sad but true...and I'm actually beginning to cringe a lot at the price of eating out...). As is the fact that I seem to finally be getting into a really good rhythym of menu planning. Even on the weeks where I plan a menu and then end up not following it some days, it's still helping me to focus a lot more on really thinking through what we have, planning out ahead of time (setting meat out to thaw before getting home from work), and those sorts of things.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I will admit I went over my budget by $10.00 and so had to pull that $10.00 from the gas budget; however, as our gas prices went down to (prepare yourself.........) $1.98 this week (screams of shock, doors slamming as people run to pack their bags and move here...), I think we'll survive.

So, why the $10.00 extra dollars? Well, here's the story.

I started this week with $55.43 left to spend for the month. Having determined the week's budget and checked to see what essentials we were running low on, we went to WalMart/Aldi's and picked up the basics for a grand total of $36.29 (that included stocking up on a couple of items which were on a really good sale).

Walgreens not really having much to interest me this week, the only other place I hit was CVS. They did have a couple of really good deals:
  • Laundry Detergent on sale for $5.99 B1G1 plus with a $1.00 coupon = $4.99 (making my total about $0.07 a load).
  • Bic razor was on sale for $4.99. I had a $2.00 off coupon and received $4.00 back in ECBs. Talk about getting your money's worth!

CVS is also running a really good deal on medical related stuff this week. Basically, spend $20 get $10 back in ECBs. Well, I didn't need a whole lot; however, Chris has wanted to try this disgusting sounding thing out called a Neti Pot (it's supposed to help with clearing your nose out, click here to see a rather disturbing demonstration! He has horrible allergy and sinus problems, so if it works, great. But I still say it looks disgusting.), and there were some eye drops that I needed. I figured this would be a good and relatively inexpensive way to let him try out the nose pot.

So, the Netti pot cost $11 and the eye drops were $9.00 (name brand) minus a $2.00 coupon that happened to be on the pot (love those) and a $3.00 coupon for the solution, I totaled $15.00 with $10.00 back in ECBs.

Now, I also had a $10/$50 coupon that I got for CVS last week (they've been doing a lot of the $/$$ coupons lately - love them!), so I decided this would be a good chance to buy the popcorn maker I really have wanted to get. Since all regular microwave popcorn seems to be covered in things I really need to avoid and buying organic microwave popcorn is ridiculously expensive, buying a popcorn maker to just air pop my own seems the cheapest solution (yes, I could do it even cheaper on a stove with oil, but I prefer the taste of air-popped). So, I snagged my popcorn maker.

End result, my total was $55.98. Minus $18.00 in coupons and $9.00 in ECBs, I spent $28.98 oop thus going over my budget by $10.00 (but getting back $15 in ECBs). $10 for a good pocorn maker - an acceptable price!

And I'm feeling pretty confident about being able to really make this whole smaller budget concept work!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Points - online money maker

Since June, I've been playing with a new way to earn some easy money online. It's called MyPoints. What you can do through MyPoints is earn points that eventually earn you gift cards to places. No money out of your pocket (unless you so choose) and yet you get money back! How?

Well, there's basically three ways to get points:

1. MyPoints sends you emails daily (about 5 or so a day), you open them, read the ad, and click through at the bottom (for the paranoid - as in myself - I checked this out before signing up and couldn't find any reports of virus problems or anything like that). You don't have to sign up for anything and it automatically credits you 5 points per email. Now, if you should decide to follow through on the offered ad, then you can earn more points. There's been a couple of free offers that I signed up for out of curiosity, but nothing else.

NOTE: I would highly recommend you open up a junk mail account if you decide to try this - particularly if you actually take up some of the offers. I've heard that if you don't ever sign up for anything, the junk mail isn't too bad...but I wouldn't trust it!

2. You can shop online at tons of stores through MyPoints. And every dollar you spend at the store, you get points for. For example, I bought a book the other day through MyPoints. The book cost me $8.00 and I earned 16 MyPoints. Not an amazing amount, but hey, every bit counts!

There are other sites that I'm also looking into that do a similar thing; however, I went with MyPoints first as it really is one of the least complicated (at least thus far - more reports on other sites to come).

3. I believe there is a credit card you can sign up for with MyPoints and earn points for all your purchases through the credit card. Please note, I have not signed up for this card (I'm very loyal to my American Express!) and really can't attest to anything about this angle of MyPoints.

[Also (just have to say this!), I highly recommend that you do not sign up for any kind of credit card unless you know you can handle a credit card. While Chris and I do put just about everything on our cards, our bill also gets completely paid off every month (we use the card to build up frequent flyer miles - very important in my world!). I know of too many people who cannot handle the freedom of a credit card and wind up getting into debt by its existance (and yes, I do speak of personal - if minorish - experience in this matter). OK, off my soap box!]

So, since June, I've earned 2649 points. This was with no work on my part other than clicking through emails. I've received a $10 Borders gift card back for 1400 of those points and am close to being able to get another gift card (there are tons of options and price ranges for what is available - just depends on how patient you are in letting the points build up!).

I went ahead and got the Borders card just to check out if this works, and it seems to be just fine! Next time I'm going to try to save up points for longer and get a higher gift card. I've considered using this as a resource for buying gifts for people or buying household stuff that we need/want but don't necessarily always have extra money for (like new sheets or towels or pillows...you get the idea!). Or just on whatever. It's still up in the research phase.

Any ways, if you're looking for a money idea, I highly recommend this one.

Oh, and do me a favor (pretty, pretty, please)...if you're thinking of signing up, leave me a message (don't worry I won't post it) here with your name and email address. I can then refer you through my MyPoints account. For every person I refer who signs up with MyPoints I earn 250 points! So help me out folks! Share the MyPoints!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cream of Soups (Gluten Free)

Since I've started this whole gluten free diet I've learned a lot about food. Actually reading the ingredients of prepackaged food has become a rather disturbing experience to me as I'm discovering not just how much gluten there is in everything but how much garbage is in the food we - as a Western society - eat. When I'm reading a label and realize I don't know what half of the words are, there's a problem!

However, we are also a pre-packaged society. Recipes tend to call for things like 1 can of cream of chicken soup or other such ingredients. And since these ingredients tend to be full of nasty glutenies, I'm faced with the problem of - how do I make this for myself?


And so here is the answer to at least one of those conundrums: cream of soups!


Now, I will say, my only issue with this recipe (and it's variations) is that the soup does come out a bit more watery than a store-bought can of creamed soup does. Just be forewarned. Also, please note, that while I have made the cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups, I have yet to make the others. So if they're disgusting - I apologize!


Mix the following. These can be stored in an airtight container and used as needed. This mix makes the equivalent of about 8 or 9 cans of soup:



1 cup non-instant dry milk or nondairy substitute
1 cup white rice flour
2 tbsp dried minced onions
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp GF powdered chicken or vegetable soup base (note: I've found that Herb-Ox is a great GF bullion that seems to be readily accessible from regular grocery stores. Very fresh tasting and no MSG).



Cream of Chicken soup:

Blend 3 to 4 tbsp (depending on how thick you want the soup) of soup base with 1/4 cup cold water. Add 1 cup hot or cold water (or chicken stock) and cook, stirring, until the soup thickens.


Cream of Mushroom Soup:

Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use the liquid from one 4-oz can of mushroom bits and pieces as part of the water (reserving the mushrooms). After the soup thickens you can add the mushrooms.



Cream of Tomato Soup:
Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use one 5.5 oz can of V-8 juice as part of the liquid.



Cheese Soup or Sauce:

Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use 1/4 cup creamed soup base. Add 1/4 cup extra water. Stir in 1/2 to 2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese before removing from the stove.



Shrimp Soup or Sauce: (this is the one I'm a little concerned about!)

Follow the instructions for Cream of Chicken soup but use one 8oz bottle clam juice plus the 1/4 cup water, and add one 41/2 oz can broken shrimp (drained) or 1/2 cup cut-up, cooked shrimp before removing from the stove.


Tasty Cream Sauce:

Melt 1 tbsp butter in small saucepan and ad 1 tsp chopped chives or 2 thinly sliced green onions before putting in the soup base. Add 11/4 cups hot water and cook as directed for Cream of Chicken Soup.


To Use in a Casserole:

If the casserole calls for canned soup and is to be baked over 1 hour, just tumble the Creamed Soup Mix with the ingredients and pour on 11/4 to 11/2 cups hot water. What you're supposed to do if it calls for less than 1 hour, not a clue!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Free Taco!

Taco Bell is giving away a free taco to anyone who requests one from 2 to 6 pm tonight! See the details below or go to the website.

Finally, something good to do with baseball!

The Media

OK, this is not really going to be a political post. However, I did want to draw your attention to the following article by Orson Scott Card. If you are unfamiliar with this man, he is an author and newspaper columnist (his most well-known book is probably Endor's Game). Although he is a Democrate, he wrote the following article taking a shrewd look at the media today. Click on the link below to read a very interesting look at what has happened to journalistic integrity.

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?

Anyone else ready for the voting to be over?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Settlers, Books, and Pumpkins

It's been a full weekend and quite lovely.

Friday night we had a friend over for dinner (whom we really hadn't seen in forever) with a couple of other friends who joined us afterwards to play games. Settlers of Catan of course because that seems to be the only playable game around here lately!

Saturday, was the annual library book sale. End result was 8 new books for the grand total of $3.25. I love book sales! I found several books I'd been looking for for quite awhile including a new copy of Emily of New Moon. I love Madeline L'Engle and although I'm obviously a big fan of the Anne books (almost a given for a L'Engle fan), I actually am a bigger fan of the Emily series. Emily's just a little more human than Anne. Anne is at times annoyingly perfect and happy and bleagh. Emily has spice and flaws and that makes me happy. Anyhoo...back to the new copy. My old copy was falling apart - literally. I've taped it up so many times, but I always wind up reading it in sections because that's how it's easiest to hold it - broken up into the little 25 to 50 page sections that the book has fallen apart into!




Saturday evening was a little sad (and a little relieving simultaneously) as we decided we could not keep Penny. Three dogs (even if one is pint-sized) was a little much. So we handed Penny over to Chris' boss and her family who will take good care of Miss Penelope. I miss the lap-dog concept; however, it's a bit of a relief to be back down to two dogs.

My sister was a little sad to see the Penny go as well!

Sunday has been a great fall pumpkin day. Annually Amber and I try to go to a pumpkin patch, enjoy the fallishness, and then carve pumpkins. This year, we went to a new farm that we'd never been to before (really liked it, although of course my camera ran out of batteries...so sad). My baby sister came with us, so that added to the fun. And now I'm comfy on the couch watching a Gilmore Girls and munching on yummy pumpkin seeds.



Hope your weekend was fun!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Getting back into the swing of things.

So once again I apologize for my sporadic appearances of late. Think I’m finally getting back into updating my dear little blogging world. And so to celebrate, I thought I’d do a shopping post!

You may (or may not) remember near the end of August where I talked about wanting to try to start focusing on really cutting down on our shopping budget now that I’ve gotten the hang of this whole couponing game. Well, September was a bit of a disaster. I stayed within my old budget (not my new, aimed for budget); however, really cutting back was not much of an option as all sorts of things that I haven’t been planning for kind of blew my smaller budgeting dreams to bits. Another lesson in the necessity of planning ahead.

However, this month, I’ve done much better, and actually am quite excited to see how well I can make this work for the rest of the month! I will give a full report next week, and I’m hopeful that it will be at least close to what I want to see.

Shopping this week was very interesting. Because I spent some extra money last week, I really only had about $15 to work with. Fortunately, we’re well stocked up food-wise, and it happened to coincide with a not-so great deals week (at least nothing that I couldn’t live without) at Dillons or other places, so I’ve actually managed to stay (mostly) within budget.

Went to three places: CVS, Walgreens, and Akins (one of the health food stores here in town of which I have become a regular customer).

CVS: While there weren’t a whole lot of deals I wanted to take advantage of this week, the ones I did tackle were very nice. I was working very hard on disciplining myself and staying within my budget limit (which basically was about $1 out of pocket this week!); however, I unexpectedly ran across a really good deal on an electric razor (which Chris has desperately been needing a new one of), so I had to cut out a couple of things and go over my budget a little bit to secure the razor. In the long run though, it’s a cheaper deal by buying the razor now than it would have been if I’d waited until his razor actually died and I was forced to pay full price!

Always Infinity Pads. $4.99 minus $2.00 coupon making my total $2.99 and then I got $1.00 in ECBs back (bought two sets of these)
MaxFresh toothpaste - $2.99 - $1.00 coupon = $1.99 with $2 in ECBs (essentially making it free!)
Quattro for Women razor $9.99 - $2.00 coupon - $7.99 with $3.00 ECBs
Another good deal that I wound up not getting because I wanted the razor for Chris was Listerine Agent Cool for $4.99 - $1.00 coupon = $3.99 with $3 in ECBs. As we weren’t in desperate need of Listerine, I decided to pass on this deal so that I would have less to pay out of pocket at the end.

End result:
My total was $32.95.
Take off $5.00 because of a simply charming $5.00 off $30 total coupon that printed out for me!
Subtract $7.00 in coupons.
TOTAL: $20.95.
I then paid out $14.00 in ECBs leaving me with a total of $7.43 out of pocket! Like I said, a little bit over my $1.00 budget, but worth it in the long run. And besides, I got back $7.00 in ECBs for next time.


Walgreens: Just a few items here; however, I didn’t actually spend anything oop because I’ve got a gift card with my rebates on it from last month. If you get your rebates put on a gift card rather than as a check, Walgreens will throw on an additional 10% to your total. Not a lot, but hey, every penny counts, right!

Drano (desperately needed) - $4.99 with $1.00 rebate
Lysol toilet bowl cleaner – B1G1, so I bought two, paid $2.79 – two $0.50 coupons = $1.79 or $0.90 each!


Akins: This is where my shopping costs go up quite a bit. I bought sesame oil (I like this for a lot of my cooking as regular vegetable oil tends to be full of soy and other scariness and this oil really doesn’t leave much additional flavor unlike olive oil). The second item I didn’t actually need but wanted to try and since I was being scatterbrained this morning and completely left without a lunch, I decided this was a good day to try it. Annie’s brand (organic type stuff) has recently come out with a microwave-dinner mac’n’cheese that’s gluten free. So I tried it. Pretty good. I’m not a big fan of microwave meals; however, the occasional quick meal is a necessity, so it’s nice to know I’ve got at least one option to fall back on that can be bought in a store!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Random Notes

Fall is happily setting in and despite the cold, it looks lovely. Need to obey my mother and go take a walk in the leaves.

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Blessing on older brothers who own their repair/construction businesses. I now have a new fan/light combo that works in my living room, a new fan/light combo in both the guest room and the study, our electrical problem in our kitchen has been fixed, and my roof is fixed! YAY!

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I have a random husband who is too soft-hearted for his own good. I came home yesterday a little bit late because I had to finish up a project at work. As I drove up, I saw my husband sitting outside our house in a lawn chair. Not an unusual sight. Occasionally he'll let the Mara Jade run around without her leash on (not Calista because she doesn't listen well enough) in the front yard. So I'm looking around for Mara (not wanting to run over her) and I can't see her. However, as I get closer, I realize that there is a furry creature sitting on his lap - a creature unknown to me. As I got out of the car, I realized it was one of the most adorable black and white puppies I've ever seen.

Long ears, darling eyes, quite smart, seemingly at least partly house-broken, very cuddily but also adorably playful, and thus far quite a non-annoying bark. Sadly, we suspect she has experienced at least some minor abuse as her reactions to being scolded are WAY out of proportion.

Long story short, she got a flea bath last night and we're taking her to a vet on Monday (of course keeping an eye out to see if anyone has actually lost her) to see how big she's going to get and if there is anything wrong with her we should know about. Depending on her size, we may keep her. We're still in the discussing stages.

But in the meantime, my heart is falling deeper into love with this cute puppy.

Oh, and we named her Penelope - Penny for short.

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Christopher has finished his first class - with an A! And with a sigh of relief. And immediately he started working on his next class.

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I love the brand Enjoy Life. They make soy-free (and anything else that might be an allergen free) chocolate. I finally can make chocolate chip cookies again! So exciting (I've had a rather small world lately and am easily excited). I'm very happy that I found this brand.

I've also found an absolutely delicious dark hot chocolate mix that is also making me very happy. The brand name is great - Dagobah!

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This past Saturday Christopher and I went with a friend of ours and her new man to a concert. Christopher was very confused as it was a Big Band concert but was played by the Springfield Symphony. For some reason this was a hard to understand concept.

It was a lovely evening starting with dinner at Bambu (the local Vietnamese restaurant - has a gluten free menu and tends to be pretty good about actually following through on their gluten free promise) and followed by the enjoyable concert. And the new couple is very "cute" (sorry, had to thrown that in just for you, Helena!).

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Hope you don't mind my random notes!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stuck in my mind

I've been neglecting my poor blog the last few weeks. Not that I haven't had plenty of thoughts and ideas that I've wanted to pour out here. It's just that sometimes when I've got topics on my mind I find it hard to address even the mundane or non-related topics in writing - or at all for that matter. There are times when I feel like I get stuck in my own mind, and actually getting those thoughts out and expressing them is very hard to do.

I will return, just have to find my way out of the bottom of my mind.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Getting Mail

Getting mail has been and probably always will be one of my favorite things in the world. There is an unmatchable feeling of ancitipation when it comes to opening up a mail box, seeing pieces of mail laying there, wondering who they come from, what is in them...it's just fun!

I think some of this pleasure has been instilled in me by my parents. Opening the mail was always a sacred time in our house. Every afternoon (just about) my parents would settle down with a cup of a tea, a cookie, and open the mail together. My mum also has always written me. Growing up it was little notes in random places - the lunch box, my bag, when I went to Uzbekistan as a young teen for two months, she even wrote me enough letters that I could open up one every day I was there! And somehow she actually managed to actually send me a couple of letters while I was there (miracle of miracles). Since I moved out of the house, I've always received mail from her - random jokes, articles she thinks I might enjoy, cards, and of course letters.

End result, I love mail!

Sadly, however, the art of snail mail is dying. Slowly but surely it is becoming an obsolete concept of the past. Letters are all in the form of emails and it seems less and less do I find interesting things in the mailbox. And while I do enjoy receiving emails from people, they lack a certain level of charm that snail mail had.


However, recently my love of getting mail has taken a whole new turn and has become very exciting again.

Since I started this whole frugal journey, I've discovered a whole new world of mail to be had. How? Because there is so much free stuff out there that you can sign up for, it results in an almost constant deluge of fascinating mail. Last week alone I got a cookie from Kashi, a whole pile of coupons from P&G for doing a survey for them, sample feminine products (I've gotten a ton of these the last few months - and of course the best stuff always comes with coupons as well), my mypoints reward (more about that in a later post) of a $10 Borders gift cards, several other random coupons for things, and a mini Betty Crocker chocolate dessert.

This week on Monday I got more feminine products plus coupons from another company, a trial face wash that smells amazing (grapefruit - yummy!), and two very cute, mini bottles of calcium pills from Nature Made.

Delightful!

Not quite as personal as a letter, but still fun to find and open.