5 frugal things

5-frugal-things

 

Here is a quick list of the 5 frugal things I’ve done in the past few weeks

  1. Made homemade laundry detergent from soap nuts.  I made a batch of laundry soap this week.  I make enough to last about 2 weeks, so we should be good for a while.  See my post about soap nuts here.  I spend about $10-15 dollars on a pound of soap nuts and this will last me at least 6 months!
  2. Making my own breadcrumbs.  I have always used store-bought Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, which although cheap, making homemade breadcrumbs from leftover/stale bread is even better!  I don’t know why I never thought of doing this before, or even why I am so surprised they work!  I just take old bread odds and ends and either toast them in my oven or the toaster and then pulse them a few times in my food processor.  I store them in the freezer.
  3. No paper towels or paper napkins!  This isn’t specifically something that I have done in the past few weeks.  In fact, we have been paper-free in our kitchen for 5 years now!  I was reminded how frugal this is when I was picking up some bulk items at BJs and saw the prices of paper towels and napkins.  Thankful for our large stash of cloth dish towels, dish cloths and cloth napkins.
  4. Double checking a coupon at the dept store.  OK, so not super frugal because I used the coupon on an expensive pair of shoes.  But when I doubled checked my coupon and details, I was able to get an additional 20% off that the cashier missed.
  5.  Pantry eating.  We were able to make quite a few meals this past week from items in our pantry.  I am always happy to use of ingredients we have stored in the pantry and save some money on our grocery bill.

What frugal things have you done this week?

My Favorite Lasagna

I have been making lasagnas for almost 20 years!  It has always been one of my favorite foods.  And as an elementary schooler, I would make lasagnas and give them as gifts to my extended family for Christmas gifts.  So needless to say, I have eaten a lot, and made a lot of lasagnas over the years.  One thing that I have learned is that I like a “lighter” cheese filling in my lasagna.  Some lasagnas call for an egg/cheese/ricotta mixture but I find this too heavy and I have discovered a better way!

My favorite lasagna recipe calls for homemade béchamel instead of ricotta and a homemade bolognese sauce.  Ooh, so good, but so time-consuming.  I find that mixing a little milk with the ricotta makes a thinner and creamier filling, somewhat resembling the bechamel (i say that very loosely though).  This is a quick simple recipe that I can whip together in under 30 minutes of prep time.  It refrigerates well and is always great for leftovers.
 
Ingredients
2 jars tomato and basil tomato sauce/ marinara sauce**
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 cup whole milk
2-3 gloves minced garlic
1 lb cooked ground Italian sausage (i use sweet Italian, but if you like spice- hot Italian sausage is delicious!)
1 package “oven ready” lasagna noodles (you can use traditional noodles, but let’s be real, these oven-ready noodles are fast and easy)
salt and pepper
**use a sauce that you know and love.  A cheap, poor flavored sauce can ruin this dish.
Instructions:
Combine the ricotta cheese, milk, parmesan cheese and garlic (you can also throw in some italian seasoning if you want).  Combine 1 jar of the tomato sauce with the cooked ground sausage.
Grease a 9×13 pan.  Pour about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the “plain” tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Add 1 layer of noodles.  3 noodles fit with room to spare (they expand as they bake).  Add 1/3 of the cheese mixture and then top with 1/3 of the sausage and sauce mixture then top with another layer of noodles.  Repeat the layering until you run out.  You should end with a top layer of noodles.  Next dump the remaining jar of sauce on top of the top noodles.  Spread over- you don’t want any exposed noodles.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes add the shredded cheese and continue cooking another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.  Remove from oven and then let cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Do you guys have any tried and true recipes?

What I spent and What we Ate


 

hugs-were-inventedto-let-people-know-youlove-them-withouthaving-to-say-anything

goal budget is $125/week or $500/month – Monthly Running total currently: $436.39

Produce Club $2.00
Aldi $52.43
vacation Stop and Shop: $65
total= $119.43
Underbudget (barely).  I debated whether or not to take the stop and shop groceries out of our grocery budget or our vacation budget.  But since we have been doing so well on groceries this month, I decided to just lump it in with groceries.  We did a lot of pantry and leftover eating this week.  No new exciting dishes, just some old favorites.

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(I just snapped this quick picture of my groceries on the conveyer belt.  We have been enjoying the $1.99 bagged salads as quick lunches when we don’t have leftovers.  Aldi also had pancetta for $2.49, which is a steal compared to what I pay elsewhere so I stocked up and bought 4 packages.  They last about 3-4 months in the fridge, and much longer in the freezer.  Little Bird has been loving those danimals yogurt smoothies, and although I don’t love the $ or the sugar content, it is a nice bribe to get him to eat his dinner (and hey, there are worse things to bribe with than a yogurt smoothie right?!).

Saturday 2/18
Dinner | vacation  (homemade lasagna, broccoli and garlic bread)
Sunday 2/19
Dinner | fried rice and teriyaki chicken (freezer/pantry)
Monday 2/20
Dinner | fish cakes (freezer) and root vegetable casserole
Tuesday 2/221 
Dinner | frozen pizza
Wednesday 2/22
Dinner | risotto
Thursday 2/23
Dinner | leftovers and bagels (totally random, but better than take out!)
Friday 2/24
Dinner | homemade white pizza

Mission to Minimalize | update!

Mission to minimalize

So this last week came with a huge job update for me.  I have been in a holding pattern for the past few months waiting to start my new full time job.  I just found out a hopefully official start date of mid-march.  The race is on to get decrease our posessions, clutter and stress in just 2-3 weeks.

Here is the progress so far:

Downstairs
Living Room
Dining Room
Foyer
Kitchen
half bathroom | although probably the smallest room in our house, and possibly the easiest.  I am glad this one is done.  I went through the medicine cabinet and threw out old expired medications.  I sorted through my cosmetics and threw away and gave away some of the items I don’t use.  I also went through some of the lotions and soaps and decided what to keep downstairs and moved some to the upstairs bathroom so we can remember to use it up.

Upstairs
Master Bedroom
Little Bird’s Room
Guest Room
PlayRoom/office/misc

3rd Floor
Living Room
Office This was tackled by Mr. Bird!  Woohoo.  We have been working on painting and rearranging the 3rd floor.  He took it upon himself to organize and consolidate the office area up there.  Glad this one is done.  I hate organizing office stuff.

 

Do you have any minimizing/organizing goals?  Have you made any progress?

A weekend get away

weekend getaway

We decided to take advantage of the President’s Day holiday and meet my in-laws for a 2 night trip in Hudson Valley NY.  We chose this location because it is halfway between Philly (where we live) and Boston (where they are).  The 6+ hour drive between Philly and Boston is long and exhausting for us with ToddlerBird. I splurged and got us an Airbnb rental half way for us!  We decided to take Friday off, and arrive Friday morning, stay 2 nights and head home Sunday morning.

Lodging:
I was able to find us a great 2 bedroom apartment right on the Hudson River with beautiful views for $150 a night.  I wanted to make sure we had a nice place to stay so that if the weather was bad, we were all still comfortable.  $150 is definitely at the top of what I normally pay for an Airbnb (but we typically only need a 1 bedroom).  This rental was definitely a risk, because we were the first people to book it, so there were no reviews.  But I e-mailed back and forth with the host a few times, and felt confident enough to give it a try.
I also knew that I wanted to try to cook some meals at the rental so we wouldn’t have to eat out as much.  This is for 2 reasons: eating out with a toddler is stressful and not fun for us, and eating in saves money!  Win- win!
Entertainment
I was hoping that the rental would be nice enough that we wouldn’t have to look for ways to get out.  I was right!  The view of the Hudson river was great entertainment.  Lots of trains passing by, boats and barges floating along and not to mention the view itself!  Our hosts also had a bird feeder out, and there were tons of birds for us to watch while relaxing in the living room.My mother in law is a jewelry maker/beader.  I had been wanting to make essential oil bracelets with lava beads.  I bought some beads in advance and asked her to bring some additional supplies.  **I will post more about these DIY bracelets soon!  We also had fun playing some board games (Bananagrams and Forbidden Island)
For my in-laws, seeing ToddlerBird is the highlight of any trip, they love to read, play and joke around with him.  Because of this, we didn’t need much entertainment.  And Mr. Bird and I certainly enjoyed some down time with extra hands for Toddler Bird.

I had researched a few outing options for us on TripAdvisor, in case we were looking for something to do.  We decided to visit George Washington’s Headquarters.  It ended up being free because they had a large George Washington’s Birthday Celebration.  There were reenactors, music and craft activities.

Food
I didn’t do a full menu planning because I wanted us to be able to be flexible, and I also knew that my in-laws would be more than happy to provide takeout!  Mr. Bird and  I knew that we wanted to capitalize on some free babysitting so we planned to eat 1 or 2 meals out on our own.  I decided to bring some food from home to limit what we would have to buy.  I brought some coffee, produce, milk, half and half, freezer zucchini bread and a box of mac and cheese.  I also had a hunch I wanted to make a lasagna, so I brought a 9×13 pan.

 I could have gone shopping at Aldi at home and brought all my food with us, which would have definitely saved money, but since I wasn’t totally sure of the kitchen situation in the rental I decided against it.  In the end, even a more expensive grocery store was cheaper, healthier and more delicious than a restaurant!
Here is our weekend meal recap:
 
Friday Morning: Panera Breakfast on the road : $15
Friday Lunch: $40 (date!)
Friday Dinner: Chinese take out (in-law’s treat)
Saturday Breakfast: at home (fruit, zucchini bread and coffee)
Saturday Lunch: Coldcut sandwiches and chips
Saturday Coffee date: $15 
Saturday Dinner: Lasagna, broccoli and garlic bread
Sunday Breakfast: Breakfast out at a Diner (in-law’s treat)
What ways do you save money when you go on vacation?
Interested in booking your next vacation with airbnb, use this link and you will get a $40 credit (I will get a $20 credit if you book)

DIY Essential Oil Lotion Stick

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INGREDIENTS
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup beeswax
  • 2 tablespoons mango butter
  • 2 tablespoons almond oil
  • 30-40 drops of essential oils
  • 2 ounce plastic tubes (i purchased mine from plant therapy)
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Melt coconut oil and beeswax. I melt in a glass container in the microwave or you can use a double boiler method.  If using the microwave heat for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat.  Be cautious, though, I have heard that beeswax can be explosive in the microwave.   Add mango butter and almond oil.  Remelt if needed.  Next add you essential oils.  Pour into your tubes and cool to set.
This is my favorite way to make essential oil lotion for my tiny!  Young Living oils are by far my favorite.  Their scents and therapeutic benefits are unmatched.  However, there is a lot of discussion about the safety of oils and kids.  Plant Therapy has taken a great stance on this and created a “Kids Safe” line.  Honestly, because of this, I only use their oils for little bird, with the exception of YoungLiving’s Gentle Baby Blend.  [*young living recently released a 3 set of “kids safe” essential oils.]
I make this recipe with Plant Therapy’s  “Sniffle Stopper” blend to help with cold and allergies symptoms.  The whole family uses this one.  It’s like Vicks in a stick and all natural!  It has even helped Mr. Bird to stop snoring.
One of my other favorite blends is to use a lavender or gentle baby blend for a sleepy time lotion.  Or you could add a floral scent to have it act as a perfume.  This recipe is adaptable and can be modified to suit any needs!
Want more essential oil recipes?  Head over here.

The Best Mix-in Cookie Recipe

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Chocolate chip cookies are one of my favorites.  But there is a bakery near one of my good friends that sells white chocolate chip and cranberry cookies.  They are delicious!  She brings me some every time she comes to visit.

 

I have been searching for a recipe similar.  I ended up tweaking a recipe a friend gave me that uses pudding mix in the cookie batter.  The results: a moist, soft and PERFECT cookie base for adding any of your favorite mix-ins.

 

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 small package of vanilla pudding mix (but I am sure any flavor could work)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2  & 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • **essentially 3 cups of add-ins.  I like chocolate chips and pecans as well!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream butter and sugar.  Then add the eggs and vanilla.  Sift together flour, salt and baking soda.  Add flour to butter mixture.  Combine until blended and then gently mix in toppings.

Drop by teaspoonful onto baking sheets with parchment paper.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.  Cool and then enjoy!

 

 

 

What I spent and What we Ate


 

hugs-were-inventedto-let-people-know-youlove-them-withouthaving-to-say-anything

goal budget is $125/week or $500/month – Monthly Running total currently: $317.16

Fresh Direct : $46.66
Produce Club $2.25
Aldi $15.45
total= $64.36
UNDER BUDGET!  Woo hoo, This is significantly under budget.  I attribute this to some serious meal planning with simple eating.
Saturday 2/11
Dinner | Store rotisserie chicken, left over risotto and beans
Sunday 2/12
Dinner |  veggie lo mein and white rice (meal kit from FreshDirect)
Monday 2/13
Dinner | chicken and broccoli (meal kit from FreshDirect)
Tuesday 2/14
Dinner | take out/date night
Wednesday 2/15
Dinner | thai style noodles and veggie (meal kit from FreshDirect
Thursday 2/16
Dinner | broccoli and sausage white pizza (recipe from Smitten Kitchen)
Friday 2/17
Dinner | vacation get away (we are headed out of town and will be away until Sunday. I am hoping to do as much cooking as possible at our rental)

Mission to Minimalize

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The past year or so, we have been working hard to live a more minimalist life.  We have introduced practices such as “no buy” months.  These are months where we buy nothing but food and other essentials.

We have ruthlessly eliminated extra clothes and clutter from our house.  We have made multiple trips to our local goodwill, scheduled at least a dozen greendrop picks, and despite all this; we are still overwhelmed with stuff.

My goal over the next few months is to systematically go through each and every room of our house and get rid of EVERYTHING that is unnecessary, unused or doesn’t add value to our lives.

Here is the list of rooms to be attacked:

Downstairs
Living Room
Dining Room
Foyer
Kitchen
half bathroom

Upstairs
Master Bedroom
Little Bird’s Room
Guest Room
PlayRoom/office/misc

3rd Floor
Living Room
Office

My hope is that truly focusing on eliminating stuff and in the process hopefully organizing, I will be able to define specific spaces.  Right now we store office supplies in the foyer, the playroom and up on the 3rd floor.  Where’s the stapler? Let me run all over the house to find it!  I want to have clearly defined spaces and places for everything.

I think some of the biggest challenges will be tackling some memories/emotions when it comes to pairing down little birds GINORMOUS collection of books, toys and clothes.  Additionally, I think I need to just come to terms that I might have to be running up to the 3rd floor for office supplies.  Although not super convenient, I think it will greatly reduce stress to contain office items to just one space.

Are you working to declutter or simplify the stuff in your life?

My Favorite Essential Oils

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As I have talked about in a few other posts, I have been using essential oils for 10+ years.  I use them in a variety of ways.  Some of my favorite ways to use them are cleaners, beauty/bath products and occasionally for therapeutic/medicinal purposes.  Over the years I have accumulated quite a collection.  In my opinion, quality oils are expensive, although well worth it!  It can be difficult to know where to start and how much to spend off the bat.

Currently, there are two brands that I recommend and continue to purchase from, Young Living and Plant Therapy.  I personally love YoungLiving oils, i find their scents and therapeutic properties to be unmatched.  However, there is not always sufficient education and information provided for their oils, for this reason, I love and rely on Plant Therapy.  Especially when using essential oils for kids, Plant Therapy has a KidSafe line.  These oils are labeled and easy to ID.

So here’s a few must have essential oils (in my opinion) to get started with.

  • Lavender– Young Living Brand.  KidSafe.
    • This is my go-to oil for destressing.  (After a few whiffs, I am calm as a clam.)
    • Perfect for adding to homemade bath salts
    • fresh, floral and clean scent
  • Thieves– Young Living Brand
    • An antimicrobial and immune boosting oil.
    • Plant Therapy has a KidSafe blend GermDestroyer.  If you don’t need to worry about KidSafe, I recommend thieves, the scent and effectiveness is much better.
    • Can be diffused, added to cleaning solutions or air freshener sprays
    • rich, spicy scent
  • Citrus Blend- either Plant Therapy or Young Living Brands
    • helps to reduce odors
    • can be added to homemade cleaning solutions
    • fresh inspiring scent
  • Respiratory Blend – RC (Young Living) RespirAid(Plant Therapy) or Sniffle Stopper (KidsSafe Plant Therapy)
    • clear congestions and helps you breathe easier
    • cool, crisp, wintery, forest scent
  • One or two blends that match your scent preferences.  Here are a few of my favorites
    • Joy (Young Living) -invites a sense of romance, bliss and warmth
    • Gentle Baby (Young Living) – A calming, floral, earthy scent
    • Let it Go (Plant Therapy) , Peace and Calming (Young Living) – gentle aroma of citrus, floral and patchouli.

 

 

 

Recommended Diffusers

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  • Young Living Home Diffuser- I have 2 of these in my home, and I love them.  It is attractive, diffuses well, and so far has held up for a few years.
  • Plant Therapy AromaFuse Diffuser -this diffuser has a very large water reservoir, meaning it can run for a long time!  I often give this one as a gift to friends and family.  I just recently gave this to my sister for Christmas.  I don’t know how it holds up, but Plant Therapy is known for their excellent customer service.

 

If you are interested in getting started with YoungLiving oils, you can order your Premium Starter Kit (which comes with a Home Diffuser) for $165 plus shipping and handling!

See More of my Essential Oils Posts here.