Archive for the ‘Money & Finance’ Category

Tips for Successful Menu Planning

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

One of the most stressful parts about my job as a mom is creating menu plans to feed my family and accomplishing the weekly grocery shopping. Today I want to share with you some of my own tips for successful menu planning, but first I want to work on some honesty with you about my attitude towards food preparation in my house.

Is it okay to say that I have a terrible attitude about this?

I hope it is because something happened this summer that has helped transform my mindset a bit.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

This summer I wanted to create some great learning experiences for my kids and to teach them how lucky we are for all that we have. One of those experiences has been volunteering at our church’s food pantry where over 400 local families are served each month. I had not expected the enthusiasm that these two brought to the job, but these kids were so happy to do this that they begged to return the next week to help again.

I am not sure what it is like for you and your children, but I feel like we live in this protected bubble that I am constantly trying to push them out of… but not TOO far.  I’m pushing on those walls because there is such a big world out there full of people who need us and it’s important to see and address those needs when we can.  I thought it would be great for them to serve others and to understand how lucky we are.

As we pulled in the first day to volunteer there was a gathering of people waiting for the doors to open. At the time we had pulled in, there was TWO MORE HOURS until the food pantry doors were open to the public. When I asked about this, I was told that they arrive that early to be able to be the first to select the food. The food given would last a family of 4 a few days, an incredible offering when one needs  it, but it made me very ashamed about my attitudes towards feeding my family.

I can plan meals for my family and buy whatever we need for the week in one trip without any worries.

I complain when the grocery line is too long, but others wait for hours just in the hopes that they will have fresh produce.

I whine about how annoying it is to have to haul so many bags from my car and put them away.

Guess who had the transformation?

I know we can’t always go into that zen place of happiness when planning our meals, but I’m working on my attitude and I want to do what I can to simplify this process for our family. It’s a bit of a privilege to go into the store with a plan and come out with what we need, isn’t it?

Meal planning is necessary to stay on budget. In fact, as I have said in my book, I feel that this is one of the biggest places I feel families should analyze when living on a budget. This is a flexible area in our spending, but it takes a good plan to stay on budget.

Here are a few of my tips for successful menu plans:

Gluten-Free Orange Chicken

gluten-free orange chicken

Be Realistic About Your Meal Plans

The overachiever in me really believes that I will cook a great meal for my family every night. The reality is that many nights I am running kids to activities and I am not home (or too tired) to execute all those good intentions. What happens when you have a lot of intentions and not a lot of time?

Spoiled food and wasted money.

I shop for 5 meals for the week, giving us two nights for leftovers and reality.

Kind of the same thing- ha!

Take a serious look at your calendar and analyze what will be happening for the week so that you can create a menu plan that will serve your family well. Slow cooker dishes are arranged on busy days where I don’t have time for food preparation, Sunday suppers are leisurely meals with all the fixings doubled so we can enjoy the dish another night, and grocery days are often prep days for chopping and dicing for quick wraps & salads for nights I don’t have the time to cook.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

slow cooker carnitas

Try a Rotation Schedule

I am a lover of routines and that also comes to the food that we share around the table. In our house, we usually have one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup or a large salad (depending on the season), some type of taco night, one “fancy” dish for Sundays, a brunch dish (that later acts as breakfast on busy school mornings), and I try to implement one new recipe a week to keep things fresh. A rotation schedule creates a clear routine for a busy week and makes grocery shopping easier since you know what you typically need each week. 

Routines are my jam!

I try to make one dish that can easily be doubled or tripled since we have been working on weekly entertaining or to share with someone who might be having a hard week. This can also be a great time to feed the freezer for another week.

Gather Inspiration for Your Meals

It would be hard not to be inspired now that we have tools like Pinterest at our disposal. I think more than anything it is not to feel OVERWHELMED with all of the meal choices or choosing dishes that are far too ambitious for your time constraints. My best bet for busy weeknights are 30-minute recipes or 5-ingredient or less ideas and that is typically what I search for when hunting down new dishes to add to my menu. 

I subscribe to my favorite food blogs through Feedly and utilize their bookmarking tool to save the recipes I want to come back to. I also utilize a private Pinterest board just for my family to test out different recipes in our kitchen. Cookbooks are like old reliable friends that I know I can always count on for a recipe or two. Foodgawker is where I also favorite dishes that I want to try in our menus (you can see our own dishes that made the cut over here!)

 

 

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Use Your Smartphone to Make Smart Lists

What did I ever do without my smartphone? This little device has made creating and maintaining my grocery lists each week so much easier. I am a BIG fan of the Grocery iQ app (FREE!)  for creating my grocery list because you can reuse the same master list that you use over and over again (especially if you have a routine rotation of meals) and this app automatically organizes and finds any coupons that you might want to use for your purchases. 

With Grocery iQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Switching to an electronic list was much easier than I expected. It also keeps me off my phone while shopping so I can really concentrate which is half of the battle for me when it comes to menu planning.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Journal the Family Favorites & Put Them In Your Plans

In our family, every person has a favorite dish or a favorite memory of a meal we have shared together. To make your week easier, creating a family journal or scrapbook where you have all your family favorites for weekly inspiration and rotate a family member’s favorite each week.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

We made a food journal and printed out our favorite recipes and why the kids loved these dishes. This can be a fun craft project to do together AND it is something you can pass on to them when they leave the nest (but that won’t be for a LONG time so I’m not worried). If you want to try making your own cookbook, you can see this tutorial we created for it!

One thing I don’t think very often about is that many of our favorite recipes are online. If the sites ever go down (which has been known to happen), we may no longer have access to our favorite dishes. I want a place where we can keep all these food memories so a family journal is a fun activity that you can enjoy for years to come.

Pick What’s Important & Make it Happen

I have many friends that deal chase for their menu plans, but I have never been much of a deal chaser.  As the extracurricular schedule grows and my work becomes more demanding, I have to make choices about what I realistically can and cannot do. It’s okay to not chase deals.

I do my menu planning first thing in the morning (eat the frog!!) and I go to grocery stores where deal chasing doesn’t need to happen. ALDI has (and always will be) my first destination for our family groceries and thanks to the Savings Catcher app, a scan of my receipt at the end of my shopping at Walmart means I can look forward to pocketing any savings if any store goes lower in prices without chasing deals anymore.

You may find shopping at night is better for you or you may get a thrill from a deal well chased. Pick what’s important to you and make it happen for your family, but do what fits best with your own lifestyle for menu planning success.

Do you have any strategies you can share for menu planning? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Make a DIY Salad Bar for Your Fridge

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Originally published in 2012 as a summer salad option, we’ve found having DIY salad bar ingredients in our fridge is great for quick, healthy dinners and lunches all year long, making it a perfect addition to our August M Challenge Focus on Meal Planning. I hope you are inspired by this idea to eat healthy any time of the year!

DIY Salad Bar- a healthy dinner ready to go in the fridge

Healthy eating should always be a priority, but making it a priority has gotten to be more challenging because we seem to always be eating on the go, no matter what the season. Enter an easy DIY salad bar that you can quickly prepare on your grocery day to enjoy all week long! This DIY salad bar can be kept on hand in your fridge so that it’s always easy to put together healthy salads for lunches, picnics, and quick dinners.

All of the supplies can be found at basic stores- you will need a fridge/freezer storage basket, three plastic 5 cup lidded containers, and 1 larger 12.5 cups container. Chop up your favorite salad ingredients and organize them in your containers like shown. The largest container does not sit firmly flat, but it still wedges in there nicely so that you can place all of these neatly in this wire organizer.

I love having such fresh ingredients on hand to choose form and creating a salad bar couldn’t be easier with the fantastic selection we have of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m showcasing just a few of the basics we love in our salads. You could definitely fill your produce drawer up with a few other great salad add-ins!

Ingredient Ideas for a Great Salad Bar

Lettuce
Spinach
Kale
Egg
Tomato
Cucumber
Bell pepper
Sunflower Seeds
Croutons
Cheese
Mushrooms
Carrots
Corn Kernels
Onions (none for me please!)
Beans
Artichoke Hearts
Apples
Avocado
Broccoli
Shrimp
Steak
Homemade Dressings

One ingredient I always have on hand in the summer for quick summer salads and wraps is roasted chicken. I don’t keep a lot of fresh chicken around and prefer to buy the frozen chicken breasts instead. There is money to be saved in buying and preparing whole chickens, but my family only likes white meat  so for convenience sake (and to get them to eat it), we stick to the chicken breasts.

I buy the 3 pound bag of chicken  cook and slice all of the chicken for the week. The chicken is then ready to go to be made into wrap sandwiches, fast paninis, a protein addition to my salads for lunch, and it helps me save a step for our dinners for the week. Here is how I batch-cook our chicken:

Roasted Chicken Breasts for Bulk Cooking

Preheat the oven for 375 degrees. Spread the frozen chicken breasts out over one or two cookie sheets. Drizzle a little olive oil over the chicken breasts and then sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow the chicken to rest ten to fifteen minutes (to allow the juices to redistribute within the meat). Dice, slice, or shred for your recipes for the week.

Here is my beautiful salad bar on full display! Isn’t she pretty? It makes me really happy to have all of our fruit and vegetables chopped and ready to go for our week, making it easier to eat healthy.

Since we are a family on the go, I wanted to show you a fun way to enjoy your salads while you are out and about:

I picked up a collapsible basket and packed it with our outdoor blanket, salads (and fun bowls with forks included), fresh cut fruit, and homemade iced tea for an afternoon picnic to encourage healthy eating wherever we might be!

 

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Apron Full of Giveaways 08.04.15

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Vintage Grain Sack half apron via Etsy

Source: Love of Pattern,  $39.99

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Freebie Friday July 31, 2015

Friday, July 31st, 2015

freebie friday Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! As always, we would like to thank Couponing 101 for assisting us with our freebies each week for loads of deals, savings, and freebies!

This week on MomAdvice we finished up July’s Focus on Beauty M Challenge with a terrific article from Mary Carver about teaching our daughters about beauty (real beauty!) and our huge Beauty M Challenge edition of the Notebook with all the links to our articles and many more to help you in your beauty routines. With back-to-school right around the corner, I’m sharing ideas for meaningful teacher gifts on a budget, as well as a wonderful interview with Erika Swyler on The Book of Speculation for our Sundays With Writers series.

This week I’m excited to be sharing my best book picks for July and be sure to take a look at all the contests you can enter on our weekly round-up of great giveaways, too.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Food & Drink

Tum-E Yummies at Kroger with eCoupon
Small Root Beer Float at A&W on August 6th

Health & Beauty

Nivea Body Lotion Sample
Simple Micellar Cleansing Water Sample
Garnier Full & Plush Haircare Sample
L’Oreal Nutri-Gloss Haircare Sample
Equate Ultra Thin Sample
Nexcare Waterproof Bandages Sample

Entertainment

Take Heart Song Download from Seeds Family Worship
Slow Cooker: Weight Loss eCookbook
Free Redbox Movie Rental with Text Code
Hero Girl Math Worksheets
Minions Math Activity
Bacteria All Around Us Unit
Minecraft-Themed Addition Worksheets
First Day of School Printables

This Week’s Freebie Events: August 1 – August 7

1st- Home Depot: Build a Chalkboard Door Hanger, 9 am – 12 pm
1st- Lakeshore Learning: Create a Friendship Day Keepsake, 11 am – 3 pm
1st & 2nd – National Museums: Bank of America Cardholders get free admission all weekend long
4th & 5th – Lego Store: Build a Lego Kangaroo, 5 pm

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Apron Full of Giveaways 07.28.15

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Floral Garden Apron via Etsy

Source: Love of Pattern,  $42.00

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Freebie Friday July 24, 2015

Friday, July 24th, 2015

freebie friday Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! As always, we would like to thank Couponing 101 for assisting us with our freebies each week for loads of deals, savings, and freebies!

This week on MomAdvice you’ll find two posts for the Beauty M Challenge – the Domestic Diva shares her make-up must-haves (all drugstore finds!) and I’m showing how to make Mojito bath salts. Need some mid-summer snack ideas for the pool? Got you covered! I’m also happy to share how we used fabric dye on canvas shoes – they turned out so cute! And don’t miss this week’s Sundays With Writers interview with Greer Macallister, author of The Magician’s Lie.

Check out this week’s edition of It’s the 3 Little Things to get your weekly dose of happy,  find lots of inspiring DIY, food, decorating and craft ideas in our popular Notebook, and be sure to take a look at all the contests you can enter on our weekly round-up of great giveaways, too.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

Food & Drink

Yogi Tea Sample for a Friend
Coke for Troops
Premier Protein Bar at Kroger with eCoupon

Health & Beauty

ORS Shealicious Hair Conditioning Cocktail Sample
Hugo Red Fragrance Sample
Pond’s Skin Care Sample
Emergen-C Sample

Entertainment

Live Uncaged eBook
Uncensored Science Debate Video
Writings of Thomas Paine – Volume 1 eBook
Writings of Thomas Paine – Volume 2 eBook
Writings of Thomas Paine – Volume 3 eBook
Writings of Thomas Paine – Volume 4 eBook
Manners Coloring Book Download
Minecraft-Themed Worksheets
Google Online Summer Camp
Printable Seasonal Produce Guide
What to Freeze and How to Freeze It Printable Guide
Printable Minions Handwriting Set
Printable First Day of School Signs
Monet-Inspired Art Activities
Mambo Sprouts Coupon Book
Free eBook Bundle from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

This Week’s Freebie Events: July 25 – July 31

25th – Lakeshore Learning: Create a Stay Cool! Sun Visor, 11 am – 3 pm

25th – Lowe’s: Build Hawkeye’s Quinjet, 10 am

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Huge Summer Giveaway: $500 Amazon Gift Cards (2 Winners!)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Oh, I have quite the summer giveaway for you today!! I am partnering with nine amazing bloggers to offer two lucky winners one $500 Amazon gift card each! The graphic below includes some ideas of great things you could be using this gift card towards. I’m kind of jealous. This girl would be spending it all on books to stock her library and vinyl for her record player…but I digress!

Enter to win between July 21-31, 2015 via the widget below. Basically, if you follow all 10 bloggers on Instagram (and you will want to, because these feeds are beautiful) you will have tossed your hat in the ring 10 times (x 2 since there are two gift cards to win…sometimes math is awesome!!). Once the giveaway ends, the winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via Instagram, with 48 hours to respond. Good luck to each of you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

$500 Amazon Gift Cards (2 Winners!)

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Apron Full of Giveaways 07.21.15

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Printed Linen Half Apron via Etsy

Source: Mindful Grace,  $25.00

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Freebie Friday July 17, 2015

Friday, July 17th, 2015

freebie friday Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! As always, we would like to thank Couponing 101 for assisting us with our freebies each week for loads of deals, savings, and freebies!

This week on MomAdvice I am super happy to be partnering with thredUP to nominate our daughter’s teacher for #RaiseAHand For Teachers along with creating a cute DIY classroom supply dry-erase felt flower ‘bouquet!‘ Be sure to nominate your favorite teacher, too!

We’re also sharing some M Challenge articles on beauty (and fashion, which is connected, right?)- a terrific guest post from Hollywood Housewife on “lazy” summer beauty routines, my DIY home hair coloring savings & tips, AND I’m sharing my summer capsule wardrobe (after a falling off the capsule wagon for a bit!). You can also find a fantastic recipe for gluten free pizza quinoa mushrooms as well as a great interview with Sarah Bannan, author of Weightless, for our Sundays With Writers series.

Check out this week’s edition of It’s the 3 Little Things to get your weekly dose of happy,  find lots of inspiring DIY, food, decorating and craft ideas in our popular Notebook, and be sure to take a look at all the contests you can enter on our weekly round-up of great giveaways, too.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

Food & Drink

Zing Sweetener Sample
ZonePerfect Single Bar at Kroger with eCoupon
Boost Nutritional Drink 4 pk. with Coupon
Free Appetizer Sampler at Applebee’s on July 21st

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DIY At-Home Hair Coloring Savings & Tips

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

DIY Hair Coloring Savings and Tips

I have been coloring my hair at home for years now, but only in the last few years has it started to become more necessary. I will peek at my hair in the mirror or my hair will catch the light in the sun and I see those wiry gray hairs coming through. Ah, the signs of old age are upon me.

Hair color in the box has come a long way, though, and I have been able to experiment with different brands and products that have come out when I have a coupon to go with them. I have found that I rarely have to pay for the regular price on my hair color.

How to Save on DIY Hair Color

1. Hair color is always on sale. If you look in CVS or the Walgreens flier, you will find that on almost any given week, they are running a special on hair color. Walgreens & CVS often will either give you a rebate on these products or some type of register reward. Wait for the sales on your favorite brands and try to stock up in conjunction with these.

2. Hair color coupons abound. Make sure to check your Sunday coupon inserts for coupons and cut these out to apply towards your purchase. If you can combine those coupons with a rebate/Extra Care Buck reward, you can often get your hair color for less than $5 a box.

3. Sign up for mailing lists. Sign up for the mailing lists for coupons and tips on coloring your hair. Clairol, for example, offers the Color Source Club where they send an email newsletter out with coupon savings towards your purchases and updates on their new products. By visiting the Garnier website, you will find they offer a newsletter with updates on free samples and special offers. Likewise, Revlon offers a website where you can sign up for a similar type of program and be notified of savings and samples.

4. Look inside & outside the box for savings. Often on the directions page, there is a coupon to take off money on your next purchase. Make sure to scan all over the outside and inside of the box for coupons and use these on your next color purchase.

5. Don’t forget savings in unlikely places. One week my hair color was not on sale and I was not stocked on any extra boxes. Our local Bed Bath & Beyond though recently added a beauty section that is fully stocked on all of my drugstore needs. I walked in with a manufacturer coupon and combined that with the 20% off a purchase coupon and was still able to score my favorite hair color for about $5.00. I don’t know if all of the stores offer this, but this is another option for coupon savings.

6. Check eBay for coupons. Coupons abound for the products that you use and it is a great resource for savings on the things you use most. When my children were babies, I often used eBay to get coupons for savings off our baby food. Now that they are getting older, I am now looking for hair color coupons. My, how the circle of life continues!

Hair Coloring Tips

Perfect-10 hair color

I recently happened upon a product though that has had me shouting it’s praises from the mountain tops and I doubt I will use anything else since I have become so spoiled. It is the Clairol Perfect 10 Hair Color.

I had a coupon for this product and since I have used it, I can never picture using anything else ever again. There are two reasons why I love it.

  1. The applicator makes it a lot less messy. I am one of those people that is a constant disaster and I can’t tell you how many things I have ruined while trying to get hair color on my head. It almost became a joke because every time I would color my hair, we would have to buy a new shower curtain because I had slopped color on it.
  2. It is done in ten minutes. That is it. By the time I get it on, it is time to rinse it off. It colors my hair that quickly.

It is not the most frugal choice always, but regularly priced at $12.99, it is still a huge cost-savings over the $50-100 charge that is being charged at most salons. And if you can apply the cost-savings above, you can still get this hair color for the $5-8 price.

Too scared to color your hair at home?

Don’t be! It is really hard to fail at at-home hair coloring unless you are trying to color your hair drastically. If the look is drastic, go to the salon and have them do it, but for just covering a few grays, it can be easy to do at home.

color oops hair colo

But what if you fail or you get a bad color job at the salon? 

I have found the best product for you for that too! I once had a botched color job at the salon and I was desperate to tone down my bright hair. I found this great product that you can buy at Walgreens called Color Oops. Within five to ten minutes of putting this on your hair, it will tone down your color. If you leave it on too long though, it will strip your hair down to your baby hair. I would be very careful using a product like this, but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and this will work in a pinch.

Your best bet if you get a botched job at the salon? Going back to the salon and asking them to put a little toner on it. They should do this for free for you and guarantee their color services so make sure you ask this before getting your hair done somewhere how long their color-guarantee is.

After Coloring Tips

Don’t forget that no matter where you choose to color you hair, that the most important thing to do to maintain it is to use color-safe shampoos afterward.

The same tips for savings on hair color apply to those hair color shampoos too. It has been a long time since I have paid full price for any hair care items by taking advantage of coupons and savings at the drugstore.

If you are looking for an affordable brand option, Suave corners the market on inexpensive hair products. They have an arsenal of hair products that won’t put a dent in your wallet. For example, Nexxus shampoo costs more than $8 for 14.5 ounces. Suave makes a knock off of this same shampoo for $1.92-2.49 for 14.5 ounces. Combine that with a coupon, and you have practically free shampoo that will keep your hair looking great!

I hope these at-home hair color tips will help keep your lovely locks looking great for a lot less!

Do you color your hair at home? What products do you love? How do you maximize your color savings?

(Photo Source: Compact Collection)

Related Links:

Overcoming My Fears: Cutting Hair

Open Your Own Beauty Shop

 

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