Archive for the ‘Home & Organization’ Category

How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent (A Picture Tutorial)

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Homemade laundry detergent is one of those things that is both easy to make and can save your family a lot of money at the grocery store. Today I wanted to share with you my recipe for homemade laundry detergent. Making homemade detergent is easier than you might think and the cost comparison makes it worth the small amount of effort required to make this.

Walmart challenged me to take on a fun Spring project and today I want to share with you a recipe and some ideas for spring cleaning your laundry routine by making your own homemade laundry detergent.

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Homemade Batch of Laundry Detergent?

Homemade detergent is made up of three ingredients: Fels-Naptha or Ivory Soap, Washing Soda, & Borax. The current pricing on these three ingredients is:

Fels Naptha Soap- $.97 per bar

Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (55 ounce box)- $3.24

Borax (76 ounce box)- $3.38

One batch of laundry detergent takes one cup of the borax, one cup of the washing soda, and one bar of soap. Dividing the total materials required to make one batch of soap means that it would cost $1.81 total to make a batch. At one to two tablespoons per load, it comes in at a mere $.04, compared to $0.17-.0.21 per load  like the other name brands. That’s a pretty impressive savings! When you multiply that savings by a billion loads a week (if you live in our house), that is some serious savings!

Where Do You Find Borax, Washing Soda, & Fels Naptha Soap?

These supplies are all right in a row in at your local Walmart and are located on the opposite side of the laundry detergents, over by the stain removers! Why am I sharing this information? Simply because I could not find it and wanted to save you the trouble of walking up and down the detergent aisle like a lost little child like me!

Is Laundry Detergent Hard to Make or Time Consuming?

Some of the most time-strapped people I know are making their own detergent. I was able to make a triple batch of this soap in about fifteen minutes and that is along with taking pictures for this tutorial. The real time-consuming process of it is grating the soap, but if you have a food processor, that can be accomplished in no time at all.

How Do you Grate the Soap?

You can definitely use an old-fashioned cheese grater, but the soap can clump up and not completely dissolve in your load unless you grate it extremely fine. I allow my food processor to do the work for me because it is much easier to do and gives you the opportunity to also double or triple your batches of laundry detergent, in no time flat.

The process of grating the soap is easier than it sounds. You simply want to cut your bars of soap in half lengthwise so that you can feed them through the shoot of your processor. Assemble the processor with your cheese grater attachment and feed your soap in slowly and gently through the top shoot. Once all the soap has been grated, dump it into a bowl and remove the cheese grater attachment. Reassemble the processor with the basic blade and then put the grated soap back in. Spin it again until the soap resembles fine small pellets. That is it! Your soap is ready to be incorporated in your laundry detergent!

Is Homemade Detergent Safe to Use With High-Efficiency (HE) Washers?

The true beauty about this homemade detergent is that it doesn’t have a lot of suds. The main reason you can’t use laundry detergents not made for HE washers is because of the suds factor. Thanks to the small amount of suds and the minimal amount of soap you need to use to wash your loads, it is the perfect detergent to use with your HE washer! You can use this homemade laundry detergent with confidence!

Is This Homemade Laundry Detergent Septic Friendly?

The ingredients in this soap contain zero phosphates and zero fillers (like montmorillonite clay) that cause commercial powder detergents to clog lines. I am sure other items that you have lurking in your home are less septic friendly than this one so this is a perfectly safe product to make and use.

Now that you know all about it, let’s get started on our project!

Supplies Needed:

1 box of Borax

1 box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

1 Bar of Fels-Naptha Soap (or more if you plain to double, triple, or quadruple your batch)

Measuring cups

Jar for Storage (found in the kitchen supplies)

Coffee Scoop (found in the kitchen supplies aisle, optional, but is great for perfect measuring of your detergent)

How to Make Your Detergent

4.8 from 5 reviews
Homemade Laundry Detergent
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Homemade laundry detergent can be made with just three ingredients! Try this simple recipe and enjoy the savings!
Ingredients
  • 1 bar (or 4.5 ounces) of shaved bar soap (Ivory, ZOTE, Fels-Naptha)
  • 1 cup of borax
  • 1 cup of washing soda
Instructions
  1. Shred your bars of soap as shown in the tutorial above.
  2. Mix one cup of borax, one cup of washing soda and the grated soap in a large bowl until incorporated well.
  3. Use 1 tablespoon per load (or 2 tablespoons for heavily soiled loads).
  4. Store in a glass jar or well-sealed plastic container.

Do you make your own laundry detergent? What is your winning recipe for the perfect homemade laundry detergent? Feel free to share your tips!

 

 

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Spring Cleaning All Year Round With Windex Touch-Up Cleaner (& a Giveaway!)

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Sorry! This giveaway is now closed! We would like to congratulate entry #2 (Stephanie) and entry #10 (Heather) on winning these prize packs! 

With spring comes all of the beauty of the changing season. We finally began to see our grass; we enjoy seeing the new buds on our trees, and the sweet smell of a good April shower. What also comes  is the time for spring renewal and spring cleaning inside our homes to bring the freshness and sunshine into our space.

This year, I have vowed to “spring clean” all year long rather than trying to set aside a specific time to do this. With a very busy family schedule, it can often feel daunting to just keep up the daily maintenance of my home.  If you are anything like me, try and incorporate these tips into your daily routine so that you can relax while everyone else is tired and haggard from their day of spring cleaning. Here are a few ideas for getting these tasks done:

  • Begin by making a checklist of everything that you would normally do during your spring cleaning. Things like washing all the linens and drapes, wiping down baseboards, washing windows inside and out, cleaning out your pantry, washing your shower curtains, organizing your linen cabinets, wiping down walls, and cleaning doorknobs and light fixtures.
  • Take inventory of your cleaners and the tools that you will need in order to accomplish all of the necessary cleaning. Nothing is worse than getting ready to do it and then finding out that you are missing that one component needed to complete your task. Put the items that you will need on your shopping list and get them on the day that you perform all of your errands. Some items I like to always have on hand are microfiber cloths (for dusting and wiping down electronic surfaces), newspaper for a lint-free swipe on my mirrors, dusting spray, and a good all-purpose cleaner. I love the Windex® Touch-Up Cleaner for easily and effortlessly cleaning your home’s surfaces. Use this cleaner for wiping down sinks, counter tops, toilets, the outside of your appliances, stove tops, sealed granite, sealed marble, glass, chrome, glazed ceramic tile, finished wood and more.
  • Continue doing your normal daily routine, but add an extra hour each week towards accomplishing just one of these tasks on your list. Check off the items that you accomplish and press on to the next one. By just devoting one hour a week towards your spring cleaning goals you will have a more manageable deep cleaning routine.
  • Clear out as much clutter as you can. Make a box for trash and a box for charitable donations and fill these with all of the unnecessary clutter in your home. By donating these items to those less fortunate you will gain so much. Not only will someone who needs these items more benefit from your donation, but you can receive a tax break and reclaim space in your own home. My theory is, if you don’t like to dust it and aren’t in love with items in your home- donate it!
  • Try keeping a cleaning schedule that fits with your life and your family’s life. Some people work better during morning hours while others of us would rather be snoozing and do better in the evening. Take advantage of the times that you work best.
  • Put your spring cleaning task on your calendar each week. It sounds silly, but don’t you remember your appointments and engagements better when it is written on your calendar?

 

  • Enlist your helpers to help you on these tasks. Your children and your husband can be active participants in getting your home organized just like they help to contribute to the clutter. Schedule dad for clearing out the garage, taking inventory of the tools you will need to do your gardening, cleaning out the basement, or other tasks inside and outside of the home. Children can aid in cleaning their own rooms by helping to remove some of the clutter in the house. Involving your family can be beneficial in showing them all that you do to keep your house running smoothly.

 

If your children need an extra incentive, be sure to print out our free handy chore punch cards to motivate your kids to be involved in the cleaning process!
For product details, visit http://www.windex.com/ and check out the Windex® Facebook page at www.facebook.com/windex for information, coupons and more; additionally, don’t forget to check out the Shineboard for creative cleaning ideas!

Disclosure: I have partnered with Windex® and am being compensated for my posts. However, my opinions are my own.

 

GIVEAWAY: Two (2) lucky readers will receive tools to make spring cleaning a breeze as well as samples of Windex® Touch-Up in Multi-tasking tool-kit!

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how Windex® Touch-Up Cleaner will help you spring clean!

*If you are a winner, please leave a testimonial here once you’ve tried it out!*
 OFFICIAL RULES
NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT POST OF ANY KIND IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE OR, PAYMENT WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING.
 
1. Eligibility:Mom Advice’sWindex® Touch-Up Product Giveaway (“Sweepstakes”) is open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (including the District of Columbia) who are at least eighteen (18) years of age.  Employees of Mom Advice (“Sponsor”), Daniel J. Edelman, Inc., and SC Johnson & Son, Inc. and any of their parents, subsidiaries. affiliated companies and their advertising and promotion agencies, as well as the immediate family (spouses, parents, siblings and children and their respective spouses, regardless of where they reside) and household members, whether or not related of each such employee are not eligible to enter or win. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
2. Agreement to Official Rules: By participating in the Sweepstakes, entrant fully and unconditionally agrees to and accepts these Official Rules and the decisions of the Sponsor which are final and binding in all matters related to the Sweepstakes. Whether an entrant receives a prize is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.
3. Timing: The Sweepstakes begins on April 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time (“PT”) and ends on April 16, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. PT (“Promotion Period”).
4. How to Enter: During the Promotion Period, there is one way to earn an entry: 1. Leave a comment on this blog post answering the question, “How will Windex® Touch-Up Cleaner help your spring cleaning routine?”
All online entries must be received (comments posted) by 5:00 p.m. PT on April 16 to be eligible.  Limit one (1) entry per person, per email address and per household, regardless of method of entry. Entries received from any person, email address or household in excess of the stated limitation will be void. Entries generated by script, macro or other automated means and entries by any means which subvert the entry process are void. All entries become the property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. In the event of a dispute over the identity of an online entrant, entry will be deemed submitted by the authorized account holder of the e-mail address associated with the blog post and he/she must comply with these Official Rules. Authorized account subscriber is the natural person who is assigned the e-mail address by the Internet Service Provider (ISP), on-line service provider, or other organization responsible for assigning e-mail addresses.
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Blog posting must (i) be entrant’s own original work and reflect the true opinions and experiences of the applicable entrant,  (ii) be in English, (iii) cannot be previously published or submitted in connection with any other promotion, (iv) be in keeping with the Sponsor’s image and (v) not be offensive or inappropriate, as determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion, nor can it defame or invade publicity rights or privacy of any person, living or deceased, or otherwise infringe upon any person’s personal or property rights or any other  third party rights. Sponsor reserves the right to remove any blog post and void the associated entry that it determines, in its sole discretion, is offensive or inappropriate, not in keeping with Sponsor’s image or that is otherwise not in compliance with these Official Rules.
By posting a blog post, each entrant acknowledges and agrees that Sponsor may obtain blog posts under this Sweepstakes or have developed on its own or through other third parties’ ideas and material and blog posts that may be similar or identical in theme, idea, format or other respects to others submitted under this Sweepstakes and/or other promotions sponsored by the Sponsor or submitted for other reasons on the website, and entrant waives any and all claims he/she may have had, may have, and/or may have in the future, that any other blog post accepted, reviewed and/or used by Sponsor may be similar to his/her blog post.
5. Winner Determination: Potential winners of prizes will be chosen from all eligible entries received in a random drawing to be held within five (5) business days after the close of entries by Sponsor whose decision is final and binding in all matters. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
6. Winner Requirements: Potential winners will be notified by email on or about twelve (12) days from April 9, 2013. The inability to contact the potential winner within a reasonable time period, the return of the prize or prize notification as undeliverable or non-compliance with these Official Rules will result in forfeiture of prize.
Winner, by acceptance of prize, except where legally prohibited, grants permission for Sponsor and its designees to use his/her name, address (city and state), photograph, voice and/or other likeness and prize information for promotional purposes without further compensation, in all media now known or hereafter discovered, worldwide in perpetuity, without notice or review or approval.
Winner, by acceptance of prize, agrees to review the product received in the prize package and post a product testimonial on Windex.com (click on the link to be directed to the review webpage).
7. Prizes: A Multitasking Prize Package including instant coffee samples, face cream with SPF, multi-bacterial hand cream, one bathroom Windex® Touch-Up Cleaner and one kitchen Windex® Touch-Up Cleaner. Approximate Retail Value of prize is $75.00 USD and will be given to two (2) selected winners. Prize is non-transferable and no substitution or cash-redemption is permitted except by Sponsor, in its sole discretion, which reserves the right to substitute the prize (or portion thereof) with one of comparable or greater value. Winner is responsible for all federal, state and local taxes (including income and withholding taxes) and any other costs and expenses associated with prize receipt and/or use not specified herein as being provided.  Prize is awarded “as is” with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied by Sponsor. All prize details are at Sponsor’s sole discretion.
8. Release: Entrants agree to release and hold harmless Sponsor,  Daniel J. Edelman, Inc., S.C. Johnson & Son  and their respective subsidiaries, affiliates, suppliers, distributors, advertising/promotion agencies, and prize suppliers, and each of their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliate companies and advertising and promotion agencies and their respective officers, directors, employees and agents (collectively, the “Released Parties”) from and against any claim or cause of action, including, but not limited to, personal injury, death, or damage to or loss of property, arising directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, out of participation in the Sweepstakes or receipt or use or misuse of the prize.
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11 Fun New Ways to Decorate Eggs

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Easter is just around the corner and Goodwill has you covered with 11 fun new ways to decorate your eggs this year. Before you tackle these egg dying projects, be sure to check out the store for fun ways to display your beautifully dyed eggs. Goodwill offers a plethora of choices for beautiful glasses, jars, cake stands, baskets, and bowls in the Housewares department to showcase your handmade beauties!

Check out my article for 11 new ways I have discovered to decorate your eggs this year! I have a feeling you are going to LOVE these new spins on egg dying and decorating.

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Spring Hop Party

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I hope you have been enjoying all of the fun Spring projects that we have been sharing with  you this week. It has been so fun to see everyone’s take on Spring and the fabulous projects that each of these bloggers has been sharing!

Did you miss any of the projects? Here are all of the great hostesses that offered a fun project to try this week!

■       Karly from Buns in my Ovenfollow on Pinterest

■       Tiffany from Eat at Homefollow on Pinterest

■       Liz from Hoosier Homemadefollow on Pinterest

■       Amy from MomAdvicefollow on Pinterest

■       Kellie from Nest of Posiesfollow on Pinterest

■       Amy from Positively Splendidfollow on Pinterest

■       Lisa from The Pennington Pointfollow on Pinterest

■       Heather from WhipperBerry - follow on Pinterest

Now it’s time for you to share! We will be pinning your great projects, so be sure to follow each of the bloggers. You will find their Pinterest accounts listed after their name!

Note- If you are viewing this post in your email or RSS feed, you may need to pop on over to see all the great Spring projects that have been added to the party!

Let’s get this party started!



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How to Make Embroidery Thread Eggs

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Easter is another fun season for family, food, and crafts that you can do together as a family. Embroidery thread eggs are an easy craft that yield impressive results that can be used as an Easter table centerpiece or can be strung with yarn to adorn a mantle or decorate a window. I want to show you how to create your own Embroidery Thread Easter Eggs for a fun decoration in your home.

To grab this EASY Easter Embroidery Thread Egg Tutorial, head on over to the Kenmore Genius Blog to learn how I made these with cute eggs with my kids!

I hope you love this tutorial half as much as I love our new decorations in our house!

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DIY Peep Wreath With Rolled Ribbon Rosette

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Easter is just around the corner and today’s DIY Easter Wreath is an adorable Peep Wreath created with that infamous Easter candy and adorned with a simple rolled ribbon rosette. Peep wreaths are easy to create for the Easter season and are inexpensive Easter decoration to add to adorn a wall or interior door of your home.

Here is a picture of the supplies you will need for this craft and all of the supplies for this tutorial can be found at your local Walmart store. You will need one 14″ straw wreath (leave this covered in the plastic wrap), 12 packages of Peeps in whatever color your heart desires, 1 yard of rosette ribbon (this will need to be cut in the fabric department), 1 piece of white felt, toothpicks, hot glue gun, and glue sticks. 

As an aside, if you haven’t visited the craft section of the store in awhile, you will be amazed at the new ribbon & trim offerings they are carrying. If making a flower isn’t your thing, they also have a variety of pre-made flowers by the hair and new baby accessories line that you could use in lieu of making the flower I am going to show you today.  It had been awhile since my last visit, and I was a little overwhelmed with the new choices available!

Assembling the wreath is easy and can be done one of two ways.  Poke your toothpick through your Peep almost until the toothpick pokes out of the top and then push your toothpick through your straw wreath OR you can just poke the toothpick directly in to your wreath and then stick your Peep on top of it.

My only aside to this is that I do think that if you are planning to keep the wreath, I would add a dab of hot glue to each of the Peeps. The idea of just skewering with a toothpick just didn’t work for my wreath due to the depth of how I positioned all of these. They really needed a little extra hold especially the Peeps that were on the bottom and inverted upside down. 

Find a design that makes sense for you. I did three rows of Peeps with them all uniform and in a row.  My Type-A personality does not allow me to be whimsical with design. I want them all in a row, the right way, all in a line. If you know me, this would not surprise you at all.  To add depth, I also did a few in between rows of two Peeps (as pictured above).

Once again, I would recommend hot gluing a bit as you go to add a little extra security, otherwise, you will hear those sad little plops of Peeps committing suicide and jumping ship from the wreath. It is heartbreaking, but can you blame them?

If you do your wreath right, you will end up with six Peeps to spare and Peep dust all over your table. I can only give you an estimate on the number though (give or take a few) since I find Peeps (and Peep dust) awfully delicious!

You may remember this Rolled Rosette tutorial from this adorable Easter bow I made my daughter last year to go with her Easter outfit.

To start your rolled ribbon rosette,  you will want to start with one of the roses on the ribbon to create the center of your pretty flower. Now all you need to do is start twisting your ribbon in between each of the little roses (find those spot where there is only tulle like I have pictured above)  add a dab of hot glue, and then twist again, glue again, and repeat. If you twist the ribbon tightly, you will have a tighter and flatter flower. If you twist a little looser, you will get more of the petal effect with the frayed edges working their way out more on the ribbon. Either way, it will be beautiful. Keep twisting until you reach almost the end of the ribbon. Add a dab of glue and tuck it into the back of your bow.

Finish by cutting a circle out of felt. You can use a drinking glass to trace your circle on the felt or just freehand it. This felt circle will hold all of that ribbon secure and together underneath your Rolled Ribbon Rosette Hair Bow. Hot glue your felt circle to the back of your flower. Hold this for a couple of seconds to secure it.

Once you have secured your felt circle, add more glue and attach it wherever you want on your Peep wreath. Feel free to add other rolled rosettes like these or cute felted loopy bows or just add a fun fabric bow. As you can see, the possibilities for adorning your wreath are endless.

This wreath makes me so happy and is a fun nod to the season. The best part? It will cost you about $20 in supplies (assuming you have a glue gun, glue sticks, & some scissors in your craft supplies like me!)

Be sure to check back in the next couple of weeks for more fabulous Easter projects! In the meantime, try some Kool-Aid dyed eggs, bake a batch of Bunny Bread in your bread machine, make a cute hair accessory to go with your daughter’s Easter outfit this year, or try your hand at marbleizing some eggs. These are just a few of my favorite projects you will find for the Easter season on the blog. 

Be sure to also check out all of the fun Easter offerings this year that are offered at your local Walmart store for all of your Easter needs!

 

 

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5 Ideas for Offsetting The 2% Tax Increase

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

 

With the new year in full swing, you may be noticing that your paychecks are a little smaller than they were last year.  Social Security taxes were raised by 2% which may not sound like a lot, but this can truly impact families who are already financially strained or striving to build their savings & retirement. Today I want to share with you 5 ways to offset that 2% tax increase so that your family can prepare for this adjustment to your budget.

Let’s break down what a 2% tax increase might look like:

If you earn $30,000 per year, you will pay $50 more per month in taxes.

If you earn the national average of $41,000 per year, you will pay $64 more per month in taxes.

If you earn $50,000 per year, you will pay $83 more per month in taxes.

For the families that are already struggling, $50-64 a month is a huge chunk out of their budget that could go towards food, utilities, and housing.

Here are five easy ways to offset that 2% tax increase. These are all relatively painless, but yield an incredible amount of savings over the course of your year. 

 

Ditch Your Cable Bill

Last year our family gave up cable television and it is has truly been one of the most financially rewarding and best things I have ever done for our family. We now rely upon Hulu & Netflix for our television watching, reducing our bill from almost $100 a month to under $20 monthly. We are still able to watch all of the shows we want, but we don’t find ourselves wasting hours and hours of our day consumed with the television. The other financial bonus is that we are not exposed to endless commercials, which can send you running to the stores to pick up the latest and greatest things. To learn more about alternative options to cable, be sure to read my article on ditching your cable bill.

(Monthly Savings: $80 or more)

 

Calculate Your Personal Latte Factor

David Bach, author of Debt-Free for Life coined the term “Latte Factor,” to describe the way small indulgences and expenses add up to a lot of money down the drain. Consider the example of a three-day-a-week Starbucks habit. At $3.80 a latte you will spend $11.40 a week, $45.60 a month, $547.20 a year, and $5, 472 over a ten-year period on JUST take out coffee.

You may think, “I don’t buy takeout coffee,” BUT we all have small drains on our budget that can add up over time. That dinner that you pick up at the drive-through each week because your kids have sports activities, the trip to the store for one item that turns into a cart full of junk, even our thrifty endeavors (like thrift and garage sale shopping) can cost us $10 or more a week.

Figure out what that drain is on your budget and stop the leak. One little change like whipping up your latte at home, setting your slow cooker in the morning on busy days, or allocating time towards organizing items you already have instead of buying more can easily save you $10 or more weekly!

Be sure to visit my article on 7 apps to get your family organized to help get your finances back on track this year!

(Monthly Savings: $45 or more)

Get Savvy About Grocery Shopping

When families ask me how to save their family money, the first thing I talk to them about is rethinking their grocery shopping. We all get in habits and ruts when it comes to grocery shopping. Do you buy the same box of cornflakes you grew up on? Do you refuse to try a generic ketchup because you truly believe a certain company is the only one who can make ketchup? Do you have a habit of shopping without a list? Do you find yourself making multiple trips because you didn’t execute your menu plan well for the week?

I highly recommend downloading the free Grocery IQ app for your phone to effortlessly make a grocery list for your family. It pulls the coupon savings for you and you can use your lists from week to week instead of starting a fresh list each time.

Instead of shopping multiple stores, search fliers from all of the grocery stores and jot down the best deals of the week. Take this list with you to Walmart, for example, and have them price match the items for you. You will not only be able to cherry pick the best of the best, but you also will experience the savings of not spending on gas to shop at multiple stores.

To make effortless menu plans to go along with the savings, be sure to visit our Take Five Fridays each Friday on the Facebook group to get 5 budget-friendly meals to create in your kitchen!

(Monthly Savings: $40 or more)

Declutter Your Way to Savings

Clutter not only weighs us down physically, but clutter causes us to spend money when we don’t need to. One look at a cluttered pantry or bathroom closet and you know exactly what I am talking about. Duplicate purchases occur when we don’t have a strong grasp on our inventory in our home and clutter hides us from the real treasures that are in our lives.

Think of clutter not only as the items that fill our home, but also the items that fill our fridges. Do you constantly throw food out because you have “too much” food in your fridge or pantry? Is your freezer full, but you still run to the store because you have, “nothing to eat.” I can raise my hand to these scenarios too and there is a sickening feeling in my stomach when I know that I haven’t done a good job managing this aspect of managing the family finances.

Accountability of our items brings enormous savings and satisfaction. Being a good steward of the stuff that fills your life forces you to edit your belongings and keeps you from  buying as much. I try to live my life by the infamous quote from William Morris, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.” If it is not bringing beauty or usefulness to my space, then I can feel good about passing those items on to someone else in need.

I often hear that people think their home is “too small,” but I also often wonder if the excess from their lives was removed if that space wouldn’t feel spacious once again.  When my home is decluttered, suddenly, my kitchen counters feel spacious, the basement really does have a spot for everything in storage, and the house really does have enough space for us all.

I honestly consider cutting the clutter as, not only a way to decrease buying duplicate purchases, but as a project to devote my time to rather than spending it out in the stores spending money. When that boredom spending starts to hit me, I focus on a spot in our home that needs to be reclaimed. Even in a smaller home, there are MANY corners to devote my efforts to.

To learn more about our commitment to our smaller home, read this article on the power of living small.

(Monthly Savings: $30 or more)

Get the Good Life For Less

The entire focus of my first book, “The Good Life for Less,” is truly about achieving good times and a happy home on a budget. The book is filled with make-your-own recipes for commonly purchased items like food mixes and cleaners, as well as outlining simple ways any family can save money on their family budget each week.

In it, I outline how our family paid over $13,000 in credit card debt from unemployment and are on the road to financial freedom.  Our family is living proof that any family can pay down their debt with small switches.

The switches I outlined above, are switches that we worked towards and have freed our family of credit card usage and have allowed us to have a beautiful life that is well within our means.  You can find my book on the shelves of your local Walmart store or purchase it online!

Check out our Debt-Free party we threw for our family when we paid off our $13,000 in credit card debt and how we are living our version of the American dream.

(Monthly Savings: $50 or more)

 

What are some small switches you have made to be able to offset the 2% Social Security tax increase this year?

 

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The Best Resources For Frugal Readers (And How to Make Reading a Priority Again)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

One of the things that I get asked the most is how I am able to read so many books each month and still manage everything else in my life. If one of your goals this year is to read more, I want to share with you how reading has transformed my life and how it can transform your life too!

The truth is, we all have the same hours in the day and we all choose what we want to fill them with.  Some days I fill it with managing the house and doing everything that needs to be done for my family, but there are days that I let it all go and sit in my favorite chair with my favorite book for an hour instead.

Here are some simple strategies I have used to carve in more time for my fictional reading life:

I Stopped Watching Television- When we dropped our television package, it was the greatest gift in time management I have ever given myself. Our television watching has now whittled down to about four shows a week that we really care about and the rest of the time our television is turned off. It has been so freeing to not feel like I have to dedicate time to the television to justify the bills that we were receiving.

Although watching news has never really been a priority to me, to not be detached completely from the world, I listen to NPR on the way into the gym each morning or while I am tidying up from breakfast. I know what I need to know about world news and local news and then I turn it off and focus on the books I am reading.

I Always Have a Book In My Hand- You will very rarely see me without a book in my hand and I find ways to make the most of every single little pocket of time I have to read my books. Whether I am coloring my hair, cooking, waiting for the kids to get off the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office, or standing in line at the grocery store, you will find me trying to devour a page or two of a book. With devices like the Kindle for your smart phones and tablets, electronic readers, audio books, and the endless supply of great free reading material  from the library, I am constantly trying to find a new way to sneak more pages in my day.

I Make a Goal For Myself- Every year I use GoodReads to create a reading challenge for myself. For me, vague goals of, “I’d like to read more,” usually yield mediocre results. With a number in mind, I know that I have something to work towards and to accomplish. Sometimes I reach my goals, this year, I did not. It doesn’t bother me if I don’t reach my lofty goals because the true point of the goal for me is just to read, read, and read some more.

You can connect with me on GoodReads and see what I am working on right now!

I Want to Be a Role Model For My Kids- I want my kids to model the good things that I do in my life and being a reader is one thing that I am proud of and that I want for them. I don’t want my kids remembering that I sat in front of the television and watched Toddlers & Tiaras every night or that their mom was never without her celebrity gossip magazines. I want them to remember that their mom was always reading, always learning, and also that she wasn’t afraid to tackle hard books and hard topics.

The results for me have been having two kids that are ferocious readers themselves. They beg to go to the library and they are just like me,  often walking into walls and doors because they have their nose in books. If we are going somewhere, they grab their books to take with them when we run errands and one of our biggest struggles is when we have to shut off the lights and our books at night. I love seeing them model me in this way.

I Read What I Want To Read- We have enough pressures on us as mothers, but to be pressured to always be reading award-winning books doesn’t have to be one of them. If your life is full of stress and chaos, a good chick lit book might be just what the doctor ordered. I like to read one heavy book and one light book and alternate them. When my children were smaller all I wanted to read was something that would make me laugh. No matter what you read… just keep reading!

I Want to Be a Well-Rounded Person- I didn’t take a lot of advanced classes in high school like my husband so I was only exposed to excerpts of classic books, rather than reading them. As a woman in her thirties, I am reading these books for the first time in my adult life and I am proud that I am no longer intimidated by classical literature. I won’t let the hurdles of my youth stop me from being a well-rounded person and that is why you will often find me making a goal to read the classics.

I Want to Be a Great Writer- Great writers are great readers. Other writers constantly inspire me to be better at what I am writing. I found it a hard juggle to work on my own book and still squeeze in time to read. My pockets of time had dwindled, but I still tried to make it a priority because reading is that important to me.

Reading has changed my life and has shaped me into a better person than I could have been without the words of great writers. Books provide an escape, they challenge how I view the rights and wrongs in life, they take me to countries I may never visit, they make me weep, they make me laugh, and they made me dream that I could transform someone else with my own words. 

Great Reading Resources To Get You Started:

 

GoodReads or Shelfari- Goodreads is my ultimate resource for keeping me motivated to read daily. I use it for my yearly reading goals, to keep track of books that I want to read in the future, and to rate and review books that I have finished reading. The best feature is the barcode scanner that you an use to scan books to quickly pull them into your to-be-read or reading virtual piles.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor’s offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won’t get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what’s due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it — before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

What Should I Read Next?- One of the big hurdles with reading is finding the perfect reading material. What Should I Read Next? allows you to put in the name of your favorite author or favorite book and then gives you a reading list of similar reading material that it thinks you would like based on your preference.

Paperback Swap or Bookmooch- Just two of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you recive to get more books.

Amazon’s Free Kindle Downloads- Amazon offers oodles of books for free for your Kindle or you can download the free Kindle app for your phone or tablet to read your books on. Explore this free list when you are in need of a new book to read!

 

Be sure to visit our Great Reads section to get you started on selecting great books to tackle!

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Getting To Know Your Bread Machine (Easy Recipes & Tips for Busy Families)

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

One of the most invaluable appliances in our home is our bread machine and today I wanted to share with you why I think a bread machine is a wise kitchen investment. This tutorial will offer advice on what to look for in a bread machine, how to use your bread machine, and the best bread machine recipes that our family enjoys on a weekly basis.

Perhaps you already have a bread machine that has been gathering dust in your kitchen or basement. Many people buy these appliances and then end up donating them to their local thrift store because they never use them. I think of the bread machine as a modern day convenience, but in a culture where we want everything NOW, waiting for a loaf of bread can seem like an eternity.

Why wait for a hot loaf of fresh bread when you can grab a loaf at your supermarket?

And what exactly is the purpose of that appliance that is taking up space on your shelves? Let’s get to know our bread machines and find a new way to use them.

What is A Bread Machine or Bread Maker?

A bread making machine or bread maker is a home appliance for baking bread.The bread machine is simple in its construction and consists of a bread pan (or “tin”), at the bottom of which are one or more built-in paddles, mounted in the center of a small special-purpose oven. This little oven is  controlled by a simple built-in computer, the settings for which are inputted on the control panel. Most bread machines have different cycles for different kinds of dough—including white bread, whole grain, European-style (sometimes labeled “French”), and dough-only (for pizza dough and shaped loaves baked in a conventional oven). Many also have a timer to allow the bread machine to activate without operator attendance, and some high-end models allow the user to program a custom cycle.

Some of the older machines have just a handful of simple settings while newer machines offer more advanced cycles including a cycle to make jam or to bake cakes. To be honest, I don’t use the fancy cycles on my bread machine and rely mostly on the Basic and the Dough cycle, which can be found on every machine. The basic cycle is just the basic setting for making a loaf of bread. The Dough cycle just completes the kneading and rising of the dough. Once the dough cycle is complete, you can take the dough out and shape it into your loaf pan or do fancy braids or rolls out of the dough.

The purpose of a bread machine is simple;  you are able to make fresh bread when you want it. The reasons vary from person to person on why they choose to make their own bread. Many people have concerns about the additives and preservatives that are found in store-bought breads. Another reason that many people choose to make their own bread is because they just enjoy the taste of homemade bread. My reasoning for making our own bread is because I like to save our family money. Making your own bread costs so much less than purchasing a loaf of bread, and the rising grocery costs have only fueled my desire more to make it at home.

How Do You Add Ingredients to a Bread Machine?

Inserting your ingredients into a bread machine is also very straightforward. If you are making the loaf right away, you can insert the ingredients in any way that you want. All of these ingredients will immediately be stirred together and so it will not matter what the order is. If you use a timer delay on your bread machine, delaying the start time of making your loaf, it is imperative that you put the ingredients in the right order or your loaf will not turn out right. The order of ingredients is liquid (liquids include water, oil, milk, eggs, or honey), flour, other dry ingredients (salt, sugar, baking powder, seasonings), and ending the ingredients with your yeast. The most important part of putting the yeast in is to make sure that you make a small indentation into the center of the flour so that the yeast does not react with the other ingredients.

Upon inserting your ingredients, your bread machine will take over the process from there. The machine will knead the ingredients together, give the bread its rising time, and then it will bake the bread. The bread machine will signal when the bread is ready and you can allow the bread to cool inside of the bread bucket.

Do I Need to Buy Bread Machine Mixes For My Bread Machine?

There is no need to spend the money on convenience bread machine mixes; in fact, you can make your own convenient mixes handy for the week. I take plastic storage bags and make an assembly line of the dry ingredients and do my bags once a month. On the outside, just write what liquids you will need to add and you will only have a dirty kitchen once instead of weekly.

What is the difference between Instant Yeast, Bread Machine Yeast and RapidRise Yeast?

Just their names because these are all the same yeast. Nothing like making it EXTRA confusing for a novice bread-maker.

Is There Savings in Making Bread at Home?

A quick glance at grocery store prices and you will wonder how there could be any possible savings with making your bread at home. The key to making this the least expensive on your family is to purchase all of your ingredients at your local wholesale club. With proper storage, you can buy the ingredients in bulk and save your family loads of money.

I don’t use my wholesale club membership very often except for our family’s eye care needs and for the occasional party. I won’t ever let my membership lapse though because with one trip to buy my baking supplies, my wholesale club membership has earned its space in my wallet. I make a trip twice a year to buy all of the necessary supplies for my baking and pizza-making needs.

Don’t believe me? Here is the current prices from my local Sam’s Club:

25 Pounds Bread Flour- $6.59 (needed depending upon the recipe)

25 Pounds All-Purpose Flour- $6.68 (needed depending upon the recipe)

2 Pounds of Yeast- $4.16

Cheese (5 pounds for $10.43) , pepperoni (5 pounds for $11.88), and crushed tomatoes (102 ounces for $2.68) can also be bought at a fraction of the price, but in the past I have lacked the capacity and ambition of storage for all of the ingredients.

As a side note, if you do own a membership to Sam’s Club, they have a wonderful Click ‘N Pull service that you can utilize for your shopping day and they can pull the ingredients right to the front and email you when your order is ready to pick up. This is a fantastic free service for moms with small children or who are short on time!

How Do I Store My Bread Machine Ingredients?

For storage, flour can be stored for up to a year in an airtight container. With bulk storage, a large plastic bin that has been clearly labeled is ideal to keep your flour fresh. Yeast is the easiest ingredient to store and has a very long shelf life. I store my yeast in a mason jar in our refrigerator door. With both of these ingredients, writing an expiration date on the label will also remind you of when the item is going to expire. I have also provided a handy Yeast Freshness Test that you can use to see if your yeast is still working. This will come in handy when buying yeast in bulk.

What Kind of Bread Machine Should I Buy?

If you do not have a bread machine and are looking for one, garage sales and thrift sales are a great place to hunt. I see these machines for $10 or less, and you will definitely get your money back from the savings of making your own bread. When you find one, ask if you can plug it in and make sure it is working. Just check that it actually powers up, that there is a bread bucket inside, and that there is a paddle in the bottom of the bread machine to stir the ingredients. Having a manual with it is handy, but usually can be found by searching online.

Over the past five years, I have been using my Sunbeam Bread Machine with great success. All of my past models have been found at the thrift shops and garage sales, but when our bread machine quit on us, I ran out to our local superstore so we wouldn’t have to miss our weekly pizza night. You know an appliance has become invaluable to you if you can’t imagine a day without it. Our bread machine is that invaluable to us.

What Are Some Foolproof Bread Machine Recipes I Can Try With My Family?

On any given day in our house, you will find our bread machine happily humming along and whipping up fresh dough and bread for us. Not only that, but our bread machine has a regular performance in our house on Friday night for our infamous weekly family pizza night.

Here are a few of our family favorites, but you can learn more in my first book, “The Good Life For Less,” that is available on bookstore shelves now: 

The Perfect Pizza Dough (so easy that your kids can roll this one out on their own!)

Bread Machine Pita Pockets

Bread Machine Hamburger Buns or Hot Dog Buns

Whole Wheat Bread Machine Hamburger Buns or Hot Dog Buns

Bread Machine Calzones

Bread Machine Portuguese White Bread

 

Bread Machine Monkey Bread/Bunny Bread

Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls 

 


Yeast Freshness Test
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Not sure if your yeast is still fresh and active? This simple test will help determine if your yeast is still performing!
Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup warm tap water (110°F-115°F)
  • 2¼ teaspoons dry yeast (make sure it is at room temperature)
Instructions
  1. Using a one-cup liquid measuring cup, dissolve 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar in ½ cup warm tap water at 110°F-115°F. Using a thermometer is the most accurate way to determine the correct liquid temperature. Any thermometer will work as long as it measures temperatures between 75°F and 130°F. If you don't have a thermometer, the tap water should be warm but NOT hot to the touch.
  2. Stir in one ¼ oz. packet (7g) or 2-1/4 tsp of dry yeast until there are no more dry yeast granules on top.
  3. In three to four minutes, the yeast will have absorbed enough liquid to activate and start to rise.
  4. After ten minutes, the foamy yeast mixture should have risen to the 1-cup mark and have a rounded top.
  5. If this is true, your yeast is very active and should be used in your recipe immediately.
  6. If the yeast did not rise to the 1-cup mark, your yeast has little or no activity. Discard this yeast.

Do you have a bread machine? What is your favorite thing to do with this appliance?

 

I love helping you cook in the kitchen! If you like this cooking tutorial,  be sure to visit my tutorial on How to Cook A Butternut Squash With the Skin On, How to Roast a Spaghetti Squash, and  How to Make Quinoa in the Rice Cooker.

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. 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.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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