Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

Gift Giving: Putting Your Own Spin on Photo Journals

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I could not wait to show you guys what I made for my moms for Mother’s Day this year.  Unfortunately, to keep it a secret, I had to wait until the holiday was over to show them to you. That being said, these photo books would be perfect for just about any occasion, including the fast approaching Father’s Day holiday!

I know that many people are fans of the photo albums that you can create online, but I had never done one before. I adore taking pictures of my family, but I am not very good about printing them out and sharing them the way I should. I thought it might be neat to share with our moms this year a brag book that that they could enjoy for years to come. I admit that I prefer to make handmade gifts for these occasions (I doubt either mom will ever forget our infamous ping pong wreaths last year), but I knew that there could be a way that I could put a unique spin on these photo albums and add my own homemade touch.

I first weeded through all of the pictures and tried to get a good representation of both of the children as well as pictures of them with the other family members. After selecting my pictures and template (through the photo site I used), I then went to Quote Garden and tried to find a quote for each page of the photo album that would fit the pictures that I had selected. All in all, the process took four hours because of my own admitted perfectionism. I chose a soft-back cover (to save money) and I also visited Coupon Cabin to find a coupon code that I could use towards my purchase. These each cost roughly $16…and it was worth every penny.

These were a few of my favorite photos and quotes that were chosen:

“Everything is beautiful at the ballet” A Chorus Line

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” Katherine Hepburn

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of  a child. There are seven million.” Walt Streightiff

“I have the same goal I’ve had since I was a girl. I want to rule the world.” Madonna

“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.” Vietnamese Proverb

“There’s no place like home.” Wizard of Oz

“The Force is strong with this one.” Darth Vadar

“A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” Charles Dickens

“Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.” Author Unknown

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius

“And thank you for a house full of people I love. Amen.” Terri Guillemets

I can honestly say that my copy of this book has already become lovingly worn as I have placed it on my coffee table and glance through it almost daily. Each time, I walk a way a little misty-eyed, a little more thankful, and really proud of my amazing kids.

As the gifts were given, there were a few tears and a whole lot of pride radiating from our proud grandma and nana. It is the perfect gift for purse-toting and brag sessions. From what I hear, they have already made the rounds in their workplaces and churches. To me, that is when you know that a gift is a total success..when it just must be shared!

Just a few quick tips:

- Don’t forget to check for coupon codes through whatever photo book publishing site you use. There are usually multiple coupons available. Be sure to compare which coupon will offer you the most bang for your buck. My 20% off coupon, for example, was less than the shipping cost so make sure you crunch those numbers before ordering. Just Google, “Photo company’s coupon code”  and you should get plenty of codes to use towards your purchase.

- I found it easiest to sort my pictures by date first so I could group pictures together on pages easier. Sorting by date also helps to allow the flow into the different seasons of the year and pictures to flow a little more naturally.

- Choose a template with a neutral palette, that will compliment and not detract away from the beauty of your photos.

- Edit your photos before putting them into your book. I use Picnik for my photo editing needs and I absolutely love it. You don’t need to get carried away with the editing (unless you just love to), but it can be a great tool for saturating the color, adjusting color temperature, switching to black-and-white, or adjusting the exposure or contrast in a photo.

Looking for some added Father’s Day inspiration? These crafty bottles brimming over with treats were a hit with my hubby last year.  Our dads also really loved our movie gifts and handmade photo compact disc jackets filled with great music in years past.

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Ironically, I had some great timing on this post because today is the last day to enter for a $50 Snapfish gift card for Father’s Day. Please head over there and get your entry in today! And yes, I actually had to pay for all of those photo books so I am extremely jealous you can get one for free!! Entries are due by 8PM eastern time tonight! Good luck, friends

What did you do for Mother’s Day gifts this year? What is up your sleeve for Father’s Day? Please share!

All I Want for Christmas…The ’09 Edition

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Isn’t it fun to peek into someone else’s holiday wish list? I wanted to share with you my Christmas wish list for this year and hear what is on your list!

40″ circular knitting needle set- I have been hearing a lot about magic loop knitting and I have some circular scarves that I would like to attempt knitting… not to mention my 2-at-a-time sock knitting that I want to try! This set of needles would put off my procrastination on learning this new technique and would be a perfectly cozy activity to do over the winter ($19.99)

lavender & vanilla pillow mist- If I have trouble sleeping, I spray a little lavender pillow mist on my pillow to help me conk out. I have had the same bottle for years, but I am down to my last sprays. I know my husband will never buy this for me as he finds the process of me spraying my pillows annoying. To which I simply say…whatever. There is nothing more soothing and I am hoping someone out there will replenish my supply ($10.00)
6-slice waffle iron- This is a very expensive gift therefore making it very unlikely I will receive it, but I am dying to get a waffle iron that produces more than a single waffle at a time. I make waffles every single Saturday for the entire week and this six slice waffle iron would give me the opportunity to sit and eat with my family instead of eating a waffle alone… Wait, no more eating alone? Maybe it is better that we keep our current arrangement! ($79.95)


Norah Jones & Imogen Heap music- I am a huge, huge, huge music lover and there were so many good albums that came out this year that I would love to have wrapped under my tree. Norah Jones & Imogen Heap are my top two requests this year and would definitely help round out my music collection ($11.99)

new calendar- I am writing activities in the margins of my current planner and can’t wait to get a fresh new one to fill with our activities. This is my favorite calendar of all and I have bought it the last two years and it is one of my most used items in my house. It is the perfect size to tuck in my purse and has pockets for business cards and random receipts. It is also durable and has survived all sorts of spill horrors and messes because of the waterproof cover. ($14.95)

perfume- Every girl should have a signature scent. I want my signature scent to be this Falling in Love perfume. I just need to convince my husband that a signature scent is important to me. Even the teeniest little spray bottle would make me happy and it sure would make those poor saleswomen at Sephora happy too. I don’t have to keep requesting little samples to stick in my purse and could finally get a bottle for myself. It is an extravagant luxury though so we shall see what Santa will bring ($15-60)

cookbooks- My cookbook collection could use a little updating and this year I have asked for the America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book< /a> and Cake Doctor cookbooks. These are two that I would like to stop paying fines on at the library because I check them out so often. The new Pioneer Woman Cookbook would also be a fantastic addition underneath the Christmas tree. ($10.37-$19.57)

What made your Christmas list this year?

3 Budget-Friendly Boy Gifts That Rock

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009


My son celebrated his seventh birthday in July and has been playing with his favorite birthday gifts ever since. I wanted to wait on sharing his favorite gifts until we discovered which ones continued to be played with long after the party was over. After all, the sign of a truly loved toy is one that lasts way past that party!

Ultra Stomp Rocket- My son’s favorite gift of the summer was definitely the stomp rockets that he received. The kids would play for hours with these and would work as a team to gather the rockets and then take turns stomping. The stomp rockets come with a launch pad and four foam rockets. Your child jumps on a little air pad and the air travels through the hose of the air pad all the way through the launch pad, which sends your rockets shooting up. The rockets can travel up to 200 feet in the air depending on how hard you jump.

These rockets get five stars for great entertainment, in fact, adults can’t resist taking a turn jumping with the kids. For durability, I would give the rockets three stars because most of our rockets are already beaten up and torn from abuse from younger children.

The good news is that once you buy the launch pad though, you can buy replacement rockets for another summer of fun! Overall, this is one of our favorite toys of the year and provided hours of entertainment for my kids and their friends! (Pricing- $12.30)

Scribbles: A Really Giant Drawing & Coloring Book- One of our absolute favorite gifts that we got our son was the Scribbles Coloring Book. I had asked around on Twitter for recommendations and this came highly recommended from another parent.

If you want to encourage imagination in your child, this is the best coloring book ever. Instead of having you simply color, each page tells you something that it would like you to draw. One page will tell him that the alligator is angry and have him fill in his face. Other pictures are exactly alike, but may request colors and patterns to make each of the pictures different. My favorite series is a simple line that is drawn and then it asks you to draw different animals all sitting on the pole. It is truly the best drawing book I have ever come across for allowing children to use their own creativity and imagination to fill in and create pictures.

The book is very durable and it is truly giant. My son still has many more pages to do and with the durability factor, I plan to tuck this away with his age on it as a keepsake of his creative talent at this age. Because the child is doing all of the drawing, you could buy the same book again another year and see what different things they come up with. (Suggested Price- $13.59)

Razor A Scooter- When I was little it took me awhile to master riding a bike, but I loved riding on my scooter. It seems my son is a lot like me and this little scooter has been a fantastic investment for our son. It has a little switch to fold the scooter flat and even the handles on it fold down for easy storage. We keep this in the trunk of our car and take it with us when we go to the park for another fun activity to do.

Even though it is compact, it still has a built-in brake and is extremely sturdy and stable. The fold down feature is great for traveling and this can be a fun way to get your children from point A to point B. (Suggested Price- $28.99)

Search & Win

The best part about these three gifts is that I ended up buying all of my son’s birthday gifts for free this year! I have been using Swagbucks ever since April when I did a podcast with Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, on what a great program Swagbucks is.

I average between 50-100 points each week just by using Swagbucks as my search engine and sharing it with others. To begin earning rewards, all you need to do is use Swagbucks.com as your search engine tool instead of your usual route with Google. It pulls the same results, but when you are surfing, you can earn points just by making it your search engine tool. These points are then deposited into your account and can be redeemed for your rewards.

I put my points towards Amazon gift cards which has been a fantastic way to enjoy a little shopping without dipping into my bank account. Not only has it covered my son’s birthday gifts, but I also have ordered countless books for my Kindle and purchased new exercise DVD’s to keep me motivated and moving.

I rarely use affiliate programs, but can’t recommend Swagbucks enough. If you start now, it is quite possible that you could have a free Christmas in your future! Every little bit helps in this tough economy and the best part is that it is free tool to assist with your shopping needs.

What are your favorite budget-friendly boy gifts? Do you use Swagbucks? What is the best thing you have scored with this free search engine program?

Chari-Tea Bunco Cause Party

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Recently multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Ashanti teamed up with Johnson’s Body Care to launch a new charitable program that enables real women across the country to support local charities through simply hosting get-togethers with friends.

I was given the opportunity to host one of these “cause parties” where I could kick back with my girlfriends, pamper ourselves with Johnson’s new line of lotions and body washes and help raise money for a local charity.

Lucky for me, it happened to be my turn to host our monthly Bunco so I decided to partner these opportunities together and host a Chari-Tea Bunco night at my house.

My guests were asked to bring monetary and/or food donations to support the St Joseph County Food Bank. Everyone also agreed that the winnings would be given to the food bank instead of divided among ourselves for the event and Johnson’s gave us $100 to start the charitable pot for our charity.

By hosting this event with Johnson’s they gave us the money to put towards the food and drinks for our event so I truly got to pamper my girlfriends in style because no one had to bring a single dish to share.
I still kept to a thrifty budget, but tried to add some special touches for our group. Our centerpiece was a bouquet of flowers displayed in a teapot with a variety of special teas in my china teacups for our table. These beautiful bouquets of flowers were purchased at Sam’s Club for less than $5.

Here are some pictures of the great food that we got to eat. I wanted to stick with the tea party food and dishes that would be easy to handle while playing our game.

I got a huge croissant sandwich tray that served 18 for $32 at Sam’s Club. I cut these sandwiches in half and then added colored toothpicks to hold them together so people could sample different varieties of sandwiches and to make them a little more bite-sized.

For side dishes, I purchased two huge vegetable trays for $9.87 each that were prepared by Sam’s Club. I made a delicous pesto pasta salad from my new favorite cookbook, “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen,” which you must check out! I then bought a variety of fruit and made fruit kabobs by skewering them for our guests out of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. These fruit kabobs were thrown into a pretty wine bucket for everyone to grab.

For dessert, I purchased two boxes of mini creme puffs that I served on cake platters with a decaf coffee to finish out the meal.

The star of the party though was the Bunco punch that I made that was a delicious summery drink to go with our food. We also had a box of the Black Box Cabernet which was another surprising hit with many of my friends who had not had the pleasure of trying boxed wines before. Sam’s Club had the best price on this with a box that was equivalent to four bottles for only $18.32. I have to say, these boxed wines are an affordable way to entertain on a budget.

On my lower level, we had a little welcome desk where my guests could sign in and my coffee table got taken over by all of the great food donations.

Each guest got to take home a really cute reusable bag filled with Johnson’s products to sample and share with their friends as a thank you for their charitable efforts. Each bag contained their 24 Hour Moisturizer, 24 Hour Moisturizing Body Wash, & their Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotions. These products were just for us, not for our kiddos, and they smell and feel great. My favorite is definitely the Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion- it smells divine!


We had the biggest turn out for Bunco ever with seventeen great women in attendance and we were so excited about all we could do for our community. With the donation made by Johnson’s plus our own donations, we were able to donate $205 to the St Joseph County Food Bank and an entire car full of food donations for the cause.

With the job loss in our area, our food banks and shelters are in critical need right now and if you are able to give anything at all, I encourage you to take the time to do it.

Here are some of the items the Food Bank of Northern Indiana critically needs:

Cereal — hot and cold
Meat, chicken or tuna
Mac/cheese, dry pasta
Vegetables
Potato flakes
Spaghetti O’s, stews
Rice
Pork & Beans
Applesauce
Chicken Helper
Family-sized soups
Dry soup mixes
Fruit
Crackers
Spaghetti
Sauce
Juice boxes
Beans — baked, refried
Pancake, waffle mix
Plastic containers

Individuals, clubs, churches, civic groups and local businesses can all conduct food drives. Donated food is a much needed commodity in their fight against hunger. They accept donated food between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, at their location on 702 S. Chapin Street, South Bend, IN. If this location is not convenient to you, there are many other drop off points including all of the Martin’s Supermarket grocery stores. For more information please visit The Food Bank of Northern Indiana to find out how you can help.

Throwing a cause party was such a fun girl’s night out and I encourage you to do the same with your girlfriends! It is a fun and easy way to give back to charities in your community and I am so thankful that Johnson’s helped us support such a great cause in our own community!

Here are the star recipes from our fabulous Chari-Tea Bunco night that you could replicate for a charity night at your house!

Pesto Pasta Salad (courtesy of “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen“) and you can visit The Farm Chicks Blog too!

3 cups bowtie pasta (about 8 oz)
1/4 cup pesto (Sam’s Club has pesto for really cheap, if your garden isn’t ready for pesto-making yet)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about two medium)
1/2 cup halved pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and rinse under cold running water and let cool. Place in a salad bowl. In another bowl, mix the pesto and sour cream together and add to the pasta, tossing to coat. Add the tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts and toss to mix. Serve.

Bunco Punch

ICE RING:
Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Water
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

PUNCH:
Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.


What are some fun charitable activities you do with your friends and/or family? I would love for you to share how you make charity a priority in your house?

Related Links:

Good Cheap Fun: Bunco

Retro Housewife Bunco

Kentucky Derby Bunco

’70’s Bunco Style

Day Old Bread Gets A Makeover…Or Four

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

One of our favorite sandwich shops in town is Jimmy John’s. If you haven’t sampled one of their yummy gourmet subs, you must run out and get one. My husband loves these so much that this is where he wanted to meet us for his birthday lunch. The two of us spent many a late night over their subs at Purdue University. Now as parents, our children love them just as much as we do!

When chatting with my friend Jessica, whose husband happens to own and operate our local Jimmy John’s, she shared with me that they offer their “day old” bread for a deeply discounted price. Day old simply means that the bread is more than five hours old and so they can no longer use it to make the sandwiches. I never realized that they offered this and was anxious to find out the price and if they would have any the next time I went.

After church on Sunday, we headed over to the restaurant to grab some lunch and I asked if they had any day old bread to spare. Stacked high on the counter were many loaves of bread offered at a discounted rate. For $.48 a loaf, I grabbed four loaves to see what I could invent in the kitchen with this inexpensive bread. That is right, only $.48 a loaf, far cheaper than even the discounted bakery cart at Walmart!


That evening, I worked on a beautiful roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and baby peas for a delicious Sunday dinner. The chicken had a yummy lemon sauce and we used the bread to mop up the sauce. We quickly polished off the first loaf that night. No need to change anything when the bread is fresh and a perfect side to any dinner hour.

I called my mother-in-law to see if she would like to come over for dinner the following night. For $.48 a loaf, I can afford to entertain! The second loaf of bread is reinvented into my favorite overnight breakfast casserole. We served this with orange juice, coffee, and a fresh loaf of my banana oat bread. Everyone left the table will full bellies and smiles on their face.

That evening, I cut the last two loaves into squares, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with garlic salt and threw them in the oven to make homemade croutons. The bread was still soft, but a little stale so this was a great way to use up what was left.

The next morning we had a playgroup to attend and we had to pack our lunches. My yummy lunch was a grilled chicken salad topped with those homemade croutons and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When I got home that night, I still had to make our dinner. Lucky for me, I have plenty of croutons so I gave them a spin in my food processor.

Poured them into my favorite thrifted tin platter.

I gave my chicken a little dip in some egg and then the breadcrumbs.

They were baked into my new new favorite Chicken Parmesan recipe, served with pasta, and a little wine. As everyone happily munched away, I brought up the bread that we had bought several days before. “This is the best you have ever made!” my husband proclaimed. I batted my eyes and said, “It must be that day old bread from Jimmy John’s that makes it so good.” His look of surprise was priceless.

I still have enough leftover to make a batch of meatballs and bread our pork chops this week.

As a frugal homemaker, I don’t think I reinvent the wheel of frugality… but I sure know how to beat a dead horse!

What are some of your proudest money-saving moments? Do you have a “beat the dead horse” approach towards using what you have?

Boxed Wines: An Eco & Wallet Friendly Choice

Monday, March 23rd, 2009


I feel hesitant posting my personal thoughts on wine. After all, I am the girl who thought that Arbor Mist was the best you could buy for your money for years. Through the years though, my husband and I have become adventurous with trying new wines, I have been to countless wine tastings, and I love nothing better than a good glass of wine at the end of a long day with the kids.

While we both love wine, we don’t necessarily desire the same kind of wine. I am a girl that gravitates more towards a good Chardonnay while my husband is a Merlot fan. Considering we are the only two wine drinkers in the house, the wine would sometimes go to waste because it was not used in the time span it should have. To me, there is nothing worse than throwing money down the drain so I have been looking into other options.

A few months ago though, I was watching the Today Show and they had a wine expert on to discuss the comeback of the boxed wine. “Boxed wine? Blech!” I thought. The expert continued on though to point out that these wines have come a long way and are a great affordable option for families.

We decided to put this theory to the test and began buying and sampling boxed wines instead. I even had the good fortune to receive a few boxes for my review from a couple of great wine companies, which helped add perspective on the different varieties that are available for families.

Why are boxed wines a better value and better for the environment?

Your Wine Lasts Longer- Remember the scenario that I shared about where I was dumping wine down the drain? Well, that doesn’t usually happen when you buy boxed wine. The wine is stored in a Mylar bag with a spout attached. When you pour from the spout the bag acts as a vacuum, which means the wine doesn’t oxidize. An opened box can last for four weeks rather than spoiling in just a day or two.

Boxed Wine is Better for the Environment- Top wine producers are trying to reduce their carbon footprint — that is, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the transportation of wine —and selling the beverage in alternative, lighter packaging instead of heavier glass is one way that they can make that change.These boxes of wine are ideal with some boxes reducing waste by nearly 90 percent of the equivalent bottle.

It Saves Space & Is a Hit at Parties- I took a box of wine to my Bunco night and it was the first thing to go on the table of wines. While some might consider it tacky, that pour spout is quite handy and makes filling your wine glass a breeze. These boxes can hold four bottles or more, but take up a lot less room. If you are short on space or you need something to bring to your next party, I highly recommend the boxed wine alternative.

Wine for Cooking Is Right at Your Fingertips- Many of the dishes I make call for wine in them and these boxes of wine are a cook’s best friend. I no longer have to open a bottle for a dish and let it go to waste, I can now just pour it right out of the box and it costs a lot less than the wine I was buying to cook with.

Boxed Wine is Much More Affordable- You can get a box of wine for a far lower cost than you could get in a bottle. Check the side of the box to see how many bottles are contained within it and then divide that to get your cost per bottle. Some of the best boxed wines I sampled cost roughly $5-6 a bottle, making it much more affordable than even the sale prices on bottled wines.

Now that I have hopefully convinced you that it is a better deal, here are my top picks for best boxed wines on the market. I am happy to report that Epicurious also agrees with a couple of my choices!

Of all of the wines that I sampled, the Black Box wines were consistently the best of the best. The Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot are the best that they offer and they are elegantly packaged. The Cabernet Sauvignon has received a Double Gold award and the Merlot was listed in the Top Ten Best Buys by Wine Enthusiast. Best of all, this one was available at our local Walmart and I have also heard that Sam’s Club members can get it for an even lower price. If I was just venturing into the world of boxed wines, the Black Box wines would be a great place to start.

Banrock Station Chardonnay is one of the best bangs for the buck and they now offer their wine in a 3L (the equivalent of four bottles) box. This Chardonnay is an excellent deal for the money and is recommended as a great budget-friendly wine by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Of all of the wines that Banrock Station offers, their Chardonnay is by far the best and is a great wine to bring to parties and a night in with friends. Even someone who is not a wine expert will recognize the hint of green apple and the crisp taste that comes through in the Chardonnay. This wine is particularly great for Pinot fans because this wine seems to mimic many of the flavors you would find in a good Pinot.

When they would run a sale on this wine, we would buy it in the six bottle quantity to get a discount at our local grocery store. I never knew that they offered this wine in a box and I will now be looking for this eco-friendly alternative to my bottles. It really is that good!

Hardys Stamp offers a variety of great tasting budget-friendly boxed wines. While we were not a fan at all of their boxed Riesling, I can say that I truly loved the Merlot. Hardys Stamp Shiraz is also well-known for offering a rich and full flavor. Epicurious shares that the Shiraz, “evokes warm blueberry pie, with hints of vanilla ice cream and toasty American oak, and just enough tannin to balance the ripe berries.” Overall, I would definitely recommend sampling the red wines that are offered by Hardys Stamp because the flavor was such a great surprise and will now be added to my top list of the best of the best in the boxed wine market.

One wine that I really wanted to pass the test was the Target Wine Cubes. We tried several different wines from Target and I just was left feeling disappointed. I loved the chic packaging and I certainly spend enough time in Target to want to pick it up there, but these wines were definitely not my favorite. If you are going to pick up a box of wine at Target, go for the Pinot Grigio because it is the best that they offer. In 2007, the Wine Cube Pinot Grigio won a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Again, I love the packaging on the product, but the wines just weren’t my favorite.

If you are a wine drinker, I would definitely recommend giving boxed wines a try! Once I started sampling boxed wines, we have never gone back to the wines in the bottle. I can’t wait to continue our adventures in tasting and I look forward to more boxed wine products from future companies. I believe that more boxed wines are going to be offered as wineries begin to recognize that even the best wine drinkers love a good wine bargain!

(Photo credit: Paul Olson)

Have you ever given boxed wines a try? Please feel free to offer your recommendations for a great box of wine!

The Cost of a Homemade Happy Meal

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

I admitted to you that we had a problem eating out too much and one of the places that I have felt we spent far too many dollars over the years is McDonald’s. It is just down the road, it is inexpensive, and it is quick. I will say that it is also not good for me, not always warm, and I never feel that great after eating it.

I wanted to show you the cost difference on a store-bought Happy Meal versus the cost on a homemade Happy Meal. I do use the term “homemade” quite loosely because I am purchasing the chicken nuggets so if you wanted to save even more, you could definitely make a batch instead.

McDonald’s Happy Meal

4-Piece Chicken Nuggets
Apples
Reduced Fat Milk
Small Toy

Total Cost of Store-Bought Happy Meal- $3.19 plus tax (this is in Indiana, costs may vary depending on location)

Here is my homemade version for my children that I made for them. I have included exactly what would be included in the meal, but made at home.

Tyson 100% All Natural Chicken Nuggets- 45 per package, cost $6.55 (at our local supermarket, price may vary- I had a great coupon that I will not include in the total!)
4 Piece Nugget Equivalent- .15 each x 4= $.60

1 Gallon of Milk- 16 cups in 1 gallon, cost $1.99 (current price at our local Aldi)
1 Cup of Milk Equivalent- $.12

Apple Slices- 3 pounds for $2.99 (current price at our local Aldi)
Apple Slices- $.25 (generous amount considering how few are in the package)

Total Cost of Homemade Happy Meal- $.97

While $2.22 difference might not seem like much, if you times that by the amount of children that you have in your family plus the amount that you spend on your own meals, there is a huge cost savings to making even your own fast food at home. We try to stick to the $1 Double Cheeseburgers, but Trent, at The Simple Dollar, breaks down the cost of making those double cheeseburgers at home and found that even that price could be beat.

For me, it is hard to get out of the mindset that I shouldn’t have prepackaged foods in my house. We keep our grocery budget low by making things at home. If I am out of commission or we have had a hectic night, I am often wishing that we had a few more convenience foods in our house.

A couple of bags of chicken nuggets in the freezer for these nights would still be more cost-effective than running out to McDonald’s.

And to my poor math teacher that had to tutor me every single day after math class, I would like to thank you for believing in me and working with me over those difficult years in high school. Who would have ever dreamed that I would be putting together a story problem daily that makes my husband shake his head and roll his eyes at me? I have become obsessed with the subject I hated the most so thank you, Mr. Rossi, for never giving up on me! Thanks to your thoughtful tutoring, I have become a human calculator and can crunch numbers on diapers, price per ounces on cans, and dare I say it…even Happy Meals that would make you so proud.

Related Posts:

Boo to McDonald’s
Cracking the McDonald’s Coffee Code

Is anyone else plagued with the human calculator syndrome? What has surprised that is more cost-effective to your household budget?

CVS & Walgreen’s Deals 03.08.09

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I have been taking a break from my CVS shopping because I was fully stocked on everything and because of our No Spend Challenge. I wanted to hop back in the game with the hot Huggie’s Diapers deal this week and because I was running low on a few essentials.

Here is what I stocked up on this week for our family!


Walgreens

Huggies Jumbo Pack Diapers- $10 per package
Buy $25 of participating products, receive $10 in Register Rewards
Printable Coupon (can print 2)- $5 off Gentle Care
Printable Coupon (can print 2, used 1)- $3 off Natural Fit
Total Cost (minus $10 Register Rewards & $13 Coupons)= $7.00 or $2.33 per package

Garnier Fructis Hair Care- $2.99 each
$2 Easy Saver Coupon
$1/1 Garnier Style Product, exp. 3-15-09 (in 2/8/09 paper)
$1/1 Garnier Shampoo, Conditioner or Treatment (in 2/8/09 paper)
Total Cost (minus coupons)- Overage of $.01

Garnier Fructis Hair Color- $5.99
$2 Easy Saver Coupon
$2/1 Garnier Hair Color Product (in 2/8/09 paper)
Total Cost (minus coupons)- $1.99

Colgate Total Whitening Toothpaste- $3.49
$2.50 Easy Saver Coupon
$1.50/1 Coupon (March All You Magazine)
$.75/1 coupon (from newspaper)
Total Cost (minus coupons)- Overage of $.27

Coffee-mate Creamers- $2.49 each
On Sale B1G1 Free, Making them $1.25 each

Total Savings- $37.71
Total Spent- $25.62, $10 in Register Rewards
Final Total- $15.62


CVS

Diet Dr. Pepper (2 liter) $.74
Coupon for Free 2 Liter- $.74 (found in February issue of Maxim)
Total Cost- FREE

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste- $2.99
Coupon $1/1 Crest Pro Health, exp. 3-31-09 (P&G; 2/8/09)
$2 back in ECB
Total Cost- Overage of $.01

Secret Flawless Deodorant- $3.99
$1 back in ECB
$2/1 Secret Flawless or Flawless Touch, exp. 4-30-09 (V 2/22/09)
Total Cost- $.99

Vaseline Lotion (10 oz- look for packages that say 30% more)- $3.69
$2 back in ECB (limit of 5 total)
Vaseline Printable Coupon
$1.25/1 Vaseline Lotion Product, exp. 4-26-09 (V 3/1/09)
Total Cost- $1.13 for two or $56 each

Schick Quattro Razor- $8.99
$5 back in ECB
Total Cost- $3.99 (note: there is a coupon, but I did not have it)

Palmolive Dish Soap- $1.49
$1 back in ECB (limit of 2)
Total Cost- $.98 or $.49 each (note: there is a coupon, but I did not have it)

Coke 12-Packs 4 for $13
$3 back in ECB (limit 1 per household)
Total Cost- $10 or $2.50 per 12 pack

Total Savings- $25.95
Total Spent- $41.67, $17 back in ECB
Final Total- $24.67

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Teens & Tweens

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

I am having the best time putting together these little budget-friendly gift guides for families and I hope you are finding things that are useful in these lists. I have looked through a lot of magazine lists and website lists and none of them really struck a chord with me so I am hoping things on mine are providing ideas for you.

I have been getting some very nice thank-you’s from some of the Etsy sellers so that really warms my heart to know that these lists are serving a double purpose and are helping crafters out too!

In case you missed it, here are the lists that we have on here so far:

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Young Children
My Christmas Wish List
Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

Teen gifts are a tough category for me to cover since I don’t have any children in this stage. I think I am a pretty hip and young mom though so hopefully some of my ideas will work and please feel free to chime in on this category.

As a teenager, my favorite gift was getting money to spend for the after-Christmas sales. My parents knew that our money would go a lot farther if we shopped after Christmas and, at this age, that was just as exciting as getting a bunch of stuff under the tree.

Here are a few notes about teens:

1. Give them the gift of an experience. Even if it doesn’t include you in the picture and one of their friends instead, they will love getting to do something fun. Take your teen daughter to the beauty school and get manicures with her. Hit the makeup counter with her at the mall and buy her a little something out of the case that is flattering. Go tubing with your son and take him somewhere fun for dinner. Give him a couple of tickets to see a movie and a little spending money for the concession stand. Go as a family to see his favorite baseball team play. These are just a few ideas for gift-giving experiences rather than just things under the tree.

2. Remember that at this stage, kids are a little more aware of the value of the dollar and you are now able to have discussions with them about your financial situation. Be honest with them if something is out of your price range, but also try to keep the wonderfully magical aspect of the holiday by doing activities together as a family.

3. Include them in the shopping, the wrapping, or the baking. Even if it is just your son sitting at the kitchen table devouring the holiday cookies and you chatting with him. Even if it is watching your daughter’s favorite television show while you wrap gifts. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but I promise you that they will remember those special times and what a great parent you are…even if they don’t realize it until ten years down the road.

4. Gift cards are great. Although these aren’t always the budget-friendly option, teens love getting cards to use towards what they want. The key with gift cards that makes them still budget-friendly is that the money can be applied towards the things they really want. Let’s face it, you and your son might not have the same style or taste in music, so if you buy them a gift and they hate it…well, that is money down the drain. If you give them a gift card and they put towards something they really love though…well, that is money that is well spent!

5. Subscriptions always score. You can’t go wrong with a magazine subscription and it is a gift that keeps on giving. Visit eBay to find your teens favorite magazines and buy them a year or two at a discounted price. Other subscriptions that rock? Netflix or Blockbuster subscriptions so they can watch their favorite movies or rent their favorite games at home. For gamers, a subscription to Gametap would be a fun gift to give. Don’t forget that subscriptions to stream music can also be a wonderful gift. I have recently become acquainted with the joys of Napster and last.fm. Just make sure that the subscription is compatible with their mp3 player or that they have a computer that they can access for their music. Timing free trials with the gift-giving season will help extend the life of the subscription just a little bit longer.

6. Give them gifts based on their hobbies. For the artistic son, get him sketch pads, canvas, or drawing tools. For the daughter who loves to cook, sign her up for a cake decorating class or a cooking course at a continuing education center. For the child that is into sports, try and find some equipment or offer to pay for a program at the local park’s department. Anything that shows that you care and are interested in what they are doing is going to be a gift that they will appreciate.

Here are a few of my budget-friendly ideas:

Wristlets are great for a teen girl on the go because they can carry around their cell phone, iPod, and what they need for a fun night out with their friends. I love these little wristlets in fun patterns from Janine King Designs and they are currently on sale for $19.99. This one is the Ginseng Butterfly pattern, but you could find one that fits well with your teen’s style. You could also attempt making one and I love this little wristlet tutorial for my sewing-readers!

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not know about the Twilight series from Stephenie Meyers. If your teen is a super-fan of the Twilight books, she would love this four piece set of Twilight tile necklaces. This four piece set from Candy Tiles is only $20. You would need to purchase a chain or she could hang these on a silver chain that she already has. The ambitious parent could make her own tile pendant necklaces and custom design them for her daughter! Another thrifty idea to make this cute would be to have different colors of ribbon that she could string these on that you could include in your gift. How cute would that be?

I adore these little pink gum drop bobbies from Button Boutique- aren’t they adorable? This set of seven is only $9.90! Again, my crafty mommas could whip some of these up by following this tutorial!

Another goodie for a tween/teen girl would be this cool Jonas Brothers bag that would resonate with any super fan. It reminds me of my obsession with New Kids on the Block and the super cool fan gear that I was always sporting. I understand about obsessions with boy bands, I truly do. This says you do to and is available from rocknrecycle for $26.95.
Gaming chairs are great for girls or for boys who are really into playing video games. If you watch for next year, they do discount these around the time that the kids are heading back to college. Our beanbag chairs are certainly not as nice as this one, but they only cost us $20 each. After doing some browsing online, this one came up as one of the lower priced ones at $49.99 called the Boompod. This chair can link up to all the gadgets- iPods, mp3 players, game systems, etc.. It would be a fun additon to your son’s room and is great when he has friends over to play.

Electric razors are a great gift to give and come in some very budget-friendly options. If you don’t want to order one online, I often see some really great prices at the outlet malls on shavers. This razor from Panasonic can be used wet or dry and is priced at $29.99. If your family does a lot of traveling, a pocket electric razor might be a great option too. This one from Braun is only $19.99 and rivals the larger and more expensive models in performance.

It doesn’t matter what kind of clunker your kid has, every guy has a desire to make upgrades to their car. Upgrading their headlights is just one inexpensive idea that you could do. Other ideas would be tokens to get their ride washed, getting them supplies to shine up the car themselves, getting a holder for their cell phone, even upgrading their speakers or audio equipment on a small scale would be great. These GE bulbs are priced at $30.99, but Amazon is running a buy one get one free deal on these. You could give one to your son and one to your husband or some other great guy in your life!

Is your son really into gaming? jamjamtees sells this funny “geek” shirt that any gamer would love. If you browse this seller’s shop you will find everything from t-shirts for gamers, cyclists, and even lacrosse. This t-shirt is only $12.99.

Look for ideas in the next coming weeks for hostess gifts and stocking stuffers!

What are your favorite gifts to give kids in the teen/tween category? What gifts have really scored with your teenager?

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Younger Kids

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

One of the things that people wanted to see on our site were some ideas for giving gifts on a budget for children. I can cover the younger kid category quite easy, but will have to put some thought in for the teen and tween categories.

I know I am not the only parent who sat in amazement when my child became fixated on a box rather than the gift itself. Yes, young children are easier to please than what we might think so remember that when choosing gifts for kids. Don’t add unnecessary stress to your life because chances are that our children will just be entertained and happy with the opening of the gifts and a fabulous spread of holiday food.

Things that I have discovered with choosing gifts for younger children are:

1. Thrifted gifts will be just as loved. Younger children are not at a stage where they are going to be disappointed that a gift did not come in a shiny new box. No, they will just be excited to see whatever it is you have wrapped for them so don’t feel like you are disappointing them if you don’t have a brand new gift for them.

2. Art supplies always make an excellent gift. In my house, you can never have too many crayons, drawing paper, or fun things to keep the kids entertained for hours. When out-of-town relatives send money for the kids, I always apply the money to a big bin of art supplies or goodies for our ornament-making station. I also usually give this gift a little early so that they can be entertained during those hectic days right before Christmas.

3. Giving gifts of traditions are always the best kind of gifts. We try to focus more on traditions rather than what is wrapped under the tree. Try incorporating a Christmas Jar or an Advent Calendar of goodies. Do a countdown to Christmas with items found at thrift stores or wrap each year a set of Christmas books that the children can look forward to every year.

4. Don’t feel guilty about what isn’t under the tree. In this tough economy and with so many job losses and higher prices plaguing families, please do not feel bad if you can’t get your children everything that is their heart’s desire. Remember that young children are impressionable and you can offer gentle guidance towards budget-friendly gifts at this stage in the game. When my son asked for Spike the T-Rex ($130), I showed him some other great dinosaurs that I thought he would really like that were less than $20. With a little guidance and an explanation that Spike was a little out of Santa’s budget, we were able to steer him towards some more budget-friendly options.

Here are some examples of some of my favorite gifts for young children:
One of our favorite gifts that we have received is the Leapfrog Magnet sets. My daughter loves this farm animal set ($14.99) and also loves the alphabet set. The farm animal set is great for young children because they can just put two magnets together to make the animal and then it sings a little song about what the animal says and does. The alphabet set will grow with children more and will be used longer, but does comes at a little higher price ($16.99). When your child is a beginning reader, like mine, the set can be used to begin spelling words, which is really fun.

Both sets have been loved for years and years in our house and it keeps my kids entertained in the kitchen while I prepare supper. I will say that I hated this farm animal set when I was pregnant and would bump it with my belly and it would say things about cows. Um, thanks, LeapFrog!
My children love blocks and last Christmas we got them each a box of these for the holidays. My daughter is two and my son is six and they both love these blocks and play with them for hours. We gave them this gift early (one of our activities in our Christmas Jar) and they had the best time with these. I have a wicker basket that is the centerpiece on our coffee table in the playroom so that the kids can build and create with these anytime they want. This set is $18.99 for 100 blocks. If you get one for each kid, they can build a fortress out of them!

One of the most beloved gifts for both the kids was a sock monkey that I bought my daughter. She carried it around a lot and I have found him hiding underneath the covers in my son’s bed too. My Mommy’s Place has these for only $14. If you are ambitious, you could make a sock monkey yourself and make it entirely unique for your children. I think these guys look so cute popping out of the stockings.

My son is really into the superhero thing right now so I am planning to get him one of these superhero capes to fight off the bad guys in our house. This cape is reversible so he could decide which hero he wanted to be and is available from kidzescapes for $24.

Not to be outdone by the boys, every good princess needs a cape too and kidzescapes has that covered too. You can get this reversible cape for $25. The ambitious momma could tackle this project herself and come up with a wonderfully unique cape for their child.

I swear I don’t work for Leapfrog, even though it might seem like it! I have to say that the best DVD’s we have EVER bought our children are from Leapfrog. We actually bought the entire set of these and they are one of the best teaching tools that I have ever seen. It taught my two year old all of her letter sounds and gave my son an advantage in kindergarten. He was one of the only ones in his pre-K class that could recite every single letter sound. These movies build on beginning letter sounds, word sounds, and even work on math skills. If you are going to add to your movie collection, I highly recommend these. The Letter Factory is priced at only $8.99.
My son is six and his favorite book is definitely the Dangerous Book for Boys (priced at $16.17) We also have a sparkly Dangerous Book for Girls book (priced at $17.79) for my daughter when she gets a little older. These Things to Do editions are only $10.17 (here is a link to the girl’s edition). In it are great activities to keep your kids entertained for hours and hours. Include some supplies to complete one of the dangerous activities and you will be the coolest parent on the block.

If your child is in the beginning stages of reading, they will love Mia’s Reading Adventure. This computer software has been an incredible addition to our collection. Your child learns reading through games and story activities to help them learn word recognition. The characters are 3D and the storyline is really good so it has kept our son really entertained and engaged in it. We have tried other software from the company, but so far Mia has been the biggest hit. This is priced at $24.99.

If your children like to move and groove to the music, I can guarantee that both you and they will absolutely love the new They Might Be Giants, “Here Come the 123s” The CD comes with a DVD that has all of the songs on the CD with a music video to accompany it. The lyrics are hilarious, the movies will make you laugh out loud, and the kids will learn something. The DVD is just as good as the CD so you can get something for your car and to keep the kids educationally entertained in front of the television. This is priced at just $14.99.

One of our favorite things that has been loved literally until the color wore off and we had only two magnets left because we had lost them all is this School Zone Preschool Magnetic Set. We have taken this set with us whenever we travel or are at a restaurant waiting endlessly for food. The set comes with different heavy-duty backgrounds and comes with an entire farm of animals & magnetic letters that can be stuck to the different backgrounds. The different storyboards have different activities on them or if you have younger children who aren’t reading, they can make up their own stories. These are magnets though so make sure you are supervising younger children or give this gift at an age where you can trust them.

The case is metal so if you have a rambunctious toddler like me, it can get warped from standing on it, but the kids have loved this so much that I plan to get them each a new one. They have a kindergarten and preschool version. Best of all, they only cost $9.99.

These are just a handful of my ideas for gift-giving and I hope it helps a little with your holiday shopping.

What are some of your favorite gifts to give for younger kids? Do you have any special presents that your children are requesting this year? Please feel free to share!