Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Food Saver

A quick stop at the grocery store this week for vegetable oil and mushrooms that were on sale somehow ended up costing me over $20! I'm sure that happens to everyone from time to time, but overall I think this trip was a complete success.

I found packages of hamburger that were marked 1/2 price and a spiral sliced honey ham that was $7 off. I ended up getting almost 20 pounds of meat for only $14! The ham went in the freezer immediately as it was still frozen and doesn't need to be used for a few months. The hamburger had a sell by date of today, so it was time to get it taken care of!

The first 2.5 pounds were made into 10 quarter pound burgers. I flash froze those and then bagged them up to be grilled when we just need to have bacon cheese burgers! Another 2.5 pounds were made into sloppy joes. I rarely ate these growing up and often forget to make them for my family as a result. My husband loves them and will be thrilled to see we are having them tonight on his favorite homemade hamburger buns. Two more meals worth were frozen for future meals. The final 5 lbs was browned up and stored using my Food Saver. This resulted in 9 packages of meat to be used in future meals.

In my opinion a Food Saver would not necessarily be a frugal purchase if one bought it at full price. However, I often see these at garage sales or on craigslist for a steal. Ours was a gift at our wedding shower. We were also gifted a set of three canisters that can be sealed and I've bought lots of bags on sale using gift cards that we still have from our wedding. (One benefit of not retail shopping much is that those cards have lasted a long time!)

I use my Food Saver maybe once a month, but when I do I feel that it really does a great job. I often will do bulk hamburger, chicken legs or pork shoulder purchases. These are all meats that I cook and shred or chop and then vacuum seal to make meal prep easier. Sealing them also prevents freezer burn and lets us store our meat a little longer than I would if using zip type bags. For the last two years it has really done a wonderful job when I've put up corn. I have managed to freeze enough corn for an entire year in just one afternoon both summers. Our garden area is VERY small so I've had to rely on grocery store specials. The last two years I've gotten corn for $.10/ear and bought over 80 ears. I then use my microwave to blanch it, take it off the cob and seal it into bags. When we eat it in the middle of winter it tastes just like it did in the summer! The savings are substantial and the work is pretty simple.

I think that if you have a way to get a cheap or free Food Saver it can be a real money saver. It always surprises me how many I see for sale that have never been used. The good thing is that when mine dies in someday I should be able to replace it for a great price! As you are out and about this summer consider getting a Food Saver. When the produce and meat is cheap and the gardens are full it may be a great way to prepare yourself for the winter!


Friday, May 29, 2009

Frugal Find Friday--my Kelty

Today I found an amazing frugal find and am bursting with excitement to share it with everyone. It made me start thinking that there may be others who have that same feeling of joy when they find an great deal. Which led me to the idea of having Frugal Find Friday be a weekly thing here at Pages by Heather. So, eventually I'll do the link thing, but for now if you've stumbled upon my page and have a find to share just post it in the comments and I'll add it to the post. On to the inspiration for this fun idea for sharing...

One of my co-workers stopped in at work today and mentioned that a woman with 4 kids in her neighborhood was having a rummage sale. She really thought I should stop since I could find lots of things for my little guy. I didn't really have my rummage sale list with me (more on this another time) and didn't have a lot of cash with me, but figured I should give it a whirl since it was not much out of the way as I was heading home. Turns out it was a really, really good thing I did.

As I walked up to the house there was a gentleman with a baby walking up as well. We chatted a bit, but quickly my eyes locked on the beauty pictured above. Then I became nervous that he would see it and want it....yeah, he was the Daddy at that house and was looking to sell it, not steal it away from me if I turned away. The Mommy and I started chatting and when I asked her if there was anything wrong with it she just laughed and said that the spilled bag of birdseed all over the inside was the only thing wrong. Turns out they have twin 4 year olds, and then 2 other little ones younger than that. No way they can carry them all in one backpack carrier!

I've been searching far and wide (okay, craigslist, freecycle and rummages) for a backpack carrier for our little guy. There are cheap ones out there and there are REALLY expensive ones out there. The really nice ones are REALLY expensive even on the second hand market. I've debated shelling out $50 or more and have a hard time biting that bullet. We do have a stroller and a Bjorn (shower gift) but I would like to continue to wear him and my back is starting to have issues with carrying him up front. I figured a back pack would give us more flexibility and less back pain.

So, how much was this Kelty Kids Ridgeline carrier you ask?
$170 (when it was new)
$120 (Denver craigslist)
$69 (Seattle craigslist)

Nope, it was $5. Used about 4 times and now mine for just $5. This made my day!

Here's to more Frugal Finds,

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Babies, Babies, Babies!

I guess we are of that age. The age that involves babies! We have had more friends have babies in the last year. In fact 2 more were added 2 weeks ago!

We got to meet the newest one today and it was heaven. The little peanut was all snuggled up on me and I was so sniffing his head. (and trying to be discreet about it as to not freak out the new mommy!) I looked at Mike and gave him that look, the look of a woman who is ready for another. We have one who isn't even walking yet, but I miss my baby. I want to sit and rock and snuggle and nurse. Don't get me wrong I love my little guy like crazy, but there is a difference between the activities of the peanut and the crazy-chase-after-him-before-he-gets-to-the-dog-water-dish-or-flies-down-the-basement-stairs-after-the-cat antics of my almost 10 month old. I realize I'm getting WAY more sleep than the new mommy and for that I am grateful. However, I'm not getting any younger and I'd sure like to have a few more.

The biggest question I have is how would I stay awake enough to take care of my little guy if I am pregnant with another. From what little I remember, I pretty much slept through my entire pregnancy. Made for a pretty easy first 9 months of marriage! (Little guy is a honeymoon souvenir.) I'm not sure I'd want to miss 9 months of my little ones life just snoozing away on the couch. That and the fact that he takes an awful lot of energy just to keep one step ahead of and, again, he's not walking yet. I'm sure we'll figure it out when the time comes!

Gratefully, we have figured out that it isn't nearly as expensive to have a baby as one would think. I look forward to sharing many tips, tricks and ideas on this subject as we have been able to provide very nicely for our little guy without spending our entire retirement or going into credit card debt to do it. In fact, not counting his birth, I would guess that he has cost our family much less than $1000. Considering the estimated cost of raising a child in the 0-2 year age range for just one year is over $9000 I think we are doing really, really well. if you'd like to see the chart.

I know that it is not fully in our hands to decide when the next little one should join us. However, we look forward to growing our family in the future. And, of course, we'll be doing it frugally!


Not Typical

So, I mentioned we are not the typical family. What does that mean to me? Let me fill you in a few fun facts about us.

I used to have a sales job and before that a recruiting, training and selling job. Both paid very well and had lots of flexibility at certain times of the year. However both involved travel and very long hours at other times. When it came time to get married and start a family I knew I didn't want those 'other times' to be a factor in my life. This led to me taking a 90% pay cut. How is that possible? I started working at Starbucks approximately 20 hours a week for less money than I made waitressing in high school. Why would I bother continuing to work? We need health insurance for our family and Starbucks is a wonderful company that provides benefits for employees who work an average of 20 hours/week or more. It is sometimes very humbling to my graduated-with-honors-from-the-honors-program-of-a-well-respected-university self to be a barista. However, I am so grateful for the flexibility and benefits that Starbucks provides. Everyone, go buy yourself a latte and keep our family covered. :) At some point we would really like me to be home full time, but until we can afford to pay for insurance out of pocket I will keep pulling espresso shots!

The reason I need to provide health insurance...Mike is self-employed. He has 2 main interests, but one of those is his true passion. He does website and graphic design (enjoys) and plays polka music (serious passion). I figured out a way to marry a polka musician. Some may not consider that odd, living in Wisconsin as I do. Although finding one who is under 30 and does it full time is a very rare thing. Others may not even know what polka is. Trust me when I say I had no idea I would ever end up with someone who plays the accordion for a living! He has played since he was 6 years old and it is what he really loves. I'll do an entire post about it at some point, but for now the best way to learn about what he does is Mike works from home and watches our little one when I work. Hard to believe our 10 month old has never been with a sitter.

Other things that aren't typical...
1. I bake almost all our bread products
2. Our grocery budget is $100/month
3. We only have one vehicle
4. I rummage, thrift shop and freecycle for most of our 'needed' items
5. Yet, we own a Wii
6. We own a rental home, previously my house
7. The only debt we have is our home
8. We cloth diaper and love it
9. We pray before meals and eat almost all of them together
10. Mike is pining away for an HD TV, but won't buy it until he earns a certain amount of money in a year. He set the amount, not me!

There are many more things, but we'll cover those in the future. We are a funny, fun loving, but not very typical crew! And we wouldn't have it any other way.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Best Day

Have you ever had a day that you just thought was The Best Day? We had that on Monday and I am so grateful!

Mike decided to really take the day off, not something that happens often when you are self-employed and have your office at home! We were up early thanks to baby and the weather was wonderful. A bit cool for most, but it was sunny and above 60, which is great when it is Memorial Day and you live in Wisconsin!

We took the dogs and baby and headed down to the park after Mike cut the lawn. We'd never given the little guy a ride in a baby swing, but figure it was time he got to try it. He loves his Johnny Jump Up and often gets it going like it is a swing, so we figured he'd probably enjoy the real thing. We were so right! There is nothing like hearing your favorite baby giggle on every single swoosh of the swing. I think he could have stayed in it for hours if he hadn't had to take a break to eat! Then he got to ride down two different slides with Daddy. Those didn't get the same response, but all in all his first trip to the park was a rousing success!

We headed home and I made pizza for lunch. Thank goodness for freezing dough ahead of time...we were really hungry and would not have had patience for the bread machine to whip up a new batch. Baby went down for a nap while it cooked and we ate. After he was up again we headed outside for the required Memorial Day yard work. (It seems to be required if you live in our neighborhood, not sure about others. Check your local ordinances.)

The most amazing thing happened in the afternoon. We were able to complete multiple projects and it was done with great peace and harmony. This is an amazing accomplishment for Mike and me. We love each other and get along well. We do not get along so well when trying to get projects done. Monday may have been the first time that multiple projects were done and no one was upset in the process. Can you see why it was The Best Day?

We constructed a compost bin out of materials already in the garage. So, no cost involved, about 30 minutes of work total and a very happy wife when all was said and done. I had really been wanting one and we were able to whip it up in no time. This compost bin will be a wonderful thing for the garden next year and will make me so happy every time I do not throw away an egg shell or banana peel!

While Mike was looking for zip ties for the compost bin he found some clothes line. Now, this would not be a big thing for most people, but for us that was real excitement! I have begged for, asked for, whined for and complained for an outside clothes line for over a year now. Mike knows how much I've wanted one and on Monday I got it! He used some trees to put it up and it will be a wonderful thing this summer. Seriously about 45 minutes of work and months of smiles to come!

While Mike did that I was able to put in the rest of our little flower bed garden. We've got tomatoes growing and I've planted yellow squash, beans, peppers, and zucchini to go with the radishes, lettuce and spinach I'd already planted. I also got some marigolds going in a few planters. Hopefully in a few weeks it will look like a real garden!

Dinner was pork chops, baked potatoes with sour cream and chives and green beans. We had some ice cream treats for dessert. After baby was in bed we curled up on the couch and watched a movie. All in all it was The Best Day!

We are so grateful to those who have given their lives in service to our country. We enjoyed a wondeful day, but we were very mindful of the reason behind the day. Our flag was flown with great pride and grattitude for those who serve.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

When in doubt, just ask

Today I found out some potentially exciting news! I'm always looking for ways to lower our grocery bill but also am working to introduce more organic produce into our budget. These things are not always very compatible. I read a post recently that suggested talking to your local produce manager...

Well, lucky for me one of our customers is the owner of a grocery store! He stops in on his way to the produce markets everyday. So, why not ask him if he really would sell produce, especially organic produce, by the case? He was not surprised at all. In fact, it sounds like he has done this in the past or maybe does it fairly often. And here I'd been nervous about asking him! If I want produce I just need to e-mail him and he'll get it for me. If I order by the case then he tells me his wholesale price and tacks on about 20% for his time and gas getting it and invoicing it, etc. I'd have the produce within a few days at most. So simple!

My dilema now is figuring out how much these cases will cost. He can give me an approximate cost if I e-mail him what I want. However, he doesn't have a list of prices and I don't want to waste his time giving me tons of prices and then not order anything. I know that organic will be more expensive than our typical loss leader shopping, but it will also be better for us in the long run. My goal is to start getting the 'dirty dozen' organic and then take baby steps from there as our budget allows. The more real we eat, the better. I also figure I can get apples, pears and a few other things from friends and neighbors this fall so really I would only be looking at a few cases to start.

I should mention we can not even begin to eat a full case of fruit before it goes bad. One of my big adventures this year is going to be canning!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Should I?

Did I really do this? I've read them for years. I've talked about it and thought about it and brought it up. And now I think I'm actually going to do it. I've started a blog. Will anyone out there hear what I say? Will anyone want to chat back?

I've been told by people I've trained and by other co-workers (and even my husband) that they hear my voice in their heads. When they are doing something I trained them to do. When they need some encouragement. When they find an amazing deal. When they are debating blowing some money they probably should save. When they are cooking and freezing and stockpiling for their family. Will I have readers who 'hear' my voice too?

Is this going to be a crazy ride or what? :)