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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly grocery and menu plan

This week was very successful as far as me staying withing my $40 a week grocery budget. I had a lot of great coupons this week, so I only had to spend $25! I would've spent $37, but I had $12 in coupons! Even with coupons, $25 is still pretty exceptional for me. Another frugal success I had today was I got coupons from the Sunday paper for free! They were left on a table at a Dunkin Doughnuts, so I took the ones I wanted and didn't have to pay the $1.75 for the paper. Dunkin Doughnuts has this awesome deal where you take a survey online and get a free doughnut. I was in there cashing in my receipts to get 3 free doughnuts for my kids. All in all, it was definitely a frugal day! Now for my weekly menu plan.
For breakfast we will have: Oatmeal, eggs, grits, smoothies and cold cereal. For lunch we will have: Sandwiches, leftovers, cold cereal and apples. Now for my dinner menu!

Crock pot chili with rice and cheddar cheese
Oatmeal raisin cookies
Avocado tomato sandwiches with fries
Oatmeal raisin cookies
Chicken noodle soup
Homemade biscuits
Bean and cheese burritos
Vegetable stir fry with Asian sauce
Bean soup with ham
Homemade beer bread rolls

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Back when I was just Frugal Liz, I never used to bother with coupons. I had $150 a week in my grocery budget, so it just seemed like more trouble than it was worth! After I became Frugal Divorced Liz and my grocery budget became $40 a week, then I started looking into coupons. Honestly, coupons are the only way I can stay within my budget! When I saw how easy they are to use, though, I started to wish I'd used them before! Here is my best couponing advice to make using them as easy as possible.

Only clip coupons for things you will use A lot of times I see $1 or $2 coupons that are a GREAT deal. The only problem is, they are for things I wouldn't normally buy! This can be good and bad. Sometimes it's a coupon for something I can't normally afford, but then that $1 or $2 off means it drops down in price enough to be within my budget. A good example of this is yogurt. Dannon probiotic yogurt is a delicious luxury that at $1.68 for four, I can't afford to buy. Enter a cleverly clipped $1 off coupon and suddenly that yogurt becomes a fast, frugal snack! I also use $1.50 coupons to buy frozen fries. The coupon is $1.50 off if you buy two packages of a certain brand of the fries. The thing is, each individual package costs $1.50, so with the coupon it's like I get one for free! I also regularly clip $1 off juice coupons. The juice I like to buy is $2.68 per bottle and since I would buy it anyway, getting $1 off is a pretty sweet deal!

Look in more than one place for coupons The Sunday paper can be a great place to find coupons, but the Internet is an even better one! I regularly visit to find awesome manufacturers coupons. Another good Internet resource is actual product websites. I often get great deals from juicy juice, welches and uncle ben's this way.

Pair coupons with sales for even more savings! If you wait for the lowest sale price of an item and then use a coupon, your savings can really be significant. This requires some advance planning, but I've really been able to save a lot of money or even get things for free this way.

Go to stores that double coupons Not every store will double coupons, but if there's one in your area, it can really be worth it to go there. Publix and Bi-lo are the stores around where I live that double coupons. Both of these stores are more expensive, so I only go there when items I want are on sale AND I have a coupon I can double.

Separate out the coupons you want to use on a given shopping trip! If you go into the store with a huge wad of random coupons, your chances of a successful, stress free shopping trip pretty much disappear. To avoid this problem, I first make a shopping list of all the items I need that week. Then I check my coupon stash to see what I have coupons for and I separate those into a different envelope. (I keep my coupons in envelopes!) After I find the useful coupons I already have, then I search the Internet for even more coupons to use. If I find any, I cut them out and put them in the separate envelope as well. This makes it so I go to the store armed with a list and the coupons I want to use ready to hand to the cashier. I take my other coupons with me too, in case there's an awesome sale and I have some extra money to take advantage of it.

I hope this coupon advice helps someone. If you're still thinking it's too big of a hassle, just try it for a week or two and see if your grocery bills go down!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Frugal Fun!

Now that I live on $24,000 a year, I don't have a lot of money in my budget for fun. I mean really it can be kind of easy to forget that "Fun" even exists, when the bills are piling up and my stress level is through the roof. One thing I've learned since getting divorced, though, is that having fun is really important to fend off the inevitable depression and despair that happen if life is just one big drudgery. Here are the activities I've come up with that really cheer us up without emptying my purse!

The $1.99 movie theatre My kids and I love going to movies, but the regular theatre is $7 per person, even for a matinee! That would be $28 for us just to get in and that's not counting snacks. Instead we go to the $1.99 movie theatre and bring our own snacks. I know a lot of people can be really judgemental about people bringing their own food to a movie, but seriously, not everyone can afford a $4 drink and a $5 popcorn! I bring water for my kids and I, 2 mini candy bars for each of us (That I bought on sale after Halloween and Easter last year!) And maybe some crackers or something. Last night we went to see Harry Potter VI and it cost me under $8 total. Now that's a price I can afford!

The Library Here in Augusta, we finally have a great library. The library is a great place to get books and movies and to find out about community events. If the library doesn't have a certain book or movie that you want, they will often order it for you...For free! Our library has a wonderful playground and grassy field next to it. Now that the weather is nice, I've been taking my kids there on weekends to eat a picnic lunch. We pack a bag, spread out a blanket and eat on the grass, in the shade under a tree. Then the kids play on the playground for a while. It's a really nice way to spend an afternoon and best of all...It's free!

I have a pizza and movie night at home Once a week I make homemade pizza with whatever toppings we can come up with. The kids really like this, because they get to help. After our pizza, I pop some popcorn and we watch a movie together. I either rent the movies from the library, or I buy them for $1 at Goodwill. This week I bought "George of the Jungle" and we'll watch it on Saturday.

We play boardgames Boardgames are inexpensive and fun and best of all, they encourage us to spend time together as a family.

Those are a few of our favorite things to do, but even chores and other "un-fun" activities can be made fun. Saturday is usually our big chore day, which would seem pretty bleak and boring. I just put on some music, though and suddenly the chores get done a lot faster and we have some fun while we do them. Pouring some bubble bath into the tub makes bath time a lot more fun. The grocery store becomes fun, because the kids help me with the coupons...One thing about kids is they all seem to think coupons are awesome. Maybe just my kids.:P

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

(Almost) free cleaning supplies!

I haven't bought laundry detergent or housecleaning products for over two years now. You might be thinking, "Egads!" Right now, but I promise I didn't stop buying them because I just stopped cleaning. I stopped buying commercial cleaning supplies because I started making my own! Making your own is not only cheaper, better for the environment and better for your health...It's fun too! Here are my favorites.

Earth Scrub
1C baking soda
1/4C liquid soap (I recommend dr. bronners liquid soap. It's kind of expensive, but it works great and it's completely non-toxic.)
1/4C water
2Tbsp vinegar
essential oil (optional)
Mix together the baking soda and liquid soap. Add the water and mix until combined. Add the vinegar LAST and mix until smooth. If you are using unscented soap, you might want to add a little essential oil just for fun! I like using about 10 drops of orange or lemon. This scrub works GREAT on bathrooms, kitchen sinks and anything else where you need an abrasive cleaner.

Window Washer
1 empty spray bottle
1/2 bottle water
1/2 bottle vinegar
essential oil (optional)
Take an empty bottle and fill it halfway with water and halfway with vinegar. Add about 15 drops of essential oil (if using). My favorites for this are: Peppermint or tea tree, but you can use whatever you want. Now start cleaning those windows! This spray also works great on mirrors and floors.

All purpose spray
1/4C liquid soap (again I recommend dr. bronners)
1tsp borax
2Tbsp vinegar
Essential oil (optional)

Place the borax in an empty spray bottle. Add the 2Tbsp vinegar and fill up the bottle 3/4 of the way with hot water. shake it well and then let it sit for a minute to dissolve the borax. Add the soap last. For this recipe, I like to add 15 drops of peppermint or lemon or tea tree essential oil.

Laundry soap!
4.25 oz bar of soap, grated. (I like to use dove unscented soap. I grate the soap in my food processor.)
1/2C washing soda (You can buy this in the laundry detergent aisle)
1/2C borax (Also in the laundry detergent aisle)

Place the grated soap in a large saucepan. Add 6C water and heat until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and borax and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat. Pour 4C HOT water into a large, clean floor bucket. Add the soap mixture and stir. Add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir again. Now put the bucket in an out of the way place and let it sit for about a day. Now your laundry soap is ready to use! I store it in a large Tupperware container with a lid. I use 1/2C per load of laundry coupled with 1/2 of borax for water softening and deodorizing.
Note: This laundry soap will not look like commercial detergent. It will be a watery gel, not a solid gel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall is here!

I usually love the fall. I love the crisp bite in the air, the scent of burning firewood and the breezy days. I also love the fact that here in Georgia, I don't usually have to use my air conditioner or my heater from about mid September to the first of November. That's not to say it doesn't start getting cold here, because it does. Right now it's down to 38 degrees outside! It's only October 18 and my house is only down to 66 degrees, so I haven't turned on my heater. I keep the house at a relatively chilly 65 degrees all winter long. Some people might read that last statement and think I'm insane and that 65 degrees is WAY too cold. I'm going to tell you about the ways we stay warm and keep our winter utilities at around $150 a month (gas and electric) in a 1750 square foot house.

The first thing I always do to stay warm, is I wear thick socks. I can't even describe the difference this makes. My mom got me two pairs of woolen slipper socks last winter and they really helped a lot. I even wore them to bed when it was especially cold. This may seem obvious, but I also wear a sweater in the house. A lot of people I know keep their thermostat set at 72 or even 74 degrees and then complain about $200 or $300 utility bills! These same people hang out wearing shorts and tee shirts all winter, while in the artificially tropical environment they've created and are now paying through the nose for. It's winter...It's supposed to be cold!

Another way I stay warm, is I use a heating pad when I start feeling tempted to turn up that thermostat. The heating pad is especially helpful at night, when I'm first trying to fall asleep and the sheets on my bed are still cold. I use a heating pad to warm up my kids' beds as well. Another way to keep your bed warm, is to use flannel sheets. I bought mine on sale in the spring, for like $15 a set.

I also drink hot beverages to stay warm. All winter my oldest daughter and I drink herbal tea and my younger two drink hot chocolate. One of our favorite winter activities is to pile on the couch together under a blanket and watch a movie, while sipping our hot drinks. On the same vein, I make a lot of hearty, warming meals. For breakfast I make oatmeal instead of cold cereal. For lunch I make soup instead of a cold sandwich. For dinner I might make a hearty stew or chili, or lasagna or pot roast, all served with hot, crusty bread.

I know not everyone has a fireplace, but if you do, it's a great way to cheaply heat up your house. I'm talking about a wood burning fireplace, not a gas one. Here in Georgia, I pay about $150 for a cord of wood to be delivered to my house and loaded into my wood shed. If you've never seen a cord of wood, know that it is a huge amount. I usually only have to burn one cord of wood for the entire winter. The cold weather here lasts for about five months and during that time, I burn a LOT of wood. If you live in an area where firewood is really expensive, this isn't a good option for you. Here in the South, hardwood happens to be all over the place!

Those are the ways that my family stays warm in the winter without busting our budget. It can be hard sometimes (especially when my parents visit from Florida and my dad walks around making comments like, "You could store meat in here!" and my mom just sits huddled in front of the fire, speechless and shivering:P) It's all worth it, though, when Spring comes and I haven't had to drain my savings, or go into debt.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Successful Frugal Dinner!

The other day, I experienced a nightmare for any frugal person living on $2,000 a month...My hot water heater died! It was leaking and not heating water, so I called my plumber and he told me that it had to be replaced. He also told me that most gas water heaters last for about 9 years and mine was 15 years old. Total cost of the replacement water heater: $839.65. Luckily, I have some savings, but it was still very stressful having to shell out that kind of cash.

After that whole plumbing fiasco, I was seriously ready to just order some takeout for dinner. It was 5:00, I was tired and stressed and my 3 year old had once again decided that being toilet trained is an optional life skill! As I got out my wallet and contemplated feeding the four of us on the $13.60 I found in there, I decided that maybe I'd better just look through my cabinets for something easy to make. Suddenly, like a message from the gods, I found a bag of lentils I'd forgotten about. Now my kids LOVE lentil soup...In fact, when times are tight, I make this kind of chili that has like 2oz of ground beef and about 1/2Lb of lentils in it. My kids go crazy for it, never knowing that the whole pot cost me maybe $1 to put together! I had no defrosted ground beef in the fridge, so I decided to take the lentils in a different direction. I sauteed 2 green onions with 2 stalks of celery and 6 diced baby carrots for a few minutes. I added 1tsp cumin and 1tsp turmeric and stirred it around. I added 6C of water and 1 1/2C dry lentils last with 1 chicken bullion cube for flavor. THEN I remembered that I had four plum tomatoes, so I diced them up and threw them into the mix.
After the soup had been simmering for about 30 minutes, I remembered the garlic bread I got for $.99 on Sunday. It had been sitting in my fridge and actually taking up an inconvenient amount of space. Lentil soup night seemed like a perfect opportunity to use it up, so I heated the oven to 350 and tossed it in there (not literally). By the time the soup was done simmering, the garlic bread had heated up to a crispy, buttery perfection. I called the kids to dinner and we enjoyed our frugal, impromtu feast.
Sometimes I feel sad, only having $40 a week to buy groceries for the four of us. My grocery shopping list is very planned out and I pretty much have to have a coupon for everything. Sometimes I'll see an item I want to try, or a treat I want to get for my kids and I have to pass it up, because I really just can't afford it. I was even heasitant to buy the garlic bread, because it was an "extra" that I hadn't budgeted for, so it meant something else had to be sacrificed.(I sacrificed buying 2 cans of cream of celery soup to use in casseroles) A night of feasting, even if it was on such simple fare, really lifted my spirits. Best of all, I still had 2 servings of soup and half the loaf of garlic bread left after we were done eating! Guess what I ate for lunch the next 2 days...:P
Tonight I plan to make some mushroom, green pepper pizza, because when you make it yourself, each pizza costs maybe $1.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weekly grocery and menu plan

Every Sunday, I plan out the meals for the following week, so I know what to buy at the store. This prevents me from just arbitrarily putting whatever happens to catch my eye into my cart. I also make my grocery list keeping in mind what coupons I happen to have. For example, this week I had a coupon for $1.50 off of a package of frozen french fries. I wouldn't normally buy frozen fries, because they are junk food and not really included in my food budget. Since I had a coupon, though, the fries ended up only costing me like 19 cents and the bag is big enough for me to serve them as a side dish for 2 meals. Here is my menu plan for the week
My kids almost always have oatmeal for breakfast. They love it and it's filling and nutritious. I on the other hand drink coffee for breakfast...Which is decidedly less good for me!:P
My older two kids get lunch at school and they are on the reduced lunch program, so it only costs me 80 cents per day for the both of them. My youngest and I will eat leftovers, fruit, granola bars (homemade) and cereal (grape nuts-I bought them for like $1.00 with a coupon!) with soymilk and dates (possibly my favorite meal ever!)
Here is where I actually have to plan things out!
Sunday-tacos with beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and green onions
Monday-Lentil soup with garlic bread (I got this on the reduced bakery items shelf for 99 cents)
Tuesday-Macaroni and cheese with vegetables
Wednesday-Veggie quesadillas
Thursday-spaghetti with meatballs with leftover garlic bread