Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cookies on demand--CHEAPER & Healthier--with the help of the freezer!

You know when it's late at night and all you want is something chocolaty or chewy?  And the LAST thing you want to do is make a mess of your kitchen?  And that's when you make a "late night run" to the store to pick up Chewy Chips Ahoy, Soft Batch, licorice, or ice cream.  (I think everyone has had a day that feels mentally or physically EXHAUSTING!! You know the *kind*--it makes you want to sit down in front of the TV and brainlessly watch while eating something munchie all while you "practice breathing" just so you can mentally survive! And then get up tomorrow and do it all over again...  Now, I know this is a BAD habit...but it seems it happens every so often.)

I have a healthier and cheaper substitute idea that is GREAT for many of those moments (or times that an impromptu dessert is needed.)  Since figuring out this IDEA, my husband and I have spent FAR less on the "munchies" AND had healthier snacks---and NO we weren't munching on carrot sticks!!

When you make cookies from scratch, only cook what you are going to eat--and FREEZE the rest in 8-10 in. log style.
THE idea
  • When I make cookie dough, I only cook the wanted amount of cookies and then I FREEZE the rest of the dough (in a log shape--aka. otherwise known as a cookie light saber at our house). 
  • That means WHEN the bad day comes, I have cookie dough in the freezer! 
  • When I cook the dough from the freezer, it is much easier to say I will only eat *this* more of my husband and I eating almost the entire package between the two of us!!
  • The healthier part is: the homemade dough is BETTER for you than the kind you will buy in the store AND since the cookies are bigger, and fresh (served with cold milk), I eat LESS....saving my calorie and fat intake!!
This idea can be done with ANY cookie dough recipe.  However, my personal favorite is:

warm and gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 c. Crisco
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. brown sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla

Add: 2 eggs; mix well

2 ¼ c. flour
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Salt

 Add: Chocolate chips 
Gourmet Option:
Idea #1: I like to add just a smidgen of mint chocolate chips
Idea #2: Add 1 tsp. cinnamon--makes the cookie truly gourmet!
Bake @ 350 F.  For 8-9 min.
Note: there are 8 cookies--enough for the people at home to have 2 each for a lunch dessert!
For the Freezer:
  1. Lay out an arms length of saran wrap. 
  2. Plop raw cookie dough in the middle-- resembling a LOG. 
  3. Wrap the saran wrap around the dough and repeat. 
  4. Label the dough with masking tape with the date and kind of dough and stick it in the freezer!
When you want to USE the "freezer cookie dough":
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (or otherwise noted on your recipe)
  2. Unwrap one side of the "log" and pull off the desired amount of dough
  3. Put the rest of the dough back in the freezer.
  4. For the dough you are going COOK--defrost it in the microwave for 20 seconds and dish it onto a cookie sheet and treat it as though you had just made the dough from scratch!  (ie.  Follow your normal cookie baking instructions!)
Happy Stretching Pennies...

Monday, July 25, 2011

FREE University Summer Entertainment for ALL...even if you are not a student!

If you live anywhere near a University, check out what they have to offer during the summer!  (Or if you are traveling near a University make sure to either contact or call them about their summer events!)  Many events are FREE of charge.
On occasion we will travel the 30-40 minutes to the university near us where they have a weekly event called: "Summer Concerts on the Quad".  It's every Wednesday night--free to the public. We bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the sights, sounds and activities for FREE! They provide the band (that changes every week), FREE watermelon, FREE face painting, FREE popcorn & cookies, and FREE bounce house.  
This idea doesn't have be limited to being in your "local" area...consider contacting the university you will be vacationing near and see what kinds of "events" they have going on for the summer.  This summer we were in Cedar City, Utah (Southern Utah University) where they are famous for their Shakespearean Festival. 
They have one show they preform nightly for FREE.  This year's play was themed around Italy...all while in their traditional Shakespearean garb. 
There were peddlers who were selling tarts and other tidbits.  My children enjoyed the humor, singing and dancing.  (Ok.  My oldest didn't really like the dancing part....just all the other parts.)  It was really nice to be able to expose them to different kinds of cultural art.

Happy Stretching Pennies....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Garden: Increasing your harvest without planting more plants...

Gardening can be a great way to save money!! 

I have a love/hate relationship with gardening where I live.  Our soil is awful and the neighborhood is filled with bugs, so it doesn’t matter how much I spray MY yard….they come back really fast.  However, in our new house (as of the last 2 years) we have had a lot more success gardening than in the previous.  One reason is we have NO huge trees, with massive root systems, invading our dirt.  The other is this product I want to tell you about.
I can’t name one person that wouldn’t like to get more off of just one single plant!!  The first year we tried growing tomatoes here, we had minimal success.  The plant thrived, but I was unhappy with harvest.  After that season was over, I went into the local nursery to ask some questions.  They suggested a “Blossom Set”.   
It is an organic hormone that stimulates the plant to make MORE flowers….therefore more harvest. Last year was my first year using it on our only 2 tomato plants. By mid-summer, our tomato plants resembled a FULL BUSH instead of a plant.
This is SIDVIEW picture of our "bush" last year before the tomatoes ripened....
(I never took a picture of it intending to show its size. I was just in the background of a random picture.)
We harvested SO many tomatoes, especially considering it was only 2 plants.  I became an instant fan!  I didn’t do anything different last year than the year before.  At the specialty “nursery” it was $6.99…which made me croak because I was just “trying” it…but after one full summer of using it and still having a lot left for MORE seasons, I have decided that the product is worth buying.
THIS year, we were on vacation for family reunions during the time that jump started my plants.  When I returned home 2 weeks ago, I started up again.  Spraying once a week, it is has only been 2 ½ weeks, but I can see an increase in flowers on my tomato plants.  In other words, I think it isn’t too late for you to start spraying YOUR plants either.

Easy Instructions:  Spritz flowers weekly.

Happy Stretching pennies….and getting more harvest off your plants!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Salad dressings that taste BETTER and are cheaper! YUM!

Summer is a GREAT time for salads…but buying salad dressings from the store can get expensive!  I, for one, get really frustrated at paying a large sum to “TRY” a salad dressing--to NOT ending up liking it.   So, for years I seemed to be stuck with Ranch or Italian dressing.  Don't get me wrong-- I like those dressings, but they get really old after a while.  (FYI:  I never bought the premade stuff---I have always used the seasoning packets.  Somehow they even tasted better to me than the store's premade bottled stuff!!)
In the past year, I entered a personal quest to FIND some salad dressings that I liked—particularly RECIPES that I could make at home…making as little or as much as I wanted.  So far, I have been very pleased with the results and thought I would share—making sure I give credit to those who wrote the recipes!  (of course!)

One of my favorite cookbooks is called Fabulous Freezer Meals, by Jenny Stanger.  In all honesty, her book is revolutionizing how I look at food preparation.  I am doing so much better at giving myself a night off of cooking—all while NOT going out to eat AND having a home cooked meal!   Anyway, in this book she has some “emergency substitutions” which lists Italian dressing.  One time when preparing a simple Chicken Alfredo, I discovered, mid-recipe, that I didn’t have an Italian seasoning packet on hand.  I didn’t want to run to the store—so I did her substitution.  Can I tell you I haven’t needed to buy another packet since.   It was SOOOO good. 

So here is Jenny Stanger's 1 Italian seasoning packet equivalent: 1 Tbsp. Parsley, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. onion powder, ½ tsp. basil, ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes.

FYI: You can "pre-make" them just like the packets at the store using a small zip-lock baggie!

There have been many times that I have eaten someone else’s salad topped with Raspberry vinaigrette that I have loved.  However, I have never been able to find one I like in the store.  This is the recipe that I wanted to find the MOST.  I honestly don’t remember the website I got the original…but I feel ok sharing it because I tweaked the recipe to fit my tastes anyway.  So here is my FAVORITE salad dressing that goes with crasins, cubed grilled chicken, and mandarin oranges!    Raspberry Vinaigrette: 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 3 Tbsp. sugar, ¼ c. canola oil, ¼ c. water, ½ tsp. dry mustard, ½ tsp. salt , ½ c. strawberry jam (or substitute with blackberry, raspberry or boysenberry jam)

 As of last April, I have been watching a website called and I can’t say enough about their homemade salad dressings!!  They are ridiculously easy to pull off.  Not to mention tasty!   My favorite so far: Lemon Poppy Seed (which has been renamed as lemonade poppy at our home).   Although, we have also tried her Honey Red Wine Vinaigrette and Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette.  They were very good.  My rule of thumb with ALL of her vinaigrettes: HALF the oil and substitute water—I found them to be a bit oily for my taste.  (FYI: I like using the Cilantro-Lime one for marinating fish for fish tacos!! Pictured in the gourmet-picnic post.)
I am still on the lookout for a Ranch seasoning packet substitute….when I figure a good one out, I’ll let you know!!

Happy Stretching pennies!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reusing your plastic bags can save YOU money!

Going “green” can benefit YOUR finances and not just the environment!   Did you know that bringing your own grocery bags can save you money???  Each store’s policy is different, but generally you can save 5 cents per bag you use.  (Last time I went to the grocery store I saved .48 cents—enough to get my bunch of bananas for FREE!)
FYI: This is the information I have about particular store’s policies:
Stores that DO offer this benefit:
  • Raley’s
  • WinCo (They offer 6 cents per bag you use.)
  • Save Mart
  • Target
Stores that do NOT offer this benefit:
  • Walmart
  • Safeway
  • Smith’s (BUT the have substituted with giving you 5 “points” on your "value card"…which equals $5 worth of “points”.)
Happy Stretching Pennies!
P.S. I have a plastic bag stored in my glove compartment of my car for those "impromptu" visits to the grocery store or Target so I can save without having to "plan".  (It can also double as an impromptu garbage bag.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

HOMEMADE microwave popcorn...with a paper bag!

I have been using my air-popper for years...and it is finally dying!  I was on one of my favorite websites today and found a "recipe" for doing your own homemade microwave popcorn using a brown paper bag!  The idea intrigues me and I can't wait to try it.  Here's the link for her tutorial.....
(picture courtesy of
Happy Penny Pinching!

FYI:  Directly after typing this, I tried this in MY kitchen.  I am SOOOOOO giddy!   I'll never go back to store bought microwave popcorn!!  It TOTALLY worked!!  When it was done popping, I just dumped it into a bowl, poured my 1 Tbsp. of melted butter, and sprinkled it with some cinnamon/sugar and a dash of salt!  DELICIOUS!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

FREE entertainment for the whole family at your local library!

What better way to get your children to WANT to read than *PRIZES*!!!  Yet, the word *prize* can sound financially intimidating.  However, most libraries offer a summer reading program for children--FREE of charge.
With these programs come FREE prizes for your children.  Each library is different—but ours has a 4 & under program, 5-12 program, and teen program.  Since my children are not “teens” yet, I am more familiar with the under 12 programs.  There are intermediate prizes as you work toward the GRAND prize, along with weekly raffle tickets.  At the end of our program, my children earn a FREE book bag and personal pan pizza from Round Table.  The teen program is based more on pages read—but the prizes are NOT trinkets from Oriental Trading Company—but places they want (movie tickets, CDs, DVDs, Restaurants, etc.)
For adults & families: libraries offer a wide variety of*special things* for the summer.  Our library has never decided on any annual event.  I have seen them have magic shows, comedians, concerts and movie showings—complete with snacks all for FREE!

Your library can be a GREAT source for FREE entertainment!
Happy Stretching Pennies!

P.S. Don’t forget to think of your local library as your local “Redbox” for FREE and longer checkout times!

The PERSONAL Benefits of giving blood.... (ie. FREE stuff)

I am kind-of a squeamish girl, the idea of needles just makes me go weak in the knees—so this idea is done by my husband.  My husband LOVES to donate blood.  It HIS way of doing community service.   I recommend this idea only to those with tougher skin than mine!!

There are many times you hear over the radio about a blood drive…and the benefits.  The United Blood Services offers several “benefits” to volunteering to share some of your blood with those in need.  (For those of you who don’t know my youngest son needed a blood transfusion 3 ½ years ago.  Coming from a more personal moment in our family, I can’t tell you how much it meant.  I was so grateful that someone had taken the time to donate blood that my son could get the health procedure WHEN he needed it.  So for all those anonymous donors out there from the bottom of my heart—THANK YOU!)  
The personal  benefits to you (besides knowing you helped someone else). 
  • They check your cholesterol for you (FREE of charge) and you get the results.
  • You get food and juice after you donate….and they WANT you to eat. There has been many times my husband comes home FULL of food.  ie. pizza, fried chicken, ice cream and potato salad and numerous other kinds of food. They have LOTS of snack type things and juice galore to help you recover after your donation.
  • You earn points for each time you donate, AND make & keep an appointment.
  • The type of blood donation you choose has a different point allowance.

What are things that you can EARN for FREE by donating?
  • Movie tickets
  • CD's
  • DVD's
So this last week, my husband cashed in a fair amount of his "points". My youngest is a BIG fan of “CARS”the movie. We do NOT have a dollar theater anywhere nearby, so going to the movies is a HUGE deal. Our whole family made the trip to the $$$$ theater with nice seats to see CARS 2. What a thrill. They have been talking of doing this for months, as they waited for the movie to make it to the theaters!

Yes.I am bad.We snuck candy in.Even better was using the “theater candy” I bought on clearance from Target this last spring (after Easter) for .09 a box (that means our treats cost us less than 30 cents!)

Happy Pinching Pennies.....AND helping others!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hanging Laundry---even infrequently can make a difference!

Hanging laundry is one of those things that is only worth it IF you have a little time on your hands.  For me—it saves us about $20 a month in our utilities.  I don’t necessarily hang every load of laundry in the summer. I do make an effort to hang as much laundry as I can during the summer.  The beauty is: in the heat of the summer -- the clothes dry BEFORE they would have in the dryer!!  When I am running low on “spare time” I just throw it in the dryer.  But hanging just 1-2 loads a month can make a difference in your utility bill!
Because it is a slightly time consuming project, I enlist in my children’s help.   My kids love to hang the clothes with me.  They pull out the step ladder and pin the bottom of their shirt with clothes pins.  This way I DON’T feel guilty of doing chores and not spending time with them!  What a great way to teach your children about frugality, work and spending time together all in the same activity!

My “rules” of what I hang to dry:
1.       No towels.   (They go straight to the dryer.  I HATE crispy towels.  I LOVE a plush soft towel when I hop out of the shower.)
2.       No unmentionables.  (I don’t hang our underwear out to dry.)
3.       Use fabric softener.  (It makes a HUGE difference in their feeling softer.)

Happy Stretching Pennies.....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The GOURMET Picnic--the KEY to low cost "vacations"...

I'm a firm believer that it doesn't cost a lot of money to have fun!I LOVE vacations or "day-cations" (aka.  all day outings)  What are some of the biggest costs in "outings": Food & Lodging.  It doesn't matter what kind of "cation" you are WILL impact your expenses.

I know it is easier to go through McDonald's (or other fast food) and order from their dollar menu.  BUT that can get expensive!!  Why not consider your own "Quarter Menu"?  Bring your own GOURMET picnic breakfast/lunch/dinner from home?  I'm NOT suggesting you live on sandwiches!  That would get really boring-FAST!

Everyone needs to stretch their legs on a road trip. Consider looking for a park instead of a restaurant---where you will only end up sitting some more!?! They provided picnic tables, usually a decent view or GREAT view and room to stretch your legs. If you have children, it can be a 'sanitiy break' after being confined to the car. The children can run and play on the playground while you prepare the food. If you don't have children, it could be a chance to discover a *new* romantic stroll in the park!
GOURMET PICNIC *essential* items you need:
1. a COOLER--This opens up the possibilities for lots of different types of food!  (Such as: pasta salad, taco salad, bagels & cream cheese, potato salad, fruit/veggies with dip, pita sandwiches, chicken salad, and of course a sandwich.)
2. a TABLE CLOTH- This allows for ANY table to be hospitable.  I've gotten some at Jo Ann's fabric store for 40-60% off and YOU decide how big it need to be.
3. a SIMPLE PICNIC DINNER SET- You don't actually have to buy anything special....any plastic plates, silverware and cups will do. We got ours for FREE at Sportsman's Warehouse (color coded for each person) using our REI dividend. I've also seen a nice set at Big 5 or REI. we also dub our set for camping.

4. a SMALL TUB- When you are done eating you can throw the dirty settings into it to bring home to your dishwasher, motel room bathroom sink, or campsite to wash. FYI: rinsing at this stage is extremely helpful!
5. a WATER BOTTLE- for rinsing off dirty dishes or drinking
6. a SPONGE- to wipe up any spills

To EXPAND your Picnic possibilities---
1. a CAMP STOVE- a 2 burner propane stove or backpacking stove.. (BONUS--you are adding great equipment to your 72 hour kit...and you'll know how to use it!) With having one of these--your possibilities are endless. You can heat up ANYTHING! It could be a stir fry, homemade soup, stew BBQ sandwich, Sloppy Joe's, french dip sandwiches, fish tacos...etc. If time is NOT on your side, you can just bring cans from the grocery store of soup, stew, pork n' beans, Ramen, or even hot dogs! You could even go as simple as heating up water for cup of noodles or oatmeal packets! We have even done Pot stickers straight from the freezer!
In this picture, we were preparing fish tacos on a road trip...
2. a POT- obviously to heat up any of the above  You need a pot or two.  We got ours at REI for FREE using our dividend. 
3. a SALT/PEPPER SHAKER- We picked up some awesome ones at Sportsman's Warehouse. I don't remember the price--but it was definitely under $10.
4. a WOODEN SPOON- to stir and not burn all that yummy food you are going to make.
5. a POT HOLDER- your heating something makes for an easy transfer.

Time can be the biggest factor in your outings in how much you'll spend or do.  We have all of our equipment in ONE place--designated only for outings!  It makes for an easy grab-and-go without forgetting anything!  (And the extra BONUS is your 72 hour kits are condensed!)

Happy Summer Vacationing!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Hotel feeling in your bathroom...for less!

For years I had purchased those cheap vinyl shower liners for the inside of my showers.  I really despise how they can start to get that "orange-ish" look they get on the bottom that SHOUTS "I need to be replaced!"

During the summer months, to stretch pennies,  I used to lay them on the grass, spray them off with the hose and scrub them with a little bit of Dawn dish soap.

Last year, when visiting my friend Becca, I learned a *new* trick.  We have traveled to stay with their family for a few days.  I noticed in her shower she had a CLOTH shower curtain....and it felt more like a hotel.  When I returned how, I decided when it was time to replace my vinyl shower liner I would do it with a cloth one.
It has now been an entire year since I've purchased a shower curtain. It still looks just like NEW!
Secrets to a beautiful CLOTH shower curtain that will last YEARS!
1. Buy a WHITE one
2. Wash it once a month...(I wash it at the beginning of each month.)
3. About every 3 months SOAK the bottom half in a Clorox/water mix for a couple of hours before washing it!

Happy Stretching Pennies.....

P.S.  If are not happy with your curtain's water resistance, try using some waterproof spray found in the camping section at Wal-mart or a specialty store.  It is ridiculously easy to use.  It is a spray can (use it the same way as spray paint) and your shower curtain can be waterproofed in minutes!