Saturday, January 28, 2012

GIFT GIVING without the stress of high prices!

There’s always a reason to celebrate or give someone a gift.   It goes hand-in-hand in associating with people.  There are plenty of occasions that “pop” up!!  (Birthdays, weddings, births, Christmas, funerals, baptisms, other holidays, etc.)

An invitation to a party does NOT have to be a reason to go shopping!  I have applied the Boy Scout motto of “BE PREPARED” to gift giving.  I keep a plastic tote, in my garage, for potential gifts. 
My "GIFT bin"...
Notice it is NOT labeled, because I don't want my kids snooping through it!!
When I am out doing my normal shopping, I am always on the lookout for good prices on ANYTHING.  When I find a cute item at a smashing price- that could be used as a potential gift- I buy it and put it in my “gift bin”.  This means when my children come home with another birthday party invitation, I don’t instantly freak out about where the money will come from to purchase their friend a gift!  I pull out the appropriate possibilities and let my child “shop” through my “smashing deals” and pick out a present to give their friend.
Birthdays and Christmas for my family is rather simple and stress free as well.  I actually have 2 “gift bins”.  One bin is for giving gifts to others…the second bin is for gifts for my family.  I shop year round for my children’s birthday and Christmas presents.  I’m always on the lookout for sale or clearance items that could be used for my children.  After a holiday is over is a great time to pick up the next year’s item.  I’ve learned that certain holidays provide certain types of potential presents. 
·         Valentine’s Clearance: girl’s trinkets, girl’s clothes, next year’s class Valentine’s, movie candy, baby clothes, and wedding items (as everything is LOVE themed).

·         Easter Clearance: Girl’s trinkets and clothes

·         Halloween Clearance: Boy’s trinkets and clothes, boy’s baby clothes, and dress ups.

·         Christmas Clearance:  NEXT year’s presents (mainly for the grown-ups), decorations, household type wedding presents (ie. Extension cords), Christmas crafts for the kids to make for grandparents, and wrapping supplies for the entire year.
The month before the family “event”, I open up my “family gift bin” and select what I’d like to give that person.  Usually, I already have purchased what I need at a great price….BUT if I am short what I need to give them; I have a month to find the needed item at a good price.
IF you shop A LOT, you have the potential to find a lot of great deals….BUT that means you have the potential to spend a lot more than you need to!!  My rule of thumb is to ONLY have one bin of each: OTHERS & FAMILY!  When that bin is full, it is time to WAIT to buy more “gifts” until you have given enough away to provide the room to store them.  This way you never have one gift sitting on the bottom of your bin for years without ever finding a recipient for it!!
On a side note: if you are attempting to scale back your gift giving expenses even more.... a thoughtful, well made, handmade item can be much less expensive AND more meaningful to the recipient.  Don’t rule them out!
Happy Stretching Pennies…

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Making your own REUSABLE furnace filter!

Changing your air filter to your furnace does not need to cost a lot.  In fact, it couldn’t be simpler.  Consider making “reusable” one!!  It is more eco-friendly, time efficient AND friendly to your budget. 

We learned about this when it was time to replace our furnace filter in our *new* home.  Not one store carried the size we needed!!  (And I thought there were standard sizes!!)  Turns out, you can make your OWN furnace filter out of this blue stuff called "Natural Aire".    
This is sold at hardware store likes Lowe's or Home Depot.  
When I was revisiting Lowe's to write this entry, the cost for a one-time-use furnace filter ranges from $3-$15....if you replace your furnace filter like you are supposed to do, the cost adds up (while your energy bill goes down.)  Why not equal the playing field and only buy the filter ONCE and enjoy the energy savings without having to monthly purchase a new furnace filter!! (Or actually CHANGE it once a month instead of "getting your money's worth out of it".)
The PRICE of one of these blue things at Lowe's....found on the furnace filter isle!
We made 2 out of the material so we could have one “in use” and "to replace the dirty one" as soon as it came out (NO waiting for it to dry).
The Homemade Furnace Filter Recipe:
1)      Measure the area of your furnace filter space.  Double the dimensions so you can buy enough to make 2.
2)      Purchase  this Blue filter stuff from your local hardware store (such as Lowe’s or Home Depot).  It can be found on the furnace filter isle.
3)      Cut out 2 furnace filters.  You could just take a black sharpie and trace your OLD filter on the blue filter stuff and cut it out.....BUT if you are a perfectionist like me,  It is easiest to make it “square” by using a tool called a "Carpenter's Square" (resembling a “T”) OR using quilting board, squaring device and marker.
This is a carpenter's square
After pondering using quilting supplies, please omit using the rotary cutter as it will ruin your blade.  Use these squaring supplies to DRAW the line and then cut with scissors instead of ruining your rotary blade!
This is our READY made reusable furnace filter!
4)      Insert one filter into your space and store the other one.  (We keep ours on top of the water heater.)
This is our dirty one coming out...
This is the *new* CLEAN one put in...
Our finished product...doesn't look any different, does it?
5)      Change your furnace filter every month for best results.  To change them:  Remove the dirty one and insert the nice clean dry #2.  Bring the dirty one to the bathroom and spray it off with the shower head.  Let it dry and store it until you need to replace it next month! 
Wala!  An EASY reusable furnace filter that costs you little in time and money!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Using 2 forks can make your roast beef go FARTHER than you thought POSSIBLE!

Stretching your roast beef couldn’t be simpler!  Whether you are cooking your roast in a crock pot, oven, pressure cooker, OR getting it straight out of a can this technique goes a long way.
Consider shredding your meat instead of slicing or "cubing" it!! 
Here is an example of a "crazy BUSY day's dinner"-- our burritos one evening: 

I took a 12 oz. can of roast beef (purchased from Costco) to make the meat for Tacos for our family of 5.

This is what 12 oz. looks like IN the can...
This is what 12 oz. looks like OUT of the can...
This is what the meat from the can looks like UP CLOSE...
Start shredding the meat by pulling it apart with 2 forks...
Keep going through all of the chunks & watch the plate fill up with MEAT!!
My 10 year old son enjoyed taking these pictures as I shredded...and then asked if he could have some!!
The END result of SHREDDING all that meat....

Remember this is what looked like
BEFORE it was shredded...

After shredding it, I put into the marinade and I cooked it on the stove top. 
We then enjoyed burritos with shredded meat, beans, and toppings.  (Each of our family prefers different toppings....but olives, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, green peppers are all options.)

It is amazing how far 12 oz. of meat will go. In fact, we had leftovers for someone to have a delicious lunch.  One can of meat for a family of 5 WITH leftovers!  Can't get better than that!  (Had we left the meat as “chunks”, I would have had to open several cans in order for my family to feel like they had had a sufficient amount!!)
Happy Stretching Pennies…
PS.  This technique can be easily used with chicken breasts, pork roasts or turkey breasts as well!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cheaper and EASY Pancake Mix

I love making pancakes in the morning for breakfast.  We REGULARLY have them....(avoiding the expensive cereal)!!  However, I don’t  like how many things I have to pull out and how many dirty dishes I make-- in order to have them from “scratch”.  It takes too long when mornings are usually rushed during the week.  I used to use the boxed kind from the grocery store for days that I didn’t have a lot of time.

Several years ago, I went on a hunt to find a recipe for a just-add-water “MIX” so I didn’t have to assemble so much.  I figured that the stores SELL mixes…so why couldn’t I MAKE one for a fraction of the cost?
I taped the Dry Mix recipe to the Tupperware, so I would never have to go searching for the recipe when it was time to refill!  (It's all about saving TIME!)
If you have ever eaten a premade just-add-water mix from the store, you have probably already tried a product you didn’t even know existed: powdered eggs.  I buy them from Honeyville Grain  (I have mentioned them before.)  I love their company for many reasons, but my favorite is a flat shipping rate of $4.49 in the continental US.  Dehydrated eggs are found in these just-add-water mixes of all kinds.  I know it sounds a little weird…but if you start thinking of all the things in the grocery store that contain powdered eggs, you might not find it so “weird”.  This also goes for the other potentially “weird” product: Dehydrated shortening.
What do these "weird" products LOOK like?
Dehydrated EGGS

This is what dehydrated EGGS look like!!
Dehydrated Shortening
This is what Dehydrated Shortening LOOKS like!
Pancake Dry Mix Recipe
This is what the "Pancake Dry Mix" LOOKS like (made with white wheat flour)!
6 C. Flour (I grind white wheat into flour)
9 Tbsp. Dehydrated Shortening
9 Tbsp. Powdered Milk
9 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
6 Tbsp. Dehydrated Whole Egg
2 Tbsp. Baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
Directions: Take out as much "mix" as you would normally make from a box and add water until it is the consistency you desire for fluffy YUMMY pancakes!  (We usually do about 3 cups of mix and 2 cups water.)
Happy Stretching Pennies...AND cheaper...fluffy yummy breakfasts!