Friday, January 29, 2010

Recordkeeping = Big Money Savings

Here's a cool fact from yesterday's TV show:

(CBS) In the final installment of "The Early Show"'s "Five Ways To Boost" series, financial contributor Ray Martin and Farnoosh Torabi, author of "You're So Money: Live Rich Even When You're Not," showed how you can boost your finances, including getting some quick cash into your pocket.

Martin said to increase cash in your house you first need to measure and manage your money.

He explained, "The only way to really get a sense of where your spend your money and then make moves to keep more of it is to measure where it is going. And you know the saying: 'If you don't measure it you can't manage it!'"

Martin suggested starting an Excel spreadsheet for your family or by downloading one of the free budget worksheets on the Internet. Type "budget worksheets free" into Google, he said, and you'll get 191,000 results. Also, check out online expenses tracking websites and

Martin said when he's heard from people who start tracking their expenses, they start saving $500 to $1,000 a month.

The biggest savings, Martin said, can come from getting a handle on out-of-control grocery costs through better meal planning and buying in bulk and on sale. (See why I liked this?)

Martin said, "The point here is this: Don't ignore the little expenses, because those little expenses really add up."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What to do with Leftovers!?

Tonight we are having leftovers. There isn't enough of any one thing to have another complete meal with it, so we are going to the Bowden Bistro for dinner. I've made up some simple menus so the kids can choose what they want to eat. Catch - the menu item names, like "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride", have absolutely nothing to do with the food they represent. The kids will be choosing fun names and have no clue what they are ordering. This should be a fun way to get rid of ALL the leftovers sitting in my fridge. Any other fun ideas for finishing off those little containers taking up space in the fridge? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

National Oatmeal Month!

We eat oatmeal. It's easy to make. It's warm on cold mornings. It's cheap and filling for all the little mouths we feed. It helps us appreciate the finer things in life. In honor of National Oatmeal Month, I'm posting some "add-ins" we've used to lend variety to our plentiful oatmeal mornings.

First the basic recipe:
Boil 4 cups water in a saucepan. Add 2 1/3 cups oatmeal and turn the stove off but leave the pan on the burner. In about five minutes, stir in 1/3 cup brown sugar. Enjoy! Serves 6-8.

Some add-ins we have liked:
-stir in 1/2 cup peanut butter with the brown sugar
-stir in 1 T cocoa with the brown sugar
-cook oats in apple juice instead of water and add 1 chopped apple with the oats; leave out sugar
-add 1 t. cinnamon with the brown sugar
-add 3/4 cup raisins with or without the sugar

Enjoy your homemade variety pak oatmeal this month!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Is It Worth It?

There's a fine line between saving money and making the savings worth the effort. Today I made date newtons - a week-long process. Right there you may be on the verge of thinking, "She's crazy." Let me tell you just how crazy I am. This experiment is the result of three personal weaknesses - 1) I have a hard time passing up a good deal, 2) I like dates, and 3) I really like fig newtons.

Two weeks ago I found dates on clearance at the store for 50 cents a pound. I like dates. They are generally expensive and out of my budget. These were on sale for obvious reasons - age and dryness being two of them. I bought them anyway, convinced that I could turn them into something delicious, because I really like dates.

At home they sat in my fridge for a week. I was busy with Christmas. Jared observed them and asked if he should throw away the ancient dates. I informed him I was going to make something delicious out of them. Last Thursday I pulled them out to use. Stuffed dates were not going to be an option. These wonderful dates were going to have to be cooked to oblivion before they would be soft enough to eat. I put them in a pan on the stove just covered with water and a little sugar, and cooked them for several hours while I thought about what to make with them.

Fig newtons! I love fig newtons and they are also usually out of my budget. Dates are like figs, right?  After cooking down several hours, they were soft and gooey - perfect for a filling. I looked up a fig newton recipe on the internet that seemed like it would work.

New Year's Eve found me sitting at the table for a couple of hours peeling and seeding gooey dates. Did I mention I like dates? Kids are wonderful. They thought it was a great activity - plus it kept them occupied until midnight when we could say, "Happy New Year. We let you stay up until 12. Good night." Peeling boiled, sugared dates is now on my top ten list of "Messy Projects." Mashing them with the potato masher turned out to be another fun kid project.

Today I made the dough - not too complicated. It was the consistency of stiff pie dough, and needed to be rolled out very thin. It took me a good hour, but I didn't mind because strength training is one of my New Year's resolutions. Then I cut the dough in strips, put filling in the middle, rolled the long side edges over top, and baked them edges-side down on a cookie sheet. After baking and cooling, I cut them into newtons, and let the kids try them. Pretty good. I won't enter them in the county fair, but at least they're edible.

So now I'm lookinig back over the process, and realizing that I paid $1 for the dates, spent several hours on the cookies, and that Smith's has a decent-sized package of Fig Newtons for under $2 that taste a whole lot better than what is sitting on my kitchen counter. I'm asking myself, did I learn anything? Yes. Was it fun? Yes. Was it too much work? Yes. Will I ever do it again? No. I very much believe in "Waste not, want not," but sometimes it's hard to define the parameters. Next time I see dates on clearance for obvious reasons, it will be slightly easier to quell my desire to get in on a good deal.