Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Help - We Keep Killing the Plants in Our Yard

There has been a really bad drought in our area of the country (upstate South Carolina) with hardly any rain all summer. Praise the Lord - it's actually pouring outside right now & is supposed to continue all day!

Well - with the super-dry conditions we managed to kill lots of the bushes in our yard. Being new homeowners & newlyweds, we weren't quite in the routine of watering our yard, and we also didn't realize that several of the bushes had been recently planted before we purchases the house. This past weekend, I finally pulled them up, making our yard at least look greener, if a little more bare.

We now are at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. It's obviously the wrong time of year to re-plant, but we also want to learn a lot more about different types of plants and maintaining them before we plant anything new. Bushes are pretty expensive, and we don't want to kill the next ones we plant, too!

So - do you have any ideas as to where we could get plant advice? Any great resources that you've used or heard of? Thanks so much!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Meal Planning: Flexibility

While today would normally be Menu Plan Monday - I want to address a slightly different point of menu planning today. Being flexible with our meal plan has been the key to saving us a ton! We enter the week with a plan... but as they say in Pirates of the Caribbean "It's more like guidelines". This is true of menu planning too!

Take last week for example. Our meal plan ran from Tuesday-Monday (today). However, it was made before dinner was ever cooked on Monday. We didn't realize that the leftovers from Monday would be more than enough for Tuesday, therefore already pushing our plan back by a day. As for the rest of the week, things just get crazy sometimes - and while a plan helps with the busy-ness - being flexible is even more important! Since leftovers and breakfast for dinner replaced a couple meals that were planned last week, we now have the ingredients on hand for a couple more recipes. I'll incorporate those in this week - cutting way back on our grocery bill!

Come back next Monday for a regular-scheduled Menu Plan Monday!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

CVS Deals: August 22-28 (or 24-30)

I live in an area that is apparently in the test market for changing the CVS ad from Friday through Thursday, so I went ahead and made my visits today (Saturday) since CVS had emailed out a $3/$15 coupon.

Transaction #1:

$11.98 - 2 Zipfizz energy drinks (earns $11.98 ECBs - so free!)
$1.49 - Kotex lightdays (earns $1.49 ECBs - so free!)
$2.50 - Glade candle
$.99 - Softsoap handsoap

Coupons used:
-$3/$15 CVS coupon from e-mail
-$.75 Kotex, SS 7/20/08
-$1.00 Glade candle, newspaper insert
-$.35 Softsoap, newspaper insert

Total after coupons: $11.86
Used $12 ECBs from previous trip - cashier adjusted down

Total OOP: $.13
Earns: $13.47 ECBs ($11.98 & $1.49)

Transaction #2:
(I used a lot of ECBs on this - but this is something that we use a lot of and it is almost never on sale. It is a pretty good deal if you use a lot of contact solution and have the ECBs to cover it. Also, other brands usually irritate my eyes.)

$15.99 Opti-Free value pack contact solution (earns $2 ECBs)

Coupons used:
-$3/$15 CVS coupon from email
-$1 Opti-Free from Coupons.com

Total after coupons: $11.99
Used $11.98 ECBs from Transaction #1

Total OOP: $.07
Earns: $2 ECBs

(You end up paying $5/bottle for the contact solution after ECBs and coupons - not bad for this product!)

Friday, August 22, 2008

New Recipe Fun: Grilled Veggie Sandwich

This recipe was found in an effort to use up a large amount of summer squash. It was INCREDIBLE and we have made it several times since. We couldn't believe how easy this is and how much flavor it has - it's quite surprising.

This recipe came from Allrecipes.com listed as the California Grilled Vegetable Sandwich. However, below I'm going to tell you how we make it - not too terribly different, but it allows you to use what you have on hand.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T lemon juice
olive oil
vegetables on hand - an assortment of squash, zucchini, onion, and different colored bell peppers all work
feta or mozzarella cheese
hoagie rolls or focaccia bread

1. Mix the mayo, garlic, and lemon juice. Set aside in refrigerator. This amount of mayo could fix up to 4 sandwiches - make more if you'd like.

2. Slice all vegetables - you have to eye how much depending on how many sandwiches you're fixing.

3. Preheat a pan with olive oil. Once hot, cook the vegetables until slightly brown (depending on which veggies you're using).

4. Spread the mayo mixture on open sides of the bread on a baking sheet, top with vegetables, then sprinkle with your choice of cheese (feta is best!). Broil in oven until cheese is slightly melting or bread is beginning to brown.


Date night!

Ever since my husband & I met, we have enjoyed coming up with creative ways to have a date night. Some have been frugal, some not so frugal, but recently we've realized more the benefits from living frugally - so now they mostly fall into this category. :)

Today's date night idea:
Explore your city! You may have just moved there, or you may have lived there for years - but I'll bet there are some parts you haven't driven through yet. A lot of times this is tacked onto something else for us - say, we're on the way home from dinner - but this is almost always tons of fun. We've gotten lost, found new things, stopped to check out a park we didn't know about, and just overall enjoyed some quality time together - no distractions from a dirty house, we're not watching a movie, and we can have good, uninterrupted conversation.

If you try this, let me know what you find! You may be surprised by what's in your city that you never knew was there. :)

Also, for more frugal tips, be sure to check out Frugal Friday.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Household Trick: Recycling Dryer Sheets

It seems like everywhere I look, there is something "green" being advertised! This has definitely sparked my attention at how I use things - and I have noticed that I pay a lot more attention to what I'm throwing away.

Hence: the many uses of used dryer sheets!

This article has twenty - yes twenty! - uses for used dryer sheets. I found this in an effort to clean the mildew out of our shower - dryer sheets work for this! They also are apparently great at freshening lots of things other than clothes, and help get rid of static. So, stop throwing your used dryer sheets away & put them to work for you!

Newlywed Tip #3: Creating a Budget Part Two

In my last post about creating a budget, I addressed reasons why to create one. This post will get a little more detailed on how to actually create a budget.

6 steps to creating a budget

1. The most important thing is that your budget must work for you! This may seem obvious, but if you try to use someone else's system and it's too complicated or too simple, you'll find that you aren't actually sticking to your budget. Keep this in mind while reading the rest of this post.

2. You have to decide what time frame works best for your budget. Most people tend to use a monthly budget, but if you get paid every week and prefer a weekly budget, then that's great, too! Here's one helpful suggestion from my sister: If you get paid bi-weekly, use 2 weeks of pay as your monthly income. Then, two months out of the year, you'll receive three paychecks that month. Since you haven't budgeted for this, it's like a bonus and can be put toward extra savings or some other special goal.

3. Decide which categories you would like to include in your budget. Keep it simple - having too many categories can be overwhelming. Make sure to include enough categories to cover all your purchases, though, and especially make sure to include categories for long-term savings such as for a new car, vacation, or gifts. Even though you may not spend in these categories every month, it's important to set some money aside for them.

4. Allocate a certain amount of your income into each category. This website lists some percentage guides for families of different sizes - it's an excellent place to begin when trying to determine how much to allocate to each category. (It also helps by pointing out important categories to include in your budget.) This may be obvious, but make sure you do not allocate more to expenses than you earn!

5. Find a tool to keep track of your budget. Every expense must be tracked in order for the budget to really work. Some people prefer pencil & paper, some prefer a spreadsheet they've created like Excel, some prefer a budget tool. My current personal preference is Pear Budget, a wonderful budget website that is simple yet lets me customize my budget as much as I need. They offer a free 30-day trial, then it costs $3 a month after that. While I try to save as much as possible on unnecessary expenses, I have found that the $3/month saves me a ton of time and I end up with a budget that works and keeps us on target.

6. Finally, be able to adjust! After a few months of budgeting, you may find that you don't spend quite as much on gas as you thought, but that your average power bill is a good bit higher than you accounted for. Step back, look at your numbers, and tweak them a little. Repeat this every so often and it won't be long before you have the best budget for you!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - August 19-25

Welcome to my first post for Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday! Now, I realize that today is Tuesday, but I just returned from being out of town, so this post is a day late. In the future - look for it on Mondays!

I like to come up with a "theme" for each night (thanks to Simple Mom) and then pick out what we're eating based on the theme. This greatly simplifies my menu planning. See this post on menu planning for a few more tips.

Here's my plan for the week:

Tuesday: Something grilled night - Grilled chicken & spinach salad (with spinach, grilled
(chicken, tomatoes, carrots, and egg)

Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner - Grits, bacon, and muffins

Thursday: Homemade pizza night!

Friday: Asian night - Hibachi shrimp & fried rice (This will be new for us - we're not so sure how it will turn out, but we've been wanting to try it.)

Saturday: Leftovers for lunch, out with friends for dinner

Sunday: Italian night - Spaghetti & salad

Monday: Mexican night - Beef enchiladas

We are blessed that where my husband works, lunch is provided usually several days a week. This gives us enough leftovers for lunch the other days, or I can just eat something simple that we have on hand. We're new to menu planning and are still making adjustments, but we're going to try the Tuesday-Monday plan for a while to see how it works.

Please let me know any suggestions you may have for our menu plan or for things you'd like to see in my future menu planning posts!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Newlywed Tip #2: Menu Planning

Countless blogs advertise the merits of menu planning. I, too, have seen how great a help it can be.

Why menu plan?
  • It cuts down on stress. There's no more "What's for dinner tonight??" panic at 5:00.
  • It lowers the grocery bill. You can plan your menu around what is on sale and grocery shop more efficiently. You also don't have to shop as often if you plan for a whole week, so it reduces impulse buys at the store.
  • It reduces eating out or ordering take out. If you already know what's for dinner, you aren't as likely to go out. You'll go out when you've planned it and know that it's in your budget.
  • You can plan healthier meals. You may be able to eat very healthy when you don't menu plan, but by planning it out you can see that you're eating balanced meals.

I learned from Simple Mom that one good approach is to have different categories that you plan by - this can help you keep the same basic plan for several weeks, just by changing the meal in the category. For example, you can fix something Mexican on Monday, have breakfast for dinner on Tuesday, have a pasta dish on Wednesday, etc.

Stay tuned - I'll be posting my menu plans here as part of Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday!

Newlywed Tip #1: Creating a Budget Part One

While these tips are titled "Newlywed Tips", my hope is that they may be beneficial for you even if you've been married longer - they just may have more relevance for newlyweds.

Why create a budget?

As part of our pre-marital counseling, we were supposed to create a workable budget for after we were married. This has proven to be one of THE most useful things for our marriage. We are, I would say, fairly "average" for Americans our age as far as our income goes. However, by actually categorizing where our money goes, we realized how important it is to stick to our budget.

This helps us in a number of ways. I am, by nature, more of a saver than Javier. The budget therefore helps me feel free to spend more money than I might otherwise. I can see that we have allocated a certain amount each month for eating out, so I don't have to feel guilty when we eat out, or think about what else we could be spending the money on, since those "other things" already have money allocated to them in their respective categories.

For Javier, the budget acts more as a restraint. He is more inclined to spend than I am, so this helps him see how much we have available and how much we have left to spend for the month.

We are still in the process of tweaking our budget until it's just right - we have to make sure we have enough allocated to cover all of the bills and not too much in the less necessary categories. However, the budget enhances our communication and also prevents a lot of stress from constantly having to discuss how to spend our money.

I'll write more on this topic later - but if you'd like to see some excellent budget creation resources, check out this page of the Crown Financial Ministries website.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cheap books!

Javier & I discovered this book store a few nights ago... it's AMAZING! At first we thought it must be illegal, the books were so cheap, but after inquiring we learned that this chain of stores receives books from larger companies like Barnes & Noble at a greatly discounted price. This happens when the larger companies decide they need the warehouse space for something else... which mean that you & I can find incredibly inexpensive, brand new books!

A list of store locations may be found here, or you may shop online as well. The selection is not quite as exhaustive as a "real" bookstore, but it's still incredible.

In case you're wondering just how great of a deal this place is, we bought 4 new, hardcover books for $22. When I looked at the cover price for these books, they would have cost us $85 in a regular store!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My CVS Deals for August 10-16

Learning how to stretch our money at CVS has been very exciting, rewarding, and fun for my husband and I over the past few months. I'd explain how to best shop at CVS, but Crystal at Money Saving Mom already does an excellent job here.

Without further ado, here are my transactions for the week:

Transaction #1:
$12 - 4 bags Dove chocolate (earn $5 ECBs when you buy $10 of select candy)

-$6 - 2 BOGO printables from several weeks ago on Coupons.com

Total after coupons: $6
Used $5.79 ECBs from a previous trip

Total OOP: $.27

Earns: $5 ECBs

Transaction #2:
$5.99 - Alavert (earns $3 ECBs)
$6.99 - CVS Skin Effects Product (earns $5 ECBs)
$5.76 - 2 Herbal Essence Mousse (no ECBs earned - I just needed this & had a coupon)
$.50 - SweetTarts candy (filler - also earns toward cand
y deal in case I decide to do that again)
$.50 - Spree candy (same as SweetTarts)

-$2 Alavert CRT (printed last week!)
-$4 Alavert manufacturer's Q here
-$2 CVS Skin Effect Q - CVS Beauty Magazine

-$2 when you buy 2 Herbal Essence product - P&G 8/3/08

Total after coupons: $9.74
Used $9.99 ECBs from a previous trip

Total OOP: $.09
Earns: $8 ECBs

It turns out I could have done this all in one transaction, but at first I hadn't completely planned my second transaction and thought I'd need the ECBs from the first one. This just goes to show how important the planning is!

*Also, since this is my first CVS post, I just want to let you know - I typically try to keep my CVSing to just a few transactions a week and I try to keep them reasonable. For example, I will stockpile items that are a good deal or that have potential to be given away, but I also try to be realistic and can say no to CVS on weeks that just aren't worth my time to go there.


Let me first tell you a little story of a few months ago. Javier & I purchased a house shortly before we got married, and he would be living there until the wedding. We also had to buy bedroom furniture (so he wouldn't have to sleep on the hardwood floors!) so we set this up in the 2nd bedroom at first. He was going to paint our bedroom so when I moved in after the wedding, we'd be greeted by a freshly painted room.

The week before the wedding, I had taken a load over to the house & some friends where there helping us. They helped us move the bedroom furniture from the extra bedroom to what would soon be our room, and we asked them to help us attach the mirror to the back of the dresser since they also had their drill with them. Well, the mirror had remained in its box for the past couple months... and when we took it out to put it up, what did we find but a TABLE! Javier called the furniture company the next day and we planned to exchange it after returning from our honeymoon.

A week and a half later... we return the table and get a mirror (yes it really is a mirror - we checked carefully this time) and bring it home. We still didn't have a drill, so the mirror stayed in its box for a few days until we could borrow one. Finally... we get to put the mirror up! We take it out of the box, and this time it's CRACKED! Whew... talk about testing our patience. (I forgot to mention that the furniture store is a good 30 minutes from our house.) The third try... we really did get a mirror and it wasn't cracked. :)

Fast forward to yesterday....

Last night, Javier & I went to Lowe's to purchase a rug that we've been thinking about for a while now. We were pretty excited to set the rug up and see just how much it would add to the room. Well... as we were taking the plastic wrap off, what do we find but that the rug is somehow dirty UNDER the protective plastic. I tried cleaning it, but to no avail. It looks like we'll be taking it back to Lowe's tonight.

After this occurred, Javier remarked that we should know by now - almost every major purchase we've made since we've been married has had to be returned at least once! :) (There are others beside the mirror & this rug... I'll spare you the details!)

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Place I'd Rather Be?

As with all new bloggers, waves of ideas for the famous first post keep rushing through my head. In an effort to help you understand a bit of what you may find on this blog, as well as help me get past the wall that is this post, I'd like to explain this blog's title.

Upon first glance, you may very likely think "Why yes, there are dozens of places I'd rather be than sitting right here staring at my computer". That, however, is not why I picked this name. :) First, it's part of a song (yes, a bit cheesy...) by Shenandoah that says "There ain't no place that I'd rather be, next to you, sitting next to me." I'm a newlywed of 100 days (today!) and while there are tons of "Mom blogs" available, there aren't quite as many for folks without children. My goal is to bring you lots of helpful tips (time-saving, money-saving, and just plain fun) without assuming that you are already a parent. Hopefully, some of you who are will find this site informative as well though!

The second reason why I liked this name is that it reminds me of a quote by Jim Elliot who said "Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation that you believe to be the will of God." This quote has been a very positive challenge to me in different times of my life, encouraging me to not desire a change of circumstance, but rather a change of my heart.

So, while this blog will have a heavy emphasis on "newlywed tips", my hope is that it will also encourage you to delight in whatever situation may come your way.