Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Celebrate a Tween Birthday Without Breaking the Bank

Today is my younger son's 11th birthday! We've already had most of the festivities this past weekend, so I thought I'd share some of our fun and frugal party strategies.

When the boys were younger, it was easy to create successful parties for next to nothing - we did the typical little kid party games and I got creative for the party favors (I did everything from home-grown spider plants in plastic beach pails to laminated personalized place mats that I created on the computer). Now that my boys are older (and they still have the same friends coming to their parties!) it's gotten a bit trickier to throw a shindig that will satisfy their more sophisticated tastes. I've done movies-and-a-sleepover type parties for the past couple of years (with the movies mostly borrowed from the library) and didn't quite think I could get away with that again with the same guests on the list!

Here's what we ended up doing:

After contemplating a variety of entertainment options for six boys aged 9 to 15 (my two plus four guests of varying age), we settled on taking them bowling, as all the kids were interested in it and it wasn't as ridiculously expensive as some of the other activities we'd checked out. My husband called around to the local bowling alleys, and found a fairly significant cost difference - we saved $2 a kid, or $12 total, just by checking prices beforehand and going to the less expensive bowling alley.

The frugal gods must have been smiling on us, as we ended up with an unexpected surprise benefit by going to this bowling alley: My husband was given coupons for a free game (one for each person who attended) - they don't have an expiry date, which means we can take my older son's friends bowling for FREE on his birthday in just a few weeks (well, almost free - we'll still have to pay for the shoe rental but that's only $1.60 a kid).

Cost: $39 (with a potential $30 in savings if we use the free game coupons)

I made up a big batch of Sloppy Joes (I had lots of sale-priced burger buns stashed in the freezer), whipped up some cheese sauce to pour over a bag of tortilla chips, and did a platter of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cucumber and red pepper - the pepper was from our garden). I also spurged on three 2 litre bottles of store-brand pop (which I only buy for special occasions!)

I baked our standard chocolate cake recipe, which is supposed to make a 9" x 13" cake. Since we were having a second party with extended family two days after the kid party, I divided the batter and baked one 8" x 8" cake and a dozen cupcakes. Everything got frosted with Seven Minute Frosting, and I had lots of sprinkles from previous parties to top them off. I served the cupcakes at the kid party and saved the square cake for the family party.

Cost: essentially free, as all the food costs came out of our standard monthly food budget

My son really wanted a particular game for his PlayStation 3 (I might add that he saved up for the system with his brother and they bought it entirely with their own money). Since it was a recent, popular release, even used copies were selling for $60, which was more than we wanted to spend. We told him we'd do the best we could to get it, and also asked him for a "back up" gift choice in case we weren't able to find his first choice at a good price. Hubby and I got busy looking on Kijiji for a used copy at a bargain price. I found several copies selling for $40-45, although they were getting sold fast! My husband eventually contacted a guy who was selling a copy for $40 and said he'd drop it off at our place. Unfortunately, he no-showed on us - twice!! This actually ended up working out to our benefit, as somehow my husband tracked down another copy with an asking price of only $25. This time he went and picked it up himself. We were extremely pleased to get my son's first-choice game for less than half what it was selling for at the game shop (yes, it was in good condition and works fine).

Cost: $25

After bowling, dinner, and gift-opening, there was a whole lot of gaming and movie watching! The movies were free from the library. For an extra treat, I made up little candy cups for each of the kids with candy we'd bought at the local bulk food store, dividing it equally into small reusable plastic drinking cups. Two of the guests slept over and my husband made them all pancakes in the morning.

Cost:  $6.77 for the candy

Extended Family Party:
We had my dad, his girlfriend, my grandmother and my aunt over for a family celebration.

On the menu:
hamburgers and hot dogs (the hamburger patties were homemade, buns were from my sale-price stash)
assorted pickles (dills, sweet pickles, mustard beans - all home canned)
potato salad
apple and carrot salad
cheese tray
raw vegetable tray

beer, wine, ginger ale (my dad brought the wine)

chocolate cake and apple crisp

Again, all the food costs came out of our standard monthly food budget, so no additional expenses were involved.

Total cost for the weekend festivities: $70.77

As my goal was to keep the total expenses under $75, I'm pretty satisfied! And so was my son, who was thrilled with his weekend of partying.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I have a Birthday Boy to go hug!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RECIPE: Chicken and Vegetable Coconut Curry

Coconut milk is one of favourite ingredients and it makes a wonderful base for a mild curry sauce. This recipe is very versatile; you can use whatever veggies you have on hand (I like to make sure there are at least 2-3 different colours so it looks pretty - obviously I used peas instead of green beans in the photo) You can use almost any type of meat as well - I've used diced sausage, ground beef and leftover turkey in place of the chicken. Substituting chickpeas for the meat makes a satisfying vegetarian version of this dish.


1 tbsp canola or other light vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1 sweet potato, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 13 oz can coconut milk
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup frozen green beans
2 cups diced cooked chicken (leftover roast chicken is perfect!)

Hot cooked rice


In a large skillet, saute onion, garlic and red pepper in oil until tender. Add sweet potato, coconut milk, ginger, curry, soy sauce, lime juice, salt, pepper, green beans and chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender and sauce has thickened. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap, and Friday Favorites.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weekly Menu Retrospective #9

 Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

Breakfasts: pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (subbed pumpkin puree for the bananas in this recipe), zucchini bran muffins, peanut butter toast, pancakes, cereal (I got a free box of Multi-Grain Cheerios - first bowl of cold cereal I've had in months, lol!), breakfast puffs (this is kind of a quiche-like topping on an English muffin, baked in the oven)
Lunches: tuna sandwiches, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers (free community BBQ at dh's office)


Monday: Lentil soup

Tuesday: Chicken and vegetable coconut curry (recipe coming tomorrow!)

Wednesday: Chicken fried rice (leftover chicken stashed in the freezer from last week's roast chicken, leftover rice from the curry)

Thursday:  Leftover buffet (lentil soup, curry, chicken fried rice)

Friday: Nathan's (11 yo ds) birthday party with friends -  Sloppy Joes, sliced raw veggies, nachos with cheese sauce, chocolate cupcakes with seven minute frosting)

Saturday: Leftover burgers from dh's company barbecue (it was just me and my older son as hubby and younger son got free tickets to a football game)

Sunday: Extended family birthday dinner for my younger son - hamburgers and hotdogs, apple and carrot salad, potato salad, assorted (home canned) pickles, sliced raw veggies, chocolate cake with seven minute frosting, apple crisp

The apple and carrot salad was a spur-of-the-moment invention that turned out fabulously. I wanted a seasonal salad using produce we already had on hand for my son's family party. We had just stocked up on 10 lb bags of carrots on sale and purchased a half bushel of apples at a local farm. I cut about 8 or 10 carrots into matchsticks, then chopped three large apples, leaving the skin on two of them for colour and texture. I tossed the apple chunks with the juice of a lime to keep them from browning, then tossed the apples and carrots with the Lime & Cumin Vinaigrette I use for my barley salad (I didn't add additional lime juice to the vinaigrette as I'd already used the juice of a whole lime for the apples). This was the hit dish of the gathering, with everyone raving about how delicious it was. I love it when that happens :)

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wistfully Winding Down My Veggie Garden

Yesterday was a gorgeous day here in Southern Ontario: warm and sunny, a one-day burst of summery weather. Wandering around my garden yesterday afternoon, it was hard for me to believe that the dreaded first-frost date was approaching. For my area, that date is said to be October 13th, just three weeks from today! Oh, tell me it's not true...

Doesn't it look beautiful? The garlic chives are flowering, and the peppers are busy changing colour (I love the contrast between the initial pale yellow and the final deep red). That's a big clump of mint in front of the peppers. You can't see the green bean plants in the photo; they're at the back, closest to the deck.

While production has certainly slowed down, I'm still harvesting a reasonable amount:

I picked another 14 peppers off my jalapeno plant, bringing the total so far to 41 peppers from ONE plant. It never ceases to amaze me how productive one hot pepper plant can be (I've read about harvests of over 200 peppers from one plant before!) My second planting of green beans is still chugging along, and I picked another three quarters of a pound or so. I hope to get at least that much again before the frost hits (if we get another day or two like yesterday, that would certainly help).

My tomato plants have really slowed down. I'm still harvesting a handful of cherry tomatoes here and there, and leaving the rest of the romas on the vine as long as I can (when I hear a danger of frost in the weather forecast, I'll pick all the remaining tomatoes and let the green ones ripen on the windowsill).

I've also got some spinach and arugula starting to grow:

The nice green healthy looking stuff is arugula; the yellow and brown bits are leaves from the black walnut tree that's just behind our back fence. I'm constantly picking them off so they don't smother my baby plants!  While I think the greens have been nibbled on by some critters, I hope to get a harvest before the snow flies if I baby them along a bit. I've covered them with some agricultural cloth to protect them from both the snacking animals and the frost (it can be up to ten degrees warmer under the cloth than the outside air temperature).

I also have an abundance of herbs in my other garden bed and I want to get some of those cut and dried before frost hits. I got started yesterday by drying a couple cookie sheets worth of parsley in the oven. I have a lot more parsley out there, plus basil, purple basil, mint, chives and oregano. Unfortunately, it's raining right now, so I'm going to have to wait for everything to dry out before I bring it in!

What's happening in YOUR fall garden?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RECIPE: Amish Oatmeal Pie

When I first stumbled across a recipe for Oatmeal Pie, I was pretty skeptical about how it would taste. There's a variation of this dessert in almost every Amish cookbook I've come across, though, so I figured it must be reasonably palatable! Everyone in my family loved it, and seeing as how it calls for very inexpensive ingredients that are pantry staples, I was happy to add it to my repertoire of Tightwad Desserts :) The raisins and coconut are optional but delicious additions to this dish.

Pastry for a single crust 9" pie 

1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup honey or corn syrup
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup coconut

Roll out pie crust and fit into pie plate.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, eggs, honey, and oats. Stir until well combined. Fold in raisins and coconut. Pour filling into prepared pie crust. Bake at 375F for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap, Friday Favorites, and Sweets for a Saturday.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yard Sale Report for September 18th, 2010

This week's report is the Almost Too Sick to Care Edition :) My older son and I have been taken down by a *very* nasty cold virus which we've been dealing with all week. Seriously, I don't think I've had a cold this bad for a decade or so! Anyway, I spent time yesterday preparing my usual list of yard sales to attend, not sure if I would actually go or not. It turned out to be such a lovely morning weather-wise, and there was a high concentration of sales in a neighbourhood that's an easy ride from mine, so both of those factors, combined with the fact that I know yard sale season is almost over, convinced me to give it a shot. I confess I doped myself up with acetaminophen pretty good before I left (something I rarely resort to, but in this case I'd tried just about all my other tricks with little relief!)

I ended up making a few good finds, and the fresh air actually made me feel slightly better, so I'm glad I went!

Here's what I came home with:

I couldn't resist this adorable plush bowling set. It's in perfect condition (the lady told me her son never used it).  The asking price was $10 for the set; I offered her $7, which she accepted. There are a few little kids in my life that I'm sure would love this, so I'm tucking it away in my gift cupboard. The two Neopets were in a "free" box at the same sale - my boys still love these little critters (although they're likely to be sporting homemade body armour these days, lol!). I'm saving them for stocking stuffers.

Next up:

-rectangular flat basket, 50 cents
-large (very heavy) glass pitcher, $1.00
-set of mini lights, 50 cents
-Hardcover papercraft and origami book, 50 cents
-paperback copy of Weaveworld, 50 cents

I'm hoping the mini lights will work out for my Christmas window decorating plans; if not I'm only out 50 cents (I fiddled around with them a bit when I got them home and it does look like my plan for them will be a go!)
I have a real "thing" for glass pitchers and I just couldn't resist this one, it's so nice and big and sturdy. The papercraft book looks like an excellent reference for a variety of low-cost craft projects, many of which look gift-worthy . I'm planning to give the copy of Weaveworld to one of the teenage boys on the street who I think might like it (it was one of my favourite reads as a teen and I still have my own copy, which I'm reluctant to loan out!)

Grand total for the day: $10 for 8 items, or $1.25 an item

Did you find any great deals this week?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Make It From Scratch: Cream of Tomato Soup

You can make your own cream of tomato soup almost as fast as you can open and reheat a can of store bought, and of course the homemade version wins hands-down taste wise! You may need to adjust the amount of milk to give it just the right "tomato-y" flavour you prefer (some people like it a bit milder and some a bit stronger). These proportions are the way my family enjoys it, but feel free to experiment to find your own "sweet" spot :)


1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp vegetable oil or bacon fat
3/4 cup crushed tomatoes
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper


In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Add the crushed tomatoes, milk, and seasonings. Simmer until heated through, and serve. Makes 4 perfect-for-serving-alongside-grilled-cheese servings.

Now, can you believe how easy that was?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RECIPE: Pork & Apple Stew

I've been working my way through my stockpile of 99-cents-a-pound pork roast. I wanted something new and came up with this stew, which is officially a new family favourite! The bacon fat definitely adds a deliciously distinctive flavour if you have some on hand; if not olive oil will work just fine, too.


1 lb pork roast, cut into 1" chunks
1-2 tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
3 small onions, cut into large chunks
3 medium carrots, cut into 1" chunks
6 smallish potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 medium apples, chopped

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper


In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, cook pork chunks in fat for a couple of minutes until they are browned on all sides (they won't be cooked all the way through). Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and apples, stirring to make sure they get well coated with fat. Add a bit more fat at this point if needed to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pot! Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften (about 5-10 minutes). Add the butter and stir until it's completely melted. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and vegetable mixture, stirring until all the flour is well coated with fat (this prevents lumps from forming in the sauce!) Slowly add 1 cup of chicken stock while stirring constantly. Stir in the dry mustard, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook,stirring occasionally, for about 45-60 minutes, or until the carrots and potatoes are very tender. You may need to add more stock during cooking to prevent the stew from getting too dry (if you run out of stock, just add some water). Ladle into bowls and serve. Makes 4 servings.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap, and Friday Favorites.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekly Menu Retrospective #8

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now! 

Breakfasts: banana chocolate chip muffins, leftover peanut butter rice pudding, leftover waffles, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (sub in a cup of pumpkin puree for the bananas in the banana muffin recipe), blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon

Lunches: perogies, pizza, leftover Cheesy Mac & Beef Skillet, sandwiches


Monday: Cheesy Mac & Beef Skillet

Tuesday: Chicken bruschetta sandwiches*, oven fries

Wednesday: Black bean chili*, cornbread

Thursday: Cheese-Stuffed Shells, green beans (from the garden), chocolate peanut butter brownies (had a fancier-than-usual weeknight meal as it was our wedding anniversary!)

Friday: Choice of leftover chili or stuffed shells

Saturday: Hamburgers and hot dogs, oven fries

Sunday: Pork and apple stew*, leftover cornbread, peach pie

Snacks and Sides: bananas, apples, grapes, peaches, homemade applesauce, popcorn

*These recipes coming to the blog soon!

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yard Sale Report for September 11, 2010

Today I was all fired up for a great morning of treasure hunting; I had a dozen sales on my list, including a church rummage sale, and figured I would be coming home with a lot of great finds. Sadly, although I ended up hitting even more sales than I expected (there were quite a few unadvertised ones in a nearby neighbourhood where they're holding a street festival today), I don't have any super-fantabulously-amazing bargains to share. I did come home with a few items (ironically, all except two are from the yard sale right around the corner from me!)

Here's what I ended up with:
-pair of earrings for me (50 cents)
-5 x 7 picture frame (I think it's a genuine pewter one, it's certainly heavy enough to be!) for $2.00
-half a dozen books for my boys (DK Eyewitness Arms & Armour, Visual Factfinder: Science, Great Experiments with Light, Twilight, and two how-to-draw books -Superheroes and SpongeBob), $1.50 for the lot

Grand total for the day: $4.00 for eight items, or 50 cents an item

My younger son has a renewed interest in learning to draw of late, so the how-to-draw books were a serendipitous find!

The yard sale season is definitely winding down here; I expect by the end of the month there won't be much but the odd church rummage sale to check out. I'll be doing a summary report in a few weeks of what I found and how much I spent over the course of the season.

Anyone else get a great deal today?

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Peek Inside My Gift Cupboard

In Wednesday's post, I promised to share more details about my gift cupboard, so here you go!

My gift cupboard is both a money and a sanity saver. Since I make a point of regularly collecting gift-worthy items while out and about on my various "treasure hunting" expeditions, it's rare that I have to make a special trip to shop for a gift. Instead, I open up my gift cupboard, and voila! The perfect item is right there waiting for me. I really don't know how I survived before I had my trusty gift cupboard!

Just to illustrate how well this works for me, I'll give you a specific example. Back in July, I had a weekend where I attended a niece's birthday party on the Saturday, then on the Sunday we visited with a close friend of mine that I hadn't seen for a few months. Since she and her son had both recently had birthdays, I needed gifts for both of them as well.

For my niece, I had stashed away a brand-new condition, never opened Rush Hour game that I'd picked up for (I think) $2 at a yard sale. We have this game and love it, so I thought she'd enjoy it, too. I also happened to find a silver heart shaped box at a yard sale the week before her birthday, which was the perfect package for the necklaces my boys had made her (she was thrilled with both the box and the necklaces!)

For my friend, I had tucked away a Gardening Journal and a "practical gardening" book - both very high quality and new condition, that I'd paid $1 each for at a yard sale. She was just getting ready to move into a new home, and was very pleased with these; she can now keep detailed notes on everything she does (and plans to do) in her new garden.

For my friend's one-year-old son, I had picked up a series of three Beatrix Potter board books at yet another yard sale. These were in such new condition that they still made that crackly sound when you turned the pages - I don't think anyone had ever so much as opened the cover of these books before! I basically got these free as I bought a huge load of stuff at that particular sale and bargained with the lady for a low price on the whole lot. Again, this gift was very well received - I know my friend enjoys "classic" kids' books and wants to share them with her kids, and she commented that she had never seen this series in board book version before and would be glad to read them to her son without worrying about him trying to rip out pages!

So, for all three of the gifts I put together that weekend, I spent under five dollars total, while still being able to give great gifts that I was sure the recipients would enjoy.

How much did my gift cupboard save me on this weekend alone? The Rush Hour game is $19.95 new, the gardening books were approximately $20 each at cover price, and the board books are listed at $9 each on Chapters. That's $86.95 before you even add in taxes or shipping - so potentially this could have added up to close to a hundred dollars. By picking these items up when I saw them for great deals and storing them away, I saved myself somewhere between $80 and $95 just for these three gifts alone! And I didn't have to do any last-minute running around to purchase them, either.

Right about now, I'm taking an inventory of my gift stash to see what I already have tucked away for Christmas, and who I might need to still pick up a gift for. I had such a successful yard sale season this year that my gift cupboard is packed full and I've had to store a few items in my closet as well. So, what's in there?

-a variety of interesting books for everyone on my gift list from young children to adult
-games and puzzles for the young kids on my list
-a Lord of the Rings 100 piece puzzle for my younger son
-a Harry Potter trivia game for my older son
-a still-in-the-shrink-wrap Blokus game (specific recipients in mind)
-a small Brio train set I picked up LAST summer, waiting until my friend's son was old enough for me to give it to him (he's getting it for Christmas this year!)
-high quality blank journals and a still-in-original-packaging "spa" kit (candles, essential oils, etc)
-a couple of goodies for my husband

I still need to sit down and make out a detailed plan, however after a quick survey of my "inventory", I'm pretty sure I have almost all my Christmas gifts covered for this year, except for stocking stuffers and a couple of larger items for my kids and hubby. For most people on my gift list, they'll be getting something from the stash plus some homemade goodies (canned and baked goods, and/or something crafty if I have time).

It gives me such peace of mind to know that I have something wonderful tucked away for almost any gift-giving occasion, and that I don't have to bust my modest budget to give a well-received present!

Do you have a gift cupboard? If so, what do you have stashed in there?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Frugal Christmas Starts Now

I know, I know - you really don't want to think about Christmas right now; you're still getting used to your family's new fall schedule.


Christmas is only 3 1/2 months away, months that are going to fly by! So if you want to keep from overspending during the holidays, NOW is the time to start planning. This also makes it easier to plan homemade gifts as you can make them gradually over the next 3 months, rather than all in the last two weeks before Christmas (I just might be speaking from experience when I say I don't recommend the latter!)

Things to do now:

-If you are planning on spending significantly less on Christmas this year than in previous years, now is the time to discuss that with your spouse, kids, and any extended family members and friends with whom you traditionally exchange gifts.

-Take an inventory of your gift cupboard (if you have one) and start making detailed notes about potential gifts for specific recipients. I'm going to write more about my gift cupboard later this week - it's a fantastic way to save both time and money on gift giving!

-After you've gone through your gift cupboard, start jotting down ideas for each person on your gift list that you don't already have a gift for.

-Think very carefully about the handmade gifts you plan to make this year. DO NOT be too ambitious! That means there should not be a hand-knit sweater or pair of socks for each person on your list :) Be realistic about what you can accomplish, and plan to start working on those handmade items now, if you haven't already.

-If you're a canner (or open to trying your hand at it!), take advantage of the current bounty of fruits and vegetables, and make a few batches of goodies to tuck away for gifts. Some great ones to try that are perfect for gifting:

-Take a quick inventory of your holiday supplies (gift wrap, cards, decorations, etc.) Ideally you would have stocked up on anything you needed the week after Christmas, but if you didn't do that, you can at least take advantage of pre-Christmas sales to top up your stash. Buy only what you need for this year, then plan on hitting the post holiday sales for next year's supplies!

A little time spent on these activities now means a lot more peace and relaxation (and a lot less money spent) during the holiday season.

What are you doing to start getting ready for the holidays?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

RECIPE: Cheesy Mac & Beef Skillet

I know this week's going to be a hectic one for many families as kids go back to school, so I thought I'd post one of my quickest, easiest one-dish-dinner recipes to help make mealtime a little smoother during this week of transition!

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp canola or other light vegetable oil
3/4 to 1 lb ground beef
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
1 cup salsa
1 tsp each salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, green beans or mixed vegetables (or use up leftover cooked veggies from the fridge!)
1 to 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

In a large frying pan, saute the onion and garlic in oil. Add the ground beef and cook until no trace of pink remains. Add milk, water, macaroni, salsa, salt, pepper and vegetables. Stir to mix well, then cover and simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until macaroni is tender (you may need to add a bit more water if the mixture starts to dry out too much). Once macaroni is cooked, stir in cheese and serve! Serves 4.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap, and Friday Favorites.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yard Sale Report for September 4, 2010

There was only one yard sale advertised for my area today (not surprisingly, it being the long weekend and all). Unfortunately, when I rode over to check it out, it wasn't running! Grrr - if you're going to advertise a yard sale, then HOLD the sale, okay?

So that's three strikes for me - three weeks in a row without any great yard sale finds. There is one Sunday-only sale tomorrow, which I may or may not check out, depending on the weather. I'll post an update if I find anything there!

The good news is that we're heading into church rummage sale season, so I should be hitting some fantastic sales very soon.

Did you find anything great this week? If so, please share with us in the comments!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Make It From Scratch: Oatmeal

 Oatmeal is one of the frugalista's go-to breakfasts. It's inexpensive, nutritious, filling and delicious! So, why, oh why, do I still see so many people in the checkout line with those boxes of instant oatmeal packets (that are not only horrendously expensive, they're sickly sweet and totally unpalatable!)

Real oatmeal from scratch is so easy to prepare, I wanted to make sure everyone knows how to make it :) I'm going to share the instructions for both stovetop oatmeal (very quick to make) and baked oatmeal (which takes a bit longer, but is my family's favourite way to eat oatmeal; it's how I converted both my kids to oatmeal eaters!)

Stovetop oatmeal:

2 cups water or other liquid (we like half milk, half water, but you can experiment with apple or orange juice for different flavours)
1 cup of rolled oats (you can use either quick-cooking or regular, but I don't recommend the instant cooking as the texture is not as good)
1/4 cup brown sugar (or substitute your sweetener of choice; you'll need less sugar if using juice for part of the cooking liquid)
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
other additions of choice - you can add raisins or other dried fruit, or chopped fresh fruit (apples, pears, peaches, etc)

In a medium saucepan, bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the oats, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and any optional additions. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until oatmeal is completely cooked and mixture has thickened to desired consistency.

Now, on to our favourite...

Baked Oatmeal
(pictured above)

I started out with a baked oatmeal recipe from a bed and breakfast and tweaked it significantly until I got it just right for us (I use substantially less sugar and fat than the original called for!) I pop this in the oven before I get in the shower and it's all ready to eat when I'm done.

3 cups rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking, not instant!)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 apples, peeled and chopped (can be omitted or other fruit may be substituted)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour into greased 9" x 13" baking dish and bake at 375F for 25 minutes or until firm. Serve topped with syrup, milk, more fruit, or whatever else strikes your fancy :)

Do you have a favourite way to make oatmeal for breakfast? If so, please share it with us in the comments!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fall & Winter Clothes Shopping Roundup

 Our haul from Value Village - *5* big bags full!

As I mentioned in my last clothing update, my boys had outgrown many of their clothes and I knew we were going to have to buy quite a lot of items for them for the upcoming fall and winter seasons. Despite scouring local yard sales every week, I had yet to come up with anything for them except a pair of excellent winter gloves and a couple of pairs of running shoes. So I was watching closely for the next 50% off day at Value Village, which was yesterday here in Canada. There was also a 50% off sale at the Salvation Army thrift store this past Friday. We hit both of them, and came home with a ton of booty:

At the Salvation Army:
-four T-shirts (3 for Nathan, 1 for Noah)
-a turtleneck for Noah
-a hoodie for Nathan
-two pairs of sporty pants for Noah
-a long sleeve T-shirt for Nathan
-a swimsuit for Noah

A total of 10 articles of clothing for $14.45, or 1.45/item

At Value Village: 
-a pair of New Balance runners for Joe
-a pair of New Balance runners for Nathan
-a pair of Adidas winter hikers for Nathan
-THREE pairs of jeans for me (super ecstatic as I have a really hard time finding comfy ones!)
-super soft V-neck sweater for me
-pair of grey cotton Docker-style pants for Joe
-six pairs of pants for Nathan (2 camouflage, 1 pair jeans, 3 pairs of sport pants; one of the pairs of camos were brand new Faded Glory brand with the tags still on!)
-hoodie for Nathan
-turtleneck for Noah
-four long sleeve T-shirts for Noah
-a hoodie for me
-a pair of shorts for Nathan (to carry him through the last of the warmer weather; these should still fit next year)

A total of 22 items for $91.05, or $4.13/item

Grand total for all: 32 items for $105.50, or $3.30 an item.

This just goes to show how invaluable those 50% off days can be if you need to buy a lot! Since we paid $105.50 at half-price, we saved another $105.50 by shopping on discount days (i.e. the total would have been $211 if we'd shopped on normal price days). This is a huge factor in keeping our annual clothing budget to around $300 or so. We went to the sales knowing exactly what items of clothing we all needed; the week before we went shopping I'd already sorted through the boys' current fall and winter clothing and knew what items each of them required to have a full fall and winter wardrobe. This helped keep us focused; we didn't waste any time or money looking for or buying items that were unneeded.

We also purchased some non-clothing items at Value Village: a few pieces of hockey equipment for Nathan, and a small sconce-style wall lamp for the side-entrance reno we're working on right now.

Our whole family is pretty well set for clothing now until spring. Thankfully, the boys' winter jackets and ski pants from last year still fit, as do Noah's winter boots. Nathan needs a pair of gloves and I'm still on a quest for a pair of black leather Mary Janes and winter dress boots, but that's about all we still need!

I'll do a final year-end clothing budget summary the last week of December; so far it looks like we're on track to land right around the $300 mark for the year; although if I have to end up buying a pair of shoes at retail price we may go slightly over (I *really* need new shoes!)
Related Posts with Thumbnails