Monday, May 30, 2011

Saving the Moola: the value of a price book

I recently finished The Complete Tightward Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn (please tune in this coming Saturday for This Book Room to read my review of it and learn more!), and one of the ideas she shared was creating a price book.


A price book can be completed in a few different ways. Use a binder in which loose leaf sheets of paper can be inserted. We prefer a smaller binder to a larger one, as this is easier to handle in the stores. Binders are shockingly expensive - we paid full price for ours (which was $10!!!), but I would recommend hitting up yard sales or asking around to see if anyone you know has one that they no longer need. We also purchased paper for the binder (this was a couple of dollars), but if you don't want to do that, you can also just use scrap paper you have in the house and cut the paper to fit and punch holes in it.


Each page will be for a specific item you buy. Some of the items in our price book are honey, bread, popcorn, and pinto beans. For each item, we have the ounce unit price for each item from the stores we regularly patronize. The stores we regularly visit include: Aunt Millie's Thrift Stores, Whole Foods, Kroger, VG's, Meijer, Sam's and Aldi. While we only buy meat from Whole Foods due to the quality, we literally research which stores have the best prices and visit those stores when we need to purchase that item.


The price book is handy for when a sale is going on or you have coupons. You can then use the price book to determine whether the sale is actually a good sale or the coupons should actually be used.
You can get the prices for the price book from receipts from previous visits. Jason and I save all of our receipts and just file them by month in a plastic storage container we bought from Target for less than $10 (we have 3 of these, but you will be able to store more than just receipts in 1 - we just file a lot of paperwork and whatnot in these handy containers).


We also visited or are in the process of visiting all of the stores we regularly frequent to help fill out our price book. We completed the process at Aunt Millie's, Sam's and Aldi and are still working on the major stores.


You can also categorize your groceries into food and household supplies to keep your beans separated from your shampoo. I would recommend alphabetizing the pages in each category for quick referencing.


We only recently discovered Aldi's and Aunt Millie's, but through the use of the price book, we were shocked at what we had been paying for canned fruit and veggies to supplement Jason's lunches at home. We thought we had paid a good price at Sam's for less than $0.80 a can for veggies and about $1 a can for fruit. Aldi's offers similar products for the same weight for less than half the price.


The price book has already resulted in savings for my family, and we have found that we don't really use coupons as the store brand is always, always cheaper than name-brand coupons, except for the occasions when coupons result in a free or near-free item. The concept of a book price is one that makes you slap your forehead in Homer Simpson-style and say, "Doh, why didn't I think of that before?!?!"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

God Talk: Giving "Enough"

We spent the evening with family last night, and it was so wonderful to spend some time with little ones and play and just revel in their childness. While at dinner, a relative asked us about what we were doing for church now - we recently moved to Fenton from Ypsi and as such, left behind our beloved church. We honestly said that we had attended one service at a church in Fenton (there are two Lutheran churches in Fenton), but had found it somewhat lacking.

In any move where you're technically relocating, it can be really hard to give up past relationships - I still see my same esthetician for all my waxing needs. I've built a professional relationship with her over the last few years, and I don't really want to invest the time and have to rebuild the trust with someone else.

So why wouldn't the same hold true for a pastor and his congregation? I miss our church family - Pastor Dave, Miss Patty, Miss Pam, and all of the tots who gave me hugs or drew pictures for our fridge.

Just as Joyce Meyer would say that watching her television show "isn't enough," the same holds true for attending a church service, in my humble opinion. I think each person should decide what is "enough" for them as a Christian, then give a little more. I don't think I'm at my "enough" - and maybe that's just because I want to challenge myself to the next level every day. But I'm doing the best I can right now, and right now, that's going to have to be "enough."

I can look in the mirror and feel okay with what I'm putting out there in the world. I'm cultivating relationships with family, with friends. I'm working full-time and giving all of my work self to my work. I'm being a wife and a pet parent and spending all of my personal free time with them as much as I can. Sometimes, being a Christian isn't just in what you do, it's in what you don't do. It's about not judging. It's about not looking the other way.

I have a long way to go with God, and I know it's just the beginning. My life here is just a blip, but while I'm here, I'm going to serve God and give everything I have to His cause - loving others.

"Love one another." -John 13:34

Saturday, May 28, 2011

This Book Room: Good Summer Reads

From Jess:
This week, I read two books that are perfect for summer reading. Promise Bridge by Eileen Clymer Schwab is set in the Civil War era. If you liked The Help by Kathryn Stockett or Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, I would recommend this book. In any case, if you've read and liked The Help, I would really recommend Wench and Promise Bridge. Promise Bridge was not really predictable - it surprised me a lot and was a definite page-turner.

I first heard of Huge because of the television show that was on ABC Family of the same name. It was based on the book. I never saw the show, but I thought the book might be a good read. It was cute and fun, but a young adult book, so if you don't typically read young adult, you might not want to read this one. It's light-hearted, though, and a quick read. A good book for summer, and a good book for anyone trying to lose weight or just make better food and exercise choices.

From Jason: 
I'm still continuing the Southern Vampire series. This week, I finished Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris. I enjoyed it because it was a light read. It made me laugh a few times. I thought it was a page turner, but really, all of her books make me want to keep reading.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Friday Finds

As Jason and I build up our coupon reservoire, there are a few weeks where we may not get any free items - and this week happened to be one of them! However, I wanted to share some of my best finds anyway, even though these are not tangible items.


The best websites I have found for finding deals are couponmom.com and moneysavingmom.com. When I first started using couponmom.com, I really didn't get the purpose of the website. If you thought this before, please, please try the website again.


My favorite feature of the website is to preview upcoming deals for nation-wide stores, like Walgreen's, CVS or Target (my top 3 stores for finding free items my family normally uses). Some of the free items will have coupons that are in-ad or printable, which makes the free items very accessible. Other times, the free items are free after a coupon from a coupon ad, such as RedPlum or SmartSource. Check the coupon websites weekly to print off coupons you would use if the item was free (or very low - this is a personal preference).


I do not typically buy name-brand items, but I look at each coupon and think, if this item were free, would I get it? Surprisingly, this doesn't mean I print every coupon. I wouldn't eat certain things, even if the item were free, because of the ingredients or calorie counts (although Jason might...).


However, I would urge everyone to also think if they could use this item for charity and donate it to a church, food bank, or other organization who could put the items to good use, and with all of the natural disasters occuring in the U.S., I really encourage everyone to do what they can, especially if the items are free!


Moneysavingmom.com is easier to use, though I have found not as thorough in store deals. But moneysavingmom.com offers fun ways to entertain children, giveaways, freebies, and recipes. Between the two, my deal-seeking frugalness is satisfied.


In the past, I have gotten the following items for free because of deals I heard about through these sites:

3 rolls of tape ($1.99 each retail)
6 boxes of Ronzoni pasta ($2.19 each retail)
1 box of Mom's Best Cereal ($1.49 retail)


That's a total from just those things of $20.60, although I must say I would never pay $2.19 for a box of pasta (we normally buy pasta in bulk from Sam's for less than $1 per pound). The cereal, I thought, was a good price as is, but of course, it's even better free! And we ran out of tape at Christmas 2010, so I was very happy to re-stock my supply for free.


What are your Friday finds?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Homemade beef jerky: a tasty snack!

We made ourselves some delicious beef jerky this week. It looks a little something like this when it's finished.















Ingredients

5 lbs very lean beef (trimmed of fat and cut into strips)
3 tbsp + 1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp + 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme

Directions
  1. Mix all dry ingredients.
  2. Spread beef strips on cookie sheets.
  3. Season the beef strips with 1/2 of the seasonings.
  4. Flip the beef and season with remaining seasonings.
  5. Cover and refrigerate overnight
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit
  7. Cook the meat until it is completely dried, about 6 hours (longer if your strips are bigger) turning every 90 minutes or so.
The beef cooks down, and you end up with about 2.25 lbs of jerky. It has about 50 calories per ounce. Some (aka Jess) may say that it is a little spicy so if you don't like the spice, you might want to stay away from this recipe (or Jess suggests using less).

If you plan on storing it (as I can't imagine anyone eating over 2 lbs of jerky in one day), it goes in the refrigerator in an air tight container and will last up to a month.


-Chef Jason

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Posting fun with Blogger.com

Hi all.

For some unknown reason it took me nearly an hour of near cursing at both of our computers and threatening the internet to get my last blog up. I am thinking that I might need to take a free class on HTML or something so that this won't happen again in the future. Just thought you all would enjoy learning about my plight.

-Jason

Homemade Instant Oatmeal

We start with a picture of the finished product to get you interested!















The directions are super simple and it cooks up just as fast as the instant stuff does. (And you don't need to use your microwave!)

The Ingredients















6 Cups - Oatmeal
1 1/3 Cups - Dry Milk
1 Cup - Raisins
1/4 Cup - Sugar
1/4 Cup - Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp - Ground Cinnamon
1 Tsp - Salt
1/4 Tsp - Ground Cloves

The Instructions
Gather and mix all ingredients in an airtight container.
(It should look something like this)















When you would like to eat some, measure 1/2 cup water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add 1/2 cup of the oatmeal mixture. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Let it stand for 1-2 minutes to cool. Eat.

Because I love food, I make myself a double batch right away (1 cup water and 1 cup oat mix) and it doesn't require any extra cooking or cooling. One regular serving has about 165 calories. I hope you try and enjoy this fantastical breakfast treat.

-Chef Jason

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saving the Moola: clotheslines save money, help environment

Our monthly expenses do not vary greatly, and all of the articles we've read over the years that offer tips for saving money do not offer any tips that are relevant to us (ie. we do not buy beverages from Starbucks every morning (or any morning) so we cannot stop doing this to save money).


But one tip we read, even for those who live in apartments, was to hang dry laundry. In our new apartment, this was both feasible and smart. It costs $1.50 to wash a load of laundry and $1.50 to dry a load of laundry, which was a $0.50 increase each from our previous apartment. We did not up our laundry budget per week (we allot $10 a week to laundry machine use). We typically washed and dried four loads a week in our previous apartment, which cost about $8 a week. In our new place, the cost for that would be $12 a week so we would be overbudget, and we were every week until we bought a clothesline and a high-quality drying rack.


After a ton of research, we bought the Lehigh 20-foot retractable clothesline from amazon.com. This is also available in 8-foot and 40-foot lines. The 20-foot line cost $9.82 and the item came with free shipping if the order was more than $25 so we bought another item we had wanted/needed to get the free shipping. The line was extremely easy to install, and I would recommend the use of a stud finder to ensure the hook is placed in a stud since the line will be used for wet laundry.


We are only using about 10 feet of the line based on where we wanted to put the line and where it would be most conspicous. Pros of this clothesline would include that it's retractable, and the base of it can be moved so that it is flush with the wall when not in use. The cost of the line is cheap, but the reviews were generally good, and I don't have any real complaints.


We found after about a week that the line wasn't going to cut it as our only source to dry clothes. One load, particularly when that load contained towels or washcloths, was too big to fit on the clothesline. We did a bit more research to find a drying rack that would stand the test of time. It's extremely important to pick a metal drying rack, in my opinion. We have had a wooden drying rack, but that gave us splinters so I would really really not recommend this. Some concerns with metal maybe that it would rust over time - this may occur over a very long period of time - but we have had no rust issues with ours so far. Metal ones are often bigger and sturdier, and I found this is important when hanging big, wet towels on it. The drying rack we purchased cost $27.99 from amazon.com and came with free shipping.


The clothesline has been in use for one month, and the drying rack has been in use for three weeks. In a year's time, we will have saved approximately $312. The drying materials cost approximately $37.81, so the real savings would be $274.19. This is quite impressive. Also, this is not taking into consideration the following factors that may result in additional savings: dryer sheets, cost to run a dryer, and the environmental benefits to hang drying clothes. We do use the dryer when washing blankets and sheets - you may find you prefer to use your clothesline for this, particularly if you have a large clothesline and have the space on it for this large of an item.


I am pretty picky about everything and was somewhat worried I wouldn't like the feel or hang-dried clothes - the feel is different, but the clothes do not feel hard or scratchy. Some of our towels do - but I have found I actually like this feeling. I feel I am dryer quicker out of the shower with a scratchy towel (and it feels quite good on the skin!). The higher the quality of the towel, the less scratchy it is - we have many kinds of towels and our highest-quality towel is not scratchy at all. The feel is the same whether dried in a dryer or on the line.


Anyone, truly anyone, can hang dry clothes. This is a fairly simple, easy way to save on money and help the environment, too. Hang drying clothes may also help in extending the life of clothes, particularly women's undergarments which as a rule should not typically be dried. Once you start hang drying clothes and making it part of your daily routine, I think you'll find, just as we did, that the time effort is minimal, the cost savings is large, and you walk away feeling good about yourself and the environment.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thanks Be To God: Devoting Oneself to God Each Day

It's not so much that Jason and I don't have time to sit and really sing praise to Jesus. It's more that we lack in actually sitting down and doing it. There are distractions (silly distractions but distractions nonetheless) - Preston being cute, laundry needing to be hung or folded, dinner needing to be made, etc. We made a vow to ourselves and to God this year that we would read the Bible and our devotionals daily.
On average, I read about 14 chapters of the Bible weekly, and my goal when I set out was to read 2 chapters a day. When it happens that I've skipped some days (due to a lack of effort on my part), I read 4 chapters a day when I have time, or more. There are many reasons I find myself enjoying the written word but none more so than when I see Jason or find myself reading far more than I was "supposed" to that day because I "got caught up in a good book." The Bible is inspirational, thrilling, instructional, and even a bit controversial at times. It's comforting to know it's there, there are God's words inside, and I have all the access I could ever want to be nearer to Him in this way.
But some people aren't so blessed... yet. A little more than a year ago, I felt called, literally felt God talking to me (and this doesn't happen often - this is the one of the only times it has happened to me - and trust me, when you hear that still, small voice, you don't say no or pretend you didn't hear it!), to sponsor a child through Compassion International. I had felt the urge before, but this time, God spoke to me and I knew I had to sponsor a child. Jhonny in Bolivia is my boy, and he is beyond amazing. He is the most precious boy I've ever known, and I feel so blessed to have met him through letters.

A little more than a month ago, Jason felt the same calling I did. He now sponsors Juan from Colombia. We both feel blessed to be able to sponsor these little boys.
When I first started sponsoring Jhonny, we were saving for our wedding. I was a little worried about the extra expense of $38 a month, but quickly found that I didn't even notice it being auto-deducted from our checking account. It literally was like... groceries or car insurance. It was something I was paying, but at least this could be something I was proud of.

When Jason felt the calling to sponsor a child, our money situation was vastly different - we're not saving for a wedding, but our income has shifted, and our financial goals are different now. We'll need to buy a new(er) car soon, we'd like to pay off my student loans ASAP, etc. We didn't have these goals or need a new(er) car before. But we decided that we'd make the commitment because we want to give until it hurts.
And it doesn't hurt. Our combined $76 coming out of the checking account isn't even noticeable to us. It just goes out, goes to Compassion, goes to our boys, and at best, that's just money we're not foolishly spending on air conditioning and overpriced conveinence foods. At worst (and we haven't hit our worst yet since giving to CI), that's money we would need to use to pay our bills. I wouldn't dwell on if our worst ever happened - I'm leaving it in God's hands to provide us with what we need. And for the last almost four years, I've never had to worry about having what we need.

I find the philosophy of "give until it hurts" is a challenge and a dare of sorts. But once you find yourself giving, I think, you find that it doesn't hurt. It just feels good.
Think about a cause that's close to your heart - whether it's animals, children in other countries, children in this country, families with an active duty serviceman or woman. Whatever your calling is - find a way to help those in need. Whatever your life story is, unfortunately perhaps, there is always someone with a story more heartbreaking. Giving to someone in need helps you to view your life in a new, better way. It's as much for you as it is for whomever or whatever you're giving your time or money to. Help another, and you'll be helping yourself, too.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

This Book Room: Charlaine Harris, Plain Wisdom, Twilight, Texas series

From Jess:
I cherish Christian books - self-helps books, fiction books, non-fiction books. If it's by a Christian author, it's likely on my list of books to read or I've read it. It can be really hard to find books that do not have an Amish plot/setting, and I used to scoff at those books. Lately, I've embraced Amish Christian fiction for this reason: I feel peaceful. Amish Christian books give me a sense of peace. Not all is lost in the world. Somewhere, someone is living a simple life, just wanting to live a life of forgiveness, hope and peace. My heart resonates with that, so I've stopped fighting the Amish Christian genre.

This week, I read Plain Wisdom, which is written by a popular Amish Christian author, Cindy Woodsmall, and her Amish friend. This was a quick read with recipes littered throughout (I copied one for an overnight French toast blueberry casserole that sounded delish). It was nice to read a non-fiction book about the Amish and to see that Amish Christian authors really hit it on the head with their books. It was also enlightening to see that an Amish-living person can truly be friends with non-Amish-living people.

I also started the Twilight, Texas series by Lori Wilde. A word of caution: these books are somewhat smutty. This really caught me off guard as I typically do not read "smut" books, but I liked the idea of each book having a different sort of "club" centered on a craft, such as knitting, quilting, cookies or gardening. These books are also quick reads and good summertime reads, I think. But like I said, just beware of the smuttiness. If this would offend you or just does not interest you, I would skip the books, even though the crafting elements of the plots are enjoyable.

From Jason:
I have been reading the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. For those of you who don't know, this is the book series that the HBO TV series True Blood is based on. I am currently reading the fifth book, Dead as a Doornail. I find them entertaining and would recommend them to anyone who likes supernatural (vampires, werewolves, witches and so on) fiction.

I have also been reading Insomnia by Stephen King. I probably started this 800 page book about two years ago. But it seems that the book had the opposite effect of its title on me and I would be sleeping instead of reading 15 minutes after I sat down with it. With that being said, once I got about halfway into it, it had the exact opposite effect on me and I finished it in about a week. As for a recommendation, if you like Stephen King books, you will like this one, but if you don't like Stephen King books, stay away as it is more of the same. For those of you who haven't read any by Stephen King I would recomend starting with something shorter.

We're Baaaack!!!

After a year and a half hiatus, we're back! Most of you likely know why we took a long hiatus - we got married, moved to Fenton, became more involved in our careers, and took deeper and deeper plunges into investing time in ourselves, saving money, etc. All of those things are fantastical, but they do not allow much time for blogging!

After a lot of prayer and thought, we're spending more time on things we love, even if it means our "free" time is limited. I love blogging, and I really love reading other blogs! I wanted to add my voice back into the mix and decided this blog was the way to do that.

I am planning to blog very regularly and have a lot of great thoughts and ideas to share with all of you. I hope to see and hear from all of you on what posts you like, what posts you would like to see, etc. etc.! Jason and I both are extremely excited with sharing our small nuggets of wisdom and life with you.

Love and peace to all of you,
Jason and Jess