Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saving the Moola: Swagbucks + Amazon Subscribe and Save = free groceries! (and other household items...)

Free cereal!
Back in June, I detailed the many wonderful qualities of amazon.com's Subscribe and Save program. Also around that time, Jason and I learned of Swagbucks and began utilizing that tool to get free amazon.com gift cards. In determining our budget for 2012 (you can read a lot about this process here), and in prayerfully considering how we wanted 2012 to look like, we decided to do something a bit more practical with some of our amazon.com gift cards.

In 2011, we used these gifts cards to buy items we wanted, such as Disney DVDs or Christmas gifts. We used some of them, but admittedly few, on household items, like cuticle sticks and castile bar soap. But because one area in which we tend to go over budget is grocery (which includes all household items like shampoo, etc.), we decided that every other order we made from amazon.com would be for household items.

Doing this not only gives us free items we actually need, such as diced tomatoes or beef broth, but it will also save us money on our grocery bill and best of all: we can get the brand names and organic food we really want without spending a dime. Jason loves Chex cereal, but the brand name is costly and Aldi's version of this is not the cheapest on the shelves (Aldi is the cheapest place to buy cereal sans coupons or other deals being offered). By using amazon.com gift cards, we ordered five boxes of Chex cereal for free.

We use the Subscribe and Save option which gives us the best use of our gift cards. Shipping is free with any Subscribe and Save order, even if the order doesn't meet $25. Also, you can cancel your future shipments at any time without any hassle or extra cost. So we cancel the future shipments and enjoy the low price of Subscribe and Save (or, if you know you will be needing this item also in the future, you can choose how frequently you want the item to arrive and remain in the Subscribe and Save program).

I'm super excited to get all kinds of great household items for free! I love Back to Nature boxed mac and cheese, but I'm unwilling to spend money on it (Aldi is also the cheapest place for mac and cheese, in case anyone was wondering!). But through Swagbucks and amazon.com, I can get the taste I want for free! YIPPEE!

You can read a brief tutorial on how Swagbucks works here. Jason and I each have an account, and between the both of us, we get about $25 of amazon.com gift cards per month. That's $300 in one year! And we truly enjoying getting the points and taking surveys through Swagbucks. This is a great way to spend a little time each day and earn gift cards when we want to: in the evening, at night, early in the morning. It's a great way to add a little extra money to our budget without taxing ourselves or juggling a crazy schedule.

Share with us: Are you a fellow Swagger? If so, what's your favorite prize?

This Book Room: Daily Gifts of Grace

Starting with this past year (2011), Jason and I have included a devotional as part of our daily reading. Jason hasn't yet chosen a book for 2012 (there are a few I've collected over the years that he's planning to choose from), but when I saw this book, I knew this was the book for me for 2012.

One area of my life in which I struggle is to be feminine in the way God called all women to be. This has been a struggle more often than not in the past eight years, as my husband and I both feel more comfortable in the other role - my husband feels more comfortable in the traditional wife roles (cleaning, cooking, etc.) and I feel more comfortable in the traditional husband roles (primary breadwinner, financial handler, etc.). Recently, I've felt a deep pressing on my heart to embrace the traditional womanly roles and to be more feminine in the ways God calls us to be.

I should never, ever judge a book by its cover, but I think all book lovers can admit they do this more often than not (and are wrong sometimes too!). This book's cover seems to fit with my desire to be more feminine - it reminds me of a young girl's diary in its structure, print and colors. Daily Gifts of Grace is a daily devotional compiled by Women of Faith conference speakers. I've yet to attend one of these wonderful conferences, but I can tell you that the women who shared their hearts in this devotional are truly inspiring.

Clearly, I have yet to read the entire book so I could not tell you, in its entirety, how wonderful this devotional is, but I feel sure this book is just the devotional I was looking for to keep me on track with my 2012 goals and priorities.

This book starts on January 1 and goes through to the end of the year. Ladies, if you're still looking for a devotional for yourself, or if anyone is looking to get a special woman a devotional for the new year, I think this would be just right one.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy for review.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Gaming Corner: Mad Gab

Picture of the timer, 3 cards, the flip thingie, and a scorecard
Super bonus points for anyone who can determine the answer to the four clues

This game is a load of fun and after playing it, Jess and I ended up giggling like small children who were just told a fart joke.

The game consists of many, many cards which have words written on them in little speech bubbles. Depending on whose turn it is, they need to take these odd combinations of words and figure out the hidden message in them. They do this by reading the words aloud. Then, they need to rearrange the spaces, syllables with emphasis, and even sometimes adding a vowel or two. For example, a card may have "Law Sand Jealous" in its speech bubble. The answer to the puzzle is "Los Angeles." The game gets hysterical and we never made it to the 25 points to win a game. The timer gets annoying and we gave up on it, instead just seeing if we could figure out more clues than the other person.

I can see where gathered in a group this game could be great fun, especially with the addition of teams and sealers. As only one team can guess at a time, while the other team is guessing and running out of time, one person from the other team will sit quietly (not knowing the answers) and wait for the time to go out. When this happens if he knows the answer, he can steal the point for his team.

-Gamer Jason

Pin This!

Here are some great finds from Pinterest!

Um, yes, I would like this in EVERY color imaginable. I'm obsessed with cardigans and the fact that this is DIY? LOVE!
My husband would love this dish - pizza pasta casserole. The blog this came from is also fantastic - all about freezer meals for the family. Now that we have a big freezer, I've been hankering to freeze meals for later. I might just start with this recipe!
Martha is a genius - a bath apron! I love the idea of giving this as a baby shower present. Simple, practical and DIY.
I love making wreaths and I love books. Put the two together, and you get this gorgeous wreath made from book pages. So sweet.
I love this idea! Use a frame as a dry erase board and write on it each day to tell your partner why you love him/her. I think Jason and I would both enjoy this...
You can view all of my Pinterest boards here. If I'm not already a follower of your boards, please leave a link to your boards so I can!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In My Mailbox


This past week, we received:
  • Coupons for $2 off Tidy Cats litter (we get litter for free this way - read more here)
  • Whole Living magazine issue (free from RecycleBank - read more here)
  • Kleenex Cool Touch sample
Share with us: What awesome freebies have you received lately?

Monday, December 26, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Beef jerky

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup
Leftovers

Dinner
Christmas feast
Leftovers from Christmas feast (x3)
Tater-tot casserole, carrots
Chicken and wild rice casserole with garlic button mushrooms
New Year's Eve fun feast!

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Veggies with veggie dip
Cheese ball, sausage and crackers
Beef jerky
Christmas cookies
Carrot cake
Frozen banana bites

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Book Room

The last battle is the greatest battle of all. Narnia... where lies breed fear... where loyalty is tested... where all hope seems lost. During the last days of Narnia, the land faces its fiercest challenge - not an invader from without but an enemy from within. Lies and treachery have taken root, and only the king and a small band of loyal followers can prevent the destruction of all they hold dear in this, the magnificent ending to the Chronicles of Narnia.

Additional notes: This is the seventh and last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. You can read my review of the fifth book here and the sixth book here.

My thoughts: This wasn't my least favorite or my most favorite, but the ending was incredibly fitting and moving. A wonderful way to end this series. I highly recommend this series for middle-graders and up and especially for those who have faith in God or who want faith but question it.

Life in Beldon Grove on the Illinois frontier in the 1840s isn't easy. For Ellie Craig, the graves of her three infant children make it unbearably lonely, despite the love of her husband Matthew. When she uncovers a family secret that suggests she may not be as alone as she thought, Ellie is determined to find the truth. Meanwhile, Matthew Craig faces controversy in the church he pastors when a man arrives in town claiming to be both a minister and the son of the town's founder. Will Matthew find the courage to reclaim his church? Or will he return to itinerant preaching, leaving Ellie even more alone than before? Book 2 in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, The Promise of Morning will touch your soul with themes of overcoming tragedy, finding strength to meet daunting challenges, and trusting your heart to love again.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Beldon Grove series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are three books currently in this series.

My thoughts: I was a bit sluggish with this book, so I'm not entirely sure I can say with emphasis that I loved it, but I enjoyed it immensely. This book covers a lot of different topics and issues, and I thoroughly enjoy the fact it is set in the mid 1800s.

It’s a safari of fun when Garfield, the fat cat with the elephantine appetite, gets wild and crazy in this all-new collection of comics. Let the adventures begin!

Additional notes: This is the fifty-second book in the Garfield series. You can read my review of the first 50 (and the series, in general) here and my review of the fifty-first book here.

My thoughts: Funny as always! Not a whole lot to say about Garfield, except... pizza anyone? Trying to eat healthy while reading about Garfield pigging out is difficult!


Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women. What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem. Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen’s powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.

My thoughts: This book wasn't as ah-mazing as I thought it would be, but it was compelling and hauntingly sad. I would highly recommend this book. It comes with a powerful message: never leave something for tomorrow that needs to be done today, and never, ever keep secrets. Also, as a first novel from this author, I would say well done.

Everyone wants to spend less and live better. The writers of the popular personal finance website wisebread.com cover everything from the basics on spending and saving to making your taxes work for you and how to score free stuff. Written by top writers in the field, such as Tim Ferris and Mary Webber, the catchy pieces include "5 Money-Making Ideas," "7 Ways to Score Free Drinks," "2 Most-Overlooked Points of Health Care Insurance," "20 Signs a Pink Slip is Coming," and much more.

My thoughts: I am in love with this book. By far, I've learned the most from this one book than I've learned collectively from several others. Here are two of the best tips:
  • white wine, honey and rosemary = great marinade for chicken
  • got leftover gravy? pour it in an ice cube tray and use the chunks in pot pies, soups, etc.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Crafty Christmas: Fun Family Traditions

Hand-knit stockings by Nana

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 2 days away!

The best part about Christmas is traditions - busting out the Christmas tree, hanging each ornament on it only after exclaiming the memory that is associated with each one, drinking cider, making sugar cookies, writing messages in Christmas cards, driving around town to see Christmas lights on neighbors' houses, watching Christmas movies - you get the idea!

Jason and I have a few traditions that we've done every year, but starting last year, we've really started to consider the traditions we partake in and which ones we want to start partaking in. We have three traditions that are new from last year that we loved so much, we plan on continuing them each year. One new tradition from 2010 was attending Christmas eve candlelight service. We thoroughly enjoyed this. Most Lutheran congregations have an 11 PM candlelight service, and let me tell you that it was just magical. We loved it. And after a frenzied week of visiting relatives, it was nice to just sit, sing Christmas hymns and put the focus right back where it belongs.

Last year, we chose to stay home on Christmas day, and that was one of the best decisions we've ever made ever. Being at home with the people I love most in the world on the day I love most out all of the days ever created is just joyous. This year, since we have a proper kitchen, we plan on making a feast fit for Christmas.

And that brings me to one new tradition we're starting this year: baking a birthday cake for Jesus. Really, at the end of the day, Christmas is about Jesus. And people who say it's not... are slightly delusional (in fact, I never really understood why people who claim to be atheists celebrate the actual day of Christmas. If you want to just give people gifts, that's fine, but why wrap them in Christmas paper? That's so weird. Not that wrapping paper has anything at all to do with Jesus, but when it's marketed as Christmas wrapping paper, I think it does. Anyway, I digress). So this year, we're making a carrot cake to commemorate the day Jesus was born. And we're going to sing to Him and rejoice in His love for us. I can't wait!

Our beautiful Christmas tree
We keep our traditions relatively simple to keep the focus where it belongs: on God. Anything that detracts from that focus, we tend to cut out - excessive holiday gatherings, excessive gift giving... pretty much anything excessive! We tend to favor homemade gifts (which you likely know as this is what this series has been all about). Because one area in which people tend to allow the focus to shift elsewhere is in gift giving, we've tried very hard to keep the emphasis on the true joy of the day. Part of a third tradition we started last year and will be continuing for each year is a modest, set budget for Jason, me and Preston. The idea is to fill up the stockings (although some items can't fit in the stockings due to the size, not the value so there tends to be gifts under the tree as well).

The other part of the third tradition we started last year was to trade off who gets to fill the adult stockings. Last year, I played "Santa" and bought items to fill both mine and Jason's stocking. This year, Jason got to do it, and next year, I will and so on. We don't like to advocate the idea of Santa, but we enjoy remembering who St. Nicholas was and what his intentions were. We like the idea of giving gifts out of the love of one's heart and remembering the three kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus, thus we give gifts. Together, we buy gifts to fill Preston's stocking.

Next year, when I will be "Santa" again, I am not going to use any money whatsoever to fill mine and Jason's stockings. Look for a new series to begin next year that will share my adventures in doing this. I plan on utilizing a few different methods to fill our stockings, and I'm pretty excited about the challenge.

Share with us: What traditions do you and your family partake in? I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pin This!

Here are some great finds from Pinterest...

Despite the fact that my husband despises eggs and eggnog, I would still make these eggnog tea cookies for me. How cute do they look?! And yummy, too!

A must-have bag. I'm still deciding how I could make this myself but rest assured, I will post a tutorial when I do as I literally must have this bag!


Jason and I do not yet have a nativity, even though I have the most perfect space for it. We thought about buying a piece each year (nativity sets can be costly), but I love that this version is not only DIY, but it's also simple. I am totally making this next year and can't wait for this to be a part of my Christmas decor and memories.
With how many books I read, you'd think I'd have a bookmark. Nope. I just use Post-It notes (I stick them on the back of the book when I'm reading), but I've been hankering for a nice bookmark for awhile. I love this idea because it's simple, cost effective and easy and quick to make.
Okay, okay, it's not even Christmas yet and my mind is already on February? Goodness. Jason and I don't really celebrate Valentine's day (literally, we do nothing, so maybe "don't really" is an understatement...), but when I saw these sweet little cupcakes, my mind immediately thought, "V-day!" But I'm rather sure they would taste good any time of the year.
You can see all of my Pinterest boards here. If you're on Pinterest, please leave a link to your boards so I can follow you. Happy pinning!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In My Mailbox


This past week, we received the following items free in the mail:
  • Popular Science magazine issue
  • Woman's Day magazine issue
  • Dove shampoo and conditioner samples
  • Tresemme shampoo and conditioner samples + a coupon
I'm going to send the coupon in a batch of coupons to Coupon2Give. You can read more about this organization here.

Share with us: What did you and your family receive in your mailbox this past week?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Beef stew
Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Whole wheat apple cinnamon oatmeal muffins

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Leftovers

Dinner
Dinner at extended family's house (x3)
Chicken pot pie
Tater-tot casserole, carrots
Beef stew
Santa Fe cheesy chicken burrito

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Apples
Carrots
Frozen banana bites

Recipes coming soon:
Chicken pot pie

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saving the Moola: couponing and learning with RecycleBank is fun and easy


If you're a reader of my In My Mailbox series, you know that I get Whole Living and Every Day Food magazines for free as part of year-long subscriptions I received through RecycleBank. I'm a huge, huge fan of this website and would highly recommend this as a fun tool to anyone who wants to coupon and/or get freebies to some degree.

My family doesn't subscribe to a newspaper, and because of this, I don't have access to coupon inserts. I'm quite okay with this, as I'm not sure I have the time or energy to coupon to that degree. But I enjoy using coupons when I can and when it's easy for me. Printable coupons are the best way I've found that I can include couponing as part of my money-saving techniques but still have plenty of time for actually living. That's where RecycleBank comes into play.

I first learned of RecycleBank from moneysavingmom.com, and I sincerely hope you give it a chance. Here's how it works:
  • You can sign up for an account here.
  • Once you're signed up, click on "Earn Points."
  • Earning points is super simple, fun and informative! For instance, through the Aveeno earning opportunity, you pledge to do three green actions (like holding onto your cell phone an extra six months instead of immediately upgrading after two or one years). Pledging to do all three actions will earn you 50 points. Other earning opportunities include quizzes and entering recycle codes from Kashi cereal boxes and more.
  • After earning points, check out "Get Rewards."
  • Rewards include such items as coupons, magazine subscriptions, gift cards and more. My favorite reward ever is the Kashi coupon for $2 off any one item. I love to use this on Kashi Honey Sunshine cereal. I can get a box of this cereal for $1.18 with the coupon! That's insanely awesome. Then, I turn around enter the code from inside the box on RecycleBank.com to get 50 RecycleBank points. Other awesome coupons include free smoothies at McDonald's and free mailed magazine subscriptions. For minimal effort each month, you can get tons of rewards - that's the best part!
I usually check in with RecycleBank about once a month and typically have about 500 points in my account, even after ordering rewards. The time to invest in this website is minimal for what you get back, and completing the earn opportunities with your children could be a great way for them to learn about the environment.

Share with us: Are you a member of RecycleBank? What is your favorite reward?

This Book Room: a week of books I love!

Narnia . . . where giants wreak havoc . . . where evil weaves a spell . . . where enchantment rules. Through dangers untold and caverns deep and dark, a noble band of friends are sent to rescue a prince held captive. But their mission to Underland brings them face-to-face with an evil more beautiful and more deadly than they ever expected.

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. You can read my review of the fifth book here.

My thoughts: This is one of my favorite Narnia stories ever, as I think it really captures the idea that if you let evil in your life, it's quite hard to break the chains of it, quite literally.

It is the summer of 1838 in St. Lawrenceville, Missouri, and Molly McGarvie's life is about to change forever. When her beloved Samuel succumbs to cholera, Molly is heartbroken but determined to take care of herself and her children. But when Samuel's unscrupulous brother takes over the family business and leaves Molly to fend for herself, she knows she must head out on her own. It is a dangerous journey and Molly has to leave her old life behind. Somehow she must find a way to make a living, keep her family together, and fend off some over-eager suitors. Book one in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, The Edge of Light will captivate readers with the true-to-life emotions of one woman's struggle to survive.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Beldon Grove series. The second and third books have been released, and so far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: Can I just first say that I love this book? There's no even real hint of a romance in it (even though technically, Molly finds love, but that's so not even what this book is about so that doesn't count). I empathized with Miss Molly so much! It seemed like everything that could go wrong did, and she finds the will within herself to never give up hope, even if others think she is crazy.

What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she's actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn't sure she likes who she's become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.


My thoughts: OMG, this book was awesome! I was so in love with Alice and her plight. She wakes up, thinking it's ten years earlier, and even though in real life, her and her husband are divorcing, she, thinking it's ten years earlier, is madly in love with him and doesn't understand what could be so bad that they're divorcing. I'm not on the brink of divorce (quite the opposite actually!), but it makes me remember how I used to be in such lurve with Jason (lurve is my word for crazy love). And, if I ever were on the brink of divorce, I would force myself to read this again. And in fact, if I ever hear of anyone on the brink of divorce, I will force them to read this book. A fantastical read. Funny, light, strong. YUM!

According to author Lysa TerKeurst, craving isn't a bad thing, but we must realize God created us to crave so we'd ultimately desire more of Him in our lives. Many of us have misplaced that craving, overindulging in physical pleasures instead of lasting spiritual satisfaction. For a woman struggling with unhealthy eating habits, Made to Crave will equip her to:
* Break the 'I'll start again Monday cycle' and start feeling good about herself today
* Stop beating herself up over the numbers on the scale and make peace with the body you've been given
* Discover how weight loss struggles aren't a curse but, rather, a blessing in the making
* Replace justifications that lead to diet failure with empowering go-to scripts that lead to victory
* Eat healthy without feeling deprived
* Reach a healthy weight goal while growing closer to God through the process


My thoughts: You know what I loved about this book? The fact that it's not even about food. I never even thought of the fact that I crave reading, I crave smoothies, I crave cuddles with Preston, etc. etc. I have so many cravings, and for things that may not be beneficial for me, I need to turn that craving to God. Every morning, I crave God - I read my Bible, I read my daily devotional, and right now, I'm also reading the Power of a Praying Wife. Later in the day, when I'm feeling a void, I'm teaching myself to re-turn to the Bible for additional time with God, bowing my head and giving myself up to God, you name it. I really recommend this book for anyone who suffers from a lack of self control and seeks affection and love where one should not seek it.

Garfield believes in living life to the fullest. No easy task for a cat with a bottomless stomach. In this latest collection of comics, the fat cat with the legendary appetite treats himself to seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths and proves that anything worth eating is worth overeating.

Additional notes: You can read my review of the series and read quick summaries and view cover pics here. There are a total of 52 books released as of this writing. This series is ongoing.

My thoughts: What isn't to love? Garfield cracks me up. Every book, every comic strip, every time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Crafty Christmas: Fun, Frugal and Green Gift Packaging Ideas

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 1 week away!

Having a Christmas budget is so crucial for gift giving, but sometimes, the cost of gifts isn't the problem. Running out to the store to pick up more bags, bows, tags, gift wrap and tape can cause your Christmas budget to swirl out of control. I've been there and done that, and years ago, Jason and I started thinking up more frugal, fun and green ideas to keep our costs down and our creative energy high.

We're still working our way through our excessive mountain of bows, tubes of wrapping paper and sheets of tissue paper that we bought in years past, but here are some of the ideas we've either done ourselves or are planning to do once our current stockpile runs out:

Gift wrap
  • Do you have kids in your life (nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, etc.)? Have them draw on plain paper grocery bags or heavy paper and use that for gift wrap. Even if they're only 1, they can still participate in this since most kids that age and up can hold a thick crayon and move it on paper. This is economical and fun for your kids to do, too.
  • Newspaper and magazines - I can't stress this one enough! Use up all your magazines you get for free through the mail and newspapers you get for free from family and friends for this project. Free and gives a second purpose to these items.
Bags
Bags we bought in bulk (we found green ones!)
Also, note the homemade gift tag attached.
My husband is a creative genius!
  • Buy plain brown paper bags in bulk from a craft supply store (like Joann's). Be sure to use a coupon and you can get several bags for a few dollars. Decorate the bags with rubber stamps and stickers and have the kids in your life join you for this activity, too.
  • Make your own bags out of brown paper bags you get for free at the grocery store. Most grocers still have brown paper bags; you just have to request they use them when bagging your groceries. Again, decorate these bags with stickers, rubber stamps, drawings, or just leave them plain. This is FREE and gives a second purpose to these bags.
Gift tags
Gift tags crafted from Christmas cards
This just shows a few of the ones I've
created over the years. My
collection is quite extensive!
  • Make your own gift tags from address label sheets or other sticky sheets.
  • Use scraps of wrapping paper that you wouldn't be able to use to wrap a gift to make tags.
  • Raid your crafting supplies and pull out glitter, markers, paints, construction paper, etc. Make your own gift tags. Jason and I did this some years ago, and it was so fun. He's such a genius - his looked so good! Mine... well let's just say, if we had kids, I would have gladly said my kids made mine (instead of admitting an adult had made them).
  • This is my most favorite idea ever - get out the Christmas cards you received in past years or this year. Look at the front and see if you could cut out bits of the card to make gift tags. Just punch a hole near the top and use the back for the "to" and "from" distinctions. We've been doing this for several years, and last year, my mum asked me where I got the tag I used on her gift because she just loved it. When I told her I just cut it out from a Christmas card, she was in awe! Making gift tags this way is completely free and very green!
Tissue paper
  • Newspapers will come in handy here, too. Sheets of newspaper are a great substitution for tissue paper and much more friendly to your wallet.
  • As with most things holiday-related (like gift wrap and tags), consider recycling tissue paper that you used in years past and this year. Tissue paper is usually good for several years.
Bows
Magazine bows
  • Jason and I aren't such a fan of using bows (Preston chews on them horrendously, and he's already managed to pull one completely off a gift that is under the tree!), so when we run out of our current supply, I think we might just be done with them for awhile. But if you like bows and don't have a cat or other creature ruining them, you can make bows out of magazine papers. Click here for a quick tutorial on this.
  • If you don't have a surplus of magazines, you can still make your own homemade bows out of ribbon or regular paper. Joann's offers bow-making classes for around $10, or you can find tutorials on the internet like one I mentioned above.
There are so many fun, frugal and green gift packaging ideas that you likely don't need to spend any money if you don't want to on these items (LOVE!). You can repurpose items you already have in your house, save some money and unleash your creative energy. The recipients of the beautifully and creatively packaged gifts will love that you put yourself not only in the gift, but in the packaging, too. It's a fun way to spend a snowy afternoon and brings the entire family together.

Share with us: What packaging ideas have you used that were fun, frugal or green?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winning at Walgreen's

This week was a great one for freebies and near-freebies at Walgreen's. Here's what I picked up:



Here's how the transaction broke down:

The contact solution was on sale for $6.99 with $5 back in RR. The can of mandarin oranges was on sale for 59 cents with an in-ad coupon. The Goody hair claws were on sale for $2 with $2 back in RR.

I had three items and three "coupons" - 2 RR coupons and one in-ad coupon. I used all of my RR (which was two) and spent $1.12 out of pocket. I received a $2 gift card (for the hair claws - the RR coupon didn't print) and $5 in a RR coupon. YAY! I was so stoked to get contact solution as I'm on my last bottle. And hair accessories are something I regularly spend too much money on (on account of Preston hiding all my hair ties and me losing all my bobby pins), so it's nice to get something for free that I know I'll end up losing over time, anyway.

My total price-per-item, which is a price figured from all I've ever spent at Walgreen's since I first began shopping there against the total number of items I've ever purchased, is now at $1.15. My big goal is to get under $1. Once I hit that, I'll try to keep getting my price-per-item even lower, but I'm so excited that I'm inching closer and closer to my $1 goal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In My Mailbox



Here's what we got in the mailbox this past week and how we got them for FREE:
  • Martha Stewart Living magazine (free through RewardsGold)
  • Good Housekeeping (free from... I don't remember! But I really like this magazine. I'm actually surprised by how much I'm learning from and enjoying this subscription!)
  • Coupon good for one fruit and maple oatmeal from McDonald's (used points I earned through RecycleBank to get this voucher)
Curious about RecycleBank? Come back on Saturday, December 17 to read a brief tutorial on how RecycleBank works and why I love it so much!

Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tis the Holiday Season Giveaway Winner!!!!


Thank you to everyone who entered our holiday season giveaway! And the winner is....

Krista!

This is special for me because I went to high school with Krista and I just love her blog (you can check out her blog by clicking here)! It's funny and awesome that the random winner is someone I actually know!

Krista, I'll be sending you the amazon.com gift card code via a message on Facebook.

Thanks again to everyone for entering! We're planning a very special giveaway in February to celebrate the season of love, so please check back often as we plan additional giveaways and continue to bring you loads of great tips, recipes and crafts.

Peace and love to you all!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saving the Moola: November In Review

Jason and I are constantly looking for ways to save money off our current expenses, and since we change up what we're doing each month in some way in an effort to decrease our overhead costs, we thought a month-in-review post might be helpful, both for ourselves and for you.

We started three new money-saving techniques in November:
Since Jason only works from home and I work primarily from home, we've tended to use just one car for everything. This has made it easier on our budget in terms of gas costs and other maintenance costs, but also, we prefer one car over the other.

We use Progressive for our car insurance, and we've been incredibly pleased with it over the years. We're a huge fan of the Snapshot program - we began this program this summer, and on Jason's car, we saved about 20% and on my car, about 15%. You can read more about this program here.

But since we're only using one car now (my car), we decided to make this official by putting Jason's car on parking insurance only. Taking insurance completely off any car is never a good idea. When you re-apply for insurance later, the insurance company will make your premium higher because they'll just assume you drove the car with no insurance on it (even if you tell them you didn't). Parking insurance can serve two purposes then:
  1. If and when you need insurance back on the car, your insurance premium will remain at its previously low rate.
  2. It can protect your car from normal parking disasters, like if a tree fell on it, etc.
Since Jason and I are not so much interested in preserving the car as we are just interested in keeping it as a second car should something happen to our primary car, we chose to put a higher deductible on the car than it is worth. Our goal was to get the highest deductible we could, which just happened to be more than we believe the car is worth. The end result, though, is that we literally pay nothing for his car's insurance. We are taking the risk that if a tree did fall on his car, the car would be done for. We're okay with this. We have enough money set aside that if we needed to purchase a second car, we have the ability to do so. At this point, we have no plans to replace the secondary car should a tree happen to fall on it. We would only purchase a secondary car if our job situations changed or our lifestyles changed.

I would say that it's probably a good idea to start the car on parking insurance now and then and perhaps drive it around your driveway, if you choose to put the car on parking insurance. Earlier this week, our primary car would not start, so when we attempted to start Jason's car, we discovered his car also wouldn't start (hello, panic!). We've had so many issues with his battery in the past that we're pretty sure this is the issue. The primary car's issue is now resolved. The goal is to keep both cars running so if one car definitely dies, we have the other for back-up.

You can read about our adventures in playing the drugstore game here and our adventures in buying beef in bulk here.

Share with us: What new money-saving techniques have you been using?

P.S. Jason and I are giving away a $5 amazon.com gift card to celebrate the holiday season. We'd sure love it if you entered! Leave a comment on any blog post to let us know you'd like to be entered and be sure to leave your email address, too, so we can send you the card if you win. The giveaway ends 11:59 PM EST on Saturday, December 10, 2011. You can read the full details of the giveaway here.

This Book Room: A Year with Jesus

Jason and I read the Bible daily as well as at least one devotional. This year, Jason's reading something I don't know the title of (oops!), but I'm reading Daily Guideposts 2011. A Year With Jesus by R.P. Nettelhorst, a devotional, tackles a variety of issues, such as truth and lies, friends and enemies and good and evil. I like that the book includes a daily Scripture to read, then a daily lesson to go along with it. I think this book would be particularly poignant and useful for men. The devotional is not gender-specific, but from buying devotionals for Jason in the past, I can tell you there are heaps of devotionals specifically geared toward women and even those that claim to not be gender specific and still seem geared toward women. But this book is very gender neutral. Including a devotional in our daily routines has been uplifting and crucial - this book serves its purpose well by keeping the reader's focus where it belongs.

Summary from goodreads.com:
Too many times the impact and grandness of the actual words Jesus spoke, as recorded in the Bible, are lost in the telling of the story. In A Year with Jesus, the primary focus is to allow the scriptures that contain Jesus' dialogue to uniquely speak to the reader. The author follows each reading with insights and applications to help explain the context and nuances of the text. The unique titling of each meditation and the nontraditional themes and organization help bring Jesus to our daily lives.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy for review.

One fun thing this blog has brought me (and there have been many!) is the opportunity to review books for various publishers! Any books that have been sent to me for review will be featured in their very own This Book Room.

P.S. Jason and I are giving away a $5 amazon.com gift card to celebrate the holiday season. We'd sure love it if you entered! Leave a comment on any blog post to let us know you'd like to be entered and be sure to leave your email address, too, so we can send you the card if you win. The giveaway ends 11:59 PM EST on Saturday, December 10, 2011. You can read the full details of the giveaway here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Winning at Walgreen's


As you can read in my brief Walgreen's tutorial here, Walgreen's has some pretty strict rules for transactions. This week, I really wanted to get Dove men's deodorant, as I had a $1 off 1 coupon, plus I would get back $3 in RR (and the sale price was $3.99). But as I also wanted to use some of my RR from previous weeks, I would need to purchase additional items as well.

My local Walgreen's is pretty impressive, but I was hoping to get bobby pins (I'm running low, as I tend to lose them as I use them) and they didn't have the $1 packages I can get at Wal-Mart. Jason and I had each picked up a Walgreen's coupon booklet for December (these are free), so we chose to get the candy deal. The candy deal was advertised as 3 candy bars for $1.50, then we had a 75-cents off coupon. Well, much to my surprise, the candy bars were on sale 3 for $1, then I used my coupon, so I got all 3 for just a quarter!

I used two coupons and one $2 RR coupon. My total out-of-pocket expense was $1.98, and I received $3 more in RR. My price per item is now at $1.28 (this is a per item price based on everything I've ever spent and everything I've ever purchased).

I had written down a goal of what I wanted my price per item to fall to each week, and I actually beat my goal this week, so I was pretty stoked about that. I do have a $6 RR coupon that will expire on this Sunday, so I'm hoping there will be a lot of good deals with RR back I can use that coupon on. I've previewed some of the deals at couponmom.com, and so long as my region is also running the contact solution deal, I should be able to use up the RR with no problems.

P.S. Jason and I are giving away a $5 amazon.com gift card to celebrate the holiday season. We'd sure love it if you entered! Leave a comment on any blog post to let us know you'd like to be entered and be sure to leave your email address, too, so we can send you the card if you win. The giveaway ends 11:59 PM EST on Saturday, December 10, 2011. You can read the full details of the giveaway here.

In the Kitchen with Jason: Fruit Salad


Some years ago, Jess made up this recipe for fruit salad. It is simple but yummy. We made this as part of our Thanksgiving feast, and this is one dish that will be part of our Thanksgiving tradition.

Ingredients
  • 2 apples, cored, diced
  • 3 bananas, peeled, chopped
  • Most of a bag of purple grapes, chopped
  • About 3/4 cup of vanilla yogurt
  • About a half cup of orange juice
  • About a teaspoon of cinnamon
Directions
  • Mix the apples, bananas and grapes together after peeling, coring and dicing them.
  • Plop the yogurt in with the fruit, then add orange juice and cinnamon.
  • Mix altogether.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve. This salad is good for about 4 days in the fridge.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

P.S. Jess and I are giving away a $5 amazon.com gift card to celebrate the holiday season. We'd sure love it if you entered! Leave a comment on any blog post to let us know you'd like to be entered and be sure to leave your email address, too, so we can send you the card if you win. The giveaway ends 11:59 PM EST on Saturday, December 10, 2011. You can read the full details of the giveaway here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pin This!

Here are some great ideas I found on Pinterest this past week:

Fabric keychains - perfect for Christmas gifts!
Strawberry shortcake cookies - I can't wait to pick berries this summer!!
Cupcake ornaments - what a fantastical DIY ornament idea
Peaches, lemonade and Sprite = YUM
Apparently, this scarf in its original version was $1,100. Yup, you read that right. I bet I could make a DIY-version for um... literally a FRACTION of the cost. Like how about 1/100 of the cost?

You can view all my Pinterest boards here. If you're on Pinterest, please leave a link to your boards, and I'll follow you. I love me some Pinterest!

P.S. Jason and I are giving away a $5 amazon.com gift card to celebrate the holiday season. We'd sure love it if you entered! Leave a comment on any blog post to let us know you'd like to be entered and be sure to leave your email address, too, so we can send you the card if you win. The giveaway ends 11:59 PM EST on Saturday, December 10, 2011. You can read the full details of the giveaway here.