Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Saving money while eating well

One thing I've noticed the past two weeks as I've been shopping for healthier food is that my grocery bill has increased! I'm also not buying all those inexpensive but bad for you snacks - cookies, chips, processed food, etc. so my quantity of groceries has decreased. Apparently I'm going to have to start finding ways to save money on the healthier stuff - I'm convinced it can be done, it just might take a bit more work.

Three things I found this week:

1. I was shopping at Whole Foods and discovered they have a section of loose Organic herbs. Now I do spend a lot on herbs - I typically buy them at Penzey's, but since I was there and was almost out of basil and rosemary, I picked some up. It ended up being very inexpensive to purchase what I needed. I got three scoops of each for 15 cents and 24 cents. Definitely enough to fill my Penzey's jars about 1/3 of the way full. Plus - what a great source for herbs and spices you don't use often!

2. Speaking of herbs, I was checking out my herb garden from last year and my thyme, oregano and chives all came back! So, I need to purchase basil, mint, parsley and cilantro and I'll be set. In the summer I use the fresh herbs as much as I can. For less than the price of one jar I can have a plant that will supply all I need all summer long. In fact last year my basil plant was so prolific I ended up giving away bags of basil and made up ten baggies of pesto for the freezer.

3. I found a few coupons for organic/ healthy foods at this website: http://www.eatbetteramerica.com/ I was able to print $1.00 off coupons for Muir Glen tomatoes and $1.00 off coupons for any Cascadian Farms product. I haven't checked my regular grocery stores for prices, but Cascadian Farms frozen veggies were $1.67 at Whole Foods and they took the coupon with no problem.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Work, work, work . . .

Whew, it was a fun weekend, but now it's back to the grind. I am feeling overwhelmed, so I have to remind myself to tackle one step at a time. I didn't check my emails all weekend, nor did I handle any paperwork, so it was a relaxing time, but now I have to pay as everything has piled back up. Today I'll work on clearing my desk and catching up on emails.

We hit our first garage sales for the season Saturday and did quite well! Our DD was excited to go, and we gave her $4 to put in her purse (since she is 4). She ended up spending 75 cents, so she is set for the next time we go out.

I found a few great deals! I was able to purchase an entire Pottery Barn nursery set for $12 - I don't need a nursery set, but I know I will be able to make some money on it via ebay - hopefully enough to pay for all our other purchases. On every outing, I try to pick up one or two items to resell that will cover the cost of anything else we buy - it makes for fun hunting and free weekend outings! I also purchased a Little Tykes art desk for the kiddos - very good condition and something they will get a lot of use out of. We picked up a few books and three Dora videos also. All in all, a great trip and we had a lot of fun.

We used to stop and get coffee and bagels before we took off, and I'm sure sometimes we still will, but Saturday I made a pot of coffee at home and we ate pancakes before we left. We then loaded up our travel mugs with the coffee and took off - that way we started the day off ahead!

As for my healthy eating, I'm doing a great job on paying attention to what I eat - man was my snacking out of control! I also made up my grocery list and menu plan for the week and it's full of veggies! I've been trying out a few recipes from the Sonoma Diet book and they are WONDERFUL! I highly recommend them, and I'll do some reviews next month as I cook from it more consistently.

Well, enough rambling for today - on to cleaning off my desk!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Healthy Eating Goals

So, I promised I would state some of my goals for my healthy eating month. Although I wouldn't mind losing those last five pounds of baby weight (from 17 months ago - lol), my bigger concern is staying healthy. It just seems like the last few years I've had lots of little health issues - and I never used to have any. I can't help but feel that by eating better I could avoid some of those!

I've been doing a lot of research on healthy eating plans, various articles on the best "super foods" to eat, etc. So far, I am most interested in the Sonoma Diet. It emphasizes good, fresh food with a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. It also allows for good fats like olive oil, and an occasional spluge on wine, coffee and dark chocolate. It sounds like something you could do for your whole life and the recipes sound wonderful!!! So unless something else pops up as a better guideline, I'll probably try the first two weeks of May sticking pretty close to it and then the last two weeks tweaking it for my own personal needs.

So, back to my goals:

1 - be healthy and a good role model for my children
2 - less sweets, more fruits and vegetables
3 - more whole foods versus mixes
4 - more whole grains versus white bread, rice, pasta, etc.
5 - eliminate as much high fructose corn syrup as possible
6 - increase my water intake (versus diet pop and coffee)

Although I'll be talking a lot about this topic during the next few weeks and May, I'm sure there will also be posts on saving money, finding good deals, travel and all the other things that matter to me!

On that note, yesterday was the grand opening of our Stein Mart - I don't usually shop there because I think their prices are still high even with their "discount." However, they were giving away $250 and $500 gift cards, and since I had to run to DHL for work anyway, I thought I'd stop by. I have to say, their petite department is terrific - really great quality and a lot of nice styles. I didn't buy anything, but I will go back when stuff starts to hit the clearance racks. I didn't win the gift cards either, but I did end up scoring big!

Next door was a new JCPenney and I thought since I was there I'd walk over. I found a few terrific deals! I picked up a shirt for my little boy for next fall for $2.97!!! Then, in their petite department, I found a pair of jeans that looked and fit great for $9.97 - I was thrilled, especially since I just ripped a hole in the knees of one of my current pairs. I also picked up a nice argle Liz & Co sweater for $9.97 - it will be perfect for next fall and winter. So, I got myself a new outfit and my son a new shirt for around $25 - can't beat it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No more information overload!

Well, along with preparing for my month of healthy eating - more on my goals for that tomorrow, I thought I'd share how I'm keeping myself focused and from diving into all of my other goals for the year.

It's actually a pretty simple system - what prompted me to do this is that I am always seeing new books, blogs, info, etc. on all these great things I want to implement in my life, but let's face it, no one has the time to do that. However, even though I'm limiting my focus to one item a month, I don't want to lose all those great ideas before that month comes along. So, a few days ago I sat down with my label maker and file folders and made a folder for each topic. Now, whenever I see something that relates to that topic, I can print it out, write down the title/ author, whatever and place it in the folder. I don't lose the info but I don't have to think about it now either. Seems to be working well so far - hopefully by November my end of the year folders won't be too overstuffed!

Today my goal for the day is take care of a few lingering financial "to do's" - i.e. move my DD 529 to a better plan, update my budget spreadsheet and investigate additional life insurance policies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Been tagged!

Well, I've been tagged by http://growingheartsinthefishbowl.blogspot.com/ to share three random things about myself, so here they are:

1. I am a Starbuck's (or coffee in general) addict - I try hard to keep it to a reasonable level, some weeks are better than others.

2. I am a Christian

3. One of my long term dreams is to take a year long trip exploring every state!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Healthy Eating

So, for May my focus is going to be on healthy eating. There are several reasons I picked it first. First of all, I hope that it's a habit I can continue on for the rest of the year without additional work - once I get comfortable with a new way of life. Second, I've noticed my kids starting to whine about and want more "snacky" type food lately and I'd like to nip that in the bud. Third, I have really let this area of my life go - I used to be an amazingly healthy eater, and I'm just not anymore!

Since May is a few weeks away, I'm not just sitting here in my office eating as many M&M's as I can until May 1st (although the thought did occur to me!). I'm using the next few weeks to do some research to decide (and test out) a few different ideas. For instance, this week I'm trying to eat more veggies and whole grains. That way when May comes I'll hopefully have some better habits started.

I'm also looking for healthy recipes I'd like to try, clearing the pantry of unhealthy choices and doing some research on supplements, additional food sources for whole grains, etc. It's been pretty fun!

I'm heading to the grocery today and my goal is to come home with a carful of only healthy choices!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Too much change?

Update on last night: we spent $10.35! Our dinner bill was $4.35, and we tipped the server $6.00 - both my DH and I feel that if the restaurant is giving us something free, the server shouldn't be penalized, so we always leave a great tip. We ended up skipping Coldstone's because Red Robin brought out 2 sundae's for my DD and DH's birthday. That gives us another trip for ice cream next week!

Now, for today's topic . . .

Do you ever feel like you are constantly trying to improve or change your life? I get so many great ideas from books, blogs, websites, etc. of all the different things I could do to be more organized, more fit, healthier, etc. It's tempting to try them all, and I usually do . . . for a day or so, then on to the next big thing. In the end, I get stressed by all the "programs" or projects I'm trying to complete at once, and I'm not sure anything really changes.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and have decided to try an experiment. For the rest of this year, instead of trying to do many things at once, each month I'm going to concentrate on one aspect of my life that I'd like to improve or make changes to. Not that I'm going to neglect all the other aspects that month, but my focus will be on that one area. Today, I sat down at Starbuck's (a rare treat these days!) and made a list of the areas I'd like to work on. Then I looked at the calendar - took into consideration events, vacations, etc. and matched up each topic to a month. Here's what I came up with:

May - healthier diet
June - consistent exercise program
July - extra fun with the kids (day trips, museums, crafts, projects I've wanted to try, etc.)
August - organize my scrapbooking and office
September - organize and deep clean the house
October - travel writing, mystery shopping, other "money making opportunities"
November - "me" time
December - Christmas
January - budget, saving money, plan for 2009

Hopefully this blog will keep me accountable and I can share some of the successes and failures of this experiment! I'll post more tomorrow on my thoughts and plans for May.

Now off to clean the other half of my bookshelf - my anti-procrastinating project of the day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why do we procrastinate?

Why do we procrastinate? The work project I've been putting off? Took me an hour to finish. One hour! I bet I've been thinking about doing it for two or three hours total! Just goes to show that if you can make yourself get started it usually doesn't take long to complete what you are dreading!

Today, the task I set for myself was cleaning off the bookcase in my office. I got thru half of it and it looks great - made a big difference. I'll finish it up tomorrow. Then Friday hit the rest of the piles. My goal for the week is to make my office a clean, functional place to work!

Getting ready to take off for our fun Daddy's Birthday Adventure! My DD and I made a football and a baseball cake for him today - those were her ideas. They actually turned out pretty cute, and I didn't have a chocolate cake mix, so instead of running to the store, I opened a cook book (Barefoot Contessa at Home) and made the most wonderful chocolate cake!!! It didn't take much longer than the mix and man is it rich and moist.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Frugal Birthday Plans

Tomorrow is DH's birthday. He states he doesn't want anything - don't you hate that??? So, we are going to have a fun family night without breaking the bank.

First, my DD and I are going to make him a cake - she has big plans on what it's going to look like (she's 4), so I'll let her take the lead. Then she has swim class - it's been a year since she's done this, so we'll all go to watch. Afterwards, it's off to Red Robin for dinner. Since her birthday was a few weeks ago and DH's is tomorrow, we have coupons for a free burger and a free kids meal. All we'll need to add is drinks and we'll have plenty of food - don't worry, we'll leave a nice tip - even when we spend less than the norm, we make sure our tips is what is should be based upon what the cost would have been. Next, across the street to Coldstone Creamery for his free ice cream - that will be plenty for all four of us, but we may end up buying my DD her own kids size - we'll see. Finally, DH and I will pick up our free coffees from Starbucks - we got these great little cards from USA Today when we were traveling last week that gave us a free tall coffee every Wednesday through May 28th. Whew! It will be a great night! Tomorrow I'll post our actual cost.

Today for anti procrastinating week I'm going to finish the work project I'm dreading - I started it yesterday but today I will finish!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to Normal!

Well, Spring Break is over and we had a great time - my DH proved to me you don't have to go far to have fun! To recap, we did some of my top ten list and some other things too!

1. The kids spent a few days at Grandmas and DH and I drove up to a big nearby city for some shopping, relaxing, etc. We used hotel points so the stay didn't cost us a dime - even included breakfast! We did go out to eat, but split meals, took home leftovers and stayed at $40 or under a day. We shopped, but only bought things we truly needed and left a lot of stuff in the stores. We even went to a few casinos - signed up for their clubs, gambled our free sign up money and put in $5 more each just for fun.

2. Took the kids to a local children's museum. We have an annual pass, so didn't cost anything, packed snacks and drinks.

3. Did a few mystery shops for lunches and even groceries.

4. Had a movie and popcorn night - with hot chocolate, my DD's favorite.

5. Lots of playing with the kids!!!!

6. Baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with DD.

7. Spent a little bit of time playing outside early in the week - then it got too cold - hence all the outside activities (zoo, park, etc.) were cancelled.

So, overall a great time. Now, back to the normal workweek - and although I wasn't off most of the week, I did spend more time playing and less time working, so I have a lot to do.

I'm going to make today my catch up day and take care of all the paperwork as well as a big work project I've been procrastinating on!

Friday, April 4, 2008

My list of 10

Here is my list of ten fun things to do over Spring Break:

1. Take the kids to the park for a picnic
2. Visit the zoo - we haven't been there since Fall because it's been cold
3. Kids are off to Grandmas for a few nights and DH and I are going to use some hotel points to visit a nearby city.
4. Go to the library for new books and movies
5. Go out for breakfast as a family - this is something we NEVER do!
6. Do a craft project with my DD
7. Plan a "free" day - magazines to sell at the half price bookstore, use a GC for lunch, utilize any "free" coupons, etc.
8. Have a game night with popcorn and board games
9. Visit a local park that is having a kids program one afternoon (bringing in animals)
10. Do some baking with my DD - she loves this!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Spring Break at home

I love, love, love to travel, and I was really hoping to go somewhere for Spring Break. However, as it's now Thursday and nothing has come up on our RCI search, it doesn't look good. I am trying not to be disappointed and instead to come up with a lot of fun things we can do here in town, but so far I haven't been able to pull myself out of the dumps!

Today's goal is to make a list of ten fun things we can do next week and to start counting my blessings instead of feeling sorry for myself.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Date Night

I think it is so important to spend quality time with your spouse. However, a weekly date night can get pretty expensive! My DH and I have commited to one night a week with just the two of us and we do a pretty good job of keeping the cost down.

For example, instead of a traditional Friday or Saturday night out, we almost always go out on Monday or Tuesday. Reason? We are blessed enough to have our moms come up every other week for a few days to watch our kids while we work. So, on Monday and Tuesday we have a free "babysitter."

Another thing we often do was what last night's date night consisted of - a mystery shop. We went out to a nice restaurant for a full meal (appetizer, entrees and dessert) and won't pay a dime for it. I've been doing mystery shops for years so I'm pretty efficient and it only took me about 1/2 when we got home last night to type in the report.

So, this week our date night was a nice dinner out, just the two of us, completely free!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

CVS Trip

Made a quick trip to CVS last night (along with another one Sunday night). I did very well:

2 Spa Softsoaps 4.99 (used $1 and $1.50 coupons)
10 digital prints 2.90 (used 2.90 CVS coupon for free prints)
Newspaper 1.75

Paid .30 out of pocket after coupons and some ECB
Received $9.98 in ECB

1 Spa Softsoap 4.99 (used $1.50 coupon)
2 Speedstick 24/7 5.00 (used 2 - $1.00 coupons and 1 - $1.00 CVS coupon)
2 Egg coloring kits (.49 and .89)

Paid $1.02 out of pocket after coupons and 5.97 ECB
Received $7.99 in ECB

I need some moisturizer and eye cream, so I plan on making one more trip this week to take advantage of one of the April monthly deals on that and get a little back - I should be able to pay for what I need with ECB and then get more ECB for next week's deals.

Inbox is clean! Send out a ton of rebates from Menards. Today I plan on cleaning out my coupons since March is over.