March – 2010 – Frugal Novice
Monthly Archives

March 2010

Friday Follow!

I’m always looking for new blogs to follow (after all, the more blogs you’re reading, the more tips & deals you have the chance to pick up on!) so I think Friday Follow is a great idea. Click the image below to go find out more about Friday Follow and add your blog to the list!

Things I Love Thursday

I found this meme and thought it’d be a fun one to participate in. After all, I can think of plenty of things I <3 LOVE <3 and would like to share! The one for today came to me immediately, because I was just going on and on about it to Brian the other day. And the best part? It cost $2. Continue Reading…

Decorating on the Cheap: Chalkboard Border

Our house was built in 1972, and although the previous owners had done a few updates, much of that was left to us. They were also big fans of country decor, which we are decidedly not. Examples include a Texas-themed bathroom, complete with navy and white walls; pattern-bedecked wallpaper in the entry, and Americana border in the kitchen.

When we finally got around to updating the kitchen, we started trying to remove the border and learned pretty quickly what a difficult job it was going to be. We’d removed the wallpaper from the entry pretty easily, so we were armed with false hope that this would be an easy job too.

We chipped away at the first layer of border, only to find another floral border underneath. This second layer of border had been primed over, making it harder for the stripping chemical to soak through, but we finally got that layer off… only to find yet ANOTHER layer of border, adhered directly to the drywall. Check it out – definitely original to the house, don’t you think? Who wouldn’t want lime green and burnt sienna apples adorning their kitchen?

Um… us. Continue Reading…

Organizing Your Coupons: Binder Method

I mentioned in my last grocery shopping post that I was planning on putting a binder together for organizing my coupons. Well, after reading several sites about it I got too impatient to wait and went out to pick up what I needed.

‘ve used a small accordion coupon holder in the past, but ended up wasting over $50 in coupons throughout the past couple of years by forgetting about some and missing the expiration dates. This system will remedy that!

First, here’s a list of all of the supplies I needed:

• Zippered binder with pockets – see photo below

• Divider pages

• Scissors

• Calculator

• Plastic sheets to hold baseball cards (Brian was putting the kids’ fall/winter clothes away in the attic and found a ton with his old baseball card collection. One note – if you do have to buy these, I could NOT find them at our Target. By the time I went to WalMart I already knew we had some, so I didn’t check to see if they had them there, although I’ve heard that they do.)

• Plastic 4×6 photo sheets

• Sharpie & Pen

Alright, on to the project. First, I got out my trusty, adorable, zippered binder. Another thing I really like about this, besides its cuteness, is the zippered mesh pocket on the front cover. This will be a perfect place to stick coupons I know ahead of time I’ll be using on a shopping trip for optimal visibility.

And my currently meager collection of coupons (which will hopefully grow pretty quickly!):

Then I started thinking about categories for my coupons. I read that the key is to not over-generalize categories. If you do, you’ll a) have too many coupons stuffed in one category, and b) will have to search for coupons within the category, which takes away the convenience the binder is supposed to provide. So, I looked at a few lists for reference and then adjusted to fit our life. Here are the categories I came up with (17 total):

• Meat/Dairy   • Soups/Canned Goods    • Baking    • Cereal/Breakfast    • Frozen Foods    • Breads/Pasta/Rice    • Snacks    • Desserts    • Beverages    • Medicines    • Toiletries    • Cleaning Items/Household Supplies    • Sauces/Spices/Condiments    • Restaurants    • Store Specific (Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.)    • Infant/Kids’ Items    • Other (I felt compelled to have this just in case I couldn’t find a spot for something – I wouldn’t want a coupon to feel left out!)

Once I decided on my categories, I started labeling the dividers:

And worked until I had them all finished:

Then I placed the dividers in the binder, including two of the baseball card sheets between each divider as a starting point.

I made a reference sheet listing all my categories in order and secured that to the front divider. Until I get really familiar with it, this will help me remember where each category is, making it easier to flip right to the right one.

Last but not least, I placed my coupons in the sleeves. I tried to make the product name and expiration date easily visible for each coupon.

When I got to the Restaurant category, I had a few that were too large for the baseball card sleeves. This is where the 4×6 photo sleeves come into play – the larger coupons fit perfectly here.

Note: I spent $21 in total to make my binder, but that’s with “splurging” on one at the store for $10. If you go thrifting at all (and I LOVE to, you never know what treasures you’re going to find!) you can very easily find a Trapper Keeper at a thrift store for $2-$3. Search eBay or local garage sales for the baseball card sleeves if you don’t want to buy them new. By the way, I made it my priority to cover the cost of the binder quickly, and saved more than $21 in the next two grocery trips that made up the cost.

So, there’s my handy dandy coupon organizer for you! I’m pretty excited about trying it out on my next trip, and working on building my coupon stash to fill the pages. Now I just need a price book and I can get started on my way to extreme couponing!

Menu Plan Monday

I’ve decided to start participating in Menu Plan Monday. I already do a menu plan each week when I create my grocery list, so I thought it’d be fun to add my list to the… list. (I like lists.)

Monday: Chicken Enchilada Casserole (one of our favorites! You can find the recipe here – I add in sour cream and a can of rotel for a little extra kick)

Tuesday: Casserole leftovers – that recipe makes a good-sized dish! We’ll have it for lunch Tuesday, too.

Wednesday: Chicken Piccata with green beans. We use the Macaroni Grill boxed meal for this – it is SO good! I think most people would never guess it came from a box (except for the chicken, which you provide).

Thursday: Whole-Grain penne pasta with Bertolli Four-Cheese sauce and lean ground beef; glazed carrots (a favorite recipe from Melissa d’Arabian on the Food Network)

Friday: Leftovers – pasta & carrots

Saturday: Kung Pao chicken with peanuts, carrots, & rice

Be sure and click the Menu Plan Monday icon above so you can check out other menu plan ideas over at orgjunkie!

Grocery Store Bargains… and a Mess-Up

I’m getting better and better at the whole coupon thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a LONG way to go. I looked up ideas for organizing coupons, and some people put me to shame! I had been using a little accordion file with about 5 pockets in it, but I found it was really hard to view the coupons this way, and I ended up wasting some. I found this site that outlines some of the many ways people choose to organize, and decided that the binder approach would work best for me. I’ve bought the binder (and some tabs to separate different categories) but am on the hunt for the little baseball card sheets. Once I have everything together I’ll post about it so you can see the process. Continue Reading…

Eggless Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

I thought I’d share a favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe with you today – it’s great – and unique – in the fact that there aren’t eggs in the dough. Why is this so fabulous? You can EAT THE DOUGH all you want without worrying about getting sick from it. You might want to double the recipe so you’ll actually have some dough left to bake. :) And if you have egg allergies, or know someone who does, this recipe is a great way for them to enjoy some yummy cookies. To be honest, I love eating the dough more than I do the finished cookies!

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups quick oats, blended into a powder
  • 1  1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix the first four ingredients until fluffy. Add the flour and salt. Mix well. Add the baking soda to the boiling water and add to mixture. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Drop by teaspoonful on to ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until very slightly browned. Do not overbake! This should make around 42 cookies. Enjoy!


Want more cookie ideas? Here are links to a few other great recipes to try:

• Company’s Coming Cookies

• Chocolate Kiss Peanut Butter Cookies

• Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies


Brian’s Bargain

Brian, my husband, often teases me when I get excited about a sale or a bargain. As we’re walking out of the store where the bargain was found, he’ll say, “I bet you can’t wait to look at the receipt and figure out exactly how much you saved, right?” or, “I bet you can’t wait to email your mom about this deal, huh?” He knows me too well.

I’ve started to rub off on him a little, though. A while back we were at Target when we saw a large clock. Clean, simple, with a nice silver frame, it would be perfect for our living room. The only problem? It was $50 – and there was no way we could justify spending that much on a clock, no matter how large or beautiful it was.

We went back a couple of weeks later, and the clock was marked down to $35. We seriously contemplated buying it then, because we really liked it… and like I said – big, beautiful, perfect for our living room. You get it. Well, we talked ourselves out of it because we really wanted to start making wiser choices about purchases.

Fast forward two more weeks. We were out running errands on a Friday night and Brian needed to run in Target to get diapers. The boys and I waited in the car, and it wasn’t long until Brian came out, diapers in tow – along with the clock! He had found it marked down to $12.48 – 75% off. He didn’t say it, but I know he was proud of his find, and I love having it hang in our living room. We always get compliments on it, and no one can ever believe that it cost so little.

Here’s a photo of the clock in our living room. See how large it is? It really fits with the rest of our decor – and we never wonder what time it is.

Pizza Art

I’ve discovered a new use for pizza boxes! We had an empty one sitting on the dining table to go put with recycling, when J pulled it down on to the floor. Inspiration struck and I pulled out the box of crayons for him to color his own pizza. I drew the crust for him, but he did the rest! He got pretty creative with the toppings – purple “jelly”, red “salsa” (why on earth would you have red pizza sauce when you could have salsa on your pizza, anyway?), and brown “chocolate.”

See that oddly-shaped crust I drew? It’s “artisan crust.” Right…

Now, you could really get creative with this. If you save the circular cardboard from the bottom of a frozen pizza, you could cut that into wedges for “crust.” Your kiddos could paint red for sauce, you could cut little strips of white paper to be shredded mozzarella cheese, and you could draw (or even print from the internet) different toppings on paper to cut out and paste on. Free play food!

Sunday Shopping: Grocery Store Bargains

Brian and I have a pretty set routine on Sundays. We go to church in the morning, go have lunch, and then by the time we get home the boys are usually exhausted. Brian usually gets the boys ready for their naps while I organize my grocery list.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m slightly extremely OCD when it comes to planning my trips to the grocery store. First I do meal plans for the week, so I can see what ingredients I’ll need for various meals. Then I add other items, like paper towels or dog food. Sounds pretty normal so far, right? Well, this initial list isn’t good enough for me. I make another list that is in order of the store layout, so I can be as efficient as possible.

This methodology has been disrupted by a change in stores recently. We had always done our grocery shopping at (shudder…) WalMart. It was never a pleasant experience – it was always very crowded and took forever. It was a lot cheaper than another local store we used to shop at, so we figured this was our best option. Until we rediscovered HEB.

We had gone to HEB here and there a few times since living here, but never paid attention enough to realize they’ve got pretty competitive prices. We decided to try shopping there to look for a few products we used to buy at Central Market (also owned by HEB) in Fort Worth. One trip and I was hooked! Their produce and meat selection has much more variety – and seems a lot fresher. Plus, they make tortillas FRESH IN THE STORE. And they have FREE SAMPLES of said tortillas. They’re also really good about offering combos, where you purchase one item and get another item free (usually something that “goes with” the item you’re purchasing). I have to monitor myself and make sure I don’t get sucked into purchasing something I don’t really need – but I’ve found several combos that fit in with things we’d purchase anyway, so it’s a great perk.  HEB also has a program for kids that J thinks is pretty fun. When we check out, he gets some H-E-Buddy Bucks that he can use to play a crane game at the front of the store. In the crane are stickers worth different points – these points are collected and then can be used to get prizes. It’s pretty smart, really, because it makes shopping fun for the kids, which makes parents much happier as a result.

My only complaint about HEB is that I have NO clue about the layout of the store yet, so I can’t plan my list like I prefer to. I still roam the aisles, squinting up at the signs and back-tracking frequently to find something I’ve missed. Hopefully I’ll get it down soon, and in the meantime the deals I’ve found make it worth the trip.

Today was a pretty successful trip. My total started off at $116.14 (including $2.85 saved on sale items), and after coupons was reduced to $98.21 – that’s $17.94 in coupons (some from the newspaper, some printed from the internet, and some found in-store) and $20.78 saved overall. I’d like to include a disclaimer that it would have been an even smaller total, except I had to buy replacement toothbrush heads for Brian that cost TWENTY-ONE DOLLARS. Any tips on finding those cheaper? I couldn’t find any coupons… and Brian really wants to stick with that kind of toothbrush. Anyway, I digress… Here are a couple of the deals I found today:

• I bought three 99-cent Hallmark cards (which I had on my list to purchase) and got a cute $6 Easter jelly bean dispenser for free. We’ll save it for J’s Easter basket.

• I bought bottled water (yes, I know, I need to wean myself off of this… working on it!) – normally $3.88 for a 24-pack, but on sale for $3.33. I had a coupon for $1.00 off of two packages, so that made each pack $2.83.

• I bought a small jar of Planters peanuts for $2.87 – almost the same price we buy them for at WalMart – and got an Oscar Meyer Deli Select sandwich free ($2.50). We eat and cook with peanuts a lot, and the sandwich will be great for Brian to have for lunch sometime this week.

• I bought a package of cooked, fajita-seasoned, shredded chicken for $4.99, and got an 8-oz. package of Kraft shredded cheese ($2.18) free. There’s enough chicken for us to use in at least three meals. Normally we cook and season our own chicken, but this was a good deal for us since we go through cheese pretty quickly anyway.

I know that in some cases we could save a little more, but because we’re both working and want some convenience, we spend more for that. I’m also still learning how to get the best deals, but I feel like I did pretty well overall. I want to really work on getting our weekly grocery budget smaller. It used to be $150/week (not including diapers for both the boys), and now I’m trying to keep it at $100/week, but I plan to work on lowering that. If J would just magically get potty-trained, that could knock some off of our spending, too. If only!

Birthday on the Cheap

Brian’s birthday was yesterday, and we had a little party with some friends. Brian’s a pretty shy guy and doesn’t like much of a fuss made over his birthday, but one thing we always do (party or not) is make and decorate a cake. Last year we did a cake modeled after the second Apple logo, introduced in 1976 (my husband is just a little bit of a Mac geek…. if a little bit of = complete):

This year Brian asked me to make a cake that looks like the Mac OS cursor:

Of course, if you are a designer you’re probably aware that if you zoom in on an image like the cursor above, it’d look something like this:

Only not made out of cake. But wouldn’t that be nice?

Anyway, there’s Brian’s cake for this year. I made it more difficult on myself than it needed to be, because I felt like I needed to carve out all of the notches, not thinking about the fact that the white icing would mask all of that detail. Here’s the cake uniced:

I decided that I can say I was just trying to keep the integrity of the piece intact. Sound convincing? Didn’t think so. :) Oh well! We were happy with how the cake turned out, and it probably cost about $10 for all of the supplies I needed for both the cake and icing (I had some things already on hand). I’m sure we would have spent at least twice that to get a cake at the bakery, and I don’t know that we’d have been able to get the design we wanted. Plus, it’s fun doing it ourselves!

We didn’t do much in the way of decor for the party, but I did want to have something indicating this was a celebration. I thought about buying a banner to put up, but then thought of a more unique & creative option. J, like I mentioned in a previous post, is really loving his watercolors right now. I had him do some paintings, and then I cut letters out of them to spell out Happy Birthday. I pinned up some ribbon I already had, and taped the letters to it. I think it turned out pretty great – and it didn’t cost us a cent, since we just used things we already had around the house.

Consignment Sale Finds

Our city has a twice-a-year consignment sale for infants’ and kids’ clothing, toys, books, and all that other stuff you need when raising kiddos.  It’s something I look forward to each time for two reasons – first, we sell a lot of clothes the kids have outgrown or toys they’re not interested in anymore, and we make a lot more than we would at a garage sale; second, I find a lot of bargains!

This year I spent $187 and got a TON, including my favorite item of the night…

A Chicco twin stroller! Almost brand new, and only $40. Chicco is an Italian brand, so I had a hard time finding out the value of the stroller brand new. Finally I found it available several places for $189. So, I feel like I got a steal with this stroller.

We’d been looking for a side-by-side stroller for a while. Now that C is older I think he’d like to be able to look around, which is harder for him to do when we use the Graco DuoGlider. Plus, the DuoGlider takes up a TON of space in the back of either of our cars, so if we’re traveling we usually have to leave the stroller behind if we want any room for, you know, clothes and things of that nature. This Chicco stroller folds up a lot more compactly, is less heavy, and is really easy to maneuver. It fits through doorways just fine, which is one concern I had with a side-by-side stroller. And I loooove the bright red with the gray.  I’m looking forward to taking it on a test-drive soon!

Another find I was pretty happy with is the My First LeapPad with four cartridges, and ABC game, and a game built in to the system. I bought the set for $10. This system isn’t available new anymore, but I found a similar listing on ebay going for $25, so I’m pretty stoked about it. J really likes it, and it’s meant for ages 3-5 so hopefully we’ll get a lot of use out of it.

I also found this slide at the sale, for $6!

Again, in great condition – and it’s small enough and lightweight enough that I’m fine with keeping it inside. J’s had a lot of fun with it so far, and I think this will be a hit with both boys for a long time to come. I looked this up on Amazon and found it for $34.95. Not too shabby!

I got three pairs of shoes – two for C and one for J. The total for all three pairs was $12, and again, they’re in good condition. They’re Target and Payless brands, but I still feel like that’s a better price than I’d find in-store.

I got three stuffed “animals” for J – Barney, Thomas, and Clifford; and a wooden Thomas bridge – the total for toys was $16. I don’t have photos of the toys, but I found some links. The Thomas bridge goes for $59.99 on Amazon; the plush Thomas is $19.99 new. I couldn’t find links for the particular Barney or Clifford toy I bought, but even just knowing the price of two of the toys lets me know I got a good deal.

The rest of what I bought consisted of clothes – I didn’t keep track of prices on each individual item, but I spent $103 total on clothes.

Here are the clothes I bought for J (if you can’t tell, we’ve got a pretty big Thomas fan in the house):

And here’s what I got for C (not as much, because I still have a lot of J’s clothes that I’ve saved for C to wear too):

That’s 33 items of clothing (some items are sets), so that averages out to $3.12/item. I got a lot of name brand clothing, and all in really good condition. One thing I love about this sale is that they’re extremely picky about quality of items they accept. I can buy things without having to worry about finding a stain or tear.

So, there’s my consignment sale report… for now!  I’ll actually be going back later this week for the half-price sale! Not all items go to half-price; it’s up to each individual consignor. And of course you never know what’ll be left – sometimes there’s a great selection and sometimes things have been really picked over. The hunt is half of the fun, though! Wish me luck.