Saturday, July 8, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments: Vacation Edition

This past week was fabulous!  We went on vacation, to the beach no less, and managed to do it for close to $150.  So, without further ado, here's how we did it....

  • Stayed with family.  We're blessed to have family who has waterfront property, and they invited us to stay for the week.  It is their full time home, so they were there to host.  That meant there was no hotel bill for the week.
  • Drive, taking advantage of low gas prices.  We had always planned to drive, but the historically low gas prices certainly helped out.  We also tried to get an early start to miss the holiday traffic.  We loaded the boys in pjs and ate breakfast of homemade muffins and fresh picked blueberries in the car.  The car was packed the night before, making that much easier.
  • Planned stops.  Though we couldn't plan all our stops (sometimes the kids just need a break from car seats), we do generally try to stop at places that don't encourage spending.  We stopped at a Lowe's hardware on the way down, which has nice restrooms and free entertainment for little man in the form of the riding lawnmower display.  It's a place to stretch our legs and we can browse and not feel guilty.  We also like to stop in grocery stores this way, and we can pick up a bag of pretzels or something for the same as a tiny bag would cost at the gas station.   There are a couple of really nice rest areas along the way too, and these serve the same purpose, especially if we have a Frisbee in the car to play with a bit in the lawn. 
  • Cheap car entertainment.  I picked up several books at the library, a tablet we can check out there, and printed some alphabet bingo sheets to take.  We had things to do in the car, some books to read, songs to listen to, and games to play.  Overall, it was as good as could be expected with little ones on the road.  We packed car snacks from home (air popped popcorn, dried fruit, crackers, pretzels, nuts, muffins, etc.)  We all took reusable water bottles or cups that could be refilled at stops.
  • Eat out only once.  We have a special nostalgic restaurant we like to visit each year (the same place I grew up going as a kid), so we enjoy taking the boys for breakfast when we go to the coast.  We budgeted for this, and every other meal was eaten with family.
  • Keep entertainment cheap.  Most days, we played on the water, either taking the motor boat over to the beach or kayaking on the water, or just swimming off the dock out front.  We did splurge and spend $40 on going to the aquarium, but it was a morning well spent, and little man loved every minute of it.  We took snacks that morning, so we staved off hunger and didn't have to buy snacks at the aquarium.  We also took bikes, and the cousins had some there, so the kids had a big time riding bikes in the carport.
  • Meals at home.  I already mentioned this, but we took our CSA veggies to contribute, and I made a batch of cookies and homemade granola, homemade pesto, frozen homemade pizza sauce, and a pound of coffee to share as well.  I also picked up some cold stuff at the grocery store there to share (yogurt, half and half, etc.).  My other cousins brought some casseroles, homemade chicken salad, and homemade meatballs to share.  Fishing off the dock, and the crab pot, yielded a yummy seafood dinner one night.  We all shared kitchen duty, and cleanup, so meals were pretty easy, even with having eight kids under the age of 5 in the house!  
  • Planned laundry.  We kept clothes to a minimum, knowing that there would be laundry facilities.  We were able to take our cloth diapers, meaning that we had to rely on disposables only on the road.  We took our cloth wipes too, so we used these too.
  • Break up the trip.  We were fortunate to have family along the road about halfway, so we stopped overnight both directions.  This really made the trip more manageable with the boys, and it gave us a little visit time too.  My in-laws kept our dog, which was really nice, so that was a stop.  We also stopped to stay with my cousin and her family, which gave the boys some extra time with those cousins.
  • Budget entertainment.  There were plenty of toys and lots of kids around, so entertainment for the kids was easy.  The town put on a nice Fourth of July fireworks display, and we enjoyed a free Sunday evening concert in the park.  I did purchase sparklers for the kids ($2), and my cousin bought glow sticks for them.  
  • Little splurge.  We budgeted a little cushion, and we went to one of the thrift stores there.  We knew our oldest would need a new life jacket soon, so we found one there for $2 for when he outgrows the current one.  (They are rated by weight, and are understandably very specific, so we want to be prepared when he's ready for the new size.)  We knew that finding a used one there would be much easier than where we live, because they're much more used in a coastal community.  We also found a $0.25 Halloween pumpkin bucket for baby boy, and a few dresses for me.  They had a great holiday mug selection, so I picked up several at $0.10 each, knowing that we always make homemade hot cocoa for teacher gifts at the holidays.  All told, we probably spent $20 there, and it went toward a great local ministry.
So, I'd love to hear from you!  How do you live and save green on vacation?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments

Wow, I cannot believe that we're halfway through May already!  We have only three weeks of school left, and then it'll be summer!

My boys were so wonderful to me this past weekend for Mother's Day.  We totally broke out of our routine on Saturday and had both breakfast and dinner out (dinner was courtesy of gift cards).  It was a fabulous day, complete with a little bit of garden work to keep me and little man happy (he did help, but mostly just enjoyed being outside).  It's a great day with your kiddos when there are little to no meltdowns or power struggles!

This week is all about using up what we have in the freezer and pantry, so we're skipping a trip to the grocery store (though I might need to pick up some yogurt).

Here's how this past week went, frugally speaking:

  • Kept up with our usual kitchen routines of making meals at home, including salmon pasta salad with peas and cucumber, grilled cheeses, salads, banana chocolate chunk muffins, egg and cheese sandwiches, and baked ham.  Snacks included fresh fruit, nuts, homemade croutons, and hard boiled eggs.
  • I was out of chocolate chips, so I chopped up part of a chocolate bar in the cabinet for the muffins.  Yum!  And a good use of what we had.
  • Gleaned spinach, arugula, mushrooms, kale, two gallons of milk, two pounds of strawberries, two containers of blackberries, and several containers of cut up fruit from the food pantry.  They have started gleaning from the farmer's markets at the food pantry, so they have loads of fresh produce.  The clients often don't take the greens, so they tend to go to waste.  We enjoy them a lot, so it's nice that we can use them.
  • Continued with composting, even bringing home our fruit and paper scraps from the church coffee bar on Sunday (I take my own coffee cup, so I just put the leftovers in that to bring home.)  Our compost is much more balanced since adding some spent hay with each kitchen scrap addition, which is great.
  • Hung much of our laundry, including some sheets and towels, on the line to dry when weather was conducive.  We continued with our regular cold water washing, except for towels, cloth diapers, and sheets.
  • Making a renewed effort to put water left in water glasses on plants, rather than down the drain.  This will really help with our container plants outside.
  • Used the dry mop for floor dusting rather than the broom vac, saving energy.  
  • Kept the windows cracked, and ran ceiling fans when necessary, to keep the house cool instead of running AC.  We will start needing to close front curtains soon during the day to keep the southern facing sun out (this is an advantage to us in the winter with our cold weather).
  • Planted asparagus crowns in the garden, hoping they will come up.  We also planted two bean plants that little man started at preschool and brought home.  It looks like at least one of them will make it, so it will be fun to watch with him.  
  • Split irises and hostas for other spots in the garden.  Purchased a few discounted bedding plants (marigolds, coleus, petunias) to fill planters, but also filled them with black eyed Susans and creeping Jenny ground cover from the garden.  Hoping they will fill in nicely in a few weeks and be a nice pop of color on our porch.
  • Hoping to find some cheap starts of basil for our garden so that we can make our annual supply of pesto for pasta, pizza, and sandwich spreads.
  • Benny talked to a local painter who has agreed to professionally spray some chairs with white paint for us for downstairs.  We purchased these from Craigslist for $10 a piece (a steal because they're so sturdy), but we know we'll get a better finish if they are professionally sprayed. The painter will do this in his spare time, so he's not going to charge us his regular fee. It will be nice to have these done and out of our garage space and into our craft room for regular use.
  • Did some free entertainment on Saturday with the boys at the library and the Children's Playhouse.  We also combined errands that day, meaning that we only had one car out, even with Benny at work and me being out with the boys.
  • Used gift cards for our Mother's Day celebration.  We ate out at Panera, which was a real treat for us.  The boys enjoyed it immensely, and we did a little window shopping at the mall (didn't even buy anything off the clearance rack!).  Benny also purchased my Mother's Day gift of a new cook book (The Food Lab) using gift card money from Barnes and Noble.  It is going to be a great book, written in much the same style as Cook's Illustrated, pairing science with cooking (two of my favorite things).  Little man made a cute card for me, and a fun hand print painting at school for Mother's Day.  
  • Finished up a year of professional mentoring, so I will be receiving a stipend for that in a few weeks.  We're planning for most of that to go toward paying off our home equity line, but a little of it will pay for a new pair of sandals for me for the summer.
  • Excited that our solar eclipse party was funded through Donor's Choose for school!  I have another project posted to fund new books for our classroom library, so check it out! Good Reads Make Great Readers!
What did you do to live and save green this past week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

School Project: Solar Eclipse Party--Your Help Needed

Many of you know that I am a school teacher.  I rarely post here about that part of my life, but right now there's something very exciting going on that I'd like to share.

On August 21, the first day of school for next year, we have the chance to experience a solar eclipse with our students.  I am in the process of designing a school-wide event for students grades K-8 to teach them about the mechanics of an eclipse, types of light, the scale of our solar system, and how to view an eclipse safely.  We're incorporating science, math, literature, social studies, the arts, and many kinesthetic activities.

In order to make this project happen, there are some supplies that we need to purchase, especially to make safe solar viewing possible for our 300+ students.  Through the link below, you can make a donation to make our project possible.  Currently, we're about halfway to our goal!  Any gift you can give would be helpful, and for the next three days, your donation would be matched up to $50 if you include the promo code LIFTOFF.

So, I'd like to challenge my readers to consider donating over the next three days to have your donation doubled.  If you believe in my project like I do, would you consider sharing this with friends who might also support our project?

Thanks for considering!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments

Spring has officially arrived!  We've had beautiful weather, mixed with showers.  It's been really nice for outside play, yard and garden work, and hanging clothes outside.  We've had cool enough evenings to enjoy the windows being open.

  • Cooked all meals at home including egg and cheese sandwiches, homemade granola (added pumpkin seeds and dried coconut), lentil sloppy joes, egg salad sandwiches, homemade pizza, and crock pot lasagna soup with salad.
  • Enjoyed a date night, thanks to Mom for keeping little man, with baby.  We used a gift card for a local restaurant, and then did dessert at home of brownies and ice cream.  
  • Salvaged several containers of berries, pears, apples, lemons, mushrooms, several loaves of bread, bagels, yogurt, and half and half from the food pantry.
  • Gleaned several snacks, milk cartons, and cheese sticks from the school cafeteria.
  • Kept up with all regular cold water laundry activities and hanging clothes to dry.
  • Kept up with composting activities, adding more hay to the compost.  This seems to be helping the fruit fly situation we had.
  • Planted free basil plants in the garden.  The parsley we planted has been eaten by rabbits (anyone know an easy way to keep them away?).
  • Spent a little time weeding the garden.  Need to split irises and hostas, so will relocate these to another garden area where they can multiply.  Might also split hellebores, as they're doing really well in the back garden.
  • Purchased new sandals for 50% off.  They are really good quality, so should last several years.
  • Carpooled to work two days.  Should be able to carpool most of next week, and the following weeks.
  • Enjoyed some time outside with little man on walks and playing "egg hunt" in the yard/garden.  He also helped some with weeding.
  • Enjoyed the cool air and having the windows open.  Will substantially save on the electric bill this month too.
  • Stayed away from the local kids consignment sale this time.  The boys can make do with what we already have for summer, so we didn't need anything.  
  • Met with our financial adviser to set up automatic savings for the boys, contribute more to retirement funds, and a little more to mortgage.
  • Accepted a curriculum writer position with DPI for the summer.  It will be a substantial amount of work, but the stipend will be worth it.
What did you do to live and save green this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments Easter Break Edition

This Easter Break was definitely an exercise in the "stay-cation" mentality for us.  It was an opportunity for Benny to pick up some extra hours at work, and a chance for us to have some more family time.  We took advantage of some local attractions, within an hour's drive, and splurged a bit on treats, but generally kept things cheap and easy.

It ended up being a blessing that we'd planned to keep things low-key, since both boys ended up being sick, though not too sick to slow them down majorly.  It also gave us a chance to do a little yard and garden work before the rains came.

  • Cooked most meals at home including overnight blueberry french toast casserole, black beans and rice, chili and corn bread, strawberry cream cheese coffee cake, homemade pizza, French toast and fruit for dinner, salmon salad (like tuna but with canned salmon) and hard boiled eggs (to dye for Easter of course)
  • Made the best use of our freezer and pantry stash, even using powdered milk for the baking.  Was glad to use up a few things in the pantry that were going out of date.
  • Graciously accepted bread, veggies, and some pre-made deli sandwiches from the pantry this week.  Also stocked up on strawberries, which were 99 cents a pound, but we were limited to four pounds.
  • Picked up a bale of spent hay for free to add to our compost.  Hoping this will remedy our fruit fly situation there.  Continued to compost all kitchen scraps and paper as appropriate.
  • Kept up with regular laundry activities, washing in cold water and line drying when possible.  Diapers and "sick sheets" were washed in hot water or on sanitize.
  • Took a day trip to the science center about an hour from here.  The boys loved it, and it was nice to be able to use the gift certificate that we were given for little man's birthday a while back.  We did splurge here and upgrade to an annual membership, which the gift certificate contributed towards, because the boys enjoyed it so much.  We met my aunt and uncle for lunch afterwards.  It was a blast, and we look forward to going again.
  • Enjoyed a trip to the library with the boys for story time.  Since little man's in preschool, he doesn't get to go as much as he used to.  It's nice that we got to go, he enjoyed it, and we both got some books out of the deal.
  • The trip to Grandfather Mountain was probably the highlight of the week, and one of the least expensive.  It is only about 30 minutes from our house, and we took a picnic out there.  They have a great animal exhibit, wonderful hiking trails, and museums.  Normally, the cost is out of our price range, but for the month of April, they always significantly discount the entrance.  So, we all got in for $9.  We did splurge this day and pick up some breakfast goodies and coffee before the trip.
  • Little man and I enjoyed a date afternoon after some yard work on Saturday morning.  He wanted to go to the bakery, so I used a gift card and got each of us a treat and some bread for later in the week.  Then, we picked up eggs from the grocery store for dying later.  While we were there, we discovered a free Earth Day craft of making bird feeders, so we did that together.  They gave me an herb of my choice to plant, so I chose parsley, since I don't usually have that one in the garden.  (I already had the basil they offered.)  He also requested a trip to the carwash, so I splurged and did that (we usually don't go that often).  He loved it!  Such a fun time, and so special to have that time with just him.
  • Used coupons and freebies to fill the Easter baskets for the boys.  Little man got pistachios, mini-Nutella packs, flower seeds, and some books.  Baby got a board book and a stuffed animal.
  • Enjoyed a couple of family meals with mom and extended family, saving on overall cost.  (Though the road trip probably made up for it with one.)
  • Have played LOTS of egg hunt this week with the plastic Easter eggs we have!  It has given little man hours of pleasure, and has really stretched his thinking about hiding spots.  We've tried to begin introducing words like "camouflage" so that he is learning a little more in the process, but it's great for logic.
What did you do to live and save green this week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 3, 2017

April Menu Plan

As usual, we're all about making use of what we have.  We'll continue to work down what we have in the pantry and freezer.  We're starting to get a few herbs in the garden, so these will bring some fresh flavor to some of our meals, where we're relying on pantry and freezer staples.  Making use of the ability to glean from the food pantry will also help us.  We've recently received a lot of bread and grapes from the food pantry, so some of our meals will revolve around these.

I am trying out a few new recipes this month, so I hope they work out well.


  • Overnight crock pot oats with dried fruit and nuts
  • French toast casserole with cream cheese and frozen berries
  • Bagels and cream cheese
  • Egg and cheese sandwiches
  • Banana muffins
  • Leftovers
  • Yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Roasted turkey with potatoes, salad, and asparagus
  • Turkey salad (using leftover turkey, nuts/seeds, and grapes) sandwiches with fresh fruit
  • Asian salmon soup (we substitute ramen for the rice) with Asian slaw and egg rolls
  • Mushroom tartines with salad or fruit
  • Black bean chili with corn bread
  • Tomato and greens soup with kidney beans and spicy sausage served with toast
  • Sloppy joes with oven fries or roasted veggies
  • Homemade pizza x 4
  • Quiche with bacon, broccoli and mushrooms/onions served with fruit
  • Winter squash waffles or pancakes with fruit and sausage
  • Black bean, squash, and sweet potato enchiladas with fixin's
  • Pesto pasta salad
  • Asian chicken with rice
  • Hot dogs with carrot and celery sticks and dip
Prep ahead:
I will be out of town for a few days this month, so I am going to try making a few freezer meals for Benny to make life easier for him.
  • Make crock pot Asian chicken (put all ingredients in a freezer bag for Benny to thaw and cook)
  • Sloppy joe filling for freezer
  • Prepare and pre-bake pizza crust

Monday, March 27, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments

This past week was kind of a whirl wind for us, since we were traveling for the weekend.  We still managed to save quite a bit and stick to our frugal ways, though!

  • Travel was primarily for school, so fuel expenses will be reimbursed.  We could combine it with a visit to family, so that was nice.
  • Radio in the "new" car needed replacing, so Benny ordered one online and he and his dad spent most of the day Saturday replacing it.  Much cheaper than paying for a new one, though we still have to figure out how to program it all.
  • Packed our own snacks from home for the road trip, so we didn't pay for snacks or drinks along the way.
  • All meals were made at home including banana bars for breakfasts, bagels and cream cheese, egg and cheese sandwiches, Thai beef over rice, and guacamole and hummus with pita chips (I honestly don't remember what else we ate for meals!)
  • Continued with our regular composting, recycling, and waste reduction lifestyle.
  • Accepted two gallons of milk, crackers, and fruit from the food pantry.  
  • Gleaned four cheese sticks, several snack packs, carton of yogurt, and three apples from school cafeteria.
  • Reused tea bags a few times for hot tea, saving on the cost of them and stretching them a little further.
  • Gratefully accepted some hand-me-downs from a coworker for little man.
  • Went to Costco with family, saving by purchasing wholesale and didn't have to purchase a membership.  We bought:  almonds, organic raisins, two large cartons of Greek yogurt, grape tomatoes, wild caught salmon (frozen), maple syrup, honey, and a set of clearance pjs for little man in a size that will fit next winter.
  • Enjoyed shared meals with family, saving on cooking and food costs.
  • Took a few walks and spent time at a park, getting free exercise and vitamin D!  Nice to have some warm spring weather!
  • Continued to breastfeed and pump for baby, compiling a freezer stash of milk to help when I have to be away in a few weeks.  This will also help when the boys have colds for a little immune boost.
  • Benny loves watches.  He offered to write a forum post for one company that he really likes in exchange for a new watch and band from them.  Win, win for both!
  • Found a headboard we like on Craigslist for $30 (much cheaper than a similar one we found online), so hoping it is still for sale.  We'd like to give it a face lift with white paint and finally get around to really decorating our bedroom.  We love the boys room the most in the house, and our bedroom has taken a back seat.  We've chosen a new wall color and hope to give some of the existing furniture a face lift with a little paint, find some new curtains, and generally spruce up the space.  
What did you do to live and save green this past week?  I'd love to hear from you!