Thursday, September 23, 2010

Project Update

Well, some of the projects on the earlier project post are completed or nearing completion, thanks to my dedicated and persistant husband.

The mirror that I refinished is now hanging nicely over our kitchen table and adds a great finishing touch to the space. The thing was a beast to hang because the frame was super solid wood, but we managed to add some picture wire to the back and get it centered on the wall with some drywall hangers. We found this cool tutorial to help us hang it at "museum height" (57" above floor height) so it really is the focal point of the wall.

The bathroom fixtures have all been hung and they look great! (After two years without a toilet paper holder, I think we're both grateful for the little things!) We hung the robe hook behind the door, but decided to forgo the towel bars for our bathroom due to the configuration of the space. Instead, we hung $3 stainless finish Command hooks on the back of the door. (There's plumbing in the wall that would be the obvious choice, and the other walls are too far away from the shower, so we'd end up dripping water everywhere.) Thanks to a Costco find, we were able to outfit our bathroom with all the fixtures for $30. The leftovers from that kit will go in the basement bath when we finish out that space.

We used a Lowe's card we got for our anniversary (thanks, D&D!) to purchase a set of faux wood blinds for our bathroom window. Benny and I managed to install them on a Sunday afternoon with minimal stress and no extra holes in the casing (hurray!). They look beautiful and are totally functional. I like the wide slats for easy cleaning in the bathroom, and the white color blends perfectly with the trim. I'm thinking we may add these (as the budget and gift cards allow) to the other windows downstairs for an additional layer of light and heat control.

The handrailings of the entire front deck are stained now. We're just waiting for a clear weekend day to stain the deck boards. That's how it seems to go with many of our outdoor projects... we're too exhausted during the week or don't have enough daylight, or it's raining on the weekend. The deck saga will continue...

As for the guest room furniture, it still sits in the basement. I'm hoping that perhaps over Thanksgiving I can at least get some of it primed and painted. Since it looks like we'll be staying in town for that holiday, that seems feasible.

The next projects before winter are to install a whole-house water filter (we scored a coupon for one at Lowe's and have some gift card funds squirreled away for that purchase) and a storm door for the front door. The storm door will help with heat loss in the winter, and with the screen, it will help with natural ventilation and cross-breeze in the spring/summer/fall. The whole-house filter will save our washing machine from dying a slow death due to sediment in the water from our well, as well as make the fridge filter last longer.

So, how do your projects go? Anything you're dying to refinish or revamp, but can't find the time? How do you finance your projects so they don't bust the budget? (We love the gift card and credit card points for saving the budget!) I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cool Faucet Giveaway

Over at the DIY Showoff, a Delta faucet is being given away! Check out the link here for more info, or the link in the blog roll. So, whether you're remodeling, adding an addition, or building totally from scratch, check out the Delta website and the giveaway.

September Meal Plan

So, this post is a bit belated, but I thought you might like to know how I go about making a meal plan for the month and what this month looks like for us. (I'm giving myself a break from National Boards reading for a few minutes, so I'm rewarding myself with a blog post... Benny would say it's more work, but I love it! :))

To make our meal plan, I first assess what we currently have on hand in the freezer, pantry, and fridge. Then I add the essentials to the grocery list (this month, it was cheese, milk, flour, and some seasonal veggies from friends and the farmer's market). The rest of the grocery list is built every week or two based on the Grocery Game list. This helps me to determine the plan for the month.

This month, I knew we had sausage in the freezer that we could use in chili and casseroles. We also had tomato sauce in the pantry, dried pasta, and the basics for bread in the machine. So, here's the breakdown for the month, based on the basics we had on hand, plus produce and additions from the Grocery Game list.

Week 1: chili and rice (use the crockpot to cook the chili and use free tomatoes and jalapenos from friends, dried beans that were cooked and frozen in portions, and a bottle of old beer); sausages on homemade buns with sauted cabbage, onions, and apples as relish; broccoli salad, applesauce, and homemade cookies as sides--if additional meals are needed, fill in with pasta and sausage pizza

Week 2: meal from supper club (this week it was a pineapple salsa chicken casserole), sausage casserole, and homemade pizza (bacon, veggies, and fresh herbs); sides are stewed apples (done in the crockpot) and yogurt purchased with coupons

Week 3: pasta e fagiole soup (using pantry pasta, canned tomatoes purchased with coupons, and beans cooked and frozen in batches); Mexican chicken pizza (homemade crust, chicken thighs cooked in crockpot and meat shredded, salsa as sauce, and cheddar cheese); french toast casserole with frozen fruit (free blackberries and local blueberries)

Week 4: supper club meal; stir fry with spicy Asian sauce over linguini; homemade pizza

For breakfasts, we generally either eat cereal (purchased with coupons for about $1 a box) or toast with homemade jam or cream cheese. Breakfast breads for this month include: beer bread, banana bread, apple cinnamon bread, and berry muffins. All of these are made from scratch using the bread machine or a good blending fork. Generally, we make breads on the weekend so we're around to pull them out of the bread machine. Almost all of our bread recipes come from Bread Machine Magic, though the beer bread recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens Best Bread Machine Recipes.

Snacks and fillers for lunches include: yogurt, homemade cookies or brownies, crackers (store bought with coupons for about $1-$1.50 a box), or popcorn.

Our lunches are always leftovers from dinner, and we frequently pack up lunch portions after cooking the main dish to store them in the fridge. This makes packing lunches in the morning a breeze, since the meal is already packaged to go in the lunchbox and is in microwave ready containers for work.

I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea of how we go about planning for the month. Of course, sometimes things are a bit flexible... if I find a new recipe that I want to try and have things on hand to make it, then I'll substitute it for something else in the plan. Sides are always a bit flexible, and we try to do a lot of one dish meals, so that we don't have to fix a ton of sides. (That's why you see so many soups, casseroles, pizzas, etc.)

Here's to budget friendly cooking and saving on the energy bill by using the crockpot and microwave as much as possible for your meal prep! If you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you!

Harris Teeter Super Doubles

Just a quick post to let you know that this week is super double coupons at HT. That means that they will double coupons with a value of up to $1.98, so your $1 off coupon magically becomes $2 off. How cool is that? I know where I'll be on Friday after date night... the freezer section of HT, stocking up on Ben and Jerry's!

If you do the Grocery Game, the new list should be posted on Friday for HT. Happy shopping... and saving!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fabulous Freebies

Here are a few freebie tips and sites I found this week that you might be interested in. Some are events while others are products.

1. Free Museum Day has fabulous offerings all over the country on September 25. In Charlotte, there's the Mint Museum and the History Museum, both of which sound cool to me.

2. The North Carolina Science Festival is happening September 11-26 and has some amazing events all over the state. Click on the date on the calendar you're interested in to find out what's available in your area. In the high country, there are several stargazing/lunar events at the university observatory. Some events have a cost, which is minimal, and others are free.

3. A free issue of Fresh Home, which looks like a fabulous decorating magazine.

4. always has free samples and they change almost weekly. We've found this is a great way to sample new products, as well as to get products to donate to the local food pantry (they also take toiletry items, so toothpaste and other samples are appreciated there) if we're not going to use the item. We have a "dummy" email account, so we don't find our inbox junked up.

5. If you're into gardening the way I am, the Home Depot Garden Club is a great way to find coupons and tips. Their emails are useful and I even find ideas that I can use with my students. The coupons are printables, and you can usually print more than one, so you can stock up on fall bulbs or mums now. (This is probably one you want to see in your regular email.)

I'd love to hear from you if you've found more fabulous freebies this week! Don't forget to check the blog roll, because several of those offer weekly give-aways too.

Increasing Your Savings and Giving

There are essentially two ways to increase your savings; one, to cut out extraneous expenses, and two, to increase your earning potential. As a family, we've cut out about all extra expenses we can while still living comfortably. For example, we cook in batches to save on energy, we line dry clothes, we cut out cable, don't have a local phone bill (aside from internet), carpool, and conserve on energy for heating/cooling as much as possible. Of course, we also shop sales, weigh our purchases as a need vs. want, and use coupons.

Since we've cut out about all that we can and still live with comfort, we've done what we can to increase our earning potential. Benny works overtime, when it's approved, to add a bit more to his paycheck. This is especially important for him in the summer, since winter can be slower and his hours have been known to be reduced during the off season for paint. I have, in the past two years, earned my master's degree, which puts me on a higher pay scale with the state. I've also found a few summer opportunities for professional development that offer stipends and have had the opportunity to work with a grant funded program through the university that pays well for some teaching during the summer. Recently, as a family, we have decided that this is the year that I will pursue National Board Certification. In North Carolina, currently, Nationally Board Certified teachers are compensated with an additional step in the pay scale. Since certification is good for ten years, we decided that this would be a good time for me to pursue this process, since we don't have kids yet and I'm still in the mode of reflective writing since I just finished graduate school. It's also a welcome challenge for me, since I have a fantastic and unique group of students this year, who will make the writing and portfolio construction very interesting.

We can continue to increase our giving during this time through in-kind donations, such as donating gently used items to Goodwill and our church, as well as using our coupons to purchase items at a deep discount for our local food pantry. Our food pantry also accepts home canned items, so the apples and jams that I can are gladly accepted. Of course, we continue to tithe to our local church and I make donations throughout the year to our school (both time and supplies) and my students.

All of that is to say that this will enable us to add more to our savings, begin to invest more, and give more to ministries and organizations we care about. Since I'm pursuing National Boards, it also means that I will have a little less time to devote to this blog. I still fully plan to post as frequently as possible, but that will likely be once a week, rather than the more frequent 2-3 times a week that I've been trying to post.

How do you go about increasing your savings and giving, while not sacrificing the time with family or hobbies that you love? Are you willing to wear yourself out for the short-term to gain in the long-term? I'd love to hear how you're saving and giving green!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Finding Fun on the Cheap

We love entertainment on the cheap, and free is even better. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to attend the High Country Beer Fest, which was a blast, even for the non-beer drinker, such as myself. Even better... we got in for free!

Benny signed up about a month ago as a volunteer for the festival, so that meant that he helped to set up and then worked a two hour shift. This also meant attending a training event on Friday evening, where they served barbecue and had music and beer on tap afterwards. So, needless to say, the training event was far less boring than most. After his set up time yesterday, he came home for a few hours. Then we went back together, me as his designated driver (which meant I got in for free), and attended the event. Benny served his shift by passing out glasses to everyone with a wrist band (which indicated that they were of age and had paid for a ticket). Later, when his shift was over, he sampled several beers (pouring some out along the way), and found several unique ones that may find their way to our fridge over the next few months.

I spent the time attending the workshops on brewing and pairing beers with foods. Of course, I found these incredibly interesting since I love to cook and like to eat even more. One workshop was on pairing cheeses and beers, and though I didn't drink any beer, I tasted some excellent cheeses from a local wine and cheese shop. In addition to the information and tasting, they also offered a 25% off coupon for any cheese in their store. And you know how I love coupons! Then, I went to a workshop on pairing beer with dessert, which I have to say I was a bit skeptical about. However, they quickly proved that they knew what they were doing. The spiced pecans were fantastic, and I can only imagine how good a glass of the raspberry lambic would be with the raspberry crepe they served. The puffed pastry drizzled with caramel and spiced pecans was fantastic, and the flourless chocolate torte was to die for!

When we finished up, we walked through the Broyhill Inn and stumbled upon an exhibit of water color paintings done by local artists. They were all professionally framed and for sale, and we found one that we decided to purchase for Christmas for each other. At $50, it was a steal for local original art, especially since it was already matted and framed. Even though we're really trying to save every cent we can right now, we felt like it fit our Christmas budget and we could more easily swing it since neither of us had to pay to attend the beer fest.

After that, we had dinner with friends (pot roast, salad, and homemade banana pudding for dessert... yummm). All in all, a fantastic way to spend the Saturday of a holiday weekend... relaxing, learning, and spending time with friends.

So, the next time you see an event you'd like to attend, but the ticket price is too steep, don't hesitate to investigate further for volunteer opportunities. It may be that it will provide you with more opportunity to learn about the event than just by attending at the full ticket price.

What about you? How have you found ways to enjoy the holiday weekend while sticking to your budget? Did you grill out with friends, labor around the house on some long-awaited project, or something else entirely? I'd love to hear how you did it, while saving what you could of the planet and your paycheck!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Coupon Party

This week I had the opportunity to attend a coupon party. Even though my week was crazy busy, I decided to go since I'd been wanting to check one out for a while. Here's the low down...

First, gather all coupons you're not going to use, as well as your coupon organizer and a pair of scissors. These are essential to making the most of the coupon party.

When I arrived at our coupon party, there was a stack of coupon flyers in the middle of the table that was up for grabs. Pretty much, we just sorted through and picked out what we wanted. I also found it helpful to let others know if I was looking for something in particular (yogurt coupons), so that if they found one they weren't going to use, they could pass it along to me. When couponing, it helps if you're not brand specific, so that you can make the most of the coupon good-ness. However, if you are, the coupon party is a great way to accumulate doubles or triples of things your family likes. (It saves you from having to buy an additional paper each week.) We were able to stock up on Yoplait coupons, as well as Pepperidge Farm cookie coupons (woohoo), among other things. I also found this to be a nice way to get a hold of some coupons I hadn't seen, since we get the Winston Salem Journal, while others get the Charlotte Observer.

The coupon party was a great way to get tips from others on their couponing methods, such as the Grocery Game and Southern Savers. It was also neat to see how other people organized their coupons. One person used a small photo album, another the baseball card holders, another just a binder with sheet protectors with the inserts in chronological order. For more on my couponing methods, check out this post, and those tagged with "coupons". I also found out about some great local deals, like "friending" Stick Boy on Facebook for daily and weekly deals. Too bad I missed out on the free cookie and coffee this week there! We also gathered up expired coupons to send to troops, who can use them on the bases for up to six months after the expiration date. I also shared that the Watauga Humane Society takes animal food coupons, so that's another way to share the wealth.

Probably the best thing about the coupon party was the chance to meet others in the community who are like-minded about savings. It was a nice way to meet some new moms, other gals who don't have kids yet, and get to share some dessert and grocery savings strategies. So, kudos to Amanda for organizing the coupon party this month! I'm hoping that I can attend again next month.

Have you found a local coupon party to attend? Maybe you can start your own to learn more from others, and at the very least, enjoy some social girl time. Here's to living and saving green, the party way!