Tuesday, October 27, 2009

After-Holiday Clearance Sales Aren't Just About Christmas Gift Wrap

If you think that it is a bit early for an article on After-Holiday sales, you are mistaken. After-Halloween clearance sales start the season of After-Holiday bargains. And the bargains aren't just holiday decorations and gift wrap. You can find everyday items in the stores, such as some of the items in the photos below.

While I do try to limit my paper product purchases, the deals I found about two years ago at Target in the first photo were just too good to ignore. I bought the Halloween Glad storage bags, press-n-seal and ovenware at 75% off. I bought the Christmas treat bags two years ago at 90% off. I use the ovenware for the meal ministry I participate in at our church. The storage & treat bags and press-n-seal will last me for years and I use them year round. Is there a rule that you can't use a bag with a snowman on it in April?

Last year as I was circling the perimeter in Target after Christmas, I found an end cap full of these Electrasol 32 count dishwasher tabs and the holiday pack of Dawn detergent. The end cap was not signed, but I noticed the penguins on the Electrasol and did a quick price scan. I about fell over when they scanned at $1.24 for a 32 box. They were 75% off and they were not signed. The Dawn was also priced at $1.24. I then did something very uncharacteristic of me...I bought every single box of Electrasol and bottle of Dawn. In all, 18 boxes of Electrasol and 7 two packs of Dawn. I didn't want to take a chance and try to score them at 90% off. I was afraid somebody else would find them. I also had a few coupons that I used to make the deal even sweeter. I still have boxes and bottles left over and it has been 10 months. I will easily be able to get through another 10 months with the dishwasher tabs and years with the Dawn. I also shared some of this bounty with my family.

I found these card-making and scrap booking holiday items in the stationery aisle and they were not marked. I bought it all for 90% off. I'm not much of a crafter, but at 90% off these are great art supplies for my pre-schooler. I also found similar items after Valentine's Day at 90%. My daughter used those supplies to make all of her Valentine cards this past year to exchange with her school friends.

Some things to remember with the after-holiday bargains:
  • Search all around the store, not just the holiday themed aisles and the end-caps. The paper products were found in the paper product aisle and they were unmarked. Keep those eyes open.
  • Look for seasonal or holiday packaging on everyday items, like the Halloween themed Glad bags or the penguins on the Electrasol. Many everyday items have holiday packaging: paper towels, crackers, hand soap are a few other examples.
  • Use the price scanner.
  • Target's clearance schedule is typically 50% off the day after the holiday for three days, 75% off the fourth day after the holiday for three days and 90% off the seventh day after holiday, for 1-2 days. This schedule isn't set in stone and it could vary by region. You could always call the store if you are angling for some 75% deals. Or look at the on-line forums, like A Full Cup.
  • The after-holiday bargains aren't limited to Target. Your favorite grocery stores, Rite-Aid, CVS, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc will all have after holiday bargains.
I know it is hard to think about after-holiday bargains, when the Christmas season hasn't even started yet, but Halloween is 4 days away and the after-holiday bargain hunting starts on November 1. Good Luck!

What awesome after-holiday deals have you scored in recent years? Be sure to come back and comment if you find any interesting deals next week.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sausage, Swiss Chard & Potatoes Casserole

This is an easy and delicious recipe that I make with the Swiss chard that we get from our CSA. It goes really well with some good bread, a garden salad and homemade applesauce.

Sausage, Swiss Chard and Potatoes Casserole
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 lb sausage, removed from casings - I use turkey
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red sweet pepper, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves - minced
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, steams and ribs removed, chopped fine
  • about 5 medium potatoes, sliced thin and cooked
  • 1 - 2 cups cheddar cheese, depending on your preference

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage, onion, pepper and garlic and cook through. Break up the sausage into fine pieces. When sausage and veggies are cooked through, add the chopped Swiss chard and cover the pan and cook about 5 minutes to allow the Swiss chard to wilt. While I am cooking all of this the potatoes are being boiled.

Cover the bottom of a 9 X 13 pan with non-stick spray or butter. Pour the sausage and Swiss chard mixture into the pan.

Layer the cooked, sliced potatoes on top of Swiss chard.

Next, layer the cheese on top of the potatoes. We love cheese, so I use about 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

I cringe at this next photo, it turned out so yellow. (novice food photographer to blame). Don't be deterred. This is a delicious casserole and the leftovers taste even better the next day.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Four Money Saving Swap Ideas for the Winter and Holidays

The holiday season is not that far away, most of our heaters have been turned on and the cold weather is here...brrrrr. Swap meets are a great way to socialize with your friends and save some time, money and resources this time of year. Here are four swaps to try with your friends, neighbors and family:

  1. Soup swap - Depending on how many people involved, simply make enough soup to go around. Last winter, I participated in a soup swap with four other moms and we each made 4 1-quart containers to swap. I came home with four different soups. I promptly put them in the freezer and I had some new dinner ideas. I just added a side salad and some homemade bread and dinner was served. We chose to make quart containers because we all have families with small kids, but you could increase the size. Make sure to set guidelines in case there are food allergies or issues.

  2. Cookie swap - I just received my invitation for this year's cookie swap with a mom's group that I belong to. We are each making a dozen cookies and there are about 6-8 mommies involved. If a dozen is too much, make it a half-dozen. I'm going to stick all of the cookies in my freezer and take an assortment of the cookies to a family holiday party. Again make sure to set guidelines in case there are food allergies or issues.

  3. Babysitting swap - Wouldn't it be nice to get some holiday shopping done alone, without the kiddos? Or how about just going to the grocery store or maybe a trip to your gym or a date night with your spouse? I would love it. Do you have a good friend that you trust with your kids? She might be looking for a sitter too? Set up an arrangement and take turns watching the kids. This gives you some free time without paying a sitter and the kids get some social time with friends.

  4. Clothing/Toy swap - Speaking of holiday shopping, presents and winter clothing don't have to be brand-spanking new. How about gently used or maybe even never used? Gather your friends and have everyone bring children's and/or adult clothes, toys, books and other items that are laying around our houses and taking up too much room in our closets. Have everyone "merchandise" their items and then everyone picks a number from a hat. Starting with number 1, everyone gets a turn to pick one item. Keep going through the numbers until everyone is done picking what they want.
Do you have any swaps planned in the near future? Please comment and tell us about it.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Apple Gingerbread Cake with Homemade Whipped Cream

Two words...oh my.

No I'm sorry, three words...oh my my.

No wait, four words...oh my my my.

I am loving the flavors of the fall season. Quite frankly fall foods are getting me through the cold wet October we are having in the northeast. This weekend I was craving Gingerbread, so I made it and now it could be my most favorite cake ever.

Apple Gingerbread Cake

  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup butter
  • 1 tsp. Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Cup Molasses
  • 1 Cup Sour Milk - 1 cup milk with 1 Tbsp of white vinegar added to it. It will bubble and curdle, but that is okay.
  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 of your favorite baking apples. Peeled and cut into 8-10 slices. I used a apple slicer.
Mix the sugar, butter, ginger, cinnamon and salt until creamy. Add 1 large egg and beat until fluffy. Add molasses and sour milk. Mix well. Add flour and baking soda and mix until combined.

Prepare a 9 x 9 glass pan with non-stick baking spray. Layer the pan with the apples.

Pour the cake batter over the apples. Apples will float in the batter. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

This cake smells so good. You want to dig in as soon as it comes out of the oven, but WAIT, something is not right.

That's it. Much better.

DO NOT eat this cake without the HOMEMADE WHIPPED CREAM. Well, I guess you could, but why.

Homemade whipped cream
  • 1 Cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp. Confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
With the wire attachment or beaters, gradually increase speed to high and whip the cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. It only takes a minute or two.


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spending Diet Update

Have you ever declared yourself on a spending diet? We needed to in the past, but never followed through. Back in September, I wrote about how we needed to put the brakes on our spending and starting October 1, we started our Spending Diet. We had a few guidelines:

(Our allowable expenses for the month are in bold and our current situation is in italics)

  • Groceries - I am making an effort to eat more from the pantry and freezer to try to reduce this expense.

  • The sign up for swim lessons for our oldest daughter is in October. We decided to also signed her up for tumbling and to get tickets for the girls to see Disney on Ice. These were definitely an unplanned expenses, but we made the choices together. We'll see at the end of the month if that was a smart decision or not.

  • Our oldest daughter's birthday is early in November. We are planning a small party with a few of her friends and cousins. I am going to keep it simple, but fun. Her birthday is around Halloween, so I am encouraging the kids to wear their costumes. I am searching online for some party game ideas. She told me she wants a pink cake, I might try to talk her into strawberry cupcakes that I can make with the strawberries I picked back in June. I still have a few weeks left for this to come together at a realistic price, but still be very fun for my girl.

  • Dine out using only gift cards. Like I said back on Oct. 1st, this is the most challenging guideline for us. At the end of a long week, we like to go out to dinner. We still went out to dinner and we used our gift cards, but we did spend over the amount of the gift card.

  • We will still get our cash allowance for the month. Trust me it isn't much. I have about 20% of my cash allowance left...yikes and there is still half a month to get through. I might be digging under the sofa cushions and in pockets soon...LOL!

  • Our oldest will need a winter coat and I will keep my eye out for a good sale. It was pretty chilly this morning as we were getting ready for school, so I pulled out last year's coat and she tried it own. It still fits. I don't know if it will make it through the winter though because she is growing like a weed, but it gives me some time to find a good bargain.

Our Disallowed expenses:

  • Everything else - I am really avoiding the stores, because they are too tempting. We did go to K-mart for a Halloween costume and I used a gift card that I earned in the spring and the costume was on sale. As I look at our receipts from the first half of the month, we have done a good job at avoiding other purchases.

As I mentioned in my initial Spending Diet post, we are trying to achieve self-control. It is not always easy and sometimes my husband and I can be easily swayed. Although, the Spending Diet hasn't really dominated our discussions this month and we really haven't needed to remind each other about it. We both know that we are trying to save money and without any tension we are spending less. I will be curious to see how much more we will have in our account at the end of October. As far as what we will do with any overage, we have not decided. There is a long list of things that we could use it on. My vote is for the item that will best affect affect our bottom line.

Are you on a Spending Diet? How is it going for you?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nine paper products to cross off of your grocery list.

Are you looking for more ways to trim your grocery bill? Try replacing those paper products on your list with cloth and re-usable products and you will not only reduce your grocery spending, but you will also reduce your waste.

  1. Switch from paper towels to old bath towels - Do you have old towels in the back of your bathroom closet that your aren't using anymore? When you have really big spills, grab the old bath towels instead of a massive amount of paper towels and then just toss the towels in your laundry.

  2. Switch from paper napkins to cloth napkins - All of our cloth napkins have been found in the clearance section of TJ Maxx or some other store. I also use them to clean up smaller spills in the kitchen and wipe messy little hands and faces.

  3. Switch from paper tissues to flannel cloth hankies - Flannel is so much softer on my babies' little noses. I have some flannel hankies that I bought a long time ago, but with sniffle season upon us I am going to make some more by cutting up old flannel receiving blankets that are no longer being used. A quick stitch around the edges should hopefully prevent fraying.
  4. Use plastic store bags for trash bags. Even though we try to use cloth grocery bags, we still end up with some plastic. Use them for your garbage.

  5. Skip the sandwich bags and use re-usable containers in your lunch tote.

  6. Switch from parchment paper to silicone baking mats. I have been using these for years. There is an initial investment, I've seen them priced at $14-$20, but parchment paper is pricey too and your investment will eventually pay for itself. Use a coupon from Bed, Bath & Beyond if you decide to purchase a baking mat.

  7. Switch from disposable cleaning cloths and mops and use old t-shirts, towels, flannel or micro-fiber instead.

  8. Save the paper plates for your really BIG parties.

  9. Instead of using aluminum foil or plastic wrap to cover casseroles and leftovers, store the food in re-usable containers. I really like my Pyrex glass bowls with the blue plastic lids. I have 4 different sizes. My Corning Ware lidded casserole dishes come in handy as well.

Sometimes reaching for disposable paper products seems easier, but it doesn't take much more effort to use products that are re-usable or recycled. You save money and resources.

What paper products do you avoid and what did you substitute them with?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

How to Make Homemade Sugar-Free Applesauce

Home-made applesauce is family favorite. I don't mind making it because it is very easy to make, especially when you use a mix of fall apples the only ingredient that you need is ... Apples. On a recent trip to a local apple and pumpkin farm I bought two 1/2 bushel bags of seconds for $8.00 a bag. A 1/2 bushel bag of regular apples was $12, but when I saw that the seconds were in really good condition, it was a no-brainer. So I sorted through the bins and my kids helped me fill the bags full with Ginger Gold, Yellow Delicious, Honey Crisp, Gala, McIntosh, Fuji, Jonagold.

I brought them home and got started on the applesauce right away. I also made a pie, but it was gobbled up before I thought about taking a picture.

I have to admit my way of making applesauce is made easier because of this handy gadget, a food strainer and sauce maker. It is a hand-me-down from my mom and it makes the job easy and fast. If you see one at a yard sale or thrift store, it might be worth your investment, as the price sticker is still on this box at $47.95.

Because of my food strainer, all I have to do is wash the apples and cut them into quarters. I don't have to peel or worry about the seeds...you'll see why below. I put a tiny bit of water in the bottom of the pans so that the apples don't scorch and then I cover and cook on medium until they are mushy. Stir often to also avoid scorching.

You can still see some of the slices, but most of what I was putting into the funnel was mushy.

I didn't get a great shot of the whole contraption, but I put apples in the funnel that is in above picture and then I turn the handle (on the right) and applesauce just slides through a screen and right down into the bowl.

The funnel on the right of the picture is the waste funnel. All of the skin and seeds are pushed through that funnel and into my garbage bowl.

This is a picture of the peels and I put them through the strainer one more time and reduced this waste even more as I squeeze out more applesauce.

My finished applesauce. I let it cool and then put into freezer containers. We eat it all year long. I also use it in baking. I went back to the farm and I bought another 1/2 bushel bag and made more sauce. My daughter was invited to a birthday party next weekend at the same farm and I'm sure I'll get another bag or 2 to make even more.

I think the secret to making delicious applesauce is using a blend of your favorite apples. This sauce didn't need an ounce of sugar because I used a blend of 7 apples that range from sweet to tart. In the past I always used Ginger Gold, because that is my favorite apple for pies, but when using them for applesauce I felt it needed a little sugar in to sweeten a bit.

Do you make your own applesauce? What are your favorite apples to use?

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cold weather is coming...Seven Tips to Save Money on your Heating Bills.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the average homeowner could see an 8% drop in heating expenses this winter. This much needed relief could come from a milder winter being predicted and lower fuel costs. Homes that heat with electric could see a decline of 2%, while homes that heat with natural gas and propane could see their bills drop 12%-14%. How much households save will also depend on the actual weather this winter (predictors have been known to be wrong before) and the energy efficiency of households and their heating equipment.

While this is good news, it got me thinking about what we can do to reduce our heating bills even more. We currently heat our home with a gas fireplace that is in our living room and baseboard heaters in the rooms the heat from the fireplace doesn't reach. The gas fireplace is situated in a spot that shoots the warm air right up our stairs and heats our entire second floor.

Has the thermostat dance started in your home? Does your spouse turn it up when you aren't looking and you turn it down, or vice versa? I try to maintain a temperature of 68 degrees in our home during the cold months. My husband thinks that is too cold, but I say put on a sweater or a blanket. This week, I washed our extra blankets for our beds and our throw blankets for our TV room. I refuse to buy a "snuggie".
  1. Consider buying a programmable thermostat. Energystar.gov claims that "homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings." An ENERGY STAR qualified programmable thermostat will automatically turn down the heat at night and when the home is unoccupied and turn it back up when the homeowner is scheduled to return home. The settings will also apply to cooling your home in the warmer months. I checked Lowes and a unit runs between $50-$100.

  2. Use your kitchen and bathroom fans wisely. It only takes an hour for these fans to send all your warm household air out the vents. In other words, don't over-use.

  3. Get your furnace, gas fireplaces, and other heating equipment serviced. We had our fireplace serviced last year and the technician suggested every two years for it, but you should check your owner's manual. Our fireplace needed a good cleaning and we noticed a difference in it's efficiency afterwards. Just like your air conditioner, furnace air filters need to be replaced to be efficient. Again, consult your owner's manual for time guidelines.

  4. Close the door and shut the vent of seldom used rooms. Our guest room is mighty frigid in the winter, it is a good thing we don't have too many guests.

  5. If you have a fireplace, keep the fireplace damper closed when you are not using it to prevent heat loss. Don't forget to open it before you start a fire. My husband did that once when we were dating, it wasn't pretty and his roommate was very upset. And when the fire is completely out, don't forget to close it up again. An open damper will allow huge amounts of heated air to escape. Did you know that the fire in that romantic wood fireplace actually sucks the heat out of a room? I didn't, but we don't have a wood fireplace currently. Unless it is your only heat source, you might want to save the wood fireplace for...ahem...romance...

  6. Let the sun shine through your windows on those sunny days, but close those curtains or blinds at night to avoid any heat escaping.

  7. Stop the draft from your exterior doors. Our family room has 3 doorways, leading to our garage, sunroom and basement, that blow cold air into that room in the colder months. We bought some inexpensive draft stoppers to help block the cold air.

Are you ready for cold weather? Do you have any money saving home heating tips?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How To Make Homemade Chicken Stock in the Crockpot

Soup season is here and after a long, beautiful summer I am once again turning on my poor neglected oven. When I looked in my freezer last week to get some stock for a recipe, I realized I was out of my homemade chicken stock and the thought of buying it at the store just didn't appeal to me. Luckily, my grocery store had Perdue Oven Roasters on sale at .79/lb and I had a coupon for $1.00 off $10.00 meat purchase, so I purchased two 7 lb. roasters.

There is nothing like roasted chicken on Sunday afternoon for dinner. It is so easy to roast a chicken. I simply stuffed the cavity with a lemon, cut in half, a big handful of flat-leaf parsley from our garden, salt and pepper. I rubbed the outside of the bird with some butter and sprinkled more salt and pepper on top. I placed some red potatoes around the chicken and topped them with lemon slices, parsley and a little salt and pepper. I popped the bird in the oven and roasted at 375 degrees for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. The nice thing about Perdue is that their roasters come with pop-up thermometers that let you know when the chicken is done. Otherwise I would use a meat thermometer and roast the whole chicken until it reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees. The thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the cut of meat without touching the bone, per Perdue's guidelines.

This is my chicken right before it went into the oven...
and unfortunately I forgot to take a shot when it was done roasting and before we dug into it. We devoured quite a bit of the chicken for dinner. I did have enough meat left over to make chicken salad for sandwiches for our lunches for the week. We really look forward to lunch when homemade chicken salad is on the menu.

A disturbing shot of the carcass after my husband cut it up. He loves that job.

I put the chicken bones in the crock pot with a whole onion, chopped into quarters. I didn't have whole carrots, so I threw a handful of baby carrots in the pot. I also added a whole head of garlic sliced in half, a few of the lemon slices from the roasting pan, a couple of celery stalks with leaves, cut into big chunks, a couple of bay leaves, a large handful of parsley sprigs, a few grinds of pepper and about a Tablespoon of salt. I didn't add too much salt, because I salted the roaster before popping in the oven. I filled the crock pot with water and turned it on LOW and left it on overnight.

The next morning when I came downstairs, my kitchen smelled so good and this is what I found. Sorry for the yellow glare.

Next I strained the stock through a sieve and pressed the ingredients down with a spoon to get as much flavor as I could into the finished stock.

Liquid gold...I let the stock cool down and then I put it in the refrigerator until the next day. At that point, I skimmed some of the fat off and put into freezer containers and into the freezer for future use. I use containers of different sizes: 32 oz, 16 oz and 1 cup.

This bowl is 4.5 quarts. I estimate that I made about 4 quarts as this bowl is not all of the way full with chicken stock. I priced store-brand chicken stock at .50 for a 14.5 oz can and brand name stock costing up to a dollar. Four quarts = 128 oz, so I made almost 9 full cans of stock and saved at least $4.50. I didn't take into consideration all of the ingredients that went into roasting the chicken and making the stock. I had everything already on hand except for the lemons. $4.50 may not seem like a lot of savings, but I will do this through out the fall and winter, because we use a lot of stock during those seasons. And the flavor of store bought just doesn't compare to homemade.

Making your own chicken stock is very easy and really stretches your grocery dollar. Things to remember when making your chicken stock:

  • Look for sales on roasting chickens and figure out your "buy" price. In my area, .79/lb is a good price.
  • Find a recipe for roasting chicken that you like because those flavors will carry into your stock.
  • There are tons of stock recipes online, but I use simple vegetables that usually can be found on sale and in my refrigerator.

Do you make your own homemade chicken stock?

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Cranberry Walnut Acorn Squash Bowls

I love the flavors of fall. Apples, clementines, pears, pumpkins, and fall squashes. We receive a lot of fall squashes with our CSA share and this is one of our favorite ways to eat acorn squash.

You'll need a sharp chef's knife to cut through these little buggers. I cut the stem off first and then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Be very careful.

You'll need these fine ingredients too.

Scoop out the seeds of the squash. In the cavity of each half, place 2-3 teas. butter, 1/4 teas. cinnamon, 1-2 T brown sugar, 2 T dried cranberries, 2 T chopped walnuts. It is to your taste. My husband doesn't want as much butter and sugar in his as I do in mine.

Place in a casserole dish. Add 1/2 C water to the bottom of the casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake for one hour at 350 degrees. Each half is one serving.

After baking, mix together the flesh and the ingredients within the acorn "bowl" and enjoy.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

We are going on a Spending Diet!

It is October 1, 2009 and my husband and I are going on a diet. No, we are not trying to lose weight, we are actually trying to gain weight...to our bottom line.

Last week, I confessed to our excessive spending over the last month or so. I wrote that we needed to put the brakes on. Well the brakes are on and we are at a full stop. As I was entering transactions into Quicken last week I noticed that we have been doing a lot of spending lately, making many unplanned purchases. Some of the purchases were needed, but there were many that were impulsive and hardly necessities. I talked to the hubbs about it and he agreed that we need to take a brake.

The Guidelines of our Spending Diet.
Allowable expenses:
  1. Groceries - of course we need to eat, but I'm going to try to eat more from the pantry and freezer to try to reduce this expense.

  2. Sign up for swim lessons for our oldest daughter is in October.

  3. Her birthday is also coming up and we are going to have a small party with a few of her friends. I haven't planned anything yet, but I will be working on it this month.

  4. I received some gift cards for my birthday for restaurants that we will use if we feel the need to eat out this month. But we must stay within the gift card and our only out-of-pocket expense will be for any tip. This might be our most challenging guideline.

  5. We will still get our cash allowance for the month. Trust me it isn't much.

  6. Our oldest will need a winter coat and I will keep my eye out for a good sale. Although I was planning on avoiding the stores, so I won't be tempted to shop. Let's hope for a warm October!

Disallowed expenses:

7. Everything else.

What are we trying to achieve?

  • Self-Control.

  • How much more will we have in our account at the end of October?

  • What will we do with that overage? How will it best affect our bottom line?

  • How creative can we be so that we avoid spending money on things like food, entertainment, clothes?
Do you care to join us on our Spending Diet?

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