Wednesday, December 30, 2009

January Spending Diet & Eat From The Pantry Challenge

Whew, another holiday season under our belts. I don't think that we over-spent, but I need to let the dust settle a bit and I am proposing that we go on another Spending Diet in January.

We were on a Spending Diet in October and it was successful as we reduced our spending by $500. Although that $500 was quickly eaten up by sudden car and household repairs.

From our experience in October, I learned that the best way to be successful at a Spending Diet is to AVOID THE STORES. Not surprisingly, avoiding the big box stores is a goal of mine for 2010. I will write more about that on January 1st.

Another key to our success in October was reducing our grocery expense. In October, we reduced our grocery spending by $125 by planning our menus and using food in the freezer and pantry.

This leads me to our next challenge in January. I am going to participate in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge that Money Saving Mom and Life As Mom are hosting.

I will buy our basics, like dairy, eggs, oj, fresh fruit and veggies, but I want to really stir up those creative juices and see what kind of menu I can come up with from items in my pantry and freezer. I don't know how long my pantry/freezer will last me. I don't think my stockpile is as extensive as other people taking the challenge, but I will go as long as I can. My goal will be to reduce our grocery bill down to $300 for January. Our grocery budget was $500 back in October, but because of the success we had that month, I reduced our grocery budget going forward to $400. Can I reduce it even more to $300 for January?...we'll see!! This will definitely be a challenge and take some planning. The difference of what I reduce my spending to and my budget of $400 will be divided in half. I will give half to a local food bank and put the other half in our emergency savings account.

Would you like to join me on a Spending Diet in January? Are you participating in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge? Are you up for a challenge? Good Luck!!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Help...I Have House Envy

A few weeks ago, I dropped my daughter off for a play date in a neighborhood very different from ours. I was in awe of the size of the homes as soon as we pulled into the development. These homes were monstrous, at least two times the size of our 1800 square foot home. I wasn't so much inspired by the aesthetics of the homes as much as the size of them.

I've been feeling a little cramped lately. Recently, all 4 of us were trying to brush our teeth at the same time in our one and only full bathroom. As we were elbowing each other for spitting room, I realized that with the kids at 4 and almost 2, it is easy now, but what will happen when they are older. How cramped will I/we feel then?

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of reasons for me to love our home.

  • We love our neighborhood. The homes in it are over 40 years old and many of the existing homeowners still reside in them. The neighbors are very friendly and everyone looks out for each other.

  • Our home is also just minutes from my husband's office and makes it easier on us when he works a lot of hours.

  • We love the size of our mortgage. We refinanced a year ago and we now have about 7 years left on our mortgage.

But there are some things that I would change if I could.

  • We only have a one car garage and we haven 't been able to put a car in it for years. It is full of our stuff, like bikes, scooters, and outdoor toys.

  • Also as I stated above, we only have one full bathroom that is becoming more and more cramped.

As I was driving away from the play date, I started dreaming about what I could do with all of that space. No more elbowing at the bathroom sink. I could have my own office. The kids could have their own play room. With a three car garage, there would be room for both vehicles and all of our bikes and outdoor toys. I bet they don't have to shovel their cars out of the snow. Those cars are probably nice and toasty during a snow storm.


Okay, back to my reality. We genuinely love our home. We are on track to pay off our mortgage early. My utilities are probably half of that big home's bills. Our quarter acre lot is very easy to take care of. And we love our cozy, little neighborhood. I also know that the size of one's home doesn't always equate to the size of one's balance sheet.

I am trying to make myself feel better, but I still have house envy. Somehow I have to get over it. I think I will go work through my feelings with a big plate of Christmas cookies and a big glass of milk.

Do you ever get house envy? Please tell us how you cope!!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday E-Cards - Tuck This Idea Away For Next Year

Every year in the middle of December, we scramble to order our Christmas photo cards, address the envelopes and mail them to our family and friends. Of course this year is no different and once again we found ourselves on December 15 without any photo cards ordered.

Quite honestly, I was the one dragging my feet this year. Every year we spend between $80-$100 on cards and postage. I missed the great deals on the photo cards that other bloggers had written about and I just didn't want to spend the money this year. Don't get me wrong, I want to send photos of my adorable kids to friends and family and I enjoy receiving them too, but they do seem wasteful...there I said it. Do you hold onto all of those photo cards that you receive in the mail? I'm ashamed to say that I don't.

My husband did an online search and he found the perfect e-card for us at He created an e-card using photos that we took this past weekend after the snow storm. He added music and a video of our family singing, "We Wish you a Merry Christmas". It turned out very cute and we were able to send it out to more people than we would if we mailed cards. The response from our friends and family so far has been very good.

And the good news was that it only cost us $2.99. We could have done it for FREE, but we paid the $2.99 to avoid advertising on the e-card.

I know I am coming late to the party, but we just hit the send button last night. So tuck this idea away in the back of your mind for next year. Unless of course you haven't sent your cards out yet.

BTW - this is not a sponsored post and FBS is not an affiliate for SmileBox.

What kind of holiday card did you send out this year?

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Is Your Favorite Holiday Tradition?

My daughter's first Christmas was in 2005 and we took on the daunting task of hosting a Christmas breakfast for my family. Except it wasn't daunting and it wasn't a task. My husband and I enjoyed it and have made it a family tradition. This will be our fifth year hosting a Christmas breakfast for our immediate family and my parents, grandparents and sibling.

It takes a little planning, but we have it down to a science. Christmas day can be somewhat hectic for us because we leave at noon to drive 4 hours to my husband's family. So we meticulously plan out the morning so the two of us and our kids don't feel rushed or stressed. If that were the case, I wouldn't put us through it.

I keep the menu simple with a breakfast casserole, fresh fruit and baked goods. Two days before Christmas I make the baked goods usually muffins or coffee cake or both. On Christmas Eve, I cut up the fruit and set the table. I also prepare the breakfast casserole to be put in the fridge overnight. We also pack up the van for our trip.

On Christmas morning, I wake up by 7 to get ready, make coffee and put the casserole in the oven.

We then enjoy the morning with our kids to see what Santa has brought us. My family starts to arrive around 9:30. We eat at 10. I load the dishwasher up, turn it on and everyone is out the door at noon. We exchange gifts with my family on Christmas Eve after our church service.

I grew up with my extended family all around me. My mother always had a very delicious, yet casual breakfast on Christmas morning for our family and my grandparents. I use the word 'casual' because there wasn't a rush to get out the door to drive 4 hours when I grew up. Both sets of my grandparents lived near me. That is not the case for my kids and my husband only gets to his hometown 2-3 times a year.

So we pack as much into Christmas day as we can. So far it has worked, but our kids are very young and flexible and if we need to do things differently in the years to come, we will.

For now, though, Christmas breakfast is my favorite tradition. I enjoy planning it, making it and seeing my family together that morning. I feel very blessed.

What is your favorite holiday tradition? Please let us know in the comments.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

It has been a few weeks since I have posted a sweet recipe on Make It Yourself Monday. I have been baking more than usual with the holidays and this is a family favorite. This is my mom's recipe and she makes Chocolate Whoopie Pies quite a bit. I'm not sure where the name comes from, but these sandwich cookie/cakes have different names in other parts of the country.

Whoopie Pies


  • 1 Cup shortening
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cup sour milk - simply add 1 tsp white vinegar to the 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 1/2 Cups flour
  • 2/3 cup Cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Combine the baking soda, baking powder, flour, cocoa, salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the Crisco, sugar and eggs together. Slowly add the hot water and sour milk and mix until just combined. Slowly add the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

I use an ice cream scoop to make cookies of a consistent size. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.


  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 6 Tbsp. milk
  • 6 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups shortening
  • 5 1/2 Cups confectioners sugar

Using the wire whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff. Add other ingredients and mix until well combined.

At this point, try to avoid diving into the bowl of filling, you will need it for the pies.

Once the chocolate cookies are cool, spread the filling between two cookies. This recipe will make about 30 Whoopie pies, depending on the size of your cookies. The Whoopie Pies freeze well. I have about 2 dozen ready to go for Christmas Eve.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Chunky Potato & Leek Soup

How does a mother know when something she makes is delicious? When her four year old says, "more please".

I made this soup on a cold rainy day and it hit the spot. Creamy, chunky, easy and delicious.

Chunky Potato & Leek Soup
  • 5-6 Cups of cubed, unpeeled potatoes - I used Yukon Gold from my CSA.
  • 2 leeks - cleaned and chopped into small pieces. I ran through the food processor to chop.
  • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • water
  • 2 Cups whole milk
  • 2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese

Saute leeks in the olive oil until soft.

Add potatoes, salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.

Use a hand masher and mash potatoes until desired consistency.

Add milk and cheese and stir until well-blended.

Easy peasy and very yummy!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oh Thrift Store, Why Do I Doubt Thee!

Right when I doubt that I will ever find any gems in the thrift store, my luck changes...

I was running errands today, while my daughter was at preschool. Those two and half hours that she is at preschool can some times wreck havoc on our balance sheet. But I had a list of things that I needed to accomplish. Besides going to the bank, I also needed to look for some Christmas presents and stop by the office supply store. As I was heading to the next place on my list, I drove past the Salvation Army.

Every Wednesday, our Salvation Army thrift store, promotes an extra 50% off of merchandise except for the color of the week. All the price tickets have colors and every week a different color is excluded from the sale. I venture in occasionally, when I am in the area, but usually I have two kids in tow and my visit is cut short by some sort of disaster that mostly entails a fixture being pulled to the ground. I also end up leaving, feeling like I wasted my time, because I never seem to find anything worthwhile.

Today, I only had one child and I strapped her into her stroller, with snacks and her baby doll to keep her hands occupied.

I was cruising down the first aisle which is home goods when I saw it. I have been looking for it all summer at yard sales. A large blue Tupperware storage container. This container was quite grungy, but nothing that a run through the dishwasher didn't fix. The price was .99 after the 50% off sale. I was thrilled...I know you are probably saying, "get a life, it's Tupperware", but I have been looking for one of these containers.

Filled with excitement, I continued on and headed to children's clothing, because just this morning it occurred to me that our 4 year old has had a growth spurt and many of her shirts have become belly shirts. She is also heavily into Disney Princess stuff. It seems this year's theme for her for Christmas is Princess. I am very picky about used clothing. The clothes have to look very new for me to buy and wear them. I know I can wash the clothes, but I can't get past the ick factor. The first shirt I found was this beauty from the Disney store. It looks brand new and it's final cost was $1.99.

I then headed to children's toys. My youngest daughter loves Elmo and Sesame Street. I spotted this Sesame Street toy that also looked brand new, very clean, and the final cost was $1.99. Another Christmas gift for $1.99.

I am thrilled that I found two Christmas gifts for my kids for $4.00. My kids will be thrilled when they open their gifts. I can't wait to see their smiling faces.

I am going to give thrift stores a second chance. Keeping my eyes open for gems like the ones I found today.

How often do you shop in thrift stores? Are you doing any of your holiday shopping in thrift stores?

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