Sunday, June 30, 2013

Grocery shopping & menus, June 23-29

All of this from Target for only $4.52!

Thanks to everyone who left comments and encouraging feedback on last week's grocery shopping post! I had fun putting together this week's totals because I was able to catch some extra-good coupon deals. This is not really a typical week, but it's exciting when we do see savings like this. Definitely helps the budget and enables us to stock up on staples that rarely have coupons.

What we bought
Target shopping trip
We used to go to Target all the time up in Rochester, but after moving to Des Moines we have to drive quite a bit further to get to a Super Target, and some of the other stores nearby have prices that are good enough to not bother trekking to Target as often. Once in a while, though, I get a stack of coupons and deals that don't work anywhere else. This was such a week, and it really did pay off! Here's what I got:
  • Kandoo flushable wipes, 50 pack - 2.49 - used a $2/1 coupon (unfortunately they were out of the $1.49 packs that would have been free with the coupon, but this was a good enough deal anyway as we go through a lot of wipes and the coupon expired soon)
  • Earthbound organic carrots, 1 lb - 1.09 - used a $1/1 manufacturer coupon
  • Earthbound organic carrots, 1 lb - 1.09 - used a $0.75/1 man. coupon
  • Celery, 1 bunch - 1.49 - used a $1 off any fresh vegetable Target mobile coupon
  • Bananas (4), 1.78 lb - 0.57/lb - used a $1 off any fresh fruit Target mobile coupon
  • Gala apples (3), 1.09 lb - 1.39/lb - used a $1 off any fresh fruit Target mobile coupon (I would have bought more, as we go through a lot of apples, but I try not to pay more than 0.99 a pound, preferably closer to 0.80 or less. Last month we snagged about 14 pounds of near-perfect apples marked down to 0.59 a pound - yay!)
  • Ronzoni veggie-enriched pasta, 4 boxes - 1.00/box - used two $1/2 man. coupons
  • Market Pantry pasta, 2 boxes - 1.04/box - used $1/2 Target mobile coupon
  • Dannon Activa yogurt 4-pack - 2.00 - used $1.50/1 man. coupon
  • TOTAL - $4.52 - saved $12.25 with coupons 

Fareway's total: $8.69.

Fareway shopping trip
This was an extra-fun week at Fareway since they had some produce markdowns. Yay! We'd been out of bell peppers for a few weeks (no good sales), so finding a bag at 0.49/lb was perfect. I wish they had more marked-down things more often, as it helps our grocery bill a lot.
  • Green bell peppers, 3.4 lb (9 peppers) - marked down to 0.49/lb - 1.67
  • Ripe bananas, 5.98 lb - marked down to 0.39/lb - 2.33
  • Turkey franks - 4 packages at 0.98 - used two $1/2 manufacturer coupons (Don't judge, lol. We rarely eat hot dogs, but I like to get a few packages when they're super cheap this time of year, as they come in handy in a pinch when I don't have any other meat cooked ahead of time and need something to flavor soup or a casserole.)
  • Farmer's Garden pickled veggies - 2 jars at $2.49 each - used two totally free manufacturer coupons, yay!
  • Reynolds foil baking cups - 4 packages of 32 at 0.99 each - used four $1/1 manufacture coupons, so totally free (I'm excited about these, as I hate to wash muffin pans and can't bring myself to buy the baking cups at regular price. Now I can actually make muffins, lol!)
  • Miracle Whip - 2 jars at $2.49 each - used two $1/1 manufacturer coupons and two $1/1 store coupons, so only $0.49 each! Would have gotten more, but they limited it to one per customer. We'll go back in a few days for a couple more.
  • Pickling and canning salt - 5 lb at 1.59 - Joe plans to use this for the bacon he is currently learning how to cure.
  • Regular white table salt - 10 oz at 0.49 - I'll use this in the dishwasher detergent I make. We use Real Salt for cooking/eating, but cheap stuff works fine for cleaning.
  • TOTAL - $8.69 - saved $13.98 with coupons

Hy-vee's total: $12.11.
Hy-vee shopping trip
Normally we get Hy-vee's deals at Fareway since they match prices, but this week there was a Hy-vee specific coupon that we needed to use to make the deals worthwhile. So we braved the big store and managed to (eventually) find all we needed. ;)
  • Ocean Spray Cranberry Lemonade - 1.99 - used $1/1 manufacturer coupon, and planned to also get $0.50 off with the Ibotta app. This didn't work out, unfortunately; I discovered that though Hyvee does participate in the Ibotta program, they don't accept receipts from iPod 4s, which is what I have. Bummer.
  • Tilafia (fish) fillet - two 4-oz packages at 1.19 - Joe was in the mood for fish and this seemed to be a decent enough price for fillets; a treat, as we rarely splurge on fish.
  • Country Time drink mix canister - two at 2.49 each - used $1/2 manufacturer coupon
  • Philadelphia cream cheese - four at 1.69 each - used two $0.50/2 manufacturer coupons
  • Kraft salad dressing - four at 1.67 each - used two $1/2 manufacturer coupons. I do make our own dressing fairly often, but when it's this cheap we go ahead and get a few.
  • --and then used a $6 store coupon, applicable when buying 10 specific items. This knocked $0.60 each off the drink mixes, cream cheeses, and salad dressings. Subtracting the manufacturer coupons as well, we ended up paying an average of 0.84 per item, which is pretty decent.
  • TOTAL - $12.11 - saved $11.00 with coupons

WEEKLY TOTAL - $25.32 - saved $37.23 with coupons (more, if you count sales)
I had to chuckle when I tallied everything up and realized I squeaked in under my monthly budget by only 75 cents. I was hoping to spend no more than $117 this month since we'd gone a little over $150 the last couple months. Glad to have achieved that - and now I have a whole 75 cents to add on to next month's $150. ;) We have a few things to stock up on, including paying my family for some beef and pork, so it'll be interesting to see how it works out. One of my goals for next month will be focusing on using items we already have in the pantry and spending most of our budget on fresh fruit and veggies that are in season.

What We Ate
I only make loose lists of menu ideas, based on what we have on hand, starting with things that need using (particularly produce). Once in a great while we'll go out and buy specific ingredients for a recipe we want to make, but generally we just go with the flow of what's on sale and what we already have on hand. Saves a lot of money! And I work hard to keep our pantry pretty consistently stocked at any given time, so there are always endless options of things to make.

So here's a peek at what we ate this week. I'm not one to enjoy spending lots of time in the kitchen, so I generally only make one simple, from-scratch meal a day, large enough to feed us for 2+ meals. Leftovers get served up for the second meal (packing Joe's lunchbox), and breakfast is a help-yourself affair. We eat quite a bit of fruit as snacks, as well as popcorn. And Joe likes his chips and salsa now and again, too. :)
  • Sunday: Grilled veggies and brats on homemade whole wheat and rye buns
  • Monday: Ground beef and potato soup, leftover cornbread, green salad
  • Tuesday: Chicken dumplings, cantaloup and grapes
  • Wednesday: Leftover pizza rolls, fig bars, yogurt (I was out most of the afternoon, so kept things simple.)
  • Thursday: Mixed beans (cooked myself and flavored with BBQ sauce), leftover cornbread (yes, I made a big pan of it last week!), tomato/cucumber/mayo salad. Joe was off this day, so for supper we had a "date night" treat of Pizza Hut. :)
  • Friday: Chicken & rice pilaf with almonds, green salad.
    Saturday: Roast beef, tomato, and cheese sandwiches on homemade buns, veggies and dip.
  • Breakfasts: Apples and peanut butter, bananas, whole wheat banana bread

A new blog for a new era...

Hello everyone!

Many of you are friends with me (Joe) on Facebook, so you've already been seeing my posts over there, but I wanted to let the rest of you know that I have a newish website/blog that has been up and running since 11/14/2012. It's over at and is where I make my primary non-Facebook Internet presence felt. I don't have a ton of posts up, even after seven months, but I'm working to correct that.

The site is definitely a personal site in many ways, and I am using it to share reviews of books I've read, mini-articles I've written, and reflections on life, but I'm also building it into a platform for my writing career. That career is slowly building, with five co-author credits currently in print and a sixth one hopefully coming out this year, as well as several solo projects in various stages of development. I'm not sure if I will get a story published this year or not, though that has been my goal. The more up-to-date information on my progress will be found at my site, as well as my Facebook author page, Come around to both, become a fan/follower, and you'll be forever in the know (a position you've wanted all your life).

Beyond blogging and writing news, it's exciting to share that I've been back on the evening shift since June 18th after roughly three months of working overnights. The overnight schedule isn't the awful monster that a lot of people make it out to be, but it's not ideal when you have a little one in the house and your spouse thus has to be on a different schedule than you. In order to get the necessary sleep, I was making use of our spare room and guest bed for the duration, a setup neither Abi nor I particularly enjoyed. Leaving early from my last overnight shift and catching a quick nap did wonders to help me switch back, and in just two weeks I've felt such a difference in my energy levels. We are quite thankful for me having a job at all, so a temporary less-than-desirable schedule wasn't the worst we could have endured.

Financially we continue to hammer down our debts, this month getting our total down below $40,000. We've paid off almost $9,000 this year alone, which is quite an accomplishment! I'm hoping to maintain or even increase the pace for the rest of the year. We've been helped along by a student loan repayment program through work that is covering $5,000 in increments of $192.80 paid every two weeks; this payment schedule will run through next March. I'd like to receive at least that much when I apply again this fall, though the maximum annual allotment of $10,000 would sound even better.

There is a strong possibility that I could hit day shift hours even sometime this year by taking a position to train as a replacement for one of my coworkers that will be retiring by the end of next June at the latest. The hours would be 8-4:30 with roughly one weekend in five, which would be 7-3:30. The way everyone talks, the position is basically mine if I want it and depends primarily on when they get it posted. What we see as the primary benefit is the ability to get together with friends in town pretty much any evening of the week, even if just for an hour or two, and thus create and maintain a greater degree of connection with people, something we have sorely lacked and greatly desired ever since we got married.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for further updates on the homefront!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lukas turns seven months old!

This seventh month has been a big one for Lukas. He has learned and done so many new things, and thinks he's quite the big boy any more. ;) Here's some of what he's been up to:

This is the first of Lukas' birthday pictures taken sitting up all by himself - big boy!
Joe was standing above the camera and coaxed out this irresistible grin. :D
You can see his baltic amber teething necklace here; it seems to help with his teething pain.
No teeth through yet, though!

~ Rolling over. The evening of his six-month birthday, Lukas celebrated by rolling over (tummy to back) for the first time. He sure was proud of himself! Within the next week, he quickly perfected the art and figured out how to roll over within a matter of seconds of being laid down on his tummy. Goodbye, tummy time! :D Since then he has managed to roll from back to tummy one time as well. He could do that more often but since he prefers laying on his back he doesn't have much motivation for going onto his tummy. Oh, and he's also discovered how much fun his feet are - to hang on to, as well as to chew on. Pretty hilarious. ;)

~ Beginning to maneuver around the house. It's slow going yet, but the other day he managed to make it several feet into the kitchen, rotating around several times in the process. Another day he got one of the kitchen cupboards open for the first time while laying on his back in front of it. Soon it will be time to start locking things up, methinks!

~ Sitting up. I'm not sure what technically counts as being able to sit up, but Lukas sure has been doing pretty good in that department this month. He doesn't pull himself into a sitting position yet, but if I set him down he is able to hold himself pretty steady and (usually) to pull himself back upright if he tips over. I usually let him practice on the bed while I'm there pumping - he's a safe distance from the edge and surrounded by a few pillows to give him a little leverage in pulling back up. He thinks it's pretty much the greatest thing to play with his toys that way - and to grab at everything in sight, especially Mommy's laptop, lol! For a guy that's normally very easy-going and unmotivated, he's shown a real stubborn streak sometimes if he decides he really wants to check something out, lol.

~ Eating food. We gave Lukas his first taste of solid food about a week after his 6-month birthday. Banana was the item of choice, and his reaction - a decidedly "yucky" face - was hilarious! He's gotten a chance to try several other foods since then, including sweet potato, apple, cucumber, and cantaloup. He even got to try a pickle (not Mommy's idea!), and shocked us all by how excited he was over it. Definitely takes after his daddy! The more he gets used to new flavors, the more he seems to enjoy food, and it's fun to see him sucking and chomping away at his mesh feeder. It's all just for fun now, as I hope to continue nursing him at least through his first birthday, but we're enjoying it. :)

I had him lay down for a few shots, too. This was taken mid-squeal, thus the concentrated expression.
He sure can get loud sometimes, usually when he's all excited and happy, or hyper.

~ Noticing pretty much everything. It's fun to watch Lukas tuning in to more and more of his surroundings. He'll notice tiny little specks on a shirt or on his booster seat tray, and each one has to be thoroughly investigated. Patterns in fabric, jewelry, buttons...everything is fascinating. Airplanes flying over our house are a new source of interest. We can't see them very well, even when out on our deck, but they can be quite loud. Sometimes they scare Lukas, but lately he's found the noise more exciting than anything and we're trying to teach him the ASL sign for "airplane" (as well as a few others).

Our adventures this month included a long weekend in Wisconsin, visiting quite a few relatives and friends of Joe's. Lukas got spoiled from the constant attention, but did pretty good on the whole trip. A few days later, we took him to a local amusement park for a day - and again, he behaved wonderfully, just hanging out in the stroller watching everything that went on. He's such a good baby almost all the time...he makes us look good as parents, lol. Guess God knew we couldn't handle anything more. ;) We're unspeakably grateful for the gift of this delightfully sweet-natured little boy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grocery shopping, June 16-22

On one of my favorite frugal-living blogs, my friend Crystal often posts about her grocery shopping trips and weekly menu plans. It's fun to see the coupon and sales deals she's been able to put together, and it's also a great way to learn how to budget and plan better myself.

We currently have a grocery budget of $150/month for our family of three (not that Lukas eats much at all yet, at 7 months), and so far this year we've been able to stay on track with that pretty well. I thought some of you might find it interesting to see how we spend that money each week. We're not using all that many coupons right now as it's a little harder with a baby in the mix, but by watching the sales ads each week and planning menus accordingly we're still able to eat quite well, even relatively healthfully, with this budget...and with a very minimal amount of couponing effort.

A disclaimer: Obviously every family's dietary needs and priorities are different, and prices vary widely from area to area. No one's in a contest to see how little can be spent each month to keep your family alive (we could live on a lot less than we are, but probably wouldn't be very healthy!). Yet I do find it a fun challenge to be the best steward I can of what God has provided to us. I'm learning a lot all the time myself, and am glad to pass along what I know, too.

So here's this week's round-up. If enough of you are interested (comment, please!), I'll try to continue with posts like this. Maybe I'll even take a picture of all we buy...didn't get to that this time. :)

Week of June 16-22

Aldi shopping trip
We were out of town the previous week and had used up most of our produce before the trip, so it was time to head to Aldi and restock the fridge. Their produce is almost always great quality and the prices are pretty hard to beat!
  • Cucumbers - 3 @ 0.39 - 1.17
  • Onions - 3 lb - 1.69
  • Grape tomatoes - 1.49 (for Joe's lunches)
  • Snow peas - 1.99 (ditto)
  • Roma tomatoes - 2 boxes of 9 @ 1.29 - 2.58
  • Cantaloupe - 1 whole melon - 1.19
  • Red grapes - 2 lb. - 1.98
  • TOTAL - $12.09

Fareway shopping trip
We like Fareway because they match ads from several other local stores, the clerks are always cheerful and helpful, and the smaller stores are easy to get around. The best part, though, is that they have marked down items and we never know what we'll find! No big finds this time around, sadly, but these prices are pretty good and we needed to restock our supplies of peanut butter and shredded cheese.
  • Skippy peanut butter, 16 oz - 6 @ 1.88 (wish there'd been a coupon available for this!)
  • Shredded cheese, 8 oz - 6 @ 1.50
  • Corn on the cob, pack of 4 - marked down to 1.09
  • Leaf lettuce, large heads - 2 @ 1.29
  • TOTAL - $23.95

Menards shopping trip
This is the first time we've ever bought groceries at Menards, hehe, but Joe saw they had brats on sale this week and the Wisconsin boy in him got all excited. ;) Maybe not a steal of a price, but it's decent and these will be good for grilling this summer. The Klements brand is supposed to have no MSG, nitrates/nitrites, etc., so that's nice.
  • Klements brats, 5 per package - 5 @ 1.99 
  • TOTAL - $9.95

Walmart shopping trip
We don't go to Walmart all that often, but I had a few coupons that were supposed to be best used there and Joe said he didn't mind stopping by while he was out getting the brats and the things at Fareway. Unfortunately he was only able to locate one of the items for the coupon deals...seems to be the way things usually go for us at Walmart. Just one more reason we rarely go there. :P
  • Kraft BBQ sauce - 6 @ 1.00 - used three $1/2 coupons
  • TOTAL - $3.00

Total for the week - $48.99
This is more than we spend most weeks, but since we'd bought basically no groceries the week before due to our trip it'll still work out well for the month as a whole. And with the cheese, peanut butter, brats, and BBQ sauce we did a fair bit of stocking up for future weeks, too.

What we ate
I didn't keep very detailed notes on this, but can do better next time if anyone is interested. Made several big green salads and had fruit several days, and for main dishes I made pizza rolls, tuna sandwiches, chicken and asparagus casserole, red rice, and potato-corn-beef soup. Joe grilled veggies and brats one day (I made whole wheat and rye buns to go with the latter), and we had leftover homemade sour cream spice cake and apples with peanut butter most breakfasts.

Question of the week
What's your favorite way to use BBQ sauce? I haven't done a lot with it before, but now have a bunch in the pantry. ;) Ideas, please!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Treat for our readers!

One of my favorite card companies, Treat, is giving away a million cards this summer! All new customers are invited to check out the site and choose any card from the vast selection available, customize it as they choose, and receive it in their mailbox absolutely FREE! All you have to do is click here or on the image above, and use the code TRTB9X8563 when placing your order. This promo expires on June 17, so make sure you grab your card in time!

If you've never ordered from Treat before, this is a fabulous opportunity to check out their great selection of gorgeous designs and to discover how easy the customization process is. The printing quality is great, and prices are very reasonable. Why buy a generic card at the store when you can so quickly put together something far more special and personal? :D

The fine print: Offer expires 6/17/2013 (11:59 P.M. PT).  Offer is good for one (1) free greeting card using the code TRTB9X8563  at checkout.  Postage may apply.  Customer must be a first-time Treat customer.   Offer is valid for one-time redemption per billing address.  Cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with other offers, discounts, promotions or credits.  Offer is not applicable to previously placed orders.  Offer is only valid on www.treat.com and does not apply to purchases made from the Treat Cards for iPhone app.  Offer is not applicable to Treat Card Club, gifts, or third party or partner websites.