Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quality vs. Quantity

I've come to the realization (especially lately as my sons' birthdays approach) that there is a lot of, for lack of a better word, "crap" for sale these days. I don't need something that makes a ton or noise or lights up or whatever because my children could care less if it did any of those things. In my search for a tow truck for my son for his birthday, I have come upon so many cheap, plastic toys that won't last more than a week or so in a household with two very imaginative and active little boys.

Why even bother making such a product? The answer is simple, "To create a product as cheaply as possible to turn a higher profit." You can find these products everywhere. They are made overseas with cheap labor and then "marked up" in price for the consumer to purchase. We've received some of these cheaply-made plastic toys for our boys and they inevitably break or fall apart within a week's to a month's time. Then I find myself trying to super glue them back together (usually to no avail) and having to explain to my 2 year old that "It broke," and has to now be thrown away since its no longer usable. More money is then spent to find a replacement.

Is there a cost-effective solution to this problem? I would argue, "yes." Melissa and Doug offer some great wooden toys and puzzles that have lasted the longest in our house. The boys can beat them up and wood just "takes a licking and keeps on ticking." Now the paint inevitably gets scratched up a little bit but the functionality of the toy remains and my kids love them. They are a little more expensive than some of the "cheaper" plastic stuff but you can still get a great deal by using 40 and 50% off coupons to use in-store at Michaels and A.C. Moore.

Plan Toys also offers wooden and eco-friendly toys. We have a set of blocks from them and they have also withstood the test of time (and little boys' rough play). Their website offers a list of retailers. I know I got our blocks from when they were having a 15% off sale. I also know that Amazon carries their stuff as well. And if you do Swagbucks, you can earn gift cards for Amazon just by watching videos, doing surveys, and answering polls. I've gotten many a gift card this way without having to "sign up" for anything.

Another great way to find quality toys is to scour thrift shops, garage sales, craigslist and consignment shops in your area. Not only could you find a great, quality toy but you often save even more money and help the environment by buying used.

I'm sure there are a number of other companies out there that makes some great quality toys. Do some research and read reviews to find what you are looking for. Don't be afraid to wait a bit to see if you can catch a sale. Holiday weekends are prime for sales...

The ultimate point that I'm trying to make is I'd rather buy quality than quantity. If I have to keep buying replacements for the cheaper toys, I end up spending more in the long run. I get the most "bang for my buck," if you will, by buying the boys a little bit more expensive toy they can enjoy for a long time rather than a lot of cheap ones that will break and be unusable in a short period of time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reducing your Impact and Your Grocery Bill

I recently paid attention to the number of paper towels my family uses in a given day. It was A LOT! I used paper towels to wipe down counters, use as napkins, and wipe down my kids, etc. My husband was using them as tissues. It was getting out of control. We could go through a roll of paper towels in two days! That's a lot of wasted trees and money...

So, I remedied the situation. I make sure we use our dish cloths much more frequently for tasks like wiping down the counter. Increased cloth napkin usage (since I'm clearly doing laundry anyway...) and the introduction of terry washcloths to wipe down the kids have helped reduce our paper towel usage. I'm proud to say we have been on the same roll of paper towels for 3 days or more now. I also found a good tutorial for making your own "Unpaper towels." As soon as I get a sewing machine, I'll be making my own with the hope that I can eliminate paper towels from my grocery list for good.

I encourage you to take a look at what you are consuming in your house regularly. How can you reduce your usage? Will it save you money? I'd be willing to bet that it could.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Casseroles--It's What's (Leftover) For Dinner!

I love casseroles! They are great for using up leftovers in the fridge. Very little food goes to waste in my house because of casseroles. I use all manner of leftovers in a casserole.

My basic recipe is usually the same:
-a 9 x13 pan
-2 cans of cream of whatever soup (I tailor which cans I use by what I'm putting in it)
If you don't want to use cream of soups you can find a recipe for a cream of whatever in this recipe here.
-about 2 cups of some sort of rice base (I've used white rice, brown rice, quinoa, and cauliflower "rice", or a mixture of 2 of these types of rice)

Then I raid my refrigerator! I choose a meat if I have one (Leftover chicken--yup! Leftover ham--sure!). You could throw some tofu or a soy based "meat" too for the vegetarian folks. Then I look for leftover veggies or any fresh veggies in my fridge that HAVE to be used soon. I've used peas, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, corn, yellow name it--I've used it in my casserole. I use common sense here and try to not to put anything that might be weird together in the dish. Be creative--add some bacon, toasted breadcrumbs, anything else that strikes your fancy :)

I mix up all my ingredients and spread in the pan and top with shredded cheese (sometimes I put some grated parmesan in the casserole mixture itself). Then I pop it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Voila! Easy dinner! You save money by not wasting the food in your fridge! Bon-appetit!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stubborn Stains

Lately, I've been faced with some very stubborn stains on clothing in our household. Usually it involves a white piece of clothing coming into contact with spaghetti sauce. I've also acquired some clothing for my kids that had that strange "off white" hue to areas of the white shirt where some weird old stain or spit up or something didn't quite come out. I used to just try some stain remover in one wash cycle and if it didn't come out, I just used the shirt or whatever as a play shirt or rag...I decided to be more proactive this time around. I was determined to salvage these garments as best as I could. After all, money doesn't grow on trees, right?

First I treated the stains with Tech (my mother in law bought this at a grocery store in Illinois. I have not seen it anywhere on the East Coast, but please prove me wrong...) or if that was unavailable some OxyClean Stain Remover. I let that set for a bit then soaked the clothes in warm water with OxyClean for an hour or so. Then I ran them through the wash on cold water with detergent and a Tide Stain release. No bleach in the wash only because the shirts in question had areas of color that I didn't want to risk bleaching. This usually lightened the stain. Then I took a paper towel and poured enough bleach on it to make it damp in a small area. I then blotted the light stains (only if they were on an only white area of the shirt) with the bleached paper towel. I believe in using as little bleach and harsh laundry additives as possible since they affect the longevity of the garment.

I was amazed at how effective the bleach worked! I could see the stain fade in front of my eyes. Even old stains that had probably been there a while! Even shirts that didn't get stain treated for several days after they came into contact with spaghetti sauce! I then rinsed these shirts out and ran them with the next load of laundry I did. Voila! Stain gone!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dinner--4 Ways

I've gotten pretty creative with meals lately as a result of having a kitchen that allows me to see my kids while they are playing and a new take on our financial reality (i.e. we're living on less with my husband's research assistantship salary).

So the other night I made Rotisserie Chicken in the Crockpot (recipe here.) I subbed baby carrots for the onions (not a huge onion fan..and I was able to cook a side simultaneously with the chicken). I threw together a box of stuffing (yeah, I was lazy like that...) to go with it. Thus, Dinner #1.

Dinner #2 the next night, I took some of the leftover chicken to use in burritos. Made some rice (see this post), pulled out some cheese, sour cream, tortillas, cut up some tomatoes, and sauteed half a yellow pepper. Voila! Dinner #2!

Dinner #3 is more like Lunch #3. I got creative this afternoon and whipped up Avocado Chicken Salad. Here's what I used:
-leftover chicken (enough for a sandwich)
-1 avocado, mushed up
-some celery salt to taste
-about 4 leftover baby carrots, chopped (I didn't have any celery.)
-some Mayo with Cracked Pepper

I mixed all this up and tossed it on some wheat bread. Turned out surprisingly well, the carrots give it the little bit of crunch that celery usually gives Chicken Salad. The Cracked Pepper Mayo gives it a bit of a zing and all-in-all it's rather tasty. (Sorry no picture for this one...I'm too lazy to take one of my creation...)

Dinner #4 is Homemade Pizza. The crust recipe I use can be found here. I'm going to get creative tonight and make Chicken Alfredo Pizza. Here's my ingredient list:
-leftover chicken
-pizza crust
-alfredo sauce
-mushrooms, chopped (I have some in my fridge I need to use)
-fresh spinach (again, I have some I need to use...)
-leftover tomatoes (The ones I cut up for burritos the other night)
-mozzarella cheese, shredded
-parmesan cheese, grated

I'll throw these things on top of the pizza crust and bake according to the crust instructions. Voila, Dinner #4. (Below is a picture of a pizza but not the one I made...again, lazy...)

Happy Leftover Using? Can I say that?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Taco Rice...Easy Without Buying the Pouch Rice

I'll admit that I usually buy the "throw in a pot rice sides." I have noticed however that they are much more expensive at the regular grocery store than they were at the Commissary. I love using the Mexican or Taco rice sides when we do burritos, tacos, or other Mexican dish, however I'm appalled that it costs me upwards of $1.25 or so for just one packet! There are store brand generics but even those are fairly expensive at $.89 or more a packet. So I've been on a quest for a substitute that is just as easy.

Enter homemade Taco Rice. So I looked up recipes for Taco/Mexican rice and decided it took me much longer to locate all the ingredients and cook the rice on the stove, blahdy, blahdy, blah. However, today I decided to throw some medium white grain rice, and part of a ready made packet of Taco seasoning in with the water in my rice cooker. I did mix it up before I turned the rice cooker on. If this works, I can make lots of Taco rice, much cheaper than buying the packets and without having to increase my "workload." I can also control the spices in the rice so my two year old and nine month old can eat it without complaint. I can add as much or as little as I want.

When I opened the rice cooker, I was hit with the smell of Taco seasoning. The rice itself was tinted a reddish color and upon tasting the rice, it has a very light flavor of spices. It's not the "heavy" taste of the rice packet, but I'd be willing to bet that my version is much healthier for you with much less sodium. Overall, I think this version will be great for my use of leftover chicken for tacos/burritos for dinner tonight. Another plus, I'm saving more money doing it this way too.

Got any suggestions for this recipe? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shopping Out of Season: Take 2

I know that I've written about shopping out of season before but I thought it was time to revisit the post. The original post is here.

In addition to hitting up the stores at their end of season sales, check out your local children's consignment shop for their end of season sales. I went to one of our local shops today and scored Fall and Winter clothing for both of my children for $1 per piece of clothing (regularly priced $4.99 or less). Everything I bought was either Land's End, Gap, The Children's Place, or Gymboree. Some stuff even still had original tags on it! I got 29 items for $30 after tax.

Crazy! All those savings! I know that all of these clothes will wash up great (given my experience with other items from these brands.) I keep money in my pocket and my kids are stylin' in brand name clothes.

I also feel better knowing that I bought second-hand and helped reduce my carbon footprint. By buying second-hand no new natural resources had to be used and no factories had to produce the clothing a second time. Also awesome!

So check out the specials going on in your area....they are probably happening about now since the spring lines are coming out...

5 Tips for Saving on Groceries

Found this blog post today and thought it might be helpful for helping to save some money on groceries (especially if you eat non-coupon things...).