Penny Pinchers


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Potluck Penny Pinching

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Potlucks can be dangerous.  Suddenly you want to try out that new recipe, or the one your mom made for years and years...but it calls for a block of cheddar cheese (at least $3), breakfast sausage (another $3), bisquick...you see where I'm going with this.  Potluck meal costs can add up quickly! However, I've found a few ideas for great potluck meals that are healthy and in the end cost-saving too.

This past week we had a potluck birthday lunch for a co-worker.  I opted to bring a nice green salad.  I know what you're thinking: that's dull.  But you know what?  Every potluck needs a nice green salad.  For one thing, it's something everyone can eat.  Green salads are gluten free, vegetarian, can be dairy free and even fit a macrobiotic (raw foods) diet. Secondly, it is easy to take home the leftovers and the costs really are more beneficial than you'd think.

For instance, for the green salad I purchased: a whole lead of leaf lettuce ($1.59), 2 bottles of Kraft dressings ($2.99 each, for a total of $6), a cucumber (.59) and some croutons to have on the side ($1.25).  I had a 2lb bag of carrots at home that cost about $1.50 and a container of grape tomatoes that was probably $3. So right now the cost of all these ingredients is: $13.93.  But here's the catch:  You aren't going to use ALL of any of those things, which means the rest are available for you to use at home! 

I probably used half a head of lettuce, 2 carrots, half a cucumber and half of the tomatoes.  Maybe 1/3 of each of the dressings got used and 1/2 of the croutons.  So that means for a work potluck I spent: $5.53.  On top of that, not all the salad got eaten.  I put the leftovers in a plastic bag and ate them with dinner for 2 more nights!  PLUS I've still got carrots, lettuce, croutons and salad dressings to use at home.

On Sunday I attended an Easter potluck and made a fruit salad.  It has all the same benefits as a green salad! AND if you choose the right fruits, it's super cost effective.  City Market was having a sale on berries and cantaloupe, so I threw those in the cart.  I also got bananas (which are always cheap).  Blackberries: $2.99; Strawberries (2 lbs) $3.00; cantaloupe $2.15; bananas: $1.00

I used all of the strawberries and blackberries for the salad, one of 4 bananas, and maybe half a cantaloupe, so my total cost for that potluck was: $7.31. The dressing for this salad was made with ingredients I already had at home.  As long as you've got something sweet (honey, a simple syrup, brown sugar...) and something a little tart (lemon juice, a balsamic vinegar, etc) you can make a dressing for a fruit salad.  You coud also use a fruit yogurt if you have one.

Other options for cheap but impressive potluck dishes:  pasta salad (think viniagrette with pasta, tomatoes and cucumbers or olives), a nice loaf of french bread with a homemade topping like a white bean and tuna topping or a pesto topping, "texas caviar" with black eyed peas, bell pepper, onion, etc and some nice blue corn chips...there are plenty of options out there!  You don't have to spend a fortune to contribute to the potluck, but you also don't have to just grab something from the deli (although if you're short on time there's nothing wrong with that!)

Get creative at your next potluck and share your Penny Pinching recipes with us!

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More ways to avoid waste

By Julie Norman
Monday, April 21, 2014

I made some bread last week using my awesome bread maker that I got for Christmas from my sister.  This was a different recipe from my normal "Hearty Nut Bread." It was supposed to be a "French" bread but what it turned out to be was super crumbly.  The last bit wasn't even suitable for toast, but instead of tossing it I decided to make bread crumbs with it.

Super crumbly leftover French bread

I tore it into pieces and put it in the food processor then spread it on my toaster oven tray and toasted it.

Then I just poured these into a zip-top bag and labeled them.  Now they're ready to be used for meatloaf, as a coating for something...as a crunchy pasta topping...whatever!  The point is, I didn't waste it.

I also made applesauce this weekend with some apples that I froze last fall.  I thawed them, added them to a pan with a little cinnamon, 1 tsp of sugar and some organic apple juice.  I let them cook down for about 10 minutes and then ran them through the food processor.  This applesauce has been particularly great mixed in with oatmeal.  You could easily do the same thing with fresh apples that are about to go bad.  Find a purpose for those items!  Don't waste!

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Frugal Frida Links: Cheap Vacations

By Julie Norman
Friday, April 18, 2014

It's almost summer, which means it's almost family vacation time!  If you're tired of stay-cations, this link has some great ideas on vacationing on the cheap. Other possibilties for cheap vacations include:

1. Camping.  Compared to staying in hotels, campgrounds are pretty darn cheap.  Add in the entertainment of roasting marshmallows, a campfire and nearby woods/creeks/meadows to play in, and you've got a weekend or week-long trip all ready to go.  Most campgrounds are usually close to other forms of inexpensive recreation like state or national parks, hiking trails or lakes for fishing.

2. Backpacking.  If you've got or can rent the gear, backpacking can be a fun alternative and a great way to get away from crowds and the hustle and bustle of city life. Adding kids to a backpacking trip definitely will make it more exciting and more difficult, but it's still a great option if they're old enough to hike.

3. Road Trips!  With a good old-fashioned road trip you can drive an economical car, take snacks with you and either camp at cheap or free campgrounds or treat yourself to a night or two at a nice Mom and Pop motel. We found several inexpensive options a few years ago on a trip up to Bozeman, MT and back.  It can take a few tries, but you can almost always find a good inexpensive place to stay.  Tip: Always ask to see a room before you pay for a night.

Try something different this year!  Vacations are about experiences and those don't always need to come with a hefty price tag.

Backpacking in the Big Blue Wilderness, July 2013.

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Leftovers

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ah, leftovers...to some they're the things that cause you to throw out your Tupperware.  To others, they're lunch!  Which category do you fall into?  Yesterday a friend and I were discussing leftovers. 

"I need to be better with the leftovers," he said.

"You do," I replied.

"I think it's a texture thing...I get to the last two bites of leftover pizza and I just can't do it!"

I'm not sure when the leftover attitude appears...as a kid are you the one who hates leftovers?  Or as an adult do you just decide they're not your thing?  Honestly, leftovers are one of the best money-savers around! They give you a chance to continue to use an item that you've already purchased instead of buying something else.   They are especially useful for lunches as they can keep you from spending $10 a day on a meal when there's something perfectly edible waiting for you in the fridge!

There are ways to change things up though.  You don't have to just eat leftover chicken.  Add in some chicken broth and some frozen corn, a bit of salsa and some diced avocado and you've got a tortilla soup.  Take those leftover noodles, add some cilantro, scallions and peanut sauce and you've got a great Thai meal.  Turn that leftover roast into an awesome sandwich!

Whatever you do, make it your goal to try to eat those leftovers.  You'll feel so much better when you can actually reuse your Tupperware instead of just having to toss it and its moldy contents in the trash.

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Frugal Friday Links: Cooking on a budget!

By Julie Norman
Friday, April 11, 2014

Cooking Light is one of my favorite magazines.  Not only is it full of healthy recipes, but it often also has budget-friendly recipes.  Here's a recent link to many many budget friendly recipes for your family!

image from cooking light.com

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