Penny Pinchers

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More inexpensive ways to show you care

By Julie Norman
Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!  Here at Penny Pinchers we believe in celebrating in the best way possible - by not spending much money.  There are plenty of ways to show someone you care that aren't going to break the bank.


photo from

Brittany's link for today is from 

This list is filled with thoughtful things to say and do to show someone that you appreciate them.  None of them require spending hundreds of dollars!

For more ideas on how others frugally celebrate the holiday of love, visit this link from The Frugal Girl.  Small gifts often mean more than a big giant teddy bear!

Whatever you do today we hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day filled with love and happiness!


Make Your Own Takeout - Pizza

By Brittany Dale
Thursday, February 13, 2014

Welcome to another rendition of Make Your Own Takeout.

This week we had pizza on our meal list. We have pizza every couple of weeks and really like to load it up with a bunch of veggies which I can only assume is horribly expensive to get on take out. For Christmas, my parents got us a pizza stone, peel (the flat wooden shovel looking thing) a fancy pizza cutter and a couple of cook books. We were really excited to branch out from our normal routine. I decided to be brave and make my own pizza dough.

Typically we buy pre-made pizza dough. We love the flavor and they are easy to use but after making my own, I won't ever buy them again.

Those pre-made pizzas cost $3.99 each. We buy two so that we have enough for lunches the next day.
Ingredients needed for the specific dough we made:
Yeast (3 packets of 1 tsp each) - $1.99
Bread flour (5lb bag) - $3.99
Regular Flour (5lb bag) - $2.99

I already had salt, and the regular flour. I used 2 cups of the bread flour and ½ tsp of the yeast. I will have all of the ingredients I need to make my own dough for at least a month. THAT is a great deal!

Those of you who cook understand that it's gratifying to make something with your own hands. Making my own pizza dough was the epitome of feeling accomplished. My excitement about it sounds a tad excessive. Go ahead, call me crazy.

We were both pleasantly surprised with the taste. I also really liked that I would be able to change the amount of dough and the flavor depending on what we like.

The price was really what won me over. I am looking forward to what else we can create and our next step to make pizzas even cheaper will be to buy the big block of mozzarella cheese instead of smaller portions.


Valetine’s on the cheap (mostly)

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Let me start this by saying I am a big ol dork when it comes to the grocery store.  I love it.  I love the cheese aisle, the produce section, the vareties of salsas...I love finding digital coupons and watching the total drop and drop and drop once all my "card savings" and digital coupons are applied.  It's a sickness, really.  This week City Market tried to lure me back (I'm a Safeway shopper) by sending me a bunch of personalized coupons.  There were coupons for free Kraft mayonnaise, free peanut butter, free grape tomatoes, etc. So I said FINE City Market.  I'll go and I'll use your coupons.  But you will not win me over! 

It just so happened to be the shopping trip during which I was buying everything for our Valentine's Day dinner. Yes, we celebrate Valentine's Day.  We buy each other cards and we have a nice dinner.  Honestly I just like excuses to have nice dinners once in a while. Valentine's is a good excuse. Still, I didn't go into this without a plan. I thought about what I already had at home, the coupons from City Market, and some requests I'd gotten from the BF. Here's the menu I came up with:

Appetizer: Shrimp cocktail

Salad: Boston lettuce "cups" filled with artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, fresh mozarella (really I was going for any on-sale fancy cheese) and cucumber and topped with a viniagrette.

Main course: Grilled top sirloin steaks with a side of creamed spinach

Dessert: A parfait of vanilla ice cream and peach sorbet topped with a berry compote

The peach sorbet was already made and in the freezer.  I'd made it a few days ago with peaches I froze back in the summer.  The sirloins I'd purchased from the clearance bin at Safeway a few weeks ago. To determine pricing, I did think about how much of each product we'd use.  Here's the break-down:


1/2 bag shrimp (that's a lot, but we like shrimp...)  = $5

Cocktail sauce (1/4 bottle)                                      = .50


Cucumber (I counted the whole thing even though we probably won't use that much ) = .89

Tomatoes - FREE (with coupon)

Fresh Mozarella - I lucked out and found a "manager's special" container                    = $2.29

Can of artichoke hearts (this was a splurge)                                                                  = $3.49

Boston/Bibb lettuce - 1 head (I probably won't use all that)                                           = $1.50

Newman's Own Dressing (with .75 off coupon, assuming 1/4 bottle which is still a lot)  = .88

Main Course:

Top Sirloin Steaks (on clearance - Grass Fed Open Nature 1.5 lb)                              = $6.59

Any marinade we use will be from on-hand ingredients so I didn't count that.

Fresh spinach                                                                                                               = $1.29

Frozen spinach                                                                                                             = $1.39

Roux (milk price is correct, butter/flour is guesstimated)                                              = $1.60 (Lactose Free 2% milk is .60/cup)


Milk - 3 cups (again, Lactose Free 2%)                                                                          = $1.80

Sugar and vanillia (guesstimates)                                                                                  = .75

Berries (a mix of blueberries and blackberries on sale)                                                = $4


Total cost for 2: $31.97!  That's right at $16 a person.  Not bad for appetizer thru dessert!

Obviously that doesn't include alcohol, but I'm not in charge of that ;)  The real question though, is how much would something similar cost at a restaurant?

I checked out the menu for a common chain restaurant serving seafood and steaks. 

1 shrimp cocktail - $8.79

One order of sirloin steak with mashed potatoes and a side item - $14.99

One dessert (I went with the cheapest) - $4.99

So, without alcohol, ONE meal at a restaurant would be $28.77  That's almost double what my at-home meal will cost.  Plus we'll be able to relax, wear comfy clothes and honestly probably enjoy a better tasting, and definitely better for us, meal than we would at that chain restaurant.

This was definitely a budget WIN!


The Budgeting Carousel

By Brittany Dale
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Today, my friends, I'm being honest.

Sometimes budgeting sucks. There, I said it. Penny pinching can be very tedious and constricting. At times I feel like a nag to both myself and my boyfriend. I think we all love to see results immediately and saving money doesn’t necessarily have a tangible reward right away. Being fairly strict with our budget sometimes requires saying no, and dangit, saying no just isn't as fun.

We received our tax returns this week and I am split in two. I want to make myself apply each penny to appropriate places to maximize the funds while I also want to go to a nice dinner with my guy or buy something just for fun. The wish list my boyfriend has and the one I keep silent rises front a center when it feels like we have extra money. It is fun and energizing to feel like we aren't controlled by money and having extra feels like freedom. I want to run wild and free, dollar bills blowing behind me, because I have so many. Except life isn't a Geico commercial. Boo.


Before I go back to reminding myself that my sacrifices now will make a more solid foundation later, apparently I would rather whine a little first. I find difficulty in balancing what feels like unnecessary spending and sending every penny we get to our debt or savings account. I wish I had a little financial person sitting on my shoulder giving me constant advice. I have heard people say “pay yourself first” but I think those people are referring to my savings account and not a trip to the clothing store (even if it would be the second hand clothing store).

Money controls everything and I despise it.

We are at the mercy of our credit scores, our debt to income ratio and the size of our paychecks. Sure, I could move off the grid somewhere far away, farm my own food, use dirt and slug juice for shampoo and rebel against commercial control. Can we be realistic though? I really like my flushing toilet and running water. I love the solid roof over my head and I'm grateful that we can buy groceries and gas and truly afford the things we need and most of the time the things we want. Yet, my want is often greater than my ability to afford it. Does this dilemma become a matter of retraining ourselves to live on less? The things that I understand as a luxury like that new Hummer X5LT Gas Guzzler, diamond studded clothes for my dogs or a jumpy castle are all easy for me to resist because I understand they are over the top. What about the other stuff that doesn't seem so luxurious like the shampoo I like that makes my hair really soft, or hiking boots or exactly 1,000 containers and wall to wall shelving to delicately organize all of our odds and ends? My organizing “problem” is beside the point here. Those things don't feel over the top but if I am being honest with myself - truly honest - should I be spending money on things like that, even if my bills are already paid? If we ever want to be debt free, purchase a home or have extra spending money each month then the answer is no, I shouldn't be spending money on things that we don't absolutely need. And we are back to being helpless to money.

Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.” Photo:

Is there a balance? Do we find a magic number that allows us to pay our bills, save for the future and purchase the things we want or is it true that the magic number increases, continually growing just ahead of our income. Sometimes I feel like we live in a constant race where “just a couple hundred dollars more” will get us across the finish line. Each time my income increases (although it hasn't increased much) my finish line moves. My want is always greater than my have.

Is there a way out of the race? How can we find a balance and live in peace with the money battle?


Not Your Name-Brand Hotels

By Julie Norman
Monday, February 10, 2014

One way that we often save money on weekend get-aways and longer trips is by staying at lesser-known "Mom and Pop" hotels.  These places often have rooms, especially in what might be considered their "off season," for much less than Comfort Inns, Hampton Inns or other chain hotels that we've all heard of.

In Moab, The Virginian motel is a constant for us.  In the wintertime many places there have cheap rooms, but in the fall, you can rent a room at the Virginian with a full-sized refrigerator, stove, coffee pot, etc for $89/night! 

This is a picture from the Frontier Lodge's home page.  The Frontier Lodge is a place on the far side of Glenwood Springs (towards Carbondale) where we stay when we're heading to Snowmass for the weekend (using our fairly inexpensive Classic Passes to ski).  Wes, the owner, remembers us and gives a little extra discount to repeat customers. It's cheaper if you call to make reservations than making them online too! While the outside may need a little work, the rooms are clean and they'll only cost you about $60 a night.  A plus: to the right of the motel (when looking at it in this pic) is a tiny shopping center with a great Mexican restaurant, Taqueria El Nopal.  It also is affordable!

Finally, on the second night of our Snowmass weekends we usually stay in Basalt at the Aspenalt Lodge.  In the summertime the rates here jump quite a bit due to its location near the Frying Pan river.  I'm sure that anglers from all over stay here because of the easy proximity to fishing.  In the winter, though, the rates drop dramatically.  We got a nice upstairs room away from traffic for $99.  Trust me, anything else around here this time of year is way more.  I looked on and the only thing closer to Snowmass that I found that was anywhere close to that low of a rate was the Snowmass Inn for $140.  The Aspenalt is nicer! Full disclosure: At one time the Aspenalt said they were part of Best Western Hotels, but I can't find anything on their website anymore that mentions anything like that.

Here's what the rooms look like (ours just had a King bed):

(photo from

All the rooms have a coffee pot, microwave and mini-fridge and there's a hot tub right by the river! It's great.  To be honest, though, the Aspenalt's "continental breakfast" sucks. BUT there is a small grocery store right next door.  For $5 I got us some great Pillsbury Sausage, Egg and Cheese biscuits (the frozen kind you microwave) and 2 bananas.  Of course, you could always pack your own stuff too and not even spend that $5!

Some things to keep in mind when choosing a Mom and Pop hotel:

-Always trust your instincts.  If it seems super sketchy or scary, it probably is.

-Ask to see a room before you make a reservation.  We've never had anyone tell us no.  By at least getting a chance to look around you can tell if the shower looks clean, if the carpet has been vaccuumed, etc. 

-Once you find a good place, the next time you plan to stay there make sure you mention that you've stayed there before.  You can often get an extra 10%-15% discount on room prices!

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