Penny Pinchers

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Giving Back for the Holidays and other winter savings ideas

By Julie Norman
Monday, December 7, 2015

Being thrifty at Christmas can be hard.  I mean, it's so easy to just say, "Oh, surely he/she/they need this! It's only $20..." Then $20 turns into $40 and before you know it you've blown $100 on things no one really "needs."  Lots of people have posted ways to save at the holidays.  

There's the One thing to read, One thing to wear, One thing they want, One thing they need method.  This, I think, is a great idea for kids.  Let's face it.  They all end up (me included when I was a kid) with so much junk that they don't really need...and then six months later there you are hauling bags of stuff to Goodwill. There are so many great books out there for kids these days that they'll be just as happy with a book as they would be with yet another set of legos. (Ok, maybe not...but we can all hope!)

I like this article from Real Simple.  It has tips from real folks out there about ways they give back to others at the holidays.  I think donating wreaths for Veterans' graves in someone's name, giving to Mercy Corp or the Salvation Army and even just helping your mom/sister/friend with something they need like painting a room, babysitting, running errands, raking, counts as just as great a gift as a new coffee mug.  None of us need more coffee mugs!

Thinkstock photo

You could help a neighbor or relative with their Christmas decorations.  Imagine how grateful they'd be and how good you'd feel! Then you wouldn't have to bother getting Grandma another day calendar that she won't use. 

If you can't stop yourself from having something wrapped up under the tree, consider getting something for an experience - like tickets to a show, a season pass to state or national parks, or even a trip to an aquarium or museum.  These are great gifts that, while not cheap, definitely don't fall into the "I don't need it" category. Experiences are often much better than material things. 


Whatever you decide to do, don't put yourself in debt. No one wants to think that their present caused you months of interest and credit card payments. Stick to what you can afford, even if it means making Mason Jar gifts for everyone in your family.  I know very few people who will turn down a recipe for homemade hot chocolate or the makings for a Jack and Coke. (Yes, I've seen that idea on Pinterest).  People would rather have this and the time they got to spend with you than have the knowledge that you bought stuff you couldn't afford. 

Enjoy the holidays! 


Five Fall Frugal Things

By Julie Norman
Friday, November 6, 2015

1. One month ago I signed up for a free trial of The Daily Burn.  It's a workout Roku channel or app, depending on what device you are using it.  After 1 month the cost is only $15 a month.  I wrote down the last day of the free trial (today) so I wouldn't pay if I didn't want to.  It turns out though that Daily Burn is awesome! I love the workouts and for only $15 a month, it's way cheaper than a gym. 

2. Yesterday I bought an organic pork roast for $20.  That might sound pricey, but it's 3.5lbs.  We'll get 2 or 3 dinners out of it plus 2 lunches! So that's $4 a meal (5 meals).  When you look at it that way, it's pretty darn cheap.

3. The time change has made me just want to go home and curl up. I am not at all interested in cooking.  It's one of the few things I'm tasked with at home, so I'd feel guilty passing it off to the BF. The good news is that having a menu and a plan has really helped.  Knowing exactly what I'm going home to make means there's one less step.  I just say, "Just make the pizza dough..." or whatever.  Once I get started it's all good and dinner is tastier, healthier and cheaper than it would have been if we'd gone out.

4. Are commercials really so annoying that you'll pay extra to avoid them? Hulu has been trying to get us to upgrade to the "commercial free" version, but I'm just as happy to save a few bucks and use that commercial time as my water or bathroom break.

5. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be upon us soon. Don't blow your budget on booze. Have a "BYOB" plan or stick to some less-expensive but tasty options.  There are plenty of great wines for less than $20 and some for even less than $10! 


Penny Pinching Get Togethers

By Julie Norman
Friday, October 23, 2015

Tonight I'm going to a pumpkin carving party.  This, to me, seems like a great and inexpensive get together to have.  I got a nice sized pumpkin at City Market for $4 the other day and already had several books of stencils saved at home from previous Halloweens (not that stencils are necessary, but they help if you've already got them!).  I think I'll stop and pick up a bottle of wine, but you can find good ones now for around $15.  The event starts at 7:30, which is smart because then the hostess doesn't really have to provide dinner...perhaps some snacks or dessert-type items, but not much else! This is a great way to get together with friends, set up an inexpsensive snack and wine bar, and just have fun!

Other inexpensive holiday parties and tips to consider:

1. The ornament swap or cookie swap.  People can spend as much or as little as they want on these as long as they bring an ornament to exchange or cookies.  Cookie recipes can range in price depending on what you choose to put in them... As the hostess, set the timing and theme of the party so that not much work or money is required as far as food and drink:  Make a drinks and dessert party where the cookies work as part of the dessert.  Buy your favorite cocktail mix and call it good. Or have an ornament swap brunch and make a giant frittata.  

2. A themed holiday potluck like, "Your favorite family holiday dish" is always fun. This way, everyone brings something and the expense gets spread out among all of you.  Plus, people can bring recipes to swap as well. 

3. Base your snacks or appetizers around sales.  Don't go to the store with a set recipe or three in mind. Think about the types of appetizers you might want: something fruit based, some sort of veggie tray with a dip, a meat and cheese general! Then look for what's on sale.  If you can find some goat cheese on clearance, pick that up to work as a spread with crackers or crostini.  You'll definitely be able to find one or the other on sale if you aren't picky about the brand.  If carrots and sugar snap peas are on sale, make those the focus of your veggie tray.  The same goes with fruits: what's in season and on sale? Apples? Excellent! Avocado? Maybe guacamole just entered the picture.  Be flexible.

4. Skip the expensive stuff.  Sure, we all love pecans and almonds, but this is a party.  Get some mixed nuts and people will be happy.  Don't splurge on fancy cocktails that are going to require pomegranate seeds or champagne.  There are plenty of lists out there of good, inexpensive wines and beers.  These days almost everyone is either trying microbrews or wines, so stick with those and if someone asks, "what can I bring" suggest a bottle of wine! 

5.  Remember it's all about having fun with your friends.  Your friends don't expect you to spend hundreds of dollars on a party.  They're your friends.  Make a huge batch of homemade popcorn and let people top it various ways! Make nachos or build-your-own pizzas! It's all about having fun. That's what matters most. 


A few penny pinching recipes

By Julie Norman
Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Lately I've been finding unique ways (or not so unique depending on how you look at it) to use all the tomatoes we've gotten from the garden this year.  My standard thing to do is roast and freeze quart bags of them.  Then I use these bags later in the year to make pizza or spaghetti sauce.   However, this year I tried to find a few more unique ideas.  

We've been growing peppers too and while I haven't had a ton of success with the peppers this year, I had enough for a small batch of freezer salsa.  I found this recipe online and made a much smaller version of it (I think I used 5 lbs of tomatoes).  I froze 4 small quart bags of it.  We'll see how it holds up.  

I also made a large batch of enchilada sauce using my roasted tomatoes.  I just use a quart bag of pureed roasted tomatoes in place of the tomato sauce in this recipe and then adjust the rest of the ingredients to taste.  I think it's much more ecomonical to make enchilada sauce and salsa with ingredients that I already have than it is to buy it.  Plus this sauce tastes way better than the store bought stuff.

So if you're overrun with tomatoes and you need an easy way to preserve them for winter, here's how I roast them:

Wash your tomatoes.  Pat dry.  Line a rimmed sheet pan with aluminum foil.  Fill the sheet pan with tomatoes (romas and cherries work best) and drizzle them with olive oil.  Place the sheet pan 4 to 5 inches from the (on high).  Depending on your oven, check after 8-10 minutes.  I end up letting mine go for usually 15 until the skins on one side are pretty black.  You can just turn the oven off and leave them in there for a little bit if you want, once they're as dark as you'd like them to get.  

Once they cool off, just scoop them into a quart freezer bag (or two) and flatten.  Label and store in the freezer for later use!

Finally, here's my favorite spaghetti/pizza sauce recipe:

1 quart bag of roasted tomatoes, thawed and pureed

1 can of plain organic tomato sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp italian seasoning

salt to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic, chopped, and let it sizzle for a few minutes.  Add in the pureed tomatoes and sauce.  Stir.  Add in the Italian seasoning and lower the heat to a simmer. Put the lid on and let the sauce simmer just 10 minutes or so, stirring once or twice. Add salt to taste.  Use for pizzas, spaghetti, lasagna, etc.


Did you know…

By Julie Norman
Thursday, October 1, 2015

Did you know that once October arrives the price of a walk-in tent site at Ridgway State Park drops to $16 a night? It sure does.  Showers are still open for the first few weeks of October too, so you can get a cheap tent site AND a shower!  Of course, there is a state park entrance fee to pay, but there's a lot to do at the park.  There are hiking trails and biking trails, the reservoir, a campfire to stoke and stare at for, since you're camping, you can save quite a bit on food.  Camping, to me, is the ideal frugal vacation.  

In other frugal news, my Kindle died. However, since I've been spoiled in the past I can also read all my Kindle books on my iPad. I've so far opted not to replace the Kindle because it seems a bit ridiculous.  I don't often read outside, which is the one time the Kindle would be better than the iPad. 

Finally, I have a $100 Visa Gift Card that doesn't seem to be burning a hole in my pocket.  I spent $13 on a pair of jeans and some corduroys at Goodwill last week.  So far that's it. I'm sure I'll find some new clothes for winter that i want, but until then it can just stay tucked away in my wallet. The less i think about it, the better!

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