Penny Pinchers

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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!


Lots of things

By Julie Norman
Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Here's a new rambling list of frugal thoughts and ideas for you...

1. We went to Park City for a week over Labor Day and stayed in a lovely VRBO condo at Canyons Resort. If you've never used VRBO I highly recommend it! First of all, you can find reasonably priced accomodations for anywhere from 2 to 8 or more people.  That makes it easy to split costs if you are going with another couple or family.  Second, you now have the freedom to cook! Ok, maybe you hate to cook, but I don't.  I'm happy, even on vacation, to whip up pizza or pasta in the kitchen while some nice music plays in the background.  We save a ton of money this way too.  We will sometimes go out for lunch after a bike ride, but lunch is still significantly cheaper to buy than dinner.  Our condo was $89/night ("late" season because the ski lifts that take you up for hikes or bike rides shut down after Labor Day) and it can sleep up to 4.  It also has a lovely view of the golf course, though you can't really tell it from this picture:

2. Gardens are wonderful things.  Ours has produced enough spaghetti squash to last us a while. We ate quite a few of them and I've frozen several bags too.  We've also made 3 batches of salsa to freeze, and frozen many bags of roasted tomatoes for pizza and spaghetti sauces.  A packet of seeds and some tender loving care is (almost) all it takes!

3. I bought a $4 chai latte from Starbucks the other day.  Good grief! That was for a 12oz too! The next day I just made myself an afternoon cup of tea instead. $4 for a chai...

4. Sometimes, it pays to go back and ask.  We bought a new mattress this weekend and the store said they had a price match policy.  I assumed that was just for other local stores. When we got home, the BF found the mattress was $100 cheaper on the mattress brand's website.  He went back to the store the next day and lo and behold, we got $100 back! 

5. Free cash is nice.  We have a wellness program here at work through Virgin Wellness.  The other day a coworker was checking her "rewards" and discovered we could actually use the points we'd earned by walking, tracking healthy habits, etc for real money! The company offers a variety of gift cards and I chose a basic Visa Gift Card. I plan to use it to buy new pants for winter.  I hate pants!


An inexpensive meadow garden

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We have a section of backyard that I fondly refer to as "the meadow garden". In it exist irises, other spring bulbs, a gnarled lilac tree, and a redbud tree. The rest of the area (and it's pretty big) is filled during various times of the year with Bachelor Buttons and Lupine. However, there are bare spots and this time of year it begins to look particularly awful.  I have spent money to add a big pot with Prarie Coneflower in it.  I also bought a Russian Sage last year.  Those things thrive anywhere!

Still, the meadow garden needs work, but I don't want to put much money into it. So we bought some mulch.  Mulch can be pretty inexpensive if you just need a few bags. I'm thinking of adding a walking path at the back of the meadow garden and mulch plus some old shingles we found in our shed will work perfectly.

We also bought a huge bag of wildflower seed. In the spring we can loosen the soil, spread the seed down, and water it. Hopefully we'll have so many wildflowers that they'll beat back the bindweed that threatens to overtake the area.   Every year I look at this area and think I should do something more with it...but I really want it to be the opposite of the rest of the yard. The rest of the yard is very ordered. There are flowering shrubs, irises, a tree...a bit of lawn...and then some serious xeriscaping. This meadow garden is supposed to be the wild part of the yard, but I'm having trouble  letting it be that.  I'm really hoping that adding some inexpensive seed ($6 for a BIG bag) and mulch ($3 per bag) will turn it into an area that is pretty and welcoming for bees from Spring through Fall.

Here's a picture of a portion of the meadow garden earlier in the season. 

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