Valuable

Something I think I learn more and more about the longer I’m a wife and mother is Stewardship. I’ve gone in and out of crazy couponing phases (and settled on something practical, which I’ve chronicled on this blog,) I’ve learned how to make things stretch, reuse old things (partly to save money and partly because it’s fun!), and, most importantly, how to budget and save. It’s a big deal. Sometimes I go overboard. I don’t want to throw away cereal boxes or jars because I see what they have the potential to become. (I know, it’s crazy.) My wonderful, loving husband has a way of being the voice of reason in these moments… The point is, I see value in every little thing.

When I was a little girl, my parents gave me these china-esque dolls. They were beautiful, wore Victorian garb, and I was instructed that they were never to come out of their boxes. I was 7 or 8, and the idea of a doll that had to live in a box was just ridiculous. But I obeyed my parents and left them in the box… till I was 22. After I got married, I decided that the boxes had been beaten up like crazy over the last decade and a half and if they were “worth anything” before, they probably weren’t now. But I knew they were valuable and wanted to preserve them, so the boxes went into the garbage, and the dolls, on their stands, went on a shelf. They were beautifully displayed there along with my boxed-up Barbies. I respected my parents’ wishes, but even in my 20s, it didn’t make sense to me that they were dolls that weren’t to be played with.

My daughter turned 6 over the weekend. I’ve watched how responsible she’s become, and seen how she does everything she can to truly care for her things. I decided these dolls needed to learn to play, and that Alexa was the perfect playmate for them. So today, I took them off of their stands and gave them to her. I must say, the joy on her face at receiving such beautiful dolls was far more valuable than any amount I could have sold them for. Now, there are restrictions, of course. These dolls don’t go outside, and they shouldn’t be around food or paint, but they are just perfect for a tea party, or as she’s doing now, to put on mommy’s high heels and dance around your room with.

Sometimes, I think our ideas of value are skewed. As I thought about the last 18 years that those dolls have sat in a box and on a shelf, I began to picture all the things I could have done with those dolls. Growing up, I was the middle child in the house. I had 2 older brothers and 2 younger sisters. How nice would it have been if I could have had tea parties with dolls in beautiful Victorian dresses. I wonder how that would have changed my perception of play, girliness, or life. But instead they sat in boxes on shelves and I was allowed merely to look at them.

My parents meant well. I think they thought they were giving me something I would cherish as I grew. And I do cherish those dolls, and the fact that they are still so beautiful after so long… but I have a feeling I can cherish them better through watching my little girl’s enjoyment of them, than having them sit on a shelf. I hope, as a parent, that I never to put the cost or potential value of a thing above the value of childhood.
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Date Night – at home!

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When we were in our pre-marriage classes, one of the things my husband and I noted was of utmost importance in a marriage was a weekly date night. We spend time together a lot more than some of our peers, but having an intentional date night is so much different! We found out quickly, though, that babysitters are pricey (and a good one is worth their weight in gold!), and weekly was just not happening… heck, monthly was a miracle, and we’re happy to have a good, long date every 3 months! But the expense of it aside, it is VERY important to have frequent dates with your spouse. It keeps that “loving feeling” alive, and while a great marriage isn’t made up of good feelings, they still help :)

So anyway, last week I participated in my first legit at-home date. I mean, we’ve grabbed a card game after the kids went to bed, snuggled on the couch and watched movies, etc., but to me, that isn’t a date. Maybe I’m a snob, but to me a date requires planning and intentionality. Well, after 3 weeks of being told by my dad (our #1 free babysitter!) that he’d watch the kids “Tuesday, no wait Friday, maybe Saturday afternoon” and getting tired of being disappointed, Collin decided we’d have a drive-in movie date. It was amazing. We got some big fluffy blankets, dragged them into the back yard, he moved the TV and AppleTV to the back porch, and we laid together and watched 50 First Dates (one of my all-time favorites) in the back yard. It was really something. I felt loved, cherished… I felt like we were friends again. It was very special to me. I decided that at-home dates really shouldn’t be a last-ditch resort when we’re tired of waiting for a “real” date. They can be real dates – planned, intentional, and very fun. (I’m sure this is a realization everyone else came to a long time ago, but I’m stubborn!) So I set out to make a list. I scoured the internet, and found 10 here, 5 there, on all sorts of sites, and compiled them, along with some suggestions from friends, to post here. My plan is to print them, laminate them, and work through them in no particular order. And if you have other ideas, please feel free to post those below!

(I separated out the things that only married couples should participate in… they’re at the bottom! But married ladies, don’t leave these out if you decide to enact some of these date nights with your hubby!)

For everyone:

  • Order in from a favorite restaurant, dress up all fancy and turn on some romantic music you’d hear in a nice restaurant ie: Sinatra, Michael Buble, etc.
  • Make your bed all pretty and eat a fancy dessert (cheesecake, anyone?) together while watching a favorite (or new!) movie.
  • Have an all-out game night, just the two of you. Take turns choosing your favorite board/card games.
  • Theme night! Enjoy the music, food, and drink of a culture of your choice. (Italian, Western, etc.)
  • Music night! Go back & forth playing your favorite romantic (or fun!) songs for each other.
  • Drinks on the back porch. Gaze at the stars, sit together, and just enjoy.
  • Read to each other. Pick a favorite article, some quotes, or a book you’re reading and let each other in on your world!
  • Casual dance night. Pick some favorite songs – or even some of the awful newer stuff – and dance together in the back yard (weather-permitting)
  • Break out the Wii (or other gaming console). Play some favorite video games together.
  • DDR, anyone? Get out the PS2 and bust a move.
  • Laugh it up. Get out a comedy CD or DVD or find something on YouTube. Laugh till you wet your pants, then take a shower.
  • Make a pallet in the living room, pop some way-too-buttery popcorn, and watch a movie you’ve seen a million times.
  • Have an indoor picnic. Get (or make) a fruit or cheese tray and sit on a blanket in the living room. No tv, phones, or computer allowed – just talk
  • Movie marathon. Buy some special treats, and pick a movie theme. (An actor, an era, etc.) Watch two or three movies if you can stay awake!
  • Taste test. Pick a favorite food that has many types and tastes (different meats, cheeses, candies, ice creams – you name it), and take turns blindfolding each other and trying to guess what you’re eating.
  • Cook a gourmet meal together. Enjoy laughing, dancing, whatever while you cook, then eat it together like it was served at a 5-star restaurant.
  • Bake something sweet. From a box, from scratch – who cares?! Enjoy feeding it to each other.
  • Send someone else out on a date! Put the kiddos to bed (theirs and yours), and enjoy the night away from home, just being together.
  • Relive your first date at home… Or at least have cheesecake and watch that first movie together again.
  • Put the kids to bed early (like 7:00). Make stadium food (nachos!!) and enjoy the game on TV.
  • Make brinner and enjoy a “morning” in bed together.
  • Karaoke night! Break out your favorite movie musical classics and serenade each other till your heart’s content! (I’m thinking Grease, Newsies, and several Disney classics until our throats hurt!)
  • Take the TV (or iPad or laptop) to the back yard and have a “drive in” movie. (It’s worth lugging the TV out there. Especially if it’s a flat screen haha)

Married couples only!

  • Fill the kiddie pool with water, put on that swimsuit *ONLY* he can see you in, and soak together under the stars.
  • Snuggle up on the couch and watch your wedding video together.
  • Watch a movie in bed. Naked. No touchy till it’s over! (Okay, I guess you can hold hands.)
  • Play twister in your lingerie. See how long it takes to make him lose on purpose
  • Pamper each other. Take turns giving massages, maybe even take a long shower together and let your spouse bathe you.
  • Make out. You used to set aside nights just for this purpose and it was always fun. It still is. Go for it.
  • Poker night! (Strip optional)

I hope you enjoy enacting some of these at-home date nights! What are some of your favorite stay-at-home dates?


Wee Hands

Wee Hands

I love this poem. I changed up the last stanza and made this to 11×14 print to put up in my home as a reminder.


Couponing, without the extreme

I’ve seen an increasing number of folks asking for tips on “Extreme” couponing and I’m always hesitant to put in my two cents on the matter because I don’t want to step on toes… but here are a few tips on practical couponing. This style of couponing gives you the ability to save money without making it a full-time job. Personally, I am a mother of 3 with a husband to take care of, a household to run 40 hours a week, and several tiny humans I have the pleasure of molding into full-grown people, as well as a really sweet PT job… so, like most people, I don’t have a ton of time to devote to clipping coupons, scouring ads and shelves, etc. just to get my 1,000th tube of toothpaste free. What I do have is 1-2 hours a week (max) I can devote to practical things that will help my family be better stewards of the money God has given us.
So here’s what I do each week:

Coupon clipping
Last year, my husband & I subscribed to the paper. It was $105 for the entire year, Wed-Sun., which was $1 more than we would spend for a years’ worth of Sunday papers. To make the deal even sweeter, we got a $25 Lowe’s gift card for signing up. (And I won a $100 giveaway for signing up, too… so they ended up all being free… but that’s beside the point.) So each week, I clip the coupons from the Sunday paper. Some important things to remember:
- The coupons don’t all expire that week. Most of them are good for several weeks or even months, so if your paper sat there for two weeks and you didn’t get to clipping them, no big deal. Seriously.
- Coupons are a form of advertising for these companies. They wouldn’t produce them if they weren’t profitable. Take that into consideration when you get so excited about saving 50 cents on something you wouldn’t otherwise be buying (M&Ms, for example.)
- some stores – from what I’ve seen pretty much everyone but Walmart – will let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon… This is really cool when it happens, but don’t hold your breath… especially since it will normally happen with a product you weren’t going to buy in the first place and you’ll end up spending 75 unbudgeted cents just because you’re “saving” $2… Only to throw that product away because it expired because it wasn’t really something you would use. (K, I kinda went back to point 2 there.)
- Look at the expiration dates and think realistically about whether or not you’ll use the coupon before that date. If you have a full bottle of Windex in your cabinet, for example, you’re probably not going to buy more in the next 2 months… Don’t waste your time clipping that coupon because you’ll just be wasting more time in 2 months when you’re throwing it away.
- It’s okay – and really a good idea – to grab coupons for products you were curious about. I’m always hesitant to spend my hard-earned money on a product I’m unsure about. I clip these coupons and put them near the back of my coupon book so if I come across them in the store and they’re on sale, I can feel a little better about trying them.

Price comparison
It takes a little bit of time to build up a list of what the normal grocery prices are for stuff in your area. One way to make this process easier is to use an app on your smart phone for your grocery list that includes pricing. We have used Grocery IQ for a long time, but have been using MealBoard since I started using it for our meal planning. Each shopping trip, I enter the price for the item I’m purchasing. (The program remembers the price from my history.) That makes it easy to tell if prices are higher or lower since the last trip, and I’ll see a correlation if I’m changing the price each time I go to the store.
- Check the grocery ads. I don’t mean spend an hour scouring them, but with your grocery list in hand, look over the weekly ads from your store. Many residences receive them in the mail each week, but I haven’t seen much rhyme or reason to who does and doesn’t. Personally, I rely on my Wednesday paper. I pull the ads out of the center and quickly scan the prices for the major grocery stores in the area. I’ve noticed the prices on cereal, chips and crackers can fluctuate within a buck or two each week, so I get these on sale if I can. I also check prices for produce & meat because those prices change constantly. When you get a really good meat sale, stock up as much as you can & freeze it. (This makes meal planning easier, too, because the most expensive part of the meal is already on hand!)
- Pay attention to the price you’re paying per pound/ounce/whatever. Walmart has these on their shelves and some of the other grocery stores do, too. If they aren’t there, it’s easy enough to do with the calculator on your phone. My husband and I are huge math nerds and we do this for most items. It takes 2-3 seconds, and we actually like doing it. The reason for this is many times you can save by getting in bulk – but not always. I think the stores get used to us making that assumption and occasionally jack up the bulk price.
- On that same note, don’t buy in bulk what you will not use in bulk! Yes, 10 lb. of potatoes may be only $1 more than 5, but if you throw half of them out, your extra $1 was wasted.

I’m sure there’s much more and I’ll probably make another post on this eventually. My husband and I save a ton of money using these simple methods and we spend very little time on it. There is one other thing I will leave you with…

Coupon Binder
The expandable file folders did not work for me. I don’t want to stand in the grocery aisle pulling out 100 coupons from the “health & beauty” section looking for razors, and there wasn’t a practical way to break it down further than that. I want to LOOK at my coupons. So there’s the binder option… Only, it’s upwards of $20 and the point here is to SAVE money – not spend it. That, and the idea of hauling a trapper keeper to all my store trips was mortifying. I needed something small that would allow me to look at my coupons. I looked at business card holders and they were also insane, so I came up with the idea to use a photo album.
I bought a $2 photo album at Target (this one) (just make sure the photos go in from the side & not the top). and sewed each page down the center.

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Then I put my coupons in in a way that makes sense to me. I have as many options as I need, and I can see each coupon. I start with frozen, then go to refrigerated, then dry, and so forth. All pillsbury sweets coupons go in one pocket – where I can see the photos, and same with other items I deem to be “like” items.
And if I cut the coupons and don’t feel like putting them away right then, I have a tiny binder clip on the front that I put those in.

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When those coupons are put away, that clip is used for 2 things – on the inside, it holds store-specific coupons I’m going to use that shopping trip (ie: Albertsons, Tom Thumb weekly coupons.) On the outside, I use it to put the coupons I’m using as I get the item off the shelf, so when I get to the register, they’re all together and I just hand them over.

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The cover is a bit juvenile, but I don’t care. This method has been wildly effective. It’s super easy when taking out expired coupons, too. It’s just all around the best of both worlds as far as what I’ve seen out there for coupon books!


Ranch Chicken

As I said in a previous post, Pinterest has been a wonderful source of inspiration for me in many ways – not the least of which has been in the kitchen! Having a smorgasbord of proven recipes to choose has been incredible, and we rarely repeat recipes anymore (except a few proven favorites… the list of which is getting longer and longer!) Not all of them have been winners, though… and since, for whatever reason, I think people care about my opinion on things, I wanted to share my experience with the more notable recipes on my little bloggity here :)

Ranch Chicken
When I saw the pin for Ranch Chicken, the name itself told me it would be a favorite.

Ranch Chicken

The pin wasn’t posted with a link to a blog or anything, so if you’re the one who came up with this wonderful recipe: THANK YOU! My family absolutely loved this stuff. And it was SO cheap and easy! And since it wasn’t linked anywhere, I thought I would share it here. With all two of you people who read this. Ha.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup crushed cornflakes
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 packet of hidden valley ranch dressing mix
butter
and, of course, chicken breasts

Mix cornflakes, parmesan cheese, and ranch mix. Smush cornflakes and mix all it together.
Melt butter. Dip chicken breasts in melted butter & roll in cornflake mix. Place in greased 9×13 pan (I lined it with foil… Not a fan of dishes!)
Bake @ 350 for 45 min

That’s it! My husband licked his plate. Okay, he picked up every last crumb w/ his fingers and ate them. All. And the kids & I were finished almost as quickly. It was very very good.

Hope you like it as much as we did!

The photo above is from Pinterest, but it looked just like that!

 


Best Valentine’s Day EVER!

Towards the end of the year last year, Gateway had a huge baptism event where they did outdoor baptisms for hundreds of people. It was really neat, and because it was such an event, Alexa got to see it. As soon as she did, she started asking questions… What are they doing? Why? What does it mean? It was so neat because it sparked a conversation with Alexa that lasted for months! We talked to her a lot about praying to ask God when, and how she can hear God, and what it means to give your heart to Jesus and to confess your faith in him through baptism… And, just like her mama, she soaked it all in, prayed a lot, and finally came to a very big decision.

Alexa talked to me earlier and she had decided she was ready to pray and ask Jesus into her heart. I told her we would wait until evening (Collin & I were at work at the time!) and pray before bed. So, laying in her bed, she and daddy prayed as I stood by beaming about the incredible choice my little girl was making. After she and daddy prayed, she shouted out “This is the Best Valentine’s Day, EVER!” I love it. She has no idea just how right she is :)


Money-Saving Mealtime

One of the most money-saving things I’ve ever done is when I started meal planning for our family. Getting started was hard… My mother was anything but domestic, so I’d never learned to cook anything more complicated than Hamburger Helper. I’d done some experimenting with making meals when my husband & I were engaged, but I was a long way from having a menu’s-worth of recipes to choose from on a weekly basis… and, in case you were curious, at 5 o’clock when you’re exhausted with 2 hungry kids and a husband coming home from work is NOT the ideal time to learn how to cook.
So in my days of experimenting with extreme couponing (which was way stressful, not worth the time, and I’ve since found much more effective ways to save money… but we’ll save that for later!), I came across a Moolala email advertising 6 months of eMealz for super duper cheap. I decided it would be worth a try and, at the very least, the recipes from eMealz would give me the recipe repertoire I had been lacking.
It was a success! Sort of. Most of the recipes contained ingredients I’d never heard of or didn’t like and, without photos I felt like I didn’t have a picture of what I was doing, plus the grocery list thing was more complicated than necessary. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. After 3 weeks, we were done trying to do things that way. We did discover one thing, though: meal planning is amazing. The same way budgeting our money had changed our finances, planning our meals made life so much easier.
Enter: Pinterest. You may or may not have heard of Pinterest, but it is the creative’s muse, the procrastinator’s nightmare, and the budding chef’s dream come true! If you don’t know how to do something, hop on Pinterest – you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. I noticed as I browsed the boards that food was a very popular thing to pin. In no time, I had an entire virtual tack board of recipes that looked good, sounded good, and were explained in detail for cooking noobs like me… with the added benefit of having a blogger’s experience with the recipe for my reference.
I hopped on the computer and made a cute chart for my meal plan and another for a grocery list… and, being the super-frugal person I am, ran those pieces of paper to get them laminated, because how does it save me money if I’m using pricey ink & paper every week??
I did this for months and months. And it took about an hour per 2-week period to make a meal plan with grocery list, being sure to cross-reference ingredients to get the most use out of each. (See, I’m what Dave Ramsey would call the financial “nerd”… but it’s not just with our money, it’s with everything!) It was kind of fun, and worth the time investment because it enabled us to save so darn much on groceries.
Then came 2012 and all it brought. This is going to be one of the BEST years and I know it is because it has to be after the way it started – with total insanity! I took over as the bookkeeper at Collin’s company, one dental procedure turned into 8 dental appointments (and a pain-free mouth, I might add!), and everyone was sick on and off for the entire month of January. It was nutty! And with lots of time away from home, I realized the only thing my plan was missing was being able to take it with me.
I started checking out apps to see what was out there. I had tried Food on the Table, but frugal me couldn’t stomach the idea of a monthly subscription. I saw MealBoard, but the AppStore’s FREE apps have made it seem like a leap to spend even $2 on an app. I waited a day or two, read lots of reviews, checked out their website (mealboard.com) and finally decided to take the plunge. (The fact that we had a ton of iTunes gift card credit in our account from Christmas didn’t hurt. Thank you, in-laws!)
After exploring the site some, I started to get excited. Basically, you enter a recipe, save it, and it adds it to the pool of recipes you can choose from each week for your meal planning. But it does so much more… like, there’s an import button for ingredients, so you can copy/paste them and it takes very little tweaking to get it to look right afterwards. You can also tell it whether or not you want it to add those ingredients to your grocery list, and what section that ingredient is in in your favorite store so it can smart-populate your grocery list. Yes, it does that for you!
I must be honest and say it is a time investment up front – but it has been worth every second I spent putting in recipes… especially because it’s so simple. The app is super-customizable – you can pick when your week begins, how many weeks you want to plan at a time, pick your category names (I added a Crock Pot category, for example, because some days the schedule just dictates that if we’re going to eat dinner, it needs to be made at 10 am…), sync across platforms, even change the color of the app!
So this week, I spent 10 minutes picking the recipes I wanted to make from Pinterest, went to the blog sites, copied the data over to MealBoard (I was even able to give credit to the bloggers & put photos in the recipes… but you don’t have to. I’m just a nerd.), then spent less than 5 minutes placing them on the proper day in the app… It even let me pick the dates for my grocery list so I could make sure we have everything we need in our kitchen for the next several days’ meals! Folks, this app has been so life-changing, I wrote an unsponsored review on it on my blog! For no reason other than that I HOPE it can help someone else plan meals more effectively!
Seriously, iPhone-using friends – get it!
At the very least, I think everyone should start a meal plan if you haven’t. Save yourself some time, stress, and grocery budget, and thank me later!


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