The Grocery Game

Well, this is a bit embarrassing…it’s been almost exactly 6 months since my last entry.  I don’t really have a good excuse other than life happened.  We have been homeschooling this year through K12.com and I’ve had quite the learning curve this year.  It’s been crazy busy & stressful at times, but I can now say, after a year of homeschooling a 4th grader, I can do pretty well in Trivia Crack…bonus!!

Our town just opened an Aldi’s.  Until about 3 months ago, I had never heard of an Aldi’s & was very intrigued, because everyone was really getting excited about the store.  I did a little research & saw that there were whole blog articles dedicated to how to shop at Aldi’s.  Well, I was impressed!  I mean, there are some serious Aldi’s followers out there.

After doing extensive R&D when our very own Aldi’s opened (I did not go in on Opening Day…the line around the store kind of kept me home), I have come to the conclusion that there are some great deals to be had there, but I can see where some can get sucked into the idea that EVERYTHING in the store is a bargain and I should buy everything there.  What I found to be true is exactly what I read about in blogs…some things are a great bargain…and somethings are…well…not.

This got me thinking about saving money on groceries in general.  We have a local organization that helps women who are pregnant and have babies learn the basics…from diapering to finances to (you guessed it) saving money at the grocery store.  I taught a class several times…mainly on couponing.  But, I have a lot of tips now, that don’t deal only with coupons and I thought I’d pass them on to you.

Now, these are just guidelines or suggestions.  Some of this may not be rocket science, but these are things I have found helpful while saving money at the store.

1.  Go with a plan.  I think if I didn’t plan my meals for the week BEFORE I went to the store, I would have a meltdown panic attack.  This may seem a bit dramatic, but seriously…truth.  I sit down on Sunday afternoons and plan out dinners for the week ahead.  I take into account what our schedule is, what we had the week before & favorites of my family.  When the kids ask what’s for supper, instead of panicking, I can (somewhat) calmly tell them what’s on the menu.  I don’t plan breakfasts or lunches.  For lunch, we have our “easy” meal.  Sandwiches, mac & cheese, hot dogs…you know, kid food.  Breakfast is basically every man for himself (which means cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, etc).  On a rare occasion, my hubby and I will get up & make breakfast together, which is a lot of fun.  The other 364 days of the year, we fend for ourselves.

2.  Go with a budget.  A strict one.  If you don’t, you’ll spend a whole lot more and buy a whole lot of junk you don’t need.  I take cash.  Once my money is gone, my shopping trip is over. You can thank Dave Ramsey for that one!

3.  To go along with #2, you need to keep track somehow of what your spending, as you go.  Otherwise, it could get a little awkward with the cashier when you’re $50 over budget.  I love the grocery store I frequent.  They have a little scanner that you can use while shopping.  Not only does it keep track of how much your bill is, once you scan it, you bag it right there in your cart!  It is absolutely my most favorite way to shop.  But, what do you do if that’s not available in your store, or their *gasp* system goes out??  Well, my cell phone has a handy dandy calculator on it.  Seriously.  I have been known to key the price in as I go.  Does this take longer?  Maybe 5 or 10 extra minutes tacked onto my trip, but how long will it take you to eliminate foods at the register if you’re over budget?  If you go shopping with your kiddos, maybe let one of them keep track of the prices (maybe the older one).  It’s a good lesson for them as well!

4.  Know your prices.  This is very important, especially if you shop at Aldi’s or another discount store (i. e. Dollar General, Save-A-Lot) because sometimes the discount store price is not that great…or maybe even more.  Just yesterday, I was at Aldi’s, looking at their canned tomatoes and tomato sauces.  I’m making spaghetti this week & like to make my own sauce.  When I saw the price for the canned diced tomatoes ($1.49/can), I tried to remember how much it was at my “regular’ store.  In my mind, I felt like the price was about the same, if not less, so I opted to skip it at Aldi’s and get it at the other place.  Did it pay off???  Absolutely!!  Turns out, the same size can was $0.99!  So, if you know basically how much your staples cost at your grocery store, you can make wiser decisions at the discount stores.

5.  Going along with #4, don’t get caught up in the magic that is discount stores…not every deal is a good deal.  Also, don’t get too tied into a certain brand.  I buy a lot of store brand versions at the grocery store.  However, you want to check specials, because sometimes, the name brand things get put on sale and can actually be cheaper than store brand!!

6.  Coupons.  I’m no “Extreme Couponer”, but I do dabble in the art.  The only reason I buy a Sunday paper is for the coupons.  I have a few rules for me, when it comes to couponing.  Don’t clip a coupon that I won’t use.  Just because I can save $0.25 on mayo, doesn’t mean I should clip it (I hate mayo…sorry).  Also, double check the wording on those tricky little buggers.  I hate checking out & learning that my coupon only works if I buy 2 of the item (or has expired).  Also, don’t forget those electronic coupons.  My store sends me about 5 coupons/week I can load onto my store rewards card.  Some of those work only with their brand of items, but many are national brands and will stack (yay!) with those paper coupons.  There are also some Apps you can download to help save (or get reimbursed) from products you purchase.  The most popular is Ibotta.  I like Ibotta because it has a good mixture of name brands & generic brands.  I haven’t been using it very long (I only have about $8 in my account), but I can see where it’ll pay off in the long run.  I’m on the waiting list for Mobi Save (waiting list????  Seriously???), so I can’t comment much on that one.

7.  Chose your store wisely.  I don’t go to one store exclusively.  In a given week, I’ll probably hit up 3 or so grocery stores.  This might drive you crazy, but it saves me money.  I buy certain things at certain stores.  If I can help it, I avoid Wal-Mart.  I know they seem to have good bargains, but I honestly can find the same deal or a little better at my other main store (and I don’t have to deal with the long lines).  Find out if your store doubles coupons.  Some only double up to $0.50.  Some will double up to $0.50 & then make up the difference on anything over $0.50 (for example, if something is $0.75 off, my store will make it $1.00 off).  I get gas points when I shop at my store.  When gas was really cheap earlier this year, I got to fill up for under $1.00/gallon!  Does your store offer a money back guarantee, price match program, etc.  Knowing the ins & outs will help save you money over time.  At one point, my store offered free child care!  It was a very secure system & allowed me to do a little shopping in quiet while my son had fun (and usually, he was the only one there).  Unfortunately, they converted the childcare space into a bank…boo!

8.  Supplement.  We supplement our groceries with a garden.  For a good part of the year, we have fresh produce to eat off of.  What we can’t eat, we can or freeze to eat on throughout the year.  My husband also hunts, so many weeks, I don’t have to buy a lot of meat (if any).   These two ways have helped reduce our grocery bill a lot.  I know what you’re thinking…hunting costs a lot of money.  Gardening is a lot of work & also costs a lot.  Yes and no.  We’ve gardened for many years and only recently focused on preserving our foods.  Yes, hunting is expensive to start up, but once you have your supplies (guns, clothing, etc), the year to year cost is minimal.  It’s not only a way to provide food, it is my hubby’s hobby.  So, he would do both things, whether we ate from them or not.  Plus, have you priced organic, free range whatever recently???  Ummm…we’re definitely saving some green here.

So, there you have it…just a few ways I like to save money every week on our groceries.  I can positively say it works, because in about the past 10 years or so, we have kept the same budget on our groceries.  As you know, cost of food has increased dramatically.  I just get “creative” with meals and saving money.  It really is almost a game now.

Happy Shopping!!

Oh Deer!

I’ve been working on a few crafts for birthday and Christmas gifts, but it’s slow going.  Usually by now, I’m pretty much finished with making the gifts, but not this year.  

I have finished a couple that I can share, so here’s the first one.  I made this for my hubby for his birthday.  For the past couple of years, he started deer hunting and has really enjoyed it.  When I saw this on Pinterest, I knew I HAD to make it.  I thought I’d pass it along to all of the hunting widows out there 🙂

When I clicked on the link on Pinterest, it just took me to the pic of the finished product with no tutorial. However, the project is pretty simple and it’s not that hard to figure out.

Instead of framing the footprints, I decided to use stretched canvas…for a couple of reasons.  We have several photos of our family on stretched canvas.  I really like the look of it.  You can get them printed in various sizes and it’s usually cheaper than taking it to a place and having your family portrait framed.  I also like the simplistic look of the pictures on canvas.  Also, Michael’s had a great sale on plain stretched canvas…so there you go!

I knew that Sophie would have issues with me painting her foot, so I had her big brother go first.  After that, there was still much crying.  So, when I finished (ha ha), I promised her special treats if she cooperated.  When that didn’t work, I just grabbed her foot, painted it and stuck it on the canvas.  Once the foot was painted, she realized it didn’t hurt and calmed down.

After the foot prints dried, I added on the antlers, eyes, noses and writing.  At first, I thought it would be cute for the noses to be the kiddos finger prints.  However, I only had one shade of brown paint, so it didn’t seem to be dark enough.  I’m sure if you had a different color like black, that concept would work out.  

Here’s the finished product:

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I like to document ages on home made stuff, because I know one day, I’ll probably forget how old the kiddos were when we made these. I just used a sharpie marker (which happened to be red) and wrote on the back and side of the canvas.

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They were a big hit!!  These are deer that I don’t mind hanging on my wall!!  

I’ve seen this craft done several different ways, including adding a red nose and making it a more “Christmas-y” decoration.  I’ve seen the foot prints on many other things, like plain paper, plates, clothing, etc.  The possibilities are endless!!

As your trying to come up for gifts for the hunter in your life, give this one a thought.  It’s quick, easy & super cute!!

Happy Hunting!

Finally!! A Sewing Project!!

It has been a very busy few weeks.  It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve posted a blog on here.  Today, we had our last fall baseball game.  Unfortunately, our team didn’t end on a win, but they held their own against a very talented team.  I was proud of them all :).  

My hubby is off to a great hunting season.  On opening day, he made a difficult shot with his bow and snagged a doe!!  I was soooo excited for him.  So were the kiddos :).  I must say, she is very tasty…

Tonight I dusted my trusty sewing machine off & used it for the first time in a looonnnnggg time.  Boy, did it feel good!  Last year, I had made my hubby a tree stand skirt and several pouches for him to attach to his tree stand…all out of Real Tree camo.  I had a lot left because I wasn’t really sure how much I would need for all of my projects.  Tonight, my hubby told me that he needed something that he could drop his phone into and that would attach to his tree stand.  Just yesterday, I had found this tutorial…amazing!

I had to do make some adjustments for the size of our phones.  We have upgraded from an iPhone 4 to a 5C (a huge upgrade) and the size is much different.  Also, my hubby didn’t want it to fit too snugly…he wants to be able to just drop his phone in with one hand.  I had to take into account that we have phone cases on our phones and part of it is made out of a rubbery material.  

So, I cut 2 pieces of material (one was my camo print, the other was just a plain black piece for the lining) 11 1/2 inches long and 5 inches wide.  I made one earlier that was a little narrower than that.  It worked, but the phone fit very snugly into it, so it won’t work for my hubby’s scenario.  

I also got rid of the strap with the key ring.  What he wanted was strips of velcro that would wrap around the tree stand bar.  I didn’t really measure those.  We just eye-balled what we thought would work.  I also eliminated the batting because the phone doesn’t need that much protection (plus I just didn’t have it) while in the tree stand.  

Once I figured out the size of the pieces I needed, it took me about 30 minutes from start to finish.  Since I was using scrap fabric, it really didn’t cost me anything.  Here are the results:

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Without the phone

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A bit fuzzy…

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Tada!!!  (Not too happy about that right side…not sure what happened.  He said he’s not worried about it though).

My hubby was very excited about his new phone holder.  He said he can’t wait to try it out.  In Virginia, you are not allowed to hunt on Sundays (not that he would have a chance to anyways), so he’ll have to wait a few days.  We did a trial run.  I texted him (his phone was set on vibrate).  He received the text, but we couldn’t hear the vibration (sometimes, it seems like vibrate is louder than the actual ring).  Hopefully, this will keep him from getting “busted” by a deer and then he can bring home more venison!!  

I have several really cute projects that I’ll be working on soon for birthday gifts and Christmas gifts.  Some I’ll be able to share as I make them…some I’ll have to wait on until after the fact.  I am very excited about them though!  They should be good ones!!!

Have a wonderful Lord’s Day tomorrow!!

It Has Begun

Well, it’s almost official.  In 1 hour and 20 minutes, I will be a hunting widow.  I’m practically one right now.  Here it is on a Friday night.  The kids and hubby are in bed & I’m wide awake.  Oh well.

Yes, tomorrow is opening day of hunting season.  It is a very exciting time in our household.  For weeks, there has been scouting, planning, cleaning, repairing, more scouting, more planning.  There have been many pictures taken on game cams.  Many trips have been made to the woods to find the spot.  

This is my hubby’s second year of hunting, and boy, have I learned a lot!!  I know more about bows and guns and camo than I ever dreamed I would.  I know what fletchings are.  I know that the tube that looks like a glue stick is not a glue stick…it’s wax for the bow strings.  I know if you wash the hunting gear in All or Arm & Hammer detergent, the hubby might not be too appreciative of you “helping out”.  I know that hunting laws are ridiculously confusing and change depending on who you talk to.  I know waaayyyy too much about deer attractant and thanks to YouTube, know much more about gutting a deer than I ever want to know.

I know some wives aren’t too excited about hunting season.  I see where it might be inconvenient.  Hours upon hours spent away from family.  Lots of money is put into getting the proper gear and licenses.  

However, I have experienced the “fruits of his labor” first hand.  I have learned I actually like venison!!  Shocker!  If you know me, you know I’m a little, kind of, really picky eater.  That’s probably putting it mildly.  So, imagine my surprise when I made and ate venison for the first time last year.  I actually liked it!!  

I like the fact that it is so lean.  For example, I use ground venison to make spaghetti sauce and taco meat (we call them vacos.  Venison + Tacos = Vacos…get it?).  There is virtually no grease left behind in the pan.  I ran out of ground venison (NOOOOOOOOOO) and had to go back to ground turkey…still a very low fat, lean meat.  I couldn’t believe the difference.  It seemed that the turkey was very greasy.  That really sounds funny to say…lean ground turkey…too greasy.  But it was true.  I no longer liked turkos (turkey + taco = turkos….ummmm…doesn’t have the same ring to it.).  My hubby has ruined me 🙂

My venison supply is running low, so I told my hubby that he HAS to get at least one deer this year.  No pressure, right?  I’m still not on board with hanging a dead animal’s head up on the wall in my living room, but I have definitely come a long way, immersing myself in the hunting culture.

I have to say, my hubby’s not the only one a little, kind of, a lot excited about hunting season starting up.  I’m actually looking forward to it almost as much as he is!  I know I’ll be hanging on to my phone tomorrow, hoping every text that comes through is a pic of him with the spoils of his hunt.  

So, to all of you hunters out there…why aren’t you in bed?  Just kidding.  I wish all hunters out there lots of luck with their hunts tomorrow.  May your arrows shoot straight and find your target.  

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Family Day

Happy Saturday!!  Our family experienced a rare occurrence today…a FREE day!!  No baseball games, no cakes to bake, no meetings, no events, no weddings, no funerals.  100%, completely free for us!

So, what to do???  Luckily, it wasn’t snowing and sleeting like it was doing Thursday night…yes, you read that correctly.  Someone actually described it by saying “it was raining snowballs”.  The snowflakes were the biggest I had ever seen before.  They were literally as big around as a quarter or maybe even bigger.  You really had to see it to believe it!

We had sunshine, warmer weather and little wind…a recipe for a wonderful day.  Today also happened to be the opening of turkey season around here.  Now the first week, I have learned, is “youth week”.  That means that only “youth” can hunt.  The father’s can take them out, but the younger sons (or daughters) must pull the trigger and make the kill themselves.  So, my hubby took Brayden out for his first ever hunt.

ImageThey had a blast, although they didn’t get a turkey.  Oh well, there’s always next week!!

Since the weather was so nice, after lunch, the kiddos asked to go outside.  Brayden and Michael practiced a little baseball and then everyone went down to the kids swing set.

ImageWhen I say everyone, I really do mean everyone!  We all managed to fit into the little treehouse part that goes to the slide.  Now, I know what you’re thinking…”Your son looks terrified!”  Trust me, we were safe & in no danger of collapsing the swing set…at least I don’t think we were!!

After some outdoors time, we decided to go bowling.  Now, I know that’s not exactly a good weather activity…more like a “snowing or sleeting outside” activity, but hey!  It sounded like fun.  I should probably note that this is where Michael scored his first turkey for the day…unfortunately it wasn’t the kind you eat 🙂  Plus, I had just enrolled the kids in a wonderful program.  It’s called Kids Bowl Free and you can find it at this website.

I discovered it last year through Brayden’s school.  For FREE you can enroll your kids in the program and they can bowl 2 games for FREE everyday, all summer long.  I believe the dates go from April 1 to September 30.  It is a nation wide program, so you can pick a bowling alley that’s closet to you & have a ball!  They also have a special pass you can purchase.  I believe it’s a one time payment of $24.95 & you can put up to 4 adults on it.  Then, each adult on the pass can bowl…yep, you guessed it…2 games a day, all summer long.  Of course, this doesn’t cover your shoe rentals…but that’s a pretty good deal.  To give you an idea on how good of a bargain this is, at our bowling alley, my game and my hubby’s game cost $3.50 per person per game.  The pass would pay for itself in about 2 trips!!  We haven’t purchased the pass yet, but I can see it coming in handy when my parents and grandmother come visit this summer…we could all go bowling for…wait for it…FREE!!!  YAY!!!  

After bowling, we went out to eat at Red Lobster.  After sitting at our table for about 10 minutes, Sophie noticed the upholstery on the booth had a lobster (among other fish) on it.  Well, that freaked her out, so I had to awkwardly lean over the lobster and hide it from her.  Of course, when we left the restaurant, she ran over to the lobster tank & that didn’t seem to bother her!  It’s always entertaining to go out to eat with young children…

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After dinner, it was bath time, Bible time and prayer time…our usual routine.  Then, the kids got a special treat and got to Skype with Michael’s brother who is visiting his parents in Oklahoma.  Sophie proceeded to show them every one of her stuffed animals…kind of a virtual show & tell :).  

All in all, it was truly a wonderful day.  I love weekends where there’s no plans and we can just spontaneously decide what to do!!  Better soak it up…it might not happen for a long time!

Easy Peasy Biscuits

Well, my blog has been kind of quiet the past week or so.  I haven’t been too crafty lately.  I’m gearing up for my son’s big 8th birthday, coming up this weekend.  I’ve been busy researching Phineas & Ferb cakes.  Of course, I’ll be blogging about the party after Saturday.

So, last weekend, we had some friends over for dinner.  For some reason, I tried not one, but two brand new recipes that night.  The first one was venison stew.  This was the first time I had ever made stew….I know!  How did I survive 12 years of marriage without ever making stew?

My second new recipe was something my hubby tried at a friends house.  After he and a buddy and his buddy’s father went hunting, they went back to his friend’s parents house.  They arrived just in time for dinner & the mom insisted that my hubby stay for a quick bite.  One of the things she was serving was Mayo Biscuits.  

Sounds weird right?  Well, my hubby raved about them, so much that I felt I needed to make them.  So, I got the recipe and tried them out.  Here it is:

4 Tablespoons mayonaise

2 c. self rising flour

1 c. milk

Mix ingredients.  Grease a muffin pan.  Put dough in pan.  Bake at 375 until brown (about 12 minutes).

That’s it.  Hard to mess up a recipe with 3 ingredients right?  Well…you haven’t cooked with me then :).  About 30 minutes before our friends were going to arrive, I started working on the biscuits.  I discovered I only had bread flour.  Flour is flour, right?  WRONG!

The biscuits didn’t rise (obviously) and they were…um…dense.  So, I served our guests flat, dense biscuits.  However, we didn’t have any left, so it wasn’t a total waste!

I tried it again tonight, with the proper flour and it was a much different story.  The biscuits rose, they were light and fluffy.  The mayo makes them very moist.  It cost pennies to make and my kiddos were asking for more.

So, check your pantry…make sure you have self-rising flour & try these out.  If you don’t have self-rising flour, run…don’t walk…to the grocery store and get some!!  

Where’s The Deer???

As I write that title, I’m thinking that’s probably what some hunters are thinking.  However, I meant the title to be a play on the old Wendy’s commercial “Where’s The Beef?!?!”  Remember that one?  If you do, well then, you’re old.  Just kidding!!  I remember it & I’m not old :).

Ok…now that the trip to denial is over, let’s get down to business.  A few weeks ago, a friend of ours gave us some venison.  By some, I mean a whole deer.  By whole deer, I mean a LOT of meat.  We paid for the processing, which at the time I thought was a lot.  Then, I saw how much meat we got.  I think when it was all said and done, we paid about $0.60/pound.  Try buying beef at that price…can’t be done!

This whole hunting thing is new to me.  My dad didn’t hunt when I was growing up.  Besides a BB gun, I don’t think a gun ever graced our door.  We never ate venison or anything like that.  So, I’ve got a learning curve to overcome.

I’ve been talking a lot to other hunters and hunting widows…getting tips and tricks for cooking the meat.  My mother-in-law has a “Wild Game” cookbook.  I got to read it on our trip to Oklahoma.  Parts of it were very helpful.  Parts were very funny.  In the front of the book, it has instructions on how to clean and process your meat.  The deer section was very long.  Bear was a little shorter.  Raccoon and possum had about 2 or 3 lines of instruction.  They even had a place for skunk & porcupine.  All it said was “Clean very carefully”.  I cracked up at that one!!!!  

So, the first dish I made with our venison was venison spaghetti.  I figured you couldn’t really mess that one up.  All I did was substitute ground venison for the ground turkey I normally use.  I browned two pounds of ground venison and added it to my crock pot of sauce.  I let it cook all day long.

ImageWhat I love most about spaghetti is that is makes us a lot of dinners.  We ate on this for several meals.  I even made a crock pot lasagna with some of the leftover sauce.  It went over really well.  Let’s face it…who doesn’t love spaghetti??

Tonight, I ventured even further into the unknown.  I had copied the entire Deer section from my mother-in-law’s Wild Game cookbook & let my hubby pick an entree for dinner this week.  He chose “Venison Broiled Filet Mignon”.  Yep, for my second time ever cooking venison, I made filet mignon.  I’ve never even made it with a cow.  

ImageIt turned out beautifully!  I did change one thing in the recipe.  Instead of broiling it (which I’ve never done before), I decided to bake it at 350 for 30 minutes.  It turned out perfectly.  No pink at all in the middle and was tender.  I was nervous while making this. I used the tenderloin, which I found out is the most desired of the venison cuts of meat.  We only have a few servings of this particular cut, so if I messed up, well, I ruined some really nice meat.  My hubby & son decided this was a keeper recipe!  YAY!!!

A couple of tips I’ve learned while cooking venison.  #1, it helps to soak the meat in milk overnight (except ground venison).  It draws out the blood, tenderizes it and gets rid of that “gamey” taste that everyone talks about.  My hubby said the filet mignon did not have a gamey taste to it, so I guess it worked!  #2, you have to cook it slow, or on low heat.  I guess if you cook it too fast, it will make it really tough, and no one likes to eat tough meat…no matter what animal it comes from.

After getting through this particular recipe, I feel pretty confident now to cook other venison dishes.  I think I’ll ease into it and try one new recipe each week.  One thing I’m loving about it (besides it being so inexpensive) is that it is so lean.  If you’re looking to watch your fat intake in your meat, but still want to eat red meat, this might be a good option for ya.

Happy Hunting!!