Friday, February 27, 2009

Food Friday: Beef & Bean Burritos

I like this recipe because it freezes well. I make a batch every now and then and keep them in the freezer for quick lunches. I pop them in the microwave for a few minutes (amount depends on if I thawed them in advance) and lunch is done. Serve with a side of rice or chips and salsa for a complete meal.

Beef & Bean Burritos
adapted from

2 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs ground beef
1 Tbsp chili powder (to taste)
1 tsp cumin (to taste)
salt & pepper
1 can tomato sauce (8 oz)
1 can refried beans (31 oz)
12 large flour tortillas

Saute onion in oil until tender. Add beef and garlic and cook until beef is no longer pink, drain. Add chili powder, cumin, salt, & pepper. Stir in tomato sauce and simmer 5 minutes. Add refried beans and cook and stir until well blended. Set aside to cool. Soften tortillas in the microwave and then add meat mixture. Roll up burrito style and eat or freeze for later. If freezing, place seam side down on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, they can be transferred to a ziploc bag.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Kiddo!

Today is our son's 3rd birthday. I rarely share personal photos on here but today is a special day so you get to meet my little guy. Sorry these are not the clearest photos, they came off the disk the photographer gave us. The top photo is one of the best we got of him, the bottom one is how the photo session ended. Let's just say that getting a 3 year old to stay still is not easy. I have about 100 photos on disk of the antics of my child and they are hilarious, but not the best for hanging up on a wall.

Happy Birthday Samuel!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tightwad Tuesday: Birthday Edition

My son turns 3 this week and his party is Saturday morning, so birthday planning is on my mind. My number one tip for planning birthday parties is to keep it simple. It is way too easy for parents to go overboard when the kids could really care less. Here are a few other tips I've learned since having a child:

Paper goods: The best place to buy paper goods is at the dollar store. I usually pick a theme for his party and then buy paper products in a solid color to go with that theme. For his first birthday, I even found Elmo plates and napkins at the dollar store. Many times, these are the same brands as are sold at the more expensive party stores.

Presents: Chances are, your child will be overwhelmed with gifts from family and friends. We only buy 2-3 gifts for our child for his birthday. We also do not take everything out of the box at once. A few gifts are hidden back and pulled out once he becomes bored with his new toys. It is also a good idea to put away a few of their regular toys so they can be pulled out later too. The old toys will seem new again after awhile.

Decorations: Once again, keep it simple. I have a friend who finds coloring pages related to the theme, colors them, then laminates them. She uses this as placemats for when the kids eat cake. The kids love this and usually comment on their placemat. I've also used the coloring sheets as decoration around the house by posting them on the doors and walls.

Favors: Favors are not really needed but they are fun and the kids enjoy them. I started a tradition last year of giving away iced sugar cookies as favors. I make enough so the adults can have them too. I have a set of cookie cutters that are numbers so this year everyone is getting a number 3 cookie. They are also getting a cookie with the theme which happens to be farm animals. Cookies are cheap to make and are a fun project with the birthday child. I made the cookies last week and froze them so it would be less to do before the party. We will ice them on Friday and package them up once the icing dries.

Do you have any frugal birthday tips you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment or a link to your blog post on the topic.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quick Baby Update

I've tried not to turn this blog into a baby blog but I thought I would give you all a quick update on my pregnancy. We found out Friday afternoon that we are having another boy. This will help us with Living on Less as we can reuse a lot of stuff. I'm not sure how the clothing willl work out though since our son was born in Feb. and the next one is due in July. The oldest was very slow to grow though and sometimes I could make it through several seasons in the same size. I'm looking forward to going through the tubs of things I've saved and reminiscing about when our son was just a baby.

I also bought my first stock up item today - diapers. Dillons had a decent sale on Pampers and we loved Pampers Swaddlers when our son was a baby. I'm planning on stocking up on a few items and having a well stocked kitchen and freezer so that when the baby comes, I don't have to worry about those details for at least a few weeks. It sure helps the budget to buy a few things now instead of waiting until I have to have them.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Food Friday: Tangy Chicken

It doesn't get much easier than this for a quick dinner. I usually use boneless, skinless chicken because that is what I have on hand - it also takes a little less time to cook.

Tangy Chicken

2 to 2 1/2 lbs broiler fryer pieces
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup Heinz 57 Steak Sauce (Wal-Mart brand works great)
1/2 cup water

Brown chicken in skillet with butter (I've used olive oil to make it healthier). Combine steak sauce and water, pour over chicken. Cover, simmer 30-40 minutes or until chicken is tender; basting occasionally. Remove cover last 10 minutes of cooking. Skim excess fat from sauce. Spoon over chicken. Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tightwad Tuesday: New Life to Old Pans

Are your baking sheets and stainless steel pots and pans starting to look well worn? Instead of throwing them out, put a little elbow grease into making them look new again. Make a paste with baking soda and a little water. Scrub on all of the discolored and sticky areas and before you know it, your pans will look like new again. This is a great way to get rid of some frustration too as some stains can cause a good workout. I cleaned several cookie sheets this weekend and when I was done, I wondered why I waited so long to do it. I knew they would look nice when finished but just didn't take the time to get the job done.

In the future, the best way to keep pans from getting gross is to clean them right away after using them. Once grease dries on, it gets sticky and can be a pain to clean up. Also, be careful of over spraying cooking spray. I try to wipe up the excess and it saves a lot of cleaning time later on.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bedding Update

Thank you to everyone for the bedding suggestions. I was all ready to go buy material and have Jenn (DiamondDaisy) make our child a quilt when I decided to make one last stop before the fabric store yesterday. I wound up finding a quilt set at Kohl's on clearance for 60% off and a high quality set of sheets to match for 80% off. It is a bit darker than I had pictured in my mind but I think it will work great. Now, I'm just trying to decide on paint colors and finalize the decor.

If you need home decor items or winter clothes, Kohl's is having some incredible sales right now. I purposely try to stay out of stores since we have little money right now but there were several sales there I could not pass up. Remember, it is cheaper to buy what you need (not what you want) when it is on sale than to wait until you have to have it and pay full price. This is also a great time to stock up on gifts and charity items.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cheap Coffee

Sign up today for Gevalia and receive 3 boxes of coffee and a coffee mug for only $3. My family has taken advantage of Gevalia offers in the past and their coffee is pretty good. You can always cancel as soon as you receive your coffee or you can set it up to do coffee deliveries and often or as little as you like.

Food Friday: Monkey Bread

Looking for something special to make for the kiddos tomorrow morning for breakfast? This is such an easy and frugal dish. I save it for special times as it isn't the healthiest but Valentine's Day is a great excuse to pull out this recipe again. Enjoy!

Monkey Bread

4 packs biscuits (10 each)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 sticks margarine
5 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Grease Bundt pan. Mix sugar and cinnamon in large bowl with lid. Open 1 pack biscuits; quarter the biscuits, roll in sugar mixture and place in pan. Repeat until 4 packs are finished.

Melt margarine in pan with remaining sugar mixture. Bring to a boil. Pour over biscuits. Bake for 45 minutes.

Turn cake over onto a plate (do this before cake cools completely).

Tastes especially good if eaten while still warm

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ask the Readers: Bedding & Decor help for a Toddler

You guys are great with helping me out so I thought I would throw this one out and see what you can come up with. We promised our son we would decorate his new room (he is moving down the hall so the baby can have the nursery) for his 3rd birthday. His birthday is at the end of the month and I still haven't found anything that will work. We are going with a farm theme. He loves visiting my in laws farm and his favorite part is the cows. I would like either farm related bedding (please, no John Deere) or a quilt in farmish colors (I'm thinking reds, blues, etc). Either needs to be in a twin size. If I can't find farm bedding, I would like to find some fun farm artwork for the walls. I love the thought of a vintage looking quilt and animals pictures on the wall. The problem I'm running in to is all bedding is super expensive or doesn't come in a twin size.

So, does anyone have any suggestions for a reasonable price? Please leave a comment or email me with any ideas or links you have. I appreciate your help!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tightwad Tuesday: Valentine's Edition

Valentine's is this week and I'm sure there are a few of you who still have not made plans. Here are some great ways to enjoy Valentine's without breaking the budget.

Flowers. I'm not a huge fan of buying flowers during the holiday because the prices are crazy but there are some alternatives. Pick up flowers at Sam's, Costco, or even Wal-Mart. They usually have nice bunches at affordable rates. Take them home and put in a vase you already own. If you have bud vases, buy a few roses and place them one rose at a time all around the house.

Dinner. The cheapest alternative is to eat at home. Make it special though by using the nice china, eating my candlelight and serving something a little nicer than normal. Another alternative is to go out a few nights earlier when the prices aren't higher and the crowds are much smaller.

Kids activities. Pull out the stickers, markers, scissors, and whatever other craft supplies you have and let your children make their own Valentine's. My child isn't old enough yet to fully understand this holiday but all of his favorite cartoons have been making Valentine's this week so he is excited to make his own. These will be given to grandparents and daddy.

If you are single. I realize not everyone reading this post is probably married. When I was single I had a tradition of buying a new magazine and going to a local fast casual Italian place for dinner. The crowds were minimal since it wasn't a fancy restaurant and I love reading new magazines. It was the perfect evening for me and I looked forward to it each year. Another alternative is to grab some other single friends and host a fondue party.

These are just a few ideas on how to have a thrifty Valentine's Day. Feel free to add your other ideas in the comments section or leave a link to your posts on the subject.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Food Friday: Banana-Chocolate Chip Bars

I had a bunch of bananas sitting in my freezer and last week I decided to see how many I could use up. I made several batches of banana bread into muffins but I wanted something else. I found this wonderful recipe in my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

Banana-Chocolate Chip Bars

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed bananas (2-3 medium)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 6oz package (1 cup) semisweet chocolate pieces
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Grease a 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan (I used a standard cake pan); set aside. In a medium mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add to the sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt; beat till combined. Beat in the egg, bananas, and vanilla till combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour. Stir in the chocolate pieces (I used chocolate chips) and, if desired, nuts.

Spread in the prepared baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 25 minutes or till golden. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 36 bars.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Coupons: Are They Really Worth It?

I hear this question asked all of the time and I'm here to say, yes, they are very much worth it. The trick is learning how to use them in conjunction with sales. I used to think I was decent with coupons but I learned a ton when I joined The Grocery Game. Through this website and reading several blogs, I've learned how to play the "game" of couponing. In a few days, I will show you my coupon system but today I want to focus on where to find the coupons.

Newspaper: This is the most obvious place to start. Most cities have the coupons in the Sunday paper. My advice is to buy the paper for the largest city in your state. They tend to have more coupons and sometimes even higher value ones than the smaller cities. I live in the 3rd largest city in my state yet I still buy a paper most weeks for on of the other cities.

Friends & Family: Ask your friends, family, and co-workers for their coupons. At one point in time, I was receiving 3 copies of the local paper every week. This helps when there is a great stock up sale because then you can buy more than one item.

Coupon Train: I've been in a train for years now and it always amazes me how the value and variety of coupons varies across the nation. I found my train through a website I've frequented for years. There are several coupon related websites that offer trains but if you frequent a message board, try setting up your own site. We simply use Yahoo Groups to set up the train and it has worked great for years. If you have a local message board, this is a great way to get a train going too.

Websites: Most major manufacturers offer coupons on their websites. The best way to know about them is to sign up for their newsletters. I also check out several blogs that alert when a new coupon is out.

Downloadable sites: (available for Kroger affiliated stores),, and Upromise are the ones I frequent. The first two you can download to your shopping card and they will automatically show up when you checkout. It takes about an hour to get them to your card so keep this in mind when shopping. Upromise is not an actual coupon but the amount you save is added to your Upromise account. This is a simple way to save for college with very little effort.

If you are interested in joining The Grocery Game, please use me as a referral - light52b at yahoo dot com (take out the spaces).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tightwad Tuesday: Frugal Entertainment

Since we have been living on a very limited income for a long time, we have learned how to entertain our family for pennies. Our entertainment budget is pretty nonexistent but we still have fun. Here are a few of the things we've done over the past year for frugal entertainment:

Petsmart on Sat. morning. A few of the local animal shelters bring their pets to Petsmart on Saturday mornings hoping they will be adopted. Our child loves animals so many Saturday mornings you can find us at Petsmart. This is a highlight of his morning and he really looks forward to seeing the dogs and cats. We already own a dog and have no intention of adding another one so spending isn't really tempting when we are there. The volunteers from the shelters are happy to see us because they say it is good for the animals to be around kids.

Samples at Sam's Club. This one you have to be careful on or you could wind up spending a lot of money. At least once a month we go to Sam's to stock up on apple juice, fruit, and any other necessities we are out of. We make sure to go when the samples are out and we turn it into a fun event. Our child thinks it is a blast that people give him food. We've found a few keepers through sampling which is much cheaper than buying a bunch of items and hoping you like them.

Treasure hunts. My child thinks it is fun to go on treasure hunts around the neighborhood. We are really just taking a walk and getting some exercise but I've disguised it as something fun. Our "treasures" are usually rocks and sticks but he enjoys looking for new treasures each time. We also use this time to talk about the birds, trees, colors on houses, etc. He is getting in exercise and educational time but it feels like play time to him.

What do you do to have frugal fun? I would love to hear more ideas so feel free to leave a comment.

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