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What’s for dinner Wednesday: two weeks of meals and a new kitchen toy

27 Sep

It seemed as if everyone was getting one of these for Christmas last year. I watched, and I waited, and then I bargain-shopped.

Happy Wednesday! Since it’s been a while since I gave you a two week menu, I thought I owed you a really good post when I shared one this time around. To that end, I have the two week menu, some new recipes to go along with it, and our experiences with a new kitchen toy.

It’s been a while since we got a new”toy” to add to our collection of small kitchen appliances, but around Christmastime last year, I started seeing this new Instant Pot appliance floating around blog posts and status updates, and my interest was definitely piqued. When I looked it up, the appliance was a bit costly, and with our impending kitchen renovations, not a priority at the time.

However, it’s a new school year, we have the usual “stuff” each night and/or after school, and yet we still try to eat as healthy as we can, at home, as often as we can, together. This Instant Pot seemed to really be calling my name, in that it seemed it might be able to help us continue to achieve those goals.

I finally bit the bullet, as they say, and on the advice of my friend Kim, I used a Kohl’s coupon code to get one for 30% off, on sale, with Kohl’s Cash (and earning Kohl’s cash with the purchase too) and I scored the Instant Pot for $75 (no shipping, including tax). I picked it up in the store, carried it home, and then I wondered what exactly to do with it. It reminded me of when they send you home with a new baby: it’s very intimidating, it makes some crazy noises, and you’re not quite sure if you know what to do if something goes wrong, or how to know if you’re doing everything right. For such a tiny appliance, it’s got a big intimidation factor, just like a new baby.

Ratitouille was a request from our oldest daughter as a new recipe to try. She cited the fact that we like all the veggies that come in it, so why not try it?

We let it sit there for almost a week, and then as the following weekend approached, we broke it out and did just what you’re not supposed to do: we used it (or attempted to) without reading the directions. We were also making a new recipe for Ratitouille, which is something we’d never made before with any recipe, never mind a recipe for use with a new appliance. New recipe, new appliance, no directions. Well played. Dinner took over an hour to make because we had no idea what we were doing, but it was delicious and although we were still a bit wary, we were thinking we liked this new toy. If we knew what we were doing, we’d like it even more.

These potatoes were so fast, so easy and I used them a total of three different times, for pork, for leftover salmon, and for a potato and egg omelet.

In the meantime, two of my friends, Gina and Marcia, also bought an Instant Pot the same week I did, and we all took our new “babies” home within days of each other and a texting thread emerged, sharing recipes, tips, new “parent” fears and more.  There were some successes in that thread, and we began to try each other’s recipes the following week. I chose to make Gina’s potatoes to go along with our grilled pork tenderloin one night and Marcia inspired me to try out a Mac and Cheese recipe another night.

During our trial week, the kids would come home each night from wherever, and joke that we were at it again, making something in the Instant Pot, moving it around to the best location in the kitchen, and they’d shake their heads, but they enjoyed each and every meal we made with it, and I joked that by using it every day, we didn’t need to find a place to store it. (I wasn’t really joking.)

On Sunday, a few days into our Instapot cooking adventures, we tried something new. We took a recipe we’d made before, nicknamed “Liz’s soup” because she requested it last year and I copied the recipe off a video and I have no idea where it came from originally. It was a crockpot recipe last year, but we didn’t have enough time to devote to using the crockpot this time around. Instead we found a recipe that was similar, had the same sorts of ingredients more or less, but used the Instant Pot to cook it. We adapted our recipe for Liz’s soup to that recipe for chicken stew, and presto….we had a delicious soup in a short amount of time. Each time we cooked, we seemed to have more of an idea of what we were doing, and in the meantime, with three of us friends trying out recipes every night, we had triple the ideas and solutions to any problems.

And so, today I share with you our two week menu, some new recipe links to go along with the menu items, and my encouragement for you to try out your Instant Pot too, if you haven’t yet, and if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, maybe this will be helpful to you in your own decision-making and bargain-shopping process.

Growing up, I’d only had Ratitouille at my friend Jen’s house. Her mom made it often. I channeled my memories of them as we ate this delicious meal over rice and chicken.

Two Weeks of Meals

WEEK ONE: In the days before the Instant Pot

Monday: Pastene Soup recipe here (Today I brought the Instant Pot home!)

Tuesday: Meatloaf Burgers recipe here

Wednesday: Paninis recipe here

Thursday: The Instant Pot is Opened:
Ratitouille recipe here 

Friday: Leftovers

Saturday: Grilled salmon with pesto (be watching for a post about this meal in the coming days!

WEEK TWO:

This soup is delicious and makes the house smell wonderful!

Sunday: Liz’s soup, adapted using this recipe

Monday: Grilled pork tenderloin, frozen homemade applesauce from the last time we grilled pork, and these Instant Pot potatoes.

Tuesday: Leftovers again!

Wednesday: Six Sisters Macaroni and Cheese (I am making this recipe tonight, but sharing it now. Gina and Marcia have made it already, and I love the Six Sisters’ recipes any time I try them!)

Thursday: Burritos and Quesadillas

Friday: We are leaving our new “baby” home and going out to dinner, we’ve definitely earned a night out tonight!

Liz’s Soup is amazing, especially if you top it with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese and use some crunchy tortilla chips on the side!

 

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My new obsession with money-saving apps: Savings Catcher and Shopkick

23 Feb
A penny saved is a penny earned!

A penny saved is a penny earned!

Many years ago, when I changed careers in order to focus the bulk of my time on my kids, and after that when I changed careers again to be able to continue that focus, my income was cut down significantly. I’d say it was cut in half, but that would be generous. As a freelance writer and photographer, my benefits are phenomenal and unable to be matched by any full-time career I could’ve had, but being well-off financially from my income isn’t necessarily one of them. Thankfully, my husband carries our medical benefits, and he and I both agree the most important benefits we could reap would be the ones that we’ve chosen to focus on; that alone was worth the sacrifices we have both chosen to make all along the way.

However, having made these choices along the way doesn’t mean we don’t need ANY money at all, and every little bit more helps us. Therefore, I work pretty hard to be frugal and to save however and wherever I can. I try to also pass along those types of life lessons to my kids as we go along. A few years ago I added couponing to my arsenal of money-saving ways and I’ve seen huge benefits from the time that I’ve put into it, which varies depending on how busy I am at work.

Recently though, I’ve added two new apps to that arsenal as well: Walmart’s Savings Catcher app and the Shopkick app. I’d heard of them both a while back, but sometimes I just can’t add another thing to my head to have to think about, and leading up to the holidays, which is my busiest time at work, is one of those times. After the holidays though, I have more time to think, and when I saw those apps mentioned again, I had the time to ask my nine year-old to help me figure out how they worked, and she did, so now thanks to her, I can save us even more money than before. All of that money saved goes towards providing the kids with the opportunities we are lucky to be able to provide them with because of my freelance schedule, so I feel even better about my work, my focus and my money-saving ways.

As an added benefit, I also feel great that I’m providing my kids with hands-on learning when it comes to teaching them financial literacy. As kids who have to pay their own way for a lot of the “extras” that they want (we fully cover their needs and extra-curricular activities), it’s great to see them thinking frugally as well, finding ways to cut costs and stretch their dollars to the fullest, thanks to what we’re teaching them. My oldest daughter decided a little over a year ago that she “needed” a good camera, as in a really good, expensive camera, the kind I dream of myself. We determined that this was a want, not a need and that if she wanted it, she would have to save for it. Nothing made us more proud of her than the day after Christmas this year when she used her almost two years of savings of hundreds of dollars to purchase a camera worth almost $1000, at a savings of more than half the original price, utilizing a sale, a price-matching policy, and a store rewards card in order to make it happen. The employee in the camera department was stunned when she reached her final price. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.

Teaching our kids how to save their money and stretch their savings is an important life lesson.

Teaching our kids how to save their money and stretch their savings is an important life lesson.

She’s only 15. That’s good financial literacy and a great life lesson taught, in my book.

Now, I have my kids hooked on my two new apps, and I’m completely obsessed with the apps myself. The Walmart Savings Catcher app is one in which you do your shopping at Walmart as you normally would. Now I know there are two schools of thought on Walmart: those who shop there and those who refuse to. We shop there, but if you don’t, then you can skip this portion of the post and move on to the Shopkick portion.

To use the Savings Catcher app is very simple. You do your shopping, use whatever coupons you normally would, and then when you are handed your receipt you use your phone to scan the little square at the bottom by using the Savings Catcher app. You have about a week’s time to scan but I try to do mine right away or I’ll forget. Once I get to my car, oftentimes what’s been in my head in the store is now gone and I’m on to the next thing. Once you’ve scanned your receipt, your work is done. You’ll get an email that it’s been received on their end and in a few days’ time you’ll receive another email which will tell you whether or not they’ve found any of the items you purchased at Walmart anywhere else near you for less. If so, you’ll receive that money back in the form of an e-Gift card. In a few days’ time I had accrued almost $10 in money back. So I could shop, use my coupons, not have to run from store to store to get one thing here and one thing there just to get a cheaper price. To use the e-Gift card that has been emailed to you once you say you’re ready to redeem your points, you just have the cashier scan it at the register and it’s applied to your purchases. Or, you can redeem the e-Gift card as an online purchase as well. Easy peasy.

Shopkick is a different sort of app than Walmart, in that you need not purchase anything at all to earn money. You just need to walk into a store. Sometimes you need only drive by the entrance of the store. And if you’d like to take it one step further you can use your phone to scan some UPC codes on some items they’re asking you to scan. If you’d really like to bulk up your points, you can make your usual purchases and if that store gives points for purchases, you’ve earned them.

Let me explain further: Last week was our school vacation week. We had no significant plans. Everyone had a sleepover somewhere. Everyone had a dentist appointment. We did a day of community service. It snowed. Again. That was it. Nothing huge going on here. So I downloaded the Shopkick app. It said that if I went to my local mall there were four or five stores there that gave “walk in” points. And points for scanning. Some gave points for purchases but I wasn’t buying anything. But, we had no big plans so we took our phones, walked around the mall, in and out of stores and earned points. We scanned a few things here and there for extra points. In two days’ time I had over 1000 points. I bought my kids a donut one day and we ate out at the food court another day. Big deals for us, since I usually say “no” to both those things, but it was vacation week and if that was the extent of our day, I could handle it.

What do you do with your points? It’s up to you. You can redeem them for hundreds of items. I found a great blog post that lists all the things you can redeem your points for and how many points you need. I’m up to 2400 points and I haven’t had the app a week yet. I had my daughter download the app on her phone and told her she could spend her points however she wanted. She’s set a goal to earn a gift card at American Eagle since she’s always wanted to shop there and we never have. I had my husband drive me through the parking lot of the mall on our way out this weekend, just so he and I could earn the points at one of the stores where the app reaches out into the parking lot (and into the food court, we discovered as well) so I actually didn’t even have to walk in to get the walk in points. We went to Best Buy to pick something up we’d ordered and earned 80 points each just for walking in. The stores we utilize regularly are on the app. As we did our payday shopping this week at places like BJ’s, Walmart and Target, we got points just for walking through the door. If we chose to scan (which we did), we earned more.

Teaching our kids constructive uses for their phones is important to me.

Teaching our kids constructive uses for their phones is important to me.

Combining all kinds of rewards you can earn money and points literally coming and going. I earn money back at Walmart with their app when I leave, and I used my coupons at the register to save $9.00 right away, and I used Shopkick going in. Same thing at Best Buy. I receive their store’s loyalty points for my purchases and I earned points for going in on Shopkick also. If my purchases meet the Shopkick app requirements (I think it had to be $50 or more which it wasn’t) I’d earn more points on that app too.

I’m going to wait and see just how long I can stand to let my points add up before I turn them in on Shopkick, and I’m starting fresh again with my Savings Catcher app points now that I used my gift card last week, but I’m pleased with the savings I’ve seen already and I’m pleased with the lessons I’m instilling in my kids early on. If there’s free money to be had out there, it’s important to teach them to find it and to use their resources wisely. It’s a good habit to start them on at a young age. I know my daughters are always proud when they’ve bought something they had to save for, but I know they’re even more proud when they know they saved a good amount of money using a coupon or a sale. Using a money-saving app when they’re old enough to have a phone of their own will feel good also.

 

 

Birthday Couponing and Loyalty Programs

13 Aug
Lots of free birthday treats can come your way when you sign up for loyalty programs!

Lots of free birthday treats can come your way when you sign up for loyalty programs!

As a couponer, I’m always looking for a great bargain, but I also get pretty used to never paying full price for anything.

Even better than not paying full price is getting something totally free.

The week before my birthday, I was able to treat one daughter to lunch using my free burger coupon at Ruby Tuesday's.

The week before my birthday, I was able to treat one daughter to lunch using my free burger coupon at Ruby Tuesday’s.

Through the years I have found that many restaurant and store loyalty programs have a birthday treat that arrives in your email inbox or your snail mail right around the month of your birthday. The treat varies depending on the program and establishment from very specific, like a particular menu item at a restaurant, to a dollar amount you can spend for free at a retail location, using it to buy whatever you’d like.

This summer, as my birthday month rolled around, I tried to pay particular attention to my inbox as the gifts came in, printing them out if necessary and making a plan for how I’d like to use them so that they don’t go to waste. Many gifts expire in 30 days. There were some I knew I just wouldn’t use, or couldn’t because they’d moved out of our area, and others that I knew I definitely didn’t want to let go.

Two of my kids were treated to breakfast for dinner at Denny's the weekend before my birthday, using my birthday coupon from their loyalty program.

Two of my kids were treated to breakfast for dinner at Denny’s the weekend before my birthday, using my birthday coupon from their loyalty program.

Here’s a list of just some of the places I received emails and gifts from:

Sbarro’s (no longer in our area)

Friendly’s (no longer in our area)

Outback Steakhouse

Not Your Average Joe’s

Kohl’s

Denny’s

My froyo was free one afternoon when I took the kids out for a cool treat after a visit to the orthodontist.

My froyo was free one afternoon when I took the kids out for a cool treat after a visit to the orthodontist.

Bob’s Store

Pinkberry

Panera Bread

DSW shoes

Ruby Tuesday’s

T’s Restaurant (local to our area)

Vera Bradley

Dinner with a friend at Panera in the days following my birthday was made even more special when I found out that I had a free birthday treat for dessert!

Dinner with a friend at Panera in the days following my birthday was made even more special when I found out that I had a free birthday treat for dessert! I chose a chocolate crossaint.

 

Not only do I like being able to treat myself in the days and weeks surrounding my birthday each year; a little shopping here, a little eating out there, it’s also such a nice feeling to be able to treat my family. I love being able to say to my kids that we can go to lunch or dinner, or out for yogurt because it’s free, thanks to my birthday and they loyalty programs. It also makes my birthday last a whole month long as I shop and eat and treat!

If you haven’t yet explored some of the loyalty and rewards programs at area establishments near you, be sure to check them out in your travels. Pay particular attention to the places you go often. Those would be the places you’d get the most use out of a free treat which you can keep for yourself or share with loved ones when you’re out together.

If you’ve found some great ones, be sure to share them with us by leaving a comment below!

 

 

 

 

Summer Couponing Update

14 Jul
Last week's CVS haul was amazing!

Last week’s CVS haul was amazing! I spent $6 on all of this, which is equivalent to paying for just one purple bottle of the shampoo shown here. I had $25 in Extra Care Bucks and a variety of manufacturer’s coupons to combine with the CVS weekly promotions and sales.

It’s been such a long time since I did a couponing post. The springtime is so busy at work and at home that I don’t have as much time to devote to couponing as I’d like, so I didn’t have a lot of really great hauls to write about. I got lots of little deals here and there, but nothing really blog-worthy.

However, this summer in just one week’s time or so, I had two huge hauls and when I posted the photo shown here on the left on Facebook last week, I had a lot of “Please tell me how!” type of requests, so I decided that I’d do a post about couponing soon.

On the night that I came home with all of the items shown here, I said to my husband, “And I bet when I go back, I’ll have earned $5 from the Beauty Club too!” At CVS, for every $50 you spend on beauty products you get $5 back. Shampoo, conditioner, hair color, hair supplies, body wash, and all makeup products count as beauty supplies. With three girls and myself living here, we go through a whole lot of all those things. At CVS there’s always great sales and great CVS coupons to stack along with the  manufacturer’s coupons for all these types of items, you can’t go wrong.

Sure enough, when I went to CVS tonight (I realized we were completely out of extra toothbrushes and I’d just tossed mine in the trash) my $5 Beauty Club reward popped out, but so did a $5 Prescription program reward! I walked into the store with $10 to spend for free! (At CVS, for every 10 prescriptions you fill, you earn $5. You can sign up three customers per loyalty card.)

My coupons and Extra Care Bucks rewards in hand, I headed straight to the toothbrush section. After comparing prices and sales, I opted to just go with a basic set of two CVS brand toothbrushes. From there I moved on to the makeup section because when I’d scanned my card at the CVS machine, a coupon for $4 off $12 of makeup popped out. I try to keep things like foundation, mascara, and concealer, on hand because again…a house full of women, two of whom use makeup, we go through quite a bit.

This week's haul was just as good, if not better, than last week's! I had $22 in Extra Care Bucks and several manufacturers coupons to combine with the new week's sales and promotions at CVS!

This week’s haul was just as good, if not better, than last week’s! I had $22 in Extra Care Bucks and several manufacturer’s coupons to combine with the new week’s sales and promotions at CVS!

Imagine my surprise when I came upon the Physicians Formula makeup section and saw those bright yellow CVS signs that said, “Buy any 2 Physicians Formula items and receive $10 in Extra Care Bucks!” I couldn’t believe my luck! I had $4 off already! I grabbed two of the concealers that we use, which are $6.99 each, which gave me the $12 I needed to spend to use the CVS $4 coupon, knowing I’d earned my $10 back.

I moved on to the cereal section. We go through tons of cereal for breakfast and snacks, especially in the summer. I buy a huge variety usually, and we range from the healthier types to the sweeter types, depending on what coupons I have, what’s on sale and what’s left on the pantry shelves.

I had a $1 off 3 Kellogg’s cereals coupon as well as a $1 coupon off two boxes of the Cheerios in the yellow box, which also had a “get $2 Extra Care Bucks Back” sign on display.

In the end I had a total of $22 Extra Care Bucks and spent only $7 out of pocket for my entire haul shown here. That’s equivalent to paying for just one of the concealer sticks!!

I can’t emphasize enough that it’s so important to utilize all aspects of any store’s promotions in addition to manufacturer’s coupons when you shop, no matter what store you’re at. If the store utilizes a customer loyalty program, sign up for it. If they accept their own store coupons, internet coupons, manufacturer’s coupons or any combination of those things, use them to your benefit. Try to shop the sales and promotions even if you don’t currently need a particular item. If it’s something you use, it’s better to get it for free or almost free, ahead of time than to pay full price for it the day you need it. My toothbrushes are a perfect example. I’m usually very good about keeping them on hand from sales and promotions as well as from the dentist and I have enough toothpaste to sink a small ship, but somehow I’d forgotten to keep up with the toothbrushes, so some of my first $5 of Extra Care Bucks went right to a 2-pack of toothbrushes. That’s kind of a waste of Extra Care Bucks, but at least I had them to use and I didn’t have to pay for them anywhere out of pocket.

In my first week’s haul shown above, the majority of my coupons were CVS store coupons coupled with their own store promotions. At CVS you can stack their own store coupons with each other, so for example, if you have a CVS coupon off of Almay makeup for $2 off $10, and you have a CVS coupon for $5 off $15 of makeup, you can use both. If you have manufacturer’s coupons off of Almay you can use those as well. And if you’re lucky there may be a promotion going on such as a Buy One Get One 50% off, or an Extra Care Bucks promotion where you earn back some of what you’ve spent. If you have two manufacturer’s coupons for the same item and you buy two of that item you can use both coupons in addition to your CVS coupons. You can use manufacturer’s coupons off of the half-priced items and even off the free items for a Buy One Get One Free promotion.

No matter what store you go to, be sure to know their coupon policies before you go in. Not all stores are the same. I do the best with my coupons at CVS and Target in my area because they have their own store coupons and promotions to couple with the manufacturer’s coupons.

If you’re new to couponing, or want to be, I’d say start small. Pick just a couple of stores that you frequent most and try it out there before going all over the place trying to hit up every store in your town with your coupons. And remember, anything you save is better than not saving at all, and you’ll get out of it what you put in to it. If you have lots of time to devote, you’ll save more money. If you have a little bit of time to devote to it, you’ll save a little less money, but every penny saved is money in your pocket rather than someone else’s pocket!

Good luck and happy saving!!

Fun Friday: New blender review and recipe

13 Jun
A new blender for all our delicious smoothies!

A new blender for all our delicious smoothies!

You know you’ve been married a long time when a new blender in the house is super-exciting news.

We used to have a blender that we’d had for years and years. It did a decent job and it got quite a bit of use in our kitchen. However, it couldn’t really handle ice, especially when we wanted smoothies, and it was extremely loud when we used it with ice. It didn’t matter though, we kept on using it. If it’s not broken, as they say, don’t fix it.

Well, that philosophy worked until the day smoke came out of the old blender during a smoothie-making session. My husband was making the smoothies and he called out to me from the kitchen.

“I think the blender’s dead,” he said.

“If it’s that black stuff that shows up after you use it, it always does that, it’s fine,” I said.

“And does it always have smoke coming out of it?” he asked.

“The blender’s dead,” I said.

What a bummer: Time to buy a new blender, just a few weeks after our toaster-oven had also passed on into the world of over-used appliances.

But, on the bright side: Yay!!! I get to go blender shopping!!!

I decided that this time, I would shop with purpose. I wanted an affordable blender that could handle the blending of ice and frozen fruits which are so often the ingredients in our cool, refreshing smoothies.

As I wandered through Target one day, the Ninja blender caught my eye. It caught my eye because it had one of those great little red Target signs that alerts you to the fact that not only is something on sale, but you also got a gift card with its purchase.

In this particular case the blender I was looking at was on sale for $139 and you received a $25 Target gift card back with the purchase. Additionally, I am a Red Card carrier, which means I get an additional 5% off of my purchases all the time. The Red Card can be a debit card or a credit card, and ours is a debit card so our purchases still come out of our checking account.

I examined the blender box. It was an 1100 watt blender. It came with not one, but TWO travel-sized cups that fit right on top of the blender so that you blend right into them, cover and you’re good to go. The blender had three speeds as well as a Pulse button, which I never truly understand the purpose of, but it must be important so it’s good that it was there. It had a pour spout on the big blender pitcher, which I loved and it was easy to take apart and clean.

Best of all: it was advertised as being powerful enough to take on ice.

Frozen strawberries gave this smoothie a nice frozen consistency and the blender had no trouble with the frozen fruit.

Frozen strawberries gave this smoothie a nice frozen consistency and the blender had no trouble with the frozen fruit.

That’s really all I needed to see. That and the gift card special and I was sold.

On my way out of the appliance section I swung by the frozen fruit case and grabbed a bag of frozen strawberries. I could already envision a delicious smoothing coming together in our new blender that very afternoon.

Once we got the blender open and out of the box, I was really able to see some neat features on the new blender, things that I loved that I didn’t even knew were priorities.

I loved that the cover of the blender locks on and needs to be released to come off. I loved that the cover has a pour spout that opens and closes.
I loved the single-serve shake options. I loved that the measuring markings on the blender were in dark print. My last blender had a glass pitcher and the markings were raised glass so they were hard to see.

Best of all, our smoothies have been delicious.

The smoothie above has the following ingredients in it:

Two bananas

1/3 cup Nutella

1 pkg. frozen strawberries (I used 16 oz.)

about 4 cups of skim milk

This smoothie was delicious and had a decent amount of fruit in it for an after school snack!

We’ve also done chocolate/peanut butter/banana/vanilla low-fat yogurt smoothies and even a couple of “adult beverage” “smoothies” for a Memorial Day cookout we hosted. The blender has been great. It’s quieter than our old blender when we use ice and so far, no smoke, no black “stuff.” My husband has utilized the single-sized option several times and takes his smoothie to work with him in the car.

This is definitely a product I’d recommend to others. The price-point was good for our budget and the gift card helped us out too. If you’re in the market for a new blender I encourage you to consider the Ninja blender as an option! Although I have not been compensated by Target or Ninja for this review, I am so pleased with the product, I thought I’d share my opinions and experiences with you.

From after school snacks, morning breakfast to go, and adult beverages, this blender has been a great addition to our appliance family!

From after school snacks, morning breakfast to go, and adult beverages, this blender has been a great addition to our appliance family!

 

Monday Musings: The value of a staycation

5 Aug
I felt like I was away on vacation yesterday, even though we were less than an hour from home.

I felt like I was away on vacation yesterday, even though we were less than an hour from home.  Photo credit: Caroline Cowart

Yesterday was Sunday, and on that one day, three very random and totally unrelated things happened to me that really got me thinking.

The first thing happened on the way out of church in the morning. Our priest was sitting on the bench near the walkway as we walked to our car. He said to me, “Are you guys around this week or do you travel?”

My somewhat cynical answer was, “Yes we’re here, we never travel.”

Because in general, we don’t often get to take trips. We stay close to home other than the occasional visits to out-of-state family, which we do enjoy whenever we get the chance to do it.

Once home, we were sorting out our plans for the day, and what we’d originally planned on doing got nixed because one of the girls has Swimmer’s Ear, something we’d totally forgotten about when we were making our water-based plans.

We thought about what we could do instead, last minute, and I remembered that we had five free passes to The Breakers, a mansion in Newport, RI, about 45 minutes or so from here, courtesy of the reading program the kids participate in at the library. Of the five of us, only Caroline had been there on a field trip with the teen library program a couple of years back, and other than Caroline, the kids had never been to Newport even though we live so close to it.

So we grabbed some coupons for dinner, our cameras and sweatshirts, and jumped in the car.

On the way there, I was texting continuous photos of the ride, over the bridges, crossing the bay, and into Newport, to my out-of-state friend, Paula. She’d mentioned that visiting Newport was on her bucket list, and so I was helping her to “see” it along with us.

“Imagine that?” Don said to me on the way. “People hope to see Newport one day before they die, and here we are jumping in the car at the last minute, on our way there right now. We’re so lucky.”

He had a point. We *are* so lucky.

We arrived in Newport, taking the long way through town to show the kids the sights. In the car, they were bursting with excitement as they took in the sights around them.

They were giddy.

We may not live in a mansion but we can visit one whenever we'd like to!

We may not live in a mansion but we can visit one whenever we’d like to! Photo credit: Don Cowart II

We toured The Breakers inside and out, for free, along with tourists from all over the country and even all over the world, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We had an inexpensive dinner at a local restaurant with our coupons, without breaking our budget. Then we hopped back in the car and went to enjoy the streets of Newport.

It was a gorgeous night. We had a blast. So much fun.

And we felt like we were on vacation.

We had.The.Most.Fabulous.Day.

We watched the sun setting over the bay. We saw yachts, went window shopping, heard a live concert from some of our favorite bands, went to an arcade, bumped into friends, had ice cream, and I even splurged and bought the kids Newport t-shirts ($10 for all three, I couldn’t resist!)

And later on, when I posted a photo on Facebook, a friend of mine from high school commented on it, noting how wonderful a staycation in Rhode Island can be.

She too, was right. We are incredibly lucky, living in the Ocean State. We can be to the beach in less than an hour, all summer long. We have many, many free summer events taking place throughout the season. The scenery is incredible, no matter where we are. The food is amazing; we get to eat many delicacies that people travel hundreds of miles to get a taste of.

Without leaving our home state, we are blessed with a vacation, or as my friend Sarah said, a staycation, that can’t be beat. Many people would give anything for what we have.

And so last night when we arrived home, happily exhausted from our amazing day, I rethought my cynicism from that morning’s answer to our priest. I’m not normally a cynical person, and I do try to count my blessings on a daily basis, being thankful for what I have rather than wanting for more. But this time, I think I needed a reminder.

Several reminders.

We may not travel often, per se, but we do get around and we are incredibly blessed to live where we live, to have what we have and to be able to do what we do, without a whole lot of effort or expense. We don’t need to rent a beach house, board a plane, or take a vacation week off from work.

We are incredibly lucky.

We are blessed.

What are the chances we'd get to hear the Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth while we were walking through Newport?

Listening to the bands: What are the chances we’d get to hear the Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth while we were walking through Newport? Pretty good!

Couponing Update: Last week’s CVS haul

29 Apr
It's that time of year again: Summer Stock Up time!

It’s that time of year again: Summer Stock Up time!

About a year and a half ago I started my couponing, and last spring I decided to try to stock up for summer on things we go through most, so that I would not have to shop for those items over the summer.

This year, it’s springtime again and I’ve decided to do the same thing. As time has gone by, I have gotten a better handle on things we go through a lot of and things that last a long time.

For example, last year I found out that 48 rolls of toilet paper lasts way longer than just through the summer, but body wash we go through almost weekly. So this year I’m making adjustments in my stockpile. Recently I’ve gotten good deals on women’s deodorant, dish detergent, and a few other things. Last week, however, I had a particularly good “haul,” so I thought I’d share it with you and tell you how I did it. People often ask me for a quick tutorial, so this may help anyone who’s thinking about couponing.

Today’s post is about a CVS trip, and it’s probably the place I shop the most often because of their great store sales, their fantastic stackable coupons, their super Beauty Club, and their awesome Extra Bucks.

Going into CVS, here is what I had:

a $4 off $10 worth of body wash which I’d gotten out of the CVS machine. CVS brand body wash is $2.37 each or 2 for $4.00 normally. That week though in the CVS flier, it was Buy one get one half off. I had to buy 7 to get to $10, but then I got $4.00 off.

5 manufacturer’s coupons for Old Spice men’s deodorant for 20 cents off. The deodorant was on sale in the flier for $2.29 that week. So I’d be getting mine for $2.09 each.

1 CVS machine coupon for 20 cents off Palmolive dish soap. The soap was on sale in the flier for 99 cents already. Normally it’s more than $1.00 at CVS.

7 manufacturer’s coupons for $1.00 off two bags of Chex Mix. The Chex Mix was on sale at CVS that week four bags for $5.  Each bag is more than a single  serving, so it makes a great lunchbox snack if you put it into ziploc bags, and it is great for a playdate or after school snack. During the summer it’ll be great for beach snacks, assuming it lasts that long!

I also discovered that day that Chex Mix comes in Chocolate Turtle flavor. I had to remind myself that each bag was more than one single serving or I might have eaten the whole bag.

My total cost that day was $30.

I got:

7 bottles of body wash
5 deodorants
1 Palmolive dish soap
14 bags of Chex Mix

So, in total, 27 items for $30.

If you are new to couponing, the lessons to take away from today’s post are the following:

Be sure to examine *all* of your couponing and sale options. Use the CVS machine coupons, and remember you can scan your card multiple times a day until it tells you there’s nothing more for you.

Look closely at the flier because oftentimes the fliers and sales coincide with the store and manufacturer coupons. Remember that you can stack CVS store coupons with manufacturer’s coupons.

Only buy what you use, unless it’s totally free and you can donate it. Don’t spend money on things you can’t use, just because it’s on sale.

And finally, use as many manufacturer coupons as you can. Having multiple numbers  of coupons is great when stores run sales such as the one I got on Chex Mix and deodorant this time around.

Happy Saving!!