Thursday Time-Saver – Make Great Friends with AllRecipes.com

I love to cook, I really do. But I must admit I had fallen into a rut there for a while preparing my family’s tried and true favorites. While this provided a wide variety, I realized that I needed to branch out. I have changed my perspective a bit since becoming a stay-at-home mom and now challenge myself to make at least one new recipe a week.

It has been so much fun! Family, friends and cookbooks have provided many great recipes from which to choose. But, I have found www.allrecipes.com to be another wonderful resource! It offers countless recipes, the ability to save your favorites in your “recipe box” on their site and gives you the opportunity to sign-up to have a daily recipe emailed to you.

However, my absolute favorite feature is the Ingredients Search! You enter the types of ingredients you want to include and it will give you a list of recipes featuring those items. This is especially helpful when your groceries are getting low or when you simply want to try to use up some of the random ingredients in your pantry or refrigerator.

To name just a few, I have made the corn-stuffed tomatoes, brown sugar pork chops and chicken and okra casserole recipes found on Allrecipes.com. The site is quick, easy to use and perfect for all of you busy ladies out there!

Sometimes It’s the Small Savings…Sometimes It’s the BIG Ones!

Since it is the end of the month, today I paid all of our monthly bills. As much as I love couponing and bargain shopping (habits that definitely add up to big money savings over time), it is SO important not to miss the big picture and to look closely at your “regular” monthly bills to see if you are overpaying for a good/service or paying fees that shouldn’t have been assessed.

I have a great example of this. This month, I received our auto insurance bill and while my husband and I both drive newer model cars, I felt the rates (which had crept up little by little over time) definitely seemed on the high side, especially considering neither of us has any tickets, accidents or violations. It had been years since I had looked into insurance rates, so I decided to check into my options. I pulled out our current coverage information and got to work online. I chose three other major insurance companies, entered our exact coverage information and found that all three quoted us for hundreds less per year!

Next, I contacted my insurance agent and nicely let him know what I had found out (didn’t tell him exact numbers, of course). Since we had been loyal customers for ten years, we gave him the opportunity to see what he could do price-wise before changing to another company.

Well, I am happy to say that our auto insurance is now $700+/per year less and our homeowner’s insurance is $200+/year less. I think that was the easiest $900 I ever made! It took maybe an hour total time to get three price quotes and contact my insurance agent with my findings.

I have another example on a much smaller scale, but it would fall into the same category of keeping a close eye on your bills. I noticed this month that our cable company had assessed a $19.95 “upgrade charge” on our account. Problem is, there hadn’t been an upgrade on our service! A simple phone call and the customer service representative simply removed this charge, easy as that!

Bottom line is look at your bills closely every month! It is so easy for bill-paying to become a routine habit that you just do without thinking too much about it. Believe me, I have been there. But, it doesn’t take long to quickly glance over your bill to make sure it is correct AND to make sure that what you are paying for a service/product is in line with today’s price offerings. It never hurts and can only HELP, to get competitive rates.

So, as this month comes to a close, I encourage you to get out your magnifying glass and take a closer look at your bills…you never know what you might discover!

Simple Solutions – Creative Gift Wrap

Whether you are tight on time or tight on money, using the comics from your Sunday newspaper can be a great way to inexpensively wrap a child’s gift. Plus, it is an earth-friendly solution to repurpose the newspaper to have another use before going into the recycling bin or trash can. Comics are colorful and serve the purpose of covering the gift until present opening time. Kids themselves have commented to me on what a good idea it is!

More gift wrap money saving tips:

Reuse gift bags and bows that are still in great shape.

Check your local dollar store for great deals on tissue paper, greeting cards, gift bags and gift wrapping supplies, such as tape and scissors.

Never pay full price for gift bags or wrapping paper. I have always had good luck finding wrapping paper deals after Christmas, as well as on sale periodically at drug stores or on clearance at Target.

Be creative! You can also use plain paper lunch bags (decorated somehow, possibly by your kids), baskets or metal tins to “wrap” your gift.

Making Money Monday – Selling on Ebay Continued…

As I have previously posted, selling on Ebay has been a wonderful way to make some extra money while being a stay-at-home mom. Last night, I sold four more items, which like last week, totaled around $30, plus shipping. I have found Sunday nights to be the best day for auctions to run out, so I usually list items on Tuesday nights for five day listings or on Sunday nights for seven day listings. This week I sold another child’s Halloween costume, an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt and two brand new cosmetic items that were gifts with purchase.

If you are a fellow stay-at-home mom, unemployed or just looking for a way to make a little extra cash, I encourage you to give Ebay a try. You are in control of how much or how little you sell and it puts cash in your hand very quickly for items you no longer need. Added bonus – less clutter at home!

Other ways to obtain items to sell on Ebay:

Sell for others. You may know other busy moms or individuals who just don’t have the computer know-how or interest in listing items. Sell items for them for a percentage of the profit. Win-win – you both profit!

Purchase low-cost, brand name items at consignment sales, garage sales or thrift stores. Many times you will find items with tags still hanging on them or pre-owned, but in like new condition. I have turned a $4.00 Vera Bradley purse into a $30.00 Ebay sale. Keep your eyes open for opportunities like this.

Reward Yourself with MyCoke Rewards – Free Magazines, Gift Cards & More!

As promised, I am continuing my series on the various reward programs currently available. I have participated in MyCokeRewards for a couple of years now. Participation is super easy -this is how it works:

Register at www.mycokerewards.com.

Each time you purchase a coke product, it will have a code under the bottle lid or printed on the inside of the 12 and 24 packs. Go to www.mycokerewards, log in to your account and enter the code.

After you accumulate a certain number of points, you are eligible to redeem prizes. Click here to view the rewards currently offered.

It is THAT easy! So far, I have used MyCokeRewards to get various magazine subsciptions for free, such as Redbook, Oprah and Fitness. MyCokeRewards also offers gift card rewards for Nike, Chuck E. Cheese, K-mart and more. Check it out…if you are going to spend your hard-earned money to drink the Coke products, you might as well get rewarded for it!

Tonight’s Tasty Treat – Monkey Bread

What an EASY, yummy dessert I made for my family tonight! You may recall from a previous post, that I picked up several cans of canned biscuits last week for $.30 during Super Double Coupons at Harris Teeter. As I scanned my refrigerator for dessert ideas, these stood out. I had all other needed ingredients on hand. So, it was not only easy to make, but very inexpensive, as well.

Monkey Bread

1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3 cans of biscuits
1 stick of margarine, melted
1/2 to 1 cup of chopped nuts (optional)

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Lightly dredge biscuits (one at a time) in melted butter, then coat with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Put into bundt pan standing biscuits on side, repeat with all biscuits. You might have to sqeeze to get them all to fit within the pan. Combine leftover butter and sugar/cinnamon mixture and pour over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Best served hot.

Note – I don’t own a bundt pan, so I used a loaf pan (as shown in the picture). Therefore, I only used one can of biscuits, as opposed to the three cans the recipe called for, and it worked out great.

Reward Yourself with Swagbucks

Earlier this year, the name “Swagbucks” kept popping up on websites I frequently visit. I eventually decided to check it out and I absolutely love Swagbucks!

In a nut shell, you register (for free) at Swagbucks.com and then use the site for your web searches, take daily polls, surveys, etc. While you get a small one point reward each day when you take the daily poll, you will randomly be rewarded varied amounts of larger “swagbucks” for your website seaches. This morning, I have won three times already (34 points) just by doing the regular web searches I would do anyway! Google never rewarded me like this!

Then, after you accumulate swagbucks, you visit the Swag Store to redeem your points for rewards. The reward options are endless, from free magazine subscriptions to electronics to gift cards. I personally have my eye on a Starbucks gift card which I am well on my way to earning. If you use the internet often, which I do on a daily basis, this is an easy avenue to “treat yourself” or even start accumulating points for Christmas presents and gift cards for others. Click the banner below to learn more!

Search & Win

I will be reporting on more reward programs that I participate in, so be sure to stop by www.homemakingmom.com soon for a visit!

Save Time and Money – Drinks on the Go!

My boys and I are on-the-go alot running errands, going to playdates, ball games, school functions and that type of thing. And, as any mom to little ones know, they get thirsty…and hungry…and need to go to the bathroom…you know the drill. I have found it handy to always pack a little cooler with our drinks (as well as keep snacks on hand) any time we are leaving the house for an extended amount of time to cut down on extra stops and the added expense of popping in convenience stores on a regular basis. With a family of five, this really starts to add up!

In addition, I always buy twelve packs of canned soft drinks for my hubby’s personal work refrigerator. He is a diet drink addict and it is much more economical to stock up on twelve packs when I find them for $2.50, then for him to pay close to $1.00 several times a day from the company vending machine. Cha-ching!

This year, we have also started buying Gatorades and packing them for my son’s ball practices and games. The convenience store used to be a routine stop afterwards…not anymore. The drinks are cold, convenient and ready to be enjoyed…straight from the cooler. And, paying an average of $.50/drink is much better than the $1.50+ we were paying for before. Another cha-ching!

My philosophy is not to deprive yourself of what you want, for you only live once and should enjoy it! But, if you can get exactly what you want for a lesser price and put the rest of the money in savings…or pay off debt…or in a college fund…or whatever your financial goal may be…then why not? These little cost savings on a daily basis add up to significant amounts over time.

Conquering the Clutter Series – Plastic Grocery Store Bag Storage Solution

Wondering what to do with all of those plastic grocery store bags you have managed to accumulate? Try this easy organization solution: Store them in an empty tissue box. It keeps them contained, but yet gives easy access when you need them. Personally, I keep two tissue boxes full of them and anything beyond that is recycled.

This Recipe Name Needs to be Changed to “AWESOME” Apple Cake

Since I needed to use up the last of the apples I was recently given, I tried a new Apple Cake recipe last night and it turned out fabulous! I felt it was easy to make and impressive to serve. Maybe I am getting the hang of this whole cooking from scratch thing afterall…

“Awesome” Apple Cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups of sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups chopped, peeled tart apples
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Sauce:
3 tbsp. butter/stick margarine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In another bowl, beat eggs and then add applesauce, oil and vanilla until well blended. Stir into flour mix, fold in apples and pecans. Pour into 13 X 9 baking pan coated with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

To make the sauce, in a small sauce pan, melt butter, then add brown sugar, milk and vanilla. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour over warm cake.

Enjoy!!!