Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Finer Points of Grocery Shopping

Not too long ago, I shared some goals with you that I have set out to accomplish during 2013. I'm so excited to report that I have been able to stick to these goals pretty faithfully and have seen some amazing results!

Probably the area in which I've seen the most progress is our grocery budget. If you've kept up with my blog, you know that my goal was to switch over from grocery shopping every week to going every two weeks. Friends, let me just say, this has resulted in some wonderful financial changes! We have been able to save 30%-40% just by carefully planning and going to the store fewer times. I don't know why, but staying away from stores keeps you from spending money (shocker, right?)! You eventually just get into the habit of going without if it's not in your cupboards. 

In order to keep this pattern of savings up, I've really had to work on a system to carefully plan out my grocery shopping trips. 

1. Create a Staples List

I believe I've briefly mentioned this before--but having a staples list has drastically changed my grocery shopping strategy for the good! Honestly, it cuts down on the amount of time I spend making out a grocery list and helps me quickly identify what I am lacking in my cupboards.

To create a staples list, I simply searched for some good pantry lists online and then compiled my own making sure to include all of our "regular" items that I feel I MUST have available. I grouped the items into logical categories to make sure I didn't leave anything out. Once I was sure I had everything on it and I liked how it looked, I printed it off and currently have it hanging on my refrigerator.

When it is time to make out my grocery list, I take the list and read through it while checking my cupboards to make sure I have each item in stock. If I find something is missing or about to run out, I add it to my shopping list. Easy peasy!

Here is a copy of my personal list. Feel free to download it and use it, or let me know if you want me to personalize the title with your name. 

2. Look for the Best Deals

I have three different stores that I do my grocery shopping. The reason being that they are the stores that I have found the best deals at for the items I normally buy.

If you don't have an Aldi in your area, I am so sorry! This store is hands down my favorite. I buy pretty much everything I can here. The prices are wonderful and usually end up being cheaper than using coupons at another store. Aldi has gorgeous produce that is fresh and of good quality. The downside is that they don't carry every single item I usually need. However, I am usually able to buy about 90% of our groceries here. Aldi has been a huge help in maintaining a low grocery budget!

Wegmans typically chooses several items to set at a sale price which is locked in for a period of 6 months or so. This is great because it makes for dependable savings. I find that Wegmans is pretty expensive on most everything, but we use their locked in savings for purchasing our meat. While their prices are pretty much the same as Walmarts, the quality is no comparison whatsoever! Everything is fresh, and my favorite part is that they individually package chicken breasts making it super easy to store them in my freezer! I've also been taking advantage of their frozen veggies which are currently locked in at 99 cents a bag.

Let's face it...we have to en up at Walmart at some point! Basically Walmart ends up being our catch all for whatever we couldn't find at Aldi or Wegmans.

By doing some research and finding these stores that can offer me consistently low prices on items I use every week, I've been able to save week after week without going crazy with hopping around from store to store and spending hours pouring over ads. Simple dependablity works wonders for me! 

3. Count the Cost

Once I have a completed grocery shopping list, I figure out how much I'm going to spend. Normally, I can remember approximately how much each item costs at the store that I buy it. If I can't remember, I use the store's website or flyer to joggle my memory. If for some reason I can only find a ball park figure, I shoot high and round up the cost. It's way more fun to be pleasantly surprised when you spend LESS than anticipated rather than finding out you are going OVER what you had planned.

I add up everything up so I know exactly how much money to plan on. I have a budgeted amount that I like to stay around or under. If I find I have gone over that amount after adding everything up, I start pruning my grocery list to get rid of things I think I can do without. There are always little extras I find I can discard until next time. When I'm all done, my grocery list usually looks something like this: 

4. Stick to It

This is the most important part of the plan! Unless I absolutely stay focused on getting what is on my list, I tend to wander around and see things that I talk myself into "needing." This is so dangerous and leads to the biggest budget crasher ever! Don't let yourself fall into that trap. I like to hold my list and cross each item off as I place it in my cart. If I stick to my list and buy only what I've planned for, shopping really goes much faster as well! Saving time and money all in one shebang!

Obviously there are times when you will have to improvise. For example, if you forget to add something crucial to your list.

Planning like this has the potential of leading you down a miserly, worry wart path. Choose not to take that direction either. It is almost as bad as being a money waster. Seriously, no one likes someone who is cheap and never does anything special! I've learned that if I've done my part in planning out my meals and grocery shopping list, we usually have some buffer room to allow for "special" things like ice cream, or breakfast at McDonalds, or a coffee date at Dunkin' Donuts. Don't let your zeal for saving rob you of the joy of doing small spontaneous things with people you love. Trust me, it's a lesson I had to learn :).

Monday, February 25, 2013


This weekend I made soft pretzels for the first time.  I was on pinterest, saw a picture of a pretzel, and BAM that's all it took! It sounded SO GOOD!

The recipe I used was meant to mimic Auntie Annie's Pretzels--which we all know are the best thing in the world since apple pie.  They obviously didn't come out exactly like Annie's, but they were so soft and yummy that they were totally worth it!

To make these pretzels, start by warming two cups of milk in the microwave for 2 minutes.  Dump the milk into the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle two packets of dry yeast into it.  Let stand for 5 minutes or until the yeast is bubbly.

Add 6 Tbl of brown sugar, 4 Tbs butter (softened), 2 tsp of salt, and 1 cup of flour.  Mix together using the whisk attachment until blended.

Add 3 1/2 more cups of flour.  Switch to the hook attachment and knead until the dough is elastic and pulls away from the edges of the bowl.  You may need to add a little bit of extra flour if the dough seems too sticky.  However, keep in mind that this dough will be stickier than bread dough as it is meant to be very soft.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and set aside until doubled (approximately 1 hour).  During this time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Once the dough has doubled, uncover it and punch it down.  Lightly flour the surface of your counter.  Divide the dough into twelve equal parts, placing each piece on the floured surface.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap to keep it from forming a dry crust.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 cups of water and 1/3 cup of baking soda.  Take one of your pieces of dough and roll it between your hands until you have a very long and skinny "snake".  This part was fun and reminded me of playing with play dough when I was little :).  The longer and skinnier you make the snake, the thinner and more pretzel-like your pretzel will come out.  I actually made mine a little too thick.  Keep in mind that the dough is going to rise again while its baking.  

Take your snake and fold it in half, then dip it in the baking soda water.  Transfer the snake onto a greased cookie sheet and form it into a pretzel.  The baking soda water is going to make the dough brown and crispy and give it the characteristic pretzel "taste".

Continue until your baking sheet is full.  I was only able to do 4-6 at a time, depending on the size of the cookie sheet.  Pop your the pretzels into the oven for 7-8 minutes.  If your pretzels come out fat like mine, you might need a little extra time for the centers to cook through.  You DO NOT want to overcook them or they will not be soft.

Immediately brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with rock salt or cinnamon and sugar.  

Seriously try not to eat them all in one sitting!! FYI: They reheat fabulously if you pop them into the microwave for 20 seconds...almost as good as the first time around.

This recipe would be fun to do with children as they would LOVE rolling out the "snakes"!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review: Created to Be His Help Meet

Created to Be His Helpmeet (by Debi Pearl), which I started reading back in January has been such a blessing to my life.  I have learned so many valuable lessons for my role as a wife and homemaker.  I highly recommend reading this book if you are married or planning to get married in the near future!

The book is divided into two large sections:
  1. The Helpmeet: Explains what a helpmeet is
  2. Titus 2: 8 practical ways to be a helpmeet taken from Titus 2:3-5
In the first section of the book, Debi Pearl goes into detail on the role that God created for the woman and how it relates to the role God created for the man.  A woman has no greater joy that to live within the boundaries of the divine calling that God has placed upon her life.  Here is a quote from the first chapter:

"If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity you are a "good thing," a helper suited to the needs of a man.  This is how God created you and it is your purpose for existing.  You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man's helper.  You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature, for no man can do your job, and no man is complete without his wife.  You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him.  A woman trying to function like a man is as ridiculous as a man trying to be like a woman.  When you are a help meet to your husband, you are a helper to Christ."

In the next chapters she goes on to describe the character and attributes of a godly help meet.  One of my favorite things that she did in this section of the book was to describe three different types of men.  According to her they are Mr. Command, Mr. Visionary, and Mr. Steady.  She then described what kind of help meet each of these men need in order to complete them and set them free to be the men God wants them to be.  I enjoyed figuring out which kind of man my husband is, and it really help me analyze if I was treating him the way he would like to be treated.

In the second section of the book, Debi gives some very practical ways to be a help meet in every day life.  The basis of this section is Titus 2:3-5, a clear passage for wives:

"That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."

She takes each of the eight things listed above and writes an entire chapter on how to live that out.  She shows how when wives neglect to do one or more of these things, they blaspheme God's Word.  I loved this part of the book because it gave me real life ideas that I could implement now.  

The entire book is riddled with letters and examples from people's lives, making it fun and enjoyable (and at times humorous) to read! 

The conclusion of the whole book is that as wives, we have the influence to change the entire course of our marriage--whether it is for good or for bad.  God has given us the ability to persuade and influence our husbands to love us, to hate us, to be a leader, to be a loser, to become what God wants him to be, or to tear him down and manipulate him to be what we want him to be.  It was very sobering and convicting to see ways in which we take leadership from our husbands without realizing it.  

Those are my thoughts on this book.  I honestly had a hard time putting it down when I was reading it!  I hope you will considering purchasing or borrowing a copy to read for yourself! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

DIY Coupon Organizer

Since getting into this new CVS couponing craze, I've struggled with keeping my coupons organized in a manner that allows me to view, categorize, and access them easily.  I tried a couple of methods--putting them into different envelopes by category and storing them in a binder.  Neither one of them worked for me. So here's what I came up with one night when I was bored.

I started with these plastic tab separators which I had laying around.

Next I emptied a box of maccaroni and cut the edges to the same height as the tab separators. To get nice even edges, I simply laid one of the tab separators on the box and traced it on each edge with a pen.  This gave me a straight line to cut on.

I went through my scrapbook paper and picked out a couple of coordinating pieces to pretty up this box with.

Using the box as a guide, I cut strips of paper to wrap the exterior with.  I started with the wide edges--simply gluing the paper to the cardboard.

Next, I cut a narrower piece to finish it off.

Lastly, I did some embellishing with the coordinating paper and some stickers I had on hand.

All I had left to do was label the tab separators and pop them in the box.  I ended up having to cut them a little shorter widthwise so that they would fit in the box.  

Ta-da! (sorry about the blurry picture)

Coupon organizing problem solved-and for free!!  Now all I have to do is clip my coupons and stick them in the right category.  Makes it super easy to look through them and see what I have available. Yay!

How do you organize your coupons?

For more ideas on home organizing, head on over to A Living Sacrifice for the January Linky Party.