Wednesday, November 5, 2014

7 Tips for Beginning Couponing

I have people ask me from time to time how I coupon. I'm not going to go in depth on the how-to of couponing, because it's been done to death and there's nothing really new to add. Instead, I will share a few tips that I think might be often overlooked.



1. Do a little research about which stores in your area are coupon friendly. You'll want to start with a store that isn't a jerk about coupons.

In my area, I really like CVS for non-food related items. I would never buy anything at CVS when it's full price (or even on sale if I didn't have a coupon to pair with it) because their regular prices are ridiculous, but when it comes to sales and coupons it's a great place to shop! If you choose to coupon at CVS, set up a cvs.com account, sign up for the beauty club, sign up for RX rewards, sign up to get coupons in the mail, sign up for minute clinic emails, and get a CVS card. They have a million ways for you to earn "Extra Care Bucks" which spend just like cash in the store and can be combined with both store and manufacturer coupons. Sometimes I almost feel bad when they pay me for taking merchandise out of their store. Almost.

For grocery items, I like Kroger. The coupon policy isn't as great as CVS, but it's still pretty good. If you shop at Kroger, sign up for a kroger.com account and make sure your kroger plus card is handy. You also earn a .10/gallon gas discount for every $100 you spend. My one issue with Kroger is that they don't stock sale items as heavily as they should. Often they have "Mega Sales" where you can get extra savings if you buy X number of participating items. These sales are a couponer's happy place...or a couponer's sad place if they're out of stock on something that you need to count toward a "participating item". If you ever see me weeping in the aisles of Kroger, this is what has happened.

2. Once you find the store you want to start with, find a good website that breaks down the weekly ad and matches available coupons to sale items. I like iheartcvs.com and krogerkrazy.com. Both of those also have Facebook groups which are incredibly helpful. Do not waste your time going through the sale ads and trying to find coupons to match. Not all sale items are advertised and there are so many internet resources that have already done that work for you.

3. You don't have to be extreme to get a good deal. If you don't have the space or inclination to stockpile 2000 packages of toilet paper, don't. Personally, I buy two Sunday newspapers per week. That gives me two copies of every coupon and that's enough for my family of 3. The key is to get enough stuff so that you never have to buy something at full price, but not so much stuff that items expire before you can use them. If you see an item that says, "Sale 10/$10!", you do not have to buy 10 of that item. It's $1 each (at least at most stores).

4. Dust off your printer. I use more coupons that I've printed from the internet than newspaper coupons. The store specific couponing websites that I mentioned above will tell you whether a coupon needs to be printed from the internet or if it's available in a newspaper. You can print most coupons twice per computer.

5. Load your store loyalty card with coupons. Just be aware that if you have a coupon loaded to your card, it takes precedence over a paper coupon. You cannot use both, so know which value is higher and remove the coupon from your card before your shopping trip if it's not the better coupon.

6. Follow couponers on instagram. Search #couponcommunity #extremecouponing #kroger #cvs, etc. If you want to know some of the folks I follow, ask me. Instagram is a great way to keep up with crazy good clearance sales.

7. Use grocery rebate apps. There are tons of apps out there and they can generally be used in addition to coupons (check your app for details). These are some great apps that I use regularly. (When you sign up by clicking my referral links, I may or may not get extra rebates.) I think everyone should be using these, even if you don't plan to do any hardcore couponing. It's just an easy way to save on stuff you're buying anyway.

Ibotta- Referral code b6kbyq
Checkout51
Snap
SavingStar - You're not supposed to use coupons in conjunction with this one and it takes awhile for your rebate to show up.

Finally, don't show up in the grocery store expecting to walk out with carts full of stuff for free like you've probably seen on TV. A few items per trip for free is doable, but in the real world, your cart is going to contain perishables that we just don't see many high value coupons for. That's ok! Any amount you save is better than paying full price. Just build your small stockpile of non-perishables and go from there.





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The Homemaking Party

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Toilet Training Transition

It has been forever since I last posted! I figured that our diapering routine has evolved some through this blogging hiatus, so I'll update a little.

1. We had a little trouble with our Flo diaper sprayer (twice, actually). The second time it malfunctioned, it was totally broken and I didn't want to buy a new sprayer this late in the diapering game. So on one hand, I am not pleased that our sprayer broke twice over the course of a year and 1/2. On the other hand, I contacted the company and asked if I could buy a replacement part for the little piece that broke and they sent me the replacement part for free! My verdict on the Flo sprayer is that the quality of mine was iffy, but the customer service was good.


2. I still totally love prefolds and Thirsties covers, but just in the past couple of months I've noticed that we're starting to get some wear right under the rise snaps on the covers. It's not severe enough that the covers are leaking, but I'm guessing I should have unsnapped the rise way before I did. Maybe I could have prevented it. The size 2 covers are also starting to get a little snug around the waist for my 30+ pounder.

3. Speaking of covers, our Grovia aplix covers are now retired after our nanny made the mistake of putting The Fish down for a nap in only a T-shirt and his diaper with the aplix cover. His island/beachy/ship crib sheet will never be the same. As I was spraying it off with the diaper sprayer, I kept questioning, "Is that a coconut? Nope. Not a coconut."

4. We are now in week 3 of potty training. I hear other CD people talk about how it's so bittersweet to retire the cute little diapers. No. It's not bitter, it's just sweet. I'm sad that he's growing up so quickly, but I'm totally fine with him using the potty. I was able to get him started while I was off work for two weeks and he has done so well and is so proud of himself. I'm now only using diapers during nap/bedtime, so that's throwing off my diaper washing routine, but I'm just adjusting the amount of detergent I use and am adding extra things in the diaper laundry like his undies, the towels we place in front of his little potty, etc. So far so good! I will do a thorough strip of the diapers before I store them away, but for now this routine is just fine.

Two years of cloth diapering are in the books and even though I'm the sole poop sprayer of the house and it's an extra load of laundry here and there, I'm so happy that we went this route.

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Hope in Every Season



Friday, September 20, 2013

Cake Decorating with Frozen Butter Cream Transfers




For The Fish's birthday, I wanted to do a Dr. Seuss theme, but apparently no bakeries have the licensing to put actual Seuss-y images on cakes (at least not the run of the mill bakeries around here). I wasn't about to pay the kind of money you'd have to pay for a super custom cake from a fancy bakery when this cake was just for my 1 year old to smash and throw on the floor, so I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to tackle the cake issue.

Then I remembered that a fellow blogger and long time friend of mine had posted about using frozen butter cream transfers (FBCT) to decorate cakes. She made it sound really easy, so I figured I might as well give it a try!

Since we did a One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish invitation, I decided to use the Blue Fish as my cake decoration.

I should pause to say that I had never decorated a cake in my life. I had to Google how to assemble the little icing bag thingies with the tips and everything, and I have the shakiest hands on the planet. If I can do this, anyone can.

I whipped up a batch of Wilton Butter Cream Icing. I thought it tasted gross, so I added more vanilla extract than it called for and a little salt since I was using unsalted butter in my recipe. Then I mixed it for much longer (I had read that mixing it for a long time would improve the flavor). With those modifications, the flavor was good!

Step 1:
The first thing you're supposed to do is make a mirror image of the design you'll be using. Since I wasn't using any words in my design, I didn't do this. Basically it didn't bother me that the fish in my design would face left instead of right.

Step 2:
Tape the design down to a flat surface. It should be something that can easily fit in your freezer. I used the smallest cutting board we have. Then tape a larger piece of wax paper over the design.


Step 3:
Assemble the icing bags and practice making lines so you know how much pressure to use when you start drawing your design. I used a size 1 tip for the outline of the fish.


Step 4:
Remember that the first icing that you put down is going to be the foreground of your design. Start by outlining the design and filling in any shading/details that you need. You can see where I messed up on the outline in places and just wiped it off and started over (that's what all the black smudges are about).


Step 5:
Begin filling in other areas of your design. You should try not to leave blank spaces between your icing lines. Another tutorial I read said that you could use a small plastic paintbrush (the kind you get with cheap watercolors when you're a kid...obviously a new one) to make sure the icing is smoothed out and doesn't have blank spots. I didn't do that as you will be able to tell from the finished product in a little bit.



Step 6:
Remember that what you're looking at right now is the BACK of the design. Cover the whole back of the design with the same color icing that you will use to frost the cake. This is creating a little "podium" for your design to stand on and will help it be more stable when you pop it off the wax paper and onto the cake. You can go past the outline a little and it'll be OK because it will blend with the icing you're using on the rest of your cake. Once you've covered the whole design, use an offset spatula to smooth it out carefully. Try to make the whole thing about the same thickness.


All done, but just leave your extra icing in the bags and stick them in the fridge (see step 7). Put the design in the freezer and let it harden. I also put it in the freezer in between each icing color to make the outlines harden up. I only kept my finished design in the freezer for a few hours, but I've read that you can keep it in there for much longer for better results.

Step 7:
When you're ready to put it on your cake, undo the tape that's holding the wax paper to the solid surface you put in your freezer. Turn it upside down onto the cake and carefully remove the wax paper, revealing your design.

I did have a problem with a little bit of my outline sticking to the wax paper, so I had to touch up those spots with a little icing once it was on the cake.



Sidenote:
To get a really smooth butter cream surface on your cake, follow these instructions for tips on smoothing out the icing with a smooth textured paper towel before adding your design. Here's my cake before and after the paper towel trick.

Before:


After:


Linking here:
Feature Friday Linky Party @ Blissful and Domestic

The Homemaking Party @ Hope in Every Season

Lovely Ladies Link Up

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pinterest Picks 10

Squash Casserole
There was a near disaster with this one when I misread the recipe to say 6 squash and zucchini rather than (what it actually says) 6 cups of squash and zucchini. For the record, 1 regular sized squash or zucchini yields about 2 cups of chopped up squash or zucchini. You're welcome. :) Anyway, this turned out well. We liked it, the baby LOVED it, so it was a win-win.

Healthy Chicken Tortilla Casserole
So here's the deal...this is basically a Mexican chicken casserole but it calls for corn tortillas instead of tortilla chips. I think corn tortillas are gag worthy, so I was going to just toast some flour tortillas. But I didn't have time for that nonsense, so I tried just putting some flour tortillas in it. Slimy slimy slimy. So basically the flavor was fine, but the texture was gross. Maybe some foods just aren't meant to be healthy.

Pollo Fundido
I had never used Mexican Dipping Cheese before, and I know it's "processed cheese food", but dang if I don't like some processed cheese food. In an effort to save cooking time, I cut the chicken breasts into fajita sized pieces with kitchen shears. Delicious on a tortilla with the cheese and some Mexican rice. Yum!

Orzo with Parmesan and Basil
This was my first time making orzo. Weird considering how much I love pasta. Anyway, I didn't have enough basil, so this didn't have as much flavor as I would have wanted, but it was still good and the baby is a big fan. (But what food is he not a fan of?!)

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Dr. Seuss First Birthday Party

It's hard to believe that my baby is 1! He had a great time at his Dr. Seuss party this weekend.



For food, we had:

Thing 1 and Thing 2 (strawberry jello with blue frosting on top)

Wockets in our Pita Pockets (pita pocket sandwiches)

Hop on Popcorn

Fish in a Dish (Goldfish crackers)

One Fish Two Fish cupcakes (I had a bakery make cupcakes with icing in primary colors and I stuck different colored Swedish Fish on top)

Pink Yink Drink (Hi-C juice boxes)

I also made a smash cake for him with the "Blue Fish" from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. It was my first attempt at doing a frozen butter cream transfer and it wasn't perfect, but it was sufficient for a 1 year old. :) I will do another post soon with a step by step look at how I decorated the cake.

The invitations came from CardMeKelly on Etsy.com (the picture above is from her Etsy site). She has really cute designs if you're in the market for invitations!

We also got a Cat in the Hat themed birthday hat/diaper cover/necktie combo from CutiePiesTies on Etsy.com. He wore those for the professional cake smash pictures, so hopefully I will have those pics to share soon. He did NOT love cake that day, but hopefully the photographer was still able to capture a few cute ones.

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Pinned it, Made it! Monday @ Country Girl at Home


Friday, September 6, 2013

Pinterest Picks 9



Chicken and Cheese Lasagna Rollups (kinda!)
I cheated. I had leftover homemade meat sauce, so I didn't want to put chicken in these. Instead I just combined cottage cheese and Parmesan cheese with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to make the filling, spread it on the lasagna noodles and rolled them up on top of the sauce. I topped it with a little mozarella and parmesan (the picture is pre-topping). It ends up tasting much like stuffed shells or something like that. I may try to make my homemade sauce without meat sometime and try the chicken version, but I bet the chicken version would be even better with alfredo sauce!

Greek Marinated Chicken
This turned out well, but the flavor wasn't as strong as I was expecting based on the yummy smell. I think it would be ever better with a little dill mixed in.

Crushed Hot Potatoes
I usually don't like potatoes with skins, but these were so good! My husband said they're his new favorite way to have potatoes. I used coarse sea salt, coarsely ground black pepper, and oregano. Yummy! Will definitely make these again.

Pesto Ranch Crock Pot Chicken
I'm a sucker for anything with pesto. This was no exception. I liked the sauce so much that I froze it after I took the cooked chicken out of it. I think I might make a pasta sauce from it in the near future.

Tried and True Recipe Board

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dr. Seuss Printables

I'm planning a Dr. Seuss themed birthday for The Baby Fish and I've been looking for printables that I can use to label the food we'll be serving. There are some really cute ones on Etsy, but I didn't want to be tied down to serving the foods that are on the typical labels. I need flexibility! I need the ability to change my mind at the last minute and still have a label that matches the food!




I decided to make some simple ones for myself and I figured I might as well share them with the world.

Here's a blank label that you can scooch on over to Picmonkey to personalize for yourself.



And here are some examples of some labels I've made so far. If you decide to use the template, show me what you've made with it! I'm a Picmonkey n00b, so I'm sure you will amaze and awe me.