To Black Friday, or Not to Black Friday

Unless you’ve been nowhere near a computer, smartphone, or television for the past few weeks, you know that retailers are pulling out the stops to get us to shop – in stores and online – this week. I’m a big fan of getting deals – sometimes to my detriment, ahem – but there’s something about the mad frenzy over getting cheap stuff, that rubs me the wrong way. Remember the people who were trampled at Walmart during previous Black Fridays??

A few years ago, my husband dove into the Black Friday waters. He left my parents’ house Thanksgiving evening, drove two hours, met a friend who lines up outside Best Buy every Black Friday, and scored one of only ten flat screen TVs available at the store for about $200. (I don’t remember the exact price, but it was a screaming deal, at the time.) I can’t think of anything I’d do that for, and my husband swears he’ll never do something like it again. But to this day, he says it was worth it for the deal he got on that TV…

That being said, I’m all for taking advantage of Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals online. I just took advantage of a great 30% off deal at Tiny Prints, to order our family’s holiday cards. (I linked through Ebates, to get cash back on the purchase, too.) I’ll take a look at other discounts, but it’s not a big focus of mine this week. Frankly, I’m much more focused on spending time with family and eating great food!

Speaking of which, I won’t be posting for a few days, as we’ll be on the road and with our extended families. My parents are expecting 8-10 inches of snow tomorrow, so we’re heading there this evening, a bit earlier than we originally planned. Whatever your plans, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels.

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What’s Cooking, plus Great Gift Ideas!

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying a relaxing, pre-holiday weekend! I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking, lately, and I thought I’d share some of the recipes with you.

  • Chocolate Cherry Blondies. Yum, just yum. Even my picky daughter – who “helped” me make them – liked these.
  • Baked French Toast. I don’t like French toast, but my husband does. I never make it, but since he always remarks how much he likes it, I decided to give this recipe a try. Neither my daughter, nor I really liked it – too eggy for us – so I probably won’t make it again. Oh, and my husband liked, but didn’t love it. Go figure.
  • Vegan Friendly Black Bean Fajitas. Neither my husband nor my daughter will eat this, but I love it. I made it for the first time a couple of months ago, and I still really enjoy it. I put it on top of a flour tortilla, then sprinkle some cheese on it, rendering it no longer “vegan friendly,” but oh, so good.
  • Curried Pumpkin Soup w/ Homemade Croutons. You-know-who won’t eat soup of any kind, but both my husband and I really like this. (Instead of putting it in a blender to puree, I use my immersion blender. I love that thing!)
  • Pizza Dough. The last time I made this, it was a complete disaster. This time I didn’t make the full pizza recipe, but just made the dough and added leftover mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, and jarred sauce. The crust cooked much more evenly this time.
  • Beef Stew. This is one of my husband’s favorites, and he always appreciates when I make it for him. (I always make the slow cooker version.)
  • Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. I shared this recipe earlier in the week, but they’re so good it was worth repeating, in case you missed it. Everyone in our house loved these!

Organic and Natural Gifts Under $25

As much as I try to fight it, all the talk about Black Friday and Black Friday Week (seriously??), has me thinking about holiday gifts. This year I’m making a sincere effort to purchase gifts that are good for both my wallet and the planet. Here are some great ideas from one of my favorite sources, Abe’s Market:

Foot Care Candy Mint Foot Polish
By: Deep Steep

Canal Street Daisy Nail Polish
By: Scotch Naturals

Small Herbal Healing Kit
By: Elemental Herbs

Chocolate Bar Variety Gift Set
By: Wild Ophelia

Spice Tin Gift Box
By: Sauce Goddess Gourmet

Small Change Pink/Vanilla Burp & Bib Set
By: Kee-Ka Organics

By: eco-kids

Wool Felt Jewelry Kit
By: Artterro

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Sorry, BJ’s, Plus Car Trouble and Cookies

Sorry, BJ’s!

First, a follow-up to my question about whether or not it made sense for us to renew our BJ’s membership at the end of next month. I’ve decided not to do it. While I probably would recoup the membership cost in savings throughout the year, I don’t think the savings are worth it. First, it would mean spending $50 upfront. Especially at this time of year, this money can be better spent elsewhere.

Second, shopping at BJ’s costs me time. Since I can’t do all, or even most, of my grocery shopping there, it requires an additional stop. And while it’s not very far from my house, it’s in the opposite direction as my grocery store. So it literally requires a special trip to stock up on a few items. And while gas prices are falling – I paid $2.96 per gallon yesterday! – there’s no need to add an extra trip to my regular errands.

Finally, with a little more planning, I can stock up on the items I would normally get a little more cheaply at BJ’s. For example, those Stonyfield yogurt smoothies my daughter has for breakfast, are slightly cheaper at my grocery store when I use a coupon. If I plan to print several copies of the coupon and stock up once a month, I’ll end out ahead.

Car Trouble

When thinking about this month’s “out-of-the-ordinary expenses“, I didn’t realize that both of our cars would be due for service this month. Unfortunately, both need more than just a simple oil change. My husband drives a 2008 Accord, and it needs an oil change, plus some regular maintenance that he put off at the last oil change. My car, a 2007 Camry, has something going on. This week, I’ve noticed it making a growling noise at times, especially at low speeds and while accelerating. Ugh. The Accord is going in this weekend, and the Camry is going in next week. Cha ching.


I made this cookie recipe yesterday, and it. is. good. Plus, since the cookies contain apples, oats, and raisins, they’re basically a health food. :)



Should We, or Shouldn’t We?

Last December, we purchased a BJ’s Membership for our family, using a fantastic Groupon deal (And we even got cash back on the purchase through Ebates!). It worked out to be only $10 out-of-pocket, after factoring in the gift card we received with the membership. Now, eleven months later, we have to decide if we should renew our membership at full price ($50).

I realize that the logical way of answering this question is simply calculating how much we save on the items I typically buy there, but it’s not this simple. For example, my daughter drinks a Stonyfield yogurt smoothie for breakfast every, single day. If I compare the regular price, they’re definitely cheaper at BJ’s than they are at my grocery store. But sometimes I use a coupon at my grocery store, which is doubled and makes them cheaper there. The same thing is true of my beloved Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The cost per ounce is cheaper at BJ’s, unless it goes on sale at my grocery store (or at D&D stores), and I have a coupon. Half gallons of organic milk are cheaper at BJ’s – unless I have a great coupon for Horizon milk… You get the picture.

I don’t buy produce at BJ’s very often, because there are only three of us, and it tends to spoil more quickly than we can eat four pounds of baby carrots. But I do buy baking supplies, over-the-counter medications, and some paper goods there – unless they’re cheaper at my grocery store (or Target).

I’m leaning toward not renewing at this point, but I’m not sure if that’s the right call. Paying $50 for a store I visit a couple of times per month, where I may save a few dollars each time I shop, doesn’t seem worth it. But if I made it part of my weekly routine, and saved on milk, smoothies, coffee, and other regular purchases more often, it might be…

Do you belong to a warehouse club? Are you certain you always save money on what your purchase there? What would you do if you were me?

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The Propane Man Cometh

He’s baaaaack! Yep, the propane man returned and made a delivery. Wah wah. It was 175 gallons, so not too much. (We have a 500 tank.) The total will probably end up being just over $500, with taxes and fees. It could be a lot worse.

With the (first of the season??) polar vortex making itself known – tomorrow’s high is 26!! – it’s time for us to get serious about conserving heat. Here are some of the things we do each winter:

  • Keep the temperature comfortable, but low. During the day, we set the heat at 68 degrees, and lower it to 60 degrees overnight.
  • Layer up, baby. Sixty eight isn’t exactly a balmy temperature, so my husband and I usually wear fleeces over our clothes in the house. Our daughter, who’s never cold, runs around in bare feet.
  • Turn it down. Although I can’t say we always remember to do this, we turn the temperature down to 63 or 64, if we’re going to be out of the house for more than an hour or so.
  • Shut the door! We keep the doors to all the rooms upstairs closed, to cut back on the heat rising and disappearing into empty rooms.
  • Snuggle in. We switch to flannel sheets and down comforters to stay warm overnight.
  • Let there be light. Although there isn’t a whole lot of it this time of year we open blinds and curtains as soon as we get up to let in as much daylight – and passive heat – as possible. The cats are always grateful, and can usually be found laying in sun spots.

How about you? What’s the weather like in your area? How do you conserve heat during the colder months? Do you have any tips that I can use?


Good News, Bad News

Happy Monday! We had a pretty laid-back weekend here, mainly because my daughter has her first serious cold of the season. We’re talking sneezing, coughing, sniffling – the works. Fortunately, it seems to have peaked Saturday night, and she appears to be on the mend. Now the only question is: Which, if any, other family members will be getting it?

Here are a few things I wanted to share:

  1. I’ll get this over with first: After a few good weeks, I blew my grocery budget for this week. I went shopping today, and spent $124. Gulp.
  2. I received cash back from Checkout 51, SavingStar, Snap by Groupon for purchasing pumpkin puree, cucumbers, broccoli, cheese, and bread.
  3. I found a surprise in Friday’s mail: a $97 check from NY State! It’s essentially a property tax rebate.
  4. I started reading The Plan, which I “planned” to finish this month. I’m not loving it, though, so I may set it aside and pick up another book.
  5. I received a $7.11 cash-back payout from SavingStar last week.
  6. I signed up for a free one-month trial of Amazon Prime, so I could get the snow boots I ordered from my daughter more quickly. The bad news is that they won’t arrive until this afternoon – after this morning’s snow, sleet, and freezing rain. I had to send her to school in her rain boots this morning… The good news is that I received $6.24 in cash back from Ebates on the purchase of the boots.

How was your weekend? Any highs or lows you care to share?

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Me, By The Numbers, Plus Giveaway Winners!

I’m not sure why, but I was thinking about how many numbers help define our lives the other day. For the purposes of this blog, it’s mainly my debt numbers that define me, but of course there’s much more to me than that. Here are some other numbers that define who I am:

  • 39 (Age)
  • 2 (Cats, marathons run, pregnancies, degrees received, movies seen in a theater in the past 5+ years)
  • 9 (Years married)
  • 4 (States lived in)
  • 3 (Countries outside the US visited, times had braces, first cousins)
  • 0 (Bones broken, appendixes remaining)
  • 145,038 (Miles on car)
  • 5 (Years as a parent, years lived in current house)
  • 8 (Years since flown on an airplane)
  • 1 (Children, husbands, siblings, living grandparents, homes owned)

30 days

Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway of two copies of 30 Days to Christmas: Procrastinator’s Edition! The winners are Kirsten W. and Marthaia N. Your prizes will be emailed to you shortly.

What are some numbers that define you?

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Buh-Bye Propane Delivery Man!

I can’t help it: I groan out loud every time I see the propane truck pull into our driveway. Sure, I recognize that it’s bringing fuel for my heat and stove, but that fuel comes at a serious cost! I locked our price in at $2.77 per gallon for this whole season, but with a 500 gallon tank, a fill-up rarely costs less than $500.

Since we’re not on a regular delivery schedule, the dreaded truck shows up kind of randomly. (It’s actually about every 4-5 weeks.) This fall’s first delivery came in early October, and the total cost was $513. I checked the level in our tank during the first week of this month, and it was about 65% full.

A few days after I checked the level, I found myself groaning as the propane truck pulled into our driveway. I was busy in the kitchen, and didn’t keep a close eye on what was happening. When I checked a few minutes later, the truck was gone, but there was no delivery summary on the front door. The next day, I checked my account online, and there was no delivery information. I checked the level of the tank again, and it was 60% full. I can’t believe it, but clearly the driver chose not to fill the tank. I imagine he must have a cut-off level , and he doesn’t fill tanks that are already at or above it.

I’m strangely proud of this, and have taken it as a challenge to see how long we can extend the time in between deliveries. While I probably won’t make much progress on this in, say, January or February, I’m excited to test it our this month, in December, and in March.

In other fuel news, I was thrilled to pay “only” $2.98 per gallon for gas yesterday. It was the first time I’ve paid under $3 per gallon in years! Then I read this article, which says that US gas prices will average below $3 per gallon in 2015 – yippee! I typically fill my gas tank every 7-10 days, but my husband commutes 40 miles each way and fills up more often. We both drive fuel-efficient cars, but when it costs close to $50 to fill your tank, that adds up quickly.

What fuel do you use to heat your house? How much does it cost? How much is gas in your area these days?


Words of Wisdom from the Pediatrician

Today my husband and I took our daughter to the pediatrician for her five year old physical. Thankfully, she’s in excellent health, and my questions for the doctor were fairly minimal. One of them was, “When do young kids start to eat more than just mac and cheese, plain pasta, and PB&J??”

Our pediatrician is very pragmatic and gives it to us straight all the time, but his response to this question really surprised me. He said he thinks what’s happening at the dinner table is much more important than what our daughter is eating. He said if we were together as a family and talking about our days, it didn’t really matter if our daughter will eat only mac and cheese, plain pasta, and PB&J. Most interesting of all, he said that much of what we consume in this country is fortified, so it’s almost impossible for kids to be deficient in anything! Since more dinners than I’d like have been full of admonishment and argument over what my daughter is – or isn’t – eating, this was a huge relief. (Although I can’t promise not to get ticked off sometimes when she refuses to eat what I’ve spent time making for dinner…)

Speaking of which, here are a few things I’ve made lately. Note that my daughter ate only the last two items.

Do you have picky eaters in your house? What great things have you made lately? ANd have you entered my giveaway yet??

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Review and Giveaway!

As I’ve shared before, I’m a gal who likes structure. I can also be overwhelmed by large goals, like say, paying down a big chunk of debt. So it helps me a great deal to break larger goals into smaller, more manageable goals. And, after reading Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, I make small, daily lists of things to accomplish. Not only do I get to experience the excitement of crossing things off, but it helps me focus in on my priorities each day.

30 days

So I was thrilled when I received and read 30 Days to Christmas 2014: Procrastinator’s Edition, by Jennifer Tankerley. This eBook is great! It breaks down the most common pre-Christmas tasks into easily digestible to-do lists, and spreads them out over the 30 days leading up to Christmas. Starting on November 24, the book provides a daily page with a summary of priorities, and a small checklist of action items. One of my favorites is Tuesday, November 25, “Create a Budget”. Believe it or not, this is the first year that I’ll actually be working with my husband to put a Christmas budget down on paper. 30 Days to Christmas highlights how to do this, and also provides a Holiday Budget Planner worksheet, to make it clear and easy. Other daily priorities include “Shop Black Friday Sales” on November 28 (with a handy Black Friday Planning and Tracking Guide worksheet), “Consider Christmas Cards” on December 2 (with a Holiday Card Planner worksheet), and “List Your Ingredients” on December 10 (with a Christmas Meal Shopping List worksheet).

If you find it challenging to get everything done and actually enjoy the holiday season, I think you’ll find 30 Days to Christmas 2014: Procrastinator’s Edition, to be an invaluable tool. It goes on sale today, and the 30 days before Christmas start on November 24!

Jennifer has been kind enough to give me two copies of this awesome ebook to give away. Enter below, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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