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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Summer, Shopping, and Savings

Here we are in the beginning stages of summer. This means a multitude of things.
People around here will stay up later, Then they will sleep all day. And when they finally do awake. they are going to be HUNGRY. AS. BEARS.

I kid you not, I am probably breaking some sort of commercially licensed restaurant code buy doing so much cooking. (which I hate to do). One of them pops out of bed, I'll make a couple of eggs, clean that up. And then wait. Because there will be another one in about an hour- except this one will want some of the left over chicken with peppers in a tortilla. And then last but not least comes the biggest bear monster of all - the girl bear. She makes me happy because she can cook whatever she likes- its the crime scene she leaves behind when she is done that bothers me.

I joke about it, but it is important to me that they all have meals- at least 3 of them. Because when they wake up and come down in snack mode, they stay in snack mode ALL DAY! And there are lots of reasons why that is bad for them- just shoving a snack in their hole because they are "Bungry" (That's Bored+Hungry) starts to add up- on their bodies- and in the meal budget,

For a family of 5 which includes mom, dad, teenage girl with a hollow leg and lightening fast metabolisom, teenage boy who loves mom's cooking, and a teenage boy who would snack his way right into adulthood, we spend on average about $250 a week on groceries.
(And remember, I don't do the willy nilly walking in and throw stuff in the cart- I have a whole plan for all the meals for at least an entire week! Thanks to MealBoard - read more about them here,)

SO when I can find something to save me a little money every week, I jump on it!

I used to use the coupons that came in the Sunday paper, But all it turned into were ads for OTC medications for me to try and obscure brands of things that we don't eat. And
I definitely didnt want to become like a few aunts who will make a special trip to the store because she has 3 Oil of Olay coupons that are going to expire TOMORROW, so she has to buy them. (She then takes them home and sets them next to the 14 other jars that she did the same thing with a couple of months ago)!

I do use Coupons.Com occassiaonlly- I am able to pick and choose the ones that I know I will use instead of printing off a ton that will make it straight to the trash.

But the one thing that I was turned on to by several friends was Ibotta.
Holy Buckets what a saver there. Initally, I was turned off because I didn't understand how it worked. I thought I was going to have to be in the store and have the app out and involve the cashiers and there would be lots of buttons to push and I wouldn't be able to keep up with all of it! WHEW!

Turns out it's NOT like that AT ALL.
I look through the food items on Ibotta while I am making my list- sometimes I add a certain meal to my meal plan because there is such a great deal on the meat! I click on the things that are on my list this week to "unlock" them. Sometimes I have to answer a question like "Do you like chocolate or vanilla bettter?" or "Watch this short 15 sec video to unlock your item"- easy peasy. Now I have a list of things that I know I am going to save money on.

Sometimes it isn't even a particular brand! Sometimes you just buy  ANY BRAND of milk, eggs, ice cream, oranges.....and save!

 Once I have gone shopping, I come home, click Verify Purchases and I can either click on the pics of what I bought or scan the UPC. Then with Step 2, I take a pic of my receipt and within 24 hours (more like 15 minutes) they send me an alert that says it has been verified and that savings has gone into my account.

We have been using Ibotta for about 6 weeks and and look at what we have earned!!!! Just buying groceries (and adult frothy beverages).
To get that money into my hands to spend it - I can choose for my money to be transferred to:
A digital shopping card:
Wal-Mart Card
Amazon Card
Startbucks Card
Regal Card
Best Buy Card
and there are a couple of others.

It is so easy to use and so easy to save money! We are both logged into the same one, so if he is out and is going to buy some adult beverages and snacks, he'll take a peek and the savings pop right up!
Another cool part of Ibotta is the TEAMWORK. No, we don't have to shop or plan together, but for instance, I sent my link to my sister, two neighbors, and a guy at his work. Everyone uses it at their own pace. But Ibotta offers Bonuses and incentives for us to save. So our collective savings (we can't see what each other purchased, only totals) add up and as a team we have all reached a bonus $5 level this month- we all just got $5 added to our own separate accounts!
How cool is that?!?!
So I share my link with you- you get $10 right off the bat and I get $5! And I can add you to my team= the bigger our team, the more bonuses we get!
EXTRA BONUS- you get your own separate link that you have people use to sign up with! - so you can be a part of two teams!!! That's double bonuses!!!
It is definitely a win win for sure.
It is so increcibly easy to use!! Just use THIS LINK.
That link puts you on my team!! Yeah- we can be teammates! Don't worry, you'll get your own referral link too that you can send to friends and family.

And play around with it, check out the different groceries, retail, stores, restaurants, and even gas stations that you can use Ibotta to get cash rebates back quickly that you can spend!

The one key thing that you have to remember is that you have to have "unlocked" the item BEFORE you purchase it. And with the power of digital time stamps, they know!

I hope you'll check it out - I mean who doesn't love to save money?!?! And after you are signed up, be sure to send your link out!

Happy Summer. Happy Shopping. Happy Savings!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Whose Water Is This?!?!

Our "after dinner" routine has become quite a habit around here. We get situated with food and dishes, and we get through the chores that help keep things together. These are simple tasks like sweeping floors, wiping toilets, dusting. Nothing that is really out of the ordinary for any family.

I do, however, have one job that some of you may not have. I have the distinct pleasure of walking all throughout the house yelling out "Whose water is this?!?" It is normally answered with "Where was it?" And then we get to go through the list of possible places where I may have found it. After I rattle through those, they will come in and either claim it or argue that "No, mine had more than that in it." or "I think mine wasn't that full."

Maybe I shouldn't complain because at least they are drinking water- but the never ending game of "who-had-their-nasty-mouth-on-this" drives me batty!

So, this week, we put an end to it!


 No more guessing!

Naturally, I chose the gold star because it was my idea. I let them choose from the other four- surprisingly they all agreed. 
So now it's very simple- grab a water, get your sticker from the fridge, put it on the cap, and then we all know who to yell at when we find it on a counter or shelf!

So far so good-
Be on the lookout for more posts that will surely involve my house covered in colorful star stickers!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What's the Magic Word?

There are a handful of things in this world that make me blush and give me legit butterflies.
I have to give props to my main man for being the source of most of them. As I sit here now, I can hear the song that was on the radio as he nervously leaned over and kissed me for the first time. Swoon. I can feel a little tremble every time.

There's a very tiny list of thoughts that can evoke a similar feeling.
Leonardo DiCaprio
Tom Hardy
Leo with a beard.
Tom with a beard... that pretty much sums up the list.
 Nope wait- there's one more thing.

There's one more thing that can make me feel a little lightheaded. It makes me giddy. I even feel slightly light on my feet.  It's actually two words. Two magic words...


I'm serious, ya'll! When I am putting all that work into making the list/menu each week (with or without anyone's help) I am sure to write in one night that's nothing but leftovers.

I work hard standing in that kitchen all week, sweating away, breaking my back in the oven, straining my muscles as I stir and knead....ok, it's not that bad- but it is still a lot of work.

So each week, I reward myself. This night is celebrated! I should consider getting a small red carpet that leads from the fridge to the microwave. Maybe I'll even have them take a few paparazzi style shots as I gently tilt the lid for venting while it cooks (These are all genuine possibilities, folks.)

OK, ok, so maybe there shouldn't be that much fanfare, but, man, it's a special night in my mind! The preparation is easy. The cleaning is simple. And probably the most important part to me (all joking aside) is that we are not wasting food.

Wasting food was a BIG no-no for me in our house growing up. When my mom made something for dinner, it was beautiful. We spent quite a bit of time remarking on how pretty the spread was. And then a few days later, part of that meal would make a cameo appearance in a new meal. Then maybe, just maybe, there was just enough left that it could morph into some type of casserole. (If the woman had cream of anything and ritz crackers, then by golly, we could have a casserole). And the invention of the freezer bag made it even worse! Now she could freeze something we didn't finish and SURPRISE!! a couple weeks later there it was again....damn those bags.

Now these same Empty Nesters, will cook a meal and let the remainder spoil in the fridge because "I already had that once this week.' or "It just isn't the same reheated".

Not in my house.

Actually, I want to share how we "manage" the leftovers. I know it may sound a little silly to say it that way, but it is something that you can't let get away from you. No one wants to take the lid off of the "fuzzy stuff" in the blue container. And no one wants to sniff the "mystery meat" to see if it has one more day in it. There's nothing more appetizing than hearing someone say. "Well, if you don't eat it, I'm just going to have to throw it away."
Really? Those are the options? My mouth or the landfill.....mmmmm...... #tasty

We have a pretty good system- what the heck, I'm going to say that we have a GREAT system that keeps food moving IN and OUT of the fridge in a way that shouldn't scare anyone.

When dinner is over. We use two types of storage containers. The main squeeze isn't here for dinner most nights, so we make a plate that is just like if he were at the table. It is divided into thirds and has a vent for steam on top. It's perfect. He takes that to work the next day. So he is usually a dinner behind us. But it's new to him.

Anything that didn't go into the "Dad Plate" goes into container that is only divided twice. It is a flimsier container- but it is going straight to a plate- so no biggie there. In those containers, we are making servings. (That's the key). We put the meat on one side and the starch on the other. It is just enough to be a meal if someone were to choose it for leftover night. Some nights we get two containers made like that- which makes it easier on leftover night because now the boys don't have to fight. (Nothing like needing a bouncer at the microwave)!

I think one of the things I used to do wrong was put all the meatloaf in one container and all the mashed potatoes in a different container. Then things get pushed around back there in the fridge and the two foods never end up pairing up again. But not this way. This way there are meals. And all they have to do is put the whole container in the microwave.
Since these are all in the same type containers, they are easy to stack in the fridge. Sometimes the stack gets higher faster than I had anticipated it would. When this happens, I have to institute an Emergency Leftover Night. Only I have the power to make that call. It's good to be in charge (sometimes).

I will show which ones we use to make this so easy.
These are the "Dad Plates". They work perfectly for his lunch box. The vent makes it easy to heat up his dinner. We picked these up at Wal-Mart, but they are everywhere. (These are very durable).
These are also from Wal-Mart. They only have two compartments. They are perfect for a meat and side. They are sturdy enough for the dishwasher, but also cheap enough that if anything does get lost back there in the depths of the fridge it won't break the budget to toss them out.
Having the distinct containers makes it easy on everyone. They know that anything in this container is "fair game" and Lord Grantham knows which one to put in his lunchbox in case I'm not here to pack it up for him. 

Believe it or not, I really don't have an issue with them when it is a leftover night.
 1)  For the most part, they eat what I cook. They have a say in the menu, so often times it's something they initially picked anyway. 
2) They like having the choices.

And I definitely don't have issues with it because:
1) I didn't have to cook anything new.
2) I didn't have to cook anything new.
3)I didn't have to cook anything new.

It's a win-win!! 
Seriously though, for us it's something that really works. Maybe you can use part of it to smooth out your week and even get a night off from cooking! Our system keeps us on track and keeps us from wasting a ton of food each week. It's also keeping me from breaking out the "cream of something and the ritz crackers"! :)

Enjoy your week.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Dreaded List

It seems like the more you love something, the more time you give it. For instance, my boys love video games, so they devote a lot time and (all) their money to it. Chickadee loves to read, so she takes time to read everyday. 
With this being the pattern, you would think that I MUST LOVE meal planning, shopping, and cooking, right? I mean that only makes sense. Because I spend so much TIME doing it!


We all know how I feel about it. And I KNOW that I am NOT alone.
Just because we do it, doesn't mean we like it. I don't gripe about it so verbally with the kiddos around; I don't want them to automatically feel the same way. They can grow up and hate it on their own. LOL! Just kidding.

Since there is NO getting around it, and they insist on eating everyday, I have done my best to try and minimize the workload on my end. Here are a list of things that have helped:

1) I ask for their input. IF I can get at least 2 out 4 to give me a suggestion about what they would like to eat for dinner, then there's 2 less thoughts that this exhausted brain has to come up with on its own.

2) I have them write things on the dry erase on the fridge as they run out of it or decide they need it so that it is there when I am making the list for the store. This means that I don't have to read their minds, like they apparently think that I can.

3) I take one of them with me to the store. Yep, I am not doing that by myself. I usually take one of the boys. Littlest Little is actually the best shopper. He is a no non-sense guy like me. We get in and we get out. Chickadee ups my grocery bill by about $20 every time because she throws stuff into the cart when I'm not looking and then distracts me when we are at the checkout- I am aware of her evil plan, and yet she gets me. Every. Time. 

4) Once it's all purchased, they (usually the boys) help me decide what night we will have which meal- that way we can put it into MEAL BOARD and on calendar. We take into account who has to stay after for what on which day and how long that certain meal takes to prepare and who all will be home to be at the table that night. Whew- there's a lot to consider!

5) And of course, we all play a part in the cleaning up. Mine is small. I took a stand on my 40th and made sure that everyone was either proficient or above average when it came to the kitchen chores!

So even though I do have quite a bit to do when it comes to preparing for the coming week's meals, there is help. There are the occasional moans and groans and resistance to the plan- but then I snap out of it and realize that it could be worse, I could be totally on my own when it comes to all this work. Therefore I am thankful for the pitching in that they do!

Tonight, I want to share with you how I get my list together for the store. I NEVER enter the store without a list. That is shopping suicide. It must be a thorough and complete list with all the meals' ingredients, lunches, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. 'Cause I am only going to the store once a week. That is it. No more. No less.

After the meals that are going to be prepared for the week are chosen, I have to get the ingredients listed.  The list that I use helps me to do both.  I made a simple template for my grocery list on a spreadsheet. Take a look.

See where it says "Ideas"? I use this column to help when we are picking meals. If someone calls a pasta dish, I write it there and then no one else can pick another pasta dish. The same goes for soups. One heavy soup a week is enough. And so on for sandwiches- we consider those to be anything that has buns or rolls, burgers, BBQ chic, dagwoods, etc. And I usually like to only have one meal a week that is chicken (prepared a million ways), a starch, and a vege. The "Ideas" section is categorized the same way as my MealBoard, but there wasn't enough room to add all the categories to the list so there are blank spaces for adding in others.

After we have at least 6 meals in the Ideas, we move them over to "Meals" and add sides. Then I can start filling in the rest of the list. Going one meal at time, placing each ingredient in its spot. (I print the template, and write in the items).
Things that we get every week are already printed on the list. And the list kind of follows the steps we take in the store. Like a map. 
My written list always looked like this- little untitled columns that only I understood why they were where they were on the paper! So I decided to make it a little neater and easy for anyone to read. Not that anyone else is going to go do the shopping, but a girl can dream!!!

If you haven't read the Hallelujah praise that I have for MealBoard, check that out here. I am still loving all the simplicity it has brought to my life! 

I've added a link my List here so that you can grab it, make a copy, and edit it to fit your needs. 
Grab it here .
Would love to hear in the comments if you found this helpful! 
Have a great week!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Morning Time Saver for Mom

So here we are almost a full month into 2016 and I am just now getting around to posting this. I started this post over Christmas break because I thought it would be nice to share with some of you busy moms and dads before school started back. 

It didn't work out that way.

It's still a very helpful idea for us though, so I still want to share.

When I left my position in 2014 and began subbing, I found myself in the middle and high schools during lunch. Which I was never there before. Have you been? HOLY Lunch Madness!

It isn't always what's on the tray that is so surprising, but all the hoops and lines and ropes and procedures they have to go through to get it. I used to hear horror stories from Chickadee, but she's a drama queen, so I just assumed it could only be about 1/4 as bad as she was claiming it to be. (Sorry, Chickadee)

The kids only get 30 minutes for lunch. They have to walk to the cafe. Stand in line to get the food. Stand in line to pay for the food. And then find a seat. They now have 15 minutes to scarf down whatever was left by the time they got to the line. Oh, wait, did I say 15 minutes? I meant 12 because they still have to stand in line to throw it away. Stop at the bathroom. And make it back to class on time. 

The boys decided that was all too much! And I agreed! So we started packing. (I started packing). It wasn't so bad at first, but then we found that while I was buying the things they wanted to put in their lunchboxes, the little weasels were eating it before it had a chance to make it to lunch. So inevitably, every Wednesday night, I was running to Walgreens to get drinks or chips or "something sweet". Argh.

I put a stop to that about a month in by putting three baskets in the pantry with their names on them- and after grocery shopping, I putting 5 of everything in each basket. (And yes, I was guilt-packing lunch for Chickadee for her last semester of high school- and actually, I still am in her second semester of college) . This was working out very well for us- we were guaranteed to have everything we needed for lunches for the whole week! Most nights, I could even convince them to pack the unrefrigerated things into their lunch boxes and put them on the counter, so that all I needed to do was add the sandwich and fruit in the morning!

It is still working out great for us- with one little change. The baskets were taking up a little more room than what we have in our pantry. And with them getting jostled around, cookies and chips were getting crushed. And when you are having a crap day in middle school, the last thing you want to happen is to sit down at the lunch table and find that you have chip crumbs and cookie dust.

To alleviate that problem, I added a 3 drawer sterilite container to the bottom of the pantry. One drawer per Little. It works out so much better because nothing can get stuck on top of  and crush the food that is in each drawer. And the drawers are much larger than the baskets were. 

When we go shopping on the weekend (which don't be fooled, I still hate the shopping part),  each one of the not-so-littles will open boxes and add 5 of everything to his/her drawer. If there's anything left in the boxes, those go up on the shelves with the regular snacks. The best part is they ALL know that those drawers are off limits during the week for snacking! They also know that I will NOT go back to the store during the week to buy things that are supposed to be in lunches. (This ensures that they stay out)!

The drawers turned out to be a space saver and a time saver. 

Hopefully this is something that can make your mornings a little easier with your littles!
Have a great week!

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