Living on a Shoestring Budget--Literally!

Friday, October 30, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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My husband and I often laugh about my frugal ways! He often gives me a hard time, all in fun, about something I'm doing like making my own laundry detergent or going paperless in the kitchen. At the same time, we are definitely partners in crime, and this proves it:

The other day he said, "You would be proud of me! I was cleaning out the garage and I threw away a pair of work boots that were about 10 years old. But before I threw them away, I saved the laces because they are still good, and the laces are shot in my other old work boots that I still like to wear!"

If that isn't cute, I don't know what is! I have a great hubby--he's handy and he does laundry too! I was also very happy when he was on board with beginning our total money makeover. I have a few Handy Husband tips to share soon--can't wait!

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25 Things I Love about Minnesota -- #11-15

by Jen · 1 comments
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(My husband and I vacationing on the North Superior Shoreline)

So I really am sorry (kind of) if you read Cents in the Cities and you don't really care about Minnesota. Now that I am not a "deal finding blog" (not that I ever was except in my mind) I feel so free to write about whatever I want! And this is one of those things! One post a week. . . for a few weeks! Hope you can bear with me! It makes me feel good!

15. The best blue skies and sunshine on the coldest days of the year! We lived in another snowy state for a while that had a lot of "lake effect" snow, and the skies were always dark and dreary! I love the beauty of a cold, cold day! If it has to be cold, at least it's sunny!

14. Blossoming Crab Apple Trees -- You know that spring is finally here when the trees are blooming. They're everywhere in my neighborhood, and I love driving or walking through. The fragrance in the air is so refreshing! And they are beautiful at the MN Landscape Arboretum if you catch them at their peak!

13. Minnesota Sports -- So I admit I am a fair weather fan, but I come from a family of die-hard Twins and Vikings fans, so it's fun to cheer them on, even if it's only once in a while. My middle guy is just starting to get the idea of routing for our teams, and he looks so cute in his Twins cap and shirt! I think Vikings gear will be under the Christmas tree this year.

12. Great Shopping Malls -- So, OK, I'm not really a big "mall" shopper. I just don't shop the mall very often--perhaps it's too tempting. But I love that I have so many really great malls around me (at least 4 really good ones)--probably within a 5 mile radius. Most of you know that the Twin Cities is home to the Mall of America, and, honestly, I hardly ever go there because there are so many other great malls that are closer and easier to access. So even though I don't mall shop a lot, I'm glad to have the option--lots of them!

11. The North Superior Shore Line -- Growing up in Southern MN, we never went north of Duluth--I think it was too far. So a few years ago, we packed up the kids and took a 4 day vacation to the North Shore--and I was memorized! We loved the beautiful views as we drove and all of the beautiful waterfalls that were within perfect walking distance for little legs (my kids were 3 and 5 at the time). We loved it so much that summer, my husband and I returned in October for a Bed and Breakfast stay--it was great to see how all of the water falls changed with the seasons! And the golden fall leaves of the birch trees were breathtaking! We have yet to canoe the Boundary Waters (and we call ourselves Minnesotans?)--maybe when my kids are older and we are more in shape. I just can't help it--I have to share a few picts from our visit:

#16-20 and #21-25 Things I Love about Minnesota

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Playing with Our Food!

Thursday, October 29, 2009 by Jen · 10 comments

"Mom, Mom, look at this! The eggs are eyes! And the bananas are teeth! Can I have a cup of water?"

"What for?"

"Another arm. And when you are done making the peanut butter sandwich, it can be hair."

Oh the creativity of a five year old--it's definitely a finer thing! And so is eating lunch, at the counter, before preschool--playing with our food--seeing the sly grin on my middle guy's face -- nothing better for this mom!

This post is linked to Just for the Joy of It and Finer Things Friday.

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My Grocery "Cents" This Week--Making a $42 Budget Work

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 by Jen · 5 comments
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So you all know that I'm trying to make a very limited grocery budget work for our family. And I did great last week! I stuck to about $70, and I never even made it to Target. So I actually had about $70 to work with this week for both groceries and household stuff. . . that is until we made the "this is too cheap even for us" mistake!

So when all was said and done, I had $42 to spend this week on groceries and household. I was determined to make this happen, and I'm pretty proud of how I did! The strategy I used was to shop at more than one store--for the best deals only. My total OOP was $47.29 -- only $5.29 over budget, and I think I have the food I need to feed my family. Not bad if you ask me. Read Entire Post for the details.

Here's how I shopped. I did most of this shopping on one day but I had to make one more trip to Rainbow to make it all work.

1. Rainbow -- I shopped on Wed so I could double 5 of my $1 coupons. I got 4 yogurts free, a 12 pk toilet paper for $4, bone in chicken breast and fryer pieces for about $5 (will use to make broth and some pasta dishes), bag of potatoes for $1, split top wheat for $.78 (not whole grain I know, but couldn't turn down the price), 1 milk, 1 egg, leaf lettuce, and one bag Halloween candy. Total OOP: $17.94 (saved $25.46 with coupons/in store specials)

2. Cub -- I bought 4 Kraft Mac N Cheese for $1 (I will hide mashed squash in these), bag of potatoes for $1 (I'm planing to making potato soup with all the potatoes and broth), and syrup. Total OOP: $4.

3. Target -- 85% ground beef was on sale for $1.99 a lb. Since we were out and the price was great, I decided to buy 4. Since milk and eggs were NOT on sale this week, I found the best prices here and bought 1 milk and 1 egg, and string cheese for $3. Total OOP:$14.34

(Note: I have been using a Target gift card to buy diapers each week, so this expense doesn't come out of my budget right now. I should make it until the end of December--then I will have to adjust budget.)

4. Rainbow -- So I returned Thursday for some of their 3 day specials and bought 2 8 oz block cheeses $2, 1 Jack's pizza ($2), bananas $.89, ice cream $1.89 (for apple crisp), and 2 bags chocolate chips $4 (cheaper at Target, but forgot to buy them). Total OOP $11.01

So total OOP was $47.29. I found some loose change to cover some of this, so I'm really only in the whole about $3. That's success for me. You will notice that I didn't shop for much produce this week because I have enough left over from last week. Once payday comes next week, I will be hitting the stores for fresh fruits and veggies.

Thanks for reading my Grocery "Cents" in the Twin Cities this week! I love to talk shopping on a budget. How's it going for you?

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When Cheap Is Too Cheap--Our Mistake

by Jen · 2 comments

When I read Christina's post on the Stingy Scoundrel, I thought, "She's talking about me!" I'm kind of ashamed to admit what we did, but I figure, might as well get it all out here.

We live about 20 minutes from the MSP airport, so we often serve as airport taxi for my retired parents who take trips fairly often. We really don't mind at all, we have a great spot to park an extra car, and we like spending time with the Grandparents in our home.

So on Saturday afternoon, I was picking up my Mom from the airport, and I realized that I didn't have enough ground beef (with extra person) to make the hamburgers I was planning, and I didn't want to stop at the grocery store. So while on the phone with my husband, I told him to take some chicken breast out of the freezer and we would have hamburger and chicken breast. He wasn't too excited about this option, but I was going with it.

The problem was I really didn't want to cook, and my husband didn't really want to cook, and Highway 494 was closed at 35W, so my 20 minute trip to the airport actually took 60 minutes.

So when we got home at 5:45, I was tired, but I knew I didn't want to spend money on take out. So I asked my Mom, "Would you pay for Chinese take-out since we picked you up from the airport?" And of course she said "yes." At the time it seemed reasonable--we were hungry, we wanted food, we didn't want to pay--what were we thinking!

Here my Mom was a guest in my house and I asked her to pay for dinner. I really can't believe I did this. Yes we are trying to save money, and yes, my Mom knows about our frugal ways, but that just isn't an excuse. I am 37 years old, and my Mom should not have to buy me food in my own house! Plus, I should not treat a guest this way! I'm pretty disgusted with myself.

So before I planned my grocery shopping for the week, I took the $35 out of my fund to give back to my Mom (yes--$35. We never would have spent this much on take out if it were our money!) with a huge apology--"Our actions were soooo uncool!"

I should have just stopped at the grocery store. And bought another pound of hamburger. At full price. It would have been cheaper and smarter and my integrity would still be intact. Live and learn--we all make mistakes.

Thanks for reading!

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Menu Planning Before Grocery Shopping

by Jen · 1 comments
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I can't believe it's already Wednesday, and I haven't posted at all. We've been playing catch up at our house. I finally got thank you cards in the mail for my middle guy's 5th birthday and my babe's baptism. I'm terrible at timely thank yous--when will I learn!

And we've been working on the laundry. I was almost two weeks behind (we've been pulling clean clothes from the baskets--I know--at least they're clean! And I finally had to ask my husband (who is home most mornings) for HELP! I'm very blessed to have a very efficient husband who will do laundry. At the same time, it frustrates me that he can get all of the laundry done in one morning--something that would take me at least a week to accomplish--seriously! I even had to check the kid's rooms to make sure he got it all--and he did! I'm starting a new laundry system--I'll let you know how it's working!

Whew! Glad to get all that off my chest! I actually sat down on Sunday and planned out our family menu for the week, so thought I'd share it with you as part of my grocery budget planning. My goal is to eat the food we have on hand for this week's menu, and most of the groceries I buy this week will go to plan next week's meals. It's working ahead a little--but not too much.

It's hard for me to plan each day--locking in to a strict schedule just doesn't work for me. So I plan an assortment of meals to chose from. The KEY is to pick your meals the day or two before so your frozen meat is defrosted!

So here you go. You will notice lots of apple recipes. I have apples galore from the orchard and from Aldi last week.

Breakfast (we also have fruit at every breakfast):
1 Lazy Granola --(I love Amy's recipes! I made this last week, and my middle guy (who eats nothing but PB&J these days) LOVED it! Felt good that he was at least getting some whole grains! And so easy)
2 Baked Apple Pancakes (see upcoming post for recipe)
3 Eggs
4 cereal
5 toast
6 yogurt (I'm getting lots of free yogurt by doubling coupons at Rainbow on Weds)

Lunch (also fruit and raw veggies)
1. tortillas with melted cheese
2 salami sandwiches
3 chicken nuggets--homemade (DS loved them; DD didn't--can't win them all)
4 bologna sandwiches
5 leftovers

Dinner (usually paired with vegetable, starch, and perhaps a fruit)
1 Tacos
2 Pork Loin
3 Hamburgers, potatoes, corn
4 Salmon (we like the Aldi's frozen in 4 servings for $3.99)
5 Chicken Noodle Casserole
6 Pizza (frozen)
7 Chicken Pesto Pasta

1. apple muffins
2 chocolate pumpkin muffins
3. Cinnamon Butternut Squash muffins (want to try these--do you think it will work with acorn squash?)
4 popcorn
5 almonds (love the price at Trader Joe's)
6 Smoothies
7 string cheese

1 apples with caramel
2 apple crisp

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25 Things I Love about Minnesota #16-20

Friday, October 23, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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20. Harvest time. I love driving down country roads or H14 and seeing the farmers in the fields. And driving along and slowing down for all of the tractors or combines (is that how you spell combine?) or whatever they are called these days reminds me that I am in Minnesota -- farm country.

19. Small Town/Church Cookbooks. Looking for 8 ways to make Apple Crisp? Just get out the hometown cookbooks and you're bound to find a recipe that will work for you. It's home cooking at it's best--from the best home cooks. As a gift, my Mom gave me her church's cookbook where she shared all of our family favorite recipes! These too make great gifts!

18. Minnesota authors -- I love reading books where the setting is near and dear to my heart--I love feeling the connection to the location. Some of my favorites are Jon Hassler, Laura Ingalls Wilder (we Minnesotans know that she only lived a few years here, but I still count her), Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy/Tacy books), Wanda Gag (Millions of Cats), Garrison Keillor. This summer, I also enjoyed a YA book called The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, by Susan Runholt--great details about Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. I'm sure I'm forgetting tons--please share your favorites.

17. The Cold -- we are a hearty bunch! We can handle it!

16. Pick Your Own Apple Orchards. The cold cut the season short this year, but a few weeks ago, we were able to pick some apples. There are fancy dancy orchards with music and treats, but we prefer the down-home ones where you can pet a goat or horse, taste a few samples, and then walk or take a tractor ride out to the apples to pick, pick, pick to our hearts content. Our favorite apple varieties this year were Sweet 16 and Honey Gold, not to be confused with Honey Crisp--deliciously sweet apples create at the U of MN. I've been cooking with apples--will post some picts and recipes this upcoming week.

#25-21 Things I Love about MN

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Jen's List

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So forever ago, I decided to start Jen's list, but never really got going with it. I think it's a great idea, and anyway, it will help me keep track of all of the interesting things I find out in bloggy land--"where did I hear about that again?" Let me check my list!

I already make my own chicken broth, but Kitchen Stewardship has tons of helpful hints that I want to apply to my own process.

How to Cut Boys Hair part one and two (Heavenly Homemaker) -- if you could see my little guys hair right now, you would know that I SOOOOOOO need this post!

I'm so excited to make my own baby wrap. The YouTube video was so helpful. (Thanks BabyGoodBuys) (So after I sat on this a few days, I realize that I am not going to tackle this one--still think it's a great idea).

Natural Kitchen Cleaners -- I never thought about using hydrogen peroxide as a cleaner--I might try it. (Kitchen Stewardship)

The Ultimate Spice Cupboard -- I love the Mason jar idea! (Beautiful Calling)

I want to try making a basket of herbs like this! Looks perfect for the winter. (Musings on the Simple Life)

My Husband would LOVE this Cheeseburger Soup (Will Travel by Foot)

The only time I ever get a chance to talk on the phone is when I'm in the car alone with the baby. I don't text, but this post is making me think about changing me ways--
Never Drive While InTexticated (Live Laugh Love and Blogging)

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Making the Minnesota Connection

Thursday, October 22, 2009 by Jen · 1 comments
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It seems like I am running into lots of new MN blogs lately, so I thought I would update my list. I started Cents in the Cities because I wanted to have fun blogging about saving money and my fun, frugal ways. When I started in February 2008, there were few blogs (that I knew of) talking about the stores in my area. But eight months later, I am finding more and more great resources out there.

I love to read lots of sites from all over the country (and connect with those great people as well). But I also like that hometown feel--that Minnesota connection. So below is my alphabetic list of the money saving or family blogs that I know of with Minnesota authorship. If you know of others, please feel free to leave a comment and share your resources. And, as always, if you enjoy what you are reading at Cents in the Cities, please share my web address with others. Thanks for reading and for making the Minnesota Connection with me!

Bargains and Advice to Save Big on Baby

The Cheap Chick

Clara's Minneapolis/St. Paul Blog

Deal Spotter (connected with the MSP Star Tribune)

Minnesota Coupon Adventure

Minnesota Penny Pincher


Pocket Your Dollars

Saving My Nickels

Spin the Deal

Travels with Children

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The Grocery Tutor

by Jen · 1 comments
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I love to make a Minnesota Connection! When I was doubling my coupons at Rainbow this week, and searching for the Kashi cereal (free coupon), I met Beth from The Grocery Tutor in the cereal aisle (recognized her from her picture.) We had a really nice conversation, and it was great talking in person about coupons, savings, and how someone else finds the great deals! Nice to meet you Beth!

On her blog, Beth says, "I am an avid grocery deal gal! I have learned to maximize my grocery dollars in a way that helps me save several hundred dollars a month. This has crossed over into all areas of my shopping! I am looking for opportunities to share this knowledge with other shoppers!"

So if you haven't already, head over to the Grocery Tutor today!

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Tattoos, Pneumonia, and Other "That Family" Moments

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments

Congratulations to Kristen at We are THAT Family on her 2nd Blogoversary! To help her celebrate, I am participating in her carnival and sharing some of our "THAT family" moments:

--I knew we were "THAT family" when I was talking on the phone with a friend, and I learned that, after a recent playdate at our house, her daughter came home with two or three lovely tattoos on her face. I knew that the girls were doing play makeup in the bathroom. . . but this was news to me. I think I was taking care of some very important matters (i.e. blogging or emails).

--Remember when you made me go sledding with Pneumonia? We knew we were "THAT family" when we were staying with my in-laws and took our 4 year old daughter sledding down "Charlie's Hill." She had been sick with a temp earlier in the week, but we thought it had passed--only tummy aches at night. So when we had returned home in the evening (after 2 nights away), our daughter still had the stomach pain, and the pediatrician was closed. So we headed to the emergency room at Children's Hospital, where my daughter described her pain as an 8 (on a scale of 1-10). I saw the cloudy lung x-ray and was shocked to learn that my dd had pneumonia! Now that she's 7, she doesn't let us forget it--remember when Mom . . .

--I knew we were "THAT family" when I take clothes out of the dirty clothes basket for my daughter to wear to school.

--I knew we were "THAT family" when on a sub zero day, we are on are way out of Target, and my kid is walking to the car with out a coat or socks. I figure why fight the battle. He'll just get cold and decide to wear clothes.

--I knew we were "THAT family" when we had to tear the car apart to find the rotting piece of food that was making our car smell like road kill. "Are you sure there isn't a mouse rotting in a vent somewhere?" Once it was a gross rotten, rotten apple. A few month later it was the entire bottle of water that spilled and got moldy under the floor mat. And once a not so pretty barely eaten bologna sandwich (my son refused to eat it with mayo and found a nice hiding spot for it).

--I used to make sure my son wore presentable clothing, especially when going to the doctor's office. But I knew we were "THAT family" when we went to the pediatrician and the doctor was the first one to notice that my son's underwear were on backwards. I'm sure he has worn them to preschool this way as well. Now that he's five, he's doing his own wiping, and I don't check him at all any more, but every once in a while I get a whiff of him. See, we really are "THAT family."

If you have some of your own "THAT family moments, join in the fun, share your stores, and perhaps win a prize or two. Thanks for reading.

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My Cents on Bread

by Jen · 5 comments
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So I've been having some issues with bread these days. My family eats a lot of bread. We like sandwiches. We like toast. This summer, we ate a lot of the "split top wheat" because it had more slices in it than the whole grain, and it often went on sale for $1 a loaf--can't beat that. So lately, I've switched back to buying 100 percent whole grain bread. Hence my problem: I want inexpensive whole grain bread! I am unwilling to pay over $2 a loaf, and I definitely won't pay 3 something for the name brand bread. So I buy store brand bread, but where should I buy it:

Aldi -- You know I love Aldi, and right now I think there 100 percent whole wheat bread sells for around $1.69. But a few too many times, their bread has been dry. For a while I refused to buy bread there, but I recently picked up a few loaves, and was surprised at the texture--very good. But then we had another dry one. Should I chance it and keep buying? It's not a good deal if it's cheap but dry.

Rainbow --Their whole wheat bread doesn't have the texture I want. Feels too much like the split top bread, so I don't know if it's healthy. (I don't have the ingredient list in front of me, but is supposedly is made with 100% whole wheat, but not sure if whole grain). It's a smaller loaf than the split wheat and sells in the $1.90's.

Cub -- Their store brand whole wheat bread is probably my favorite and sells in the $1.90's as well.

Making Whole Grain Bread -- We need sandwich bread, and what I have been able to produce in the breadmaker just doesn't work for sandwiches.

Bread Outlet Stores -- If you know of a good one in the South or West metro area, let me know? I haven't found one, but maybe I'm not looking in the right place.

So what did I buy this week???? Well I was heading to Rainbow today and we were sadly out of bread (as my unhappy hubbie was trying to make a sandwich to take to work). And since the budget was tight, I picked up two loaves of the split top wheat for $1.75 each. Not my best choice, but at least we have bread.

So please share your opinion and help me out. Where do you buy the best bread? What do you consider when buying your bread? I can't believe I'm blogging about bread but it's a topic that my mind keeps coming back to.

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My Grocery "Cents" in the Cities This Week

by Jen · 1 comments
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As I mentioned, I'm trying really hard to stay within my $60 grocery budget and $20 household budget. Here's what I did:

1. Aldi -- I chose to go to Aldi this week because I really didn't see tons of deals at the other stores I shop at. I needed to buy quite a bit of produce, and they had the best prices of the week. I got 3 bags of apples for $1.19 each, so I have a lot of apple dishes in my menu. I spent $54.64 total, and I feel like I got lots of food at great prices.

2. Rainbow --I scrambled to put together an order to take advantage of double coupon day at Rainbow. And as you can see from what I spent at Aldi, I had a little over $5 to stay within my $60 grocery budget. Thankfully, I don't need to buy many household items this week, so I am using that budget to help me finish my grocery shopping. And I did awesome at Rainbow:

The best deal there was buying the B1G1 Yoplait yogurts. Here's how it worked: I bought 2 for the B1 price of $2.59, and was able to double coupons to get $4 off my order. One word--overage! And I bought 4 yogurts total. So pretty much I got the yogurt free with $2.82 to apply to my other purchases. So I bought yogurts, 2 milks, 2 bread, 2 16oz cheeses, and my total out of pocket was $13.58. This was great shopping for me.

I also met and had a nice conversation with Beth who runs The Grocery Tutor. It's always nice to talk coupons and make that Minnesota connection.

3. Target -- I plan to use my remaining $11 to buy a few household items including the razor deal here this week.

What I learned this week:

Aldi -- Because everything is so inexpensive at Aldi, I'm pretty willing to throw things in my cart at random, but this adds up way too fast! If I'm going to stick to my budget, I need to make a shopping list that I stick to!

Rainbow -- I need to pay closer attention to the coupons out there that can help me build my order to $25 but that can reduce my OOP. I need to do a better job of scanning the Sunday supplements when they arrive to pull out the coupons for free or close to free stuff. Carrie's picks at Pocket Your Dollars is one resource that can help me identify what q's to pull.

It does feel good to get a few deals, to have control over my budget, and to have food to feed my family this week. That's my Cents in the Cities grocery summary for the week.

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I Love Beef in Bulk! Cook and Freeze!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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Can I just say that I love beef in bulk--frozen in my freezer. Lately, it has saved me from running out to fast food or feeding my child peanut butter and jelly--again. Just last night, I needed to take a stash of meat from my freezer. I was planning to make a beef roast that was defrosting in the fridge, but the day got away from me (too much budgeting on the mind), and I didn't get it in the oven in time. So at 4:30, I was trying to figure out what I was going to make. So, I pulled out some frozen pre-cooked beef, put it together with some pasta and pasta sauce and I had dinner in 15 minutes. I know this is not a fancy recipe, but it worked for me.

I love having cooked beef in the freezer because there are so many quick and easy dishes I can build in a matter of minutes--pasta, tacos, sloppy joes, chili, etc. Having the beef on hand helps me plan for the times when I haven't done my menu planning. I also HATE paying full price for meat, and buying your meat/protein on sale is one of the best ways to save at the grocery store.

Basically what I do is get out my largest fry pan and brown the beef with chopped onion and green pepper. I will season with salt, pepper, and some Worcestershire sauce. Depending on how I feel and what I have on hand, I might throw in some other diced or shredded veggies (celery, mushrooms, zucchini, squash). The other thing I like to do is mix ground turkey with ground beef--tastes great and still has that ground beef color and texture.

Then I package it in 1 or 2 cup servings and freeze in plastic containers or bags. According to one of my favorite cookbooks, Cheap, Fast, Good, you should be able to get 3 cups from every pound of cooked beef.

I might also boil up some pasta, pre-mix the meat with some pasta sauce, and freeze with cheese on top--now ready to pull out of the freezer and bake.

Don't kid yourself--this still takes time and energy! You might have to stop and entertain the kids, feed the baby, leave the mess while heading off to soccer practice, but seriously, the savings at the store and the food in the freezer is so worth it!

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Planning for Success --Grocery Budget Help!

by Jen · 3 comments
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I have a big confession. I have the hardest time staying within my grocery budget. I over spend every week! Bad, bad, I know. You might think that my budget is too small, and yes, I agree--it is too small! At the same time, my family is cutting back in order to make our total money makeover happen. I am excited to make that happen, so keeping that in mind, I can do a better job of trying to stay within my grocery budget.

Here's the plan: I have a grocery budget of $60 a week--all for food, and a household budget (the Target Walgreens stuff) of $20, so that's a weekly total of $80. I'm going to try, try, try as hard as I can to NOT overspend, and I will be accountable here at Cents in the Cities every week. I'll let you know how I'm doing it each week. We might be eating a lot of rice and beans, but that's OK. We like beans. Oh, and the other thing: I'm going to try to keep things on the healthier side--whole grains, more produce, less sugar. $80 for all of that? Can I do it? You betcha!

Here are a few things I think will help me stay within the budget. It all involves careful planning:

1. Plan menu before going to the store! Planning the menu using the best sale items of the week is key!

2. Shop at more than one grocery store, mainly buying their very, very best deals! This can be a little tricky, because I have the tendency to spend more if I shop more places. I need to be very specific in what I am buying!

3. Use coupons. Even though I'm buying healthy, there are still tons of coupons I can use. I'm going to try to take advantage of the BEST deals, not all the deals.

4. Embrace the philosophy that I am not going to be able to do all of the deals! With a small budget, it's harder to stockpile. I can do some, but I need to stay within the planned dollar amount.

5. Shop at Aldi--here I can save tons without coupons.

Those are a few ideas off the top of my head. I'll let you know soon how this week's grocery trip went. Feel free to share any thoughts you might have on sticking with a grocery budget! I'm going to need lots of help so let me know your tips and tricks for making your grocery budget work for you!

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Beginning Our Total Money Makeover

Monday, October 19, 2009 by Jen · 5 comments
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Monday is my husband's day off, and I didn't get any posts in today because we were busy beginning our Total Money Makeover. And I have to tell you, we are both really excited!

It all started when my friend Lisa at Simply Things Family mentioned the book The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey. So as I often do, I popped over to my library's website and reserved a copy of the book. Now I had heard quite a few people drop Dave Ramsey's name and the term "debt snowball" in their blog posts, but I didn't really pay that much attention. We were budgeting and doing just fine, or so I thought.

A few weeks later, I picked up the book at the library, read it, and I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED what Dave Ramsey had to say! What surprised me even more was that my husband read it, and he really got the message as well. These are a few of the things that really struck me:

1. Using credit does NOT have to be a way of life. Credit card companies and banks that provide credit are not really trying to help you! They are trying to make money--and they make tons of money! We watched the DVD Maxed Out, which also shed even more light on how the consumer is hurt when using credit! It's so exciting to consider living a life where you are totally in charge of your money--totally debt free.

2. We CAN save an emergency fund. With all the hub bub talk about the recession, so many TV financial people recommend having an emergency fund (your monthly income for 4-6 month saved). I would look at our finances and I would see no way possible to make this happen. With the typical debt and savings methods we used, it would take us 20 years to save an emergency fund! But using this new method, we see how we could save and create this fund in a very short time (say 2 years)--now there's excitement for you!

3. We CAN save for college and retirement. We were given some bad advice from a financial planner to use a universal life insurance plan to save for college (a huge no no in Dave's book). We didn't know that the people who sell these plans make a HUGE profit , especially in the first few years of the investment. So, live and learn, we are getting out of this bad life insurance and planning for the future in a way that makes sense to us!

4. We have the power in our hands to really make this happen! It doesn't really need to be complicated! We can follow a simple plan, one that involves changing our behavior to accomplish our goals. It's just good old fashioned common sense--something your grandmother might teach you. And you know I love my Grandma--she makes great pie!

So from all of this, my husband and I have decided to get on board with Ramsey's Total Money Makeover in order to become completely debt free (besides our mortgage) within the next three years! Today, we finalized our budget where every dollar is accounted for, and we completed step 1 with a $1000 emergency fund set aside. We are set to get our debt snowball rolling and to start paying down the debt we have.

I'll give you periodic updates to let you know where we are in the process and how it's working for us. If you are unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey, I would suggest checking out his books (and other financial authors) at your local library. It's free and interesting reading. If you are familiar with Ramsey's plan, I'd love to hear how his plan or advice HAS worked for you. Thanks for reading!

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25 Things I Love about Minnesota #21-25

Thursday, October 15, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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(I love the fall pictures at the above link)

I'm going to indulge myself here and talk Minnesota. Early in our marriage, we lived in another state, which was truly a great experience; but while we were there, we longed to return to MN. Now that we've been back for eight years, we still love it for a number of simple reasons:

25. The Awesome Fall Colors. There is nothing like Minnesota in the Fall! I especially love driving down H169 to southern MN in the river valley--just beautiful. The birch trees on the North Superior shore are also amazing! And actually just driving through my neighborhood, I'm always awe struck by the reds, oranges, and golds. I hope the early cold won't affect the colors this season--I'm thinking not.

24. Target! Did you know that Target's headquarters is in Minneapolis--of course you Minnesotans know this. When my husband first started his job, we had to leave the state. I told him I would go anywhere as long as there was a Target. My sister now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina (why she would choose to leave MN, I'm not quite sure), and she drives 30 minutes to her Target. One day I was talking to her on my cel and had to point out that I drove by THREE Targets in order to get to MY Target--the main one I shop at . I love living within a three mile radius of four Targets. That's MN for you (or at least the Twin Cities).

23. Great Libraries. We live in Hennepin County, and in the opinion of this librarian, it's an excellent system. I also believe that we are very fortunate in the entire state to have strong public libraries and great collaborative resources.

22. Fishing off the dock. One of my favorite things about going to "the cabin" (we don't really have a cabin, but we do rent one or borrow one or go with friends) is fishing for sunnies off the dock--especially at sunset. There's nothing like a sunset over a MN lake.

21. Snow, snow and more snow. I love a mid-winter blizzard, especially when you have no where to go and are home cozy in front of the fire place. What's even more fun is heading out the next day into that crisp, fresh, white world. Snowman building, snow angels, and sledding, here we come!

What do you love about Minnesota? Or feel free to share about where you live? Stay tuned for my continued list. Thanks for reading!

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Blog Reading Simplified

by Jen · 2 comments
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I love reading lots of blogs on living life, saving money, and shopping deals. The problem is my Goggle Reader gets bogged down with tons of posts--especially when I hadn't been reading for a few days. At times I would have over 600 posts, and I would end up deleting them all because there was no way to read them all!

So every once in a while I would clean house and simplify. I would go through and delete the blogs I wasn't reading. I would also delete many of the"shopping deals" blogs because there were often duplicate deals and store sales I didn't care about. Here's a screen shot of what my Reader would typically look like. I would have to scroll through tons of text in order to read my blogs. When my reader was especially full, I would just click on the blogs I really liked from my folders and read those posts, and I would delete the other 500 posts. This picture below shows the expanded view. . . until I finally got with the program. . .

All I had to do was change the view from Expanded to LIST and I was able to only see the blog titles. This has totally changed how I read blogs. NOW, I can just scroll through the title list and read the ones I am interested in. I add new blogs all of the time, and when I am done reading the posts that interest me, I hit "mark all as read" and it cleans everything up. An easy way to manage tons and tons of posts and not miss the good deals.

Perhaps you knew about this feature. I'm just catching up. Thanks for reading!

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Twin Cities Kids Sales

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Twin Cities Kids Sales is a link my sister-in-law shared with me about a month ago, and I'm just getting the chance to share it with you. At Twin Cities Kids Sales, they provide a calendar of Twin Cities kids consignment sales and also information about the sales by region of the Twin Cities. It looks like more of the sales were happening in August and September, but there are two upcoming ones later in October and November. If they continue to update this with winter and spring sales, it will be a great resource! Hope it might help you with your kid's shopping--perhaps even Christmas shopping (actually the sale in November is a holiday sale--go figure). Happy shopping!

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10 Activities for MEA Weekend

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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In Minnesota, most schools are not in session Thursday and Friday--traditionally known as MEA weekend. Since we are staying home and my husband is working three of the four days in this long weekend, I have been trying to come up with some fun activities that the kids and I can do together that cost next to nothing. So Read Entire Post for my MEA family activities--for cents--in the Cities:

1. Head to the Dollar Store for Halloween decorations. It turns out my daughter thinks we need some, and we have none. Now a crafty person without a baby would just plan to make some, but that's not me. I'm thinking I can let each child pick out three items (parent approved of course) and we can spend an afternoon decorating away! Total cost: $6 and some change.

2. Make and decorate Halloween cookies. I have some Halloween cookie cutters that I got at a garage sale at least three years ago that I have yet to use. What a great opportunity to get messy with frosting. Since I have all of the cookie/frosting ingredients, the only cost would be sprinkles if I want to go there. Maybe the dollar store carries some? I'll check.

3. Head to the library. When in doubt, I always think library! With school starting, we rarely get to the library together, so this is a great opportunity. We can play with the puppets, read books together, and pick out some books for family reading and a DVD for movie night. Now that's entertainment at it's best for me! Total Cost: free.

4. Have a few playdates! Since my daughter doesn't get home until close to 4 pm, and we are often busy with activities, this is a perfect chance to have some friends over!

5. Head to a few toy stores and start making Christmas lists (great chance for me to see new things my kids are interested in)--but go with the strict rule that we are buying NOTHING.

6. Head outside for a walk to the park--weather permitting of course. The way things are going, we might just take a walk around the block. With a little bit of snow, my kids already have hot cocoa on their minds, so end with that little treat!

7. Rake up a pile of leaves for jumping and dancing. Don't forget to get out the camera.

8. If there's any snow left in your yard, have a snowball fight (that's right, it has already snowed in MN, don't we love it!). OK, so I just checked and there is no snow left in our yard, but it's still cold out--especially in the mornings. So I am amending this to playing puzzles and games in front of the warm fire--there's nothing better!

9. Head to Ikea for 99 cent breakfast. Because of the flu season, we will be skipping the play area, but my kids also love exploring all of the room displays--perfect entertainment. This will cost us a little over $3.

10. Head over to the bowling alley for a free game of bowling. These are actually meant to hand out on Halloween, but I think we could also use one. I'm guessing that this will be our most expensive option because we will probably end up paying for a few more games and snacks, but it could be somewhat inexpensive. End with pizza night at home. (Did you see that Cub has a store coupon for $1.99 Jack's pizza this week? We just had one recently, and surprisingly it was very good).

So that's my top 10 list for MEA activies for cents in the Twin Cities. Hope you all have a great long weekend. And if your kids are in school and you are doing the usual, hope that's great for you as well! Thanks for reading.

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One Healthy Babe

by Jen · 0 comments
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Just wanted to let you know that my little babe will be 12 weeks this week, and he is doing awesome. After lots of worries, tears, one blood transfusion, iron drops, weekly trips to the doctor, and lots of heel pricks, his hemoglobin is now at a "normal" level for a newborn----yeah!

We are still giving iron/vitamin drops, but we don't have to go back to the doctor until his four month check up--wonderful! It's been a stressful few weeks, something which I think has affected our family dynamic as well, but we are finally getting into a nice routine.

As you parents out there know, there are always issues and concerns with your children. There's always something--it's just part of the package.
On one of the more stressful weeks this summer, I remember praying, "God, please help me focus on my job right now, which is to love this child and to be there to support him while he experiences the pain that is unavoidable as we try to help him get better. Help me control the tears and do the job of being this baby's mom, and the rest is in Your hands." It can still be hard for me to recognize my job and to stop the tears when in the heat of a particular situation, and I am especially worried about the upcoming influenza season, but I'm going to keep trying and keep praying. I love being a mom and feel so humbled that God has entrusted three of His beautiful children in my care.

Thanks for reading Cents in the Cities!

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by Jen · 3 comments
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Thanks for checking out Cents in the Cities! I'm Jen, a MN mom, trying to live on cents, hopefully with a little sense, in the Twin Cities. I'm doing the best I can to take care of my family, to live a full and energized life, and to spend less money in the process. Cents in the Cities is a place where I can share my story, process my thoughts, and perhaps share a deal or two. Here are a few of the things I am passionate about:

--All things having to do with raising children, caring for family, and living life in simplicity. I have three children--one girl (age 7) and two boys (ages 5 and 3 months).

--Household ideas that save money and might be kind to the Earth in the process.

--Our family's attempt to become totally debt free. We are just beginning a new process, a new journey, and I'm excited to see where it will take us.

--Strategies to stay within our grocery budget. It seems I am never able to make this happen, so sharing my challenges and triumphs here will hopefully encourage my success.

--Healthy living on less. I am challenged to use coupons and the sales to buy healthier food that better nurtures my family. I'm not a health nut by any means--actually far from it--just trying to do better.

--All things Minnesota including family fun, entertainment, values, and more. I live in a southwest suburb of Minneapolis, and I love Minnesota—it’s a great place to live! Though I love where we live, I really am a small town girl at heart and enjoy my connection to the southern part of the state as well. And if you read and aren't from MN, I really won't hold it against you.

--Cooking in the Kitchen. I just like talking about and taking pictures of the food I cook. This is just plain fun for me.

So that's what you will find here at Cents in the Cities. Hope you might enjoy the reading as much as I enjoy the writing.

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To Blog or Not to Blog?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 by Jen · 4 comments
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I began Cents in the Cities in February 2009 because I wanted to talk shopping deals--specifically at MN stores. At the time, I had just started reading lots of blogs, and there were no blogs out there focusing on the MN grocery stores that I shop at--Cub and Rainbow. I spent lots of evenings (and late nights), while my husband was working and the kids were sleeping, pouring over the technical details of running a blog and trying to decide what I really wanted to say. And I loved it! It became a new outlet for me to express myself.

Since then a few things have changed and I've learned a few things:

Coupon Match Ups Are Time Consuming
One thing I learned was I really don't like putting huge coupon/store flier match ups together--it's a lot of work, and I'm not very fast at doing it! And though there are accepted practices of borrowing shopping lists from other blogs and and coupon forums--even when giving credit--I didn't feel comfortable borrowing someone else's complete list -- the librarian in me couldn't get past the copyright implications.

I'll just say that I wanted to do the work from scratch, and that kind of workload wasn't reasonable for me (especially for a blog I was running for fun). Since February 2009, there are quite a few blogs popping up that are now talking about Minnesota store deals, and they are doing a great job!

Babies Like to Be Held in the Evenings
One change is that my evening time is limited. After my two older kids "hit the hay," my little, little guy LOVES to nurse and be held. . . and it is wonderful! I love cuddling with him until he totally zonks out for the night, which is usually around 9 or 9:30. So this leaves me less evening time to write.

I Love Blogging
The main thing I have learned over the past few months, is that I love, love, love writing on Cents in the Cities! I love sharing my story and talking about our family's attempt to live a simple yet rich life. Even during these many months when I haven't been writing, everyday something would happen or I would do something that would make me pause and gasp, "I have to share this on Cents in the Cities!" I love sharing my cooking triumphs and failures. I love talking about the crazy things I do to save a buck! I love talking about life in MN and how wonderful it can be--even snow in October!

To Blog or Not to Blog?
So to finally answer the question that began this post -- YES -- I am carrying on with Cents in the Cities, and I'm taking it into a new direction--less of a deal finding blog (never really was one anyway) to more of a frugal family blog. And though I am mainly writing for my own satisfaction and to get some thoughts out of my head, I'm hopeful that others might enjoy reading, giving us the opportunity to create a dialogue. My Mom has finally made it over here (quite a feat), and she liked the looks of my peach pie, so I'm optimistic that my readership will continue to grow, or at least I can talk to my Mom.

And if you read the blogs just to find the deals, I hope you might head this way every once in a while, because I still will talk about MN deals and saving, but just in my own way, with my own twist. It's not "just the facts Ma'am" at Cents in the Cities, but a whole lot more. Check out my updated About Page in my next post to read about the new direction for Cents in the Cities.

Thanks for sticking with me and for reading!

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