My Farewell--Thanks for the Connection

Thursday, December 3, 2009 by Jen · 8 comments
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I have decided that I am not going to post on Cents in the Cities anymore. For those of you who have enjoyed what I've talked about here, thanks for stopping by. I have loved our conversations.

If you've been reading over the past few months, you know that my posting has NOT been consistent. I really do enjoy the outlet that blogging can be--it's a great opportunity for expression--one I have cherished.

But right now--with a sad but firm heart--I am deciding NOT to post and focus on some other things in my life that I really want to address--good things--things that will help me live the life I need to live and lead my family in the best possible ways.

I'll still be here though.

I will still be reading all of those great money saving and frugal family blogs out there--leaving a comment here and there if a post speaks to me.

I'll still be trying my best to save at the grocery store in whatever way possible in order to stick to my budget.

I will still be doing the work to become debt free in order to plan for our family's future.

I will still be reducing my household waste, one decision at a time--doing my part to save the Earth.

I will still be trying to live simply, love deeply, and focus on THE most important things in life. The simple things. And loving life in the process.

Thanks again for making a connection with me here.

Until we meet again my friends. . . .

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Nickelodeon Universe --- Family Fun!

Monday, November 30, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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I'm really not a mall shopper--I'm just not a fan of malls--probably because I don't want to leave my money there.

And even though the Mall of America (MOA) is about 20 minutes from my home, I rarely go there. All of that commercialism in once place--glaring at you from every corner--it kind of shocks me. I'm just not used to it.

So this past Tuesday before Thanksgiving when the kids were off from school, we decided to go to Nickelodeon Universe--and, surprising to me, we really had a blast! The kids had been asking to go for a long time, Since we didn't have much of a vacation this summer, and since my husband had to work on Thanksgiving, we decided to use some of our Christmas money to go for a "family day."

Thanks to Pocket Your Dollars, we were able to get all-day wristbands for only $20 each, and I always feel better when I can get a deal! So the entire family rode the rides. Since we had our babe (who is now four months old), it's harder for me to do things with the older kids. So my husband and I took turns staying with the baby--and I actually got to ride the rides with my kids. I LOVED the anticipation as we went up the roller coaster hills, and I LOVED screaming as we went down--so fun to be silly with my kids.

I was glad there were a few roller coasters that didn't go upside down--perfect for me and still very fun! Because we went on Tuesday when many kids were still in school, we hardly had to wait to get on a ride, and many times we could ride over and over again. We ate a packed picnic lunch but ate our dinner in the food court. We actually spent NINE hours there--I can't believe we made it that long!

It was much more fun than I thought it would be--mainly because we were all able to participate. When we first arrived, we ran into the Santa Claus station--with no line. My kids have never talked to Santa at the mall before, so were able to do that too and take a quick snapshot. Another pleasant surprise was that the people working at the park were really friendly and helpful--something very refreshing to me.

Overall it was a great family fun day! We might make this a family Thanksgiving tradition! Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving week!

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A Week of Regrouping and Anticipating

by Jen · 0 comments

So I've been absent from this blog for a few weeks now--sorry about that! If I was more organized and followed a schedule better, the long absence would be avoidable, but that's just not how my life works, and that's just fine with me. I'm trying to NOT have an "all or nothing" philosophy, so even though I don't post always, I'm just going to post when it works! There will probably be absences from posting again. . . so it goes. I'm just going to write what I want to write. And right now, I have something to say, and the time to say it, so here I am!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Because my husband was supposed to work on Thanksgiving, we had a smaller celebration with just my parents in our home. I cooked the potatoes and turkey the day before and reheated in crock pots--worked great! It was a really relaxing day!

I did shop on Black Friday, but not until later in the morning. I got quite a few things on my shopping list, but missed a few deals, which were already gone. Mainly I had a nice time shopping with my Mom. On Sunday, I also went and picked up a hamster cage that I found on Craigslist. My daughter wants a Husky dog for Christmas--so not going to happen! But we thought she might be happy with a hamster named Huskie. A month or so ago, we took care of our preschool's hamster for the weekend, and the kids had tons of fun with it!

So this week, I'm trying to regroup and get ready for Christmas--making my lists. In Minnesota, we've had unseasonably warm weather, so it just doesn't feel like the Christmas season yet. But with this first week of Advent, I feel ready for a time of "active anticipation" where we prepare our hearts and home for the Jesus birthday. It's going to be a great Christmas

Wishing you a great week of returned routines with perhaps some Christmas anticipation!

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Apple Pancakes and Baked Apples

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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Fall is my favorite season, and it wouldn't be the same without apples cooking in our house. Since it's still fall for a few more weeks here in Minnesota, I thought I'd share a few of our family's favorite apple recipes.

Apple Pancakes
Apple Pancakes are a family favorite--any time of year. It's a perfect way to use up "2nd pick" apples (or the apples your neighbor gives you off the tree), and it makes for an extra special breakfast treat. Here's the recipe we use--enjoy!

Amazing Baked Apples
I found the recipe for Amazing Baked Apples in one of my favorite cookbooks--Cheap, Fast, Good! It is so easy and makes for a great sweet treat!

1/ cup walnut pieces
4 medium size tart apples
6 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons butter, cut into 4 pieces. (I've substituted oil before)

1. Spread nuts out on plate and microwave, uncovered 1 to 3 minutes, stirring half way through. Set aside.

2. Core the apples all the way through (do NOT peel them). Place apples in glass pie plate.

3. Microwave apples, uncovered, on high power for 6 minutes to partially cook them.

4. Finely chop nuts and set aside. Place brown sugar in dish and add cinnamon and stir well.

5. Remove plate of apples from microwave oven. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the chopped nuts and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar mixture into cavity of each apple. Use fingers or spoon handle to pack sugar mixture in. Place a piece of butter on top of the sugar in each apple.

6. Return plate of apples to microwave and cook uncovered until apples are tender when pierced with sharp knife, 6-8 minutes.

7. Use large spoon to place each apple in dessert bowl. Spoon sugar syrup and nuts from baking dish over the apple. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving. Serve warm--yum!

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Last Week's Grocery "Cents" -- What I Learned

Monday, November 9, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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I didn't post a lot last week--the week just got away from me. I was focusing on my new laundry system, which really isn't that complicated. I got all the laundry done, but everything else kind of suffered. This week, I'm going to try to accomplish more than just one job a week. Sounds easy, but in my world can be a challenge. With a plan, I have the power to make it happen!

Here is the main thing I learned from my grocery shopping last week:

Waiting to shop is not always the best strategy!

I had planned to do an unadvertised deal at Cub last week, but by Thursday, the deal had prematurely ended, so I missed it! I also didn't do my shopping until Friday (usually I shop on Tues or Wed), and this put me in "stress mode." I needed to do all my shopping. In one day. With two kids in tow. While getting ready to entertain some friends.

The only reason I stayed within my budget was because I didn't make it to Aldi--where I was planning to do the bulk of my shopping (because I missed the deal).

This Week's Strategy: Get the menus planned (two weeks worth) and finish shopping earlier in the week.

This will allow me to do some needed baking. Rainbow Foods also has a deal going where you buy 10 items and get $5 back. Looks like some good products, so I'm going to try to do two grocery orders there.

I have $59 to spend at the grocery store and $20 for household items. I'll let you know how it all works out! Hope your grocery shopping is successful this week! Do you have a plan to stick to your budget?

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Grocery Strategy This Week--Roll the Deal on a Budget

Thursday, November 5, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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Whew! Where does the week go! Payday for us was Tuesday this week, and usually I have all my grocery money spent by Tuesday (or Wed morning at the latest). This week, I haven't even got my cash yet (we use an envelope system). So it's already Thursday, and I still have $60 burning a whole in my pocket (or envelope)--I love starting the week over with "fresh" money in my grocery envelope. Anyway, here is my "stay in budget" grocery strategy this week: ROLL the DEAL. Read Entire Post for my "budget stick to it" details:

My good couponing friend (thanks Rayanne) reminded me that there is a great deal at Cub this week--not advertised in their flyer but Karen, at Minnesota Coupon Adventure gives all of the details (also find the details at the A Full Cup Cub Forum).

Basically you have to spend $30 on the products on the Cub flyer back page, but you get your OOP (out of pocket) as low as you can go by using manufacturer coupons. Then you will get $15 in coupons back to use on your next order (Catalinas). And you can go back and do the same deal over again, using those $15 in coupons, and you will get $15 MORE in coupons. When all is said and done, you still have $15 in coupons to apply to the groceries you REALLY need.

These are my favorite deals to do at Cub, because you can get SO MUCH FOOD for very little! It's a great chance to stockpile. The problem with doing this deal on a tight budget is that I can't spend all my money on it--I have to buy the healthy food my family needs. So my plan:

1. I'm giving myself a "Roll the Deal" budget of only $20-25 -- THAT'S IT!

2. Meat and Dairy -- I'm going to buy the $.99 chicken this week (limit 2, so will probably go back a few times. I'm going to buy 85% ground beef at Rainbow, and I'm going to buy cheese at either Cub or Target (can't remember which is cheaper) using my recent cheese coupons. My meat budget this week is $12, and my dairy budget this week is around $10.

3. Fruits and Veggies--I'm going to try to leave $20 to buy fresh. Also Target has frozen veggies for $.89 cents, so will try to stock up.

And then I think my $60 will be GONE! I hope to let you know soon how it goes. The best laid plans. . . .

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My SAHM Story

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 by Jen · 4 comments

Over the past few months, I especially enjoyed reading Amy's series Mommy Come Home. For that reason, I thought I would take a little time here on CITC to tell you about my stay at home mom story.

I never thought I would be a SAHM. In college, because of my talents, strengths, and interests, I decided to major in English and education and become a high school English teacher. I thought it would be the perfect kind of job for raising a family--summers off and everything.

During our first few years of marriage I taught in the classroom, and I have to say, I wasn't very happy, I think because I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect at the job (that's another story).

So after moving to Michigan with my husband's job, teaching for a year there, I decided to leave my current job and go back to school to become a librarian. Though I looked at other options, my heart was still in education and I decided to focus on a library media program for K-12 education!

And I loved, loved, loved being a library media specialist. I loved talking books and reading with kids! I loved sharing the latest technology, teaching, and information resources with teachers--teaching teachers, if you will. I loved teaching information skills and sharing information resources in and out of the classroom! I was energized by the job and felt I was pretty good at managing it all.

When I had my first child, managing it all became harder. Even though I loved my job, I often felt like I gave my best energy to my job, and I had little left for her at the end of the day. The other challenge was connecting with my husband. He is an air traffic controller and works shifts and weekends. We found that we rarely saw each other and were rarely together as an entire family--we wanted more time together!

So after lots of discussions and budget crunching, we decided that with the birth of my second child, I was going to take a year long leave of absence from my job (I was fortunate to have that option). We never were able to make the budget numbers balance, but we decided to take a leap of faith and give it a try.

So five years and three babies later (ages 7, 5, and 3 months), I'm still going at it, and I really has been a blessing in our life! I will very likely return to teaching some day; but then again, maybe not. I'm trying to enjoy the moment I am in right now.

What Works for Us
Because my husband's work hours are not typical (works shifts, evenings, and weekends), it really helps our family that my time is not so scheduled. On the days that he works in the afternoon/evening, I love that we can have our main "family" meal at lunch time. And we often have one "date afternoon" a week when my DS is in preschool (no paying a babysitter). I love that we get to spend lots of time together at home!

His schedule also allows me some perks--I can go to the grocery store with out kids. Getting the kids off to school is a breeze with him here. And because often it's just me and the kids in the evenings, we don't really have that crazy dinner hour that a lot of families talk about.

And of course I love having time with my babes. I love being able to spend one-on-one with my 5 year old--playing legos is a major mom/son activity. My DD doesn't get home until 4 PM, and I love doing homework with her, reading, and playing a game or two. And there's nothing like taking a break with sleeping baby on your shoulder and playing on the floor. I love being able to nurse exclusively. I'm definitely not against bottles or pumping--it's just easier for me to nurse.
The Challenges
It's not a perfect system. I often feel like my time is never my own, and I would just like to go to the bathroom by myself every once in a while. Or take a nap whenever I want. But I know that someday I will have those luxuries again.

I find it a challenge getting everything done that needs to get done--balancing the parenting and the household responsibilities. I try to be aware of this and diligently give my kids some dedicated time. If I don't, I feel as if my kid's baby years will just slip through my fingers, even though I'm dedicating my time to them right now.

I also miss having a creative outlet for myself--hence CITC. When I don't have a newborn, I sing with my church choir and for weddings, play piano and guitar, and I love reading! These things often are after thoughts in a busy family life--but they are still there for me when I need them. I also know that it will be a challenge returning the the "work force." I feel out of the loop with my job, and I don't really like that feeling. Oh well, it's just part of the process.

And as I talk about often, balancing the budget is a continuing challenge! That means we are not the family going to Disney World--or even on a vacation this year. We have a fairly small house for our family of five. I clip coupons, shop at garage sales, and cut my family's hair. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the life I have. Yes, I would like to buy new clothes or get my hair cut at the salon more often. But right now, I'm OK with the choices we are making.

What I've Learned
The main thing I've learned through this process is that you have to do what works for you. My family isn't necessarily like your family, and you have to make the choices that seem right for your family. Some of those are easy; some are hard, and some I know we're still trying to figure out. But I know that we are trying to do the best we can for our kids and our family -- and right now, what we are doing is working. We are pretty OK--it feels good!

Thanks for reading!

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Jen's List

by Jen · 2 comments
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This is a short list (shortie but a goodie)--thought I would just get these out there! Hope you are having a great week!

I love organization--especially binders--so this seasonal binder is right up my alley.

I like my current coupon system, but the Lazy Girl's Guide to Coupons sounds great! I'm tempted to try it!

I love the recipes for the holiday cookies in the Land O Lakes Home for the Holidays brochure. The cookies are small which is the main thing I like! When you are eating too many holiday goodies anyway, smaller is better. Log in to Land O Lakes to get your own brochure.

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Will You Take a November Challenge?

Monday, November 2, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments

If you read a lot of family blogs, you will notice that there are quite a few November Challenges out there. What great ideas! Will you choose to participate? Here's what I know and some of my plans:

To celebrate her 2nd website anniversary, Laura at Heavenly Homemakers is proposing an entire month of gratitude--"to look deep into the ways God has blessed you." And there are prizes! I have so much to be grateful for, and I so often need to be reminded about the wealth of simple and amazing blessing that I have in my life! I'm very excited to post more and participate!

Life as Mom is proposing a "Get a Good Habit Going" challenge (I love that title!) And I know exactly how I am going to participate. I have issues with laundry. I don't do it! I don't have a plan for it! I get behind! And so on and so on! So to participate, I am committing to get a good laundry habit going! I'll keep you posted on my plan and how it's working!

Alyssa at Keeping the Kingdom first has an awesome Giving Challenge. To be honest, I'm a little scared of this one--mainly because I don't know if I can do it! But I think participating would be a great way for me to see what I can do--a challenge. I'm going to start focusing on some little things that I can do to give, and I'll see where that will take me. I'll probably tell you more about it in the days/weeks to come. I think it's a great idea and great challenge!

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Croutons on the Fly -- Made Great Chicken Salad

Sunday, November 1, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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I don't know about you, but I always throw the end crusts of my bread into the freezer (because no one will eat them). Once I have an entire bread bag full of crust, I will usually make baked croutons or bread crumbs, but this takes a little time and planning on my part.

So I was very excited to see this recipe for last minute croutons--and I had the perfect chance to use them tonight!

After a busy, busy weekend, Sunday evening came and we all had crashed! My daughter and I attended a baby shower earlier in the day, my middle guy was as cranky as could be because we were up late the night before (family Halloween party), and the time change did us all in.

So after the Viking/Packer game ended, we needed to eat a light dinner--not big because we had popcorn during the game--but I needed to get some nutrition into my family after all of that Halloween sugar.

So I pulled a package of precooked chicken chunks out of the freezer, defrosted a bit in the microwave and finished warming them on the store. For the croutons, I didn't have the recipe in front of me, so I basically cut up some of my frozen bread, put in fry pan, sprinkled olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and basil and fried them up until they were a bit crusty.

I had torn lettuce leaves already in my salad spinner in the fridge--so I cut up the lettuce, put chicken and croutons on top, and topped with shredded mozzarella--and it was a delicious salad. The croutons were crunchy on the outside but yet a little bit soft on the inside--they were really yummy and definitely added a lot to the salad! Paired with a strawberry banana smoothie, it was a great Sunday evening meal. (There was a bit of work involved, but the pre-cooked chicken and pre-cleaned lettuce actually made it pretty quick and simple.)

Works for me--and my kids ate a good portion of protein and fruit. I can go to bed tonight knowing I've done my Mom job for one night. Hope you all have a great week!

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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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