Friday, August 16, 2013

AH-MAZING (suuuuuper easy) Slow Cooker Roast

My grandma was the most amazing cook on earth. She had this way of combining simple ingredients that would make a masterpiece. A dash of this, a sprinkle of that, and poof: heaven in your mouth. Through many years of experimenting, trial, and MANY errors (bless my wonderful husband) I've become a fairly good cook. I'm by no means my grandma, but I hope to be someday.

I don't know why but slow cooker roast beef is one of the hardest things for me to make! I just never really seem to like the combination of flavors, tenderness of the meat, too many vegetables, not enough vegetables, too little broth, too much broth, it's get the picture. I had a hunk of beef in the freezer (no, not my husband! hehe) that needed to be cooked so I reluctantly pulled it out and took one more shot at a slow cooker roast. To my complete amazement, it turned out amazing this time!! The combination of flavors was a heavenly chorus to my taste buds. Don't let the amount of garlic scare was awesome!! So, as I share this recipe, I hope it turns out just as yummy for you as well!

Crockpot Roast Beef

2ish lbs beef roast (really any nice chunk of beef will do. haha!)
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
10 cloves garlic (minced)
2 chicken bullion cubes
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup hot water
1ish cup baby carrots
2 small onions quartered and peeled apart
5ish small potatoes quartered (I left the skin on)

*Mix together mushroom soup, garlic, bullion cubes, mustard, and water in slow cooker.
*Trim off fat from beef (Some like the fat on. It's entirely up to you) and place in soup mixture.
*Layer vegetables over meat starting with onions, then carrots, then potatoes.
*Turn slow cooker to low and cook 7-8hrs. It's okay if it cooks longer but it should be done in about 7-8hrs.
*You can give it a stir every few hours, but not necessary.

Ahhhhhh, finally a roast I'm excited to make over and over and over again! Enjoy!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vacation of Your Dreams on a Budget {Part 2}

I'd like to say my long absence from blogging has been to hold my great following of readers in suspense. To hold you on the edge of your seat, biting nails, fidgeting with anticipation....

Did it work? ;-)

My come-back blog is dedicated to all those who have been patiently waiting on new money-saving tips. I hope I don't disappoint you. Let's save some Benjamins!

Vacationing vs. Money Saving. Those two oppose each other, right? I mean, honestly who goes on vacation thinking they will save money? Although you may have every intention of sitting on a beach, drinking mojitos, and ordering the cabana boy around, (no judgment, hehe) there are some key ways you can have that very relaxing vacation and still save money.

1. Vacation with family/friends. I understand some people go on vacation to get away from family and friends. That's completely understandable. But, considering that isn't you, it can be a money-saving option to split a rental house with others. You can get all the amenities you need at a fraction of the cost. Carpooling, groceries, lodging, it can all be split and be quite cost effective.

2. Bring your own food. We drove to the beach this summer so it was feasible for me to pack a cooler and large box of food. When we actually got to the beach we did make a Wal-Mart run but only spent around $20. We planned ahead of time and brought snacks, fruit, cookies, cereal, milk, cheese, vegetables, and juice with us in the car. The cost of groceries at hot vacation spots is astronomical. What a banana costs in Destin, Florida is about 3 times more than what it costs at home. No joke.

3. Pay with CASH. Shoooooooooooow me the money!! There have been actual studies that have proven people are far less likely to spend cash. Think about the last time you paid for something with a credit card. Do you even know how much you spent? I bet it didn't really occur to you how it felt. What about when you use your debit card? You feel that more than when using a credit card, but it's still easy and quick. You don't actually see the subtraction of money taking place so it's not as painful. But pay for something with cash and you actually see the money go away. It almost hurts to see Mr. Benjamin go to another home and all you have left are a few Mr. Jackson's, a Lincoln, and two Washingtons. (if you don't know which bills those are, look it up!!) This takes some getting used to, but you will be amazed at how well this works.

4. Create a budget for your vacation and stick to it. Whatever you decide to spend on vacation, don't go above it. Research as much as you can ahead of time to see the cost of restaurants, snorkeling, boat rental, ski equipment, etc. The more prepared you are, the more realistic your budget can be. By paying with cash, once the money is gone, it's gone. You will be able to stick to your budget as well as not buying a bunch of touristy souvenirs. If paying with cash you may decide you don't really need 4 back scratchers carved out of pig skin. (then again, maybe you do...still no judgment ;-)

5. Do spend money on something nice. Vacation is about relaxing and doing things we don't get to do at home. It's OKAY to spend money on yourself. Make sure you plan a big splurge for you and/or your family. For us, we really wanted some GOOD seafood. Man, oh man, was it worth every penny. There's a delicate balance between saving and spending and enjoying and splurging. Do plan on spending your money on something good. After all, you are on vacation, right?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Vacation of Your Dreams on a Budget {Part 1}

My family recently had the opportunity to go an amazing beach vacation in Destin, Florida. It was well timed as we haven't really left town for the past two years. Budget and vacation....those two words don't seem to go together do they? "But Lili, I'm going on vacation to forget all my worries! I don't want to care about money while I'm there!!" I hear you! But if you take some time to plan ahead, you can save some serious money and hopefully get to do everything you want to do on vacation.

I can assure you that you CAN have the vacation of your dreams and STILL come home with money to spare!

Before Trip Savings:

1. Garage Sale. We had a major garage sale about a month before our vacation. We live in one of those neighborhoods where someone is always having a yard sale and the foot traffic is constant throughout the weekends. Not only did we make great money, but we cleaned out the garage!! More money in my pocket AND a clean house.....YES PLEASE!! If you've never tried having a garage sale, I highly recommend it. It is a lot of work, but so worth it in the end. Our garage sale money paid for ALL of our gas to and from Florida...about $350 worth. Not bad!

2. Drive. Unless you find a seriously amazing deal on airfare, driving will be your best money-saving transportation option. Make sure you (or an honest mechanic) do a thorough inspection of the car BEFORE you leave. Oil change, tire repairs, etc will help ensure you don't break down on the way. If your car won't make it to your destination, car rental will still most likely be cheaper than airfare for your whole family. Driving can be so fun with the family as well. We don't have an ipad, portable dvd player, or any other fancy electronic distraction device and our son did fantastic! (More on that in another post) So, make a mix CD, make stops on the way, go to the visitor centers in each state, get off the beaten path! We had a blast!

3. Preplan road trip meals and snacks. Half the fun of a good road trip is all the junk food, right? It's nice to just eat whatever sometimes. However, as I'm sure many of you already know, stopping frequently for food on the road can get expensive....and fast! We brought a large cooler with us and filled it with all kinds of yummy goodies for the road: tuna (to make sandwiches), chips, fruit, CANDY, Pepsi, etc. It kept our food nice and cold and completely eliminated the need to stop at fast food places. We could eat at anytime we wanted and didn't have to stop driving or even get off the highway. Hands down, this saved us probably close to $100 each way in food.

4. Look for sale/clearance items months before your vacation. I was able to buy several sunscreens on clearance at Walmart about two months before our vacation. I knew we would be using it a good bit so I snagged it the second I saw it. Every little bit really adds up! In Florida it was marked up almost DOUBLE (even at Walmart)!! It is good planning to bring your own sunscreen with you and not rely on last second purchases on vacation.

5. You don't need a brand new wardrobe for a week. Unless you don't have a specific item needed for vacation, your regular clothes will be just fine for your vacation. I'm not a big shorts person so I realized I needed to purchase a pair or two. I went to Target, used a special clothing coupon (they post them on their website ALL the time) and got exactly what I needed without spending an arm and a leg. Consignment shopping is another great way to save on clothing! I got my son's swim trunks, sun hat, and sandals all at a consignment sale and believe me we have gotten our money's worth!!

Stay tuned for the next post in my vacation series. You CAN do this!!!!!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

5 Tips to Save You Money Right Now {Dating}

Whether you're single and ready to mingle, in a serious relationship, or married 25 years, dating is a big time important aspect for most of us. Just because wedding vows were spoken does not mean the dates stop. NO NO NO!!! Dates are more crucial than ever after the wedding. Ya gotta keep the anticipation, romance, and excitement alive! Pursue each other.

In this day and age, dates can be WAY expensive. I'm sure we're all quite in touch with the price tag of dinner and a movie. Yikes! Dating should be fun regardless of budget. I do think an added bonus to being budget conscious is it (hopefully) forces creativity.

So here we go with creative dating suggestions to be easier on the wallet and add to the fun in your relationship.....

1. Take a walk. If you have plans to go to a baseball game, allow extra time to stroll the surrounding areas hand-in-hand. Walk around your neighborhood. Walk to the coffee shop a few blocks away and then savor every drop of your drink. Being active doesn't have to mean running a marathon or taking a spin class. Just get moving together in whatever way you like. It's simple gestures like these that allow you to spend quality, much needed time together.

2. Explore your city. Unless you live in New York City or Chicago, American cities are not really set up for a lot of walking. Go somewhere in your city you've never been before. Drive to a new area. Go downtown and look at the architecture. Find the hole in the wall restaurant. Now it is important to be aware of safety and to know your surroundings. That being said, drive or walk through unchartered territory and you may be amazed what what you discover.

3. Date night in. Romance it up!!! Do what you need to do to break out of the norm. Turn off the TV, put away the iphone, walk away from the computer, send the kids to Grandma. Open a bottle of wine and play cards, Twister, or truth or dare. Get creative! Have a Bourne Identity marathon, then head over to a convenience store for slushies and junk food. Set up a slip and slide in the back yard without the kiddos. Just you and your date playing like kids in the sprinkler. FLIRT!!

4. Split meals. Now before you roll your eyes, hear me out. There's something really neat about picking out food together and sharing. You will hopefully eat slower and more of a normal portion this way as well. We all know restaurants can be kind of pricey. There's absolutely nothing wrong with fine dining on a budget. When you split, you can actually enjoy more kinds of foods, appetizer, wine, and dessert as well. Split it all and cut your bill in half! The Lady and the Tramp knew romance was sharing a single string of pasta, hehe :-)

5. Progressive dinner. This is by far one of the coolest activities I've ever done. Organize an evening for a dinner party with your friends where appetizers, dinner, and dessert will be served at different houses. The group "progresses" through the meal at each house. It's so much fun! You get to hang out with friends, eat great food, and not spend a ton! Try it!

Hopefully that gives you a few new ideas to try out and keep the flames ablaze. Stay tuned for more frugal ideas to come!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Delicious Homemade Granola

Granola has to be one of my favorite things to eat. Love the salty, sweet, and crunch all mixed into one awesome treat. Not to mention filling! After looking at a few recipes on various websites, I decided to make my own version and man, oh man, is it yummy!

Never again will I spend money on store-bought granola. Talk about a money saver!

You will need:

  • 4 Cups rolled oats 
  • 1 Cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 Cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 + 1/8 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 + 1/8 Cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 + 1/8 Cup honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 tsp salt

First, mix together oats, pecans, and almonds in a large bowl, set aside. Next, mix brown sugar, oil, honey, cinnamon, and salt in a sauce pan over medium heat until brown sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla. 

Pour liquid over oat mixture and stir until evenly coated. (It may look a little dry, but don't worry the heat of the oven will melt the sugar even more, giving it the classic granola crunch)

Line a baking pan (preferably one with raised edges) with foil and spray with cooking spray. Pour granola mixture onto foil. 

Bake at 325 for 30 min. Stir and the 15 minute mark

Remove pan from oven and firmly press down the cooked granola. It will be HOT so use a big spatula to do this. Let fully cool.

After completely cooled, lift granola out of pan and break into pieces and ENJOY!!!!!!!!!

**store in air tight container for best long term storage

Monday, April 15, 2013

5 Tips to Save You Money Right Now

It's time for our monthly install of money saving tips. I hope you have been able to implement some of the tips you've read on this blog. Saving money is very possible even in this economy. Let's do this!

1.) Look at your receipts. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten FREE food just by simply filling out a little survey from my restaurant receipt. Make sure you read the small print! I don't fill out the ones that say "you could will $5000!" but I do fill out the ones that say "FREE cheeseburger". Um, yes please!! All you do is fill out the survey and then write down the validation code on your receipt. Take the receipt back with you the next time you go (usually needs to be within 30 days) and get your free food! Now that's what I'm talking about! Also, Starbucks is notorious for their $2 grande drinks after 2pm. Again, look at your receipt. If it says you can get it, then get it!!

2.) Use reusable bags. Not only is this better for the environment (I heard that it takes something like 1000 years for a store plastic bag to decompose!!! Yikes!!) but it can also save you money! You might be surprised to find out that some grocery stores actually PAY YOU to use reusable bags. For example, Reasor's (a local grocery store) pays 0.06/bag and they apply it towards your total grocery bill. Heck yes!! Not only are you helping the environment, but you get money off your bill. Ask your local grocery stores if they offer this. You might be delightfully surprised.

3.) Join store loyalty/rewards programs. This is a no-brainer. CVS is a prime example of how you can save a ton just by having a store card. This is NOT a credit card. I'm not telling you to have a store credit card just so you can save money. Studies have shown when you use plastic, you tend to buy more. CVS has something called extrabucks. You can get these when you buy certain items in the store and you also get them quarterly. CVS will often have awesome sales but you can only get them if they scan your store card. It's easy, FREE, and will save you a bunch!

4.) Use restaurant punch/loyalty cards. How many times do you eat at McAlisters, Panera, Qdoba? If you go there with any frequency, you can rack up some major points and even get FREE food just by them swiping or punching your card every time you go there. Simple. Do it. There's no reason you can't save when eating out.

5.) Scan your mail for coupons. Each week you get what looks a lot like junk mail. Before just throwing the stack away, look through it. I have found some AWESOME coupons and have even gotten FREE food/store items this way. This requires absolutely no extra effort on your part. It's delivered right to your door and all you have to do is look through it. This also includes the blue Valpak envelope. Dude, there are some awesome coupons in there that range from electricians, to window replacements, to plumbers, etc. Check it out!

Happy Saving!!!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Price Matching

"Okay, so Lili, you told me to keep those store circulars that I get in my mailbox every week. I've seen some good sales, but really want me to go to 3 different stores?!?!"

Perhaps you've thought just that. Great savings, but 3 stores? "I'm a mom, I have a job, I'm tired. I don't want to go 12 different places and use up my precious gas." I hear you. Believe me, I do. So what's the solution? Price matching.

Did you know Walmart and Target will match any price for any item? This means that if Delmonte ketchup is on sale at the grocery store for $1.00, Walmart AND Target will match that same price! It has to be the same size and quantities and it must be on an advertisement. Yes, this means that these stores will come down on their own prices to entice you to shop there more often. They hope you will not only buy ketchup, but also bananas, diapers, lotion, soft drinks, kitty litter, etc.

Just yesterday I was saving money at my local Target and needed to pick up some bananas. Produce is my absolute favorite item to price match! My local Aldi had bananas on sale for $0.29/lb. Yes, you read that right....WAY cheap! Walmart is currently selling bananas for $0.54/lb and Target for $0.55/lb. Keep in mind prices vary greatly by region. I brought my local ad with me to Target and they price matched Aldi's price and I got a huge bundle of bananas for $1.04! Now that's what I'm talking about!!

Walmart is a bit easier to pricematch. The cashiers will do it right at the register. But at Target, you will have to take it to the customer service desk and they will do it there. Both stores say you don't need to bring the ad with you, but I ALWAYS do. It makes it SOOOO much easier in determining exact quantities, size, and pricing.

The ad must have a price listed. Walmart and Target will not honor a "buy one, get one free" offer if a price is not listed. The savings really do add up when you have a price-matched item, then add a coupon on top of that. Cha-ching!

Walmart Ad/Price Match policy is here
Target Ad/Price Match policy is here

Happy shopping!!