Monday, June 30, 2008

The $1,000 essay

My goal has been to get through college while forking out as little money as possible. Getting good grades has been part of that. From the history/government dept. at my university, I was recently awarded a $1,000 scholarship for the fall. It was the highest scholarship the department offered. The funny thing is that I know that I didn't have the highest GPA of those that received scholarships. I talked to the scholarship coordinator some months beforehand, and he said that the awards were based on the GPA, and they also took the essays into high consideration. I wrote the best essays I could possibly write. I really took time with them, and I had several people proofread them for me. I was as honest as I could be about our goals and personal situation, and I was very proud of what I wrote.

At the awards banquet my professor came up to congratulate me and made a point of saying, "You were one of a few who really took the essays seriously."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Stock up on ground beef!

Tom Thumb has awesome prices on ground beef right now! They have 80% lean for 0.99/lb, 85% for 1.99, and 90% ground sirloin for $2.99!

Definitely a stock up price! And if they don't have it when you go in, go to CS and get a rain check!

Update on the electricity bill situation

I did end up switching companies. I used the website to compare rates. We decided that we wanted a fixed rate plan, because it just seems like market conditions are ripe for prices to keep increasing. We locked in at 0.14cents/kWh with Hudson Energy. One thing I didn't like about that other company we were looking at was that they charge you a higher rate per/kWh if you use less than 1,000kWh a month, AND they charge you a $10 fee. I've noticed that a lot of companies do this, but you really have to read the fine print to figure that out. You basically get penalized for saving energy, which really just sucks. The other company also had a hefty cancellation fee of $150!

Michael used the dryer once this week, and I hung up every other load of laundry. We've been keeping the thermostat at 80 or higher, and at 75 at night (up from about 71). And I've been keeping the lights off and things unplugged like I usually do.

I'll keep you all updated to see if my electric-bill reducing efforts pan out :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Andy's Birthday

My baby turned 3 yesterday!

I really wanted to have a party for him this year. He has lots of friends at the Y, and I knew he'd love a fun party. Our house is too tiny to host any kind of kids party, so I thought about doing a park party. The problem is that we live in North Texas, and it's 100 degrees by mid-morning everyday for the past three weeks. I decided to see what kind of indoor options we could find that wouldn't totally break the budget.

A new Chick-fil-a opened up close to our house, and we decided to have the party there. It ended up being about $65....the kids each got a kids meal and ice cream. We got to use their play area, we had a hostess handle everything for us, and we got a visit from the cow! It was such a fun party! They didn't provide the cake, so I made cupcakes....with two box cake mixes, 1 container of frosting, six eggs, and a little oil and water, they came to about $4.80 for 48 cupcakes (we still have a ton too!). I used candles that I had on hand.

I could have done a cheaper party at a park or something, but I guess the extra $20 or so was worth not having 10 dehydrated little kids!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Got the electric bill today

OY! It went from $133.14 last month to $231.71 this month. Our rate went from $0.13/kWh to $0.163/kWh. Time to switch. This morning, I used to compare rates. I'm thinking of getting on a fixed rate program, but in reading the fine print, I'm confused if it really is a fixed rate or not. I'll need to call them tomorrow and see if I can figure it out. There is one company, YEP, that supposedly has a fixed rate of $0.146/kWh....but the fine print makes me skeptical.

In the meantime, I'm kicking up the thermostat to 80 during the day, and 74 at night. I'm going to have a hard time getting used to sleeping with it warmer....I really like it cold when I sleep. I think I'll rummage through the garage and see if I can find a fan or two that still work.

I've been toying with putting up a clothesline, but I didn't have anywhere to put one up in the backyard. Yesterday we rigged one up in the garage. I read recently that it can cost as much as $1 per load of laundry that you dry, plus it heats up your house, and wears your clothes out faster.

Here's our new clotheline.....I just used what we had around the house. Michael had some twine in his toolbox and we used some brackets that were already hanging on the wall. That's one full load of laundry hanging up.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How far can you stretch one on-sale chicken?

I bought whole chickens at Kroger for 69 cents/lb. On Thursday, Michael roasted one and served it with mashed potatoes and salad. On Friday, the kids ate leftover chicken and potatoes for lunch. Today I picked off every little tiny bit of chicken that I could get off of it, and I mixed it up into chicken salad.

We all had chicken salad sandwiches and fruit for lunch. Then I threw the bones into the crock pot to make chicken stock.

I also keep a ziploc bag in the fridge with bits of onion, carrots, and celery leaves--I throw that in with my stock. Since it's summer, I don't need the stock for soup. I do make a lot of casseroles though. Here is a recipe so you don't have to buy cream soups for casseroles, and it uses chicken stock.

Cream of Anything Soup:
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. chicken stock/broth (made from the leftovers of one $3 chicken!)
3 tbsp. butter (can be cut down)
3 tbsp. flour
s&p to taste

Melt the butter in a skillet, add the flour to make a roux. Slowly add the stock/milk, and whisk until it thickens up. This can be used in place of any recipe that calls for a cream soup. If you don't want the little bit of chicken flavor, you can use all milk and omit the stock.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Shopping with Shirelle!

I should offer my disclaimer before I delve into my trip. There are a lot of ways to save money at the grocery store. I have my method, and it probably isn't even the most frugal. I do know people that successfully coupon and save a lot more than me. I haven't had much luck with couponing, so this is the current frugal method that I use to save money :)

Sunday was grocery shopping day. It's usually a half-day affair, as I only go once every two weeks.

Our shopping trip actually starts on Saturday night. I sit down with the ads from all my local stores, my grocery list, and my meal plan list. First I scrounge around my pantry/freezer and see what needs to get eaten. We still have a bunch of corn tortillas, and we have an insane amount of cheese that I got free from work. I have 1/2 lb. of leftover italian sausage, a couple lbs. of beef stewing meat, and several lbs. of chicken breast.

Pork chops are on sale at Sack and Save, and they also have chicken drumsticks/thighs for 88 cents/lb. I pick apart the ads and figure out where the best prices are on produce this week--Sack and Save has strawberries for $1.88, and yellow onions 3lbs./$1. They almost always have good deals on produce that aren't marked in their ad, so I'll pick some up when I'm there. Kroger has watermelons on sale for $3.88, and I know that will last us a while.

Here is the dinner meal plan for the next two weeks:

Homemade pizza with italian sausage, salad
Fried Chicken (the husband requested this), mashed potatoes, and a veggie
Homemade mac and cheese and broccoli
Fish tacos with rice and refried beans
Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, eggs, grits)
Homemade "hamburger helper" and some kind of veggie
Bean burritos (homemade), lettuce and tomato
Pork chops, sweet potato pancakes, corn
Beef and Cheese Enchiladas and beans
Oven chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, swiss chard
Tuna Casserole, some kind of veggie
Meat and potato quiche (this is a new recipe) and sauteed zuchinni
Beef curry and fried plaintains
Pantry/freezer meal

My first stop is Sack and Save. If I get there early in the morning, they usually have meat and milk marked down. I get what is on my list in the produce department, and notice that they have watermelon for $2.50, which is cheaper than Kroger, so I pick it up there. They have peaches for 68 cents/lb. and I pick some up for Michael.

I head over to dairy and immediately see the all the red mark-down tags. I pick up six gallons of milk at $1.99 each, and the dairy guy offers to mark some more down for me, but I tell him I can't fit anymore in my tiny freezer!

On the way to the meat department I notice they have hamburger buns marked to 50 cents for an 8-pack, and I pick some up, mentally deciding that I will make tuna melts with them one night. I head to the meat department and pick up the pork chops and chicken on my list, and I also notice that they have ground pork marked down to $1, so I pick two of them up. I buy the bacon that was in their ad for $1.99, and pick up TP at 78 cents for a 4-pack. I also pick up a couple of boxes of sugary cereal for my husband--they were 3/$5 in the ad. At the checkout counter, the girl looks shocked at my milk purchase, and says, "You know these are all like two days from their date right?!" I spend $50 at Sack and Save.

I'm done there, and I head over to Save a lot. I first go to the counter and buy $40 worth of gift cards. They have deal going on right now, where you save 10% off of gift cards. I buy a lot of my staples here--they have red tape bananas for 25 cents a lb. and I buy a lot of those to make banana bread for breakfasts. They don't have any good deals on meat or dairy, so I pass those up. This is my default store for canned goods, cereal, baking goods...they have great prices on staples if I can't find them on sale elsewhere. I only spend $20 at Save a lot, so I still have my other gift card for the next shopping trip, and I head over to Kroger.

I usually spend the most at Kroger. I first go grab a juice from the produce aisle which is (oops!) not on the list, and not particularly frugal. I don't have the kids with me, so I'm savoring the fact that I don't have to share my juice with a greedy two year old.

In the meat aisle, I grab some marked down ground beef, and in the dairy aisle I score another 16 ounce container of sour cream for 50 cents. They've had these way marked down the last few times that I've been in. I bypass the milk because I am stocked up! I pick up beer for the husband at (gasp!) 5.99 for a 6-pack. He'll have to settle for Modelo in the can, because I refuse to spend more than that. I pick up one brick of cheese that was on sale in the ad for $1.50. Next I pick up bread, which for whole wheat is $2.50! I consider baking my own bread again. I buy 2-2 liters of Dr. Pepper, that was in the ad for $1/each. I pick up a few staples....yogurt for the boys, frozen peas, brown rice, noodles, peanut butter(have a coupon!), toothpaste and floss, applesauce and my expensive coffee which is $5.99/lb. I'm realizing that we could save a lot more money if we drank more water!

I get everything home and make my husband and kids unload it all!

I took $190 with me, and came home with $35. So I spent $155, but I still have a $20 gift card, so I actually spent $135 on two weeks worth of groceries.

$67.50 a week is not bad!