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My super cheap and low-fat secret!

December 31, 2009 • Paige

I found a great secret to low-fat, satisfying meals and snacks – beans! If I hadn’t told them, my family would never know.

I made delicious chocolate chip pecan cookies at Christmas this year as gifts for family. They were a HUGE hit, and they are healthy and low-fat. Instead of white flour, I used whole wheat flour, and the fat in was replaced with an equal amount of pureed white beans. That’s it! The cookies are very filling and satisfying. You can get the recipe here! Note: I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and I replaced 3 TB of the brown sugar with honey.

The day after Christmas, I came down with a nasty flu. I wanted creamy chicken soup but we didn’t have any…. so I made my own from scratch. I sauteed some leftover ham and bacon, with some onion, celery and garlic, then tossed in some chopped carrot and just enough water to cover and let that simmer. The “cream of” part is nothing more than more pureed white beans. I had pressure cooked a one pound package of white beans, then pureed the whole batch. Since I only needed a half cup for my cookies, I had quite a bit left over. I poured in the pureed beans and let the soup simmer for about 15 minutes. The whole thing took 20 minutes from initial craving to chowing down. Boy was it good, and exactly what I needed when I was feeling sick! Yes, I know that ham does not equal chicken… but it still satisfied my craving perfectly without having to send anyone to the grocery store.

With my family’s budget having to stretch further and further, I have been cracking jokes about making everything we eat out of beans. “Bean-nanna-bread”. “Bean-ia-coladas”. After a while the joke has helped me find or create a bunch of great new recipes.

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Teen boy birthday party for cheap

December 20, 2009 • Paige

I had a crisis on my hands recently. My son was turning 15, and throwing a “video game party” was not an option. We had a ban on video games in the house during that time. I didn’t have enough in my budget to throw a party anywhere else. A two hour bowling party was $170.00 and wasn’t going to be “cool” enough for teen boys. His birthday was also on a week day that he had an evening class.

I talked to everyone I know, asking for ideas of free things to do for a teen boy’s birthday. I got two generous offers from friends. You never know what resources someone may be willing to share until you ask.

For the actual day of my son’s birthday, we had his grandparents over for an early dinner with cake and ice cream. The gifts we gave him were modest but well received.

His party with friends was on the weekend. We chose an “air soft war games party” hosted at a building some friends of ours use for a theatrical production. Between two families, we had enough “soft air” bb guns and eye protection for everyone. The boys and the dads had a blast. After the games were over, everyone headed back to our house for food. The boys put on a dvd movie, which they all ignored, and sat around the table playing card games, eating, and being loud. They were having a good time without video games – I knew it was possible!

Including gifts, we pulled off a 15th birthday celebration for under $100.00

Family dinner party with grand parents

$ 3.00 Chicken (bought on deep sale and stashed in the freezer)
$ 5.00 Two packages smoked sausage (not on sale)
$ 0.50 Home made field peas + brown rice (had this in my freezer)
$ 3.00 Total cost of birthday cake
(jello poke cake with home made cream cheese icing)
$ 5.00 Carton of fancy ice cream
$ 16.50 Total cost of family party

Teen Party

$ 4.00 Giant bag of tortilla chips
$ 7.00 Huge jug of picante sauce (will last us forever if I freeze half of it)
$ 0.25 Home made bean dip (I had some in my freezer already)
$15.00 Three frozen pizzas (store brand)
$ 5.00 Giant bucket of ice cream
$ 0.00 Left over birthday cake
$31.25 Total for teen party

Categories: Being Frugal
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Uses for old jeans

December 11, 2009 • Paige

Don’t throw your old jeans in the trash. There are just too many things you can do with them.

When I get a pair of jeans for my fabric stash, I cut along the seams to harvest as much fabric as possible. I save the seams that go down the outside of each leg to tie up tomato plants or tie up extra extension cords. Why throw any piece away if you can put it to use?

If you have a fire pit in your yard, the leftover denim scraps make pretty good kindling for starting a fire. Just stuff some scraps into an empty toilet paper tube.

Make denim pillows and small purses from sections of the legs or the top portion.

Use the leftovers from one pair of jeans to patch another.

With a couple layers of old towels or even t shirt material as padding, you can make hot pads for the kitchen, or place mats for your table. Don’t worry about straight lines or beautiful sewing, just call them “art” – that is what works for me!

Denim quilts and throws are fun and fairly easy to make if you have a sewing machine. This is what I’m doing with my stash of denim. I have been collecting old jeans for about a year and I almost have enough to make a queen sized blanket. I went with the “circle denim quilt” design for mine. Here is a great “how-to” for the denim circle quilt!

Categories: Being Frugal
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Check your receipt!

December 10, 2009 • Paige

Even though every store has digital price scanning, you should always check your receipt before leaving a store. Make sure all coupons got applied correctly, and that you were charged the correct price for the things you bought. You may be very surprised at how often you find errors.

Most of my grocery shopping trips recently have included a stop by the customer service counter to get a refund for incorrect prices.I will stand in line for a refund of thirteen cents. In smaller stores, this helps ensure that someone in management knows about items ringing up incorrectly at the register.

On the average, the mistakes and incorrect prices I find only add up to a couple of dollars per shoppoing trip but I have spotted a pricing mistake that was over $20.00 more than once.

I discovered I’d been taken advantage of a few times by a dishonest cashier . She had been slyly adding cash-back to my debit purchases. I’m not sure how many times she had done that to me before I caught on, but now I wish I’d started checking my receipts sooner!

Now that I check my receipts before leaving a store, I’m a lot more aware of how much I’m spending on a day-to-day basis and often think twice before heading to the store.

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Make your own laundry soap

December 5, 2009 • Paige

Cutting back on the amount of laundry detergent you use does save you quite a bit but at $8.00 for a box of the cheap stuff, that is STILL too much for me. I researched home made laundry detergent and soap (not the same thing!), and here is what worked for me. I will never go back to regular detergent. I LOVE how my clothes feel now that all the commercial detergent crap is gone.

Home Made Laundry Soap


1 bar of Zote soap
2 – 3 cups of Washing Soda
(NOT baking soda)
1 cup of Borax (Optional! it may fade dark clothes over time)

How to make it:
Grate one bar of Zote with a fine grater (or a food processor),
Mix in washing soda and borax if you like.

Really hard, huh?

Yield: approx 30 loads of laundry

How to use it:
Add 1 to 2 Tablespoons per load of laundry.
If you have an especially dirty load, add a bit more more washing soda, you don’t need more soap.
Add 1/3 cup of white vinegar to the rinse load as a fabric softener. 

What it cost me:
78 cents per bar of Zote soap, found in the laundry aisle.
3.50 per box of Washing Soda, also in the laundry aisle (88 cents per batch)
2.75 per box of Borax, surprise… laundry aisle! (45 cents per batch)
That breaks down to: .78 + .88 + .45 = $2.11 per batch.
Approximately 7 cents per load of laundry!!!
Figure in the white vinegar and you’re still only spending about ten cents per load.

Look online for other home made laundry recipes, you may prefer making this in liquid form (but you have to have big buckets to do it!). I prefer it this way because I have limited space.

Other notes on making this recipe:
Do NOT use just any kind of bar-soap!! Many of them contain oils and perfumes that can stain and otherwise ruin your clothes

If you live in a humid climate (like I do) you may have trouble grating the bar of laundry soap, it can be sticky and moist. You might have to make it in liquid form if it is too sticky. 2010 EDIT: Just throw the bar of Zote in the freezer for a while, it will firm up.  Grate till it is gooey and put it back in the freezer, etc  I have to do this every summer.

In a dry climate, the soap grates into a fine powder and you must be careful not to inhale it.

Categories: Being Frugal
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Homemade Quick Biscuit Mix

December 4, 2009 • Paige

There are several variations of this recipe on the web, but this is the one I have been using for years.

Homemade Biscuit Mix
6 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons of baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
Cut in shortening with a pastry blender, or do what I do: scoop it out of the measuring cup a teaspoon at a time, then work it with your hands until it has a mealy fine-crumb texture. It will resemble the mix you’re used to buying.
Store the mixture in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 months. Use it just like commercial Bisquick.

Here is my family’s favorite recipe:

Garlic Cheddar Biscuits
(My sons swears these are better than the ones at seafood restaurants!)

2 cups home made biscuit mix
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheese
2 tablespoons butter or margerine
minced garlic or garlic salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir biscuit mix and shredded cheese together. Add the milk and stir until a soft dough forms. Drop dough by spoonfuls (6 or 9 biscuits works for us) onto an ungreased, non-stick cookie sheet.
Bake 10 to 15 minutes (your oven may vary) until golden brown. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small dish and add the garlic.
When biscuits are done, brush the tops with the garlic butter. Enjoy!

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Dry Beans: cheap, nutritious and taste great!

December 2, 2009 • Paige

I have been married for sixteen years. (Go us!) For about fifteen and a half of those years, we thought we hated dry beans! I tried many different methods of soaking, slow cooking , you name it… I tried it. We just couldn’t stand the texture. I thought I would never find what works for us. My mother-in-law gave us an electric pressure cooker for Christmas in December of 2008 and now that is how I prepare dinner almost every night.
Here”s what she told me to do:

Sort and rinse dry beans, then boil them hard for about a minute. Dump out the water and put the beans in the pressure cooker with some more water and whatever spices we like, then put the lid on and set it to cook on high for 30 minutes or so.

VOILA!!! Dry beans that we will eat. I estimate that this tip has saved us $100 or more each month on groceries.
Now we have cut our meat intake by 70%. Yes… we’re eating only 30% of the meat we ate before I got the pressure cooker. On the average, we are eating a beans-and-rice type meal five nights per week.
Here is my basic recipe:

Sort and rinse beans, set them on the stove to boil. When they have been at a rolling boil for a minute or two, dump out the water, add fresh water and boil once more. I’m told this helps to reduce the gas, and it seems to work!
Meanwhile, brown a tiny amount of bacon with the “brown” setting on the pressure cooker . I keep a package of bacon in the freezer and just shave a little bit off the end for a nice flavor. 1 lb of good, thick bacon will last me a month this way!
Cut up a small amount of chicken. I use a half-breast or 2-3 tenders, or just any little bit of meat I have on hand. (You don’t really need any meat with the beans.) Toss the diced chicken in the pressure cooker and brown a bit.
Toss in some diced onion and celery. Add some garlic and whatever spices you like. We like fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano, sometimes some chili powder.
Add the twice-boiled beans and some fresh water. I usually also add about a half-cup of quinoa and a little extra water.
Secure the lid and cook for about 35 minutes.
Enjoy over brown rice.

Note: If you want to add anything acidic like tomatos, cook the beans most of the way done then add them for just the last few minutes. It takes a little while to depressurize the cooker first, so most of the time I don’t use tomato at all.

A one-pound package of dry beans costs around a dollar, and contains thirteen (1/4 cup) servings.
One-fourth cup of cooked dry beans or peas counts as 1 ounce equivalent of meat, fish or poultry
Dry beans and legumes are an excellent source of protein.
Beans are high in fiber, folate and magnesium, and very low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.

Recipe for low fat chocolate chip pecan cookies using beans to replace the fat!!

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