Tag Archives: family

My Couponing Experiment: Week One

Today was the official “kickoff” of my couponing experiment.  Here’s a look at the receipt from today’s trip (coupons & utilizing the store’s weekly sale ad) compared to last week (pre-couponing):

How much money can you realistically save on groceries using coupons?

Our total bill was $11 higher this week for roughly the same amount of items.  However, according to the store, we saved $30 through our efforts, while last week we only saved a paltry $4 (makes sense because we weren’t trying!)

If we supposedly saved so much money this week, then how come our total cost was greater?  A couple reasons this might have happened:  (1) we had company over for dinner this evening and served salmon with jumbo shrimp– those ingredients alone were almost $40; (2) we got two trays of sushi for $14 (not something we usually do but today was unbelievably busy and we didn’t have time to prepare our own lunch).  Otherwise, our cart was generally the same as always.

Some observations:

  • We were only able to use a few coupons because many of the items we buy are fresh produce and meat — these things don’t have manufacturers’ coupons.
  • The weekly store ad was the best way for us to save on produce and meat by steering towards things that were marked down. (Example: chicken thighs on sale vs. chicken breasts at regular price)
  • Coupons will come in handy for toiletries, kitchen goods, and cleaning supplies (trash bags, toothpaste, etc.) that are only bought on occasion.  I have quite a few stored in my “later” envelope for when it’s time to restock.

saving money grocery shopping by couponing

I feel good about our first week of active couponing and sale shopping.  Because of a couple big-ticket items, our bill appears slightly higher at first glance.  However, we actually saved $26 compared to last week.  I anticipate that our efforts will be reflected in the total cost next time since we don’t have any family meals or special purchases planned.

Check back next week for another update!

Why I Turned Down a Job to be a Stay at Home Mom

Why I Turned Down a Job Today

The original plan was never for me to be a stay at home mom.  When I quit my job in November, I intended to enjoy the holidays at home with my family and immediately begin looking for new employment after New Years.

Within days of resigning, I had an interview lined up already.  It seemed a very promising opportunity.  After a month-long interview process in which I was all but guaranteed the spot, there was a “miscommunication” and I was told they were going to “pass.”  Definitely a bummer, but perhaps a blessing in disguise– I might have ended up working for another shady company.

“Why don’t you just stay home with the kids?  You don’t need to go back to work– we’re doing fine.  It’s been so good for the girls.”  I couldn’t believe my husband was suggesting such an idea.  Work was all I knew.  It was part of my identity.  I’d been a part of the workforce since I was old enough to legally do so.  (Actually, I started much earlier as a groom at the stable where I took lessons in trade for attending horse shows.)

To be honest, it was such a relief to think my world would no longer revolve around someone else’s schedule (except two little girls!)  I had been so happy for the past month– apparently I had been more miserable than I realized at my last job.  It was as if a fog had been lifted and I was truly enjoying life.  I was reluctant to do anything which might jeopardize this newfound happiness.

So I stayed home and resolved to do all the things that had fell by the wayside while I was working full time.  I caught up with the laundry (for a day…then of course it was piled everywhere again, but hey I did it!)  I thoroughly cleaned and reorganized our exercise studio/game room.  I made sure the kitchen was spotless every night before I went to bed– waking up to an empty sink and sparkling counters is an amazing feeling– even I can hardly believe I just said that, but it’s true!  The girls and I took leisurely walks whenever the weather allowed.  Matt and I ran errands on his days off– just enjoying being together as a family.  I re-dedicated myself to my writing.  Work had sucked my energy to where I was literally just surviving every day.  Now I was actually living.

This went on for a few months and our family settled into a comfortable routine.  Then I got a call from a former work colleague.  She too had left the company I worked for last due to the negative environment.  Now she was asking if I would like to come meet the owner of the new spot she had gone to– they were looking for someone with my experience and she thought I would be a great fit.

Panic set in.  Things were going so well at home, was it worth it to rock the boat?  Annabelle still had a couple months before we could start weaning– I couldn’t bear the thought of dusting off the dreaded pump.  Would I still have time for my writing?  That was my “me” time– I looked forward to it every day.  Did I even want to go to work outside the home?  Was I lazy or selfish for even having these feelings?

“So don’t do it.”  Hubby said matter-of-factly.  “You don’t have to.”  He sees the world very black and white.  It’s easy for him to make decisions without getting emotional.  If only it were that easy for me! I decided to at least go in for a meeting and see exactly what the position entailed.  I was flattered that my friend had suggested me and felt I owed her that much.  I figured that it would be at least 40 hours plus some nights (as most event jobs are) and that I would simply be unable to meet those demands.  But at least I would have “tried” and given the opportunity a fair listen before politely declining.

Fast forward a few days and I’m sitting in front of one of Houston’s culinary greats.  He is an imposing physical presence, but at the same time very warm and easy to talk to.  “So what schedule would work for you?  Do you need to leave by 2?  Can you be here at 9?  Family is important to me, so I understand your situation.”  Well this was not what I expected.  Here he was asking me what would be my ideal schedule.  He was so willing to work with me that I wanted to take the job for that reason alone.

I had anticipated an easy out– a schedule to which I would be unable to commit.  Instead I had an offer on the table for a part time job with hours that were tailored to me.  The pay wasn’t great, but what part time job would be able to compete financially with the salary and commission I pulled before?  Plus I could probably learn a lot from someone so knowledgable in the industry.

Hubby was less than excited.  “It’s not that much money.  It’s not really worth it.”  At first I was frustrated– he wasn’t even listening to the positive aspects!  “If you really want to do it, we’ll make it work,” he assured me. “But I love having you home.  And what about your writing?  You won’t have as much time.”

He was trying to be supportive, but I could see that he did not want me to accept.  Could I blame him?  Sure, the part-time schedule worked great for me, but what about him?  As a night manager he often doesn’t even get home until 4am.  If I was leaving at 8am every morning, it meant he would get an absurdly little amount of sleep.  No one could function on 3-4 hours of rest every single day.  It really would be asking him to make a huge sacrifice– for what amounted to only a couple hundred extra bucks a week.

I agonized (probably more than I should have) over the decision for two days.  However, when I thought about what was best for our family as a whole, it is for me to be exactly where I am at the moment.  It still didn’t make it any easier for me to write a letter of regret turning down the job.  To accept that for the time being I am not the prime breadwinner.  To let go (at least temporarily) the part of me that sees myself as a working woman and embrace this new identity as a stay at home mom.

That is what I am right now, but that is not ALL that I am.  I am a writer.  I am a counselor to family and friends who come to me for career advice (I was there for over 15 years!)  I am a motivator to those that need a little extra encouragement to make a positive change in their lives or pursue a dream (leaving a fairly lucrative career to stay home and commit to my writing was a risk, but it is my dream).  I am the backbone of our family– keeping home and finances in order.  I am molding two little girls into strong and intelligent little ladies.

Typing it out and owning it is such an empowering feeling.  If writing is not your thing, I encourage you to say it out loud mamas!  Often when we make the choice to stay home, we often lose a little bit of ourselves and our identity as an independent woman.  But it is still there inside– your assets and gifts that you offer the world, whether it be from an office or your house.  Remember your strengths and your passions and know that you are still as important, if not more so now, than you were before!

I do feel truly blessed that I am able to have this time with my family and my girls, though it was not without sacrifice–read about the one lifestyle change that we made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom.

My experiment trying couponing to see if coupons can really save our family money on groceries.

My Couponing Experiment

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the lifestyle change our family made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom: meal planning.  The response was overwhelming– so many fellow moms let me know (through my site, BlogHer profile, Pinterest) that our savings inspired them, or offered tips for saving even more.  Over and over I was told: try couponing! 

I’ve never really bothered with couponing– of course I’ve seen the shows with extreme examples of grocery shopping trips that end up being free, but in real life, it seemed like a lot of work for what would likely only amount to a couple bucks savings.  However, hearing that so many of you have had great success with coupons, my curiosity was piqued.  So I decided to do an experiment to find out if couponing really would save us money.

Here are the “rules:”

  1. We would continue to shop at the same stores as before.
  2. We would continue to buy the same products as always.
  3. We would not buy items we do not normally use or need just because they were free or cheap.

Easy enough!

My first step was to go to the website for the grocery store we generally patronize.  I followed a link to the coupon site with whom they are partnered.  The coupons listed were mainly for toiletries, household cleaning items, and packaged foods.  Still, I was able to “clip” quite a few for items we need (or will need before the expiration date next month.)  I divided them into two categories: ones we would use during our next shopping trip, and those that we could use in the near future.  Labeled envelopes will make it easy to keep track:

cutting coupons organizing coupons

Next, I printed the store’s weekly ad.  I went through and circled items we buy frequently that were marked down to a special price.  There were a few that could be combined with coupons I had printed for extra savings.  This particular store offers a lot of buy-one, get-one deals, but most of these are for processed food we don’t eat and therefore won’t be of use.

print weekly ad for grocery savings print weekly ad for grocery savings

The last step will be to go through hubby’s shopping list (which he usually does on Sunday evenings) and note which items have a coupon or are on special in the weekly ad.  Since coupons for next week’s trip will also be ready at hand in the “Now” envelope, hopefully this will be a foolproof system.

Last week’s shopping bill was $200 exactly (plus a few cents), and we didn’t make any unusual purchases.  This will make it easy to see just how much can be saved from doing nothing but buying what we need, to adding coupons to our program.  I’ll stick with the experiment for a month (longer if it is found to be worthwhile!) to be able to note spending and saving patterns.

Stay tuned for next week’s update, and feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions for other places to find coupons or savings– after all, I’m a true couponing rookie!

Side Dish in a Snap! — Savory Sausage & Spinach Skillet

Hubby whipped up this side dish on the fly today and it was so beautiful that I had to take some photos– look at those colors!  This is such a simple recipe, yet the end result is bursting with flavor!

Savory Sausage and Spinach

You only need four ingredients:

  • 1 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1lb mild Italian sausage
  • 3 cups chopped baby spinach

Savory Sausage & Spinach Skillet

STEP 1: Sauté onions (we use coconut oil) in large skillet on medium heat for about five minutes until they start to caramelize.

STEP 2: Add bell pepper and continue to sauté until the pepper slices soften.

STEP 3: Add sausage; use wooden spoon or spatula to chop in pan.  (Optional: add a splash of Mirin, Japanese cooking wine, for a touch of sweetness.)

STEP 4: Once sausage is fully cooked, remove pan from heat. Add spinach and stir into cooked ingredients.  The steam alone will lightly wilt the spinach to the perfect consistency.

This easy side is as delicious as it is beautiful– we will definitely be adding it to our regular rotation!

**BONUS: You could even serve with a fried egg for a hearty and healthy breakfast option.

Music is sunshine

How Music Made Our Mornings FUN!

Lilu and I have always bonded over music.  Ever since she could talk, we have made time during every day to sing and dance to our “jams” (generally super-cheesy 80’s music.)

How to have cheerful children in the morning

Like any kid, she’s not always very enthusiastic about waking up for school..  One day last week as I was tucking her in to bed, I told her I was going to come in the next morning with music blaring to wake her up.  That way, I explained, she would have to be in a good mood.

7am rolls around and I forget.  Lilu didn’t.  She sat right up in bed: “where’s the music?”  I quickly retreated to my room to grab my phone.  When I came back to help her get dressed (she still lets me choose her outfits–I’ll enjoy it as long as possible) I was playing “Higher Love” (our official family song.)

Well wouldn’t you know, Lilu hopped right out of bed with a smile on her face, already suggesting which song to play next.  The rest of the morning was entirely pleasant as we ate breakfast together, heads bobbing to the tunes playing from my portable speaker.  Lilu was even ready for school ten minutes early.

Lilu is very big on traditions, so I believe we will be jamming out each morning from now on.  Adding music definitely improved everyone’s mood– myself included.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner, but I’m sure glad I found a way to make mornings a little bit easier!

Authentic Pad Thai Noodles at Home

How to Make Authentic Pad Thai at Home

I’ve been dying to share this recipe with you guys!  Today hubby patiently obliged for me to photograph the process.

Authentic Pad Thai Noodle Recipe

Pad Thai is one of my favorite meals– in fact, in was one of the only foods I could tolerate while pregnant.  Since our go-to Thai restaurant is a little out of the way, hubby created his own version that can stand up to authentic take-out.

The key to making Pad Thai possible at home without taking a long time is knowing when to take shortcuts and when to use fresh ingredients.  Pre-made sauce shortens time spent in the kitchen as well as your shopping list, but be sure to combine with fresh veggies and protein for the best flavor.

This recipe is actually very easy– it’s mostly prep (cutting, chopping, etc) and then putting together the ingredients.  You can use one sauté pan to cook everything aside from the noodles.

pad thai ingredients

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 box Pad Thai style rice noodles
  • 1 jar Pad Thai sauce
  • 1lb chicken, cubed
  • 1lb shrimp, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 small yellow onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts (may substitute with canned)
  • 1-2 bunches of green onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1TB soy sauce
  • 1TB Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (we used cashews, though peanuts are traditional)

Prepare noodles according to instructions on package and set aside.  (You can do this while you are cooking the other ingredients.)

STEP 1: Saute onions until brown. Set aside in large mixing bowl.

IMG_3293 IMG_3295

STEP 2: Saute chicken (may use the same pan in which you cooked the onions) with soy sauce and mirin.  When chicken is partially cooked, add shrimp, 1 cup of mung bean sprouts (they will cook down– this is a great way to hide more veggies for the kids), and mushrooms.

IMG_3296 IMG_3297 IMG_3298

STEP 3: When mushrooms start to soften, remove all ingredients from pan and add to large mixing bowl with the sautéed onions.  Scramble eggs and add to mixing bowl.

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STEP 4: Add noodles, green onions, remaining cup of mung bean sprouts, and sauce.  Stir until ingredients are well-combined.

IMG_3303 IMG_3304 IMG_3305 IMG_3306

STEP 5: Add cilantro and nuts to garnish.  That’s it–easy right?  Enjoy!

Authentic Pad Thai Noodles at Home Authentic Pad Thai Noodles at Home

cookies and cream ice cream cake

Easy 3-Ingredient Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Cake

Though our family generally has very healthy eating habits, every now and then we just have to splurge.  Hubby made a cookies and cream ice cream cake for a party a while back and it didn’t last long!  I decided to prepare one myself today and share the steps because this dessert is so easy, fast, and delicious that I know many of you would enjoy.  And if I can make it anyone can!

Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Cake

You only need three ingredients:

  • 12 ice cream sandwiches
  • 1/2 regular size pack of Oreos
  • 2 cups Cool Whip

**BONUS: This recipe can be made gluten free and/or dairy free by substituting the type of “ice cream” sandwiches and cookies used.  

STEP 1: Chop 1/2 pack of Oreos in food processor until finely ground.

Oreos IMG_3229

STEP 2: Add ground Oreos to mixing bowl containing 2 cups Cool Whip.

Cool Whip IMG_3231

STEP 3: Fold ground Oreos into Cool Whip until well combined– this is the frosting.

Oreos and Cool Whip IMG_3236

STEP 4: Place silicon baking sheet over a cookie pan.

silicon baking sheet IMG_3238

STEP 5: Place four ice cream sandwiches together in center of baking sheet.  Spread a layer of frosting on top.

ice cream cake IMG_3244 ice cream cake

STEP 6: Repeat with two more layers of ice cream sandwiches.

ice cream cake ice cream cake

STEP 7: Frost the top and sides of cake.

ice cream cake ice cream cake

STEP 8: Allow cake to set in freezer for 1-2 hours.  Remove from baking sheet.  Slice and enjoy!

ice cream cake ice cream cake