Saturday, February 13, 2010

Retail Therapy: Jumping Into a DSLR Camera

If you know me, you know I love photography. I'm often asked to recommend DSLR cameras to those who are ready to make the jump from a point and shoot model. I've seen some super prices on solid camera "kits" for those wanting to join the ranks of DSLR users. I'm a Canon girl so click here to see the Amazon listing for the Canon EOS Rebel T1i which includes full HD video. I saw a very similar "kit" with a bonus lens at my local Coscto today for the same price. Maybe now is the time for a little retail therapy? You won't regret it!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Grocery Game: Menu Planning Basics

After the Safeway ad arrives in my mailbox on Wednesday, I begin planning my menu for the following week. The prices on the weekly ad are valid from Wednesday until the following Tuesday, leaving me plenty of flexibility about when I will shop. I detest weekend grocery store trips so much that I'd rather shop with both of my kids with me on Thursday or Monday than hit the store on Saturday or Sunday.

Here are five of my menu planning basics:

1. I plan dinner for five nights. For the two other nights, we eat leftovers from the other dinners or sometimes use up a freezer item such as tamales, ravioli, lasagna, or have breakfast for dinner!

2. Breakfast and lunches are fairly repetitive at our house but no one has complained so far. For breakfast, we rotate cereal, yogurt, smoothies, peanut butter toast, and pancakes/waffles. Lunches consist of grilled cheese, hummus and pita, pasta, quesadillas, or leftovers from dinner. Add in some side dishes or snacks like apples, bananas, berries, carrots, dry roasted peanuts, raisins, cheese sticks or pretzels and those meals are covered.

3. I create a weekly menu with some variety but I also keep in mind that dinners that "share" ingredients can help you stick to your budget. For example, if you are doing chicken parmesan one night, set aside one of the chicken breasts from the package, grill it and add it to caesar salad for another night's meal. Having bacon for breakfast? Do a BLT for dinner! Simplify and stretch those dollars out throughout the week.

4. Make sure at least half of your dinners are "leftover friendly". Tacos, soup, stir fry and pork tenderloin are examples of great dinner that you can enjoy for lunch later in the week. Or make some paninis with some leftover brie, honey and dried apricots from your weekend wine tasting night. Or put together odds and ends like chicken, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce with some sourdough bread for an italian sandwich.

5. Only include your favorite pre-packaged items on your weekly list if you can them find at deep discounts. Every once in awhile you gotta have a frozen pizza, right?! There are some Safeway brand pizzas to be found for $2.99. I taste tested the thin crust Pepperoni during Super Bowl week and it was good! But I wouldn't pay $5.99 for it.

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: What are your menu planning tips and tricks? What are some great deals you've seen at your store lately?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grocery Game: Behind the Scenes

Before I share my menu and shopping list for the upcoming week, I thought I would share some behind the scenes "secrets" that may help you with your own planning.(Some of these topics are detailed in previous posts if you are interested in more information.)

1. My monthly budget of $400 per month does not include wine (it pays to have a brother-in-law who is a winemaker), beer (don't drink it), soda (don't drink it), or paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, and toothbrushes which I purchase at Target or Costco.

2. I only shop once a week (usually Mondays) and I only shop at Safeway.

3. I am flexible, as needed, about brands. The price of being 100% brand loyal is often too steep.

4. I rely on Safeway Club card deals and weekly specials first, adding coupons as needed/available.

5. I take an inventory of my pantry and fridge before I create my shopping list. This important step helps me use up food on hand as I create my weekly list.

Since the Safeway add arrives every Wednesday, my menu planning begins tonight. (Let me know if you have a must try recipe! Maybe I can work it in to next week's menu?)

Cheap and Cheerful Cooking: Better For You Brownies

My friend Mary brought these brownies over last night. I could not have ever imagined the secret ingredient in this Weight Watchers recipe! Make some for your Valentine tonight.

2 spray(s) cooking spray, flour-variety recommended
1/2 cup(s) canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup(s) black coffee, strong
1/2 cup(s) unsalted butter
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
4 large egg(s)
1 1/4 cup(s) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp table salt
1 cup(s) all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9- X 13-inch pan with cooking spray; line with aluminum foil and coat foil with cooking spray.

In a blender or mini food processor, process beans with coffee until smooth; set aside.

In a double boiler over very low heat, melt butter and chocolate.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low speed, add melted chocolate to eggs; incorporate well. Add black bean mixture, vanilla and salt; mix well. Add flour; combine thoroughly on low speed.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a tester inserted in center of brownies comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pan to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove brownies from pan by pulling up on foil and placing brownies on cooling rack to cool more. Cut into 24 pieces and serve. Yields 1 piece per serving.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Deal of the Day: Best Cameras Under $300

I love photography and was thrilled with this recent New York Times article. Check it out:

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: Was your camera on the list?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Grocery Game: Back by Popular Demand

I've had a few requests to talk a little bit more about saving money at the grocery store. For starters, I follow three basic rules:

1. Create a weekly menu.
2. Use the menu to create your grocery list.
3. While shopping, buy only what is on your list.

For our family of four, I budget $100 per week. This amount includes all food for the week, including any take-out or trips to restaurants/coffee shops. (You can see why we don't eat out very much!)

Starting next week, I will "publish" our menus and give provide a photo of my grocery store receipt. By doing this, I can walk some of you who want grocery store "help" through my process of menu planning and shopping. And for you coupon gurus, I would love your input as well!

This week, our menu is centered around a few great values from last week's deals at Safeway. 18 pack of eggs -- buy one, get one free. We'll have omelettes, bake Valentine treats, and make waffles with plenty of eggs to spare for the next few weeks. Ground turkey -- buy one, get one free. We had turkey burgers and will have turkey tacos next week. Johnsonville Italian Sausage -- buy one, get one free. We'll try a new crockpot dish with tomatoes, onions, peppers and sausages this week. Ten pound bag of potatoes -- $.99! Imagine all of the yummy potato dishes you can make!

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: What grocery store tips and tricks do you want to know more about? What tips and tricks can you share with other readers?


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