Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Favorite Things: A Gift Tradition

Sometimes the rush of the holidays can shift our focus from less is more to more is better. We forget to simplify and get swept away by sales, deals, and stretch our budgets more than necessary. After all, the season is very much about magical surprises and unflinching generosity. But special gifts don't have to be complicated; after all, the love behind the gift is the most important and magical part.

I've got one idea that can make your holiday shopping simpler and more focused; I call it a gift tradition. Instead of rushing around to find the perfect scarf for her, the best tie for him, or the toy with all the tiny parts for your godson, why not get everyone on your list the same thing? Pick a hardcover book for each person, write a hearfelt note in the cover, wrap and give! Or maybe you'd rather pick a special ornament or holiday decoration each year? Got a sweet tooth? Hit up your favorite treat vendor and get something for everyone! Or maybe everyone on your list needs a pair of Tom's shoes? (My twin sister gets credit for that idea!)

Below are a few book suggestions that just might work for everyone on your list. Each selection is under $16!

* Gregory Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion is the lastest offering from the Jesuit priest who founded and runs Homeboy/Homegirl Industries in Los Angeles. All proceeds from book sales support the gang intervention programs which are making such a huge impact in East LA.

* Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer is written by Nancy Brinker of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Laugh, cry, and learn about this important cause.

* Who can resist classic, comforting recipes? Check out the newest book -- Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten (and it is 50% off)!

* This collection of legends, illustrated by Tomie dePaola, is a favorite at our house. The beautiful pictures are interesting enough for a toddler and the stories are great for emerging readers.

* This final suggestion -- a collection of travel photos by the creators of Lonely Planet -- costs a little more but who doesn't love an amazing coffee table book.

Imagine going into one bookstore or visiting one online bookseller and being 100% done with your holiday shopping. Not only cheap and cheerful, but also merry and bright!

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: Do you have a gift tradition? Or, if you were to start one, what one cool item would you pick?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cheap and Cheerful Chatter: $300 Grocery Challenge -- Week Two

I am happy to report that Operation (More) Organics was mostly a success. I purchased organic lettuce, apples, chives, carrots, peas, onions, chicken broth, milk, cheese, and yogurt and my grocery bill was only about 12% more than I anticipated spending.

My total for the week was $88.43. When you consider that I did not have to shop for one of my weekly dinners (lasagna), you can add that to your total spending but still come in under $100 for the week for the meals I planned.

For those taking the grocery challenge, please share your savings stories. Maybe $300 a month is too severe for your family but I know you are discovering new ways to stretch your grocery dollar and I'd love to hear them.

Also, I've got $124 left for November but we're staying with family for the week of Thanksgiving. Most likely, we'll spend less than $300 this month and coming in under budget would be great; I could use the money for treats on the Thanksgiving road trip, roll the money over into December for special holiday treats, or use it towards postage for our Christmas cards. How would you spend the extra cash?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grocery Game: How to spend less than $100 a week

Let the grocery makeovers begin! This month, I will be giving some guidance to friends and blog readers who want to save some cash in their grocery budget. Over the next few weeks, I will give each chosen reader some specific advice on how to stretch their dollar for their own specific food needs and family size. But, if you want the basics on how to spend less than $100 per week on all of your food for four people, read on!

Here are your four weekly steps --

Step One: Do an inventory of pantry and fridge items.
Step Two: Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list based on that menu.
Step Three: Cross check your list with existing paper and electronic coupons, plus Club Card specials
Step Four: Only do one shopping trip per week (and stick to your list!)

Here's my version for this week of each step --

Step One: My pantry and fridge items include orzo, chicken broth, butternut squash, three frozen sourdough baguettes, five potatoes, one dozen eggs, oatmeal, raisins, flour, sour cream, six yogurts, one ball of mozzarella, one container of ricotta, lasagna noodles, frozen ground beef, lots of tomato sauce and tomato paste, and other odds and ends.

Step Two: Our dinners for the week are Ina's Pea Soup, Giada's White Bean and Tuna Salad, the famous Ferrara lasagna (which we never made last week), risotto with butternut squash, and other odds and ends like leftover chili and cornbread from tonight's dinner, homemade pizza (the kids' favorite meal), and black bean and cheese burritos, etc. We'll stock up on green salad items, fruit, granola, yogurt, and wheat bread, too. We'll also bake some Oatmeal Raisin cookies.

Note: I will be able to add more organic products this week because Safeway has its own line, O Organics, that work into these menu items such as chicken broth, frozen peas, cheddar cheese, butter, and milk. I'll also check which organic fresh fruits and veggies look good this week.

Budget Tip: We usually do one pasta, one soup, one pizza, one meat, and one - two "leftovers" nights for dinner. Then one night we have something super simple like panini or cold pasta salad or even breakfast for dinner such as waffles, smoothies, or eggs!

Step Three: First, I double check Safeway's Just 4 U for clipless coupons and to view the Club Card specials. I've usually already looked at the list as I am doing my inventory to help me brainstorm how to maximize my deals. Once I've loaded all of the coupons on to my Club Card, I am ready to go shopping.

Budget Tip: Using a Club Card saves me at least 25% every time I go to the store. I am interested to see what my savings margin will be when I pick more Safeway O Organics products.

Step Four: I plan my menu and write my shopping list on Sunday nights and shop on Monday mornings. By going to the store only once per week, I make myself eat what we've purchased and avoid wasting food or exceeding my budget because I am not allowing myself to spend money on additional trips.

Budget Tip: Share your list with your spouse or a friend if you need to be held accountable for sticking to your list. Then, save your weekly receipts and you can review them at the end of the month to better assess if you are sticking to your overall grocery budget.

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: What is your favorite, affordable dinner for a family of four?

Buy This, Not That: Snow Bibs

Since we live close to Lake Tahoe, but the kids aren't yet skiing, we only visit the snow two or three times per winter. Some friends in the know recommended buying the Circo and Cherokee snow bibs. I snagged two pairs yesterday; the toddler size sells for $12.99 and the youth size retails for $16.99. Snow bibs on Lands' End and L.L. Bean cost $50. So if your kids are growing fast and you love to play in the snow, I'd recommend checking out this Cheap and Cheerful deal. They look to be good quality and fit nicely when the kids tried them on. They also have snow board style pants for $17.99 in sizes 4/5 and up. If you're looking for a pair to get you through one (or two) season(s), run to your nearest Target as I imagine deal hunters will scoop up these items quickly. But the best part -- I've got plenty of money left over for some new hats and gloves which we also need before we head to the winter wonderland.

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: Where do you buy your cold weather gear?


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