Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The World's Best Vegan Italian Lentil Soup

Many years ago I created this lentil soup recipe. Unlike most other dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking. After 20 minutes, they are thoroughly cooked, not mushy, and perfectly soft. At $1.00-$1.50 a pound, they are a fantastic source of protein, folate, copper, and fiber.

This soup has been a family favorite, which I have made countless times. I hope your family will enjoy it too!

 The World's Best Vegan Italian Lentil Soup



 1 1/2 pounds of green or brown lentils
1 1/2 cups chopped carrot
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 medium chopped onion
16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
12 cups of water
1 tsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp salt-free seasoning
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp Bragg's aminos or low sodium soy sauce
fresh cracked black pepper to taste



Put a few tablespoons of water in the bottom of a 6 quart pan. Add onion and garlic. Cook on medium heat until the onion and garlic are softened.

Add carrots, celery, tomatoes, and water.

Rinse lentils well in a strainer. Add to the pan. Add the remaining seasonings, except black pepper.

Simmer for 30 minutes and "soup's on!"

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables and lentils are cooked through.

Place in bowls with a twist of fresh cracked pepper on top. Serve with a big salad and muffins!

Amazing! So simple and yet so satisfying!

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The Worlds Best Vegan Italian Lentil Soup!


Enjoy! And do let me know if you make it! 

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Save on Utliities with These Ten Easy Tips

Utility bills can eat up a large portion of your monthly paycheck. So, anytime I get the opportunity to learn about ways to cut these costs, I jump at the chance.

On February 2nd I attended an Energy Savings Initiative Forum at a local church. It was hosted by a number of local and state organizations.

Representatives from the Citizen's Utility Board (CUB) and Elevate Energy gave helpful, information-packed presentations on increasing energy efficiency, while decreasing utility bill costs.

Display tables showcased a wide assortment of written materials as well as physical samples of home energy-saving devices.

Ten Tips and Programs

These are some of the fantastic ideas discussed at the Energy Initiative Forum.

Tip #1: Insulate your attic.

This infrared photo from from Elevate Energy showed the audience that the vast majority of heat is lost through your home's roof and around the windows. The red areas are all heat loss.

The newest research shows that the most effective way to insulate your attic is with a layer of blown in insulation sandwiched between two layers of rolled insulation. So, lay down traditional rolled insulation, blow in additional insulation, and then finish by rolling on a top layer of insulation.  

Tip #2: Caulk around windows.


During the string of sub-zero days this winter, we noticed that a layer of frost had formed inside our windows at the joints. It was immediately clear to us where the cold air was entering the house. It was not through the window pane, but rather around the window casement itself. That's where the majority of the frost had formed!

The second most common area of home energy loss is your windows - not the windows themselves, but around the windows. Energy experts recommend that you purchase a few tubes of inexpensive caulk and seal up cracks around the windows, rather than replace them altogether. New windows will cost you thousands, caulk is under $100 for all the windows in an average sized home. It's an inexpensive project that actually pays real dividends. 

Tip #3: Seal cracks.

Sometimes cracks occur around the foundation, rather than near the windows. If you feel a draft at your feet when you sit in your basement family room, it's time to look for cracks in the foundation. Seal these and you will instantly notice a difference in your comfort level.

 Tip #4: Get a home energy assessment.

Many utility companies and a variety of private companies offer home energy assessments. They come into your home with devices designed to detect energy consumption. They look at your thermostat, windows, attic, basement. You get the idea. Basically, they will scour your house, looking for ways that air is entering or escaping. Although such services are priced at around $100, it is estimated that you will save around $400 per year when you follow their recommendations for sealing and insulating your home. 

Here is a list of both paid and free home energy assessment options.

1. Home energy audits. Cost: Around $100.

Utility companies often provide customers with information on saving money on energy costs. For instance, through their Home Efficiency Program, one large utility, Ameren, sends a representative to your home to look for air leaks, insufficient insulation, and other energy-sucking problem areas. Then, if you choose to address the problem areas with one of their trusted contractors, you may qualify for an Illinois Energy Star silver or gold certificate, adding value to your home when you are ready to sell it.. This energy audit service generally costs around $100 and the typical energy savings is estimated at 20% once recommended upgrades and repairs are completed.

If you don't have $100 available or that price tag seems daunting, read on!

2. Energy Impact Illinois. Cost: FREE.

Some not-for-profit agencies provide free energy audits, although these may not be as comprehensive as those offered by utility companies. In Illinois, residents can schedule an Elevate Energy representative to help you understand how your home is wasting energy and give you a list of suggested improvements.You may qualify for a whole host of free products, from insulation to thermostats. At your request, they can connect you with a trusted local contractor. The Elevate Energy representative stays with you through the whole process, insuring the work is completed for a fair price. You can also receive an silver or gold star certificate through this program. 

3. Low income energy audit. Cost: FREE.

Ask your local energy provider if they offer special incentives for those who meet certain income requirements. My utility company does! 

I was so excited when I heard about Ameren's Energy Savings Incentive during the home energy forum, I thought I might jump up and have a serious "praise Jesus" moment right there in the meeting! Our family easily, and I do mean easily, qualifies for this program! My husband called Ameren several months to ask about their home energy audit program. We thought about it, but that $100 price tag gave us pause for concern. It seems the representative failed to mention that if you meet certain income requirements, you can get the whole kit and caboodle, plus more, for free!

They will send a representative to evaluate your home for areas which could use energy improvements. While they are there, they will also install LED light bulbs and low aerator showerheads for free. Finally, they will offer you incentives and rebates for adding insulation, sealing air leaks, purchasing smart power strips, and more! Here's the link again, in case you missed it above.

Tip #5: Update your thermostat. 

I will admit that I am not the most tech-savvy person. But, smart technology is the wave of the future. So, I'm ready to ride the wave, especially if it involves saving money! 
Smart thermostats can be controlled remotely, using your computer or cell phone. They allow you a whole range of comfort functions and cost about $150 new. However, statistically, you'll save $180 a year. So, the cost is negated in just 12 short months.

To sweeten the deal, right now, Ameren will give you a $100 rebate on your thermostat.  

Check with your local power company to see if they are offering similar incentives. 


Tip #6: Check your bill for unnecessary charges. 


Many years ago I noticed a weird charge on our utility bill. I called, and sure enough, I had mistakenly checked a box that I should not have checked on my utility form. They removed the charge.

The Citizen's Utility Board (CUB) 


Most of the time it's hard to decipher what it customary and what is exorbitant when it comes to any bill. In the state of Illinois, the Citizen's Utility Board it there to help you! For over 35 years, this non-partisan organization has been dedicated to fighting for Illinois consumers to get the best service and a fair price on utilities. They do not charge for any of their services and are funded by donations. For absolutely free, they will look at your utility bill. They are trained to spot unusual charges and give you advice on how to save money.

CUB also provides a number of super helpful booklets and information sheets at their website. Topics range from cutting utility costs to fighting robocalls. 

Tip #7:  Sign up for hourly pricing programs. 


Every state and utility company has its own programs to help consumers save money on utility bills. In Illinois, you have two great opportunities. 

1.  Peak Time Rewards

I love peak time rewards programs, because they will cost you absolutely no money! You simply sign up and then receive a credit on your monthly bill when you reduce your energy consumption during specific high peak periods of time. I recommend that everyone check with their local utility company to see if they offer this program. Your savings will vary, depending on how many days during the year that your utility company contacts customers, asking them to turn down their heat or turn up their air conditioning. But, since there are no fees associated with this program, it's sure to save you at least some money on your bill.

2. Hourly pricing programs 

My husband and I use an hourly pricing program. It comes with a very low monthly cost. My husband and I signed up for this program a year ago and have been quite happy with our savings. Currently, in our area, the cost is $2.50 a month added to your bill. But, our savings have outstripped that small fee. Remember, we are saving money even though we own an electric car, which we charge from midnight to 4am, when the electric rates are at their lowest. Without this program, our electric rates would undoubtedly have gone up with the addition of our electric vehicle.

Tip #8: Check for local, state, and federal rebates. 


Whenever you replace an old or ailing appliance or home heating or cooling system, you may very well be eligible for an immediate or delayed rebate. 

An example of an immediate rebate is the refrigerator program from Ameron. If you have them pick up and dispose of your old energy-wasting working fridge, they will give you a $50 rebate on your next utility bill. 

Less immediate rebates come in the form of state and federal tax credits. You'll need to be certain that you have saved your dated receipt to claim your rebate. Your tax professional can help you navigate the paperwork. 

A Note on Taxes: For free help on filing your taxes, check with your local social service agencies. In our city, every year, retired tax professionals give their time for several weeks prior to April 15th to help local residents file uncomplicated tax forms. You sign up, meet the volunteer tax professional, and file your taxes all at the local library. If you want to file at home and meet certain income requirements, you can also file for free through several on-line tax agencies. A list of requirements and participating companies is available at the IRS website. Our 20 year old son files for free every year. We have also taken advantage of this program many times over the years.

Tip #9: Research energy savings, energy star ratings, and actual customer reviews before you buy.



I find this information from a variety of sources It's okay to go to the manufacturer website and look at reviews. I also check out Amazon and other retailers. Customers are not paid for their reviews and most of the time it's pretty unbiased. If they have been given a free product in return for their review, this should be clearly stated at the beginning of their review.

 Energy Star is a voluntary US EPA program, which helps provide increased efficiency and energy savings in products. Look for the energy star stamped on the side of products where you shop. Rebates are often available on these items.

Tip #10: Read the terms carefully and make copies of all completed forms and paperwork before submitting it!  


  •  Read the terms of the rebate carefully. Most of the time you will need to purchase an energy star rated product in order to receive the rebate. There may be time limitations as well.
  • Some rebates are worth quite a tidy sum. Always save your purchase receipt on all appliances. BEFORE you send in the rebate, make a copy of your receipt and all paperwork you are submitting. It's worth the small cost of taking it to Office Depot's copy department if you don't have a home copier. You want to be able to recreate your paperwork if you need to resubmit it. 

For more information on cutting costs, read: 

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Valantine Decor Clearance - 90% off!

 In my FREE monthly guide to discount gift-giving I tell you to look for Valentine related merchandise at the absolute rock-bottom clearance prices about a week after February 14th. 

Lo and behold, this glorious sight met my eyes this morning at Kroger. Not only were the items deeply discounted, but there were two overflowing carts and one entire endcap of merchandise from which to choose.

Although much of it was specific to Valentine's Day, there were several items which were pretty generic, allowing me to purchase them and add them to my gift cache.  Here's a post on how to organize your yearly gift-giving. Pssst...there's even a free downloadable form to help you  create and organize your gift-giving. 

What did I buy? 

90% off Valentine Clearance

Here's a photo of each item and the price after the 90% discount.


  I saved: $79.52!

I spent: $7.92! 

Remember, you can download my one page monthly guide, which tells you when to look for the steepest discounts on gift items. It's my free gift to you!

Your turn!

Did you score any amazing deals on Valentines and Valentine related merchandise for next year? We'd love to know! Leave a comment below!  

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Restocking After My Eat-From-the -Pantry Challenge

After a week of self-imposed kitchen creativity, I was ready to hit the grocery stores. We were seriously out of nearly every kind of food except a few left over onions and four heads of garlic. My list was mammoth.

This post certainly doesn't represent the totality of my list. It's just the first leg in this week's grocery shopping journey. In fact, we went shopping late at night after shopping endlessly for tile for our bathroom remodel project.Want to test the bounds of marital compatibility? Then just remodel a room and you'll soon find that it's not easy to come to a decision when it comes to style - vs - price or form - vs - function! I'll share our choices with before and after photos soon. But, I digress.

You might remember that when I opened the refrigerator on Saturday morning, it was nearly empty. But, being an adventurous blogger on all things related to money, I challenged myself to create a week's worth of meals, using only items that I had on hand.

Since I will be gone all day on Saturday, I filled part of our grocery list on Thursday night and the rest will be purchased on Friday evening. Here is the result of "Grocery Stop #1": our local HyVee.

Regular priced HyVee Items: 

I've not tried HyVee almond milk before. But, I poured the last 3 or 4 tablespoons of milk from the container this morning to "lightly" anoint my bowl of oatmeal. So, I definitely needed more almond milk before tomorrow morning. 

The $2.88 a half gallon was pretty decent. I generally pay about $2.50 for almond or soy milk that isn't on sale. So, I felt pretty satisfied with the purchase price. 

Misfit sweet potatoes - 5# bag for just $3.99. I've written several times, singing the praises of the HyVee Misfit Produce program. I consistently purchase these sweet potatoes and have been happy with the quality every single time!

HyVee Sale Items

On sale through - Tuesday, February 26th:

Cottage cheese - 24 oz. -  $ 1.68 each 

Eggs - 2/$3.00

Mandarin Oranges - 3 pounds - $1.98. 

It's citrus season! This is the second time this month that HyVee has put these divine orbs of flavor on sale at this price! My kids LOVE them!  I got 6 pounds and may very well buy more before they go off sale on Wednesday.

If you want the inside scoop on how and when to find the lowest prices on produce every month of the year, then download our FREE 8-page produce savings book!

Two day sale! FRIDAY and SATURDAY, February 22-23 only!

 Chicken breasts -  $.97 a pound. 

I don't eat meat, but this was perfect for my son, John's 20th birthday party on Sunday. What a fantastic price! You don't see chicken breasts for under $1.00 a pound too often. 

HyVee Markdowns

Yay for the markdown cheese bin! These nice-sized chunks were just under $2.00 each! 

Pumpkin Seeds - $1.00. These were in the magic markdown bin at the front of the store. I am one of the chaperones for my son's class field trip on Saturday. At just $1.00 a package, these pumpkin seeds will be a perfect road trip snack.

Price Matches!

Red grapes - price matched from the Aldi flyer for $.99 a pound. 

Green grapes - price matched from the Save-A-Lot flyer for $1.19 a pound. 

Russet potatoes - price matched from Save-A-Lot for $1.99 for 5#. I got two bags. 

 What I Spent: $37.71

What I Saved by using price matches: $9.61 

Percent I Saved with price matching: 21%

Your Turn!

 What were your best deals this week at the grocery store? Tell us in the comments!

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