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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Super Savvy Christmas Gifts from Walgreens?!

 My recent Walgreens haul was so fantastic that it qualified for inclusion in my Super Savvy Shopper Savings Series! 

Before we get started, let me give you links to part 1 and part 2 of this series "Dollar Tree Deals" and "Let's Go Krogering."


When one ponders which stores offers gifts at great prices, Walgreens doesn't immediately spring to mind.  However, I recently hit a motherload of gifts in the clearance section of my local Walgreens.

Check out these colorful scarves!
 
They were marked down 90%!  Originally priced at just under $6.00, they were discounted to $.60 each!   I cleaned the shelf! The grand total for the scarves was $7.80!

But, wait!  There's more!

Elegant "Together We Give Opportunity" coffee mugs!

Originally priced at $12.00, they were discounted to $1.20 each. Although the price was very attractive, I soon discovered that this was a cup with a cause!  I love that a portion of the profits goes to support financial independence for needy women overseas.  The organization is called WE and can be found at https://www.we.org/.  There is a code on a tag attached to each mug.  You can go to the website and type in the code to see the impact of your purchase.  Once again, I depleted their inventory.

I even got an additional discount by using the points I had accumulated on my Walgreens store loyalty card.  Honestly, I was so pumped by the bargains that I didn't even consider that I might have enough points to take some money off of my total.  The store clerk, who was as excited by my deals as I was, asked me, "Do you want me to check the total on your loyalty card?  Maybe you have enough points to discount your total even further?"  I love it when a total stranger is clearly "into" my savvy shopper ways.  Sure enough, I was able to take $5 off of my total!

The scarves and mugs all went into my "gift stash" to be used for Christmas gifts.  Here is an example of a gift basket that I put together for under $5.00, using items that I found at incredible prices.

Here is a breakdown of the items and their cost:

Three dark green Christmas napkins:          $ .75 ($.25 each - Bergner's clearance)
"Together We Give Opportunity" mug:       $1.20 (Walgreens Clearance)
Oolong Organic Tea:                                    $1.00 (Big Lots Clearance shelf)
Pampered Chef wooden spoon:                   $1.20 (Clearance)
Cool colorful scarf:                                      $ .60 (Walgreens Clearance)
___________________________________________________________
TOTAL:                                                       $4.75

Note:  I had the basket, the candy, and the black feather on hand already. I purchase baskets throughout the year from second-hand stores or garage sales.  I try to always keep a few in my "gift stash" area.  Nice gift bags are also something to look for throughout the year.  Although remember that Dollar Tree has them in stock year-round for a dollar each in various sizes.  


Since then, I have stopped by Walgreens two more times and taken note that although they are not a "gift shop", they do have some interesting items at fantastic clearance prices.  It is certainly worth a stop while you are in the neighborhood.  After all, there is a Walgreens on every corner, isn't there?  😉

How about you?  Have you ever shopped your Walgreens for gifts?  I'd love to hear your experiences.  Comment below.

Remember,

Do all to the glory of God,

Hope 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gift-giving: "Under the Median" for the Holidays



Ah, the holidays, a time of joy, celebration, and lots of food!  It can also be a challenging time for families who live Under the Median.

It is at times like this that I remember my blog is dedicated to bringing encouragement to folks who work hard and yet bring home a paycheck that necessitates counting each nickel and dime.  So, with that in mind, I'm going to give you my best tips for having a joyous holiday season, but not breaking the bank.

Start Early


Around the end of October, I make a list of friends, co-workers, and family members to whom I will be giving gifts.  Then, I make a list of all the items I have in my "gift stash", gift items that I have stockpiled throughout the year.  Most of these items were bought at steep discounts and clearance prices.  Then, I match up gifts to each person on the list.  Generally, I have just a few "slots" left to fill.  Here's how I keep my Christmas budget within reasonable boundaries, pay cash for every item,  and bless both friends and family!


Christmas begins on.... December 26th.    


I begin buying for the following Christmas on December 26th.   The day after Christmas, prices on Yuletide themed products drop by 50%!  Wait another few days and you'll score bargains at prices 75 - 90% off. 

 Purchase red, green, or plaid napkins and handtowels at a fraction of retail.  Set them aside. Then next Christmas line a pretty basket (which you collected throughout the year at garage sales or second-hand shops) with a couple of the napkins, a holiday mug or some hot cocoa mix or herbal teas.



In a similar fashion, a handtowel can be used to line a basket.  Add fancy soaps and a loofah for a "bath" themed basket.

 Walgreens puts Yardley soaps on sale regularly.  I like both the lavender and oatmeal soaps.  They feel like luxury soap without the luxury price.  Big Lots also regularly stocks Yardley soaps.

Just in case you missed the photo at the top of this blog post,

These are my teacher gifts for this year.  I paired organic herbal teas on clearance for $1.00 a box with a Pampered Chef mini-wooden spoon purchased for just $1.25 each.  I tied each with a festive ribbon.  

One more suggestion!  A handtowel can be used to wrap a bottle of lotion or foaming handsoap.  Tie it up with a pretty ribbon and it's the perfect gift for the holidays.


 

Shop second hand.


As economy-weary consumers tighten both their pocket-books and budgets, I have noticed an increased proliferation of second-hand book and thrift shops.  For those who live under the median these merchants can be a Godsend when it comes to not only purchasing items which we need, but also for giving gifts.   Yes, second hand stores have come of age!  Goodwill is increasingly stocking brand new merchandise: everything from socks to dishes to clothing to bedding at bargain prices.  While you are there, look for pretty baskets, glass containers, gift wrap, ribbons, and bows.  If you have an antique-lover in the family, you will never find better prices than at second-hand shops. 

Make it from scratch!


When my husband turned 50, I made four different flavors of homemade muffins, stacked them on a tray and took them to his workplace.  I placed a cute sign next to it that said, "Larry is 50 today!  Please enjoy a homemade muffin to help him celebrate!"  I added smaller signs indicating the different kinds of muffins:  chocolate, spice, bran, and lemon.  When I mentioned this to my neighbor she looked at me in amazement.  "You mean you made them all from scratch??!!  No mixes??!!"  I couldn't figure out her consternation.  She continued, "When someone has a birthday where I work they bring in sweets to share.  I have never seen anyone bring in something homemade."  Turns out her birthday was the following week.  I baked her two dozen made-from-scratch muffins to take with her to work.  Yep!  She was right.  She was instantly popular and her co-workers were similarly amazed.


Now to those of us who routinely make everything we eat from scratch, the idea of a homemade muffin, cake, pie, pastry, or tart being out-of-the-ordinary is equally astounding.  But, it turns out that my neighbor is on to something.  In this age of processed, microwaved, boxed food, the act of giving something as a gift that you baked yourself is really appreciated.  So, don't be afraid to break out those baking pans!  Have fun and let the kids help!!  Friends, neighbors, and relatives really like it when your children create the gift tags.  Homemade items always elicit a cheery, uplifting feeling and reminds people that you cared enough to give of your time, effort, and ingredients to bless them at Christmas.

This same principle can be applied to the act of making crafts for others.  Pintrest is an amazing vehicle for ideas for transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.  My hat is off to those who are gifted in the areas of painting, sewing, crafting, and woodworking.  You are all awesome and I hope that I am on your gift-giving list!  

It's the little things that count.  


Remember, bigger is not always better.  Yes, it feels awkward when someone gives me a gift that clearly cost more than the gift which I gave them.  But, I do not live in their home.  I am not their personal financial planner.  I don't walk in their shoes.  I LOVE to give.  Nothing pleases me more than to make someone's day brighter and give them joy.  But, I also know the necessity of living within my means.  I have a theory that God takes special joy in meeting the needs of those who are willing to live frugally and pray for Him to endow them with unique ideas for blessing others.  I can recall countless stories of how I have found just the perfect gift for someone at a price that I could afford.  Finally, remember, the purpose of gift-giving during the Yuletide season is to pay homage to the Christ child, the tiny baby, who would change the world and our lives forever.  When we put gifts into proper perspective, it really IS the thought that counts.

Time for your ideas!  Have you found a way to "knock it out of the park" with amazing gifts that don't cost an arm and a leg?  Comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  

Remember,

Do all to the glory of God,

Hope


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I'm Feeling Very "Squashed"



Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is fall and that means a plenitude of winter squash.  They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but they are all delicious!

I was standing in my kitchen recently with my son's girlfriend, Melanie.  We decided that we must use some of the lovely squash for supper that night.  Inspiration hit us both at the same time!  What about a smooth, velvety sauce that would be the perfect accompaniment for any number of dishes?  Yes!  We were "off and running", creating as we went!     The resulting family-approved recipe uses squash, tastes great, is incredibly versatile, and freezes well! 

🍂 Winter Squash Sauce  🍂

Hubbard, butternut, or acorn squash all work equally well in this recipe.  I used hubbard.  I love it's deep orange color.  Plus, it's full of amazing nutrients and knock-your-socks-off taste!  Just one cup contains 120% of your daily dose of vitamin A and 30% of vitamin C.  Additionally, studies have shown that it has both antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties.   I made this recipe vegan.  But, you can easily use chicken broth, use milk and saute the vegetables in butter or oil if you wish. 

Begin by cutting off the top and using a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Place the cut off top back on the squash. Cover the whole squash with aluminum foil and place it on a roasting pan.   Cook for 1 hour at 400 degrees.  When it's done, a knife will easily slide into the flesh.  

When it is done, it should look like this!

The easiest way to remove the flesh is to use a small knife and carefully cut away the skin of the squash.  The "meat" of the squash is left and is all usable.  Cut it into chunks and set aside. 

While the squash is roasting, dice one large onion, four cloves of garlic and 2 cups of red pepper.  Saute these in a pan on medium heat.  I sauteed them in a little water, since I'm not a fan of adding extra calories or fat by using either butter or oil. 

When the vegetable mixture is opaque - after about 10 minutes - add the chunks of squash, 3 cups of water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth (homemade is preferable), and seasoning:  1 Tblsp. garlic powder, 2 tsp. onion powder, 2 Tblsp. of no salt seasoning.  I like a mixture of garlic/herb and Kirkland Organic No Salt Seasoning.  Here's a link to the Kirkland brand.  You can find it at Costco, too.  

Cook this mixture for 15 minutes over medium heat, breaking up the chunks of squash as you stir the mixture.  It doesn't need to be smooth.  You are going to throw it all in the food processor 

Place the mixture into a food processor 4 cups at a time.  Process until smooth.  When it is all processed to a smooth consistency.  Add a little almond milk to the mixture if needed, to get it to flow smoothly through the processor.  Place the now smooth sauce back into the pan.  Add milk or plant-based milk 1 cup at a time until it reaches the consistency of pasta sauce.  I used almond milk.  

Add salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

This tasty sauce is incredibly versatile and freezes well.

It can be used as a topping over a hot baked potato, pasta, rice, or another grain.


 Here it is served over pasta with a side of cheesy bread and a salad.  Doesn't it look like mac and cheese?!




The vegan version has no cholesterol, little fat, and a boatload of nutrients!  It's guilt free, good-for-you goodness! 

Here is the sauce served over millet.  This mixture would also make a great filling for tortillas!



Click on this link to upload the recipe.
Enjoy!

Do all to the glory of God,

Hope









Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How We Bought a House with Nickels and Dimes



I recently entered a writing contest at Six Figures Under and was excited learn that I had won honorable mention for my article on Nickels and Dimes.  In it, I share our journey of saving for a new home.  In the process, I learned important lessons for conquering "great-big -audacious-nearly-impossible" goals.

Thanks to Stephanie from Six Figures Under and welcome to the Six Figures Under readers who are checking out my blog.  Stick around, peruse my posts, and let's get the discussion going on how to thrive, survive, and find joy while living Under the Median.  

To my faithful readers, head on over to Six Figures Under and enjoy this week's post:

https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/nickels-dimes-matter/


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Let's Go Krogering!



Time for part two of the Super Savvy Shopper Savings Series.  If you missed part 1, you'll find it here.

This week we'll focus on Kroger.  If you don't have a Kroger in your area, these tips can be applied to any major grocery store.  I'll tell you how to prep and store all the bargains, too. 

1.  Dairy, Meat, and Produce Markdowns 

These are marked with large orange and yellow stickers.  They are manager specials, overstocks, or items which are close to their expiration dates.  Generally the discounts are 50 - 75 percent!  Check greens from all angles to see if they look especially wilted.  I have found, in general, that discounted produce is still fresh for at least 4 or 5 days.

Discounted dairy can be frozen or eaten within a week.  Cream cheese and sour cream get a weird texture if you freeze them.  So avoid this mistake.  Milk can be frozen if you open it first and pour out about an inch or two from the top.  Recap and freeze.  Thaw and shake it before use.

Meat needs to be cooked and frozen right away or repackaged and frozen immediately.  The packaging from the grocery store is not really designed to be placed directly in the freezer.  The thin plastic, especially on meat, allows too much contact with air and risks freezer burn.  I find it convenient to repackage meat into smaller portions.  Hamburger can be made into patties and frozen flat with waxed paper in between the individual patties.  Place frozen patties into freezer bags.  For chicken breasts, place each breast in a small quart freezer bag and then freeze.  In this way meat can be thawed in the exact portion you need for your recipe.

Before freezing precooked hamburger, brown your beef in a pan, remove as much fat as possible, blot with a paper towel then run the cooked meat under hot water for five minutes and blot again with paper towels.  You can remove up to 50 percent of the fat in this manner. 

 2.  Look for the general merchandise clearance section. 

Nearly every large grocery store has a separate area for items that are close to their expiration date, are lightly damaged, or are discontinued.  Sometimes these are in a cart toward the back of the store or on a separate shelving unit. You can often find high priced and specialty foods in this cart marked WAY down!  Often gluten free, organic, or vegan foods are in this area.  It's worth a look each time you go to the store.  I try to keep some of our monthly grocery money in reserve, just in case I find bargains amongst the markdowns. 

3.  Look for price reduced fruits and vegetables.

Most major stores have an endcap of sightly imperfect produce.  These are generally of the same quality as what is on the regular shelves.  Sometimes they are sightly too small or too large to be considered "A" quality produce.  At times there are items which are getting toward the end of their viability for being sold.  So, do take the time to look them over carefully, especially fruit, which can be bruised.  

A few weeks ago I found bananas at a major grocery store marked at 50 cents a bunch!  I bought ten bunches.  Yep!  I froze most of them.  Just take them out of the peel and freeze in freezer bags.  Thaw for use in smoothies or recipes.  You can substitute banana for oil in most recipes. 

4.  Ask what time they do markdowns 

 Oh, this is such helpful knowledge!  I generally ask someone who works in the department to be certain that I get a correct response.  Sometimes the person who actually works in that department can give you great insider tips too.  For instance, I know that our local Kroger does their markdowns at noon each day.  We often stop by on our way home from church on Sundays to see if we can snag some half price organic greens for our salads.  If I don't see any of the delightful orange and green tags, I take a moment to check the expiration dates.  I discovered that if I find an item that expires with the next 48 hours and ask a salesperson they will go ahead and mark it down for me. 

5.  Use that sales flyer!

Use the sales flyer to your advantage.  Look for loss leader items - those are the products on the front or the back of the flyer with big photos.  They are generally offered by the store at a loss, to get you in their store.  Once you are there, they figure that you will be lured into spending more time and more money on items that you didn't intend to buy in the first place.  But, don't you do it!  You stick to that budget and that written grocery list!

 Plan out strategies for combining store and manufacturer coupons.  Last week I was in Krogers and saw one of those free-standing coupon kiosks emblazened with the words, "Try it on us."  Well that got my attention.  Whatever was printed on that coupon was apparently being offered to me for free.  Indeed, the coupon was for a free cream cheese (up to $2.69 in value).  Coincidentally, the store flyer offered to take $4.00 off of my bill if I bought 4 cream cheeses.  Quickly, I grabbed 4 coupons.  I was able to combine the manufacture coupons with the $4.00 store credit.  This meant that the store PAID me $4.00 to try the cream cheese.

One more strategy:  if the store if out of stock of an item that is advertised at a really great price, take the time to stop by the customer service desk and ask for a rain check.  Some rain checks require you to specify how many of the item you want at the sale price.  There may be a maximum.  In this case, I generally ask for the maximum.   If you go into the store with your rain check and purchase fewer units at the sale price,  it's not a problem.  But, you can never purchase more at the sale price than you have written on the rain check.  Finally, look carefully, some rain checks have an expiration date.  

6.  Use your store loyalty card. 

 If you are like me, you resist using anything that allows "big brother" to know exactly what, when, and how you are shopping.  Although store loyalty cards do, indeed, do exactly that, they also give the store and manufactures an opportunity to send you big money coupons occasionally on items that you already purchase.

Additionally, you can also often use purchase points for money off per gallon of gasoline that you purchase at the gas station associated with the store.  This works ONLY if you are purchasing items that you need, will use, and are offered at a great price.  If you are spending hundreds of dollars more on your grocery will each month just to get a few dollars off of gasoline, then stop it - now!

On the bright side, I unexpectedly received coupons in the mail from Kroger last week. I got peanut butter, organic vegetables, and several other items at greatly reduced prices or for free!   Overall, the store loyalty cards give me more bang for my buck and I will continue to use them, unless or until their methods of gathering information on my shopping habits becomes too intrusive. 

I hope you found this helpful.  Did I miss anything?  Do you have any super tips to add to my list?  Comment below.  I'd love to hear from you. 

Remember, 

Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Don't Miss These Dollar Tree Deals



Welcome to "Part 1" of my Super Savvy Shopper Savings Series
(Thanks to my son, Daniel for that undeniably cool title)

 My sister recently opened my eyes to the wonders of the Dollar Tree store.  There are not one, but four locations of this little gem in my town.  Each Dollar Tree carries slightly different merchandise.  So , if you have more than one nearby location, give each store a visit from time to time. A local store manager just told me today that they are continually shelving more and more name brand products.  The best part:  no matter which Dollar Tree you frequent, every item in the store is priced at just a buck!! 

 Today I will share with you how to get the most out of your shopping experience and list items at your Dollar Tree store with prices that are hard to beat. Let's look at seven areas in which the Dollar Tree excels.

FROZEN FRUIT AND VEGETABLES

This is actually where my recent "Dollar Tree Story" began.  I was bemoaning using the last of my frozen blueberries when my sister innocently asked me why I didn't go to Dollar Tree to buy more.  This was a new one for me.  Although I had been in my local Dollar Tree a handful of times, they had apparently added a frozen food section.  I was so enthused that in about two minutes I had all the kids loaded in the van and we were ready and head to Dollar Tree.  I was amazed!  They have 12 ounce bags of frozen blueberries, strawberries, or mixed berries for one dollar.  That got my attention fast!  That is a fantastic price!  They also have bags of frozen vegetables for the same price.  If they are out of stock when you visit, I suggest that you ask the store clerk what day of the week they get their shipment, and then plan to visit on that day to insure that you get the chance to buy some before they run out.  

CONDIMENTS AND OTHER FOOD ITEMS

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you probably already know that junk food doesn't make an appearance in my house.  I am an avid label-reader and avoid a whole host of questionable ingredients.  Having said that, there are several food and condiment items which I purchase at Dollar Tree.  I have found mustard, ketchup, pickles, olives, and barbeque sauce, which all pass my standards.  Dollar Tree also sells Nature's Own whole wheat bread and buns.  If you can't find this bread, ask the teller when the truck will arrive at the store with the next shipment.  Like any other general merchandise store, at Dollar Tree you'll find a lot of cheaply-made junk food, which you wouldn't want to serve to your family.  But, I would encourage you to take the time to pass through this aisle when you visit.  There are some quality items in there for a fantastic price. 



PARTY SUPPLIES

Whether you are planning a party or attending one, Dollar Tree has you covered.

 First, create the mood and theme of your party with matching paper plates, napkins, and cups.  Choose from perennial favorites (Like princesses or sports), cartoon and pop culture icons, or more traditional patterns or solid colors.   

Next, choose gift bags of assorted sizes, colors, and motifs for either gift giving or for creating "thank you" bags for each guest attending your event.   Tissue and wrapping paper are found in the same aisle.  

Don't forget prizes for the party games!  There is a huge selection from which to choose for adults or children.  I like stationary or colored pens for the ladies, a can of peanuts or snacks for the gents, and coloring books or puzzles for the kids. 

Finally, head on over to the card aisle for the perfect card.  If you are the party hostess, be sure to purchase a pack of "thank you" cards (Just $1.00 for a pack of eight!)

(Oh my gosh, this section read just like an advertisement.  Can you tell that I wrote commercials for about a decade when I worked in radio?!)  

SCHOOL AND CLASSROOM SUPPLIES



Parents, students, and teachers will all appreciate Dollar Tree's selection of educational items.  They have a whole row dedicated to basic math and language arts aids, posters, workbooks, craft supplies, and more!  Teachers and home educators:  They have planning books each year around the start of the school year for just a dollar each!  


ORGANIZERS

When my oldest son left for college, my husband and I gave him a very meager amount with which to decorate and stock his dorm room.  The caveat:  If he didn't spend the entire amount, then he could keep the remainder.  He was a man on a mission!  He made lists of every possible item that he would need.  When it came time to buy plastic tubs, organizers, and basic cleaning supplies he invited me to head over to Dollar Tree with him.  He found every single item on his list!  

SEASONAL DECORATIONS, PARTY FAVORS, AND GIFTS 



Decorations don't have to be expensive to be attractive - specially if you are buying them for a one-time party.  Dollar Tree always has a nice supply of decorations and party supplies for every season. Do be sure to check the store the week after the holiday has passed.  They often put the leftover items in a sale basket for between 50 and 75 percent off.   

CHRISTMAS STOCKING STUFFERS AND GIFTS
 
Christmas gets its own section for this article because Dollar Tree is my "must stop" store for the Yuletide season.  Begin with stocking stuffers for all the kids.  Last year my husband and I had a blast perusing the shelves.  We found a huge variety of items for each of our boys  - who range in age from 20 to 9.  Here are some examples:  bubble bath in cute shaped containers, flashlights, coloring books, crayons, stickers, candy, snacks, snow and ice scrapers for cars, and Star Wars themed Christmas hats (the 20 and 18 year old LOVED these!).  

While you are there look for teacher gifts.  I have bought candles, candy, and boxes of tea as tokens of my thanks to the wonderful men and women who teach my children.  One of my very favorite gifts came from one of my students years ago - Reindeer socks!  They came from a dollar store and I wore them for probably 4 or 5 years before they finally wore out.  I wish that student was in my class again.  I could use a new pair of Christmas socks!   

That's my Dollar Tree list!  Do you have anything to add?  Any great, not-to-be-passed-up deals at your Dollar Tree?  I'd love to hear from you.  Leave comments below!  

Remember, 

Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope