Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Best Deals of the Week and Why I Am No Longer Recommending HyVee Price Matching

It happened just today! HyVee changed their price matching policy and it has this budget-minded girl shopping around again. I'll give you the details at the end of this post. But, first, let me tell you which store gets my "best buys of the week" nod.

This week's store is a locally-owned ethnic shop: The Mediterranean Mart. Now, I realize that many of my readers are not Central Illinois natives. But, what I really want you to do, is think outside the box when it comes to where to get great deals on groceries. I have found that often ethnic stores ROCK when it comes to customer service and quality merchandise.

Here Is My All Organic Grocery Haul 

I happened to visit on a Wednesday. Mediterranean Mart brings in fresh produce from the Chicago markets every Thursday. So, on Wednesday, they were clearing out last week's purchases at bargain prices.

They had a nice sized basket of organic produce at the register. Everything in the basket was just $.99 each.

Organic broccoli - just $.99 a bunch

Organic red cabbage - just $.99 a head. 

There was a nice selection of other organic items marked at fantastic prices.

3 pounds organic red onions for $1.50

3 pounds organic red potatoes - $1.50 

3 pounds of organic clementines - $2.99 a bag. I got 2 bags! They taste divine!

What I paid: 

My total was: $12.60 before taxes!  

I see some amazing soup and stir fry in my near future! 

Thanks, Mediterranean Mart! 

And, hey, if anyone remembers the fantastic deal I got last week on 1 pound tubs of organic baby romaine, Mediterranean Mart is getting a new shipment in on Thursday. I paid just $1.59 for a pound of organic greens! 

Owner, Sieed, is always friendly and helpful. He goes out of his way to provide great quality products at reasonable prices. He won't sell you something that isn't right for you! He values every customer!

If you are local, give them a visit at the corner of Glen and University in Peoria. If you aren't local, then do be sure to Google ethnic markets in your area and give them a try! You just might find new friends and the opportunity to try new items that you might never have thought of trying!

The Scoop on HyVee 

As I promised, here is the 411 on HyVee's price-matching policy. Yes, they still price match. But, their new rules state that the product you purchase must be EXACTLY the same product as that featured at other stores. So, when I went in today, Aldi had 6 oz. packages of blackberries on sale for $.99. I got two packages and took them up to the checkout counter. A manager said that because HyVee sells Driscoll brand berries, that they could not be price-matched.

Now HyVee can have any policy that they want. But, from my perspective, blackberries are blackberries. The fact that there are several fantastic grocery stores all within a two mile radius of one another, really puts a damper on me doing any extra work just to save money at HyVee. I have been inside HyVee literally nearly every single week since they instituted their price-matching policy. But, I'm just not going to go to the trouble to try to match the EXACT same brand. Since I am vegan and only purchasing basically fruits and vegetables, any brand berry, citrus fruit, or potato will do just as well as any other. 

The following stores are all within two miles of each other in my town: Aldi, Schnucks, HyVee, Kroger, GFS, and Mediterranean Mart. In addition, during the growing season, the farmer's market falls within this two mile pattern and is open 6 days a week at the height of the season. So, I'll plan out my two mile circular route, walk in every store, and get the best prices on all the items I need.  

Your turn!

I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on HyVee's price-matching policy. At what point do a store's limitations and rules deter you from doing your shopping there? What is your favorite place to shop for great products at fantastic prices? Have you ever tried shopping at ethnic markets? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. 

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Monday, April 22, 2019


Celebrating special occasions doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg! Let me show you how to stay within your budget and simultaneously treat your family and friends to a wonderful, memorable meal!

For help with my Easter menu I turned to a website that I just recently discovered:  This lady is an absolute genius when it comes to food photography! Her recipes are both easy and incredibly elegant. I've been cooking from her site all week long. Since I was feeding a crowd I doubled every recipe. You'll find a link to each recipe under each photo.

(This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you.) 

Easter brunch menu 

First Course: Soup

I made this soup earlier in the week and it was amazing! I cannot describe for you the velvety quality of this soup! I made it with canned pumpkin, cutting the cooking time way down. I subbed hazelnuts for the chestnuts - a substitution which an internet search will assure you is fine. I disagree. Spend the extra money. Buy chestnuts.  (Yep, that's an Amazon affiliate link.) I love the taste and texture of chestnuts over hazelnuts any day! This soup is thick and could easily be used as a topping on pasta or brown rice. I'd wager good money that it would freeze fantastically, too! 

Second Course: Salad and Appetizers


Mixed Green Salad with tomatoes

Raw Veggie Tray

Olives and Fruit Salad

These took a little more prep time. But, they were oh so worth it! Homemade ganache filled the inside of these moist decadent-tasting spirals of goodness! They tasted amazing and were not overly sweet.

I used Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips. This is the ONLY kind of chocolate chip that I recommend. Here is the ingredient list in its entirety: unsweetened chocolate, cane sugar. That's it! Seriously! I wait until I find them on sale and then stock up.  Here's a link to buy your own supply of chips.

Third Course: Main Dishes

This recipe was a nice surprise. I didn't know if everyone would love the zucchini. But, they did! I assembled it a day ahead. So, all I needed to do was throw it in the oven for an hour after we got back from church. I doubled the recipe and it filled a huge 11 X 14 inch pan to the top. 

I really had to make this a day ahead of time. Using canned pumpkin, I was able to make the filling in the blender in about five minutes. The pasta needed to rest in the fridge for an hour. So, be sure to include the resting time in your plans. 

I simply must tell you that one of my favorite kitchen tools is my Pampered Chef cut and seal. I use this making fancy sandwiches, homemade hot pockets, and (clearly) ravioli. It makes crimping and sealing the edges super easy. My kids love to use it! Get your own cut and seal, here. My friend, Karen, will take good care of you! 

 I rolled out the dough and the 14 year old sous chef cut out the circles, filled them, and then crimped each one. We then threw them into boiling water for about five minutes, until they floated to the top of the water. You can top them with any number of yummy sauces. I made homemade pesto (a family favorite). The boys fought over who would get to take the leftovers for lunch today! 

Please note: The ravioli freeze wonderfully. Freeze them in a single layer on top of parchment paper. Then, use small pieces of parchment paper between each ravioli to freeze. 

Fourth Course: Dessert 

Blooming Nolwenn shows it on her website using a vanilla blueberry topping. I used vanilla plant-based yogurt and in-season strawberries and fresh pineapple. The granola crust held together beautifully and had just a hint of sweetness. The yogurt and fresh fruits were the perfect toppings. Easy and elegant .... and delicious! 

Total Cost: 

This meal would easily feed 12 people. I put the entire menu together for about $25.00! Yes! You can prepare amazing, healthy, special-occasion foods and still stay within your budget! 

Your turn! 

What do you prepare when you want to get that "Wow!" without spending a lot of money? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Three Important Lessons Learned While Remodeling My Bathroom

We recently remodeled our downstairs bathroom. After painstakingly saving up to pay cash, we encountered a quagmire of needing to choose sequentially less expensive product choices as we worked fervently to stay within our budget.

My beloved white Carrera marble tile gave way to less-expensive knock off hexagonal tiles. Then, as the cost of the shower replacement soared to over half of our budget, the knock-off marble was replaced with large sheets of faux-marble porcelain slabs.

The ceiling sloped, the floor was uneven, and not one wall formed a 90 degree angle. In short, the room was a mess! However, the finished product is attractive and meets my expectations far better than I ever thought it would when I wasn't getting what I thought I wanted.

So, why am I telling you this story? 

Because, compromise and hard decisions are a part of every life. But, when you live under the median, they come your way a lot more often. When you are doing your best to put food on the table, a roof over your head, and shoes on your kids' feet, sometimes you can't always have everything you think you want.

So, what do you do when the "I-didn't-get-it-all" sadness strikes?

Lesson #1: Remember your goals.

One evening, while I was bemoaning the tile situation, my husband reminded me that we began with three stated goals for the room: 

1. Get rid of the ugly, worn, stained carpet. 

New gray floor tile from Lowe's!

2. Replace the duct-taped shower. 

3. Update the original 1958 stool, which used about 6 gallons of water per flush and often had to be flushed twice to get all the debris to go down.  

I'd say we met all three goals! Thankfully, the final product is not at all unpleasant to look at either.

When the blues hit, you have to remember what is most important. Whether it's despising your 1980's blue and white checked sofa or wishing that your basement walls were not adorned in ugly, brown paneling, you need to remember your goals. 

Sometimes, it's remembering that you are sacrificing to get out of debt. It may be remembering that you have a savings account started to replace that couch and in just 12 short months, you can begin visiting furniture stores.

Regardless of the situation, often a crash course reminder of our goals is just the ticket to "reset" our mindset and drive away the doldrums.

Lesson #2: Listen to your advisors! 

I drove my husband crazy during the entire remodel process. I dissolved into tears every time we had to make a new decision. I was so tired of having to make changes, that I began to view every potential change as disastrous. I was convinced that it was going to look horrid. I even forbid him from putting any photos on Facebook. 

What I didn't realize was that the products being recommended by the construction team had advantages, which I was refusing to even consider. The square tiles were easier to fit and cut, saving us money on installation costs. The large porcelain slabs on the wall gave it an unbelievably elegant look, unbroken by too many grout lines. Even the light gray wall paint (my husband's choice) gave the room a much softer look than my first choice of white.

By being unwilling to listen to what others were saying, I was putting myself in a position of getting what I thought I wanted, but being much less satisfied with the end result. 

Lesson #3: Count your blessings.

About half way through the remodel, I began to contemplate what it would be like to live with plumbing which backs up on a daily basis or a bathroom with a non working toilet or a home with holes in the flooring (necessitating that one sits gingerly on the pot for fear that it will fall through to the basement). Right now, there are people in my city, living in housing, which should have been condemned long ago and a landlord who refuses to do anything to remedy the situation.

I know one of these tenets personally. (Don't worry! After years of angst, she is moving.) Now she  has reason to be upset about her bathroom!

When I put the myriad of setbacks and decisions into a new perspective, suddenly I felt more grateful for what I did have! My situation didn't change - just my attitude.

I first learned this lesson  20 years ago, I was struggling with depression. My second-born son was eight months old and still having problems with nursing. Keeping up with two boys was leaving this mom sleep deprived, cranky, and more than mildly frustrated on a daily basis. 

My husband came home from work one day with a dry erase board. Using small magnets, he attached it to my fridge. 

Turning to me, he said, "Honey, you are basing your entire day on one or two frustrating events that happen. Your perception is skewed, because you are only looking at the negative. I want you to write down three amazing, cute, or funny things the boys do every day on this board. Then, when I get home, we'll begin by looking at the positive, instead of the negative. It will change the way you view your day. " 

He was right! The ebb and flow of my days didn't really change that much, but within a short period of time my perception was transformed.

When the daily grind of your "uber-frugal-counting-every-penny-and-pinching-every-dime" life begins to set your teeth on edge, then try writing down things for which you are thankful. A gratitude journal or dry erase board may very well energize you and give you hope to keep going!

Your Turn!


What do you do when you need a pick-me-up in the middle of a project or goal ... or just in everyday life? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Why Successful People Never Say, "I Can't"

Change your self-talk! You will change your attitude, which will, in turn, change your trajectory. 

There are few words that deflate hopes and dreams more than "I can't". When my boys were young and testing out their bicycling skills without training wheels,  they were often frustrated by their lack of coordination. They legs and feet just would not obey their minds, no matter how much they willed it. They would bloody knees, take spills, and bang up body parts. They would come to me crying, "Mom, I can't do it! I can't learn to ride my bike!"

I would reply,"You can! But, first you need to replace your 'I can't' with 'I choose'. For instance:
  • I choose to be a person who does not give up. 
  • I choose to go to Bicycle Safety Town every Saturday to practice my skills. 
  • I choose to practice every day for 20 minutes.
  • I choose to get back up on the bike after I fall."

Do you see the difference?

The words "I can't" leave out any viable options, any opportunities, and any motivation to come up with alternatives or possibilities.

The words "I choose" are much better. They bring hope and self-respect. They allow you think outside the box, coming up with new and unique ways to solve problems. They allow you to stop being a victim and start being a victor!

The words "I choose: 

  • give you strength 
  • remind you that you are a strong, smart, effective, and capable person.
  • help you take charge, make changes, and sort through problems.

I've been there.

Believe me, I've been there! In the past year my husband was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, had a stroke, and suffered a collapsed lung. In short, it's really not been a fun year. More than a time or two I have thought, "I don't want to even wake up in the morning, because I'm afraid of what other disaster might be around the corner heading toward me."  It is just too easy to shout, "I can't do this anymore!" 

But, there came a moment when I realized that I was not in control of my life's circumstances. However, I could control my reaction to them and I could reach out to the One who does hold the future.

For the sake of my own sanity (and that of my family) I had to change my "I can't" to "I choose".

I choose: 

  1. to research heart failure so that I am familiar with the protocol and medicines. 
  2. to feed my husband real, whole, life-giving plant-based foods.
  3. to practice self-care by getting enough rest and taking daily walks. 
  4. to ask for help when I need it.  
  5. to remember to pray instead of panic. 
  6. to never give up!


So, what does this have to do with finances? 

Plenty! When you are living lean and trying to make progress on financial goals, the road can sometimes seem long and quite bumpy. Unexpected expenses can derail your budget, leaving your emergency fund in need of a serious transfusion of money! Your overtime, which you were counting on, can dry up in an instant, leaving you scrambling to cut expenses to the bone. Your child can require a prompt care visit and stitches for that fall off of his bike. (This may or may not have happened to me!) 

 Yes! Life happens and sometimes it is scary!   But, I want you to take a deep breath and change your "I can't" to "I choose." You can't control events, but you can control your reaction to them. Don't give in to defeat!  

Change your self-talk! You will change your attitude, which will, in turn, change your trajectory. 

Say, "I choose":

  1. to be grateful for all that is good in my life. 
  2. to bulk cook and shop less frequently.
  3. to avoid stores and websites which tempt me to spend money.
  4. to differentiate between my "wants" and my "needs".
  5. to write down short, medium, and long-term goals.
  6. to look for unique ways to create more margin in my budget.
  7. to stop comparing myself and my life to others.
  8. to be proud of my accomplishments.
  9. to approach the future without fear.
  10. to embrace simplicity. 

Your Turn!

What are the areas of your budget that you need to change or are changing from an "I can't" mindset to a "I choose" mindset? Do you feel that the way you speak and think have an impact on your finances?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Cut Grocery Costs with These Ten Easy Steps!

Here's a familiar scenario: You begin the month with high hopes of taming that grocery monster and keeping it in line with your budget. But, by the 30th, you are grimacing as you total up the receipts and realize that you have actually spent twice what you expected ... again. 

If that's your life, I totally get it! Not only that, I've lived it! 

But, you can change it and I'm going to show you how! 

Before we begin, here are some things you should know: 

  • Our monthly food budget is $400.
  • We have a family of 6.  
  • My oldest is away at college. Since, he isn't at home much, most of the time I am cooking for 5 people.
  •  My personal goal is to throw away no more than 3 percent of all food which comes through my home.
  •  I'm vegan. But, these tips work - even if you eat meat and dairy.

1) Call your local stores and ask when they do markdowns

 Time your shopping trip for when you can find the most plentiful markdowns in produce, meat, and dairy. I plan most of my weekly menu around what I find on markdown for half price.

2) Take advantage of price matches. 

Actual example of my price matching haul from HyVee

Do you have a local store who offer price matches? HyVee does! I take the other store flyers there and consistently score the cheapest prices in town on produce.

3) Shop the perimeter. 

The perimeter is where the healthiest food lives. I gave you a prime example in this post as to why it's actually less expensive to buy a $5 bag of potatoes than it is to buy a $5 bag of chips.

One caution on grocery store shopping: Watch those endcaps. Just because there is a stack of pasta sauce and pasta, doesn't mean that it's on sale. Know when the price is a good deal.

TIP: It's a good idea to separate out 20% of your monthly grocery money for "stocking up" when you find a great deal.

4) Follow coupon matching sites

Coupon matching sites provide weekly (sometimes daily) lists of items on sale at national chains. They also list manufacturer and store coupons, which allow you to purchase those items for pennies - sometime for free.

One caution: Just because it's super cheap - or even free - doesn't mean you should buy it. Food that is devoid of nutrition is still crap - even if it's free. Additionally, if you get if for free and it sits on your shelf unused (I'm so guilty of this!) then it isn't worth getting. Be sure that you are spending every penny on food that not only nurtures your family, but is actually stuff that you will use!

The Kroger Krazy ladies are amazing! They tell you how to combine weekly sales with digital and physical coupons to save money like crazy! If you live in the South, the Southern Savers website is terrific at matching coupons for you. The Krazy Coupon Lady has an extensive site full of money-saving match-ups.

5) Bulk cook! 

I bulk cook once a week. I will admit to you that I was surprised at how much money this one move has saved me! Get those kids chopping, whisking, combining, and mixing ingredients for you. You'll have fun, pass down important life skills to your kids, and save money - all at the same time! I have chronicled an extensive listing of my weekly bulk cooking adventures. Click on "bulk cooking" under "labels" on the blog and you'll find them all.

 6) Shop seasonally. 

I get strawberries in bulk when they are on sale for 99¢ a pound in March and freeze them. That way, I eat strawberries at the cheapest price all year long! This same concept works for every other kind of fruit and vegetable. Get the scoop on exactly how I do this!  Download my FREE seasonal produce savings guide!

Here's what's inside this free 8 page e-book:

  • An overview of what produce to look for in each season
  • Lists of the most common in-season fruits and vegetables each month
  • Ideas on how to store produce
  • Tips on extending the shelf-life of late autumn produce
  • Tips on "putting by" produce for the winter months

7) Shop farmer's markets. 

You can often get super fresh produce at fantastic prices. I love supporting local small farms! At farmer's markets, you can connect with the person who actually grew the produce, ask about their farming practices (if they don't spray, they are generally super happy to give you this information), get great tips on storage and usage, and help grow and sustain your local community all at the same time! It's a "win-win" for everyone!

Tip: Cultivate a relationship with those farmers. Some of them will allow you to exchange labor (your children or you working at the farm) for free produce. We've done this several times.

8) Join a CSA - community supported agriculture - group. 

We've been CSA members for over a decade! In this program you pay a fee in January and then receive a bushel basket of produce every week during the growing season. Get recommendations from others. Not all CSA programs are equal. Our CSA local organic farmer is VERY generous in the size of the bushel baskets and allows us to exchange one item every week if we get something that we really don't like.

Tip: I plan my entire weekly menu around the items we pick up on Saturday mornings and then process and freeze items that we won't use in time before they go bad.

 8) Be stringent in labeling leftovers. 

Each container of leftovers should be labelled with the name of the item and the date. No more wondering how long they have been in there. It saves you from throwing food away. Find out more about our food waste goals, specific steps you can take to prevent food spoilage, and how to avoid throwing food away, in this post.

9) Keep a list of snack items on the fridge.

This means kids won't be grabbing items that you have plans to use later and you can steer them toward healthy items that you currently have in abundance. We buy popcorn in 50# bags from SAMS. My boys all know that they can make some air -popped popcorn if they want a snack.

10) Keep it simple. 

The simpler you keep menus, the easier it is to prepare meals and to avoid throwing excess food out. It also makes is so much easier for kids to find food in the fridge, heat it up, and help put supper on the table. Here are some examples: Hot stuffed baked potatoes, meals in a bowl, and rice, pasta, and beans are not only inexpensive, they also make food go further and keeps tummies filled up longer.

Your turn! 

What's cookin' in your kitchen? How are you rocking your grocery budget and saving money? Let us know in the comments section. 

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