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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Freebie Alert: Free tea at McAlister's Deli

My friends, Jo and Neal, have a love of McAlister's Deli that is downright obsessive.

Earlier this summer, they made a roadtrip from North Carolina to Texas, and I think they hit every McAlister's along the way. So, this post is for them.

All day long Thursday (July 23), McAlister's Deli locations will be serving free sweet tea. And these are gargantuan servings of tea. One glass could last you all day. Or halfway to Texas, for sure.

As always, check before you make the trek to confirm that the McAlister's Deli near you is participating in this promotion.

And parents, you may want to keep McAlister's in mind for family dinners. Kids eat free on Tuesdays.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nothing says summer like...

Photo by The Consumerist, licensed under Creative Commons

A brand new pair of flip-flops. Abandoned by the seashore. Sand in my toes=freedom, relaxation, perfection. Real shoes are overrated.


Photo by Gary Soup, licensed under Creative Commons

A homegrown tomato. Preferably still warm from the garden. The uglier the better. Liberally seasoned with salt and pepper. Sliced and shared.


Photo by foxtongue, licensed under Creative Commons

A visit from the ice cream man. Decisions, decisions. Scooter Crunch or Nutty Buddy? I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Quick, lick it before it drips!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

All You challenges readers to trim food bills

On the heels of the Grocery Free Challenge, our month-long hiatus from grocery shopping, I've signed up for All You's Grocery Challenge.

All You magazine, one of my favorites for coupons, is challenging its readers to spend just $25 a week per person on food. That puts our weekly food budget at $75. It should be very doable, given our stockpile and my prudence with coupons. But I suspect our biggest obstacle will be watching what we spend dining out.

We like to go out to eat as a family. And on those days when I'm working, I like to go out with the girls occasionally. I won't cut out those splurges during this challenge, but I will have to be creative about it by using coupons, drinking water instead of soda and choosing lower-cost restaurants and entrees.

The four-week challenge began on Monday, so my $90 shopping trip on Sunday to restock after30 days not shopping thankfully doesn't count.

Here's what we've spent so far this week on food:

  • $1.37 for lunch Monday at Breugger's Bagels (I cashed in my lunch punch card and only paid for chips)
  • $20 on Wednesday for loads of produce at the farmers' market
  • $5 on Wednesday for ice cream for the family when the ice cream truck rolled through the 'hood

Total spent: $26.37

Admittedly, we haven't been as frugal as we could have been. But we've just come off an extended grocery diet.

I'll keep you posted on what we spend the rest of this week.

Meanwhile, why don't you sign up for the All You Grocery Challenge and join in the saving?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Five Unexpected Places to Find Freebies

I love getting things for free, and I'm always trying to root out more sources for freebies that work for my family.

In my sleuthing, I've discovered a few unexpected places to find great freebies besides the Web's many great freebie sites.

1) The doctor's office. Most physicians have pills and prescription samples to pass out to their patients, but those aren't the only freebies available from MDs. Consumer products companies often provide samples to pediatricians, obstetricians and other doctors as a way to promote their products.

I've scored laundry detergent, lotion, vitamins, tote bags, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, baby formula and super coupons at our doctors' offices. If you don't spot freebies in the waiting room or at the reception desk, ask your physician or another staff member if they have any samples to share.


2) Inside your cupboards. Check the labels of your favorite foods. Many companies reward frequent buyers with rewards codes or points that can be traded in for free products. For example, I collect Coke Rewards points from cases and bottle caps. I've earned free photo books, a free iPod speaker, free t-shirts and free magazine subscriptions, all for drinking Coke (Zero, in my case) -- something I would do anyway.

Here are a few similar programs:

Stouffer's Dinner Club is a similar program. Customers can enter codes from specially marked Stouffer's meals online and redeem them for rewards.

Huggies Enjoy the Ride: Parents earn points by entering codes from Huggies' ads and mailers and by participating in the Enjoy the Ride community. Then they can trade those points for sweepstakes entries and to enter instant win games. Heather at Freebies 4 Mom does a great job of explaining the program and posting codes as as they become available.

Pampers Gifts to Grow: This is very similar to the Huggies program. Redeem codes printed inside each package of Pampers for sweepstakes entries and baby- and kid-friendly prizes from the Pampers rewards catalog.

Donation drives are another way to score freebies in your cupboard. The N.C. State Fair offers free admission on one day to anyone who brings a can of food. You'll find similar deals at other state fairs and events around the nation, especially during the holidays. I once even read about a spa that was giving its customers discounts if they brought in Boxtops for Education to donate to a local school.

3) At work. I am not advocating that you steal pens and office supplies from your job. That's a quick ticket to the unemployment line. But many companies have freebies and perks that they pass out to employees. Check with your company's HR department to find out about any special discounts they have negotiated for employees. These could include discounted gym memberships, super saver movie tickets, amusement park passes and the like.

In addition, many companies buy season tickets to sporting events for client entertainment. But there are many times when those passes aren't used. Make friends with the folks in marketing and don't be shy about asking if they have any free tickets to share. My dad's company, for example, has season tickets to the Durham Bulls baseball games. If they're not being used for client entertainment, they're available for the asking. We've scored these tickets many times, and they are sweet seats, right behind the home bench. It's where Annie from Bull Durham would have been sitting.

In terms of at work freebies, don't limit yourself to your workplace. Find out if friends' employers offer similar freebies, and you may be able to work out a swap.

If you're a client of a business, don't be afraid to ask for a freebie. I have several friends who are media buyers, which means they place advertising for clients. Newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations are constantly offering them freebies because they want to keep her business. Our friends generously share their swag with their friends, and we do the same.

In our little group of friends, we've gotten some really great freebies: a free GPS system, crystal champagne flutes, a free set of luggage, two trips to Las Vegas, a cruise, a trip to the BET Awards, a meet-and-greet with author Nora Roberts, NBA tickets, circus tickets, NASCAR tickets, minor-league baseball tickets, Springsteen concert tickets (twice!) and a host of other great gifts.

If you have friends like mine who have access to incredible, high-end freebies, count yourself lucky. And please remember to reciprocate. When I get a great freebie, I try to share the wealth among all my friends.

4) Facebook and Twitter. Become a fan of your favorite companies on Facebook and start following them on Twitter to get insider-only perks. I've gotten freebies from Philosophy, Clinique and others by being a Facebook fan. Through Sunday, Starbucks is rewarding its Facebook fans (and their friends) every hour with free ice cream. Companies also are hosting giveaways and rewarding their loyal customers with samples and coupons promoted only on Twitter and other social networking sites.

While you're there, be sure to follow Goo Goo Buy Buy on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook. I often share deals there that don't go on my blog.

5) Searching the Web. If you love free stuff, you should be searching the Web with Swagbucks. Swagbucks has supplanted Google as my search engine of choice.

The beauty of Swagbucks is that every time you search, you have the chance of winning Swagbucks -- or points -- that you can trade it for gift cards and other prizes. So, it's really the best of all worlds. I win "currency" for doing something that I do every day -- searching the Web -- and I get the best results on the Internet -- Google's and Ask's.

Swagbucks rack up really fast. In the past three days, I've won 15 Swagbucks just for using the search engine. At 45, I can trade in for a $5 gift certificate to Amazon.com or I can save them and earn gift cards for Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, iTunes or Target; cash on PayPal; or other swag like books, collectibles, music, video games, DVDs, and band merchandise.

I urge you to give Swagbucks a try if you're a frequent Web searcher like I am. Those points can really add up quickly, and when you're ready, you can convert them into freebies. I've earned several Amazon.com gift cards in the short time I've been a Swagbucks user.

To get into the habit of using Swagbucks instead of your other search engine, I recommend installing the Swagbucks toolbar right in your browser. You can also search Swagbucks from the nifty Widget in the sidebar of my blog.


Search & Win



Photos licensed under Creative Commons

Photos by carolyn.will (pantry), striatic (doctor's office), TooFarNorth (paper clips), dan taylor (Facebook) and frerieke (Web searching)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grocery Free Challenge: We Made It A Month Without Grocery Shopping!

On Sunday, I did something I haven't done in a month.

I went grocery shopping, ending our family's Grocery Free Challenge. We made it 30 days without going to the grocery store (except for a limited amount of produce and perishables) and instead cooked from our ample pantry and freezer stockpile.

As you can see from my stockpile spreadsheet, we still had enough food to go grocery free for a little bit longer.



But after a month, I think we'd learned our lessons about using what we have on hand rather than dashing out to eat, grabbing takeout or stopping at the store for something convenient. And we'd run out of some essentials: luncheon meat, cheese for sandwiches, butter for baking, breakfast fixings and snacks. Although, I guess since my husband and my readers deemed Doritos and other snacks as outside the challenge, I could have bought those and still technically remained grocery free.

It was time to go back to the grocery store.

After our month-long hiatus from grocery shopping, I spent $90 for $150 worth of groceries on Sunday, thanks to smart planning and coupon clipping. Included in that was 6 pounds of shrimp for $25. I didn't intend to stockpile, but shrimp was on the week's menu plan. And that price was too good to pass up.

I'll be hitting the farmer's market this week because I can't resist summer produce, but I think what I bought on Sunday will last us for a couple of weeks.

Going Grocery Free was easier than I thought it would be in the beginning, which I guess is a testament to how big our stockpile had grown. We had a few slipups, specficially the Doritos my husband bought on Day 10 and a few unplanned dinners out. We were tempted to shop, and there were some unexpected challenges, namely a visit from my husband's parents.

Full disclosure on that visit: the inlaws brought produce from their garden and a box of burgers from Sam's Club. And on Day 27, we all went to Target together. At their insistence, they bought snacks for everyone and Pop-Tarts and cereal. They paid, but we each picked out a treat. So maybe the Grocery Free Challenge officially ended then. Forced to do it again, I'd still choose Chex Mix rather than holding out for another three days!

While a Grocery Free Challenge isn't for everyone, it worked for our family and it taught us some important lessons. In fact, I think it will change how we approach food shopping, cooking and eating in the future.

Specfically:

We have become better planners. Each weekend I spend a little time planning out the week's menus, considering not only what we have on hand and what we're craving but also how busy we'll be on each day. That allows me to slot in easy meals on days when I'm likely to be too tired to cook or when I delegate those task to my husband, who isn't as skilled or as fast in the kitchen as I am. Generally, we save elaborate meals for the weekends, when we all have more time and we can cook together as a family.

We appreciate dining out more. Because we plan for it, we look forward to our restaurant meals. And we get to think about where we'd like to eat and what we'd like to have, instead of deciding on the fly. Case in point, last weekend, we lunched at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a place we've been dying to try based on buzz and recommendations we've heard from friends. In our opinion, it lived up to the hype.

We'll spend less at the grocery store. Henceforth, I'm resolving to never go grocery shopping without looking inside my fridge and pantry first. That's for two reasons: To prevent myself from buying something we already have and to reinforce the notion that we should use what we have. That mentality means that I won't need to do a full shop every week, but rather I'll be dropping in to supplement what we already have. I hope that means we'll throw away less food and make better use of our leftovers.

We'll save time. The above strategy will result in shorter trips to the grocery store, I believe. Also, while I love trying new recipes, I shouldn't be trying them every night. That's expensive, stressful and time consuming. I'm going to focus on tested, favorite recipes and limit my recipe experimentation to one or two meals a week.

We'll resist stockpiling things we don't need. In the past, I've gone a little crazy when I could get food for free or for pennies. Which explains why I have still have more than a dozen bottles of salad dressing, condiments, marinades, soy sauce and worcestershire sauce. I'm stating publicly that we have enough of those things. While I still like the idea of stockpiling and shopping from your stash as a money-saving method, I've developed a wiser outlook. Just because something is on sale -- or even free -- doesn't mean I have to buy it. If I already have enough, I can pass up a great deal. During the Grocery Free Challenge, one of our local stores had a Super Doubles coupon promotion. I was seriously tempted to shop then. But I realized that most of what I'd be buying we didn't really need. And besides, I know that good deals and even better will come around again.

We'll discover new favorites. I love to experiment in the kitchen. In the past, that has meant finding new recipes and buying the ingredients to try them. Lately, I've adopted another mindset. I'm whipping up creative concoctions from the food we already have and being more clever about substitutions. I'm also reading recipes differently, keying on ones that make use of some ingredient that's already in my pantry. We're still enjoying dinnertime variety, but spending less money for that privilege. And some of these "use what you have" recipes have been huge hits. My family is already asking me to repeat two recipes from the Grocery Free challenge: summer squash orzo salad and this super-easy lemon pie.

Get Freebies in your inbox and mailbox daily

At our house, every trip to the mailbox is like Christmas morning -- full of anticipation at the treasures that await.

I'm a huge freebie fan, and I sign up for a lot of them thanks to my friends on the Internet, like Shop4Freebies and Freebies 4 Mom.

Heather at Freebies 4 Mom is great at digging up free stuff online. And Shop4Freebies delivers a new list of free items you can request online each day to your email inbox. I check out both sites daily. As a result, I have a stash of shampoo and conditioner samples and personal care products that are great to use for guests or for travel. I've also gotten cleaning products, food items, kids' toys and gear, books and pet food for free.

Celebrate Christmas every day at your mailbox by signing up for Shop4Freebies and subscribing to Freebies4Mom. (You don't have to be a mom to appreciate free stuff!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And the winner is...

Photo copyright by jek in the box

Thanks for all the entries in my latest Goo Goo Giveaway for a $25 gift card to the store of the winner's choice -- Target, CVS, Kmart or Walmart.

I really appreciate all the entries, tweets and money-saving comments. In fact, I'll be compiling my favorites and sharing them later this week on the blog.

But enough about that. You all really want to know who won the contest, right?

The winner, selected at random from all comments posted is ....

sphinx63 who posted at 8:09 PM on July 2:

"I always try to buy meat when it's on a good sale price, and I stock up enough to last about 4 months, which is usually when it goes on sale again."
Love that tip. Before my Grocery Free Challenge, our freezer was also stocked with meat that I bought on sale. Make friends with the butcher or meat manager at your local grocery store and find out when they mark down meat for quick sale, then shop at those times. I've discovered that after 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, I can find great deals on meat that's near its sell-by date. I just pop it in the freezer until I want to use it. Let me tell you, a steak bought on sale tastes even better than a full-price expensive cut.

All these money-saving tips are making me feel extra-generous today. I was so floored by the number of entries and money-saving tips that I received that I'm going to give away a consolation prize to another commenter.

The consolation prize winner, who gets a $10 gift card of her choice is:

#59 judybrittle, who commented at 9:21 PM on July 3:

In an earlier comment, Judy shared that she saves money through rewards programs:

"I stretch my dollar by being in My Points, In Box Dollars, SwagBucks and many surveys. I save up all year and I cash out on all with cash and gift cards and I print out a lot of coupons and I go stock up shopping. It doesn't cost me a thing except my time."

Great tip, Judy. I haven't tried My Points or In Box Dollars, but I love SwagBucks, which rewards you for Internet searches. A couple of times a month, I cash in my SwagBucks for an Amazon.com gift card. I love free money!

And now, Judy, you have another gift card to add to your free cash stash.

If you were a winner, check your email for a message from me. Please respond within 48 hours with your gift card choice and address, so I can mail out your prize. Again, congratulations.

Stay tuned, my sources tell me there will be another Goo Goo Giveaway very soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scrimping, Saving and Window Shopping

There are some frugal gals who HATE to spend money. They'll carry the same handbag for decades and subsist on a very limited wardrobe.

My mother-in-law is like that. While she's supremely generous with her family and friends, she never splurges on herself. And that makes her happy.

Such an austere existence would depress me.

My husband obviously did not marry his mother. I love pretty things, and I love to treat myself to all manner of trinkets and baubles. But like my mother-in-law, I'm always in search of a good deal. In fact, I think many of my frugal ways stem from my love of shopping.

If I didn't bargain shop, I couldn't shop at all.

I bet that a lot of you are in the same boat. You love to buy "lovelies" for yourself, but your bank account/life circumstances/net worth/priorities/frugal sensibilities won't permit you to pay full price.

Because of my seemingly incongruous love of bargains and the finer things in life, I was recently invited to check out and review Apples of Gold Jewelry, a discount jewelry Web that brings near wholesale pricing to consumers.

With the single premise that traditional jewelry retailers exuberantly overprice their products by marking up their jewelry anywhere between 100%-300%, Apples of Gold Jewelry launched with the resolute promise of providing the same, high-end jewelry as any successful jewelry retailer, but at a dramatically lower price.

Prices from high-end retail jewelry stores just did not seem fair. With this in mind, the owners of Apples of Gold Jewelry sought after the most experienced and value-based manufacturers of the jewelry trade...

By working directly with manufacturers and wholesalers, Apples of Gold Jewelry cut out the multiple “middle-men” of the jewelry trade, bypassed the burden of traditional overhead, and thereby minimized the cost of retail jewelry by maintaining an average of 50% below comparable retail mark-up.

I've long known that the markup on jewelry is huge, but I'm not sure that I ever realized how inflated the prices are. Kinda makes me look at my wedding ring in a different light. It would have been nice to pocket the markup. (And in fact, I'm hoping to do that if that diamond class action lawsuit against De Beers ever gets settled.)

But I digress.

I love the premise behind Apples of Gold -- high quality products at fair prices. Isn't that what consumers want from every shopping experience?

Though Internet shopping has skyrocketed in the last decade, many consumers are wary of purchasing big-ticket items online or from non name-brand companies. But that mindset will cost you money.

You can find exceptional products and deals on the Internet from legitimate companies you've never heard of.

I've written a couple of books about e-commerce, and I've even been interviewed as an expert on the topic, so I like to think that I know what I'm talking about. I believe it's smart to be cautious when shopping online, but there are a few clues you can look for to discern legitimate online merchants from those that will steal your money:

  • Check out the Web site's Better Business Bureau rating. Pay careful attention to how the company handles complaints.
  • Does the company list a contact phone number and multiple ways for customers to contact them, in case of a problem or dispute?
  • Read the company's return policy online. If you can't find one, be wary. Ditto if the company doesn't offer a money back guarantee.
  • Is the site VeriSign Secure? In other words, does the site encrypt personal and financial data to protect its customers?
  • Read the site's privacy policy to find out how your personal information will be handled.
I haven't bought anything from Apples of Gold yet, but given the above rules and what I've seen so far on the site, I would. (A few years ago, I bought a gold charm bracelet from a well-known retailer, and it turns out I could purchase a similar one online today from Apples of Gold for about $100 less, even considering the recent spike in gold prices.)

I've had a ball looking at everything Apples of Gold has to offer: gold jewelry, charms and charm bracelets, gemstone jewelry, diamond rings, wedding sets, pendants, pearls, gold crosses and other faith jewelry, earrings, bracelets and personalized jewelry. So much, in fact, that I made a wish list.

(Hint, hint, honey. Anniversary, Christmas, birthday all coming up soon.)

These are some of my favorite items:


Vintage Rose Morganite Ring

This pretty pink gemstone was discovered in California in the early 20th century and named for J.P. Morgan)






Art Deco Blue Diamond Ring

Since learning of the Hope Diamond, I've always been fascinated with blue diamonds. I think this ring is so sweet and pretty.








Personalized Gemstone Heart Pendant

Ever since my son first told me he loved me, I've wanted to get a heart charm engraved with I.L.Y. and the date to wear on my charm bracelet.







Multicolored Freshwater Pearl Bracelet

Pearls are timeless, but to me this bracelet is also modern because it incorporates three colors of pearls.



Blue Diamond Circle Swirl Pendant

Speaking of blue diamonds, I'm in love with this pendant, a clever twist on the popular journey design.








Custom Name Pendant

Maybe I'm so five years ago, but I still want to wear my name around my neck, just like Carrie did in Sex and the City.





Like my picks? Or want to share some of your own? If money were no object, what bling would you buy yourself?

Famous Ballerina Arroz con Pollo recipe

If you've been following this blog for the last month, you've seen Arroz con Pollo on our weekly menu plans quite a few times.

This is one of our family's favorite go-to-recipes, but we don't eat it as often as our menu plans would have you think.

Of late, Arroz con Pollo has made it on the menu plan every week. But every week, something has always derailed those plans -- a last-minute decision to dine out, a visit from the in-laws (my father-in-law doesn't eat poultry) and a family get-together.

Well, last night, I finally made Arroz con Pollo, and it was delicious as ever. I never thought chicken and rice could be so tasty until my friend, Alex, shared this recipe with me. Plus, this recipe is easy to make with ingredients we usually have on hand.

Alex's mother, who was a ballerina with Ballet Russe during the 1940s and 1950s, passed down this recipe to her daughter. And Alex was kind enough to share it with me. And now, I'm sharing it with you.

Famous Ballerina Arroz con Pollo

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (dredged in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup uncooked rice
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
salt and pepper, to taste

1 can early peas (heat separately)

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Brown floured chicken on both sides. Add other ingredients, except the peas. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until rice and chicken are tender.

Serve with the peas added on top of the rice.

Last Day to Enter the Goo Goo Giveaway

Don't miss out on your chance to win a $25 gift card to the store of your choice.

Today is the last day to throw your name into the pot. The deadline to enter is midnight July 15. I'll be randomly drawing a winner on Wednesday.

Good luck to those of you who have already entered. And if you haven't entered, claim your chances by following the directions here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekly Menu Planning

Here's what we're eating this week:

Monday:
Dinner: Arroz con Pollo, peas

Tuesday:
Dinner: marinated beef and potato packets, sugar snap peas


Wednesday:
Dinner: hamburgers, Bloody Mary salad

Thursday:
Dinner: Barbecue chicken, summer squash carpaccio, pimento cheese spoon bread


Friday:
Dinner: Homemade Olive Garden salad and breadsticks

Saturday:
Breakfast: bacon cheddar pinwheels
Lunch: leftovers lunch
Dinner: basil gnocchi, breadsticks, side salad

Sunday:
Breakfast: bagels and cream cheese
Lunch: club sandwiches
Dinner: grilled shrimp and spinach pasta, side salad

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A pair of shoes can change your life. Just ask Cinderella

In my world, a great pair of shoes and a hot handbag are always worthy splurges.

This obsession with fancy (i.e., expensive) footwear is a relatively new one. Blame it on the diamond that Bruce slid on my finger six years ago. It transformed me, not into a bridezilla but into a princess, in much the same way Cinderella's glass slipper did for her.

I became obsessed with finding the perfect pair of sparkly, strappy sandals to wear on my wedding day. And I found them on a chance trip to a department store in the salon section. Salon is another word for expensive. More expensive than my car payment at the time, if I remember correctly.

And so I passed up those shoes and looked elsewhere for a less expensive pair that were as beautiful and as perfect as my solemate.

But nothing set my heart aflutter like those shoes. I felt like Stuart Weitzman had designed them especially for me. I dreamed about them. I visited them. I longed for them. I talked about them incessantly.

Which probably explains why Bruce went ahead and bought the lovely shoes for me. (By then, they were on sale, but they were still three figures. My first-ever pair of three-figure shoes.) Isn't love grand?

My Solemate


Those shoes begat a collection of fabulous footwear and accessories that some might call an obsession.

Stuart walked me down the aisle. Kate carries my burdens every day. I one day dream of stepping out with Jimmy or Manolo.

I don't have too many shoes or handbags to count, but too many to admit to as a bargainista blogger. Just trust me when I say it's not enough and that I got them all on sale.

Actually, I've reined in my shoe and bag obsession quite a bit since having a child. And that's quite a feat since my feet grew and never shrunk after my pregnancy. So, I'm really due a new shoe wardrobe.

(Those two bags I bought at the Kate Spade Outlet don't count. That was a work trip, so those were "business expenses." And I haven't bought a new pair of shoes in I don't know when. I've been a good frugal girl and took mine to the cobbler for repairs.)

Oops, just remembered those slides at the online Kate Spade sample sale. The first step to conquering addiction is admitting you have a problem...

But I do still love to look and to drool over great heels and the latest "It" bag.

I love to check out Endless or the Nordstrom sale catalog, which just arrived in my mailbox last week. I also log some serious time at Saks and Neiman Marcus. But, honest, I'm just browsing.

I've also long been a fan of Simply Soles. When that catalog arrives in the mail, I pore over it like an adolescent with a Playboy. So, I was thrilled to see that company founder, Kassie Rempel, had opened her closet to share how she's wearing all the fabulous shoes she must own.

What I like about Kassie Closet is how she effortlessly blends high and low -- a pricey pair of sandals with pants from the Gap. Some killer designer patent heels with a skirt from Anthropologie. That's always been my approach to fashion.

So, when I need a fashion fix, I check out Kassie's Closet to see what she's wearing. Usually, that's enough to quell my cravings. But at the moment, I'm really jonesing for these yellow kitten heels from Butter.

But I could go for these instead, since they're on sale. Or these. Or these. Or these...

This is Amy's husband, Bruce. I have taken over the blog momentarily. Amy will return after her intervention. Or at least until after I've taken away her credit cards.

A new recipe for summer squash

Squash may be the most prolific vegetable in a summer garden.

Gardeners who grow squash always seem to have a bumper crop, always more than they can eat and usually more than they can give away.

My inlaws are in that predicament right now, so when they visited they brought with them two heaping bags full of yellow squash. (I'm just glad they didn't bring a kitten, They've got too many of those, too -- six, in fact -- and they can't give them away either.)

Anyway, back to squash.

We love squash, and I usually saute it in a little olive oil or butter and season it with salt and pepper or soy sauce if I'm craving a little Asian flavor. I've also made squash casseroles and squash fritters, a nod to my southern heritage

But last night, I decided to try something different.

I cut the squash into cubes and sauteed in some olive oil with a couple of cloves of fresh garlic. I cooked the squash until it was crisp-tender, then added it to some cooked orzo pasta. To finish the dish, I drizzled on some olive oil, mixed in some feta cheese and tossed. Then it went into the fridge for a couple of hours to cool and so the flavors could marry.

Well, let me tell you, this simple and simple-t0-make dish was a huge hit. Everybody liked it, and some even went back for seconds.

I've had orzo pasta hanging out in my cabinet for months, but until I started the Grocery Free Challenge and cooking from my stockpile, it's never been on the menu. (If you're unfamiliar, orzo is a small, grain-like pasta. Kinda looks like rice on steroids.)

When I allow myself to go grocery shopping again, I'm definitely going to buy more orzo pasta. It's going to become a pantry staple because it's so versatile. I'm thinking orzo would be fabulous with fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic. Call it Caprese alla Orzo.

Or what about serving the orzo warm with prosciutto and Parmesan? Or an Orzo BLT with spinach or arugula substituting for lettuce?

I'm officially hungry now. Off to have my leftover orzo and squash salad for lunch while I surf the Web for more orzo recipes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Coupon Alert: $10 off $50 at Lowe's Home Improvement

We had to make two trips to Lowe's Home Improvement store this weekend.

The first was a bit of an emergency. The lock on our front door broke, effectively locking us out of the house. (Thank goodness for the backdoor and our garage entrance!) On Friday afternoon, my husband had to dash to the store to get a new door lock.

The next day, I sent him back to have new keys made and to pick up a few odds and ends.

Both times, our receipt had a valuable $10 off $50 coupon printed on it.

Turns out, that's going to come in handy for us this week. Our microwave is on its last leg, and I use that darn thing every day. So, we'll be heading back to Lowe's sometime soon to cash in one of our coupons on a microwave that the store has on sale.

I think we'll hold on to the other coupon for the next home improvement crisis that comes our way. The way our luck is running, it won't be long before we have cause to use our second $10 of $50 coupon.

If you have a big home improvement project on the horizon or a big purchase to make, head to Lowe's and buy something small. I bet you'll score a $10 off $50 coupon to make on your next big purchase there.

Score Kellogg's products on the cheap at Lowes Foods this week

Lowes Foods and Kellogg's have teamed up for a very sweet deal this week. Makes me wish I was allowed to grocery shop, but the Grocery Free Challenge continues.

This week, if you buy 5 select new Kellogg's products, you'll save $3 instantly at checkout. As luck would have it, there are quite a few coupons available for these products. By matching these coupons with the sale, you can save even more on an already great deal. (Remember, Lowes Foods doubles coupons up to 99 cents.)

According to Hot Coupon World, these Kellogg's products are part of this offer (coupon matchups are noted in parenthesis):

  • Kellogg's Corn Flakes Touch of Honey
  • Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats Little Bites ($1 off 1 from 6/07 RP; $1 off 1 Instasave)
  • Kellogg''s Jumbo Krispies ($1 off 1 from 6/07 RP; $1 off 1 Instasave)
  • Kellogg's Special K Bar Pretzel Bar ($.75 off 1 printable coupon available on my sidebar from Coupons.com)
  • 100 Calories Right Bites Soft Cookies
  • Kellogg's Pop Tarts Blueberry Muffin ($.55 off 1 Instasave; $1 off 2, $1 off 1, $.55 off 1 from 6/07 RP)
  • Keebler Town House Flipsides ($1 off 2 store tearpad coupon)
  • Cheez-It Whole Grain
  • Kellogg's Tinkerbell Fruit Snacks
  • Kellogg's Special K Shakes new flavor ($1 off 1 printable coupon available on my sidebar from Coupons.com)
  • Kellogg's Cinnabon Bars ($.75 off 1 store tearpad coupon)
  • Keebler Fudge Grahams ($1 off 2 printable coupon available on my sidebar from Coupons.com)

You can check out some great savings scenarios for this deal at Hot Coupon World. And I'd love to hear how you make this sale work for you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 25: Grocery Free Challenge Update

I can't believe that our family has been Grocery Free for almost a month.

For the past 25 days, we haven't done any grocery shopping (with the exception of perishables and a small bit of fresh produce) and instead have been eating from our stockpile. When I conceived of this money-saving experiment, I anticipated that after a few weeks in, we'd really be struggling to have tasty and nutritious meals.

But I was wrong. The eating has been good. While we have relied on some tried-and-true meals, we've also discovered some new favorites. I would guess that we have another two week's worth of great meals left in our fridge, freezer and cabinets before things start getting dicey and bland. Or before we have to start eating what my toddler would call "yuck food."

All that said, I must confess that I wasn't completely grocery free this weekend. We attended a family Fourth of July picnic at the lake, and I was tasked with bringing a festive dessert for the kids. I decided to make cupcakes, decorated with red, white and blue icing and candy stars. I had nearly everything I needed for my cupcake flag -- cake mix, milk, eggs, butter, the candy decorations -- but I was running low on powdered sugar for my homemade buttercream icing. So, I had to buy a one-pound box to mix up my frosting.

I'm not sure that I count that box of powdered sugar as a cheat or a failure in the Grocery Free Challenge. This challenge was meant to test my ability to feed my immediate family using ingredients we already had on hand. There was nothing in the rules about cooking from the stockpile for a big family get-together. Box of sugar or not, I think I did a pretty good job whipping up a dessert using groceries already in my stockpile rather than selecting a recipe that would have necessitated a trip to the store. (Which is what I would have done in the past, I will admit.)

I wish I could say that pulling my potluck contribution from the pantry saved me time or put me ahead of schedule. But it didn't. Thanks to a busy holiday weekend packed with fireworks, pool time and other fun family activities, I was frosting cupcakes at midnight Sunday morning.

This week also stands to be an interesting one in terms of the Grocery Free Challenge. My inlaws are coming to town on Wednesday for a few days. I have our menus planned for the week, and they know about the challenge. But those plans may get sidetracked. My mother-in-law likes to cook some when she visits, so she may be planning to serve up something for which we don't have the ingredients. I'll try to dissuade her from doing that, but a mother-in-law's will can be strong.

The inlaws will be bringing us a bounty of food from their garden, and I'm very excited about that. My sources tell me that we'll be noshing on homegrown tomatoes, lettuce, okra, cucumbers, squash, radishes, green peppers and maybe more with them.

Don't you wish you could have dinner at our house?

Grocery Free Challenge - Week 4 Menus

I'm terribly late posting the week's menus for our fourth week of the Grocery Free Challenge. I guess I'm suffering from a holiday relaxation hangover.

A bit of a change to these menu plans. I've decided not to include breakfast and lunch menus any more, except on weekends, because we don't all eat together or eat the same things during the week.

Sunday:
Breakfast: leftover pancakes (My husband cooked them on a panini instead of the griddle. What was he thinking?)
Dinner: Family Fourth of July picnic - grilled burgers, baked beans, potato salad and delicious desserts

Monday:
Dinner: Wacky Mac noodles with homemade turkey sausage tomato sauce

Tuesday:
Dinner: marinated grilled chicken, grilled corn, au gratin potatoes


Wednesday:
Dinner: grilled flat iron steak, orzo and squash salad, side salad with all homegrown ingredients

Thursday:
Dinner: Barbecue chicken, fried okra, side salad


Friday:
Dinner: Date night and dinner out with the husband

Saturday:
Breakfast: blueberry muffins
Lunch: leftover steak salads
Dinner: Arroz con Pollo, fresh peas, side salad

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Freebie from Enfamil for Nursing Moms

I nursed my son for 16 months, so I'm a big proponent of breastfeeding.

But I know that many women struggle with breastfeeding, and support is so important to new mothers. I was lucky enough to attend a breastfeeding class before giving birth and receive coaching at the hospital. But my biggest supporter was my mom, who nursed all three of her children and encouraged me and praised me as I was learning the ropes with my son.

I know many women who wanted to breastfeed but who ultimately abandoned those plans. Barring any medical complications, I believe that any woman who wants to can breastfeed her baby. But adequate support is crucial, especially in the beginning.

Breastfeeding is tough, and there's a learning curve. Some women may experience sensitivity, and some babies may have difficulty latching on in the beginning. Then there are those worries about milk supply and whether the baby is getting adequate nourishment.

I'm thrilled to be able to offer my blog readers a terrific freebie from Enfamil, the baby formula folks. Enfamil is offering nursing moms a breastfeeding support kit, which includes tips, advice and product samples. I received something similar when my son was a baby, and my kit included a great insulated bag, DHA nutritional supplements and all kinds of other goodies.

If you're a nursing mom or know one, please sign up for your Enfamil breastfeeding support kit.



Speaking of baby formula, as a new nursing mom, I was adamantly against feeding my son formula or feeding him from a bottle. I was afraid that he'd take to the bottle and thus would end our breastfeeding journey.

But I changed my mind quickly, realizing that my milk and formula both did a great job in nurturing my baby and helping him grow healthy and strong.

My son weighed 9 lbs, 13 ounces at birth, but he lost quite a bit of weight in his first week of life. So much, that our pediatrician recommended supplementing 2 ounces of formula after every breastfeeding. I cried when she "prescribed" that course of action, thinking that I'd somehow failed in my very first act as a mother.

But I soon realized that supplementing with formula was taking some of the pressure off of me, and it actually made me more successful at breastfeeding. Eventually, we were able to stop supplementing entirely.

However, I always kept a carton of formula on hand. I never had much success with pumping -- never had the patience for it -- so having formula on hand allowed me to leave my son in the capable hands of his Daddy or grandparents. I never had to worry that my son would be hungry in my absence because he there was always formula -- almost as good as his mother's milk -- in the cabinet.

If you're a nursing mom or if you plan to nurse, I would encourage you to sign up for the breastfeeding support kit from Enfamil. I would also encourage you to accept any free formula samples your pediatrician and obstetrician offer. Even if you plan to breastfeed exclusively, you may find that having a backup plan relieves some of the stress.

Finally, I also signed up to receive gift checks for formula from Enfamil. If you have to buy formula in a pinch, why should you pay full price for it? I've also given away formula gift checks to other moms. I still remember the gratitude from one young couple with twins when I gave them gift checks worth $16 while waiting in the grocery line. They were obviously strapped for cash, and they couldn't stop thanking me for my little act of kindness.

If you're a breastfeeding mom, I salute you. And if you're a breastfeeding mom who needs some support and a cheerleader, please feel free to send me a message or leave a comment here. I'm happy to share my own experiences with you.

Now, go cuddle those babies.

Using Free Checklists to Track Life's To-Dos

I am a consummate list maker.

That's because I suffer from momnesia. If I don't write things down, chances are pretty good that I will forget them. That's how I wound up at my in-laws' house one Thanksgiving morning without any makeup packed.

Now, whether we're planning a week-long vacation or just an overnight trip, I make a list of everything we need to pack, take and do before we leave. I usually post the list on the fridge or on the back of the door -- the two most visible spots in our home.


I don't limit my checklists to travel. I have a running checklist of home repairs, so when the handyman visits, we won't overlook some major or minor repair. I also use checklists to keep holiday stress at bay, when I'm planning a party and to manage big life changes, like moving or having a baby.

While sometimes it's necessary to create a custom checklist for your particular situation, I've often found free checklists online to help me tackle all the to-dos in my life.

Here are some checklists I've found to make my life easier.

Babies and Kids

If you're looking for checklists for what to buy for your new baby, Tiny Tot Lot is a good place to go. The site is baby checklist central with a focus on educating new mothers about what they need for there newborns -- everything for the nursery, travel gear, safety essentials and bath supplies. You'll also find safety and nursing tips there.

Check out Tiny Tot Lot's:
Babies R Us also has a must-have checklist of everything you'll need to welcome a newborn and get your child through babyhood. But be careful not to fall into the trap that so many new parents do of thinking you need everything. You don't. (But that didn't stop me from buying it.)

If you're looking for a gift for a new mom and her newborn, Martha Stewart offers a checklist of mom and baby essentials.

I also like Martha's


We're gearing up to potty train in our house, so I'm particularly interested to know what supplies, tricks and treats I need to have on hand. I like:


I'm not convinced that you can potty train a child in one day, but even so, Potty Training in One Day has some good checklists:

Potty training equipment checklist
Poop and pee charts

I know summer has just started, but there's no reason you can't get a jump start on getting the kids ready for school.

Check out these handy lists:



Home Keeping

When it comes to housekeeping, home keeping and home maintenance, Real Simple magazine is my go-to source for advice. The Real Simple Web site is also chock full of checklists that are will help you keep your home in tip-top shape. But I like them because they're simple; in other words, they're checkable. Some of my favorites:

Who knew there were so many checklists? Too many for one blog post, so I'll post another installment later in the week with links to my favorite holiday, travel, party-planning and health checklists.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with my favorite checklist of the moment, Real Simple's July 2009 Keep-It Together Checklist.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

50 Free Photos from CVS

I can't get enough photos of my super-cute kid, so I'm jazzed about the latest freebie from CVS.

If you sign up for a CVS Photo Center account and link it to your ExtraCare card number, you can earn 50 free prints.

I find it so convenient to upload my photos to a store's Web site, then pick up my prints in the store when I'm out running errands or doing my regular shopping. Quite often, my husband will order a second set of prints for his parents and they'll pick them up at the store in their town. For us this is much easier than making double prints and remembering to take them the next time we visit.

Of course, if in-store pickup isn't convenient for you, with CVS Photo Center you also have the option of having your photos shipped directly to you.

You can sign up for a CVS Photo Center account by clicking here or on the link in my sidebar.

Sample New Products Before Anyone Else

How would you like the chance to try new Kraft Foods products FOR FREE before they hit the market?

Then you'll definitely want to sign up for Kraft's First Taste program by clicking here.

Sign up and Kraft will send you samples and freebie coupons to try its latest product introductions.

Just today, I cashed in a coupon for a free DiGiorno Flat Melt, which will make a nice free lunch sometime this week.

If you're a freebie and bargain hunter, I recommend that you sign up for all of Kraft's newsletters and coupons.

I'm a big fan of the quarterly Kraft Food & Family magazine, which is chock full of on-the-go recipes, kitchen money-saving and time-saving tips and high-value coupons. I've scored quite a few freebies from this magazine, and I've also found some great, quick and easy meal ideas.

Goo Goo Giveaway: $25 Gift Certificate to the Store of Your Choice

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how using coupons as cash netted me nearly $100 worth of food and merchandise for less than $12.

I know there are bargainistas out there who can one-up me when it comes to saving money. I want to hear from you. And to sweeten the deal, I'm giving away a $25 gift certificate to one of these stores: Target, Walmart, Kmart or CVS. You get to choose.

For this Goo Goo Giveaway, I want to hear how you stretch your hard-earned money.

To enter the giveaway, post your favorite money-saving tip in the comments section. Make sure to include your email address, so I can contact you if you win.

You can also earn extra entries by:

  • Subscribing to my blog (use the links to the right)
  • Following Goo Goo Buy Buy on Twitter
  • Becoming a Fan of Goo Goo Buy Buy on Facebook
  • Blogging about this giveaway
  • Tweeting this giveaway (three tweets allowed per day; please include a link to your tweet)
  • Follow this blog (See the link on the right sidebar)
  • Linking to a deal you've scored combining coupons and sales
* If you're already a follower and/or a Facebook fan, post a comment letting me know that.

For each entry, please be sure to post a comment here.

This contest ends Wednesday, July 15 at midnight. I will choose a winner randomly from all comments using Random.org.

Happy bargain shopping, and I can't wait to read your money-saving tips.

A Tasty Dessert from the Stockpile

If you've been reading this blog for the past couple of weeks, you know that my family is on a Grocery Free Challenge.

I wanted to see how long we could go cooking and eating exclusively from our stockpile. Trips to the grocery store aren't allowed, except to pick up milk, produce, bread and sodas, which we can't seem to stockpile.

This past weekend, I had a hankering for something sweet and decided to mix up a dessert from ingredients I had on hand. I wanted to use one of the cans of sweetened condensed milk that I had on hand because, quite honestly, I wanted to scrape the empty can and eat the leftovers.

I whipped up a tasty lemon pie, using 8 ounces of softened cream cheese, 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice, a can of sweetened condensed milk and a prepared graham cracker crust.

A few seconds in the KitchenAid, followed by a half-hour in the fridge and we had a tasty dessert.

Do you have any quick and tasty desserts that will satisfy a sweet tooth without requiring a trip to the grocery store? If so, please comment and post a link.