Dollar Tree Musts

money-tree

By Liz

If you are like me, you have read many an article from different folks sharing their top buys at the Dollar Tree store.

Dollar Tree stores have been in existence since 1991 and operates more than 13,600 stores throughout the 48 contiguous U.S. states and Canada.

Dollar Tree is classified as an extreme discount store and while initially, it’s targeted consumers were those who were suffering financial burdens, it has now become more popular with affluent customers (that’s how the affluent, stay affluent, by saving their money).

So here is my list of must haves from Dollar Tree:

cards

1.Greeting cards.  While I do “care enough to send the very best”, I am not particularly fond of taking out a small loan to pay for the sentiment. This is especially true when you are shopping for several cards for special occasions and you can’t find a box set with the repeated greeting. If you look hard enough, Dollar Tree even offers a section of cards that are 2 for $1.00.

bags

2.Gift bags/wrapping.  The store offers a wide variety of gift bags, in assorted sizes, plain, unmarked as well as occasion specific decorated bags.  In addition they offer bows, tissue paper, stickers and tags.

seasonal

3.Sesonal items.  Each major (and some minor) holiday, you can find wall décor, table décor,  crafts, ornaments, baking items, disposable and non-disposable kitchen items, and more to help you celebrate, without breaking the bank.

party

 

4.Party. Whether you are hosting a birthday, holiday, shower or a wedding, you can find invitations, thank-yous, banners, balloons, party favors, table ware, centerpieces and more.

readers

5.Reading glasses. Dollar Tree offers an array of magnifications and a wide variety of frame styles for both men and women. The store also offers, cleaning cloths and hard shelled glass cases in different sizes to help you keep your readers safe.

newspapers

6.Your local Sunday newspaper.  If you are a “couponer”, I personally believe that this is your most cost efficient way of obtaining duplicate coupons, (unless your friends, family and/or neighbors donate them to you).  If you are going to buy multiple Sunday papers, some locations may limit the quantity, so you might want to check with store personnel. Also, if they haven’t sold out, you can still find the Sunday paper, throughout the week at the store.

books

7.Activity books. Sophisticated coloring books for youth and adults are all the rage right now and I have seen some of these complex, designed coloring books with a hefty price tag being offered at both online and brick and mortar stores, Dollar Tree offers the same kind of coloring entertainment, just at a bargain rate.  Dollar Tree also sells puzzle books, so if you, or someone you know enjoys passing the time with word search, Sudoku or crossword puzzles, you can find plenty of options for only a $1.00 a piece. This is not only a great form of entertainment on the cheap, but it also requires one to “unplug” for awhile, while engaged in these activities….and who couldn’t use some more of that?

foil

8.Aluminium foil pans. Due to the size of our household, 7 people, we generally wind up hosting all of the major and some of the minor holidays at our house. It doesn’t feel right converging on my sister’s family of 3 and expect them to cook for our brood.  That’s when these lifesavers come in handy.  I can generally do some or most of the cooking a day or two prior to the event, store the food in the foil pans, and then just re-heat the day of the feast. Then there is the clean up factor, it is exhilarating to just empty the pan, crumple it up and toss it in the trash.  These beauties are a wonderful time saver for me and I am able to enjoy the day with my family and not be stuck in the kitchen cooking and doing dishes all day.

pasta

9.Pasta. Most stores offer this pantry staple pretty cheap, so you might be wondering why I listed it. When was the last time you actually looked at the size of the package when you bought pasta at your favorite grocery store? I have noticed that at even at my own beloved grocery stores, offers pasta for as low as 85 cents per package……great deal, right? Not exactly, upon further inspection, the size of the package is only 12 ounces. This equates to 7 cents per ounce. Dollar Tree offers both 16 and 24 ounce packages, this equates to 6 cents and 4 cents per ounce, respectfully. This probably does not sound like much of a savings, but when you eat as much pasta as we do, it just makes cents (see what I did there?).

broth

10.Broth. I know….I know….making your own homemade broth is more economical, but I use so much beef and chicken broth on a weekly basis, that I would have to make a batch every 2-3 days. Dollar Tree offers beef, chicken, and sometimes when I can find it vegetable broth. Each container is 32 ounces (4 cups) for $1.00. Even though making it from scratch would save me money, this option saves me time, and that too is just as valuable to me.

So there you have it, my personal favorites from Dollar Tree.  I hope that you will be able to apply some of these suggestions into your own time and money saving routines.  Stop in at your local Dollar Tree, you just might be surprised what you find.




Why I Don’t Coupon

 

coupons

by Liz

We have all seen or at least heard about couponing and extreme couponing, where everyday people have been able to save anywhere from 40% all the way up to a staggering 90% off of their grocery bill by means of clipping some coupons and following their local grocery store sales.  To these folks, I say, congratulations!

A few years back, I too, jumped on this bandwagon, hoping to save myself and my family of 7 buckets of cash while amassing stockpiles of items we would not have to re purchase at full price at an inopportune time in the future.

Here is what I experienced:

1.  In order to maximize and accumulate the quantity my family would need of any one particular item, I would need multiple coupons for the same item.  No problem, I just picked up more than one Sunday paper with coupons at my local Dollar Tree for $1.00 per newspaper (our Dollar Tree has a 5 quantity limit). The alternative to this was to print coupons at home, however, it would cost me more in paper and ink to print up multiple coupons, and some of the coupon companies would set a limit of only 2 print out per device, thereby, having me jump from one computer to another to be able to print what I needed.

2. After gathering all my coupons, I would then spread them out over my living room floor combining duplicates and then separating them into like categories; i.e. dairy; cleaning; beauty; snacks; etc…

3. Then I would have to cut them all down to size and put them all together in my storage system,  I had chosen the 3 ring binder/baseball card pocket storage, as I thought this would be the easiest to carry around and shop with at the grocery stores.  However, before filing these little beauties away, I would first have to “weed” out all my expired coupons, and their always seemed to be a lot of them that I had not used and I had to toss out.

4. Later that day, I would pull out the local grocers sales flyers from the week to start to match up sale items with coupons, giving me the lowest prices I could find on any given item.  This was an ongoing step in this process, because unlike in the North East of the country where the store’s sales run from Sunday to Saturday, here in Texas, the sales run from Wednesday to Tuesday, for this reason alone, there was always more than one trip to the stores in any given week, (this is marketing genius on behalf of the grocery stores.)

5. After gathering my coupon binder, I would head off to seek my treasures, I would then be stopping in at least 2 to 3 stores at least twice a week to cash in on my savings and reap my rewards.  Usually upon leaving the store, I would check my receipt, I would generally save, somewhere in the ball park of 40%, not nearly the savings as bragged about by self appointed “coupon mavens”, but week after week, I would be at it again.

6. Once I got my items home, I needed to find a place to store them.  At the time, the 7 of us were living in a 1600 sq. ft. home, and it seemed as though the kids were growing all the time.  For this reason, I asked my wonderful husband to build me some shelving out in our garage, which he happily did.




After only a few months of this ritual of savings, I had acquired quite a large, over-flowing stock pile of goods. Most of the items were health and beauty items, which we kept in our garage in our then, new, elaborate shelving system and most of the food and pantry staples were kept in our tiny kitchen storage system.

coupons

I was feeling mighty proud of myself at the time and was pleased in knowing that if anyone of my family members needed to replace their toothbrush, deodorant or any other product, all they had to do was go “shopping” in our stash, which I had purchased at a discount.

Here is what I actually learned:

1. My time is precious and valuable.  After only a couple of weeks, I learned I dreaded Sundays.  Spending hours of my time going through this crazy, couponing cycle, only to save an average of about 40% was disheartening, when I was striving for a larger savings.

2. Most of the items, I obtained due to couponing we hadn’t ever really needed or used. The only reason I bought most of the items instead of my usual brands, was because there was a coupon being offered.

3. My family never learned to live the motto of “a little goes a long way” because psychologically they knew there was an endless supply of items, so there was never any thought of how to conserve anything.

4. When my stock pile would start to look sparse, here or there, I would start to panic and get anxious, so I would usually go out of my way, with an additional trip to the grocery store(s), on top of the 2 times I was already going per week, just to replenish my vast inventory, thereby spending even more of my time and my money.

5. We did not have the storage space to keep this “hamster on a wheel” way of shopping up.  If you were an outsider looking in, we looked like a mom and pop general store or a family of hoarders at least that was certainly the way I had started to feel.

6. In the end, when me moved from our 1600 sq. ft. home, we looked at our couponing treasures, and there was a lot of it, we decided to donate most of it to families that were in need.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of “couponers” who donate much of their goods, and I feel like my family and I are very blessed, so we had no qualms about giving to those in need.

7. I have since gone back to my original way of shopping which include:

a. Shopping  at my local Winco and Aldi food stores, both of which offer the lowest prices, compared to the other, larger grocery chains.

b. Buying in bulk.  My Winco has a wonderful bulk section, so I can stock up on nuts, cereals, beans, grains, rice and even candy if I so choose.

c. If I am in my local Walmart, Albertson’s or Tom Thumb stores, I will always swing by their discounted sections to see what kind of deals they have.  I have been able to purchase discounted, but still wonderful looking meats, cheeses, pastries and breads at each of these stores.




My now stock pile(s) only have a 1 to 2 item reserve on any given item, sometimes less. I am ecstatic to say the least, as I do not have to look at all that clutter not to mention, I have regained control of my Sunday’s and now use that time to spend with my family enjoying our life and our home together.

And the most important:  I shop only once a week.  By limiting my trips, I save time, gas and money and who can’t use more of those?

How to Heat your Home for Free…..or Almost Free




By Luis

It’s springtime and that means many things to many people; spring cleaning, landscaping, gardening and picnics.  All of those things conjure up bright and happy images for a multitude of people.  Springtime, for me, however get me thinking about heating up my house.

fire

Wait, before you click away let me explain.  My household loves a roaring fireplace during the cold dreary winter months.  If you do too, then you know exactly how wonderful it is to hear the crackle of a wood fire while basking in its radiant warmth.  This kind of heating source always comes with a price, most notably the cost of the firewood.

Anyone that has purchased firewood as a cord, half-cord, quarter-cord or even a prepackaged bundle from your local hardware store can agree that firewood is expensive! A cord of firewood is defined as cut firewood stacked 4ft. tall, 4ft. deep, and 8ft long.  Depending on the type of wood, a cord of firewood can range anywhere from $300 to $700 dollars.  That’s exactly why springtime to me means FREE firewood.

 


This is the time of year that several people perform tree trimming.  Some people trim their own trees; others hire someone to do the trimming, either way most are faced with the trouble of getting rid of those trimmings.  This leads to a win-win situation.  Many people will post online ads on sites such as Craigslist or Freecycle for “free firewood”; the only catch is that you have to go pick it up and haul it away, it might seem like quite the effort, but the payoff is the huge savings for free heat in the cold months that lie ahead.

I recently responded to such an online ad and after meeting with the homeowners, I learned they had trimmed 6 oak trees on their property and happily encouraged me to “take all you want”.  I loaded all our family van could carry which ended up being just over half a cord of oak (the best) firewood. My family enjoyed the free warmth of many a fires this past winter, and because this past season was unusually warm, we still have quite the large stockpile to start off this upcoming winter season.

spring-haul

So if you are willing to answer these ads, put in some muscle and bring home free firewood, whether a trunk-load, or pickup truck-load at a time; you can start to amass your own source of free winter heat  without paying the high prices of ordering firewood from a vendor.

 

The Best Ever Fresh Beans

by Liz

beans

I have to admit, before I moved to Texas, the only beans I had ever really known were baked beans.  However, since then, I had been introduced to this very delicious and very satisfying Texas staple.

Beans are not only great tasting, but they are very economical and versatile.

Here is my recipe for the best tasting beans; I used black beans for this recipe.

In a 5 quart slow cooker, add 1 pound of dried beans (pinto, red, black, navy…the possibilities are endless) fill slow cooker ¾ full of water and cover, (you want plenty of water to cover the beans as they will expand overnight).

Let soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse beans.

Add beans and fresh water back into the slow cooker, one again filling pot ¾ way with water, (the beans will expand a little more and some of this water will evaporate during cooking).

Add 1; 2” x 2” piece of salt pork and 4 to 5 large cloves of peeled garlic to slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. (Beans will be fully cooked when they are soft and/or their outer skin starts to crack.)

Turn off slow cooker, remove and discard salt pork.

Add 1 Tablespoon of salt (do not add salt in the beginning of this process as this will toughen the beans) and 2 teaspoons of oregano, stir well, replace lid and let sit for about a half hour. (This lets the spices, permeate the beans).

Enjoy as is, or over rice with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, green onion, avocado, fresh tomato or whatever you prefer.




Puzzled?

 

puzzle

By Liz

Just like most people, I am a product of my environment, living in an ever changing, hustling and bustling busy world; so therefore, I always feel the need to be productive or to be doing something.

While “stop and smell the roses”, is a great concept on paper, who has time when there is so much to be done in a 24 hour period?

Like most, our Saturday’s are just as busy as the rest of our week.  Generally we reserve Saturday’s to “date day” unless we have looming projects at the house, that are an absolute must, usually  this means a project in the yard, garage or home improvement.

However, this particular Saturday just felt like a bust.  The weather was less than cooperative and it had been overcast, rainy and cold all day.  Obviously we were not going to be able to tackle any outdoor projects or attempt to clean the garage, which was long overdue for a cleaning.  We had just spent the previous day doing our weekly housecleaning, and we were all caught up on laundry, we had a fridge full of leftovers, so cooking wasn’t a necessity for the day.




My husband and I were perplexed on how to salvage the rest of our Saturday and due a lack of motivation on both of our parts on this dreary day, we railed off suggestions to each other; after many suggestions, we were not anywhere closer to a compromise. Finally, my hubby suggested that we tackle one of the jigsaw puzzles that was sitting, collecting dust in our closet.

At first I was indifferent about this suggestion, but when the love of my life said he would build a fire, turn on the stereo and open a bottle of my favorite wine in addition to setting up the card table in our living room, I had a change of heart.

I am generally not a fan of jigsaw puzzles, mostly because as I feel I suffer from ADHD, so I had approached this 500 piece puzzle, with some reserve, thinking that after about 10 minutes, I would have surely felt like I was crawling out of my skin in frustration, but I had agreed to give it a chance.

There we sat in the middle of our living room at our card table, with a warm, crackling fire, listening to some oldies on our vintage console stereo, sharing a bottle of wine and enjoying each other’s company, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself looking at the time and noticed that we had been working on this puzzle together for over 2 hours and were only half way done.

fireplace

When we decided to stretch our legs and heat up something to eat, two of our adult kids, who were home for the afternoon, appeared from their rooms, surely they had found something to pass the time on this dreary day as well. They walked over to the card table and upon inspection, asked if they could work on some of the puzzle while we were in the kitchen heating up some dinner.  I have to tell you, it was a thrill to see a couple of young adults, not staring down at their phones or tethered to a video game console for a period of time, in fact, they had gotten into this puzzle, just as much as my husband and I did.  We let them have at it, and before you knew it, an hour more had passed.

My husband and I, re-entered the living room to check their progress on the puzzle and found they had gotten much more of it completed.  For the rest of the evening, the four of us would take turns at the card table, in tag team fashion, completing this puzzle.  At times, we would find ourselves singing along to whatever song was playing in the background, we would find ourselves laughing at something one of us had said, and each one of us, were completely content in this family, friendly moment, and there was not an electronic device or distraction in sight. We were close to finishing, so none of us wanted to turn in for the evening until we had finished this 500 piece challenge.




At last, we had finally finished the puzzle and he had high fived each other, proud of ourselves for accomplishing the challenge we had started.  In total, we had spent 5 hours doing this puzzle…. 5 hours.  I know what many of you are thinking: “Do you know what I could do with 5 hours?!” Believe me, I do know what can be done, productively for 5 hours, in fact, like most, we have a laundry list of things that we could have been doing, but it came to me as an epiphany and was glad that it happened, I finally got it, we had “stopped and smelt the roses”.

Brunch is for the Dogs

Roxie_Sasha

by Liz

Do you like eggs? Me too!  They are absolutely delicious, not to mention affordable and versatile and packed with a ton of protein.

Do you know who else loves eggs? Dogs do. Well at least my dogs do.

At our house we treat our dogs to Sunday brunch, along with the rest of our brood, after all, they are part of our family as well, so why shouldn’t they enjoy in this protein packed, tasty treat.

I usually make my doggie quiche in advance because I had those last containers and baggies of leftovers, that, tried as I might, just could not unload on anyone in the house and it was fridge cleaning day.

I store their quiche, well wrapped, in ½ pie size wedges and stored in the freezer.  On Saturday mornings, I will take a wedge out and put it in the fridge to thaw.

After Sunday service, while firing up my kitchen to start making brunch for my crew, I take the dog’s quiche out of the fridge and leave it on the counter to take some of the chill out of it.

When the family is done enjoying Sunday brunch and the kids are helping clean the dishes, I will briefly reheat my doggie quiche wedge in the microwave, mash up and distribute to my four legged, furry gang.

To tell you that my dogs love this treat would be an understatement.  My dogs will start whining the minute we come through the door from church because they know what day it is.  As the family starts winding down from eating, the whining gets even louder,  and as I put their quiche wedge on a plate to be reheated, their excitement is hardly containable, as they start their pathetic, albeit, adorable begging poses and tail chasing.

Needless to say, they are some very happy animals, when they are done with their treat and I feel good knowing that they got to enjoy an inexpensive, healthy, homemade treat.




Recipe:

Doggie Quiche

(Makes 2; 9 inch quiches)

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes or rice

1 dozen eggs

1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

¾ cups milk

1 – 1 ½ cups of chopped or diced cooked meat (optional)

  • Just a quick note, dogs do not need seasonings to enjoy food. They do not need salt, pepper garlic, hot sauce or anything of the like, in fact, I am pretty sure it is unhealthy for them, so please refrain from seasoning as you would for a human.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl mix potatoes or rice with 1 egg and ½ cup shredded cheese. Mix until well blended.
  3. Spoon and smooth out into the bottom of a greased 9 inch pie dish.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are just starting to brown.
  5. Take out of oven and let cool 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, break in remaining eggs and milk, whisk until all yolks are broken.
  7. Divide and sprinkle diced meat and cheese onto the cooling pie crusts, then add half of the egg mixture to each pie dish.
  8. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until eggs are set.
  9. Cool completely and then cut into desired sized wedges.

Coffee, Tea or More Money in your Wallet?

barista

by Liz

Convenience, it is something that comes with a price tag. We have all seen it and we have all, at one time or another, indulged in this luxury.

Whether it be a meal from a drive thru window, buying a cooked rotisserie chicken for a quick dinner entree or stopping for that favorite cup of gourmet java.

Life is busy, and sometimes these conveniences are a godsend.  This article is not about cutting them out of your life, but how to maximize them. Let’s take a look at one in particular and most everyone’s favorite,(especially mine) that cup of coffee or tea that gets our engines running for the day or mid day in my case.

Have you noticed that the lengthier or more fruity the name of the beverage, the heftier the price tag? Ridiculous when you think about it, especially when you consider that the main ingredient in these beverages is water, and if you are a frequent consumer to these kinds of establishments on a regular basis, this cost adds up.  The last time I frequented one of these establishments, the average price for a medium , regular, straight up cup of coffee was around $2.00 and one of those high falutin beverages hovered around $5.00 (and don’t even get me started on the calorie count).  Using some simple math; $5.00 a day x 5 days a week x 52 weeks in the year = $1,300.00. I don’t know about you, but I can think of at least 10 things off of the top of my head that I would rather spend $1,300.00 on.

Ask yourself, if you were in your own home, would you be making this kind of drink on a regular basis? Or, like most people, would you be making just a regular cup of tea or coffee?  My guess is that most people would answer the latter of the two.  Nowadays, with gourmet flavored, teas, coffees and creamers available at your local grocery store, not to mention the invention of the commuter cups, why is a stop at one of these establishments even on anyone’s radar?




A few Christmases ago, my loving husband gave me one of the best gifts ever. It was a Keurig machine.  Sure, a traditional automatic drip coffee maker with its large filter system is less expensive, but I enjoy fresh, hot coffee and with the auto drip coffee maker, I would find that after about 30 minutes of the coffee sitting on the warmer, it would tend to start tasting bitter, and I would toss out about half a carafe full.

Yes, there is the argument that the pod inserts for these machines are costly as well, however, over the years; there have been many alternatives to the brand specific beverages made for this machine.  Many bulk warehouse stores sell  pods by the case, discount stores sell generic as well as some name brand, discounted pods; it is up to you which of these lower priced alternatives your wallet and your flavor palate can agree upon.

Personally, I have gone one extra step in frugality, and I will get two servings of coffee from just one pod. My first cup of coffee, I always choose the largest cup selection my machine offers, for my second cup, I go down to the second to largest selection. Since these coffees are well concentrated in this little container, I hardly taste a huge difference between the two cups and my average cost is a whopping 22 cents per cup…..much easier to swallow, isn’t it?

Another option is the mesh; reusable coffee pods available in usually a two or three pack at most stores.  With these pods, you fill it with your choice of ground coffee or tea, thereby cutting your expense dramatically. Here is when you can take a little creative license because nowadays you can get coffees and teas in bulk in all sorts of strengths and flavors from almost anywhere and you will still beat the hefty price tag of a convenience purchased $2.00 regular cup of coffee.

Try giving these methods a try for a couple of weeks and see what comfort and compatibility level you can live with. Stop making the beverage conglomerates of the world richer and start putting your hard earned cash back in your pocket.