Friday Freebie on Amazon: The Busy Mom’s Make-Ahead Breakfast Cookbook

My friend Carrie who blogs at Natural Moms Talk Radio has a new ebook that will be free on Amazon for just one day:

Carrie is a mom of 7, so she understands the need for fast, easy, nutritious breakfast.  That’s why she’s sharing over 70 recipes in her ebook.  And that’s why you need it!

On Friday, September 27, The Busy Mom’s Make-Ahead Breakfast Cookbook will be FREE on Amazon!  Even if you miss the opportunity to get it free, it’s still a great deal at $2.99.  That’s less than the cost of a box of cereal.

And if you’re into feeding your family a nutritious diet without breaking your budget, you might be interested in another of Carrie’s ebooks:

This one isn’t free right now, but if it doesn’t help you save at least the $2.99 purchase price, you might be reading it wrong.   You can definitely Slash Your Grocery Budget & Eat a Whole Foods Diet With Aldi.  I remember Aldi’s from my 11 years in Ohio, and I can’t wait to get one here in San Antonio.  I had a serious case of sticker shock when I moved here and had to shop at regular grocery stores.  I think our food expenses must have risen by 30-40%.

Have you read either book?  I bet Carrie would love it if you published your review on Amazon, and I would love to hear about it in the comments!


Frugal blogging

As promised, I’m blogging over at Frugal Hacks today.  My latest foray into Menu Math was fun.  I hope you like it.

4 Moms share vegetarian recipes {linky}

Vegetarian?!  First, let me clarify a few things.

We think bacon is proof that God loves us.  I have made and enjoyed chocolate covered bacon, and I would totally try bacon ice cream.

We think that PETA should stand for People Eating Tasty Animals.

I think this is funny:

bacon seed

And this is hilarious:periodic table of meat


I make bacon roses for my husband, and we both think this site is awesome.

bacon roses

We like meat.

But we don’t always eat meat.  That is largely because it tends to be expensive, especially when you are feeding a lot of hearty eaters.  We have found that there are many healthy, hearty meals that don’t break the bank and don’t require meat.  Sometimes you can just skip the meat in a regular recipe if there are enough other ingredients to distract from its absence.  We are not vegetarians, but some of our meals are.

Before we start, let me issue a warning: don’t try to force a meat-loving husband to eat meatless meals.  He must be on board, or you are doomed to failure.  If your husband wants you to cut the food bill, this is a good way to do it.  If he looks at your like you’re crazy when you suggest eating some meatless meals, don’t even try it.  If you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here is a sampling of our favorites:

Bean & cheese burritos – Add-ons like tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, etc. really make the meal.  To add texture and appeal, make your beans from scratch instead of using refried beans from a can, leaving some whole beans when you season & smush them.  Or add lentils cooked with Homemade Taco Seasoning as a sort of meat substitute.  It’s not meat and probably won’t fool anyone, but it’s another way to add more texture and appeal.

Lasagna and spaghetti are very good without meat.  Just don’t skimp on the sauce and seasonings, and use plenty of cheese in your lasagna.

Taco salad is another meal that works well without meat: just use ranch beans or season your own pinto/black beans with Homemade Taco Seasoning.  Top with Homemade Catalina salad dressing.

homemade-enchilada-sauceBean & cheese enchiladas or “wet burritos” are another cheap meatless meal that everyone loves.  I use lots of my Easy Homemade Enchilada Sauce under, over and inside each enchilada to make them moist and flavorful.  If you use flour tortillas, there’s no need to soften in oil or sauce.  Just put a few tablespoons of seasoned beans, cheese and sauce in the middle, and roll up.  Crowd in a single layer on a pan lined with sauce (use a pan with sides at least 1″ high).  Top with more sauce and a sprinkle of cheese.  Bake about 25-30 minutes at 350, until heated through and lightly browned on top.

We also love quiche, and the egg/cheese combination is a less expensive source of protein than most meats.  Bacon, ham or sausage is nice but not necessary.  Garlic, carmelized onions and other veggies add lots of flavor, and this dinner goes well with a green salad. Just mix up 6 eggs, 2 cups of milk, 2 cups grated cheese (any kind you have on hand), and as many add-ins as you want.  Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake until the center is set.  Of course we double or triple this.  🙂

Moving away from meat is a fun excuse to experiment with new recipes.  We recently discovered and enjoyed Greek Fakes soup, and my husband wants me to make Indian Dahl lentils again.  We tried Black Bean Burgers and decided that the recipe was promising but needed a lot of tweaking.

What meatless recipes have you tried and enjoyed?

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4 Moms: Favorite frugal tips

This week we 4 moms of many are sharing some of our favorite frugal tips.   I’m already busy making this harder than it has to be, asking myself if  “favorite” means the tips we enjoy the most (or complain about the least), or the ones that save us the most.  Or maybe our favorites would be the most creative ones, that make us happy just because we thought of them.  Maybe our favorites are the ones that are so deeply ingrained as habits that we don’t even think twice about them, but then it gets really hard because we might be utterly unaware of them and then how would I tell you about them?

And if it’s hard to decide on the criteria for the word favorite, how about a definition for the word frugal?  This blockbuster post on Frugal Hacks reminds us how widely our definitions can vary, and maybe when I decide which frugal tips are my favorites you’ll just snort derisively and mutter, “She calls that frugal?”  Or you might be horrified and send the link to all your friends: “Can you believe she does this to her own family?!”

Now that you’ve been exposed to all my deepest self-doubts and neuroses, I’ll share a few of my best tips for stretching a single income in a double-income society.  Some may seem too obvious, but I suspect much depends on where you’re standing and what you already do or know.

Save on food:

  1.  Cook from scratch.  If you already do some scratch cooking, expand your skills by tackling new recipes: Enchilada sauce, pizza crust & pizza sauce, tortillas, biscuits, pancakes.  This adds some work in the kitchen, but cuts your grocery bill and simplifies shopping because you buy greater quantities of staples like flour but less individual items like canned biscuits, bread, english muffins, bagels, and pancake mix.
  2. Buy in bulk but always check unit prices.  Bigger isn’t always cheaper, so don’t get fooled.
  3. Shop the specials but check unit prices again.  Not everything in the weekly sales flyer is a good deal.
  4. Always watch the prices as your items are rung up.  I get overcharged on at least one item almost every time I go to the store, especially sales and clearance items.  If you catch the mistake before your order is finished, it’s easy to fix.  It’s much harder if you wait and have to go through customer service.
  5. Use what you buy.  It seems obvious, but even a great deal is a waste of money if you don’t use what you buy.
  6. Do some menu math.  You might be surprised at the results.
  7. Drink milk and water.  Juice may have a few vitamins but is loaded with sugar – natural or otherwise.  You get much more bang for your buck by eating fresh fruit.  Other drinks have little or no nutritional value, so the less you drink of them the better.
  8. Learn to eat meatless meals.  Don’t make the switch all at once if you are heavy meat eaters, but begin having a meatless meal every now and then.  Skimp on the meat in regular dishes, and teach your family to see it as a garnish rather than a main dish.  It could be that your family won’t miss the meat at all!
  9. Avoid eating out.  Even a cheap meal out usually costs much more than eating in, so do your best to avoid eating out.  It’s fine to treat your family to a restaurant meal, of course, but make it a planned event.  Don’t let it happen by accident or default just because you failed to plan.
Save on repairs:
  1. Take care of possessions.  Reduce the need for repairs by taking good care of the things you own and use.
  2. Ask how you can save on a repair.  Some shops will let you order and provide the parts for a repair, just charging you for labor.  If you can find a better deal on the parts than they offer, you can save some money.  Prices are often negotiable, too. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
  3. Do your own repairs.  You can do many of your own repairs on autos, appliances, furniture, walls, plumbing, and more.  Don’t know how?  Learn.  The internet is a wealth of free information at your fingertips.  If you need to actually see how a repair is done, YouTube is a wonderful resource.
  4. Borrow tools for repairs.  If you need a particular tool that you aren’t likely to use often, ask around for a loaner.  Besides your own friends and acquaintances, Home Depot and Auto Zone often loan specialty tools for free.
  5. Make it last or do without.  Use cars, appliances and other big-ticket items as little as possible to extend their lifespan.  When it’s time to repair them, ask yourself if it’s really worth the cost.  How much would you miss it if you chose not to repair it?
Save on clothes:
  1. Shop secondhand.  If you’re used to buying new, secondhand stores may give you the heebie-jeebies at first, but that feeling passes.  Thrift stores can be a great resource for high quality items for far less than you would pay for a new cheaply-made counterpart.  Some items are brand new and still have tags from local retailers.  We routinely find shoes that retail for hundreds of dollars in thrift stores for $10 or less.  I have 2 pairs of boots that I absolutely love: one cost me over $100, and the other pair was like new for $4 (but retails for nearly $200).  I bet you couldn’t tell which was which.
  2. Enjoy hand-me-downs.  Let it be known that your family appreciates hand-me-downs, and you may never need to enter a thrift store – except to drop off donations.  Many people would prefer to give their children’s outgrown or out-of-favor clothes to someone they know rather than donate them to a business, but they need to know that you want them.  Brag up the adorable bag of dresses that ____ passed to your daughter, and others will know that pride doesn’t stand between you and a new free wardrobe.
  3. Plan ahead.  Don’t wait until summer to hunt for a new summer wardrobe.  Whether you’re shopping new or used, it pays to plan ahead.  Great prices are easier to find at the end of the season than the beginning, so think about what you’ll need next year.
  4. Repair and remodel.  It doesn’t take mad sewing skilz to do minor repairs.  Even some very impressive alterations take more creativity than skill.  Get outside your comfort zone and you might be shocked at what you can do.  Check out what Kaitlyn did in less than 10 minutes to pretty up a plain t-shirt.
  5. Extend the life of your clothes.  Washing and drying is hard on fabric, so if it’s not dirty don’t wash it.  When you do wash it, consider hanging it out to dry rather than using the electric dryer.  You’ll save 3 ways: less electricity, less wear and tear on your dryer, and your clothes will last longer.

Save on purchases:

  1. Don’t fall victim to SOS.  Shiny Object Syndrome is a dangerous disorder that can wreak havoc on your budget.   If it’s new and cool, force yourself to wait and make a careful decision after the excitement has worn off a bit.
  2. Don’t just ask yourself if you’ll use it.  Go a step farther: ask yourself if you need it, or if you’ve truly missed having it.  Did you just realize you wanted it when you saw it on the shelf, or is this a great deal on an item you’ve been looking for?
  3. Shop around.  Don’t assume that a sale – or a thrift store find – is a great deal.  Take time to check prices, or make sure you already know prices when you are shopping for an item.  If you weren’t already shopping for the item, you probably don’t really need it right now.
  4. Know the return policy and save your receipt.  Leave yourself room for buyer’s remorse, and be ready to act on it.  Even many thrift stores allow returns under the right circumstances.
  5. Don’t fall victim to the spend-to-save fallacy.  Some deals make you feel like the more you spend, the more you save.  Stop and think: if Option B leaves less money in your pocket than Option A, it’s probably not a savings.
  6. Eye buyer’s insurance with deep suspicion.  There’s a reason stores offer you those extra insurance policies, and it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts.  They profit on the deal, which means somebody loses on the deal.  The odds are against you, so unless you have good reason to believe you might beat the odds, just decline.

And a bonus tip:  Don’t be shy.  Ask for discounts.  Ask for add-ons.  Many prices are negotiable, and you’ll never know unless you ask.  Negotiating is a dying skill in the US, but is alive and well in much of the world.  Help bring it back!  Be courteous, but bold.  Smile when you make a request, and thank them whether or not you get what you asked for.  Here are some phrases I have used successfully:

  1. I would love to have this, but it only costs $8.99 new.  Can you come down on the price?
  2. I think my daughter would really like this dress, but it has a hole here.  Can you take something off the price?
  3. I love the color of this shirt, but it has some faint spots – see?  Can you adjust the price?
  4. I’m looking for an oven like that.  Can you do a little better on the price for me?
  5. If I buy these 3 items, can you throw this in for free?


What are some ways that you save money?

Here’s what the other 3 moms say:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • May 17 – Q&A
  • May 24 – Homeschooling when in a rotten temper

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4 Moms serve dinner for 50 cents/person {linky}

4 Moms, 35 KidsYou’ve heard of $5 dinners, but they usually feed 4 or maybe 6 people.  Today, the 4 Moms are going to try to do better.  Really?  Is it possible to make dinner for $.50/person?

In an attempt to reduce our grocery expenses without sacrificing healthful eating, our family has learned to eat many meatless dinners.  This doesn’t mean we skimp on protein, though.  We are hearty eaters, and we love our protein!

Beans and homemade bread are one answer that is both obvious and hearty.  Two pounds of dry pinto beans from WalMart cost about $1.30 – call it $2 to allow for generous seasoning.  A pot of beans can be surprisingly varied if you learn to season them differently.  Meat is nice but not always necessary.  $1.50 would be enough to make 2 loaves of sweet rich Challah bread or a big pan of cornbread and a little butter.  That leaves us $2.50 for some fresh veggies – right now, that would buy 2 lbs. of carrots, 1 lb. of roma tomatoes, and 2 cucumbers.

Beans and cornbread together provide a substantial amount of complete protein, but not everyone wants to eat a pot of beans every day and maybe your family doesn’t like beans as much as we do.  Surely we can be a little more creative.

How about pizza? We can’t have all the toppings we want, but let’s see what we can do with our budget.

Let’s make enough dough for 4 large pizzas.  Sometimes I make more because I like to plan for leftovers, but 4 is plenty even when we’re famished and today we’re on a budget.  Salt is cheap, and since I get flour (8 cups) and yeast (2 Tbs) from Costco and I don’t always use oil in my pizza dough, that’s just 60 cents so far.  Let’s allow some oil for the pans, though, to make the crust nice and crisp:  50 cents will provide 2 Tbs. of butter or olive oil for each pan.

Easy Frugal Pizza Crust

makes 4 large pizzas

  • 3 cups warm water
  • 2 Tbs. yeast ($.08)
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • ~8 cups flour

Combine water, yeast, salt and 2 cups of flour.  Let sit 10 minutes, until bubbly and active.  Stir and knead additional flour to make a firm dough.  Knead by hand or in machine until smooth and only slightly sticky.

Let rest 10 minutes or up to 24 hours.  Divide into 4 parts and pat onto large greased pizza pans or cookie sheets.  Top and bake immediately, or prebake 10 minutes at 300 to finish later.

Add pizza sauce made from a gallon can of tomato paste (we season and freeze 1 cup portions, then add water and simmer until we’re ready to use it) for 50 cents (19 cents is the paste; the rest is the cost of spices).

We’ll divide 6 cups of grated mozzarella ($3.75 from Costco) between 3 of the pizzas, and make the 4th into breadsticks to dip in the extra sauce.  Many people enjoy cheese pizza so let’s leave one plain.  We still have 65 cents for additional toppings – 2/3 lb. of turkey sausage can be divided between 2 pizzas, or we can afford 1/2 diced onion, 1/2 bell pepper and a few sliced mushrooms.

Breakfast for dinner can be fun and frugal.  We occasionally have pancakes and eggs when we find the dinner hour upon us without a plan.

Pancakes to feed a dozen

makes 50-4″ pancakes for $2.35

  • 5 cups flour ($.35)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • 5 cups soured milk – 2 Tbs vinegar plus milk to make 5 cups ($1)
  • 5 eggs ($.50)
  • 1/2 cup oil or melted butter ($.50)

Combine dry ingredients.  Add milk, eggs and butter, then mix just until smooth.  Drop onto hot lightly greased griddle and cook until bubbles appear.  Flip and cook until done.

We like to top our pancakes with butter ($.50) and a little sprinkle of brown sugar rather than syrup that’s full of HFCS.

Add 2 dozen eggs ($2.50), fried or scrambled, and you have a fun & filling dinner with plenty of protein for less than $6.  There are no veggies this time, but maybe you had fruit with breakfast and a big salad for lunch.  🙂

More Dinners for less than $.50/serving:

Bean & cheese burritos. Cook your beans from scratch, but buy tortillas if you have an inexpensive source.  We pay $1/20.  Serve with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, cheese, and salsa.

Spaghetti, salad and fresh bread. Make your own sauce from that gallon can of tomato paste, and skip the meat if you can live without it.  Set out 1/2 lb. of grated mozzarella to sprinkle on top.

Taco salad.  Serve homemade seasoned black beans instead of meat, along with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, crushed tortilla chips, salsa, and a little sour cream if we have it.

The other moms are talking about it today, too.
  • Smockity Frocks
  • Common Room
  • Raising Olives
  • How does your budget compare?  How can you or how would you feed your family dinner for 50 cents/person?

    Link up with us, and please remember to play by the linky rules:

    1. You must link to a specific relevant post on your blog.
    2. Your post must include a link to at least one of the 4 Moms blogs.
    3. The post you link to must be completely family friendly.

    If your link is deleted, you probably didn’t follow one of the rules above. Please feel free to add your link again once you have fixed the problem. If you don’t know why your link was deleted, please ask.


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    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

    • March 15 – How to save memories without being overrun
    • March 22 – Q&A (watch for your chance to post questions on Facebook)
    • March 29 – Making time to manage the budget
    • April 5 – Do you plan out blog posts? How do you manage blog time?

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    Comparing online tax preparation companies: H&R Block vs. Turbo Tax

    I’m getting ready to file my tax return for last year.  We think that income tax should be abolished – after all, America grew and prospered all the way into the 20th century without an income tax – but we do the standard American tax ritual.

    We have filed our tax return online for many years, and we went back and forth between Turbo Tax and H&R Block.  We had no problems with either, and both were very easy to use.  Both asked all the relevant questions and walked me through the process online, step by step, allowing me to save my progress and pick up where I left off if I didn’t want to do it all in one sitting.

    One year when we had a particularly complicated return – several businesses and an out-of-state rental that we owned – I used both sites to compute our taxes and compared the results before actually filing the return.  H&R Block found a deduction that Turbo Tax missed, changing our refund by $300 for the better.  Since then, we’ve used H&R Block but I try to compare the 2 regularly and nearly always come up with the same numbers.

    Turbo Tax I love that both offer free filing, and even if you have too much income to qualify for free filing, each lets you go all the way through the process and only requires payment when it’s time to hit the Submit button.

    Here’s my question for you:  Do you think people who file online are crazy?  Have you used either or both?  Which do you prefer?  I would love to have your input in the poll below, and I would love to hear more about your opinion and/or experience in the comments!  Maybe you can convince me that I don’t need to take time to fill out my tax refund twice, if there is a clear winner.

    [poll id=”35″]

    The links above are affiliate links, so if you use either company through the link I’ll get a commission.  If you want to give them a try but don’t want to use the affiliate links, direct links are below.  Don’t worry; I’ll never know the difference.  🙂

    H&R Block

    Turbo Tax  

    Linky time: I want your best bean/lentil recipe

    Last week I paid over $3.50 for a gallon of milk, and my panic button finally went off. It’s been a while since I totaled my grocery expenses, and I really don’t want to do it now. I find it comical that the government excludes the cost of gas and groceries when they tell us we are not experiencing inflation on any significant level. It’s comical the same way a really, really bad day is comical: if I didn’t laugh, I would have to cry. Can they be any more obvious in the slant of their figures?

    But I didn’t start this post to complain about the economy. I just want to keep the food budget under control, and I want to do it without resorting to ramen noodles, so we’re going to eat less meat, more beans and learn to use lentils.  Beans are great for diabetics (we have one) and proved to be a miracle cure for my morning sickness, which I hope to experience again someday in the near future.  We already enjoy beans, but I know we’re missing a whole world of variety when we limit ourselves to pinto beans with ham or taco seasoning. I want you to broaden our world with your favorite recipes!

    Please join in by posting any or all of your favorite recipes for beans and lentils, then link up below.  Extra points for meatless recipes!

    Remember your linky manners:

    1. Link to a single relevant post on your blog, not the front page.
    2. Link back to this post so that your readers can join the fun.
    3. If you find that your link is deleted, you probably broke one of the rules above.  Feel free to try again.

    Want to learn to make money with your blog?

    That’s the topic of my new series over at Frugal Hacks, thanks to 5 separate inquiries from ambitious friends and acquaintances.  The first post went live today: Monetize Your Blog, part 1.  Go see, and give it a link if you like it!

    Psst…cash giveaway over at Frugal Hacks

    I share a list of my favorite frugal articles from around the web nearly every Saturday over at Frugal Hacks. This week I decided to spice it up a little by offering $10 to whoever submits a link to the best article!

    If I get a good response I just might do it this way every weekend, so show me what you think by participating and spreading the word.  Pleeease?

    $10 cash giveaway at Frugal Hacks

    Stirring up trouble…

    I just added this little gem to my Frugal Quotes generator:

    We live in a strange society.  The Bible says that debt is a curse and children are a blessing.  But we apply for a curse and reject blessings.  Doug Philips

    You can see the script in action here, but if you want my script on your blog just pop over to Frugal Hacks and look in the sidebar to grab the code.  Once installed, it will show any of over 100 different random quotes about debt, frugal living, and other wise and witty bits of financial advice and commentary.  As I add new quotes on my end, they will show up on yours too.

    script provided by Frugal Hacks

    Cool, huh?