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You will now find all of my money saving ideas, Scratch vs. Store Bought comparisons, menu plans, before and after photos of my home organization projects, and general thoughts on life at TheSavedQuarter.com.

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This week, we’re testing Scratch vs. Store Bought Refried Beans by reader request. I’d never made refried beans from scratch before, so this was a new cooking adventure for me.

The Recipe

I used my pressure cooker and a slightly altered recipe from Lorna Sass’ Cooking Under Pressure. Yields 4 servings, 1/2 c each.

1 c. Pinto Beans
4 c.water
1 T oil (to keep beans from foaming)

Pick over beans, rinse, and drain. Cook 1 cup of unsoaked beans with 4 c. water and 1 T oil for about 25 minutes, or until soft-cooked and mushy. Quick release the pressure and drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

1/2 T olive oil ($.02)
1 t whole cumin seeds ($.02)
1 small onion, finely chopped ($.15)
1 clove garlic, minced ($.02)
2 c. soft cooked pinto beans ($.40)
1/2 c. bean liquid, vegetable stock, or water
dash cayenne pepper
1/3 t salt, to taste
1 t cider vinegar (optional)

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add and sizzle the cumin seeds for 10 seconds while stirring. Add the onion and garlic and saute until onions are soft and lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add about 1/3 of the cooked beans and 1/3 of the liquid, mashing the means with the back of a spoon.

While the mixture is simmering and the liquid is being absorbed into the puree, continue adding beans and liquid in two more batches. Add cayenne, salt, and vinegar to taste. Serve immediately.

The Cost Breakdown:

Rosarita Vegetarian refried beans cost $.75 on sale for 3.5 servings, or $.25 per serving.

Home made refried beans cost $.61 for 3.5 servings, or $.15 per serving.

The Taste Test:

The left side is from a can, the right side is from scratch. The color difference? I can’t explain that. How do the canned beans get so evenly brown? Either way, they’re not winning any beauty contests.

The home made version is lightly seasoned, so the bean flavor is fresh and comes through. You also get the occasional bite of onion. The canned version was much smoother, and quite a bit saltier. Mr.Penny thought the canned version was more flavorful; I thought it was too salty. He thought the home made version was bland; I liked that the bean flavor was most prominent, and it wasn’t too salty. There was no clear winner.

The Time Factor:

Home made beans were ready from dry beans in under 45 minutes using my pressure cooker. Only about 15 minutes of that was hands-on time. (I wrote most of this post while they bubbled away in the cooker!) If I had soaked the beans overnight, the y would have been cooked in 6 minutes, so the entire dish would take just about 15-20 minutes. It’s certainly longer than opening a can, but it’s not as intimidating as several hours on the stove as is traditional with dry beans.


Rosarita Vegetarian Refried Beans: Cooked beans, water, less than 2% of: Canola oil, salt, distilled vinegar, chile pepper, onion powder, spices, garlic powder, natural flavor

Calories: 120
Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 540 mg
Carbohydrate: 19 g
Dietary fiber: 6 g
Protein: 6 g

Home made: Cooked beans, water, onion, garlic, olive oil, spices

Calories: 147
Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 193
Carbohydrate: 24 g
Fiber: 8 g
Protein: 8 g

Both are very healthy, although the home made version is higher both in fiber and protein, and much lower in sodium.

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:

The cost of home made is significantly less, and salt can be added for those wanting a saltier bean, so I’m calling it for homemade. You may also want to play around with spices if you like a more well-seasoned bean. The only thing lacking is the color, but if you’re putting it inside a burrito with salsa and cheese, that factor won’t be too big.


Next time on Scratch vs. Store Bought: Flour Tortillas. I’m open to suggestions of what to test after that!

My baby girl spent her first night in a rail-free crib, after discovering how to scale the rail a few nights back and landing with a heartbreaking thud early in the morning.

Last night, Mr. Penny took off the rail, laid down couch pillows in case she fell out, and Sweet Pea climbed on up into her “biggull” (big girl) bed cheerfully and slept there all night. Considering that she wouldn’t sleep unless she was physically on my body until she was 6 months old, and only slept in a crib after she turned one, I’m kind of amazed at her rapid ascent into being a big girl. In the morning, she toddled in to me with the biggest, proudest grin. My baby is growing up!

Other examples:

  • Her love of shoes, and all things “piddy” (pretty)
  • Her fearlessness on the playground, going down big slides all on her own and yelling “whee!” all the way down
  • Her great vocabulary, including “no” and “mine”
  • Her choice of story books. She picked this off the shelf when I asked what she wanted to read yesterday!

The toddler bed is a temporary measure; hopefully she’ll sleep happily on a rail-free mattress and I can move her to the trundle bed under Peanut’s bed by the end of the year, freeing up that chunk of kid-room real estate to be used for play. I’m envisioning a little table and chairs and their play kitchen nestled into the corner to make a cozy play house.

This picture is from last year, when I rearranged Peanut’s room (before Sweet Pea moved in)  and organized everything. It’s time to do it again! The room is the quickest to pick up, but the kids pull everything out in 3.4 seconds, and like many kids – and like me – they have simply too much stuff.

He has a trundle-captain’s bed, the best piece of storage furniture evah. It has three broad drawers and a twin sized bed that pulls out, plus the book-case headboard. Under the headboard is a bed-shaped open space, which I currently use for Space Bags full of clothes in the next size up. Can’t waste that space! I got the furniture as a set for $400 on Craigstlist, including the trundle-captain’s bed, headboard, night stand, bookshelf (pictured), a 5 drawer dresser, two mattresses and mattress pads. Score! Recently, I found a deeper matching shelf that is being used across the room for toy storage, just $25. The quilt was Peanut’s 3rd birthday present from my mom, who made it out of super soft flannel.

I’m currently making matching Paintbox quilts (or more accurately, acquiring scraps to make the Paintbox quilts!!) and I’m planning on painting their room, as 4 years of toddler use has been hard on the walls and I have another paint store mystery shop coming up. I like the blue, but I’m thinking of adding more color, like this adorable room on Flickr and it’s cheerful, bright closet. I also love how they painted the furniture, and I’m seriously considering that to cover up the Sharpie attack on the headboard from its current owner and dog scratches on the end of the bed from the previous owner. The quilt and the paint should make for a nice, bright, cheerful room.

What do you think?

Amazing offer alert! Franklin Goose is offering $5 per review for anything on their website, and it is unlimited! Review 10 items and get $50! They explain it on their Facebook and blog, but there is no mention on the site itself. They’re a bit overwhelmed by the response so it may take a few days to get your credit. I spent most of the evening reviewing natural toys, cloth diapers, and any other product on their site I’d seen in person to give a fair evaluation. This will be fantastic for birthday and Christmas presents!


I took the kids over to the Elizabeth Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto today. It was lovely weather and a trip to see many gorgeous flowers was in order! They loved running around the paths with their buddy who joined us, and I loved seeing all of the colorful flowers and plants coming into spring.

I also finished using my Kohl’s gift certificates, buying a few pairs of jeans for myself and a Mother’s Day gift for both of our moms. It wasn’t as good a deal as the other day, but I saved over $200.00 and had a nice chat about finding bargains with the sales clerk who helped me. (Hi, Carolyn!)

I’ve been a busy bee over here and completely neglected my Scratch vs. Store Bought Refried Beans tonight. They’ll be made tomorrow and reviewed for a Saturday post. The next couple of days are likely to be busy, too, with a few mystery shops, activities with the kids, babysitting, a night out with a girlfriend, and my super secret project announcement, which will be here Sunday.

I realize that many big blogs hit this accomplishment in a day, but for me, 20,000 people’s eye balls taking a gander at what I’ve done in just 3 months is pretty impressive! Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and especially to those of you participating in my blog with your comments and positive thoughts! It is very encouraging and helps me to stay motivated in my savings efforts.

My busiest day, March 1, was when I posted the dining room before and after pictures.

This is not my big announcement – that’s coming later this week or this weekend – but I wanted to share because I was excited!

You may remember my scary, overflowing entry closet from a few weeks back. It was unusably full, and as I went through it, I discovered that it was full of stuff that didn’t need to be there. Now, it is so empty and I’m not sure how to make the best use of this space. Here’s the before and after shot so you can see the progress.



Top left: Will Creator that was free after rebate to give to my parents (not so subtle hint, haha; they’re expecting it, so it’s not coming out of the blue!), and breast pump that I need to mail to my cousin
Top right: Baby monitor (that we never use because our house is so small! My husband wants to keep it, though), fan that we use in the summer

Middle left: Jackets
Middle right: Mail sorter, now with blank envelopes, address stamp, and postage easily accessible; bottom drawer for keys, middle drawer for receipts, one slot for Mr. Penny’s business papers. The basket on top is for Mr. Penny’s wallet and pocket stuff.

Bottom left: Shoes – jumbled together still and in need of better organization (three wire baskets) I’m taking the shoes out of here altogether.
Bottom right: Nothing!

So I’m thinking of rearranging the set-up here. I am considering removing the baskets below the coats, lowering the coat rack, and adding the mail shelf over the coat rack. That would leave the whole right shelf empty, with 5 of those wire baskets that are hard to pull out and push back in, for storing something. What should I do with that space? I am enchanted by this idea for transient storage space – a place to put library books, things to donate, gifts, and things to deliver. I’m not sure it’s the most effective use of this space, though. Also, it has no doors.

Any ideas?


I also had to share my amazing Kohl’s deal today. I had $80 in gift cards from the Safeway deal last weekend, and an hour in between a mystery shop and my weekly date to go walking with a friend, so I stopped in and made a bee-line to the clearance sections. I scored! I got 4 sweaters and 4 long sleeved shirts for myself (I’m set for next winter!), two pairs of pants for Sweet Pea (crossed off the list, naturally), a Dr. Suess book, and a transforming robot/remote control car for Peanut’s gift from Santa this year. He’s going to *love* it.

My total was $57. 59, but apparently the book is “not subject to discount” so I had to pay cash for that, and then it threw off my other calculation so I gave a $20 coupon and it only scanned in for $12. 59. The cashier couldn’t give me the difference in cash, obviously, and didn’t want to let me pick something else, so we called over the manager. When I asked him, he just gave me the $20 coupon back, saying it was less complicated than trying to re-ring it for me to pay with cash. So I paid $5.46 out of pocket and $40 in coupons that I got for free, and because you wouldn’t believe the amazing deal, I scanned the receipt. I’m corny, I know! You see the Total Saved? Yes, $411.99! Is that crazy or what?
(If you click the image, then click it again, it increases the size so you can read it. I’m not sure how to scale it to a readable size here, sorry.)

I still have $40 in gift certificates. I’m going to another nearby Kohl’s to check out their clearance sections later in the week. I’m planning on checking out potential Mother’s Day gifts for our moms and  Father’s Day gifts for Mr. Penny and my dad.

This post is linked to Metamorphosis Monday.

Yes, I’ve said that this isn’t a deals blog, and yes, I’m posting yet another deal. No excuses other than to say that I’m making my dollars stretch as far as possible and want to help you to do the same. That said!

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are coming out on Blu-ray this week, and they’ll make a great addition to my son’s Christmas gift box. You know I’m not going to pay the full price – $29.99 each! You know I’m going to stack coupons and sales, right?

I was excited to find $5 coupons for each movie. (The coupons are for either USA or Canada, so be sure you print the right one.) If you already have the DVD or VHS, you can get $10 off coupons!

Then I found a scenario at My Frugal Adventures laying out how buy the movies at Toys R Us for $23.99 for both movies and an extra DVD by pre-ordering.

Transaction 1: (This is the preorder)
Pay deposit for Toy Story 1 $5
Pay deposit for Toy Story 2 $5
Buy a 3rd DVD for $19.99
Subtotal: $29.99
Get $15 off instantly on a 3rd DVD for pre-ordering both movies
Get $4.99 off instantly for buying a Disney movie
Final Price: $10

Transaction #2:
Buy Toy Story 1 Blu Ray at $16.99
Buy Toy Story 2 Blu Ray at $16.99 (ONLY this price if you order both 1 and 2!)
Subtotal: $33.98
Minus $10 -which is your deposit from above
Use (2) $5/1 coupons
Final Price: $13.98

So your total is $23.98 for the DVD you select, Toy Story 1 and Toy Story 2!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have an old Toy Story VHS or DVD you can log into your Disney Movie Rewards account HERE and enter the UPC and get $10 off coupons rather than $5 off! That makes your total $13.98 instead of $23.98 for all 3 movies!! (there is a $10 off coupon for Toy Story 1 and another one for Toy Story 2)

Also I did not expect that extra $4.99 discount to come off and I did not see any signage in the store about it.  I can not promise that you will get the same discount I did!  So if you decide to try this deal you might pay $4.99 more than I did!!

Let’s make the deal sweeter, shall we?

I bought The Princess and the Frog DVD as the 3rd movie, using a $5 coupon. My final price on transaction #1 was $5.55, including tax, and I got a free jewelry box. I’ll sell the movie and jewelry box on E-bay. Currently, the movie alone is selling for about $12. Selling it and using the coupon will take $17.00 or so off the total price – and I got the movie for free because I pre-ordered the two Toy Story movies!

Next, get a free movie ticket to see Toy Story 3 in theaters with each purchase of a Toy Story or Toy Story 2  Blu-ray and DVD combo pack. That saves us $14.99, the cost of two tickets at Costco. A fun, free Mama-Kiddo date is in our future!

You can also hold onto your tickets and the codes inside your Blu-Ray/DVD combos to enter into Disney Movie Rewards. I haven’t signed up yet, but apparently you get free stuff for entering your movie codes.

Altogether, I’ll get two Blu-ray/DVD combos, and two movie tickets for a mere $6.98 (after selling The Princess and the Frog DVD and jewelry box.) That is more than a 90% savings off the original price!!

The movies will join a Toy Story Lego set that I bought with a coupon last week ($14.99 – the coupons are no longer available), and inexpensive Christmas gift for Peanut is in the works. I’m expecting to spend under $50 per kid this year.

I’m making him an art bag with lots of pockets – he loves bags and pockets – and a crayon and marker roll-up, using a pattern I bought for $.99 on Black Friday, sturdy orange freebie fabric that was left over from a paid sewing project in December, and some really cute rocket fabric from my stash. Adorable, right?

We do four gifts per kid each Christmas, plus one gift from Santa, a stocking, and gifts from the family. It’s more than enough every year! Peanut’s gift is already shaping up:

  1. Something you want (Legos and movies inside the art pouch,stocked with art supplies bought for next to nothing at Back-to-School time and a box of Toy Story Band-Aids, $.32 after coupon.)
  2. Something you need (To be determined)
  3. Something to wear (An outfit and shoes, likely a Gymboree deal later in the year)
  4. Something to read (Stone Soup – using Swagbucks – with seeds for next spring’s garden and possibly a little gardening kit – he loves digging and I’m sure gardening will be well received)

And Sweet Pea’s plan is similar:

  1. Something you want (Princess and the Frog Blu-Ray/DVD, a fairy princess dress made out of my wedding dress – I’ve mentioned her love of all things pretty, right? – more to be determined)
  2. Something you need (To be determined)
  3. Something to wear (An outfit and shoes from the last Gymboree sale – cute snowflake patterns on jeans, two long sleeve shirts, and a sweater)
  4. Something to read (Books using Swagbucks, titles not yet determined, but something like Do Princesses Scrape Their Knees or Paper Bag Princess or Cinder Edna, to counteract the Disney-fication of little girl toddlerhood and princess adoration.)

$5 Dinners

You’ve seen the awesome website, $5 Dinners, right? With complete meals coming in at under $5 for a family of four, the website has garnered much attention, and its writer has published an equally awesome book, called (not surprisingly) $5 Dinner Mom’s Cookbook!

If you are new to couponing and shopping with a tight food budget, you’ll find the first section of this book to be a great primer. It gives a number of strategies  and explains in easy to understand terms how to maximize your budget and spend as little as possible without sacrificing your family’s health by serving junk food. I am really enjoying the book so far, and am excited to try a few of the recipes.

This week’s menu includes 5 of the $5 meals from the book.

1. Maple chicken, brown rice, asparagus
2. BBQ Lentils, brown rice, broccoli
3. Broccoli tuna casserole, spinach salad
4. Lentil (and beef) meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots
5. Curried split peas, brown rice, garlicky green beans

I’m also making bean burritos and broccoli slaw, testing refried beans and flour tortillas for two weeks’ worth of Scratch vs. Store Bought articles.

Also, if you’re planning your garden, check out $5 Dinner’s free gardening planner printables.


Last week, I used the Mark Bittman cookbook “How to Cook Everything” and it was an easy to follow cookbook with tasty meals. I particularly liked the stir-fried chicken and spinach, and the meatloaf with spinach. I’ve been in a meatloaf mood lately, as you can see by its presence in both last week and this week’s menus!

Coming this week:

* “After” pictures of the cleared out entry cabinet
* Scratch vs. Store Bought: Refried Beans
* More money making and saving tips
* An EXCITING announcement and BIG change at the end of the week!

Check out more menus at Menu Plan Monday.

My husband makes really good stove-top popcorn. He started with the recipe from Joy of Cooking and adapted until he found the measurements and methods that work perfectly for him. Could a bag from the microwave rival it? We set out to test the two and here are our results.

The Recipe

Stove-Popped Kettle Corn*
Yields 6 servings

3/4 c. popcorn kernels ($.36)
1 T oil ($.03)
1 T butter ($.06)
2 T sugar ($.01)
1/4 t salt

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in an even layer on the bottom of a large stock pot with a lid. Add 3 kernels as testers; when they pop, pull them out and add the rest of the popcorn.

Put on the lid, shake the kernels around to get an even layer on the bottom of the pan, and leave them alone until the popping slows to about 2 seconds between pops. Any more than 3 seconds between pops and you could have burnt popcorn.

Pull the pot off the heat and add the butter. Stir to melt and coat the popped corn. Sprinkle sugar and salt over the top and stir well to combine. Serve.

*The sugar won’t crisp onto the popcorn like in a big kettle, but there is a nice sweetness.

The Cost Breakdown:

Microwave Kettle Corn was on sale for $2.00 for 3 bags, with about three  2 Tbsp servings per bag. That works out to $.26 per serving; however, we lost 1 Tbsp to unpopped kernels in one bag, bringing the servings down to 2.5 and cost up to $.32 per serving.

Our home made version is just $.08 per serving, using real butter. (Mmm, butter…) We lost 7 kernels out of a 6 serving batch.

The Taste Test:

Side A is home made. Side B is from a microwave bag. Which looks more appealing to you?

We are biased testers, I’ll tell you upfront! Home made won in a landslide. It has a real butter flavor (mmm, butter…) and a nice balance of sweet and salty. The kernels have a fresh flavor that is lacking in the microwave counterpart, and a fully popped kernel that has a toothsome quality we enjoy.

Taste tester 1 gave it an A-. Taste tester 2 gave it a B+. Taste tester 3 gave it a thumbs up, as he doesn’t quite understand grades yet. (He is 4.)

The microwave popcorn had a strange chemical after taste, like the artificial sweetener aftertaste of diet soda, and lacked the real butter flavor. It was crisp at the outset, but didn’t have quite as hearty a crunch and got a little mushy while chewing it. That may have to do with corn variety.

Taste tester 1 gave it a C+. Taste tester 2 gave it a D. Taste tester 3 gave it a thumbs in the middle, saying, “It needs butter.” (Taste tester 3 is clearly my child!)

The Time Factor:

The microwave popcorn took 3 1/2 minutes in our microwave. Our home made version took about 12 minutes, with most of that time waiting for the pot to come up to temperature.


I’ve heard rumors that microwave popcorn can lead to cancer, but my Googling leads me to ingredients not present in my popcorn. Apparently, though, the butter flavor will kill you. (So will real butter, according to different experts, so it’s a give and take. I’m taking real butter, thankyouverymuch.)

Microwave Kettle Corn: Popcorn, Palm Oil, Salt, Natural and Artificial Flavor (Milk), Sucralose, Vitamin E (D-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate) to Preserve Freshness.

Calories: 130
Fat: 5 g
Sodium: 180 mg
Carbohydrates: 18 g
Fiber: 4 g
Protein: 3 g

Home made: Popcorn, sugar, oil, butter, salt

Calories: 159
Fat: 5 g
Sodium: 112 mg
Carbohydrates: 25 g
Fiber: 5 g
Protein: 3 g

Other Considerations:

Lost corn – side A is home made, and side B is microwave.
Keep in mind that we did a double batch of side A.

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:

If it’s not obvious, we love the home made popcorn! I don’t usually buy microwave stuff and I’m not about to start.


Next time on Scratch vs. Store Bought: Refried beans. I’m open to suggestions of what to test after that!

I’m sharing this post with the folks over at Frugal Friday.

So there is good news, there is bad news,  and there is a good deal on a movie and frozen food, in that order!

  • Deposits:

I am depositing $119.50 into the e-fund! Woohoo!
$1 found on the ground at Costco
$3 rebate from Rite Aid$115.50 from mystery shop payments

My current savings total is $946.14. Does anyone know of a bank that I can deposit straight from Paypal?

  • Deductions:

I had to replace my car’s tires and that knocked out  $340.00. Ouch! I shopped around and found that Costco had the best price, but I still had a bit of sticker shock . I’m glad that I had the cash available so I didn’t have to drive on unsafe tires or take on debt to get them replaced, and I’m pretty sure the emergency fund is there to cover just this type of unexpected expense, but it stung a little using it.

  • Deals

This is not normally a deals blog, but occasionally find a money making deal that is worth sharing. Starting today, there is a money making deal at Safeway that I’m taking advantage of and wanted to share.

a. Get the DVD of The Princess and The Frog for $.99, or the BluRay/DVD combo for $6.99 with the deal outlined here.

b. At Safeway, you get $10 in Kohl’s Rewards for every $50 you spend. The Kohl’s Rewards are an awesome reason to spend a little extra on pantry staples that don’t frequently go on loss-leader sales, such as spices. *Edited – the movie deal didn’t work at my Safeway.

c. Combine the  Kohl’s deal with the frozen foods deal running all month and spend $25 on frozen foods. (Stock up on frozen veggies!) You’ll get a $10 catalina coupon toward your next purchase.

Edited to add:

I combined deals to get 70% off of my grocery trip today, stocking up on spices, vinegar, oil, frozen veggies and fish, and items for my Scratch vs. Store Bought posts. I also have $40 for Kohl’s and $20 for frozen foods. Yippee!

I went to Target for the BluRay/DVD combo, and it’s going into Sweet Pea’s Christmas gift. I also got Toy Story Legos for $15 for Peanut’s Christmas gift using a $5 off coupon at Target, more Hanes underwear for Peanut (in yesterday’s comments) and 2 boxes of character Band-Aids for $.32 each with coupons. (I needed the Band-Aids for the movie rebate, and they’ll make a nice stocking stuffer. What is it with kids and Band-Aids? Mine love them! And since we don’t get a whole lot of character stuff, they’re a novelty.)


So that’s the update! Plenty of saving and some unexpected spending which reminds me why I’m saving in the first place.