Archive for the ‘Works for Me Wednesday’ Category

My kids would happily eat PB&J for every meal if I let them, and because it is inexpensive, healthy, and tasty, we do have peanut butter sandwiches several times a week. We’re not alone in our love of the peanut butter – there is even a restaurant in New York City called Peanut Butter & Co., dedicated to the PB&J!

I get bored, though, and want the kids to grow up exposed to a variety of healthy flavors, so I put together The PB Sandwich Matrix. Pick an item from each column and combine to make a unique lunchtime treat.

Bread Spread One or More Toppings
Sliced Wheat or White Bread Peanut Butter Jelly, Jam, or Marmalade
Cinnamon Raisin Bread Almond Butter Crushed Pineapple
Pita Bread Cashew Butter Sliced fruit, like banana or kiwi
Mini Bagel Sunflower Seed Butter Honey
Tortilla Soy Nut Butter Chutney
English Muffin Tahini (Sesame Seed Butter) ¼ c. orange juice and 1 T orange zest (mix with spread)
Waffles Cream Cheese Apple butter, pumpkin butter, other fruit butter
Pancakes Nutella Shredded coconut
Graham crackers Pureed pumpkin and cinnamon
Apple slices and cinnamon
Marshmallow Fluff (makes a Fluffernutter)
Raisins or other dried fruit
Shredded carrot
Sunflower Seeds

Make it creative!

Cut your sandwiches with cookie cutters to make fun shapes.

Use two different types of bread for a checker-board effect.

Grill it like a grilled cheese sandwich.

Roll up your tortillas and slice them into rounds like sushi.

I have the Cut-N-Seal sandwich sealer from Pampered Chef, so I can make a home made (HFCS-free) version of Smucker’s Uncrustables.

You can get even more adventurous and make a Thai-style chicken satay sandwich, peanut butter and bacon, or The Elvis – adding cheese and banana and grilling it up. The sky’s the limit!

My dad makes grilled PB, mayo, and banana sandwiches, which he describes as “deliciously trashy”, but I should point out that he makes dinners like “The Heart Attack Burger” – bacon cheeseburgers with a fried egg on top and mayo on the bun. Rich foods are in his blood (and likely clogging his arteries), and may not be to your taste!

Want to branch out with the PB&J flavors but not interested in a sandwich? Try one of these recipes!

Peanut butter and jelly bars

Peanut butter and jelly cookies

Peanut butter and jelly muffins

Peanut butter and jelly hot wings

Peanut butter and jelly smoothie

Peanut butter and banana crepes

Warm peanut butter and jelly dip

Peanut butter and jelly parfait

Peanut butter and banana bread pudding

(I haven’t tried and don’t vouch for these recipes, but wanted to show the variety of uses for PB&J.)

March is National Peanut Butter month, so go try something new with this tasty, healthy, inexpensive staple!

This post is linked up to Works for Me Wednesday.

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I had this wooden IKEA organizer in the living room, but had moved its stuff to another container so it sat empty. Now it’s being put to good use, holding pens and erasers, staples and tape refills, index cards, scissors and rulers, and kids craft supplies like crayons and markers, child-friendly scissors, glue sticks, and paint and paint brushes.  The phone message log (we have a home based business and lost messages = lost money), stapler, and tape are right on top. It’s just $10 new, and holds a LOT of stuff! I’ve seen some really cute decorated versions on Flickr, so I may do something creative with the drawer fronts down the line. For now, I’m happy to have a home for all the clutter!

Next to that, my Financial Notebook is in an easy-to-access location, ready to pull out and update! I have the worksheets from The Budget Kit filed by month, plus a sheet protector where I slide my receipts, a section for a home-made mystery shops worksheet (what’s coming up, what the pay/reimbursement is, when the pay should arrive, and a box to check when it has arrived.) The blue plastic envelope holds my coupons and rebate forms.

Also, I filed the random loose papers that were all over my desk. I had the file divider cards, made by Homefile Organizer. Each category has recommendations on what to save, how long to keep it, and whether to file it in that category or somewhere else. For example,on the bank accounts divider, you’ll find suggestions of making a separate folder for each bank, what to file for each one (like cancelled checks, statements, and 1099 forms from banks.) The “Do Not File Here” lists CDs and IRAs to go to investments or retirement savings, Credit cards go to credit, and Mortgage information goes to Residence or Real Estate.  Labeled “When To Remove”, the divider suggests how long you would want to keep the documents stored here. My papers are now remarkably organized!

These are just a few organizing accessories that are working for me. To see what’s working for other moms, check out Works for Me Wednesday.

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I need some new clothes. I’m down to just a few shirts, and most are showing their age and proximity to small children – stained, wholly, pilly, or generally stretched out from a baby who pulls at my shirts for nursing access.

I budgeted $100 for clothes this month, the first time I’ve bought any new clothes in at least 3 months, and of course I want to make it stretch as far as possible! I picked out a few pieces at Old Navy, and you know I’m not paying full price.

First, I stopped over to Plastic Jungle to see if I could buy a gift card at less than the face value.  Success! I bought two $50 gift cards for $88, a 12% savings. Already my $100 is s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g! Haven’t checked out Plastic Jungle yet? It’s a site where you can buy and sell unwanted gift cards for less than their face value. Some gift cards are as much as 30% off their face value!

Next up, I logged into Ebates, where I will get 4% back for my purchase. They also have a coupon code, ONSAVE20 (exp. 2/18), which will give me $20 off a $100 adult clothes purchase. Frequently, Ebates has coupon codes in addition to their regular percent-back deal.

By making a quick detour at these two sites, I’m already saving 38% before even clicking over to the Old Navy website! And you know I hit up the sale section first. I spent $99.97 on the Old Navy site (using a gift card that I purchased for $88), including shipping, on 7 tops and 2 pairs of pants – originally priced at $165.00! I’ll be getting $4 back from Ebates, too. In our area, I would be hard pressed to find that much stuff for $84.00 at the thrift store.

Doing a little extra online legwork to stretch my dollar as far as possible works for me. To see what works for other families, check out We Are That Family.

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A few years ago, I discovered the book “The Budget Kit” by Judy Lawrence in a used bookstore. I swooped it up and am using it as a fantastic resource in putting our financial house in order.

It seemed natural that I would share the book with you guys, and in planning to review it here at The Saved Quarter, I checked out the author’s website and found that mine is an older version. I e-mailed Judy to ask if she would send a copy of the current edition for me to review and one to give away to a lucky reader. I’m happy to report that Judy agreed not only to send two copies of the 5th edition of “The Budget Kit”, but to call me for a chat about the book! And so I am offering my very first giveaway! Read through to the end of this post to see how to enter for a chance to win.

“The Budget Kit” has been in continuous print since 1981, has sold over 400,000 copies, and is the #11 personal finance book on amazon.com. Its endurance is understandable when you look at its logical and user-friendly layout and thoughtful worksheets that help you to manage your finances from every angle. Judy sat at thousands of kitchen tables to talk about what these worksheets needed and it shows! She has revised them over the years to incorporate more ideas to make it as comprehensive as possible while still keeping it organized in a way that people naturally think.

The three worksheets that are the cornerstone of the book are the Yearly Budget Worksheet, Monthly Budget Worksheet, and Monthly Expense Record.

The Yearly Budget Worksheet gives you a place to track irregular expenses that are expected but not monthly, such as property taxes, car registration, or dental exams. These are the things that can sink a monthly budget, since they’re not regular payments and are easy to overlook until they’re due. This worksheet covers just about every non-monthly expense that you can imagine; you add them up and divide by 12, putting that monthly amount into savings so you have the money for your kid’s school yearbook or tax preparation when you need it.

The Monthly Budget Worksheet is similar to other budgets you might have seen, but its set up makes it very easy to understand and use. Fixed expenses, fixed variable expenses, occasional expenses, and installments are listed separately so you can better manage your month. Columns give you a place to write amount, when items are due and when they’re paid, and the dates you receive the service. It’s a very well thought out budgeting tool!

My very favorite of the three main worksheets (and there are at least a dozen more in the book!) is the Monthly Expense Record. A two-page spread with a row for each day and a column for every type of expense, it’s a great way to visually see where your money is coming from and going to. If you have five entries this week for vending machine snacks, you may begin to see how that $1.25 adds up more quickly than you thought. This worksheet alone is worth the cost of the book!

Other worksheets include a debt repayment plan, Christmas/holiday budget, tax deductible expense record, medical expense record, investment/savings record, child support record, and more.

In our phone conversation, Judy explained that her goal in writing the book

…is to help people plan a budget in a way that makes sense, encourages you to be in control, and for you to build up confidence. It’s all about becoming conscious and mindful of finances as well as your inner self.

What is the spending about? A budget is not about deprivation. Watch the language you are using and approach your finances with an attitude of gaining mastery. What will feel better in a month? A new blouse or paying off a debt, not having that angst anymore? Which is more important: a piece of furniture or peace of mind?

Couples, Judy stressed, should work together; both partners need to be on board for the plan to be most beneficial. With fights about money being a common cause for divorce, it’s understandable that working together would be invaluable for maintaining marital peace surrounding money issues.

She also mentioned that the physical act of writing can make you more connected to your finances, which is why she recommends writing in the workbook to start, although Excel versions of her worksheets are available on her website.

Now for your chance to win! We have two giveaways:

1. “The Budget Kit” by Judy Lawrence, 5th edition


2. 30-minute one-on-one phone call with  author Judy Lawrence.

You have two chances to enter.

1. Leave a comment here
2. Blog about this giveaway on your own blog (or Tweet it), and come back here to leave a second comment with a link to your post.

A winner will be randomly drawn at 8 pm PST on Tuesday, February 16 and the winner will be e-mailed.

In the meantime, check out Judy’s website and the other services she offers: personal budget coaching, a free 7-week e-course, Excel versions of her worksheets, and her other books. If you have a question about “The Budget Kit”, contact her; she’s very friendly and wants to help you to be in control of your money!

Disclosure: Giveaway and review copies were provided by Kaplan Publishing at my request. They did not influence the content of this post.

You’ll find this post linked to Works for Me Wednesday, The Thrifty Home, Thrifty Thursday, Money Saving Mom’s Giveaways Galore, Saving Money Plan’s Giveaway Link-up, Frugal Friday , Frugal and Fabulous.

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I’ve been keeping busy with money making ventures, some more lucrative than others, and am excited to report that I’m back on track to meet my goals once I receive the payments! I wanted to post an update on what I’ve done so far to make extra money. I’m open to more legitimate, legal options for making money at home if you have more ideas!

Cloud Crowd: I did about a half hour of work and made a measly $.76. I don’t know if it will get better as my skill level increases, and their site doesn’t have a whole lot of work so I don’t know when I will get the chance to find out. I’m going to try again, since they pay within a day or two on PayPal and I can do it from home while the kids play.

Surveyhead: I’m awaiting my payment of $26.50 and have earned another $3.50 by doing two surveys this week. I’m going to try to do one survey per day, which should add about $60.00 a month to my goal. I haven’t tried other survey sites. Do you have any favorites?

Swagbucks: I’m up to $15.00 in gift certificates for amazon.com, just for searching the ‘net!

Ebates: I’m expecting a check for $11.29 from E-bates.

MyPoints: I cashed out 1,600 points for a $10 CVS gift card. I got all these points for pay-per-click e-mails and online surveys, which I do while watching TV at night. Not bad! You also get points for any E-bay purchases if you sign in through MyPoints first. If you want to sign up, please leave a message in the comments and I’ll send you a referral e-mail!

Focus Groups: I’m signed up for two this week, which will bring in $100.00 for about 3 hours of work. I’m finding them in the Odd Jobs section of Craigslist.

Babysitting: I made $30 babysitting in January and will make another $30 this week.

Mystery Shopping: This is doing really well for me! I am expecting almost $200, not including reimbursements, for mystery shops completed last week and this week. I’ve also gotten for free (after reimbursement): 2 meals, a brake check, oil change, $25 in children’s clothes, beauty products, Valentine’s cards, and a date night of bowling with Mr. Penny. I’ve done almost all of them evenings and weekends when Mr. Penny is home with the kids.

Rebates: I am now awaiting $27.00 in mail in rebates. I added a $10.00 for buying 10 bottles of Naked juice; I found the juice for $.99 each at the Grocery Outlet, so the rebate will make them free.

To see what’s working for other moms, head over to Works for Me Wednesday at We Are That Family.

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We like to occasionally go out to eat, but of course I don’t want to pay full price. I stumbled upon restaurant.com and now we don’t go out to eat without checking there first!

Restaurant.com offers $25 gift certificates to local restaurants for $10, but the savings don’t stop there. They routinely offer discounts up to 80%, selling a $25 gift certificate for $2. Sign up for their e-mail list and you’ll get an e-mailed code when they’re offering great discounts; the current offering is 80% off with the coupon code BONUS.

The discounts are steeper toward the end of the month, and selection may be more limited. That’s okay; order something else now and you can call and change the restaurant at later for a restaurant that was sold out at the discounted price.

To save even more, use Ebates.com to sign into restaurants.com  and you’ll get 15% back on your purchase. Ebates gives you cash back for shopping online at a variety of stores; I’ve gotten back $12 so far for purchases I would have made anyway.

Not an Ebates member? Leave a comment and I’ll send you an invitation; you’ll get $5 for joining, and I’ll get $5 for referring you. (If you sign up without a referral, you’ll still get $5, but you can help me meet my goal with the referral bonus!)

You have to spend $35 before tip/tax at the restaurant when you use most $25 gift certificates. (Read the details on your gift certificate to be sure you know the rules before going out.) With tip/tax and the $2 gift certificate, our family of four is routinely able to eat out at a sit-down restaurant for $20.00.

Going out to eat for less works for me. For more of what works for moms, check out Works for Me Wednesday at We Are That Family and find more frugal finds at Frugal Friday at Life As Mom.

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On Monday, I posted about using one chicken to make four meals for four. I cook the chicken in the pressure cooker, and use the cooking liquid and bones to make a rich, flavorful stock, perfect for chicken soup.

Here’s my method:

1. After removing meat from the bones, use a heavy knife to cut the bones into 2″ pieces. You’ll get all the flavor and nutrition out of the bones this way. Put them in your crock pot, along with a quartered onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and about 10 peppercorns. If you want to add the liver and gizzards, it’s a good use for them, but it will make your stock cloudy.

You can add a bouquet garni if you like. A bouquet garni usually consists of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, tied together. I like to use a little cheesecloth bag so I can easily pull them off to skim the scum from the surface of the stock without skimming up the herbs.  If you want a clear, golden stock, only use the stems, not the leaves, of parsley.

2. Strain the cooking liquid from the solids in the pressure cooker. Put the strained liquid in the crock pot and add as much water as needed to cover the chicken by at least an inch.  If you haven’t cooked your chicken in water before this step, just use plain water; it will still be delicious! Add 1 T vinegar, to pull the calcium out of the bones. You won’t taste the vinegar in the finished product.

3. Cook on low for 24 hours. You can occasionally skim the scum off the top with a shallow spoon or doubled over cheesecloth, but it’s okay to leave it since we’ll be refrigerating the whole pot and the scum will congeal with the fat.

4. Strain through a fine strainer or cheesecloth and allow to cool before refrigerating overnight. You’ll be able to easily pull the hardened fat layer and scum off the top, leaving a gelatinous, flavorful stock.

6. You can use it now, or freeze it. I like to freeze stock in muffin tins for 1/2 cup servings ready when you are. Just pop them out of the tins once frozen solid and store in a zip-top freezer bag.

Now you have awesome, home made, low-sodium chicken stock ready for soup when the sniffles hit your household or you just need a little warm comfort.

What’s the difference between stock and broth? Stock is made with bony pieces and vegetables, while broth is made with the meat. Stock will have the gelatinous quality that will lend itself to great pan sauces and soups with a rich flavor and mouth-feel – all from bones you might otherwise discard!

To see what works for other moms, check out We Are That Family.

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Do you lather, rinse, and repeat when washing your hair? Or is one lather plenty? If you are like me, once is enough, and the repeat, an ad agency’s idea to increase sales, is simply a waste of product. How much are you wasting by using too much, even when following the recommended amount on the package?

Not wanting to waste products or money, I have been keeping this idea in mind and trying to increase the lifespan of consumable products by using less of them. So was born the 10% rule: Can I use 10% less and have an equally pleasing result? Yes? How about 20%? And so on until I’ve hit the lowest amount that hits my desired result.

I write the starting date when I open a new package or start a new bottle, and try to get 10% more days out of that product. I have been surprised to find that by intentionally using less, I have nearly doubled the length of time a bottle of dishwasher detergent lasts. It takes just half the recommended amount to get my dishes clean.

The same thing happened with shampoo; my last bottle lasted almost twice as long as the bottle before it, and my hair is still clean. Conditioner is lasting even longer.

Try it! Use 10% less toothpaste tonight and see if your teeth still feel clean. Use 10% less than that tomorrow morning. Spray 10% less window cleaner and notice if the streaks are still gone. Add 10% less laundry detergent; are the stains still gone?

It doesn’t sound like much, but saving just 10% of your consumable products could add up quickly. If you spend $100 a month on consumable goods, saving 10% leaves an extra $120 in your pocket!

To see what works for other families, visit Works for Me Wednesday at http://www.wearethatfamily.com!

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Peanut, our 4 year old boy, took swimming lessons over the summer. We have a pond in our back yard, and although he knows that he isn’t to go out there without an adult, knowing how to swim is a necessity should he ever slip outside while my back is turned. But swimming was scary. He would cry before lessons, even though once he was in the water he was happy as a clam, so we started to talk a lot about using brave skills to overcome what he anticipated to be hard or scary.

Bravery is when something is scary and you do it anyway, and it doesn’t come naturally. One has to practice being brave. When he had trepidations in class, I’d remind him to be brave. Soon, he was swimming across the pool, face in the water, without touching the ground, and he excitedly told me, “Mommy, I used my brave skills!”

Recently, I took both kids in to have blood drawn. I tried to prep Peanut for the needle – a small pinch, over quickly, and then a sticker – and reminded him to use his brave skills. “Any boy who can swim all the way across the pool without touching isn’t afraid of a silly little shot!” He squeezed my fingers but didn’t shed a tear. When it came time for his baby sister’s turn, he turned to her and said, “It’s okay, it’s just a little pinch! Be brave!” and held her hand. Understandably, she wailed, not yet having had the chance to understand or practice bravery!

I’m currently practicing my brave skills. We’re canceling the health insurance policy that I’ve been on my whole life. This year’s policy changes arrived and services were cut while they raised our premium 20% on a high-deductible plan; our deductible was raised from $4,500 to $11,000 a year. On a $24,000 a year income, we simply can’t pay out of pocket $11,000 a year for our health insurance deductible alone!

I’m anxious about finding new doctors, a new plan, and asking for reduced fee programs for low income families. I keep reminding myself that health insurance is a necessity and the effort will pay off, but it is taking all of my brave skills to pick up the phone and call around to admit, over and over, that our income is low and we need help.

Next week, my first Dialing for Dollars post will be about health insurance options for those readers living in San Mateo County, and how to find health care at a reduced fee in your area.

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As I mentioned in the initial post on this blog, I’ve been living off the credit map for several years. We have no mortgage and rent from a private party, so those aren’t listed. I have no credit cards. Until buying a new-to-us car in November, I had no debt at all; the car will be paid in full by the end of this year.

The only thing that appears on my credit report is a credit card charge-off from 2002, for a store that has since gone bankrupt. Needless to say, there is a great gaping void where a good credit score should be!

One of my goals for 2010 is to bring my score up to at least 700. I have been tooling around the web to find the best way to do this and came upon this post by The Digerati Life on how to improve your credit score. Very informative!

My first step was ordering my credit report and correcting errors. I was surprised to find errors on mine, given its relative lack of use! I also signed up with Credit Karma to monitor my credit score for free. As part of my financial management plan, I’ll be checking in on it monthly to see how my goals are progressing.

Next up, I’m getting a secured credit card through my credit union so my credit report can start showing something positive! According to the Bankrate.com article, a secured card requires a cash collateral deposit that becomes the credit line for that account. For example, if you put $500 in the account, you can charge up to $500.

For my purposes, I’ll be using the card to pay my car payment, and ONLY the car payment, each month. The card will be paid off immediately after making the car payment so there will never be a balance on which to pay interest, and it will live in my financial records, not my wallet, so I’m not tempted to use it for other purchases. The extra step in paying the car payment should reflect twice on my credit report each month for the on-time payments of the car loan and card.

Getting cozy with my credit report will help me to establish a positive credit score. Getting cozy with YOUR credit report may show you that your credit is better than expected, that your occasional late payments have had more of a hit than anticipated, or that someone was tampering with your identity. The only way to find out is to look, and you can do it for free.

To see what works for other families, check out Works for Me Wednesday on We Are That Family.


I’ve updated the Goals and Progress page to reflect another addition to the savings fund! I babysat yesterday, bringing in another $30 and bringing the savings up to $243.01.

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