Monday, April 30, 2012

Save Money On Groceries

My Harris Teeter Super Doubles haul:
(note: prices listed are after sale, discounts and doubled coupons)

4 Emerald almonds  $1.99 ea
2 Emerald mixed nuts  $1.93 ea
3 Reynolds parchment paper $2.15 ea
3 Woolite Oxy Power carpet cleaners  $1.95 ea
1 Gain detergent  $1.99
3 Aquafresh kids toothpaste  .79 ea
2 Carefree liners FREE
2 Bayer low dose aspirin .99 ea

As prices increase, we're all looking for ways to cut back spending, particularly at the grocery store.  Tawra Kellam of Living On A Dime offers the following practical tips for saving money:


For many people, cutting back on their grocery budgets can be an overwhelming experience. They know they're spending too much, but don't know where to begin to cut. Often, they fear that they will deprive themselves and their children if they become frugal. The good news is that there are ways to have your cake, eat it and save money at the same time. The whole secret is to start slowly. There are countless ways you can cut, but if you need to, target just one thing at a time - you will still be saving money if you do only one thing.

If you are a frugal beginner, try these simple suggestions for saving on your food bill:
  • Cooking frugally is like changing your diet. You need to learn gradually how to save money and cook frugally. Don't expect that you will get your food bill down to $300 for four people in the first month if you are spending $600 a month right now.
  • Try cutting just $25.00 or $50.00 a month. Even if you cut back only $50.00 a month, you will save $600.00 a year. If you save just $1.00 a day that is $365.00 a year. You can then apply that $365.00 a year to paying off your credit cards. At 21 percent interest, you will save over $70 a year. This will eventually cause a snowball effect since the more you pay off, the less you pay to interest. When you pay less to interest, you have more each month to apply to paying off your overall debt. This means that as you pay off the debt, the rate that you can pay it off increases.
  • Before you shop, take a tour through your pantry and your refrigerator. Be organized! Don't buy what's already hiding in your kitchen.
  • If you're a fan of coupons, remember this: It's not what you save, it's what you spend. If you save 30 cents on something you wouldn't ordinarily buy anyway, you haven't really saved anything.
  • A typical fruit item is significantly larger than one serving. Most people would be just as happy eating a small apple as eating a large one -- so buy smaller fruits! You will save money by the pound.
  • This month, try two meatless meals a week (or one, if you're a die hard meat fan).
  • Make simple meals. One-dish meals can contain your meat, your vegetable and your bread.
  • Drink water for your meals. If your family is used to drinking milk, juice or pop for every meal then start by cutting juice from one meal or snack a day and drinking only water. After you get used to this, cut from another meal until you drink only water for meals and a glass of juice or milk at snack time.
    You can also try allowing one glass of juice at meal times and then water after it is gone.
    You save over $500.00 a year by cutting just one glass of juice per person per day for a family of four.
  • Don't assume homemade is cheaper. If you get a VERY GOOD deal on chocolate chips and ingredients for candies, it is cheaper to make them than buying them pre-made. Make sure you do the calculations, though! If you don't purchase them on sale, homemade candies can be more expensive than candies purchased at the store.
  • Stop wasting food. Give young children small portions. They can always have more if they are still hungry. Give them a half glass of juice and a half sandwich so you don't waste uneaten food. Put food in the refrigerator right after the meal so it doesn't spoil. Use leftovers for lunches, in other dishes or frozen in one portion sizes for a quick meal.
  • Remember, cooking frugally is a mindset. You have to change your cooking and eating habits. Don't get discouraged if one idea fails. Try another one.
  • Stop buying things like toaster pastries and breakfast bars for breakfast. Eat oatmeal, pancakes, granola and fruit instead.
  • Don't assume that bulk is cheaper. Compare cost by the ounce or pound.
Most people don't think they can live the frugal life and still be comfortable. I feed my family of six on $400 per month. Over five years, when my husband earned an average of $22,000 per year, we paid off $20,000 debt. When cutting your grocery bill, it's the little things that add up.

Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Happy Administrative Professionals Day!

Today is Administrative Professionals Day - or Secretaries Day!  An unofficial holiday recognizing the work of secretaries, administrative assistants, receptionists and other administrative support professionals.  Despite my job title, my job function is largely administrative in nature.  I also provide support to the Executive Vice President.  Though not glamorous, my job allows me to aid my husband in financially supporting our family, while causing little impact on our home life.  My hours are straightforward - no overtime or weekends.  There's no travel, so I'm home every evening to make dinner.  My schedule is flexible enough that I can attend school functions, stay home with a sick child or leave the office unexpectedly if the need arises.  And one cool aspect of my job is that in any given day, I can interact with office clerks right on up to Presidents and CEOs of multinational corporations!

Don't get me wrong, nothing in the working world compares to being a wife and mother!  Ultimately, I feel my purpose is found in what I do to serve my family within the home.  But, I am thankful to have a job that allows me to strike a good balance between work and family life.      

Mary Ellen


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Only Pair of Pants!

Last week in my "What I Wore to Work" post, I mentioned my wardrobe for home was the same as my wardrobe for work - dresses and heels.  A question was asked in the comments inquiring if I ever wear slacks or sweatpants for cleaning or gardening.  I do have one pair of pants on hand for those particularly messy jobs!  An old pair of stretchy exercise pants.  This weekend, I put them on along with a tank top and my faux Keds from Target to tackle some deep cleaning around the house.  I usually bring them out if I'm scrubbing the showers, cleaning the base of the toilets, scrubbing floors by hand, cleaning the litterboxes, painting or digging around in the garden.  They're paint stained and not really appropriate to wear outside of the house.  

But for my regular everyday cleaning and cooking, I'm quite comfortable in my dresses and aprons.  I have a growing collection of aprons in various colors and patterns that I wear to protect my dresses from spills and stains.  Plus, I think aprons are so pretty and feminine!  And if company pops up unexpectedly, I don't have to worry about trying to make myself look presentable.  But more importantly, it makes me feel good!  And when I feel good, I'm better able to serve my family at home.  And my employer and clients when I'm at work.

Mary Ellen


(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Work In Progress - Trash to Treasure Cabinet

I spent most of the past weekend doing some deep cleaning around the house.  But, the weekend wasn't all wrangling dust bunnies!  I also worked on our latest trash to treasure find - a cabinet for the dining room.  Dave started the project by painting the cabinet white.  To finish, I'm going to paint the details on the doors and drawers in my favorite shade of robin egg blue - Valspar Atlantic Gray - same color we used for the TV dresser.

The doors of the cabinet are very detailed.  There's really no rhyme or reason for my approach to painting the detailed areas.  I'm pretty much just going by what looks visually appealing to me.  But that's the beauty of trash to treasure projects!  It's completely individual and unique.  And if I mess up, I can just repaint it without much lost!

Detail on bottom drawer

Can't wait to share the finished project.  When I finish it, of course! :)

Mary Ellen

Today (4/23) is the last day of the Living On A Dime 50% Off Mother's Day Sale.  
All print books 50% off!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lemon Bars Recipe

A yummy Spring treat!  I made these lemon bars for Easter Sunday dinner and they were quite the hit!

Lemon Bars
(recipe shared by a co-worker)

2 sticks butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Additional confectioners sugar for sifting over the top of the bars

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Blend together butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup confectioners sugar.  Pat into ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.  Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees.  For filling, blend together eggs, sugar, 4 tablespoons flour, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Pour over baked first layer.  Return to oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until filling is set.  Loosen around the edges, cut into bars and shift confectioners sugar over the top while warm.

Mary Ellen

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Living On A Dime Early Bird Special - Expires Tonight!

Just a reminder, the Early Bird bonus item for the Living On A Dime 50% Off Mother's Day Sale expires today at MIDNIGHT!  Right now, you can get 50% off any print book including the Dining On A Dime Cookbook, $20 in FREE bonus downloads and the FREE Early Bird bonus item.  But the Early Bird bonus item is only available until midnight.  To read all the details of this special offer, visit the Living On A Dime Mother's Day Sale page.

Mary Ellen 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Small Batch Canning - Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Local, organic strawberries from Vollmer Farm

Canning is becoming one of my favorite ways to preserve seasonal goodness!  Even as a working mom, I've found canning to be a wonderful (and useful) hobby that I can do in the evenings after work or on the weekends.  Last Friday to kick off my weekend, I decided to can some jam using some of the strawberries we picked from Vollmer Farm.  I used the recipe for "Traditional Strawberry Jam" from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  

The recipe calls for 5 cups of crushed strawberries.  Instead of crushing the berries by hand with a potato masher, I used my Vitamix.  Just a quick pulse on low up to speed level 2 or 3 until the strawberries were finely chopped, but not pureed. 

For something different, I tried one of the variations listed with the recipe.  I added half of a Madagascar vanilla bean, split lengthwise, to the strawberries while they cooked.  The bean is removed prior to transferring the jam to jars.  But, it imparts a subtle vanilla flavor to the jam.

The best part of canning strawberry jam, having homemade lemon pancakes topped with strawberry vanilla jam the next day for breakfast!  YUM!

Strawberry Vanilla Jam
Recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
(Can also be found online here at the Ball Fresh Preserving website)

5 cups crushed strawberries
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 box of pectin {I always use 1 full box of pectin and half of a second}
7 cups sugar
half of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tsp butter {optional - but adding butter to the berries prior to cooking cuts down on the amount of foam generated during boiling}

 -Combine strawberries, lemon juice and vanilla bean in a 6 to 8 quart saucepan.  Stir in pectin until dissolved.  Bring strawberries to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

-Add in entire amount of sugar and stir to dissolve.  Bring mixture back to a full rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute, while stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and skim off any foam.  Remove vanilla bean.

-Add hot jam to canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a water bath canner for 10  minutes, adjusting for altitude.  When processing is done, remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 24 hours.  Check seal before placing cooled jars in the pantry.  If jars did not seal properly, the jam must be refrigerated immediately or reprocessed.

*This recipe yielded 5 half pint jars and 2 pint jars of jam for me.

Mary Ellen

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Living On A Dime 50% Off Mother's Day Print Book Sale!

The ladies of Living On A Dime are having a 50% OFF sale on their print books for Mother's Day!  You can get the Dining On A Dime Cookbook and all of their other money saving books for up to 50% Off AND get a big collection of free bonuses! These wonderful books will help you dramatically cut your grocery budget without using coupons! And if you purchase a book by Wednesday, you'll get an additional early bird bonus!

Sale ends Monday, April 23rd.  Hurry and pick up one of these great books for yourself or another special Mom in your life!

Mary Ellen

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here).

I Have Super Kids!

Mary Ellen

Friday, April 13, 2012

Picking Strawberries at Vollmer Farm

Thanks to a warm winter, strawberry season came early to our area this year!  And for us, that means a trip out to Vollmer Farm in Bunn, NC.

Yummy strawberries!

Dave and the kids picking berries

I guess Ashleigh sneakily took a picture of me picking as well!  It was a cool, somewhat breezy day.  But I braved the elements in my dress and heels :)

After our buckets were filled, the kids took to the playground.  The pirate ship is always a favorite.  Clayton is king of the world!

So is getting a push from Daddy on the swings!

And of course the grand finale, a stop by the ice cream shop for scoops of homemade ice cream!  I had banana pudding - so delicious!  Tastes just like banana pudding but in a waffle cone!

Now, its time to work these strawberries into some jars of jam.  I'll also freeze a portion to use in smoothies.  The rest, we'll just enjoy their fresh, sweet goodness!

Mary Ellen 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Garden 2012

My Spring garden is officially under way!  Dave surprised me over the Easter weekend with an early trip out to the State Farmer's Market to buy my transplants.  In the square above, I have grape and roma tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers back by the trellis. 

This square has more green peppers, zucchini, Ashleigh's cabbage and the Swiss chard that was planted last Fall.  The chard is starting to get a bit wild!  Looks like we'll be enjoying plenty of green smoothies around here!  And if you're wondering what that thing is in the middle of Ashleigh's cabbage, it's the toe of an old pair of pantyhose.  I'm using the pantyhose to protect the developing cabbage head from pesky cabbage worms!

I added marigolds to the squares this year in an effort to attract more bees.  Last year, I had trouble with some of my zucchini shriveling before they matured.  I think it may have been a pollination issue.  Hence my desire to encourage the bees to do their stuff!

And for a little decorative element, I added these black and white toile tile pieces around the flowers.  I found these pieces at Michaels craft store in the clearance section.

Mary Ellen

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Sunday

A few pictures from Easter weekend at our house :)

We dyed eggs.  And I discovered making your own dyes using food coloring, works much better than the dye tabs.  We don't eat the eggs (they're just for decoration).  So, no worries about consuming dyes and coloring!

We had our annual backyard Easter egg hunt.  It's amazing how fast the kids find the eggs.  When they were toddlers, it took them forever!

We ate chocolate - eggs and bunnies, of course!

Then settled down for a wonderful Easter dinner together!

Mary Ellen

Monday, April 9, 2012

Back That Stuff Up!

When was the last time you backed up your important files?

I hope everyone had a lovely and restful Easter break!  Our Easter weekend was filled with lots of good family fun and some not so great stuff.  Namely a virus wrecking havoc on our main laptop.  The same laptop with our family photos for the current year, seven weeks of growth progression pictures for Ashleigh's cabbage project and a guest post I had just finished writing for another blog.  Fortunately, Dave was able to restore the laptop and recover my guest post. However, we lost all the pictures :(  What has me really kicking myself, is that we have a backup storage device for pictures.  But, I neglected to copy those pictures over to the external hard drive.  So going forward, when I upload pictures to the laptop, I'm going to copy them over to the backup right then and there.  Lesson learned - the hard way!

Mary Ellen  

(Note:  This post contains an affiliate link.  Read my disclosure policy here.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Add Color to Your Garden

Transform ordinary plastic planters by giving them a splash of color with spray paint! 

The leaf lettuce I planted in the fall is still going strong.  And so are my Swiss chard plants.  To make room for the Spring transplants, I moved my lettuce plants to containers.  I'll keep the chard in their garden square along with Ashleigh's cabbage plant.  I can't wait to get my Spring garden going!

Have you started a garden for the Spring?

Mary Ellen 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easter Sunday Dinner & Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Our Easter Sunday Dinner

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans (recipe below)

Oven Roasted Asparagus

Organic Brown Rice

Dinner Rolls

and for dessert - Homemade Lemon Bars


Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans

This recipe is from our State Farmers' Market Restaurant and calls for cooked fresh pumpkin.  However, I make it using sweet potatoes because you can always find good NC sweet potatoes in season year round!

3 cups mashed fresh sweet potatoes (peel, dice and boil sweet potatoes until tender; then mash)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 stick melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg


1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 stick melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans

{For topping, mix together sugar, flour, butter, then add pecans}

Add mashed sweet potatoes to a large mixing bowl.  To the bowl add sugars, eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter.  Beat until smooth.  Pour into 2 quart casserole dish.  Cover with topping mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Mary Ellen

Image Credit

Monday, April 2, 2012

Inexpensive Ways to Decorate Easter Eggs

Easter is right around the corner!  And in our house, that means dying eggs.  We don't eat them (strange, I know!).  But we do love to color eggs for a festive Easter centerpiece.  Below are some tips for inexpensively decorating Easter eggs from Living On A Dime.


OK, so the kids noticed on the calendar that Easter is approaching and they want to make a huge production of dying eggs. In the past, the little stickers you bought at the store sufficed, but now they want the real thing. Here are some old standards with a few new ideas for you from Dining On A Dime Cookbook.

Before you decorate Easter eggs, cover the entire table with newspaper. Keep a huge roll of paper towels or rags handy for messes. Have each kid wear one of dad's old (now disposable) tee shirts. To make egg stands, cut toilet paper roll cores into one inch cylinders and use for egg stands. Decorate with stickers or paint.

Decorating eggs: The traditional method.

Hard boil eggs. Fill several mugs with boiling water and add 1-2 tsp. vinegar. Place a few drops of desired food coloring in each mug. Place eggs in mugs for several minutes until the eggs reach the desired shades. Remove with a spoon. Place on a paper towel to dry. When dry, polish with a small amount of shortening on a paper towel. Buff until glossy.

You can draw or write on the eggs with a light colored or white crayon before dipping. The drawing will remain white after the egg is dipped. To clean out the mugs, put a little bleach water in the cups and soak for a few minutes.

Glitter Eggs- Place 1 tablespoon each of glue and water in a cup. Stir the mixture and then paint the eggs with it. Sprinkle with glitter. This can also add sparkle to already dyed eggs!

Crepe Paper Eggs- Wet a white or dyed egg. Dab torn pieces of colored tissue paper or pieces of pretty colored napkins on the eggs. When the paper dries, the paper falls off and leaves the color behind on the egg.

Decoupaged Easter Eggs - Tear small pieces of wrapping paper, napkins, stickers, or clip art. Mix equal amounts of glue and water. Paint egg with glue mixture. Place paper on top and then cover with more glue mixture. Let dry.

Spotted Eggs- Place 1 tsp. of cooking oil in dye. Dip the egg. The oil will cause the dye to make an irregular pattern on the egg.

Waxed Eggs- Dip a portion of the eggs in melted paraffin or candle wax. Then dip them in the dye. Remove from dye. Dry and peel off the wax. The egg will be white on one half and colored on the other half. You can also dip in dye before waxing to get two colors.

Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!