Tuesday, February 4, 2014

FIRESTARTER - The Not-So-Stephen-King-Edition

Do-It-Yourself Fire Starters. 

Over the last year or so, I have really began to notice a lot of references to these little cylinders of incendiary power. Even television has offered up a few poignant nods to them, such as airing an episode of TLC's Extreme Cheapskates where a man goes to a local laundromat to collect ALL the lint from ALL the commercial laundry machines for his homemade fire starters.

It was a LOT of lint.........

Now I love a cozy fire in the fireplace, but last I checked, I'm not exactly the female version of Mykel 
Hawke or Bear Grylls, so rubbing sticks together anytime I would like to get a fire going is not happening. 

We DO have traditional fire starters. These are some of my favorites. They are small, less messy, but still burn for about 12 minutes. They do have a strike pad on the back, but honestly, its crap. I use a candle lighter to set it ablaze, and it works beautifully. Right now, they are showing to be $8.96 online at Walmart.com.

However, I got to thinking about what we would do in an emergency situation. You know - that day your local forecast calls for 1-2 inches of snow and you get 6 feet.............AND you forgot to stock up on firestarters. You know, the "oh, crap!" situations that you hope you never have but still need to be prepared for.

So, I thought today would be as good a day as any (barring any 6 foot snowfalls) to try these suckers out. I have seen many blogs and websites with instructions on how to make fire starters. As a general standard, they all agree on two key elements:  EMPTY TOILET PAPER ROLLS  and  DRYER LINT.

Lucky for me (and you, dear readers.....and you), I have been saving both up for a while, just for this auspicious occasion. I did what pretty much all the instructions said to do. I crammed the dryer lint into the cores of empty TP rolls.     

Since the lint tried to escape out the ends, I folded in the ends somewhat, which helped much more than I actually expected it to. And - Voila!! Five minutes, 2 TP roll cores and a huge handful of dryer lint and my homemade fire starters are ready for testing. Easy as...........well...............shoving dryer lint in an empty toilet paper roll.

I set up my logs with one of my new fire starters nestled between them, just as I would my fancy-schmancy, store-bought type.

I lit one end - it blazed up quickly. A good sign, if I do say so myself. I moved on to the other side and lit it, and then stood back. Unfortunately, after about 15 seconds, both flames went out completely, and they began to smoulder.

I figured they just had not been lit long enough to catch the lint, so I lit them again, holding my lighter on the lint itself long enough to catch it. No luck - within seconds of catching fire, the flame would again die out and smoulder profusely. I could NOT get it to catch. I eventually had to use one of my standard fire starters just to get the fire started.

(A trusty Strike-A-Fire fire starter at work)

 The worst part of the fire starters was discovered after the fire was going. Since the logs caught fire, the DIY fire starter was able to burn. Now, when I put the dryer lint into the tubes, it smelled like the Downy Fabric Softener I use. Even my hands smelled sweet from touching the dryer lint. However, as we have a dog, and our clothing inadvertently collects her fur, her fur is mixed into that dryer lint. As sweet as it smelled going into the fire, as it burned, it emitted a foul odor. Not just an "Eww, what stinks?" kind of smell........ It smells like I'm burning a dead body in my fireplace! My neighbors are going to think I'm running a backwoods crematorium, and as I haven't even had the chance to meet them yet, that doesn't bode well for making a great first impression! 

Has anyone else made their own fire starters? If so, what were your results? Did they work, or were they a bust like mine? I'd love to know if they worked, and if you know where I went wrong. I'm all for giving it another go, but next time sans stench-induced headache.

Thoughts, comments or questions? Leave them below!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Snow Days

...........Or, maybe just a hot chocolate, since it's only 2:30 in the afternoon! Sitting beside a fire, reading a book, sipping hot cocoa - that's my favorite way to spend a snowy day. What's yours?

An Orange A Week........Your Disposer Won't Stink!

So, over the last few years, I have been slowly moving away from standard household chemicals and begun utilizing more natural methods. I know many people who are doing the same thing, and I confess - my reasons may not be as "noble" as others.

Am I becoming more "green" to save the Earth? Honestly, no. Sorry - I love the Earth (Go Captain Planet!), but that's not fueling my desire for a greener cleaning regimen. Am I worried about the harm these chemicals are causing me and my family? Again - no. Pretty sure all the particulates in the air released daily by all the factories worldwide are probably a little more damaging to my lungs and general well being than my spray bottle of Krud-Kutter. Really and truly, my reason for wanting more natural cleaning products is two fold: I hate the chemical smell, and I hate the chemical cost.

Like I said - it's not a noble cause, but it is a good reason in my book. I HATE when my house smells like various bottles of chemicals. My nose burns, I get headaches, I sneeze.......so my house may be clean but I feel like crap. Top that off with the outrageous price of cleaners these days.

I think the coup de gras was when I went to the store not too long ago and saw Windex advertising one of their new products - with VINEGAR......and a spiffy price mark-up. Seriously??? Vinegar is an AGE-OLD window cleaner (which works quite well, thank you). Oh, and get this: a 26 ounce bottle of Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar spray costs $3.69 (meaning a gallon will run you $18.17), while a gallon of store-brand white vinegar goes for just $2.49.

So, I'm going to buy the vinegar, which I can use to clean my windows AND a vast number of other household chores (some of which can be found on this awesome cheat sheet, which you can download for free at Curbly.com)!

And now, I'm going to take a step OFF my soapbox, because I do have a nifty trick to share with you, and it does involve vinegar.

Something most of you probably don't know about me is that I have a very poor sense of smell. I have other senses that compensate for it, but the smell sense is completely jacked up. Because I cannot always smell things such as unsightly kitchen odors, for example, I try to stay a step ahead of them. As someone who cooks a lot, I find that my garbage disposer is a much used appliance. And like any appliance, it needs to be cleaned. Below is a very easy, inexpensive, and green way to clean your garbage disposal.

*Exercise care when cleaning your garbage disposer! Do NOT stick your hand, foot, head, bodily appendage, or anything else not intended to be utterly obliterated down a garbage disposer while it is running! I don't want anyone to be pulling off a Monty Python 'It's just a flesh wound' skit in a literal sense for Halloween.*

Materials needed: 

1/2 cup Baking Soda
1/2 - 1 cup Vinegar
A Few Citrus Peels
Handful of Ice Cubes

Begin by ensuring your sink is cleaned out (i.e., no dishes, silverware, food, etc.). Run hot water down the drain for around 30 seconds to loosen any solidified grease / food particles. Turn off the water and pour baking soda down the disposer opening.

Next, SLOWLY pour the vinegar down the disposer opening. As the two components are reacting - think 4th grade science volcano experiment - turn on the garbage disposer and run for a 5-10 second burst.

 Turn it back off and allow the vinegar / baking soda mixture to complete its reaction.

Once finished, run hot water down the disposer opening and turn the disposer on. While both are running, drop citrus peels, one at a time, down the disposer.

Approximately 30 seconds AFTER you can no longer here any peel being chopped up inside the disposer, turn the water off (leave the disposer on), and drop a handful of ice cubes down the disposer opening. These are going to do a final "walk-through" if you will, dislodging any stubborn particles still stuck on the blades. Once they have been chopped up, turn the disposer off and revel in the the citrus clean smell.

Oh, and just a few tidbits I'd like to point out here.

Vinegar has been found to have both antiviral and antibacterial properties. Click HERE for a research report published in the US National Library of Medicine. Click HERE for an open access research article published by OMICS Publishing Group

Citrus Oil has been found to have both antiviral and antibacterial properties. Click HERE and HERE for research reports published in the US National Library of Medicine.

I just wanted to share this information so that you can feel confident that you are CLEANING your disposer - not just masking odors with scents. The chemical reaction between the vinegar and baking soda work to remove buildup in the disposer. The baking soda itself helps to absorb odors, and the vinegar kills germs. Then, grinding up the citrus peels gives you a second shot of antibacterial cleaning, some citrus oil to help lube everything up, and a great scent to top it off with. 

Snow Ice Cream in New England

Happy February everybody! I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday Season. I know I haven't posted in a while, but I promise I have a very good reason:

We bought a home this November!

But, as joyous an occasion as this has been, it was not just as simple as buying a home and moving in at our leisure. No - of course not. That would be FAR to easy.

 My husband was out of the country on business for the 2nd week of November, so the week prior was spent preparing for departure. While he got to spend a week in a half in the beautiful country of Japan, I lived in the not-so-beautiful country of corrugated cardboard boxes. They were EVERYWHERE. This picture with boxes - this was when I had just started.......this was when I still had some shreds of sanity. This was before the boxes took over. It was not pretty, I tell you. Not pretty at all. But, I digress.

The closing of our house, our move, and our turning over of our rental house was all scheduled during the 3rd week of November. 


The last week, our wonderful friends flew in to visit for a week, help us unpack, and celebrate Thanksgiving.

Nothing like a busy schedule, right?!?

The first week of December John and I spent unpacking more boxes and getting a pantry set up in the basement.

The 2nd week of December, my husband had to venture to D.C. on a business trip. I continued the seemingly never-ending task of unpacking boxes. Happily, they finally stopped regenerating. 

The 3rd week of December was spent chaotically preparing for our 22 hour drive to Northwest Arkansas to spend the holidays with our family and friends, and then the following two weeks were spent enjoying that time with them.

But, now we are back home. Things have calmed down, our home is fairly organized (at least enough to keep my OCD at bay), and I finally have the time to sit down and talk to my computer screen like a mad woman. 

Now, when John and I moved to New England from Northwest Arkansas, I expected a big difference in weather. I expected we would get much more snow. What I did not expect, however, is we would get a different TYPE of snow.

I know, I know - you're probably  thinking I'm nuts (and I am - a little) by saying that there is different types of snow. Snow is snow. Right? WRONG! I'm not talking the ever important difference between white snow and yellow snow. No - what I discovered is that here in New England, we get POWDER SNOW! 

"Powder Snow? Why, Melissa - what on Earth is that?"

Dear Readers, I'm SO glad you asked! Let me explain. Back in Arkansas, we did get snow. Usually not a lot, and it was always quick to melt away, but we did get it. The vast majority of the time, it was wet snow and it came down it larger, harder pellets rather than soft, feathery flakes. It stayed frozen longer, but maintained a great deal of moisture, lending itself more to building snowmen, igloos, and awesome snowball fights.

However, once in a while, we would get really lucky, and the snow would float down like down from a pillow. It would be the tiniest little particles, all dry and powdery and fluffy. Those times were glorious, because my Dad would go outside, scoop up big bowls of the powdered snow, and a very short while later, we would be enjoying our own customized bowl of snow ice cream. As simple a thing as it is - making snow ice cream with my Dad - it is a childhood memory of mine that I truly cherish.

The other day, while it was raining down some of our luscious powder snow, I spent a peaceful afternoon cuddling with Bella, watching the large fluffy flakes swirl around outside. That evening, I took advantage of the fresh, clean snow and made batch of yummy goodness from my childhood.

In the past, I have tried using the various recipes that call for milk and sugar, but in the end, I personally find they require much more snow to prevent them from being watery. I do not know where or when or how I came across this recipe, but here is how I make it.

An Old Soul's Chocolate Snow Ice Cream

6-8 cups clean powder snow*
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T. vanilla extract

This is a SUPER simple process - the key is to mix the "sauce" ingredients first, and then slowly incorporate the snow. Otherwise, you will have a heck of a time getting the cocoa powder and condensed milk incorporated evenly into both the snow and each other. And honestly, there is nothing delicious about a big bite of unsweetened cocoa-covered snow. Blech!

Mix your ingredients in a large mixing bowl. I use a rubber spatula to help smooth out lumps and incorporate the snow evenly. You can use a whisk for the chocolate sauce portion if you prefer. 


Once the sauce is smooth, go outdoors and gather a large bowl full of snow. Six to eight cups should be plenty. You will most likely not use all of it, but it's better to not have to stop in the midst of blending the ice cream to get more snow, so I always get more than I need.


**As a side note here: Please don't be stupid. There is a reason that Blue Bell has not released the hit flavor "Twigs and Moss" or "Dirt Surprise".......... The ONLY snow you want is fresh, untouched, CLEAN snow. Not snow by the side of the road or walkway where car exhaust or slush has contaminated it. Not snow near Fido's stomping grounds. Not even snow that has been sitting for a week undisturbed.........you want the freshest, purest stuff because you DON'T want to get sick. And as with anything - if you aren't 100% comfortable and confident that what you are putting into your mouth is safe - don't do it. I don't want to have to accept a Darwin Award on your behalf just because you read my blog and didn't exercise a smidge of common sense.**

Scoop 1-2 cups of snow into the sauce mixture and mix thoroughly. The mixture will resemble chocolate sludge. Or, at least what I envision chocolate sludge would look like, if there were such a thing......Perhaps a waste product at Willie Wonka's? 

Continue adding snow and mixing, blending completely after each addition. The sauce / snow mixture will become "sandy" and "clumpy" at first. This is normal. Keep mixing, then add more snow.

As the ice cream thickens, you may notice some of the snow you add begins remain white. This is where the spatula comes in very handy. Use it to smooth the white clumps into the rest of the snow. With a little spatula love, the rogue snow will easily assimilate.
The mixture will eventually become very thick and "sticky" - that is, it will clump together into a solid mass. It will no longer have individual clumps or sandy particles, but will be uniform and have a solid-wet appearance and a creamy texture when smoothed. 

 Now, the best part - dish it up and ENJOY! You can top it with your favorite toppings, or eat it as is. Play around with different flavors, too! For me, nothing beats using Hershey's Dark Cocoa powder in this recipe, because I am a chocolate freak. But, if you're not a fan of chocolate, why not try some strawberry milk flavoring instead? Or maybe some orange oil and vanilla for a creamsicle flavor? What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Leave your comments below and let me know what your thoughts are!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Holy Butternut, Batman!

It's that time of year again; trees are becoming vibrant colors, evenings are getting cooler, and - ahem - FOODS are getting YUMMY!!! Not to say food isn't yummy year-round, but autumn cuisine holds a special place in my stomach. It's warm, deliciously spiced, and colored to match the beautiful outdoors.

Now, anyone who knows me understands that I enjoy cooking. I also enjoy eating (bet you didn't know that......), and my momma always taught me to eat my veggies. Like a well-bred Southern Gal, I did as Momma said, and I love vegetables. For fall, I must say one of my absolute favorite veggies is Butternut Squash. I love it!

I recently went to the store to buy some butternut squash, and to my dismay, I discovered they were running very low. But......BUT........upon closer inspection, I discovered..............THIS:
This, my friends, is an 8.5 pound butternut squash. That's right - I was only 3 ounces bigger than this when I was BORN. Even the cashier looked at it wide-eyed and said "DANG". 

And, while Bella did not seem to share in my enthusiasm, she was patient enough to pose with it for some size comparisons. Reluctantly.

The best part about this squash? Usually, if you plan on prepping a large amount of squash, it involves peeling and seeding several, which can be a teedious and sticky job. With this, I only had to peel one squash, and there was, honestly, only about half a cup of seeds in the rounded tip of the squash (on the left in the pic with Bella). That was it - the rest was solid squash. Probably 7.75 - 8 lbs of squash got prepped and frozen in one night at my house.

I was just so excited I had to share with you all.

Warm, Quick, and Healthy......shhhhhhhh!!!!

Well, according to The Weather Channel, it is 46 degrees outside. So, I decided I wanted something on the warm side for lunch. Also, since hubby and I are having a garage sale tomorrow, I am trying to get the last few items priced and things in order, so I wanted something quick. Oh, and since I have realized that I am not feeding my body properly (more on that in a bit), I wanted something healthy. Warm, quick AND healthy. Tall order. Or so you'd think...............

Quick interjection here, in what will probably be a poor attempt at making a long story short:
Went to the doctor about a month ago to get some help with managing my weight. After trying out a new medication called Qsymia, I have successfully lost 8 pounds over the first month. The best part about it is that I'm not changing my diet really - I just don't have much of an appetite. I eat 1/4 - 1/2 of what I was used to eating, and I am becoming more aware of when my body is hungry and when it is full. I still have sweets, carbs (Mmm.....delicious carbs....yummy, tasty carbs......) but now instead of a plate and a half full, I will have part of a dish, plus a whole lot of veggies. Oh yeah.....that may be one of the most awesome things - I am now CRAVING veggies. Who'duh thunk?!?

The problem I ran into was that BECAUSE I wasn't eating much (even to the point of forgetting to eat, if you can wrap your head around that one) I wasn't getting proper nutrients into my body, and I started feeling quite sick. So, I did some research, and thanks to the suggestion of a dear friend, Laura, I found some guides to the types of food my particular body type needs. Not radical changes. I'm adding whole grains, lean protein, and more fiber to my diet.

Anyway, back to the main point of this blog - LUNCH!

So, after scanning my fridge and freezer for leftovers and potential ingredients, I founds some leftover chicken flavored long grain & wild rice (already cooked, high in protein, fiber, and a whole grain), an almost-empty bag of frozen broccoli (high in fiber and vitamins), some cubed, frozen raw chicken breast (low fat, high protein), and some frozen homemade veggie stock (no sodium, no additives, just water & veggie "tea").

Having invested a whopping 2 minutes scavenging these ingredients, I set to work cooking. It took about 10 minutes from start to finish, and the results were DELICIOUS and quite filling! You can play around with the ingredients to your liking, but the recipe below makes one serving, and the nutritional information is for the ingredients I used. You will need to adjust your nutritional data accordingly.

Healthy Chicken & Broccoli Soup

3.5 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
1 cup frozen broccoli pieces
3/4 cup long grain & wild rice blend - herb roasted chicken flavor
3 cups sodium free vegetable stock
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1/4 tsp. ground fennel
2 Tbl. dried, chopped onions (or substitute fresh)
1/4 tsp. salt (to taste)
2 Tbl. lemon juice, reserved

Add all ingredients except lemon juice in a quart-sized lidded pot. Cover and place over medium heat. Allow mixture to come to a boil. Stir occasionally to cook chicken on all sides. Once chicken is cooked through and broccoli is fork-tender (approximately 6-8 minutes), pour contents into bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Enjoy.

If any of you try this, let me know what you think of it!

Oh, I almost forgot to add in the nutritional facts:

The whole recipe (above) yields one serving. Each serving contains:

373 calories

2.8 grams fat

49.5 grams carbs

8.7 grams dietary fiber

29.7 grams protein

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

$15 Shopping List..........a.k.a. Huge SAVINGS

If I gave you $15.00, out of the blue, and sent you into the supermarket with the task of bringing out the largest quantity assortment of actual, usable groceries (4/$1.00 candy bars and $0.50 bags of cheese curls being forbidden), what would your be able to purchase? Generally speaking, you could probably walk out with a decently full bag. A head of cabbage, bagged salad, some ground beef, a loaf of bread, a bag of frozen veggies, some eggs......you get the idea. Probably enough items for a delicious, filling dinner for 4.

Now, what if I gave you $15.00 AND the following grocery list?

*2  - 1.5 lb. Hormel pork roasts
*1 - 2 lb. boneless ham
*12 boxes macaroni & cheese
*5 lbs. potatoes
*2 bags World Classics Trading Company shredded cheese
*1 package American cheese singles
*1 pint heavy whipping cream
*2 boxes Cavendish hash brown patties
*2 bags Fresh Express Garden salad
*1 box Cheerio's cereal
*1 box Golden Grahams cereal
*2 Uncle Ben's microwavable rice pouches
*12 English muffins
*1 loaf  Arnold oatmeal bread

Would you think "Oh yeah......no problem." Or would you look at me like I was a few cards short of a full deck?

I'm guessing that, if you do ANY sort of regular shopping, you would pick the latter. And, while I normally am missing a club or diamond on any given day, you would be right to think I was being ridiculous. The purchase price for that list before tax is, if purchased at my neighborhood grocery store, $84.99. Well, my friends, I'm going to let you in on how I did, in fact, purchase everything listed above for a whopping total of $14.75.

$14.75 is what everything in this photo cost me. Yes, coupons were involved. But not as much as you probably are thinking. No, more than anything, research, preparation, and methodical purchasing was the key to my overall success.

Before I get into the details of my shopping trip, let me first let you know that the above photo does not include everything I purchased in my shopping trip. And $14.75 was not the receipt total. It really is what I spent on the groceries shown, but keep in mind that I purchased some items to get more in return. Like an investment, if you will. But, I will get into that at a moment.

The town I live in has two options for purchasing groceries: Walmart and Big Y. Each store has pros and cons, in my opinion.

Walmart generally has lower daily prices and an overall larger selection of goods, but is generally full of loud, obnoxious people. It is also a very large store, especially when you have to walk front to back, isle to isle just to get what is on your shopping list. Walmart does accept manufacturer's coupons, but does not double them. They also will match competitor's prices on identical items. Walmart does not (at least, to my knowledge) offer in-store coupons or offer any truly significant sales on items.

Big Y generally has higher daily prices and a less varied selection of
stock. The store is smaller and easier to navigate. Big Y accepts manufacturer's coupons, doubling coupons up to $0.99. They also offer in-store coupons, and they are generally on products such as eggs, milk, cheese, butter, etc. Big Y has big sales frequently, and also have a Silver Membership card you can purchase for $20.00 per year which lets you score premium savings. The best part is the card tracks how much money it has saved you, and if you do not save more than $20.00 over the course of the year, Big Y will refund your entire membership fee.

One of my favorite sales that Big Y has is a Buy 1, Get 2 FREE. After watching sale ads, I have come to find they run these sales close to twice a month, on alternating weekends. During those sales, they tend to alternate the types of items included during each sale. For example, they might run a sale next week with extreme savings on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, frozen shrimp, and bagged bagels. Two weeks later, they will probably have another B1G2 sale, but this time with Polish Kielbasa, 5-lb bags of flour, and store brand peanut butter as the "big ticket items".

**I should probably let you all know now, or the sake of less confusion, that I keep a store / item cost sheet in Excel. Using my receipts, I keep an updated list of how much items cost at each store I purchase them from. This allows me to see which store sells the items at a lower cost, as well as to know if an item on sale at store A is a better deal than the daily price at store B.**

Once a week, I get online and check the new weekly ad. I make a list of anything that catches my eye, either as being something I need to re-stock, or as a huge sale item. Then I check those items and prices against my cost sheet (explained above), my pantry, and several coupon databases (coupons.com, Facebook pages, manufacturer websites, etc.).

As a general rule, I check to see if the item:

A) Is something we currently need
B) Is something we use frequently and worth stocking up on
C) Is priced at a significantly lower cost (NOT just a few cents )
D) Will have room in my freezer, pantry, etc.
E) Has any store or manufacturer coupons that will lower the cost further.

For this past shopping trip, I found the following sales:

Buy 1, Get 2 Free (of equal or lesser value)
     *Hormel Pork Roasts
     *World Classics Trading Company Shredded Cheese Packages (8 oz.)
     *Cavendish Hash Brown Patties (10 ct.)

Buy 1, Get 1 Free (of equal or lesser value)
     *Big Y Brand American Cheese Slices (16 ct.)
     *Arnold Country-Style Oatmeal Bread
     *Big Y Brand Boneless Quarter Ham
     *Big Y Brand White Potatoes (5 lb. bag)

General Mills cereals were on sale at 4 / $10.00. 

Big Y Heavy Whipping Cream (pint) - $1.67

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Pouches - $1.79

Big Y Mac & Cheese (12 pack) - $2.98 w/ Gold Coin

Big Y English Muffins (12 ct.) - 1.78 w/ Silver Coin

One thing I would like to point out, that I hope most of you already know, is when a sale says "of equal or lesser value", you really want to try to hit as close to the "equal" as possible. Stores are going to charge you the highest price, and the lower priced items will be "free". The stores want to MAKE the most money from the sales as possible. You, should be trying to GET the most from the sales.

Lets talk about those pork roasts. Here, I only have John and myself to cook for. We don't eat a whole lot of meat, but the fact of the matter is that we DO eat it, and I'd rather have free pork sitting in my freezer for a little while than pay full price for fresh pork frequently. When I do cook meat, it is either a small portion I have pieced out from one large "hunk" I purchased, or it is a larger piece which I then make multiple meals out of.

Looking at it in this manner, I search for a larger sized roast. They are all relatively similar in size, so the larger ones are going to be about 2-3 dollars more expensive. The one I decided on was priced at $9.50 (roughly $5.77 / lb.) Now, to maximize my savings on my two "free" roasts, I found two more that were closely priced - one for $9.50, and one for $9.26. Three roasts, totaling around 4.9 lbs, for $9.50 (or roughly $1.94 / lb.). Had I not checked the weights of my two free roasts, I could have easily gotten smaller ones. While it may have only been a dollar or two different on each roast, the total price adds up.

Instead of two 1.63 lb. roasts, lets imagine I got a 1.30 pound roast and a 1.18 pound roast. Still a descent size, but you're getting over three-quarters of a pound of free meat (1-2 meals worth, depending on your family), bringing your overall cost to $2.31 / lb.

It's the same principle for the boneless ham quarter. I bought a 2 pound ham for $11.12 and got another 1.98 pounds free. All of the meat went directly into the freezer. I will use the roasts in the crock pot, and then use the leftovers in several other dishes. The ham, I can cube and put in potato soups, beans, casseroles, etc. Each one will make multiple meals, and I'm sorry, but free tastes SO MUCH BETTER!

With the items like cheese slices and  bread: I make my husband's lunch every day, and he always prefers two turkey sandwiches with cheese. This equates to 10 cheese slices and 20 bread slices per week. I have tracked Big Y sales long enough to know bread and cheese typically go on a B1G1 or B1G2 sale more frequently than other items, so I opt to buy those items in bulk, rather than on a strictly as-needed time frame. And, because my husband takes his lunch every day, it ensures the items get used before they go bad (and that we are not spending money on fast food every day).

Potatoes - I'm Irish & potatoes are cheap. Seriously, growing up, it was rare to NOT have potatoes with dinner. I always think of the conversation from Lord of the Rings:

 "Sam: What we need is a few good taters.
   Gollum: What's tater, precious? What's taters, eh?
   Sam: "Po-tay-toes!" Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew....

They are filling, they are super-easy to prepare, and the possibilities are endless. Plus, as a bonus from mother nature, they keep an incredibly long time if stored in a cool, dark space. They also freeze beautifully. You can chop them, dice them, make wedges for steak fries, and then pop them in the freezer. Whenever you need them, they are already prepped for you. These are something I love to stock up on! Other veggies I love to stock up on are squash, onions, carrots, bell peppers, and pretty much any root vegetable. Most all of them will store well in the refrigerator / freezer.

Normally, my husband and I aren't huge breakfast eaters. However, since we have moved so far away from family, and happen to have people coming to visit for several days, I wanted to make sure we had items on hand. The hash browns and cheese are great to stock up on for quick breakfasts accompaniments (cheese omelets w/ hash browns, anyone?) and both can be stored in the freezer until you need them. I also picked up some English muffins to have on hand. They have an incredibly long shelf life, and they were having a pretty good sale on them. Normally, the Big Y brand is priced at 2 (12-count) packs for $5.00. They had a special sale for Silver Membership card holders (the one I mentioned earlier in the post) / Silver Coins, making each 12-pack $1.78 (a mere $0.15 per muffin). Again, this is not an item I tend to "stock up" on, but since we are having company, I wanted to have them on hand, and getting them at a sale is better than not. 

*I forgot to mention the silver / gold coins. They are little tokens you can get by "winning" them at the cash register, or for buying certain item combinations listed in their weekly sale ads. You can redeem them for deep discounts on varying items.*

One sale I almost missed was on the Big Y mac & cheese. For me, mac & cheese is nastalgic. It reminds me of being a kid. Sure, it has next to zero nutritional value, and is probably full of artery-cloging, fake-cheesy goodness. Oh, and my husband HATES it. But, I love it, and I like to have it in my stockpile. Usually, I will pick up a couple boxes every couple months. (You can tell we don't go through a lot of it.) I noticed that Big Y had their store-brand mac & cheese on sale for $0.50 each. I checked my price sheet and found Walmart's store brand mac & cheese is the same price. I thought I would pick up a few boxes while at Big Y, and then I wouldn't have to pick any up on my next trip to Walmart. After making up my shopping list, I did a final scan over the sale lists, and I discovered something big I had missed. Big Y was indeed listing individual boxes of mac & cheese for $0.50 each, but they also had 12-packs with Silver and Gold coin discounts. With a silver coin (or a Silver Membership card), the original price of $6.99 per 12-pack was dropped to $4.98. With a gold coin, the 12-pack price was $2.98 (or $0.25 each). While I had not planned on picking up 12 boxes, I had a gold coin in my coupon stash from a previous shopping trip. Since Walmart's store brand was already at $0.50 each, and their prices don't generally drop significantly, I decided to take advantage of this sale and boost my stockpile.

The last three items I purchased are the only items I used coupons on. -You see, I TOLD you I coupons didn't make the most difference in this trip!-

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice microwavable rice (specifically Jasmine & Basmati) is something I like to keep on hand. It has a much different taste and texture than regular rice or Minute Rice, and is perfect for days that even boiling water is too much of a hassle.

You know those days.

They are normally (per my trusty price sheet) $1.89 per pouch at Walmart. Big Y had them on sale for $1.79 each. Already a savings to buy them at Big Y (since I would normally buy them anyway.) However, I did some searching online and found coupons for $1.00 off the purchase of 4 pouches. The coupons did not prohibit the use of multiple coupons in a single transaction, so I used two. The eight pouches which I would have normally picked up at Walmart for their every day lower price cost $1.54 after coupons. So, by the very little effort of simply checking sales and printing off two coupons (MAYBE 2 minutes worth of effort) I saved $2.80.

Something I keep on hand often is heavy whipping cream. I love to make - shocker - whipped cream, butter, or add it to recipes to give it a velvety, rich flavor. Big Y normally sells their brand for $2.59 per pint. The sale price this week is 1.67. I searched through the Big Y in-store coupon book and discovered at $0.75 coupon for a pint of their heavy cream, which brought the total cost down to $0.92 per pint, or 62% off. Again, this is something I would typically buy anyway - taking advantage of a discount is just smart shopping.

Finally - cereal. This is the most interesting item of my shopping trip, because it utilized several different savings. While I don't normally eat breakfast, as I have said many times earlier, I do actually like cereal. Usually for lunch. And usually not the "adult" flavors like Fiber and Bran. No....the sugar-laden deliciousness that is drowned in milk. Sans marshmallows though, because they make the milk taste funny. But I digress. Cereal is very shelf-stable and is another staple in my stockpile. But, especially brand name cereals, can become pricy if purchasing a lot at once.

First, Big Y had their General Mills Cereals listed at 4 / $10.00 for Silver Membership cardholders. Normally priced between $3.19 - $3.35 each, this is already a savings of $0.77 per box.

Next, General Mills had a promotion (not to be confused with a coupon) going on that with every purchase of 4 General Mills cereals (Only certain brands and sizes qualified), you would receive $4.00 off at the register. This brought the price to 4 / $6.00 or a savings of $1.77 per box.

Lastly, I searched online and found a printable coupon for $1.00 off the purchase of 3 General Mills cereals matching the ones allowed under the sale AND promotion. This brought the total cost of cereal to 4 / $5.00, or $1.25 per box, which is cheaper than I could have purchased the generic brand bagged cereal for.

 So, now to recap all this information and mash it into a more manageable bit of knowledge.

Hormel Pork Roasts - Normally $5.77 per pound
     3 Roasts (4.9 lbs.)  B1G2 = Purchase price of $9.50 ($1.94 / lb.) = Savings of $18.76

WCTC Shredded Cheese Packages (8 oz.) - Normally $3.69 each
     3 packages  B1G2 = 3 / $3.69 = Savings of $7.38
Cavendish Hash Brown Patties (10 ct.) - Normally $3.99 each
     3 packs (10 ct.)  B1G2 = 3 / $3.99 = Savings of $7.98
Big Y Brand American Cheese Slices (16 ct.) - Normally $3.84 each
     2 packs (16 ct.)  B1G1 = 2 / $3.84 = Savings of $3.84

Arnold Country-Style Oatmeal Bread - Normally $3.99 each
     2 loafs  B1G1 = 2 / $3.99 = Savings of $3.99

Big Y Brand Boneless Quarter Ham - Normally $5.55 per pound
     2 Quarter Hams (4 lbs.)  B1G1 = Purchase price of 11.12 ($2.78 / lb.) = Savings of $11.07

Big Y Brand White Potatoes (5 lb. bag) - Normally $3.99 each
     2 bags  B1G1 = 2 / $3.99 = Savings of $3.99

General Mills Cereal - Normally $3.31 per box
     Sale = 4 / $10.00 + Promo = 4 / $6.00 + Coupon (-$1.00 / 3) = 4 / $5.00 = Savings of $8.24

Big Y Heavy Whipping Cream (pint) - Normally $2.59 each
     1 Pint  Sale = 1 / $1.67 + Coupon (-$0.75 / 1) = $0.92 = Savings of $1.67

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Pouches - Normally $2.49 each
     8 Pouches  Sale - 1 / $1.79 + 2 Coupons (-$1.00 / 4) = 1 / $1.54 = Savings of $7.60

Big Y Mac & Cheese (12 pack) - Normally $6.99 each
     1 Pack (12 ct.)  Sale = 1 / $4.98 + Gold Coin (-2.00) = $2.98 = Savings of $4.01

Big Y English Muffins (12 ct.) - Normally $2.50 each
     1 Pack (12 ct.)  Sale = 1 / $1.78 = Savings of $0.72

That adds up to a savings total of $79.25! And, all I had to do was a little homework before I went shopping! If you have 20-30 minutes, once, twice, or more per week, you can certainly make a dent in your budget in a similar fashion!

For my overall shopping trip, my original total cost came to $249.52.

After SALES, COUPONS, PROMOTIONS, and my MEMBERSHIP CARD, the final total came to $154.32.

A total savings of $95.20.

While a 39% savings is not the 98% they may show on Extreme Couponers, it is still nearly $100 saved. And what's more, it is all practical groceries we can use well, as opposed to 200 packs of gum and 458 packs of Ramen Noodes.

Not to say you can't use those items, but in my personal opinion, Ham Steaks and Mashed Potatoes sounds a heck of a lot better than Spearmint-Shrimp Flavored Noodles. 

Would you agree?