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Frugality Archives - Kohler Created

A Buffet of the Non-Restaurant Persuasion

By | DIY, Frugality, Furniture, House | 11 Comments

Buffet after clean-up

If you were on Twitter on Friday afternoon, you might have noticed that I was in full SQUEE over a buffet I had found on Craigslist. It was gorgeous, with beautiful original hardware and accents that match the general time period our house was built. I had to have this piece for our dining room — even if it ended up being nearly 45 (x2) minutes further away than I told Neil it would be. Surprise road trip!

Cookbook Affliction!

Until now, we’d been using two re-purposed bookshelves from our old study to house my obscenely large cookbook collection and a few decor items. It was never a permenant solution. The bookshelves were a cheap pick-up for my first apartment from Target. Great for a first post-college apartment, not so much for a big dining room in our first house.

The previous owner used the buffet to store clothes, so it is in great shape inside and out:

Interior

Detailing

It also has gorgeous original hardware that we we’re going to leave as is. Some things are just better kept original and the hardware is almost an exact match to a piece my grandma had in her house.

insides

Although the overall condition of the buffet is great, I went ahead and gave it a good massage with furniture oil. I also vacuumed it out completely and made sure there were no spiders anywhere (there were unfortunately — eek). I then filled it with my precious cookbooks and put a momentos on top. I’d like to take more time to formulate what we’ll display in the long run, but for the time being I just want it to look a little less like a random piece of furniture placed in our dining room.

buffet

deco

With the buffet purchased, we’re now eyeing our kitchen table from Neil’s first house for replacement. Do you have suggestions on a style we should be looking for? The real challenge with investing in older pieces seems to be blending them to complement one another. While we definitely want to pay homage to the time period in which the house was built, we also want a few pieces with the clean, modern lines we like in say a mid-century modern or danish piece. The hunt is exciting, but the pressure of finding the right piece is definitely daunting!

Old Kitchen Table

It is our hope that we’re able to find some nice older pieces for the house over the next few months and years. Not only do they add character to the decor, but rehabbing old furniture is a love of mine and a great way to “go green” with decorating. The quality is also a lot better for the overall price. An all-around win in our book.

What is your favorite piece of furniture in your house? Where did you find it?

Black Bean Mango Stir Fry with Cilantro Lime Coconut Sauce

By | Food, Kitchen, Main Courses, Recipes | 5 Comments

Mango Coconut Stir Fry

Mango

If you find yourself at the grocery store as often as we seem to be lately (sometimes we go just to look around — is that weird?), you’ve probably noticed that mangoes are CHEAP right now. Being that we have tons of random veggies around and we’re trying to eat on the cheap, I thought it’d be the perfect excuse to try to incorporate mango into our go-to stir fry base recipe. At first we dreamed up a mango-based sauce to coat the meat and veggies, and while we still might do that in another batch next week, for this batch we decided to use a coconut milk sauce and chunk the ripe mango into the stir fry. The result? Creamy, sweet and salty heaven!

Ingredients:

For the Stir Fry:
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cups snow pea pods
1 cup thinly sliced or julienned carrot
1 cup thinly sliced or julienned cucumber
1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups corn (I highly recommend fresh)
2 cups canned black beans, drained
1 mango, peeled and cut into strips
2 cups imitation crab meat/shrimp (we used both)
2 (8 ounce) packages rice noodles
Sriracha Sauce/Red Pepper Flakes if desired
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Sauce:
2 cups light coconut milk
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, juiced
2 inch piece fresh ginger root, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Chopped mango

Our veggies!

Mango Coconut Stir Fry

Directions:

  1. To make the sauce, blend the coconut milk, cilantro, lime juice, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and agave nectar in a blender until smooth; set aside.
  2. Prepare rice noodles according to instructions (they often vary).
  3. In a large, deep skillet or wok over medium-high, heat oil until shimmering. Add crab/shrimp oil and sauté until cooked through and lightly browned, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add veggies and mango and sauté until veggies are lightly tender, about 4 to 5 minutes longer.
  5. Stir in the stir fry sauce and noodles. Cook for another minute or until the noodles are hot. Sprinkle with additional sriraccha, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes as desired.

Makes 8 servings.

AHH-mazing! You have a little bit of everything in this stir fry. The coconut milk sauce, with the sharp fragrance of the cilantro, coupled with the saltiness of the shrimp/crab, crossed with the sweet mango was by far the standout characteristic of this dish. It also makes a huge portion, which will end up feeding us for three days (we finish the leftovers tonight!) on the cheap. Plus, if you prepare your veggies the night before, you can be eating in less than thirty minutes, a huge perk on these summer nights when the last thing you feel like doing is being a slave to the stove. There’s a reason stir fries are a staple with us. Flavor change-ups are easy, they are cheap and fresh and don’t require a lot of time for the amazing food you get in return. We hope you give it a whirl and tell us what you think!

We’re Outgrowing Our House: A Pantry Story

By | Cats, Clive, House, Kitchen, Relocation | 6 Comments

Pantry Clean-Out

Eep! (Before)

It’s a testament to our growing “foodie-ism” that we’re very quickly growing out of our kitchen, particularly the pantry. Stuffed to the gills with appliances, staples and canning supplies, every new “must try” over the past year has quickly depleted storage space in our already tiny kitchen. Because we hope to move in the next year we’re unsure yet on how exactly to deal with this problem, but for now, we’re constantly cleaning and reorganizing it looking for the best temporary solution. I’ve even gone so far as to store kitchen overflow in the bathroom closet. I won’t even show you those pictures. To call it shameful would be a compliment.

So for now I’ve tidied things up and tried to get rid of all the superflous packaging I can. I also invested in a little shelf and some glass containers to store beans, grains, sugar and flours. A little tour of our food abode:

Pantry Clean-Out

Pantry Clean-Out

How did I end up with three jars of peanut butter? That big one is Clive’s personal PB, and I seriously have about 5 bags of flour, and three types of brown sugar.

Pantry Clean-Out

All of our rices and noodles are squeezed into this little slot. I’ve tried to position them so that I can see them all but it’s nearly impossible.

Pantry Clean-Out

All our snacks and breakfast goodies. We have a slight obsession with cereal a la Seinfeld. That big bag of beans is overflow from the other shelf…

Pantry Clean-Out

A testament to our sushi addiction. That’s the rice we use purely for sushi!

Pantry Clean-Out

The top shelf with all canned goodies, more pasta and a green…bag…what is that?

Pantry Clean-Out

Oh yeah, all the candy we try to hide from ourselves. My cousin’s husband works for Wrigley, can you tell? There’s lots of organic chocolate in there, you know, for those weekly if not daily emergencies. You girls know what I mean.

So there you have it, our kitchen conundrum and my latest attempts to clean it up and keep it contained. I was so proud of myself when I had finished that I almost danced to the gym. I had organized the pantry, developed at least a direction for everything to go in. I felt on top of the world! Until I came home to this:

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Turns out someone had their fill of a whole bag of coconut. I wonder who it could have been? Who looks more guilty to you?

The boys...

Upon further observation, we found that they have been CO-conspiring to get food off the shelf. At least we know they’re getting along while we’re gone?

So, what now? Well, we don’t know. We love living in our little house. It’s very efficient (read: cheap) on utilities, and easy to clean. We have a great backyard and for the most part love the neighborhood. We don’t even need all that much more room, just enough for more studio and kitchen space. Do we move into another, bigger rental home because we don’t exactly know how long it will take to find jobs in Denver/Minneapolis, or do we stay put?

What would you do?

POM Wonderful Dinner Pary – A Non-Traditional Holiday Feast

By | Contests, Cool Stuff, Crafts, DIY, Food, Friends, Frugality, Recipes | 3 Comments

Chopsticks 2

This past weekend, we hosted our Pom Wonderful Dinner Party that we told you about a little over a week ago. Although you might be vaguely familiar with the promotion from other participating bloggers (who by the way are completely rocking my WORLD with their entries), you might be a little entertained by how we came to be participants.

I got the contest email at work. It was a typical weekday. I was tired, overworked and feeling maxed out. But when I saw the subject line “POM Wonderful Dinner Party,” I was instantly excited. Neil and I love POM. It’s just a drink that makes you happy. Everything, from the taste right down to the shape of the bottle makes you feel like you are doing something good for yourself. So I entered, even though I thought getting chosen was a longshot.

Big boxes of pomegranates

The entry form asked us to describe what kind of meal we would serve using pomegranates as a main ingredient. I winced. Pomegranates? The juice comes from a fruit, I knew that, but they are so COMPLICATED! My pomegranate experience is limited to the one and only pomegranate I’ve ever bought. Not knowing what to do with it, I carved a tiny hole in it and for the next week, siphoned the little ariils out like I was defusing homemade explosives.

So I did what any newb would do: I just wrote whatever popped into my head. I thought for sure they’d laugh at my ideas (at the time they seemed REALLY out there and I was very vague with the details) but I wrote them down anyway. I enter contests all the time and never win, so why not? I filled in my contact information and hit “send.”

POM inside!

Well here we are and obviously they didn’t think my answers were as crazy as I thought they were. They wrote and said we’d been chosen and a week later three huge boxes arrived on our doorstep filled with awesome swag and pomegranates. Make that tons of pomegranates. In addition to all this, they’re offering ten prizes based on three criteria:

    Contest Criteria

  • Best incorporation of pomegranates into the menu/drinks
  • Most inspired pomegranate decor
  • Most successful “How to Open a Pomegranate” presentation

We decided that the theme of our party should be “A Non-Traditional Holiday.” As twenty-somethings family all over the country, the holidays are often a ping-pong game of trying to see everyone. Often times, like last year, it didn’t work out. Stuck in town with a horde of other misplaced yuppies, we threw together a meal and invited anyone who could make it out of their driveway. Cooking non-traditionally is not only flexible, but doesn’t leave you in a coma like a 20-lb turkey and gobs of mashed potatoes.

We enjoyed playing Iron Chef for a few days, experimenting with our yummy new subject and infusing pomegranate arils and juice in every area of our menu we could think of. This required a lot of juicing:

Step 1, slice the head off of the pomegranate

Start by slicing the head off the pomegranate.

Step 2, slice on the membrane lines into half

Slice in half, using the membranes as a guide.

Step 3, slice on the membrane into quarters

Slice each half in half, and place all four pieces into a bowl of cool water.

Step 4, put in water and gently remove seeds

Keeping each piece submerged, remove arils and empty membranes gently with your fingers, making liberal use of your thumb and the inside of your palm. The arils will sink, the membranes will float, so they are easy to scoop out with a slotted spoon or spatula.

Pomegranate seeds removed and strained

Drain arils into sieve and lightly rinse, removing any leftover membrane.

Step 5, roll or squish pomegranate seeds in a quality freezer bag

Place arils in a sturdy freezer bag and roll with a rolling pin or your hands.

Pomegranate seeds juiced and strained

Strain juice into a container and you’re set to go!

Pomegranate center piece

For our decor, we decided to create a warm ambiance with some added pomegranate-inspired flare (yes I said flare). Our centerpiece was a bowl of decorative balls with a pomegranate on top, flourished with red accents I picked up inexpensively in my mom’s basement (thanks mom!). I then created placeholders using individual pomegranates to hold the name cards by making a slice in the top of each of the pomegranates:

Pomegranate table settings

Each name card was created with two pieces of handmade paper, and cut with a custom paper cutter to create the lacy accent. A piece of sheer ribbon was folded between the layers of paper and inserted into the stem.

Pomegranate name card holders and goodies

Sushi table settings set

The stoneware sushi place settings were a Christmas gift my sister brought back after she and the fam returned from a 2-year enlistment in Japan. I accented the table with my extras from my wedding candle stockpile and put the swag bags at each setting to create a bit of excitement when my guests arrived. Nothing excites parents and a kindergarten teacher more than free totes!

POM red hearts

I also accented our light fixture with Pom Wonderful-shaped hearts to bring more red into the decor. All in all I spent a grand total of nothing decorating for our dinner party. It was all created from items I already had around the house!

Pomegranate marinated tuna steak sushi

For our main course, we served pomegranate-infused fresh tuna sushi rolls. The tuna was marinated with a mixture of fresh pomegranate juice, lime juice, and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. For the good stuff inside, we used a pomegranate slaw of julienned cucumber, shaved celery, sprouts and fresh pomegranate arils mixed with a little lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. We also added a layer of pomegranate-infused cream cheese to give the sushi a bit of a creamy touch.

To top it off, we created a sweet and salty pomegranate reduction sauce, made with pomegranate juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and a touch of rice vinegar to drizzle over the sushi.

(If you’d like to learn how to make sushi at home, check out our easy tutorial on how to prepare the ingredients and make your own fillings!)

Pomegranate dressing salad, and sushi roll

To accompany the sushi, we served a simple tangerine and pomegranate salad. A bed of greens with pickled shallots, tangerine slices, and pomegranate arils dressed with a simple pomegranate and red wine vinaigrette.

DSC_1176

To drink, we made pomtinis; pomegranate martinis made with vodka, Triple Sec, and pomegranate juice, garnished with fresh arils for added flavor.

Refreshing Morimoto Soba Ale

We also snuck in a new favorite, Morimoto Soba Ale.

Pomegranate flavored cream cheese Rangoons

We finished with a dessert of fried chocolate wontons, made with pomegranate cream cheese and dark chocolate. They were to die for, so we made some more the next day as well.

How to open, seed, and juice a pomegranate from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

Finally, because we know you couldn’t be there to see us prepare all the wonderful goodies at our dinner party, we put together a short video tutorial on how to open a pomegranate, remove the arils and juice them. Fair warning, this is the first video we’ve made of ourselves, so we really have nowhere to go but up as far as quality.

Felix loves when we get new boxes

So there you have it. A wonderful pomegranate-inspired dinner party that is simple and light on the wallet. We want to thank our guests, Kate and David of CapturingComo.com, and two of our best friends, Anja and Blake, who are a constant source of support, pet sitting, and are willing to eat all the interesting things we’ve cooked up over the years.

Check out all the photos from our Dinner Party on our Flickr and stay tuned for a break down of each recipe!

Our Finished DIY Sawhorse Table

By | DIY, Freelance | 2 Comments

So while I’m on the reckless tangent of not posting things up in a timely manner, I should probably offer a conclusion to another wayward post from back in July. You might remember over the Fourth of July holiday we were stranded at home and decided to tackle the project of building a table to handle our freelance influx. If not, let me give you a reprisal:

Our sawhorse table progress

Our sawhorse table progress

Our sawhorse table progress

Yellow Paint

Unfortunately, that’s where I left off in July. Neil was assembling the legs, sweating, and drinking beer and I was painting the door we had to kick in during our friends wedding because the handle broke. Aren’t we lovely? I’m sure Martha Stewart will be calling to have us on the show to make petit fours any day now.

Well, I finally found a few brief minutes away from work to stand on the other side of this table to take some pictures.

Sawhorse table

Sawhorse Desk

You may be wondering why we chose a sawhorse table and why its home is in front of our couch. Believe me I know it’s not aesthetically optimal or cute in the least bit. It’s purely functional — and yellow.

When we started our freelance business a year ago, we had no idea how fast it would take off. I had a lap desk that I’d work from on the couch and Neil had a tiny writer’s desk we picked up from Target after the wedding. We’re renting a small 2-bedroom, 2-bath house while I finish school, what more could we need right? We never thought we’d have more than one project at any one time and that we could easily work together so long as we were in the same room. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

Kohler Created now has no less than 5 projects at any time. Neil and I work nearly every night and when we’re not, we’re trying to cook awesome things, hit the gym, and keep up with our e-lives. Our little table is a constant mess of books, notes, and equipment, and we’re always looking over each other’s shoulders to check code and output. We work hard, but we also still like watching our favorite movies/TV and having LAN parties on the weekends. This easy little table has been the answer to our question of how to have a home office that still feels like our home and doesn’t seclude us from our lives. And it cost us under $75 to build!

What’s your favorite piece of furniture?

New Family Member

By | Freelance, Frugality, Jessica, Neil | 4 Comments

New Coffeemaker

Felix

Kohler Created has finally added a full-sized coffee maker to the household. We used the last of our wedding gift cards (that we were hoarding like squirrels), and upgraded our pint-sized 2-cup maker to something that could handle our growing addiction. As of late with all the projects, my Starbucks addiction was getting out of control (though apparently not as bad as Dave Grohl).

So rest assured, we are now adequately caffeinated and ready to work, and Felix has yet another bed. If you thought I was announcing pregnancy, you’ve again been disappointed.

Keeping up with the Blogosphere Joneses

By | blogging, Frugality, Jessica, Neil | 7 Comments

DSC_0540

If Neil and I have learned one thing in our twenties it’s that saving money is a lifestyle. Making sacrifices every day on a greater scale is about making life choices about the things that really matter. In the world of blogs, money swirls everywhere. It’s in the huge amounts of advertising, products, sponsorships and endorsements that pop up in your reader and the millions of pictures that are shared across the net. Lately it’s left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. While it’s exciting to see so many people improving their lives and being able to have great opportunities through blogging, it’s also overwhelming and nearly impossible not to be hard on yourself when you can’t live that way too. That’s why it was a breath of fresh air when I read the latest post on one of our favorite blogs Young House Love doling sage frugal advice, a follow-up to a series on how they are plan and save for their home renovations.

Our living room

If you don’t know us in real life, you’re looking at a picture of our house. Other than a short stint in an apartment, it’s the first home Neil and I have shared together. At just over 1,000 square feet it’s also home to our two cats and dog. It’s also a rental. In it you will find painted thrifted furniture, hand-me-down kitchen supplies and no cable. When we were preparing for our wedding last year, we made a rough plan of where we’d like to be in 5 years. We quickly learned that we had some lofty goals. For me, I wanted to be able to finish grad school debt-free and continue to pay off loans while Neil wanted to save for our first home as well as financially prepare to move out-of-state. To do this required dedication and sacrifices that we’ve chosen to strive for as aggressively as possible without setting ourselves up for failure.

Fortunately, we both come from very frugal and resourceful families. My mom clipped coupons and made our clothes like it was an Olympic event and Neil’s parents probably took the gold in every other category, lol. Their frugal and minimalistic lifestyle made it almost too easy for us to make sacrifices other people might consider over the top. Nothing we’ve done has been groundbreaking or all that complicated. Some changes were easier to adjust to than others. But after living this way for more than a year, most of the changes and sacrifices have become habit and I couldn’t imagine going back. Learning to live with less means living consciously, and everything you choose to pursue has more value because it invariably came at the cost of something else you also wanted. Here are just a few major changes and themes we now live by:

We think, communicate, and keep it simple. Unless something breaks, we don’t run out and buy anything. We always shop around and research our options. Never being impulsive not only saves us a lot of money, but also from the potential heartbreak of an uninformed decision. Is it something we can we can live without or make-do with something we already have? Is it worth it to spend a little more to get something better, or will something cheaper solve the issue?

Our little G20

We use what we have, even if it’s not optimal. Planning, research and patience also come into play with things we do decide are necessary. If it’s not used, on sale, or we don’t have a coupon, we don’t buy it. We also spend a lot of time on Craigslist and Ebay. When Neil and I first met and lived 3 hours a part. He bought a used 1992 Infiniti G20 to make the trip back and forth. It was a peach, …with no radio, working windows or trunk lock. When he relocated, we continued driving that car for 3 more years while we saved and planned our next car purchase. Even with all its quirks we were able to re-sell it for $700 and use the money toward our new used car!

We do it ourselves. And if we don’t know how, we learn or ask for help. One of the best parts of saving money is all the great things you learn how to do. Sure, sometimes you learn from things that go terribly wrong, but often times the education for next time is worth far more than the costly repair of something unexpected. For the most part though, knowing how to do it yourself not only saves you money in labor to pay someone else, but allows you to take advantage of opportunities  to save money when they arise.  Knowing how to refinish furniture and do your own home/auto maintenance has saved us a  bundle.

We share and downsize wherever possible. Because it’s just the two of us, we’ve been able to save money by sharing things we used to buy separately. Soap, shampoo, face wash and our miniscule amount of beauty products are shared. Growing up the way we have, neither of us have ever been slaves to beauty products. I didn’t even own make-up until I was in high school and could buy it for myself. We also get cheap haircuts and I dye my hair from a box. I’m always excited to tell people who ask that my cut and color are less than $20! We’ve also made the move to a shared commute to work and making our own coffee and baked goods. We’re even considering used bikes when Neil’s office transfers on campus this fall.

Neil on our honeymoon last year. The trip cost us less than $500!

We just plain go without. Would I love to shop at Ann Taylor Loft like my friends? Of course. Am I wearing a $7 Target shirt right now? Yup. Every little bit counts. From overcoming your Starbuck’s addiction to skipping the bar tri-weekly with friends, we’ve done it all. Some things are definitely harder than others. We skip out on a lot of the little luxuries not only to save for the future but also vacations, grad school and Neil’s racing, all of which we’re able to pay for out of pocket without touching our savings. So before you think it’s totally impossible to save a few hundred dollars a month consider this: before buying our Jeep, we had been able to create savings out of my entire monthly paycheck! Here are a few of the ways we’ve done that:

  • Making healthy, simple meals at home and sack lunches to take to work, all from ingredients we buy on sale or with coupons. We also stopped snacking and buying overpriced pre-packaged foods in place whole unprocessed meals.
  • Going to bars with friends on special occasions only, roughly 1-2 times every 3 months, with one of us always being the DD.
  • We axed our cable subscription. Saves over $50 a month and thanks to the web, we never miss the shows we really want to see.
  • We carpool to work, saving gas and maintenance maintaining to full-time cars.
  • Date nights IN. A fun new recipe and computer games go a long way!

I’ve never been a regular viewer of Oprah, but she said something once that has always stuck with me:

“Having the best things is no substitute for having the best life.”

Our simple advice is to never spend beyond your means and take time to save for the goals and projects that are truly important to you. While you might feel the impulse to compete with the spending of others, especially in constant changing environment of the blogosphere, don’t nickel and dime your savings or lose sight of what is really important. It’s far too easy to oversimplify the images people project on their blogs through rose-colored glasses. More often than not, the situation is not all that it seems.

I hope this honest glimpse at how Neil and I live encourages others to do the same. But most of all I hope it serves as reinforcement that the best way to live is by having a long-term plan, savings, and most of all patience. Sometimes you really just have to wait for the things you want. It’s often through waiting you find that things aren’t really what you’re yearning for.

Vintage I didn’t have to find

By | Cool Stuff | 2 Comments

Couldn’t resist the humor in this…

I grabbed Neil while he was loading the dishwasher to model the new tablecloth.

For all the jokes and horror-stories about mother-in-laws, my circumstances could not be any more different. My mother-in-law is my surrogate mother, and she knows me. Like, really knows me. She and I share a love of old things, crafts and food. When Neil returned to Springfield to pick up our repaired Jeep last week, his mom sent some things back. I couldn’t be any more thrilled to now have a vintage juicer and new springy tablecloth.

I’ve never had a juicer, does anyone have any great flavor suggestions?

Grocery “Budget Reform”: Part 1

By | Food, Frugality | 2 Comments

One of my favorite bloggers (Never Home)maker recently endeavored to lower both her grocery bill and budget. She’s not the first. In a recession economy, thousands are looking to save where they can and we’ve seen the revival of spreadsheets and creative lists, as well as new tech tools to help. These are all awesome, but they won’t work long-term unless you have a plan and can successfully make it habit. Two years ago, when Neil and I first endeavored to change the way we were eating, we also wanted to save money while doing it. Our strategy has changed over time, as we’ve become more meat-free and focused on the quality of our food, but there’s a strategy to fit everyone and I hope this little 3-part series over the next week will give you some ideas.

1. Take stock of your stock: The first step in any plan is to figure out where you are and what is wrong. What specific food items or habits are contributing to excess spending? Take this question to your pantry and refrigerator. The first step in cleaning up your act is  cleaning and organizing your food storage. Organize your foods in a way that makes them easy to keep track of and easy to inventory at a moment’s notice.

2. Develop your staples list: What items do you use consistently all the time? Categorize these items and make them the base of your grocery list. Organize them in a way that makes  sense. I find that using the food pyramid works best.

  • Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta: Bread
  • Vegetables: Carrots
  • Fruits: Orange juice
  • Milk, Yogurt and Cheese: Milk
  • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts: Eggs
  • Fats, Oils and Sweets: Olive oil
  • Staples, Condiments and Miscellaneous Foods (spices, baking powder, etc.): Mustard
  • Health and Beauty Products: Toothpaste
  • Household Items (laundry soap, light bulbs, etc.): Coffee filters

3. Accompany Your List with Prices: This step requires a bit more commitment, but if you’re serious and you do it consistently it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think. Essentially you need to think about where you are spending your money. We all love the organic market or the place with all the gourmet cheeses, but can you really afford to shop there for everything? Take stock of what you’re paying for your items and if time allows you to make multiple trips. Once you’ve figured out what you can and can not afford to pay premium for, figure out what constitutes a regular and sale price for each item. Create a graph and spy on your grocery store over the course of 4 weeks. How often does item X go on sale? You’ll quickly notice that your staple items will be on sale every 4 to 6 weeks.

(above) Pasta and Olive Oil, staples we always stock up on.

4. Learn the “stocking up” approach: We all have embarrassing stories of going to the grocery store with our parents the week they decided to buy the 50-double roll pack of toilet paper right? right?? Once you know the price ranges for your staple items you’ll be able to spot the low prices. When you do, buy 4-6 weeks worth of that item (assuming it’s not produce). Following this method, expect that every week you’ll be stocking up on 1-2 items. The key here is that you’re buying items at their lowest price, not necessarily when you run out. You can often save 50-70%  this way. Sure, you may not see huge savings in your week to week receipts, but it adds up over time.

5. Make a Plan: The final step in part 1 is to develop a weekly or bi-weekly menu plan. Fortunately, most grocers now have online ads, making this an easy task to complete before even entering the store. Neil and I shop at Gerbes (Kroger) and the new ad is released every Wednesday morning. Plan your menu and take inventory using the sales flier and you will not only save money, but enjoy the challenge of creating a new menu every week comprised of staples and sale items. Once you’ve completed your menu, it’s time to research your coupons. In addition to traditional newspaper inserts, there are many sites with digital coupons you can print from your home printer. Our standard go-to’s are coupons.com and moneysavingmom.com. The key to using coupons wisely is not printing any that aren’t items on your list (more on this in Part 2).

You’ll notice my advice isn’t specific dollars to cents and what constitutes bad/good budget. As a fellow foodie, I can’t tell you how to spend your money and on what, but I can tell you that endeavoring to save money will require some sort of sacrifice in order to see a savings. For us, this was the line in the sand where we opted to go almost entirely vegetarian during the work weeks. Where we decided to take sandwiches and yogurt for lunch. Where I gave up my weekly Laughing Cow cheese addiction, and Neil reconciled that Cheez-its would be a special occasion snack. These may seem like tiny sacrifices, but they add up over time. They’ve been a huge blessing in disguise as well. What started as an online search for inexpensive recipes and other pseudo-vegetarians and vegans resulted in this blog and so many amazing friends.

Endeavor to start a few of these steps this weekend, and next week stay tuned for Part 2: Shopping, Sales and Markdowns; and Part 3: Greening Your Grocery List

Do you have a grocery strategy? How do you plan your menu? Leave your feedback below!

Be My Frugal Valentine: Ideas for a Dinner Date at Home

By | Food, Frugality, Kitchen, relationship | One Comment

This is an actual photo of Neil’s and my first dinner date at home. We lived three hours apart and only saw each other on the weekends,  so every weekend was compressed to include everything we thought normal couples would do or would be doing during the week in a new relationship. I was a total non-foodie at the time, and Neil made me Chicken Parmesan that was to die for. We’ve done our fair share of eating out, but I will never be able to forget this meal and the feeling of knowing he was it for me. Don’t get me wrong, he has a lot of great qualities, and I didn’t base my decision solely off his Chicken Parmesan, …although I easily still could have.

Although we still do our fair share of eating at restaurants, we tend to get more excited about staying in these days. Our home is a sanctuary to us. A place we are totally our weird selves, and can let loose and kick back. It’s also a laboratory where we experiment with food, projects, and hobbies. Those reasons are ambiance for why we’re the couple I feel we are, and why, frugality aside, I think home is the most romantic place to spend Valentine’s Day.

Aside from the romantic ambiance of eating where you live, frugality is a very practical reason to eat at home this Valentine’s Day. Not only can you make a yummy meal, but you can build fun and memorable experiences into your night.

Here are a few practical and frugal “themes” we’ve tried over the years:

1. Try a New Recipe: If you don’t have a lot of experience, try something out of the ordinary or just new to you. It doesn’t have to be super complex, or involve tons of ingredients, just make something you’ve never made before.

2. An Ethnic Flare: Are you as mesmerized by the Travel Network as we are? Create a themed meal from another country or even region of the country. You can even inexpensively theme table settings or decorations to accompany your meal.

Our sushi

3. A Unique Technique: Plan a meal that involves teamwork or a technique that requires you to work together. One of our favorite special date nights are sushi nights. It’s definitely a two-person job and it makes the reward all the more yummy.

4. A New or Special Ingredient: Experiment with an ingredient  you’ve never worked with before. Maybe it’s scallops, or artichokes, or even just something you don’t treat yourself to that often. Going frugal doesn’t mean you can’t buy something special.

5. Finger Foods: One of our favorite at-home dates was a night we made only appetizers. It was so fun to create several tiny meals that we enjoyed all night as we did other things to celebrate.

What are ways you’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day or a romantic evening at home? Have a recipe to share? We’d love to hear from you!