The Crazy Hat Box

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The Cakeless Birthday

Cake.  It’s the traditional birthday food.  You put candles on it.  You eat it with ice-cream.  If you’re going to a birthday party, you can always count on cake being there.

But what if you (or your kids) don’t like cake?

I know it sounds unbelievable that any kid wouldn’t like cake, but mine don’t.  They never have.  For their first few birthdays, I still made cake or cupcakes because that’s what you do for birthdays.  I’d serve the cake to the guests, and give the birthday boy Oreos or Reeses for his dessert – what he really wanted. But then I thought, why make something they don’t like (as cute as those cakes and cupcakes were)?  It’s THEIR birthday, and who says we HAVE to have cake?  So, I started coming up with alternatives.

Sugar Cookies

My oldest son loves sugar cookies, so that’s been his birthday dessert of choice for the last two years.  They are a great alternative because you can find cookie cutter shapes for almost any theme!  An added bonus is that my kids love to help make sugar cookies, making it a fun pre-birthday party activity to do together!

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Rice Krispie Treats

I love this option because you can mold Rice Krispie Treats into any cake pan and decorate it with icing like a cake!  And, you can even add some variety and make them with other kinds of cereal – in this case, I also used Trix.  This is a great option, too, if you’re worried about kids with milk allergies (but in this case you’d probably have to omit the icing).

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Donut “Cake”

Technically, donuts are kind of a form of cake, but that deep-fried goodness somehow makes them so much better (and magically makes them ok to eat for breakfast).  I love this because you can stack them like a cake, add icing to decorate them like a cake, and they’re already separated into portions.  And, you can get several different kinds so that everyone is sure to find something they like!

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Oreos

For my youngest son’s last birthday, I made Cookie’s ‘n Cream cupcakes, but I reserved some of the plain Oreos for non-cake lovers.  Since he had a Mickey Mouse birthday party, I made the Oreos look like Mickey, so they went perfectly with the theme!

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For your next party, don’t be afraid to think outside the cake pan!  Be creative!

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Savings Addict Part 2

Make sure you read Part 1 of Jennifer’s guest post.  It introduces you to her and has great ideas for savings!

Click here to see part 1.

Part II- Payday!

Where are the coupons?

Well, I get a Sunday and Wednesday paper (no, not at full price, haven’t you been reading?)  I buy a 6 month subscription for $19 (less than $1 per paper) on LivingSocial or Groupon with a one month hiatus in between so I qualify as a “new subscriber” by the fine print of those deals.  In that month I have to truck it to a Dollar Tree that sells a Sunday paper for, you guessed it, $1 when it is $2 everywhere else. You should be getting the ads in your mailbox if you don’t receive the paper every Tuesday. Man I love saving everywhere! But, look out it gets addicting.

 

Savings Receipt

Savings!

Online:

Coupons.com

Redplum.com

Smartsource.com

Commonkindness.com

Hopster.com

 

Store coupons sites:

Coupons.Target.com

CVS.com (printed out at the store with a CVS rewards card)

Walgreens.com (or printed out in booklets monthly in the store)

Sprouts.com (or printed out in booklets monthly in the store)

Wholefoods.com

Other:

Brand websites

Facebook pages for brands

At the store with the catalina coupon printer (you know the thing that spits out a whole bunch of paper  next to your receipts when check out that the cashier might be throwing away in the trash…eek Money!)

What you should know about online coupons is when you print them off, usually they are set up to only let your computer print them two times and sometimes just once.  This is where having a second computer comes in handy.  You have to download a lot of coupon printer software as you go, but once its set up, you’re golden.

 

Combining coupons:

My personal favorites for Super Savings is Target because you can use a store coupon, a manufacturer coupon, cartwheel (to be discussed in the next entry if you’re curious), and a sale.  A lot of times I can get things FREE or very very cheap if I’m paying attention.  If you add a red card there’s an extra 5% off your purchase too.

Rules:

The rules for couponing are…read the fine print.  Some only allow you to use a few per shopping trip and one per product purchased. Also, know the store’s coupon policies.  Most have it on their website, but you can always ask a manager for it if you are in the store without it on hand.  While you can probably get away with using more with an absent minded cashier, it doesn’t mean you should.  Save by the rules please!  That way this beautiful way of keeping your money in your pocket instead of the store’s pockets keeps on happening!

Now that you’ve got all those coupons you have to find a way to organize them in a way that works for you.  The couponistas out there use binders.  I have 3 kiddos that go shopping with me 95% of the time and that little precious basket seat at the front is taken so there is no room at the inn for a behemoth binder.  I use a coupon organizer that I got at Target in the office organizing aisle and that goes with me everywhere.  Just in case I run into a store unplanned to pick up something.  Nothing hurts like knowing you have the coupon for something but its not with you.

Coupon Organizer 1

Coupon OrganizerCoupon Organizer 2

 

Big thing here…do what works for you.  If its not manageable, you won’t stick with it.  If you don’t stick with it, then you’ll be missing out on  A LOT OF DOUGH over time!  Happy saving!

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Naked Burrito

Here are 3 recipes that use the same basic ingredients.

Naked Burrito Dip

This recipe is super easy and great for parties.  It’s also easy to double or triple if need be.

Ingredients:

1 can of Rotel (any will do, I use original) OR 1 jar of salsa

1 can of corn (you can use mexicorn if you prefer)

1 can of black beans

2 blocks of cream cheese

Drain Rotel, corn and black beans.

RotelCornBlack Beans

Put the cream cheese in a microwave safe bowl and soften 30 seconds at a time until it is easy to stir.

Cream Cheese

Now mix all ingredients in the microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second increments until it is warm all the way through, stirring occasionally.  Serve with tortilla chips or corn chips.

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Naked Burrito Dip

Naked Chicken Burrito

You can also make Naked Chicken Burrito out of this.  Use all of the same ingredients plus 1 lb frozen chicken breasts and 1 container of chicken broth.  Note: This would be a great time to use Ali’s recipe for homemade chicken broth. Put frozen chicken breasts in the slow cooker.  Put all of these ingredients on top (the cream cheese is optional for this).  Cook on low for 8 – 10 hours or on high for 4 – 6 hours (making sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked).  The chicken will just fall apart.  You can serve it in soft shells (although it’s usually too juicy), on tortilla chips, or even on rice.

Frozen Chicken Chicken Broth

 

Naked Chicken Burrito

Naked Chicken Burrito

 

Naked Burrito Soup

If you want to make soup out of it, leave the cream cheese out and add a couple of  containers of chicken broth or use Ali’s recipe for homemade chicken broth and add that.  You could add rice to make the soup go farther.

It’s very versatile and it makes a lot for a little.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Savings Addict Part 1

Jennifer is a stay at home mom to 3 kids, under 5 years of age.  She is also addicted to savings.  AND she’s willing to tell you how you can be too!

Jennifer

Do you like getting a raise?  A bump in the bank account?  I do.  That can be a hard thing to do especially when it isn’t the time of year where your paycheck might actually be increasing.  But did you know that there is money in the Sunday paper and on websites that you’re probably leaving on the table?  I’m not a crazy coupon lady or an extreme couponer, but I do know that I cut my grocery budget by 35% a month by doing a few simple things. I’ll focus on the first two today.  Consider it the observation phase.

  1. Knowing my buying habits and paying attention to the supply and demand of the household
  2. Learning to shop the sales and knowing when certain items were at their lowest prices of the year.
  3. Learning the stores you shop at most, the lowest prices they sell the things you buy, and their coupon policies
  4. Finding the coupons and finding a way that worked for me to keep track and actually use them
  5. Using my smart phone to download a few apps that worked in a rebate sort of function

Savings Addict Pantry

I know what my family goes through.  I know that we go through on average 2-3 boxes of cereal a week.  Cereal has a long shelf life and so this is something I have a lot of on stock in my pantry (notice the 30+ boxes in the picture).  You have to know what those things are because you’re not saving if you’re throwing away a lot of food.  Waste not, want not.  On the other hand you are wasting money if you are waiting to buy something when you run out of it and it is not on sale and there is no coupon for it.  Maybe you’re luckier than I am, but that never happens for me.    Make a list of the top 20 things you buy and start there.

Secondly, there are sale patterns based on holidays and harvest

January- Vitamins, Health & Diet foods

February- Steak, Lobster, and Junk food

March- Frozen food

April-  Candy, Cleaning products, Baking Products and Organic and eco-friendly products

May- Condiments, charcoal, pickles, and chips

June- Salad dressing, condiments, chips, and hot dogs

July- School supplies and Ice cream

August- Lunch supplies and snack foods

September- Meat

October- Candy

November- Turkey and Thanksgiving fixings (stuffing, gravy, and canned veggies, baking products)

December- Baking products, Turkey, and Ham

As for produce, if you buy it when it is in season then you will save money.  It is also good nutritionally for you to have variety. You can see this usually on the front pages of the ads and by what is featured for the sales each week.

Happy Observing!

 

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Winner, Winner, (Crock Pot) Chicken Dinner

I’m always looking for ways to help my family eat healthier.  With all the scary information about preservatives, GMOs, hormones, etc. floating around,  I figure one of the best ways to avoid some of the scariness is to make most things from scratch – plus, it usually tastes better.

There is one problem with this, though – I really don’t enjoy cooking.

Don’t get me wrong, I cook almost all of our dinners.  We rarely eat out, and I’m not big on frozen dinners, so I really don’t have another choice.  But, it’s not my passion.  Maybe it’s because it usually takes longer to make it than to eat it.  Maybe I just don’t like being in the kitchen that long.  Or, maybe I just hate reading directions.  Whatever it is, I gravitate more toward quick meals or things I can throw in the crock pot and not worry about until it’s time to eat.

Thus, Crock Pot Chicken is one of my favorites.  We seriously have it about once a month.  It’s so easy and inexpensive and non-wasteful.  You can usually find two whole chickens at Costco or Sam’s for around $12, and we always have leftovers from the meal, which I can use to make chicken salad or soup later that week or freeze to use later.  And, I make my own chicken broth from the bones and juices, which tastes so much better than canned, I can’t even explain it.


Crock Pot Chicken

Ingredients:

1 Whole, thawed chicken with innards removed

1 Tbs Garlic Powder

1 Tbs Oregano

1 Tbs Basil

1 Tbs Sage

1 tsp Salt

2 Tbs Butter

1 C Water

Mix herbs and seasonings together in a bowl.

With a knife, loosen, but don’t remove, the skin on the breast and legs of the chicken.  Then, put butter under the skin.  Next, put the herbs under the skin.

Place the whole chicken in the crock pot with the cup of water, and cook on low all day.

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It’s that easy!!


Homemade Chicken Broth

After you’ve taken the leftover chicken out of the crock pot (I shred mine and freeze or refrigerate to use in recipes later), put some of the larger bones and meatier pieces back in the crock pot.  Add whatever herbs and seasonings you like – sage, basil, oregano, garlic powder, etc.  Add a few vegetables, such as carrots, celery or onion – really whatever you happen to have on-hand is probably fine.  Finally, add water.  How much water you add depends on how strong you like your broth.  I usually add 8 cups to whatever juices are already there.  Cook your broth on low all night.

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In the morning, turn off your crock pot and let the broth cool.  When it’s cool enough, strain out the veggies and bones,

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then, put the broth into freezer bags (I do this in one-cup measurements), and put it in the freezer!

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If you don’t have time to mess with the broth in the morning, just put the whole crock pot in the fridge (after it’s cooled a bit) until you do!

I usually get about 10 cups of broth from doing this.  And the broth is so good in chicken noodle soup, tomato soup – really whatever calls for chicken broth or stock.

You just got at least one meal (but probably more than that) and 10 cups of broth out of a $6 chicken!

 

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