Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Organizing those coupons

I am a big believer in using coupons. Combined with store sales and rebates, using coupons can greatly reduce the cost of grocery and health/beauty items. Eventually, I'd like to track my grocery spending to see exactly how much I'm spending and saving by shopping sales and using coupons. For now, I am secure in the knowledge that the answers are, respectively, not a lot and a ton.

However, my coupon habit is threatening to get out of control. For years, I used a tiny 4x6 inch accordion-style coupon holder. I wasn't serious about couponing then, and it suited my needs (which was to feel like I was saving money by using coupons, without actually doing it). Last August, when I really started clipping coupons, I bought a large yet portable storage tote and set up a system a la Money Saving Mom. For a while, this worked.

Unfortunately, my coupon collection kept growing and growing. And because Jewel and Dominick's stores in this area (Chicago and suburbs) take expired coupons, I never throw any away.

For a few weeks, I tried the method from Erica at I Heart CVS. I kept all of my inserts whole, and would just clip out a coupon when I needed it. The problem is, I only know what coupon I'll need 20% of the time. The rest of the deals are found when I'm at the actual stores. So to stand in front of a good deal in the store knowing that at home, there's a coupon that would make it a GREAT deal was just awful. Obviously, this system doesn't work for me.

Now, I'm giving a new system a try. It is similar to what Jamie does at I am a Money Magnet. On Saturday I hit Office Depot to get a sturdy binder and the plastic pockets to hold all the coupons. I also got alphabetized dividers.
Already, I can tell that setting up this system is going to take a while. I need to get all my old coupons out of my tote and get them in the binder. Then, I need to go through the stack of miscellaneous coupons and get those in the binder. Finally, I have coupon inserts going back 4 weeks. Those coupons need to be clipped and put into the binder.

Can you tell where my spare time will be going this week?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Martha Monday!

Easter is less than two weeks away. For those in need of ideas, Martha has them in full force:

Join Martha's 2009 Easter Workshop for ideas, menus, instructions and shopping lists.

This basket speaks to my inner Veruca Salt.

Of all the beautiful baskets in the slide show, this one is my favorite. It screams "Eat the chocolate bunny! And then take a nice nap in the clover." How soothing. Yes, this is definately the basket for me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fundamentals of frugal shopping

This summer, I'll be teaching two community education courses at Waubonsee Community College: Public Speaking for Career Advancement and The Secrets of Savvy Shopping. Teaching a public speaking course is fine. I've done it before (for credit courses for four semesters) so I'm not worried. Teaching people how to get the deals is new to me, so I'll be bouncing a lot of my ideas and material off of my good readers.

Starting with:

Amanda's Five Fundamentals of Frugal Shopping (doesn't that sound snappy?)

1. Shop sales and use coupons to get the best deal.

2. Take advantage of all customer loyalty programs and rebates whenever possible.

3. Stockpiling: when something goes on sale, buy as many as you can reasonably afford, use and store.

4. Don't bother with brand or store loyalty. Buy the best deal and shop where the deals are.

5. Prepare for each shopping trip with a plan/list and stick to it!

In class, I'll cover the different rules of each area grocery/convenience store, when a warehouse club makes sense (it often doesn't), how to find and organize coupons for maximum efficiency, how to get many items for free or next to free at CVS and Walgreens, and how to tell if the deal is right for you.

Over the next few days, I'll focus on my coupon organization system...because that's where I'm having the most problems. My current system is featured above, and while it worked nicely for several months, it's no longer adequate. I'm working on one a little more Martha-worthy.

Join me as I sort this mess out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Due to my heavy workload in the office and at home (okay, just the office. I'm a sloth at home.), I won't be posting for a few days. Once this fundraising event is over--you can read about it here, here, here and oh yeah, here--I'll be back to blogging regularly.

In the meantime, you can get your Martha fix with the woman herself: Martha's Blog and at Martha Stewart.com. Enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Martha Monday!

This weekend, I tackled a recipe from Martha Stewart's Cookies. Bratseli are similar to pizzelles, and indeed I made them in my pizzelle iron. Here's Martha's finished result:

Martha's recipe makes 6 dozen. I halved the recipe. At first, I was nervous about the combination of flavors: vanilla, cinnamon and lemon extract (I used lemon juice). However, with the small amounts of each, the flavors blended well.

My hand mixer easily handled the dough.

The dough must be rolled out in small balls before being flattened in the pizzelle iron.
The frustrating thing about this process was not anything in Martha's instructions (which are perfect, of course) but my own pizzelle iron. The heat seemed to fluctuate for uneven baking. The same 1.5 minutes that would leave one batch perfectly golden would burn the next only to have the next batch come out half-right and half-burned.

My major note about this recipe is that it takes a long time. My pizzelle iron can only do 4 cookies at a time, so doing a half batch from start to finish took nearly 1.5 hours.
The cookies were tasty. Not too sweet and not too crispy, they are a perfect accompaniment to tea or coffee. If you have a pizzelle iron, or even a bratseli maker, this is a good recipe to try.
Bratseli: Martha-made, and TMI approved!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

End of the Catalina fun

I headed out to Jewel this morning with big plans to SHOP SHOP SHOP. But after a quick assessment of my energy levels (low) and the weather (beautiful), I decided to stop rolling the Kraft catalina deal, take advantage of the Kellogg's deal, and be done with that $10 of fun.

The current Kellogg deal is that if you buy 15 participating Kellogg's items, the price goes down to $1.50 each (10 items = $15.00). Plus, there's another Kellogg's deal going on: if you buy 3, 5 or 7 particular kinds of Kellogg's cereal, you get a coupon for 1, 2, or 3 gallons of milk. The one cereal that appears to overlap for each deal is Raisin Bran.

I bought 3 Raisin Bran, 1 Froot Loops, 4 large boxes of Pop Tarts, 2 packages of Fudge Stripe cookies, and a dozen eggs.

Total after preferred card but before coupons: $16.67

Minus $0.55 x 4 for Pop Tarts coupons

Minus $1.00 x 4 for the cereal

Minus $1.00/2 for the cookies

Total after coupons: $7.80

But since I had a $10 catalina coupon to use, I was able to purchase a few other things with very little out of pocket. And bonus! Since I bought 3 boxes of Raisin Bran, I recieved a coupon for a free gallon of milk.

Sigh. My catalina fun is done.

For more great grocery deals in the Chicago area, check out Annie at Chi-Annie: at the Table and Carrie at Shoplifting with Permission. These women really know what they're doing!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Special touches for the guest room

We're expecting an overnight guest. The bed is made, the curtains are hung and the furniture is relatively dust-free, but we're not done yet. It's time to go over the little things that make a guest's stay go smoothly.

First up, guest towels are at the ready. No need to scramble at the last minute at the TMI Bed and Breakfast: three sets of fresh guest towels are in the linen closet. And the Mr. Bubbles. Just in case. I like to be pro-active on things like that.

Necessary in the guest room: Kleenex and an alarm clock. The less a guest has to ask for, the better. Also, there's a nightlight in the hallway so guests can make their way to the bathroom without running into a wall.

Hangers are in the closet for any clothes that need to be hung. This is especially important if your guests are in town on business. It seems like such a small detail, but I think people appreciate the option, and the effort of clearing out a bit of closet space just for them.

A small selection of reading material is available. I once had an overnight guest who had insomnia. They spent several hours reading before sleep, and later told me that they were really glad I had books in the guest room. True story!

This last touch is all Martha. She recommends keeping stationary in the guest room in case they are so moved to write a letter to the folks back home. I guess people who stay with Martha are moved to write lengthy and enthusiastic prose describing their stay at her home. Or, she confiscates cell phone and other electronic devices when people arrive, and this is the only means of communication.

To all of my future guests: I promise I won't take away your cell phone as long as you promise to write a letter telling your friends back home that you stayed with a woman in Aurora, Illinois who is just like Martha Stewart. Welcome!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Home Improvement: Curtains

Even with all of our preparation for guests, the guest room was missing something. A big something. Curtains.

We've had two overnight guests since we moved in last fall, and both of them suffered through their stay in a curtain-less guest room. However, Mom and Laura were good sports and didn't complain. Plus, they were only here for one night each. Now, our incoming guest will be here for 4 nights, and that's too long of a stay to go curtain-less. Something had to be done.

Sheers go up first.

The Little Guy helps out. By playing with a tin of drink coasters. Naturally.

Now, for actual curtains.

At this point, I must tell you to ignore both the paint color (it was like that when we moved in) and the particular choice of curtains (I just used what we had on hand). The curtains don't match the decor very well, and the sheers and curtains are different lengths, but they get the job done.

Guest room: complete! Well, almost. Tune in tomorrow for those special touches that will make a guest feel extra welcome.

But not too welcome. Like, stay-for-an-indefinite-period-of-time-even-though-they-said-they-would-only-be-here-for-four-days-and-why-do-they-keep-eating-all-of-my-favorite-cereal-you'd-better-tell-your-friend-that-his-welcome-has-officially-worn-out-welcome.
There's a fine line there. Naturally.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Guest Bed

This is the most important part of the guest room. If you can offer your guests nothing else, it must be this: a bed. It can be an inflatable mattress, a cot, or just a bunch of pillows on the floor, but every guest needs a place to put their head at the end of the day.

Here's what we offer at the TMI Bed and Breakfast...

Ooohhh look! More Easter decorations! These are part of the Diana collection, of course.

This little throw is just amazing.

The top of the bed says Easter, but the flannel sheets say Christmas.

The last time I prepared the guest room was just before Christmas. I thought we might have overnight guests, but we didn't. So, the sheets remain the same. But, in the event that our guest wants something less Christmas and less flannel, we have options.
Behold: drawer #1. Three sets of sheets.

Drawer #2: Three more sets of sheets. Including the set that's on the bed, that's seven sets of sheets just for the guest room. Options are a good thing, right?

And in case our guest wants to change the bedding set to something more spring-like (which will happen soon anyways), I can offer the contents of drawer #3: a whole new bedding set. With matching sheets, of course.

And if the pink roses are too much, there's always drawer #4.

What can I say? It's good to have options. We're all about a positive guest experience here at TMI!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Guest Room

Martha loves to entertain, and puts a lot of emphasis on guest comfort. I imagine that staying at Martha's house is like staying at the best bed-and-breakfast in the world. We have company coming this weekend, so I was eager to make sure our guest room was ready. Martha-style.

Just like the front door, I keep a wreath on the guest room door. I think it's welcoming.

I am very fortunate that, except for a few months in 2008, I've always had a dedicated guest space. Whether it's a fold out couch or an actual room, I like to be ready for unexpected guests.

Now, the guest room doubles as an unfinished project room. For example, this table was my grandmother's. I have big plans to refinish it. See that quilting set on the top? Still in the original packaging? Yep. I have big plans to take up quilting.

The church under the table is actually a birdhouse. In the event I ever have houseguests who bring along a pet bird, I'll be ready for them, too. Super dedicated guest space!

Here's the vanity: this bedroom set belonged to my great-grandmother, which explains why the set is so great and grand. The vanity is beautiful.
Tomorrow: the bed. Perhaps the most important part of the guest experience.
Thursday: but is the guest room really ready? What's missing?
Friday: must-haves and special touches in the TMI guest room.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Martha Monday!

Coconut layer cake. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Say it: Coconut layer cake. Doesn't just the sound of that conjure up the most beautiful, tasty deliciousness ever? Here's Martha's coconut layer cake...

Isn't it gorgeous? I've been dying to try this recipe for quite a while, but I haven't because it is labor intensive and relies on cake flour, which I do not have in my pantry. Plus, her cake looks perfect. I'm quite certain that mine would not. Sadly (but honestly) that is the main reason I haven't tackled this recipe.

And then, I remembered something: Martha is my inspiration for Domestic Diva-ness, but she doesn't have to be my standard. Sometimes I get so caught in wanting to be Martha-like (read: perfect) that I forget one of the reasons why I like her so much: Martha improvises. She experiments. She creates.
And if I want to be more like Martha, AND I DO, then I need to toss aside my silly fear of less-than-perfect and just go for it. And I did....

This is the TMI version of Martha's Coconut Layer Cake. Not too shabby, eh? To make my coconut layer cake, I started out with a yellow cake mix, substituted pineapple-coconut juice for the water in the cake mix, and added some coconut paste in the batter for extra tastiness.

I found the Coco Real in the liquor department. I had hoped for a can of coconut milk, but this was the best I could do. Bonus: I'm all set for pina coladas later!

I added the coconut paste to the frosting instead of vanilla extract. And I used more of the pinapple-coconut juice to thin out the frosting.

Then I covered the entire thing with shredded coconut. Note to self: next time, use wax paper to press on the coconut, and not your hands! Although, that is a yummy mess to lick up.
The cake was delicious. So, if you don't have time to make an honest-to-goodness Martha coconut layer cake, or you're too intimidated by Martha's perfection, give the TMI version a try.
Inspiration and aspiration. It's what we do here. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sign up now!

This summer, I'll be teaching two community education courses at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove:

Public Speaking Skills for Career Advancement
(scroll down to see the listing)
4-week course starting June 24, Wednesday nights, 7-9pm


Secrets of Savvy Shopping
3-week course starting July 14, Tuesday nights, 7-8:30pm

Register online, and this summer you can get the TMI experience in person! Both classes will be chock-full of information, and I strive to make each class enjoyable for everyone.

Also, if you read my blog and like it even a teeny-weeny bit, please sign up as a follower. It would make my week! Plus, it brings me that much closer to my ultimate Martha goal of world domination. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Beyond the cheese

Yesterday, my post focused on the glorious cheese I scored Wednesday morning at Jewel thanks to the Kraft catalina deal going on. I ended up doing two more transactions that evening (no pictures), one last night (no pictures), and today...the Catalina roll of all Catalina rolls...nine whopping transactions at Jewel.


This is just the cheese portion of today's trip. 36 packs of cheese, and don't worry, I didn't clear the shelves. There was a ton more left, and while my closest Jewel was crowded, it seemed that no one was working on the Kraft deal. In fact, this Jewel had coupons out in front of the Wheat Thins and Triscuits (and peelies on the Wheat Thins), and no one even bothered.

Since Wednesday morning, I've branched out, doing each deal with half cheese and half other Kraft products. This meant that all kinds of treats, crackers and condiments were mine. MINE!

With my nine transactions today, I spent only $12.53 out of pocket with a savings of $236.50.

Overall, in 15 transactions, I've spent almost $30 out of pocket with a savings of nearly $300. It comes out to less than $0.30 an item. Here's what I've gotten:

65 bricks/bags of Kraft cheese
17 bags of Planters Trail Mix
4 containers of Oscar Mayer Deli meat
4 boxes South Beach Cereal Bars
4 Kraft salad dressing
3 boxes of Teddy Grahams (honey flavor--yum!)
2 containers Miracle Whip
2 containers of Kraft Mayo
And the best part is....I still have $13 in catalinas to keep rolling. Happy Saturday!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cheese, glorious cheese!

Thanks to a heads-up from Annie at Chi-Annie: at the Table, I have an abundance of cheese. Right now, Jewel has a Kraft catalina deal going on: spend $25 in participating Kraft products, and get a $10 coupon for your next order. Additionally, buy 4 packs of Kraft 2% Milk Cheese, and get a $3 coupon for your next order. You can double-dip on these deals and roll the coupons over and over until the promotion is over.

As you can see, I scored some major cheese: 6 backs of shredded mozzerella, 6 bags of shredded Mexican blend, and 9 bricks of cheese (cheddar, monterey, pepperjack, etc.).

The 2% Milk Cheese promo ends on March 29, and the $10 OYNO promo goes to March 22. I'll be rolling this deal a few more times before it's over. Thanks, Annie!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Easter decorations in the family room

The remaining Easter decs are up in the family room, with the exception of this guy. He's in the kitchen.

The Easter throw is on the sofa. It's strategically placed to cover a hole in the upholstery--it's a long and tragic tale involving the vacuum, and that's a post for another day.

This little bunny candy dish is filled with eggs, and it goes on the mantle.

Also on the mantle are the cutest trio of ducks holding carved wooden eggs. Beautiful!

The shiny bunnies guard a basket of plastic eggs. While plastic eggs are usually not a big deal, these are: two years ago, we announced the impending arrival of Little Guy at Easter using those eggs in that basket.

I filled these eggs, and many more, with small candy and a note that said "Somebunny special is on the way" with the expected arrival date.

Isn't that the most adorable "Hey, I'm pregnant!" announcement ever? Yeah, I can be super-sugary-cute like that. That's how I roll. And yeah, I plan on keeping those plastic eggs around for quite some time.