Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Ways to Save Money on Groceries (Without Trying That Hard)!

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this post. I really love the companies I mentioned!

A few months ago, I quit my engineering job to raise my baby and perhaps grow our family.  Obviously, our budget had to change, and thankfully I've been able to save a TON of money with a little bit of effort.  I've always been a fairly savvy shopper (I love clearance), but I took it to a whole new level.  I found that if I just spend a few minutes thinking about what I'm going to buy before I leave, I can save hundreds every month!

One area where I've been able to save the most is grocery shopping.  I used to arrive at the store with no concrete plans and hope that I stumbled on some of the best deals in the store.  Sometimes that worked.  Most of the time it didn't.  Now I allow myself 10 minutes to plan every shopping trip, and I easily save 40% every single time on healthy food.  Guys, that's a ton of money!  If I can do it with a baby, you can too!  Here are the five ways that I save money on groceries without trying very hard.


1. Read the Ad - I know, this isn't exactly groundbreaking information, but it is super important.   Grocery stores plaster their ads everywhere, but how many people actually read them?  The store ads are seriously a wealth of information.  Once I started to regularly skim the ads, I realized that I had been consistently missing deals.

The best deals are found on the front and the back of the ad, and they usually contain the foods that people need to buy every week like produce and meat.  So if you don't have time to look through the entire ad, at least glance at those two pages.
If getting your hands on a physical ad sounds like too much work (like it usually does for me), stay tuned for the next step!

2. Download Your Store's App - It seems like every store has an app these days, and I was surprised to find how useful they are.  The major grocery store chain down here in Florida is Publix and their app is wonderful.  The app lists all of the sale items mentioned in the ad every week and allows you to place all of the items you want on a digital shopping list.  Therefore, you can't forget the sale items that you need from the store because you will always have your shopping list with you.  This has prevented me from forgetting items due to my mommy brain so many times and  has prevented me from reaching for the more expensive items on a whim.  When you have a good list, you will be much more likely to stick to it!
3. Use Digital Coupons - Most people don't get the newspaper these days, but that doesn't mean you can't use coupons.  Most grocery stores have digital coupons on their app that match the coupons in the newspaper.  I usually scroll through these coupons once a week to see if there is anything new and interesting. 

Think that clipping coupons is a waste of time?  Try to pair your coupons with the sale items that are on your shopping list for maximum savings.  Just type what you are already going to buy in the search bar!

4. Ibotta - Folks, this is the best rebate app of all time.  There are rebates for produce, meat, and health foods on this app.  When was the last time you saw a coupon for produce?!  All you do is scan the item (if it has a bar code) and your receipt when you get home.  It's so easy!  You'll be able to "cash out" once you reach $20.00, and you can send the money to your PayPal or obtain gift cards for major companies like Target and Amazon.  Who doesn't want free gift cards for buying healthy food?  I seriously open this app just to peruse for my own entertainment all the time.

If you're interested, use my referral link below.  You'll get $10 when you download the app and obtain your first rebate, and I'll get $5 for referring a friend.  Refer your friends as well, and you could make even more!
https://ibotta.com/r/xxloiyx
 Now, just think about buying an item on sale with a coupon and a rebate.  You will buy things for pennies! If you are thinking that way, you are ready to become a...

5. Become a Krazy Coupon Lady - Everything that you ever didn't know you wanted to know about coupons is  at thekrazycouponlady.com.  It really is krazy.  The wealth of information is simply astounding.  That being said, it can be a little much for beginners or if you are trying to be speedy.  What I recommend is to open the page for your store (they have every store in the universe on the site), and check to see if there are any "freebies" or "moneymakers."   It's what it sounds like. "Freebies" are items that are completely free and "moneymakers" are items that the store will actually pay you to take away, if you have the right coupons.  They list out all the coupons for you, so all you have to do is click on the links.

Over the past couple weeks, I've gotten two bottles of  lotion for free and a half gallon of fruit and veggie juice for $0.25 because of this site.  It's not a ton of stuff, but it's really exciting to get something for free.


That's how I save hundreds at the grocery store on my phone in 10 minutes flat.  Remember to stack the sales, coupons, and rebates for the most savings and have fun with it!  You'll gradually get better and better at saving as the weeks pass.

If you have any money-saving tips, please let me know what you do below.  I'm definitely still looking to improve during 2017.  One of my goals is to be more frugal this year.  Happy savings!


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lemon Pepper Kale Chips

Looking for a way to prepare kale that actually makes it taste good?  Well, I've got the recipe for you!  Crispy lemon pepper kale chips are delicious way to satisfy a salty craving without delving into the potato chips.   The kale chips were so scrumptious that my toddler, who tends to reject green foods, even ate them.  Seriously!  In addition to being delicious and healthy, lemon pepper kale chips are super easy to make.  Here's how!

You will need:

  • 4 cups kale
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning

Directions

1.  Preheat over to 350degF.
2.  Cut kale into approx 3x3 inch pieces.  Be sure to remove the thick stem running down the center.
3.  In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil on kale, and massage oil into kale.
 4.  Sprinkle lemon pepper seasoning on kale.  Toss.
5.  Place kale in a single layer on greased sheet.
6.  Bake for 12-14 min or until crisp.  GENTLY toss kale every 2 or 3 minutes.  Kale become super fragile when baked.

If you're planning to be a little more healthy this year like I am, these yummy kale chips will fit right into your new life style.  You won't even feel like you are eating healthy!  For the rest of January, I'm going to offer some ideas on how to achieve some of the common New Years goals.  Stay tuned for healthy recipes, workout ideas, money saving tips, and more!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Flying with Baby - Tricks and Tips

Over the holidays, my 13 month old son got to ride in his favorite thing in the world: airplanes!  He was the absolute best flyer on the way to Colorado.  He smiled and waved as we boarded the plane.  He quietly took his seat, and he remained there for the entire four hour flight happily playing and observing his surroundings.  The young man sitting next to us asked us, "How do you keep him SO QUIET?" about half way through the flight.  My husband and I both shrugged and smirked with pleasure.  Deplaning was also a joy.  Multiple people commented on his cuteness and said that they didn't even realize that there was a baby on the plane.  Best. Parents. Ever.

The return flight to Florida was the complete opposite; it was a total disaster.  Even though we obviously knew what we needed to do to make the situation run smoothly, we didn't follow many of our own tricks mainly because we didn't have time to prepare.  Furthermore, I personally didn't feel well, and let's just say I wasn't on top of my mom game.  Then, our flight got delayed an hour after we already boarded the airplane.  Combined, this issues made a our four hour challenge five hours of misery.  There was so much whining and even a couple tantrums.  We were those parents with that baby.

I've come to the realization that keeping your little one happy on an airplane is an art form.  I wanted to record everything I learned before I forget it all, lest the return flight be repeated.  Hopefully some of these tips and tricks can help you as well!
1. Fly when your baby is happiest - If your baby is happiest in the morning, like mine is, fly in the morning!  We took a morning flight on the way to Colorado, and it was super helpful that he was in a good mood when we set out on our journey.  Unfortunately, we had to take a late afternoon flight on the way back to Florida, and I believe that is what started the catastrophe.  He usually is grumpiest around 4 P.M. or 5 P.M. when he is tired from the day and ready for dinner.  Due to the delay, our airplane lifted off at 4 P.M..  Of course he wasn't happy about it!

2. Feed your baby during ascent and descent - Many babies and toddlers have inner ear pain caused by the pressure change during ascent and descent simply because they don't know how to pop their ears.  You can't really teach a baby how to pop their ears, but you can make them do the motion without them realizing it.  Nursing or giving them a bottle will help pop their ears most easily.  I'm still a bit uncomfortable nursing in public (I know I shouldn't be, but I'm being honest!), so I scored a window seat and made my husband take the middle seat.  Nobody even noticed I was breastfeeding except the flight attendant who just had to lean over my husband to inform me that I absolutely must put on my oxygen mask before my son's in a state of emergency (insert eye roll here).  If you have children that are a bit older, give them gum during liftoff and landing.  Chewing gum always helps me!

3. Run/crawl/wiggle wild and free at your gate - After you have managed to get through security and navigate through the airport, allow your little one to get their energy out at the gate while you wait to board.  They aren't going to be able to move much in a few minutes, so take advantage of all the extra space.  If they are too young to walk and you are worried about germs, let them move all over a blanket on the floor.

4. Plan to nap on the plane - Let's face it.  It's super hard to entertain a little one in a tiny space for four hours in a row.  Plan for them to get some shut eye instead, if you know you will be able to put them to sleep.  My baby will fall asleep extremely easily if I nurse him for longer than he really needs for nourishment.  I started nursing him during liftoff on the flight to Colorado, and he slept for about an hour.  The break was so wonderful after navigating the airport with him.

5. Bring all of the food - My son is definitely food-motivated just like me.  The easiest way to get him to stay still is to feed him, so I brought a bunch of different food options on the flight to Colorado.  I was expecting him to eat about half of them, but he needed them all.  Some ideas are cheese crackers, animal crackers, cereal, freeze-dried yogurt, freeze-dried fruits and veggies, and the fruit and veggie squeeze packets (that are under 3.2oz).  On the return flight, I basically just had variations of crackers from his grandparent's house, and he didn't really go for them because he'd been eating them all week.  Try to keep the food options exciting and new!

6. Watch movies - Typically, I don't let my son watch much television, but watching television on an airplane is a whole different story!  Recently, my son has become completely obsessed with Frozen.  He will abandon whatever he is doing to just stare at the screen for as long as he's allowed.  We watched the entire movie on our portable DVD player during the successful flight, and it was marvelous.  We tried to repeat this on the return flight, but it ran out of batteries literally 30 seconds after we turned it on! Yikes!

Alright, your mommy arsenal is armed and you are ready to go!  You got this!  Remember, if everything falls apart despite your best efforts, the flight is just a few hours and you will never see the other people on the airplane again.  No worries!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Baking with Baby - Handprint Sugar Cookies

We've been super busy over here at the Harp's preparing for Christmas, but we've been having so much fun in the process.  Last weekend I decided that I was going to make sugar cookies with my baby (because, memories).  In the back of my mind, I was wondering if I was going to regret this decision.  I hate messes and I'm a bit of a control freak.  But baked goods are never a bad decision.  My son was so excited and absolutely hilarious while we were making the cookies.  He even created  his own special cookie with his hand print right in the middle, which completely stole the show.  My Christmas tree cookies weren't nearly as adorable.  Naturally, we made a few more of those hand print cookies!  I think that these would make super cute gifts, and I would definitely give them to all my relatives if they lived in state!


To make the hand print sugar cookie pictured, all we did was stir together boxed sugar cookie mix with the necessary wet ingredients.  I plopped balls of dough onto parchment paper and he added his emblem.  Then, I let him go crazy with the sprinkles.  I helped him put a bunch of non-perils onto his hand print cookie, and it really improved the appearance.  The non-perils rolled into his hand print and made it stick out.  They were super easy!
Yes, he is wearing a dinosaur Christmas thermal and acorn pants.  
My husband dressed him.  As he put it, our son is "nuts about dinos."

Though, I did learn a few things along the way.  If you are also feeling brave and festive this Christmas season, maybe some of these tips and tricks will help you!

1. Prepare all ingredients ahead of time, if possible.  I had everything sitting on the counter ready to go and it was really easy to just throw everything into the bowl.

2. Ignore the mess or you will stress.  Seriously pretend like it's not happening, unless he's doing something dangerous.

3. He loves stirring.  He actually kept 95% of  the dough in the bowl, too!

4. He love adding sprinkles even more. Shake, shake, shake!

5. Distract him when you put the cookies into the oven.  He will want to follow them into the oven.

6. Get him out of the kitchen ASAP when you are finished.  If you do not get him out of the kitchen, boredom will ensue and he will destroy the kitchen.

This is one Christmas memory that is definitely going to stay with me!  I'm so glad that I braved the kitchen with the little one and ended up making some awesome cookies.  I hope you make some wonderful holiday memories this year also.  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Flying with Presents (Besides Gift Cards) - Tips & Tricks

Over the holidays, we typically fly back to Colorado to spend time with the family and to enjoy the festive weather.  There is just one problem with flying back to Colorado over the holidays: presents.    Call me crazy, but I like to give presents that aren't in the form of gift cards or money.  These gifts can be bulky, liquids, or fragile and therefore, can be difficult to bring on an airplane.  Also, even if I plan on bringing gift cards for my loved ones, I definitely will relieve something besides gift cards in return.  I've taken a few years to get it right, but I think I've determined how to fly and give everybody the gift that I really want them to have, no matter the size.  Here are the few tips that I've learned through experience.
1.  Get your shopping done BEFORE flying - Nothing is more stressful than arriving in another state just before the holidays and still having holiday shopping to complete.  Futhermore, it's a little depressing for your hosts when you arrive and then head right back out the door to go to the store.  So, get it done early!  Your hosts will appreciate spending the extra time with you. 

2.  Buy presents online and have them shipped.  Odds are that you will want to give someone in your family a gift that is physically large or is fragile.  I recommend buying as many presents as possible online ahead of time and having them gift wrapped and shipped.  That way, you don't have to worry about wrapping or traveling with anything difficult  The best days for online shopping are definitely Black Friday and Cyber Monday because everything is obviously on sale and most sites offer free shipping. 

3.  Think small, soft presents - If you can't ship your presents, try to buy presents that will travel easily with you.  Small and unbreakable presents are your best bet.

4.  Do NOT wrap your presents -  Whether you check or carry-on your bag, airlines do not allow wrapped presents because they can't easily see what is inside.  If you happen to have one of the lucky bags randomly selected for a search, they will UNWRAP ALL OF YOUR PRESENTS.  Unfortunately, I know this from experience.  I was quite depressed a couple years ago when I opened my bag and I saw a neat little "You're bag has been searched" flyer on top of all my unwrapped presents (Thanks, TSA).  You don't want to wrap all your presents twice, trust me.  It stinks.  I bet they had fun unwrapping all of them, though.

5.  Bring gift bags and tissue paper - Your relatives may have some wrapping paper on hand, but they probably need it to wrap their own presents.  I usually just add a few gift bags and some pieces of tissue paper to my suitcase.  When I arrive, I quickly throw the presents in the gift bags.  Easy-peasy.  My mom was pretty astonished the first year when I announced that I was going to my room to wrap presents, and I returned with several bags in my hand five minutes later.

6.  Check your bags - Did you know that you can put all sorts of stuff in your checked bag that normally is not allowed in a carry-on bag?  That 10 oz bottle of peppermint shower gel that would definitely be thrown out in the airport security line is totally allowed in your checked bag!  You can research exactly what is allowed on your airline's website.

7.  Fly on an airline that will allow you to check bag(s) for no/little additional cost - I like flying on Southwest because they allow each person to check two bags for free.  My husband and I each bring one bag for clothes and one bag for presents.  If we don't need all four bags on the trip there, we will just stuff a duffle bag in one of our suitcases.  We always fill all four bags on the return trip!

Hopefully these tips help you prepare to travel with those wonderful presents and reduce some of your stress! Happy gift giving season!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cake Smash - Tips and Tricks

I used to look at cake smash photos and think "...ARE THEY CRAZY!?"  The mess looked simply horrible.  I mean, frosting is not super easy to wipe up.  It seems to stick to just about everything.  They gave about thirty handfuls of frosting to a wiggly, squirmy bundle of joy who has no concept of cleanliness.  Right.  Just the thought of sticky, buttery goo all over someone's house still sends shivers up my spine.

Not to mention, once he puts his adorable, grimy hands in that cake, it is ruined.  No one is going to want to eat that cake.  Do you know how hard it is for me to see a cake and then not get to eat it?  It's basically impossible.  You are wasting an entire cake so you can spend hours cleaning it up.

So, naturally, we had a quiet birthday party for my son's first birthday that centered around a cake smash.

Huh?  Why the change of heart? As I started thinking about it more, I realized that I could change a few things about the traditional cake smash to make it actually kind of fun.  Here are a few tips and tricks that I did to make what I once thought was an incredibly stressful event to a super fun day.

1.  Take your cake smash outside
You know what's great about doing your cake smash outside?  There is virtually no clean up!  Your baby can run wild and smear neon blue icing all over the grass and throw pieces of cake ten feet, and it's not a problem.  The birds and squirrels will probably thank you for the snack! If he does manage to hit something important, just get the hose out.

Also, your photos will probably turn out amazing because natural sunlight is the best light!

2. Move everything of value away from baby
Move everything that could get ruined or that is difficult to clean at least ten feet away from the baby.  That includes you and your outfit!
3. Put baby in an outfit you don't mind ruining
For me, this was a cheap "wild one" outfit I found on Amazon.  I was planning to use the outfit as pajamas after the cake smash because I thought the neon blue frosting would stain.  However, it came out after one wash, so he still wears the outfit outside all the time.
4. Think about the background
Place your baby in front of something that you will actually want in the pictures.  I chose to put my son in a grassy patch in our backyard in front of a hibiscus bush.  I also put a couple of things from his room behind him (But not too close! Remember tip #2!) because they went with the theme and are special to us.
5. Bake a second cake
Save yourself some heartache and bake two cakes: one for smashing and one for eating.  Furthermore, make the cake for eating better quality than the cake for smashing.  He is just going to fling that cake everywhere and you deserve something tasty!
6. Take a step back
Now that you are totally prepared to handle the mess, take a step back and allow your baby to explore the new treat in front of them.  It's so adorable to see their first reactions.  My son smiled happily and then gave me a sideways look while he poked the cake as if to determine whether or not cake poking was allowed.  The picture of his questioning expression is now one of my favorite photos of him.
7.  Take pictures of the little things
Take pictures of everything.  The setup, his hands, his feet, and his frosting-covered outfit all became super cute photos in my experience.

That is how I went from cringing at the idea of a cake smash to making a blog post about my son's cake smash.  It seems that all of my pre-concieved notions about cake smashes were completely wrong, but I guess that's pretty much how parenting has gone so far.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Native American Wild Rice

The part of my son's heritage that I find most interesting doesn't come from my side of the family; it comes from my husband's side.  He has Native American roots (Cherokee and Choctaw, to be exact), and it is a great source of pride to him.  Through him, I've been able to learn more about the Native American heritage and have grown to really respect their beliefs.

I've also had the pleasure of experiencing some food inspired by what they ate.  It is amazing.  They tend to combine a variety of flavors (salty, sweet, savory, bitter, and spicy) to create full experience in one meal.  My favorite dish is a version of wild rice inspired by the Osage Nation tribe, a Midwestern Native American tribe.  The wild rice combines spicy peppers with sweet corn and bitter berries and the result is simply outstanding.
My husband is bringing the wild rice to a Thanksgiving potluck again this year.  It's always a big hit.  What could be a better Thanksgiving food, a holiday where we celebrate the pilgrims and Native Americans coming together, than delicious food actually inspired by Native Americans? 

He also likes bringing it to the potluck because it is super easy to make and warms up well later.  You basically throw everything into a big pan and wait for it to brown.  If you burn it, it tastes even better.  I'm not kidding.  It adds extra savory flavor.  Here's how to make it:

Ingredients

2 cups multi-grain rice
3 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp butter
2 Poblano peppers (diced)
1 can corn (15.25 oz)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pecans (diced)
1 tsp chili powder

Directions

1. Bring broth to boil.  Add rice and 1 Tbsp of butter.  Simmer until rice has absorbed all broth (~20 min).
2. In a large skillet, blacken peppers and corn with 1 Tbsp of butter and and chili powder for about 5 min.
3. Add pecans continue cooking for 2 min.
4. Add rice and cranberries cook for an additional 2 minutes to brown rice.
Yum!  I think I might incorporate this warm dish into our Thanksgiving feast next year!  We never eat the stuffing anyway!