Usually I host family get-togethers at my house.  It is easier on Ben (the Autism just doesn’t make it easy to travel to other houses).  I always make a TON of food and anyone who wants to take home leftovers is more than welcome to take some home.  This brings up the issue of what to put it in.

A few years ago I noticed that whenever I was getting ready for family dinners, since I was making so much food, I would have several plastic bowls with lids that would normally go into the garbage (sour cream bowls, cottage cheese bowls, cool whip bowls, etc).  While I don’t like to keep these for storage here at my house (I tend to use more heavy duty storage containers), I realized that it would be great to have them on hand for whenever someone wants to take home leftovers from my house!  No need to worry about returning the bowl, they can either keep it for themselves or throw it away!  Plus, at least they get used at least one more time before going into the trash :-)
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Recently, Ben has not been feeling well. He had a sinus infection and missed three days of school last week because he was coughing so badly!  I have found that peppermint hot chocolate really helps clear the sinuses and just makes you feel better!  I was getting him hot chocolate almost every day at the Cumberland Farms store near us and it was “only” $1 per cup but then everyone in the household started wanting some and I soon realized that I needed to find a cheaper way to do this.

I got some peppermint extract but it was just too difficult to put only “one drop” into each cup of hot chocolate.  After thinking about it,  I realized that I could just make his hot chocolate as usual (from a regular packaged mix) and then add one or two Junior Mint candies to it!  Stir the hot chocolate until they have dissolved and it was just the right amount of mint!  He loves it!

A “movie theater” sized 4 oz. box of Junior Mints has about 48 pieces in it.  That is enough for at least 24 cups of peppermint hot chocolate!  Cheaper to use and easier to find than the extract!

Here is the cost breakdown (rounded):

  • Prepackaged hot chocolate mix bought at Aldi: 10 in a box for $1.19 = 12 cents each cup
  • Junior Mints bought at Dollar tree: $1 for a box of 48 (use 2) = 4 cents per cup
  • Total cost to make a cup:  16 cents (instead of $1)
  • Total cost to make 24 cups:  $3.84 (instead of  $24 !!!!!)

Not only is that a GREAT savings ($20 extra bucks stay in MY pocket!) but I love the fact that I can keep this on hand so whenever I need to I can just make some up instead of running up to the convenience store!

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As a mother to four children I can easily understand that the decision about a kids allowance is difficult.  Should kids get an allowance?  On the one hand, kids chores should be done no matter if there is money tied to doing them or not.  Chores are a responsibility and part of being a family.  Everyone has things that they must do for the household, no matter if they get paid or not.  I totally agree with that point of view.  However, I recently changed my mind and here is why:  there is logic to giving allowances.

Out of my four children, two are still at home with me (my 12 year old daughter Shelby and my 8 year old son Ben).  I recently started giving the kids allowance ($5 each per week) because it accomplished several things, all of which are beneficial:

  • It makes them eager to do their chores:  they now understand if they don’t do the work, they don’t get paid or they lose money from their pay.  This is a good basic concept for Ben to learn early! Because he has a learning disability, sometimes it takes longer for things to really take hold for him.
  • It makes saying “No” a LOT easier: “Mom can I buy a book from the book fair?”  “Can I get some candy from the store?” “Can I get a new toy?” – I can freely say NO to all those requests unless the child wants to pay for the items themselves with their allowance!  This has saved me a lot of money!
  • It lightens my chore load : they do some of the things around my house that I had previously done all myself.
  • It holds them responsible:  “Mom can I go outside to play?”  Only if you have done your chores.
  • They learn how to keep house:  If they learn these skills now, they are more likely to take care of their home when they eventually move out on their own.
  • They are learning to save: Ben saved his money until he has enough for the Lego Batman 2 Wii game (he also made sure to use a coupon!) and Shelby saved her money to go buy some new clothes at the mall (she did not spend one cent of her money once we were there – she decided the clothes were too expensive and not worth it!).  When they ask for a large ticket item, I tell them to start saving their money.  If it is important to them, they save for it!

In addition to chores and an allowance, I have recently started a “Kids Cook” night.  One night every week, the kiddos are in charge of cooking dinner and making dessert.  Since I plan my menu in advance, they decide on a few dishes and desserts they would like to make that month and I put them on the menu.  Again, this lightens my load and teaches them life skills and responsibility.

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Ever since I first heard of the website restaurant.com I have been trying to wrap my brain around why people think it is such a good deal?  Today I am actually going to attempt a few different scenarios here on the blog to see if it is ever a really good deal or not.

Scenario #1

Going with a midpriced restaurant you can buy a $25 gift certificate for $10 but the minimum purchase is $35 and an 18% gratuity is added BEFORE they take off the $25 gift certificate.  Hmmmm…… lets assume you go for dinner (which is also a requirement) and the bill comes to $50.  $50 PLUS the gratuity of 18% ($9) and tax of 6.5% (3.25) = 62.25 then you can take off the $25 gift certificate you bought which brings your out of pocket at the restaurant to a total of $37.25….. But remember, you spent $10 on the gift certificate to begin with so the meal really cost you $47.25.  This gives you a savings of $15 by using a $25 gift certificate

Scenario #2

Going with a higher priced steak-house type restaurant you can buy a $100 gift certificate for $45.  Again the minimum purchase is $35 (not an issue since it’s a $100 gift certificate) and the 18% gratuity is added before they take off the gift certificate.  So lets assume you come in at $125 on the bill PLUS the 18% gratuity of $22.50 and the tax $8.12 = $155.62 then take off the $100 gift certificate brings you an out of pocket at the restaurant total of $55.62 ……. then again, add on the cost of the gift certificate of $45 which means the meal really cost you $100.62.  This gives you a savings of $55 by using a $100 gift certificate.

So, apparently you can achieve some savings by using these types of certificates.  However, given the restrictions on them (dinner only, minimum purchases, mandatory 18% gratuity calculated before savings, you cannot use special offers or discounts, some are only valid Sun-Thurs, dine in only, excludes happy hour and holidays and special events, no split checks, only one per party/group/table/person per month, on and on and on) it sounds like a royal pain to try to even use the things.  I think I would prefer just to go to the restaurant of my choice, at the time of my choice, and be able to use any special offers and coupons that the restaurant offers.

I must be missing something since so many people rave on and on about them.  Anyone care to share their experience with this type of gift certificate?

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Sorry this post is a little late….. I was recovering from the party I hosted yesterday for the three birthdays we have in my family this month.  For as long as I can remember, we have always gotten our family birthday cakes at Publix.  Something about their buttercreme icing just cannot be replicated.  This year, money was tighter than usual (like REALLY tight!) so store bought cakes were out.  Even at $10 each it would have cost $30 that I did not have.  I decided to go thru my recipe box and create a special homemade cake for each birthday being celebrated.

My father loves coconut so that was the choice for him.  My daughter Coral opted for a red velvet cake.  I made a chocolate fudge cake as my birthday cake.  Since I am not so great at icing layered cake and I really don’t like the taste of canned icing and I thought a “sheet” cake still in the pan would be kind of un-festive, I decided to make them all bundt cakes!

In my opinion bundt cakes are severely underrated!  They are super easy!  You can make them from a boxed mix or from scratch.  They come out in one beautiful, round, molded piece that looks really pretty (I use a fluted mold).  No special icing techniques are required.  They are always SO moist inside too!  For presentation you simply dump the mold upside down onto a plate and the cake comes right out!  Simple!  You just have to make sure that you use a lot of baking spray so that the cake does not stick to the pan at all.

The coconut cake (made from a scratch recipe) got several layers of coconut glaze brushed all over it and then I sprinkled flaked coconut over the top of it.    The red velvet cake (made partially from scratch) got cream cheese icing drizzled all over the top of it so that it dripped down the sides intentionally.  The chocolate fudge cake (from a boxed mix) got chocolate icing and white icing drizzled all over the top of it for a really pretty mixed effect!

To make the icing drizzle, I just put some icing into a glass measuring cup and heated it in the microwave for 20 seconds.  This makes the icing much thinner and easier to drizzle with.  I stirred the warm icing  really well and slowly poured it over the top of the cake.   You can make different patterns with the icing this way too.

Total cost for all three cakes:  $7 (I had some of the ingredients on hand).

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I know I have posted before about leftovers and also about making a monthly menu plan.  Today when I was cleaning out my fridge and taking inventory of the freezer so I could plan my menu for August, it occured to me that I left out a clever tip I use every week.

When I clean out the fridge, I take all of the leftovers out and go thru all the shelves making sure everything in there is fresh and edible.  I put the leftovers on the counter and throw away the stuff that is no good.  Often I still have some leftovers that are only a day old or so and I am not willing to throw away good food.  Because the leftovers have been in the fridge for a day or two, my family does not ”see” them there.  Kind of like if you open the fridge for a glass of water and the milk is on the same shelf, you just don’t really “see” it there.

To combat this, I repackage my leftovers, taking them out of the current container they are in and putting them in a different container (or even a storage bag) and then place them back into the fridge on the leftover shelf (the bottom shelf in our fridge is where all the leftovers are kept).  That way when the family opens the fridge and looks around, they see a different container in there that was NOT there this morning and it catches their attention and are more likely to eat it.

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