Saturday, July 18, 2009

What's for dinner? White Chicken Chili

This is a new one for us... I told my husband what was for dinner, and he's like, "I've never heard of that." I don't know if I've ever even had it, but, hmmm... chicken, beans, spiciness... what's not to like? I made it in the crockpot because that won't heat up the house too much. It is actually HOT in New England these days! Who woulda thunk it?

When I want to try something new for dinner, I tend to browse a few different recipes on the Internet, get an idea of what the recipe is supposed to consist of, and adapt freely based on what I actually have on hand. So, I give you...

White Chicken Chili

3/4 lb. chicken ($1.13)
1 tbsp olive oil (.10)
2 stalks celery, chopped (.20)
1 medium onion, chopped (.10)
1 tbsp minced garlic (.10)
1 can cream of chicken soup (.50)
2 cups chicken broth (I use water and 2 tsp "Better than Boullion") (.20)
2 cans white beans (I used garbanzo) (.58)
1 small can green chiles (.29)
1 cup corn kernels (free w/ coupon)
1/2 tsp cumin (.05)
1 tsp hot sauce (or to taste)(.01)
pepper & salt to taste (edited to add: you probably won't need any salt!)

  1. First, I sauteed the celery, onion and garlic in the olive oil over low heat, until the onions were clear.
  2. While that was happening, I cut up the raw chicken and put it in the crockpot. I poured the soup, the broth, and the beans over the chicken. Then, I put the vegetables on top. I put my slow cooker on "high"- most chicken dishes only seem to take about 4 hours on high. However, if you were leaving for the day, I would leave the chicken whole and put the crockpot on "low."
  3. About an hour before serving time, I added the chiles and the corn. I usually don't season crockpot dishes until right before they're ready to serve because the flavors seem more vibrant that way. I garnished the bowls with a little bit of homemade plain yogurt and shredded cheese. (I have no idea what those red specks are in the picture. I think that's a trick of the light. There's nothing red in this soup!)

I had apple-corn muffins that I made the other day, so we had those with dinner, along with leftover cauliflower from last night (to continue with the "white" theme) and some leftover salad (ok, that wasn't white.) Total cost: under $5!

The verdict? We really liked it- my husband had 2 large bowls (and I couldn't say anything because he just got his blood test results from the doctor- his cholesterol and triglycerides are perfect. Apparently the cheapskate meal plan is working for him.) I found it to be a little salty because of all the canned ingredients- the beans, the cream of chicken soup, and the chiles. In the future, I'll try to make it with dry beans and white sauce instead... but making it with canned ingredients is definitely quick, easy, tasty and cheap!

Untangling my coupon mess....

I like coupons. I like them a lot. They save me lots of money on things I like to buy, like cereal, toothpaste, shampoo, and deodorant. But what I am not crazy about is the whole process of managing my coupons. I have not been very successful at it lately. Allow me to explain.

When I started using coupons seriously, about a year ago, I started with the insert filing method of organization. This did not work for me. For one thing, once you start cutting up that insert, the whole thing is a mess. For another thing, I was always seeing random clearanced items while I was out shopping, and of course I wouldn't have the coupon with me. And what was maybe worst of all, I had a really hard time remembering if I still had a coupon or if I already used it. It was too hard to rely on internet sources to match up coupons for me and tell me what inserts certain coupons were located in.

So I started to cut out mostly all of the coupons in the inserts, except the ones that I was 99.99% sure I would never use, and file them in a huge accordion file thing by categories. I have a little accordion file that I keep in my purse that has a section for each store that I am going to. I put all the coupons that I want to use in there, and I keep the big file nearby in case I find something extra. For the most part, that system has worked okay. However, maintaining it is pretty time-consuming. Cutting the coupons is time-consuming, looking for them when I want them is time-consuming, and then getting rid of all the expired coupons is time-consuming. And when I don't use a coupon in my little store file, it just sits there and I usually forget about it, so I don't end up using it at a different store.

These little organizational glitches make me miss deals! For example, earlier this week I wanted Olay coupons because there was a sale at CVS. I could only find one. Today, when I cleaned out my file, I found more. Last week, I didn't bother going to Stop and Shop when they had Special K on sale for $1.50, because I only had one coupon for Special K- or so I thought. Today when I cleaned out the little file I found a pile of Kellogg's coupons that expire tomorrow, that I could have used if I had only been a little more organized. ARGH!

When I clean out my coupon file, I get rid of a lot of expired coupons- I would say I don't end up using 90% of the coupons I cut out. I am not sure if I should be more particular about what coupons I end up cutting out- like, cut out things I know that I will use, like cereal and Colgate, and maybe leave the 80 gazillion L'oreal coupons in their inserts in case I need them. So many people swear by the binder system, but I don't know if that would be any better for me. But I should probably try something different if what I am doing now isn't working all that great...

What's your favorite department store?

Mine is now known as... the thrift store.

When I was a teenager, I passed a secondhand clothing store on my walk home from school. I would stop in two or three days a week and browse. Since I was a kid, I had the time to really dig through the racks and see what good stuff was there. I didn't buy all of my clothes there, but I know some really memorable, key pieces of my grunge-era attire (a gray shirt embroidered with dragonflies and some 70's-era Gap flare-leg cords stand out) were all secondhand. My friends and I also made the trek to a hip clothing store in Cambridge, MA called The Garment District- mostly everything there was secondhand (or vintage, as various hip people are more inclined to call it.) They had (and still do) a section called "Dollar a pound" where you could load up garbage bags full of random clothes and pay $1 per pound for it. The clothes we got there were generally nothing pretty, but my friends and I liked it that way, and you can get away with rips and funky colors and pants that you need a belt to hold up when you're fifteen years old.

Well, as time went on my taste in clothes became more and more expensive (and as I became an adult, I no longer needed to express my individuality with "funky vintage fashion". ) When I tried to be "cheap," I'd buy clothes at discount stores like Walmart or Target, but I noticed they didn't fit well and didn't hold up in the wash. I tended to buy things on clearance at mall stores (I walked into Express, The Limited, or The Gap and made a beeline for the back) or I shopped at places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Ross.

Recently, a thift store opened up in my town. It hasn't occurred to me to shop at a secondhand store, not for years. For one thing, I just don't have time to pore through racks and racks of stuff to find something I might like. And for another, I guess I thought that buying secondhand clothes were for people that had serious money troubles, who couldn't otherwise afford clothes.

But this store is very enticing- for one thing, it's laid out in such a way that shopping is very easy. All the different types of clothes are sorted by size and color. So if I need a skirt, I can quickly glance through all the skirts in my size and see if a color or pattern stands out. I tend to check the garment over quickly for signs of wear, and then I check the label. If the item of clothing is a quality brand, it seems basically unworn, and I like it, I will try it on. If I try it on and I like it, and I have enough money in my budget, I will buy it.

This past spring, I spent $32 on clothes for work: 2 jackets, a short-sleeved sweater, a skirt, and a pair of capri pants. Some of these items still had the original tags on them. Some of them came from pricey stores like Ann Taylor. I got more compliments on things I bought from the thrift store than anything else I... oh, wait, I didn't buy clothes anywhere else but the thrift store (well, that's not 100% true- I bought a few tank tops and T shirts for layering at Kohl's when they were on sale for 2.99 and 3.99 each.) But it's true that I found clothes that were great quality, very unique, and very cheap. And I was happy.

The thrift store has been a great place to buy books (my kids love to read and often beg to buy books- with 99 cent books I can let them do that) and household items (I've gotten baking pans and a bread machine there- the bread machine was only 7.99!)

I went there a couple of weeks ago and glanced through their shoes. (Again, their shoes are arranged by color and size- very easy to shop.) I got a pair of Skecher's for 4.99 and cute shearling winter boots for 6.99 (I searched high and low for boots last winter- I could not find a pair of boots I liked for less than $70.)

The funny thing was, I told my mother about my shoe purchases- which were probably not 100% frugal since they were total impulse buys and I didn't desperately need these things. (But if I'm doing impulse buying at the thrift store, I'm not going to do too much damage to my budget.) So for my birthday last week, she gave me a $50 giftcard to Famous Footwear- maybe she is worried about my ability to afford proper shoes? Well, $50 should go pretty far when I hit the clearance rack- just walk straight to the back! And maybe I will be able to convert my mom to the joys of thrift store shopping, too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Energy drinks... not so frugal

So, my hubby came home from the dentist the other day and was sad... the dentist showed him an X-ray of his molars that show that they are basically rotting away from the inside. We have $600 (after insurance) in dental work lined up for him over the next few months as a result, and that probably won't be the end of it.

The dentist and my husband were both perplexed. Why would his teeth suddenly be crumbling to bits in his mouth? She asked him if he drank soda... all day long. To which he answered, "No, I hate soda!" I never buy it. We never drink it. Not even in restaurants- we usually drink water or unsweetened iced tea.

Then it suddenly dawned on him... he took a job a year ago that involves working second and third shifts, sometimes back-to-back. As part of his daily work habits, he had been stopping at the convenient store to buy energy drinks (which makes my little cheapskate soul rather unhappy! But I try not to get on my husband's case about things like that- overall, he's a pretty frugal guy.) He wasn't bringing coffee to work because his employer requires him to bring things in sealed containers (security reasons.) So he was drinking Monster and Rockstar drinks every day and then working long shifts without brushing his teeth. :-( Those drinks have some serious sugar.

Needless to say, he's kicking that habit! Yikes! I had no idea sugar was that bad for your teeth. Not to mention, very expensive consequences.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shaw's Bargain Meal week of 7/17-7/23

Shaw's has a lot going on this week, which is great and all, but it can be pretty confusing to figure out what's a good deal and what's not, especially on the fly when you're rushing through the grocery store at 5:37 with assorted kiddos in tow...

So there's a "pick4" meat promo where you can choose 4 packages of meat and pay 19.99 (with a coupon from the flyer and your rewards card, of course.) So basically the packages of meat would be 5.00 each. It's hard to compare prices and see whether this is a good deal for all the different types of meat featured. You have to basically figure out the cost per pound and see if it's worth it to you to stock up.

We like ground turkey, and Shady Brook Farms Turkey is part of this deal- a 3lb. package. So if you got 4 of them, it would be like getting 12 lbs of turkey for 19.99, which would be 1.66 a package. That's a pretty good price for ground turkey. I'm not sure if it's worth spending 19.99 on meat for (especially since my freezer is absolutely loaded with meats...) We might be able to get a good price on steak as part of this deal, but it's really hard to tell because there's no information about package sizes. So I will probably end up deciding in the store whether or not I will partake of this deal. It's promotions like this that really challenge my mental math skills (I don't carry a calculator with me when I shop- I really should!)

(There is also a $3 off coupon for $10 worth of various products... on the back page of the circular. Since it's a store coupon, you can combine that sale with other coupons and possibly get some good deals.

And... there is another sale that is "Buy $20 Get $10" on some random products- Chee-zit Crackers, Dr. Pepper, Rice Krispie treats, and a few other things... I tend to love those sales at Shaw's and make multiple trips to avail myself of such savings, but I don't think we eat any of those products- just Cheez-its, really. We like Rice Krispie treats too, but when you can buy cereal for next to nothing and make a huge pan of homemade Rice Krispie Treats, it seems silly to pay for a teensy little box of prewrapped snacks, even on sale. Check the Shaw's forums at A Full Cup for details on these promotions.)

Confusing sales aside, there are some good prices on produce (.99 Bell peppers and Broccoli Crowns) and cabbage is .49 a pound. So it would be worth it to make some healthy slaw to serve with some meat from the grill...

Healthy, Easy Cole Slaw

3 cups shredded cabbage .75
1 broccoli crown, diced and blanched ( I dunno about you, dear readers, but the thought of raw broccoli makes my stomach hurt- plus, cooking it a little makes the color so green and pretty.) .50
1-2 cups diced veggies of choice (carrots, bell peppers, green onions would all work well) 1.00
1/2 cup plain yogurt .30
1/4 cup mayo (low fat is fine) .25
1 tbsp cider or balsamic vinegar .01
pepper & salt to taste .01

Mix up all your veggies. Mix up your yogurt and mayo and vingegar. Mix it all together. You can garnish it with some nuts or whatever you like. You could also add a little bit of honey and some raisins if you like a sweeter slaw. Put it in the fridge until you're ready to eat. Total Cost: $2.82- and you can probably eat leftovers the following day.

So, decide what meat you will get from the "pick 4 meat sale," divide it into meal-size portions, throw it on the grill, serve it with some cole slaw and some bread or Near East Rice Pilaf/Couscous (10 for $10 or .90 if you use the Shaw's internet printable coupon and buy 10 boxes.) (Total meal cost approximately $5.38, depending on what meat you use.)

Even with meat on sale, grilling can be tough on the grocery budget- in the cooler weather I definitely make many more "one-dish" meals- soups, stews, and casseroles, where it is much easier to use just a little bit of meat as an accent, rather than a big slab of meat in the middle of your plate. In an upcoming post, I'll list some of my favorite ways to save money on dinner during the summer months!

Stop and Shop Bargain Meal, week of 7/17-7/23

Stop and Shop actually has some good deals this week! Ocean Spray Cranberry juice is 3/$5- that price is practically unheard of for a 64 oz. bottle. Too bad the sale doesn't include the 100% juice varieties... :-(

2 lb. packages of strawberries are 2.99 (as opposed to the 1 lb. package that costs 2 for $5- so you basically get an extra pound for forty-nine cents?)

But what I am really excited about: Butterball Thin & Crispy Turkey Bacon is 10 for $10 for a 12 oz. package. I don't often buy bacon but it's such a great way to add flavor to meals- I think the price is right at $1. (Let's hope it tastes good, though! I've never tried this kind before! Oh, the adventures of bargain shopping!) <>

With the White Gem Boneless Chicken Breast on sale for 1.79/lb, bacon, and some pantry staples (grab some Prince pasta on sale for 10 for $10 if you're out of pasta,) you can make this chicken pasta dish that sounds tasty and very simple.

Or, if you're sick of pasta, try cooking up your favorite vegetables (zucchini is on sale- again- for .99/lb, and corn is 8 for 1.88- about .24 an ear) and crumbling a few pieces of bacon over it (see this recipe for ideas). You can grill up some chicken and serve some Near East Rice Pilaf (10 for $10) and you have yourself a nice summer meal.

My daughter, who is a major bacon fanatic, will be happy to know that it can be frozen, so we can stock up... the USDA recommends storing it for 1-2 months for best taste, but it's safe to store longer than that. <>