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Author: Shanah Bell

I am a Holistic Health Advisor with a Master's Degree in Nutrition. My partner is a Chef and we have a blended family with 5 children.

As a single parent of 2, I was able to still make things work while financially struggling with the help of food stamps. I was also one of the early children diagnosed with Celiac Disease in the US,which has driven my lifelong pursuit of using food for optimal health.

We focus on teaching people, and creating dishes, to help people learn how to make food that is:
- Quick
- Easy
- Delicious
- Nutrient Dense
- Budget Friendly

How Getting an Air Fryer Has Saved Time and Money

We’ve been holdouts on the air fryer hype. It’s not that we didn’t necessarily see the potential. It’s just that we have so many kitchen appliances and gadgets already. And we didn’t know if we really wanted to spend more money on something we might only use occasionally. But, a few friends convinced us to research them some more. We were told that getting an air fryer has saved them a ton of time and some money also. So, after some research, we decided to dive right in.

Deciding which air fryer to get

The first thing we had to decide was which air fryer would suite us best. Since we have 5 kids, we knew we would need something a bit bigger than the norm. One of our friends has a two basket air fryer. But the $400 price tag was a bit more than we planned to spend on an experiment. After all, we were hoping to use the air fryer to help incorporate even more healthy foods for the kids. But we didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg to do so.

Another friend told us about the air fryer he had. While it only had one basket, it was a larger basket than most other air fryers. Plus, it was a multi-function tool also. This particular air fryer could replace the toaster and the oven. It could bake, broil, toast and air fry. Which was pretty cool in our book!

Therefore, we ended up getting the Cuisinart TOA-60 for under $200. Which was half the cost of the other one we were recommended! We chose the black stainless steel color because all of the other appliances in our kitchen are either black or are being converted to black.

How it has saved us time

So far, this thing has saved us an amazing amount of time. This is due to the fact that it cooks so much faster than our double oven does. Plus, we don’t have to wait for it to heat up either. As soon as we put food into the air frying basket, we can pop it in. We just choose the setting we want, the amount of cook time and then turn it on.

A great example of this is sweet potato fries. Normally, it takes our oven about 10 minutes to heat up. Then, the fries have to cook for anywhere between 22 – 28 minutes. But with our new air fryer, they only take 10 minutes to cook, max. And no heating up time required!

We can also prepare meals faster with it because we are using it in addition to our oven. When we have multiple dishes that need to be cooked, we choose the longest cook time items to go in there. This way we are able to get the food out faster, so we spend more time with our family instead of in the kitchen.

And the clean up is super fast also. The fryer basket comes with a pan underneath it that we just take out and clean with warm soapy water. Or, sometimes we put foil on the pan to make clean up even faster.

How it has saved us money

Let’s face it, electricity costs money. And if we have to wait for our oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes, plus add in the cooking time, that’s a lot of electricity being used. Since we are trying to cut down on our electricity bill, it only made sense to try out the air fryer.

By cooking what we can in the new kitchen device instead of our old oven, it has saved us money right out of the gate. The air fryer cost less than a new more energy efficient oven and it has a lot of space for cooking. Plus, it cooks in anywhere from 1/4 – 1/3 the time of our oven. And it pulls less power to operate also. So, we are interested to see if our next electric bill reflects this change.

Air Fryer summary

Ultimately, we are thrilled that we finally took the leap to get one of these bad boys. If you are thinking about taking the plunge, it’s best to determine your needs first. There are so many different sizes, looks and versions on the market. Therefore, there is bound to be a good fit for you within your price range. And even though $200 was more than we originally wanted to spend on an air fryer, it has totally been worth every penny. We just can’t get enough of this thing!

Have you bought an air fryer yet? If so, how has it helped you save time and/or money?

These are Awesome Natural Mosquito Repellents!

With the spring almost here, the warmer weather is upon us. And, in a lot of areas, that means it’s also time for mosquitoes to start showing back up again. I know where we are, it’s the bane of our outdoor time. Mosquitoes are not only annoying, but can carry disease, along with some major scratching once you’ve been bitten. We aren’t fans of anything chemical to treat them with, since those things cause other side effects to the environment. Plus they can get pretty expensive to maintain also. So, we’ve found some of the best natural mosquito repellents that do the job well and don’t cost  much to implement.

Citronella

Citronella is one of my favorite go to plants for mosquito repellents. If you’ve ever had a citronella scented candle you know what it smells like. And, while it can be a pretty darn good mosquito repellent, not everyone likes the smell.

What I’ve found is that the actual citronella plant has a slightly different odor that I like much better. It’s not as artificial smelling and keeps the mosquitoes away pretty darn well. Plus, they make beautiful borders for garden beds because they can get very full and have beautiful leaves.

An even better way to keep the mosquitoes away with citronella is to crush up a couple of the leaves and rub them on your exposed skin.

Lavender

Lavender is very similar to the citronella plant at repelling mosquitoes. But, it has much more color to add to your garden or landscaping. One of my favorite places to plant the lavender plant is by the front porch. This way, guests get the lovely scent of lavender as they approach our front door. But, as a double bonus, the plants also help keep the mosquitoes at bay.

I like to crush up a stalk of lavender and rub it on my skin whenever I am getting ready to garden. But another great way to use it is to make a spray out of the lavender essential oil, since it is so easy to come by.

basil

Out of all of the mosquito repellents, basil is my absolute favorite option. A big part of this is that we use a lot of basil in our cooking already. So the basil plant has a double function in our house right out of the gate.

I like to plant this one in the corners of our herb garden to help mosquito prevention while I’m working in the garden. Take one or two leaves and crush them up in your hands and then rub on the exposed skin. It makes you smell like a delicious salad, which I love!

rosemary

Rosemary serves the same function as basil does. So, the rosemary plant is a good option to add into your border rotation in the garden along with the basil. And, if you like to add rosemary to your culinary dishes, then this plant serves two purposes for you immediately also. Plus, rosemary is pretty darn easy to grow.

But, you should be careful with rosemary because it doesn’t take much for it to take over your garden. It’s a vigorous grower. So, I’ve found the best way to incorporate it into our garden is by putting it in big pots. This way I can also move them around, if need be, but they also won’t take over any of my other crops.

marigolds

Marigolds are very popular in most areas of the United States. These plants are brightly colored and make great borders for landscaping beds and/or around mailboxes. I’ve used them quite a few times for both their color and their mosquito repellent properties.

Usually, the marigold plant can be found in shades of yellow, gold, orange and tinges of red. So they make great additions to most landscapes. They are extremely easy to plant and care for, and are fantastic insect repellents. I like to plant these around the edges of where my kids play and in some of the corners of landscaping beds. But, since they are annuals, they will have to be replanted each year. Which I am not a huge fan of. But since they are pretty darn cost effective, it can be worth it to purchase a few plants each year.

geraniums

Geraniums are very similar to marigolds in that they come in some beautiful coloring options. More often than not, I put these in a pot on the front and back porches. And that is usually where I find other people tend to put them also. They are easy to grow and care for, and in a lot of cases can bloom all year long.

They don’t do well in the cold though. So if you choose to add the geranium plant into your rotation, it’s best to pot it. This way you can bring it in when it gets cold and enjoy the beautiful colors and aroma inside during the winter.

best natural mosquito repellents summary

Ultimately, there are quite a few natural ways to repel mosquitoes. But, my favorite ways all include plants. Luckily, none of these plant options are very expensive. And most of them are perennials, so you won’t necessarily have to repurchase them every year, if conditions are right. If you plan it out right, you can get some lovely smelling and looking additions to your landscape and repel mosquitoes at the same time. This is what I call multitasking!

How to Save a Ton by Switching From Disposable Products

Even before everything with COVID-19 was happening, we were always looking for ways to save money around the house. Plus, we continually strive to be more “green” every year and help the environment. And what I’ve found is that there are a ton of ways to merry both saving money and going green together. The best way we have found to achieve both goals is by switching from disposable products whenever, and wherever we can.

Paper towels

When it comes to disposable products, we didn’t use a ton of them to begin with. But, I knew there will still places that we could work on. And paper towels just happened to be a big one for us. With 5 kids and boarding a ton of different dogs, there are always messes to clean up.

While it may not seem that paper towels cost a lot of money, what they do cost can actually really add up. If we go with a 10 year projection, it’s easier to see the real savings by switching from disposable products.

Our family goes through about 1 roll of paper towels per week. If we purchase a package of 8 rolls for $17, that package will last us approximately 8 weeks, or 2 months. Which means, that for a year’s supply of paper towels we will be spending about $110.50, before tax. So, over 10 years, we would spend $1105 on paper towels. That’s a heck of a lot on just this one disposable product!

However, we decided to toss out the paper towels and go with a reusable, washable version of paper towel instead. The product we chose is Lola Wowables 30 count roll for $19.99. They come in 4 different colors: yellow, teal, purple and coral. We chose teal because that color matches our kitchen best. The website offers free shipping on orders of $40 or more, so we chose to purchase 2 rolls to save us the shipping cost.

Overall Savings

Since these reusable paper towels are washable and biodegradable, they last for a really LONG time! In fact, based on the aforementioned usage, one roll should last us a total of 2 years. Which means that by buying the 2 rolls at once, we should have 4 years worth of paper towels on hand. And we paid a total of $40 plus tax for that!

So, over a 10 year period of time, we should only have to spend a total of $100 on these fabulously bright and absorbent reusable paper towels versus the $1105 we would have spent on disposable products. That’s a huge savings in just this one category alone!

water bottles

Our family strives to drink more than the recommended 64 ounces of water per day. Which means that we all end up needing water bottles because we aren’t always at home. And with a family of 7, that could really add up if we were buying bottled water all the time.

In order to just get the 64 ounces per day, each of us would have to drink 4 bottles of water per day. This is based on the standard 16.9 ounce prepackaged water bottle size you find in stores. Which means we would go through 28 bottles of water per day, on average. We can get a 24 pack of water bottles for around $3.50. But, one package wouldn’t even be enough for one day of water for us, since we have 7 people in our family.

Therefore, in order to get enough water bottles for a year, we would need to purchase 426 cases of water (24 bottles in each case). This would total up to $1491 plus tax just in water bottles for 1 year, or $14,910 over 10 years That is a TON of money!

But, by switching to reusable metal water bottles, we have saved a ridiculous amount of money just in the first year alone. We found these really awesome, larger and more versatile reusable metal water bottles instead. The Extremus Deluge SS Wide Mouth water bottle usually sells for $20.99 per bottle and comes in 6 different colors. We were actually able to get them for a discounted rate since Amazon had them on sale for $16.79 when we found them, so we have saved even more. And, they come with 2 different handles, a carabiner and a smaller lid that screws off only at the mouth hole, which we really liked.

Overall Savings

These water bottles should easily last for 10 years, barring any child accidents. So, with that in mind, we have spent a total of $146.93 plus tax for all 7 bottles. So, if they last the full 10 years, this means we will have save a total of $14,763.07. Now, that is a not only a HUGE savings, but it also has a giant impact on the environment. Reusable water bottles for the win!

switching from disposable products summary

Overall, there are a lot of ways you can choose to go about this. But, ultimately, the more open minded you can be about getting rid of disposable products, the more money you can potentially save. Our biggest savings come from the paper towels and water bottles category, personally. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save in every category. No matter what, the more disposable products you get rid of, the greener you are and the more you can save.

What are some of the disposable products you’ve tossed to ultimately save more money and go green?

How We Plan to Celebrate Super Bowl During COVID

Let’s face it, COVID has changed how all of us live our lives. And this includes how we get together and celebrate even the little things in life. Since the Super Bowl is almost upon us, this is something we have certainly been thinking about recently. We usually go to a big Super Bowl party every year with friends and family. But this year it seems that may not be the best way to celebrate and still stay safe. So, here are the ways we are contemplating celebrating Super Bowl during COVID this year.

how can we Celebrate Super Bowl During covid?

The first thing we have to decide with regard to a Super Bowl party is whether or not to have a socially distanced party or celebrate it virtually. The decision will not be the same for all of us, but ultimately you need to decide which of these options makes the most sense for you and your family.

If the socially distanced Super Bowl party makes the most sense for you, then there are some great ways you can make this work effectively and economically. These include:

  • Provide football themed masks available for your guests or ask that all guests wear a football themed mask upon arrival
  • Masks should be worn whenever guest are not eating or drinking
  • Space seating areas 6’ apart for different groups (so that families can still sit together but still socially distance)
  • Set up smaller food stations in multiple areas of the house
  • Have a separate beverage station that only one person will be managing to minimize contact
  • Have different viewing screens in different areas inside and outside, when possible

However, if having a virtual Super Bowl party feels more comfortable for you instead, then that can be fairly easily achieved also. Some good ways to pull this off are:

  • Pick a designated time to begin your virtual streaming call with friends and family
  • Set up your food and beverage table within sight of your streaming device so all your friends and family can see how cool your football themed table is
  • Share food and beverage recipes ahead of time
  • Spitball games to play during commercials and/or half time
  • Participants in the virtual games can put money into the pot via a money payment app to avoid contact
  • Create some fun contests for everyone to participate in

super bowl party must haves

Once you’ve narrowed down which kind of Super Bowl party you’re having, then it’s time to dig into the must haves for a great party. All of these party items should be multifunctional so that you can use them for other things throughout the year. This way, you can help minimize the overall cost since you will be using them for more than just one party.

No matter what, there are a few must haves that can really make your Super Bowl party shine. These items should include:

  • Larger TV or projector for viewing the game
  • Super Bowl themed games
  • One or two good grills
  • Diverse grilling tool set
  • Party food & beverages
  • Serving dishes

TV or Projector Options

The TV will be the most expensive thing on the list, but there are ways to make this work. If you already have a great TV that will do the job well, then adding a projector might just be a great way to go. These have become much more economical in the past few years and can be moved around to so many different places. I found a great projector that comes with a screen for under $100, which I think is awesome. This way we can move it to a completely different room, or possibly even outside to show the game on the side of the house. And, this is something we could use all year long, which helps offset the initial cost.

But, if you don’t have a great TV, now is a really good time to buy one. The end of January through Super Bowl weekend is usually when a lot of companies have the deepest discounts on TV’s. So, keep an eye out for great deals on 65″ – 75″ TV’s during this time. They will definitely cost you more money than the projector, but this is another item you can easily use all year long.

Super Bowl Themed Games

There are plenty of games to choose from when it’s party time. So, if you already have some favorites, then start with those. For us, personally, there are two games we really like to play during the Super Bowl especially.

The football squares game is a huge Super Bowl party past time for us. This game can be played during Super Bowl, but also with all other sports games throughout the year. Each player chooses squares on the board they think will be winners and if they are correct they win the pot at the end of each quarter. Each column and row have on number on them and will denote the last number in the score for each team at the end of the quarter. This game can be a lot of fun, but get super competitive, so watch out! And this is a really good game to celebrate Super Bowl during COVID since you don’t need to have physical contact with one another.

Another favorite party game we like to play is cornhole. This game can be seen at parties and bars all over the US recently, so it is much easier to find now. If you aren’t sure which team you want to root for, then you can choose a cornhole set that is just sports themed so you can play it all year long for any football games. Overall, though, this is a fun backyard game just to have on hand for every day fun, Super Bowl party or not.

Grills

Having the right grill, or grills, is an essential part of any party, Super Bowl or otherwise. We actually like to have two grills on hand to begin with. One is a larger grill for feeding our whole family or party purposes. While the second grill is a smaller tabletop grill to bring out at parties or for traveling. If you don’t plan to do a lot of grilling throughout the year, then the smaller tabletop version may just be a perfect fit for you.

Either way, you can pick up a grill for fairly cheap in most cases. And since we prefer to cook with charcoal, these grills are usually a lot cheaper than the gas versions. Of course, there are also some hybrid grill options out there now that are charcoal but have a gas igniter, which are pretty cool. No matter which version, or versions, of the grill you go with, make sure it be used throughout the year to help offset the costs of the purchase.

Grilling Tool Sets

Once the grill has been sorted out, grilling tools are the next natural step. We prefer to keep two sets of diverse grilling tool sets on hand. A big part of this isn’t necessarily for parties, but they come in handy then too. But we use one set for indoor cooking/grilling and another specifically for outdoor grilling/cooking. Either way, these sets can be pretty easy to find and very cost effective. So, if you plan to have a Super Bowl party, this is when having more than one set can really help.

Getting a smaller set for more everyday use that has 2-4 pieces is a great way to start. But, if you want to get really fancy, you can upgrade to a huge multipiece grilling set with all the bells and whistles. In most cases, you can pick a pretty decent grilling tool set up easily for under $20, and sometimes even under $10. So this is one thing that certainly won’t break the bank.

Party Food & Beverages

No Super Bowl party is complete without a great selection of food and beverages. Of course, everyone is going to have a different idea of which types of food and beverages they want to have. But, here is a list of some of our favorite options:

  • Chicken wings
  • Chips
  • Cocktail wieners
  • Dips
  • Football cookies
  • Hamburgers
  • Hot dogs
  • Meatballs
  • Potato skins
  • Sliders
  • Beer (bottles, cans or a keg)
  • Football themed mixed drinks (Tequila Touchdown)
  • Wine

Ultimately, it’s great to have others brings some of their favorite football party food also. Since providing all of the food for a party can really do some damage to your budget, having a pot luck can really help offset the costs.

Serving Dishes

Once you have decided what food and beverages you will be having at your party, then it’s time to figure out what you will be serving them in. Some of my favorite options are:

  • Football themed party set (usually has plates, napkins, silverware, cups)
  • Large party napkins
  • Paper or plastic plates (different sizes usually come in handy)
  • Disposable silverware
  • Disposable Cups (with a marker to write guests names on the cups)
  • Tongs (disposable plastic kind or the metal heavier kind)
  • Football shaped chip and dip platter
  • Larger round serving platter or two
  • Tiered serving stands
  • Chafers and sternos for keeping food warm
  • Large cooler for beers and cold food

How to Celebrate Super Bowl During COVID Summary

Overall, there are quite a few different ways we can choose to celebrate Super Bowl during COVID. And each way will be totally up to you and your individual situation. But ultimately, the Super Bowl is a great time of year where a lot of us can get together to socialize and cheer on our favorite team. Along with laugh at some of the crazy half time commercials! But, because of COVID, we have to be a lot more careful how we celebrate with each other. Whether we celebrate by social distancing or virtually, there is still a lot of the same party items and food involved. We can stay safe but still have a great time. And here’s hoping the Super Bowl next year will be back to normal!

How do you plan to celebrate Super Bowl during COVID this year?

Some of My Favorite Shopping Apps This Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us once again. And with only a few shopping days left, we have to make the most of it. But, with holiday shopping can sometimes come holiday debt. That is the last thing any of us want. Therefore, I have found some great shopping apps that can help you save more money. Plus, they can be used all year long for any shopping possible to save even more. This is what I call a shopping win!

 IBOTTA

Ibotta has been one of my favorite shopping apps for quite awhile now. With Ibotta, you can either shop in person or online. If you choose to shop online, you have to shop directly within the Ibotta app in order to get the rebate. If you shop in person, you have to upload an image of your receipt in the app to get the rebate.

A lot of the rebates go across multiple stores, which makes shopping even easier. However, I usually look up the store I am planning to shop at first to see what Ibotta rebates are being currently offered first. Then, if I find items that I am thinking about buying, I will see which other stores they might be offered at within Ibotta. Once you find items you plan to purchase, then click the plus sign to add them to your list before you can earn the rebate.

Once you go through all of the steps, your rebate will show up in your Ibotta account fairly quickly. Sometimes I have seen mine as quickly as 5 minutes later. But more often than not, I see the rebate the next day. Some stores are now automatically connected to your shopping rewards number with that store. And in those cases, the rebates will be automatically added to your account within 24 hours. I like this even more because I don’t have to scan anything. Just remember to use your store shopping rewards information when you check out in store so that you can get the Ibotta rewards.

Cash Out Ibotta Rewards

But that’s not the only way to earn money with Ibotta. They have regular rewards categories and group participation bonuses to help you earn more faster. Click under the “Earn More” tab to find other ways to add more money to your account. Some of the ways to earn more include:

  • refer a friend
  • working with your team to hit the monthly bonus amount
  • purchasing a specific featured product
  • purchasing a specific group of products

Once your Ibotta account reaches $20, you can cash it out. PayPal is the primary way to redeem your Ibotta rewards, but they also offer some gift card options too. In fact, I just recently cashed out my Ibotta rewards balance for an Amazon gift card. And then I used that gift card to buy Christmas presents for the family. Now that’s a win!

RAKUTEN EBATES

Another one of my favorite apps/extensions is Rakuten. I have this on both my computer as an extension and on my phone as an app. If you put it on your computer, then it runs in the background anytime you are shopping on a website. It will pop up and tell you if there are any current rebate offers for that seller. Which, during the holiday season, are much higher than normal, so take advantage!

If there is a current rebate with Rakuten, then just click on the “Activate % Cash Back” button at the top right-hand side of your screen. Once you’ve completed that, you are on your way to getting cash back rebates.

If you choose to use the app on your phone, you have to launch your shopping trip directly from the app, just like Ibotta. Once you purchase something that qualifies for a rebate, you’ll get an email with the store and the amount you will receive. That amount will be deposited into your Rakuten account within a couple of days, usually.

Their cash out method is slightly different than Ibotta, though. They send a “Big Fat Check” every quarter for whatever you happen to have in your account. It can be sent as a physical check or you can connect your bank account for them to direct deposit it to. I prefer the latter method, personally.

Honey

Honey is another app/extension that I have been using for years now. This one is very similar to both Ibotta and Rakuten. Except that it helps to find coupon codes online and then apply them to your checkout order to save you money.

Any time you shop online, Honey will pop up on merchant pages that they work with to tell you how many coupon codes they have. When you are ready to check out, just click on the pop up and it will run through all of the coupon codes to see which one gets you the biggest discount, if any. Then it will automatically apply it. This can potentially save a lot of time scouring the internet for coupon codes. And I know it has helped me save a lot of money that I otherwise might not have.

On top of saving you money on your purchases, you could also qualify to earn Honey Gold. The gold points accumulate in your account until you reach a minimum of 1,000 coins and then you can cash them out for gift card rewards. It just doesn’t get any sweeter!

COUPONCABIN

CouponCabin is another hybrid app, like Honey. They not only have coupons for thousands of different websites, but they also offer rebates up to 10% off on some sites. Take, for example, right now they have a $100 bonus on any order over $100 purchased from Kohl’s. That can really help you ring in the savings this holiday season!

Plus, you get a $2 bonus cash back reward just for signing up. And if you add the app to your phone and shop within a certain amount of time, you get another $5 bonus. The payout methods are a little more diverse than some of the other options. With CouponCabin, you can cash out your balance to:

  • Amazon gift card (they give you an extra 10% back for using this method)
  • Check
  • Chase payments
  • Charitable donation
  • Direct deposit
  • PayPal

This gives you a lot more leeway with what you can do with your rewards.

BEST Holiday Shopping APPS SUMMARY

Ultimately, there isn’t much time left to get your holiday shopping done. But, by adding some, or all of these shopping apps to your arsenal, you are bound to save more money. Plus, you can even earn money for future purchases. Which is what I call a huge holiday win-win!

What are some of your favorite shopping apps?

How We Are Planning to Safely Spend Thanksgiving During COVID-19

The holidays this year are going to look a bit different. Of course we all hope we will come out of this sooner rather than later, but COVID-19 has definitely affected every aspect of our lives. And a big part of that has to do with how we celebrate. Usually we celebrate the holidays in a larger group since we have a pretty big family. But since we are all still supposed to be socially distancing, that isn’t going to happen this year. So here is how we are planning to safely spend Thanksgiving with our family during COVID-19.

safely spend Thanksgiving

Some of our immediate family is within the same city and have been socially distancing. So, we are considering getting together with that part of the family for Thanksgiving. However, if we do, then we will still be changing up our configuration a bit in the name of safety.

Just because we aren’t supposed to be gathering in large groups in indoor, confined spaces doesn’t mean we can’t get together. It just means that we have to make our group smaller and get together in outdoor spaces instead. This actually works great for us because we have a large two story deck and one of my siblings has a deck and a screened in porch. So we have two options where we can seat family members and serve food safely.

Thanksgiving Food Stations

One of the ways we are planning to optimize either option is by setting up different food stations. This way we can control the flow of traffic into different areas to keep with social distancing practices.

One of the possible layouts for our different stations include:

  • Beverages section
  • Bread/rolls section
  • Cranberry/fruit section
  • Dessert section
  • Meat station (turkey and ham)
  • Potato station
  • Vegetable station

With this many different sections we are helping our family to safely spend Thanksgiving together. But, if we want to go one step further, we could also release one table at a time to get their food and drinks. This is how it is typically done in the catering world. And since I worked in that world for many years, I am very familiar with the tactics and smooth implementation.

Plus, if we all bring a few different dishes, that can help make Thanksgiving more budget friendly for all of us. We we could all definitely use!

Virtual Thanksgiving

Since not all of our family will be able to join in the celebration this year, we have to get creative. And since all of our birthday parties this year have been virtual already, we are getting pretty good at this. The important part is that we have still been able to see each other and celebrate, and it looks like Thanksgiving will be no different.

For the family members that aren’t going to be able to join us in person, we are considering having a joint Thanksgiving. Meaning that we plan to talk with them ahead of time about a menu. The goal is to try and have all of the same foods that we normally would so that we can experience them together still. But what that means is that we will have to learn how to make some recipes that may be a little out of our wheelhouse. Which sounds like a really fun idea to me!.

And on top of that, we are thinking about trying to decorate each table similarly. The hope is that this will make us all feel like we are in the same place celebrating.

Safely Spend Thanksgiving Together Summary

No matter what, this Thanksgiving will be different. But, this gives us a chance to think outside the box and come up with some new creative ways to be together. We will still get to enjoy the food, family and laughter just like every other year. But, we may not all be together in the exact same spot doing it. And that is okay. As long as we are able to find ways to safely spend Thanksgiving together, I am still excited by the holiday. And the joy it brings to all of us, especially in this very trying year.

How have you and your family decided to safely spend Thanksgiving together during COVID-19?

How to Celebrate Halloween Safely During COVID-19

This year has been a bit different for all of us. And with the holidays looming, most of us are trying to figure out how to approach them safely. First and foremost is Halloween. Yes, I can’t believe that it’s almost here either! But, the kids are certainly excited, albeit a bit nervous. Because even they realize that this year isn’t going to look the same as all the previous years. So, here is how we plan to celebrate Halloween safely during COVID-19 and still have a great time.

House Party

Having a house party may seem like the antithesis of how to celebrate Halloween safely, but hear me out. We aren’t actually talking about hosting a raucous house party here. What I mean by house party is a bit different in this particular context.

This house party will only include you and your family. The kids still get to dress up in costumes, so that is a huge plus. But, then they get to be even more creative.

Have each child go through ideas with you regarding how to decorate their room for Halloween. Maybe they like the haunted house idea, or a fun house, or something else entirely. Whatever they come up with, help them get the supplies they need to create their idea.

You will also take each child out, separately, to get the candy of their choice to pass out. That way it’s even more of a surprise for the other kids.

When it’s time to celebrate Halloween, have the kids dress up in their costumes. Pick names or draw straws to see who will be hosting the family in their Halloween room first. That person will go into their room and prepare their candy for trick-or-treater’s. You and the rest of the family get to trick-or-treat at that child’s door so they can show you what Halloween masterpiece they have come up with. After they have walked you through it, they will give you the surprise candy and then it is the next child’s turn.

You, as the parents, can do this with your room also to stretch out the holiday fun. If you have a small family with only one or two children, then you may want to consider sharing in the fun with some other local family members or a set of close neighbors. As long as you keep the group small and continue to remain safe.

Drive by

If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of tight knit families and kids, then this might be another good option for you. Talk to your neighbors to see who you can entreat to participate first. Of course, not everyone will be willing to celebrate Halloween with you by creating a drive by. But, for those neighbors that will, this could be a lot of fun.

How this works is that everyone who is participating will decorate their house for Halloween in some way. And of course, turn on the front porch light!

They should prepare small bags of candy to pass out to each person using gloves. These bags of candy should be placed at the end of each driveway in some sort of bucket or receptacle to contain them properly. And when the time comes, the participants can set up camp on their front porch or stoop to watch the show.

As for the families with kids dressed up in Halloween costumes, they will be the ones driving by. And if you want to make it even more fun, then decorating your car for the holiday will be even more exciting.

As you drive by each house, let the kids out of the car to show off their costumes while they pick up an individual bag of candy. They can talk to the neighbors from the end of the driveway, should they choose to. But this way, the neighbors get to see your kids awesome costumes and the kids still get to trick-or-treat. Safely and from a distance though.

celebrate halloween safely summary

Ultimately, there are different ways you can approach Halloween this year. And a lot of it will be determined by the ages of your kids and the area in which you live. While a drive by party sounds like it could be fun, our neighborhood doesn’t really have that many kids. So, it’s not something we are going to do. Plus, there are more potential health risks involved with the drive by option.

Therefore, we are planning to partake in the house party option. And I can’t wait to see what the kids come up with. Once we see how Halloween goes, then it’s time to tackle the rest of the holidays. This should really be interesting!

What ways have you contemplated to celebrate Halloween safely with your family this year?

Frugal Fall Treats to Make with the Whole Family

With the lovely fall season comes a whole lot of delicious flavor profiles. While not everyone is a huge fan of the pumpkin overload, I happen to love the fall flavors. And so do the rest of our family. So it is a season that we look forward to all year long. But, some of these treats can get pretty expensive sometimes. This is especially true because all of our recipes are gluten free. So we have found a few of our favorite frugal fall treats to pass along to you so you can enjoy this season on a budget also.

Mini cheesecakes

I have been making these mini cheesecakes for years now. Everyone loves them and they are so simple to make. You can add in any surprise you want to the bottom also, to create more diversity. We like to use Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter cups.

  • 2 packages Cream Cheese (8 oz each) – $2.68 per package x 2 = $5.36
  • 2 Eggs – $2.46 per dozen/6 = $.41
  • ½ Cup Sugar – 32 oz bag = $3.75/4 = $.94
  • ½ tsp Vanilla – 2 oz bottle = $2.14/24 = $.09
  • 6 Gluten Free Graham Crackers – $5.36 per box (14 crackers per box)/14 = $.38 per cracker x 6 = $2.28
  • 4 Tbsp Butter (1/2 stick) – 1 lb = $4.29/8 = $.54
  • 12 Mini Reese’s (or regular) size Peanut Butter Cups – $3.20 per bag/40 pieces per bag = $.08 x 12 pieces = $.96

Total per batch = $10.58 or $.88 per cheesecake

Recipe

This recipe is pretty simple, which makes it easy to include your kids. I can tell you that my kids favorite part is opening all of the Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter cups and putting them in the top of each crust.

Recipe:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Open cream cheese and place in a large mixing bowl to come to room temperature. You may want to do this an hour or so before you plan to begin, just so that it is softened enough to work with.
  • Grind GF Graham Crackers in a Bullet, Vitamix, or good old fashioned blender.
  • Melt butter in a microwave safe bowl.
  • Add GF Graham Crackers to melted butter and stir until crackers are thoroughly soaked
  • Line muffin pan with muffin tins/liners.
  • Using your hands, press each muffin tin with the graham cracker/butter crust.
  • Open all Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and place one on top of the crust in each muffin tin.
  • Add eggs, sugar, and vanilla into the large mixing bowl with cream cheese.
  • Mix on medium speed until smooth, approximately 4 – 10 minutes.
  • Spoon cream cheese mixture to each lined muffin tin until approximately 3/4 full
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, depending on oven.
  • Check with a toothpick to make sure they are done and then let cool at room temperature.
  • Remove them from the muffin tin once they are cooled.
  • ENJOY!

One of the biggest perks to these is that you can put different surprises inside each one, if you want to get really creative. And each one is just enough for a good serving, so you don’t have to worry about eating too much or making a huge mess.

Butternut Squash soup

Butternut squash soup is a newer addition to our favorite frugal fall treats. But, it is not only delicious but really nutritious also. Bonus!

The ingredients, and costs, are as follows:

  • 1 Whole Butternut Squash – $1.99 per squash
  • 4 Shallots – $1.99 (per bag of 9)/9 = $.22 each x 4 = $.88
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic – $.99 (3 bulbs per package)/3 = $.33 each/12 (cloves per bulb) = $.028 x 4 = $.11
  • 4 cups Low Sodium Vegetable Broth – $1.99 per 4 cup container
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil – $6.99 (per 1 L bottle = 66 Tbsp)/66 = $.11 x 2 = $.22
  • 3 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme – $1.69 (20 sprigs per package)/20 = $.085 each x 3 = $.25
  • ½ tsp Salt – $1.49 (per 4.5 oz jar w/grinder)/ 135 (servings per jar, 1/8 tsp each) = $.01 x 4 = $.04
  • ¼ tsp Smoked Paprika – $5.49 (per 1 oz jar)/40 (servings per jar, ¼ tsp each) = $.14
  • ¼ tsp Cinnamon – 5.49 (per .8 oz jar)/36 (servings per jar, ¼ tsp each) = $.15
  • 1/8 tsp Nutmeg – $4.29 (per 1 oz jar)/36 (servings per jar, ¼ tsp each) = $.12/2 = $.06
  • 2 Bay Leaves – $2.95 (per ½ oz bag)/30 (per bag, approximately) = $.098 x 2 = $.20
  • 2 Tbsp Pomegranate Seeds – $1.59 per whole pomegranate/16 = $.10 each x 2 = $.20
  • ½ oz Arugula – $2.49 (7 oz package)/7 per oz = $.36/2 = $.18

Total Price: $6.41 or $1.60 per bowl

I can tell you that this is a heck of a lot cheaper than any butternut squash soup I have gotten out at a restaurant. And the flavor profile and nutrients are so much better also.

Recipe

In order to make this recipe, you need to:

  • Peel the butternut squash.
  • Fully de-seed the squash. (Kids can definitely help with this step!)
  • Chop into larger chunks.
  • Dice the shallots.
  • Mince the garlic.
  • Heat pan to Medium heat and grease with olive oil.
  • Add shallots, garlic and half of the salt to pan.
  • Sweat down for approximately 3 minutes.
  • Add butternut squash to pan.
  • Cook for approximately 2-3 minutes.
  • Add all spices and remaining salt and stir in thoroughly.
  • Add vegetable broth and bay leaves.
  • Turn heat up to High and reach a boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce to Low heat and simmer for approximately 25 minutes, until squash is tender.
  • Remove thyme stems and bay leaves.
  • Pour soup into a blender or food processor.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Add extra salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
  • Pour into bowls and garnish with arugula and pomegranate seeds.
  • Enjoy!

Our kids like to help with the blending part of this recipe, so that is a great area for little helpers. They also like to garnish the top of the soup with the arugula and pomegranate. A few of them like to add pumpkin seeds also, for extra crunch.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies are something I have been making for as long as I can remember. Not only are they delicious and easier to make than any other cookies, but they are also super budget-friendly. Plus the kids can help with every step of this recipe.

Here are the ingredients and costs for this recipe:

  • 16 oz Organic Peanut Butter – $2.12
  • 1 C Cane Sugar – $.96
  • 2 Egg Whites – $.40
  • 2 oz Dark Chocolate Chips – $.26

TOTAL = $3.74 (24 cookies) or $.16 per cookie

Recipe

And if you thought the ingredient list was short, you should see the actual recipe! The only steps required are:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Throw peanut butter, sugar and eggs into a bowl.
  • Mix on medium until batter is consistent.
  • Hand roll each cookie ball and drop it onto a cookie sheet.
  • Create a cross fork pattern on top of each cookie to smash them down.
  • Decorate the top of each cookie in whatever design you want with the chocolate chips.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes.

This whole process can be a really fun family event. Especially if you all take turns decorating the cookies, since everyone likes different designs.

Pumpkin Avocado Chocolate Pudding

Pumpkin Avocado Chocolate Pudding is very new to our frugal fall treats recipe list. But, so far, it’s been a big hit! Of all the recipes, this one has the most nutrient denseness and overall flavor. So, if you  haven’t ever tried this, now is as good a time as any.

The ingredients and cost breakdown for this recipe are:

  • 2 Ripe Avocados – $2.68
  • 1/2 C Pumpkin Puree – $.59
  • 1/2 C Cocoa Powder – $1.77
  • 1/2 C Coconut Milk – $.70
  • 8 Dates (softened) – $1.83
  • 2 t Pumpkin Pie Spice (or any other spices you prefer) – $1.03

TOTAL = $8.60 (4 servings) or $2.15 per serving

Recipe

You can always add some natural sweetener if you don’t feel the recipe is sweet enough for you. But I would suggest trying it this way first. In order to make this recipe, all you have to do is

  • Put all ingredients into a Vitamix or blender.
  • Blend until the mixture is smooth.
  • Pour into individual containers.
  • Refrigerate for at least an hour to set.

Out of all of the recipes, this one is also the simplest to make. Therefore, you kids can help with every step of the process. Including washing dishes!

Frugal fall treats summary

Overall, there are so many great frugal fall treats to enjoy this season. But our favorites are all budget-friendly, delicious, gluten free and nutritious. Well, the peanut butter cookies may be a stretch on the last one. But these cookies are much better options than any other peanut butter recipe I have found out there yet.

So, if you are looking for some delicious fall treats to make with your family, check these out. We would love to hear what you think of them!

What are some of your favorite frugal fall treats to make with the whole family?

How to Change Your Debt Mindset

When it comes to being in debt, we all have a lot of preconceived notions surrounding the situation. After all, nobody wants to be in debt. But, in today’s society, it is very common to start out adulthood in debt right out of the gate. And even if you get to a point where you are able to get out of debt, it can be so easy to slip right back into it. So, if you are currently in debt, there are some great ways to change your debt mindset to help you finally get out of debt. And hopefully stay out of debt, while you are at it.

How you got into debt in the first place

The first step to changing your debt mindset, is to take a very hard look at how you got there. After all, if you don’t know how you got there to begin with, you can easily fall right back into debt.

So, begin really taking a deep dive into your financial past. This includes not only how you have been spending money, but how those money habits and beliefs formed in the first place. Ultimately, our perception of money begins at very early ages and grows from there. So, if your parents didn’t have a great relationship with money, or they didn’t talk to you about it, then it stands to reason you developed a similar mindset.

Beginning with your money story and/or beliefs that have currently shaped your perception of money is what can really help you get to the crux of the issue. Once you have figured out where you came from, and why you believe what you believe, then you can begin to change.

Change takes time, for all of us. But, if you don’t want to repeat the same harmful patterns, change must occur.

What’s your why?

In order for that change to not only occur, but be a permanent change, you have to have a strong why. What this means is that you need to have a very good reason why you want this change to occur. Living in the same damaging cycle over and over again can be very exhausting. It can wear you down and cause all sorts of mental breakdowns. Some of the most common include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy
  • Insecurity
  • Anger

In order to break these cycles, a strong why is necessary. Having a strong why is not only important to break harmful financial cycles, but it can be seen a lot when people want to change their health for the better. Many people say they want to live stronger, healthier and skinnier, but when it comes down to actually doing the work, they fall short. This is because they haven’t determined their why yet.

So, determine your why to begin really reshaping how you think about money and finances. Some great reasons “why” people might want to change their debt mindset are:

  • Don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck anymore
  • Want to be able to travel
  • Dreams of retiring early
  • Want to change careers
  • Aspirations of a better living situation
  • Want to be able to go through day to day life without the constant stress of money

Even if none of the aforementioned speak to you, it’s important to find your driving factor in order to create the change. So, what is your why?

communicate openly

At this point, you have already determined how you got in the debt mess in the first place and your why to get out of it permanently. Which is awesome! However, this new mindset needs to be communicated openly with everyone in your world.

Whenever we change something foundational about ourselves or our lives, it has a tendency to throw those around us for a loop. A good example of this is when somebody who has smoked most of their life, suddenly decides to quit. This is already an extremely hard habit to break. But, if you don’t have the support of those around you, it can become exceptionally easy to fall back into old habits. Especially if anyone around you still continues to smoke.

The same can be said when people are trying to lose weight, work out more or just trying to change their eating lifestyle. Misery loves company and most people don’t want you to change because it’s familiar the way it is.

Therefore, you need to be comfortable and confident enough to communicate exactly what you are changing about your life and why you need their support to make it happen. If the ones you love can’t support you on this healthier financial journey, then that might be a bigger issue all in itself.

debt mindset summary

Overall, changing your money story and your debt mindset can be a difficult road to travel. In order to really be effective with changing your mindset and your money story, you have to start at the beginning. Dig deep into how you got where you are and why you believe what you believe about money and finances.

Then move onto your why. Why do you want to change your perception of money? What is the bigger picture you are trying to accomplish so that you can live a happier and more well balanced life?

And last, but not least, then you must communicate this information to your loved ones. Explain why you want to change your perception of money to get out of debt and what you want to gain out of it. Ask them to help you stay on track and motivate you.

Take this deep dive and begin the journey to make these changes. If you do, and are willing to put in the work, the rewards can be outstanding.

Have you ever considered changing your debt mindset to change your financial life? If so, how did you do it and what were the results?

How More Virtual Learning is Changing our Back to School Shopping

I don’t know about your school system, but ours is changing drastically this upcoming year. In fact, we still aren’t sure just how drastically yet. But we know there will be a lot more, or maybe all, virtual learning this year. And with this comes a shift in how we are approaching back to school shopping. We have narrowed down a few essential items for our kids to help them adjust, and hopefully thrive, in this new environment.

Computers

Whether we like it or not, the most expensive thing on the back to school list this year will be a computer. After all, kids can’t really engage in virtual learning if they don’t have a device to use.

The way I have always preferred to purchase items in this category is by buying refurbished. In fact, with the exception of one, all of our tablets and laptops are refurbished. And, we haven’t had any issues with any of them. In fact, the laptop I am writing this on was a refurbished purchase back in 2013 when I was entering Grad school. And it still runs like a champ!

I just prefer refurbished because they are so much cheaper than buying brand new tablets or laptops. And, if you purchase them from a reputable source, you really can’t go wrong. Plus, you can save tons of money!

And this especially holds true when our children are involved. They just don’t take care of the devices the way that we do. And with that being said, here are some of my favorite places to purchase refurbished computers and tablets:

No matter which device you go with, make sure to get a protective cover. This will help to keep them functional for much longer.

Wireless Headphones for Virtual learning

Wireless headphones are something that we realized rather quickly last year we were in dire need of. We just didn’t realize how much, until all of the kids started doing school work from home. It’s simply much too difficult for multiple people to be on calls or meetings when you don’t have wireless headphones.

We purchased a few different pairs of wireless headsets in the past few months. And they each have their pros and cons.

The Target dollar spot wireless headphones work great for our youngest child. She is a little harder on things, so we wanted to try the cheaper version first. They work great for connectivity and sound. But they are more cheaply made than the other two, so they may not last as long.

The iJoy wireless headphones were the next set of headphones purchased. This was for the youngest boy and was a step up from the cheaper headphones. The sound quality is a little bit better and you can tell that they aren’t as flimsy.

The iClever wireless headphones were purchased for the oldest girl. She is more responsible and wanted something with more bells and whistles. They have great sound quality, connect easily to all of her devices and even have light up LED lights. She loves them!

No matter which direction you go with the wireless headphones, there is a budget friendly option for all of us. And you don’t need all of the bells and whistles to get the job done. You just need something to make everyone’s life a bit easier when it comes to virtual learning.

Somewhere to sit

Once you have the tech taken care of, you have to tackle where your child is going to be doing their school work. And this is where good seating comes into play. If you don’t already have a separate place for them to do their school work already, then you’ll need to help create a space for them.

One of my favorite finds at a kids consignment sale is a smaller old school desk that fits our youngest child. She was so thrilled with it when we brought it home, and it cost next to nothing! So, if you don’t have something for your child yet, checking out a kids consignment sale may be a great way to go. If, there are any happening in your area, of course.

However, if that isn’t an option, there are a couple other cheaper options than buying a new desk. Both  bean bag chairs and bungee chairs can be easily purchased new for under $50. And, what’s even better about both of these options is that they can be folded up for easier storage. .

If you have more than one child, and want to get a combination of all 3, then that can create a more diverse learning environment also. Plus, you can use the bean bag chair and bungee chairs too!

Lounge Wear

We aren’t really in the market for the newest styles in back to school clothes this year. But that doesn’t mean we should toss the whole category out. In fact, since so many of us are working from home now, our clothing styles have changed. So, we need to adjust our back to school shopping ideologies as well. This means an addition of more lounge wear this year.

Lounge wear can mean different things to different people. But, it really just means clothes you are really comfortable lounging around in. And with the increase in virtual learning, that is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Some of our kids favorite lounge wear options include:

No matter which type of lounge wear your child prefers, them being comfortable is the most important part. And you need to help remind them that they need to get dressed before they begin school. Even if they aren’t going to a physical school this year. Because just the act of changing into clothes for the day helps get their brain ready to learn and out of sleep mode.

BAck to school Virtual Learning Summary

No matter how you look at it, this year school is going to be different. And we, as parents, need to do all that we can to help our kids adjust to this new learning environment. This includes in the back to school shopping category also. Because that is a normal part of preparing for a new school year.

Since we don’t know how long this situation will last, it’s in our best interest to help our children adjust as much as possible. So, do what you can to make the virtual learning environment as effective, and comfortable, for them as possible.

Does your back to school shopping look any different this summer with more virtual learning happening this year?