Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: "Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey"

Do you think you know everything about couponing? Do you find couponing too confusing, too much work, boring? Do you fall anywhere in between those extremes? Then, “Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey” is the book for you! Joanie Demer & Heather Wheeler have debunked the myths about couponing and taken it to superstar heights, while talking to you like your best friend. They teach you to make the grocery aisles your catwalk!

There’s a lot I know (or think I know) about couponing. I’ve been doing it off and on for nearly 5 years, but “Pick Another Checkout Lane,Honey” has taught me a few more things. It’s a very in-depth look at couponing with some great ideas for what to do with all the money you save as well!

If you’re a newbie, they cover all the basics. From building your coupon binder, to building your stockpile, to building your savings account, these ladies have it covered. Both Joanie & Heather give their personal stories about how and why they started couponing and how it has changed their lives. The entire book is conversational in tone and makes you wish you knew these girls in person.

If you’re seasoned you might learn something you didn’t already know, and you’re likely to find the humorous drawings spot on! For me, it was nice to have the monthly sales cycles and the price list laid out. I’ve made a copy of the price list to use as a guide and then adjust to the best prices I can get. I plan on making a copy of the sales cycles to keep in my binder as well.

The biggest thing I learned is that I need to obtain official coupon policies on company letterhead for every store I shop at, as well as talk to the general manager of each store. This sounds downright terrifying to me, but makes complete sense. My husband said he would go with me, so that makes me feel more confident! It’s true that as the couponer, I probably know more about the store’s coupon policy than my cashier and maybe even the manager. Being able to prove that I’m playing by the rules may come in handy one day!

These fabulous ladies also run this fantastic website called It’s where I go to find all my coupon match-ups. I probably check everyday because I’m a little obsessed, but I definitely look before I head out to the stores to make sure there aren’t any great new deals that have popped up. They list the weekly sales with the corresponding coupons for all the major super centers and drugstores, plus many large grocery stores around the country. They recently started doing the match-ups for Winn-Dixie, so they are my go-to site for all my major stores (Publix, Winn-Dixie, CVS, Walgreens, Target & Wal-Mart) now. I occasionally shop at BJ’s and Save-A-Lot, and infrequently at Whole Foods & Aldi because they are so far away. Oh, how I miss Aldi…

I highly recommend “Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey” to ANYONE! Young, old, spender, saver, you can learn something from this book and be entertained at the same time. I’m sure you can find something to relate to. Everybody likes saving money, right?

P.S. I made this coupon sorting mat a couple years ago that makes organizing all those little pieces of paper so much easier! Sadly, over the last 3 moves in a 12-month period I’ve lost track of it. If I don’t find it soon, I will need to make another one so the kids can help more too!

*All opinions expressed are my own! I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Vacation on the Cheap: Orlando 2013 - Meal & Snack Ideas

Welcome back to my Vacation on the Cheap Series! I hope that you have been following along and gathering some ideas that you can use on your next vacation.

Today’s topic is food! Yummy! Food can be one of the biggest, if not the biggest cost when vacationing. A family can spend anywhere from $30 for some mediocre chicken strips that have been sitting under warming lights for 5 hours, all the way up to several HUNDRED dollars for a sit-down meal with a certain princess in her castle. That’s just per meal! Over the course of several days one could easily go bankrupt.

This is not to say that you should skip on food and dining experiences that you believe to be worth the money. Like I’ve mentioned before, we do NOT skip on the Dole Whips. (If you’ve had one, you know why I keep mentioning this!) We have several character meals that we really want to do, but have yet to save the money for. When it becomes a priority, I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to save that money.

Figure out what your food priorities are and save for those. Get creative in areas where you know you could save money. We’ve already discussed finding a hotel with a kitchen, free breakfast, a mini-fridge and/or a microwave. Now we’re going to talk about specific ideas for each of those situations, and a few ideas for when you can’t find a hotel with any of those things.

No matter where you stay, do as much as you can before leaving home. If you are striving for a “real food” diet, make snacks such as homemade goldfish crackers rather than buying them. Homemade baked goods will add a special touch to your brown bag lunch. Strive to include treats that will set your lunch apart from run-of-the-mill kids meals so that no one feels deprived. Don’t forget lots of fruits & vegetables to keep it healthy!

*Please note that these are suggestions, and I have not personally tried every recipe*

The No-Frills Hotel
*Many items will need to be kept cold. Use discretion when choosing items to bring based on how much space your cooler has, number of days items will remain in cooler, and if they must be kept very cold or only cool*
Oatmeal (packets)– use hot water from the coffee maker or the tap
Muffins - these are really yummy & what we took with us; I also added blueberries to some of them
Cereal – keep milk in the cooler
*Don’t forget the fruit!

Lunch & Dinner
Homemade lunchables -meat, cheese, crackers
Pasta salad (recipe coming soon!)
Sandwiches or Wraps: meat, pb&j, cream cheese & jelly, cream cheese & ham, Nutella & banana, egg salad, tuna salad (could be made with avocado, it's yummy!) - could also be served on bagel or with crackers
*I would highly recommend wraps because of their portability. No squished bread!*
Layered salads - in plastic jars because glass may not be permitted
California Taco Salad (recipe coming soon!)
Tortellini salad (recipe coming soon!)

Snacks & Desserts
Granola bars
Hard-boiled eggs
Hummus & veggies
Peanut butter in bottom of jar with celery - could add raisins
Rice crispy bars/brown rice bars (recipe coming soon!)
Banana, pumpkin or zucchini bread (one or more recipes coming soon!)
Fruit cups (could make your own!)
Trail mix
Fruit with Nutella or other dip
Cheese wedges or sticks
Mixed nuts

Hotel with a Mini-Fridge and Microwave
(Including all of the above suggestions)

Sausage Pancake Bites – made at home, kept in fridge & reheated
Waffles - made at home with maple syrup in mix & reheated
Mini sausages in biscuits – made at home & reheated

*If you can find these really cool slow cooker liners, you can use your crock-pot to make delicious food for you while you are sleeping or out enjoying the sites!


Lunch & Dinner
Buffalo or BBQ chicken wraps – keep sauce on side until eating time
Pasties – a tasty hand-held meat pie, referred to as a hand pie or empanada in other parts of the country (recipe coming soon!)
Chicken, pork, or steak skewers with microwavable rice
Biscuit meatballs with marinara dipping sauce
Black & Blue Salad - mixed greens with thinly sliced steak, blue cheese & blue cheese dressing

Again, you can use your slow cooker for these meals:
Crock pot Meatballs – party (recipe coming soon!), buffalo chicken, meatball subs (recipe coming soon!)

Snacks & Desserts
Popcorn – take advantage of the microwave; try the paper bag method of popping to avoid nasty chemicals!
Fruit salad


Hotel with Kitchen
(Including all of the above suggestions)

Whatever you like to eat at home! (Okay, so I've never made those yummy looking caramel pecan cinnamon rolls, but they're on my short list! Anybody else try these yet?)

Lunch & Dinner
Taco salad to go – layered seasoned beef, beans, olives, chopped  veggies, cheese, lettuce in a lidded bowl (or plastic jars) pack sour cream, salsa & chips on the side
Chicken taco salad – mixed greens diced chicken, shredded cheese, beans, and tomatoes with yogurt/salsa mix on side
Sesame noodles- I double the sauce for these noodles!
Quesadilla strips with yogurt/sour cream, guacamole & salsa on side
Hamburgers & Hot Dogs
Snacks & Desserts
Smoothies (freeze in freezer jam jars, or those cool reusable smoothie pop thingies)
Jell-o cubes or jell-o w/ fruit (can pour right into lunch containers to set up overnight)
Deviled eggs
Fruit salad

This is just a sampling of ideas that I’ve culled from my own recipes, recipes from family and friends, and that wealth of information known as Pinterest! I’m sure that you probably have recipes in your repertoire that could be used to save you money on vacation as well. If you’re serious about saving money on vacation food, take the time to make lists of meals that you think your family would enjoy, which will be easy to transport & prepare. Make sure you share your ideas here with the rest of us!

Miss a "Vacation on the Cheap" Post? Find them here:
Part 1 - Itinerary & Menu
Part 2 - Tips & FREE Things to Do at Disney
Part 3 - Tips for Saving on Food

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through one of the links, you will be supporting our home school! Thank you!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Vacation on the Cheap: Orlando 2013 - Tips for Saving on Food

Welcome back to my series Vacation on the Cheap! Links to the preceding installments can be found at the bottom of this post!

Saving money on food when you're at home can be difficult. Saving money when you're on vacation can seem downright impossible! For as long as I can remember, we've been packing sandwich fixings whenever we go roadtripping, whether for one day or one week. This is a great money saver & one I highly recommend! Unless of course you're like me and don't really enjoy sandwiches. I'm not really sure why it took me so dang long to realize that if I was not happy eating sandwiches at home, I would never be truly happy and satisfied eating them while away from home! This holds especially true when you are somewhere like a theme park where delicious food is in your face every hundred yards. This is the vacation where I decided to change that.

Enjoying our ham & cream cheese bagels!
If you studied my menu at all, you'll notice that sandwiches make an appearance a grand total of three times in eight days. Only one of those is a boring old pb&j or lunchmeat sandwich. In reality, I think we only ate two. The day we left home (pb&j or lunchmeat) and the day we went to Downtown Disney (ham & cream cheese on bagels).

I was determined to have delicious food whilst on vacation without spending a ton of money! I know some of you are thinking, "Yes, but you had a KITCHEN in your hotel room! What about those of us who stay at regular hotels?"

Good question. I've yet to try it, but the next weekend we vacation I will let you know how it goes. The hotel that we will be staying at from now on when we only go for weekends is a super cheap, no-frills hotel. It's run-down and old on the outside, but the rooms are clean and in good shape. The mattress is sagging, but it's comfortable. (Always bring your own pillow!) There is no fridge or microwave. There may be a single-serve coffee maker in the room, but I'm not sure. There is an unadvertised free breakfast consisting of instant oatmeal, bagels, danishes, fruit, cereals, and beverages. It's super-duper close to one of the Disney gates. Oh, and it's cheap!

Here are some tips that should help you save money on food no matter where you stay:

Tip #1: Find a hotel that offers a FREE breakfast! Plain instant oatmeal, a glass of milk & a piece of fruit is a great breakfast! (Avoid the flavored oatmeal! Sweeten with good old sugar, jelly, maple syrup or honey, if they have it.)

If you can't get a free breakfast, make sure your hotel room has a fridge and a microwave. Some hotels don't put them in all their rooms, so make sure you ask!

If you can't find a hotel that offers any of that (although you should be with some dedicated research), pretend like you are going camping! At least food wise. Plan foods that are non-perishable, portable, are easy to prepare without a kitchen, and/or made at home and brought with you.

Tip #2: Don't be embarrassed by bringing your own food! No, really. People will probably stare at you as you enjoy your delicious & nutritious homemade meal packed with love, but I like to imagine that they're just jealous. I'm pretty sure those people were watching with envy the day we ate Black & Blue Salad (steak with blue cheese) and fresh strawberries with Nutella dip!

There is no rule that says you can't bring your own food into a theme park. Disney has restrictions on type & size of cooler, plus no glass containers. Whatever your destination, check the rules for what you are and are not allowed to bring.

Tip #3: Plan Ahead! Remember the itinerary we discussed? If you want to take your own food with you on vacation, you'll need to have a basic idea of what you'll be doing around each meal time. Some days I planned for us to still be at the hotel for lunch, and other days where we'd need to pack our food. I needed to know this before we left home.

Also, do not pack your food and leave it in the big cooler in the car with the idea that you will retrieve it come meal time. Your family will be starving, you'll be at the back of the park, and NO ONE will want to walk all the way back out to the car. Ask me how I know. LOL See our set up for packing it all with us here.

Tip #4: Be Creative! No boring sandwiches unless your entire family REALLY loves them! I spent large amounts of time scouring Pinterest for portable foods. I found some really great ones under lunch ideas or camping boards!

I didn't want anyone to feel like they were deprived of some fantastic meal just because we made it ourselves. This led to meal ideas like steaks, Dinosaur (hard-boiled) eggs, orange cake, and bananas with minion faces! Don't forget to include your family's favorite foods and snacks.

If you really want to get creative, you could try making those cool bento lunches that look like someone spent hours making them. In this house, "ain't nobody got time for that!"

Tip #5: Pack more snacks than you think you'll need! When your kid passes 7 other kids with Mickey bars dripping down their brand-new $80 Cinderella costumes, they're going to want one too. Probably the Mickey bar AND the costume! If you want your kid to have a Cinderella costume, or any other Disney memorabilia for that matter, make a stop at the nearest Wal-Mart where the same costume will only set you back $20. It's still official Disney merchandise.

As for the Mickey bars, have an alternative on hand at all times! We don't skip the Dole Whips in our family, and you shouldn't skip something that you really want & have planned ahead to spend the money on. For all the other times, I have snacks. They may not be super nutritious because I chose ease and portability, but they're probably healthier than the theme park snacks.

I plan for two snacks a day. It takes a lot of energy to walk around theme parks, stand on line in the boiling hot sun and humidity, and push your children through the themed store that you have to walk through at the end of every ride.

Us, successfully navigating the shops. (Meaning we didn't buy anything! LOL)
Transformers in Training
Include some protein and (healthy)carbohydrates for a more satisfying snack. Make sure you pack enough to help everyone get through the day, plus a little extra. If you end up with leftovers at the end of the day it's okay. I'm sure they will get eaten eventually!

Tip #6: Invest in quality containers! The only two items I can confidently recommend are the Ziploc Divided Containers and the Ziploc Round Screw-top Containers. I have not encountered any problems with these two items that weren't user caused. All of the refillable bottles, coolers, lunch bags, and other plastic containers we have used have either not stood the test of time and abuse use, or are just adequate. I don't want to recommend anything that doesn't work!

Both of these containers are reasonably priced, so you should be able to stock up on however many your family needs. We bought 12 of the divided containers so we could pack 2 meals per day. Buy whatever you need & will fit into your coolers with room for extra ice. BTW, we ended up buying two of the clearanced (70%off, so $3.98 each)lunch bags from Target that I mentioned before. They will fit two of the Ziploc Divided containers, with plenty of room for ice packs. They also came with little water bottles that fit into an outside pocket! BONUS!

Here is the meal we enjoyed on the beach of Disney's Polynesian Resort.
(Look! No leaking between compartments!)
Teriyaki Pork & Pineapple Kebabs over brown rice (with soy sauce), grapes & banana pudding!

Tip #7: Bring your own water! Each person should have their own refillable water container. On this vacation they received lanyards from which they carried their own bottles. There are plenty of water fountains from which to refill, or you can ask for free ice water from a food vendor. Keep frozen water bottles in your cooler to keep your food cold and to drink later in the day. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

I really hope that the tips I've shared with you will be helpful in saving you money on your next vacation or even a day away from the house!

Next Up: Meal & Snack Ideas

My adorable family in the shops. We have a thing for hats!
Vacation on the Cheap Posts:
Part One - Itinerary & Menu
Part Two - Tips & FREE Things to Do at Disney

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Food Inc.-A Must Watch Movie!

Last night we sat down and watch Food, Inc. as a family. We have become increasingly interested in improving the quality of the food we eat. For us, the only thing stopping us from making big changes is money. The sad truth is that healthy foods cost more and this movie showcases why that is.

As my husband said, "It was eye-opening."

This movie was made in 2008 and sadly, things have only gotten worse for the American food industry. Private corporations control our government more than ever before, putting the safety of our citizens at risk in favor of making money. It's time that we take a stand. Personally, every time a see a petition to fight Monsanto, I sign it. If you can afford it, vote with your dollars. Buy organic and local whenever possible. Grow your own! Make the changes that you can & bring awareness when you can.

Like they mentioned in the film, if the American people were able to take on the tobacco industry and remove its grasp on the government, we should be able to do it with the food industry!

*There are some graphic images that may affect your smaller children. Please use discretion!*

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Vacation on the Cheap: Orlando 2013 - Tips & FREE things to do at Disney!

Welcome back to my series Vacation on the Cheap! You can find the first installment here where I shared my planned itinerary and menu.

I talked briefly about the hotel we got for a great price through a vacation club. If you're interested in the specifics, let me know. I supposed I shouldn't really call it a hotel because it is a resort that is comprised of 1-3 bedroom condos. The Polynesian Isles was a lovely resort that I hope we get to stay at again! I didn't take any pictures of the resort or our room, and can't get any pictures to transfer over, but you can check a bunch of them on TripAdvisor. We rented a 2 bedroom condo for the week because we were expecting another family to join us & split the cost, but they weren't able to come. This worked out just fine because the six of pretty much needed all the room! It had a full kitchen and an outdoor grill which were the secret to our saving money on food.

I highly recommend that if you will be vacationing for a week or longer, that you find accommodations that have a kitchen. There are many rentals within reasonable distances from popular tourist destinations that are probably cheaper than a hotel room and come with extra room & amenities. This is also a superb option for families larger than the standard "2 adults, 2 children". This is why we (sadly) don't stay on Disney property. There are very few rooms to accommodate families with more than 4 people & they are WAY too expensive. In the future we may rent point from Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Members which would allow us to stay in a Deluxe Disney Villa for less money than the rack rate. The DisBoards Forum has thread here that you can learn more about renting DVC points.

I'm sure that itineraries is a dirty word to some of you! That's okay. There's a lot to be said about flying by the seat of your pants! Remember when I packed up my 4 kids and drove for 2 1/2 days from Texas to California so I could see my husband? That led to my kids' first trip to Disneyland! :) See the pics here and here! Don't forget to read all the stories that go with the pics & all the other interesting things we did along the way!

Still, having an itinerary can save you time, money & headaches. No, really! Like I've already mentioned, we aren't a family that can go on vacation and lay around on the beach for a week. We need to DO things! I spend hours (okay, days!) researching our destination and what we can do there. In case you hadn't guessed, Disney is our big love! It doesn't matter how many times I have been there, I still plan. Especially at a theme park, this pre-planning can save you time. I know what attractions to visit at what time of the day, and which day is the best day to visit to have the shortest wait times. I hate standing in line, and so do my children!

*If you are going to Walt Disney World, the best planning site by far is ! Josh knows what he is talking about! For WDW food, visit *

On this trip we weren't going into a Disney park, so I obviously needed to find other things for us to do (besides our 2 days at Universal Studios) & since we were on a budget, FREE was the name of the game. I scoured the internet & here is what I came up with:

Swimming at our hotel
Disney's Boardwalk at night (pretty lights & entertainment)
My first every Dole Whip Float! 
Disney's Contemporary Resort (riding the monorail through the building, the butterfly garden & view from the roof)
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort (the Wedding Pavilion)
Disney's Polynesian Resort (hula lessons, DOLE WHIPS!, the Electric Water Pageant & Wishes Fireworks from the beach)
Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports
Downtown Disney (the Lego store & a FREE Lego build!, FREE chocolate from Ghirardelli)
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (animal watching by day & by night-vision goggles, and African storytelling)
Disney's Art of Animation Resort (Cars, Finding Nemo & Little Mermaid)
Disney's All-Star Movie Resort (Toy Story!)
Ride the boat from Disney's Port Orleans Resort to Downtown Disney & back
Disney's Wilderness Lodge (follow the river from the lodge to the beach & watch the geyser erupt)
Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort (butterfly garden, Tri-Circle D Ranch & petting zoo, Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing-Along & marshmallow roast, followed by an outdoor movie)

Then we needed to find a time to fit all these activities in while still being able to relax at our fantastic resort. I didn't know if this would be too many activities or not enough, but that's what the itinerary is for. Just remember that an itinerary is tool to help you, not restrict you. A guideline, if you will. If you looked at my schedule in the last post, you'll see that instead of times, I broke down the days into "morning", "afternoon", and "evening". This keeps things flexible. Plus, everyone in your group knows what is going on each day and YOU don't have to keep answering "What are we doing today?" over and over.

Which brings me to my next point: Get your family involved in the planning. In my house, I'm in charge of the planning. All the kids and the hubs can offer up their advice & I will try to include things that each person wants to do. My fantastic hubby gets the final say. Luckily, he usually only makes changes if I've made a stupid mistake somewhere!

When I'm going to a theme park, I have a list (at least in my head) of what attraction we need to visit first, based on popularity and capacity. If you really don't care about getting everything done in a day, you can go to whatever you want first, but you may end up waiting in ridiculously long lines. I say do your homework before you go!

Packing for a full day of touring requires some thought. We've perfected our packing skills a little more on each trip we take to the parks. Here are some of our essentials:

A Stroller: Yup. My youngest child is 5 & we still push a stroller around the park! My children aren't allowed in it though! LOL You can rent a locker at most parks, but they cost money & usually aren't anywhere near you when you need them. There is always stroller parking near attractions. A stroller can be loaded down with tons of weight and no one will complain about having to carry it all. If your children are responsible enough, they can help push it. Mine fight over who gets to push it. Go figure.

A Backpack: A good sturdy backpack is a must. We just acquired a new to us (FREE) backpack which was miraculous since both straps had finally broken on our old one and we weren't going to fork out money for a new one. Stuff this puppy with all your non-perishable snacks, napkins, wet wipes, sunscreen, diapers, change of clothes, whatever you need!

An adorable child & all our stuff!
Coolers/Lunchboxes: For us, we have a soft-sided cooler (the only kind allowed in WDW) measuring  10.5" x 10.5" x 9" (which is also within WDW regulations). This holds four of these Ziploc divided containers with room for plenty of ice & maybe an extra water bottle or two.

These containers are fantastic! They are leak-proof and sturdy. We have had several for years and not had problems with them.

We also used a small soft-sided lunchbox (leftover from the kids public school days) that sort of holds two more lunch containers and a small baggie of flat ice. This is not ideal as the ice melts quickly. We've spotted some lunch bags that will fit two Ziploc containers with plenty of room for ice at Target's Back to School clearance section. We're just waiting for the price to drop past 30% off, then we'll most likely pick up two. Otherwise, we will need to get another large cooler. Update: The price dropped & we scored 2 (with water bottles) for less than $10!

Coolers are essential for avoiding costly (and not always so tasty) vacation food! This is especially helpful if you are eating a special diet. I know many of you are here from 100 Days of Real Food, which means you're probably trying to eat a real food diet. Although Disney is very good at offering healthier options at many of their restaurants, this is not the case everywhere. By bringing your own food into the parks, which is totally within the rules, you can control what you are eating!

Water Bottles: This seems like a no-brainer to me, but maybe it isn't obvious to everyone. Each member of our family carries their own refillable water bottle. This trip our kids had lanyards to carry them across one shoulder so they didn't always have to hold on to it. It was big help! The hubs and I usually just keep ours in the outside pockets of the backpack. There are also as many extra frozen bottles that we can fit stuffed into the cooler. At Disney any food service place will give you cups of ice water that you can then refill your bottle with. Unfortunately, I think most of their water tastes funny, so I just pack as much of my own as I can.

Lanyard with a pocket attached: Keep your money and park passes on you at all times with this handy dandy invention. You will have to leave bags and loose articles when you board most rides, and you don't want to leave your money behind! The plastic pocket should help to keep your items dry in case of a sudden downpour or an especially wet water ride.

Well, I think that about covers it! I would love to hear any tips and ideas that you guys have for vacationing on the cheap!

In the next post I will talk more about the food and menu planning.

Any questions I can answer? Or at least attempt to??

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pirates & the Bathroom??

Little boys are so cute! E comes running in....

E: Mommy, you know how pirates like to go to the bathroom in the dark?

Me: They do?

E: Yeah! So I just went to the bathroom with the lights off! *giggling*

Me: Wow! That's very piratey of you!

E: I know! Hey J! Guess what! *running off to tell his siblings*

pirate flag clipart

*I promise I have another post coming for my Vacation on the Cheap series! We are having issues getting pictures from my iPhone onto my pc. :(


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