If there ever was a budget-friendly, have a good time with the girls' kind of party -then, this is it!
Each year I invite my family, friends, and even co-workers to my Christms cookie party. The first year, I baked like a demon, baking 17 different kinds of holiday goodies, invited everyone over for sampling - it was a BYOC party (Bring Your Own Container). The goodies were a huge hit, but much to my surprise - everyone was a little disappointed: the ladies wanted to learn how to make the treats, not just eat 'em. So, the next year, I decided to pick out 5-6 favorite, versatile recipes and invite over the gang. The recipes for Cranberry Chocolate Bars, Luscious Lemon Cookies, and Diane's Amazing Almond Cookies were born during that party. Last year, our new creations included Dark Chocolate Orange Bars (Sunny's idea), Holiday Cranberry Biscotti (Diane's idea - my advanced student), and (my personal favorites) Cranberry Rum Walnut Biscotti (Madelyne's idea).
The girls and I laugh while drinking sweet tea and wine (Arbor Mist - got to love it), the guys watch football and offer assistance by being our voluntary taste testers, and if the kids come, we teach them (and let them taste test), too.
At last year's party, with my mother, and my husband's mother, aunt, and grandmother - along with my friends Sunny & Troy, was one of the best times I can remember having in the kitchen. I might go for fewer recipes - 8-12 got a little confusing, but what I find worked great was using 2-3 base recipes and allowing each of the girls to do their own variation. My main base recipes are Basic Bars, Basic Biscotti, Basic Oatmeal, and Basic Cookie (vanilla flavored). With each of these, the girls got to pick their favorite flavor of spice and extract, and also add in their favorite stir-ins like nuts, fruits, chips, and more.
Each girl brings a basic ingredient or two, I supply the spices, extracts, and stir-ins. We get to have a variety of goodies, have fun making them, and caught up, too!
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I had some catalina's that were about to expire last night, so I went shopping - I didn't need much, but figured it's always better to shop with someone else's money. I had 21 catalinas for $2 OYNO and a $5 off $25 purchase. With what I can remember, I got:
2 dozen eggs
2 spice jars - $.99 each
6 boxes Rice-A-Roni - $.90 each
5 boxes Betty Crocker Potatoes $1.00 -$.40 Q's for each
1 bag no yolk egg noodles $1.97 -$.50 Q
2 lbs. margarine $.63 each
1 Parkay Butter Spray $1.69 each (I love that stuff!)
6 cans mushrooms $.50 each
4 cans diced Italian-style tomatoes - $.50 each
3 cans organic tomato paste $.89 each -$1.00/3 organic items Q
7 pkgs. Betty Crocker pizza crust mix $.89 each (they have the boxtops on them)
1 66 ct. garbags bags (got something off the have-to list) $4.69
2 cans Libby's Pumpkin Pie Filling (28 oz.) $1.98 each
2 bags of flour $1.86 each
2 pkgs. instant pudding (meijer brand) $.50 each
10 cans tomato soup (ValuTime brand) $.44 each
1 jar olives (14.5 oz.) $2.99

# of items purchased - 57
Tax $.84
Savings - $62.74
Total OOP - $.29

For all that, I paid about 1/3 of the tax. The coupons paid for the rest.
Wow - the $1 a day challenge, I was amazed at how tough that was. Even for someone as frugal as me, I don't think I could keep it up indefinitely. What it has shown me is how to streamline some of my meals and tighten the budget - especially going into the holidays and all the holiday entertaining I'll be doing. Some of these meal plans will be graet to expand on for feed a group. I noticed dairy is my biggest budget buster while rice and pastas really help the financial diet I'm on. For entertaining, I'll expand on some basic rice dishes, look for deals and steals on meats (of any kind!!) and just keep doing what I've been doing.
I need to find more free items to stock up on, which is a challenge considering that no stores within 100 miles double coupons on a regular basis - only Kmart and they double coupons sporadically.
I've been spending some time organizing my pantry - it makes meal-planning and grocery shopping much easier. It feels great each time I check an item off the list knowing that I won't have to shop for it for quite some time. If I find free - or darn close to it, I try to buy enough to last 3-8 months at a time. What ever extra I can grab, I typically share with family and friends, though I'm actively trying to hound more stuff simply for donating to the local food pantry and soup kitchen.
Now, I'm off to hunt up some cereal coupons - though I have cereal, it's all the kind that DH likes, so I'd like to hound some for myself!
The goal is to spend $1 a day (per person) on food. Here's what my week looks like:
Breakfast: granola bar ($.16), yogurt ($.20) and glass of iced tea ($.03)
Lunch: salad ($.99 lb. bag broken down into 6 servings $.16) topped with chicken (free) and salad dressing (free)
Snack: Pretzels (1 lb. bag = $1.00, 24 pretzels = $.08)
Dinner: Roasted chicken drumsticks (.11/lb. serving = 1/2 lb. = $.05) chicken rice ($.50 a box - 1/3 box = $.16) and applesauce (free) and 2 brownies ($.11)
Total - $.95

Breakfast: yogurt ($.20), granola bar ($.08) and water (free)
Lunch: salad ($.16), dried cranberries (.09), dressing (free)
Snack: granola bar ($.08)
Dinner: boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed and pan-fried ($.99/lb. $.15 servings) with mashed potatoes and gravy ($.18/servings), corn ($.39/can - $.10)
Total: $.99

Breakfast: cinnamon raisin bagel (pkg of 6 for $.79 = $.13), butter spray (free) 1 banana = $.11
Lunch: leftover chicken ($.18), 2 sliced of bread ($.05), mayo (free), brownie ($.06)
Snack: Brownies ($.05), raisins ($.11)
Dinner: french toast ($.21), turkey bacon (free), applesauce (free) syrup ($.08)
Total: $.98

Breakfast: yogurt ($.20), banana bread (.10)
Lunch: mexican rice ($.06), refried beans (.08), chicken ($.10),
Snack: tortilla chips ($.10), salsa (free)
Dinner: spaghetti (free) with meat sauce ($.26), 2 brownies ($.10)
Total = $1.00

Breakfast: english muffin ($.16) banana ($.08)
Lunch: bread - turkey and cranberry sammich ($.22), crackers ($.11)
Dinner: roasted chicken stuffed with rice ($.17) salad ($.16), green beans ($.10)
Total: $1.00

Breakfast: 2 eggs and 2 slices toast ($.15), banana ($.08)
Lunch: spaghetti (.20) 3 cookies ($.20)
Dinner: pork roast with potatoes(free), carrots (free) ($.30)
Total: $.93

Brunch: Ham and swiss sammie ( $.23) with chips (free), pickles ($.11)
Dinner: Red Rice ($.10), beans (free), tortillas (free), and ground turkey ($.25), lettuce ($.10), black olives ($.15), tomato (free)
Total: $.98
As you can tell, it's that time of year again - time to bake. And there's no time to do any "proper" baking, so you'll see a lot of recipes for quickie cookeis and throw-together bars (I love any recipe where I can dump everything into a bowl and mix.). I'm listing some of my favorites - all recipes here have been taste-tested on family, friends, co-workers, etc.
This recipe was born out of frustration and lack of better planning. What my mom used to call an Iff 'N' recipe. If and she had the right ingredients - it would have been something else. My mother-in-law and I invented them, and I must share the credit because they are simply too yummy.

1 box chocolate cake mix, any kind but devils food
2 eggs
1/4 C. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/4 C. water
1 tsp. rum extract
1 C. dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 C. chocolate chips (anything but white chocolate will do)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 13x9" baking dish.
Mix well all but final 2 ingredient. Stir in remaining ingredients.
Spread evenly into prepared pan.
Bake 25 minutes.
Dust with powdered sugar, cool, and cut.
Yield = not enough with one batch, typically. I had to make 2!!
1 box coconut cake mix
2 eggs, minus one yolk
1/3 C. brown sugar
1/4 C. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 C. water
1/2 tsp. rum extract
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
1 C. coconut, divided

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 13x9" baking dish.
Mix well all ingredients, except 1/4 C. coconut. Spread evenly in pan.
Bake for 15 minutes, then top with remaining coconut and bake another 10 minutes.
Cool and cut.
Yield = 36 small bars or 24 medium sized bars.
1 box german chocolate cake mix
2 eggs, minus one yolk
1/4 C. dark brown sugar
1/4 C. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 C. orange juice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. rum extract
1/2 C. chocolate chunks (or 3 dark chocolate bars broken into small pieces)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 13x9" baking dish.
Mix well all ingredients. Spread evenly into pan.
Bake for 25 minutes. Cool and cut
1 box french vanilla or classic white cake mix
2 eggs, one yolk removed
1/4 C. milk
1/3 C. brown sugar
1/3 C. unsweetened applesauce
2 T. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C. vanilla chips

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 13x9" baking dish.
Mix well all ingredients.
Spread evenly into prepared pan.
Bake for 25-27 minutes.
Dust with powdered sugar.
Cool and cut.
There have been a few variations of this going around, but the challenge is to spend only $1 a day per person on food. So starting Monday, I'll list my meal plans - including the cost of each ingredient and the number of people I'm serving. I'll continue this (with the exception of Thanksgiving dinner) for the remainder of the month: a kind of meal-planning, budget watching all in one.
To make this easier, I'll start with a break-down of my pantry basics - factored out by cost per serving - kind of a quick reference guide. I'll list by where I got the ingredients/coupons for anyone wanting to give this a try.
If anyone else has any ideas to help me meet this challenge, I'd love to hear them!
It isn't often enough that a deal comes my way that I do a "rinse & repeat" on, but with one this good, I just keep coming back for more.
The basic premise: buy 3 Jello at $.50 each. Use $1.50 off any 2 Jello (grab 3 though, I've heard they don't give overage). Now you're paying only tax for the Jello. Then a $2 OYNO coupon $2 profit off each order. The only downside: you only get 1 $2 OYNO coupon per transaction. I've run more transactions this week than I can count! I have 20 $2 OYNO coupons at home. I'm going to grab more of them today. If you want to sweeten the pot, buy a pkg. of Taco Bell Taco Shells (the crunchy kind) that are 20% off, use a $1.50 off any Taco Bell Dinner Kit coupon and get $.10 back per box! Yep, Dh did that last night and made money.... there's more to him than just good looks and charm! That sweetie has brains, too. My hope is to use the $2 OYNO coupons to help pay for Thanksgiving dinner. Especially since I'm hosting it and having family come in from out-of-town. I'll be at it again tonight, shopping til I drop. I'm hoping to have $50 in coupon-money (I love those OYNO coupons) to use for the holidays. Hmmm....wonder what else I can get for $2 - you'd be amazed how much shopping you can do in ridiculously small increments.
I have added 195 free boxes of Jell-O (to be split with my sister, inlaws, and food pantry), 15 boxes of Taco Bell Crunchy Taco Shells (to be divided between family and food pantry) - for a profit of $.10 per box, 16 jars of salsa (half are mine, half to give away) - $.22 a jar, and ended up with more than $100 in cats by the time the sale was done, plus the miscellaneous $/$$ purchase. Which added in another $30+ in free spending. I also played coupon fairy and gave away enough Jell-O and Taco Bell coupons to people to help them save another $25. I love, love, love coupon-karma!

Well, the count is finally in - I currently have 23 $2 cats, so $46 in shopping for the big Turkey Day. And sis from MN is going to bring potatoes, so scratch another item off the list. Just need the price of canned veggies to go down, grab some yams and egg nog, and find a way to score as free turkey and I'll be pretty much set! This is the year of the hounded holiday!

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