This past weekend has been a whirlwind, ferris wheel ride of a time! I am still aching from the miles we walked in Chicago, in the 'burbs, in stores, everywhere!! How did I do at going into the city on the cheap? Well - it wasn't easy, but here it goes:

Parking at Navy Pier versus 5 people taking the train and a cab: saved $31 or more than 58%
Dinner at Nuevo Leon $49.xx for 5 people, plus a meal to go. Very good price seeing as we were dining in Chicago at one of the 10 best Mexican resturants the city has to offer. And their mole sauce.....too yummy!
Parking at Nuevo Leon $2.00. Still a lot cheaper than a taxi taking us back and forth.

Lunch for 4 at Sweet Tomatoes $38.41 (saved $11.89 using a coupon and going for lunch rather than dinner)
Movies - Alice in Wonderland (3-D) $15.00 for 4 people (saved $21.00 by going during the matinee showing and by using some filled movie punch cards I had been saving for just this occasion - skipped the snacks because we were all so stuffed from Sweet Tomatoes!)
Browsing at books (Goodwill) - saved hundreds over retail price and grabbed 9 more titles for my summer reading!

This week, it's back to scrimping and saving - have to make up for that big budget weekend somehow! No regrets, a good time was had by all for DaMama's 64th birthday.

Meal Plan:

Wednesday: Bean and rice tacos, salad
Thursday - Spaghetti al marinara, french bread
Friday - Cheese pizza, salad
Saturday - leftovers
Sunday - Easter dinner at DaMama's - must find out what dish I need to bring...
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Now, can it actually be called shopping when you don't actually pay for the merchandise, you only pay the tax? Well, that's what I've been up to the last few evenings! I've gone to Dominick's and grabbed Colgate toothpaste and used the $1 coupons (manufacturer, of course) provided in Jewel's ad last week - that adds up to free toothpaste for DH & I, my mother, my sister (and family), and my assorted inlaws - with a few leftover to donate to the women's shelter!

That's what I call a good deal! What made it even better is that at the Dominicks I prefer to shop at, the items were correctly tagged, but rang up wrong at the register - so I got one free (their policy for an item ringing up wrong - love it!!)

I bought:
24 tubes Colgate toothpaste (and I didn't even make a dent in clearing the shelves either - there were plenty for the couponers)
1 6lb. pkg. Rancher's Reserve beef patties (24 count) marked down to $5.99! I used (2) $2.00 YBs expired from Jewel and when all was said and done....

I got 100% savings!
I paid $3.36 and tax on my order was $3.37 - I only paid the tax for all those yummy goodies!

That's what I call shopping and saving!
I've been getting mroe and mroe excited as my mother's (DaMama) 64th birthday gets closer. My sister and girlfriend are driving down from Minnesota - more than 550 - for the occasion, as naturally, we're trying to do this weekend as affordably (and fun) as we can. Here are some of the things I've already done in the way of hounding down a birthday weekend:

1. Classic Cinemas offers punch cards, for every ticket purchased, 1 punch on your card. Well, I've got 2 full cards for free admission - couple that with early bird specials ($5 matinees) and we've got a movie for 4 for only $10.

2. BOGOF coupon to Mongolian BBQ - our favorite, create-your-own stirfry place. Added bonus: comes with soup and salad bar and we'll have lunch there instead of dinner.

3. A day in Chicago - on the cheap. Yes, this can be done - if you've got a plan....which I naturally happen to have. An afternoon at Navy Pier, a ride of the Ferris Wheel, and dinner at Nuevo Leon - inarguably the best Mexican restaurant in Chicago, located in the Pilsen neighborhood. The prices there are amazing - average plate is $5.75-$7.00. Can't eat in the city anywhere cheaper than that, not even McDonald's! Our biggest expense will be parking. Can't avoid that one - it's cheaper to drive 5 of us than take the Metra (train).

4. Do-it-yourself or beauty school pedicures. It's only $8-$12 a head at the beauty school, less I'm sure if we do it at home, but far better than paying salon prices ($45+ around here!) It's like 4 for the price of 1! And last time, they gave me a free bottle of polish (the good stuff). Lovin' it!

5. Have coupons for over a dozen eateries in the area, from Lonestar Steakhouse to Applebees from Steak 'n' Shake to Sweet Tomatoes. We'll be covered on the dining portion of this weekend.

Now, I just can't wait for them to get here!!
Do you have any tips for entertaining on a budget? I'd love any suggestions you have!
I went out with DaMama shopping on Sunday, not realizing it was the last day of the nationwide catalina for Post cereals. That's okay, since my store had plenty of the shelves (and two loaded end-caps), I grabbed 15 boxes of those yummy cereals and a few other things while I was out:

15 boxes Post cereal (14 honey bunches and 1 fruity pebbles)
10 Oscar Mayer Bologna/Salami (12 oz.)
1 dozen eggs
OOP: $9.32
Saved: 78.61

24 boxes Pasta-Roni/Rice-A-Roni
1 Hillshire Farms Smoked Sausage
2 gallons milk
2 pkgs. crackers (Wheatable Crisps)
-$1/4 Rice/Pasta-Roni's (6)
-$.55 Hillshire Farms Smoked Sausage
-$1.00/1 Wheatable crisps (2)
-$3.50 OYNO
-$3.00 OYNO
Total OOP: $12.90
Saved $36.xx

$.93 - 3 bulbs garlic
$.10 - bunch of bananas
$.74 - Organic Braeburn apples (3 large)
$1.07 - Gala apples (4 small)
$.86 - Red Delicious apples (4 large)
$.59 - heart of Romaine
$.87 - baking potatoes (4 large)
$1.39 - 36 ct. tortillas
$1.99 - Dole orange juice
$.98 - Ancient Red Sweet peppers (2)
$2.07 - 3 pkgs. Scott Peterson jumbo hotdogs
$.79 - yellow onions (5 small)
$1.50 - pint of blueberries

OOP: $14.12

Total OOP: $36.34
I'm only planning for half the week, as my sister, Amy, and a mututal friend are coming down from Minnesota to surprise my mom (aka DaMama) for her 64th birthday. We've been meticulously planning for this weekend for a many months now, I can't believe it's almonst here!!! As it will be a busy weekend, and there are many places to go and restaurants to sample, I won't be planning any meals past Thursday, instead I have all the basic ingredients on hand to make most of the family favorites, and a few of my classic dishes.

To say I'm excited for my sister and friend to get here is an understatement!

Monday - Pan-Seared Pork Chops, baked potatoes, Sauteed Mushrooms in a Parmesan Sauce, salad

Tuesday - Grilled (if I can talk DH into grilling, that is) teriyaki chicken thighs, rice, cinnamon apples

Wednesday - Ginger Pork Stirfry, egg rolls, rice

Thursday - Brats, hashbrowns, salad, leftover cinnamon apples

Lunch of the week: Sammies! We have oodles of free bologna and salami and some cheese on hand, I'll boil some noodles and toss with jarred sauce for a second choice.

Dessert of the week: Blueberry Almond Bars (I'll bake those tonight while I'm in the kitchen anyway.)

Breakfast of the week: Oatmeal and cereal, apples and peanut butter. Simple, but we work with what we have. And yesterday, I scored 15 boxes of Post Honey Bunches of Oats (assorted varieties) for less than $3!! I doubt any cashier would ask what was for breakfast in my household! LOL.

Want more meal planning ideas? Check out these other ladies over at for links to dozens of other meal plans!!
In the Jewel flyer, there are a bunch of manufacturer coupons, including a coupon for $1/4 Rice-A-Roni & Pasta-A-Roni. These are on sale at Dominicks for $.75 each when you buy 4. Grab a few Jewel flyers are buy the rice and pasta mixes for just $.50 each in multiples of 4.

There is no limit on the number of these you can buy per transaction! I just grabbed a dozen this morning without any problems at all. Remember, for every $50 you spend at Dominicks (after fresh value card and store coupons), you receive $10 in Kohl's Cash!
Last Friday, I had lunch with my other mother (my mother-in-law) at Panera. While the atmosphere was crowded and noisy and the food was good, but a little pricey for my taste - I discovered a new love. Not just the yummy, over-priced tuna sammie (which with Dijon mustard was a nice change), but the luscious, plump wild blueberry scones that we treated ourselves to as dessert. One bite and I was in love. Head-over-heels, want to eat a dozen more kind of love. The dangerous kind...

For one delicious moment, I imagined making that a weekly treat. Then I imagined how much that would cost over the course of a year, and quickly put an end to that foolishness. So, next stop: the cookbook collection. Naturally, scones were not so much in style over the last decade and recipes for them either: required ingredients I do not typically keep on hand or were deemed a little too unhealthy (heavy cream, anyone??) so I kepy looking. I finally made my way into DaMama's cookbook collection where I found a base recipe I could use as a start point.

What is a base recipe? For me, a base recipe is one I can use the structure of (for dry and wet ingredients) while adding my own spin on things. Which I do. Always. I often start by adding some sort of extract (to any baked dessert or sweet treat), or changing the flavor originally called for in the recipe. Vanilla is nice, but I live my life by rum - extract, I mean. We all have a favorite flavor, mine is simply not vanilla. My rule of thumb: I make what flavors I love, after all, I am the cook/baker.

My first batch of scones I tried using some blueberries I needed to get out of my fridge anyway, and they were good, but not as sweet as I may have preferred. Definitely not as sweet as Panera. But the form and texture were perfect. So, last night, I tried my hand at a second batch of scones, using the original base recipe, and adding some brown sugar which was not called for in the original. This batch has all the flavor I was looking for, the texture is good, the result: a definite keeper. This is the kind of thing you could bring to a fancy brunch and watch people fall all over themselves. Now, I just need some local friends that do brunch, and I'll be all set! If not, Easter is just around the corner.

Cinnamon Raisin Scones Recipe
While I shopped myself silly last weekend - and the deals at Dominicks were so crazy good, they were the: I-saved-$115.xx-got-52-items-filled-an-entire-grocery-cart-and-the-back-of-my-Saturn kind of good. Now, the shopping has (momentarily) died down and it feels so strange. I haven't gone properly shopping (the kind that requires me to use more than one coupon) in more than 4 days! I am seriously in withdrawal.

It feels so strange... (Yes, I know, I said that before, but it bears repeating.) Like I'm going about my routine and missing something. Not that I have tons more free time - I just have visits with DaMama, working, laundry, cleaning the kitchen, cooking, working, wishing I could take a nap, filling out more paperwork, working, etc. to keep me busy. Did I mention work was keeping me busy? I work in the office of a small non-for-profit (there are only 5 of us in the office) and my work load has doubled overnight after they let one of my coworkers go back in February. While I'd love nothing more than a walk around the artificial water-thingy (I don't know if it's called a pond, an estuary, a mini-lake, or a water feature, etc...), I'm stuck trying to unbury my desk from the never ending avalanche of projects that keep threatening to go all Colorado-mountain big-snow(paper)-avalanche on me and I won't be found until mid-July. Or whenever the spring thaw happens to be.

All I want to do is grab my box-envelope-coupon-organizer full of coupons and escape into the world of deals. I guess this is a couponer's form of Spring Fever. When the deals start slowly popping up like the first blades of grass in the spring, warming to the sunshine (or to the box of coupons stashed in my car), and the longer hours of daylight inspire me to get out more, use more coupons, and generally - get back to the life I think I have waiting for me out there somewhere.

Anyone else experiencing Spring Fever? What are the warning signs that Spring Fever is upon you?
Dinner Dilemmas: When something in the fridge is not what is appears to be! A cautionary tale....

I hope I'm not the only one out there that has dinner dilemmas. Even though I'm pretty good about meal-planning, sometimes the components you plan to work with are simply not there. Last night is a perfect example.

When I asked DH what ideas he had for the meal-plan, he said there was some leftover ground turkey that was browned up - why not make Hamburger Helper or tacos. For a change of pace, I figured helper would make my cooking and prep time a little shorter, so I planned tomato basil penne (or something that sounded like that). That is, until I go to the fridge to pull out the ground turkey - and it's fried rice from the week before. Oops... and I didn't have any other meat thawed except some chicken and mozzarella sausage and deli meat - and we each had sammies for lunch. And we both are not the biggest fan of eating the same thing for lunch as well as dinner.

What I did have is 2-3 lbs. fresh mushrooms and more jarred pasta sauce than I can shake a stick at (though why I would be shaking a stick when I was trying to get dinner ready is completely beyond me. Maybe I'm just quirky like that.). And I did plan to use mushrooms in nearly every meal this week.

I started by chopping the mushrooms and wondering what the heck I was going to do with them. But thinking as fast as my tired brain could manage, the basic idea is finally hatched: I'm still making helper, it's just not coming out of a box anymore, it's coming out of the pantry. Though hubby is not the biggest fan of a meatless meal or alfredo sauce for that matter, I grabbed a jar of Alfredo and a bag of medium shells.

The more I got to thinking, the less the idea of meatless appealed to me, either. So I started by looking in the freezer for leftover cooked chicken - and promptly struck out, unless I wanted to add some chicken nuggets to our meal, and I wasn't willing to go that far out on a limb. A better the idea, in the form of chicken sausage in the pasta sounded do-able, so I tossed sauteed mushrooms, browned some chicken sausage medallions, and medium shells with a jar of Ragu's Alfredo and a 30-minute meal was born. Why - because sometimes, every once in a great while, things do not go as planned. The up side: the fried rice will be making an appearance tonight with the Thai ginger pork stirfry.

Tell me - have Dinner Dilemmas ever happened to you? What was your saving grace?
I got some good deals on an insane amount of mushrooms this week - so I'm going to have to make our meals Iron-Chef style: secret ingredient is mushrooms. Let' see how many ways I can work them in!

Monday - Tomato basil penne with ground turkey and mushrooms, garden salad
Tuesday - Pork Stirfry, Simply Sweet Salad
Wednesday - dinner at Mom's - Corned Beef and Cabbage, carrots and potatoes, biscuits
Thursday - Creamy Garlic Chicken in a Crockpot, egg noodles,
Friday - Alfredo pizza with mushrooms, bell pepper, and mozzarella, stuffed mushrooms (minus the meat - for Lent), and salad
Saturday - Date Night
Sunday - Enchiladas con picadillo, Chicken & Mushroom Quesadillas, beans, and rice

Breakfast of the week: Blueberry Scones, oatmeal, cereal (we've got more than 12 varieties to choose from!)

Dessert of the week: Brownies

Lunch of the week: Scalloped Ham casserole, ham and turkey sammies, and salad
As any couponer shopping today knows, there is a such thing as coupon karma. What this means, to me anyway, is that good is rewarded with good, and the reverse is quite often true. While I've come across my share of snippy, rude, and obnoxious cashiers - every once in a while...I find a true gem.

Last night, while taking my last run at the Jewel freebies (Suave and Ragu products) and grabbing my well-placed filler items (Jewel brand mandarin oranges, tomato sauce, refried beans, and enchilada sauce), the cashier, Megan, scanning the coupons at the self-check was amazing! Megan was everything I adore in a cashier - upbeat, friendly, and helpful. A pleasant bonus - she wants to learn how I shop! I spent less than $10 on Ragu pasta sauce, Buitoni tortelloni (4 pkgs!!), 2 dozen eggs, lots of Suave shampoo and conditioner, fruit, tomato sauce, and more.

Megan and I chatted each time she had to come put a coupon through for me - she was giving me tips on which were the better types of Sauve, I was outlining the cheapies and freebies using the YourBucks system - I couldn't have hoped for a smoother, easier time at Jewel than what I got. And to think...I almost went to the "other" Jewel - the one in the neighboring town where the store is much dirtier, the customers are rude, and the staff barely speaks and looks no one in the eye.

My hometown Jewel - got bless their hearts - haven't given me any problems with my couponing in many, many months. They actually get it! One cashier recognized me from seeing me drop stuff off for the food pantry, maybe that's why they are so friendly. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I am all smiles after that shopping trip. Now - off to give Megan a very well-deserved pat on the back through the customer survey that printed at the bottom of one of my receipts!
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Well, from my fellow bloggers - rumor has it Jewel will start limiting the number of YourBucks offers to 12 per preferred card. With that rumored deadline predicted for tomorrow - I have made a few more runs at the Suave MM and the free Ragu - before they put the breaks on this fun ride, I'm gonna ride it to the end! So, during my lunch break yesterday and on my way to work today, I squeezed in a few small transactions - and after work yesterday, I picked up my hounding/shopping buddy and grabbed another dozen.

Hubby officially thinks I'm crazy, my under the sink cabinet is 2/3 full of Suave products, and I have to reorganize my pantry to fit in all the free Ragu. Good thing, I have nothing planned for the weekend to start getting my house in order. With my sister due to make a visit in a few weeks - I know the extra space I need to make in my pantry is only temporary. When she's sees this haul, she'll be loading up her car! Which I must admit - I am counting on...

I think I'll try one final run at this deal after work today, before I finally let it rest. Let's hope some stores in my area have the shampoo left because all I keep finding of the Suave is conditioner. Really, my hair can be soft and silky, but if it's still dirty,'s still dirty. I don't know what I'm going to do with myself after this deal is done - I've been squeezing in a few bottles of body wash/shampoo/conditioner here and few jars of sauce there since it started, it's almost become routine to me.

What I find most interesting in all this shopping is the wildly different attitudes that I come across in cashiers. At my "home" store, they couldn't be more helpful. Even if I have 6 orders back to back, they are polite, friendly, and understanding. At the neighboring stores - I'm treated with vague annoyance - like, "Why are you wasting my time? DOn't you have somthing better to do?"

But the one that takes the cake is the one closest to my office where the front end staff is outright hostile. Yep, these ladies have been working there for 12-30 years and they are none too happy about it. One cashier even told me that there was a limit of 1 coupon transaction per day. I started reading the coupon and asked her to point out where it said that. Needless to say, she was flummoxed and let me do my 3 transactions. Since then, I've been treading somewhat lightly and only running 1-2 there per day. This morning was a classic, I grabbed the last 3 bottles of Suave (conditioner, of course) they had left on the shelves and paid for the first 2 bottles, then went to use a coupon on my final bottle (and jar of Ragu). I waited for 7 minutes, after hitting the coupon button 3 times and she didn't come over. I finally had to ask her to come to the register to put the coupon through (she was busy talking to a co-worker, pointedly ignoring me). The attitude of the front end there - especially during the work day, is nothing short of atrocious. Why couldn't I work closer to a nice Jewel - one with pleasant or even uninterested front end staff? Unfortunately, I am stuck with the mean, old, and bitter hags.

Sorry for the rant, I just had to get that out of my system. I feel much better now. Back to my regularly scheduled program...
Time for a mini-slow down after the crazy week of hounding! This will be a light week of meals for me as DH is going to be out-of-town Thursday-Saturday. I've got tons of free flour tortillas to make my meals a snap!

Monday - Bacon, egg, and cheese wraps, peach slices
Tuesday - Ground turkey tacos with pepper jack cheese, rice, beans, and all the fixin's
Wednesday - Chicken teryaki wraps, potatoes julienne, salad
Thursday - dinner at DaMama's
Friday - Mushroom & Swiss frittata, toast, hashbrowns, fresh fruit
49 jars Ragu pasta sauce $1.99
47 bottles of Suave body wash, shampoo, or conditioner
24 tubes Colgate toothpaste
32 cans Shoppers Value tomato sauce
30 cans Chicken of the Sea tuna
19 cans Shoppers Value tomato paste
1 box Rice-A-Roni

Total OOP: $9.79
Total coupons spent: $240
Total savings: $399.28

Looks like spaghetti is going to be on the menu each week for the next year....not worrying about having a meal ready to go - priceless!
With the easy to use, individualized catalina deals that are running at Jewel through YourBucks - I've gotten a 12-18 month supply of lots of goodies - can you believe these deals??

Transactions 1-8: (I've repeated this transaction 8 times!!)

1 jar 26 oz. or larger Ragu pasta sauce
1 bottle Suave Body Wash - assorted flavors
1 tube 4.6 oz. Colgate toothpaste
1 can Shoppers Value tomato sauce
1 can Shoppers Value tomato paste

Total OOP: $.55
Savings: $6.99
Coupon savings: $5.00

GM Catalina deal:
(2) tubs BC frosting reg. price $2.29 each -$.50/1 Q's (2) - sale price $1.49
(4) boxes BC Supreme brownie mix reg. price $3.09 each -$.75/2 Q's (2) - sale price $1.99
(1) Box BC cake mix reg. price - $1.49 - sale price $.99
(2) BC Cookies mix pouches -reg. price $2.39 -$.40/1 Q (2) - sale price $1.69
-$7.00 catalina (from previous catalina deal)
-$2.00 catalina
-$1.00 catalina
OOP: $1.28
Saved: $22.20
Coupon savings: $14.30

Last 2 transactions:

1 jar 26 oz. or larger Ragu pasta sauce
1 bottle Suave Body Wash - assorted flavors
1 tube 4.6 oz. Colgate toothpaste
2 bags (small size) Doritos 3/$1 -$.25 Q's on each
1 can Shoppers Value tomato paste

OOP: $.31
Saved: $7.52
Coupon savings: $5.50

Total Spent: $6.30
Total Saved: $93.16
Coupon Savings: $65.40

Not having to buy toothpaste for a year....priceless! For that, and everything else: there are coupons!

I haven't even gotten to Meijer and the $30 in cats I have to spend there yet!
Today I've grabbed another:
2 bottles Ragu pasta sauce
2 bottles Suave body wash
1 500 ct. box Q-tips
2 tubes Colgate toothpaste
1 can Shoppers Value tomato paste
1 can Shoppers value tomato sauce

OOP = $1.34
Saved: $13.42
Catalina left to spend: $20

All in a day's hounding!

Can't wait to see what my weekly totals on these items are!!
Lots and lots of free after coupon deals going on at Jewel this week! If you haven't signed up your Preferred Card for the YourBucks promotions - do that right now! Click here to sign up.
Okay, you're all signed up - good. That makes the rest of this so much easier. YourBucks are catalina offers for your preferreed card. If you don't sign up - no freebies for you. Here are the basic rules:

5. There is no limit (as of now) to the number of transactions you can do that will generate the coupons. Yippee!!

4. YourBucks are limited to the three (3) Jewel stores you frequent most often. I know, it makes the shopping more of a challenge, but think about the stores you shop at most frequently. Most likely, the one nearest home and work will be among your YB stores. For me, I have no clue which store would be my #3. I'll let you know when I figure it out!

3. It takes 36 hours for offers to load to your card, so start clearing some time in your schedule tomorrow for shopping. The offers are good for 3-4 weeks, on average.

2. Scan your preferred card first. No exceptions.

1. Unless otherwise stated, one like item will generate a coupon per transaction. You can do multiple offers per order, but only one like item will print the coupon. Example: 1 Suave shampoo/conditioner, 1 Ragu pasta sauce, and 1 loaf of bread will generate you: $2 YB (for the Suave), $2 YB (for the Ragu), and $1 YB (for the bread). They will begin printing as soon as you swipe the item. Watch the size, count, type of item carefully. If it helps, print out the list that YB's lists for you. Take it into the store in case there is any problem with the coupons printing - that will be your reassurance that you will get your coupons from customer service in the event that they don't print automatically.

The items (I know of) that are free or super cheap after YB:

1. Ragu pasta sauce $1.99 = $2 YB
2. Suave product (any but trial/travel sized)$.89-$1.79 = $2
3. Jewel large eggs, dozen count $1.29 = $1 YB
4. Jewel 16 oz. or larger loaf white bread = $1 YB - Sign up and get in on the good deals!!

I've spent $5.27 for:
8 jars Ragu pasta sauce
4 bottles Suave shampoo/conditioner
1 Suave body wash
1 dozen eggs
1 loaf bread

And I still have $15 in coupons to spend!!! I love a good moneymaker!

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