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Follow up on ditching cable – we love our Roku!

Roku

Several months ago I wrote about our ever-ending quest to find larger items to save money on. We finally “bit the bullet” and got rid of our cable. Even after reading about others who had done it, I thought we could never live without it. It was our one splurge – not eating out much, not spending much on clothing, makeup, recreation, etc. As my friend Mara (of Kosher on a Budget) calls it – there are no sacred cows. So we did it – but after some careful research! Here is my original post: Save big on your phone and cable!

The hookup of our Roku device was very easy – however, we first bought the wrong one. We didn’t realize that our TV would not work with the hookup of the newest Roku model. It said it worked with most HD TVs, so we just assumed it would be fine with ours. Wrong! Be sure to check what kind of hookup your TV requires and be sure that model of Roku has that connection! And be aware that the Roku devices do not always come with the cable you may need. Read reviews for this, too, so you know all the parts you may need to get.

So we returned the newer one and got the previous model (which did save us $50, by the way) and thanks to Amazon Prime, it came in just two days. The hookup was then quite fast and we were able to watch in a few minutes.

The hard part was figuring out the multitude of channels. I still do not know what they all are for and many have charges that are not specifically stated on those first home screens. We have stuck with using HuluPlus ($7.99/month), Netflix ($7.99/month), and Amazon Prime ($79/year or $39 if you are a student). My boys also like PBS Kids, which is free.

Here were my original worries about giving up our AT & T:

  • we wouldn’t be able to keep track of our favorite shows and when new episodes were available
  • we would get behind on our favorite shows
  • our favorite shows would not be available

So far 2 out of 3 of our worries were unfounded. HuluPlus lets you add shows to your Favorites list and then new episodes appear on your Queue as they are available. You can also manually select any episodes or shows to your Queue. The font size is a bit hard to read on HuluPlus on our smallish TV, but no biggie!

The last, that some of our favorite shows would not be available, was true. Neither HuluPlus, Netflix or Amazon Prime seem to have current episodes of Disney, ABC Family, Lifetime, USA or CBS shows – without an added fee. You can often buy one episode of a show for $1.99, but I am not about to pay that for one show!

So for now, we are watching older seasons on Netflix when we can find them (Disney, some ABC Family, and CBS are available). And we are waiting and hoping all of the above mentioned stations will work out some deal with these streaming providers soon! The other option is to watch them online, but that is not as convenient for us with my laptop which often overheats. A friend has mentioned hooking up our laptop to the TV screen, but that is for another day!

The boys love it and really have so much to watch. They are loving catching up on older episodes of their favorite shows, finding every superhero show imaginable, and the watching the PBS Kids channel, which has a large selection of great shows (Arthur, Magic School Bus, Wild Kratts, Dinosaur Train, Word Girl, and more).

Have you made the switch? Share your feedback below in the Comments section!

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Save big on your phone and cable!

Money

During my quest to save money, it has been much easier to find small ways to save. And those small ways can add up over the course of a year. Finding those big-ticket items can be more problematic. However, in the last two days I have found two new things that will together save us more than $1600 a year!

Phone service:

The first came from my friend, Mara, who writes the blog “Kosher on a Budget,” which I often refer to and link to. She did a post on an internet-based phone service. The Ooma system hooks up through your internet connection and you pay as little as $120 for the unit (yesterday’s price on Amazon). Then you pay less than $4 per month for fees (this may vary based on your area). Our current phone bill is up to $64 a month!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

ooma deviceFor one year that means we will pay $120 + $48 = $168 for Ooma. The unit would be paid off after three months compared to what we paid before.

In contrast, a year of AT & T is $64 x 12 = $768!

That is a savings of $600! Now, I do have to add one more expense to this. I bought the Ooma wireless adapter to make sure the unit would work with my wireless internet, because I wasn’t sure we had all the parts to do it using cords. That was an additional $40. However, even adding that in we save $560 the first year! After that we save $720 a year! That is quite a savings. I can’t wait to get the unit and try it out (and tell AT & T goodbye!).

I have heard of other internet-based options out there, but none as cheap as this. The Straight Talk unit from Wal-Mart costs $100 for the unit and $15 a month for service, which adds up to $280 a year.

Cable:

After the excitement of yesterday’s find, I started looking into other ways we might cut some of our biggest expenses, one of which is cable. We got suckered into getting AT & T U-verse a few years back when they first came to our neighborhood. They offered to upgrade our internet service to fiber-optic cabling and we could try out U-verse for a month for free. The cost for the Internet was not much higher than what we were paying them for DSL and I was glad to have a faster connection.

Then I got hooked on the DVR. We had previously used our VCR or DVD player to tape our favorite shows to watch after the kids went to bed. However, there were many times we would forget to program something, the time would change, or the tape or disc was full. The DVR offered a way to not have to deal with all of that. Plus, we were enjoying getting to watch the Disney Channel and a few other cable networks.

Our financial situation has changed for the worse again and this seems like a luxury that we should adjust. I also hate that I am paying so much to the cable company when we really only watch a few channels. So I think we are going to make the leap one of the new streaming device offerings.

Roku unitI did some research today and there seems to be a lot of evidence out there that the Roku device is best. It hooks up to your TV via the internet and allows you to watch tons of free programming and have access to a variety of streaming channels, the most popular being Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video. Through some research I have found that Netflix offers many Disney shows and Hulu Plus allows you to be fairly current with the regular timely offerings on TV.

I am no expert on any of this and have been reading many articles on the different channels, their programming, and the pros and cons. But for me, the bottom line is that I can still watch my favorite shows and my kids can still see the Disney Channel. We will be able to use our Netflix account or Amazon Prime right on the TV (currently my husband used Netflix on his iPod and our Amazon Prime was mainly for the free two-day shipping).

The unit costs about $100 across the board at various retailers. However, Amazon has it right now for $99. I had thought Target might be a good place to get it with my 5% Red Card discount, but the tax eats that discount up and you end up paying more than $100. Netflix and Hulu Plus are about $7.99 each per month.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Even if we add Netflix and Hulu Plus on top of the cost of the unit, our yearly cost for this first year using Roku will be $100 + $192 = $292.

Our U-verse cost (taking out our Internet fee which we will still to pay) = $90 + $10 (bundle discount we will lose) per month. That means $1200 a year!

That is a savings of $908 a year.

In two days, I have figured out how to save us $1628! I would say not bad for a few days work!

Please let me know your experience with phone systems and cable so that we can all learn from each other. I will be excited to share our results with you after we install both. However, from what I have read of reviews online, both seem like great options to save a bundle and take advantage of some great new technological options.

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Some other ways we save significantly:

 

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Printer ink can cost a fortune!

This image shows an opened Canon S520 ink jet ...Our printer recently died and HP told us that it could not be fixed. They offered us an upgrade at a lower price. I checked out Amazon and it was a lower price than they could offer. Our new printer came very fast and I was excited that I can scan, copy, and print from one device. But who knew that the ink would run out so quickly. I have been buying ink every few weeks! Here are my tips for saving as much as you can on printer ink.

1) Print in draft mode as much as possible. This will limit the amount of ink used on each printout. Print your coupons in black ink instead of color to limit your color usage, too.

2) Buy ink online whenever you can and be sure to compare prices with your local stores so you know when you have found a good deal. I often can find my ink for $5 – $10 cheaper than in stores. I mostly purchase through Amazon, so that if I need to return the ink, I have a reputable company to make sure the return goes well.

3) Buy remanufactured ink when you can, but be sure to check the reviews for that company and product. Some remanufactured inks are not as good as others. I have read many reviews of products that did not last long or didn’t even work when they were first opened.

4) Check reviews online for your printer ink. I almost bought a set of three colors and black ink together. By reading the reviews I found out that the four-packs for that ink number are only available as the setup packs that the printer comes with.

5) Buy XL inks when you can. These have more ink for the cost. However, be sure to read the specifications for these. You printer may take that number model of ink, but not the XL version, as mine does not.

6) Get your ink refilled at an office supply store when possible. Many inks can be refilled for a minimal cost instead of being replaced. See what your local store provides.

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Superhero kids’ party on a budget

For weeks I had been trying to figure out what to do for my triplets’ 5th birthday party. I wanted to make it special for them and perhaps have it outside the house. We have always done their parties at home or at one of my best friends’ houses. However, after calling around and getting prices, I realized that having the party somewhere else was not going to be financially feasible. Even reserving a park pavilion was a minimum of $50!

So home it was. I then went online to get some ideas for what to do. How did we ever plan parties before Family Fun magazine and Pinterest!? My boys kept changing their minds as to what theme they wanted and I couldn’t really get agreement between them. However, I knew that were currently enjoying playing anything superhero-related. So I figured they would enjoy anything I planned that involved this.

I found so many great ideas and found some amazing people out there who are extremely creative (and have much more time than I do). I made a trip to Michaels’ for supplies and then set to work. My supply list included: t-shirts (These were on sale for $3, but still my most expensive item. However, considering we weren’t doing other party favors, that was fine.), felt, felt glue, icing, fabric paint, foam brushes, and blank stencils. I already had elastic and glow bracelets at home.

My first project was to make masks for the kids. I had wanted it to be something they could make on their own, but decorated masks didn’t seem to fit with how superheroes look. Plus, plastic (which would be the easiest to decorate) is also the easiest to break, which we found out last Purim.

The finished products.

One of my boys with his new mask and his cape (Chanukah gift last year).

Instead, online I found a cute idea for making felt masks. I traced, cut, and glued with felt glue to make these double-layered masks. The instructions say to sew them, but I do not have a sewing machine and hand stitches would have taken forever! I tied my boys’ masks that morning to make sure they fit right and then did the guests’ as they arrived. The boys had fun wearing them and climbing in our tent pretending to be superheroes.

For crafts, I had coloring pages out on the table when they arrived. There are tons of websites offering free coloring pages on any topic you can imagine. Thanks Lori for this great idea!

For the main craft project, I thought it would be nice to have the kids make their own superhero shirts. I bought blank stencils and my husband drew out the diamond-shaped background and then the first letter of each child’s name. (We had three diamond-shaped stencils for everyone to share and then each child got their own letter = 2 steps.) I then traced these on the stencils and cut them out. This was no easy task – who knew making a stencil to have the paint go in the right place would be so hard! Luckily Brent found some stencil letters online to use as a guide, but drawing them was quite tedious!

The kids then used them with fabric paint and foam brushes to create their superhero emblem. Luckily, my smart sister reminded me to put cardboard between the shirt’s front and back before we started painting! (Thank goodness for all my leftover Creative Memories cardboard from their packages.) We also decided to dry the paint a bit with a hair dryer in between the two steps, just to deter any smearing.

The kids and moms had a great time and they came out great, if I do say so!

For our other activity, we wanted to do an obstacle course outside. However, it rained the night before and was very humid. So on to plan B. My older son and I created a spider web in the kids’ bedroom. The object was to climb through the web to the windowsill, where the kids would find a prize (a glow bracelet). They then had to find their way back, going a different direction. The boys loved it! We ended up doing this activity while my sister and aunt dried the first paint layer on the shirts.

After we finished the shirts, it was lunch of hot dogs, beans, corn, pickles, chips, and cupcakes. We had decorated the cupcakes with plain vanilla icing and then drew on shields with each of the birthday boys’ initials (with decorating icing). Thanks Michelle and Brent (daddy) for collaborating on this.

We did have to buy food and the craft supplies, but overall our costs were low. The boys said they had a great time and slept well that afternoon! Not fancy, but it worked out and was fun! We are so grateful to our friend, Michelle, who helped decorate the cupcakes and took pictures, and to my sister, Amy, and my aunt, JoAnn, who helped at the party!

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September is the time to buy… (2012 update)

Certain times of the year are the best times to buy various things based on sales and availability. Here is your tip sheet for this month:

Cars: September is when new cars begin arriving at the dealers. They will then discount their older models to make room for new inventory. RV deals are common in the fall, too.

Certain fruits: September is the time to buy apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, cranberries, honeydew melons, nectarines, peaches, Bartlett pears, and plums.

Certain vegetables: September is the time to buy cauliflower, corn, eggplants, peppers, and spinach.

Charcoal grill: After Labor Day retailers offer sales of as much of 30 percent off from now and until December. The best selection is available in the fall.

Furnaces: Contractors and heating/cooling companies are not busy with emergency calls during this season, so they frequently will offer deals to sell appliances during their non-busy time.

Jewelry: September (along with January, March, April, July and August) are non-gift giving months. Retailers are more likely to offer sales during these months to help promote business.

Lawn mowers: To make room for their leaf machines and snowblowers, retailers will put their lawn mowers on sale. The closer to late fall, the more the discounts, but the less selection, too.

MP3 players: Companies sometimes put older models on sale during this time to make way for the newer models they will introduce in the fall. Consumers can then try them out and then give then as gifts for the holidays.

Plants, trees, and shrubs: Nurseries often drop their prices on these items in the fall to clear out their plentiful summer inventory. Now is the time to buy bulbs, too. Store them in the winter and then plant them in spring. Independent nurseries will often have larger markdowns and a wider selection than national retailers (big-box stores).

Ranges, stoves, and dishwashers: New models arrive around this time of year, which means older ones will often be discounted. Cooking-related appliances also go on sale now for Labor Day.

School supplies: Check local retailers for the last of their school supplies that they want to get rid of.

Swimsuits: This is the time that stores badly want to get rid of swimsuits and other summer items they have left.

Tires: To prepare your car for better traction in rain, snow and ice (winter), buy new tires now.

Sources:

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New series: Highlights from my favorite cookbook

This week I was very excited to get in touch with my favorite cookbook author, Sarah Fritschner. She has written many cookbooks and worked as a food writer for several newspapers, most recently as the food editor for the Louisville Times and Courier-Journal. Since 2009, she has served as the coordinator for the Louisville Farm to Table, created to bring together area farmers and their locally-grown foods with Louisville consumers in their homes, schools, restaurants, and workplaces, bolstering the local food economy.

My favorite cookbook of hers is “Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook,” We use it several times a week and love the simple, easy-to-prepare recipes that involve 10 ingredients or less. The cookbook includes recipes for main dishes, sides, desserts, soups, pizzas, and more. We eat vegetarian on most weekdays (due to cost mostly, but it does benefit our health, too) and so this cookbook has become indispensable!

I originally bought this cookbook back in college when I had often thought about going vegetarian. Who would have guessed it would be my favorite cookbook for my family of six? We have had this book so long and used it so often, that the pages are turning yellow and we have many post-it flags to mark our favorites! Unfortunately, it is out-of-print. However, you can get it used from various sellers on Amazon, or possibly from your local library.

Since starting this blog, I have wanted to share some of the recipes from this cookbook. Thankfully, I got permission this week from the author to do this! So starting next week, I hope to feature one recipe a week from this great cookbook. I will include pictures of the finished recipes, too!

For more ideas on menu planning and great recipes, check out my posts:

 

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Wash, store, and save! (Two favorite kitchen products)

We have many things in our kitchen that hardly get used, even though they seemed like such a good idea at the time. Getting cookies just right without burning seemed like a great reason to buy a cookie sheet stone, but I think we have used it maybe twice! The second crock pot was great for making parve soups, but how often do we use it?

There are two things we do use nonstop in our kitchen. They save us time, money, and space. They also help reduce our food waste!

The first is our salad spinner bags.

Our favorite is the Argee “Spin ‘n Stor” Reusable Salad Spinner Bags. We first found them at Whole Foods, but now we buy them online. However, they last a while, so we very rarely need to buy new ones. These bags work just like a salad spinner, but without having one more gadget to store in your cabinet or refrigerator. You wash the lettuce and then place it in the bag. Then you close the top with your hands and spin it around. The water gathers on the bottom in a little reservoir. Then you pour it out the side of the bag. We love it. The boys think it is funny to see my husband swing the bag around!

After we wash a bunch of lettuce, we then store the washed lettuce in our second favorite kitchen product – produce bags.

We love the Debbie Meyer Green Bags. These hold your washed produce and keep them fresh. They work great and help us also distinguish between what has been washed and not washed in the refrigerator. Our fruits and vegetables last much longer stored in these.

I have not priced these out to see who has them cheapest, but Amazon offers them both from various retailers. You can also try Pricegrabber (see my post “Savings Tool Review: Pricegrabber”) to compare prices at several retailers at once. I have seen the Debbie Meyer bags in stores as well.

For more ideas on saving money in the kitchen, see my posts:

Do you have any kitchen products you can’t live without? Please share in the comments section!

 

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