Category Archives: Protecting the environment

Making lunches – a matrix of choices!

healthy gluten-free school lunch

Many of your children have probably started back to school already. Mine do not start until next Wednesday. However, with this being the first year my little boys have gone to camp, we have been making lunches for the past four weeks. (Or should I say my husband has.) It has gotten me to thinking about how to make this chore easier and to provide the most variety for my children. My husband and I typically take leftovers to work, because we can heat things up or don’t mind eating something cold if we have to. The boys on the other hand…

I used to have a list on the refrigerator of lunch choices, but it has gotten a bit out of date. So I created a new one. It mostly includes dairy options because with keeping kosher meat is expensive. There are also only certain days the kids can bring meat to their Jewish day school.

Below is my matrix of lunch choices (in green). It will be a great tool for adding to our grocery list each week. Then each day when we pack lunches, we will choose one item from each column. This way our kids will get a variety of foods and it will make sure that all of one type of food doesn’t get eaten up in a week! (I just bought a lot of Chex Mix on sale last week at Walgreens and if I let them, my kids would have it every day!) Feel free to edit this document for your needs and your kids’ tastes.

Lunch choices 2013

Other tips for saving money on packing lunches:

∞ Use up your leftovers when you can. This may not work as well for the kids, but the grownups can eat them!

ziploc divided container∞ Use as little packaging as possible. We use reusable water bottles, lunch bags, and as many containers as we can instead of bags. I just bought these Ziploc divided containers for my kids’ lunches and today was their first day using them. I figured it would be a great way for them to know what was their lunch food and what should be saved for snacks. We also use cloth snack bags for some items when we can. For more details, see my post Switch over your disposables.”

∞ Buy cheap water bottles. I have learned from camp that my kids lose water bottles constantly. It does not pay to buy nice ones because I cannot count on them coming back! So the dollar Spot at Target and the dollar store are my favorite places to buy water bottles. See my posts on Why I love Target! and Are ‘dollar stores’ really a good deal?

∞ Stock up on nonperishable lunch items. When you spot something on sale (and even better have a coupon, too) get a few! I got granola bars on sale at Target yesterday and had a manufacturer’s coupon and a Target coupon. This is the best way to stock up – having all three conditions! I also buy in bulk when I can through Costco and Whole Foods. See my post on “Bulk discounts.”

∞ Make as much homemade as you can. We recently got a breadmaker and my husband is enjoying figuring out the best recipes to use. It smells so good when he has a batch ready to go in the morning, With all four boys in elementary school this year, we could easily go through a loaf of bread in a day! Our next project is to experiment with some homemade snacks. See Little House Living and my posts on (More) Make your own… and Don’t buy it, make it homemade – Part 3 for recipes.

∞ Look for outlet stores. We recently found a local outlet bread store (thanks, Lori!) that saves us a ton on bread, bagels, and sandwich thins. They even have store coupons!

∞ Use your price list. Make sure you are buying things at the best price you can get. Just because something is in a larger size of is on sale, doesn’t always mean it is the best deal! To learn more, check out my post “Keeping a price list.”

∞ Check out the sales at the end of this month. Pretty soon all the back-to-school items will go on sale, which means lunch bags, containers, and the like on sale for cheap prices (check out Target, Wal-Mart, drug stores, etc. for these deals). Last summer we got the boys their current lunch bags for $3 each! I love them because they have a zipper at the top and a space for their name on the back. I also got backpacks from Lands’ End at a very deep discount last summer! Be sure to stock up on those swimsuits and rash guards while you are at it, too!

Do you have any tips for packing lunches that you would like to share? Please add them in the Comments section! Thanks Rivka H. and Jessi L, for your ideas I incorporated into the matrix.

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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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Don’t buy it, make it homemade – Part 3

Homemade Chili Powder

Several months ago I wrote about how we have tried over the years to make a few things from scratch versus buying premade (see my posts “Making your own challah” and “(More) Make your own”). Keeping kosher already encourages us to do this since sometimes there is not a store-bought version available or it is very expensive. This has not become an everyday habit for us, but there are some things we do make on a regular basis:

∞ Birthday cakes and cupcakes – No store-bought sheet cakes for us; this way is cheaper and we can personalize the treat more to the honoree.

∞ Bread crumbs – My husband saves the leftover bread from Shabbos and it gets ground into bread crumbs to use later in recipes. See my post “Recipe favorites: Crumb chicken” for one way we use bread crumbs.

∞ Canning – I would love to try more canning as well, because although it is time-consuming, you do get a lot and save so much! Check out our first attempt in my post “First canning experiment: Apple butter.”

∞ Croutons and Caesar dressing (as I have mentioned in my post “Stretching your dinner dime… dollar”) – This is one of our favorite meals and much easier and cheaper than finding a kosher store-bought version.

∞ Desserts – Especially for Shabbos, unless we have a cheap boxed cake mix.

∞ Refried beans – We love these and eat them often. The recipe makes a big batch, so we freeze it and it is good for several meals (burritos or enchiladas). See my husband’s recipe here: Refried Beans recipe.

∞ Salad dressing – We love the Good Seasons packets, but occasionally branch out into homemade recipes.

∞ Salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole – Mexican is one of our favorite cuisine types and we eat it at least once a week. My husband has become a master at creating his own dips that the family loves! I had never liked guacamole before trying his!

∞ Taco seasoning – Until we found taco-flavored soy meat and later a taco seasoning mix at Sam’s Club, we used to always make our own taco seasoning. It was easy and could be stored along with our other spices.

Next year, when all our boys will be at elementary school, we are definitely going to start making our own bread. We will easily go through a loaf in two days with packing lunches!

As part of my quest to find new things to make homemade, here are some resources I found today:

Please share your homemade experiments with us all in the Comments Section!


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What does an oil change cost?

Nagger(Links checked 2/2013)

I know I am very guilty about not changing my oil enough. I know that changing my oil as experts recommend (every 3 months or 3,000 miles) will help improve the condition of my car and prevent breakdowns. However, it seems as if time and money always keep me from doing it on a regular basis. So I have tackled the money problem by investigating what an oil change really costs and by finding out who has the best deals. I have researched several nationwide chains and one local repair shop to compare.


Standard: $35.49
High mileage: $45.49
Full synthetic: $62.49 can vary by car, only do this if have used this kind of oil from the start

There is a monthly coupon right now on their website. For all current coupons click here. You can also sign up for their email list to receive specials and coupons.

Firestone has more than 1600 locations nationwide.

Current low price with coupon = $24.85 + tax (with Feb. 2013 – 30% off coupon)


Standard Oil Change: $39.99
Early Bird $24.99 (7 a.m. – 10 a.m.)

$5 coupon right now on their website. For all Jiffy Lube coupons click here. I have also gotten coupons in the mail via weekly mailers. You can also sign up for their email list to receive specials and coupons.

Jiffy Lube has more than 2,000 service centers in North America.

Current low price with coupon = $34.99 after 10 a.m. or $19.99 early bird. Note: Some locations may not allow you to use a coupon with the sale price.


Standard Oil Change: $34.95

There is a special right now on their website: buy one oil change, get one free. For all their current specials click here. You can also sign up for their email list to receive specials and coupons.

Dobb’s has 38 locations in the St. Louis Metro area, St. Charles County and some of Illinois.

Current low price with coupon = $34.95 for 2 oil changes (as of Feb. 21, 2013)


Standard Oil Change: $18.99 – $26.99
Oil Change with rotation and other checks: $24.99-$32.99
High mileage: $39.99
Full synthetic: $59.99 – $69.99

The coupons vary by location. The website lets you print coupons for the location of your choice. You can also sign up for their email list to receive specials and coupons.

Midas has locations in North America, Central America, Africa, Asia/Pacific, and Europe.

Current low price with coupon = $18.99 at some locations, $19.99 at others


Standard Oil Change (full-service): $38.99
Synthetic blend: $53.99
Full-synthetic : $69.99

I just received a postcard in the mail for a full-service oil change at $19.99 or $15 off a synthetic blend or synthetic oil change.

Valvoline has more than 825 franchised and corporate Valvoline Instant Oil Change locations across the county. They also have more than 300 Express Care stores across the country.

* Valvoline also features tips on their website for saving money on gas.

Current low price with coupon = $19.99

THE BEST DEALS for Standard Oil Changes:

  1. Midas at $18.99 + tax at some locations (sale price)
  2. Jiffy Lube from 7 a.m. – 10 a.m., $19.99 + tax
    Midas or Valvoline at $19.99 + tax with coupon, any time of day
  3. Firestone at $24.85 + tax with coupon, any time of day


You can also look at for coupons for many repair/oil change companies and locations near you. For more ideas on where to find great coupons for a variety of products, see my post “Coupon websites – updated!” 

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Free resources highlight: EWG and National Historic Landmarks

I am always looking for great resources online. It is amazing all of the information available right at our fingertips these days! (I apologize to my Facebook friends who are seeing these first two twice. They are so great I had to post them there, too, for those who don’t read my blog.)

Two of the resources I found are from the Environmental Working Group. They have a team of scientists, researchers, and other staff that study thousands of personal products to create their databases. I try to buy environmentally safe and chemically safe cleaning and health and beauty products whenever I can. However, with money as tight as it is, I have had to purchase more and more mainstream brands. These databases can help you determine which products are safe, regardless of if you can afford those specialty/natural brands.

EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database – Features tips on finding safe makeup, skin care, hair care, eye care, nail products, fragrances, oral care, baby products, mom products, and men’s products. You can search for a particular product or look in specific product types by category. The ratings are based on health concerns of the ingredients and even tell you how much data/research is available on that product and its ingredients.

EWG’s Skin Deep Sunscreens 2012 – This database focuses on sunscreens and rates products by UVA protection, UVB protection, UVA/UVB balance, stability, and health concerns. You can also search by type of product or specific product. It also features a free app you can download to use right in the store. 

Both databases feature articles, links to places to buy the products, lists of the products that scored the best, and an email list you can sign up for.

This next resource is one that is might be helpful for summer outings, vacations, and daytrips.

National Park Service: National Historic Landmarks Program – For those of you who are looking for interesting traveling destinations close to or far away from home, this is a great resource. You can research a particular site, search by state, check out various publications, or investigate theme studies. Some landmarks are located in National Parks, so there is even more to see and do!

* If you like these resources, be sure to send them a comment and/or make a donation!

Other posts on great resources:


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Making the most of your Sam’s Club membership

English: Logo for Sam's Club

Most of us belong to Sam’s or Costco or have a AAA membership for towing and car repairs. But did you know that these membership programs have more than their advertised benefits? Why not take a look to see if you are really getting your money’s worth and all the extra perks available. Here is what I found out about Sam’s Club Services (through this link you can find links for all of these headings). I have highlighted some of my favorites in RED. Stay tuned for details on Costco and AAA.

Discounted cell phone plans – available in store and online

Special events – product showcases and author signings, scroll down to Your Club Happenings on this link

Health & Wellness Services – pharmacy, optical center, hearing aid center, free health screenings (vary by location), The Prevention Plan software for purchase

Financial Services – SBA Small Business Loans, Sam’s Club Credit Card, Sam’s Club Discover Card, and check printing

Electronics and Technical Assistance

    • Tech ExpertsReceive free, member-exclusive assistance with any television, home theater, digital music player, camera, camcorder or computer you purchase at Sam’s Club.
    • EcoNewrecycling program for old electronics, if your item qualifies you can get a Sam’s gift card for the trade-in value!
    • Service Plans – you can purchase plans for replacement, service, or watch and jewelry care for products purchased at Sam’s Club
    • Delivery and Installation of products purchased at Sam’s Club

Personal Services – photo center and tire and battery center

Business Services – Click ‘n’ Pull and Fax ‘n’ Pull services, merchant payment processing, and business stationery

Have you taken advantage of any of these services? What was your experience? Share in the Comments section!

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Check out my new Pinterest boards

I know I am behind, but I finally got around to checking out Pinterest. I have not really explored other people’s pins yet, but already I am impressed! The look is amazing and very eye-catching (which I guess is the point!).

I love that I can share different things I find that maybe aren’t worth a whole blog post or that pertain to only my St. Louis friends. Facebook is great for this, too, but I love the look of Pinterest and that I can organize my “pins” by type on different “boards.” I also like that you can share your “pins” on Facebook, so I can do both at once!

I have created various boards to share with my “followers”:

  • Ideas for doing a good deed
  • Favorite money-saving ideas
  • Favorite places and spaces
  • Products I love
  • St. Louis Summer Fun
  • Menu planning
  • Books Worth Reading

I have linked various posts from my blog that I thought best applied to these categories. Please forgive me, though, some of my older posts do not have art with them. I am working on updating those.

Please check it out and let me know what you think! If you know any tips and tricks, please share those, too!


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