How to Coupon

Tips for Crockpot Cooking

Posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Crockpot 2The weather in fall is typically cooler than what it was like in the hot summer months. This inspires many people to get out their crockpot and start trying new recipes. Here are some tips that should answer your questions about crockpot cooking!

Is it safe?
There are some who wonder if eating food that has been cooked in a crockpot is safe. After all, the food does, essentially, sit on your countertop (and not in the refrigerator) for 8 hours or so. Is the food going to be safe to eat when it is done cooking in a crockpot?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, (USDA) food that is cooked in a crockpot, or a slow cooker, is safe to eat. These appliances cook food at a low temperature that is generally between 170 degrees and 280 degrees Fahrenheit.

FoodSafety.gov points out that the “danger zone” with food is when it is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Crockpots heat food higher than that range. Make sure you start with a clean crockpot, clean utensils, and a clean work area. Wash your hands before and during food preparation.

Can you put frozen food in a crockpot?
The official Crockpot website says that you can do that, but need to realize that doing so will require a longer cook time than the recipe indicates. If you don’t want to add extra cook time then you need to thaw the food before putting it into the crockpot.

The Crockpot website recommends that you add at least 1 cup of warm liquid to the crockpot before placing frozen meat into it. Don’t preheat the crockpot. Cook your recipe (with the frozen meat) for an additional 4 to 6 hours on low or an extra 2 hours on high.

What about leftovers?
The leftovers from a crockpot meal will be safe to eat if you store them properly. Home Food Safety suggests you store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate them within two hours of removing them from the crockpot. If the food has been sitting out longer than that, you are taking a risk. It may have become unsafe to eat.

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Ways to Save Money on Fall Decorations

Posted on Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Fall PumpkinsWill you be decorating your home for fall? There are many people who enjoy decorating their homes to match the changing of the seasons. Fall decorating can be done without having it become painfully expensive. Here are some ways to save money on fall decorations.

Start at the Dollar Stores.
Many dollar stores will be carrying a mix of fall and Halloween decorations right now. You can find things at the dollar stores for lower prices than what the same item will cost at a craft store. If you want to get the very best deals, check out the floral department at the dollar stores.

Both dollar stores and craft stores will sell silk or plastic flowers in colors that match the season. For fall, there will also be colored leaves. Each place will have flowers in fall colors right now. Why pay extra for the same thing?

The dollar stores are also a good place to pick up fall colored tablecloths, napkins, votive candles, and cute candleholders. Stock up at the dollar store and you will spend less money than if you bought those things at the grocery store or craft stores.

Don’t carve the pumpkins!
Pumpkins make great decorations for fall. Buy your pumpkins from the grocery store where you have a loyalty card. Get it on your next grocery shopping trip, and you could end up saving some money on it. They are generally inexpensive, though, unless you select a bunch of really large and heavy pumpkins.

Avoid carving these pumpkins. If your plan is to have them last until Halloween, you shouldn’t carve them now. Pumpkins can last for a while (as decorations) if they have not been carved. Place the large pumpkins on your porch, or add some little pumpkins to an indoor table. If you must decorate them, consider painting an image onto them instead of carving them in September.

Use your coupons.
Craft stores will have some fall items on sale now. Their price won’t drop significantly until after it gets closer to Christmas. To get the best price, you should wait to purchase fall decorations until that sale starts. Use those items next year.

If you don’t want to wait, there is another way to save money. Before you leave home, take a minute to print out the coupons from the craft store’s website. Bring the coupons with you. They should help you save at least a few dollars.

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The Best Things to Buy at Fall Festivals

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014 at 3:20 pm
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Popped kettle cornSummer is known for the plethora of festivals and outdoor activities it brings. In Fall, the weather starts to cool down and becomes comfortable enough for people to want to attend festivals. It is really easy to overspend while you are out and enjoying yourself. Here are some tips to about what to buy, and what to avoid, at fall festivals.

Kettle Corn
The best time to eat kettle corn is shortly after it has been popped and mixed. Fall festivals often include a booth with a vendor who is making giant bags of kettle corn. The price is usually low. Go ahead and purchase a large bag of freshly made kettle corn. The pre-packaged kettle corn you buy at the grocery store isn’t anywhere near as tasty as the freshly made kind you find at festivals.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Many fall festivals include a farmers’ market section. It is nice to be able to hand money directly to the farmers who grew the food you eat. Typically, you must pay for your produce in cash. That’s helpful because paying with physical money (instead of a credit card) makes people more aware of how much they are spending.

Buy only what you and your family will use in the next seven days. Select enough fruit to go into school lunches. Think about what you will make for dinner that includes the vegetables you are considering purchasing. A little bit of thinking ahead can help you save money.

Decorated pumpkins and gourds
Are you someone who cannot wait to start decorating your home for fall? If so, then it would be fine to purchase one or two decorated pumpkins or gourds that were handmade by crafters. You already know exactly where you will place them!

For best results, speak with the crafter and ask how long the craft will stay good. Painted pumpkins tend to last longer than carved ones. Ask if decorated, carved, gourds have been treated with something that helps to preserve them. Keep in mind that these kinds of crafts won’t last forever. Check to see if the price is right for something that cannot be re-used next fall.

Caramel apples
Caramel apples are a popular fall treat. You will save money on them if you take the time to make your own at home. When you purchase caramel apples at a fall festival, you are basically paying for the convenience of having someone else make them for you. Many people are more than happy to pay for the pre-made ones in order to avoid dealing with a caramel covered kitchen.

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Save Money on Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Pumpkin CoffeeFans of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte are undoubtedly happy to see that it has returned for the season! There is something about holiday drinks that bring up feelings of comfort and nostalgia. The limited time it is available can influence some people to spend more money on these tasty drinks than they intended. Here are some tips to help you save money on a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

One of the best ways to save money at Starbucks is to join their loyalty program. It is called Starbucks Rewards Register any Starbucks gift card and use it when you make your purchases.

You will earn stars. Use those stars on a free drink, a free refill, or free food. Are you already a member? Check to see how many stars you have and use them to get your next Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Another option is to visit your local coffee shops to see if they are offering a drink that is similar to Starbucks “PSL”. The “mom and pop” coffee shops are probably going to offer some kind of special holiday drinks for fall. You might discover an alternative to the Starbucks version of a pumpkin spice flavored coffee drink. Chances are, it will be less expensive, too.

You could make your own version of a pumpkin spice latte at home. Typically, the cost of making a “copycat” recipe at home of something you would usually buy from Starbucks (or restaurants, or fast food places) costs less. “Copycat” recipes also give you more control of the ingredients that are in the item you are trying to make. That’s great for people with food allergies or special dietary needs.

Foodie Fiasco has a recipe for a vegan version of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. The one at the Starbucks is not vegan and cannot be made that way.

Instructables has a recipe for a Pumpkin Spice Latte that actually contains some real pumpkin. One of the complaints about the “PSL” this year is the lack of pumpkin in the drink. Those who are upset about that can use the recipe at Instructables to make their own drink at home.

Food.com has a recipe for a Pumpkin Spice Latte that you can make in a crock pot. It takes five minutes to prepare, two hours to cook, and will give your home a nice fall scent while it is cooking.

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Box Tops for Education Helps Schools

Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Globe, notebook stack and pencils. Schoolchild and student studiWant to help your child’s school, but don’t have the extra money to donate? There is a way that you can help without having to spend any extra money. The program is called Box Tops for Education. Clip special box tops just like you would a coupon. Send them to your child’s school. Every little bit helps!

What is Box Tops for Education?
Box Tops for Education is a simple way for people to donate money to a school without having to write a check or hand over some cash. Instead, they collect Box Tops from certain products that can be found at the grocery store.

Give the box tops to a participating school of your choice. That school can use the Box Tops cash to buy whatever the school needs. Each Box Top is worth ten cents for the school. Over 80,000 K-8 schools participate in the Box Tops for Education program.

Where Can I Find Box Tops?
The easiest way to find out about all the products that are participating in the Box Tops for Education program is to visit their website. Click the tab that says Participating Products. Many of the products can be found in grocery stores, so keep an eye out for them as you do your shopping. They include cereals, frozen products, baking products, snacks, juice, dairy foods, food storage products, produce, and paper products. Look for an icon on the top of the box (or front of the packaging) that says “Box Tops for Education”.

How Much Has My School Earned?
The Box Tops for Education website keeps track of participating school’s earning progress. Sign up to find out how much your child’s school has earned from this special program. You can compare how much your school has earned to the earnings of other local schools or with schools across the nation.

Signing up at Box Tops For Education gives you access to some very nice things. You can get printable coupons for products that come from companies that are participating in the program. Take them with you to the grocery store. You can also get Bonus Box Tops.

How Do Schools Get Paid For Box Tops?
The school can turn in the Box Tops all year long. Each school can receive two checks per year from the Box Tops for Education program – one in December, and one in April. The December check is the school’s accrued earning from March 2 through November 1. The April check covers earnings from November 2 through March 1. The school must earn at least $20.00 in Box Tops in order to receive a check. If they receive less, the amount carries over into the next check period.

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Things to Buy in September

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Pumpkin CoffeeSavvy shoppers know that there are certain things that tend to have their annual sale in a particular month of the year. Plan ahead, and you can end up saving a lot of money on things that you want to buy. September offers a mixed bag of sales with some leftover summer items, the last of the back-to-school stuff, and a few things you might need for the fall or winter.

Summer Clothing
This is your last chance to stock up on Summer clothing before it sells out. Whatever is left should be at extremely low prices. The best way to get your money’s worth is to buy items that you know will still fit next summer – like sandals, beach towels, and beach hats. Is your family going to travel to somewhere warm during the winter holidays? Now is a good time to pick up new swimwear.

Patio Furniture
Sitting outside on patio furniture can be nice in the summer. Fewer people want to sit outside for long periods of time in the cooler fall weather. That being said, now is a good time to get new patio furniture for next year. The stores are looking to unload their stock at low prices. The best way to take advantage of these sales is if you already know exactly where you will store the patio furniture for the winter.

Back-to-School Stuff
Did your child forget to give you his or her school supplies list? Have your kids already lost their pencil sharpeners? This is your last chance to buy more school supplies before the price goes back up. You may want to stock up on more paper, pencils, and pens to replace the ones your child runs out of at school.

Now is also a good time to shop for jeans. Clothing stores tend to have a lot of leftover jeans as their back-to-school sales come to an end. Buy a few more pairs now before the prices go back up. It is also a good time to take advantage of the sales on school uniforms.

Coffee
September 29 is National Coffee Day. You can expect to see special deals and offers at your favorite coffee shop this month. There may also be some “freebies” offered to entice people to visit a coffee shop to celebrate National Coffee Day. September typically includes a lot of coupons for coffee. Bring those with on your next grocery shopping trip.

Travel Tickets
Where will your family be spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the other upcoming holidays? If you already know the answer to that question then it is time to purchase travel tickets. The price of plane tickets, and train tickets, will start to rise as we get closer to the holiday season.

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How to Save Money at Vons

Posted on Thursday, August 28th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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grocery-bagYou can end up saving a lot of money on groceries if you know how to get the best discounts. Vons has a loyalty program that gives members access to plenty of coupons. The saving techniques that are described here can be applied to other grocery stores that have their own loyalty cards.

Get the Loyalty Card
Vons has a customer loyalty program called Just For U. It is free to sign up for. Members get special savings on products from all over the store. You will see price tags that say one price, and then list a lower price for members.

Download Coupons
Members of the Just for U program get access to special digital coupons that non-members cannot get. Visit the Vons website, pick out the coupons that you want to use, and add them to your membership card. When you get to the cash register, those coupons will automatically be scanned and used.

Check the Receipt
Usually, the cashier will hand you two things after you have paid for your groceries. One is a receipt. Flip it over and see if there are coupons printed on the back of it before you recycle or shred it.

The cashier will also hand you a couple of catalina coupons. They are usually connected to brands that you purchased that day or that you have bought a lot of in previous shopping trips. Many people throw these papers into a grocery bag and forget all about them. Be aware of these coupons, use them, and save money.

Bring More Coupons
Members of the Vons Just for U loyalty program can use coupons that come from other sources. Some people don’t realize that, and think they can only use the ones that are connected with the program. Not so! Go ahead and print out the coupons that you want to use from your favorite coupon resource. Bring all of them with when you go grocery shopping. The more coupons – the more savings. Be sure to check out Safeway Coupon Matchups each week too to see which coupons you can match up with that week’s sales to save you the most.

Bring Your Own Bags
Will you be doing your grocery shopping in a town or city that has a plastic bag ban? Bring some canvas reusable bags with you to the store. Doing so will prevent you from having to spend five or ten cents on every paper bag that your cashier needs to use to put your groceries in. Those bags sound inexpensive until you add up the extra cost, week after week, that you could have easily saved.

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Save on Back-To-School Immunizations

Posted on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Immunization SavingsThe end of summer vacation is upon us. It is time to make sure your kids have the immunizations that their school requires. Some schools will allow students to begin a new school year without having the required shots, but will require all students to be immunized by a certain date. If you have been hesitating to get your child immunized due to financial difficulty, there some frugal (or free) options available.

If You Have Insurance
Did you get your health insurance through the Marketplace? For many, this means you purchased a plan through Healthcare.gov or through your state’s health insurance Marketplace. Those health plans are required to cover vaccines for children ages 0 through 18 without any cost-sharing requirements. The thing to watch out for is that you must use an in-network provider.

The immunizations that are included are:
* Diphtheria, Teatnus, Pertussus
* Haemophilus influenzae type b
* Hepatitis A
* Hepatitis B
* Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus vaccine for females
* Inactivated Poliovirus
* Influenza
* Measles, Mumps, Rubella
* Meningococcal
* Rotavirus
* Varicella

If You Are Uninsured
Your child may be eligible for the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. It provides vaccines to children whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them.

To qualify, the child must be younger than 19 years of age. The child must also be one of the following: Medicaid-eligible, Uninsured, Underinsured, and/or American Indian or Alaska Native. There may be a small fee for the immunization.

Another option is to ask your child’s school if they will be holding an immunization clinic. You might need to register your child for it. The immunizations offered there might be free or very low cost. Some schools will have made arrangements with local health clinics in order to offer parents low-cost immunizations and sports physicals for their children.

Don’t forget to check the local pharmacies! Many are advertising now that they can provide back-to-school immunizations. If you have health insurance, make sure that the pharmacy is within your network before you get the immunizations. If the pharmacy is out of network, you may end up paying more for the immunization that you would at a pharmacy was in-network.

CVS and Walgreens typically offer back-to-school immunizations around the start of a new school year. If you use a different pharmacy, it is possible that they will offer the same thing. Sometimes, pharmacies will offer special coupons to parents who have their children immunized there.

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Quick and Easy Ideas for Dinner

Posted on Thursday, August 21st, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Grilled cheese istockThe start of a new school year is also the start of a lot of scheduling. Parents might need to help their children with homework, or monitor the child to make sure it gets done. There are after school programs to attend. Somewhere in there, you are going to need to feed your family some dinner. Here are some quick and easy dinner ideas for families that are crunched for time.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
You may already know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. If not, AllRecipes has one for you to use. It makes 2 servings and is ready in 20 minutes. You will need:

* 4 slices of white bread
* 2 slices of Cheddar cheese
* 3 tablespoons of butter (divided)

Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Generously butter one side of a slice of bread. Put that piece of bread, butter side down, on the skillet. Put one slice of cheese on top of the bread. Butter another piece of bread and put it (butter side up) on top of the cheese. Flip the sandwich a few times until the cheese is melted and the bread is lightly browned.

Parents may want to serve this with some tomato soup. It’s a good way to get some veggies into this meal and doesn’t take very long to heat up.

Quick and Cheesy Sausage Rotini
Kraft has a recipe that is ready in 25 minutes. Think of this one as a fancier version of the traditional macaroni and cheese. You will need:

* 3 cups rotini pasta (uncooked)
* 1 pound Italian sausage links (cut into bite size pieces)
* 1 can diced tomatoes (undrained) (15 ounce can)
* 1 onion (chopped)
* 1/4 cup Kraft Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
* 3/4 cup Kraft Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (divided)

First, cook the pasta as you normally would. At the same time, start cooking the sausage in a large non-stick skillet. Put it on medium high heat for about 10 minutes (or until done). Drain it, and put the sausage back in the skillet.

Add the tomatoes, onions, and dressing. Cook it for about 5 minutes (or until the onions are crisp-tender). Stir as needed. Drain the pasta when it is done. Toss the sausage mixture and 1/2 cup of cheese and the pasta so it mixes together. The rest of the cheese can be added on top.

Unsure about the best way to cut the sausage into bite sized pieces? Kraft recommends that you use clean kitchen shears to do it.

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Tips for Choosing a Backpack

Posted on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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backpacksThe start of a brand new school year often requires the purchase of a new backpack. The one your child wants might not be the one you want for him or her. How can you decide which backpack is best? Here are some criteria that people use when choosing a backpack. It is up to you to decide which ideas take priority.

On Sale
How is your financial situation? Every year, children are expected to start the school year with a long list of supplies. Parents who have many children may find the expense to be difficult to manage. One way to save money is to choose a backpack that is on sale.

Do some “homework” and compare the price of the backpacks at different department stores. Check to see what the office supply stores are selling backpacks for. Sometimes, Toys R Us has a sale on backpacks.

Safety First
The Back Clinics of Canada point out that children can suffer from over-weighted, poorly-sized, backpacks. This can result in shoulder and neck pain, lower back pain, and weakness. They suggest parents select backpacks that do not put tremendous weight on the spine.

They suggest that your child’s backpack should sit at the lower part of the back. The top should end just below the top part of your child’s shoulder blades. Backpacks should not weigh more than 10% to 15% of a child’s body weight. Encourage your child to use both straps of the backpack when he or she is wearing it. Wider straps are better than narrow ones.

Size Matters
Ideally, you want a backpack that fits your child. One that is too large could cause your kid to carry more weight than he or she should be carrying. Smaller ones might not fit things like three-ring binders or spiral notebooks.

The size of the pockets on the backpack matters, too. If your child will be carrying a laptop back and forth to school, he or she needs a backpack that can safely hold it. Smaller, zippered, pockets are great for storing a cell phone in. Those pockets make it easy to access the phone when needed.

Be Cool
Your child insists upon having a backpack with his or her favorite character on it. Unfortunately, that backpack is expensive, or isn’t the most “back-friendly” selection. What to do?

One option is to fight this battle and pick the backpack that you feel is best for your child’s health (or for the family’s budget). Another option is to give in. Some kids can be more motivated to go to school if they have a cool backpack.

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