Turn Your Leftovers, over

December 1, 2012 Money Saving Ideas

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Ah, the sad little leftovers, remnants of a delicious meal that have a tendency to make their way into plastic containers and shoved to the back of the fridge, never to be thought of again. It’s a pitiful existence for a meal that once was the grand centerpiece of your nightly feast, but their lives don’t have to end this way! With a little creativity, you can turn these once shunned meal remnants into brand new meals. The best part? Half of the meal prep work is already completed for you. How does this magic meal transformation take place, you ask? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.


Leftover taco meat: The great thing about leftover taco meat is that it’s already cooked and pre-seasoned, which gives you fantastic options to create new meals. Roll the leftover meat in tortillas, spread with enchilada sauce and cheese, bake and voila! You have quick, easy enchiladas. Another option is to throw it in a stock pot, add diced tomatoes and chili beans, simmer and you have a steaming pot of chili ready to go. You can also layer it into Mexican lasagna. Just mix the meat with canned diced tomatoes and chiles, layer with tortillas and cottage cheese (a couple of layers of each works well), sprinkle with shredded cheese of your choice, bake and you have an easy Mexican lasagna.


Leftover meatloaf: Leftover meatloaf can be the base for quite a few great meals. Crumble it into spaghetti sauce, and you have a hearty meat sauce for pasta. It also works very well in casseroles that call for cooked ground hamburger—crumble the meatloaf and use in place of the burger. The flavor of the meatloaf will give a new twist to your hamburger casseroles. You can also make a super quick meal by using the crumbled meatloaf in conjunction with pre-packaged, boxed “helper” meals, and you’ve made the convenience foods even more convenient.


Leftover roast: “Day after” roast can sometimes end up dry, but you can revive it by making a hot beef sandwich. This is especially great if you have leftover mashed potatoes. Toast a piece of bread, place it on a plate and cover it with shredded roast. Add the mashed potatoes if you have them. Pour canned gravy (or homemade, if you have it) and heat it the microwave until hot. Delicious—you can’t go wrong with this one! Leftover roast is also perfect for use in burritos or barbecue.


Leftover chicken: Chicken in just about any form—baked, fried, roasted—gives you a head start on a number of meals. Again, you can use it in any casserole that calls for cooked chicken. You can also shred it and make chicken salad sandwich filling—simply add mayonnaise and add whatever additions you like (relish, garlic salt, seasoned salt, chopped celery, chopped onions—use your imagination to change it up). If you mix shredded chicken with barbecue sauce, you have the instant makings of delicious barbecue chicken sandwiches. Another option is to chop the chicken and add it to a salad to transform from an appetizer into a main course. You can make an awesome fiesta salad this way—add some rinsed canned black beans, a little salsa and ranch dressing and you have a salad that’s restaurant worthy.


Leftover ham: Ham can be transformed into so many meals! It’s always a fantastic go-to when sliced for sandwiches, but you can also chop it to mix with mayo, etc., for a yummy ham salad. You can also mix chopped or cubed ham with a cream soup (mushroom, potato, celery, chicken) and pop the mixture into a casserole dish with sliced potatoes. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese and bake, and you have a casserole that’s sure to be a hit. It’s also perfect for creating homemade ham and bean soup.


Leftover vegetables: Keep a re-usable container in your freezer, and as you find yourself with bits and pieces of various vegetables after meals, add them to the container. Once the container is full, add to a stockpot of beef, chicken or vegetable broth and simmer for a palette pleasing soup. If you like a heartier soup, you can prepare pasta such as rotini or macaroni according to package directions and add it to the soup, or you could always add bits of leftover meat, as well.


Leftover rolls, bread or buns: Don’t toss them! Instead, spread them out on a cookie sheet and let dry for a few days. Once dry, you can put them in a plastic zip top bag and smash them (a meat mallet works well for this) to make homemade bread crumbs. Keep in the freezer until you are ready to use them. It’s so much less expensive than buying pricy packaged bread crumbs at the store.


These are only a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. There are so many things you can do with leftovers—other than simply heat up and repeat the same old dinner. Do half the work, and serve up a new scrumptious meal by not banishing these morsels to the back of your fridge!

Wine About It

December 1, 2012 Ideas for Cheap Fun

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So the economy is tight, and our budgets and tighter. We can get together with our girlfriends and whine about it…or we can get together with our girlfriends and wine about it. Yep, when the going gets tough, the tough…have a wine tasting!

Just because our budgets our stretched doesn’t have to mean that our days of great get-togethers with friends have to come to a screeching halt. Instead, it’s simply time to get creative and find new ways to keep things fresh and plan simple parties that don’t have to bust the bank.

There was a day when wine was reserved for special occasions only or seemed to be more of a “highbrow” libation. These days, however, it seems everyone is enjoying a glass here and there, so why not make it the centerpiece of your next party?

This doesn’t have to be a stuffy get together, and it certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. Quite the opposite actually. Plan this party to be low-key and laidback, and your guests will find themselves relaxing and having a great time.

With a little planning, you can create one-of-a-kind invitations that set the perfect tone for your party. Save empty wine bottles—or ask others to do so for you—and steam the labels off the bottles. Once the labels have dried, adhere them to plain scrapbooking paper, cutting the paper to fit the label. On the scrapbook paper side, list the invite details for your party (the date, time, location and R.S.V.P. information), and also instruct each guest to bring their favorite bottle of wine in a plain bag. No two invites will be exactly the same, and this kind of invite gives your guests the hint that this will be a fun, informal get together.

Set the stage for your party by lighting some candles in the area you are entertaining in. Don’t worry about making sure everything matches. Eclectic is in, so take advantage of it! Candles of varying heights and shades look fantastic when grouped together.

Keep the menu light for the party—crackers, cheese, olives. You don’t want anything heavy or anything that will interfere with the wine tasting, but you do want to give your guests a little something to munch on.

Once guests arrive, discretely spirit away the wine they have been instructed to bring, and quickly jot down the name of the wine each guest brought as well as who brought it. Cover the labels so that guests can’t see them—a piece of dark or heavy paper works well for this. Label each bottle with a number (one through however many bottles you have). Have a table set with small, inexpensive plastic cups. Since this is a “tasting,” there is no need to break out your expensive wine glasses.

This is where the fun begins. Open the various bottles and choose wine to begin. Pour each guest a small sample in a cup. Provide guests with paper and pens. Ask that each guest jot down three things about each wine they taste: what kind of wine they think they are drinking (merlot, cabernet, pinot noir, chardonnay, etc.), the brand name or wine maker if they can guess it, and the name of the guest they think brought the wine.

Once you have made your way through all of the wines, have the guests tally the number of points they have to see who was the evening’s best “winer.” Each correct answer gets one point. It’s all in fun, but if you wish, have a small token “prize” to give to the guest who had the most right—a set of wine charms, a funny wine refrigerator magnet or a decorated wine glass. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be fun to provide a token prize as well.

If you want, go online and find information on various types of wines and their suggested food pairings to give your guests a bit more information about wine. There are lots of tips on wine tasting out there, and although this is an informal tasting, it can be entertaining to learn more about the topic. Printing out some of these tips for guests to check out is a nice touch.

At the end of your evening, you may find that not only have you all had a great time, you may have learned a little more about wine and a little more about each other’s tastes as well.


The Power of No

December 1, 2012 Money Saving Ideas

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Here are a lot of weapons in the arsenal of money-saving tips, but the most powerful, by far, is a mere two-letter word. It is also, however, one of the most difficult words in the English language to utter, especially when you have to say it to yourself—even more so when the war of “wants” versus “needs” has the “wants” always winning the battle.

That tiny little word is the word “no.” We all know this isn’t a state secret—if you want to save money, stop spending it! But if the average amount of average consumer debt is any indication, many of us struggle with the word “no” on a pretty regular basis.

Saying no isn’t easy—I’m not going to lie about that. But all the coupon clipping and deal grabbing in the world is not going to save you the amount of money that not spending it in the first place is going to do. No matter what the extreme couponers say, even if you only pay 15 cents after coupons for 100 bottles of body wash, you would have saved even more if you hadn’t bought them in the first place. Now, I’m not saying to not buy the things you need to get through your daily life. I am saying, however, that if you truly want to save money, you need to master the word “no” in relation to some of the non-necessities of life.

A good place to start is your grocery budget. If you grocery shop on a weekly basis, look at the contents of your refrigerator at the end of the week. How much food are you throwing away? How much does that food cost? That’s how much money should still be in your pocket—it’s as if you have literally thrown your money away. Make a grocery list based on the food you and your family will actually consume, based on meal plans you can actually stick to, and buy only the things on that list. It doesn’t matter how many tasty treats you find at the store—if it’s not on your list, don’t buy it.

Another instance when the word “no” is especially helpful is when it comes to eating out. Oh, it is so tempting,–pizzas, pastas, tacos…all made by someone else and delivered handily right to your table or car. Realistically though, the money that you spend to feed a family of four at a sit down restaurant could probably feed your entire family 3 meals a day for a week. Do you really want to blow an entire week’s grocery budget on one meal?

Going out with friends is another budget buster. No one likes being the party pooper when everyone is going out for drinks or to a show, but that night can put a budget in the red so very quickly. If you start feeling like a social pariah because you never say yes when the gang is headed out, invite everyone to your place instead. Host a potluck, be it indoors or a backyard barbecue, and you can still be social without draining your bank account.

Many of us have a weakness for a sleek, shiny brand new vehicle. A new automobile, however, is one of the worst investments out there. It depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot, and you’ll never recoup the full amount of money you paid for it. It may not have the new car smell, but a used vehicle will give you more for your buck, and many still come with a warranty. When you are looking for a new-to-you vehicle, skip the new car showroom and check out the vehicles on the used car lot or consider buying from a private party seller.

Clothing is yet another area where many of us spend too much. Do you really need more new clothing? Even if you have a special event coming up, you could always recycle an outfit you have worn before or possibly borrow something from a friend. If you absolutely must buy clothing, try checking out consignment stores or thrift shops. Many offer next-to-new clothing at a fraction of the cost.

Although it can be difficult, saying no to the bevy of school fundraisers and other charity sales can be a way to cut back on your spending. Not to say that there aren’t many worthwhile charities out there, but if you would like to give, give directly without buying the drivel that often comes along with fundraising efforts. The charity only sees a fraction of the money you spend on candy bars, candles, etc., so it’s really more cost effective to give them that money directly than to spend the extra on something you probably don’t need anyway.

This is the one that often gives people the toughest time—gift-giving. Realistically, do you really think that the people you love and cherish would like to see you go into debt simply to buy them a gift? People who truly care about you would certainly say no. Instead of spending cash on a trinket they could probably do without, offer to spend time with your loved ones instead. Choose an activity the “recipient” enjoys, and spend time with them doing that activity. Often this means more to the recipient than a tangible gift anyway, especially if you explain that although you would like to continue celebrating their milestones (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.), you can no longer afford to buy expensive presents. Most people will be incredibly understanding, especially when you offer the gift of time instead.

If you are truly committed to saving money, make the word “no” your best friend. You just might be surprised at the things you can say yes to once your finances are in order again!

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