Monday, February 8, 2010

For the Love of.... Dollar Stores

So Valentine's Day is coming up and my family takes every holiday seriously. We always look for a reason to cook dinner and give things to each other. Along with Valentine's Day is my Mom's Birthday (yes, she was born on Valentine's Day, and her maiden name is Love.) Oh, and Jay's birthday is Feb 12th. So, a pretty busy week, along with stuff to buy. I had to get Valentines so I went to my local drug store, and that wasn't great, so I ventured over to the Dollar Tree, and what a find! Now, I admit that in the past, the dollar stores were full of crap, but they have really stepped it up a notch. Go take a peep for yourself, especially if you need to pick up your valentines. I got Jay some cool stuff. I found this 32 ounce glass beer mug, and found twizzlers, jelly belly's, and hershey's kisses to fill it up with. I found some really cute cards for all of the valentines and birthdays. They may not be your $3 Hallmarks, but still just as adorable. I got full-sized, clever cards for 2 for $1. I even picked up some valentines for my friends. My mom get cute valentine too. Oh, instead of spending the $3 for a gift bag for my mom's gift, I found this adorable purse-looking cloth bag to wrap her gift in. She can use it later to keep trinkets or makeup or something in.

Jay and I collect wooden "treasure chests" and wooden carved boxes. We have one from India, and a bunch we found at the flea markets and yard sales. I think one dates 170 years old or something. I found a carved wooden box at the dollar store to put his birthday gift in. It may not be old or from another country, but it still looks pretty cool.

If you haven't been to the dollar store lately, take a look sometime. They carry known candies, wrapping stuff, and cards for all occasions now. Really, there's too much to list, but most of all, the quality is so much better than it was years ago.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Eat Fancy... Very Cheap..

So Jay and I are into good food, just like everyone else. Jay is a natural chef, and (hopefully a future trained chef) and he loves to cook. We do the whole grocery store thing, along with the coupons. However, it's no surprise that it's very hard to cook for only two people, when food is available to cook for at least four. Meat is sold by the pound, and everything comes in "serves four" portions. If you're cooking the pound of meat and making the "serves four" portions, there's both a lot of leftovers and a lot of waste. I hate waste, especially knowing that there's starving people who would offer a body part for the contents of my fridge. In fact, when Jay and I used to work in the pubs at the airport, we would take boxes of sandwhiches and "expired" food that would end up in the dumpster and put them underneath the bridge in Covington, knowing that someone would eat these sandwiches that our company charged $7 a piece for. We live in the city and have people who go through our garbage for aluminum cans, so at night, we've started placing stuff we won't or can't eat by the garbage cans, at the end of the buildings. Usually it's gone by morning because we know some homeless person is hungry. I'd rather they eat it than the garbage man take it. I always feel bad when we don't have something to put out there now.

Anyway, who eats a pound of cooked chicken or a pound of taco meat between two people? It's not possible, and the pounds of meat are expensive. I mean, chicken breast is on sale every other week at Kroger, and it's buy one, get one free. So usually the chicken cost is around $7 for two pounds. If we are only eating half of that in a cooked meal, we are wasting $4.50. Ground meat is $2 a pound, but half that in waste is $1. If we're cooking only a pound of beef a week, that's $4 a moth, and $48 a year in waste. Double that for the year for chicken breast waste. Mercy, I'm not even going to consider bread or veggie waste costs.

We stumbled across something at Kroger that's phenomenal in our opinion. They opened this new super Kroger down the street, and their butcher has the greatest meat choices, and they cater to our portion needs. Let me tell you about it. It's all fresh, prepared with spices and such, and ready to cook. They save you the time and create these high eat dishes, and offer them at stolen prices. Here's what we've been munching on for dinner for the last few weeks and the prices we paid:

Feta-Stuffed Chicken breasts: $4 for two

Bacon-wrapped seasoned flank steaks: $6 for two

Metaterrian seasoned chicken breasts (wrapped in bacon) $3 for two

Lemon-Pepper Salmon steaks: $3.50 for two

Stuffed pork chops: $3 for two

Cajun seasoned Tilapia: $3 for two.

100% Angus beef, seasoned burgers: $5 for two

That's not even the tip of the iceburg for the choices they have. It all ranges from $2 to $7 depending on the meat used and how it's seasoned or stuffed. Usually they come in either a butcher foam or a aluminum pan that you just pop in the oven and cook. Some of them you have to go to the butcher counter and they wrap it in butcher paper for you. The trick is that you only buy these fresh, and cook them fresh. DON'T FREEZE THEM. The quality is okay after thawed, but not as great. So, you have to frequent the store a few times a week. But, so you know, we are the only country that STOCK PILES FOOD. In other countries, people stop at the market everyday for fresh meat, veggies, and bread for dinner. And, they weigh less. Don't stock pile food.

To complete the meal, Kroger offers a wide selection of fresh veggies available in steaming bags. They come with a seasoning or sauce packet that cooks along with the veggies. Asparagus with sauce, Snow peas, baby corn cobs, red potatoes with rosemary garlic sauce, the list goes on and on. They usuall run $1.50 to $2.50 and the portion is generous (but not wasteful) for two people.

Then, you can get a fresh baked baguette or french loaf for around $1.

Are most expensive meal so far was cheaper than a trip to Subway for $5 footlongs:

Bacon-wrapped steak fillets: $6

Red potatoes with rosemary garlic butter $2

Fresh baked French loaf: $1

Baby spinach salad, around $1.

Total: $10.00 and some change. However, we did split a bottle of the finest $5 Cabernet for a personal celebration.

Not bad, steak dinner with wine for two, around $15. Plus, NO waste.

The pic I included was a snapshot of the butcher box where the fresh seasoned/prepared meat was located. So many choices!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is weight loss hurting your wardrobe? Try the thrift store!

During my undergrad years, not only did I gain the "Freshman 15" but I was in the accelerated class, and I gained 30+ pounds. I never noticed/cared until I saw my graduation pictures. Ouch, I wasn't even in the "cute" chubby class anymore, or the "healthy" weight class. I did a free BMI online and found out that I was hurdling the line of overweight/obese. OBESE!!! What the hell?!?! I couldn't have gotten that fat. So, I started going through all of my clothes and pictures. Yep, I was now a "full figured" girl. Now that I was finished focusing on my bachelor's degree, I needed to start focusing on my body. Not only for image, but I realized that all the extra weight was making things a bit difficult. I had a sleeping disorder, and I new my blood pressure was out of line because I flushed in the face really easily these days.

When I was 19 and in between boyfriends, I briefly dated an older guy who made a comment to me once that stuck. He said, "You're a pretty girl now, but I bet you'll be a total knock-out when you're around 25." Unfortunately, when my 25th birthday and remembered that, not only was I NO KNOCK-OUT, I was OBESE, and most of all, had HEALTH CONDITIONS RELATED TO OBESITY. UGH!!! I had to put that in uppercase to remind myself again, because I need to be reminded DAILY now. After all, those of you struggling with weight problems know it's a daily battle...

So after some changes, there was no soda, no fast food, more walking, and more water...

Here's the deal though, when you have way to much weight for your frame (which I was kicking around 175+ pounds, standing at 5'2) the first bit comes off very quickly. I made the whole promise that everyone does, about not buying new clothes until I hit my "goal weight" (140lbs realistically). However, goal weight does not happen fast. My friend at work made a comment about me "swimming in my jeans" and I knew I needed some smaller clothes.

However, if you keep dropping weight, you keep needing smaller clothes. They (the internet gods) say that to go down in a pants size you have to lose 6-10 pounds. So I'm facing AT LEAST 4 to 5 size fluctuation before I'm finished. I couldn't keep buying a few pairs of new jeans at $30 a pop every month....

So I started hitting up the thrift stores. Now, I'm no stranger to thrift stores because I come from a long line of thrift store shoppers. My mom frequents the Goodwill at least once a week, and finds some pretty amazing things. My dad goes every Saturday morning, (early, so everything isn't "picked through") and finds antique art and trinkets for his house. He buys some of the coolest paintings and I don't know how both he and my mom do it. As they say, most trips are "scoreless" but you have to frequently go, spend some time, and dig. Dad has a valuable, personal art collection now, and some pretty neat antiques. It's amazing what people give away...

Back to clothes. Sunday, on my way to wash clothes, I decided to stop at Village Discount Center in Newport to peep at some new (to me) jeans that actually fit. I was a bit disappointed at first, but then I remembered to take my time and dig.

Long story short... I walked with 7 new zip-up hoodies, 11 clever t-shirts, and 8 pairs of jeans. I paid $37.49 for all of it. If you're into labels, I got Victoria's Secret PINK sweats line, Mossimo, LEI, Abercrombie, Levi, Aeropostle, Old Navy, etc. My best find was the vintage ladies 1977 aerosmith shirt that perfectly matched the rock star zip up hoodie. Village has colored tags on everything, and they pick two colors each day that are "half off." And they have a $5 off any purchase coupon in the paper occasionally. They also do 50 cent Mondays. (Cost, not the rapper!)

I liked everything so much that there's a good chance I would have paid full cost for some of the stuff brand new, if I saw it elsewhere and had the money. I knew I was in the right place when a rock-start dressed, professional shopper was quickly skimming through the shirts. He had a few vintage looking t-shirts in his hand, and the way he moved showed me that he did this a lot. He probably owns a vintage boutique somewhere, and charges $20 a pop for the shirts he paid 50 cents for. He saw my Aerosmith shirt in my cart, and told me he'd give me $5 if I'd hand it over. No way dude.

Out of pure delight, I went back a few days later and found 4 more shirts, 3 more pairs of jeans, and 2 more zipper hoodies for $11.37. So all in all, roughly $50.00 for about two weeks worth really neat clothes. And the best part is, if when I dwindle down in size more, it won't be such a big loss. I'll probably keep going to the Village after I reach my goal weight because $30 for a pair of new jeans is worth a week of new (to me) clothes there. So whoever you are, keep donating, and the rest of us will keep buying.

In the pic, it's a small sample of the massive jean rack, I'm just hoping you can see the prices ;)