So, PHEW! What a whirlwind series of events with the sidewalk/erosion/rain garden! The total for that whole….thing….came to just about $6,500. Not anything at all that we planned for this year!

Our aggressive budget changes have proven effective, I am happy to report. We have replenished the emergency fund, paid off the electronic gift credit card balance and the lawn mower credit card balance, and are managing quite happily with reduced expenses. We expect to have another vehicle paid off within a year, as well as the loan for the erosion work paid off early. AO#2 expects to pay off what he owes us for the 0% credit balance for truck repairs, ahead of schedule, and he makes timely payments on the truck loan, so there’s no problem there.

A few months back I conducted freezer and pantry inventories, and found I had more than enough foodstuffs to last two months, with the addition of fresh produce and dairy. Well, we’re still working through some of that inventory. And, yes, I have purchased more as the grocery budget has allowed; I found it difficult to stay within the food budget, but applied other unused funds to that. I have frozen some bargains and free items, but am judicious in how much I am getting. I have surprised myself with my restraint in not buying some bargain items (because I already have 20 meals worth of chicken breasts, thank you) and in finding ways to use others in creative ways (creamy cauliflower soup in the freezer for next month). I made refrigerator pickles with a gifted cucumber….eh. I found less expensive hair and skin care options for us, and they work great. The point is, we have been able to still live abundantly with tighter budgets. Sure, it would have been nice to go out to eat, or to a movie in a nicer theater. But honestly, we weren’t lacking in any way. We’re now able to “lighten up” on the budget reigns just a little.

Before The Very Big Hole happened, I was addressing a myriad of smaller, frugal fixes around the house, one of which was the dusk to dawn light bulb solution. The experiment with one exterior light fixture went very well. Last week I purchased three more and installed them in the other fixtures. $18. There were interesting results. The sensors are all aimed the same direction. Sunlight comes around the corner of the garage, hitting the fixtures at different times. But by that time (afternoon), the sun is already high in the sky, illuminating the neighborhood and reflecting off the street, driveway, etc. So I am confused as to why two of the bulbs turn off sooner than the others; they are not even adjacent to each other. They do eventually turn off, but it’s well into the afternoon when that happens. I’m not sure if the bulbs are defective or what. I have set aside some late morning time this week to examine that better. I do still have the packaging and the receipt. They were nearly $6 on sale this time, so, yeah, I saved all that.

The Next Thing. I meant to this summer trim the river birch that is starting to grow over the gutter line. I didn’t think that sapling would grow so tall in such a short time, either! This summer has been uber hot, then uber rainy, and then the other issue drained my brain and my body. So next week when it cools down a bit, I plan to bring the pole trimmer into the master bedroom, hang out the window, and cut away! I got gutter screens at Menard’s last week (rebate for full purchase price on the way), and we want to get those up across those gutters by the end of October. They’re the same kind we have on the gutters near the crabapple tree, and those work pretty well. $2 for yard bags.

After that, we’ll be getting the yard prepped for winter (cost of yard bags and ibuprofen). Lots of trimming, redistributing clay soil, bagging, tying bundles, etc. And after THAT, I have some inside projects to get started on. But I will leave you with this picture from 17 years ago. We still have the plants, and while we missed the monarchs for a few years, they are back in big numbers! They are camera shy, but we enjoyed some of them on the plants outside the kitchen window during dinner the other night.

Right now there are giant bushes behind these plants, and they don’t allow these to grow and bloom this nicely. Those bushes get cut way down very soon. You try different things, right?



When to Use a Kohl’s Discount

If you look back in the archives of this blog, back to when it was Cheap Thrills In Omaha, you’ll see that I love freezer cooking. Many of my past posts are about feeding my family frugally. Indeed, it was all about eating and living super frugally.

Nowadays, it’s just DH and me, but AO#2 (adult offspring #2) lives here still. I usually plan for just two of us for dinner, but need to be prepared for three. It’s a rare treat for us to sit down together for a family meal, and I’ll take it every chance I get. The struggle to control the grocery budget and food waste is real, and inconsistency has upped its game. But I win.

For the grocery assist, I’ve used a FoodSaver system for years and years. The one I had was as basic as they came, purchased on sale. It was loud, it was temperamental in its last days, and it was a faithful friend. Then it wasn’t. A few months ago I found a clearance model online with Kohl’s. It was $89, and I had Kohl’s Cash plus additional one-day discounts. Yes! For $77 total with tax, picked from the store to save shipping cost, I had a newer, nicer model within the week.

This new one is much quieter, and my favorite feature is the dry/moist food selection, which makes messes nearly impossible. I can also just seal, without the vac part, which is versatile for the various ways I preserve. There’s a holder for the rolls inside the unit, which my other one didn’t have. All in all, it’s a much better machine, even if it is now discontinued. I don’t care!

Last week, I ran out of bags and rolls. There was a 20% off coupon at Kohl’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Kohl’s Cash this time, but that would have been another $10 off. Again, I bought online and picked up in the store (BOPUS). Can I say how much easier it is, also, to just walk in and pick up, knowing that the product is actually there, not out of stock?

This, to me, is often the best use of Kohl’s discounts. FSing is a major part of my frugal life. It helps keep me below grocery budget, it makes dinner life very easy after the initial prep, and it keeps my frozen foods at their best. Getting the FS bags with these discounts is really a great help to my budget, as well. FoodSaver bags rarely go on sale anywhere. The FS site has some good deals, but you have to pay shipping. Every once in a while the grocery store will have odd sizes on sale, but still not the best deal. So rather than let Kohl’s Cash or a 30% discount expire, I’ll stock up on FS bags, because that will like be the best deal of all. The Kohl’s Cash is extra bonus, if I had to make a qualifying purchase, anyway (upgrade undies, new jeans for DH, etc.).

So, here’s how I make use of this device in current-day situations. I still buy meat and poultry when it’s on sale, just not in the huge quantities I needed a few years ago. The better bargains are with the larger packages. (I also did a 40# Zaycon order a few years ago, but found the quality lacking. They’re out of business now.) Protecting the product in the freezer is important, and appropriate portioning for our new “normal” is also important.

For a large pack of chicken breasts, for example, I’ll rinse and dry the chicken, and place two in a large bag (made easily from the roll now) with at least 1″ of space between them. I’ll also make single-breast packages. I’ll make some three-breast packages, and because there is space between the pieces, if I need just one later, I can easily remove it and re-seal the bag. Sometimes I’ll toss in a marinade (or leftover salad dressing) and enjoy a really easy meal later on.

I no longer eat pork, but DH and AO#2 enjoy it. I recently found a bargain on three boneless chops, and packaged them together. When I needed two for them last week, I popped them out to defrost, re-sealed the one, and set back in the freezer for DH to throw on the grill one of these nights.

When I find beef on a really good sale, that gets FS’d immediately. Lean ground beef gets portioned in 1# bags, smooshed flat for fast thawing. Some specialty meats, like turkey Italian sausage, I can find on super sale (.99 per package!) and I will FS them two or three links to a bag, which is what I use when making pizza burgers or an Italian dish. This is where the seal-only feature comes in handy: I vac to a point, stop it, and seal, so the sausages don’t get smooshed into one. I’ve gone back and vac sealed after they’ve frozen, too. Any meats I get, really, if I’m not using them right away, get FS’d in one- or two-portion packages. They thaw very quickly, so if I need to add 1 to my 2 at the last minute, I’m good.

A couple of times this summer we were gifted with farm fresh corn from different sources. (Did you know there are still farms within the city limits of Omaha? It’s great!) Some of it was blanched and FS’d, some of it was cut from the cob, then blanched and FS’d. I don’t need corn for quite a while. Local, sweet and plentiful! Strawberries at .88/# get flash frozen, then FS’d; I usually re-seal after removing what I need.

The new FS has come in handy for storing refrigerated foods, too, and some baked goods (although those don’t usually last long enough to make it worth the effort or the cost of the FS bag). Seriously.

I used my old FS to package items I sent to AO#1 when he was deployed, and even when he was stateside active duty. Things can squish down quite small and fit into smaller packages when you use a FS. But mostly now I use it for storing food.

I’m glad to have had the Kohl’s discounts to use on something that we take advantage of every day. Instead of spending time hunting down a new top or pair of jeans I don’t need, I’ll use the deals this way.