Monday, July 30, 2012

DIY: Dry Erase Boards and the Ikea "As-Is" Aisle

Ikea is one of my favorite stores. It's the only place that I've found that can beat even Walmart on kitchen gadgets. I've always been impressed with their products (as long as you have a basic understanding that you aren't purchasing heirloom pieces). I love the way that they think outside the box and come up with ingenious designs.

Recently, we needed to pick up a shelf for the baby's room. We headed to Ikea and picked out the lack wall shelf in white for $14.99. When we headed toward the checkout, we made our usual stop to the "As-Is" aisle. The "As-Is" aisle is an elephant graveyard for ikea rejects. They have everything including damaged goods, discontinued items, show room or display models, and random parts of furniture. They have a tall shelf in the corner that has doors, table tops, and pieces of wood. They had several base pieces of chairs (the rolling parts). They even had a GIANT backyard gazebo tent that was discontinued for $75.00!

To be perfectly honest, I have always stopped at the "As-Is" aisle, but before I started bringing Jon, most of it was lost on me. I couldn't figure out what any of the pieces were or what to do with them. Last time, I brought Jon and he grabbed a really cool lighting fixture for $10.00. He knew exactly what he needed and where in the house we had a closed fixture outlet where it could be installed. The result was great and I'm thrilled he could do it for only $10.00!

This time, we found a pile of discontinued white corner shelves for $5.00, that worked even better for where we wanted to install the shelf so we grabbed two of them so we could stack them. We put the lack wall shelf back.

Jon found two high gloss white boards that appeared to be parts of a larger piece in the cabinet of boards. He recognized that they could be used as dry erase boards because they were covered in the blue sticky protective film. There was a very large board for $3.99 and a smaller board for $1.99. We  took them home and set the large one up in the kitchen as a Menu Board, using command adhesive to adhere to the wall. The smaller one, we'll set up in the nursery.

For an example of the savings... This dry erase board is being sold at Staples for $45.99

Quartet® Contour® Melamine Dry-Erase Boards with Textured Plastic Frame, 3' x 2'

  • Standard melamine surface
  • Textured plastic frame with rounded-corners
  • Dimensions: 3'W x 2'H

The next time you're in Ikea, stop in to the "As-Is" aisle to see what can be used! You can also check out the Ikea Hackers site for inspiration by clicking here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Best Donuts Ever! In 15 Minutes, At Home, For Next To Nothing!

The McClure Family introduced us to these amazing donuts. They were so cheap and easy to make that we've made them several times. I like them better than any other donut (or dessert) in the world!


1 Container of Biscuits (we use Grands!), not the "flaky" version.
Powdered Sugar
Cocoa Powder (optional)


Heat oil in deep fryer to about 360 degrees. You can probably use a deep frying pan as well, but I would burn the house down if I tried that, so I'll leave that to the more experienced. Using a small circle cutter (if you don't have one, just use a knife), cut a circle out of the middle of every biscuit. Keep the middles, these become your donut holes. Without over crowding the fryer, place about 2 donuts and 2 donut holes in the fryer. Flip when lightly browned. While frying, put a few scoops of powdered sugar in a bowl. If you would like to try fudge, combine 1/2 cocoa powder and 1/2 powdered sugar in a bowl. Fudge looks powdery until you touch it, then becomes gooey and delicious. When the second side of donut is lightly browned, remove from oil, deposit in bowl and flip around to coat in mixture. Enjoy!

Grands Biscuits: $1.99 at Wegmans
Powdered Sugar: $1.69 at Wegmans (Cost of entire bag, you will only use a small amount).
Cocoa Powder: $ 3.29 at Wegmans (Cost of entire container, you will only use a small amount).
Oil: Pantry Item

Makes: 8 Donuts and 8 Donut Holes

Since we keep everything but the biscuits in stock (purchased for much lower prices at Aldi), we only have to buy the biscuits. Making our serving cost around 15 cents per donut!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another 3 Weeks of Cheap Dinners, Ready in Less Than 15 Minutes

I wanted to expand our 15 minute dinner database, and add the great ideas that readers sent me. The original 15 minute database can be found here.

The criteria for making it to the 15 minute dinner database are:

1. Meal must be able to be completed and served in 15 minutes or less. Quick tip: If your boiling water, don't forget to fill your pot with the hottest water possible and put the lid on.

2. Ingredients for all meals must be under $100.00 for the week. The budget is $120.00 if you are also doing breakfast and lunch for the week. I post our weekly meal plan and shopping list every Saturday (look to the top tabs of this blog for a listing of each weeks menu).

3. Meals must not require traditional recipes. Even though a formal recipe takes the same amount of time to prepare, there's a mental block that occurs when you think of preparing a recipe versus throwing something together quickly. Plus, the "throw together" method encourages you to substitute ingredients and change the recipe a bit.

I should note that this is not the healthiest meal plan to follow. This is to replace an unhealthy lifestyle of fast food and eating out. This plan is significantly healthier than that. We plan to do better in small increments over time, and our Saturday meal plan and shopping lists will follow that. Currently, I'm working 10 1/2 hour days (with commute) and Jon's schedule is unpredictable. This is the best way that I can make our meals work without giving in to the temptation of going out.

Sides:  Frozen Vegetables or salad. We started eating frozen vegetables instead of salad to get more nutrients and to reduce the calories that we were getting from all of that salad dressing. We buy 5 bags of frozen vegetables from Wegmans once every two or three weeks. Each bag costs about $.99, and we cook them in the microwave with a tablespoon of water in a covered container according to directions.

1. BBQ Chicken Sandwich:

Make this meal either on the night of your shopping day, or the day after. Pick up a rotisserie chicken (Safeway has 5.00 rotisserie chickens on Fridays), or make an extra roasted chicken if you practice dinner date nights (more info on dinner date nights can be found here). Pull apart the chicken with two forks to shred, mix with barbecue sauce and microwave for 30 seconds. Spoon onto kaiser rolls (or bread, toast, bagels, frozen dinner rolls, hamburger buns, etc). Serve! If you have leftover chicken- reserve for meal #2.

2. Chicken Fried Rice:

You can either boil minute rice for about 10 minutes, or use microwave rice, which cooks for 90 seconds. As your cooking the rice, heat oil in a pan, cook up frozen diced onion (you can buy these in the frozen food aisle for about 1.00), frozen peas, leftover chicken from Meal #1 (or you can chop up a Tyson's frozen chicken breast, or you can use canned chicken). If you have extra time (and the motivation), you can chop up some celery (if you do and plan to make meal #3 after, reserve some of the celery for that). Break an egg or two into the hot oil and scramble quickly, add drained rice, chicken, and veggies to the oil and mix together. Add a pat of butter until melted and a bit of soy sauce (go slowly!!!!!) You can add more at the table but too much soy sauce can ruin this quickly).

3. (Pantry Meal) Tuna or Canned Chicken Salad: 

Mix either canned chicken or canned tuna into spoonfuls of mayonnaise until you get the consistency you like. You can also microwave a frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breast and dice it up to use instead of the canned chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, a little handful of chopped frozen onion (don't even bother defrosting, they thaw quickly and help to keep your sandwich cold), chopped celery (if you plan to make meal #2 after this- reserve some of the chopped celery for that meal). Serve over your salad greens, on bread (or bagels, toast, English muffins, hamburger buns, crackers or whatever you have in the house). This is a great pantry meal if something interrupts your shopping day, or if you miscalculated your meals and need a quick fill in. You almost always have mayo in the fridge, combine with canned chicken and put on crackers and you're good to go!

4. Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup:

Heat pan on medium heat with a pat of butter, microwave the tomato soup in two separate bowls. Spread butter on outsides of bread and put cheese in between two slices (any cheese you have around), take a look around your fridge and add any extra ingredients you would like, such as sliced tomato, precooked bacon, or ham. Fry in pan, flipping after about 3 minutes, until cheese is melted.  Serve sandwiches with soup.

5. Broiled Steaks (or Grilled):

Buy small thin steaks (which are also cheap!), stick under the broiler and flip after a few minutes until the desired doneness. Another option is to grill them outside quickly. While steaks are cooking, combine creamed corn and a can of regular corn in a bowl, cover, and microwave for about 3 minutes. This creates a quick and delicious chunky creamed corn. Serve with A-1 sauce, or Worcestershire sauce.

6. Ravioli and Summer Squash:

Boil precooked frozen cheese ravioli. While ravioli is cooking, heat oil spray in a frying pan on medium heat. Quickly slice up zucchini and summer squash, add olive oil and the vegetables, add a bit of frozen chopped onion. Drain the ravioli, mix with vegetables and oil and serve.

7. (Pantry Meal) Pepperoni Subs:

Combine pepperoni and some spaghetti sauce in a small bowl and microwave (about a minute and a half), spoon onto hard rolls (or toast, frozen dinner rolls, or even bagels), top with mozzarella cheese (or cheddar cheese if your weird like my husband, I won't judge), and eat up!


8. Chef Salad:

Stack sliced ham, provolone, and salami on top of each other, roll up and slice into pinwheels, pile onto your salad greens, add whatever you have floating around: green pepper, onion, grape tomatoes, chopped or sliced cucumbers, add Italian salad dressing, shake in a bit of cheese (parmesan and mozzarella), mix up and serve. If you're making this, plan to use your leftover cold cuts in other meals. You can use them in sandwiches for lunch, or add them to the grilled cheese sandwiches in #4.


9. Ashley Smith's Mexican Wraps:

Heat a frying pan on medium, spray with oil, add a can of shredded chicken, a half can of corn, a can of rotel diced tomatoes (with chilies if you're into that), microwavable Spanish or Mexican rice, sour cream or cream cheese, and mix until combined. Spoon into soft tortillas, sprinkle on cheese and serve! You can add any extras you have around like jalapenos, black beans, salsa, hot sauce etc.

10. Chipotle Style Bowl or Burrito:

Either make microwavable white rice, or if your organized, make minute rice the night before while you make that nights meal, then drain and stick in fridge. I like the minute rice in this because I can taste the difference with microwavable rice. Microwave two frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breasts and dice up. While making chicken, heat a small amount of oil in pan on medium high heat. Add frozen green peppers and onions (I buy a club pack of green peppers and a bag of onions every few weeks and slice up to freeze and use as needed), and cook until hot. Add rice to pan, adding a splash of lime juice, a pat of butter and a sprinkle of cilantro (all optional), transfer mixture to bowls, top with chicken, lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa or hot sauce.


11. Chinese Stir Fry:

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Add a handful of frozen stir fry veggies, and two frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breast. Microwave white rice (or boil minute rice the night before and store in fridge) for 90 seconds, add to pan. Remove chicken breast from pan, and dice up. Return chicken to pan and continue cooking until everything is hot. Add in Asian sauce of your choice (I like Wegmans General Tso's Sauce). Dish onto plate and serve.


12. Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches:

Either microwave chicken patties or frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breasts, top with a spoonful of spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese. Place on toasted hamburger bun, serve and enjoy.

13. Santa Fe Beans and Rice: (inspired by Natasha Gaiski)

Either heat microwavable rice for 90 seconds, or make minute rice on the stove top. While cooking rice, spray cooking oil in a pan and heat on medium. Add some corn (canned, frozen, half can, or just whatever you have leftover is fine), some Mexican style diced tomatoes (Rotel, or an off brand), and half a can of black beans. If you have frozen chopped onion in the fridge, add a few, but it's optional. When the rice is done, mix the rice into pan and sprinkle with shredded Mexican cheese. Serve and Enjoy!


14. Tortellini with Peas and Cheese:

Boil either refrigerated or frozen tortellini according to package directions. During the last minute, add a few handfuls of frozen peas. You just want the peas thawed, not cooked. Drain and return to pot on low heat, add butter and parmesan cheese to taste.


15. Sloppy Joes:

Brown grown beef on medium heat. When brown, drain, return to pan and add a can of sloppy joe sauce. Spoon onto hamburger rolls.

16. Meatball Subs:

Microwave frozen precooked meatballs. Heat spaghetti sauce, mix together, spoon meatballs and sauce onto sub rolls (or toast, bagels, hamburger buns... whatever you have available). Top with mozzarella or provolone cheese and serve.


17. Swedish Meatball with Egg Noodles:

Microwave frozen precooked meatballs. Boil water and cook egg noodles according to package directions. In a small bowl, microwave a jar of beef gravy (around 12 oz.) and 1/2 cup of sour cream. Combine with meatballs and serve on egg noodles.

18. Chicken Rice A Roni with Vegetables and Chicken:

Prepare Chicken flavored rice a roni according to package directions. While cooking, microwave frozen Tyson's Grilled Chicken Breast. Dice Chicken. Add chicken and a drained can of mixed vegetables to rice a roni.


19. Microwaved Baked Potatoes: (Inspired by Haley)

I just found out about this and am amazed. Stick two potatoes in the microwave and follow the instructions found here. Microwave fully cooked bacon, microwave broccoli pieces according to package directions, set out sour cream, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Have yourself a potato bar!


20. American Version of a Mediterranean Plate:

Serve up cold food that meet your nutritional needs that appeal to you. Try sliced apples, bananas, and pears, Triscuits, cheddar cheese cubes, hummus, pinwheels made with ham, provolone, and salami, cold broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, hard rolls, and butter. This makes a very simple, healthy light lunch or dinner.


21. Chili Dogs:

I don't know why, but hot dogs always creep me out. If you're like me but your significant other loves them, then try an all natural, preservative free hot dog. Cook the hot dogs (boil, microwave, pan fry or grill). You can heat either your own frozen chili, or a canned chili.  Place hot dogs in a bun and top with chili.

Ashley Smith's Mexican Wraps

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Cheese Ravioli with Summer Squash

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ikea Complete Living Room for under $1,300.00

When Jon and I moved into our new house, we acquired an extra living room. At first, being ever so frugal, I tried to convince Jon how great the open space was in an effort to avoid furnishing it. I dubbed it the "Art Gallery" and started random games of kick ball with cat toys in the open space to show him how great having an enormous room with nothing it it was. He wasn't buying it.

My first thought was to hit craigslist to furnish the room, but we had just received an unexpected check for $1,400.00. I caved and said we could furnish the sitting room with that. Thanks to Ikea's great prices, It was an easy budget for the whole room.

Here's the result:

Here's how we achieved it:

Ektorp Love Seat and Chaise Lounge: $499.00
Ektorp Cover for Love Seat and Chaise Lounge: $99.00
Ektorp Love Seat: $479.00
Hemnes Coffee Table: $99.99
Millinge Rug Low Pile: $79.99
Pillows: No Longer Sold, but I believe they were around $9.00 per pillow
The throw blanket on the chaise came from the local thrift store for $2.99 and I adore it!

Total Cost of Sitting Room: $1,293.99

You can purchase or view the above Ikea pieces by clicking here.

Obviously, you can do much better by shopping thrift stores and craigslist. I can't complain though since we stayed under budget and the sitting room is my favorite spot in the house.

White may seem like a brave choice with two kittens and a baby on the way, but we actually preferred white for those reasons. The covers easily remove and we can just bleach any stains right out. In the case of a disaster, It's nice to know that we can replace the covers for a minimal amount, without having to trash the entire piece.

You should also consider stopping by the Ikea restaurant if you're heading to Ikea anytime soon. Besides their famous 99 cent breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and bacon (free on Mondays at our local Ikea from 9am to 11am), they often have weekends where you can eat for free if your spending over $100.00. The Ikea restaurant is a great value and has something for everyone. If your looking for something even cheaper, they also have 50 cent hot dogs at the cafe on your way out.

Ikea Swedish Meatball Combo, includes salad and drink for $5.99!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Thirty-One Utility Tote Organization (also known as... My New Obsession)

After seeing some Thirty-One bags at a wedding a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. I usually carry either a book bag or a Vera Bradley purse with me, but I loved the idea of filling up the utility tote with everything I need for work and not having to carry multiple bags.

Thirty-One is an organizational bag direct sales company (like Avon or Mary Kay). You can order by finding a representative on their website (located here) and ordering through her. They have parties that you can attend to look at the bags. Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of direct sale companies, but I decided to give this bag a try.

I purchased the organizing utility tote for $30.00 and took advantage of the June offer for $5.00 embroidery and a $5.00 mini zipper pouch (normal retail value is $15.00).

I noticed in the catalog that you could fit files in the zipper pouch (it was a lot bigger than the pencil pouch I was picturing), this made me rethink my current "office in a bag" for finances. I placed three files in the zipper pouch: "To File", "To Handle", and "Stamps and Envelopes", then I placed my check book, my budget notebook and my extended budget (which is in a cardboard file) inside the pouch. I am so excited about this set up! It reduced weight and bulk and secures the files while letting them remain upright. It's a huge benefit to me to have all of our budgeting tools with me at all times. I can pay bills, track purchases and adjust the budget in little breaks throughout the day omitting the need for a set time, that I sit down and balance the budget.

The best part of the bag is that it has a rectangular bottom that holds it shape, so you can pack it full, and your items stay upright and easy to see. The bag has tons of pockets and makes it easy to create a routine of putting things in the same pocket each time.


Main Inner Compartment:

My Smashbook with double sided pen and glue stick (for more info on the Smashbook- a.k.a the scrapbook's unruly little sister, click here).

My new "Office in a Bag" for finances, containing bills, files, our budget book, our extended budget, envelopes, stamps, and a checkbook.

My daily schedule book.

The book I'm currently reading, and a small notebook.

A clipboard with my blog schedule and idea notes. You can get your own blogging schedule for free here.

Outside Pockets:

Left Mesh Pocket: iPhone.

Front Left: Water Bottle.

Front Right: Access Cards, Hair Tie and Chapstick.

Right Mesh: To Be Determined.

Rear Right: Wet Naps and Other Germaphobe Goodies.

Right Middle: Pepper Spray and My Camera in its Case.

Right Left: Hand Lotion.

Clipped Onto Strap:

I use a carabiner to connect my keys together with my Vera Bradley Zip ID case (you can find one here), which I use as my wallet. This allows me to leave my bag in the car if I'm just making a quick trip.

I love the new set up, the bag replaces three that I used to bring to work every day, it doesn't hurt my back or shoulders, it's so easy to grab what I need quickly and it's easy to keep organized. Plus, it's cheaper than Vera Bradley!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Home-Made Ice Cream in 7 minutes, 3 ingredients and no machine needed! As seen in August 2012 issue of Woman's Day.

While flipping through the latest issue of Woman's Day, I was intrigued by their claim that we could make homemade ice cream in less than 10 minutes without an ice cream maker. Since I had two of the three ingredients already at home, I figured I'd pick up heavy cream and put it to the test.

This is the recipe as printed in the August 2012 Woman's Day Magazine:
  • 2 cup(s) heavy cream
  • 1 can(s) (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon(s) pure vanilla extract


  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl until thick, stiff peaks form, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a loaf pan or freezer-safe container, cover and freeze until firm, at least 8 hours and up to 2 weeks.


Okay, I'm impressed. I'm really, really impressed. No rock salt, no hand cranking, no huge machine to take up valuable real estate in my gadget packed kitchen. The ice cream came out rich and creamy. It's slightly sweeter then store bought vanilla ice cream, but in a better way. Jon talked me out of making smores ice cream with graham crackers, chocolate and mini marshmallows, so we just added semi sweet chips. It's all natural, and has no scary chemicals or preservatives in it. I foresee a future blog post on the dozens of ice cream variations that we've come up with from this basic recipe!


Heavy Whipping Cream, 16 oz: $2.35
1 Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk: $ 1.59
Vanilla: Pantry Item

Total Cost: $3.94 for around 12 servings. That's just $.33 cents per serving!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Importance of FlyLady in Transforming your Life

Three years ago, I was a much different person. I was a procrastinator. I would push everything off until the last minute because "I had so much to do now!". I was constantly living in "red zone", where I was struggling to handle the most important things. I would miss appointments, deadlines, and events because I was always overbooked and had no clear concept of what was required of me.

I was severely disorganized. I had a house stuffed full of things that I couldn't find if my life depended on it. I was blessed in that I wore a uniform for work because trying to find clean clothes that matched everyday would have been impossible. At the time, I was living in a 5 room basement apartment with a hallway that runs the length of the apartment. I kept my dirty clothing in the hallway so that it was right next to the washer. My dirty clothes pile ran the entire length of the hallway at all times, and most times got so large that I had to walk over a large pile of clothes just to get out of my apartment. My car looked like I was living out of it. I would go shopping and leave bags in the trunk for months (sometimes years).

I was a shopaholic. I was convinced that my problem was that I didn't have something to help me organize. I would buy bins, and schedule books, and sorters in an effort to get my life together. I bought every magazine in the store that mentioned "Organize" on the cover. I would buy clothes that I had already bought the EXACT same item, because I hadn't realized that I already owned it. When I went grocery shopping, impulse purchases filled at least 50% of my cart. Make your own fondue kits and gourmet Irish butter were more frequent purchases than milk and bread.

I was exhausted. I filled all of my free time with parties and friends. I was almost never alone. My phone bill showed that I consistently used about 3,000 minutes a month. I would help anyone with anything, regardless of how close we were. I couldn't say no to anyone. It got so bad that I was on a date at one point when the phone rang, and I answered it! Then I took another call and answered an email. On a FIRST DATE! Then when he pulled the phone away, I thought he was being insensitive!I actually felt tense and anxious around the phone all of the time. It was weird. I knew that the phone caused me stress. But I felt like I couldn't live without it. I almost never got 8 hours of sleep because I would be up all night with friends.

I was unhealthy. My meals consisted of expensive dinners out every night at work. Hamburgers, cheese steaks, Chipotle burritos, and Tex-Mex egg rolls with southwest dipping sauce made up about 75% of my meals. I was spending over $1,400 a month to feed one person. I hadn't eaten breakfast in years. I gained weight, then I gained more weight. I only went to the gym when I went with a friend, and found that I concentrated on the social aspect more than the weight loss aspect.

I was unhappy. To the outside world, and even often to myself, I looked happy. I had friends, money, stuff to do, and an awesome family. Looking back, I was drowning in it all. I never sat down and relaxed. I had a complete lack of life skills and always felt like I was failing. In actuality, I was failing.  I thought that I was made to be this way. I looked at organized people as rigid and boring. I thought I was creative and fun. I thought that there was some genetic reason that I couldn't get my life in order.

Enter Flylady. My mom told me about Flylady, I find my mother gets a lot of credit towards the good things in my life. is a website that was created for people exactly like me. If you were born organized, look elsewhere. Flylady takes people like me and gives us small schedule adjustments to slowly get our life in order. She also establishes routines in our lives. You give her your email address and she sends you about 20 emails a day (no joke!).

In the beginning, she convinces you to do two things. She asks that you do one load of laundry every day, and one load of dishes every day (never more than one!). Together, it takes about 25 minutes. She also convinces you that you can't organize clutter. She asks that you spend another 15 minutes per day (using a timer) to go through your home and throw things out. The laundry and dishes came easier to me than the clutter. I was a hoarder in training. I was absolutely convinced that one day I would desperately need a pair of neon green jeans that were two sizes to small. Where would I be if I threw them out? Jon came over and systematically went through my apartment and threw things out for me. I let him, even though we weren’t dating at the time. I cried and lied about how often I used things so he would let me keep them, but about 30% of the things that I owned went straight into the trash. (Note- you can donate instead, but often at this stage you’re still too disorganized to actually get that done, it’s better to just trash it and start fresh.) Out of everything that was thrown out, I can only remember a pair of roller blades.  I bought them 14 years ago, and had used them about 10 times right after I bought them. Then I carted them down to Virginia and through 8 different moves without ever using them. I had no plans on rollerblading, but I never thought of throwing them out.

If you are anything like the version of me that I described above, then I ask that you go to and sign up. I won’t explain her process step by step because she’ll do a much better job of it than I can. I will promise you that if you are ready to change (and if you’ve read this far then you are), she will change you. It’s been three years since I’ve discovered Flylady and here’s what my life is like now:

I have routines and schedules that allow me to schedule everything that needs to be done into my life. When I make an appointment or make a plan, I think ahead to what I'll need for that event or appointment (forms filled out? extra money budgeted? a gift?) and I'll schedule not only the event but a time to do everything required up to the event. After about a month for each of Flylady's routines, they became integrated into my life so that it's second nature to do them. I can not only easily keep my schedule, but I can keep Jon's as well. There are no real "emergencies" anymore (although true emergencies certainly do exist, we've just been blessed in that area), even the few times that we've gotten last minute calls that someone needs a place to stay... the house was clean, the fridge was stocked and it was easy to accommodate guests.

I am finally organized. I believe that organization is an ever growing process. Meaning, next year  I will be more organized than I am this year. Organization doesn't mean that your closets are color coordinated and ready to be photographed for Pinterest. Organization means that each aspect of my life is working in such a way to support other aspects of my life. The dishes are done every night, allowing me to pack lunches and cook at home. The laundry is done nightly, allowing me to always have the clothing that I need and encouraging me to go to the gym. My supply closet is stocked, allowing me more time at home for crafts and fun stuff instead of running last minute errands. I can find anything I need in the house. Life is stress free.

I'm now a master budgeter. Quite possibly to a fault. I can tell you how much of any staple product we use in a week, month and year. I can tell you the best prices for each product. Last month alone, we were under our "bare bones budget" by $594.00, which I'm incredibly proud of. I use my schedule to plan ahead, and to ensure that money needed for events are budgeted in to avoid surprises.

I'm still exhausted, but only because I'm eight months pregnant! I've learned to say no (although always politely and I'm still working on feeling guilty). I realized that my phone habits were an unhealthy addiction. I also realized that you can spend too much time with friends and not leave yourself enough time to reset. I limit my time talking on the phone, and no longer obsessively check messages. I spend time with fewer friends, but have a more meaningful relationship with them.

I'm much healthier, though this is another ever growing process. The biggest health change in my life has been my sleep schedule. I sleep 8 hours a day, every day (with the exception of pregnancy pains keeping me up), and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. From this alone, I have seen a huge improvement in my attitude and in my level of patience. I eat healthier now then I did then, and am looking forward to continue improving my eating habits. While pregnancy hinders my ability to work out, I've used prenatal pilates and walking to stay in shape and can't wait until I can hit a regular routine at the gym.

I'm happy. I'm proud of who I've become. I'm proud of the accomplishments that I've made. I love the man that I married and who he inspires me to be. When I wake up in the morning, I feel calm and in control. Now, there's an excellent chance that the arrival of the baby next month will make "calm" and "in control" seem like pipe dreams, but somehow I feel confident that we're going to rock it. Because no matter how bad it gets, I'll always have Flylady.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

(7/28/12) This Weeks $120 Meal Plan of 15 minute Dinners and Packed Lunches. Cheap and Quick!

Each Week, I sit down with my schedule book and plan out this weeks meals. Breakfasts are serve yourself from pre-made options, and snack bags for lunches are separated into snack baggies on shopping day (Sunday). I just grab 3 snack baggies for each of our lunches to toss in. We both pack our lunch every day, but I avoid luncheon meat since I'm pregnant. I often take leftovers from the night before since I now have a desk job with access to a microwave. I shop on Sundays, and then do food prep that day for the week.

This is this weeks menu plan and shopping list for the week ending July 28th 2012:

Breakfast Options for the Week:

                                        My Frozen Pancake Bundles, Ready to heat and eat!

1. Heart Healthy Pancakes with Butter, Strawberry Jam, and Maple Syrup.
*On Sunday, while I unpack the groceries, I preheat a pan on the stove. I mix Krusteaz Heart Healthy Instant Pancake Mix with water and make the pancakes while I unload. To avoid forgetting about the pancakes, I usually set a timer (either the Flylady timer if you have one, or the microwave timer) for 3 minutes per side to make it easy. I keep a plate in the microwave and load it up with pancakes as they finish. I then wrap the pancakes in stacks of 3 in wax paper and aluminum foil. When I wake up in the morning, I unwrap the aluminum foil but keep them wrapped in wax paper and microwave for 80 seconds. You can then top with butter (I use Land O'Lakes butter with canola oil because it doesn't have any sketchy ingredients and it's soft right out of the fridge), strawberry jam, and maple syrup.

2. Milk and Cereal.

3. Bagel and Cream Cheese.
* This option was added because Jon kept going to work and eating his lunch right away (at like 930am) and was starving by the time he heads home. That gives me two options, I can insist that he makes his own breakfast in the morning or I can just pack up a bagel and cream cheese the night before when I make our lunches and include it in his lunchbox so he can eat breakfast in the car. I know he doesn't skip breakfast to be difficult, it's because he's not exactly a morning person and he's always running behind in the morning. Making breakfast before you leave for work requires forethought and at least an extra 5 minutes. To make his life (and my life!) easier, I'd rather adjust our program to meet his needs than insist that he conform to the current program. Flexibility is the key to any program working for you.

4. Muffins.
* See note on #3. We have about 5 muffin mixes sitting in our pantry, so I've added muffins to our Sunday food prep schedule. I can leave a few out in our snack area, a few in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch and then wrap the rest in wax paper and aluminum foil and freeze. When I make lunches the night before, I can grab a frozen muffin and put it in the fridge with his lunch.

Snack Options for This Weeks Lunches:

1. Cookies (leftover from last week).

2. Beef Jerky.

3. Mesquite BBQ Potato Chips.
*Buy a large bag and then separate them into sandwich baggies and add to your snack box.

4. Baby Carrots and Ranch Dip (leftover from last week).
* Separate baby carrots into individual baggies and seal. You can add a dollop of ranch dressing right into the bag if you're okay with eating them with a fork, or if you have the small Tupperware cups (dip cups), then put the dressing in there.

Reminders for the Week:

Jon is O/C until Monday

Amy may come over for lasagna night on Sunday.

Almost out of sugar!

Grab an extra bottle of vegetable oil to replace stock oil.



     Breakfast: Milk and Cereal. Scrambled Eggs with Cheddar Cheese. 2 Links of Sausage.
* Scramble eggs over medium heat, sprinkle with cheddar cheese, and serve. Microwave 2 links of banquet sausage according to package and serve.

     Lunch: Chicken Patty Sandwiches with Pickles, Mayo, Salt and Pepper. Serve with Carrot Coins.
* Microwave chicken patties as directed on package. Serve on hamburger bun with mayo, salt, pepper, and sliced dill pickle. As an alternative, you can top with spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese for a chicken parmesan sandwich. Place frozen carrot coins in microwave bowl and microwave according to package directions.

     Dinner: Lasagna, Mixed Salad with Ranch Dressing and Salad Topping, Garlic Toast.
* I only use San Giorgio Oven Ready Lasagna (or Walmart Oven Ready Lasagna, but I still follow the San Giorgio recipe) to make this an easy meal. This isn't a 15 min meal, but we make it on a day off because it presents nicely to guests, and gives us tons of leftovers. Create a salad by mixing up greens, ranch dressing, shredded cheddar cheese, little bits of any veggies you have hanging around, and salad topping. When lasagna is done cooking but cooling, toast buttered bread in the still hot oven, shake on parsley, garlic powder, and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. This is the recipe for the lasagna off the San Giorgio Box:

1lb ground beef

3 cups (about 28 oz jar) spaghetti sauce
1 3/4 cups (15 oz) ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
9 pieces San Giorgio Oven Ready Lasagna, uncooked, unsoaked
4 cups (16 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Heat oven to 375, 2. In large skillet, cook meat until browned; remove from heat. Drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce and tomato sauce, if desired., 3. In a small bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, egg, basil and oregano
4. In a 13x9 inch baking dish, spread 3/4 cup meat sauce. 5. Place 3 pieces uncooked pasta crosswise over sauce. Pieces should not overlap or touch side of pan since they will expand when baked. 6. Spread about 2/3 cup ricotta mixture evenly over pasta. Spread 3/4 cup meat sauce evenly over ricotta covering pasta completely; sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese. 7. Repeat steps 2 and 3 two more times. Top with remaining 3 pasta pieces. Spread remaining meat sauce completely over pasta; sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. 8. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes; remove foil. Bake 10-15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting. Serve with additional sauce, if desired. 10-12 servings.

Prep for the rest of week: Make pancakes for the week. Bake muffins for the week. Brown ground beef mixed with half package of taco seasoning (leftover from last week) for taco salad tomorrow.


     Lunch: Jon - Turkey, Muenster, and Pickle Sandwiches.
                Rowy - Leftover Lasagna

     Dinner: Taco Salad. (5 minute dinner!) (Prep: While eating, boil rice for dinner tomorrow).
* Rinse and spin a bag of lettuce, top with the ground beef you cooked last night, a can of corn, shredded cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes (you can use a can or chop up your own beefsteak tomato), a dollop of sour cream, and salsa. Drizzle with ranch dressing and sprinkle with salad topping.


     Lunch: Jon- Turkey, Muenster, and pickle sandwiches.
                Rowy- Leftover Lasagna

     Dinner: Chipotle Style Burrito Bowls
*Microwave Tyson's Frozen Grilled Chicken Breast according to package directions. Dice chicken and sprinkle with a little bit of taco seasoning (leftover from last nights taco salad recipe). Heat pan to medium high heat and add your frozen onion and green pepper strips. Every few weeks, I buy a bag of white onions and a club pack of green pepper, slice them all up and freeze in a gallon bag. That way, I can just grab a handful when I need them. If you would prefer black beans instead, then just heat a can of those. Microwave the rice you cooked last night with a lump of butter, a splash of lime juice and a sprinkle of cilantro (optional). Layer bowls (or burritos if you have some leftover from last week) with rice, chicken, onions and peppers, lettuce, diced tomatoes, corn, salsa, shredded cheese and sour cream. For most of these ingredients, I'm using leftovers from last nights taco salad. I serve the salad ingredients in separate bowls so that they are good for today's meal.


     Lunch: Jon- Turkey, Muenster, and Pickle Sandwiches.
                Rowy- Either leftover Burrito Bowl or Leftover Lasagna.

     Dinner: BBQ Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, Broccoli Spears.
*Boil water on high in a small covered saucepan. Microwave Tyson's Grilled Frozen Chicken Breast according to package directions, microwave frozen broccoli spears in a covered container as package indicates. Boil macaroni, drain, and add milk, butter, and cheese packet as package indicates.Serve chicken breast with barbecue sauce, sprinkle lemon pepper seasoning on broccoli and serve macaroni and cheese with bacon bits and extra shredded cheddar cheese.


     Lunch: Jon- Turkey, Muenster, and Pickle Sandwiches.
                Rowy- Leftover BBQ Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese

     Dinner: Chinese Chicken Stir Fry
*Heat a frying pan on medium high. Add Tyson's frozen grilled chicken breast. Add a few handfuls of frozen stir fry vegetables. When chicken thaws and begins to get hot, remove from heat, cut into chunks and return to pan. Add microwave rice or noodle kit (found in Asian aisle with sauce and sesame seeds, see the shopping list below), then add extra sauce from bottle.


     Lunch: Jon- Turkey, Muenster and Pickle Sandwiches.
                Rowy- Leftover Stir Fry.

     Dinner: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce or Smorgasbord.
*By this point, we normally have a lot of leftovers, or Jon's dying for more chicken patty sandwiches. We can either eat leftovers, make something from ingredients we have left, or just boil spaghetti and mix with a jar of meat sauce. We have leftover frozen veggies from the week that we can microwave to accompany either meal. If we don't use the spaghetti- No sweat, It'll keep in the pantry for about 3-5 years!


     Breakfast: French Toast, Eggs, Potatoes O'Brien (left over from last week's cheddar broccoli soup).
* Heat frying pan, dunk bread in eggs with a splash of milk, cinnamon and vanilla. Cook bread around 3 minutes per side, then store on a plate in microwave until ready to serve. Wipe out pan with paper towels, add oil to pan, add frozen potatoes cook on high heat for about 8 minutes or until browned. Scoop out and onto plate, break eggs into pan and scramble quickly in oil until cooked. Serve with ketchup, maple syrup, and shredded cheddar cheese.

     Lunch: Cheddar Broccoli Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
* Heat a frying pan on medium and a saucepan on high. Pour 2 cans of condensed cheddar cheese soup in saucepan, along with 3 cups of milk and 3 cups of frozen broccoli, and 1 cup of Potatoes O'Brien (or less- I like about 1/2 cup), stir and wait for boil. When it boils, reduce heat to simmer and wait for 5 minutes. While soup is cooking, butter outsides of bread, fill insides with cheese and fry in pan. If you have leftover tomato, you can add that as well.

     Dinner: Cheeseburgers, Baked Beans, and Cauliflower with Cheese.
* Jon makes cheeseburgers on the grill. This week we'll have fresh buns because we just ran out of frozen, but you can wrap buns in aluminum foil, and heat them on the indirect part of the grill while you're cooking the burgers and they taste just as good as fresh! He'll make the baked beans in a saucepan on the grill side burner. I'll microwave cauliflower in a covered container according to package directions and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese. Then I'll sit on the swing and watch Jon slave over dinner. Hamburger nights are my favorite!




Wegmans (All prices are current for Wegmans):

2 Beefsteak Tomatoes: $1.99
2 Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Salad, Fresh Garden: $2.58
2 Loaves Wegmans Bread, Homestyle: $1.58
1 Wegmans Sliced Hamburger Rolls, Club Pack: $1.99
1 Banquet Brown n' Serve Sausage Links, Turkey $1.29
1 Club Pack (6 pounds) Wegmans 80% Ground Beef: $12.00
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About, Soft Bagels, Plain: $2.59
Wegmans All Natural Muenster Cheese, Thin Slice: $2.49
Wegmans Cheese, Shredded, Low-Moisture Whole Milk Mozzarella: $3.49
2 Wegmans Cream Cheese, Original : $2.98
Wegman's Food You Feel Good About Eggs, Large (18 eggs): $2.23
**They aren't listed online, but I always find a club pack of 2 or 3 cartons of eggs for under $3.00, substitute this if you can find them**
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Fat Free Milk: $2.47
2 Wegmans Mild Cheddar Cheese, Fancy Shredded $3.58
Wegmans Pickles, Sandwich Slices: $2.99
Wegmans Ricotta Cheese, Whole Milk: $1.99
Wegmans Singles, American Cheese, Yellow Slices: $1.99
Wegmans Turkey Breast, Oven Roasted, Thin Shaved, Club Pack: $8.99
Tyson's Chicken Breast Patties, 26 oz.: $4.99
2 Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Chicken Breast Fillets, Grilled: $19.98
1 Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Just Picked Broccoli Cuts: $.99
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Stir Fry Vegetables, Far East: $2.69
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Whole Kernel Corn, Canned: $.49
Wegmans Asian Classics Spicy Orange Sauce, General Tso's: $2.99
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Pasta Sauce, Tomato Basil: $.99
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Baked Beans, Brown Sugar: $.99
Wegmans Macaroni and Cheese Dinner, Spirals with Real Cheddar Cheese: $.39
Wegmans Memphis Barbecue Potato Chips: $2.00
Slim Jim Smoked Snack Sticks, Original: $3.49
Pillsbury Grands! Biscuits, Buttermilk, Homestyle: $1.99 (Not scheduled in menu, but I'm doing a blog on our home-made donuts and need this).

Total Cost at Wegmans: $99.20


2 Oven Ready Lasagna: $4.00 (buying two because Wegmans does not carry them, this way I can avoid the walmart trip next time).
Sugar: $2.49
Vegetable Oil: $2.00

Total Cost at Walmart: $8.49

Total Cost of Groceries This Week: $107.69


Already Have at Home:

Pancake Mix
Strawberry Jam
Maple Syrup
Muffin Mix
Vegetable Oil
Baby Carrots
Ranch Dressing
Carrot Coins (frozen)
Salad Topping
Jar of Minced Garlic
Garlic Salt
Minute Rice
Sour Cream
Partial package of Taco Seasoning
Frozen White Onion and Green Pepper Strips
Lime Juice
Barbecue Sauce
Potatoes O'Brien
Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup
Frozen Cauliflower

                                    Broccoli Cheddar Soup - The easiest soup you will ever make!             
                                                                      Less than 15 minutes!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Suave Rosemary Mint Shampoo (and how I learned the lesson to try out a cheaper brand)

We use approximately 384 ounces of shampoo and another 384 ounces of conditioner per year for both of us (these are the kinds of things you know when you keep a stockroom and track it psychotically). I had used Pantene Pro-V Classic Care shampoo and conditioner since high school. I loved it. When I went to my parents house to visit a few years ago, I had forgotten shampoo so I used what my mom had in the shower. It was Suave Rosemary Mint Shampoo and Conditioner (which I'm positive that Mom bought because it was cheap). I fell in love. I couldn't believe how great it smelled, and how soft it made my hair. I liked it better than Pantene! I went straight home, moved the Pantene to the guest shower and bought Suave Rosemary Mint Shampoo and Conditioner. I still love it, Jon loves it and not surprisingly, we've saved a bundle of money with the switch!

Pantene Pro-V Classic Care Shampoo and Conditioner each cost $4.97 for 22.8 ounces at Walmart. In one year, we would spend $167.41 on this shampoo and conditioner. (4.97 / 22.8 = .217 per ounce x 768 ounces per year = $167.41)

Suave Rosemary and Mint Shampoo and Conditioner each cost $2.74 for 32 ounces at Walmart. In one year, we spend $65.76 on this shampoo and conditioner. (2.74 \ 32 = .085 per ounce x 768 ounces per year = $65.76)

In total, we save $101.65 per year by using a product that we like better.

As a side note, if you are currently not using the supply closet method of shopping, and find yourself picking up shampoo at the grocery store, you would save much more. Read about the supply closet method of shopping here. At Wegmans, Pantene Pro-V Classic Care shampoo and conditioner are both sold in 12.6 ounce bottles for $3.89. If you bought that for a year, you would have spent $237.10.

By switching to Suave and using the supply closet method, you would save $171.34 per year.

And that my friends, is what Born Free is all about- saving money while improving your life. I'm not going to sacrifice something that I love. I want to spend more wisely and be conscientious of what I'm spending my money on so that I can buy the things that I really do love.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mcdonalds or a Cruise? That is the Question....

One of the things that has struck me so amazingly since we've introduced the budget is how we can estimate our yearly spending on each individual item and figure out ways to reduce it. Which got me thinking about people in general and what they sacrifice for bad habits. One of my favorite people in the world is in the bad situation of being a smoker in New York State. She's tried to quit numerous times and has yet to kick the habit. An unfortunate decision that she made as a young teenager has had a major financial impact on her life, not to mention the health impact that we've been blessed to not see yet. In New York, the government has taxed cigarettes so that a pack costs $11.90 per pack (2011 price, versus $5.55 in Virginia).

Smoking is hardly the only bad habit that makes a significant impact on our lives. While smokers seem to be few and far between now a days, we have a new bad habit. Fast food can have a similar financial impact and thanks to our fast paced and unorganized lives can be just as hard to give up. This made me want to run a few figures:


In New York:
      If you smoke 1 pack per day: $11.90 x 7 = $83.30 per week. $83.30 x 52 weeks = $4,357.60 would be saved in one year if you could stop smoking.

     If you smoke 1/2 pack per day: $11.90 x 3.5 = $41.65 per week. $41.65 x 52 weeks = $2,165.80 would be saved in one year if you could stop smoking.

In Virginia:
     If you smoke 1 pack per day: $5.55 x 7 = $38.85 per week. $38.85 x 52 weeks = $2,020.20 would be saved in one year if you could stop smoking.

     If you smoke 1/2 pack per day: $5.55 x 3.5 = $19.42 per week. $19.42 x 52 weeks = $1,010.10 would be saved in one year if you could stop smoking.

Let's say that you spend the next 15 years of your life smoking (most likely, if you smoke now, you've already spent 15 years smoking). If you live in New York and smoke a pack per day, you will have wasted $65,364.00 to this habit.

**As a side note, I believe the health tax on cigarettes in New York is a horrible idea. The number one reason that people can't quit smoking is stress. By impacting a smokers life in such a dramatic way, you have burdened that smoker with significant financial stress and the guilt that goes along with it. The tax makes it harder for them to quit. **


     A Large Big Mac Value Meal with a Dr. Pepper purchased in Woodbridge, Virginia will cost you $6.81. If you routinely eat this meal (or a similar one) three times a week, you will have spent $20.43 in a week. Multiply that by the 52 weeks in a year, and your fast food is costing you $1,062.36 per year. If you and your partner are both doing this, this figure will double to $2,124.72 per year.

You might argue that McDonald's is actually cheap. After all, you would have to eat something right? What if you packed a lunch bag with a roasted turkey breast and muenster cheese sandwich and a side of potato chips on every day that you would be busy enough to be tempted into the herd line at McDonalds?

You would need to purchase the following:
A loaf of bread every 2 weeks - $.79 (current price at Wegmans) for a total yearly cost of $20.54
Shaved Turkey Club Pack every two weeks - $8.99 (current price at Wegmans) for a total yearly cost of $233.74
Muenster Cheese every 2 weeks - $2.49 (current price at Wegmans) for a total yearly cost of $64.74
Mayonnaise every 3 months - $2.49 (current price at Wegmans) for a total yearly cost of $9.96
Potato Chips every 3 weeks - $2.00 (current price at Wegmans) for a total yearly cost of $34.66

For one person, the above would cost you $399.52 per year. For you and your partner, it would cost you $799.04 per year.

By switching out the Mcdonalds trip with the "Busy Night Lunch Bag", a single person would save $662.84 per year and a couple would save $1,325.68 per year.

If that wasn't enough to convince you, then let me tell you that the money wouldn't be the most significant things that you saved. In a year, you will have saved 124,800 calories. While weight loss/gain has many variables (metabolism, height, weight, and physical activity), on average this could save you from gaining 35 pounds in a year!

I'm not telling you to stop smoking and eating fast food so that you can sock your money away in an investment fund and retire rich (although, that really would be the best bet - so if I could convince you of that, then let's pretend I did tell you that). I want you to live the most amazing life possible while your here. I want you to tour the Amazon, and safari in Africa. I want you to take your little rugrats to Disney World, and bring your parents to visit their homeland. I want you to have an 83 inch TV with surround sound in your living room, and a sailboat. I want you to learn how to fly a plane, and then buy a plane. Whatever your passions are in life, I want you to have those things. I want you to stay focused on the things that you want, and eliminate spending money on the things that don't matter to you. Because I can't envision being on my death bed and saying "You know what the best part of life was? All those Big Macs.. They were amazing."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

13 Free iPhone apps to make your life much easier!

It's hard to believe how integrated the iPhone has become into my life. It's a fantastic tool that really supports me in organizing and making my life easier. However, for every amazing useful app, there are a thousand useless time suckers. Here's my list of  free apps that have really changed my life for the better.


1. Moment Garden (also a website that can be found here):  If you love scrapbooking or journaling then moment garden is for you! You can start new gardens for different people in your life. You can upload short stories and photos so that you can remember them down the line. Moment garden makes a timeline for you that you can scroll through (see the screen shot below). You can send people invitations to have administrator rights in your garden so that they can also add stories, and photos. We started our garden when we found out we were having little Michael and everyone added stories and photos to his garden. It's a great way to stay connected with the important people in your life as well as a neat tool that he can look through later.


2. My Fitness Pal (also a website that can be found here): Pre-pregnancy, I had purchased several apps to track calorie intake. Most of them were very limited in the foods they had in their database, which meant you had to enter in the information yourself. This was too time consuming to actually keep up with every day. I couldn't believe my eyes when I found out that My Fitness Pal was free! It's so easy to use, it has a social aspect to help you stay on track, it has 10 times the foods stored in its database, and you can create and save your own meals! It also tracks your nutrition as you go, even telling you your daily recommended goals and whether you have met them. You can also track any exercises that you do, and it adjusts your calorie allowance to reflect your exercise. I can't say enough great things about this app and recommend it for anyone who either wants to lose weight, gain weight safely, or ensure that they are meeting their nutritional needs.

 You can add your food and exercise intake into this screen.                                              

 My fitness pal advises you on your nutritional goals in this screen.                                  

 You can add friends and keep each other on track.                                                                

 Nutritional data can be tracked weekly as well so that you can make up for shortcomings
earlier in the week.

 My fitness pal also produces graphs and charts                                                                    
                                     to help you understand what you put in your body.


3. Zoc Doc (also a website that can be found here): Zoc Doc isn't available everywhere yet but if you live in a major metropolitan area, then they probably cover your area. Zoc Doc lets you search for medical providers using your insurance information to ensure that the providers accept your insurance. You can book appointments online, even the same day! The app stores all of your info so that the medical provider already has it. Thanks to Zoc Doc, I started religiously making and keeping all of my routine care appointments. I could make appointments at 2 am, or look at their extended schedule for a date and time that matches up perfectly with my schedule. The service is completely free, but what really blows my mind is the phenomenal customer service that Zoc Doc has. At one point, I had scheduled an appointment online and gotten a call from the doctor's office apologizing and stating that the time slot I had selected was a misprint. They asked if they could reschedule. No big deal at all, since I could just go back to the app and choose a different date. About 5 minutes later, Zoc Doc called me and emailed me a $25.00 Amazon gift certificate and mailed me a free tee shirt for my hassle. I explained that they didn't need to do that since it was no trouble at all and I was extremely pleased with their company. But they insisted. To have customer service like that on a free service is nothing short of amazing.

 ZocDoc lets you find rated medical providers and book appointments right through the app!

4. Reminders: With the latest software update of iTunes, a new app called reminders is automatically loaded onto your phone. I use this app every day. In the morning, just after I've woken up, I run through my day in my head and think of what I would like to accomplish. I enter quick tasks into this app that I'd like to get done. As I complete them throughout the day, I check them off and they are immediately moved into your completed tasks area. My favorite part is browsing through my completed tasks when I feel unmotivated. Looking at the incredibly long list of things that I've accomplished in the week puts me right back on track. If your a natural "lister", this is just an easier way to do it!

Reminders lets you list your tasks for the day, and quickly check them off as they are  completed.

5. Cozi Calendar (also a website that can be found here): This is the only recommendation that I don't actually use. It's an online shared calendar that you can keep your daily schedule on. In addition, you can track every member of the family's schedule and color code each family member so you can easily separate them. You and your partner can each download the app and have access to each others schedules. There is also a shopping list feature that lets you separate by store, and a journal. It's an amazing tool for home management. I keep a written daily schedule book with me at all times (it fits in my purse) and find it therapeutic to write, doodle, and draw in it. I keep Jon's schedule for him and send him emails when he needs to be aware of something.  Cozi is a great system, but I would miss my old book. Most people would benefit from this system though.

6. Around Me: Around me is a GPS based app, that lets you search for anything using your current location to find the closest match. For instance, when we moved I wasn't sure where the closest Walmart was since I wasn't familiar with the local roads. Enter "Walmart" into Around Me, and it lists all Walmarts in the area and identifies how close each is. If you're on a road trip and would like to find a Sonic, just enter "Sonic" and it will find you the closest. Around me is free and a great tool when you're in an unfamiliar area. You can also search for broader categories such as fuel, shopping, and restaurants.

7. Overdrive or Kindle: Both apps are free. The kindle is an iPhone app that you can download ebooks onto. You can either pay for current ebooks or download one of their many free ebooks. Overdrive works through your library as a way to borrow ebooks or audio books for free and lets you play them directly through the app. You can read more about overdrive here.

8. Pinterest: Pinterest is an online pin board of creative inspiration. You can find tutorials, cheap projects, life hacks, and pretty much everything you could ever get out of a magazine... and all for free! The pinterest app is pretty glitchy, but I still end up on there often. You can find more info on how I use pinterest to save money here.

 You can click on each photo to see the original content (usually a tutorial).

9. Daily Feats: Daily Feats is a free app that rewards you for improving your life. You earn points for doing any of their feats, then you can take your points and apply it to rewards that they get through sponsorships. For instance, this months rewards are a $5 Ebay gift certificate for 2,500 points, a $10 Sears Gift card for 5,000 points, a $10 Fandango gift card for 5,000 points, and a $25 Spafinder gift card for 7,000 points. You can earn points for all sorts of accomplishments, like keeping calm on your commute to work, staying within your budget, playing with your pets, doing yoga, going to the doctor, and pretty much everything else that constitutes a "good deed". It's easy to get bogged down in searching for feats that you did, I recommend picking 10-15 that you would like to make routine and just tracking them. When they become second nature, you can add more or just track a new set of deeds. The app is slower than the website, so I normally just log my feats on my laptop, but the app is still pretty good.

 You can explore and set up feats that you would like to do everyday so that you can quickly add your feats.

10. Locate your iPhone: This is an app that is automatically added to your phone when you update your software. If two phones are on the same account, you can locate either of the phones through this app. I can't give you a screenshot of this since it would be a personal security issue, but you choose which phone you would like to find, then it shows you an exact location, either on a regular map, a satellite image, or a combined map. It's so accurate that I can see which part of the building my husband is in. You can easily disable this feature if it creeps you out. Unless neither of you are jealous at all, this is pretty much the worst idea ever. But it can be helpful it a lot of ways. If you can't get a hold of your partner and your genuinely worried about their safety, you can check on them. Jon has a high risk job, and it's oddly comforting to know that as long as his little marker moves on the map then he's ok (or a mass murder has left his body in a ditch and just took his cell phone). Since I often get home before him, I like to use it to time his dinner perfectly. I can see how close he is and make it so that dinner is set out just as he walks in. Obviously, Apple wasn't thinking of those benefits when they developed this. It's meant to protect you if your phone is stolen. You can give the info to the police to track the phone, remotely wipe the phone of all of your info, and disable the phone.

11. HuluPlus: (also a website that you can find here): Huluplus is a free app, but you need to pay $7.99 per month for the service (which also lets you watch shows through your xbox, computer, blueray player etc.). You can read here how we saved almost $1,000 in a year by using huluplus. Huluplus lets you watch TV directly from your iPhone. They have most popular shows, and many past shows that had a cult following. They have new episodes that air about 24 hours after the TV air time.

 With huluplus, you can browse popular content. categorized content, or search for specific content.

12. The Weather Channel: The iPhone comes with a weather app already installed, but in my opinion, The Weather Channel app blows it out of the water. You can get current, hour by hour, 3 day, and 10 day forecasts. You can also switch it over to the Doppler map to watch specific storms as they come in. It shows you severe weather warnings in an easy to use format. The Weather Channel app is free and an excellent resource.

13. Words with Friends Free: This is technically just a game and can't help you organize your life at all. What it can do though, is give you a rewarding social and gaming experience. I live far away from my parents and sister, but through Words with Friends, I can play scrabble with them every day. It's a turn by turn game where you take a turn and it sends the notification to the other player, Then they can take a turn when they get a chance and it notifies you that it's your turn. It's a fun way to stay connected to the people that you miss.

 With Words with Friends Free, you can play turn by turn scrabble with friends and family.