Monday, January 20, 2014

Couponing 101

Couponing 101

Its official! Ben and I have been couponing for two years now! I know lots of you have seen the crazy couponing show, and thought how much work it looks like they put into it.  I am here to tell you it can be done with very little work and lots of rewards.  We also do couponing for two people so we do it on a much smaller and more reasonable level than the families on TV.  To celebrate our couponing anniversary I thought I would do a post on how we do it.  We have found this is the best way for us to do it, but there are tons of ways people do it.

Our coupon supplies:
Three ring binder
Plastic sheet protectors (8.5x11inches)
Letter size envelopes
Paper clips or bobby pins
Two Sunday Papers each week

Every Sunday we buy two Sunday papers, this is always the first step.  We cut the coupons and make piles, we have ours in different categories based on roughly where they are in the store.  You can do this based on the store you shop most, for us we base it on our local Harris Teeter.  When cutting coupons, some people use photo cutters like you can get in a scrapbooking section and some use plain old scissors.  We are only cutting a few inserts so we use scissors.  Ben likes to stack the two sets and cut the two together, I prefer to cut them individually.

Once they are all cut, we sort them into sections.  For example, all shampoo and conditioner goes in a stack, razors in another, deodorant in one, and dental products in another.  We go through the coupons already in our binder and pull out all the expired coupons.  Some places have programs where you can donate coupons to military families overseas.  Military families in other countries can use coupons up to 6 months past the expiration date at base commissaries.  If there's no program like this, we toss them in our paper recycling.

We then paper clip the individual stacks to the existing stacks in our binder.  If you run out of paper clips, we have found bobby pins will do in a bind. 

After everything is paper clipped it goes into the correct envelope, we have envelopes by section of the store, so they are labeled with men's products and women's, cereal/bars, frozen, dairy, baking, etc. The envelopes then go into plastic sheet protectors based on the larger section of the store they are in.  These categories include Snacks, Dry/canned goods, cold, hygiene, cleaning, etc. 

Before I go to the store, I like to print our the Evic coupons, evic specials, and any good printable coupons.  Also, make sure you know your store's coupon policy as this changes in each store.  I have several sites I like to visit before that usually have lists of the best deals at each store each week.  Two of my favorites include http://thekrazycouponlady.com/ and http://www.mycouponteacher.com/.  Both of these websites are great sources, especially if you are just starting out.

When we go into the store, we know during Super Double time at Harris Teeter we can do twenty coupons a day doubled per VIC card so we are constantly counting the coupons we are planning on using.  Once we pull an item off the shelf and decide we are going to use a coupon, we slide the coupons in the back pocket of the binder.  When looking for deals, on a regular day, coupons .99 cents and under will double unless they say do not double.  During Super Double at Harris Teeter, coupons $2.00 and under will double.  Also, if there is a BOGO or Buy One Get One deal, you can use a coupon on each of the items or buy just one and it rings at half price.  During Triple Coupon time, coupons .99 cents and under will triple.  We follow these basic principles and go aisle by aisle looking through all of the coupons for deals.  With our envelope system, I can hand Ben an envelope and he can take it and do another section of the store to get the work done faster.  At checkout, I like to swipe our VIC card after everything has been rung up so I can write the total before everything.  I then swipe the VIC card, write the new total, hand them the coupons, then write down the total at the end.

Some of our best trips, we got our purchases down to where we spent roughly 15 percent of our total.  On average we do anywhere from 15-33 percent of what our total would have been. Thats a ton of savings! You can see some pictures below of what we have gotten with coupons.  Hope this helps, feel free to ask any questions or give any tips, thanks!

Downton Abbey Brunch

Downton Abbey Brunch

So this past weekend, I threw together a brunch for Ben, my friend and sorority sister Tiffany, and myself.  We all love Downton Abbey and with it being new episode day, I knew this would be the perfect theme. I do love a good themed meal! I researched recipes from the 1920s, yes Downton started in 1912 but this being Season 4, we have now moved into the roaring 20s.  When reading recipes that Ms. Patmore would have cooked there are several things that made it tricky to decide what to cook.  Several of the recipes called for ingredients I had never heard of and knew I wouldn't be able to find. Second, lots of the recipes used methods that would have been heavily French influenced and required techniques I am not skilled in...yet! After selecting our menu, and finding some great make and take craft projects for us to do, I prepped for our brunch.

Downton Abbey Themed Brunch Menu

Cucumber Ranch Cream Cheese Spread Sandwiches
Pimento Cheese Sandwiches
Salmon Mousse Pinwheels
9 Veggie Roasted Vegetable Minestrone Soup
Assorted Pastries
Peach Ginger Tea
Vanilla Chai Tea
Poached Pear Upside Down Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

Our table setting! If you don't have any crystal, places like the DollarTree, Goodwill, and thrift stores are great places to pick up a few inexpensive but beautiful pieces.

The veggie soup would have been a hearty downstairs dish served to the servants of the house using leftover veggies from upstairs meals.  The rest of the meal was what would typically be served upstairs during afternoon tea.  The Salmon Mousse Pinwheels were tricky to make, but the mousse was delicious.  The recipe came from a blog devoted to Downton Abbey themed cooking. This is the link if you want to attempt that yourself.  http://downtonabbeycooks.com/tag/salmon-mousse-pinwheels/
The soup is a Pioneer Woman recipe, we substituted okra and left out the mushrooms.  Very simple, but packed with lots of flavor, warning, this makes a ton so be prepared to eat soup for the next week or freeze, I am working on canning but thats for another blog post. You can find the soup recipe here. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/09/roasted-vegetable-minestrone/ The last recipe I used was very authentic and Ben had to do conversions on the ingredients before baking. http://www.highteasociety.com/2012/08/downton-abbey-inspired-recipes/

After preparing all the food, I had to pick out a Downton themed outfit.  I decided to go with a day off Anna Bates inspired outfit.  When I opened my box of crystal I had packed away a few years ago, I found two wonderful retro hats that belonged to my Grandmother.  I put on a simple dress, still showing way more skin than they would have, a strand of pearls, and the hat and I was good to go.  Tiffany wore an upstairs riding themed outfit and one of the antique hats.  If a lady was going out of the house, it would have been necessary to wear some kind of hat.
Tiffany and I channeling our inner Lady Cybil and Anna Bates in our Downton wear.

Posing with our candlelit table.  You can pick up glass candle holders at the DollarTree and boxes of two candles.

For my table setting, I used my fine china, teacups make everything more fun, and lots of crystal.  The upside down pear cake recipe even recommended that you put the cake on a crystal cake stand.  We served ourselves, how economic of us, and Ben refused to put his tux on and play footman(not surprising ha!).  The food was delicious, especially the soup and pear cake.  The cake was definitely not a modern cake taste but it was a very nice texture and the poached pears on top were so wonderful. Had Daisy or Ivey made the cake, I think Ms. Patmore would have given them her stamp of approval.

The cake flipped perfectly onto the crystal cake stand I picked up at Maxway for $10.

The poached pear slices not only tasted delicious, but looked pretty swirled on top too.

Ben serving his wonderful cake with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

After our meal, Tiffany and I got to work on our Downton Abbey themed crafts.  We made etched stemless wine glasses using my usual etching method.  You can read about the process of etching here. http://annaslifetravels.blogspot.com/2013/03/glass-etching.html We decided to put Lady Anna and Lady Tiffany on our glasses so we could feel super fancy.  These would make awesome name card replacements if you wanted to have your own Downton inspired meal and do these for guests ahead of time.  We etched our guys glasses too, saying Lord Ben and Lord ARay, I think they will feel pretty cool using them.
Etching is a super fun and easy craft, it is kid friendly too, great for teacher gifts!
Now we can feel fancy while drinking our wine!

Our next craft project used these adorable plastic hand mirrors I found at the DollarTree.  We had fun looking at different quotes on Pinterest and chose our favorites to write on the mirrors with dry erase markers.  This way if theres some awesome quotes from this season, we can change it up later on.  We both decided on a Dowager quote "You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability".  You can find the rest of the quote here, we could only fit the beginning. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/285626801341093544/ You can always count on the Dowager Countess to give you a confidence boost!
These mirrors would be great favors for a Downton party or a little girl's tea themed party.

Showing off the fun mirror!

So that was our Downton Abbey brunch! We planned it for three people but you could very easily plan for a much bigger party with these crafts and recipes.  I hope everyone is enjoying Season 4 of Downton Abbey! Have you hosted any Downton themed parties, I would love to hear which recipes you used and which ones are worth trying!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Office Valentine's Day Decorations

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Office Valentine's Day Decorations

So since its officially less than a month until Valentine's Day and the students started class on Wednesday, I felt it was the perfect time to start decorating for the next holiday.  When I say students, I am referring to the cadets at The Citadel where I work as an administrative assistant for the Club and Intramural sports programs. 

While you might not think the students here would be the type to appreciate holiday decorations, they actually really like seeing them up! In a sea of gray and monochrome buidlings, I think they appreciate my colorful touches.  The bowl of candy we have out all the time doesn't hurt either!  Working in a college office is not quite the same as working at a summer camp in that the supplies for craft projects are limited.  Have you ever seen one of those Project Runway episodes where they are let loose in a grocery store or some other strange establishment and asked to use whatever they can find to make an outfit? Well that's what it feels like here.  As a recycled art lover, I love the challenge!

The first project I completed was a sign for the front door and a sign to tape to our counter at what is referred to as the "Happy Station".  I made the cute bulldog cupid sign in Photoshop and then with the black and white print out colored sections with marker to add a bit of fun.  The sign hanging on the door was made with post-it notes, red copy paper, pink copy paper, a piece of cardboard I saved from my new Lilly calendar, and yarn I salvaged from a Santa that was being thrown out.  The final touch was a sign for my divider behind my desk.  I picked up two packs of doilies at the good ole' DollarTree and used more of the Santa yarn.

The DollarTree had three different sizes of doilies in pink and red, I bought the smallest size they had.  I also used the red ones in my candles I made before Thanksgiving on my mantel, I'll post that in another post later this week.
The first step was to write the letters on each doily with a black Sharpie marker.  For the ends of each word I made one with a heart design, sticking with the festive theme.
Next, I cut the yarn into small pieces to tie each together.  I tied all the words separate so they fit on my wall but you could string several together if you wanted a longer banner.
When I was finished, I taped the end bows to my board and voila, a very festive sign to look at while at work.  Have you made any thrifty Valentine's Day decorations? If so, I would love to hear any suggestions for decorating on the cheap!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Christmas Ornaments from Wedding Day Streamers

Christmas Ornaments from Wedding Day Streamers

In the spring of last year, my Maid of Honor Samantha got married a month after us in April! Their wedding had a purple, green, blue scheme.  For their exit, Samantha made these super fun streamers for the guests to wave around.  They consisted of a dowel, a length of ribbon, and some had bells attached at the top.  They looked great in pictures for their daytime exit so I thought they would be great repurposed into Christmas ornaments for their first tree as a married couple. 


While Samantha and her husband were out in Kentucky cutting down their first live tree together, I was busy crafting a surprise to hang on their tree. 

The supplies I used were:

Ribbon from the streamers cut into two inch strips
Bells from the top of the streamers
Felt for the backing
Tacky Glue
Gold colored embroidery thread for hanging
Something to weight down the strips while drying that can get glue on it
(Spare piece of tile, coaster, book, magazine)

The happy couple at their wedding exit, you can see the streamers waving on the right.

The first step was to cut the felt backing out for the ribbons to be glued on.  I used a royal purple shade of felt that I thought would look nice with all of the colors.  After cutting the ribbon off the wooden dowels, I divided them up between the four pieces of felt and decided how the colors would go.  I then folded each one over, glued the end pieces together, and glued them to the felt.  I started with the bottom row so the top rough edges would be covered by the next row.  The top piece of ribbon was covered by the bell.  After I finished, I put a coaster I had sitting around on top of each tree to dry.  Once all four were dry, I stitched the embroidery thread on for a loop to hang from the tree.  The result was four slightly different ornaments.  They turned out so well I think I might have to make some for our tree next year with the ribbon from our extra programs.

The finished product before I added the embroidery thread, so cute!

Here's what I did with them before wrapping them.  Samantha loved them! You know your craft project was a success when the recipient says they almost cried when they opened it! Hope this inspires everyone to make their own version with anything leftover from their wedding day!

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