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Friday, October 30, 2009

Flashback: Halloween Safety Tips

Here's a post that ran one year ago - stay safe!

The Consumer Product Safety Commission sent out these safety tips for a safe Halloween:

Costumes
  • When purchasing costumes, masks, beards and wigs, look for flame-resistant fabrics such as nylon or polyester, or look for the label "Flame Resistant." Flame-resistant fabrics will resist burning and should extinguish quickly. To minimize the risk of contact with candles and other fire sources, avoid costumes made with flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts.
  • Purchase or make costumes that are light, bright and clearly visible to motorists.
  • For greater visibility during dusk and darkness, decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car's headlights. Bags or sacks also should be light-colored or decorated with reflective tape. Reflective tape is usually available in hardware, bicycle and sporting goods stores.
  • Children should carry flashlights to see and be seen.
  • Children should wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes. Oversized high heels are not a good idea.
  • Tie hats and scarves securely to prevent them from slipping over children's eyes and obstructing vision.
  • If your child wears a mask, make sure it fits securely, provides adequate ventilation, and has eye holes large enough to allow full vision.
  • Swords, knives and similar costume accessories should be made of soft, flexible materials.
  • Supervise pumpkin carvings to avoid lacerations.
Treats
  • Warn children not to eat any treats until an adult has examined them carefully for evidence of tampering.
  • Carefully examine any toys or novelty items received by trick-or-treaters under three years of age. Do not allow young children to have any items that are small enough to present a choking hazard or that have small parts or components that could separate during use and present a choking hazard.
Decorations
  • Keep candles and Jack O' Lanterns away from landings and doorsteps where costumes could brush against the flame.
  • Indoors, keep candles and Jack O' Lanterns away from curtains, decorations and other combustibles that could catch fire. Do not leave burning candles unattended.
  • Remove obstacles from lawns, steps and porches when expecting trick-or-treaters.
  • Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, such as UL. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets.
  • Don't overload extension cords.
Image credit: Firefighter costume at Amazon.com.

Children's Place
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

One recall yesterday: Halloween Flashlights

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Halloween Flashlights Sold Exclusively at Target Recalled Due to Burn Hazard - Click through for a photo of the mini-flashlights included in the recall.


Stay on top of recalls by signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Flat Stanley Christmas Giveaway

My kids are still in preschool, so I only know of Flat Stanley by reputation, so to speak. But my understanding is that he's incorporated into school curricula to expose children to travel and places other than where they live. Here's the Wikipedia synopsis:
Stanley Lambchop and his younger brother Arthur are given a big bulletin board by their Dad for putting pictures and posters on. He hangs it on the wall over Stanley's bed, but during the night the board falls from the wall, flattening Stanley in his sleep. He survives and makes the best of his altered state, and soon he is entering locked rooms by sliding under the door, and playing with his younger brother by being used as a kite. Stanley even helps catch some art museum sneak thieves by posing as a painting on the wall. But one special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends by being mailed in an envelope. Eventually Arthur, who tires of all the attention Stanley has been getting, reverts Stanley to his proper shape through an air pump used for footballs.

Today's giveaway is for paperback versions of the original book, Flat Stanley,as well as the companion book, Stanley's Christmas Adventure.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may need to click through to the post to reach the form. If you're having trouble filling out the form, try going directly to the published form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, follow me on Twitter and tweet about the giveaway. Then fill out the form to let me know you've done so (include the link to your update).

For a fourth entry, blog about the giveaway on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again with the link to your post.

You can enter up to four times (one for each type), and you must complete the form once per entry. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 9:00 p.m. PDT on Thursday, November 5, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Recall: Mia Moda Viva & Viva Supreme Car Seats

Certain Mia Moda Viva and Viva Supreme car seats are being recalled because the harness splitter plate on the rear of the seat has sharp edges that can cut the harness, and because the base could crack in a crash. The manufacturer is contacting registered owners and offering a full refund. You can call 1-877-546-8437 for more information. Also, read the NHTSA press release. I couldn't find anything about the recall on the Mia Moda web site.

I highly recommend signing up for child restraint recalls from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Ralphs: 10/28 - 11/3/09

Note: This summary of deals is based on the ad I get in Los Angeles, where Ralphs stores double coupons up to $1. I don't list all of the deals, only what I consider to be really good ones. If I missed any, please let us all know in the comments.

It's a good week at Ralphs this week. There's an 8-hour sale tomorrow (Thursday) from 1 to 9 p.m.:

Pepsi or Diet Pepsi 12-packs $1.99 (limit 2)
Doritos 99 cents (limit 2)
Halloween bagged candy $1.67 (limit 8) - use $1/1 printable coupons on Nestlé
Budweiser or Bud Light 15-pack $7.99 (limit 2)
Walnut Halves and pieces or Almonds $2.99

The rest of the week looks great. The Mega Savings Event is back this week, and it looks like a pretty good one. As usual, buy any 10 participating products and get $5 off your order. You should be able to do multiples of 10 in a transaction and get $5 off for every 10 products. All prices are after MSE:

All laundry detergent $3.99 - use $1/1 from 10/4 RP or $1/1 printable coupon

Snuggle fabric softener
$3.99 - use $3/1 from 10/4 RP or $1/1 printable coupon

Kellogg's cereal
$1.99 - there are apparently $1/1 peelies out there, or you may have coupons from previously purchased boxes of cereal

Lean Cuisine
$1.99 - use $2/3 from Sept. All You or $1/5 from 9/13 RP; pay $1.67 or $1.79 each

V8 V-Fusion Juice
$2.49 - use $1/1 printable coupon

Welch's 100% Grape Juice
$2.49 - use 75 cents/1 from 8/16 SS or $1/2 from 9/27 SS or $1/1 printable coupon

Carnation Evaporated Milk
79 cents - use 50 cents/2 from 9/27 SS

Pillsbury Pie Crusts
$2.50 - use 50 cents/2 printable coupon

Pillsbury Ready to Bake Cookies
$2.50 - use $1/2 from 8/9, 9/13, 10/4 General Mills or $1/2 printable coupon; if Simply Refrigerated cookies are included, use $1/1 from 9/13 General Mills or 55 cents/1 from 10/4 General Mills or printable coupon (best deal); if Holiday cookies are included, use 75 cents/2 printable coupon

Dannon Danimals $1.99 - use $1/1 from 8/30 SS

Land O Lakes Spreadable Butter $1.99 - use 40 cents/1 from 10/18 SS

Quaker Chewy Granola Bars $1.99 - use $1/2 from 10/11 RP

Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks $1.99 - use 50 cents/2 from 9/13 General Mills or printable coupon; if Fruit-flavored Shapes are included, use 40 cents/1 printable coupon

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice $1.49 - use $1/3 from 9/13 RP

Ricola Cough Drops 99 cents - use B1G1 free from 10/11 SS

Check out this list of unadvertised Kroger MSE deals at Stretching A Buck as some of them may apply to Ralphs also.

Other Coupon Deals
Campbell's Chunky Soup $1.25 - use 75 cents/4 from 9/20 or 10/11 SS; pay $1 each

Padrinos Tortilla Chips $2.69 - use $1/1 from 9/13 SS

Kettle Krinkle Cut Chips $3 - use $1/2 from 9/20 SS

Other Deals
All Hot Dogs Buy One, Get One Free (excludes Boar's Head)
Fresh Chicken Breat or Thighs $1.99/lb
Fresh Ground Sirloin $1.99/lb
Top Sirloin Steak $2.99/lb
Fresh Pork Sirloin Chops $1.99/lb
Country Style Pork Strips $1.99/lb
Cornish Game Hens frozen twin pack $1.69/lb
Sweet Bell Peppers $1 each
Gala Apples 49 cents/lb
Broccoli or Cauliflower 99 cents/lb
Green onions or Radishes 50 cents/bunch
Russet potatoes 50 cents/lb
Brown or white onions 50 cents/lb
Zucchini 99 cents/lb
Assorted Fall Hard Squash 99 cents/lb
Fresh Express Garden & Slaws 8 to 16 oz 99 cents
Ralphs yogurt cups 40 cents
Van de Kamp's sliced bread $1.29

Coupons Inc.
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Morning Coffee: Remember That Contracts Are Binding

Just in case you think contracts aren't really binding and you'll be able to win some sort of duress argument if you're up against a huge company, think again: eBay has successfully argued that its forum selection clause is binding, meaning that its lawsuits will be litigated in its chosen forum of San Jose.

I can't find anything official about this on the MyCokeRewards site, but several other sites are reporting that you can get double Diet Coke points today. Update: I just entered my Diet Coke codes and got bonus points!

There's a new deal at Amazon on select video games: Spend $80 on select titles by October 31 and receive a $40 promotional claim code usable towards a future Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game purchase. There are "select titles" on all three platforms, including Mario Kart,Lego Star Wars,and Madden NFL 10for the Wii.

Real Simple is offering a $5 Holiday Savings Rebate when you buy $15 worth of participating products, including HoneyBaked Ham, Head & Shoulders, and International Delight. Purchases must be made by 11/15, and your submission must be postmarked by 11/19 and received by 11/21. So don't delay if you want to take advantage of this offer. (Via Centsible Savings.)

Stretching a Buck has the scoop on a Reynolds baking product rebate when you buy parchment, baking cups and foil.

Get a printable coupon for 50 cents off any Ro-Tel - just wait for the main banner to change if you don't see the coupon right away. (Via Money Saving Mom.)

Read about some not-so-well-known details about Target's return policy, including the fact that you can make returns without a receipt. (Via A Full Cup.)

Children's Place
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quick Product Reviews: Fast Food Edition

McDonald's Angus Burger - I haven't tried this personally, but Marc hated it when he tried it several months ago. I got confirmation of his opinion when a friend of ours said he actually took one bite and threw the rest of the burger away because it was so bad.

Carl's Jr. "Big Carl" Burger - This is the Carl's version of a Big Mac, except better. It's so huge, I can't come close to finishing it. I like the flame-grilled taste on the meat, which makes it tangibly better than a Big Mac. There's also full lettuce leaves rather than shredded. Right now, it's just $1.99, which is an incredible price for such a large burger. Plus, we've been getting Carl's coupons in the mail and newspaper that have a coupon for a free medium drink when you buy a Big Carl.

Taco Bell Volcano Burrito & Taco - Should I be embarrassed that I really like Taco Bell? I used to get cravings for it when I was pregnant - back then, I would get the Crunch Wrap Supreme. These days, I get a Volcano Taco (or two), or if I'm really hungry, a Volcano Burrito. They're spicy in that Taco Bell kind of way - I think of it as a fake heat, since it's not like there's real chile peppers in there. The important thing is, it always hits the spot.

Quiznos Classic Cobb Flatbread Salad - I have this salad infrequently and I'm always surprised by how good it is. Maybe it's because I have low expectations of a fast food salad, but I always finish it - and the flatbread is yummy.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Safety Alert: My Baby Soother

The CPSC has issued a safety alert for the following item(s) because the manufacturer refuses to recall it. If you have this item at home, click through to the CPSC press release for more info:

CPSC Urges Parents and Caregivers to Stop Using "My Baby Soother" Pacifiers Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for additional photos.


Stay on top of recalls by signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Don't Pay Bills That Aren't Yours

I recently read about a man who failed to review his credit card statement, didn't notice $11,000 in fraudulent charges, and is currently on the hook for them because he's technically paid them off. (Via Bargaineering.)

There's a huge lesson here for all of us: Always check your monthly statements, because it'll be difficult, if not impossible, to get your money back once you've paid the bill.

I do this with credit card bills, and thanks to online account access, I actually check the charges several times a week to make sure nothing is amiss. (Ditto for our bank account balances.)

I even check utility bills, medical bills, and pretty much every bill that crosses my desk to make sure the amount is about right before I pay the bill. Certain bills are about the same amount every month, which makes them easy to review. (Our landline and cell phone bills fall into this category.)

Utility bills fluctuate more because we're not on a level payment plan and rates increase over time, but the bills always have the usage numbers from the previous year. I check to see if they're similar, because it's unlikely that our usage has changed dramatically from the year before. If the numbers differed significantly, I would wonder if the meter was read incorrectly and call the provider. But until now, the numbers have always been similar, indicating that the amount due is simply higher because of a rate increase.

With medical bills, I always check them against the explanation of benefits (EOB) statement that I received from the insurance company. This has saved me a lot of money over the years. For instance, I recently received a bill that I couldn't match to an EOB, and there was no EOB for that doctor when I checked online. I called the doctor's office, and the receptionist figured out that they had entered the member ID number incorrectly. Once the insurance was processed correctly, our portion of the bill went from $100 to just over $5.

So remember this lesson: Always review your bills before you pay them. You could end up saving yourself a lot of money!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

One recall yesterday: Cambridge Silversmiths Flatware

I'm not sure why this was included in the kids-related recalls - I'm guessing it may be the choking hazard? In any event, if you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Flatware Recalled by Cambridge Silversmiths Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for a photo of an additional style.


Stay on top of recalls by signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

Children's Place
Ads via MySavings.com

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The First Step Toward De-Stressing: Declutter

I've been feeling overwhelmed lately. My to-do list is a mile long, which is nothing new. But I'm finding my situation particularly distressing because I had found a happy place, mentally, when the whole hospitalization/illness thing hit and I just haven't been able to get back to that happy place since.

A good way to describe my emotional state right now is weighed down. And when I get this way, I find decluttering to be extremely appealing. The literal removal of excess weight helps me feel mentally lighter.

I'm at the point where I'm tempted to just pile everything into the car and drop it all off at Goodwill or Salvation Army. Without documenting or itemizing for taxes. The stress relief might be worth foregoing the deduction.

But then I think about the medical bills that I have to pay in the next one to two months, and the effort I put into saving money by shopping smart. With the amount of stuff we have to give away, I'm guessing we're talking a tax deduction that's worth a couple hundred dollars all told. I don't want to give that money up.

So posting might be light for a week or two as I make time to document the items that I want gone from my house. Maybe I'll even find some items that will make for a good giveaway :)


Ad via Escalate Media Affiliate Network

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ralphs: 10/21 - 10/27/09

Note: This summary of deals is based on the ad I get in Los Angeles, where Ralphs stores double coupons up to $1. I don't list all of the deals, only what I consider to be really good ones. If I missed any, please let us all know in the comments.

Coupon Deals
Nature Valley Granola Bars $1.50 when you buy 4 - Use 40 cents/1 from 9/13 General Mills insert and/or 40 cents/1 from SmartSource.com, the first coupon will double; pay $4 for 4 (limit 2 offers) (Update 10/23/09: The Nature Valley Granola Nut Clusters qualify for this deal too, and there was a $1.60 off printable coupon a few weeks ago, and $1/1 coupons in the 9/13 General Mills insert. If you have 2 $1.60 coupons (which was the max you could print per computer) and 2 $1/1 coupons, you'll pay 80 cents for 4 bags.)

Hillshire Farms Deli Select Lunchmeat $1.99 - Use 55 cents/1 from 9/27 RP; pay 99 cents

Arm & Hammer laundry detergent $2.99 - Use $1/2 from 9/13 SS; pay $2.49 each, which isn't the best deal but decent if you need detergent

Hershey's XL bars Buy 4/$5 Get One Free - If these bars come in Extra Dark, then you could use the $1/1 from 9/27 SS (limit 2 offers)

Nestlé, Wonka & Mars bagged candy 2/$5 9.34 to 12.3 oz - Use $1/2 Nestlé or Wonka from 10/18 RP or $1/2 Mars from 9/27 or 10/11 RP or $1/1 printable coupon (look over at the right side of the page); there's a Catalina deal on Nestlé and Wonka (details here), so if you buy 4 and use 4 $1/1 coupons, you'll pay $6 and get a catalina coupon for $3 off your next shopping order which works out to 75 cents per bag

Other Deals
Russet potatoes $1.99/10 lb bag
Celery 79 cents/bunch
Broccoli or cauliflower 99 cents/lb
Organic bananas 79 cents/lb
Valencia oranges $3.47/4 lb bag
French bread 99 cents/loaf
Pork picnic roast 99 cents/lb
Pork spareribs $1.99/lb
Pork butt roast $1.99/lb
Split chicken breasts $1.99/lb

Coupons Inc.
Ad via Logical Media - Make Money!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review & Giveaway: Elefun & Friends Games - Giraffalaff Limbo and Scatterpillar Scramble

MyBlogSpark sent us two games from the Elefun & Friends Collection: Giraffalaff Limbo and Scatterpillar Scramble. The boys loved both games and had a blast playing with them. They're 4 and 2 years old, so they didn't care about the rules that much, but I think Giraffalaff Limbo, especially, would be great for parties with the 4-and-above set. And Scatterpillar Scramble is terrific for developing fine motor control.

Through October 31, you can print a coupon for $4 off any Elefun & Friends game (coupon expires December 31).

Plus, one lucky CFO reader will win these games for their own kids!

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may need to click through to the post to reach the form. If you're having trouble filling out the form, try going directly to the published form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, follow me on Twitter and tweet about the giveaway. Then fill out the form to let me know you've done so (include the link to your update). (Feel free to retweet this.)

For a fourth entry, blog about the giveaway on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again with the link to your post.

You can enter up to four times (one for each type), and you must complete the form once per entry. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 9:00 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, October 27, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Good luck!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Musselman's Apple Sauce Sample Pack Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Musselman's Apple Sauce Sample Pack giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Lynn L. (lynnla*****@att.net)

Lynn, I've sent you an email, and you have 48 hours to respond with your address.

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A new way to sell on Amazon: Trade-Ins

I love selling my used items on Amazon, and I've written before about how to do it. I think of it as having an online garage sale. But because of the cost of shipping, and especially the obligation to get an order in the mail within two business days, I'm relatively picky about what I list. Working full time means it isn't always easy to get to the post office, and most books must be presented to a clerk because they're over 13 ounces and being shipped Media Mail. (Read more about the 13-ounce rule.)

I had a DVD that wasn't worth selling back, but I was intrigued by the "trade-in" option over on the right of the item's Amazon page. You can read more about Trade-Ins here.

It's really quite easy: You tell Amazon that you want to trade in your copy by clicking on the trade-in option. Amazon will give you two pages to print – the first is your free shipping label, and the second is a packing slip that you'll need to include with the item. It's actually much like doing a return, if you've ever done one with Amazon.

Less than a week after I sent the DVD, I received a $1.25 credit to my gift certificate balance. It's not much, but I'm definitely going to keep this option in mind in the future for things I want to get rid of quickly or that aren't worth selling myself. I already have a few things in mind that have been listed on Amazon for a while without selling.

Venom
Ads via MySavings.com

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Times the Fun Giveaway Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Two Times the Fun giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Janey P. (ppca**@windst****.net)

Janey, I've sent you an email, and you have 48 hours to respond with your address.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Trick or treat alternatives

We don't live on a street where there are a lot of houses or families, so trick or treating on our street isn't an option. Here are some non-traditional alternatives to consider if you're in the same situation:

Halloween Party - My mom's group has thrown a pot-luck Halloween party every year since our kids were born. The pot-luck makes it easier on the host, and it's a nice chance for us moms to catch up. The party is generally on a Saturday even if Halloween is during the week, so it's usually just an extra chance for the kids to dress up.

Go to the mall - Our local shopping mall has a trick-or-treat event in the early evening on Halloween. I recommend going early, since some of the stores run out of supplies within the first half-hour. The great thing about this event is that some stores give out non-candy items

Reverse trick-or-treating - This works especially well if your child is very young. Take him to an office, hospital or retirement home and give out candy.

Go to a friend's house - If you have a friend who does live on a friendly street, ask if you can join them for trick or treating.

Invite some friends over - Maybe you're not the only one who doesn't want to go trick or treating in your neighborhood. Invite a few friends with kids over and decorate or carve pumpkins, watch a Halloween-themed movie, or tell spooky stories. Alternatively, your child could host a sleepover with close friends.

Attend a special event - Many churches and community centers host trick or treat events. A friend's church does a "trunk" or treat in the parking lot, with parishioners handing out candy from the trunks of their cars.

Whatever you do, be sure to discuss your plans with your child before Halloween. Meltdowns are much less likely if your child knows what to expect!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Quick Product Reviews: Humidifiers & Video Games

Vicks Cool Mist Humidifier– The one I got at Target looked a little different than this one, but based on the reviews at Amazon, I’m guessing it’s the same model. As the reviews say, this humidifier is absurdly loud, and I would never recommend it in a million years. There are other Vicks Cool Mist Humidifiers and they get better reviews, so just try to avoid the one that's kind of insubstantial - the box this came in was quite light.

Crane Cool Mist Humidifier– You’ve probably seen these, as they’re quite recognizable thanks to their animal shapes. I picked up the frog, although Alex now keeps asking me for the elephant. I like this humidifier because it’s nice and quiet. We’ve had it for approximately six months now and use it every night. I occasionally rinse the tank with bleach, and I regularly dry it out during the day. There are very few hard water stains, so considering how much we use it, I’m quite pleased with how easy it’s been to maintain.

EA Sports Activefor the Wii – As I mentioned previously, Marc and I both like this program a lot. The upper body workouts with the resistance band are pretty useless, at least to us, but we get good cardio and lower body workouts. I love that there are numerous pre-programmed workouts, and that you can customize your own. There are other features to encourage you to get healthy, such as a “journal,” but I haven’t been interested in them at all. Overall, I give this a big thumbs up for ease of use and effectiveness. (Just do pushups to build up your upper body strength!)

Wii Fit– I actually got this several months before I got EA Active and at first I really liked it. I thought the activities were fun to do, but they didn’t make for a great workout. Some of the activities were too difficult to be fun. And they all got boring after a while. But worst of all, I found that it was making my back ache horribly and I had to stop using it. If you want something to do that’s not overly challenging, then the Wii Fit might be a good fit for you. But if you can, try to borrow it from someone so you can decide if you like it before you spend the money.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ralphs: 10/14 - 10/20/09

Note: This summary of deals is based on the ad I get in Los Angeles, where Ralphs stores double coupons up to $1. I don't list all of the deals, only what I consider to be really good ones. If I missed any, please let us all know in the comments.

The Mega Savings Event on frozen foods continues this week. Get $5 off when you purchase 10 participating items. Like last week, there aren't that many items listed in the ad, but you can probably find more participating products in store:

Marie Callender's Dinners & Entrees $1.99 after MSE - There are a variety of coupons out there from the 9/27 SS and the September and October issues of All You on the various product lines (Signature Sautés, Homestyle Creations, etc.) so your final price will depend on what's included in the sale and which coupons you have.

Healthy Choice Dinners & Entrees $1.99 after MSE - There were $1/2 coupons for various varieties in the September All You; pay $1.49 each after MSE & coupon when you buy 2

Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers $1.99 after MSE - Use 50 cents/1 from 9/13 SS or 40 cents/1 from 10/4 General Mills insert

Yoplait Frozen Smoothie $2.49 after MSE - $1/1 from 10/4 SS; pay $1.49 after MSE & coupon

Coupon Deals
Dannon yogurt cups 50 cents - Use $1/10 from 8/16 or 9/13 SS; pay $4 for 10

Cheez-Its & Coke: Buy 2 Cheez-Its @ 2/$6, get 3 Coke 12-packs for $1.99 - Use $1.50/2 Cheez-Its from 10/4 RP

Campbell's Chunky Soup
99 cents - Use 75 cents/4 from 9/20 or 10/11 SS; pay 74 cents each when you buy 4

Dole Fruit or Fruit & Gel Bowls
- Use 75 cents/2 from 8/9 SS or 75 cents/1 from 8/9 or 9/13 SS

Other Deals
Eggs 99 cents/dozen (limit 2)
Baguette 99 cents/1
2-liter 7-Up (selected varieties, including A&W) 79 cents + CRV (limit 5)
Avocados 47 cents/1
Green beans 99 cents/lb
Tomatoes on the vine 88 cents/lb
Gala apples 88 cents/lb
Bartlett pears 79 cents/lb
Italian or yellow squash 99 cents/lb
Whole chicken 69 cents/lb
Split chicken breast $1.49/lb

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Broiled Cod with Miso Sauce

I adapted this recipe from the September issue of Parenting Magazine, and wanted to point out that the original recipe calls only for rice vinegar and does not include sake so it's totally non-alcoholic. I opened my cabinet and was shocked to see that I was completely out of rice vinegar, so I had to rapidly improvise, hence the sake in the recipe below. Thankfully, it still came out delicious!

Broiled Cod with Miso Sauce (adapted from Parenting Magazine)
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. cod fillets, cut into 6 oz pieces
nonstick cooking spray
1/3 cup miso (it doesn't matter if you use dark or light or a mix)
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar (this stuff is awesome!) or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Preheat the oven broiler. Put the rack on the second shelf from the top. (Or do what I did and use your toaster oven to keep your kitchen from overheating.)
2. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a broiler pan or oven-safe wire rack. Spray the broiler pan or wire rack with nonstick cooking spray. Put the fish on the broiler pan or wire rack.
3. In a small bowl, combine the miso, sake, vinegar and sugar. Whisk until smooth. Generously spread the miso sauce over the fish.*
4. Broil the fish for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is browned and fish flakes easily. Serve with rice.

*You can use any leftover sauce for a steamed green vegetable (dilute with water if it's too thick). I served green beans; the magazine used snow peas.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Review & Giveaway: Musselman's Apple Sauce

Musselman's has come out with some new apple sauce products, which they sent over to us to try. The Totally Fruit apple sauces – available in Apple, Peach and Strawberry flavors – are sweetened with real fruit juice and other all-natural ingredients. Each single serve cup counts as a serving of fruit, and as Gina at Moneywise Moms pointed out recently, these cups are perfect for filling out a kid's lunch during the winter when fresh fruit is harder to come by. I personally found that the peach variety tasted too flower-y for me, but my boys have loved all of the flavors and consider them to be dessert.

The Healthy Picks apple sauces are designed specifically for women with active, healthy lifestyles. They're available in Raspberry Acai, Blueberry Pomegranate and Key Lime Cupuacu flavors, made without added sugar, and are a good source of fiber, calcium, vitamin C and antioxidants. Marc loves key limes, so he was excited to try that variety, but complained that it didn't really taste like lime at all. I have to agree – it wasn't very lime-y, but the overall flavor was delicious.

Curious about Musselman's new products? One lucky CFO reader will win their very own sample pack with all of the new flavors. In the meantime, you can print a coupon for $1 off a 4-pack of Totally Fruit or Healthy Picks.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may need to click through to the post to reach the form. If you're having trouble filling out the form, try going directly to the published form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, follow me on Twitter and tweet about the giveaway. Then fill out the form to let me know you've done so (include the link to your update).

For a fourth entry, blog about the giveaway on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again with the link to your post.

You can enter up to four times (one for each type), and you must complete the form once per entry. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 9:00 p.m. PDT on Monday, October 19, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Good luck!

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Potato & Broccoli Spanish Tortilla (or Frittata)

It was hard to decide whether to call this a frittata (Italian) or tortilla (Spanish). To me, it's more of a tortilla because of the potato, but I'm afraid that's confusing because the Mexican tortilla is so much more familiar. In any event, the important thing is that Marc and I both loved this. It's a lot more like Mark Bittman's frittata than my usual frittata because there's a lot less egg compared to the filling.

Potato & Broccoli Spanish Tortilla
Serves 6

4 cups diced cooked potatoes*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb. frozen broccoli, thawed and chopped
8 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Add the potatoes, sprinkle with salt, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until potatoes are lightly browned. (Turn the heat down if they're browning too quickly so they don't burn.)

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the potatoes are cooking, in a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk and cheese. When the potatoes are browned, add the broccoli and stir to combine. Cook for two to three minutes, or until broccoli is heated through. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the egg mixture. Stir to combine well.

3. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for approximately ten minutes, or until mixture is bubbling at the sides and the top is lightly browned.

*I cooked the potatoes in the microwave, then cooled, peeled and diced them. The potatoes can be cooked 1 to 2 days ahead of time, and then stored in the fridge until you're ready to make the tortilla.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cooking at Home: Basic Kitchen Equipment

Since I've been writing so much about cooking at home, it seems right to do a post on the best equipment for the job. As with menu planning, there's no "right" way when it comes to equipping your kitchen. I find that I'm a minimalist with some things, and completely over the top with others. My best tip for knowing if something is a good investment: you find yourself wishing you had it over and over again. I recently bought a set of nesting glass bowlsafter wishing I had one for months. It's turned out to be a great purchase that I've already gotten my money's worth out of.

Here's what I think is the bare minimum, followed by some things that I could live without but am glad to have on hand every day.

Ultra Basic Kitchen Equipment

Chef's Knife - A good quality chef's knife can be the difference between a pleasant cooking experience and a miserable one (I'm speaking from experience). You'll probably use your chef's knife more than any other knife (it's the default tool for chopping, cutting and slicing) so invest in a good quality one that feels right in your hand. I have small hands so I prefer seven or eight-inch knives, as anything larger feels uncomfortable. The Kitchn has some tips on inexpensive knives (read the comments), sharpening your knife, and keeping your knife sharp. Remember not to leave your knife in the sink because the tip may snap off.

Cutting Board - You'll need one to do all of your chopping on, and preferably two for optimal food safety– one for meats and another for everything else. Wooden boards look nice but require special care. I'm partial to relatively inexpensive plastic boards (about $10) that can go in the dishwasher.

Frypan or Sauté Pan - A frypan has sloped sides, while a sauté pan has straight sides. I think most beginner cooks would find it easier to use a frypan. Twelve inches is a good, all-purpose size. You can use this pan for almost any recipe that calls for a skillet. I would recommend a nonstick pan to start. It's also nice if the pan has an ovenproof handle in case you want to bake something in it.

Stockpot or Large Sauce Pan - You'll need a stockpot to cook pasta and make soups. A good, versatile size is 8 to 10 quarts. I like my stockpot to be nonstick because I make a lot of one or two-pot meals, and it makes clean-up a lot easier.

Baking Pans - Every kitchen should have a 13x9 glass Pyrex baking dish. It's perfect for cakes, casseroles, and so much more. An 8x8 cousin is almost as necessary, because many recipes call for an 8x8 or 9x9 pan. In the summer, I use my 8x8 pan more because it fits in my toaster oven. A jelly roll pan is also a must – you can use it to bake just about anything: cookies, fish, granola, chicken nuggets, etc.

Measuring Tools - Get a glass 2-cup measure for liquid ingredients, a set of dry measuring cups, and a set of measuring spoons. If your measuring cups and spoons come with a ring to keep them together, take it off. There's no reason to have to wash all of your measuring cups or all of your measuring spoons just because you used one.

Utensils - A wooden spoon works better than a silicone spatula for breaking up ground meat, but is less sanitary. A pair of tongs is great investment that will protect your hands and prevent you from dropping food. A whisk is necessary if you plan on whipping egg whites or cream, and a spatula is best for folding. And a spatula/turner is best for flipping pancakes, and lifting larger items like omelets and fish.

Colander - It's pretty much impossible to drain pasta properly without one. But you can use it to drain other things like ground beef (get rid of the fat) and yogurt (to make yogurt cheese).

Other Equipment You Might Want
Other Knives - A paring knife is useful and safer than a chef's knife for peeling produce like apples. A serrated knife is ideal for slicing bread and other delicate items like tomatoes. An electric knife is definitely a luxury item in the kitchen but works great if you want to slice bread very thin or cut a very tender roast into slices without having it fall apart completely.

Other Utensils - A vegetable peeler is invaluable when it comes to getting skins off quickly. A microplane grater is versatile enough to zest citrus, grate cheese, and mince garlic. I'm so fond of whisks that I have quite a collection, including a flat whisk, which is great for getting into the edges at the bottom of a pot, and a ball whisk, which is great for batters.

Mixing Bowls - While you could always use whatever bowls you happen to have on hand, mixing bowls have higher sides than, say, a cereal bowl. I love my set of stainless bowls, but I'm so glad to have my new set of glass bowls because they're microwave safe.

Beyond the Basics
Here are some things you might want to look at if you've got all of the above and are looking for things that will make cooking easier.

Electric Steamer - I try to avoid unitaskers but this is one that I'm happy to have because it really helps us eat healthier. I use it several times a week to cook vegetables, and I also use it to make hard cooked eggs. I also like the safety factor, since stovetop steaming would require a pot with boiling water.

Rice Cooker - I've had an electric rice cooker since I went away to college. I couldn't cook rice on the stove if my life depended on it, but that's okay, because I don't have to. More on rice cookers here and here.

Splatter Screen - If you hate cleaning your stove and backsplash, a splatter screen can save you a lot of trouble.


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Friday, October 09, 2009

The Well-Stocked Pantry 2.0

Some things never change. Four years ago, I was writing about cooking at home to save money, and offered some recommendations for a well-stocked pantry. Since some things do change, I'm offering an updated list based on how I cook now. But the important thing to keep in mind is that this is a starting point, and you should keep what you use in your pantry.

As before, I use the word "pantry" pretty loosely, to refer to things that you can keep on hand for an extended period of time, or that most people have at all times.

The Freezer
  • ground beef and/or turkey, in one-pound packages (buy when on sale and freeze)
  • 3-pound beef or pork roast (cooks beautifully in slow cooker and serves 6 to 8)
  • boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • flour tortillas
  • frozen corn
  • frozen peas
  • unsalted butter
  • minced garlic (Trader Joe's sells little cubes of frozen minced garlic that are so convenient)
  • bread (I keep several varieties, such as cinnamon raisin, whole wheat sandwich bread, french bread, and brioche rolls)
  • chicken and/or vegetable broth
  • yeast (it keeps best in the freezer)
The Fridge
  • milk
  • low-sodium soy sauce
  • eggs
  • assorted shredded cheeses, such as Mexican blend and mozzarella
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • bacon
  • mayonnaise
If you don't have to worry about food allergies, the following are also nice to have on hand:
  • natural peanut or other nut butter
  • sesame oil (should be refrigerated because it goes rancid quickly)
The Pantry
  • dried herbs: oregano, basil, crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt, black peppercorns (in a mill so you can freshly grind it), cinnamon, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder
  • kalamata olives
  • tomatoes (diced and crushed)
  • tomato sauce
  • flour (I keep both all-purpose and white whole wheat on hand)
  • sugar
  • brown sugar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar (balsamic, plus others if you use them often enough: red wine, white wine or champagne, rice, apple cider, and my favorite, Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar)
  • onions
  • chicken and/or vegetable broth
  • dried pasta (whatever you like: rotini, fettucini, spaghetti, penne, etc.)
  • panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
  • canned fish (tuna in oil and/or water and anchovies)
  • mustard
  • rice
Out of these ingredients, you could make a myriad of meals: Pasta Puttanesca, turkey or beef tacos (just fry the tortillas in a little bit of oil for crispy shells), Pan Bagnat, pizza (there are a million recipes - Emeril's sounds nice and easy) with homemade sauce (saute minced garlic with dried oregano and basil in olive oil, add tomato sauce and simmer until thick), Spaghetti Carbonara, and even simple tuna sandwiches.


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Thursday, October 08, 2009

How to Plan Your Weekly Menu

Since I've talked about the benefits of menu planning recently, I thought I'd share how I plan my menus. My way is most definitely not the only way, and I like to plan weekly menus. Some people do monthly menus, but that's never worked for me. (If you're interested in monthly menus and once-a-month cooking, check out Frozen Assets.)

My menu planning methods have changed through the years. Some of the changes are because I've become a better cook. This year, as my money-saving shopping methods have been refined, and I've really honed in on spending as little as possible while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle, I've altered my planning to focus not so much on what I want to eat as what I have on hand.

I have a list of meals that I make regularly: roasts in the slow cooker, tacos, nachos, pastas, fish and more. I also have a huge pile of recipes torn out of magazines that I look through to add variety. I've also started searching for recipes online that use up the ingredients I have on hand. That's how I came across the "egg with tuna" recipe that I mentioned a few weeks ago.

To plan my menu for the week, I now think about what I have on hand that I can use. Bacon and eggs might lead to breakfast or to Spaghetti Carbonara. Oil packed tuna might turn into Pan Bagnat or Tuna Pasta Salad. A pork roast will almost inevitably be made into kalua pig.

Here are some of the things I consider when deciding what to make and on what day:
  • What time we'll be getting home and how much time I'll have to cook. If we're getting home late, I'll try to plan something that can be done the night before or in just minutes when we walk in the door.
  • Whether I want leftovers. Leftovers are the easiest, cheapest brown bag lunch, especially if you have access to a microwave.
  • The weather. I learned this tip earlier this year, when I'd planned to make pizza for dinner on a day when the temps reached 99 degrees. After that, I didn't use the oven when the weather was particularly hot. But I'm very glad that lower temps have arrived, and I plan on using the oven on days that are particularly cold.
  • Whether I can make a double batch. Certain meals double easily and freeze beautifully, and can be a huge time saver. If I have freezer space, time, and ingredients, I'll try to add one of these meals to my menu to save time later.
  • How much can be made ahead of time. This goes along with the first factor, but I list it separately because I can plan for meals that require the same prep. If at all possible, I can plan to prep once and cook twice.
  • Variety. We get bored quite easily so variety is key. I never plan back to back pasta dinners, or use the same protein two days in a row.
  • Whether I can use leftovers from one meal in another meal. If I cook a roast, there's usually enough leftover not just for lunch but for another meal like tacos, enchiladas, or soup.


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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Two recalls yesterday: Many Daiso Toys

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Daiso Recalls Children’s Toys, Purses and Pen Cases Due to Violation of Lead Paint and Phthalate Limits - Click through for pictures of additional (and vastly different) toys.


Wooden Toys Recalled by Daiso Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for pictures of additional toys.


Stay on top of recalls by signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Ralphs: 10/7 - 10/13/09

Note: This summary of deals is based on the ad I get in Los Angeles, where Ralphs stores double coupons up to $1. I don't list all of the deals, only what I consider to be really good ones. If I missed any, please let us all know in the comments.

There's an ad for the Ralphs Rewards MasterCard, which gives you double rewards points on your Ralphs purchases. Click through for full details on the card to see if it might be beneficial to you. For me personally, I think I'll earn more cash back by sticking with my American Express Blue Cash card, which gives me back 5% of grocery store purchases after I hit the $6,500 threshold in spending each year.

It's time for another Mega Savings Event, so if you purchase 10 participating items, you'll get $5 off your purchase. This MSE is focusing on frozen foods. There aren't that many listed in the ad, and not many have coupon match ups, but you can probably find more participating products in store.

Marie Callender's Dinners & Entrees $2.29 - There are a variety of coupons out there from the 9/27 SS and the September and October issues of All You on the various product lines (Signature Sautés, Homestyle Creations, etc.) so your final price will depend on what's included in the sale and which coupons you have.

Healthy Choice Dinners & Entrees $2.29 - There were $1/2 coupons for various varieties in the September All You; pay $1.29 each after MSE & coupon when you buy 2

Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers $2.49 - Use 50 cents/1 from 9/13 SS, 40 cents/1 from 10/4 General Mills insert, or 50 cents/1 printable; coupons will double, so pay 99 cents to $1.19 after MSE & coupon

Coupon Deals
Arm & Hammer laundry detergent $2.99 - Use $1/2 from 9/13 SS; pay $2.49 each wyb 2 (not the best deal on detergent but decent if you're running out)

Kellogg's Cereal $1.47, selected varieties, limit 4 - This deal could be a HUGE moneymaker with the Kellogg's Bonus Bucks promotion (buy 3 participating products, enter codes at the Bonus Bucks site and receive a $10 certificate that can be used at many major retailers). Participating products are Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size, and Raisin Bran. Raisin Bran is pictured in the ad, so if you buy 3 boxes, you'll pay $4.41 and get a $10 certificate. The best part is that there is no limit on the number of certificates you can receive. Be sure to look for the specially marked packages when you're at the store. As for coupons, you may have some from previously purchased packages, or you might be able to use the $1/1 printable for Special K Blueberry if it's included in the sale.

DiGiorno Pizza $4.47 - use $1/1 from 6/14, 8/16, or 8/23 SS; pay $3.47

California Pizza Kitchen Pizza $4.47 - use $1/1 from 9/27 SS; pay $3.47

Little Debbie Cupcakes $2.50 - use $1/1 from 9/27 SS; pay $1.50

Other Deals
Apples 47 cents/lb
Red Seedless Grapes or Red or White Potatoes 77 cents/lb
Yellow Peaches, Pineapples or Bartlett Pears 88 cents/lb
Green Cabbage 50 cents/lb
Boneless Chuck Roast $1.47/lb
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast $1.77/lb
Whole Frying Chicken 99 cents/lb
Pork Picnic Roast 99 cents/lb
18-ct Freshly Baked Cookies $1.80
Ralphs milk $1.25/half gallon

Gevalia
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Giveaway: Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary

I loved reading Beverly Cleary's books when I was growing up. The Ramona Quimby books,in particular resonated with me, as Ramona did her best to make sense of the world around her. So this week's giveaway is a paperback copy of Two Times the Fun.This book is actually made up of four stories that (according to the back of the book) "celebrate the pride all children take in growing up" and is appropriate for ages 4 through 8.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may need to click through to the post to reach the form. If you're having trouble filling out the form, try going directly to the published form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, follow me on Twitter and tweet about the giveaway. Then fill out the form to let me know you've done so (include the link to your update).

For a fourth entry, blog about the giveaway on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again with the link to your post.

You can enter up to four times (one for each type), and you must complete the form once per entry. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 9:00 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, October 13, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Good luck!

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Morning Coffee: FTC regulations now affect bloggers

The Federal Trade Commission issued new regulations yesterday requiring bloggers to disclose if they receive cash or in-kind payment to review a product. I’m happy to say that it’s always been the policy here at CFO to be upfront about disclosing any benefit I may have received when I write a review, so this regulation doesn’t affect CFO at all. And I am always honest about my opinions. Read the FTC press release here, and the official CFO disclaimer here.

After yesterday’s "sparking" water post, I feel compelled to let you know that I do go back and fix typos when I spot them. I hope someone got a good laugh out of that one!

The high value coupon for $1.60 off Nature Valley Granola Nut Clusters is back (FF or IE). Print them now because they may run out quickly like the last time. (Via DealSeekingMom.)

A Full Cup user Coupon-Nut reports that Publix has "buy theirs, try ours" offers on some store brand items. She specifically mentions Jif peanut butter, DelMonte no sugar added sliced peaches, and DelMonte fresh cut green beans. If you buy any of those items, you should get the Publix version free. I’m going to guess that other Publix brand items qualify for this deal, so if you have a Publix nearby, definitely take a look around.

Register to print a printable coupon for $1 off Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals Snack Crackers. (Via Coupon Geek.)

Centsible Savings has the scoop on a $5 moneymaker deal on Zantac at Walgreens during the week of 10/18. You’ll need to register for this $5 coupon.

Speaking of Walgreens, you can learn about a moneymaker deal on Glade Candles at Common Sense with Money.

Bargain Briana has the scoop on a new YoCrunch promotion: send in candy wrappers after Halloween and get a YoCrunch coupon in return. Depending on the value of the coupon, this could be a great deal.

P&G is publishing a new magazine called Rouge, which will have P&G coupons. When you subscribe, you can also enter to win a trip for 2 to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Via A Full Cup.)

Gourmet magazine is being shut down, and will only have an online, TV and book publishing presence. It’s part of Condé Nast’s plan to stay in business. (Via LA Observed.)


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Monday, October 05, 2009

Super Crunchy & Cheap Granola

I promised to bring granola for a preschool project involving parfait. The boys' school is nut-free, so I figured the easiest and cheapest thing to do would be to make my own granola. I fell back on my memory of an old recipe by Kathleen Daelemans, because I remembered that it used just a few ingredients and didn't require butter, which I'm running low on.

Since I didn't think to look up the recipe before I got started, things got crazy. For one thing, it appears my proportions were a bit off. And I used quick cooking oats. Who knew the oats would just suck up the liquid mixture and turn into a mass of goo. I salvaged the granola as best I could, and apparently it was a hit, because the teachers all asked me for the recipe. This is for them, but if only they knew!

Super Crunchy Granola

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 cups quick cooking oats
nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a jelly roll sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat the paper with nonstick spray.

2. Microwave the water in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup on high for one minute. Add the brown sugar, stir, and microwave for an additional minute and stir until the sugar is dissolved. (Microwave the mixture for additional time if necessary.)

3. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Combine the oats and sugar mixture in a large bowl and stir well. Pour the oat mixture onto the parchment paper and spread it into a thin layer. (I covered the mixture with a second sheet of parchment and pressed it out like dough.)

4. Bake the mixture for 40 to 60 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Let cool.

5. When the mixture has cooled, break it up into small crumbles. (Caution: This is hurt my fingers a little and was somewhat time consuming.)

6. Return the crumbles to the parchment paper and spread into one layer. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Let cool, then store in an airtight container.

The best part about this recipe was the cost: nothing, because I already had all of the ingredients on hand!


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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nature Valley Granola Nut Cluster Prize Pack Giveaway Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Nature Valley Granola Nut Cluster Prize Pack giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Tina R. (eaglesfo*****@gmail.com)

Tina, I've sent you an email, and you have 48 hours to respond with your address.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Meet my blogroll: Freebies 4 Mom

Freebies 4 Mom has become one of the biggest mom blogs around. Heather's goal is to "spoil her readers with the hottest freebies," and she does it extremely well, by sharing links to free samples, rebates, sweepstakes, coupons, and more. Heather's so good at what she does that she's even been on the Tyra Banks show to share her knowledge. Be sure to check in every day because she posts multiple times a day.

And if you're a blogger who wants to earn some blogging income, you should definitely read her "Money 4 Mom" series.

Previously: Meet other blogs on my blogroll

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Benefits of Menu Planning: Save Money, Reduce Stress, Raise Healthy Children & More

I seem to write this very same post once or twice a year, and it always follows the same pattern: Something causes me to stop planning my weekly dinner menu, and after a while I reach a point where I really want to save money. That means any kind of eating out really stresses me out, because cooking at home is so much cheaper, but then figuring out what to make for dinner really stresses me out, too. And that's when I realize that I really need to get back on the wagon and start planning my menus again.

In this case, the whole hospital crisis last month and its aftermath really shook up our routine. It was all about survival, and as Marc and I always do when there's a crisis, we spent for survival. Which isn't to say that we spent frivolously – rather, we made a conscious decision to spend money in order to reduce the stress of our situation. In this case, it meant a lot of spending on fast food, take out, and toys. Plus, we have all of those medical bills to pay.

But it's pretty much all behind us, and I have no excuse not to be menu planning now.

So to help motivate myself (and maybe you too), here's a list of the tremendous benefits of menu planning:

Reduce the temptation to just grab fast food or takeout. It's easy enough to plan my menu so that on those days when I arrive home from work after a long day, dinner is something that takes less than 30 minutes to get on the table.

More time. Because I can plan for quick and easy meals, I can spend less time in the kitchen, and more time on other things (like blogging!).

Save money on lunch by taking leftovers. Leftovers make a great brown-bag lunch, but there usually aren't any if we're picking up fast food or sandwiches on the way home. And since lunch is usually at least $5 each, we're talking big savings here.

Reduce the stress of deciding what to make for dinner. Normally this doesn't stress me out so much, but it's increased since I really want to make food that's inexpensive and makes enough for leftovers. If I'm planning ahead, I can plan for leftovers. Leftovers = less stress.

Waste less food. When I don't plan ahead, I inevitably end up buying food that I don't use before it goes bad. That's bad for our bottom line, and bad for the environment too.

Eat healthier. It's no surprise that we eat much healthier when I'm cooking than when we're picking up food on the way home. My family – including me – deserves to eat healthy.

More variety. Without a plan, I tend to fall back on the same meals over and over again. But when I'm thinking ahead, I can pull out new recipes, or old favorites that I've forgotten about.

The kids are more adventurous. This goes hand in hand with the last point – when I'm regularly serving new dishes, the kids get used to it and are more willing to try new foods. It's so exciting to watch their palates develop and their sense of adventurousness come alive.

Be a better mother. After the last point, I had to say it - it's awesome motivation! :D


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