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saving time

How To Start A Gift Closet + $50 GoodNites Giveaway!

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 22, 2014 · 43 comments

Gifts on short notice can be a total budget buster, and it's something that happens frequently around here. Last minute birthday party invites, dinner invitations and baby showers seem to pop up at the most inconvenient times, but with a little planning, unexpected gifting no longer needs to be a source of anxiety.

Okay, so you might be wondering how exactly you can plan for the unexpected... Well, my friends, that's the beauty of a gift closet!

How To Start A Gift Closet

By creating a stockpile of gifts, you can simply "shop at home" when you need a gift at a moment's notice -- or even when you have adequate notice. A well-stocked gift closet will save you both time and money.

Do I really need a whole closet?
First things first, a gift closet doesn't necessarily have to be a closet dedicated only to gifts. It's anywhere in your home where you can store pre-purchased gifts while still being easily accessible. Get creative -- you can store them under a bed, in the front of the basement crawl space, or a high shelf in a bedroom closet. We've even been known to tuck gifts away in our suitcases when we know we won't be traveling anytime soon to keep them away from little eyes and hands.

How do I remember what I have on hand?
You'll definite want to keep a running list of gift items you've purchased. For those of you that are digitally-minded (like myself), keeping a list on your smartphone is ideal. You can add and delete items as necessary. However, a spreadsheet on your computer, or even a simple pencil and paper work just as well, so go with whatever you're most comfortable with.

What kind of items should I keep in my gift closet?
The items you stockpile in your gift closet will look a bit different for each of us. It greatly depends on the stage of life we're in. If you have little ones that are constantly getting birthday party invites, then you'll want to keep an eye out for age appropriate toys, games, puzzles and/or art supplies. If you get invited to a lot of dinner parties, you may want to keep a few bottles of red and white wine, pretty towels, and/or scented candles on hand. If you know a lot of expectant moms, you might keep your eyes peeled for baby toys and layettes in gender neutral colors.

How do I save money with a gift closet?
As I've already mentioned, a gift closet will save you both time and money. By picking up a few items each month, you can stockpile gifts without crimping your budget, especially when you shop the clearance aisles. After holiday and end of season events are also ideal times to find gifts. When you find a really great item, don't be afraid to buy multiples! And while you're at it, be sure to stock up on wrapping paper, gift bags, and blank cards so you have everything you need for the perfect last-minute gift on hand.

What are your thoughts on regifting?
My oldest daughter is the queen of regifting. Shortly before Christmas a few years back, I thought I was losing my mind, as I kept losing small items around the house. So imagine my surprise on Christmas Eve when my daughter presented me with an array of carefully wrapped gifts. As I opened each box, I "found" all of those missing items. It's one of my favorite memories, but while I adore her giving spirit and ingenuity, I don't typically recommend regifting used items. But unused or unopened items? I say they're totally fair game as long as you don't accidentally gift them back to the original giver -- and that's where a little note on your tracking list comes in really handy.

Using a gift closet strategy has saved me SO many headaches over the years. While I won't say that I always have the perfect occasion-appropriate gift on hand, most of the time I do, and that makes it more than worth the minimal time I've invested.

Do you have a gift closet, and if so, what are some of the items in it right now? Share in the comments and you could win a GoodNites prize package valued at $50!

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Today, one lucky Deal Seeking Mom reader will win his or her choice of $50 in GoodNites products!!! Follow the instructions in the widget below to be entered to win...



Be sure to check out the Pick Up The Values website for more valuable printable coupons, including savings on GoodNites products!

This post is brought to you by Kimberly-Clark. All opinions are 100% mine.

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I've touted the time-saving benefits of freezer cooking many times. It's a great way to simplify the age-old "What's for dinner???" question on busy weeknights. Sometimes referred to as "once a month cooking," freezer cooking will also help you save money, as well.

Saving Money with Freezer Cooking

Save by buying in bulk.
While shopping at warehouse clubs isn't an issue for my larger-than-average family, those of you with fewer or younger children might find that the huge packages you take home from a Sam's Club or Costco are simply too much to use up before the item spoils. Planning a large freezer cooking session will allow you to use up these large packages in one fell swoop, allowing you to enjoy that savings that buying in bulk provides.

Save by grocery shopping less.
I don't know about you, but even when I go to the grocery store with a list, I often end up coming home with items that weren't on the list -- especially when shopping at superstores like Walmart or Target. When you have a month's worth of ready-made meals waiting in your freezer, you may only need to pick up milk and some fresh produce each week. Shopping less frequently helps you to avoid the temptation to grab unnecessary items altogether.

Save by limiting eating out.
It's just a no brainer that cooking at home is going to save money over ordering takeout or eating out on any given night. My family enjoys eating out together, and sometimes it's a necessity when we're traveling for sports, but balancing those splurges with eating at home as often as possible the rest of the time helps us stay within our budget.

How To Freeze Cookie Dough



I know freezer cooking might seem a little overwhelming to some of you, and that's okay. You know how they say there's more than one way to skin a cat? Well, there's more than one way to do freezer cooking. Maybe you're ambitious and want to do a weekend spree to cook for an entire month -- good for you! If you have less time, try a smaller 4-5 hour session.

Or if you're really pinched for time (and this is my favorite method), simply double whatever you're preparing for dinner on a given night. Finish one batch for dinner, and pop the other into the freezer for later.

And who says freezer cooking has to be limited to dinners? I love to make a double batch of cookie dough and freeze half to bake a few here and there. You can find instructions on how to freezer cookie dough on Unsophisticook.

Some other recipes that I often prepare for my freezer are:

:: Recommended Resources

If you're thinking about trying freezer cooking yourself, I wholeheartedly endorse the following resources. They'll guide you through the process step by step, from creating a meal plan, shopping and prepping, to tips for keeping your meals as fresh as possible!

What is your favorite meal or recipe to keep in the freezer? Share in the comments and you could win a Scott Towels prize package valued at $50!

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Today, one lucky Deal Seeking Mom reader will win his or her choice of $50 in Scott Towels products!!! Follow the instructions in the widget below to be entered to win...



Be sure to check out the Pick Up The Values website for more valuable printable coupons, including savings on Scott Towels products!

This post is brought to you by Kimberly-Clark. All opinions are 100% mine.

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Save Time & Money with Once-a-Month Cooking, Part 2

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 8, 2010 · 2 comments

freezer cookingPhoto by Rubbermaid Products

The following guest post is from Melissa at Mom's Plans and Dining Out Challenge:

Yesterday we looked at the benefits of freezer cooking and some helpful resources. Today we're going to look at the process and tips:

I hear from many moms (and dads) that they would like to stock their freezer with meals, but they don’t know where to begin.  They are overwhelmed by the entire process.

You can do this!  Just start small.  Don’t plan on cooking 15 meals for your family the first time you try freezer cooking.

You can start slowly by picking 5 meals for one week and doubling each meal on the night you cook it.  Just like that, you have 5 meals in the freezer for later in the month.

If you'd rather jump into the process, I would still say start small.  Plan no more than 5 different meals for your family and double each recipe so you have a total of 10 meals in the freezer.

Steps to Follow to Make Your Freezer Cooking Day Go Smoothly

Choose your recipes. Try to pick a variety of dishes, such as one chicken meal, one beef meal, etc.  Also, choose a variety of meal types.  Nothing could be more boring than having to eat endless casseroles all month.  Finally, choose a variety of cooking methods—one slow cooker recipe, one oven recipe, one stove top recipe, etc.  That way you can utilize various cooking methods and make your freezer cooking day much more productive.

On the day before your freezer cooking day buy your groceries. Look for ways to save time on your actual cooking day. For example, if you know you will need cubes of chicken, buy your chicken and ask the butcher at the grocery store to cube it for you.  Most do this for free, and it will save you a great deal of time.

Chop all of the veggies you will need for your recipes. Again, if you want to save time, consider buying your veggies already chopped at the salad bar.  Of course, this is a much more expensive method than doing it yourself.

Write out a freezer cooking plan. See an example freezer cooking plan here.  Yes, it takes more time in the beginning to do this, but you will find it invaluable when it is the actual cooking day.  An ordered list makes the whole process much smoother.

Freezer Cooking Day

1. If you have young children, ideally have someone watch them so you can focus on cooking.  On the day I do my freezer cooking, my husband takes care of the kids so I don’t have to be interrupted.

2. Choose a day when you don’t have many responsibilities.  It is hard to get all of the freezer cooking done if you have to take your son to soccer at 10 a.m. and your daughter to dance at 1 p.m.

3. If you have older children at home, enlist their help.  They can stir a meal simmering on the stove while you begin another recipe, or they can do dishes to help you stay caught up.

4. Follow your plan.  If you have a slow cooker meal planned, start that one first as it will take the longest.

5. Make sure to take breaks.

Storing Your Freezer Meals

Proper storage is necessary to keep your meals fresh.  Make sure to use heavy duty freezer Ziploc bags and heavy duty aluminum foil.

To maximize your freezer space, place soups, chilis, etc.  in a Ziploc bag with the name of the meal and the date made.  (You may also want to place the reheating instructions on the bag.) Distribute the ingredients in the bag so it lays flat and then place it that way on a cookie sheet in the freezer until it is frozen.  You will be able to stack your meals so they take up the least amount of room.

Many people think that they can’t do once a month cooking because they don’t have a deep freezer.  While it is convenient to have a deep freezer, it isn’t essential.  You can store many meals in Ziploc bag “stacks” in your regular freezer.

Many people are intimidated by the idea of making many of their meals for the month in one day.  I hope this guide has helped you realize that it is not as intimidating as people think.  With a little planning and a fair amount of work on the actual cooking day, you can save your family money and provide them with healthier foods.  Try it.  You will see it is possible.

Melissa is a recent convert to once a month cooking and can't imagine cooking a meal every night now.  She is the mom to three young children, 6, 23 months and 5 months.  She blogs about eating healthy, freezer cooking and managing family resources at Mom's Plans.  Her other blog, Dining Out Challenge, is about her family's attempts to eat out for $25 or less a week.

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Save Time & Money with Once-a-Month Cooking, Part 1

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 7, 2010 · 13 comments

freezer cookingPhoto by Nancy JonesFrancis

Do you find yourself taking inventory in your mind of the items in your refrigerator every night and panicking because you don’t have any meal ideas and everyone is hungry? Do you stop by the store several times a week picking up items for your daily meals? Do you order take out or spend more money at restaurants than you would like?

If you have experienced any of thes (haven’t we all?) then freezer cooking, also known as once a month cooking (OAMC), may solve your dinner woes.

Years ago, the extent of my freezer cooking was preparing a dish that we discovered we did not care for too much and then freezing the leftovers because we did not want to eat them. Guess what? Those  same leftovers did not taste any better coming out of the freezer. I gave up on “freezer cooking” (even though I wasn’t really doing it).

However, two years ago, right before I had my second child, I cooked up several meals for us to eat for the first few weeks postpartum. This time I picked recipes specifically for freezer cooking, and my entire family was happy with the results. Now that I have three little ones, I freezer cook out of necessity. During the last year, every month I have cooked up two to four weeks of my family’s meals over the course of two to three days. True, cooking that many meals can take some time, but with careful planning, you can minimize the time spent on cooking and reap the rewards all month long.

Five Ways Once a Month Cooking Benefits Your Family

1. You erase the nightly what’s-for-dinner panic.

2. You can save money on your groceries because the majority of your shopping is done in one trip when you buy the supplies for OAMC. The other weeks you can simply buy some items to round out your meals.

3. You dirty the majority of your dishes at one time. Yes, freezer cooking can turn your kitchen into a disaster area. But it only happens once a month. The rest of the month you may dirty only one pan or baking dish a day when cooking the meal you pull from the freezer.

4. You’ll feed your family more nutritious food than you would if you picked up a frozen meal at the store, ate fast food or dined at a restaurant.

4. You can be a little more relaxed during that crazy time between 5 to 7 when little ones are cranky, older ones have homework to do and everyone is hungry. All you have to do is pull out one of your ready made meals.

Once a Month Cooking Resources

To have a successful freezer meal, it is essential to pick a recipe specifically designed for once-a-month cooking. Some of my favorite resources include:

  • Food.com (formerly RecipeZaar.com): This site is free and has plenty of freezer cooking recipes. Just type in OAMC in the search area and you will find hundreds of recipes.
  • Don’t Panic: Dinner Is in the Freezer: This cookbook breaks down recipes and lists the ingredients for you by how many meals you would like to make (1, 3, 6 etc.) You don’t have to do the math to double or triple the ingredients; they do it all for you.
  • 30 Meals In One Day: I love this set! It contains 3 cookbooks: Dinner Is Ready, Lunch Is Ready, and Sides are Ready. Two things put this set over the top. First, the author includes over 40 pages in the beginning of the first two cookbooks giving strategies and tips for freezer cooking. Second, this set comes with software that lets you pick your recipes and choose your serving size. Once you have done that, the software automatically generates a grocery list for you of all the ingredients you need. You have the choice to delete items off the list that you already have or add other items that you need to buy at the store not related to OAMC cooking.

Deal Seeking Mom here -- I just wanted to share one other great resource for learning about once a month cooking. Check out Once A Month Mom where my friend Tricia guides you through a step-by step process for cooking a month's worth of meals, with a new meal plan available every month!

If you are new to freezer cooking, I would recommend borrowing some of these books from the library. If you decide you like freezer cooking, you may want to invest in a few cookbooks full of the OAMC recipes your family enjoys.

Tomorrow, Melissa will share her method and tips for once-a-month cooking with us, so be sure to watch for part 2!

Melissa is a recent convert to once a month cooking and can't imagine cooking a meal every night now.  She is the mom to three young children, 6, 23 months and 5 months.  She blogs about eating healthy, freezer cooking and managing family resources at Mom's Plans.  Her other blog, Dining Out Challenge, is about her family's attempts to eat out for $25 or less a week.

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