Saturday, 14 September 2013

Household Tips & Tricks to Save Sanity, Time and Money

As I mentioned on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, I've been wanting to write a blog post that showcases some of the things that I do to make life at home easier.  Whether it's ways to save money, cook a hard-boiled egg perfectly or getting rid of fruit flies.  We all have little tricks of the trade to save our sanity and time at home so why not share them so we can all be sane together?

After thinking about what I do at home I came up with a fairly healthy list of tips and tricks.  I also got some great tips on my Facebook page from some of my readers which I have added to the list as well. 

We can all use a little less time cleaning and cooking and more time saving money and hanging with our families, right?  If you have some tips that aren't mentioned here I'd love it if you'd leave a comment.  I'll add them to the list!

So, without further adieu here's the list.

Saving Money
  1. Stock up on sale items:  You don't have to stock up like the apocalypse is on the horizon (like one of my dear sisters) but if cheese blocks or butter is on sale, stock up! Butter can easily be frozen (I do it all the time) and block cheese lasts a long time in your fridge. In fact, I typically only buy cheese when it's on sale.  Also, items like Kraft Dinner, canned beans or spaghetti sauce will last a good long time too so if you see them on sale grab a few extra cans to last you until the next sale.  I keep my excess stock on some shelves in my basement.
  2. Buy in bulk: I adore saving money so I like to buy things like my favourite coffee (President's Choice - 'Great Canadian' coffee) by the case and big trays of meat at Costco then divide it into smaller family-sized portions.  But shelling out big bucks for more doesn't always make sense financially.  Sometimes you really don't save much money buying more at one time.  So, being the geek that I am, I wrote the date on my gigantic roll of aluminum foil to see how long the costly $25 roll lasted us.  It was worth it because we began the roll back on October 16, 2010 and we just ran out a couple of days ago. Worth it!!
  3. FIFO (First In, First Out):  There's nothing worse than saving money by buying in bulk only to buy too much and end up green wasting/throwing it out in the long run.  Make sure you keep your pantry, fridge and freezer organized by using the oldest items first.  I keep mine organized based on my McDonald's training that I learned so many years ago.  Front to back, left to right is how I use my canned goods, frozen foods etc.
  4. Brad's Budget: My husband, Brad came up with a home budget for us years ago and it really changed how we dealt with money.  It's all done in an Excel spreadsheet (he is a total Excel guru) and my sisters use it too.  The essence of his budget is that we pay our bills up front -- right on Pay Day.  See, Brad looked at how much we spent for: our utilities, food, gas, kids' recreational stuff, clothing, Christmas present money etc over the past year.  He then averaged each bill (usually a little on the high side) for each month.  Our total averaged expense amount is then taken out of our Chequing Account and put into our Bill Payment Account right after we get paid.  That way we know how much money we have left (after our usual expenses) each pay.  At the end of the year we typically have a nice sum left over in the Bill Payment account because we over-estimated a bit which we can then use for whatever we want.  We like it because we have no big surprises to sneak up on us.
  5. Using President's Choice Points (or similar food store points): Generally speaking, I'm not a big supporter of points/airline cards but I do adore PC.  We have all of our financial stuff there (mortgage, bank accounts, bill payments etc).  What I love even more than their PC food products is the fact that they give me points that I can use towards buying more food or any housewares or clothes that they sell.  I get points for paying bills, using my debit card and even bringing my own reusable bags.  But since we have Brad's trusty budget (see above) and the food that I'm buying on a weekly basis is already budgeted for I opt to use our points differently.  Whenever I redeem points (we accrue about $90 every 6 weeks) I then take out the amount I just redeemed  out in cash and put it in a 'fun fund'.  This past summer we took the kids to a Niagara Falls waterpark for a couple of days just on the money I saved for half a year with PC and the money from our garage sale.  It's what I like to call "Free Money" and I luuuurve it.  Saving money that you get for just paying bills and bringing cloth bags???  Kinda cool.  I'm now saving for a countertop for over my washer/dryer.  Ya, I like to dream big, people!
  6. Checkout 51:  I'm not sure if this app is only available in Canada but it's a great way to save a few bucks here and there.  My friend Jackie told me about it and here's how it works.  You get the free app for your smart phone and sign up.  Checkout 51 sends you a list of about 8-10 items every Thursday morning.  If you buy one of the items (deals are only given on one of each item per week) you keep your receipt.  When you get home use your phone to scan the receipt (this is done within the app with really easy instructions).  Once the receipt is scanned you just check off the item(s) that you bought and it's sent in to Checkout 51 automatically.  A little while later you'll get an email saying that the amount that you saved has been added to your account.  Once you get at least $20 in savings you can ask for a cheque to be issued.  I have $42.50 saved over the summer alone and I only buy items that my family needs.  More free money for our family fun fund!  Plus if you can find an item that's already on sale at the store you still get the discount at Checkout 51.  I got Advil pain medicine more than 50% off a few weeks ago. Not too shabby for a free app!
  7. Gail Vax-Oxlade's 'Magic Jars':  Stephanie, one of my blog readers, likes to use this method to budget for her expenses like food, entertainment and transportation.  Basically you have several jars (each for a different expense) and you budget a certain amount of cash for each expense.  So instead of using credit you're using only cash to buy things.  You can visually see how much money you have left to spend for food, clothing etc so you can see when you need to back off on the spending.  It's a great way to not use credit and I love that you can see your savings grow! For more info on these magical jars you can check it out here.

Kitchen Organizing/Tips
  1. Stop your pasta or potato pot from boiling over: Add a bit (1 tsp or so) of butter or margarine to a pot of boiling pasta to stop it from overflowing
  2. Fresh rolled oats and flour: Keep oats and flour (that you don't use often) in your freezer to keep it fresher and so that you don't get little nits in it.  Nits are nasty!
  3. Remove egg shells easier from hard-boiled eggs: Add about 1 tsp of baking soda to the water when you hard boil eggs to make removing the shells a lot easier. No ugly looking deviled eggs!
  4. Boil the perfect hard-boiled egg: Place your eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cool water.  Add about 1 tsp of baking soda to the water.  Heat the eggs on high heat on your stovetop.  Once the water gets to a rolling boil (large bubbles) remove the pan from the heat, cover the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes.  Drain the hot water and pour cold water over the eggs.  Let them sit in the cool water for 5 minutes so you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.  Remove shells immediately.
  5. Fruit Fly Killer: Pour a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a shallow dish.  Put a couple of drips of liquid dish soap into the vinegar and set it out.  The vinegar will attract the fruit flies and the soap will coat their wings so they can't fly away. Some people opt to put plastic wrap over the dish but I find it works well without.
  6. To keep your berries fresher: Place your fruit in a clean sink or very large bowl.  Fill with cool water until fruit is floating.  Add 1 cup of white vinegar and mix.  Allow this to sit for 5 minutes.  Remove fruit and rinse with cool water.  Pat fruit dry and place in your fridge.  The vinegar kills the bacteria that is naturally on the fruit so that it slows down the aging of the fruit.  You don't taste the vinegar on your fruit either.
  7. Use Tupperware's 'Fridge Smart Containers':  I was astounded at how long these containers keep produce fresher.  By following the chart and opening or closing the slots depending on what produce you're putting in the container you can extend the life of your produce.  No more limp green onions or celery and my strawberries last a lot longer too.
  8. Get rid of the garlic or onion smell from your hands: Rub oniony or garlicy hands on stainless to remove the smell. I went online to find out exactly why this happens and as far as I can see here's the explanation: Stinky foods like garlic and onions contain sulfur molecules.  When you're cutting onions or garlic those molecules are transferred to your skin and are hard to get rid of.  But, when you rub your fingers on stainless steel -- your kitchen sink, a spoon -- under a bit of water, those sulfur molecules bind to the stainless molecules.  This means that the smell is also transferred to the stainless making you, once again, have lovely smelling digits.
  9. Make homemade pie crust dough ahead of time:  Make your pie crust dough and roll it into a ball.  Wrap it in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag and freeze until you need it.  Here's a link to my No-Fail Pie Crust recipe.
  10. Make cookie dough balls ahead of time:  Using a melon baller (or your hands) place the  cookie dough balls on a parchment paper-lined baking tray and freeze them.  Then pop them into a Ziploc freezer bag, label it and freeze for future Cookie Emergencies.  Serious stuff, those Cookie Emergencies!
  11. Freeze extra chicken/beef broth and wine.  Freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays for later use in sauces, stews or soups.  Once they're frozen, remove them from the trays and place in a labelled Ziploc freezer bag.
  12. Marinate meat before you freeze it:  I regularly do this after a big Costco run.  It's more work in the short term but in the long term you have lots of marinated meat ready to go for future suppers.  You not only have part of your meal already prepped but as the meat thaws it will marinate in the delicious marinade creating an even better tasting dish!  Check out my Greek Chicken Marinade or Easy Marinated Port Loin Chips to use with this technique.
  13. Bulk Cook: Make large batch meals ahead of time (I just made my Spaghetti with Mega Meat Sauce and Kitchen Sink Chili last week and froze it for future, frantic 'what the heck am I going to make for supper??' kind of nights.  Freeze meal-size portions in large Ziploc freezer bags -- label and date them!  Lie them flat in your freezer until they are frozen then stack them in your freezer for future use.  Freezing them flat makes it easier to get more frozen meals in a smaller space too!
  14. Make muffin batter ahead of time:  Pour the batter into muffin tins lined with muffin papers.  Freeze your batter in the tins.  Remove the individual frozen muffins from the tin and place them in a Ziploc freezer bag.  Remove as much air from the bag as you can (I use a straw to suck out the excess air).  Label them and pop them into your freezer.  When you're ready to bake just pop the muffins in the oven and add about 5 extra minutes.  This way you can bake different kinds of muffins at the same time
  15. Recycle your Green Waste!!:  Do your part by recycling all food, Kleenex, paper towels, coffee grounds/filters ....  See more about this in Home Organizing below
  16. Ready-to-bake Bananas!: One of my besties, Lisa, suggests premashing 3 or 4 of those brown and sad bananas on your counter and put them into a freezer bag.  That way they're ready to use to make fresh banana bread!
  17. Lock and Lock Containers: Not really a tip but these containers (made by Starfrit) are, hands down, my favourite food storage containers.  Love 'em because they don't leak and they have rectangular containers which look so darn nice in my pantry.
Home Organizing/Time Saving
  1. Colour code your kids:  Like my mother before me I have colour coded my kids.  Boy 1 is green, Boy 2 is blue and Missy Moo is the clichéd girly pink.  There is a method to my obvious madness.  See, this way I know who has left their wet towels on the floor, who left their water bottle on the table and whose backpack is lying in the laundry room.  Their colour is also used in my daily planner in my iPhone so, at a quick glance, I can see who has something on the go on a certain day. 
  2. Use a shopping app:  I adore my iShopi app to keep a running list for various stores.  On my iShopi app I have lists for the food store, Costco, Canadian Tire, Dollarama, Walmart etc.  I adore this app and literally use it every day.  I just wish that I could arrange my food list according to the aisles in my main food store.  Yes, I am a total geek/control freak but my old shopping app had that option and I loved it.  Made shopping that much easier if I could go aisle to aisle.
  3. Green Recycling: I keep a metal bowl at the ready for when I'm cooking/baking.  That way I can easily throw my scraps into the bowl and then pop them into my green waste bin in the garage all in one fell swoop.
  4. Install a can crusher near your recycling bins: Brad installed one in my walk-in pantry right beside our recycling bins so we can easily crush the cans before setting them in the bins.  Saves a lot of room if you're big pop drinkers.
  5. Shopping Bins/Bags:  I keep the vast majority of my shopping bins and bags in the back of my Loser Cruiser (minivan) so that I always have some non-plastic bags at the ready.
  6. Sorting Laundry: In our walk-in closet, Brad and I have three tall, narrow laundry bins.  A white one for whites, a navy one for darks and a green one for colours.  That way I can easily grab a bin and not have to sort through dirty clothes.  Ew.  My friend Nicole, mother of 5 boys, has a LOT of laundry to do each week.  To save her sanity, she does one load for each boy.  Most of her boys' clothing is dark anyway and by eliminating the sorting issue she saves herself a lot of time and sanity!
  7. Green Waste Recycling: Green waste recycling isn't just for food waste, people!  In all of our bathrooms we have two bins.  One for garbage and one labelled Kleenex.  We're a snotty nosed group of people and go through a lot of Kleenex/paper towel in a week.  Once our green waste has been picked up we put a new, large paper bag in our green bin.  Then one of my kids collects all of the Kleenex containers from the bathrooms and pours them into the green bin.  This way, once you start putting wet, sloppy food waste in your bin the Kleenex will soak up the wetness and your food waste bag won't freeze to your bin in the middle of winter or just be utterly nasty in the summer.  Seriously.  Try this.  It has saved our sanity.
  8. Meal plan! :  Meal planning (on a good week I usually only plan 5 suppers/week to leave room for leftover nights) is a great way to save money (you only buy what you need) and time (there's no 'what are we having for supper tonight?' which typically ends up in the pizza delivery guy arriving on my doorstep).  My follower, April, likes using the Meal Board app to plan her meals.
  9. Household Binder: Keeping all important info at your finger tips saves a lot of time and sanity.  You can use it for your kids' school info, babysitter information, important phone numbers/emails, cleaning lists, chore lists, extracurricular activities ...
  10. Chores for your kids:  People seem surprised that my kids have daily chores.  Some chores, like keeping their rooms neat and cleaning up after themselves, are expected to be done just because they're part of the family.  Others, like vacuuming, dusting, walking the dog, prepping garbages/recycling each week, mowing the lawn, cleaning bathrooms, laundry .... are assigned on a daily basis.  Our kids get an allowance but it's not linked to doing chores.  Giving kids chores teaches them that: A) we don't have a house elf on staff to do all the work, B) they learn how to do things for themselves, like cook a simple meal, do their laundry, clean a bathroom, C) learn how much work it entails to run a home and hopefully respect how much time their beloved parents put into keeping a nice home for them.
  11. Nag White Board for Communication:  I use this board, located in our laundry room on the main floor, to communicate with the kids their daily chores or to tell them where I am if I'm out.  The kids, in turn, are to write on the board if they go to a friend's house while Brad and I are gone.  A good way to communicate and to gently remind kids of their responsibilities.
  1. Onions can help relieve flu symptoms.  While I haven't tried this yet, this tip intrigues me.  The World Health Organization has recognized onions as being able to relieve some flu symptoms like coughing and congestion.  Some people believe that leaving a cut onion on the bedside table of a sick person can cause the onion to absorb the germs from the air.  Once the onion loses its scent or becomes discoloured it's done all it can in the way of germ collection and should be exchanged with a new onion.  Onions are high in sulfuric compounds, like thiosulfinates, which have been known to kill salmonella and even E. coli and play a role in heart disease and cancer prevention by boosting immune response.  Onions are not only tasty but can be very healthful too! (source)
  2. Keep a First Aid Kit prepped and handy:  We keep ours in a medium-sized plastic container with a lid so it's portable and we re-stock it several times per year.
  3. Medicine Container:  We keep it in a medium-sized plastic container with a lid so it's portable.  Plus, keeping all medication in one spot, high in our bathroom closet, is a safer way to keep it out of reach of small hands.
  4. Purge old medication regularly: Go through your medications every time your change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
So, there are all of the tips and tricks that I can think of that I, and some of my blog readers, use to keep our sanity and help our homes run smoothly.  If you have any other ideas please leave them as a comment and I'll add them as soon as I can. 

Note: Any products that I have mentioned or endorsed above, Tupperware, Lock and Lock, iPhone apps etc, were endorsed because I love the product.  Sadly, I wasn't compensated to endorse them. ;)


April from Courtenay, BC said...

Ohhh....Checkout 51 and PC Points are two of my faves as well! As for a grocery app that lets you enter your own aisles - Grocery Gadget is the one I use. Mealboard has a grocery list built in so you can do your meal planning and shopping list in one fell swoop but I haven't gotten it to work how I want so I still use Grocery Gadget for my lists. I do the same as you...a running list for each store. And I do the same laundry division system. And chores for my kids! I feel like you are my long lost twin or something lol! One other thing I do that saves me lots of time and kids make their own lunches. And they have since kindergarten *GASP* Everyone looks at me like I'm a terrible mom! But show me a mom that doesn't hate making lunches! When they were little they had a chart on the fridge to show them what to choose...two items from this column, one from that, etc. So that I knew they were packing a balanced lunch and not all snack food. Now that they are older they just go for it! And they generally eat what they pack because they chose it!

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Hi April -- It seems like you and I are on the same wave length!

I will definitely check out Grocery Gadget. There are so many in the iTunes store that it's hard to know which ones are 'tried and true' and worth it.

I have thought about having my kids make their own lunches but have never gotten around to actually doing it. I like the idea of the chart on the fridge so they know that they can't just take a muffin, a handful of granola bars and a juice box. ;)

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