Where to Buy Books {For Cheap!}

Where to Buy Books for a great price. #chc #summerbookclub I’m so glad I don’t live back in the day (really, not so long ago, only a couple generations removed from our time) when books were a luxury, only affordable for the well-to-do. I’m grateful when I realize that I can read a new book every day if I wanted to, unlike women of the past who read and re-read the same book because it was the only one they could access.

In fact, such a situation seems so far removed from me that it’s hard to fathom, and yet I know such a time existed in reality (and still does in many parts of the world). There is no reason the average American cannot educate themselves today, given the ready – and cheap – access we have to books of all kinds.

Even so, the price of books can be daunting, especially if your budget is tight and you’re looking at hot-off-the-press options. If you, like me, can’t afford to shell out $15-20 for each new book that hits the market, read on to find my tips for affording your reading habit.

1. Adjust your expectations.

Ultimately, you won’t be able to read every bestseller that comes on the market if you’re on a tight budget. If your budget looks like mine, you won’t even be able to read the latest books from your favorite authors as soon as they come on the scene.

But you can still read… and read a lot! While there’s certainly a plethora of junk books that aren’t worth your time, you can find plenty of worthy reads that don’t demand top dollar. Just adjust your expectations and maybe your tastes; be willing to read offerings like last year’s bestseller, classic novels from 100 years ago or more, great reads from more obscure authors, and other less expensive options. 

If you really want to read the latest novel, get hooked into your local public library system. More than likely, there will be waiting lists for the most popular books, but libraries generally order many copies so you can get your hands on the book pretty quickly, all things considered.

2. Go digital.

Yes, I know, there’s nothing like holding a book in your hands, and honestly, there are some types of books I really hate reading on a device (cookbooks, for example, or reference books of any kind). But because of the lower overhead costs, digital books are considerably cheaper than their hard-copy alternatives, so I almost always choose the digital option, especially when it comes to fiction and classics.

And you don’t have to buy a fancy Kindle to read eBooks, either. The Amazon Kindle app is free and works on almost every device, including smart phones and computers. Christianbook.com also has a free reader app.

3. Follow digital deal listings.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the Free & Cheap listings on Amazon Kindle, so I prefer to follow a few different services that notify me of book deals that might interest me. Here are a few services you might consider:

  • BookBub sends you daily emails with the top one or two book deals in categories you select. This has been my favorite service because it really does send me only eBooks that are likely to interest me. I’ve read some really great books for $2 or less using this service.
  • EReaderGirl.com highlights book deals specifically for women, many of them Christian. You can sign up to receive regular email updates so you don’t ever miss a great deal.
  • Spirit-Filled Kindle features Christian books. What I like about this site is that they don’t just post any and all Christian books available; they only post ones they have read or their readers recommend.
  • If you’re on Goodreads or Facebook, search for groups that discuss and share genres you like to read. If the group is active, chances are they frequently share deals they come across that other group members might like. There are even groups that exist solely for the purpose of sharing great book deals.

4. Buy used books.

Books, like cars, lose their value quickly. (Unless, like cars, they’re antique. Then they start getting expensive again.) And, like cars, the sage advice remains: Always buy used. I don’t even know the last time I actually bought a brand-new book. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only brand-new books I own are ones that were given to me for birthdays and Christmas. Other than that, I only buy used.

My favorite places to buy used books are:

  • Thrift Stores: Talk about ridiculously low prices! Thrift stores receive TONS of books and so are typically quite desirous of keeping a steady rate of turnover going, henceforth they often price their paperbacks at $0.25-0.50 (or less) and hardbacks at around $1. You’ll have to dig for a good book, but trust me. You’ll be happy you did.
  • Library Sales: Most libraries have an ongoing sale of used books, even if it’s only a shelf in the corner of the library entrance. They are also typically quite inexpensive, usually around $2 for most books (more for specialty books). Most libraries also typically offer an annual book sale where they have boxes and boxes and boxes of books available for pretty cheap (depending on the library system and the organization that puts on the sale). These sales are particularly a good place to find children’s books.
  • Garage/Yard Sales: Sometimes people try to charge too much for their used books ($5 for a hardcover cookbook? Really?), but you can also find some really good deals. Depending on your tastes in books, it might be difficult to find someone with books you actually want to read, but once you do… it will make you very happy.
  • Used Book Stores: Used book stores are often pricier than the other options I’ve listed, but they also often have a store credit program, which makes them more affordable. Typically, it works this way: you bring in used books (perhaps ones you’ve bought for $0.50 at the thrift store) that they purchase from you by giving you store credit and you use that store credit to buy books that you really want to read. The trick is to bring them books that they know they will sell: best-selling novels from 10 years ago probably aren’t going to interest them much.
  • Once again, there are Facebook groups in various genres where members can post books they want to sell. You can post your own books that you no longer want, or buy them from other readers at a discounted price.
  • ThriftBooks.com: I recently discovered this site and it has become my number one favorite place to buy used books. If you buy $10 or more in books (most books are priced around $3.59, so that’s approximately 3 books), shipping is free. Plus, any book with a “Deal” tag on it qualifies for their package deals: 2 books for $7, 3 books for $10, 4 books for $12, additional books $3 each. I always try ThriftBooks first if the book I want is not available in a digital copy, or is one that I’d prefer to have in hard copy. I also always compare the price of a digital book to the price at ThriftBooks; and if it’s just as good a deal, I’ll go ahead and get the actual hard-copy one. All the books I’ve purchased here have been in excellent condition and I’ve been very pleased with the speed of shipping (not as fast as Amazon, but hey, who is?!).

 5. Borrow from friends and family.

So my oldest sister has a reading habit that she can afford to indulge. And since we have some overlapping tastes in reading, I’m pretty much guaranteed to find something of interest when I browse through her stacks (and yes, she has stacks upon stacks) of books. I’ve also borrowed and traded books (even on Kindle) with other friends and family – it’s a great way to read a book that interests you but you’re not necessarily planning on adding to your library. And hey, if you decide you do want to add it to your library, you can certainly purchase it for yourself later on.

Want to see what I’m reading? I’d love to see what YOU’RE reading! Join me at Goodreads, where I keep track of books I enjoy (and even books I don’t)! I’d love a sneak peek onto your bookshelf, too.

Summer Book Club #christianhomemakingcommunityJoin Our Summer Book Club!

Some blogging friends and I are going to spend the next six weeks talking all about reading… and sharing our favorite books with you! Follow our blogs to join in the discussion and find some new favorite books to love. We’ll also be chatting about our blog posts – and the books we love – in our Facebook community for women, Christian  Homemaking Community. 

Click on the links below to read what other bloggers have to say about reading:

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How to Save on Grass-Fed Meat

how you can afford grass fed meatYou know that the mass manufactured meat available here in America is horrible, what with its hormones, GMO’s, antibiotics, occasionally horrifying additives (pink slime, anyone?), and other hair-raising issues. But what’s a girl to do when that’s exactly what’s available at the local grocery store… and for half the price (or less) of the good stuff?!

I hear you. That’s exactly why my family has only been enjoying grass-fed meat and dairy products for the past year or two instead of all our lives. The good stuff – pastured, grass-fed, local beef, chicken, pork and other meat & dairy – is pricey to say the least, often twice the cost of its conventional counterparts. Daunting, to be sure!

But it IS possible to work grass-fed meats into your budget, I promise. Here are a few tips that helped me work the healthiest meat possible into my family’s budget. (Keep in mind, by the point I started to add grass-fed pastured meat & dairy into the picture, I’d already gotten to the point where just about everything else we buy is traditional/clean/whole foods and totally from scratch. Removing processed packaged foods from the diet significantly reduces your grocery budget in the first place.)

1. Start small.

Instead of instantly replacing all your conventional meat purchases with the healthier grass-fed variety, start small. Every little bit helps and is a step in the right direction!

Here are a couple ways you could begin incorporating more grass-fed and pastured meats into your grocery budget:

  • Start with whole chickens or ground beef. Those tend to be the cheaper options and also more readily available at regular grocery stores.
  • Start with one kind of meat. For example, if you normally eat beef, chicken, and pork, choose just one of them to begin your grass-fed experiment. (I vote for beef because it’s the most noticeable improvement in taste and texture, in my opinion.)
  • Start with just one package. If all you can afford in a week or a month is one package of grass-fed ground beef, then do just that! Buy everything else conventional for now.

2. Keep your eyes peeled for sales and markdowns.

Before I committed to only purchasing pastured meats, I bought them whenever I could simply by keeping my eyes peeled for deals. They don’t go on sale in the traditional sense very often, but you can frequently find them on markdown in some grocery stores. 

In my personal experience, Safeway and Harris Teeter (and occasionally Wegmans) were the stores in my area that most frequently had marked-down grass-fed meat available. I suggest doing some reconnaissance in your area and noting which stores seem to have that type of meat available; also consider asking the butcher when they mark down the meat.

Whole Foods is one store that will have sales on grass-fed meat because they carry more of it than most other grocery stores. So if you live near one, keep an eye on their sales and take advantage of them when they happen.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway… when you find a great deal, STOCK UP to the extent that you can. Clean that store out of their grass-fed, baby!

3. Purchase directly from the farm.

When I say directly from the farm, I mean it literally. Most of the meat I purchase comes directly to me from the farms via their internet ordering systems. I haven’t found that any local store, including Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, has as good a price on their pastured meat as what I’m able to get by ordering directly from local farms. Ordering or purchasing directly from the farm is also cheaper than purchasing at a farmers’ market (I’m assuming the price is higher there because of the overhead costs).

I will say that it has taken a significant amount of internet research and local networking to find the best prices in my area. Most farms don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, and not all of them have an internet presence, so you’ll probably have to do a little digging in your area. Some suggestions for your search:

  • Join local email lists and Facebook groups that focus on natural or organic living. With any luck, those folks will already have a directory in the files somewhere with the info you’re seeking. If not, just ask around there.
  • Snap up pamphlets at the local library, coffee shop, health food store, etc. Some farms will have printed advertising material posted in such places.
  • Ask around your friends. The very first farm I ever ordered from was recommended to me by a local friend.
  • Search on localharvest.org. It’s the largest directory for local food that I know of. Also try eatwild.com.
  • Use a search engine and google various terms. Searching different terms (grass-fed meat in __your location___, grass-fed delivery, pastured meat, local farms, etc.) will bring up different results and broaden your choices.

If you live in a reasonably rural area, you might be able to save on delivery costs by driving directly to farms and picking up your orders there. The farms I order from are just enough out of my way that it’s worth it for me to order for delivery, but if I lived a few miles closer (and didn’t work full-time) I’d go pick up my orders in person. Also, many farms arrange local pick-up spots that are also cheaper than direct delivery. Take that into consideration when researching pricing.

4. Purchase roasts.

Not only are roasts cheaper per pound than many other cuts of meat, they go farther than most other cuts also, especially if you shred the meat once it’s cooked. A 3-lb roast can last a good 3 meals in my family, and can be disguised creatively so we don’t get tired of it. Once a roast is cooked, you can take a small portion of it, chop or shred it, and add it to pastas, pizzas, casseroles, salads, and sandwiches.

For more tips on sticking to your grocery budget while eating healthy, nourishing foods, be sure to read Your Grocery Budget Toolbox, chock-full of strategies and practical methods for cutting costs without cutting quality. 

5. Buy in bulk. Split with friends.

By far the cheapest way to buy pastured meat is to buy in bulk, by which I mean purchasing a whole cow or pig at a time. Most farmers also offer the option of purchasing a half or even quarter cow or pig also. The biggest problem most people have is that they don’t have the storage space (i.e. a big enough freezer) for all that meat, so that’s where your friends come in. This is where it’s helpful to be networking amongst like-minded local folks, so you can organize a bulk meat co-op or join in on one that’s already been organized.

In my area, I can save probably a good $2/lb by purchasing meat in this manner instead of buying individual pieces at a time. Do keep in mind that purchasing in bulk means you get a wide variety of cuts, some of which you may or may not be familiar with.

6. Stretch with less popular cuts, organ meats, bones, etc.

I have to admit this is the part I’m still working on. I haven’t been able to work up my nerve to order cow tongue yet, but I have ordered marrow bones and liver! As I advised above, start where you’re comfortable and work from there. Most people can stomach purchasing bones and using them for broth, so start there if nothing else! You’ll get a lot of bang for very little buck.

One little tip about liver: if you don’t like the taste (we don’t) and prefer not to eat it straight-up, you can grind it in a blender or food processor (Total ick but if I did it, so can you!), freeze it in ice-cube trays and then add a cube or two to ground beef when you brown it. You won’t be able to taste the difference, and it will add extra nutrition to your spaghetti. Not to mention it stretches that pricey ground beef a little!

7. Reduce meat consumption.

If you’re paleo or grain-free, this idea won’t work so well for you, but for everyone else, it’s an option to consider. I have a friend who stretches her ground beef by adding lentils to it, which is a great place to start. You could also try “Meatless Mondays”, or focus on making meat the side dish of your meal and not the main dish. For example, top a salad with it, or mix some chopped meat into a filling pasta dish. I also typically have one dinner a week that is based on fish rather than meat. A well-chosen can of tuna (taking care where it originates, how it’s caught, and how it’s packaged) still costs less than a pound of meat and forms the basis for a nutritious and filling meal.

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Save Money on Groceries With This Simple Tip

I love talking grocery budget. L-O-V-E it! In fact, wrote a whole book about it. save money at the checkout. Buy store brandYes, I love it that much!

Today’s tip is a simple one that most people have heard before… but not everybody’s convinced. Unless you’re budget is super-dooper tight and you don’t have a choice, chances are, you have a few favorite brands of items that you love, and you’re loathe to try the dreaded “store brand” (or “private label” or “no-name brand”, whatever you choose to call it). Many people even swear that the private label brands are noticeably worse in quality, and therefore insist on paying the premium prices for the big  brands.

Side note: I hope you realize that  what you’re paying for is packaging and labeling. Most of the time. 

And, if you’re a whole-foods, health-conscious kinda shopper like me, you probably steer clear of a lot of packaged stuff, anyway, so you’re thinking this tip’s not for you.

What tip am I talking about, anyway? You’ve probably guessed it. This:

Save money on groceries by buying store brand, for example, Giant Food’s “Own Brand”, which includes their Nature’s Promise and Simply Enjoy lines of products. 

Recently, Giant Food sent me a box full of their own brand to try and to compare with my favorite items that I might buy elsewhere. I’m talking about stuff that you probably do buy packaged (and probably do have a favorite brand/source), like organic ketchup (Unless you make your own, in which case, kudos for you! Not an option around here because of my DH’s delicate tummy, but I get the best processed ketchup I can find.), organic olive oil or organic rice. Trust me, the difference between the Giant brand and any other premium brand was negligible, if any. Frankly, I didn’t notice a difference whatsoever!

If you buy those types of staples on a regular basis, you might want to save yourself a few shekels and try Giant’s Own Brand line of products and see if they compare favorably to your favorites. Chances are, you won’t go back to paying a premium again!

This is not a sponsored post. I received product to try, and was left to form my own opinion and share it with you.

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DIY Furniture Polish – 3 Ingredients!

DIY furniture polish #yleo #essentialoils #nontoxic #naturalcleaningFirst off, let me start by being completely authentic with you. The absolute and total truth of the matter is that my natural tendency in life is NOT to polish the furniture. Meh. Polish shmolish. If it were up to me, dusting would be the extent of my furniture care (that and attempting to avoid liquid spillage on its surface).

But then I had two little boys (wonderful, darling boys), and I discovered that two little boys – no matter how small they are – can do quite a number on dining room furniture. Ya know, the wooden kind. Those little hands somehow always get sticky at every meal – or snack –  and those sticky little hands somehow find their way all over the chairs. And all over the table. And the table legs. And the chair legs.

You get my drift.

And suddenly, my polish-hating-self (please note that is “polish” with a lower case “p”) was forced to realize the unwelcome truth that nothing would remove the sticky, gummy residue but… furniture polish. *Sigh*. Believe me, I tried other, simpler methods, but nothing quite did the trick until I actually broke down and polished the dad-blasted thing.

Thankfully, this polishing chore is only necessary once every couple months or so – we get by in the meantime by wiping down every single chair and every inch of the table top with a wet washrag on a daily basis. And thankfully, I’ve come across a super-simple, inexpensive DIY, all-natural (and any other adjectives that apply) furniture polish that literally takes seconds to mix up. And what’s more, it actually works. Woot!

This particular recipe makes a little batch that is just the right amount for our dining room furniture (a table, chairs, and a buffet, which, sadly, is no stranger to sticky fingers either). I don’t make anymore than this at a time because I don’t want to bother with storing it… and I certainly don’t need any reminders hanging around that there is polishing to be done!

DIY Furniture Polish

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Pour the ingredients into a small jar. Seal the lid and shake well until combined.
  2. Dip a rag into the mixture, dab it on the furniture, and polish it into the surface.

*You can also use lemon or any other citrus essential oil.

The vinegar is optional, but it does help cut through any sticky stubborn particles of food left behind on the furniture. It also helps the mixture go further and absorb more easily.

Happy polishing!

Well, as happy as it can be. 

I’m happy to recommend Young Living essential oils as the highest quality oil readily available today. So much goes into Young Living’s quality control that sets it head and shoulders above almost any other oil on the market.  Anyone is eligible to open a wholesale membership with Young Living, simply by purchasing a starter kit (these range in price from $40-$150). After that, the only requirement is to purchase $50 within the first year; otherwise there is  no commitment to maintain your wholesale membership status. Check out my Young Living page for more information. 

Uh, and in case it’s not obvious, I’m an independent distributor of Young Living Essential Oils.

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Groceries for a Month for a Family of Four

OAMS Monthly Shopping List I realized recently that it’s been a long time – a really long time – since I’ve updated you all on our OAMS (Once-A-Month-Shopping) experience. It’s been almost 3 years since I last shared a sample monthly shopping trip with you, which is a bit too long, don’t you agree? A lot has changed since then – our location, our shopping habits, and even our diet to a certain extent.

For those of you new to the concept (you can read about it more at length in my eBook, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox, or by browsing through the OAMS archives), OAMS is a method of grocery shopping that saves time and money because you’re only shopping once a month, as the name suggests. Technically, though, I shop twice a month, because I usually include a mini-trip mid-cycle to re-stock produce and milk. However, the bulk of my grocery shopping is done in one weekend every month, and that’s what we eat on until the next monthly shopping trip.

This past weekend was my OAMS trip for March/April (I do my shopping in the middle of the month because that’s when we worked it into our budget), and it involved 6 stores over a span of about 4 or 5 hours (including a pit stop for lunch and a quick trip to the dollar store). Also included in this list is the meat and eggs delivered to me from a local farm. Here’s what I hauled home:

Meat #oams #frugal #wholefoods MEAT & SEAFOOD

1.6 lbs Wild Alaskan Pollock $6.42

1.3 lbs Ground Lamb $4.58

2 6oz cans Skipjack Tuna (pole-caught) $2.98

8 oz Black Forest Ham $3.49

2 lbs Grass-Fed Ground Beef $11.21

2 Pastured Roasting Chickens $23.81

Produce #oams #frugal #wholefoods PRODUCE

5 lbs. Grapefruit $1.99

2 lbs. Strawberries $3.99

3 lbs. Organic Apples $4.49

2 pkgs Blueberries $3.18

2 pkgs Blackberries $2.78

1 Mango $0.99

3 lbs Bananas $1.31

5 lbs. Pears $4.49

2 lbs. Organic Carrots $1.78

1 Onion $0.89

4 Organic Avocados $3.99

1 Pineapple $1.99

2.3 lbs Green Beans $2.98

1 bunch Cilantro $0.50

.5 lb Ginger Root $1.24

2.3 lbs Broccoli $2.26

1 Cantaloupe $2.49

.6 lbs Persian Cucumbers $0.63

1 Cauliflower $1.99

1 lb Sweet Potatoes $1.47

2 lbs Grapes $4.24

5 lbs Potatoes $1.99

1 Napa Cabbage $1.12

Dairy #oams #frugal #wholefoods DAIRY & NON-DAIRY

2 cans Coconut Milk $2.58

2 cans Coconut Milk Cream $4.58

1 pt. Organic Heavy Cream $2.99

2 lbs Organic Yogurt $2.99

2 6oz cups Coconut Milk Yogurt $2.98

<1 lb Goat Cheddar Cheese $4.80

1 pt Open Nature Coffee Cream $1.79

1 gal. Low-Temp Pasteurized Pastured Milk $5.69

1 box Coconut Cream $2.49

Dried Fruit #oams #frugal #wholefoods DRIED, FROZEN & CANNED FRUITS/VEGGIES

1 lb. Raisins $1.89

1 can Pumpkin $0.89

Organic Banana Chips $2.99

1 bag Frozen Spinach $1.49

1 bag Frozen Organic Corn $1.79

1 bag Frozen Organic Peas $1.99

8 oz Dried Cranberries $1.99

1 lb Prunes $3.29

Flour & Baking Supplies #oams #frugal #wholefoods BAKING, ETC.

5 lbs White Whole Wheat Flour $2.99

1 lb Quinoa-Brown Rice Pasta $2.99

12oz Spelt Pasta $2.49

1 lb Organic Coconut Sugar $3.99

1 lb Cashew Meal $4.99

1 bottle Organic Ketchup $1.99

12oz Fair Trade Coffee $3.99

2 lbs. Local Maple Syrup $15.99

2 lbs Coconut Oil $15.99

1 large bottle Cinnamon $2.59

4 bottles Organic Grape Juice $10.00

TOTAL COST: $236.41

A few notes about this month’s shopping trip:

I was unusually under my $250 budget – typically I go over by a few dollars!

Yes, this is really all the food we will eat for the next month, EXCEPT that I will go buy some more produce (apples, bananas, pears, etc.) in about two weeks and I will also probably buy another gallon of milk. Do keep in mind that I’m also working off of food I already have here at home -there’s more meat in my freezer left over from previous month’s shopping, as well as potatoes, pasta, rice, beans, and other staples.

Also note that I purchase grains in bulk about twice a year, and that is not included in the regular grocery budget. One of these days I’m going to start buying meat in bulk as well, and that also will come out of a separate budget.

I didn’t think to take pictures of my shopping trip, so the pictures here are just randomness.

 

 

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Einkorn, the Ancient Grain {Giveaway, Too!}

Win Einkorn Berries from Tropical Traditions #giveaway #ancientgrains #traditionalfoodAre you concerned about the effects of modern wheat on your health? There is certainly reason to be! Modern wheat has been blamed on a large number of health issues, and the rising numbers of people who simply cannot tolerate it seem to provide evidence that there is truth to the accusations. 

The Trouble With Wheat

My opinion, though, is that the issue is not with wheat in and of itself, because mankind has been enjoying wheat since the beginning of time (by which I mean Adam and Eve), and all of these health issues have only cropped up since the beginning of the Industrial Age. I’m thinking that the problem lies with all the changes modern science has forced on the ancient grain, turning it into a mere shadow of its former wholesome self. It’s now easy to grow and easy to harvest, and therefore very inexpensive… but at what cost? The cost of our health, it seems.

Now I haven’t turned my back on wheat entirely, but I have switched the bulk of my cooking and baking over to two ancient grains that are cousins (or forerunners) of modern wheat. These two grains - spelt and einkorn – have remain unchanged over history, unlike wheat, which has been tinkered with since the ’40s. As such, they retain a nutritional integrity missing from modern wheat.

wheatTry Einkorn Instead

Note: If you order by clicking on any of my links and have never ordered from Tropical Traditions in the past, you will receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I will receive a discount coupon for referring you.

Today, Tropical Traditions: The Best Place to Get Virgin Coconut Oil, is generously offering one of my readers the chance to win a 5lb. bag of whole Einkorn berries that you can grind to make your own ancient flour! 

I had a chance to use these Einkorn berries myself, and I was very impressed! The flour I made with them worked much like regular ol’ wheat flour, and I didn’t have to make any adjustments to my recipes. The taste and texture were just as good – if not better – than those I made with wheat flour, as well.

The only thing that was different about the einkorn is the texture of the raw dough: for lack of a better word, it was significantly “stretchier” than the dough or batter made with wheat. I’m guessing it has something to do with the quantity or quality of gluten in einkorn, but it doesn’t affect the final product. Once baked, the texture was just like something made with wheat.

If you’re not sure where to start with Einkorn berries, here’s a great recipe from Tropical Traditions’ recipe site.

The main drawback to einkorn is the price. Gulp! It’s almost twice the cost of either wheat or spelt! If you can afford it, I say go for it! But if not… enter the giveaway below. 

Win Einkorn Berries to Try For Yourself

This giveaway is only for residents of the United States aged 18 and older. It will end on Tuesday, March 11, at midnight. Winner will be notified by email and has 48 hours to respond or will forfeit the prize.

Tropical Traditions provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.

Curious about coconut oil? Click here for more information on its many uses!
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5 Things I Buy at Whole Foods

As I mention in my book, Whole Foods can be a difficult place to shop if you’re on a really tight budget… BUT if you know what you’re looking for, and if you go armed with adequate resources, you can score some great real foods deals there.

First of all, let me say that not everything you can buy at Whole Foods is healthy! They carry a lot of processed stuff that might be organic and GMO-free, but it’s still processed and it’s still not that great for you. Furthermore, Whole Foods is definitely in it for the money, so profit will trump principle on occasion. Bear that in mind, and shop wisely.

Frankly, for all those reasons, I don’t really buy a whole lot at Whole Foods, but I do make a regular stop there during my monthly grocery shopping trip and pick up a few items. Which items, you ask?

These items:

1. The Friday Deal

Each Friday, Whole Foods holds a one-day sales event with one item at a great rock-bottom price. I don’t religiously stop there every Friday for their one-day deal, but I do try to pay attention so I know what exactly is on sale and if it’s worth stopping by or not. During blueberry season, they had organic blueberries for $1.99/lb, which around here is a fantastic price for conventional, let alone organic! I stocked up on the blueberries, and also on strawberries when they had a similar sale. The Friday deal in my area this week happens to be grass-fed ground beef for $4.99/lb, which is the lowest I ever see it, so again, I’m stocking up.

I have to say I’ve always been impressed by how well stocked they are with their one-day deals! I’ve gone late in the afternoon before, and they’ve still had plenty of the sale items left, which I really appreciate.

tuna pasta salad

2. Pole-Caught Tuna

I recently read that the best tuna in terms of sustainability and healthfulness is “pole-caught tuna” (more info in my post here), and was kind of bummed that 1.) I had no clue what that was and 2.) I had no clue where in the world to find it. After a bit of research, I discovered that Whole Foods carries pole-caught tuna… for only $1.49! Considering you pay at least that much for regular old junky tuna, that price is pretty awesome. Read more about Whole Foods’ seafood sustainability policies here.

3. Meat

While not all their meat is the ultimate in healthfulness (grass-fed, etc.), Whole Foods uses a “5-Step Animal Welfare” rating system on all their meat packaging that indicates how the animal was raised and treated throughout their life. Since that in turn can affect the healthfulness of the meat, it’s important information to know. And while their “Step 1″ rating is probably only a step above the meat you can find in any other grocery store, it is at least an improvement… and sometimes it’s all I can afford! It’s just as affordable as meat sold anywhere else, and Whole Foods states that farms have to meet close to 100 standards to achieve even the Step 1 rating, so that is at least a small comfort to me. And when I can manage it or when it’s on sale, I like to buy their higher-rated meats as well.

4. Kerrygold Cheese

Whole Foods charges less than $3 for a 7oz package of Kerrygold grass-fed cheese, which is a really good price. Costco might have a better price, but you have to buy it in a significantly larger package, and if that package goes bad before you can use it… then it’s not such a great deal.

5. A Sweet Treat

OK, so I haven’t actually bought this yet, but my sister has, and I’ve enjoyed her generosity as she has shared it with me. She loves the bakery grab bags – a paper bag with several day old pastries for only $1.50! I’m not dumb enough to think that Whole Foods baked goods are significantly better than any other baked goods… but boy are they yummy!

What do you like to buy at Whole Foods?

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My IKEA Hack: {Almost} Built-Ins

Although we came by our current residence in a rather haphazard manner, we have enjoyed it tremendously. It’s so much bigger than our previous space, plus it has a HUGE back yard that The Boys love to play in. Besides which, it’s right off the main road, so the location is absolutely perfect.

However, it does have one drawback. (Can’t have everything, right?) Being a basement apartment, it is seriously lacking in storage space. Each bedroom has a closet, and there is a small storage unit under the stairs, but that’s about it. There’s no linen closet, no coat closet, and no laundry room (only a laundry closet) and I’m realizing that I relied heavily on those rooms for storing all sorts of things in our previous residence.

I’ve had to get seriously creative with storage here, and I’m going to show you some of the cheap ideas I’ve been able to employ. By far my favorite is this first one: our first-ever IKEA hack that was pretty darn successful if I do say so myself. We used IKEA’s line of “Billy” bookshelves and added some trim from Lowe’s to finish off the look. The result was a beautiful set of shelving that looks beautiful but cost much less than it would have elsewhere… plus it holds all our books! (I have no idea where we put all those things in our previous apartment, to be honest!)

Our IKEA Hack: Billy “Built-Ins”

We used the following Billy bookshelves:

As you can see, the shelves themselves cost around $350, considerably less than similar shelving found elsewhere. In addition to the shelving, the molding and trim (and the spray paint) cost another $60-75, bringing the total cost to a little over$400. Not bad, I think!

This is the first shelf in our set-up and contains our non-fiction collection.

We set them up in a sequence like this: short – tall – narrow, with the narrow shelves having doors on the bottom. (I love the doors because we can shove all the kids’ games in there and hide the mess!) We had wanted the shelves to extend all the way to the ceiling, and we thought we had measured enough space to include the shelf extenders. That would have added another $100 to the total cost, but as it turned out, for some reason the extenders were about an inch too short to fit. I’m sure we could have cut them to fit if we had wanted to bother (and they would really have looked like built-ins, then), but we didn’t. We just returned them and saved ourselves some moolah!

This tall shelf holds most of my sheet music and my fiction collection.

To finish off the look, we used the following pieces of molding and trim, cut, painted (with white spray paint), and attached by my DH himself:

  • 4 rosette medallions for the top corners
  • wide ribbed molding for the top shelves
  •  2.5″ wide molding, which we used wherever two shelves adjoined vertically (If it weren’t for the doors, we would have needed more of this.)
  • 1.5″ wide molding, which we placed along the vertical edges of all the shelves
  • baseboard along the bottom (except for where the doors are)

All our photo albums go in the top shelves of the narrow units.

I honestly can’t remember how many lengths of each type we bought from Lowe’s because it’s been a couple months. Besides which, it seems like we underestimated the amount we needed, and my DH ended up going back at least once to pick up more. (Moral of the story? Buy extra, and return what you don’t use!)

My DH worked really hard on this project in his spare time over the course of several evenings- maybe a week or two. Because he had to return to get more molding than he had initially purchased, it dragged on a little longer than it would have otherwise. And then it took me just about forever to sort and organize all our books, which had been packed in approximately a zillion different boxes!

The kids books are easily accessed by the little people, and the games are hidden behind the doors.

We are quite pleased with the finished product, and it’s definitely the focal point of the room where it sits, which we have dubbed “the library”. It’s really not a room, actually: it’s a super-wide hallway (read: rather nebulous waste of space that doesn’t immediately have an obvious purpose) that brings you from the living room into the master bedroom, and I can’t think of any better use for it than this (despite my DH’s campaigns for a ping-pong table!).

This tall shelf holds educational materials and reference books (dictionaries, medical books, college textbooks, etc.).

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Take a Staycation… One Day at a Time!

Except for the occasions when we’ve joined one or the other of our families for a “real” vacation, my DH and I have mostly enjoyed “staycations” throughout our married life. This year is no different, except that instead of taking one whole week to enjoy our staycation, we’re spreading it out through the summer. My DH’s work schedule is kind of erratic, so we take our little mini staycations whenever he has a day off during the week. Our goal is to go somewhere one day a week throughout the summer, but in reality, it will probably be slightly less than that. Still, we plan to pack our summer full of fun and exciting memories despite the fact that we’re not truly “going on vacation”. 

Just in case you are in a similar boat (no time off, no money, no inclination for a real vacation), here are some ideas to help you enjoy your summer anyway! And on the cheap, too, of course, because that’s how I roll.

Family Self Portrait taken at Maymont Estate in Richmond, VA

1. Scout Out NearBy Tourist Spots

We are lucky to live in an area where we are approximately 2 hours away from a whole host of hot tourist spots: Washington DC, Baltimore, Annapolis, Richmond, Gettysburg, the Shenandoah Valley, and more. Day trips to places like Williamsburg or the Eastern shore are not out of the question. Not to mention the whole host of local, lesser-known historic towns and spots that boast all sorts of free or nearly-free touristy fun, like historic home tours, botanical gardens, zoos and the like. So we can literally spend the whole summer being tourists in our own town without visiting the same place twice.

You may or may not be so blessed, but I bet if you take the time to look at your area through the eyes of a tourist, you’ll find more options than you thought possible for stay-at-home fun, entertainment, and even learning. Chances are, the city (or big town) nearest to you has a website (or possibly even an app) with all sorts of tips on the best sites for tourists to see. Find favorite local spots like restaurants, historic homes, parks, recreation, museums, and more.

Don’t forget to think outside the immediate area as well. Decide how far you’re willing to drive for a day trip (maybe an hour? Two? Three, perhaps?) and widen your scope to check out what’s available in that radius.

Depending on what sort of things your family likes to do, you might enjoy any of the following types of tourist spots:

  • national/state parks
  • museums
  • historic homes
  • gardens
  • nature preserves
  • zoos
  • amusement parks or entertainment parks
  • historic old town centers
  • scenic drives
  • natural sites (like caverns, waterfalls, and the like)

He found a car just his size at the local coffee shop car show.

2. Visit Favorite Local Haunts

Let’s switch gears a little bit and get hyper-local here. Whether or not you’re already plugged into the local scene, make it a priority to visit all of your town’s hot spots this summer. I’m talking about the ice cream parlor that has lines out the door every day through the season, or the pizza joint that everybody knows about and has been to at least once. What’s the favorite playground or park that all the mommies know about? The coffee shop that’s crowded on Saturday mornings because of the uh-may-zing donuts and fresh lattes they carry? (Or maybe, as in my case, the local coffee shop that hosts a car show every Saturday morning? Now that’s a fun – and free – summer activity!)

If you don’t know where these local favorites are, you can find  them simply by giving  a little shout-out on Facebook. Your friends should be able to point you in the right direction.  Or if your town newspaper/magazine hosts a “Best of” contest every year, check those out.

Cheap Fun: Train Rides at the Mall

3. Plan a Day of Fun

You don’t even need to “get away” for your day-by-day staycation! Really, all you need to do is plan a day around activities that are enjoyable to everyone in your family, and just a little different from your usual routine. Think about what your perfect relaxing day would look like, and make it happen!

Here’s an idea for a “Staycation Schedule”:

  • Sleep in.
  • Enjoy brunch at a leisurely hour.
  • Go to a local pool for the afternoon (or play water games in your back yard). AND/OR go to the mall and get cheap carousel rides or train rides, or play in the mall’s playground.
  • Make everybody’s favorite food for dinner as a family.
  • Go to the town’s free outdoor concert or movie (many towns host these on a weekly basis through the summer).
  • Finish the day by “camping” in your own backyard. Borrow a tent if you don’t have one, or put sleeping bags in the living room!

A day trip to a lavender farm, sponsored in part by a daily deal my sister bought.

4. Check Daily Deal Sites

Sites like Groupon, Eversave, Living Social (and/or the local version in your area – around here, we have Specialicious) are a great source of good deals on local entertainment. You’ll get vouchers for at least half off to such local places as:

  • restaurants
  • bowling
  • mini golf
  • local events
  • concerts
  • sporting events
  • classes
  • pool/water parks
  • and lots more!

Using deal sites like this might make summer fun activities affordable for your family when they wouldn’t be otherwise. We’ve used these deal sites to get half priced entry to the local water park, which The Boys absolutely loved! It’s not something we’d pay full price for, but half price was totally do-able, and definitely worth it.

Playing in the sandbox at the local botanical gardens.

5. Attend Local Festivals & Events

It seems like there’s always a festival nearby around here. Some of them cost, some of them don’t. Some of them are worth it, some of them are not! The county fair is always free, and is always fun for the kids – animals to pet, shows to watch, and exhibits to enjoy. Other festivals celebrate local crops or industries, or even just townships. Do a quick Google search by combining your town or county’s name with the word “festival” and you’re sure to find some fun events to attend this summer.

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Purchase Gift Cards at a Discount with Gift Card Rescue

*Sponsored Post brought to you by Gift Card Rescue So, have you followed my advice and started saving up gift cards to spend at Christmas? I’ll be honest – I haven’t yet. Life has been kind of crazy and in upheaval from the beginning of this year, but now that things are starting to settle down – and I actually have a working budget written out to start in April – I’m definitely going to get started on this year’s Christmas stash of gift cards.

Whether or not you choose to save money for Christmas in this way (although I honestly think it’s a great way for anybody and everybody to pay for Christmas!), you will still like what I have to share with you today. Because whether or not you use gift cards to buy Christmas gifts, you’re likely going to want to give away a gift card or two for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Day, Admin Professionals Day,  birthdays, anniversaries, and just-because-I-love-you days.

And when you go to buy those gift cards, make Gift Card Rescue your first stop. Gift Card Rescue is a trade-in service for gift cards – if you have one you don’t want, you trade it in for cash. They, in turn, sell it at a discount to someone who does want it. You don’t have to trade in gift cards to get access to their collection of cards for sale, most of which are at least 5% off, some up to 30% off the cash value!

You know I’m always interested in saving money wherever I can, and this is a fabulous and simple way to do that: purchase a gift card at a discount, and you’re automatically getting a sale price on whatever you buy with that card! 

And you can rest assured that the gift cards are legitimate and will work. I had the privilege of using a gift card to Payless from Gift Card Rescue, and bought myself some super cute black flats and a whole set of bangle bracelets. The magnetic strip on the card was worn, but the cashier just typed in the card’s account number and it worked just as well. If for some reason your card does not work as advertised, Gift Card Rescue backs up their cards with a 90-day guarantee, and you can get a refund or be issued a new card to replace the defective one.

Chances are, though, your discounted gift card will work just fine, enabling you to buy gifts (for others… or for yourself!) for less, and, of course, save up for a debt-free Christmas!!

 

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