Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fun (and inexpensive!) gifts for teachers

This is the first year I've had a child in my home, so though I've been on the receiving end of teacher gifts for years and years, I've never had to be the one planning them.  I debated going the easy route and just picking up a starbucks card for each, but Pooh has 4 teachers, so that would be at least $20, even if we only did $5 cards for each.  However, with all the great sales this week, I came up with an alternative that I think is cute, as well as easier on my budget:
Regardless of my love for orange, believe me when I say that those ribbons are red!
A few years ago, my awesome niece Brittany made chocolate covered spoons for all of us, and I thought it was an awesome idea.  I was super-impressed with all the time and effort she had obviously gone to for us.  My eyes have now been opened - while I still am super-impressed with Brittany in a myriad of ways, I now know that she did not go to much trouble in preparing them - these spoons were very easy to make!

Basically, you melt chocolate chips (I had 3 bags from my Tom Thumb trip yesterday), dip a spoon in, set it on a tray, and stick it in the freezer to set.  I made 3 flavors of spoons:  milk chocolate, butterscotch, and semi-sweet, since I had those flavors of chips on hand.  I chose to use a tall slender cup to heat the chips, rather than a short squat mug, so that I could use less but still cover the bowl of the spoon completely.  Once the chocolate was melted, I just dunked the spoons in, tapped to get a bit of the excess off, and set them on a flexible cutting board sprayed with cooking spray so they wouldn't stick.
Milk chocolate and butterscotch spoons
One thing I noticed is that if you don't have plenty of chocolate around the edges of the spoons, the chocolate covering the bottom may stick and separate from the rest - that's what happened with the butterscotch one that did not get double-dipped in the pic above.  But other than that, I thought the spoons turned out great!  You could have also gotten much fancier, but that's just not me.

Other than the chocolate, there are only a few things you need for a project like this.  Spoons for dipping, plastic to wrap around the chocolaty part, mugs/cups, ribbon, and anything else you want to put in the cup.  Here's what my supplies looked like:

Everything you need, except the cups
You can see in the pic that I used plastic spoons.  I did end up using some real spoons once I ran out of plastic, but I started with these since I did not have enough real spoons I was willing to part with.  If I had planned ahead more, I could have found some cheap at a thrift store or garage sale, but I've been too busy to plan that way.

I had no cellophane bags to put the spoons in (yep, that lack of planning ahead thing!), and Tom Thumb didn't have any either.  Rather than drive to a bunch of different stores looking for them and getting Pooh out of and back into his carseat multiple times, I instead bought a pack of sandwich size ziplocs, cut the zippers off, and tied them up with red ribbon that I had on hand.  Of course I curled the ribbon with scissors like my mama taught me to do.

I thought about going out and finding some cute Christmas coffee cups, but since I've gotten those multiple times as teacher gifts, I didn't think that was a great idea.  First, it's way too typical.  Every teacher gets several Christmas mugs every year.  Second, Christmas mugs can only be used for a limited period of time.  Third, it would cost me money, and time that I did not have.  Finally, we had an elegant option already in our home.  My sister Amy got married a few months ago, and we shamelessly raided her house for anything we thought we could use.  We had taken a simple set of white dishes, most of which we use regularly.  However, the set has 2 sizes of cups, which I assume are teacups and coffeecups.  We use the larger ones all the time, but have never really used the small ones at all.  So, we simply used those.

While I wouldn't have headed out to purchase more to go in these mugs, I had tons of instant coffee sticks on hand that I got on sale at Tom Thumb this week.  So I took a few sticks of each flavor and added them to the cups.  Then I stuck one spoon of each flavor in, tied a red ribbon around the cup, and it was done! 
The finished product
The best thing about this project?  It was easy!  Sure, I had to take the time to make the spoons and put the stuff together, but it was not difficult, and I did it while chatting with P-Daddy, who, by the way, was completely disbelieving that this was going to turn out to be an acceptable gift, until I finished and he was totally wowed!

Also, it was cheap!  Here's an in-the-ballpark-but-not-exact breakdown:
cups:  free (already had them)
ribbon:  free (had it on hand)
chocolate chips:  $1 (probably less - I paid $0.99 per bag, and I used less than 1/3 of each bag)
spoons:  $1
ziplocs: $1 ($2 for a pack of 100, and I used less than 50 of them)
instant coffee:  $1.20 (I paid $0.99 for a pack of 20, and I used 6 sticks per cup, so 24 total)

All told, that makes the 4 gifts less than $5 total, plus I have about 20 more spoons since I just kept making them until I ran out of the chocolate that I had melted.  Wahoo!  A fun but frugal holiday coffee treat!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My love of coupons

So, I am a cheapskate at heart, I admit it.  It's not that I don't want to pay money for things, though.  It's that I hate to pay a large amount of money for things that I *know* I can find cheaper!  For instance, when P-Daddy calls me on the way home from work and asks me to pick up diapers, I really honestly cannot do it.  I cannot walk into a store and pay FULL PRICE for diapers!  That's about $10 for 30 diapers, and since I'm constantly on the lookout for good deals (and have found some excellent one!), I just cringe at the thought of paying that.  Not because we can't or don't have it, but because if I only pay half that price, then that's $5 to spend on something more important, more meaningful, or more necessary (not to say that diapers are unnecessary, except they ARE, since we have a full stock of cloth ones!)  Plus, if I can buy my diapers on sale cheap most of the time, then when the real emergency happens, we will be able to afford full price, even if I cringe while I pay it.

The same is true for me with coupons.  I love getting a great deal, and pairing a sale with a coupon can often net super-low prices, making it possible for us to spend more on things that may never go on sale or have coupons out.  While a grad student, I really got into couponing and had a great system, as well as a couple stores where I cherry-picked constantly.  Since moving to Texas, I've been so busy that I have simply not organized my coupons and set up a working system.  This is partially because the store I shopped at in Fort Worth was not a major chain, and nobody online was listing deals for it.  Plus, there was NO space for storing things, so stocking up when things were cheap was simply not possible.  But we're in a new house, with 2 major chain grocers super-close, so this past week I revisited my coupon bag, got things a little organized, and headed out.  Oh, it was fun!  I had completely forgotten the thrill of a great deal!  But part of the joy of a good deal is sharing it, so here goes...

Tom Thumb is running daily specials this week.  Monday, it was all-purpose flour for $0.59 for a 5-pound bag.  P-Daddy loves to bake, and Pooh and I love to eat bread, so we stocked up.  We now have 40 pounds of flour, for which we paid less than $5!  In addition, Imperial Sugar was on sale for $1.99 for a 4-pound bag, which I don't consider to be a great deal.  But I had a $0.50 coupon, which doubled, bringing the price to only $0.99 - again, not a bad deal, so I grabbed 2 bags.

Then today, the daily deal was chocolate chips for $0.99 a bag.  Maybe not the greatest deal, but Pooh has 4 teachers in his Mothers-Day-Out program that need gifts, so I grabbed 3 bags (one semi-sweet, one milk, and one butterscotch).  P-Daddy's been asking for decaf coffee, so I strolled over to the coffee aisle, where he was out of luck. I'm not paying 4.57 for a tiny bottle.  No way, nu-huh.  BUT I did find the 20 packs of Taster's Choice sticks for only $0.99!  Since these are typically about $1 for 6 to 10 sticks, I was thrilled!  I'm devising a gift involving instant coffee and chocolate chips...maybe I'll share it later this week.
Tom Thumb = $16.75 total
We also needed nutmeg, so I grabbed some, which was priced $1.29 on the shelf.  Not a bad price, but then when I checked out, it rang up at only $0.90!  Wahoo!  And, I had a coupon for 1.50 off any Kandoo, and they had some for 1.74, so I grabbed that as well, paying .24 for some handsoap that Pooh will think is totally cool.  All told, at Tom Thumb we spent $16.75 for 8 bags of flour, 2 bags of sugar, 3 bags of choco chips, 1 canister of nutmeg, 1 bottle of soap, and 6 boxes of instant coffee sticks!  I was hyped, feeling the thrill, and wanted more.

So, I headed to Kroger.  They have been running a deal where if you buy 10 of a certain set of pre-selected items, you instantly save $5.  I checked this deal out online before going, and spent some time looking for just the right coupons, and I must say, I am pretty proud of how I did!  I did 2 trips, and got more than just the 10 items, so I'll outline them separately.

Trip 1:
Buy 10 save 5 items (price in parens is after .50 is subtracted due to the $5 off):
1 - Bumblebee tuna packet (.50) - .55 q = free!
1 - Barilla Plus pasta (1.49) - FREE q = free!
2 - Ziploc freezer bags (1.99) - 1.25/2 q = 1.37 each (plus, get a catalina for 1.25 off your next order)
2 - Carnation evap milk (.69) - .50 q (doubled) = .19 each
3 - Kleenex tissue (.99) - .50/3 q (doubled) = .66 each
1 - Mom's cereal (.99) - .75 q = .24
Other items:
1 pack Oroweat Sandwich Thins = 2.99 - free q = free!
1 container Cottonelle wipes = 2.79 - free q = free!
1 bottle Star balsamic vinegar = 2.19 - free q = free!
1 package turkey pepperoni = 3.00 - .35 q (tripled) = 1.95
1 pack of mushrooms = 1.19 (produce markdown)
2 packs of orange/yellow bell peppers = 1.50 ea (produce markdown)

Kroger Trip 1 = $11.59 (and in front, Starbucks Via samples, which were waiting in my mailbox when i got home)
Trip 2:
Buy 10 save 5:
2 - Ziploc freezer bags (1.99) - 1.25/2 q = 1.37 each (and got the catalina again)
2 - Carnation evap milk (.69) - .50 q (doubled) = .19 each
1 - Mom's cereal (.99) - .75 q = .24
2 - Nabisco saltines (1.49) - 1.00 q (X2) = .49 each
2 - Emerald peanuts (1.49) - 1.50/2 q = .74 each
1 - Krusteaz cookie mix (.99) - 1.00 q = free!
Other items:
1 bag of ww flour = 2.19 (you'd think that with 40 pounds from Tom Thumb, we would not need more, but we all love whole wheat, and we are almost out.  and since i paid so little for the other - we mix 1/2 ww, 1/2 all-purpose for bread making - i don't feel bad paying this much for the whole wheat)
1 pack of plastic spoons (for the previously mentioned coffee/chocolate gifts) = 1.00
1 6-pack of instant decaf = $1.19 (see?!  that is about .20 a stick, while the other non-decaf on sale were only .05 each!  But, I love my P-Daddy...)

Kroger Trip 2 = $8.91
All told, after using the 1.25 ziploc catalina on my second order, we spent 20.50 for both trips combined.  Plus, I still have my second catalina from the Ziplocs to use next time I shop.  Wow!  that's a lot of stuff!

I love saving money!  Cause I love spending money, and saving money in one spot allows me to spend it on something else (like P-Daddy's Chinese takeout tonight, while Pooh and I went to our foster agency's Christmas party).  Do you share my love, or is couponing way too much hassle for you?