Frugal Holidays: Handmade Decorations. The Best Things in life . . .

I've heard dozens of endings to 'the best things in life . . . '. Small packages, are free, whatever. But today, I found myself thinking that the best Christmas presents come home in my children's backpacks. My preschoolers' packs were such a treasure trove today that I honestly feel like I should send their teacher a thank you note! And of course, since they're projects for small children, they could be easily and frugally replicated, even made more sophisticated, by an adult. or not--they're seriously precious as they are :D

These snowmen are cut out of a thin, quilted fabric (not sure if you can find this fabric for a good price, but placemats from the dollar tree should work). They then have black glittery fabric hats, tiny black craft dots for the buttons and eyes, a scrap of fabric for the scarf, and tiny scraps of fabric for the mouth and nose. Cut it all out, glue it together, and you're done.

This one is from my kindergartener, and they may have bought kits (or even premade ornaments) but you could easily replicate this one with craft foam or even wood. Find a coloring book picture of a train engine (Like these or this one )to use as a template. Cut out the base train from craft foam and a piece of cardstock. Cut out the smaller pieces from a different color of craft foam. Cut a rectangle slightly smaller than your picture in the craft foam, where the 'engineer' would sit. Put it all together :D

These were made from craft foam, but you could also make them from cardboard, cardstock, construction paper, or even disposable plates! Again, just cut out the shape and glue on whatever you have lying around for the features. And of course, you could do them in actual gingerbread, and use chocolate chips, candy, and/or icing for the features.

I definitely saved the best for last--these next two are my favorites. They would also make lovely gifts for grandparents or other relatives.

*no idea why this is on it's side. I'm going to have to do some research on blogger's photo uploads :( *

This is not an ornament I've seen done before, but it is beautiful (at least to the mommy of the handprint owners :P). Put white paint on the child's hand, and gently induce them to grab the ornament (one of my twins' smeared his a little). After the paint dries, use permanent markers or paint markers to draw the hats and other features necessary to turn each 'finger' into a snowman! Turn the ornament around, write the child's name and the year, attach a card with the poem, and you're done. In case you can't read it, the poem on the attached card is:

These aren't just five snowmen
As anyone can see
I made them with my hand
Which is a part of me.
Now each year when you trim the tree
You'll look back and recall
Christmas of 2010
When my hand was just this small.

*sorry it's on it's side. No idea why :( *

This one isn't technically an ornament, but I love it so much I wanted to include it. My mother has two of these, framed--one I did, and one my brother did. The handprints are (of course) the child's handprints, and the poem in the center reads:

Sometimes you may get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
But everyday I'm growing
I'll be grown up someday
And all those tiny handprints
will surely fade away.
So here's a final hand print
Just so you can recall
Exactly how my fingers looked
When I was very small.

And now I understand why my mother always gets teary eyed when she looks at those framed prints my brother and I made.

Frugal Holidays: Snowcream & variations

You can thank Tabitha over at Happy Cake...and Other Fabulous Things for inspiring this post. She made buttercream flavoured snow cream, and her recipe uses skim milk.

I'm not sure if it's an Appalachian thing or if snow cream is universal, but Tabitha and I were both amused to find out we had both made snow cream the morning of our second big snow of the season. As I mentioned, she used a more modern recipe, while I used my grandma's traditional recipe :D

1 giant bowl of snow (I used a large popcorn bowl)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (the small cans)
about 1/3 cup of sugar (to taste)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Stir it all together and enjoy! For those who have never had it, snow cream has a different texture than ice cream. It almost feels sandy or gritty--don't worry, it's not dirt, it's the ice crystals. The mixture will also look odd in the bowl (a little dough-like) but it's supposed to look that way.

As Tabitha and I chatted about our snowcream, I mentioned that I wished I had had some peppermint extract to add in, or even cinnamon. Which led us to talk of schnapp's, and how yummy snowcream would be with some Buttershots or other flavoured liqueur. Experiment to your hearts content--if your roads are as bad as ours, you shouldn't be driving anyway! :D

This morning, my six year old asked for his own version of snow cream. He really doesn't like 'sweets' that much (yeah, definitely not MY genes there), and he was very specific about what he wanted. We should give him a bowl with just snow. Then we should put more snow into a glass, cut an orange in half, and squeeze the juice over the snow. He's eating that right now, and seems to be as enthralled with it as his parents are with snow cream.

Handmade ornaments: A few I missed

Our tree is probably 80% complete, and I find that I'm ok with it being a work in progress. I'm surprised by this, since usually I spend a few days getting the tree 'perfect', then the next couple of weeks freaking out everytime someone brushes against it, wants to add something, or god forbid MOVES an ornament :P

There are several orphan ornaments on our tree that haven't yet made it into blog posts (like the chenille stem 'snowflakes' my six year old made that I forgot to take a picture of), but here's a few of the one hit wonders.

Tried to do some snowflakes with Victor. Problem was, I forgot how to fold them, so he got frustrated when he cut his first one, unfolded it, and it was just a mess :P So, we have two large ones on our tree--one John did to remind me how to fold the paper, then one I did--and a tiny one that I did from the middle I cut out of my large one. This is a pic of the tiny one--my favorite, of course :P

**You can view the bow and instructions HERE.**

This 'onion ornament' is just strips of scrap construction paper. The center strip is the shortest, the next two out on either side slightly longer, then longer on the next two until the last two are the longest. I lined the tops up until they were even, put a staple in, then bent each of the other strips until they were even with the bottom of the center (shortest) strip, then stapled again. After finishing it, I decided I didn't really like it, and that there was no real value in trying to make them with the boys. The next day, I saw it was on the tree. Honestly, this was in the middle of my fever, so I just assumed I had done it without thinking and went on with my day. A few days later, I had this conversation with Victor.

V: Mommy, did you see the onion ornament on the tree?
Me: yes, I did see it. Why?
V: Because I put it on there.
Me: You did? Why?
V: Because onions have layers, and ogres and people have layers, too, and it's important that we all remember how pretty those layers can be. That onion ornament shows the pretty layers.

Who could argue with that?

This is exactly what it looks like, and so much more :D My son brought this picture of a gingerbread man home from school. Victor is incredibly intelligent--as in, his IQ is in the 130s--but he has been having serious adjustment issues at school. His fine motor skills aren't that great, and he hates anything involving drawing, coloring, or writing (things he thinks he isn't good at). This is the first picture he's brought home of something he drew that he was proud of. Yes, an 8.5 X 11 inch sheet of paper looks a little awkward on my Christmas tree. But that's exactly where this masterpiece belongs, as a testament to how hard Victor has been working the past few months.


I'm adding some pictures to the posts from the past few weeks (you're welcome, Tabitha :D). They're not great--I took them with my cell. Sorry about that. I wanted to get some pictures up, and the big camera was just too much hassle :P I don't feel quite as much like a walking germ factory any more, but there's still some sinus and breathing issues, and I'm SO tired :( I have no energy for the millions of things I have to do in the next eleven days!

Anyway, Enjoy! And here's our tree so far:

Fun with your kids

I'm sick. Like, so-miserable-I-woke-myself-up-two-dozen-times-with-whining sick. And my husband had the audacity to refer to this plague as 'just a head cold'!!

In any case, I'm not really blogging tonight. I just thought I'd send my three readers over to Tabitha Black's Happy Cake . . . blog for her latest post, 'Crafting With Kids." There are some great (and frugal) ideas to help keep the munchkins busy on the upcoming snowdays. You might even find a few that will keep them from destroying the house while you're sick in bed :D

Handmade Ornaments --Birds of a feather . . .

Fever or just wry sense of humor is to blame, but so far I've come up with "Birds of Foam Never Leave Home" and "Birds of Paper Flutter and Caper". Yes, I know they're both groan-worthy. Give me a break :D

This may be my favorite ornament so far. I stole the template from This project over on Martha Stewart's site. I actually printed out two copies of Martha's template, cut them out, then glued them all onto one sheet (you can fit 6 onto one sheet). I didn't do this so much to save paper but rather to make it easier for my little ones to color them. I printed them out onto construction paper, let the little ones choose which color paper they wanted, then turned them loose with some crayons. After they were done, I cut them out and assembled them. They're really cute on the tree-the construction paper is just thick enough to hold it's form, but fragile enough that they flutter and move just a little.

This is one of the ones the boys did.

This is my favorite. Amazing what you can do with construction paper and crayons.

A few more.

We also did a few in craft foam. The craft foam ones are more 'polished', but my little ones can't really help decorate those, and they don't look as fragile on the tree. With older kids, though, the craft ones could be really nice, because of all the embellishments you could add.

I'm sure there are other designs out there that would look just as awesome, and possibly even more materials. I'm currently brainstorming a way to do them in fabric that doesn't involve a pound of starch or lots of layering and sewing :P. One note--I hated what my oldest calls the 'tails' on the template I used, and actually just nixed it on several birds. I played with placement, cutting a slit, using glue, and I just never got a 'look' that I loved. Maybe it's just personal taste, but if we do these next year, our birds will be tail-feather-less :D

Handmade Ornaments--Words to live by

This is an uber-simple one that I found in Ready Made magazine this month. In the magazine, they used the idea to make placecards for dinner, but we used it for the kid's names as well as holiday words (Love, Joy, Peace, Hope). Simply bend chenille stems (pipe cleaners) into the shape of the name or words of your choice. I printed the boys' names out in a regular word processor file in a script font (I can't remember the font size, but it was about three inches high). This is to use as a guide, and honestly I found it unnecessary after I had done a few, and did the words freehand. It did take two, sometimes three pipecleaners to make the boys' names, which are 5 and 6 letters long. I used metallic chenille stems in green, red, gold, and silver that I had picked up for $0.50 for a pack of 50 at a thrift store, but I just saw similar ones at the dollar tree this weekend.

One minute to express your gratitude

No matter what your position on the wars we are involved in, the state of the country, or the military overall, we have hundreds of thousands of service men and women away from their homes and families right now so that we don't have to be. While I may disagree with the politicians, I have infinite respect and support for our military service members.

This site allows you to send a postcard to a service member. It literally takes a minute--choose a card designed by a child, then either choose a pre-written message or write your own, and tell them where you're from and your name (I put 'A Grateful Mom'). That's it. One minute of your life to brighten the day of a service member.

A frugal ornament we won't be trying.

UPDATE: After much discussion, we ARE going to use this technique. YEAH!! We needed something spectacular for the topper, and our six year old insists a tree topper MUST be a star, so we're going to attempt this technique for the star for the top of our tree!! I'll try to post a pic!

I ran across this idea this morning, and it's great!! Beautiful ornaments for your tree, very inexpensive, and a science lesson for the kids! My only fear is that my sensory-issues three year old would try to eat them, and part of the reason we skipped 'real' ornaments this year was because I'm tired of calling the pedi about something he's put in his mouth--I can only imagine the reaction if I told him he ate Borax!! :P Anyway, ingredients and materials for this one:

Pipe Cleaners/Chenille stems
boiling water
Borax (The same Borax used for my frugal laundry detergent is perfect)
Jars or containers deep enough to hold your ornament suspended in the solution
string and sticks, pencils, or other objects to suspend your ornaments from.

1. Fashion your ornaments out of your pipe cleaners. I think snowflakes would be pretty. You could also do spirals, abstract shapes, spell out someone's name or Merry Christmas (another idea I saw in Ready Made this month, and one I might be trying later), whatever shapes suit your fancy. If you feel artistically-challenged, then how about bending your pipe cleaner around a cookie cutter to get the shape?

2. Suspend your ornament from your stick or pencil. Be sure it fits inside the jar, bowl, or other container you've chosen, and that the stick is long enough to balance across the rim.

3. Mix together your solution with a ratio of 3 TB (Tablespoons) Borax to each cup of boiling water. One teacher said she did this with her class, and they used 2 Cups of Borax to 10 Cups of water. Stir until Borax is mostly dissolved.

4. Submerge your ornament in the solution. Leave in the solution for 12-24 hours. Then pull out your beautiful, crystal covered ornament and enjoy! Out of reach of children :P

Source Article


We don't really 'do' advent, for a multitude of reasons--not the least of which is that it usually ends up with a bunch of little toys or extra candy calories that I don't personally feel really add to the holiday spirit. But I did want to prolong the holiday a bit, and have some special family time. So, in addition to our homemade decorations, We set our guidelines for what we wanted our advent to be:

1. It had to involve time as a family.
2. No candy or trinkets.
3. It had to somehow extend the joy of the holiday.

So, each night, we're sitting in front of our Christmas tree, as a family. We read one book and sing a Christmas carol. It's our goal to do this every night from now until Christmas Eve. We even started one night early :P


It all started with some lovely ornaments at the quarterly consignment sale where I love to shop. We were at the presale, and I saw them--nine gorgeous, vintage, hand-blown glass ornaments, in their original boxes. Price $2. I resisted at the presale, thought about them all week, and when they were still there at the half price sale, they had to be mine! $1 for ornaments so similar to the ones I remember from my childhood--the ones my grandmother passed down to my mother, and my mother guarded as carefully as possible from little hands--that I couldn't stop thinking about them.

But we're doing a handmade tree this year, right? We put the tree up, I made and Victor hung the Recycled Magazine Paper Chain, we've done several ornaments and have plans for more. What was I thinking!?

I brought my ornaments home and put them on the shelf near the tree, seeing the faded red boxes every time I glanced in that direction. I considered packing them away with my others, giving them to my mother, donating them to goodwill. And every time I saw that box, I had another memory--my mother gently covering my hand with hers as I hung one of those treasured ornaments, my grandmother and I picking strawberries (and eating them with heavy cream and sugar), each of my sons' faces the first time our eyes met, the first time they nursed, the first time they said 'mama'. A glance at the faded lettering on those boxes brought up the sound of my grandfather's laughter, the feel of my dad's hugs, the sound of my entire extended family singing Christmas carols. Somehow, these ornaments weren't discarded glass to me. They weren't even a nostalgic piece of my childhood. To me, these ornaments simply represented history, old and recent, holiday and every day. Little pieces of me, reflected by Christmas lights on glass ornaments.

I lasted almost a week, then I hung them on the tree. Not just ON the tree, IN the tree--nestled behind the branches, near the center of the tree, where they'll be less tempting to little hands. Even when I pulled them from the box, I was telling myself I just wanted to look at them, inspect them, make sure they hadn't been broken when Nathan accidentally knocked them to the floor. It wasn't until I pulled them from the box and held them up to the lights of the tree that I made the decision to hang them. If I had had to think about it, search for hooks (the previous owner had left hooks on them), or even had someone else been in the room and asked me about it, I wouldn't have hung them. But in that second, it was the right thing to do.

To be honest, I hung them so completely inside the tree that I can only find them by careful searching, but it doesn't matter--I know they're there. And these ornaments, somehow, are different from the ornaments I bought nine years ago, for our first married Christmas. Even though they're the same style, *I* am not the same. This was not an impassioned search through ebay, thrift stores, and antique stores, looking for the perfect ornaments to create the perfect tree for the start of our perfect life. No, this was a chance meeting. Not what I planned, not what I was searching for, not even what I thought I wanted, and yet the perfect thing. A perfect reflection of my life this past year.

So, my handmade tree will have (at least) nine vintage ornaments, that item per item probably cost less than some of the other handmade ornaments that will end up on there. Nine small pieces of glass that with each glance reflects to me a tiny piece of who I am, why I am, where I am. I don't know why these ornaments mean so much to me, why they called to me, why I am nearly obsessed with them. But at five thirty this morning, when Nathan & I were sitting in the floor reading "Llama Llama Holday Drama" because he couldn't sleep again, his eyes roamed across the tree, and just for a second, I saw one of the ornaments reflected in his eyes. I don't know if he saw it, or if he was busy staring at the lights, or if he was simply lost in his own Nathan world, but for just a moment I saw the man he might become, roaming through a thrift store, and smiling as his eyes land on a box of vintage holiday ornaments.

Happy Holidays.

Handmade Decorations: Cinnamon & Applesauce Ornaments

If you do an internet search for 'cinnamon ornaments' or 'cinnamon applesauce ornaments', you'll find dozens of different recipes. In general, the recipes are one part 'wet ingredients' to just over one part 'dry ingredients'. The main wet ingredient is applesauce, the main dry ingredient is cinnamon, so you CAN make them from a dough made entirely from cinnamon and applesauce. I combined several recipes, and ended up using approximately 3 cups applesauce (that's how much was in the jar)and 1/4 cup of white glue to approximately 3 cups cinnamon + a half cup of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. I mixed it all together and made a very sticky dough, and that's when it all went wrong :D

Mix all your ingredients together into a dough. If your dough is too sticky, you can add more cinnamon, put the dough in the refrigerator for a while, or both. *I* followed the directions on a recipe that said 'roll your dough between two sheets of either plastic wrap or waxed paper'. For the first batch, I rolled my dough between my waxed paper to 1/4" thick, as suggested. The thing about waxed paper is that it is, in fact, a very thin paper with some wax on it, so if we get it wet enough, as this dough did, the paper starts to disintegrate. Halfway through cutting them out, I gave up, salvaged the ornaments I could and put them in the oven, kneaded more cinnamon into my dough (while trying to be sure I picked out all the disintegrating waxed paper), then popped it into the fridge for two hours. I flipped the first batch of ornaments every 45 minutes for 2.5 hours, and there was minimal curling. For the second batch, I sprinkled more cinnamon onto my counter and rolled the dough to about 1/2" thick. This batch is currently still in the oven. They were already starting to curl a bit when I turned them after 45 minutes. Keep in mind when choosing your designs that these shrink quite a bit as they dry, so you'll want your cut outs to be at least 20% bigger than you want your finished product to be. You can also let them air dry, but they need to be turned every few hours, and it might take several days for them to dry, depending on how thick they are.

Cost for about 5 dozen ornaments:

Applesauce $1 for jar
Cinnamon 2 large jars $1 each (found these at the dollar tree)
Cookie cutters (or you could just make cardboard patterns and cut them with a knife)

I had all the other ingredients already, which is why I added them, so $3 plus less than $1 in materials I already had for 5 dozen ornaments, equals less than $1 a dozen, even if you spend $1 on a pack of cookie cutters from the dollar tree.

Things I would do differently if I were to do these again:

1. I think I'd leave out the glue. I'm not sure exactly what it's purpose was supposed to be, but this dough was SO sticky that I nearly tossed it into the trash after fifteen minutes.
2. I'd roll it out thicker than I did the first time--these shrink quite a bit as a they dry, so 1/2" to 3/4" is what I would try.
3. Plastic wrap, not waxed paper.
4. SIMPLE cookie cutters--my son tried to use some cookie cutters that had details (like a snowman with the features, scarf, etc drawn in) and the dough stuck to it.

These smell divine, and it is very easy to knead unused dough and re-roll it (especially important if your helper, like mine, sees no need to actually cut one ornament near another when he can space it just far enough that you can't fit another between them). Those are the only things I liked about this project. I was nervous about letting my six year old help, and wouldn't allow my 3 year olds to help--I was afraid that the spices would irritate their skin or get into their eyes. The stickiness was probably due to the glue, but it made this the most frustrating project I've done EVER! Worst of all, my husband took one look at them and said "They're not really very festive, are they?" Which, all things considered, was much nicer than what Nicky said--he pointed at the pile of dough on the counter and said "EWW!! Poopy!!!" :P Still, though, with some homespun fabric tied through them, these are very much in the primitive style that's in right now, and they're not very expensive.

UPDATE: After giving it a few weeks for the frustration to wear off, I actually like these ornaments :D Part of the problem with the dough, I think, was the glue, and part of it was simply inexperience on my part. I may actually do these again someday, but I won't add the glue, I'll add more dry ingredients, and I'll pop the dough in the refrigerator to chill before trying to work with it.

Handmade Decorations -- Recycled Magazines

I found THIS tutorial yesterday, and I went NUTS over it! I love package bows, have even been known to tuck them into the branches of my tree (or my hair :P), but they really just seem like an unnecessary expense. I'm also not crazy about the shiny-metallic colors, and once again, that plastic ribbon can not be healthy for a kid to chew on. These bows are made from magazines, and they tend to have a nice, slightly muted color scheme, and they're paper, so if your child or pet munches on one, it's no big deal. They're super easy, too, and almost addictive--once I got into the rhythm, I didn't want to stop making them!

A few notes:

1. There's no way these bows take 30 minutes, unless you count how long it took my brain to figure out exactly how to twist-and-loop the paper strip to make it just right. After the first one, they take just a few minutes each.

2. The length of the strips isn't as important as the proportions--I used one set of much longer strips to make a larger bow, and a set of shorter ones to make a smaller bow. The shorter ones were harder to manipulate, and harder to put together. The final loop covers a LOT of mistakes, but play with it a little to make sure you get the look you want. I made a few with final loops that were too big or too small, and they just didn't look right.

3. I used a stapler to put my entire bow together. This caused some crushing issues. In the future, I'll use a stapler to put everything but the final loop on, then glue or tape for the loop. You could also, of course, use glue or double sided tape for the entire project--I just like my stapler.

4. Pay attention to the color scheme of the page you choose. I was recycling a Wine Spectator magazine, and the colors of the ads tend to be much more sophisticated than the ads in say Woman's Day or Family Fun (which I won't be cutting up anyway, thank you very much. That mag ROCKS! :P), which are brighter and bolder. The pages I chose from Wine Spectator were shades of brown, grey, and white, and were very well-suited to adult or men's gifts.

I was thinking about the lack of garland or beads for our tree, and used another page with a similar color scheme to make a paper chain (just like in elementary school--cut multiple strips of paper of the same length, form the first strip into a loop, glue or staple, push a second strip through the loop to form an interlocking loop, staple, repeat until you get the length you need). Once again, I LOVED the look of the sophisticated colors from the magazine!! I was balking against the idea of brightly colored construction paper on my Christmas tree, and I think this will be a nice substitute--with the added bonus of recycling a magazine to make it :D

UPDATE: I still love the idea of the muted color scheme, but you can see in the picture of our tree overall that you should be careful about how you put it together--my chain has a few feet of alot of white, a few feet of a lot of orange, a few feet of a lot of brown . . . You get the idea :P Those darker colors seem to 'disappear' into the tree, and I'm not sure I like that (there is paper chain draped the entire length of the tree, a total of five rows, but in my opinion you can only really see the three rows in the middle)

But the chain itself is still nice, in my opinion, and I'm quite glad we chose to do this over using the beads or tinsel garland we've used in the past.


I ran across this idea while searching for more holiday crafts using recycled magazines. Not sure if we'll do it, but it's cute :D

Christmas Tree & Ornaments (scroll to the bottom for the links to directions)

Frugal Holidays Pt 2 Handmade Decorations

The first year my husband and I were married, I scoured antique shops, ebay, and thrift stores to put together a collection of vintage ornaments, just like the ones I remembered my mother having when I was a kid. For the first couple of years we were married, my husband joked (with a half-frightened look on his face) about how long it took me to decorate our tree every year. I spent hours--sometimes days--making sure that each of those beautiful ornaments was hung perfectly. Soon, though, we realized why my mom always had a 4 foot tree on a 2 foot high table until my brother and I were teens--those gorgeous ornaments are not only tempting to little hands, but also dangerous. So, the vintage ornaments are packed away, never to be seen until my own children are teens. The past few years our tree has been a combination of plastic and wooden ornaments with a few handcrafted or special ornaments thrown in, but this year, we've challenged ourselves to do something different.

1. At least 90% of our tree decorations will be handmade. We will have electric lights, and possibly a few special ornaments. I'm wishy-washy about the topper, but everything else will be made by hand.

2. Everyone in the house will contribute. Noone wants this to become another craft project mom obsesses about, and what's the point of a handmade tree if all of the kids aren't involved?

3. As much as possible, materials will be recycled rather than purchased.

4. There will be little to no glitter (it's messy, and I'm not convinced it's safe to eat--Nathan WILL eat it. His shiny-obsessed, texture-exploring mind won't allow him to resist.)

5. I will not freak out if something is not perfect, but rather enjoy the beauty of it's imperfection.

I'll try to blog about each different project, as well as some that I'm interested in but may not get to. I hope you enjoy it, and please don't hesitate to post/email your own ideas!

Frugal Holidays, Pt 1 Pumpkin Tartlets

I didn't REALLY abandon my blog. I just ignored it shamelessly while dealing with life's insanities :D But I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things. I've challenged myself to blog at least 3 projects a week through Christmas, focussing on bringing the insanity of the holidays under control. I may muse on my reasons for doing this later, but right now, I want to talk pumpkin.

Last week, the twins' preschool class had a Thanksgiving celebration, and I wanted to cook something. Problem was that I also had 3 writing assignments, 3 quizzes, and an exam due BEFORE the party! So I headed over to to try to find a quick, easy, and frugal recipe. My back up plan was a pecan pie from walmart's bakery, which cost $7 for 2 (2 to give 16 servings, and also because the cashier dropped the first one, then put it into the bag upside down!! There was NO WAY I was taking that to school :( ). I found this great little recipe with a 15 minute prep time! I had the ingredients on hand, but I've listed the prices beside the items most people wouldn't already have in their kitchen:

100-Calorie Pumpkin Pie Tartlets
16 (2 1/2-inch) foil baking cups (>$1 pack of 50)
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (~$1 for a box)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 can (15 oz.) LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin ($1.50 for Libby brand)
1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Fat Free Milk ($0.69 for generic)
1 cup fat free whipped topping ($1.50 for a bowl--I actually paid $2 for reddiwhip)
12 small gingersnap cookies, broken into 1/4-inch pieces (Bag of unbroken cookies $2)
PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Place baking cups on baking sheet with sides. Spray each cup with cooking spray.

COMBINE sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt in small bowl. Beat egg whites in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Spoon 1/4 to 1/3 cup of mixture into each prepared cup.

BAKE for 25 to 28 minutes or until knife inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool on baking sheet for 20 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Top each with whipped topping and gingersnap crumbs.

A few notes:

1. I don't know if it was because I used my stand mixer to make the batter or what, but I used 1/2 cup of batter per prepared cup instead of the 1/4 to 1/3 in the recipe, and I still made 21 tarts instead of 16. Good news for calorie counters--same ingredients, so fewer calories :D

2. I'm not sure you really NEED the foil cups instead of the more cost effective paper cups. I had some foil ones left over from my son's Star Wars party and just used those, but I may try the paper ones next time just to see what happens.

3. I bought cute little gingerbread man-shaped gingersnaps, sprayed some reddi-whip on each tartlet, then stuck my little ginger-man into the whipped topping whole. It was an adorable presentation, but a mistake taste wise--the gingersnaps really add to the flavor of the tarts. If you choose to decorate as I did, be sure to either sprinkle crushed cookies as well OR use some melted butter to make crusts in the foil cups before baking. I think I'm going to try the second method for Thanksgiving.

I estimate that this recipe cost between $7-$8, counting fractional amounts for the spices, cooking spray, sugar, and cornstarch (ie, since I had them on hand, I didn't include in the estimate the cost of an entire container, but rather the approximate cost of the amount I used). This made 21 servings, so for the sake of easy math, less than $0.40 per serving for what turned out to be a very impressive-looking dessert.

Wash It Up--Make Your Own Laundry detergent, Pt 3

I have now been making my own laundry detergent for four months, and I LOVE it. It costs SO much less than commercial detergent, works great, and is super easy to do. My standard recipe is now:

2 cups oxygen detergent (I use the generic one from the dollar tree)
1 box baking soda
1 cup washing soda (aka soda ash, I order it from
1 cup Borax (also ordered from
8-10 drops of essential oils

The oxygen cleaner comes with a scoop (about 2 tablespoons, I would guess) and I use one scoop of this mixture per load of laundry.

In the past four months, I have spent about $15 on making this detergent (not including the essential oils). As I stated in an earlier post, I do, on average, 3 loads of laundry a day, so this detergent has cost me approximately $0.04 per load, versus $0.15-$0.22 per load for commercial detergent, a savings of more than 70%!!

Earlier posts on this topic:
Frugal in the Laundry Room
Wash It Up: Make Your Own Laundry Detergent Pt 1
Wash It Up: Make Your Own Laundry Detergent Pt 2

Quick cleaning tips

1. To clean a coffee grinder, put 1/4 cup of uncooked rice in and run the cycle. All the built-up coffee and gunk comes right out!

2. For the coffee pot itself--run the entire cycle with vinegar instead of water, and of course no coffee. If your coffee pot is extremely dirty, you may need to do this a couple of times. Follow up with plain water.

3. Alternately, you can use alka-seltzer to clean your coffee pot. Fill the reservoir with water and drop in 2 alka seltzer. Once the fizzing stops, run the cycle. Again, follow with plain water.

4. Those alka seltzer can also be used to clean a toilet. Drop in 3-4 tablets and let it work for about 20 minutes. A quick swish with the toilet brush and you'll be set! This is a great way to clean your toilet before using the Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Cleaner gel disks, which I LOVE.

Wash it up--Make your own laundry detergent, Pt 2

When I posted this article, I promised to follow up when I made my next batch. The first batch (made from Ivory soap, Borax, and Washing Soda) cost less than $3 for the entire batch, and lasted about three weeks (or for 50 loads or so of laundry). While it cleaned my clothes well, anything washed in cold water (which is most of my laundry) was left with tiny flakes of undissolved Ivory soap on it. So for the second batch, I followed my friend Amanda's recipe--2 cups of 'oxygen' cleaner (she used Oxiclean, I used a generic version from the dollar tree), a cup of washing soda, and a cup of borax. I've been using this batch for about a week, and it works very well, dissolves well, and leaves my clothes very clean. I only have two issues with it, one of which is entirely my fault :P.

First--There is a fine dust that is stirred up when I open the container I keep the detergent in. I'm not sure what it is, and it makes me a little nervous. I try not to breathe it in, and I won't even open the container with one of my boys nearby. This 'dust' may be absolutely nothing, but I'm not comfortable with it, and I certainly would recommend a different recipe for asthmatics. As I didn't notice it with the first batch, I suspect it's the oxygen cleaner, but again, I can't be sure.

Second--this is the one that's my fault. After the first couple of loads, I noticed that my clothes didn't smell. At all. They didn't smell BAD, they just didn't have a scent at all. So I added some essential oils to the mix. I intended to add some Jasmine, but for some reason when I reached into the collection of oils, I grabbed a lavendar & chamomile mix my husband once bought me because it was supposed to help with insomnia. I'm not a fan of lavender anyway, and now when I do my laundry my entire house smells like little old lady :P So, you can add 8-10 drops of essential oils of your choice to this mixture. But I don't suggest chamomile & lavender :P

For other tips on saving money in the laundry room, go to this post.

Quick Tip--Non-Skid Socks

Thanks bunches to Tabitha Black for this one.

Non-skid Socks cost $3 and up a pair, but with wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring becoming more popular, they are more and more necessary to keep little feet warm. My twins spend a lot of time in footie pajamas, but the non-skid stuff on the bottoms of those wears off long before they outgrow them. Thanks to Tabitha, I now know that I can make my own non-skid socks or repair worn footie jammies for pennies! All you need is a bottle of dimensional paint ($0.97 in the craft section of my local walmart). Just follow the instructions on the bottle. I think Tabitha said she stamped or drew designs with hers--I just drew lines. Works great. Thanks Tabitha!! Be sure to check out Tabitha's etsy shop--her handmade jewelry is beautiful AND affordable!

Frugal in the Laundry Room

We have five people living in our house. Of those, one is a preschooler, and two are toddlers. In addition, the two adults try to workout daily, and one of those wears heavyweight sweats to work out in. All of this adds up to about 3 loads of laundry a day. Commercial laundry detergent costs $0.15-$0.25 per load, liquid fabric softener another $0.10+ per load. Add the costs of bleach ($0.05-$0.10 per load), dryer sheets ($0.03-$0.07 each), water and electricity, and our family could spend over $500 a year on laundry alone!! While $10 a week doesn't SOUND like a lot, $500 a year could pay for a mini vacation for the entire family.

Laundry detergent is a big expense when doing laundry. The absolute cheapest way to go is to make your own. I recently made my first attempt at powdered detergent, and will be following a different recipe soon. It's REALLY easy, and I love that I know exactly what's in it, and can adjust the ingredients to accomodate my sons' sensitive skin. However, if making your own is not for you, there are other ways to cut costs in the laundry room.

1. Coupons + sales can cut your laundry detergent budget in half or more. When you find a GREAT deal on a detergent you like, STOCK UP. As long as it doesn't freeze or boil, the detergent should be just fine, and it's not like you won't use it eventually. A local grocery store had Purex detergent on sale 2 bottles for $3. At the same time, there was a coupon out for $1 off a bottle, so I utilized a coupon clipper and literally cleared the store shelves TWICE. This was over two years ago, and I'm just now running out of detergent. With inflation, this detergent is now selling for about $4 a bottle in my area, so by storing the detergent in a corner of my garage, I saved well over $500 on laundry detergent over the past two years.

2. Use less detergent. I once read a post on a forum I vist by a mom of six who was complaining about laundry detergent only being available in 'concentrated' forms, because for years she had only been using about a tablespoon of detergent per load. At first, I thought it was insane. Then I tried it. As long as the clothes are 'normal' dirty, rather than heavily soiled, I can use about a tablespoon of commercial detergent PER LOAD without a noticable difference in performance! I kept track for one bottle--a bottle labeled for 32 loads did 67 loads, and my clothes were just as clean as they had been using the recommended amount of detergent. Try using half the recommended amount, and see if there's a difference in your laundry if you're skeptical. Everyone I know who has tried this has said there was NO difference in the cleanliness of their laundry. If you follow just these first two steps, cutting the costs of detergent by 50% and using half as much per load, you will save 75% on your laundry detergent costs.

3. Substitute another product. While it takes a bit of trial and error to get the amounts right, you can substitute dish soap, hand soap, shampoo, or bodywash for laundry detergent. In general, you only need about a tablespoon per load. As these products produce more suds than your average laundry detergent, you should NOT use this option in a HE machine. Also, don't use products with added conditioners, lotions, etc, as these can build up on your clothes (though a cup of vinegar in the rinse should take care of that problem, in a pinch). Dawn dishwashing detergent is the absolute best product to use when washing greasy clothing or kitchen towels, so if someone in your household is a chef, short order cook, or mechanic, you should definitely add Dawn to your laundry room.

4. Fabric Softener. If you use both liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets, then your fabric softener costs could easily outpace your detergent costs. Of course, you could only use one or the other. You can also use alternative products--for example, green² Laundry Dryer Balls are $8 for a 2-pack on These go into your dryer instead of dryer sheets, each one lasts up to six months, and they not only prevent static, but also cut drying time by up to 25%. (A couple of tennis balls tossed into your dryer along with your clothing will also decrease drying time, and allow you to dry bulky items like comforters or ski clothes). White vinegar is an AWESOME fabric softener and rinse agent (you know how your towels tend to get kind of stiff and scratchy after a while? That's from soap and detergent build up--a cup or so of vinegar in the rinse cycle and they'll be soft and fluffy again!), and is also a disinfectant that is safe to use on dark clothes--VERY important if you have little ones in the house! I use two downy balls for my laundry--one holds about a half-cup of vinegar, the other about a half capful of my favorite liquid fabric softener (Snuggle Exhilarations Lavender and Sandalwood Twist smells DIVINE, and is about $4 for a 50-load bottle at my local walmart). I also add vinegar to the wash cycle for any clothing that needs disinfecting. And the vinegar rinses clean, so your clothes do NOT smell like vinegar.

You can make your own dryer sheets. I have already said I LOVE that designer scent fabric softener, but I don't like to pay for the 'matching' dryer sheets. So, I keep one capful of fabric softener mixed with a quart of water in a lidded container in my laundry room, dip a sponge or old washcloth into the mixture, squeeze out most of the liquid, then toss it into the dryer with my clothes. This mixture lasts for 20 loads or more, at a cost of about $0.08 per batch, or less than 1/20 of the cost of those designer dryer sheets. Plus my hands smell awesome afterwards :P

5. Wash your clothes less often. Bulky sweaters and jeans take up a lot of room in the laundry, so airing a pair of jeans and a sweater and wearing them one more time before washing is a great way to cut down on laundry costs. Towels may also be hung to dry and used again (I tend to dry my babies on a towel at night, then hang it to use myself the next morning. Be careful doing this with family members with sensitive skin, though--your soap or shampoo could cause a rash or eczema flare up, and taking care of THAT will cost a lot more than doing an extra load of laundry.

Wash it up--homemade laundry detergent

I recently made my first foray into homemade laundry detergent. I wanted to attempt the version that was easiest to store and required the least amount of work to make, so I grated two bars of Ivory soap, and mixed it with one cup of Borax and one cup of washing soda (also known as soda ash). I was less than ecstatic with the results--while it works fine in hot water, clothing washed in cold water tends to come out of the machine with little flakes of ivory soap all over it. I have taken to using it only for whites, linens, and dark towels, and pajamas, and using purchased detergent for our clothing. Considering that I do an average of 18 loads of laundry a week, using this homemade detergent on 2/3 of them still saves us a significant amount of money (It works out to about a nickel a load, versus about $0.15 a load for Purex or about $0.22 per load for Tide). However, I will be trying a new recipe next week, substituting oxygen laundry booster for the ivory soap. In the mean time, I put two tablespoons of detergent directly into the machine before the laundry for my whites, and I put two tablespoons into a mason jar with a cup of hot water to use with dark towels/pajamas. Since homemade laundry detergent does not have added rinse agents, I also add vinegar to the rinse cycle to help rinse the soap out. I put my vinegar into a downy ball and drop it in at the beginning of the wash.

Here are a few sites with laundry detergent recipes if you'd like to try it yourself:

Ten Homemade Laundry Soap Recipes
Make Your Own Laundry Soap
The Simple Dollar: How to make your own laundry detergent and The detailed visual guide
Suite 101: Making your own laundry detergent

If making your own laundry detergent isn't for you, you can still save money in the laundry room. Check out Frugal in the Laundry Room for more.