Monday, April 27, 2015

Coupon Binder Organization for People Who Have Very Little Free Time

I recently got into couponing.  I read a blog post and thought, "Hmm, I could do that."  Then I read up about couponing at CVS and thought, "How the $#@! did I not know about ExtraCare Bucks???"  I can't believe I've literally been throwing money in the garbage for the last ten years.  Giant head smack!

So I began very simply:  I got an accordion folder off of Amazon for about $10.  It has 12 slots.  Each week I get two copies of the newspaper and put the coupon inserts into one slot.  The following week I put the coupon inserts into the next slot.  After 12 weeks your box is full.  Pull out the coupons from the original slot.  Most of them have expired by now but cut out any coupons you really want that are still good.  Recycle the rest and use that slot for next week's coupons.  I bought one similar to this:

Then I got a small accordion file to take with me shopping.  It holds all of my already-cut-out coupons sorted by category (baby stuff, canned goods, bread, produce, etc.) and all of my store loyalty cards.
Here's mine. I really like it because it has a velcro strap to loop around the shopping cart handle, which keeps it open so you can see what's in there and dig around with only one hand. 

The theory is that you go to your favorite couponing web site (since I live in the southeast mine is - she has a list of grocery stores common in this area, whereas other couponing sites might have stores on the west coast or in the midwest) and create your shopping list.  For example, you got the Sunday paper and saw in the Bi-Lo circular that they were having a huge buy one-get one sale.  You go to and click on Bi-Lo.  This site gives you a list of everything that's on sale at least 40% off and tells you which coupons to use to make it even better!

So let's say Ronzoni pasta is on sale B1G1 for $2.00.  They tell you there's a coupon from the May 5th paper in the RedPlum insert for $0.50 off when you buy one.  You have two of these coupons.  Bi-Lo doubles coupons up to $0.60 so that makes this coupon worth $1 instead of only $0.50.  You buy two pastas for a total of $2.00, use your two coupons, and get $2 off.  Voila!  It was FREE.  God bless couponing.  You can print coupons for free from various web sites like too.  You get to print two of each coupon per computer, so if you have two laptops and a desktop at your house you can legally print six of the same coupon.  When Tide Pods have a coupon for $2 off you can bet your keister that I print out six of 'em!

Here's the problem - I'm lazy and/or disorganized when I go shopping.  I always have my small folder of clipped coupons but I never bring the giant accordion file with me, so half the time I'm in the store and see a great deal but I don't have the appropriate coupons with me.  This really puts me in a bad mood.  I'm serious!  If I have to pay $3 for spaghetti sauce when I know I could have gotten four of them for a quarter each it really ticks me off.  I know, I need to get a life.

Enter the coupon binder.  It's a 3-ring binder that you fill with clear plastic sleeves to organize all your coupons.  You take it with you to the store and never forget a coupon again.  Yes, you kind of look like a dork.  I'm ok with that.  When I get to the check stand and my total rings up before coupons at $150, and then it comes down to $89, I embrace my inner dork!  I bought mine at Staples for $15 but this is very similar to what I got.

However, you spend a LOT of time up front clipping coupons.  And you don't want to clip every coupon, just the ones you know you'll use.  Even only clipping the ones I wanted from two sets of inserts took me well over an hour.  I did it during nap time and still wasn't done when the baby woke up.

So I came up with my own version of the coupon binder.  It's kind of a hybrid method and so far it's working out very well.  Here's the gist of it:

1)  Buy some 3 pocket currency holder sleeves and baseball card sleeves.  Each week print online coupons and clip ONLY the ones you plan to use right away.  Put them into these sleeves in your binder.

2) Buy clear sheet protectors and put the whole coupon inserts into them.  I usually put the SmartSource inserts in one and the RedPlum in another one, and Proctor & Gamble in a third for each week.  Put them in the binder.

3) Get some tabbed dividers and separate the clipped coupons into categories.  There are a ton of web sites that have free downloads to print.  KrazyCouponLady and CouponingToDisney are two that I like.  Print out the categories to organize your binder if you like.

4)  Here's the most important part - MAKE A SHOPPING LIST BEFORE YOU GO TO THE STORE!  It seems pretty obvious but this was my hardest challenge.  I made a quick list of what I wanted to get but didn't bother to make sure I had all the coupons with me before I left the house.  Then I got to the store with Baby #2, who is NOT a good shopper and can't keep his hands to himself, I'd get flustered because he's screaming like a banshee, I can't find the coupons I need, get mad at myself for not being more prepared, and go check out without having saved as much as I wanted.

Sooooooo, be sure to have your shopping list prepared before you go.

But if you hate clipping coupons, or you fall off the wagon, here's the best trick I've learned.  EVERYTHING in the store has a lowest price.  Have you noticed how Captain Crunch will be $2.50 one week, $3.50, the next, and $4 the next?  Most grocery stores around here have a 6-8 week cycle.  So if Captain Crunch is priced at $2/box this week it will probably be that price again in 6-8 weeks.  You'll have to pay attention for two months and go to the store every week.  When you notice the best price you've ever seen on something you already buy, write down the date and price.  Buy enough of that item to last 6-8 weeks.  So maybe instead of buying 1 or 2 boxes of Captain Crunch you buy 10.  If you have coupons, then you really score!  But if not you'll still save a ton of money this way.

I have periods where I'm all about couponing, and phases where I get burned out and can't be bothered.  But I try to never buy anything unless it's at its lowest price, or on sale at least 40% off.  As long as I do that I don't need a coupon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

No Poo update - One year and counting!

It's now April 2015 and I've had many changes to my hair routine in the last year.  In my original post here I talked about trying no poo with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.  I ended up using low poo products, SheaMoisture products in particular, until Christmas of 2014.  But my hair was still dry.  I was washing every 4-5 days but I admit, I was using my beloved InStyler to straighten my hair several times a week.  And coloring my roots with boxed dye from the drugstore every three weeks or so.  I wasn't happy with how it felt or how it looked without loads of product.

So I discovered a group on Facebook for No Poo and Low Poo enthusiasts and read up on different methods.  On Dec. 30th I began a new quest for healthy hair.

For those of you unfamiliar with the No Poo movement (he he he, I couldn't resist!) here it is in a nutshell:  stop using commercially made shampoo and conditioner.  Styling products too.  Wash your hair with homemade concoctions.  I'm not a dirty hippie.  I don't go weeks without bathing.  I don't smell nasty, I don't look oily.  My hair usually has no scent at all, which kind of bugs me to be honest.  I will often add essential oils to my potions to make my hair smell yummy, or put some on my hair brush.  I don't want to be that woman who walks into a room and everyone gags from the overpowering fragrance, but a little bit of scent is lovely.

It's been quite a journey of experimentation.  I tried water only, then acid only.  I washed occasionally with egg yolks, shampoo bars, or low poo to get out any hot oil treatments that I did.  I tried every conditioning rinse under the sun.  I made my own hair gel, leave in conditioner, hairspray, and sea salt spray.  Some things were a total failure but that's how you learn, right?

Here are some before and after photos.

The top two photos are from my low poo days and the bottom two are what my hair looks like now.  My hair looked nice in the before photos, right?  That took a TON of styling product to smooth it down and total dependence on a blow dryer and flat iron to style it.  Plus frequent dying to cover my grays (gaaaaah!) Air drying without product was simply not an option.  Here's what it looked like air dried:

Ok, to be fair, that was in Key West in July, quite possibly the most humid place on earth.  South Florida in the height of summer is the armpit of hell.  But still, not a good look.

So what did I do to improve the health of my hair and save a chunk of money to boot?

Five Commandments of Hair Health

#1:  Thou shalt not use anything on your hair with the word iron in it.  That means you, curling iron.  You too, flat iron.  Blow dryers are ok on low heat only!  And only occasionally.  But 90% of the time or more I let my hair air dry.

#2:  Stop using harsh, chemical-laden hair color and start using henna.  Henna is a plant.  They pick the leaves, dry them, and grind them up, just like basil or oregano.  You buy the henna powder and mix it up with the liquid of your choice (water, tea, vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, coconut milk, etc.) to make this green mud that's the consistency of pudding.  It's bizarre and it smells like wet hay.  You apply it to your hair and leave it on for hours instead of minutes.  I'm not gonna lie, it ain't pretty.  I spend my day praying the UPS guy doesn't ring my doorbell.  But it is GOOD for your hair.  It's so good, you can do it every week if you want to.  I color my roots now once every 2-3 weeks and I'm doing zero damage to my hair.  In fact, I'm conditioning it.  If you don't want red hair you can try indigo or cassia, or a blend to get the right color for you.  It requires more advance planning, to be sure, but it's no more difficult than dying your hair at home with a box of Nice N Easy and it costs waaaaay less than going to the salon.  And it doesn't fade.  It is truly permanent.  I've heard it said that henna is not a fling, it's a marriage.  I thought long and hard about going this route due to its commitment but I'm so glad I did!

#3:  Wash your hair no more often than every four days.  Even if you don't do the whole no poo thing.  Here's my very unscientific take on traditional shampoo:

Shampoo is designed to remove every ounce of oil from your hair.  Especially if it uses sodium laurel/laureth sulfate.  That will degrease your driveway.  Unfortunately it removes all the natural oils too (namely your sebum) which is good for your hair. Sebum protects your hair, conditions it, and lubricates your scalp.  Remove it all and you will have dry hair and scalp, so you spend lots of money on artificial products to replace all the oil you just stripped out.  When I used to use drugstore shampoo there was no way, absolutely NO WAY, I could not follow it with conditioner.  It felt like straw in the shower, I couldn't detangle it, and looked hideously awful.  I used twice as much conditioner as I did shampoo and because I have thick hair, it was not uncommon for me to use a whole bottle of conditioner in a week or two.  But I digress...

When you wash with shampoo your scalp says, "Oh crap!  She just removed all the sebum.  Let's make more, pronto."  So the next day you're already oily, and the day after that you look like you haven't bathed in three weeks.  So you feel like you HAVE to wash your hair.  Then your scalp says, "Dammit!  She did it again!  Ok, back to the drawing board."  So it's a never-ending cycle. The more you wash your hair, the more you have to wash your hair.

How do we fix this?  Stop using products that strip all the oil from your hair, and stop washing daily.  If you're not ready for no poo, use low poo products.  That means no sulfates, no silicones, no parabens.  Not in your shampoo, not in your conditioner, not in your styling products.  Not ever.  Then start washing your hair every 4 days.  You will be a greasy, nasty looking mess for a while.  Will that be a week, a month, six months?  It's different for everybody.  How greasy your scalp gets now and how often you wash now plays a big part in this transitional period.  For me, it was super short.  I had a week of looking greasy and that was it.  Hopefully your hair is long enough to put in a bun, french braid, or other undo.  Invest in lots of headbands and cute scarves.  They will camouflage your nasty roots until your scalp gets the memo and says, "Oh!  The sebum is still there.  No need to make more.  Got it."

#4:  Thou shalt feed your hair with food from your kitchen.

If you want to go even further, stop using anything on your hair except all natural (usually food) products.  You can wash your hair with raw eggs, castile soap mixed with coconut milk, rye flour, honey and aloe, soapnuts, shampoo bars, baking soda, oat milk… the list goes on and on.  You can wash your scalp with nothing but water too.  I've never struggled with an oily scalp, except for that first week of transition.  My issue has always been dryness, even though I now live in the hot and humid south.  I  tried acid only (AO) for a long time, which is where you don't use anything that removes oil on your hair since there's really none to remove.  I used lots of ingredients that are conditioning, like coconut water, molasses, coconut milk and aloe, honey, coffee, tea, and beer.  The problem is that I want some sebum!  I want to be able to brush my hair before bed and have it be smooth and glossy and feel amazing.  If there's no sebum to distribute down the length of my hair it just gets dried out.  

So now I'm washing every 4 days with coconut milk and castile soap using this recipe:  I am washing more frequently to increase sebum production, which is the exact opposite of what most people need.  I'm just weird that way.  I don't have dandruff or an itchy scalp, thank goodness, but my scalp just doesn't get greasy.  I have not washed for three weeks at a time (I would usually get my hair wet and scrub my scalp with water every 2-3 days, then follow with some sort of conditioning rinse) but my scalp was never oily.  Maybe this will help my scalp produce enough sebum to protect and condition my hair without making it greasy.  That's my plan anyway.  It's only been two weeks so the jury is still out.  Because castile soap is extremely alkaline you need to use an acid rinse afterwards to restore your hair's pH balance so I use a cup of water with a spoonful of lemon juice in it. 

I like to do lots of deep conditioning too since I'm trying to make up for years of harsh treatment of my poor hair.  The best conditioner I've ever used is this recipe below.

Mix one part canned coconut milk (the fewer ingredients, the better) with three parts aloe vera juice or gel (found in health food stores or in the laxative section of places like Walmart.)  Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.  Drop one cube in a cup of hot water and let it dissolve.  Then dunk your ends into the mixture first.  Pour the rest over your head, comb through with a wide tooth comb, cover with a shower cap, and leave on for 5-60 minutes.  I like 20 minutes under a hood dryer on low heat.  Then rinse with cool water.  Don't use two ice cubes thinking more is better.  Coconut milk is full of healthy fats and therefore oily, so use too much and you won't be able to get it out without washing.  One cube is just right.  I should say that I have very thick, coarse hair.  It's not fine and I have a ton of it.  If you have fine, oily hair you might apply only from the ears down, or use even less than one cube.  You may need to experiment if it weighs down your hair or makes it look oily.

5: Thou shalt scour YouTube and the internet for no heat curling methods.  Seriously headband curls and sock buns are my best friend these days.

This is from an overnight sock bun.  Just put a bun on the top of your head before bed and wake up to big, loose curls.  There is no product in my hair, I swear to you.  No gel, no hairspray, no silicone serum.  I rub some jojoba oil or argan oil on my palms and smooth them over my hair if it looks frizzy, but that's the extent of my routine these days.  Here's the tutorial:

This is from scarf curls.  I took this photo at 7:30 pm, so you can see they had lasted all day and still looked great.

The curls above are headband curls.  You would swear I used a big barrel curling iron, wouldn't you?  I made my own tutorial since most versions give you a big flat spot on the crown, which I hate.  I need big hair!

Straightening using ginormous velcro rollers.  It's really interesting the way my hair color changes in different lighting.  Sometimes it's dark brown, sometimes it's deep red, and in the sun it's super red.

And last but not least, more scarf curls.  I used smaller sections and ended up with spiral curls.

You'll notice how much my hair has grown too!  I really should have measured it before I began this journey but the photo below is from November 2014.  I had just gotten it cut and colored at the salon. She used all kinds of straightening serums, a blow dryer with a round brush, and a flat iron.

The photo above is from January 7th, roughly 10 days into my new no poo endeavor.  My hair still looked frizzy and damaged, but I had washed the day before with egg yolks so it wasn't greasy.  (Don't get me started on my love of egg washes.  Egg yolks remove oil from your greasy roots like nothing else I've tried.  And they're conditioning and full of protein too, so they are good for your hair!)  This was after air drying with no product.

This one I just took last week on April 20th after a recent henna application.  This was after air drying and I think I had used some aloe juice as a leave in conditioner.  I mix it 50/50 with water, put it in a spray bottle, and spray it in after I get out of the shower.  I definitely need a trim along the bottom but now that it's growing so much I don't want to cut it!  And look how shiny it is.  That's from the henna, lots of deep treatments with coconut milk and aloe, and overnight oiling.  (That's where I massage jojoba oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or whatever suits me that day into my scalp at bedtime.  I comb it through, put it up in a bun, sleep on it, and wash it out the next day with the castile soap/coconut milk shampoo.)

You be the judge!  Seems to be working to me.

Healthy chocolate milk you can feel good about giving your kids!

I admit it.  I'm a coconut fiend.  I love all things coconut.  The water, the milk, the oil, the flesh.  

I drink it, I bake with it, I cook with it, I use it for diaper rash cream, I rubbed it on my belly to prevent stretch marks, I put it in body lotion, I wash and condition my hair with it.  Why it has never occurred to me to make chocolate coconut milk before, I have no idea.  But after a recent trip to Costco where my 2-year old sucked down three free samples of chocolate almond milk in record time, I knew I had to make something myself that would be a) healthier, and b) cheaper.  

So why not just make chocolate almond milk?  Um, did you miss my opening statement?  Plus, coconut is a helluva lot cheaper than almonds.  So let's begin!

Unsweetened shredded coconut
Unsweetened cocoa powder (or raw cacao if you can find it)
Pure maple syrup or agave
Optional:  pure vanilla and/or sea salt
Also optional:  a few spinach leaves

  • Add 4 cups of water and 2 cups of coconut to a high speed blender.
  • (One bag of the coconut I bought is exactly two cups.)  
  • Mix on high for a good minute or two.
  • Strain the pulp out using a fine mesh sieve, a nut milk bag, cheesecloth, even coffee filters.  I used my well-used nut milk bag, which is now purple due to straining elderberry syrup through it once last winter.  It's honestly not as grungy as it looks, I promise.

Adding spinach is totally optional.  It really has no taste if you use a small amount but it does make the chocolate milk turn a bit green if you use too much.  So just add a few leaves.  Once you add the cocoa and the other ingredients if it's still too green you can always add a smidge more cocoa.

I just put my bag inside the pitcher like so and pour it in.

This is the lazy way to strain.  Just hang it from your cabinet handles and let gravity do the work, especially if you used hot water and now the bag is too $#@! hot to touch.  Not that I'd know this from personal experience or anything.

After it's cool enough to handle, squeeze the bag until you get all the coconut milk out that you possibly can.  

NOW STOP!  If you want, you can put this in the fridge as is and have coconut milk to use for all sorts of things.  Use it in thai recipes like this one, or make your own shampoo like this. Or continue on to make chocolate coconut milk.

Rinse out the Vitamix container to get rid of the pulp bits, pour your strained coconut milk back in, and add the following ingredients.

This is HIGHLY subjective, I should add.  You can tweak the amount of chocolate and sweetness to your own liking.  I started with 1 tablespoon of each and kept tasting until I liked it.  Feel free to do the same.

1-3 tbsp maple syrup
1-2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of sea salt

I used 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and 2 of cocoa powder after starting with 1 each and tasting.  The result is pretty sweet and very chocolately.  In all honesty I would use less cocoa next time if I were the only one drinking it.  One tablespoon, or 1 1/2 would be plenty for me.  It's also very sweet but I am making this to compete with store-bought chocolate milk, so my plan is to use a little less next time, and the next and the next until I'm down to 1 tbsp of maple syrup.

Now you may be wondering, does it taste like coconut?  Heck yeah, it tastes like coconut!  It's delicious.  And it's good for you! Yes, coconut is high in fat but it's a heart healthy fat and you need those.  I'm no nutritionist but here's what I found in my research:

  • Dark chocolate may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Cocoa powder has even more of the substances responsible for chocolate’s health benefits
  •  Unsweetened cocoa has the advantage of being low in calories*
  • The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk may aid weight loss and improve heart health
  • Coconut milk contains lauric acid, antimicrobial lipids and capric acid, which have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties
  • Coconut milk is highly nutritious when ingested
  • The fatty acids in coconut milk are a natural antiseptic and may help treat dandruff, skin infections, wounds and dry, itchy skin.**

Blend on a low speed for about 30 seconds.  If your mixture gets very foamy, turn the speed to level 4 or until the vortex in the middle just starts to form.  It's like a tunnel straight up and down in the center of the liquid.  Blend until all the bubbles pop, maybe 30 seconds.  I like a little foam so I didn't bother, as you can see in my photo.  And it was warm from using hot water so it almost was like a mocha coconut cappuccino.  Oh, hello!!!  Move over, Starbucks.  No, seriously.  Those are over 400 calories.

This should last about 4-6 days in the fridge.  This recipe yielded about 4 cups of chocolate milk.  I estimate it cost $1.50 to make.  My coconut was $1.25 for the bag, and the other ingredients cost pennies so maybe $1.50 for the batch. 

I typed in the recipe at and here's what it told me for a one cup serving.  

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!  Pour that coconut pulp onto a cookie sheet and dehydrate it, then grind it up in the blender to make coconut flour.  When I buy coconut flour it's always off white/yellow.  But it's snowy white when I make it at home.  Freaks me out a little, you know?  I mean, what are they adding to the flour to make it change color like that?  The preservatives?  Yuk.  Just dry it, put it in a baggie in the pantry, and add to it every time you make coconut milk.  In no time you'll have lots of coconut flour to use for gluten free baking.

Want to know more about my coconut milk shampoo and conditioner recipes?  Comment below if you want a post about those too.