Friday, March 22, 2013

Simple, homemade maple syrup

Do you know it's simple and cheap to make your own homemade maple syrup? Just combine 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1/2 tsp. maple extract. Store in the refrigerator. Yep, it's that easy! This recipe will be thin, much more like real maple syrup than the store bought fake stuff! And once again, no weird preservatives or additives! (Seriously, look at the label on your store bought pancake syrup!)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homemade "Hershey's"

Easy, peasy, amazing homemade chocolate syrup!! Move over Hershey's!! Warning-you will want to hug me after this....

Have you ever looked at the ingredients on the back of your chocolate syrup bottle? (The following is from our Great Value brand chocolate syrup bottle.) First thing is high fructose corn syrup. Read a little farther and you'll find artificial flavor, preservatives and my daughter's favorite "may contain traces of anchovies."

What if you could have inexpensive, homemade (i.e. know what's in it!), delicious chocolate syrup in just minutes using basic pantry ingredients? Who could say no to that?

Well, ladies and gents here it is"

Chocolate Syrup

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
1 dash salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the water, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt together in a saucepan over low heat; whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to simmer. Remove from heat and stir the vanilla into the sauce. Serve warm or cover and refrigerate until serving.

Yep, that's it! And it's delish!!

Check out that ingredient list!! Gag!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meal Planning For The Real World

Meal planning. It's a huge key to saving money on groceries and whether you follow a blog, read a magazine article, etc., you'll hear it's praises sung. We've definitely discussed it here at Nine on a Nickel and I'm a firm believer in it!

However, most of the meal planning instructions I see look something like this-

Meatless Mondays
Taco Tuesdays
Pasta Wednesdays
Crockpot Thursdays
Etc. Etc. Etc.

Well, maybe that structure works great for some, but flexibility is the name of the game in our house! Our schedules can get a little nutty around here, to say the least. I may need a crockpot meal one week on a Monday and the next week I may need it on a Thursday. So what's the chef to do?

I like to look at the calendar before I plan my meals for the next week (or sometimes two if I'm really on the ball!) If multiple kids have activities on the same night, I know that might be a good night for a crockpot meal or even leftovers (everyone can heat a plate of food when it's convenient for them.) I do have a basic idea of what I will be cooking each week and then I just fill in the dates and details. It looks something like this:

-Pasta (a weekly staple here. It's cheap, quick and a crowd pleaser.)
-Homemade pizza (most always a weekend treat. Sometimes we splurge for carryout!)
-Breakfast for supper night (cheap, easy AND a kid pleaser)
-Leftover night (if you are cooking at home most nights, leftover night shouldn't be a problem!)

Immediately I know what I'm making for four nights (more or less) and then I fill in the other 3 nights with whatever recipes I can make based on what's in the pantry/freezer and what's on sale. My brain is scrambled enough most of the time, meal planning has to be on autopilot! Ha! I love the ease of practically not even thinking about 4 meals a week. I also like planning when I'm going to use an "easy" meal night (like breakfast for supper or a crockpot meal) based on our schedule not a set day of the week. The other nights I tend to cook a little bit more elaborate meals. The four meals listed above are cheap meals and allow me to spend a little more on the other three meals and still stay within budget!

Ways to save money when meal planning include planning meals around weekly sales and pairing them with what's already in your pantry or deep freezer. Plan your meals and then hit the grocery store! Know what cheap, filling foods your family will eat. Don't think every meal has to focus on a large cut of meat. We usually have a small amount of the main dish (usually the more expensive part of the meal) and round out the meal with veggies, fruit, and bread (cheaper, yet nutritious foods.). For example, we don't eat pounds and pounds of meat each night for dinner. If we are going to have a big roast one night, then the next night might be a meat-free night with whole wheat pasta and veggies. If you need more suggestions on saving money on groceries, read this post-

Meal planning is a sure fire way to save your family money! Basing it around your busy life is even better! It's easy to grab fast food if you don't have a plan. A little preparation and planning can turn you into a regular Betty Crocker! Eating out isn't cheap and to come home to sandwich fixin's or a meal in the crockpot on those busy nights is easy on mama AND the wallet!

So plan your meals! Save money, save time and be then envy of every mom on the block 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Honey, coughs, and recalls???

If you pay attention to the news or even your Facebook or Twitter, you've probably noticed all the recalls that come up from time to time for cold medicine. Most recently I saw one for two popular brands of cough syrup. Scary, isn't it?

Now, I'm far from the crunchy, granola type, but I do like to use natural solutions when they are simple and easy and especially when they are cheap! Here is one of my favorite home remedies-honey for a cough. Did you know there is substantial, credible evidence that honey is AS effective as cough syrup for soothing a cough? What an inexpensive, SAFE solution! I'm not going to link all the research, but even the renowned Mayo Clinic has articles backing up this claim. Check it out for yourself! Just Google "honey and cough" and you'll be amazed at the evidence! Recently I had a kiddo sick with bronchitis and I called our insurance company's 24 hour Nurse Line and even they are recommending honey over cough syrup! Made my day to hear the medical community embracing a natural solution! "Dosage" varies depending on what you read, but 2 teaspoons seems to be the common amount. 

Honey has many great uses. Look for a blog coming soon on my love for honey in DIY beauty treatments!!

Have you used a natural remedy and been pleased with the results? Comment below!

**Remember that honey is NOT safe for babies under a year old!!  

**Also, did you know that you can sign up to receive emails direct from the government regarding recalled products? Stay in the know at .

Sunday, February 10, 2013

McKinley Tickets winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the McKinley giveaway! The winner of the family 4 pack of tickets is.....Sue Creager!! Hope you have a great time Creager family!!!

Look for more giveaways coming soon!!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ready? Set? Are you prepared?

So we survived December 21. We proved those Mayans and those doomsday preppers wrong! I never thought the end of the world was near (and if it was, how the heck was a stockpile of food going to help those people? Apparently the term "end of the world" was lost on them. Just sayin'.)

Anywho, the whole debacle got me thinking about our food supply. We've all been to our local Wal-mart before a big snowstorm or heck, even a major holiday and have seen practically bare shelves. Big trucks making daily treks to those stores, yet they aren't stocked. What if those trucks couldn't get there or if the trucks didn't have anything to bring?

Let's be honest, our food supply is delicate and volatile. I won't go into the nitty gritty of our food supply, but I'm sure we can all agree it could be easily disrupted by a major natural disaster, gasoline shortage or heaven forbid, a major terror attack. Of course, the thought of our cushy American lives being disrupted in any way is not a pleasant thought, but for me a proactive approach to a potentially negative situation is always comforting.

We all need to take some time and a bit of money and get prepared. I'm not talking hoarders style prepping, but simple common sense prepping. I've realized in our own family that we are really ill prepared. So, I've decided to set a goal to prepare our family for a short term "disruption", whatever that could be.

What better time than tax season to tackle this project? Most of us with families will get some sort of refund.(If not scrounge up some cash. Skip your Starbucks for a month or something! You can do it!) I've decided to take just $100 and get prepared. At this point I'm focusing just on food. At some point I'll tackle the other stuff like an emergency kit with first aid supplies, batteries, etc. Sorry, but in the event of a disaster, food will trump a flashlight for me. Haha!!

I checked out for some guidelines. Here are some of the basics:

  • Store at least a 3 day supply of food. (This is per person! We are going to try and prepare for a week.)
  • Remember any special dietary needs. (Think allergies, diabetics, etc.)
  • Choose foods your family will eat. (I bet someone with a highly advanced degree thought of that one.)
  • Avoid foods that will make you thirsty. (Okay, now someone put a little thought into that. Give that guy a raise...)
  • Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content.

**Following a disaster there could be power outages. Be prepared with a manual can opener and foods that do not require cooking, refrigeration or water. Suggested foods include-

  • Ready to eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables
  • Peanut butter
  • Dry cereal, or granola
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • High energy foods
  • Vitamins
  • Food for infants
  • Comfort/stress foods (This is my license to buy chocolate!!!)

On you can also find information on food safety and sanitation, as well as, cooking and managing food without power. Probably some good things to print off and keep in an emergency binder (if that sounds Greek to you, check out what should be in an emergency binder. Just Google it.)

The site also has a whole section just on water. And since it's been pounded into our heads since grade school that we can go longer without food than without water, this is an extremely important section. Since we have a well (which means no water without power) and have had several times of no water following power outages, I have a new found respect for the amount of water one needs to live a semi-normal life. Drinking, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, dishes etc. We use a TON of water. Please make sure that your preparation includes at least a gallon of water PER PERSON, for at least 3 days. 

I really urge you to check out or other sites that discuss emergency preparedness. This is certainly not a comprehensive list. While prepping has gotten somewhat of a bad rap, preparing for the unexpected doesn't make you a crazy person, it makes you smart. Except if you have a bunker and a hazmat suit. Then, well, all bets are off...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

McKinley Museum and the new Fascination Station!

McKinley Museum....oh, how I love thee! Seriously, McKinley is one awesome museum! We have frequented McKinley for years and it's definitely our favorite museum!

 Recently our family had the opportunity to explore the all new Fascination Station set for grand opening on February 18th. I'll admit we were a little nervous to see what was new, because we had such a love for the old Space Station Earth exhibits. Let me say, we are THRILLED with the changes! Plus, some of our old favorites got to stick around!

One of our favorite "oldie, but goodie" was the Shadow Catcher. I promise your kids will spend a large part of their time posing and having their shadow "caught" of the green wall. We have laughed til we cried at some of our funny group poses. Previous exhibits that got to stay are the Bernoulli blower, a fun little science experiment that the small ones will have fun playing with different sized balls.  Also, the simulated tornado got to stay. It's pretty neat!

Now on to the new stuff! How about playing Tic Tac Toe with a robot? You can make your own "movie" with the green board and you get to choose your background. Lots of cool electric based exhibits are there to check out as well. I hope you are there when they have one of the electric show demonstrations. A funny and knowledgeable lady named Valerie hosted ours. It was very impressive and could definitely rival one of the big city museums! It's a "hair raising" experience....literally!

Fascination Station has so much to offer that everyone is sure to find something they like! But guess what? That's only one level of the museum. The first level (past admissions and the very cool giant pendulum) is an area with prehistoric exhibits and live animals! But you have to make it past the giant, roaring dinosaur first! You'll find a gift shop on this level, as well. The next level boasts a planetarium and offers shows throughout the day.

Head to the top floor for history related to President McKinley and the Canton area. There is a fun little "ride" (based on Timken wheel bearings, I think), that we've lovingly coined the S.S. Puke. You'll know exactly what I mean if you take a spin on it! Also, there is an area with rotating exhibits. Currently, it's "Life in Miniature", a collection of dollhouses and accessories. I was totally in love with every one of them!

Now, my personal favorite on the top floor-the Street of Shops! Take a step back in time to a life size replica of a historic town! A dentist, a doctor, a general store, a saloon and more! This "town" has it all! There is also a large area with running model trains. And our kids favorite spot on the top floor-the fire pole!

I hope my love for this local museum has come through in this blog piece. McKinley Museum truly is a gem in our community! I hope you take the time to check it out! On Monday, February 18 the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum will celebrate Presidents’ Day with activities throughout the Museum - open at 9 a.m. and close at 4 p.m.  There will be McKinley Gallery focus tours celebrating Canton’s own President William McKinley at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. There will be a special meet and greet from 11 a.m. to noon with Perry Brelish, an automotive instructor from Stark State College. He will talk about his time as a student building the Solar Clipper. There will be a scavenger hunt, take home craft and science demonstrations. The Planetarium Show is scheduled at 1:00….children need to be 5 years old to attend. Lunch will be available for purchase starting at 11:00.  There will be fun for the whole family at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum!  Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for senior adults and $6 for children 3 to 18. (Although, I encourage you to purchase a family membership for just $52. It will get you in free to lots of great museums including Cosi, Carnegie and many other museums across the country! I promise the membership is totally worth it!)

The Museum is located at 800 McKinley Monument Dr. NW in Canton. For more information visit the website at
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Monday, February 4, 2013

Something has gone a-rye...(now that's puny!)

Today I'm starting what I'll call "Quick Quips." A lot of the money saving advice I have to offer doesn't require a lengthy post. So, I'll give you a quick tip from time to time. Today's has to do with a problem I think many of us face-not so fresh bread in the breadbox! (Btw-did you catch the funny title of this post?)

Bread getting stale? Don't toss it (and throw away money, too!) There are plenty of creative options for when your bread is less than fluffy and fresh! Toasting it is a quick cover up. What about making french toast or a strata, homemade croutons are simple to make and so are homemade bread crumbs! Buns passed their prime? (Sandwich buns, people! This post won't help those "other" buns!) I like to use them to make individual garlic toast rounds. A little softened butter, some garlic, parsley, a hot oven and you're in business! You can also use them to make a toasted sandwich. Just  add your favorite sandwich filling, wrap in foil and pop in the oven til hot. Yum! What are your favorite ways to use up bread gone "a-rye?"

Friday, January 25, 2013

Borax giveaway!!

I've never done a giveaway, so this is a test! Hopefully this posts correctly! First, let me tell you that I'm a Purex Insider. What does that mean you ask? It's means that I help spread the word about the Purex family of laundry products and occasionally some other great brands as well!! As an Insider, I receive sample product and incentives in exchange for participating in brand related activities. The products are their's, but the opinions are all mine!

I have 3 coupons to giveaway for a FREE box of 20 Mule Team Borax!! If you follow the link below (which hopefully will link correctly!), you can sign up to win!

Look for a future blog post on the wonders of Borax!

Don't forget to share with your friends so they can sign up too AND follow us on Facebook!

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let them eat....soup!

Do you have a "soup starter" in your freezer? If not, you should! What's a soup starter you ask? It's a sneaky way to get a free meal! We all have those little bits of leftovers that aren't really enough to save, but enough we feel guilty throwing them out! Here's a fantastic, easy solution. Take a large freezer safe container and anytime you have any leftovers that would taste good in a veggie soup, place them in the container and back in the freezer. Anything that could go in a veggie soup is fair game. Corn, green beans, peas, carrots, onions, tomatoes, beans, tomato sauce, marinara sauce, broth, tomato soup, cooked beef or steak, browned hamburger, sloppy joes, taco meat, just keeping adding until the container is full!

Think it sounds crazy? Just wait until you cook it and you will change your mind! Depending on what you have in your starter, you may need to add some broth, tomato sauce and/or water to get it "soupy." You may also want to add some herbs and spices. You'll never have the same soup twice!

Still skeptical? I'm a bit of a food critic and even I love it. Why not try it? All that food was probably headed for the trash anyway, right? Worst case scenario, it's a dud and you order pizza (my mom always said keep the pizza number handy when trying a new dish) or best case you have a yummy, "free" meal!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not. Yes, even leftovers....

Leftovers. They get a bad rap. I personally have never had an aversion to leftovers, but I hear of countless people whose leftovers get tossed in the trash because apparently round 2 just doesn't cut it. When there are enough leftovers, we have CORD-clean out (the) refrigerator dinner. Use up leftovers + no cooking for mama? Win-win!!!! I will admit that because most everyone in our house is gone for lunch (which is when we tend to eat up a lot of leftovers) I get stuck eating the bulk of leftovers around here. And sometimes, 4 days in a row of reheated spaghetti is enough to make a girl cranky.

So like a prison warden trying to prove that prisoners can be reformed, I set out on a mission to "reform" some leftovers. I had three goals in mind. One, that the leftovers don't taste, well, leftover. Two, that I use up as much in the frig as possible. Simple logic, but not throwing food out saves money. Easy peasy! Three, to stretch the leftovers to make a meal that would feed the whole family.

Today's mission-to turn leftover turkey, mashed potatoes and some veggies into a Shepherd's Pie using a pre-made pie crust that also needed used up. Now, I've never made a Shepherd's Pie before, but it sounded like the ultimate comfort food. And heck, I love anything with "pie" in the name!

I'm not one to usually follow recipes when cooking, but I needed a basic idea of what went into a Shepherd's Pie though. I looked up a few different recipes (and trust me, there are lots out there with the soul intention of using up leftovers!) I realized that most Shepherd's Pies don't use an actual pie crust and since traditional Shepherd's pies use ground meat, I decided that this concoction would be somewhere between a Shepherd's Pie and a Turkey Pot Pie. So, to combine the two recipes we will just call it Pie Pie. Hopefully Pie Pie will be edible enough to go bye bye.

Off to make Pie Pie now. I'm sure my teenager son could turn that into a joke. Anyway, I'll finish this blog after we eat Pie Pie!

(Insert elevator music for your wait....)

So, dinner is done and it was a hit! Every kid loved it! Success!!!! Aside from adding a little sour cream to the potatoes, a can of carrots to the turkey/veggie mix and a little paprika on top for color, everything was leftover! Felt like a free meal!

What "prisoners" are lurking in your frig today just waiting to be "reformed"? Get creative (or just use Google!) and see what those bad rap leftovers can be transformed into. And as the motto goes, "waste not, want not."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Let's talk groceries!!

First Nine on a Nickel blog...where to start, where to start? Instead of giving you the version of our family history like most blogs, LOL, I'm going to jump right into the money saving! (That's what you came for here, right?) Let's talk grocery shopping, one of the areas we can really control our spending. I have so many little things I do that save our family money. Most of it is now second nature. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it's a good start. Now let's talk groceries!!

1. First and foremost, set a budget! Many people don't even know where to begin with this, so let me help you. One, don't necessarily compare your budget to anyone else's! Each family has their own needs, wants, and special circumstances. While one family of 4 might be able to spend $50 a week, your family with allergies, homeschooling, and a hubby who takes a packed lunch to work might spend $100. So, what's the grocery budgeter to do? Figure up what your family is spending each month on groceries and try to beat it by $50 each month incorporating the tips we are going to discuss. Keep doing that until you reach the barebones grocery budget for your family. Trust me, you will know when you have reached the end. The lone box of mac and cheese in your cupboard and your kids complaining that they've eaten peanut butter sandwiches for a week straight will signal you that that's as low as you can go...haha!!

2. Make a weekly menu plan! Saving money takes planning and work and while a menu plan takes just that, it is well worth the effort! It will not only keep you from ordering pizza or takeout for dinner (and spending more money), because you are scrambling at the last minute, it will also help you to take advantage of sales and your pantry by planning meals around these items.

3. Keeping with the menu planning theme, plan "cheap" meals each week. Spaghetti is an extremely cheap meal and healthy to boot. You can easily get whole wheat pasta for $1, sauce for $1 and a bag of frozen veggies for $1. That's $3 for dinner. Now if you choose or your budget allows, add some bread and fruit, whatever your heart desires. Seriously though, who can beat $3 for dinner? (For all those who say you can't afford to eat healthy, that's feeding a family for less than the cost of a fast food value meal for one!)

4. While it's important to shop sales, it's also important to have that low priced, go to store. For you it may be an Aldi or Sav-a-Lot, for me it's the dreaded Walmart. About 3 kids ago I used to shop many stores, but these days I need more one stop shopping. I can price match most things at Walmart that other stores have on sale and their prices and very comparable to Aldi on most items. (For those who don't know, Walmart will price match local ads. They price match like name brand items or store brand for their brand which is Great Value.)

5. Shop your traditional grocery (Giant Eagle, Kroger, etc)for great deals on meat, milk and "loss leaders." If you aren't familiar with a loss leader, it's those items (usually) on the front page of the grocery ad that your grocer is willing to sell at a loss just to get you in the store. Also, look for deep discounts on meat and stock up. Don't be afraid to check out non-traditional stores, too! When milk is not on sale I buy milk at our local Dollar General. It's often close to a dollar cheap than everywhere else!

6. Shop seasonally and stock up. Unless you live under a rock, I bet you've noticed that certain things go on sale that correspond with seasons and holidays. The best time to buy ketchup is during BBQ season and stock up on baking supplies at Christmas. You will learn what good prices are now that you are watching more closely and will learn when to stock up!  I'm not talking Extreme Couponing "stocking up", but at least buy a few extra of these items for the pantry.

7. Since I mentioned Extreme Couponing, let's talk coupons. I used to be a diehard couponer. I often walked out of the store with $100 worth of groceries for almost free. For me, the couponing game has changed a lot. We buy a lot less processed food than we used to and while there are coupons out there for items of all sorts, it is mostly processed items. Also, I just don't have time to run to the double coupon stores each week and couponing does take some time, so I use the other tips I've mentioned to save money. Plus, the Extreme Couponing craze has really changed the game for couponing and it just isn't as good as it was. Period. If you want to use coupons, check out where you can pay a small fee to "buy" coupons and receive them in the mail. You can also search for printable coupon sites like . Couponing can be a great way to save on groceries, but don't feel like it's an absolute necessity if you decide it's not for you.

8. While I might sound like Captain Obvious here, what you choose to buy really determines how much you spend. What do I mean? If you have filet mignon taste don't think that you're going to have a hamburger grocery budget. Find "cheap" foods that your family likes. We are big oatmeal eaters. It's cheap, quick and super healthy. At the same time, I don't mind spending a little more to get off season produce (a no, no in the cheap world), because my kids love it and it's healthy. So, I guess it's all about balance. If the kids and hubby aren't on board with the grocery budget then it's going to be hard to stick to it!!! Find a balance that works for you.

9. Stay out of the store! Make a shopping list, stick to it and try to go as long between shopping trips as possible. I am in the midst of experimenting with only shopping every 2 weeks. No small
task for a family of 9. I'm finding that the less I'm at the store the less impulse buying I have and that it makes me use what we already have it the house. In between I swing by the Dollar General or any store that has milk on sale and pick up essentials only! I like to send my teenager son in and then I have no temptation of buying things I shouldn't!!

10. Don't get discouraged. Set goals like spending $50 less a month or finding cheap breakfast foods or trying your hand at couponing. Make it fun and even reward yourself for your efforts. This isn't rocket science, so don't stress out too much!!

Is this a comprehensive list? No way! But it's a good start, especially if you are new to saving money. As time goes on I will add tips and tidbits on here that will continue to help you. If I listed everything I do here, your head would explode and trust me that would not be a good way to save money.....

For more tips and tricks, follow me on Facebook!