Friday, May 25, 2012

Cheapskates at Disney: Getting ready to hit the road

Our semi-annual vacation began today.  We get two vacations a year: one at Christmas, usually a week, and one at the very end of the school year, for two weeks.  Today was our last work day, and vacation has officially started.
We leave tomorrow around 5:00 am, Lord willing, to begin the trek to Orlando for two weeks.
We kicked off our vacation with dinner at Panda Express, which was free for us.  We were able to use gift cards to pay, so it was a no-out-of-pocket treat. 
We put gas in the car, and we used a $50 gas card we previously bought at Publix for $40.  It was as though we paid $2.74 a gallon. 
Since we used gift cards for everything, it feels as though everything was free.  I like that.  I like using gift cards.  They're already paid for, so it seems so painless.  We have several Disney gift cards to use as well as a few more BP cards. 
Bring on the cheapskate road trip!  We have almost every room cleaned (enough) and packed for the trip.  I need to grab my bathing suit and through it in the suitcase.  In the morning, I'll pack the cooler with several items I've prepped for meals for the week.  I'll be off to bed soon; I hope I can get to sleep in spite of my excitement!

Monday, May 21, 2012

May Mission: Day 6

Oops, I sort of forgot this mission.  We've done pretty well, though.  We have gone out to eat three times since May 10.  We ate dinner at McDonald's one night - about $15.  We ate at the concession area of Sam's Club one night - about $11.  We ate dinner at Panda Express on it's opening day - about $22.  While I acknowledge that these meals cost much more than meals prepared at home would cost, I think we really ate out cheaply.  We could easily spend $40 after tax and tip for a nice dinner. 
(HMMMM, just noticing that we ate out 3 times in 11 days.  I don't guess that's good, after all.  It really does feel to me like I'm cooking ALL the TIME.  I am always preparing something in the kitchen or cleaning up a mess.)
Tonight we are having Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Shells from  This meal has been very easy to prepare, and this is coming from someone who is notoriously slow in the kitchen, especially with new recipes.  It's an easy-to-freeze recipe, so I have one pan ready to go in the oven now (as soon as the garlic bread comes out) and one pan in the freezer to give to a family with a new baby. 

In other news, we are just 4 days away from leaving for our long-awaited summer vacation.  We've been planning and counting down for MONTHS and it's almost here!  I have a lot to do around the house to get ready, and school is still in session for another 2 1/2 days.  In just a few days, I'll say one last goodbye to my beloved sixth graders, pack and clean up my classroom for the summer, and fly around the house getting things ready.  It'll be hectic, chaotic, stressful.  I may get emotional.  I edge toward breakdowns when the pressure's on.  But, one way or the other, it'll be over, and I'll be headed to Disney World!
While on vacation, we will eat out at least one meal per day.  On travel days, we will eat out more often.  I plan to post about our meals.  I'll post about the cheapskate meals I make and about how we make eating out as cheapskate-ly as possible while at Disney.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

May Mission: Day 5, part 1

Just a quick post this morning.  I'm really hungry, and I want McDonalds.  Or Whataburger.  Or Subway.  I thought I might feel better this morning and be able to make my smoothie (and be happy about it) if I just vented my wishes to eat something bad for the diet and for the wallet.  (Oh, how I love a juicy hamburger from Whataburger for breakfast. So very yummy.)
I do feel better now.
Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'll go help my son brush his teeth, help my daughter fix her hair, and make my strawberry or raspberry smoothie.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Mission: Day 4

This mission is zooming by.  I can't believe we're already on day 4.  I wish we could say that we hadn't eaten out at all during that time, but we did just drop a chunk of money taking those college girls out for dinner.  No regrets, though.  They loved it, and it was a great time of fellowship.

Really feeling the pressure of looming deadlines at school and with the vacation coming up.  In my past life (2 years ago), I would have asked my hubby to take us out to dinner because I just couldn't handle the thought of having to cook and clean on top of all my other teacher and mom duties.  I'm a little proud of myself that I not only made dinner tonight, but also am making a soup to freeze for future meals. 

Breakfast: Flat Belly Diet Smoothie (the kids had a fruit-and-cereal bar)

Lunch: baked beef and bean burritos from school

Dinner: beef and bean taco rice (Today's meals don't have much variety or imagination, but that's okay. )  Dinner was super easy, thanks to the crockpot.

The soup in the crockpot is tomato-black bean from Delicious Meliscious.  I love the stuff, and I figure it's about the healthiest soup I know how to make. 

Tomorrow's dinner is Moroccan Beef with rice. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May Mission: Day 3

Today feels like a contradiction, but it's kinda not.  I forgot when I got all inspired to do a May Mission that my family had planned to take out to dinner our college student girls that we've kind of adopted into our family.  So, we're headed out for Mexican food tonight.  Yes, I'm breaking my mission today, but it's something I had planned to do for a while now and forgot to mention at the outset of this mission.

Here's how the rest of the day went (pretty boring, really):

Breakfast: I had a strawberry smoothie, a la Flat Belly Diet.  And I did a really amazing job on making the smoothie today.  It was the best ever.  The kiddos had a banana and yogurt.  (Much more healthfully balanced than yesterday's Pop Tarts!)

Lunch: I had a slice of turkey and a roll from the cafeteria, along with about 1/2 cup of vanilla pudding with raisins.  (Ha! I just had to correct "pudding" from "yogurt".  I guess I either have healthy food choices on the brain or I secretly didn't want you to know that I ate pudding and yogurt sounded so diet-approved.)

Dinner: I don't know what I'll have, but I'm not planning to be super diet-conscious.  Chips and salsa for sure.  Either water or Diet Coke.  Something cheesy, probably.  I refuse to feel guilty.  Either from the diet front or the mission front.  We have no plans to eat out for the rest of the month until vacation, so I don't think it's an awful thing to do this one time.  If this is the only time we eat out this week, we are in WAY better shape when it comes to this kind of mission than we were 2 years ago.

Tomorrow is one of our favorite menu days: We are having beef and bean taco rice.  I make this really great beef and bean mix in the crockpot, and we eat some of it on one Wednesday, freeze the leftovers, and reheat the next week.  We're on the leftovers tomorrow night.  We just love it.  And I love how easy it is.

Monday, May 7, 2012

May Mission: Day 2

Well, I'm off to a good start on my Mission for the month.  I made a Flat Belly Diet smoothie for myself for breakfast, and the kids had Pop Tarts. (What a contradiction!) 

I had a couple of Flat Belly Diet-style snacks: turkey sausage (like slim-jims) and mozzarella cheese sticks.  Lots of protein, and only 140 calories for 2 sausage sticks and a cheese stick.

I had beef soft tacos for lunch, courtesy of the excellent food service department at the Academy. 

Dinner is Chicken Tikka Masala from Delicious Meliscious with rice.  I wish I had time to make this naan to go with it, but then we'd be eating dinner after bedtime!

My goals for this evening:
1. Brown and bag ground beef to freeze for a vacation meal.
2. Make spaghetti sauce.
3.  Make salsa.
4.  Make a big batch of tomato-black bean soup.
5.  Grade a set of school papers.
6.  Work on a school project.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

May Mission: Day 1 (Day 6?)

A couple of years ago, I did a March Mission designed to help my family eat out less, eat in more, and save a bundle.  While we don't eat out nearly as much as we did back in those days (2 years ago), we still tend to eat out frequently, especially just after pay day.  For example, this month, we've eaten at Whataburger, Zaxby's, and Red Robin.  And it's only the 6th. 
I'm creating a new mission for myself: to eat in for the rest of the month (until vacation).  So, for the next 20 days, my goal is to cook all our breakfasts, dinners, and weekend lunches.  (We get our weekday lunches provided by school/work ministry we are involved with.) 

Here's my meal plan for the week of May 6, 2012:

Sunday, May 6:
Breakfast: leftover biscuits with bacon and cheese
Lunch: at my mom and dad's
Dinner: Pizza

Monday, May 7:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: chicken tikka masala

Tuesday, May 8:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: pork ribs in the crockpot

Wednesday, May 9:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: beef/bean taco rice

Thursday, May 10:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: Moroccan beef with rice

Friday, May 11:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: chili

Saturday, May 12:
Breakfast: smoothies
Lunch: pizza muffins
Dinner: Potato bacon soup with breadsticks

Okay, I know  that it looks like I have no imagination at all when it comes to breakfast, but my husband and I are trying the flat belly diet.  The smoothie for breakfast is delicious and filling.  It is homemade, not from a powdered mix, so I am still making breakfast. 

Well, there it is, the plan for my new May Mission.  I'll consider today Day 1, even though it's the 6th of the month.  I'll end this mission on May 25, the day before we head out for vacation.  I'll do my best to post a daily report on how we're doing on our mission.

Cheapskates at Disney - Lodgings, Part 4

Our home resort: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (Kidani Village 1 Bedroom Villa shown)

In just about 4 weeks, we will be checking in for 5 nights at Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Our villa will be very much like the one pictured.  The entrance door/hallway is just out of sight on the right of the picture.  There will be a full bathroom located off that hallway.  The kitchen has full-sized appliances and comes equipped to create many standard meals. (I'll be bringing my crockpot along, and that's about all I need to add to this kitchen.)  The bedroom has a king-sized bed, storage, a nice big wall-mounted TV, a balcony, and a full bathroom.  The living room has a sofa-bed couch (I've slept on one of these couches, and it was the most comfortable sofa-bed ever.), a chair that is a twin-sized pullout bed, storage, and another flat-screen TV, as well as a sliding glass door to the balcony shared with the master bedroom.   The size of this villa is really quite significant; the one-bedroom we have reserved is 807 square feet, so about half the size of our house.  We have reserved a standard view, which, to be honest, may not be spectacular at all.  Last time we had a standard view, we could see a bit of the parking area, the bus queu area, and a field.  It was not fabulous, but it was fine.  Of course, the savannah view rooms do offer those spectacular views.  Several years ago, we had a savannah view where 3 giraffes tended to hang out, as well as ostrich and zebra.  Each morning the wild red hogs would zoom by on their way to their morning destination.   

Doesn't this kid's water park area look like fun? Not only does Kidani Village have its own highly-themed pool area, it also has a super-fun water park area that I just know my kids will adore.  I can't wait for them to try it.  Maybe after half an hour at the water park, they will sit quietly on the bench while the grown ups enjoy the hot tub for 10 minutes? (Yeah, maybe if we add the privilege of playing Angry Birds on our phones while they sit!)

So, with a sticker price of $580 per night, how can I call this my way to do Disney the Cheapskate way? Five years ago, we joined the Disney Vacation Club.  As Disney vacationers, it was the best vacation-related decision we could ever have made.  It does require a hefty initial investment, about $17,000.  After that, there is a yearly dues payment which amounts to several hundred dollars.  We financed our membership, and our monthly payments for the year for both the membership and the dues is a bit more than the published price of this one vacation.  Our membership is valid through 2057.  That means that, once we pay off our membership, we'll have years and years and years and years of vacations that will only cost us the annual dues.  We could never have afforded to stay in such beautiful, spacious, luxurious accomodations without DVC.  If you think you might want to visit Disney World annually with your family, the DVC is a cost-efficient accomodation choice you should look into.  Even if you think you might only vacation at Disney once every 3 years, you might want to think about how much you could save on a really top-notch vacation by joining DVC.  You could easily stay for a week in a 2-bedroom villa or even in a 3-bedroom Grand Villa with a three-year-bundle of points, depending on the season you travel. 
Being DVC members saves us money in another way, too.  Because we have a full kitchen, we will cook most of our meals ourselves instead of paying the premium Disney prices.  We are planning to eat our lunches in the parks, but I'll make breakfast and dinner (hooray, crockpot!) each day.  I figure that, even with purchasing groceries, we can save at least $100 over the course of the 5 days.  I made my menu and shopping list weeks ago and I've been stocking up on the shelf-stable items when they go on sale.  I've knocked several dollars off my grocery budget this way. (I'm on track to save at least $18 out of the budget I set for vacation grocery shopping. Yes! I'm getting a Dole Whip!)
DVC makes our vacation what it is.  We enjoy our room; we enjoy the resort.  If you have interest in DVC, stop by one of the many DVC kiosks throughout the parks or resorts and request an open house.  Disney provides the transportation, and you might even get to see some of the behind-the-scenes areas. (We got to see the backside of several of the country pavilions in Epcot. Our driver was very knowledgeable about how the city-unto-itself that is Disney World functions.) You'll get to tour some amazing model rooms and get a walk-through of the Club's point system and pricing.  There really is absolutely no pressure at all to purchase. (The salesmen don't have to rely on pressure to sell; the product will sell itself to you if you're willing!)  Once you're done, you and your kiddos can enjoy a free ice cream sundae before Disney provides your transportation back to where ever you want to go.  Let your sales rep know that Talani and Barbie Tupua of Pensacola, Florida, referred you.  We do get a kickback if you join and name us as your referral.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cheapskates at Disney - Lodgings, Part 3

In this post, I plan to tackle the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts at Disney World.

1.  Moderate:
Larger in size than the Value Resorts, at about 340 square feet, and more elaborately themed, the Moderate Resorts appeal to those who need a bit more space to settle in. More storage is available in these rooms, and most have two sinks (not Coronado Springs). Bus transportation is readily available to all theme park areas. The food courts are a step-up, too, and many of the Moderate Resorts have a table service dining option. The pool areas are more lavish and most include hot tubs, which are not found at Value Resorts.   Rooms in moderate resorts also come standard with small refrigerators and coffee makers.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort is rather large.

The pool area at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort is one reason why I fell in love with staying at a Disney Resort.  Dianna first got into a Disney swimming pool right over there by those steps up the Mayan pyramid.

It's lovely shaded walkways that give Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort's Alligator Bayou area its secluded feel.  This is my favorite moderate resort.  I would love to stay here again.  If the lush wooded areas don't appeal to you check out the Acadian House side of this resort - think stately southern manor life.  Take the boat from this resort to Port Orleans French Quarter and Downtown Disney.  Bus transportation is available to all other theme parks and attractions.

The lobby fountain alone of Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter is enough to make me want to stay there.  Many folks feel that is resort makes a great romantic getaway, although I'll say that the best anniversary trip for just my husband and me was had at the Riverside portion of Port Orleans.  This resort features a fun waterslide and is just a boat ride away from Downtown Disney and Port Orleans Riverside.  You can get to any of the other major Disney attractions by bus.

The cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort are considered a Moderate level, but they are quite different from the other Moderate resorts.  Much more comfortable for a growing family, the cabins come with a full kitchen.  Also found at Fort Wilderness are sites for your RV, pop up camper, or tent.  You can get really rustic here!

Well, that covers the moderates.  My bottom line? My favorite moderate resort, hands down, is Port Orleans Riverside.  The lushness of the scenery made it feel so secluded. 

On to the Deluxe Resorts . . .

Deluxe Resorts are lavishly themed with dynamite views, both from the individual rooms as well as from the public areas.  The pool areas are more elaborate and most have a kiddie pool area, a spectacular water slide, and a hot tub or two.  Dining options abound.  Resort activities are numerous, including a showing of a Disney movie under the stars each evening, often near the pool.  You can splash away, or relax in the hot tub, and enjoy a family flick. (Not first-run.  When we were there in July of 2011, Rapunzel was being shown.)  Standard rooms are around 340 square feet and deluxe rooms run a bit bigger.  Some of the Deluxe Resorts have expanded suites available.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is an absolutely beautiful resort.  This picture shows the Christmas tree in the 6 story lobby.  Just past the large wall of windows in the background are multiple viewing areas of the resort's savannahs.  Zebras, giraffes, and other exotic creatures are frequently seen.

Disney's Boardwalk Inn is just full of fun, as you can see by the waterslide in the background.  There are numerous dining and shopping options at this Deluxe Resort, and more to do right around the corner.  In the background of this picture, you can spot another Deluxe accomodation: The Swan.  The Boardwalk Inn is within walking distance of both Hollywood Studios and Epcot, and boat transportation is also available to these parks as well as the nearby resorts, The Swan and The Dolphin, The Beach Club, and The Yacht Club.  Bus transportation is available to all other guest areas, although the busses are shared between the same resorts as the boats. (This can mean a rather long wait for a bus or a rather crowded bus or a rather long ride, depending on where you are in the transportation route.)

Oh, Disney's Contemporary Resort is a work of art!  Yes, that monorail is entering the resort! You can eat breakfast downstairs, take the elevator right up to the monorail loading area, and get whisked away to the Magic Kingdom!  With super-modern decor, this resort will take your breath away.  I had a really hard time choosing a picture to show you, since you really need to see them all to get a good idea of the amazing-ness of this resort.  Someday . . . Yes, someday I will get to stay here.  (It isn't cheap! Like the other Deluxe Resorts, rooms run from the $300's per night to almost the $3,000's per night depending on the room type and time of year of travel.)

As I browse through pictures of each resort, I'm astounded.  They just keep looking better and better.  Each one better than the last!  Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is Disney's flagship resort in the Orlando area.  It doesn't get any better than this.  And the price tag doesn't get any higher, hitting in the $3,000's depending on the type of room and time of year.  Food options abound.  The monorail makes a stop at this resort to take you directly to the Magic Kingdom or to the Ticket and Transportation Center so you can transfer to another monorail heading to Epcot.  The beach area is beautiful, allowing for great views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show and the Electric Water Parade each evening.  This resort is renown for its romantic atmosphere.

Disney's Polynesian Resort is spectacular.  Look at the lavish theming in the lobby!  Amazing!  We have never stayed at this resort, but we frequently visit.  We'll be having breakfast with Lilo and Stitch at 'Ohana on our upcoming summer vacation, and we'll be back for lunch at the counter service restaurant, Captain Cook's.  The volcano-themed pool area is beautiful, as are the beaches where, like the other Magic Kingdom area resorts, perfect views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks and water parade are available.  You can take a boat from this resort to the other area resorts.  The monorail makes a stop here, as it does at the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian.  Bus service is available to all other guest areas.

Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful? The lobby of Disney's Wilderness Lodge just takes my breath away.  I clearly remember walking into the building for the first time and just thinking, "I didn't know places like this existed on earth."  The Magic Kingdom is just a boat ride away; no monorail service here, though.  Fort Wilderness campground and cabins are within walking distance on a paved, partially shaded walkway.  There are two table service restaurants as well as a pool bar and counter service offerings.  Rooms here, like other Deluxe Resort rooms, are pretty standard in size, although the larger suites and presidential rooms are available.  The price tag is about the same at this resort as the others as well; you'll pay at least $300 per night to stay in this beauty.

The Stormalong Bay pool site is really a highlight at Disney's Yacht Club.  The sand-bottom, zero-entry enormous water play area is a huge amenity at this amazing resort.  Within walking distance of Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Boardwalk, there is plenty to keep you busy.  When you're ready for a treat, head over to Beaches and Cream at the nearby Beach Club and try out the Kitchen Sink, a $24, 8-scoop treat topped with an entire can of whipped cream!

Disney's Beach Club is so much  like the Yacht Club that I had a hard time finding a picture that was unique enough to post.  The architecture of the two resorts is nearly identical.  From the outside, you can tell where the Yacht Club ends and the Beach Club begins because the buildings are different colors.  The two resorts share the Stormalong Bay pool area as well as boat and bus transportation.

The Swan

The Dolphin

I'll be honest and say that I don't know a whole lot about the Swan or the Dolphin.  I know they are close to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  And I know that they sometimes have pretty decent rates (as in less than $200 instead of over $300 per night).  I'm not familiar with the recreation or food offerings at either resort. has plenty of information, though, if you're thinking this might be the place for you.

Wow, I'm exhausted from all the possibilities at Disney.  And after the big dollar signs in this post, does it seem unrealistic to stay at any of these places without having to boycott buying movies, Starbucks, or any food at all for 8 months?  In my next post, I'll tell you how I've stayed at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Disney's BoardWalk, and Disney's Beach Club but paid less per night than I would at a Value Resort.

Cheapskates at Disney - Lodging, Part 2

Disney's Pop Century Resort - a budget-friendly Tupua family favorite

The cheapest hotel rooms in the Orlando area are definitely found off Disney World property.  We stayed exclusively off-property for the first couple of years of Disney vacations.  We enjoyed ourselves just fine and weren't bothered by the commute to the parks.  Once we stayed on-property, though, we knew we were hooked and wouldn't choose to stay off-property again.  (And that was after just one night at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort.)  In light of that, I'll be focusing here on the types of accomodations available on Disney World property.  To find out more about off-property resorts, visit expedia or allears.

1.  Value Resorts:
     Disney currently offers 4 Value Resorts, with a fourth scheduled to begin phased opening at the end of next month (May 2012). 
          A.  All-Star Movies: With over-sized icons from movies like 101 Dalmations, the All-Star Movies Resort is a favorite among Disney movie lovers of all ages.  The rooms are small, just 260 square feet.  A family of 4 will find this snugly comfortable.  There is only one sink in the bathroom area.  Drawer space is minimal.  A small refrigerator is available.  I have heard rumor that these small refrigerators will soon be standard with all resort rooms, but the last time I visited Disney it did cost about $10 per day to rent one.  The All-Star Movies resort has a food court style dining area (breakfast menu and lunch/dinner menu) and connects to all theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney via bus.  At some times of the year, the resort may share bus transportation with the very nearby All-Star Music and All-Star Sports Resorts.  Published rates for an All-Star Movies standard room range from $84 to $184, depending on season and day of the week (weekends are more costly than weekdays).
          B.  All-Star Music: This resort has a special place in my heart.  Our first week-long vacation as a family of three was centered here, when Dianna was just over a year old.  Large icons, similar to those at All-Star Movies, dominate the courtyards.  Various drums, guitars, fiddles, or Broadway-style signs take the place of the dalmation (pictured above) in the center of each building.  While all standard rooms at the All-Star resorts are the same size, the All-Star Music does offer a family suite with more space (and a higher price tag).  A food court similar to that available at all other Value Resorts provides the dining options here; bus transportation is available to all parks and other major attractions.  All Value Resorts have themed pool areas which will appeal especially to children and families.  Laundry facilities are available at all Value Resorts, as well.  Standard rooms range from $84-$184 while family suites range from $198-$375.
          C.  All-Star Sports: You'll find giant footballs, tennis ball cans, and soda cups as the icons at this resort.  This resort is similar in many ways to the other Value Resorts.  The rooms are the same size; the food court has similar offerings; the pools are sports-themed but roughly the same size and in the same locations as the other All-Star resorts. Like the Value Resorts, resort activities are available through the day and into the evening.  Often when Disney hosts events at the Wide World of Sports Complex, this resort will teem with groups of youngsters (little leaguers, cheerleaders, etc). 
          D.  Pop Century: This is the resort that we choose to stay at when we have to pay cash.  It is roughly the same size and design as the All-Stars, but it is not located in the same area.  Currently, the Pop Century Resort does not share bus service with any other resort. (This may change upon the May 2012 opening of the Art of Animation Resort.) 
          E.  Art of Animation: This resort is not open yet but will offer families a whole new range of options.  Family suites abound in this new resort, with a much smaller number of standard-sized rooms.  Calling upon the characters from the very popular Disney-Pixar movies, this resort offers a new level of theming.  I don't know about the menu in the food court here; it may be a step up from other food courts at Value Resorts the way that other areas seem to be a step up.  We will be staying at the nearby Pop Century Resort when this resort is newly opened, so I look forward to exploring the grounds and taking a meal here. 
Much more information can be found at my favorite resort planning site:
I realize that I have touched on only one level (out of 4) of Disney Resort offerings.  The Value Resorts offer the best, well, value, for families.  I'll deal with the other levels in other posts.

Cheapskates at Disney: Lodging

Jarod and Dianna at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival 2011

I'm beginning a series of posts on how we manage to go to Disney fairly often while maintaining a cheapskate status.  I don't do nearly the job of Kristin from when it comes to saving for the trip.  A Disney vacation savings has become part of our annual budget.  Currently, my goal is to make the most of the money we have saved, to do the most with the least amount of money. 
We once spent 5 days at Disney's Old Key West Resort with not more than $20 in our pockets after buying groceries.  We didn't go to the parks; we just relaxed at the resort, went to the pool every day, visited Downtown Disney, and toured the other resorts.  It was probably the most relaxing Disney vacation we've ever had. I tell that story to say that it's totally possible to go to Disney World without breaking the bank.
One of the most expensive areas of Disney spending is lodging, or at least it can be.  There are rooms available at or near Disney for nearly any budget.  You can get a room for about $45 off-property, or you could spend over $1,000 per night for the most lavish Disney resort room.  We've tried all sorts of methods, and we have definitely found what works for us.  Here are just a few of the ways we have saved on Disney-area hotel rooms over the years:

1.  Priceline.  I think this website has changed their own methods somewhat in recent months, and we haven't used it in several years.  We used it back when you picked the star-level of the room you wanted and gave the price you were willing to pay.  If a hotel was willing to accept your offer, you were automatically booked and informed of where you were staying.  We did this at least 2 times in my memory, and maybe more.  Once we stayed at a Days Inn or Comfort Inn or something along those lines.  Breakfast was provided.  We weren't on-property, but we could get there rather quickly.  Another time we were able to get a room in a Downtown Disney area hotel (Grosvenor), and we enjoyed that as well.  The pros are that you can get a room through the website more cheaply than anywhere else.  The con is that you can't (couldn't? maybe you can now) know exactly which resort you will get.

2.  Expedia.  We booked our honeymoon hotel through expedia and had very good results.  Again, we were off-property; actually, we were at a Howard Johnson Inn and Suites that no longer exists.  We had a very nice suite with a living room area and a small kitchenette and a bedroom with a balcony.  We were within easy driving distance of the parks and very close to restaurants.  Unlike priceline, you can see all kinds of pictures and maps on expedia.  Unfortunately, not every place is as nice as it looks on line.  (We had a pretty horrible experience at a hotel in the Atlanta, GA, area that we booked through expedia.  Truly awful.  But not related to Disney business at all, so back on-topic I go . . .)  Even Disney resorts are available through expedia, sometimes at a cheaper rate than Disney is offering.

3.  AAA.  The AAA website offers all sorts of resort packages, room-only rates, and ticket choices.  While I don't think we've ever purchased from the website, we have bought tickets through the local AAA office.  (I don't think we've ever booked a room through them at all.)  There are Florida resident rates available, as well as regional discounts. (So, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, you may be in luck!)  Visit the website ( or your local office for more info.  You do have to be an AAA member to book or purchase; an annual membership costs about $60.

4.  Disney.  We do most of our booking directly with Disney these days.  I have found that the Disney Florida resident discounts are about the best we can find.  I feel very confident in working with Disney; any time I have a question, I can just call and get it answered.  In September 2011, I booked on-line for our summer vacation: 8 nights at Disney's Pop Century Resort.  Earlier this year, when the Florida resident rates were released, I called and had my booking changed to reflect those rates - a savings of about $20 per night.  Then, when my mom and dad offered to share their 3-bedroom timeshare condo with us, I was able to call back and cancel 7 of the 8 nights, no problem.  I also love the on-line check-in option that will be available 10 days before our official check in date.  It makes checking in at the resort so much smoother.  I don't think that option would be available to those staying at a Disney resort on an expedia booking, though. 

5.  Travel agent.  For no extra money at all, you can talk with a knowledgeable Disney travel agent.  They know all you need to know about booking a room at the best possible rate.  You can find tons of Disney travel agents; just google "Disney travel agent" or search on Facebook.  There's somebody out there with just what you need.  I've never used a travel agent to book a Disney vacation; I've studied the guidebooks so much I don't really feel like I need to.  I would recommend considering an agent though, if you're planning a trip for the first time.  Also, check out for LOADS of planning info.

Okay, all of that was just to discuss some of the various ways to book your vacation.  I didn't even go in to the variety of room types available.  Here's my bottom line up to this point:

After booking Disney trips through multiple websites, I've committed to booking through  I get the discounts I need and the customer service I want. 

In my next post, I'll discuss the different types of lodging available and how it can affect your budget.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So Out of the Game!

I've been doing some Publix shopping again this week. I've been so out of the couponing game that I haven't even tried to track my savings for some time. With Publix doing their gas card deals, though, I just had to get back in it enough to get those. I haven't bought a newspaper in eons, so I don't have any valid coupons. My printer is out of toner, so I can't print those wonderful printables floating around out there. I had to rely on just two coupons per transaction: the $10/50 gas card Publix coupon in the ad and the $5/50 Apple Market coupon our stores accept as competitor coupons. I was able to keep my spending down to close to $60 per transaction and saved an average of over $20 per transaction. To those seasoned couponers out there, this is a horrible failure, but I was pleased with the savings I could get with just my two coupons per transaction. I bought many things that I needed and stocked up on some things that were on sale. I also was able to get a few things we can use on vacation. Hey, I freed up a little more vacation money to be used on other fun stuff!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Did It!: King's Hawaiian Bread

I Did It!: Ceramic Coasters

This is such a cheapskate gift! I had so much fun working on these.  I think I enjoyed it so much because I felt successful at every step.  I found a picture on pinterest, a tutorial so simple that the instructions were entirely within the caption of the picture.  I can't wait to have another reason to make some custom ceramic coasters!

I used (and where I bought it):

8 (4x4) ceramic tiles (Lowe's)
Clear spray paint (Lowe's)
E6000 adhesive (Hobby Lobby)
Scrapbook paper (Hobby Lobby)
Felt (Hobby Lobby)
Mod Podge (Hobby Lobby)
Foam brushes (Hobby Lobby)

1. Cut the scrapbook paper into 4x4 squares.
2. Use Mod Podge to adhere the squares of paper to the tiles.
3. Use Mod Podge to "paint" the papered tiles.  Do several coats (I did 4.) and allow to dry between coats.
4. Spray tiles with clear spray paint.  Do several coats (I did 2.) and allow to dry between coats.
5. Cut 4x4 squares of felt.
6. Use the E6000 adhesive to adhere the felt to the back of the tile.  Allow to dry up to 24 hours before using.

Ta-Da! So incredibly easy.  I spent less than 2 hours, excluding time to dry between coats, to make this birthday present. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I Did It: Lasagna Soup

What a yummy soup! I freely admit to being a soup addict.  When I was pregnant with my son, now 5, soup was my only real craving.  Well, that and chili, which some might consider a soup anyway.  I sort of never got over that craving.  I love to eat soup, I love to make soup.  I find it supremely comforting.  If you ever hear from me that we are having soup for dinner, there is at least a 50% chance that something is bothering me or that I'm sick.  (About half the time I make soup, though, I make it just 'cuz I love it, not because I'm having some trial or another.)
I found this recipe for Lasagna Soup on Pinterest, and just couldn't stop thinking about it.  It's super simple to make.  I have made this soup a couple of times now, and have found ways to tweak it for my non-cheese-eating little ones.  Here's the recipe I follow, in its original form.

Lasagna Soup

2 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. Italian sausage
3 c. chopped onions
4 garlic cloves
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T. tomato paste
28 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
6 c. chicken stock
8 oz. mafalda or fusilli pasta
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil
salt/pepper to taste

for the cheesy gooey goodness:
8 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 t. salt
freshly ground black pepper

2 c. shredded mozzarella

(Here's what I realized as I was shamelessly copying the ingredients from the other blog onto mine: I don't follow recipes very well any more.  It used to be that I would only ever make food by studiously following the recipe.  Like, obsessively.  I guess I've reached the point that I am confident enough in my kitchen to make substitutions.  Example: I haven't used 1 1/2 lbs. of Italian sausage to make anything.  Ever.  I use 1/2 lb. to make this recipe.   Maybe that's just the cheapskate in me.  I almost never have fresh basil in my house, so I use the dried stuff almost exclusively.  Chicken stock? Nah, I'll just use water and mix in a couple of beef boullion cubes. I don't remember the last time I had tomato paste.  Or fire-roasted diced tomatoes.  I just used a couple of jars of my own homemade spaghetti sauce, and I liked it just fine. I'm keeping the recipe in its original form here, though, to give respect to the person who came up with it.  Who obviously would be horrified in my kitchen.)

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage, breaking up into bite sized pieces, and brown for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.

Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta and cook until al dente. Right before serving, stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheesy gooey goodness. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.
To serve, place a dollop of the cheesy gooey goodness in each soup bowl, sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top and ladle the hot soup over the cheese.

The recipe says this serves 8.  I think it's an easy recipe to stretch.  Just add more water and more boullion cubes. :)  If you know you want leftovers, cook the pasta separately and add it to the individual bowls.  That way you won't have soggy, mushy pasta in your leftovers.  You'll have to boil up some fresh pasta to have with your leftovers, but that will be 10 minutes well spent.  You really wouldn't want soggy, mushy pasta in your soup.  Don't ask me how I know this.

I served this with awesome breadsticks that I can't take any credit for at all, since I got the recipe from yet another food blog.  But that's a blog post for another day.

I Did It: Breadsticks

I Did It: Lemon Crinkle Cookies

These cookies came together so easily! I got the recipe from Pinterest last night or this morning, and now I have cookies cooling on my stove!  The flavor is quite mild, but that's my own fault.  My lemons have been with me for a while, so they are soft and wouldn't zest.  Since I couldn't include the 2 tsp. lemon zest, I increased the lemon juice, hoping to keep the lemon flavor strong.  It didn't work; the lemon flavor is very, very faint.  They cookies are nicely sweet, though, thanks to the powdered sugar coating.  Another thing I didn't do was to line the cookie sheets with parchment.  I ran out, so I just used cooking spray.  I'm finding that the cookies are sticking to the pan a bit. 

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.
Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar, mixing for about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
To the mixture in the stand mixer, add the egg, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Beat until combined. 
Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Roll heaping tablespoons-ful in the sugar before placing them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes, turning the cookie sheet halfway through.
Cool for just a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Estimated Cost Breakdown:
Flour - $.05
Baking soda - $.02 
Baking powder - $.02
Salt - $0 (still using the big container of pink himalayan sea salt I got as a gift)
butter - $.99 
sugar - $.29
lemon juice and zest - $.50
vanilla - $.03
powdered sugar - $.16

Total cost for the batch: $2.06

Coming later today: Two more "I Did It" posts - breadsticks and lasagna soup

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Did It: Pizza Snowballs

Thank you, pinterest! The recipe I found was almost embarrassingly easy, and I had all the ingredients to put them together in my pantry/freezer. Lunch was almost a no-brained!

The recipe called for refrigerator biscuits, which I did not have. I put together my favorite biscuit recipe instead, and the kiddos got to help with the pastry cutter. I did use sausage instead of pepperoni, as the recipe suggest, because that's what I had. They ended up being quite messy, and they didn't come together quite like the recipe shows. I ended up just dumping the cooked sausage into the biscuit dough, balling up wads of the mixture to put in the muffin tin, then sprinkling some cheese on the top.

The result? Big winner with my husband and myself, not so much with the kids. I served them with homemade spaghetti sauce dipping.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Today's Frugal Meal: Calderetta

I Did It: Homemade Butter

I wish I had taken a picture of the little bit of butter the kids and I made! This makes a great and rewarding activity to do with the kiddos anytime.  I'll keep this in mind for those rainy days when things get a little squirrely around here.

I tried this recipe, on a much smaller scale, when I had a bit of heavy cream that had been hanging around in my fridge for a while.  I figured it was use it or lose it time, so why not give it a go? The kids and I enjoyed the shaking (and shaking and shaking and shaking), and the butter was actually quite good.  We sampled it the night we made it, then I used the rest in a batch of biscuites or scones or something.

Homemade Butter

organic cream (not ultra-pasteurized) (I used non-organic, and I have no idea about the pasteurization level!)
sea salt
quart or half gallon mason jars (I used a rubbermaid container, since I had just a tiny bit of cream.)

1. Leave the cream at room temperature for a few hours until it's fully warmed to room temperature.
2. Pour room temperature cream into jar.  Important: The jar should be double the size of the amount of cream you are using.  If you are shaking a pint of cream, you need a quart jar.
3. Make sure the cap the screwed on very tight (or the plastic lid is snapped tightly).  Shake it really really really well.  Take turns with each of the kids. You'll feel the progress soon.
4. Keep right on shaking until no more butter will form. (There will be a thin white liquid as well.)
5. Separate the liquid from the butter.
6. Place butter in a bowl and run very cold water over it.  Press and squeeze to get as much of the buttermilk out as you can.  Keep going until the water is clear.
7.  You can add salt if you want.
8. Pack in refrigerator or freezer proof containers.  I just kept the same rubbermaid I had used to make the butter.
9. You should be able to keep the butter, if frozen, for up to a year.

I Did It: Pao de Queijo

I already blogged about these rolls here (and the picture is actually better in the other post), but I made these this morning during a carb-crave.  I just wanted to say how easy these are!  I love that I don't have to wait for hours for a yeast bread to rise and I don't have to make the mess of biscuit or scone dough in order to get my carbs.  So easy, so fast, so flavorful. 
Check out my original post for the run-down on directions and cost.  See for the original recipe I used as well as for a plethora of other must-try's.

I Did It: Copy Cat Chili's Salsa

Don't you just love the salsa at Chili's? I do! I could make (and have made) a meal just from their chips and salsa.  Back when it was just $1.69 and $1.99.  Chips and salsa is still the cheapest appetizer on the menu, but the price just keeps going up.  I stumbled upon this recipe for a copy cat Chili's salsa on pinterest.  I browsed the blog it came from, and I was intrigued by more yummy-sounding recipes.  I've added several to my favorites, which is where I store all my new meal ideas for later use. 
I love this recipe because you buzz everything in a food processor until it's not very chunky at all - just the way I like it.  I suppose that, if you like a chunkier salsa, you could buzz it a little less and make it the consistency you like.
Over the weekend, I picked up a jumbo-giant can of diced tomatoes at Sam's Club for somewhere in the $2-$3 range, so I made 8 pints of this yummy salsa for basically what I would pay for one appetizer at the restaurant!
I tweaked about half of the ingredients in the following recipe.  I put my own comments in purple in the hope that you wouldn't be confused between the recipe and my comments.

Copy Cat Chili's Salsa

2 cans (14.5 oz each) whole tomatoes, drained (I used the jumbo can of diced tomatoes and kept the liquid)
1 small (4 oz.) can diced or whole jalapenos (not pickled) -- about 4 or 5 jalapenos (I used the type of jalapenos that are sliced long-ways.  I used about 4 or 5 SLICES, not 4 or 5 jalapenos.  We like things fairly mild here.  The salsa I made has just a tiny tiny hint of heat.)
1/4 c. yellow onion, cut into quarters (You can also used dried minced onion.) (I used yellow onion and onion powder.)
1 tsp. garlic salt (I used garlic powder.)
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt (depending on how much you prefer) (I probably used less than 1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. lime juice (I might have used more.  I just juiced about 1/2 a lime into each batch I made.)

Place all of the ingredients together into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.  Serve with tortilla chips.

What Has Happened to Me?

I don't know what has happened, but I have become very bad at posting blog updates.  I haven't been couponing like I should, so I don't have any super-savings-stories to share.  I've been so out of the drug store game that I actually let an ECB expire a couple of weeks ago.  What's wrong with me? I guess my adventures in becoming a cheapskate have served their purpose, and the blogging has lost its magic for me.  I have so much going on in my life that it doesn't make sense anymore to try to blog just about couponing.  A friend suggested that I start a cooking blog, and I guess I might use this blog for that purpose now.  I am still into saving money, to the point that I can figure the approximate, if not exact, cost of the recipes I make.  I've done that quite a bit here, in posts I call Today's Cheapskate Meal.  I think I just may focus, here on wannabe cheapskate, on that part of my life more than on others.  I'll be posting every time I try a new recipe, and I may backtrack a little to share some new favorites and flops.