Money Saving Tip: Stock up at Fundraisers

Children’s activities can really add up when you live in a town where the going rate for a 1-hour piano lesson is $60 and a season of soccer can be as much as $220. However, I’ve found a great way to save money by buying up a year’s worth of activities in one night at school fundraisers.

Local area businesses are always donating their goods and services to their neighborhood schools as a way to get the word out, and I’ve saved as much as 75% off by purchasing my child’s activities this way. While it isn’t inexpensive to buy multiple items at once, when you spread it out over what you WOULD have spent over the course of a year the dollars really add up. The key is to only buy things that you WOULD HAVE BOUGHT ANYWAY. I don’t spent money on activities that my child “might” like, just on one’s that I know we were going to do anyway.

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In Praise of Toaster Ovens

I’m a HUGE fan of toaster ovens (TO) and have been ever since my mother and I set-up a makeshift kitchen in my college dorm room by putting a small toaster oven on top of the standard issue mini-fridge that came in every room. I delighted in being able to heat up my own French-bread pizza and frozen lasagnas….ah, the good old days when I ate in ignorant bliss of nutrition (I’m joking of course…a little bit.)

Nowadays my cooking is much more advanced and the TO is a bit larger, but this little workhorse is still the center of my kitchen and enables me to do 99% of my cooking without ever turning on our full-size oven.

Why use a toaster oven you ask?
1) Right-sizing: In environmental design we have a term called “right sizing” which means you want to use the right size appliance for the right size job. Turning on a full-size oven when you are just warming up a burrito would be a waste. But the reality is turning on an oven when it is any less than full capacity is also a waste. The vast majority of my family cooking can fit in a toaster oven, so this reduces my energy consumption.

2) Cook Faster: Toaster ovens cook faster because they focus the heat closer to the food. Think about when you hold a marshmallow close to the heat versus far away. Same concept.

3) Keeps Your Kitchen Cooler: If you live somewhere that gets really warm, it will keep your kitchen/house cooler than turning on a full-size oven because it will throw off less heat.

A couple of tips if you are considering buying a toaster oven:
1) Minimum Size: Get one that fits at least an 8″x8″ casserole dish. This will allow you to do most of your cooking if you are a 1-2-person household. You will be able to bake a cake, make brownies, cook chicken breasts or fish, roast vegetables and heat up leftovers quickly (350-degrees for 5-minutes will warm up most items you might be tempted to use the microwave for. I’m not a fan of the microwave…)

Even better is a slightly larger toaster oven like mine which can fit an 8″x8″ dish and a 4-1/2″x8″ bread dish side by side (technically my dishes are about 10″ at their widest points with their handles.)
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2) Adjustable Rack: Make sure the toaster oven’s rack is adjustable to at least 2-positions (low and middle) and preferably 3 (more options is always better!)2015/01/img_1872.jpg

3) A Timer: I didn’t “graduate” to a TO with a timer until just recently, but it is SO fantastic. I love that I can walk away and get busy doing something else and not worry about burning anything!!!! This isn’t a necessity, but it is awfully nice to have a cooking device that shuts off automatically!

A word on convection: I enjoy cooking with convection when I’m making anything bread-y because it makes the top come out nice and crisp, however, I don’t like how it dries out vegetables and meat. I would not let convection be a make-or-break characteristic of a toaster oven.

I personally own this Breville Convection Smart Oven which is the #1 best-selling convection oven on Amazon and is pretty reasonable at $250 considering all it can do. I absolutely love this oven because it’s large enough for me to roast a whole chicken in it and even comes with a pizza pan. Sometimes I will even “stack” pans to take advantage of the extra headroom!

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One word of caution: it does pull 1800-watts so you may want to make sure you have the juice to spare in your kitchen. Here is a toaster oven much like the one I started with back in college which is 1/10th of the price of the Breville at around $29.

Hope this helps and would love to hear your thoughts on toaster ovens! Be a spark in the world!