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She Met Our Savings Challenge

Contest winner Sandra Lee showed us how to save.

Saving comes naturally for Sandra Lee.

She can get more mileage out of meat loaf by adding quick oats to the recipe to fill out the ground beef mix. She'll show you how to save at the supermarket by making spice mixes from scratch or cooking up a batch of laundry detergent.

Impressed by her penny-pinching prowess, AARP Savings Expert Jeff Yeager chose Lee as the overall winner of the 2010 AARP Savings Challenge online contest.

"What struck me about her is she is very hospitable, very forthcoming and very supportive of all people in the group," said Yeager, the "Ultimate Cheapskate" and host of the Savings Challenge group on AARP.org. "She had a tremendous amount of tips herself and went out of her way to be a real team player in the community."

Lee, a 65-year-old AARP member from Alabama, is a semiretired intensive care/emergency room nurse. For winning the Savings Challenge, she won a $2,000 gift card. She said her winnings will pay for some much-needed car repairs.

"I've been praying very hard about how to pay for this," said Lee, who commutes 40 miles each way to her part-time job at the hospital. "And then I got the e-mail saying I had won."

Lee says she saves a lot of money on her grocery bill by making a lot of meals at home.

"People think if you cook from scratch you'll spend all day in the kitchen. That's not true," said Lee, who enjoys skillet and slow-cooker meals. "If I spend more than 30 minutes in the kitchen, it's unusual."

She also saves money by making homemade versions of boxed pasta and rice dishes. She uses the Internet to find "copy-cat recipe sites" and experiment with different variations.

"I buy my own spaghetti, rice and then add in some chicken or beef bouillon and add garlic and onion powder," Lee said. "It takes the same amount of time to make and it costs about one-fourth less."

With Christmas just around the corner, Lee isn't worried about last-minute shopping. She's already done most of it — on the cheap.

 "I don't like running out and buying everything all at one time," she said. "During the year, I look for things on sale — like after Valentine's Day, Mother's Day. I buy perfumes and bath salts when they are on the markdown table and keep them in a bin until Christmas and then I make gift baskets."

For those who are difficult to shop for, Lee opts for online gift certificates and buys those from setting aside her loose change each day.

"She's a single mother of six, and has lived frugally for most of her life," Yeager said. "So, she really knows her stuff."

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