How to Save on Groceries Without Using Coupons

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By Liz

The best ways to save money at the grocery store are probably some of the tried and true nuggets of wisdom you have already heard before, and maybe a few you haven’t.

I have a large family, seven of us to be exact, and that does not include our four rescue dogs. The average American family’s food budget is one of the largest expenditures we have, right behind shelter and my family is no exception to this statistic. My husband works hard at his job and is the current “bread winner” for our large brood, so I look at saving money on our second, highest expense as an important part of my job and my financial contribution to our family.

I will be upfront by telling you, that there are no coupons involved here.  Some others will tell you that shopping with coupons, rebates and money saving apps for your Smartphone are the way to go.  I, too, bought into these methods and at one time or another, had done all of these or used all these money saving methods in the past, but what I found, was that I was purchasing food that was overpriced and unhealthy for me and my family and I found myself buying items that I didn’t use on a regular basis, and/or I was just buying them because I had a coupon for them, thereby, using up my money, time, energy and precious storage space in my home.

I want to share with you some of my money saving strategies when it comes to grocery shopping.

shopping-list

1. Make it and take it…a list that is. At our house on our refrigerator is a magnetic, lined note pad that we use as a running list of items that we need or we are running low on. For instance, if someone in the family has just opened the last gallon of milk and grocery shopping day is still another two days away, then milk gets added to the list because at that time, we will be out.

2. Re-create your list to match the layout of the store. If you keep a running tally of grocery items needed and you know the general layout of the store(s) you will be shopping, take a few minutes to re write your list.

I do this important step the morning I will be doing my shopping.  While having my morning coffee, I glance over my running list and see if I need to add or subtract from it.  I then take a clean piece of paper and re write my list according to the store layout. I list all of my produce together, bulk items, staples, cleaning products, meat, dairy and then frozen goods. As I shop the items on my list, I cross them out, thereby eliminating any back tracking in the store for any item(s) I have overlooked and making my shopping trip as short as possible.

3. I can’t stress the other half of this tip enough…take your list. If you forget your list you are more apt to wander around the store, walking up and down every aisle trying hard to remember what you came to get and you will have a tendency to pick up items that weren’t even on your list.  Grocery stores have this down to a science; studies have shown that for every 40 minutes you spend in their store, you are more likely to spend at least 50% more of your budget on items you never intended to buy.

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And, unless you are a wiz when it comes to toggling the apps on your Smartphone,(I am certainly not) I highly recommend old fashioned paper and pencil for this task, this way as you accumulate the items on your list, you can cross them out one by one, ensuring you got what you came for and you won’t have to back track through the store for forgotten items.

4. If possible, shop only once a week, for the really adventurous, you could try once every two weeks or once a month if you are really confident in your strategy.

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5. Never shop on an empty stomach. You have heard this one many, many times and it is true. Nowadays, with in store deli’s, sandwich and soup stations, bakeries,  and rotisseries, merchants are doing all that they can to get you to spend more of your hard earned money in their shops by appealing to your sense of smell.

6. Take an inventory of what you already have. You will be surprised with how much you already have on hand. Go through your pantry, cabinets, fridge and freezer and make an inventory. Many times I have picked up an item such as sugar, only to come home, put it away and find 2 unopened bags already sitting on my shelf.

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7. Keep your food storage spaces organized. I can’t stress this one enough. Periodically, straighten and organize your pantry space and freezer. Make sure you rotate and use the first in, first out method. This keeps your food inventory freshest for consumption.

8. Make a price book. This does not have to be a gigantic 3 ring binder that you tote around with you from store to store as you peruse every item on every shelf. This can be as small as a pocket journal. I also recommend that you start off by listing staple items or the things you find yourself buying often. Things like pasta, rice, bread, coffee, milk, eggs, cheese. Dedicate one page per item and jot down each store you visited and each store’s price. Do make sure you are comparing apples to apples here.  For instance, make sure that if you are pricing a 1 pound bag of store brand rice at one store, that you are pricing the same 1 pound bag of store brand rice at another store.

9. Make sure you are using the price per ounce information. A lot of stores have now taken to putting the price of the item on a shelf sticker right in front of the item, sometimes the store has done the math for you and the sticker will show the price per ounce. But sometimes, that information is left up to you, the consumer to figure out.  Most of us shop with our Smartphone, so why not use your calculator app to find out what the best price is? If you do not have a Smartphone, I suggest bringing a small, simple to use calculator.  If you don’t know how to calculate the price per ounce, it is very easy.  Simply enter the price of the item, divided by the size of the item.

Example: 

Store A, is selling a bag of their 12 ounce, spaghetti for 85 cents.; .85 cents divided by 12 ounces= .07 per ounce.

Store B, is selling a bag of their 24 ounce, spaghetti for 99 cents.; .99 cents divided by 24 ounces= .04 per ounce

If this is an item you use on a regular basis, then it is a no brainer, which store brand spaghetti you should buy. 

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10. Shop loss leaders. If you look at your local store(s) weekly ad, you will generally find some amazing deals right on the front page and at a glance it appears as if the store is practically giving away these items. These are the store’s loss leaders. The store is banking on you coming in to scoop up these great buys, but they are also certain that once in the store you will be picking up a lot of overpriced items as well. Stores have spent a ton of money researching shopping habits of their consumers.  They know that the longer you are in the store, the more money you will most likely spend, therefore, don’t expect to find these loss leading items on a huge display shelf the minute you walk through the door, you will be doing some “hunting” for these deals.

Also, stores have become great at marketing to our busy schedules and count on the fact that we love convenience. They know if they display the loss leader cans of tomato sauce, right next to some overpriced spaghetti and just so happen to have a rack of freshly baked Italian bread very close to the vicinity of this display, then 8 times out of 10, they will have sold you a complete meal, even though you only came in for a can of sauce.

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11. Shop discounts. Have you ever really gotten a good look at your store’s discounted sections? Were you even aware that such a thing existed? There are some consumers that would never dream of buying discounted breads, meats, or produce, for them it is out of their comfort zone, however, you can cash in on their squeamishness. Some more prestigious, expensive chains don’t offer this as an option, but if you are reading this, you probably aren’t shopping at these chains anyhow.

Many stores offer discounted items, these are items that have been marked down due to any number of reasons; they might be nearing their “sell by date”; the store won’t be carrying that item any longer; the label design might be changing; the store ordered too much of the item; the store is updating the plan-o-gram of any particular item, etc.

If your store(s) offers these discounts, try to make friends with the department managers to find out when you can get the best selections. I have found that stores that offer discounted items tend to place these in the store’s perimeters.  My local, big box store offers discounted deli items, baked goods, meat and produce all at 1/3 to 1/2 off the original price. Make sure you check for freshness on these items; never buy any meat or produce that is discolored or baked goods that are rock hard.

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12. Carry cash only. If you were to ask any person of a certain age, they will probably regale you with financial, penny pinching stories of yesteryear and even though you might find yourselves rolling your eyes at these tales, this is something that the older generation got right. Believe it or not, there was a time when people did not have a variety of credit cards spilling out of their wallets and debit cards with access straight to savings and checking accounts did not exist. That generation paid with cold, hard cash and if they did not have enough, they simply did not buy it.

You can very easily do this as well.  Make yourself a grocery budget; let’s say it is $100 for one week. Either withdraw or put aside the cash until grocery day. When you go grocery shopping, take the cash only, do not bring any of your debit or credit cards with you and once you have spent the $100, you are done, no more shopping.

This may take a little practice. Stick to your list and don’t stray from it, you will have to be mindful of what you are putting into your cart. Don’t be afraid to use your calculator to make sure you aren’t going over your budget as you put items into your cart. If you are worried that when you go to checkout you will be over your budget, make sure you have earmarked the items in your cart that you can live without and ask the cashier to take them off of your order. If this happens to you, don’t feel embarrassed, it has happened to all of us, at least once, or twice, or even more.

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13. Shop one or more stores if necessary. There is not one store that has all the best prices and if you have a variety of stores within your area, I suggest you check out the weekly sales at each store for their weekly loss leader, sale items and discount items. I know that many grocers will match prices of their competitors, but sometimes that comes with restrictions on store brand merchandise or buy 1 get 1 type of items.

On a similar note, I don’t know if they still do it, but one of the larger discount box stores used to have a program in which you logged onto their site, put in the required codes and dates from your receipt, and within a certain amount of time, (something like a week) they would credit you if any of the items you bought went on sale at one of the other stores in your local area. I know for a fact that items I had bought items within the box store’s specified time frame and met these qualifications, I was never credited any amounts.

Shopping at more than one location also gives you the opportunity to speak face to face with any department or store managers you meet so you can get the “inside” information you might need for any upcoming sales, mark downs or discounts.

14. Bread outlets and overstock stores. Most larger cities have a bread store outlet within the city and outer limits, even if you have to travel a distance, it really maybe worth your while as most baked products can be frozen.  You might be surprised to learn that outlet stores such as Family Dollar, 99 cent Only Stores, Dollar Tree and Big Lots, just to name a few, all carry bread and bread products.  Items such as bread, rolls, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, Danish and cakes freeze really well (donuts…not so much). If you have room in your freezer, I highly suggest stocking up, at least long enough to tide you over until the next time you can make it to your local bread outlet or overstock store.

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There you have it, my list of strategies to help save you money while food shopping without having to clip a single coupon. Try out these tips, maybe just a few at first, then incorporate more here and there. I think you will be pleasantly surprised on all the savings you will accumulate.

Let me know if you have a favorite strategy for saving money at the grocery store.




Discounted Grocery Store Shopping

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By Liz

So recently, I finally got the opportunity to check out the local grocery salvage store. This has been on my to-do-list for a couple of years now, and I found some time and finally went. If you are unaware of these kinds of stores, let me enlighten you a bit.

Many large cities and some smaller ones too, usually have a salvage store within its radius. Extremebargains.net maintains a directory of salvage and discount grocery stores in the United States. 

A grocery salvage store also known as outlet or discount grocery store, are stores that specialize in selling items that traditional grocery stores can’t or won’t sell.  Most buy their merchandise from grocery reclamation centers, and it includes such things as:

Food that is near or past its expiration.

Items in dented or torn packaging.

Items in seasonal or otherwise-dated packaging.

Store closeouts.

Manufacturer overstock.

Salvage from truck wrecks.

Unlike a traditional grocery store, which stocks the same items each week, salvage grocery stores stock different items each week, depending on what they get in.




Before going to my nearest grocery salvage store, I had done some homework, looked for pictures, sought out reviews, took into consideration the distance from my home and the hours that the store was open.  The reviews were really what got me excited about going as many reviewers gave this particular store, 5 out of a 5 star rating, claiming that this particular store had the best selection and the lowest prices around and that the “educated shopper  can eat gourmet on a welfare budget”.

I have read many an article and opinion on grocery salvage store shopping and the majority of the consensus gave this kind of shopping a thumbs up, however, this frugal homemaker, was not particularly impressed.

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Upon entering this store that resembled an old butcher shop/warehouse, the first things I noticed was the cleanliness of the store, the demographic of the customers and the utilization of space. 

While the areas with shelves were clean; the floors, bins, and refrigerated areas were in desperate need of sweeping, dusting and mopping. 

The demographic of this stores customer was all over the place, and this is a good thing, because it told me that people from diversified ages and backgrounds were all here trying to accomplish the same thing…making their grocery dollars stretch farther.

The utilization of space was slightly less than average. While there were the appropriate amount of products filling their shelves, at every end cap and every corner of the store, there were anywhere from 1 to 3 shopping carriages full of extra discounted goods.  These carts were overflowing and made it hard to browse through them without making a huge mess.

So what did this homemaker think of the goods for sale?  Again, I was unimpressed.  While there were more than its fair share of gluten free, organic and vegan products available, there were also plenty of traditional items as well.  Upon entering the store, the first section was devoted to overstocks of candy and chocolate, most of these were for sale as bulk items like you might see at Sam’s Club or Costco with almost Sam’s Club and Costco prices attached to them.

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I then proceeded into their refrigerated area where on this particular day, they had an over abundance of yogurt and yogurt smoothies that were 2 days past their expiration date and carriages full of fresh radishes, yup…you read that correctly…radishes, because there is always a HUGE demand for the stuff. Coincidentally, this area is where they keep their fresh produce, however this particular grocery salvage store only gets fresh produce on Saturdays. Some reviewers showed pictures of lines out the door to show what the store’s Saturday’s look like.  I don’t know about you, but my time is valuable to me and I don’t need discounted produce ALL that badly just to save a couple of bucks.

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My next stop in the store was the freezer sections of the store.  The store contains several wall sized freezer cases that houses mostly convenience boxed food, things like microwaveable meals, waffles, breakfast sandwiches, easy lunches, etc…  In the middle of this area, was several half sized rows of open freezers that contained frozen meats or in this case, freezer burned meats.  I was really expecting to find some incredibly low prices on the items in the wall sized freezers, and dirt cheap prices on the cuts of meats, but sadly, compared to my local Winco, Walmart and Aldi, the prices averaged to about the same if not more expensive and that isn’t with coupons or sales.  As far as the freezer burned meats, I can’t stress enough…NEVER, EVER waste your money on such an item at ANY grocery store, while most freezer burned items are safe to eat, (but who wants to take that chance?), both the taste and texture become compromised and your hard earned money should not be thrown away on such an important part of the meal.

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The rest of the store was shelves with dry goods and cleaning products, not to mention all those overflowing, cumbersome, randomly placed extra discounted shopping carriages. I did peruse each and every aisle and compared prices to where I usually shop and I really thought for sure, that this time and in these sections I would have much better luck finding some really great bargains that the reviewers were raving that they had only spent mere pennies on the dollar for their groceries.  One more time, I was disappointed. 

I was seeing prices such as:

$. 79 for canned peas (14 ounce)

$1.25 for spaghetti (12 ounce package)

$3.99 for Life cereal (18 ounce box)

$1.99 for Cheeze-Its (15 ounce box)

$1.79 for yellow cake mix (16.5 ounce box)

These are just a few examples of what I thought to be prices that were way too high for a grocery salvage store. However, there were a few deals that I thought were worth the effort.  




After almost a year of saving and planning, we are about to take our summer vacation, Hallelujah!!! So I had picked up a variety of snacks for the long road trip as well as for the vacation rental stay.  Most of the items pictured were obtained after rummaging through those overflowing discounted carts that I mentioned and that wound up yielding me half off of what the product was marked.

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 So my Cheeze-Its only cost me $.99 each.

Sunflower seeds (pepper /garlic & cinnamon toast?) were 4/$1.00

Restaurant Fritos  $1.00

Canned pumpkin 2/$1.00 (14 ounce cans)

Little Debbie snack cakes 3/$2.00

Keebler cookies $.99 each.

Terra chips 2/$1.00 (large bags)

Snack size cookies 5/$1.00

Life cereal $1.30 (18 ounce and the one and only discounted box I could find).

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There were a couple of other things, and I wound up spending $22.50 that day, however, it took me almost 2 hours to comb through the store to find these deals and items that met my standards.

My overall opinion of this store is that it was a HUGE disappointment and I will not be returning to this particular establishment. As previously mentioned in several of my posts, if you shop smart and find the right locations close to your home, you can get fresh, quality, non-salvaged groceries at your local stores at similar if not in most cases, better prices, thereby saving you time and money.

Feeding my Family on $80 for a Month Part IIII

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By Liz

 

If you haven’t had a chance, please check out Part I; Part II and Part III of this series.

Well, here we are…week 4 on my quest to save $500 for a month by only spending $80 for groceries for the past 30 days for my family of 7 plus 4 dogs.  In case you forgot, as I mentioned in my Penny Pinching June article, we have a decent sized walk in pantry, a chest freezer, a refrigerator in the kitchen and a refrigerator in the garage (used for mostly defrosting food or overflow of milk, eggs and other items) so prior to this experiment we had a decent stock pile of meat, dry goods and bread the only thing I was needing to purchase for the past month was items like milk, dairy and produce as these all have a short shelf life.

 


So how did I do this week with only $16.50 left of my $80 cash budget?

I can tell you, we put a really good dent in our food stockpile over the past month and we are down to our last loaf of bread, but we still have enough to probably use this method for another week or so, however, my family has been getting a little antsy when it comes to their guilty pleasures, things like ice cream, cookies, chips and soda, basically, all those treats they are used to having during the summer.

Now I admit, I do indulge my family on these items some of the time. We do not have these things on a regular basis in our home. In order for me to save money regularly, we don’t always have said treats and junk food. I usually make one or two baked goods for the week (a batch of cookies or a cake), things like chips and soda usually make an appearance in our house if we are having a cookout or the rest of the family comes over and although we eat our fair share of ice cream during the summer, I have noticed that generally by the 4th of July, the family starts getting burned out on it and by mid-August, I am discarding these now freezer burned treats.

Again this final week, I went to Aldi, still avoiding the variety and temptations that Winco has to offer, here is a snapshot and list of what I purchased this week:

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2 gallons of milk
10 pounds of potatoes
Bananas
Garlic
1 package of cheese slices
1 jar peanut butter

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For a grand total of $14.44. YAY!!! I actually came in under budget with $2.06 left to spare!

So what did we eat for this week?

Monday: Slow cooker, smothered chicken queso over rice.

Tuesday: Grilled hot Italian sausages and pierogies.

Wednesday: BBQ chicken on the grill/foil packet veggies (onion; summer squash & mushrooms)/garlic bread.

Thursday: Fresh slow cooker pinto beans/quesadillas.

Friday: Caprese salad pasta tossed with whatever was leftover of the sausages and chicken.

Saturday: Basil mac and cheese/fried chicken (that I forgot we had and was found in our chest freezer).

Sunday: Grilled steak/baked beans/simple salad with cucumbers and tomatoes.

Looking back, I am thankful it was a successful experiment and I was actually able to save my family the $500, if not more for the month. This was a challenge though, not going to lie about it, I probably would have had an easier go of it, if my meal planning was not as vast as it was and we ate things like beans and rice every Sunday or homemade pizza every Friday, but like I said previously, we like variety and it was nice to know that I was able to accomplish that with my stockpile and pantry offerings, sprinkled in with some fresh perishables.

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As previously mentioned, I will probably institute these kinds of penny pinching months at least twice a year into our savings plan and depending on what kind of deals I can gather during the regular months, and probably to the dismay of family, maybe, eventually make this a quarterly event. I will keep you updated.




Feeding my Family on $80 for a Month Part III

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By Liz

If you are just tuning in, feel free to check out Part I and Part II of this series.

So how did I do this week with only $32.10 of my $80 for my Penny Pinching June?

We are really getting down to the wire here and although my dry pantry staples and freezer are still in good shape, it is really things like my perishables I am having issue with. 

We are starting to miss a lot of dairy, items such as cheese, margarine, yogurt, sour cream and now that summer is here, ice cream.  I have been substituting real butter for the margarine, and while agree it tastes better and is better for us, real butter is expensive and does not stretch as far as margarine in certain recipes so I had to break down and get a tub.

Again I went to Aldi, I think I have been doing this to avoid Winco, there are just too many options at Winco, and I feel like I would be overly tempted to purchase more and blow through my cash budget.

Here is a snapshot and list of what I purchased this week:

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1 tub margarine

1 package cream cheese

1 package tortillas

2 dozen eggs

2 rolls of ground turkey

4 avocados

4 peaches

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I spent a total of $14.63 at Aldi.  Shortly after I got home, I realized I forgot to pick up milk, thankfully one of the boys was already out for the day, so I texted him and asked him to pick up 2 gallons, but he only brought home 1 (kids…insert big sigh here). I repaid him the 97 cents for the milk at dinner time. So my grand total spent for the day was $ 15.60, leaving me $16.50 for my final week of this challenge.




So what did we eat for this week?

Monday: Chili Dog Enchilada Casserole/ homemade potato wedges.

Tuesday: Pork Chili

Wednesday: Hamburgers/macaroni salad.

Thursday: Pizza (prior to the month I had found some rather large take and bake pizza’s that were discounted at Walmart so I picked up a couple and had them in stored in my freezer).

Friday:  Lemon Chicken Penne/garlic bread/salad.

Saturday: Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce (I had a spaghetti squash in my fridge for quite some time, so I made this for me instead of the pasta to cut back on the carbs.

Sunday: In honor of Father’s day and in an attempt to spoil my husband who is also a fabulous dad…I made steaks on the grill (that I butchered from a roast)/garlic smashed potatoes/green beans with lemon/sourdough rolls/dark chocolate cake with fresh raspberries.

One more week and it is going to be a huge challenge since our micro garden is now exploding and I need to put those ingredients to use, personally, I am starting to have cheese withdrawal and its summer so my kids want to know…WHERE IS THE ICE CREAM???

 

 


Feeding my Family on $80 for a Month Part II

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By Liz

If you are just tuning in, feel free to check out Part I of this series.

So how did I do this week with only $53.79 of my $80 for my Penny Pinching June?

Well, not too bad. Earlier in the week I was prepping for dinner shortly after lunch, since my cutting board and knife were already out, when I discovered I was missing a key ingredient for dinner.  So with a lot of hemming and hawing, I broke down and went to the store for the one ingredient I needed.

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I needed Parmesan cheese for the lasagna rolls I was making that evening, and even though I could have probably omitted it from the recipe, I use a lot of Parmesan in many of my recipes, (comes with being Italian, I guess).  While in the store, my two options were the large container for $4.84 or the smaller container for $3.98, even though I knew I was on a strict budget, buying the larger container was still the better price per ounce, so I hesitantly ponied up the $4.84 for the larger container.  On a side note here, later that afternoon I had emptied the dryer to fold clothes and found $2.36. We have a standing rule in the house that it is “finders; keepers” in regards to money found in the dryer, so I added the $2.36 to my cash budget for food, thereby only costing me $2.48 for the Parmesan.

 


I went to Aldi again this week because I knew the kinds of fresh produce I needed for the upcoming week was going to be comparable in price versus Winco, the store I alternate with Aldi, however Aldi is slightly closer to my house, so I went there again.

Here is a snapshot of everything I purchased that day.

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2 gallons of milk

2 packages of strawberries

3 pounds of apples

1 block mozzarella cheese

1 block Swiss cheese

4 peaches

2 cucumbers

3 pounds of bananas

1 package of green onions

2 pounds of white onions

1 quart of half and half

2 dozen eggs

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My total came up to $19.21, and with the extra $2.36 from my dryer score, I still have $32.10 for the next 2 weeks.

As mentioned before, we are not living on rice, beans, peanut butter and jelly or breakfast for dinner (you will rarely ever hear me mention that as an option, as my husband despises breakfast for dinner).

So what did we eat for the week? Here was our menu:

Monday: Lasagna rolls; mozzarella/tomato/pesto Paninis.

Tuesday: Steaks on the grill; au gratin potatoes; grilled corn on the cob; fresh baked bread.

Wednesday: Grilled cheese and tomato soup (ok…I phoned this one in on this particular evening, but most everyone was out for the evening, so it was just me and one of my sons).

Thursday: Rustic Pork Ragu over spaghetti; pita/garlic bread; Caprese salad (basil and tomatoes from our micro garden were used in the salad).

Friday:  Dijon/garlic and lemon salmon; green onion and garlic quinoa; lemon cauliflower.

Saturday: Spinach and Feta cheese sausage and fresh veggies (bell pepper, tomatoes & zucchini from our micro garden) served over brown rice.

Sunday: A quick and easy one pot jambalaya.

So that is how I measured up this week, to be honest, when I was at Walmart for the Parmesan cheese, I felt slightly disheartened seeing many good discounts in their bakery and meat departments, knowing I had to pass them up because all I had on me was my small cash budget that I have to make stretch, BUT that is the purpose of this exercise…right? Well, that and saving $500 cold hard cash.

Stay tuned to see how I do next week.

 


 

Feeding my Family on $80 for a Month Part I

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By Liz

Last week I announced that I was instituting a Penny Pinching June here at the house since I have felt like we had been “bleeding” money for the last couple of months. I wanted to reign in some of our spending while building our savings account back up to my “I can sleep at night” comfort level.

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I had taken an inventory of our current stock of foods from the pantry, freezer and fridge, did a small amount of stocking up in May on those staple items we seem to plow through and have decided that I would buy nothing else for the month of June and we would be living off of what we already had on hand.

My regular food budget for our family of 7, is approximately $600/month; however my challenge and goal for the month of June is to spend only $80 for the month on the perishables that I know have a much smaller window when it comes to expiration dates, items such as milk, eggs and fresh produce.

You might be wondering how I came up with the amount of $80. To be honest, it was what I had left in my wallet after my last grocery shopping trip in May.  I did however sit down and ran the numbers really quick on the perishable items listed above to see if this was a realistic amount, turns out; it is if I want to reach my goal of saving $500 this month.

As you may have deduced, $80 for the month, equals roughly $20 for the week. That sounds crazy…right?  C’mon…$20 per week for a family of 7 + 3 dogs?  Impossible you might say, well I guess we will find out together.

Thursday’s are my “running day”, the day when I do the majority of my shopping, errands and appointments and this past Thursday was my first attempt at shopping on this small budget. I had a very short shopping list with me that included only my absolute necessary perishables and my $80 in cash. I left all other means to pay (credit and debit cards/checkbook) at home. This day, I had a lot of errands to take care of, so I decided to shop at my local Aldi, which I would be passing on my route home. The entire time I was in the store adding items to my cart, I was doing the math and making a conscience effort not to go over $20. Currently, the price of eggs and milk are pretty low here in Texas, so I am taking full advantage of these particular 2 items that I can never seem to keep on hand with my brood and the rest were purchases that I needed, but looked for the best deal in the store and if it wasn’t within my price range or keeping within my budget…I put it back down.

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Here is a snapshot of everything I purchased that day:

2 packs of chicken thighs

1 gallon of milk

2 packages of mozzarella block cheese

1 container of cream cheese

1 container of ricotta cheese

1 (1) pound package of black forest ham

Bananas

3 dozen eggs

2 containers of strawberries

1 head of cauliflower

3 pounds of onions

My total came up a little higher than I wanted, it was $26.21, leaving me $53.79 for the next 3 weeks, but I am confident I will be able to pull it off.

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In my previous Penny Pinching June article, I said that we would have a monthly menu that included variety, and not just a diet of beans and rice or PB & J sandwiches. Here is what was we ate so far since June 1st until this posting.

Thursday:  Slow cooker corned beef and veggies.

Friday: Loaded Nachos, with beans, cheese, jalapenos, salsa and sour cream

Saturday: We were visiting my sister and brother-in-law, so we were invited to have dinner at their house.

Sunday: Grilled chicken thighs, potato salad and garden salad.

You might be wondering about breakfast and lunch. In our house, we all have different schedules as our kids are mostly teens and young adults, these two eating periods are an “every man for himself” situation. We always have a variety of breakfast and lunch items on hand; plenty of bread and bread like options (bagels, tortillas, English muffins), oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, cheese, eggs, sandwich meat, pre-cooked and frozen meats and pastas (made previously, bagged into portion sizes and then frozen), or the inevitable leftovers from the night before.

As a parent, and provider I have always felt this drive to ensure that my family is well fed and nourished, after all it’s one of our a basic necessities, because of that, we always have a decent size stock pile and selection in our freezer and pantry. And just as I have a certain discomfort level when our bank account drops below a certain amount, I have the same apprehension when it comes to the inventory of food in our home. I have to admit, that as I start this month, I feel as though we are in good shape and I am confident, at this point, I will make my goal, however, it will be interesting to see how I feel towards the end of the month, when my pantry and freezer starts to really look bare and I run out of cash. So I invite you to stay tuned to see how this experiment winds up, won’t you?



Saving $500 or More in One Month

 

shopping cart

By Liz

Living on one income, there are certain times throughout the year that make me anxious.  For one reason or another, we hit those irregular bills and I watch our account dwindle a little to the point it makes me start to wonder if leaving the work force was the right decision.  So much so, that I usually start dusting off my resume and start looking at the job boards again.

My husband will tell you that I over react during these times and that he could set his watch by them.  Looking at our books, I know we are fine, but when we hover around or we go below that “cushion” number in our account, it starts to make me lose sleep.  We have always rebounded, and brought that “cushion” back up, but there is always the looming question…what if we don’t?

plug

Summer time is one of those times of the year that make me feel financially uneasy.  I guess it stands to reason with payouts that include; increased electric bills with more people being home during the day watching T.V., playing video games, charging laptops, phones, etc…not to mention the A/C running to cool the house down in the Texas heat. Our water bill goes up, due to watering the lawn, the garden, extra showers, and laundry;  our food bill increases with hungry boys and one girl in and out of the house all summer; and then there is summer vacation and we all know how expensive that can be.

water

Now believe me when I tell you, I have done what I can to economize in ALL of these areas.  The A/C is on an automatic timer and is at a reasonable setting; laundry only gets washed when there are full loads to be done; showers are timed; and there are some years we don’t take a summer vacation, we didn’t last year, and I have to tell you, this year it is much needed. That leaves me with our food budget and while not completely out of control for a family of 7 and 4 dogs, it could still use some trimming.

Our average monthly food budget is approximately $600 for 7 people and 4 dogs, that breaks down to roughly $6.75 per person, per meal. Some would say this is to high, some will say that is low. Personally, I think it is too high and I want to start cutting back in this area in order to help reach some financial goals.



This past winter, I instituted “no spenduary” during the month of February.  After the holidays, I took inventory of our pantry, freezers and fridges and did a little bit of stocking up on staples that we plow through, things like potatoes, flour, sugar, coffee, pasta, rice, etc… Also, during the month of January if I saw rock bottom prices on meat, chicken or fish, I bought an extra pack or two then during the month of February, I did not do any grocery shopping.  We made do with what we already had in our inventory.  I did give myself a very small cash budget for the month to purchase some perishables such as milk, eggs and some fresh produce like lettuce, onions, bananas (since these things don’ t keep well for an entire month), but there were no large hauls, no overspending and in fact we wound up saving about $300 that month.

With summer just about to start, and having that “irky” feeling about our account again, I have decided to take the same action and I am instituting penny pinching June in our house. I have gone through our inventory, and have concluded that minus those perishables we have more than enough in our stash to make it through the month of June.  I am also giving myself a VERY strict, cash budget of only $80 to buy perishables for the month (crazy…right?).

beans

Now you might be thinking that, I will be feeding my family a steady stream of rice and beans, peanut butter and jelly, eggs made up, six ways to Sunday, but I want to be able to show that with a little creativity, we will have a variety of menu options by making do with what we already have on hand.  For the next 4 Mondays, my entries will be about my accountability and what we are eating and how far I can make that $80 stretch.

 

money

My goal is to be able to save $500 for the month of June.  This may not seem like a lot in today’s economy for a family of 7, but just like in February, I found myself and the rest of my family trying to save and economize in other ways as well, such as using the library more, car pooling with each other or friends, not buying that much “wanted” new video game (obviously, that one was for the kids), finding free or low cost entertainment, ditching the sodas for water, finding the locations for the lowest gas prices, etc.. It did my heart proud as the family followed my lead and took their own initiative to save some of their hard earned cash.

I know there are going to be times that myself or a family member will have a craving for some fast food or take out, or I will be tempted to pick up that amazing deal at the store when I walk in with my tiny amount of cash, earmarked for only the few perishables I will need and I will want to give in and take out my credit card, but I am hoping my resolve will be strong. In fact, I will be leaving the credit card at home. So follow me on my penny pinching June journey and see if my goal is truly reachable.



Five Frugal for Friday

savings

By Liz

This was an “off” week here at the house.  The college semester has ended for one of the boys, and he does not get any extra hours at his part time job for the summer until June, so he has been hanging around the house all week; one of our dear friends suffered a loss this week; our oldest dog was sick for a few days so this included stopping what we were doing to run around the house cleaning up after her.

My husband and I just could not seem to “get it into gear” this week when it came to getting projects done.  Needless to say, we are looking forward to the weekend and although it was a bad week, I still managed to get some thriftiness in.  Here are 5, frugal things I racked up this week:

antique-mall

1. Sunday was Mother’s day. I hope all moms had a great day. After Sunday service, I was treated to brunch at home, not made by me this week, but by my hubby and kids, which did included a fabulous tomato and cheese omelet, home fries, avocado toast and  a couple of mimosas (my fav.).   Later in the day the kids that were home for the day, took me to one of my favorite places, the local antique mall. If you have never been to an antique mall, I highly recommend it.  It is almost like going to a museum. So many things to look at, and so many trips down memory lane and the best part…no admission fee.

sasha

2. Sasha, our eldest dog, who was ailing this week, got some overdue TLC.  I took her to the DIY dog wash and gave her a good scrub down helping knock off a lot of her remaining winter coat.  Yes, I could wash her at home for free but Sasha has arthritis really badly in both her front and back legs and she is a big dog so it is hard for me to lift her in and out of the tub, not to mention ALL THAT HAIR. So I was glad to pay a fee of $10 at the dog wash, as they provide a tub with a ramp for her to get in and out of, they  also supply a variety of shampoos, towels, blow dryer and the best part…I don’t have a drain to unclog and tub to scrub down later.

3. Staying on Sasha, I found a new dog bed for her. Sasha gets a new bed once a year and by that time, it is much needed as the old one is pretty matted down and has lost its fluff and shape by the time the year is up.  Sasha is pretty particular about her beds; we have found that she prefers the beds at Costco that are size appropriate for her, they run us about $45. However, we have an open box store near us that sells many items that have come from Costco and I found a Kirkland (Costco brand) bed for her for only $25.

zuchhinni-bread

4. From 2 zucchinis that came from our micro garden, I made a wonderfully moist zucchini bread that the family enjoyed for dessert one night and breakfast the next morning with coffee.

dinner""

5. Thursday is my errand day. So I am in and out of the house for the majority of the day, I had planned on picking up something fresh to cook for dinner that night, but you know how sometimes you just get a craving and nothing will do until you satisfy it?  Well, that was me most of the week; I was craving fried chicken.  As luck would have it, I came across some discounted Walmart fried chicken that had been made previously in the day and was now over in their refrigerated case, it was still very fresh.  I picked up 2 containers, at a price of $6.22 for a total of 16 pieces; I would only need to reheat them in my oven in the evening. I also picked up some store baked cookies that were discounted as well, 6 fresh baked cookies for a total of 68 cents and I made 3 boxes of mac and cheese that cost me another dollar. So dinner that evening cost me about $8; hammering the price of any kind of take out fried chicken I was considering stopping for that evening.

So that was my frugal 5 for Friday.  What kind of great finds or savings did you have this week?






Now that I am home full time, I concentrate on many meals cooked from scratch and not rely on overpriced, unhealthy convenience items; I have the luxury of time to be able to browse loss leader and discounted items at my local grocery stores; I have stopped buying sugary, carbonated beverages, and I have found a wonderful source for fresh fruits and vegetables at crazy low prices.

The secret I want to share with you today is the 99 Cent Only Stores. This article will not be applicable to many readers as 99 Cent Only Stores, currently only operate in California, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada, but for those of you who have access to one of these stores;  you are missing out if you are trying to keep your food costs down and have not taken full advantage of this gem. (*Please note, I AM NOT getting compensation for any kind of endorsement from the store).

99-cent

Many of you reading this might be thinking to yourselves, that you have a Dollar Tree located near you and it is all the same…right?  We do shop for some food items at the Dollar Tree as well, as I have mentioned before, but Dollar Tree stores are limited with their grocery offerings, whereas, more than over half of any 99 Cent Only Store is dedicated to food, produce and grocery items that are ever rotating.

99-cent""

We are fortunate enough to have 4 of their stores within a 15 mile radius of our home. Of the 4, we have a preferred location, due to the other merchants in that vicinity. Every two weeks, my husband and I will head out to this area and generally make a “date day” of our outing. We may start at one or two garage sales in that area if any are offered, then head over to one of the many restaurants for lunch, maybe followed up by browsing around the local book store that is right next to our destination, before we finally finish our outing by shopping in the 99 Cent Only Store for some great deals.

The main purpose of our visit is to stock up on fresh produce. While there are many other great items and closeout deals in the store, and yes we do pick those up as well, our main focus is always the produce. On our “date day” we will stock up on about 2 weeks of fresh produce to feed our brood with.

99-centOnce we get our produce home, we will take the time to prep our haul to last us for the upcoming weeks until we go shopping again.  We will wash the appropriate fruits and vegetables, slice, dice and cut them into the portion sizes that we will need for various dishes, then store them either with our Food Saver bags, if going into the freezer or in zip lock bags in the fridge to be used in the next 3 to 5 days.

Many have argued and thumbed their noses up at the very idea of being able to get anything fresh from this store. They are thoroughly convinced that the produce is otherwise unworthy to purchase from here as it has to be the cast offs, or “recovered” produce that the fancier and pricier grocery chains would not accept and that these items surely must be unattractive, rotted, shriveled, soggy, and not fit for consumption.

99-cent

These kinds of preconceived notions could not be farther from the truth.  Let me reassure you that as with any merchant, the 99 Cent Only Stores have to follow the same laws and regulations that all the other grocers follow, so it would be illegal to sell food items that were not up to par. As far as the produce being “recovered” and/or unattractive….you do realize that some of these now trendy subscription based produce boxes sell the same kind of “seconds” to you, right?, but at a much higher price.

99-cent

If you don’t want to take my word for it, just ask Billy Vasquez, also known as the 99 cent chef who has been blogging about his 99 cent ingredient recipes for years:   The 99 Cent Chef

So if you are fortunate enough to have a 99 Cent Only Store in your vicinity and you are trying to reign in your food budget, I highly suggest stopping in at one of these stores, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer and what you will come home with. And if you have stopped in to shop…share it with me; I would be interested to learn about what your particular location has to offer.




Five Frugal for Friday

moneyBy Liz
This week was supposed to be an easy week, but it wound up being busier than anticipated, such is life…right? As busy as it was though, I did find time here and there to sit out on my back patio and read and relax before the weather starts to become unbearably hot and humid.

I hit 2 stores on grocery day this week, and even though this blurb is about saving and not necessarily spending, there were some pretty awesome deals that I could not pass up.

Here is my frugal five for the week:

strawberry

1. Strawberry shortcake. I love angel food cake; it’s light, sweet and low on fat and calories (a dieter’s dream).  I found this discounted cake, strawberries were on sale for 95 cents and whip topping was 86 cents. Total for dessert for the family = $4.16 (or 59 cents per serving), and I did not have to fire up the oven to do it.

spatula

2. Silicone spatula. While at Walmart, I spotted this cool looking, silicone, wooden spatula still in its package (I did take pics in its packaging along with a copy of my receipt, but I could not locate the original pics on my camera). It was not priced, so I located the nearest price scanner in the store and it scanned for a whopping 10 cents…SOLD! I don’t think you can buy anything for 10 cents nowadays.  I think the only reason it was priced so low, was because the packaging had pictures of bunnies and said Happy Easter on it and since Easter was a few weeks ago, the store had marked it down, but my family does not care if I make cupcakes in August with an Easter themed spatula.

3. Almonds. On my way to the checkout at Winco, I passed a cart with some marked down almonds. Each one pound bag had been marked down to 98 cents.  When the cashier originally scanned them, they rang up for $4.26 per bag, until she noticed the discount sticker, she then changed the price to the 98 cents, I picked up 3 bags for a total of $2.94.

almonds

4. I rescued a lemon. On Tuesday, I had made a batch of blueberry, lemon scones. The recipe only called for a small amount of lemon zest only. Even though the lemon only cost me about 20 cents, I could not throw it out. It sat in my fridge in a zip lock bag for a couple of days. Then I decided to make a quick side dish with our chicken on Thursday, which only consisted of these 3 ingredients a little salt.

breakfast-sandwiches

5. Breakfast sandwiches. My kids love breakfast sandwiches and when I had checked my bread freezer,  I had noticed that it is almost time for me to do my monthly shopping at the bread store outlet.  In my freezer was a couple of packages of everything bagels that had been in there for awhile and I did not want them to get freezer burnt, so I pulled them out and made 2 batches for a total of 12 breakfast sandwiches for a total cost of $4.34 or 36 cents a sandwich.

And that my friends is my frugal five for the week. Did you manage to have some frugal moments this week?