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.

smartphone-calculating

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.

man-eating

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. 

loss-leader

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.

sales-flyers

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.

Five Frugal for Friday

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?






Why I Don’t Coupon

 

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by Liz

We have all seen or at least heard about couponing and extreme couponing, where everyday people have been able to save anywhere from 40% all the way up to a staggering 90% off of their grocery bill by means of clipping some coupons and following their local grocery store sales.  To these folks, I say, congratulations!

A few years back, I too, jumped on this bandwagon, hoping to save myself and my family of 7 buckets of cash while amassing stockpiles of items we would not have to re purchase at full price at an inopportune time in the future.

Here is what I experienced:

1.  In order to maximize and accumulate the quantity my family would need of any one particular item, I would need multiple coupons for the same item.  No problem, I just picked up more than one Sunday paper with coupons at my local Dollar Tree for $1.00 per newspaper (our Dollar Tree has a 5 quantity limit). The alternative to this was to print coupons at home, however, it would cost me more in paper and ink to print up multiple coupons, and some of the coupon companies would set a limit of only 2 print out per device, thereby, having me jump from one computer to another to be able to print what I needed.

2. After gathering all my coupons, I would then spread them out over my living room floor combining duplicates and then separating them into like categories; i.e. dairy; cleaning; beauty; snacks; etc…

3. Then I would have to cut them all down to size and put them all together in my storage system,  I had chosen the 3 ring binder/baseball card pocket storage, as I thought this would be the easiest to carry around and shop with at the grocery stores.  However, before filing these little beauties away, I would first have to “weed” out all my expired coupons, and their always seemed to be a lot of them that I had not used and I had to toss out.

4. Later that day, I would pull out the local grocers sales flyers from the week to start to match up sale items with coupons, giving me the lowest prices I could find on any given item.  This was an ongoing step in this process, because unlike in the North East of the country where the store’s sales run from Sunday to Saturday, here in Texas, the sales run from Wednesday to Tuesday, for this reason alone, there was always more than one trip to the stores in any given week, (this is marketing genius on behalf of the grocery stores.)

5. After gathering my coupon binder, I would head off to seek my treasures, I would then be stopping in at least 2 to 3 stores at least twice a week to cash in on my savings and reap my rewards.  Usually upon leaving the store, I would check my receipt, I would generally save, somewhere in the ball park of 40%, not nearly the savings as bragged about by self appointed “coupon mavens”, but week after week, I would be at it again.

6. Once I got my items home, I needed to find a place to store them.  At the time, the 7 of us were living in a 1600 sq. ft. home, and it seemed as though the kids were growing all the time.  For this reason, I asked my wonderful husband to build me some shelving out in our garage, which he happily did.




After only a few months of this ritual of savings, I had acquired quite a large, over-flowing stock pile of goods. Most of the items were health and beauty items, which we kept in our garage in our then, new, elaborate shelving system and most of the food and pantry staples were kept in our tiny kitchen storage system.

coupons

I was feeling mighty proud of myself at the time and was pleased in knowing that if anyone of my family members needed to replace their toothbrush, deodorant or any other product, all they had to do was go “shopping” in our stash, which I had purchased at a discount.

Here is what I actually learned:

1. My time is precious and valuable.  After only a couple of weeks, I learned I dreaded Sundays.  Spending hours of my time going through this crazy, couponing cycle, only to save an average of about 40% was disheartening, when I was striving for a larger savings.

2. Most of the items, I obtained due to couponing we hadn’t ever really needed or used. The only reason I bought most of the items instead of my usual brands, was because there was a coupon being offered.

3. My family never learned to live the motto of “a little goes a long way” because psychologically they knew there was an endless supply of items, so there was never any thought of how to conserve anything.

4. When my stock pile would start to look sparse, here or there, I would start to panic and get anxious, so I would usually go out of my way, with an additional trip to the grocery store(s), on top of the 2 times I was already going per week, just to replenish my vast inventory, thereby spending even more of my time and my money.

5. We did not have the storage space to keep this “hamster on a wheel” way of shopping up.  If you were an outsider looking in, we looked like a mom and pop general store or a family of hoarders at least that was certainly the way I had started to feel.

6. In the end, when me moved from our 1600 sq. ft. home, we looked at our couponing treasures, and there was a lot of it, we decided to donate most of it to families that were in need.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of “couponers” who donate much of their goods, and I feel like my family and I are very blessed, so we had no qualms about giving to those in need.

7. I have since gone back to my original way of shopping which include:

a. Shopping  at my local Winco and Aldi food stores, both of which offer the lowest prices, compared to the other, larger grocery chains.

b. Buying in bulk.  My Winco has a wonderful bulk section, so I can stock up on nuts, cereals, beans, grains, rice and even candy if I so choose.

c. If I am in my local Walmart, Albertson’s or Tom Thumb stores, I will always swing by their discounted sections to see what kind of deals they have.  I have been able to purchase discounted, but still wonderful looking meats, cheeses, pastries and breads at each of these stores.




My now stock pile(s) only have a 1 to 2 item reserve on any given item, sometimes less. I am ecstatic to say the least, as I do not have to look at all that clutter not to mention, I have regained control of my Sunday’s and now use that time to spend with my family enjoying our life and our home together.

And the most important:  I shop only once a week.  By limiting my trips, I save time, gas and money and who can’t use more of those?