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.




Five Frugal for Friday

piggy-bankBy Liz

It has been a long and hectic summer and it has been awhile since I have posted some of our small frugal victories, so here are 5 money savers that I accomplished this week alone.

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1. Magazines and movies.  We are about to embark on a long overdue, summer vacation to the beach and what does one need when going to the beach… plenty of reading material.  I stopped in at my nearest Half Price Books store and scored magazines for everyone for a dollar each or less, and then, just because it was there, picked up the classic 80’s movie “Wall Street” for a whopping $2.00! I spent a total of $10.83 for all this; not bad considering just one of the cheapest of these magazines would have run me $4.99.




2. Cheap chicken.  Unfortunately, I did not take any pics of the chicken or the receipt showing my victory, but my local Aldi’s was having an unadvertised sale on their family packs of chicken drumsticks for $1.00 a package! (yup the whole package…not by the pound). Each package contained about 12 drumsticks. Unfortunately or fortunately, I only had room in my freezer for about 3 packages; otherwise I would have bought about 10 packages in total.

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3. I baked a loaf of bread.  I love the smell of fresh baked bread in the house. Is there a candle fragrance of this yet?  Sunday dinner was a down home, “meat and potatoes” meal of meatloaf and my rosemary potatoes with a side of lemon green beans, so this “blue plate” classic was just screaming for a loaf of fresh baked bread to accompany the meal.

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4. Cold and flu season. While everyone else is cashing in on those great back to school stock up items at rock bottom prices (yes…picked up a couple of things myself) the really great bargains I found was some discounted, over the counter cold and flu remedies.  Like everyone else, the common cold and flu hit us out of nowhere, and the last thing I want to do when I feel and look miserable, is to run out to the store to pick up some relief. So I try to be proactive, by at least having a handful of basic, over the counter help.

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5. Quiche and quick bread.  Here in Fort Worth, it was hot this week.  How hot?…over 100 degrees hot and for several days.  I was trying to clean out my fridge of leftovers and realized I had all the key ingredients to whip up a fast quiche.  I chose to do this early Tuesday morning before it became “oven hot” in the house for the day and since I was going to be using my oven anyway, I decided to institute double duty and baked an apple, cinnamon quick bread while the quiche was cooking.

So there are my 5 frugal for this Friday.  Do you have any you would like to share?

 


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?



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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?




Food Subscription Boxes

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By Liz

Talk about all things trendy.  If you haven’t seen or heard about food subscription boxes yet, then you must be living under a rock. This is not a new concept, I mean, take Omaha Steaks for instance…they have been around since 1917.  But nowadays you can get just about any kind of food, delivered to your door with easy step by step instructions, with little to no waste and without the hassle of visiting your grocery store to pick up the ingredients.

Types of boxes available are fruits, vegetables, and snacks, jerky, chocolate, bacon, cheese, full meals, seasonal, regional and the list goes on and on.

Sorry to say, I think this trend, is a waste of your hard earned money!

We as a society already spend so much money on food, whether going out to eat or at our local grocery store(s), so it seems to me that this kind of service is really irrelevant.  However, like most trends, these companies are trying to convince you, that you need their product to be hip, trendy, creative, and money savvy; but do you really need their help?

I decided to do some research on these companies, because many of my fellow, “frugal” bloggers have wonderful things to say about them, (although, I personally believe that if you are calling yourself a “frugal or money saving” blogger and promote or purchase these kinds of subscriptions…..you’ve missed the mark).

There are so many companies trying to cash in on this latest trend, it is overwhelming, so I decided to just concentrate on just produce boxes, but most of this information also applies to most of the other subscription boxes and this is what I have discovered:

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1. Many are locally based, so they might not deliver to your zip code, or you will be paying very high shipping costs for this convenience.

2. Your going to pay for this kind of convenience, anywhere from $11 to $110 (and these are prices for produce boxes).

3. Most offer both traditional or organic products.

4. You really don’t get what you pay for. If you were to do a price comparison, you would see that in most cases, you are paying double and in some cases, triple what it would cost you at the grocery store for the same or very similar products.

5. Packaging can sometimes be environmentally unfriendly. Some of the organic products being purchased, come packaged so as they are not bruised or damaged; all well and good, but many of the materials used for packaging, are not good for mother earth. (Ironic…..huh?)

6. Some of the produce subscription services are selling “recovered”, produce, meaning fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to eat, but would have otherwise been thrown away. It’s often discarded because of aesthetic imperfections or logistical inefficiencies. They don’t try to hide this; in fact, for some it is on the main page of their website.




So it has been pointed out to me is that these kinds of services  are helping local farmers and business owners  not to mention the convenience it brings to the consumer of not having to go the store to pick these items out for themselves.  My argument is this….you have to go to the grocery store anyway, right? So while you are there picking up the myriad of other items on your list, why aren’t you taking a few extra minutes to purchase fresh, traditional or organic produce from the same place you shop in the first place?

farmers-market

It has also been argued that these kinds of services offer more natural choices, help many with diet restrictions due to health, and offer step by step instructions with just the right amount of ingredients to make a gourmet meal at home.  My argument for this is the following:  just about everyone owns or has access to a cookbook, (these resources also come with step by step instructions) or the internet, which offers an endless supply of recipes.  Natural and organic produce can be found not only at your local grocery store(s), but also at specialty stores and especially local farmer’s markets.

No matter how old I get, I am always looking for ways to save money, as much money as I can, because my dream is to retire with my husband somewhere close to the ocean and be able to travel, volunteer, relax, and really to just wake up on any given day and do whatever we want, when we want.  We don’t want to realize one day that we don’t have enough for our retirement, and we have to keep working until we are 75 or 80 years old, or that any one medical condition that myself or my husband might encounter down the road, will wipe us out financially.  So we are all about saving as many pennies as we can for as long as we can. My husband and I are both foodies, and we both enjoy cooking, but we also know that, throwing money away on the latest band wagon of what is hip and trendy today, will not help us achieve our goals for tomorrow.

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If you too are financially conscience, and not only want to eat healthy, but well; I suggest that rather than subscribe to one of these, trendy, overpriced and under stocked box services, you should take a little time each week, plan out a few meals, list your ingredients, purchase only what you need for these dishes and keep the money you have saved in your wallet.




Dollar Tree Musts

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By Liz

If you are like me, you have read many an article from different folks sharing their top buys at the Dollar Tree store.

Dollar Tree stores have been in existence since 1991 and operates more than 13,600 stores throughout the 48 contiguous U.S. states and Canada.

Dollar Tree is classified as an extreme discount store and while initially, it’s targeted consumers were those who were suffering financial burdens, it has now become more popular with affluent customers (that’s how the affluent, stay affluent, by saving their money).

So here is my list of must haves from Dollar Tree:

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1.Greeting cards.  While I do “care enough to send the very best”, I am not particularly fond of taking out a small loan to pay for the sentiment. This is especially true when you are shopping for several cards for special occasions and you can’t find a box set with the repeated greeting. If you look hard enough, Dollar Tree even offers a section of cards that are 2 for $1.00.

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2.Gift bags/wrapping.  The store offers a wide variety of gift bags, in assorted sizes, plain, unmarked as well as occasion specific decorated bags.  In addition they offer bows, tissue paper, stickers and tags.

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3.Sesonal items.  Each major (and some minor) holiday, you can find wall décor, table décor,  crafts, ornaments, baking items, disposable and non-disposable kitchen items, and more to help you celebrate, without breaking the bank.

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4.Party. Whether you are hosting a birthday, holiday, shower or a wedding, you can find invitations, thank-yous, banners, balloons, party favors, table ware, centerpieces and more.

readers

5.Reading glasses. Dollar Tree offers an array of magnifications and a wide variety of frame styles for both men and women. The store also offers, cleaning cloths and hard shelled glass cases in different sizes to help you keep your readers safe.

newspapers

6.Your local Sunday newspaper.  If you are a “couponer”, I personally believe that this is your most cost efficient way of obtaining duplicate coupons, (unless your friends, family and/or neighbors donate them to you).  If you are going to buy multiple Sunday papers, some locations may limit the quantity, so you might want to check with store personnel. Also, if they haven’t sold out, you can still find the Sunday paper, throughout the week at the store.

books

7.Activity books. Sophisticated coloring books for youth and adults are all the rage right now and I have seen some of these complex, designed coloring books with a hefty price tag being offered at both online and brick and mortar stores, Dollar Tree offers the same kind of coloring entertainment, just at a bargain rate.  Dollar Tree also sells puzzle books, so if you, or someone you know enjoys passing the time with word search, Sudoku or crossword puzzles, you can find plenty of options for only a $1.00 a piece. This is not only a great form of entertainment on the cheap, but it also requires one to “unplug” for awhile, while engaged in these activities….and who couldn’t use some more of that?

foil

8.Aluminium foil pans. Due to the size of our household, 7 people, we generally wind up hosting all of the major and some of the minor holidays at our house. It doesn’t feel right converging on my sister’s family of 3 and expect them to cook for our brood.  That’s when these lifesavers come in handy.  I can generally do some or most of the cooking a day or two prior to the event, store the food in the foil pans, and then just re-heat the day of the feast. Then there is the clean up factor, it is exhilarating to just empty the pan, crumple it up and toss it in the trash.  These beauties are a wonderful time saver for me and I am able to enjoy the day with my family and not be stuck in the kitchen cooking and doing dishes all day.

pasta

9.Pasta. Most stores offer this pantry staple pretty cheap, so you might be wondering why I listed it. When was the last time you actually looked at the size of the package when you bought pasta at your favorite grocery store? I have noticed that at even at my own beloved grocery stores, offers pasta for as low as 85 cents per package……great deal, right? Not exactly, upon further inspection, the size of the package is only 12 ounces. This equates to 7 cents per ounce. Dollar Tree offers both 16 and 24 ounce packages, this equates to 6 cents and 4 cents per ounce, respectfully. This probably does not sound like much of a savings, but when you eat as much pasta as we do, it just makes cents (see what I did there?).

broth

10.Broth. I know….I know….making your own homemade broth is more economical, but I use so much beef and chicken broth on a weekly basis, that I would have to make a batch every 2-3 days. Dollar Tree offers beef, chicken, and sometimes when I can find it vegetable broth. Each container is 32 ounces (4 cups) for $1.00. Even though making it from scratch would save me money, this option saves me time, and that too is just as valuable to me.

So there you have it, my personal favorites from Dollar Tree.  I hope that you will be able to apply some of these suggestions into your own time and money saving routines.  Stop in at your local Dollar Tree, you just might be surprised what you find.




Why I Don’t Coupon

 

coupons

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?