Since returning to full-time teaching a few years ago, I am not the couponer that I used to be. I enjoy using coupons and saving money, but I don’t have much time to match up coupons and sales. I am still saving a lot of money though and I’m definitely getting my groceries for less money than I would if I shopped primarily at a discount store such as Wal-Mart.
Today’s shopping trip is a perfect example of such grocery savings. My grocery bill before deductions was $251.86. After the sales and savings my bill was $121.43. That’s way more than I normally spend, but I did stock up on some great deals including fish, six bags of Carribou coffee, four jars of peanut butter, and lunch meat. The coffee alone would have cost over $60.
We could all use some help in cutting our grocery bill so here are some ways to save without coupons:
1. Use the buy ahead principle. I am a firm believer in the stockpile shopping method. When things that I regularly use go to rock bottom prices, I buy extra and save it to use for later when the prices are not as low. Many food items are at their best prices during specific times of the year. For instance, I know that in November and December, I need to stock up on cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, and chicken broth. In January, I usually stock up on soup supplies and canned beans.
Each week, I scan over the sales flyer for Harris Teeter and I plan to only purchase the sales. Of course, I have to buy a few items each week that are not on sale, but those items are few and far between.
2. Get rainchecks for out of stock sale items. As I mentioned above, my grocery bill today before savings was $251.86. After sales and rainchecks, my total was only $121.43. Rainchecks were a big contributor of the savings. Most rainchecks don’t expire and they allow you to purchase sale items when you need them. This saves room in your cabinets. Rainchecks also give you some extra time to plan ahead and look for a coupon.
3. Compare prices. Sometimes the generic isn’t cheaper. Pay attention and take a few extra seconds to compare prices on name brands and generics.
4. Compare price per unit. The larger quantity may not be the best deal. It’s best to compare price per unit.
5. Make a plan. Look through the sales flyer and begin to make a plan of the things you need and the things you want to purchase while they are on sale. Making meal plans saves time and money. I’m guilty of not making meal plans. My pantry and freezer are usually pretty well stocked though, so meal planning does get easier as you build a stockpile.
6. Use what you have. Take a look in your cabinets, freezer, and refrigerator. Make a plan to use the things that are going out of date. If you have a lot of beans and tomatoes, consider putting chili on the menu. If you have hamburger and noodles, put spaghetti on the menu. Then you will just need to pick up a few extra things to complete the meal.
7. Use your leftovers. My hubby and I are known for getting creative with leftovers. One night I made a tenderloin and we had some meat leftover. We took the leftover tenderloin and added it to some scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast burritos. We froze the breakfast burritos to make mornings easier with the kids. I also like to freeze lunch size portions of spaghetti, chili, and soups to use for my lunches at work.
8. Look for food mark downs. I always check for produce and meat mark downs. About a month ago, I scored a $15 fruit, veggie, and cheese tray for only $1! I was so excited! The tray was going out of date that day but trust me, it was good for several more days. Today we bought some lunch meat that was marked down half price and also got a few packs that had store coupons attached. Sandwiches and homemade lunchables are definitely on this week’s lunch menu.
9. Buy in bulk. This tip may not apply for everyone, but for families this tip is usually a great idea. My pantry and fridge are running low on lunch items so it is definitely time for a trip to Sam’s Club. When I see kids at school purchasing chips for 75 cents per bag, I want to say, “That costs 25 cents at Sam’s.” I’ve had more than one conversation with my children about why they aren’t buying snacks at school.
10. Cook in bulk. It’s almost as easy to prepare two lasagnas as it is one. Just make an extra, don’t bake it, and freeze it for later. I also do this with chicken pot pie. Another favorite is to cook some Mexican style pork or chicken in the crock pot, shred it, and freeze dinner portions to use later for burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. I wait to do this when I find meat at a stockpile price.
11. Avoid convenience foods. It might be nice to save some time, but those prepackaged and pre-cut foods can really add up. Take a few minutes to bag up a bunch of snacks for the week and you can save big.
12. Don’t be brand loyal. I have tried many different brands over the years and I can say that there are very few that I am loyal to. You can find savings in trying other brands that are on sale.
13. Eat before you shop. If you are super hungry when you shop then you might find yourself spending too much money. Thankfully, Harris Teeter has a few samples in the store so it keeps me from feeling so hungry when I’m shopping. ;)
14. Skip a week of shopping. If you have been using the stockpile shopping method, your cabinets are probably looking great. As difficult as it is to pass up a good sale, sometimes I skip a week of shopping to save money. We use what we have at home and avoid the grocery store.
15. Give foods more than one purpose. If you are going to have cole slaw with your barbeque sandwiches, plan to have cole slaw the same week with another meal. That way you aren’t wasting ingredients. It also saves prep time in the kitchen.
16. Keep a list of target prices. You can keep this on your phone or in a small notebook in your purse. Keep a list of items that you regularly purchase and the target price for stockpiling. In an old post about grocery shopping, I wrote about keeping mental notes of these things. Someone teased about it and said there was no way to remember target prices. I honestly don’t keep a notebook of prices. I know that $2 per lb is my target price for boneless chicken breasts. I know that 50 cents per can is my target price for canned beans. If you need to write it down then do so. Knowing your target prices will help you to know when to buy extra.
17. Check your receipt before you leave the store. We get overcharged so many times and most people don’t even notice. I was overcharged today. Thankfully I checked my receipt before leaving the store and I was refunded $2.
18. Avoid sodas, juices, and boxed drinks. We drink a lot of water at our house. We have a water softener and a water filter so we drink it straight from the tap. I have seen people spend half of my grocery budget on drinks. Those drinks add up very quickly. If you don’t want to cut out pricey drinks, budget how much you will spend on them and look for sales. I did buy one 12 pack of sodas today but they were on sale and the 12 pack will last me a few weeks.
19. Sign up for store sales and emails. Many stores have some sort of extra savings available for customers that hold a special card or for those that sign up for their store emails. I have signed up for Harris Teeter’s eVIC and each week they send me an email with sales that are loaded to my card. Many times (but not always) these are items that I regularly purchase that are offered at discounted prices. Sometimes it might be a sale on milk or bread. Other times it might be yogurt, ice cream, or cat food.
20. Look over your cart before checking out. Did you make too many impulse purchases? Do you have too many snack items? Sometimes it’s easy to put something in the cart but we don’t realize how many unnecessary items we have.
I know that there are many other tips for saving money on groceries such as gardening, canning foods, eating simpler, etc. Please leave your money saving tips in the comments.
Image by Karen Weideman. The image shown above is not from today’s shopping trip.
While talking to my mom tonight she told me to check my yogurt. She said she was watching Dr. Oz recently and he said that yogurt companies have been using bugs to color their yogurt red. WHAT? Say that again. It’s called carmine.
I opened my refrigerator. I checked my cherry yogurt. No carmine. I checked my blueberry yogurt. No carmine. Whew! I told my mom I didn’t have any carmine. I got off of the phone with her and kept looking in my refrigerator. I found a strawberry banana yogurt. Oh goodness . . . colored with carmine!
After this discovery, I did a little reading online. According to the Huffington Post, Dannon is under fire for using carmine. What about Yoplait? That’s where I found the carmine in my fridge.
I’ve heard of people eating bugs. They’re low in fat and high in protein. But shouldn’t I know if I’m eating bugs? Instead of saying “colored with carmine” it should state “colored with insects”. Did they not think this would come out? It seems like they are really hurting their integrity here.
I know I should spend more time reading labels. I am a busy working wife and mother. I just figured if I were buying a popular name brand like Yoplait or Dannon I would be getting something trustworthy. And why would yogurt with fruit in it need to have some sort of food coloring anyway?
Cracked.com reports that if you’ve eaten anything red recently then there’s a strong chance it was made with carmine, which by the way, is ground up insects. It’s also important to know that these insects may not labeled as carmine.
“Carmine can also be identified on food labels as Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120. We mention that because we’re guessing you’ll want to check for it in the future after reading this.”
If any of this interests you then check out this article from Cracked.com, 5 Horrifying Food Additives You’ve Probably Eaten Today.
Buying a store bought cake is not something that I normally do. Store bought cakes are so expensive and I find that homemade cakes taste better. Homemade cakes also offer a personal touch to the event.
When my children were very young, I was very fortunate that my mom would make their birthday cakes for me. Here is a Cars Movie cake that my mom made for my son’s third birthday.
My son wanted a Lightning McQueen cake for his birthday. I looked around in the stores and tried to figure out what I was going to do. Then I decided to buy the car figurines from the toy section. At $12 for three cars, I thought it was a bit pricey but it was cheaper than buying a cake and then at least he would have the cars to play with later.
First we started with a 9×13 sheet cake we made. If I remember correctly, we chose chocolate, but any flavor will do. We iced the cake with homemade white icing. Since I had a Lightning McQueen car that had mud painted on the side, we thought it would be neat to create a mud scene on the cake with chocolate icing. We even smeared the icing a little to make it look like Lightning McQueen slid through the mud.
Next, we dyed some of the icing green and used it to pipe grass on the cake. My mom used the rest of the brown icing for the border.
Finally, we placed the other two cars on the cake. My husband looked online and found a Radiator Springs sign to print. He taped it to two toothpicks and inserted it into the cake as a sign.
I thought this was a pretty cute cake and it wasn’t hard at all. I don’t have any cake decorating experience and I feel that I could recreate this cake myself. Sometimes all it takes is looking around for inspiration to trigger ideas.
Do you enjoy making your own cakes?
images (c) Karen Weideman
Back in 2010, I showed you the teddy bear luau cupcakes that I made for my children’s pool party. They were cute, easy to make, and way cheaper than a store bought cake. The do-it-yourself luau cupcakes have been a top read each month since then so I thought I would show you the ones I made in 2011.
I was a little hesitant to show these because they’re not as cute or creative as the teddy bear luau cupcakes. I finally gave in to the idea that we’re all in need of different ideas, no matter how easy they are. Alligator Girl had her first sleepover and since there were just a few girls and no adults I didn’t have the pressure to produce something anything time consuming. These cupcakes were super fast and went along with the pool party/luau theme. They also tasted great.
As you can see from looking at the pictures, there are a few different styles of cupcakes. I mostly used pink and orange to decorate with but I also had a can of rainbow chip icing in the cabinet. Most kids like rainbow chip, so I used that too.
I put piping on some of the cupcakes. I found the paper toppers at the dollar store. You could probably find some cupcake toppers at an arts and crafts store or party supply store.
As you can see, these are nothing extravacant. They are simple, easy, and cute. They are perfect for a girls’ luau party sleep over.
Being a thrifty gal usually means that I am not name brand loyal. In fact, one of my couponing tips is that you shouldn’t be name brand loyal. If I can get something cheap enough or for free then I’ll usually give it a try.
You won’t see generic products in my house very often. It’s not that I’m a product snob and am too good for knock-offs. It’s just that I can usually get name brand products for less money than generics. Stores will usually run a better sale on name brand items than store brands. When you combine it with a coupon these products are less expensive than generics.
Fast forward this whole story to these buttery squeeze spread products. I generally don’t buy the squeeze spread because it’s not as healthy as other products but it works well for our homemade waffles. Last year Food Lion had the Parkay spread for half price and so I picked up two bottles to use for waffles. We were running low a few months ago and so my husband picked up a bottle of the Food Lion store brand to use. We were surprised when we used the product and saw the difference in thickness and overall appearance (for lack of a better word). The pictures will show what I mean.
You may think that maybe we didn’t shake up the bottle or that this was floating around at the top of the bottle. Not so. We used the entire bottle of Food Lion squeeze spread and it had this consistency throughout the whole bottle. Our next bottle we were sure to purchase the Parkay.
I checked the labels on both products and they seemed to be very similar. I am not sure of the difference between the two without doing more extensive research. I am very willing to try other name brands of squeeze spread but will be avoiding the Food Lion brand.
Which name brands are you loyal about buying?
These ideas and opinions are my own. I was not paid for this review. Images (c) Karen Weideman.
One of the things I hear weeks before Thanksgiving and Christmas are people concerned about the amount of turkey they’ll have left over. They want to serve their family and guests turkey, but they’re hesitant because of the waste involved. Rather than letting good food go to waste, try some of these ideas for your left over turkey.
Turkey and gravy - We had this one Friday night. I simply made some gravy out of cornstarch and chicken boullion and warmed the turkey in the gravy. I added some leftover sweet potatoes and rolls and made some green beans and mashed potatoes. The kids enjoyed the meal.
Turkey sandwich - This one is a given, but it is one of my favorites. Some people like their sandwich with mayonnaise and onions. I like mine with mustard on white bread.
Turkey salad - This is another family favorite. I chop up some turkey, add some mayo, diced dill pickles, salt, and pepper, and it’s as good as chicken salad. I also like to make ham salad.
Turkey and rice - Cook rice according to package directions, add desired seasonings. Throw in some chopped turkey and some vegetables. You might also like to make a gravy.
Turkey wraps - Add some turkey, cheese, and fresh vegetables to a lettuce slice or tortilla.
Turkey soup - There are many varieties of turkey soup. You could make a cream based soup or a Mexican style soup. Use your favorite chicken soup recipe using turkey instead of chicken.
Turkey stock – Rather than purchasing chicken stock from the store, make your own and freeze it to use later in soups and stews.
Turkey pot pie – Chop up some turkey, add a bag of frozen vegetables, mix in some gravy, and top with a pie crust or pour on a liquid Bisquick mixture and bake.
Don’t forget to store your turkey properly.
What are your favorite turkey recipes?
One of many things I enjoy about using coupons and sales is that they enable me to help others. I may not have an abundance of money to donate, but I can make a big impact with very little out of pocket expense.
You may look at my website from time to time and think something like, ‘Why would she need 20 boxes of pasta? Who could eat all of that?’ Many times it’s not for me.
Pasta seems to be the thing this month that I can get for free or cheap, so I am “buying” lots of it. I haven’t kept much of it for my family. I’ve been donating it. I have taken it to the school for the food drive, given some to a fundraiser dinner for someone with high medical bills, and saved some for an elderly family member who has a very limited income. Just this week alone, I was able to purchase over 20 boxes of free pasta from Food Lion.
This method also applies to toys, school supplies, and other items. Many times I have taken advantage of 75% and 90% off toy sales. It makes it easier on the budget to donate for Christmas toy drives when you can get the toys inexpensively and you’re able to help more children because your money goes further.
When you’re walking through Harris Teeter on triple coupon day, try to get those free items even though you won’t use them. It’s those items that can really make a difference to someone in need.
One of the most effective ways I have found to cut our budget is through saving money on our grocery budget. One of the techniques I use is building a stockpile, also known as the buy ahead principle. What this means is that when groceries or other regularly used items are significantly cheaper than normal, I buy enough to last me a few months. In my home, I try to never ever pay retail for anything!
For example, a few weeks ago Harris Teeter had their Colgate Total toothpaste on sale for $2.50 per tube. It was also super double coupon week and I had $1 coupons. After coupons and the sale, I paid only $.50 per tube for Colgate toothpaste. Also last week and this week, CVS had their Crest Pro Health toothpaste on sale for $2.99 and you got back a $2 Extra Care Buck (ECB). I also had $.50 and $.75 coupons for the toothpaste. After the sale, ECBs, and coupons, I paid $.25-$.50 per tube. Did I need five tubes of toothpaste right now? Of course I didn’t. But I know that over the next year my family will need the toothpaste. I also know that soon I will be filling shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse and our church is always collecting food and toiletries for the needy. This allows me to get toothpaste for my family and others for less than the price of one tube at regular price.
As you can see in the picture above, I have over 10 bottles of laundry detergent. I don’t plan on doing 300 loads of laundry this week, but I couldn’t resist stocking up because of the deal I found. Some of the bottles were buy 1 get 1 free and I had coupons. Many of the bottles cost me less than $1 per bottle.
I have heard others say before that they can’t afford to stockpile; that they only have money for the things that they need that week. What they don’t truly realize is that when you stockpile, you can make your grocery budget go further and have more supplies on hand.
If you still say you can’t afford to stockpile, then I suggest that you start small. A stockpile isn’t built overnight anyway. Allow yourself an extra $5 or $10 to try to purchase things while they’re at rock bottom prices so that you won’t have to purchase them later. For me, an example of this would be when I purchase canned tomatoes. I know that I’m going to need canned tomatoes. I know that Target has the cheapest prices on them. So, when I visit Super Target, I purchase 6-12 cans. The amount I purchase depends on my stockpile at home. And if you’re getting items for free or almost free (with sales and coupons) that will only allow your grocery budget to go that much further so that you can cut your grocery budget or purchase other things your family needs.
Stay tuned for more tips on stockpiling. Do you stockpile groceries?
images (c) Karen Weideman
An inexpensive breakfast item that I enjoy is grits. They’re easy to make, very inexpensive, and filling. Since grits are so inexpensive, it is one of the breakfast items I occasionally make for the youth group. The problem is, sometimes they eat up all of the grits and sometimes there is half of a pot left over.
One day I had made a pot of grits for the youth and for some reason that day, half of the grits were left. I decided not to let the grits go to waste. I figured I should be able to do something with them. I came home and created a breakfast casserole using grits, scrambled eggs, and sausage gravy.
Last week, I had some grits, sausage, and scrambled eggs left over and decided to make another breakfast casserole. This time I had just a small amount left of each, so I made it in this small oven-safe Pyrex glass bowl.
By the way, my kids really like this dish!
Since this is made with leftovers, there is no exact amount of ingredients.
- prepared grits
- scrambled eggs
- breakfast meat, optional (cooked and diced sausage, bacon, or ham)
- sausage gravy or white gravy
- shredded cheese, optional
Spray your dish with cooking spray. Layer the ingredients as shown above and bake at 350F until hot.
Here is a recipe for sausage gravy. I needed much less so I just used 1 cup of milk and 1-2 tablespoons of flour.
What is your favorite recipe to make with leftovers?
image (c) Karen Weideman
As we all know, it’s back to school time. Many of you will be saving money by packing your children healthy lunches.
Here are some food safety tips, courtesy of NSF International, to help parents and children pack lunches safely:
- Consider packing foods that are nonperishable and won’t require refrigeration.
- If you do pack perishable foods such as luncheon meats or prepackaged cheese & crackers, include a frozen gel pack or a frozen juice carton with the food in an insulated lunch bag or box.
- Pack only the amount of perishable food that your child can eat at lunch.
- Preparing lunches the night before and storing it in the refrigerator until you pack your child’s lunchbox in the morning can help keep food cold longer the next day.
- Don’t reuse packaging materials such as paper or plastic bags, aluminum foil, etc. as they can contaminate other foods and cause foodborne illness. Have your child discard all used food packaging and paper bags after lunch.
- Before eating lunch or snacks at school, be sure your child knows to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Handwashing is one of the best ways kids and parents can protect health and stop the spread of germs.
Remember that perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. If left out too long, the temperature of the food can enter the danger zone where bacteria grow most rapidly, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a teacher, I can tell you that I see many lunches without cold packs that contain lunch meat, mayonnaise, and other perishable items. Please don’t risk your child’s health. Follow these easy steps listed above.