Thursday, February 27, 2014

Couponing Extravaganza

My local grocery store has been running their Dollar Days promotion this week, and there have been a lot of great coupons this month.

This haul included free ice cream, rice steamers, wax melts, pasta sauce, rice sides and salad dressing.  I paid $28.00 for this order, but also received $15.00 back for the dollar promo.  There are 8 boxes of fruit packs stacked there- that will last a long time, and it my usual bribe to the kiddo.  I did these deals four times in total so I could really stock up our pantry.  We use the sauce on our homemade pizzas too, so we should be set for a while.

I just ran in to grab this stuff really quick this morning.  The store has all their Gorton's frozen fish half off, which works with coupons for a really good buy. I spent $5.87, and got $3.00 back for the dollar promo.  There are great coupons available now for the turkey bacon, snickers, cookies and P3 packs.  I thought the P3 packs would be a waste but the coupon made them free.  However, they are a nice addition to a salad, so I am glad I picked them up again.  The cookies were finally clearanced from Valentine's Day, so I picked up all the Pillsbury they had left since they matched up with my coupons.  The eggs, P3 packs, cookies, snickers, cleaner, tissues and hair products were all free or better than free with coupons.  I found the hair products on clearance, and I have coupons worth more than their current price.

You will notice that I don't purchase a lot of produce or meat.  The reason that I don't buy produce is that I garden from the spring through the fall.  It is by far the most fun way to stretch your grocery budget.  When I started this, we lived about 45mins away from NYC so we had a 10x10' plot in a community garden.  I canned 50 jars of sauce, and ate countless salads, cucumbers and melons from that tiny space.  I will write more about gardening when I am not looking at snow outside the window.

I only buy meat in bulk, or on a manager's special.  My husband and I tried out a vegan diet a couple years ago, and after not eating meat for twelve months, we just don't eat as much as we used to.  So I buy bulk packages at Sam's and split them up into dinner size portions, and then freeze everything.  When luck is with me, I find those on manager's special.  Since I always freeze everything immediately, it doesn't make much difference when it is expiring.  Our deep freezer has become my best friend in this endeavor.

Be sure to check all the popular sites for coupons as least once a week:, and are great places to start.  My grocer allows me to stack those coupons with store coupons, so I can get some pretty great deals.  Become familiar with your store's coupon policy, and if you don't know the rules- you better ask somebody.  :)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

DIY: Household Cleaner

One way to save money is to make common household items rather than buy them in a store.  An easy start is to make a cleaner that can be used on countertops, sinks, tables, floors, etc.  There really is no end to it's uses because it is just vinegar and citrus peels.  It is non-toxic and all natural, and literally costs pennies to make.  I realized I was running low this morning, and I think I last made this before we moved last summer.

There are lots of recipes online, but I use the most basic.  A couple of weeks ago, Aldi had small bags of limes for $0.49.  There were five small limes in the bag.  I used one for margaritas one night (ahem), and then the other four I peeled into a large mason jar, and then juiced into a different small mason jar.  I filled the large mason jar with plain white vinegar, put a lid on it, and I can forget about it for the next three weeks or so.  I store it in our basement overstock since it's a cool, dark space.  I don't recommend storing it near strong sunlight since it might interfere with the citrus peels.  After that time, you strain the peels, dilute the mixture and put it in any old spray bottle.  I prefer to use a 50/50 dilution, and the resulting mixture will last for many months.  You can use orange, lemon or lime peels- whatever floats your boat.  The mixture will kill germs on any surface, but test a small area first if you are using it on something valuable.  It cleans our entire kitchen with minimal effort, and you are only left with the faint scent of citrus.

Since we are in a waste-not, want-not household, the juice will also go to use.  I am thinking Tequila Lime Chicken for dinner tomorrow.  In case you feel like doing that as well, here is the recipe:

4 limes
1 C tequila
1/4 C olive oil
2 T salt
5 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno, sliced
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
12 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 C grated Monterey Jack Cheese

Squeeze the juice from the limes into the food processor, and add the tequila, olive oil, salt, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro.  Blend well, then add the mixture to a plastic bag with the chicken, and marinate overnight. Cook the chicken breast over medium high temperature for about 4-5 mins on each side.  Then melt the cheese over the chicken breasts.

This is a great recipe for cooking in bulk, and you can easily set up a freezer dinner for later.  Keep in mind that chicken breasts are insanely large these days.  When I buy a big pack of chicken breasts at Sams, I take a sharp knife and cut the breast in half width-wise.  If you push it flat on your cutting board, the knife will slide right through.  That way you aren't overeating since no one needs that much chicken in one sitting.

And in the end, what is left of the limes go into the compost pile, and we are only left with a jar of cleaner and a big pan of chicken!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Free Cereal

One of the reasons I didn't have as many high-value coupons for my Dollar Days Deals was because I had already used them to snag some free cereal at Stop and Shop.  In this case, the store was giving an automatic $6.00 back when you bought four specific cereals.  Since I happened to have coupons for all of the boxes, I walked out with a $0.00 balance. Yay, free cereal!

Sunday Morning Couponing

This is a typical grocery store coupon run for me.  I love Sunday mornings!  This week, my local grocer is running a promotion called "Dollar Days." For this promotion, if you buy a certain number of products, you get a dollar amount back on a catalina and a free store bag.  I did 3 of these promotions on Sunday, and I plan to do some again on Wednesday when they run their 4-day specials if I receive my coupons in the mail on time.  This is the breakdown:

(4) Kelloggs Krave S'mores Cereal - $2.49
(2) Kellogs Mini Wheat Touch of Fruit Cereal - $2.99
(4) Honey Nut Cheerios Cereal - $1.99
(2) Chocolate Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal - $2.49
(6) Stoneyfield Organic Greek Yogurt - $1.00
(1) Stoneyfield Organic Greek Yogurt Quart -$3.69
(4) Betty Crocker Cake Mix - $1.25
(2) Knorr Rice Sides - $1.00
(2) Ragu Pasta Sauce - $1.39
(2) Wishbone Salad Dressing - $1.69
(4) Minute Rice Steamers - $0.99
(4) McCormick Mild Taco Seasoning 2/$1.00
(4) Superpretzel Cheese Bites - $0.88
(1) Dole Smoothie Shaker - $1.99
(1) Barber Foods Stuffed Chicken Breast- $2.99
(3) Shopping Bags - $0.99
Totals: $69.16

(1) .75/2 Betty Crocker Cake Mixes Store e-Coupon
(2) .75/2 Betty Crocker Cake Mixes Internet Coupon (doubles)
(1) .75/2 Betty Crocker Cake Mixes SavingStar Deposit
(1) 1.25/1 Dole Smoothie Store e-Coupon
(1) .75/1 Dole Smoothie Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(2) Buy 2 Get 1 Free Stoneyfield Yogurt Newspaper Coupon
(1) .80/1 Stoneyfield Organic Yogurt Quart Store e-Coupon
(1) .80/1 Stoneyfield Organic Yogurt Quart Internet coupon (doubles)
(1) $1.00 Barber Chicken Newspaper Coupon
(2) .50/2 McCormick Taco Seasonings Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(4) .50/1 Superpretzel Product (doubles up to $0.88 since it is the cost of the product)
(4) .50/1 Minute Rice Package Newspaper Coupon (doubles up to $0.99 since it is the cost of the product)
(1) $1.00/2 Ragu Sauce Store e-Coupon
(1) .75/2 Ragu Sauce Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(1) .50/2 Knorr Sides Store e-Coupon
(1) .50/2 Knorr Sides Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(2) .70/1 Wishbone Salad Dressing Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(1) $1.00/2 Cheerios Store e-Coupon
(1) .75/1 Chocolate Cinnamon Toast Crunch Store e-Coupon
(2) .75/1 Chocolate Cinnamon Toast Crunch Internet Coupon (doubles)
(1) .75/1 Chocolate Cinnamon Toast Crunch SavingStar Deposit
(2) $1.00/2 Cheerios Newspaper Coupon
(4) .70/1 Kelloggs Kraves Cereal Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(2) .70/1 Kelloggs Mini Wheats Touch of Fruit Newspaper Coupon (doubles)
(1) $1.00/1 Kellogs Mini-Wheats Checkout51 Deposit
(3) Free Shopping Bags with Dollar Days Deal
Total after Coupons: $21.86

$3.00 Unilever Dollar Days Deal
$5.00 General Mills Dollar Days Deal
$5.00 Kelloggs Dollar Days Deal
Total after Catalinas: $8.86


So that is a typical couponing morning for me.  There were better deals to be had- higher coupon values on different cereal, more newspaper coupons that I had already used, etc.  But I try to make it a practice not to buy food that we won't eat even if it's a great deal.  A great deal is a terrible deal if the food goes to waste.  I use the high-sugar cereals to make dessert bars a la Rice Krispy treats so I can use all the free cereals for snacks instead.  I am going to put out a breakdown of how I coupon this week, but I hope this at least gives you a starter idea!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How I Save Hundreds of Dollars Buying in Bulk

One of the biggest ways to save money on groceries is to cook everything from scratch.  This process can be time-consuming, so it doesn't work for everyone.  However, if you have more time than money, there are lots of ways to be an efficient from-scratch chef, and the savings are insane.

It's the beginning of a new month, and I needed to buy some groceries in bulk today.  I wanted to take this opportunity to compare bulk shopping to shopping at my local grocery store.  For comparison purposes, I used the store brand or, if the store brand was not available, the least expensive option.  I bought 14 items today, and this is a breakdown of the savings at the size I bought today:

Item                Sam's Club     Grocer       Savings
White Rice       0.39/lb            0.80/lb      $10.25
Bread Flour      0.35/lb           0.78/lb       $10.75
AP Flour          0.35/lb           0.51/lb       $4.00
Apple Juice      0.02/oz           0.04/oz      $7.84
Parm Cheese    $5.86/lb         $9.60/lb     $5.00
Chicken Breast $1.77/lb         $1.99        $1.33
Cheddar           $2.57/lb         $4.00/lb    $7.15
1% Milk           $3.19            $4.59         $2.80
Whole Milk      $3.46            $4.59         $2.26
Diced Tomatoes  0.78/can     0.99/can     $1.68
Bananas            0.49/lb          0.54/lb       $0.15
Totals               $88.08          $141.29     $53.21

If you wanted to do the simplest calculation, over the course of a year, you could save over $600.00!  Obviously, there are a lot of variables here.  There are items that are big savings, and other items that aren't really much different.  But the biggest savings are in the most basic items: flour, rice, oil, sugar, etc.  If you use these more, and can buy them in bulk, you could really save a bundle on your yearly groceries.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Facebook Sharers

I wish some Facebook posts came with warnings.  The new trend is for people to share news on Facebook.  Since I am curious to all things, I usually click on them.  With the understanding that if it's interesting to my friends, it will probably be interesting to me.  That does not seem to be the case lately.  The news of late seems extraordinarily depressing.  Today, a friend of high school posted a video with the only comment from her being "wow."  Innocently enough, I clicked on the video.  The video was apparently a clip from someone's nanny-cam depicting an older woman abusing a child that looked no older than a year old- persistently slapping the child in the head because she was crying, throwing her in the bouncer face-down, and throwing a blanket over her head, and then slapping her again when she tried to remove it from her head.  I understand that people need to know of abuse of children.  I completely agree!  But why did I need to see a video of this happening?  It really broke my heart, and had me in tears within seconds.  Who would do this, and why are we watching it?  Whether the parents were able to prosecute this "child-carer" and remove the child from her care, and I hope they were able to do both immediately, the child was still abused.  It didn't mean it didn't happen.  She will not be subjected to further abuse from this person, but she was already abused.  Plus, for someone like me who is deeply affected by videos that depict these actions, it makes me even more weary of leaving my child with anyone.  My son is almost two, and we have yet to hire a babysitter.  The only people who have watched him were immediate family that I completely trust.  I wouldn't even say that I would trust his care to ANY family, because we all know abuse is common amongst family members.  This post has no real point.  I just wanted to put it out there in the world in the the hope that people will either post warnings when sharing this types of videos, or better yet, not share them at all.  The abuse of children is not entertainment, and this child's personal abuse was not necessary to showcase just to make the point that abuse happens.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Budgeting is Crazy Difficult Sometimes

When my husband and I first talked about making a budget, it seemed like a good idea.  In theory.  Of course, we should work it out so that we spend less than we make.  It will be a great idea to make sure we put money in savings each moth.  We will make a budget, stick to it, and reap all the benefits of being fiscally responsible adults by next month!  Ehhh... not so much.  We tried to do overall-idea-budgets at the end of 2013.  We overspent by about $800 each month.  Yeah.  That's a LOT.  So last month, heady with new year resolutions and good intentions, we sat down and did an item-by-item budget.  And we worked out the figures this month- and we only went $150.00 over budget.  Which, while not a clear victory, is quite a momentous feat in one month.  For the three of us, I only spent $282 in groceries last month.  And the numbers included a trip that I am taking with my friend in March where I fronted the money for both of us and told her she could pay me back later.  Technically, that probably shouldn't count, but since I have a bad habit of just spending the money people give me back in those situations, I will just count it as it is.

One of the big changes last month was that grocery figure.  We were spending about $800/mth on food last year.  And that number was after I quit.  Before that, we spent a MASSIVE amount of my salary on take-out and convenience foods since neither of us had time to cook or do dishes.  So, I basically went from $800/mth to $300/mth.  One of the big changes for me was buying in bulk, and making things completely from scratch.  I posted my pizza dough recipe yesterday, and that is a really good example.  We used to get take-out for pizza.  During the week, our favorite pizza place has large pizzas for $9.00.  We would get two large pies, and with tax, spend a little under $20.00.  I used to think homemade pizza meant buying the dough, and then putting on the sauce and toppings.  That way will cost about $5.00/pie if you buy refrigerated dough.  When I make my own pizza from scratch, I am using flour, yeast, and cheese that I buy in bulk.  I then use whatever leftovers we have for toppings.  This week it was bbq ham.  Since I only pay $1 for the block of cheese I use, pennies for the flour and yeast, and leftovers for the toppings, I can make two large pizzas for around $2.00 total.  That's an amazing amount of savings if you make them once a week.  And even better, they are REALLY good!  I don't mind exchanging out the take-out in the least, and I feel like I am winning the budget wars, so it's great for my frugal self-esteem.

So next month, I am aiming to be even better.  I am going to do a full inventory of the fridge, freezers and pantry, and figure out what I am lacking from what we normally use.  And my ultimate goal is to create a monthly meal plan so that I can buy everything I need at the beginning of the month (maybe not produce though), and eliminate lots of grocery store trips and wasted food.  Impulse buys can account for some of our grocery bill, and I want that to stop pronto.

Does anyone have any tips for other ways to cut a grocery bill?