Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cutting your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 10

I'm going to do two tips in this edition of our series. They go pretty well together and I'm feeling like skipping ahead. :-)

Plan your menus a week at a time. Look in your pantry and freezer to assess what you have on hand. Look at the grocery ads to see what is on sale for the best price. Plan your meals so you can buy mostly sale items, and only buy what you need.

Keep a list in your kitchen of simple meals you can prepare in 10-20 minutes (i.e. spaghetti, chicken tetrazzini, casseroles, burgers and fries). Keep the ingredients on hand for these. On especially busy nights, or when you just feel too tired to spend an hour cooking, pick something from the list and you'll have dinner quicker than the wait in a fast-food drive through, and won't have spent $25 on a "cheap" dinner out.

Menu planning is a wonderful thing. If you've been reading my blog for long, you've probably seen many "Menu Plan Monday" postings. Literally hundreds of bloggers participate in the meme every week, outlining what they plan to serve for meals that week, and often including recipes or links. It's a great way to find new recipes to try out to keep your menu fresh. I start my menu plan by assessing what I have on hand that needs to be used. I look at what nights DH will be available for grilling and when I have crazy days where a Crock Pot meal will be a blessing. I have a master notebook I use for menu planning. In it, I have pages of ideas for meals using specific ingredients, as well as recipes I found in cookbooks that I want to remember to try.

It does take a little time to get a menu all figured out for the week, but it is a major timesaver all week long! It also saves money because you aren't faced with the "I don't know what to make for dinner" dilemma that results in going out and spending money on something that is convenient and sounds appealing at the time. Making a plan gives you the freedom of knowing what you're going to prepare for each day of the week so you can plan your other daily activities accordingly. It also gives you flexibility, though, as you can always tweak it as you go along. I frequently do this if I find a great sale on something that I need to incorporate or if something just didn't sound good or I forgot to thaw an essential element (this happens quite often, unfortunately!)

If you don't meal plan, start by making a list of the meals you eat most often. This is a great way to start, because chances are you have many of the ingredients on hand. As long as you are making a list, let's visit the other tip. Make a list of meals that you can put together in a matter of minutes, either quick-prep items that then get popped into the oven for a time (ham and scalloped potatoes, chicken and rice casserole, bbq chicken packets) or that are very quick and easy to assemble and cook for when you get into a time pinch (spaghetti and meat sauce, beef stroganoff, tuna casserole).

I keep my quick meal list on the side of my refrigerator and it has come in very handy. I always have the ingredients for most of these meals in the freezer and/or pantry, and if I have something that messes up my plan, I turn to this list. As a rule, I can have these on the table in less than the time it would take me to get in the car, drive to a fast food chain, wait in line, get my food, and drive home. And it's definitely cheaper and healthier, too!!

I had surgery earlier this year. My easy dinners list was what we lived on for the weeks of my recovery. They were meals my husband could put together without difficulty and eventually meals I could actually make without being on my feet too long. And they are family favorites, too, which made it easy for someone else to feed them. So menu planning helps out in more ways than you even realize!

If you decide to jump in and start planning, and you're a blogger, please come over to Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. And then leave me a comment to let me know you joined. I would love to know how much menu planning helps you!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cutting your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 9

Today I am going to tack on an addendum to the usual tip. As I was making dinner tonight, another tip occurred to me. So keep reading for lots of information - and be sure and share your own tips in the comment section! :-)

When buying pre-bagged produce, weigh a couple of bags on the store's scales. A 10 lb. bag of potatoes might actually contain 12 pounds. A pound of carrots may be a bit short. If it's a set price, the heavier, the better!

This one is another that is fairly self-explanatory. There is a margin of error that is allowed in bagged produce. You want to err on the side of too much, not less! Pick a couple of bags of whatever you're buying (potatoes, apples, etc.) and pop them on the scale. You might find a bag of potatoes that is 11.5 pounds or a 3.75 pound bag of apples. This helps ensure you get the most for your money.

On this topic, be sure you check to make sure that the bagged produce is really your best-cost option. On occasion, you might find that the individual items are a bit less. Also, if you aren't going to use up 10 lbs. of potatoes or 3 lbs. of apples before they go bad, then you should get the individual items instead. Only buy what you can use while the food is good. Food waste is NEVER a money savings.

Now for the bonus tip that occurred to me earlier:

Make your meat multi task! I know that sounds a little silly, but it's definitely an effective tool in stretching your dollars. For instance, recently I cooked a small roast for dinner. We ate roast with potatoes the day I cooked it, and then there was a small amount leftover. I turned it into Beef Mushroom Spaghetti the next day. I've learned that you can frequently substitute shredded steak or roast for ground beef in recipes with excellent results.

Yesterday I cooked a chicken in the crock pot. Last night we had the chicken, rice, spinach salad, and rolls for supper. Tonight, I deboned the rest of the chicken and shredded most of it up for chicken enchiladas tonight. I still have one large full breast left that will become chicken salad for lunch tomorrow and/or a chicken alfredo pizza on Friday for dinner! In addition, I have the stock in the refrigerator that will make a wonderful soup. Since it's so hot, I will likely freeze it for later. The chicken cost me $2.85 on sale, and it is going to make as many as 5 meals - how can you beat that??

Of course, now we're getting into using leftovers creatively, and that's a tip we'll cover later. :-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 8

This next tip is pretty simple, so I figured I could do two tonight:

Shop with cash only. You are much less likely to make impulse purchases if you only have $x to spend. This also adds an element of challenge to your shopping - how low can you go and still feed your family nutritious meals??

If you only take your cash to the store, and leave the credit cards and checkbook at home, then you can only spend what you have. How easy is that?? You just have to go in with the right mindset - think of it as a challenge! Go with a list and know what you need, and then only buy what you need and/or can afford.

A debit card is NOT the same thing, even if you think it is. Only cash can completely limit your spending, and if you're serious about sticking to your budget, then get serious about cash. See what you can get with the money that you have. You won't be able to go over budget since you are carrying what you can spend, so you will be acutely aware of every penny you spend. This might even help keep your purchase healthier. You might not be able to get that half gallon of ice cream, or those yummy-looking donuts, or even a candy bar at the checkout. If you can't afford the junk food, your body will thank you!

It won't be an easy transition, but cash spending will be a great benefit to you and your budget. Give it a try for a month and see how you do. You just might be pleasantly surprised!

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 7

Here's another tip from my Post article:

When a food item you use often is at the lowest price you've seen, stock up! If chicken breasts drop to $1.49 a pound or your favorite macaroni and cheese mix is offered for $.25, buy as much as you can afford. Review the grocery ads every week and look for rock-bottom prices.

Every week, grocery stores have what is commonly called "loss leaders." These are the items that the store is offering to you at their cost or below. The idea is to bring you into the store to get these amazing deals, and while you're there, you will purchase the rest of your grocery needs. However, as the savvy shopper that you are (or are becoming), you won't fall into this trap, will you?

As you look at the ads, note these items that are at rock-bottom prices. I've seen boneless, skinless chicken breasts for as little as $1.17 a pound, 4-pound bags of sugar for .99, pork loins (sliced to your specifications free) for $1.28 a pound, and many other similar deals. If something is at the lowest price you've seen (or seen in some time), you should stock up on as much as you can afford and can use between now and the time it goes on sale again. You might not need 20 lbs. of chicken breasts right now, but maybe that will supply you with chicken breasts for the next 2-3 months!

What I generally do is keep a list of the items that I need to keep my kitchen stocked, as well as any ingredients I need for the week's menu plan. I assess how much I need to spend on those items, and then I take what is left of my budget and decide how much of the bargains I can buy. Recently, chicken breasts were $1.48 a pound. I found that I had $13 available in my budget to spend on the chicken, so I bought 5 packages that added up to $12.98. I won't use all 5 packages this week, but that will give me chicken for several meals. This week, I've spent a little money (though not much) on Kool-Aid. It is on sale at my local HyVee store for .05 a packet, and I have managed to acquire 4 of the coupons for "Save $2.00 on sugar with the purchase of 10 Kool-Aid packets." So by spending a total of $2.00 on Kool-Aid packets, I've managed to get 40 packets of Kool-Aid AND 16 lbs. of sugar. All that for $2?? That's a deal! I've also bought several containers of Dannon yogurt. It's on sale 10/$1.90 at HyVee, and I have $1/10 coupons - so .90 for 10 yogurt. Deal!

The basic idea is to have a constant supply of food on hand, and have it all have been very inexpensive. If you have coupons that match up with the rock-bottom prices, you will do even better with your budget! And then when things get a little tight, you can probably cut the amount you spend on food for a time without feeling the pinch - you will have a nicely supplied kitchen and a generous stockpile. This month, I've cut my spending to $50 a week, and I've been doing fine, and still taking advantage of the best deals.

I do tend to go to a couple of different grocery stores to pick up the loss leaders, but I know that isn't something many people want to do, or have time to do. If this is the case, you can take your grocery ads to Wal-Mart SuperCenter OR SuperTarget for an ad-match. Unless it's a brand specific to your grocer, you can get all the deals in one location. I don't have a SuperTarget close enough to me (it's less gas for me to go to 3-4 stores than drive 30 minutes to it!), and I hate shopping at Wal-Mart, so I prefer to visit the stores. I especially like HyVee because they are so friendly there! My Price Chopper is extremely unfriendly, especially when you try to use coupons, but I do go there for loss leaders. I enjoy knowing that they didn't really make a profit from my visit. :-D Yep, I'm a little warped!

It's not easy to change how you shop in order to stockpile like this, but even a few dollars a week can save you lots in the long run. I won't be buying sugar for some time with the deals I've gotten this week, and I'm very well supplied with chicken breasts and lovely pork chops. By buying items at their lowest prices, we eat VERY well on less in a month than a lot of people spend in a week! You can, too

Have you gotten any great deals lately that made you stock up?? Tell us about them....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 6

Today's tip is one that I already discussed in Episode 4 when I talked about buying in bulk, so I will just add a point or two.

Check your grocer's bulk bins. You might find that products such as oats, nuts, grains, and many other items are considerably less expensive when you bag them yourself. I purchase all of my spices at bulk rates and pay much less!

The main thing I want to add to what I said earlier is look around whenever you're out shopping. Recently we were at the City Market in downtown Kansas City. We wandered into a cute little kosher shop because it appeared busy and we were curious. I found that their store was full of bulk items! A lot of it was nuts and trail mixes and the like, which was still too high per pound for my budget, but further into the store, they had spices and seasonings, and a few other odds and ends. The spices were the unbelievably low price of $1 for a good-sized scoop! They had many selections available, and the fragrances were fantastic. We even found some very interesting spice blends, including Arabian spice. I have no idea what is in it, but it smells wonderful, and we bought one scoop because we just had to try it. I never would have imagined I would find spices cheaper than my favorite bulk-spice shop, Planters Seed, but there they were! I only went in there due to curiousity, and I'm glad I did.

I used to think that only health-food stores carried bulk bins, but in looking around my usual stores, I have found that they all have some sort of bulk, particularly in their own healthy eating section. I am not able to buy a lot of my grains and such in bulk, but I know some stores carry extensive bulk bins. If your store is one of those, definitely check them out! I have read blogger's tales of great deals in these bins. You might also get to try things you wouldn't have otherwise. Perhaps you've never had farina or quinoa. You can buy just enough to make it once and see how it goes over. If it's a hit, then you can get more. If it isn't, you haven't wasted money on a full package.

Give bulk bins a chance. It's always a good idea to explore all of the money-saving options offered at your grocery store!!

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 5

I know I've been a bit inconsistent in discussing these tips. Sorry about that! I've really got to stop letting life get in my way of blogging! :-) Today we'll talk about WHERE to shop.

Shop for your basics at a "no frills" grocer, such as Aldi. You can get great deals on items like milk, sugar, pretzels, chips, cheese, and other items you use frequently. You won't find name brands here, but the store will most likely guarantee the quality of your purchases.

If you've never been to Aldi, you should definitely check them out if they are in your area. Use the locator at . Every Aldi I've visited is clean and well-organized. They don't carry name brands on a regular basis, but their products are all of great quality. They do guarantee every product. I've only bought one thing that we hated (it was a weird German bread that tasted terrible), but I have had them replace defective items. Not too long ago I bought a can of pan spray that leaked. I talked to a manager and received a new questions asked! It was easy and they were very friendly about it.

Some of the items I buy regularly at Aldi are chips and pretzels ($.99 to $1.29 a large bag), honey ($3.79 for a big bottle), flour and sugar (always cheaper than the regular grocery store), milk, sour cream, plain yogurt, rice, pasta, and lots of produce! They carry products that most people use every day, so you won't find too many fancy items; however, they do carry some of these things on Special Purchases. Every week they have certain things that they offer for a limited, while it lasts, time. They might have Italian specialties, or Mexican foods, or Asian cuisine. They also have non-food items in their purchases, so you never know what you will find. Their ad is usually in the paper, or you can find it at their website. You can even sign up to receive the ad each week in your email.

Aldi doesn't have a lot of "extras" so they can keep prices low. You have to put a quarter in the cart to use it (but you get it back upon returning the cart), they don't give you bags (you can buy them for .06 for paper or .10 for plastic), and they don't bag your items for you. They will move them from the conveyor belt to a cart, and then you're on your own. They also only accept cash or a debit card to avoid heavy fees on charges and bad checks.

If you don't have an Aldi, you might have another store that is similar. I know Save-a-Lot is another store similar to Aldi. I've found that their prices tend to be just a little higher since they will bag your items and do accept checks and credit cards. They also have a website at where you can view the ad. Those are the only two stores of which I am aware, but I am sure there are others...if you know of them, please share the information in comments. I've never lived anywhere but the midwest, so I'm only familiar with what we have here.

The way that I do most of my shopping is I keep a list on the side of my refrigerator with staples that are low or out (usually I write them down when they are getting low). Each Wednesday, I review the local grocer ads and write down what items are on sale for rock-bottom prices at the stores I visit. If something on my list is on sale for a price that is less than Aldi's regular price (I do keep track), I will purchase it at the store and take it off my Aldi list. I visit Aldi about 3 times a month for my basic supplies.

I know some folks swear by the prices at Wal-Mart, but beyond the fact that I can't stand even walking INTO my local store, I have found that prices tend to be less at Aldi. They're even cheaper than Sam's Club on a lot of things!! If you don't have a no-frills store near you, then Wal-Mart might be your best bet. The only perk of which I can think in shopping at Wal-Mart for your basics is that you can ad-match the grocery store ads and get everything in one place. Of course, if your store is like mine, asking for an ad match is grounds for the cashier to treat you like a thief. Good luck to you!! :-)

Where do you get your basic staples? Share your strategies to save all you can!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Recipe Blog Hop

I'm trying my very first Blog Hop! Should be interesting to see if it actually works! :-)

Don't we all have recipes on our blogs that we love? Post one and join the party!

MckLinky Blog Hop

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 4

Buy in bulk when it makes sense - examples include yeast, which is very cheap in bulk and can be stored indefinitely in the freezer; flour, which also stores long-term in the freezer; and eggs, which are often less expensive in larger packages. Also, chicken and beef soup bases work just like bouillon cubes, but can be purchased at the warehouse store for a lot less.

I never buy yeast in the packets you get at the store. Instead, I pay a few cents more and get a HUGE amount of bulk yeast. Now, when you look at the warehouse packages of 1 lb. or more, it might seem a bit daunting. I remember wondering if I would ever use that much yeast! But I learned quickly that the huge packages last indefinitely in the freezer with no negative effects. I do bake a lot, but it takes me awhile to go through them. So what I used to do was buy a two-pack at Sam's and share it with a friend - we each paid $2.xx and had enough yeast for quite a bit of baking. Nowadays, I buy it myself. As long as you store it in the freezer, you're good to go!

I also often buy my flour in 25 lb. bags at the warehouse club. I calculated the cost per pound and it's a bit cheaper than what I can buy at Aldi, plus I get bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. If you regularly buy the small 5-lb. bags of bread flour, you most definitely need to look at your bulk options!

Another way that I shop "in bulk" is buying as much as I can of a commonly-used product when it hits a great sale price. Examples might be cereal when I can get it for less than a dollar a box (combining sale and coupons), pasta at a .50 or less a pound, chicken breasts below $1.50 a pound, etc. When I see very low (loss leader)prices, I buy as much as I can afford within my budget constraints. This week I see a great price on chicken breasts, and I have calculated that I can spend $12 on chicken and stay on-budget. Last week I spent $13 on a fantastic deal on lean ground beef. I figure what I need and what that will cost, then divide what is left among the great deals so I can take advantage without breaking the bank.

Spices are something that it almost always cheaper in bulk. There is probably a place in your area that sells spices by the 1/4 lb. or larger, and I've found that it's a much better deal than most grocery store prices on the same spices. Plus, my bulk store is constantly replenishing stock, and I have no idea how long those jars have been sitting on shelves at the store.

A lot of grocery stores have bulk bins, and I know several people who swear by these. My stores don't have great deals in the few bins they offer, but I know some areas have fantastic options. Here, I've found mostly organic/natural products in the bins, and they are priced higher than their packaged counterpart on the shelf. I do occasionally buy these products, but not too often. Check your store to see what is offered in bulk and do your own comparison.

No matter how good of a deal you get, however, if you aren't going to use the product before it goes bad, you haven't saved anything. Be sure you either have good storage options in your house or that you only buy what your household will use in the time that the products are edible. If you have a lot of freezer space, you will be able to take better advantage of sales, but even if you don't, you can still do some bulk buying - you'll just have to be organized with your space.

What do you buy in bulk? Do you find deals online, too? I'd love to hear about it!!

Great Printable Coupons

If you go over to Simple & Delicious you can print some great coupons from ConAgra Foods! You will have to login/create an account, but you will receive the following 4 coupons for your efforts:

$1 off ONE (1) Chef Boyardee 15-oz can
$.50 off any ONE (1) Peter Pan Peanut Butter
$.50 off any TWO (2) Crunch 'n Munch
$1 off any FOUR (4) Snack Pack 4-packs

Thanks, More Than Cents! :)

A Fun Trip to HyVee

Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo taken of what I purchased, because most of it was put away downstairs (and the camera is upstairs). Here is a list of what I bought for $15.48:

5 M&M/Mars candy bars - (used free item coupons)
1 lb. HyVee real butter - .94
Roberts OJ 1/2 gallon - .94
4 12-packs of A&W Root Beer - $2.50 each
1 12-pack Diet Mountain Dew -(used free item coupon)
HyVee 15 oz. tomato sauce - .19
HyVee ice cream 1/2 gallon - free w/ A&W purchase
24 oz. Hunt's Ketchup - (used free item coupon)
1 gallon distilled vinegar - $1.78
Oscar Mayer Beef Franks - (used free item coupon)
24 oz. cottage cheese - .94
Glade Lasting Impressions - (used free item coupon)
Mighty Dog canned dog food - (used free item coupon)

Not a bad haul for $15, especially considering that the soda was $10 of that!! The soda wasn't a necessity, of course, but we let the kids have some with dinner on occasion. That amount will last us quite a long time.

I'm looking good this week. I have a list of things I want that are on sale for good prices starting tomorrow. I should be able to stick with only $50 on food this week, which is a good thing!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 3

For today's tip, I have some recent examples! :-) Here is the tip as I gave it to the Post:

Look outside the grocery store for cheap prices on food - your local farmer's market is likely to have "drops" or "canners" that are very inexpensive (and still perfectly edible!!), your neighborhood convenience store might have the cheapest milk, and a bakery thrift store you pass every day offers fresh breads at half or less of the supermarket price.

I definitely utilize stores other than my grocery store on a regular basis. I have to admit, the farmers markets near me are extremely expensive, so I do not frequent them. However, the downtown area (which isn't too far) has a huge City Market on the weekends with vendors that offer great deals. In addition, I found an orchard just outside of town that has very reasonable prices on pick-your-own produce. We plan to get a bushel of peaches (48-50 lbs.) that I will can to last us quite awhile, for $35. And on top of the good price, it will be a fun family activity. The kids are very excited about it! If I lived closer to the farm, I could have gotten an even better deal - they had a bit of hail damage, and I was offered a bushel of already-picked slightly damaged peaches for only $25! I sure wish I could have done that, but it would have been so out of the way that I'd have spent $12 in gas to make the trip. I will be in that area in a couple of weeks so it won't cost me any extra in gas then.

Tonight we went to Big Lots, which is an over-runs kind of store. They do have a food section, and often there are very good deals to be had there. Tonight they offered a 20% discount for their email subscribers. I love those sales! We got snacks for the kids, Special K bars, pretzels, and several other food items for less than I can find them at the grocery store on sale.

There is also another store not too far from me where I get some food items. It's technically a thrift store, but they have an entire section of groceries. Some of them are out-dated, but if you look carefully, you will find current products. I've gotten boxes of name brand cereal in dented boxes for $1, Pop Tarts where only the outer packaging was damaged for $1, potato chips for .33 a bag, bottled minced garlic for $1, pudding mixes for .25, and the kids' favorite, Little Debbie Snacks for .50 and .75 a box. There are many other deals, but those are the first ones that come to mind. It takes some looking most days, since I won't buy out-dated products, but I do get some great deals here!

As far as bakery thrift stores, I definitely love those! At the one closest to my house, I get Sara Lee White Wheat bread for .75 a loaf, and it's almost as fresh as the $2 plus loaves at the grocer! They offer a free item from a specific shelf if you spend $5, and often have great sales. The store I used to visit, which was a Dolly Madison that was close to my old house, always had current coupons in a mail publication and every week had something on sale VERY cheap. I love bakery thrift stores, and if you haven't been to one, you must go!

Look around you when you're out running your errands. You never know what you might find. Check out stores to see what they have - I never would have guessed that the thrift store I mentioned above had groceries, but I'm so glad I checked it out. You might pass someplace every day that will help you on your quest to cut your grocery bill. A few minutes might save you a lot of money.

Do you have unusual places you go to save money? Please share!

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 7/20/09

Last week's menu of new recipes went over so-so. The Drunken Chicken was good and definitely something I will make again. On the flip side, nobody liked the Moussaka, so that one will never grace the table again! I never got to a couple of the new recipes because we were all a bit gun-shy after the Moussaka. :) So some things got changed around a bit. This week, we're sticking with mostly family favorites, and I actually have some links this week! Here we go...

Monday - Honey Lime Chicken, steamed rice, green beans, homemade rolls.

Tuesday - Lasagna, salad from the garden, the rest of the rolls.

Wednesday - Grilled ribeye, baked potatoes, corn, whole wheat banana muffins.

Thursday - Rotisserie style chicken, fried rice, glazed carrots, cornbread.

Friday - Pizza night! I foresee leftover chicken, so it will be Chicken Alfredo pizza on a sourdough crust.

Saturday - Chicken enchiladas (the rest of that remaining chicken), tortilla chips and salsa.

Sunday - Pork Piccata, mashed potatoes, "fried" apples, biscuits.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 2

Welcome to our second installment in reducing your grocery costs. As before, please add any comments and ideas that you have. This one is about coupons, and I know there are LOTS of shoppers out there with coupon tips and strategies. I'm only going to scratch the surface on this topic, as I know coupons could be a 20-part series in themselves.

Tip #2

Clip coupons - but don't buy something just because you have a coupon! Collect the ones you might use, and then review the sale ads each week and match up your coupons with the sales for the best deals. Combining your coupons with in-store specials can often result in products that cost you little to nothing (or even result in a profit!!).

I have a particular mindset when it comes to coupons. I know people often say things like you should only clip coupons for items you use anyway, but my thought process is.....if this item were free, would I get it? I do actually clip and file coupons, rather than using a whole-insert method because having them filed in my box is the system that works for me. My coupon box is organized by sections of the typical grocery store, so I can pull out one section at a time and see what I have on hand. When deciding which ones to clip, if it's an item that we would use for the right price, I clip it. I'd much rather end up tossing a coupon because the item was never on sale for a good price than wish I had clipped it because I COULD have gotten a deal.

Each week, you probably receive sale ads for your local grocers. Since I've clipped and filed my coupons, I do have some recollection of what I have (though I don't depend entirely on my lousy memory!). As I peruse the ads, I often see items for which I know I have a coupon. Then I go to my organizer, and remove the applicable coupon, and note on my shopping list that I have it. If I'm not sure about an item, I pull that section from my coupon box and see if I have a coupon for a particular item. Once I have pulled all the coupons I know I need, I attach them to my shopping list with a paperclip. If I only find one or two things that aren't great deals or that I don't really want/need, I don't go to that store that week. It might sound a little silly or complicated, but it's an easy system that works for me. I do still carry my entire coupon box into the store with me (after all, better safe than sorry, especially if the store has a Markdowns area), but I like to have handy the ones I know I am going to use.

If you have a store that doubles coupons, you can really get some good deals, but generally only if you're using a coupon on an item that is already on sale. The regular prices at the typical double-coupon store are quite inflated. Still, though, they do likely run great sales and loss leaders, and that's the time to use your coupons and buy as much as you can. If you followed the link above about making a profit, you'll see that I bought several months' worth of pasta on that shopping trip. I didn't NEED that much pasta, but they were literally paying me to take it home with me, so I bought as many as I had coupons. I don't usually have that high of a quantity of a single coupon, but in that case, I had a bunch of the one, so I took full advantage of the deal! Those bargains are so rare that I'm still thrilled about it - and that one wasn't even a double-coupon deal!

I remember a long time ago when I lived in Arkansas....we had a store called Consumers. My friend and I used to get a bunch of ladies together to caravan about an hour away to shop at that store because they occasionally TRIPLED coupons! It was such fun to see those long receipts with the small totals. One of my receipts was about 5 feet long, and my total was about $26. I actually think I STILL have that receipt in my filing cabinet - talk about a coupon high!

At the end of every month, I go through all my coupons and remove the expired ones. I know that these can be sent to the military overseas, but I don't have any information on how to go about doing that. It makes me a little sad to see coupons go to waste, but I would have been happy to have them if the deals had been right. I really do knock a lot off my grocery bill by combining my coupons with sale items - and rebates if I find them. It's a little puzzle that adds up to big savings.

Now how about your tips??? Comment away!!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill - The Series - Episode 1

As I mentioned a few posts back, I'm going to do a series of small posts revolving around the grocery tips that I compiled for the Washington Post. I thought it might be helpful to expand on the tips I listed, and hopefully my wonderful readers will comment about their own experiences, or how to improve how I do things. I know I have plenty of room for improvement, and maybe we can all learn together! Every bit saved is more money in our pockets - let's make it grow!

Tip #1

Shop in the morning - you are likely to find significant mark-downs on meat, produce, and bakery items that are still perfectly fine, but close to their freshest date. Freeze meat that you won't use right away.

I have found this to be the case at almost every store I visit. Sam's Club is the best, with markdowns of about 30% every morning on meat that is close to or on the freshness date. It's mostly beef at my Sam's here, with some pork and very rarely chicken. My local grocers all mark down meat in the mornings. Hen House prices the meat, bakery products, and deli items at 1/2 price in the morning and puts them in a specific area in the meat department. Price Chopper puts $1 and $2 off stickers on them to discount the prices. If you get the least expensive packages with the stickers, you get the best deals. Even Aldi marks down meat - I've found both $1 and $2 off stickers, as well as 1/2 price stickers. I bought several slabs of ribs there when I found them for half price. Always take a tour of the meat department!

Along with meat, there are often items in other areas as well that offer discounts. I've found that both Price Chopper and Hen House put discount stickers on items in the produce area (salads, jarred fruit, etc.) and in the dairy case. I love to find milk marked down, especially when it's Roberts brand and I can combine it with one of their .50 coupons. Often a pinch of salt dropped into the milk will keep it fresh longer - I have tried this many times. There are also markdowns on bakery breads from the day before at Hen House.

HyVee has their own method of "marking down" in my area. In the morning, at some random time, they set out Grab Bags in a cart at the front of the store. The bags are full of shelf-stable products that might be dented, close to date, or missing part of the label. They are a STEAL for $3, but I've only been lucky enough to nab them once! I think they usually come out between 8 and 10, so I am always on the lookout.

Now, to reverse this theory, and just to confuse you, shopping late in the day can also lead you to discounts! So if you can't do the early-bird shopping, it's okay - you can still save money by shopping late. If your store has a deli, find out what they do with the leftover rotisserie chickens at the end of the workday. I've known of two stores that simply put them on the counter marked free. Maybe you'll get lucky! (The stores near where I live now DON'T do this, but in previous locations, they have. One I remember well for doing this is Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market; however, your mileage may vary.) Also, we LOVE to visit the bakery in the evening. Most stores will take all the donuts and pastries that were not purchased and box them up in variety boxes for a great deal - usually $2.99 or $3.99. Wal-Mart does this in the morning, from what I understand - I don't go there. The kids think it's great to get bakery donuts the next day for lunch and don't even notice they are "day old."

These are just some tips and ideas from my experiences. I would love to hear from you - do you save money by shopping first thing in the morning? Is it better to go late in the evening? Which stores give you the best discounts? How full is your freezer? Chime in by leaving a comment!

Next tip is about sure to come back tomorrow!!

Recipes from "Desperation Dinners"

I had a request for some of the recipes I posted we were going to try this week, so I'm posting them. These are straight from the book, "Desperation Dinners" by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross.

Moussaka in Minutes

2 c. (12 oz) orzo pasta
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs extra lean ground beef
2 t. olive oil
1 large onion for 1 c. chopped
1 large eggplant for 4 c. cubed
1 small can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. cinnamon
1 container (10 oz) reduced-fat Alfredo sauce
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

1) Turn on broiler
2) Bring 2 1/2 qts of unsalted water to a boil in a covered 4 1/2 qt. or larger pot. When it reaches a rapid boil, add the orzo and cook 7 minutes.
3) If the beef is frozen, run hot water over it so you can remove any packaging. Place beef on a microwave-safe plate and microwave 3 minutes, uncovered, on high, to begin defrosting
4) Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch heatproof skillet. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, adding to the skillet as you chop. Begin cutting the eggplant into 1" squares, leaving the peel on. Set aside.
5) Add the beef to the skillet. Cook until crumbled and browned, about 3 minutes. Finish cutting up the eggplant while the beef cooks.
6) Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and ketchup to the skillet and stir to mix. Cover, and boil until the meat is no longer pink and the eggplantis soft, about 6 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, taking care not to make the eggplant mushy.
7) Meanwhile, add the nutmeg and cinnamon directly to the container of alfredo sauce. Stir well. Drizzle the sauce evenly over the skillet. Sprinkle the parmesan evenly over the top and place skillet under the broiler until the top is bubbly and just begins to brown, 2-3 minutes. Drain the orzo and serve the meat over a bed of orzo.

Cheddar Corn Cakes

1 lg. egg
1/2 c. frozen corn kernels
1/4 c. + 2 T. buttermilk cornbread mix
1/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 c. cottage cheese
2 T. skim or low-fat milk
Cooking oil spray
Bottled salsa (optional)

1) Break the egg into a 2-qt. or larger bowl and beat it lightly with a fork to break it up. Add the corn kernels, cornbread mix, cheddar and cottage cheeses, and milk and stir well to mix.
2) Spray a 12-inch nonstick skillet with cooking oil spray and heat over medium heat. Drop the batter, 1/4 at a time, into the skillet, to make 4 fritters. Flatten the mounds lightly with the back of a spoon.
3) Fry the fritters until lightly browned, 2 1/2 minutes per side. Serve at once, with salsa (if using) on the side.

Tuxedo Chicken

6 c. bow tie pasta
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/3 lbs.), fresh or frozen
1 T. butter
1 small onion for 1/2 c. chopped
2 c. frozen chopped broccoli
1 container (8 oz.) reduced-fat sour cream
1 c. half-and-half
1 T. grainy Dijon mustard
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t. garlic powder

1) Bring 2 1/2 qts. unsalted water to a boil in a covered 4 1/2 qt. or larger Dutch oven or soup pot. When the water reaches a rapid boil, add the bow ties and cook till tender, 9 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, if the chicken is frozen, run them under hot water to remove any packaging (MY NOTE: For food safety reasons, use cool water). Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate and microwave 3 minutes, uncovered, on high, to begin defrosting. While the chicken defrosts, melt the butter on medium-low in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Peel and chop the onion, adding to the skillet as you chop. Cook until the onion is soft, about 3 minutes.
3) Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch strips. Raise heat to medium-high and add chicken. Cook until chicken is no longer pink in the center, 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Meanwhile, place the broccoli in a microwave-safe dish and microwave 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes, covered, on high, until it is just warm.
4) Remove the chicken from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir the sour cream and half-and-half into the chicken juices to blend well, then add the mustard, Worcestershire, and garlic powder. Stir well and continue to cook until the sauce is slightly thick, about 2 minutes. Do not boil.
5) Return the chicken to the skillet and add broccoli, then raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce almost to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer to blend the flavors. Do not boil.
6) Meanwhile, drain the bow ties and place some on each serving plate. Top with chicken mixture and serve.

Tempting Thai Chicken

2 1/2 c. instant rice
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/3 lbs), fresh or frozen
Spicy Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)
2 t. vegetable oil
1 T. bottled minced garlic
1 T. bottled chopped dinner
1-2 bunches scallions for 3/4 c. chopped
1 can (8 oz.) sliced bamboo shoots
1/2 c. unsalted peanuts
1 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 T. dry sherry
1 t. sugar

1) Bring 2 1/2 c. water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Meanwhile, begin step 2. When the water boils, add the rice, cover the pan, and remove from the heat until ready to serve.
2) If the chicken is frozen, run them under hot water to remove any packaging (MY NOTE: For food safety reasons, use cool water). Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate and microwave 2 minutes, uncovered, on high, to begin defrosting. Meanwhile, make the Peanut Sauce and set aside.
3) Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. Cut the chicken into short strips about 1/2 inch wide, adding them to the skillet as you cut. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until the chicken is no longer pink, 5-7 min., stirring frequently.
4) While the chicken cooks, cut the scallions into 1/4 inch slices, using the white and enough of the tender green tops to make 3/4 cup; drain the bamboo shoots, and chop the peanuts. Set each aside.
5) When the chicken is no longer pin, add the scallions, bamboo shoots, peanuts, soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Stir well, then add the Peanut Sauce and stir well again. Cook until heated through, 2 minutes. Serve over a bed of the rice.

Peanut Sauce

1 1/2 T. creamy peanut butter
2 T. vegetable oil
2 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 T. sugar
2 t. rice wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar
1/2 t. dark sesame oil
1/2 t. ground cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until well combined.

Fragrant Rice Pilaf

1 T. butter
1 med. onion for 3/4 c. chopped
1/2 c. frozen green peas
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) fat-free chicken broth
3/4 c. water
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. cumin
1 cinnamon stick or 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves or 1/4 t. ground cloves (optional)
1/2 t. ground turmeric
2 1/2 c. instant rice

1) Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan with a lid. Meanwhile, peel and coarsely chop onion, adding to the pan as you chop. Cook for 1 min. to soften the onion slightly, then add the frozen peas and cook for 2 minutes to partially defrost them.
2) Add the broth, water, and seasonings. Cover the pan, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Uncover, stir in the rice, and remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
3) Fluff the rice with a fork, remove and discard cinnamon stick and cloves (if using) and serve.

I apologize for any mis-spellings/typos. There was a lot to type and I didn't proof-read! :)

Cake for Breakfast??

Some mornings I wake early and just can't get back to sleep. On one of these recent mornings, I felt a little bit productive and decided to make my kids something fun for breakfast. I had two bananas sitting on the counter that were at the baking stage, so I decided to see if I could come up with a fairly healthy breakfast cake for them. How often does Mom serve CAKE for breakfast?? Here is what I put together, and they absolutely loved it (and I did, too)!

Banana-Cherry Breakfast Cake

1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. plain low-fat yogurt
2-3 mashed ripe bananas
1 c. wheat flour
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. chopped cherries
1/2 c. granola

Beat egg in mixing bowl and stir in brown sugar till creamy.

Stir in yogurt and mashed bananas.

Combine dry ingredients and combine the two just until moistened.

Fold in chopped cherries (or try another fruit).

Pour into a greased 8" baking pan and top with granola.

Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes - test doneness with a toothpick in the center.

Let cool in pan 10 minutes before serving warm.

This was a huge hit! Hope you enjoy it. And for more great recipes, be sure and visit the Recipe Swap at Grocery Cart Challenge.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 7/13/09

Last week I discovered a new cookbook. Okay, so it had been on my shelf for awhile, but I had never even leafed through it, so I can still consider it a discovery! :) It's called "Desperation Dinners" by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. All the recipes are said to be made start to finish with no prior planning, in 20 minutes flat. I don't know about that part of it, but some of the recipes looked appealing to me. It is very rare that I actually follow a recipe; I simply use them as guidelines and do my own thing. This week, my menu is focusing on several recipes from "Desperation Dinners" with my own twists. I don't have many links right now, but I can definitely post recipes if anyone would like me to!

Here is my plan for the week, loaded with LOTS of new recipes:

Monday - Drunken Chicken with rice, green beans from the garden (for the kids), steamed zucchini from the garden (for the parents), the rest of the sourdough bread I baked tonight.

Tuesday - Moussaka in Minutes, "fried apples," Cheddar Corn Cakes.

Wednesday - Sloppy Joes (this one isn't new!), home fries or tater tots (depending on my mood), corn.

Thursday - Tuxedo Chicken over pasta, glazed carrots, homemade rolls.

Friday - Our traditional pizza night. I'll have some alfredo sauce left from making the Moussaka, so I think I'll do chicken alfredo pizza.

Saturday - Heartland Rice and Beef, corn, Sour Cream Biscuits.

Sunday - Tempting Thai Chicken, Fragrant Rice Pilaf, garden salad, breadsticks.

That is EIGHT new recipes! I don't think the kids are going to know what to do with that many new things on the menu! We're all interested in trying the Moussaka recipe, as DH is the only one of us who has ever eaten eggplant. I'm sure we'll like it!

For more great menu plans, hop over to Menu Plan Monday!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Talk about an Inexpensive Dinner!

I have made some modifications to my menu plan for this week. Tonight I needed to use up some of the garden goodies from earlier in the week. Since my kids all insist they don't like squash, I decided to try a stir-fry. I ended up with a HUGE wok full that fed all of us, with enough left over for at least 3 more servings! It was so amazingly inexpensive. Here's the breakdown:

Beef – I used the "tips" from that free whole sirloin, so free!
Celery – .25
Carrots - .20
Broccoli - .99
Squash – free from the garden
Mini corn - .59 on sale at Aldi
Corn starch – free when bought on sale with a coupon
Bouillon - .05
Various seasonings - .05
Rice - .25

The total cost of this huge dinner was $2.38!! And my kids did eat the squash, except the youngest, who insisted that she didn't eat things that had no taste. Whaddya do?? She ate two pieces because I held dessert hostage, so I guess that's something.

As for dessert? It's going to be cookies that were leftover after a work function DH had Thursday that were given to us, warmed and topped with a scoop of Breyer's ice cream I picked up for less than a dollar with a coupon last week. Still under three dollars for everything!!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Home Grown Goodies

I got some goodies from my garden today! I'm not going to get much out of it this year, but next year should be a completely different story. This fall we hopefully will get the grass issue under control so I can plant nice rows next year and have a much more effective gardening space. For now, though, I will take what I can get and be thrilled!!

Today I picked one perfect zucchini squash, one very nice yellow squash, a cucumber, and one tiny little roma tomato. I'm not sure yet what I plan to do with them, but I'm sure thinking I might change the menu a bit and have a stir-fry! That or I will just have a platter of steamed zucchini for lunch today or tomorrow - I love squash!!

Along with this, we've picked enough green beans for three dinners and cut some lettuce for salads. All in all, not too bad for a mess of a garden that keeps trying to turn itself back into a lawn!!

And Here's Price Chopper

Here is the last of the grocery purchases for the week. There were a few deals at Price Chopper and I had to go to the library (which is in the same general parking lot) anyway, so I made a quick trip. I HATE this Price Chopper, but it is the only one convenient to me, so I occasionally have to go there. I have one I like MUCH better, but I'm not in that part of town very frequently. I do go to that one whenever I can. McKeever's Price Chopper is constantly posting mis-leading prices (as you will see below) and the employees are the rudest I've ever encountered at a grocery store, management included! trip was not without issue, but here we go:

Froot Loops - sale $1.75, used $1.50 coupon
Dole celery - sale $.99
Tenderized round steak - $1.22
2 Eckrich smoked sausage - sale $1.79 each, used 2 $1.00/1 coupons
2 Westpac frozen corn - sale $.75 each
2 Westpac frozen broccoli - sale $.75 each
2 Lean Pockets - sale $1.45, used 2 .50/1 coupons
1 corn muffin mix (for a specific recipe) - $.45
Digiorno Flatbread Melt - used free item coupon
Twix bar - used free item coupon
Meow Mix cat entree - used free item coupon
1 eggplant - $2.47 (GRRR!!!! I read the sign super carefully and it stated the eggplant was $1.49. Period. At the register, it was per POUND, and the sign did NOT say per pound - typical of this Price Chopper! This was purchased for a specific recipe you will see on next week's menu plan.)
Water chestnuts - $.99
Bamboo shoots - $.99
2 lbs. blueberries - sale $3.75
4 lb. sugar - sale $1.19

Total spent $20.51

Total for the week $72.93. My budget is $70 a week, so I'm a little over. I'll just have to be more careful next week! :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Deals at HyVee

Today I popped into HyVee to get some of their Hot Deals of the week. I am STOCKED on cereal now, but I just couldn't resist 10 free boxes (with mail-in rebate)!!

Here's what I got:

3 boxes Kellogg's Mini Bites Honey Nut - sale $1.99 each, used 3 $1/1 coupons
3 boxes Kellogg's Mini Bites Chocolate - sale $1.99 each, used 3 $1/1 coupons
2 boxes Kellogg's Blueberry Muffin Mini Wheats - sale $1.99 each, used b1g1f coupon
2 boxes Kellogg's Special K - sale $1.99 each, used 2 $1/2 coupons
(Cereal total was $9.90 and I will get a $10 rebate - the UPCs are removed and the form is ready to go in today's mail)
Wonder hot dog buns - sale $.66
Wonder hamburger buns - sale $.66
1 box Sure-Jell pectin (for that cherry jam I'm making) - $2.25
4 packages Corn King Bacon - sale $1.48 each
1/2 gallon HyVee chocolate milk - $1.38 (a bit of a splurge for the kids, I know....)
Roberts cottage cheese - sale $1.38, used .50 coupon
1 bar Fels Naptha (for laundry soap) - .88
Havarti cheese - $2.38 - this was a TOTAL splurge for DH because he LOVES this cheese and that wasn't a bad price for it.

My total was $25.89 and I saved almost 30%. On top of that, I get back $10 in the rebate, so I can say that I only spent $15.89, which is a really good deal!!!

Total spent so far this week $52.42 when you take the rebate into account (I won't count it again when it comes in like I've seen some people do on savings posts! :))

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trip to Aldi

I made a much-needed trip to Aldi today for some basics and some produce. This won't be my only shopping trip this week, but it's a start! I had planned to buy some of their .29 peaches, but apparently that's in the past. They wanted .59 EACH for very small peaches. That's crazy! So I'll either buy them at another store for .99 a pound or live without them this week!

Here's what I bought at Aldi:

10 lb. russet potatoes - $2.99
Broccoli crowns - .99
2.2 lbs. bananas - .84
6 lbs. cherries (Did you read about my jam fiasco? I'm hoping to get a good batch out of most of these) - $8.94
1 lb. baby carrots - .99
1 bag corn chips - .99
1 bag pretzel sticks - $1.29
1 bag tortilla chips - .99
1 bag nacho rings - $1.19
2 bottles pancake syrup - $2.78
4 cans green beans - $1.96
32 oz. container yogurt - $1.59
2 bottles lemon juice - $3.70
2 cans evaporated milk - $1.50
(not pictured) 1 gallon milk - $2.20
(not pictured) 3 dozen large eggs - $2.07

My grand total was $36.53. I was shooting for $35, so I didn't think that was too bad! That still leaves me with plenty in the budget for the good deals at Price Chopper and HyVee. :-)

I will post the rest of my shopping as I get it done. Update: I've been to HyVee - go HERE to see that shopping trip! And go HERE to see my Price Chopper deals! Want to see more grocery shopping reports? Check out the Grocery Cart Challenge. This is my first time linking up to the weekly shopping reports.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tonight's Dinner

I'm linking this recipe up over at the Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap and Organize with Sandy's Share My Recipe Sunday! I always get a bunch of GREAT recipes from these, and I hope you'll check them out and see what new dishes you can put on your own menu next week!

My menu plan this past week got a little off-kilter due to several factors, including the fact that there were more ribs than I realized and they lasted TWO meals!! I didn't get my lasagna made, and just got to the Apple Havarti Chicken tonight. I ended up pretty much doing my own thing when it came to this recipe, and it was sooooo good that I thought I would share.

Apple Havarti Chicken

4 chicken breasts
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into small wedges
Olive oil
Lawry's Seasoning
2 sandwich-size slices Havarti cheese
About 1/4 c. wine (I used Cabernet Savignon)

Flatten the chicken breasts to about 1/4". Place a few apple wedges on the center of each and roll up, securing with toothpicks. Place in a 9" square pan and drizzle with a little olive oil (I used my sprayer) then sprinkle with the Lawry's.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and pour the wine on and around the rolls, then top each with half a slice of the Havarti. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is done and cheese is melted. Pour remaining wine sauce over the chicken when serving.

GOOD stuff!!!!

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 7/6/09

How can it be July already?? It seems like the summer is just flying by, doesn't it?? I'm definitely enjoying the slower pace and all the time with my kids - I dread them going back to school. We're just having too much FUN this summer!!!!

This week was an easier-than-usual plan because I have two nights where I don't have to cook - woohoo!! I've got one new item on the menu, and am excited to try it. Here's the plan:

Monday - Pretzel-crusted chicken (I would link to the recipe, but I can't find it online - it's from a Sandra Lee cookbook), oven fries, glazed carrots, homemade rolls.

Tuesday - Swiss steak (simple - I put a large round steak in the Crock Pot and pour a can of diced tomatoes over the top and cook on low all day!), rice, corn, rest of the rolls.

Wednesday - Pizza mystery shop.

Thursday - Social function with DH's work. Dinner will be provided along with the entertainment (minor league baseball game - lots of fun!)

Friday - Pizza night. Probably ham and mushroom on a sourdough crust. The kids can never seem to get enough pizza!

Saturday - Pork piccata, mashed potatoes, "fried" apples (from the freezer), White Lily biscuits.

Sunday - Lasagna (due to some changes I didn't get this made last week), garden salad, soft buttery breadsticks.

Just in case you haven't noticed, I've added a subscription form at the top of my blog (and the Leftovers one, too!). Please subscribe for regular updates. I plan to start posting a lot more regularly and you don't want to miss out! :-)

And for more great menu plans, be sure and visit the official Menu Plan Monday!

Guess What I Did!

If you're thinking that's a big container of chicken stock, you're wrong! I finally made the leap into making my own laundry soap!! I've been thinking about it and thinking about it, and I bought the ingredients a few weeks ago. Yesterday, I decided to just do it already. I had found a large (2.5 to 3 gallon) container with a lid at a thrift store a week or so ago and therefore had no more excuses.

Here is the recipe that I used. I don't take credit for the recipe - if you google homemade laundry soap, you will find many variations of the same basic recipe. Just make it how it works for you:

1/3 bar Fels Naptha soap, grated (I found the soap for .88 a bar and grated it on an old grater I found for a quarter at another thrift store)
1/2 c. Washing Soda (55 oz. box cost $2.73)
1/2 c. Borax (76 oz. box cost $3.48)

I melted the soap in a saucepan on medium-high heat with 6 cups of water. It took 15-20 minutes for it to melt, and I stirred now and then. Once it was melted, I mixed in the Borax and Washing Soda until it dissolved (didn't take long at all) and then poured in another 4 c. of hot water and stirred it well.

I then poured the mixture into my lidded container and added 6 quarts of hot water and stirred it up. I left it to sit overnight. This morning I had a gellatinous mixture that looked kinda cool. I stirred it up to break up the gel and ended up with a slightly gelled liquid - not like normal detergent, but not "icky" either.

I used it for the first time on a load of towels this morning. I have a front loader, so I moved up the tab slightly. You lift it for powder and leave it down for liquid. Since this is a thick liquid with some gel in it, I thought leaving it down completely was a bad idea. I used 1/4 c. in my full load. It worked just fine. I pulled out the towels and they smell great! I contemplated putting some scent in the soap, but it just smells so clean that I really like it. There wasn't a heavy scent to the towels - just a fresh, clean smell. My son's laundry is in now - that should be a good test for it! :-)

I am curious about the cost of my laundry soap, so I'm going to try and break it down:

The Fels-Naptha cost $.88 and I used 1/3 of it, so that's about .30
The Borax box has about 10 cups. I used 1/2 cup, so that's about .18
The Washing Soda is about 5.5 cups. I used 1/2 cup, so that's about .25

Therefore this entire batch cost me $.73! Wow!! I'm guessing at the amount of detergent I have, but at 1/4 c. per load, I should get a minimum of 125 uses out of this amount. That's less than a penny a load! Unbelievable!! If it works as well as it seems to so far, I am completely sold. It wasn't that much work, and there is no way I can find commercial laundry soap that cleans for less than a penny a load!

I will update you on how well it does on my teenage son's laundry. I'm very excited about this, if you can't tell! Let me know if you try it for the first time - I hope it works well for you, too!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Welcome, New Visitors!

If you have arrived here from a link on a newspaper's website, welcome!! I'm very happy to have you visit my blog! I have recently learned that some tips I gave to the Washington Post have been printed on the blogs of many other newspapers across the country. I would love to know the site from which you linked - please leave me a comment below to let me know. :-)

The article was about saving money on groceries, and you can read the entire article on my blog here. You will find tips that were not printed in the Post's article, as well as a little more detail. Over the next month or so, I plan to expand on those tips with more information and even some examples from my own shopping adventures. I hope you will keep coming back to check out the latest post on how you can save money every month on your food purchases. I bet it isn't as difficult as you think!

You will also find other fun stuff here besides just saving on groceries. I have had one giveaway so far and plan to have more in the future. I also toss out a recipe now and then, post my menu plans for the week, or just talk about the latest goofy mess into which I've gotten myself. I never know what I'm going to post, so you never know what you'll find. Please review my archives and you will see what I mean. If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to comment at the end of any post or send me an email (see the right sidebar for email addresses). And please check back often, both here and on my other blog, Not Just Leftovers: Brand New Meals.

Thanks for stopping by, and I will see you again soon!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Trip to Save-A-Lot

I ended up making another brief grocery run today. We had been invited over to spend tomorrow with friends, and I wanted to make a fun and festive dessert for the occasion. My older daughter and I brainstormed and came up with making a trifle out of cake, Cool Whip, strawberries, and blueberries. I have a pretty trifle dish that rarely appears outside of the cabinet, so I love to use it whenever inspiration strikes.

I discovered that Save-a-Lot is currently offering a coupon on its website for $5 off a $20 purchase ( I love discounts, and there was a Save-a-Lot near where I was going anyway today, so I decided to use the coupon. I have to say that I didn't care for the store. I haven't been there in over a year, and obviously for good reason. Much of the fresh items were of questionable quality (had to look long and hard for the produce I bought) and the store wasn't very clean at all. It makes me want to sign up for their mystery shops just to let corporate know that this isn't a great store. On top of the store's issues, many of the people shopping there were in dire need of a bar of soap, at a minimum. Yuck! My son gagged a couple of times, and I had to alter my route around the store to avoid a few folks. But that's getting off track, isn't it? I'm going to stick with shopping at Aldi!!

Here's what I ended up purchasing on my visit to Save-a-Lot:

Angelfood cake mix - $1.89
Biscuit mix - $1.89
Dry pint blueberries - $1.99
3.59 lbs. peaches - $3.20
10 lbs. potatoes - $2.50
1 lb. strawberries - $2.00
5 limes - .50
4 boxes of Popsicle treats for the kids - sale $1.00 each
1 gallon milk - $2.29
Bottle chocolate syrup - $1.39

With the discount, I spent $17.25. Not the best trip, but not terrible, either, and I needed the milk and potatoes. I like having the biscuit mix on hand, too. I've tried making it myself, but it never seems to turn out as well. I'll keep trying, but for now, I'll just be bad. For reference, I never make actual biscuits from a mix - I always make them from scratch. But in recipes, my homemade biscuit mix just never seems to work! If you have any tips or tried and true recipes, please let me know!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Good Trip to Hen House

For the first time in weeks, Hen House had a decent ad! For those of you not in the Kansas City area, Hen House is a local chain of stores that doubles coupons up to .50 every day. They market themselves as a high-quality store, and their prices reflect this quite well, particularly in the meat department. The only meat I buy there is the half-price deals I find first thing in the morning if I can get there early enough. Today wasn't one of those days! :-) However, I did manage to walk away with some great deals, including some fun snacks for the 4th.

I didn't get any photos (sorry), but the problem is that I have an upstairs fridge and freezer and a downstairs fridge and freezer. I also store some food items on the top of the deep freeze downstairs, so by the time I get upstairs (where my camera is), a lot of my groceries are already put away. So I can't show you, but I can tell you what I got today. Here we go:

20 packets of unsweetened Kool-Aid (.07 each sale)
2 4-lb bags of sugar (sale $1.89, used 2 x $2/1 wyb 10 Kool-Aid)
3 cans Van Kamps Pork & Beans (sale .39, used .30/3)
French's Honey Mustard (sale $1.47, used .50/1)
French's Yellow Mustard (sale $1.47, used .50/1)
4 bags of Chex Mix (sale $1.50, used 2 x $1/2)
Cheerios Snack Mix (sale $1.50, used .50/1)
2 dozen eggs (sale .78)
Belfonte sour cream (sale .99)
2 bags Kraft cheese cubes (sale $1.49, used $1/2)
Gallon of skim milk (had $1 off sticker)
2 Cool Whip (sale .88, used $1/2)
2 Breyer's Ice Cream (sale $1.99, used 2 x $1/1)

I paid $16.22 for all this! I didn't think that was too bad. My receipt says I saved $34.50, which reflects coupons and card-member sale prices (they are a must-have-a-card-to-get-sales store). Now I have cheese cubes and snack mix for our weekend outing. I will also be making a lasagna for the event and hopefully tossing a salad with the variety of greens out there in my mess of a garden. I will be feeding 9 people for not a lot of money - yay!

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Even the Little Things Add Up

When it comes to saving money, we usually focus on the bigger things like gardening, eating less meat, shopping at the no-frills store, using coupons, etc, etc, etc. You know the drill, and probably practice most of those already. But don't forget about the little things that might only save you a bit here and there, because they do add up!

The other day, I was at my favorite thrift store and I came across an oil spritzer from Williams Sonoma for a quarter. It's one of those that you fill halfway with olive (or other) oil and then pump the lid and it sprays out. I couldn't resist buying it because it's in mint condition and the price was a steal! I've already used it several times instead of my standard generic no-stick spray.

It may not seem like much, but when each can of no-stick spray is $1.29, and the large bottle of oil is $2.29, I will save a lot of pennies over time. And when I combine that little change with others that I make every day, it really is a decent savings! Every small amount you save adds up over time, and eventually you will have your grocery bills down to a level of which you will be very proud. Reminds me of an old commercial jingle....."Little things....mean a lot."

On a complete side note, I have had the most wonderful evening! I finally got back in touch with a friend I have not talked to for FAR too many years (and became re-introduced to my Godson, who is now a shocking nineteen!). We had a wonderful conversation that I hope leads to many more, and I also hope we can rediscover the close friendship we once had. Shortly after we hung up, I received an email from my daughter's first grade teacher last year. I had written her with a classroom idea I had. Not only did she love the idea, but she told me that I was thinking like a teacher. I consider that a heck of a compliment!! It's been a great night and I can't stop smiling!!!!! Hope yours has been great, as well!!