The Grocery Game

Well, this is a bit embarrassing…it’s been almost exactly 6 months since my last entry.  I don’t really have a good excuse other than life happened.  We have been homeschooling this year through K12.com and I’ve had quite the learning curve this year.  It’s been crazy busy & stressful at times, but I can now say, after a year of homeschooling a 4th grader, I can do pretty well in Trivia Crack…bonus!!

Our town just opened an Aldi’s.  Until about 3 months ago, I had never heard of an Aldi’s & was very intrigued, because everyone was really getting excited about the store.  I did a little research & saw that there were whole blog articles dedicated to how to shop at Aldi’s.  Well, I was impressed!  I mean, there are some serious Aldi’s followers out there.

After doing extensive R&D when our very own Aldi’s opened (I did not go in on Opening Day…the line around the store kind of kept me home), I have come to the conclusion that there are some great deals to be had there, but I can see where some can get sucked into the idea that EVERYTHING in the store is a bargain and I should buy everything there.  What I found to be true is exactly what I read about in blogs…some things are a great bargain…and somethings are…well…not.

This got me thinking about saving money on groceries in general.  We have a local organization that helps women who are pregnant and have babies learn the basics…from diapering to finances to (you guessed it) saving money at the grocery store.  I taught a class several times…mainly on couponing.  But, I have a lot of tips now, that don’t deal only with coupons and I thought I’d pass them on to you.

Now, these are just guidelines or suggestions.  Some of this may not be rocket science, but these are things I have found helpful while saving money at the store.

1.  Go with a plan.  I think if I didn’t plan my meals for the week BEFORE I went to the store, I would have a meltdown panic attack.  This may seem a bit dramatic, but seriously…truth.  I sit down on Sunday afternoons and plan out dinners for the week ahead.  I take into account what our schedule is, what we had the week before & favorites of my family.  When the kids ask what’s for supper, instead of panicking, I can (somewhat) calmly tell them what’s on the menu.  I don’t plan breakfasts or lunches.  For lunch, we have our “easy” meal.  Sandwiches, mac & cheese, hot dogs…you know, kid food.  Breakfast is basically every man for himself (which means cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, etc).  On a rare occasion, my hubby and I will get up & make breakfast together, which is a lot of fun.  The other 364 days of the year, we fend for ourselves.

2.  Go with a budget.  A strict one.  If you don’t, you’ll spend a whole lot more and buy a whole lot of junk you don’t need.  I take cash.  Once my money is gone, my shopping trip is over. You can thank Dave Ramsey for that one!

3.  To go along with #2, you need to keep track somehow of what your spending, as you go.  Otherwise, it could get a little awkward with the cashier when you’re $50 over budget.  I love the grocery store I frequent.  They have a little scanner that you can use while shopping.  Not only does it keep track of how much your bill is, once you scan it, you bag it right there in your cart!  It is absolutely my most favorite way to shop.  But, what do you do if that’s not available in your store, or their *gasp* system goes out??  Well, my cell phone has a handy dandy calculator on it.  Seriously.  I have been known to key the price in as I go.  Does this take longer?  Maybe 5 or 10 extra minutes tacked onto my trip, but how long will it take you to eliminate foods at the register if you’re over budget?  If you go shopping with your kiddos, maybe let one of them keep track of the prices (maybe the older one).  It’s a good lesson for them as well!

4.  Know your prices.  This is very important, especially if you shop at Aldi’s or another discount store (i. e. Dollar General, Save-A-Lot) because sometimes the discount store price is not that great…or maybe even more.  Just yesterday, I was at Aldi’s, looking at their canned tomatoes and tomato sauces.  I’m making spaghetti this week & like to make my own sauce.  When I saw the price for the canned diced tomatoes ($1.49/can), I tried to remember how much it was at my “regular’ store.  In my mind, I felt like the price was about the same, if not less, so I opted to skip it at Aldi’s and get it at the other place.  Did it pay off???  Absolutely!!  Turns out, the same size can was $0.99!  So, if you know basically how much your staples cost at your grocery store, you can make wiser decisions at the discount stores.

5.  Going along with #4, don’t get caught up in the magic that is discount stores…not every deal is a good deal.  Also, don’t get too tied into a certain brand.  I buy a lot of store brand versions at the grocery store.  However, you want to check specials, because sometimes, the name brand things get put on sale and can actually be cheaper than store brand!!

6.  Coupons.  I’m no “Extreme Couponer”, but I do dabble in the art.  The only reason I buy a Sunday paper is for the coupons.  I have a few rules for me, when it comes to couponing.  Don’t clip a coupon that I won’t use.  Just because I can save $0.25 on mayo, doesn’t mean I should clip it (I hate mayo…sorry).  Also, double check the wording on those tricky little buggers.  I hate checking out & learning that my coupon only works if I buy 2 of the item (or has expired).  Also, don’t forget those electronic coupons.  My store sends me about 5 coupons/week I can load onto my store rewards card.  Some of those work only with their brand of items, but many are national brands and will stack (yay!) with those paper coupons.  There are also some Apps you can download to help save (or get reimbursed) from products you purchase.  The most popular is Ibotta.  I like Ibotta because it has a good mixture of name brands & generic brands.  I haven’t been using it very long (I only have about $8 in my account), but I can see where it’ll pay off in the long run.  I’m on the waiting list for Mobi Save (waiting list????  Seriously???), so I can’t comment much on that one.

7.  Chose your store wisely.  I don’t go to one store exclusively.  In a given week, I’ll probably hit up 3 or so grocery stores.  This might drive you crazy, but it saves me money.  I buy certain things at certain stores.  If I can help it, I avoid Wal-Mart.  I know they seem to have good bargains, but I honestly can find the same deal or a little better at my other main store (and I don’t have to deal with the long lines).  Find out if your store doubles coupons.  Some only double up to $0.50.  Some will double up to $0.50 & then make up the difference on anything over $0.50 (for example, if something is $0.75 off, my store will make it $1.00 off).  I get gas points when I shop at my store.  When gas was really cheap earlier this year, I got to fill up for under $1.00/gallon!  Does your store offer a money back guarantee, price match program, etc.  Knowing the ins & outs will help save you money over time.  At one point, my store offered free child care!  It was a very secure system & allowed me to do a little shopping in quiet while my son had fun (and usually, he was the only one there).  Unfortunately, they converted the childcare space into a bank…boo!

8.  Supplement.  We supplement our groceries with a garden.  For a good part of the year, we have fresh produce to eat off of.  What we can’t eat, we can or freeze to eat on throughout the year.  My husband also hunts, so many weeks, I don’t have to buy a lot of meat (if any).   These two ways have helped reduce our grocery bill a lot.  I know what you’re thinking…hunting costs a lot of money.  Gardening is a lot of work & also costs a lot.  Yes and no.  We’ve gardened for many years and only recently focused on preserving our foods.  Yes, hunting is expensive to start up, but once you have your supplies (guns, clothing, etc), the year to year cost is minimal.  It’s not only a way to provide food, it is my hubby’s hobby.  So, he would do both things, whether we ate from them or not.  Plus, have you priced organic, free range whatever recently???  Ummm…we’re definitely saving some green here.

So, there you have it…just a few ways I like to save money every week on our groceries.  I can positively say it works, because in about the past 10 years or so, we have kept the same budget on our groceries.  As you know, cost of food has increased dramatically.  I just get “creative” with meals and saving money.  It really is almost a game now.

Happy Shopping!!

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The Day Murphy Came To My House

Here it is…19 days before Thanksgiving.  14 days until my parents arrive for their visit (yay!).  I should be working on my list of Christmas gifts that I need to buy and/or make so I can send them home with them when they come visit.  So, what am I actually doing?  Watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” on Netflix and mopping the floors.  Makes sense, right.  Oh…and I want to tell you about the past month.

Around the first of October, something happened to my hubby and I that has never happened since we’ve been married.  For the first time in 14 years, we are DEBT FREE (except the house)!!!!  This is huge for us people…huge.  I mean, how many people in America can say this?  We don’t even have a credit card anymore.  Thanks to our friend, Dave Ramsey, we are (by other people’s standards), officially “weird”.

I say this all to set the stage.  This all happened on a Friday afternoon.  We were sooooo excited.  I think we might have celebrated by going out to eat, most likely with a coupon…that’s how we roll.  Before I went to bed, I do what I always do, set the timer on the dishwasher to start a couple of hours after we go to bed.  The way I figure it, it might be cheaper (in electricity) and I don’t have to listen to it.

Saturday morning, I wake up.  The “clean” light isn’t on.  Which is weird, because all the dishes look clean.  I unload the dishwasher and don’t think too much about it until I’m unloading the bottom rack and there it is.  Standing water.  The dishwasher is broken!!  The day after we became debt free.  Thank you Murphy’s Law…

Well, my hubby and I had the typical discussion. Do we call someone?  If so, who?  Do we just get a new dishwasher?  This one was only about 4 years old, so it seemed kind of silly to toss it to the curb.  Plus, we just got rid of a lot of debt…the DAY BEFORE!   We didn’t exactly want to spend more big bucks.

So, I did the next best thing.  I Googled.  Isn’t it amazing that “google” is now a verb?  I mean, did the founder of Google ever think that people would be googling one day?  Anyway, I hopped on the internet and low & behold, my dishwasher wasn’t the only one to quit working!  And then, I found my new best friend.  A website called Appliance Parts Pros.  I had never heard of this website before, but what I found was a wealth of knowledge.  They have a phone number you can call 24/7 or you can just hop on their “live chat” and talk to a very helpful person.  Well, after some troubleshooting, I found the problem was a fuse.  The prices on their website weren’t too bad, but here’s a secret…I ordered it off of Amazon!  I found the same fuse for a lot cheaper.

Once the part came in, my hubby used the install video on the website and in about 15 minutes (if that long) had our dishwasher fixed!!  Yay!  I was getting soooo tired of washing dishes by hand.  I know…I’m spoiled.

Well, we didn’t exactly kick Murphy out of the house yet.  More like we moved him into the garage.  About a week later, the dryer quit!  This time, I knew exactly where to go, and within about 30 minutes figured out what the problem was and we had the part ordered.

The dryer was a little harder to figure out what was wrong, but once we did, it was an easy (and fairly cheap) fix.  Now, we walk on eggshells and can’t help but think, “What’s next?”

So, this all got me to thinking.  It was very tempting to just say, “you know, we should just get a new one.”  After all, there were no guarantees that the parts we replaced would be the right ones.  And, we were putting all this money & time into it, when it would just be much easier to go to Lowe’s and get a new one.  Then, I thought about all the money would we have been out.  Possibly $1,000 or more!  Who knows!

Our society is a throw away society.  Our cell phones get upgraded every 2 minutes.  When something breaks, we just go out and get a new one.  Very rarely do we put time and effort into fixing something.  Even our relationships.

How many marriages have been “broken” and instead of trying to fix them, people just throw them away and get new ones? Now, I know that sometimes marriages are truly broken and are a lost cause.   But, how many out there need a part or two, some elbow grease and viola…fixed!  It’s not easy.  And sometimes, you replace a “part” and another one breaks (like our dryer…we fixed it & then something else broke on it).  But, can you imagine how I felt when we fixed our dishwasher & dryer?  I was so excited and proud that we had worked together and did something that a lot of people wouldn’t do.

God did not intend for marriages to be thrown away.  In Genesis 2:24, the Bible says “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh”.  Some versions say “cleave” instead of united.  I kind of like that a little more.  I can picture cleaving.  My daughter “cleaves” to her daddy when she doesn’t want him to leave the house for work in the mornings.  Cleaving is desperately holding on to something…never letting go.  No matter what.  Even if you fix one part and the next day something else breaks.  You fix it too.  It’s not easy and sometimes it might seem to be easier to just give up.  I want to encourage you to keep going.  Do whatever it takes.  Don’t give up.

So, as I sit here, procrastinating over my Christmas list, admiring my clean floors and wondering what on earth will break next, I know…no matter what it is…I will fix it.

Saturday