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!!

Advertisements

My Vacation…Unplugged

Happy end of summer!!  I’m sure, like me, you are gearing up for the beginning of school.  Next week on my list:  registering my son for school & buying school supplies.  Of course, we have fall ball practice starting tomorrow night.  Our garden is producing veggies faster than I can can them (ha ha!).  It’s a crazy time of year.

So, my family had a little vacation this past week.  First of all, we celebrated our 13th anniversary on Monday with a trip to the beach.  It was perfect beach weather.  Not too hot (surprising for August), not too much wind (surprising for the beach) and not too crowded (surprising for summer).  It was a quick trip…drove up and back in one day.  But, it was fun.  We ended the day at one of my new favorite restaurants…Carrabba’s.  I’m a sucker for Italian food 🙂

Tuesday, we went to a friend’s cabin in the George Washington National Forest.  It wasn’t too far away from home, but it felt far away…let me explain.

There was no cable.  No internet.  No wi-fi.  No cell phone service.  It’s what my hubby would call paradise.   There was a land line phone…remember those??  Of course, no long distance, so we really didn’t need to use it, because the people (our family) we normally call are all long distant.

I texted my family the land line number, in case something catastrophic happened while we were gone & we need to be reached immediately.  When I told them we wouldn’t have access to our phone service, text messages or emails on our vacation, my brother texted back “Ummmmm…what kind of vacation is it without phone and internet :)”

I have to be honest…I kind of felt that way too.  I mean, no phone, no Facebook, no e-mails????  What were we going to do???

Well, we went old school!  We took some old VHS movies (the cabin had a small…I mean small TV with a VCR hooked up to it).  At night, we popped popcorn in an air popper and watched the kiddos favorite movies.  During the day, we played horseshoes, badminton, basketball, volleyball, etc.  I taught my son how to play Pick-Up-Sticks.  We visited the neighbors horses.  We slept in.  We stayed up late.  My hubby and I actually read books (remember those…well, he read a real book, I read my Kindle…I had to have some technology).  We went fishing.  We took in the beautiful scenery.

Image

The conclusion?  It wasn’t too bad.  I actually enjoyed not having to respond to every little beep or chime on my phone.  I didn’t have to charge my phone over night.  And guess what??  I didn’t have as many text messages, emails or missed phone calls that I thought I would.  I did giggle a little bit one night when my hubby wondered if the neighbors had wifi…

When we pulled in the driveway to our home, our daughter started crying…a lot.  We couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  We finally got it out of her.  She wanted the other house!  We laughed about that for a while!  It’s not like the cabin was the Taj Mahal.  There was no AC and lacked in all of those other amenities I talked about above.  Maybe she missed the seclusion?  Maybe she missed having our 100% attention?  Who knows how the mind of a 3 year old works???

I do think that our family may visit that cabin again.  We survived a few days without the technology that occupies so much of our time.  I felt like maybe we grew a little bit as a family.  We got back to our “roots” if you will.  We spent quality time together.  The kiddos are growing so fast.  Soon, they’ll start getting wrapped up in the world of gadgetry & we’ll miss these slow moments where we weren’t so plugged in.

Can Do!

Wow!  It has been a really long time since I’ve written anything.  It has been a wild and crazy summer so far.  I’m sad to say that my son will be going back to school in less than 1 month!!  Didn’t he just get out??

So, let’s see if I can get you up to speed on our crazy summer.  At the end of June, my hubby took a group from our congregation and went to Moore, OK to do some tornado relief clean-up/rebuild.  A few years ago, we started a group called “Hands & Feet”.  Two years ago, they went to a small town in Tennessee to clean up after a tornado.  Last year, they went to Kentucky.  This year’s trip was very successful.  They were able to help a single dad roof his house, put windows in, and do a lot of sheetrock repair.  His home was damaged and flooded during one of the tornadoes.  

A few days after the hubby got back from Oklahoma, we went to Lipscomb University, to their annual lectureship.  We got to listen to some really amazing speakers and attended some great classes about Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount.

While we were in Nashville, my parents and grandma met us there and brought the kiddos back to our house.  I was all set to enjoy several days without the kids, but I caught a nasty 24 hour stomach bug, and spent an entire day in bed…not fun!  Luckily, it only lasted 1 day and I was back to normal after that.

A couple of days after we got back form Nashville, we hit the beach with my family & then spent a few more days with them at our home.  After they left, we’ve been busy getting back into routine…which leads me to the main part of this blog.

We are growing a garden this year.  Well, we planted & God is taking care of the rest…but you know what I mean.  Anyway, we have been blessed with crazy amazing growth.  We’ve been growing lettuce, corn, squash (yellow & zucchini), cucumbers, okra, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and bell peppers…I think that’s it.

ImageThis is just a small example of the lettuce we’ve had from our garden…

ImageZucchini bread…of course 🙂

ImageThis is the latest…bell peppers, onions and jalapeno pepper pizza.

Normally, when we have a garden, we eat some stuff fresh, try to freeze a little and end up throwing most of that away.  This year, we thought we would do something a little different.

Image

Tada!  We bought a canner!  Although neither of us have ever canned anything in our lives, we decided to take the plunge and try our hand at canning our veggies.  Let me just say, I was soooo nervous to even start.  I did a lot of research on how to can and also what kind of canner to get.  I got this one on Amazon.  It had over 600 reviews and it was rated 4.7 out of 5 stars.  It was probably one of the cheaper models on the market, but I figured over 600 people couldn’t be wrong 🙂

Image

I checked this book out from the library.  I’m actually on my second renewal.  Not only does it have great step-by-step instructions, it has a lot of recipes as well.  I think my library will let me renew 3 times, so I will probably be maxing it out.  One day, I may actually break down and buy it!

So, the canner came in on Friday…wow…yesterday!  While I am not going to claim that I am now a canning pro, I will say (for all of you newbies out there) it was easier, not as scary as I thought it would be.  My first project:  Green beans.  We didn’t have a ton that were ready to pick, but we had enough to try out the canner.

Image

The manual never left my side while I was doing the process!  I’m very much a “by the book” kind of gal.Image

 So, there you have it!  5 pint size green bean jars.  Processed, sealed and ready for storage.  I have to say, it was hard to not break one open today…just to see how they are!

I also had a few cucumbers ready to pick.  I would have had more, but earlier in the week (while waiting not so patiently for my canner to arrive), we had several cucumbers that we picked, so I made refrigerator pickles.  Tonight, I made regular pickles in my canner that also doubles as a water bath canner.  

Image

I know what some of you are thinking…that’s a lot of trouble to go through, just for 2 pints of pickles.  Yeah, probably, but I want to use the produce when it’s fresh.  So, hopefully I won’t be processing 2 cans at a time, but you never know…

So far, my assessment of canning:  It’s a lot of work!!  My hat is off to all of you ladies (and men) who have been doing this for years.  I know when we see all those jars lined up and are eating green beans in the winter, it will all be worth it!  It is also kind of expensive, when you’re first starting out.  I see each little jar as an investment for the future.  I like the fact that I’ll be able to re-use them in the years to come.  

There is something very satisfying in working the garden, picking the veggies and then putting them in jars to use for later.  I love that we’re able to share the “fruits of our labor” with our friends.  I think this is going to be a great learning experience for our kiddos too.  

I will keep you updated as I can more things.  My next project will be pickling jalapenos and making jalapeno jelly (super yummy!!).  I’m hoping to get to that within the next few days…just gotta get some more jars!