Frugalista

my frugal life Archives

Does Your Childhood Make You Spend Money?

My friend Marta has an advice blog. Recently she wrote about how she likes to listen to all my grocery cost-cutting scenarios, but she never uses them herself because of feelings of deprivation rooted in her childhood and dread of "cheap" being part of her self-image.

My first-off response was that getting over mental and emotional roadblocks is the single biggest step you can take toward spending less money, especially at the grocery store where so much of our personal culture is wrapped up in what we buy. Just get over it -- easier said than done, right?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that although I have discarded many expensive thought patterns --

(like "My husband and I are professionals while my parents were working class, therefore we should buy higher quality, more sophisticated food than they fed me as a child," or "These organic cheese puffs are what the good moms buy.")

-- of course my self-image is still tied up in my shopping cart. Nowadays, it's a reverse feeling. Even if I really want or need a certain item, buying it full price without a coupon is just not the kind of thing that I do. This can be inconvenient when party planning or running errands for other people. Sometimes it costs me too much time which at this point in my life is at least as valuable as money.

So, come on, spill it: What are the shopping hangups you carry from your childhood?

I'll share that my overall frugality probably stems from some uncomfortable moments in my childhood when I overheard my parents' stressful discussions about money. We weren't deprived by any means, but like the little boy in DH Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner," I took those adult worries upon myself. Now that I have my own children, frugal spending and maintaining a healthy emergency fund seem the best ways to buy security against ever letting my children bear such a burden.

Your turn.

Guest Post: Frugal Tips From an Unemployed 20-Something

Because I'm so busy this week sorting through adorable kids' clothes for Friday and Saturday's resale event in Oak Park, I asked Lindsay Saewitz to write a guest post for y'all. And she really came through for us.

Lindsay shares how she can still be a fun 20-something while unemployed. I love her attitude! I hope that the kids graduated from college during this recession learn savings techniques and a cautious financial attitude that will last their whole lives and allow them to flourish in better times.

Here's Lindsay's post:

Back when I was working, I didn't think too much about where I spent my money. $12 cocktail here, $60 tank top from Bloomie's there ... no biggie. But all that changed when I became unemployed earlier this year.  I started tracking my spending and, dang, there was a lot to track! But how does a social, trendy, twenty-something survive in Chicago on a tight budget? I quickly learned how to become the ultimate Frugalista, and I've decided to let you in on a few of my secrets.

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This Week's $100 Shopping: Stayed Well Under Budget, Saved for the Next Cow

Naturally the week after I increased my weekly grocery budget to $100 from $80, I only spent $65.70 on groceries, making it seem like the change was not at all necessary. But this is a great thing, because it allows me to start saving for the bulk beef purchase we'll make this fall.

I spent:

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New Grocery Shopping Budget and My Frugal Grocery Shopping This Week

I've been lax about reporting my grocery spending over the summer, but now that it's the first day of fall, I suppose it's time to put the house in order. I have had a hard time sticking to the $80 per month budget while buying the weekly organic produce box and trying to pay off the two humanely-raised meat purchases we made last year. In fact, I just couldn't do it.

This year, we are planning on buying a portion of a beef and a pig again -- although our beef portion will be smaller -- and I'm still getting the organic produce box. So I'm changing my weekly shopping budget to a more realistic $100 a week.

This will include household goods that you buy at drugstores and grocery stoers -- diapers, cleaning products, toothpaste (as if we ever pay for that).

This week I spent $77: $12.18 at Dominick's, $17.30 at Jewel-Osco, $11 at Dunkin Donuts (on whole bean coffee), $4 at CVS (milk, lipstick, mainly just rolling ECBs) and my usual $32 on the organic produce box. 

Next week I'll resume cataloging the meals we make with our $100 weekly spending. This week, I'd just like to point out some bargain shopping priciples illustrated in the week's shop.

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That seltzer water? Got those for $1.79 each with a rain check, and although the rain check was for five cases, the cashier let me buy 2 and just amend the raincheck so I could get the remaining 3 later.

30 pounds of white flour: Well, baking seasons's a-coming, especially with all those apples we got this weekend! (I didn't count in my shopping budget the $40 we spent on entrance to the apple picking place since that was basically entertainment.) The 5 lb. bags of flour were part of the "buy 6, get them for 99 cents each" sale at Jewel, and I didn't want any of the other stuff like cake mix or frosting right now. 20 cents a pound is the cheapest I've ever bought white flour, you?

The organic olive oil is still on sale for $3.99, regular price $10.49. Trader Joe's sells this size (17 oz) normally for $3.50, but not organic. Course, I really don't know how the quality compares or if this is a good thing to buy organic, but for $3.99, what the heck?

Campbell's tomato soup at 39 cents, minus two $.50/2 coupons = 11 cents a can. You won't normally do better than that, except right now -- because you can print and use the $1.50/3 "Great for Cooking" soups, which I didn't have handy today. Yep, you'll make money on tomato soup or get it free.

Baking soda is an all-around frugal thing to have around -- deodorizer, ingredient of homemade cleaning fluid, volcano-maker. It's one of those things you don't see deep discounts on, so even though the store brand was only marked down a dime, I grabbed one. I'm wondering: Does Costco, etc., sell the stuff in bulk?

Pearled barley: another item with tiny sale markdowns but it's a good frugal buy -- more nutritious than brown rice.

Split peas: ditto -- small markdown, but a cheap, good meal ingredient.

Elsewhere this week, I discovered that Dunkin' Donuts can be a good place to buy whole bean coffee. If you get those little booklets of coupons in the mail, look for a coupon for two pounds of coffee for $10.99. Now notice that 12 oz. of DD brand coffee is "on sale" at CVS for $6.99. Most of the time I don't see whole bean coffee in stores for less than $5.99/12 oz. bag. (Sometimes you'll get 8 O'Clock brand for $4 with a coupon, or a really good coupon deal on Starbucks coffee, but usually, no.) In case math is not your strong suit, here's how this compares: Two 16 oz. bags for $10.99 = $5.50 per bag or 34 cents an ounce. The CVS price is 58 cents an ounce.

Do you have basic frugal grocery shopping principles like this? Staple inexpensive, healthy ingredients, or surprising places to get an item cheap? Please share.

Haggling for Prices, Finding Lost Money

This week I got to read the whole Sunday Tribune. How did I pull that off? I offered to sit in the car at Apple Holler with the napping baby while the others picked apples, aka "paid out the nose for the privilege of collecting their own pesticide-covered fruit."*

Couple interesting pieces about saving money were in there:

Haggling for stuff you didn't know you could haggle for -- big-screen TVs, mattresses, financial advise and rent. (I would add that simply asking for a discount can also work at the grocery store -- a friend recently noticed an employee at Caputos taking a log of speckled organic bananas off the shelf to discard. When my friend asked about buying them, they packaged up a whole lot for him and sold them for something like 30 cents a pound. He was in banana bread city!)

Gregory Karp's column about reclaiming "lost money" lists all the Web sites where you can search unclaimed property.

* OK, my own crankiness about "agritainment" aside, the kids had a wonderful time and worked very hard, and although Apple Holler is not organic, it did rain the day before so at least the apples got a little rinse. Also, the prices of their apple doughnuts and other refreshments aren't that high, and they let us bring in a birthday cake for one of our little friends. The entry fees we paid were $40 for the whole family, which got us 20 pounds of apples, hayride, and the opportunity to play in a cute playground. $2 a pound for apples is certainly not the worst I've ever paid, so although I would have chosen a more bare-bones U-PICK operation if we hand't been out for a birthday party, it was really not a bad deal.

 

 

Free (or Almost Free) Stuff That Arrived in My Mail

Last week my mailbox just overflowed with frugal goodies. Check it out, and then comment and let me know what free or very cheap goodies you've scored lately:

 

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Free business cards from Zazzle. This offer is no longer available, but these cards are really nice and shipping was free too.

 

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Huge box of Huggies for just $10.50. Got this on Amazon by combining magazine coupon codes with the 30% off Subscribe & Save offer, which is now part of Amazon Mom. (P.S.: I paid the remaining $10.50 with a gift card I got with SwagBucks, so I didn't actually spend any cash at all!)

 

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Free Pop Pals from Franklin Goose. Way back when, Franklin Goose was offering credits to people who reviewed products on their site. I participated and earned $35, but had trouble finding stuff to spend it on since they don't sell sippy cups or sun block, the organic-type stuff I have needed lately. So I bought these Pop Pals, which I thought would work for popsicles for some reason, but they're really only for ice pops -- despite the valiant efforts of my kids and a friend to use them on fruit bars:

 

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 I'm kind of regretting this purchase because they will clutter up my kitchen and won't get used much. Oh well, they were free, with free shipping, after my credits.

 And, a little Groupon action:

 

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$25 worth of organic raisins and other dried fruit from TheNuttyGuys.com. This cost me only $10 in shipping, since I got the $25 Groupon for free with credits I earned thanks to you, the best blog readers on earth.

I have bought several $25 vouchers for TheNuttyGuys.com on Groupon at $10 each . It has come up on different cities and I wouldn't be surprised to see it come up again.

Today I got my first order. Look at those beautiful organic raisins and dried fruits! I'm happy about these vouchers, which I hope to use for Christmas gifts as well. We haven't actually eaten any because we have lots of fresh fruit in the house right now, but they look moist and lucious.

But I would be happier if their shipping rate was better. Shipping is $10 for 0-10 pounds.

For this order, I ended up paying about $12.50 because to use the whole $25 I had to go over a bit. For my second order, I'm selecting $23.94 worth of stuff, and it looks like that will work with the $25 Groupon. I'd rather leave a buck on the table than go over. This time around, I'm getting a jar of almond butter and two pounds pistachios.

Kenosha Rummage Haul: Girls Clothes, Gift Closet

It seems like Kenosha, Wis., has more rummage sales than anywhere in the Chicago area. And lucky for me, that's where I am today.

On my way to pick up my middle child from her great grandma's house, where she had spent the night, I hit two sales, and then another one on the way back. I spent $8.20, and here's what I got:

 

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2 dresses and 2 t-shirts for my 1st grader

1 women's blazer

1 copy of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

1 bag of seasonal stamps (for art projects)

2 rolls of holiday colored ribbon

1 game that has never been opened and that's going in my gift closet

Love rummaging! Did you find any frugal treasures at garage sales this weekend?

CONTEST CLOSED Frugalista Challenge: Share Your Cheap Gift Tip and Win a $100 Gift Card

 

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THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED AND NO MORE ENTRIES WILL BE ACCEPTED. WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED BY MONDAY AT 5 P.M.

There are two ways to approach frugal gifting: Either you give what's expected and spend less than others spend, or you go beyond what's expected and spend the same amount that others would shell out for a more standard gift.

Me, I do a little of both, often splitting the difference. But one group of people I never hold out on is my readers. Because, guess what? It's Thursday, time for a giveaway!

Today's Frugalista Challenge is frugal gifting. Because, it's holiday shopping time already. Seriously? Seriously, because shopping frugally takes more planning. I'm going to share my tips for giving presents that cost less, then you leave a comment sharing your best frugal gifting tip, or what you want to try in the future to cut back on gift expenses.

Your comment is your entry to this week's $100 drawing, provided by 8Coupons.com. See the bottom of the post for more details on the prize. You can get a second entry by Tweeting this post; make sure to inlcude @carriekirby in your Tweet so I can tally it.

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The Frugalista Challenge: Reduce Your Grocery Bill by 20%

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED WITH 30 COMMENTS. NO NEW COMMENTS WILL BE ENTERED IN THE DRAWING.

Wrapping up this week's Frugalista Challenge, getting grocery spending under control, here is a list of my best tips, a chance for you to share your advice, and a weekend gift card giveaway.

I get a lot of casual questions from friends along the lines of, "I know I should read your site, because I'm spending a crazy amount of money on groceries. But ..."

There are a lot of reasons that follow that "but." I have a but of my own, though. (And it's a nice one. Hahahahahahah.)

I respond, "But, no matter what your situation, I am pretty sure that if you really want to or need to, you could cut 20% off your weekly grocery budget."

Here are my steps for how to do that, and then, oh you know it, we will open the audience participation segment of our show with a weekend giveaway.

The giveaway will be for two more grocery gift cards. Don't you love it?

(Can you tell I caved and brewed an afternoon pot of coffee?)

First, my 10 tips. Then, you leave a comment with a pledge of how you will cut 20% -- or whatever % you think is reasonable -- from your weekly grocery budget. Then, on Monday at 5 p.m., I'll choose two winners from those comments to win $25 Aldi gift cards.

THE FRUGALISTA'S 10 BEST TIPS ON REDUCING YOUR GROCERY SPENDING

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'Thriftiest Family in America' Rerun on Oprah Today

OK, I remember being ony mildly impressed with the so-called thriftiest family in America, but it's always fun to see ways people find to save, and also what mainstream America considers "thrifty." So if you haven't seen this episode already, you might want to Tivo or tune in to Oprah today (Thursday, July 29).

The promo I saw just now also showed Lisa Ling reporting on freeganism, which I don't remember and really want to see. As I wrote on Wise Bread a long time ago, I love the idea of getting perfectly good food for free, but am understandably hesitant to feed my darling children stuff that's been thrown out. And despite hearing many Freegans say they've never seen a rat in a grocery's store's Dumpster, I don't want to be the first person to meet one there.

Stockpile or Hoard?

When I say that I buy 10 boxes of cereal at one time and keep them in my basement, I understand that it sounds a little kooky. Especially when people like this elderly couple and this poor old lady crop up in the news -- hoarders who are literally buried in their excess stuff.

 

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So how do you know if you're being a good cheapskate or descending into a mental illness that will end with rescue personnel having to remove part of your roof because they can't reach you through the door? And how do you defend your case against your spouse who thinks you're headed that way just because you have five years' worth of free pens in a desk drawer?

Well, there's this online quiz you can take, for starters. It asks you to rate your emotions on storing stuff, acquiring stuff and getting rid of stuff, then tells you if you're fine, if you should read a self-help book, or if you should see a doctor immediately.

 I can think of a few other points that separate the enthusiastic bargain shopper from those who are losing control:

  • Is your stockpile confined to a specific area, and contained there in such a way that you can actually access and use its contents? If so, that's a stockpile, not a hoard.
  • Does your stockpile infringe onto space that you used to employ for other purposes? For instance, are you no longer able to use your bathtub because it is full of blood glucose monitors you got for free? If so, I'd question whether your stockpiling is getting out of hand.
  • Do your products frequently expire or get damaged before you get a chance to use them? You're overdoing it.

Personally, my house has tons of clutter and it's a problem I'm working on. However, my stockpiles are probably the tidiest areas in the house. For example, I keep extra groceries in one Rubbermaid pantry in my basement, and extra toileteries and diapers in another. When these pantries get close to full, I cut back on bargain hunting and make some food bank donations.

I'm probably fastidious about my stockpiles for the same reason radio host Adam Carolla once said he avoided going overboard with drinking: He loved doing it, and he knew that if he did it too much, he'd become an alcoholic and have to quit doing it altogether. I know that if I let my basement get piled high with bags of cheese crackers going stale and attracting mice, I will have to brand myself a hoarder and quit bargain shopping. And I love bargain shopping, so while the kitchen counter might get overrun with the kids' art projects and the dining table with bills and junk mail, the stockpiles stay tidy and organized.

Do you worry that your bargain shopping is turning you into a hoarder? Or are you unjustly accused of hoarding by friends and family who just don't understand the economics of stockpiling? 

Photo by Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune

5 More Secrets of Extreme Couponers

 

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Last week I shared the top 5 things that extreme couponers know about using coupons. Here are five more:

6. Most retail employees are not very familiar with the store's coupon policy. This point is not meant to insult cashiers, but as a practical point, don't assume that you can't use a certain coupon just because one cashier told you no. Consult the store manager, or, if available, the companywide coupon policy. Hardcore couponers carry print-outs of store policies with them.

For Dominick's, see parent company Safeway's policy here.

Jewel-Osco's policy as of 2009.

Target's policy is here.

7. Some store policies are better than others. In the Chicago area, Dominick's accepts expired coupons up to a year old, but Jewel-Osco doesn't.

8. If a coupon says "manufacturer's coupon" at the top, and has a store logo on it, you may be able to use it at other stores. For example, Dominick's will take a manufacturer's coupon with another store's logo as long as it's for a specific product.

9. If a product on a great sale is out of stock, get a raincheck! A great sale may last a week or less, but a raincheck may last 90 days, giving you plenty of time to wait for a good coupon to be released to make your great deal into a phenomenal one.

10. Good coupons aren't only found in the Sunday paper. In fact, some of the best coupons are found online. You'll also collect lots of good ones in the aisles of grocery stores, and increasingly, in booklets on display at the front of stores.

Photo by BargainBri, used via Creative Commons license.

Notice a Lot of Deals on Pop Lately? Thank Wal-Mart

 

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The first thing I noticed about this Tribune article on the price of Coke and other name brand pop is that it appeared directly below a wrap-around Dominick's ad for a one-day special on Coke or Pepsi 12-packs: Buy 2, get 4 free.

When you do the math, that translates to the $2 a 12-pack price point that I always wait for to stock up. Coke is also on sale for 4/$8 at Jewel-Osco all week (plus a free pack of sausages) so no big deal missing that.

But what funny ad/article placement, which I know was accidental.

The article got me thinking not just about cheap Coke but about what Frugalista is all about. The Trib said that since Memorial Day Wal-Mart has been selling 24-packs of Coke for $5, and that this is the reason we've been seeing so many specials on pop at the grocery and drug stores -- mostly bringing the price to around $2.50 a 12-pack.

(Mashup Mom has a point about why the example of Coke is problematic. Hint: My stock-up price of $2/12-pack implies that this isn't exactly an unheard-of price.)

Still, the article is an interesting illustration of how Wal-Mart drives down prices for all of us, even those of us who refuse to shop there*. And it's one of those things that makes me feel awkward about advocating bargain shopping.

Now, I'm not shedding any tears for the packaged-beverage industry in particular. The product they sell isn't good for us, and I know that it's really cheap to make and that the name brands spend most of their money on advertising to allow them to charge premiums over no-name brands.

But this illustration of the way Wal-Mart capitalizes on our thirst for ever-lower prices does worry me when it comes to the more essential groceries. As much as I want to stick to my weekly budget, I don't want to put farmers out of business or push companies to use unsafe work conditions in order to meet Wal-Mart-level prices even when they're not selling to Wal-Mart.

I guess a clarification of what the Frugalista is all about is in order. It may surprise people to hear that I am not really an advocate of lower food prices. When food prices spiked last year, you didn't hear me saying that the price of food was getting ridiculous -- because I knew that even when milk when conventional milk went up to $4 a gallon or more, we Americans were still spending less of our income on food than anyone at virtually any time in history.

What I advocate here at Frugalista is that we all shop strategically. If there's a special out there, we will find it. Better yet, we'll find three specials and combine them all. We will buy at the right time to get the best deal we can. If there's a better product out there -- better for the planet, better for our families -- we'll find that too.

Pretty high-falutin' ruminations on the price of pop, I guess. And yeah, I went over to Jewel last night and grabbed four 12-packs plus the free smoked sausage that came with them (with in-ad coupon) because we're having a 1st birthday party for Toth this weekend and now I gots some refreshments.

So I guess I may have too much self-respect to shop at Wal-Mart, but not too much to reap some Wal-Mart driven deals.

* This weekend my 6-year-old niece said to my dad, totally unprompted, "You don't live better when you shop at Wal-Mart. You live worser." You could just see two little hearts zoom out of her retired-Union-president grampy's eyes.

Photo by Lane Christiansen, Chicago Tribune.

Blago's Clothes Spending and the National Average

 

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There's a certain puritanical pleasure that frugal people can take in reading about the spending excesses of others. It's not our best side, no, but it's a free indulgence. I get it when I watch Oprah's Debt Diet series and see the crazy amounts families not unlike ours are spending on takeout and at the mall.

Today I was indulging in a bit of spending schadenfreude when reading about Blago's excessive spending on Oxxford suits. Apparently the family -- which presented itself so much as the "average" Chicago family -- spent an average of $57,000 a year on clothes while he was governor. According to my Tribune, that compares to the average American family's $1,800 a year.

Epu was stunned.

"People are spending $1,800 a year on clothes??" he asked.

For Epu and I, it's more like we wait for our birthdays, get about $200 in cash from parents and grandparents, and use that for our annual wardrobe update. OK, we add a few hundred dollars out of our general budget throughout the year. And I spend about $300-$400 a year on clothes for the three kids, almost all secondhand. (That's a big indulgence for me and they have way too many clothes.)

Add all that up and we probably spend $1,200 a year on clothes? But that's not exactly a figure I'm proud of. If we set aside more time to properly update our wardrobes and if Epu had a better idea of what his personal style might be, we'd probably spend closer to the national average.

But I'm pretty sure we can keep it under $57,000 this year.

How about you -- what does your family spend on clothes each year?

Photo by *USB*, used via Creative Commons license.

Will You Spend More Than $200,000 on Your Child?

Today the Trib has a story about that annual report that comes out and says how expensive it is to raise kids. This year, they say it costs $222,000 not including college, 22% more now than it did in the 1960s.

Well, kids are expensive, and yet I never like these stories. For one thing, saying it's more expensive now than 50 years ago is misleading. The only areas where families are spending more are health care and child care.

Well, health care, sure, that makes sense -- although a lot of families like ours pay a "family" rate on their insurance premiums that doesn't change if we have one kid or 10. (Actually, it might not even be different from the rate for a couple. I'd have to check.)

But you know why families are paying more for child care. It's because in the 60s very few families paid for full-time childcare. Now it's the norm. I wouldn't call that being more expensive, I would call that changing how you run the family entity. And saying that costs have increased is looking at the labor the stay-at-home moms of the past provided as worth zero.

A study I'd really like to see would be this: What does it cost a family to have children when you factor in the lost wage and career potential of a stay-at-home parent? Compare that to daycare costs so people can have some firm numbers to look at when they make decisions.

The other thing I don't like about this "cost of raising a child" business is that most things families spend on are unnecessary. The cost of clothing and food have gone down over the years, and yet you know most families spend way more than they need to in these categories. Is buying a bigger house when you have a family a necessity or a luxury driven by the amount of stuff modern families have?

Hmph.

On the other hand, a lot of my friends looked at the estimate and thought it was too low. I think they are mostly people in areas with expensive childcare.

What do you think? Do you spend $12,000 a year on each kid in your family? Did you consider that expense when you decided how many to have?

The Tale of the Sale

 

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This is the first weekend in I don't know how long that I don't have the strength to post about the ads in the Sunday paper. Seriously, even the morning after Toth was born 11 months ago, I managed to summarize the ads, but after three days of rummage hell, I am too tired.

There you have it: rummage sale more exhausting than giving birth. And so, so much less worth it.

Before I summarize the sale experience, a warning: The Frugalista will continue to be scarce this week. I've got some stuff to take care of that's going to keep me occupied for the next few days. I'll try to pop in and post a few deals, but don't expect much until late in the week.

So here's what went down here, sale-wise:

 

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How to Not Get Ripped Off on a Car

We drive a 1999 Subaru Forester. When we had our third kid, everyone told us we would have to buy a bigger car or a minivan. We are happy to report that so far, everyoen was wrong, because we really can fit three car seats in the back of our Forester.

However, it's so tight that it's hard for my husband to fasten the seatbelt on the 6-year-old's booster because his hands are too big.

It's starting to sink in that at some point, a bigger car really might be in order. So I was glad to see Jon Yates' column in the Chicago Tribune explaining exactly how to buy a new car without getting ripped off. Apparently it's pretty easy these days -- you can print out the price that the dealer paid, the average price that customers pay, and even buy online if you don't want to go into the showroom.

Course, there is always buying used. A lot more work, but I have usually gotten very good deals in the past by searching hard and negotiating hard. Luckily I don't have that yearning for a brand-new vehicle that most Americans seem to experience, where the new car is seen as some kind of financial right-of-passage to adulthood. Hey -- I just played the tooth fairy for the first time this week, and that was enough to make me feel like an adult. And if I had a new car I would have to cringe every time a kid bangs the door into a concrete wall or throws up on the upholstery.

Is used still the best deal these days? Or with all the stink of desperation coming out of Detroit, is it actually a better deal to get a new car, finally?

Get $20 Worth of Plants for $12.95 Shipped

Since moving to the Chicago area, I've coveted these purple globe thistles. Aren't they cool?

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I found out from a neighbor that the bulbs are kinda expensive. So today when I got the chance to get some for $2 each, shipped, I jumped. Here's what I did, and you can use this coupon to get anything you want for your garden:

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A Big Reason to Spring for Organics: ADHD Linked to Pesticide Exposure

 

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Since we talk a lot here about trying to balance budget concerns with family health, I thought you would want to see this article from CNN.com:

Study: ADHD Linked to Pesticide Exposure

These passages are particularly pertinent (everything in italics is quoted from the article):

Environmental Protection Agency regulations have eliminated most residential uses for the pesticides (including lawn care and termite extermination), so the largest source of exposure for children is believed to be food, especially commercially grown produce.

From USDA tests:

28 percent of frozen blueberries, 20 percent of celery, and 25 percent of strawberries contained traces of one type of organophosphate. Other types of organophosphates were found in 27 percent of green beans, 17 percent of peaches, and 8 percent of broccoli.

(This is alarming to me because I thought blueberries were a safe one to buy conventional. Makes me glad that green beans are easy to grow, though.)

What to do, according to Maryse Bouchard, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of Montreal:

Organic fruits and vegetables contain much less pesticides, so I would certainly advise getting those for children," she says. "National surveys have also shown that fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets contain less pesticides even if they're not organic. If you can buy local and from farmers' markets, that's a good way to go."

Photo by Mr. T in DC, used via Creative Commons license.

$80 shopping: Got Three Packs of Diapers, $50 in ExtraBucks and Register Rewards

I spent $84.42 this week, which is pretty darn close to my $80 budget goal. That's particularly good considering that besides getting our regular groceries, I generated around $50 worth of ExtraBucks and Register Rewards that I can spend on future trips, and that I got three packs of diapers.

CVS: $14.57 over seven trips?? on three packs diapers, three gallons milk and a bunch of freebies, two DiGiorno pizzas and more freebies and moneymakers. (Wow, I haven't been to CVS that many times in many weeks.)

Walgreens: $4.85. That was $3.35 on ice cream bars for the kids and money-making Schick razor. $1.50 on just a razor.

Trader Joe's: I spent $48 at TJ's on organic produce, peanut butter, bread, wine -- my normal TJs staples. Then @Epu stopped in the next day and spent $29 on one small bag of groceries. Sigh. This would decimated nearly half of our weekly grocery budget on just six items. But then I remembered that we have a $50 per month "entertaining budget" that we use for serving guests or bringing foods to gatherings. I haven't been making use of it lately, mainly because between Xmas and summer there ain't much entertaining. But Epu's $8.99 six-pack of beer (grr), his $3.99 fancy sausages, his $3.99 organic asparagus, $5.29 bag of pistachios and $2.49 white baguette were all brought to his friend's house with him, so onto the entertainment budget they go, leaving only the $2.69 he spent on "juice" for the kids. (He didn't realize that it was really limeade until I pointed out where the bottle said "15% juice." I am such a bitch if you mess with my shopping budget.)

Bottom line: $51 at Trader Joe's.

Whole Foods: $14 on bulk pearled barley, whole wheat flour, cage-free eggs and a few other things. And get this, I got overage on one item. Overage at Whole Paycheck! It's not something you can replicate, probably, because I had a free item coupon for Oikos Greek Yogurt. But the Whole Foods in-store booklet currently has a $1/1 store coupon for the same product, so I was allowed to get a buck overage put put towards my other stuff. Hooray!

What we ate on that:

Wednesday: leftover chili

Thursday: something with ground beef

Friday: brought a large pan of mashed potatoes with (free) cream cheese to a potluck

Saturday: pizza and salad

Sunday: swiss steak with barley, carrots, celery and garlic, slow cooked in beef froth 

Monday: leftovers

Tuesday: salmon marinated in curry over couscous, with carrots

$80 Grocery Budget: Stayed Under Budget

This week I spent:

$30 at Jewel-Osco on the fruit bars Catalina, two 32 oz. cartons of Mountain High yogurt at $1.20 after coupon, and a bunch of whatnot including organic potatoes and organic romaine lettuce (not the recalled kind). The highlight was getting five boxes of Progresso Beef Broth marked down to 69 cents each in the clearance cart. Oh, and my Jewel total would have been four bucks lower if I hadn't forgotten to bring my $4 Catalina from the first trip along on my second trip. I'll get 'em next time!

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OK, So I Went an Eensy Bit Over Budget, Again

We spent $95 this week, so we went over our $80 grocery budget. You know, I'm starting to wonder if we will ever save enough out of our weekly budget to pay for the upfront meat purchases sitting in our freezer. Since I started buying more organic produce, I must say it hasn't been easy. Something to think about: Do I grow more restraint at running up my tab grabbing "deals," or just raise my budget?

 

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Terrible, Wonderful, Crazy Dominick's

Don't EVEN ask me why I have no photo of my groceries tongiht. You're lucky I made it home alive to tell the tale.

After the kids were in bed tonight I thought I'd slip out for a little shoppy shop. I gathered my coupons, looked around for my cell phone, didn't find it, thought, Oh, what the hell, and left.

First stop: Jewel-Osco, where I needed to hit the service desk to take off a few coupons I'd forgotten on my last trip and pick up an extra flyer for $2/2 CheezIt coupons. Also grabbed free 7Up with coupon, three bunches of cheap bananas and a pot of mums on clearance for $2.50. Spent a Catalina and about $5, went swimmingly.

Second Stop: Walgreens, where I spent the $3 RR I'd gotten yesterday plus a buck and change for the razor on a pack of Stayfree (99 cents after $2 coupon) and Plackers ($2). I also got three rolls of Scotch packing tape with the $1/1 coupons and a caramel as a filler. The cashier was a young dude who was having a serious conversation with a friend about needing to intercept the mail before his parents got to it and needing to hire an attorney. They conversation went on even as the cashier had trouble scanning my Scotch coupons and punched in the number. This was delightful to me not only because their conversation was intriguing -- was someone mailing him drugs, or what? -- but because far from scrutinizing me and my coupon use, the cashier seemed barely aware I was there. So I felt not at all self conscious about taking the $3 RRs from the Stayfree and immediately buying a 3-pack of Schick razors ($2.99 after $3/1 coupon) and another caramel. (Also paid 97 cents cash.) If I had not by then figured out what they were talking about -- drunk driving arrest -- I probably would have gone back for more transactions.

Instead, I took my $6 in RR (plus the $1 still unspent from yesterday -- not bad for my cash investment of about $4) over to Dominick's, where I started off at the service desk getting $4.49 taken off a past receipt because I had failed to use my free item raincheck. That should have gone smoothly because a great service desk guy was there, but instead it went slowly because he was trying to get one of the cashiers to do it since his drawer was apparently already closed out, and the cashier was not too into learning how to do the refund.

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Cheap Ice Cream and Free Life Lesson

 

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I. We All Scream

I took my girls to Baskin Robbins for 31-cent scoop night Wednesday. The most adorable part: My 6-year-old has a purse full of change for buying ice cream from the ice cream man this summer. It's basically the contents of her piggy bank. As we were preparing to head out to BR, she grabbed her purse and counted out 31 cents times 3 to bring with. Without even being asked, she decided to treat her sister and me!

We got there at 6 p.m. or so, after an early dinner. Epu has been working late every night lately, which pretty much sucks, but at least it gives me the flexibility to get dinner over with early and take the kids out if I want to.

We went to the BR on Roosevelt at the Oak Park/Berwyn border. The line was not too long, and the employees were processing the cone orders efficiently. My store offered a long list of flavor choices. There was a jar to raise money for firefighters but it was practically empty. There was also a tip cup for the employees.

II. Unlunchable

When I posted earlier this week about avoiding waste when feeding kids, there was some discussion on Wise Bread, here and on Twitter about whether I let my kids eat whatever they want or if I insist they eat healthy food. The short answer is that I provide them with mainly healthy foods so even if I don't force them to eat one particular dish, the choice is generally eat something healthy or go hungry.

When I cave and give them junk, it's usually something I got for free. Like those free-after-coupon Lunchables last week.

But I wanted to provide this amusing update: After being really excited to bring Lunchables to school like some other kids do, Nutmeg brought home her lunch that day half uneaten and firmly stated, "Mom, do not ever send me Lunchables again. They are disgusting."

I laughed and agreed, since after buying them I noticed that the four-ounce serving contained 45% of the RDA for saturated fat. And I'm assuming that's an adult's RDA.

I should have warned her, really -- the kid will not eat processed cheese and even brought home a lump of cheese from the sandwiches they serve in the cafeteria to show me why she doesn't want a school ham and cheese sandwich. Obviously she had not been informed about the contents of that cute little Lunchables box she pined for.

But I'm pretty glad she found this out by herself instead of me having to be the bad guy. I especially like life lessons that are free. :-)

Wise Bread Post: 10 Ways to Cut Waste When Feeding Kids

My latest Wise Bread post is up, and it's about how we avoid food waste when feeding the kids. So far the discussion there centers around whether I should really ask my kids if they want something before putting it on their plates (in my defense, some things, like at least one vegetable and one taste of the main course, are not optional to at least try), and whether it's acceptable to serve a kid her dinner plate at breakfast if she didn't finish it the night before.

Personally, I have tried those power struggles and sometimes I still do refrigerate a whole uneaten plate, but it's always a waste of time. Why do I want to keep putting the same, ever-less-appealing food in front of kids who are just going to ignore it? My 3-year-old has no problem going for multiple meals in a row without eating, with the only apparent result an increased whining for snacks as time goes on (And no, I don't cave on the snacks if she hasn't at least tried her meal. And yes, when the snacks do come out, they are usually healthy enough to make up for any lost vitamins from not eating the meal.)

Kids' eating habits, for me, have been just one more sign that parents don't control everything. I treat my kids about the same at the table, and one out of the three just does not like to eat anything but snacks. I don't think I made her that way, since her older sister isn't that way.

How do you balance your need to conserve food resources and your best ideas for dinner table parenting?

Our $80 Budget: Lots of Freebies This Week

After two weeks of failing to report my spending, I'm back. I spent just about $80 this week. Here's how it broke down:

Jewel-Osco: $26.88, $10.12

Dominick's: $27

CVS: $6.27, $.40, $.06, $.06

Walgreens: $1.26

I got some great deals at Jewel and Dominick's this week: four bottles free Windex, Cascadian Farms granola for around 30 cents a box, free Healthy Choice soup, free cream cheese, free Dannon Activia yogurt. I also cashed in a bunch of free item coupons because I was trying to get up to $50 at Jewel to use a $5/$50 coupon I'd gotten in the mail. Sadly, I only made it up to $46 and didn't want to take the time to run back and add something, so that coupon will go to waste. But at least I got free Green Giant vegetables, YoBaby yogurt and Breyer's yogurt.

Here's what we ate on our $80 budget this week (actually, there was a lot of eating out):

Wednesday: my parents brought dinner

Thursday: baked ziti with ground beef, grated carrots, and a salad

Friday: beef stew with carrots, potatoes, celery

Saturday: Domino's pizza with salad

Sunday: After serving spaghetti with (free) Ragu sauce and (couponed) Armour meatballs at a birthday lunch for Nutmeg, Epu and I had a quick date including a light dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant.

Monday: my parents took us out to Boston Market (I provided the coupon)

Tuesday: nutty noodles made with pasta leftover from the party, carrots, celery and spinach plus peanut butter

What were your grocery triumphs this week? What did you make from them?

To ConAgra or Not to ConAgra: A Coupon Mom's Dilemma

 

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This weekend I broke down and brought home two packs of Lunchables, free after coupon at Jewel-Osco. Unlike one of my favorite bloggers, I can no longer brag now that I have raised my kids without ever feeding them these nasty little trays of fat and sodium -- I had a good run at six years, but that Lunchables is in Nutmeg's lunch kit today. Much to her joy.

That little drama is an ongoing conflict for me. I love freebies but I also love to feed my family healthy food. The more I learn about the industrial food system and the health hazards posed by eating processed foods, the more I want to opt out and provide my kids with healthier and less guilt-laden foodstuffs bought directly from farms.

But I still love freebies, and I do allow that acquiring food for free is good for my family too. Every time I feed them something I didn't pay for, this leaves money in our grocery budget that actually makes the purchase of those pricier "good foods" possible.

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Carnivores: Get Your Meat Now, Prices Are Headed Up

 

Now I'm even more glad that our freezer is full of pork and beef. Yesterday's Tribune says that prices for pork and beef are going to rise sharply soon, due to "speculator-influenced commodity markets" and a decline in the livestock population.

Meat prices rising is a lot better than gas prices rising, isn't it? At least we can stock up on meat. (My husband totally scuppered my plan for filling our basement with red cans of gasoline in advance of the summer price spike, lol.)

So if you are thinking about investing in a half cow or a half hog, do it now. And report back to me if you get quoted prices that are already higher -- my hormone-free, almost-organic beef was $3 a pound, and my hormone-free, "unconfined" pork was $1 something a pound.

This week's Deals and Steals newsletter will contain some links to help you find bulk meat sources of your own. I'll post it here next week.

Oh, and do learn from my own bulk meat mistakes so you don't have to make them yourself.

Photo by tombothetominator, used via Creative Commons license.

Buying Food in Bulk: Challenges and Lessons Learned

Yesterday I wrote about how I'm $1,000 behind in my $80-a-week grocery budget -- and happy about it! This is because I shifted to buying a lot of our staples in bulk, so I had a big up-front cost that I hope to pay off week by week as I no longer have to buy meat, and starting in June won't have to buy much produce.

However, we have already made a couple of mistakes in bulk buying that I thought I would share. In the comments section, I'd love to hear about other lessons you all have learned when buying in bulk. Maybe I won't have to make every mistake myself!

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My Kids' Clothing Scores at Kenosha Goodwill

I took advantage of the opporunity to get out today with only two of my three kids (since I'm still staying with my parents, I left the oldest with her Grampy) and checked out the Kenosha Goodwill store.

My Grandma, the original Frugalista, says that Goodwill has gotten too pricey for her anymore, and she has a point. I passed over every piece of adult clothing I saw because it was $5 or more. They have half-price days, which is awesome, except that this store's half-price days are Sunday and Monday, and it's closed for Easter this Sunday and after that I won't be in Kenosha anymore. So I had to pay full price for my $33 haul -- if I could have gotten half price it would have been more like $22. (Only the tagged items are half price, so the things I bought from the $1.50 bins wouldn't be cut in half.)

But I did find some bargain children's clothing.

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Got Our Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream ... Going to Bed

Since Epu was working late tonight, I had this (ahem, harebrained) idea that I would make the evening fun for the kids and take advantage of the pleasant weather by walking all the way across Oak Park with the double stroller to Ben & Jerry's for free cones.

It's, I dunno, a mile and a half? The walk there, from about 6 to 7 p.m., went just fine: The 3-year-old and the the baby giggling at each other in the stroller, the 5-year-old walking briskly because I'd warned her that if we got there too late, free ice cream time would be OVER.

Just before we arrived, the baby fell asleep in his car seat on the stroller, which was great. We hit the line at 7 p.m. and it wasn't TOO bad, just a few stores down the block.

But then something wonderful happend. A kid walked up to us and handed us an official-looking card that said "Line Pass." He told us to skip the line and go right into the Ben & Jerry's. I thanked him so effusively that he laughed and said that most people didn't react that way.

Most people aren't excited to skip the line at Free Cone Day? There must be something very dull about my life then because I cannot think of anything more exciting right now. It was such a nice gesture to pick out people with little kids -- and who knows, probably they were handing these out to the disabled or elderly too -- and let them skip the line.

So by 7:30 we were done with our cones and partway home already. That line pass was a real lifesaver because 7:30 is the girls' normal bedtime and they were really showing their fatigue. I ended up having the 3-year-old sit on the 5-year-old's lap in the stroller most of the way, but the little one was getting pretty squirrely and bothering everyone and by the time we got home the baby had woken up and started crying and I was thinking, All this for free ice cream?

But then before I knew it they were all tucked in bed, not too terribly late (8:30) thanking me sweetly for taking them for ice cream. And now that I just power walked 3 miles and I'm getting a cold, I'm right behind them. All in all, a good Free Cone Day.

Who else went for it?

$80 Grocery Budget: Spent Less Than $10!

This week I rocked my budget due to the walletful of Catalina coupons I'd collected in the past week. My total grocery expenditure was a whopping $7.92.

I spent $3.39 (plus $25 in Catalinas; got $3.50 new Cats) at Dominick's on all this:

 

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My receipt says I saved $134.52, or 99%. That's not realistic, of course, but it's still nice to see!

Then I spent $4.53 (plus $11 in Catalin coupons) at Jewel-Osco on two 24-packs of Diet Sierra Mist (my parents are visiting), a loaf of bread, a clearance cart bottle of marinade and four bottles of seltzer. I got back a $5/$50 coupon.

My receipt says I saved $19.

 

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I FINALLY Ordered My CSA Vegetables

I missed the early sign-up discounts, but I am happy to say that I finally signed up for a vegetable share from a Community Supported Agriculture farm. Starting in mid-June, you won't see any vegetables on my shopping trips because I'll be paying $32 a week to get them from Angelic Organics.

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$80 Grocery Shopping: Over-Budget Blues

Darn, over budget two weeks in a row! I spent about $93 on groceries this week, after spending $87 last week, so I am now $20 in the hole. But I got a lot for my money: Since I ran both the ConAgra and the Kraft/P&G Catalina deals twice, and since one requires a $25 purchase and one a $30 purchase (before card  prices and coupons), that's $110 worth of stuff right there. According to my receipts I saved $166 at Jewel and $32 at Dominick's -- about $198. That's like paying 32 cents on the dollar, and I like it.

I didn't go crazy on these Catalina deals, because most of the product wasn't totally free, but I did stock up on some things we will use: pasta sauce, nuts, yogurt, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and my girls' favorite treat, whipped cream. So I'm fine with this; next week I will probably run to Trader Joe's to stock up on organic produce, and it won't be until the next week that I keep the groceries under budget to make up for the $20.

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Menard's Kitchen and Bath Sale and Our Bathroom Remodel

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I've been meaning to let y'all know that Menard's is having ia kitchen and bath sale through March 21. Maybe not of interest to everybody, but I was happy to see the ad last Wednesday because we have scheduled a full replacement of our home's only full bath.

That shower wall covered with a garbage bag and duct tape? That is actually our bathroom. We knew the bathroom was in sad shape back when we bought the house in 2007 -- I mean, it's obvious. Look at the floor, which is covered with those self-adhesive vinyl tiles. (The lines and writing you see are where I marked some sink outlines in Sharpie.

 

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Time to Refinance!

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I didn't actually get around to writing down any New Year's resolutions, but the one big one I've been thinking about is paying better attention to the Big Financial Picture. I have the tendancy to overinvest my time in tiny savings (hello, coupons?) while not spending enough time on things that could be saving me much more money.

In that spirit, I'm pleased to say that I not only remembered today to check in on mortgage rates, but actually took the time to contact the lender who gave us our original mortgage and get good faith estimates from him for 30-year, 15-year or 20-year refinance options.

As of today -- who knows what it will be tomorrow -- 30-year mortgages are back down to 4.875%. That is the magic one point below my current mortgage -- usually the financial brains advise that you need to be saving at least a point to recoup your closing costs in a timely manner. With the closing costs I was quoted, it will take about a year for the savings to pay for them.

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My $80 Shopping Budget: Free Bagged Salads, 6 Greek Yogurts for $1

This week I spent $37 at Jewel-Osco, $30.77 at Trader Joe's, $16 at Pan's, $6.46 at Walgreen's and about 50 cents at CVS. So I spent about $87, $7 over our budget.

As for savings, Jewel says I saved about $54 on the two trips.

That included one round of the General Mills Catalina deal, so I hae a $7 Catalina coupon in my wallet for next time.

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A $3.99 Zip-It Saved Me $100

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It sounds like one of those infomercial products, but have you tried a Zip-It on a clogged drain? I spent $3.99 on one of these simple little thingies recently and it saved me the $100 cost of calling the plumber.

 

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$80 Shopping Budget: Didn't Shop Much

This week I didn't spend much time shopping and I didn't track it either. To tell you the truth the week was pretty much a whirlwind of all the regular non-stop activity plus trying to pick out fixtures for the bathroom we're remodeling plus getting mastitis and having a sick kid, so I was pretty glad not to add a bunch of shopping trips to that.

I spent $50 of my $80 budget, leaving me $30 to apply toward my $210 beef debt. So now I owe $180. I really want to whittle that one down before it comes time to pay for the 1/2 pig we ordered!

 

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Anyone Still Use 10-10 Numbers?

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Last night we needed to send a fax on the three-in-one printer/photocopier/fax machine we got for Xmas. Then we realized a problem: As cheapskates, we don't have long distance set up on our home phone. We just use our cell phones if we need to make a long distance call.

So how to send our fax, which was not to a 1-800 number?

I Googled (OK, I Swagbucksed) 10-10 numbers, those little dial-arounds that I used to use to save money on long distance way back before I had a cell phone. It seems that they are still around, but a lot of them now impose a monthly or per-call fee.

I used this comparison chart and chose 10-16-868. Now I'm kind of waiting to see what sort of crazy things will show up on the phone bill.

Anyone with a better solution out there? How do you make a long-distance call when you don't have long distance service?

Photo by macinate, used via Creative Commons license.

$80 Shopping Budget; Spent 5.5 Hours Saving $153

I spent $69.18 of my $80 grocery budget this week, leaving $10 to contribute to my $220 beef debt. So I now owe $210 for that.

My total savings this week was $153, and it took about five and a half hours to plan and execute five shopping trips (I threw in an extra 90 minutes after counting up the time it took to organize and shop, assuming that there were a few minutes each day that I spent printing coupons, putting away coupon inserts from the paper, etc., plus I spent some time watching a movie and the Olympics while clipping and filing coupons.). That means I spent 4.5 hours more than the average mom, with an hourly savings rate of $34. I only counted savings from things I wanted or needed; for example I picked up a couple of free and moneymaking items but only counted the profit, not the "savings" from an item that I didn't need.

Here is the booty (heh) I got in one of the four shopping trips I made this week:

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On Wednesday I spent $19.42 at Pan's on the above produce and Pirate's Booty. The kids ask for Booty every time we shop at a store that has it, so when it finally went on sale this week I used it as incentive for a complaint-free shopping stop.

I spent 5 minutes looking over Pan's flyer and 40 minutes shopping there. Used no coupons and only saved $4.89, but their prices there are very reasonable overall and this is where I get a lot of my produce.

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My $80 Shopping This Week - Super Bowl Junk Food Deals

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I got all this food at Dominick's for $43.74. I know, I know -- not the healthiest haul, but hey: This was the SuperBowl one-day sale, with a free pizza, a free bag of Fritos, rain check for a free pack of Lit'l Smokies. They were also out of the 1 lb. packages of potato salad, so I brought the last remaining 3 lb. pack up to the service desk and the nice manager agreed to substitute that. According to my receipt I saved $58.47, not counting the potato salad or Smokies. I spent 1 hour and 20 minutes getting my coupons together, driving to the store and back, and shopping. And we were down to our last frozen pizza for Friday pizza/video nights -- we're now stocked for seven more weeks.

Oh, the Nature Valley granola snacks were supposed to be free after coupons and electronic coupons, but the e-coupon did not come off. I've heard this happens to other people too. And I tried to use one of those printables for a free half-gallon of chocolate milk when you buy a gallon of white, but the nice manager reminded me that Dominick's does not accept Internet printables for free items. Gee, I didn't think that extended to "free when you buy x," but ok, whatever.

 

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Time Spent/Money Saved, Jan. 30-Feb. 5

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Last week for the first time ever I tracked how much time I spent on money-saving activities, and how much I saved because of it. Then I forgot to publish it! So here it is.

Time spent saving money on groceries last week (Jan. 30-Feb. 5): 6 hours. That's six times the U.S. average of one hour. My figure includes time spent getting the kids ready to go shopping, travel time (we often walk) and store time, in addition to time getting my coupons together and looking for deals online.

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Our $80 Shopping Budget

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This week I spent $92 on groceries, which is $12 over my $80 budget. In a separate post, I will for the first time let you know how much I saved, and how much time I spent to save it. The photo above shows my haul just from Jewel-Osco ($13.27) and CVS ($2).

I spent $24.37 at Pan's Foods. The highlights were free Post cereal, pickles for $1.50 a jar after coupon, Kraft cheese for $1.39/8 oz. after coupon and Ball Park franks for 50 cents after coupon.

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Time Management and Saving Money

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Recently I got a question from a reader and friend on a common concern: Is the money saved by couponing and other grocery shopping strategies worth the time spent? Here's her email:

How do we figure out whether or not your brand of expert coupon clipping is worth our while? I look through the Sunday paper, and flyers sent to me, but it seems like shopping at more than one store per week, plus looking online and through ALL the flyers in the newspaper would wind up costing me more time then they would save me money.

So, what I'm wondering is, how much time does it take to save how much money? If I devoted an hour a week to expert couponing/shopping, how much money would I save?
 
That's probably an impossible question to answer with a one-size-fits-all number, because there are so many variables at play -- how much you can get done in that one hour, what kind of food you usually buy, where you shop and how much flexibility you hae in what you buy each week. But it's also the most important question that anyone doing this kind of shopping should be asking themselves. I have a few ideas for getting a handle on the time/benefit of aggressive grocery shopping:
 

1. Track your time and your savings.

Since I really don't know exactly how much time I spend on this stuff and how much I save -- and since people ask me about it all the time -- I decided to find out. Starting this week, I started tracking how much time I spend couponing, planning and shopping. I would suggest that anyone interested in adding some couponing to their routine but concerned about the time investment do the same. Ideally, track how much you spend shopping normally for a week so you have something to compare it to.

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This Week's $80 Budget and How Couponing Makes Even Buying Toilet Paper Fun

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Buying toilet paper is one of those things everyone is supposed to hate. The whole concept of Alice.com relies on us hating to go to the store for toilet paper. Now, you are probably about to laugh at me rather than with me, but listen up: This week I had a great time buying toilet paper.

For me, couponing and deal hunting transforms shopping from a chore into a game, and this week was a perfect example. We were almost out of bog rolls, as my British friend used to call them (I guess he still does but since he and his bog rolls are over there we don't get the chance to discuss such matters anymore.)

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Winter Cleanup: Buffalo Exchange, Gazelle.com and Donations

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I'm a little behind the curve for New Year's cleanout, but I'm finally catching up and would like to start getting some junk out of my house. Once the junk is gathered, I have to take quick action to get rid of it before it merges into the rest of the random basement junk or the kids get into it and reclaim every last piece. But being me, I want to extract the maximum benefit out of every last item.

Here are my ideas:

1. The best clothes to consignment stores -- Buffalo Exchange for adults and my local store for the kids' stuff.

To be honest, none of our used clothes are Buffalo-worthy, but I do have some Hanna Andersson and the like for kids that will fetch a few bucks. The really nice thing about selling the kids' clothes is that I then have store credit for guilt-free shopping at the store. At first I thought I would want my proceeds in check form -- and if I ever made a lot I would -- but since I have only made $20 so far selling some maternity clothes and kids' holiday dresses, I just spent some of it there and walked out without having touched my wallet. Nice feeling!

2. The rest of the kids' clothes to a charity sale. The Parenthesis sale in Oak Park is coming up March 6! (Doh, I hope any readers from Parenthesis don't hate me for admitting skimming off some of the name-brand items -- high-end clothes just don't sell for much at that sale because people expect the clothes to be both nice and cheap. A lot of other parents are more generous than me and donate or consign their Hanna and Olilly!)

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The One-Armed Snowman and Raising Frugal, Happy Kids

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Yesterday I gook the kids over to CVS and let each girl take a handbasket and go nuts on the remains of the Christmas clearance shelf.

Having a frugal mom, they have a lot of restraint in their lives when it comes to shopping. They aren't allowed to ask me to buy stuff in stores (although I can't stop them from the occasional broad hint, like, "If you have a coupon, and if it goes on sale ..."). So it's fun every once in awhile to tell them, "Yes. Pick whatever you want."

One of the things Nutmeg chose was this one-armed snowman. I put back all other broken things before we checked out, but she still wanted this little guy. I think it was 15 cents now that Christmas stuff is 90% off at my CVS. The entire Christmas clearance purchase was $7.50 for a few tree ornaments, some candy and cookies, gift tags, wire ornament hangers, dog toys (which the girls wanted to give to dogs on our street and my brother's dog) and one nice taper candle (5 cents).

When we got home and she sorted through her stuff, she told me, "You know, sometimes we just make a snowman with one arm." I had to chuckle at her rationalizing her purchase and maybe fighting off buyer's remorse. The emotional aspects of shopping and frugality often pop up when I shop with my kids. I wrote about Nutmeg's seeming to shun consumer culture at American Girl once for the Chicago Moms Blog (I thought she'd learned that she couldn't ask for such an expensive doll and I worried about what it might do to her self-image; turns out she'd just learned to ask Grandma, not me, because that's what she got for Christmas that year.)

I'm glad I'm raising my kids frugal for so many reasons, mainly because I feel like they'll be better equipped to deal with their own financial challenges when they're grown. But I always hope that the message they're getting is that they should save their pennies because they deserve the benefits that saving will bring, not because they're not worth the nice things they could be buying.

I don't really know if the one-armed snowman makes me feel sad that Nutmeg thinks she has to make do with less-nice things, or happy that she knows how to make herself happy with the less than perfect. I think a little of both. At any rate, I'm glad we're keeping this dear little one-armed snowman around to remind me to keep my attitude positive and to focus on the pay-off and not deprivation.

Fitness Club Enrollment Specials for New Year's Resolutions

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Like so many of us this time of year, my husband is looking for a new gym to join to get fit in 2010. I'd like to support this quest, so here is my list of the best New Year enrollment deals at Chicagoland fitness clubs and gyms. I would of course prefer a free membership deal, which you can get at the YMCA and a couple of private clubs.

Here's a question for you: Anyone have luck negotiating with fitness clubs for free enrollment, even if it's not offered to the general public?

Through TODAY ONLY, Crunch will take $125 off your membership fee. You can also get a free guest pass to try it out.

YMCA Metro Chicago is offering a $0 enrollment fee if you sign up in January. If your local YMCA is not part of Metro Chicago, just contact them -- they are probably offering the same.

 

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Happy New Year 2010: Year-End Pantry Cleanout for the Needy

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Happy New Year 2010! Last night we attended a New Years Eve party that also helped me clean out my stockpile of food and drugstore items and help the homeless. Here's how:

You know how party guests never want to arrive empty-handed, even if you've assured them that you will provide plenty of eats and champagne for the midnight toast? My friend Kori had a great idea for exploiting this urge for her New Year's Eve party: She asked guests to bring not champagne but toiletries, food and other useful items for the St. James Food Pantry.

That big box in the front was mine (except for the Crest, which another guest dropped on top). Looking over my pantry at the end of the year, I realized we had more cereal stashed away than we would ever eat, especially since new deals that could get us cereals we like better, often for free or 25 cents a box, come along just about every month.

I also took the opportunity to clear out excess toothpaste, which is always bountiful to us CVS shoppers. In fact, I picked up another free-after-Extra-Bucks tube of Colgate yesterday while we were picking up our year-end prescription summary.

And I threw in some shampoo, conditioner, paper towels, first aid kits, deodorant and band-aids just because the Web site asked for these types of items or I thought they'd be helpful to families in need.

My stockpile areas, and my entire house, are still cluttered, but it's a start. And I just read on the pantry's Web site that although it is run by a church, it's still a 501(c)3, so we just netted ourselves a last-minute 2009 tax deduction. Kind of like the Disney give a day get a day program -- we got to help others and help ourselves at the same time.

Thanks to my friend Kori for such a great party idea -- maybe I'll emulate it for our next party!

Did You Spend Up Your Flexible Spending Accounts?

It's New Year's Eve, the last day of 2009. Do you know where your medical receipts are for your Flexible Spending Account reimbursements?

Last night Epu and I, being the procrastinators we are, started looking at the flexible spending accounts to which we are able to contribute through his work. Two were no problem -- one for transportation to work and one for childcare, both of which we had estimated correctly and would be able to document easily.

Medical spending is a lot harder to predict. I think we had upped our contribution on the theory that we'd be having a new baby this year, with copays for well baby visits. However, we had a pretty good year, with few doctor visits or medications.

Last night we realized that we had receipts for less than half the money we'd contributed to the account! As these things usually work, if we don't spend this money it's gone forever.

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How I Christmas Shopped for My Husband With Fake Money

I have a piece up on Wise Bread today about how I used SwagBucks, mystery shopping, coupons and store credits to give my husband several nice Christmas gifts without tapping into our marital funds. We both pledged to do this this year, and the thing that surprised me most was the stones that went unturned: Neither of us got around to cashing in all the change accumulating in various cups around the house, for instance.

Our $80 Grocery Budget: 3 Weeks of Shopping Under Budget

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I've been a little busy with the Christmas rush and haven't posted about the last couple weeks of grocery shopping on an $80 budget. But I haven't been hiding anything -- I've actually been doing very well and have been under budget three weeks in a row. Here's a three-week catch-up post. On the stuff above, I spent $38, and I'm not even showing the bags of groceries I got doing the General Mills Catalina deal at Jewel for the cost of $1.

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10 Ways to Cut Your Cost of Living and Save More than $5,000 a Year

This is a list I passed out at my workshop last week summarizing a lot of the ideas and tips I've learned about saving money since I started reading and writing about the topic online. So thanks to like, every money-saving blogger I've ever read for this.

If you successfully carried out every money-saving idea on this list, you would save more than $5,000 a year. However, keep in mind that you don't need to (and shouldn't) start a money-saving initiative by steaming ahead on all 10 points at once. It's overhwhelming. As you read, think if any of these are areas where you suspect your household is overspending. Pick one or two that you think could make the most difference, and track the results.

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Budgeting With Kids: What My 5-Year-Old's Halloween Party Taught Her -- And Me

 

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I decided to have my 5-year-old work with a set budget for all the Halloween festivities she wanted to do this year. In part this was simply to avoid going overboard on Halloween spending, but in part it was to teach her about what things cost and the value of money.

In the end, I asked her what she learned and she said, "That coupons really are awesome!"

I'm glad she learned that because I'm grooming her to become my future coupon shopping buddy! But really, she learned much more than that: the concept of opportunity cost, for one thing. Our project also gave her great opportunities to practice her budding writing and math skills.

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How I Spent Our $80 Grocery Budget: Nov. 4-Nov. 10

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I spent $63 this week (which ended Tuesday for me), mostly stocking up on DiGiorno frozen pizzas with a coupon/sale combo. Since I went $15 over budget last week, that means I came in just under my $80 weekly grocery budget and I'm back to a clean slate for the current week.

I also acquired tons of food in the big Jewel Catalina deal, but I didn't pay for any of it. That's right, for about $200 worth of soup, broth, yogurt and other groceries, I paid nothing. Some of my transactions were small moneymakers, which, along with some of the $x/$xx coupons that have been popping up at Jewel lately, cancelled out the tax I paid on the break-even transactions.

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Reader Question: Grocery Savings Without Bulk Buying

Jill submitted a great question:

I enjoy your blog, but wonder if you have any tips you can share for
singles (or anyone who does not buy groceries for a large family.)
There are two of us in my household, and we don't eat a lot of
pre-packaged foods that seem to be the center of these Catalina deals;
not to mention it would take us months to go through 5 cartons of ice
cream. It doesn't seem worth it to buy things we aren't going to eat or
that we would be stuck with for a long period. Thanks in advance for
any advice.

So, you mean you don't want your car to look like this every time you come back from the store?

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 (This is the back of my car after triple stacking the current Jewel-Osco Catalina offer; $90 in pre-card prices, paid $52 including tax after Preferred Card and coupons, received $45 in Catalina coupons for my next shopping trip --> $7 for 26 rolls paper towel, 12 cans soup, four boxes broth, and most of that was tax. And I had all 3 kids with me. Why yes, I DID need help getting out to my car, thankyouverymuch.)

 Jill, you bet I have advice for small households who don't want to buy in bulk, and who want to avoid processed foods:

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22 Frugal Meals That Keep Our Weekly Grocery Spending Under $80

When I have posted lots of mad crazy grocery deals, often for junk food, I like to stop and remember the other side of frugal eating: The simple, inexpensive and wholesome meals I incorporate into our family's menu.

When I say we spend $80 a week to feed four people, a lot of folks wonder what on earth we're eating. Is it all junk food? Well, we will be incorporating Crescent rolls and Grands and other things I've gotten free or very cheap into the menu, but even without freebies there are lots of inexpensive and good meals you can feed your family. Here are 22 cheap-ass entrees and side dishes in regular rotation at our house:

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Bread machine whole wheat bread. I've read that bread machines don't quickly pay for themselves -- if you buy them new. However, bread machines are one of those things that thrift shops are just full of. People get them for gifts, find that they never use them, and want to free up the kitchen space, so off to Salvation Army they go. I got mine at Goodwill for $4 and I use it regularly.

 

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Grocery Spending 10/21-10/27: Came Out AHEAD By Shopping Moneymaking Catalina Deal

When I was done with the crazy Pillsbury/General Mills overlapping Catalina deals this week, I had a net profit of $6.50 (on top of a $3 profit last week). I didn't grocery shop at all on non-Catalina deals; I only bought a gallon of milk and two bottles of Izze soda (buy one, get one) at CVS for a grand total of $3.50.

That means ... I didn't spend my $80 grocery budget! Finally, a contribution toward the $400 we spent on half a side of beef. We now owe $320 to the beef fund.

Obviously, we mainly ate from the pantry and freezer this week since I didn't buy any fresh food:

WEDNESDAY: macaroni and cheese and carrot sticks (standard Dad's working late meal)

THURSDAY: Trader Joe's korma simmer sauce over rice w/ celery and potatoes, + carrot pancakes

FRIDAY: breakfast = bacon, eggs & whole wheat toast; lunch and dinner = out.

SATURDAY: breakfast = Grands cinnamon rolls, lunch and dinner out

SUNDAY: out of town, at at mom's

MONDAY: breakfast = cereal, lunch = canned soup, dinner = free KFC chicken plus purchased biscuits (I know, with all those Grands, I went and BOUGHT KFC biscuits. But I love those things and almost never go to KFC so I had to have them.)

Does Buying in Bulk Make You More Wasteful?

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I just finished washing out 11 Ziploc bags, and they're festooned all over my kitchen to dry. Which makes me chuckle, because when I bought 32 boxes of Ziplocs this week, Epu asked, "Does this mean I don't have to wash out baggies anymore?"

"Nope," I told him. "Throwing away a baggie after just one use would be wasteful. And bad for the Earth."

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What Can You Eat $80 a Week

This week I spent $55 at Trader Joe's stocking up on the usual things that are cheapest and best there: organic peanut butter, organic celery, carrots, potatoes and apples, cheap wine. I spent $10 at Jewel without getting any special deals there, $6 on a dozen Bruegger's bagels (apparently they have this deal every Wednesday), $8 at the farmer's market on apples and apple cider.

Oh, and I actually spent money at CVS on groceries this week, instead of getting it free for Extra Bucks the way I often do. I spent $5 on 3 cartons of ice cream and a package of cookies; I did get the milk with ExtraBucks though. I usually do a few moneymaking deals there from time to time and have enough ExtraBucks on hand to get the milk.

So not a major bargain-finding week for me, in fact we went $4 over the $80 food budget. And we still have put $0.00 towards the $400 we spent on beef. We'll do better next week!

Here's what I served on the $80 (well, $84) budget this week:

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Meat That Pays for Its Own Freezer

We did it: We bought that 1/2 side of beef and a gigantic chest freezer to keep it in. And guess what? We saved enough on the beef to pay for the freezer. It's meat that pays for itself!

 

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I explain all the math on my new Wise Bread post. But basically, the deal is that we paid around $400 for a year's worth of beef, and we would have paid $800 for that much beef normally. The freezer was less than $400, therefore our meat PAID FOR ITSELF!

As an added bonus, $800 is what we would have paid for this much hamburger. But now we have roasts, stew meat and friggin' steaks. We friggin' love the frig out of those friggin' things!

Also, as one of the Wise Bread commenters pointed out, the new freezer makes a nice countertop in the basement for sorting laundry.

What You Can Eat on an $80 Grocery Budget, and What I Bought This Week with That $80 Budget

A perennial question I get about bargain shopping is, "What do you EAT on an $80-a-week grocery budget?" I think I'm lucky that although I am technically feeding four people, my kids are too little to hold much sway in what I buy (and also too little to consume much) and my husband is pretty flexible and willing to try new things. When we don't buy any alcohol, $80 isn't even much of a challenge.

One thing to keep in mind is that I have a large grocery stockpile and much of my weekly budget goes to feeding the pantry and the (new) freezer. So when you see our weekly menu, I didn't likely buy most of that during the current week.

First I'll run through what we ate this week, then what I spent:

Wednesday: breakfast = strawberry banana smoothies, lunch = Goldfish crackers and cheese sticks and pb&j sandwiches, dinner = salad topped with sauteed green beans and quesedillas

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Grocery Spending Sept. 16-Sept. 22

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Above you see the 21 cans of soup and eight bags of Goldfish crackers I got for $9 total this week through the Campbell's Catalina deal at Jewel. How fun was it to stack up those Campbell's cans and photograph them as if I were Andy Warhol? Well, not Six Flags fun, but, you know. Maybe three flags.

Between my in-laws and my parents, visiting family has been very generous with us lately and I haven't had to shop much. My in-laws came to babysit last weekend while I was in San Francisco and left some fresh groceries, and then my parents came with a heaping bag of bounty from the garden, most deliciously six huge tomatoes. They're coming to visit again tomorrow with tomatoes and kale. Gotta love it when someone else does the work and we do the eating.

I still managed to spend $57 of my $80 grocery allowance, though. I spent $40 at Jewel -- about $9 on three rounds of the Campbell's Catalina deal (ends tomorrow!) and $31 on other stuff including four pounds of strawberries at $1 each (grand re-opening special), a couple bottles of $3 Golden Gate wine (it's ok), and the dreaded soy milk that I have to drink because the baby spits up so much if I drink regular milk and then breastfeed him. (This really sucks not only because I love dairy products but because milk finally got so cheap and without me drinking it we're not using much.)

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The Psychology of Saving (and Spending)

A Twitter friend of mine, @DarryleP, shared this MSN Money article about the subtle tricks outlet malls play on customers to get them to buy by convincing them they're getting a steal.

That's interesting in its own right. I had my suspicions about those places. But the thing I found most relevant this week was this line: "MRIs of shoppers' brains have shown that spending triggers discomfort. Discounting helps alleviate that ..."

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Grocery Spending 9/9-9/15

This week was not your standard week. I left town on Thursday and just came back Monday night, so there was very little grocery shopping to fee the family here at home. While I was gone, my in-laws visited to babysit the 2-year-old, and THEY bought a bunch of groceries -- mostly things I already had, so now I have two bottles of open maple syrup, extra cartons of eggs, etc., in the fridge, but oh well. And I bought some groceries while in SF for myself and my hosts, but I'm not counting that. That's travel money and since I was traveling on business (freelance reporting) it's tax deductible.

So I'll I'm charging myself for groceries this wee is $13, which I spent on two final rounds of the Jewel General Mills Catalina (one round profited 50 cents, the other round cost just over $13).

I only had $10 to spend this week, so for next week I am $3 behind. Meaning I have $77 to spend next week. No problem!

My Grocery Binge: August 26-Sept. 1

After several lean weeks of doing only Catalina deals, I spent a ton on groceries this week -- a whopping $204 -- with a Trader Joe's trip, two Target trips, another failed Catalina attempt AND a last-minute run to Dominick's. I definitely won't have to buy much of anything for the coming week -- the fridge, freezer and cupboards are bursting.

Since I had $20 to carry over from last week, that means I spent this week's budget and next, and when I shop again the week after, I'll STILL have to spend $20 less than my regular $80 budget. I'm OK with that, though, because I have so much stuff stockpiled. I will probably have to pick up some fresh produce, putting me farther in the hole, but I will catch up within the next few weeks.

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My Grocery Spending This Week -- Love That Free Zucchini

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Once again this week (August 19-25) I didn't have much time to do real grocery shopping because I was too busy doing "deals. OK, there were also two parents back-to-school meetings and a pencil-sharpening party, and a weekend trip to Wisconsin.

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Bag Knitted From Plastic Grocery Bags

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Check out this bag a friend's mother knitted for me as a little baby gift. The perfect gift for a frugal girl who's always running into a grocery store! It's knitted from plastic grocery bags. I love it on so many levels. I love that it's a long-lasting way to get real value out of those bags you ended up bringing home even if you tried to be good about remembering to bring reusable bags. I love that it's a really attractive, strong and durable bag made out of free materials. I love that just looking at it is a reminder NOT to accumulate more plastic bags, since personally I could never turn them into something this nice.

Poor Girl's Vacuum Sealer

I'm just starting to work on the Sunday flyer summary, but here's a little nibblit for you before they arrive:

You know those machines that will suck the air out of your leftover bags and seal them before you put them in the freezer? I never wanted to spend the money on one of those, nor do I have the real estate in my kitchen, but I would like to get more air out of my Zip-Locs before I freeze them so they don't get freezerburned.

Tonight for the first time I tried a trick I read years ago in Super Baby Food, one of my favorite books not just for making homemade baby food but also just for frugal living in general. The author, Ruth Yaron, suggests sticking a straw into the corner of your zipper bag and sucking the air out before you finish sealing it.

For some reason I always thought that sounded like a pain in the ass, but tonight I tried it. It worked great, flattening the bag just like it had been vacuum packed, and it was very, very easy. Not a pain at all.

Saturday Rummage Loot

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Nutmeg, my 5-year-old, is obsessed with Halloween, so in her opinion these Halloween headbands (75 cents each) were the best thing I brought home today. I was most excited about a broken stroller, though.

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Two Moneymaking Transactions: Kraft and CVS

Quiet around here today, I know. I took the kids to the Shedd Aquarium thanks to a friend with a membership, and it was exhausting. Although it was great to get in free (I get to reciprocate by taking the same friend and her daughter as our guests to the Brookfield Zoo), in two other aspects the outing was a frugal fail:

1. We didn't get there early enough to have a good chance at metered parking, and rather than pay double digits to park, I took 3 kids and a stroller on the El. It actually went very smoothly, but the travel time from door to door was 90 minutes each way, making for a pretty exhausting day.

2. I brought Easy Mac from the Kraft deal for lunch, because for some reason I though the Shedd had a lunch room with a microwave. Maybe it did before the remodel. At any rate, we couldn't get a micro or even any hot water, and my friend ended up spending $10 on a hot dog and a small cup of macaroni and cheese for my kids. Urg. 

And all that is not at all related to the main topic of this post, my two moneymaking transactions in the last few days:

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Progressive Insurance Just Bought Me Dinner

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I just saved $35 that I was about to put on my credit card with a five-minute phone call to Progressive auto insurance. I even changed a poopy diaper while I was doing it, which makes it the first time I have earned money while doing that since my high school babysitting days.

The reason I called Progressive was to ask them why, since my old car becomes cheaper to replace every single day, my auto insurance premium doesn't go down every time I renew. Think about it -- if I bought a new, more expensive car, the premium would certainly go up. I bought my car for $12,000, and it say right on Progressive's site that it's now worth $5,000. Why on earth do I have to pay the same premium for a $5,000 car as I paid for a $12,000 car?

Well, the Progressive agent I spoke to politely declined to give me a discount just for driving a clunker. (One that doesn't qualify for the program, I might add.) But she did come up with several other discounts that will save me $35 on the six-month payment I'm about to make. I'll be saving $70 a year -- while not a gigantic savings, it's the equivalent of a nice dinner out and I'm not gonna turn that down.

The discounts were:

  • $21 for having a bachelor's degree. See, I always knew going to journalism school would pay off! This is a new discount they hadn't offered before, and the agent didn't know if it was unique to Progressive or if other companies are doing it to. Worth asking about.
  • $2 homeowner's discount. We were renters when we started the policy, and we never thought to update our status with them when we move.
  • $12 for paperless statements, which I prefer aynway.

My bill also says I can get a $39 discount for signing up for Electronic Funds Transfer, but I'm not really clear if this is instead of the $45 discount I get for paying the full six months up front or in addition to it.

Coming on the heels of the news that you can save hundreds on your ComCast bill just by asking, this makes me want to sit down and call ALL the companies that bill me and just flat out ask for reductions.

 
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I'm Glad I Shelled Out for Organic Peaches

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Some kids beg for candy in the grocery store. Mine beg for peaches.

And

because I am the snob mom from hell, my answer is usually no. "We have to wait until we go to Trader Joe's so we can buy organic peaches," I tell them, cringing as I imagine how elitist I sound. But the front page of the Tribune today backs me up on this. It says that the USDA found 51 different pesticide residues on WASHED peaches in a 2006 study. Six of them were not approved for use in the United States, and five of the chemicals exceeded the levels allowed by the EPA. The story quotes a doctor and a Harvard professor advising that parents and pregnant women spring for organic peaches and produce in general. Alex Lu, a professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard, spells it out very simply: "Don't eat conventional peaches while you are pregnant." The article even questions the iron clad safety of organic produce. The Tribune tested organic peaches from California and found one pesticide -- however, the peach would still be considered organic because the pesticide residue did not exceed 5 percent of the EPA's tolerance. More disturbing was the information that nobody is testing most organic-labeled produce to see if it is truly following the standards. So what should a budget-conscious consumer do? I gleaned several action points from this article:
  • Just buy organic. The article lists organic peaches at $2.99 a pound at Whole Foods. I'm cheap, but I still don't think this is too expensive for the delicious delicate goodness of a fresh summer peach. After all, you'd pay $2.99 a pound for beef without thinking twice. My strategy with organics is to try and cut out something more expensive -- like meat or store bread or pop -- to make room for them in the budget.
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My Weekly Grocery Shopping -- August 5 to August 11

Hi, everybody! Between getting a nice link from Money Saving Mom last week and the promotional efforts of the Tribune company now that Chicago Now has officially launched, I think there are a lot of new readers here. Welcome to you newbies, and welcome to my loyal readers who have followed me over from Shoplifting With Permission!

One of the blog rituals I started on Shoplifting With Permission -- and will continue here -- is detailing my weekly grocery spending every Tuesday, and what meals we ate with it. My budget for a family of four eaters (the newborn doesn't count yet) is $80, and we are able to eat quite well on that. In fact, the longer I have been bargain shopping, the better we have been eating, because I have been able to switch much of our produce to organic, and our meat and milk to hormone-free.

What's your weekly grocery budget? If you don't have one, I highly recommend setting one as a first step toward cutting down your household expenses. That doesn't mean you have to pick the same number I did -- for some families, especially those with teens, $80 seems too difficult to start with, while others easily spend less than I do each week. I wrote a post on Wise Bread about what I learned from simply sticking to a budget, regardless of what the number is (that post also ended up in Wise Bread's money-saving book).

This week is another totally weird one, because I was again so busy shopping moneymaking or close-to-free packaged goods in Catalina transactions at Jewel-Osco that I barely had time to pick up anything fresh. Also, my dad's garden harvest has begun and that provided us with many of our meals this week.

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When Frugal's Not About Shopping

I've been breathlessly posting a lot about deals lately, mainly because it's so exciting to get so much for nothing in these Jewel Catalina deals. But of course the frugal life is supposed to be about NOT shopping. This weekend the hubs and I took a little time to get back in touch with the non-shopping side of frugality.

My husband Epu's weekend project was refinishing a worn-out bedside tables my parents gave us. He filled any cracks and scratches with wood putty, sanded them, painted the white and applied polyurethane to protect them from the kids. It's one of a pair for our third bedroom, which we use as a guest room/den.

 

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. And lest you think we survive on the packaged foods I've been scooping up for pennies on the dollar in the past week, let me share the frugal dinner I made Saturday night. My dad had given us a huge zucchini from his garden, so I checked my favorite cookbook, "Jane Brody's Good Food Book: Living the High Carbohydrate Way," and found a recipe containing zucchini: Company Rice and Beans.

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My Grocery Spending July 29-August 4

I usually share my week's grocery spending here every Tuesday, and look at that, it's Thursday! This 3 kids thing has me playing catchup lately, not to mention the fact that I keep going over to Jewel to get more really cheap and free stuff through the Catalinas being offered right now.

I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath to see if I've purchased soup or pretzels or bananas this week. The suspense!

It was a weird week because there was that Dr Pepper Catalina last week. I earned $36 buying it all ($29 after tax). Then I earned $4 after tax buying Dove shampoo. When I make money at the grocery store, whether it's through Catalinas like this or by transferring prescriptions from CVS to Dominick's, I simply add the money I earned to that week's $80 grocery budget. So I started this week with $113 available to spend.

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