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Posts tagged ‘shopping’

I was reading one of the blogs I follow, The Frugal Farm Wife, when I came across a post about 8 Shopping Errors and How We Fixed Them. I was intrigued. Basically, she looked at some receipts from a few years earlier, and was amazed at some of the things she used to buy but didn’t anymore. Things like hot chocolate mix, tortilla chips, etc. And I was inspired to make a similar list of my own.

First, the things we have in common:

  • Tortilla Chips. I haven’t bought these for a long time. Up until this month, we have been using tostadas instead. They run a bit cheaper than the chips do, and seem to have less fat. But we’re giving those up too. Fears about genetically modified food have definitely been a factor. I can make delicious millet tortillas (which my corn-allergic son can eat), so we’re going to try that.
  • Canned Beans. I bought these sometimes in the first couple of years of our marriage. No longer. My mom bought me a pressure cooker, and I’ve never looked back. I used to can my own beans, but that turned out to be more work than it was worth (90 minutes of canning time was just too much). Instead of keeping a couple of cans in the pantry for emergencies, I choose to make double batches of beans and freeze the leftovers. In fact, just yesterday I realized I had forgotten to soak beans the night before, so I pulled some out of the freezer, thawed them, and served them. Simple. Delicious.

Things I think I buy less of now:

  • Cold Cereal. I have become concerned about the iron shavings in fortified cereals, and as such have quit buying almost all of them. I do buy Rice Chex, mostly because they are gluten free (and rice has yet to be genetically modified, last I heard), but other than that, I stick with Kashi cereals. They are certified GMO free, and some are even organic! And sometimes they are cheaper per ounce than similar name brand cereals (such as Shredded Wheat). I try to only buy 3 boxes of cereal a month, and make it last. Now that I’ve gone gluten free, I think I may only have to buy 2 boxes. That’s a lot less than we used to buy, I think. Or maybe not. But it has changed, anyhow.
  • Juice. I used to buy the ready-to-drink juice bottles. But the price kept rising. Your average 100% juice bottle (I refuse to buy the cocktails and drinks) is over $3 a bottle at the cheapest grocery store in town. That’s ridiculous! I probably wouldn’t bother buying juice at all (and didn’t for a long time), but it’s the best way to get wheat grass down. So I buy the frozen kind and make it up as needed. I put 6 in my pantry list, but I expect we’ll only use about 4 in an average month.

Things that have changed significantly:

  • White Flour. I can’t remember the last time I put white flour in something and served it to my family. The last time I bought white flour, I made muffins for my husband’s coworkers and playdough for the kids (which turned out to be a real disaster–the recipe calling for cornstarch worked much better and lasted a lot longer).
  • Whole Wheat Bread Flour. After getting a grain grinder for my champion juicer, I quit buying whole wheat flour for bread. I also discovered that I could get 25 pounds of wheat berries from Azure Standard for less than the price of wheat berries from WinCo–and the 25 pound bag contains organic wheat, as opposed to the bulk wheat at WinCo, which isn’t organic (and therefore probably is GMO). I grind 4-5 pounds at a time and use it to make the best tasting bread.
  • GF Flours. I have started buying flours from gluten-free grains like millet, teff, sorghum, etc. I also buy tapioca flour (starch, basically). These don’t affect the budget a whole lot, because I buy them in bulk quantities, such as 5 pound bags, or in the bulk section at WinCo. Most of them are not certified gluten-free, either, but in our family that isn’t such an issue as it would be in the home of someone with celiac disease.
  • Exotic Foods. In the early years of our marriage, we lived in south Texas, where things like yuca (cassava), plantain bananas, and other exotic foods were relatively cheap. So we ate them on a regular basis. Now we only rarely buy them. We have found frozen shredded yuca that my husband makes into patties for Manny, and occasionally if I find a few good plantains, I’ll cook them for the family, but rarely. Maybe 2-3 times a year–instead of every week. I also don’t use coconut milk on a regular basis.
  • Bulk items. When we lived in Texas, there wasn’t a good place to buy bulk items. Now, though, I buy things like cornmeal, rice, black and pinto beans, oatmeal, etc, in 25 pound bags and store them in buckets with screw-on lids. It really saves money; I can go to the store at times and spend $30-40 for a week’s worth of food–sometimes less–because I am only getting things that I need for that week; staples are always available. In fact, if we could do without fresh food, we could eat for quite a while with the beans and flours we have on hand.
  • Certain Fresh Produce. This summer we finally planted a garden, and for a few weeks I won’t be buying tomatoes, since ours have finally started to ripen. We have also been given much surplus produce from friends and church members–beets, green beans, swiss chard, etc–that we didn’t grow ourselves. We got some free apples from Freecycle, as well as other fruits either from the wild (wild plums, blackberries, etc) or from friends. So I pretty much just buy bananas for fruit. I have also started buying only organic of certain things–lettuce, celery, and other things. Those items tend to absorb pesticides and other things, more than fruits like bananas or oranges, because the skins are thin.
  • Soymilk. I like to keep a can of shelf-stable soymilk on hand, just in case we need it, but I generally make my own with a soy milk machine. It’s not the best tasting milk, but we’ve gotten used to it, and you can’t tell the difference in baked goods. And at $.25-.50 a quart, there’s just no comparison!
  • Pasta. I can get pasta in bulk at WinCo, and I won’t buy it on the shelf unless I am splurging on a special shape they don’t have in bulk. I also never buy white pasta. I also buy a significant quantity of rice pasta, since both Manny and I are eating a gluten-free diet. Thankfully, WinCo has rice pasta for about $1.50 a pound–probably about what you would pay for your average name-brand pasta in a bag or box on the shelf. The wheat pasta is around $1 a pound, give or take a few cents.
  • Nuts. I buy nuts in bulk at WinCo too. (I feel very sorry for people who don’t live in the states where WinCo has a presence–or who live far from it.) I don’t buy Brazil nuts or macadamia nuts or pine nuts, either. As my friend at Too Cheap for Pine Nuts so aptly put it, “pine nuts . . . are $60940909 a pound. . . . [and] we just couldn’t bring ourselves to spend that for a pine nut.” I have also noticed that cashews, which used to be cheaper than almonds, are now almost twice the price. I still buy them, because I like them in certain things (but I dislike the taste of them by themselves), but I have found that almonds work well in place of cashews in certain recipes, such as cashew-based gravy and cashew cheese. I find myself using cheaper nuts and seeds more.
  • Baby Food. For some reason, when my daughter was born, I thought making baby food would be too much work. I can’t believe I ever thought that. Sure, it’s nice to have jars of food on hand for trips to town or church or wherever, or for emergencies, but I can make a jar’s worth of food for pennies, and it tastes so much better than the stuff in the jars, especially in the veggie department. I just whiz whatever in the blender, freeze it in ice cube trays, and bag it for use later. Those metal cups work well for thawing small amounts of baby food over the stove (since we don’t have a microwave).

And other things that I can’t remember, because we don’t save food receipts.

It’s kind of a balance. I save in certain things so that I can splurge on others. My son drinks hemp milk. That currently costs $38 a case if I buy it from Azure Standard. It would be more if I bought it anywhere else. But it’s the only high-quality fat and protein milk he can drink (other than rice milk,which doesn’t have much of either), so I buy it.

Now it’s your turn. How have your buying habits changed over the years? What do you now buy that you didn’t before? What do you do without now that you used to think was indispensable?

Pantry List

I’ve heard here and there that it is handy to have a pantry list. I even used to have one, but I haven’t had one for a while. I have a pretty good system, where whenever something gets low, whoever notices will write it on the white board, where I then transfer it to my iPod Shopping List app–since I always take my iPod shopping with me! This worked quite well with weekly shopping, since I could always get by for at least a week without almost any given item, if it somehow didn’t get on the list.

But lately I have been noticing the price of gas, and how much gas it takes to go to town (since town is 20-30 miles away from home, depending on what places I go to). I realized that a trip to the closest WinCo (large discount grocery store) was at least $8 round trip. Add in a couple of other stops, and I was easily spending $10 on gas for each trip into town. And that’s conservative, assuming I only go to that section and don’t make any other stops. So I decided it was time to try twice-a-month shopping.

Sure, there is a grocery store in Estacada, where I live, but prices there are a bit on the high side. I don’t mind spending an extra $.10 or so extra on bananas, but some things are more than twice what I would pay in town. Most veggies will last 2 weeks if they are stored properly, and some things, like lettuce, we can get by without for a few days until I can get back to town (especially since I only ever buy organic lettuce anymore). If I urgently need something, I can probably go buy it at the local market, since the cost of buying 2-3 things at a higher price will be cheaper than driving 40 miles round trip.

But to shop only twice a month, I need to really be organized. So I made a pantry list again.

Click to download PDF of my list

You’ll notice that some items have numbers beside them. Those are things like canned goods. I figure that we will need at least 5 jars of spaghetti sauce, for instance. Now, I’ve started buying it by the case, so if we have at least 5 jars at the beginning of the month, I won’t buy any. If we have fewer than 5, I’ll buy a case. The same goes for other canned goods: I want to have at least the number on the list at the beginning of the month. This way I hopefully won’t have to buy those items again, and I hopefully won’t run out before the next trip to town.

Other items do not have numbers. Items I buy in 25 lb bags, for instance, I don’t buy very often. However, having them on the list means I can check them to see how much is left. If I think I could run out before the end of the month, I’ll add them to my shopping list. Of course, I can’t buy fresh veggies to last the month, but having them on the list will help me remember what I need to check on. I expect I will buy a few things on the off weeks down at the local grocery store, but hopefully it will be only veggies and fruit.

Now, I will buy things that aren’t on this list. For instance, I don’t ever plan on buying canned beans, but I might occasionally buy, say, canned artichokes, if a recipe called for them. But because I always plan a menu before I finalize my shopping list, I will know if I need it and put it on the list before it shows up in the menu.

Because I use my iPod for my shopping list, I haven’t felt the need for a master shopping list that I can highlight as needed. However, if you take a written list to shop, you might want to consider having one. Because I shop at different stores, it just seems easier to use the app, because I can make a list for each store, and I know what items on the pantry list are purchased where.

So what about you? Do you have a pantry list? What about a master shopping list? What items would be on your list that aren’t on mine?

 

This post is linked with The Modest Mom and We Are That Family

If you are familiar with the Flylady, you are probably familiar with the phrase, “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” Obviously, there are limits to that. I mean, unless you’re single, you probably can’t–and wouldn’t want to–limit your shopping to 15 minutes per store. But the idea is that if you don’t think you can do something, or simply don’t want to, you can make yourself do it for 15 minutes.

That’s how it was with me this evening. I had an orthodontist appointment in the late morning, but it’s an hour’s drive away and my husband needed to go somewhere else, so he dropped me off half an hour early. So we ate breakfast, packed a lunch for my son, and didn’t clean anything before we left. I ate lunch after the appointment (before the soreness set in) and took the train & bus back home–about a two-hour trip. It was 3:00 pm when we got home. And I was tired.

So instead of tackling the dishes and the laundry and such things, I sat down in a recliner and tried to nap. When my son decided to join me (but wouldn’t sit still), I put in a nice video for him to watch, turned the volume way down, and went to bed.

I got out of bed a little before 5:00, and was feeling rather groggy. Morning sickness had been mostly nil all day, and I still didn’t notice any, but I was tired and sluggish. Then my husband got home about 10 minutes later, and brought a whole bunch of fruit that he had gotten either free or cheap on the way home. I ate one of the oranges, feeling that I needed to eat something, and almost instantly my tummy began to complain. I moved away and sat down, hoping the feeling would go away like it sometimes did, but it just got worse. So I browsed facebook and tried to ignore my stomach for an hour or so, until I just couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I’ll spare you what happened next, but once I did what I needed to do and was feeling better, I ate a granola bar and decided that happy tummy or no (I was still not feeling 100%), I needed to do some shopping or we wouldn’t be able to eat cooked cereal in the morning (I’m hoping it will be gentle on my sore teeth–the orthodontist really tightened things up this time). So off I went to the store around 7:30.

When I got home at 8:30, I was feeling better, but I was also tired and didn’t want to face the kitchen. My husband had been very busy with things related to our house, so he wasn’t able to clean up–at least he had fed Manny while I was feeling so sick, so I didn’t feel it right to complain. But I didn’t want to clean up either. It looked like about a half hour of work to get the kitchen in order.

Then I remembered the Flylady and her favorite saying: “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” Yes, I told myself, I can clean the kitchen for 15 minutes. I’ll set a timer, and whatever is left when it goes off can wait until morning. After all, if we’re just having cooked cereal with nuts and fruit, there won’t be a lot of dishes after breakfast, so adding in a few from the day before won’t be a problem. And having some clean counters and a cleared-off stove will make breakfast so much less stressful.

So I put a cup of water in the microwave, set a timer for 15 minutes, and got busy. When the water was hot, I added a tea bag and left it to steep while I worked (I like to steep my tea a long time).

In 10 minutes, I was well over half way done. I stopped washing and rinsing  to clear and wipe the counters and stove, then washed a few more. When the timer went off, I took and extra 15 seconds to rinse the soapy silverware, and then took a look around. All that was left was my pressure cooker and a frying pan, neither of which I will need first thing in the morning. Everything else was done and the counters cleared and wiped.

And my reward? A nice cup of raspberry zinger tea. Mmmm!

I decided yesterday that I would fast today. And I did. I drank water, but ate nothing.

There were several reasons for this. First, fasting strengthens the will. Second, it clears the mind. I wanted to have some time to really focus on God’s Word, and besides, it’s a good idea to fast once in a while.

But just because I was fasting, I realized that I couldn’t get out of every responsibility I had that day. I served breakfast to my daughter (thankfully, it was leftover frozen pancakes and waffles, so I didn’t have to actually cook). I made beds, picked up things that were laying around, cleaned the hen house and collected the eggs, etc. I showered and minded the children for a while. When my husband came back from the gym around noon, he took the kids to the playground for an hour or so, and I prepared lunch for them. Then I left home, telling my husband I didn’t know when I would be back.

The first thing I did was to go to a nature park. It has a couple miles of trails with benches scattered along some of them. It is shady and cool with all the trees, so it was the perfect place to be alone in nature with God–the best I can find in this area, anyway.

I had brought my Bible, my iPod (for its Bible program), a devotional-like book that I’m reading, a notebook, and my prayer journal. I spent some time praying, reading, and in Bible study. I was probably there a couple of hours–I didn’t keep track of time. It was a real blessing–away from the computer, away from the demands of the home, alone with God.

When I finished, I went shopping. Yes, even though it was late afternoon and I hadn’t eaten anything all day, I went shopping. They say you should never shop on an empty stomach, but I did it anyway. And I realized that the practice of saying no to food throughout the day as I worked in the kitchen today had strengthened my will to the point that I was able to say no not only to buying something to eat right there, but to also not buy unnecessary items. I guess that the habit of only buying what’s on my list unless I know for sure that we will need it within the next week paid off. That, and having a budget. (If you don’t have a budget, you should!)

But there was a side benefit to this experience. I learned a little something about the power of the will. As I was walking through the bulk section, buying lentils and cashews and such, I noticed a bin of what I think were probably miniature chocolate chip cookies. I say probably, because I didn’t look at them long enough to be sure. I knew that if I studied them or debated about them, I would be tempted to buy them. So instead I turned away and focused on writing the bin number on the tag for the bag of lentils.

As I went through the store, each time I was tempted to buy some snack-like item to eat, I would turn away quickly and focus on what I needed to get for the family for the week. I had resolved to fast the entire day, and I didn’t want to have the regret of eating something near the end. This resolve helped me stay focused on my goal and the task at hand.

And at this moment, it is a little after 9:00 pm, and I still haven’t eaten anything. I have drunk plenty of water, and shortly I will go to bed. I have succeeded in my goal!

But the principle I learned today will be valuable in the future. To resist temptation, I must refuse to ponder on it. If I am tempted to spend time on the computer when I really should be folding laundry and fixing lunch, I need to resist the temptation and go start on the laundry.

So many times in the past, when I was tempted to do something that I shouldn’t do, I would think about it, dwell on how much I wanted to do it, and before I knew it, I was doing it. Now I know that if I resist the first temptation, the second one will be weaker and weaker until the devil will have to come up with another temptation altogether, because that one will have lost its appeal.

But through it all, I know that I cannot do this without God. Sure, there are times I can resist temptation on my own, to a point. But the Christian life isn’t about just not falling into sin. It’s not just about keeping the commandments. The rich young ruler did that. And he still had a nameless longing that he didn’t know how to fill. The Christian life is about putting God in first place in my life and developing a relationship with Him. As I do that, He will empower me to make the right choices. And I will be motivated to do the right things, not just because I have to or because they are the right things to do, but because I love God.

Oh Lord, You know how weak I am. Please take my will, refine and ennoble it, and give it back to me. Give me a tender heart, open to the voice of Your Holy Spirit. Help me to be so sensitive to Your voice that the lightest whisper of Jesus will move my soul. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

By sado27 on Flickr

Two weeks ago TJ from Measuring Flower shared with us a basic overview of couponing. For me, her post created more questions than it answered. So I decided to do an interview style post to hopefully answer some more questions and dig a little deeper into how coupons can be helpful for us. So sit back and enjoy!

Lisa: I keep hearing about people who go buy, say, $50 worth of groceries for $10 by using coupons. How often does that realistically happen, and how much effort does it take?

TJ: I would say I have 80% savings like that about once a month (and I used a calculator to figure out the percentage, by the way; there’s no way I did that in my head, lol). My savings are most often around the 40 or 50% range. Since I have been couponing for a while, it is easy for me to plan and prepare for these kind of savings. When I first began, it took a little more effort because I didn’t understand all the rules surrounding couponing. Once I had them down (and they are easy to learn), it became second nature. For me, it takes maybe 30 minutes to plan my shopping trip. The keys to spending less time planning is to use a good deal site (like Coupon Mom or the Grocery Game) that cuts out a big chunk of the work and to keep things very well organized.

Lisa: I have heard about stores that double coupons, but I don’t know that I’ve actually seen one. How common are they? And is it really true that their prices are often higher than other stores?

TJ: They are very common! Kroger, King Soopers, Safeway,  all double coupons (this site will help you find your grocery stores in your area that double coupons). When a store doubles coupons, they usually only double up to a certain point. For example, King Soopers doubles or matches coupons up to $1; for example, a 50 cent coupon is worth $1 and a 99 cent coupon is also worth $1.

These are typical grocery stores with typical grocery store prices. Their full prices are more expensive than, say, Wal-Mart; however, when these stores have sales, they are going above and beyond to beat Wal-Mart prices in order to draw people into their store. These grocery stores will push what are called “loss leaders.” These are the featured items on the front of their newspaper ads. The store intentionally loses money on these items to lure shoppers into their stores with the hopes that they will purchase other, more expensive items as well. The key to this is sticking to the loss leaders (and these prices are often further reduced when combined with coupon) and not getting anything at full price. Grocery stores will also sponsor unannounced sales, marked with special signs or flags. These sales are discovered by accident while wandering the store or through deal-sharing websites (like Coupon Mom, Deal Seeking Mom, WeUseCoupons.com, etc.)

Lisa: I live way out in the country and don’t subscribe to a newspaper. How can I find coupons–other than trying to get my hands on the paper of the city where I shop once a month?

TJ: You can print coupons through sites such as Coupons.com, Shortcuts.com, and grocery store websites. You can also upload electronic coupons onto your grocery store loyalty cards through sites such as Cellfire.com and Shortcuts.com. Plus, you can purchase coupons and coupon inserts from coupon-clipping services like CouponsThingsByDede.com. And you can find coupons inside product packaging, in the mail, with samples, or by emailing companies to ask for coupons. If you belong to a group (church, 4-H, etc.), you can start a coupon club. This is something I’m working on with the ladies group at my church and I will probably post about it when I get it figured out.

Lisa: I shop at a discount grocery store (bag your own groceries, big bulk section, cheaper than any other store around), and they won’t accept coupons printed online. I don’t have time to hop over to another store to see if a coupon I found online makes the other store’s price cheaper. Any comments on this?

TJ: That is perfectly fine. If the cost to go to other stores is not made up and surpassed by the savings, don’t do it (that includes the cost of gas or time). And do keep in mind that you don’t always have to use coupons to save big. Simply aim to buy items when they are on sale as opposed to purchasing them full-price.

Lisa: I use very little of prepackaged items. I make about 95% of our diet from scratch–from bread to baby food. And we drink water and don’t snack. It seems that most of the coupons available are for ready-made items, drinks, and snack food. I buy in bulk a lot (especially 25 lb bags of grains and legumes, which gets me 5% off). We eat corn tortillas instead of corn chips. I make my own bread. We eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies; I even can my own beans to have on hand for emergencies. Are there still ways I can use coupons?

TJ: Yes! A big part of coupons that are available are for non-food items. You can use coupons for toothbrushes, toilet paper, paper towels, razors, shaving cream, medications, vitamins, feminine products, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, lotion, toothpaste, soap, contact solution–just to name a few (I found a coupon for each of these categories just by flipping through my latest edition of SmartSource). You can also often find coupons for Bob Evans sausage rolls, butter, tortillas, oil, milk, breakfast cereal, oatmeal, hot sauce, pet food, kitty litter, tea, and more (again, I found one for each category in the same SmartSource). Many coupons are for pre-prepared foods and snacks, but I don’t use any of those either. And I too bake most of our bread and can, freeze, or dehydrate our garden’s plenty. To be honest, my biggest savings come from non-food items like toilet paper, floss, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, shaving gel, razors, and body wash–all of which I get for free by combining coupon with sale.

Lisa: Anything else you think would be helpful?

TJ: Yes! Just because you have a coupon for something doesn’t mean you have to get it, neither does it mean it is the least expensive option. For example, soup. I am always finding coupons for canned soup. If I find Campbell’s soup on sale for $1 a can at my local King Soopers, I can use a coupon that requires I purchase 4 cans to get 40 cents off. That is 20 cents off per can, since they double coupons. However, I can purchase the equally as good store-brand can of soup for 60 cents. So why buy the name brand even though it’s on sale with a coupon when the store brand at full-price is just as good and cheaper? In fact, the truth behind many store-brand products is this: they are the EXACT same thing as the name-brand. That’s right. The name-brand companies will package their name-brand cans (or boxes or whatever) and package extras of the identically same stuff to sell to stores for their store-brand products.

Lisa: Thank you so much for answering my questions. You’ve certainly given me some food for thought! I’m going to have to check out one of those coupon-managing sites before my monthly shopping trip!

TJ has a lot more information on couponing on her site at Measuringflower.com. So head on over there and browse around a little, and tell her thank you for making this information so readily available.

Do you have any questions or advice for TJ or me? Want to share your coupon story? Please comment!

Ready Always

Note: I debated a little about whether to share this or not, since I realize that a good portion of my readership is not a member of the same denomination as I am. However, I decided that since my goal is not to convert anyone, but rather to share an illustration of the principle of 1 Peter 3:15, which crosses denominational barriers, I would share it anyway. Keep this in mind as you read.

This morning I went grocery shopping early, a little after 7:00 in the morning. I like to go early and beat the rush. As I went into the store, I said a little prayer. Lord, please lead me to someone that I can witness to, or leave a tract with. I have been carrying a number of tracts in my purse in English and in Spanish, but if I don’t ask the Lord to help me find someone to give one too, I usually forget they are there.

Well, this morning I had a short list, and no real chance to interact with anyone before I got to the checkout lane. I half expected to leave the store without sharing with anyone. But there was no one behind me, so the cashier started talking.

“Are you going to church this morning?” Take note that I was wearing a skirt and a rather nice jacket, not inappropriate for a church setting.

“No, actually I go to church on Saturdays.”

“You mean you don’t go on Sundays like everyone else?” He seemed genuinely surprised.

“No. You see, the Bible says to keep the 7th day. Here, I’ve got a little booklet on the topic–maybe you can read it during your break.” And I handed him this booklet:

He looked it over. “Sure, I could look through this.”

By that time I had finished bagging my groceries, so I smiled and left the Holy Spirit to do His work, rejoicing that the Lord had once again given me a chance to share with someone.

What about you? Do you keep a tract or two on hand to share with those who have questions about your faith? You may not always have time to give a Bible study or share what Jesus means to you, but a tract can do that for you. Then pray that the Lord will lead you to the people who are open or have questions. He will never fail you!