Monday, September 1, 2014

Why I quit clipping coupons--and spend even less on groceries!

Yes, you read that headline right. I don’t coupon, and typically I pay $30-50 a week for groceries for a family of six—three meals a day (including lunches for my kids). I know that a lot of bloggers will tell you how wonderful couponing is, and it’s true that you can save a lot of money. I've done couponing in the past—I tried the Grocery Game for 12 weeks and did save money . . . when it worked. But here are the reasons why couponing just didn’t work for us.


Local grocery store sales schedules don’t cooperate

First of all, when I tried the Grocery Game years ago, they included some of the larger (more expensive) grocery stores. Now they only list deals for chains like Walgreens, RiteAid, and Walmart. When they did list actual grocery stores, the deal list came out on Sundays, and the deals ended on Tuesday. To get deals, that means I absolutely hdd to go shopping on Monday or Tuesday. If I’m busy or sick, too bad. Plus . . .

By the time I could shop, the shelves were picked clean

That wouldn’t be quite as bad except for the fact that, when I finally did get to go out armed with the best coupon/deal/sale combinations, there was nothing left. No, I don’t mean “Oh, my favorite flavor of this is gone, so I’ll have to settle for my second favorite” gone.

I mean the shelves with the sale items were completely empty. The end-of-aisle displays and island displays were gone. There was no more stock in the back. And the next shipment wouldn’t be in for days—till after the sale ended. “Gone” gone. No rainchecks.

Granted, this only happened with the absolute best sales, but it usually happened by Friday night (sometimes as early as 9 PM on day one of the sale, though!). The premise behind the Grocery Game is that sales run in 12 week cycles. If they’re so predictable, why not time the new lists so I can go at the beginning of the sales, before everything is picked over? And, really, are there that many good coupons in the coming week that waiting until the next Sunday’s paper justifies missing most of the good sales?

Frankly, I don’t need this stuff

To paraphrase Jurassic Park, couponing keeps you so preoccupied with whether or not you can, you didn’t stop to think if you should. You can get 50,000 razors for pennies apiece, but what are you going to do with them?

If you really want to save money, don't buy stuff you don't need. At all. Ever.

It’s just food

I know, I know, food is a little bit important in sustaining life. Right. But the things that coupons come for most of the time will not form part of a complete meal. For example, in this week’s paper, I found coupons for:
  • Fruit snacks
  • Cinnamon rolls, biscuits
  • Cereal
  • Desserts
  • Snack cakes
  • Chips
  • Candy
  • Frozen pizza and pizza-type things
  • Spaghetti-Os
Actual meals in there? Breakfast, biscuits as a side with dinner, freezer pizza and canned spaghetti (which I don’t even like). Healthy.

It’s mostly just food—food I probably didn’t need anyway. Again, even if I can get $50 worth of snack food for $0.50, once again, it doesn’t mean I should. It’s $0.50 I don’t really need to spend (and it’s never just $0.50) and it’s probably 50 pounds I don’t need to gain.

Granted, many couponing programs do note when there’s a good sale on fruit and meat, but I can figure that out myself.

I’m just not convinced

I know that it’s so easy to come home from couponing with a huge amount listed on the receipt as your “Amount Saved.” The rewards seem very tangible. But when I buy the store brand on sale instead of the name brand, my receipt doesn’t list that as part of my amount saved. While I could be saving just as much, the rewards are less tangible.

For example, I took a look at my grocery receipt for last week and compared prices on a few things that you just can’t use coupons on: store-brand milk, store-brand juice, meat (London broil), cucumbers, tomatoes and nectarines. I chose these because they happened to be on sale at both the discount store and the larger store I used the Grocery Game with store that week.

What did I discover? I was overcharged for my nectarines! I want my $1.47 back!

Erm, um. . . . In the amounts that I bought of these six things, the discount store was cheaper by more than $5 for one week’s worth of groceries. But if I really wanted to compare prices, one thing I’d have to take into account: I bought 2.23 lbs of meat, and the sale price at the other store (already $1/lb more) only applied to “Super Value Packs,” which would probably be at least twice as much meat. (And then I’d have to figure out a place to store it…)

Taking into account what I’d really have to spend to get that price, assuming I could find a small Super Value Pack (5 lbs, or two London broils), the difference grew to $13.63. On six things. That’s a lot of coupons.

What Works for Me


When I was on top of couponing, I review my stock of coupons before looking at the cheaper grocery store’s fliers. Then I look at the fliers and plan the week’s meals around what’s on sale. Then I write down anything else that’s a good deal that we normally eat and check my shelves to see if we’re low. Finally, I see if I have a coupon for anything in the flier and decide whether I really want it. (More ways I save money on groceries.)

We do still stock up on many things and rotate through our stock, but the #1 thing that helps save money is getting a sense of good prices for products. It takes observation and time, but eventually you'll be able to tell whether that's a good deal on meat or milk or mangoes.

My favorite shopping trick: Local stores periodically offer “case lot sales,” where canned goods (usually store brand) are marked down considerably—usually 50¢ a can or less. We stockpile canned goods during these sales. We use several FIFO organizers (first in, first out) and I’ve never run out of canned goods since we started really stockpiling during these sales.

I prefer shopping when and where I want, bringing less junk food into my house, and bringing home meals and food we’ll actually eat. To me, that’s the most cost effective way to get our grocery shopping done.

Need more help grocery shopping? Check out 11 ways to stay sane while grocery shopping with kids and 25 unconventional ways to save money on groceries.

Photo credit: coupons by OOingle.com 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Road Trip Tips: part two- Navigating, Saving Money, Items to Bring, and Memories

I have been working hard on some crafts around the house I can't wait to show you guys!

Today is the second installment of traveling tips. See the first post here.

Navigating:
We brought 4 different types of navigation and we used them all. Most of the time at least two at the same time. Of course we brought our trusty GPS. We put our final destination (going and then returning) so we could keep track of how long total we had to go. We also used the Google Map app on our iPhones to give us the best directions and update us of traffic conditions (which we hit a TON of in Arkansas, boo!). We used an atlas. It gave us distances between cities and and broader view of where and how we were traveling. Last, we used pre-printed paper directions of the whole trip. 

Stopping:
We tried to get as much done as possible when we needed to make pit stops. Gas, potty, food, and nursing the baby and we were back on the road. We had a sheet that we used as a picnic blanket in case we wanted to eat outdoors and let the kids run around. We had a pretty set schedule of when we stopped which coincided with meal times and my usual nursing schedule. For staying the night we used apps on our phones to decide. Mid-afternoon we would decide where we would try to make it to and I would begin my research into where to stay. I used the Expedia and Trip Advisor apps which I will talk about more below. 
Picnicking on a beautiful day
Money Saving:
Gas: So there is no app available on the iPhone for this (only Android) so I had to look at their website but I used FuelMyRoute.com . Once we had about a 1/4 of a tank I plugged in our current location and about where we could make it to and found the cheapest gas. We frequently found that at Sam's Club which is lucky my mom has a membership! If we were close to where we wanted to get gas I used the Gas Buddy app. 
Hotels: As I mentioned above I used the Expedia App. It is super user friendly and I found a promo code the first day to save the first time I booked on the app. We also used the TripAdvisor app to look at reviews of the hotels. There are reviews on the Expedia App but I just like to double check there to make sure.

General Tips for things to bring:
  • First Aid kit with (at least) bandaids, triple antibiotic ointment, anti-itch cream, and stomach, headache, and allergy medicine. 
  • Strings, paper, tape, scissors, and pens. Trust me in case you need to fix something or make something stay in place. I created a paper towel holder with the string and we tied it onto the handles on the back of one of the chairs.
  • Air freshener. Trust it will get gross smelling especially if you were lucky like us and had a puker on the first day!
  • Grocery bags for trash or other carrying needs. Both the paper towel and the trash hung by a baby toy chain link.
  • Sunscreen 
  • Camera (which is easily accessible)
  • Single dollar bills for tolls
  • Pillows for kids and adults
  • Sheet- as mentioned above we used it as a picnic blanket and we also put it over the baby when she napped so she could have some darkness and peace.
  • Gallon sized bags to put snacks once they get opened and all different sizes of baggies.
  • Club membership cards. 

Memories:
Along our trip we did a few things to remember the fun times we had. I made a calendar of our trip. It gave us a visual of when we needed to leave and how long things had and would take. Each day we also wrote in box where we went, funny, sad, and fun things that happened. On the back we wrote our memories about each state. We also took a picture of each state welcome sign. 

I have one more post to write about traveling with kids! Do you have and tried and true methods of traveling?!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How I Found My Fabulous and You Can Too!

I've been in need of feeling fabulous lately. So I took Brooke's advice and did a few things:


Painted my nails. A great activity to go along with watching Project Runway after my baby is asleep


Today I was NOT feeling it, but I didn't want to look that way when running errands. I've found when you look better you feel better!


So I put on some make up and earrings. I braided my hair and threw a hat on to cover the greasiness and voila! I wouldn't have usually paired pearls and my Yankees cap, but I think it works! I felt much better walking out of the house having spent just 15 minutes on myself. And my nails are still painted, so that's a plus.
(The car was in park at the time this photo was taken)

Have you been feeling less than fabulous? Check out Brooke's post to find more ways to feel fabulous inexpensively.



 Now go take on the day, FABULOUSLY!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Homemade Frosted Animal Cookies



Our dad loves frosted animal cookies. The other day I came across a recipe to make jumbo frosted animal cookies. And then my dad told me he had a business trip in a nearby city and asked to visit for the weekend (of course!). I was planning dinners for the weekend and wanted a treat--that's when I realized the stars aligned for me to make homemade frosted animal cookies for my dad.




Homemade Frosted Animal Cookies
(Recipe adapted from Munchkin Munchies)


Ingredients:

2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
16 oz. buttercream icing (storebought)
red food coloring
rainbow sprinkles


Directions:

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, and slowly add the sugar. Beat for 2 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Stop the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed. Add the remaining flour and beat until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Shape dough into a disk shape and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.


Once your dough is chilled, preheat an oven to 350°F.

Let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.  Roll out the dough to almost 1/2-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and move them to baking sheets.


Bake the cookies until very light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.



Frosting:
Place the buttercream icing in a microwave-safe bowl from 15-30 seconds (until pourable). If it becomes too thin, add some powdered sugar. Divide icing into 2 bowls. Tint half of it pink and keep the other half white. With the cookies on a wire rack, place the rack over a baking sheet (or over wax paper).  Use a spoon to cover each cookie with the icing. Sprinkle with the rainbow sprinkles.




Makes about 16 cookies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wrapped and Done by December One! Early Holiday Prep

No one wants to hear there are only 165 days until Christmas, right? Last year I decided I wanted to be prepped and done by December first in 2014. As in, decorated, cards sent, presents wrapped done. That way I could focus more on Christmas and serving others. I also wanted to simplify.


So I've already started. I know, your kids haven't even gone back to school and the super early Halloween decor is out at Hobby Lobby but hear me out! Don't you want a holiday where you are focused on what matters? Do you want to spread out the cost of the holiday expenses? Do you have two hours a week to start your preparations? I think you do!

So how do you get started? First make a list of the big projects you complete before Christmas. Here are some ideas: Gifts, Cards, Decorating, Baking, Scheduling, Traveling, Entertaining

Then break down the project like I did for cards:

Cards-this always takes a long time for me
1. Schedule a photo shoot with your favorite photographer. (Do it now! The fall the busiest time for photographers and slots full up. This is something you want to do early! Or, look over the year and select a family portrait to send with your card.)
2. Make a list of who you want to send Christmas cards to. Or look over your list from last year. Optional: pear down the list. 
3. Gather addresses/Verify addresses you already have. 
4. Purchase/make cards. If you make cards, start with PLENTY of time in advance!
5. Purchase stamps. (They are already available and easily ordered online and sent to your house!)
6. Stuff, address and stamp cards. I suggest doing this while watching your favorite movie or show.
7. Drop them in the mail at the end of November.

Then assign tasks due dates, breaking them down into smaller pieces, like this:

August 25: Make appointment with photographer
August: 30: List of addresses updated and completed
September 5: Purchase stamps
September 10: Photo shoot!
September 20: Order stamps
September 30: Select Prints, order cards.
October 10: Address cards.
October 15: Keep addressing cards (It takes me a long time!)
October 20: Stamp cards---you're done!
November 30: Drop cards in the mail!

I'm excited to try to read this goal! I'll be talking about other tips and ideas to make your holiday season simpler in upcoming posts!

Merry Christmas!


Friday, August 8, 2014

General Roadtrippin' Tips part 1

So last fall ( I believe when I was still pregnant) my mom said "Let's take a cross country road trip!" Well her plan came to fruition and we took a 17-day road trip that was over 5,000 miles! You may be thinking "wait-don't you have a 9-month and 3-year old? Are you crazy?" Maybe we were a little but it actually turned out great!

Here are some stats about our trip:
We stayed with 5 different family members' homes
and 5 different hotels
We traveled through 17 states
In one day saw 9 LDS temples
My girls saw all 20 cousins in the same week (from both sides)
Total number of hours caught in traffic was 6- big UGH!

We made tons of memories and we are actually considering making this a tradition. Today I have some general tips that I found while roadtrippin! I have another post coming up with tips for traveling in the car with kids.

Packing:
There was no way we could fit enough clothing in the car for the length of time we were going to be gone and it wasn't worth taking up the space. I picked out 7 outfits for the adults and 9 for the kids. I picked up some crates for less than $3.50 each that would fit in the back and could stack. I used one for each adult and the two girls shared one. I packed their socks and bows in baggies. The fourth bin was shoes and other things like my purse (since I usually use a diaper bag), socks, and belts. I then had an over night carry-sized bag that I kept our toiletries in. Every night when we got to where we were staying (except when we got to our final destination and brought it all inside) I put in outfits for the next day and pjs for each person that way I didn't have to lug in big suitcases each night. I would suggest putting a list on the inside of the bag because I think I forgot socks for my husband at least 5 times. 

Food:
Bring non-messy stuff. That should go without saying but I didn't heed my own advice. We brought along peanut butter and jelly and stopped a couple afternoons for a picnic lunch. Other things we really enjoyed were Goldfish, Teddy Grahams, MnMs, nuts/trail mix, Cheezits, grapes, pretzels, and my hubby really enjoyed sun flower seeds while driving. My mom has an awesome soft sided cooler (similar to this) that we kept our waters, fruit, and any melting candy in. We brought a bunch of bottles of water. When we were at family's houses we filled them up- hotel water is just too sketchy for us! At night we would freeze the water for the next day. 

Organizing the Car:
When organizing your car use as little of the floor space as possible. In our car since we had one in an infant seat she was in the middle and the floor space of her seat was where we kept out food and all the things we needed on hand. In between the front two seats we put a narrow three-drawer cart. We took off the wheels and it fit perfect.  (see picture) We had a place for all electronics. It was just out of site from a snoopy person but accessible to the front and middle seat passenger. We had a charging station for all electronics. My hubby bought this car charger spliter and we always had plenty of outlets. Speaking of charging things my mom brought a bag just for chargers that worked out great. Wherever we were we knew where our chargers were (in the hotel, at our family's house). I bought various sized plastic bins at the Dollar Store. I used one to slip under the backside of the front seats and some for storage of the kids' things (which I will talk more about in the post about traveling with them). We brought various sized plastic bags. Instead of keep around the boxes of food we put them in gallon- or quart-sized bags. The snack and sandwich bags came in handy as well. I liked to used structured organizing supplies (the bins and drawers) much more than the bags.

I have more tips in part 2 which will include tips about:
Navigating, saving money, and general what to bring

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Two Week Menu Planning with Themed Nights

This ain't a sponsored post, yo. 

Before I had my baby, I daydreamed about how great my life would be as a SAHM. One of the things I was excited about was having the energy to cook every night--HAHA! That was a stretch at first, but slowly I'm getting into the swing of things. What's helped the most has been using the Food Nanny's "Nanny Plan". If you've watched her show on BYUTV or read her cook book you'll be familiar with the Nanny Plan. If not, this is the basics. Sit down, plan out a theme for each night of the week. Then make a two week menu plan and shopping list. Doing it two weeks at a time is much easier actually! I can carry over ingredients and look at patterns of when we have certain meats (like not having chicken too often, it's my fallback).  Anyways, here's what my daily themes are:

Traditional Sunday Dinner
Mexican Mondays
Meatless/Breakfast Tuesdays
Italian Wednesdays
Comfort Food Thursdays
Grillin' Fridays
Date Night Saturdays

First I made a table in a word document. with all my days. Then I started looking through recipes on Pinterest (see above links for the pinboards!). I selected recipes for each day and started making my shopping list in the same document. Then came the shopping trip. It took a little while and the end bill was higher than what I'm used to, but I also got a lot more food. Experts say you save money by shopping bi-weekly too. Here's what my two weeks looked like

Traditional Sunday Dinner

1. Chicken Piccata This was the plan, but plans change! We got invited to dinner both Sundays so I didn't make this, although I plan to. I think it looks delicious!

Mexican Monday

1. Fish Tacos with Lime Cilantro Rice, using these two recipes combined


2. Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Butternut Squash Tacos (I used sweet potato instead)



Meatless/Breakfast Tuesday





2. Egg Topped Twice Baked Potato  We ended up having leftovers instead. This meal is a great one to plan in, since I didn't have to get any extra ingredients and potatoes keep well!

Italian Wednesday








Comfort Food Thursday




2. Alice Sprigs Chicken  and Brussels Sprouts (I used up all the mushrooms in the paprika chicken last week, forgetting I needed some for tonight's chicken. It was still good without the mushrooms) 



Grillin' Fridays

1. Grilled Chicken Thighs (Marinated with this for 2 hours) with Rice Pilaf



2. Tri-Tip Steak with Pappy's Seasoning, Kings Hawaiian Rolls, Cheesy Potatoes



I really think using "The Nanny Plan"/ themed nights has taken a lot of the stress out of "what's for dinner?" I'm on my second round of the Nanny Plan and it's working great! I hope you find some inspiration!
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