Frugal Living Tips: 5 (er, 6!) Lazy Ways to Save On Groceries

Once upon a time, I made the mistake of adding up how much I had spent on food in one month. After I picked myself up off the floor, I couldn’t help but think there must be a secret way to buy groceries that everyone else knows and just isn’t telling me. Sometimes, it seems there is no middle ground between buying blind and becoming an extreme couponer/hoarder.

I dove into the world of coupon clipping, price comparisons, price matching and ALL the spreadsheets – it became like a second career for me. However, all of that intense work brought to light a few simple truths that can help you save.

So here’s my list of easy (dare I say, lazy) tips you can apply without having to spend hours rocking in the corner muttering about price matching PopTarts.

1. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries SOOS (Stock Only On Sales)

It may take a bit of time to really adjust your thinking on this one, but it pays off in the end. One thing I learned very quickly was that prices can vary to the extreme not only store to store, but week to week. One week I was paying $16/kg for chicken breasts, the next it was on sale for $7/kg (side note: few things are more annoying to the comparison shopper than after-you-already-bought-it sales). The takeaway? When prices are low, I buy twice as much. The tough part is getting your head around buying all that chicken at once and making it fit into your grocery budget for that week, but once you’re in the rhythm, you’ll really save in the long run.

2. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Shop First, Cook Later

It’s such a simple tip that I was a bit gobsmacked when I first read it as a suggestion, but it makes perfect sense (and not just because cooking before shopping is a bit of a challenge). I have gone through brief flings with complex meal planning where we would eat restaurant-style meals every night – at least on paper. The problem with the way I was planning was threefold: 1) by choosing meals based on what looks yummy on Pinterest, the shopping list of ingredients became insanely long, 2) none of them overlapped and 3) likely, none of them were on sale. I ended up paying a lot for ingredients I would only use once and throwing away leftover ingredients that weren’t used.

Instead, take a look at what’s on sale and base your cooking around that. Have a general idea of how much protein you need, then choose your recipes to use the full amounts. Also, start thinking of recipes in combinations instead of as standalone dishes. For example, if ground beef is on sale, you could make burgers and chili that week to use it up.

3. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Know Your Number(s)

This is a two-fold pointer. First, tip #1 only works if you know the difference between a “meh” sale and a “stock up for the apocalypse” sale. Depending on how you shop now, you may already have a great handle on what your most purchased items go for, but if you’re like me, you toss what you need into the cart and compete with your spouse when you get to the cashier by trying to guess your total (“The Price is Right” rules apply). Unfortunately, this one can take a bit of leg work in the beginning – but it can be as simple as starting to pay attention to the price you’re paying each week. I started a spreadsheet and aggressively tracked prices through flyers and my receipts for a couple of months, and now I have a good handle on what our staples should cost.

Second, you need to know your budget number. Regardless of how you set up your household budget (or even if you don’t need one), you should have a vague idea of how much you want to be spending on food. Keeping that number in mind can help you decide what is the best bang for your buck, and serves as a gentle reminder that you are not, in fact, Gordon Ramsey, so you can probably cook without Fleur de Sel.

4. Lazy Ways To Save on Groceries: Let Others Do The Work

You’re reading this site, so you are already putting this into practice. We’re all looking to save a few bucks where we can, so take advantage of the group to share tips from the general to the store down the street from you that has a sale on snap peas. For my fellow Canadians check out SmartCanucks.ca, which includes a forum where members will match coupons and sale prices and post them. Every week. For free. How great is that? Checkout51 is a great Canadian app that provides new cashback offers each week. Just scan your receipt and when your account gets to $20, they send you a cheque. [American friends, can you post your picks below?]

5. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Combine Offers

The store near me periodically has a tax-free weekend – for me, that means 13% off anything I buy, just by buying it on a certain day. Other stores might have days where they double the value of your coupons. If you decide to clip coupons, watch for the item to go on sale in the store, and then use the manufacturer coupon to really maximize your savings. If you choose a store that has a price matching policy, you won’t have to drive all over town to get the best deal – just show the competitor flyer at the checkout.

6. Lazy Ways To Save On Groceries: Don’t Buy Just Because It’s On Sale

No tip list would be complete without the discipline reminder. I still catch myself really wanting to buy that jar of sauerkraut because it’s on sale and I have a coupon! But it’s not a deal if it will sit on my shelf for the next two years until I give it away in a canned food drive. Resist the urge. However, that sale can be a chance to try new foods, just be realistic with yourself about when and if you will use it.

Erin Joyce is an editor, writer, resume revamp-er and manager of social media and online content. Her financial articles appear on Investopedia.com, Yahoo!, the Globe and Mail and MSN.com. If you write words or put things on the internet, she can help. She is a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada, so please excuse the metric system.
 
Email becky.harks@gmail.com if you’d like to guest post here!

Frugal Living: When Doing The Smart Thing Blows

My goal for the year after I moved out of my house and into my wee apartment was simple: survive. It seems like a fairly obvious one, I know, but after the craptastrophe of last year, there’s no easy way to feel like “things are just going to work out,” when you’ve just survived Skyfall.

But I did survive and I’ve learned some stuffs along the way. I won’t bore you will the soul-searching stuffs, because obviously, but I will let you in on a secret: doing the smart thing? It kinda blows.

See, my other, less important, but equally lofty goal was to move into a bigger apartment so the kids would have their own space, so I could spend five minutes at a stretch not listening to the television ask, “Where’s Perry?” and “Oh there you are, Perry!”

I thought I had it all in the bag. I’d finally gotten a big-girl job. I had a boyfriend who’d be willing to help with stuffs around the house while I worked ungodly hours; I was READY to move into my bigger apartment. As much as I’d loved rubbing elbows with everyone anytime anyone had to pee, it was time.

Or so I thought.

My second job didn’t exactly pan out the way I’d expected (politics = boring), which opened another window. A completely DIFFERENT window: a job as a writer. Full-time. Benefits. Downtown Chicago. Sounded brilliant. No off-hours calls, no more looming threat of having to answer my phone at any time and be responsible for driving my sleeping butt across state lines to get something done.

Problem was, without all that responsibility, my paycheck was going to be a bit smaller.

Smaller enough that I decided to, rather than take a leap of faith and hope it all came out in the wash, stay in my current apartment, which, despite my whinging, I find adorable.

I won’t lie – I’m a little sad that I won’t be renting a townhouse with a garden and two floors because I’d wanted so badly to make my house feel like a home for the kids. But fiscally speaking, it was, and remains, the smarter choice.

And I’ve learned that home, really is, anywhere you are. You can cross-stitch the crap out of that one, crafty people.

So even if doing the smart thing blows, I know it’ll feel better in the long-term.

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When have YOU done the smart thing even though it sucked?

Donations: Goodwill Hunting

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate excess stuff. Not like in a zen way or anything, but watching Hoarders is like making me sit through a horror movie – I understand it’s a mental illness and stuffs, but it makes me break out into hives and bleach down everything from the cat to my bed. JUST IN CASE.

It doesn’t help the whole “I’m sick of stuff” that I have three kids who like stuff and a boyfriend who, while not a collector of stuff, has stuff of his own.

Well, in a couple of months, we’re moving out of my tiny, yet adorable one bedroom apartment into a bigger apartment to better accommodate the five of us (plus, let’s not forget) three wee cats. And this has kicked my “get rid of stuff” into high gear.

See, when I went through the divorce-move, I’d just sorta gone through the house that was no longer to be mine and threw things in boxes. I grabbed most of the essentials and things that were mine, but it was such a nightmare to even fathom not living with my kids 24/7, I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it to properly select items I may need. The future a nebulous and frightening uncertainty for me, I threw stuff together and wrapped it in packing tape.

My wonderful Prankster friends helped me get on my feet with items I didn’t own and couldn’t afford to own. Without you, I’d not be where I am today. Shut UP, I do not have feelings.

When I finally moved into the FBI Surveillance Van, I did the customary unpack and put stuff where it should probably go. I got rid of boxes, built furniture, and tried to settle in. It took months before the apartment began to feel like a place I lived and not just a hotel in which I was a long-staying customer.

Which is why I never REALLY bothered unpacking. I’d leave related items in 12 places; some drawers overflowing while others had were empty. I was in a state of deep and dark sadness and I didn’t quite care to make the house feel like an actual home. This only became worse once I got my job in Not-Chicago as the Director of Nursing.

The job, well, I loved it, but it meant long hours, being on call 24/7, seeing the sunrise on the way to work and set on the way home. By the time I made it home, it was all I could do to make dinner before going to bed. Not exactly living, if you ask me.

That all changed.

I found myself unemployed again, this time with a partner who lived with me, and I realized that I was holding onto crap, not for any weird sentimental attachments or anything, but because it was easier than dealing with it. Last week, I put an end to it.

I grabbed a bag for garbage and a handful of those super-sturdy black bags and went to town (although I did NOT meet Miss Brown)(sorry – I had to) on the house. Two overflowing bags later, it was time to make a trip for some Goodwill Hunting. I’d planned to simply drop the stuff off as I picked the kids up from school until I remembered their glee at hunting for treasures at Goodwill, much similar to my own.

So we did.

And it was that day that I realized that it was time to shed even more of the extraneous crap I had around. Not just because we’re planning a move in the next few months, but because I needed to take a good hard look at the things I truly needed rather than things that took up space.

I’m of the mind that things in my home should serve one of two purposes:

1) Be beautiful

B) Be useful

And by that token, I’ve set myself the goal of ensuring that I pull together at least one bag of items (no matter how small) to donate to Goodwill each week. They’re one of the best places to do a bit of “Goodwill Hunting” for things I may actually use, and I admire that they use almost every item that they’re donated. When I donate, it’s always to Goodwill.

Luckily, my kids are on board with the plan.

They love Goodwill Hunting almost as much as I do.

(and yes, I realize that I bring home MORE stuffs when I return from Goodwill Hunting, but at least these items are useful. Or beautiful. Usually useful.)

(MAN, I sound boring)

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I’m always accepting guest posts for my Frugal Living Site. Please email becky.harks@gmail.com if you have an item to review or a post for this site.

Confessions of a Stress Shopper

I have a number of friends who cope with stress in various ways. Some binge-eat. Others drink. Still others do dangerous things.

I like to think that I’m lucky I don’t do any of these. In fact, contrary to the name of my blog, I don’t drink, and during particularly stressful times, I can’t eat. And, well, for me, opening the refrigerator can be considered “dangerous,” but that’s neither here nor there.

My coping mechanism for stress isn’t all bubble baths and long walks on the beach (really, is that anyone’s? Don’t answer that). No. It’s shopping.

Hi, my name is Becky and I’m a stress shopper.

(Hi, Becky)

I like to delude myself into believing that it’s a healthier habit than, say, smoking six packs a day, but in all honesty, I know that’s a bald-faced lie (like there’s a bearded-faced lie or something): shopping to relieve stress isn’t the way to handle things, and it’s something I’m going to have to work through.

I’ve already mentioned that I’m a total impulse shopper, which doesn’t help matters, nor does it really play a part in my stress shopping, but, truth be told, if I’m to be (and intend to be) living the frugal life from now on, I do want to make sure I’m not spending unnecessarily.

The roadblock I’m running into though, is this: when I stress shop, I’m not shopping for items I already have or frivolous and sundry pretties, I’m shopping for things I actually need. Only trouble is, I don’t always have the cash to do my stress shopping.

Luckily, I have no credit cards because I know myself too well, but I’ll find myself, in times of great stress – which has been, let’s face it, most of the previous year – salivating over things I want. And I’ve been able to recently stop myself from blowing the cash when I feel the urge coming on. I’m not perfect (stop gasping like that!), but I’m working on it.

Knowing that I AM inclined to shop while I’m stressed, it makes it easier to throw some logic into the equation:

“Would you rather spend your money on this item or make sure the electric bill is paid on time?” And “Do you really need this right this moment? It’ll be there when you have the money again.”

I’m not going to lie and tell you that it’s been easy or pleasant – breaking any bad habit sucks – but I’m working on it.

And my new motto, just like they say in all the 12-step meetings is: “one day at a time.”

And that is how I’ll cope with my stress shopping.

One day – one second – at a time.



Also: are there any topics you’d like me write about? I’m always down for new ideas and for guest posts. Email becky.harks@gmail.com if you’re interested!
Also also: if’n you want to advertise a product or conduct a give-away of a product, I’m open to it. Shoot me a line and we’ll talk. ESPECIALLY if a yacht is involved.

Living the Frugal Life: One Year Later

When I started polluting the Internet from this corner of my blog, Mommy Wants Vodka, I was facing the inevitability of not only getting a divorce, but also learning to manage my own money – a concept as daunting as trying to solve for 0 using the microwave. In all my years of being an “adult” (quotes intentional), I’d never been in charge of money.

See, while the idea of “managing money” makes my skin crawl and my guts go gooey, it was a practical matter in my marriage. Dave managed the bills while I spent my time cleaning the toilets, vacuuming my life away, and polluting the Internet, one obnoxious sentence after another. Really, it was an equal division of labor.

But when one side of that labor divider is taken away from the equation, well, learning how to manage money was (and remains) something of a work in progress.

While I’ve been absurdly thankful for all of your suggestions and support, I’ve still struggled, in the same way that anyone who’s survived a divorce struggles: suddenly you’re responsible for things you’d never even thought about before. In the process, I’ve learned a number of things about myself along the way (and not just how to work the microwave, which, I’ll admit, was a daunting task).

Namely, paying bills.

While freelance writing often left me scrambling for change in the couch when rent came due, I did always manage to make it one way or another (and, I should add, without resorting to the “encounters” section of Craig’s List). I began to look, in earnest for a jobby-job. Y’know, the type that offers the same amount of money every week and gives you fancy stuffs like “health insurance.”

I was lucky to find one.

Which makes it even more confusion that paying my bills would become such a thorn in my side. Without money coming in, that makes total sense. With the addition of money, the whole thing sounded a lot easier. Notice I said, “sounded,” because it wasn’t. Easier, I mean. In fact, it began to fall to the wayside, especially dealing with an intense job, such as the job I’d found.

Rather than focus upon paying my bills like I should have, I’d instead sleep, or stare at the wall blankly, trying to relax from a stressful day, which, I’ll be honest, was every day. But I loved my job and I loved my sleep and I managed… mostly.

Until, of course, the bills began to pile up. I’d find ways and excuses to put them off; to ignore them until I got a phone call reminding me that I was, indeed, putting aforementioned bills off.

I couldn’t understand it. I had the money. I had the ability to read. Hell, I could even write! So what was my major malfunction?

Turns out, paying bills was one of those things that left my mind entirely blank, panicking and wishing I had a corner to crawl into. I cannot possibly explain why this happened: I’d never been attacked by a roaming bill, I’d never been assaulted by a bill, I even knew how to pay them. So WHAT was my problem with paying bills?

Short answer: I don’t know. Paying bills makes me panic.

Which is a pretty pathetic phobia, if’n you ask me, but there you have it. I’ve managed to live off a budget (more or less), I’ve found ways to cut corners, and I’ve even stopped eating out, which has done tremendous things for my waistline, by the by. I’ve learned tricks for cleaning and for having fun without breaking the bank. And still – bill paying leaves me feeling like a pathetic excuse for an adult (what else is new?).

My tentative plan is to use Google Calendars to keep track of when bills are due, set myself reminders a few days prior, and make sure that every bill that CAN be automatically paid is paid through the bank.

I’m hoping this works. I can’t even imagine what my therapist would say about my bill paying phobia.

How do you manage paying bills in a timely manner, Pranksters? Any tips and tricks for me?

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Also: are there any topics you’d like me write about? I’m always down for new ideas and for guest posts. Email becky.harks@gmail.com if you’re interested!
Also also: if’n you want to advertise a product or conduct a give-away of a product, I’m open to it. Shoot me a line and we’ll talk. ESPECIALLY if a yacht is involved.
Also also also: without you guys, I’d be lost. Completely.