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?

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.



Frugal Living Tips: Holiday Shopping For The Kids

Christmas is like the world’s best day when you’re a kid – it’s a day of magic, anticipation, and excitement. When you’re an adult, though, Christmas can be a lot of stress on the budget. Each year, toy companies make “new!” and “exciting!” toys (mostly by, I’m pretty certain, repackaging last year’s hot toy in a fancy! new! box!), which can lead us to roll our eyes, wondering how long, exactly, the toy will last until it’s been broken, discarded in favor of the box it came in, or deemed “stupid.” Here are some frugal living tips for holiday shopping for the kids (or el ninos, which, I think, is Spanish for “The Nino” or “The Train. I took Latin, gimmie a break).

1) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Toy Swap. You know that old exersaucer space-ship looking thingy you put your baby in for like 3 months because then you didn’t have to hold him for like a zillion.5 years? I do. It sat there, sadly unused now that my kids walk and run and kick the crap out of things, and I knew that Salvation Army has a policy in which they don’t accept donations of items that kids “sit in.” While I ended up giving it to my kids preschool, it’s one of those things I could’ve easily given to a friend to give to his or her child for Christmas. Same goes for toys – old toys that are in good shape, you can totally exchange with others so that everyone wins. No more dust collectors and no money spent!

2) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Craig’s List. Okay, I’m still afraid of Craig’s List, but I’m pretty sure that there are some rad deals on toys there. I mean, if I ever got my act together, I’d totally drive out to some creepy strangers house for a DS for the kids.

3) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Watch The Ads. Since so many companies want you to part with your cash during the holiday season, sign up at places like Target.com and ToysRUS.com so you get a newsletter (unsubscribe later, obvs) that details all of the specials they have going on. This way, you can keep your eyeballs on a particular toy you want, rather than simply blindly choosing (which is, apparently, BAD in my house.)

4) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Think About The Age Of Your Kids. There comes a point when quality overrides quantity, and when that happens, you’re going to have to make sure you budget appropriately. But if your kids are still in, I HAVE THREE PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE! mode, that means that they’ll be much happier if you buy them a buttload of things from the dollar store (or in the Dollar Bins at my boyfriend The Target) and wrap them all up. Kids, man, they’re goofy. You could probably wrap up individual crayons and they’d be all WOW MAMA!

….until they hit the age where they’re all, “Where’s my Wii and new TV and blah blah blah.”

5) Holiday Shopping For The Kids: Deal Sites. I know, I’m always talking about my favorite deal site, SneakPeeq, but I freaking love it for reals. It’s fun. And many times, they do have children’s items on the site. If you “peek” a certain amount of times, you can get credits anywhere from a certain percentage to 10 bucks off any item (which happens to be going on TODAY, yo) and that can cut the cost of the item you want.



What are some of the ways you handle holiday shopping for the kids?

Frugal Living Tips: Girl’s Night Out – On The Cheap

Just because you’re pinching pennies doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a girls night out. It just means you must save for it, or find a way to have girls night out for less. The key to a great night out with your BFF’s is checking out the best deals, and taking advantage of them at the right time.

Group Rates are always a great way to save, especially if your group is at least four or more. Each location will have different definitions of group size, but generally the minimum is four to receive the group discounts. Call ahead and check out what the minimum number and discount is before hitting it up.

Timing is everything when it comes to pricing. Plan your girls night out when the prices will be at the lowest. Avoid high tourist season and holiday season. Generally the spring and fall are the slow seasons which means that restaurants and venues are willing to haggle prices or offer better discounts. Fewer tourists means slower business, so they tend to offer better rates to bring people in.

Do you and your gal pals love sweet treats? Forget bar hopping, and go bakery hopping. The latest trend sweeping the US is bakery tours. You load up into a bus or van, and they drive you from bakery to bakery, while enjoying treats and often drinks at each stop. Some cities offer walking tours of the same. These tours are generally billed as an all-inclusive event and tend to offer group rates.

For the party girls out there, get perks for partying. Check out organizations like Shecky’s where you can earn points online towards free gifts, and attend their annual Girl’s Night Out trade show events. For as low as $10 you can attend the trade show, receive a goodie bag with high end samples, enjoy free mixed drinks, and take advantage of free makeovers from companies such as Maybelline.

For dinner out, skip the big names with celebrity chefs and look at the local diners. They’re typically cheaper but with the same quality of food and service. You can also look into smart phone apps that allow you to earn points towards coupons for your favorite restaurants. Check into sites like Restaurant.com or Foursquare, where you can purchase discount certificates or check-in to earn points respectively.

Daily specials are a girl’s best friend. Make sure to check out the neighborhood bars for the daily specials. Then plan your outing for the day that offers a special you’ll take advantage of. Every bar varies, but generally you’ll find a mix of drink and food specials.

And don’t forget the equally fun Girl’s Night In. Instead of heading to a movie and spending a fortune on the ticket and movie snacks, rent a movie from Redbox or Netflix and stay in. Pop your own popcorn, buy bulk candy at the store, and settle in for a fraction of the cost. You can also pop the cork on that bottle of wine you’ve been eyeing, which most theaters don’t offer.

Get creative, and focus on the fun. Because fun doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

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Dawnie can be found wandering the internet looking for ways to get that damn song out of her head. You know the one. She throws out snarky one liners on Twitter and writes dribble at The Dawnie Project. Her claim to fame is being followed by Little Debbie Snack cakes, and eHarmony once laughed at her via tweet.